Thursday, March 05, 2015

The war is a con

The Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times reporter James Risen documents in Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War what engaged citizens should be shouting from the housetops: the "war on terror" is a boondoggle and a swindle. It's great for enriching entrepreneurial profiteers and empowering authoritarian elites. But the threat to most of us from fanatical terrorism is minimal; the U.S. is not going to collapse any time soon. How long will we allow "national security" crooks to rob us blind and politicians hyping ignorance and bigotry to dominate our imaginations and to dictate our often murderous actions?

No wonder the Obama Justice Department threatened Risen with jail for years, trying to make him divulge who spilled the beans to him in one instance. No wonder that it looks as if one whistleblower, Jeffrey Sterling, who may have talked to the reporter, is going to get the book thrown at him under the Espionage Act. Those of us who have not been following Sterling's case may be surprised to learn, as I did recently on his conviction, that Sterling, who is Black, was likely disaffected because the government managed to get his employment discrimination complaint against the CIA thrown out under the "state secrets" doctrine. While working for the government, Sterling uncovered $32 million in Medicare fraud.

According to Risen, fraud has been the name of the game since 9/11 and certainly since George W. Bush invaded Iraq. After that U.S. invasion our government shipped "pallets of cash" to the Baghdad. A few U.S. military officers were caught pilfering several hundred thousands of dollars from the stash, but most of it was appropriated by some of our pet Iraqi "leaders" who promptly shipped $2 billion to a bunker in Lebanon. Our parsimonious rulers who can't find the money to help the unemployed here have done nothing to get it back.

Then there were the snake oil salesmen like David Montgomery who claimed to be able to decode secret messages from Osama bin Laden hiding in Al Jazeera broadcasts. The sellers of new technologies of death and destruction, the drone merchants, also made out like the bandits they are. No problem to them that the U.S. only multiplies its enemies while pursuing its infatuation with video game war from the skies.

There's lots more. Read it and weep.

But I am going to share a small bit from Risen's chapter on what he calls "the war on decency" -- the United State's embrace of torture in the "war on terror." In that context, he names specific authors of our crimes who seldom are fingered so explicitly.

Perhaps the most important reason that the use of abusive tactics spread was because it fit perfectly with how the Bush White House wanted to prosecute the new "global war on terror." From the outset, President Bush and Vice President Cheney saw the fight against al Qaeda as a national security issue rather than a criminal problem to be dealt with by law enforcement. For Bush, the decision allowed him to disassociate himself from his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton. But Cheney had even deeper motivations; he wanted to roll back the reforms imposed on the executive branch in the 1970s, when he served in the White House under President Gerald Ford. Although torture had never been condoned in the Untied States, Cheney wanted to demonstrate that there were virtually no limitations on presidential power in time of war.

We tortured to demonstrate that a President could torture and no restraint could stop him. In the absence of prosecutions, nothing that Obama has said or done changes that. There's no reason to hope Hillary would be any different, much less any of the Republican clowns. We are just another torture state. Al Qaeda won.

We can be glad we do still have James Risen, still kicking after the Justice Department finally let him off its hook:

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