Thursday, February 21, 2008

Upending Torture: Finding Equilibrium in the New America Condition

By Bernie Quigley

Shortly after it began, Wesley Clark, as a candidate for President in ‘04, demanded that the beginnings of the war on Iraq be dug up and found and publicly explored and explained before they got buried too deep. It is a good idea. Let’s have televised exploratory hearings. Let them be vast and let them last years and let them begin now.

It is an important idea, and now that senior members of the Government have admitted to torture, let’s also begin as well hearings and investigations into these and possibly other American war crimes. Because in our country, when one commits a crime there are hearings and investigations. And when those crimes involve warfare, they are war crimes.

Not to get all judgmental, but for myself, I’d like to see something a little less touchy-feely than the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Something more widespread. Something more akin to the McCarthy Hearings. Or better still, something like France’s war crime trials of the storied Vichy Swine which took TIME’s Man of the Year in 1931, Pierre Laval, and left him vomiting before a firing squad in 1945.

Here in northern New England, the newspaper editors who for the first time in the 800-year history of the English-speaking people proposed on our op-ed pages that torture be a rational tool of diplomacy, have in most places been delegated to the night desk.

But down the mountain; down there in the vast heartland, the actual torture buffs and advocates who wrote the stories before they went to the syndicates; the agents and fellow travelers of the Popular Front of American Fascism who have breached the faith of the American tradition as it has never been breached before have found their way out of that upper white trash journal, The National Review, to the most important newspapers and magazines in the country. And discussion of torture in venerable journals like The New York Times and the LA Times is now as common as hep-B and herpes duplex and as American as apple pie. First question to these people: Who raised you?

Perhaps we will need reeducation centers or rehabilitation centers like those set up in Southeast Asia after the war in Vietnam to reeducate communist soldiers, propagandists, prostitutes and others who lost their center to the heady and delirious fever of blood and ideology. Get them at least straight enough to be able to perform the simplest tasks of common humanity like cutting tobacco or gutting fish with humble pride and humility.

Let’s go back to the beginning: Let’s have public discussion of ideas like those openly discussed – bragged about – throughout the media leading up to the war on Iraq when most all the major columnists and journalists in this country and about 90 Senators felt for sure early in 2001 that the war in Iraq would be a cake walk won in a week. It would be the key career move and anyone who didn’t participate would be left behind.

World War II in a week. Let’s go back to the Weekly Standard crew. One of its old school talked openly about frequently sitting around the office and the whole bunch just trying to decide which country to cajole the compliant, submissive and accommodating Congress to invade first.

Are there not War Crime laws against conspiring to invade foreign countries? Shouldn’t there be? Isn’t it, like, unConstitutional? Isn’t it unConstitutional to repeal habeas corpus? Why did the repeal of habeas corpus not ring with the urgency of a suddenly lost talisman to the majority in Congress and the press? And isn’t it therefore a RICO violation or a conspiracy to advocate overthrow of the established Constitutional proceedings? Doesn’t this in fact present a bloodless coup; the substitution of a false government for the true government? Isn’t this against the law?

Let’s begin to ask these questions and let’s have soldiers like Major Tammy Duckworth, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Senator Jim Webb, Admiral Joe Sestak and General Wesley Clark start to ask these questions.

Are the instigators of these illegal issues American war criminals and to what degree are they culpable? To what degree are their fellow travelers in press and politics culpable? Should they at least be purged from our presence? Can’t they be sent some place like the Penal Colony of French New Guinea or the Galapagos Islands?

And let’s have some public and televised hearings and go way back to the beginning. Let’s bring in some of the old folkloric and vastly charming and creative radio preachers I used to listen to in the mountains of Appalachia starting in the early ‘90s and throughout who talked about the invasion of Iraq and gettin’ Saddam for years before in actually happened.

Let’s talk about Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ that our Appalachian free preachers told us we were going to help bring about by a war against Saddam.

Was this war simply millennialist religious hysteria of the kind which classically comes about at the turning of millennia? A nation-wide Jonestown to which the Congress, the press and 75% of the American people who supported the invasion drank the kool aid?

Lets get the authors of the Left Behind books to explain to us again as they did to their 100 million readers how a war in the Middle East - something way like this one - was going to bring about the end of the world and bring back Jesus. How was that going to happen again? And let’s talk to the few New York rabbis who brought concerns to The New York Times just prior to the invasion about the apparent connection between these Appalachian religious visions and convictions and the plight of the Jews in this narrative. Was not the final end-game of this fantastic maelstrom of fire and blood the final end for the Jews? How could Jews possibly support this? How could anyone?

More questions arise: Why were so few others in big places like The New York Times and Congress unconcerned about this? How could they possibly claim not to know? One of the authors of the Left Behind books worked for one of our most prominent Representatives. Were they not curious? Was appeasement and accommodation of Bush and company the dominant survival strategy for those Senators who voted for the Iraq war as it was for Marshall Petain and Pierre Laval in France in the early 1930s? Is that why Indian activist Russell Means today calls these American politicians Vichy? Were they simply cowards? Youth wants to know.

And how did our allies not know a word about this?

Weeks before the invasion I’d lobbied members of the House of Commons like Glenda Jackson about the American religious zealots encouraging this war on Iraq and she said they had not a clue about this. She would be the first to bring it to the attention of Tony Blair, she said.

And how did the urban and urbane neocons connect so swiftly with this motley group of Free Church Christian preachers in the Appalachians? What were the external networks? Churches, elected officials, press? They seem unlikely colleagues. What were their shared purposes?

Let’s go back to the tapes of The Newshour with Jim Lehrer weeks before the invasion and look a second time into the eyes and smiles the camaraderie and excitement that the country’s most prominent journalists shared with the most common of agitators, political propagandists and outright thugs, each egging on the other to their Great Moment which they were comparing to the invasion of Normandy.

Let’s go to the deeply involved journalists; the coat carriers at The New York Times who were raising the call to throw France off the UN Security Council and quickly stick India in there, so’s to use a few millions of its minions as American Ghurkhas to hold territory in its new wars abroad in a new America century; and the top Washington Post reporter who advocated invasion of Iraq on the front pages every day for her own agenda - to get the Muslim women to be rid of their burkas and dress like her – the Priestess who accompanied the Conquistador; let’s go to the most famous of TV reporters cheering them on into Baghdad from a Humvee and telling the camera " . . . I think they’re greeting us," while the Iraqi people were throwing him the finger.

Let’s get to the bottom. Who was promoted to the highest perches of newspaper and media posts on the phony Mission Accomplished day and why? How much experience did they have? Compare the backgrounds of these new and present editors to the tradition; to an old editor like, say, Wayne King long of the NYTs, who took 20 years in the trenches and a Pulitzer Prize won in Detroit riots to get to the same position. What kind of newspaper experience did these new people have besides supporting the invasion that led them to such high positions? Why are they still there?

Who early proposed torture in the press and why now have they advanced to major media? Are they not American terrorists? Can they not be imprisoned or exiled? And if we are going to suspend the Constitution, cannot Bob Dylan’s folkloric Mr. Jones, surmised to be the archetypal and anonymous cowardly journalist and editor with neither face nor character, storied in song and generational folk lore for knowing something is happening but not knowing what it is, cannot Mr. Jones be banished outright and purged from the village?

Who were, who are, the central advocates? Who are the American Ayatollahs? Let’s talk to them all. Let’s have everybody watch and hear their explanations.

And while we have them there let’s ask them why they made so little fuss at the dropping of habeas corpus. Let’s ask them why at each and every turn these past few years only so very few like the venerable Robert C. Byrd and that Gray Champion, Ted Kennedy, and a few others like Senator Russ Feingold and Wes Clark spoke up.

Let’s ask the lawmakers why legislation to quit smoking or to ban transfats brings fire to their minds, but torture and habeas corpus are not that burning as issues for them.

But first of all let’s ask them this: Did you watch the Super Bowl? Did you rise and swell at the magnificent vision of the Declaration of Independence being read by Americans of every shape, contrast and color? Did you awaken to Russell Crowe’s primal American vision of perfection leading the artist’s heart, the troubadour’s intuition and the athlete’s gift - The Beatles and Jack Kennedy and Neil Armstrong and Jimi Hendrix and Satchmo and Randy Moss and Eli and Plaxico - to the moon and beyond?

Do you share in this sacred trust? Do you consider yourself to be part of this participation mystique? Do you consider yourself to be one of us?