Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Waterboardin' U.S.A.!*

* 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;
Waterboardin' USA.

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"


Catelli said...

We're laying out a dude,
We're gonna torture real soon.
He's gonna feel that waterboard.
Like he's drowning in June.
He'll be giving up his mother,
He'll do anything we say
Cootchie Cootchie poor terrorist
Waterboardin' USA
I don't know what bothers me more, the sheer hypocrisy of Obama's pardon, or that the world doesn't seem to care.

If you won't hold yourself accountable, someone else has to.

Ti-Guy said...

We can't count on the USA bringing satisfactory closure to this and Canadians aren't going to do anything about this at all (Bush is coming to soil Toronto in a few weeks). These unindicted sociochopaths will come back, better trained and wiser, to haunt us.

On a related note, I've become a little suspicious of TVO's The Agenda flogging American academics/experts on every episode to serve as "balance" for the narratives presented by the Canadian guests. The last two days have been particularly wearying, especially Monday when it featured relative nobody George Friedman of Statfor who used up the public broadcaster's time to make the case that America will remain dominant for the rest of the century. You should watch it; his arguments weren't at all convincing and rather cartoonish.

Yesterday's episode featured three unknown Americans challenging two Canadians on the validity of the peak oil thesis.

I mention this because I'm firmly convinced that even average Americans are more than satisfied with "provisional truth", even when they know it's provisional. I believe our own elite expects Canadians to resign themselves to that, if not actively campaigning for us to embrace it.

Aeneas the Younger said...

As you and I both know, Obama is not a significant departure from Bush ... in any meaningful way.

What a lot of our less classically and formally educated colleagues here fail to realise is just how unpopular George Grant was with his peers within the system.

While they liked some of his moral positions and the end-result of his critique, they did not like that it was coming from a (real) tory.

Of course I am biased here, but I think George Grant was one of the most important thinkers of the 20th Century.

And we was Canadian.

Do they even teach Grant's works anymore?

Ti-Guy said...

What a lot of our less classically and formally educated colleagues here fail to realise is just how unpopular George Grant was with his peers within the system.Who are you addressing here?

Ryan said...

Only if you specifically take Canadian intellectual history. I was introduced via "In Defense of North America."

But you also have to put up with Frank Underhill's post-CCF writings. *shudder*

Sir Francis said...


That's great. I was going to do the whole song, but then I decided the first stanza was enough. I was inspired by the whole "waterboard"/"surfboard" equation and thought that the gruesome concept went rather grotesquely well with Mike Love's anodyne voice and the tinny, jangly surf guitars tinkling in the background of the song.

Sir Francis said...

TVO's The Agenda flog[s] American academics/experts on every episode to serve as "balance" for the narratives presented by the Canadian guests .

Well, they may feel an obligation to provide equal time to foreign "knowledge industry" technocrats with virtually no grounding (or even slight interest) in Canadian culture.

Here's hoping they invite an Iranian imam to their next segment on Canadian women's issues.

Sir Francis said...

I think George Grant was one of the most important thinkers of the 20th Century.

Canada has produced four of the last century's greatest thinkers--Grant, Fry, Galbraith, and McLuhan. Not bad for a colonial backwater; it beats Australia, at any rate.

And of which maîtres a penser can we boast now? Mark Steyn...

Ah, yes: Americanisation has been so good for us.

Sir Francis said...

Who are you addressing here?

Tomm... ;)

Catelli said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Catelli said...

Sir Francis,

When you put the tune in my head, I had to do something to get it out. ;)

Mark Steyn a great thinker?!??!

Wow. Now that the bar's been set that low, I sense an opportunity for a career change!

Soon to be published: Spaghetti thoughts by Catelli. A deep Penne introspection.

I'll stop now...

Ti-Guy said...

And of which maîtres a penser can we boast now? Mark Steyn..I don't know why Canadians even bother to mention, even in passing or sardonically, Steyn's attachment to Canada. It is non-existent; not in the heart and not in the mind. Moreover, he's worked hard to rid himself of even vestigial evidence of Canadian identity, such as his accent.

I know relatively recent immigrants, with brown skin even, who are more recognisably Canadian than he is.

Mark Steyn sees himself as a citizen of the Anglosphere, a fictitious world that occasions in its inhabitants nothing but endless anomie and dissatisfaction.

Sir Francis said...

Mark Steyn sees himself as a citizen of the Anglosphere...

True, though I sense that his attachment to the Aryansphere is even more passionate...

Ti-Guy said...

It's a good point though. Who is an up-and-coming great Canadian thinker?

*sigh* Why am even I asking? Who even needs to think these days, now that we've got the Google.

Sir Francis said...

Who is an up-and-coming great Canadian thinker?

If we're talking on a McLuhanesque level, I think we've got to admit that there's probably no one. Go a few steps below that, and we might say Charles Taylor and Ian Hacking; a few steps below them, and we might find John Ralston Saul and Naomi Klein; below them, Mark Kingwell. Slim pickings, I suppose.

Let's face it: thinking is becoming counter-cultural--virtually an act of social insurgency. I'm surprised anyone is willing to undertake it.

Ti-Guy said...

I didn't think of Ian Hacking. Good choices.

Anonymous said...

I like Mark Steyn. I also like Andrew Coyne, Leonard Cohen, and whoever wrote all those great Monkee hits.

...Cheer up, Sleepy Jean.
Oh, what can it mean.
To a daydream believer
And a homecoming queen...

Makes me feel young again. Way easier to read than Northrop Fry. His stuff was almost impenetrable.

Oh by the way, I was shocked at your post. You have clearly lost your way. Obama may not be perfect, but he is a significant departure from the previous (corrupt and proud of it) administration. But it was certainly worth reading, if for for no other reason than to see that great sound bite by George Grant.


Sir Francis said...

I was shocked at your post.

That's a first.

You have clearly lost your way. Obama may not be perfect...

Indeed, Obama is not perfect. You could even say that he has "lost his way".

I'm delighted to see the ecumenical open-mindedness of your support for a Democrat, though. That can't be easy for you.

Dirk Buchholz said...

Like saying goes..."many fools have died on the fields of hope"...