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AMERICA'S OLIGARCHS ACT LIKE TALIBAN:
Process Philosophy: Immorality and Imbecility in the Torture Memo Mess
Monday, 20 April 2009
Obama's illegal absolution of Bush's torturers -- and his continuation of the gulag are not suppositions. They are facts. We are not done with torture in America; not by a long shot. The current non-prosecution scandal -- as heinous as it is -- only deals with a very small CIA program for "high profile" detainees. Literally tens of thousands of other people have passed through the guts of the American gulag, and their hatred of us grows for it.Let's do something we rarely do around these parts. Let's do a "process story," looking at an issue from the standpoint of how it plays out in the political game. As a rule, we prefer to focus much less on political kibitzing in the imperial courts, and more on the actual products of imperial policy: i.e., corpses, chaos and corruption. But just for a moment, let's "processize" Barack Obama's bold, progressive, morality-restoring decision not to prosecute anyone at all for the filthy, KGB-derived torture system installed by the very highest officials of the Bush Administration, even as he releases memos showing clearly that practices which are high crimes under U.S. law were explicitly authorized by the White House.
(And make no mistake; Obama has not only decided to let the actual, ground-level waterboarders, wall-slammers and child torturers get off scot-free; he is also going to let the gilded creators and framers of the system live on untroubled in peace, prosperity and privilege. Obama's chief gatekeeper and hatchet man, Rahm Emanuel, made this clear over the weekend, telling Beltway waterboy George Stephanopoulos: "But those who devised the [torture] policies – [Obama] believes that they were — should not be prosecuted either.")
Leaving aside the moral perversion of this action, consider what a boneheaded move it is politically. By releasing the memos, Obama has guaranteed the enmity of many powerful factions in the security organs -- the secretive, lawless, military-covert complex that holds such vast and deadly sway over imperial affairs. Yet by promising not to prosecute any of them for their glaring misdeeds, he has merely angered and embarrassed them to no good purpose. He has allowed them to roam free around the political landscape, denouncing and deriding him at every turn in the corporate media that is only too happy to treat torturers and mass-murdering war criminals as respectable, "serious" figures in affairs of state.
They won't thank him for absolving them of their capital crimes -- any more than they will thank him and laud him for his "continuity" of their imperial aggression in the never-ending Terror War. As we have often noted here, all of the major factions in America's imperial system share the same basic values and goals: the domination of national and world affairs by a wise elite -- who are of course entitled to a lion's share of power and privilege in return for bearing the terrible burden of leadership for the ignorant herd. (For a quintessential expression of the elite's underlying philosophy, see Dostoevsky's chapter on "The Grand Inquisitor" in The Brothers Karamazov.) However, the broad agreement on general themes means that much smaller differences over details will be fought all that much more fiercely, as factions jockey for position. Hairsplitting factional differences within a general movement often produce savage energies far out of proportion to the difference itself (much like the splitting of the atom): a dynamic that Lenin, for example, utilized to such great and vicious effect throughout his career. But you can see it anywhere and everywhere -- in the office, in a family, in a church. In the case of American politics, the imperial factions viciously exploit their minute differences in order to retain -- or regain -- the top rungs of power. The fact that they all share a general belief in the system doesn't matter in the primitive, gang-style mentality that rules our politics.
And so in this regard, Obama has made an egregiously stupid mistake. He has given his imperial rivals a big stick to beat him with, while failing to strike any kind of genuine, substantial blow at them. If he had instigated investigations and prosecutions across the board, bringing the full power of the state to bear, they would have spent the next few years reeling and squealing and scrambling to save their skins. Instead, he has shown that he is unwilling -- or too weak -- to do them any real harm in the factional warfare at court. And of course he continues to advance their own policies of militarism, authoritarianism and oligarchy at home and abroad, so he is obviously no threat to them at all on that score. (He would never have reached the White House if he was.) They will merely bide their time, disgorge their bile, and use their freedom and tranquility to undermine or stifle any minor mitigations of the system's excesses that the current imperial management might attempt from time to time.
Thus even in the amoral context of political gamesmanship, Obama's policy of transparency without accountability is a maladroit botch. Much like torture itself, it is hugely self-damaging -- and doesn't even work.
Of course, the political imbroglio ignores the fact that Obama is absolutely obligated under the law to investigate and prosecute credible allegations of torture by government officials. Despite the deep, wise analysis of Rahm Emanuel, prosecuting torture is not a "decision" that Obama can make or not as he sees fit. It is a legal requirement under the UN Convention Against Torture, which the United States signed, thereby making it part of binding U.S. law. Not only does Obama's failure to prosecute constitute an illegal act in itself, the very excuses he offers for his action -- that CIA operatives tortured in "good faith" because the White House told them it was OK -- are specifically rejected under the torture law, as ThinkProgress reports:
None of this comes as any surprise, of course. It was clear during the presidential campaign that candidate Obama was not going to prosecute anyone for torture. As we noted exactly one year ago, drawing on an interview that the then-candidate gave to the Philadelphia Daily News:
Now all of that has come to pass. The Iraq War, far from being a war crime worthy of investigation -- or even a dumb policy -- is now "an extraordinary achievement," Obama says. As for obeying the law of the land and prosecuting officials for ordering and carrying out heinous tortures, we are told to forget it and just move on. Trust me, says Obama -- even as he outstrips George Bush in making aggressive claims for authoritarian power; even as he seeks to strip helpless, nameless, renditioned captives in Afghanistan of any shred, any crumb of legal redress; even as he (and his liberal champions) promote the use of a Pentagon interrogation manual that still allows a range of practices that any decent person would consider torture; and even as he promotes some of the key CIA officials overseeing the torture program to even greater heights of power.
I don't pretend to know all the ins and outs of the political considerations behind Obama's decision to release the torture memos but protect the perpetrators. And this of course is one of the major drawbacks of any "process" piece: a lack of information on the process itself -- coupled with the unfathomability of that ever-shifting mixed bag of conscious and unconscious impulses that we call "motivation" or "intention."
But actions and end results speak far more loudly than words or intentions. Obama's illegal absolution of Bush's torturers -- and his continuation of the gulag, the Terror War and the tortures of the Pentagon manual -- are not suppositions. They are facts -- deadly, disgraceful, degrading facts. And we have seen, time and again, just what such facts produce: more suffering, more extremism, more upheaval, more corruption.
We are not done with torture in America; not by a long shot. And note that the current non-prosecution scandal -- as heinous as it is -- only deals with the tip of the iceberg: a very small CIA program for "high profile" detainees. Literally tens of thousands of other people have passed through the guts of the American gulag -- and are passing through there still, in Bagram, Baghdad, Diego Garcia, and other points known and known (including the torture chambers of client states and proxies). Nor does the controversy encompass the tortures that go on every day in America's overflowing state and federal penitentiaries, corporate prisons and country jails. As we noted in that piece last April:
Chris Floyd has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years, working in the United States, Great Britain and Russia for various newspapers, magazines, the U.S. government and Oxford University. Floyd co-founded the blog Empire Burlesque, and is also chief editor of Atlantic Free Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column is republished here with the permission of the author.
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This story was published on April 21, 2009.
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