The administration of George W. Bush committed a number of actions, some of which are likely criminal, some of which expand the powers of the executive beyond credible fidelity to the constitution and some of which are just plain offensive regardless of their legality. President Obama, who followed Bush into office, made some show of reversing some of the policies of his predecessor that had brought protest from civil libertarian and good government groups. Other policies were maintained intact or, worse, expanded. Obama’s failures in this regard and his failure to prosecute his predecessor for actions like torture, disappearances, extrajudicial killings, maintaining secret foreign gulags, warrantless mass surveillance, and manipulating intelligence and catapulting propaganda to lead the nation into a dubiously legal preemptive war, among other actions, have created a culture of impunity that makes these sorts of offenses likely to recur.
First a bit of housekeeping. This is a discussion of the potential impeachment of George W. Bush (which opportunity has passed) and Barack Obama for a variety of actions that their administrations have taken. This is not to say that impeachment is the only remedy that is appropriate for these actions. Though the statute of limitations has run out on some of Bush’s crimes, others have no statute of limitations:
President Bush and Vice President Cheney may also be criminally culpable for waterboarding and other forms of torture. This should also be investigated now, even though there is no statute of limitations for waterboarding and other life-threatening forms of torture—those responsible may be prosecuted as long as they live. Both President Bush and Vice President Cheney have publicly admitted their involvement in waterboarding detainees abroad. The federal anti-torture statute makes it an apparent crime to have done so.
Impeachment may not be politically feasible or even necessarily a potentially fruitful pursuit for its own sake (though the public debate around such an effort could be quite useful). Further, the focus on these two presidents is not meant to, in any way, take away from the culpability of members of their administrations, other parts of government, or the military and intelligence communities for their parts in a variety of actions.
To some extent, this article will make claims about what should have been done in the past. There is yet time, though, to take corrective actions in venues other than a compromised and internally deadlocked Congress, which may be too corrupt and complicit to act or even demand a decent explanation of the President’s deeds. We can yet look to the potential for eventual actions by international legal bodies for violations of laws which the United States has pledged to uphold. Further, and more importantly, in light of the coming change of administrations, our fellow Americans should speak to power on this issue and make it conform to the standards of a decent nation.
We are often told that elections have consequences and one of them seems to be that what is not punished or prevented becomes precedent for the next administration. So it is critically important for a decent nation to put endless wars, torture, renditions, dragnet surveillance of citizens and other such issues on the agenda so that the next occupant of the White House will not dare to claim or expand the powers that the current occupant has used to such disastrous consequence for Americans and people around the world.
A culture of impunity leads to an escalation of bad executive behavior
In the wake of the release of the Pentagon Papers, the Watergate scandal and a flood of other revelations about government overreach, considerable efforts were made to rein in the executive branch.
In discussing the origins of the War Powers Act, former Senator Mike Gravel, in his book A Political Odyssey: The Rise of American Militarism and One Man’s Fight to Stop It, provides a stark example of how the unpunished abuse of power by one administration goes on to be exploited by future administrations:
In … April 1972, the Senate began debating a bill that would limit the executive’s war-making powers. The United States overthrew monarchy, but discovered that a profit-motivated democracy can develop its own forms of tyranny. Prior to the Cold War, Congress followed the Constitution. It formally declared wars. But since Truman sent troops to Korea in 1950, Congress had abdicated perhaps its most serious responsibility. Presidential abuse of power in foreign affairs became routine and Nixon seized it with abandon.
Despite the actions to rein in executive abuses in the wake of the Nixon administration, a chain of actions by later administrations that were not held accountable by Congress has created the culture of impunity that has escalated to the most recent administration’s usurpation of powers that were supposed to be addressed by the remedies created in the mid to late 1970′s.
There is a culture of impunity that an impeachment action is meant to cure by reasserting the public’s will over executives who go astray. We’ve seen this movie before.
Here’s a section from a post that I wrote years ago calling for Bush’s impeachment. Abuses of office by Presidents Reagan and Bush the Elder were let stand by craven Democrats eager for electoral gain at the expense of justice:
Democrats have a long-standing pattern of sacrificing justice in an attempt to achieve an elusive bipartisan comity. John Conyers and Henry Gonzalez’ call for impeachment in 1983 over Reagan’s Grenada invasion – scuttled. Henry Gonzalez’ 1987 motion for impeachment over Iran Contra – scuttled. Actually, not just scuttled, stillborn by choice of the investigators:
The shredded documents and shredded memories of the White House cover-up are usually blamed for the failure of the committees to uncover ”all of the facts.” But there are other reasons, namely the limitations that the committees imposed upon themselves or allowed to be imposed on them. They began the investigation by immediately imposing an unrealistic deadline for ending it. They agreed to permit the White House to review all internal documents for ”relevance” before being released to investigators. They made no attempt to locate and make evidentiary use of Presidential calendars, nor did they seek Presidential telephone logs. They were intimidated by the public reaction to the immunized testimony of Marine Lieut. Col. Oliver L. North, and flummoxed by the immunized testimony of Poindexter, who said he had not told the President of the diversion, in order to give him ”deniability.”
Most important, senior members of the Senate committee, which played the dominant role, agreed from the outset that specific evidence of a Presidential ”act of commission” would be necessary before Reagan himself would become a target. No amount of Presidential negligence or nonfeasance, they decided, would justify a potential impeachment proceeding that could be dangerous for the nation.
Here’s how the 1987 investigation was described at the time in the Washington Post on August, 4 1987 in an article titled, “Hill to Reagan: All is Forgiven” (sorry no link, I got it from Lexis-Nexis at the library):
The message from Congress to Reagan was, “Come home, all is forgiven.”
Congress has been lied to, berated, patronized, needled, baited and, in the case of Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, mugged by witnesses.
But because the president has thrown two rascals out and replaced them with rational men, Congress is ready to start over. It is grateful to Reagan for not making them impeach him.
Congress, like a battered wife, will take back the abusive husband. He fell among evil companions, that’s all. She will give him another chance. Divorce, like impeachment, can be so messy.
With that pattern set, it was no surprise that when Bill Clinton took office in 1993, he and the Democratic leadership of the time scuttled four legal actions that would have led to prosecutions of Bush the elder and many in his administration:
But, in 1993, Clinton and the Democratic congressional leadership concluded that pursuit of these “old” scandals would only embitter the Republicans, make the Democratic Party look vindictive and endanger the bipartisanship that Clinton saw as essential for his domestic policy agenda…
The Democratic retreat from the investigative battles in 1993 would have another profound effect on the future of American politics. By letting George H.W. Bush leave the White House with his reputation intact – and even helping Bush fend off accusations of serious wrongdoing – the Democrats unwittingly cleared the way for a restoration of the Bush political dynasty eight years later.
The investigations and legal actions related to Iran-contra, BNL/BCCI among others spanned several administrations, despite having been undermined all along by timid Democrats and finished off in a bid to obtain political goodwill from Republicans that never materialized. If anything, Clinton and the Democratic leadership’s caving in on these issues was taken as weakness by the congressional Republicans, who rewarded Clinton’s actions with even sharper opposition and impeachment. In terms of the Republican general public, Clinton and the Democrats were demonized and creating anti-Clinton, anti-Democratic, anti-liberal propaganda became a cottage industry, launching the careers of scads of conservative media wingnuts.
The pattern of craven Democrats selling out justice in hopes of partisan advancement continued through the Bush the Younger administration as a Democratic Congress under Nancy Pelosi refused to put accountability on the table for the many abuses of the Bush administration, both before the election that would bring Democrats back into control of the House:
Seeking to choke off a Republican rallying cry, the House’s top Democrat has told colleagues that the party will not seek to impeach President Bush even if it gains control of the House in November’s elections, her office said last night.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) told her caucus members during their weekly closed meeting Wednesday “that impeachment is off the table; she is not interested in pursuing it,” spokesman Brendan Daly said.
… and afterwards:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is proving to be the surprise O. Henry ending to last November’s elections. The American voters gave Democrats clear control of Congress, rebuked President George W. Bush, and voiced an unequivocal public craving to trade in customary narrow-minded politics for something more inspiring. Yet motivated by partisan concerns over the 2008 elections, the new speaker is following President Bush around like a sheep while he solidifies an imperial presidency and diminishes the Congress into irrelevancy. …
The prospect of an impeachment inquiry by the House judiciary committee would concentrate the minds of the president and vice president wonderfully on obeying rather than sabotaging the Constitution. But Speaker Pelosi has at least figuratively joined hands with the White House in opposition. Emulating the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, she has threatened the removal of Michigan Rep. John Conyers from his chairmanship of the House judiciary committee if an impeachment inquiry were even opened, according to reliable congressional chatter.
… leading many to the reasonable conclusion that the Democrats were complicit in the crimes of the Bush Administration which the public favored impeachment of Bush and Cheney for:
It’s just been disclosed that Representative Jane Harmon and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were briefed by the Bush administration on the use of waterboarding. Harmon objected but Pelosi did not — and when she became speaker of the house, she rejected Harmon for chair of the House Intelligence Committee.
The Administration has frequently responded to charges of Executive usurpation by saying the Congressional leaders were fully briefed on such questionable practices as NSA surveillance, extraordinary rendition, and enhanced interrogation techniques. …
According to the Washington Post, since 2002 leading Democrats lawmakers received “about 30 private CIA briefings,’ some of which included descriptions of waterboarding, overseas rendition sites, “and other harsh interrogation methods.” Officials present at some of the meetings, told the Post that the reaction from legislators “was not just approval, but encouragement.”
Pelosi’s staunch, off-the-rails resistance in the face of public demand for accountability of the Bush administration has set the pattern for craven Democrats following the elections of 2008 to avoid the alleged partisan strife that would cause a lack of comity in the legislative branch leading to, erm, nothing getting done. Ooops, that happened anyway. Regardless, Democrats have been a forward-looking bunch.
Obama didn’t take long to warm up to fighting justice and stonewalling investigations. Within about 6 months of taking office, he was already denying UN experts’ requests for visits to Guantanamo and data about CIA prisons, not to mention continuing Bush’s program of renditions. Also, in that time frame Obama “looked forward” about an attempt in Spain to prosecute some of the Bush torture support squad:
Asked for the first time to respond to the likelihood that Spanish prosecutors will target officials in the Bush administration for sanctioning torture at Guantanamo Bay, Barack Obama stressed, once again, that he prefers to look forward, not backward.
In an interview with CNN En Español that aired on Wednesday, the president noted that his administration had ordered the closure of Guantanamo and put an end to policies of enhanced interrogation that “ran counter to American values.” But he wouldn’t wade into the debate over a lawsuit filed by six Spaniards who allege they were tortured at the detention center. A Spanish court is threatening to investigate former Bush officials, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, for their complicity in torture.
Obama was stonewalling by refusing to “wade in to the debate over a lawsuit filed by six Spaniards who alleged they were tortured,” and thanks to Wikileaks, Obama’s actions have been exposed:
In its first months in office, the Obama administration sought to protect Bush administration officials facing criminal investigation overseas for their involvement in establishing policies the that governed interrogations of detained terrorist suspects. A “confidential” April 17, 2009, cable sent from the US embassy in Madrid to the State Department—one of the 251,287 cables obtained by WikiLeaks—details how the Obama administration, working with Republicans, leaned on Spain to derail this potential prosecution.
Since the days before taking office when Obama decided to “look forward,” many policies of his administration have perpetuated and extended the dubiously legal policies of his predecessor. The failure of the Democratic majority in Congress to hold Bush accountable has created a new baseline of bad actions for Obama to build on to target even the most basic civil rights for destruction, shredding protections of civil liberties – and even Obama’s rhetoric has taken on a remarkable resemblance to Bush’s.
As Dan Froomkin put it:
In a lot of ways, we’re worse off today than we were under George W. Bush.
Back then, Bush’s extremist assault on civil liberties, human rights and other core American values in the name of fighting terror felt like an aberration.
The expectation was that those policies would be quickly reversed, discredited — and explicitly outlawed — once he was no longer in power.
Instead, under President Barack Obama, they’ve become institutionalized. …
Obama has set even darker precedents than his predecessor. Massively invasive bulk surveillance of Americans and others has been expanded, not constrained. This president secretly condemns people to death without any checks or balances, and shrugs as his errant drones massacre innocent civilians. Whistleblowers and journalists who expose national security wrongdoing face unprecedented criminal prosecution.
What impeachment is and what it’s for
Among the greatest concerns of the US founding fathers was the potential of the federal government that they created to revert into a tyrannical oppressor state. They had concerns about the executive committing the nation to perpetual war. Incidentally, they had concerns about the use of torture and created explicit constitutional prohibitions against it. They created a mechanism to hold the executive accountable, so as not to grant the sort of authority of a tyrant:
The President of the United States would be liable to be impeached, tried, and, upon conviction of treason, bribery, or other high crimes or misdemeanors, removed from office; and would afterwards be liable to prosecution and punishment in the ordinary course of law. The person of the king of Great Britain is sacred and inviolable; there is no constitutional tribunal to which he is amenable; no punishment to which he can be subjected without involving the crisis of a national revolution.
As Hamilton alludes to in Federalist #69 above, the founders left a legacy of two means to deal with the arrogation of tyrannical powers, the example set by their actions and the method embedded in the Constitution.
In discussions of impeachment, there is often considerable discussion of whether the charges against the president amount to criminal acts. This excerpt from a report written and released by the Judiciary Committee in 1974 in the aftermath of the Watergate crisis explains (briefly) what sort of charges may be raised:
Impeachment is a constitutional remedy addressed to serious offenses against the system of government. The purpose of impeachment under the Constitution is indicated by the limited scope of the remedy (removal from office and possible disqualification from future office) and by the stated grounds for impeachment (treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors). It is not controlling whether treason and bribery are criminal. More important, they are constitutional wrongs that subvert the structure of government, or undermine the integrity of office and even the Constitution itself, and thus are “high” offenses in the sense that word was used in English impeachments. …
While it may be argued that some articles of impeachment have charged conduct that constituted crime and thus that criminality is an essential ingredient, or that some have charged conduct that was not criminal and thus that criminality is not essential, the fact remains that in the English practice and in several of the American impeachments the criminality issue was not raised at all. The emphasis has been on the significant effects of the conduct– undermining the integrity of office, disregard of constitutional duties and oath of office, arrogation of power, abuse of the governmental process, adverse impact on the system of government. Clearly, these effects can be brought about in ways not anticipated by the criminal law. Criminal standards and criminal courts were established to control individual conduct. Impeachment was evolved by Parliament to cope with both the inadequacy of criminal standards and the impotence of courts to deal with the conduct of great public figures. It would be anomalous if the framers, having barred criminal sanctions from the impeachment remedy and limited it to removal and possible disqualification from office, intended to restrict the grounds for impeachment to conduct that was criminal. …
It is useful to note three major presidential duties of broad scope that are explicitly recited in the Constitution: “to take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,” to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States” and to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States” to the best of his ability. The first is directly imposed by the Constitution; the second and third are included in the constitutionally prescribed oath that the President is required to take before he enters upon the execution of his office and are, therefore, also expressly imposed by the Constitution.
Why a decent nation would impeach Obama
A decent nation does not engage in wars of choice. The United States, as a signatory to the UN Charter, recognizes this. Obama has, however, operated wars on a global scale that target countries, groups and individuals that pose no imminent threat to the United States. In order to provide a figleaf of persiflage for these actions, he has tortured language well beyond any common meaning. Consider this gem from Obama’s legal justification for drone strikes:
Certain aspects of this legal framework require additional explication. First, the condition that an operational leader present an “imminent” threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons will take place in the immediate future.
The wars that Obama has initiated are of dubious legality. Obama misled the public by misrepresenting the conditions in Libya in order to make war in violation of the War Powers Act. Obama’s newly launched war against ISIS, similar to his war against Libya, is without congressional authorization.
Obama’s drone strike program is a war crime. Even if the drone program was legal to pursue, how could a decent nation support a program that has a 96% failure rate, meaning that the deaths caused by it are almost entirely inappropriate targets – civilians, women and children? Yet Obama continues to stonewall providing a justification for this program.
Obama has long engaged in spreading propaganda about his drone program:
Obama Finally Talks Drone War, But It’s Almost Impossible to Believe Him
On Wednesday, however, CNN’s Jessica Yellin managed to get Obama to open up, just a little, about his criteria for approving drone attacks. His comments may have been the president’s most extensive so far on robot warfare. They were also total baloney, outside experts say. …
“What I found most striking was his claim that legitimate targets are a ‘threat that is serious and not speculative,’ and engaged in ‘some operational plot against the United States,’ That is simply not true,” emails the Council on Foreign Relations’ Micah Zenko, who has tracked the drone war as closely as any outside analyst. “The claim that the 3,000+ people killed in roughly 375 nonbattlefield targeted killings were all engaged in actual operational plots against the U.S. defies any understanding of the scope of what America has been doing for the past ten years.”
Obama has continued Bush propaganda programs and made selective leaks of classified information to journalists.
It is well to remember that these unnecessary wars are used as the justification for both the need for war powers and secrecy, which in turn is used as a justification for the failure to hold individuals accountable for wrongs done in pursuit of these wars.
A decent nation does not maintain a “kill list” of people to assassinate. Obama has declared himself judge, jury and executioner as he picks and chooses whom to incinerate on Tuesdays:
Obama and approximately a hundred members of his national security team gather for their “Terror Tuesday” meetings in which they hand pick the next so-called national security “threat” to die by way of the American military/CIA drone program. Obama signs off personally on about a third of the drone strikes: all of the ones in Yemen and Somalia, and the risky ones in Pakistan. … These “Terror Tuesday” sessions run counter to every constitutional and moral principle that has guided America since its inception. It’s not only suspected terrorists whose death warrants are being personally signed by the president but innocent civilians geographically situated near a strike zone, as well, whether or not they have any ties to a suspected terrorist. As an anonymous government official on Obama’s drone campaign observed, “They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.” Indeed, Obama’s first authorized drone attack in Yemen led to the deaths of 14 women and 21 children, and only one al Qaeda affiliate. …
Should we fail to recognize and rectify the danger in allowing a single individual to declare himself the exception to the rule of law and assume the role of judge, jury, and executioner, we will have no one else to blame when we plunge once and for all into the abyss that is tyranny.
A decent nation does not torture. That is why it is a crime which has been prosecuted domestically and during war. It is also a violation of the UN Convention Against Torture to which the US is a signatory. While Obama has sought to justify the infliction of torture in the wake of 9/11 as an understandable reaction, Article 2, Section 2 of the Convention states: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”
Obama, while claiming to have ordered a halt to torture, has continued to torture Guantanamo prisoners and has also tortured Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning. His order that interrogations conform to the standards of the Army Field Manual leaves a gaping loophole. The UN says that the Army Field Manual Annex M leaves the door open to torture methods:
Annex M is part of the Army Field Manual. It allows sensory deprivation, it allows sleep deprivation, and it allows solitary confinement. Those three taken together can certainly constitute cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, as well as torture. The Obama administration just flip-flopped around it, saying that we require a minimum of four hours of sleep. Well, four hours’ sleep day after day is basically cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment if not more. When combined with others it can be worse. The people on the committee said, why don’t you just take Annex M out of that? The administration demured on it, as they have for a number of years.
So we still have in our law an authorization to use cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment if not more. Those are the four key things that came out of this.
Further, in light of revelations in the testimony of Obama’s first choice for Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, at his confirmation hearing, it is hard to believe that Obama’s bold rhetoric about reining in the CIA’s interrogation techniques is more than just obfuscation:
Vice Chairman Bond. President Obama has issued an Executive Order applying the field manual. But, as I understand the situation, he has an Executive Order–the authority to issue an Executive Order describing techniques, classified techniques, that could be used by the Agency that would be different from that used by the Army. Is that your understanding?
Admiral Blair. My understanding is we want to revise the Army field manual and make it the manual that goes for both military and intelligence interrogation and to have the guidance so that it’s uniform across those agencies, depending, of course. There are many different things in the manual. … We have large amounts of unclassified doctrine for our troops to use, but we don’t put anything in there that our enemies can use against us. And we’ll figure it out for this manual, which will be the manual for everyone to use. …
It will be limited to those who need it, both within the armed forces and within the intelligence service. … When I said this manual would be available to those need it, there will be some sort of document that’s widely available in an unclassified form, but the specific techniques that can provide training value to adversaries, we will handle much more carefully.
So it appears likely that there are secret, classified interrogation techniques available to CIA
torturers interrogators that citizens are not allowed to know about.
A decent nation does not render prisoners to other states where the likelihood that they will be tortured is high:
Shortly after Obama’s first inauguration, both he and Leon Panetta, the new Director of the CIA, explicitly stated that “rendition” was not being ended. As the Los Angeles Times reported at the time: “Under executive orders issued by Obama recently, the CIA still has authority to carry out what are known as renditions, secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States.”
The English translation of “cooperate” is “torture.” Rendition is simply outsourcing torture. There was no other reason to take prisoners to Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Egypt, Jordan, Kenya, Somalia, Kosovo or the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, to name some of the known torture centers frequented by the United States.
Highly questionable rendition activities continue under Obama.
A decent nation does not indefinitely detain prisoners without charge in a gulag:
Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, a Yemeni man accused of serving in Osama bin Laden’s security detail, described conditions at Guantanamo that included the repeated, seemingly incessant interrogations he faced at the hands of U.S. officials. …
Naji listed sleep deprivation, humiliation and beatings — abuses similar to those described as “tantamount to torture” in a 2004 International Committee of the Red Cross report leaked to The New York Times.
Naji also described the painful force-feeding he has been subjected to as he and as many as 100 other prisoners have engaged in hunger strikes to protest their continued detention without charge. …
Guantanamo detainees — of which there have been nearly 800 — were allegedly tortured at the site, drawing widespread international condemnation from human rights and civil liberties advocates who decried the interrogation techniques and the U.S. authority to detain the suspected terrorists without charges.
Nearly all Guantanamo prisoners are being held without charges.
A decent nation does not allow a dragnet spying operation that invades individual privacy regardless of probable cause.
Through a series of legal contortions, the Obama administration has argued that Congress, since 9/11, intended to implicitly authorize mass surveillance. But this strategy mostly consists of wordplay, fear-mongering and a highly selective reading of the law. Americans deserve better from the White House — and from President Obama, who has seemingly forgotten the constitutional law he once taught. …
We may never know all the details of the mass surveillance programs, but we know this: The administration has justified them through abuse of language, intentional evasion of statutory protections, secret, unreviewable investigative procedures and constitutional arguments that make a mockery of the government’s professed concern with protecting Americans’ privacy. It’s time to call the N.S.A.’s mass surveillance programs what they are: criminal.
A decent nation does not allow a two-tiered justice system.
Obama’s failure to see to it that the laws be faithfully executed has created a culture of impunity that is corrosive to both the government and the culture.
Obama has refused to prosecute George W. Bush and others from that administration for torture, contrary to domestic legal obligations and the UN Convention Against Torture.
Obama admits that torture has occurred and that torture is a war crime. Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, even in light of the release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence executive summary of its torture report, continues to refuse to prosecute those who committed these crimes on the grounds that evidence wasn’t sufficient “to obtain and sustain convictions beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Frankly, if your Attorney General thinks that he can’t convict persons for a crime that they have boasted about committing in a book or on national teevee, then you really ought to fire the guy for prosecutorial incompetence, misfeasance or nonfeasance.
Obama’s use of government secrecy and national security claims in a judicial setting amounts to an abuse of power. Obama has abused his office to prevent embarrassing information from becoming public.
A decent nation doesn’t occupy its citizens by military force. The US passed the Posse Comitatus Act in 1878, but since the start of the “War on Drugs,” the federal government has been performing an end run around the law by militarizing local and state police forces and providing coordination of these forces. Despite congressional complaints and citizen uprisings against police brutality and abuses, Obama is unwilling to stop the distribution of military hardware and training to police forces.
More than just militarizing police under Obama, the military is becoming an ubiquitous presence along with the intelligence apparatus which have infiltrated the American university system:
Since the tragic events of 9/11, state-sanctioned violence and the formative culture that makes it possible has increasingly made its way into higher education. While there is a long history of higher education taking on research funds and projects that serve the military industrial complex, such projects were often hidden from public view. When they did become public, they were often the object of student protests and opposition, especially during the 1960s. What is new today is that more research projects in higher education than ever before are being funded by various branches of the military, but either no one is paying attention or no one seems to care about such projects. Ethical and political considerations about the role of the university in a democratic society have given way to a hyper-pragmatism couched in the language of austerity and largely driven by a decrease in state funding for higher education and the dire lack of jobs for many graduates. …
As research funds dry up for programs aimed at addressing crucial social problems, new opportunities open up with the glut of military funding aimed at creating more
sophisticated weapons, surveillance technologies, and modes of knowledge that connect anthropological concerns with winning wars.
Higher education should be one place where young people learn to question the framing mechanisms that allow them both to be turned into producers and consumers of violence and to become increasingly indifferent to matters of social and moral responsibility. Military modes of education largely driven by the demands of war and organized violence are investing heavily in pedagogical practices that train students in various intelligence operations.
The increasingly intensified and expansive symbiosis between the military-industrial complex and academia is also on full display the creation of the “Minerva Consortium,” ironically named after the goddess of wisdom, whose purpose is to fund various universities to “carry out social sciences research relevant to national security” (Brainard, 2008). As David Price (2010) has brilliantly documented, the CIA and other intelligence agencies “today sneak unidentified students with undisclosed links to intelligence agencies into university classrooms. A new generation of so-called flagship programs have quietly taken root on campuses, and, with each new flagship, our universities are transformed into vessels of the militarized state.” As Price (2011) points out, not only is knowledge militarized, but specific disciplines such a anthropology are now weaponized.
So why should the nation demand that Bush and Obama be prosecuted for their actions? Well, because America has a duty to be a good citizen of the world, both to redeem the intent of our founding documents and also from a desire for self-preservation.
How long can a nation, even one as powerful as the United States, continue to destabilize, terrorize and immiserate millions of people and fail to reap consequences for its actions? The fact that the numbers of jihadists and terrorist acts are on a massive increase is indicative that the policies are not just wrong, but counterproductive. Nonetheless, they are continued by administration after administration.
The Obama administration has expanded violent military and intelligence interventions to more than half of the countries of the world:
In his book “The One Percent Doctrine,” journalist Ron Suskind reported on CIA plans, unveiled in September 2001 and known as the “Worldwide Attack Matrix,” for “detailed operations against terrorists in 80 countries.” At about the same time, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld proclaimed that the nation had embarked on “a large multi-headed effort that probably spans 60 countries.” By the end of the Bush years, the Pentagon would indeed have special operations forces deployed in 60 countries around the world.
It has been the Obama administration, however, that has embraced the concept far more fully and engaged the region even more broadly. Last year, the Washington Post reported that U.S. had deployed special operations forces in 75 countries, from South America to Central Asia. Recently, however, U.S. Special Operations Command spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told me that on any given day, America’s elite troops are working in about 70 countries, and that its country total by year’s end would be around 120.
Since Obama’s policies seem to be making enemies faster than they can be murdered by the vast armory at his disposal, surely one day America’s enemies will outnumber its friends.
Then there is the effect that inevitably happens when countries are at war – the tactics that are used against foreign populations are eventually used against the home country’s people. It shows up in the militarization of police forces and tactics. It also turns up in places that you’d never expect, like the oil and gas industry hiring military psy-ops experts to fight back against citizen and media opposition to fracking:
Matt Pitzarella, head of the public relations team at the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based natural gas corporation, Range Resources, openly admitted that his corporation utilizes psychological warfare (psyops) military veterans as community relations professionals, hired to apply the skills gained on the periphery for work to be done here at home.
The oil and gas industry apparently feels that it is fighting an insurgency:
Matt Carmichael, External Affairs Manager at Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, suggested three things to attendees during his presentation:
“If you are a PR representative in this industry in this room today, I recommend you do three things. These are three things that I’ve read recently that are pretty interesting.
“(1) Download the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual [audible gasps from the audience], because we are dealing with an insurgency. There’s a lot of good lessons in there, and coming from a military background, I found the insight in that extremely remarkable. (2) With that said, there’s a course provided by Harvard and MIT twice a year, and it’s called ‘Dealing With an Angry Public.’ Take that course. Tied back to the Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency [Field] Manual, is that a lot of the officers in our military are attending this course. It gives you the tools, it gives you the media tools on how to deal with a lot of the controversy that we as an industry are dealing with. (3) Thirdly, I have a copy of “Rumsfeld’s Rules.” You’re all familiar with Donald Rumsfeld – that’s kind of my bible, by the way, of how I operate.”
People who want to preserve their water, air and land resources are of course not the only civilians targeted by military psy-ops. The military thinks that it’s a great tactic to use on US Senators, too.
Now these examples of Obama’s policies are indeed bad, but it’s not like he is deploying the technology of an authoritarian state; engaging in mass, dragnet surveillance of citizens; asking people to rat out their co-workers or neighbors, acquaintances or even people spotted in public based upon broad “risk” profiles generated by the government; or targeting people based upon their religious or political beliefs or the success of their online activism.
Oops, they do that stuff.
There can be little doubt that the policies of the Bush and Obama administrations will continue if there is impunity. As was shown by David Petraeus at his ill-fated nomination hearings for CIA director, the powers will be shamelessly requested:
As the Los Angeles Times reported, [David Petraeas] the highly-decorated general told senators in his confirmation hearing as Obama’s new CIA director that “humane” questioning standards mandated by the Army Field Manual are almost always sufficient to persuade detainees to talk. But he said that “there should be discussion … by policymakers and by Congress” about something “more than the normal techniques” for use in special cases where there is perceived to be imminent catastrophic danger.
“That David Petraeus quote is a sign of what to worry about in the future,” said Karen Greenberg, executive director of the New York University Center on Law and Security and a scholar of detainee policy.
“We’re not a nation you can rely on not to torture,” she said.
Obama’s current CIA director, John Brennan, is still shilling for torture and insists that the CIA bureaucracy will eagerly support it:
CIA Director John Brennan gave no ground to his critics during a press conference on Thursday, singing his agency’s praises and saying it “did a lot of things right” in its interrogation program. …
Brennan’s dismissive response to the report was manifest in his refusal to even use the word “torture,” instead referring multiple times to the Bush-administration euphemism of choice: “enhanced interrogation techniques,” or EITs.
Brennan also left open the possibility that some of the torture tactics currently prohibited by President Obama could return in the future. Some torture critics have said that could happen, because the people responsible for torture have never been held accountable and remain unbowed.
“We are not contemplating at all getting back into the interrogation program,” Brennan said.
As for the future, he said, “I defer to future policymakers.”
There was a time when the Congress itself was interested in redressing the wrongs of a national security state that had overstepped its bounds. The current Congress does not appear to have that sort of concern for supporting and defending the Constitution in service to their constituents. Given that a culture of impunity encourages the continuation of corruption and infelicitous policies that are destructive of civil liberties, there should be a limit to the negligent political malpractice we are willing to tolerate in this expansion of abusive executive powers. The Democrats have avoided prosecuting several presidents for political convenience; it appears that they need some considerable motivational support to do the right thing. The American people, in the past absence of a Congress that responded to its demands, have stood up a sustained campaign to demand the end of wars and executive overreach when denied it by a flawed system bent on insulating itself from change.
Such an effort may again be required. Impeachment and prosecutions are desperately needed.