Workers Vanguard No. 940

31 July 2009


Down With Obama’s “War on Terror”!

In the lead-up to last year’s presidential election, reformist “socialists” and liberals peddled the lie that an Obama regime would represent some kind of “change.” But joblessness and foreclosures continue to climb, while Obama, a Wall Street Democrat, hands out trillions to the banks; the occupation of Iraq, which has been devastated by the 2003 U.S. invasion, continues apace; the occupation of Afghanistan is being intensified with increasing military operations costing untold numbers of civilian lives (and generating stiffer resistance against the U.S./NATO occupiers); air strikes into Pakistan have slaughtered over 300 people since Obama took office. Meanwhile, the bipartisan “war on terror”—as a pretext for U.S. military actions abroad and the domestic evisceration of civil liberties—has found a more effective implementer in Obama than under the Bush/Cheney gang.

In the wake of the release of Bush administration memos providing grisly details of the torture of detainees—with “methods” such as waterboarding planned and approved at the highest levels—we noted that such horrors were no “aberrations.” They are the conscious policies of capitalist and imperialist regimes that routinely and necessarily use terror and degradation as tools to maintain their power. The Bush regime openly reveled in its barbarity; by putting U.S. imperialism’s grisly acts of torture back behind closed doors, Obama is simply seeking to return to the bourgeois norm while continuing the same policies.

While putting torture back behind closed doors, Obama has been otherwise pursuing the same policies as the Bush administration in the “war on terror.” As we wrote in “U.S. Imperialism: Torture, Repression and War” (WV No. 936, 8 May):

“Obama has been showered with praise for his vow to close the U.S. prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, within a year. But in reality, the Obama administration is simply continuing the Bush regime’s policies under a different name, with the ‘war on terror’ now branded ‘Overseas Contingency Operations.’ Significantly, the Obama administration has endorsed indefinite detention, a hallmark of police-state dictatorships and the centerpiece of Bush’s war on democratic rights. Many of the Guantánamo detainees will not be released—they will be transferred to detention centers in Bagram, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.”

The list goes on. Refusing to release the majority of those detained in Guantánamo, Obama is now faced with turning some of them over to U.S. criminal courts, while others are to be tried by military tribunals—whose purpose is to make sure that nobody brought before them gets off—or held indefinitely without charge. A New York Times (23 July) op-ed piece by Chisun Lee, a reporter for the investigative group ProPublica, noted that in determining the fate of detainees federal courts have been “functioning, in essence, as the country’s national security court.”

These courts have essentially been issuing the judicial branch’s seal of approval for the government’s detention policy. While Obama has faced some setbacks in the courts, overwhelmingly federal judges have been accommodating, including over “protection of national security secrets,” with judges routinely concealing important facts, “sometimes even the very basis for deciding to keep someone locked up.” Moreover, another Times (27 June) article noted that the Obama government is considering “issuing an executive order that would authorize the president to incarcerate some terrorism suspects indefinitely.”

In Afghanistan, the U.S. Bagram air-base prison—where over 600 people are detained—has become synonymous with torture and American imperialist savagery. According to a New York Times article (20 July): “Military personnel who know Bagram and the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, describe the Afghan site as tougher and more spartan. The prisoners have fewer privileges and virtually no access to lawyers or the judicial process. Many are still held communally in big cages.” The article notes that conditions at Bagram and the prisons run by the U.S. puppet regime in Afghanistan are so wretched that the U.S. military is calling for “overhauling” them as “a reaction to worries that abuses and militant recruiting within the prisons are helping to strengthen the Taliban.”

Additionally, there is now the “revelation” of the formation of a secret CIA kill squad. As Alexander Cockburn wrote in CounterPunch (24-26 July): “And regular as the congressmen taken in adultery seeking forgiveness from God and spouse, the CIA rolled out the familiar response that yes, such a program had been mooted, but there had been practical impediments....With these pious denials we enter the Theater of the Absurd.” Indeed, just like torture, assassination is, has always been and will always be the norm for U.S. imperialism.

In 2001, after the passage of the USA Patriot Act, we warned in “‘Anti-Terror’ Laws: Shredding Your Rights” (WV No. 770, 7 December 2001): “The rapidity with which the government rammed through the new laws and executive orders was made possible by the illusion that they were intended for a specific small and vulnerable sector of the population—immigrants from Muslim countries. In the government’s gun sights, however, is just about everyone perceived as an opponent by the capitalist rulers.” The capitalist ruling class is a tiny minority that sits atop a vast population that it exploits and oppresses. The purpose of the panoply of “anti-terror” measures and laws is to strengthen the repressive apparatus of the capitalist state against the working class and oppressed.

In 2003 and 2004 the Spartacist League and Partisan Defense Committee filed amici curiae (friends of the court) briefs against the indefinite detention of Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen who was picked up at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, declared an “enemy combatant,” disappeared into a Navy brig in South Carolina, tortured and then convicted after a show trial in 2007 and sentenced to more than 17 years in prison. In our brief, we warned that the government is seeking to “institutionalize in the American justice system the arbitrary deprivation of rights that are the hallmarks of right-wing dictatorships propped up around the world by U.S. imperialism,” adding: “What the government previously did in secret it can now conduct with the authority of a legal mandate.”

Bush, Cheney & Co. oversaw the atrocity against Padilla. But the chilling case of Youssef Samir Megahed is taking place on Obama’s watch. Megahed, who moved to Florida from Egypt with his family eleven years ago and is a legal U.S. resident, was acquitted in April by a federal jury on charges of transporting explosives during a road trip with a friend who had packed model rocket propellants in the trunk. Three days later, he was arrested again by immigration authorities who are seeking his deportation under the charge that he “is engaged in or is likely to engage in” terrorist activities.

The New York Times (4 June) noted, “Mr. Megahed is at least the third Florida defendant in three years to be brought up on immigration charges after prosecutors failed to win terrorism convictions in federal court.” It further explained that immigration courts “share prosecutorial advantages similar to those found in the controversial military tribunals.” In Megahed’s case, several jurors who acquitted him in the federal court trial are outraged at his retrial, with several signing a statement opposing his detention. His father recently explained that if deported, Megahed, having been accused of “terror” charges in the U.S., could face further imprisonment and even torture in Egypt. His hearing is now scheduled for August 17. Stop the deportation of Youssef Samir Megahed! Free Jose Padilla!

Democratic politicians have repeatedly wrung their hands in indignation over the Bush administration’s torture and detention programs. But this has all the credibility of the corrupt cop in Casablanca who announces that he is “shocked” that there is gambling going on in Rick’s Café. The Democrats have long been staunch supporters of the “war on terror,” voting for (including then-Senator Obama) the USA Patriot Act and other attacks on democratic rights. Democratic Congressmen were up to their necks in helping to set up the Bush government’s torture program. In September 2002, top Republican and Democratic politicians, including current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, were given a “virtual tour” of CIA detention centers that included descriptions of waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation” methods.

As Gore Vidal noted in a London Guardian (27 April 2002) piece: “Though Bush’s 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, Clinton’s 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. With their posture as friends of labor and minorities—and backed to the hilt by the pro-capitalist trade-union bureaucracy—the Democrats have generally been the bourgeoisie’s preferred party of war, better equipped than the Republicans to sell U.S. imperialism’s atrocities as exercises in “human rights” and “democracy.” Break with the Democrats—for a workers party! U.S. out of Iraq and Afghanistan! Hands off Pakistan! Free all the detainees!

The reformist International Socialist Organization (ISO) today bemoans the fact that Obama “is embracing some of the worst abuses carried out by the Bush administration in the name of national security and the ‘war on terror’” (Socialist Worker online, 20 March). These are the same “socialists” who published an editorial the day after Obama’s inauguration titled, “Looking Forward to Change,” and declared that Obama’s election showed that “some of the cruel sins of America’s past were finally being overcome” (Socialist Worker online, 21 January).

Such abject subservience to the class enemy is the hallmark of the fake left. In contrast, we base ourselves upon the lessons of the October 1917 Bolshevik Revolution that smashed the capitalist system and its state, put the proletariat in power and took Russia out of the bloody maw of World War I. The leader of that revolution, V.I. Lenin, took on the reformists of his day in the wake of their capitulation to their “own” bourgeoisies as the first interimperialist war unfolded. He wrote in a 1915 piece, “The Collapse of the Second International”:

“To the class-conscious workers, socialism is a serious conviction, not a convenient screen to conceal petty-bourgeois conciliatory and nationalist-oppositional strivings…. It has long been conceded that, for all the horror and misery they entail, wars bring at least the following more or less important benefit—they ruthlessly reveal, unmask and destroy much that is corrupt, outworn and dead in human institutions. The European war of 1914-15 is doubtlessly beginning to do some good by revealing to the advanced class of the civilised countries what a foul and festering abscess has developed within its parties, and what an unbearably putrid stench comes from some source.”