26 September 2007

They treat the local population like it’s some big shooting gallery

At every juncture, just when it seems that the nation's executive branch overseers can go no lower, at least measured in relative terms when considering a "free people's government", Bush and Cheney throw us a fresh new outrage, another belittling or epic injustice. Among today's transgressions are new revelations that prior to the illegal, immoral invasion of Iraq in 2003, President Bush, in talks with Spanish Prime Minister Aznar, expressed how "efforts to find a peaceful solution to the crisis were a sham and that the war was a done deal". If this is true, and it gels with what we learned when the Downing Street Memos were exposed to the public and displayed how "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" along with all the other testimonials from administration, intelligence agency and Pentagon insiders — that the die was cast long ago to sacrifice the blood of American servicemen and innocent civilians for an elective war.

In lieu of all the terrible developments, I cannot fathom how Bush, Cheney, Rice, etc.… escape condemnation for acts of war criminals. It's shocking to acknowledge that there exist a quarter to a third of Americans who still tally themselves as Bush loyalists, despite the heinous harm wrought by a imperialist presidency that is impervious to being reigned in by any element of our representative government. Despite gains in Congress seats, the majority held in that House is woefully insufficient to conduct the missing but required checks and balances that previous sessions purposefully neglected in their brazen conduct of simply serving as a weak arm in support of neo-Nixonian presidential administration. At least, despite the dismal approval ratings, steps are being taken to restore health into the process. The Senate, is still a tossup, as Joe Lieberman should not be counted as belonging to Democratic ranks, so at best it's a 50-50 deal, and nowhere near the 60 votes needed to muster cloture. And, pray tell, if any legislation can go though in the next 15 months, it will be greeted with veto stamps.

And today, also, we learned that the Bush administration has such an obscene disdain for a "culture of life" that they have instructed Blackwater, the notorious private military contracting firm, not to respond to a Congressional investigation looking at the slaughter of Iraqi civilians. Granted immunity to Iraq law, not covered under military conduct code, and now accused lawbreakers are free to evade domestic review, it seems. Again, trotting out unitary executive doctrine, Bush/Cheney audaciously proclaim they are "the government" and shooing away pesky Congressional runts that dare to bring any attention to deeds of corruption and malfeasance.

Yes, Bush has created a moral vacuum.

Imagine a universe where a man can gun down women and children anytime he pleases, knowing he will never be brought to justice. A place where morality is null and void, and arbitrary killing is the rule. A place that has been imagined hitherto only in nightmarish dystopian fiction, like “1984,” or in fevered passages from Dostoevsky—or which existed during the Holocaust and Stalinist purges and the Dark Ages. Well, that universe exists today. It is called Iraq. And the man who made it possible is George W. Bush.

The moral vacuum of Iraq—where Blackwater USA guards can kill 10 or 20 Iraqis on a whim and never be prosecuted for it—did not happen by accident. It is yet another example of something the Bush administration could have prevented with the right measures but simply did not bother about as it rushed into invading and occupying another country. With America’s all-volunteer army under strain, the Pentagon and White House knew that regular military cannot be used for guarding civilians. As far back as 2003, then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld convened a task force under Undersecretary of Defense David Chu to consider new laws that might be needed to govern the privatization of war. Nothing was done about its recommendations. Then, two days before he left Iraq for good, L. Paul Bremer III, the Coalition Provisional Authority administrator, signed a blanket order immunizing all Americans, because, as one of his former top aides told me, “we wanted to make sure our military, civilians and contractors were protected from Iraqi law.” (No one worried about protecting the Iraqis from us; after all, we still thought of ourselves as the “liberators,” even though by then the worst abuses at Abu Ghraib and other places were known.)

Nor can these private armies even be prosecuted in America under U.S. law. The Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act of 2000, which permits charges to be brought in U.S. courts for crimes abroad, apparently applies only to Defense Department contractors (and even then the administration has rarely used it). Blackwater and other security firms work for the State Department. Even today, despite the crucial role of Blackwater and other private security firms—who employ up to 30,000 operatives in keeping the civilian side of the U.S. occupation going—Iraqis can do nothing if they are abused or killed by them. While many Blackwater operatives are brave and honorable—the company has lost some 30 of its employees in Iraq—many of these paramilitaries have long been known to be cowboys who act as if they are free to commit homicide as they please. And according to numerous Iraqi witnesses, they sometimes do.

Take the case of the Blackwater guard who got drunk at a Green Zone party last Christmas Eve and reportedly boasted to his friends that he was going to kill someone. According to both Iraqi and U.S. officials, he stumbled out and headed provocatively over to the “Little Venice” section, a lovely area of canals where Iraqi officials live. He had an argument with an Iraqi guard, then shot him once in the chest and three times in the back. The next day Blackwater put him on a private plane out of the country—probably only because the incident involved a rare killing inside the Green Zone and the victim was a security guard for a high-ranking politician. That was it. The company has refused to disclose his name. (Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell did not return phone calls seeking comment.) Then there was last week’s incident, when Blackwater guards killed between 10 and 20 Iraqis at a traffic stop, including a woman and a child. The company later said in a statement that “the ‘civilians’ reportedly fired upon by Blackwater professionals were in fact armed enemies … Blackwater professionals heroically defended American lives in a war zone on Sunday.” However, even President Bush acknowledged at a news conference Thursday that “evidently” innocent lives were lost in the incident.

Sure, the Iraq puppet government called out Blackwater, but nobody took their ban threat seriously, other than an overture for some more blood money to fill the coffers. They had to make a public statement, as when it's just one or a couple slain, an incident can quickly forgotten, but when it happens to dozens or more in full public view, some measures must be taken, or the charade will come to end sooner than later.

While Blackwater employees are held completely unaccountable (sorry, given a plane ticket home so they can enjoy the bountiful fruits of a lucrative contract payout in secrecy is not the same as possibility of facing criminal and/or civil charges for indiscriminate killing of the innocent), Iraqis are treated to a different standard. Guilty, before any question of innocence can be applied. Killed for getting too close. If that is to be the mode of justice, what on earth can be the rationale for occupying the country for anything other than despotic means?

A few weeks back, I fired off an email in response to a talk radio host who questioned whether the U.S. has a moral obligation to "fix" Iraq. My submitted reasoning enumerated how first our government had to "come clean" and acknowledge it was an immoral act, because the current leadership, as it still stands, has illustrated it is not capable of managing such a campaign, given the corruption, scandals that it is embroiled in. Also, such a charge assumes that we have the power to actually fix things. However, the more I ponder this, it's quite clear that such an admonition is akin to giving an arsonist gasoline to extinguish a fire.

Finally, the actions are an assault on the conscience of all Americans — a total fleecing of the public, where private military contractor firms like Blackwater and others feast on public funds, yet are totally unanswerable to the people, or to the people's elected representatives. Far worse, an imperial president has cast himself as a divine monarch, free to conduct his administration as he pleases, within the confines of the "rule of law" or far removed if he chooses. How can any sane person cite this behavior as reflective of our Constitution?