On his second day in office, Obama acted on one of his campaign pledges by issuing an order ... designed to shut down secret prisons and ban Bush-era torture practices, and directing that the Red Cross would have access to any detainees. But when we wade into it, the order turns out to be less than meets the eye. Only CIA prisons are shut down. Prisons operated by the Department of Defense remain in place...
Disclosures over the past weekend suggest that there are serious problems in a detention facility operated by the Pentagon's secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the same outfit linked to executive assassinations, predator drone attacks contracted out to Blackwater, and similar controversies. Here's the Washington Post account:
Two Afghan teenagers held in U.S. detention north of Kabul this year said they were beaten by American guards, photographed naked, deprived of sleep and held in solitary confinement in concrete cells for at least two weeks while undergoing daily interrogation about their alleged links to the Taliban. ... The two teenagers -- Issa Mohammad, 17, and Abdul Rashid, who said he is younger than 16 -- said in interviews this week that they were punched and slapped in the face by their captors during their time at Bagram air base, where they were held in individual cells. Rashid said his interrogator forced him to look at pornography alongside a photograph of his mother.The techniques described--enforced nudity, sleep deprivation, extended isolation, and sexual humiliation--all belong to the palette approved and used by the Bush Administration. But didn't Obama ban these techniques? That's not entirely clear....
Actually, as Silber and his sources show, it is
entirely clear: torture continues under Obama -- who, after all, personally
appointed a notorious operator of secret JSCOC prisons and commander of death
squads and dirty war ops in Iraq, Stanley McChrystal, as his very own top
commander in Afghanistan. Obama knows what is going on in Bagram, and he knows
exactly what he is getting -- and what he is foisting on the Afghan people -- by
putting McChrystal in charge of the occupation.
And still deeper, still darker, with Silber [and see his original piece for the important links]:
Obama's description of the unique role played by the United States tells the usual story of "American exceptionalism." We might appreciate the uniformity of the ruling class's view on this point, captured in this passage from earlier tonight:
Since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, and the service and sacrifice of our grandparents, our country has borne a special burden in global affairs. We have spilled American blood in many countries on multiple continents. We have spent our revenue to help others rebuild from rubble and develop their own economies. We have joined with others to develop an architecture of institutions -- from the United Nations to NATO to the World Bank -- that provide for the common security and prosperity of human beings.
This is indistinguishable from the views of Irving Kristol, widely considered the "godfather" of the neoconservative movement, views which I recently recalled in this piece. For Kristol as for Obama, the impersonal, unanswerable forces of history have placed this "special burden" on America's shoulders. We don't want to run the world, but no one else is sufficiently special or unique to do the job; as Kristol so wretchedly and dishonestly put it, it was all just "our bad luck." We had to do it -- for the good of everyone who lives on Earth. This is the all-purpose disinfectant for crimes of staggering magnitude: the U.S. murders more than a million innocent Iraqis, but we did it for the Iraqis' "own good"; we torture, but we only do it because our enemies leave us no choice -- and we learn very early that the infliction of pain is the path to moral improvement, most especially for the improvement of those weaker than ourselves.
Silber also scores the indeed "breathtaking lies" in
this passage of Obama's speech:
For unlike the great powers of old, we have not sought world domination. Our union was founded in resistance to oppression. We do not seek to occupy other nations. We will not claim another nation's resources or target other peoples because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours. What we have fought for -- and what we continue to fight for -- is a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and access opportunity.You might object to these proclamations by pointing out, as one singularly contradictory fact, that the U.S. maintains a global empire of military bases. Your objection is easily parried by the earlier part of the argument: But don't you see we don't want to do this? This isn't what we would choose, if the world would only behave itself.
Silber concludes by examining the final paragraphs of
Obama's speech, passages which Silber says "causes me to conclude that Obama is
an extraordinarily dangerous man, and a manipulator of the first order." In his
lamed attempt at a stirring crescendo, Obama waves the bloody flag of
I also know that we, as a country, cannot sustain our [world] leadership nor navigate the momentous challenges of our time if we allow ourselves to be split asunder by the same rancor and cynicism and partisanship that has in recent times poisoned our national discourse.
It is easy to forget that when this war began, we were united -- bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack, and by the determination to defend our homeland and the values we hold dear.
This clapped-out treacle -- which sounds like George
W. Bush at his most rote and robotic -- leads to a call for similar unity to
back this new escalation of a nakedly imperial war. Says
I believe with every fiber of my being that we -- as Americans -- can still come together behind a common purpose. For our values are not simply words written into parchment -- they are a creed that calls us together, and that has carried us through the darkest of storms as one nation, one people.
America -- we are passing through a time of great trial. And the message that we send in the midst of these storms must be clear: that our cause is just, our resolve unwavering.
While most people will consider these words, for good
or bad, as rhetorical flourishes, Silber finds a deeper, malevolent implication
Read this sentence again: "But I also know that we, as a country, cannot sustain our leadership nor navigate the momentous challenges of our time if we allow ourselves to be split asunder by the same rancor and cynicism and partisanship that has in recent times poisoned our national discourse."
To make certain you understand him, Obama makes the same point a moment later: "I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again. I believe with every fiber of my being that we -- as Americans -- can still come together behind a common purpose."
Obama has put us all on notice: if we disagree with his policies, if we condemn the endless series of aggressive wars waged by the U.S., we are imperiling the strength and security of the United States itself. If we dare to criticize him or the actions of the U.S. government, we are displaying "rancor and cynicism and partisanship" that will "split asunder" the absolutely necessary national "unity." If we challenge Obama on any point of importance, we are "poisoning" the "national discourse."
In other words: disagreement on any matter of moment is not only dangerous, but illegitimate and even immoral. And if you consider the logical end of this argument, and what has happened before in American history (see this post about what happened during both World Wars, under Democratic presidents), there is a further meaning: such disagreement may well be criminal.
- Advertisement -No, I am not saying that Obama makes this full argument in explicit terms. He hasn't -- not yet. But look at the meaning of what he has said -- and consider the principles upon which that view rests, and where those principles can lead. ... When Bush or others in his administration made efforts in this direction, they were quickly condemned. If McCain had offered similar statements, he would almost certainly have been similarly condemned, out of primitive partisanship if for no other reason. But who will object when Obama makes such statements?
For Silber has identified one of the prime dangers of
Obama's presidency: it has "gutted whatever effective opposition might have
existed. To their eternal shame, the Democrats never opposed Bush in any way
that mattered -- but at least the *possibility of opposition had not been
obliterated entirely. In the near term and probably for longer, that possibility
now appears to have been extinguished."
And by opposition, Silber does not mean the partisan braying of whatever imperialist faction happens to be out of power, but, as he wrote before the election, he is referring to:
...meaningful political opposition for good -- that is, opposition that might significantly alter the existing system without destroying it (if that is at all possible, which I am almost entirely convinced it is not). But the resentments, the anger and possibly even the hatred [engendered by the system] will remain, and they may grow. What happens then?
We are seeing the result of a now completely disarmed
and co-opted opposition to empire even as we speak. We are seeing the rise of
religious and political extremism, of vague, inchoate apprehensions among large
swathes of the population that they are being badly screwed -- apprehensions
that are seized upon and twisted by manipulative elites into irrational
diversions (Obama as a socialist!!), nationalist aggression, sexual obsession
and religious intolerance. The only goal of these manipulations, of course, is
to return the manipulators to full imperial power, while protecting the deeply
corrupt system of dominance and privilege as as whole.