by Rebecca Gordon, book excerpt, via TruthOut
With the Nuremberg tribunal after World War II, the United States helped establish the international principles guiding the prosecution of war crimes. But the US refuses to apply these principles to itself. American Nuremberg makes the case for indicting the officials who have presided over torture, extraordinary rendition, drone assassinations and more since 9/11 in the name of national security.
The following excerpt is from the foreword to American Nuremburg: The US Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 Crimes:
“The modern concept of human rights is based on the fundamental principle that those responsible for violations must be held to account.”—Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights
“Well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal.”—Richard Nixon, in 1977 interview with David Frost
September 11, 2001, began an ominous new chapter in this country’s history. Horrified Americans turned our eyes from the images on TV screens and toward our government. We were looking for reassurance, for bold actions to assuage our newfound fears. And the government responded.
First, President George W. Bush told us to go shopping. All over the country businesses began displaying posters bearing an image of the Stars and Stripes that had sprouted handles. The American flag had become a shopping bag, accompanied by a patriotic new slogan: “America: Open for Business.” In a moment of high national unity, we watched a New York City firefighter ring the bell to reopen the stock exchange on Wall Street.
Then the serious response began as the president proclaimed a “war on terror” and unleashed the full might of US military and security forces. Bush announced the establishment of a new, Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security and, within a couple of months, Congress passed the USA Patriot Act, granting the federal government unprecedented secret surveillance and subpoena powers. Soon, ordinary Americans became accustomed to the rituals of the new security regime every time we went to the airport or stood in line for a ball game.
In San Francisco, where I live, residents and tourists watched as National Guard troops began patrolling the Golden Gate Bridge, distinctly visible in their camouflaged troop carriers. Visitors to corporate towers and federal buildings across the country were not surprised to see armed guards staring menacingly at them, and moviegoers across the country were warned over public address systems to report any suspicious activity. Uniformed soldiers carrying automatic weapons became a common sight at airports. My partner and I suddenly found ourselves on an FBI “No-Fly” list, most likely because we were among the founders of War Times/Tiempo de guerras, a free, nationally distributed, bilingual tabloid opposing this new, all-encompassing “war.” And we all got used to seeing the color-coded warnings of the official danger gauge known as the Terrorist Threat Level.
We also began to get used to the idea that keeping us safe would require, as Vice President Dick Cheney put it, “working the dark side.” There were no real objections when Cofer Black, director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, told Congress, “After September 11, the gloves come off.” Did we even blink when, on November 5, 2001, Newsweek‘s liberal pundit Jonathan Alter wrote that it was “Time to think about torture”? There were a few cautionary remarks from people who cared about civil liberties. But eventually, most of us settled back into a new and extraordinary normal.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the war on terror was just getting started. By September 12, Vice President Cheney was already working on efforts to pin the 9/11 attacks on Saddam Hussein. By January 2002, the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay was established. By late 2002, those who wanted to could read stories of CIA kidnapping (“extraordinary rendition”) and torture (“stress and duress”) in the pages of the Washington Post or the New York Times. Soon after came the revelations of abuses at Abu Ghraib, Bagram Air Force Base, and dozens of CIA “dark sites” around the world. Then we heard about the “ghost prisoners” who died in US custody, about waterboarding, “rectal rehydration,” and mock executions. We heard about the people, including US citizens, assassinated on foreign soil by rockets fired from drone aircraft controlled by young American “pilots” sitting half a world away in the Nevada desert.
To this day, the people of the United States have never had a full accounting of all that has been done in our name as part of an apparently endless war on terror. After years of struggle, we finally have the heavily redacted 500-page executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,000-page report on the torture allowed by the CIA. But it contains only a partial accounting of the actions of a single US agency among the many security branches involved in the war on terror.
Nor has there been any real public reckoning for those officials, including men (and a few women) at the highest levels of the government who are responsible for all these deeply troubling actions undertaken by Washington since 9/11. This impunity all but guarantees that the next time our country is seized by a spasm of fear, we can expect more crimes committed in the name of national, and our own, security.
Indeed, as I finished writing this book, Paris was struck by a night of terror which left at least 130 people dead — and which, all too predictably, triggered a wave of overheated political rhetoric and calls for even more extreme security measures. In the United States, half of all state governors leapt to declare that their states would not accept any of the modest number of Syrian refugees scheduled for entry to the US — refugees who were made homeless by a civil war that our own government helped to start. Meanwhile, the two leading candidates for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination competed to see who could be the mostly vehemently intolerant and authoritarian, with Donald Trump flatly declaring that the US should shut its doors to all Syrian refugees, even women and infants, and calling for the creation of a “registry” for all Muslims in America. At the same time, Ben Carson, a former leading GOP contender, compared Syrian refugees to “rabid dogs” that should be kept safely outside our borders.
Many observers have pointed out the absurdity of declaring war either on a tactic (terrorism) or on an emotion (terror). A crusade against terror seems even more ill-defined and hopeless than the US “war” on drugs. For simplicity’s sake, I will not qualify the “war on terror” with quote marks throughout this book. But they remain present in my mind’s eye, and I hope in the reader’s as well.
Copyright (2016) by Rebecca Gordon.
Rebecca Gordon is the author of Mainstreaming Torture. She teaches philosophy at the University of San Francisco. Prior to her academic career, Gordon spent decades working as an activist in peace and justice movements in Central America, South Africa and the United States.