Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Kinder Face of Tyranny


During this Christmas break, I have had some time to spend with family and pedaling around Deming. There have been gifts to wrap. Lines to learn for this play I'm rehearsing. We are cleaning house for a Christmas eve party, and for the first overnight guest in our new home. And, here and there, some reading.

The Torturer in the Mirror (2010, Seven Stories Press) is a little book consisting of three essays about United States torture programs. For such a small book, it is an exhausting read, because it reveals our national shame. The authors are Haifa Zangana, an Iraqi dissident who was imprisoned and tortured by Saddam's regime at Qasr al-Nihaya, and who is still suffering psychological effects 40 years later; Ramsey Clark, former United States Attorney General under President Johnson; and Thomas Ehrlich Reifer, a sociologist. Each contributes one essay on the ramifications of torture and state secrecy; each reveal the painful contradiction of a nation that promotes human rights and democracy while conducting torture on human beings and covering it up.

And Zangana may yet be going too easy on us. She concludes that "Americans have to stop seeing their way of life as the only one to fit all," as if our illegal occupation and subsequent atrocities have something to do with exporting an American lifestyle to Iraq, including the good things. There is no indication that this is the case. Our illegal occupation and subsequent atrocities are part of maintaing a certain lifestyle for us, not the Iraqis. The groupthink that views other nations and their people as wilderness to be controlled for our own interests is something we must topple if humanity is ever to face the roots of war, terrorism, and our ecological emergency. As a nation that presumes to stand for human rights and democracy, we must resolve the contradiction: the institutions of American power do not, in their actions, uphold these values.

Sadly, it appears that the most pernicious features of the Bush government have been maintained and even expanded under the new administration. We must now refer to the "Bush-Obama" era of state secrecy, domestic spying, and legal cover for war criminals.

Granted, Obama is a more attractive potentate than Bush. He has signed some popular domestic legislation and endured quite a bit of flack from the opposition party for his efforts. Hooray for the middle-class tax cut. Hooray for some reforms in the delivery of health care. Hooray for abolishing discrimination against homosexuals in the military. To be sure, some of us are getting a fairer shake now thanks to some of Obama's domestic politics.

This does not change the fact that he and his administration are also working very hard to criminalize investigative journalism, are spying on United Nations officials and diplomats, have refused to hold up our commitment to the United Nations Convention Against Torture, have actively interfered in the judiciary of other sovereign nations, are authorizing widespread surveillance of the communications of citizens who are not implicated in any wrongdoing, and are shielding Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and the so-called "torture lawyers" from any accountability for their clearly evident war crimes.

Obama is the kinder face of tyranny.

And most of us, including some of you reading this blog, have learned not to talk about it.

I am most grateful to these authors for continuing to talk about it. Had I learned of this book earlier, I'd be sorely tempted to make it a stocking-stuffer for every thoughtful citizen of this republic.

1 comment:

Adam said...

This is a great post here Algernon. I hate to say "I told ya so" (not to you specifically) but this is something that I had been saying since before the election. "meet the new boss, same as the old boss" type of sentiments. I remained hopeful that I would be wrong, I wanted to be wrong. I wanted the enitre shame of the past 8 years to get wiped away, but it never happened. It (mostly) just continued on. My first clue that this was a doomed presidency (from someone of my political leanings) was when he appointed Tim Geithner.

But since Obama isn't an oil-drilling red-neck, it isn't as easy for some to criticise.

On the other hand, this has gone on for so long it has become institutionalized, so to blame it on one president or congress seems a little bit silly or maybe misdirected (though they still bear their own responsibility).

Obama is the kinder face of tyranny. But cutting off the head won't result in the kind of result one would usually find. This body of tyranny is more like a hydra, something we'd have to stab in the heart if we ever hope to effect real "change".

But how the fuck do we do that realistically? Is there any hope?