Friday, December 14, 2007

The Relationship between Torture and Occupation/Dictatorship

By Time for change

Since the economic policy was extremely unpopular among the most numerous sectors of the population, it had to be implemented by force – Truth commission report explaining the use of torture in Brazil in the 1960s and 70s, titled “Torture in Brazil: A Shocking Report on the Pervasive Use of Torture by Brazilian Military Government, 1964-79”

The Bush/Cheney administration presents its use of torture alternatively as the work of “a few bad apples” or as the necessary means to win their “War on Terror”. It is neither. Rather, it is a systematic and widespread policy that is used to achieve imperial domination, with all that that entails.

They have presented our invasion and occupation of Iraq alternatively as the means of defending ourselves against nuclear attack, bringing “freedom and democracy” to the Iraqi people, or as the necessary means to win their “War on Terror”. It is none of those things. Rather it is the imperial domination of a country that posed no threat to us, with the goal of enriching certain U.S. corporations and of achieving geo-strategic dominance in the Middle East.

These things cannot be emphasized too much. What little support there is in our country for Bush/Cheney torture and imperial policies is based largely upon a tragic misunderstanding by the American people of the reasons for and consequences of those policies. Our leaders have created that misunderstanding through its lies (the Bush/Cheney administration) and the utter failure to challenge those lies (the U.S. Congress and news media).

In this post I will review those two things – the Bush/Cheney torture policies and the motives for the occupation of Iraq – and follow that with a discussion of the relationship between them, how that relates to our current situation in Iraq, and what that appears to portend for the future. I’ve previously discussed the Bush/Cheney torture policies and the motives for the occupation of Iraq in other posts, so if you’ve already read those you might want to skip to the section “The relationship between torture and occupation or dictatorship”.

The Bush/Cheney Torture Program

The use of torture by the Bush administration is much more widespread than is commonly realized. In a recent post, titled “The Only Way to Stop the Bush/Cheney Torture Program Is to Cut it out at its Rotten Core”, I discuss in detail the abundant evidence for widespread torture condoned by the Bush/Cheney administration, referencing numerous Bush administration memos, the testimony of eyewitnesses, and evidence put forth by human rights organizations and journalists. Charlie Savage sums up the situation in his recent book, “Takeover – The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy”:

This coercive system of interrogation was put into widespread use following the 9/11 attacks. Eyewitness accounts put it all over – at Guantanamo, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in CIA prisons, and… in a military brig on U.S. soil. There were clearly hundreds and hundreds of U.S. officials employing these techniques in many contexts simultaneously around the globe… and the president had declared that the Geneva Convention did not apply to the war on terrorism.

Furthermore, the problem appears to be far more widespread than most Americans are aware of. Estimates of how many prisoners have disappeared into the Bush administration’s Gulag system cannot be precise because of the secrecy. Estimates have varied from 8,500 to 35,000. An AP story estimated around 14,000:

In the few short years since the first shackled Afghan shuffled off to Guantanamo, the U.S. military has created a global network of overseas prisons, its islands of high security keeping 14,000 detainees beyond the reach of established law.

Colonel Larry Wilkerson, former Chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had put the blame on Dick Cheney for much of the administration’s “torture guidance”, claims that the number of “disappeared” approximates 35,000.

And despite claims to the contrary, there is very good evidence that a large proportion of our tortured prisoners are killed as a result of their torture. For example, a 2005 analysis of 44 autopsies reported by the ACLU, of men who died in our detention facilities, found 21 of the 44 deaths evaluated by autopsy to be homicides:

The American Civil Liberties Union today made public an analysis of new and previously released autopsy and death reports of detainees held in U.S. facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom died while being interrogated. The documents show that detainees were hooded, gagged, strangled, beaten with blunt objects, subjected to sleep deprivation and to hot and cold environmental conditions.

Keep in mind that that study involved only a small fraction of the total number of detainees dying in the largely secret U.S. prison system since September 11, 2001. We will probably never know for sure the full extent of these barbaric homicides.

The purpose of the invasion and occupation of Iraq

The purpose of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq that I discussed in a previous post was based mostly on a book by Antonia Juhasz, “The Bush Agenda – Invading the World One Economy at a Time”. In a nutshell, the invasion provided a great opportunity for many of George Bush’s wealthy supporters to make millions, billions, or tens of billions of dollars from contracts with the U.S. government to assist in the war effort and the reconstruction of Iraq and through access to Iraqi oil and other resources. Iraq also provides a launching site to occupy much of the Middle East, in order to satisfy the Bush administration’s imperial ambitions and acquire access to literally trillions of dollars worth of oil and other resources.

Soon after U.S. forces established military control over Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer III, Bush’s appointee as the administrator of Iraq, quickly put into effect 100 orders which facilitated the recommendations of Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force and plans for the economic transformation of Iraq: All members of the Ba’ath Party and of the Iraqi Army were fired from their jobs without pay, thus putting hundreds of thousands of Iraqis (many who were highly skilled) out of work and paving the way for U.S. corporations to receive billions of dollars in reconstruction contracts; the “Trade Liberalization Policy” provided many benefits to U.S. corporations, devastating Iraq’s businesses and industries in the process; an order for “Prohibited media activity” essentially outlawed any news media criticisms of the Bush administration’s role in Iraq; the Foreign Investment Order provided the legal framework for the invasion of U.S. corporations into Iraq; Americans were placed in numerous key positions; and many other repressive orders were decreed by Bremer, including the granting of criminal and civil immunity for all Americans from Iraq’s pre-existing laws.

Billions of dollars worth of no-bid contracts were provided by the U.S. government for reconstruction and security purposes. But while almost all of this money was awarded to Bush and Cheney cronies, the Iraqis were almost totally excluded from the process. Furthermore, the reconstruction effort was a miserable failure, with electricity, potable water, and sewage services remaining far below pre-war levels. Audits of U.S. taxpayer funds found contract files to be unavailable, incomplete, and unreliable, while $8.8 billion from the Development fund for Iraq were completely unaccounted for. Yet none of this interfered with U.S. corporations receiving the full amounts of their contracts plus much more.

As for U.S. oil companies, Production Sharing Agreements were put in place to ensure their access to Iraq’s oil, their profits have skyrocketed since the occupation began, and the Bush administration remains hard at work to ensure that their access to oil increases and becomes permanent.

The relationship between torture and occupation or dictatorship

Naomi Klein, in her new book, “The Shock Doctrine – The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”, provides a vivid and clear explanation for the relationship between torture and occupation or dictatorship. In the early chapters of her book she provides examples from the 1960s and 70s, involving Indonesia and several South American countries, including Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay.

The common sequence of events for all of those examples was economic policies that were moving towards improving opportunities for the poorer segments of the population, followed by a military coup and the replacement of the leftist trend in economic policies with polices that served to enrich the wealthy at the expense of the poor and middle class. I won’t go into the details of those policies except to note that they were subsumed under the banner of “free trade” or laissez-faire economics, they are often required by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as a condition of loans to developing countries, and yet governments in developing countries are hesitant to use them because they are so unpopular with the great majority of people.

Klein explains the common sense relationship between torture and the imposition of these economic policies:

Torture is not particularly complicated or mysterious…. A tool of the crudest kind of coercion, it crops up with great predictability whenever a local despot or a foreign occupier lacks the consent needed to rule. (Several examples are provided including the U.S. in Afghanistan and Iraq)… Torture is an indicator species of a regime that is engaged in a deeply anti-democratic project, even if that regime happens to have come to power through elections.

She explains the reason why torture is required and used in these situations:

As a means of extracting information during interrogations, torture is notoriously unreliable, but as a means of terrorizing and controlling populations, nothing is quite as effective… There are no “abuses” or “excesses” here, simply an all-pervasive system… There is no humane way to rule people against their will. There are two choices: accept occupation and all the methods required for its enforcement, or else you reject, not merely certain specific practices, but the greater aim which sanctions them… Just as there is no kind, gentle way to occupy people against their determined will, there is no peaceful way to take away from millions of citizens what they need to live with dignity… Robbery, whether of land or a way of life, requires force or at least its credible threat; it’s why thieves carry guns, and often use them.

How this relates to our current situation

The above discussion could not be more relevant to our current situation in Iraq. Klein makes this point crystal clear at the end of chapter 5:

These days we are once again living in an era of corporatist massacres, with countries suffering tremendous military violence alongside organized attempts to remake them into model “free market” economies; disappearances and torture are back with a vengeance. And once again, the goals of building free-markets, and the need for such brutality are treated as entirely unrelated.

Though there is much to criticize about our current Congress, as least they reject torture. They fought long and hard against the Bush administration with regard to the use of torture, as they enacted the Military Commissions Act. In the end, though they desecrated many parts of our Constitution by passing that Act, at least they included in it an absolute ban against torture, by a vote of 90-9 in the Senate (Though Bush nullified the torture ban with a “signing statement”.)

Though many Congresspersons talk about the need to end the Iraq War, and most appear to be in favor of at least some sort of plan to end it, the urgency of ending the war is minimized by the prevalent attitude that the occupation of Iraq is basically a sound idea just hasn’t worked out well. It is that kind of attitude that enables the Bush administration to use minor signs of “progress”, such as a slight decrease in the monthly death toll of American soldiers, as a rationale for continuing the occupation.

What urgently needs to be recognized and admitted publicly is that the occupation of Iraq is NOT a basically sound idea. Iraq poses no threat to us now, just as it posed no threat to us when we invaded it. We are not bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq. And our occupation of Iraq is not helping in our “War on Terror” – to the contrary, it is impairing it by encouraging the development of ever more intense anti-American feeling throughout the world.

Our occupation of Iraq desperately needs to be recognized for the imperialist adventure that it is: It is a brutal occupation, against the will of the Iraqi people, and therefore it can be maintained only with continued violent repression of the Iraqi people. The results speak for themselves: torture; approximately a million dead (mostly civilians); and more than four million refugees. Once our occupation of Iraq is recognized and admitted for what it is, there can no longer be any excuse for a civilized nation to continue that occupation.

Implications for our future

It must be noted that the Bush/Cheney administration torture policies are not by any means confined to Iraq. They are in fact used all over the world in its conduct of our “War on terror. So we should ask ourselves: If torture of Iraqis is used to force them to acquiesce to our occupation of their country, then why do we torture other Muslims throughout the world? Clearly, the answer is that the imperial ambitions of our “leaders” extend way beyond Iraq.

We already know that to be the case, of course, with regard to Iran, as evidenced by all the saber-rattling aimed at that country. Also, the PNAC document “Rebuilding America’s Defenses”, written and signed by so many high level Neoconservatives in the Bush/Cheney administration, spells out their intentions clearly. After saying that we must “deter the rise of a new great-power competitor”, the document explains that the way we should do that is by “deterring or, when needed, by compelling regional foes to act in ways that protect American interests and principles.”

It is tempting to believe that the election of a Democratic President in 2008, if an election actually takes place, will put an end to these imperialist plans. But I’m not so sure. Though I have no doubt that any Democratic nominee will be far better than the Republican nominee, the two Democratic front runners in particular have consistently striven to appear “centrist” on the issue of the Iraq occupation, and in so doing they have utterly failed to characterize our imperialist occupation of Iraq for what it is. Consequently, I have serious concerns about their commitment to end that occupation if they are elected President. And for the same reason, I also have serious concerns about their commitment to reversing the wider imperialist plans of the current administration, which could well result in the destruction of our country and of our world if followed through to their conclusion.

Posted in full with author's permission.

Originally posted at democraticunderground:

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