by Kevin Gosztola
I wrote this on August 19 as another New York Times article on how criminal the Bush Administration was as it waged and expanded the "war on terror" circulated. It is referenced and discussed at the end of this article.
Underneath the takeover of the health care debate by right wing mobs, beneath the dumbfounding and ostentatious discussion on whether the U.S. economy is out of a recession or has saved itself from a depression, is the central issue of the "global war on terror," an agenda pursued by "the terrorism industry" that could hold Americans hostage over the next few decades.
In the past week, John Brennan, an assistant to Obama on issues of counterterrorism and homeland security, suggested to an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank that Obama’s approach to fighting Islamic extremism is and will be different than Bush’s approach. If this is true, why does Obama still refuse the release of prison photos and why does Obama plan to send more troops to Afghanistan?
Brennan’s talk before an audience has been characterized as a kind of rejection of the Bush Administration’s "war on terror," but when considering how Obama has handled matters of terrorism and national security, is Obama making a semantic shift that will allow the war on terror to continue on the path envisioned by the previous Bush Administration or is Obama making a shift that wholly repudiates the idea of a "global war on terror" in its entirety?
Reza Aslan, in the introduction of his book How to Win a Cosmic War, characterizes the "global war on terror" as "a metaphysical conflict, not between armies or nations but between the angels of light and the demons of darkness." He refers to it as a "cosmic war," one with the ultimate goal of vanquishing evil itself, which ensures that it is "absolute, eternal, unending, and ultimately, unwinnable."
"Cosmic war" transforms butchers and thugs into solders who are sanctioned by God. It pushes nations into a battle that will not be won by artifice or strategy but through the power of faith instead. And worst of all, "cosmic war" partitions the world into black and white, good versus evil, us versus them (the simple logic is "if you are not us, you must be them" or "if you are them, you are the enemy and must be destroyed").
That America as a nation is embroiled in a "cosmic war" is the only possible explanation for the prevalent mentality in society that is perpetuated by political, military, economic, media, and religious interests which seek to convince Americans that (as the Department of Homeland Security puts it) "terrorists can strike at any place, at any time, and with virtually any weapon."
In words that Bush may have used to describe the battle to "rid the world of evil," Obama said during his National Security speech at the National Archives on May 21, 2009:
"my single most important responsibility as President is to keep the American people safe. It’s the first thing that I think about when I wake up in the morning. It’s the last thing that I think about when I go to sleep at night.
And this responsibility is only magnified in an era when an extremist ideology threatens our people, and technology gives a handful of terrorists the potential to do us great harm. We are less than eight years removed from the deadliest attack on American soil in our history. We know that al Qaeda is actively planning to attack us again. We know that this threat will be with us for a long time, and that we must use all elements of our power to defeat it."
When citizens here leaders talk like this, it is no wonder that Americans find the myth of omnipotent and omnipresent terrorists to be so plausible. Such talk only ensures that widespread and unjustified anxiety is produced; it only ensures that those in American society continue to compare Islamic extremism to Satan and evil itself.
Lawyers for Obama recently asked "the U.S. Supreme Court to block the release of photos showing prisoner abuse by US soldiers in Iraq."
According to RAW STORY, President Obama writes in a petition to the Court, "there are nearly 200,000 Americans who are serving in harm’s way, and I have a solemn responsibility for their safety as Commander-in-Chief. It is my judgment " that releasing these photos would inflame anti-American opinion and allow our enemies to paint United States troops with a broad, damning and inaccurate brush, thereby endangering them in theaters of war."
Obama’s continued campaign against the release of photos (which the public should see so they can know the whole truth about what has been done in America’s name) when considered alongside the possible creation of a courtroom-within-a-prison complex that would establish a mechanism for indefinite detention and the administration’s decision to block the release of a 2004 CIA’s inspector general report on the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program shows that Obama is willing to continue to ignore ethical constraints created by the rule of law.
Since the first day of his presidency, Obama’s lawyers have defended the decisions made by the Bush Administration even if those decisions violated our nation’s "foundation of liberty and justice" established by the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. For example, they have defended John Yoo, the man who created the Bush Administration’s legal justification of torture.
Pressure to investigate and prosecute Bush Administration officials for war crimes has mounted and Attorney General Holder is slowly coming to a decision on whether to appoint a special prosecutor who will investigate abuse and torture during interrogations of detainees.
Unfortunately, such an investigation may be a waste. George Washington University law professor writes, "[Holder] is going to structure the investigation to protect high-ranking officials from investigation for war crimes. While Holder admits that waterboarding is torture, he is reportedly going to allow only the investigation into whether some interrogations went beyond the torture guidelines set by the Justice Department "which allowed for waterboarding."
Americans with liberal and conservative leanings have foolishly discounted the importance of accountability. A broad swath of the population would rather keep politicians focused on "health care reform" instead of investigating the crimes of the Bush Administration. This swath would suggest that what’s done is done and it’s in the past and what we have to do now is make sure it doesn’t happen again.
But as news breaks that 45,000 more troops may be sent to Afghanistan by a the U.S., as we read news that torture and abuse at Gitmo continues under Obama, and as we see reports of Cheney-supported CIA death squads and Blackwater founder’s Christian supremacist campaign in Iraq, it does not appear that this "cosmic war," this climate which breeds brutality, cruelty, and unprincipled decision making will dissolve anytime soon.
Despite the many speeches which Obama makes to give overture to human rights advocates and those concerned with the negative impacts of American empire, there is no apparent change in direction. To continue the "war on terror", to ensure that know roadblocks are put up to constrain how this war is fought, laws are circumvented, rewritten, or ignored.
Americans should pause and consider what future is in store for a country whose people allow the rule of law to be tossed aside because it believes their faith in a battle against an enemy trumps all human rights and laws which are germane to the survival of people in the world.
And, this which was most recently published in the New York Times should give us even more pause. This is an excerpt from an article describing the development of the CIA’s interrogation program by two architects, who were contracted to develop the program:
""At the C.I.A. in December 2001, Dr. Mitchell’s theories were attracting high-level attention. Agency officials asked him to review a Qaeda manual, seized in England, that coached terrorist operatives to resist interrogations. He contacted Dr. Jessen, and the two men wrote the first proposal to turn the enemy’s brutal techniques: "slaps, stress positions, sleep deprivation, wall-slamming and waterboarding " into an American interrogation program.
By the start of 2002, Dr. Mitchell was consulting with the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorist Center, whose director, Cofer Black, and chief operating officer, Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., were impressed by his combination of visceral toughness and psychological jargon. One person who heard some discussions said Dr. Mitchell gave the C.I.A. officials what they wanted to hear. In this person’s words, Dr. Mitchell suggested that interrogations required "a comparable level of fear and brutality to flying planes into buildings.""
Take a moment to consider the psychology and mentality behind men who were carrying out interrogations with "a comparable level of fear and brutality to flying planes into buildings." Are such interrogations really necessary to keep America safe or are they the symptom of "cosmic war"?
Is this not what one should expect from a U.S. military and CIA rife with visions of Christian supremacy or more appropriately, visions of wiping out Muslims?
As General William G. Boykin, the man tasked with hunting down nin Laden put it, "Our enemy is a spiritual enemy "His name is Satan" Satan wants to destroy us as a nation and he wants to destroy us as a Christian army."
With military leaders and even political leaders thinking in these terms, with people finding validity in declarations by Left Behind series writer Tim LaHaye that September 11th was the "focal point of end-time events," how can we discount the reality that those carrying out this "war on terror" endanger us all by taking actions that expand this into a larger religious war each and every day?
And by fighting it, by seeking revenge with actions with fear and brutality en par with flying planes into building, America ensures that death, destruction, and annihilation of people continues; it ensures that al Qaeda will have new recruits and will continue to exist.
The only proper path for America and those in American society is one which involves a laying down of arms, a dismissal of the urge for revenge and vengeance in the Middle East, and a discarding of the desire to complete whatever job Americans imagine the troops are completing or trying to finish in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or any other part of the Middle East.
Our survival may depend on not fighting this war. It may depend on leaders like President Obama not just calling out religious extremism from our enemies but on calling out religious extremism from elements in our nation which wage this war against Islamic extremism.
Sam Harris in The End of Faith puts it,"Finding ourselves in a universe that seems bent on destroying us, we quickly discover, both as individuals and as societies, that it is a good thing to understand the forces arrayed against us. And so it is that every human being comes to desire genuine knowledge about the world"
To speak plainly and truthfully about the world "to say, for instance, that the Bible and the Koran both contain mountains of life-destroying gibberish" is antithetical to tolerance as moderates currently conceive it. But we can no longer afford the luxury of such political correctness. We must finally recognize the price we are paying to maintain the iconography of our ignorance."
Kevin Gosztola is a writer and documentary filmmaker currently completing Film/Video degree at Columbia College in Chicago.
Illustration courtesy of Ryan Kowalchik.