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Is a Policy a Law? Is Murder Murder?

10:15 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

A judge's gavel seen from above

Has the rule of law become meaningless to the Obama administration?

From the Associated Press:

An American citizen who is a member of al-Qaida is actively planning attacks against Americans overseas, U.S. officials say, and the Obama administration is wrestling with whether to kill him with a drone strike and how to do so legally under its new stricter targeting policy issued last year.

Notice those words: “legally” and “policy.”  No longer does U.S. media make a distinction between the two.  Under George W. Bush, detention without trial, torture, murder, warrantless spying, and secret missile strikes were illegal.  Under Obama they are policy.  And policy makes them “legal” under the modified Nixonian understanding that if the President does it as a policy then it is legal.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the laws of the nations in which drone murders take place, treaties to which the U.S. is party, international law, and U.S. statutory law, murdering people remains illegal, despite being policy, just as it was illegal under the less strict policy of some months back.  The policy was made stricter in order to bring it into closer compliance with the law, of course — though it comes nowhere close — and yet the previous policy remains somehow “legal,” too, despite having not been strict enough.

Under that previous policy, thousands of people, including at least four U.S. citizens, have been blown to bits with missiles. President Obama gave a speech last year in which he attempted to justify one of those four U.S. deaths on the basis of evidence he claimed to have but would not reveal. He made no attempt to justify the other three.

The new policy remains that the president can murder anyone, anywhere, along with whoever is near them, but must express angst if the person targeted is a U.S. citizen.

The idea that such lunacy can have anything to do with law is facilitated by human rights groups’ and the United Nations’ and international lawyers’ deference to the White House, which has been carried to the extreme of establishing a consensus that we cannot know whether a drone murder was legal or not unless the president reveals his reasoning, intention, motivation, and the details of the particular murder.

No other possible criminal receives this treatment. When the police read you your rights, you are not entitled to object: “Put those handcuffs away, sir! I have a written policy justifying everything I did, and I refuse to show it to you. Therefore you have no grounds to know for certain that my justification is as insane and twisted as you might imagine it to be based merely on what I’ve done! Away with you, sir!”

The loss of a coherent conception of law is a grievous one, but that’s not all that’s at stake here.

Numerous top U.S. officials routinely admit that our drone wars in the Middle East and Africa are creating more enemies than they kill.  General Stanley McChrystal, then commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan said in June 2010 that “for every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies.” Veterans of U.S. kill teams in Iraq and Afghanistan interviewed in Jeremy Scahill’s book and film Dirty Wars said that whenever they worked their way through a list of people to kill, they were handed a larger list; the list grew as a result of working their way through it.  The wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and the abuses of prisoners during them, became major recruiting tools for anti-U.S. terrorism. In 2006, U.S. intelligence agencies produced a National Intelligence Estimate that reached just that conclusion.

We are shredding the very concept of the rule of law in order to pursue a policy that endangers us, even as it helps to justify the erosion of our civil liberties, to damage the natural environment, and to impoverish us, as it kills many innocent people.  Maybe they’ve secretly got drones doing the thinking as well as the killing.

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What Does Latest Dead Afghan 2-Year-Old Have in Common with Paul Robeson, John Wayne, Ernest Hemingway?

8:10 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

This is the season of death, when we celebrate the dying of the sun with an orgiastic burst of consumption and environmental destruction.  This is the season of rebirth when we spend time with loved ones and reach out to help others we don’t know.

Paul Robeson

Now would be an appropriate time to come to grips with public murder and make a public investment in peace.  If I were summoning back ghosts of governments past for a press conference at the National Press Club, my first inclination — lasting only a split second — would be to bring the Filipinos, the Vietnamese, the Native Americans, the Laotians, the Mexicans, the Cambodians, the Iraqis, the Guatemalans, the Japanese, the Afghans, the Germans, the Yemenis, and all the peoples of the world dead by our indifference or malevolence and by our sacred tax dollars.  Pacific Islanders killed by weapons testing would join children killed by drug testing, and prisoners both innocent and guilty killed by electric chairs and injections, standing side-by-side with the resurrected bodies of men tortured to death by the CIA, kids melted with white phosphorous, and presidents — both foreign and domestic — cut down by assassins spreading freedom and joy.

My second inclination would be to line up a handful of press-worthy celebrities whose celebrity might motivate a bit of our national press corpse [sic] to hop an elevator for the long commute to the press club despite the fact that these particular celebrities were murdered by our government.  First might be Paul Robeson.  Here’s a wikipedia summary for those unfamiliar with this great man.  Here’s a taste of Robeson’s voice.  And here’s audio of a discussion with Robeson’s son and others of how the CIA drugged him and then electroshocked him, effectively debilitating and silencing a voice that had never before faltered, a voice that had gone so far as to denounce the House Un-American Activities Committee as un-Americans to their faces.  This article sums up this crime.  This more recent article looks back.

Next to Robeson before the cameras might stand John Wayne. In 1955, movie star John Wayne, who avoided participating in World War II by opting instead to make movies glorifying war, decided that he had to play Genghis Khan. The Conqueror was filmed in Utah, and the conqueror was conquered. Of the 220 people who worked on the film, by the early 1980s 91 of them had contracted cancer and 46 had died of it, including John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead, and director Dick Powell. Statistics suggest that 30 of the 220 might ordinarily have gotten cancer, not 91. In 1953 the military had tested 11 atomic bombs nearby in Nevada, and by the 1980s half the residents of St. George, Utah, where the film was shot, had cancer. You can run from war, but you can’t hide. Imagine that comment in John Wayne’s voice as he stands, newly restored to life, speaking at a podium surrounded by handsome hacks who play journalists on TV.

Beside Robeson and Wayne at the best-attended-ever press conference we might line up Ernest Hemingway.  When I was first told that Hemingway had killed himself, it was explained to me that he didn’t want to live as an old man incapable of hunting lions.  And yet this was the author of The Old Man and the Sea.  Make sense of that if you can.  Now we learn from Hemingway’s friend and collaborator over the last 13 years of his life that the FBI’s surveillance of Hemingway “substantially contributed to his anguish and his suicide.”  Hemingway’s close friend didn’t take Hemingway’s complaints about the FBI seriously until his FBI file was finally released, confirming the surveillance.  “It’s the worst hell,” Hemingway had said. “The goddamnedest hell. They’ve bugged everything. That’s why we’re using [a friend]‘s car. Mine’s bugged. Everything’s bugged. Can’t use the phone. Mail intercepted.”  I wonder how many high school English classes will mention this.

Next to Hemingway, let’s bring out Bob Marley.  The CIA’s files on him are being kept secret for your protection, but the death and destruction the CIA was bringing to his country is undisputed, the CIA’s responsibility for the failed assassination attempt against him is very likely, and it appears that in the end the CIA got him by a manner that sounds insanely bizarre if you haven’t heard about giving an entire French town LSD or targeting a single intended victim (Fidel Castro) with a poisoned diving suit, an exploding cigar, a ballpoint-pen syringe, an exploding conch shell, and dozens of other crackpot schemes that sound less comical when they work.

Some surprise guests at the press club might include John and Robert Kennedy.  Others might include, after all, the millions of nameless forgotten dead, the victims of the industrial-scale “signature strikes” that have been our biggest public investment.  Not that the reporters would all see the point of cramming so many resurrected bodies into their club, but because some of the celebrity victims might more clearly grasp and articulate the purpose of the event.  Sooner or later we are going to have to stop killing people and start loving people, or the rebirth of life after winter won’t keep repeating. Read the rest of this entry →

Can a Drone Murder?

8:13 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Tuesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee hearing on drones was not your usual droning and yammering.  Well, mostly it was, but not entirely.  Of course, the White House refused to send any witnesses.  Of course, most of the witnesses were your usual professorial fare.

Reaper Drone

What wasn't heard at the Drone War hearing is as interesting as what was.

But there was also a witness with something to say.  Farea Al-Muslimi came from Yemen.  His village had just been hit by a drone strike last week.  He described the effects — all bad for the people of the village, for the people of Yemen, and for the United States and its mission to eliminate all the bad people in the world without turning any of the good people against it.

The usual droning and yammering that preceded and followed this testimony seemed more offensive than usual.  One witness summarized the general position of pointless witnesses who accept all common wisdom and have no information or insights to contribute:

If the drone strikes are part of war, that’s fine, she said.  But if they’re not part of war, then they’re murder.  But since the memos that “legalize” the drone strikes are secret, we don’t know whether they’re perfectly fine or murder.

That’s the common view of things.  But to say it in front of someone who knows something about the killing from the perspective of the victims seems particularly tasteless.

The basic facts are barely in dispute.  A single individual, President Barack Obama, is choosing to send missiles from drones into particular houses and buildings.  Most of the people being killed are innocent and not targeted.  Some of those targeted are not even identified.  Most of the others are identified as run-of-the-mill resisters to hostile foreign occupations of their or neighboring countries.  A handful are alleged to be imminent (meaning eventual theoretical) threats to the United States.  Many could easily have been arrested and put on trial, but were instead killed along with whoever was too close to them.

If this is not part of a war, apparently, then it’s murder.

But if it’s part of a war, supposedly, it’s fine.

It’s funny that murder is the only crime war erases.  Believers in civilized warfare maintain that, even in war, you cannot kidnap or rape or torture or steal or lie under oath or cheat on your taxes.  But if you want to murder, that’ll be just fine.

Believers in uncivilized war find this hard to grasp.  If you can murder, which is the worst thing possible, then why in the world — they ask — can you not torture a little bit too?

What is the substantive difference between being at war and not being at war, such that in one case an action is honorable and in the other it’s murder?  By definition, there is nothing substantive about it.  If a secret memo can legalize drone kills by explaining that they are part of a war, then the difference is not substantive or observable.  We cannot see it here in the heart of the empire, and Al-Muslimi cannot see it in his drone-struck village in Yemen.  The difference is something that can be contained in a secret memo.

This is apparently the case no matter whom a drone strike kills and no matter where it kills them.  The world is the battlefield, and the enemies are Muslims.  Young men in predominantly Muslim countries are posthumously declared enemies once a drone has killed them.  They must be enemies.  After all, they’re dead.

I wonder how this sounds to a young Muslim man who’s taken to heart the lesson that violence is righteous and that war is everywhere at all times.

Do people who blow up bombs at public sporting events think all together differently from people who blow up peaceful villages in Yemen?

Don’t tell me we can’t know because their memos are secret too.  Those who engage in murder believe that murder is justified.  The reasons they have (secret or known) are unacceptable.  Murder is not made into something else by declaring it to be part of a war.

War is, rather, made criminal by our recognition of it as mass murder.

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George Bush the Murderer: The Movie

10:34 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Vincent Bugliosi's Book

(Photo: codepinkhq/flickr)

A new movie has just been released based on Vincent Bugliosi’s book “The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder.”  Bugliosi, of course, prosecuted Charles Manson and authored best sellers about Manson’s guilt, O.J. Simpson’s guilt, and Lee Harvey Oswald’s guilt.  Whether we all agree with all of those conclusions, it is worth noting that each book was reviewed and considered by the biggest U.S. newspapers and television networks.  When Bugliosi wrote a book about George W. Bush’s guilt, something we’re almost all united on, the corporate media shut it out.  Will the same fate greet this movie?I hope not.  In the book, and in this new movie, Bugliosi makes a devastating, well documented case that President George W. Bush is guilty of the murder of U.S. soldiers as a result of the lies he told to justify the invasion of Iraq, and can be prosecuted by any state attorney general in the country, or by any county prosecutor from a jurisdiction where a U.S. soldier lived prior to being killed in Iraq.

In the movie, we watch Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz remark that if presidents had to live in fear of their actions being scrutinized for criminality that would have a huge impact on their behavior.  Dershowitz means this as somehow a negative thing.  Bugliosi points out that that is exactly the point: we ought to deter criminal behavior in presidents.

Bugliosi’s argument for prosecution is simple. Bush wanted a war with Iraq. He had to show that a preemptive invasion of Iraq was justified. To do this Iraq had to be an imminent threat to the United States. There were two major problems. Bush couldn’t prove any connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. More importantly, Bush’s own 2002 classified intelligence estimate found that Saddam was not an imminent threat to the United States. Bush simply reversed the findings of the National Intelligence Estimate of 2002, and sent men and women off to fight a fraudulent and unnecessary war, knowing full well that some of them would come home in boxes.

The facts are not in dispute.  Bush chose to send US troops into Iraq. He did not do so in self-defense or as a last resort or under an international mandate, but rather went out of his way to concoct false motives for war and to rush its launching. By sending troops into war, Bush was knowingly and needlessly but certainly condemning some of them to death. The Iraqis who killed those soldiers in predictable and legally justifiable defense of their country fall into the legal category of “third-party innocent agent.” This does not mean they are innocent, but rather that their actions do nothing to lessen the guilt of George W. Bush as murderer of those soldiers. Bugliosi calls this the “vicarious liability rule of conspiracy.”
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Dude, That Is So Killer

6:04 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Are you aware, I asked a friend, that the guy you’re registering new voters to vote for keeps a list of people he intends to kill? Oh well, he replied, you know.

Do I, now?

Weaponized drones should be banned, I tell a group of progressives. What? Oh no, drones are better than armies, because with drones nobody gets killed.

Is that so? Just how far do progressives have left to progress exactly?

How can we shake people out of their acceptance of murder, I ask peace activists. Easy. We’ll trumpet the news of the 2,000th U.S. death in Afghanistan.

We will?

Can you imagine the response of Afghans who’ve lost many, many times that number of lives, who’ve seen many, many times THAT number made refugees, who’ve watched their nation be destroyed, their people traumatized, their families ripped apart, their children’s bodies ripped apart? Hell, can you imagine the response of a human being who cared about other human beings even if they were Afghans, to the news that the war is objectionable because 2,000 people had now died?

People?

Who gets to be people?

And what the fuck are those of us who believe this entire cultural direction is as depraved as anything yet seen on earth? Are we people too?

We, some of us, headed over on Flag Day to protest a pro-war rally with messages of peace. And what did most of our group want? Good patriotism. Benevolent nationalism. Reclaiming of the flag for what it’s never been. Privileging nation over family, neighborhood, town, county, region, or continent because we should never allow the warmongers and xenophobes to appropriate the symbols of warmongering and xenophobia. Those are OURS dammit!

Where do I hop out of this handbasket, and has anyone noticed that the frogs we keep slandering felt the heat and hopped out long ago?

Every one of those 2,000 dead Americans is a tragedy and a murder. What of the far greater number of U.S. troops dead from suicide, the far greater number alive but ruined, the 3 million Americans locked up in cages, the 136,000 of those — at a minimum — who are innocent of the crimes for which they’ve been locked up? Why in the world is the United States not bombing itself to improve its human rights record? What of the 24,000 people in the United States dying from the burning of coal every year? What of the far greater numbers dying from unsafe work conditions, from automobiles, from senseless small-scale violence, from a broken but marvelously profitable healthcare system? What of the horrors facing the other 95% of humanity, including those living under our wars and those living under our banks?

Obama’s drones are killing people in nations where the United States had no troops on the ground, contemplated no troops on the ground, declared no war, but may soon have to put troops on the ground to follow through on the logic of and confront the damage and hostility created by the drones. Drones are facilitating seemingly easy and consequence-free murder in numerous nations. They are an escalation, not a de-escalation, of violence. The choice is between law enforcement and murder, not murder that risks U.S. deaths and murder that only kills foreigners and kills fewer of them.

In fact, drones do risk U.S. deaths. They are likely to produce blowback in a major way. They have produced blowback already. The future almost certainly holds foreign strikes of retaliation for U.S. drones conducted under the same legal standard, or absence thereof, established by the U.S. but against the U.S. with foreign drones. If drone murders become the new normal, expect to see them where you don’t want them as well as where you do. Expect our militarized police to use drones at home in ways established abroad as doable without serious objection from us. And expect to see even more U.S. military suicides. Drone “pilots’” PTSD rates are shooting through the roof, because they see their victims.

U.S. wars are one-sided slaughters. They’re murder by drone or mass-murder by army. A tiny fraction of the deaths, under 5 percent, are treated by the U.S. media as the entire death count. Who wouldn’t want to eliminate those deaths with drones, other than someone who gave a rat’s ass about the killing of human beings? Or someone who’d been part of the killing, stopped and thought about it, and had a break down?

At Flag Day, a giant inflatable soldier palled around with cub scouts, while boy scouts, ROTC child-soldiers-in-waiting, fresh recruits, and veterans all the way up to the very old listened to a Brigadier General talk about the glory, honor, and legality of war. Then a Marine hacked a cake in half with a sword, exactly as if slicing through a prisoner’s neck. Cheers. Cheers. Cheers for wars.

But where are the non-murder jobs for those kids? Non-killing jobs cost less than military jobs. Military spending is hollowing out our economy to the point where we spend enough on recruitment efforts per new recruit to have given a crowd of young people jobs just with the money spent convincing one of them to take a gig as an assistant assassin. Call it something else if you want, but look at who your commander in chief is when you take that oath to perform the utterly impossible task of simultaneously obeying the Constitution, the President, and whoever gives you an order.

Senator Carl Levin says that cutting 0.05% of a military budget that has doubled this decade will endanger us all. His funders smirk. His pimp nods. And good progressives look at each other uncertainly. We wouldn’t want to endanger our non-xenophobically defined Homeland, would we? Maybe we should stick to promoting Elizabeth Warren for Senate, along with her lies pushing war with Iran, and her claims that the Pentagon and the spy agencies have it wrong, that Iran really is building nuclear weapons and threatening our sacred patria. And I say that with good patriotism.

Let the bankers pay for part of the next war. That should set things right. The important thing is to register more voters. Shifting to an election campaign focus has worked out so well in Wisconsin and Egypt that anybody would be crazy not to jump on board. And if you end up working your tail off for a sociopath with a kill list, oh well, you know?

In the words of the great John Lennon, imagine all your tiny little country treating the rest of the world as expendable.

Veteran Shakes Up War Debate on CNN

5:19 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Scott Camil, a veteran of the second-longest U.S. war in history, that on Vietnam, radically changed a discussion of the longest war in U.S. history, that on Afghanistan, on CNN on Sunday.

CNN’s Don Lemon tried repeatedly to explain troops posing with body parts as an inscrutable result of war, without questioning the justification of that war.  Repeatedly, Lemon instructed viewers not to judge soldiers.

A guest to whom Lemon devoted a great deal of time, Dr. Terry Lyles, followed Lemon’s leads and was praised by Lemon as the best guest he’d heard from on the topic.  Lyles suggested the problem was one of public relations: “We need to do a better job,” he said, “you know, with them psychologically to help them understand that the world is watching.  Be careful about what you do and what you capture while what you’re doing every day is very difficult.”

Scott Camil took a different tack, saying: “Well no we don’t know what it’s like to be in combat unless you’ve been in combat, but I think the real question is: you’re nit picking when you’re talking about things like people posing with bodies.  The real question should be why are we at war in the first place? Why are we killing so many people in the first place? The concern over posing with someone that’s dead, it seems to me the fact that that person is dead and that we’re killing people is more important than what happens after they’re dead.”

Camil’s comment was so effective that the next panelist to speak shifted to his topic.  Holly Hughes remarked: “Scott hit the nail on the head because now we’ve opened a dialogue.  What are we talking about now?  Shouldn’t we be more upset that we’re out there killing people? . . . Maybe we need to assess why we’re there in the first place.”

Camil continued: “What I understand is what it’s like to be in a war zone and I understand the behavior in a war zone.  And I would say that, first of all, that war is really an institution made up of criminal behavior.  When we as civilians want to solve our problems, we’re not allowed to murder people and burn their houses down.  I don’t see why war is an acceptable means of conflict resolution.  And furthermore, the majority of people that die are innocent civilians.”

Some fundamental truths are rarely spoken on television.

Watch the video
http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/us/2012/04/22/nr-corpses-trophies.cnn

 

Scott Camil was honorably discharged with 13 medals including 2 purple hearts following 20 months voluntarily spent as a Marine in Vietnam in 1966 and 1967.  He testified at the Winter Soldier Investigation in 1971, and was a founding member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War Inc. He is an active member of Veterans For Peace and serves as the President of Chapter 014 in Gainesville, Florida.

Veterans for Peace was founded in 1985 and has approximately 5,000 members in 150 chapters located in every U.S. state and several countries. It is a 501(c)3 non-profit educational organization recognized as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) by the United Nations, and is the only national veterans’ organization calling for the abolishment of war.

Murder Is Legal, Says Eric Holder

2:07 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday explained why it’s legal to murder people — not to execute prisoners convicted of capital crimes, not to shoot someone in self-defense, not to fight on a battlefield in a war that is somehow legalized, but to target and kill an individual sitting on his sofa, with no charges, no arrest, no trial, no approval from a court, no approval from a legislature, no approval from we the people, and in fact no sharing of information with any institutions that are not the president.  Holder’s speech approached his topic in a round about manner:

“Since this country’s earliest days, the American people have risen to this challenge – and all that it demands.  But, as we have seen – and as President John F. Kennedy may have described best – ‘In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger.’”

Holder quotes that and then immediately rejects it, claiming that our generation too should act as if it is in such a moment, even if it isn’t, a moment that Holder’s position suggests may last forever:

“Half a century has passed since those words were spoken, but our nation today confronts grave national security threats that demand our constant attention and steadfast commitment.  It is clear that, once again, we have reached an ‘hour of danger.’

“We are a nation at war.  And, in this war, we face a nimble and determined enemy that cannot be underestimated.”

So, if I were to estimate that Al Qaeda barely exists and is no serious threat to the Homeland formerly known as the United States, I would not be underestimating it?  If I were to point out that no member of that horrifying outfit has been killed in Afghanistan this year, that fact would not contribute to an unacceptable underestimation?  What fun it is to fight the most glorious of wars in the hour of maximum danger against an enemy so pitiful that it literally cannot be underestimated.

If the people of Iraq and Afghanistan hadn’t risen up and defeated the trillion-dollar U.S. military with some homemade bombs and cell phones, and were Iran not threatening to fight back if attacked, this might be all fun and games.  Except that Holder isn’t talking about those wars that still sort of look like wars.  He’s talking about a war paralleling the Soviet Threat, a war that is everywhere all the time, a war that encompasses the murder of anybody anywhere as an “act of war,” even if there’s nothing warlike about the victim or the situation other than the fact that we are mudering him or her. Read the rest of this entry →

Blood in the Streets of Afghanistan

11:14 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — Afghanistan is full of wonderful people and could be a really terrific place to live. But first my government back home in the United States would have to stop murdering civilians over here.

I can’t join in antiwar rallies over here, where I would be happy to speak against the crimes of my own government, because it’s not considered safe for foreigners, especially Americans, to go near such scenes. Why? Well, imagine if this were happening in the United States and a citizen of the nation responsible were to come visiting:

A definite pattern has been established of killing civilians from the air and on the ground.

The United States has made clear its intention to continue and escalate this behavior.

On the first of March two U.S. helicopters hunted down and slaughtered, one-by-one, nine young boys gathering firewood.

Recently released photographs show U.S. soldiers posing with the corpses of people they’ve killed for sport.

Just this Monday troops reportedly killed an innocent shopkeeper.

On Tuesday, a raid killed six.

On Wednesday a convoy ran over three.

Elsewhere, soldiers ran two over and shot a third on Wednesday.

Dear Afghanistan, I would love to stay and apologize, but I must be going. I hope to see you in better times, to drink your tea, ski your mountains, and marvel at your people in a future era of peace, Inshallah.

Is Murder the New Torture?

1:33 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

By David Swanson

I’ve been reading about the history of torture, including John T. Parry’s new book "Understanding Torture: Law, Violence, and Political Identity." Parry gives a history of torture in Europe and the United States through the twentieth century, establishing its pervasiveness, and the repetitiveness of the excuses and legalistic machinations used to allow it. Parry sees torture as an absolutely normal activity in our society, but an activity that at least until now was always treated as an aberration, no matter how systemic. Parry even tries to suggest at times that torture is required, necessary, or "essential" for western democracies.

That torture has been pervasive I am persuaded of. That the bizarre torture memos crafted by John Yoo and Jay Bybee and their gang differ less than we might think from previous legal memos, laws, and treaties I accept to some extent. That the US prison and immigration systems fed into the new torture regime is beyond dispute. But Parry could have picked out many times and places to describe that did not use torture to the same extent. The racist and colonialist attitudes that Parry sees as a major support for torture are not constant. The fact that someone can make a twisted legalistic argument for torture does not make it legal beyond serious dispute. The new public acceptance and mainstreaming of torture in the United States has been a dramatic change, at least in awareness; and a dramatic change in a different direction, even as a reaction to this one, is possible.

As Parry notes, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights bans both torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. If we need to clarify that this ban allows no exceptions based on time or place or citizenship or any other factor, then let us clarify that and put it into our Constitution, our treaties, and our statutes, with a requirement to prosecute every act of conspiracy to engage in any such behavior. The world order will not collapse, at least not in a bad way.

But there is a more serious problem, I think. Namely, murder seems to be advancing in the U.S. toolkit as a replacement for torture. Both tools, murder and torture, produce exactly the same amount of useful intelligence. Both tools scare the hell out of people abroad and at home. Both tools serve to teach a domestic audience that certain types of people are not fully people and cannot be dealt with humanely. Both tools help to advance the further stripping away of civil liberties through fear and terror. The goals of torture that the CIA has advanced for decades of eliminating a person’s entire consciousness and identity, the mission of placing barbarians completely under control of the empire, what accomplishes this better than murder?

Look at all the hassle our government has been through trying to legalize and justify torture, not to mention the kidnappings and imprisonments necessary to engage in torture. We’ve seen CIA agents convicted in Italy and prosecutions of high level Americans opened in Spain. Former officials are facing civil suits in the United States for damages. Who needs the headaches? The Director of National Intelligence legalized the assassination of Americans abroad, and by implication any non-Americans as well, by going to Congress in February and announcing that such crimes would henceforth be legal. Easy peasey. No fuss, no muss. And if you want some future al-Libi to tell you that some future Iraq has scary scary weapons, don’t torture him; announce that he manages the stockpile and then put a bullet in his head.

President Obama has ordered the murder of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki. Like the innocent but tortured Abu Zubayda (innocent at least of any of the crimes he was accused of), Awlaki is now the mastermind terrorist of the universe. And once he’s dead, who’s to say he wasn’t? Who can demand a trail or access to documents? He’ll be dead. See the beauty of it?

If the top mastermind is in Yemen, what the hell are we doing building a quagmire in Afghanistan? Don’t ask. But notice this: we have dramatically increased the use of missile strikes to assassinate in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And we have increased the use of murderous night-time raids to such an extent that we now kill more civilians in that way than we do with drones. They’re the "wrong people," or neighbors who came to help, or family members clinging to loved ones. Sometimes they’re young students with their hands tied behind their backs. Accidents will happen. But no U.S. officials’ future book tours are going to be interrupted by protesters, since there’s no torture involved. Civilization is on the march!

Frank Olson, Enemy Combatant

8:57 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

If you haven’t read "A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments," by H.P. Albarelli Jr., I recommend doing so right away. Read every word, cover to cover. You will initially conclude that I, and Albarelli, are crazy. This is the story of one simple murder that asks who done it and doesn’t answer the question for over 700 pages, because every time a new character enters the story the author introduces him with background that includes how his grandparents were conceived and where his field of work originated. But there is method to the madness, trust me. Bear with it.

By the time you’ve finished, Albarelli will tell you who killed Olson, and you’ll grasp that who killed Olson is not really the point. This is a story of the CIA’s lawless rampages of murder and mayhem, which began when the CIA began and have continued to this day, with a possible minor let-up in the mid-1970s. What did occur for certain in the mid 1970s was an unusual fit of journalism by the U.S. media and of oversight by the U.S. Congress. Both freakish activities were short lived but produced most of what we know to this day about the goings-on in a major branch of our government, the Central Intelligence Agency.

In the absence of oversight or accountability, sadism and stupidity compete for domination. The CIA and the military in the 1950s invested heavily in researching every form of mystical mumbo-jumbo that could be found, and every form of drug. LSD was among the wonder drugs that were going to either prevent military violence or reveal people’s secrets, or both. And if we wanted to test the effects of something like LSD, what better way than to dose people with it, without their knowledge, and observe their behavior? We could use mental patients locked in hospitals, or prisoners, or soldiers. Sure, some would kill themselves or others, but this was science! We could put LSD into the air and the food of an entire French village, stand back, and watch the horror. Or how about testing anthrax on a U.S. factory? Would people suffer as a result of these experiments? Sure! Would people die? Sure, but what did that matter when God and Country were on the line? After all, we were poisoning people to protect their right to be poisoned by us!

There may be a tendency to take seriously claims that medical ethics had not evolved in the 1950s to the point of forbidding experimentation on people without their consent. That’s utter nonsense and ignores the Nuremberg Code of 1947. In fact, morality has DEVOLVED in U.S. political thinking since the 1950s. We would have been shocked in the 1950s in this country to learn that our government was developing biological and chemical weapons, that it was testing them on human beings including Americans, that it was torturing prisoners, and that it was killing people who got in the way or knew too much or presented an inconvenience. Now we consider all such activity an ordinary part of running a good old fashioned totalitarian democracy. In 1953 Frank Olson was a murder victim. In 2010 he would simply have been decreed an enemy combatant. He would have been cuffed, hooded, and locked away.

Nowadays we have so many Frank Olsons we don’t know what to do with them all. New innocent victims are ordered released from Guantanamo at least every week. We can’t be expected to write 800-page books about each of them. Can we? And why should we, when nothing illegal has been done? Habeas corpus is no more. Warrantless spying is routine. Torture is a respectable tool our rulers use if they see fit. And when we use white phosphorus to melt the skin off some children in one of our illegal wars, the loudest cry is to keep the war going. The CIA is now openly understood to run torture programs so gruesome that the idea of drugging people with any sort of drug is so mild by comparison as to seem immediately acceptable.

And the CIA’s new alchemic brew of stupidity and sadism does not involve crop-dusting villages with LSD. The brave new answer to war is drone strikes. Just as stupid. Just as sadistic. Just as illegal. But nowhere near as secret. We’re open about our crimes these days. Frank Olson’s murder is like a nuclear bomb in an 18th century naval battle. It stands out because of its context. If it had occurred last week, we’d have already forgotten it.