Between Iraq and a Hard Place

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The American people have now received photographic evidence of what most of the rest of the world has already learned: the "war on terror" is terror! Reports of the torture and killing of Iraqis have appeared on the Internet and elsewhere with sufficient detail that the establishment media — desirous of protecting its diminishing credibility — finally had to acknowledge the legitimacy of the charges. It was only after the photos appeared on television — the boobeoisie’s electronic "Ministry of Truth" — that the systematic wrongdoing by American forces became a permissible topic of conversation.

The Iraqi adventure has, until recently, had the cable television news channels as its ardent cheerleaders. We were daily treated to an endless supply of retired generals and colonels to tell us how well the war was going. That many of such military "experts" were now employed as consultants to defense contractors — who have a decided interest in the propagation of the war — did not seem to detract from any sense of journalistic duty to the pursuit of truth. Informed critics were almost never allowed on network television to raise doubts about this "holy crusade."

But photographs — first of some twenty flag-draped coffins of American soldiers, then of Iraqi citizens being gleefully tortured by American troops — were able to insinuate themselves into the consciousness of even a few erstwhile flag-wavers. What impact such evidence will ultimately have upon the thinking of the Americans who have thus far been content to keep their minds in idle, remains to be seen. "Facts are stubborn things," John Adams informed us on the eve of the Revolutionary War, "and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dangers of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."

Even some members of Congress — almost all of whom have been bipartisan rubber-stamping lapdogs for an administration bent on ruling the world — have suddenly discovered their hind legs, upon which a few have risen to mumble unfocused questions about the Bush war in Iraq. Some Republicans sought a convenient rug under which to keep such evidence "in perspective." Democrats — who have been trying to figure out how to take advantage of the horrors of 9/11 without offending their establishment masters, a process that has thus far only managed to cough up a John Kerry hair ball — are now speaking of "responsibility." Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del) has proclaimed that "accountability is essential" in assessing the causes of these latest atrocities. "Who is in charge?," the senator asks.

Well, Bozo, you are supposed to be! You and your colleagues — who rose to no higher level of congressional responsibility than that exhibited by Caligula’s horse — went into a collective swoon over the Bush administration’s "Patriot Act," enacting it into law even before it had been fully drafted! Wisconsin Senator Feingold, stood alone in the Senate vote against this police-state measure. And what of Congress’ constitutionally-mandated authority to declare war? The Constitution placed this power in the hands of Congress, not in ambitious presidents whose dreams of imperial power become the nightmares of others.

This might be an appropriate time for you and your colleagues to re-read the Constitution, with particular attention paid to the fact that legislative powers are enumerated before those of the executive, a decision premised upon Congress being the repository of "sovereign power." Such a perusal might also reacquaint you with Article I, Section 3 which gives Congress the power of impeachment, even as to the president. You might also ask your colleagues why they so self-righteously exercised such authority when Bill Clinton lied about his sexual activities in the White House, but have failed to even consider such a remedy against the current president who piled lie upon lie in his eagerness for war. Does not the months-long cover-up by Bush and Rumsfeld of the torture of Iraqi civilians rise to the same level of turpitude as Richard Nixon’s cover-up of the Watergate break-in?

Who is in charge here, Senator? You might be prepared to answer that question should some mischievous soul dare to demand an answer in your next reelection campaign!

President Bush and other politicians — desirous of not offending any of the species Boobus Americanus in an election year — have been quick to marginalize these latest atrocities in Iraq as not being reflective of the attitudes or values of most Americans or military people. Every embarrassment to the state is immediately labeled an "aberration" that is not to be considered representative of the system.

But I strongly disagree with this assessment. To begin with, most Americans went into saturnalian ecstasy over the wholly unjustified bombing and invasion of Iraq, a wrong that has so far left some ten thousand Iraqis dead, not to mention the hundreds of Americans killed in this politico-psychotic fury. The willingness to kill men, women, and children as a reactive rage to the events of 9/11 — when it is clear that none of them had any connection with the WTC attack — is a reflection of both the values and the sanity of those who supported this war. Most Americans sanctioned terror against such people when they embraced the "shock and awe" bombing carried out by American warplanes. If Americans learn nothing more from this most grisly record of Americanism run rampant, it should be this: war is always directed against innocent people. It is utter hypocrisy to wave blood-stained flags on behalf of so-called "moral wars," and then pretend to be shocked when confronted with the evidence that innocent people have been tortured and killed in the process.

As long as they identify themselves with the state, most Americans — military personnel included — are quite prepared to accept these and other atrocious acts, as long as they are done quietly, and do not invade their consciousness. Even Harvard University law professor, Alan Dershowitz, has advocated torture under some circumstances. I believe that most people — Americans included — would not choose to engage in such acts themselves, and would reject them, in advance, if such were proposed. But once having been carried out by others, people with a collective mindset — upon which all political systems must rely — will be more inclined to cover up such wrongs than to ferret out the wrongdoers. One sees this tendency in police abuse cases, where police officers who would not engage in brutal acts themselves, will nevertheless remain silent when confronted with the evidence of such actions by their fellow officers.

This is a trait common within most institutions. Look at how Bush and Rumsfeld — who knew of these tortures as early as February — sat on the knowledge of such acts, apparently hoping they would not be made public. Institutions — both private and political — have long stressed the importance of each individual being a "team player," a term intended to convey the sense of collective identity that will dissuade one from revealing organizational wrongdoings.

The term "whistleblower" has either an affirmative or negative connotation, depending upon whether one is looking from outside or inside the organization. Unlike most people who identify themselves with an institution (e.g., the state) the whistleblower is an individual who does not allow his or her principles to be usurped by mandates of that system. The "Nuremburg principles" — although largely ignored as a standard to be imposed upon those who have enunciated such canons for others — are premised, at least in theory, on protecting the individuals who question the authority of those who order wrongdoing. They are also a way of reminding individuals that they are responsible for their acts. This is a lesson forgotten by some militarists who are suggesting that the men and women who tortured the Iraqis ought not to be punished, as they were only "following orders."

But whistleblowers are more reviled than revered within institutions. Tami Silicio, the woman who took the photograph of over twenty flag-draped coffins — another piece of evidence the government wanted to conceal from public view — was fired by her employer, Maytag Aircraft, for having done so. Even the United Nations — a body that gullible minds regard as being above crass politics! — has been informing contractors participating in the UN’s "oil-for-food" program, to remain quiet about investigations into alleged corruption. In a display of ownership long since denied by its member states to ordinary people, the UN has declared that all information on this program shall be the "property" of the UN!

It is the rare soul — but precisely the kind of person you would want in any healthy organization — who runs the risk of being a whistleblower. I suspect that the smiling soldiers photographed above their subdued, naked Iraqi victims, were implicitly aware of the internal pressures that work in favor of in-house secrecy. There was certainly nothing, in these pictures, that reflected either a fear of discovery of their deeds, or the sense, now being trumpeted by politicians and the media, that such actions were contrary to the values and attitudes of Americans.

Wartime does, on very rare occasions, produce the kinds of genuine heroes who have not permitted their principles to be completely suppressed by the orgies of war. One such man was an American helicopter pilot, Chief Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, who served in the army during the Vietnam war. His helicopter arrived at My Lai as Lt. Calley and his men were engaged in the point blank killing of old men, women, and children. Thompson landed his helicopter between Calley and his Vietnamese victims, and told members of his crew to open fire on any Americans who continued to shoot the Vietnamese. The slaughter ended. If someone wants to build a statue to this genuine war hero — perhaps at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington — let me know and I shall contribute!

As a colleague and I were watching the events of 9/11 unfold on a television screen in the faculty lounge, he asked for my interpretation. I told him that I thought the aftereffects of the WTC attack would be far greater than the horrible acts we were watching; that the repercussions would go far deeper into the conscious and unconscious minds of Americans than they will be comfortable exploring; and that, at the very least, Americans will have to come to grips with the question: why does so much of the world hate America? The revelation of the torturing and killing of Iraqi civilians may provide, albeit some thirty-two months later, a catalyst for each of us to examine our individual character as well as our susceptibility to being herded into politically-driven mobs.

It has been said that the likes of Clinton and Bush — along with their congressional sycophants — represent the bottom of the barrel in political behavior. If this is so, then it must be because most of us are now scraping the lowest depths of our dark side, but without any rethinking of the principles that should guide our conduct with others. The corporate-state managers of the establishment that claims ownership of your body and soul, don’t want you making any such inquiries. They hope you will be satisfied with a cursory remedy of the torture embarrassment, instead of looking more deeply into our own thinking. To this end, establishment voices have been offering up scapegoats for your consideration: the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld being at the top of the list. It has also been suggested that formal apologies be offered, it not being clear whether such remorse is for the acts, themselves, or for their having been uncovered. Others have made the absurd suggestion that the prison wherein such torture occurred be demolished, as though the building was to blame, rather than the purposes for which the building was constructed and used.

The Democrats will be trying to convince you that John Kerry is the answer to all of this. But John Kerry is just another symptom of the same problem of politically-centralized thinking. He is an "alternative" in the same sense that lung cancer is an alternative to emphysema, neither of which offers a healthy prognosis.

When I was growing up, it was said with a sense of egalitarian pride that, in America, anyone can grow up to be president. George W. Bush has confirmed the truth of this proposition. The underlying premises of his thinking and conduct also attest to the fact that most Americans will accept the rule of anyone. This man lacks any credibility to thoughtful and intelligent people. He refuses to acknowledge even the possibility that he might have been mistaken in any of his policies, an attitude that makes him immune to the learning process. He apparently draws solace from believing that "God wants me to be president."

As I write this article, amidst repercussions of the lies about Iraq’s "weapons of mass destruction" and ties to al Qaeda; with this administration’s trying to conceal photos of coffins returning from Iraq; and now with revelations of the torture and killing of Iraqi prisoners; George W. Bush is on television with a proposal to free Cuba from the dictator Castro!

If I had more confidence in the practice of psychiatry, I would suggest that America needs a whole lot of couch time!

Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law.

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