Monday, November 12, 2007

You Can Leave Your Hat On

Last week, the president placed a call to Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf. Let's hope it was a collect call as our tax dollars have already totalled close to $11 billion since 9/11. much of that money going to better arm those we claim to be fighting. President Bush reportedly told President Musharraf "You can't be the president and the head of the military at the same time." Well, that's not entirely what he meant, of course; he meant that one can't be army chief and head of a country, but when one usurps his position as commander-in-chief, what difference does it make if he's wearing a uniform or not?

Moreover, if Mr. Bush feels that strongly about what he perceives to be a conflict of interest, why doesn't he step down as commander-in-chief, leave Iraq to Iraqis, and Iran to Iranians instead of pursuing a foreign policy that amounts to selective destruction. (AP)

The voluptuaries of power always say that power is about seduction, and seduction requires knowing what to hide. Arguably, few have mastered the fine art of obfuscation better than our 43rd president. But, even more than concern about conmingling military power with executive power, Mr. Bush's "frank discussion" with the Pakistani leader makes crystal clear his wishes: "The United States wants you to have the elections as scheduled and take your uniform off." In a phone call that lasted only 20 minutes, the president asked Musharraf to take his uniform off at least twice.

Not that I'm a big fan of the Pakistani leader, but how dare a president of any country tell a leader of another sovereign state how to dress! If, as it's said, clothes make the man, does it follow that uniforms make the dictator? If we were to put Musharraf in an Armani suit, would it make the current Stalin-lite arrests of thousands of dissidents, many of whom are practicing attorneys, suspension of his country's constitution, and declaration of a state of emergency, or martial law, any more acceptable?

All this talk of taking off uniforms is agitprop, and amounts to nothing more than a distraction from the fact that we're supporting a government which is holding its own people hostage while, at the same time, claiming to be our ally in a so-called war on terror. Just as robbing a bank doesn't have to involve holding a gun to a teller's head, one can embezzle money, hijacking a country doesn't come with a dress code. While this is a bloodless coup, it is the second one, in less than a decade, and while Musharraf agreed to hold elections, as scheduled, in January, he will not set a timeline for the suspension of martial law.

This pattern of doublespeak isn't altogether new, now is it? The campaign for "law and order," which is at the nucleus of Pakistan's current state of emergency, is nothing more than a subterfuge for suspension of civil liberties in order to guarantee eelection. The law and order theme is a familiar one, too. We have seen what a campaign for "law and order" has done for this country; we have more rancor and official lawlessness now than at any other time in our history, as exemplified by practices that amount to torture applied to those we detain under the pretext of ridding the world of terrorists, and the routine subversion of our privacy rights in an effort to criminalize communication among ordinary Americans. Military courts, in Pakistan, may now try those civilians who disagree with its policies on charges "ranging from treason to inciting public unrest." How long before we do the same thing here?

It's absurd that anyone can believe General Musharraf when he says there will be "absolutely fair and transparent elections" in his country which is now under martial law. Clearly, the Bush administration misses Saddam so much, they've created another Saddam to take his place. How curious, too, that we've just signed a nuclear enrichment deal with India in light of the fact that India and Pakistan are mortal foes.

It's also curious to see the word "transparent" used by Musharraf; the same word has been applied by our president to his government, but where in hell is the transparency to be found from an administration that blocks the testimony, before Congress, of a Marine Corps lawyer who insists that his prosecution of a terrorist was derailed because of the egregious interrogation tactics that were employed? Some in the Pentagon may forget that confessions acquired by torture are inadmissible in court.

Where is transparency in government to be found when Pentagon general counsel, William Haynes II, forbids a subordinate to testify before Congress? (WaPo) When key sections of military reports are redacted? When the White House can withhold millions of emails on the pretext of executive privilege? When the president coerces two of his aides to defy congressional subpoenas, and refuse to testify before a House committee investigating the spurious firing of nine attorneys-general?

How can this president call on a dictator, thousands of miles away, and insist that he follow democratic rule while, at the same time, two prominent members of Congress, Rep. John Conyers and Rep.Jerrold Nadler, have had to write to incoming Attorney General Mukasay, before his official swearing in, no less, to request the release of three Justice Department "secret" legal opinions justifying the use of "painful physical and psychological tactics" on those we detain, and interrogate. These congressmen are right when they suggest that the withholding of legal opinions, from Congress, is almost as troubling as the procedure itself.

And, what of recent revelations by Rep. Henry Waxman that, despite his protestations to the contrary, there is now strong evidence that convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff had "hundreds of lobbying contqacts with White House officials" which flies in the face of the president's claim that he doesn't know Abramoff. Is this what this president has in mind by "transparency" in government? If so, it is clearly the same kind of transparency asserted by General Musharraf.

One has only to look at Bush's choice for Deputy Secretary of State, John Negroponte, to see what a farce "compassionate conservatism" is.. Yes, this is the same Negroponte who describes Pakistan as a key ally in the war on terror, and Musharraf as invaluable to our efforts, and told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that "No country has done more in terms of inflicting damage and punishment on the Taliban and Al Qaeda since 9/ll." Yes, very impressive, as is the fact that Musharraf released 25 pro-Taliban fighters right after he suspended his country's constitution (NYT), after his own admission, years ago, "There is no doubt Afghan militants are supported from Pakistan soil."

Not only do recently declassified documents obtained by the National Security Archive reveal that the Taliban "was directly funded, armed, and advised by Islamabad itself," but much of the $11 billion we sent to the Pakistani general, after his coup, ended up in the hands of the Taliban and other "terrorist" groups, the same groups that Musharraf claims to be defending his country against by declaring martial law.

Yes, this is the same John Negroponte who as U.S. ambassador to Honduras, nearly a quarter of century ago, helped to boost military aid to that country tenfold to realize his objective of making Honduras a fortress against the revolutionary Sandinistas in neighboring Nicaragua, and who ignored the claims of his predecessor, Jack Binns, of numerous human rights abuses by the Honduran military Negroponte stubbornly denied having knowledge of any Honduran military wrongdoing, and even back then demonstrated a penchant for a "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" mentality.

According to one former Honduran congressman, Mr. Negroponte's attitude was "one of tolerance and silence. They needed Honduras to loan its territory more than they were concerned about innocent people being killed." (Wiki) How reassuring to see that our deputy secretary of state hasn't changed a bit; his response to the crisis in Pakistan is not unlike his response to what happened in Honduras; ethics are sacrificed at the altar of political, and economic expediency.

But, the larger question is - hasn't Washington had enough of this reptilian hubris? Isn't it time for glasnost? All this presidential preoccupation with the leader of Pakistan removing his uniform doesn't, in any sense, obscure the need for him to take off his mask, quit hiding behind executive privilege and, more imortantly, quit thinking he can run his government from underground.

Nobody gets to break the law, then make it law, not even in this country. As the song goes, "Even the president of the United States sometimes has to stand naked."