Der Spiegel runs down W’s “tragic legacy” in the long, long, looooong decade of U.S. decline that followed 9/11:
America was trapped in Iraq for years, where a victory was a long time coming and was never a real one. It is currently trapped in Afghanistan, where victory no longer even seems possible. And it is trapped in an embrace with his its ally Pakistan, which it does not trust and yet cannot release.
These are costly defeats for America and the rest of the world. According to a conservative estimate of Brown University, there have been almost 140,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq. The massive retaliation cost more than $3 trillion (€2.2 trillion) — dollars that would have been better used in America’s schools or in the wallets of US citizens.
For a short time after the attacks, the country seemed united. Americans embraced each other. Even the cold city of New York suddenly seemed warm. But instead of cultivating public spirit, President Bush sought to find a pretext — any pretext — to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. This is his most tragic legacy, the fact that America can no longer even mourn its victims properly — because Americans have long been not just victims, but also perpetrators.
Hey, at least Chimpy managed to pull things together after 2006, making his “one of the more successful [presidencies] in U.S. history” [sic].
[Insert pregnant pause/needle scratch here.]
Ahem, yes, well, as they say, read the whole damn thing — and pray that abumuqawama only temporarily took leave of his senses (wait — he’s one of those CNAS Pollyanas who still think COIN is somehow going to Underpants Gnome a NATO victory in Afghanistan; all hope = lost.)
(Image: smiteme, Flickr)
Chapter 3: States of Shock: The Bloody Birth of the Counter-revolution
I think those programs were absolutely essential to the success we enjoyed of being able to collect the intelligence that let us defeat all further attempts to launch attacks against the United States since 9/11. I think that’s a great success story. …
Infamous Chilean despot General Augusto Pinochet died in December of 2006. His passing came one month after Milton Friedman, the man whose faithful acolytes, as Naomi Klein outlines in Chapter 3 of The Shock Doctrine, helped lay the ideological groundwork for the bloody counter-revolution undertaken by Pinochet and his right-wing brethren. (For the grim details, see Trend over at Alterdestiny).
As Klein notes:
For the first year and a half, Pinochet faithfully followed the Chicago rules: he privatized some, though not all, state-owned companies (including several banks); he allowed cutting-edge new forms of speculative finance; he flung open the borders to foreign imports, tearing down the barriers that had long protected Chilean manufacturers; and he cut government spending by 10 percent — except the military, which received a significant increase. He also elimiated price controls–a radical move in a country that had been regulating the cost of necessities such as bread and cooking oil for decades.
But, as Klein further notes, despite assurances from the Chicago Boys that these radical ‘market reforms’ would (somehow) spur a decrease in inflation, inflation in Chile jumped to 375 percent in 1974, “the highest rate in the world and almost twice the top level under [former president Salvadore] Allende.” Sensing a shift among both the public and, most disturbingly, Chile’s business elite, the Chicago Boys “decided to call in the big guns,” enlisting Friedman himself to use his “rock star” presence to sell economic shock-therapy by sheer force of will.
And it worked:
In his letter of response, Chile’s supreme chief expressed “my highest and most respectful regard for you,” assuring Friedman that “the plan is being fully applied at the present time.” Immediately after Friedman’s visit, Pinochet fired his economic minister and handed the job to Sergio de Castro, whom he later promoted to finance minister. De Castro stacked the government with his fellow Chicago Boys, appointing one of them to head the central bank.
Freed of the naysayers, Pinochet and de Castro got to work stripping away the welfare state to arrive at their pure capitalist utopia. In 1975, they cut public spending by 27 percent in one blow–and they kept cutting until, by 1980, it was half of what it had been under Allende.
Elsewhere, in Brazil and Argentina, other right-wing juntas perfected the Chilean model, waging a dirty war on those whose left-wing ideological leanings were in opposition to the wave of corporatist economic and social reform underway within the nations of the Southern Cone. But behind the counter-revolutionary action in Central and South America lurked a covert American presence, one that provided both training and materiel to the military arbiters of radical neoliberal ‘reform’ under the dubious auspices of Operation Condor. According to Klein, as part of the infamous program “the intelligence agencies of the Southern Cone shared information about “subversives”–aided by a state-of-the-art computer system provided by Washington–and then gave each other’s agents safe passage to carry out cross-border kidnappings and torture, a system eerily resembling the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” network today”.
The justification for the dirty work was the same then as it is now: a war on ‘terror’, in which it was deemed necessary to sometimes skirt the boundaries of human rights and dignity in order to serve a higher purpose. Whether that purpose was the spread of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ or neoliberal doctrine is, of course at the heart of both Klein’s book and this series. Regardless, as Klein notes, the parallels between what occurred in the 1970s and 80s and the post-9/11 era are striking.
Sarah outlines these parallels in further detail:
Warrantless wiretapping certainly isn’t mass disappearances of citizens, but it is a tool that keeps everyone in fear that they are next. It suppresses dissent and keeps people in fear for their basic safety, while around them their economic safety net is dismantled. America hadn’t undergone enough of a shock to allow, for instance, Social Security privatization, but in Chile and the other Friedmanite regimes, torture and repression left people unable to fight back.
In a NY Times op-ed (adapted from a lengthy essay published in the New York Review of Books), Mark Danner shows in stark detail just how far the Bush administration was willing to go in order to fight its contemporary “war for freedom and against tyranny”, as Argentinian Junta leader Admiral Massara at the time justified his nation’s embrace of the dark side:
Shortly after Abu Zubaydah was captured, C.I.A. officers briefed the National Security Council’s principals committee, including Vice President Dick Cheney, the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and Attorney General John Ashcroft, in detail on the interrogation plans for the prisoner. As the interrogations proceeded, so did the briefings, with George Tenet, the C.I.A. director, bringing to senior officials almost daily reports of the techniques applied.
At the time, the spring and summer of 2002, Justice Department officials, led by John Yoo, were working on a memorandum, now known informally as “the torture memo,” which claimed that for an “alternative procedure” to be considered torture, and thus illegal, it would have to cause pain of the sort “that would be associated with serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure, or permanent damage resulting in a loss of significant body function will likely result.” The memo was approved in August 2002, thus serving as a legal “green light” for interrogators to apply the most aggressive techniques to Abu Zubaydah:
“I was taken out of my cell and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around my neck; they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room.”
The prisoner was then put in a coffin-like black box, about 4 feet by 3 feet and 6 feet high, “for what I think was about one and a half to two hours.” He added: The box was totally black on the inside as well as the outside…. They put a cloth or cover over the outside of the box to cut out the light and restrict my air supply. It was difficult to breathe. When I was let out of the box I saw that one of the walls of the room had been covered with plywood sheeting. From now on it was against this wall that I was then smashed with the towel around my neck. I think that the plywood was put there to provide some absorption of the impact of my body. The interrogators realized that smashing me against the hard wall would probably quickly result in physical injury.”
After this beating, Abu Zubaydah was placed in a small box approximately three feet tall. “They placed a cloth or cover over the box to cut out all light and restrict my air supply. As it was not high enough even to sit upright, I had to crouch down. It was very difficult because of my wounds. The stress on my legs held in this position meant my wounds both in the leg and stomach became very painful. I think this occurred about three months after my last operation. It was always cold in the room, but when the cover was placed over the box it made it hot and sweaty inside. The wound on my leg began to open and started to bleed. I don’t know how long I remained in the small box; I think I may have slept or maybe fainted.
“I was then dragged from the small box, unable to walk properly, and put on what looked like a hospital bed, and strapped down very tightly with belts. A black cloth was then placed over my face and the interrogators used a mineral water bottle to pour water on the cloth so that I could not breathe. After a few minutes the cloth was removed and the bed was rotated into an upright position. The pressure of the straps on my wounds was very painful. I vomited.
“The bed was then again lowered to horizontal position and the same torture carried out again with the black cloth over my face and water poured on from a bottle. On this occasion my head was in a more backward, downwards position and the water was poured on for a longer time. I struggled against the straps, trying to breathe, but it was hopeless.”
After being placed again in the tall box, Abu Zubaydah “was then taken out and again a towel was wrapped around my neck and I was smashed into the wall with the plywood covering and repeatedly slapped in the face by the same two interrogators as before.
“I was then made to sit on the floor with a black hood over my head until the next session of torture began. The room was always kept very cold. This went on for approximately one week.”
The use of torture deprives the society whose laws have been so egregiously violated of the possibility of rendering justice. Torture destroys justice. Torture in effect relinquishes this sacred right in exchange for speculative benefits whose value is, at the least, much disputed.
As I write, it is impossible to know definitively what benefits — in intelligence, in national security, in disrupting Al Qaeda — the president’s approval of use of an “alternative set of procedures” might have brought to the United States. Only a thorough investigation, which we are now promised, much belatedly, by the Senate Intelligence Committee, can determine that.
What we can say with certainty, in the wake of the Red Cross report, is that the United States tortured prisoners and that the Bush administration, including the president himself, explicitly and aggressively denied that fact. We can also say that the decision to torture, in a political war with militant Islam, harmed American interests by destroying the democratic and Constitutional reputation of the United States, undermining its liberal sympathizers in the Muslim world and helping materially in the recruitment of young Muslims to the extremist cause. By deciding to torture, we freely chose to embrace the caricature they had made of us. The consequences of this choice, legal, political and moral, now confront us. Time and elections are not enough to make them go away.
Klein estimates that the number of individuals tortured in the Southern Cone during the 70s and 80s was “probably somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000, tens of thousands of them killed.” Though the numbers of so-called ‘enemy combatants’ who faced torture in CIA black sites represent a mere fraction in comparison, the willingness to throw away stated values in the name of a greater goal is borne of the same moral limbo, where ends justify all means, no matter what. And, as Sarah noted, even though the numbers are far from comparable, the effect remains the same: keep the populace “in fear for their basic safety, while around them their economic safety net is dismantled.”
Tomorrow: Chapter 4: Cleaning the Slate: Terror Does its Work
“President Obama’s plans to expeditiously determine the fates of about 245 terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and quickly close the military prison there were set back last week when incoming legal and national security officials — barred until the inauguration from examining classified material on the detainees — discovered that there were no comprehensive case files on many of them.
Let’s pause for a moment to let that sink in: “there were no comprehensive case files on many of them.”
Ok, moving on:
Instead, they found that information on individual prisoners is “scattered throughout the executive branch,” a senior administration official said. The executive order Obama signed Thursday orders the prison closed within one year, and a Cabinet-level panel named to review each case separately will have to spend its initial weeks and perhaps months scouring the corners of the federal government in search of relevant material.
Several former Bush administration officials agreed that the files are incomplete and that no single government entity was charged with pulling together all the facts and the range of options for each prisoner. They said that the CIA and other intelligence agencies were reluctant to share information, and that the Bush administration’s focus on detention and interrogation made preparation of viable prosecutions a far lower priority.
Rewind my selekta: “[T]he Bush administration’s focus on detention and interrogation made preparation of viable prosectutions a far lower priorty“
A far lower priorty.
Of course, DeYoung and Finn wouldn’t be “objective” if they didn’t (falsely) balance things out with the requisite mealy-mouthed partisan broadsides from–wait for it, kiddies–some unnamed former Bush administration assbaskets who nostalgically break out their by-now-rusty bullshit shovels:
But other former officials took issue with the criticism and suggested that the new team has begun to appreciate the complexity and dangers of the issue and is looking for excuses.
After promising quick solutions, one former senior official said, the Obama administration is now “backpedaling and trying to buy time” by blaming its predecessor. Unless political appointees decide to overrule the recommendations of the career bureaucrats handling the issue under both administrations, he predicted, the new review will reach the same conclusion as the last: that most of the detainees can be neither released nor easily tried in this country.
“All but about 60 who have been approved for release,” assuming countries can be found to accept them, “are either high-level al-Qaeda people responsible for 9/11 or bombings, or were high-level Taliban or al-Qaeda facilitators or money people,” said the former official who, like others, insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters about such matters. He acknowledged that he relied on Pentagon assurances that the files were comprehensive and in order rather than reading them himself.”
Well, isn’t that cute! He never read the (um, non-existent files) that the Pentagon claimed are comprehensive (and are, um, non-existent), yet somehow still remains completely confident that all Gitmo detainees (apart from the 60 designated for release–oopsie!) are lawfully detained and cannot ever be released, because, um, well, because — hey, look! A Wookie from the planet Kashyyyk!
It does not. make. sense.
Ok, say what you want about the Nazis, but at least they had the *ahem* decency to keep oh-so-impeccable records on their detainees; would that the former administration have shown similar consideration.
Hilzoy (h/t) lays it out on the table:
It takes, well, a special kind of administration to detain people for years on end without bothering to assemble case files on them. I’m just glad they’re finally gone.
Yes, gone, but their tainted legacy, unfortunately, festers, like black mold spreading contamination throughout the structure of US and international law.
Steve Benen puts these latest revelations in context:
The previous administration a) tortured detainees, making it harder to prosecute dangerous terrorists; b) released bad guys while detaining good guys; and c) neglected to keep comprehensive files on possible terrorists who’ve been in U.S. custody for several years. As if the fiasco at Gitmo weren’t hard enough to clean up.
And in order to completely mitigate the rot that, over the past 8 years, has almost completely eaten away at the rule of law in the US, Sylvia/M believes that the Obama administration must subcontract the restoration of justice to the Hague:
If Obama really wants to restore our standing in the international community and to reinstate the rule of law here in the United States, now is the time to bind ourselves to the Rome Statute, submit to international justice, and start cleaning up the deeply entrenched messes our previous partisan warhawk regime has wrought. The damage is growing too deep and too great for our national court systems to fix alone.
At the very least, this latest postscript from The Dark Side further underscores how vital it is for the Obama administration to hold accountable those who, whether deliberately or by virture of willful indifference, chose–chose–to napalm all progress Western Civilization has made since the Magna Carta was signed.
Torching our value system, in order to save it.
Paul Krugman wades into the ongoing debate over whether Obama should look back or move forward with regards to extra-legal activities on the part of the outgoing administration:
Last Sunday President-elect Barack Obama was asked whether he would seek an investigation of possible crimes by the Bush administration. “I don’t believe that anybody is above the law,” he responded, but “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.”
I’m sorry, but if we don’t have an inquest into what happened during the Bush years — and nearly everyone has taken Mr. Obama’s remarks to mean that we won’t — this means that those who hold power are indeed above the law because they don’t face any consequences if they abuse their power.
Now, it’s true that a serious investigation of Bush-era abuses would make Washington an uncomfortable place, both for those who abused power and those who acted as their enablers or apologists. And these people have a lot of friends. But the price of protecting their comfort would be high: If we whitewash the abuses of the past eight years, we’ll guarantee that they will happen again.
First, let me make it clear that my sentiments directly and unequivocally intersect with Krugman’s, as outlined in this post. With that said, I’m all-too pessimistic about the likelihood of any serious investigations taking place. As Earl Ofari Hutchinson notes, members of the party that currently controls both branches of Congress (including and especially its leadership) also have bloodstained hands:
The Democratic-controlled Congress passed the “Protect America Act.” This put the Congressional stamp of approval on what Bush did and actually expanded his powers to snoop. The targets weren’t just foreign terror suspects and known operatives but American citizens. Democrats knew this and approved it by inserting in the law open ended wording that permitted legalized spying on anyone outside the U.S. who intelligence agencies “reasonably believed” to posses foreign intelligence information. The law deliberately made no distinction about exactly who the target could be. Then there was the infamous clause that granted immunity from lawsuits to communications service providers that made Bush snooping possible. With no fear or threat of legal action against the companies, the wraps were legally off on who could be snooped on. As an added sweetener the law also gave Bush emergency power to tap for up to a week anyone deemed a terror threat; all without a warrant.
And one can’t forget about the CIA’s torture enhanced interrogation program, of which top-level Democratic members of the House and Senate were informed early on of what was going on, yet at the time chose to do nothing. So, with all due respect to people like John Conyers Jr., any attempt to cast the spotlight on the many, many crimes committed over the past decade and hold everyone who is responsible accountable is, I fear, ultimately a futile pursuit. Forgive and (most importantly) forget will be the mantra that the Washington establishment continues to embrace, purely out of an unhealthy, cynical, yet entirely understandable bipartisan sense of self-preservation.
TIME’s Michael Scherer illustrates the wide gap between what the Bush administration said it did with so-called “unlawful combatants” and what it did:
“We do not torture,” President Bush said, in November of 2005.
“This government does not torture people,” the president repeated, in October of 2007.
“On the question of so-called torture, we don’t do torture. We never have. It’s not something that this administration subscribes to,” added Vice President Dick Cheney, just last month.
As Spattackerman wryly quips, “One of the things I’ll miss the least about the Bush administration is being told not to believe my lying eyes and my common sense.” Indeed. Scherer contrasts these laughable statements with an excerpt from an article in today’s WaPo by longtime Village thought leader Bob Woodward:
The top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial has concluded that the U.S. military tortured a Saudi national who allegedly planned to participate in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, interrogating him with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, leaving him in a “life-threatening condition.”
“We tortured [Mohammed al-]Qahtani,” said Susan J. Crawford, in her first interview since being named convening authority of military commissions by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in February 2007. “His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case” for prosecution.
then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was closely monitoring the interrogation, according to Army investigator Lt. Gen. Randall Schmidt. Rumsfeld was “talking weekly” with Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who was in charge at Guantanamo. “The secretary of defense is personally involved in the interrogation of one person [Qahtani], and the entire General Counsel system of all the departments of the military,” Schmidt said, in a statement that Benjamin and I obtained. Of Miller’s claim that he did not know all the grisly details of the Qahtani interrogation, Schmidt added, “There is just not a too-busy alibi there for that.”
Perhaps more of these twilight admissions and accusations of top-level culpability on the part of the Bush administration will counteract calls coming from within certain Serious circles for a mulligan on torture (scuttlebutt that may be having an impact on the President-elect). It’s up to us DFHs to stay shrill, because there’s already a concerted PR effort underway to scrub the Bush record and seize the narrative.
Digby, responding to the recent goalpost-shifting attempt by Stuart Taylor and Evan Thomas to frame conventional wisdom on “intense interrogation”, outlines what we–and the President-elect–are facing:
We are now engaged in a battle to persuade Obama that he must unequivocally and publicly disavow what those two jaded, decadent sadists just suggested was necessary lest he risk Americans being killed. Good luck to us on that. Considering Obama’s propensity for consensus, I would guess that he will find some way to appease them. (Maybe he’ll vow to make sure that the torturers don’t enjoy it, as a sop to the liberal freaks.)
But I would suggest that Obama contemplate one little thing before he decides to try to find “middle ground” on torture. It is a trap. If he continues to torture in any way or even tacitly agrees to allow it in certain circumstances, the intelligence community will make sure it is leaked. They want protection from both parties and there is no better way to do it than to implicate Obama. And the result of that will be to destroy his foreign policy.
Bottom line: closing Guantanamo, while a welcome and very necessary gesture on the part of the incoming administration, is not enough. The rule of law, bent to the point of unrecognizability during the Bush era, can only be reaffirmed if those responsible for deliberately undermining and circumventing it are held fully accountable for their actions and Obama, firmly and without equivocation, denounces and rejects what the previous administration to the day claims was necessary to protect the nation.
If you were watching television you may not have heard that ordinary people too died in Mumbai. They were mowed down in a busy railway station and a public hospital. The terrorists did not distinguish between poor and rich. They killed both with equal cold-bloodedness. The Indian media, however, was transfixed by the rising tide of horror that breached the glittering barricades of India Shining and spread its stench in the marbled lobbies and crystal ballrooms of two incredibly luxurious hotels and a small Jewish centre.
We’re told one of these hotels is an icon of the city of Mumbai. That’s absolutely true. It’s an icon of the easy, obscene injustice that ordinary Indians endure every day. On a day when the newspapers were full of moving obituaries by beautiful people about the hotel rooms they had stayed in, the gourmet restaurants they loved (ironically one was called Kandahar), and the staff who served them, a small box on the top left-hand corner in the inner pages of a national newspaper (sponsored by a pizza company I think) said “Hungry, kya?” (Hungry eh?). It then, with the best of intentions I’m sure, informed its readers that on the international hunger index, India ranked below Sudan and Somalia. But of course this isn’t that war. That one’s still being fought in the Dalit bastis of our villages, on the banks of the Narmada and the Koel Karo rivers; in the rubber estate in Chengara; in the villages of Nandigram, Singur, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Lalgarh in West Bengal and the slums and shantytowns of our gigantic cities.
That war isn’t on TV. Yet. So maybe, like everyone else, we should deal with the one that is.
- Arundhati Roy, The monster in the mirror
Republican vice presidential running mate Sarah Palin is offering her first televised interview to ABC News in the coming week in Alaska.
A McCain-Palin adviser says an interview was offered to ABC’s Charlie Gibson several days ago and that they expect it to happen in the latter part of the week in Alaska.
$10 bucks sez the Gibson interview takes place on September 11th, complete with all the hagiographic fixins.
To me, one of the problems of the paradigm of global war is that it has not signified war in the metaphorical sense, like war on AIDS, war on drugs, and war on poverty. It has signified war in a literal sense that the employment of military power, on a large scale, in pursuit of very large ambitions—like the liberation or dominance or transformation of Iraq—ought to really be the principle instrument in order to achieve our purposes. I think that takes us down the wrong road. I think, and others have argued, that a new version of containment actually provides the basis to begin thinking about how to prevent another 9/11. Not a new war, not a global war, not a protracted war. The answer to the problem is not to invade and occupy countries, which we did in Iraq and Afghanistan, but relying on other instruments of power to try to prevent Islamic radicalism from increasing its reach and its influence in the world.
I’ve reviewed [Robert] Kagan’s new book [The Return of History and the End of Dreams] in the most recent issue [of Foreign Affairs], and I was very critical of the book. I really didn’t like it, but the one thing that really bowled me over, and that I emphatically agree with, is that what the Islamists have on offer cannot win. The plan that they have, the concept for how people should live, is simply not responsive to what ordinary folk want for their lives. I mean, they are fighting against modernity, and as Robert Kagan says, that is a fight that they cannot win.
Almost everything on this struggle is on our side, and therefore we should approach it with the confidence and patience, and shouldn’t run pell-mell into these military adventures that the Bush administration has approached. Our adversaries are contemptible. Our adversaries are criminals. Our adversaries are murderers. We ought not to dignify their cause as if it were the equivalent of Marxism or Leninism or National Socialism or something of the last century, because they don’t deserve that type of status.
- Andrew Bacevich, from a recent interview with Greg Bruno of the Council on Foreign Relations