Hypocrisy in the war on terror

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)

It is interesting how the US media is always shocked, just shocked, when they see people in other countries seem to be oblivious to the abomination of torture. A recent French TV show essentially repeated the famous Stanley Milgram experiment which found that ordinary people were often willing to obey instructions to inflict torture on other people. The French show found a similar result, the difference being that in the Milgram experiment, 62% of people obeyed despicable orders while it was 80% in the latest incarnation.

The Game of Death has all the trappings of a traditional TV quiz show, with a roaring crowd chanting “punishment” and a glamorous hostess urging the players on.

Christophe Nick, the maker of the documentary, said they were “amazed” that so many participants obeyed the sadistic orders of the game show presenter.

“They are not equipped to disobey,” he told AFP.

US commentators wondered what might be wrong in the French psyche that enabled the contestants to inflict such pain of people. They were either oblivious about the Milgram precedent or to the fact that the US government routinely practices torture and that the hit show 24 is one that unashamedly promotes torture.

While Obama has claimed for himself the kingly power to order the death of anyone whom he thinks deserves it, other fans of authoritarian rule are now seeking to enshrine some of those powers into law. John McCain and Joe Lieberman have introduced the Enemy Belligerent Interrogation, Detention and Prosecution Act that “would empower the U.S. military to arrest anyone, U.S. citizen or otherwise, who is suspected of terrorist associations and detain them indefinitely, without right to a trial.” If the captured person is deemed to be an “unprivileged enemy belligerent”, that person would be denied all rights, including Miranda rights and the rights to a lawyer. That person would then be placed in the custody of a “high-value detainee interrogation group”, which is a euphemism for people trained in the art of torture. “If there is any disagreement about a person’s unprivileged enemy belligerent according to the above criteria, the final determination goes to the President. Once determined to be an unprivileged enemy belligerent, a person, regardless of citizenship status, can be detained indefinitely, without trial, until terrorist threats against the U.S are determined to be over.”

This law hasn’t been passed yet but can we doubt that it will be, given the mood of the country? Glenn Greenwald comments:

Meanwhile, the bill recently introduced by Joe Lieberman and John McCain — the so-called “Enemy Belligerent Interrogation, Detention and Prosecution Act” — now has 9 co-sponsors, including the newly elected Scott Brown. It’s probably the single most extremist, tyrannical and dangerous bill introduced in the Senate in the last several decades, far beyond the horrific, habeas-abolishing Military Commissions Act… It’s basically a bill designed to formally authorize what the Bush administration did to American citizen Jose Padilla — arrest him on U.S. soil and imprison him for years in military custody with no charges.

This bill has produced barely a ripple of controversy, its two main sponsors will continue to be treated as Serious Centrists and feted on Sunday shows, and it’s hard to imagine any real resistance to its passage. Isn’t it shocking how easily led and authoritarian the French are? (my italics)

The hypocrisy of the US policy against terrorists is nowhere better illustrated than in the case of Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban-born exile who worked for the CIA.

There’s ample evidence Posada tried to assassinate a world leader, hatched a plot that killed scores, and dismembered a tourist in a hotel bombing. Yet he is not being tried for any of those offenses, because the government botched the case and shredded critical evidence. In the end, Posada is being accused of lying to authorities, a slap on the hand that would outrage the nation if he were, for instance, an Arab. But he’s Cuban, and that makes all the difference.

[W]ith the help of millions of American tax dollars, Posada began a bloody, half-century-long campaign against the Castro government. He set off pencil bombs in the island’s capital and coordinated the 1961 Bay of Pigs attack from Central America. After the invasion failed, he was among exiles who attended an elite Army academy in Georgia; he graduated two years later as a spy and lieutenant.

He then tried to kill Castro using a gun disguised as a camera and plastic explosives stuffed into a Prell shampoo bottle. In 1976, he masterminded the downing of Cubana Flight 455 with 73 people onboard. Six years later, pressured by the United States, a Venezuelan court cleared him; then it bizarrely changed course and decided on a retrial. But the wily spy bribed guards, escaped, and two decades later bombed Havana hotels, causing millions of dollars in damage and killing an Italian tourist.

[T]he FBI, which spent millions of dollars over several decades probing Posada’s spy work, inexplicably shredded most of its evidence. What’s more, the Reagan administration hired Posada as part of the Iran-Contra scandal.

U.S. pressure has even had an effect abroad. A Panamanian court convicted Posada of plotting to kill Castro during an Ibero-American Summit. Then, in 2004, President Mireya Moscoso pardoned Posada. (my italics)

The US has grandly said that any country that harbors terrorists should expect to be treated like a terrorist nation and be subject to all the consequences that ensue. Indeed this is the claimed basis for many of the assassinations that the US has conducted in foreign countries. And yet the US has long provided refuge to Posada, who has actually been convicted of terrorist acts.

Cuba has as much reason, if not more, to kill Posada as the US has to target the people it has killed. But imagine if the Cuban government sent in drones to kill Posada in the US. Even if in the process they did not kill ordinary American civilians the way that American assassination attempts in other countries often do, there would be such outrage and condemnations that Cuba would be invaded within days.

And yet, when the US does exactly the same thing to others, it goes unnoticed.

POST SCRIPT: Jon Stewart vs. Bernie Goldberg and Fox News

I don’t know why people try to take on Stewart. Even an average stand-up comedian can rip apart smart and reasonable people and make them look stupid because they are good with words and can think on their feet. Stewart is not only well above average, he even has a talented team of writers at his disposal and his own show. He is always going to have the last word and you are always going to lose. Goldberg seems to be too dense to understand this and keeps getting mauled.

The clip is worth watching to the end just to see Stewart do a great impersonation of a gospel church preacher, followed by a Groucho Marx dance routine.

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