Tom Engelhardt: Too Big to Jail? Why Kidnapping, Torture, Assassination, and Perjury Are No Longer Crimes in Washington

By Tom Engelhardt, a co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050. Originally posted at TomDispatch

How the mighty have fallen.  Once known as “Obama’s favorite general,” James Cartwright will soon don a prison uniform and, thanks to a plea deal, spend 13 months behind bars.  Involved in setting up the earliest military cyberforce inside U.S. Strategic Command, which he led from 2004 to 2007, Cartwright also played a role in launching the first cyberwar in history — the release of the Stuxnet virus against Iran’s nuclear program.  A Justice Department investigation found that, in 2012, he leaked information on the development of that virus to David Sanger of the New York Times. The result: a front-page piece revealing its existence, and so the American cyber-campaign against Iran, to the American public.  It was considered a serious breach of national security.  On Thursday, the retired four-star general stood in front of a U.S. district judge who told him that his “criminal act” was “a very serious one” and had been “committed by a national security expert who lost his moral compass.” It was a remarkable ending for a man who nearly reached the heights of Pentagon power, was almost appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and had the president’s ear.

In fact, Gen. James Cartwright has not gone to jail and the above paragraph remains — as yet — a grim Washington fairy tale.  There is indeed a Justice Department investigation open against the president’s “favorite general” (as Washington scribe to the stars Bob Woodward once labeled him) for the possible leaking of information on that virus to the New York Times, but that’s all.  He remains quite active in private life, holding the Harold Brown Chair in Defense Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, as a consultant to ABC News, and on the board of Raytheon, among other things. He has suffered but a single penalty so far: he was stripped of his security clearance.

A different leaker actually agreed to that plea deal for the 13-month jail term.  Nearly three weeks ago, ex-State Department intelligence analyst Stephen E. Kim pled guilty to “an unauthorized disclosure of national defense information.”  He stood before U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who offered those stern words of admonition, and took responsibility for passing classified information on the North Korean nuclear program to Fox News reporter James Rosen in 2009. 

Still, someday Cartwright might prove to be unique in the annals of Obama era jurisprudence — the only Washington figure of any significance in these years to be given a jail sentence for a crime of state.  Whatever happens to him, his ongoing case highlights a singular fact: that there is but one crime for which anyone in America’s national security state can be held accountable in a court of law, and that’s leaking information that might put those in it in a bad light or simply let the American public know something more about what its government is really doing.

If this weren’t Washington 2014, but rather George Orwell’s novel 1984, then the sign emblazoned on the front of the Ministry of Truth — “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength” — would have to be amended to add a fourth slogan: Knowledge is Crime.

Seven Free Passes for the National Security State

With Cartwright as a possible exception, the members of the national security state, unlike the rest of us, exist in what might be called “post-legal” America.  They know that, no matter how heinous the crime, they will not be brought to justice for it.  The list of potentially serious criminal acts for which no one has had to take responsibility in a court of law is long, and never tabulated in one place.  Consider this, then, an initial run-down on seven of the most obvious crimes and misdemeanors of this era for which no one has been held accountable.

*Kidnapping: After 9/11, the CIA got into kidnapping in a big way.  At least 136 “terror suspects” and possibly many more (including completely innocent people) were kidnapped off the streets of global cities, as well as from the backlands of the planet, often with the help of local police or intelligence agencies.  Fifty-four other countries were enlisted in the enterprise.  The prisoners were delivered either into the Bush administration’s secret global system of prisons, also known as “black sites,” to be detained and mistreated, or they were “rendered” directly into the hands of torturing regimes from Egypt to Uzbekistan.  No American involved has been brought to court for such illegal acts (nor did the American government ever offer an apology, no less restitution to anyone it kidnapped, even those who turned out not to be “terror suspects”).  One set of CIA agents was, however, indicted in Italy for a kidnapping and rendition to Egypt.  Among them was the Agency’s Milan station chief Robert Seldon Lady.  He had achieved brief notoriety for overseeing a la dolce vita version of rendition and later fled the country for the United States.  Last year, he was briefly taken into custody in Panama, only to be spirited out of that country and back to safety by the U.S. government.

*Torture (and other abuses): Similarly, it will be no news to anyone that, in their infamous “torture memos,” officials of the Bush Justice Department freed CIA interrogators to “take the gloves off” and use what were euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation techniques” against offshore prisoners in the Global War on Terror.  These “techniques” included “waterboarding,” once known as “the water torture,” and long accepted even in this country as a form of torture.  On coming to office, President Obama rejected these practices, but refused to prosecute those who practiced them.  Not a single CIA agent or private contractor involved was ever charged, no less brought to trial, nor was anyone in the Bush Justice Department or the rest of an administration which green-lighted these practices and whose top officials reportedly saw them demonstrated in the White House.

To be accurate, a single member of the national security state has gone to prison thanks to the CIA’s torture program.  That was John Kiriakou, a former CIA agent who tortured no one, but offended the Obama administrations by turning whistleblower and going public about Agency torture.  He is now serving a 30-month prison sentence “for disclosing a covert operative’s name to a reporter.” In other words, the only crime that could be prosecuted in connection with the Agency’s torture campaign was one that threatened to let the American public know more about it.

Now, however, thanks to leaks from the embattled Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,300-page report on the CIA’s interrogation and torture program, we know that the Agency “used interrogation methods that weren’t approved by the Justice Department or CIA headquarters.”  In other words, its agents went beyond even those techniques approved in the torture memos, which in turn means that they acted illegally even by the standards of the Bush administration.  This should be an obvious signal for the beginning of prosecutions, but — not surprisingly — it looks like the only prosecution on the horizon might be of whoever leaked parts of the unreleased Senate report to McClatchy News.

*The destruction of evidence of a crime: To purposely destroy evidence in order to impede a future investigation of possible criminal acts is itself, of course, a crime.  We know that such a thing did indeed happen.  Jose Rodriguez, Jr., the head of CIA clandestine operations, destroyed 92 videotapes of the repeated waterboardings of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who planned the 9/11 attacks, and alleged al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah, “tapes that he had been explicitly told to preserve as part of an official investigation.”  The Justice Department investigated his act, but never charged him.  He has since defended himself in a book, Hard Measures, saying that he was, in essence, “tired of waiting for Washington’s bureaucracy to make a decision that protected American lives.”  He is still free and writing op-eds for the Washington Post defending the interrogation program whose tapes he destroyed.

*The planning of an extralegal prison system: As is now well known, a global network of extralegal prisons, or “black sites,” at which acts of torture and abuse of every sort could be committed was set up at the wishes of the highest officials of the Bush administration.  This system was created specifically to avoid putting terror suspects into the U.S. legal system.  In that sense, it was by definition extralegal, if not illegal.  It represented, that is, a concerted effort to avoid any of the constraints or oversight that U.S. law or the U.S. courts might have imposed on the treatment of detainees.  This was a well-planned crime committed not under the rubric of war against any specific power, but of a global war without end against al-Qaeda and like-minded groups.

*The killing of detainees in that extralegal system: The deaths of detainees in CIA custody in offshore (or borrowed) prisons as a result of harsh treatment ordered by their Agency handlers was not considered a crime.  In two cases — in the “Salt Pit” in Afghanistan and at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq — such deaths were investigated by the Justice Department, but no one was ever charged.  In the case of Gul Rahman, the prisoner in the Salt Pit, according to the Washington Post, “a CIA officer allegedly ordered Afghan guards in November 2002 to strip Rahman and chain him to the concrete floor of his cell. Temperatures plunged overnight, and Rahman froze to death. Hypothermia was listed as the cause of death and Rahman was buried in an unmarked grave.”  (In a rare case brought before a military court, a low-level Army interrogator was convicted of “killing an Iraqi general by stuffing him face-first into a sleeping bag,” and sentenced to “forfeit $6,000 of his salary over the next four months, receive a formal reprimand, and spend 60 days restricted to his home, office, and church.”)

*Assassination: Once upon a time, off-the-books assassination was generally a rare act of state and always one that presidents could deny responsibility for.  Now, it is part of everyday life in the White House and at the CIA.  The president’s role as assassin-in-chief, as the man who quite literally makes the final decision on whom to kill, has been all-but-publicly promoted as a political plus.  The drone assassination campaigns in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, though “covert” and run by a civilian agency (with much secret help from the U.S. Air Force) are openly reported on in the media and discussed as a seeming point of pride by those involved.  In 2009, for instance, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta didn’t hesitate to enthusiastically praise the drone attacks in Pakistan as “the only game in town.” And best of all, they are “legal.”  We know this because the White House had the Justice Department prepare a 50-page document on their legality that it has refused to release to the public.  In these campaigns in the backlands of distant places where there are seldom reporters, we nonetheless know that thousands of people have died, including significant numbers of children.  Being run by a civilian agency, they cannot in any normal sense be “acts of war.”  In another world, they would certainly be considered illegal and possibly war crimes, as Christof Heyns, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, has suggested.  Top officials have taken responsibility for these acts, including the drone killings in Yemen of four American citizens condemned to death by a White House that has enthusiastically taken on the role of judge, jury, and executioner.  No one involved, however, will ever see a day in court.

*Perjury before Congress: Lying to Congress in public testimony is, of course, perjury.  Among others, we know that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper committed it in a strikingly bald-faced way on March 12, 2013.  When asked by Senator Ron Wyden whether the NSA had gathered “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans” — a question submitted to him a day in advance — Clapper answered, “No, sir.  Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly.”  This was a lie, pure and simple, as the Snowden revelations on the NSA’s gathering of phone metadata on all Americans (including, assumedly, our congressional representatives) would later make clear.  Clapper subsequently apologized, saying that he spoke in what he called “the least untruthful” way possible, which, were crime on anyone’s mind, would essentially have been a confession.  Congress did nothing.  Just in case you wondered, Clapper remains the director of national intelligence with the “support” of the president.

Mind you, the above seven categories don’t even take into account the sort of warrantless surveillance of Americans that should have put someone in a court of law, or the ways in which various warrior corporations overbilled or cheated the government in its war zones, or the ways private contractors “ran wild” in those same zones.  Even relatively low-level crimes by minor figures in the national security state have normally not been criminalized.  Take, for example, the private surveillance of and cyberstalking of “love interests,” or “LOVEINT,” by NSA employees using government surveillance systems.  The NSA claims that at least one employee was “disciplined” for this, but no one was taken to court.  A rare exception: a number of low level military figures in the Abu Ghraib scandal were tried for their abusive actions, convicted, and sent to jail, though no one higher than a colonel was held accountable in court for those infamously systematic and organized acts of torture and abuse.

Too Big to Jail, National Security-Style

All in all, as with the banks after the meltdown of 2007-2008, even the most obvious of national security state crimes seem to fall into a “too big to fail”-like category.  Call it “too big to jail.”  The only crime that repeatedly makes it out of the investigative phase and into court — as with Stephen Kim, Chelsea Manning, and John Kiriakou — is revealing information the national security state holds dear.  On that, the Obama administration has been fierce and prosecutorial.

Despite the claims of national security breaches in such cases, most of the leakers and whistleblowers of our moment have had little to offer in the way of information that might benefit Washington’s official enemies.  What Kim told Fox News about the North Korean nuclear program was hardly likely to have been news to the North Koreans, just as the Iranians are believed to have already known what General Cartwright may have leaked to the Times about the origins of the Stuxnet virus.

Of course, leaking is a habit that’s often considered quite useful by those in power.  It’s little short of a sport in Washington, done whenever officials feel it to be to their advantage or the advantage of an administration, even if what’s at stake are “secret” programs like the CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan.  What’s still up in the air — and to be tested — is whether leaking information in the government’s supposed interest could, in fact, be a crime.  And that’s where General Cartwright comes in.  If there is, in fact, but a single crime that can be committed within the national security state for which our leaders now believe jail time is appropriate, how wide is the category and is knowledge always a crime when it ends up in the wrong brains?

If there were one man of power and prominence who might join Kim, Kiriakou, Manning, and Edward Snowden (should the U.S. government ever get its hands on him), it might be Cartwright.  It’s a long shot, but here’s what he doesn’t have going for him.  He was an insider who was evidently an outsider.  He was considered “a lone wolf” who went to the president privately, behind the backs of, and to the evident dismay of, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Secretary of Defense.  He seems to have had few supporters in the Pentagon and to have alienated key Republican senators.  He could, in short, prove the single sacrificial lamb in the national security state.

In Washington today, knowledge is the only crime.  That’s a political reality of the twenty-first century.  Get used to it.

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55 comments

  1. YankeeFrank

    Its been clear now for many years that in the USA the rule of law no longer exists. The weak and poor are punished mercilessly, often for victimless crimes, and often for crimes they didn’t commit. While the wealthy, powerful and well-connected, be they government, military or simply corporate criminals, are not even indicted, let alone prosecuted and jailed, for egregious crimes that weaken and diminish the entire nation. The people know this. Most of us anyway. The rest of the world knows this. So who or what are our leaders “protecting” by maintaining the charade? Their own power. Putin is correct when he says our democratic rhetoric is paper thin. Thin and getting thinner everyday.

    These “leaders” of ours are people who grew up basking in the light of a nation that had become a beacon of hope and justice to a world weary of war and injustice. Whether we ever matched up to that ideal isn’t the point. People believed it. The world believed it. These leaders of ours still believe they have that prestige and stature, and so its not surprising when they hit a wall and fall back stupefied and mystified at their failures. They seem to believe that nothing they do, no matter how illegal, murderous or dishonest, will tarnish that old reputation.

    Their serial failures to dictate to the world on the TPP, Ukraine, Venezuela, Syria, Iran etc., must be cognitively jarring for them, and one wonders when they will give up the rhetorical bullshit and finally see the reality staring at them: that US power is quickly waning, even as our military might continues to grow. Soft power is the only power that really matters in the long run. One can win battles with hard power, but as we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, one can win every battle and still lose the war.

    The US has lost its character. We have neither the integrity or honesty to display the soft power we once confidently impressed upon the world. And so its hard power or nothing. And increasingly, its become nothing. At least Obama is not of weak enough character that he has to go flailing about attacking everyone who refuses to obey his commands. There is that to be thankful for. But what about our next president? Its going to be a long, slow, murderous decline I fear, and there is little any of us who still recall and miss our once genuine, but now faded strength can do. Insider Washington is rotten to the core, and no one who is not rotten will be getting through the gates until its well too late.

      1. Nathanael

        He should have been impeached and removed from office for his crimes, but the same was true of Bush, and of five Supreme Court “Justices”, and of several heads of the CIA, several heads of the NSA, several Attorney Generals, any number of military officers…

        Impeachment, unfortunately, does not work. President Andrew Johnson, shortly after the Civil War, was blatantly guilty — there’s really no doubt about it — and he managed to avoid being removed from office by one vote. Impeachment does not function. If the Constitution is to survive, it needs to be amended to make impeachment a lot easier.

    1. Oregoncharles

      “At least Obama is not of weak enough character” – are you serious? Who do you think Engelhardt is complaining about here? It’s, precisely, Obama who refused to prosecute all those crimes – actual crimes against humanity, as well as against American political rights.

      Besides whistleblowers, he’s attacked Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, and odd, secret bits of Africa. That’s a wide reach, granted that he’s been discreet about running up American casualties.

      In general, that’s the difference between Democrats and Republicans these days: the former are sneakier – and they get away with more because of partisan politics.

      Your fatalism is offensive, based entirely in that special consideration you gave Obama. It’s hopeless AS LONG AS WE STAY WITHIN THE 2-PARTY. You’re right – until we “grow a spine” and start voting for people outside the system. (Granted, that’s assuming votes still matter. If they don’t, that’s something we need to know immediately, if not a long time ago. And it’s a good question.)

      There is rapidly increasing disaffection with the duopoly; “independents,” including 3rd-party members, are about 44% – a huge plurality, approaching a majority, and still growing, for reasons we see all around us. But we still have prominent figures like Engelhardt, Thomas Frank, and Taibbi saying it’s hopeless. (Glenn Greenwald has been advocating voting 3rd party for a while.) That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, a barrier to any real change.

      Get over it.

      1. Wanderer

        Voting third party in national elections, sadly, is wishful thinking. We’re not going to get the leadership we want from another failed third party candidate, we are merely going to help elect the greater of two evils, which in turn will add more years of reactionary Supreme Court dominance. There are smarter ways to deal with our sense of outrage and helplessness, like taking more control over our own finances, health, sustainability, and civic engagement on the neighborhood and local level and wherever else we can make more impact.

          1. Wanderer

            While they emerge from the same political consciousness, they have opposite effects. Voting for a progressive third party privileges one more vote to a Supreme Court nominating/supporting reactionary. While it won’t get us where we need to be, it won’t set us back as far either. As a 60’s radical, like many I believed if things got bad enough for “the people” they would rebel. What we didn’t understand was how powerful identity politics was for many white, conventional Americans.

            Working locally at least we have a chance of making a meaningful, rather than purely symbolic, effect. This is only a generality, of course. For example, if I lived in Vermont and I would relish voting for Bernie Sanders.

            1. Nathanael

              Third party voting can be highly effective, but it is more valuable at the state level, and even more valuable at the local level, certainly. This is due to the coordination problem at the national level.

            2. Nathanael

              For what it’s worth, voting for President at the national level is currently entirely pointless unless you live in a small number of “Swing States”. If you live in California, New York, or Texas, or most other states, there’s no point whatsoever in voting for President; it’s purely a vanity, symbolic vote no matter who you vote for.

              If we passed the National Popular Vote, this would change. But right now, you might as well vote third party for President in New York, California, or Texas.

              In one of the few “swing states” like Ohio and Florida, yeah, vote for the “lesser evil” for President. But most of the country, it doesn’t currently matter who you vote for for President. And the candidates know it; they don’t even campaign in states like Texas and California and New York.

      2. hunkerdown

        Votes do matter only in that they are cast to ratify the political order. Is the present political order something that ought to be ratified?

        In imposing the civic duty that everyone submit themselves to standing behind and under a “better” and preferably one who loves the Caesar, the state religion American Exceptionalism is forbidden to acknowledge that democratic participation is a matter of international prestige and thus can be used by citizens to discredit status quo power. If only 9% of the electorate voted in on-year elections, how’s that going to play at the UN, at the “trade agreement” negotiating table (watch Froman as TPP starts to fall apart for the US), in foreign stock exchanges, in foreign newspapers and parliaments? How’s a POTUS gonna give a speech if every time s/he says Democracy™ the response is not applause but heckling? Apartheid in ZA was, to hear US/UK tell it, the action of a democratically elected government right up until OOPS it wasn’t and now the kids at school are SO unfair and we’re gonna have to apply sanctions to our best friends and other high-school kvetching.

        Not voting is the withdrawal of “just consent of the governed”. Speaking stridently and loudly about why and how, and especially to critique the perceived civic duty to choose a boot and lick it, is what makes the nonconsent just. Non-cooperation works (as part of this nutritious balanced movement).

  2. different clue

    When that day comes, the DC FedRegime, and possibly various State GovRegimes and maybe even some local ones will treat any protesting Americans the way the Syrian Government treated the pre-violence protesters in Syria. How will American citizens react to that?

    1. participant-observer-observed

      According to Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin’s discussion today about the drone technology boondoggle, things are still headed to get much worse, from next year when one will no longer be able to keep the curtains open on one’s home windows, without threat of some far off peeping tom peering in.

      http://archive.kpfk.org/mp3/kpfk_140420_100038worldfocus.MP3

      “gubmint” Data Storage surrounded/protected by armed, right-wing, disgruntled cattle ranchers? What a policy!

      1. susan the other

        That’s interesting. Speaking of Mr. Bundy: Here’s a thought for “property rights.” Of course it seems apparent that Mr. Bundy is arguing grandfathered property rights. Grazing rights. No doubt this concept exists also in the Middle East. Here we have surface rights which are separated from mineral rights (under the ground rights). Do they have these in the ME? It would appear that Al Qaeda (for want of a better name) is claiming a blanket right over oil – since it just bubbles voluntarily to the surface over there. Or maybe they are our foils? Who knows. It works for us both ways. So in the ME it’s the monarchy (?) who owns the rights and just *uck whoever homesteads (develops) it? Or something like that. So the point is: how much should each person receive from basic property rights. Lots, actually. Except in the US of A. And one more thing – about dead give-aways – whenever an article uses the term “lone wolf” you know it’s a CIA piece.

    2. Nathanael

      The Syrian government of Assad only survived due to continuous shipments of weaponry from Russia. It’s now a Russian client state. Russia was happy to support mass murder of Syrians, because the Russian government considers Syrians subhuman.

      If the US government tried to pull the same bombing-of-civilians crap which Syria pulled, there would be no equivalent of Russia to bail it out. The US would be depending on US citizens to murder the other US citizens. This is unlikely to work. China had to drag in military units from halfway across the country to suppress Tiananmen Square. The USSR had to drag military units halfway across the country in order to try to supress revolution after the coup against Gorbachev, and even that didn’t work. The US government might try this (sending Southerners to massacre Northerners or something), but I doubt it would work. The US government would fall.

  3. Juan Reynoso

    We have rested on the supposed “laurels” of American Democracy and human justice for many years, but the sociopath and psychopaths that we place in our government forgot our true history and Christian principles and become puppets of this corrupt system of predators of humanity that kill thousands and enslave the world community. Their agenda is to get the power to control humanity by any means.
    Fellow Christians believe and have faith, GOD IS ON OUR SIDE. This war is for freedom and our God given rights against evil and now it’s finally on this generation to correct the lethal course they put us on. We either destroy the federal government or get destroyed by it. God will give us the wisdom and courage to reclaim our Christian principles and values. Our country needs us to be united as one and destroy the traitors. Our loyalty is to our country and the people, not to the President, the politicians or the arm forces, not one should obey any orders that are not in agreement with our constitution, the rule of law or our Christian values, they plan to destroy us; do not trust this corrupt government. I pray for our unity, 80% of us Christians must stand united, we have apparently made it to the point of return; our Christian community said. “No more government corruption, no more Christian persecution in the USA, No more lies. No more cover-ups. No more killings of Americans. No more spying on Americans. No more economy slavery. No more predator corporatism. No more military interventions. No more collusion. Enough is enough.”
    https://truthtalk13.wordpress.com/tag/central-intelligence-agency/
    http://www.huppi.com/kangaroo/CIAtimeline.html

  4. tiger

    As someone who isn’t American but reading this with sadness I’m wondering when exactly will you guys do something about this. Are you guys going to just watch as your country turns into dictatorship? Snowden did a lot from an NSA point of view. Now it’s time to somehow bring the contents of this blog post to the MSM. Before it’s too late ..

    1. James Levy

      In the film “Soylent Green” Edward G. Robinson brings a key document, the Soylent Corporation’s assessment of ocean plankton growth, to The Exchange, a last repository of books and aged scholars. As they contemplate the document’s implications, that the oceans are dying and Soylent is substituting human protein for plants matter in our food, the reaction is largely incredulity, until the leader says, “I believe the word is, expediency.”

      Our entire Power Elite is made up of Expediency Men. Rarely deliberately cruel or vicious, they will nonetheless do whatever it takes to Get The Job Done, or Complete the Mission, or whatever other catchphrase substitutes for moral judgment in their closed community of like-minded go-getters. The media are aware of this and largely staffed by similar types. They respect wealth and power and possess no greater moral sense than their corporate, government, or military betters. To take a moral stance would be to open yourself to ridicule, to the contempt of the people whose approval you crave and who control your life-chances and career path. It’s not impossible to put this stuff out in America, but it is unthinkable for anyone who counts, or more importantly wants to count, to raise objections to these crimes on moral/ethical grounds. That is considered unserious, naive, dangerous, presumptuous, and a career-killer. Better to bury reality in a blizzard of equivocating verbiage and pat oneself on the back for being a truth-teller.

      I will never forget the experience of being at a lecture by an officer who later gained some fame working under Patraeus on counter-insurgency. He was talking about strategic bombing against North Korea during the Korean War, the devastation it caused for little military return, and I got up and said, yes, true, but the problem is killing civilians is wrong and strategic bombing is evil. The reaction of the officers in the room was largely thoughtful and respectful, but many of the civilian experts were openly outraged and you could feel it permeate the room (it’s especially unsettling when directed at you). Later, in another talk, I was equally upset by a claim I heard, but after the initial wave of hostility, I consulted two friends in the break before Q&A and they told me to just let it go. And I did. Telling the truth is NOT easy.

      1. Banger

        Great comment which mirrors my experience of Washington. I particularly like the way you explained the social aspect of this. Indeed, in Washington power centers the powerful fear ridicule and non-conformity more than anything else.

        People don’t understand that the corporate, government and media worlds are all intertwined and are, in short, one big bureaucracy. Even when the press manages to expose some aspect of this bureaucracy it is usually the result of internal power struggles within ruling circles.

      2. GuyFawkes

        The *social intimidation factor* is not just in Washington. I have been speaking out about the criminal financial crimes. I’ve lost most of my former friends and my family members. Truth is something most people want buried so that they can go about their lives in a state of quiet desperation…..with just the accompaniment of some favorite TV shows, dinners out, and the company of people who don’t challenge their status quo. That is safe and comforting.

        1. Banger

          GF, I feel for you–it is the same for me. Nobody wants to hear the truth except some of my young anarchist friends. This is the tragedy. We are becoming increasingly isolated you and I and perhaps others who post here. I have been pleading with others for years that the only way forward is to organize into communities, collectives and so on. People who seek knowledge and truth about anything have to have support–we cannot go it alone and not just virtual online support.

          We can take comfort that most people know, intuitively, how f-ed up things are but they want to live their lives and can’t be burdened with facing these truths. All it takes now is a spark and things could change very quickly. But the authorities know this and that’s why the fire hoses are spraying us down.

          1. sd

            On hearing the truth…

            After a particular project, I received criticism that I ‘did not communicate well.’ As a result, on the next project, I made a great effort to ‘communicate well.’ I made a point of putting notes in writing as often as possible. At the end of the project, I was once again told that I ‘did not communicate well.’

            It was then that I realized I communicate just fine. The problem was that no one wanted to hear what I had to say.

            The majority of the world wants puppies and kittens and rainbows. They do not want to face ugly truths, they want to live in a fairy tale – ‘no, you can’t afford a $600,000 house on a $45,000 year income and that really nice mortgage company is a predatory lender.’ Over time, I came to accept that only a small fraction of people are willing to see things as they really are. Seeing things as they really are necessarily leads to admitting one’s own role in the mess.

        2. Nathanael

          GF — that’s disappointing to hear.

          I’m bad at understanding “normal” human psychology. But my estimate has always been that *at first* nobody wants to hear it. After about 10 years they mostly turn around and they want to hear it. Bit long to wait, I know, but for some reason a lot of people need to huddle for a while and get some distance before they can hear unpleasant truths. After the “waiting period” they often can and will hear the truths and maybe start doing something about it.

      3. Nathanael

        “but many of the civilian experts were openly outraged and you could feel it permeate the room (it’s especially unsettling when directed at you).”

        This sort of “civilian expert” is the sort of person where if they all died we’d be much better off. They’re one of the types of defective humans who make me sympathetic with Vlad the Impaler. It’s actually not straightforward to identify this type, though — they like to blend into the crowd.

    2. GuyFawkes

      Believe me, as an American watching this I continue to wonder when will enough be enough? I am a victim of the criminal financial enterprise, however, I am winning in court against those bastards. But, I wonder how 14 million (the official number of foreclosure victims keeps shrinking since 2009, when the figure was 6 million) foreclosed former American homeowners are not at the White House doors with pitchforks and torches. But, they aren’t.

      I do wonder what will render the populace so angry that all will pick up their arms and fight. It seems homelessness is not one of those actions. Even though now we have evidence that it is the quasi-governmental agencies, Freddie and Fannie, that have provided the timelines to foreclose on Americans quicker and have provided the criminal banking enterprise with financial incentives to foreclose faster. It truly is unbelievable.

      1. Banger

        Things would have to change pretty drastically before you would see any true opposition to this regime to develop. The first step is to make it very clear that all corporate media are lying every day in every way. It has never, in my lifetime, been this bad. Journalism in the major media does not exist–only PR flacks.

      2. dalepues

        When a large enough segment of the population is forced to go a week without food. Fifty million Americans are able to eat only with some form of govt assistance. The EBT card is the most common vehicle for this service. If that system is hacked and disabled, and millions cannot purchase food, the sheer size of the reaction would be terrifying. But that is just one possibility for “change”. An interruption to gasoline supplies, failure in the electric grid, failure in the media grid, a catastrophic weather event…..It seems to me that any number of shocks would be able to set in motion other catastrophic events. Change is inevitable, it doesn’t necessarily have to stem from politics.

        1. TedWa

          That’s what the FEMA camps and militarization of local police across the country is are for. Don’t forget to add in billions of rounds of ammunition bought by the DHS. I’m hoping against hope that if anything seriously does go wrong that they won’t declare Martial law. We are ripe for a totalitarian takeover IMHO. All the requirements and infrastructure are in place. If not with this President, then somewhere down the line. It makes me question who was behind 9/11. It was never really investigated.
          But all in all, I have faith in the diversity of the human spirit to find ways around these walls they wish to install. In that respect we are indomitable. Till then vote your conscience and vote out incumbents. Congress was never meant to be a career.

          1. Nathanael

            Here’s one way to be hopeful: declarations of martial law don’t work unless they’re popular. Please recall the coup against Gorbachev.

            When you declare martial law and order the troops to shoot their neighbors, what happens when half the troops don’t show up for work the next day?

      3. Oregoncharles

        Ironically, I think Americans are still spellbound by the electoral process (ironic, that is, at least for someone whose main activism is an electoral party, the Greens). We have the ILLUSION of governing ourselves, even though our votes have no connection with the policies we live with. In fact, those we elect proceed in open defiance of our wishes and interests, and occasionally boast about it.

        Combine this with the deep complacency of having had it too good for too long (and I do mean too good – we’ve been eating the planet, and sooner or later, probably sooner, there’ll be an end to that, too), and you have American politics. There are a few good signs – the major parties are now approaching a collective minority – but I, too, wonder what it will take. At this point, I shudder to think.

        1. Nathanael

          “There are a few good signs – the major parties are now approaching a collective minority”

          That’s one good sign. Another is the declining number of people watching TV news and the declining number subscribing to mass-market newspapers.

      4. Nathanael

        “But, I wonder how 14 million (the official number of foreclosure victims keeps shrinking since 2009, when the figure was 6 million) foreclosed former American homeowners are not at the White House doors with pitchforks and torches. But, they aren’t.”

        One thing I discovered from my study of social change and revolutions is that it always, always takes longer than you’d expect. You read about the horrible abuses and you go “My God! How could they put up with that! Surely they revolted! How long was it going on before they revolted?…”
        …and it usually turns out that it was going on for 30 years, or 50 years, or 100 years before people revolted.

        There IS a limit to how much people will tolerate, it’s just farther than you (as an educated person) would think it would be.

    3. Banger

      The MSM is part of the government bureaucracy. I’ve been observing this media for almost fifty years–its lies grow bigger every day and there is no chance that the media can act independently–only major changes within ruling circles will change media coverage. The mainstream media operatives do read blogs like this to make them familiar with the opposition–they know the facts they just choose to lie for the sake of their careers since that is what they are paid to do.

      James’ analysis is spot on.

      1. Banger

        If you are European then I have to say that you all support the American imperial project–why not fight it? That would help us here.

  5. Teejay

    Don’t leave out Dick Cheney. Nigeria has a red letter Interpol notice for his arrest on $180 million bribery charges while heading of Haliburton. And while Vice President he shot a fellow hunter in the face with a shot gun. Howard Zinn’s “Topsy Turvy” speech comes to mind.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUDpnZ8SNfw

  6. cnchal

    How can a lawman be held accountable when he wields a gun and a pen?

    Isn’t the President of the United States supposed to be the ultimate lawman? in our case today, the law is whatever he says it is. Remember when he said “no crimes were committed” during the lead up and aftermath of the GFC. The law, right out of his mouth.

    We are all terrorists now. How do I know? We were told that surveillance was needed to get terrorists.

    We are at the point that even objecting to this tax fueled insanity can be construed as terrorism.

  7. mmckinl

    It is really very simple … We have a two tier justice system … We have an unprotected class … that is to say those without clout or wealth or those who are challenging the oligarchy or government …

    Then we have the “protected class” … those who are wealthy enough, those who carry out illegal activities for the government or those in the bankster oligarchy.

    There has always been a difference in outcomes for the rich and the poor and those who are on the inside of “national security” but never in our history have so many grievous crimes gone unpunished.

  8. Banger

    Karl Rove made it abundantly clear many years ago that we live in an Empire. The Republic is as dead as the Roman Republic was dead in the middle of the Age of Augustus. It is not coming back. We need to adjust ourselves to the new reality and dial back our outrage at what is simply normal at this point. Barring our ability to fully engage millions of people to overthrow this regime (it has nothing to do with political parties or elections) we have to learn to live within the constraints of living in this system and try to figure out how to survive and thrive in it. In fact, that ought to be our chief concern–the analysis has been made here, most of us agree that justice in the U.S. has changed so that for those in power the law resides in their persons to the degree they maintain their place in the pecking order.

      1. Banger

        That’s ad hominem and does not engage the points I made. If you think I am a coward I can assure you that in a fight you would want me as a friend–i do not fear death. I have been on the barricades and faced down tough guys before. If I am wrong then point me in the right direction–there is nothing even close to an opposition other than a lot of rhetoric. We must resist as I have said many times but it gets us nowhere to simply wave our arms around–the left is not willing to do what I have always been willing top do and that is risk my life and my resources.

      2. Nathanael

        Wrong, Dan. Banger made a useful, brave, and work-intensive recommendation — I think you missed it because it was a bit unlcear.

        Banger’s statement is that the system has become unreformable. Therefore what you do is to
        (a) survive in the current system
        (b) attempt to consciousness-raise about the unreformability of the system
        (c) attempt to form and organize parallel social structures which can survive the collapse of the system
        (d) attempt to bring down the system

        In that order.

        Banger’s recommendation is correct *if* the system is unreformable. Our argument is largely about whether the system is unreformable or not. I would really like to see the system reformed. But I see no Earl Grey or Great Reform Act anywhere on the horizon. How, practically speaking, can we reform the system?

        If we can’t reform the system, Banger is correct and we must deal with it for now and overhtrow it later.

    1. Jackrabbit

      Taken by itself, this comment is deplorable (suggesting we give-in / ‘go along to get along’). Why didn’t you elaborate on your proposal above to form co-ops and local groups? Seems that is already happening and may be a good first step.

      1. Banger

        Ok, I have been talking about cooperatives and collectives since 1968 to deafening silence. In my experience most people on the left wimp out when it comes time to build anything solid. Back in 68 we made the political analysis which has not changed but no one was willing then and no one is willing now to build something. It’s all talk about “it’s not fair” and that’s as far as it goes except small bands mainly among young anarchists who keep the faith for a few years until they find out no one much is listening and they need food and shelter that their lawyer friends are now not willing to share. Collective action in the sense of building something that will feed and clothe us so we don’t have to give the oligarchs our bodies to rent is what I have always advocated. I suggest to you that I among the few who have advocated that direction on this blog.

    2. hunkerdown

      When we thrive within it, the system thrives more and will ensure we do not thrive in the future. To do that is nothing more or less than a truce with evil. And all because we’re too chicken to throw *ourselves* on the gears, believing our pasty “middle class” arses too precious to get pinched in the works.

      Suggest that the bourgeoisie (and hangers-on) overestimate their own value yet again.

      1. Nathanael

        No point in throwing yourself in the gears if it doesn’t stop the machine.

        What people are looking for is a strategy which is actually going to work. A practical strategy.

  9. James Levy

    That’s too strong a condemnation. Perhaps Banger’s approach is not right for you. Perhaps you think it wrong-headed. But Banger is not cowering in a corner–he comes here to a very public place and speaks his mind, which is a minor victory given the fear and apathy that reign in these United States.

    Many of us are angry. I teeter at times on the brink of despair. But rubbishing decent people because you think them wrong is not the answer. Tell us why he’s wrong, but keep the insults out of it.

    1. Dan Kervick

      It’s wrong because we don’t need to “adjust”. Human history does not bear out the need for these kinds of counsels of despair. People have fought and won against injustice, oppression and massive governmental failure many, many times.

      If Banger and everyone else here could say, “Well, we’ve tried everything and nothing seems to have worked, so I’m desperate,” that would be one thing. But in fact, most have us have done next to nothing.

      “Bravely speaking on the internet” is bull. Governments and the powerful don’t care if people want to form an impotent fellowship of the miserable and complain on the internet from now until doomsday. That’s nothing. What has the whole “netroots” given us? Almost zero so far.

      I don’t feel a need to be kindly about this. If someone came here and said, “What women need to do is learn to lay back and accept their rapes as the new normal,” they would be called out vociferously for it – and justly so.

      People are suffering out there – really badly. A lot of them don’t even have a computer to type on or the knowledge and language to articulate what is wrong. They get slammed against the wall every day, pushed down under cruel thumbs every day, and maybe they think, “That’s just life, I guess.” But it’s not just life. It’s up to people who know better to be their champions and do something about it.

      1. Nathanael

        We HAVE tried a lot of things. A lot of them have failed. I think people are trying to figure out what to try next. A lot of the traditional 20th century options (voting, campaigning, protesting in the streets, even *winning elections*) haven’t been working. Unionization hasn’t been working. What’s next?

        Violence, I presume, but people are rightly wary of violence and want to avoid it unless they have a very very good plan.

        1. Nathanael

          There are still fairly peaceful things we haven’t tried. Radicals winning local elections and having local governments reject the authority of the national government — by, for instance, arresting guys like Clapper themselves, locally.

          Again, most such things are things which people are rightly wary of as you have to get the strategy exactly right.

  10. allcoppedout

    I’m with Dan on this one. Yet I live pretty much as Bangor suggests.

    We are living in a dirty hands society, and even if it is proper to blame and shame for dirty hands, then, on the supposition that all citizens share in the taint, selecting only one to shame seems distinctly unjust, indeed massively hypocritical. While the rest of us rejoice and celebrate the happy consequences of our agent’s necessary misdeed, she is shunned or worse. Walzer (a dirty hands proponent) thinks that punishing the dirty hands conduct of the principal agents makes our own hands dirty (though he doesn’t seem to think that our original authorization of the conduct does this).

    Banger almost sounds as though ‘being away on holiday’ might be some kind of excuse for not stopping the crazies running the show. He won’t be meaning this I guess. We have (somehow) to unite beyond national boundaries. The corporations have done this to strengthen their tyranny. But what do we do? Go to prison in protest? Alright for me to say with the kids grown up. I really don’t know.

  11. TedWa

    I would add, reading these comments, that apathy of the citizens is the goal in inverted totalitarianism. Apathy of the citizens allows the government to believe that what they are doing is right, as if silence were a vote of confidence.
    What’s that saying, “All it take for evil to triumph is for men of good will to do nothing.”

  12. impermanence

    The most important thing is to simply see things the way they really are. Instead, everybody applies their intellectual/emotional filters to the flow of information and comes up with infinite analyses and little else.

    What needs to be done is to decide what needs to be [based on common moral ground] and make that happen. Everything else is a waste of time and effort. After all, this is EXACTLY what the elite do.

  13. Albert Leo

    Folks, there are tides and currents of history that are beyond influence. Banger is correct that we live in the latter part of a dying empire. We will go down in history with the Roman Empire, but even more extreme in every way. We are the Beatles to Rome’s Elvis. Dominance: military, economic, scientific, and cultural. Excess, in the most decadent of fashions, not all of which are necessarily bad but will probably not survive us. Neither you nor I can change what must happen, nor what follows. The United States of America is a majestic but rotten tree. We have long passed the point where any definition of democracy could apply. We have an interlocking system controlled by the previously named elites and impervious to democratic or reform processes. We are the old empires of 1900, not knowing how soon the earthquake will come. This article gives details, but they are just data points. This is part of the normal cycle of human institutions: birth, growth, strength, dominance, decay, fall. You can do no more about it than any Roman “citizen” in 400 AD. You’re just kidding yourself. 100 years from now, this will all be history; eventually, ancient history. If you want hope, read Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. And no, no one really wants the truth.

  14. Nathanael

    When there are people committing crimes like kidnapping and murder and torture, and the government refuses to arrest them… shouldn’t we expect vigilante executions?

    Traditionally they would happen. There was actually a system for such in the late middle ages, consisting of “self-appointed” grand juries.

    I’d rather have the rule of law. I’m just warning of the natural consequences. People don’t tolerate massive, endemic injustice; they start devising schemes to bring back a little justice. “No justice, no peace” is simply a statement of fact.

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