* Thanks, guys.
If anybody had a notion,
Across the USA,
To tie scum like Dick Cheney,
Down to a board and say:
"We're going to pour some water
Down your throat 'till you die";
I think I'd laugh 'till I cried;
Let's review, shall we? So far, the "Change You Can Believe In" dude has re-imposed duties on our softwood lumber, after we committed the unpardonable sin of offering it to American consumers more cheaply than their spoiled, candy-assed domestic industry cares to.
He has refused to remove Maher Arar from the U.S. no-fly list, presumably because Arar's exoneration by way of the conclusive findings of Canada's security services and a comprehensive House inquiry was the unholy work of Al-Qaeda front organisations.
Now, he's decided to offer a blanket amnesty to any and all U.S. national security personnel who tortured detainees during the Bush II phase of the "Global War On Terror" (or "GWOT", as it was called until Obama officially scrapped that preposterous catch-phrase; actually, I prefer George Grant's term, "orgasm at home and napalm abroad,"* as a ready-made phrase for America's current cultural disposition--not GWOT, but OAHANA).
So, are Canadians done with the degrading infatuation with this man that was so humiliating for those of us in the sane community to witness, or will Obama have to turn into a werewolf on live television before we get the message? Is this act of glibly pardoning torturers and killers proof enough of the man's moral vacancy? I say "killers", for we need to recall that, as of 2005 (when the Americans were still counting), one hundred and eight "terrorist" detainees had died violently in U.S. custody. Given that the former commander of Abu Ghraib once estimated that, shockingly, 90% of her inmates were innocent, one needs to assume that most of those dead were guilty of absolutely nothing--they were murdered, in effect.
In a way all too depressingly typical of our urge to privilege tactics over ethics, Obama is being congratulated for expertly negotiating the fine line between his new administration's need to exorcise the past and America's need to retain its messianic morale: he's releasing the notorious "torture memos" in order to provide transparency (so the narrative goes), yet he's ensuring that the operatives who executed what the memos mandated (in "good faith", of course) remain legally protected. Meanwhile, although Obama claims to be open to the possibility of prosecuting the men who actually wrote the memos, he knows very well that a Bush-era act of Congress ties his hands: his predecessors have already pardoned themselves. They self-Forded.
Unbelievably, Obama's latest mendacities are being hailed as a healthy "reckoning". If I were an American national security official, I would simply reckon that I need not fear being held accountable for anything I may do, as Obama considers me absolutely beyond prosecution: I'm safe as long as I'm taking orders. If the orders are vile, that's not my problem. We found this argument odious at Nuremberg; it's coming in bloody handy for our "best friends" now.
The facts are clear: through these memos, the responsible arm of the U.S. Department of Justice (the Office of Legal Counsel) allowed Americans to behave according to a definition of "torture" totally outside international norms and in violation of the Geneva and Hague protocols. The Nietzschean Superman allowed itself to effectively re-define those international norms. When a Western nation's high judiciary removes itself from the spiritual legal college of the international community, we need to worry; it bodes ill. When the chief executive of such a nation finds the removal pardonable, it bodes very ill.
Those who wish to peer into the moral worlds of the men who authored those repugnant memos may wish to consider the case of John Yoo, the brilliant former U.S. Attorney General official and advisor to G.W. Bush who acted as the éminence grise behind most of the key torture memos. Yoo once debated Notre Dame law professor Doug Cassel on human rights issues. They had a notorious exchange:
Cassel: "If the president deems that he's got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person's child, there is no law that can stop him?"
Yoo: "No treaty".
Cassel: "Also no law by Congress -- that is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo...".
Yoo: "I think it depends on why the President thinks he needs to do that".
Thus, on the question of whether it is legitimate to crush the testicles of a child in order to get information, Yoo says "it depends": sometimes, one needs to be an unconscionable savage. After all, we're protecting civilisation here--protecting it from violent, unscrupulous people.
Rest assured that hundreds of Yoo's underlings took his advice and that hundreds of innocents paid the price in dignity, sanity and in life itself for his ivory tower sadism. Nevertheless, John Yoo shall teach law at the best Ivy League schools; he shall become wealthy from lecture tours and books; he shall spend his middle years laved by the amniotic warmth of Establishment affirmation. He shall die, an old man, in his sleep.
* Here's where the term comes from:
The space programme, necessary imperial wars, and the struggle for recognition in the interlocking corporations can provide purpose only for a small minority. Purpose for the majority will be found in the subsidiary ethos of the "fun" culture. It will meet the demands of those who live in affluence but are removed from any directing of the society.
One is tempted to state that the North American ethos is "the orgasm at home and napalm abroad," but in the nervous mobile society, people have only so much capacity for orgasm, and the flickering messages of the performing arts will fill the interstices.
They provide the entertainment and release which technological society requires. The public purpose of art will not be to lead men to the meaning of things, but to titivate, cajole, and shock them into fitting into a world in which the question of meaning is not relevant. The humanities in the universities will become handmaidens in this task.
George Grant, "The University Curriculum"