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Defending the Indefensible

Dick Cheney has been busy. He spoke last Thursday at the American Enterprise Institute just a few moments after Barack Obama had made his wide-ranging policy talk at the National Archives.

Cheney criticized Obama on his National security policy, his desire to close Guantanamo and his reluctance to use the Bush administration’s “enhanced interrogation progam.”

And to call this a program of torture is to libel the dedicated professionals who have saved American lives and to cast terrorists and murderers as innocent victims. What’s more, to completely rule out enhanced interrogation in the future is unwise in the extreme. It is recklessness cloaked in righteousness and would make the American people less safe.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney

This is simply breath-taking. How can he seriously defend torture? How can he defend the indefensible? It defies reason.

First to label the Bush administrations techniques, such as waterboarding “enhanced interrogation” implies that they work better than regular interrogation. There is no evidence that they do. In fact they produce lots of bogus information because the person being, yes I’ll say it, tortured, will say anything to make the pain stop. This is very well documented and should not even be up for debate.

Second, many of the inmates at Guantanamo, like most of the people who were thrown into detention in Iraq at places like Abu Ghraib, those who have been labeled as terrorists, have never even been charged with a crime, much less tried and convicted for anything and have limited or no access to legal counsel. So to say that these people are “terrorists and murderers” denies them the whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing. Have you heard of it Mr. Cheney? And to throw that out you also throw out due process, habeas corpus and most of the basis of western law. Yes Mr. Cheney, they are “innocent victims” until you can actually prove that they did something.

Third, how any of this enhanced torture makes Americans more safe is completely beyond me. It most likely does the opposite. A new study by Jim Walsh and Jim Piazza from the University of North Carolina indicates “that governments that abuse rights actually experience more terrorism.”

Cheney’s position perhaps also assumes that torture is the only morally dubious thing that the United States has done recently. Wish it were so.

Then there is Obama. Yes. It is a good thing that he is trying to close down Gitmo. Unfortunately the so-called Democratic congress might not let him meet his year-end deadline. And yes, he has banned enhanced torture. These are good things. But what else did we learn from his speech?

Well we learned that he also supports indefinite detention of some prisoners without trial. Huh?

In our constitutional system, prolonged detention should not be the decision of any one man. If and when we determine that the United States must hold individuals to keep them from carrying out an act of war, we will do so within a system that involves judicial and congressional oversight. And so going forward, my Administration will work with Congress to develop an appropriate legal regime so that our efforts are consistent with our values and our Constitution.
President Barack Obama.

So, let’s get this straight. There are people there that can’t be tried because of bad evidence (perhaps obtained through torture) or even no evidence but despite the lack of evidence you’re just going to keep ‘em locked up. Forever. Just in case.

And since there is no framework for indefinite incarceration you are going to invent one. And since more people are going to be involved this time around that makes it right?

How can you invent an appropriate legal regime for something that is, by the standard of your own laws, illegal? How can you expect to maintain your laws by finding legal ways to break them?

Simply breath-taking.

But what troubles me most about the double whammy of speeches from what is supposed to be the left and the right is what was not included.

We are confronting some of the most complicated questions that a democracy can face. But I have no interest in spending our time re-litigating the policies of the last eight years. I want to solve these problems, and I want to solve them together as Americans.
President Obama.

I find it amazing that both speakers have such large blind spots. Blind spots big enough to cover the rest of the world. “The policies of the last eight years” includes not only Americans, but also wars in two other countries with Obama opening up a war in a third. “The policies of the last eight years” include wars that were by international law illegal, wars that have killed hundreds of thousands of people. How can that only be about Americans?

It is the arrogance so plainly on display that is perhaps most indefensible of all.


More at The Real News

Obama commentary round-up.

A few weeks have passed since the historic US election on November 4th and the dust is still settling. Derek Walcott wrote a poem, Alice Walker wrote a letter and everybody in between is wondering what this election actually means.

I thought I would share with you some of the best commentary on the election and the impending Presidency that I had read around the net.

This article / interview from CNN is quite interesting. Dr. Alvin Poussaint, a one-time script analyst on the Cosby show, looks at the impact of Obama as a symbol for young black children:

We’re going to have a generation of children — if he’s in there for eight years — being born in 2009, looking at television and images, hearing before they can talk, absorbing it in their brain and being wired to see the visual images of a black man being president of the United States and understanding very early that that’s the highest position in the United States.
– Dr. Alvin Poussaint

This comes in video form from my new BFF’s at the Real News Network. It’s a commentary by Pepe Escobar entitled “The shock of new: the popular president-elect meets the all-time unpopular president at the White House.”

When Barack stepped inside the Oval Office for the first time, he had to be thinking, “How on earth am I going to undo this legacy?”—crimes against the Constitution, crimes against human rights, crimes against US and international law, war crimes, shock and awe, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, extraordinary rendition, torture, Arabs as terrorists, the separation of powers thrown down the toilet, a US police and surveillance state, a monster financial crisis caused by excessive deregulation.

Quite so.

Again from the Real News Network a video interview of 2008 Presidential candidate Ralph Nader speaking on an Obama presidency. They filmed this as the results of November 4th were coming in. A tad ironic, but as always Nader is spot on with his analysis:

NADER: That’s the first tip that you get: you see who he surrounds himself with.

The interview is in three parts, so collect them all!

Using the Nader quote as a segue, I’ll move onto this piece from Democracy Now. Please watch this lively debate between Jeremy Scahill, Democracy Now correspondent and David Corn from Mother Jones Magazine. They called the melee “Agents of Change or Hawks, Clintonites and Neocons? A Discussion about Barack Obama’s Advisers and Transition Team

Exhibit A: Yes there is Change.

So, while, you know, we can argue and scream—and I’m not a fan of the possible Hillary Clinton appointment to the State Department—you know, the transition team does include people who are genuine policy advocates, who, if they get a chance to have any authority, could indeed be agents of change. – David Corn

Exhibit B: Um. Look again.

I think, you know, you have Obama, the orator, and you have Obama’s rhetoric. And then you have what I think is more important, which is who is he surrounding himself with and what are his actual foreign policies.
– Jeremy Scahill

Very interesting stuff.

We will know soon enough what an Obama Presidency will bring, but in the meantime, I agree with Scahill and Nader that the best way to see the future is to examine closely the pasts of the people Obama puts in key positions of authority.

Scahill has more detail in his article here. And David Corn’s view from the other side of the fence is here.

No changes

And although it seems heaven sent
We ain’t ready, to see a black President
Tupac Shakur

They might be ready now.

In a few hours, assuming there isn’t a repeat of the drama of 2000, it should be clear whether or not the United States will elect a black man as President for the first time in its history. Judging from the polls and from all that I have heard it seems likely that Barack Obama will indeed win.

But I’m not here to talk to Americans about their own business. I’m not an American citizen so I can’t even cast a vote. However, as the United States is presently the most powerful and the most wealthy nation on the face of the earth, their election result will have an effect on the rest of the world. This is what I want to discuss.

Michael Parenti, in his book Democracy for the Few, describes the US election process as “the greatest show on Earth.” This time, however, they really have outdone themselves. This show has gone on for years. From the early speculation about who would run for the Democratic nomination to the long battle between Obama and Hillary Clinton, and the last minute wild-card insertion of Sarah Palin, there has been no shortage of drama. However the lesson Parenti wants you to draw from all the political pyrotechnics is that it’s all a diversion.

Did you ever wonder how a country as massive as the United States can only have two parties? That in a country with 305 million people there are only two choices? Well unbeknownst to the majority of Americans, they do have more choices. Have you heard about the Green Party presidential candidate, a black woman named Cynthia McKinney? What about Libertarian presidential nominee Bob Barr, and Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader? Yes. I’m not making this up, they are all running for President of the United States today along with Obama and McCain. Why haven’t you heard about these people? Simply put, they have been made invisible by design.

Continue reading →

Race and Gender in US Presidential Politics

Democracy Now! | Race and Gender in Presidential Politics: A Debate Between Gloria Steinem and Melissa Harris-Lacewell

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: And so, to pretend that we can somehow take [race and gender] out of the conversation when a white woman runs against a black man, when she tears up at being sort of beat up by him, when her husband can come in and rally around her and suggest that we need to sort of support her because she’s having difficulties, while Barack Obama is getting death threats, basically lynching threats on him and his family…

I’ve been meaning to put this up for a while. It’s still an excellent debate with some good points to ponder… Is there still a race now anyway?

Debate on Barack Obama.

Democracy Now! | Barack Obama and the African American Community: A Debate with Michael Eric Dyson and Glen Ford:

The above link will take you to an excellent debate on DemocracyNOW concerning the impact of Barack Obama and the implications of an Obama presidency on black people.

I especially like this quote from Glen Ford:

We’re in this era of firsts, and the ultimate first, a first—possibly a first black president. But we already had two firsts. Colin Powell was one of them, and Condoleezza Rice, his successor as secretary of state [was another]. How did that redound to the benefit of black people for the United States to have a black – put a black face on imperialism, on aggressive war, on violations of international law? How does that make black people look better in the world? Is that the kind of burden that black people want to carry around?

Again, a problem is that Obama, through no fault of his own, has to carry a burden for ‘black people’. And this is whether he wants to or not. Just ask Tiger Woods for his opinion on this. I believe that Obama does deploy his blackness strategically, and so the criticisms are warranted. But as Ford points out, a black-face (I mean this in both senses of the term) on imperialism is not something to hope for.

On the Victory of Barack Obama in Iowa

Visual diversity means little.

The white man has convinced us, and some of their own no doubt, that they are a homogenous group. Believe me, if black people did not exist in the world, white people would get on with the far more important work of killing other white people. However, since we do exist and enter their space, we suffice as target practice.

You could have a perfectly mixed and ‘diversified’ sample, and have no actual diversity. Or put another way, a room full of white people can be incredibly diverse. In that room you may have some Jewish people, some from Russia, an Irish descendant from New York, English nobility and members of the Canadian working class and they would in all likelihood, disagree on everything. The myth of racial solidarity is exactly that: A Myth. It was created out of necessity in and around the Caribbean sugar plantations, and has persisted until today. I say this in the hope that Black people will stop talking about “white people” as if they were some monolithic political party, but also in the hope that I can remember to stop talking about “black people”.

If there were no white people in the world, Blackness would not matter, and we would then get to the more important work of remembering why we hate each other. Similarity of color means nothing. Two black people may have nothing to talk about and nothing else in common. The sooner this truth hits us, the sooner we can move on to more profitable stereotyping.

The smokescreen of visual diversity and the political cushion it provides should not be underestimated. People generally assume that color of skin comes along with an ideology. To be Black is to be liberal, and if one lives in the US, a democrat. Black people have rhythm, are athletic and listen to rap music. Right. We also assume that because a certain government administration has x amount of Blacks in high positions, x amount of Latinos, z amount of “non-white” people, it is diverse. You can hire as much of these people as you want and engineer complete visual diversity with every shade of skin under the sun and it could, I emphasize could, mean nothing. All of these visually diverse people who look nothing alike may be intellectual clones.

What does “multi-cultural” even mean? Again, a room full of white people can be multi-cultural. But multi-culturalism is the hot word of the day. The buzz word. Another useless plaything of a word that goes down smooth but has no nutritional value. It’s a politically-correct junk-food tortilla-chip of a word. Multi-culturalism, as far as I can see, only means visual diversity, which is only a useful gauge of telling how many black people are in a room, and as I am arguing, this doesn’t mean much.

I am not saying that we should throw away the quotas and the affirmative action policies; most bureaucrats in their more lucid moments will say that these programs encourage diversity, and perhaps they do. Since we live in a visual society and crave visual stimulation, I guess we will have to settle for visual diversity. Just don’t be surprised when everyone says the same things.

I offer you these observations only because they have occurred to me, not because I offer an alternative or even a point. Do you expect me to come up with everything? I am only a writer. I have no credentials other than what you have just read. If I had a PhD would it matter? Or would it take you that much longer to realize that I am full of shit?

If I have a point, it is this: there are forces that exist out there, forces that are shaping our minds, our opinions, our outlook, and the majority – regardless of color – are plugging in and zoning out. To be awake and alert takes effort, RADICAL effort. We need to forget what people say, forget what color they are and watch and remember what they do. The important thing is the degree of correlation between words and deeds. This process takes a lot longer. It takes a lot more work. Your mileage may vary. But maybe, just maybe, you will go a day longer without being duped.

Another one is born every day and I’d hate for it to be you.

What’s on the Table

“No option can be taken off the table” – Sen Hillary R. Clinton.
“We need to keep all options on the table.” – John Edwards
“we should take no option … off the table.” – Sen. Barack Obama
“I will never take any option off the table.” – US Pres. George W. Bush

Been hearing a lot recently about the US and Iran. Lots and lots of noise. The rhetoric is starting to build to a fever pitch. The war drums are beating so loud that my bones are rattling, shaking even. From the ‘liberal’ Democratic candidates all the way to the Cheneys and the Bushes who still control the power, one point has been made remarkably clear and with a chilling consistency: In these negotiations with Iran, and we are led to believe that someone somewhere is, in fact, negotiating, no option is to be taken off of the table.

What are these people talking about? I would like to think that they mean regular ole military action. But any one who has the short-term memory of an advanced Alzheimer’s patient has to know that military action is always in the cards when it comes to dealing with the US. What I find disturbing is that in the buildup to Iraq II I don’t recall hearing this refrain and certainly not with this frequency. The regular code words for military action are ‘serious consequences’. And the US has been threatening Iran with serious consequences for a while. This sounds a lot different.

No option should be taken off of the table.

What other options are there? What is on this metaphorical table? One option sitting by the salt and pepper shaker collecting dust is diplomacy. But no one in this busy age really has the time for that, and besides, this is Iran. They can’t listen to reason anyway. Why waste breath when you can shoot bullets right?

Air strikes are probably also sitting there on this table like a rabid and twitching black cat. Of course we call them ‘surgical strikes’ in this day and age.

The C.I.A. is always available for that other option, you know the one that they pulled before in Iran, where they deposed their democratically elected leader and installed a puppet dictator. Ok, alright, so that was a while ago. And that agency is probably too busy planning birthday parties in Venezuela anyway. The general rule of thumb is that you don’t turn a situation into a world crisis and then run a covert operation. Even for the US, that doesn’t make sense.

I would like to think that a ground force invasion is the final option on the table, but the troops, like the butter, are spread pretty thin. So what do they mean? What could they mean?

Could they possibly mean a nuclear strike?

Could this be the unspeakable ‘option’ that everyone says has to stay on the table? I would like to think that the world saw the nuclear bomb used in warfare for the first and last time in 1945. Surely they can’t be talking about that. Are they really that crazy?

For the love of God man, take that ‘option’ off the table!

Please.