President Trump scuttled his peace summit after receiving criticism that inviting the Taliban to Camp David would be a “reward” for misbehavior. So how will we negotiate with adversaries in the future?
The first draft of this column came not to bury but to praise Donald Trump. I planned to applaud the president’s peace initiative with the Taliban, his strategy of ignoring the corrupt and discredited puppet regime Bush installed in Kabul and his desire to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan. This was a move I have been almost alone in promoting since the U.S. idiotically invaded the country in 2001 and I congratulate Trump for having the courage to unwind Bush and Obama’s mistakes. The Afghan people should be allowed to shape their future free of imperialist interference.
But then, hours before representatives of the Taliban which controls about half of Afghanistan were set to board a plane to Washington where they were scheduled to meet with Trump at Camp David, the president canceled their visit and scuttled years of progress toward ending America’s longest war, which has killed more than 2,300 U.S. servicemen and at least 30,000 Afghans. “He claimed that it was because the Taliban had been behind a recent attack that killed an American soldier,” reported Politico.
There is, of course, no requirement that combatants observe a ceasefire during peace negotiations. Richard Nixon’s “Christmas bombing” campaign in 1972, which killed 1,600 Vietnamese civilians, was a U.S. attempt to soften up North Vietnam at the upcoming Paris peace talks. The United States has killed numerous Taliban soldiers throughout 2019.
“This [decision to scuttle peace talks] will lead to more losses to the U.S.,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman. “Its credibility will be affected, its anti-peace stance will be exposed to the world, losses to lives and assets will increase.” He is right.
Few Americans pay attention to Afghanistan. Fewer still are aware of America’s history of proving itself an untrustworthy diplomatic partner in that war-torn country—a tradition that Trump’s fickleness continues. “The Taliban have never trusted American promises; [Trump’s] volte-face will only deepen that mistrust,” observes The Economist.
In the late 1990s Afghanistan was the world’s leading producer of opium. The U.S. and its European allies were seeking to mitigate a heroin epidemic and the Clinton Administration was negotiating terms for a pipeline to carry oil and natural gas from Central Asia via Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean. So, even though the U.S. had imposed sanctions on the Taliban who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and denied them diplomatic recognition, Clinton paid the Taliban $114 million in 2000 to encourage them to ban the farming of opium poppies. Bush followed up with $43 million in 2001.
For the most part the Taliban held up their side of the bargain. Their ban on poppy cultivation reduced production of exported heroin by about 65%. Considering Afghanistan’s primitive infrastructure, poor communications and fractious political culture during an ongoing civil war, that was as much as the U.S. could have hoped for.
But tensions grew between the Taliban and the U.S. over the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline project. The U.S. tried to lowball the Taliban with below-market transit fees, the Taliban refused and American negotiators became angry. “Accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs,” a U.S. negotiator snapped at her Taliban counterparts at a meeting in Islamabad. It was August 2001, three months after Secretary of State Colin Powell paid the Taliban $43 million and weeks before 9/11.
It’s impossible to know for certain why the U.S. chose to invade Afghanistan, which had nothing to do with the attacks. The hijackers were recruited from and funded by Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden lived in Pakistan, where the terrorists were trained. Central Asia watchers speculated that the U.S. was more interested in controlling the then-only pipeline carrying the world’s largest untapped energy reserves than catching bin Laden.
We do know what the Taliban took away from the experience. They cut a deal, did their part and got bombed, invaded and occupied in return.
Both sides say they are open to resuming talks. If and when they do, the Taliban—who, after all, didn’t invade anyone and are defending their territory from foreign aggression—hold the moral high ground over the United States.
Heckuva job, Donnie.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
Originally published by Breaking Modern:
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has turned its destructive attention against archaeological treasures – and it’s partly our fault.
This week the United Nations called ISIS’ destruction of the 2,000-year-old Parthian city of Hatra a war crime. This follows reports that ISIS blew up the ancient Assyrian capital city of Dur Sharrukin and Nimrud, “known as Calah or Kalhu in the Bible … capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, which flourished under King Ashurnasirpal II in the First Millennium BC.”
The group released a video of its members taking sledgehammers and electric drills to antiquities on display at the museum at Mosul, currently under ISIS rule. Looting of archaeological sites is rampant.
The cradle of Western civilization is losing buildings and artifacts that have survived countless invading armies. The loss is staggering, incomprehensible and irreplaceable.
There are several motivations behind what the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) calls “cultural cleansing.”
One is economic.
“ISIS is said to be encouraging civilians to plunder historic sites, and charging a 20% tax on anything they sell. Intelligence officials say looting is the terror group’s second largest source of income after oil,” according to New York Magazine.
If we are to take ISIS at its word, there is also a religious motivation. According to at least one video released by the group, the destruction is an attempt to carry out Islamic law. “A man in the video says the Prophet Mohammed ordered to get rid of statues and relics, and that the objects are idols for Assyrians and Akkadians,” reports RT.
But there is a deeper underlying reason that radical Islamists have declared war on historically significant relics under their control – one that most Western journalists are too deeply embedded within their own culture and political paradigm to discern.
Cornell archaeologist Sturt Manning speaks for many when he tells CNN that the problem is ignorance.
Manning suggests that maybe the ISIS guys simply don’t understand why history and archaeology matter:
The destruction eloquently speaks of the human folly and senseless violence that drives ISIS. The terror group is destroying the evidence of the great history of Iraq; it has to, as this history attests to a rich alternative to its barbaric nihilism.”
Never believe people who tell you that other people’s behavior has no rational explanation, that they are “senseless” or nihilistic. People do things for a reason. Just because you don’t know what it is doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. In the case of ISIS, many of its members are Western-educated and highly intelligent. They know what they are doing.
Manning’s conclusion that “Providing educational opportunities and empowering communities to learn more about their cultures and histories, and those of others, is one of the best ways to eradicate destructive hatred and violence,” is facile and lazy and in no way explains what’s going on in Iraq and Syria.
In addition to the religious and financial motivations, these acts – like the 2001 bombing by the Taliban of the giant Buddhas at Bamiyan – are cries for attention by people who have been completely marginalized from the international system.
We were smarter before 9/11.
Writing in USA Today in March 2001, W.L. Rathje noted that Sunni Islam’s strictures against idolatry turned against statues that had survived centuries of Muslim occupation in large part as a way of getting the attention of the West:
Probably most important, the Taliban government for more than a year has been requesting international humanitarian aid for a country ravaged by drought, earthquakes, and war. No aid is forthcoming as long as the Taliban harbor international terrorists such as Osama bin Laden, an anathema to key voting members of the UN Security Council, including the United States, Russia (where the Taliban are working with the Chechnyan [sic] rebels), and China (where the Taliban are active among Muslim separatists).
As the Taliban see it, the UN and others (such as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the British Museum, Taiwan’s National Palace Museum, and even such Taliban friends as Iran, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) will give millions of dollars to save un-Islamic stone statues but not one cent to save the lives of Afghani [sic] men, women, and children.
It is not America and the West’s air war against the Islamic State that is prompting its attacks against archaeological treasures. It is the way that it is being carried out: using remote control drone aircraft whose downing cannot hurt a single pilot, laser-guided missiles fired by high-altitude fighter jets far out of reach of antiaircraft guns — not really a war at all but a one-sided onslaught in which the US-led coalition brutalizes an adversary that has 0.00% chance of fighting back.
Like the Taliban in 2001 at the time of the Buddha bombings, ISIS has nothing to lose.
As Machiavelli wrote hundreds of years ago in a book that ought to have been read by the signers of the Treaty of Versailles, nothing is more dangerous than an enemy backed into a corner. It is always wise, he counseled, to allow a graceful exit – and to be willing to negotiate. Especially when you are going to win.
Arrogance and technology are merging to create a post-democratic America accountable to no one, not even its own citizens, and thus impossible to talk to.
As Chamayou writes in A Theory of the Drone:
A sovereign, given that he never places himself in danger in the war, ‘can thus decide on war, without any significant reason, as a kind of amusement’ or hunting party … in a republican regime the situation is different” since “the consent of the citizens is required to decide whether or not war is to be declared.”
Chamayou argues that the “dronization” of American warfare – riskless attacks using unmanned aerial vehicles in distant lands – undermines this fundamental precept of representative government, that a United States that fights wars without the consent or even discussion of its citizens is no longer a democracy.
If you think that’s terrifying, and I do, imagine how it looks on the ground in Iraq and Syria. Like them or not – and I don’t – the leaders of the Islamic State know that they cannot and will not ever have a seat at the table with a mega-superpower that demands unconditional surrender and refuses to negotiate with terrorists.
That was the situation in 2001. The Taliban controlled 95 percent of the territory of Afghanistan, and had been in effective control of the vast majority of the nation since 1996, yet the United States and therefore the world refused to acknowledge them as a legitimate government.
They weren’t stakeholders in the international community.
They were outlaws, outliers, rōnin. Like North Korea today, they were an isolated regime whose only way of getting headlines and attention from Western leaders was by lashing out.
It may well be that economic and trade sanctions and a unilateral air war designed to completely isolate ISIS is the correct path to drive them out of power – though it didn’t work against the Taliban in Afghanistan. But, until that happens, don’t be at all surprised if these policies contribute to the decision of radical Islamists to take bulldozers to the world’s most precious archaeological artifacts.
NBC News anchorman Brian Williams got in trouble for fibbing about a supposed close call while embedded with US soldiers occupying Iraq in 2003. Why didn’t he get in trouble for being embedded in the first place? Or for the bigger lies inherent in the way he and other news networks package US government and military propaganda?
From The Washington Post: “The cost of turning against the Islamic State was made brutally apparent in the streets of a dusty backwater town in eastern Syria in early August. Over a three-day period, vengeful fighters shelled, beheaded, crucified and shot hundreds of members of the Shaitat tribe after they dared to rise up against the extremists.”
From USA Today: “Contrary to the popular opinion that radical Islam is the primary threat to homeland security, Christianity provides the other four groups with their extremist rationale.”
“Extremism” is the new “terrorism” – a word that so automatically conjures revulsion that its user is under no pressure to justify its use with logic or reason. The U.S. government and those charged with disseminating its propaganda – wait, we’re supposed to call them “talking points” now – in the media like to define themselves as the 50-yard line of politics. Like an ideological Goldilocks, neither too left nor too right but just perfect for this time and place and species, these self-described “centrists” and “moderates” vilify their enemies, opponents, and rivals with the E-word.
Upon examination, however, it becomes clear that few words are less meaningless in political discourse than “extremism.” (At least “terrorism” means something. Terrorism is the use of violence against civilians in order to promote or achieve political ends.)
An extremist is only an extremist in comparison to what is mainstream/centrist/moderate. Whatever system of political, religious or economic belief happens to dominate at a particular moment in time smears its opponents as extreme and therefore beyond normal and acceptable discourse. But that can change. Today’s extremism becomes tomorrow’s moderation under a different system.
(This is even true when the system doesn’t change. In the U.S., 1964 Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater was defeated because he was considered a right-wing extremist. Today, 50 years later, he would be too far to the left to be a viable candidate in the Democratic party.)
In the quote from the Washington Post above, the deeds allegedly committed by the Islamic State are violent, brutal and arguably barbaric. But even within the bounds of ideological discourse of mainstream U.S. corporate media, there is nothing “extreme” about what ISIS did. American fighter jets routinely kill civilians in the Middle East with the same impunity – ironically, sometimes while attacking ISIS – the only difference is the weapons and tactics used to achieve the same result: death.
We should demand that journalists use more specific, useful words than “extremist” to describe ideological opponents of the current system, which can credibly be called extremist in a number of important respects.
It’s pretty extreme, for example, to tell sick, poor and unemployed people that they are on their own, responsible for their own trials and tribulations, and should expect no help from their government. Indeed, very few other societies in the West believe such things. Executing the mentally ill makes the U.S. basically unique in the world. And if the “exceptionalist” American legal doctrine that U.S. law applies in every other country, allowing Americans to violate foreign territory and capture suspects of interest to the U.S. isn’t extreme, I don’t know what is.
The media conflates extremism with purism. Islamic State fighters want to restore the medieval Muslim caliphate and governance by Sharia law; those goals indicate fundamentalism or purism, not necessarily extremism.
One measure of an adjective in politics is, does anyone use it to describe themselves? No one calls themselves a terrorist; no group calls itself extreme. When you see those words in print or spoken by a broadcaster, therefore, you know you are looking at a smear, an insult, lazy shorthand masquerading as argument.
Frankly, anyone who has trouble finding legitimate reasons to oppose ISIS – beyond their supposed “extremism” – doesn’t deserve our attention. For starters: ISIS members believe in God; God doesn’t exist. They massacre innocent civilians to carry out ethnic cleansing; a pluralistic world is more interesting than a homogeneous one. Like the Taliban in Afghanistan, they are ignorant, stupid hicks; who else would behead journalists who were willing to let them tell their story? Stupid hicks shouldn’t be in charge of anything.
Most dangerously, if we accept the framing of the current state of affairs as normal and that of groups and people who want to change it as extreme, few people will ever consider alternatives to the way that we do things now. Many Americans still view communism or socialism as beyond the pale, not because of what those ideologies espouse – many of them don’t know – but because they have absorbed decades of government and media propaganda describing them as fringe, weird, extreme. The result is a remarkably incurious, passive citizenry that accepts the status quo merely because it’s the status quo.
Which is pretty extreme.
(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
I know a secret.
I know the identity of the man who was CIA Chief of Station in Kabul until one month ago.
The name of the top spook in Afghanistan was disseminated via email to 6,000+ reporters as part of an attendance list of senior U.S. officials participating in a meeting with President Obama during his surprise visit with U.S. troops. The government spotted the error and asked journalists not to post it.
They agreed. Still, it’s all over the Internet.
What I found via Google during a few hours of searching made me 98% sure it was him; sources in Kabul covered the two percent of doubt.
Until last week I was working this story for Pando Daily, where I was a staff writer and cartoonist. We intended to publish the name — not to endanger him (which in any case would not have been possible since Langley had yanked him off his post), but to take a stand for adversarial media.
Journalists ought to publish news wherever they find it, whatever it is, damn the consequences. Credible media organizations don’t protect government secrets. They don’t obey spy agencies. Real journalists don’t cooperate with government — any government, any time, for any reason. My editor and I believed that, by demonstrating a little fearlessness, we might inspire other media outfits to grow a pair and stop sucking up to the government.
There is no longer a “we.” Pando fired me over the weekend, along with the investigative journalist David Sirota.
Stripped of the institutional protection of a media organization willing to supply legal representation and advice, I cannot move forward with our/my original plan to reveal the name.
Nevertheless, I think it valuable to draw attention to an absurdity: thousands of journalists representing hundreds of press and broadcast media outlets, all of whom agreed to keep a secret that wasn’t much of a secret in the first place, which ceased being secret the second they received it, which remains easily accessible to anyone with an Internet connection — in order to curry favor with a government that routinely lies to reporters like them.
On May 25th President Obama paid a visit to the U.S. airbase at Bagram, north of Kabul, which includes an expanded torture facility for Muslim detainees. Sixteen “senior” U.S. officials were invited to Bagram to give Obama a briefing on the military situation. Among them was the Kabul Chief of Station (COS) — the CIA’s top man in occupied Afghanistan.
An Obama Administration PR flack mistakenly included the COS’ name on a list of meeting attendees that was emailed to more than 6,000 journalists around the globe.
From The Washington Post:
The list was circulated by e-mail to reporters who traveled to Afghanistan with Obama, and disseminated further when it was included in a “pool report,” or summary of the event meant to be shared with other news organizations, including foreign media, not taking part in the trip.
In this case, the pool report was filed by Washington Post White House bureau chief Scott Wilson. Wilson said he had copied the list from the e-mail provided by White House press officials. He sent his pool report to the press officials, who then distributed it to a list of more than 6,000 recipients.
What happened next is notable both for farcicality worthy of the movie “Brazil,” and what it reveals about the slavishly submissive posture of reporters and their editors and producers to the U.S. government in general and the CIA in particular.
Though CIA Chiefs of Station are secret agents, in practice they often maintain such a high profile — working out of the local U.S. embassy, being seen at ex-pat hangouts and coming and going from major events (c.f., meeting with the president) that their identities are widely known in their host countries. They may be “secret” — but their names aren’t. The predecessor of the Kabul COS outted in May, for example, had previously been identified on Facebook.
The Taliban and other adversaries have superb access to intelligence throughout Afghanistan, including widespread infiltration among the police and Afghan military. They are sophisticated Internet users. They can target a COS any time they feel like it. But they probably won’t. Like other guerilla armies, tracking such figures reveals years of useful information that is far more valuable than the one-off propaganda value of assassinating him.
The CIA recognized that its Station Chief’s cover had been blown and pulled him out of Kabul. According to Senator Rob Portman, he is safe.
Now things get ridiculous: the White House asked 6,000+ reporters — reporters! — to forget what they’d learned. And all 6,000+ did.
“The name and title of the station chief were removed in a later pool report that urged reporters to ‘please use this list’ of attendees at the president’s briefing instead of the previous one,” reports The New York Times.
Such is the state of America’s fierce free press: All 6,000+ reporters and their media employers adhered to the White House request to redact the outted COS’ name from their reporting.
It’s not that the former Kabul Station Chief’s name isn’t out there. It’s on a bunch of websites, particularly blogs that specialize in coverage of spy agencies.
Meanwhile, corporate media has spent the last month playing online Whack-a-Mole, censoring the outted COS’ name whenever it pops up. Whenever his name appears in an aggregated piece copied from an original version of the White House email by a bot, or in a comment thread, it stays up a few days before vanishing down the memory hole.
Why do they do it? Because the Obama Administration asked nicely. And in order to avoid offending the CIA.
Even though the name is not secret. In this case, kowtowing to the government has no practical effect. The guy is no longer in Kabul. Anyway, America’s enemies knew/know all about him.
They know, as I do, about the ex-COS’ previous postings. They know, as I do, about the cars he drives, the sports he enjoys, his address history in the States and overseas, the names of his family.
Everyone leaves a digital trail — even spies. No one has privacy — not even spies.
Anyone can find this stuff.
We should be holding the Fourth Estate accountable for their failure to hold government accountable. The Kabul Chief of Station fiasco exposes the subservience that shows why corporate media can’t be trusted to challenge the powers that be.
Why isn’t one journalist out of 6,000 — unlike me, protected by lawyered-up media organizations — willing to publish a government secret that the government gave away?
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
President Obama is taking heat for agreeing to exchange Sgt. Bergdahl, an Afghanistan War POW held by the Taliban, for five high-ranking Talibs held as “detainees” at Guantanamo. Conservatives say he negotiated with terrorists (though the Taliban were the government of Afghanistan before being removed by a US invasion). More ridiculously, they worry that these five individuals might return to attack the U.S. – as if five people would make a difference in a war involving many thousands of fighters. I thought seeing this from the Afghan point of view would expose these lines of thinking for what they are.
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.
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.
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To the State of Ohio, Dennis McGuire was a human guinea pig — the first inmate executed using an experimental mix of poisons cobbled together because the manufacturers of pharmaceuticals used in older, proven cocktails refuse to continue supplying them for anti-medical purposes. For 25 agonizing minutes, McGuire thrashed against his restraints, choked and gasped for air before finally succumbing to death. “He started making all these horrible, horrible noises, and at that point, that’s when I covered my eyes and my ears,” said his daughter Amber McGuire, who witnessed the state killing at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, near Lucasville.
Unsurprisingly, the family of the woman McGuire raped and murdered was unmoved by McGuire’s suffering. “As I recall the events preceding her death, forcing her from the car, attempting to rape her vaginally, sodomizing her, choking her, stabbing her, I know she suffered terror and pain. He is being treated far more humanely than he treated her,” said a statement issued by Joy Stewart’s survivors.
Ohio doesn’t have an awesome track record with killing killers. In 2009, the state unsuccessfully tried to kill Romell Broom — who did his best to help his would-be executioners. “For more than two hours,” reported the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “the team attempted to insert two shunts into a vein of the compliant Broom, who tried several times to assist his executioners by shifting positions, rubbing his arm and pointing out possible usable veins…At one point, Broom, 53, lay back on his bed, covered his face with his hands, and cried. Another time, while sitting up, he was seen grimacing as the execution team appeared to seek a vein around his ankles.”
In 2007 prison staff tried to find a usable vein in the arms of an obese inmate, Christopher Newton, for nearly two hours. “The execution team stuck him at least 10 times with needles to get in place the shunts where the needles are injected” before finally managing to kill him, according to the AP.
Given the finality of capital punishment, proof that one innocent person has ever been executed is enough for me to find the practice abhorrent. The fact, is numerous innocents have died in American death chambers.
Most of the world agrees. Only 21 out of the world’s 195 nations carried out any executions last year.
But I keep coming back to the angry statement issued by Joy Stewart’s survivors. They have every right to their rage. If some monster took away someone I loved like that, I would want to kill him too.
But I would want to do it myself.
Assuming that the guilt of death row prisoners like Dennis McGuire could be ascertained with absolute certainty — which is impossible in 100% of capital cases — I would be fine if Stewart’s grieving relatives shot him or garroted or beat him to death. Whatever makes them feel better.
Revenge is fine. Routine murder is not.
I can’t get past the gruesome bureaucratic spectacle of government workers executing people like McGuire (or trying to execute people like Broom) bloodlessly, motivated solely by a paycheck. As a society, we shouldn’t demand that state workers expose themselves to psychic trauma. As a system of justice, the death penalty is dishonest because it masks its true purpose: vengeance.
The purpose certainly isn’t deterrence. Year after year, states with capital punishment have significantly higher murder rates than those without it.
Some countries — nations most people would not look up to — nevertheless manage an interesting compromise: the authorities carry out the death penalty, but only if the aggrieved parties agree to it. In some executions carried out under Sharia law in areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan under Taliban control, the crimes are read out to a crowd of witnesses. Judges ask the victim’s family whether they want the execution carried out or, instead, prefer to offer mercy. (Mercy can vary between outright release to a harsh punishment short of death, for example, an amputation. In a surprising number of cases, families choose forced labor on their farms.)
Here in the United States, on the other hand, executions are often carried out against the wishes of the victims’ families. What’s the point of that?
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COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM