Action, Cut!

The centerpiece of United States President Barack Obama’s PR campaign to show the world the US is the nice cop was to end the military tribunals, which he called “an enormous failure” during last year’s presidential campaign, and close the infamous Guantanamo prison. This was Obama’s first major “achievement” upon assuming office.

Rumblings about the impossibility of closing Guantanamo were being heard even as Obama took office. It appears there’s no place to send the prisoners, most of whom are innocent of anything other than fighting invaders, if that. Congress does not want to allow them to come to stay in equally notorious US jails, where overcrowding, violence, drugs and AIDS are endemic. Nor is Congress willing to fork over any money to close Guantanamo. Of course this is nonsense. Venezuela’s president offered to take them all, but Obama dare not accept any favors from someone so principled, lest his house of cards come tumbling down.

As for the tribunals, Obama faces two deadlines: his 120-day review of the tribunals has now ended, and on 27 May the trial of Ahmed Al-Darbi, a Saudi accused of plotting to attack a ship in the Strait of Hormuz, was scheduled to begin, and it appears it now will, but under slightly improved conditions, including restricting hearsay evidence. The tribunals now must move quickly in a race against the clock before Guantanamo is scheduled to be closed next January. If the prison is indeed closed and the trials are still going on then, the detainees will have to be brought to the US, where they will receive greater legal rights.

About 20 of the 241 detainees currently at Guantanamo will now be tried by military tribunals along with 13 already in the works. The rest of the detainees must either be released, transferred to other nations or tried by civilian prosecutors in US federal courts. It’s also possible that some could continue to be held indefinitely without trial as prisoners of war, though government officials insist they will now receive full Geneva Conventions protections.

The decision to persist with the tribunals was immediately attacked by critics. “It’s disappointing that Obama is seeking to revive rather than end this failed experiment,” said Jonathan Hafetz of the American Civil Liberties Union. “There’s no detainee at Guantanamo who cannot be tried and shouldn’t be tried in the regular federal courts system.”

How did this sorry state of affairs come about so soon after all the fanfare?

Obama stressed to families of victims of the USS Cole attack when he met them in February that he would not free “potential jihadists”, but when Binyam Mohamed, suspected in a plot to set off a “dirty bomb” inside the US, was repatriated to Britain and released, this was greeted by a hysterical outcry in the US, ignoring the fact that Mohamed was determined to be innocent by the world’s oldest upholder of due process. The pressures on Obama to hold the Bush course are immense, with former vice president Richard Cheney brazenly attacking him as a wimp on US television.

Then there’s Obama’s decision to block the court-ordered release of more torture photos. He was for the pictures being released before deciding last week he was against it, apparently convinced by military officials the photos would increase danger for US troops.

Dawdling, of course, just confirms the view of the rest of the world, especially among Muslims, that Obama is not the principled liberal they were led to expect, that he is afraid to make a clean breast of the past atrocities, that he is merely a politically correct Bush lite. The irony being that, contrary to Cheney’s ravings, it is his very indecisiveness that increases the danger for US troops.

The legal intricacies of Guantanamo vs. US incarceration and jurisdiction are less sensational than the torture pictures. But the likelihood of many Muslims actually seeing the latest shots of US troops in Iraq sodomizing those who resist them is remote. In any case, the pictures were originally intended for possible publication by the torturers themselves. This startling revelation was made by Seymour Hersh in 2004 when he exposed the logic behind the officially-condoned US strategy of sexual torture. The idea was to use blackmail to encourage victims to work for the occupiers as spies, threatening to publish the photos unless the victims agreed to collaborate with the occupiers. A government consultant revealed to Hersh, “I was told that the purpose of the photographs was to create an army of informants, people you could insert back in the population.”

The strategy, of course, failed spectacularly, and the photos — old and new — are being consumed primarily by jingoistic Americans reveling in such scenes of violence inflicted on the “enemy”, inured to the monstrosity of this by their regular diet of media violence and Islamophobia. Already the “blocked” photos are being leaked all over the net, making Obama’s last minute efforts a fool’s errand.

How such unconscionable behavior became official US policy is fascinating. American pilots were trained during the “first” Gulf War by watching pornographic films, according to the Washington Post at the time. In order to better subjugate Arab Iraq, according to Joseph Massad, “American imperial military culture super-masculinizes not only its own male soldiers, but also its female soldiers who can partake of the feminization of Iraqi men.” The pornographic pictures are merely the logical outcome of this strategy to subdue the so-called enemy, constructed by diabolical Pentagon strategists. The 2003 invasion updated this strategy, though with unintended consequences, as new technology allowed simple soldiers to produce their own DVDs of their sadistic frolics.

This stark reality is inverted in Washington, as interpreted by Obama’s envoy of peace to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, who told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about US media efforts in Pakistan: “Concurrent with the insurgency is an information war. We are losing that war.” Rather than acknowledging past sins, however, he advocates even more TV and radio propaganda supporting the US wars. Holbrooke is referring to the $100 million propaganda campaign launched by the Bush regime in Iraq in 2005 by a Washington-based PR firm to plant administration propaganda in the Iraqi news media and to pay Iraqi journalists to write favorable stories about the occupation.

So it appears withholding the Abu Ghraib photos is really part of the US government media war, just as the question mark over Guantanamo is really part of the military plans to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan come hell or high water. And that these policies are not up for discussion. The reversal of Obama’s key policies after only a few months does not bode well for him or the US.

Perhaps withholding the photos is also connected with the appointment of Stanley McChrystal as head of the military in Afghanistan, which should brace itself for more Abu Ghraib-style action. McChrystal cut his teeth in Iraq, where he directed the Joint Special Operations Command’s special operation teams, which carry out assassinations and terrorize local populations opposed to the occupation. McChrystal was a favorite of Rumsfeld and Cheney. He was a direct participant in overseeing torture, according to a report by Esquire and Human Rights Watch in 2006.

Just about everyone but the US officials conducting their war on terrorism realize by now that it is this very policy that is producing more and more jihadists, and will continue to produce them until Obama, or some future less timid president, declares an end to this campaign of terror being conducted by the US itself, with its allies dragged kicking and screaming behind it.

This is no time for Obama to be indecisive. Guantanamo must be closed and remaining prisoners must be tried in US courts or repatriated. If that’s a problem, he can always take up Chavez’s offer. And patch up relations with him and Castro in the process. Hell, why not give back Guantanamo to Cuba as a peace offering while he’s at it? The important thing is not to blink while he’s doing what’s right, or else the jackals of war will chew him to shreds.

The latest fear among Democrats is that the gulf between them and the Republicans is widening, even as Democratic policies are gaining support among the people. Huh? They should take a leaf from FDR’s book, to fear nothing but fear alone. Let the Republicans march into the wilderness. Take control of US politics for the next two decades by following truly popular, socially just policies. Americans are not imperialists at heart. They will follow you. And be sure to close Guantanamo.

Eric Walberg is a journalist who worked in Uzbekistan and is now writing for Al-Ahram Weekly in Cairo. He is the author of From Postmodernism to Postsecularism and Postmodern Imperialism. His most recent book is Islamic Resistance to Imperialism. Read other articles by Eric, or visit Eric's website.

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. rg the lg said on May 20th, 2009 at 9:28am #


    That has a ‘ring’ of truth to it.

    So many of my friends were so hopeful about Obama (O’Bushma) when he ‘won’ the election. They were quite angry with me because I said then he would not change anything, really. His ‘stuff’ was rhetoric.

    On the one hand, I am pleased I was NOT wrong. On the other, there are moments when I wish the American hologram … the illusion that we are good and our policies just, that the constitution takes care of us, that the US isn’t a vicious, self-serving empire … was true.

    It is not true, alas.

    So, what is to be done?

    Revolution … and until then, it is all just rhetoric.

    RG the LG

  2. Melissa said on May 20th, 2009 at 10:54am #

    A hologram indeed -thank you for that, RG the LG.

    I still get really threatened Obamabots ire up when I point out the obvious, when I cite legislation, when I speak of the backgrounds of appointed cabinet members, when I dare speak of reality. He’s a hologram to complete a well orchestrated psychological operation on the citizens of this country. Us, the products of the Federally controlled Public Fool System.

    And yes, Revolution. Stop cooperating with all top – down systems. Get rid of the cell phone, you don’t really need it. It’s just expensive and an open line (even when OFF) to the surveillance apparatus and therefore is a completely false sense of security. Get your kids OUT of the Public Fool System and teach them how to be disobedient, to dissent, to develop moral courage. Stop using plastic to pay, it robs businesses of a percentage of profit and feeds the surveillance and illegitimate pilfering by the financial giants. Stop paying Federal Taxes.

    Become as inconvenient to government and as useful and respected by your neighbors as possible.

    The Goldman Sachs fraud with no content of character told us: “Make me do it.” Game’s on.

    As always,
    Peace, Resistance, Hope,

  3. bozh said on May 20th, 2009 at 1:51pm #

    revolution wld work only if uprisers wld have support of some or much of the army, city police, fbi, and cia people.
    it is a possibilty.
    but by far better choice wld be to form a political party that wld stand for the changes {emendments, and amendments } in the constitution.
    US needs a constitution that wld explicitly say that US will never attack another land. Natch, right to defend oneself wld be stressed.
    constitution cld say, Ye shall have the right to obtain healthcare and that it shld never be in private hands.
    free higher education slhd be available to all who wants it. For starters, that’l do! tnx

  4. Melissa said on May 20th, 2009 at 2:44pm #

    But . . . haven’t we already formed political parties, time and again, only to be actively censored or sabotaged? Haven’t we already been demanding a constitutional convention but keep being shut down?

    Don’t get me wrong, the political process would be a far cleaner way to achieve the kinds of goals we seek: basically to get back our human, labor and monetary rights outlined in the constitution, and to further enumerate rights and limitations that are absent in the original document.

    A non-aggression mandate is necessary, as is a process for states to recall senators and representatives that fail to uphold constitutional law.

    I want guaranteed access to quality health-care and education for our citizenry as well, but I doubt that more government monopolies (they already have it with primary and secondary ed) are solutions, merely stop gaps. The government should not be a producer of goods and services, they either suck at everything (?) they do, or deliberately hamstring or siphon off the programs. O.K. There must be something they do well . . . fire-fighters seem to provide pretty reliable services, libraries, . . . um . . . help me out if you can on this one. I’d like to be wrong. Local governments do a much better job than the behemoth that spilled out of the ten square miles of DC. Pare it back down, spank it, don’t empower it. Stop the predatory private banks, return to The People the power to coin money and create credit out of thin air, guarantee a Social Dividend to every man and woman and the issues of access to basic needs would disappear. We’d never hear a wealthy Red complain about paying taxes and welfare again.

    And oh yeah, Industrial Hemp could help the farmers in my state, A LOT.

    Peace, Resistance, Hope,

    Take heart, the Peaceful Revolution for Humanity and Freedom has a significant number of police, firefighters, active and retired military as well as “intelligence” agents. It is here, it’s gathering steam. That is why Janet Napolitano’s agency is targeting some of them as terrorists. The trick is to not let knee-jerk, single issue distractions drive that wedge between people. That’s the hardest part. Choosing unity over competition. People over pet ideology/identity.

    Peace, Resistance and Hope,

  5. bozh said on May 20th, 2009 at 4:28pm #

    there is no doubt in my mind that the one party amers have now and had for the last three centuries wld not gladhand a political party much opposed to the policy of an ultra right wing party; it being a tad left of a nazi party.
    wld it ban it or try to destroy it? We won’t know till we try it. USA now is not USA then.
    i do not know what kind of political parties amers have tried to establish in the past. I know that there are now several political parties in the US. However, about 95% of amers think or feign that they have a two-party governance.

    it wld be good for USans and the world to esatblish a strong second party. Does nader lead a party or movement? Movements and orgs, as a rule, achieve little or only what one party approves of.

    there is always enlightenment available. People cld teach their kids at home about what the flag really represents; it represents about 10-15% of amer pop.
    or that constitution is an iterpretative writ and solely or largely interpreted by judges appointed by one party system.
    and thus you’d obtain opposition to present lying/deceiving institutions.
    obviously, it make take decades to establish even a fledgling opposing party. But without a second political party, one party rule wld remain for centuries or until some cataclysmic event occurs.
    going from door to door or car to car and pasing onthis vital and enlightening knowledge wld help.
    i have done in vancouver. I passed leaflets; held banners whenUS was about to attack iraq.
    at times i was alone. I had a few nasty encounters but most people wld accept my leaflets; especially if i wld smile and spoke softly or kindly. tnx

  6. Reaganite Republican Resistance said on May 21st, 2009 at 4:13am #

    Running the country is not nearly as easy as the previous 43 presidents made it look, eh Barry?

    And as was obvious to the less-smitten amongst us, the pollyana gobbledygook he laid on the left to get himself elected was never going to work in reality- a fact that the calculating opportunist Obama likely knew full-well back when he was promising them the moon and the stars.