Wednesday, November 24, 2010

War and the death of American law

It has long been a theme of my writing on international relations that wars and imperial adventures abroad are often used by politicians to strangle movements for common good-sustaining reform at home. I might now add: to reverse gains previously made, for instance, today the sustained attack on the rule of law. Democracy can - in the American case apparently, is - on the way to becoming a police state.

In Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? (Princeton, 1999), I call this anti-democratic feedback. In response, it often generates, I suggest, democratic internationalism from below, movements against war in the aggressor regime which unite with the people who are being directly attacked and others internationally. Consider Bush’s use of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to mask redistribution of income upward (tax cuts for the ultra-rich) and, at the end of his reign, mass unemployment and foreclosures. Note how these coincide with his attack on the rule of law, consolidated today in his blase interviews on torture (see the one with Matt Lauer) in which he says “Damn right! I waterboarded Khalid Shaikh Mohammed;” “[My] lawyers approved it." He means the war criminal John Yoo, now back at Berkeley (see here), not actual lawyers like Assistant Attorney General James Comey or head of the Office of Legal Council Jack Goldsmith. Defying Bush, the latter withdrew the torture memos, at considerable risk, inventing a secret language with Comey so that Cheney could not figure out what he was doing, and resigning, at the same time, to prevent Bush from overruling him (See Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side). Scott Horton has a vivid post below, citing Dahlia Lithwick, on how Obama has acquiesced in Bush’s lies. As Lithwick puts it,

“The old adage held that if they couldn't get you for the crime, they would get you for the coverup. But this week, it was revealed that both the crime and the coverup will go permanently unpunished. Which suggests that everything in between will go unpunished as well. In an America in which the former president can boast on television that he approved the water-boarding of U.S. prisoners, it can hardly be a shock that following a lengthy investigation, no criminal charges will be filed against those who destroyed the evidence of CIA abuse of prisoners Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri [CIA official and criminal, Jose Rodriguez]. We keep waiting breathlessly for someone, somewhere, to have a day of reckoning over the prisoners we tortured in the wake of 9/11, without recognizing that there is no bag man to be found and that therefore we are all the bag man.”

“President Barack Obama decided long ago that he would ‘turn the page’ on prisoner abuse and other illegality connected to the Bush Administration's war on terror. What he didn't seem to understand, what he still seems not to appreciate, is that what was on that page would bleed through onto the next page and the page after that. There's no getting past torture. There is only getting comfortable with it. The U.S. flirtation with torture is not locked in the past or in the black sites or prisons at which it occurred. Now more than ever, it's feted on network television and held in reserve for the next president who persuades himself that it's not illegal after all.”

Between the falsifiers of history, Scott says, namely the Republican authoritarians, who are misidentified as "conservatives" and Obama who has forbidden the Justice Department to investigate war crimes because both the law and the facts are too clear and the culprits too high up, any independent legal tribunal would prefer charges against Bush and his entire cabinet, General Petraeus, John Negroponte, and many others (Colin Powell, having offered the military objection to torture – that it gives a license for others to torture our troops whom they capture – is a possible exception to this criminality). Obama has nurtured hypocrisy among Democrats who named Bush’s war crimes – his casting out of the rule of law, torture, abolition of habeas corpus, spying on Americans – but are silent when Obama declares a supposed right of a President to murder an American citizen without any legal proceeding and not on the field of battle, or makes himself an accomplice to war crimes. As Lithwick says, as it stands, Obama has allowed the unpunished Bush page of history to terribly "bleed onto the next page" and added some new writing about the presidential - tyrannical - murder of Americans and "state secrets."

There is still some difference. Obama ended torture at Guantanamo apparently (there is no proof), and initially moved to shut it down. Romney would have doubled its size. But ever extending wars (escalating in Afghanistan, troops and drones in Pakistan, elite kill teams and drones in Yemen…) has led to Obama’s steady sacrifice of the rule of law at home. The craven Republican screaming for torture and more war (Republicans are the mechanical party of the war complex, unified to regain power at the expense of doing the government’s business – they are the nihilist party - or decency) has moved Obama further and further to the Right. Here is what Michael Schwartz calls “lock-in” (see here and here), the destruction of the rule of law in the United States. See also here. No small thing is being forfeited here. It is the heritage of Anglo-American law since the Magna Carta, the decency of what America stands for. It is giving in to Bush and the shriveling Cheney.* They have made America the leading torturer state – helping Al Qaida by giving it, in this important respect, a cause with wide credibility among Arabs and others despite its repulsive slaughter of innocents (but General Petraeus, too, slaughters and tortures innocents – see here and here).

The United States has made its cause barbarous and in this respect, done what Al Qaida dreamed of but could not force the U.S. to do. Abdulmutallab got on an airline to Detroit but could not detonate explosives in his underwear. American security was so disorganized that it could not stop him, even though his father, the richest man in Nigeria, warned the American embassy that he was dangerous. Yet now the corrupt former Homeland Security Secretary has hawked invasive body scanning machines to airports so that sexual invasion has now become the "American way of travel." I just went through the Denver airport, refused to go through the x-ray (it has replaced the previous screening machines) and was drawn aside from the line and patted down, slow-motion and fairly obtrusively, for 10 minutes…Most just stood still for the jolt of x-rays (one wonders what the effect of this “procedure” on the long-term health of Americans will be). I should add: it was a relief to arrive at the airport in Barcelona and not be faced with a nutty security state. How sad America has become is visible in this new "procedure." Once again, Al-Qaida and Abdulmutallab could not have dreamed-up a success like this, just like they could not have forced the Bush administration to aggress against a "large Middle Eastern oil producing country." Instead, it took the profit seeking “anti-terrorist” company of Michael Chertoff and the bipartisan lobbying of Linda Daschle -see here- boondoggling Congress and the constant working of fear by American politicians (Obama has provided a refreshing exception to this, but one wonders, too, how long this page can last). Homeland (In)security is always "outfront" of the last terror attempt (first TSA bullies post-9/11, then off with the shoes (Richard Reid), now groping, and…

Ron Paul has been given the chance to stand up for equal liberty.

But it will be up to international authorities – those not under the influence of a war complex and the reactionary two-step of elite party competition – to try to salvage some elements of law internationally and, by pressure, even here.

I sent a note to Andrew Bacevich on whether one could make the military documents (Wikileaks) story about Petraeus’ ordering war crimes a subject of debate somewhere in the commercial press. Though KGNU covered it, the corporate press will not. See here. He imagined that I as an individual had hopes about doing something legally myself (not much I am sad to say). I would certainly like to ally with all those who are putting pressure to do something about this, but the situation in Obama’s America is bleak. Andrew reports a conversation with a military attorney for one of the Guantanamo prisoners about the death of the rule of law:

“Dear Alan, I'm not quite clear on what you are asking me. If the question is 'how can I charge Petraeus and Rumsfeld with war crimes,' then you need to consult a lawyer -- I simply don't know what the law provides or allows. I do suspect that you won't get anywhere. The other day an army lawyer dropped in to see me. He's been the defense attorney for the last several years for a Guantanamo detainee, fighting a gallant fight for the rule of law and making no headway. What became evident as I talked to him was that Obama replacing Bush made absolutely no difference in the attitude of the Justice Department on these matters. Pretty discouraging. Andrew.”

To my post on John Mearsheimer’s debate with Colonel Peter Mansoor here, John sent me the note below, which underlines that Mansoor is an adherent of Petraeus and endless war, with no idea of what military victory would consist in. Obama has now also caved on reducing troops and Xe/Blackwater mercenaries in Afghanistan even in 2011. Now the prospect according to the main headline in the New York Times, (left-hand front page) last Monday is 2014, or as Petraues’ civilian counterpart and echo, Mark Sedwill, says below in the Guardian, i.e. not for US circulation, 2015. The US cannot let go, cannot stop butchering - see here - cannot refrain from licensing the police commandant raping a girl,, confronted by an Afghan civilian, who orders his deputy to shoot the civilian and when the deputy refuses, shoots the deputy instead (see Jonathan Schell here). Given the huge US war complex, the meaning of anti-democratic feedback today is: an unending war in Afghanistan, drones and elite killer teams in Yemen and Pakistan, high unemployment at home, the death of law, soaring profits for 7 straight quarters (see here) and the continuing – nihilist - attack by the Republicans on anything decent Obama tries to do. An anti-war and pro-rule of law movement from below, one which fights for jobs for Americans, is the only way forward. Until such a movement emerges, each of us will have to do what we can – whatever we can – to name the truth. Here is John’s letter:

“Alan. Loved your post on me and Mansoor. I also saw the Gareth Porter piece [see here] and immediately thought of my exchange with Mansoor. He is a Petreaus acolyte. All your instincts are correct on this one. I pondered whether to say on the LNH [Lehrer Newshour] that I was confident that the US was fully almost surely aware of the Iraqi killing and approved it, although we could not say so publicly. I didn't raise it for fear I would sound too extreme [that on corporate television John could level Mansoor about the moral bankruptcy of the Afghanistan counterinsurgency in a brief debate was already an outlier; getting out the truth, broadly speaking, is not possible in that venue]. When we get all the records on Iraq, it will be clear that we have much blood on our hands, and that will include Petraeus and especially McChrystal. Counter-insurgency warfare is always dirty and bloody, as we learned in Vietnam. Hope all is well, John”

November 17, 2010 by The Guardian/UK

Afghanistan Could Face 'Eye-Watering Violence' After Troops Leave
Nato representative in Kabul says 2014 deadline for ending combat role might not be met
by Jon Boone in Kabul

Afghanistan could experience "eye-watering" levels of violence after foreign combat troops withdraw from Afghanistan in four years' time, the Nato representative in Kabul warned today. Mark Sedwill, the civilian counterpart to US commander General David Petraeus, also said that the target of handing over security responsibilities to the Afghan army and police by the end of 2014 might not be met.

The alliance's plan for the "transition" of responsibilities from Nato's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to the still embryonic Afghan army and police will be high on the agenda at this week's Nato summit in Lisbon.

Many European countries that contribute troops see the plan as their ticket out of an unpopular war, but Sedwill warned that success was not guaranteed and the 2014 date was merely an "inflection point" in a campaign that would continue for a long time. In some areas of the country transition could run "to 2015 and beyond" he said.

Although the alliance hopes that foreign-led counterinsurgency operations will come to an end, troops would still be required to train and support the Afghan security forces and maintain "a strategic over watch" position, he said.

He conceded that a "residual insurgency" was likely to continue in many parts of the country. "There would still be a certain level of violence and probably levels of violence that by western standards will be pretty eye-watering," he said.

In such a scenario special forces units would be required to remain and fight, he said, in addition to the logistical support, training and equipment provided for Afghan units.

Sedwill said that with so many uncertainties, Nato's 2014 deadline was "realistic but not guaranteed".

He also warned that transition was "not a cheap option" that would allow troops to leave quickly. "We are not looking at forces flooding out of this country as transition starts. One of the key principles of this is you reinvest the transition dividend."

Nato is refusing to announce where the transition process will start for fear of turning those districts into targets for insurgents to increase their operations and mount intimidation campaigns against government officials.

Sedwill said that he expected Nato to hand over several provinces in the first half of next year. However, he said the transfer of responsibility for both security and development activities would vary across the country.

In some areas, entire provinces would be transferred, while in others it would be districts, or even individual towns. Transition would take between 18 and 24 months in some areas, depending on the resilience of the insurgency and the capability of the Afghan army, police and the village militia-style "local police" that are being established.

The Afghan police and army are being built up at breakneck speed. Both institutions remain beset with problems, including widespread illiteracy and drug abuse. The army has also struggled to recruit among southern Pashtuns, the group that predominates in areas of the country most affected by insurgency.

The head of the Nato training mission, General William Caldwell, has complained that he does not have enough trainers to meet the transition deadline.

The attempt to create an army and police up to the job of taking over requires vast sums of money.Even after they have been built up to strength, officials say they will cost around $6bn (£3.7bn) a year to run – about half of Afghanistan's current GDP and more than the US gives to both Israel and Egypt.

Sedwill said the IMF had calculated that Afghanistan would not be able to pay for its own security forces until 2023.


November 17, 2010 by Harper's Magazine

Interrogation Nation
by Scott Horton

Dahlia Lithwick at Slate offers the smartest take so far on George W. Bush's noncoerced confession that he authorized waterboarding and aggressively defended torture as part of his "legacy" to future presidents:

"The old adage held that if they couldn't get you for the crime, they would get you for the coverup. But this week, it was revealed that both the crime and the coverup will go permanently unpunished. Which suggests that everything in between will go unpunished as well. In an America in which the former president can boast on television that he approved the water-boarding of U.S. prisoners, it can hardly be a shock that following a lengthy investigation, no criminal charges will be filed against those who destroyed the evidence of CIA abuse of prisoners Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. We keep waiting breathlessly for someone, somewhere, to have a day of reckoning over the prisoners we tortured in the wake of 9/11, without recognizing that there is no bag man to be found and that therefore we are all the bag man."

"President Barack Obama decided long ago that he would "turn the page" on prisoner abuse and other illegality connected to the Bush Administration's war on terror. What he didn't seem to understand, what he still seems not to appreciate, is that what was on that page would bleed through onto the next page and the page after that. There's no getting past torture. There is only getting comfortable with it. The U.S. flirtation with torture is not locked in the past or in the black sites or prisons at which it occurred. Now more than ever, it's feted on network television and held in reserve for the next president who persuades himself that it's not illegal after all."

Since Barack Obama became president, the debate over torture in America has taken a morally corrupt turn. Defenders of the old regime continue to defend the use of torture as essential to the nation's defense. Their claims are contradicted by the facts: torture was used to extract false confessions that fueled, among other things, the invasion of Iraq on false pretenses. The fact that America tortured is still a principal recruiting tool for radical Islamists. But Obama has kept silent in the face of all of this, not wishing to engage torture apologists in debate. More significantly, he has apparently encouraged his Justice Department to squelch any meaningful investigation of torture, in violation of the clear requirements of law. A policy that says "don't look back" means the triumph of torture: while we may not be captives of our past, we are the captives of our perception of the past. When one side offers an airbrushed version of the past and the other is silent, then, in the binary world of Washington, victory goes to the falsifiers.

*In a strange way, Cheney seems to have lived for, grown from power, to be physically reduced without it.

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