Two rival factions of the American Empire are now involved
in a public �debate� over how best to break the law and invite the contempt of
the other 95 percent of the globe�s inhabitants.
Former Vice President Cheney basically says stay the course;
the more torture (he prefers the euphemism �enhanced interrogation�) and wars
of aggression (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Lebanon, Gaza), the better. President
Obama, on the other hand, has to in some way pacify his �limousine liberal�
base without upsetting the Wall Street �banksters,� the military industrial
complex and other corporate interests who call the tunes for both our political
Two weeks earlier, Obama had Cheney agreeing with his
(Obama�s) decision to defy a court order and not allow the release of an
additional batch of torture photos. Obama�s rationalization was that his
generals told him that releasing the photos might enflame Muslim public opinion
more than it already is and put our deployed troops in yet more danger from the
very people we are fighting to liberate.
If the mighty leader of U.S. Empire was interested in what
just one citizen thought, here�s what I would tell him. Muslim public opinion
is already enflamed against us because of our wars of aggression and torture
policies. It�s not the pictures of the torture which is wrong, it�s the
torture! Start bringing the troops home now and appoint a special prosecutor to
look into holding Bush/Cheney accountable for the illegal wars of aggression
and torture. Muslim and world opinion will alike concur that this is the kind
of change we can believe in.
Now Obama may be many things, but he is not a dummy. As
president of the Harvard Law Review, he was arguably the top law student in the
country. As a constitutional law professor at the distinguished University of
Chicago, he should certainly know the Constitution. This would be the very same
University of Chicago which has also given us both the atomic bomb and the
economic bomb of neo-liberalism and globalization. The former destroyed two
Japanese cities and gave our Empire apologists the ultimate fear card to play
time and again when citizens objected to their power grabs across the globe. The
latter has destroyed just about every economy on earth with the exception of
Obama starts his speech on torture saying that �my single
most important responsibility as president is to keep the American people safe.�
He�s the Constitutional law professor, but I thought his oath was �to protect
and defend the Constitution.� By protecting and defending the Constitution, we
are kept safe within the framework of our government set up by the �Founding
Fathers� and all the subsequent legislation, court rulings and constitutional
Amendments which have followed. By claiming that his primary responsibility is
to keep us safe, he takes us outside the legal arena and enters the same
arbitrary arena in which Bush and Cheney performed with such aplomb.
�We know that al Qaeda is actively planning to attack us
again.� Obama knows this? I don�t. Did tortured detainees scream this out as
they were being pummeled and waterboarded? Perhaps this would be a good time to
look at why al Qaeda attacked us in the first place. Of course this is based on
the assumption that al Qaeda did attack us on 9/11. This may or may not be
true. But because the 9/11 Commission was not independent and was composed of
establishment figures from our two corporate political parties, we the people
have no idea of what actually went down on 9/11. If Obama was actually looking
to promote transparency in government, a good place to start would be an actual
independent investigation of 9/11. Regarding al Qaeda being behind 9/11, there
is also the thorny problem that bin Laden, while cheering the attacks, has
never taken credit for them, something that terrorist groups normally do.
When bin Laden declared his jihad on the U.S. he listed
- The lockstep support of
the U.S. for Israel and the resulting continued anguish of the stateless
- The presence of U.S.
troops in the Muslim holy-land of Saudi Arabia.
- The deaths of a U.N.
estimated 500,000 children under the age of five in Iraq as a direct
result of the U.S. led economic sanctions against the Iraqi government in
It is also well to remember that before 9/11 most of us had
never heard of bin Laden. While that shows the general ignorance of the
corporate-media fed American people, it also indicates that pre 9/11 bin Laden
did not have huge support in the Mideast. Bin Laden said time and again that he
wanted the U.S. to attack a Muslim country. He knew that this would increase
his standing in the Muslim world and the Bush/Cheney administration was happy to
comply and attack not just one, but two Muslim countries.
Obama, elected with much support from the U.S. peace
community, is basically continuing the Bush/Cheney policy in Iraq, has
significantly ramped things up in Afghanistan and added a third country,
Pakistan, to the mix, with the fourth Iran waiting in the wings.
Is it possible for the U.S. Empire to look at the situation
objectively and say that addressing the causes of terrorism might be a good
start to eliminating future terrorism? That supporting Israel, without
insisting on the internationally acknowledged compromise of an independent
Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, is counterproductive to both U.S.
and Israeli security? That the people of Saudi Arabia should have a say in who
rules their country and propping up a monarchy unresponsive to the Saudi people
with U.S. arms and troops is undemocratic? That we were wrong to pursue
economic sanctions against Iraq, that resulted in a half-million dead Iraqi
children? That invading Iraq on a pack of lies, in direct violation of the U.N.
Charter was a tragic crime? That invading Afghanistan was also illegal and
immoral, based on the fact it was also done without U.N. approval and honest
negotiations seeking a non-military solution? That we should have taken the
Taliban offer to turn over bin Laden to a third country upon receipt of proof
from the Bush administration that he was responsible for the 9/11 attacks?
Obama waxes on about living up to our Declaration of
Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights. �Fidelity to our values is the
reason why the United States of America grew from a small string of colonies
under the writ of an empire to the strongest nation in the world . . . From
Europe to the Pacific, we have been a nation that has shut down torture
chambers and replaced tyranny with the rule of law.� He promotes the great
American myth that we are the good guys.
Why didn�t Obama the teacher say that we grew from a small
string of colonies to the strongest nation in the world on the backs of African
slave labor? That his current residence was built with slave labor, as were
many of our capital�s landmark buildings? He could have told us that our young
government fresh from its victory over Britain embarked on a campaign against
our First Americans by breaking promises and treaties, and treatment that can
only be called genocide. Of course, the slavery of Africans and the genocide of
the Native Americans was not enough for our bloodthirsty young empire as we
fought wars of aggression with Spain, Mexico and the Philippines to expand. Our
forefathers� values were wrapped in the Manifest Destiny that the continent was
theirs from the Atlantic to the Pacific and then some.
Fast forward to more recent times and we see wars of aggression
with Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. We see our CIA orchestrate and support
military coups across the globe in Nicaragua, Chile, Greece, Iran, Iraq,
Philippines, Cuba, Haiti and Venezuela. He could have told us that the
corporate elite who pull the strings of empire wised up after the Vietnam
debacle and the unrest in the streets of the U.S. as citizens protested the
Vietnam War and both racial and sexual discrimination. Our elite establishment,
in the form of the Trilateral Commission, even wrote a book on the subject and
called it �The Crisis in Democracy.� Of course the crisis to them was that
there was too much democracy and that was a dangerous thing for the elite who
rule our country.
He could have talked about our new country allowing only
white male property owners the right to vote or hold office. He could have
talked about our new country�s treatment of women which was patently worse than
the Native Americans� treatment of their own women. He could have talked about
the values our country showed in withholding the voting franchise not only from
Africans, Native Americans and women, but also from the vast majority of white
males who did not own sufficient property to qualify.
He could have talked about the values enshrined at the Fort
Benning, Georgia, School of the Americas (now called the Western Hemisphere
Institute for Security Cooperation) where we have trained and schooled our
neighbors to the South in death squads, torture and intimidation of their
people. He could have talked about the brutality inflicted upon the Vietnamese
people by our military and civilian command which contaminated fully 10 percent
of the entire country with the toxic dioxin Agent Orange. He could have talked
about the 2-5 million dead Vietnamese or the 1 million dead Iraqis. He could
have talked about the use of �depleted uranium� in Afghanistan and Iraq, and
the risk of cancer we are subjecting the civilian populations and our own
A good statement summing up U.S. values was issued by U.S.
Commanding General William Shafter in the Philippines: �It may be necessary to
kill half of the Filipinos in order that the remaining half of the population
may be advanced to a higher plane of life than their present semi-barbarous
state affords.� The good general overestimated, we only had to kill about a
Obama�s claims that it is necessary for him to throw away
more than 800 years of precedent dating back to the Magna Carte, as he plans on
continuing the Bush suspension of habeas corpus with regards to prisoners held
captive in the so-called �War on Terror.� He plans on civilian trials for a few
(I am assuming there are a few we actually have evidence against), releasing
some to their native countries (for God only know what kind of treatment),
military commissions trials for others (our courts have ruled such trials
unconstitutional and one can only hope that Obama will not allow information
obtained by torture as admissible and will allow the defense to actually see
the prosecution�s evidence, neither of which was allowed with the original
military commissions). That just leaves those with no evidence against them and
Obama claims the authority to hold them indefinitely in limbo without charge
and zero habeas corpus rights. Bear in mind some of them have been jailed for
almost eight years.
We have already released about 500 and the Pentagon says 74
or about one in seven of those released have returned to �the battlefield�
against us. For these individuals to return to the battlefield against us,
means that they were originally in the battlefield. If this was true, does
anyone think that Bush/Cheney would have released them to make America less
safe? Isn�t it more likely that the majority of those released were not
captured on any battlefield, but were innocents turned in by neighbors with a
grudge for the $5,000 bounty we offered? That even the most innocent amongst
them, after being subjected to up to seven years of confinement and torture
courtesy of the U.S., might be tempted to take up arms against those who had
falsely imprisoned them?
Obama is right. These are our historic American values. Obama
is doing nothing to change them. What are you as a citizen doing?
Nick Egnatz is a Vietnam veteran and member of
Veterans For Peace. He has been actively protesting our government�s crimes of
empire in both person and print for some years now and was named �Citizen of
the Year� for Northwest Indiana in 2006 for his antiwar/peace efforts by the
National Association of Social Workers.