History Lesson for September 11th

featuring an excerpt from Static: Government Liars, Media Cheerleaders, and the People Who Fight Back.

September 11 is probably a good time to transcribe this evocative passage from the opening chapter of the 2006 book by Amy Goodman and David Goodman that I have long been meaning to transcribe and post here.

Journalism is often called the first draft of history. These investigative reports from the first term of the Bush/Cheney administration detail the real-time actions of people struggling against a new regime in which torture was legally (if secretly, at first) redefined as “enhanced interrogation” and dark practices that were previously hidden were now flaunted as part of the US’s tough new zero-tolerance policy towards “Terror”. How did this official U.S. embrace of torture change history? Our current president, when he was a candidate, boasted that the tortures of Bush and Cheney were nothing compared to what he was prepared to do. In that sense, at least, Mr. Trump has kept his word.

Americans are famously prone to amnesia when it comes to history. The name Maher Arar will not ring any bells for most Americans. He was a Canadian citizen, born in Syria, who was detained at JFK airport on September 26, 2002, separated from his family (they were en route to Canada after a vacation) interrogated for days, drugged, diapered, shackled and “rendered” to Syria, where he was kept in a hole in the ground and tortured daily for a year before Canadian efforts finally got him released.

As Amy and David Goodman record: “Three hundred and seventy-four days after he landed at JFK, Maher Arar was released from the Syrian prison. Charges were never filed against him.”

Canada eventually issued a public apology to this innocent Canadian architect, a man with a name similar to someone the US suspected of being a terrorist, and paid him millions in damages. The U.S., in the name of “national security,” (and on several other grounds as well) dismissed the lawsuit Arar brought in U.S. federal court. Nothing to see here, dipshit, we’re fighting evil!

Years later President Obama would admit “we, uh, tortured some folks,” explaining that good people had done it with the best of intentions during very fearful times, but that it was still, you know, kind of wrong. So our first multi-racial president, whose election wiped the slate clean of racism once and for all, made a clean breast of our descent into barbarity, under cover of law. He said it was wrong. I will let the Goodmans take it from the beginning of their 2006 book, a work of journalism that is now a straight up history book (and one I highly recommend):

The United States is an outlaw nation.

The laws that used to govern the behavior of American leaders evolved from basic codes of conduct for civilized nations. In 1215 the Magna Carta asserted that no one, not even the king, was above the rule of law, and it established the concept of habeus corpus — a prisoner’s right to challenge his or her detention in a public court of law. Kidnapping, murder and rape, all nations agree, are crimes. The four Geneva Conventions, the first of which was adopted in 1864, established that even in wars, civilians and combatants have rights. The conventions prohibit murder, torture, hostage-taking and extrajudicial sentencing and executions.

These have long been the publicly proclaimed ideals of Western nations. In private, they have been routinely violated. From the Native American conquest, to slavery, to Vietnam, where torture and extrajudicial killing were staples of the CIA’s Phoenix program, to Latin America, where US-backed death squads rained terror on civilians throughout the 1970s and ’80s, to the US Army School of the Americas, which counts among its graduates a who’s who of Latin American dictators and humans rights abusers, the United States has been secretly involved in the torture business for years.

Yet even by these sordid standards, the United States is now probing new lows.

For this, we must credit President George W. Bush. A failed oil-man, he lost the 2000 election but was selected as president of the United States by the Supreme Court. Having lost the popular vote nationally that year — including, as recounts proved, losing in Florida– Bush proceeded to declare after the attacks of 9/11 that he had a God-given mandate not just to rule America, but to wage war across the globe. He reportedly told Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, “God told me to strike at al Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam.” Bush decreed that neither international law nor U.S. law applied to him or his administration.

Bush was not able to achieve all this on his own. A compliant Congress, lubricated by contributions from self-dealing lobbyists and multinational corporations, together with a deferential American media have been essential parts of his arsenal.

In the Outlaw Nation that has risen up where the United States once stood, holding humans in offshore cages and denying them fair trials is fine. Kidnapping has become an essential tool of foreign policy. The vice president personally lobbies the Senate to legalize torture, while the secretary of defense decides which medieval torments are acceptable (drowning and freezing are in, disemboweling is out). The secretary of state trots around the globe to forcefully and unequivocally reassure squeamish allies — on whose soil the kidnappings and torture occur — that what they know is happening (and secretly assisted) is not really happening. The U.S. media speaks politely about possible “abuse” and refers delicately to things like “stress positions”.

Torturing enemies in secret is not new for the United States. But the open — even proud– embrace of it is unprecedented. Let us take a look into the dark alleys, behind the iron bars, and into the dungeons to shed some light on the secret actions of the Outlaw Nation.

Static: Government Liars, Media Cheerleaders, and the People Who Fight Back. pp. 17-19 (c) 2006 Amy Goodman and David Goodman

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