2004: The Year in Hypocrisy
Frankly, I want to be a politician. I'd like to survive to see that. ... As long as there's a steady stream of volunteers, I don't see why I necessarily should volunteer.
-- Young Republican Vivian Lee, 17, on not wanting to fight in Iraq
2004 continues a grand tradition of systematic mendacity for the Bush administration and its clients. I'm almost tempted to stop here and refer you to my list from 2003, except that in several key areas, the government actually managed to outdo itself - mainly by building on its legacy and counting on the relentless stupefaction of the nation's news media.
I'm going to stay away from the election itself, the mendacity of campaign strategies being so pervasive that I wouldn't know where to begin. That excludes the brilliant campaign to turn a draft dodger into a war hero and a war hero into a coward, "Liberals to ban the Bible", the "Dean Scream", the US Chamber of Commerce's "Voters Education Committee", National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice huckstering, Sinclair's "Stolen Honor", the "Breck Girl", "DebateFacts", MemoGate, MoveOnForAmerica, etc., ad nauseum.
I'm also going to steer clear of the massive issue of torture as government policy (although I touch on the subject in the first item, below), the appalling domestication of Fallujah, and the ridiculous "handover" of power in Iraq. Each of these sordid items deserves a full essay of its own.
Fortunately, that still leaves me with more than enough material. So without further ado, here are my favourite picks from 2004: The Year in Hypocrisy.
Yes; Quaint and Curious War Is!
The government that swept back into power on the strength of "values" has picked a replacement for outgoing Attorney General John "Let the Eagle Soar" Ashcroft. Alberto Gonzales, President Bush's Legal Counsel, is slated to become America's top lawmaker and defender of the Constitution.
When he recommended to President Bush that the Geneva Convention III on the Treatment of Prisoners of War (GPW) shouldn't apply to captured al-Qaeda and Taliban "combatants", Gonzales argued,
The nature of the [the war on terrorism] places a high premium on ... the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors in order to avoid further atrocities against American civilians, and the need to try terrorists for war crimes such as wantonly killing civilians. In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions...
In defence of this determination, Gonzales argued that it "preserves flexibility" and "reduces the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act". Well, yes. An executive order that absolves the executive from accountability to the law can be downright convenient.
Clearly apprised of the ramifications of this decision, Gonzales warned President Bush that America "could not invoke the GPW if enemy forces" were to mistreat captured Americans; the decision "would likely provoke widespread condemnation among our allies and in some domestic quarters"; it "may encourage other countries to look for technical 'loopholes'" against being bound by the GPW; and it may "undermine U.S. military culture which emphasizes maintaining the highest standards of conduct in combat [emphasis added]".
Gonzales dismissed the last concern by arguing that the military is still supposed to abide by the principles of the GPW. This, of course, is nonsense. If the military is bound to abide by the GPW, then there is no reason not to apply it. Conversely, if the military deliberately undertake activities prohibited by the GPW, then they obviously cannot abide by its principles.
However, we’re talking about this Bush Administration. They've taken "up is down" and elevated it to a national policy.
And the Horse You Rode In On
Appearing in the Chamber for a photo session, Vice President and Senate leader Richard Cheney took the opportunity to engage Senator Patrick J. Leahy with a crisp "Go f*** yourself!" as the two passed. (Cheney's spokesperson Kevin Kellems wouldn't confirm or deny the quote, but did acknowledge that "there was a frank exchange of views.")
Leahy has been highly critical of the Vice President's ties to former employer Halliburton, the oil services company that has received over ten billion dollars in Iraq contracts and is embroiled in accusations of overcharging the US government for food and other services.
According to a recent Halliburton press release, Cheney received $1,997,525 in deferred salary and bonuses from the company since becoming Vice President. Insisting that having a former CEO as Vice President confers no advantages, the company lamented the "public relations nightmare" that has ensued from the inevitable "accusations of political favoritism", and insisted that the contracts "did not prove to be as profitable as executives had hoped".
That same day, the Senate voted 99 to 1 in favour of the "Defense of Decency Act", which increases tenfold the maximum fine for media companies that broadcast "obscene, indecent or profane language".
While we're on the subject of values...
After being admonished three times by the bipartisan House Ethics Committee for ethical lapses related to the undue influence of lobbyists, House Majority Leader and fundraising wunderkind Tom DeLay looked like he might be indicted along with three Texas associates for criminal violations of money laundering in Texas state elections. The Party of Values responded after the election by overturning a decade-old party policy that requires House leaders to step down temporarily if they are indicted.
Blaming "district attorneys who might have partisan agendas or want to read their name in the paper", Texas Representative Henry Bonilla proposed the rule change so that, as DeLay himself explained, "Democrats cannot use our rules against us." After DeLay's associates were indicted for illegally using corporate money to influence the 2002 Texas State elections in order to push through a gerrymandering - sorry, "redistricting" effort that won the state an additional five seats in 2004. Apparently, "fiscal responsibility" means giving your contributors what they paid for.
Speaking of Fiscal Responsibility
The party that transformed a ten-year surplus of $6 trillion into a ten-year deficit of $4 trillion asked Congress to raise the debt limit for the third time in as many years. Reluctant to look incompetent right before an election, the Republicans piggybacked the increase onto a $417 billion defense-spending bill. It snuck past Congress but was caught in the Senate, where Democrats threatened to block it.
The White House suggested that Treasury Secretary John Snow could stall the increase until after the election, which is interesting because the Republican Congress threatened to impeach Bill Clinton when his Treasury Secretary did the same thing in 1996. However, with a Republican-dominated House, Bush was able to get away with it. The increase was approved 208-204 just two weeks after the election. The debt ceiling is now 70 percent of the US gross domestic product.
Speak For Yourself
In his face-saving admission to the US Senate, Iraq Survey Group (ISG) chief inspector David Kay sat behind the microphone and said, "Let me begin by saying, we were almost all wrong, and I certainly include myself here." He was talking about the ISG's inability to find any weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq or any evidence of active WMD programs. He hid behind the everybody-else-was-doing-it defense, insisting that he "had innumerable analysts who came to me in apology that the world that we were finding was not the world that they had thought existed". In other words, don't blame the poor Bush administration. They were simply duped.
Of course, not everyone was united before the war in their certainty that Iraq contained WMD. Once you take out his editorializing, none of the facts Kay revealed in his report are significantly different from what the real experts have been asserting for years - that Iraq had already fulfilled its obligations to the UN, having destroyed or "rendered harmless" its WMD as per UNSCR 687.
UNMOVIC chief Hans Blix and IAEA director-general Mohamed ElBaradei had high confidence that their inspections would find whatever dregs remained. Former UNSCOM chief inspector Scott Ritter argued widely and persuasively that Iraq was not a threat. Former UNSCOM chief Richard Taylor wrote that in 1998,
[I was] asked how long it would take, through a comprehensive review, before we could declare Iraq disarmed. Given the key remaining issues in the missile and chemical areas, I replied, we might have a satisfactory account of Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction programme within six to eight weeks.
Former Humanitarian Aid Co-ordinators Dennis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck wrote in 2001,
Iraq today is no longer a military threat to anyone. Intelligence agencies know this. All the conjectures about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq lack evidence. An Iraq that at the height of its military prowess in the war against Iran failed to win a clear victory is not an Iraq that can be a danger after ten years of sanctions and seven years of disarmament.
We Found the WMD
During a 2004 press dinner, President Bush looked under his table to see if WMD were hiding there. Almost everyone laughed, but it turns out he might have been onto something. The only weapons of mass destruction on display during the recent Iraq War have been those used by the United States.
Cluster Bombs: looking remarkably like humanitarian food packets, unexploded cluster bombs are notorious for blowing up once they are picked up by unwitting civilians. Despite complaints from the International Committee of the Red Cross that they should not be employed in populated areas, the United States still uses cluster bombs to devastating, and preventable, effect.
Depleted Uranium: The United Nations has classified it as an illegal weapon of mass destruction, but the United States continues to use radioactive depleted uranium (DU) munitions in Iraq and elsewhere. DU causes cancers among exposed soldiers and civilians and dramatically increases birth defects and childhood leukemia where it is used.
Professor Doug Rokke, ex-director of the Pentagon's DU program, has called its use a "war crime". He further notes, "This war was about Iraq possessing illegal weapons of mass destruction - yet we are using weapons of mass destruction ourselves."
Napalm: This deadly mix of polystyrene and jet fuel was used to notorious effect during the Vietnam War, banned by the United Nations in 1980, and authorized for use by President Bush during the Iraq war. Observers of the April 2004 Fallujah offensive discovered melted bodies that looked like napalm injuries. The US government subsequently admitted its use.
Massive Ordnance Air Blast: What do you call a 21,000 lb. bomb that spreads a flammable, poisonous chemical mist over the air and then ignites it to produce a massive fireball that expands faster than the speed of sound, heats up to 2,700 degrees Celsius, and creates a vacuum-induced mushroom cloud? Need I say more?
"Square of Evil" Just Doesn't Have The Same Ring
Meanwhile, Pakistan, a staunch US ally in the "War on Terror", has quietly been running a do-it-yourself nuclear weapons service since the 1990s. Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the head of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, has been selling nuclear equipment, technology, and blueprints to Libya, North Korea, and Iran. Against claims by Pakistan's dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, that Khan was working on his own, all the evidence is that he was working in coordination with the highest levels of Pakistan's military.Apparently trying to avoid an embarrassing trial, Musharraf ordered Khan to sign a confession and then granted him a full pardon. Far from publicly decrying this gross violation of international law, the US government will increase its financial support for Pakistan's government to the tune of $700 million dollars by the end of 2005.
The Need for Inspections
The Conference on Disarmament, an independent multilateral body created by the UN to promote disarmament, has been negotiating a new treaty to ban the production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium for weapons manufacturing. The new treaty is intended to persuade countries (like India, Israel, and Pakistan) that are not bound by the Non-Proliferation Treaty to accept international oversight into their weapons programs. The United States, always eager to support non-proliferation, has announced that it ... opposes verification of treaty compliance via inspections. Apparently, all those inspections would be too costly and intrusive.
By the way, the United States reversed its decision after Pakistan's proliferation legacy was revealed publicly.
In related news, it came out in 2004 that the US government withheld information from UNMOVIC about 21 locations in Iraq that it accused of hiding WMD, despite its promises at the time that it was cooperating with the weapons inspectors. The US government justified its invasion because Saddam Hussein was not cooperating with the weapons inspectors.
[Saddam] has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors. (Colin Powell, February 24, 2001)
Secretary of State Colin Powell's resignation has touched off the usual fawning accolades toward everyone's favourite Republican "moderate". However, his very "moderation" might just make Powell the biggest hypocrite on this list. The man who believes "once a decision has been made, the debate ends. From that point on, loyalty means executing the decision as if it were your own" has certainly made a career of following orders.
From his denials and apologetics for atrocities against Vietnamese civilians in the 1960s and -70s to his questionable activities during the illegal Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s as military assistant to the Secretary of Defense to his appalling invasion of Panama, killing hundreds of civilians in the roundup of disobedient client Manuel Noriega, Powell has always been willing to do the bidding of his leaders.
When he was called upon to give the planned 2003 US invasion of Iraq a moderate face, Powell obliged. In preparation for his presentation to the UN Security Council, Powell read through Douglas Feith's Office of Special Plans report on Iraq's WMD. He dismissed the report, saying, "This is bullshit. I'm not reading this." Then he read it anyway. He prostituted his credibility to foist it on a skeptical United Nations. The next day, news agencies everywhere fell over with praise and fawning acceptance that finally, the US government was letting us in on what they knew about Iraq.
Media support for the war jumped. If Colin Powell was saying these things, they must be true! Little mention was made of the UNMOVIC inspectors who investigated Powell's claims and related US intelligence tips only to dismiss them as "garbage after garbage after garbage" and reiterate Powell's own conclusion: it was all "bullshit".
Now, over a year and a half later, Powell has finally resigned, far too late to do anything about the needless devastation that flowed inevitably from his decision to follow orders rather than tell the truth.
Try to image Saddam Hussein starting up and financing a fashionably produced TV news station for viewers in the United States. It broadcasts from Baghdad but has satellite offices throughout North America, in order to, in deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz's words, "cut through the hateful propaganda that fills the airwaves in the American world."
Through skilful negotiating, the station lines up a one-on-one interview with Saddam himself. Excited at the prospect of countering anti-Saddam propaganda in mainstream American media, the station's board of governors state that viewers "may be interested in the fact that we may bring a different perspective" to the American people.Now, imagine the howls of outrage from the US government and American media outlets.
A new television station started broadcasting through the Middle East in February. Al-Hurra, or "The Free One", is financed by the U.S. government and broadcasts from Virginia. Reception in the Middle East has been described as "cool".
Now These Are Freedom Fighters
It seems that some Muslim militants are acceptable. American neoconservatives have rallied behind the cause of the poor Chechen rebels who are struggling to liberate themselves from Russian repression. Their tactics - taking civilians hostage, guerilla strikes against military and civilian targets, suicide missions - are remarkably similar to those of other groups in the Middle East who are trying to liberate themselves from their oppressors. The difference, of course, is the oppressor.
Displaying a linguistic and ethical elasticity akin to Ronald Regan, the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya, composed of such Neocon luminaries as Zbigniew Brzezinski, Richard Perle, Elliott Abrams, Kenneth "Cakewalk" Adelman, Midge Decter, Frank Gaffney, Michael Ledeen, and R. James Woolsey, has the audacity to write the following:
Understanding the motives and circumstances of Chechen suicide terrorism naturally leads to certain conclusions about Russia's presence in the region. For example, Russia’s brutal prosecution of the war in Chechnya, combined with its unwillingness to negotiate with moderate forces in the Chechen resistance, has spawned and exacerbated suicide terrorism in Chechnya.
Such a willingness to understand and sympathize with terrorists may come as something of a surprise, but the reason for the neocons' seemingly uncharacteristic support is simple. Russia's main oil pipeline from the Caspian runs through Chechnya. The Washington neocons want to promote unrivalled US dominance over the world, and the only way they can ensure that in a world of diminishing oil production is to block its rivals (mainly Russia, China, and potentially a pan-Islamic federation centered around Iran) from establishing any monopolies on oil supplies.
Russia has engaged in a decade-long struggle to retain dominance over its old satellites (Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and, of course, Chechnya, but has lost control over most of those countries, thanks significantly to US support for independence and subsequent massive infusions of US investments in Caspian oil production. Chechnya is Russia's last stand in the region, and the most viable path for oil to enter Russian markets. If Russia loses Chechnya, then it will be entirely at the whim of its former satellites, which are feeling a bit starry-eyed after a decade of wooing by the US government and its mercantile investors.
"Facts Are Stupid Things"
Speaking of Reagan, his death was one of this year's most moving tributes to hypocrisy. This is the President who made a deal with the Ayatollah to hold American hostages until Reagan's inauguration in exchange for selling weapons to Iran (illegally), the revenue from which he used to finance terrorists in Nicaragua (also illegally) who were trying to undermine the democratically elected government. This is the President who fired every air traffic controller in America instead of giving them a decent wage. This is the President who hatched the Savings and Loan scandal, where thrift mortgage lenders were deregulated but the government remained accountable. US taxpayers are still paying back the hundreds of billions of dollars this debacle cost.
This is the President who aligned America internationally with the likes of Ferdinand Marcos, Omar Duarte, Rios Mont, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, and, yes, Saddam Hussein. This is the president who supported Apartheid in South Africa and the Israeli invasion and occupation of Lebanon. This is the President who called the Mujahideen, the group that eventually formed the Taliban and al-Qaeda, "the moral equivalent of the founding fathers" because they opposed the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, even while his government financed, recruited, and trained the Mujahideen through the biggest covert operation in American history.
Still Forgetting Things
Reagan was a master at forgetting things, and his legacy lives on in America's collective amnesia toward Afghanistan.
The situation there has gotten so bad that Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, pulled out after 14 years of volunteering there. MSF stated that "Today's context is rendering independent humanitarian aid for the Afghan people all but impossible." Before withdrawing, five MSF volunteers were killed. The Taliban claimed responsibility, accusing MSF of acting in league with American interests. In response, MSF repeated its concern that the US military's deployment of humanitarian aid for "for political and military motives" has blurred the line between soldiers and volunteers, putting the latter at risk.
Outside Kabul, vicious warlords run most of the country. For the vast majority of people, life is no better now than it was under the Taliban, and is often worse. In the east and south, a regrouped Taliban is once again in charge, running their domain with impunity. In all cases, local tyrants are able to maintain control through the power of drug money.
Opium production is at an all-time high, producing some 85 percent of the world's heroin. Over 300,000 acres were planted with poppies in 2004, up 64 percent over 2003, to produce a total of over 4,000 metric tons of heroin. Sales of all that heroin brought in almost $3 billion, or about a third of Afghanistan's economy. Every region in Afghanistan now grows poppies.
Things aren't likely to change any time soon. The Hamid Karzai government has been composed partly of drug dealers, and in any case has been completely ineffective against the local power of the warlords. It is widely rumored that government officials from police officers all the way to Karzai's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, benefit from drug money. The United States continues to cooperate with opium producing warlords. In any case, the CIA's long and sordid history of both drug dealing and managing Afghan terrorists certainly leaves open the possibility that the US government is actively complicit in the drug trade instead of just passively complicit by not stopping it.
December 21, 2004