Saturday, November 13, 2010

Reinventing a War Criminal: Defending the Bush Legacy - by Stephen Lendman

The Bush legacy is based on lies, deceit, crimes of war and against humanity, and complicity in criminal fraud, a disgusting record deserving denunciation and prison, not shameless feting.

Yet his new book, "Decision Points," attempts the impossible, a brazen scheme to reinvent a war criminal, one of history's greatest, his legacy marked by:

-- neocon hellishness;

-- duplicity and public betrayal;

-- a disdain for human rights and civil liberties;

-- lawlessness;

-- racist hatemongering;

-- usurping unconstitutional "Unitary Executive" authority, what Chalmers Johnson called "a ball-faced assertion of presidential supremacy....dressed up in legalistic mumbo jumbo;"

-- imperial wars called liberating ones;

-- mass murder;

-- extrajudicially establishing coup d'etat "continuity of government" authority to abolish constitutional freedoms unilaterally;

-- color revolutions against democracy;

-- reveling in being a "wartime president;"

-- making torture official US policy;

-- establishing a global torture prison gulag;

-- abolishing the 1807 Insurrection Act and 1878 Posse Comitatus protections against using US military forces for domestic law enforcement, except as constitutionally authorized or in cases of internal insurrection;

-- militarizing state and local law enforcement agencies, establishing a martial law apparatus throughout all levels of government without congressional approval;

-- supporting the worst of Israeli crimes;

-- deposing Haiti's Jean-Bertrand Aristide, its first democratic leader since liberation from France in 1803, turning slaves into citizens;

-- staging a failed coup to depose Venezuela's Hugo Chavez;

-- failing to establish a militarized North American Union (NAU) merger of Canada and Mexico with America, headquartered in Washington;

-- transferring unprecedented wealth to the rich, exceeded only by his successor;

-- unabashedly favoring business over beneficial social change;

-- designating everything for privatization, including public education as another commodity;

-- waging war on working Americans;

-- unprecedented levels of secrecy;

-- endangering public welfare and safety by regulatory shredding;

-- creating the grimmest economic conditions since the 1930s;

-- destroying civil liberties;

-- silencing dissent;

-- criminalizing First Amendment activities advocating for environmental and animal rights;

-- institutionalizing illegal spying and police state repression;

-- turning elections into shams;

-- hiring journalist as paid propagandists;

-- failing to privatize Social Security and end Medicare;

-- opposing Net Neutrality;

-- waging war on Muslims, Latinos, and other political targets; persecuting them; denying them due process and judicial fairness; incarcerating and/or deporting them;

-- fostering social decay; and

-- much more, a legacy from hell, a disgusting betrayal of every norm of civilized decency, engendering global contempt and outrage.

Yet there he was discussing his record publicly on the hustings, promoting his new book, 477 pages of ghostwritten rubbish - fiction, not fact.

The writer: Christopher Michel, aged 28, a fellow Yale graduate, working with Bush preparing it since January 2009. The Daily Beast's Bryan Curtis said, in 2003, he was an unpaid intern, then rose to become deputy assistant to the president and deputy speechwriting director. Both positions involved close regular contact, including traveling the world on Air Force One.

Treating his former boss reverentially, he said Bush was fully in charge, "writ(ing) a first draft of a lot of things, (then) email(ing it) to" him. "My role (was) to help put together different scenes. (He wrote) the scenes, and (I) stitch(ed) things together." Or so he claimed, wanting Bush to get full credit, a man who couldn't complete a full sentence, got through Yale and Harvard Business School on his pedigree, not intellect, and likely didn't write his own term papers, let alone a book.

Curtis concluded saying "the best way to read the Bush memoir is as the elusive piece de resistance of the most loyal Bush scrivener. In (a) 2009 email to friends, Michel wrote, 'I owe more than I can repay to the 43rd president of the United States, a man of courage who will fare well in history.' " Perhaps what's taught in Texas schools or featured in "managed news." Never by legitimate chroniclers, exposing one of history's greatest war criminals, a mass murderer, a contemptible human being, so far unaccountable.

Feting a World Class Rogue

Bombastically back on the world stage, Bush began a whirlwind tour on prime time NBC TV, promoting his book, defending his illegal wars, rationalizing his abandonment of New Orleans post-Katrina, and more, trying to reinvent himself.

Soft media hosts, including Matt Lauer, Oprah Winfrey, Rush Limbaugh and three Fox News regulars (Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly and Greta Van Susteren in that order) provided venues. Print interviews will follow, one announced with AARP The Magazine. More interviews as well on CBS Sunday Morning, prime time CNN, The Tonight Show, and other programs, part of the carefully planned scheme to rewrite history, reinvent the man, and sell books, corporate media hosts always cooperative.

New York Times writer Brian Stelter called it part of a well-orchestrated campaign, NBC getting first crack having outbid other network proposals. One reason perhaps is because Bush's daughter, Jena, is a part-time Today show correspondent.

In his November 7 article titled, "With Book, Bush Is Back in Spotlight," Stelter said:

Late last month, NBC taped the interview "over the course of two days in Texas," calling it "a major coup." But anyone expecting "to see a televised confrontation over issues like the Iraq war may come away disappointed. The tone of the prime-time special (and other scheduled interviews) is conversational, not prosecutorial, and for that reason, 'Lauer/Bush' is not likely to join 'Frost/Nixon' in the public imagination."

Former Bush press secretary Dana Perino said tone was an important consideration for the tour, a combination image-building/book-selling effort, already a non-fiction best seller.

Without trying to embarrass or pressure Bush, Lauer asked, "Let's talk about waterboarding." He flatly denied it was torture because he legal staff said so. In fact, they followed orders, devising legal opinions to justify lawlessness, what they clearly understood.

Yet with no substantiating evidence, Bush claimed it "saved lives" by providing advance warning. In fact, experts know that that torture is both ineffective and counterproductive, accomplishing nothing but vengeance.

One of many torture techniques used, waterboarding inflicts severe pain from 40-second applications in two hour sessions, multiple ones daily, forcing water in detainees' mouths and noses for 12 minutes, repeated daily, sometimes for weeks.

Merriam Webster online calls it "an interrogation technique in which water is forced into a detainee's mouth and nose so as to induce the sensation of drowning."

Wikipedia calls it:

"a form of torture that consists of immobilizing the subject on his/her back with the head inclined downwards; water is then poured over the face into breathing passages, thus triggering (a sensation) of drowning. In contrast to submerging the head face-forward in water, waterboarding precipitates an almost immediate gag reflex (causing) extreme pain, dry drowning, damage to (the) lungs (and) brain....from oxygen deprivation (as well as) other physical injuries including broken bones due to struggling against restraints, lasting psychological damage or, if uninterrupted, death."

By any standard, it's barbaric torture, omitted from media interviews. They focused mainly on Bush's book, reinvented history, airbrushed truth, the same "managed news" featured daily in corporate media reports, censoring or sanitizing hard topics too sensitive to discuss.

Instead, soft-ball hosts doted on Bush calling the world "better off without Saddam Hussein in power, as are 25 million (Iraqis) who now have a chance to live in freedom." The millions dead, suffering, and immiserated perhaps feel otherwise. Their country (like Afghanistan) is occupied, destroyed, corrupted, tryannized, and contaminated, the undiscussed Bush legacy Obama continues seamlessly, his memoirs ahead in a future volume, no less disgusting than "Decision Points."

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at Also visit his blog site at and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

Friday, November 12, 2010

THE ROVING EYE - Word up, G-20? By Pepe Escobar

It certainly beats any dreary Group of 20 (G-20) communique. Everything one needs to know about the US Federal Reserve's quantitative easing (QE), currency wars and the mudslinging tsunami that passes for the current global financial system can be found at this animated rap video by Taiwan-based Next Media Animation (see the video here)

If only the G-20 summit in Seoul this week had released a ''making of''. The summit was billed as a lofty last rampart of antiprotectionism, supporting the global economic recovery
while alleviating widespread deficit and debt problems. As the meeting

was taking place on Thursday and Friday, the final declaration had been hammered out on Wednesday. And what a mud-wrestling match that was. 

After much sweating, a draft communique was arrived at, stating that nations should let markets determine currency rates and ''refrain from competitive devaluation'' (a veiled reference to the US). But until the last minute the sherpas, the officials whose keen sense of hazards and secure routes help to guide their leaders to a safe if banal conclusion at any summit) also kept in brackets crucial alternative wording - ''competitive undervaluation'' (a veiled reference to China).

As a consolation prize to global public opinion, at least it was heartening to see the BRIC countries - Brazil, Russia, India and China - and the European Union (EU) finally getting their act together to produce a declaration stressing the - almost general - political will that nations should not adopt policies (such as the Fed's latest round of quantitative easing, or QE2) that seriously mess with other nations' economies.

Every central bank in the world had been asking the Fed for days to come clean on QE2. To believe that the G-20 would gladly accept US President Barack Obama's offer to embrace yet another tsunami of US paper dollars that the US cannot pay for is to live in Oz. No wonder many a diplomat would confirm, tersely or not, that this was indeed the G-19 to 1 summit.

Yet to exhibit as a G-20 success only a promise that the much-scorned International Monetary Fund (IMF) should monitor what the G-20 is doing is slightly less than appalling (although the IMF now dreams that a coordinated G-20 action to "save" the world economy could generate 52 million jobs in the medium term). Not to mention that Washington refuses to undergo the "structural adjustment" that its baby, the IMF, has always imposed on any other budget deficit patient.

The new model army
How could it be otherwise? Take the letter Obama sent to the G-20 leaders ahead of the summit. He tried to convince the other 19 that the US is keeping its "commitment to refrain from undervaluing currencies for competitive purposes" - when all of them were practically screaming that QE1 and QE2 are nothing less than US dollar devaluation. Obama's letter practically laid the blame for the 2008 financial crisis on China and the emerging markets. And as he defended the Fed's action in India on Monday, he in fact was stating that what is good for the US is good for the world.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s response was certainly more measured than many an angry European central banker, who were accusing the US of "treason"; Lula suggested that the BRIC countries should start using fewer US dollars while trading among themselves (and that's already the case).

Even the mineral kingdom is aware that since the US under Richard Nixon in 1971 unilaterally declared the end of a link between gold and the US dollar, the Bretton Woods system introduced at the end of World War II has been dead. What has been going on to this day is the unending coma of the global monetary system. Washington/Wall Street has embraced a take-no-prisoners law of the jungle - endless manipulating of the US dollar as the global reserve currency. For emerging nations, the only possible counterpunch is to coordinate an array of public investment works, to guarantee jobs and incomes in their internal markets, and to protect their local industries

It's enlightening to compare the current situation with what happened under Franklin Delano Roosevelt. To reverse the Great Depression, the US government took over the economy. President Roosevelt did not resort to "the markets"; he unleashed a state-conceived developmentalist package - public works mixed with social action.

As much as the impasse at the G-20 is real, the current Washington rhetoric of striving for global coordination to beat the crisis is nonsense: what matters to Washington/Wall Street today is to smash any political alternative to its unilateral adjustment. The University of Missouri's Michael Hudson has explained it in a nutshell: "Essentially, you'll have America's financial system and the banks acting as an army to raid foreign currencies."

It's still full spectrum, stupid
So what will happen in the US after QE2 and this G-20? Business as usual - that is, the return, in full force, under the auspices of a Republican-dominated US Congress, of the full primacy of the Pentagon's Full Spectrum Dominance doctrine. Republicans will hysterically try to cut every budget in sight - but definitely not the Endless War budget.

Thus the ''honeymoon'' with China is over. China more than ever will now see its position solidified at the top of the Pentagon's strategic competitor/enemy list. The uneasily quantitative trillion-dollar question remains how, in which terms, and until when will Beijing agree to keep financing the non-stop build-up of Washington's overwhelming war machine.

The Full Spectrum Dominance-driven Washington/Wall Street plutocracy would interpret Obama's trip to Asia as serving essentially to warn China that the US intends to remain a formidable Asian power. India - a US nuclear partner - was charmed to kingdom come. And so was Indonesia. Those 40,000 US troops in Japan plus the Okinawa base, as well as the 28,000 US troops in South Korea, are not going anywhere.

The US internal situation - exhibiting every possible woe from the total debacle of the middle class to the rise of fascistic tendencies - is not even an afterthought for the Full Spectrum Dominance-driven Washington/Wall Street plutocracy.

As for the G-20, this is roughly the bottom line: nothing can stop the US dollar going down. Big banks will have a ball getting money for nothing in the US and chicks for free all over emerging markets. Average Americans will be left with housing prices and wages down. China won't be lectured: by the way, the yuan has actually appreciated since 2005 from 8.2 to the US dollar to 6.6; and it will appreciate another 15% up to 2015, following a timeline established by Beijing, not Washington.

South America, with its string of progressive governments now with much better coordination capacities, may show the world how to dance the integration shuffle, and how to escape the US dollar dictatorship, doing deals in their own currencies. Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega has been saying out loud what his colleagues have been whispering: the time of the US dollar as reserve currency is over. The move is toward a basket of currencies. The BRICs will become increasingly more coordinated. And with China liberalizing the offshore yuan market, sooner or later the Hong Kong-US dollar peg will become history.

France is next in holding the G-20 presidency. It's no secret that the embattled, mega-unpopular, micro-Napoleonic and macro-narcissistic Nicolas Sarkozy will pull all stops to come up with "his" Bretton Woods II next year in Paris, and thus save the world, not to mention his reelection in 2012.

Now that's a soap opera worth waiting for. Till then, let's rap. From the Mao to the Deng to the Jiang to the Hu/ You think you can keep on telling us what to do...

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at                

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Washington increases Clandestine Ops against Venezuela

By Eva Golinger

Millions of dollars are being channeled to opposition groups in Venezuela via USAID, while the Pentagon has established a new PSYOP program directed at Venezuela, including a “5-day a week television program in Spanish broadcast in Venezuela” during 2011

The 2010 annual report of the Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI), a division of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), regarding its operations in Venezuela, evidences that at least $9.29 million USD was invested this year in efforts to “support US foreign policy objectives…and promote democracy” in the South American nation. This amount represents an increase of almost $2 million over last year’s $7.45 million distributed through this office to fund anti-Chávez political activities in the country.

The OTI is a department of USAID dedicated to “supporting US foreign policy objectives by helping local partners advance democracy in priority countries in crisis. OTI works on the ground to provide, fast, flexible short-term assistance targeted at key political transition and stabilization needs”.

Although OTI is traditionally used as a “short-term” strategy to filter millions of dollars in liquid funds to political groups and activities that promote US agenda in strategically important nations, the case of Venezuela has been different. OTI opened its office in 2002, right after the failed coup d’etat against President Hugo Chavez - backed by Washington - and has remained ever since. The OTI in Venezuela is the longest standing office of this type in USAID’s history.


In a confidencial memo dated January 22, 2002, Russell Porter, head of OTI, revealed how and why USAID set up shop in Venezuela. “OTI was asked to consider a program in Venezuela by the State Department’s Office of Andean Affairs on January 4…OTI was asked if it could offer programs and assistance in order to strengthen the democratic elements that are under increasing fire from the Chavez government”.

Porter visited Venezuela on January 18, 2002 and then commented, “For democracy to have any chance of being preserved, immediate support is needed for independent media and the civil society sector…One of the large weaknesses in Venezuela is the lack of a vibrant civil society…The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has a $900,000 program in Venezuela that works with NDI, IRI and the Solidarity Center to strengthen political parties and the Unions…This program is useful, but not nearly sufficient. It is not flexible enough, nor does it work with enough new or non-traditional groups. It also lacks a media component”.

Since then OTI has been present in Venezuela, channeling millions of dollars each year to feed the political conflict in the country. According to the 2010 annual report, OTI is now operating “out of the US Embassy and is part of a larger US diplomatic effort to promote democracy in Venezuela”.

The principal investment of the $9.29 million in US taxpayer dollars in 2010 went to the opposition’s campaign for the legislative elections, held last September 26 in Venezuela. “USAID works with several implementing partners drawn from the spectrum of civil society…offering technical assistance to political parties…and supporting efforts to strengthen civil society”.
In Venezuela, it’s widely known that the term “civil society” refers to the anti-Chavez opposition.


Despite revealing its overall budget, the actual flow of funds from USAID/OTI to groups in Venezuela remains secret. When OTI opened its offices in 2002, it contracted a private US company, Development Alternatives Inc (DAI), one of the State Department’s largest contractors worldwide. DAI ran an office out of El Rosal – the Wall Street of Caracas – distributing millions of dollars annually in “small grants of no more than $100,000” to hundreds of mainly unknown Venezuelan “organizations”.
From 2002 to 2010, more than 600 of these “small grants” were channeled out of DAI’s office to anti-Chavez groups, journalists and private, opposition media campaigns.

In December 2009, DAI began to have severe problems with its operations in Afghanistan, when five of its employees were killed by alleged Taliban militants during an attack on their office December 15 in Gardez. Just days earlier, another DAI “employee”, Alan Gross, had been detained in Cuba and accused of subversion for illegally distributing advanced satellite equipment to dissidents.

When an article written by this author titled “CIA Agents assassinated in Afghanistan worked for "contractor" active in Venezuela, Cuba”, published December 30, 2009 on the web, evidenced the link between DAI’s operations in Afghanistan, Cuba and Venezuela, and their suspicious nature, the CEO of DAI, Jim Boomgard, was alarmed. Days later, he attempted to coerce me into a private meeting in Washington to “discuss” my article. When I refused, he threatened me by claiming that my writing was “placing all DAI employees worldwide in danger”. In other words, if anything happened to DAI employees, I would be personalIy responsible.
But Boomgard, who claimed little knowledge of his company’s operations in Venezuela, understood that what DAI was doing in Venezuela was nowhere near as important (to his company) as what DAI was doing in Afghanistan and other countries in conflict. Weeks later, DAI abruptly closed its office in Caracas.

Nonetheless, OTI continues its operations in Venezuela, and although it has other US “partners” managing a portion of its annual multimillion-dollar budget, such as IRI, NDI, Freedom House and the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF), there is zero transparency regarding funding to Venezuelan groups.

A report published in May 2010 by the Spanish think tank FRIDE assessing “democracy assistance” to Venezuela revealed that a significant part of the more than $50 million annually in political funding from international agencies to anti-Chavez groups in Venezuela was entering illicitly. According to the report, in order to avoid Venezuela’s strict “currency control laws”, US and European agencies bring the monies in dollars or euros into the country and then change them on the black market to increase value. This method also avoids leaving a financial record or trace of the funds coming in to illegally finance political activities.

If DAI is no longer operating in Venezuela and distributing “small grants” to Venezuelan groups, then how are USAID’s multimillion-dollar funds reaching their recipients? According to USAID, they now operate from the US Embassy. Is the US Embassy illegally dishing out funds directly to Venezuelans?

OTI’s 2010 report also reveals the agency’s ongoing intentions to continue supporting and funding Venezuelan counterparts. In the section marked “Upcoming Events”, OTI makes clear where energies will be directed, “December 2012 – Presidential elections”.


USAID isn’t the only US agency intervening in Venezuela’s affairs. In the Pentagon’s 2011 budget, a new request for a “psychological operations program” for the Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM), which coordinates all US military missions in Latin America, is included. Specifically, the request refers to the establishment of a “PSYOP voice program for USSOUTHCOM”.

PYSOP are, “planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups and individuals. The execution of PSYOP includes conducting research on various foreign audiences; developing, producing and disseminating products to influence these audiences; and conducting evaluations to determine the effectiveness of the PSYOP activities. These activities may include the management of various websites and monitoring print and electronic media”. Or, as the 2011 request indicates, running a radio or audio program into a foreign nation to promote US agenda.

USSOUTHCOM’s new PSYOP program in Latin America will complement a new State Department initiative run out of the Board of Broadcasting Governors (BBG), which manages US propaganda worldwide. BBG’s whopping 2011 budget of $768.8 million includes “a 30-minute, five-day-a-week VOA [Voice of America] Spanish television program for Venezuela”.

This increase in PSYOP and pro-US propaganda directed at Venezuela evidences an escalation in US aggression towards the region.

And the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) is still running a special intelligence “mission” on Venezuela and Cuba, set up in 2006. Only four of these country-specific “mission management teams” exist: Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan/Pakistan, and Venezuela/Cuba. These “missions” receive an important part of DNI’s $80 billion annual budget and operate in complete secrecy.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What is Waterboarding? It’s a War Crime, Former President Bush

No Matter What Bush Says, Torture Did Not "Foil" Any London Terror Plots

From former President George W. Bush’s Decision Points book tour, one would think there was nothing wrong with waterboarding. In fact, one might conclude in order to be a strong leader, one has to have the “courage” or “guts” to request a terror suspect be waterboarded or else face the possibility of appearing weak. But, what waterboarding really happens to be is a war crime.

In Bush’s recently released memoir, he writes about the “choice between security and values” being real. He writes about consulting with “CIA experts” on “interrogation techniques.” A legal review was conducted and an “enhanced interrogation program” that “complied with the Constitution and all applicable laws, including those that ban torture” was created. The technique of waterboarding was deemed by the CIA to do “no lasting harm.”

Matt Lauer, a host on "The Today Show," recently interviewed Bush and asked why he thought waterboarding was legal. Bush answered, “Because the lawyer said it was legal…He said it did not fall within the Anti-Torture Act. I'm not a lawyer. But you gotta trust the judgment of people around you, and I do."

The lawyers around Bush --- people like David S. Addington, John Ashcroft, Jay Bybee, Steven G. Bradbury, Douglas J. Feith, Timothy E. Flanigan, William J. Haynes II, and John Yoo --- did tell Bush it was legal. They specifically crafted a legal justification for torture so the Bush Administration could get away with committing war crimes. As reported by Jason Leopold, Bush’s lawyers “hastily drafted” legal opinions after one prisoner had already been subjected to waterboarding and “violated ethical standards by collaborating with senior White House officials to create legal cover for violating anti-torture and other federal statutes after the fact, rather than providing objective advice for future actions.

Georgetown University Law Professor Jonathan Turley, who has appeared on MSNBC shows like "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" wrote a column in May of 2009 that discussed the case for prosecuting war crimes committed by the Bush Administration. He outlined how the “status of waterboarding as torture was established by the United States.” Maj. Edwin F. Glenn, who used waterboarding in the Philippines in 1898, argued waterboarding was “justified under the necessities” but those arguments were rejected. Maj. Glenn was “court-martialed and convicted of the crime of torture.”

Turley also outlines how “torture is a war crime.” It is a crime under Torture Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2340. Torture is expressly prohibited by the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, a “binding law” that President Reagan signed.

Bush and lawyers who were involved in granting permission for torture of detainees like Abu Zubaydah would like Americans to believe the country could have been attacked if waterboarding had not been ordered. The Washington Post reported in March of 2009 the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah “foiled no plots."

They’d also like Americans to believe that plots at Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf in London were “foiled” thanks to waterboarding. But, a former British intelligence chairman told BBC Radio 4 Today that he doubted torture “actually produced information which was instrumental in preventing those plots coming to fruition.”

In his book, Bush claims the U.S. was able to capture Khalid Sheikh Mohammed because Zubaydah was waterboarded. Yet, if that’s really true, why do so many military and defense experts claim torture doesn’t work?

It’s less likely that Zubaydah gave the military any new information and much more likely that interrogators asked something like, “Is Mohammed in Rawalpindi, Pakistan? Is he?” And, when he wanted the waterboarding to stop, he nodded “yes” and the interrogators determined that was a good enough confirmation that intelligence tips they had were correct and then forces moved in and captured Mohammed.

And, Bush’s answer of “damn right” to Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, when he asked if he had permission to use waterboarding on Mohammed, is just another bitter indication that Bush did not think his Administration needed to adhere to international law.

Fortunately for Bush, Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi, despite being briefed on the use of waterboarding in 2002, did not think the Administration needed to be pressed on its committing of war crimes. In fact, the briefing’s only objection was reportedly that some members wondered if the torture technique had been “harsh enough.”

The Obama Administration has effectively decriminalized waterboarding, torture, or war crimes by refusing to have the Department of Justice investigate or prosecute former Bush Administration officials who now boast openly about their involvement in committing war crimes. Advocacy groups have tried to have the lawyers involved in creating legal justification for torture disbarred but, given the lack of interest in following the country’s obligation to investigate and prosecute war crimes, the groups have been unsuccessful (perhaps, having their attempt to defend the rule of law labeled "left wing" by publications like the New York Times has something to do with their lack of success).

This is not "24." War crimes were determined long ago to be actions that should lead to punishment. Bush himself said when he was president, "War crimes will be prosecuted, war criminals will be punished and it will be no defense to say, ‘I was just following orders.’"

So, in that case, Attorney General Eric Holder, there is work to be done --- work that will hopefully restore the integrity and moral standing of America.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Lies of Islamophobia - The Three Unfinished Wars of the West against the Rest

By John Feffer
The Muslims were bloodthirsty and treacherous. They conducted a sneak attack against the French army and slaughtered every single soldier, 20,000 in all. More than 1,000 years ago, in the mountain passes of Spain, the Muslim horde cut down the finest soldiers in Charlemagne’s command, including his brave nephew Roland. Then, according to the famous poem that immortalized the tragedy, Charlemagne exacted his revenge by routing the entire Muslim army.

The Song of Roland, an eleventh century rendering in verse of an eighth century battle, is a staple of Western Civilization classes at colleges around the country. A “masterpiece of epic drama,” in the words of its renowned translator Dorothy Sayers, it provides a handy preface for students before they delve into readings on the Crusades that began in 1095. More ominously, the poem has schooled generations of Judeo-Christians to view Muslims as perfidious enemies who once threatened the very foundations of Western civilization.

The problem, however, is that the whole epic is built on a curious falsehood. The army that fell upon Roland and his Frankish soldiers was not Muslim at all. In the real battle of 778, the slayers of the Franks were Christian Basques furious at Charlemagne for pillaging their city of Pamplona. Not epic at all, the battle emerged from a parochial dispute in the complex wars of medieval Spain. Only later, as kings and popes and knights prepared to do battle in the First Crusade, did an anonymous bard repurpose the text to serve the needs of an emerging cross-against-crescent holy war.

Similarly, we think of the Crusades as the archetypal “clash of civilizations” between the followers of Jesus and the followers of Mohammed. In the popular version of those Crusades, the Muslim adversary has, in fact, replaced a remarkable range of peoples the Crusaders dealt with as enemies, including Jews killed in pogroms on the way to the Holy Land, rival Catholics slaughtered in the Balkans and in Constantinople, and Christian heretics hunted down in southern France.

Much later, during the Cold War, mythmakers in Washington performed a similar act, substituting a monolithic crew labeled “godless communists” for a disparate group of anti-imperial nationalists in an attempt to transform conflicts in remote locations like Vietnam, Guatemala, and Iran into epic struggles between the forces of the Free World and the forces of evil. In recent years, the Bush administration did it all over again by portraying Arab nationalists as fiendish Islamic fundamentalists when we invaded Iraq and prepared to topple the regime in Syria.

Similar mythmaking continues today. The recent surge of Islamophobia in the United States has drawn strength from several extraordinary substitutions. A clearly Christian president has become Muslim in the minds of a significant number of Americans. The thoughtful Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan has become a closet fundamentalist in the writings of Paul Berman and others. And an Islamic center in lower Manhattan, organized by proponents of interfaith dialogue, has become an extremist “mosque at Ground Zero” in the TV appearances, political speeches, and Internet sputterings of a determined clique of right-wing activists.

This transformation of Islam into a violent caricature of itself -- as if Ann Coulter had suddenly morphed into the face of Christianity -- comes at a somewhat strange juncture in the United States. Anti-Islamic rhetoric and hate crimes, which spiked immediately after September 11, 2001, had been on the wane. No major terrorist attack had taken place in the U.S. or Europe since the London bombings in 2005. The current American president had reached out to the Muslim world and retired the controversial acronym GWOT, or “Global War on Terror.”

All the elements seemed in place, in other words, for us to turn the page on an ugly chapter in our history. Yet it’s as if we remain fixed in the eleventh century in a perpetual battle of “us” against “them.” Like the undead rising from their coffins, our previous “crusades” never go away.  Indeed, we still seem to be fighting the three great wars of the millennium, even though two of these conflicts have long been over and the third has been rhetorically reduced to “overseas contingency operations.” The Crusades, which finally petered out in the seventeenth century, continue to shape our global imagination today. The Cold War ended in 1991, but key elements of the anti-communism credo have been awkwardly grafted onto the new Islamist adversary. And the Global War on Terror, which President Obama quietly renamed shortly after taking office, has in fact metastasized into the wars that his administration continues to prosecute in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere.

Those in Europe and the United States who cheer on these wars claim that they are issuing a wake-up call about the continued threat of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other militants who claim the banner of Islam. However, what really keeps Islamophobes up at night is not the marginal and backwards-looking Islamic fundamentalists but rather the growing economic, political, and global influence of modern, mainstream Islam. Examples of Islam successfully grappling with modernity abound, from Turkey’s new foreign policy and Indonesia’s economic muscle to the Islamic political parties participating in elections in Lebanon, Morocco, and Jordan. Instead of providing reassurance, however, these trends only incite Islamophobes to intensify their battles to “save” Western civilization.

As long as our unfinished wars still burn in the collective consciousness -- and still rage in Kabul, Baghdad, Sana’a, and the Tribal Areas of Pakistan -- Islamophobia will make its impact felt in our media, politics, and daily life. Only if we decisively end the millennial Crusades, the half-century Cold War, and the decade-long War on Terror (under whatever name) will we overcome the dangerous divide that has consumed so many lives, wasted so much wealth, and distorted our very understanding of our Western selves.

The Crusades Continue

With their irrational fear of spiders, arachnophobes are scared of both harmless daddy longlegs and poisonous brown recluse spiders. In extreme cases, an arachnophobe can break out in a sweat while merely looking at photos of spiders. It is, of course, reasonable to steer clear of black widows. What makes a legitimate fear into an irrational phobia, however, is the tendency to lump all of any group, spiders or humans, into one lethal category and then to exaggerate how threatening they are. Spider bites, after all, are responsible for at most a handful of deaths a year in the United States.

Islamophobia is, similarly, an irrational fear of Islam. Yes, certain Muslim fundamentalists have been responsible for terrorist attacks, certain fantasists about a “global caliphate” continue to plot attacks on perceived enemies, and certain groups like Afghanistan’s Taliban and Somalia’s al-Shabaab practice medieval versions of the religion. But Islamophobes confuse these small parts with the whole and then see terrorist jihad under every Islamic pillow. They break out in a sweat at the mere picture of an imam.

Irrational fears are often rooted in our dimly remembered childhoods. Our irrational fear of Islam similarly seems to stem from events that happened in the early days of Christendom. Three myths inherited from the era of the Crusades constitute the core of Islamophobia today: Muslims are inherently violent, Muslims want to take over the world, and Muslims can’t be trusted.

The myth of Islam as a “religion of the sword” was a staple of Crusader literature and art. In fact, the atrocities committed by Muslim leaders and armies -- and there were some -- rarely rivaled the slaughters of the Crusaders, who retook Jerusalem in 1099 in a veritable bloodbath. “The heaps of the dead presented an immediate problem for the conquerors,” writes Christopher Tyerman in God’s War. “Many of the surviving Muslim population were forced to clear the streets and carry the bodies outside the walls to be burnt in great pyres, whereat they themselves were massacred.” Jerusalem’s Jews suffered a similar fate when the Crusaders burned many of them alive in their main synagogue. Four hundred years earlier, by contrast, Caliph ‘Umar put no one to the sword when he took over Jerusalem, signing a pact with the Christian patriarch Sophronius that pledged “no compulsion in religion.”

This myth of the inherently violent Muslim endures. Islam “teaches violence,” televangelist Pat Robertson proclaimed in 2005. “The Koran teaches violence and most Muslims, including so-called moderate Muslims, openly believe in violence,” was the way Major General Jerry Curry (U.S. Army, ret.), who served in the Carter, Reagan, and Bush Sr. administrations, put it.

The Crusaders justified their violence by arguing that Muslims were bent on taking over the world. In its early days, the expanding Islamic empire did indeed imagine an ever-growing dar-es-Islam (House of Islam). By the time of the Crusades, however, this initial burst of enthusiasm for holy war had long been spent. Moreover, the Christian West harbored its own set of desires when it came to extending the Pope’s authority to every corner of the globe. Even that early believer in soft power, Francis of Assisi, sat down with Sultan al-Kamil during the Fifth Crusade with the aim of eliminating Islam through conversion.
Today, Islamophobes portray the building of Cordoba House in lower Manhattan as just another gambit in this millennial power grab: "This is Islamic domination and expansionism,” writes right-wing blogger Pamela Geller, who made the “Ground Zero Mosque” into a media obsession. “Islam is a religion with a very political agenda,” warns ex-Muslim Ali Sina. “The ultimate goal of Islam is to rule the world.”

These two myths -- of inherent violence and global ambitions -- led to the firm conviction that Muslims were by nature untrustworthy. Robert of Ketton, a twelfth century translator of the Koran, was typical in badmouthing the prophet Mohammad this way: “Like the liar you are, you everywhere contradict yourself.” The suspicion of untrustworthiness fell as well on any Christian who took up the possibility of coexistence with Islam. Pope Gregory, for instance, believed that the thirteenth century Crusader Frederick II was the Anti-Christ himself because he developed close relationships with Muslims.

For Islamophobes today, Muslims abroad are similarly terrorists-in-waiting. As for Muslims at home, “American Muslims must face their either/or,” writes the novelist Edward Cline, “to repudiate Islam or remain a quiet, sanctioning fifth column.” Even American Muslims in high places, like Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN), are not above suspicion. In a 2006 CNN interview, Glenn Beck said, “I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, ‘Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.’"

These three myths of Islamophobia flourish in our era, just as they did almost a millennium ago, because of a cunning conflation of a certain type of Islamic fundamentalism with Islam itself. Bill O’Reilly was neatly channeling this Crusader mindset when he asserted recently that “the Muslim threat to the world is not isolated. It’s huge!”  When Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence William Boykin, in an infamous 2003 sermon, thundered "What I'm here to do today is to recruit you to be warriors of God's kingdom," he was issuing the Crusader call to arms.
But O’Reilly and Boykin, who represent the violence, duplicity, and expansionist mind-set of today’s Western crusaders, were also invoking a more recent tradition, closer in time and far more familiar.

The Totalitarian Myth

In 1951, the CIA and the emerging anti-communist elite, including soon-to-be-president Dwight Eisenhower, created the Crusade for Freedom as a key component of a growing psychological warfare campaign against the Soviet Union and the satellite countries it controlled in Eastern Europe. The language of this “crusade” was intentionally religious. It reached out to “peoples deeply rooted in the heritage of western civilization,” living under the “crushing weight of a godless dictatorship.” In its call for the liberation of the communist world, it echoed the nearly thousand-year-old crusader rhetoric of “recovering” Jerusalem and other outposts of Christianity.

In the theology of the Cold War, the Soviet Union replaced the Islamic world as the untrustworthy infidel. However unconsciously, the old crusader myths about Islam translated remarkably easily into governing assumptions about the communist enemy: the Soviets and their allies were bent on taking over the world, could not be trusted with their rhetoric of peaceful coexistence, imperiled Western civilization, and fought with unique savagery as well as a willingness to martyr themselves for the greater ideological good.
Ironically, Western governments were so obsessed with fighting this new scourge that, in the Cold War years, on the theory that my enemy’s enemy is my friend, they nurtured radical Islam as a weapon. As journalist Robert Dreyfuss ably details in his book The Devil’s Game, the U.S. funding of the mujahideen in Afghanistan was only one part of the anti-communist crusade in the Islamic world. To undermine Arab nationalists and leftists who might align themselves with the Soviet Union, the United States (and Israel) worked with Iranian mullahs, helped create Hamas, and facilitated the spread of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Though the Cold War ended with the sudden disappearance of the Soviet Union in 1991, that era’s mind-set -- and so many of the Cold Warriors sporting it -- never went with it. The prevailing mythology was simply transferred back to the Islamic world.  In anti-communist theology, for example, the worst curse word was “totalitarianism,” said to describe the essence of the all-encompassing Soviet state and system. According to the gloss that early neoconservative Jeanne Kirkpatrick provided in her book Dictatorships and Double Standards, the West had every reason to support right-wing authoritarian dictatorships because they would steadfastly oppose left-wing totalitarian dictatorships, which, unlike the autocracies we allied with, were supposedly incapable of internal reform.

According to the new “Islamo-fascism” school -- and its acolytes like Norman Podhoretz, David Horowitz, Bill O’Reilly, Pamela Geller -- the fundamentalists are simply the “new totalitarians,” as hidebound, fanatical, and incapable of change as communists. For a more sophisticated treatment of the Islamo-fascist argument, check out Paul Berman, a rightward-leaning liberal intellectual who has tried to demonstrate that “moderate Muslims” are fundamentalists in reformist clothing.

These Cold Warriors all treat the Islamic world as an undifferentiated mass -- in spirit, a modern Soviet Union -- where Arab governments and radical Islamists work hand in glove. They simply fail to grasp that the Syrian, Egyptian, and Saudi Arabian governments have launched their own attacks on radical Islam. The sharp divides between the Iranian regime and the Taliban, between the Jordanian government and the Palestinians, between Shi’ites and Sunni in Iraq, and even among Kurds all disappear in the totalitarian blender, just as anti-communists generally failed to distinguish between the Communist hardliner Leonid Brezhnev and the Communist reformer Mikhail Gorbachev.

At the root of terrorism, according to Berman, are “immense failures of political courage and imagination within the Muslim world,” rather than the violent fantasies of a group of religious outliers or the Crusader-ish military operations of the West. In other words, something flawed at the very core of Islam itself is responsible for the violence done in its name -- a line of argument remarkably similar to one Cold Warriors made about communism.

All of this, of course, represents a mirror image of al-Qaeda’s arguments about the inherent perversities of the infidel West. As during the Cold War, hardliners reinforce one another.
The persistence of Crusader myths and their transposition into a Cold War framework help explain why the West is saddled with so many misconceptions about Islam. They don’t, however, explain the recent spike in Islamophobia in the U.S. after several years of relative tolerance. To understand this, we must turn to the third unfinished war: the Global War on Terror or GWOT, launched by George W. Bush.

Fanning the Flames

President Obama was careful to groom his Christian image during his campaign. He was repeatedly seen praying in churches, and he studiously avoided mosques. He did everything possible to efface the traces of Muslim identity in his past.

His opponents, of course, did just the opposite. They emphasized his middle name, Hussein, challenged his birth records, and asserted that he was too close to the Palestinian cause.  They also tried to turn liberal constituencies -- particularly Jewish-American ones -- against the presumptive president. Like Frederick II for an earlier generation of Christian fundamentalists, since entering the Oval Office Obama has become the Anti-Christ of the Islamophobes.

Once in power, he broke with Bush administration policies toward the Islamic world on a few points. He did indeed push ahead with his plan to remove combat troops from Iraq (with some important exceptions). He has attempted to pressure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to stop expanding settlements in occupied Palestinian lands and to negotiate in good faith (though he has done so without resorting to the kind of pressure that might be meaningful, like a cutback of or even cessation of U.S. arms exports to Israel). In a highly publicized speech in Cairo in June 2009, he also reached out rhetorically to the Islamic world at a time when he was also eliminating the name “Global War on Terror” from the government’s vocabulary.

For Muslims worldwide, however, GWOT itself continues. The United States has orchestrated a surge in Afghanistan. The CIA’s drone war in the Pakistani borderlands has escalated rapidly. U.S. Special Forces now operate in 75 countries, at least 15 more than during the Bush years. Meanwhile, Guantanamo remains open, the United States still practices extraordinary rendition, and assassination remains an active part of Washington’s toolbox.

The civilians killed in these overseas contingency operations are predominantly Muslim. The people seized and interrogated are mostly Muslim. The buildings destroyed are largely Muslim-owned. As a result, the rhetoric of “crusaders and imperialists” used by al-Qaeda falls on receptive ears. Despite his Cairo speech, the favorability rating of the United States in the Muslim world, already grim enough, has slid even further since Obama took office -- in Egypt, from 41% in 2009 to 31% percent now; in Turkey, from 33% to 23%; and in Pakistan, from 13% to 8%.

The U.S. wars, occupations, raids, and repeated air strikes have produced much of this disaffection and, as political scientist Robert Pape has consistently argued, most of the suicide bombings and other attacks against Western troops and targets as well. This is revenge, not religion, talking -- just as it was for Americans after September 11, 2001. As commentator M. Junaid Levesque-Alam astutely pointed out, “When three planes hurtled into national icons, did anger and hatred rise in American hearts only after consultation of Biblical verses?”

And yet those dismal polling figures do not actually reflect a rejection of Western values (despite Islamophobe assurances that they mean exactly that). “Numerous polls that we have conducted,” writes pollster Stephen Kull, “as well as others by the World Values Survey and Arab Barometer, show strong support in the Muslim world for democracy, for human rights, and for an international order based on international law and a strong United Nations.”

In other words, nine years after September 11th a second spike in Islamophobia and in home-grown terrorist attacks like that of the would-be Times Square bomber has been born of two intersecting pressures: American critics of Obama’s foreign policy believe that he has backed away from the major civilizational struggle of our time, even as many in the Muslim world see Obama-era foreign policy as a continuation, even an escalation, of Bush-era policies of war and occupation.

Here is the irony: alongside the indisputable rise of fundamentalism over the last two decades, only some of it oriented towards violence, the Islamic world has undergone a shift which deep-sixes the cliché that Islam has held countries back from political and economic development. "Since the early 1990s, 23 Muslim countries have developed more democratic institutions, with fairly run elections, energized and competitive political parties, greater civil liberties, or better legal protections for journalists," writes Philip Howard in The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. Turkey has emerged as a vibrant democracy and a major foreign policy player. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, is now the largest economy in Southeast Asia and the eighteenth largest economy in the world.
Are Islamophobes missing this story of mainstream Islam’s accommodation with democracy and economic growth? Or is it this story (not Islamo-fascism starring al-Qaeda) that is their real concern?

The recent preoccupations of Islamophobes are telling in this regard. Pamela Geller, after all, was typical in the way she went after not a radical mosque, but an Islamic center about two blocks from Ground Zero proposed by a proponent of interfaith dialogue. As journalist Stephen Salisbury writes, “The mosque controversy is not really about a mosque at all; it’s about the presence of Muslims in America, and the free-floating anxiety and fear that now dominate the nation’s psyche.” For her latest venture, Geller is pushing a boycott of Campbell’s Soup because it accepts halal certification -- the Islamic version of kosher certification by a rabbi -- from the Islamic Society of North America, a group which, by the way, has gone out of its way to denounce religious extremism.

Paul Berman, meanwhile, has devoted his latest book, The Flight of the Intellectuals, to deconstructing the arguments not of Osama bin-Laden or his ilk, but of Tariq Ramadan, the foremost mainstream Islamic theologian. Ramadan is a man firmly committed to breaking down the old distinctions between “us” and “them.” Critical of the West for colonialism, racism, and other ills, he also challenges the injustices of the Islamic world. He is far from a fundamentalist.

And what country, by the way, has exercised European Islamophobes more than any other? Pakistan? Saudi Arabia? Taliban Afghanistan?  No, the answer is: Turkey. "The Turks are conquering Germany in the same way the Kosovars conquered Kosovo: by using higher birth-rates,” argues Germany’s Islamophobe du jour, Thilo Sarrazin, a member of Germany's Social Democratic Party. The far right has even united around a Europe-wide referendum to keep Turkey out of the European Union.

Despite his many defects, George W. Bush at least knew enough to distinguish Islam from Islamism. By targeting a perfectly normal Islamic center, a perfectly normal Islamic scholar, and a perfectly normal Islamic country -- all firmly in the mainstream of that religion -- the Islamophobes have actually declared war on normalcy, not extremism.

The victories of the tea party movement and the increased power of Republican militants in Congress, not to mention the renaissance of the far right in Europe, suggest that we will be living with this Islamophobia and the three unfinished wars of the West against the Rest for some time. The Crusades lasted hundreds of years. Let’s hope that Crusade 2.0, and the dark age that we find ourselves in, has a far shorter lifespan.

John Feffer is the co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, writes its regular World Beat column, and will be publishing a book on Islamophobia with City Lights Press in 2011. His past essays, including those for, can be read at his website.  He would like to thank Samer Araabi, Rebecca Azhdam, and Peter Certo for research assistance.
Copyright 2010 John Feffer