Keeping the Bush Era Viable

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

Rest assured, there are powerful interests that will not put up with an Obama presidency if it’s about even half the changes it threatens — I mean, promises — to make.

Watch them circle, yipping at his integrity. “Obama’s moralizing tone may not wear well,” a Wall Street Journal headline archly surmised a few days ago. “How often do Americans want to hear how misguided they were before his arrival?”

Huh? The new president didn’t simply, inscrutably “arrive” at the White House, as though appointed by, oh, Rod Blagojevich. He was elected by a serious, screaming-for-change majority of Americans to do precisely what he is doing, and so much more — that is to say, to upset to the point of apoplexy the status quo of war and greed as represented so faithfully by, among many other media hypocrites, the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

The op-ed piece that followed, by Dorothy Rabinowitz, sarcastically dismissed Obama’s plans to close Guantanamo and halt the secret military tribunals as part of some unfathomable “moral cleansing” kick he appears to be on — subliminally rallying as many of the sullen and defeated as possible to the great cause of mocking peace and common sense as principles on which to run a nation. My gawd, we’re at war. How can you fight evil if you can’t do torture?

Will they succeed in keeping the Bush era viable? This is just the beginning, of course. Rabinowitz was defending the possible insubordination of Col. James Pohl, the military judge who has defied an executive order to freeze, pending review, the fake trials authorized under the 2006 Military Commissions Act, which, among much else, permit (according to Amnesty International) “the use of evidence extracted under cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”; as well as “the use of classified evidence against a defendant” that cannot be effectively challenged.

Pohl has insisted he will go ahead with the Feb. 9 arraignment of Abd el Rahim al Nashiri, a Saudi Arabian suspected of helping to orchestrate the suicide bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000 off the coast of Yemen, which took the lives of 17 U.S. sailors. “The public interest in a speedy trial will be harmed by the delay in the arraignment,” Pohl wrote.

Yeah, well, you gotta love the way legal language can be bent every which way to serve whatever purpose you want it to. Suddenly the public has an interest in a speedy trial, but Nashiri was nabbed by security officials in the United Arab Emirates in, ahem, 2002. That was more than six years ago. The U.S., rather than seeking to extradite Nashiri so he could stand trial, handed him off to the CIA, which performed extraordinary rendition on the suspect, ensconcing him in “black prisons” overseas, where they subjected him to waterboarding and other forms of torture. He eventually wound up at Guantanamo.

At a military hearing two years ago, Nashiri pleaded: “One time they tortured me one way and another time they tortured me in a different way. . . . They do so many things. So, so many things.”

Apparently Nashiri elaborated on the specific nature of his treatment at the hearing, but military censors deleted his words from the record, according to Newsweek. In addition, videotapes of Nashiri being waterboarded were destroyed by the CIA — all, of course, in the public’s interest in remaining stupid, that is, innocent and ignorant of the uglier side of the war on terror being waged on its behalf.

“I say it’s an illegitimate procedure,” Nancy Hollander, an ACLU attorney representing Nashiri, said of the arraignment she will attend next week. “We have a criminal justice system in the U.S. — we believe in it. It doesn’t permit testimony that’s coerced or (obtained by) torture, or a conviction based on hearsay.”

The stakes here are enormous — and to a large extent invisible, hidden behind legal and other specialized language that either appeals to public fear or sympathy for dead Americans or simply cloaks reality in righteous-sounding mumbo-jumbo.

Even if Nashiri is guilty of what he’s charged with — helping to plan an attack that killed 17 American sailors — the selective righteousness we are meting out in those sailors’ names is a vast and sickening disservice to their memories. If there’s a case against him, it ought to be made in a court that reflects American values, not in a jury-rigged tribunal that tells the world we can do anything we want.

For me, the larger outrage is that, in our immoral and self-destructive war on terror, we kill random civilians all the time, through bad intelligence, indifference or design, or simply with a hiccup of our powerful weaponry, and we never stand in accountability for our actions or the least measure of grief.

The interests in business as usual want to keep it this way, and will do whatever they must to thwart the man we elected to rein them in.