Workers Vanguard No. 890
13 April 2007
Republicans, Democrats: Shredding Your Rights
"War on Terror": Torture, Spying, Imperialist Butchery
Free Jose Padilla!
Free the Detainees!
The powers the government has arrogated to itself in the name of the war on terror represent a massive increase in the repressive powers of the capitalist rulers, with the imprimatur of a pliant judiciary. In February, a Washington, D.C., federal appeals court upheld by a two-to-one decision a provision in the 2006 Military Commissions Act eliminating habeas corpus rights for detainees at the U.S. concentration camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, even if they were to be held there the rest of their lives. A Nation (19 March) article by David Cole captured the intent of such measures by recounting what military intelligence officers reportedly told one Guantánamo detainee: You are in a place where there is no law—we are the law.
Then there is the case of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, allegedly Number Three in command of Al Qaeda. Mohammed was the first of hundreds of Guantánamo detainees—charged with absolutely nothing—to be brought before a military Combatant Status Review tribunal, before which he confessed last month to being the mastermind of the September 11 attacks. Such prisoners have no right to challenge the charges or purported evidence against them.
Mohammed confessed to 31 terror attacks and plots—from September 11 to plans to assassinate former U.S. presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton as well as the Pope. About the only crime he didnt confess to was the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. Mohammed also said that he and other prisoners had been tortured into making false statements. But all evidence of torture was blacked out of transcripts of Mohammeds testimony, although his interrogators reportedly admired his capacity to have his head submerged in water for over two minutes when most cannot tolerate more than 15 seconds of this simulated death by drowning.
Mohammeds confession to the September 11 attacks was met with widespread derision—and not just by late-night TV comics. This fact speaks volumes about the tattered credibility of the American government and its war on terror. In the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the ruling capitalist parties—Democratic and Republican—eagerly seized on the opportunity to whip up a climate of fear of brown-skinned foreigners, particularly those of Near Eastern descent, and clamor for war. Their purpose was to further the vicious exploitation and oppression which is the lifeblood of the capitalist profit system by convincing the working class that it had a stake in preserving our American way of life.
Thousands of Muslim immigrants were detained; a war was launched against hideously backward and impoverished Afghanistan which remains occupied in the cynical name of Operation Enduring Freedom; preparations were made for the one-sided slaughter of Iraq. Today, U.S. forces are bogged down in the murderous Iraq occupation, while the CIAs rendition of terror suspects to torture chambers around the world and domestic spying operations in the U.S. are widely known. All this combines to further damage the facade of American democracy, at home and abroad. It is to repair that damage and reinforce the powers of the capitalist state that the Democratic Party, and even some Republicans, are chastising the Bush gang. Thus a New York Times (25 March) editorial complained that Guantánamo has profoundly damaged this nations credibility as a champion of justice and human rights.
Frame-ups, spying, infiltration, terror and legally sanctioned murder (otherwise known as the death penalty) have long been part of the everyday workings of government in the U.S., whether under Democratic or Republican administrations. The veneer of democracy is meant to cover the reality of the capitalist state—with its cops, courts, prisons and army—as an apparatus of violence designed to protect capitalist profits and rule against the exploited and the oppressed. This murderous apparatus has been greatly bolstered by the war on terror. But as sinister as the new measures are, what the government is actually able to get away with will ultimately be determined by the level of social struggle.
U.S. imperialisms current difficulties should provide an opening to mobilize the proletariat in struggle against the capitalist rulers and their wars at home and abroad. This perspective requires fighting against the political ties, forged by the union tops and reinforced by the reformist left, that bind the working masses to the Democratic Party.
The Case of Jose Padilla
The Kafkaesque web of the war on terror is epitomized by the ordeal of Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen who was seized at Chicagos OHare airport in May 2002 as an enemy combatant and disappeared into a Navy brig in South Carolina. For three years and eight months, Padilla was held in a nine-by-seven-foot cell whose windows were blacked out and denied access to his attorney, much less visits with his family. The extreme sensory deprivation he underwent was punctuated by blasts of harsh light and loud, pounding noise. He could only leave his cell fully shackled and wearing blinkered goggles and headphones.
Charged with no crime, Jose Padilla was trapped in a legal netherworld. Initially, the government invented the tale that he was part of an Al Qaeda plot to set off a dirty bomb in the U.S. His lawyers succeeded in challenging his detention in a New York federal court in December 2003. The governments contention that that court had no jurisdiction over someone being held in South Carolina was upheld by the Supreme Court the following year. Padillas attorneys then successfully challenged Padillas detention in a South Carolina federal court in February 2005, with the judge ordering that he be charged with a criminal offense or else be released.
The government eventually charged Padilla with vague criminal charges of involvement in a terrorist conspiracy and had him transferred to a Miami jail. The dirty bomb plot was dropped like yesterdays weapons of mass destruction. For one thing, the source for the dirty bomb tale was none other than Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, whom the government dared not have testify. Mohammed has since stated that he falsely implicated several people as a result of his being tortured.
Most recently Padillas attorneys brought psychologists to court to testify that he had been broken under the torture he was subjected to by his interrogators, which included being injected with a truth serum that his lawyers believe was either LSD or PCP (a well-documented CIA and military interrogation technique as an adjunct to sensory deprivation). When his lawyers argued that Padilla was thus incompetent to stand trial, the prosecution countered that the psychologists tests were invalid because they had taken place while Padilla had been handcuffed
by his jailers! The incompetence claim was dismissed, and Padilla will stand trial for terrorist conspiracy, a charge so purposely elastic that the government can fill it with whatever content it conjures up.
As the Spartacist League and Partisan Defense Committee argued in an amici curiae (friends of the court) brief filed on behalf of Padilla in July 2003:
The war against terrorism is a fiction, a political construct, not a military reality. It is a political crusade conducted in the name of ridding society of a perceived evil. It is no more a war in a military sense than war against cancer, war against obesity, or a war against immorality. Like the war against communism and the war against drugs, this war is a pretext to increase the states police powers and repressive apparatus, constricting the democratic rights of the population. The Executives declaration that its war against terrorism forfeits constitutional protections for designated individuals echoes the regimes of shahs and colonels and presidents for life from the Near East to Africa to Latin America, to justify the mass imprisonment and unmarked graves of political dissidents. Like them, the Executive is proclaiming the right to disappear citizens of its choosing.
This has been the fate of hundreds, if not thousands, of foreign terror suspects around the world who have been kidnapped and disappeared, kept in CIA secret prisons where they are subject to enhanced interrogation—the new Orwellian term for old-fashioned torture. The kidnapping and unlawful detention of Jose Padilla exemplify how measures first enacted against non-citizen terror suspects can be expanded to encompass citizens as well. As our amici brief warned in recalling the infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision in which Supreme Court Justice Taney declared that black people had no rights which the white man was bound to respect: If the imperial President is upheld, Padillas detention threatens to become the Dred Scott case of our time, a declaration that: Citizens have no rights that the government is bound to respect. Free Jose Padilla!
Government Terror Network
Last month marked the first time a prisoner at Guantánamo, Australian David Hicks, was brought before a military tribunal, another innovation by the Bush administration in an attempt to get around Geneva Convention rules. Hicks has been caged at Guantánamo for more than five years. At the tribunal, no evidence was presented of his involvement in any purported terror attacks. Two of Hicks lawyers were barred from the proceedings. In the end, Hicks copped a plea of guilty to having provided material support to a terrorist organization.
The deal included Hicks having to repudiate his own accounts of being illegally treated—i.e., tortured—and additionally that he would not file any lawsuits against having been so treated! In exchange, this purported dangerous terrorist was given a nine-month sentence to be served in Australia. It is not difficult to figure out the political arithmetic behind this sentence. Hicks case had ignited an outpouring of hostility against the Bush regime in Australia, where Prime Minister John Howard, a loyal toady of U.S. imperialism, faces elections in a few months. As Hicks father put it: Nine months, a gag order for one year—all overlap the coming elections. Im very suspicious (New York Times, 1 April). No sooner had the Hicks sentence come down when, back in Washington, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by the hundreds of other Guantánamo prisoners that they be granted habeas corpus rights.
The Hicks tribunal elicited the usual howls from bourgeois media and political spokesmen in Europe against Bush. But capitalist governments the world over have whipped up homemade terror scares to augment their own state power. In Britain, the Labour government led by Bush loyalist Tony Blair has unleashed murderous terror against dark-skinned people while repeatedly surrounding predominantly Muslim neighborhoods with cops (see Spartacist League/Britain statement, page 1). In Italy under the popular-front government of Romano Prodi, successor to the right-wing Berlusconi regime, an anti-terrorist witchhunt code-named Operation Sunset has swept up leftist and trade-union militants, with an accompanying media campaign aimed at demonizing the left and labor movement as a breeding ground for terrorism.
An article in CounterPunch (March 17/18) titled The Strange Fruit of Torture—The Confession Backfired captured the political purpose behind the maintenance of the U.S. terror camp at Guantánamo: The US government needs dangerous suspects that it can use to keep Americans in a state of supine fearfulness and as a front behind which to undermine constitutional protections and the Bill of Rights. The September 11 attacks gave the U.S. rulers the pretext to put in place repressive measures that they had long sought. A vast state enterprise has been erected with the aim of nothing less than spying on the whole population of the United States.
The government is amassing a huge pool of personal data with which it can conduct a fishing operation to find terrorist conspirators. The National Security Agency (NSA) continues its collusion with some major telecommunications companies to data mine the phone records of tens of millions of people, executing warrantless wiretaps of phone and Internet communications. In the past three years, the FBI has served some 44,000 national security letters on libraries, phone companies and other businesses demanding the records of anyone deemed to be relevant to an investigation against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities (Wired News, 16 March). Under the 2005 Real ID Act, plans are being finalized to turn drivers licenses into a national identity card integrated into a central federal database.
The number of files maintained under the governments Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) has quadrupled to 435,000 since 2003, with the names of those on watch lists distributed to airlines, cops, border guards and U.S. consulates. Putatively aimed at foreign terror suspects, TIDE has been described as a vacuum cleaner for proven and unproven information. Catherine Stevens, the wife of Alaskas Republican Senator Ted Stevens, was caught in this massive web last year when she was delayed from flying by interrogators who wanted to know if she was Cat Stevens, the British singer and Muslim convert now known as Yusuf Islam who is banned from entering the U.S.
One man on such a list was Maher Arar. A Canadian citizen born in Syria, Arar was detained by U.S. authorities while trying to change planes at JFK. Accused of being a terrorist on the basis of bogus information provided by Canadian authorities, Arar was deported to Syria, where he was held in solitary confinement in a coffin-size cell and tortured for nearly a year before being released back to Canada. Arar recently secured an apology and a settlement of $11.5 million from the Canadian government. But he remains on the State Departments watch list.
In 1969, Black Panther Party (BPP) members Fred Hampton and Mark Clark got a full blast of what it means to be called a terrorist when Chicago cops machine-gunned them to death. Thirty-eight years later, the state has not ceased its vendetta against the Panthers. In January, eight former BPP supporters were rounded up on charges of killing a San Francisco policeman in 1971. In 1973, a New Orleans jail was yesterdays Guantánamo or Abu Ghraib. Three Panthers had plastic bags put tightly on their heads while they were beaten with blackjacks, shocked with electric probes on their genitals; an electric cattle prod was shoved up each mans anus. Two of them confessed. Today these men are smeared in the media as classic domestic terrorists while languishing in prison on charges that were thrown out of court in 1975. Meanwhile, Mumia Abu-Jamal, a Black Panther in his youth and later a supporter of Philadelphia MOVE, remains on death row, falsely convicted of killing a Philly cop in 1981 and sentenced to death specifically for views he expressed as a Panther. Free the San Francisco Eight! Free Mumia! Abolish the racist death penalty!
Labor Must Fight Anti-Terror Repression
In creating a climate of fear and intimidation, the government has sought to accustom the population to the restriction of democratic rights and to massive surveillance, aiming to quash not only social struggle but even the expression of dissent. New York City cops were sent around the world to spy on groups intending to protest the Republican National Convention in 2004. These protests were hardly the storming of the Bastille, but were expressions of Anybody but Bush politics aimed at winning support for Democratic candidate John Kerry. An internal police memo gives a flavor of the kind of subversives the state was hunting. Reporting on a performance of Bands Against Bush, the memo intoned: The mixing of music and political rhetoric indicates sophisticated organizing skills with a specific agenda!
Unable to feed the hungry or provide jobs for the unemployed while vastly increasing their own fabulous wealth; having left hundreds of poor people, overwhelmingly black, to die in New Orleans; ripping immigrant mothers brought here to toil for pennies from their children in la migra raids on factories; leaving mountains of corpses in Iraq and Afghanistan in their drive for world domination—Americas capitalist rulers need their witchhunt as a means to keep those consigned to the bottom of this society in their place. Above all, they must suppress the social power of the multiracial working class, for in its hands lies the potential to end the barbarism of capitalist exploitation through socialist revolution.
Some of the bosses labor lieutenants in the trade-union bureaucracy have gone along with war on terror patriotism and anti-immigrant racism in the name of saving American jobs. Those union officials who have voiced opposition to the crackdown against immigrants have refused to mobilize the power of labor to fight government repression, working instead to replace Bushs Republicans with the Democrats. Such class collaboration undermines the unions, which have themselves been targeted by government terror scares. When the West Coast International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) was locked in a showdown with the shipping bosses in 2002, then-Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge intervened to warn that any strike action would be considered a threat to national security.
Now the government is bringing its anti-terror laws directly to the unions. Plans are being finalized for a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) program under which 750,000 longshoremen, truckers and other port workers must submit to an immigration status review and extensive criminal background check in order to obtain a biometric ID card necessary to maintain their jobs. In a country where millions of minorities have been rounded up and thrown behind bars in the war on drugs, this is a particular threat to further devastate the black population. TWIC is also a prescription for an anti-immigrant dragnet, which will be particularly felt on the docks by the overwhelmingly immigrant, non-unionized port truckers.
In January 2002, the Partisan Defense Committee and Bay Area Labor Black League put out the call for a united-front mobilization against the anti-terror laws and in defense of immigrants. On February 9 of that year, some 300 unionists, immigrants, socialists and youth marched in downtown Oakland behind a banner reading: Anti-Terrorist Laws Target Immigrants, Blacks, Labor—No to the USA-Patriot Act and the Maritime Security Act! Down With the Anti-Immigrant Witchhunt! At the core of the demonstration was a contingent of 30 mainly black ILWU longshore workers. Although modest, this mobilization was an example of the kind of class-struggle fight that is needed to turn the tide in the governments anti-terror assault.
Democrats: The Other Party of U.S. Imperialism
A growing section of the ruling class is alarmed by the demented character of the faith-based denizens of the White House. Among those bourgeois ideologues clamoring for a more rational imperialist policy is Zbigniew Brzezinski, the anti-Communist Dr. Strangelove who served as National Security Advisor to Democratic president Jimmy Carter. In a Washington Post (25 March) opinion piece titled Terrorized by War on Terror—How a Three-Word Mantra Has Undermined America, Brzezinski bemoans the pernicious impact this war has had on American democracy, on Americas psyche and on U.S. standing in the world. He continued: The damage these three words have done—a classic self-inflicted wound—is infinitely greater than any wild dreams entertained by the fanatical perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks when they were plotting against us in distant Afghan caves.
Brzezinski should know. He was the godfather of those very fanatics when they were killing Red Army troops in Afghanistan. The Soviets intervened in 1979 at the request of a modernizing nationalist government whose efforts to bring such progress as literacy and a lowering of the bride price met with an uprising of mullahs, tribal chiefs and warlords. The Soviet troops were fighting an eminently just war against the U.S.-armed mujahedin in which the freedom of Afghan women from conditions of pre-feudal slavery was directly posed, as was the defense of the Soviet degenerated workers states southern border. We said at the time: Hail Red Army in Afghanistan! Extend social gains of the October Revolution to Afghan peoples!
When former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev sold out to the West and ordered the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1988-89, the U.S. stopped funneling billions to their Islamic freedom fighters—whose number included Osama bin Laden. These reactionary cutthroats would shortly turn on their infidel former patrons, enraged in no small part by the maintenance of U.S. military bases in Saudi Arabia.
The real concern of Brzezinski and the Democrats is that the Bush regime is damaging the strategic interests of U.S. imperialism in the Near East and Central Asia. In pushing the Democrats plan to get out of Iraq sometime in the sweet by-and-by, Nancy Pelosi declared: Our bill calls for the redeployment of U.S. troops out of Iraq so that we can focus more fully on the real war on terror, which is in Afghanistan. This is the line of all the Democratic presidential candidates, from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama. We say: U.S. out of Iraq and Afghanistan now! Hands off Iran! U.S. hands off the world!
The Democrats have also expressed some dismay over the NSAs warrantless wiretapping and the FBIs national security letters, with all the credibility of the corrupt cop in Casablanca who announces that he is shocked that there is gambling going on in Ricks café. Government spying is standard fare, carried out under Democrats and Republicans alike. As Gore Vidal noted in the London Guardian (27 April 2002): Though Bushs predecessors have generally had rather higher IQs than his, they, too, assiduously serve the 1% that owns the country while allowing everyone else to drift. Particularly culpable was Bill Clinton. Vidal noted that it was Clinton who set in place the trigger for a police state which his successor is now happily squeezing. For example, Clintons 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act gutted habeas corpus rights for death row prisoners, setting the stage for further erosion of this fundamental democratic right.
The difference between the Democrats and Republicans is not what they do but how they do it. The Republicans make no bones about being the party of big business and grinding the working people, blacks, immigrants and the poor into the ground. The Democrats lie and do the same thing. But these lies are an important facade for the rule of U.S. imperialism. Indeed, with their posture as friends of labor and minorities, the Democrats have generally been the bourgeoisies preferred party of war, better equipped than the Republicans to sell imperialist military adventures as exercises in human rights and democracy.
The Democrats are currently in high dudgeon over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for not being, in the words of one Justice Department official, loyal Bushies. The Senate has overturned the presidents power under the USA-Patriot Act to appoint interim federal prosecutors to indefinite terms without Senate approval. This is the only part of that draconian anti-terror law that the Democrats have reversed. This is for a reason: the Democrats want the powers of the imperial presidency in their hands.
If one is to believe the grossly misnamed Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), the Bush government is a fascist regime, todays incarnation of Hitlers Nazis. The fact is that the administrations assault on democratic rights and its war without end against terrorism have been carried out within the framework of bourgeois democracy. Fascism is a mobilization—not in the offices of government but on the streets—of the crazed petty-bourgeoisie and lumpenproletariat whipped into a frenzy to physically destroy the mass organizations of the working class. To defeat the fascist gangs requires the independent mobilization of labor at the head of all the fascists intended victims. Invoking fascism to describe Bush is the RCPs ticket to selling an alliance with the so-called progressive bourgeoisie—i.e., the Democrats. That the RCP itself doesnt believe its own panicked bleatings is demonstrated by the means it puts forward to fight this fascist regime: calling for Bush to be impeached!
At protests organized to this end by the RCPs World Cant Wait front group, a central chant has been the insipid call, Bush step down. The RCPs call to drive out Bush—echoed in one form or another by the entire reformist left—coincides with the electoral interests of the Democratic Party. Last year, the RCP was promoting none other than Clintons former vice president Al Gore. In an article titled Al Gores Warning (Revolution, 29 January 2006), the RCP proclaimed that a speech by Gore issued some very sobering warnings about where this country is headed. Although allowing that Gore was speaking from within the US imperialist ruling class, the article ends by declaring that his speech should serve as a wake up call to all about just how extreme things have gotten. To paraphrase the old New Left saying, you dont need a weatherman to know which way the wind of this fight the right message blows.
Our brief on behalf of Jose Padilla was rooted in the Marxist understanding that the capitalist state cannot be reformed to serve the interests of the working class and the oppressed. At the same time, as the brief noted, we are tenacious defenders of our own legality and of those democratic rights won through bourgeois revolutions and revolutionary wars—the parliamentary partisans in the English Civil War, the U.S. Revolutionary War, the French Revolution and the American Civil War. Those rights, and others gained through social and class struggle, are eminently reversible under capitalist rule.
While we use every legal means at hand to defend such rights, we put all of our faith in the class struggle of the proletariat mobilized in its own class interests and in opposition to the partner parties of capital. We fight for the revolutionary transformation of this country, a proletarian socialist revolution that will end the savage exploitation and brutal racial oppression of capitalist class rule and the barbarism through which it is enforced. Our purpose is to build the workers party necessary to lead the proletariat in that struggle.