William Blum, the author of Killing Hope and Rogue State, is one of the foremost chroniclers of U.S. imperialism. Currently, Blum writes a monthly e-newsletter "The Anti-Empire Report" (KillingHope.org).
HOCHSCHARTNER: Shortly after taking office, Obama declared, "America does not torture." Is that true?
BLUM: No, it’s not. There is no evidence to support that statement. I have read several articles from good sources showing that the abuse at Guantanamo, for example, has continued unabated. In fact, in some ways, it’s even worse. In Afghanistan, we’ve uncovered a secret prison where prisoner abuse is rampant. And we don’t know what’s happened to all the other secret prisons, like the one on the island of Diego Garcia. There were so many of these secret prisons. Where is the evidence showing things have changed in those places? I don’t think anyone has a right to say Obama has ended torture. The burden of proof is on him.
Earlier this year, Obama green lit the assassination of Anwar Al-Awaki, a U.S. citizen. What effect do you think this will have on due process?
Due process was already a casualty of the "war on terror." There are all kinds of cases of people who have been arrested and imprisoned for years and years without a trial or even a charge. We already have done great harm to the concept and the practice of due process even before this case you mentioned. It’s hanging by a thread, the idea that people have to be charged with something, indicted, tried, and convicted before they’re put in prison. Or the idea a person is innocent until proven guilty. That certainly died years ago. How much worse can we make it now?
The White House recently unveiled a "new" National Security Strategy. What’s your interpretation of it?
It’s my opinion that one can never understand U.S. foreign policy unless one comes to terms with a basic premise of that policy, which is that the United States wants to dominate the world. If you don’t accept that premise, then much of what we call U.S. foreign policy can be confusing. But if you understand that premise, much of those policies fall into line and make sense.
So this National Security paper you’re speaking about, which is an annual thing, has the unspoken premise that the U.S. wants to dominate the world. It says again and again that we have to exert world "leadership." Either it says it explicitly or it implies as much in some cases—and it’s because of our exceptionalism. That’s what it comes down to. It overuses the terms "values" and "human rights," and, of course, the old standbys "democracy" and "freedom."
It begins by mentioning that the U.S. is threatened. It mentions 9/11. The U.S. uses 9/11 as the Israelis use the Holocaust. It doesn’t say why we’re threatened. It doesn’t indicate that it’s because of anything U.S. foreign policy has done that makes us so hated. It just implies that these people who hate us are irrational and we have no choice but to defend ourselves. That fits in very well with the need to dominate.
So you don’t see it as a significant departure from the Bush policy?
If anything, it’s worse. Obama has actually attacked, militarily, five countries since he’s been in power. That’s more than Bush did. I’m speaking of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia. In my "Anti-Empire Report," I ask the question: how many countries does Obama have to be at war with before he becomes unqualified for the Nobel Peace Prize? It’s amazing.
Many liberals who were outspoken critics of Bush’s foreign policy seem to ignore the fact Obama continues the Bush legacy. Why do you think this is?
It’s painful for them to have to admit to themselves and to the world that their hopes were totally misplaced. It’s very understandable, but they shouldn’t have been fooled in the first place. In his campaign speeches he threatened, on several occasions, to invade Iran if they didn’t behave the way he wanted. He said he was going to increase our armed forces in Afghanistan. He said it all. He wasn’t hiding it.
Jon Hochschartner is a freelance writer from Lake Placid.