The Only Effective Weapon

Though I don’t consider them true conservatives, the Bush administration and its diminishing cheerleading squad is said to be part of the Right. But there’s not one war issue I can think of in which they can claim to have actually been right.
When I first wrote about the nonexistent Iraqi WMD threat three years before the 2003 invasion and proceeded to do so until “shock and awe” was unleashed, self-identified righties never missed an opportunity to slander me as a dupe – until that assessment was shown to be more precise than the laser-guided bombs with which the “right” is so enthralled.
When the Bush doctrine of preemption and imposed “democracy” was unveiled, I wrote, in opposition to the “right,” about how we would certainly not be welcomed with flowers and gratitude. U.S.-imposed sanctions that killed more than 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of 5 before the invasion, disproportionately in the Sh’ia south, should have exposed Rummy’s prediction as pure propaganda. Strong-on-defense marketing aside, threat-assessment just isn’t this administration’s thang.
And, with the latest National Intelligence Estimate, we find that, yet again, the “right” is wrong. As reported over the weekend, the NIE says the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq has spawned “a new generation of Islamic radicalism,” just as the anti-this-war movement has been saying for several years now.
Still, we get a steady stream of “right” rhetoric about how torture is necessary to save innocent lives in this “new kind of war.” With ill-conceived ticking-bomb scenarios in mind, the Thomas Sowell’s of the world argue that “squeamishness” about torture “is not a sign of higher morality but of irresponsibility in the face of mortal dangers.” What this kind of demented debate reveals is a supreme lack of appreciation for the moral dimensions and dynamics of war. Sure, it sounds all big and bad to talk about the need for manly will power. But in an unconquerable world, morals matters, which is the central insight of nonviolent direct action like the kind that led to regime change in South Africa and twice in the Philippines in the past 20 years alone.
If the masses don’t obey authority, the power of the powerful evaporates. And because people only willingly follow those they think represent The Good, once the masses no longer fear the consequences of disobedience, despots must either concede or commit genocide, having their “pretend goodness” unveiled as a sham. The only empires that have a modicum of hope to survive are the ones with a “higher morality.”
The Geneva Convention “deal” reached by the White House and GOP Senate leaders last week is another sham. “The compromise pretends to save the Geneva Conventions from repeal, but actually repeals much of the law enforcing them. It does not expressly forbid a single brutal practice, including mock-executions by near-drowning (water-boarding), but it does retroactively absolve administration officials of legal responsibility for past war crimes,” constitutional law scholar Christopher Pyle told me last week.
Ever heard of Maher Arar? He’s one of about 100 known “terror suspects” who have been subjected to “extraordinary rendition,” which means arrest and deportation to a foreign country where torture is as common as falafels in Ramallah. Arar – tortured in Syria on our behalf – has finally been released, having been completely exonerated by the O’Connor report. No sorry. No compensation. Just an OK-you’re-free-to-go now.
The Geneva “deal” denies detainees the right to challenge their captivity in court and it permits the use of notoriously unreliable evidence obtained by torture in military tribunals. Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, points out how the war crimes amnesty the president extracted from Senate “rebels” is exactly what Argentina and Chile tried to do in their “dirty wars,” which is illegal under international law – the same international law invoked by the term “unlawful combatants.” Unlawful according to what? International law.
It’s not about being “nice” to terrorists. It’s about not blurring the lines between the good guys and bad guys. It’s about not adding to the new generation of Islamic militants the intelligence community is telling us have been created by this illegal war. Even if you don’t care about what torture does to “terrorists,” do you care about what torture does to us?
Picking and choosing which international law to obey is the surest way to undermine “higher morality” – the only truly effective weapon we have in an unconquerable world.


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