Aren’t they the people your mother warned you about?

There used to be some other serious and important issues the whole country was focused on before Barack Obama and the Democrats shoveled $12.8 T-r-i-l-l-i-o-n D-o-l-l-a-r-s of your money (nearly last years U.S. GDP) into the hands of their criminal friends on Wall Street who destroyed the U.S. and global economy before they decided to move forward to torturing and distracting you with promises of a watered down useless legislative proposal called The Public Option that will shovel who knows how much of your money into the hands of the insurance companies who are screwing you out of proper health care while forcing you to pay through your teeth for the highest per capita health care spending, the highest infant mortality, and the shortest life expectancy of all advanced countries in the world.

But there’s always a new flap to take your mind off the older flaps.

If there seems to be something odd about this latest flap, if there’s much that we don’t know yet, we do, at least, know one thing: This particular small splash from the previous administration’s deep dive into crime and folly will have its brief time in the media sun and then be swallowed up by oblivion, just as each of the previous flaps has been.

After all, can you honestly tell me that you think often about the CIA torture flap, the CIA-destruction-of-interrogation-video-tapes flap, the what-did-Congress/Nancy Pelosi-really-know-about-torture-methods flap, the Bush-administration-officials-(like-Condi-Rice)-signed-off-on-torture-methods-in-2002-even-before-the-Justice-Department-justified-them flap, the National-Security-Agency-(it-was-far-more-widespread-than-anyone-imagined)-electronic-surveillance flap, the should-the-NSA’s-telecom-spies-be-investigated-and-prosecuted-for-engaging-in-illegal-warrantless-wiretapping flap, the should-CIA-torturers-be-investigated-and-prosecuted-for-using-enhanced-interrogation-techniques flap, the Abu-Ghraib-photos-(round-two)-suppression flap, or various versions of the can-they-close-Guantanamo, will-they-keep-detainees-in-prison-forever flaps, among others that have already disappeared  into my own personal oblivion file? Every flap its day, evidently.  Each flap another problem (again we’re told) for a president with an ambitious program who is eager to “look forward, not backward.”  

Of course, he’s not alone.  Given the last eight years of disaster piled on catastrophe, who in our American world would want to look backward?  The urge to turn the page in this country is palpable, but — just for a moment — let’s not.

As a start, remind me: What didn’t we do? Let’s review for a moment.

In the name of everything reasonable, and in the face of acts of evil by terrible people, we tortured wantonly and profligately, and some of these torture techniques — known to the previous administration and most of the media as “enhanced interrogation techniques” — were  actually demonstrated to an array of top officials, including the national security adviser, the attorney general, and the secretary of state, within the White House.  We imprisoned secretly at “black sites” offshore and beyond the reach of the American legal system, holding prisoners without hope of trial or, often, release; we disappeared people; we murdered prisoners; we committed strange acts of extreme abuse and humiliation; we kidnapped terror suspects off the global streets and turned some of them over to some of the worst people who ran the worst dungeons and torture chambers on the planet.  Unknown, but not insignificant numbers of those kidnapped, abused, tortured, imprisoned, and/or murdered were actually innocent of any crimes against us.  We invaded without pretext, based on a series of lies and the manipulation of Congress and the public.  We occupied two countries with no clear intent to depart and built major networks of military bases in both.  Our soldiers gunned down unknown numbers of civilians at checkpoints and, in each country, arrested thousands of people, some again innocent of any acts against us, imprisoning them often without trial or sometimes hope of release.  Our Air Force repeatedly wiped out wedding parties and funerals in its global war on terror.  It killed civilians in significant numbers.  In the process of prosecuting two major invasions, wars, and occupations, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans have died.  In Iraq, we touched off a sectarian struggle of epic proportions that involved the “cleansing” of whole communities and major parts of cities, while unleashing a humanitarian crisis of remarkable size, involving the uprooting of more than four million people who fled into exile or became internal refugees.  In these same years, our Special Forces operatives and our drone aircraft carried out — and still carry out — assassinations globally, acting as judge, jury, and executioner, sometimes of innocent civilians.  We spied on, and electronically eavesdropped on, our own citizenry and much of the rest of the world, on a massive scale whose dimensions we may not yet faintly know.  We pretzled the English language, creating an Orwellian terminology that, among other things, essentially defined “torture” out of existence (or, at the very least, left its definitional status to the torturer).    

And don’t think that that’s anything like a full list. Not by a long shot.  It’s only what comes to my mind on a first pass through the subject.


However busy we may be, whatever tasks await us here in this country — and they remain monstrously large — we do need to make an honest, clear-headed assessment of what we did (and, in some cases, continue to do), of the horrors we committed in the name of… well, of us and our “safety.”  We need to face who we’ve been and just how badly we’ve acted, if we care to become something better.

Now, read that list again, my list of just the known knowns, and ask yourself:  Aren’t we the people your mother warned you about?

Read it all: Tomgram: An American Hell: Don’t Turn the Page on History: Facing the American World We Created

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute’s He is the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of the Cold War and beyond, as well as of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing.  He also edited The World According to TomDispatch:  America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), an alternative history of the mad Bush years.


    • Edger on August 2, 2009 at 6:10 pm

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