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Young Geoffrey

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'Change' I am losing belief in [May. 29th, 2009|09:58 am]
Young Geoffrey
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[2009/05/29, 0400 hours Eastern Time: Edited to provide link to full Schell article.]

You all probably know I greet the election and the subsequent inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States with a lot of enthusiasm (and — ahem — a "little" to my surprise) and that enthusiasm remained more or less unbowed during the first month or two of his presidency.

But for a while now — the past month, maybe two — it's been flagging.

I don't know enough about economics to judge the wisdom of the massive deficit spending, though I get the sense the "plan" is meant to succeed by more or less re-creating the consumer-driven, easy-credit environment that (at least in part) got us into this mess in the first place — and frankly, when just about every economist in the world says anything in unison, I itch to reach for my gun.

But what's really disturbing me is the rapid devolution of the Obama administration's foreign policy.
  • The Bush-like fantasy of "victory" in Iraq;

  • the Johnson-like escalations in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, both efforts doomed to ultimate failure, but which will, in the interim create literally millions of civilian casualties, further destroy the economies and whatever progressive civil societies struggling there and — create even more terrorists and poppy-farmers; and

  • possibly worst of all (at least for the civil society of the United States itself), Obama's back-tracking on his promises to end torture, secret prisons and the rest of the fascist brutalization of the Bush II administration.

On Wednesday, May 27, The Nation published Jonathan Schell's brilliant article, "Torture and Truth", which I commend to all of you, but especially to those Americans among you who supported Obama.

If you believed in that "change you can believe in" when you voted, when you canvassed, when you blogged, then now is not the time to sit back and let the boys (and girls) in Washington fall prey to the permanent "government", as seems to be happening.

I'll offer you a few quotes, but really, just read the damned thing and start writing letters, making phone calls ... whatever you think might help to remind your President why it was you elected him.

It has fallen to President Obama to deal with the policies and practices of torture inaugurated by the Bush administration. He started boldly, ordering an end to the abuses, announcing the closing in one year of the detention camp at Guantánamo and releasing the Bush-era Justice Department memos authorizing torture. Subsequently, he seemed to grow cautious. He discouraged formation of an independent commission to investigate the torture and reversed a previous position in favor of releasing Pentagon photos of abuses and instead opposed release [...] He surprisingly embraced a number of Bush policies, including military commissions for trying detainees, the use of the State Secrets privilege to protect information in court and the indefinite use of preventive detention [...] Yet among these reversals and improvisations, one very general preference has remained steady. Throughout, Obama has expressed a desire to concentrate on the "future" rather than the "past." As he put it a while back, he is bent on "getting things right in the future, as opposed [to] looking at what we got wrong in the past." Or as he said in the National Archives speech, "We need to focus on the future" while resisting those "with a strong desire to focus on the past."[...]

When the full history of the Bush administration is finally told, one event may prove iconic: the torture of the Al Qaeda operative Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, who recently died, allegedly by his own hand, in a prison in Libya, where he was sent by the United States. Libi was captured in Pakistan in late 2001. At first, he was interrogated by the FBI, and he provided useful information on the inner workings of Al Qaeda. But more was wanted from him. The Bush administration, hellbent on justifying its forthcoming invasion of Iraq, was ransacking the intelligence bureaucracy to find or produce two things that, it turns out, did not exist: weapons of mass destruction programs in Iraq and cooperation between Al Qaeda and the regime of Saddam Hussein. Pressure to find evidence of both intensified in 2002.[...]

As Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff, has stated, the "harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002...was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and Al Qaeda." And according to the recent Senate Armed Services Committee report on the treatment of detainees, a former Army psychiatrist, Maj. Charles Burney, has confirmed the charge. "A large part of the time," he told Army investigators, "we were focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq and we were not successful.... The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link...there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results." The CIA took custody of Libi and began to expose him to abuse. Next, it "rendered" him to Egypt, where he was subjected to, among other torments, severe beatings and confinement in a tiny cage for more than eighty hours. He then produced the desired false statements linking Al Qaeda with the Iraqi government.[...]

This purpose of the Bush-era torture is inscribed in its origins. In the Korean War, the Chinese invented torture techniques whose aim was to force American prisoners of war to make false confessions of participation in war crimes for use in propaganda. Since false confessions, not information, were the desired product, a heavy emphasis was placed on sensory deprivation and other techniques for producing mental breakdown.[...]

Even as the torturer shatters the world of his victim, he assaults the foundation of his own world, although he does not know it. Indeed, his blindness is a consequence of the torture, even a condition for it. The torturer and his victim are close to each other. There is physical contact. Yet in every other respect they are as distant as it is possible for one person to be from another. In the moral and affective vacuum that has been generated, sympathy, empathy, pity, understanding--every form of fellow-feeling--have been reduced to absolute zero. That is why torture is always, in Scarry's words, an "undoing of civilization," and, probably more reliably than anything, it foretells the descent of a civilization into barbarism. The power of the state that tortures may be increasingly fictional, but the degradation of its civilization is real.[...]

Oh, just read the damned original already!

It was the US that was in large part responsible for the (correct) insistence at the Nuremberg war crimes trials that "following orders" was not an excuse for committing crimes against humanity, including torture. If Barack Obama is not willing or able, if if he does not have the courage, to look to the (o! so recent!) past his country is doomed to repeat the crimes, again and again and again.

And the rest of us might just as well look to China for moral leadership in this world.

From: purfektlyflawd
2009-05-29 06:28 pm (UTC)
Yay for living in Canada!
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2009-05-29 07:43 pm (UTC)

Don't get *too* smug!

The US may be more blatant in its corruption, and is definitely more powerful, but our glass house is pretty vulnerable.

We've had secret trials — for instance, see this from none other than the Neocon National Post — our prisoners of war have human rights, and our citizens, after being tortured and then actually cleared of any wrongdoing still can't even come home ... and that's just after 5 minutes of google fu.

And never mind that our neocon Prime Minister is a bully and a blatant liar, or that half-a dozen years ago or so our Leader of the Opposition used words like "we" and "us" when he was talking about the United States (and supporting Bush's bullshit "war on terror").

Ahem. But I begin to rant, don't I?

Long story short, we're a middle power, but there's blood on our hands, too.
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From: purfektlyflawd
2009-05-29 08:32 pm (UTC)

Re: Don't get *too* smug!

It's true, but I'd still rather live in Canada over America.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2009-05-29 08:33 pm (UTC)

Re: Don't get *too* smug!

Oh, hey, me too! (No offense to the Yanks among us, but I'm glad my mum decided to plant her flag north of the border.)
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[User Picture]From: mijopo
2009-05-29 07:02 pm (UTC)
Yeah, this worries the hell out of me, to tell the truth. As Glenn Greenwald has argued, this essentially mainstreams the practices, the burden of proof will now fall on those who oppose such practices. It's all here to stay.

I wrote a post on talk_politics recently contrasting the recent actions with the explicit promises he made as a senator and while campaigning as president: http://community.livejournal.com/talk_politics/132822.html

Turns out it was all bullshit you couldn't believe in.

But all that said, has he really backtracked on his promise to end torture? I thought he had come through on that one.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2009-05-29 08:14 pm (UTC)

We *should* be worried

Good post — and damn you for getting me to subscribe to another community.

But all that said, has he really backtracked on his promise to end torture? I thought he had come through on that one.

He had, but I think he's started to backtrack on that, too. At least to my mind, indefinite detention, as mentioned in Schell's article (link to the full article — The Nation is now asking you to subscribe to read the full thing — is now here; I've also edited my post for that reason), he's changed his mind about "indefinite detention" and, though I can't find a source just now, I'm pretty sure he's also about-faced on off-shore military prisons, which to means that torture is going to continue.

But I'll see if I can find some harder evidence.

Meanwhile, morality aside, after reading your reply I was suddenly struck by some frightening parallels between the US today and the USSR in the early 1980s, when it became clear to everyone but the Kremlin that their Afghan war was a lost cause.

It's pretty much universally acknowledge now that the Soviet Union was a corrupt, economically bankrupt basket-case, probably from the late 60s/early 70s onwards, but until the Berlin Wall came down there was almost no one I am aware of who was saying so.

And yet, after the (Afghan) defeat, hindsight tells us that war was the proverbial straw that broke the Bolshevik back.

And now, today, the world's "hyper-power" is stretched to its military limit fighting two (three, if you count Pakistan; and I predict we will be soon) insurgencies, while its economy is broken and its own oligarchs are busy lining their pockets rather than trying to right the ship of state.

What happens when the current army is simply used up? Would the American people put up with a draft to fight three wars that don't really do anything but make America less secure?

I've just pulled an all-nighter, so I don't want to risk making a fool of myself yet again, but it's something to think about ...
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[User Picture]From: strider7901
2009-06-02 12:05 am (UTC)


So. You voted for Obama and he disappoints all (no sarcasm)? Just trying to understand what "side" you're leaning on. :)

I really liked this line "whatever you think might help to remind your President why it was you elected him."

I think with every election, we always have to remind our Presidents. It seems like they are sucked in all the glory, listening to other leaders until they get confused, and then steer into some abyss. I expected doom from the start, but then again, I have conservative tastes. I have to say ending "torture" is probably the most obscure thing I have heard yet. Just steams my clams.

You're an excellent writer. Always leave us thinking.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2009-06-03 09:30 pm (UTC)

Re: Hmm.

I'm a Canadian. I cheered for Obama but couldn't vote for him. I had hoped (hell, I still do, though my hopes fading) that his administration might establish the United States as a force for good in the world, instead of evil.

I think with every election, we always have to remind our Presidents.

In a true democracy (the likes of which do not, I think, yet exist on this earth), we wouldn't limit our participation to elections. In meantime as reality exists, there's still the possibility of lobbying.

I have to say ending "torture" is probably the most obscure thing I have heard yet. Just steams my clams.

I'm really not sure what you mean by that. Is it the idea of putting an end to torture or the fact that your government is torturing people that "steams your clams"? (Also, is it a good or a bad thing when your clams are being steamed?)

Thank you for the kind words, by the way.
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[User Picture]From: strider7901
2009-06-09 08:51 pm (UTC)

Re: Hmm.

Oh no...the idea of people wanting to end torture steams my clams. And it's terrible when my clams are steamed. I like them boiled! ...but I digress.

I think in times of war, or wanting to get information, torture is needed. It's like saying war isn't needed. I mean, I'm not saying we should go out and pick on someone, but god damn, if someone wants to take over the world (like Hilter), then war was the only solution. So...that's my stance in terms of torture. I don't think anyone was abusing the system, then that's different. Just stopping it altogether is just ridiculous to me.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2009-06-11 06:54 pm (UTC)

Re: Hmm.

Christ, I've been shaking my head about the above for a couple of days now.

(I think) you're wrong on the necessity and your sense of morality leaves me ... well, shocked and appalled.

But I'll be posting a real reply to your comment as soon as I can organize my forces — weekend, maybe.
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[User Picture]From: strider7901
2009-06-11 08:40 pm (UTC)

Re: Hmm.

Haha, you're shocked and appalled? Why! I'm the military buff traditionalist. That should be expected. :P Then again, I don't really rant about my politic belief...unless around you. You're a great listener as well as throwing a good debate.
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