The Drumhead

Science Fiction as Reality

He broke the law.

– pretrial determination by US president Barack Obama on Bradley Manning1

And the purpose of this extensive organization, gentlemen? It consists of arresting innocent people and introducing senseless proceedings against them…

– Franz Kafka, The Trial2

What is happening this week is not the trial of Bradley Manning; what is happening this week is the trial of the US. military. This is Bradley Manning’s abuse case. Bradley Manning was arrested in Baghdad, shipped over and held for two months in extremely adverse conditions in Kuwait, shipped over to Quantico, Virginia, which is near the center of the US intelligence complex, and held there for nine months, longer than any other prisoner in Quantico’s modern history. And there, he was subject to conditions that the UN special rapporteur, Juan Méndez, special rapporteur for torture, formally found amounted to torture.

– Julian Assange3

In the 1990s, the Star Trek television and movie franchise was resurrected by the series Star Trek: The Next Generation. The time period of the TV series had shifted from the 23rd to the 24th century. Earth was a planet where progressivist strides had been achieved: eradicating poverty, hunger, and racism and taking strides toward egalitarianism. Nonetheless, rank still exists among humans, and there are still prisons, so progressivism as a force still has work cut out for it.

One episode from this time period presages much that happened during the George W. Bush years and has continued throughout the Barack Obama administration. Nothing much has really changed from Bush to Obama, except the glibness of the rhetoric.

Obama is fighting the wrong wars

Is Obama his own man, or is he the man of the moneyed interests behind him? Many believe that the actions betray the true character of the man; hence, Obama’s audacious offering of hope and change to the masses was merely a clever and cynical ploy to catapult himself into the White House.

Obviously, Obama was not a peacenik; he promised a ratcheting down of American forces in Iraq and to comply with the US-Iraq agreement on a US troop pullout. But lurking elsewhere was a ratcheting up of the violence in Afghanistan that has spilled into Pakistan and elsewhere.

It turns out that the agreed-to withdrawal in Iraq was because Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki and Iran had outsmarted Bush and the U.S. military leadership.4 Obama had wanted to extend the US troop presence, but because immunity for US troops was not forthcoming he had little choice other than to stick to the agreed-to withdrawal. Abductions and rendition by the US are not at an end.5 Guantanamo Bay’s detention facility is still open, and the end of torture was not an end.6

As Obama’s militaristic approach to Afghanistan shows, an end to war was not on his agenda. He backed militarist forays into Libya and Syria, and he has continually supported aggression by supporting a coup in Honduras, backing the siege of Gaza, in addition to sanctioning and threatening Iran. His approval of drone attacks and targeted assassinations is a blatant thumbing of the nose at Alfred Nobel. Moreover, no politically attuned person expected any morally based approach to the dispossession of Palestinians or an end to the genocidal violence against them.

Bush waged a “war on terror” — actually a pretext for the continuation of the constant warring by the United States against smaller countries with fewer defenses. His wars were not only against Afghanis, Iraqis, Palestinians, Haitians, Somalis, etc.; they were against the American people. Bush had warred on behalf of large corporations and mega-wealthy individuals to further aggrandize their wealth. Americans were hit with a Patriot Act, infringement upon civil rights; an invasion of their privacy through spying on them; and an end to assumption of innocence, by drawing up no-fly lists… For non-Americans, habeas corpus became a disappeared legal right.

Science Fictional Overtone

In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Drumhead,” admiral Satie, a statuesque, brusque, calculating, and prideful prosecutor, is sent to the Starship Enterprise to investigate an incident of espionage that occurred at the same time as a suspected incident of sabotage in the engine room. The explosion in the engine room was later found to be an accident. Nonetheless, admiral Satie ramped up her investigation of a conspiracy, focusing on hapless medical technician Simon Tarses who had covered up on his job application that his father was of the enemy species: a Romulan.

Was 9-11 pulled from an episode of Star Trek years earlier?

Doubtful.

Yet we have an alleged act of sabotage that was exploited to seek out the enemy, although this sabotage was revealed to be an accident. What happened on 9-11? An act of terrorism was exploited to launch wars on Afghanistan — on the pretext that Osama bin Laden and “Al Qaeda” were behind the attacks without presentation of evidence — and Iraq which was never tied to 9-11 except by mendacious utterances from White House officials. Several learned persons and experts in architecture, demolition, engineering, and physics have refuted the “official” version of 9-11. What would one expect from a fox-guarding-the-henhouse inquiry? Truth?

The official 9-11 inquiry was a cover-up, and calls for an open government inquiry have been rejected.

The reports of explosions, the presence of thermite, and the perfect demolition “style” implosion of three WTC buildings into their footprints on that ill-fated day — including the unexplained oddity of WTC7 which was not hit by a plane — defy acceptance of the “official” explanation. The “official” version maintains that what looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck was not a duck.

Protecting Rights

Unlike the White House, the enemy-seeking prosecutor in “The Drumhead” (refers to the summary dispensation of military “justice” in the field) opened up the inquiry.

Admiral Satie throws the spotlight on crewman Tarses, as her telepathic assistant insists Tarses is lying and “covering something.”

Admiral Satie reasoned, “It isn’t good to have closed-door proceedings for too long. It invites rumor and speculation…. Because spies and saboteurs don’t like the bright lights of an open inquiry. They’re like roaches scurrying for a dark corner.”

Admiral Satie is much more gracious than Bush ever was. She insisted upon a trial; she insisted upon openness. Bush, contrarily, incarcerated people without charge, prevented/hindered legal representation, and prevented/hindered the prisoners’s right to a trial. Obama, for all his contrariwise bluster, has treaded the same path as his predecessors.7

Satie dismissed Tarses’s entitlement to a presumption of innocence; Picard objected to this.

“I won’t treat a man as a criminal unless there is a cause to do so,” declared Picard.

Tarses, on the advice of his counsel, refused to answers that might incriminate him. Picard’s head of ship security, Lt. Commander Worf, argued that a man unafraid of the truth would answer.

Picard disagreed: “Oh no, we cannot allow ourselves to think like that. The Seventh Guarantee is one of the most important rights granted by the Federation. We cannot take a fundamental principle of the Federation and turn it against the citizen.”

This is the state that America still finds itself in today. Important rights granted by the Constitution have been stripped away by the Patriot Act; the right to privacy has been intruded upon by the Telecommunications Act, allowing spying on Americans. Obama backed these acts.8 Obama has even claimed the presidential power to order assassination of US citizens without trial.9

Finally, the trial (Picard maintained the inquiry had become a trial) becomes too much for Picard. Picard charged, “Admiral, what you’re doing here is unethical. It’s immoral. I’ll fight it.”

Post-9-11, being Arab or Muslim of perceived Arab and or Muslim appearance often made one the target of suspicion and allegation. Islamophobia has become a common catchword to describe the racism and discrimination experienced by Muslims or people perceived by ignorant others to be Muslims.10 A victim of prejudice, crewman Tarses, a birth citizen of the enemy Romulan empire serves as a fitting counterpoint for how Muslims are portrayed by western state and corporate media — and hence how Muslims are perceived by many non-Muslim people, today. What does such targeting of out-group members signify about a society?

Admiral Satie expanded the investigation even further, even to the extent of grilling her flabbergasted partner in the investigation, Picard.

Picard puts forth a thoughtful defense:

Have we become so fearful, have we become so cowardly, that we must extinguish a man because he carries the blood of a current enemy?

You know there are some words I have known since I was a schoolboy: “When the first link in the chain is forged, the first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, it chains us all irrevocably.” Those words were uttered by Judge Aaron Satie [admiral Satie’s famous father]. His wisdom and warning: the first time any man’s freedom is trodden on, we’re all damaged …

Picard’s words ring similar of sentiment to the words of socialist Eugene Debs expressed during his sentencing hearing:

Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.11

Picard continued, “You think we have come so far, torture of heretics, burning of witches, all ancient history. Then, before you can blink an eye, suddenly it threatens to start all over again.”

Patriotism

Just how legitimate is the so-called War on Terror? Noam Chomsky made the argument in his booklet 9-11 that a crime was committed. Therefore, the perpetrators should be apprehended and put on trial as is the commonly accepted procedure when a crime is committed.12 The US, as we all now know, went to war. It was not just a war against the alleged mastermind Osama bin Laden and his associates; it was a war against much of the Muslim world.

Taking this from the cosmological realm to the earthly realm, what Picard had internalized was that humanity is a part of every human. In seeking to demonize the Other, “we” are, in fact, demonizing ourselves. We become the enemy stoked by our fears.

Fear is an emotion. People have a choice: live their lives in fear or step out of the shadows, leave their prejudices behind, and work toward building a better world for all.

Patriotism is the sentiment seized on to separate a citizenry from other humans. It inculcates that the people of “our” land are somehow better than the people of another land, that “our” country has a prerogative on righteousness. It is the logical unraveling of patriotism. It posits that patriotism is only a laudatory sentiment for “our” people and “our” country. As Siddhartha spoke to the spiritual Buddha, Gotama: “… in every truth, the opposite is equally true. For example, a truth can only be expressed and enveloped in words if it is one-sided.”13 The logical loopholes that patriotism appeals to are myriad from concealed quantification (ambiguity of expression that permits a misunderstanding of the quantity which is spoken of; e.g., are all Muslims “our” enemy?14 ) to dicto simpliciter (the fallacy of sweeping generalization).15 Aside from our allies and us, the patriotic sentiment includes demonization of the Other while denying the patriotism of the Other.

A Progressivist Agenda for Obama

Obama has chosen to perpetuate ultimately unwinnable wars: in the foreground, the war on terrorism and, in the background, the war on drugs16 continue. These are wars for capitalist interests; they are not wars for the people. People are the expendable pawns in these wars.

Meanwhile, in the US many people face foreclosure and loss of their homes, search vainly for employment, and suffer in grinding poverty. The jobless economy with social security threatened by both Obama and the Republicans along with austerity looming on the horizon has made more Americans vulnerable. That is just what the oligarchs require: desperate circumstances to compel enough pawns for the fighting of wars offshore.

The wars that Obama should be fighting are winnable. The opportunity always exists for Obama to turn his regime into a principled regime. One way to do this is for him to end the killing abroad and instead wage wars on poverty and war.

I do not delude myself; at the moment, Obama is not such a man. Human nature is not fixed, but it can be very stubborn. Instead of trying to change an opportunist into a progressive, it seems far more logical to choose the progressive in the first place. And if that choice is not offered, or denied, to the masses, then the masses have the right to resist and take charge.

If only the less fortunate among us could escape the regressivism of today and slip across the space-time continuum to a more enlightened future. Science fiction shows such as Star Trek portray a progressivist future. The importance in such a depiction lies in the fact that what is fathomable now is also realizable, but it will only be realized through unrelenting action.

What is that action? I submit it is a revolution based on a sustained general strike — a removal of labor from the capitalist system. The capitalist system will not function without a pool of labor to draw upon. The revolution does not call for violence, although it is expected that the capitalists will resort to violence to enforce enjoyment of their privileges within the classist system. Solidarity is crucial, and when the revolution comes, we must support each other to realize the progressivist world of the future now.

  1. Obama declares Manning guilty without trial,” RT, 26 April 2011. []
  2. Franz Kafka, The Trial (New York: Schocken Books, 1925, 1998): 50. []
  3. Julian Assange on WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning, Cypherpunks, Surveillance State,” Democracy Now! 29 November 2012. []
  4. Gareth Porter, “How Maliki and Iran Outsmarted the U.S. on Troop Withdrawal,” Dissident Voice, 17 December 2011. []
  5. Alfred W. McCoy, “Impunity at Home, Rendition Abroad,” Mother Jones, 15 August 2012. []
  6. Cora Currier and Suevon Lee, “The Best Reporting on Detention and Rendition Under Obama,” ProPublica, 13 July 2012. Tom Burghardt, “Military Spying and Torture Continues Under Obama: CIFA’s Nine (Corrupt) Lives,” Dissident Voice, 5 July 2010. []
  7. See Noam Chomsky, “The Torture Memos and Historical Amnesia,” Z Communications, 19 May 2009. []
  8. See Tom Burqhardt, “Telecom Lobbying, Congress & the National Security State,” Dissident Voice, 2009. []
  9. Patrick Martin, “Obama administration asserts right to assassinate Americans,” WSWS, 10 October 2011. []
  10. See Deepa Kumar, Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire: Empire Abroad and at Home (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2012). Reviewed by Kim Petersen, “Islamophobia,” Dissident Voice, 2 August 2012. []
  11. Eugene Debs, “Statement to the Court: Upon Being Convicted of Violating the Sedition Act,” Marxists, 18 September 1918. []
  12. Noam Chomsky, 9-11 (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2001). []
  13. Herman Hesse, Siddhartha (Translated by Hilda Rosner) (Toronto, Bantam Books: 1951, 1971): 143. []
  14. Hence I place “we” and “us” in quotation marks to indicate that not everyone agrees that “our” country is always right and that the Other is always wrong. []
  15. See Madsen Pirie, How to Win Every Argument: The Use and Abuse of Logic (New York, Continuum: 2006). []
  16. A misnomer because the biggest casualties of this war are the people who use drugs, swelling the prison population in the US. []

Kim Petersen is co-editor of Dissident Voice. He can be reached at: kim@dissidentvoice.org. Read other articles by Kim.