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My Government is Corrupt

2011 September 1

I am an American. For several years, I have been deeply troubled by the corruption in my government.  I know, of course, that it is not as bad as it could be, and I know that America has been more corrupt in the past. But I am still disturbed by the human rights abuses routinely committed by my government. I have wondered if I ought to emigrate to some other nation, so my tax dollars will no longer be used to support atrocities.

In the last ten years, my government has repeatedly violated both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its own Constitution, without any real justification.

It has knowingly sent hundreds of detainees into the hands of torturers and corrupt officials. It has even committed some of the torture itself, even to the point of death. Other countries actually prosecute and punish torturers (even Iran does this sometimes), but nearly all American torturers have received de facto immunity.

My government commits massive spying, even spying on its own citizens, without warrants or judicial oversight. These days we have “National Security Letters“, in which the FBI or whoever simply grants itself permission to wiretap whomever it likes, with no need to prove probable cause before any manner of judge. Millions of people have been subjected to these blatantly illegal wiretaps.

My government has detained suspects without warrants or judicial oversight in a program called “extraordinary rendition“. My government has held prisoners indefinitely without trial, often denying even habeus corpus, in a program now called “preventative detention“. My government even kills people without judicial oversight; if the Executive Branch (led by the President) decides that someone ought to die, then the military or CIA may simply assassinate that person in a program known as “targeted killing“. It is understandable, of course, for a cop or soldier to shoot down a suspect if the suspect is armed at that very moment and likely to kill someone in the next moment, but it is unconscionable to simply kill someone when arrest and trial would have been possible. (And don’t try to argue that we’re at “war” with terrorists and somehow that changes everything. First off, the “War on Terror” is so vaguely defined that it is no more of a war than the “War on Crime” or any other metaphorical “war”. Secondly, even by war standards we are violating human rights. Torture is illegal even in wartime, and there are various other rules which we have broken.)

Do not think for a moment that only guilty people  have been affected by these policies; that is a stupid fantasy. Maher Arar, for instance, was abducted and tortured for 10 months; eventually U.S. officials admitted that he was completely innocent and had done nothing wrong. The prison at Guantanamo Bay has held many detainees whom the government assured us were all terrorists, but when (after court intervention) some of them were finally given habeus corpus reviews, more that 70% of those who received judicial review had to be released for lack of evidence. My government has held innocent people in prison for years on end, and what’s far worse than that: my government has detained innocent people even knowing that they were innocent.

(Oh, and did I mention that Bradley Manning, who is accused of breaking secrecy laws by revealing governmental corruption to the public, has been in jail for well over a year without trial? And that he has been subjected to such harsh conditions that both Amnesty International and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture have taken notice?)

I had thought this was mainly the work of the Republicans, and so I expected great reforms when Democrats took Congress and later the White House. Barack Obama promised that the abuses would end; I am convinced now that he lied. He has taken almost no action at all to prosecute Bush-era officials who committed crimes, and indeed he has continued and accelerated the criminality in several areas. The phrase “preventative detention” came from Obama, as did the policy of “targeted killing.” The top official at the ACLU says he is “disgusted” with Obama.

The corruption is bipartisan, and that scares me. We the People are left with very few options in the short term. Most of us have learned either to ignore the abuses or accept them as a fact of life. Most of the news media is corrupt in its own way, steadfastly ignoring bipartisan crimes because they don’t want to annoy powerful officials.

One bright point is the blogger Glenn Greenwald, a journalist in the most noble sense of the word. (Go ahead and read the last few months of coverage on his blog; it’s worth your time.) Greenwald recently pointed out a dichotomy that highlights just how far we’ve gone astray:

The big story recently, besides Hurricane Irene and the continuing downfall of Gaddafi, is that the President asked permission to give a speech to Congress on Thursday, and House Speaker John Boehner said he would only permit the President to speak on Wednesday, because otherwise his speech would be at the same time as the latest GOP presidential debate. The media gave plenty of attention to the question of who was being unfair to whom.

Also recently, a U.S. diplomatic cable obtained and released by WikiLeaks revealed that U.S. forces had committed an atrocity in Iraq in 2006. As the Daily Mirror reports:

American troops had approached the home of Faiz Harrat Al-Majma’ee, a farmer living in central Iraq, to conduct a house raid in search of insurgents in March 2006.

“It would appear that when the MNF (Multinational Forces) approached the house,” [the cable states], “shots were fired from it and a confrontation ensued.” Afterwards,  “troops entered the house, handcuffed all residents and executed all of them.” Mr. Faiz Hratt Khalaf, (aged 28), his wife Sumay’ya Abdul Razzaq Khuther (aged 24), their three children Hawra’a (aged 5) Aisha ( aged 3) and Husam (5 months old), Faiz’s mother Ms. Turkiya Majeed Ali (aged 74), Faiz’s sister (name unknown), Faiz’s nieces Asma’a Yousif Ma’arouf (aged 5 years), and Usama Yousif Ma’arouf (aged 3 years), and a visiting relative Ms. Iqtisad Hameed Mehdi (age 23) were killed during the raid.

As the Mirror summarizes:

US forces […] committed a heinous war crime during a house raid in Iraq in 2006, wherein one man, four women, four children, and one infant were summarily executed

We have literally reached the point of killing infants. Intentionally.

(Update: The information contained in the recently-released cable had been previously published in a U.N. report, though clearly the release of the cable has drawn more attention to the subject.)

To the best of our knowledge, the perpetrators of this crime have not been prosecuted. Of course they haven’t. Hardly any military official (or financial power player) gets prosecuted for anything these days. And it’s not as if the government didn’t know what had happened; they were informed of the atrocity via this cable more than 5 years ago. And indeed, the government did respond to the atrocity…by ordering an airstrike on the scene of the crime, presumably to destroy the evidence.

Of these two issues, the scheduling conflict and the recently-revealed atrocity, which do you suppose garnered more mainstream media attention? That’s right; it was the scheduling conflict. CNN ran a prominent article about the timing of Obama’s speech, but it ran no story on the aforementioned crimes which WikiLeaks helped to expose. The BBC followed suit,  (The Independent gave coverage to both topics, as did the Associated Press and McClatchy. I have updated this section in the two days since this post was first published. There may be futher coverage of the killings in the future, which will not necessarily be added here.)

Speaking more specifically about WikiLeaks, the issue of unredacted cables becoming public has garnered more attention recently than the contents of cables themselves. (See the WikiLeaks statement on the issue at hand.) As Glenn Greewald points out on his blog, there is a general bias towards making WikiLeaks look bad by covering their missteps and ignoring the crimes that they expose.

I won’t deny that there has been some mainstream coverage of American wrongdoing in the areas I have mentioned, but it always seems tainted with a pro-America bias.

Something is deeply wrong here, and has been wrong for a long time.

There have been many other incidents where U.S. forces have killed or injured civilians. In most cases there is no evidence of outright malice; there is merely gross negligence which allows for far too much collateral damage in the pursuit of the enemy. But this is a particularly gruesome case; here we find that innocent people were murdered with intent.

The worst part is not that innocents have been murdered; the worst part is that my nation’s leaders really don’t seem to care. And even now, when the incriminating cable has been made public, the news media largely ignores it, and the public follows suit.

Something is deeply wrong with my country.

And I’m not sure how to fix it.


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