Carpet bombing Baghdad: Shock and Awe
Rebecca Gordon, a TomDispatch regular, teaches in the philosophy department at the University of San Francisco. She is the author of Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United Statesand the forthcoming American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes.
Below is Professor Ruth Gordon’s enormously important piece on torture. She emphasizes and documents the fact that the Obama administration’s refusal to prosecute the US officials who authorized and carried out torture, embeds the practice in our national politics, and that today’s Presidential candidates promise to expand torture and other crimes.
I agree with her. The refusal of the US government to carry out the law of the land condones and encourages the practices which it refuses to prosecute. She blames “Obama” for the lack of prosecution. However Professor Gordon does not point out that the last President who attempted to cross the then tiny National Security Establishment was assassinated in November 1963, nor that the Obama team was afraid of the same fate for Obama (see here and here)
It has been clear from the beginning that Obama’s retention of the Bush military, treasury, and intelligence team meant that there would be no “looking back”. Obama understood the limitations of his power from the beginning of his Presidency. Major changes in foreign, military and financial policies were not his to make.
Blaming Obama, or any other President, including George Bush for the criminal state of US foreign policy implies that changing Presidents and political parties will change the direction of US foreign policy. It will not.
Read on for Professor Gordon’s essay.
From Tom Dispatch.com
From the look of the presidential campaign, war crimes are back on the American agenda. We really shouldn’t be surprised, because American officials got away with it last time — and in the case of the drone warscontinue to get away with it today. Still, there’s nothing like the heady combination of a “populist” Republican race for the presidency and a national hysteria over terrorism to make Americans want to reach for those “enhanced interrogation techniques.” That, as critics have long argued, is what usually happens if war crimes aren’t prosecuted.
In August 2014, when President Obama finally admitted that “we tortured some folks,” he added a warning. The recent history of U.S. torture, he said, “needs to be understood and accepted. We have to as a country take responsibility for that so hopefully we don’t do it again in the future.” By pinning the responsibility for torture on all of us “as a country,” Obama avoided holding any of the actual perpetrators to account.
Unfortunately, “hope” alone will not stymie a serial war criminal — and the president did not even heed his own warning. For seven years his administration has done everything except help the country “take responsibility” for torture and other war crimes. It looked the other way when it comes to holding accountable those who set up and ran the CIA’s large-scale torture operations at its “black sites” around the world. It never brought charges against those who ordered torture at Guantánamo. It prosecuted no one, above all not the top officials of the Bush administration.
Now, in the endless run-up to the 2016 presidential elections, we’ve been treated to some pretty strange gladiatorial extravaganzas, with more to come in 2016. In these peculiarly American spectacles, Republican candidates hurl themselves at one another in a frenzied effort to be seen as the candidate most likely to ignore the president’s wan hope and instead “do it again in the future.” As a result, they are promising to commit a whole range of crimes, from torture to the slaughter of civilians, for which the leaders of some nations would find themselves hauled into international court as war criminals. But “war criminal” is a label reserved purely for people we loathe, not for us. To paraphrase former President Richard Nixon, if the United States does it, it’s not a crime.
In the wake of the brutal attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, the promises being openly made to commit future crimes have only grown more forthright. A few examples from the presidential campaign trail should suffice to make the point:
* Ted Cruz guarantees that “we” will “utterly destroy ISIS.” How will we do it? “We will carpet bomb them into oblivion” — that is, “we” will saturate an area with munitions in such a way that everything and everyone on the ground is obliterated. Of such a bombing campaign against the Islamic State, he told a cheering crowd at the Rising Tide Summit, “I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out.” (It’s hard not to take this as a reference to the use of nuclear weapons, though in the bravado atmosphere of the present Republican campaign a lot of detailed thought is undoubtedly not going into any such proposals.)
* Kindly retired pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson evidently has similar thoughts. When pressed by CNN co-moderator Hugh Hewitt in the most recent Republican debate on whether he was “tough” enough to be “okay with the deaths of thousands of innocent children and civilian[s],” Carson replied, “You got it. You got it.” He even presented a future campaign against the Islamic State in which “thousands” of children might die as an example of the same kind of tough love a surgeon sometimes exhibits when facing a difficult case. It’s like telling a child, he assured Hewitt, that “we’re going to have to open your head up and take out this tumor. They’re not happy about it, believe me. And they don’t like me very much at that point. But later on, they love me.” So, presumably, will those “dead innocent children” in Syria — once they get over the shock of being dead.
* Jeb Bush’s approach brought what, in Republican circles, passes for nuance to the discussion of future war crimes policy. What Washington needs, he argued, is “a strategy” and what stands in the way of the Obama administration developing one is an excessive concern with the niceties of international law. As he put it, “We need to get the lawyers off the back of the warfighters. Right now under President Obama, we’ve created… this standard that is so high that it’s impossible to be successful in fighting ISIS.” Meanwhile, Jeb has surrounded himself with a familiar clique of neocon “advisers” — people like George W. Bush’s former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and his former Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, who planned for and advocated the illegal U.S. war against Iraq, which touched off a regional war with devastating human consequences.
* And then there is Donald Trump. Where to start? As a simple baseline for his future commander-in-chiefdom, he stated without a blink that he would bring back torture. “Would I approve waterboarding?” he told a cheering crowd at a November rally in Columbus, Ohio. “You bet your ass I would — in a heartbeat.” And for Trump, that would only be the beginning. He assured his listeners vaguely but emphatically that he “would approve more than that,” leaving to their imaginations whether he was thinking of excruciating “stress positions,” relentless exposure to loud noise, sleep deprivation, the straightforward killing of prisoners, or what the CIA used to delicately refer to as “rectal rehydration.” Meanwhile, he just hammers on when it comes to torture. “Don’t kid yourself, folks. It works, okay? It works. Only a stupid person would say it doesn’t work.”
Only a stupid person — like, perhaps, one of the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who carefully studied the CIA’s grim torture documents for years, despite the Agency’s foot-dragging, opposition, and outright interference (including computer hacking) — would say that. But why even bother to argue about whether torture works? The point, Trump claimed, was that the very existence of the Islamic State means that someone needs to be tortured. “If it doesn’t work,” he told that Ohio crowd, “they deserve it anyway.”
Only a few days later, he triumphantly sallied even further into war criminal territory. He declared himself ready to truly hit the Islamic State where it hurts. “The other thing with the terrorists,” he told Fox News, “is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.” Because it’s a well-known fact — in Trumpland at least — that nothing makes people less likely to behave violently than murdering their parents and children. And it certainly doesn’t matter, when Trump advocates it, that murder is a crime.