jueves, 28 de mayo de 2009

The flawed liberal discourse on torture

Since President Obama was inaugurated in January, and particularly since the release of the torture memos in April, torture carried about by the Bush administration has been among the most often discussed issues in both the mainstream media and on the liberal blogs. The right, led by former Vice President Dick Cheney, has argued that CIA torture of suspected terrorists, in the form of water boarding, sleep deprivation, and other techniques, was not actually torture, was neccessary to protect American civilians, and prevented additional terror attacks on American soil, saving the lives of "thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people". The Obama administration and many other elected Democrats, on the other hand, have argued that, even though Bush administration officials have tortured people, the best thing to do is just move forward and not dwell on the past. Finally, many liberals, including though not limited to, Keith Olberman, Rachel Maddow, Paul Krugman, and Paul Rosenberg, have expressed outrage at the torture practices carried out by the Bushies and broken with the elected Democratic establishment in demanding investigation of, if not prosecution for Bush administration officials. Most liberal critics of Obama's appeasement argue that we must at least investigate the crimes of the Bush years to prevent them from occurring again and also express horror at what they regard as the uniquely repulsive and un-American behavior of the Bush administration. Thus, according to Paul Rosenberg, columnist at Openleft.com, "America is [now] a rouge state. Bush made it so, and under Obama's failure to take corrective action, it remains so. We have only barely begun the struggle to reclaim our democracy, and our republican form of government." Or in the words of Paul Krugman, "We are, or at least we used to be, a nation of moral ideals....But never before have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for."

The claim that water boarding and other techniques are not torture is of course, bogus, and investigations by the McClatchy group have proven that the torture did not prevent any terror attacks, either. Not surprisingly, rightwing/Republican arguments are entirely baseless. As for the Obama position, I have argued previously that this position is nothing more than appeasement for criminals and utterly disregards the rule of law. The "let's move on and forget about the past" position ought to be rejected by any person with a conscience. With regard to the liberals' position, I share their outrage at the CIA torture of detainees under Bush's watch and I agree wholeheartedly that Bush administration officials, from Gonzalez, to Rumsfeld, to Cheney, to Bush himself, ought to be tried and prosecuted for violating both American and international law. However, there are many aspects of the liberal discourse on torture which have bothered me for some time. Thankfully, Noam Chomsky outlined many of my concerns in a terrific piece which appeared in The Nation today, with facts and figures that I could never muster and with eloquent and biting prose which I could only dream of writing myself.

My first point of disagreement with the Rosenbergs and Krugmans of the world (both of whom I greatly admire by the way) is their assertion that Bush broke with historic American practice, that his actions were uniquely extreme. The reality, of course, is quite the opposite. People who do not or refuse to recognize this are suffering from what Chomsky calls "Historical amnesia". The fact of the matter is, the United States has long engaged in torture and has long supported regimes that torture people. The only difference is that the practice was formerly outsourced to thugs in various different countries and not carried out directly by Americans. The only change under Bush was that CIA officers, who served as advisers to said thugs under previous administrations, became directly involved in torturing detainees. Torture has occurred under both Democratic and Republican presidents, as Chomsky has documented in his works throughout his life. For instance, during the 1980s, under Republican President Reagan, the US government trained and funded security forces in Central America which tortured left wing militants, as well as countless nonviolent activists such as trade unionists, peasant organizers, and even priests and nuns. During the 1990s, under Democratic President Bill Clinton, Turkey was provided with billions of military aid to conduct its counter-insurgency against its domestic Kurdish population, in which the human rights of the Turkish Kurds were systematically violated. For more on U.S. aid to Turkey, check out this Chomsky article from 2004. I wish the liberals were right, and the Bush administration was a historical anomaly when it came to torture, but unfortunately it's just not true. I'm not sure why they think Bush was so completely unique. Perhaps they are not very well informed about the history of our nation, or perhaps they are blinded by their allegiance to the Democratic party. Regardless, they are certainly missing the broader picture when focusing their attention exclusively on Bush.

Moreover, I am bothered by liberals' focus on the issue of torture, to the detriment of other issues. Indeed, it is atrocious that the CIA waterboarded Khalid Sheik Mohamed 183 times and that torture was likely used to try to cook up a connection between Iraq and Al Qadea and not to protect Americans. Furthermore, I certainly agree that torture is a crime, for which the Bushies must be punished. However, I believe there has been all to little focus on the fact that the Iraq war, and the Afghanistan war, too, are also crimes and far more serious ones than waterboarding or sleep deprivation at Guantanamo Bay. Neither the Iraq war nor the "good war" in Afghanistan received the approval of the security council and neither country, contrary to the bloviating of both Democrats and Republicans, actually threatened the security of the United States. As such, both wars were illegal wars of aggression. According to the 1945-46 Nuremberg trials, the launching of a war of aggression "is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole". As such, if the Bush administration is going to be prosecuted for crimes it committed, they should be prosecuted for wars of aggression, not just for torture. Sending Bush to prison for torture would be like sending Al Capone to prison for tax evasion. Sure, you may have put a criminal behind bars, but you're still letting him get away with his most serious crimes, namely murder. And if you're going to prosecute Bush and Co. for initiating a war of aggression, you also ought to hold every Representative and Senator who voted for the war accountable, too, including both my Senators (Dodd and Lieberman), Secretary of State Clinton, Majority leader Harry Reid, and many more Democrats. But that would make a lot of folks uncomfortable, wouldn't it.

Prosecuting Bush and his various enablers for wars of aggression would hold them accountable for the untold suffering they have wrought on American military families, the people of Iraq, and the people of Afghanistan. Suffering which includes 4,710 American soldiers killed, 32,799 wounded (The War Comes Home) and untold thousands of victims of PTSD among American veterans, as well as many as 1 million Iraqi deaths and thousands of Afghan deaths, many of whom were undoubtedly innocent civilians. And if we accounted for the total destruction wrought by both wars, we'd have to take torture into account, too, among the many crimes which followed from the supreme crimes of wars of aggression.

Keith Olberman (see link above), I agree with you completely that the future of the United States depends on holding the Bush administration for the crimes they committed while in office. However, any accounting of crimes committed by Bush would be incomplete if we only prosecuted them for torture or if we failed to prosecute Bush's myriad enablers in the Democratic party. Further, we must not forget that abuses of power and war crimes did not begin and end with Bush, but have been consistent throughout the history of our country. If we truly want to ensure that the abuses of the past never happen again, we must have a full accounting of all crimes committed by all parties. Anything less leaves open the possibility for a repeat in the future.

martes, 26 de mayo de 2009

Zip lining in Costa Rica

Last weekend, my girlfriend Sara and I took a trip to La Fortuna de San Carlos, home of the famous Arenal Volcano. My new background image for this blog is a photo of the Volcano. The trip was a lot of fun, if a little expensive, and the highlight was a canopy tour of the forests surrounding the volcano. Canopy tours, also known as "zip lining," are tours of the highest portion of a forest, known as its canopy. The tour takes place on several-hundred meter long metal cables, which are connected to different platforms located on trees throughout the forest. Canopy tour participants are hooked onto these metal cables and, using the force of gravity, travel from tree to tree. All together, it looks something like this:

During our canopy tour, one of the tour participants (who may or not have been our guide) was kind enough to bring my camera along with him while riding the course's longest cable. He (or she) made a short video, which I've attached below. I'll be honest, I think it's pretty awesome. However, if you get motion sickness easily, you might not want to watch it. Enjoy!

lunes, 25 de mayo de 2009

Great piece on single payer

Thanks a lot, Bill!

Last Friday, Bill Moyers broke the media blackout on single payer by dedicating almost the full hour of his weekly program, The Journal, to a discussion of single payer national health insurance. Moyers began the program with a broad overview of single payer, touching on recent acts of civil disobedience in support of it and the refusal of either President Obama, the Senate finance comittee, or the media to even talk it. He then interviewed Donna Smith of the California Nurses Association (who herself had to file for bankruptcy when her husband and she came down with cancer), as well as David Himmelstein and Sidney Wolf of Physicians for a National Health Program and Public Citizen, respectively. All three guests made eloquent and forceful arguments for the single payer system. It's a terrific program and I highly recommend that you check it out (by following the links above) if you get the chance.

sábado, 2 de mayo de 2009

Interesting take on the auto industry

Just found this great interview with Richard D. Wolff, economist from the New School, on the U.S. auto industry. The piece appeared yesterday on the Real News. In the interview, Professor Wolff discusses the recent negotiations between the government, UAW, auto companies and other parties and the state of the industry in general. He also outlines his view of how the government should respond to the auto crisis moving forward. Check it out! :

More at The Real News