Cyrano’s • Weekend • Dispatch NL1. Vol. 1
Government torture is finally out of the closet.
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Yep. The corporate media finally got it right about US government torture. At least in connection with the Bush-Cheney regime. That’s a welcome development. But citizens’ media like Cyrano’s Journal have been talking about that for decades. Was anybody listening?
BY PATRICE GREANVILLE
DESPITE THE SUDDEN HEALTHY “discovery” by the corporate media of US government torture, at this moment still safely ascribed only to the Bush-Cheney gang, the battle of communications is far from over. Coverups and cooptation maneuvers (like a South African style “Truth & Reconciliation Commission”) are likely to follow, as the actual responsibility for these injustices and illegalities reaches far and wide, all the way up to the top echelons of the US political class. This miasma involves not only the abject Bush-Cheney mafia of plutocrats, professional lackeys and warmongering neocons, but the Democrats’ leadership, as well, who remain embarrassingly complicit in the crimes of George W. Bush and prior administrations. Not to mention the system’s propaganda arm, its two-faced corporate media. Still, a door has opened. So the question now is: what are citizens interested in justice and real democracy to do? First, let’s keep a few things straight.
TORTURE UNDER BUSH WAS NOT THE WORK OF A FEW BAD APPLES
The irrefutable fact is that Bush-Cheney’s crimes were not an aberration but a logical outgrowth of the global corporate system, their policies the inevitable policies likely to emanate from a government populated by the corporate superrich and their underlings, and run at all levels mostly on their behalf in complete accordance with their antidemocratic values. As such, BUSH WAS NO GREAT EXCEPTION TO THE RULE, NO ABERRATION TO THE NORMAL CONDUCT OF US FOREIGN AND MILITARY POLICY, or, for that matter, domestic policy, just a more blatant practitioner of the plutocratic black arts, normally kept well out of view of the manipulated masses. In consequence, although it’s undeniable that Barack Obama is a definite improvement on Bush-Cheney (not a very difficult thing when we acknowledge how low the bar had fallen, and how many OBVIOUS policy corrections needed to be made), matters are likely to settle only a few degrees north of Bush because, at the end of the day, unless pushed to do the right thing, Obama and the Democratic leadership, as integral to the system, will find a way to derail any real investigation, let alone prosecutions, and avoid cleaning up the systemic issues that have crippled most of the progressive potential of American democracy.
CENTRISM CAN’T CURE SH*T
Centrism, especially in America, can’t tackle the roots of the current crisis because bourgeois reformism—”the center”—deals with peripheral, mostly cosmetic adjustments to the corporate system, and the global crisis we face today was spawned by capitalism’s non-negotiable inner dynamics, the implacable laws that make it what it is. By this I mean the system’s sacred property and class relations, the “corporate way of life”, its built-in inequality, its unrelenting drive to concentrate money and power at the top, and the entire sociopolitical edifice—media, education, churches, Congress, and the Pentagon-industrial complex—that sustains them.
So we have an impasse. Obama and his crew are centrists, wobbly at best, but the nation’s troubles will not resolve without a radical solution. Meanwhile, the torture scandal continues to ooze its pestilential, politically toxic goo, threatening to implicate everyone.
STANCHING THE TRUTH HEMORRHAGE
If the system’s managers decide they can’t afford to let the whole scandal with its myth-shattering denunciations get out of hand, and from Obama on down there are plenty of characters in the play leaning in that direction, be prepared to watch the media shift its current revelatory tone back to their normal task of propping up and legitimating the status quo. But how to proceed? The new stream of torture photographs to be soon released by the Pentagon promises to add fuel to the fire.
The stage is set for “responsible voices” to be heard, if “business as usual” is to be restored, and if the viability of the global plutocratic project at home and abroad is to be preserved. Specifically, as the torture Frankenstein keeps making trouble, arguments will be advanced “to stop the political Witchhunt”, the “Democrats’ vendetta”, “the possibility of ripping the country apart through partisan warfare” (Pat Buchanan). Others, still more devious, will paint the drive to investigate and prosecute these horrendous abuses as “an intolerable distraction” from Obama’s more “important” agenda to fix the economy, the health care system, and so on, as if torture, a practice expressly forbidden by US and international law were a matter of political expediency and not a simple matter of law. In fact, although few Americans know it, or care to remember it, Art. 6 of the US Constitution makes it mandatory to automatically convert all treaty stipulations into Federal law, to give international treaties the fullest possible enforcement. As Jonathan Turley, professor of Constitutional law at Georgetown University, has often reminded us, the text is not ambiguous about it:
“This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”
The inconvenient treaty in this case is the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). This is an international human rights instrument, under the review of the United Nations, that aims to prevent torture around the world. The Convention, adopted by the UN in 1987, requires states to take effective measures to prevent torture within their borders, and forbids states to return people to their home country if there is reason to believe they will be tortured.
It’s obvious that CAT’s straightforward requirements, which the United States freely accepted in 1988 and ratified in 1994, would not be met if individuals at the very top of the US government structure signed off on torture as a policy, and then escaped any type of political or judicial penalty.
Accordingly, enormous quantities of hot air will be spent avoiding implementation of the law. John McCain—presenting himself as authoritative in the torture field—has already weighed in brandishing the argument that prosecutions would do irreparable damage to the nation, while Majority Leader Harry Reid, always dependable to do the timid and corrupt thing, has pronounced it “unwise” to press any further. Fact is, both sides are guilty as hell. One, the GOP, as the active sociopathic partner; the other, the Democrats, as the willing and devious enabler. There are no clean hands, only degrees of guilt. Under this framework of universal blame tarnishing the entire political class, to pursue the matter to its legal and logical conclusions is to risk indicting capitalist governance itself. The chances of that happening are slim.
So the challenge here for progressives is to consolidate whatever gains materialize during this momentary period of transparency, much of it accidental, and to continue the mass education of our fellow citizens toward the construction of a real democracy based on trustworthy media, reliable elections, proportional representation, and workplace democracy.
In this scheme, the citizens’ media on the Internet play a critical role. The best citizens’ media, including this website, reported all along that Bush-Cheney was using torture, directly or via third-party contractors; that the WMD pretext was a lie made to order to justify a highhanded invasion, and that Bush and his cronies were robbing the nation blind, destroying the few remaining financial safeguards we had, and betraying consumers and the environment with abandon and almost total impunity. Citizen journalists ran tons of information and commentary pieces, delving deeply into just about every dark corner of US foreign and domestic policy. Operating on a ridiculous budget, or no budget at all, they went far deeper than anything found on the mainstream press, and their information and insights were well grounded and fully validated at every turn by history.
WHILE THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA SLEPT
The difference between citizens’ media and mainstream media hardly needs elaboration here. The gulf is wide. Progressive readers easily recognize left media because reports and analyses are usually presented in DEPTH and are almost totally free of careerism. Careerism, coupled with the ownership of the media by corporate interests, muzzle or distort practically all major stories. More importantly, the left makes no pretense of objectivity, considering it a hypocritical premise and a dangerous conceit on the part of “professional journalists.” And the left is not afraid to use class analysis and other systemic analysis tools to dig deeper and well beyond conventional boundaries.
One of the lowest points reached by the American media in a history often punctuated by mendacity and sordid collaboration with the powers that be took place during the ramping up to the Iraq War in 2003, when the press, embracing the flag waved by Bush, had no compunction acting as an abject “stenographer to power”. This is by now amply documented, to their eternal embarrassment. The basic story was low-hanging fruit for any investigative reporter and editor courageous enough to bring such matters to light. Bush and his Neocon/Zionist gang –representing a dominant sector of the American ruling class–had long decided to take over Iraq and 9/11 provided the ideal pretext to sell the requisite invasion. Planning for this war goes back decades, if not longer, as American elites plotted to grab one of the Middle East’s most valuable pieces of real estate, a key not only to oil, but to important strategic crossroads. Saddam’s downfall did not originate with his crimes, which never bothered our elites before, but with his “uppity” stance in connection with imperial commands. (The WMDs were shown to be a lie, and much of the torture of supposedly Jihadist prisoners was designed to extract a “connection” between Osama and Saddam).
THIS WAS OBVIOUS FROM A SIMPLE ANALYSIS of the strategic needs of the US ruling cliques, a clear-eyed understanding of US elite interests, their modus operandi, and the mechanics of the hidden government. Yet no one, except for a handful of publications on the left, looked into these issues. The real story was and still remains an orphan. The Iraq War was and remains a war of choice, a so-called “pre-emptive war” (Hitler set the example for this), without real moral justification; an obscenely hypocritical imperial robbery at gunpoint.
All of this was clear to three groups of people in the world:
(1) The International left which reads and interprets politics in terms of class analysis and history (study the animal —in this case the corporate class—and you’ll know what it will or will not do);
(2) the actual criminals, the insiders, the “perps” at the highest levels of US policy, and their associates in Europe, Asia, etc.
(3) A scattering of influential mainstream media people who preferred to put career and ownership ahead of journalistic duty.
THE ROLE OF LEFT CITIZENS’ MEDIA IS MORE CRITICAL THAN EVER.
The Internet has not levelled the playing field, but it has given, at least, a powerful tool to average citizens to reach a potentially vast public with their thinking and information. Prior to the Internet the corporate media had an absolute monopoly. Today that monopoly has been shattered, but their power, although on the wane, is still formidable, and quite capable of framing the terms of the national debate. Their combined reach dwarfs that of the alternative media. But there’s more. The equation is not now one between “left/liberal” voices with a monopoly on the web and those on the corporate traditional media: television, print, radio, etc. There is really nothing approaching an equilibrium. Why? The web is a heavily contested turf. First, a sizable chunk of the web is taken with sites representing the establishment media—the tv networks, the leading newspapers, the biggest radio programs, celebrities, etc., have their own sites, enjoying, as a rule, enormous circulation, since the offline portion sends traffic to the online part. Then comes the wackos and the rightwingers, on any given day no less than 1/3 of the whole web. That leaves the “progressive” sector with no more than 1/3 of the web to face the entire mainstream media in their conventional modes and online manifestations, plus the countless rightwingers, libertarians, etc., who go way beyond the habitual parameters of mainstream discourse.
WHAT IF NONE OF THIS HAD HAPPENED?
What if Iraq had not happened? What if the financial meltdown and the Wall Street thievery that made it inevitable had been nipped in the bud? Best of all, what if neither Bush nor the attacks on 9/11 had taken place? Daydreaming you say? It’s highly dubious that people armed with truthful information and understanding of various viewpoints and policy implications had permitted any of the above to happen. America would have selected far more reliable and qualified politicians, guaranteed to do the public bidding. Corporate lobbyists would have been eliminated. Big money role in elections terminated. A new decent—perhaps even even moral—foreign policy would have replaced the disgraceful anti-democracy foreign policy pursued for more than 100 years to advance imperial business interests. And the media would have been gradually democratized, serving as the watchod of power it was meant to be instead of a guardian of the status quo.
THE TRUTH EQUATION
The truth is powerful and resilient, and it’s corrosive of any unjust status quo, but we need more numbers to make it count. Lincoln’s legendary dictum that, “you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’ fool all of the people all of the time” packs a lot of sense, but it does not describe the conditions defining modern political manipulation. In our day (and probably in Lincoln’s day, too) all that’s needed to control the nation is to have a substantive edge in terms of opinion control. You don’t need a 100% agreement. No one knows what the actual figures are, but probably controlling the worldview of 3 out of 4 people is more than enough. And in a regime that claims to be democratic, this level of bamboozelement is advantageous as a backdoor legitimating mechanism. Those who disagree with the elite’s positions, including radicals, are trotted out as proof that freedom of speech does exist in the nation, that no one is punished for his or her heretical views. As a cynic pointed out, “IN AMERICA, YOU CAN SAY ANYTHING YOU WANT AS LONG AS IT DOESN’T HAVE ANY EFFECT”.
Still, the forces of the right, the cryptonazis, the Zionists, and the ever-plotting plutocracy require a high level of media firepower to keep the masses in check. The propaganda of a strictly formal democracy is an elaborate game and this is not the place to go into it at length, but suffice it to say that with even 15% of the American public “in the know” not a single scheme of the right would gain traction. Ever. Why? Simply because the truth’s best ally is the corroboration of history. Ideas supported by the right normally spawn failure or disaster. The more extreme, the worse. Supply-side economics, hyper-nationalism and jingoism, warmongering, inequality, authoritarianism, deregulation, racism (overt or hidden), selfishness (hyper-individualism a la Ayn Rand)—all end up creating toxic social conditions if not downright war and chaos. On the other hand, historical truth is objectively on the left side, on the side of social progress and authentic democracy. The evidence for this is copious throughout history. The facts, per se, however, do not change people’s minds that easily. Temperament and social background filter everything, twist even what might appear as an undeniable truth into its opposite. So the correction of political falsehoods is a long and tedious process. A steady stream of correct information, supported at every turn by irrefutable evidence and logic, is required to turn the tables, to gain a lasting majority in terms of perceiving reality. This is not an easy task in the highly polluted mass communications universe we inhabit.
If you care about the future of democracy in the US and around the world, get involved. Acquire the facts. Educate others. And do not forget to support progressive media. United we’ll make a difference.
Patrice Greanville is Cyrano’s Journal Online’s editor in chief.