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Tugging on the Torture Thread

By Dennis Loo
Chris Floyd writes at Empire Burlesque “
The Fatal Thread: Torture, War and the Imperial Project:”
“You cannot disentangle the torture program from the war of aggression in Iraq – nor from the illegal wiretapping program, the corrupt war profiteering, and all the other degradations of liberty and law that have been so accelerated in the past eight years. They are all of a piece, part and parcel of a plan to expand and entrench America's ‘unipolar domination’ of world affairs with a thoroughly militarized state led by an unaccountable, authoritarian ‘Unitary Executive.’

“This is one reason why Barack Obama is so obviously reluctant to tug on the torture thread too hard. If you tear it out, with full-scale prosecutions and top officials locked up behind bars, the whole rotten skein would fall apart. Once you start genuinely subjecting government officials – including security apparatchiks and military brass – to the full extent of the law, there would be no end to the unraveling: senators, contractors, representatives, bureaucrats, generals, lobbyists, judges, corporate chiefs – the whole edifice of Establishment power would be shaken to the core as its leading lights went down, one after the other.”
Floyd is right. The
magnitude of the crimes and precedents set by the Bush regime is so immense, so deep, and so foul that, like Hercules, you’d need the Alpheus and Peneus Rivers to clean these Augean stables. Obama dare not tug on the threads of it too much or the whole cloth will unravel.

The curtain has been pulled back for a moment and behind it is revealed Torquemada, the infamous Spanish Inquisitor and inventor of waterboarding.
This scandal potentially threatens the Empire’s legitimacy to the core. The torture memos’ release has sparked a public revulsion powerful, widespread, and determined enough that public officials who have been intransigent like Obama and Sen. Diane Feinstein are at last calling for investigations and possible prosecutions. The public demands have not even approached their potential or the level that is necessary. But so far they have been enough to force Obama to back off from his original plan to “look forwards” and thereby allow the
freaks and monsters to lumber off into the sunset.
 From “What the US Does to Prisoners,” No Right Turn:
“This is a woodcut from Joost De Damhoudere's Praxis Rerum Criminalium, a guide to criminal law as it stood in the 16th century. The woodcut illustrates ‘the water cure," a method of interrogation. The victim is tied down, their face covered with a cloth, and water is poured into their mouth. It produces a sensation of drowning and asphyxiation, and so encourages the victim to talk. Hence the scribe, ready to take down the confession.
“According to numerous sources within the CIA, this is exactly what the US does to ‘high-value’ detainees:
“’According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaeda's toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess.
"’The person believes they are being killed, and as such, it really amounts to a mock execution, which is illegal under international law,’ said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch.’
“The technique is one of six ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ used by the CIA when questioning "high-value" detainees. For the historically-minded, it was also used by the Spanish Inquisition under Torquemada - though unlike the Americans he at least admitted that what he was doing was torture (for the good of people's souls, of course).”
The wave of enthusiasm and hope that Obama rode into office is a double-edged sword for him and this system. To retain his credibility Obama must appear to be doing the right thing; his legitimacy within his social base and that of the Democratic Party depend upon this. Obama’s wildly popular, but this popularity also ironically constricts his choices.
In contrast, Bush and Cheney’s social base doesn’t expect anything but xenophobic Realpolitik, might makes right, “who gives a damn about the rest of the world, facts, truth, science, morality, foreigners, or international law? We’re Americans, goddamn it, screw the rest of you.”
Obama, it seems, miscalculated around the memos. But then, he had little choice. The ACLU lawsuit was forcing his hand and he could release the memos when he did, or he could have fought the suit longer, but eventually he’d have had to cough up the memos and would have tarnished his reputation in the process. His image has already been eroded badly among growing numbers over his war policies, his stance on civil liberties, rendition, his reserving the right to go beyond the Army Field Manual in interrogations, and his outrageous assertions of “sovereign immunity.” That erosion can only continue.
The reaction to these memos has been much sharper than he anticipated. But this is how scandals and legitimacy crises (if this does become a full-blown legitimacy crisis) often develop: through twists and turns, the unexpected and unanticipated, the perps finding that they have no good choices, only bad ones from which they must choose.
This scandal, if it proceeds - at this point it is difficult to see how it can be stemmed - will be far more devastating and dangerous than Teapot Dome, Watergate, and Iran-Contra put together. The more that comes out, the harder it will be to contain it and staunch the hemorrhaging.
Obama was recruited by the powers that be as their ace in the hole, an articulate, skillful, charismatic, black man with very little baggage who could persuade millions that he would rescue them from the horrid, disastrous, profoundly compromised, corrupt to the bone, illegitimate Bush regime. This gambit worked like a charm, until, that is, Obama had to start implementing policy and his rhetoric about hope and change had to give way to actually doing something. Then his real colors started to show.
Obama’s mission for the powerbrokers was to rescue an imperialist superpower in crisis, financially on the brink of collapse, increasingly isolated internationally, a pariah to most of the world, and enmeshed in two costly, losing wars. Obama’s task was to restore confidence and belief in the system, keep people in the fold, annihilate and/or intimidate foreign adversaries, prosecute these wars and occupations successfully, and retool the Empire in a way that would allow it to carry out its goal of unrivaled dominance.
The Stakes and the Tangled Fabric
Obama was chosen as the continuator of that which Bush and Cheney were so notorious for carrying out: a rupture from past practices, overturning sacrosanct legal principles such as habeas corpus, the Fourth Amendment against illegal search and seizure, prohibitions against torture and pre-emptive wars (by explicitly adopting torture and pre-emptive wars as public doctrine), FISA, separation of powers, and so on, all under the rubric of the “war on terror.” These measures were and are necessary to this superpower because their goal is world domination and as such, past rules – as Alberto Gonzalez famously put it, referring to the Geneva Convention, “quaint” rules - present insuperable barriers to their grand scheme.
Out, damn'd spot! out, I say!—One; two: why, then

' tis time to do't.—Hell is murky.—Fie, my lord, fie, a soldier, and

afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our

pow'r to accompt?—Yet who would have thought the old man to 

have had so much blood in him?
- Lady Macbeth from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Act V, Scene I.
The trouble for the government is that with the exception of a handful of them such as Kucinich, both parties and their leaders especially are neck deep in felonies and crimes against humanity. The White House briefed Nancy Pelosi, for instance, in 2002 about the illegal surveillance over all of us and their waterboarding of detainees such as Zubaydah. She said nothing and when she rose to the House Speakership, she declared that impeachment and investigations were “off the table.” She had knowledge of crimes and impeachable offenses, and allowed these crimes to continue. That makes her a co-conspirator. Rep. Jane Harman, by comparison, is a smaller fish, a piranha it’s true, but not the school leader.
None of the Democrats, including Obama, did what they should have done and were obligated to do, filibuster the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that legalized torture and stripped anyone of habeas corpus rights that Bush or his henchmen dubbed “enemy combatants.” Sen. Patrick Leahy’s the only one to have objected to the other bill that Bush signed in a secret ceremony on the same day as he signed the MCA: the John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007 that gave the president emergency powers based on his say-so alone. In other words, it gave the president the power to suspend the Constitution, declare martial law, and the power to do so on the president’s say so alone by, if he or she wanted to, fabricating or even alleging an incident with no one to stop the president. How many people in the country have even heard of this bill, let alone know what it means?
By letting these two bills pass when they could have and should have stopped them, Congress conspired to commit and perpetuate crimes against humanity. Their ongoing funding of these illegal, unjust and immoral wars are also part of their depraved complicity.
To put it simply, the Democrats one and all have known what went on under Bush and Cheney, and is still going on.
Redrum. Redrum. Redrum.The Shining, by Stephen King
John Yoo and Jay Bybee will be, it would appear likely at this point, prosecuted. Unlike Watergate where the White House officials all either went to jail or were disgraced and forced out of office, this torture scandal has a far larger cast of characters. Finding the scapegoats and letting the big ones go is possible, but because the paper trail is so clear and extensive, with the orders coming from the very top, and with both Bush and Cheney on record as approving of torture, it strains the imagination how they will escape ultimately. This is also true of Rumsfeld and Rice, Gonzalez and Tenet. And so on. Not a cast of thousands, as in Hollywood, but a cast of dozens at least.
Obama and Holder can try to bury the Nuremberg Verdicts, the Geneva Conventions, and the UN Convention Against Torture and try to finesse holding these towering crimes and criminals to account. But if you consider what impact these four torture memos have had so far and compare them to the even worse material that lies just beneath the surface (some of it already in the public domain, but not yet widely known) and the ongoing, explosive contradictions that this economy and this Empire face, you get an idea of the minefield that no amount of fancy dancing by Obama can entirely avoid once this process starts.
Let us begin.
Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch
Of the rang'd empire fall! Here is my space,
Kingdoms are clay; our dungy earth alike
Feeds beast as man. . . .
Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, Act I, Scene I


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