War Crimes: What, Me Worry?
‘It’s Good to be the King’
C.I.A. torturers, killer cops & white supremacy
By Thomas Adcock
Copyright © 2015 – Thomas Adcock
NEW YORK, near America
Despite a chorus of demands for criminal prosecution, it is unlikely that anyone among the plotters, justifiers, and executioners of war crimes during the reign of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney will ever see the inside of a courtroom—let alone prison bars. In the Potemkin democracy of America, fair-complexioned government élites are held no more accountable for sadism and depravity enacted against swarthy Muslims than are trigger-happy white cops who kill unarmed black men, women, and children in streets and police stationhouses across the land.
These atrocities—torture in America’s archipelago of foreign-based dungeons and the slaughter of African American civilians at home—are the conjoined twins of an ugly hypothesis: among the core values of the United States is white supremacy.
Original sin was established early in the seventeenth century with the welcome arrival of slave ships from Africa. Over some four hundred years since, white governments in Washington have militated against dark-skinned people throughout the world. This includes good-old-days racist brutality on our own shores: the decimation of indigenous tribal nations; imported Chinese railroad workers sequestered in company-built ghettos; consignment of black children to inferior schools, and their parents to menial employment; imprisonment of Japanese Americans in razor-wired concentration camps; deportation of Mexican Americans from their homes; and, in the name of preposterous irony, a no-Irish hiring paradigm in New York and Boston back when immigrants from the Ould Sod were thought to be non-Caucasian.
Abroad, we have killed more than a hundred thousand Arab and Kurdish civilians in Iraq since 2003—in a war based on the lies of Messrs. Bush and Cheney. We still have thousands of troops stationed there, with dubious assurance that they are merely “military advisors.” As well, we remain bivouacked in Afghanistan, the longest military engagement in our national history. Forty kilometers northeast of the Afghan capital, the U.S. Air Force Base at Bagram is the ground zero of American torture.
The purpose of Bagram, and other such chambers of horror, was officially acknowledged last month in the release of a long-secret U.S. Senate document. A five hundred-page rap sheet of American grotesquery, it is evidence that during the bloody Bush-Cheney regime (2001-2009) the government adopted a policy of torturing prisoners held in the “War on Terror”—a coinage profitably peddled to a citizenry bedazzled by acquiescent journalists and a bipartisan bevy of blowhard politicians. (This would include then-Senator Hillary Clinton, the war hawk who would have us elect her America’s next president.)
The Bush-Cheney protocols for “enhanced interrogation techniques”—euphemistic cruelties crafted by doctors, approved by White House lawyers, and administered by goons on the Central Intelligence Agency payroll—defied long-standing domestic statutes, global treaties, and American military regulations that expressly forbid torture as either a tool for debriefing prisoners of war, or for punishment. Not to mention defiance of the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1791 along with the first ten amendments, collectively known as the Bill of Rights. The eighth of those amendments outlaws “cruel and unusual punishment”—with a specific ban on torturing anyone held in custody by government, military, or police authority.
And not to mention civilized behavior incumbent upon prominent members within the political, military, and economic establishment of all nation-states—per decisions in the context of Nazi criminal conduct adjudicated during Nuremberg trials of 1945-46, led by U.S. Chief Prosecutor Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954).
Never mind all that.
Here in America, we no longer speak of the Senate torture report. Like homicidal statistics involving encounters between African American citizens and white cops, the torture of Muslim war prisoners is in suspension as a category of current events. In Soviet times, troublesome persons were rendered non-persons; in modern America, troublesome news items go stale after their proverbial fifteen minutes of fame.
Never mind indeed.
The man at the top of a disgraceful heap of criminality revealed in the Senate report is the unindicted George W. Bush, capo de tutti capi of a painfully recent White House mafia. Mr. Bush bears philosophical and a bit of physical resemblance to Alfred E. Neuman, the imbecilic cartoon mascot of the satirical Mad Magazine. It is probable that Mr. Bush is pleased with newspapers lately cleansed of torture and racism; the ex-president may be heard echoing Mr. Neuman’s famous watchword—“What, me worry?”
Alternately, Mr. Bush may be aping an iconic line of dialogue from the madcap moviemaker Mel Brooks, who portrayed King Louis XVI of pre-revolutionary France in the 1981 comedy “History of the World, Part I.” Said Mr. Brooks, as the foppish Louis: “It’s good to be the king.”
An unsettling number of Americans are afflicted with unreason and bigotry encouraged by the reductionist rhetoric, nativism, and flagrant lies of popular newspapers and television outlets controlled by the odious right-wing media baron Rupert Murdoch. Holy of holies in the Murdochian worldview is the notion that more than one and one-half billion of the world’s adherents of Islam are answerable for sadism and depravity committed by murderers among their number who claim to act in religious cause. Mr. Murdoch took to Twitter on January 10 to declare: “Maybe most Moslems peaceful (sic) but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.”
Somehow, we Americans do not apply such standard of collective guilt to the world’s two billion Christians, though among this number are bible-thumping avengers of abortion, homosexuality, adultery, and racial integration—righteous retribution in the cause of Jesus Christ, the world’s most famous victim of torture.
And what of the genocidal Christians, to a man of the Aryan persuasion, who exterminated more people during the Holocaust than fanatics of al-Qaeda or Dai’ish or Boku Haram will ever hope to eliminate? Mr. Murdoch yet to tweet wisdom on this score.
We are now Je suis Charlie, so it is said by those of us Americans capable of speaking en français. Given the horrific terrorism in Paris—the slaughter of Christians, Jews, and a Muslim police officer by brainwashed thugs in thrall of Qu’ran-thumping racketeers—it is tempting to accede to our worst impulse. Here in the U.S., where fifty-nine percent of adults surveyed for a Washington Post-ABC News poll think the Bush-Cheney-C.I.A. torture program is fine and dandy, there is a vindictive undercurrent to conversations about the Charlie Hebdo-Hyper Cacher massacres—and the potential of such splashy evil crossing the Atlantic to attack us once again.
Among the now Among the agents provocateurs on staff at Fox TV News, Mr. Murdoch’s flagship of right-wing propaganda, is Steven Emerson, the self-touted „internationally recognized expert on terrorism.“ In an interview last weekend with Jeanine Pirro, a suburban New York lawyer and political has-been who plays a fake judge on a Fox entertainment program, Mr. Emerson declared Britain’s second largest city, Birmingham, to be “totally Muslim.” Further, said the expert, London is patrolled by religious police who beat up people for failing to wear “Islamic clothes.” A shocked albeit chirpy Ms. Pirro replied, “You know what it sounds like to me, Steve? It sounds like a caliphate within a particular country.” Mr. Emerson later acknowledged flawed punditry. Ms. Pirro has neither retracted nor elaborated upon her suspicions.
One day soon, we are likely to hear some other of Fox TV’s gaggle of experts promote a rip-roaring course of action: “Round up the usual suspects! Let ‘em rot in Guantánamo!” Thus we may rely on Rupert Murdoch and his flunkies to provide affirmation for the stupefied, thereby increasing audience share with resultant spikes in advertising revenue.
Damn a central fact of the Senate report: torture has yielded not one scrap of useful military intelligence necessary to deal with barbarism in the name of Allah. Viewers of Mr. Murdoch’s television outlets and readers of editorial page screeds in his Wall Street Journal and Times of London and practically every page of the tabloid New York Post—Messrs. Bush and Cheney notably among this benighted audience—hold dear to a feverish fantasy: torture is the wellspring of confession, and the just deserts of dusky evildoers.
Among the now officially chronicled Bush-Cheney torture methodology are the following forms of consuetude:
- Waterboarding. A simulated drowning technique first used by Tomás de Torquemada during the Spanish Inquisition. Subsequently used against Americans detained by the Empire of Japan during World War II, for which Japanese torturers were hanged after trial in U.S. courts.
- Rectal feeding and hydration. Known medically as proctoclysis, a nutrition supply alternative for patients unable to ingest meals and drink orally. Transmogrified as deviant sexual shaming, whereby C.I.A. goons infused the rectums of Muslim prisoners with boiling water and semi-pureed food, then forced the scalding mixture upward into the intestines to levels of near-fatal bursting.
- Hanging by wrists. Detainees’ forearms clamped against dungeon walls crawling with vermin.
- Sleep deprivation. Accompanied by blasting heavy metal rock “music,” administered for up to one hundred hours.
- Coffin confinement. Detainees locked into small pine crates packed with insects; entombed for days—to the point of near starvation.
- Electroshocks. Charged wires grafted to penis, testicles, lips, and ears.
George Bush and Dick Cheney are free men, proud of what they did as government leaders. Asked about possible mistakes of his presidency, Mr. Bush told the White House press corps in April 2004 that he couldn’t think of any. Mr. Cheney has claimed, frequently and falsely, that torture yielded vital tips in the cause of counterterrorism. And that he—a man with a battery-powered mechanical chest implant that pumps oxygenated blood through his left ventricle into his diseased aorta—would torture people again, “in a heartbeat.”
They did not act alone, Messrs. Bush and Cheney. Their comrades in Christ and torture included:
- Donald Rumsfeld. Family members of the former defense secretary in Germany—residents of Weyhe-Sudweyhe, a suburb of Bremen—have disowned him. “We’re embarrassed to be related to him,” said Karin Cecere, née Rumsfeld, in a February 2003 interview with The Telegraph of London. At the time, her American cousin was agitating for “Operation Shock and Awe,” the March-April 2003 blitzkrieg of Baghdad, which alone killed more than six thousand civilians. Mr. Rumsfeld was and still is a proponent of what he steadfastly refuses to call torture.
- George Tenet. As director of the C.I.A., he ignored multiple signals of an imminent al-Qaeda attack on New York and Washington in the months leading up to September 9, 2011. Following this gross incompetence, Mr. Tenet predicted that war in Iraq would be a “slam dunk” success—thanks largely to intelligence gained from torture. Upon resigning his post in 2004, Mr. Tenet was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by his boss, paid $4 million (€3.3 million) for his ghost-written memoirs, and installed in a Florida ocean-front home valued at $2 million (€1.7 million).
- Alberto Gonzales. A Texas political hack appointed U.S. attorney general by Mr. Bush, he supervised the drafting of legal briefs that found “enhanced interrogation techniques” to be in conformance with American constitutional law—techniques defined as illegal torture by the United Nations. Following his forced resignation in 2007, one potential employer after another rejected Mr. Gonzales. “For some reason,” he told the Wall Street Journal newspaper in 2008, “I am portrayed as the one who is evil in formulating policies that people disagree with. I consider myself…one of the many casualties of the war on terror.” Mr. Gonzales finally won a job on the faculty of an unaccredited “Christian” university in Tennessee, where he teaches, of all things, constitutional law.
- John Yoo. A principal Gonzales lackey, his legal drafts are widely regarded by law scholars as the intellectually shoddy work of a right-wing ideologue. Somehow, Mr. Yoo landed a post at one of America’s stellar academies—Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California-Berkeley. There, the modestly credentialed Mr. Yoo is a tenured, though reviled professor. He is often on the lecture trail, agreeably absent from the Berkeley campus, to sing the praises of torture before law student audiences.
- Jay Bybee. Another of Mr. Gonzales’ torture briefing mediocrities, he was given post-briefing appointment by Mr. Bush to a lifetime position as a judge on the prestigious San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals. In a January 2013 ruling in Chappell v. Mandeville, Judge Bybee quashed a California prison inmate’s civil rights lawsuit. Prisoner Rex Chappell claimed he was victimized by some of the same torture techniques blessed by Messrs. Bybee and Yoo. In Chappell, Mr. Bybee essentially extended justification for wartime torture in foreign lands to domestic criminal law. (Mr. Chappell now seeks rehearing on his case, en banc.)
- James Elmer Mitchell and John Bruce Jenson. This pair of obliging psychologists—contracted by the C.I.A. at the startling cost of $81 million (€66.5 million)—recommended and supervised torture, mostly in American dungeons based in Thailand. Neither doctor, according to the Senate report, “had any experience as an interrogator [or] specialized knowledge of al-Qaeda, a background in counterterrorism, or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise.” Yet the duplicitous duo convinced the Bush-Cheney administration that they could absolutely, positively deliver useful intelligence by way of physical and mental torture. As I write, Mr. Jessen—at left in the accompanying photograph—is busily hauling in fat lecture fees for recounting his lucrative C.I.A. gig.
My dear departed Grandfather Benjamin Gedney had something to say about the likes of Doctors Mitchell and Jessen, and the professional ethics of lawyers such as Messrs. Gonzales, Yoo, and Bybee.
“Whatever needs doctoring, you can always find a quack,” he observed. “Whatever needs lawyering, you can always find a shyster.”
Persons richly deserving of scorn will eventually die. In advance of their fate, I share Ben Gedney’s glorious contempt: “May their obituaries be written in weasel piss.”
To test the ugly hypothesis presented at the outset of this exposition—white supremacy as a core American value—let us imagine a reversal of racial markers in the catalogue of foreign and domestic brutality. At home, this sorry register is quantified by the USA Today newspaper: according to its recent study, white police officers killed, on average, two unarmed black people per week from 2006 to 2012—a hit list two years shy of recent high-profile rampages in New York, Ohio, Illinois, California, Florida, Mississippi, and South Carolina. On the foreign front, we now have documentation of torture as a weapon in a mootable American war.
Now suppose that black cops killed unarmed white people, two at a clip every for seven consecutive years. And suppose that a black president—Barack Obama, say, supported by a passel of African American quacks and shysters—ordered the round-up of dissidents in Ukrainian cities bordering Russia and subjected his white detainees to sexual shaming, simulated drowning, rectal feeding, hanging by the wrists, coffin lockdowns, and genital electrocution—in order to gain foreknowledge of ethnic uprisings that might concern our national interests.
Now ask—would white prosecutors fail to indict black cops for the intemperate slaughter of white civilians? Would the predominantly white legal universe fail to disbar black lawyers who countermanded the Constitution? Would the white medical establishment fail to decertify black psychologists who collected tens of millions of dollars for torturing white people—and collecting even more for bragging about it on the lecture circuit? Having instigated the unconstitutional torture of white people, could Mr. Obama escape criminal indictment—or at least impeachment and conviction in the overwhelmingly white Congress?
These are questions of morality. Where morality and race intersect, a disturbing number of white Americans go suddenly deaf, dumb, and blind. They refuse to entertain objective answers. They choose determined ignorance, and bequeath this choice to their children. And they resent being asked questions of morality in the context of racism in the first place, particularly when posed by the fair-skinned likes of myself.
Violence and shame are the frequent consequences of race-based unease. A dangerous percentage of white America worries about the year 2043, when the nation will be majority nonwhite, according to U.S. Census Bureau projections. The worst of us white folks—whether banjo plucking rednecks, silvery-templed corporate grandees, beer-swilling bowlers, C.I.A. goons with medical degrees, or Harvardians and Yalies at the levers of government power—are rutting about in a swamp of needless fear.
Or perhaps we are sinking into an acceptance of indecency at odds with the noble intentions of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights—these being the best angels of American civic culture. Perhaps our political culture, which we naïvely describe as democratic federalism, has been consumed by the restricted interests of those born to wealth—and by Murdochism that preserves their privilege. Perhaps something more prosaic.
“What if…the plutocratic theft of American lives and treasure is not actually a robbery, but a transaction?” asks Professor David Masciotra of the University of St. Francis in Fort Wayne, Indiana. In a December essay for the online magazine Salon, he wrote further:
William of Ockham famously devised the problem-solving principle, Occam’s razor: cut away unnecessary complications and the simplest answer to a question is most likely…correct. After all the analysis of the normalized dysfunction of democracy in America, launched with the assumption that the political system fails to represent the will of the people, the question remains: what if it actually does represent the will of the people? That the system is actually succeeding in upholding its representational promise might be the simplest and most probable answer to the mystery of America’s comatose slumber in a nightmare of torment for the oppressed and treasures for the oppressors.
We may also consider the sociological insight of Walt Kelly (1913-1973), the sardonic cartoonist and creator of “Pogo,” namesake of a syndicated comic strip he launched in 1948—and which survived him by two years.
Of an American dysfunctional society, Pogo tersely concluded: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” Nowadays, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center in Washington finds that seventy-one percent of Us never read a newspaper or magazine, eighty percent of Us bought no books last year, and eighty-eight percent of Us cannot name a single section of the Bill of Rights.
As said at the outset, no one will lift a finger to bring war criminals of the Bush-Cheney White House to justice. Forget about anyone in the current administration, including President Obama himself. And forget about the International Criminal Court at The Hague. In 2000, then-President Bill Clinton signed the Rome Statute that established the court, but then declined to seek U.S. Senate endorsement. Two years later, when the court opened for the business of war crimes, Mr. Clinton’s successor—George Bush—rescinded his predecessor’s signature, closing the door to American participation.
Moving on to the Obama administration:
- In a July 2009 report regarding legal efficacy of the so-called torture memos, the Justice Department Office of Professional Responsibility concluded that Messrs. Yoo and Bybee had committed “intentional professional misconduct” when they “knowingly failed to provide a thorough, objective, and candid interpretation of the law.” The Justice Department recommended “referral” to local bar associations for disciplinary action. It is now 2015, with no such referral, let alone action.
- Mr. Obama stands by what he declared in January 2009 when it first became sickeningly clear that the Bush-Cheney White House was a nest of torturers. “We need to look forward,” said Mr. Obama in a television address, “as opposed to looking backwards.” Speaking of the “extraordinarily talented people of the C.I.A…who are working very hard to keep Americans safe,” Mr. Obama added: “I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering up.”
The institutional buck-passing is vexatious; it goes to the heart of government authority over a country we allege to be more civil, more decent, and more democratic than any other. Occasionally, there are media accounts of government officials—policemen and pols, White House lawyers and C.I.A. operatives—behaving themselves in less than honorable fashion. The shelf life of these accounts is brief. We move from one atrocious report to another and another and another, growing woozy with the repetitious swirl. Never mind. Seventy-one percent of us, as Pew Research has found, know nothing of such accounts.
I have referenced movies and cartoons in the account you’re reading at the moment. Happily, we have he endurance of artful fictions to tell us the truth. For instance, let us go back in time to 1927 when the mysterious American expatriate author known as B. Traven published “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.” In the novel’s signature scene, set in the wild highlands of Mexico, a trio of American prospectors is accosted by a posse of federales—as the posse claims.
“If you’re the police,” asks one of the goldbugs, “where are your badges?”
Offended, the chief federale retorts: “Badges? To goddamned hell with badges! We have no badges. In fact, we don’t need badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges, you goddamned cabron and ching’ tu madre!”
In a society that purports to be “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” We the People of the United States of America must demand that public officials respect the badges of authority entrusted to them—from cops on the beat all the way up to presidents who swear to defend rather than defile the Constitution.
We the People must demand that public officials are subject to rather than above the rule of law. Otherwise, the enemy is Us.
Thomas Adcock is America correspondent for CulturMag.
Im Februar 2015 erscheint seine Erzählung “The Cannibal of Pang Yang” als eBook bei CulturBooks. Zur Vorschau.