May 27, 2009

The Borg Welcomes Its New Members

Jacob Sullum:
"Apparently using the word war where terrorists are concerned is starting to feel a bit dated," former Vice President Dick Cheney complained in his speech at the American Enterprise Institute last week. Although he implied that the Obama administration showed weakness by using "euphemisms that suggest we're no longer engaged in a war," he added that "these are just words, and in the end it's the policies that matter."

But as President Obama showed in the speech he delivered the same day, he still clings to the language of war when discussing terrorism. Like his predecessor, he uses such rhetoric selectively, to justify departures from standard legal procedures when they prove to be inconvenient.


[A]n institutionalized system of preventive detention, justified by a war that Obama concedes will never come to a definitive end, could be worse than Bush's ad hoc unilateralism.

Obama's preview of the standards for "prolonged detention" was puzzling. ...

As Obama noted, defendants like these have been successfully prosecuted in federal court. The only specific reason he suggested why some detainees can't be was "tainted" evidence. By that he presumably meant "statements that have been obtained using cruel, inhuman, or degrading interrogation methods," which were never admissible in federal court and which Obama wants military commissions to exclude as well.

If there are other reasons why trials are not feasible for some terrorism suspects, Obama needs to explain them. The extraordinary, ominous step of preventive detention cannot be justified simply by saying these detainees "remain at war with the United States." Cheney is right: These are just words.
With regard to this issue and many others, the Obama administration diligently continues the abominable work of its predecessor. And Obama is advancing the reach of the authoritarian state in one respect of terrible significance: as Sullum suggests, the Bush administration committed its crimes in an ad hoc, piecemeal fashion. Now Obama institutionalizes those crimes -- that is, he fully normalizes and legalizes them.

It is at this point that I must issue my periodic reminder yet another time:
I stress the man-made aspect of law, because it is so often neglected or emphasized too little. As I said in the earlier piece, laws are devised by particular people, in particular circumstances, with particular friends and interests. ... And those people who devise a system of law are members of the ruling class; that is why they are devising the laws, and not others. Thus, law is the specific means by which the ruling class utilizes the power of the State and directs that power to the ends they desire.

Moreover, as I have often had sad occasion to note, even dictatorships have laws, and even the most brutal and crushing of totalitarian systems. Even under a dictatorship, there must be a minimal appearance of law as a phenomenon providing fairness, stability and predictability -- even as the people struggle under the burden of sensing that any and all laws can be changed at a moment's notice, that what is punished today may be rewarded tomorrow, and that the ruling class may disregard the law with impunity and indeed live largely outside the law altogether, while those who are disfavored by the State may be punished at any time for any reason or for no reason whatsoever. The United States has not yet reached the stage of outright dictatorship, although it must be emphasized that all the mechanisms for the establishment of a dictatorship are now in place (see here, here and here, for example). But with regard to the operation of our system of law, you might well ponder how close to a dictatorship we have already come. I encourage you to do precisely that.
To the ongoing final destruction of the last shreds of a constitutional republic at home, we must add the continuing, criminal occupation of Iraq (discussed here, together with some words about many progressives' profound disregard for slaughter without end) and the expanding war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as the hideous prospect of additional wars -- perhaps with Iran, or North Korea, or with another country or countries that the Obama administration decides it would be advantageous to target. Thus does the Empire continue its insatiable drive to power and control, to be achieved by bloody and bloodthirsty devastation in every direction.

Some of us warned that this result was inevitable in the case of Obama, given the information about him that was readily available to any observer who wished to inform himself of the relevant facts. Just over a year ago, in "Killing Truth and Hope -- The Fatal Illusion of Opposition," I excerpted Pam Martens, who in turn referenced Black Agenda Report:
Why do Wall Street and the corporate law firms think they will find a President Obama to be accommodating? As the Black Agenda Report notes, "Evidently, the giant insurance companies, the airlines, oil companies, Wall Street, military contractors and others had closely examined and vetted Barack Obama and found him pleasing."
And a year before that, in "Songs of Death" published on May 1, 2007, I analyzed what Obama announced as the foreign policy he had fully embraced, the foreign policy that he follows today. As I said, this policy rests on the conviction that it is the "birthright" of Americans (at least, certainly of America's ruling class), to "have our way. To make certain we always do, we must have more, more, more! More weapons, more soldiers, more bombs, all of which inevitably and necessarily means more death."

In "The Fatal Illusion of Opposition," I also wrote:
You desperately need to understand this: the next President of the United States, no matter who it is, will enter office knowing that he or she can systematically and regularly authorize torture, order mass murder, direct the United States military to engage in one campaign of criminal conquest and genocide after another, oversee uncountable acts of inhumanity and barbarity -- and he or she will never be challenged or called to account in any manner whatsoever. It may have taken the Bush administration two terms to bring us to the point where such evils are committed and even boasted about in broad daylight, while almost no one even notices -- but this will be where the next President starts.

And for this monstrous, unforgivable fact, you can thank the Democrats and those who whore themselves for the Democrats' success in our disgustingly meaningless elections.
Yet I do not believe in holding grudges. So to many of those who voted for Obama, including all those liberals and progressives who now not only fail to oppose his policies of barbarism and death but cheer themselves hoarse with shouts of approval for ongoing murder and destruction (see the Laura Flanders article excerpted here), as well as to all those who attempt to minimize or find excuses for the many crimes of today and tomorrow, I say: Congratulations. Your assimilation has been successful. You are now part of the Hive Mind.

Some of us saw all this, and we therefore declined to vote for Obama. For identical reasons, we refused to vote for McCain. "A Choice of War Criminals" is no choice at all, not if one values innocent life and the honor of being human. But many of those who insisted that all "decent" people must vote for Obama dismissed our concerns, or attempted to marginalize and minimize them. They said we weren't "realistic."

To all such people, I say: you yourselves were certainly "realistic." I would suggest that one other element of what now unfolds is also realistic: the blood that drips from your hands, and the nightmares that ought to sear your souls.

There's realism for you, you miserable sons of bitches.