Wednesday, June 14, 2006

How America lost its moral authority throughout the world

The Bush administration had planned to perpetrate torture even before it ordered the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq; and it sought to exempt U.S. troops from international prosecutions. In the process, the United States has lost whatever moral authority it might have exerted throughout the world. [See Amendment to H.R. 1646, The Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 2001]

It was not too long ago that many people looked to the U.S. for leadership and not so long ago, our nation was still thought to be a democratic nation of laws, due process, and a prudent separation of powers. Now the U.S. is reviled; Bush is seen the world over as having betrayed his own people as he wages aggressive war against a nation that even he concedes had nothing whatsoever to do with 911, a nation about which he lied in order to justify his dirty, evil little war. The war on terrorism is phony.

And now, Bush proves everything that is said about him by refusing to close Guantanamo, by refusing to end practices of torture and rendition which he denies —even as he defends them.

I recommend Robert Jackson’s Place in History by Henry King Jr. An excerpt:
In his final report, after he resigned as U.S. Chief Counsel for War Crimes, Jackson stated that “[i]t is not too much to hope that this example of a full and fair hearing, and tranquil and deliberative judgment, will do something toward strengthening the process of justice in many countries.” I believe that after fifty years it can be maintained with considerable credibility that these visions have largely come to pass.
Perhaps —at the time of the writing —"these visions" had come to pass. But thanks to the Bush administration's deliberate effort to undermine the very foundations of International Law, that important progress has been undone.

One rightly suspects Bush's motives. Even before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, before the attack on Afghanistan, Tom DeLay sponsored legislation that exempted U.S. soldiers from war crimes prosecution at the International Tribunal at the Hague. Did anyone in Congress stop to ask why? Were we planning to commit crimes for which we sought exemption from prosecution? Wasn't it clear to any thinking person what Bush was up to? Are we not the good guys? [Amendment to H.R. 1646, The Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 2001]

Clearly --the Bush administration was, in fact, planning to commit war crimes but wanted to make them legal if done by the U.S. I cannot possibly hope to document in a short internet essay the various circumlocutions that have been indulged by the Bush administration and its chief apologist: Alberto Gonzales. All, however, are intended to make legal the very acts that are prohibited by Nuremberg —but only if those acts are done by Americans. Bush is at least consistent in this respect: neither would he press for trials for non-Americans. He would simply decree their imprisonment and torture.

Nazis engaged in similar polemical campaigns. The results were tragic. So too with Bush who most certainly boasted of what can only be the summary executions of thousands who were most certainly murdered before they could assert their innocence:

...more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries. Many others have met a different fate. Let's put it this way -- they are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies.

-George W. Bush, State of the Union Address, January 2003

This statement must be soberly examined; note that Bush refers to 3,000 suspects. Yet —he smirks that "...they have met a different fate." He boasts that "...they are no longer a problem to the United States...".

They were only suspects. Since when does the United States summarily execute mere suspects? Do we not know who our enemies are? What were the conditions of their detention? Why are we rounding up mere "suspects" —and not actual combatants? How is the execution of suspects justified under any standard, any morality, any legal system?

I am frankly surprised that Bush maintained the pretense when he has since arrogated unto himself the power to define terrorists. "Terrorists" are what Bush says they are. Bush is the judge and jury. Detainees are never charged and, by Bushs' own words, "suspects" are caused to be " longer a problem". Others are "terrorists" not because they are "terrorists" but because Bush —the decider —says they are. Some may be combatants. Some may be "evil doers". Others may be innocent. No matter. Bush —the all powerful decider —has thrown them all in the same wire cage, the same suicide factory.

Contrast Bush's remarks with those of American Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson uttered when America still had credibility and moral authority:

“That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason.”

Opening Statement before the International Military Tribunal,Robert Jackson, Chief American Prosecutor, Nuremberg War Crimes Trials

At the end of World War II, when even Winston Churchill espoused the summary executions of Nazi war criminals and Joseph Stalin favored mere show trials, it was the United States, under the leadership of Franklin Roosevelt, that insisted upon war crimes trials. Nazis would not be summarily shot merely because they were Nazis by definition or decree. Rather, they would be given a trial. Even Nazis would be allowed the right of counsel, the right to present a defense.

How can Bush hope to defend democracy —as he has claimed —when he subverts every Democratic principle that has been fought and died for over the last four hundred years? How can Bush justify his war of aggression against Iraq when he subverts the very "democracy" that he claims to bring them? How can Bush accuse anyone outside the United States of "...just hat[ing] freedom" when Bush is himself democracy's most insidious enemy?

If Nazis had engaged in the same disingenuous activities with regard to the incarceration and ultimate extermination of the jews, what moral authority could the U.S. have extended if its own policies differed not a whit in principle?

Bush should be careful not to indulge his delusions. Under his mal-administration, America is no longer a beacon of hope and freedom. Bush is reviled. He is not a liberator. Several polls suggest that he is seen as a threat to world peace and, in others, he is likened unto Saddamn Hussein. At least three issues and/or Bush policies have given the lie to Bush's rhetoric and U.S. posturing:

  1. Tom DeLay sponsored legislation in which the U.S. unilaterally exempted U.S. citizens from prosecution for war crimes in the Hague; the measure actually empowered Bush to invade the Hague should an American find him/herself standing trial there on war crimes charges;
  2. Bush unilaterally pulled the U.S. out of Kyoto because his base are lobsters denying that they are boiling even as they are thrown into the pot.
  3. The Bush administration has sought over the last five years to exempt itself from widely agreed upon international conventions with regard to torture. But, of course, we are not torturing!

Bush is on the wrong side of the torture issue. Torture is morally wrong, prima facie, a priori. Moreover, torture is completely ineffective and unreliable; a victim of torture will say anything to make it stop. Torture inflames a victim and gives them yet another cause celebre. In many cases, if not all, torture legitimizes the opposition cause.

Bush will deny U.S. torture even as he defends it with lies and ex post facto rationales. Since nothing said by Bush on this topic can be believed, torture is, therefore, made policy for other, hidden, nefarious reasons. Those who practice it do so because they are heinously perverted; as "official policy" it can be practiced with impunity and with the blessings of the state. The source of American "torture policy" at Abu Ghraib and throughout the eastern european gulag archipelago is Bush himself, a man who is credibly reported to have reveled in blowing up toads with firecrackers.

I cite the case of Richard Topcliffe -Elizabeth I's "torturer in chief". He was a twisted, perverted lunatic who would have made Torquemada blush. He sent to Elizabeth his long, barely lucid ramblings, consisting of hysterical, psycho-sexual fantasies, hysterical religous overtures and graphic descriptions of what he had done to his "victims" for her Majesty's greater "glory".

I don't want to know how Bush's fevered brain thinks. I don't care! The source of his various sadistic perversions is of no interest to me. My only concern is getting Bush out of the Oval Office and neutralized so that he can't kill anyone else. For selfish reasons —the good of this nation and the world —I want to live to see Bush removed and replaced with someone who —if not a genius on the level of Jefferson or Madison — is at least someone who can be trusted not to undo their great work.

Is that too much to ask?

From Robert Jackson’s place in history:

Jackson drafted the original charges against the Nazis, outlining three categories of crimes for which the defeated Germans would be called to account. The first category included in the draft was the crime of aggressive war (Crimes Against Peace). Jackson considered this to be the most heinous international crime. He set as a priority that German aggression would be subject to prosecution, and he intended that the crime of aggression’s ambit be as broad as possible.

Jackson’s second category of substantive crimes was that of war crimes - crimes against the laws or customs of war. This category was more traditional, as international law had already recognized limits on the ability of nations to conduct war. These crimes had since been codified in The Hague and Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of civilians and prisoners of war during the course of international conflict.

The third category of crimes envisioned by Jackson were crimes against humanity - crimes committed in the course of aggressive war against individuals for racial, religious, or political reasons. Within this category lay the crime of genocide, the slaughter of millions of Jews and other ethnic groups. The substance of this crime, calling rulers accountable for their treatment of nationals within their borders, was revolutionary. Genocide had been defined in scholarship and political discussion years earlier, but Jackson’s vision extended beyond mere identification of atrocities. The International Military Tribunal would, for the first time, punish genocide as one might punish the murder of an individual.

Robert Jackson's Place in History, Henry King Jr

Updates and other related materials:

Detainees not given access to witnesses

But in one case, 3 quickly found

By Farah Stockman and Declan Walsh, Globe Staff and Globe Correspondent | June 18, 2006

GARDEZ, Afghanistan -- The US government routinely failed to give detainees at Guantanamo Bay access to witnesses who might have helped them prove their assertions of innocence, saying it could not locate the vast majority of the witnesses the terror suspects requested at special military hearings. But within a three-day span, a Globe reporter was able to locate three of those witnesses in the case of one detainee. The Globe found two of them in Afghanistan, and located a third in Washington, D.C., where he is teaching at the National Defense University. ...
The cover up continues:

UPDATE: Pentagon Orders U.S. Reporters to Exit Guantanamo

By Greg Mitchell and Joe Strupp
Published: June 14, 2006 10:55 AM ET, Updated 12:30 PM ET

NEW YORK In the aftermath of the three suicides at the controversial Guantanamo prison facility in Cuba last Saturday, reporters with the Los Angeles Times and the Miami Herald were ordered by the office of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to leave the island today.

A third reporter and a photographer with the Charlotte Observer were given the option of staying until Saturday but, E&P has learned, were told that their access to the prison camp was now denied. An E&P "Pressing Issues" column on Tuesday covered an eye-opening dispatch by the Observer's Michael Gordon carried widely in other papers.

He had listened in, with permission, as the camp commander gave frank instructions to staff on how to respond to the suicides. All four journalists left the island today and arrived in Miami about 12:30 p.m.

A Pentagon spokesman, J.D. Gordon, confirmed the order to leave the island this morning, but told E&P it was unrelated to the stories produced by the journalists, while admitting that Gordon's piece had caused "controversy." He asserted that the move was related to other media outlets threatening to sue if they were not allowed in. He did not say why, instead of expelling the reporters already there, the Pentagon did not simply let the others in, beyond citing new security concerns.

"All three have been screaming [about the order to leave] like it is going out of style," he said. A curt e-mail to reporters Carol Rosenberg of the Herald (who spoke to E&P about the expulsion) and Carol Williams of the L.A. Times mentioned a directive from the office of Rumsfeld, and stated: "Media currently on the island will depart on Wednesday, 14 June 2006 at 10:00 a.m. Please be prepared to depart the CBQ [quarters] at 8:00 a.m.''

Rich Bard, deputy world editor for the Herald, said "It was our hope that we could work out an arrangement with the Department of Defense to keep her in Guantanamo. We thought it in the best interest of our readers to have access."

J.D. Gordon, the Pentagon press officer, told E&P that Rosenberg and Williams had been invited to come to Guantanamo last weekend for the start of tribunals. Mike Gordon and Observer photographer Todd Sumlin, meanwhile, arrived to produce a profile of the camp commander, who hails from North Carolina. The suicides of the three detainees happened to occur in this time period and the tribunals were cancelled.

The reporters, with the approval of the base commander, covered the aftermath of the suicides, and interviewed attorneys who ripped the legal horrors for the inmates, few of whom have been formally charged with any crime. A lawyer who had tried to represent one of the dead men was accusing the U.S. government "of thwarting his efforts with bureaucratic maneuvers" and lamented that justice can never be done for his client now that he is dead.

After stories started appearing the reporters ordered to leave, on a hastily arranged military flight to Miami, over the protests of their editors.

Tom Fiedler, the editor of the Herald, wrote to the Pentagon, "Ms. Rosenberg arrived at Guantanamo and proceeded to report on the suicides with the full support of base personnel and with the direct knowledge of Gen. John Craddock, who arrived on Sunday. At no time did anyone state or suggest that Ms. Rosenberg's presence was unauthorized or even undesired.

"Neither Ms. Rosenberg nor The Miami Herald seek to remain indefinitely at Guantanamo nor to have exclusive or special access. However, we respectfully suggest that, while aspects of the suicides remain undetermined it is in the best interest of the DOD and the public that the news media be present."

The Pentagon spokesman told E&P that Rumsfeld's office was overruling any of the permissions from military at the base.
Mike Gordon of the Charlotte Observer told E&P today he had not received the letter from Rumsfeld's office but had been told that he could leave Wednesday or stay until Saturday -- but access to the prison had been ended.

"He was doing a hometowner, a hometowner takes one day," J.D. Gordon, the Pentagon's press officer, said. "You would think that a man allowed down for a whole week would be a bit more gracious about it. Have the good grace and class to leave."

The Pentagon spokesman told E&P that recent activities surrounding the suicides of three detainees required heavier security and the removal of outside media.
"We told [the journalists] on Monday that we are in a difficult position," said Gordon, the Pentagon press officer. "We are trying to be impartial and fair." He added that pressure from other media outlets to be given similar access also forced the complete press ban. "We are between a rock and a hard place," he said.

He told E&P that Williams and Rosenberg were originally part of a 10-person media group invited to arrive Saturday to cover a military tribunal set for this week. But on Saturday, the tribunal, also known in the military as a commission, had been postponed following last week's suicides of three detainees. Press Officer Gordon said the Pentagon informed all 10 journalists on Saturday that they were not allowed to visit. All 10, including reporters from Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal, had planned to arrive via military aircraft.

But he said that Williams and Rosenberg arrived on their own, via a commercial aircraft, and were allowed to be on. Michael Gordon, who had also arrived Saturday, was allowed to remain for his story. "We didn't like it, we didn't think it was appropriate," the press officer said of their arrivals. "But it was plausible."

By Sunday, however, J.D. Gordon said he began getting complaints from other news outlets, such as Fox News, AP, CNN, and Reuters, claiming that their reporters should be allowed on the island if the three other journalists were there. "The other media started to have a mini-phone riot," he told E&P. "'Hey, why are they there?' We had a major issue on our hands for other media to 'either get them in there or we have to see you in court.'"

He would not identify which media outlets threatened legal action, but said more than a dozen news outlets called to complain between Sunday and Monday. Kathleen Carroll, executive editor of AP, said her outlet was among those who sought equal access -- but said legal action was never threatened. "We never begrudge other reporters being there as long as we can be there, too," she told E&P, adding that the military could have accomodated more reporters on the site. "The Pentagon makes lots of complicated logistical decisions that are more difficult than that one. We are not the most difficult problem for them to manage."

Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, issued a statement today declaring, “If the United States wants to restore its credibility as a democracy in the eyes of the world, it should be inviting journalists in, not kicking them out. Our government insists it has nothing to hide, but its actions show otherwise."
Still, J.D. Gordon said the decision was made that all of the media had to leave the island. But he denied any accusation that such expulsions were in reaction to any of the tough-minded reporting.

"No, totally not true," he said. "Some of the things [Gordon] wrote caused controversy, about changing detainees clothes and forced entry. But we are not into content management. The issue was that other media were threatening to take us to court."

Bard, the Herald editor, told E&P: "Our knowledge of some of the details is limited." When asked about the Pentagon's contention that other media outlets barred from the island had complained, he said that should not affect his own reporters.

The Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, which was representing the three men who committed suicide, released a statement today: "At a time when the administration must be transparent about the deaths at Guantanamo, they are pulling down a wall of secrecy and avoiding public accountability. This crackdown on the free press makes everyone ask what else they are hiding down there. This press crackdown is the administration's latest betrayal of fundamental American values. The Bush Administration is afraid of American reporters, afraid of American attorneys and afraid of American laws."

Greg Mitchell and Joe Strupp (
An update. The link as it appeared in Buzzflash:

2 U.S. troops missing, 1 killed in attack at a traffic checkpoint in Yusifiya. Zarqawi's death was a media event and it was unrelated to the violence on the ground. Our soldiers will continue to die until we bring them home.

Bush is the anti-thesis of the Plato's ideal of the "Philosopher King". Marcus Aurelius, alone among the many Roman Emperors, seems to have epitomized that ideal:

Marcus Aurelius: The Meditations (167 CE)

The emperor Marcus Aelius Aurelius Antoninus who reigned from 161-160 was the only Roman emperor besides Julius Caesar whose writings were to become part of the canon of Western classics. His Meditations are a loosely-organized set of thoughts relating to the stoic philosophy which had been popular among the better-educated citizens of Rome for some centuries.

It stressed self-discipline, virtue, and inner tranquillity. Aurelius was also a social reformer who worked for the improvement of the lot of the poor, slaves, and convicted criminals. Non-Christians in the Western World have often looked to him as a role model. He was also a fierce persecutor of Christianity, doubtless because he felt that the religion threatened the values that had made Rome great.

Aurelius was not an original or brilliant thinker, but his Meditations reflect well the stoic strain in Greco-Roman civilization. The emphasis on morality combined with emotional detachment is strongly reminiscent of Buddhist thought, with which Stoicism has often been compared.

The Existentialist Cowboy
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