Saturday, August 02, 2014

Obama: "We tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values"

I guess that we can all "understand why it happened". 9/11 was the most traumatic event of modern times. Americans were killed by an enemy in their hundreds on their own soil for the first time since Pearl Harbor. But this was not an attack by a Sovereign state but by a shady, insubstantial group of terrorists who got lucky beyond their wildest, wickedest dreams. The men in the caves were well funded by their Saudi millionaire evil genius and they had plenty of willing volunteers who would happily trade their lives for a victory over the anti-Islamic forces of evil in the West (as their distorted values saw it). But they were a mosquito bite on the body of America, not any real threat to American global hegemony.

America could not cope. Just as in Vietnam they were not being dragged into a conventional war where their undoubted might would prevail but into a conflict where the enemy used will-of-the-wisp tactics to disappear and regroup whenever they needed to. Like the Vietcong neither bin Laden's Al Quieda nor the Afghan Talban could be defeated by conventional Armed Forces. Which, of course, did not deter the US from launching them. There were Pyrrhic victories along the way as the US Military powered first into Afghanistan and then into Iraq ( the latter for no discernible 9/11 related reason). But almost ten years after 9/11 bin Laden was still at large and the enemy had regrouped and despite the rhetoric America's "mission" was far from "accomplished".

In the end Osama bin Laden was finally taken out. But the threat was only barely reduced with this vengeful assassination. By then the US knew that its Afghan and Iraqi missions were disasters. Neither had even the smallest semblance of a post war strategy. The only question was when both countries would descend into a chaos at least as lethal as what had existed before America intervened. Meanwhile over the years the comprehensive failure of Plan "A" - the "shock and awe" - was replaced by Plan "B" - the extralegal detention and torture of those who someone thought might be a threat. At Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and around the world America forgot it's constitution, it's Bill of a Rights and American Values. Where the rest of us in the West could previously have said that, warts and all, America stood for what was right we no longer could. 

The torture that the President of the United States now admits took place was a response to failure. It was a response to the fact that a nation with more Arms than the rest of the world put together could not defeat those who had inflicted a grievous wound on them. It was a response to the failure even remotely to understand the wider religio-politics of the world of Islam. It was a response to the failure to build alliances - a compliant and complicit Britain aside. It was, maybe, an act of desperation underpinned by some distorted view that international law could be put aside because Manhattan had been briefly placed under a carpet of ash. 

It will take the United States a long time to recover its prestige from the frank admission that it has behaved as badly as the worst of its enemies. Its continued use of the Death Penalty, uniquely among Western nations, is a further example of an insular and arrogant contempt for Human Rights. Those of us who have bought the positioning of the United States as a beacon of democracy and freedom can no longer do so. Can it recover? It won't be easy. It must begin now. 


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