Why We Protest
When reporters interview George W. Bush or Dick Cheney, which they still do as if they have some untapped wisdom to share with people, the only consolation they can offer for causing the death of over a million Iraqis and the displacement of millions more, leaving the country in utter destruction and spending over a trillion dollars of US Treasury and sacrificing over 4,000 US soldiers, is that they got rid of a brutal dictator, who was a war monger and had no regard for human life.
But, how different would Dick Cheney have acted had he been given the powers that Saddam had? My guess is: not very. But, we don’t have to guess. He planned and pushed for a war, through lies and misrepresentation, that caused the death and displacement of so many innocent people and the destruction of a country that neither her leaders nor any of its nationals had done anything to Americans, a war the victims of which were sacrificed purely for geopolitical reasons and profits. And despite the deaths and destruction it caused, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush and their cohorts still have no remorse for it. They still continue to defend their actions.
The Bush Administration, and specifically Dick Cheney, also pushed, encouraged and gave the political cover to the CIA and US military to capture men in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, fly them to Guantanamo Bay and torture them, in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions, not to mention US law. And as it turned out and we now know, many of those men who were kidnapped, taken away from their families and kept in secret prisons and tortured for years, some of whom are still not freed and are force fed through their noses, were innocent individuals, who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, who even now don’t figure in any national debate or conversation, which is typically about whether or not the torture was effective in getting information from the captives. Not only no one is held to account for breaking the law, including international laws, which clearly forbid any use of torture for any reason, there is no accountability for destroying innocent lives. Those lives aren’t important enough to even be discussed, let alone be the cause for anyone to go to jail.
So, was Saddam, as brutal as he was and who was ultimately executed, any more brutal than US leaders like Bush, Cheney and Obama, who have arguably caused more deaths and suffering and more devastation than Saddam ever did or could? Was he more brutal or did he cause more deaths and suffering than Israeli leaders, who continue to enjoy the full support and largesse of US leaders? If the Iraq war that killed so many innocent people was justified for bringing the leader of a foreign nation to justice, as Dick Cheney and Bush still argue and Obama tacitly and even not so tacitly defends them for it, don’t US leaders also deserve to be brought to justice for their crimes, especially if doing it involves no war and no one has to die for it to happen? What makes punishing of a criminal dictator half way around the world right, especially if it takes a devastating war to do it, but not the punishing of American war criminals, who have killed more people and destroyed more lives? The fact is: Saddam had the same mentality as Dick Cheney, who continues to insist that waging a war on the Iraqi people, as well as torturing prisoners, was the right thing to do. The difference between these two men is mainly in the circumstances and the environment in which they lived, not in their values or psyche or proclivity to commit violence or wage war.
Many liberals are disappointed at Obama for not wanting to prosecute the architects of that war and the practice of torture. But, what is natural for the agents, functionaries and servants of the corporate Empire to do and which is therefore expected of them to do, can’t be disappointing. What’s disappointing, rather, is the disappointment some feel over Obama’s refusal to prosecute. Obama never, in 6 years of his presidency or even while he was a candidate, had any illusion as to what he would or wouldn’t do as president, or whom he would answer to. The only ones with the illusion were the people who voted for him. Obama’s campaign wasn’t financed by billionaires so he could bring change in US policies. It was financed to appear to bring change, while continuing the same policies as his predecessors, and he took that mission, knowingly and seriously. The continuity of policies that the US system of governance has achieved through its two corporate parties can’t be matched even by one-person dictatorships with absolute power.
Obama understands full well the ramifications for himself were he ever to prosecute Bush and Cheney. But aside from such ramifications, pardoning his predecessors is as much a part of his job as is ordering drone attacks in several countries, the bombing campaign in Libya, his support for brutal terrorist groups like ISIS to try to overthrow the Syrian government, regularly sending hefty aid to Israel, agreeing to deregulate large Wall Street banks, defending companies like Monsanto against farmers, etc. What we must understand too is that the question of pardoning or prosecuting those in US government responsible for war crimes and torture is nothing personal. It’s not about the person George W. Bush or Dick Cheney or others or the consequences of such prosecution for them, personally. It’s not out of personal affection when Obama goes out of his way and pushes for thousands of documents and photos implicating the previous Administration officials to be not released. Similarly and on the other hand, the decision to punish, and punish severely, those, who feel more loyalty towards justice and human decency than the interests of the corporate class and who, out of compassion and integrity, refuse to remain silent and despite tremendous risks, decide to blow the whistle on government wrongdoings, is also never personal. As it has become clear to many recently and as Glen Greenwald recently wrote in a piece for The Guardian, the U.S. criminal justice system is indeed “two-tiered”, but it never is about a person but always about the class and their collective interests, which those hired must “protect and serve”.
To not understand these connections is to not understand the military industrial complex: the function and duties of its president, the wars it wages or the way it trains its urban police to deal with the working class. A change in the relations between the police and the public will only come with a fundamental change at the top, which will also be required if there can ever be a change in the policy of endless wars or in the systemic unemployment, poverty and institutional racism. As we protest the police for killing innocent black men, it helps to keep in mind that the problem runs deeper than requiring the police to wear video cameras or to have them trained better. They are trained pretty well. In fact, they’re trained, too well!
So why are things so twisted and so upside down that a conscientious 20 year old private (Chelsea Manning) gets 35 years in prison, after being held in solitary confinement for three years in conditions that according to human rights organizations amounted to torture, for blowing the whistle on government atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a former CIA agent (John Kiriaku) is jailed for years for revealing that the government tortures people, which later the government itself comes forward and admits to, while those committing those atrocities and violations of human rights are never punished? And isn’t this also related to the fact that billionaire bankers who defraud people to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars are never charged with any crime and police officers who commit murder in front of witnesses and go free, while thousands of people who don’t belong to the owners’ class or their protectors and servants, especially African Americans, are hauled to prison for the most petty violations, such as drug possession? Are these all separate and unrelated phenomena or are they emblematic of one overarching reality, which is that the class of billionaires and corporate bosses have a lock on the government, the media, the courts, the military and the police and are doing everything to keep the power and keep the rest of us leashed like dogs? Under these circumstances, the only hope for change is a massive, ongoing, nonstop and nationwide campaign of protests. Everything else is a distraction and a fraud.