Thursday, December 11, 2014

State Terrorists Must be Prosecuted

As pressure on the CIA mounts in the wake of a Senate report documenting its extensive, unchecked, and unsupervised use of torture during the Bush administration, current and former intelligence officials are emerging from the sidelines along with Bush administration officials to protest the report’s accusations.
Like the generals from South American juntas, these individuals—who either committed or supported atrocities and terrorism—are trying to change the record or the parameters of the debate to secure their reputations, jobs, and possibly their futures, given calls from politicians and human rights organizations on the Obama administration to prosecute those guilty of state crimes and terrorism.
Both Dick Cheney (who told flagrant lies to engineer an illegal and immoral war in Iraq, and has always glorified state terrorism) and John Brennan (current CIA Director and overseer of Obama’s program of drone murders) have argued that the use of torture was necessary to protect the U.S. in a time of war.
But it was telling that even in his defense of the agency under his charge, John Brennan carefully said that “There was very valuable intelligence obtained from individuals who had been, at some point, subjected to EIT’s [torture]”.  He clearly didn’t feel comfortable saying on the record that the intelligence was obtained because of that torture. 
There are two responses that debunk this line of ‘logic’ about the necessity of torture.
The first is that outlined by UC Irvine law school dean earlier in the week when he reminded us that “the debate should not be about whether the torture worked.  The federal criminal law and the [international] treaty [to which the U.S. is a signatory] have no exception for effective torture”.  In other words, sociopaths like Dick Cheney and lifetime members of the rogue intelligence establishment like John Brennan do not get to decide when we trash our laws and throw out our legal obligations by turning to methods of barbarism. 
The second argument of course, is that torture, and the array of terrorist methods deployed by the United States in the 13 years since 9/11 have caused far more violence and destruction than during 9/11 and subsequent attacks.  There is little to no evidence that our state terrorism prevented further attacks, and much to suggest that it and our wars have generated new ones.
Far more U.S. citizens—most of them military personnel—have died since 9/11 than on that day.  Hundreds of thousands of citizens from Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan have been killed by our terroristic wars.
Those ill-judged wars scattered Al Qaeda from its hide-out in Afghanistan across South Asia, the Middle East, the Horn, and North Africa.  Our terrorism proved a boon to Al Qaeda and its ilk, losing us sympathy and initiating a recruiting bonanza for the terrorist organizations we were trying to combat.
George Tenent, Porter Goss, and Michael Hayden, all practitioners or supporters of state terrorism from their former positions in the CIA, are crawling out of the woodwork to defend the savagery their organization unleashed on people outside the remit of law, oversight, or the conventional bounds of morality.  These men should be speaking in public, but not bleating from the safety of talk-shows.  Rather, they should be in court, on trial for war crimes, crimes against peace, and crimes against humanity.
Trying to shift the terms of the debate, the Republican Party—the party of umpteen Benghazi investigations into the non-scandal that was Benghazi—cited the cost of investigating the terrorism of our intelligence agencies as a reason for letting their criminal behavior go unpunished.  Senate intelligence committee chair Dianne Feinstein then pointed out that “most of the cost [of the investigation] was incurred by the CIA trying to hide its record”.  The CIA is not simply a terrorist organization in the sense that it tortures and murders.  It also subverts democratic government by destroying and withholding records about its terrorist activities.  In the long run, the CIA and its pathology is a far greater threat to our nation than Al Qaeda ever was or will be.
John Brennan, whining at a news conference after the report was released said, “My fervent hope is that we can put aside this debate and move forward”. 

Well, Mr Brennan, maybe we can move forward if those of you who committed torture and other acts of terror, and those of you who ordered such actions and shielded those who committed them are brought to justice.  “Moving on” is code for impunity, and if we are a nation of laws, as so many like to claim, those laws must be brought to bear on those who break them.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Harboring Terrorists

CIA Director John Brennan is working to protect terrorists
In the aftermath of the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. on September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush declared that the U.S. could not tolerate the violence of international terrorism, and that the country would pursue terrorists wherever they could be found, dismantling, if necessary, those regimes which harbored them.
This promise provided the casus belli for the administration’s war on Iraq—not only illegal, but based on lies constructed by the Vice President and others in the administration.  But it was also what opened up the possibility for the ill-judged U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.
Today, the United States and other countries are threatened or destabilized not only by the existence of international, non-state terrorism—much of it disseminated or catalyzed by our imperial foreign policy which yields little in the way of public benefits and much in the way of U.S. and global insecurity.
We also face a pernicious internal threat from the military and security apparatus that grew alongside our government’s prosecution of the War of Terror, now fought across multiple continents on many fronts. defines “terrorism” as “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes”.  The entire premise of the War on Terror—with its embrace of methods of barbarism—is about using violence to create political change.
An entire industry of state terror now exists in the United States.  Our government developed torture programs that outran their remit and evaded official scrutiny, in part because the CIA lied to Congress and the administration about the barbarism of their program.  When the Senate sought to investigate the terrorism of the CIA, the organization, along with its supporters in the Obama administration, sought to frustrate the investigation.
Our government dramatically expanded domestic and international surveillance, intruding into people’s personal communications in a way calculated to create a more servile and fearful population, arguing that such spying (about which the NSA lied to Congress) was necessary to protect the public, although they can’t actually tell us what they are protecting us from.
In conjunction with the torture program, our government deployed the methods of state terror developed in other parts of the world by military dictatorships: disappearance, abduction, rendition, and extrajudicial killing.
The latter method has ballooned under President Obama, who now uses “disposition matrices” to order the murder of people using drones.  The murder of people on two continents using this method relies on a statistical evaluation of a person’s movements and behavior, not on any recognizable legal process.  And investigations have proven Obama’s program of mass murder to be woefully inaccurate when it comes to targeting only imminent threats.
The Bush administration waged war in flagrant defiance of law, conspiring to wage aggressive war in Iraq—the crime for which Nazis were tried at Nuremberg, one of the first applications of laws about war crimes, crimes against peace and crimes against humanity.
But the Obama administration has tried to put a legal gloss on its war-making powers, arguing that no Congressional oversight is necessary for a war waged by drones because there are no “boots on the ground” and therefore there is no war.  That is a fine hair to split for the people whose family members are killed or whose livelihoods are destroyed by Obama’s wars.
So if part of our task as a nation is to recognize that something has been terribly wrong with our conduct during the past decade or more, we also need to pursue justice: to make it clear that there is no impunity for state terrorists, and to ensure that our institutions are cleaned up.
Senator Mark Udall outlined part of the problem in a speech before the Senate, arguing that “[CIA] director [John] Brennan and the CIA today are continuing to willfully provide inaccurate information and misrepresent the efficacy of torture.  In other words, the CIA is lying…the deeper, more endemic problem [than the original torture program] lies in a CIA, assisted by a White House, that continues to try to cover up the truth”.
 In 2001, George W. Bush declared that the United States would “pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism.  Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make.  Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.  From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime”.
It was a crude basis on which to wage what is now a 13-year war, with no end in sight.  But it gets at part of our current problem.  We now have, within the United States, within the fastness of our federal government, institutions whose membership includes practitioners, promoters, and defenders of state terror. 
John Brennan, the head of the CIA, is harboring terrorists and shielding them, his agency, and the institutional culture of our security and intelligence services, from democratic scrutiny, accountability, and justice.  He is working to protect terrorists and promote terrorism by frustrating the efforts of our democratic institutions—the Senate, for example—to investigate wrongdoing.
In this way, Brennan and others like him in this administration and the previous one have drawn battle lines and are going to war with our democracy, arguing that the right of the CIA to break the law and commit acts of terrorism is more important than our political and judicial framework. 
Brennan makes this argument by saying that the CIA’s terrorism has been somehow misunderstood.  He is undermined by the likes of Dick Cheney who says that everyone in the administration knew exactly what unspeakable things they were authorizing the CIA to do.  Brennan is trying to hide state terror, while Dick Cheney is glorifying it. 
Both of these men—and many others like them—represent a sickness in our government and our democracy.  Whether they are harboring, defending, or enabling state terrorists and state terrorism, they pose an imminent threat to our democracy—a threat that today seems in precious little danger of being brought to heel without a systematic effort to hold people accountable.
Writing in the Los Angeles Times, UC Irvine law professor and dean Erwin Chemerinsky reminded us that “torture is a federal crime, and those who authorized it and engaged in it must be criminally prosecuted…The only way to ensure that it does not happen again is to criminally prosecute those involved”. 
“Those who authorized and engaged in torture should not be able to escape punishment because they thought that they were acting to protect national security”, Chemerinsky argued, “The ends came to justify the means, and the means were inhumane and abhorrent.  The debate should not be about whether the torture worked.  The federal criminal law and the [international] treaty [to which the U.S. is a signatory] have no exception for effective torture”.
The ACLU has a petition asking that those who authorized this awful state terrorism be held accountable.  Adding your name to such a petition is one way of trying to ensure that criminality does not go unpunished and that we make headway against those operating from the shadows of the military intelligence complex who would see our democracy become a casualty of their imperial war.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Exposing State Terror

Today the Senate released its report into one sphere of the criminal activities of the Bush administration.  Under the leadership of the President, his Vice-President, Defense Secretary, and members of the national security and intelligence community, the United States developed and expanded a program of torture.  This was a morally depraved covert program developed secretly.  It compromised our values, proved useless in prosecuting the War of Terror, and has almost certainly generated more in the way of ill-will and security threats than it ever served the public interest.
With its penchant for performing one public disservice after another, much of the U.S. media has speculated about how the release of the report might upset people around the world and perhaps escalate the danger to U.S. interests abroad.  The suggestion, according to this narrative (egged on by paragons of virtue like Dick Cheney), is that the public does not need to know about its government’s state terrorism and how its representatives were lied to and misled in order to prevent future problems.
Rather, the Senate should have engaged in a cover-up and allowed the terroristic CIA and the war criminals in the Bush administration to fade into the background.  That is certainly what the CIA wanted.  The rogue agency spied on and obstructed Senate access to documents related to its terrorism, and has colluded with the Obama administration (which practices its own form of state terror in the form of its mass murdering drone program) to suppress around 90% of the report released today.
I think it’s important to know how ineffective the torture program was.  I think it’s important to know that the CIA (like the NSA) lied to the people charged with overseeing its activities.  I think it’s important to know that some CIA officers objected in strenuous terms to the brutality they were asked to dish out, only to be slapped down by figures further up the food chain.
And I think it’s important to know that the barbarism of our government and its agents went beyond what it had ever admitted to in the past. 
The New York Times reported that “CIA officials routinely misled the White House and Congress about the information it obtained, and failed to provide basic oversight of the secret prisons it established around the world”.  In those prisons the CIA “used to torture and imprison terrorism suspects [note that these people had not been through any legal process].  Detainees were deprived of sleep for as long as a week, and were sometimes told that they would be killed while in American custody.  With the approval of the CIA’s medical staff, some prisoners were subjected to medically unnecessary ‘rectal feeding’ or ‘rectal hydration’—a technique that the CIA’s chief of interrogations described as a way to exert ‘total control over the detainee’”.
The CIA lied about when, where, and to what extent waterboarding was used.  And “some CIA officers were ‘to the point of tears and choking up’” while watching the brutal activity meted out in defense of “American values”. 
The Times reported that “of the 119 detainees, ‘at least 26 were wrongfully held…[including] an ‘intellectually challenged’ man whose CIA detention was used solely as leverage to get a family member to provide information”. 
CIA director John Brennan, an architect of much of the terrorism that defines our foreign policy, argued that the report was “incomplete and selective”.  He is certainly correct inasmuch as his organization—in the long run a far greater threat to our democracy than any international terrorist organization—was permitted to kill the release of the entire report.
Revelations about the U.S. torture program are long overdue and represent only the tip of the iceberg if we are interested in examining the crimes of the Bush Administration.  Top members of the administration, particularly the Vice-President, conspired to wage aggressive war by lying openly to the public about connections between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. 
That war killed hundreds of thousands of people and saw the privatization of sections of our national security apparatus, leading to massive war profiteering.  It not only killed huge numbers of Iraqis, but destroyed the country’s infrastructure and institutions.  It spread international terrorist organizations across the Middle East, generating threats to the United States and the wider international community.
No one has been held accountable for these war crimes and crimes against peace and humanity.  And if the CIA and the current administration have their way, we will wring our hands for a few hours and then forget the violence and illegality of this torture program and the larger war of which it was a part. 
According to the New York Times President Obama “welcomed the release of the report, but in a written statement made sure to praise the CIA employees as ‘patriots’ to whom ‘we owe a profound debt of gratitude’ for trying to protect the country.  But in a later television interview, he reiterated that the techniques ‘constituted torture in my mind’ and were a betrayal of American values”. 
I suppose we could expect no greater clarity from so morally compromised a President.  As the public pleads with President Obama to address the systematic violence of domestic policing, and the pernicious role of racial profiling within that policing, the President runs his own program of terror that relies on profiling, only with more consistently lethal results.
Under Obama, the CIA uses a “disposition matrix” to murder people based on the statistical significance of their movements and appearance.  We know that some 96% of the people murdered under this program had nothing to do with Al Qaeda, and that many murder victims had nothing to do with any militant organization.
People who authorize, perform, and protect torture and rendition and “disappearances” and extrajudicial killings—the features of our more than decade long War of Terror—are not “patriots” in any positive sense of the word.  They are terrorists, by even the simplest dictionary definition.  Like Al Qaeda, they are using violence for political purposes—albeit different purposes.  Unlike Al Qaeda, they are using terror as a tool of the state that gives their activities a veneer of legality.
As deplorable as the actions of CIA officers who tortured might be—the fact that others objected to and rejected torture demonstrates that these officers do have moral agency—the real culprits are the architects of the national security apparatus which makes this kind of violent, shameful behavior imperative and acceptable.
If someone commits a murder in our society, or attacks other members of our society, we demand justice.  While some might demand that justice for retributive purposes, the real reason is to remove a threat to society and demonstrate that as citizens we will not tolerate violent behavior.
And yet in this case, people who torture and murder and abduct other human beings—in violation of U.S. and international law—are permitted to walk free.  Whether our current President, his predecessor, Dick Cheney, or Donald Rumsfeld, the fact that these criminals are granted impunity ensures that there will be no end to this counter-productive and immoral state violence.  Future advocates or practitioners of state terror will take comfort from our failure to act. 

We should not embolden such behavior, but rather pursue it with the full force of the law.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Jerry Brown's History with the University of California

It should be clear, on the eve of extended tuition hikes at the University of California that Jerry Brown has been no friend to the UC during his latest four years as Governor.  He continued and deepened the cuts made by his predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger (who appeared to at least understand the importance of UC), and restored only minimal funding in the latter years of his tenure.
While he has hit the right notes in complaining about a bloated administration and unseemly pay raises amongst the growing cadres of bureaucrats at UC, Brown has also pushed the University to cheapen its mission, shoving students out the doors as quickly as possible, substituting online courses for a serious education, and scaling back the UC’s ambitions.  He is presiding over the slow but steady privatization of the UC, as his refusal to fund the public institution forces tuition steadily upwards given that UC is educating more students, engaging in more research, and is ever more connected to California’s political economy and, therein, the state’s fortunes.
But Californians shouldn’t be surprised by Jerry Brown’s hostility to the state’s preeminent public institution and the country’s best university system.  Since the 1970s, Brown has adopted a Tea Party-esque view of the public sphere, often providing a pseudo-intellectual gloss for his small-minded irresponsibility, his embrace of crippling austerity, and his obsession with “fiscal responsibility” and the social irresponsibility that goes along with a doctrine which sees budgets as ends rather than means.
But Brown also has a more specific track record when it comes to UC.
David Gardner was the University of California President from 1983 to 1991, coming in on the heels of Brown’s first two terms as Governor.  The timing of his tenure meant that Gardner spent his early years picking up the pieces at a University suffering from neglect.  In his autobiography, he mused about “how [he] would have managed as president in the later 1970s with Governor Jerry Brown and what came to be his quite unfriendly views of the University of California” (103).
Gardner elaborated on the out-going Governor’s hostility to UC, recalling how “Brown felt UC’s high standards for admission, excellent faculty, world-class research, and vast intellectual, cultural, and creative resources were an unreasonable burden on the state.  If UC wanted to seek and attain those levels of excellence, [Brown] believed, then it could get the money from sources other than the State of California’s taxpayers” (160). 
Gardner’s analysis suggests that Brown had little understanding of the logic of California’s Master Plan for Higher Education, and did not appreciate that UC’s very strength came from its location at the intersection between providing public education and engaging in public research.  And let’s not forget that today, the other tiers of California’s higher education system—the California State University and the California Community Colleges—have also been victims of Brown’s attacks.
Jerry Brown is normally seen as the antithesis of the morally-stunted, small-government fanatics who have dominated California’s politics since the 1970s, first under Ronald Reagan and then thanks to undemocratic supermajority requirements enshrined by Proposition 13, from their minority status in the legislature.  But Brown actually bears a striking resemblance to those on the far right.
This parallel was not lost on Gardner.  “In strange ways”, he wrote, “both Reagan and Brown had concluded that UC shouldn’t be as excellent as it had become, at least not on the taxpayers dollars” (161).  This is a view that Brown regularly propounds to voters today, usually as an excuse for not addressing the underlying structural problems that flatline or shrink California’s revenue at the same time that the state is growing in population and demographic complexity.
Gardner faced considerable challenges as an incoming President, in part because the UC was resource-starved and “had suffered grievously under Governors Reagan and Brown for sixteen years” (196).  Both of these governors were, in his mind, guilty of “fiscal neglect” (211), and their neglect had created a great deal of anxiety within the UC system.
Gardner recalled how during budget discussion at UC, “everyone seemed clearly committed to the university’s well-being, its mission, and its importance to the state, while expressing time and again a fear for the university’s immediate and prospective fiscal health.  The fear was well-founded, owing to the deteriorating base of UC’s funding from both state and federal sources, the reduced state of affairs for the university’s five medical centers, and low moral within the university as a whole, weary from fighting with California’s governors for sixteen years, eight with Ronald Reagan and eight with Jerry Brown” (151). 
Brown’s attack on public higher education today is deplorable, as is his tacit support for the privatization process that makes students pay nearly $15,000 per year to attend the institution that did not charge tuition when he was a student.  Brown might think he is calling out the UC Regents, but his actions are only playing into their hands as they push the privatization of the UC that their experience in the corporate world suggests should be run like a business rather than an institution of learning. 
When confronted about the rank hypocrisy of his destructive approach toward higher education, Brown responds with the kind of vapid homilies that have characterized his life of public disservice, and which have the commentariat snuffling, pathetically, at his feet.  “The pressure of not having enough money can force creativity that cannot even be considered”, Brown proclaimed. 
The Christian Science Monitor reported on Brown’s suggested “cost-cutting measures…upping dramatically the use of online courses, concentrating specialty courses at specialty campuses, and giving college credit for work experience”, all things designed to make UC less of a system and more of a work-house, deaf to the needs of the state community it serves, and obliging the sociopathic interests in our state which believe they have no responsibility to fund public services.
Doing his job and funding the state’s institutions apparently has not occurred to Brown…that sort of creativity and public service is evidently far beyond the realm of consideration.
Some have sought to explain Brown’s forty-year crusade against a strong public sphere in psychological terms, as a rebellion against the transformative legacy of his father who, as Governor, built much of the state’s social and physical infrastructure. 

You could arguably explain his particular hostility toward UC in a similar light.  Perhaps the man who fancies himself an intellectual seems fearful of the institution capable of calling him out on the shallowness of his thought, the paucity of his imagination, the cheap phrases he constructs to mask his embrace of right-wing sociopathy and the self-interest that have defined not only his own years in the spotlight, but also the culture that his actions over four decades have helped to create in California.


David Pierpoint Gardner, Earning My Degree: Memoirs of an American University President (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005).