Sunday, March 27, 2005
Dark Passage: PNAC's Blueprint for Empire
An attack on Iraq. Vast increases in military spending. Planting new American bases all over the world, from the jungles of South America to the steppes of Central Asia. Embracing the concept of "pre-emptive war" and unilateral action as cornerstones of national strategy.
These policies may seem like reactions to the "changed world" confronting America after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But in fact, each one of them – and many other policies now being advanced by the Bush Administration – was planned long before the first plane ever struck the doomed Twin Towers.
They are the handiwork of an obscure but influential conservative group called Project for the New American Century (PNAC), whose members – including Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld – now sit in the highest reaches of power. The papers they produced during the 1990s are like a roadmap of the course that America is following – a course which PNAC hopes will lead to a "benign" but utterly dominant "American Empire."
The Unipolar Moment
Not surprisingly, the roots of PNAC go back to the first Bush Administration. In 1992, then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney asked two of his top aides, Paul Wolfowitz (now assistant secretary of Defense) and Lewis Libby (now Cheney's chief of staff), to draw up a "Defense Guidance Plan" to shape American strategy in the post-Cold War world. They produced an aggressive, ambitious document calling for the unilateral use of American military might to "discourage advanced industrial nations from challenging our leadership or even aspiring to a larger regional or global role." Military intervention would be "a constant fixture" of what Wolfowitz and Libby called a "new order" which the United States – not the United Nations – would "establish and protect."
The goal was to seize the opportunity offered by the collapse of the Soviet Union – which left the United States without a serious international rival – and extend this "unipolar moment" of American dominance for decades to come; indeed, into a "New American Century."
The report was leaked in the midst of the 1992 presidential campaign, sparking controversy over its "imperial ambitions," and was publicly disowned by President George H.W. Bush. After the Bush team was defeated by Bill Clinton, a lame-duck Cheney finally issued a watered-down version of the paper as official policy. The Clinton Administration then scrapped it upon taking office.
But the unipolar vision of American dominance was not forgotten. During the 1990s, it was refined and expanded in a number of conservative think tanks – the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Hudson Institute, the Center for Security Policy and others – whose memberships often overlapped. And now that they were out of office, the advocates of dominance could speak more freely.
One former member of Cheney's Defense Department team, Zalmay Khalilzad (now Bush's special emissary to Afghanistan), wrote openly that the U.S. must "be willing to use force" to express its "global leadership" and preclude the rise of potential rivals. Others, such as former Reagan official and AEI stalwart Richard Perle (now head of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board) and Douglas Feith (now assistant secretary of Defense), worked with Israel's Likud Party, drawing up plans calling for American-led "regime change" efforts in Iraq, Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Finally, in 1997, Project for the New American Century was formed as a focal point for disseminating the dominance ideal. It was a "big tent" of Great Power adherents: Beltway players like Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, former Vice President Dan Quayle, and former Reagan education secretary turned public scold, William Bennett; Christian "social conservatives" like Gary Bauer; and the so-called "neoconservatives" (often former Democrats whose staunch anti-communism had led them to the Reagan Right), including Elliot Abrams, who'd been convicted of lying to Congress in the Iran-Contra scandal but was pardoned by George Bush Sr. (and now serves on the White House director of Middle East policy). Other notable figures joining PNAC included the Afghan-born Khalilzad, publisher and presidential candidate Steve Forbes, and Jeb Bush, younger brother of the president-to-be.
"A New Pearl Harbor"
PNAC fired its first shot across the bow in 1998, with letters to President Clinton and Congressional leaders calling for "regime change" in Iraq, by force if necessary, and the establishment of a "strong U.S. military presence in the region." Then in September 2000, just months before the disputed election that brought George W. Bush to power, the group published a highly detailed, 90-page "blueprint" for transforming America's military – and the nation's role on the world stage.
The document, "Rebuilding America's Defenses," acknowledged its adherence to the "basic tenets" of the controversial 1992 Wolfowitz-Libby report, and advocated a series of "transformations" in national defense and foreign affairs. These included:
--- Projecting American dominance with a "worldwide network of forward operating bases" – some permanent, others "temporary access arrangements" as needed for various military interventions – in the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. These additions to America's already-extensive overseas deployments would act as "the cavalry on the new American frontier" – a frontier that PNAC declared now extended throughout the world.
--- Withdrawing from arms control treaties to allow for the development of a global missile shield, the deployment of space-based weapons and the production of a new generation of "battlefield nuclear weapons," especially "bunker-busters" for penetrating underground fortifications.
--- Raising the U.S. military budget to at least 3.8 percent of gross domestic product, with annual increases of tens of billions of dollars each year.
--- Developing sophisticated new technologies to "control the global commons of cyberspace" by closely monitoring communications and transactions on the Internet.
--- Pursuing the development of "new methods of attack – electronic, 'non-lethal, biological…in new dimensions, in space, cyberspace and perhaps the world of microbes." Just this month, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was complaining to Congress about long-standing international chemical weapons treaties which have "tangled us up so badly" and prevented the use of non-lethal chemical arms in subduing enemy armies – and enemy populations.
--- Developing the ability to "fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theater wars." This means moving beyond the "two-war standard" of preparedness which has guided U.S. strategy since World War II in order to account for "new realities and potential new conflicts." It lists countries such as Iraq, Iran, Syria, North Korea and Libya as targets for those potential new conflicts, and urges Pentagon warplanners to consider not merely containing them or defeating them in battle, but "changing their regimes."
Oddly enough, although "regime change" in Iraq was still clearly a priority for PNAC, it had little to do with Saddam Hussein and his brutal policies or his aggressive tendencies. Instead, removing Saddam was tied to the larger goal of establishing a permanent U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf in order to "secure energy supplies" and preclude any other power from dominating the vital oil regions of the Middle East and Central Asia. The PNAC report puts it quite plainly:
"The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein."
This is why the Bush Regime has offered a constantly shifting menu of rationales for the impending attack on Iraq: because the decision to remove Saddam was taken long ago, as part of a larger strategic plan, and has little to do with any imminent threat from the broken-backed Iraqi regime, which is constantly bombed, partially occupied (with U.S. forces already working in the autonomous Kurdish territories) and now swarming with UN inspectors. If the strategic need for the attack "transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein," then almost any rationale will do.
Perhaps due to the presence of Washington heavyweights like Cheney and Rumsfeld, the PNAC report recognized that thorny political difficulties could stand in the way of implementing the group's radical designs. Indeed, in one of the most striking and prescient passages in the entire 90-page document, PNAC acknowledged that the "revolutionary" changes it envisaged could take decades to bring about – unless, that is, the United States was struck by "some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor."
The Path of Action
That "new Pearl Harbor" did come, of course, in the thunderclap of September 11, 2001. And the PNAC alumni now in government were quick to capitalize on this "catalyzing event." All of the PNAC recommendations listed above were put into place, with almost no debate from a shellshocked Congress and a populace reeling from the unprecedented assault on American security. In the very first days following the attack, Rumsfeld urged the Bush cabinet to make "Iraq a principal target of the first round in the war against terrorism," despite the lack of any proof connecting Baghdad to the terrorist atrocity, according to Bob Woodward's insider account, Bush at War.
But Rumsfeld was overruled by Colin Powell, who counseled that "public opinion has to be prepared before a move against Iraq is possible." So the "war on terrorism" was launched initially against Afghanistan, where the Taliban regime was harboring Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden and his band of international extremists. The attack on Afghanistan was accompanied by the construction of new American bases and "temporary access arrangements" throughout Central Asia, giving America a military "footprint" in the strategically vital region for the first time. At the same time, new U.S. forces were dispatched to East Asia, to the Philippines, Indonesia and elsewhere, and to South America, to help Colombia combat "narco-terrorists" and to protect that nation's vital oil pipelines.
Meanwhile, at home, military budgets skyrocketed to deal with the "new realities and potential new conflicts." The Bush Administration withdrew from the landmark ABM arms control treaty and began construction of missile defense facilities. There were new funds and more research for the militarization of outer space (dubbed "Full Spectrum Dominance"), and the development of "non-lethal" biochemical weapons. Pentagon technicians, led by another convicted Iran-Contra figure, John Poindexter, began the development of Internet "data-mining" and monitoring technology (which, despite some recent Congressional restrictions, continues today). And the U.S. announced a new "nuclear posture," including the willingness to use tactical nuclear weapons – a move supported by the Republican-led House of Representatives, which approved Pentagon plans to develop the "bunker-buster" nukes specifically recommended by PNAC.
"The Savage Wars of Peace"
The existence of PNAC and its influence on the Bush Administration is not some "conspiracy theory." It follows a pattern frequently seen in American history: a group of like-minded people band together in think tanks, foundations, universities and other institutions, where they lay out their vision for America's future. And when they at last have access to the levers of power, they try to make that vision a reality.
What is different now is that the September 11 attacks have given this particular group an unprecedented amount of political capital – not to mention cold, hard federal cash – to put their long-held dreams into practice, virtually without opposition. (In contrast, consider the bitterly partisan political struggles between Congress and Lincoln during the Civil War.) What is also different is the essential content of that vision: the establishment – by force – of an American Empire.
This Empire is to be different from the old Roman or British models, of course. It will not entail settlement or direct control of foreign lands, but will instead offer paternal "protection" and "guidance" – backed up with strategically placed military bases and "temporary access arrangements" for the inevitable "constabulatory duties" required to enforce PNAC's longed-for "Pax Americana." However, the intent is not outright conquest, but the chance to bring "the single sustainable model of national success" to all the world, to set people, and their markets, free – as long as no "regional or global challenges to America's leadership" arise, of course.
But there will be costs to taking up what Thomas Donnelly, the principal author of the PNAC blueprint, calls "the free man's burden." Donnelly, a former journalist and legislative aide, wrote in the journal Foreign Affairs last year that America should look to its "imperial past" as a guide to its future. Reviewing The Savage Wars of Peace, a pro-Empire book by journalist Max Boot, Donnelly cites approvingly the "pacification" of the Philippines by American forces in 1898-1900, in which at least 100,000 Filipinos were killed in a bid for independence. He also points to the U.S. Army's success in subduing the Native American tribes in a series of small wars, and, closer to our time, the efficient "constabulatory operation" in Panama, which was invaded by the first President Bush in 1989. Similar "savage wars of peace" – pacifications, counterinsurgencies, police actions, invasions – will be required to maintain the new American Empire, says Donnelly.
And here too, George W. Bush has clearly echoed the thinking of the PNAC members who now surround him in the White House. Speaking at a Republican fundraiser last August, the President seemed keenly aware of the heavy price in blood and treasure the nation will have to pay to maintain its imperium in the New American Century: "There's no telling how many wars it will take to secure freedom in the homeland."
The Beautiful Song of War
These texts spring from the Dominators' quasi-religious cult of "American exceptionalism," the belief in the unique and utter goodness of the American soul – embodied chiefly by the nation's moneyed elite, of course – and the irredeemable, metaphysical evil of all those who would oppose or criticize the elite's righteous (and conveniently self-serving) policies.
Anyone still "puzzled" over the Bush Regime's behavior need only look to these documents for enlightenment. They have long been available to the media – which accepted Bush's transparent campaign lies about a "more humble foreign policy" at face value – but have only now started attracting wider notice, in the New Yorker this spring, and this week in the Glasgow Sunday Herald.
The documents explain America's relentless march across Afghanistan, Central Asia and soon into the Middle East. They explain the Bush Regime's otherwise unfathomable rejection of international law, its fanatical devotion to so-called "missile defense," its gargantuan increases in military spending – even its antediluvian energy policy, which mandates the continued primacy of oil and gas in the world economy. (They can't conquer the sun or monopolize the wind, so there's no profit, no leverage for personal gain and geopolitical power in pursuing viable alternatives to oil.) The Sept. 11 attacks gave the Regime a pretext for greatly accelerating this published program of global dominance, but they would have pursued it in any case.
So there will be war: either soon, after immediately the November mid-term elections, or – in the event that Iraq's new offer for inspections is accepted – then later, after some "provocation" or "obstruction," no doubt in good time before the 2004 presidential vote. The purse-lipped rhetoric about "evil" and "moral clarity" is just so much desert sand being thrown in our eyes. Backstage, the Bush Regime is playing Mafia-style hardball, warning reluctant allies to get on board now, or else miss out on their cut of the loot when America – not a "democratic Iraq" – divvies up Saddam's oilfields: a shakedown detailed last week by the Economist, among many others.
The Dominators dream of empire. Not only will it extend their temporal power, they believe it will also give them immortality. Indeed, one of their chief gurus, Reaganite firebreather Michael Ledeen, says that if the Dominators have the courage to reject "clever diplomacy" and "just wage total war" to subjugate the Middle East, "our children will sing great songs about us years from now."* This madness, this bin Laden-like megalomania is now driving the hijacked American republic – and the world – to murderous upheaval.
It's all there in the text, set down in black and white.
Read it and weep.
*This quote is widely attributed to Richard Perle, but the dubious honor belongs to Leeden alone.
Friday, March 25, 2005
This Sunday, Bill Frist will – once again – heap shame on the people of Tennessee through his apparently unquenchable lust for power. Frist – he deserves no honorific – will lend the authority of his position as Senate Majority Leader to a conclave of radical extremists who have taken Christianity hostage for their own political purposes.
The so-called "Justice Sunday" telecast emanating from a Kentucky church on April 24, with Frist's eager participation, is part of a diabolical plan to foment religious conflict – perhaps even religious war – among the American people by perpetrating a twisted lie: that anyone who opposes a handful of George W. Bush's judicial nominees is in league with Satan against "people of faith and moral conviction." The claim is that Democrats are maliciously blocking upright judicial candidates "whose only offense is to say that abortion is wrong or that marriage should be between one man and one woman."
This is, of course, a monstrous and poisonous falsehood. Here are the facts. In the past three years, the U.S. Senate has confirmed 205 of Bush's nominees to the federal judiciary. As reporter Joe Conason points out, these include open abortion opponents like Mike Fisher and John Roberts, and staunch anti-gay activists like Timothy Tymkovich, who has also argued in court against Medicaid funding of abortion even in cases of rape and incest. These and many other Bush nominees hold very hardline views – yet they faced no blocking, no filibuster from the Democrats. Why? Because they are competent, experienced jurists who have demonstrated their commitment to the rule of law and objectivity on the bench. That is the real "litmus test" for judicial nominees – not the fantasies of religious persecution being whipped up by Frist and his extremist allies.
Only 10 of Bush's judicial nominees have been held up by Senate Democrats – that's 10 out of 215. In fact, 95 percent of all federal court seats are now filled – the lowest vacancy rate for 13 years. And why was the vacancy rate so high in the last decade? Because Senate Republicans – such as Bill Frist – blocked 50 of Bill Clinton's judicial nominations.
These few blocked Bush nominees are being held up not because of their "moral stands" but because of questions about their judicial competence and ethical standards. For example, one of Bush's sterling nominees for a lifelong seat on the federal bench is a lawyer who has never even taken part in a courtroom case. Another is a Texas judge who took wads of campaign cash from corporations – such as Enron – even when they had cases before her court. Other nominees from the lower courts have shown a marked predilection for judicial activism, overriding the law in order to advance their own political – not moral – views.
But there is something else going on here – beyond Bill Frist's pandering to extremists to advance his presidential ambitions, and James Dobson's fearmongering efforts to stuff his own fat coffers with donations and "love offerings." The "Justice Sunday" hatefest is part of a wider and very deliberate effort to destroy the independence of the American judiciary – one of our three co-equal branches of government. The Bush gang despises the rule of law because it puts a brake on their authoritarian ambitions. They want to rule the country by the arbitrary will of the divinely-blessed "Leader," free of any legal restraints. (Bush has often "joked" about his desire to be a dictator.) Meanwhile, the so-called Christian Right wants to break the Constitutional power of the courts in order to establish a theocratic government, ruled by their own skewed and ignorant understanding of "God's Law."
They are very clear about this goal. Frist has been keeping company with David Barton, the "Christian Reconstructionist," who states proudly: "The Christian goal for the world is the universal development of Biblical theocratic republics, in which every area of life is redeemed and placed under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the rule of God's law." This so-called "Dominion Theology" includes public execution for a range of sins, slavery for debtors and the exclusion of non-believers from the rights of citizenship – plus the elimination of all taxes, regulations and legal restrictions on big business. (How convenient for those Bush-Frist country-club Republicans, eh?)
Frist's appearance at "Justice Sunday" thus represents the convergence of two very powerful – and very sinister – trends in American society: the rapacious appetite of Big Money, gobbling up small businesses, family farms, and the financial, social and civic security once enjoyed by American working people; and the rise of hardcore religious extremists who, like the Taliban, want to impose their sectarian views on "every area of life." Frist now stands with the liars and demagogues who are tearing down the Republic. In his slavering ambition, he has dishonored us all.
Thursday, March 24, 2005
Body Double: Terri Schiavo, Sun Hudson and the "Culture of Life"
Far from the hurly-burly in Florida, where the Bush brothers and their shameless minions have sought to milk maximum "political capital" from the ravaged body of a brain-dead woman, the true moral values of these gilded hypocrites were on stark display last week in a quiet corner of the Bushes' adopted homeland: Texas.
This week, George W. Bush melodramatically cut short one of his innumerable vacations and flew back to Washington to intervene in the case of Terri Schiavo, when a Florida court granted her husband's request to cut off her life support after 15 years in a vegetative state. But days before, even as Bush was supporting his brother, Florida governor Jeb, and congressional Republicans in "defending the culture of life" in the Schiavo case, doctors in Houston were pulling the breathing tube from the throat of an ailing infant. The boy suffocated within seconds, legally killed – against the wishes of his anguished mother – in accordance with a draconian law signed as a "cost-saving" measure by the state's former governor: George W. Bush.
There were no frenzied protests, no camera-friendly prayer vigils, no preening politicians at Texas Children's Hospital when five-month-old Sun Hudson took his last breath. There was only his mother, Wanda, holding him in her arms as he died, the Houston Chronicle reports. Sun suffered from an extreme form of dwarfism: incurable, usually fatal. Early on, doctors recommended cutting off the breathing tube that kept his undersized lungs working. He was inert, they said, unresponsive, essentially comatose.
Wanda Hudson disagreed. "I talked to him," she said, "he was conscious," moving, looking around, he responded to her. Although the odds were long, she wanted to give him more time to develop, not give up on him after just a few months. Wishful thinking, a despairing parent's denial? Perhaps. But the law signed by Bush in 1999 took the decision out of her hands and gave it to hospital bureaucrats, allowing them to shut down a patient's life support – even against the wishes of the patient's family or guardian – if the medical brass decide treatment is "nonbeneficial," the Chronicle notes.
Indeed, why throw away good money pumping air down the gullet of some defective infant, just to mollify his nobody of a mother? For unlike Terri Schiavo – a nice middle-class white woman, a political marketer's dream – Wanda Hudson was just another worthless black woman living in poverty, unable to afford any pre-natal care at all. Who would waste a dime on trash like that? It's much more beneficial to funnel that cash into the coffers of your political patrons – like George and Jeb, now wallowing happily in the swamp of campaign grease they get from giant medical corporations. In return, they push government policies designed to keep Big Medicine's profits sky-high while gutting public obligations to provide health care for the hoi polloi.
So the hospital invoked the Bush Law on Sun Hudson. Just as in Florida, a local judge ruled that life-support systems must be removed, and the patient allowed to die a natural death. But strangely enough, the Texas judge was not reviled in the halls of Congress as a would-be murder, as was the Florida jurist– even though the latter was carrying out the wishes of Terri Schiavo's husband, her legal guardian, while the Bush Law used state power to override a mother's choice. Nor was the Texas judge subjected to death threats like the ones the Florida judge received from Bush's "armies of compassion."
No, Sun's mother stood alone. Those compassionate armies and congressional kibitzers failed to materialize on her behalf. George W. Bush – usually so eager to wade in a with a few scripted words of pursed-lipped piety about "family values" and "defending life" – kept his big mouth shut. The hospital would not allow the media to see Sun or interview Wanda Jackson – again, against her wishes. "I wanted y'all to see him for yourselves," she told the press after Sun's death. But so what? When nobodies die, nobody cares.
Why the stark contrast between the two cases? Simple: there was no political hay to be made from Sun Hudson's plight. Spotlighting his situation might reflect badly on the Dear Leader – and on the religious extremists now banking millions in contributions from their slick campaign to "save" Terri Schiavo. For it turns out that the spearhead of Bush's Christian army in Florida, the "Right to Life" organization, actually helped Bush craft the 1999 law that took Sun Hudson's life, the Chronicle reports. The family-bashing measure was drawn up in backroom sessions between the Right-to-Lifers, Bush staffers and Big Medicine. It seems the "culture of life" ends where power politics and corporate money begin.
Bush doesn't care if Terri Schiavo lives or dies. Her body – like the bodies of the 100,000 Iraqis he has killed, like the bodies of the American soldiers being chewed up every day in his Babylonian conquest, like the bodies of the poor and working people whom he is methodically and remorselessly cutting off from medical care, financial protection against catastrophic illness and legal redress against corporate predators – is just a means to an end, the only end Bush cares about: increasing the power and wealth of his own rapacious circle of privileged elites.
There is nothing – absolutely nothing – he will not do to serve this end. He'll wage war on false pretenses, he'll pervert the democratic process, he'll spit on the Constitution – and he'll exploit the private suffering of families facing hideous dilemmas of life and death. There is no honor, no morality, no values in his "culture."
Monday, March 21, 2005
Filter Tips: Muzzling and Massaging the Message of War
President George W. Bush often complains about the "media filter" that distorts the true picture of his Administration's accomplishments in Iraq. And he's right. For regardless of where you stand on Mr. Bush's policies in the region, it's undeniable that the political and commercial biases of the American press have consistently misrepresented the reality of the situation.
Here's an excellent example. Earlier this month, the American media completely ignored an important announcement from an official of the Iraqi government concerning the oft-maligned U.S. operation to clear insurgents from the city of Fallujah last November. Although the press conference of Health Ministry investigator Dr. Khalid ash-Shaykhli was attended by representatives from the Washington Post, Knight-Ridder and more than 20 other international news outlets, nary a word of his team's thorough investigation into the truth about the battle made it through the filter's dense mesh. Once again, the American public was denied the full story of one of President Bush's remarkable triumphs.
Dr. ash-Shaykhli's findings provided confirmation of earlier reports by many other Iraqis – reports that were also ignored by the arrogant filterers, who seem more interested in hearing from terrorists or anti-occupation extremists than ordinary Iraqis and those like Dr. ash-Shaykhli, who serve in the American-backed interim government vetted and approved by Mr. Bush. But while the media elite turn up their nose at such riff-raff, the testimony of these common folk and diligent public servants give ample evidence of Mr. Bush's innovative method of liberating innocent Iraqis from tyranny:
He burns them to death with chemical weapons.
The whole story here.
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
"Fairness is not rebutting truth with lies."
Friday, March 11, 2005
Gitmo Fire Sale
From the NYT:
The Pentagon is seeking to enlist help from the State Department and other agencies in a plan to cut by more than half the population at its detention facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in part by transferring hundreds of suspected terrorists to prisons in [states that practice torture such as] Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Yemen, according to senior administration officials.
Thursday, March 10, 2005
The Rendering: Drawing a Veil Over State Crime
In the heady months after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the chickenhawks of the Bush Regime were eager to flash their tough-guy cojones to the world. Led by the former prep-school cheerleader in the Oval Office, swaggering Bushists openly bragged of "kicking ass" with macho tactics like torture and "extraordinary rendition."
"We don't kick the [expletive] out of them," one top Bush official told the Washington Post on Dec. 26, 2002. "We send them to other countries so they can kick the [expletive] out of them." In that same article, other Bush honchos boasted about withholding medical treatment from wounded prisoners; knowingly sending prisoners to be tortured in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco and Jordan ("I do it with my eyes open," said one top agent); and breaking international law as a routine part of interrogations by U.S. operatives. "If you're not violating someone's human rights," said an interrogation supervisor, "you're probably not doing your job." These freely admitted violations included beatings, hooding, exposure, sexual humiliation and the medieval barbarism of strappado: chaining a prisoner with his arms twisted behind his back and suspending him from the ceiling, where the weight of his own body tears at his sockets and sinews.
Again, there was nothing secret about this. Indeed, the December 2002 story was part of a series of similar admissions Bush officials cheerfully made to the mainstream press. Beginning in October 2001, we were told – by Bush officials – that Bush had signed "secret" executive orders granting himself the power to assassinate anyone on earth whom he arbitrarily declared a "terrorist suspect;" that he had extended this unlimited license to kill to CIA agents in the field, who no longer needed to clear their secret murders with the White House; and that he had expanded his unrestricted, arbitrary powers of arrest without charge, indefinite detention and extra-judicial killing to cover American citizens, as well as designated foreign "enemies." Thus, long before Attorney General Alberto Gonzales officially declared to Congress this year that wartime presidential powers cannot be constrained in any way by U.S. or international law, the Bush Regime was unashamedly asserting its embrace of torture, lawlessness and arbitrary rule.
The invasion of Iraq – itself a war crime of staggering dimensions – simply extended this long-established and officially sanctioned system of brutality to a new arena. (And to thousands of new victims, the overwhelming majority of which were innocent of any crime, as the Red Cross reported.) While the investigative work of Seymour Hersh and others in exposing the horrors of Abu Ghraib is indeed laudable, it should not have come as any surprise. The atrocities detailed in the revelations were identical to those the Bush Regime openly acknowledged as standard practice just months before.
The only difference, of course, was the fact that pictures of the Abu Ghraib atrocities were also published and broadcast. Public sensibilities – untroubled by previous verbal admissions buried deep in slabs of newsprint – were suddenly shocked by the lurid visuals. A Republican-led Senate investigation declared that it had uncovered "even worse" pictures of torture: stomach-curdling photos and videos of bloody abuse that could stain America's name for generations. The Bush Regime braced for an election-year firestorm of scandal. Pentagon chief Don Rumsfeld offered his resignation to the president.
Then – nothing happened. The outraged Republican senators never released their damning pictures. Rumsfeld kept his job. A "few bad apples" in the lower ranks were put on trial; the top figures involved in the torture system, such as Gonzales and several generals, were promoted. And even though Pentagon and CIA investigators continue to document hundreds – hundreds – of cases of torture, abuse and outright murder in Bush's gulag, the storm has passed. Indeed, Bushists like John Yoo, one of the primary authors of the "torture memos" undergirding the gulag, see the 2004 election as a public affirmation of blood and brutality. The vote is "proof that the debate is over," Yoo told the New Yorker. "The issue is dying out."
Yet the Regime was shaken a bit by the brief tempest. Instead of macho swagger about "kicking ass" and "taking off the gloves," there are now prim assurances of legality. PR fig leaves are being artfully draped over once-bulging displays of butchness. This week, the New York Times was chosen for a high-profile leak, "revealing" that while Bush himself gave the order to "render" U.S. captives to nations that practice torture (supposedly as a cost-saving measure!), the CIA is scrupulously ensuring that no prisoners are ever actually tortured by foreign torturers in the torture chambers where Bush has consigned them. Such prissy hand-wringing is a far cry from the old braggadocio ("I did it with my eyes open") and cynical shoulder-shrugging of December 2002, when one rendition op dismissed the very notion of CIA supervision of its foreign torture partners: "If we're not there in the room with them," he smirked, "who is to say" what goes on in the outsourced interrogations?
But Bush is facing something far more dangerous than the occasional hiccup of bad PR or toothless probes by his Senate bagmen. There are now several lawsuits afoot filed by innocent survivors of the "rendition" system set up at Bush's direct order. These cases could not only expose the ugly guts of his gulag, but also produce direct evidence of criminal culpability on the part of Bush and his minions under U.S. and international law.
The Regime has responded with draconian ruthlessness to this genuine threat. In the main rendition case – and in an unrelated lawsuit concerning officially confirmed evidence of terrorist infiltration of the FBI before 9/11 – Bush is invoking the rarely-used, extraconstitutional "state secrets privilege." This nebulous maneuver, unanchored in law or legislation, allows the government to suppress any evidence against it merely by asserting, without proof, that disclosure of the truth might "harm national security." Evidence "protected" in this way cannot even be heard by a judge in secret – a well-established practice used successfully in numerous other national security cases over the years. It is simply buried forever, and the case collapses.
It is almost certain that Bush's invocation of this "night-and-fog" measure will be upheld. So let us be clear about the consequences. It will mean that any crime committed by a government official – torture, rendition, murder, state terrorism, even treason – can be sealed in permanent darkness. The justice system itself will be "rendered" into a black hole. The victims of state crime – American citizens as well as foreign captives – will be left without rights, without redress, without a voice. Bush's kingdom of strappado will reign supreme.
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
Kurt Andersen's Hobbesian Choice: the whole story
To the Editor:
Kurt Andersen writes: "Each of us has a Hobbesian choice concerning Iraq; either we hope for the vindication of Bush’s risky, very possibly reckless policy, or we are in a de facto alliance with the killers of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians." This is simply not true. It is a coarse and brutal reductionism, which despite its falsity captures very well the zeitgeist of our increasingly coarsened and brutalized political discourse. (Witness, for example, how an unprovoked war of aggression based on deception is now politely tidied up as a "very possibly reckless policy.") There is in fact a broad range of possible outcomes in Iraq beyond Andersen's blinkered Bush vs. Zarqawi scenario; non-violent resistance to the occupation, to take just one example – one which would actually match the opposition to the occupation that the vast majority of Iraqis feel, according to every poll. In any case, it is certainly possible to oppose Bush's violent imposition of his political will on Iraq and the insurgents' and Islamic terrorists' mirror-image attempt to impose their own will by violence.
Mr. Andersen might not know it, but Bush's inner circle – Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, etc. – were publicly calling for the establishment of a U.S. military presence in Iraq many years ago. This was a matter of such strategic importance that it "transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein," they wrote, in September 2000. Mr. Andersen seems to think that Bush's "possibly reckless policy" is to establish a fine, fair secular democracy in Iraq. It is not, and never has been. The "vindication" of Bush's policy would be the establishment of permanent U.S military bases in Iraq and the installation of a government in Baghdad of any stripe – free, secular, authoritarian, sectarian – that will support or at least tolerate this presence. It is for this reason that Bush has launched a war that has killed tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis; it is for this reason that American soldiers are dying day after day. I for one can strongly oppose the "vindication" of such a murderous and criminal "policy" without any guilt, liberal or otherwise, while equally condemning the violent local resistance this policy has provoked – and the mindless foreign terrorism that it has set loose inside the conquered land.
As Bob Dylan reminds us: "Reality has always had too many heads." It's a pity that a fine writer like Mr. Andersen has narrowed his view of reality in Iraq to such a false and primitive dichotomy.
Friday, March 04, 2005
Bedroom Farce and Global Tragedy
Sex, sex, sex – how it haunts the damp and fervid dreams of the Bushist Party faithful. And nowhere moreso than in the deeps of Dixie, where stout Christian soldiers were singing hosannas last week after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld their righteous warfare against the foulest form of evil in the modern world:
After prayerful consideration, the Supremes refused to hear challenges to an Alabama law that forbids the sale or distribution of "any device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs," Reuters reports. The law was aimed not only at public vendors of sexual enhancement but also the growing number of private "Tupperware-style parties," where suburbanites gather to peruse the latest marriage-goosing gadgets.
But do let's be fair. In their compassionate conservatism, the Bama Bushists did provide some exceptions to their iron grip on the state's genitals. For example, the law generously allows the sale of sexual devices "for a bona fide…legislative, judicial or law enforcement purpose." Here the mind reels (and the stomach turns): what on god's earth could possibly constitute, say, a bona fide "legislative" use of the "vibrators, dildos, anal beads" and other play-pretties covered by the law?
On second thought, don't ask. Instead, let's just rejoice in the knowledge that, thanks to the Supreme Court, politicians, judges and county sheriffs in Alabama can now diddle themselves to their heart's content with all manner of manipulators, while your ordinary desperate housewife will have to do without.
Yet as we all know – and as the state of Alabama itself acknowledged when confronted with statistics from the law's challengers – the vast majority of the now-banned Bama buzzers were sold to good ole gals, most of them in down-home, red-meat, church-blessed heterosexual marriages. The salt of the earth, in other words – the only kind of people worthy of full citizenship in Bushist philosophy. So why were these exemplary matrons targeted by the mullahs in Montgomery? That question leads us to another curious lacuna in the law – a gap mirrored in similar sex-toy restrictions in Georgia and Bush's own Texas.
The whole story.....
And some historical context here.
Thursday, March 03, 2005
Empire Burlesque arriving soon
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
Invisible Republic: America's Owners Cash in Their Chips
The secret government has shown its face at last. And what a strange, multi-headed beast it is. On one stout neck we see the snarling visage of an angry "protester" banging on the doors of election commission offices, his pockets stuffed with campaign cash from Austin, Texas. Another head displays the jowly eminence of a grave courtier, a loyal family retainer bowing to the aristocratic clan that enriches him.
Still another meaty gourd holds forth the squinting, scowling portrait of a pundit, wildly nodding, endlessly babbling in a panicky spiel about "closure," "stability," and "the mantle of legitimacy." Finally, there is the central head – small, walnutty, a bit lost and uncertain amid the furious activity of the other noggins – opening its pursed little lips to intone, tonelessly: "I am the president now."
Yes, it was yet another week through the looking glass for the American political system. But in the middle of much muddle, a few things became clear – even naked: The owners of the country want their presidency back, and they'll stop at nothing to get it.
Having been declared the winner of the election by one of his own campaign operatives, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris – a decision based on an incomplete vote count marred by the violence of his own hired mob – George W. Bush, the second-place candidate in the presidential race, tottered out to read a few scripted lines claiming the White House for his own.
But it was evident this week that another Texan is actually controlling the destiny of the American republic: Tom DeLay.
We know DeLay – if we've been paying attention – as the puppeteer behind the hard-right's impeachment carnival a couple of years back. Ostensibly the No. 3 man in the House hierarchy, the Texas congressman – bearing the apt nickname of "The Hammer" – has spearheaded the Owners' drive to turn Congress into a corporate welfare office, while waging their well-financed war on President Bill Clinton and all his works. DeLay ousted Newt Gingrich as House speaker when that sad sack of shinola failed to dislodge the Great Satan in the White House, and installed a new mouthpiece, Dennis Hastert, a genial suit of clothes who may actually end up as president if the electoral process goes completely off the rails.
The Wall Street Journal reports this week that it was DeLay who organized the riots in Miami, when Bush supporters stormed the election commission offices and scared commissioners into suddenly calling off their hand recount of votes. DeLay "took charge of the effort on Capitol Hill," offering staffers "free airfare, accommodation and food in the Sunshine State, all paid for by the Bush campaign." More than 200 GOP House aides signed up and headed South to bang on doors, toss bricks, and make so many death threats to the local Democratic congressman, Robert Wexler, that federal authorities warned him to stay in Washington rather than risk a trip to his home.
Meanwhile, DeLay and his other hand puppet, House Majority leader Dick Armey, made it known that even if Al Gore ultimately wins in Florida, they will not allow him to take office. Armey said the GOP-controlled House reserves the right to reject any election results they don't happen to like. "It is our duty," said Armey, to take that decision away from the voters – especially the 50 million who voted for Al Gore.
And so it goes. The beast keeps barking from its several heads, the little walnut recites his lines, Daddy Bush's old cronies set up shop again in Washington, the pundits yip and yipe and bite their own tails – and the Republic slowly sinks into the swamps of Florida.
Open to Question
Speaking of Texas, a revealing glimpse into the mindset behind some of George W.'s "heartland values" was offered by Harper's Magazine this week, when they published an "employee exam" used by Rent-A-Center, a Texas-based appliance rental firm, to plumb the soul of each worker at their 2,100 stores around the country. Made up of 500 true-false questions, these are the kinds of things that concern good old-fashioned "real Americans" (as opposed to them blacks and Jews and com-symp libruls in Miami who tried to steal the election by having their votes counted).
If Rent-A-Center noted 12 "deviations" from the norm, the worker could be tossed out on their pervy behinds. Anxious employees thus had to come up with the "right" answer to questions like these: "Everything is turning out just like the prophets of the Bible said it would." "I have had no difficulty in starting or holding my bowel movements." "I believe in the Second Coming of Christ." "Sometimes I am strongly attracted by the personal articles of others, such as shoes, gloves, etc., so that I want to handle or steal them though I have no use for them."
The earnest concerns go on (and on): "I have never vomited blood or coughed up blood." "I would like to be a florist." (We know the wrong answer to that one!) "I like poetry." (Ditto!) "I have diarrhea once a month.""Evil spirits possess me at times." (Aren't those last two the same thing?) "I have often wished I were a girl."
And then there is that deep, dark secret that every employer needs to know: "The top of my head sometimes feels tender."
This line of inquiry led to a class-action suit filed by 1,200 employees, and the company eventually had to pony up $2 million for its unbridled weirdness. There was at least one true-false question, however, that made perfect sense – one which, if answered in the affirmative, would go a long way toward explaining the politics of Texas, of Florida, and indeed of America as a whole:
"Sometimes in elections I vote for men about whom I know very little."
Heart of Darkness: The Bush Cult and American Madness
Now we come at last to the heart of darkness. Now we know, from their own words, that the Bush Regime is a cult – a cult whose god is Power, whose adherents believe that they alone control reality, that indeed they create the world anew with each act of their iron will. And the goal of this will – undergirded by the cult's supreme virtues of war, fury and blind faith – is likewise openly declared: "Empire."
You think this is an exaggeration? A typical bout of "liberal paranoia"? Then heed the words of the White House itself: a "senior adviser" to the president, who, as the New York Times reports, explained the cult to author Ron Suskind in the heady pre-war days of 2002.
First, the top Bush insider mocked the journalist and all those "in what we call the reality-based community," i.e., people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." Suskind's attempt to defend the principles of reason and enlightenment cut no ice with the Bush-man. "That's not the way the world really works anymore. We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality," he said. "And while you're studying that reality, we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
Anyone with any knowledge of 20th century history will know that this same megalomaniacal outburst could have been made by a "senior adviser" to Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini or Mao. Indeed, as scholar Juan Cole points out, the dogma of the Bush Cult is identical with the "reality-creating" declaration of Mao's Little Red Book: "It is possible to accomplish any task whatsoever." For Bush, as for Mao in the all-devouring Great Leap Forward, "discernible reality" has no meaning: political, cultural, economic, scientific truth – even the fundamental processes of nature, even human nature itself – must give way to the faith-statements of ideology, ruthlessly applied by unbending zealots.
Thus the reality-twisting assertions of Bush's ideologues: The conquered will welcome their killers. The poor will be happy to slave for the rich. The earth can sustain any amount of damage without lasting harm. The loss of rights is essential to liberty. War without end is the only way to peace. Corruption and cronyism lead to universal prosperity. Dissent is evil; dissenters are "with the terrorists." But God is with the Leader; whatever he does is righteous, even if in the eyes of unbelievers – the "reality-based community" – his acts are criminal: aggressive war that kills thousands of innocent people, widespread torture, secret assassinations, imprisonment without charges or trial, electoral subversion.
Indeed, the doctrine "Gott mit Uns" is the linchpin of the Bush Cult. Tens of millions of Americans have now embraced the Cult's fusion of Bush's leadership with Divine Will. As a Bush volunteer in Missouri told Suskind: "I just believe God controls everything, and God uses the president to keep evil down…God gave us this president to be the man to protect the nation at this time." God appointed Bush; thus Bush's acts are Godly. It's a circular, self-confirming mindset that can't be penetrated by reason or facts, can't be shaken by crimes and scandals. That's why Bush's core support – comprising almost half of the electorate – stays rock-solid, despite the manifest failures of his administration. It's based on blind faith, on poisonous fantasy: simple, flattering ("We're uniquely good, we're God's special nation!"), comforting, complete – so unlike the harsh, bewildering, splintered shards of real life.
This closed mindset is constantly reinforced by the ubiquitous rightwing media – evoking the threat of demonic enemies on every side, relentlessly manufacturing righteous outrage with distortion and deceit – and by Bush's appearances (epiphanies?) at his carefully-screened rallies, where even the slightest hint of demurral from his Godly greatness is ruthlessly expunged. For example, three schoolteachers were ejected from a Bush rally under threat of arrest last week: not for protesting – they hadn't said a word – but merely for wearing t-shirts that read, "Protect Our Civil Liberties." Thus the faithful "create the new reality" of undivided loyalty to the Leader. And it's clear that the very idea of "civil liberties" is now a dangerous blasphemy in the divinvely-sanctioned Empire.
The dogma of Bush's godliness is no mere rhetorical flourish; it's being forged with blood and iron. Consider General Jerry Boykin, who, in uniform, toured churches across America, declaring openly that "George W. Bush was not elected by the majority of the American people; he was appointed by God" to lead his "Christian nation" against Satan and the "idol-worshippers" of Islam, as Salon.com reports. Bush then made Boykin the Pentagon's chief of military intelligence – the point man for wringing information out of Islamic captives in the "war on terror." The result – confirmed even by the Pentagon's own anemic investigations – was a military intelligence system gone berserk, systematically torturing and occasionally murdering prisoners who, as the Red Cross notes, were overwhelmingly innocent of any crime. Bush signed orders removing these prisoners from the protection of U.S. and international law; Boykin's boys then visited divine wrath upon the heathens. But these atrocities cannot be crimes, because Bush and Boykin are, in the general's own phraseology, "Kingdom warriors" in the "army of God."
This isn't "politics as usual" – not even an extreme version of it, not McCarthyism revisited, Reaganism times two, or Nixon in a Stetson hat. There's never been anything like it in American life before: a messianic cult backed by vast corporate power, a massive cadre of religious zealots, a highly disciplined party, an overwhelming media machine and the mammoth force of history's most powerful government – all led by men who "create new realities" out of lies, blood, theft and torment.
Their "empire" – their Death-Cult, their power-mania – is an old madness come again, an old heresy in new form, another outbreak of the fever, the deep soul-sickness that devoured so many nations in the last century. Now it's come to America. After decades of sliding toward the abyss – blithely, blindly, drunk with corruption, letting democracy and justice wither on the vine – now we are here at last, in the heart of darkness.
Suicide Bombers: Nihilism Enthroned
Homo sapiens is the only species that dreams of its own total demise. Our brief history of conscious thought is replete with vivid scenarios of the end of life on earth. The brain-fevers we call religions have produced most of these – giddy, voluptuous nightmares of universal extinction, usually by fire, at divine order. A favored remnant is always saved in such tales, of course, but only after being transformed into some different, higher order of being. The gross human body – that bleeding, fouling, endlessly replicating sack of earth – is gleefully consigned to eternal oblivion.
It seems that some ineradicable nihilism pervades us, like a virus, now dormant, now flaring: something in us that wants to die, to be done with the long, overhanging doom of mortality – and to take the world with us. Our grandiose visions of the future seem to hide, at their core, a secret, desperate anxiety about the profound meaninglessness of existence – an anxiety that often disguises itself in elaborate fantasies of the afterlife, in dreams of "dominance" for one's "own kind" (nation, tribe, faith, race, ideology, etc.), or in the eroticizing of death, war and destruction.
Instincts for preservation, sentiments of affection, the drive for pleasure – from the most basic bodily urges to the most sublime creations and apprehensions of the intellect – act as counterweights to this dark virus, of course. They provide for most of us, most of the time, enough fragments of meaning – or at least sufficient distraction – to get on with things, without too much resort to world-engulfing visions or the extremes of nihilistic anxiety.
On the individual level, the calibration of these competing impulses can be intricate, subtle, ever-shifting, because the individual mind is so complex and all-encompassing, yet so enclosed, so unlockably private as well: an infinitely supple tool for managing the conflicts and contradictions of reality. But on the broader level – species, nation, group – human consciousness is, of necessity, a far more blunt and brutal instrument.
There, our brain-fevers and anxieties rage more virulently, lacking the counterweights of individual feeling and the quick, intimate responsiveness of the private mind. In the group-mind, the fantasies that root in the muddy fear of meaninglessness can emerge full-blown. Thought and discourse are reduced to broad strokes, slogans, codes and incantations, with little correspondence to reality. Awareness of this tendency can mitigate some of its effects; but the group-mind's fundamental falsity and irreality almost invariably infects the thoughts and actions of group leaders – and eventually many of the group members as well.
Thus we can sometimes say, not entirely metaphorically, that nations "go mad," hurtling themselves toward ruin, embracing self-destruction, lusting for violence and death, sick with nihilism – although this sickness is always painted in the colors of patriotic fervor or religious zeal, or both. Thus we can say – again, with some accuracy – that humankind in general has suicidal tendencies, manifested most clearly in the development of world-killing, species-ending nuclear weapons.
Now draw these dangerous streams together, and you have a portrait of the blunt and brutal group-mind at work in the leadership of the world's most powerful nation. The folly, fantasy and death-fetish of the Bush Regime – long evident to anyone who cared to see – were finally "revealed" in the mainstream media recently by the quasi-official Establishment oracle, Bob Woodward. His latest insider portrait, Plan of Attack, offers – in the usual, easily-gummed pabulum form – a few tastes of the bitter truth behind the Regime's mad, ruinous war crime in Iraq.
The corrosive nihilism at the heart of the enterprise ate through the gaudily-painted surface most tellingly in a single anecdote. Woodward asks George W. Bush how he thinks history will regard his adventure in Iraq. Bush, gazing out the window, shrugs and waves the question away. "History, we don't know," he says. "We'll all be dead." No fine, faith-filled talk here about God and Jesus and the immortal soul responsible for its actions throughout all eternity – the kind of zealous patter Bush favors in public statements. This was just the cold, rotten, meaningless core of his grand vision – "we'll all be dead." So who cares? Après moi, le deluge.
Indeed, even as the world's attention remained fixed on the erotics of death in Iraq, Israel and Palestine, Bush's minions were quietly advancing his philosophy – "we'll all be dead" – with their geo-suicidal plans for more nuclear weapons. Last week, the Pentagon's influential Defense Science Board officially recommended the immediate development of a new generation of "tactical" nuclear weapons – along with a new, Nietzschean will to use them, UPI reports.
Yes, this is the same group that developed a plan in 2002 for "provoking terrorist groups into action." The DSB wanted the Pentagon to foment terrorist attacks in order to flush the terrorists out of hiding so they could then be "crushed." The Pentagon never publicly rejected this morally insane scheme, first uncovered by the Los Angeles Times; perhaps we've already seen it in action, in Madrid, Riyadh, Istanbul or Bali.
In any case, the DSB's nuclear dreams are fast becoming a reality. This year, Bush quadrupled funding for key nuclear weapons development programs; at $6.6 billion, total U.S. nuclear weapons spending is now 50 percent higher than the Cold War average, California's Tri-Valley Herald reports. And Bush officials told Congress last month that the Regime is officially gutting the 2002 "Moscow Treaty" on arms control, AP reports. Instead of reducing stockpiles to treaty levels, the Regime is exercising the agreement's "get-out" option (which made the pact meaningless in the first place), in order to retain "sufficient warheads" for a "robust" posture in the face of unspecified "world events," officials testified.
What "world events" are they secretly dreaming of, these death-fetishists, these unconscious nihilists, mired in their group-mind fog? What voluptuous nightmares will require their "robust" attention? How many world-devouring warheads will be "sufficient" to at last quell their anxiety, their all-too-human craving for oblivion?
Silent Partners: Bush, bin Laden and the 9/11 Commission
When George W. Bush's first choice to head an "independent" probe into the Sept. 11 attacks – suspected war criminal Henry Kissinger – went down like a bad pretzel, he quickly plucked another warm body from the stagnant pool of Establishment worthies who are periodically called upon to roll out the whitewash when the big boys screw up.
Kissinger's replacement, retired New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean, was a "safe pair of hands," we were assured by the professional assurers in the mainstream media. The fact that he'd been out of public life for years – and that he hadn't collaborated in the deaths of tens of thousands of Cambodians, Chileans and East Timorese – certainly made him less controversial than his predecessor, although to be fair, Kissinger's expertise in mass murder surely would have given the panel some unique insights into the terrorist atrocity.
But now it seems that Kean might possess some unique insights of his own. Fortune Magazine reports this week that both Kean and Bush share an unusually well-placed business partner: one Khalid bin Mahfouz – a shadowy figure who looms large in the financial web that binds the Bushes, the bin Ladens and the Saudis.
Kean, like so many worthies, followed the revolving door out of public service into lucrative sweetheart deals and well-wadded sinecures on corporate boards. One of these, of course, is an oil company – pretty much a requirement for White House work these days. (Or as the sign says on the Oval Office door: "If your rigs ain't rockin', don't come a-knockin'!") Kean is a director of Amerada Hess, an oil giant married up to Saudi Arabia's Delta Oil in a venture to pump black gold in Azerbaijan. (The partnership is incorporated in a secretive offshore "tax haven," natch. You can't expect a worthy like Kean to pay taxes like some grubby wage slave.)
Among Delta's biggest backers are close associates of the aforesaid Mahfouz, a Saudi wheeler-dealer who has helped bankroll some of most dubious players on the world scene: Abu Nidal, Manuel Noreiga, Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush. Mahfouz was also a front for the bin Laden family, funneling their vast wealth through American cut-outs in a bid to gain power and influence in the United States, reports Wayne Madsen of In These Times.
One of those cut-outs was Mahfouz factotum James Bath, a partner in George W.'s early oil venture, Arbusto (and a comrade in suspension from Bush's glory-less days as an AWOL National Guardsman). Bath has admitted serving as a pass-through for secret Saudi money. Years later, when Bush's maladroit business skills were about to sink another of his companies, Harken Energy, the firm was saved by a $25 million investment from a Swiss bank – a subsidiary of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BBCI), partly owned by the beneficent Mahfouz.
What was BCCI? Only "one of the largest criminal enterprises in history," according to the United States Senate. What did BCCI do? "It engaged in pandemic bribery of officials in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas," says journalist Christopher Bryon, who first exposed the operation. "It laundered money on a global scale, intimidated witnesses and law officers, engaged in extortion and blackmail. It supplied the financing for illegal arms trafficking and global terrorism. It financed and facilitated income tax evasion, smuggling and prostitution." Sort of an early version of the Bush Regime, then.
BCCI's bipartisan corruption first permeated the Carter Administration, then came to full flower in the Reagan-Bush years. The CIA uncovered the bank's criminal activities in 1981 – no great feat, considering how many of its own foreign "associates" were involved, including the head of Saudi intelligence, Kamal Adham, brother-in-law of King Faisal. But instead of stopping the drug-runners and terrorists, the agency decided to join them, using BCCI's secret channels to finance "black ops" all over the world.
The Italian bank BNL was one of BCCI's main tentacles. BNL's Atlanta branch was the primary funnel used by the first Bush Administration to send millions of secret dollars to Saddam for arms purchases, including deadly chemicals and other WMD materials supplied by the Chilean arms dealer Cardoen and various politically-connected operators in the United States like, weapons merchant Matrix Churchill. (As always with the Busha Nostra, geopolitics – in this case, helping Saddam wage aggressive war against Iran – and crony profits go hand in hand. Once the war was over and Iran was left a shattered hulk, with millions dead and displaced, the useful idiot Saddam was expendable, swiftly morphing from good buddy into budding Hitler.)
As soon as the BNL case broke, President Bush I moved to throttle the investigation. He appointed lawyers from both Cardoen and Matrix to top Justice Department posts – where they supervised the officials investigating their old companies. The overall probe was directed by Justice Department investigator Robert Mueller. Meanwhile, White House aides applied heavy pressure on other prosecutors to restrict the range of the probe – especially the fact that Bush cabinet officials Brent Scowcroft and Lawrence Eagleburger had served as consultants for BNL during their pre-White House days as spear-carriers for yet another secretive international front that profits from war, weapons, and the avid greasing of highly-placed palms: Kissinger Associates.
The U.S. Senate later found that the probe had been unaccountably "botched" – witnesses went missing, CIA records got "lost," all sorts of bad luck. Most of the big BCCI players went unpunished or, like Mahfouz, got off with wrist-slap fines and sanctions.
One of the White House aides who unlawfully intervened in the BNL prosecution was a certain factotum named Jay S. ByBee. Now said factotum has just been nominated by the current warmer of the Oval Office seat, George W. Bush, to a place on the federal appeals court – a lifetime sinecure of perks and power. Mueller, of course, wound up as head of the FBI, appointed to the post in July 2001 – by George W. Bush. Well done, thou good and faithful servants!
In the late 1990s, U.S. authorities charged that Mahfouz was a major financier of bin Laden's activities. He has strenuously denied it, just as he has denied persistent reports that the spooked Saudis put him under "house arrest" – or in his case, "palatial mansion arrest." In any event, he and his clan are still wheeling and dealing with Delta Oil and other worthies. Indeed, one of Mahfouz's hirelings – the director of a Pakistani bank he owns – sits on the advisory board of our old friend the Carlyle Group, cheek by jowl with the firm's most celebrated shill: George Herbert Walker Bush.
Somehow we doubt that worthy Kean – even though he's resigning from his Delta perch – will poke very hard at the nexus of intersections between his former business partners, and the bin Ladens, the Bushes, the Saudi royals, Saddam, the CIA and BCCI. We've only scratched the surface here, but even this cursory glance makes the current world crisis look less like some grand geopolitical "clash of civilizations" and more like a nasty falling out among thieves, with rival mafias – who sometimes collude, sometimes collide – now duking it out for turf, cloaking their murderous criminality with pious rhetoric about freedom, security, jihad and God.
Render Unto Caesar: The Rule of Law is Dead
The rule of law is dead.
Even as a fiction, a dream of human betterment – of "civilization," to use that word we hear so often on the lips of warlords and terrorists these days – the idea of law has been discarded, trashed: Just so much excess baggage thrown aside in the relentless, mindless pursuit of raw power.
And perhaps the most remarkable thing about this regression, this throwback to our most primitive and brutal instincts, is that it's being carried out in plain sight, openly, proudly. The defenders of "civilization" no longer even pretend to be bound by law, by moral codes designed to quell the raging beast inside us all and draw us on toward higher notions of justice, liberty, and the integrity of the individual. Instead, they exult in their desecration of these ideals – and are exalted for it.
This week, the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush admitted it was snatching suspected terrorists in secret operations around the world and "rendering" them without due process or any legal hearing at all to repressive regimes where they can be beaten and tortured to extract information – then killed when their usefulness is over. Their families too can be threatened with imprisonment or death: another useful extraction tool for the CIA and its proxies.
"After Sept. 11, these sorts of movements have been occurring all the time," a U.S. diplomat told the Washington Post. "It allows us to get information from terrorists in a way we can't do on U.S. soil."
Note the usual neat elision there – from "suspected terrorist" to "terrorist." In fact, the CIA "rendering" operations take place outside all legal jurisdiction; there is no standard of evidence or level of proof required to brand someone – anyone – a "terrorist suspect" and put him on the next secret plane to Cairo or Amman. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people have already "disappeared" in this way, without legal counsel, without extradition, on nothing more than the word of an ambitious junior operative or a local informer – or even a cranky neighbor.
It's not always done in secret, of course. In January, American forces openly seized five Arabs in Bosnia and sent them to the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for interrogation – the kind you "can't do on U.S. soil," no doubt. This despite the fact that the men had earlier been freed by the Bosnian Supreme Court for lack of evidence against them – and that the Bosnian Human Rights Chamber had issued an injunction protecting them from seizure pending further legal proceedings. That would be the same Human Rights Chamber set up by the United States after the Bosnian war to "protect human rights and due process." From everyone except the United States, obviously.
Nor are U.S. residents exempt from rendering. In January, just after the release of "Black Hawk Down," the story of kindly American soldiers being butchered by nasty, wild-eyed Somalis, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft grabbed three dozen Somali-Americans from their homes, classrooms and businesses and deported them – without charges, without hearings, "not shriving time allowed" – to Mogadishu, the London Times reports.
These were men, and one woman, who had been in the United States for many years, some of them from infancy. They had fled with their families from the murderous warlords who ravaged their country, and had found peace and prosperity in America. But now it was over. They were seized by Ashcroft's immigration officials, they were beaten, shackled, boarded onto planes and dumped in Somalia without papers, passports or any means of support. Most of them don't speak the language or even dare walk the streets, where foreigners – especially Americans – are viewed with hostility. They're now trapped in a fleabag hotel, broke, desperate, and besieged by local media screaming about "the terrorists."
Why were they taken? No one knows; or rather, no one will say. Ashcroft's minions claim they are "investigating" the situation, but will give no details. They never do. Perhaps some Somali warlord pointed to a rival clan, some past enemy – and their children – and whispered the magic words: "al-Qaeda." After all, the Somali gangleaders are now courting Bush's favor, hoping to get the kind of money and weapons the Americans are doling out to their favored drug-dealers and warlords in Afghanistan, where dozens of innocent civilians have been killed by U.S. air strikes called in by mercenary chieftains knocking off their rivals.
That's the world the "defenders of civilization" have given us. They strut out in their thousand-dollar suits and preach to us about "civilized values" and "enduring freedom" while they pay their murderers and wave their cattle prods and "expand their nuclear attack options," plotting the death of millions. They're teaching every budding terrorist, every aspiring dictator, every mafia goon that violence, death and dominance are the truest human values, the way to wealth and glory.
So forget law. Law is dead. There is no law. There is only the reality of power. They can take you tonight, anywhere in the world, beat you and drug you and ship you to a dungeon in Jakarta if they want to. They can ram their cattle prods up your rectum and slap their electrodes on your genitals and there's not a damn thing you can do about it. No one will hear you scream; no one will even know where you are. You don't exist anymore. You're not a person, you have no standing under the law.
There is no law.
Voices Carry: Platonic Myth and Modern Fundamentalism
Crude religious fundamentalism is poisoning civic society throughout the globe. We see it in the Muslim world – where, with Osama bin Laden and his ilk, it perhaps finds its most virulent form. We see it in Israel, where fundamentalists have introduced wrenching divisions in society – and actually assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in a bid to thwart the peace process. And we see it in America, in the bellicose fundamentalism now riding herd on the American government and on increasingly large swathes of American society as well.
One example: the extremists favored by the Bush Administration with appointments to key international bodies have repeatedly killed or weakened efforts to provide basic health care and basic rights to the poorest and most vulnerable women on earth, because of misconstrued (or purposefully inflated) fears that such measures might lead to more abortions, or, in the latter case, "undermine the primacy of the family." These extremists have often lined up the United States on the side of such "allies" as Iran, pre-Saddam Iraq, Libya and Sudan in opposing rights and health care for women in repressive societies.
This worldwide rise in fundamentalism has led to an understandable backlash in many quarters against religion itself. This is unfortunate. For it is not really the fault of Islam or Judaism or Christianity that our modern-day extremists believe there is only one immutable Truth about reality, which they just happen to possess. It is, of course, the fault of Plato, whose poetic fantasy of a changeless Perfection behind the messiness of physical existence infected the Western mind with the germ of ideological intolerance. For if Perfect Truth exists, then it can be known, and once known, it must necessarily be acknowledged as the sole measure, explanation and arbiter of "all of life and all of history," as Mr. Bush likes to say when invoking the Christian God in his speeches.
Plato set in motion the slow death of the old "gods": those powerful evocations who in their conflicts and contradictions, their lusts and doubts, their recklessness, sorrows, tempers – and manifold imperfections – surely embodied the seething chaos of human reality far better than the degraded Platonic idealism adopted by the Pauline Christians. We leave aside here Jesus' ethical teachings, which despite millennia of lip service have never been adopted or even taken seriously by any society throughout history – although a few of the Apostle Paul's more cranky notions about sex and obedience (especially his ever-popular injunction, "Slaves, obey your masters!") have been enthusiastically embraced by Western rulers since the days of the murderous Constantine the Great down to our present age, presided over by leaders who loudly proclaim their Christianity as they order armies off to war.
Paul's simplified Platonism was wedded to a few particular strains of Jewish Messianism. The result, of course, was a complete travesty of ancient Jewish thought, which centered on the primacy of their God ("Thou shalt have no other Gods before Me" is not exactly the same thing as "There are no other Gods but Me"), and on cultivating correct behavior within the national group itself – but never on the universal application of their particular rites and customs. No, this was a "gift" of Platonic Christianity.
Thus began the break-up of a natural religious order that had held since prehistoric times, made up of communities of differing moralities. Each human grouping – nation, city-state, tribe, clan – had their different gods, different faiths (or none at all), different ideas of correct behavior; and this difference was accepted as a simple fact of nature. It was an order where, for example, homosexuality would be abhorred in Israel and celebrated in Sparta; where conflicting "gospels" of the Olympian gods would be told in Crete and Athens (or even within Crete and Athens); where religious war – or even the concept that any one belief-system could or should be imposed on all humankind – was virtually unknown. This order (which was often brutal in its own particular ways, of course) disintegrated under the pressure of a monomaniacal insistence on the universal application of a single belief-system: that of an unchanging Perfect Truth animating all of existence.
The Arab world preserved much of the heritage of Classical Antiquity after it had been lost in the West due to the twin ravages of state-sponsored Christian extremism and barbarian invasion. Naturally, the Platonic myth was part of that inheritance, and was incorporated into Islam from the start. Indeed, Islam "improved" on its borrowings from Judaism and Christianity in this regard. The basic Muslim tenet, "There is no God but God," did away with the ambiguity in ancient Judaism's formulations of deity, while the rigor with which Islam prosecuted the Christian idea of the exclusivity of a single belief-system nearly shattered the Christian West itself.
Many writers have noted that "secular" movements such as Marxism, National Socialism, and the harsh "market fundamentalism" that now dominates the global economy are all off-shoots of this principle: the universal application of a single, unassailable truth. (Mr. Bush, for example, calls his own rapacious brand of crony capitalism "the single sustainable model of national success" in the world.) The "war on terror" now engulfing the planet is not a "clash of civilizations"; it's more of a civil war within Platonism. Fellow believers in Perfect Truth are seeking to impose their particular interpretation of their common faith on each other, and the rest of us as well. And for possessors of Ultimate Truth, there is no price too high to pay – or to impose – in the service of their ideal.
So as these delusionaries shroud the world in blood and darkness, we would do well to remember the origin of their metaphysics. Much like the Apostle Paul, Plato refined and refashioned the earlier teachings of a more rough-hewn, contradictory figure: the philosopher Socrates. It was Socrates, so Plato says, who gave us the idea of a changeless, Perfect Truth that stands outside physical reality and transcends all other values. And where did Socrates obtain this wisdom, which has cost so many, many millions of lives down through the centuries?
From his daimon, as he called it: an unconscious "inner prompting" that acted as his guide.
He got it from a voice inside his head.
General Principles: Colin Powell, Bagman
Quietly, without fanfare, in a bland statement issued by its most "moderate" front man, the Bush Regime crossed another moral Rubicon last week, carrying the once-great republic they have usurped deeper into the blood-soaked mire of international criminality.
The move – committing the United States of America to a policy of Hitlerian military aggression – was little noted at the time. A quick soundbite, maybe, on a couple of the more wonky TV news shows; a brief quote buried somewhere in the thick gray sludge of the "serious" papers. The Regime guaranteed its poison pill would go down sugarcoated by picking Secretary of State Colin Powell as its mouthpiece.
It was a masterstroke of propaganda, really. The former general has long been regarded by the "serious" media on both sides of the Atlantic as a "moderate" maverick on Bush's hard-right team. Liberal commentators praise Powell as a "restraining influence" on more bellicose insiders like Cheney and Rumsfeld, and a wise, guiding hand for a president unschooled in the subtleties of world diplomacy.
It's all a sham, of course. Powell is nothing more than a lifelong bagman for powerful interests. His willingness to play ball, to look the other way, has made him a convenient tool for the some of the most violent and undemocratic forces ever to pollute American society.
His first job on the Inside was an attempted whitewash of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam; it didn't quite work, but he won points for his obfuscatory efforts and went on to a plum job in the crime-ridden Nixon White House. Then came Iran-Contra, the criminal conspiracy of drug-running and terrorism operated directly out of the Reagan-Bush White House. Powell illicitly sent missiles to the terrorist regime of Ayatollah Khomeini, then helped with the ensuing cover-up. For this service, he was made head of the entire U.S. military.
He then directed the illegal American aggression against Panama, when President George H.W. Bush killed hundreds, perhaps thousands of innocent civilians in a hissy fit against his old CIA employee Manuel Noreiga. Powell, like Bush, had long known Noreiga was a murderous drug dealer, but they found him useful, and plied him with plaudits and cash – until Bush needed to prove his tough-guy cojones to Reaganite critics in the Republican Party.
Now Powell serves faithfully as a water-carrier for the rabid rightists in Bush Junior's crew. Powell breaks bread with John Ashcroft, who breaks bread with the avowed racists at Southern Partisan magazine, who break bread with extremists who call for concentration camps, expulsions and executions for, among many others, African-Americans. It doesn't bother Powell. He's never made a public moral stand against any hard-right lunacy advocated by his bosses and their cronies. He just follows orders. He's a General Jodl for the 21st century.
So what better man to announce George W. Bush's adoption of Adolf Hitler's moral code? Powell sat down with the media sycophants on ABC's "This Week" and calmly – moderately – laid out the new doctrine. The subject, of course, was Iraq. The UN was working on a deal that would allow international inspectors back into the country to verify that Saddam Hussein no longer possessed weapons of mass destruction.
These inspections were vital because, as George W. never ceases to remind us, Saddam Hussein is so evil that he "gassed his own people." And he most certainly did. But Junior always omits the inconvenient fact that one year after Hussein killed 100,000 Iraqi Kurds, Daddy Bush signed an executive order mandating closer U.S. ties to Saddam's regime. Daddy Bush showered Saddam with endless financial credits and mountains of "dual-use technology" – which the dictator duly used to develop his WMDs – right up until the day before Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Needless to say, Powell, as head of Daddy's military, was complicit in this lunatic operation and raised no demur, "moderate" or otherwise.
Flash forward to the present day. Junior Bush is now in the White House. For months, he has threatened military action against Iraq if Hussein fails to verify the destruction of his WMD capacity. (At the same time, of course, Junior undercuts international treaties that would require monitoring of his own biochemical warfare facilities. There's a good reason for that: the Regime is now preparing to develop offensive biochemical weapons, in contravention of international and U.S. law, the Village Voice reports.)
The world braces for another conflagration in the Mesopotamian sands. But then Saddam blinks. He starts talking with the UN. He renounces aggression. He tries to make up with Kuwait. Sooner or later, the inspectors will go back in – no cause for war now, right?
Wrong, Powell told the sycophants last week. The "moderate" secretary said that even if UN inspectors go in and verify compliance, the Bush Regime still "reserves its options" to do anything necessary, including military invasion, to effect a "regime change." Bush himself has already acknowledged that nuclear force is among those "options."
So there it is. The United States now openly claims the right to launch an all-out attack on any nation in the world whose regime it doesn't like – even if that nation is not engaged in active military aggression or terrorism – and even if the mere threat of aggression has been defused by UN monitoring.
No provocation necessary. No legality required. Just a thuggish elite raining death on the world, for profit and power, sowing hatred for the once-great nation they have hijacked – and ensuring more death and terror for its people.
Moment by Moment: A Statement of Principles
Black milk of daybreak, we drink it at evening
– Paul Celan, "Deathfugue"
The children were walking to school. The young people were going out to a dance.
The children stepped on a booby trap planted by a soldier. The young people were shredded by the nails of a suicide bomb. They were all blown up, destroyed.
One moment, the force of life animated their biological matter, their brains seethed with billions of electrical impulses, the matrix of consciousness brought the entire universe into being within them, within each of them, each solitary vessel of knowing.
The next moment, only the matter remained: inert, coagulated, decaying. There was no more knowing, no more being; the universe had come to an end.
We drink it at midday and morning; we drink it at night
They would have us believe it is because Ishmael warred with Jacob. They would have us believe it is because this or that Divine Will requires it. They would have us believe it is because ethnicity or nationality or religion or some other arbitrary accretion of history and happenstance must override both the innumerable commonalities of all human beings and the radical, irreplaceable uniqueness of each individual.
They would have us believe anything other than the truth: that everyone and everything will die; that all nations, ethnicities, religions and structures will fall away into rubble, into nothingness, and be forgotten; and that even the planet itself will be reduced to atoms and melt away, like black milk, into the cold deeps of empty space. And in the face of this truth, nothing matters ultimately but each specific, fleeting instance of individual being, the shape we give to each momentary coalescence of atomic particles into a particular human situation.
That's all we have. That's all there is. That's what we kill when we murder someone. That's what we strangle when we keep them down with our boot on their throat.
We drink and we drink.
Is it not time to be done with lies at last? Especially the chief lie now running through the world like a plague, putrescent and vile: that we kill each other and hate each other and drive each other into desperation and fear for any other reason but that we are animals, forms of apes, driven by blind impulses to project our dominance, to strut and bellow and hoard the best goods for ourselves. Or else to lash back at the dominant beast in convulsions of humiliated rage. Or else cravenly to serve the dominant ones, to scurry about them like slaves, picking fleas from their fur, in hopes of procuring a few crumbs for ourselves.
That's the world of power – the "real world," as its flea-picking slaves and strutting dominants like to call it. It's the ape-world, driven by hormonal secretions and chemical mechanics, the endless replication of protein reactions, the unsifted agitations of nerve tissue, issuing their ignorant commands. There's no sense or reason or higher order of thought in it – except for that perversion of consciousness called justification, self-righteousness, which gussies up the breast-beating ape with fine words and grand abstractions.
And so the fine words and breast-beating goes on and on – prosperity, freedom, holiness, security, justice, glory, our people, our homeland, God's will be done, we will prevail.
We shovel a grave in the air where you won't lie too cramped
Beyond the thunder and spectacle of this ape-roaring world is another state of reality, emerging from the murk of our baser functions. There is power here, too, but not the heavy, blood-sodden bulk of dominance. Instead, it's a power of radiance, of awareness, connection, breaking through in snaps of heightened perception, moments of encounter and illumination that lift us from the slime.
It takes ten million forms, could be in anything – a rustle of leaves, the tang of salt, a bending blues note, the sweep of shadows across a tin roof, the catch in a voice, the touch of a hand, a line from Mandelshtam. Any particular, specific combination of ever-shifting elements, always unrepeatable in its exact effect and always momentary. Because that's all there is, that's all we have – the moments.
The moments, and their momentary power – a power without the power of resistance, defenseless, provisional, unarmed, imperfect, bold. The ape-world's cycle of war and retribution stands as the image of the world of power; but what can serve as the emblem of this other reality? A kiss, perhaps: given to a lover, offered to a friend, bestowed on an enemy – or pressed to the brow of a murdered child.
Both worlds are within us, of course, like two quantum states of reality, awaiting our choice to determine which will be actuated, which will define the very nature of being – individually and in the aggregate, moment by moment. This is our constant task, for as long as the universe exists in the electrics of our brains: to redeem each moment or let it fall. Some moments will be won, many more lost; there is no final victory. There is only the task.
We drink and we drink