The Normalization of Torture, Death Squads and Contempt for the Rule of Law

The U.S. political establishment keeps reaching new levels of hypocrisy, deception (including self-deception), and open immorality as the empire expands in the pursuit of “freedom,” militarism and war become more institutionalized, and rightwing political power is consolidated. The appointment of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney-General is the most dramatic illustration of these developments, as he epitomizes the institutionalization of a regime of torture on the U.S.’s own Devil’s Island (Guantanamo), at Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Kabul (the “pit”) and elsewhere in the empire, along with the official contempt for law. (Human Rights First lists some 44 disclosed and 13 suspected detention centers in the gulag: see, Ending Secret Detentions, Deborah Pearlstein et al., Human Rights First, June, 2004:

http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/us_law/detainees/rpt_disclose_intro.htm [Media Material]

http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/us_law/PDF/EndingSecretDetentions_web.pdf [Complete Report]).

Gonzalez’ appointment was an announcement that the United States under Bush is now openly and proudly an outlaw regime in which torture is acceptable and a feature of state policy, and was to be used further (as it has been), despite its illegality in a host of international agreements (and U.S. law) and the widespread view that it is deeply immoral. As Amnesty International noted in its 1974 Report on Torture, “One of the shared values of the humanist tradition was the abolition of torture. This principle found its way into the post-war declarations on human rights and laws of war without any dissent of debate” (p. 30). In elevating Gonzales, the Bush administration has officially rejected that humanist tradition and associated human rights and laws of war principles, not without dissent but with little or no debate.

It should be emphasized that U.S. involvement in torture is far from new. In the frontispiece to The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism, published back in 1979, Noam Chomsky and I showed that 26 of the 35 countries that used torture on an administrative basis in the mid-to-late 1970s were clients of the United States, and there was solid evidence that torture technology and training flowed out from the “sun” to all its “planets.” But this was not overt and openly defended in important segments of the media (as it is with Limbaugh, O’Reilly et al. today), and it was done largely by proxies working over their indigenous dissidents and labor organizers. With the usual cooperation of the mainstream media, the U.S. public was spared knowledge of these activities.

Today the United States is heavily into torture directly as well as via “renditions” and proxy operations (e.g., the U.S.-employed Iraqis are now torturing with great zeal: see Human Rights Watch,, The New Iraq? Torture and Ill-treatment of Detainees in Iraqi Custody). And Gonzales, the principal legal apologist for this torture outburst, is rewarded with appointment as the highest law enforcement official in the United States. Could there be a more brazen statement of a country’s leadership’s contempt for basic morality and the rule of law?

Of course, another brazen statement was the invasion of Iraq itself, a clear case of aggression in violation of the most fundamental principle of the UN Charter and declared at Nuremberg to be the “supreme crime.” Even though this was based on Big Lies in the Goebbels style, the establishment media and moralists have never considered this supreme criminality a point worth mentioning, let alone the basis of moral condemnation.

Aggression by Saddam against Kuwait in 1990 and alleged efforts to create a “Greater Serbia” by Milosevic – which I consider unadulterated baloney [see Diana Johnstone, Fools Crusade, pp. 32-40] – caused great indignation and harsh sanctions and military responses by the Great Powers, but a really major aggression based on lies by the Godfather, although it received a plaintive wee protest about “illegality” from Kofi Annan, was swallowed and the aggressor’s further pacification and takeover of Iraqi affairs was even sanctioned by Kofi Annan and the Security Council (UN Security Council Resolution 1546 [2004], adopted unanimously, gives the “multinational force in Iraq” the authority to “take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance [sic] of security and stability in Iraq,” and it “welcomes” the “security partnership between the sovereign Government of Iraq [i.e., the U.S.-appointed Allawi government] and the multinational force…”).

The Bush government’s contempt for basic morality and the rule of law is also displayed in the appointment of John Negroponte to be chief of the new intelligence bureaucracy. Negroponte was part of the war management apparatus during the Vietnam War, and helped organize the killing of millions and destruction of that country in that failed attempt to save it for a minority government under our control.

He played a sinister role in the war against Nicaragua as Ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985, maintaining warm relations with and bribing a military-dominated government that allowed the contras to work from Honduran bases in their terrorist activities, tolerating and almost certainly giving sub rosa support to the murder of hundreds of dissidents at the El Aguacate air base and by the CIA-trained death squad Battalion 3-16. Negroponte’s predecessor Jack Binns claimed that 30 Salvadoran nuns who fled El Salvador to Honduras in 1981 were savagely tortured by the Honduran police and later thrown out of helicopters to their death.

Negroponte has denied knowledge of any of these serious human rights violations, but the leading Honduras newspapers “carried at least 318 stories about military abuses in 1982 alone,” and he contradicted himself by boasting that he “personally intervened …to secure the release of politically sensitive detainees.” “Instances of disappearances, harassment and abductions of political dissidents all escalated under Negroponte, yet the annual Human Rights Reports prepared by the ambassadorial staff …were masterpieces of cunning redaction or invention, consistently downplaying human rights abuses and denying that any evidence existed of systematic violations by manipulating language and statistics.”

There is a “huge amount of material implicating him in playing a sedulously deceitful role after being posted to Honduras.” (Council on Hemispheric Affairs, “Negroponte: Nominee for Baghdad Embassy, a Rogue for all Seasons,” April 27, 2004: http://www.coha.org/NEW_PRESS_RELEASES/New_Press_Releases_2004/04.20_Negroponte.htm.)

So Negroponte is an established liar, lying to congress as well as to the public, willing to violate national and international law, including the 1983 Boland amendment barring military aid to groups working to overthrow the Sandinista government, and he is a proven efficient manager of death squads (see ibid.; also Sam Smith, Undernews, Feb. 17, 2005: http://www.prorev.com/indexa.htm; Marjorie Cohn, “Negroponte, Director of Intelligence Manipulation,” Feb. 21, 2005: http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005/022105B.shtml)

This background of course made Negroponte a logical Bush appointment as ambassador to Iraq, bringing knowledge of ruthless pacification policy from Vietnam and death squad-support experience from his Honduras years. His return to the United States as head of intelligence gives that job to a man who is totally ruthless in serving his masters, willing to use force and deception in all their forms, and an expert in lying in all of its forms.

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs calls him “an-ends-justifies-the-means operator” and describes him as “the anti-Christ of democracy, repeatedly dragging its noble cause through the offal.” His appointment signifies an advance over the puny tricks of a J. Edgar Hoover, with a potential for blowing back to this country some of the uglier forms of dissident control that Negroponte has been involved with in Vietnam, Honduras and Iraq.

There was some sharp media criticism of the Gonzalez appointment; virtually none of the appointment of Negroponte (see FAIR’s Media Advisory: “Media Omissions on Negroponte’s Record ,” Feb. 22, 2005: http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=2452 ). The New York Times set a hard-to-beat standard for apologetics for criminality and human rights violations in reporting on the Negroponte appointment.

Under a general heading on his appointment which refers to him only as “Longtime Diplomat,” David Sanger’s article “An Old Hand In New Terrain” only reaches Negroponte’s human rights record in the 16th of 20 paragraphs, where Sanger tells us that Negroponte was “immersed in” U.S. aid to Honduras, with not one word about human rights violations or what precisely Negroponte did there. Then, “He has spent the ensuing two decades vigorously defending himself against allegations that he played down human rights violations in Honduras when their exposure could have undermined the Reagan administration’s Latin American agenda.”

So, not a word of what those human rights violations charges were, no suggestion that he might have had an active role in those violations rather than merely playing them down, not a trace of investigative effort seeking evidence about the truth or falsity of those charges, and an implicit defense of anything he might have done as based on loyal support of Reagan’s program (unspecified as to ends or methods). Saddam Hussein needs somebody like David Sanger to write up a news account of charges of his human rights violations, exposure of which might have undermined the reputation of the Iraqi state.

Despite some reservations on the Bush regime’s policies and actions in its aggression/occupation and torture – and as just noted there are few if any on the appointment of death squad supervisor Negroponte–the Democrats, mainstream media, and much of the intellectual class still identify with this outlaw regime, and automatically side with it in its struggle to pacify Iraq, accommodate Sharon and the Israeli occupation, and move on to a war with Iran. Completely destroy a city (Fallujah), openly bombing one hospital and occupying another to prevent “propaganda”? N

o problem – no suggestion of illegality, immorality, or qualification of who are the good guys. Ditto for the use of cluster bombs, napalm and depleted uranium in Iraq (following their use in Afghanistan and Yugoslavia). Ditto for Abu Ghraib and its numerous affiliates and the regular use of “extraordinary renditions” – more “errors” and regrettable even if unremedied exceptions to alleged normally decent behavior. Support the apartheid wall and continued illegal occupation and ethnic cleansing on the West Bank and East Jerusalem? Continues a great tradition. Support the claim that Iran poses a real threat and is not entitled to seek defensive capability in the face of explicit and real U.S. and Israeli threats, including the nuclear? What good propaganda system members ever fail to jump on the bandwagon of any threat that their leadership proclaims no matter how implausible or unsupported by credible evidence? Remember the WMDs!

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