Skip navigation

Tag Archives: TORTURE

 

 

 

 

 

John Chuckman

Of course, the cozy popular myth of America’s Founding Fathers as an earnest, civic-minded group gathered in an ornate hall, writing with quill pens, reading from leather-bound tomes, and offering heroic speeches in classical poses – all resembling Greek philosophers in wigs and spectacles and frock coats – was always that, a myth. They were in more than a few cases narrow, acquisitive men, ambitious for their personal interests which were considerable, and even the more philosophic types among them were well-read but largely unoriginal men who cribbed ideas and concepts and even whole phrases from European Enlightenment writers and British parliamentary traditions.

And much of what they wrote and agreed upon involved what would prove mistaken ideas, with a lack of foresight into what the almost unchangeable concrete their words would shape. Americans today often are not aware that the word “democracy” for many of the Founders was an unpleasant one, carrying just about the same connotations that “communist” would a century and a half later. Men of the world of privilege and comparative wealth – Washington, Morris, and many others – were having nothing to do with ideas which rendered unimportant men important. That is why the country was styled as a “republic” – that most undefined term in the political lexicon, which then meant only the absence of a king with decisions made by a tight group of propertied elites.

False as they are, the very fact that there are such pleasant myths does tell us something about past popular ideals informing their creation. Now, how would any future Americans manage to weave attractive myths about a president who sits in the Oval Office signing authorizations for teams of young buzz-cut psychopaths in secret locked rooms to guide killing machines against mere suspects and innocent bystanders, often adopting the tactics of America’s lunatic anti-abortion assassins, sending a second hellish missile into the crowd of neighbors who come to the assistance of the victims of the first?

How would they weave attractive myths around the CIA’s International Torture Gulag, including that hellhole, Guantanamo, where kidnapped, legally-innocent people are imprisoned and tortured and given absolutely no rights or ethical treatment under international laws and conventions?

During the Revolutionary War, the battles were between armies, and captured soldiers were frequently granted their freedom upon their paroles, pledges of not returning to the fight. Spies were thought poorly of and often hung. Torture was uncommon and certainly not embraced as policy.

What myths can be written of two wars involving the deaths of a million or so people, the creation of millions of refugees, and the needless destruction of huge amounts of other peoples’ property, and all to achieve nothing but a change of government? Or about massive armed forces and secret security agencies which squander hundreds of billions in resources year after year, spreading their dark influence to all corners of the globe, and offering an insurmountable obstacle to America’s own citizens who might imagine they ever can rise against a government grown tyrannous? After all, polls in America show that its Congress is held in contempt by the overwhelming majority of its people, with percentages of disapproval rivaling those held for communism or Satanic rituals.

There are no myths about today’s Congressional figures. Everyone understands they are often to be found bellowing in ornate halls about points most Americans couldn’t care less about. Everyone understands that they are ready to go anywhere and say almost anything for large enough campaign contributions. That they take off on junkets paid for by groups hoping to influence votes and put faces to the exercise of future influence, trips commonly involving a foreign power trying to shape American policy. That their work is often steeped in secrecy from the voters, secrecy not governed by genuine national security concerns but by the often shameful nature of their work. That a good deal of the legislation and rules they create repress their own people’s interests and favor only special interests.

That their government regularly suppresses inconvenient truths and labels those who raise questions as foolishly addicted to conspiracy or even as treacherous. What are just a few of the events which have been treated in this fashion? The assassination of a President. The accidental or deliberate downing of at least three civilian aircraft by America’s military in recent years – an Iranian airliner, TWA Flight 800 on the East Coast, and the fourth plane of the 9/11 plot over Pennsylvania. The CIA’s past cooperation and engagement with the American Mafia during its anti-Castro terror campaign. The CIA’s use of drug trafficking to raise off-the-books income. The military’s assassination of American prisoners of war cooperating with their Vietnamese captors. Obfuscating Israel’s deliberate attack on an American intelligence-gathering ship during its engineered 1967 War. The huge death toll of locals, civilian and military, in America’s grisly imperial wars, from Vietnam to Iraq. 9/11.

I do not believe in 9/11 insider plots, but I know there has been strenuous official effort to disguise that event’s full nature. The motives? One suspects a great deal of embarrassment at demonstrated incompetence has been at work. Blowback from CIA operations in the Middle East seems more than likely. The documented involvement of Mossad in following and recording the plotters inside the United States leaves disturbing unanswered questions. One also knows that America’s establishment discovered in the wake of 9/11 the perfect opportunity for doing a great many nasty things it had always wanted to do anyway. You might say the terrorists did the military-industrial-intelligence complex a big favor. Anti-democratic measures involving surveillance, privacy in communications, secret prisons, torture, and effective suspension of some of the Constitution are all parts of the new American reality.

The FBI can record what you borrow from the public library. The NSA captures your every phone call, text message, and e-mail. The TSA can strip search you for taking an inter-city bus. Drones are being used for surveillance, and the TSA actually has a program of agents traveling along some highways ready to stop those regarded as suspicious. Portable units for seeing through clothes and baggage, similar to those used at airports, are to tour urban streets in vans randomly. Agencies of the government, much in the style of the former Stasi, encourage reports from citizens about suspicious behavior. Now, you can just imagine what might be called “suspicious” in a society which has always had a tendency towards witch-hunts and fears of such harmless things as Harry Potter books or the charming old Procter and Gambel symbol on soapboxes.

America has become in many ways a police state, albeit one where a kind of decency veil is left draped over the crude government machinery. How can a place which has elections and many of the trappings of a free society be a police state? Well, it can because power, however conferred, can be, and will be, abused. And the majority in any democratic government can impose terrible burdens on the minority. That’s how the American Confederacy worked, how apartheid South Africa worked, and that’s how Israel works today. Prevention of those inevitable abuses is the entire reason for a Bill of Rights, but if you suspend or weaken its protections, anything becomes possible.

American police forces have long enjoyed a reputation for brutal and criminal behavior – using illegal-gains seizure laws for profit, beating up suspects, conducting unnecessary military-style raids on homes, killing people sometimes on the flimsiest of excuses – having earned international recognition from organizations such as Amnesty International. The reasons for this are complex but include the military model of organization adopted by American policing, the common practice of hiring ex-soldiers as police, the phenomenon of uncontrolled urban sprawl creating new towns whose tiny police forces have poor practices and training, and, in many jurisdictions, a long and rich history of police corruption. Now, those often poor-quality American police have unprecedented discretion and powers of abuse.

Further, according to the words of one high-ranking general a few years back, the American military is prepared to impose martial law in the event of another great act of terror. Certainly that is an encouraging and uplifting thought considering all the blunders and waste and murder and rape the American military has inflicted upon countries from Vietnam to Iraq.

Where it is possible, power prefers to know about and even to control what is going on at the most humble level of its society, and the greater the power, the more irresistible the drive to know and control. It is essential to appreciate that whether you are talking about the military or huge corporations or the security apparatus, you are not talking about institutions which are democratic in nature. Quite the opposite, these institutions are run along much the same lines as all traditional forms of undemocratic government, from monarchs to dictators. Leadership and goals and methods are not subject to a vote and orders given are only to be obeyed, and there is no reason to believe that any of these institutions cherishes or promotes democratic values or principles of human rights. Of course, corporations, in order to attract talent, must publicly present a friendly face towards those principles, but that necessary charade reflects their future behavior about as much as campaign promises reflect future acts of an American politician.

Those at the top of all powerful and hierarchical institutions inevitably come to believe that they know better than most people, and those with any hope of gaining top positions must adopt the same view. For centuries we saw the great landed gentry and church patriarchs of pre-democratic societies regard themselves as inherently different from the population. It is no different with the psychology of people who enjoy their wealth and influence through positions in these great modern, un-democratic institutions. The larger and more pervasive these institutions become in society – and they have become truly bloated in America – the more will their narcissistic, privileged views prevail. Also, it is axiomatic that where great power exists, it never goes unused. Large standing armies are the proximate cause of many of history’s wars. And just so, the power of corporations to expand through illegality of every description, this being the source of the many controversies about failing to pay taxes in countries where they operate or the widespread practice of bribery in landing large contracts with national governments.

So far as security services go (the United States, at last count, having sixteen different ones), they may well be the worst of all these modern, massive anti-democratic institutions. Their lines of responsibility to government are often weak, and citizens in general are often regarded as things with which to experiment or play. Their leaders and agents are freely permitted to perjure themselves in courts. The organizations possess vast budgets with little need to account for the spending. They can even create their own funds through everything from drug and weapons trading to counterfeiting currency, all of it not accounted for and subject to no proper authority. And their entire work is secret, whether that work involves legitimate national security or not. The nature of their work breeds a secret-fraternity mindset of superiority and cynicism. They start wars and coups, including against democratic governments sometimes, they pay off rising politicians even in allied countries, they use money and disinformation to manipulate elections even in friendly governments, and of course they kill people and leaders they seriously disapprove of. Now, does any thinking person believe that they simply forget these mindsets and practices when it comes to what they regard as serious problems in their own country?

The record of arrogance and abuse by security organizations, such as CIA or the FBI, is long and costly, filled with errors in judgment, abuse of power, incompetence, and immense dishonesty. Owing to the black magic of classified secrecy, much of the record involves projects about which we will never know, but even what we do know about is distressing enough. And I’m not sure that it can be any other way so long as you have Big Intelligence. Apart from Big Intelligence’s own propensity towards criminal or psychopathic behavior, one of the great ironies of Big Intelligence is that it will always agree to bend, to provide whatever suppressions and fabrications are requested by political leaders working towards the aims of the other great anti-democratic institutions, the military and the corporations. This became blindingly clear in the invasion of Iraq and, even before that, in the first Gulf War.

America’s political system, honed and shaped over many decades, fits comfortably with these institutions. National elections are dominated by a two-party duopoly (being kept that way through countless institutional barriers deliberately created to maintain the status quo) , both these parties are dominated by huge flows of campaign contributions (contributions which form what economists call an effective barrier to entry against any third party seriously being able to compete), both parties embrace much the same policies except for some social issues of little interest to the establishment, and election campaigns are reduced to nothing more than gigantic advertising and marketing operations no different in nature to campaigns for two national brands of fast food or pop. It takes an extremely long time for a candidate to rise and be tested before being trusted with the huge amounts of money invested in an important campaign, and by that time he or she is a well-read book with no surprising chapters.

If for any reason this political filtering system fails, and someone slips through to an important office without having spent enough time to make them perfectly predictable, there still remains little chance of serious change on any important matter. The military-industrial-intelligence complex provides a molded space into which any newcomer absolutely must fit. Just imagine the immense pressures exerted by the mere presence of senior Pentagon brass gathered around a long polished oak table or a table surrounded by top corporate figures representing hundreds of billions in sales or representatives or a major lobbying group (and multi-million dollar financing source for the party). We see the recent example of popular hopes being crushed after the election of Obama, a man everyone on the planet hoped to see mend some of the ravages of George Bush and Dick Cheney. But the man who once sometimes wore sandals and bravely avoided a superfluous and rather silly flag pin on his lapel quickly was made to feel the crushing weight of institutional power, and he bent to every demand made on him, becoming indistinguishable from Bush. Of course, the last president who genuinely did challenge at least some of the great institutional powers, even to a modest extent, died in an ambush in Dallas.

Advertisements

November 16, 2009

AUNG SAN SUU KYI, OMAR KHADR, AND BARACK OBAMA: A DREADFUL TALE OF WHAT AMERICA HAS BECOME

John Chuckman

During his trip to Asia, President Obama called for the government of Burma to release Aung San Suu Kyi, a noted dissident who has spent years under house arrest.

It made headlines, a fact which tells us more about the role of media as an outlet for government press releases than in communicating genuine news.

Obama’s was hardly a brave or innovative act when you consider that it is a universally-condemned military junta keeping Aung San Suu Kyi penned up.

But when you appreciate the full context of Obama’s call, you may agree with me that it was more a cowardly act than anything else.

A year ago, after eight years of mind-numbing stupidity, countless public lies and bloody war crimes, Obama’s arrival on the American political scene thrilled the world. His intelligence, his grace, and his sense of decency were striking. His like as an American politician, quite apart from his race, had not been seen in the lifetime of many.

But the hopes raised by Obama, like so many flickering little candles in a fierce wind, already are largely extinguished. This polished, educated, liberal-minded and decent man, after only one year in office, has been overwhelmed by America’s military-industrial complex, a terrible machine which grinds on night and day, chewing people in its gears, no matter who is elected ostensibly to be in charge of it.

Much as I resent Burma’s treatment of Aung San Suu Kyi, it shines as genuinely humane compared to America’s treatment of Omar Khadr.

The key facts in the case of this young man, a prisoner at Guantanamo, are easily told.

Omar Khadr was born to a fundamentalist Muslim, highly political family whose father knew and died fighting for Osama bin Laden. In an era whose ruling myths are a clash of civilizations and a war on terror, Omar would seem to have been doomed from birth.

Under intense pressure from his family, fifteen-year old Omar went to fight in Afghanistan when America invaded it. In doing that, he was doing nothing that tens of thousands of Americans hadn’t done, both as idealists for causes and as soldiers of fortune in countless wars from the Spanish Civil War to the Cuban Revolution or the turmoil of the Congo.

Omar’s experience reminded me a little of American Ron Kovic’s Born on the Fourth of July, a story where the need for maternal approval helped drive his destructive participation in America’s Vietnam holocaust (three million Vietnamese slaughtered, many hideously with napalm, and the legacy of soil saturated with Agent Orange and littered with millions of landmines more than justifies that term).

The American claim against Omar is that he shot an American soldier, a medic no less, a fact seemingly almost designed to increase his infamy.

The story, as I heard it in an interview a few years ago with an American soldier, a friend of the dead medic’s, was that after a small firefight, Omar hid himself, then leapt up, heartlessly killing the medic whose only interest was the wounded. Omar was then captured and eventually sent to Guantanamo.

Even were that story true, and it is not, there would still be no excuse for sending a fifteen-year old child to Guantanamo. That act violated all international conventions on the treatment of child soldiers, but then almost everything America has done over the last eight years has violated international conventions, international laws, common decency, and the spirit of its own Bill of Rights.

For years, Omar, like hundreds of inmates at Guantanamo, was held incommunicado: he was allowed no contact with his family, he was allowed no visits from the International Red Cross (again in contravention to international conventions) and he was allowed no legal counsel. Omar was allowed no rights of any kind: being kept shackled in a secret prison ninety miles offshore was considered adequate to efface the entire spirit and meaning of America’s own rights and laws.

We now know that the soldiers who captured Omar, in fact, shot him twice in the back as the frightened boy tried to run. Despite life-threatening wounds and his young age, Omar was consigned to years of imprisonment and torture at Guantanamo. Indeed, his worst torturer, a soldier with a reputation at Guantanamo as perhaps its most vicious interrogator, deliberately contrived his sessions with Omar so that the boy had to sit in a position which pulled at his slowly-healing and painful wounds.

We also know now, evidence having just been published in Canadian newspapers, that Omar could not possibly have killed the medic: Omar was photographed hiding under a pile of rubble as the soldiers passed.

So who killed the medic? One perhaps should recall the case of Pat Tillman, an American football player killed by his own forces in Afghanistan, a case at first covered up the military, but even now full of unanswered questions.

And why did the Americans shoot Omar, twice, in the back?  One simply cannot avoid the suggestion that the American soldiers involved acted with cowardice and savagery.

Some readers may object that American soldiers are incapable of such behaviour, but let’s go back to that time in Afghanistan, reviewing some things we now know as facts, and think about what they suggest about the ethos prevailing there when a fifteen-year old was shot in the back and sent to be tortured.

America’s carpet bombing in Afghanistan was destructive beyond anything Americans have ever been told. Just as was the case in the First Gulf War when uncounted tens of thousands of poor Iraqi recruits were bulldozed into the desert after having been literally pulped into tailing ponds of human bits and fluids by B-52s, the true horror of what massive bombing did in Afghanistan was understandably not well advertised..

The public has been led to believe that, compared to the horrors inflicted upon Iraq, the invasion of Afghanistan was almost bloodless. But I learned recently from an expert journalist – an American no less – with many years of experience in that country that a great deal of blood was shed. In Kabul alone, fifty to sixty thousand Afghans died in America’s brutal bombing and artillery cover for its Northern Alliance proxy army, itself a gang of thugs many of whom are not one wit more ethical or civilized than the Taleban.

We knew too, those who cared to search, of the brutal tactics of American special forces in the mountains after the initial “victory”: tales of heavily-armed goons marching into remote towns, throwing stun grenades, breaking down the doors of homes, holding women and children at gunpoint while their male family members were marched away with no explanation. The men were often kept for considerable periods to be “questioned.”

At the least suspicion, air strikes were called in, and in dozens and dozens of cases, those air strikes wiped out whole families or groups of villagers who had done nothing to oppose Americans. They were the victims, thousands of them, of young Americans filled with irrational resentments over 9/11, anxious to prove how good they were with their high-tech killing machines, and let loose on someone else’s country.

And we knew, at least again those who cared to search, the story of America’s hideous treatment of Taleban prisoners in the early days of occupation, of Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld’s Nazi-like public demand that all prisoners should be killed or walled away forever. One of America’s ghastly allies of the Northern Alliance, General Dostum, took Rumsfeld in deadly earnest: he had his men round up three thousand prisoners, seal them in vans and drive them out onto the desert to suffocate in the heat. The bodies were then buried in shallow mass graves. All this was watched by American soldiers who somehow failed to act the way Jimmy Stewart did in war movies. Instead they picked their noses or smoked cigarettes as they gawked.

We also knew of the terrible tales of boys being raped while American troops never lifted a finger to help them. In a strict fundamentalist country like Afghanistan, where young women are kept guarded and almost hidden, the sexual behaviour of men often takes on the character of that common in prisons everywhere: that is, young and vulnerable men are brutally raped and often treated as “bitches” by older, tougher prisoners.

Only recently, I heard the horrible stories of a Canadian soldier with post traumatic stress who told of seeing a boy with blood running down his legs as two Afghan allies raped him. The soldier could do nothing and was told later only to buck it up. He told too of a translator, a hired Afghan, gleefully relating to him about the way he liked to use a knife on boys he raped.

We all saw the ghastly pictures from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Only now we know far uglier pictures and recordings have been suppressed, images and sounds of young Iraqis being raped and sodomized by American soldiers at the prison.

Those facts give us some realistic sense of the atmosphere in Afghanistan when American soldiers shot Omar in the back, falsely accused him of killing a medic, and sent a fifteen-year old boy off to years of torture.

Omar remains a prisoner in Guantanamo, although the torture mercifully has stopped, but it was announced only a couple of days ago that he would be among those who would stand trial in New York.

Trial for what? For trumped-up charges of murder? Trial for acts in war? Trial for being an abused child soldier? Trial under American laws which never applied to Afghanistan? A trial where every scrap of government evidence is tainted with years of torture and human-rights abuse? Where the government doing the trying itself has acted against countless laws and treaties in invading and occupying two countries?

If there were one breath of decency left in America’s establishment, Omar and the other abused prisoners would all be released and allowed to live the rest of their lives in peace. They are no threat to anyone, most did nothing deserving imprisonment, and those who may have committed something we would regard as a crime have been viciously punished already.

Only days ago, Obama’s White House Counsel Greg Craig was let go. Craig, an old friend of the President’s, had promised to make his administration the most transparent in history. Craig was the main force behind the Obama’s promise to close Guantanamo in one year.

Well, there is no sign Guantanamo is to be closed any time soon, and the policy’s chief advocate is gone. But more importantly, when we speak of American torture chambers, it is easy to forget that Guantanamo is only the most publicized of many. What horrors go on at places like America’s secret base at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean or at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, or in a number of other locations, all part of the CIA’s vast international torture gulag, is anybody’s guess.

Obama has not uttered a whimper about the CIA’s euphemistically-named extreme rendition, a practice whereby thousands of people have been kidnapped off streets and sent bound to some of the world’s hell-holes for months of torture. Afterwards, having been discovered innocent of anything, they find themselves dumped in some obscure place like Bosnia without so much as an apology for their treatment.

Obama told people repeatedly during his campaign that American forces in Iraq would be withdrawn promptly, saying “you can bank on it,” and people believed him because Obama did not vote in the Senate for that illegal war, but most of America’s soldiers remain there still.

Obama appointed a commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, who has a background swirling with suggestions of black operations and dirty business, and now that ghastly man has said he needs forty-thousand more troops.

American Predator drones, guided by buzz-cut, faceless men with computer screens in locked rooms in America, now frequently invade Pakistan’s airspace. One can just imagine them hooting and pumping their arms like young men playing a computer game when one of their terrible Hellfire missiles strikes its target, the home of someone not legally charged with anything, killing everyone who happens to be nearby.

No, I only wish the ugly stain on America’s flag was keeping a dissident under house arrest.

________________________________________________________

Further to Aung San Suu Kyi herself, see these comments:

https://chuckmanwordsincomments.wordpress.com/2016/03/31/john-chuckman-comment-aung-san-suu-kyis-muslim-comment-in-a-bbc-interview-but-this-she-never-merited-the-flattering-attention-given-her-she-was-an-american-propaganda-tool-for-years/

https://chuckmanwordsincomments.wordpress.com/2012/06/24/columnist-says-aung-san-suu-kyi-must-balance-politics-and-principles-the-truth-is-her-lack-of-balance-is-likely-a-medical-matter-a-word-on-nobel-peace-prizes/

 

AMERICA’S GULAG

John Chuckman

Often small things provide the most disturbing evidence for world-changing events, as when naturalists observe the quiet disappearance of some little known species. The CIA’s firing of senior officer Mary O. McCarthy is a political event of just this nature.

Ordinarily, the firing of some middling CIA officer is not an event to interest many other than John Le Carre fans and those who linger over cappuccino at the CIA’s Langely cafeteria. Not just conservative throw-backs recognize the need for secrecy in many intelligence matters.

Ordinarily, the fact that some CIA agent has broken his or her oath of secrecy would not cause much disturbance outside the unhinged James Angleton types who make up some portion of any intelligence community. Surely, out of tens of thousands of employees, this is something that happens with regularity.

But Ms. McCarthy’s case is different, and it is of interest to the world. She is responsible, reportedly by her own admission during a furious round of polygraph tests, for information supplied to The Washington Post concerning the CIA’s vast secret prison system.

This CIA-run gulag, and there is no name more fitting, does not resemble the case of a new secret weapon or of a mole planted somewhere abroad. The existence of a secret gulag goes to the heart of democratic values.

Is the population of any democratic country not entitled to be informed of so vast and creepy an enterprise? To exercise their franchise based on facts? At some point, any secret operation, if it becomes large enough and affects the lives of tens of thousands, risks undermining the very legitimacy of the government running it.

The reputation of the United States abroad has suffered perhaps irreparable damage from the excesses and stupidities of Bush’s War on Terror. So much so that Americans are now advised by their own State Department to guard their behavior and even identity when traveling abroad. Are Americans not entitled to be informed of what has caused this? Of what has been done in their name?

If you can keep tens of thousands secretly locked away and subject to torture, what prevents this number from becoming millions? Where are the limits without public information? The inherent integrity of American government officials, you say? Three-quarters of the world’s people today would laugh caustically at the suggestion.

WAS EINSTEIN RIGHT?

John Chuckman

“My awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power, no matter how modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain – especially from the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks, against which we have already had to fight strongly, even without a Jewish state.” Albert Einstein

Einstein is one of my favorite twentieth-century characters. He was remarkable, and I don’t mean only for his profound contributions to our understanding of the physical world. He was someone who drove authoritarians like J. Edgar Hoover mad. He was one of those rare souls, like George Orwell, who despite mistakes and flaws, consciously worked to direct his actions, and redirect them after missteps, by principles of decency, humanity, and rational thought. He never subscribed to menacing slogans like “My country, right or wrong” or “You’re either with us or against us.” Quite the opposite, he knew any country was capable of being wrong at times and did not deserve blind allegiance when it was.

Einstein’s was one of the most important names lent to the cause of Zionism. His name and visits and letters raised a great deal of money towards establishing universities and resettling European Jews suffering under violent anti-Semitism long before the founding of Israel.

But even in a cause so dear to his heart, Einstein never stopped thinking for himself. He not only opposed the establishment of a formal Israeli state – he was after all a great internationalist – but he always advocated treating the Arabic people of Palestine with generosity and understanding.

Clearly Einstein’s Zionist path was not the one followed. The actual path chosen by Israel has been pretty much that of “the iron wall,” a phrase put forward by Ze’ev Jabotinsky in the 1920s as the appropriate posture for Zionists to adopt towards Arabs in Palestine.

Charles de Gaulle, up until the Six Day War, demonstrated great understanding and support for Israel. This thoughtful and highly individualistic statesman felt an instinctive sympathy for the struggle of the Jews, but the Six Day War caused him to alter France’s policies towards the Jewish state.

The Six Day War was a much darker and more complex affair than it is portrayed in official Israeli myths. The war was not simply an attack by a gang of Arab states against Israel – a description which suggests not just Goliath, but the entire tribe of Philistines, attacking little David with his slingshot. While this is an appealing image, naturally arousing great sympathy in American Puritans raised on the Old Testament, it is not an accurate one. A fine Jewish scholar like Avi Shlaim, a specialist in the first half century of Israeli policy, recognizing that not all important documents bearing on the matter have been released, agrees there are doubts and ambiguities here rather than light and darkness.

Before the Six Day War, David Ben Gurion made it clear to de Gaulle and other western leaders that Israel wanted more land to absorb migrants. Before the war, Israel also high-handedly diverted water from the Jordan river, a hostile act in a water-short region and the kind of thing that caused more than one “range war” in America’s Southwest.

A very tense situation arose with a surge in Soviet armaments to Arab states, although any knowledgeable observer understood that Israel continued to hold the upper hand in any potential conflict. A major diplomatic mission was undertaken by Abba Eban to gather support for Israel’s intended violent response to Egypt’s blockade of the Straits of Tiran. Just as we now have Bush’s obdurate, hasty demand for war with Iraq, Eban made it clear that Israel had no stomach for diplomacy to end the blockade. The blockade meant war.

De Gaulle made a remarkably prescient observation to the Israeli government: “If Israel is attacked, we shall not let her be destroyed, but if you attack, we shall condemn your initiative. Of course, I have no doubt that you will have military successes in the event of war, but afterwards, you would find yourself committed on the terrain, and from the international point of view, in increasing difficulties, especially as war in the East cannot fail to increase a deplorable tension in the world, so that it will be you, having become the conquerors, who will gradually be blamed for the inconveniences.”

De Gaulle also understood that Israel’s behavior was nourishing nationalistic aspirations on the part of the Palestinians, a development Israel either greatly underestimated or chose to ignore, perhaps reflecting the arrogance of those supported by great power towards those without power. De Gaulle’s advice was, of course, ignored. Israel managed easily to overwhelm the Arab states, as its leaders had known it would, and it has occupied a good portion of the territories seized ever since. It has ignored many quiet diplomatic voices on this matter. It has stood in contempt of UN resolutions for years. It has suffered innumerable guerilla attacks and launched innumerable reprisals, even starting a bloody war in Lebanon complete with atrocities. Israel finally came to toy with the notion of a Palestinian state but never made the genuine effort or concessions necessary to see this become a reality. It has, in short, fulfilled de Gaulle’s warning of trouble more than thirty years ago.

The 9/11 attack on America, coming under the administration of perhaps the most aimless, blundering, and least informed president in American history, was a godsend for Israel’s belligerent policy. The people Israel has occupied and mistreated for a third of a century are regarded by this American president as something akin to al Qaeda. We have even had trial balloons released by Republican figures like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Armey concerning Israel’s right to hold the land and drive out its people, although it is possible these represent pre-assault softening-up by Washington to make Palestinians grateful for a second pathetic offer of statehood now in the works, pathetic because it is impossible to imagine anything else being blessed by both Bush and Sharon.

Perhaps most revealing of the moral state to which Israel has been reduced since the Six Day War were preparations for Mr. Bush’s war on Iraq. All Israeli citizens were issued gas masks. A debate and legal moves centered around whether foreign workers, of which there are large numbers, should also receive gas masks. If they wanted gas masks, they must rent or buy them, and the masks available for rental were those considered as expired and unsuitable for Israelis. In families of mixed marriages, apparently spouses who remain unregistered under Israel’s now more restrictive registration requirements, do not receive gas masks. Most Palestinians under Israeli occupation are not issued gas masks, it being considered the responsibility of the broken Palestinian Authority, almost without resources, to look after this.

There is something especially repugnant in establishing a hierarchy of people whose safety should be the responsibility of the state, and the various adjustments made to this hierarchy in the face of criticism hardly reflect humane policies.

In recent months, not a week passes in which Israel’s army does not kill fifteen or twenty Palestinians. Often, this many are killed in a day or two. These killings are generally reported as the deaths of “militants,” although we have no way of determining the legitimacy of that term. We do know that quite a number of people who cannot possibly be characterized as militants, including women and children and peaceful foreign observers, have been killed by Israeli soldiers. Of course, even those who might justifiably be called militants are in their view only putting up a pathetic defense of their homes against Merkava tanks and Apache helicopters.

The assassination of suspected terrorists is now an accepted, ordinary event in Palestine, and Mr. Bush has granted Israel the right to extend this violence to America territory. Mr. Sharon’s secret services have conducted scores of assassinations. Perhaps assassination is the wrong word since it is generally used to describe the killing of a high-level political opponent. Mr. Sharon’s bloody work is precisely that of a police force murdering, instead of arresting, criminal suspects by the score.

At this writing, as America bombs and burns its way through Iraq, Israel has again rolled out its bulldozers and tanks into Gaza – killing, wrecking, and making many improper arrests. Most horrifying is what Israel is doing to Bedouin farmers in the Negev desert. Israel has used crop dusters spraying poisonous chemicals to destroy the Bedouin crops. The charge is that they are illegal squatters – a remarkable accusation coming from those who still hold lands seized in 1967 and regularly build new settlements on them for brand-new, heavily-armed immigrants.

Defenders of Israel’s excesses in the United States have been driven to advocate policies as chilling as creating a legal framework for torturing terrorist suspects in the United States and Israel’s undertaking the cold-blooded reprisal killing of the families of desperate suicide bombers. These are powerful measures of the corrupting long-term effects of the Six Day War and Israel’s determination to retain control over much or all of the seized land.

Regrettably, Einstein appears to have been right about what Israel had the potential for becoming. No person of principle can support Israel’s present policies, and I believe there is little doubt that would include Einstein had he lived. Perhaps it is just as well he did not.

IN PRAISE OF UNSPEAKABLE THINGS

John Chuckman

When I turn to the opinion pages of a major newspaper in the muscular, brawling Midwestern city where I grew up, it’s an unpleasantly fascinating experience, a little like what I imagine a victim of child abuse might feel, smiling at a family gathering, still painfully hoping to sense some normal affection from someone who has done unspeakable things.

The newspaper’s opinion pages recently have overflowed like a plugged toilet with unappetizing sludge you might call Franklin Graham patriotism. This a lethal mix of baton-twirling Christianity and “Let’s nuke ’em” – all delivered in the heartwarming drawl of speakers at a Jesse Helms testimonial dinner.

The poisonous sludge fairly bubbles with sentiments along the lines of: “Like Mom was telling me the time I was on leave from ‘Nam and we first met Mickey Mouse at Disney World….”

Letters praising people for flying little flags on their car antennas. Letters upbraiding people who let their little car-antenna flags fall on the street. A letter telling us how the writer stopped three times in one day to pick up fallen antenna-flags off the street. A letter from someone plaintively whining over a flag swiped from his lawn at night and pleading for its quiet return. I suspect this last one was from a newcomer to Chicago, because when I was growing up, everyone knew anything left outside would disappear.

Letters and editorials crow over the new show of patriotism, as though a lost art had been re-kindled, or a great idea re-discovered. An exciting renaissance of jingoism. It’s as though the Baby-Boom generation had pulled their SUVs en masse up to a revival-tent meeting and come forward to speak in tongues and roll on the floor. Gratifying, indeed.

It’s no use asking why that’s a good thing, although one suspects it’s so they’ll cheerfully pay the cost of a bountiful Christmas this year, and of many to come, for the those fine patriots in the defense industry. Likely too, it’s so they’ll meekly embrace the serious loss of freedom Mr. Bush has thoughtfully shepherded into law.

But the letter that meant the most to me was the one commenting on a front-page picture of a Special Forces soldier. The writer went into paroxysms of admiration for this shining, clean-living model for America’s youth, obviously unaware that this was the bunch of thugs that unquestioningly assassinated at least 20,000 civilian village leaders in Project Phoenix during the Viet Nam War. Ah yes, I thought, might this letter not easily, with a few names changed, be that of a middle-aged German in, say, 1940 praising the pressed uniform and smart attitude of a young SS officer as an example to all German youth.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.