In the middle of a quagmire, it’s easy to create whatever facts you want. For the last 8 years we’ve been in a panicked haze over 9/11. Even so-called liberals are dazed and confused, fed little bits of disinformation to toss morals overboard. False choices abound – "Indefinite Detention? Or health care?" It’s like we’re channeling Tom Tomorrow.
Fortunately we have a few bloggers and news organizations that are rising to the task of cutting through the muck and mire, but it’s not easy – they’re sidelined, they’re not mainstream, they’re "not serious ™". Dan Froomkin, fired from the Washington Post because he asks tough questions of both parties. Glenn Greenwald, keeping up on torture week after week. Marcie Wheeler (EmptyWheel), following court cases and legal briefs in detail to piece together the story behind the story. And oddly enough, there’s still a news syndicate, McClatchy, that’s maintaining some credibility on tough journalism.
PS – some contend that we’re holding on to Uyghurs "for their own good", rather than succumbing to Republican off-the-wall freaked-out-on-terror talking points at home (we *can’t* let them on US territory, where they would defile our soil and threaten our children and the American Way by their very superhuman evil presence) and bowing to Chinese pressure abroad (oops, guess those US government bonds do have hefty strings attached). But there have been several US communities that have made strong pitches to bring the Uyghurs to their communities and protect them and integrate them. And as I’ve noted, these folks would easily blend in with large diverse university campuses. In short, the "concern" is nonsense. We run safe houses for battered women, witness protection programs, we reintegrate prisoners into society every day. We spend billions to fly detainees around the world to torture them through "extraordinary rendition", but we can’t manage to settle a few innocent detainees on American soil without a hoopla? We are screwed up. And for those search engines out there, alt spelling, Uighur, Uighur, Uighur.
How badly are we lied to? Well, here’s Nancy Youssef at McClatchy pointing out that one of those horried Gitmo terrorists was actually trying to help us counteract the Taliban, and far from being picked up on a battlefield, he was picked up during questioning at the gate leaving a US military base after briefing commanders on positive actions they could take. Now, after 6 years of wrongful detainment and mistreatment, he’s back in Afghanistan doing what he always does, advising the government. Armed and dangerous? The worst of the worst? Would you be afraid of this man moving in next door? We’ve been hustled. Tom Lasseter describes the hugely flawed process by which we frequently picked up the wrong guys.
But it gets worse – Wakil is now presented as having "returned to terrorism". After never having done anything wrong, trying to help us defuse tensions, 6 years of wrongful detention, returning to help the government (our ally) in Afghanistan, these motherfuckers have the gall to present him as a poster child of irredentist terrorist behavior, the supposed reason why we have to keep all those other innocent and unconvicted/untried inmates stuck in Guantanamo. And it works. The debate is not over "why don’t we release harmless innocent people?" It’s over, "oh my, wherever can we find in this vast world to safely place these Lex Luthors and Hannibal Lectors?". (Presumed answer: chained inside caves of ice at the North Pole) They have us pissing ourselves in fear, tromping on our own Constitution because they’ve found an effective boogieman. Liberals and Conservatives, we’re all buying into this "they hate us for our freedom" nonsense after 8 years of media programming.
How ridiculous is this? As far as we know, aside from two World Trade Center + Pentagon attacks killing fewer than 3000 people, there has not been a single successful radical Islamist attack in the United States ever. In perspective, in 1993 we had 24 thousand murders and 1.9 million violent crimes; in 2007 we had 17 thousand murders and 1.4 million violent crimes. There are 43,000 auto deaths a year with 2 million permanent injuries. We’ve had a white supremacist bombing of the FBI, abortion center bombings by white radicals, crack gang epidemics, an unsolved anthrax terror campaign almost certainly not by Muslims… But one crime with airplanes by 20 people 8 years ago killing 3000 people has reshaped our psyches beyond recognition.
And for the 1993 WTC attack, we convicted most of the people involved, including the ringleader, in a court of law. And Greenwald notes, we just convicted someone of abetting terrorism in a US Court of Law. This is another pack of lies, that we need to create separate military tribunals to bypass protections for the accused, that our civilian courts aren’t good enough. And Marcie tops it off by noting that our military tribunal convictions are likely illegal because the crime of "material support for terrorism" isn’t a properly defined crime in the venue of the tribunals. So much for the lie that tribunals are the only way to handle our problems.
This follows the earlier myth pushed by the Conservatives to show Liberals were weak on terror – that the only proper response was military, invasion of independent countries to protect our rights, rather than the careful international police work that’s cracked down on mob and terrorist activity for years, whether the Medellin cartel or the IRA or ETA or the PLO or Russian Mafia. Suddenly that wasn’t good enough anymore, even though other countries have suffered horrendous terrorist attacks as great as 9/11, and didn’t have to suspend the rights of man and invade their neighbors. But funny thing is, that notion is no longer even on the table – it became a joke about weak ol’ Al Gore and then weak ol’ John Kerry, thinking that mere laws and police enforcement could deter the Hannibal Lecters of the world – they hate us for our freedoms, nothing will stand in the way, not even good cops Bruce Willis/John McClane and Sgt. Al Powell, not even their SWAT teams.
It used to be that we considered our strong morals on the battlefield and off helped protect our troops, that when we came into town they would know we were the good guys, whether they were enemy combatants or innocent civilian bystanders. The assumption was that we don’t commit atrocities, that we’re known for acts of impromptu kindness. Admittedly, this is hugely questionable historically, and largely destroyed in Vietnam through horrific actions against civilians. But now it’s even worse – we’ve turned our supposed reputation into a PR curse – we have to violate our own principles of transparency and access to information to keep our troops safe!!! If we do have any Hannibal Lecters, they must be protected and covered up, or else people will think we have Hannibal Lecters!!! My, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive. As if we’re fooling anyone but ourselves.
Oddly, the general we’ve all come to love to hate, Gen. Petraeus, noted we should release the suppressed pictures from Abu Ghraib to "lance this boil". But that message went nowhere – instead, the official word is out that releasing those pictures will endanger the troops, even though the rumors likely have the photos worse than they are, and even though Petraeus is one high profile figure who disagrees with this slam dunk assessment. The President himself is against releasing these photos, even though he’s all for using pictures of the Iranian woman Neda, killed in protests, as a symbol to rile and rouse the citizen troops, potentially to harm that country’s police. Premeditated abuse of prisoners on our watch? Cover up the photos. Random death in a melee somewhere "over there"? Let ’em fly, ain’t democracy great?
Another successful lie is that our abuse debate is not over "How many detainees did we kill via torture and abuse and at a minimum willful negligence?" (Correct answer: well over 100). Instead it’s over whether waterboarding is torture or not, and even that version is watered down (sorry) to infer a few seconds once or twice, rather than the repeated useless but sadistic administering over a period of months, trying to get intelligence blood out of people who more and more physically looked and acted like withered, extinguished turnips.
The Uyghurs held at Gitmo were not engaged in hostilities against us or anyone else. They were only training against the Chinese, who via Deng Xiao Peng had occupied Xinjiang/East Turkestan in 1949, about the time he mowed over Tibet as well, allowing China to expand their defensive/offensive position against Russia and India. So how’s it going with that democracy in Xinjiang? Well, as Nick Bequelin explains, in 2002 as our post-9/11 freakout was picking up steam and our newfound friendship with China blossomed (after downing our spy plane and returning it dismantled in boxes just a year before), the Chinese decided to start burning Uyghur books, switch all teaching from Uyghur to Mandarin, banning of Uyghur burial rites, and push full steam ahead with importing more and more Han Chinese into Xinjiang, now giving them now 40% in the region. Latest word? The Chinese will now raze the center of ancient Kashgar, one of the great outposts on the Silk Road and part of the Great Game.
Remember when we complained about the Taliban blowing up ancient statues at Bamyan? Remember how we complained only a few weeks ago about repression of rights and democracy in Iran? Remember how we keep telling Israelis to stop the settlements in the West Bank? Apparently book burning and language suppression is no longer a big concern. Apparently the President has come down with a case of crickets. Chirp chirp, chirp chirp.
But it’s not just the President’s silence on critical moral issues – it’s his active sustainment of long bandied lies while pretending to be different, to be planning a new way forward. His Justice Department is now defending not releasing Cheney’s testimony even though Cheney’s own lawyer already leaked it for political purposes. His CIA is stonewalling on coming forward with a less-redacted version of their IG report, now saying "Wait till Summer’s Over". In the Al-Haramain case in Vaughan Walker’s court, the defendent in requesting summary judgment can bandy about the contrast and hypocrisy between Obama & Holder’s campaign/approval statements and the actions of the government now in defending illegal wiretapping outside of FISA approval. [Even more hypocritical because in Holder’s private practice he was defending Chiquita’s decade-long funding of both right- and left-wing terrorist squads in South America].
And for those who think the abuse has stopped, the wiretapping/warrentless surveillance continues. And the abuse at Guantanamo continues. Many people even think all the Uyghurs are sunning in Bermuda now. Problem solved. And for those on the left who have trouble accepting the full inference of these developments, any of these revelations are only temporary occurrences since Obama’s in office such a short time, or just the work of a few bad eggs, not administration policy. Of course the original Abu Ghraib atrocities were blamed on a few bad eggs as well. And the Valerie Plame leaks were just from some disgruntled White House employee, until the time came to invoke executive privilege over VP/Presidential offices managing the whole affair.
Our media now takes the view that the words "torture" and "terrorism" only apply to acts that others do. When the US does it, it’s some kind of misstep on the road to a greater cause. US bombs wipe out a village? Just a misstep – we’re really winning hearts and minds. Enough so that we’re upping our troop levels in Afghanistan to show our commitment and how well things are under control. A hundred or more detainees die in our custody, with everything from shackle marks to kicked in kidneys? "Boys (and girls) will be boys (and girls)". And don’t even contemplate referring to orders from above – just a few renegades. "America does not torture", as declared meaninglessly by our last 2 Presidents, meaningless because you won’t catch them within a mile of a concrete definition of torture.
One of the early Artifical Intelligence exercises involved a black box. If you submitted a question to the box and you couldn’t distinguish the answer as coming from a human or a machine, then you have an effective expression of ïntelligence, whether "real" or "artificial". In fact the whole purpose of the exercise was to sidestep the prejudicial labeling of real vs. artificial, and look for objective measures.
In our case, we have a closed off system of government that we rarely get a glimpse into, but when we ask questions, and mistrust the responses and dig deeper, the behavior we observe seems consistent over the past years – it would be hard to conclude that there’s been an administration change. Certainly from TV we all know the good cop/bad cop routine. "You see my partner, he has a bad attitude, but if you cooperate with me…" But Greenwald has already noted that Obama’s willing to abide by the rules only when he gets the results he wants, and if not? Perhaps a signing statement of his own to refuse a Congressional directive, perhaps an Executive Order proclaiming Preventive Detention 4-evuh, perhaps vetoing the Intelligence Authorization if it doesn’t rubberstamp the same flawed CIA-Congress briefing system, perhaps further claims of executive privilege over who visits the White House or health care discussions.
It’s time for us to stop being hoodwinked and to accept we have a problem with our government, whoever we think is behind the wheel. It’s careening down nervous breakdown lane, to quote the FarSide, and to date we as a people seem like complacent kids playing spot the license tag and auto bingo in the backseat, not noticing the guardrails on the cliffs we keep running into nor the pedestrians we’ve flattened on the way. We’re stuck in a box, and it’s time we start thinking our way out of it.
[Notes: any references not explicity made most likely refer to blog postings by Marcie and Glenn – a perusal through their recent archives will most likely hit gold. Originally posted at TPM, where Marcie isn’t quite as well known. 😉 ]