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Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
The subtitle of the newly released documentary film Big Men is "everyone wants to be big" and to say the film covers a "big" topic is to put it mildly.
Executive produced by Brad Pitt and directed by Rachel Boynton, the film cuts to the heart of how the oil and gas industry works and pushes film-watchers to think about why that's the case. Ghana's burgeoning offshore fields — in particular, the Jubilee Field discovered in 2007 by Kosmos Energy — serve as the film's case study.
Another bs article about the bs program that is Pre-Check. And, of course, a discussion thread full of comments by the Special People o-woe-is-me-ing their fate.
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Darcy Ike, San Diego, CA
WE, THE PEOPLE, CHARGE THE UNITED STATES PRESIDENT, BARAK OBAMA AND THE FULL MILITARY CHAIN OF COMMAND TO COMMANDER COLONEL JIM CLUFF, EVERY DRONE CREW, AND SERVICE MEMBERS at CREECH AIR BASE, WITH CRIMES AGAINST PEACE & CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY, WITH VIOLATIONS OF PART OF THE SUPREME LAW OF THE LAND, EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLINGS, VIOLATION OF DUE PROCESS, WARS OF AGGRESSION, VIOLATION OF NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY, AND KILLING OF INNOCENT CIVILIANS.
The bigger threat is the National Security Agency: Despite Heart Bleed, the Internet’s Alive and Well!
By Alfredo Lopez
Some are calling it a "worst nightmare". There have been dire predictions that it represents the end of the Internet or that there is, in fact, no real Internet security or that Free and Open Source Software is dangerous to use.
One thing is sure. The week-old saga of the Heart Bleed flaw (or bug) and its potential exploits has shown more light on the Internet and its security issues than anything else in recent memory.
by AFRI (Action from Ireland)
Our society has lost a great activist today with the death of John Judge. No one spoke more clearly, strongly, and informedly on political power, militarism, and activism for positive change. While John lived nextdoor to Dennis Kucinich -- and with one of the best views and one of the best collections of political books and documents -- in Washington, D.C., it was as staff person for Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney that he advanced numerous causes of peace and justice and accountability for the powerful on Capitol Hill. On impeaching Bush and Cheney he was there first. John's expertise reached back into history and across continents. From the Kennedy assassination to conscientious objection to how-a-bill-becomes-a-law, he was a person to turn to for information and wisdom who was never anything but helpful, friendly, cheerful, and energetic. He could describe the hiring of Nazis in Operation Paperclip and the creation of the Cold War and then suggest that perhaps the Nazis actually won World War II. He could explain the creation of standing armies in such a manner that you knew without a doubt that either our society was insane or you were. He could get you thinking and get you active. And always with complete humility and good will. He will be missed.
I just opened this small selection of videos of John all at once, and it wasn't enough:
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Nevada Desert Experience to serve Creech AFB with a War Crimes Indictment on Wednesday, April 16, 2014
By David Hartsough, WagingNonviolence
As April 15 approaches, make no mistake: The tax money that many of us will be sending to the U.S. government pays for drones that are killing innocent civilians, for “better” nuclear weapons that could put an end of human life on our planet, for building and operating more than 760 military bases in over 130 countries all over the world. We are asked by our government to give moral and financial support to cutting federal spending for our children’s schools, Head Start programs, job training, environmental protection and cleanup, programs for the elderly, and medical care for all so that this same government can spend 50 percent of all our tax dollars on wars and other military expenditures.
My wife Jan and I have been war tax resisters since the war in Vietnam. We cannot in good conscience pay for killing people in other parts of the world.
Does it make sense to work every day for peace and justice and then contribute one day’s pay each week for war and war-making? In order to wage wars, governments need young men and women willing to fight and kill, and they need the rest of us to pay our taxes to cover the cost of soldiers, bombs, guns, ammunition, planes and aircraft carriers. The cost of just the wars being fought now is in the trillions of dollars.
Increasingly, we are able to recognize that most wars are based on lies — weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the Gulf of Tonkin in Vietnam, and now al-Qaeda behind every bush and in every country our government wants to attack.
As our government uses drones that kill thousands of innocent people, we create ever more enemies, thus assuring that we will have wars to fight in perpetuity. The war against communism used to be the rationale for all our military expenditures. Now it is the war on terror. But the problem is that all war is terrorism. It just depends which end of the gun or bomb you are on. One person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist.
At what point do we the people refuse to cooperate with these immoral, illegal and senseless wars? The government cannot fight these wars without our tax dollars and our moral support. And I bet that if the Pentagon sent people out door to door to ask us to contribute to its wars, aircraft carriers, drones and new fighter jets, most of us would not contribute.
Some people argue that the Internal Revenue Service is so powerful that it will get the money anyway from our paychecks or bank accounts, so what good does it do to refuse to pay the 50 percent of our taxes that go for war? My response is that if the Pentagon has to take the money we were planning to contribute to schools and organizations working for peace and justice, at least we aren’t paying for the wars voluntarily. And if millions of us refused to pay our war taxes, the government would have a real crisis on its hands. It would be forced to listen.
As President Nixon’s chief of staff Alexander Haig looked out the White House window and saw more than 200,000 anti-war demonstrators marching by, he said, “Let them march all they want to as long as they pay their taxes.”
If our country put even 10 percent of the money we presently spend on wars and military expenditures into building a world where every person has shelter, enough to eat, an opportunity for education and access to medical care, we could be the most loved country in the world — and the most secure. But perhaps even more pressing is the question of whether we can in conscience continue to pay for the killing of other human beings and perpetuate the war system for all the world’s children.
The choice is ours. Hopefully many of us will join the increasing number of people who are refusing to pay the portion of taxes that pay for war and are redirecting their refused taxes to funding human and environmental needs.
My wife and I engage in war tax resistance by simply deducting 50 percent of the taxes we owe and depositing it in the People’s Life Fund. The fund keeps the money in case the IRS seizes our bank account or paycheck and will return it to us so we have the funds to replenish what the IRS has taken. Interest on the money in the People’s Life Fund is contributed to peace and justice organizations and programs addressing the needs of people in our communities. That way, as long as the IRS leaves us alone, the funds we refuse to pay go to the places we would like to see it go. The IRS may add penalties and interest on what we owe, but for me that is a small price to pay for refusing to voluntarily pay for wars and the American empire.
Someday, we hope to see a special fund set up by the government itself for those who cannot in good conscience allow their money to be used for war, such as the one that the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund has outlined. In the meantime, there are more resources about tax resistance available through the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee.
If your conscience so directs you, refuse to pay $1, $10, $100 or 50 percent of the taxes you owe, and send letters to your elected representatives and your local newspaper explaining why you are doing so. For the 50 percent of our taxes that my wife and I do pay, we make out a check to the Department of Health and Human Services instead of to the IRS and send it along with our 1040 form. We ask the IRS to allocate all the funds we pay to programs for health, education and human services.
For acts like this to become truly powerful, however, we need to make war tax resistance a mass movement. We need to reach out to all people who want to help build a more peaceful and just world, people who don’t believe in killing other people, people who are hurting because of the massive cuts in programs aimed at meeting human needs while the military gets the lion’s share, and people who are tired of living in the center of an empire that inflicts death and destruction on those who stand in the way. If all or even many of the people who feel this way were to refuse to pay the war and military portion of their taxes, we would have a mass movement that couldn’t be stopped.
If an alien invader with a face were attacking the earth, the difficulties that governments have getting populations to support wars on other humans would be multiplied a thousand fold. The most common response to officials calling some petty foreign despot "a new Hitler" would shift from "yeah, right" to "who cares?" The people of the world would unite in common defense against the hostile alien.
If only it had a face. And what's a face anyway? Doctors can create faces now. You'd still love your loved ones if they lost their faces. And I hear there's a movie in which a guy falls in love with his faceless computer.
The point is that there is an alien invader attacking the earth. Its name is climate change. And Uncle Sam wants YOU to fight it, as does Uncle Boris and Aunt Hannah and Cousin Juan and Brother Feng. The whole family is in agreement on this one, and we are a family now all of a sudden.
Climate change breathes fire on our land and roasts it, killing crops, drying up water supplies, breeding dangerous diseases and infestations. Climate change circles over the oceans and blows tidal waves toward our coasts. It melts the icebergs in its evil claws and sinks our beach resorts beneath the sea.
How do we fight back? We organize quickly, as only humans can. We grab the $2 trillion that we spend on wars among ourselves each year, plus a few trillion more from some multi-billionaires who suddenly realize they don't have another planet to spend it on. We start coating the rooftops with solar panels, aimed right at the face of the monster. We put up windmills that will turn his nasty breath against himself.
And we hit him where it really hurts, we cut off his supplies with crippling sanctions: we stop buying and making and consuming and discarding such incredible piles of crap every day. Consumerism becomes rapidly understood as planetary treason, support for the Evil One. We put a stop to its worst excesses and begin reining it in systematically -- working together as we never have before.
Ah, but the dark lord of the heat is subtle. He has cells of loyalists among us. They push fossil fuels on us and tell us comforting lies. No longer! We will drag them before the House UnEarthly Activities Committee. "Are you now or have you ever been a promoter of oil, gas, or coal consumption?" They'll crumble under the pressure.
Imagine how we could unite for this battle, what wits and courage and self-sacrifice we could put into it, what inspiring acts of bravery, what stunning creations of intellect!
Ah, but climate change is not a person, so forget the whole thing. Did you ever notice what a funny grin Vladimir Putin has? It's beginning to get on my nerves.
Winslow Myers is an artist and activist who lives in mid-Coast Maine. For ten years he coordinated events and activities for Beyond War in central Massachusetts and led many seminars on personal and social change. Later he served on the board of Beyond War while it was based in Portland OR. He has written over a hundred opinion-editorial pieces on the subject of the prevention of war and building a world beyond war, some of which have seen print in national newspapers like the Christian Science Monitor, the San Jose Mercury News, and the San Francisco Chronicle, and all of which have been published online. He is the author of Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide. He serves on the Advisory Board of the War Prevention Initiative, and is active in WorldBeyondWar.org. His website is WinslowMyers.com.
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How Not to End Violence in a War-Torn Land
By Nick Turse, TomDispatch.com
Is the U.S. secretly training Libyan militiamen in the Canary Islands? And if not, are they planning to?
That’s what I asked a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). “I am surprised by your mentioning the Canary Islands,” he responded by email. “I have not heard this before, and wonder where you heard this.”
As it happens, mention of this shadowy mission on the Spanish archipelago off the northwest coast of Africa was revealed in an official briefing prepared for AFRICOM chief General David Rodriguez in the fall of 2013. In the months since, the plan may have been permanently shelved in favor of a training mission carried out entirely in Bulgaria. The document nonetheless highlights the U.S. military’s penchant for simple solutions to complex problems -- with a well-documented potential for blowback in Africa and beyond. It also raises serious questions about the recurring methods employed by the U.S. to stop the violence its actions helped spark in the first place.
Ever since the U.S. helped oust dictator Muammar Gaddafi, with air and missile strikes against regime targets and major logistical and surveillance support to coalition partners, Libya has been sliding into increasing chaos. Militias, some of them jihadist, have sprung up across the country, carving out fiefdoms while carrying out increasing numbers of assassinations and other types of attacks. The solution seized upon by the U.S. and its allies in response to the devolving situation there: introduce yet another armed group into a country already rife with them.
By Michael Uhl
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Your doctors are worried about your health―in fact, about your very survival.
No, they’re not necessarily your own personal physicians, but, rather, medical doctors around the world, represented by groups like International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW). As you might recall, that organization, composed of many thousands of medical professionals from all across the globe, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 for exposing the catastrophic effects of nuclear weapons.
Well, what seems to be the problem today?
Pay Your Taxes, Go to Gitmo?
Does Paying Taxes Violate the Law against Providing Aid and Support to a Terrorist Organization?
Gar Smith / Environmentalists Against War (www.envirosagainstwar.org)
(April 13, 2014) -- With April 15 fast approaching, I have just finished mailing my 1040. This year, I didn't owe taxes and, boy, am I relieved. Not because I can't afford to cut a check, it's just that I don't want to spend the next six years in a federal prison for violating the provisions of US Code Title 18 -- Crimes and Criminal Procedures.
That's exactly what happened to Ahmed Taalil Mohamud, a cab driver in Anaheim, California, who was sentenced to six years in prison for, as the Associated Press put it, "funneling thousands of dollars to a terrorist organization" in Somalia.
Obama's A-bomb Budget:
At The Hague, Obama Decries the Nuclear Threat;
At Home His New Budget Stokes the Atomic Furnace
Today marks three years of Abdul Hadi Al Khawaja’s incarceration. He is the most prominent Bahraini human rights activist. He was severely tortured and needed two operations to repair his broken jaws. Thirty international NGOs have signed a petition calling for his immediate release. They said: “The undersigned civil society organizations call for the immediate and unconditional release of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja as well as immediate access to independent medical examination and treatment. In addition, we urge the Bahraini authorities to cease harassment and persecution of human rights defenders including unwarranted defamation campaigns.”
Yesterday Frontline Defenders called for the immediate release of Dr Saeed Al Samaheeji, who was severely persecuted for helping the injured Bahrainis. On 3rd April Alkhalifa judiciary upheld a one-year jail sentence they had imposed on him last year. Front Line Defenders expresses concern at the sentencing of Dr Saeed Al Samahiji and at the continued targeting of human rights defenders through prosecutions. Front Line Defenders is concerned that the prison sentence is solely related to Dr Saeed Al Samahiji's legitimate exercise of the right of freedom of expression and his human rights work.
The wave of mass arrests and torture has continued. Today scores of Bahrainis have been arrested; Hani Abbas Abdul Wahab from Dar Kulaib, Essa Ra’id from El Eker and 15 years old Mohammad Manoor Abdul Hussain from Bani Jamra. From the District of Mahooz nine people were arrested in the early hours of 9th April: Maytham Hassan Abbas, Nasser Salah Mansoor, Mohammed Jaffar Radhi, Ali Abdulla Abbas Anan, Mohammed Saleh Hassan Anan, Nasser Saleh Hassan Anan, Jassem Saleh Hassan Anan. Ali Hussain Al Saleh and Ali Salah Manoor. On 7th April Mirza Abdul Hussain Al Saffar was arrested at a checkpoint.
The regime has sentenced a blogger, Ali Jassim Me’raj, from Nuwaidrat Town, to two and a half years for “insulting the king”. It is now a crime to criticise Bahrain’s dictator in any way or form.
On commenting on the Alkhalifa violations of human rights in relation to the Formula 1 race, The Committee to Protect Journalists said Bahrain ranks 2nd for most journalists imprisoned per capita in the world
On 4th April the renowned American writer, Toby Jones, wrote an article entitled: “Bahrain oil, American water” in which he said: “Bahrain is now an apartheid state, with roving bands of security forces curtailing Shiite movements, routinely cloaking villages in tear gas, and rounding up protesters. Police have detained hundreds of people, most of them young boys who pass their time with an eye toward every evening’s nine o’clock clash with the police. He said that President Obama had not raised the case of Bahrain with his Saudi hosts last week, and re-iterated that Formula 1 race organizers said human rights abuses are not their business. But then he narrated a personal story: “Last week I received an email from the father of Abdallah Madan, a 17-year-old Bahraini-American citizen, who was arrested for protesting in early March. He has been beaten, his nose has been broken, and there is no sign of his being released any time soon. US embassy offi cials were made to wait three weeks before being allowed to see him, and have so far not made his case a priority. Meanwhile, Abdallah has asked his father to take up the cause of more than 450 other children languishing in Manama’s prisons for standing up to autocracy.”
Jordanian activists have launched an electronic petition through Avaaz website in which they blamed the Jordanian government for sending troops to participate in the crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Bahrain. They said: “The batons that left their marks on the backs of your sons in Bahrain streets had left their marks on the backs of our sons in the streets of Jordan, the hands that silence you are the same as the ones that had silenced us. Your sons are our sons, your blood is our blood and our freedom is one” It ended saying: “The participation of the police forces in security duties in Bahrain is the responsibility of the Jordanian authorities before anyone else. This authority that caused the poverty of its citizens and concentration of wealth and authority in the hands of the few is to be blamed for dragging the sons of Jordan to Bahrain to participate in repressing their brothers in return for being able to support their families. The authorities have extended supporting hands to whip the Bahraini citizens without consulting with anyone”
Bahrain Freedom Movement
9th April 2014
By Kathy Kelly
In early April, 2014, the U.S. Navy unveiled its Mach 7 Magnetic Mangler, “a railgun straight out of Star Trek that can take out targets at 100 miles with a projectile flying at nearly 7,000 feet per second.” So far, the U.S. military has spent $240 million developing the railgun over a period of ten years. CBS News reports that the railgun won’t go to sea until 2016, but one article, published in The Gazette, suggests that the U.S. military may have decided to show off the Magnetic Mangler in order to send a message to the Russian government.
While the American public gets to see the weapon, so do America’s enemies.The military in recent years has timed the unveiling of new technology to global events.
The last time North Korea got frisky, the Navy showed off an anti-missile laser.
Now, with the crisis continuing in the Ukraine, the Navy is showing off something even scarier.
In advance of the University of Wisconsin's recent “Resources for Peace” conference, a professor friend asked participants to consider whether the increasing competition for depleted global resources, for goods to meet essential human needs, would tend inevitably to make people less humane. She was thinking particularly about what she termed “the shrinking humanism” seen in dystopian novels and films that portray cruelty and violence among people who fear for their survival.
I posed her question to Buddy Bell, one of my young friends here at Voices, who has traveled to several war zones and has worked steadily among people suffering displacement and poverty in the United States. “Well,” he said, after a long pause, “there are precedents for dramatic and selfless service on behalf of sustaining a community, even in a time of desperation and war.” Then he went to his room and got me a CD. “Listen to the story Utah Phillips tells on Track 3,” he said.
Utah Phillips, a folksinger and storyteller, had been a U.S. soldier in Korea. His son asked if he had ever shot anyone. He said he didn’t know, but that whether or not he shot anyone wasn’t the story. He told his son about a day when he was longing to take a swim in the Imjin River. His clothes and boots were rotting, and he had mold growing on his body. Chinese soldiers on the other side were having a wonderful time swimming. Why, then, were the local Koreans insisting he must not swim in the river? “A young Korean told me, ‘You know, when we get married here, the young married couple moves in with the elders, they move in with the grandparents, but there’s nothing growing! Everything’s been destroyed, there’s no food. So, the first baby that’s born, the oldest, the old man, goes out with a jug of water and a blanket, sits on the bank of the river and waits to die. Then, when he dies, he’ll roll over the bank and into the Imjin River and his body will be carried out to sea. And we don’t want you to swim in the river because our elders are floating out to sea.”
Utah Phillips seemed to want his son to understand that leaving people with nothing when you have everything is as serious a crime as shooting them. Utah Phillips, at least, consented not to use a resource he could have decided was free to everyone, out of respect for the cost his use would impose on people already giving up everything so that their young could survive with next to nothing.
The tradition of selfless and benevolent behavior continues in Korea’s Jeju Island. Last week, we said goodbye to Joyakjol, a young South Korean activist who is part of the intergenerational campaign to protest construction of a U.S. military base on the pristine shores of Jeju Island. Every morning, activists commit civil disobedience at the gates, risking arrest to block the trucks, and construction equipment that comes to tear apart their land.
People living in landlocked Afghanistan also struggle to cope with consequences of interventionary struggles. They face mounting costs in lives and resources. Kevin Seiff, reporting for the Washington Post, has written several articles about risks to Afghan civilians, especially children, posed by undetonated grenades, rockets and mortar shells the U.S. military leaves behind as it vacates scores of firing ranges in Afghanistan.
Dozens of children have been killed or wounded as they have stumbled upon the ordnance at the sites, which are often poorly marked. Casualties are likely to increase sharply; the U.S. military has removed the munitions from only 3 percent of the territory covered by its sprawling ranges, officials said.
Clearing the rest of the contaminated land — which in total is twice as big as New York City — could take two to five years. U.S. military officials say they intend to clean up the ranges. But because of a lack of planning, officials say, funding has not yet been approved for the monumental effort, which is expected to cost $250 million.
According to the Mine Action Program in Afghanistan, most of the land requiring clearance would otherwise be used for agriculture,a “significant obstacle in a country where 70% of the labour force earns an income through farming or animal husbandry.”
Among the main casualties of war are those who starve and fall ill when valuable farmland is left as minefields.
Some people pull together in the face of scarcity; some demand everything even when others have nothing. Today's crop of grim, dystopian novels and films, the concern of my professor friend, may at times ignore the kindness and solidarity that can occur among the dispossessed.
When many impoverished people, worldwide, don’t want “the haves” to invade them, when, as “have-nots,” they say, 'please, this is ours, it is almost all that we have, we cannot have you storming in and claiming it because you can,' we are astonishingly ill-equipped to understand their objection and honor their need.
These weapons we tout aren't futuristic; they announce our lack of a future. But everywhere around us, we can spot people who are volunteering to live simply so that others can simply live. And that choice is, in reality, open to each of us.
Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence
www.vcnv.org and is active with the World Beyond War campaign www.WorldBeyondWar.org When in Afghanistan, she is a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (ourjournetytosmile.com)
As Rebecca Gordon notes in her new book, Mainstreaming Torture, polls find greater support in the United States for torture now than when Bush was president. And it's not hard to see why that would be the case.
Fifteen years ago, it was possible to pretend the U.S. government opposed torture. Then it became widely known that the government tortured. And it was believed (with whatever accuracy) that officials had tried to keep the torturing secret. Next it became clear that nobody would be punished, that in fact top officials responsible for torture would be permitted to openly defend what they had done as good and noble.
The idea was spread around that the torture was stopping, but the cynical could imagine it must be continuing in secret, the partisan could suppose the halt was only temporary, the trusting could assume torture would be brought back as needed, and the attentive could be and have been aware that the government has gone right on torturing to this day with no end in sight.
Anyone who bases their morality on what their government does (or how Hollywood supports it) might be predicted to have moved in the direction of supporting torture.
Gordon's book, like most others, speaks of torture as being largely in the past -- even while admitting that it isn't really. "Bush administration-era policies" are acknowledged to be ongoing, and yet somehow they retain the name "Bush administration-era policies," and discussion of their possible prosecution in a court of law does not consider the control that the current chief perpetrator has over law enforcement and his obvious preference not to see a predecessor prosecuted for something he's doing.
President Elect Obama made clear in January 2009 that he would not allow torturers to be prosecuted and would be "looking forward" instead of (what all law enforcement outside of science fiction requires) backward. By February 2009, reports were coming in that torture at Guantanamo was worsening rather than ceasing, and included: "beatings, the dislocation of limbs, spraying of pepper spray into closed cells, applying pepper spray to toilet paper and over-forcefeeding detainees who are on hunger strike." In April 2009 a Guantanamo prisoner phoneda media outlet to report being tortured. As time went by the reports kept coming, as the military's written policywould lead one to expect.
In May 2009, former vice president Dick Cheney forced into the news the fact that, even though Obama had "banned torture" by executive order (torture being a felony and a treaty violation before and after the "banning") Obama maintained the power to use torture as needed. Cheney saidthat Obama's continued claim of the power to torture vindicated his own (Cheney's) authorization of torture. David Axelrod, White House Senior Advisor, refused repeatedly, to dispute Cheney's assertion -- also supported by Leon Panetta's confirmation hearing for CIA director, at which he said the president had the power to torture and noted that rendition would continue. In fact, it did. The New York Times quickly reportedthat the U.S. was now outsourcing more torture to other countries. The Obama administration announced a new policy on renditions that kept them in place, and a new policy on lawless permanent imprisonment that kept it in place but formalized it, mainstreamed it. Before long Obama-era rendition victims were alleging torture.
As the Obama White House continued and sought to extend the occupation of Iraq, torture continued to be an Iraqi policy, as it has post-occupation. It has also remained a U.S. and Afghan policy in Afghanistan, with no end in sight. The U.S. military has continued to use the same personnel as part of its torture infrastructure. And secret CIA torture prisons have continued to pop into the news even though the CIA was falsely said to have abandoned that practice. While the Obama administration has claimed unprecedented powers to block civil suits against torturers, it has also used, in court, testimony produced by torture, something that used to be illegal (and still is if you go by written laws).
"Look at the current situation," Obama said in 2013, "where we are force-feeding detainees who are being held on a hunger strike . . . Is this who we are?" Well, it is certainly who some of us have become, including Obama, the senior authority in charge of the soldiers doing the force-feeding, and a human chameleon able to express outrage at his own policies, a trick that is perhaps more central to the mainstreaming of vicious and sadistic practices than we always care to acknowledge.
The mainstreaming of torture in U.S. policy and entertainment has stimulated a burst of torture use around the globe, even as the U.S. State Department has never stopped claiming to oppose torture when it's engaged in by anyone other than the U.S. government. If "Bush-era policies" is taken to refer to public relations policies, then there really is something to discuss. The U.S. government tortured before, during, and after Bush and Cheney ran the show. But it was during those years that people talked about it, and it is with regard to those years that people still talk about it.
As Rebecca Gordon's book, Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States, recounts well, torture has been around. Native Americans and enslaved African Americans were tortured. The CIA has always tortured. The School of the Americas has long trained torturers. The war on Vietnam was a war of mass-murder and mass-torture. Torture is standard practice in U.S. prisons, where the torture of Muslims began post-9-11, where some techniques originated and some prison guards came from via the National Guard who brought their torturing to an international set of victims for the Bush-Obama era.
One of Gordon's central points, and an important one, is that torture is not an isolated incident. Rather it is an institution, a practice, a collective endeavor that requires planning and organization. Defenders of torture often defend a widespread practice of purely vicious evil by reference to a single imaginary incident in which it would make sense to torture someone. Imagine, they say, that you knew for certain (as of course you would not) that many people were about to be killed unless a particular person revealed something. Imagine you were certain (as of course you would not be) that you had found that person. Imagine that contrary to accumulated wisdom you believed the best way to elicit the information was through torture, and that you were sure (as of course you would not be) that the information would be revealed, that it would be accurate (nobody EVER lies under torture), and that it would prevent the greater tragedy (and not just delay it or move it), with no horrible side-effects or lasting results. Then, in that impossible scenario, wouldn't you agree to torture the person?
And doesn't that fantasy justify having thousands of people prepared to engage in torture even though they'll inevitably torture in all sorts of other situations that actually exist, and even though many thousands of people will be driven to hate the nation responsible? And doesn't it justify training a whole culture to support the maintenance of an apparatus of torture, even though uses of torture outside the fantasized scenario will spread like wildfire through local police and individual vigilantes and allied governments?
Of course not. And that's why I'm glad Gordon has tackled torture as a matter of ethics, although her book seems a bit weighed down by academic jargon. I come at this as someone who got a master's degree in philosophy, focusing on ethics, back before 9-11, back when torture was used as an example of something evil in philosophy classes. Even then, people sometimes referred to "recreational torture," although I never imagined they meant that any other type of torture was good, only that it was slightly less evil. Even today, the polls that show rising -- still minority -- support for torture, show stronger -- majority -- support for murder, that is for a president going through a list of men, women, and children, picking which ones to have murdered, and having them murdered, usually with a missile from a drone -- as long as nobody tortures them.
While many people would rather be tortured than killed, few people oppose the killing of others as strongly as they oppose torturing them. In part this may be because of the difficulty of torturing for the torturers. If foreigners or enemies are valued at little or nothing, and if killing them is easier than torturing them, then why not think of killing as "cleaner" just as the Obama administration does? That's one ethical question I'd like to see taken up even more than that of torture alone. Another is the question of whether we don't have a duty to put everything we have into opposing the evil of the whole -- that being the Nuremberg phrase for war, an institution that brings with it murder, imprisonment, torture, rape, injury, trauma, hatred, and deceit.
If you are going to take on the ethics of torture alone, Mainstreaming Torture provides an excellent summary of how philosophy departments now talk about it. First they try to decide whether to be consequentialist or deontological or virtue-based. This is where the jargon takes over. A consequentialist ethics is one that decides on the propriety of actions based on what their likely consequences will be. A deontological ethics declares certain actions good or bad apart from their consequences. And an ethics of virtues looks at the type of life created by someone who behaves in various ways, and whether that person is made more virtuous in terms of any of a long list of possible virtues.
A competition between these types of ethics quickly becomes silly, while an appreciation of them as a collection of insights proves valuable. A consequentialist or utilitarian ethics is easily parodied and denounced, in particular because supporters of torture volunteer such arguments. Would you torture one person to save the lives of two people? Say yes, and you're a simple-minded consequentialist with no soul. But say no and you're demonstrably evil. The correct answer is of course that it's a bad question. You'll never face such a situation, and fantasizing about it is no guide to whether your government should fund an ongoing torture program the real aim and results of which are to generate war propaganda, scare people, and consolidate power.
A careful consideration of all consequences, short- and long-term, structural and subtle, is harder to parody and tends to encompass much of what is imagined to lie outside the purview of the utilitarian simpleton (or corporate columnist). The idea of an ethics that is not based on consequences appeals to people who want to base their ethics on obedience to a god or other such delusion, but the discussions of deontological ethicists are quite helpful nonetheless. In identifying exactly how and why torture is as incredibly offensive as it is, these writers clarify the problem and move people against any support for torture.
The idea of an ethics based entirely on how actions impact the character of the actor is self-indulgent and arbitrary, and yet the discussion of virtues (and their opposite) is terrifically illuminating -- in particular as to the level of cowardice being promoted by the policy of employing torture and any other evil practice in hopes of being kept safe.
I think these last two types of ethics, deontological and virtue -- that is, ongoing discussion in their terms -- have good consequences. And I think that consequentialism and principled integrity are virtues, while engaging in consequentialism and virtue ethics lead to better deontological talk as well as fulfillment of the better imperatives declared by the deontologists. So, the question should not be finding the proper ethical theory but finding the proper ethical behavior. How do you get someone who opposes torturing Americans to oppose torturing human beings? How do you get someone who wants desperately to believe that torture has in fact saved lives to look at the facts? How do you get someone who believes that anyone who is tortured deserves it to consider the evidence, and to face the possibility that the torture is used in part to make us see certain people as evil, rather than their evilness actually preceding and justifying the torture? How do you get Republicans loyal to Bush or Democrats loyal to Obama to put human rights above their loyalty?
As Gordon recounts, torture in reality has generated desired falsehoods to support wars, created lots of enemies rather than eliminating them, encouraged and directly trained more torturers, promoted cowardice rather than courage, degraded our ability to think of others as fully human, perverted our ideas of justice, and trained us all to pretend not to know something is going on while silently supporting its continued practice. None of that can help us much in any other ethical pursuit.
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