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Monday, 11 December 2006 04:02

Defending the Indefensible: Torture and the American Empire -- Dennis Loo

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A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
by Dennis Loo

Edited excerpt from Chapter Five "Defending the Indefensible: Torture and the American Empire," in Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney, by Dennis Loo and Peter Phillips, Eds., Seven Stories Press, NY.

* * *

One reason that the Bush Administration can claim with a straight face that the U.S. does not torture is, of course, because all the top members of the Bush White House are world-class liars. The question here is, why? Why are they, first of all, rather openly employing torture? And secondly, what does this fact tell us about what is up with this brave new world of unspeakable horrors so thinly disguised that no one except the misinformed and gullible would believe the cover stories?

One might think that using torture against putative enemies would be a wholly counterproductive practice for multiple reasons. First, it would endanger Americans who are captured as POWS.

Second, engaging in torture would make recruitment to this "Army of One" extremely difficult. Given the neocons' long-standing plans to go after other rival countries, such as Syria and Iran, this strategy would seem to be counterproductive.

Third, the public-relations fallout from these practices both domestically and internationally, would appear to be unacceptable.

Fourth, intelligence experts (and people who have been subjected to torture and survived) point out that information obtained under such duress, extraction of information under pain of death, is virtually worthless information, the interrogatees giving whatever information they think the interrogators want to hear. The Bush administration claims that its "rough interrogation" techniques has stopped several other terrorist incidents, but if so, then why have there been, outside of Richard Reid and Zacharias Moussaoui, no prosecutions of the conspirators? Furthermore, neither Reid nor Moussaoui represent instances in which incidents were foiled as the result of torture interrogations of the defendant or someone who in turn fingered the defendants.

Of the 80,000 Arabs and Muslim nationals who were required to register after 911, the 8,000 brought in for FBI interviews, and the 5,000 locked up in "preventive detention," none has been convicted of a terrorist crime. The one case Bush has pointed to as a successful prevention of an attack involves an alleged plot to fly an airplane into the U.S. Bank (aka Library) Tower in Los Angeles; this plot was uncovered by another country's intelligence service, not our own.

Fifth, the people who are being detained and tortured and killed almost without exception don't know anything useful. Of the four hundred convictions the United States can point to, almost every one has been for minor overstays of visas and the like. The few that aren't trivial have been convicted of nebulous charges of conspiring to affiliate with or support groups defined by the government as terrorist, not for being actually involved in a pending terrorist plot. The practice of torturing these people therefore appears to be an attempt at sheer intimidation rather than actual information gathering.

Finally, these inhumane practices fuel hatred of the United States, expand the ranks of suicide bombers, guarantee the further proliferation of IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), and therefore result in more killed and maimed American soldiers and others unlucky enough to step on these devices and more, produce ever greater probabilities of terrorist incidents aimed at America and Americans.

Why, then, is the Bush administration engaging in this practice? Is it that they are just brutal terrorists, who don't care whom they anger because they figure they're too powerful? Or, perhaps are they merely insane? Award-winning journalist Seymour Hersch, who has been described by neocon Richard Perle as the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist, quotes an intelligence officer in his latest book, Chain of Command: "[Senior WH officials] were so crazed and so far out and so difficult to reason with -- to the point of being bizarre. Dogmatic, as if they were on a mission from God."

If this were a line from The Blues Brothers film, it would be laughable. But it's not. These people are crazy, but there is a method to their madness. I'm going to offer two parts to my answer to this matter. The first has to do with their faith-based, antiscientific, antirationalist worldview; the second deals with their strategy for world conquest and the intrinsic nature of globalization.

Bush and Cheney's Worldview

We know that members of the administration believe, as the New York Times' Ron Suskind chillingly recounted in an October 17, 2004, article, that they can make real whatever they want to be real and that they are not bound by what the rest of us are bound by -- empirical reality. Not all of them are religious fanatics, but those who aren't, such as Cheney, are arrogant enough to think that they can force things to be true that they desire to be true through sheer power.

If they think they can make real whatever they want to, the corollary to which is an utter hostility to science and reason, then they do not think that reason and reasoning with people enter into the picture at all. From their perspective, if they aren't true believers through reasoning, why would anybody else be moved by reason? In many respects, especially among their loyal social base of reactionary evangelicals, they reject the Enlightenment and much that has happened since. They literally want to go back to the Dark Ages, except this time with high-tech machinery.

Their hostility to reason is truly radical and unprecedented in modern times. It is part of what makes them startlingly similar to their putative enemy, al-Qaeda. When they confront people who don't believe what they believe, whether those are Iraqis or Democrats or American citizens, their spontaneous inclination is to try to deceive and fool (and thereby "convince") and, failing that, to intimidate, to scare, to blackmail, to coerce, to bludgeon, to torture, or to kill. They do not believe in compromise, and they believe that their principles are not negotiable.

Even if they weren't zealots, their principles and their practices don't stand up to scrutiny in comparison to the homilies they pronounce about democracy, freedom, and liberty. Make no mistake: they have no illusions themselves about democracy and liberty. They know that they are oligarchs and know that what is good for them is bad for the vast majority of humanity, that an honest description of their policies would go down to ignominious defeat by approbation. That's why they so studiously and carefully conceal their full program for public consumption and attempt to appear more moderate than the irrational extremists that they are.

The Bush White House represents a coalescing of two tendencies -- radical know-nothing religious zealotry and imperialist empire. Antistate terrorism helps them more than it hurts them. Antistate terrorism and state-sponsored terror are obverse sides of the same coin. They need and thrive upon each other. Their whole Homeland Security and Patriot Act program and clamping down on the borders and immigrants, their militarizing of the police and their spy state, their imperial presidency logic so evident in the comments of Samuel Alito and Alberto Gonzalez, their public-order policies that criminalize and call into suspicion activities that previously were either mere nuisances, such as the presence of winos, or the ordinary activities and mere presence of groups of youth, minorities, and immigrants, or legitimate forms of political protest and expression: all of these policies that they justify on the grounds of fighting terrorism and clamping down on "security threats" are not designed to prevent and minimize disasters, terrorist or otherwise. Katrina and, before that, their failure to interdict 9/11 are clear demonstrations of this state of affairs. Their rapidly evolving police state is designed primarily to repress and coerce domestic and international populations, not to resist terrorism. They were already moving in this direction before the 9/11 attacks.

The Neoliberal State

Why is that? The general answer here -- and this is my second main point -- is that as the New Deal-Keynesian Welfare State is systematically dismantled by the neoliberal state -- the political expression of globalization -- as privatization takes the place of social programs, as deindustrialization and downsizing and speedups and take-aways proceed, as insecurity of job and livelihood becomes the norm rather than the exception, as the positive incentives, in other words, for normative behavior (jobs and decent pay, and so forth) are increasingly shredded, the state and the corporate world have no choice but to rely more and more heavily upon coercion to ensure cooperation and to forestall rebellion and revolution. Coercion itself must be used more, but even coercion doesn't work in all instances, and sheer terror must be employed given their overweening ambitions for world domination.

The reason that the Bush White House has been (openly) practicing torture and terror is because it plans to reconfigure the U.S. imperialist empire in such a way that brutality -- concealed and unconcealed -- is a prominent feature. Shut up and take it or we'll censor you, and if that doesn't work we'll lock you up, and we won't shrink if we have to torture and kill you. For we'll do it all with God on our side.

Even if there weren't a lot of religious fanatics at the helm today, they would still be driven by neoliberalism's logic to use the stick increasingly in place of the carrot, which is why Clinton, for example, advocated the death penalty, sought to put a hundred thousand more cops on the streets, went after welfare, pushed NAFTA, and engaged in rendition. During the Clinton-Gore years the biggest gap in history between the wealthy and the poor opened up, only to be subsequently exceeded by Bush-Cheney. Which brings us to the matter of the Democrats.

Even if somehow the Democrats miraculously win the next presidential election, and even if, hypothetically, the Democratic president wishes to curb the radical-right's agenda, the radical right has entrenched itself so thoroughly and strategically in the government, in the military, in business, and in the media that any moves to curb its power and its agenda will be met with the ferocity of a really pissed-off vampire. Look at how angry and vituperative its practitioners are right now, and they have power! Remember how they succeeded in impeaching Clinton even though only 26 percent of the public supported the idea at the time.

Moreover, even if, for the sake of argument, the Democrats were to be alone in power and the GOP and its theocratic fascist minions were to disappear overnight in a rapture, consider what has been happening internationally over the last thirty years or so. Social democrats worldwide, who are far more left wing than our Democratic Party, have been moving to the right as they "adjust" to the dictates of globalization. Neoliberalism is ascendant worldwide and public-order policies are the rule. In other words, the welfare state worldwide has been under fire and is steadily being dismantled. Social democracy accepts the fundamental "rightness" of capitalism and seeks merely to ameliorate its worst effects. The solution to the issues of our day thus involves breaking decisively with things as they are and taking things in an entirely different direction.

 

A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION

Pick up your copy of "Impeach the President: The Case Against Bush and Cheney" from BuzzFlash.com.

Dennis Loo is Associate Professor of Sociology at Cal Poly Pomona.His specialties include polls, the making of public policy, social movements and criminology. His recent article,“No Paper Trail Left Behind: the Theft ofthe 2004 Presidential Election,” has received wide acclaim.

Peter Phillips, director of Project Censored, is an Associate Professor ofSociology at Sonoma State University. He is known for his op-ed pieces in the alternative press and independent newspapers nationwide, such as Z Magazine and Social Policy.