Friday, May 22, 2009

The Face of Evil

It astonishes me that the national media saw fit to give parallel and essentially equal coverage to the speech by the President of the United States, Barack Obama, and the recently deposed Vice-President, Dick Cheney. This suggested that the President and the ex-Vice-President were equal in importance, and that they were battling for public opinion—a conclusion that flies in the face of Obama’s overwhelming victory, and the opinion polls which found that Dick Cheney had the lowest approval rating of any vice president in memory, somewhere around 15% as I recall. What’s even more astonishing is that few of the so-called media guardians pointed out the lies pouring from the mouth of this Goebbels of our time. Fortunately, one did, and that one, as usual, was the McClatchy chain, with Jonathan Landay and William Strobel pointing out the flaws. Their piece—“Cheney’s Speech Ignored Some Inconvenient Truths,” dated May 22, 2009 and reprinted on Common Dreams—took apart the most obvious instances of fabrication and distortion from the ex-Vice’s speech and made it clear that when it comes to evil in high places, this man ranks with the greatest Machiavels of our time, perhaps all time.

Landay begins by noting that Cheney insisted that the “techniques” he approved were “legal” and key to preventing the “violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of innocent people.” This is his key message. We did some harsh things, to a few people, but it kept the American people safe. And he quoted the current Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, as reinforcing his position. What Landay does, though, is go to Blair’s April 21st statement, which said that though in some instances the information derived from torture was valuable, “there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained by other means.” In other words, torture methods may well have been unnecessary, especially given the fact that “the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us, and they are NOT essential to our national security” (emphasis mine). Furthermore, the CIA’s top-secret inspector general’s report, Landay notes, found no proof that information from these techniques thwarted any specific attacks. FBI Director Robert Mueller told Vanity Fair magazine the same thing. In short, the whole Cheney thesis comes apart upon even cursory inspection.

There’s more in Landay’s report, and it should be read. What comes at around the same time, though, is yet another reminder of just who Dick Cheney is, what he stands for, and how he operates. The man is an assassin, a ruthless bureaucratic infighter who operates on the principle that he and others in the executive branch know what’s good for America, public opinion be damned, treaties be damned, the Constitution be damned. This is usually characterized as his belief in the “unitary executive,” but it really means that the man has unbridled contempt for people, for the masses, and total confidence in force, stealth and brutality as the preferred methods for fighting “the good fight” (always remembering his trust in a little healthy self-interest, as in feeding obscene profits to his one-time company Halliburton, and therefore to himself). Some call him a patriot. I call him the face of evil. And that face is revealed in yet another revelation via Common Dreams, this time in a piece outing the general that Barack Obama has just put in charge of all operations in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal (“McChrystal was Cheney’s Chief Assassin”). It turns out that not only was this career thug the head of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) operating clandestinely in Iraq, he was operating under the direct command of none other than Vice President Dick Cheney. That’s right. According to Seymour Hersh, JSOC was the group that did “high-value targeting of men known…or believed to be planning anti-American activities.” Its operations were so secret that they were kept hidden from the investigations of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which, under international law is supposed to monitor compliance with the Geneva Conventions. Hiding prisoners or facilities from the ICRC is a “serious war crime.” But the prison run by McChrystal, Camp Nama, was one of those Special Forces bases that was in fact kept hidden (god only knows how many other “ghost facilities” there were, or which ones McChrystal and Cheney commanded) and which specialized in Cheney’s “special techniques” (and god knows what else; I have always suspected that much of the mayhem in Iraq was the result of our local ‘death squads’ meant to foment fear and chaos and internecine squabbling sufficient to justify our occupation.)

Thus we have the face of evil—the face of Dick Cheney, with its patented sneer, its typical snarl of hatred and resentment still festering from the Nixon years—the face that, in my view, epitomizes all the evil this nation has engaged in: the dispossession and slaughter of the Native peoples, the enslavement and forced labor of Africans, the theft of the bulk of the continent from those who lived there, the invasions and coups and clandestine occupations and exploitations of foreign governments and millions of their peoples around the globe—and it appears that it is a face that will be with us forever. This could be for deep human reasons, or specifically modern reasons, but the fact is plain: something in the American psyche, in the American media, perhaps in all psyches and all media, loves the face of evil. Loves it more than the face of good. It is a stock truism in literature: the villain is always more interesting than the hero. What’s disappointing is to see how well the truism operates in politics, in our politics, for we could tolerate it when the fascinating face of evil was Hitler or Goebbels or Tojo or Saddam Hussein. What shocks us is when it belongs to the man who literally ran this nation for the past eight years, a man with a white face and small sharp nose and even features and an almost avuncular mien only briefly belied by that snarl, and whose romance with evil is commanding our airwaves still. One wonders whether it shocks people in other nations too, or whether, by now, that’s precisely what they expect the face of evil to be.

Lawrence DiStasi

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