Torching the Modern-Day Library of Alexandria
9 hours ago
In Barack Obama's rise to national prominence, when he criticized the Bush Administration for its false claims about WMDs in Iraq, its torture of detainees, and its illegal program of spying on American citizens without warrants, he owed a particular debt of gratitude to a New York Times national security reporter. In a series of scoops as impressive as any amassed during the War on Terrorism, James Risen reported in 2004 that the CIA failed to tell President Bush about relatives of Iraqi scientists who swore that the country had abandoned its weapons program; the same year, he was first to reveal that the CIA was waterboarding detainees in Iraq; and in 2005, he broke the Pulitzer Prize winning story about the secret NSA spying program.This is the sort of thing that makes me hope that Mr. Obama becomes a one term president. Yes, the Republican presidential candidates are worse; but if we continue to elect persons who feel at liberty to break campaign vows, to grant immunity to criminals while persecuting the journalists who exposed the malfeasance, how can we expect so see any different result?
These scoops so embarrassed and angered the Bush Administration that some of its senior members wanted Risen to end up in jail. They never managed to make that happen. But President Obama might. He once found obvious value in Risen's investigative journalism. Its work that would've been impossible to produce without confidential sources and an ability to credibly promise that he'd never reveal their identities. But no matter. The Obama Administration is now demanding that Risen reveal his source for a 2006 scoop about CIA missteps in Iran. If he refuses to cooperate, which is his plan, he faces the possibility of jail time.
[President Obama] might not be in the White House today if the Bush Administration would've succeeded in keeping all its secrets: the torture, the detainee deaths, the abuses at Abu Ghraib, the spying on Americans, the faulty pre-war intelligence in Iraq, and all the rest. One would expect Obama of all people to see the value in Risen's reporting - the real ways in which he has helped to preserve civil liberties, American freedom, and accountability in government - and to weigh that against the national security implications of reporting in 2006 on a bungled CIA effort that happened way back in the year 2000.The sad reality is that the institution of the presidency is now set in such a manner that it seems to guarantee that we will have presidents who behave as presidents should not behave.
Instead, a president who once championed whistle-blowers has adopted Cheney's view, and as Glenn Greenwald puts it, "the Obama administration appears on the verge of fulfilling Dick Cheney's nefarious wish beyond what even Cheney could achieve." All this while failing to prosecute the much more serious Bush era illegal acts that Risen has uncovered in his reporting.
Can one even imagine how much different -- and better -- our political culture would be if our establishment media devoted even a fraction of the critical scrutiny and adversarial energy it devoted to the Weiner matter to things that actually matter? But that won't happen, because the people who comprise that press corps, with rare exception, are both incapable of focusing on things that matter and uninterested in doing so. Talking about shirtless pictures and expressing outrage about private sexual behavior -- like some angry, chattering soap opera fan furious that one of their best-known characters cheated -- is about the limit of their abilities and their function. And doing so is so easy, so fun, so self-justifying, and so exciting in that evasively tingly sort of way.Like what Greenwald? Like the context of why Anthony Weiner was being hounded by conservative bloggers for months leading up to their uncovering and disclosing his twitter cyber relations, that being his calls for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from healthcare decisions because of conflicts of interest.
JOHN HAMILTON: I think this is one of the most important points, that, no, Glenn Beck doesn’t advocate explicitly for violence, but in Byron Williams’s mind, Glenn Beck gives you every ounce of evidence that you could possibly need.Legal or ultimate culpability, no. An ethical and intellectual culpability, a culpability of personal responsibility for normalizing and encouraging paranoid hate, very much so.BYRON WILLIAMS: You know, I’ll tell you. Beck is going to deny everything about violent approach, deny everything about conspiracies, but he’ll give you every reason to believe in it. He is protecting himself, and you can’t blame him for that. So, I understand what he’s doing.AMY GOODMAN: That was Byron Williams, recorded by you in the Santa Rita Jail. Go on with what he’s saying.
JOHN HAMILTON: I think Dana Milbank of the Washington Post put it best. He has a compendium of Glenn Beck quotes. Here is some of the rhetoric that you’ll hear on Glenn Beck’s radio program or see on his TV show: “The war is just beginning," "Shoot me in the head if they try to change our government," "You have to be prepared to take rocks to the head," "The other side is attacking," "There is a coup going on," "Grab a torch," "Drive a stake through the heart of the bloodsuckers," "They are taking you to a place to be slaughtered.” I mean, these are quotes, and I could go on. I mean, there’s any number of these from Glenn Beck.
So, I think we have to ask ourselves, if this is the level of discourse on the Glenn Beck program, and if the statements about, for example, George Soros, you know, starting the Tides Foundation thirty-five years ago, which wasn’t the case, or that he’s laundering money through “his” Tides Foundation, when he’s given less than five percent of the funds, of the foundation’s total funding, those two things in tandem beg the question, does Glenn Beck bear culpability for the actions of his audience?
In the video you will notice that President Bush says that Al-Zarqawi has been brought to justice. He has not been brought to justice, he was killed. This may have been, and for all I know, most probably was the only way to stop the horrors being committed by al-Zarqawi, but killing him has nothing to do with justice. Bringing him to justice would have meant having him stand trial for his crimes against humanity, holding him accountable before a court of law. That is the concept of justice that the civilized world has adopted. The other is punitive and vengeful - the Biblical conception of justice - and we know that for much of time that the Biblical conception of justice dominated Western society, society was not just, but unjust.I am pleased to see that I need not bother writing that portion of such a future post, because Steven Poole, author of Unspeak, has already addressed it and come to much the same conclusion.
It is worth pausing to admire Obama’s masterful rhetorical conflation here of two different conceptions of justice. One sense of “justice”, of course, has to do with courts, legal process, fair trials, and the rest. This has to be the sense invoked in Obama’s reference to the desire to bring Bin Laden to justice. In this spatial metaphor, justice is a place: implicitly, a courtroom, or at least a cell with the promise of process. (Or even, in extremis, Guantánamo Bay, still not closed, where indefinite “detention” or imprisonment is Unspeakily palliated with the expectation of some kind of tribunal.) To bring someone to justice is to put them in a place where they will be answerable for their alleged crimes. To be answerable in this sense, it helps to be alive.
But it is quite another sense of “justice” — meaning a fair result, regardless of the means by which it was achieved — that is functioning in Obama’s next use of the word: the quasi-legal judgment that justice was done. On what sorts of occasion do we actually say that justice was done? Not, I suppose, at the conclusion of a trial (when it might be claimed, instead, that justice was served); rather, after some other event, away from any courtroom, that we perceive as rightful punishment (or reward) for the sins (or virtues) of the individual under consideration. (Compare poetic justice.) The claim that justice was done appeals, then, to a kind of Old Testament or Wild West notion of just deserts. What, after all, happened between the desire to bring Bin Laden to justice and the claim that justice was done? Well, Bin Laden was killed. He was not, after all, brought to justice. Instead, justice (in its familiar guise as American bombs and bullets) was brought to him.