"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings." -- Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
"Just because I don't care doesn't mean I don't understand." -- Homer Simpson
Our text today is from Tom Englehardt, who is on the case with yet another ignored atrocity by our super-duper Special Ops boys in the goodest good war of them all out in Afghanistan. (See the original for the many links):
[H]ere it is in a nutshell: there was a U.S. night raid somewhere near the Afghan city of Jalalabad. American forces (Special Operations forces, undoubtedly), supposedly searching for a "Taliban facilitator," came across a man they claimed was armed in a country in which the unarmed man is evidently like the proverbial needle in a haystack. They shot him down. His name was Amanullah. He was a 30-year-old auto mechanic and the father of five. As it happened, he was also the brother-in-law of Safia Siddiqi, a sitting member of the Afghan Parliament. He had, as she explained, called her in a panic, thinking that brigands were attacking his home compound.
And here was the nice touch for those U.S. Special Operations guys, who seem to have learning abilities somewhat lower than those of a hungry mouse in a maze when it comes to hearts-and-minds-style counterinsurgency warfare. True, in this case they didn’t shoot two pregnant mothers and a teenage girl, dig the bullets out of the bodies, and claim they had stumbled across "honor killings," as Special Operations troops did in a village near Gardez in eastern Afghanistan in March; nor did they handcuff seven schoolboys and a shepherd and execute them, as evidently happened in Kunar Province in late December 2009; nor had they shot a popular imam in his car with his seven-year-old son in the backseat, as a passing NATO convoy did in Kabul, the Afghan capital, back in January; nor had they shadowed a three-vehicle convoy by helicopter on a road near the city of Kandahar and killed 21 while wounding 13 via rocket fire, as U.S. Special Forces troops did in February. They didn’t wipe out a wedding party – a common enough occurrence in our Afghan War — or a funeral, or a baby-naming ceremony (as they did in Paktia Province, also in February), or shoot up any one of a number of cars, trucks, and buses loaded with innocent civilians at a checkpoint.
In this case, they killed only one man, who was unfortunately — from their point of view — reasonably well connected. Then, having shot him, they reportedly forced the 15 inhabitants in his family compound out, handcuffed and blindfolded them (including the women and children), and here was that nice touch: they sent in the dogs, animals considered unclean in Islamic society, undoubtedly to sniff out explosives. Brilliant! "They disgraced our pride and our religion by letting their dogs sniff the holy Koran, our food, and the kitchen," Ms. Siddiqi said angrily. And then, the American military began to lie about what had happened, which is par for the course. After the angry legislator let them have it ("…no one in Afghanistan is safe — not even parliamentarians and the president himself") and the locals began to protest, blocking the main road out of Jalalabad and chanting "Death to America!," they finally launched an investigation. Yawn.
If I had a few bucks for every "investigation" the U.S. military launched in Iraq and Afghanistan over the years after some civilian or set of civilians died under questionable circumstances, I might be on vacation year around.
The U.S. military can, however, count on one crucial factor in its repetitive war-making: kill some pregnant mothers, kill some schoolboys, gun down a good Samaritan with two children in his car trying to transport Iraqis wounded in an Apache helicopter attack to a hospital, loose a whirlwind that results in hundreds of thousands of deaths — and still Americans at home largely don’t care. After all, for all intents and purposes, it’s as if some other country were doing this on another planet entirely, and "for our safety" at that.
In that sense, the American public licenses its soldiers to kill civilians repetitively in distant frontier wars. As a people — with the exception of relatively small numbers of Americans directly connected to the hundreds of thousands of American troops abroad — we couldn’t be more detached from "our" wars.
This is a theme, a reality, that is emerging more clearly as the years of the never-ending Terror War drag on: by and large, the American people do not care about the innocent people being killed, in their names, all over the world. They don't care about "the children’s limbs hanging in trees," as war's eyewitness John Pilger puts it.
They don't care -- even as the inevitable, predictable blowback from these murderous polices comes home to roost on their own streets, the icy voice of revenge that says: "You come to our countries and kill our people; we will come to your country and kill yours." The former is considered a high and noble calling; the latter an act of unspeakable evil. That violence is not the answer -- that it only perpetuates the endless cycle of murder and vengeance that has marked our humankind since our mutation out of apehood -- is of no moment to those who see their loved ones shredded to death unjustly before their eyes.
What would I do if I came home from an ordinary day at work to find my children -- my children -- dead beneath the ruins of my drone-struck house? What would I do if saw my ailing father muscled from his home by masked goons who beat him and humiliate him then drag him off, bleeding, dying, to some iron-fronted dungeon? I hope I would have the strength to hold onto my belief in non-violence as the only hope to one day evolve our natures, and our cultures, beyond their deep-dyed savagery. But how likely is it that I would be that extraordinary, that I would have the extra measure of wisdom to know that more death and destruction would not bring back my loved ones, but only keep the cycle going to devour more innocents? How likely is it that I would have the moral courage to fight off the "cloud of blood and hormones" that drives the craving for revenge?
Not too likely, I fear; not in my case, nor in that of most others. Yet every day -- day in, day out, week after week, month after month, year after year -- atrocities like those described above are being carried out, in the name of the American people, in the name of civilization, in the name of our "way of life." Every day, day after day, some father or mother finds their children's limbs hanging in the trees, some child finds his parent's broken bodies smoking in the rubble, some ordinary, innocent human being sees their loved ones beaten, chained, abused and killed. Every day, day after day.
Only a fool -- a bloody-minded, arrogant, puffed-up, pig-ignorant fool -- could not see the horrific harvest of hate and destruction that will spring from such evil seeds. Only a fool -- or an elitist so wadded in wealth and privilege that he believes these monstrous fruits will never touch him personally, and doesn't care what happens to the rabble below, as long as his profits -- and his primitive, psychosexual lust for forcible dominion -- remain safe.
We are ruled today by just such fools, together with just such cold, deadened, malevolent spirits. But we seem to be content with this. Indeed, the most vociferous, active dissent we see these days comes from those who feel the system is not cruel enough -- who rage at the very thought that tax money might be spent to help someone in need, or that the borders have not yet been laced with radioactive razor-wire, or that accused criminals still have their rights read to them, or that Iran has not been destroyed, or that the power of Big Money might in any way be hedged with light restrictions.
These things bring thousands out in anger: but murder, aggression, torture, atrocity, and corruption on a scale unseen and hitherto unimaginable in human history -- these leave them cold ... as cold as the malevolent spirits who with their useful fools accelerate our degradation.
*This piece has been edited since its original posting.
Illness and other aggravations have hindered the blogivating of late, so below are some choice items from other quarters that are well worth your attention.
The Children's Crusade Andy Worthington tells the truly horrendous story of Omar Khadr, who was taken captive as a child by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and has now spent eight years in the lower depths of the American gulag. He is now being "tried" in the kangaroo "tribunals" of the Bush-Obama Continuum, under arbitrarily concocted, illogical "laws" whose cruel absurdity would shame a Stalinist show trial, including this arbitary ruling by the Department of Defense: “a detainee may be convicted of murder in violation of the law of war even if they did not actually violate the law of war.” You must read the whole piece to see the abysmal depravity that now reigns supreme throughout the highest, most respectable reaches of the bipartisan American estabishment.
Chris Hedges tells a few home truths about the state of the union, in the aptly titled, "No One Cares":
We are approaching a decade of war in Afghanistan, and the war in Iraq is in its eighth year. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands more Afghans and Pakistani civilians have been killed. Millions have been driven into squalid displacement and refugee camps. Thousands of our own soldiers and Marines have died or been crippled physically and psychologically. We sustain these wars, which have no real popular support, by borrowing trillions of dollars that can never be repaid, even as we close schools, states go into bankruptcy, social services are cut, our infrastructure crumbles, tens of millions of Americans are reduced to poverty, and real unemployment approaches 17 percent. Collective, suicidal inertia rolls us forward toward national insolvency and the collapse of empire. And we do not protest. The peace movement, despite the heroic efforts of a handful of groups such as Iraq Veterans Against the War, the Green Party and Code Pink, is dead. No one cares.
The roots of mass apathy are found in the profound divide between liberals, who are mostly white and well educated, and our disenfranchised working class, whose sons and daughters, because they cannot get decent jobs with benefits, have few options besides the military. Liberals, whose children are more often to be found in elite colleges than the Marine Corps, did not fight the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994 and the dismantling of our manufacturing base. They did nothing when the Democrats gutted welfare two years later and stood by as our banks were turned over to Wall Street speculators. They signed on, by supporting the Clinton and Obama Democrats, for the corporate rape carried out in the name of globalization and endless war, and they ignored the plight of the poor. And for this reason the poor have little interest in the moral protestations of liberals. We have lost all credibility. We are justly hated for our tacit complicity in the corporate assault on workers and their families.
Our passivity has resulted, however, in much more than imperial adventurism and a permanent underclass. A slow-motion coup by a corporate state has cemented into place a neofeudalism in which there are only masters and serfs. And the process is one that cannot be reversed through the traditional mechanisms of electoral politics.
Outsourcing Pain for Insider Profit From Corrente comes the shocking news that Barack Obama has put the voracious foxes of privilege and profit in charge of the henhouse of entitlement programs. The Correnthians point to a piece by James Ridgeway:
When Obama’s new deficit commission gets going, it intends to be “partnering“–in the words of executive director Bruce Reed – with outside groups. Among them will be the foundation run by Wall Street billionaire Peter G. Peterson, who on Wednesday will upstage the president with his own fiscal summit in Washington. Obama insists he is keeping an open mind about how to deal with the deficit and national debt–but as I’ve written before, he’s already stacked his own commission with people who lean heavily toward one particular solution: cutting entitlements. And now he is working hand-in-glove with a wealthy private organization whose central purpose is to cut Social Security and Medicare. Talk about foregone conclusions.
Not just foregone, but foreordained, as anyone who noted the herd of Big Money moose that Candidate Obama had gathered around him during his run for the White House could have foreseen. (Step forward, Arthur Silber and Pam Martens!)
Partners in Crime As Dan Kovalik reports, the "genocidal democracy" in Colombia continues to rage on, with even more American help than ever from the progressive Peace Laureate in the White House. With up to 150,000 "extrajudicial killings" by state forces and their proxies, the Obama administration is hugging the berserkers even tighter:
Father Giraldo, citing new estimates by Colombia's own Prosecutor General, has now shattered those original estimates, announcing that the Prosecutor General is currently investigating 150,000 extrajudicial killings by the paramilitary groups - killings which took place between the late 1980's and the current time. ... [Yet] even as the U.S. has provided Colombia with massive amounts of assistance - most of it military, of course - Colombia has continued to slip deeper and deeper into poverty, with 43% of its population now living in poverty and 23% living in "extreme poverty." As the Washington Post explained, Colombia is "the only major country in Latin America in which the gap between the rich and poor has increased in recent years, according to a report by the UN Economic Commission on Latin America."
Of course, as Father Giraldo noted ... this is all according to Washington's plan to make Colombia a compliant country open to unchecked exploitation by U.S. companies with an endless well of hunger for Colombia's vast reserves of oil, coal, fruits, flowers and precious metals and gems, as well as for a desperate workforce willing to accept barely-subsistent wages.
With President Obama continuing to solidify the U.S.'s relationship with Colombia through a new deal which will give the U.S. access to 7 military bases, and through a Free Trade Agreement which Obama is now pushing, despite his campaign pledges to oppose it, this deadly game plan continues unabated. Only massive resistance in this country can end such destructive foreign policies.
Well, it would end such destructive policies -- except for the fact that, as noted above, no one cares. After all, there has not been a single objection raised among our great and good -- or the public at large -- against Obama's own embrace of "extrajudicial killing" of American citizens (and anyone else on earth our elite want to kill). So what's a few more -- or a hundred more -- or 150,00 more -- assassinated peasants?
I. The Ghost Who Walks
Last week, the reappearance of a figure from the recent past briefly stirred the amnesiac fog that enfolds the brutal reality of the American empire. Former Panamanian ruler Manuel Noriega was taken from the American prison which has been his home for the past 21 years and flown to Paris, where he is to stand trial for decades-old drug-trafficking charges.
The extradition was itself illegal. Noriega, who was captured after the illegal American invasion of his country in 1989, was classed by the United States as a "prisoner of war." In fact, he is the only official POW in American hands today; the empire's innumerable Terror War captives have been denied this designation and its legal protections under the Geneva Conventions. But of course the United States long ago stopped paying even lip service to those "quaint" strictures, as the Noriega case once again demonstrates. Under the Geneva Conventions, POWs cannot be sent by their captors to a third country. But Washington wants to keep Noriega – a former CIA asset who left the rez and defied his imperial paymasters – under wraps, even though his U.S. sentence for drug charges has now been served. So off he went to France at the order of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – convention, and Conventions, be damned.
But why is it so vital to keep the ex-CIA hireling deep-sixed? Simon Tisdall has some answers in the Guardian. Tisdall notes that the U.S. invasion was ordered by Noriega's former CIA boss turned president, George Herbert Walker Bush, to complete an American-backed coup that had failed a few months earlier. Bush sent 24,000 troops to the tiny Central American country – which had been illegally hived off from Colombia in the early 20th century in order to give America control over the territory where the Panama Canal would be built.
By the time of the Bush invasion, American elites had been fuming for years over the Panama Canal Treaty signed in 1977 by President Jimmy Carter, which finally gave control of the Canal to Panama. Even though the treaty would not go into effect until 1999, it evoked bitter and virulent controversy, as anyone around in those days will remember well: Carter was a traitor, a socialist, a weakling, giving away sacred American territory and undermining national security, etc., etc. In fact, the battle was in many ways a test-run for the well-oiled combination of corporate interests, aggressive nationalism and right-wing crankery that would dominate American life after 1980.
Noriega came to power after the death of the Panamanian leader who had signed the treaty, Omar Torrijos – who went down in a plane crash a few months after anti-treaty stalwarts Ronald Reagan and CIA chief Herbie Walker took over in Washington. Noriega, who had been a CIA "asset" since the late 1950s, carried on his yeoman service on behalf of his new bosses for awhile – but the assumption of formal power went to his head. He forgot he was a servant, was surly with his masters, and finally crossed the line: refusing to take part in the secret terrorist war that Reagan and Bush were waging, with Iranian money, against Nicaragua. Suddenly, Noriega's manifold crimes and massive corruption, which Washington had tolerated – indeed rewarded – for decades, suddenly became matters of urgent concern. Noriega went from imperial pet to "new Hitler" in fairly short order. Tisdall takes up the story:
Noriega was a thug. But for many years, he was America's thug – until he turned on his mentors. Trained in military and intelligence matters at the School of the Americas, he became for a time a valued CIA "asset" working for the agency and the US Drug Enforcement Administration. Government documents submitted to the Miami court in pre-trial hearings in 1991-92 confirmed that Noriega was paid (at least) $320,000 by the US government for services rendered. Simply put, Noriega knew too much. He acted as a cold war listening post for the US during turbulent times in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, according to William Buckley's book, Panama: the Whole Story. …
In this capacity, Noriega would have heard a great deal of interesting material, as the Reagan-Bush team aided and abetted horrific atrocities carried out by their right-wing proxies in the region, depredations that killed thousands of innocent people – more than 200,000 in Guatemala alone. Back to Tisdall:
The jury in Noriega's trial on 10 narrowly defined drug-related counts heard none of this. Nor did it hear about Noriega's contacts with Oliver North, John Poindexter, CIA chief William Casey and other key figures in the Ronald Reagan and Bush administrations who, allegedly, connived in the supply of arms to Nicaragua's Contra rebels paid for with Medellín cartel drug cash. There were many other such allegations; and Noriega claimed to have proof of senior US politicians' connivance in drug trafficking for political purposes. But none was allowed in evidence.
Having served his sentence, the "prisoner of war" Noriega should now be returned to his own country. But this cannot be allowed. As Tisdall notes:
In Panama, Noriega would have been free to tell all he knew. And for many powerful men in Washington, some of whom are still alive, that prospect was potentially dangerous. The outcome of the Noriega case in Miami, like the 1989 invasion, was never in doubt from day one. It was a show trial, a warning to others. It was pure vengeance. It was a cover-up of decades of illicit regional meddling. But it was also a demonstration of raw American power, of which the world was soon to have more frightening examples.
II. The Past is Prologue
What does this "ancient" history have to do with our brave new world, where world-renowned progressive heroes and Peace Laureates guide with benign and benevolent hand? Plenty.
Noriega's case reminds us of the cynical and brutal nature of the American empire's actual operations. Not the gauzy pictures painted by the increasingly all-pervading "psy-ops" warfare conducted by our militarist honchos to control the "information battlespace" of the American mind (as powerfully detailed in a new piece by Tom Hayden), but the genuine blood-soaked filth and crime which undergirds "the shining city on a hill." This is not old news or ancient history: it is happening today, all over the world, in shadows and corners we will never see – except in stolen glimpses revealed by accident, or by leaks from one pack of courtiers trying to bring down another, or through diligent efforts of a handful of journalists and investigators, and the enormous courage of some survivors and eyewitnesses to the operations of power.
The rise of Barack Obama to temporary management of the imperial enterprise has changed nothing of this. Nor was it ever intended to. As I noted here back in March 2008, before Obama had secured the Democratic nomination:
Well, it doesn't really get much plainer than this, does it? From AP:
Obama Aligns Foreign Policy with GOP
Sen. Barack Obama said Friday … "that my foreign policy is actually a return to the traditional bipartisan realistic policy of George Bush's father, of John F. Kennedy, of, in some ways, Ronald Reagan...."
Obama is doing two things here, reaching out to two very different audiences, on different wavelengths. First, for the hoi polloi, he is simply pandering in the most shameless way imaginable, throwing out talismans for his TV-addled audience to comfort themselves with: "You like JFK? I'll be like him! You like Reagan? I'll be like him too! You like the first George Bush? Hey, I'll be just like him as well!" This is a PR tactic that goes all the way back to St. Paul the spinmeister, who boasted of his ability to massage his message and "become all things to all men." Obama has long proven himself a master of this particular kind of political whoredom -- much like Bill Clinton, in fact, another champion of "bipartisan foreign policy" who for some strange reason got left off Obama's list of role models.
But beyond all the rubes out there, Obama is also signaling to the real masters of the United States, the military-corporate complex, that he is a "safe pair of hands" -- a competent technocrat who won't upset the imperial applecart but will faithfully follow the 60-year post-war paradigm of leaving "all options on the table" and doing "whatever it takes" to keep the great game of geopolitical dominance going strong.
What other conclusion can you draw from Obama's reference to these avatars, and his very pointed identification with them? He is saying, quite clearly, that he will practice foreign policy just as they did. And what they do? Committed, instigated, abetted and countenanced a relentless flood of crimes, murders, atrocities, deceptions, corruptions, mass destruction and state terrorism… [This was followed by detailed examples from this glorious record.]
What Obama promised, he has delivered. Escalating the Terror War, expanding arbitrary powers over life and liberty (even openly proclaiming the power to kill American citizens by executive order), protecting the avowed torturers of his predecessor while continuing "enhanced interrogations" by American agents and foreign proxies, filling the coffers of war profiteers with ever-increasing mountains of loot – in all things he has proved himself an apt pupil and worthy heir of the imperial ancestors he lauded.
Just last month had another of those rare glimpses into the thuggish reality of imperial power in its continuity under Obama. It was in Afghanistan, now ruled by Obama's hand-picked commander, General Stanley McChrystal – a long-time expert in the blackest ops of covert war, a man "whose entire career in Iraq remains a classified secret," as Hayden reminds us. It was a small story, making only the slightest stir for a few hours: the report that Obama's secret terror warriors had dug the bullets out of the bodies of two pregnant women and a teenage girl they had killed in a botched night raid on a home that was actually occupied by officials of the American-backed Afghan government. Evidence indicated that the American agents used knives – or for all we know, can openers – to pry their bullets loose from the still-fresh corpses, and from the surrounding walls which had been sprayed, berserker-style, in the raid. Then the respectable official spokesmen for the American military put out the story that the dead women had been victims of an "honor killing" at the hands of the barbaric natives: the hands, in fact, of the two men who had also been killed in the raid – a police commander and a prosecutor for the U.S-backed government, now transformed into "insurgents."
In this particular case, the operations of the fog machine were thwarted by a reporter for the UK paper, The Times, who, practicing the ever more novel art of journalism, uncovered the truth by going to the scene and talking to eyewitnesses, survivors, and local officials. Finally, weeks later, the American brass were forced to admit that their agents had murdered the innocent villagers, violated their corpses and then lied to the world about it. The usual scrapings from petty cash were passed around to the survivors -- $10,000 for five lives. American officials made the usual apologies. "Black Ops" McChrystal made the usual noises about avoiding civilian casualties and tightening the reins on his night riders.
That's it. That's all that happened. No one was punished, no one was prosecuted, no one was fired or even reprimanded for this act of murder and butchery. The story appeared, there was the slightest parting of the cloud, then the fog enfolded reality again.
And this was just one story. What of the many – the countless – other stories that never see even a glint of the light of day? The incidents that go on – the murder, corruption, subornation, subversion, thuggery, and crime of every description that are the daily business of maintaining a system of military dominion and rampant oligarchy? We don't know the half of it, the tenth of it; we wander in the fog, hearing the distant ghostly moans, but never knowing where they come from, or what they mean.
Listen now to a further point: no mortal thing
Has a beginning, nor does it end in death and obliteration;
There is only a mixing and then a separating of what was mixed,
But by mortal men these processes are named 'beginnings.'
"Dream delivers us to dream, and there is no end to illusion. Life is a train of moods like a string of beads, and as we pass through them they prove to be many-coloured lenses which paint the world their own hue, and each shows only what lies in its focus."
-- R.W. Emerson
*** A conversation during Civil War. (From Bright, Terrible Spirit):
"But in days past, I was a lawyer. Yes, a lawyer, can you believe it? It seems….ridiculous now, doesn't it? An orderly system meant to govern human society, to establish justice, to advance the progress and enlightenment of the human race. Yet that system, that civil cosmos – to which I was so passionately committed – embraced and protected the most wretched evils, entrenched the powerful in their unjust privilege, oppressed the poor and weak most relentlessly and wickedly, yet at every step – at every step – sang hosannas to itself as some kind of divinity. The "Law" – oh, what a hush of reverence surrounded that word, how deeply that reverence and respect penetrated the heart. Well, my heart, anyway. But in these last few years we have seen – in intense, concentrated, microscopic view – the truth about the law, a truth which too often escaped us in the slow unrolling of peacetime. The truth that there is no law, no Platonic Form out there to which we give paltry representation. There is only power: power in conflict with power, power seeking to drive out power, to establish its dominance, maintain its privilege. Power…acquiesces to law – sometimes – but it never, never bows to it. Power goes along with the law when it is convenient to do so, when it is not too restrictive, when it demands little more than the occasional sacrifice – for the powerful are certainly not above throwing one of their own to the mob when circumstances require. But when it comes to the crisis, power shreds the law like a filthy rag and has its own way. And then you see that the law is nothing but a rag, to be torn and patched and fitted to power's aims. The worst atrocities I have seen or heard of in this war have been committed wholly and completely under the law. This thing I held in such reverence was, is, nothing but a scrap soaked with blood and shit.
"I know there are philosophical arguments to be made against this viewpoint. I have made them in the past, and could even now conjure them up like spirits and make them dance before us. It would be a solace to me, to believe once again. But it would only last a moment. For I know what I know. I know what life has taught me, what it has shown me, I see the evidence laid clearly before me and the jury of my mind returns the inescapable, indisputable verdict. I can tell by your expression that you know what I'm talking about."
"I have some inkling, yes," Jim said, warily. He was reluctant to give away anything of his own troubled thoughts. He was also not entirely sure that Malcolm Stuart was sane. Where was this bleak outpouring headed? Toward some mad act of despair? Or was it simply the overflow of a long-pent mind, giving vent to some of its pressures?
The dead sun drew
a smile of blood across my face,
spoke to me through
the shadow of my voice:
Man, it said, this might be next to nothing
and drawn through a bitter tap,
but it's all you'll ever have.
Don't spill a drop.
-- John Glenday, from Grain
And here's Emerson again, on organ, with a backing band:
Well, that wasn't exactly the headline – but it was the truth behind the reports about the vote in the House of Representatives to tighten the ligature of sanctions around the neck of Iran, as Antiwar.com reports. In accordance with the "diplomacy" of the Peace Laureate in the Oval Office, the House wants to "cripple" the Iranian economy by starving the human beings who live there of gasoline and other vital goods necessary to maintain a modicum of ordinary life.
In other words, the popularly elected leaders of the world's greatest democracy – champions of liberty, justice and human rights – want to stop ambulances from transporting sick and dying children to the hospital. They want whole families to burn to death, whole city blocks to go up in flames while fuelless fire trucks stand idle. They want deliveries of food and medicine to grind to a halt, setting off spirals of starvation, disease, chaos and vast suffering. They want to see tens of millions of innocent human beings driven into a low and brutal level of subsistence, to languish, diminish – and die – in deprivation and misery. This is what they want to see happen. This is the clear intent of their "diplomatic" strategy.
And why are they doing this? Because – ostensibly because – the government of Iran is pursuing the development of a nuclear energy program in accordance with international treaties and under international supervision. And if the above condign punishment of millions of innocent people does not force the government of Iran to give up this legal, carefully inspected program, then the champions of liberty, justice and human rights have proclaimed their intent to unilaterally attack Iran with all the "options" at their command, up to and including the "option" of immolating multitudes of innocent human beings with nuclear weapons.
Now, the government of Iran is an odious regime. Not nearly as odious as, say, the regime of America's staunch ally in the region, Saudi Arabia, of course, but odious enough. But as restrictive as it has been to its own citizens, it has not – in the last decade alone – launched and maintained massive wars of aggression and domination that have killed, by direct and collateral hand, more than a million innocent people. The bipartisan champions of liberty, justice and human rights in Washington have done that, and are doing that.
They seek to break Iran not because it is an odious regime, but because it defies the imperial will, and balks the bipartisan imperial agenda to impose domination on the oil lands. If Iran agreed to become an American client state tomorrow, it would not matter in the least how odious its regime might be -- as we saw in the long, atrocious decades when America's pet tyrant, Reza Pahlavi, ruled there. But because Iran has not agreed to this, it is now a target for decimation: by sanctions and the ongoing campaign of American-backed terrorism and covert operation (all of which are themselves acts of war, including most emphatically the sanctions, as noted here recently), or else by direct military action by American war machine or its proxy in Israel.
And that is why we hear the constant regurgitation of ludicrous charges from our national leaders on the "great threat" that Iran poses to the entire planet. Indeed, Harry Reid, the leading Democrat in the United States Senate -- lauding the House vote and licking his chops to advance this escalation bill to final approval in his bailiwick -- declared that Iran was "a festering sore in the world": crude, dehumanizing language familiar to anyone with even the slightest knowledge of Nazi propaganda. Reid went on:
"As [the House] get [the bill] out, I will move everything within my power to move it to the floor [of the Senate] The Middle East is unstable. This will help stabilize it."
Just think of the towering stupidity of that remark. Whatever else you might say about tightening sanctions on Iran -- even if you believed it was the right thing to do -- the one thing you could not say is that such a move will "help stabilize" the Middle East. Indeed, Iran hawks of every stripe -- from the sanctionist strangulators to the bomb-em-now brigade -- openly, even proudly aver that their ultimate aim is to overthrow the current Iranian regime: that is, to greatly, vastly, decisively de-stabilize the Middle East by bringing down one of its most powerful governments. And of course, the sanctions themselves -- like all the other war measures launched by the United States against Iran, and like all the aggressive, constant threats to attack, punish, even obliterate Iran -- are clearly and deliberately aimed at provoking retaliation by the Tehran government: blowback which will, by design, make the Middle East more unstable ... thus 'justifying' whatever measures the United States takes to further its dominationist agenda.
Reid knows this, of course. He does not believe -- not for a single nano-second -- that tightening the noose around Iran's neck will "help stabilize" the Middle East. But he -- like our entire bipartisan foreign policy establishment -- thinks that you are stupid enough to believe it.
Reid's warmongering lies were echoed by another top Democrat, Rep. Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who, as AFP reports, forthrightly declared that "the world faces no security threat greater than the prospect of a nuclear Iran."
O lucky world! The greatest thing we have to fear -- in all the world -- is the prospect that Iran -- whose leaders consistently denounce even the idea of nuclear weapons as the gravest sin, and whose nuclear energy program (we repeat for the nth time) is under the closest international supervision ever imposed on a nation -- might, somehow, someday, produce a nuclear weapon. If the mere prospect of this remote possibility is the greatest thing we have to fear in the modern world, then by Godfrey we are in a lot better shape than I thought.
But again, none of this is true. And Berman -- even though he is one of many Congressfolk who seem to believe that they actually represent a district located somewhere between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea -- knows it is not true. He knows, as any sentient being knows, that even if Iran did produce a nuclear weapon, it would not and could not pose an "existential threat" to Israel -- or to the United States for that matter. Any nuclear attack by Iran on Israel would result in a massive retaliation from Israel's nuclear arsenal (obtained and maintained illegally, outside any international treaty or supervision). And even if Israel had no nukes, a nuclear attack by Tehran in the close quarters of the Middle East would rain deadly fallout back on Iran itself. Not to mention the distinct possibility of retaliation by the United States -- or indeed Russia or any number of nuclear states who would feel threatened by this wanton, self-destructive act of nuclear aggression.
In any case, all of this speculation -- every bit of it -- is itself the purest fantasy. It is not going to happen -- and our champions of liberty, justice and human rights who sit ensconced in the midst of thousands of nuclear weapons while directing wars of aggression -- know it is not going to happen. The "Iranian threat," as promulgated by the leaders of both parties in the United States, is the basest of falsehoods -- as the promulgators themselves well know.
I realize it is deeply insulting to the intelligence of anyone with a modicum of intelligence to point out these glaringly, tediously obvious facts -- but when you are dealing with the vast amount of crude, Nazi-like propaganda that daily inundates the American people on the subject of Iran, this kind of waste treatment is necessary.
Arthur Silber is back, with piercing insights that rip the veil which even self-proclaimed dissenters still draw across the blood-soaked reality of what Silber aptly calls the "Death State" that has long "wrapped the world in flames" (to quote the preferred method of resolving diplomatic conflicts famously voiced by Abe Lincoln's secretary of state) from its mephitic base on the Potomac.
As always with Silber, you must read the whole piece (and follow the links) to get the full force of the argument, which is nuanced, multifarious and deeply considered, but here is just the briefest excerpt to send you on your way:
I repeat a few words I first wrote at the beginning of 2009...:
For more than a hundred years, the foreign policy of the United States government has been directed to the establishment and maintenance of global dominance. To this end, violence, overthrow, conquest and murder have been utilized as required ... More and more, oppression and brutalization have become the bywords of domestic policy as well. Today, the United States as a political entity is a corporatist-authoritarian-militarist monstrosity: its major products are suffering, torture, barbarism and death on a huge scale.
I repeat the fundamental point to make certain there is no misunderstanding as to where I stand on this question: as a political entity, the United States is an endlessly destructive monstrosity. The overwhelming majority of people -- including, I regret to say, even many of those who are severely critical of the United States government -- fail to understand this point in anything close to the thorough and consistent manner required. This failure is the result of an earlier one: an inability to grasp fully what it means to revere the sacred value of a single human life.
When you've done that, scoot on over to Truthdig, where you will find William Pfaff writing in a similar vein about the bloody deceptions of the Death State: past, present -- and future. Some excerpts:
It is a dismaying reflection that the facilitators of major violence thus far in the 21st century have been lies told by democratic governments. The lies are continuing to be told, about the supposed “existential” menace posed by Iran to Israel, America and (if you believe some European leaders) Western Europe ... Injustice and lies in the Middle East were responsible for unnecessary new wars in the new century, in which the United States took the lead. This time the lies were ideologically motivated and expedient lies—first, that Saddam Hussein bore responsibility for the September 2001 attacks on United States. He did not.
Next was the fiction that Hussein’s government, during the period of U.N. sanctions before 2003, was able to secretly construct nuclear weapons, despite the efforts of Western intelligence to detect them or deter him, and the presence of U.N. inspectors. There were no such weapons. ...
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reportedly sent a secret letter to President Barack Obama in January reviewing the military options available if diplomacy and the new American attempt to intensify international sanctions on Iran fail to produce the desired halt in Iran’s effort, if that is what it is, to build a nuclear deterrent. If Iran does pursue a nuclear capability, once again it is to deter attack. Precisely the same objection exists to theories of Iranian aggression as to those lies put forward in 2002-03 about Iraq posing a nuclear menace to the world. Once more, the threat is a polemical invention, intended to frighten American and Israeli (and European) voters and to prompt a preemptive attack on Iran ...
The release of Gates' memo was part of the usual factional cat-fighting among the militarist courtiers: some want to attack Iran now, some want to wait until later -- or as that great liberal-progressive hero Admiral Fallon once said of the human beings in Iran: "These guys are ants. When the time comes, you crush them." For now, most of the factionalists lean toward the Fallon scenario: crush the insects later, when we don't have so much on our plate, and it will be more profitable.
And thus the Nobel Peace Laureate who is temporarily managing the Death State is now pushing hard for even more sanctions on the Iranians for the crime of ... developing a nuclear energy program as allowed by international treaty and inspected to a fare-thee-well by international observers. The defenders of the Nobelist -- I suppose we must call him the Death Laureate -- point to his push for sanctions as proof of his "different" approach to the "threat" of Iran. But what is the reality of such sanctions? Again, Arthur Silber nailed it well, in a piece from 2009:
A sanctions regime is not an alternative to war: it is the prelude to attack or invasion. Moreover, sanctions murder a hideous number of innocent people as surely as more overt acts of war.
We estimate between 500,000 to 1 million Iraqis died in the 1990s, a very large proportion being children. To what end? Not, Lando maintains, to destroy Saddam Hussein's WMDs but to force him out. ... The CIA badly miscalculated that sanctions, coupled with Iraq's devastating defeat, would result in a military coup, toppling Saddam. Anything but. The sanctions and Saddam's heightened repression insured his survival--much to the frustration of Western leaders ... The sanctions worked only as partly intended: They imposed untold suffering on the population. Americans at the UN blocked a request to ship baby food because adults might use it. They vetoed sending a heart pill that contained a milligram of cyanide because tens of thousands of such pills could become a lethal weapon. The banned list included filters for water treatment plants, vaccines, cotton swabs and gauze, children's clothes, funeral shrouds. Somehow, even Vietnamese pingpong balls found their way to the proscribed list.
Sanctions devastated the country's medical system, once one of the best in the region. Sanctions insured that malnutrition would morph into virtual death sentences, as Lando notes. Babies died in incubators because of power failures; others were crippled with cerebral palsy because of insufficient oxygen supplies. ...
In late 1994 the New York Times reported on children in filthy hospitals, dying with diarrhea and pneumonia, people desperately seeking food, and Iraq's inability to sell its oil--the country faced "famine and economic collapse." Without doubt, the sanctions consolidated Saddam's power. UN Administrator Denis Halliday wrote that the people blamed the United States and the UN for their travails, not Saddam Hussein. Halliday resigned, refusing to administer a program that he called "genocide."
This is what "tough" sanctions by a progressive, humanitarian interventionist can do. And this is the kind of thing the Iranians have to look forward to -- while they wait to be consumed in a mushroom cloud, that is.
For as we all know, Laureate Obama and his Pentagon warlord recently made the threatened nuclear destruction of the millions of human beings in Iran a centerpiece of their new, "more restrained" nuclear weapons doctrine. As John Caruso notes (see original for links):
Obama is also on the record as stating that "I think we should keep all options on the table" with regard to Iran. That's the standard language in which US nuclear threats are couched, of course, and US politicians are careful to stick to that formulation in order to allow apologists to argue that they didn't mean what they clearly meant. But Obama's Secretary of Defense gave the game away in his remarks about the Nuclear Policy Review:
SEC. GATES: Well, I think that the -- I actually think that the NPR has a very strong message for both Iran and North Korea, because whether it's in declaratory policy or in other elements of the NPR, we essentially carve out states like Iran and North Korea that are not in compliance with NPT.
And basically, all options are on the table when it comes to countries in that category, along with non-state actors who might acquire nuclear weapons.
So if there is a message for Iran and North Korea here, it is that if you're going to play by the rules, if you're going to join the international community, then we will undertake certain obligations to you, and that's covered in the NPR. But if you're not going to play by the rules, if you're going to be a proliferator, then all options are on the table in terms of how we deal with you.
So let's put this together:
1. The Nuclear Posture Review (PDF) declares that "the United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations."
2. Gates says this language is specifically intended to "carve out states like Iran and North Korea." And for these states, as Gates stated repeatedly, ...
3. ..."all options are on the table." So Gates is explicitly threatening that the United States may use nuclear weapons to "deal with" Iran and North Korea.
4. Finally, Obama reiterated both his and Gates' threat that "all options are on the table" when he said his administration's purpose is to "sustain our nuclear deterrent" for Iran and North Korea, furthermore stating that this threat is intended as an "incentive" to those nations.
To summarize: the Obama administration has just made an explicit nuclear threat against Iran and North Korea, for the political goal of coercing them into complying with the US interpretation of their NPT obligations.
This is the Department of Defense's official definition of terrorism:
(DOD) The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.
So the "threat of unlawful violence...intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political" is terrorism. Or in other words, by the DoD's own definition, Barack Obama is a terrorist—and given that his threats involve the use of nuclear weapons, it follows straightforwardly that Obama is more specifically a nuclear terrorist. And not only is he a nuclear terrorist; as the one person who has access to a massive nuclear arsenal, the stated willingness to use it outside of the realm of direct self-defense, and the power to follow through on that threat, Barack Obama is currently the only nuclear terrorist on the entire planet.
Nuclear terrorism is of course the logical endpoint of a Death State. And as Caruso rightly notes, Barack Obama constantly, ceaselessly threatens Iran with nuclear destruction -- and has done so from the very start of his campaign for the presidency. The continual, open threat to murder millions of innocent, defenseless human beings is indeed "an evil monstrosity" -- one so gargantuan that very few people seem able to grasp its reality.
But Silber sees through, and sees true. We are once more in his debt for fixing our eyes on the sulfurous essence of Death State, behind all the sound and fury of the factional squabbles of our most monstrous elites.
Clinton declared that “we do not have the right to resort to violence — or the threat of violence — when we don’t get our way. “
Unless you’re the government.
The four million Americans arrested for marijuana violations during Clinton’s reign were victims of government violence and government threats of violence. The “fact” that Clinton never inhaled did not prevent the drug war from ravaging far more lives during his time in office. The number of people arrested for drug offenses rose by 73% between 1992 and 1997. The Clinton administration bankrolled the militarization of local police, sowing the seeds for a scourge of no-knock raids at wrong addresses and a massive increase in efforts to intimidate average citizens in big cities around the country....
Clinton’s Iraq policy relied on systemic violence. The U.S. was the lead country in enforcing and perpetuating the blockade on Iraq that resulted in hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dying. U.S. planes carried out hundreds of bombing runs on Iraq, and volleys of American cruise missiles slammed his country during his reign.
Bill Clinton has often acted like his 78-day bombing assault on Serbia in 1999 was his finest hour... Clinton’s bombing campaign killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Serb civilians. From intentionally bombing a television station, Belgrade neighborhoods, power stations, bridges (regardless of the number of people on them at the time), to “accidentally” bombing a bus (killing 47 people), a passenger train, marketplaces, hospitals, apartment buildings, and the Chinese embassy, the rules of engagement for U.S. bombers guaranteed that many innocent people would be killed. ...
All of this is true enough. Even so, I think the New York Times is to be praised for giving the Big Ole Dawg this platform on the anniversary of the bombing. After all, if you want to know about the use of extremist violence in politics, why not ask an expert?
The other day I was reading the New York Review of Books in a bookstore café. I saw a large ad in the bottom corner of a page; it began with this quote, in bold capitals:
"WHY IS IT A CRIME FOR ONE MAN TO MURDER ANOTHER, BUT NOT FOR A GOVERNMENT TO KILL MORE THAN A MILLION PEOPLE?"
My first reaction, before I read further, was a feeling of surprise that someone had articulated the case against the Iraq war so clearly – and had bought expensive space in the magazine to bring this unpunished, unrepented – indeed, unacknowledged – war crime to the national consciousness again.
A moment later, I saw that it was actually an ad for an exhibition in New York City about Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-Jewish exile and U.S. government advisor who first coined the term and developed the concept of "genocide." Under a picture of Lemkin's wartime government ID card, the ad goes on: "Before Raphael Lemkin, that kind of killing had no name. Today we know it as genocide." Then comes the title of the exhibition:
Letters of Conscience: Raphael Lemkin and the Quest to End Genocide.
The life and work of Raphael Lemkin is a worthy topic for an exhibition, of course, and I wish it all success. But still, I was struck by how aptly his words described our own situation. For by the same scientific measurement tools used by the U.S. and UK governments to determine the extent of mass slaughters in Rwanda, Darfur and other places around the world, the war of aggression launched by those two governments against Iraq in 2003 has by now resulted in the death of more than one million Iraqis.
This, from a war launched unilaterally by the Anglo-American alliance without UN sanction, against a nation that had not attacked them, had not threatened to attack them, was not capable of attacking them – and had no connection whatsoever to the 9/11 attacks, which even today are cited as the main reason for the invasion of Iraq. Just a few weeks ago, Tony Blair was passionately defending the unprovoked attack by saying that 9/11 "changed everything," and meant that the Anglo-American alliance could not "take the risk" that Iraq might, at some point, somehow, pose some kind of threat to the two rich, powerful, nuclear-armed nations thousands of miles away.
And of course, the invading soldiers themselves had been indoctrinated with the idea that the rape of Iraq was "payback for 9/11," as numerous news stories cited at the time (such as this one, which John Caruso reminded us of just the other day). This attitude was likewise shared by the great and good of American establishment, such as prominent, prize-winning liberal columnist Thomas Friedman, who famously said that 9/11 meant that the United States had to strike at some Muslim country – "we could have hit Saudi Arabia…could have hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could" – as revenge for the attacks. That is, the U.S. government had to attack and destroy an entire nation because of what the U.S. government itself said was a terrorist attack by 19 stateless, renegade extremists. And this, even if the target country had no connection with the attack. That is, hundreds of thousands of innocent people were required to die as "payback for 9/11"; it didn't matter who they were, or where they were, as long as they were Muslims. This was the mindset of the centrist, mainstream, honored, respected American elite, as expressed by one of its most honored and respected representatives.
Recall too that by the time the unprovoked invasion was launched in March 2003, the Anglo-American alliance had by its own admission already killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children (not counting adults) through the draconian sanctions the alliance ruthlessly enforced against the people of Iraq. This record of mass death was publicly defended by then Secretary of State Madeline Albright, who said that the cost of the sanctions – at that time, 500,000 Iraqi children – was "worth it." And this was in 1996; the murderous sanctions had seven more years to run.
This then is the background of the still on-going war and occupation: A minimum of a million dead – most of them children – before the first shot was even fired in the March 2003 invasion. A bare minimum of a million people – the overwhelming majority of them innocent, non-combatant civilians – killed by the war and the ravening chaos it unleashed across Iraqi society.
But not a single person has ever faced trial, or censure, or even the slightest personal inconvenience for the murder of more than 2 million Iraqis over the past two decades. The bipartisan perpetrators of these crimes – the leading lights of the Clinton and Bush Administrations – live ensconced in comfort and privilege. Many of them of Clinton’s associates – including his wife – are once more in power in the Obama Administration. Many of Bush’s associates – including his Pentagon chief, most of his top generals, and his intelligence apparatchiks – are still in office. Other accomplices of these two militarist factions are biding their time in profitable sinecures until the turning of the courtier’s wheel brings them back to the palace halls again. And of course, Barack Obama himself has hailed the perpetuation of the Iraqi war crime as an “extraordinary” accomplishment, even as he continues to protect, entrench and expand the blood-drenched policies of his predecessors.
And so even the work of Raphael Lemkin is being celebrated in New York City, the question he raised at the end of the Second World War still casts its condemning echoes across the bipartisan political elite of the United States today:
"WHY IS IT A CRIME FOR ONE MAN TO MURDER ANOTHER, BUT NOT FOR A GOVERNMENT TO KILL MORE THAN A MILLION PEOPLE?"
Raphael Lemkin dreamed that this question would be laid to rest by the machinery of international law and an evolutionary leap in humanity’s moral consciousness. But today we can see that the answer is – as another American visionary has put it – blowing in the wind: the howling wind of the depravity of power.
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.
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?