The Fatal Thread


With the release of the U.S. Senate’s report on the Bush Administration torture program, it is now incontrovertibly clear – and officially established by the highest, most respectable Establishment institutions – that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and a host of other top officials deliberately, willingly, and with malice aforethought, established a system of interrogation using brutal techniques that they knew were against the law. Hence the need for the torture memos that attempted to give retroactive legal cover for atrocities that were already taking place at the orders of the White House and the Pentagon. They were also told repeatedly that these tortures were ineffective at producing useful intelligence.

What’s more, it is now undeniable that they began this program long before they had captured even one “high-profile al Qaeda detainee,” and that they were using these heinous techniques not in a desperate bid to save the nation from further attacks – which has long been their preening, self-serving claim – but instead to produce spurious data about the non-existent link between Iraq and al Qaeda. In other words, George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld ordered their minions to beat and torment captives in order to get them to say something a – anything – that could then be used to “justify” a war of aggression that these grand statesmen had been planning long before the September 11 attacks.

You cannot disentangle the torture program from the war of aggression in Iraq – nor from the illegal wiretapping program, the corrupt war profiteering, and all the other degradations of liberty and law that have been so accelerated in the past eight years. They are all of a piece, part and parcel of a plan to expand and entrench America’s “unipolar domination” of world affairs with a thoroughly militarized state led by an unaccountable, authoritarian “Unitary Executive.”

This is one reason why Barack Obama is so obviously reluctant to tug on the torture thread too hard. If you tear it out, with full-scale prosecutions and top officials locked up behind bars, the whole rotten skein would fall apart. Once you start genuinely subjecting government officials – including security apparatchiks and military brass – to the full extent of the law, there would be no end to the unraveling: senators, contractors, representatives, bureaucrats, generals, lobbyists, judges, corporate chiefs – the whole edifice of Establishment power would be shaken to the core as its leading lights went down, one after the other.

Thus the mere act of applying the ordinary, bourgeois laws of the land as they stand right now would constitute a world-shaking revolution, an overthrow of the existing order every bit as radical as any ideologue’s dream of mass uprising. It would be, in effect, a re-founding of the Republic – and the end of the empire, which cannot survive without continual war, lawless rule and endless corruption.

And that’s why we will not see Barack Obama follow such a course. He might, in the end, have to pull much harder on the torture thread than he wants to; as we noted yesterday, a few upper-level middlemen might have to be offered up as scapegoats to quell the PR tempest. But he has already demonstrated, over and over, that he has no intention or desire to unravel the skein of imperial power. Indeed, he is trying to strengthen that skein and bind it more tightly, as we have seen in his various court cases seeking to uphold or even expand authoritarian powers claimed by Bush, in his escalation of the Afghan war, in his continual expansion of attacks in Pakistan, in his servile coddling and protection of the CIA, and in his celebration of the “success” and “extraordinary achievement” of the war crime in Iraq.

Ironically, the torture issue that he is so desperately trying to shake off his hands is in fact the one opportunity for the historical greatness that Obama – and his ardent fans – obviously yearn for. It holds forth the best chance – the last chance? – for dismantling the imperial machine of brutality and corruption, and starting anew. But he would not be where he is today if he were the kind of man to see – and seize – such an opportunity.

He will let it go – and all hope for change, for renewal, for a re-founded Republic, will go with it.

CHRIS FLOYD is an American writer and a frequent contributor to CounterPunch. His blog, Empire Burlesque, can be found at www.chris-floyd.com

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Chris Floyd is a columnist for CounterPunch Magazine. His blog, Empire Burlesque, can be found at www.chris-floyd.com.

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