The Torture State Endures

Nil desperandum, conservative defenders of the Torture State.

(Posted for purposes of illustration only; not intended as an advertisement.) From Locke to Schlock: The t-shirt on the left, a juvenile celebration of the Khmer Rouge’s favorite torture tactic, is a suitable illustration of what contemporary conservatism is all about.

The institutions of the Imperial Executive remain intact. And although the Soviet- and Nazi-inspired “enhanced interrogation techniques” (“verscharfte verernehmung,” in the original German) have been put on the shelf, there is every reason to expect that they will quietly be pulled back down when the Anointed One, the Last Son of Krypton, He Who Will Bring Balance to the Force, even Barack the Blessed, considers them necessary.

You see, the key to understanding Obama’s method of consolidating power is this: When he speaks, the masses listen to the “music” and ignore the lyrics. Blessed with a mellifluous voice and an appealing mien, Obama has a gift — I’m tempted to call it Reaganesque — for political misdirection.

His thematic pronouncements on matters of principle resonate so strongly with the hopes of his most ardent supporters, and even some cynics, that little notice is taken of slight but important discordances in the substance of his actions.

In the specific matter of torture, all Obama’s executive order has done is to suspend the CIA’s use of patently illegal torture techniques and to move “expeditiously” to close down illegal torture facilities — pending the announcement of new policies on these matters by a special panel that won’t report its findings for at least six months. Until then, interrogations will be conducted in harmony with the restrictions of the U.S. Army Field Manual, and the requirements of Common Article III of the Geneva Conventions.

The interagency task force on detention and interrogation will be headed by the Attorney General and include the Secretary of State, the heads of the Homeland Security Department, the CIA, and the National Intelligence Agency, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and any other officials the chairman considers necessary. It’s entirely likely that this entirely establishmentarian body will end up recommending that Obama embrace some attenuated form of the Cheney approach to “Homeland Security” through torture, all-encompassing surveillance, summary detention, and targeted assassination.

That was, after all, the advice the Beltway media was urging on Obama just prior to his inauguration. Now the same media resound in psalms of praise for Obama’s “clean break” with the Bush Regime, and restoration of America’s moral standing. To judge from the hosannas being sung in Obama’s praise by the “progressive” choir, and the shrill choruses of despair emanating from the Bushified Right, one would think that the new president had made the Augean Stables as pristine as a NASA white room. However, as an unnamed Obama adviser told Newsweek, “All we’ve done for now is set up a process.”

A “process,” as the term is understood in Washington, will almost always result in the qualified institutionalization of something previously considered unthinkable. After all, where the Feds are concerned, the powers of government can only expand, never contract — and the powers accumulated by the Chief Executive under the lamentable reign of Bush the Dimmer will be considered simply too useful to discard by Obama and his colleagues, whose self-assigned mission is nothing less than to reconfigure American society.

That kind of thing, after all, will require a government that can be painfully insistent when it encounters resistance.

Lethal instrument of the imperial executive’s will: A CIA-operated Predator drone deploys a Hellfire missile.

Less than 72 hours after Obama’s halting, stumbling public recital of the presidential oath (I suspect the words “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the united States” burned on his tongue), he underwent the now-familiar presidential rite of passage by becoming a war criminal. Specifically, Obama ordered a lethal airstrike using a Predator drone against a target in Pakistan, a country with whom we are not at war, but toward which Obama has expressed aggressive intentions.

This attack, in which several children were killed, was counter-productive in addition to being illegal: Pakistan is teetering on the brink of succumbing to an Islamist revolt, which would make it the first nuclear-armed Jihadist state. Repeated U.S. incursions and airstrikes have done nothing to enhance that country’s stability.

Which means that it’s no surprise that the Predator strikes are carried out by the same CIA whose powers Mr. Obama is supposedly seeking to curtail. (Overthrowing bad governments in favor of worse ones has long been a CIA specialty.) And, most critically, the strike was carried out in secrecy, without congressional authorization — apart, that is, from the same 2001 “Authorization for Use of Military Force” that the Bush Regime used as an Enabling Act for the Imperial Presidency.

Also significant is the fact that Obama, who supported the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program in the Senate, filed an appeal with a federal judge in San Francisco “to set aside a ruling in a closely watched spy case weighing whether a U.S. president may bypass Congress and establish a program of eavesdropping on Americans without warrants,” reported Wired news.

That eavesdropping program, ritually described by Bush and his defenders as limited to scrutiny of international communications involving “legitimate” terrorist suspects, actually encompassed practically all forms of electronic communication by tens of millions of Americans, including telephone calls, e-mails, financial transactions, and anything else susceptible to interception by the National Security Agency.

"It didn’t matter whether you were in Kansas, in the middle of the country, and you never made foreign communications at all,” explains NSA defector/whistleblower Russell Tice. “They monitored all communications." Obama, the supposed paladin of civil liberties, is determined to preserve this totalitarian surveillance program.

Yes, there may be modest or even significant adjustments in the implementation of the imperial agenda. Some of the most visible barbarities might end, or at least appear to. A certain superficial gentility might replace the pugnacious ignorance that characterized the Bush-era executive branch.

Where the powers and purposes of the imperial state are concerned, however, these are merely cosmetic enhancements and refinements of technique; it’s a bit like giving a cannibal a makeover and teaching him to use flatware.