Tag Archives: Dick Cheney

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Military Spending is the Biggest Scam in American Politics

Image result for etching spanish american war           Military spending is the biggest waste of federal taxdollars ever. Both political parties are equally complicit.

The militarism scam is the best-kept secret in American politics.

When you think about it — but no one in the halls of Congress ever does — it’s hard to think of a country that has less to fear than the United States. Two vast oceans eliminate our vulnerability to attack, except by countries with sophisticated long-range ballistic missiles (5 out of 206 nations). We share long borders with two nations that we count as close allies and trading partners.

Historically, the U.S. has only faced an invasion once, by the British during the War of 1812. (There have been other minor incursions, by Mexico during the 19th century and the Japanese occupation of two remote islands in the Aleutian chain during World War II. The Pearl Harbor attack was a raid, not an invasion.)

Objectively, we have little to worry about beside terrorism — and that’s a job for domestic police and intelligence agencies, not the military. Yet a whopping 54% of discretionary federal spending goes to the Pentagon. The Bush Administration put the Afghanistan and Iraq wars “off the books” of the Pentagon budget. And that’s not counting interest on debt or benefits paid out for old wars. We’re still paying $5 billion a year for World War II. We’re still paying off beneficiaries for the Civil and Spanish-American Wars!

The U.S. accounts for less than 5% of the world’s population. We account for 37% of military spending worldwide, equal to the next seven countries (China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, France, Japan) combined. (And the U.S. sells a lot of hardware to most of those countries.)

Russia spends roughly a tenth as much on defense as the U.S. And they have a lot more (and twice as much territory) to defend against: NATO/American missiles to their west in Europe, a southern border full of radical Islamists in unstable countries like Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, Afghanistan a stone’s throw away, historical regional superpower rival China next door. Despite its relatively small defense budget, Russia somehow manages to soldier on.

No matter how you look at it, America’s military budget is due for a haircut. If it were up to me, I’d scale quickly down to the Russian level, pro rata for square mileage — lob 95% of this bloated $600 billion a year monstrosity right off the top. But even a less radical budget cutter could do some good. A 10% cut — $60 billion a year — would buy universal pre-school or allow half of America’s four-year college and university students to have free tuition.

Insanely, we’re going the opposite direction.

President Trump wants to increase military spending by $54 billion — roughly 10% — per year.

Republican hypocrisy is brazen and obvious. Most are channeling Dick Cheney’s “deficits don’t matter” to justify huge tax cuts to rich individuals and big business. “I’m not the first to observe that a Republican Congress only cares about the deficit when a Democrat is in the White House,” the economist Alan Krueger says. But even the most strident deficit hawks, though uncomfortable with the tax cuts, have no problem whatsoever with Trump’s proposed hike in military spending.

“Any time we spend more money — even if it’s for something that we need — we need to cut spending in a corresponding aspect to the budget,” says Rand Paul. Slashing other, more needed programs — which is pretty much anything other than the military — is what passes for sanity in the Republican Party.

No one is proposing zero increase, much less a cut.

If anything, the Democrats are even worse. Democrats have promised a fierce Resistance to Trump and his works. But their oft-stated resolve is noticeably absent when it comes to He-Who-Must-Be-Impeached’s lust to jack up a crazy-ass defense budget that doesn’t have much of a justification to exist at all.

“This budget shifts the burden off of the wealthy and special interests and puts it squarely on the backs of the middle class and those struggling to get there … Democrats in Congress will emphatically oppose these cuts and urge our Republican colleagues to reject them as well,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

Notice what’s missing? Like other Democratic leaders, Schumer’s beef is with Trump’s proposed cuts to the arts, EPA and other domestic spending, and the tax cuts. He doesn’t say boo about the defense increase.

As usual, Bernie Sanders was better than other Democrats. But even he didn’t explicitly reject the idea of a military increase on its face.

As we move past Memorial Day — the holiday when we remember the war dead, the vast majority who died not to defend America but to oppress people in other countries who never posed a threat to the United States — we should reconsider the assumption that all military spending is good spending.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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On Brian Williams: How Liars Express Our Values

Originally published at Breaking Modern:

You can tell a lot about a society’s values from its lies.

After World War II, Germany abandoned its old values of obedience, conformity, militarism and most recently, Nazism. When veterans of the SS were asked about their military service in the form of that most famous question “what did you do during the war, daddy?” they lied about it. They either claimed that they hadn’t served at all, or that they had served in the regular army, or if there was no way to deny having been in the SS, said they had been nowhere near any atrocities or death camps.

Postwar Germany’s liars projected positive values: anti-militarism, anti-fascism, pacifism, principled opposition to violence.

Here in the United States, our liars lie about the exact opposite things — and their lies reveal an awful set of societal values.

To his credit, NBC News anchor Brian Williams never enlisted in the US military, and thus never shot at a Libyan or a Panamanian or a Grenadian or an Iraqi or an Afghan, or dropped a bomb on one in an undeclared illegal war of imperialist aggression. He should be proud of that. Any American who does not join the military ought to consider it a point of honor to refuse to participate in an institution that has not been called upon to actually defend American territory since at least 1945.

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Unfortunately, Williams lives in a country whose media and political class constantly yammer on and on about how “the troops” are the best of the best (although few enlistees are turning down Harvard scholarships), the bravest of the brave (but not as brave as the poorly equipped soldiers they are assigned to kill), and how we owe them our lives and for our precious freedoms (even though the wars they fight do nothing to defend our borders but piss off generations of future terrorists).

So rather than brag about his nonmilitary service as a journalist, talking head and all-around studmuffin, Williams made up at least one story that he thought made him sound like more of a macho man, the next best thing to a real-life actual US soldier. After having been embedded with US soldiers in US-occupied Iraq (see the 2003 US Navy picture above), Williams falsely claimed that he survived the crash of his helicopter after it came under fire in 2003.

I don’t really care whether Williams keeps his job reading the news. That’s not real journalism; no one thinks it is. But it would be nice if this episode were to prompt news organizations to reconsider their participation in the military embedding program.

Since 2002 print and broadcast media companies have almost exclusively assigned their reporters to accompany American troops into war against Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Embedding has become so standardized that when a journalist suggests going into a war zone independently – the way it was often done before 9/11 – his or her editors or producers either refuse to let them do so, or strongly discourage them. It’s a sad state of affairs, one that has led to a complete failure to get the story about what is marketed as a war for hearts and minds in the Muslim world from, you know, the actual Muslims who live there. Locals who watch American journalists travel with hated occupation troops naturally conclude that they are merely propagandists – unfortunately, they’re usually right. It just isn’t possible to think independently when you spend all of your time with soldiers you know may be called upon to shoot people who are shooting at you.

Like other journalist types who got too close to the troops – hey Brian, when’s the last time you spent the night in a private home in Afghanistan or Iraq? – Williams has clearly become a victim of a militaristic variety of Stockholm syndrome.

“People who have worked with Williams say he does not regularly embellish personal stories but does project a kind of confident swagger that can be off-putting. One former colleague said he enjoys throwing around military slang, such as using ‘bird’ for helicopter, despite never having served in the armed forces,” reports the Washington Post.

You can’t report war without covering U.S. troops. But you can’t cover war only covering U.S. troops. Which has been the problem since 9/11.

The cult of militarism is clearly in the Kool-Aid at the NBC break room. Williams’ predecessor at the network, former anchor Tom Brokaw, authored and constantly flogged paeans to our sainted armed forces with books like “The Greatest Generation,” about America’s victory in World War II. If a leader of a US “enemy,” like a member of the Taliban, has ever been interviewed by NBC, I’ve missed it.

In a sense, Williams is a victim: he has fallen prey to a rancid set of national values that places aggressive militarism ahead of the humanism that ought to set the standard for behavior.

What Williams ought to be lying about is having had anything to do with the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which will go down in history as one of the biggest mistakes the United States has ever made in foreign policy, which is saying something. 

The soldiers Williams was traveling with were all volunteers, which makes them guilty and complicit with a crime of monumental proportions, which ultimately led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of people. The fact that he felt motivated to increase, rather than downplay, his purported role in propagandizing the Iraq War to the American people is terribly revealing.

Reports about Brian Williams’ phony Iraq war story have referenced Hillary Clinton’s tall tale about taking fire on the tarmac at the airport in Bosnia, and Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s false claims of having served in the US military during the Vietnam War.

They weren’t alone. So many Americans pretended to have received Congressional Medals of Honor, or having served as Navy SEALs or members of the Army Special Forces, that Congress passed and President Bush signed a law, the “Stolen Valor Act of 2005,” to punish the fakers. (The Supreme Court later overturned it as a violation of the First Amendment.)

Most of the world, and many Americans – not least to those who were actually there – view America’s intervention in Vietnam during the 1960s as a mistake at best, an atrocity at worst. Two million Vietnamese lost their lives. Contrary to what pro-war politicians told the public, North Vietnam did not threaten the U.S.; they won, yet over there they stayed.

Yet Sen. Blumenthal obviously believed that his prospects as an American politician would be bolstered by pretending to have participated in that mistake/atrocity. 

He was actually ashamed of not having blood on his hands.

Then there were George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, both of whom avoided service during the Vietnam War, and were repeatedly attacked – from the left! – for having not participated in the killing of people who had never threatened the United States.

I long to live in a country whose values are more like – this is quite a thing to say – Germany after 1945. If you are going to lie to make yourself better, the thing that makes you look better ought to be something that is objectively good. Voluntarily participating in, and using the media to promote illegal wars for fun and profit is something that we should never do. 

But if and when we do succumb to militarism, at least we should lie about it.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: If Obama Won’t Bring Torturers to Justice, Why Give Cash to Torture Victims?

President Obama has made it clear since taking office that no one will be punished for torture. As I have repeatedly written before, that’s reprehensible. But what about compensating torture victims?

According to the recent report issued by the Senate intelligence committee, torture under the Bush Administration was more brutal and widespread than previously understood. According to CIA torturers themselves, many of the victims were as innocent as innocence gets. Mistranslations of Arabic names, for example, led to the torture of people wrongly identified as anti-American militants.

Former State Department official under Bush Lawrence Wilkerson, admitted that Gitmo was never filled with evil America-haters: “It became apparent to me as early as August 2002, and probably earlier to other State Department personnel who were focused on these issues, that many of the prisoners detained at Guantánamo had been taken into custody without regard to whether they were truly enemy combatants, or in fact whether many of them were enemies at all. We relied upon Afghans…and upon Pakistanis, to hand over prisoners whom they had apprehended or who had been turned over to them for bounties, sometimes as much as $5,000 per head. Such practices meant that the likelihood was high that some of the Guantánamo detainees had been turned in to U.S. forces to settle local scores, for tribal reasons, or just as a method of making money.”

Wilkerson says 50%-60% of those held at Abu Ghraib prison in U.S.-occupied Iraq were innocent of wrongdoing.

Dick Cheney says he has no problem with torture of innocents “as long as we achieve our objective” (whatever that is), but in a quiet moment away from a Fox News microphone, even he has to have his doubts about freezing and beating an Afghan taxi driver to death – a man who had no ties whatsoever to terrorist or militant groups.

It’s too late to save the murdered cabbie, but not Mohamed Bashmilah, a 46-year-old Yemeni whom CIA documents certified to have been “wrongfully detained.” After receiving the news that his ordeal had been officially validated by the torture report, he asked his lawyer: “Would there be an apology? Would there be some kind of compensation?” She was “not able to answer,” reported The New York Times. “No apology was forthcoming from the CIA.”

Well, why not?

Reparations would fall far short of justice. But remuneration would be better than nothing.

Torture victims should be compensated for lost wages, medical expenses, counseling, and other direct costs of their detention and physical and psychological abuse at the hands of the United States. In addition, they are entitled to receive substantial punitive damages for the physical and emotional distress that they, as well as their families, endured in American custody. Punitive damages should be sufficient not only to guarantee that they should never have to work again, but to impose a financial burden on the responsible government agencies (CIA, DOD, etc.) harsh enough to prompt future leaders to hesitate before resorting to similar violations of fundamental human rights.

“You break it, you own it,” General Colin Powell supposedly told George W. Bush before invading Iraq. He called it the Pottery Barn Rule.

We broke hundreds, probably thousands of men under torture.

We are morally responsible for them. We can’t erase what we did to them, but we can do our best to make it right, or at least as less wrong, as possible. If you have been tortured by the US government, you have earned a US passport and a free place to stay in the United States for the rest of your life. Job counseling? College degree? Anything you want or need, you receive.

American law allows victims of torture to seek redress in US courts regardless of where the torture took place – even in a foreign country, and even if both the victims and their assailants are foreign nationals. As usual, the US pompously requires others to uphold high legal standards while it wallows in moral sludge.

Thirteen years after becoming a torture nation, the US government still hasn’t issued apologies or compensation to victims by the United States, including those it admits should never have even been detained in the first place.

Because the US Supreme Court has denied the right of detainees to sue the government, no torture victim has had his day in court. To the contrary, the privatized goon squad/defense contractor CACI International has sued torture victims.

The Obama Administration has assured the United Nations that it complies with Article 14 of the Convention Against Torture, an international treaty obligation to which the US is a signatory. Article 14 requires governments to issue financial redress to torture victims. In practice, however, there is no evidence that any victim of torture by the United States after 9/11 has received one red cent.

Other countries do better. In late November, a Chilean court ordered that country’s government to pay $7.5 million to 31 political dissidents subjected to hard labor after the 1973 coup by General Augusto Pinochet. In June 2013 the British government agreed to pay £19.9 million to over 5,000 Kenyans who suffered torture and abuse during the Mau Mau insurgency of the 1950s.

American exceptionalism apparently applies even to local municipalities. It has been well established that Chicago police tortured countless innocent men into confessing to crimes that they didn’t commit, yet the city still refuses to establish a compensation fund for its victims.

Money for torture victims? It’s much much much less than the very least we can do — yet we won’t even do that.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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ANewDomain.net Essay: Why America Is So Over

Originally published at ANewDomain.net:

Republicans spent the weekend in a full-court press defending CIA torturers and the Bush administration that authorized them.

Many of the arguments fell apart upon little reflection.

Former VP Dick Cheney, the architect of post-9/11 torture policy for the White House who personally signed off on individual “enhanced interrogation techniques” used on Muslim prisoners kidnapped and held at Guantánamo and other concentration camps, spat:

“Torture is what the Al Qaeda terrorists did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11,” Mr. Cheney said in his latest interview defending the C.I.A. program. “There is no comparison between that and what we did with respect to enhanced interrogation.”

On that second point, he is right. Murder is what the terrorists did on 9/11. On the first, no: it was definitely torture.

Another nonstarter talking point for the far far right – how else to describe people who support torture, which was abolished by most Western nations by the late 1700s? – was the complaint that the Senate intelligence committee’s report on torture imperils America’s relationship with other nations.

“We do a lot of things with friends,” said former CIA chief Michael Hayden.

He wasn’t talking about fantasy football. He continued:

“A lot of these things are edgy, not illegal, but they have a pretty high political risk quotient attached. When you get into a relationship with a partner and you ask them to do something on your behalf or to cooperate with you, you’re giving them a really powerful commitment of your discretion. Now, this report is going to come out and although it is not going to name the countries that were involved with us in this program, there are those people who think they know what countries were involved that will then use the data in this report you and I have already discussed is not accurate, but they will treat it as accurate, treat it as the historical record and cause great problems for countries who are friends of the U.S.”

I love this argument.

Hayden is literally saying that a future CIA or NSA or NKVD or whatever might want to convince some future counterpart intelligence agency in a foreign country to break the law – do something “edgy” – and that in order to preserve that possible future cooperation in lawbreaking, neither the US government nor the CIA itself should ever second-guess itself, much less prosecute wrongdoers. At the risk of violating Godwin’s law, this is kind of like Germany refusing to apologize for the Holocaust because what if they wanted to do something like that again in the future, perhaps with the help of Japan and Italy?

America is done. Certainly America as a nation of laws is done. But not Michael Hayden. He’s anything but done:

Hayden muses: “What CIA officer in the future, after this and after having been indicted and convicted in absentia, is going to raise his hand in the future and say, ‘This is an odd idea, might be a little edgy, but I’ve been thinking…?’”

Oddly, Hayden seems to believe that this is a bad thing. “The final outcome of this report is going to be an American espionage service that is timid and friendless and that really is a danger to the U.S.”

Given the dismal history of the CIA, from its role in overthrowing the democratically elected governments of Iran and countless Latin American countries, to arming and supporting regimes that torture and murder political dissidents, to spying on opponents of the White House here in the United States, to – most recently – kidnap, torture and murder of innocent people – turning the CIA into a “timid” outfit doesn’t seem so terrible.

But let’s get back to that edgy, leaning-in, go-getter Jack Bauer CIA agent.

Whatever happened to personal responsibility?

The Republican Party, after all, is the party of conservatism. Conservatives say that it’s every man for himself, that we’re all responsible for our own actions, and that if we make a mistake we have to be willing to pay the price for it.

That goes double for the man’s men who work on the dark side in covert ops. In the intelligence community, at least as we see it represented on TV and in the movies, torture is the tool of the rogue CIA agent willing to take the risk of breaking the rules. What are the Geneva Conventions compared to the lives of millions of Americans? There are covert operations the US government stands behind and then there are many others that, if they go bad, leave the agent dead or otherwise twisting in the wind, perhaps locked away in some foreign prison.

Those are some cold egg noodles, but for the patriots who keep us safe, it’s a bargain they’re willing to accept.

But not anymore. Just like the banks that are too big to fail, so-called conservatives are upping the moral hazard ante by declaring CIA operatives to patriotic to be prosecuted.

“They were successful. That’s historical fact,” Hayden says, counterfactually. “Do I support them? With regard to waterboarding, I’ve made it very clear that I thank God I didn’t have to make that decision. I had easier circumstances when I was director [from 2006 to 2009].”

Cheney says John Yoo’s “torture memos” —  legal opinions issued by the White House Office of Legal Counsel under Bush –  inoculate CIA agents who committed torture from legal repercussions. “All of the techniques that were authorized by the president were in effect blessed by the Justice Department opinion that we could go forward with those [EITs] without in fact committing torture,” Cheney claims.

But legal memos, no matter how well argued, are simply the opinion of a random lawyer. They don’t carry the force of law, even when they’re issued by a lawyer who works for the White House. What they attempt to do is to reassure the lawyer’s client that their actions are probably in compliance with the law and, in this case, international treaty obligations such as the Convention Against Torture. Lawyers can be and often are wrong. The only way to settle disputes over what is legal and what is the legal is to bring the case before a court of law.

The torture memos, however, were leaked early during the so-called global war on terror. Reaction from the mainstream legal establishment was swift and severe: they were crap. “They not only took extreme positions; they were legally incompetent, failing to consider many of the most obvious counterarguments,” Bruce Ackerman wrote.

In other words, any CIA operative wondering whether he enjoyed legal cover for torture, had only to open a newspaper or conduct a cursory Google search to learn that the answer was no. The law had not changed. As far as the American judiciary was concerned, interpretation of the law hadn’t changed either.

Every CIA torturer knew that he was breaking the law.

            So here you have it: a collision between conservative politics and reality. Officially, conservatives hold people responsible for their actions, especially when they break the law. But when those people are goons beating and killing those they deem to be enemies of the state, they deserve the utmost leniency.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Professionals Behaving Badly

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The Drone Memo’s Hack Author Should Be In Prison. Instead, He’ll Be a Judge.

Conservatives say, and this is one of their more successful memes, that poor people are immoral. The proles have sex and kids out of wedlock and expect us (i.e., upstanding middle- and upper-class patriots) to pay for them. They steal Medicare and cheat on welfare. They don’t follow The Rules (rules written by, let’s just say, not them). Which makes them Bad.

This was always hogwash, of course. Though it is true that poverty causes people to do bad things, class and morals are uncorrelated. But who’s worse, the poor thief or the wealthy person who refuses to pay him a living wage?

America’s professional class has traditionally enjoyed a privileged position at the top of middlebrow America’s aspirational hierarchy. At the core of our admiration for doctors, lawyers and bankers was the presumption that these learned men and women adhered to strict codes of ethics. Doctors healed, lawyers respected the law and bankers didn’t steal.

When they did, there’d be hell to pay, not least from their brethren.

Evidence abounded that the clay content in the professional class’ metaphorical feet was no lower than anybody else’s. Thanks to recent developments, not least since 2008’s save-the-banks-not-the-people orgy of featherbedding at taxpayer expense, the fiction that we should look up to the technocracy is dying fast.

Not only are some physicians crapping on their Hippocratic oath by carrying out executions of prisoners and participating in the horrific torture of innocent concentration camp inmates, the associations charged with enforcing professional ethics sit on their old-boys-club hands. Big-time judges, depicted in movies as moral giants who love to get medieval on evil dirtbags whether in the mafia or the CIA, act like wimps instead, grumbling under their mint-flossed breath as they sign off on the federally-funded insertion of needles into innocent men’s penises.

Thurgood wept.

I got to thinking about the fall of the professional class after hearing that the White House has finally relented in its incessant stonewalling on the Drone Memo. Finally, we peons will get a peek at a legal opinion that the White House uses to justify using drones to blow up anyone, anywhere, including American citizens on American soil, for any reason the President deems fit.

When the news broke, I tweeted: “This should be interesting.”

I’m a cartoonist, but I can’t imagine any reading of the Constitution — left, right, in Swahili — that allows the president to circumvent due process and habeas corpus. I can’t see how Obama can get around Ronald Reagan’s Executive Order 12333, even after Bush amended it. Political assassinations are clearly proscribed: “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” (Yes, even bin Laden.)

I have no doubt that David Barron, who is a professor at the very fancy Harvard Law School and held the impressive title of Former Acting Chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and who furthermore is President Obama’s nominee to fill a vacancy on the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston, did his very bestest with his mad legal skillz to come up with a “kill ’em all, let Obama sort ’em out” memo he could be proud of.

Still, this topic prompts two questions:

What kind of human being would accept such an assignment? Did anyone check for a belly button?

How badly would such a person have to mangle the English language, logic, Constitutional law and legal precedent, in order to extract the justification for mass murder he was asked to produce?

I haven’t seen the drone memo, but Senator Rand Paul has. Whatever legal hocus-pocus Barron deployed didn’t convince Paul. “There is no legal precedent for killing American citizens not directly involved in combat and any nominee who rubber stamps and grants such power to a president is not worthy of being placed one step away from the Supreme Court,” Paul said in a statement.

I’ll bet my next couple of paychecks that Paul is correct — and that Barron’s sophistry wouldn’t withstand a serious court challenge, not even before a panel of a dozen Antonin Scalias. After all, we’ve been here before.

Shortly after 9/11, Dick Cheney and his cadre of neo-con fanatics ordered the White House Office of Legal Counsel, the same entity behind Barron’s drone memo, to come up with a legal justification to give Bush legal cover for torturing suspected terrorists. When they emerged, the Torture Memos were roundly derided by legal experts as substandard, twisted and perverse readings of the Constitution, treaty obligations and case law. Read them. You’ll see.

In 2010, the Justice Department decided not to file charges against Torture Memo authors John Yoo and Jay Bybee on the grounds that the two men weren’t evil — just dumb. (Can’t they be both?) The Torture Memos, they ruled, were shoddy. That, I’m as sure as I can be about something I haven’t seen yet, will be the case with the drone memo.

As with Yoo and Bybee, both of whom went on to prosper in the legal profession rather than warm the prison cells they both richly deserve, Barron probably won’t lose anything as the result of his work on the drone memo. He’ll be a federal judge.

Yet another heavy stone on the grave of America’s once-vaunted professional class.

(Ted Rall, staff cartoonist and writer for Pando Daily, is author of “Silk Road to Ruin: Why Central Asia is the New Middle East.” Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Torture is an All-American Value

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Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and long-time-until-recently NSA apologist, claims to be shocked by an internal CIA report that documents the agency’s grisly record of torture after 9/11. “The report exposes brutality that stands in stark contrast to our values as a nation,” Feinstein said April 3rd. “It chronicles a stain on our history that must never again be allowed to happen.”

Among the “stunning revelations” that have leaked out of the still-classified 6,600-page CIA torture report are stories that long-time followers of my writing have long been aware of, having read about them in my column during the Bush years. Guantánamo isn’t just a concentration camp; it’s also a CIA “black site”/torture dungeon, as was a joint US-UK “extraordinary rendition” depot on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. The CIA outsourced torture to Third World shitholes/U.S. allies, knowing/expecting/hoping that they would be murdered.

Disgusting stuff. For sure. Yet there’s something even more nauseating — and infinitely more dangerous — than a country that tortures:

A nation in denial about its true values.

Feinstein speaks for most Americans when she characterizes War on Terror-related torture as an aberration. But she’s mistaken. Conventional wisdom is wrong.

Torture is as American as red, white and blue.

Like the citizens of Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II who had a pretty good idea that those eastbound trains were a one-way ticket to hell, Americans have known since the beginning of the War on Terror that their government was going to torture, was torturing and had tortured. It is still torturing today. Yet hardly anyone complains.

Five days after 9/11, on September 16, 2001, Dick Cheney told Tim Russert on “Meet the Press”: “We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.”

At the time, everyone knew what that meant.

The Vice President of the United States, speaking on behalf of the President, had announced to the world that the gloves were off, that the “quaint” Geneva Conventions were history. That the U.S. would torture.

Had Cheney’s endorsement of “brutality” been “in stark contrast to our values as a nation,” as Feinstein puts it, there would have been political blowback. Imagine if the president of, say, Sweden, had said the same thing. The dude would’ve been out of a job.

Au contraire — Cheney’s siren call to the “dark side” drew mainstream political approval, even from self-identified “liberals” in the corporate media.

In October and November of 2001, Newsweek‘s Jonathan Alter, FoxNews’ Shepard Smith (usually the network’s calm voice of reason), and CNN’s Tucker Carlson jumped on the torture bandwagon. All three reporter-pundits called torture a necessary, lesser evil in the fight against Islamist terrorists. Carlson (he’s the one with the bowtie): “Torture is bad. Keep in mind, some things are worse. And under certain circumstances, it may be the lesser of two evils. Because some evils are pretty evil.”

“Mr. Alter said he was surprised that his column did not provoke a significant flood of e-mail messages or letters,” reported The New York Times. “And perhaps even more surprising, he said, was that he had been approached by ‘people who might be described as being on the left whispering, I agree with you.'” (Or, more precisely, by people who were formerly on the left.)

If torture were repugnant to Americans, Cheney — and his pet pundits like Alter — would have met with a firestorm of criticism. They would have been fired. They were not.

By January 2002, the United States had defeated the Taliban and installed Hamid Karzai as the leader of a U.S. puppet regime in Afghanistan. Still, public tolerance/approval of torture continued. A famous legal scholar, Alan Dershowitz, published an op/ed calling for the creation of “torture warrants”: “The warrant would limit the torture to nonlethal means, such as sterile needles, being inserted beneath the nails to cause excruciating pain without endangering life.”

These are the words of a madman.

By objective standards, if the U.S. were a nation where torture stood “in stark contrast to our values,” Dershowitz would have been shouted down and ridiculed. It would be hard to imagine Harvard Law — Harvard Law! — keeping such a raging nut on its payroll. But they did.

Because torture is not at against our values. Not in the least.

Dick Cheney: not forced to resign.

Jonathan Alter, Shepard Smith, Tucker Carlson: all still legit, all still capable of landing big book deals and big speaking fees. They run in circles where real lefties like me — who bitched about CIA torture and kidnapping in countless cartoons and columns — are blackballed.

Which makes perfect sense. Because Americans love torture. A dozen and a half years after 9/11, 68% of Americans still tell pollsters — even though it’s been proven ineffectual — that torture is A-OK.

A polarized nation? When it comes to anally raping young men with flashlights and broomsticks — that happened at Gitmo and the U.S.-run Bagram torture center, and may be continuing — we’re still United, We Stand.

So when newly-minted President Barack Obama told Americans in 2009 that he planned to “look forward, not back“— i.e., not holding anyone accountable for Bush-era torture — and visited Langley to assure nervous torturers that they could chillax, no one cared.

When government-sanctioned torture continued under Obama, no one cared.

Even when Americans rose up in 2011 to protest their government, as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement, torture was less than an afterthought on the activists’ menu of complaints.

American “progressives” don’t care either. There has never been a mass demonstration against torture. (Well, not in the U.S. There have been big marches in Egypt and Bahrain.)

Torture against American values? Hardly. From American troops who mutilated the genitals of Native Americans to waterboarding Filipino independence fighters in the early 20th century to organized rape gangs in Vietnam, torture has been all-American.

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Investigating the Investigators

IRS Targeting is a Scandal, CIA Targeting is Business as Usual

“We’re fighting for you!” That’s what the Democratic Party tells Democratic voters and what the Republican Party tells Republicans. But even their “battles” reveal how similar the two parties really are.

Case study: what gets investigated.

Less than a week after the news broke that the IRS engaged in ideological profiling in 2011 and 2012 — targeting Tea Party-related non-profits for checks into whether they were violating the terms of their tax-exempt status by spending donor money on political ads — top Democrats joined their GOP counterparts to demand a Congressional investigation. That’s lightening quick for government work — and yet not fast for some. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida, ’16 prez prospect) called for Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller to resign immediately. President Obama called the IRS’ actions “outrageous” and “contrary to our traditions.” The IRS has already apologized.

This all goes to show that the federal government can turn on a dime when it wants to do something. It’s a matter of priorities. Millions of Americans whose homes were stolen by banks in illegal foreclosures waited five years for $600 settlement checks that bounced; the Fed gave the executives of those banks $7.77 trillion in a matter of days, no questions asked.

So it goes with what gets investigated.

Thrown under the bus in a matter of days, the IRS is already getting ground to mincemeat. Meanwhile, a spectacular panorama of Bush-era abuses have yet to draw the attention of a single Congressional subcommittee.

The 2000 stolen presidential election fiasco? Still no investigation — even though retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the swing vote in the 5-4 decision in Bush v. Gore, now agrees with constitutional lawyers who say the high court had no jurisdiction in the case and thus shouldn’t have heard it.

There still hasn’t been an independent investigation of 9/11.

No one has ever been questioned, much less held accountable, for the invasion of Afghanistan (ostensibly to catch Osama bin Laden, though he was already in Pakistan), the installation by the U.S. of the unpopular Hamid Karzai as a U.S. puppet, huge cash bribes paid to Karzai by Bush and now Obama,  or the lies — an impeachable offense — about Saddam’s WMDs used to con the public into war against Iraq.

People outraged by Bush’s torture program, secret prisons, extraordinary rendition and indefinite detention of innocent people, including children, at post-9/11 gulags at places like Guantánamo, the “salt pit” at Bagram and the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia — even on prison ships on the high seas — hoped that President Obama would make good on his campaign promises to investigate these horrific crimes against international law, U.S. law and common decency. Instead, he obstructed justice — another impeachable offense — issuing a directive to his Justice Department and other law enforcement agencies to ignore them. “We need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” he told a TV interviewer on January 12, 2009, eight days before taking office.

“At the CIA, you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe,” he said. “I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got spend their all their time looking over their shoulders.”

Yes. God forbid our heroic torturers should face any questions about jamming forced enemas up prisoners’ butts. Sorry: I meant our extraordinarily talented torturers.

And, now a flashback to April 14, 2008 — a mere nine months earlier. Candidate Obama told The Philadelphia Inquirer: “If I found out that there were high officials who knowingly, consciously broke existing laws, engaged in cover-ups of those crimes with knowledge forefront, then I think a basic principle of our Constitution is nobody above the law.”

Except the CIA. And the military. And Donald Rumsfeld and Condi Rice and Dick Cheney and John Yoo and, of course, George W. Bush, who explicitly authorized the torture and other high crimes, and is now an elder statesman with his own library and everything.

To recap:

Both parties think it’s bad bad bad for the IRS to target right-wing pseudo-nonprofits for audits.

Both parties think it’s perfectly fine A-OK doubleplusgood to target the buttholes of random Muslims you kidnapped from Afghanistan or Yemen or wherever.

What the IRS did was, of course, wrong. But I’d rather be audited than butt-raped. Butt-raping, especially butt-raping that occurs before illegal auditing, should be investigating before illegal auditing.

Both parties also agree that if there’s ever been something that doesn’t need investigating by anyone, ever, it’s drones. Yes, a whopping 1.8% of Congress recently held an “unofficial hearing” (toothless PR stunt) and politely requested that Obama provide “further clarification of the legal justifications behind drone strikes.”

But no one —not even Vermont’s token “socialist” Bernie Sanders — has called for an investigation into a drone war that ridiculously remains “classified,” a secret to everyone but the dead, the maimed and their survivors. Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky, ’16 prez prospect)’s filibuster merely demanded whether Obama planned to drone any U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. (Since he has already droned U.S. citizens on foreign soil, we know the answer to that.)

I’m not Suze Orman, but please let me help you save a few bucks. Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, the next time you get a campaign mailer asking you to support them because they’re “fighting hard for you,” chuck that sucker into the recycler. The truth is, the two major parties are on the same page on just about everything.

They’re not fighting for you.

They’re fighting for themselves.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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AL JAZEERA COLUMN: United We Bland

Calls for a return to post-9/11 “unity” in the US, flirt with the elementary constructs of fascism, author says.

In the days and weeks after 9/11 the slogan was everywhere: T-shirts, bumper stickers, billboards that previously read “Your Ad Here” due to the dot-com crash, inevitably next to an image of the American flag.

The phrase carried with it a dark subtext. It wasn’t subtle:

United We Stand —or else.

Or, as George W. Bush, not known for his light rhetorical touch, put it: “You’re either with us or against us.”

“Us” was not meant to be inclusive. Le Figaro’s famous “nous sommes tous américains” headline aside, non-Americans were derided on Fox News (the Bush Administration’s house media organ) as “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.” (Never mind that that phrase, from the TV show “The Simpsons,” was conceived as derisive satire of the Right, which frequently derided the French as intellectual and thus weak and effete.)

Many Americans were disinvited from the “us” party of the early 2000s. Democrats, liberals, progressives, anyone who questioned Bush or his policies risked being smeared by Fox, right-wing talk radio hosts and their allies. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, for example, called me “the most anti-American cartoonist in America.”

For a day or two after the attacks on New York and Washington, it was possible even for the most jaundiced leftist to take comfort in patriotism. We were shocked. More than that, we were puzzled. No group had claimed responsibility. (None ever did.) Who was the enemy? Sure, there was conjecture. But no facts. What did “they” want?

“We watched, stupefied—it was immediately a television event in real time—and we were bewildered; no one had the slightest idea of why it had happened or what was to come,” writes Paul Theroux in the UK Telegraph. “It was a day scorched by death—flames, screams, sirens, confusion, fear and extravagant rumors (‘The Golden Gate Bridge has been hit, Seattle is bracing’).”

Politically, the nation reminded deeply divided by the disputed 2000 election. According to polls most voters believed that Bush was illegitimate, that he had stolen the presidential election in a judicial coup carried out by the Supreme Court. Even at the peak of Bush’s popularity in November 2001—89 percent of the public approved of his performance—47 percent of respondents to the Gallup survey said that Bush had not won fair and square. During those initial hours, however, most ordinary citizens saw 9/11 as a great horrible problem to be investigated, analyzed and then solved. Flags popped up everywhere. Even liberal Democrats gussied up their rides to make their cars look like a general’s staff car.

Dick Cheney and his cadre of high-level fanatics at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue were salivating over newly-drawn-up war plans. “There just aren’t enough targets in Afghanistan,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell. “We need to bomb something else to prove that we’re, you know, big and strong and not going to be pushed around.”

Read the full article at Al Jazeera English.

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