November 01, 2007

Why Mukasey doesn't want to come clean on waterboarding

Early in his confirmation hearing, Judge Michael Mukasey seemed to be sailing along on an incoming tide of goodwill and bonhomie, that sort of vaguely nauseating insider reach-around that the Senate, particularly senators like Joe Biden, love to indulge themselves in when they are feeling good about anointing another public servant as rightful heir to a governmental sinecure replete with hefty salary, lots of bennies, and of course heavy-duty stature. In other words, making the supplicant just like them. All of this is done in the hope the public will see the Judiciary Committee in a halcyon light of statesmanship and nonpartisan magnanimity. It is, in other words, to puke.

Then some tricky questions came up about America's new pastime, the routine torture of Arabs and Arabesque-types, like Afghanis, all of whom we can fairly lump together as "Arabs," because the Bush Administration does not strain itself to find distinctions without a difference. They're brown, Muslim and from the Third World. That's a sufficient taxonomy; let's not get anthropological about all this. A large cohort in the Bush Administration enjoys torturing Arabs. They have tortured many of them in many ways, and for a long time they thought they could do so with complete impunity. Arabs (all of whom we labeled "terrorists") are not actually people in Bush's species classification system; they are unlawful combatants, non-state actors, etc., or at least become so once they are detained by the U.S. and stuffed into Guantanamo or Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan or in a CIA black site in Poland or somewhere. At least, this was Bush S.O.P. until the disquieting case of Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld came along and ruled that Arabs were in fact people, that they were entitled to protection under the Geneva Conventions, including that nettlesome Common Article 3, and that you couldn't try them in Guantanamo any old way you wanted, but actually had to provide a modicum of due process. Imagine that: if this ultra-conservative Supreme Court thought Bush had pushed things too far, how bad was it?

The Hamdan case marked a kind of turning point in the Bush reign of barbarity. For the first time, it dawned on L'il George that his ass might be in a sling for ordering routine violations of international standards of human decency. He never thought it could come to that; they were only Arabs, for crying out loud. Thus, Bush had to add a second agenda item to the business plan for his presidency. The first, which was still in place, was to spend as much as Americans paid in taxes, and as much as he could borrow from abroad, on war, and specifically on funneling federal revenue to Halliburton, Blackwater, Boeing, Bechtel, United Technologies, Sikorsky, Bell Helicopter, Northrop Grumman, subsidiaries of the Carlyle Group and other insiders benefiting directly from the the security state. Compare the stock prices of these companies between 2002 and 2007 to the performance of the stock market in general. Mission Accomplished. But Bush now had to add a second to-do box, in some ways complicating the first. He had to guarantee he could leave office without the "Pinochet Perplex," meaning, a carefree retirement without prosecutions for violations of the Federal Anti-Torture Statute and the War Crimes Act. The Hamdan case screwed this up royally.

While he sat moping, either wishing he could drown his misery in five gallons of beer or actually doing so, Dick Cheney brought his trusted accomplices, David Addington and other members of the Pennsylvania Avenue Inquisition, to his rescue. True, all that waterboarding and torture violated the War Crimes Act and the Anti-Torture Statute as they read now. But laws can be amended. In fact, we've got a new twist, an innovative torque, as in Torquemada. We'll make what we did, which was illegal at the time, legal now. We'll take the Torture Memo of 2002 and smoosh it into federal law by redefining torture, and for good measure we'll write it up so that even if what we did, what you ordered, Mr. President, was a violation of the Geneva Conventions even as extended by our CYA redefinition, we'll say that's okay too, as long as "advice of counsel" made you think it was okay. And since the "advice of counsel" we're talking about is the advice given by the creepy, necrophiliac lawyers who wrote the Torture Memo in the first place, it's a closed loop. Huh?, Mr. Cheney said to W. Who loves ya, baby?

But, spluttered W, like a little boy caught in a horrible mess who's afraid to hope. Congress won't go along with something that stupid. Of course they will, said Darth. But you gotta hit the hustings and sell this sucker right now, because Congress changes in November, 2006. The American people are slowly awakening to the idea we're a bunch of self-serving, merciless assholes, and we're going to lose control. And you know what that could mean in 2009.

How? How to do it? Bush wanted to know. Cheney whispered in his ear. Now's the time to transfer Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to Gitmo. Which means we've got to have that Military Commissions Act presto pronto, because we have to try him. Now! Now! And we'll stick in the mother of all exoneration clauses, retroactive to the signing of the Declaration of Independence if we have to. So get to it!

Bush did. Congress, of course, had no problem with giving American officials a free pass on torture and inhumanity to man. To do otherwise would have been "soft on terror." And, you'll note, not a single trial of a detainee in Gitmo has proceeded since Bush's breathless exhortations to prompt passage of the MCA in September, 2006.
Funny, huh?

So when Mukasey faltered on that first day, the Bush team took him aside and explained how it was. We did a lot of hard work, they told him, to make a clean getaway. You ain't messing it up. If you go in there and declare unequivocally that waterboarding is torture, you screw up our artful re-writing of the War Crimes Act and the Anti-Torture Act, and, worst of all, you could undercut our "advice of counsel" defense on which we're counting for a blissful sojourn in retirement. And that, ol' Mike, just ain't gonna happen.

October 30, 2007

Bush & His Persian Carpet Bombing

“I’ve told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III,” said the President. “It seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.” W, in a recent press conference.

It's all there. The bellicosity, the imprecision, the condescension and most of all, the illiteracy. One might think, if you're interested in avoiding World War III, that you might choose to speak about such a decisive subject, just for once, with carefully chosen words that communicate the exact meaning of your statement. Not this guy, not even when talking about World War III.

Most Americans are so interested in avoiding World War III that they can't wait for Bush's term to be over. Even with declining rates of literacy in this country, most of the populace is aware that stating that Iran should be prevented "from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon" means Bush thinks the bombing of Iran should already have commenced. The only way to prevent Iranian scientists from have the knowledge is to kill them all now, because the science of nuclear fission in a bomb is freely available. Actually constructing a bomb is the difficult part, but any country which undertakes the problem and which has an advanced academic and scientific infrastructure can get there. Iran fits the description. So many countries have succeeded in "have the knowledge" that scientific consultants abound throughout the world whose services are available on the open market. A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani father of the A-bomb, ran a kind of nuclear mail-order business for a while, until Musharraf placed him under "house arrest" to mollify Bush's mild protests about proliferation.

If Bush orders a bombing war against Iran, several things are going to happen. The first is that all hell is going to break loose. It is impossible to guess just how messed up things will get, but another war, the third war in six years or so which Bush has ordered against a country from which none of the 9/11 hijackers originated, will unleash a horror of chaos and death. On that we can rest assured. Another thing that will happen is that the United States will never be remotely the same again. A war against Iran, in the current state of wall-to-wall conflagration in the Middle East and South Asia, will cross a Rubicon of fate. I think ultimately it will be seen as Bush's cognate to Hitler's Operation Barbarossa, the decision to attack the Soviet Union while Germany was already heavily engaged in the occupation of Western Europe and North Africa. Financially, militarily and spiritually, the United States will pass a horizon of viability, and then just as rapidly as the war was commenced, we will undergo a sudden contraction and implosion. The process will be turbulent and unpredictable, but I don't think the USA will be recognizable in its current form when we're done. A finished police state? A road warrior nightscape of primitive barbarity? Dissolution into warring regions? All are distinct possibilities.

I suppose Cheney is the guiding force behind all this. I saw a picture of Cheney sleeping through a briefing on the California wildfires. There were the usual barbs: it wasn't about war, so he wasn't interested, etc. We're not a terribly astute country, in many ways, and I didn't read anywhere the actual reason. Dick Cheney has a concretized vascular system. When he sits still, the pinhole apertures of his carotid arteries block the flow of oxygenated blood to his brain, he becomes hypoxic, and he nods off. In addition to his quadruple bypass and numerous heart attacks, and the insertion of a defibrillating pacemaker in his chest, Cheney has undergone popliteal surgery (behind the knees) to clear the femoral arteries, and numerous other cardiac procedures. He's grossly overweight and living on borrowed time. And this is the man who urges that the living, those whose lives may still be all before them, commence the final, epic battle of civilization. What a strange pass we've come to.

October 28, 2007

The Ungrateful Nouri, Revisited

Our very own King Midas, George W. Bush, seems to have struck again. Nouri al-Maliki wants to break up with us. Well, what else is new? I keep thinking that international relations seem increasingly inseparable from the intimately personal, and one of America's big problems (far from the only one) is that the President of this country is a snotty little brat that no one likes, and we keep paying the price for that. We all knew snotty little brats when we were growing up. They engendered an emotional push/pull reaction in us, if you'll recall; on one hand, they were so irritating that you felt a compulsion to attack and revile them at every opportunity. Yet on the other, you just wanted to avoid the vexation of their presence at all costs. Now, with a snotty little brat as President, we're forced on almost a daily basis to endure the sight and sound of the Brat-in-Chief, with his whining, unhappy complaints about Congressional intransigence, or that cheap shot he took at Louisiana's governor when he did his big photo-op at the California wildfires. There, see, he did it to me again; I don't even want to think about him, yet here I am going through a riposte in my mind to that gratuitous whack he took at Governor Blanco, who in fact wrote the Brat days before Katrina hit to warn him that the state's resources were inadequate. And, hey Bush, what about...? Oh never mind. You see how this goes. This is the pull part of the pendulum swing. Bush's utter indifference to the catastrophes he casually brings about as he careens through the world drives so many of us nuts.

Probably even Nouri al-Maliki. You know, while George was hoisting that megaphone back at Phillips Academy and gaily encouraging his fellow privileged children to give it the old siss-boom-bah, Nouri, four years younger than Bush, was an Iraqi Shiite living in a Sunni-dominated world. Nouri, however, was not a push-over for tyranny. During those years when Bush was drinking his way through life, getting busted on a DUI in Connecticut (1976), contriving admission to the Harvard Business School and "earning" an MBA (1977), and then running a series of oil companies into the ground (Arbusto, Harken Energy, early 1980's), Nouri's anti-Sunni activities for the Dawa Party in Iraq earned him a death sentence from none other than Saddam Hussein. So that by 1980, Nouri left Iraq for the relative safety of first Iran and then Syria. There he became a director of jihadist operations against the Saddam regime. Nouri, in other words, knows something about mounting a guerrilla campaign against a superior force. You need guile, cunning and, above all, an indomitable spirit.

Nouri also knows that he has not come across with the one thing that the Brat came to Iraq to get: those 300 billion barrels of oil which are inconveniently located beneath Iraq's sands. As the saying goes, what's our oil doing in their desert? And Nouri: where the flock is the oil law prominently featured in our list of benchmarks we've put together for you as a to-do list? Huh? In fact, Nouri, all the other benchmarks are simply camouflage for this one. It's what we call The Single Benchmark Theory. It's the reason the Democratic leadership lies to the American people like crazy about "not having the votes" to end the war. They're not going to be the ones to pull the plug on the Great Game of horking Iraq's oil after we've blown through about 600 billion bucks (which we don't have), 4,000 lives, and many amputated, blind, brain-damaged and permanently insane soldiers. You're getting to be a pain in the ass, Nouri!

It gets worse. Nouri has now announced, through his foreign minister, that as of December 31, 2008, the United Nations multi-national security mandate, the regime which "legitimizes" our squatting in Iraq, will not be renewed. This change will create a free-for-all as far as development of all that sweet light crude is concerned. Any other nation, China, France, even (gulp) Iran can contract with the "sovereign" Iraq for a piece of the action. Ever wonder why Bush didn't raise a peep about Hunt Oil, whose owner sits on Bush's Foreign Policy Board, cadging a side-deal with the Kurds for their oil? Even though it undermines the "revenue sharing" regime of the mythical "oil law," that may be as good as it gets for American petroleum cartels.

Note the timing: December 31, 2008. Right at the point where Bush can't do anything about it anymore. Does that seem a little...vindictive? The kind of payback for the class brat that you used to, you know, dream about?