The CFR Debates
[Council on Foreign Relations]
Torture, parts 1 & 2
The Council on Foreign Relations
helps shape imperial strategy
by Lawrence Shoup
www.zmag.org, March 2006 &
Missing from the ongoing public debate over war and the torture
and abuse of detainees by the CIA and U.S. military is the extent
to which the debaters on both sides are all members of only one
very influential ruling class organization, the Council on Foreign
Relations (CFR). Their ongoing discussion reflects this organization's
ability to frame public debate and the passage of laws. The debate
also highlights the divisions within the CFR and the larger U.S.
ruling class over imperial strategy and tactics as the U.S. tries
to subdue Iraqi resistance and maintain control of its neoliberal
The New York-based CFR is the oldest,
largest, and most powerful of U.S. ruling class think tanks. It
is much more than a think tank, however, since it is also an organization
with over 4,200 members, each one prominent in a key sector of
U.S. life. The CFR also publishes Foreign Affairs magazine, which,
according to a recent survey, is the nation's "most influential"
media outlet, ahead of all other newspapers, magazines, and broadcast
The largest single group in the CFR is
the corporate business community, which makes up 31 percent of
the CFR membership, with the academic community in second place
with 25 percent. The balance of CFR members are employed in the
nonprofit sector, government, law, and journalism. The business
community is also the source of most of CFR's financial support,
with hundreds of top U.S. corporations giving them from $15,000
to $50,000 every year. Among corporations who gave at least $25,000
during the 2004-2005 year were Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, BP
plc, Amerada Hess, Chevron, Halliburton-KBR, Marathon Oil, Occidental
Petroleum, Shell Oil, Kuwait Petroleum, Schlumberger Limited,
and Aramco Services.
In terms of membership, the densest network
of corporate ties to CFR are from the New York multinational corporate
community. The CFR has also always had a close relationship with
key federal government departments. Noteworthy for the purposes
of an understanding of torture and abuse by the U.S. government
is the close long-term ties between CFR and the CIA, along with
extensive ties to the U.S. military. The CFR has had at least
14 CIA directors among its members, along with many other top
CIA and intelligence leaders. A review of CFR membership lists
finds that at least 20 current U.S. generals and admirals are
also members of the Council.
Viewed in ideological terms, there are
four key groups among the CFR membership. The small "left"
side of the political spectrum is made up mainly of liberal Democrats,
along with a few scholars and activists. These include people
like civil rights leader Jessie Jackson, Nation magazine editor
Katrina vanden Heuvel, Richard J. Barnet of the Institute for
Policy Studies, ACLU President Nadine Strossen, former Senator
George S. McGovern, U.S. head of Amnesty International William
Schulz, author/activist Daniel Ellsberg, and Princeton University
Professor Richard A. Falk.
Moving to the right is what could be called
"middle of the road" imperialists. These are people
who play important roles in both the Democratic Party and the
CFR, people like former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton;
current and former Senators John Kerry, Christopher J. Dodd, Joseph
I. Lieberman, Bob Graham, Sam Nunn, Gary Hart, John D. Rockefeller,
Evan Bayh, and Diane Feinstein; AFL-CIO head John J. Sweeney;
Robert E. Rubin of Citicorp; international businessperson George
Soros; former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright; Zbigniew
Brzezinski of the Center for Strategic and International Studies;
Laura d'Andrea Tyson of Morgan Stanley and the Brookings Institution;
and many others.
Moving further to the right is another
key membership group, best labeled the conservative Republican
imperialists. Much of the CFR's top leadership, past and present,
fits into this category. Examples include corporate leaders David
Rockefeller, Peter G. Peterson, Maurice R. Greenberg, and Carla
A. Hills. Also part of this group are current and former Senators
Chuck Hagel, Bill Frist, John McCain, John Warner, Olympia Snowe,
Alfonse M. D'Amato, Warren Rudman, and William S. Cohen, as well
as former Presidents Gerald R. Ford and George H.W. Bush (a former
CFR member and director, but no longer listed as a member), and
former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, Alexander M. Haig
Jr., Colin L. Powell, and George P. Shultz.
At the far right end of the CFR political
spectrum is a large group of so-called "neo-conservatives."
These are ultra-imperialists whose extremist ideological/political
approach includes unilateral preventative war, disdain for human
rights, use of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause, obsession
with national security, favoring corporate control of society,
racism, super-nationalism, extreme militarism, disregard for the
rule of law, suppression of labor unions, promotion of fraudulent
elections, and rampant cronyism/corruption. Council members who
fit into this category include Vice President Dick Cheney and
his former chief assistant I. Lewis Libby; former Deputy Secretary
of Defense Paul Wolfowitz; former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas
J. Feith; former Defense Policy Board chair Richard Perle; former
Congresspeople Vin Weber and Newton L. Gingrich; State Department
officials Elliott Abrams and John Bolton; right-wing organizer
Grover G. Norquist; Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; author
Norman Podhoretz; and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad.
All of these, except Rice, Feith, Perle, Bolton, Gingrich and
Norquist, are also founding members of the super-imperialist group
Project for a New American Century.
Given its right leaning, but politically
divided membership, an ongoing central goal of the CFR is to develop
a bipartisan consensus on the key foreign policy issues of the
day, especially bringing together the rightwing and middle sectors
of the U.S. political spectrum. It also deals with questions of
the balance of power between states and the key role of certain
"linchpin" nations in that balance. Geopolitical economics
has been the CFR's dominant worldview at least since World War
The U.S. War in Iraq
Iraq, with its large proven oil reserves
and even larger potential, but as yet undeveloped reserves, had
been on the radar of the geopolitical economic planners of CFR
for many years. This attention came to a climax with two studies
in 2001. During that year the CFR co-sponsored an Independent
Task Force on Strategic Energy Policy Challenges for the 21st
Century with the James A. Baker III Institute of Public Policy
at Rice University in Texas. Former Secretary of State James A.
Baker III is a long-time CFR member and is also personally and
politically close to the Bush family. Fifty-one task force members,
many of them connected to the oil industry, signed the report,
which reached a consensus on a number of questions. The first
general conclusion was that "a new era of energy scarcity"
was upon the world, with "supply constraints" now "...presenting
fundamental obstacles to continued economic growth and prosperity."
The primary cause of this, in turn, was seen as "persistent
under investment juxtaposed with strong economic and oil demand
growth." This applied especially to the Middle East-Persian
Gulf region, where the bulk of the world's oil resources is concentrated,
making it the only place with meaningful spare capacity to solve
a looming and serious shortfall: "If political factors were
to block the development of new oil fields in the Middle East,
the ramifications for world oil markets could be quite severe."
At the same time, United States energy independence is unattainable
because it "faces a steep decline rate in its domestic oil
A second conclusion was U.S. and world
vulnerability to the actions of Iraq, which the Task Force pointed
out was now one of the world's key "swing" producers.
In the words of the report: "The resulting tight markets
have increased U.S. and global vulnerability to disruption and
provided adversaries undue potential influence over the price
of oil. Iraq has become a key 'swing' producer, posing a difficult
situation for the U.S. government." Furthermore, Iraq's policies
were seen as one of three key "drivers" (together with
OPEC policy and the Arab-Israeli conflict) pushing prices upward.
Iraq turns its oil tap "on and off when it has felt such
action was in its strategic interest" and is trying to "stir
up anti-American sentiment inside and outside the Middle East."
This in turn meant that "the United States should conduct
an immediate policy review toward Iraq, including military, energy,
economic, and political/diplomatic assessments."
Finally, the CFR/Baker Institute group
concluded that the U.S. government should create a permanent "interagency
process to articulate and promote energy security policy with
overall economic, environmental and foreign policy," noting
that "the Bush Administration has moved rapidly in this direction
through the creation of the White House Energy Policy Development
Group headed by Vice President Dick Cheney."
Cheney had long seen the Persian Gulf
region as the key to world power. In 1990 he stated that whoever
controlled this region of the world was "in a position to
dictate the future of worldwide energy policy[and would have]
a stranglehold on our economy and on that of most of the other
nations of the world as well." The Cheney energy policy group
followed up on the CFR/Baker Institute study, including in their
work consultation with representatives of major oil companies
such as ExxonMobil, Conoco, British Petroleum America, Chevron,
and Shell Oil. Cheney's secretive group evidently agreed with
the CFR/Baker Institute that Iraqi oil was central to the strategic
energy needs of the U.S.
While the complete documentary record
of its work is classified and unavailable, Freedom of Information
requests and a court case did result in the release of some edited
documents from the Cheney energy policy group. One of these was
a map of Iraq showing lease areas where oil drilling was planned.
Another consisted of a list of 40 oil companies from 30 nations
who were slated to get permission to drill for oil in Saddam Hussein's
Iraq. The problem for the U.S. and Britain was that their oil
companies were absent from this list of those who were to get
concessions, and Iraq was second only to Saudi Arabia in proven
oil reserves, with the possibility of much more petroleum in the
largely unexplored western part of the country. The U.S. and UK
would thus be frozen out of what was clearly one of the greatest
material prizes in world history.
After the 9/11 attacks, Bush and other
Administration leaders were mainly interested in finding a way
to blame Saddam and conquer Iraq, as then Secretary of the Treasury
Paul O'Neill and others later reported. During 2002 the CFR contributed
to the push toward war by publishing a book called Threatening
Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq by CFR Senior Fellow Kenneth
Pollack. At about the same time, a Washington Post article (September
15, 2002) summed up much about the war's origins in a single sentence:
"A U.S.-led ouster of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein could
open a bonanza for U.S. oil companies long banished from Iraq,
scuttling oil deals between Baghdad and Russia, France and other
countries, and reshuffling world petroleum markets, according
to industry officials and the Iraqi opposition." Such a "reshuffling"
through a U.S. opening of the Iraqi oil spigot would give Washington
enormous leverage over the world oil market, driving down prices
and perhaps even destroying OPEC through overcapacity and price
wars. Control of Iraq would also give the U.S. immense power over
the larger Middle East and the oil that China, Europe, and Japan
depend on for their long term survival as industrial powers.
In 2003, a few months after taking over
Iraq, Bush issued Presidential Executive Order 13303, which attempted
to provide legal cover for U.S. corporations to loot Iraqi oil
without consequences. This order states that the possibility of
future legal claims on Iraq's oil wealth is "an unusual and
extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy
of the United States," adding that "any judicial process
is prohibited, and shall be deemed null and void" with regard
to any commercial operation conducted by U.S. corporations involved
in the Iraqi oil industry. Thomas Devine, legal director of the
Governmental Accountability Project, condemned Bush's directive,
arguing that it "cancels the concept of corporate accountability
and abandons the rule of law" and is "a license for
corporations to loot Iraq and its citizens." Also during
2003, and within a few months of his installation as the U.S.
dictator of Iraq, CFR member L. Paul Bremer III issued his infamous
Order 39, which privatized 200 Iraqi state companies and decreed
that foreign firms can retain 100 percent ownership of Iraqi banks,
mines, and factories and allowed these firms to send 100 percent
of their profits out of Iraq. Bremer said his goal, irrespective
of the wishes of the Iraqi people, was to change a "centrally
planned economy to a market economy."
Bush declared in a 2005 address to the
CFR, "Iraq's a nation with the potential for tremendous prosperity...they
have among the largest oil resources in the world," adding
that "liberating" and "reconstructing" Iraq
would serve as a starting point for establishing a "U.S.-Middle
East free-trade area" including 22 nations and based on the
"free market system." Defense Secretary Rumsfeld underscored
that the U.S. occupying authority would adopt policies that "favor
market systems" conducive to foreign investment, control,
and exploitation, again irrespective of the needs of the Iraqi
people. First, due to the high unemployment created by the switch
to a "free market" system (estimates of unemployment
and underemployment range from 26 percent to over 70 percent),
the people of Iraq now have trouble getting enough food. Second,
CNN reported in May 2005 that there was "widespread poverty"
in Iraq and 43 percent of Iraqi children aged 6 months to 5 years
"...suffer from some form of malnutrition." Third, common
crime of all kinds is rampant in Iraq, making the country insecure
for everyone, but especially for women and children.
Working the "Dark Side"
On February 15, 2002 Vice President Dick
Cheney traveled to New York to speak at the opening of CFR's new
Geoeconomic Center. Cheney argued that terror cells existed in
60 nations and vast military spending and actions would be required
to defeat them. Cheney also pointed out the importance of a "multifaceted
approach" to the problem: "...some of it will be visible
and public, as when we went into Afghanistan to take out the Taliban,
other aspects of it may never see the light of day, probably shouldn't.
You're clearly going to have to deal in the shadows..." Using
slightly different words, Cheney stated a few months earlier that
in dealing with terrorism, "We have to work...the dark side."
Cheney's references to dealing "in
the shadows" and working the "dark side" reflected
the fact that less than a week after the 9/11 attacks, President
Bush gave the CIA wide ranging authorization to kill, capture,
kidnap, imprison, interrogate, and torture suspected Al-Qaeda
members in secret "black site" prisons around the world.
Bush also authorized "extraordinary rendition," the
kidnapping and transportation of suspects to countries with records
of using torture. The CIA, under the leadership of CFR member
George Tenet, implemented the use of black sites, extraordinary
rendition, interrogation, and torture of detainees at the U.S.
Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in Afghanistan, and other
locations. Because these actions lacked due process and kidnapping
and torture were involved, they were illegal under U.S. and international
law, as well as the laws of some cooperating nations. Lawyers
on Cheney's staff and from the Justice Department were therefore
given the task of redefining the law. After much effort they bent
the accepted legal definition of torture and "cruel and inhumane
or degrading treatment" to include only those interrogation
techniques that deliberately resulted in severe harm to a bodily
organ or death. This definition allowed massive torture and was
very different than that accepted by other legal experts and the
United Nations. These government lawyers also decided that the
Geneva Conventions governing treatment of all detainees during
any conflict-which was part of U.S. law by treaty-did not apply
to Al-Qaeda, the Taliban in Afghanistan, or to non-Iraqi detainees
Two of the top Justice Department lawyers
working on these issues were CFR members John C. Yoo, now a professor
of law at the University of California's Boalt Hall law school,
and Jack L. Goldsmith III, now a professor at Harvard Law School.
Goldsmith reportedly worked on the inapplicability of the Geneva
Conventions and Yoo wrote the legal opinion that redefined the
law to justify what was, in reality, torture. During the same
period, Yoo wrote the "classified legal opinion" justifying
unchecked presidential power to engage in domestic spying without
a court order, which amounted to executive authorization of criminal
Defenders of torture, such as Yoo and
neo-fascist/neo-conservative commentator Max Boot, a CFR senior
fellow who writes for the Los Angeles Times, have excused torture
with various arguments. Boot, in a January 2005 LA Times article
entitled "Necessary Roughness," denied that extensive
abuse occurred, arguing that it was limited to "a few renegade
guards at one prison," and then defended the use of torture
like waterboarding when he wrote, "legions of critics are
condemning one of the successful steps taken to prevent another
9/11-the aggressive interrogation of captured terrorists."
An Epidemic of Torture and Abuse
In a recent comparison of the Vietnam
and Iraq wars, James Lindsey, CFR's vice president and director
of studies, captured the essence of why the U.S. ruling class
wants to stay in Iraq: "It was always hard to sustain the
argument that if the United States withdrew from Vietnam there
would be immense geopolitical consequences. As we look at Iraq,
its a very different issue. It's a country in one of the volatile
parts of the world, which has a very precious resource that modern
economies rely on, namely oil..." CFR President Richard N.
Haass added that in invading Iraq, U.S. leaders wanted to send
a message to the world that "geopolitical momentum"
was moving in their favor. The problem is that, as shown in both
polls and actions, the vast majority of the Iraqi people do not
want the U.S. occupying their country. A recent Washington Post
poll put the figure wanting U.S. troops out at over 80 percent.
Since ruling by consent appears to be impossible, ruling by fear,
intimidation, and punishment is the only route open to the U.S.
The by-now routine epidemic of violence, torture, and abuse perpetrated
by Washington on the people of Iraq develops out of the logic
of this situation. Added to it is the anger of U.S. troops at
having to be in Iraq and having friends killed or injured. Ignored
is the fact that the International Red Cross has estimated that
70 to 90 percent of the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have been
detained by the U.S. have been arrested by mistake and are completely
innocent. The total detained may be as high as 75,000. As of November
1, 2005 almost 14,000 were still being held illegally, without
any due process. Despite their innocence, many are nevertheless
abused, tortured, and even murdered by the CIA and U.S. soldiers,
fueling the resistance.
The abuse, torture, and murder at Abu
Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba ("Gitmo") have been
most reported on, but what is most revealing about both locations
and the "Salt Pit" U.S. torture center in Afghanistan
is the central role of the CIA in all three places. Major General
George R. Fay's investigative report on Abu Ghraib pointed out
that the CIA was actually in charge of interrogation/torture at
that facility and that they "poisoned the atmosphere"
there. The "Salt Pit" was a CIA-run camp and the CIA
was also very active at Gitmo. Some of their techniques caused
deaths, with over 100 detainees dying in U.S. custody over the
past several years, most of them murdered by U.S. personnel. Despite
these homicides and over 400 criminal investigations of misconduct,
only a few low level U.S. soldiers have been tried, convicted,
and sentenced to prison terms. The CIA, while most responsible,
has been completely exempt from any independent investigations,
let alone any real accounting. The chilling fact is that the CIA
is entirely above the law.
Many of these CIA torture techniques were
codified much earlier in a secret 1963 torture instruction book
called KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation. These torture
techniques have been spread by the CIA throughout the world over
the past 40 years, resulting in an epidemic of torture worldwide.
A September 2005 Human Rights Watch report
based on interviews with active duty soldiers in the elite 82nd
Airborne Division occupying part of Iraq found that military commanders
demanded that lower ranking soldiers get intelligence from detainees,
without giving guidelines about what was allowed in terms of interrogation
techniques. The report found that the torture of detainees at
the 82nd Airborne's base in Iraq (called FOB Mercury) took place
almost daily from September 2003 to April 2004. It concluded that,
since no full scale investigation had taken place and no one had
been punished, such torture was probably still continuing today.
Detainees captured by the 82nd were held in tents separated from
the rest of the base by concertina wire for several days prior
to being released or sent to Abu Ghraib. In these tents detainees
were tortured to get information under the direction of officers
from the military intelligence unit.
A summary of the Human Rights Watch report,
based on U.S. soldiers' own testimony, stated that techniques
used included: "severe beatings (in one observed incident,
a soldier reportedly broke a detainee's leg with a baseball bat),
blows and kicks to the face, chest, abdomen, and extremities,
and repeated kicks to various parts of the detainees' body; the
application of chemical substances to exposed skin and eyes; forced
stress positions...sometimes to the point of unconsciousness;
sleep deprivation; subjecting detainees to extremes of hot and
cold; the stacking of detainees into human pyramids; and, the
withholding of food (beyond crackers) and water." The torture
of detainees became so widespread and accepted that it became
a means of "stress relief" for soldiers who were welcomed
to the tents to beat up or otherwise abuse detainees. If a detainee
suffered a broken bone from such beatings, then an army physician's
assistant was called in to cover up the beating and agree that
the detainee was injured during capture. Military intelligence
officers approved of the beatings because they believed that it
demoralized the detainees, making it easier to get intelligence
from them. Officers and soldiers of the 82nd who wished to behave
honorably and tried to report what was happening to superior officers
to stop these outrages were told to keep their mouths shut and
not risk their careers.
Since investigations about the behavior
of other important U.S. military units in Iraq have not been conducted,
we do not know if other divisions and units are also guilty of
similar torture and abuse of detainees, but it would be surprising
if this were not the case, since this problem is epidemic.
Crimes of War, Ruling Class Divisions
The events of the last three years were
watched carefully all over the world. As evidence mounted that
U.S. actions were indeed comparable to fascism, opposition grew
First, Iraq was invaded and conquered
despite being no threat to the U.S. This was in violation of Article
51 of the UN Charter and was even called "illegal" by
the cautious UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan. The Nuremberg Tribunal
concluded that no nation is immune from scrutiny for the illegal
act of planning and launching an aggressive war. Second, existing
international and domestic humanitarian law, such as the Geneva
Conventions, were declared "obsolete" by U.S. government
lawyers, including current Attorney General Gonzales. They might
have been a bit more cautious had they been aware that Field Marshal
Wilhelm Kietel, commander of the German armies in World War II,
had used almost the exact same wording to declare that the humanitarian
law of the time was irrelevant, resulting in actions which earned
Kietel the death penalty. (He was executed in 1946.) Kietel said
that the humanitarian laws of war of that time were "a product
of a notion...of a bygone era" and were "obsolete."
During the 1930s the Japanese insisted
on labeling their invasion of China as an "incident"
and not a war so they could also escape existing Hague and Geneva
Conventions. Among the techniques the Japanese fascists used on
its detainees were various forms of water torture/waterboarding.
Following World War II the International Military Tribunal for
the Far East concluded that both the officers who ordered water
torture/waterboarding of detainees and those who carried it out
were guilty of war crimes. Some were executed.
In this regard the recent Congressional
testimony of CIA Director Goss, as reported by the New York Times,
is worth noting. In response to a question from Senator McCain,
Goss stated that waterboarding fell into "an area of what
I will call professional interrogation techniques," which
he defended as a key tool in efforts against terrorism. Waterboarding
has been mentioned in numerous newspaper and television reports
as a commonly used, "approved" CIA torture technique.
CIA Inspector General John Helgerson confirmed this in a recent
leaked report that at least in 2002 and 2003, waterboarding was
an approved technique often used by the CIA.
Finally, the U.S. military's actions in
Fallujah reminds one, on a smaller scale, of the Japanese attack
of Nanking, China and the Nazi destruction of Lidice, Czechoslovakia,
both infamous examples of the fascist tendency to punish an entire
population for refusing to submit to foreign domination. Fallujah
was a city resisting the U.S. occupation, where U.S. military
contractors had been ambushed, killed, and their bodies hung from
a bridge. This marked the entire population of the town for punishment
and large sections of the city were leveled with extensive "collateral
damage"-civilian deaths and injuries amounting to U.S. war
The current wave of torture and other
war crimes is not new in U.S. history. The U.S. war on Vietnam,
the sponsorship of death squads, massacres, and torture in Latin
America, to cite but two recent examples, have been extensively
documented in books, declassified documents, CIA training manuals,
congressional investigations, court records, and truth commissions.
The failure to bring any high level decision makers to account
for these war crimes is one source of the problems we now have.
Today, worldwide consciousness, the legal
framework and organization for human rights is much stronger than
in the past, putting the Bush administration, with its open advocacy
of preventative war, torture and abuse, on the defensive. Recent
kidnappings, transfer, and torture of suspects in Europe by the
CIA have led to ongoing investigations by the Council of Europe
and prosecutors, parliaments, and government agencies in Britain,
Germany, Spain, Italy, Poland, Austria, and Denmark. The intense
criticism from Europeans has been a major factor in attempts by
some in the CFR-Senators McCain and Hagel and others-to sponsor
another law to bar torture as counterproductive in a war of ideas.
As McCain put it: "To prevail in
this war we need more than victories on the battlefield. This
is a war of ideas.... Prisoner abuse exacts a terrible toll on
us in this war of ideas...they threaten our moral standing..."
The relevancy of McCain's ban, which has passed Congress and been
signed by President Bush, is questionable, since the problem is
not a lack of laws on the books, it is rather the lack of a government
which respects and will uphold the rule of law. As the Washington
Post pointed out in a December 2004 editorial: "The record...suggests
that the administration will neither hold any senior official
accountable nor change the policies that have produced this shameful
record. Congress, too, has abdicated its responsibility.... For
now the appalling truth is that there has been no remedy for the
documented torture and killing of foreign prisoners by this American
The current sharp divisions within the
Council on Foreign Relations and wider U.S. ruling class about
how to respond to the current situation while successfully maintaining
U.S. imperialism's worldwide domination, opens some possibilities
for mobilizing support for a real repudiation of the Bush administration's
neo-fascism. The U.S. ruling class is constantly lecturing other
segments of society about the importance of the "rule of
law." In the final analysis, they are, of course, frequently
talking about the protection of their own private property interests.
But the law also applies to the serious crimes discussed above,
which cannot be ignored.
To cite but one example of relevant existing
law, a 1996 federal statute, 18 USC Section 2441, a law without
a statute of limitations, makes it a crime for any U.S. national,
military or civilian, to violate the Geneva Convention by engaging
in murder, torture, or inhumane treatment. Those who order, sanction,
or carry out such crimes all come under this law. Penalties include
life imprisonment and execution if anyone dies under torture.
Instead of passing new laws as public relations stunts, McCain
and others should advocate for the full enforcement of this existing
Can we expect ruling class institutions
to use their power to uphold the rule of law? Will key sectors
of the powerful private sector demand that a fully independent,
high level special prosecutor be appointed to conduct a full investigation
of any and all domestic and international crimes related to the
U.S. "war on terror" and the wars on Afghanistan and
Iraq? If even some of the reports that have appeared in the daily
newspapers over the past four years are accurate, then there should
be plenty of evidence on which to bring an indictment of all those
involved, as high up the power structure as responsibility goes,
and have a trial. Only through such a complete and fair process
will this issue of war crimes and the resulting shame on our nation
have a chance to go away. Otherwise, it is clear that the rule
of law is a sham and criminal behavior together with impunity
is acceptable for those powerful enough to escape scrutiny.
At every historical moment we stand at
the gate of potential new worlds, facing alternative human futures.
Our actions can influence that future, but we have to struggle
against existing material and ideological constraints. Understanding
these constraints must begin with the insight that we live in
a completely corrupt system bent on privatizing, commodifying,
and despoiling the entire planet. Meaningful political participation
in this system is blocked by a two-party controlled, winner-take-all
electoral system dominated by the corporate ruling class and groups
like the CFR that reduce our "democracy" to a useless
vote between nearly identical candidates. The first step in constructing
a meaningful alternative is to withdraw our support for an illegitimate
system, to refuse and resist. We cannot depend upon the more liberal
sectors of the ruling class to even promote transparency and the
rule of law, let alone a humane future. In James Baldwin's prophetic
words: "It is a terrible, inexorable law that one cannot
deny the humanity of another without diminishing one's own."
The wider public in the U.S. must demand an immediate end to all
war crimes, an end to illegality and impunity and an accounting
for the lawlessness committed in our name and with our tax money.
Only this will protect us.
In the short term, a non-violent national
insurrection, a campaign of mass civil disobedience, including
tax resistance, strikes, and boycotts is now needed. Resistance
can build the solidarity, direct democracy, and cultural transformation
needed to open the door to a new world of equality, ecology, and
social justice. In the longer term, we need a people's think tank/membership
organization that can plan and organize both for the survival
of our planet and a peaceful and cooperative future worthy of
To uphold the rule of law, foreign governments
should investigate top U.S. officials and, if those investigations
support prosecution, these governments should arrest any of these
officials who enter their territory and begin legal proceedings
against them. These and other actions by governments and people
who believe in law, peace, and justice are imperative. Everyone
can have a role in bringing to account the criminals who have
tortured and murdered so many in wars of aggression justified
by lies. At the same time such a struggle can promote a positive
vision of equality, solidarity, and social justice in favor of
an economic and social system centered on direct popular power,
the democratization of our economy and society, with the goal
of enhancing all forms of life.
Laurence H. Shoup has taught U.S. history
at several universities and written three books, including: Imperial
Brain Trust: the Council on Foreign Relations and U.S. Foreign
Policy (with William Minter), first published by Monthly Review
Press in 1977, reprinted by iUniverse in 2004. Part II of this
article will appear in April.
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