'Shadow Government' Shackles Obama on Torture
• The promise of "change" may come -- if Congress shows the courage and determination to provide Team Obama with sufficient cover.
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As the Obama presidency reaches its one-month mark, the Democratic progressive left that gave candidate Barack Obama his core base of political support continues to ask impatiently, "where's the change?"
Some progressives scratched their heads as the new President selected veteran Bush administration hawks as military and intelligence advisers. But most Obamanauts held their tongues, figuring that in the end, Mr. Obama would make good on his campaign pledge to restore American values to a distressed American democracy, its ideals betrayed by eight years of anti-democratic Bush-Cheney rule.
But the honeymoon between Team Obama and his "base" appeared to come to an abrupt end at the beginning of week three, when his Justice Department, in full Bush-Cheney mode, invoked the State Secrets Act to withhold government information in a case involving a British subject who was allegedly "renditioned" by his American inquisitors, sent off to a secret foreign prison for torture. The American Civil Liberties Union, representing the detainee, sought U.S. military records pertaining to what it termed an "extraordinary rendition."
You may recall that Candidate Obama harshly criticized the Bush administration for invoking secrecy to shield from public exposure so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" such as waterboarding -- a barbaric methodology defined as torture by both Obama and his new attorney general, Eric Holder.
But now that he is commander-in-chief, Mr. Obama has done another one-eighty, allowing his Justice Department to continue to invoke the State Secrets Act to withhold information it believes would comprise national security.
Has President Obama betrayed candidate Obama and his base on this key foreign policy and human rights issue? Or is it an unspoken fact that a new president with barely a month on the job lacks the raw political power to alter what's been a bedrock principle of his inherited security/intel apparatus?
The assumption of the Obama's aggrieved progressive base is that the President of the United States really runs the country. There are those who insist that POTUS, while the commander in chief and chief executive chosen by "the people," is not unlike a corporate executive who ultimately is responsible to a "board of directors" -- a "shadow government" thought by Machiavellians to be comprised of the major domos of security, military, intel and finance, perhaps with some quasi-government corporate types also invited into the cabal.
Even before he was elected, Obama had compromised -- some would say flip-flopped -- on key issues such as FISA/wiretapping, gun control and expansion of the death penalty (surprising, in that a disproportionate number of young black males receive death sentences).
Do these policy reversals unmask Mr. Obama as a typical "promise 'em anything" political operator? Or does he innately and wisely realize that too much change too fast could bring the bureaucratic hammer down on his presidency? There is, after all, something to be said for living to fight another day.
Obama's VP, Joe Biden, is close to this shadow seat of government. Do not let his gaffes lead anyone to underestimate his power and influence among the security/intel hierarchy, or Biden's appreciation of the Machiavellian nature of American governance.
Obama and Biden are good men, well-intentioned. There's little doubt that they'd like to make good on their campaign pledges. But it is also likely that Team Obama is simply in no position as yet to displace longstanding Bush-Cheney policy on such touchy issues as application of the State Secrets Act. On a more pragmatic level, a precipitous policy shift could prove to be a financial liability, should it be cited by victims of American torture in efforts to seek financial compensation.
But it's probably no coincidence that Mr. Obama's seeming acquiescence to Bush policy was followed swiftly by the introduction in both houses of Congress of bills that would limit the circumstances under which the government can use the State Secrets Act to withhold information. The legislation supposedly would allow the state secrets exemption only when officials can demonstrate that public disclosures "would be reasonably likely to cause significant harm" to national defense or diplomacy, to cite the language of the House bill. The legislation was introduced by the civil libertarians Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI).
Such legalistic verbiage would appear to provide government operatives with plenty of weasel room. The symbolic act of "restricting" the invocation of the State Secrets Act probably will mollify those who GOP operatives deride as " lefty bloggers" -- while the security/intel wing of the shadow government knows full well that the legislation gives them adequate cover (literally) to keep their secrets close to the sovereign's vest.
A covert shared system of executive power also could explain why there is no apparent movement as yet to dismantle the overriding structure that has allowed violations of human rights without benefit of constitutional guarantees of due process under the law: the ongoing, nationwide Bush-Cheney "extrajudicial punishment network."
Without public knowledge, or scrutiny from a compliant, easily distracted mainstream media, federal agents work hand-in-glove with local police nationwide to spy on, harass, and, allegedly, torture their "targets," including political "dissidents" slandered as enemies of the state -- with civilian vigilantes fronted by federally-funded volunteer groups such as Citizen Corps and Infragard as their Gestapo-like "street muscle."
In exchange for the use of public vehicles and free gasoline, and with an ego-massaging sense of empowerment, this covert street army has usurped and misused powers traditionally reserved for uniformed, sworn officers.
Units of these neo-brownshirts are said to be equipped with high-tech radiation weapons and devices that inflict pain and injury and induce illness, cause mood changes, brain damage, even incapacitation -- what some security forces call a "slow kill". In essence, this is an an American genocide ("politicide" might be a more accurate term, since its targets often are those identified as "dissidents" or "trouble-makers" or slandered as "deviates") -- committed by Americans on their fellow citizens.
According to victim accounts (including this writer's), a coordinated array of government "programs of personal destruction" works in tandem with the American Gestapo to decimate family finances and earning power -- a likely contributor to an economic crisis that was borne of a home mortgage meltdown.
Will Team Obama take down this horrific American Gestapo, which has permeated virtually every law enforcement agency in the land, a constitutional bypass that in the past eight years has made a mockery of the rule of law in communities coast to coast?
Obama's actions regarding this covert, ongoing reign of domestic terror may prove even more telling than his other refusals thus far to chart a new course on issues such as warrantless wiretapping, telecom immunity and handgun control.
Sen. Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has called for the establishment of a "truth and reconciliation commission" to investigate abuses of power and constitutional rights violations that may have occurred during the Bush-Cheney administration. He has talked about granting immunity to those who come forward -- and that those who chose not to testify could be subject to prosecution for crimes exposed by the proceedings.
Thus far, President Obama has been noncommittal on the "truth panel" concept. He said at his first press conference that he would consider the proposal, but that "my general orientation is to say let's get it right moving forward."
However, he added this:
"...(M)y view is also that nobody is above the law. And if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen."
That qualifier gives encouragement to those among us whose lives, livelihoods and families have been decimated by government-enabled human and civil rights violations.
If Obama does not move to dismantle the Stasi/Gestapo-like vigilante apparatus and its related government "programs of personal destruction," this deeply-entrenched mechanism of extrajudicial punishment will continue to persecute and torture "targeted" innocent citizens, subverting American democracy and the rule of law -- and, most likely, the meaningful "change" that Obama so ardently promised to deliver.
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