Friday, September 29, 2006



The "beacon of freedom" goes out

Last night, a western democracy did the unthinkable: the US Senate voted to effectively legalise cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of suspected terrorists. While its not stated so bluntly in the act, that is the net effect of setting a threshold for "cruel treatment" which exceeds that required for torture, granting the President blanket authority to decide the meaning of the Geneva Conventions, and forbidding any judicial review of the conditions of detention. Along the way, they also voted to allow the President to designate people "enemy combatants" on a whim, deny them a fair trial, use coerced "evidence", and to grant an effective amnesty to the US torturers who obtained it. The bill is not quite law - it has still to be signed by the President - but it's a done deal. The beacon of freedom which has been burning for the last 230 years has gone out.

No more posts today; I'm simply too depressed. If America can betray itself in this fashion, then we're all fucked.

18 comments:

Oh woe, Oh woe. You've been playing the same record for years, now, Idiot. It's hard to believe you could GET any more depressed.

Posted by Justin : 9/29/2006 04:39:00 PM

Why do I suspect the loudest voices speaking out against this legislation will be the same people who supported the violation of the Constitution to allow the Federal Govt. to levy income tax, provide social security, public education, disaster relief ...

The hypocrisy of some people will never cease to amaze me.

Posted by Duncan Bayne : 9/29/2006 06:30:00 PM

Er yeah, because levying income tax and providing social security are comparable with OKing torture and indefinite detention without trial, right? Oh the hypocrisy of those liberals!

Posted by Psycho Milt : 9/29/2006 06:37:00 PM

what a non sequitur, Duncan.

I'm with I/S. Legal, proud, open detention and torture without trial or charge in a genuine gulag - and it's the Americans. It's as though we all slipped into Bizarro Earth.

Combine that with the warrantless wiretapping, the installation of apparatchiks into public service jobs, and the creation of new parallel security services (DHS etc) and military (the contractors and mercenaries in Iraq) and you have to wonder whether what we're seeing is a slow-motion putsch. Maybe years from now we'll see that 9/11 served as Bush's Reichstag fire.

Posted by stephen : 9/29/2006 06:48:00 PM

America hasn't betrayed itself I/S. They're just making their words consistent with what their actions have alway been. The real problem is that you actually believed the rhetoric in the first place; that they're a "beacon of freedom"

Having constitutional rights to access important bits of information doesn't make you a "beacon of freedom."

I'm surprised they took this approach to be honest. They must be losing faith, unecessarily in my view, of their propaganda system.

Posted by Anthony : 9/29/2006 07:25:00 PM

While the Duncans of this world really need to get some historical perspecive, I have to say I question your faith in the American system I/D.
Sure, the guys that wrote the Constitution were smart, progressive thinkers ("smart" not least because they got to a position where they could write it anyway), but that was then and this is now. The truth is, there is no resting on laurels, there is no putting your feet up. The rights we have will always be under attack. And every right has to be fought for. Off the top of my head, I can't think of a govt that said, " Oh yeah, here's an extra right/freedom/liberty/protection you never even thought of…"
I think you should be more concerned - not for the US _ but for Britain, which, historically, has been a bastion of liberalism for centuries and is now sliding into a Continental acceptance of ID cards and all that goes with it. Sorry, lame way to end, but there you go…

Posted by writeboy : 9/29/2006 11:20:00 PM

As an American who nows live in NZ, I must agree at just how depressing this trun of events is. I never really expected to feel a physical pain deep inside myself like this. For all its faults of execution, American had a really great set of founding principles, and it was that which inspired people around the world. (Thus the eternal dichotomy of "love America, hate the American government".)

Where does it go now? In 5 years we (or should I say "they" now?) have gone from "Freedom of Speech" zones where protesters are locked byhind razor wires, to a law that jumps us back to pre 1215. What could another few years bring? Unless you have lived there, it is hard to understand the culture of fear that existed long before 9-11. Stoking that fear is leading everyone down a dark road.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/30/2006 07:47:00 AM

Why do I suspect the loudest voices speaking out against this legislation will be the same people who supported the violation of the Constitution to allow the Federal Govt. to levy income tax, provide social security, public education, disaster relief ...

I must have missed those passages in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights that guarantee people protection from public education and disaster relief.

Posted by Danyl Mclauchlan : 9/30/2006 09:06:00 AM

The road thats led to this appalling darkening of the world is obvious to anyone who has observed the bitter Americanisation of our politics under Don Brash's National Party. This Senate decision is triumph of naked power politics in a corrupt and dysfunctional country. Because the U.S. political system is in the final throes of a decent from democracy into a South American style corrupt right wing oligarchy power is now prized above responsibility, above justice, above even common decency and morality.

less than 50% of Americans bother to vote. The Republicans know they only have to convince a plurality of 23-24% of Americans. In the corrupt shangri-la of US politcs fear, habeus corpus, the US constitution itself are just electoral tools to be manipulated. The corruption of their public body politic has entered their private souls.

The United States is no longer a democracy. Its just another Americana right wing militaristic dictatorship, now complete with the apparatus to legalise its death squads.

Posted by Sanctuary : 9/30/2006 10:06:00 AM

This is likely not new to NRT readers, but Umberto Eco's take on the 14 Steps to facism is worth a re-read in the light of this depressing development.

http://www.themodernword.com/eco/eco_blackshirt.html

If the USA has not yet become a fully blown facist state, the potential for it to do so is gaining on us all the time.

About two years ago I had a long and in retrospect a very perceptive discussion with a politically aware American from the US deepest, Deep South...Mobile, Alambma...a man with genetically ingrained Republican instincts, your classic southern cracker, but a thinking one. He would have sooner died than vote Democrat, but even he was openly concerned about the direction his country was being taken in. Even he was prepared to use the "F-word" as a very real possibility.

Comparisons with the Nazi facists are never going to be complete and always subject to proviso's. History does not so much go round in circles, as move in spirals. The arising American facist state will likely not be another Nazi Germany, but is expressing the underlying tropes in it's own modern context with growing conviction.

Nor are all the connections necessarily obscure. Preston Bush was after all deeply involved with the Nazi regime (as were more than a few Americans of the era)... leaving open the question of exactly what the role of the Bush family and it's dark backers really is intended to be.

Posted by Philip Wilkie : 9/30/2006 10:22:00 AM

I think that the United States would disintegrate into the Disunited States long before it became facist. The problems are caused by a federal government which is too far removed from the people, hence the less than 50% turn out at presidential elections.

What is more likely to happen is that a state like California, (which if considered a country in its own right has a GDP in the top five) will secede from the union. Since the fall of USSR, the US has had no competition for superpowerdom and the federal govt has had to make up their own super-enemy, in the form of terrorism against which to wage war and justify its existence.

Posted by Kent Parker : 9/30/2006 03:52:00 PM

Last time anyone tried to cede from the Union, there was a war. The Union won.

Given the incomparably more powerful military forces now at the disposal of the United States federal government, and given the clear impossibility of any other power intervening other way in an era of nuclear weapons, the chances of any secessionist movement occurring now with any chance of success is, to my mind, nil.

Posted by Jordan : 9/30/2006 08:35:00 PM

Well I guess the same goes for the chances of the US becoming a facist state: nil

Posted by Kent Parker : 9/30/2006 08:41:00 PM

The US is an empire.
Like all empires past, it will disintegrate eventually.
I would be surprised if it lasts another 10 years, particularly considering imminent peak oil and the likely end of dollar hegemony.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/01/2006 01:36:00 AM

and the world has lived past the collapse of plenty of other empires before. Of course, previous empires didn't have over 30,000 nukes to dispose of/redistribute..

As for fascism, from fascism Wiki:
"A recent definition is that by former Columbia University Professor Robert O. Paxton:

* "Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victim-hood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion." [4]

Paxton further defines fascism's essence as:

* "1. a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond reach of traditional solutions; 2. belief one’s group is the victim, justifying any action without legal or moral limits; 3. need for authority by a natural leader above the law, relying on the superiority of his instincts; 4. right of the chosen people to dominate others without legal or moral restraint; 5. fear of foreign `contamination."

So apart from the internal cleansing aspect, pretty much every component is already present (though of course the appropriateness pales in comparis to Israel..)

Posted by Huskynut : 10/01/2006 12:02:00 PM

Well, if that's the case, then, getting back to the issue of secession, the US was pretty much divided between coastal states and midland states during the last election. California only has to form a small alliance of adjacent states, seize whatever weapons lie within them and use that to confront the feds. I'm sure Schwarzenegger would be up to the role. Seems like he spent years in the movie biz preparing for it.

Posted by Kent Parker : 10/01/2006 12:18:00 PM

Huskynut: while the Soviet Union may not have had that many nukes, they did have enough to have turned the Earth into a smoking cinder if they'd all gone off at once. And we've survived the demise of their empire fairly well, all things considered.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/01/2006 12:57:00 PM

my god. I never saw it.

ARNIE VS THE USA!

off topic i know, but think of the merchandising

fraser

Posted by Anonymous : 10/02/2006 09:12:00 AM