Is the war on terror going to end? Obama says no…

The National Defence Authorisation Act, updated by the Obama administration for 2013, has been signed into law. It provides for the indefinite detention of any person suspected of ‘terrorism’ offences, prohibits the transfer of the remaining Guantanamo Bay detainees from that facility, and allows the US military to detain any person, even US citizens without any recourse to civilian courts and legal access. Obama, the ‘antiwar’ candidate of 2008, has not only continued the Bush-Cheney era ‘war on terror’, he is ensuring that its continuation, its corrosive effect on civil liberties, and the undermining of the already fragile democratic rights, will go on spreading its toxic effect.

The signing of this legislation represents a generalised attack on all civil liberties and basic constitutional practices. While the ‘war on terror’ was begun under the stewardship of Bush and Cheney, the Obama administration has ceaselessly expanded its provisions, and the assault on democratic rights has metamorphosed into an endless array of overseas unmanned drone strikes and targeted assassinations. The wondrous nature of the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) has been the subject of lyrical praise in the corporate media, a media that celebrates the explosion of US military adventures abroad while hailing the creeping police-state measures at home. America’s robot wars, raining missiles and drone strikes in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and other countries, is the logical outcome of a shadowy war that has no definition and with no end in sight. The only guiding principle of the ‘war on terror’ – renamed by Obama ‘overseas contingency operations‘ – is to extend the rule of the financial-corporate elite at the expense of the working people and undermine democratic rights.

The $633 billion dollar budget provided by passing of the National Defence Authorisation Act 2013 will go towards the continuing US occupation of Afghanistan, a country severely mauled by the US-sponsored ‘war on terror’, and its civilians will continue to bear the brunt of the Karzai occupation regime. The Karzai clique, installed and backed by foreign guns and bombs, is rightly regarded as a puppet of its imperialist sponsors. After eleven years, Afghanistan’s population still lives in dire poverty, the rebellion shows no signs of abating, and the US military machine has left its deleterious impact on the country. Afghanistan was the immediate target of the war on terror, and is still suffering under the heavy blows of the US occupation regime.

One prominent feature of the ongoing Afghan war in 2012 has been the increasing number of so-called ‘Green on Blue’ attacks – Afghan army soldiers who turn their guns on their alleged benefactors, the NATO occupation troops. The drone strikes, the daily humiliations of Afghans by US soldiers has understandably fueled resentment of the foreign occupying forces. Even the New York Times, the loyal lapdog of US empire, had to admit a simple truth that is obvious to everyone but the empire’s fervent supporters – people under foreign occupation will inevitably end up despising their occupiers, no matter the best intentions of the foreign troops. Sending US troops crashing and killing into other countries only escalates the anti-American resentment at the policies and murderous result of US foreign policy, a lesson that seems to be lost on the Obama administration. How long will it be before we see similar hatreds and resentments arise in Yemen, where that other democratic ally of the United States – the royalist dictatorship of Saudi Arabia – has joined the US drone war on Yemen by providing its own air force jets in cooperation with US forces.

Outsourcing torture was a policy begun by Bush-Cheney, but refined and extended under Obama. The ‘black sites’ – secret prisons where terrorism suspects were imprisoned and tortured, were established in countries that had friendly relations with the United States, such as Poland, Mubarak-era Egypt and interestingly, Qadhafi’s Libya. Torture became normalised, and it has become an acceptable method of dealing with incarcerated individuals. No less a figure than prominent Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, a vociferous supporter of America’s wars overseas (and Israel), made the case that there are times when torture is regrettably necessary in dealing with terrorism suspects. It was Obama’s own targeted assassination of Osama Bin Laden that opened the way for further impunity for torturers at home and abroad. One quiet achievement of the Obama administration in the last days of 2012 was the five-year extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), an act that continues the ability of the US government to monitor and record the emails and phone calls of any American citizen deemed to be in contact with an officially designated ‘terrorist’ organisation, or having a conversation with a ‘terror’ suspect. This practice has come to be known as ‘warrantless eavesdropping’ because under FISA, a court order from a civilian court to authorise the surveillance is unnecessary.

Obama’s administration has demonstrated its sheer contempt for democratic rights and civil liberties. Anyone deemed an ‘enemy of the state’ can be arrested and detained without due process. These legislative attacks have been accompanied by a cultural change, with the demonisation of Islamic communities, the targeting of the Arab and Muslim ‘other’ which only serves to encourage racist attacks and the vilification of the Islamic world. Having a distinctive, stereotypical cultural enemy is a necessary component to win public support, and undermine the ability of dissenting viewpoints to be heard. Any criticism of the ‘war on terror’ is met with howls of ‘traitor’, and the increasingly Islamophobic political climate stifles opposition to the police-state measures of the US ruling class. However, there are very courageous individuals, such as the Egyptian American pharmacist Tarek Mehanna. Sentenced to 17.5 years jail for a spurious and baseless ‘terrorism’ offence, he has written a very thoughtful and intelligent critique of the US ‘war on terror’ and its militarist adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. While we may disagree with a religious viewpoint, it is Mehanna’s articulate defence, his understanding of the political thought of our times, and his willingness to stand up against injustice are to be commended. His writing demonstrates a deep understanding of the US political and military system, something to which can all aspire.

Read Tarek Mehanna’s full statement here.

Another war criminal bites the dust

In the news today, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that retired US General Norman Schwarzkopf has died. The report goes on to describe his background, and includes lavish praise of the deceased general by his former political masters:

“A distinguished member of that Long Gray Line hailing from West Point, General Norm Schwarzkopf, to me, epitomised the ‘duty, service, country’ creed that has defended our freedom and seen this great nation through our most trying international crises.”

They were the words of former US president George Bush Senior. The media coverage focused extensively on the personal qualities of Schwarzopf, his alleged devotion to freedom, and his crowning achievement, the expulsion of Iraqi troops from Kuwait in 1991. He commanded 540,000 troops in addition to another 200,000 allied forces, so the battle against the Iraqis was particularly one-sided. The long-term Emir of Kuwait was restored to his throne, and his dictatorial regime has continued to accumulate massive wealth while the majority of the labour force are imported from Asian and other countries. Never matter the fact that the al-Sabah ruling clan of Kuwait is among the richest families in the world. All that foreign labour ensures that the wealth remains in the hands of a tiny minority. The al-Sabah family is in good company – its wealth rivals that of the other US allies in the region, the despotic monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Schwarzkopf was credited with ‘restoring pride’ in the American military, having taken a beating after their defeat in Vietnam. He was awarded with a ticker tape parade, promotion, and went on to give lectures about leadership around the world.

The esteemed general was commanding US troops as they pushed Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, along a stretch of road connecting Kuwait with Basra that quickly became known as the ‘highway of death’ in the corporate-controlled media. This is Schwarzkopf’s handiwork for which he should be remembered:

Demolished_vehicles_line_Highway_80_on_18_Apr_1991

American forces attacked and murdered retreating Iraqi forces in February 1991. And this attack was only the latest in the continuous aerial bombardment of the entire country of Iraq, an aerial terror bombing that destroyed the electricity grid, hospitals, communication centres and schools. The aerial bombardment of the country, beginning on January 17 1991, was intended to subdue the entire population of the country. The brutal assault on Iraq, conducted from a safe distance, resulted in 88,000 tonnes of bombs dropped on the country. The intention of such bombing is calculated terror; overwhelm the target country, much like the World War Two-era German blitzkrieg tactic of lightning war. This aerial assault exposed the lie of ‘surgical strikes’, a much-ballyhooed concept promoted by the corporate media to sanitise war for public consumption.

This particular highway was the scene of a ‘turkeyshoot’ in the words of one US soldier, obviously enjoying the mass slaughter of Iraqis as they scrambled out of Kuwait. The corporate media in Australia, oblivious to the casualties, invited the audience to marvel at the power and awesome spectacle of American missiles and guns raining death on their victims. In later years, a number of investigators examined that particular killing was deliberately instigated by US forces, with the long Iraqi columns trapped by US war planes, having taken out the vehicles at the beginning and end of the convoy. A Commission of Inquiry for the International War Crimes Tribunal, found that the victims were not resisting, and that the slaughter was militarily pointless but was done to score political points on the world stage.

Schwarzkopf joins the ranks of other war criminal murderers like Graziani, Franco and Kesselring for the horror and brutality of the mass slaughter they inflicted.

And now for my own sincere thoughts and condolences for this man, I can only recycle the words of the great Italian novelist, Dante Alighieri: Schwarzkopf – burn in hell.

Too big to fail becomes too big to indict

The UK-based British multinational bank HSBC, was investigated by a number of federal authorities over a number of years in the United States. HSBC executives were found guilty of money laundering for Mexican and Colombian drug cartels, and breaking a range of banking laws in the US and elsewhere. HSBC has been ordered to pay a fine of $1.9 billion dollars, and agreed to a deferred prosecution arrangement, whereby the bank agrees to an internal audit and clean up its internal practices over the next twelve months, and the Department of Justice agrees to withhold pressing charges. The fine sounds like a gigantic pile of money, but it does represent five weeks income for the HSBC bank. These kinds of deferred prosecution arrangements are not uncommon, and let the principal culprits of financial fraud off the hook.

HSBC was the place to launder money for the financial elite, and clearly its own anti-money laundering provisions failed to identify and stop fraudulent practices. Relying on the internal auditing procedures of the HSBC to detect and remove corruption is like putting the fox in charge of the hen-house. But what is even more galling about this deal is that the Department of Justice announced it will not prosecuting any of the HSBC executives involved in such widespread embezzlement and corruption. The reason given by Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer is that HSBC is too big to indict. Back in 2008, at the beginning of the capitalist economic crisis, we were informed that the large financial institutions like Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and others were ‘too big to fail’ and thus required the measures collectively known as quantitative easing – meaning pumping billions of taxpayer dollars to prop up the failing banks and financial companies. Now, four years later, when evidence of brazen criminality by the financial elite is uncovered, no-one is to be prosecuted because the bank in question is ‘too big to indict’.

The New York Times article that explored the HSBC scandal explained it this way:

“State and federal authorities decided against indicting HSBC in a money-laundering case over concerns that criminal charges could jeopardize one of the world’s largest banks and ultimately destabilize the global financial system.”

You can find the quote here. So the message is quite clear; there is one set of laws for the poor and downtrodden who are to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and there is another law for the financial mafia at the apex of the social pyramid, whose crimes are too large to prosecute. The Obama administration has consistently shielded top executives and bankers guilty of criminal practices from prosecution. HSBC made money by laundering the profits from the narcotics industry, while the very cartels whose money was laundered are targeted by a ‘war on drugs’. In the United States, a person in possession of illegal drugs can be arrested and prosecuted, and their assets confiscated. However, the largest banks are involved in laundering money from the drug syndicates that are profiting from this illegal and socially destructive trade.

Matt Taibbi explains in his article how the poorest segments of US society are bearing the brunt of the ‘war on drugs’, and they are routinely prosecuted to the fullest extent provided by the American legal system. One such person, Cameron Douglas, arrested for possession, received a sentence of five years gaol. Taibbi goes on to elaborate:

“His jailers kept him in solitary for 23 hours a day for 11 months and denied him visits with family and friends. Although your typical non-violent drug inmate isn’t the white child of a celebrity, he’s usually a minority user who gets far stiffer sentences than rich white kids would for committing the same crimes….”

The message from this sordid episode is quite clear; prosecuting the rich and powerful is too disruptive to the entire financial system, so it is better to let them get away with their crimes. However, those too poor to protect themselves will be subject to the full force of the law. In a capitalist system, we are witnessing a two-tiered system of justice, where in the pursuit of profits, the financial mafia that dominates the capitalist system can reap enormous rewards, even from an industry as lethal and destructive as the narcotics trade. The democratic principle – equality before the law – is  only applicable when the culprits are too weak or powerless to subvert the course of justice. The financial robber barons, whose brazen criminality is laid bare, can afford to escape prosecution. HSBC is not the only bank to engage in such fraudulent practices – Citigroup, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and others all participate in widespread money-laundering. Politicians that pose as ‘law and order’ candidates would do well to learn from this episode – the capitalist barons are a law unto themselves.

This criminal behaviour by the financial barons also raises another disturbing question – why did the financial regulators fail to perform their jobs? Why did not the Federal Reserve, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency investigate these cases of malfeasance and prosecute the individuals responsible? After all, the definition of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is “a US federal agency that serves to charter, regulate and supervise the national banks and the federal branches and agencies of foreign banks.” Is it because there exists a nepotistic and incestuous relationship between the big financial institutions and banking regulatory authorities? Back in August this year, the US Justice Department announced that it would stop investigating and not prosecute any employee of Goldman Sachs despite its financially criminal practices during the height of the 2008 global financial crisis. Just to make sure that everyone knew where it stood, the Obama administration backed up the announcement by stating it had cleared Goldman Sachs of any wrongdoing.

Obama’s consistent protection of banker barons that plunder, deceive and evade responsibility has earned him the title the ‘black Rockefeller’, in the words of Professor Cornel West, a long-term African-American activist and philosopher. Professor West was alluding to the Rockefeller clan, an industrial and banking family that made its fortune in the oil industry, and is currently associated with the banking group of JP Morgan Chase.

In the ancient Roman Empire, an elite class, the aristocracy, composed not only the wealthiest segment of society, but also occupied the most important political positions of the Roman body politic. The patricians, as they came to be known, dominated the electoral process with their considerable financial power, influenced the political decision-making process to pass laws enabling them to make and perpetuate their wealth, removing any obstacles to their ability to plunder and reap privilege. This cesspit of corruption and crime was obvious to the tribunes of the people, and many attempts were made to reform this system, notably by the Gracchi. Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus were brothers and tribunes who confronted the financial aristocracy in their attempts to reform the Roman system, and alleviate the burdens on the lower classes.

The current Augean stable of American finance capitalism is a cesspit of corruption and criminality reminiscent of the Roman empire’s plundering aristocracy. It is time for the vice-like grip of the financial elite on the economic and political system to be broken, by the mass uprising and mobilisation by working class, a continuing indignado movement that holds the minority elite accountable.