Written by Chris Floyd
Friday, 11 October 2013 00:44
Here is my most recent column for the print version of CounterPunch, which was published last month.
As we all know, the use of chemical weapons is the most heinous crime that can be committed by a brutal, aggressive government: a brazen act of state terror, an offense against all humanity. Those who perpetrate such actions put themselves beyond the pale; indeed, they rank themselves with Hitler himself, as a succession of America’s highest officials has pointed out in recent weeks.
And that’s why the details of the infamous chemical attack in the Middle East resonate with stark moral horror. Especially chilling are the reports of some of the soldiers who actually took part in the chemical attacks, coming forward to offer evidence after the regime they served denied its obvious crime. As one regime soldier noted, the chemical weapon involved in the attack “burns bodies; it melts the flesh all the way down to the bone. I saw the burned bodies of women and children. Anyone within a radius of 150 meters is done for.”
A document produced by the regime’s own military said the chemical weapon “proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions and as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents … We [were] using [chemical weapons] to flush them out and high explosives to take them out.” Another soldier involved in these chemical weapons attacks said: "There is no way you can use [it] without forming a deadly chemical cloud that kills everything within a tenth of a mile in all directions from where it hits. Obviously, the effect of such deadly clouds weren't just psychological in nature."
But of course, chemical weapons were only part of this attack on the rebel position – an attack absolutely replete with war crimes violations. Before assaulting the civilian quadrants with a barrage of chemical weapons, the regime cut off the city’s water and power supplies and food deliveries. One of the first moves in the attack was the destruction of medical centers; indeed, 20 doctors were killed, along with their patients – innocent women and children – in a savage blitz before the chemical weapons were unleashed. But why would even a regime full of rogue barbarians attack a hospital? It’s simple, one of the regime’s “information warfare specialists” told the New York Times: hospitals can be used as “propaganda centers” by rebels trying to stir up sympathy for their cause.
Meanwhile, the BBC managed to penetrate the rebel-held areas and report on the results of the combined attack of chemical and conventional weapons:
“There are more and more dead bodies on the street, and the stench is unbearable … There are dead women and children lying on the streets. People are getting weaker from hunger. Many are dying from their injuries because there is no medical help left in the city whatsoever. Some families have started burying their dead in their gardens.”
By the end of the attack, vast areas lay in ruins. More than 36,000 homes were destroyed, along with 60 schools and 65 mosques and religious centers. Medical workers estimated the civilian death count at between 4,000 and 6,000, which, the Guardian noted, was “a proportionally higher death rate than in Coventry and London during the Blitz.”
As both President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have said so eloquently, those responsible for such a crime must be punished. To look away from such an atrocity, to fail to hold those responsible to account would be, as these eminent statesmen tell us, a crime in itself, tantamount to ignoring the Holocaust or the massacres in Rwanda …
But of course the crimes enumerated above did not take place in Syria in August of 2013. They were part of America’s Guernica-like destruction of the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004: one of the most egregious – and most sustained – war crimes since the Second World War. The widespread use of chemical weapons in the decimation of Fallujah – including the flesh-eating horror of white phosphorous, the future-maiming deployment of depleted uranium and other chemicals, which have led to an epidemic of birth defects in the region – is well-documented and, after years of outright lies and evasions, now cheerfully admitted by the United States government. Using these chemical weapons – along with good old-fashioned mass-murdering conventional munitions just like mother used to make – the United States government slaughtered thousands upon thousands of innocent people in its berserker outburst against Fallujah.
It goes without saying that the “international community” did not rise up in righteous indignation at this use of chemical weapons to slaughter far more civilians than even the Obama Administration’s wild exaggerations are claiming in Syria. It goes without saying that the drone-bombing Peace Laureate and his lantern-jawed patrician at Foggy Bottom have signally failed to criticize – much less prosecute! – the perpetrators of the Fallujah war crime, or make the slightest change in the system of military aggression that produced it. Instead they have expanded and entrenched this system at every turn, extending it far beyond the wildest dreams of Bush and Cheney.
Whatever his manifest crimes (and alleged exacerbations), Bashar Assad will remain a hapless piker next to these pious virtuosos of mass-murdering violence.
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 01 October 2013 09:47
"Thanks for a nation of finks"
-- William Burroughs
As the days and weeks go crawling by, bringing now and then another little drib, another little drab of revelations from the storehouse of secrets that Edward Snowden pried loose from the National Security Agency, the story turns slowly but surely from one of scandal and outrage bidding fair to trouble the well-cushioned bottoms on the seat of power to a dimmed, drained subject of "debate" amongst powerful insiders.
Indeed, we are now told by the dolers of the dribs that "debate" was the sole purpose of the exercise in the first place. Snowden was driven into permanent exile, his life and liberty put at constant risk, solely to provoke a "debate" in the national power structure, a conversation among the cognoscenti of political and media elites that will lead, eventually, to the holy grail of "reform." Naturally, this debate -- and the revelations themselves -- must be kept within careful parameters; nothing that might actually damage the "national security" operations of the brutal, bristling, maniacally militarized, quasi-Stasi, Gorgon-staring imperial state is to be allowed into the "conversation" our betters are now having among themselves on how best to bring a modicum of restraint and oversight to the NSA's all-pervading surveillance. (For more on this, see 'Oligarchs Approve the NSA Debate.')
"Thanks for a country where
nobody's allowed to mind his
But put this aside for now. And put aside the fact that this slow drip-feed of carefully curated stories has come to seem more like an inoculation than a revelation, inurring people to the shock with small doses which, over time, simply fade into the background noise, become part of the new normal -- while allowing the Security Apparat itself plenty of time to develop antibodies -- defenses, diversions -- to diffuse the impact of what could have been a powerful, multi-sided shock to the system.
Put all that aside, and let us grant, for a moment, the premise that the "debate" provoked by the Snowden revelations will indeed lead not to the usual application of skin-deep PR cosmetics but to a true "reform" of NSA practices: a more careful delineation of the scope of the agency's activities, and more rigorous oversight by a few select members of Congress, who will, in this case, for the first time in many decades, actually carry out their responsibilities.
In other words, let us grant that every dream of the debate-provokers comes true and the NSA is genuinely "reformed." The question then follows: so what?
As Arthur Silber points out in a powerful new essay, the NSA is only one small cog in a vast machinery of repression that already, right now, possesses -- and exercises -- an overwhelming level of control over the liberties and lives of every US citizen (not to mention the billions of meaningless non-entities and pieces of drone fodder who live beyond the sacred bounds of the Homeland). What's more, a preponderance of this repressive machinery is already "transparent" -- openly acknowledged, even advertised by the ruling elite in many cases.
What's more, almost all of this machinery is "legal" in one way or another. As Silber noted years ago, when a very similar "debate" was being carried out by "serious" people seeking "reform" after another set of revelations about government spying emerged:
With regard to FISA and issues of liberty and privacy in general, let me now ask you a few questions. How long do you think it would take you to identify, read, and understand every provision in every statute, regulation and other authorization that gives surveillance powers to the government? Furthermore: Would you know each and every place to look, or how to determine what those places were? Additionally: With a staff of 20, or 50, could it be done, even if you were provided with limitless time and limitless funds?
I submit to you, without qualification or reservation, that you could not do it. No one could. Consider that most legislators in Washington aren't even aware of much of what's in the bills they so eagerly vote on. Consider the prohibitive length and complexity of legislation that comes before Congress. That's true of what is going on now. If you tried to track down every piece of legislation, every regulation, every administrative agency ruling, and every other pronouncement still in effect that allows the government to surveil and otherwise keep track of you, me, the guy down the street, the woman next door and the man in the moon, based on alleged concern with and the need to protect us all from the ravages of drugs, "illicit" sex, any and all other suspected criminal activity and, natch, terrorism, how on God's green earth would you do it? You couldn't.
As he concludes today:
Certainly with regard to surveillance, the State has already granted itself entirely comprehensive, indeed omnipotent, powers. I guarantee you that, buried in the hideous bowels of all the laws, regulations, agency rulings, etc. and so on unto the ends of time, that give the State surveillance powers, the State has the power to spy on anything, anywhere, anytime, for any reason it manufactures, or for no reason at all.
Yes, do you remember that controversial FISA bill noted above? Remember the fierce "debate" after the New York Times revealed the extent of the Bush Administration's warrantless surveillance programs? Remember the "reform" this debate led to, when crusading presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (breaking his solemn word) voted for a "reform" bill in 2008 that greatly expanded the reach of the surveillance system -- in effect, legalizing Bush's illegalities -- while absolving the telecom corporations of their illegal acquiescence to these crimes? Remember all that? How did that turn out, all that "debate" and "reform" and working within the system? Did it curtail in any way, did it slow to any degree, the relentless expansion of our Stasi-like security apparatus?
Are we really to believe that getting a "debate" going among these same people, and/or the same types of people (products and beneficiaries of our militarized, super-profitable, ego-inflating 'national security' system), will actually produce a different result?
As Silber says, the NSA revelations do have value, shining a light on a pernicious corner of the Security Apparat's sinister operation. But he goes on to note:
To focus on the NSA as if that agency is the only or even a major source of the problem is entirely wrong. The NSA is only one source of the rot that is spread across numerous agencies and programs, the rot that has infected our government at every level (federal, state, county, municipal, etc.) and in countless ways. But the unique and restricted focus on the NSA is also an enormous boon to the State; it is largely the result of our culture's idiotic and myopic focus on the "hot" story of the moment, devoid of history, of context, of everything that should inform our understanding of the issues involved. It creates and supports the view that, if only we "fix" the NSA, then a significant part of the problem will be solved. But that is flatly untrue. As I already noted, you could eliminate the NSA entirely this very minute, and it wouldn't make a damned bit of difference. But the heightened focus on the NSA, while ignoring all the other agencies and programs involved in similar and even identical activities, leads directly to the "solution" that will make the State writhe in ecstasy. Congress will have some hearings, and they will provide for some "oversight" and "accountability," and most people, including most of the State's critics, will herald the great triumph of "the people" and "democracy." Meanwhile, the State will continue doing exactly what it was doing before.
"Thanks for the American dream,
To vulgarize and to falsify until
the bare lies shine through."
Silber's latest post gives a chilling example of just how meaningless even a genuine "reform" of the NSA would be. He sets down what could almost be a dystopian horror story from some adventure mag of the 1950s: the tale of an America under the boot of a tyrannical elite that lavishes its obedient insiders with perks and protection while abandoning the rest of the rabble to ravages of fate:
Imagine that there is a special class of American citizens. This special class is made up of individuals from private business, in fields such as agriculture, finance, the internet, academia, and utility companies. These people have certain responsibilities and, in exchange, they are granted certain privileges. These people are dedicated to providing information that, in their view, might be related in some way to possible threats to "national security." They are encouraged to report all such information they may come across, including information about their fellow employees. Imagine that there are tens of thousands of such "special" people, spread across the entire United States. ...
For their diligent work, members of the special class are given advance "secret" warnings about terrorist threats, before the general public learns of them (and sometimes even before elected officials). These special individuals receive "almost daily updates" on threats "emanating from both domestic sources and overseas." These special people enjoy being "special." They "are happy to be in the know." In the event that communications networks are seriously disrupted, this special class will be able to get phone calls and internet messages through when most people can't.
These special individuals also have specified roles when martial law is declared. That's what the State has communicated to them: when martial law is declared, not if. These people will be "expected to share all [their] resources," and to protect any parts of the "critical infrastructure" to which they have access. In return, they will have "the ability to travel in restricted areas and to get people out."
When martial law is declared, these special individuals are granted one further power. They will be expected "to protect [their] portion of the infrastructure." If necessary, the State expects them to use deadly force to do so. Because these are very special people, the State has told them that, should they use deadly force, they will not be prosecuted.
Imagine all that. Would such a state of affairs trouble you? Do you think it would be a cause for concern that the State employed an army of "private" Americans to be its spies in businesses of every kind, perhaps including the business where you work? Would it bother you that the State has deputized tens of thousands of otherwise "ordinary" Americans to be murderers when martial law is declared -- murderers who are given an advance blank check for their killings?
But you don't need to imagine any of this. All of this is true, and this program came into existence in 1996. The program is called InfraGard, and I wrote it about more than five years ago. As of February 2012, InfraGard had more than 45,000 members; roughly 7,000 new members join each year. There are at least 86 chapters spread across the United States.
Please note the following, as it is of special importance. Information about InfraGard has been easily available for years. ... The government isn't trying to keep InfraGard a secret. To the contrary, the State is enormously pleased with this program. It is more than happy to make its operations known -- and many Americans are very happy to join it. Most other Americans appear not to care about InfraGard at all -- for it is almost never talked or written about. You should find that profoundly disturbing. The State maintains a private army of tens of thousands of spies -- spies who are deputized to kill other people, possibly including you -- and no one seems to give a damn.
Here we come to the crux of the matter. The power of unlimited surveillance, as hideous and repulsive and inhuman as it is, still pales next to the greater power which our elites have granted to themselves: to kill -- without warning, without warrant, without trial, without mercy -- anyone they choose to kill. I have written about this astonishing situation reality many times (my first column on the subject appeared in November 2001), as has Silber, for years (and again, eloquently, in his latest piece).
But let's set it out clearly again: the American government has already reserved the right to kill anyone on the planet, including American citizens, at the arbitrary order of the President -- or any one of the many people he has deputized to make such decisions on their own. We live -- literally, entirely -- at the pleasure of the state, which can kill us at any time it likes, for whatever reason it decides is sufficient.
This was "secret" during the Bush Administration, although it was deliberately made known through government leaks to mainstream media outlets. Under Obama, of course, the death squad operation has been openly acknowledged, with his own national security advisor cheerfully discussing it under oath before Congress. This "transparency" -- which, after all, is the goal of every "reformer" of the system -- came after the White House leaked details of the program for a very favorable story in the New York Times, which portrayed the president and his death squad henchmen as deeply moral men struggling mightily through dark nights of the soul before parking their asses on a couple of couches every Tuesday and going through lists of people to be murdered, like Stalin and Beria in the Kremlin.
This arbitrary power to murder is the central political reality of our time; it is the bedrock, the foundation, of the American state as it actually exists today. The NSA surveillance program is merely an outgrowth -- a natural product -- of this system. Even if by some miracle, you could nip this single bud, the tree will continue to bring forth an abundance of poisonous fruit.
"Thanks for the last and greatest
betrayal of the last and greatest
of human dreams."
Written by Chris Floyd
Friday, 20 September 2013 14:01
As I've said many times before, anyone who wants trenchant insights into the realities of the Middle East -- including its ever-fraught interactions with the Potomac Imperium -- should be reading "the Angry Arab," As'ad AbuKhalil. Just today, AbuKhalil provides two telling examples of the Imperium's arrogance, indifference and -- in the case of John Kerry -- murderous ignorance in its ham-handed and iron-fisted attempts to bend the region and its peoples to the Domination Agenda of our American elites.
First, AbuKhalil passes along a report from a correspondent on the latest manifestation of our noble Nobel Peace Prize Laureate's attempts to foster democracy and freedom in Bahrain. As you might recall, the noble laureate's noble allies, the democratic, freedom-loving, head-chopping, woman-hating Saudi royals, sent troops into Bahrain in 2011 to help that nation's royal ruler -- a fellow sectarian -- put down an outbreak of Arab Spring fever and violently crush a popular movement that was seeking, well, more freedom and democracy and opportunity.
Once this uppityness had been squelched -- in the usual ham-handed, iron-fisted fashion -- the United States brokered a "national dialogue" between opposition leaders and the regime, which many promises of "reform" coming from the latter. It goes without saying that there has been precious little "reform" produced by this process, which has dragged on month after month. It has however produced the inevitable radicalization among some opposition groups who, seeing the continuing ineffectiveness of "working within the system" have turned increasingly to violent protest.
(Of course, one of the main features of US foreign policy in our Age of Terror has been its remarkable ability to foment radical extremism and violent retaliation to the machinations of the Imperium and its satraps. One might be even be tempted to call this a feature, not a bug, of the Terror War system, producing as it does copious amounts of fear and chaos to "justify" an ever-increasing -- and ever-more profitable -- aggrandizement of elite power.)
This week, the Laureate's friends in Bahrain arrested one of the leading opposition figures taking part in the "national dialogue," Khalil Al Marzooq. The charges were specious, to say the least. As the Washington Post reports, Al Marzooq was charged with "inciting terrorism" for the heinous crime of waving the flag of a militant group -- in order to outline the difference between their violence and the peaceful approach of his party, Al-Wefaq. As the Post notes, Al Marzooq called on the crowd attending his speech to "persist with your nonviolence."
This then is the "terrorist" that Bahrain's leaders have arrested. In response -- as you might expect, if you were an ordinary person with common sense -- Al-Wefaq and other opposition parties have withdrawn from the "national dialogue" in protest at this repression. How can you have a good-faith dialogue when one side is arresting the very people it is meant to be in dialogue with? You can't, of course.
So who is to blame for stopping the "dialogue," and what needs to be done to restart it? Well, if you were an ordinary person with common sense, the answer to these questions would be obvious. The Bahraini regime broke off the dialogue by arresting Al Marzooq on trumped-up charges; the way to resume the dialogue is to release him from prison.
But this has not been the response of the most enlightened and progressive Administration ever to grace the greensward of the White House. No, this is the response of Barack Obama (or rather, one of his mouthpieces): the Administration is "disappointed that opposition groups have suspended their involvement in the national dialogue" and urges them to sit back down with the regime that is arresting them. And in return … well, nothing.
AbuKhalil posts the long, surreal exchange between increasingly incredulous reporters and the Obama mouthpiece who adamantly refuses to express even the slightest tincture of disappointment with the Bahraini regime for arresting a non-violent opposition leader for advocating non-violence. Over and over, the reporters give her the opportunity to be "even-handed," to claim the vaunted "center ground" that is the holy grail of Washington PR imagery. But she will have none of it. All she will say is that the Administration will "raise the case" with its pals in Bahrain.
But the reporters spot a flaw in this empty phraseology: "It's important to know whether you're going to call on the Bahrainis to release this guy, or whether you think that this arrest was justified. … You could just go and say, 'Hey, good job, well done, we think that was a really good move.'"
But the mouthpiece will not be drawn. "I'm not going to preview that with you."
AbuKhalil's Bahraini correspondent sums it up well:
"The US strategy for dealing with Bahrain is quite clear: the goal is to keep the situation under control. So long as the opposition is taking part in some dialogue, it is under control. Withdrawing means that they are back on the streets. … Basically, as a people, we are not allowed to resist, in any way - whether it is by protesting, or boycotting a sham dialogue that is not even with the regime because of an arrest."
Yes, that is pretty much the point of the Imperium's policies across the board: "You are not allowed to resist." Even non-violently. Even in the name of freedom. "You are not allowed to resist."
But for a chilling glimpse of the mindset of these Masters of the Universe, the dominance junkies who direct the affairs of the world's most armed and dangerous state, AbuKhalil points us to an overlooked remark buried deep beneath the slabs of dross dumped by John Kerry during a press appearance this week in Paris.
Kerry is asked by a French questioner about the risk to religious minorities -- particularly Christians -- from the American-backed rebels in Syria. The questioner notes that "two bishops of Aleppo … were kidnapped today [by a sectarian rebel group]" and "Maaoula, an all-Christian city without any strategic interest, has been invaded by Islamist rebels." The questioner then provides a striking larger context to the question, saying that "one of the main results, unfortunately, of seven years of American and English occupation of Iraq is the decimation and exile of most Christians in Iraq." Given all this, Kerry is asked what "strategic plan" the United States has for protecting religious minorities from the wrath of sectarian extremists it is now supporting in Syria.
Kerry unlimbers his lantern jaw to deny the undeniable historical fact that the American-led invasion of Iraq led directly to the near-total destruction of Iraq's Christian community. This is simply a plain, easily proven piece of objective data. There was a substantial Christian community before the war; there is not one now. Many Christians were killed by sectarian violence; many, many more have fled. But Kerry was long ago lost to truth and honor in his decades-long climb up the greasy pole, where he now wriggles, grease-smeared, regurgitating imperial spin. He replies: "I don’t agree with your premise that the Christian – what has happened to the Christians is the consequence of what happened by the events in Iraq."
This is as asinine and ignorant as declaring that the sun did not rise in the east this morning, or that, in fact, two and two do not make four. But this is the kind of witless drivel that our most honored and august leaders are forced to spew out when they are out on the circuit, peddling the lies of empire.
But Kerry is trying to make a larger point. He then launches what is in effect a defense of the Terror War in general, whose 'justification,' as we noted, is the threat of radical Islam (which, as noted, the Terror War itself foments with marvellous potency). The threat is not just to Christians in Syria, says Kerry -- burying in a blizzard of generality the specific question about specific people in a specific place; all religious minorities are being threatened by the rise of radical Islam, he says, with a shout-out to Afghanistan, where the noble Nobelist and his righteous forces are still fighting the good fight.
Kerry then goes on to say: "It is not just the Christians who have been impacted. It is the Druze, it is the Ismaili, it is all of the minorities. And the irony is the Alawi themselves are a minority doing this to these other people for control, for Assad’s control."
Here Kerry speaks precisely in the language used by the most radical Sunni extremists in the Syrian civil war -- extremists who are murdering people simply because they are Alawites, who continually call for the eradication of the Alawite 'infidels.' Here, Kerry identifies every Alawite in Syria as a brutal persecutor of religious minorities -- they are all evil, all supporting the evil Assad, all of them are "doing it" to other religious minorities, "for Assad's control"
What is the difference in this statement and that of some slobbering anti-Semite who points to some action by the Israeli government and condemns all Jews as evil? The violent extremists in Syria equate all Alawites with the regime, thereby justifying violence against them. And Kerry here aligns himself completely with this mindset.
It is of course a brazen, vicious, demonstrable lie to say that all Alawites are persecuting other religious minorities "for Assad's control." It is just as false as saying all Jews support the actions of the Israeli government -- or indeed, that all Christians supported the invasion of Iraq, because the regime that launched the regime was led and dominated by Christians. It's just as demonstrably false as denying that two plus two equals for, or that the American invasion of Iraq did not lead directly to the decimation of that country's Christian population.
But such is the quality of mind required to reach the top rungs of the Imperium: brutal, witless, dishonest, ignorant, lacking all nuance, all common sense, all human feeling. A mind that mindlessly disgorges murderous tropes and blatant nonsense in order to obscure, frantically, at any cost, the cynical intentions and the monstrous effects of the Imperium's Domination Machine.
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 16 September 2013 00:20
An old, old story, and fresh as the day's news: "I knew a precious thing had cracked, and could not be put right": Sounding Brass.
Also, in light of the recent outpouring of NSA revelations, a reprise of a Cassandraish prevision penned some time ago:
We know your number/We read your mail/From outer space/We can follow your trail/But don't you worry/Don't you fret/Our social networks/Ain't hurt nobody yet....
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 09 September 2013 23:16
Here is my latest, slightly expanded column for the print version of CounterPunch, which came out last month.
A former colleague of mine died recently, although I didn't know he had been my colleague until I read his obituary in the New York Times last month -- six months after his obscure and unmarked death in the small East Tennessee town where I'd worked as a reporter.
Charles Varnadore and I worked together for five years at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, part of the vast research complex that midwifed the atom bomb. Curiously enough, my grandfather had helped build Oak Ridge. A sharecropper turned carpenter, my grandfather Lon been recruited, like thousands of other workers and artisans, to construct the "secret city" in the midst of World War II. He wasn't allowed to tell his family what he was doing; he would just get on the train in the rural deeps outside Nashville and be gone for weeks at a time. Varnadore's grandfather had worked there too, and his father as well.
But I never met Varnadore during my time at ORNL. It wasn't that kind of place. It was like a huge, sprawling college campus -- a heavily militarized campus, with machine-gun-toting guards, iron gates, walls topped with barbed wire. The kind of campus where people went only where they were authorized to go, subject always to the arbitrary dictates of security. (It was a prevision of 21st century America, but we didn't know that then.)
So there wasn't much mixing and mingling. Varnadore was a technician, working in the analytic chemistry division. I had no idea where that was. I was working -- after a fashion -- as an editor in an unusual enclave of leftish researchers dealing with issues like energy conservation and the still somewhat recherché matter of global warming. My services weren’t much needed by these very articulate scientists, most of whom had been war protestors and civil rights campaigners. I spent much of my time hiding out in one cubby-hole or another, reading books: the entire corpus of George Eliot, the complete works of Colette, the Alexandria Quartet, Gore Vidal by the yard, Tillich, Buber, Arendt, Celan -- whatever treasure I fetched up from the magical milk-crates of McKay's Used Books in nearby Knoxville.
Varnadore took his work more seriously -- and that was his downfall. After years elsewhere in the Oak Ridge system, his first job at ORNL was analyzing soil samples from decommissioned nuclear plants. But, as the New York Times reports, he soon found the samples weren't being maintained properly, making them conveniently useless in measuring the amount of radiation left behind by the closed plants. He duly reported the situation to the bosses, along with a number of other concerns about the mishandling of dangerous materials, which left even office workers exposed to radiation hazards.
Now in our ultra-modern, super-savvy 21st-century world, we all know what happens to whistleblowers. But Varnadore probably thought he was still living in the kind of country he'd been told about in Civics class. He thought the federal government would want to know about these dangerous glitches, and correct them.
You can guess what happened next. No remedies -- but plenty of punishment for the ‘troublemaker.’ Varnadore -- who was recovering from cancer -- was shuttled from one assignment to another, then finally parked in a room full of radioactive and chemical waste. When a company medical tech flagged the risk, he was moved again: to a room where poisonous mercury was left lying in pools. After years of exemplary performance reviews, he suddenly began getting negative evaluations.
He sought whistleblower protection under federal law -- garnering an appearance on the national news -- and took his concerns to the Labor Department. An administrative judge ruled in his favor, saying that ORNL had tried to shut Varnadore up by "intentionally [putting] him under stress with full knowledge that he was a cancer patient recovering from extensive surgery." The judge sent the case on to Bill Clinton's labor secretary, the liberal lion Robert Reich, to levy damages against the facility's corporate overseer, Martin Marietta.
Now all those of a dissident hue know Mr. Reich well. Today you can read his earnest pleas for hard-hit working folk and his jeremiads against elitist economics in any number of progressive media venues. So you can imagine what this stalwart champion of the people did next.
That's right: he flushed the whistleblower down the toilet. Reich dismissed Varnadore's claims and had the judge's ruling reversed. The corporate overseer got away clean, and the truth-teller, after years of lonely battle, working within the system like citizens are told to do, was crushed. But that’s no surprise: a little taste of state power can bend even the most liberal of lions to the agenda of elite domination.
Broken, and near broke, Varnadore soon took early retirement. But the arc of immoral power is long, and it bends toward destruction; the state wasn’t through squashing this inconvenient gadfly. Two years after leaving ORNL, Varnadore was imprisoned for selling some of his guns at flea markets, as men in those rural climes have done since the days of the flintlock. Even though by this time Washington was ruled by George Bush’s gun nuts, with Attorney General John Ashcroft himself boldly defending the rights of any terrorist with ready cash to buy weapons at gun shows and baby showers, for some reason the full weight of the law fell on the ageing, ailing retiree from the Appalachian foothills. He served 27 months of hard time, struggled on for awhile, and finally died this spring, his death unnoted until his former lawyer alerted the NYT this month. So much for truthtelling.
Bush, of course, started a war that killed a million people. He’s a whimsical painter now. Reich’s boss Clinton killed half a million children with his Iraqi sanctions; he’s now the beloved “Big Dawg” of our savvy liberalistas.
I guess the system worked OK for them.
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 03 September 2013 12:25
As often noted here, one of the very best analysts of the Middle East writing today is the acerbic and astute As'ad AbuKhalil, the "Angry Arab." Below he offers up a critique of Noam Chomsky's recent take on the situation in Syria, and finds it marred by false analogies:
I don't know who Chomsky talks to learn about the Syrian non-revolution and I don't know what he is relying on to follow-up developments on Syria but he seems to me woefully ill-informed. I am quite displeased with his analysis here. The worst part is when he draws an analogy to the Vietcong. Vietcong? The Syrian rebels are reactionary and conservative and anti-revolutionary forces (and I am talking about the armed bands of the Free Syrian Army which the US considers "moderate" and not about the obvious right-wing reactionaries of the Jihadi groups) and can't be compared to communist liberation movements. To Chomsky I say: the Syrian rebels are the Contras of Syria, and not the Sandinistas of Syria. And also, it is not a coincidence that Prince Bandar, who had helped fund the Contras--as Chomsky remembers--is the same man who is now organizing all funding and arming for the Syrian rebels. I don't want to invoke analogies too much because I detest the Asad regime much more than I dislike the Sandinistas, especially Ortega. So I am on board in considering the Asad regime also a counter-revolutionary regime and his regime is not revolutionary like the Sandinistas when they came to power. But the Syrian rebels (supported and armed by the likes of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Jordan, US, France, Germany, UK among other non-progressive forces) have to be considered for what they are: counter-revolutionary forces who are responsible for the GCC hijacking of a potential revolution in Syria….
Of course, historical analogies are always dicey -- witness Kerry and Obama's witless evocations of Hitler, and the neocon warhawks' endless cries of "Munich" in any and every situation where the Imperium refrains from (or, in most cases, merely delays) the mass, indiscriminate slaughter of human beings. However, used judiciously, and informed by historical knowledge and nuance, they can be of some use in helping put current situations in a broader context.
In the case of Syria, I think the most useful historical analogy might be Afghanistan in late 70s and 80s. Then, as now, you have an unsavory and often brutal one-party state committed to secularism and modernity beset by an insurgency led by retrograde religious fundamentalists armed and financed by Saudi Arabia and the United States. In both cases, the secular government is backed by the Kremlin.
(On a side note, the Soviets didn't actually send troops into Afghanistan -- at the request of the sitting government --until the US/Saudi-backed holy war (along with inter-party feuding on the government side) had reduced the country to a state of violent chaos -- which, as Zbigniew Brzezinski tells us, was the plan all along: to destroy Afghanistan's secular society, kill off its imperfect but impressive strides toward social equality and progress, and bait the Soviet Union into a quagmire by creating an armed global jihad movement. This American-Saudi golem of global jihad has long since escaped the control of its creators, of course, and gone rampaging around the world -- although, as we see now in Syria and saw in Libya, sometimes the golem and its fashioners are happily reunited and work together toward the same ends.)
The Kremlin won't be sending in troops to rescue an ally this time, of course, but if American-Saudi efforts to bring down the Syrian government are successful, the result will likely be a good deal like what we saw in Afghanistan: the ultimate triumph of violent extremism, after years of vicious sectarian conflict and warlordism. But our own gilded warlords and their scurrying sycophants won't care about that; it will just be yet another boiling pot of danger and instability to keep the money and power flowing to their system of fear-based rule.
Many people are rightly pointing to an analysis of the Syrian situation by William Polk, which I ran across while writing the above. While Polk is very much a man of the Establishment, he has put together a dispassionate, informative overview of the situation that, in the end, makes a compelling case for the immediate idiocy and long-term tragedy of Western intervention in the Syrian civil war. Polk gathers up what is known for certain about the gas attack (very little), what is not known for certain (almost everything), and what has been reported (almost all of it specious, speculative, and spin-ridden when it is not brazenly false). He also provides a cogent encapsulation of the hydra-headed Syrian opposition, and lays out the arguments on who would actually benefit from launching a chemical attack in this situation.
But beyond this, Polk also points to the very specific, physical realities underlying the outbreak of the uprising, which goes back to bedrock realities that have bedevilled human communities from the beginning of time: drought, hunger, the basic need for food, water, shelter, sustenance. These basic issues have a modern twist, however, having been exacerbated by the effects of climate change, which is even now sending destructive if largely hidden shockwaves through human civilization, long before any worst-case dystopian scenarios of sunken cities and parched continents become a reality.
As Polk points out, Syria has been struggling with a drought of Biblical proportions since the middle of the last decade. The results have been devastating:
In some areas, all agriculture ceased. In others crop failures reached 75%. And generally as much as 85% of livestock died of thirst or hunger. Hundreds of thousands of Syria’s farmers gave up, abandoned their farms and fled to the cities and towns in search of almost non-existent jobs and severely short food supplies. Outside observers including UN experts estimated that between 2 and 3 million of Syria’s 10 million rural inhabitants were reduced to “extreme poverty.”
The domestic Syrian refugees immediately found that they had to compete not only with one another for scarce food, water and jobs, but also with the already existing foreign refugee population. Syria already was a refuge for quarter of a million Palestinians and about a hundred thousand people who had fled the war and occupation of Iraq. Formerly prosperous farmers were lucky to get jobs as hawkers or street sweepers. And in the desperation of the times, hostilities erupted among groups that were competing just to survive.
Here we see physical realities like drought and climate change are compounded by the political realities of war and aggression, as Syria continues to bear the burden of the American invasion of Iraq and the Israeli displacement of Palestinians. The effect of power politics was also evident in a decision made in Washington that worsened the situation and sent it spiraling toward the flashpoint of conflict and repression. As Polk notes:
The senior UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) representative in Syria turned to the USAID program for help. Terming the situation “a perfect storm,” in November 2008, he warned that Syria faced “social destruction.” He noted that the Syrian Minister of Agriculture had “stated publicly that [the] economic and social fallout from the drought was ‘beyond our capacity as a country to deal with.’” But, his appeal fell on deaf ears: the USAID director commented that “we question whether limited USG resources should be directed toward this appeal at this time.” (reported on November 26, 2008 in cable 08DAMASCUS847_a to Washington and “leaked” to Wikileaks ).
Syria's suffering people were not to be helped, because their government was now on the outs with the Potomac Imperium. Just a few years before, Washington was happy to "render" innocent people like Maher Arar to be tortured in Syrian prisons as part of the great GWOT jihad. (See "The Inhuman Stain: Saying Yes to State Terror" and this follow-up.) But by 2008, Syria was once again a "pariah" state, chiefly due to its alliance with Iran. So a chance for a true "humanitarian intervention" in Syria -- one that might have helped stave off social breakdown and the horrific violence that has followed -- was thrown away.
Left to its own devices, the cack-handed Asad regime then bungled and brutalized its way into an uprising that was very quickly hijacked by outside forces, as AbuKhalil noted above. Polk writes:
Lured by the high price of wheat on the world market, it sold its reserves. In 2006, according to the US Department of Agriculture, it sold 1,500,000 metric tons or twice as much as in the previous year. The next year it had little left to export; in 2008 and for the rest of the drought years it had to import enough wheat to keep its citizens alive.
So tens of thousands of frightened, angry, hungry and impoverished former farmers flooded constituted a “tinder” that was ready to catch fire. The spark was struck on March 15, 2011 when a relatively small group gathered in the town of Daraa to protest against government failure to help them. Instead of meeting with the protestors and at least hearing their complaints, the government cracked down on them as subversives. The Assads, who had ruled the country since 1971, were not known for political openness or popular sensitivity. And their action backfired. Riots broke out all over the country, As they did, the Assads attempted to quell them with military force. They failed to do so and, as outside help – money from the Gulf states and Muslim “freedom fighters” from the rest of the world – poured into the country, the government lost control over 30% of the country’s rural areas and perhaps half of its population. By the spring of 2013, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), upwards of 100,000 people had been killed in the fighting, perhaps 2 million have lost their homes and upwards of 2 million have fled abroad. Additionally, vast amounts of infrastructure, virtually whole cities like Aleppo, have been destroyed.
In his conclusion, Polk also draws an analogy between the current situation in Syria and the Saudi-American intervention in Afghanistan 30 years ago. After noting the near-inevitability of "mission creep" involved in Obama's plan to kill Syrians, Polk asks the question: "What could we possibly gain from an attack on Syria?" His answer is grim:
Even if he wanted to, could Assad meet our demands? He could, of course, abdicate, but this would probably not stop the war both because his likely successor would be someone in the inner circle of his regime and because the rebels form no cohesive group. The likely result would be something like what happened after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, a vicious civil war among competing factions.
No one, of course, can know what would happen then. My hunch is that Syria, like Afghanistan, would be torn apart not only into large chunks such as the Kurds in the northeast but even neighborhood by neighborhood as in the Iraqi cities. Muslims would take revenge on Alawis and Christians who would be fighting for their lives. More millions would be driven out of their homes. Food would be desperately short, and disease probably rampant. If we are worried about a haven for terrorists or drug traffickers, Syria would be hard to beat. And if we are concerned about a sinkhole for American treasure, Syria would compete well with Iraq and Afghanistan. It would probably be difficult or even impossible to avoid “boots on the ground” there. So we are talking about casualties, wounded people, and perhaps wastage of another several trillion dollars which we don’t have to spend and which, if we had, we need to use in our own country for better heath, education, creation of jobs and rebuilding of our infrastructure.
We need to remind ourselves what Afghanistan did – bankrupting the Soviet Union - and what Iraq cost us -- about 4,500 American dead, over 100,000 wounded, many of whom will never recover, and perhaps $6 trillion. Can we afford to repeat those mistakes?
Of course we can't afford to repeat those 'mistakes' (a rather demur term for what in the latter case was a brazen, conscious, deliberate crime); we couldn't afford them in the first place. But that doesn't mean such actions will not be repeated. In fact, it is almost certain they will be. Obama has already proclaimed his right to kill Syrians no matter what Congress says when it returns next week. Congress actually voted against Obama's killing of Libyans, but it didn't make the slightest difference. In any case, it almost certain that Congress will approve the killing of Syrians; indeed, many powerful figures in both parties are eager to kill even more Syrians than Obama is proposing to kill at the moment. So barring some unforeseen turn, the killing will come -- and the tragedy in Syria will be darkened with new blood.
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 02 September 2013 22:07
As we all know, the use of chemical weapons -- or even the alleged use of chemical weapons -- is the most heinous crime that can be committed by a government. It is worse that murdering civilians at weddings and funerals with drone missiles; it is worse than murdering teenage children for the crime of having fathers who had earlier been murdered for uncharged, unproven crimes; it is worse than launching wars of aggression on false premises that result in the murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians; it is worse that imposing murderous sanctions that cause the unnecessary deaths of more than half a million innocent children; it is worse than dropping napalm on thousands of innocent civilians and literally burning them alive with unquenchable fire, and so on. Any nation or national leader that uses chemical weapons -- other than napalm, white phophorous, depleted uranium and atomic bombs, of course -- is cast beyond the pale of the human community, and must be summarily punished in order to preserve the "moral credibility" of the civilized world.
We know all this, because titans of moral rectitude like John Kerry and the Peace Prize Laureate his own self, Barack "Dronebomba" Obama, have told us this, at great, even nauseating length in the past few days. Indeed, Kerry went on the national teevee just the other day and declared that Bashar al-Assad was the equivalent of -- wait for it -- Hitler and Saddam Hussein because of his alleged use of chemical weapons.
It's odd that Kerry didn't include, say, Lloyd George in his list of beyond-the-pale villains who have used chemical weapons. Or even the deity of all interventionists, Winston Churchill, who was -- as we've oft noted here -- an enthusiastic advocate of the use of chemical weapons. The Guardian gave us a useful reminder of St. Winston's predeliction for airborne poisons in Monday's edition:
Secrecy was paramount. Britain's imperial general staff knew there would be outrage if it became known that the government was intending to use its secret stockpile of chemical weapons. But Winston Churchill, then secretary of state for war, brushed aside their concerns. As a long-term advocate of chemical warfare, he was determined to use them against the Russian Bolsheviks. In the summer of 1919, 94 years before the devastating strike in Syria, Churchill planned and executed a sustained chemical attack on northern Russia.
The British were no strangers to the use of chemical weapons. During the third battle of Gaza in 1917, General Edmund Allenby had fired 10,000 cans of asphyxiating gas at enemy positions, to limited effect. But in the final months of the first world war, scientists at the governmental laboratories at Porton in Wiltshire developed a far more devastating weapon: the top secret "M Device", an exploding shell containing a highly toxic gas called diphenylaminechloroarsine. The man in charge of developing it, Major General Charles Foulkes, called it "the most effective chemical weapon ever devised".
Trials at Porton suggested that it was indeed a terrible new weapon. Uncontrollable vomiting, coughing up blood and instant, crippling fatigue were the most common reactions. The overall head of chemical warfare production, Sir Keith Price, was convinced its use would lead to the rapid collapse of the Bolshevik regime. "If you got home only once with the gas you would find no more Bolshies this side of Vologda."The cabinet was hostile to the use of such weapons, much to Churchill's irritation. He also wanted to use M Devices against the rebellious tribes of northern India. "I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes," he declared in one secret memorandum. ...
A staggering 50,000 M Devices were shipped to Russia: British aerial attacks using them began on 27 August 1919, targeting the village of Emtsa, 120 miles south of Archangel. Bolshevik soldiers were seen fleeing in panic as the green chemical gas drifted towards them. Those caught in the cloud vomited blood, then collapsed unconscious.
The attacks continued throughout September on many Bolshevik-held villages: Chunova, Vikhtova, Pocha, Chorga, Tavoigor and Zapolki. But the weapons proved less effective than Churchill had hoped, partly because of the damp autumn weather. By September, the attacks were halted then stopped. Two weeks later the remaining weapons were dumped in the White Sea. They remain on the seabed to this day in 40 fathoms of water.
Even in later years, St Winston was an eager advocate of mass murder with chemical weapons. I wrote about this almost 10 years ago, in a column for the Moscow Times, in which I also noted that Churchill eagerly "slaughtered his own people" in the firebombing of Dresden. Here is the column:
Entertain conjecture of a national leader, in the midst of a ferocious war, plotting to drop tens of thousands of anthrax "superbombs" on the civilian population of his enemy. At his order, his generals draw up a detailed plan for a chemical attack on six major cities: they estimate that millions will die immediately "by inhalation," with millions more succumbing later through skin absorption of the poisons.
In the end, the leader is thwarted by objections from his aides and allies. To assuage his frustration, he launches another pet idea: "Operation Thunderclap," a massive conventional bombing raid on the enemy's capital, also aimed at civilians, designed to "castrate" the enemy population. In a single night, allied forces kill 25,000 people, almost all of them from the city's working class and poorest districts.
Emboldened, he presses for yet another feast of fire and death. He gets it: a bombing raid on a non-military target, a cultural center, a city glutted with refugees, slave laborers and prisoners of war -- his own soldiers and those of his allies. The raid kills 35,000 people or more; no one knows for sure, because the city is completely pulverized -- and is bombed again immediately afterward, with special high explosives, in an attempt to kill any survivors hiding in the ruins.
A portrait of Saddam Hussein, at the height of the murderous Iran-Iraq war? No, it's Winston Churchill, whose shadow looms so large over the carnage being conducted by his historically ignorant successors in the Anglo-American "coalition." Churchill has long been anointed a secular saint by the chewed cud of received wisdom, especially in America, although those who knew him best seemed to like him least -- he was booted out of office by his own people not once but twice: the first time before the end of World War II (which we are now told he won almost single-handedly).
As Mike Davis reports in his book, "Dead Cities," Churchill's plan to blanket Germany with 40,000 anthrax bombs was narrowly averted by Franklin Roosevelt. But Winston was allowed to wield his more conventional "thunderclaps" on the civilians of Berlin and then Dresden. Finally, the once-reluctant Americans succumbed to his policy of "terror bombing" and launched "Operation Meetinghouse," the firebombing of Tokyo that killed more than 100,000 civilians in a single night. Although American war planners called the raid "nothing short of wonderful," it was, in some respects, a disappointment: they had originally planned a six-city extravaganza with the carefully calibrated target of 584,000 civilian fatalities.
Oddly enough, these attacks were launched over the strenuous objections of some of America's most battle-hardened military brass, Davis notes. Air Force General George McDonald railed against "indiscriminate homicide and destruction," which "repudiates our past purposes and practices." War Secretary Henry Stimson warned, "We don't want the United States to get the reputation of outdoing Hitler in atrocities." Major General Laurence Kuter declared "it is contrary to our national ideals to wage war against civilians."
These honorable stances cut no ice with Churchill (or Roosevelt, in the end). Of course, the pendulously jowled prime minister was a mass-destruction fan from way back. In 1919, Churchill called for airborne chemical assaults on "uncooperative Arabs" (actually Kurds and Afghans, but your great men need not make such petty distinctions). "I do not understand the squeamishness about the use of gas," he declared. "I am strongly in favor of using poison gas against uncivilized tribes." Some years later, a certain A. Hitler would apply this gaseous philosophy to another troublesome "tribe."
The two Teutonically-derived statesmen also shared a loathing for the lesser breeds. As Churchill put it with customary eloquence in 1937: "I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race, has come in and taken their place." Hear! Hear! cried Hitler, as he sent his "higher-grade" hordes swarming eastward into the vast Slavic manger.
Churchill's understandable thirst for revenge against the Nazis who had bombed English cities took a curious turn, however. The mass British counter-raids aimed at "breaking the enemy's morale" were targeted almost exclusively against the "lower orders," who died by the hundreds of thousands in the "area bombing" that neither broke civilian morale nor substantially hampered German war production (although it did waste the lives of thousands of allied airmen). Yet the sumptuous, undefended villas of Nazi leaders (the very men who had ordered the blitz on English cities) and major Nazi industrialists (who, along with their American partners like Prescott Bush, had built Hitler's war machine) were specifically excluded from the attacks. What stirring chivalry among the warrior elite!
Today, Churchill's bust adorns the office of George W. Bush -- a gift from his loyal tributary, Tony Blair. Churchill is their lodestar, their magic totem, the mythic foundation of their "moral authority" as war leaders. But as history shows, there is no "moral authority" in war, even in a "good war": There is only "indiscriminate homicide and destruction," the unleashing of the beast within all of us -- even the "great ones," made drunk with power and terror.
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 27 August 2013 22:09
At some point in the next few hours or days, it is likely that deeply damaged collection of moral cretins known as "Western leaders" will sit down behind the gargantuan phalanxes of heavily armed security that keeps their well-wadded rumps safe and cozy and give the nod to some close-cropped flunky laden with medals for mendacious time-serving and relentless butt-covering to launch the airstrikes that will kill a large number of human beings who had absolutely nothing to do with the alleged chemical weapon attacks allegedly carried out by Syrian government forces.
That is to say, the leaders of the West, particularly the notoriously bloodthirsty nations of the United States and Great Britain, will murder a number of their fellow human beings for no reason whatsoever. What's more, they know this and admit it beforehand, speaking under oath, as the U.S. military chief did this week, of the inevitable "collateral damage" the coming attacks will cause.
These Western leaders, primarily Barack Obama and the pathetic, feckless ex-PR shill David Cameron, will knowingly murder an unknown number of people while braying all the while of their own righteousness and the strict "legality" of their acts of mass murder. They will be supported in these murders by the leaders of the so-called opposition parties, who will, as always, line up like automatons and spew out mindless, spineless rhetoric in favor of murdering people, because they too are deeply damaged moral cretins who hope one day to have the opportunity to sit in well-wadded comfort and order human beings to be killed.
These wretched, cowardly weaklings -- the leaders, their opposition, their minions -- believe that the exercise of brutal, death-dealing power (at a distance; always, always at a safe distance!) will somehow fill up the howling emptiness inside them. It will not, of course, but they are too stupid to know this -- or else they are already so far steeped in blood that they can't stop, can't go back, their humanity is already lost.
These leaders know that their action will murder innocent people (as so many of their actions do, week after week, year after year), they know (because their own analysts and experts tell them) that it will exacerbate extremism, worsen the conflict in Syria, destabilize the region, increase global tensions and lead directly and indirectly to the needless death and horrific suffering of countless people in the days and years to come.
They know all this, they will do it anyway. They know all this, but they do not care. They don't know how to care. They have given themselves over to Moloch -- to the insane, inhuman force of violent domination -- and they must blindly follow its dictates. Nothing can stop them, no reasoned argument, no moral objection, not even self-interest, national or personal. They are insane. They are stupid. They are enslaved to murderous power -- so they will kill.
Written by Chris Floyd
Thursday, 22 August 2013 12:41
A brief compendium to contemplate while the Burlesque disappears into the rural deeps for a time.
First, a reprise piece for Chelsea Manning, who, as many have pointed out, has been given a far harsher sentence for revealing war crimes than Lt. William Calley and his My Lai massacrers were given for actually committing war crimes. 35 years for leaking documents -- while the mass murderers, drone bombers and death-squadding assassins of the Potamac Empire live free in pomp and privilege. "Good corporal, good corporal, what have you done? You've laid out the dead in the light of the sun."
"The fields of grain are rotten, all the people are stripped bare: who is the culprit? Who did the deed?" A shambling look at this ever-pertinent issue.
A piece sparked by a phrase snatched during an earlier turmoil in Egypt, before the sirocco of the Arab Spring.
This one goes out to Edward Snowden and all those who, in the face of implacable imperial power, "drink down exile's bitter wine."
Where goodness dwells, and where it doesn't. "They tore us all to pieces, in ways we still can't grasp…"
Written by Chris Floyd
Thursday, 15 August 2013 23:01
Two points about Bradley Manning's mitigation plea, which, the Guardian tells us, "will disappoint Manning's thousands of supporters around the world, who believe he undertook a courageous act of whistleblowing because his conscience demanded it."
First point: as Arthur Silber has noted, the importance of these 'whistleblower' cases has nothing to do with the personalities involved. Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden: it doesn't matter what kind of people they are, if you think they are 'heroes' or 'bad people,' if you'd 'like to have a beer with them' or would run a mile if you saw them coming. What matters is what they have done; what matters are the fragments of truth they have made available. If the sexual charges against Assange turned out to be true, it would have no bearing whatsoever on the importance of what Wikileaks has accomplished, the fissures it has made in the bristling walls of deceit that our brutal, stupid and venal elites around the world have erected to hide their misdeeds. The same goes for Snowden, Manning, or anyone else whose actions have made similar fissures.
It's always a great temptation to succumb to the cult of celebrity, of course, to live vicariously through the snippets we happen to read here and there about some famous person, to see them as "heroes" who live out the courage or accomplishments or glamor that we can only dream of, and so on. And that's fine for a flip-through of People magazine in the check-out line. But this is serious business. The actions of these whistleblowers involve taking on the power of corrupt and murderous state structures that can and will destroy individual lives and entire nations -- structures that are wildly out of control and are devouring the very substance of human society. Actions that put a spoke of truth in the wheels of this monstrous machine are of incalculable importance. The 'character' of those who put in the spokes is of vastly minor importance.
Second point: I invite any critic of Bradley Manning's mitigation plea to stand in his shoes for two seconds and show us how 'tough' they would be. Manning is facing a lifetime of penal servitude in a system that has already tortured him, battered him, humiliated him, abused him. He is facing the prospect of spending decades -- decades -- in a system run by people who demonstrably despise him. He will be housed with people -- and more importantly, guarded by people -- who hate 'traitors' and 'queers' and 'weirdos' and 'sissies' with a violent, virulent hatred. This is what he faces: years and years and years of it. What are you facing? If I were Bradley Manning and facing a life like that, I'm sure I’d proclaim my 'repentance' too. I'd apologize, I'd weep, I'd throw myself on the mercy of the court, if it meant I had the chance to cut some time from my sentence in hell. Does anyone really believe, even for a moment, that a blazing statement of political principle would have somehow moved the judge – the same judge who has made a relentless series of rulings cramping Manning’s defense at every turn, and ensuring that the trial was a ludicrous, sinister sham which never addressed – and was designed not to address – the substance of Manning’s action and the crimes that he revealed? What good, then, would be an empty effusion whose only purpose would be to make all of us sitting safely behind our keyboards feel all wiggly for a moment or two?
In his statement, Manning didn't name any names, sell anyone out, implicate anyone else. He tried to mitigate his own further torture -- but he didn't betray anyone. A plea for mercy, an apology -- however sincere or feigned -- is an entirely different thing from betrayal. I'm sure that at almost any point in his long, torturous captivity, Manning could have turned 'state's evidence' against Julian Assange and cut the sweetest of deals, perhaps even get a pardon or total immunity. He didn't do that. He took the entire burden on himself, went through the entire ordeal by himself -- and now he is standing there, by himself, waiting to feel the full draconian force of military law. No one else is there but him. No one else is at risk but him.
As far as I'm concerned, he can say whatever he has to say in that situation to try to mitigate the horror that is about to descend upon him. If the apologies and regrets and explanations that he is offering the court "disappoint" you, then that's just too bad. Again I say: go stand in his shoes, face what he's facing, and see what you'd do. Manning brought these truths to light; he has endured torture and captivity without betraying another living soul. If that's not 'heroic' enough for some people, if he is now to be abandoned because he's "let us down" -- like a pop star who's put out a bad record after a string of hits -- then their “dissent” must be shallow indeed.
The "disappointment" also bespeaks an historical ignorance of what life is really like in brutal systems bent on crushing all effective opposition to the ruling elite. Anna Akhmatova -- who displayed more moral courage in her lifetime than a whole stadium full of keyboard 'dissidents' -- submitted to the humiliation of writing odes to Stalin in an attempt to save her son from the ravages of the Gulag. Osip Mandelshtam -- another bold truth-teller, an ardent upholder of the "supreme value of a single human life" (Silber again) against the implacable, inhuman brutality of the state -- was forced to do likewise, in an attempt, like Manning, to mitigate a punishment he knew he could not survive. And like Manning, they did this without betraying anyone else, taking the pain and ignominy upon themselves alone. Yet the work of both helped give hope and sustenance and meaning to the lives of multitudes of people, over many decades.
Reality in such systems -- systems that have openly demonstrated their willingness to torture people, lock them up for years without trial or kill them outright at the arbitrary order of the leader and his minions -- is not a TV show, not a movie with well-marked 'character arcs' ending in triumph for the bruised but unbowed hero. It's a dirty, ugly, degrading business, an uneven fight, pitting unarmed truth against vast, implacable, dehumanizing forces of violent domination. It is a war with many bitter defeats, both outwardly and in the souls of those caught up in it. It involves loss, destruction, humiliation, torment, ruin and doubt. There are no "heroes" in it, only human beings: some of them fighting to hang on to their humanity as best they can -- and others who have surrendered their humanity to the forces of domination.
Bradley Manning doesn't have to be a "hero." He doesn't have to make a stirring speech to give people a vicarious thrill for a moment before they click over to check their Facebook page or pop in another box set. He has shown clearly that he stands on the side of humanity -- and now he is paying the price for it. The very fact of his case has revealed the true nature of the system arrayed against him, and against us.
If you can do better, go do it.
UPDATE: Arthur Silber has much more to say about Manning's plight and its broader implications in a powerful new essay that, as so often, lifts the analysis of the situation to new levels of insight. You should go there and read the piece in full; mere excerpts would do it, and you, a disservice.
However, I do want to quote one passage from Silber's piece which helps clarify something I wrote in my post above. When taking issue with those who expressed their 'disappointment' in Manning for his mitigation plea, for not being the 'hero' they craved, I noted that despite all of the torture he had endured -- much of it focused on breaking him and getting to denounce others, specifically Julian Assange -- he did not do so. I noted that he faced all the risks of his action, and all the unjust punishment he has received for it, alone, protecting others, taking the burden solely on himself. This, it seemed to me, matched even the most simplistic, romanticized and juvenile notion of a 'hero' that anyone can have. And as I was addressing people who seemed to be thinking in those terms, I used this fact to point that even by their own occluded lights, Manning could be regarded as a hero (if heroes you must have), and therefore their pique was childish, unworthy and wrong.
However, Silber goes further and makes a point about the situation that I fully share: that even if Manning had "rolled," the onus of that act -- and any consequences that followed from it -- would fall entirely on those who had tortured him and put him in that brutal, inhuman position. Silber makes a searing comparison to impossible situation faced by the main character in Sophie's Choice, who was forced by the Nazi guards in Auschwitz to decide which of her two children will be killed (with the proviso that both would be killed immediately if she didn't make the choice). Silber writes:
When a human being is subjected to a living nightmare in this manner, when a person is forced to endure barbaric, monstrous cruelty, when the only choice is between death and death, the concept of "choice" has been destroyed. The Nazis understood very well that the destruction of this capacity to choose in any meaningful manner, the destruction of the capacity to judge, the destruction of any measurable difference between life and death themselves, is critical to the destruction of the human being, of even the possibility of being human; the concentration camps were a laboratory in which they perfected the means of achieving this end, as Hannah Arendt has so powerfully described.
I refuse to try to "explain" Manning's statement, just as I refuse to judge it. Anything and everything Manning says, anything and everything he has said or will ever say as long as he remains in custody and in prison, constitute statements obtained through torture. As such, they are not to be credited in any manner, and they are beyond judgment. His torturers have placed Manning's actions and statements beyond judgment.
I do not want to be misunderstood on this point. Thus far, Manning has said nothing to implicate even one other person; he has certainly not cooperated with the government in the sense of turning "State's witness," to build a case against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, for example. But even if he did that, I would still refuse to judge Manning in terms of his personal character. I would view it as a terrible tragedy, especially terrible if it led to serious danger for anyone else. But I would not blame Manning himself for such an outcome. I would blame his torturers. My view would be as simple as this: Manning is being tortured, and he is trying to survive. Whatever he does is understandable, and there is nothing further to be said about it. Just as we cannot judge Sophie, we cannot judge Manning or anyone else in a similar situation.
There is much more in Silber's piece. Do go read it as soon as you can.