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Jan 15, 2005 12:57 pm


Royal Nazis and Iraqi Death Squads



So it turns out that the Royals still have a thing for Nazis. What a surprise. But while the civilized world is naturally up in arms about Prince Harry's garish Afrika Corps costume, what shocked me—apart from the fact that his brother, heir to the throne William, didn't seem to think it was a bad idea (otherwise wouldn't he have said something?) is that few people, aside from Andrew Gumbel writing in the LA Times and Mark Lawson writing in the Guardian, bothered to comment on the fact that royal brothers were attending a "native and colonial" party. At this exclusive upper crust soiree other partiers dressed in black face and William dressed as one of those wild animals that his recent ancestors used to go to the Dark Continent to hunt for sport.

Now we can understand why the British establishment remains perhaps the only group in the world outside of American neocons who support the occupation in Iraq. Indeed, contrary to Gumbel, who argues that "Britain has long since repented of its imperial sins," the British role in Iraq is so vital that without it the US neither could have invaded or still remain despite world-wide opposition. Moreover, the wearing of a Nazi uniform to an imperialist-revival party didn't "revive unpleasant parallels between the Nazi taste for bloodthirsty imperial adventure and Britain's own leanings in that direction," as Gumbel claims. Instead, as scholars such as Hannah Arendt and Zygmunt Bauman have crucially shown, rather than being parallel processes, Nazism and imperialism were in fact cut from the same cloth: both are products of the same modernity and enlightenment values that the West has long celebrated is its greatest accomplishments.

Beyond the continuing disaster of the occupation of Iraq, the increasingly open and defiant practice of torture and wholesale murder by the US government reveals that Americans have learned little (or at least forgotten what they once learned) from the disasters of imperialism or Nazism. So today we have a government that, Executive and Congressional branches together, is joining to appoint the man responsible for inventing the term "torture memo" as Attorney General. Perhaps worse, as I write these lines news reports inform us both that the US is planning to hold hundreds of detainees at Guantanamo and other secret locations FOR LIFE without being charged with, let alone convicted, of any crime, AND that the military is "considering"—which means it's already doing it and is now starting to leak out word to inoculate public debate when the truth leaks out—using the infamous Salvadoran "death squad" model in Iraq as a way of dealing with the insurgency.

There are two ways to respond to these developments after one recovers from the extreme nausea that comes with realizing how low this country's ethical foundations are sinking. The first is moral-political, and involves getting our butts into the streets by the hundreds of thousands, millions really, and taking down a criminal administration before it succeeds in turning America into something only a member of al-Qa'eda would recognize as the United States. As George W. Bush prepares for his gala re-inauguration, Americans should not just be scared to death of what four more years might bring; we need to be doing everything possible to make sure the new term ends long before January 20th 2009. The clear and ongoing role of the highest levels of the Bush administration—including the President—in policies that include systematic torture, murder of civilians, and other war crimes, demands not the impeachment of the President, but his indictment under US Federal criminal statutes dealing with torture and war crimes (for more information on these issues go to www.indictpresidentbush.org as well as a roundtable of leading international and constitutional lawyers at http://tikkun.org/index.cfm/action/current/article/288.html)

But even if we want to give the Bush administration the benefit of the doubt and imagine that whatever they've done, it's been out of the sincere desire to protect Americans, the reality is that neither torture nor state sanctioned murder has a history of producing their desired results. The public statements by former intelligence and military experts on the futility of torture in extracting operationally useful intelligence, which have even made it to the mainstream media in the days surrounding the Gonzalez confirmation hearings, put to the lie the ludicrous arguments by supporters of torture like Alan Dershowitz that it actually works. For its part, while the use of death squads has been legitimized by conservatives with the argument that at least they helped the US win the battle against communism in Central America, the reality on the ground was quite the opposite. As Jason Vest writes in the 1/14 Asia Times, a review of secret US government analyses of the use of death squads, along with the larger policy of supporting extravagantly "sadistic" regimes, shows them both to have been spectacular failures. Military analysts at the time concluded that such practices actually prolonged the insurgency and helped maintain in power corrupt and murderous regimes.

Sadly, however, Iraq seems headed for a Salvadoran solution. As for the US, the NY Times reported on 1/13 that the Bush Administration has successfully pressured Congress to scuttle legislation that would have put new curbs on interrogation methods by the CIA. Just so we understand how Orwellian this government has become, here's how the Times explains the current policy vis-a-vis torture:"A new opinion made public late last month, signed by James B. Comey, the deputy attorney general, explicitly rejected torture and adopted more restrictive standards to define it... But a cryptic footnote to the new document about the 'treatment of detainees' referred to what officials said were other still-classified opinions. The footnote meant... that coercive techniques approved by the Justice Department under the looser interpretation of the torture statutes were still lawful even under the new, more restrictive interpretation."

Got that? The US government is still in the torture business. And if you pay taxes, you're still in the torture business too. The question is, what are you and I going to do about it?

On a positive note, I'm happy to report that after complaining in an earlier post that I could get anyone at my university interested in protesting the invitation of Patriot Act drafter Viet Dinh and torture memo author John Yoo to speak at UC Irvine as "Chancellor's Distinguished Fellows" (the biggest honor the University can bestow on a guest speaker), more than half the people who turned out for Dinh's talk were vehemently opposed to his views, while in a little over 8 hours almost 200 signatures were obtained for a petition to the Chancellor to withdraw Yoo's invitation to come to UCI as a Distinguished Fellow and offer him the chance to come debate the impact of his policies instead (for the text of the petition, please go to http://www.petitiononline.com/yoo2705/petition.html).

Stay tuned for thoughts on "24," the ideological similarities between the so-called radical left and terror groups like Ansar al-Sunna, and the quick demise of the so-called window of opportunity after the Palestinian elections.


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Sandor A. Lopescu - 4/16/2005

I'm afraid Mr Willis is on to something. Mr LeVine's posts are only of interest to those who find his utterly predictable commentary on the events of the day to be intrinsically fascinating. Mr LeVine, as I've suggested before, needs to convince his students or loved-ones to listen to him and not waste time on this website.


Sandor A. Lopescu - 4/16/2005

P. E. Bird:

Who the hell died and made you arbitor of all that is blogged?


P. E. Bird - 2/9/2005

Sandor:

Just saying if you believe you're going to "waste time on this website", you don't have to.


P. E. Bird - 1/24/2005

Sandor - do you troll all "utterly predictable" blogs so as to post your helpful suggestions? I suggest if you take exception to some of Dr. LeVine's postings, make some intelligent criticism. Otherwise you risk becoming another scroll wheel victim.


P. E. Bird - 1/20/2005

Mr. Willis:

I would suggest that in comparing "...in a little over 8 hours almost 200 signatures were obtained for a petition..." to "petulant demands that we join him in the streets to take down the administration..." you've identified the real author of "hysterical and vitriolic" posts.


Don Willis - 1/19/2005

Is the hysterical and vitriolic nature of these posts designed to obscure the absence of anything informative? We can all read the newspapers and form our own conclusions; we look to "experts" (in the case of this site, historians) to enhance our understanding. For example, Prof. Levine has offered no insights into discerning between "torture" and "interrogation". They're not the same thing, and "coercion" and torture are not synonomous. But instead we get breathless, categorical denunciations and petulant demands that we join him in the streets to "take down" the administration.

Maybe that's the kind of rhetoric that plays at a Culture Jam, but shouldn't historians (acting as such on this website) take a more measured approach? Or do I not understand the point of this site, or of this blog? I'm not a historian, so maybe I just don't get it.

By the way, Thomas Frank is an upcoming Distinguished Chancellor's Fellow at UC Irvine. Based on the savaging "What's the Matter With Kansas" received in the New York Times Book Review a few months ago, should we rescind his invitation as unworthy, and invite him to debate rather than address? Or do we just need an ideological litmus test for these Fellows? One, no doubt, of Prof. Levine's design.


James Walter Fields - 1/15/2005

very good, am glad to find your work domestically, catch your stuff in Asia Times, this is much better and convenient.

Part of the failing policy battle aginst "the economic war on Amerika" invoked by the alliances against us. This is merely a glimpse of the future for this type of heresy and hippocracy that our military cabal wishes to spread.

JIMHO of course.

Great work

jim