Workers Vanguard No. 901
26 October 2007
Democrats: Partners in Bush's "War on Terror"
U.S. Imperialism's Torture Machine
As it prepares to approve the nomination of Michael Mukasey as Attorney General, the Democratic-led Congress has been putting on a cynical display of concern over the government’s increasing surveillance of the population and its use of torture against “terror suspects.” A big part of the backdrop to Mukasey’s confirmation hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee last week was the revelation by the New York Times (4 October) of secret Justice Department memos authorizing torture. One of those documents, an early 2005 memorandum, explicitly authorized the CIA to use a combination of painful psychological and physical techniques such as simulated drowning (“waterboarding”), potentially fatal head slapping and freezing temperatures. Those memos were the brainchild of Alberto Gonzales, who resigned as attorney general in August.
As a federal judge, Mukasey gave the Feds just about everything they wanted in the “terror” cases that came before him, going back years before the September 11 attacks. During the Judiciary Committee hearings, Mukasey upheld every aspect of the Bush administration’s “anti-terror” policies, from waterboarding to the overall vast expansion of presidential powers. Following a script as predictable as a Gilligan’s Island rerun, a handful of Democrats on the confirmation panel postured as standing up for civil liberties. But the Democratic Party at every level has championed the “war on terror” that has served as a pretext for the murderous occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq and for a war on the rights of us all “at home.”
Even as they whine that government spying exceeds the president’s authority, Congress votes to give him that authority. In responding to earlier revelations of government memos endorsing torture, which further tarnished U.S. imperialism’s image abroad, Congress passed a law giving Bush & Co. a way out by redefining torture. Even when Congress adopted a law in 2005 prohibiting “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment—i.e., nominally upholding the U.S. Constitution—the Justice Department responded by issuing another secret memo declaring all CIA interrogation methods legal. The courts, meanwhile, have given their imprimatur to virtually every repressive measure demanded by the imperial presidency.
To many liberals and reformist leftists, the Democrats’ failure to counter the Bush gang’s repressive policies is a sign of their spinelessness. In fact, the Democratic Party of U.S. imperialism is running to recapture the White House largely on the basis that it is better equipped to prosecute the “war on terror.” In fact, the Bill Clinton administration helped pave the way for the current assault on civil liberties.
In the aftermath of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing by white right-wingers, the Clinton White House enacted the “Omnibus Counterterrorism Act” under which immigrants and all “aliens” could be subjected to star chamber proceedings in secret trials without any charges being presented. The Clinton administration also pushed through the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which greatly expanded the number of crimes punishable by death as part of a general escalation in the use of the racist death penalty. While Bush’s Republicans are openly a party of racist, anti-labor reaction and all-sided bigotry, the Democrats posture as “friends” of workers, black people and immigrants, and end up doing the same thing.
The Feds’ current anti-terrorist database of over 235,000 files is made up of such lists as the FBI’s Violent Gang and Terrorist Organizations File adopted by the Clinton administration in October 1995 ostensibly to crack down on youth gangs. The intended result was an even fiercer reign of racist cop terror against the ghetto and barrio masses. In opposing the anti-immigrant witchhunt following the September 11 attacks, we warned that the massive expansion of police powers would also pose a further threat to black people, working people and the entire populace.
The September 11 attacks gave the capitalist rulers a golden opportunity to ratchet up their repressive powers. But such moves were already well under way, as can be readily gleaned from the latest dust-up over domestic spying by the National Security Agency (NSA) abetted by the telecommunications companies that participated in the wiretapping and “data mining” of customers’ records. Joseph Nacchio, former chief executive of Qwest Communications International, recently revealed that the NSA had approached his company to assist in its wireless surveillance program six months before the September 11 attacks. Believing the program illegal, Nacchio turned them down.
When the NSA program was revealed in December 2005, the Democrats vowed to rein it in. After months of hearings, subpoenas and other posturing, Democratic Congressional leaders let a new law, which gave Bush even greater powers than he had initially sought, sail through committees, putting up virtually no resistance to its passage in August. The Democrats then complained that they had been stampeded into passing the bill, which was to be renewed after six months. Congressional leaders are putting together another bill that not only continues to authorize NSA spying but provides the telecom companies retroactive immunity from lawsuits for their role in assisting the government spying operation. As for Qwest’s Nacchio, his reward for challenging the program’s legality was prosecution for insider trading.
Courts Give Torturers Thumbs Up
Shortly before the start of the Mukasey hearings, on October 9 the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear torture victim Khaled el-Masri’s appeal of a federal appeals court’s dismissal in March of his lawsuit against former CIA director George Tenet. On 31 December 2003, el-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent and the father of six young children, was picked up while on vacation in Macedonia and shipped off to a squalid secret U.S. prison in Afghanistan. There he was held in solitary confinement, interrogated and beaten before being dumped in a remote part of Albania in May 2004, never having been charged with a crime. In tossing out el-Masri’s case, the appeals court subscribed to the government’s assertion of “state secrets,” agreeing that allowing el-Masri to challenge his abduction, imprisonment and torture would jeopardize “national security.”
El-Masri’s case recalls that of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen born in Syria who was detained by U.S. authorities in September 2002 during a stopover in New York on his way back to Canada. Accused of being a terrorist, Arar was deported to Syria under the notorious policy of “extraordinary rendition,” imprisoned there in solitary confinement and tortured for nearly a year before being allowed to return to Canada. After a Canadian judicial inquiry cleared Arar of any “terrorist” links, the Canadian government paid him $10.5 million in January. But last year a federal court in New York City dismissed Arar’s lawsuit against the Bush government demanding compensation and an apology. The court made this ruling on the grounds of “national security,” which was defined as the “negative effect on our relations with Canada”! His appeal is scheduled for November 9.
An article in the London Sunday Times (7 October) by Andrew Sullivan, a onetime Bush supporter who admits that he originally believed the accounts of torture at Guantánamo had been “invented by the far left” or were “part of Al-Qaeda propaganda,” shows how the lineage of U.S. “interrogation” techniques goes back to those used by the Nazis. Titled “Bush’s Torturers Follow Where the Nazis Led,” Sullivan’s article notes that “Verschärfte Vernehmung, enhanced or intensified interrogation, was the exact term innovated by the Gestapo to describe what became known as the ‘third degree.’ It left no marks. It included hypothermia, stress positions and long-time sleep deprivation.”
Commenting on this article, Frank Rich bemoans in his New York Times (14 October) column how “our humanity has been compromised by those who use Gestapo tactics in our war.” What troubles such liberals is the damage of such exposés to the facade of American democracy across the world. For his part, former Democratic president Jimmy Carter intoned: “Our country for the first time in my life time has abandoned the basic principle of human rights” (London Guardian, 11 October).
It was under the banner of “human rights” that the Carter administration began to rearm U.S. imperialism in the late 1970s after its humiliating defeat by the workers and peasants of Vietnam. In doing so, it sought to overcome the population’s deep mistrust of the government and aversion to further military adventures. The target of this buildup was the Soviet Union—a workers state under the rule of a Stalinist bureaucracy—which stood as a military counterweight to U.S. imperialism. Among the beneficiaries of the “human rights” campaign were the mujahedin cutthroats who received billions in CIA money and arms to fight Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan and whose hallmarks included throwing acid in the faces of unveiled women. The veterans of this “holy war” against the Soviet Union include Osama bin Laden, a Frankenstein’s monster who later turned on his U.S. imperialist masters.
As Trotskyists, the International Communist League fought to defend the Soviet degenerated workers state and East European deformed workers states against imperialist attack and domestic counterrevolution. The destruction of the Soviet Union has left American imperialism militarily free to rampage unchecked from Iraq to Afghanistan. The only road to defeating the murderous imperialists for good is through a series of workers revolutions around the world, centrally in the belly of the U.S. imperialist beast.
Torture: As American as Apple Pie
Rich & Co. to the contrary, torture and inhuman brutality are not aberrations in the workings of American “democracy.” As we noted in “U.S. Imperialism’s Torture, Inc.” (WV No. 826, 14 May 2004):
“Capitalist society was born in blood; modern imperialism continues the brutal practices of mass murder, torture and humiliation that accompany exploitation of labor and the ceaseless struggle between competing imperialist forces to dominate the world. From the Belgian Congo killing fields of King Leopold and the massacres in the Philippines by U.S. troops in the early days of its imperialist expansion to the first concentration camps, created by the Spanish in Cuba and a little later used by the British in South Africa in the Boer War, to Japanese imperialist atrocities in China and Nazi Germany’s Holocaust, imperialism has created a world in constant, cruel convulsions.”
U.S. forces employed torture and killings on a mass scale in its counterrevolutionary imperialist wars, from Korea in the 1950s to Vietnam a decade later. The slaughters carried out in Iraq today by both U.S. military forces, their allies and mercenary outfits like Blackwater, along with mass roundups and detention in torture centers like Abu Ghraib, are likewise part of the “democratic” imperialists’ store of counterinsurgency practices. From Afghanistan and Iraq to Guantánamo, we demand: Free the detainees!
Our comrades of the Spartacist League/Britain recently noted in “The Myth of British Imperialism as a Force for Peace” (Workers Hammer, Autumn 2007) that “the British imperialists pride themselves on their mastery of ‘counterinsurgency’ based on the experience of subjugation in their former colonies. This point is not lost on the US imperialists: General David Petraeus, who currently commands US imperialism’s troop ‘surge’ in Iraq, recently published a ‘counterinsurgency’ manual drawing on the example of Malaysia in the 1950s, where the British military crushed an anti-colonial revolt with unspeakable brutality.” The article notes that in the effort to smash the Communist-led insurgency, the British rounded up about half a million mainly ethnic Chinese in concentration camps and carried out wanton massacres of villagers as well as beheadings.
It was no accident that the torturers at Abu Ghraib included former U.S. cops and prison guards. One of them, Specialist Charles Graner Jr., was a guard at Pennsylvania’s notorious SCI Greene prison where America’s foremost black political prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal, is held on death row. As Mumia wrote at the time, “The horrific treatment of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib has its dark precedents in the prisons and police stations across America” (WV No. 826, 14 May 2004). The widespread use of torture by many countries was noted by Henri Alleg, a respected member of the French Communist Party, at a recent rally for Mumia called by the Committee for Social Defense in Paris. The author of the 1958 book La Question, which recounted his imprisonment and torture by the French imperialists during the Algerian War, Alleg declared: “Today, I would say that in some ways it is worse since it is no longer denied that there has been torture. Rather, laws are adopted that consider it normal!” (WV No. 900, 12 October).
The imperialists’ depredations abroad and war on working people, blacks and immigrants at home must be met with the class-struggle mobilization of the proletariat—in the U.S. and internationally. The rulers of this decaying capitalist society are plenty dangerous. But they are also dependent on the labor of the working class for their profits. If mobilized independently of the capitalist parties and at the head of all the oppressed, the proletariat in its millions would be a powerful force in defense of its own interests and of the rights of immigrants, black people and others under attack. This perspective demands the building of a workers party—independent of and opposed to both the Democratic and Republican parties of capital—to lead the struggle to defeat the imperialists through socialist revolution. It is to that task that the Spartacist League is dedicated.