Wednesday, November 23, 2005

UK gags paper over Aljazeera memo

Wednesday 23 November 2005, 12:01 Makka Time, 9:01 GMT

"Britain's Daily Mirror newspaper has been ordered to cease publishing further details from an allegedly top secret memo revealing that US President George Bush wanted to bomb Aljazeera."

JOHN PILGER: I'm not at all surprised. I'm sure no one is surprised. I'm sure Al Jazeera isn’t surprised. After all ... the Americans clearly targeted Al Jazeera in Kabul and in Baghdad, killing one Al Jazeera journalist. They had been threatening Al Jazeera. It's part of U.S. policy to target the media. They – during the attack on Serbia in 1999, they targeted the headquarters of Yugoslav Broadcasting. The numbers of journalists who have been killed by American troops is higher than any time in the modern period. The media is terribly important to this whole disaster, and getting Al Jazeera, which has done an extraordinary job of bringing to millions of people, who otherwise would not have been informed about their own part of the world, bringing to them facts and information is very threatening to the United States and to Bush.

(Democracy Now!)

no comment

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

we have ways

as a free-loading carnivore, I've occasionally wondered if I could butcher a large animal. in my careless youth, I used to shoot pigeons and hares and prepare them for the table without overmuch squeam, I've never found gutting fish a problem, and I have been known to wring the occasional chicken’s neck, but I strongly suspect, if push ever came to shove, that I'd wimp out at the prospect of poleaxing a cow and cutting its throat. meat, after all, comes in convenient cellophane-wrapped antiseptic white trays off the coolshelf at Tescos.

how much harder must it be, then, to kill a man.

and how very much harder, by several orders of magnitude, to keep a man alive, but in terrible pain, whilst continuing to apply more pain.

since Terror declared war on us (or was that the other way round?) there has been a silent 180° shift in the western Zeitgeist on the use of torture.

by the late 'nineties, thanks to the persistent lobbying of such organisations as Amnesty International, the process of naming and shaming governments with a track record of human rights abuses was well under way, and in some cases, the act of exposure was instrumental in effecting change - particularly amongst those smaller nations who were looking to boost their economies through trade or tourism tie-ins with us richer.

the very phrase - 'human rights' - had become integrated into the commonly-held perception of proper governance: a turn of the century government without a human rights manifesto was a bad government. we had loudly denounced apartheid in South Africa, and the totalitarian injustices of the USSR, and something profoundly significant had taken place in the collective Western psyche when Nelson Mandela was finally released from Robben Island, and the Berlin Wall came crashing down. by the year 1990 that wafer-thin veneer of civilising behaviours that restrains the worst in men and encourages the best had seemed to have acquired an extra layer.

moral decency, however, is not something that automatically replaces the removal of a culture of injustice and autocracy: so-called natural justice is defined by the system of authority that sustains it and that it, in turn, sustains, and, in the absence of any serious attempts at impartial assistance by the onlooking world, the reinvention of a blemish-free authorial oversight on the future development of these two exemplary recruits to the human-rights-implementing club was always going to be hijacked - either openly, in the case of the Russian mafia, or less openly, in the case of the South African political cadres and élites - by naked greed and corruption, since this is how things work in the so-called free markets.

the phrase 'human rights' continued to be the buzz-word of the next decade or so in the service of the advancement of democracy - flurries of outrage at such perceived atrocities as the Tiananmen Square and Srebrenica massacres - but then something happened, and, almost overnight, human rights were suspended, on the grounds that, because the human rights of 2,000 innocent American citizens had been most horrendously violated, those of all of the citizens of that formerly unmapped but now loudly demonised nation of Terror - upon whom 'we' now were obliged to wage endless war or risk being counted amongst their number - were, by analogy with that brutal Roman trick of decimation, henceforth to be suspended in perpetuity.

so now we inhabit a world in which, although 'human rights' continues to be used as a totemic stick with which to persuade compliance from various erring nations, there is the global understanding that the phrase is tending to the meaningless - that non-American, non-compliant humans have no rights under the pax Americana other than the right to go fuck themselves and die.

inevitably, one of the progressive notions that helped arm the vanguard of those heady days of the 'eighties and early 'nineties - the days of velvet revolutions and truth and reconciliation hearings - that is, the notion that torture was fundamentally wrong, and something that was incompatible with evolved humanity - was one of the first to be displaced in the heady days of post-9/11, when we were subject to a relentless blizzard of information to the effect that the citizens of Terror were utterly unscrupulous in their desire to destroy western civilisation, fanatical to the point of impossible intransigence, scattered into well-organised sleeper cells in every suburb of every town, and cunningly disguised as our next-door neighbours - ordinary students and shopkeepers - although mostly Middle Eastern-looking and Muslim. furthermore, we were told, on the best advice of the 'security forces' (that unsleeping band of invisible heroes upon whose vigilance we depend for our safety) that the definitive defence against these people was offence - to suspend the civil and human rights of all suspects at home, and to search out and destroy the suspected redoubts of their leaders - in Afghanistan and Iraq, for starters - abroad.

and to overlook the faked evidence for justifying this action.

and then to overlook the fact that - in the pulverised rubble that is now Afghanistan and Iraq - those supposed redoubts remain undiscovered and undestroyed.

a more inept strategy is difficult to imagine, unless the whole point of the exercise (aside from the obvious oil-related ones) has been to provoke and inflame the anger and hatred of the radical Muslim world to the point that jihad is multilaterally endorsed and America finally gets the excuse to finish off what Richard the Lionheart botched: The Crusades - The Endgame.

torture, of course, in such a context, is seldom about 'extracting' information: when Guy Fawkes was put on the rack, everyone present already knew the names of his co-conspirators. the reason he had to have all his limbs dislocated (he lasted half-an-hour, to his credit) was to persuade him to formally incriminate them and to sign the confession.

in the heat of an emergency, when one man is absolutely certain that his captive possesses the information which would, with certainty, preserve the lives of a group of innocent people - or the life, indeed, of only one innocent person - there's a strong argument for permitting that man to hurt the other until he releases that information. unfortunately, the historical record on such certainties is tenuous, to say the least. certainly, far more men and women have been tortured to death protesting their (genuine) ignorance of the information demanded than have been able to supply it. equally certainly, millions of men and women have themselves been falsely incriminated by the tortured person's earning a moment's respite from his or her interrogation by agreeing to his interrogator's suggestions about names and places. one of the reasons why so many innocent women were tortured and killed during the sixteenth-and seventeenth century European witch-hunts was that everyone interrogated was assumed to be part of a conspiracy, and was therefore required to supply the names of his or her companions before being allowed to die.

torture, far more frequently, is employed simply as an instrument of repression. as long as the sources of 'intelligence' are secure - that is, classified for the eyes of the authorities alone and exempt from any other form of civil scrutiny or verifiability – the information it purports to supply can be as fictitious as suits the authorial agenda. if a secret police force says there is a terrorist cell operating out of such-and-such a mosque in such-and-such a town, then there is - and if that secret police force is handed the power to identify and arrest the leaders of that cell, then they will - and if they then choose to hold those suspects indefinitely, without trial, in secret locations, in foreign countries, and to subject them to ongoing indignities and abuse - to torture them, in other words - then they can and will do so - with total impunity.

the idea of a secret police system maintaining a climate of low-grade but permanent state-endorsed terror as a tool of social control is a fairly recent emergent on the global political stage - the Spanish Catholic Inquisition, of course, was the model for everything that followed, with Metternich adapting it to a secular model around Congress of Vienna time, and various subtle and not-so-subtle refinements evolving from the Tsarist Okhrana to the Israeli Mossad via the Iranian VEVAK and Pinochet's DINA - but somehow we have been persuaded that it is a good and necessary thing. indeed, the persuasions have been so effective that the fact that George Bush Senior was former head of the CIA attracted little remark, either ironic or stigmatic, and the fact that Vladimir Putin, the current Russian President, was a former career officer in the KGB has been spun as a kind of charismatic footnote - à la James Bond - to his CV. if either man has any sense of historical continuity (let alone irony), they must surely be aware that the most infamous predecessors in their trade were Reinhard Heydrich, Heinrich Müller, and Adolf Eichmann, joint heads of the Nazi Gestapo. but somehow we have been persuaded that such comparisons are absurd, for the usual historical reasons that terrorists who emerge on the winning side are always redefined as freedom fighters in the winners' versions of history.

however, when an albeit compliant public, forever reluctant to accept extreme constraints, needs somehow to be persuaded that, in certain extreme circumstances, the application of a 10,000 volt current to another human's anatomy for no other purpose than to cause them indescribable suffering (we've already covered the pointlessness of pretending to 'extract' information) is a good and necessary thing, where, in what arena, might this mighty act of persuasion take place? where to look when the Zeitgeist needs a tiny helpful tweak? where else than television?

during the two years subsequent to 9/11, the spectacle of two noble CIA mavericks (one male, the other female) embracing (with the utmost reluctance) the painful (sorry) necessity of using torture in pursuit of their mission to rid the world of evil became the leitmotif of two of the highest-rated TV spy thrillers ever. whether consciously or not (not, most likely - such things are the stuff of a conspiracy theorists wet dream but usually turn out to be coincidences – as long as you believe in coincidences ... but that's another issue) the scriptwriters on 24 and Alias must, between them, assume the lion's share of responsibility for such modification of the collective unconscious as was required, during that dark period, in order to persuade us of the necessity of using real torture in the real world to rid it of real evil.

prior to the screening of these series, torture, when it was employed on-screen, was always the prerogative of the bad guy. its use epitomised the stuff of evil which we were dedicated to overcoming. James Bond will bribe, threaten, and pummel, but would never stoop to cold-blooded torture. however, thanks to a set of gratuitous story-lines that managed both to pay lip service to and then hastily dismiss the small matter of debate about the ethics of its use, both series plunged, with a dismaying rapidity, into a very smorgasbord of torture, with the only difference between the goodies and the baddies being that the goodies did it with stone faces, reluctantly. it became so in-your-face as to be laughable, god help us. and there you have it - already it's normal, routine – there's even torture by the good guys in Lost (written by the same guy, incidentally, as Alias).

this transcends the old chestnut about whether TV violence is responsible for social violence – this is about normalising something which is unacceptable, and about marginalising and trivialising that most important of the civil duties – the obligation to say stop when the authorities exceed their authority. why should the government bother about justifying its illegal behaviour when the TV is doing a perfectly fine job of doing it in its stead?

shame on them, that poxy crew of theatrical reactionaries, shame on Kiefer and Jennifer for taking their tainted shilling and running, and double shame on Jennifer for lending her screen persona to a (real) recruiting commercial for the (real) CIA. but there it is. actors - sweet things - what can you say? they need to feed their families like everyone else. it's just a job, being a torturer actor. great TV, though. wouldn't have missed it for the world. I buy my meat at the supermarket, after all.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Q: what connects the us defence secretary and bird flu?

A: $ $ $
and yet more $

so is anyone remotely surprised?

(thanks to xymphora)