Looking Backward in the Year 2011

by matttbastard

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)

Why Does Rep. Pete Hoekstra Hate America?

by matttbastard

Shorter Pete Hoekstra: “It’s totally Obama’s fault that unsuccessful terror attack was indeed unsuccessful”:

Shame, that. Maybe one day Hoekstra’s vibrant wet dream of death and destruction will actually come true. And then Darth Cheney (who already co-owns a successful terror strike on the homeland — in your fail-tastic face, Barry!) can finally have the satisfaction of saying “I told you so.” 

PS: Bull-fucking-shit.

h/t Crooks and Liars

Update: Roy Edroso explores the right-wing blogosphere so we don’t have to (thank God!)

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“Oh, you know, we’re heading into nut country today.”

by matttbastard

Glenn Greenwald sees something all-too-familiar in the vicious, reality-averse wingnut invective directed towards President Obama:

In 1994, Jesse Helms, then-Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, claimed that “just about every military man” believes Clinton is unqualified to be Commander-in-Chief and then warned/threatened him not to venture onto military bases in the South:  “Mr. Clinton better watch out if he comes down here. He better have a bodyguard.”  The Wall St. Journal called for a Special Prosecutor to investigate the possible “murder” of Vince Foster.  Clinton was relentlessly accused by leading right-wing voices of being a murderer, a serial rapist, and a drug trafficker.  Tens of millions of dollars and barrels of media ink were expended investigating “Whitewater,” a “scandal” which, to this day, virtually nobody can even define.  When Clinton tried to kill Osama bin Laden, they accused him of “wagging the dog” — trying to distract the country from the truly important matters at hand (his sex scandal).  And, of course, the GOP ultimately impeached him over that sex scandal — in the process issuing a lengthy legal brief with footnotes detailing his sex acts (cigars and sex talk), publicly speculating about (and demanding examinations of) the unique “distinguishing” spots on his penis, and using leading right-wing organs to disseminate innuendo that he had an abandoned, out-of-wedlock child.  More intense and constant attacks on a President’s “legitimacy” are difficult to imagine.This is why I have very mixed feelings about the protests of conservatives such as David Frum or Andrew Sullivan that the conservative movement has been supposedly “hijacked” by extremists and crazies.  On the one hand, this is true.  But when was it different?  Rush Limbaugh didn’t just magically appear in the last twelve months.  He — along with people like James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Bill Kristol and Jesse Helms — have been leaders of that party for decades.  Republicans spent the 1990s wallowing in Ken Starr’s sex report, “Angry White Male” militias, black U.N. helicopters, Vince Foster’s murder, Clinton’s Mena drug runway, Monica’s semen-stained dress, Hillary’s lesbianism, “wag the dog” theories, and all sorts of efforts to personally humiliate Clinton and destroy the legitimacy of his presidency using the most paranoid, reality-detached, and scurrilous attacks.  And the crazed conspiracy-mongers in that movement became even more prominent during the Bush years.  Frum himself — now parading around as the Serious Adult conservative — wrote, along with uber-extremist Richard Perle, one of the most deranged and reality-detached books of the last two decades, and before that, celebrated George W. Bush, his former boss, as “The Right Man.”

Ah, the ’90s — good times. But I would look even further back for historical antecedants than Greenwald does, to a far darker period in US politics. Sam Kashner, from a profile of William Manchester, author of Death of a President:

“In that third year of the Kennedy presidency,” Manchester wrote, “a kind of fever lay over Dallas country. Mad things happened. Huge billboards screamed, ‘Impeach Earl Warren.’ Jewish stores were smeared with crude swastikas.…Radical Right polemics were distributed in public schools; Kennedy’s name was booed in classrooms; corporate junior executives were required to attend radical seminars.” A retired major general ran the American flag upside down, deriding it as “the Democrat flag.” A wanted poster with J.F.K.’s face on it was circulated, announcing “this man is Wanted” for—among other things—“turning the sovereignty of the US over to the Communist controlled United Nations” and appointing “anti-Christians … aliens and known Communists” to federal offices. And a full-page advertisement had appeared the day of the assassination in The Dallas Morning News accusing Kennedy of making a secret deal with the Communist Party; when it was shown to the president, he was appalled. He turned to Jacqueline, who was visibly upset, and said, “Oh, you know, we’re heading into nut country today.”

This past weekend’s 9/12 rally — and the unremittingly paranoid iconography of right-wing backlash politics on display once more — should give pause to any student of American history, whether academic or lay. Hofstadter would certainly recognize the (lily-white) kid wearing a t-shirt pining for a “new era of McCarthyism.” I don’t pray (because I don’t believe there’s anyone up there to receive any spiritual SOS), but I truly hope (hope) the historical parallels ultimately turn out to be limited in scope and scale.

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Van Jones Gets Lani Guiniered by the Racist Right

by matttbastard

Geez. Not five minutes after I had gone to bed, besieged White House green jobs adviser (and radical communist-anarchist!!1one) Van Jones finally became a martyr in the GOP’s increasingly ugly race war against the uppity Usurper-in-Chief:

I am resigning my post at the Council on Environmental Quality, effective today.

On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me. They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide.

I have been inundated with calls – from across the political spectrum – urging me to “stay and fight.”

But I came here to fight for others, not for myself. I cannot in good conscience ask my colleagues to expend precious time and energy defending or explaining my past. We need all hands on deck, fighting for the future.

It has been a great honor to serve my country and my President in this capacity. I thank everyone who has offered support and encouragement. I am proud to have been able to make a contribution to the clean energy future. I will continue to do so, in the months and years ahead.

Wonder if Jones is reconsidering that recent apology for calling Republicans ‘assholes’. Because, well, um, yeah.

Related: Alex Pareene on how the speedy demonization of Van Jones illustrates “how the right wing information delivery process works now.”

In a nutshell: Fire up the swift boats, crank up the Wurlitzer, and wait for Tapper and Drudgico to do the rest.

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Read this Now: 7 Years in Limbo

by matttbastard

Adam Serwer of the American Prospect has been doing yeoman’s work as of late doggedly covering US detainee issues. His recent feature on former child soldier Mohammed Jawad is truly essential reading:

The story is an old one for Jawad’s lawyers — they believe the government knows it cannot justify holding him, but it doesn’t want to let him go. More galling to Jawad’s defense counsel is the fact that the government sought to include Jawad’s confessions to Afghan authorities, obtained through torture, as evidence against his release. In July, his lawyers filed a motion to suppress the confessions, which made up about 90 percent of the evidence against him. This time, the government chose not to challenge the motion — but failed to commit to his release. Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle eviscerated the government for having little cause to continue holding him. “This guy has been there seven years — seven years,” Huvelle said. “Without his statements, I don’t understand your case. I really don’t.”

At the core of the dispute over the detention of suspects like Jawad is whether or not there are, as President Barack Obama claims, “detainees at Guantánamo who cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people.” This is the so-called “fifth category” of detainees — exactly how many there are, the government has yet to determine. (Assistant Attorney General David Kris told Congress in July that half of the Guantánamo detainees’ cases had been reviewed, and none had yet been put into the “fifth category.”) “There will be some, who we have picked up and who are in Guantánamo ? who for a variety of reasons can’t be prosecuted,” says former CIA counsel Jeff Smith. “We have convincing intelligence information, but it is not enough to prosecute them.”

[Maj. David Frakt, one of Jawad's lawyers] isn’t buying the administration’s assertion about the necessity of preventive detention — the practice of imprisoning suspected terrorists even in cases where the government cannot prove they have committed crimes. “When you look at the minimal amount of evidence required to convict someone of something like material support for terrorism, and they don’t even have that much, how is it that we know that these people are so dangerous?” he asks. Frakt’s concerns likely have a great deal to do with the way the government has treated his client — and not only because it tried to get his coerced confession admitted as evidence.
Montalvo says government officials “believe they have a guilty guy who tried to hurt Americans.”

But after seven years of failing to justify his detention, the government agreed on July 29 to release Jawad to return home to Afghanistan — though it implied he might still be subject to criminal prosecution.

Standard read-the-whole-damn-thing rules apply.

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Panetta: “CIA pays a price for enduring disputes over policies that no longer exist.”

by matttbastard

"I hope Broder appreciates the pastiche."

Shorter Leon Panetta: ‘Hey, remember all that shit I talked last year about how “[w]e either believe in the dignity of the individual, the rule of law, and the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, or we don’t. There is no middle ground“? Well, surprise, I finally found that middle ground — hidden behind a desk @ Langley!’

Even shorter: ‘Accountability is for partisan suckers.’

‘Shorter’ concept created by Daniel Davies and perfected by Elton Beard.

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Torture, Accountability and the Faux-Absolution of Collective Guilt

by matttbastard

In a must-read post, Dan Froomkin takes on recent attempts by OG ‘eventheliberal’ Michael Kinsley and pseudo-contrarian Slate guru Jacob Weisberg to whitewash the Bush Admin’s torture record by arguing that “the nation’s collective guilt for torture is so great that prosecution is a cop-out.”

Froomkin points out the elephant in the room–and it’s wearing a press pass:

While it’s true that the public’s outrage over torture has been a long time coming, one reason for that is the media’s sporadic and listless coverage of the issue. Yes, there were some extraordinary examples of investigative reporting we can point to, but other news outlets generally didn’t pick up these exclusives. Nobody set up a torture beat, to hammer away daily at what history I think will show was one of the major stories of the decade. Heck, as Weisberg himself points out, some of his colleagues were actually cheerleaders for torture. By failing to return to the story again and again — with palpable outrage — I think the media actually normalized torture. We had an obligation to shout this story from the rooftops, day and night. But instead we lulled the public into complacency.

Wait, you mean the corporate media may have collectively (and quite willingly) played the role of useful idiot in the tragicomic post-9/11 GWOT farce put on by the Bush-Cheney Review? NO WAIS, DUDE!

Froomkin continues:

Secondly, while it’s certainly worth exploring why any number of people were either actively or passively complicit in our torture regime — and I’m all for some national self-flagellation here — that has nothing to do with whether senior administration officials willfully broke the law, and whether they should be held accountable. It doesn’t change the law.

Froomkin’s case for accountability has since been inadvertently and unintentionally bolstered by–wait for it–former Bush AG John Ashcroft (h/t Think Progress):

The government must hold accountable any individuals who acted illegally in this financial meltdown, while preserving the viability of the companies that received bailout funds or stimulus money. Certainly, we should demand justice. But we must all remember that justice is a value, the adherence to which includes seeking the best outcome for the American people. In some cases it will be the punishing of bad actors. In other cases it may involve heavy corporate fines or operating under a carefully tailored agreement.

Ok, so Ashcroft is talking about the financial meltdown, not the widespread erosion of human rights and the complete subversion of the rule of law that occurred under, um, his watch.

Still, as Jack Balkin notes, the principle is universal:

According to this same logic, the government should demand a full accounting of what Bush Administration officials did and it should institute new methods for monitoring and preventing abuses in the future. It should find ways to hold individuals who broke the law accountable without jeopardizing our existing national security. What the government should not do is what Attorney General Ashcroft argues against in the financial context– to sweep illegal actions under the rug or to go easy on the individuals who broke the law because they work for the federal government.

Sen. Chris Dodd underscores the bottom line:

[N]ot to prosecute people or pursue them when these acts have occurred is, in a sense, to invite it again in some future administration.

Special prosecutor NAO.

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Losing My Religion

by matttbastard

Three must-reads on the consequences of embracing torture as official US policy at the expense of long-established (if not always consistently applied) American values.

Glenn Greenwald:

It’s certainly true that Reagan, like most leaders, regularly violated the principles he espoused and sought to impose on others, but still, there is an important difference between (a) affirming core principles of the civilized world but then violating them and (b) explicitly rejecting those principles.  Doing (a) makes you a hypocrite; doing (b) makes you a morally depraved barbarian.  We’re now a country where the leading “intellectuals” of the conservative movement expressly advocate torture on the pages of The Washington Post, and where most of the political and media class mocks as Far Leftism what Ronald Reagan explicitly advocated and bound the U.S. by treaty to do:  namely, “prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.”

Karen J. Greenberg:

One day, perhaps soon, much of the rest of the minutiae produced by the Bush administration’s torture-policy bureaucracy will come to light. Procurement lists, for example, will undoubtedly be found. After all, who ordered the sandbags for use as hoods, the collars with chains for bashing detainees’ heads into walls, the chemical lights for sodomy and flesh burns, or the women’s underwear? The training manuals, whatever they were called, will be discovered: the schooling of dogs to bite on command, the precise use of the waterboard to get the best effects, the experiments in spreading the fingers just wide enough in a slap to comport with policy. The Senate Armed Services Committee’s report, released last week, has already begun to identify the existence of training sessions in techniques redefined as not rising to the level of torture.

For now, however, we have far more than we need to know that what the United States started when, in 1948, it led the effort to create the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and became the moral figurehead for human rights concerns worldwide for more than a half-century, has come to an end. Eleanor Roosevelt, who led the commission that drafted that 1948 Declaration, remarked at the time that the United States was “the showcase” for the principles embodied in the declaration. Sixty-one years later, that is no longer true.

Gary Kamiya:

Ever since 9/11 we have been living in a twilight country, one where it is not clear whether laws apply or not, a morally relativist place in which unembarrassed emotionalism has replaced adherence to ethical and legal principles. When one of the country’s leading pundits, the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, can argue that the Bush administration torturers should suffer no legal consequences because “Al Qaeda truly was a unique enemy, and the post-9/11 era a deeply confounding war in a variety of ways,” and that Americans “would have told the government (and still will) ‘Do whatever it takes,'” he is basically saying that the inchoate fears and primal emotions of the people should override morality and law.

This widely shared attitude is like a dormant virus: It may appear to be harmless now, but it could come to life at any time.

DJ rewind — what Frank Rich said:

President Obama can talk all he wants about not looking back, but this grotesque past is bigger than even he is. It won’t vanish into a memory hole any more than Andersonville, World War II internment camps or My Lai. The White House, Congress and politicians of both parties should get out of the way. We don’t need another commission. We don’t need any Capitol Hill witch hunts. What we must have are fair trials that at long last uphold and reclaim our nation’s commitment to the rule of law.

Yes, this.

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‘Somebody’s going to jail behind this stuff.’

by matttbastard

Something to keep in mind, bottom-lined by former FBI special agent Ali Soufan:

There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions — all of which are still classified. The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.

Also, what Frank Rich said:

President Obama can talk all he wants about not looking back, but this grotesque past is bigger than even he is. It won’t vanish into a memory hole any more than Andersonville, World War II internment camps or My Lai. The White House, Congress and politicians of both parties should get out of the way. We don’t need another commission. We don’t need any Capitol Hill witch hunts. What we must have are fair trials that at long last uphold and reclaim our nation’s commitment to the rule of law.

Yes, this.

Methinks the inimitable Charles Pierce is wearing soothsayer garb here:

It seems fairly plain now that the torture story has the kind of legs that neither this administration, nor, certainly, the previous one, wish that it had. The question of whether there will be an investigation is now off the boards. There will be a number of them, official and unofficial. There are now too many people talking for anything else to happen. The career military and the FBI are pretty pissed and, sooner or later, the CIA lifers are going to push back and pin the whole thing on the political apparatchiks inside the Bush White House. That the apologists now seem to be simply rooting for another attack, after which they plan to gloat themselves back into power, is demonstration enough that they perceive the moral bankruptcy of their own position, and that they sense a very strong tide turning against them. The oddest thing is how seriously the rising outrage seems to have wrong-footed the Obama Administration. They had to know this was coming, even though torture–and the theories of executive power from which the atrocities sprang — was nowhere near the issue during the campaign that it should have been.They’ve been stumbling around for two weeks looking for some way to spin this into the message of “Change” without actually doing anything about it. The best thing they can do is let the investigations — all of them, official and unofficial — continue to gather steam and see where the whole thing leads. Events are in the saddle now, and I don’t think the president is comfortable with that, but there isn’t anything else he can do about it. A while back, in response to some tut-tutting by the insufferable Parson Meacham, I suggested that, while anger might not take us very far, as he suggested, we should see how far it would take us anyway. I suspect we’re about to find out. I didn’t believe this for a long time, but I do now. Somebody’s going to jail behind this stuff.

Please, let it be so.

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The Shock Doctrine 5: Recurring Dreams

by matttbastard

(Previous posts here, here, here and here; Sarah’s posts here.)

Chapter 4: Cleaning the Slate: Terror Does its Work

In her post outlining Chapter 4 of The Shock Doctrine, Sarah highlighted the rush to conformity and, especially, normative gender roles in post-counterrevolutionary Chile, noting that “Men could be arrested for having long hair, while women were arrested for wearing pants.” Rather than providing a detailed outline of what Klein covers in this chapter (because, really, you all are supposed to be reading along, right?) I’m instead going to take a brief look at The Terror Dream by Susan Faludi, another recent text that explores the other 9/11.  Faludi looks at how the US, in a state of shock following the fall of the towers and the attack on the Pentagon, tried to embrace a false retro-patriarchal-paradigm of men-as-saviour/protector and women as helpless waifs in need of rescue.

In an interview with TIME Magazine, Faludi explores how women in the US were repressed in the dream-like aftermath of the assault:

You had a 40% drop of women guests on the important Sunday morning talk shows. You had dramatic declines on all the Op-Ed pages of all the important newspapers, and even women who would seem like obvious guests for the Sunday morning talk shows, like Diane Feinstein or Barbara Boxer who are both chairpersons of subcommittees on terrorism, there was this feeling that this was the time for men and women should take a back seat. There was one place where there were plenty of women’s faces on TV, and that was the 9/11 widows, as long as they played the role of helpless homemaker victims. In the absence of female victims in the planes or rescued from the events of 9/11, the TV shows trotted out 9/11 widows as the substitute victims. Then, the Larry Kings and Bill O’Reillys acted like daddy saviors towards them…There was this need to assert the protective authority role of men, particularly after a trauma in which every aspect of the male protective system failed. Our government ignored warnings that we were about to come under attack. Our 9/11 dispatch system did not warn people properly. Our military did not protect our skies.

The trauma perpetuated by Pinochet and his backers greatly differs from the 9/11 assault in many ways, especially in that the overthrow of Allende was, by and large, an internal matter rather than an external breach of security (CIA complicity in Santiago notwithstanding).  Still, it’s still interesting to note in both instances how gender roles were impacted by the shock of political instability and insecurity. Embracing ‘tradition’ following drastic upheaval was almost a means of centering, reunifying a fractured nation–even if the return to ‘old’ values are largely a fictional construct.

As Sarah notes, “we see [Friedmanite markets] again and again coupled with militarism and cultural conservatism, coming in on a wave of torture, death, terror, and strictly enforced gender roles.”

Indeed, who could forget Bush’s infamous ham-fisted attempt to sooth a shattered nation’s fragile collective psyche:

On September 20, in his first lengthy national address after the attacks, Bush told the citizens of the United States what they personally could do: “Live your lives and hug your children,” he said. Be patient with FBI investigations and travel delays, and “your continued participation and confidence in the American economy” would be greatly appreciated.

Apparently the terror dream is one that recurs.

Sunday–Chapter 5: “Entirely Unrelated” How an Ideology Was Cleansed of Its Crimes

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