I wrote a piece here a few days ago on a recent ruling by the Supreme Court, in which the justices agreed with the passionate plea of the Obama Administration to uphold -- and establish as legal precedent -- some of the most egregious of the Bush Administration's authoritarian perversions. This was the gist of the ruling:
The Supreme Court acquiesced to the president's fervent request and, in a one-line ruling, let stand a lower court decision that declared torture an ordinary, expected consequence of military detention, while introducing a shocking new precedent for all future courts to follow: anyone who is arbitrarily declared a "suspected enemy combatant" by the president or his designated minions is no longer a "person." They will simply cease to exist as a legal entity. They will have no inherent rights, no human rights, no legal standing whatsoever -- save whatever modicum of process the government arbitrarily deigns to grant them from time to time, with its ever-shifting tribunals and show trials.
One of the attorneys involved in the case rightly likened the ruling to the infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision, in which the Court declared that any person of African descent brought to the United States as a slave -- or their descendants, even if they had been freed -- could never be citizens of the United States and were not protected by the Constitution. They were non-persons under the law; sub-humans.
I noted the grim irony that this principle of non-personhood had now been reintroduced into the law of the land by our first African-American president. (But this is only to be expected, given the law of opposites that so often governs American politics: only a lifelong Red-baiter like Nixon could make an opening to Communist China; only a supposed liberal like Bill Clinton could gut the federal welfare system. And only an African-American president could reintroduce the principle of slavery and get away with it. No doubt it will be a woman president who finally re-imposes a total ban on abortion.)
My piece was picked up by a few other sites, where it attracted some criticism for being too "extreme," too shrill, too panicky and exaggerated. After all, some critics said, this case involves foreigners rounded up in the context of a military conflict. (An undeclared, open-ended, borderless, lawless conflict, but still.) And while one might consider the captives treatment a bit too rough or unjust, it is still a far leap to conclude that the Supreme Court ruling implies some kind of general attack on the liberties of real, honest-to-god American citizens!
Ah, what bliss it must be, to dwell in such sweet ignorance. The many decisions by the Supreme Court and lower courts upholding the federal government's authoritarian power to strip Terror War captives of inherent and inalienable legal rights are part of a larger framework that applies both in theory and in practice to everyone -- American citizens included. What we are seeing is the construction of a new "social contract," the open codification of a new relationship between the individual and the state, in which all powers and rights reside solely in the latter, which can bestow them or withhold them at will, arbitrarily, unaccountable. In contrast, it is the individual who must be totally accountable to the state. The state is bound by no law, but the individual is subject to them all -- including "secret laws" and decrees and executive orders of which he or she has no knowledge.
The state has always tended toward the imposition of this feudal condition, of course -- hence the many balks and bafflements to state power that have been attempted over the years. But now the exaltation of state power over any claim of individual rights is being openly declared, avidly pursued, and judicially ratified.
And yes, Virginia, it all applies to American citizens as well. Chris Hedges demonstrates this clearly in a devastating piece on the case of American citizen Syed Fahad Hashmi. Below is an excerpt, but you should read the whole piece:
Syed Fahad Hashmi can tell you about the dark heart of America. He knows that our First Amendment rights have become a joke, that habeas corpus no longer exists and that we torture, not only in black sites such as those at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan or at Guantánamo Bay, but also at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Lower Manhattan. Hashmi is a U.S. citizen of Muslim descent imprisoned on two counts of providing and conspiring to provide material support and two counts of making and conspiring to make a contribution of goods or services to al-Qaida. As his case prepares for trial, his plight illustrates that the gravest threat we face is not from Islamic extremists, but the codification of draconian procedures that deny Americans basic civil liberties and due process....
Hashmi, who if convicted could face up to 70 years in prison, has been held in solitary confinement for more than 2½ years. Special administrative measures, known as SAMs, have been imposed by the attorney general to prevent or severely restrict communication with other prisoners, attorneys, family, the media and people outside the jail. He also is denied access to the news and other reading material. Hashmi is not allowed to attend group prayer. He is subject to 24-hour electronic monitoring and 23-hour lockdown. He must shower and go to the bathroom on camera. He can write one letter a week to a single member of his family, but he cannot use more than three pieces of paper. He has no access to fresh air and must take his one hour of daily recreation in a cage. ...
“My brother was an activist,” Hashmi’s brother, Faisal, told me by phone from his home in Queens. “He spoke out on Muslim issues, especially those dealing with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His arrest and torture have nothing to do with providing ponchos and socks to al-Qaida, as has been charged, but the manipulation of the law to suppress activists and scare the Muslim American community. My brother is an example. His treatment is meant to show Muslims what will happen to them if they speak about the plight of Muslims. We have lost every single motion to preserve my brother’s humanity and remove the special administrative measures. These measures are designed solely to break the psyche of prisoners and terrorize the Muslim community. These measures exemplify the malice towards Muslims at home and the malice towards the millions of Muslims who are considered as non-humans in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
...“Most of the evidence is classified,” Jeanne Theoharis, an associate professor of political science at Brooklyn College who taught Hashmi, told me, “but Hashmi is not allowed to see it. He is an American citizen. But in America you can now go to trial and all the evidence collected against you cannot be reviewed. You can spend 2½ years in solitary confinement before you are convicted of anything. There has been attention paid to extraordinary rendition, Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib with this false idea that if people are tried in the United States things will be fair. But what allowed Guantánamo to happen was the devolution of the rule of law here at home, and this is not only happening to Hashmi.”
The case against Hashmi revolves around the testimony of Junaid Babar, also an American citizen. Babar, in early 2004, stayed with Hashmi at his London apartment for two weeks. In his luggage, the government alleges, Babar had raincoats, ponchos and waterproof socks, which Babar later delivered to a member of al-Qaida in south Waziristan, Pakistan. It was alleged that Hashmi allowed Babar to use his cell phone to call conspirators in other terror plots.
“Hashmi grew up here, was well known here, was very outspoken, very charismatic and very political,” said Theoharis. “This is really a message being sent to American Muslims about the cost of being politically active. It is not about delivering alleged socks and ponchos and rain gear. Do you think al-Qaida can’t get socks and ponchos in Pakistan? The government is planning to introduce tapes of Hashmi’s political talks while he was at Brooklyn College at the trial. Why are we willing to let this happen? Is it because they are Muslims, and we think it will not affect us? People who care about First Amendment rights should be terrified. This is one of the crucial civil rights issues of our time. We ignore this at our own peril.”
Babar, who was arrested in 2004 and has pleaded guilty to five counts of material support for al-Qaida, also faces up to 70 years in prison. But he has agreed to serve as a government witness and has already testified for the government in terror trials in Britain and Canada. Babar will receive a reduced sentence for his services, and many speculate he will be set free after the Hashmi trial. Since there is very little evidence to link Hashmi to terrorist activity, the government will rely on Babar to prove intent. This intent will revolve around alleged conversations and statements Hashmi made in Babar’s presence. Hashmi, who was a member of the New York political group Al Muhajiroun as a student at Brooklyn College, has made provocative statements, including calling America “the biggest terrorist in the world,” but Al Muhajiroun is not defined by the government as a terrorist organization. Membership in the group is not illegal. And our complicity in acts of state terror is a historical fact.
There will be more Hashmis, and the Justice Department, planning for future detentions, set up in 2006 a segregated facility, the Communication Management Unit, at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind. Nearly all the inmates transferred to Terre Haute are Muslims. A second facility has been set up at Marion, Ill., where the inmates again are mostly Muslim but also include a sprinkling of animal rights and environmental activists...
I have been writing about this since November 2001, when George W. Bush's authoritarian claims over the liberty -- and lives -- of every human being on earth were first coming to light. (And not in dogged investigative reports, but in open, laudatory stories in the mainstream media.) It is very simple: all the government has to do is declare, arbitrarily, with no due process, that you -- yes, you, Mister and Ms American Citizen -- are a terrorist, or suspected terrorist, or an enemy combatant, and you can be stripped of your legal personhood, plunged into a gulag, confined indefinitely, plunged into isolation -- or killed.
I agree that this is a very upsetting situation, and not very pleasant to think about. But pretending that it is not a reality will not make it go away.
A lone man on an airliner makes a badly botched attempt to ignite what appears to be some kind of hastily cobbled-together device that might or might not have caused some kind of unspecified but apparently non-crippling damage to the plane. The plane lands safely; no one is killed.
Yet the reverberations from this half-baked enterprise quickly roiled the entire world. Within hours, a whole range of new, even more intrusive and draconian security procedures were imposed on travelers across the globe. Governments hastened to launch "security reviews," and promise "tough new measures" not only to thwart terrorists but to root out nests of agitators and "radicalizers" clinging to the soft underbelly of our all-too-tolerant, too-nice-for-its-own-good Western world.
Perhaps most significantly, the non-igniting of the homemade device has "rejuvenated [the] debate ... over the proper balance between security and privacy," the New York Times informs us -- while quoting several "experts" who let us know just which way this "balance" is now going to tilt. These "experts" include Bush retreads like ex-Homeland Security commissar Michael Chertoff, who now dabbles profitably in the "risk management and security consulting" industry -- yet another of our great and good for whom every act of terror (real or imagined, successful or unsuccessful) means boffo box office.
The sudden insertion of Chertoff into the story gives us another example of a grim, enduring truth: the construction of "conventional wisdom" among our media and political elites is always driven, in large part or in whole, by raw, brutal self-interest. The new CW now being assembled before our eyes is a "rejuvenation" of one of the ruling tropes of the 21st century: "Liberty bad, security good."
Here is another story in the news: in an isolated rural province in Afghanistan, 10 people were killed in a raid by American-led forces. The Afghan government, installed and sustained in power by the United States, said the victims were all civilians -- including eight schoolboys.
But there was no international outcry about this incident; it barely garnered a few mentions in the global press. And even these were quickly shunted aside after a NATO official denied the claims of the Afghan government, and affirmed that all those killed in the raid were evil-doers. As the NYT reports:
A senior NATO official with knowledge of the operation said that the raid had been carried out by a joint Afghan-American force and that its target was a group of men who were known Taliban members and smugglers of homemade bombs, which the American and NATO forces call improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.’s. ... “When the raid took place they were armed and had material for making I.E.D.’s,” the official added.
Local officials on the scene in Kunar Province said otherwise. They said 10 civilians had been killed. They said eight of the dead were children:
The governor of Kunar, Fazullah Wahidi, said that “the coalition claimed they were enemy fighters,” but that elders in the district and a delegation sent to the remote area had found that “10 people were killed and all of them were civilians.”
But the NATO official said the Afghans were lying. We will never know the whole truth, of course, for the story will ultimately be controlled by the very force that carried out the attack: the American-led military occupation.
But what an instructive contrast. In one story, an attack which did not happen and which killed no one shakes the entire world. In another story, ten human beings, including eight children, were slaughtered in a sneak attack by night -- and the world can scarcely be bothered to notice.
What is the chief difference between the two? It's simple: the first story lines the pockets and increases the power of imperial elites. Thus it is important, monumental, emotion-ridden; it calls for immediate action. The second story, if it were pursued and publicized with equal vigor, might threaten, in some small way, the profits and power of imperial elites. Thus it is unimportant, run-of-the-mill, a humdrum case of cranky primitives making the usual wild charges against the defenders of civilization. Were children murdered by American forces way the hell over in the village of Ghazi Khan? Maybe, maybe not. Who the hell cares?
There is of course another element of the slaughter in Ghazi Khan that has gone largely unremarked -- although it might actually be quite important, and even have a bearing on cases like the failed attempt at something-or-other on the plane to Detroit.
You can find this intriguing element buried near the bottom the NYT story:
While some conventional American forces are deployed in Kunar, in the more remote areas most operations are carried out by Special Forces.
Here we have a prominently displayed, almost entirely laudatory piece hymning the "success" of "secretive branches of the military's Special Operations forces" -- secret ops which will see "an even bigger expansion next year," the NYT reports.
The uncorroborated story of these great successes is told entirely by unnamed American officials involved in the operations -- yet another case of the NYT's innovative journalistic philosophy, as we noted here the other day: "Always let an anonymous source confirm his or her own claims -- as long as that anonymous source is a government or military official."
The Times notes that it is "not surprising" to see these secret raiders "playing such an important role in the fight." After all, Barack Obama's hand-picked warlord for Afghanistan is Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the long-time "dirty war" commander who ran death squads in both Iraq and Afghanistan for five years before Obama placed him in control of the Af-Pak legions.
As the Times notes -- or rather, tries rather wanly to imply -- the slaughterfest at Ghazi Khan has all the earmarks of one of McChrystal's old death squad ops. A house is targeted -- for what reason, based on what "intelligence" (or denunciation by a local enemy or paid informant), we never know -- and everyone in it and around it is blasted to kingdom come. Then, no matter how many bodies of how many dead children and women are produced, the U.S. military claims that only nasty supervillians -- imminently worthy of "extrajudicial assassination" by sneak attack -- were killed.
Mass death came again to the Iraqi town of Ishaqi last Friday. Nine months after an American raid that killed 11 civilians, including five children under the age of five, another ground and air assault on suspected insurgents in the area left behind a pile of corpses, including at least two children. As with the earlier incident, Friday's attack has produced conflicting stories of what really happened, but the end result is clear: a multitude of grieving, angry Iraqis further embittered against the American occupation.
The latest Ishaqi attack – with "only" 20 fatalities – is of course a mere sideshow in the garish carnival of death that is Iraq today. But in many respects it is a microcosm of the largely unseen reality of the war that grinds on day after day behind the obscuring fog of political rhetoric enshrouding both Washington and Baghdad. In this return to Ishaqi, we find many of the elements that have kept Iraq an open, gaping wound with little chance for healing: constant airstrikes on populated civilian areas, iron-fisted house raids, propaganda ploys, dubious intelligence, disdain for the locals – and the employment of mysterious units that may be blended with government-run (even American-run) death squads.
So what happened on December 9 in the village of Taima in the Ishaqi district, on the shores of Lake Tharthar? The official U.S. military version states that unidentified "Coalition Forces" entered the village shortly after midnight and targeted a location "based on intelligence reports that indicated associates with links to multiple al-Qaeda in Iraq networks were operating in the area." During a search, they took heavy fire from a nearby building. Returning fire, they killed "two armed terrorists" but couldn't quell the attack, so they called in an airstrike that killed "18 more armed terrorists," including two women. Of the latter, the military press release said that "al-Qaeda in Iraq has both men and women supporting and facilitating their operations unfortunately." The unspecified raiders then uncovered a cache of terrorist arms which they photographed and subsequently destroyed.
The identification of the victims as terrorists was made through a "battle damage assessment," said U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver. "If there is a weapon with or next to the person or they are holding it, they are a terrorist," he said.
Yet as Bloomberg News points out, almost every Iraqi keeps a gun – or several guns – in their homes. Indeed, the whole nation has long been armed to the teeth, with even heavy weaponry in private hands throughout the reign of Saddam Hussein. In fact, as Patrick Cockburn notes in his excellent new book, The Occupation, Saddam once had to resort to a national buy-back scheme to try to reduce the level of heavy weapons on the streets. One tribe even showed up with three tanks – "which they were prepared to turn over for a sizeable amount of money." This doesn't mean that the official report of the Ishaqi incident is necessarily wrong, of course. But neither is it a fact that every dead Iraqi found near a weapon in a bombed-out private house is a terrorist.
... Garver firmly refused to identify the troops involved in the raid; he wouldn't even say if they were American, Iraqi, or from some other Coalition ally, the Daily Telegraph reports. "There are some units we don't talk about," he said. But the conclusions of the official report were unequivocal: 20 terrorists killed, no collateral damage – an exemplary feat of arms that brought the Coalition "another step closer to defeating al-Qaeda in Iraq and helping establish a safe and peaceful Iraq."
But local officials from the U.S.-backed Iraqi government had a different view: they said the raid was a bloodbath of innocent civilians. Ishaqi Mayor Amir Fayadh said that 19 civilians were killed by the airstrikes that destroyed two private homes. Fayadh said that the victims included seven women and eight children. An official in the regional government of Salahuddin said six children had been killed. All Iraqi officials agreed that the victims were mostly members of the extended families of two brothers in the town, Muhammad Hussein al-Jalmood and Mahmood Hussein al-Jalmood, the NYT reports. Both Fayadh and Abdullah Hussein Jabbara, deputy governor Salahuddin, insisted that the families had nothing to do with al Qaeda. Locals claimed that the terrorist paraphernalia at the site, such as the "suicide belts," had been planted. American officials denied the charge.
Soon after the attack, reporters and photographers from Associated Press and Agence France Presse arrived on the scene. They took pictures, shot video and talked to grieving members of the al-Jalmood family. Local police gave them the names of at least 17 of the victims, which indicated they were from the same family. The names of at least four women were among them. Many of the bodies had been charred and twisted beyond recognition; some were "almost mummified," AP reports. However, AFP videotaped at least two children among the dead.
When shown the pictures later, Garver said: "I see nothing in the photos that indicates those children were in the houses that our forces received fire from and subsequently destroyed with the airstrike." He did not speculate on where the dead children being mourned by family members after being pulled from the rubble of the bombed-out houses might have come from otherwise. Perhaps the al-Jalmoods kept them in cold storage for just such a propaganda opportunity?
What is the connection between these incidents -- in Ishaqi, in Ghazi Khan, and in countless other towns and villages across America's Terror War fronts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, etc.? You can find it in the first paragraph of the excerpt above -- "the end result is clear: a multitude of grieving, angry Iraqis further embittered against the American occupation."
A little tweaking will fit that passage to cover the entire Terror War, in which thousands upon thousands of innocent people have been killed, engendering an ever-renewing cycle of rage and despair -- a potent and fertile combination for engendering the kind of "radicalization" that allegedly drove the alleged attacker on the Detroit plane.
You want to stop the "radicalization" of young Muslims? It's simple: stop killing innocent Muslims in wars of domination all over the world. Stop running "covert ops" in every nation of the world (as Obama's "special envoy" Richard Holbrooke admitted last week) -- murders, kidnappings, corruption and deception that make a howling mockery of the very "civilized values" these wars and ops purport to defend.
But this will not happen. Because our elites do not want it to happen. They are not protecting values; they are "projecting dominance." And so these oh-so-profitable incidents and insurgencies will go on and on and on.
UPDATE: Jason Ditz at Antiwar.com lays out the inevitable consequences of the failed alleged attempted incident in Detroit: Obama Vows ‘Accelerated Offensive’ in Yemen. While detailing the new thundering bloodlust of Obama and the Congressional hawks, Ditz also points out the inconvenient truth that they are using the Detroit incident as a retroactive "justification" for a new front in the Terror War that they had already opened long before the flight. But read the whole piece, and the many links, to see what fresh hell awaits us all -- especially the people of Yemen.
Wow, that didn't take long at all. Scant days after the American war machine took the cloaking device off its direct military involvement in Yemen, we have an alleged attempted terrorist attack by an alleged attempted terrorist who, just scant hours after his capture, has allegedly confessed to getting his alleged attempted terrorist material from ... wait for it ... Yemen!
Yemen-trained terrorists on the loose in American airplanes! At Christmas! Great googily moogily! It's a good thing our boys are on the case over there right now, pounding the holy hell outta some of them Al Qaeder ragheads! And to think, a few pipsqueaky fifth columnists had been starting to wonder why we were killing dozens of innocent civilians on behalf of an authoritarian regime embroiled in a three-way civil war on the other side of the world.
Well, now they have their answer, by God! Alleged attempted terrorists allegedly trained in Yemen! What else do you need -- a freaking warrant or something? We would obviously be justified in nuking that desert hell-hole and everybody in it! Just think of it -- some guy with some kind of something on an airplane, right there in the Heartland! You gonna stand for that? Exterminate the brutes!
And yet, because we are good, because we are godly, because our heart is always in the right place, even when -- as President Obama himself admitted in his noble Nobel Speech -- we sometimes make mistakes, we have not brought down the full force of the iron rod that God himself has placed into our hands for the chastisement and right order of the world. No, there will be no nukes falling on the children of Yemen tonight. But boy howdy, they'd better get ready for some sure-enough heavy ordnance -- fired from distant ships, from far-flung bases and from computer consoles in leafy Stateside suburbs, where you can bravely kill some alleged attempted somebody-or-other (and everyone in their immediate vicinity), and still make it home in time to to eat supper with the kids.
So here we are. Just one day after the alleged attempted terrorist incident in Detroit, we already have headlines blaring in the New York Times, the "paper of record," tying the alleged attempt to Yemen. How quick and convenient is that? Already the echo chamber is roaring with the all-justifying cacophony: "Terror, Yemen, al Qaeda, Homeland, Bomb, Terror, Yemen, Yemen, al Qaeda."
And it must be true, right? I mean, just look at how well-sourced the NYT story is. "A law enforcement official" -- Police captain? State trooper? G-Man? Traffic cop? -- said that the alleged attempted terrorist said he'd got his "explosive chemicals" from Yemen. (Elsewhere in the paper, other unnamed officials told NYT reporters that the alleged material strapped to the alleged attempted terrorist was "incendiary," not explosive. But who cares? "Bomb, Terror, Yemen!")
Of course, the NYT noted that "authorities have not independently corroborated the Yemen connection claimed by the suspect" (nor, they could have added, have they independently corroborated that the claim was actually made), but still, the completely anonymous "law enforcement official" said that the suspect's claim "was plausible," and even added: "I see no reason to discount it."
Well, it doesn't get more solid than that, does it? They nailed that story down so tight you couldn't pry it open with God's own crowbar. An anonymous source confirmed the plausibility of his own claim. Man, that's ironclad. It's certainly good enough to light up the media firmament with headlines linking "terror in the Heartland" with the empire's newest killing field in a volatile foreign land.
And it turns out that the suspected attempted terrorist, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was already on the radar of our all-encompassing security services -- just like the last Muslim terrorist in the heartland, Major Nidal Hasan. (And, for that matter, just like many of those accused of carrying out the 9/11 attack.) As in almost all of these cases, the question arises: Who is running whom? (For more, see "Darkness Renewed: Terror as a Tool of Empire.")
But this query is precisely the kind of pantywaist handwringing that rightly goes down in the flood of the he-man Homeland Security strutting that always follows these incidents. As we noted here the other day, there's no time for depth, context, history -- or even facts -- when the "frame" is screaming "Terror!"
In any case, whatever facts about the case -- or rather, shards and splinters of filtered information -- that are allowed to emerge from the depths of the security apparat, you can be absolutely sure that, as always, the "facts will be fixed around the policy."
And what is that policy? Why, endless war, of course! The American war machine (which now dominates most of "civilian" society as well) is like a shark: it must keep moving, and feeding, or die. "Terror, Bomb, Yemen!"
In his compelling 2008 book X Films: True Confessions of a Radical Filmmaker, director Alex Cox delivers a powerful insight about modern movie audiences that helps illuminate the bizarre, amnesiac nature of modern political audiences as well.
The book as a whole provides a riveting account of the circumstances surrounding the making of ten films shot by the Liverpudlian director, from his film school days at UCLA in the late seventies to his groundbreaking "microfeature," Searchers 2.0, in 2006. One of the films put under the microscope of Cox's affable, witty but hard-hitting analysis is Three Businessmen, from 1998. A work of hyper-realistic surrrealism, the film tells the story of two vaguely and dubiously employed salesmen who meet in a Liverpool hotel then set off to find a place to eat -- and somehow traverse the entire earth in a single night, popping up in such places as Tokyo, Rotterdam, and the Spanish desert (where they meet the titular third companion), yet believing all the while they are still just a few blocks from their hotel.
Falling outside recognizable genre categories, the film puzzled many viewers -- and more importantly, many movie execs and money men. Looking back at its reception, Cox writes:
This brings me to the bigger problems of Three Businessmen -- the way we watch a film. Consider the scenes with Benny and Frank (Miguel Sandoval and Cox) aboard the Metro. While we're aboard the train, it's pretty similar to the Liverpool Merseyrail: a Metro interior is a Metro interior, after all. The train that Miguel and I boarded in Liverpool was painted yellow; the train from which we emerged in Rotterdam was green. You might think this was a pretty clear visual clue: trains don't change colour, after all. Yet almost no one in the audience noticed it. This taught me that people watch films on a shot-by-shot basis. What they see now, they accept as 'reality' within the frame; what was on the screen five minutes ago is already forgotten.
This passage is a near-perfect description of the mechanics of political perception in our day, especially in the land that Gore Vidal famously dubbed the United States of Amnesia. And how could it be otherwise? For almost all of us, politics exists largely (if not solely) on the screen -- the television, the computer, the Blackberry, the iPhone. The electorate is almost entirely an "audience," and nothing else; actual political engagement is left to the "experts": the vicious in-fighters of power-gaming factions (and the witless sycophants who dance attendance on them in the media, the think tanks and academia), and the handful of "cranks," on both right and left, who still raise hell at public hearings and sometimes even take to the streets -- where they are invariably herded into nice, neat "free speech zones," far from any point where their "unserious" opinions might inflict discomfort on the powerful.
The flattened images, the passing wads of constantly updated, continually washed away digital text, throw up their limited frames -- without depth, without history, without context -- and imprint them on our chaotic mental receptors with the frantic, primeval urgency of "now". Now is all there is, now is all we see, now is what we are relentlessly conditioned to accept.
What color is the train? It looks green today. Wasn't it yellow yesterday? Maybe not. Maybe it's always been green.
One of the large mental health hospitals in Israel was recently surprised to receive a young, good-looking patient in a psychotic state who was accompanied by a personal security guard, Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Sunday.
The doctors, who asked why the woman was accompanied by a guard, were shocked to learn that she was a Mossad agent and that the security guard was not assigned to her in order assure her safety or protect her life, but to ensure that she not reveal any state secrets in her shaky mental state.
The Mossad guard's orders were clear: "It is forbidden that the organization's secrets be passed on to those unauthorized to hear them." The doctors, who are unaccustomed to the presence of a third party during their treatment sessions, were left with no choice but to acquiesce to their demands. In addition, the staff had to receive a security clearance before being allowed to work on her exceptional case.
To their complete amazement, another young woman, also accompanied by a secret agent charged with ensuring that the she not leak any state secrets, arrived at the institution just a short time later. The doctors learned that she, too, is a Mossad agent.
It seems evident that the young women were driven mad by acts they have witnessed -- or carried out. These act were literally unspeakable crimes of state -- hence the presence of the state's goons to prevent the slightest whisper of the dark deeds from escaping.
This story's efficacy as both paradigm and prophecy for our modern world could hardly be bettered.
While we were all out doing our Christmas shopping, the highest court in the land quietly put the kibosh on a few more of the remaining shards of human liberty.
It happened earlier this week, in a discreet ruling that attracted almost no notice and took little time. In fact, our most august defenders of the Constitution did not have to exert themselves in the slightest to eviscerate not merely 220 years of Constitutional jurisprudence but also centuries of agonizing effort to lift civilization a few inches out of the blood-soaked mire that is our common human legacy. They just had to write a single sentence.
Here's how the bad deal went down. After hearing passionate arguments from the Obama Administration, the Supreme Court acquiesced to the president's fervent request and, in a one-line ruling, let stand a lower court decision that declared torture an ordinary, expected consequence of military detention, while introducing a shocking new precedent for all future courts to follow: anyone who is arbitrarily declared a "suspected enemy combatant" by the president or his designated minions is no longer a "person." They will simply cease to exist as a legal entity. They will have no inherent rights, no human rights, no legal standing whatsoever -- save whatever modicum of process the government arbitrarily deigns to grant them from time to time, with its ever-shifting tribunals and show trials.
This extraordinary ruling occasioned none of those deep-delving "process stories" that glut the pages of the New York Times, where the minutiae of policy-making or political gaming is examined in highly-spun, microscopic detail doled out by self-interested insiders. Obviously, giving government the power to render whole classes of people "unpersons" was not an interesting subject for our media arbiters. It was news that wasn't fit to print. Likewise, the ruling provoked no thundering editorials in the Washington Post, no savvy analysis from the high commentariat -- and needless to say, no outrage whatsoever from all our fierce defenders of individual liberty on the Right.
In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal Monday to review a lower court’s dismissal of a case brought by four British former Guantanamo prisoners against former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the detainees’ lawyers charged Tuesday that the country’s highest court evidently believes that "torture and religious humiliation are permissible tools for a government to use."
...Channeling their predecessors in the George W. Bush administration, Obama Justice Department lawyers argued in this case that there is no constitutional right not to be tortured or otherwise abused in a U.S. prison abroad.
The Obama administration had asked the court not to hear the case. By agreeing, the court let stand an earlier opinion by the D.C. Circuit Court, which found that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act – a statute that applies by its terms to all "persons" – did not apply to detainees at Guantanamo, effectively ruling that the detainees are not persons at all for purposes of U.S. law.
The lower court also dismissed the detainees’ claims under the Alien Tort Statute and the Geneva Conventions, finding defendants immune on the basis that "torture is a foreseeable consequence of the military’s detention of suspected enemy combatants."
The Constitution is clear: no person can be held without due process; no person can be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. And the U.S. law on torture of any kind is crystal clear: it is forbidden, categorically, even in time of "national emergency." And the instigation of torture is, under U.S. law, a capital crime. No person can be tortured, at any time, for any reason, and there are no immunities whatsoever for torture offered anywhere in the law.
And yet this is what Barack Obama -- who, we are told incessantly, is a super-brilliant Constitutional lawyer -- has been arguing in case after case since becoming president: Torturers are immune from prosecution; those who ordered torture are immune from prosecution. They can't even been sued for, in the specific case under review, subjecting uncharged, indefinitely detained captives to "beatings, sleep deprivation, forced nakedness, extreme hot and cold temperatures, death threats, interrogations at gunpoint, and threatened with unmuzzled dogs."
Again, let's be absolutely clear: Barack Obama has taken the freely chosen, public, formal stand -- in court -- that there is nothing wrong with any of these activities. Nothing to answer for, nothing meriting punishment or even civil penalties. What's more, in championing the lower court ruling, Barack Obama is now on record as believing -- insisting -- that torture is an ordinary, "foreseeable consequence" of military detention of all those who are arbitrarily declared "suspected enemy combatants."
And still further: Barack Obama has now declared, openly, of his own free will, that he does not consider these captives to be "persons." They are, literally, sub-humans. And what makes them sub-humans? The fact that someone in the U.S. government has declared them to be "suspected enemy combatants." (And note: even the mere suspicion of being an "enemy combatant" can strip you of your personhood.)
This is what President Barack Obama believes -- believes so strongly that he has put the full weight of the government behind a relentless series of court actions to preserve, protect and defend these arbitrary powers. (For a glimpse at just a sliver of such cases, see here and here.)
One co-counsel on the case, Shayana Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights, zeroed in on the noxious quintessence of the position taken by the Court, and by our first African-American president: its chilling resemblance to the notorious Dred Scott ruling of 1857, which upheld the principle of slavery. As Fisher notes:
"Another set of claims are dismissed because Guantanamo detainees are not ‘persons’ within the scope of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act – an argument that was too close to Dred Scott v. Sanford for one of the judges on the court of appeals to swallow," he added.
The Dred Scott case was a decision by the United States Supreme Court in 1857. It ruled that people of African descent imported into the United States and held as slaves, or their descendants — whether or not they were slaves — were not protected by the Constitution and could never be citizens of the United States.
And now, once again, 144 years after the Civil War, we have established as the law of the land and the policy of the United States government that whole classes of people can be declared "non-persons" and have their liberty stripped away -- and their torturers and tormentors protected and coddled by authority -- at a moment's notice, with no charges, no defense, no redress, on nothing more than the suspicion that they might be an "enemy combatant," according to the arbitrary definition of the state.
Barack Obama has had the audacity to declare himself the heir and embodiment of the lifework of Martin Luther King. Can this declaration of a whole new principle of universal slavery really be what King was dreaming of? Is this the vision he saw on the other side of the mountain? Or is not the nightmarish inversion of the ideal of a better, more just, more humane world that so many have died for, in so many places, down through the centuries?
In recent days we have all witnessed two vomitous eruptions of moral nullity that would tax the powers of a Voltaire or a Vidal to do them proper justice; they quite o'er-crow the meager gifts of a hack like me. But I will sketch a few observations here nonetheless, if only to add one more small voice to those few who bear witness to the evils perpetrated by our unaccountable leaders.
Since leaving office, Tony Blair has dipped his blood-smeared snout into various corporate troughs, amassing millions, while simultaneously becoming one of the great whited sepulchres of our day, making a great show of his conversion to Catholicism, his "faith foundation," and so on. He has even lectured at Yale Divinity School. But this holy huckster looks more haunted every day. The glaring, bulging eyes, the frantic rictus of his grin – indistinguishable from the grimace of a man in gut-clenching pain --- and the ever-more strident, maniacal defense of his war crimes give compelling testimony to the hellish fires consuming his psyche.
Next month, Blair will go before the Chilcot Inquiry, a panel of UK Establishment worthies charged with investigating the origins of Britain's role in the invasion of Iraq. Although the worthies have been remarkably toothless in their questioning of the great and good so far – the smell of whitewash is definitely in the air – the inquiry has at least performed the useful function of bringing the forgotten subject of Iraq back into the public eye, while collating and confirming, with sworn testimony, much of what we have learned in dribs and drabs over the years about the rank, deliberate deceit behind this murderous catastrophe. One choice bit that has emerged from the inquiry is the revelation that the centerpiece of Blair's case for immediate war – the claim that Saddam Hussein could hit Europe with WMD-loaded missiles on just 45 minutes' notice – came from unconfirmed, third-hand gossip passed along by an Iraqi taxi driver.
As Blair's turn on the well-padded Chilcot cushion draws near, he has launched frantic efforts to keep his testimony secret while at the same time trying to undercut the rationale for the whole war origins inquiry, which has focused on the professed justification for the invasion: disarming Iraq's (non-existent) WMD. So last week, Blair gave an interview to a friendly, timorous chat-show host in which he made the brazen admission – no, the proud boast – that he would have found a way to drive Britain into war with Iraq even if he had known for certain that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction. (And of course, given the nature of the "'intelligence" that Blair used in his pre-war WMD claims it is certain that Blair was indeed certain that Saddam had no such weapons when the invasion was launched).
Thus it is now Blair's contention that there is no charge to answer concerning the origins of the war; all this WMD guff is meaningless. He would have found "other arguments" to persuade Britons to follow George W. Bush into the war that American militarists had long been planning.
Blair's admission has drawn a remarkable response from another Establishment mandarin, Sir Ken Macdonald, who served for five years as Director of Public Prosecutions under Blair's government – and now works in private practice at a major law firm…alongside Tony Blair's wife, Cherie. The headline in The Times puts it plainly: "Intoxicated by power, Blair tricked us into war." In his column, Macdonald writes:
The degree of deceit involved in our decision to go to war on Iraq becomes steadily clearer. This was a foreign policy disgrace of epic proportions and playing footsie on Sunday morning television does nothing to repair the damage. It is now very difficult to avoid the conclusion that Tony Blair engaged in an alarming subterfuge with his partner George Bush and went on to mislead and cajole the British people into a deadly war they had made perfectly clear they didn’t want, and on a basis that it’s increasingly hard to believe even he found truly credible.
...Mr Blair’s fundamental flaw was his sycophancy towards power. Perhaps this seems odd in a man who drank so much of that mind-altering brew at home. But Washington turned his head and he couldn’t resist the stage or the glamour that it gave him. In this sense he was weak and, as we can see, he remains so. Since those sorry days we have frequently heard him repeating the self-regarding mantra that “hand on heart, I only did what I thought was right”. But this is a narcissist’s defence and self-belief is no answer to misjudgment: it is certainly no answer to death. “Yo, Blair”, perhaps, was his truest measure.
Macdonald also gives us a sneak peek inside the workings of the elite, with observations that doubtless apply equally well across the ocean:
In British public life, loyalty and service to power can sometimes count for more to insiders than any tricky questions of wider reputation. It’s the regard you are held in by your peers that really counts, so that steadfastness in the face of attack and threatened exposure brings its own rich hierarchy of honour and reward. Disloyalty, on the other hand, means a terrible casting out, a rocky and barren Roman exile that few have the courage to endure. So which way will our heroes jump?
We must hope in the right direction — for it is precisely this privately arranged nature of British Establishment power, stubborn beyond sympathy for years in the face of the modern world, that has brought our politics so low. If Chilcot fails to reveal the truth without fear in this Middle Eastern story of violence and destruction, the inquiry will be held in deserved and withering contempt.
It is almost certain that the Chilcot inquiry will produce little more than the usual blood-flecked whitewash. Certainly, Tony Blair will face no official action for his crimes; he will not even lose any of his corporate sponsors, unlike the heinous Tiger Woods, whose sexual intimacy with consenting adults is obviously far worse than the murder of more than one million innocent people. (We'll never see Woods lecturing at Yale Divinity School now!)
But keep looking at Blair's face; watch, year by year, as it brings forth the hideous fruits of the inferno within. For as one of his illustrious countrymen once put it: "Murder, though it have no tongue, will speak with most miraculous organ."
"A narcissist's defense." As a description of Obama's Peace Prize speech, Macdonald's phrase could hardly be bettered. But the intense, near-pathological self-regard in the speech was not Obama's alone, of course; we must do him the credit of acknowledging that in this regard, at least, he was what we so often proclaim our leaders to be: the embodiment of the nation. His soaring proclamation of American exceptionalism, in a setting supposedly devoted to universal principles of peace, was breathtaking in its chutzpah – but entirely in keeping with the feelings of the vast majority of his countrymen, and the ruling elite above all.
Many have already remarked on Obama's adoption in the speech of Bush's principle of unilateral, "pre-emptive" military action, anytime, anywhere, whenever a leader declares his nation is under threat. This approach -- which Bush called "the path of action" -- was roundly scorned by critics of the former regime, many of whom now scramble to praise Obama's "nuanced" embrace of aggression. But again, let us give credit where it is due; in this aspect of the speech, Obama did in fact go beyond Bush's more narrowly nationalist conception, saying: "I — like any head of state — reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation."
Thus Obama would, apparently, extend the right of unilateral military action to "any head of state" that feels the necessity of defending his or her nation. But of course this is just empty verbiage, a pointless, bald-faced lie that not even Bush would have tried to get away with. Would Obama accept a unilateral, pre-emptive strike by Tehran against Israel, where legislators and government officials routinely talk of attacking Iran? Would Obama cheer the "right" of Russia to strike unilaterally at Poland if the U.S. "missile shield" deal, now on hold, was suddenly consummated? Would Obama support a unilateral strike by India at Pakistan -- or vice versa -- in the still-seething cauldron of tensions on the subcontinent, where both nations legitimately feel threatened by the other? Would he support the right of Kim Jong-il to "defend his nation" by attacking South Korea the next time there is a threatening border incident there?
No, it is clear that only the United States -- and its allies, like Israel -- are to be allowed the supreme privilege of unilateral war. The line was inserted in the speech simply because it would sound good in the moment, and create a temporary emotional reaction that might carry listeners past the macabre incongruity underlying the entire event: giving a peace award to the bloodstained leader of a military machine hip-deep in the coagulate gore of two, vast, civilian-slaughtering wars.
Obama staked his boldest claim to American exceptionalism with a passage that he lifted, almost verbatim, from his West Point speech just a few days before (see here and especially here), when he announced his second massive escalation of the war in Afghanistan:
Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest — because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other people's children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.
Here is chutzpah -- and hubris -- raised to the level of the sublime. Obama has taken the words he used to instigate the certain death of thousands of human beings and the acceleration of hatred, extremism, chaos and brutal corruption around the world -- and offered them as justification for the hideous, unabashedly Orwellian doctrine at the core of his speech: War is Peace. In this perverse inversion of values, Obama, as a warmaker, is actually a peacemaker, you see -- and thus a legitimate heir to the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., who was evoked at several points in the speech.
And here we come to what was for me the most revolting part of the speech. And perhaps the most significant too. All the cant about America's altruism and "enlightened self-interest" in killing millions of people -- Indochina was one of many convenient blank spots in Obama's historical survey-- for the sake of all the children of the world (red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in our sight) was just par for the rhetorical course. It was nothing that had not been said many times before, including the references -- so lauded by Obama's liberal apologists -- to those inadvertent "mistakes" America seems to keep making; out of a surfeit of good intentions, no doubt. But I don't think an American president has so openly and directly traduced the work of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi before. (And to do it while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, no less! Oh, that sublime brass....)
Although larded with usual hyper-yet-flaccid, florid-yet-false oratorical stylings that have become Obama's trademark, his words about King and Gandhi drip with scorn and condescension. I was actually taken aback when I read these passages:
I make this statement [about the moral justification for war] mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: It merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life's work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak, nothing passive, nothing naive in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.
But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms.
The intellectual incoherence and arrogant sneering behind this supposedly laudatory passage is staggering. After claiming to be the personal embodiment of King and Gandhi's philosophy of non-violent action, Obama gives the game away with this line: "I face the world as it is." Those other two guys, they were just dreamers, they were unrealistic, they were unserious; they didn't "face the world as it is," they weren't savvy and pragmatic, like me. I have to go to war because I'm a head of state "sworn to protect and defend my nation."
[Here, Obama indulges in a trope that is pandemic among his apologists: the idea that he was somehow forced to become the head of a militarist state waging endless war around the world, that he has somehow woken up and found himself "the Commander-in-Chief of a nation in the midst of two wars." But of course he chose to pursue this kind of power in this kind of system -- chose it, pursued it, fought like hell to win it. It's what he wanted. Yet still this notion of Obama as a helpless victim of fate -- lost in a world he never made -- persists.]
He then goes on to give the lie to his previously stated admiration for Gandhi and King: "A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms." Thus, King, Gandhi and any practitioner of non-violent resistance to evil are, ultimately, naive, ineffectual -- weak.
Notice the incoherence – or perhaps deliberate elision – at work here. Obama says he must face down "threats to the American people" -- and then talks about Hitler's armies, immediately coupling, and rhetorically equating them, with al-Qaeda's scattered handful of hidden fugitives. Are the American people now threatened by Hitler's armies? Are al-Qaeda's paltry forces -- less than 100 of them in Afghanistan, according to Obama's own war-wagers -- the equal of Hitler's armies of millions of men?
But there is a deeper untruth beyond these cheap rhetorical tricks. For it is blatantly untrue to say that "a nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies." First of all, one cannot make that statement because this approach was never tried. Therefore you cannot say categorically that it would not have worked. Doubtless it would have cost millions of lives; but as Gandhi himself pointed out, the violent resistance to Hitler's armies also cost tens of millions of lives. But Obama's formulation -- which is a hackneyed one indeed -- only deals with one view of non-violent resistance to Hitler: i.e., from the outside, resisting his armies as they poured across the borders. There is another way in which a non-violent resistance movement without any doubt could have "halted Hitler's armies": if it had taken root and spread throughout Germany itself, including among the armed forces and its supporting industries.
In the event, this did not happen. But it was not, and is not, an impossibility for humankind to pursue such an approach. Therefore it is fatuous and false to state what cannot possibly be known: whether non-violent resistance would have thwarted Nazism, and whether this would have been more or less costly than the way of violence.
Similarly, it is false to say that "negotiations cannot convince al-Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms." The only response to this bald statement is: How do you know? Has anybody tried it? No. Therefore you cannot call it an impossibility -- and then use this supposed, untested "impossibility" as your justification for laying waste to whole nations. You may say that it would be unjust to negotiate with al-Qaeda, that those who use murderous violence to achieve their ends should simply be killed or prosecuted. (Although where would that leave the leaders of the exalted, exceptional, unilateral United States?) But of course this is precisely what Gandhi did: he sat down and negotiated with the representatives of an empire that had caused the deaths of millions of his own people. He negotiated with them in good faith, with good will, despite what they had done and were doing to his people -- and despite the fact that many of his interlocutors, such as Winston Churchill, hated him with a blind, racist fury. And he was successful -- although again, not without cost, both before and after the liberation. But Gandhi, and King, knew the costs of non-violence – because they were genuinely savvy, and genuinely realistic about the nature of evil.
In any case, aside from the particulars of any real situation or hypothetical scenario, the speech is a glaring example of Obama's deep-seated (and perhaps unconscious) contempt for the path of peace, and its practitioners. It is also a manifestation of his own inferno, of his desperate need to justify -- to himself and to the world -- his free, deliberate choice to follow the blood-choked "path of action" as the commander-in-chief of a bloated, brutal war machine.
No one forced any of these decisions – or these specious, obscene justifications – on Obama or Blair. It is their own narcissism -- their own lust for power, and their love for the system that gave them that power – that has covered them with the blood and shame that now taint their every word and deed.
The mind boggles. Who ever would have thought, even in their darkest, most paranoid dreams, that the Copenhagen climate change talks would be hijacked by a handful of rich nations seeking to give themselves more power and riches while imposing new burdens and new injustices on the rest of the world? And that amongst this avaricious, duplicitous elite one would find the government of a man who now bears the Nobel laurel for his unstinting dedication to the welfare of all humanity?
Yet as unlikely as it may seem - the rich screwing the poor? What next? – that's exactly what has happened at the great international conference that opened this week in Denmark with the avowed intent of pulling the planet back from the brink of a potentially fatal disequilibrium. America, Britain, and, er, Denmark are among the handful of rich nations who have drawn up a secret draft agreement that they hope to impose on the conference in its closing days, when the elite's heavy hitters like Barack Obama and Gordon Brown swan in to take a bow.
The plan would let rich nations emit twice as much per capita pollution as developing countries, while the latter will be subject to stiff new dictates from the rich in order to receive technical assistance for climate change programs. The elite plan also calls for completely bypassing the UN – the only international forum in which poor nations feel they stand on a slightly more equal footing with the elite – and turning over climate change funding and future negotiations to an "independent" board … most likely run by that reliable appendage of empire, the World Bank. As the Guardian reports:
The UN Copenhagen climate talks are in disarray today after developing countries reacted furiously to leaked documents that show world leaders will next week be asked to sign an agreement that hands more power to rich countries and sidelines the UN's role in all future climate change negotiations.
The document is also being interpreted by developing countries as setting unequal limits on per capita carbon emissions for developed and developing countries in 2050; meaning that people in rich countries would be permitted to emit nearly twice as much under the proposals....
The draft hands effective control of climate change finance to the World Bank; would abandon the Kyoto protocol – the only legally binding treaty that the world has on emissions reductions; and would make any money to help poor countries adapt to climate change dependent on them taking a range of actions.
The so-called Danish text, a secret draft agreement worked on by a group of individuals known as "the circle of commitment" – but understood to include the UK, US and Denmark – has only been shown to a handful of countries since it was finalised this week.
..."It is being done in secret. Clearly the intention is to get [Barack] Obama and the leaders of other rich countries to muscle it through when they arrive next week. It effectively is the end of the UN process," said one diplomat, who asked to remain nameless.
A spokesman for Cafod, a development charity with close links to some of the poorest countries in the world, said: "This draft document reveals the backstage machinations of a biased host who, instead of acting as nonpartisan broker, is taking sides with the developed countries.
"The document should not even exist. There is a UN legal process which is the official negotiating text. The Danish text disrespects the solid, steady approach of the UN process."
Another shock! Elites clubbing together in secret, seeking to circumvent legal processes for their own corrupt advantage? And, and, and....Americans being involved in such dirty business?! Say it ain't so, O!
The Copenhagen talks have become captive of what we might call the "Reform Syndrome"; i.e., the absolute, urgent imperative to put together a crappy deal that gorges the rich and hobbles the poor in egregious ways -- but which can be palmed off on a compliant media and a diverted public as some kind of "reform." The important thing is that an illusion of positive action be created -- while the same-old same-old keeps grinding on behind the scenes.
This scenario has been playing out in the most crude and brazen fashion during the "debate" over health care "reform" in the United States, which has seen a "progressive" administration literally sell its "reform" agenda to the very corporate interests that are the ostensible target of the reforms, allowing them, again literally, to write most of the "reform" legislation themselves.
And this has been the modus operandi of most of the international climate change efforts, which have seen no appreciable reduction in the pollution that is driving the destabilization of the planet -- but has seen the creation of vast new "carbon trading" markets an other speculative ventures for the rich and powerful to feast upon.
Genuine climate change experts like Sir David King of the UK have been saying that no deal would be far better than the kind of bad deals that are brewing in Copenhagen. And that was before the secret agenda of the "circle of commitment" was revealed. (The same dynamic applies to health care reform, of course: better no bill at all than the monstrosity now wending its way through Congressional intestines. Back off, buckle down, and start again.)
The details of the elite's Copenhagen agenda will now doubtless now be modified -- or plastered over with a new coat of PR paint -- in the light of the firestorm the revelations have provoked. But the true intention of the rich nations in these negotiations -- as in all others -- is clearer than a shining stream pouring down from a melting ice cap: the weakest go to the wall.
But as Arthur Silber pointed out last month in his articles on global warming, this is what our "complex, intricate... corporatist system," with its "dizzyingly numerous interconnections between "private" business and government," does. This is what it's for. And, as he notes, this is the system that we are trusting to resolve the globe-wrenching problems of climate change.
Silber also makes the pertinent point that while this system goes on its merry way, profiting both from its unceasing pollution of the planet -- which may have already reached the point of no return -- and from the fitful and co-opted attempts to mitigate its effects, millions of people are absorbed by their anxiety over these potential dangers ... even as they ignore, or in some cases, celebrate, vast, man-made catastrophes that could be dealt with today, right now -- and with a bare minimum of cost.
For example, Victoria Brittain details a vast, man-made environmental disaster that could be resolved this afternoon with a single phone call. From the Guardian:
Among all the complex and long-term solutions being sought in Copenhagen for averting environmental catastrophe across the world, there is one place where the catastrophe has already happened, but could be immediately ameliorated with one simple political act.
In Gaza there is now no uncontaminated water; of the 40,000 or so newborn babies, at least half are at immediate risk of nitrate poisoning – incidence of "blue baby syndrome", methaemoglobinaemia, is exceptionally high; an unprecedented number of people have been exposed to nitrate poisoning over 10 years; in some places the nitrate content in water is 300 times World Health Organisation standards; the agricultural economy is dying from the contamination and salinated water; the underground aquifer is stressed to the point of collapse; and sewage and waste water flows into public spaces and the aquifer.
The blockade of Gaza has gone on for nearly four years, and the vital water and sanitation infrastructure went past creaking to virtual collapse during the three-week assault on the territory almost a year ago.
What would it take to start the two UN sewerage repair projects approved by Israel; a UN water and sanitation project, not yet approved; and two more UN internal sewage networks, not yet approved? Right now just one corner of the blockade could be lifted for these building materials and equipment to enter Gaza, to let water works begin and to give infant lives a chance. Just one telephone call from the Israeli defence ministry could do it – an early Christmas present to the UN staff on the ground who have been ready to act for months and have grown desperate on this front, as on so many others.
As Brittain notes, the Israelis have already lifted another part of their strangulating blockade, after a bold intervention by U.S. Senator John Kerry, who in March of this year demanded that the Israelis lift their prohibitions on ... pasta.
But apparently, no American politician can be bothered to pick up a phone to stem the poisoning of the Gaza Ghetto:
Gaza's huge pale sandy beaches used to be society's playground and reassurance of happiness and normality, with families picnicking, horses exercising, fishermen mending their nets, children swimming and boys exercising in the early morning, but these days they are mainly empty, and not just because it is winter. Between 50m and 60m litres of untreated sewage have flowed into the Mediterranean every day this year since the end of the Israeli invasion in January, the sea smells bad and few fish are available in the three nautical mile area Palestinians are allowed in. This resource seems as ruined as the rubble of Gaza's parliament and ministries.
...."We have run out of words to describe how bad it is here," says John Ging, director of operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza. Ging heads a team of 10,000 mainly Palestinian workers who run the aid supplies that are all that stand between the vast majority of Gazans and destitution. "We have 80% unemployment, an economy at subsistence level, infrastructure destroyed, etc, but even worse than the humanitarian plight is the destruction of civil society."
Ging's great preoccupation is "the 750,000 children susceptible to an environment where things are moving rapidly in the wrong direction, where the injustice is bewildering, and every day worse":
There is a big problem of insecurity and violence here, and it is getting worse. Most adults display stoic resilience, and cling to a belief in traditional values, but there is a compelling narrative by extremists which becomes ever more difficult to combat. Only lifting the siege would change the dynamic.
Or what about the vast, spreading, man-made disaster that is Afghanistan? As Silber notes, many people who decry the potential disasters of climate change actively support the catastrophic intervention in Afghanistan -- which, as we pointed out here, produces the very ills that is ostensibly designed to reduce (just as Israel's choking of Gaza does). Yet here too, the vast suffering and degradation of millions of people could be addressed more effectively at a modicum of the cost it now takes to kill and plunder them.
Jeffrey Sachs (via the Angry Arab) takes up this theme at the Huffington Post, while noting the aforementioned inherent disabilities of our present system to address the problems it ostensibly seeks to resolve:
The framing of Afghanistan's governance problems with the simplistic gloss of "corruption" is yet another trivialization of reality, exceeded only by the idea that Afghan President Hamid Karzai can and will turn off corruption at will, and notably in response to US pressure. Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski was on the mark when he questioned the ability of Washington, itself in an era of rampant corruption, to clean up corruption elsewhere. A worthy role for Richard Holbrooke, now the special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, would be to root out flagrant financial mismanagement at the staff of AIG, where Holbrooke had served on the Board during the buildup of the recent financial bubble. The war industry itself, replete with powerful corporations like Fluor and DynCorp that receive billions of dollars in no-bid Pentagon contracts, are also a likely part of the Washington political momentum.
The fact of the matter is that Afghanistan is in urgent need of the basics for survival in one of the poorest countries on Earth -- seeds, fertilizer, roads, power, schools, and clinics -- much more than it is in the need of another 30,000 troops or added military contractors. Development aid directed to Afghanistan's communities, through the UN, could stabilize Afghanistan far more effectively at one-fifth to one-tenth the cost of the coming $100 billion or so per year that will be spent on this military debacle. Yet such support is not forthcoming. ... As Friedman reports, Obama has disdained "nation-building" as "mission creep," thereby disappointingly echoing the Bush administration.
In fact, the US Government's long-standing disdain is for the Afghan people themselves, since there has been not the slightest effort for decades to think through their real needs and wants. As in Vietnam, this mission is all about us. And as in Vietnam, the US escalation has the possibility of causing much broader destabilization in Central and South Asia and the Middle East.
Yes, who could possibly have foreseen that the avatars of such a system would seek to exploit the growing anxiety over climate change to augment their own dominance? Whatever happens to the planet -- or to the Iraqis, or to the Afghans, or to the millions of people going down in the flood of financial flim-flam and health care "reform" scams -- the elites will remain as they are now: well-wadded, well-protected, and well-connected in their fortified enclaves of privilege and power.
To paraphrase John Ging: We are running out of words to describe how bad it is around here.
A series of devastating car bombings rocked Baghdad on Tuesday, killing at least 121 people and wounding hundreds more, according to preliminary accounts by witnesses, the police and hospital officials....
The attacks were the worst in Iraq since twin suicide bombings destroyed three ministries on Oct. 25, killing at least 155 people. They fit a pattern of spectacular attacks in the capital, followed by weeks of relative calm. In August, two suicide car bombs exploded near the country’s Finance and Foreign Ministries, killing at least 122.
After you have taken a moment to mull this unspeakable rending of human lives -- not just the individuals who were killed but also the lifelong, lacerating grief of their survivors -- a rending which is a direct result of an American invasion and occupation that not only loosed a savage sectarian war in the shattered, conquered land but also actively abetted it at every turn, go back and read the last paragraph of that excerpt again.
The worst attack in -- not years, not decades -- but mere weeks. In other words, it's hardly been a month since the last time, of many times, over and over, like clockwork, that dozens of people were ripped to shreds in the American-caused, American-abetted, American-supported civil wars in Iraq.
Think on that, then think on this: the situation in Iraq is now being held up as a model, a goal, for Barack Obama's massive expansion of the war and occupation in Afghanistan. Obama himself has called the "surge" in Iraq "an extraordinary achievement," and has at every turn promoted and propagated the myth that George W. Bush's escalation of a hideous war of aggression was a resounding success. This myth is based on one thing only: the fact that the peak of the ghastly death rate produced by the American occupation dropped to a somewhat less horrific level. But as countless experts and analysts have pointed out, this drop had very little to do with the addition of some 28,000 American troops. (And parenthetically, what a small thing the Iraqi "surge" seems now, with Obama having already launched two "surges" in Afghanistan, which will, in the end, add up to more than 50,000 troops -- with the concomitant number of mercenaries who now augment, when they do not surpass, the official military contingents in America's imperial campaigns.)
Patrick Cockburn is the latest to put Iraq's "model" surge in its proper perspective, in a piece this week in The Independent:
There are real parallels between the US and British intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they are not the ones which the White House and Downing Street are publicising. In both countries foreign forces were intervening in a potential or actual ethnic and sectarian civil war. In Afghanistan this is between the Pashtun on one side and the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazara on the other and has been going on for 30 years. In Iraq it is between the Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shia Arabs. The Sunni were the predominant community under Saddam Hussein and were displaced by the Shia after a horrendous civil war which reached its peak in and around Baghdad in 2006-07. Sunni insurgents did surprisingly well against US troops, but lost the war against the Shia.
The guerrilla war against the US in Iraq ceased because the Sunni community was being slaughtered by Shia death squads. "Judging by the body counts at the time in the Baghdad morgues, three Sunnis died for every Shia," Dr Michael Izady, who conducted a survey of the sectarian make-up of Baghdad for Columbia University's School of International Affairs, is quoted as saying. "Baghdad, basically a Sunni city into the 1940s, by the end of 2008 had only a few hundred thousand Sunni residents left in a population of over five million." Defeated in this devastating sectarian civil war, the Sunni ended their attacks on US troops and instead sought their protection. The "surge" of 28,000 extra US troops who arrived in the summer of 2007 had a marginal impact on the outcome of the fighting.
Yet it is the mythical success of the US troop "surge" in Iraq in 2007-08 which is being used as a template for US military policy in Afghanistan two years later. A strategy, which did not work in the way the Pentagon said it did in Iraq is now to be applied in Afghanistan where conditions are, in any case, entirely different.
Cockburn goes on to note that Obama's strategy in Afghanistan, just like Bush's in Iraq, is guaranteed (by design?) to enflame ethnic conflict:
The Obama plan outlined last week envisages training 100,000 new Afghan soldiers and 100,000 new policemen over the next three years. But where are these recruits to come from? Given the high desertion rate, the combat strength of the Afghan army is reportedly only 46,000 troops in a country that is larger than France. These troops, and particularly the officer corps, are already disproportionately Tajik, the ethnic group to which a quarter of Afghans belong. The US can only increase the military strength of the Afghan state swiftly by skewing it towards the Tajiks, who were always the core of opposition to the Taliban. This will increase sectarian hatreds.
And of course, the addition of thousands more foreign forces carrying out intensified military operations in Afghanistan will mean thousands more civilian deaths -- one of the primary elements fuelling violent resistance to the Western occupation.
In other words, as always in our bipartisan Terror War, the actual policies pursued by our leaders will, of necessity, produce the opposite result of their stated aims: quelling terrorism, dampening extremism, bringing stability, and, in the words of Obama's escalation speech at West Point, building "a better future for our children and grandchildren" by ensuring that "other peoples' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and access opportunity."
Let's state it again: you cannot achieve such goals, even in the slightest degree, with the foreign policies and military actions of the Bush and Obama administrations. You cannot invade countries, kills thousands upon thousands of innocent people, destroy societies, unleash and foment civil war, impose corrupt, violent, repressive regimes on shattered, suffering people and expect that this will somehow build "a better future" for your children and grandchildren -- much less for the children and grandchildren that you are murdering, brutalizing and traumatizing.
As we said here the other day, only an idiot could actually believe such things. And while our leaders may be moral nullities, they are not idiots. Therefore it is clear beyond all doubt and argument that the stated purposes for the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are deliberate, knowing, well-considered lies. Thus all the earnest debates and commentaries on the relative efficacy of various policies aimed at achieving these completely specious goals are pointless. In the end, such diversionary "debates" only serve the causes of war, domination, profiteering and elite power that are, in the end, the only true goals of these campaigns.
Do you want more proof of the inherent subversion of the Terror War's stated goals by the actual policies adopted by our leaders? Then look at Pakistan this week -- or almost any week these days -- where dozens of people were killed in the intensified civil war that has been "ratcheted up" at Washington's insistence.
For the last year, the Obama administration has waged a relentless campaign of hectoring, pressure, humiliation and blackmail to force the Pakistani government to wage open war on Pashtun tribes and sectarian groups opposed to Pakistani collaboration with America's growing military presence in the region.
(And please note: Washington does not object at all in principle to the retrograde religious extremism of the targeted sectarian groups in Pakistan -- or in Afghanistan, for that matter. For one thing, many of these same groups received copious support from America during the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan. And of course, Obama, like all of his predecessors, joyfully embraces -- even, yes, bows to -- perhaps the most retrograde, extremist religious regime on earth, Saudi Arabia. Never believe -- not for a moment -- that it is the content of faction's belief that determines Washington's attitude toward it. This determination is made solely on the basis of how that group advances -- or impedes -- American policy interests at any given time and place. One need only look at the vicious religious extremists embraced and empowered by the United States in both Afghanistan and Iraq in the past few years to see that.)
And so, bowing to this pressure, throughout the year the Pakistani military has dutifully "ratcheted up" its attacks on its own people. And what has been the inevitable result? More violence, more terrorist attacks, more instability, more extremism.
The first story is a remarkable tale of imperial extortion that nakedly reveals the true nature of American policy in the region: play ball, by our rules -- or get it in the neck. The administration of the new Nobel Peace Prize laureate is now openly telling the Pakistanis that if they do not kill more of their own people, then by God, the Americans are going to do it for them:
The Obama administration is turning up the pressure on Pakistan to fight the Taliban inside its borders, warning that if it does not act more aggressively the United States will use considerably more force on the Pakistani side of the border to shut down Taliban attacks on American forces in Afghanistan, American and Pakistani officials said.
But because this is the New York Times, one of the great keepers of the American exceptionalism flame, we must have this ludicrous, laughable line inserted right after these direct threats:
United States officials said the message did not amount to an ultimatum....
The Pakistanis got the message, however:
For their part the Pakistanis interpreted the message as a fairly bald warning that unless Pakistan moved quickly to act against two Taliban groups they have so far refused to attack, the United States was prepared to take unilateral action to expand Predator drone attacks beyond the tribal areas and, if needed, to resume raids by Special Operations forces into the country against Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders ... A Pakistani official who has been briefed on the meetings said, “Jones’s message was if that Pakistani help wasn’t forthcoming, the United States would have to do it themselves.”
In other words (we're having to use a lot of "other words" in this piece, but that's unavoidable when translating the higher bullshit of government and media), this was the message of the world's greatest beacon of freedom and goodness: "Listen up, Paki -- attack who we say or we're going to invade your fucking country. You savvy me lingo, Sambo?"
Yes, it is that crude; and yes, it is precisely that kind of condescending, dehumanizing racism that lies behind this approach. And try to picture the smug look of smirking satisfaction that accompanied this quote from the story:
A senior administration official, asked about the encounter, declined to go into details but added quickly, “I think they read our intentions accurately.”
And how's this for patting the blackjack in your palm, looking around the room and saying, with a sinister smile: "Nice little shop you got here, pal. Too bad if something, like, happened to it."
“We’ve offered them a strategic choice,” one administration official said, describing the private communications. “And we’ve heard back almost nothing.” Another administration official said, “Our patience is wearing thin.”
But of course what we are talking about here is Pakistan escalating the already extensive -- and heavy-handed, civilian-killing -- "counter-terrorism" operations it has launched at Washington's insistence in the past two years. These attacks have been met with a wave of reprisals from the targeted groups -- as well as by attacks of uncertain provenance. (In the world of "counterinsurgency," where death squads and double agents abound, one can never be sure where the ultimate origin of any attack comes from -- or even if the attackers themselves know who is pulling the strings. For more on this, see here, here and here, among many examples.)
The result of Obama's year-long policy of escalation in Pakistan is clear: more violence, more terrorism, more instability. Yet even after this clear evidence of failure (according to the purported reasons for the escalation), what is the "new" policy after the "strategic review"? The same, only more so. We can thus look forward to a lot more of this:
Militants set off two bombs on Monday night in one of the busiest markets of this eastern Pakistani city, then sprayed the crowd with gunfire, killing at least 54 people, including many women and children, and wounding at least 150 others, Pakistani authorities said on Tuesday.
News agencies reported a fresh attack on Tuesday in the same region. A bomb near the offices of the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate in Multan killed at least 12 people, the reports said.
This was part of a series of attacks that have killed hundreds of people in the past few weeks. As the Guardian noted earlier this month:
...[A] wave of attacks.. started two months ago, on the eve of an army drive into the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan. More than 400 Pakistanis have died since early October in attacks on UN offices, security installations and crowded bazaars. The capital, Islamabad, increasingly resembles cities such as Kabul, with rising sandbagged walls, checkpoint-clogged streets and shopping areas bereft of foreigners and, increasingly, Pakistanis.
Nearby Rawalpindi has suffered even more attacks, including a 22-hour siege of the army headquarters in early October that left 23 people dead and badly embarrassed the military.
And so the cycle goes on and on -- now with a Peace Laureate at its head. Looking at this ever-growing darkness, I keep coming back to something I wrote the day after 9/11:
Blood will have blood; that's certain. But blood will not end it. For murder is fertile: it breeds more death, like a spider laden with a thousand eggs. And who now can break this cycle, which has been going on for generations?