Today's guest blogger is our old friend Boris Pasternak, he who once caught the "echoes from the future," and is today writing from the past -- September 20, 1924, in fact -- with insights about the present.
"There are times when you begin to feel you are breathing lies, universal and all-pervading, soaking through absolutely everything around you, beginning with the bricks and ending with people's conversations … Here, the voices of the marketplace, ignorance, narrow-mindedness, racial hatred and the like, are freely and dazzlingly blended with their opposites. This is what allows these dark undertones to acquire a binding legitimacy which they have never possessed before, even in the gloomiest periods of our history."
From Boris Pasternak: Family Correspondence, 1921-1960, translated by Nicholas Pasternak Slater
A Version of Pasternak's "Hamlet"
The hour is at hand: it calls the actor.
The crowd grows still as I step through the arch.
There's the cue: an echo from the future.
I must come forth and give the fated speech.
A thousand eyes, in darkness, throng about me;
Like Roman swords, they'll pierce me till I bleed.
O if it be Thy will, Abba, Father,
Then take the proffered cup away from me.
For I adore your rigorous conception,
And am content to play my given role.
But these new lines will scorch the throat that speaks them;
This once, I pray, remove me from the bill.
No: I see the acts have all been plotted;
The journey's end already has been willed.
I'm alone, while the world drowns in falsehood.
Cross this stage, and you cross a killing field.
Translated by Chris Floyd
*** UPDATE: On the subject of our inundation by lies, Arthur Silber and Paul Craig Roberts lay out some hard truths here. And I might add my own little gloss, originally published during the run-up to the first Gulf War: "I think we are living in a world of lies -- lies that don't even know they are lies, because they are children and grandchildren of lies."
The Nobel Peace Laureate Barack Obama, who in his prize-claiming speech boldly claimed the mantle of Mahatma Gandhi, is now visiting India. And why has he made this pilgrimage to the homeland of his spiritual mentor? Has he come to drink more deeply of the wellsprings of satyagraha, to steep himself more thoroughly in the Gandhian principles of courageous, active, non-violent resistance to evil, to the Mahatma's ceaseless dedication to the poor and the outcast?
Five billion dollars could have transformed the lives and futures of millions; instead it will go into the pockets of a few American war profiteers -- who will of course spread the wealth around to their favorite politicians ... such as Barack Obama, the leading recipient of war industry money in the 2008 campaign, outdoing even that old soldier and ardent militarist, John McCain.
And of course the Indian arms deal comes hot on the heels of the largest transaction of death-machinery in American history: Obama's $60 billion war-profiteering bonanza with Saudi Arabia, one of the most suffocatingly repressive and inhumane regimes on the face of the earth. But the Peace Laureate doesn't care about that. He knows what is truly important -- and it isn't the blighted lives of the Saudi people, or all those affected by the corruption and extremism that the Saudi royals have spread around the world (with the connivance, cooperation -- or at the command of -- the bipartisan American power structure). What matters most to the progressive paragon of peace is the sixty billion dollars stuffed into the coffers of his militarist backers.
If Obama wins re-election in 2012, it will not be because he "made a mid-course correction" or "learned the lessons" of the 2010 vote or "moved to the center" or any such witless expectoration of conventional wisdom. It will be because his militarist backers have judged his arms deals and Terror War operations sufficiently profitable to justify his retention. As is always the case with the War Machine that rules us, follow the money -- and the blood.
While Obama peddles the tools of death and destruction in India, others are taking a different approach. At the London Review of Books, Tariq Ali recently provided the context for a short, powerful piece by Arundhati Roy on speaking truth to - and about -- power.
Arundhati Roy is both loathed and feared by the Indian elite. Loathed because she speaks her mind. Feared because her voice reaches the world outside India and damages the myths perpetrated by New Delhi regardless of which party holds power. She often annoys the official Indian Left because she writes and speaks of events for which they are either responsible or of which they dare not speak. Roy will not allow her life to be subjugated by lies. She never affects a courage or contempt she does not feel. Her campaigns against injustice are undertaken with no view to either fame or profit. Hence the respect awarded her by the poor, ordinary citizens, who know the truth but are not allowed a voice in the public sphere. The authorities can’t buy her silence. One of the few voices in India who has spoken loudly against the continuing Indian atrocities in Kashmir, she is now being threatened. If she doesn’t shut up they’ll charge her with sedition, aping their colonial masters of yesteryear. Her response to those who would charge and imprison her is a model of clarity, conviction and refusal to compromise.
"I write this from Srinagar, Kashmir. This morning's papers say that I may be arrested on charges of sedition for what I have said at recent public meetings on Kashmir. I said what millions of people here say every day. I said what I, as well as other commentators have written and said for years. Anybody who cares to read the transcripts of my speeches will see that they were fundamentally a call for justice. I spoke about justice for the people of Kashmir who live under one of the most brutal military occupations in the world; for Kashmiri Pandits who live out the tragedy of having been driven out of their homeland; for Dalit soldiers killed in Kashmir whose graves I visited on garbage heaps in their villages in Cuddalore; for the Indian poor who pay the price of this occupation in material ways and who are now learning to live in the terror of what is becoming a police state.
Yesterday I traveled to Shopian, the apple-town in South Kashmir which had remained closed for 47 days last year in protest against the brutal rape and murder of Asiya and Nilofer, the young women whose bodies were found in a shallow stream near their homes and whose murderers have still not been brought to justice. I met Shakeel, who is Nilofer's husband and Asiya's brother. We sat in a circle of people crazed with grief and anger who had lost hope that they would ever get 'insaf'—justice—from India, and now believed that Azadi—freedom— was their only hope. I met young stone pelters who had been shot through their eyes. I traveled with a young man who told me how three of his friends, teenagers in Anantnag district, had been taken into custody and had their finger-nails pulled out as punishment for throwing stones. In the papers some have accused me of giving 'hate-speeches', of wanting India to break up. On the contrary, what I say comes from love and pride. It comes from not wanting people to be killed, raped, imprisoned or have their finger-nails pulled out in order to force them to say they are Indians. It comes from wanting to live in a society that is striving to be a just one. Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds. Pity the nation that needs to jail those who ask for justice, while communal killers, mass murderers, corporate scamsters, looters, rapists, and those who prey on the poorest of the poor, roam free."
So says Tony Keller, quite aptly, in his report on one of the great travesties of justice in our time (and that is a long, long list): the outrageous show trial of Omar Khadr, a young Canadian who recently pleaded guilty to various spurious "terrorism" charges after spending eight years in the maw of the American gulag, since his capture in Afghanistan at the age of 15.
While America's attention was diverted by the witless (and war-avoiding) blather of the recent election campaign, the Pentagon prosecutors of the Peace Laureate in the White House were finishing their persecution of the child soldier. Having wrung a false confession to a non-existent charge from him in the early days of his captivity, when he was seriously wounded, they finally hammered a guilty plea out of him in a kangaroo court in which even an acquittal could have seen him incarcerated for the rest of his life. Such is the justice of the Laureate.
As Keller reports:
On the main charge, "murder in violation of the laws of war" (a crime that doesn't appear to even exist in international law, given that combatants who kill other soldiers in combat are not violating the laws of war), the chief evidence against the then-15-year-old child soldier was his own confession. And that confession, made years ago and long since recanted, was obtained under conditions that any normal human being would describe as torture.
Omar Khadr was captured in 2002 in Afghanistan. He was the only survivor after a firefight and an air strike on an al-Qaeda position. He had been wounded in his shoulder and in both eyes, shot twice in the back and was near death. It was alleged that, just before he was shot, he had thrown a grenade at attacking American troops, killing one of them. As already noted, he was 15 years old.
He then spent several months in the hellhole that was Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, where he claims -- credibly, given all that we know about what went on at Bagram -- that he was subjected to sleep deprivation, the chaining of his hands above his head for hours, that he was hooded and threatened by dogs, and sometimes forced to urinate on himself because he was not unshackled to go to the bathroom. His chief interrogator at Bagram admitted to telling the teenage boy that unless he co-operated, he would be sent to a U.S. prison, where a group of black men would gang rape him to death …
And who this interrogator? A thug so egregious that even the Gulag Gang was forced to punish him -- albeit lightly -- for his involvement in beating a prisoner to death at around the same time he was "strenuously interrogating" Khadr:
He was interviewed about 25 times by this interrogator, Joshua Claus. Claus was also the interrogator for an Afghan taxi driver named Dilawar who was chained to the ceiling and beaten to death in Bagram in 2002; Claus pled guilty to his involvement in the affair and received a five month sentence. In a lovely Orwellian touch, the U.S. government insisted that reporters covering Khadr's trial not name Claus, but instead refer to him as "Interrogator 1."
In Bagram, Khadr confessed that he had thrown the grenade that killed an American soldier. No one saw him do this, so his confession is really the only evidence of the act. Last summer, U.S. military judge Colonel Patrick Parrish ruled that the confession, despite the obviously coercive circumstances under which it was made, had been freely given, and could be used against Khadr in court.
Once that decision was rendered, the fix was definitely in. Keller lays it out:
This week, Omar Khadr was offered the following choice: plead guilty, or face two different routes to life in prison. He could go to trial, and thanks to a confession that would be laughed out of any real court of law, he'd probably be convicted. But even if the court somehow found him not guilty, the U.S. reserved the right to detain him indefinitely as an enemy combatant. The only sure way to get out of jail early was to tell his interrogators what they wanted to hear.
On Monday, Khadr was even forced to cop to other crimes, including the killing of two Afghan soldiers, something he wasn't even charged with, and for which the prosecution appears to have had no evidence. And, in a nice touch that Stalin would have appreciated, Khadr appears to have also been forced to sign away his right to sue his jailors for the various forms of deprivation and abuse that he was subject to…. They could have told him to confess that he had simultaneously piloted all four hijacked planes on 9/11, and he would have done it.
…The original communist torture techniques, which for a time inspired the standard operating procedures at Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Guantanamo and the secret black sites, were not designed to elicit truth. They were designed to produce false confessions: That was the whole point. They were designed to force people to say what interrogators wanted to hear -- yes, I am a capitalist stooge, yes I am a Trostkyite, yes I am a terrorist.
And now Guantanamo's very first military tribunal has its first guilty verdict, thanks to those methods of coercion first perfected for the Soviet Bloc show trial. My God, what have we done? Somewhere in hell, Joseph Stalin is smiling.
And here on earth, of course, that blood-bloated moral cretin, George W. Bush, is grinning like a pig in shit, raking in millions of dollars for an "autobiography" in which he brags -- swearing like the tough guy this little quaking frat boy has always wished he was -- that he personally ordered waterboarding: a clear, flagrant violation of the laws of the United States -- and a high crime for which the United States has prosecuted many other people, including its own soldiers, for more than a century. But "damn right," Bush ordered this torture; and "damn right," his successor, the Continuer-in-Chief -- who is busy ginning up even more wars, killing more civilians, engendering more hatred and entrenching Bush's travesties of justice and tyrannical perversion -- will not do a damn thing about it.
I found myself unexpectedly heartened by American election returns, at least in one respect. For they have shown, once again, that the American people feel an abiding, angry – if deeply inchoate – dissatisfaction with the nation’s unjust, corrupt and dysfunctional political system. They know that something is profoundly wrong with the system, and so they keep voting one faction out and putting the other faction in, hoping to see some kind of change.
History gives this proof: in almost every national election for the past two decades, we have seen a change in control of either one or both houses of Congress or the White House. This has happened in 1992, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2008, and now again in 2010. The pattern is very clear. And it is not because Americans “prefer divided government,” as the dim chewers of Beltway cud like to tell us; it’s because they can’t get anyone in the system to address their concerns.
Yet with every turnover in factional control, we see a rush of earnest, serious analysis telling us how the results represent a vast sea change in America’s politics, culture, society, soul, etc. But somehow, two years later, these momentously meaningful tidal waves ripple into nothing on the empty shore. And again, that’s because they don’t actually signify anything beyond the by-now perennial unease and dissatisfaction.
What is less heartening, of course, is the fact that the American electorate never quite grasps the obvious, glaring, brutal fact that neither of these factions is ever going to change the system one iota if they can help it; they are the system, they are its servants, its enablers, its enactors. Then again, we are dealing with, to borrow Gore Vidal’s deathless phrase, the United States of Amnesia, where history doesn’t exist (except in the form of feverishly distorted self-righteous myths about America’s eternal super-duper specialness), and every election is a tabula rasa . The only flickering historical awareness that seems to exist in the American electorate is a vague sense that the gang they voted in two years ago hasn’t changed anything; better try the other gang again … forgetting this is the same gang they threw out the time four years ago, for the same reason.
So the cycle goes on and on, and the rot and dysfunction grows deeper, and ever more intractable. The people’s concerns are not only not addressed; they are not even articulated by anyone in the lucrative, sinister game of King of the Hill played by the two factions, both of which are pledged, body and soul, to elite rule, corporate rapine and militarist empire. And certainly, neither the corporate media nor the educational system will do anything to help inculcate a deeper sense of history (“History is bunk,” said that quintessential American, Henry Ford; you can’t make no money from it, so what’s the point?), or provide any wider, deeper context for articulating – and confronting – the causes of the electorate’s dissatisfaction. Instead, these institutions keep replicating and refreshing those same myths of specialness (in either “conservative” or “progressive” form), adding layer after layer of thought-obliterating noise to the Great American Echo Chamber that encloses, and imprisons, the entire society.
Mmm, maybe it’s not so heartening after all. Especially given the fact that both factions are – literally, legally, formally, undeniably – packs of war criminals, pledged to the continuation of a rapacious empire of military domination that is killing innocent people, fomenting hatred and extremism, and destabilizing the world. The myth of specialness prevents most people from seeing the truth of what their bipartisan political establishment is doing to the world – or even to themselves, how it has stripped them of their liberties, corroded their society, destroyed their communities and degraded their quality of life, while diminishing the lives and futures of their own children and grandchildren. Most Americans apparently cannot break out of the narrow cognitive structure that has been imposed on their understanding of reality: i.e., that America is inherently, ineradicably good, that whatever mistakes it might make here or there (usually when one’s own preferred faction is out of office, of course), this essential goodness remains inviolate, forever untainted by any genuine evil.
And so bipartisan perpetrators of enormous evils – mass murder, aggressive war, torture, brutality, ruination, atrocity and injustice on a gargantuan scale – are not only never held accountable, they are celebrated, honored, and rewarded with great wealth and privilege. It is no wonder that dissatisfaction reigns in the body politic. The people sense that something is badly wrong; but no one in the system will tell them that it is the system itself that is wrong. Instead, we get these circuses and shams, these diversions and delusions that pass for election campaigns, throwing up a blizzard of false issues and partisan posturing, sound and fury signifying nothing … then when it’s all over, it’s back to business as usual for our bipartisan courtiers, feasting on the bloody swill of empire.
Still, the nagging spark of dissatisfaction can often be the beginning of wisdom, eventually forcing us to look beyond the confines of our cognitive overlays and unchallenged understandings. The merry-go-round of factional turnovers, in election after election, shows that this fertile element of dissatisfaction is rampant, and chronic, in the American people. They have not yet, not quite, accepted the system of murderous empire and elite domination as the natural order, the settled status quo. They want something to change, they want things to be different somehow – but, like people everywhere, they don’t want to turn the mirror on themselves, and see the reality of the noxious system they are perpetuating with their yo-yoing between two utterly corrupt and depraved factions of money-grubbers and power-seekers.
But as long as the dissatisfaction remains, there is still some hope that it will drive more and more people to see beyond the cloud of myth, to hear truths outside the echo chamber, and to begin the long, arduous, quite possibly impossible but morally imperative work of breaking the stranglehold of these murderous fools and forging a genuine alternative to the system.
UPDATE: For further elucidation of the points above -- and many more besides -- let me direct you to two remarkable pieces that appeared today. They come from two different ends of the traditional political spectrum, but they converge to offer much grim truth and some genuine wisdom. Check them out, in full, as soon as you can:
Porter delves into the latest Wikileaks trove to find new and detailed evidence of how the vicious sectarian civil war in Iraq in 2004-2008 -- which killed thousands of people, subjected thousands to brutal and macabre tortures, drove hundreds of thousands of people from their homes -- was deliberately seeded and constantly fueled by the leaders of the American occupation.
More specifically, Porter shows that the instigation and exacerbation of civil war and sectarian "cleansing" was the brainchild of the supposed master of "counterinsurgency," the bemedalled darling of the bipartisan political and media establishments, General David Petraeus -- the same man whom the progressive Peace Laureate now in the White House has put in charge of Afghanistan. Petraeus, we are told -- always in gushing, adulatory prose (with Obama himself as Gusher-in-Chief) -- is now striving mightily to produce in Afghanistan the "same results" he got in Iraq.
We've been noting here for years how American leaders deliberately fomented the unimaginable hell that the unprovoked, illegal invasion and rapacious occupation inflicted on the people of Iraq, how with death squads and torture -- both directly and by proxy -- they deliberately, knowingly, willingly deepened the sectarian divides in Iraqi society, how they armed, funded and empowered some of the most retograde extremist factions to do the dirty work for the imperial masters, and how this strategy led to the rise of violent extremism to counter the American-led assault. Porter, working with the invaluable Wikileaks documents and also doing valuable research in media archives, brings us fresh and damning confirmation of this genuinely evil strategy.
Again, time prevents me from giving this article its due, but please head there as soon as you can and read the whole thing. And as you read, remember that the president and party that you are being urged to "save" at the polls today have, of their own free will, taken the same promulgators of this evil strategy and placed them in charge of yet another brutal and aggressive occupation of foreign lands, with, indeed, the "same results": thousands and thousands of innocent dead, vast ruin, vast ruin, the ever-increasing exacerbation of violent sectarianism, tribal conflict and intolerant religious extremism. This is precisely what you are voting for, if you vote Democrat -- or Republican, for that matter -- today.
The last, wan hope for real change in the American system was not lost through the imperial dithering of Barack Obama's "Bush-Clinton Terror War Continuity" administration during the past two years. No; those last wan hopes went down the drain in 2006 -- the year that the Democratic Party regained control of Congress ... and promptly made a screeching U-turn on virtually every anti-war, anti-imperialist, pro-liberty, pro-people position it had taken against George W. Bush.
The sell-out -- or rather, the pay-off to the corporatist-militarist power factions who actually control the Democrats -- was immediate, brazen and deeply destructive. It helped entrench the vast abuses of power of the Bush Regime (and its bipartisan predecessors), it guaranteed the deaths of thousands of innocent people in the continuation and expansion of the Terror Wars, and it laid the groundwork for Obama's "Third Bush Administration" of presidential death squads, pointless "surges" in bloody quagmires, remote control slaughter by drone, bristling defenses and relentless expansions of authoritarian power, and cringing, servile capitulation to Big Money on every possible front.
As Bruce Dixon points out in a timely and important piece at Black Agenda Report, the instant the Democrats regained Congressional power in 2006, they immediately jettisoned all talk of impeachment, all investigations of war crimes and the handling of Hurricane Katrina, all impetus for real health care reform, all their previously vociferous opposition to Bush's tax cuts for the rich, and a host of other "dissenting" positions that they had cynically trumpeted in order to manipulate the public's genuine anger and thirst for change. (Ironically, the Democrats are now being hoisted on their own petard, as the corporate-run "Tea Party" Republicans are about to oust them from Congress with their own cynical manipulations of genuine anger and thirst for change.)
Dixon nails it well:
Four years ago it was the eve of the November 2006 election, Bush's last midterm ... After 12 years of spectacularly corrupt and aggressively pro-corporate Republican domination, the House and likely the Senate too, would be ruled by Democrats. Expectations were high.
Four years ago a hundred members of the House of Representatives had signed on as co-sponsors of one or more bills to impeach Dick Cheney and George Bush. One of them was Detroit's John Conyers, dean of the Congressional Black Caucus, who would chair the House Judiciary Committee beginning in January 2007, and thus have the unquestioned legal power to begin hearings on the question of impeachment. Authoritative polls repeatedly showed that a a narrow majority of the American people, and an overwhelming majority of Democratic voters favored impeachment and criminal investigation of the Bush-Cheney regime on a broad front, from waging illegal wars to torture, lying to Congress, international kidnapping, secret imprisonment without trial and tapping the phone and email of millions of Americans. Rep. Conyers was also a perennial sponsor of reparations, antiwar and single payer health care measures, causes which could surely be advanced by his long awaited ascension to power.
Democrats had always massively opposed the Iraq war, and millions were perfectly aware that a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives could bring this unjust war to a halt over any presidential objection by simply refusing to fund it.
The fall of 2006 was only a year after Katrina. The Republican congress had refused to investigate the federal role in the deaths of uncounted thousands, while the White House and military authorities barred journalists from photographing or observing the recovery of bodies. Federal, state and local authorities were making return of hundreds of thousands of residents, mostly black, impossible. A Democratic congress, some imagined, might turn this around too.
Under Democratic rule Rep. Bennie Thompson (D MS) of the Congressional Black Caucus would chair the new House Committee on Homeland Security. With his committee's subpoena power Thompson could, if he chose, investigate the role of Blackwater and other US mercenary companies in New Orleans and around the world and make people tell the truth under penalty of prison. Harlem's Charlie Rangel, another senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus would chair the House Ways and Means Committee, a position from which he could begin rolling back the regressive Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.
Of course, none of this happened. It's no exaggeration to say that every single progressive expectation of the Democratic majority in the House over the last four years has been disappointed or betrayed.
It is indeed no exaggeration. The post-2006 turnaround was also a virtual replay of what happened in 1992, when Bill Clinton won the presidency -- then promptly shut down all investigation of the rampant criminality of the Reagan-Bush administrations. But then, as both Georgie Herbert and Ole Bill shared the same top donor, it was never very likely that Clinton would dish the dirt on his partner in patronship. And of course today, the elder Bush and Clinton are so close that the former calls the latter his "honorary son." Ain't life grand at the top of the heap?
Dixon goes on to describe how Nancy Pelosi -- yes, poor old Nancy, whom all good progessives are now being urged to rally around, in order to save her marvelous leadership of the House -- put the kibosh on any action that might upset the imperialist apple-cart ... even before the Democrats re-took power:
In the final year of Republican House rule, Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi ordered the Congressional Black Caucus NOT to hold its own hearings on Katrina, and refused to call them herself, for fear that voters might see Democrats as the party of those undeserving colored people. Only Georgia's Rep. Cynthia McKinney defied Pelosi and House Democratic leaders to hold her own hearings, which were boycotted by all but one of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Pelosi was not alone. As soon as juicy Chairmanships and other perks of partisan dominance were assured, other top Dem "dissidents" began changing their spots pronto:
Between the November 2006 election and the beginning of the new Democratic party controlled Congress in January 2007, John Conyers walked back from his pro-impeachment stand, even having demonstrators and former staffers arrested outside his office when they tried to meet with him. Among the pitiful excuses Conyers offered for not convening impeachment hearings was that “Fox News would have a field day,” the votes to convict them in the Senate weren't there, (How Conyers knew that in advance of evidence or even hearings remains a mystery!) and that Bush-Cheney would be history in two more years anyhow.
But as David Swanson has pointed out, even if impeachment could not be won, calling the hearings would have set an invaluable precedent limiting presidential power. It would have drawn a historic line in the sand against further illegalities by that and future presidents. When John Conyers repaid the trust of forty years worth of re-elections by excusing the Bush-Cheney crimes without even an investigation, he empowered all of Bush-Cheney's successors to build upon that loathsome foundation. President Obama has done just that, introducing measures to “legalize” the flagrant atrocities of Bush-Cheney. Now torture, international kidnapping and secret imprisonment without recourse to a lawyer or a day in court are “legal.” The Democratic congress of 2006 enabled this, and the Democratic congress of 2008 ratified it.
Dixon also nails another important point often lost in the blithering blather of this deeply degraded campaign season:
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the body responsible for recruiting Democrats candidates, collecting corporate donations and distributing these to its favorites, was headed by Chicago's Rahm Emanuel. The DCCC threw millions of dollars behind dozens of pro-war Democrats opposing antiwar Democrats in 2006 primary elections. The continued existence of the so-called “blue dog Democrats,” hypocritically accused by House Democratic leaders like South Carolina's Jim Clyburn of “gumming up the works,” hamstringing the president and “real Democrats” is largely the work of Congressional Democratic leader Rahm Emanuel, who went on to become chief of staff in a Democratic White House.
Exactly. Our Fightin' Progressives are continually exhorting us to help kick out them mean old Blue Dawgs who have done so much to hamper the super-progressive agenda of Barack Obama -- when it was Obama's chief minister and fixer, Rahm Emanuel, who financed and empowered these hardshell throwbacks in the first place. They were put in place by Rahm and Obama to do exactly what they have done: block any attempt at genuine reform of the system.
There is much, much more in Dixon's piece. Do yourself a favor and read it in full, as soon as you can.
On a personal note, I was pleased to see a commenter on Dixon's essay singling out some pieces that I had written, and some by Arthur Silber as well, about Obama's very public rejection of his longtime friend, mentor and pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. This episode was one of the most gutless and shameful things I've seen in national politics in a long time (even though it was praised to high heaven by our Fightin' Progressives as some kind of high-water mark in the history of human morality). It showed very clearly the true measure of the man fronting those same sell-out Democrats: they would throw anybody and anything aside -- friends, allies, supporters, the public good, the peace of the world -- in their frantic scramble up the greasy pole of power.
First we were told that the recently intercepted package bombs sent, we are told, from Yemen, were targeted at synagogues in Chicago. Now we are being told that they were intended to blow up the cargo planes themselves. We are also told that the bombs' design shows the mark of a "highly sophisticated" operation by extremist Islamists, most likely al Qaeda.
All of which prompts one question. If you were indeed a "highly sophisticated" Islamist extremist operation wishing to blow up cargo planes bound for the United States with package bombs, would you really a) mail those bombs from Yemen, a country currently under intense counterterrorism scrunity by the United States, and b) address these packages, from Yemen, to Jewish institutions -- in Barack Obama's home city?
Either a) or b) alone would be enough to set alarm bells clanging all through the thick mesh of security systems that now overlay modern life. Put them together, and what you have is either a) the mark of a very unsophisticated, cack-handed, two-bit operation whose sporadic and isolated threats hardly justify a world-wide, never-ending, mass-killing, liberty-gutting, multi-trilliondollar war, or b) the mark of a highly sophisticated organization that wished to ensure maximum publicity for this attempted terrorist attack -- and even more publicity for its heroic thwarting ... especially on the eve of a national election, and after weeks of leaks and bad press about atrocities and corruption that call the whole Terror War ethos into question.
Points perhaps worth pondering in the coming weeks as we watch the ever-more profitable security mesh seize on this incident to call for ever-greater funding, and ever-greater measures of control over our lives.
This one goes out to Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, Daniel Ellsberg, Sibel Edmonds, and "all those who speak the hard truth to the state."
The Good Corporal
Good corporal, good corporal, now what have you done?
You've laid out the dead in the light of the sun.
You've opened the door where the dark deeds go on,
Where the fine words of freedom are broken like bones.
Good corporal, good corporal, you tell us of crime
Done in the name of your country and mine.
Of torture and murder, corruption and lies,
In a land where no echo will carry the cries.
Good corporal, good corporal, now who do we blame
For the horrors you bring us, for this undying shame?
Should we lay all the guilt on the grunts with no name,
Or the high and the mighty who rigged up this game?
Good corporal, good corporal, don't you know the fate
Of all those who speak the hard truth to the State
And all who trouble the people's sweet dreams?
They're mocked into scorn and torn apart at the seams.
Ben Ehrenreich at the London Review of Books has written one of the best articles on the current situation in Mexico that I have seen. Thousands of people are dying there, caught up in a sinister nexus where all the main players -- drug cartels, their officials backers (and servants), the various Drug Warriors on both sides of the border, the corporations profiteering from the Drug War, the august and respectable financial institutions who move the money for both the cartels and their official antagonists, and the American and Mexican politicians who happily game the murderous system for their own cynical advantage -- are reaping huge rewards, while a whole society is being destroyed.
As Ehrenreich points out in the succinct but detailed historical background he provides, the current Drug War-fueled destruction is just part and parcel of a larger assault on the underpinning of Mexican society -- a wider campaign that includes brutal economic war, and the relentless militarization of society on both sides of the border. On the U.S. side, it is again a thoroughly bipartisan affair, ranging from Richard Nixon to Clinton's NAFTA and beyond.
Unfortunately, the article is not one of those that LRB makes available to non-subscribers every month. Fortunately, your correspondent happens to be a subscriber, so below are some extensive excerpts from Ehreneich's superb piece.
There have been more than 2000 killings in Juárez so far this year. ... The violence is dizzying, all the more so because so little light has been shed on it by the press, either in Mexico or abroad. Most accounts stick to the official narrative: the bloodshed is simply the result of heightened competition between drug cartels for control of profitable smuggling routes, and of the military battling it out with the bad guys. The dead are generally identified only as ‘pistoleros’ or ‘sicarios’; their killers as ‘armed commandos’. The most basic facts are left unspecified: body counts, names, places, dates. ... The government, the opposition, the cartels and the various factions within all of them spread disinformation as a matter of policy, which means that political gossip tends to revolve around who stands to profit from which distortion. To make things more complicated, there is a great deal at stake for Mexico’s powerful neighbour to the north. The two most pernicious strands of contemporary American politics – nativism and the all-encompassing discourse of ‘security’ – feed into the notion that Mexico is slipping into anarchy.
Horrific though it is, the violence is neither inexplicable nor entirely senseless. It is the result of a struggle over drug distribution in which a remarkable number of players have come to have a deep investment: not only the narcos, but their ostensible opponents on both sides of the international border and of the hazier divide separating legality from criminality. Drugs are an old business in Mexico. Farmers in the remote high sierra of the western state of Sinaloa have been growing opium poppies since the late 19th century – and marijuana long before that – but smuggling did not become a viable enterprise until the US created an illicit market by regulating the use of opiates in 1914. Then, as now, drugs flowed one way: north. The American appetite for forbidden intoxicants grew quickly in the second half of the last century. As the US market expanded, so did the smuggling industry that serviced it. Until the early 1970s the smugglers were subordinate to the local politicians and military and police commanders under whose protection they were permitted to operate, and who in turn took their place in a chain of command that rose all the way to the presidency.
This arrangement ran smoothly until marijuana’s newfound popularity led Richard Nixon to declare a ‘war on drugs’ and to begin putting pressure on the Mexican government to staunch the flow. Even then, other motives were concealed beneath the American government’s apparent concern for the health of its citizens: Nixon’s chief of staff recorded in his diary that in the course of a briefing on drug enforcement in 1969, the president had ‘emphasised … that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognises this while not appearing to.’ That year, Nixon ordered a massive policing effort on the Mexican border called Operation Intercept. Relatively little contraband was found and Mexico was furious about the crackdown, but the US administration considered it a success. Gordon Liddy, then the co-chair of Nixon’s narcotics task force, would later write: ‘It was an exercise in international extortion, pure, simple and effective, designed to bend Mexico to our will.’ It worked: the next anti-drug effort was called Operation Co-operation. Seven years later, with logistical help from the US, Mexico launched its first major military operation against the drug trade. Operation Condor, led by a general who had taken part in the massacre of students at Tlatelolco in 1968 and the anti-guerrilla campaigns of the 1970s Dirty War, dislodged hundreds of peasants from the western sierras. Complaints of torture by federal troops abounded.
n the 1980s a massive expansion of the cocaine market in the States coincided with the growth of leftist guerrilla movements in Central and South America. Under the cover of the drug war, Reagan took on both at once. In 1986, he signed a directive that linked narco-trafficking to ‘insurgent groups’ and ‘terrorist cells’ abroad, and declared the narcotics trade a threat to national security. The effect was to militarise the war on drugs, converting what had once been a matter for domestic law enforcement into an instrument of foreign policy.
At the same time, and not coincidentally, Mexico was undergoing a shift to neoliberalism under the presidencies of Miguel de la Madrid and Carlos Salinas, both of whom were educated, or partially educated, in the US. The smuggling business, too, was about to take a neoliberal turn. It had consolidated in the 1980s under one man, Miguel Angel Félix Gallardo. Known as El Padrino, or the Godfather, Félix Gallardo emerged from the old system: he was a former policeman and chief bodyguard to the governor of Sinaloa. When a US Drug Enforcement Agency officer working undercover in Mexico was kidnapped and killed, the first Bush administration pushed hard for Félix Gallardo’s arrest. Negotiations for the trade pact that would later be known as the North American Free Trade Agreement were underway and Salinas wanted to keep the Americans happy, so in 1989, Félix Gallardo was arrested. But Félix Gallardo had seen what was coming and by then he had divided up his empire, distributing the most valued smuggling routes, or plazas, to trusted lieutenants. Just as Salinas was breaking up and privatising hundreds of state-owned industries, so Félix Gallardo was breaking up his domain, effectively creating what are now the Tijuana and Sinaloa cartels.
...In 1993 and 1994, US immigration officials began pouring resources into securing the border at two major urban crossing sites – between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, and between San Diego and Tijuana. Perversely, this helped the cartels seal their monopolies on the trade. ‘Borders breed smuggling,’ the sociologist Fernando Escalante explains: ‘A closed border breeds organised smuggling. It favours cartels, it favours organised crime.’
Now the Economic War experienced a great "surge" under those fightin' progressives, NAFTA-men Bill Clinton and Al Gore:
The broader effects of NAFTA and the reforms that accompanied it were more diffuse and far more destructive. A constitutional amendment passed as a precondition for the trade pact did away with the legislation that since the 1930s had forbidden the private sale of communally held farmland. Now cheap and highly subsidised American corn flooded the Mexican market. Local farmers were unable to compete: 1.1 million small farmers and 1.4 million others dependent on the agricultural sector lost their livelihoods. Campesinos left ancestral holdings, forced into the uncertainties of migrancy, both within Mexico and abroad. Villages were left almost abandoned. In a few short years, extraordinary wealth was concentrated in the hands of a tiny minority while the dream of an agrarian republic that had sustained the country for most of the 20th century collapsed. The anticipated shift to export-oriented manufacturing was a failure. Few of the promised jobs in the foreign-owned assembly plants known as maquiladoras materialised. The ones that did soon vanished as companies pursued still cheaper labour in China.
As a result of the "reforms" of the progressive duo, almost a third of the Mexican people have been forced into penurious, petty hustling and scrabbling to eke out an existence on the margins of modernity:
Nearly 30 per cent of the population now works in the informal economy – washing car windows on street corners, selling tacos, sodas, DVDs. Cuts to education have helped create a new class of young people: the 7.5 million so-called ninis who aren’t in school and don’t have jobs (‘ni estudian ni trabajan’). The minimum wage has lost two thirds of its buying power and nearly half the population lives in poverty. In his book on the epidemic of murders of young women in Ciudad Juárez, Huesos en el desierto (‘Bones in the Desert’, 2002), González Rodríguez wrote of the vast new class of the uprooted and excluded, poor migrants from the countryside who now find themselves wandering in a ‘vertiginous universe of technology and productivity, merchandise and calculation’.
In the 1990s, "neoliberals" -- i.e., ball-crushing boardroom Bolsheviks committed to the crony capitalism known laughingly as "free trade" -- took power in Mexico, with predictable 'shock doctrine' results:
Between 1989 and 1999, the National Action Party (the PAN), which represented the socially conservative transnational elite that had profited most from the PRI’s economic policies, won the governorships of eight states, including the border states in which the most important drug trafficking routes were situated. By 2000, when the PAN won the presidency with the election of the former Coca-Cola executive Vicente Fox, the old networks of political patronage that had contained and controlled the drug smuggling industry were in disarray. The cartel leaders broke free from the system that had kept them in check. The old arrangement was turned on its head. Traffickers had once worked for the police and the politicians: now the police and politicians were working for them.
The democratic renaissance prophesied by Fox’s allies delivered little. Corruption persisted. The transformation of the economy along neoliberal lines continued, but without even the tattered remnants of the PRI paternalism that had for almost a century redistributed some small portion of the nation’s wealth in exchange for votes and obedience. Now the market alone would rule, and the millions it left behind would have no option but to adjust to the new realities. ‘The campesinos,’ Fox’s finance secretary announced in 2003, ‘will have to transform themselves into industrial workers or true business people.’ Many have done precisely that – either in factories, fields and kitchens north of the border, or in the precarious employ of the drug cartels.
The current president, Felipe Calderon, took power in a disputed Bush-like election, with a similarly farcical "recount" process: "The electoral tribunal ordered a partial recount, declared Calderón the winner and promptly destroyed the ballots." Then, like Bush, he proceeded to seize upon a convenient "crisis" -- the post-NAFTA cartel conflicts -- to militarize the situation and shore up his own illegitimate power:
Less than a fortnight later, Calderón called on the military once again, this time ordering 6500 troops to his home state of Michoacán to stem the rising violence there. The drug war was for him what the war on terror had been for George W. Bush. Like Bush, he lacked legitimacy in the eyes of at least half the population: the drug war ‘allowed him the tools he needed in order to govern’. Over the next two years, he would send 45,000 troops – a quarter of Mexico’s armed forces – to the northern border, the south-western state of Guerrero, and the so-called Golden Triangle, the mountainous poppy-growing regions of Sinaloa, Durango and Chihuahua. For most of the last century, the Mexican military had been almost unique in Latin America in keeping a respectful distance from civil institutions and from the US. Calderón changed that. In 2008, the two countries launched the Merida Initiative: Mexico accepted $1.3 billion in counter-narcotics funding from the US and an unprecedented level of military co-operation was established.
Ehrenreich then makes a key point -- an insight that holds true not only for Mexico, but in virtually every case around the world where conflicts, disputes -- and political and corporate agendas -- have been militarized:
Everywhere the military has visited, the bloodshed has grown much worse.
Militarizing a situation guarantees there will be indiscriminate killing, enormous destruction, economic ruin, social collapse, degradation of infrastructure, the spread of disease, and massive, pervasive corruption. This is what you are knowingly perpetrating every time you militarize a situation. It invariably makes the situation worse -- unless, of course, bloodshed, ruin and corruption are, in fact, your goals.
Ehrenreich goes on:
Between December 2006 – when Calderón took office and sent out the first troops – and July 2010, more than 28,000 Mexicans were murdered. The president has insisted that 90 per cent of the victims were cartel members, although only 5 per cent of the murders have been investigated, much less solved. In the first four years of his term, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission received 4035 complaints alleging abuses by the armed forces – more than it had received in the previous 15 years – including allegations of murder, torture and rape. Because the military is charged with investigating itself, such abuses invariably go unpunished. And ‘because writing or saying what the military is up to could result in serious injury or death,’ the American journalist Charles Bowden notes in Murder City, his recent book about Juárez, few of the more serious abuses are ever reported.[*] At least 31 reporters have been killed or disappeared since 2006.
Ah, but of course now we have another progressive in the White House -- a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, no less, an heir to Martin Luther King and Aung San Suu Kyi. Surely now, things will change, we will take a new direction, away from the obviously failed policies of the past. Yes? No.
Calderón, unfazed, has promised to keep the troops on the streets until the end of his six-year term. His support from the north has been unflagging. Obama has proposed extending the Merida Initiative, and has requested an additional $310 million for 2011. His administration appears to situate Mexico within the discourse of failing states battling insurgencies and requiring American help. It’s a bad fit – the cartels are not revolutionary cells so much as organisations of global capital – but the rhetoric provides a domestic pretext for folding Mexico into US security protocols. Carlos Pascual, the new US ambassador to Mexico, last summer confidently proposed ‘a new role’ for the Mexican military in Juárez, one consistent with counter-insurgency tactics employed by the US across the globe: they would secure the perimeter of five-block-square ‘safe zones’, and push that perimeter outward block by block.
Ehrenreich's conclusion is bleak indeed -- worthy of Cormac McCarthy -- but, one fears, all too accurate:
Whatever shape it takes, the war on drugs continues to be even more profitable than the drug trade itself. All the killing keeps prices per gram high, so the cartels do fine, as do the legions of sicarios and the funeral directors they help to feed. The bankers who launder the money also win, as do the businessmen into whose enterprises the newly laundered funds are funnelled. The American weapons manufacturers stand to do nicely, as do the US security consultants and military contractors who will deposit almost all of the Merida funds into their own accounts, and who can expect to make billions more from the militarisation of the border on the American side: someone has to make the helicopters, the cameras, the night-vision goggles, the motion sensors, the unmanned drones, as well as build the private prisons that hold the migrants. Finally politicians too stand to gain, not only Calderón and the PRIistas who are likely to profit from his failure in 2012, but the Americans who have sponsored him: the agile ones who can leverage campaign contributions from the contractors, the populists who win votes by shouting about the barbarian hordes advancing through the Arizona desert, the moderates who get re-elected term after term by expounding in even tones about the need for something called ‘comprehensive border security’. The killing is therefore unlikely to stop.
In these last days before the massively important, world-historical off-year election, as all our good progressives are out there rallying the troops for the beleaguered Democrats, trying to hold the racist, tyrannical, warmongering Tea Party at bay, Scott Horton at Harper's provides us with yet another reminder of just what kind of governance these poor, beleaguered Democrats are delivering with the power they received in 2008.
Horton reports that Barack Obama has won a great victory for the power of the state to falsely imprison innocent citizens, subject them to repeated abuse, tell slanderous lies about them -- then absolve itself of any responsibility for this systematic series of crimes ... crimes committed in the name of racist, tyrannical warmongering.
Yes, Obama is back on the front lines in the legal battle to defend, uphold, entrench and expand the worst abuses of power carried out by his loathed predecessor. His Yoo-like legal minions have convinced the Supreme Court to consider quashing a case that has been upheld by several lower, conservative courts as one worthy to be heard in court. As Horton notes:
The case involves Lavni Kidd, a star football player at the University of Idaho who converted to Islam and changed his name to Abdullah al-Kidd. He was seized as he boarded a flight to pursue religious education in Saudi Arabia in 2003. Justice Department officials claimed that he was needed as a material witness in a case against another University of Idaho student, Sami Omar al-Hussayen, who was charged with visa fraud. It does not appear that Kidd knew anything relevant to the visa fraud case, federal authorities never called him to testify, and the prosecution of Hussayn, which rested on a feeble evidentiary case to start with, failed before an Idaho jury. The claim appears now to have been a shabby pretext for arresting Kidd, whose offense apparently consisted of converting to Islam and espousing views critical of the Bush Administration and its plans to invade Iraq under false pretenses.
Over a period of 16 days, Kidd was moved to three separate detention facilities in three different states. He was treated brutally, according to procedures that the Justice Department approved for use on terrorism suspects. He was subjected to a withering interrogation by FBI agents who demanded to know why he had converted to Islam. He was stripped naked, subjected to body cavity searches, shackled hand and foot, and incarcerated with violent convicts.
To secure Kidd’s detention as a material witness, the Justice Department made a series of false statements to the magistrate who issued a warrant—claiming that he had purchased a one-way, first-class ticket to Saudi Arabia, when in fact the Justice Department knew he had purchased a return economy class ticket, for instance. It also withheld such information as the fact that Kidd was a U.S. citizen who had cooperated with authorities. The record strongly suggests actual malice and bigotry. These facts no doubt played a strong role in persuading judges at the district court in Idaho and on the appeals court in California of the merits of the case. They therefore denied the Justice Department’s vigorously argued efforts to have it dismissed.
But Obama is tireless in his protection of tyranny. He seeks to defend it from any and all challenges, small or great. It would be the easiest thing in the world to simply step back and let this case be heard in court, let it be argued on its own merits and decided accordingly. It would not require some harsh denunciation of his predecessors, since he finds such things so distasteful. It would not require him to support his predecessors. It would not require the White House to do anything at all except to let justice takes its course.
But we know that our brave progressive paladin never takes the easy way. No, he will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with George Bush and John Ashcroft, he will stand up boldly, yea proudly, for jailing young students for voicing dissent, for rigging up false charges based on deliberate lies, for stripping innocent people and subjecting them to body cavity searches -- and for ensuring that no minion of the state who so abuses innocent citizens need ever face the slightest disturbance in his cushy, comfortable life. So he has fought it convince the Supreme Court to hear his earnest pleas for throwing out al-Kidd's case and protecting all those who abuse and pervert the power of the state.
This is what you support when you support Obama and the Democrats. And if we are about to get another gaggle of rapacious rightwing geese flapping into the corridors of power, it is precisely because the Democrats long ago sold out, lock, stock and millions of smoking barrels, to the corporate-militarist elite, leaving no genuine institutional outlets of opposition to corporate rapine, continual war and state tyranny within the American political system.
The liberal class, which once made piecemeal and incremental reform possible, functioned traditionally as a safety valve. During the Great Depression, with the collapse of capitalism, it made possible the New Deal. During the turmoil of the 1960s, it provided legitimate channels within the system to express the discontent of African-Americans and the anti-war movement. But the liberal class, in our age of neo-feudalism, is now powerless. It offers nothing but empty rhetoric. It refuses to concede that power has been wrested so efficiently from the hands of citizens by corporations that the Constitution and its guarantees of personal liberty are irrelevant. It does not act to mitigate the suffering of tens of millions of Americans who now make up a growing and desperate permanent underclass. And the disparity between the rhetoric of liberal values and the rapacious system of inverted totalitarianism the liberal class serves makes liberal elites, including Barack Obama, a legitimate source of public ridicule. The liberal class, whether in universities, the press or the Democratic Party, insists on clinging to its privileges and comforts even if this forces it to serve as an apologist for the expanding cruelty and exploitation carried out by the corporate state.
As long as the liberal class had even limited influence, whether through the press or the legislative process, liberals were tolerated and even respected. But once the liberal class lost all influence it became a class of parasites. The liberal class, like the déclassé French aristocracy, has no real function within the power elite. And the rising right-wing populists, correctly, ask why liberals should be tolerated when their rhetoric bears no relation to reality and their presence has no influence on power.
The death of the liberal class, however, is catastrophic for our democracy. It means there is no longer any check to a corporate apparatus designed to further enrich the power elite. It means we cannot halt the plundering of the nation by Wall Street speculators and corporations. An ineffectual liberal class, in short, means there is no hope, however remote, of a correction or a reversal through the political system and electoral politics. The liberals’ disintegration ensures that the frustration and anger among the working and the middle class will find expression in a rejection of traditional liberal institutions and the civilities of a liberal democracy. The very forces that co-opted the liberal class and are responsible for the impoverishment of the state will, ironically, reap benefits from the collapse. These corporate manipulators are busy channeling rage away from the corporate and military forces hollowing out the nation from the inside and are turning that anger toward the weak remnants of liberalism. It does not help our cause that liberals indeed turned their backs on the working and middle class. ...
The corporate state, by emasculating the liberal class, has opted for a closed system of polarization, gridlock and political theater in the name of governance. It has ensured a further destruction of state institutions so that government becomes even more ineffectual and despised. The collapse of the constitutional state, presaged by the death of the liberal class, has created a power vacuum that a new class of speculators, war profiteers, gangsters and killers, historically led by charismatic demagogues, will enthusiastically fill. It opens the door to overtly authoritarian and fascist movements. ....
The liberal class was permitted a place within a capitalist democracy because it also vigorously discredited radicals within American society who openly defied the excesses of corporate capitalism and who denounced a political system run by and on behalf of corporations. The real enemy of the liberal class has never been Glenn Beck, but Noam Chomsky.
The purging and silencing of independent and radical thinkers as well as iconoclasts have robbed the liberal class of vitality. The liberal class has cut itself off from the roots of creative and bold thought, from those forces and thinkers who could have prevented the liberal class from merging completely with the power elite. ...
Once the liberal class can no longer moderate the savage and greedy inclinations of the capitalist class, once, for example, labor unions are reduced to the role of bartering away wage increases and benefits, once public education is gutted and the press no longer gives a voice to the poor and the working class, liberals become as despised as the power elite they serve. The collapse of liberal institutions means those outside the circles of power are trapped, with no recourse, and this is why many Americans are turning in desperation toward idiotic right-wing populists who at least understand the power of hatred as a mobilizing force.
The liberal class no longer holds within its ranks those who have the moral autonomy or physical courage to defy the power elite. The rebels, from Chomsky to Sheldon Wolin to Ralph Nader, have been marginalized, shut out of the national debate and expelled from liberal institutions. The liberal class lacks members with the vision and fortitude to challenge dominant free market ideologies. It offers no ideological alternatives. It remains bound to a Democratic Party that has betrayed every basic liberal principle including universal healthcare, an end to our permanent war economy, a robust system of public education, a vigorous defense of civil liberties, job creation, the right to unionize and welfare for the poor.
... As Wall Street steals billions of taxpayer dollars, as it perpetrates massive fraud to throw people out of their homes, as the ecosystem that sustains the planet is polluted and destroyed, we do not know what to do or say. We have been robbed of a vocabulary to describe reality. We decry the excesses of capitalism without demanding a dismantling of the corporate state. Our pathetic response is to be herded to political rallies by skillful publicists to shout inanities like “Yes we can!”
The liberal class is finished. Neither it nor its representatives will provide the leadership or resistance to halt our slide toward despotism. The liberal class prefers comfort and privilege to confrontation. It will not halt the corporate assault or thwart the ascendancy of the corporate state. It will remain intolerant within its ranks of those who do. The liberal class now honors an unwritten quid pro quo, one set in place by Bill Clinton, to cravenly serve corporate interests in exchange for money, access and admittance into the halls of power.
The Democratic Party has become the enabler -- and the eager, avid enactor -- of the same sinister, inhumane, corrosive and murderous policies that liberals, progressives, dissenters, true patriots (call them what you will) once fought so hard to resist.
Now you can seek to close the "enthusiasm gap" ('Hey, did ya see that Big Dawg Bill is out there on the hustings for us again? Yeehaw!') for the Democrats, you can tremble in fear at the corporate-owned Tea Partiers (as if the Democrats are not also corporate-owned by war profiteers, community eviscerators and rapers of the land) -- but all you are doing is perpetuating the dynamic that has brought the Tea Partiers and their ilk to prominence. All you are doing is guaranteeing the further drift -- or rather, stampede -- of American politics toward the openly fascist, brutal, barbaric future that Hedges describes above.
You are standing with tyrants, with those who strip and abuse innocent citizens, with those who wage ceaseless, needless war, who kill the innocent, torture the captive, and drive millions of innocent people from their homes.
There will be no end to the horror, and not the slightest possibility of healing this broken society, and turning it, painfully, fitfully, toward something more holistic and humane, until you speak that word.
Many, many years ago, I noted in the Moscow Times that shortly after the 2003 invasion, the United States had begun hiring some of Saddam's old torturers as the invaders sought to quell the then-nascent "insurgency" -- i.e., the opposition to foreign occupation that when carried out by white men, such as the French during World War II, goes by the more ringing name of "resistance." Here's part of that report, from August 29, 2003:
Here's a headline you don't see every day: "War Criminals Hire War Criminals to Hunt Down War Criminals."
Perhaps that's not the precise wording used by the Washington Post this week, but it is the absolute essence of its story about the Bush Regime's new campaign to put Saddam's murderous security forces on America's payroll.
Yes, the sahibs in Bush's Iraqi Raj are now doling out American tax dollars to hire the murderers of the infamous Mukhabarat and other agents of the Baathist Gestapo – perhaps hundreds of them. The logic, if that's the word, seems to be that these bloodstained "insiders" will lead their new imperial masters to other bloodstained "insiders" responsible for bombing the UN headquarters in Baghdad – and killing another dozen American soldiers while Little George was playing with his putts during his month-long Texas siesta.
Naturally, the Iraqi people – even the Bush-appointed leaders of the Potemkin "Governing Council" – aren't exactly overjoyed at seeing Saddam's goons return, flush with American money and firepower. And they're certainly not reassured by the fact that the Bushists have also re-opened Saddam's most notorious prison, the dread Abu Ghraib, and are now, Mukhabarat-like, filling it with Iraqis – men, women and children as young as 11 – seized from their homes or plucked off the street to be held incommunicado, indefinitely, without due process, just like the old days. As The Times reports, weeping relatives who dare approach the gleaming American razor-wire in search of their "disappeared" loved ones are referred to a crude, hand-written sign pinned to a spike: "No visits are allowed, no information will be given and you must leave." Perhaps an Iraqi Akhmatova will do justice to these scenes one day.
One of the first stories out of the gate from the gigantic new release of classified documents on the Iraq War by Wikileaks details the willing connivance and cooperation between the American invaders and their Iraqi collaborators in perpetrating heinous tortures against Iraqis. As we know, the Americans themselves were not exactly averse to atrocious maltreatment of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis they have rounded up, overwhelmingly without charges or evidence, over the long, long years of this godforsaken enterprise. (As we've often noted here before, at one point early in the Iraq War, the Red Cross estimated that 70-90 percent of the more than 20,000 Iraqis then being held by the Americans as "suspected terrorists" were not guilty of any crime whatsoever. And of course many thousands more have been "churned" through the system since then. Which is doubtless one of the main reasons why there is still an active "insurgency" in Iraq after so many years of continuous "counter-insurgency." And yes, even after the "victorious" surge led by St. David Petraeus, and after the bogus "end of combat operations" declared by the Peace Laureate himself.)
But the Guardian story focuses on another key feature of the entire American Terror War -- indeed, of American foreign policy for a great many bipartisan decades: using proxies to do your dirty work. The Wikileaks documents spell out case after case of torture by the American-installed Iraqi lackeys -- often under the watchful eyes of American forces ... and countenanced, officially and formally, by the invaders. The Guardian reports:
This is the impact of Frago 242. A frago is a "fragmentary order" which summarises a complex requirement. This one, issued in June 2004, about a year after the invasion of Iraq, orders coalition troops not to investigate any breach of the laws of armed conflict, such as the abuse of detainees, unless it directly involves members of the coalition. Where the alleged abuse is committed by Iraqi on Iraqi, "only an initial report will be made … No further investigation will be required unless directed by HQ".
...Hundreds of the leaked war logs reflect the fertile imagination of the torturer faced with the entirely helpless victim – bound, gagged, blindfolded and isolated – who is whipped by men in uniforms using wire cables, metal rods, rubber hoses, wooden stakes, TV antennae, plastic water pipes, engine fan belts or chains. At the torturer's whim, the logs reveal, the victim can be hung by his wrists or by his ankles; knotted up in stress positions; sexually molested or raped; tormented with hot peppers, cigarettes, acid, pliers or boiling water – and always with little fear of retribution since, far more often than not, if the Iraqi official is assaulting an Iraqi civilian, no further investigation will be required.
Most of the victims are young men, but there are also logs which record serious and sexual assaults on women; on young people, including a boy of 16 who was hung from the ceiling and beaten; the old and vulnerable, including a disabled man whose damaged leg was deliberately attacked. The logs identify perpetrators from every corner of the Iraqi security apparatus – soldiers, police officers, prison guards, border enforcement patrols.
As the Guardian notes, the Americans were fully aware of what their charges were doing:
....There is no question of the coalition forces not knowing that their Iraqi comrades are doing this: the leaked war logs are the internal records of those forces. There is no question of the allegations all being false. Some clearly are, but most are supported by medical evidence and some involve incidents that were witnessed directly by coalition forces.
It should also be ntoed that many of the Iraqi "interrogation techniques" noted above have also featured systematically in the American gulag during the Bush-Obama years. In fact, we know that there is a trove of photographic evidence of rapes and tortures that have been seen by top American elected officials, including members of Congress, who talked openly of how sickening these documented atrocities were. Yet this evidence is still being withheld from the American people -- at the express order of Barack Obama, and the connivance of his fellow militarists in Congress.
Speaking of the Peace Laureate, the Wikileaks document show that these countenanced and/or winked-at atrocities by the American-installed structure in Iraq are still going on today. They are not just relics of the bad old Bush years:
And it does continue. With no effective constraint, the logs show, the use of violence has remained embedded in the everyday practice of Iraqi security, with recurrent incidents up to last December. Most often, the abuse is a standard operating procedure in search of a confession, whether true or false. One of the leaked logs has a detainee being beaten with chains, cables and fists and then confessing to involvement in killing six people because "the torture was too much for him to handle".
These are the direct fruits of the staggering act of evil that was -- and is -- the illegal, immoral invasion and occupation of Iraq. No, let's go further than that. These acts are just the latest fruits in an astonishingly brutal and coldly deliberate 20-year effort to destroy the Iraqi people: an effort carried out through four presidential administrations -- two Republicans, two Democrats -- with the complicity of successive British governments. It is a crusade that has involved two massively destructive major military campaigns and more than a decade of draconian sanctions, all of which have led to the needless deaths of more than one and a half million innocent people.
The Bush-Clinton sanction regime -- which also included a continual military component of bombing attacks -- is part and parcel of what has happened in Iraq during the past hellish decade ... and what is still happening there. As Joy Gordon notes in her landmark study of this cold-blooded berserkery, Invisible War, the sanctions regime:
caused hundreds of thousands of deaths; decimated the health of several million children; destroyed a whole economy; reduced a sophisticated country, in which much of the population lived as the middle class in a First World country, to the status of Fourth World countries -- the poorest of the poor, such as Rwanda, Somalia, Haiti; and in a society notable for its scientists, engineers and doctors, established an economy dominated by beggars, criminals and black marketeers.
Gordon's detailed, richly sourced and morally horrifying account of the sanctions era must be read to be believed. However bad you thought it was, the reality was much worse. I hope to be writing much more on this seminal work in the weeks to come. I strongly urge you to read it. But suffice to say for now that the manner in which Bush and Clinton officials used that dead hand of bureaucracy and cool, convoluted legalistic jargon to hide a crazed policy of murderous intent reminded me of nothing so much as the dealings of Nazi officials with the Jewish ghettos of Warsaw and Lodz before their final destruction.
We''ll have much more here on the Wikileaks release as people begin combing through the 400,000 documents. Wikileaks has done us all a great service by putting this vast war atrocity -- which is still going on -- back on the front pages, forcing the murderers and their accomplices and "continuers" in the halls of power to scurry around like rats caught in the light, twisting and squealing, trying to find some way to obscure the gobs of blood dripping from their hands and lips.