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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The "War On Terror," "Brazil," And Krishnamurti


  • Our Supreme Court feels that the Constitution can bear being warped to permit un-Constitutional treatment of human beings - even American human beings, as long as said human beings are arbitrarily labeled a "suspected enemy combatant" beforehand.

  • In Terry Gilliam's peerless movie Brazil, a dystopian world is comedically explored, wherein citizens pushing back against a soulless corporate state are designated "terrorists."

  • You see where I am going with this.

    Chris Floyd over at Empire Burlesque is righteously indignant about the sorry state of the nation at the moment (I am excerpting liberally from his post, but that is no excuse for you not to go and read the whole thing, as we bloggers are wont to insist. Also note that I am artlessly truncating what Mr. Floyd excerpts of Mr. Hedges' article.):
    I wrote a piece here a few days ago on a recent ruling by the Supreme Court, in which the justices agreed with the passionate plea of the Obama Administration to uphold -- and establish as legal precedent -- some of the most egregious of the Bush Administration's authoritarian perversions. This was the gist of the ruling:
    The Supreme Court acquiesced to the president's fervent request and, in a one-line ruling, let stand a lower court decision that declared torture an ordinary, expected consequence of military detention, while introducing a shocking new precedent for all future courts to follow: anyone who is arbitrarily declared a "suspected enemy combatant" by the president or his designated minions is no longer a "person." They will simply cease to exist as a legal entity. They will have no inherent rights, no human rights, no legal standing whatsoever -- save whatever modicum of process the government arbitrarily deigns to grant them from time to time, with its ever-shifting tribunals and show trials.
    One of the attorneys involved in the case rightly likened the ruling to the infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision, in which the Court declared that any person of African descent brought to the United States as a slave -- or their descendants, even if they had been freed -- could never be citizens of the United States and were not protected by the Constitution. They were non-persons under the law; sub-humans...

    ...And yes, Virginia, it all applies to American citizens as well. Chris Hedges demonstrates this clearly in a devastating piece on the case of American citizen Syed Fahad Hashmi. Below is an excerpt, but you should read the whole piece:
    Syed Fahad Hashmi can tell you about the dark heart of America. He knows that our First Amendment rights have become a joke, that habeas corpus no longer exists and that we torture, not only in black sites such as those at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan or at Guantánamo Bay, but also at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Lower Manhattan. Hashmi is a U.S. citizen of Muslim descent imprisoned on two counts of providing and conspiring to provide material support and two counts of making and conspiring to make a contribution of goods or services to al-Qaida. As his case prepares for trial, his plight illustrates that the gravest threat we face is not from Islamic extremists, but the codification of draconian procedures that deny Americans basic civil liberties and due process....

    Hashmi, who if convicted could face up to 70 years in prison, has been held in solitary confinement for more than 2½ years. Special administrative measures, known as SAMs, have been imposed by the attorney general to prevent or severely restrict communication with other prisoners, attorneys, family, the media and people outside the jail. He also is denied access to the news and other reading material. Hashmi is not allowed to attend group prayer. He is subject to 24-hour electronic monitoring and 23-hour lockdown. He must shower and go to the bathroom on camera. He can write one letter a week to a single member of his family, but he cannot use more than three pieces of paper. He has no access to fresh air and must take his one hour of daily recreation in a cage. ...

    “My brother was an activist,” Hashmi’s brother, Faisal, told me by phone from his home in Queens. “He spoke out on Muslim issues, especially those dealing with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His arrest and torture have nothing to do with providing ponchos and socks to al-Qaida, as has been charged, but the manipulation of the law to suppress activists and scare the Muslim American community. My brother is an example. His treatment is meant to show Muslims what will happen to them if they speak about the plight of Muslims. We have lost every single motion to preserve my brother’s humanity and remove the special administrative measures. These measures are designed solely to break the psyche of prisoners and terrorize the Muslim community. These measures exemplify the malice towards Muslims at home and the malice towards the millions of Muslims who are considered as non-humans in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

    ...“Hashmi grew up here, was well known here, was very outspoken, very charismatic and very political,” said Theoharis. “This is really a message being sent to American Muslims about the cost of being politically active. It is not about delivering alleged socks and ponchos and rain gear. Do you think al-Qaida can’t get socks and ponchos in Pakistan? The government is planning to introduce tapes of Hashmi’s political talks while he was at Brooklyn College at the trial. Why are we willing to let this happen? Is it because they are Muslims, and we think it will not affect us? People who care about First Amendment rights should be terrified. This is one of the crucial civil rights issues of our time. We ignore this at our own peril.”

    ...There will be more Hashmis, and the Justice Department, planning for future detentions, set up in 2006 a segregated facility, the Communication Management Unit, at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind. Nearly all the inmates transferred to Terre Haute are Muslims. A second facility has been set up at Marion, Ill., where the inmates again are mostly Muslim but also include a sprinkling of animal rights and environmental activists... [that would be my, Petro's, emphasis]
    I have been writing about this since November 2001, when George W. Bush's authoritarian claims over the liberty -- and lives -- of every human being on earth were first coming to light. (And not in dogged investigative reports, but in open, laudatory stories in the mainstream media.) It is very simple: all the government has to do is declare, arbitrarily, with no due process, that you -- yes, you, Mister and Ms American Citizen -- are a terrorist, or suspected terrorist, or an enemy combatant, and you can be stripped of your legal personhood, plunged into a gulag, confined indefinitely, plunged into isolation -- or killed.
    You see, I want to push back against a soulless, corporate state. And this brings me to Krishnamurti.

    Circa 1950, a Soviet Union-sponsored communist opposition leader from the Sri Lankan parliament had the misfortune of a public encounter with Krishnamurti, and it struck Ingram Smith enough for him to include the encounter in his book, The Transparent Mind: A Journey with Krishnamurti (I personally found the hagiography a bit cloying, and I'm sure K. cringed a bit if he bothered to read it, but there are some amusing insights contained therein). The anecdote I am referencing can be found here, under the title "I Am That Man." In it, the impertinent communist (he had imperially reserved some front-row seats in order to guarantee Krishnamurti's ear) found himself tangled in an hopeless (for him) dialogue with K. regarding his totalitarian leanings:
    ...There was mutual investigation into the ways in which the communist philosophy actually operated, and the means by which conflicts were handled. And basically, whether in fact reshaping, repatterning human thinking and behavior freed the individual or the collective from ego, from competition, from conflict. After half an hour or so, Dr. Perera was still claiming the necessity of totalitarian rule, asserting that everyone must go along with the decided policy, and be made to conform.

    At this point, Krishnaji drew back. ”What happens,” he asked, “when I, as an individual, feel I cannot go along with the supreme command’s decision? What if I won’t conform?”
    “We would try to convince you that individual dissent, perhaps valid before a decision is taken, cannot be tolerated after. All have to participate.”
    “You mean obey?”
    “And if I still couldn’t or wouldn’t agree?”
    “We would have to show you the error of your ways.”
    “And how would you do that?”
    “Persuade you that in practice the philosophy of the state and the law must be upheld at all times and at any cost.”
    “And if someone still maintains that some law or regulation is false, what then?”
    “We would probably incarcerate him so that he was no longer a disruptive influence.”
    With utter simplicity and directness, Krishnaji said: “I am that man.” [me again, emphasizin'] Consternation! Suddenly, total confrontation. An electric charge had entered the room – the atmosphere was charged.
    The lawyer spoke carefully, quietly: “We would jail you and keep you there as long as was necessary to change your mind. You would be treated as a political prisoner.”
    Krishnaji responded: “There could be others who feel and think as I do. When they discover what has happened to me, their antithesis to your authority may harden. This is what happens, and a reactionary movement has begun.”
    Neither Dr. Perera nor his colleagues wanted to pursue this dangerously explicit dialogue. Some were now showing nervousness.
    Krishnaji continued: “I am this man. I refuse to be silenced. I will talk to anyone who will listen. What do you do with me?”
    There was no escaping the question.“Put you away.”
    “Liquidate me?”
    “Probably. You would not be permitted to contaminate others.”
    “You would be eliminated.”
    After a long pause, Krishnamurti said: “And then, sir, you would have made a martyr of me!” There was no way of dodging the implications. “And what then?”

    Krishnamurti waited, and then quietly went back through the course of the dialogue...
    I know this is probably stupid of me, but I am really pissed off at this point:

    Hey, bitchez... I am that man.

    I'm Mad

    Wednesday, December 16, 2009

    Holding Them Accountable

    Mount Olympus
    Image found at Psychology Today
    Much hand-wringing has occurred over the seeming paralysis of this administration (any administration?) as regards holding at the very least the prior administration accountable for its misdeeds, not to mention current misdeeds (a quick trip to the Google brings this, this, and this - and many many more like them.) Because of the tribal conditions of our "two-headed party" system, most of these calls are coming from the left, but this an issue that is really not in conflict with conservative values. Indeed, it seems to me that if there were indeed the public will to do something about the crimes, committed in broad daylight on the national and international stage, then the sheer magnitude of the necessity of redress would overwhelm any whimpering defensiveness brought about by partisan interests.

    I'd written briefly on this subject earlier this year, my focus at the time being on the sausage-making machinations that might slowly grind us towards justice, but I now conclude that it is the peoples' will that is the problem. Not that there aren't mighty efforts being expended by the guilty (and powerful) to avoid accountability, but as I stated earlier I think that if we really gave a shit, the resultant tsunami would transform the powerful into the petty - and with bittersweet dispatch.

    And so, I seek to explore just exactly why we, the citizens of this (admittedly stressed) democratic republic are not eye-bulgingly outraged at acts and policies that are so at odds with what we would presumably prefer to be our image and legacy.

    I believe that we, collectively, suffer from what I will call "Olympus Syndrome" (I Googled around and that seems to be a new coinage, at least in this context). In a nutshell, this "Olympus Syndrome" compels us to believe that the people that we put into place to handle the "big" problems of the world should somehow be shielded from the sort of justice that is taken for granted to be applicable to us mere mortals.

    Why should this be so? Our Constitution, and other historical legal charters, make much of no one being above the law. It is our explicit intent, and no serious person would argue otherwise in good faith. There is something psychological going on here.

    In the face of these "big" problems (poverty, hunger, war, "terror" - you know the drill), the guilt of our turning away is inescapable, and the assignation of these problems to "leaders" is simply inadequate to overcome our indifference - not surprisingly, inadequate to the solutions of any of these problems, but mainly here I mean inadequate against the guilt.

    I believe that, in order to mitigate this guilt, we first characterize these "big" problems as outside of the scope of what we "mere mortals" could possibly handle anyway. The unfortunate corollary to this mechanism is that we would then imbue those who we do assign these issues with superhuman attributes - to do otherwise would leave naked the lie of our "concern".

    If what I have written is true, then it is easy to see our reluctance: On one level, we have admitted to a class of humans who are above the rest of us, and we who are not worthy ought not to have the audacity to judge these folks.

    On another level, an indictment against the perpetrators would be an indictment of our very selves.

    I am not one to shy away from self-reflection and responsibility, so I would say indict away.