Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Reality Wedge #3: having and eating cake

Professor Andrew J. Bacevich
Some texts on "torturegate":
Torture, as a word, except in documents or in the mouths of other people -- those "critics" -- has evidently lost its descriptive powers in our news world where almost any other formulation is preferred. Often these days the word of choice is "harsh," or even "brutal," both substitutes for the anodyne "enhanced" in the Bush administration's own description of the package of torture "techniques" it institutionalized and justified after the fact in those legal memos. The phrase was, of course, meant to be law-evading, since torture is a crime, not just in international law, but in this country. The fact is that, if you can't call something what it is, you're going to have a tough time facing what you've done, no less prosecuting crimes committed not quite in its name. Tom Engelhardt

International law and American treaty obligations were defied, as were established American law on the conduct of war and the treatment of prisoners, constitutional protections, and the surveillance of citizens. All of this occurred without meeting serious, or at least successful, Congressional or judicial challenge, with little or no objection from the national press, and all but unanimous support from the national audiovisual media. One needn’t go through all that again.(...)President Obama’s unwillingness to see his first term dominated by the crimes of the Bush administration is comprehensible. Yet there is a limit. The latest case of the human moral vacuum created and encouraged during the Bush years is so outrageous, perverse, sadistic and nihilistic that it demands attention, for all that it tells us about the rest that has happened. I speak of the ordered, authorized, and conscientiously supervised water-boarding of two prisoners 266 times. The men who authorized, ordered, and performed such acts should be hanged. It is as simple as that. William Pfaff

Americans should be clear on what Obama has done. In a breathtaking display of self-righteousness and intellectual arrogance, the president told Americans that his personal beliefs are more important than protecting their country, their homes and their families. The interrogation techniques in question, the president asserted, are a sign that Americans have lost their "moral compass," a compliment similar to Attorney General Eric Holder's identifying them as "moral cowards." Mulling Obama's claim, one can wonder what could be more moral for a president than doing all that is needed to defend America and its citizens? Or, asked another way, is it moral for the president of the United States to abandon intelligence tools that have saved the lives and property of Americans and their allies in favor of his own ideological beliefs? Michael Scheuer

Hard though it is to believe, Barack Obama may be facing an issue with bigger consequences for the US than any already on his desk: whether officials from the previous administration – perhaps up to and including George W. Bush – should be prosecuted for violating domestic and international laws on torture.(...) Many Americans would see prosecutions as partisan; their loudest advocates do seem driven more by loathing of the Bush administration than zeal for justice. Rather than building a consensus against torture, which is the real prize, prosecutions might militate against it. Mr Obama may now be unable to halt the process. Before choosing not to try, he should think hard about where it might lead. Editorial - Financial Times
David Seaton's News Links
Beginning with Professor Bacevich's masterful, almost Swiftian, evisceration of the jingoistic ignorance and hypocrisy which after more than a century finally was symbolized by what we call "George W. Bush", the above texts lay out with clarity the full gravity and the deadly vortex facing the United States of America in the torture controversy

In my view, at the heart of all of the controversy of whether to prosecute or even investigate torture is the following consideration:

The United States of America is not a not a "normal" country.

The USA is not a "nation" in a traditional sense as England, France, Japan or Spain are: with hundreds of years of common history, religion, language, culture, victories and defeats to fill and color their daily lives with unspoken meaning and identity no matter what constitution or regime happens to be in power at the moment. That is not America's case.

Without it's laws and republican traditions the United States of America would simply be a multicolored spectacle of fat people out shopping. That is what it is in danger of being, may already have become. The United States without habeas corpus becomes merely the sinister, hypocritical, mastodon that Andrew Bacevich paints.

Admitting the use of torture and not prosecuting those who have bent or broken the Constitution and international law is the slipperiest of slippery slopes. Not only America's identity is at stake, even the ideas of the enlightenment: liberty, equality and the rights of man themselves, which America likes to think it incarnates, are at risk.

As an example:
Since Eisenhower embraced Franco, "black Spain" has treated America and its president much as their ancestors treated the Pope, as the final guarantor of their legitimacy to rule. I have seen with my own eyes how much of Spain's unreconstructed, Francoist right wing, symbolized by José María Aznar, cloaked themselves with the democratic seal of approval and modernidad that Bush conferred on their own ancestral toxic mixture of religion, selfishness, greed and centuries of the systematic violation of and contempt for human rights. At this moment they are nonplussed by many of Obama's opening initiatives. That is much to Obama's credit.

Finally the decision that faces America is the same one that faced ancient Rome, whether to be an empire or to be a Republic. Of course that decision was taken long ago... America is an empire and America tortures and has taught others how to torture for decades. This what Chalmers Johnson calls "The Sorrows of Empire".

The real question today is whether the cat can ever be walked back.

To prosecute the torturers right up to the top with the same vigor that the United States employed against the villains of Nuremberg or Slobodan Milošević would be a fundamental first step in reclaiming the Republic.

This is a fork in the road. One path surely leads to hell on earth and the other, perhaps, possibly, maybe, could be, might be, the path where happiness, so long pursued, could finally be caught. DS


Stephanie said...

I don't see it happening. The public is confused. The Democratic Congressional leadership doesn't want it, Obama's views tend to change from day to day, suggesting that he would prefer to put the torture thing behind him and finish his waffle. It would take some force from outside, but I don't know what.

Forensic economist said...

I agree.

By the way, I read Bacevich when he posts on the Tom Dispatch web site, which if you haven't already found, I highly recommend.

I get the bad feeling that the Obama administration is saying all the right things but not giving up any of the powers that the Bush adminstration grabbed for the presidency.

There will be no prosecutions (in America) of the torturers. The wiretapping is still covered up, and may very well be continuing. The Army ban on torture has not been extended to the CIA. The military budget is still growing, albeit slower. A few more dollars can be sent to relatives in Cuba, but the embargo policy is still in place. Obama will talk to the Iranians, but sanctions are still in place. etc etc.

The American legal system is still functioning and civil lawsuits against civilian contractors involved in torture, renditions, or other war crimes will go forward. Right now there is one pending against the air transport company that flew a "rendited" foreigner from Sweden to unknown torture sites.

Your judge in Spain may very well indict Yoo, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and others. I certainly hope he does. We Americans should do that, but it doesn't look like we will.

stunted said...

"24" a top show in America; America's go-to guy on the Middle East, Thomas Friedman, opining that: 1) prosecuting Bush, Cheney et al would tear our delicate democracy apart--the "we-can't-do-what-democracy-demands-because-it'll-be-democracy's-undoing" arguement--, and 2) that Al Qaeda is such a unique enemy that anything is acceptable in combatting it; the Administration's public proclamations about closing Guantanamo, yet fighting in court to keep prisoners at the Bagram base beyond the reach of any legal status or protection (read: coddling of terrorists who would do us in); indeed, the wholesale adoption of the GWOT meme by Obama along with the very idea of American exceptionalism pretty much insure that there will be no walking back of this cat. We don't do soul-searching; we just close our eyes, raise our arms in the air and sing about Jesus, who has blessed our country.

bailey alexander said...

Great post, "...fat people shopping" that's just funny.

Also, great comments. I only get apple podcasts, like Bill Moyer (which was inspiring re that Citylight grassroots group going against the banks in Mass, bravo)...but agree with stephanie, the public appears confused as the myriad of commentators keep framing it differently, when in fact, the matter is quite you said so adroitly in this post.