During the Cold War, if an American journalist or visitor to the Soviet Union reported seeing churches full of people, this was taken as a sign that the people were rejecting and escaping from communism. If the churches were empty, this clearly was proof of the suppression of religion. If consumer goods were scarce, this was seen as a failure of the communist system. If consumer goods appeared to be more plentiful, this gave rise to speculation about was happening in the Soviet Union that was prompting the authorities to try to buy off the citizenry.
I’m reminded of this kind of thinking concerning Venezuela. The conservative anti-communist American mind sees things pertaining to Washington’s newest bête noir in the worst possible light (to the extent they’re even being sincere). If Chávez makes education more widely available to the masses of poor people, it’s probably for the purpose of indoctrinating them. If Chávez invites a large number of Cuban doctors to Venezuela to treat the poor, it’s a sign of a new and growing communist conspiracy in Latin America, which includes Evo Morales, president of Bolivia. If Chávez wins repeated democratic elections … here’s the recent Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld: "I mean, we’ve got Chávez in Venezuela with a lot of oil money. He’s a person who was elected legally just as Adolf Hitler was elected legally and then consolidated power and now is, of course, working closely with Fidel Castro and Mr. Morales and others."
The latest manifestation of this mind-set is the condemnation of the Venezuelan government’s refusal to renew the license of RCTV, a private television station. This has been denounced by the American government and media, and all other right-thinking people, as suppression of free speech, even though they all know very well that the main reason, the sine qua non, for the refusal of the license renewal has to do with RCTV’s unqualified support for the 2002 coup that briefly overthrew Chávez. If there was a successful military coup in the United States and a particular TV station applauded the overthrow of the president (and the dissolving of Congress and the Supreme Court, as well as the suspension of the Constitution), and if then the coup was reversed by other military forces accompanied by mass demonstrations, and the same TV station did not report any of this while it was happening to avoid giving support to the counter-coup, and instead kept reporting that the president had voluntarily resigned … how long would it be before the US government, back in power, shut down the station, arrested its executives, charging them under half a dozen terrorist laws, and throwing them into shackles and orange jumpsuits never to be seen again? How long? Five minutes? The Venezuelan government waited five years, until the station’s license was due for renewal. And none of the executives have been arrested. And RCTV is still free to broadcast via cable and satellite. Is there a country in the entire world that would be as lenient?
It can be said that the media in Venezuela is a lot more free than in the United States. Can anyone name a single daily newspaper in the United States that is unequivocally opposed to US foreign policy? Can anyone name a single television network in the United States that is unequivocally opposed to US foreign policy? Is there a single daily newspaper or TV network in the entire United States that has earned the label "opposition media"? Venezuela has lots of opposition media.
Don’t Believe Everything You Think!
"If the Democrat-controlled Congress wanted to force the Bush administration to accept a bill with a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq, it didn’t have to pass the bill over Bush’s veto. It just had to make clear that no Iraq War spending bill without a timeline would be forthcoming. Given that the Constitution requires Congress to approve all spending, Bush needs Congress’s approval to continue the war. Congress does not need Bush’s approval to end the war."
The point is well taken, but with all the talk about funding or not funding the war, with all the bills in Congress, and the veto of a funding bill by the idiot king, I keep looking for an explanation of what exactly would happen in real life if funding for the war were "cut off". Would an accountant or lawyer from the Treasury Department or the Office of Management and Budget suddenly show up in Iraq, walk into the Green Zone, blow a whistle, and announce "This war has been suspended for lack of funding! Please go home." Would war manufacturers (also known humorously as defense manufacturers) refuse to supply their goods on credit? Not if they want future business. Would the Pentagon soon run out of guns and bullets, tanks and helicopters? How likely is that? They must have huge supplies on hand of almost everything because they never know when there will be a sudden and urgent need to bring freedom and democracy to some god-forsaken country in need. They must also have huge supplies of money on hand. And who’s to stop them from transferring money from one account to another? Does anyone believe that this administration — which we’ve all come to know and love, and respect for its integrity — does anyone believe that this gang of scoundrels would allow their hands to be tied?
In 1984, Congress cut off funding for the Reagan administration’s war in Nicaragua in support of the charming band of rapist-torturers known as the Contras. So what did the administration do? It raised money and arms covertly from foreign governments like Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, South Korea, apartheid South Africa, and Israel; as well as funding from domestic sources; and from extensive narcotics trafficking (sic). Would not the Busheviks be at least as resourceful? Halliburton, Bechtel, and Lockheed alone could finance the war.
The stain on humankind that does not go away
A report in the March issue of "Archives of General Psychiatry", a journal of the American Medical Association, based on interviews of hundreds of survivors of the 1990s conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, concludes that "aggressive interrogation techniques or detention procedures involving deprivation of basic needs, exposure to adverse environmental conditions, forced stress positions, hooding or blindfolding, isolation, restriction of movement, forced nudity, threats, humiliating treatment and other psychological manipulations do not appear to be substantially different from physical torture in terms of the extent of mental suffering they cause, the underlying mechanisms of traumatic stress, and their long-term traumatic effects."
The report adds that these findings do not support the distinction between torture and "other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" (an expression taken from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948), often used in international human rights conventions and declarations. Although these conventions prohibit both types of acts, the report points out that "such a distinction nevertheless reinforces the misconception that cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment causes lesser harm and might therefore be permissible under exceptional circumstances."
These conclusions directly counter the frequent declarations by George W., the Pentagon, et al, that "We don’t torture". They would have the world believe that psychological torture isn’t really torture; although they of course have often employed the physical kind as well, to a degree leading on a number of occasions to a prisoner’s death. (Justice Andrew Collins of the British high court: "America’s idea of what is torture is not the same as ours and does not appear to coincide with that of most civilized nations.")
The conclusions of the journal’s report do not, however, counter the argument of those like Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz who loves to pose the classic question: "What if a bomb has been set to go off, which will kill many people, and only your prisoner knows where it’s located. Is it okay to torture him to elicit the information?"
Humankind has been struggling for centuries to tame its worst behaviors; ridding itself of the affliction of torture is high on that list. Finally, an historic first step was taken by the United Nations General Assembly in 1984 with the drafting of the "Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment" (came into force in 1987, ratified by the United States in 1994). Article 2, section 2 of the Convention states: "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."
Such marvelously clear, unambiguous and principled language, to set a single standard for a world that makes it increasingly difficult to feel proud of humanity. We cannot slide back. If torture is broached as a possibility, it will become a reality. If today it’s deemed acceptable to torture the person who has the vital information, tomorrow it will be acceptable to torture his colleague who — it’s suspected — may know almost as much. Would we allow slavery to resume for just a short while to serve some "national emergency" or some other "higher purpose"?
"I would personally rather die than have anyone tortured to save my life." – Craig Murray, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, who lost his job after he publicly condemned the Uzbek regime in 2003 for its systematic use of torture.
If you open the window of torture, even just a crack, the cold air of the Dark Ages will fill the whole room.
A Cold Warrior’s nightmare
Jack Kubisch died on May 7 in North Carolina. You probably never heard of him. He was a State Department Foreign Service Officer who served in Mexico, France, and Brazil, and as ambassador to Greece. At the time of the September 11, 1973 military coup in Chile which overthrew the democratically-elected socialist government of Salvador Allende, he was Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs.
In the wake of the coup, Kubisch was hard pressed to counter charges that the United States had been involved. "It was not in our interest to have the military take over in Chile," he insisted. "It would have been better had Allende served his entire term, taking the nation and the Chilean people into complete and total ruin. Only then would the full discrediting of socialism have taken place. Only then would people have gotten the message that socialism doesn’t work. What has happened has confused this lesson."
Read that again. It’s as concise and as clear a description of the ideological underpinnings of United States foreign policy as you’re ever going to find publicly admitted to by a high-ranking American official. Though based on a falsehood made up for the occasion — that Allende’s polices were leading Chile to ruin, which was not the case at all — Kubisch’s words articulate a basic goal of US foreign policy: preventing the rise of any society that might serve as a successful example of an alternative to the capitalist model. Many underdeveloped countries were punished terribly during the Cold War by Washington for having such an aspiration; Cuba still is; better that such societies suffer "complete and total ruin" than achieve such a goal.
Washington knows no heresy in the Third World but genuine independence. In the case of Salvador Allende, independence came clothed in an especially provocative costume — a Marxist constitutionally elected who continued to honor the constitution. This would not do. It shook the very foundation stones upon which the anti-communist tower was built: the doctrine, painstakingly cultivated for decades, that "communists" can take power only through force and deception, that they can retain that power only through terrorizing and brainwashing the population. For Washington ideologues, There could be only one thing worse than a Marxist in power — an elected Marxist in power.
If you sometimes think that the stupidity, lies, hypocrisy, cynicism, cruelty, and arrogance could never have been as bad as now …
Here is President George H.W. Bush, in a speech to the US Air Force Academy, May 29, 1991:
"Nowhere are the dangers of weapons of proliferation more urgent than in the Middle East. After consulting with governments inside the region and elsewhere about how to slow and then reverse the buildup of unnecessary and destabilizing weapons, I am today proposing a Middle East arms control initiative. It features supplier guidelines on conventional arms exports; barriers to exports that contribute to weapons of mass destruction; a freeze now, and later a ban on surface-to-surface missiles in the region; and a ban on production of nuclear weapons material."
The next day, (that is to say, the VERY next day, May 30, 1991), Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney (Whatever happened to him?) announced that the United States would give Israel $65 million worth of US fighter planes and underwrite most of a new Israeli missile program.
In that same speech, Bush, Sr. declared: "Our service men and women in the Gulf, weary from months in the desert, now help suffering Kurds." The truth was that since the Gulf War fighting had ceased in February, the United States had been doing its best to suppress the Kurdish revolt against the rule of Saddam Hussein, a revolt which the Bush administration had openly encouraged for Kurds and Shiites in Washington’s perennial professed role of democratic liberators; but when the heat of the moment had cooled down, the prospect of a Kurdish autonomous area next to US ally Turkey and/or an Iraq-Iran-Shiite coalition next to the Saudi allies made successful revolts appear unpalatable to the United States. Accordingly, the Kurds and Shiites were left to their [not very nice] fates. But hey, that’s business.
Seconds later in his talk, Daddy Bush succeeded in pushing the following words past his lips: "We do not dictate the courses nations follow."
"Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest."
Denis Diderot, 18th century French encylopedist and writer
Christopher Hitchens has a new book out, "god is not GREAT". It’s a compilation of the many terrible things done in the name of God by various religions over the centuries, far in excess, the book posits, of the terrible things done by the secular world. The holy horrors continue today of course, perhaps worse than ever. If the leaders and would-be leaders of Lebanon, Pakistan, the United States, Israel, Palestine, Afghanistan, Somalia, and some other countries were secular humanists our poor old world would not appear to be another planet’s hell. Organized religion has a lot to answer for.
I have no particular quarrel with the book’s general theme. But when I first read a review of it I wondered how Hitchens dealt with Saddam Hussein and his secular government in Iraq. Here was a guy who was genuinely a baddie, but not a religious fanatic at all. The problem for Hitchens was compounded, for being an ardent supporter of the US war against Iraq he had to dispel the notion that the United States had overthrown a secular government. Hitchens, however, came up with a simple but elegant solution to both problems — He made Saddam and his regime "religious"! Saddam, he writes, "had decked out his whole rule … as one of piety and jihad" [against whom he doesn’t say, and I can’t either]. "Those who regarded his regime as a ‘secular’ one are deluding themselves."
There is now Islamic sharia law imposed in many parts of Iraq, with numerous horror stories of its enforcement against young men and women for their co-mingling, for their clothing, their music, dancing, etc. The number of family honor killings based on religion has jumped. Mosques and the buildings of other religions, including Christian Assyrians, have suffered many serious attacks. These things were rare to non-existent under Hussein, when Shias and Sunnis regularly intermarried and Muslims did not need to escape from Iraq by the thousands in fear of other Muslims; neither did Jews or Christians. (In his last year or so in power, Hussein spoke in religious terms more often than earlier, but this appeared to be little more than paying lip service to the anger stirred up in Iraq, as elsewhere in the Middle East, by Washington’s War on Terror.)
This, then, is what Hitchens’ "Oh what a lovely war!" has given birth to. The irony for a person like him might be unbearable if he were not rescued by denial.
It will not have passed unnoticed that Hussein’s Iraq is not the only secular government overthrown by the United States which led to a very religious successor. In Afghanistan in the 1980s and early 90s, the US masterminded the overthrow of the "communist" government, which led to rule by Islamic fundamentalists, from which the Taliban emerged.
Imperialist and capitalist fundamentalists also have a lot to answer for.
"Blessed are the peacemakers" … though the FBI may conduct extensive surveillance of them.
And fill up fat files. You can read many of the files — peacemakers and others — in the FBI Reading Room at http://foia.fbi.gov/foiaindex/foiaindex.htm
Among those whose files are there: The Beatles, Bertolt Brecht, Steve Allen, the ACLU, Ty Cobb, American Friends Service Committee, Lucille Ball, the Pacifica Foundation, Cole Porter, Elvis Presley, Carl Sagan, Charles Schulz, Frank Sinatra, Mickey Mantle, Groucho Marx, HL Mencken, NAACP, Ian Fleming, Vincent Foster, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Henry Wallace, Weatherman Underground, and hundreds of others, as well as the FBI’s Terrorist Photo Album (1973-89).
Why, after all we know about his sordid career — and his keeping a Grand Canyon of files is but a minor, relatively harmless part of it — is the FBI Building still named after J. Edgar Hoover?
 Associated Press , February 4, 2006
 For further detail see: Bart Jones, op-ed, Los Angeles Times, May 30, 2007; http://www.venezuelanalysis.com; www.misionmiranda.com/rctv.htm
 Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), June 1, 2007, http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=3110
 From a March 5, 2007 press release by the journal.
 The Guardian (London), February 17, 2006
 Testimony before the International Commission of Inquiry On Crimes Against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration, session of January 21, 2006, New York
 Washington Post, October 21, 1973
 Los Angeles Times, May 31, 1991
 "god is not GREAT: How Religion Poisons Everything", page 25
WILLIAM BLUM is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, Rogue State: a guide to the World’s Only Super Power. and West-Bloc Dissident: a Cold War Political Memoir.
He can be reached at: BBlum6@aol.com