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Lessons from the Middle East, Part 2


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Among the many ways that our American ancestors viewed the role of government in a free society that were so different from modern-day Americans was how they regarded militarism and a standing army. Our ancestors disdained the concept of professional armies because they viewed them as antithetical to freedom.

Keep in mind, after all, that another way in which our ancestors were so different was the way they viewed their own government. While modern-day Americans have come to view the federal government as their friend, provider, and caretaker, our American ancestors viewed the federal government as the greatest threat to their freedom and well-being. And they knew that the means by which tyrannical governments historically had enforced their tyranny was the government’s military forces.

With an enormous well-armed and well-trained military establishment, the tyrant could easily suppress with force any dissent or resistance to his oppression. The military mindset, the Framers understood, traditionally is one of conformity, obedience, and loyalty to superior officers, especially the commander in chief. In the minds of the troops, they are supporting and defending the nation and the rights and freedoms of the people when they — the troops — are obeying the orders of the king, the president, the commanding general, or the ruler. To them, it’s one and the same thing.

Consider, for example, George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. If there was ever a clear-cut case of an illegal and unconstitutional war, that was it. Neither the Iraqi people nor the Iraqi government ever attacked the United States. That made the U.S. government the aggressor in the conflict and Iraq the defending power. At Nuremberg after World War II, it was decreed that a war of aggression constituted a grave war crime.

Moreover, keep in mind that the U.S. Constitution is the higher law that governs federal officials, including the president and the military. The Constitution requires a congressional declaration of war as a prerequisite to waging war. That’s our system of government. The president could not legally order the military to attack and wage war on Iraq without first securing a formal declaration of war against Iraq from Congress. That declaration of war never was issued. The most that came out of Congress was an authorization for the president to use force against Iraq, should the president deem it necessary to do so, which was nothing more than an unconstitutional (and cowardly) delegation of the power to declare war.

Since the president’s orders to attack, invade, and occupy Iraq were clearly illegal under U.S. law (i.e., the Constitution) and a war crime under international law (as a war of aggression), the troops, enlisted men and officers alike, had a legal and moral duty to disobey the president’s orders. Yet not one did so. Every officer and enlisted man loyally followed orders and attacked, invaded, and occupied Iraq. They were convinced that following the orders of their commander in chief was equivalent to supporting and defending the Constitution and the rights and freedoms of the American people. (Lt. Ehren Watada refused to deploy to Iraq in 2006 because of the war-crimes issue and was criminally prosecuted by the military for his refusal to obey orders. His trial resulted in a mistrial and he was discharged in 2009.)

That is what the Framers knew would happen with standing armies. The troops would inevitably follow whatever orders were issued by their ruler — their commander in chief — and convince themselves that in the process of doing so, they were defending national security and the rights and freedoms of the people.

Among the main objections to standing armies the Framers had was that the military would ultimately employ its force against the citizens themselves whenever the ruler wished to quell dissent over his policies.

Attacking protesters

During the past several months, we have been able to witness this phenomenon in the Middle East. During the protests in Egypt, the military appeared to be standing by, refusing to initiate force against the citizenry. Yet, at the height of the demonstrations, the media reported that the military was arresting some of the demonstrators and removing them to the Egyptian torture rooms for torture. When it became clear that the demonstrations were going to go on indefinitely, Mubarak resigned and turned over control of the country to the military. While the military appears to be permitting democratic elections, the jury is still out on whether it will permit a democratic outcome that significantly reduces its predominate role in Egyptian society.

The Egyptian military and military-industrial complex play as big a role in Egyptian society as the U.S. military and military-industrial complex play in the United States, if not more so. The standing army in Egypt not only engages in the standard things a military does, it also is the nation’s primary owner of industries and businesses. The revenues that military-run businesses and industries produce, combined with the tax revenues that subsidize the military and the $2 billion per year in U.S. foreign aid, enable those serving in the Egyptian military to live privileged and exalted lives. These socialist state-owned and state-run businesses and industries are also one of the main reasons for economic poverty within the country. If the Egyptian people figure that out, there will very likely be a collision between the populace and the military.

During the anti-government, demonstrations in other Middle East nations, such as Bahrain, Tunisia, and Yemen, the troops behaved as America’s Founding Fathers would have predicted. They loyally obeyed orders of their commander in chief to quell the disturbance in the interests of “order and stability” and “national security.”

In Libya, while most of the military loyally followed the orders of their commander in chief, Muammar Qaddafi, others broke away and sided with the rebels. If they are captured, there is no doubt that Qaddafi will treat them as traitors. One of the most amusing parts of the revolution in Libya occurred when Qaddafi accused the rebels of being drug-law violators and terrorists, even blaming Osama bin Laden. Apparently, he believed that by simply mentioning the war on drugs and the war on terrorism, the citizenry would immediately drop their protests and rally to the government. I wonder where Qaddafi got that strategy!

The co-dictator

We Americans must keep in mind that regardless of how the standing armies in these Middle East countries were conducting themselves during the protests, everyone knows what such armies were doing long before the protests. They were protecting their respective regimes, which were engaged in torture, brutality, and terror that the regimes had been initiating against the citizenry for decades.

After all, no one should get the impression that tyranny suddenly and unexpectedly appeared in the Middle East, which then caused people to take to the streets. No, the dictators had been in place for decades and so had the tyranny they had inflicted on their respective countries. Arbitrary arrests of critics and dissidents. Torture. Rapes. Beatings. Brutality. Executions. And all with the purpose of maintaining each dictatorship’s hold on power and its permanent and privileged position as the ruling regime of the country.

Why is this important for Americans? Because it was the U.S. government that was maintaining those dictatorial regimes in power long before people finally had enough. It was U.S. foreign aid that was providing the salaries for the police, the intelligence forces, and the military. It was U.S. taxpayer money that was being used to pay the torturers and the electric bills for the devices that were used to shock prisoners in the most sensitive parts of their body. It was the U.S. government that was the enabler, the provider, the maintainer, the co-dictator, the co-tyrant.

The U.S. government can publicly side with the Middle East demonstrators all it wants but it cannot escape the fact that it was co-responsible for the horrific acts of torture and human-rights abuses that ultimately gave rise to the demonstrations and the rebellions. Imagine what the Egyptian demonstrators were thinking when they took a look at the tear gas canisters that the Egyptian standing army was firing at them and that had printed on them, “Made in the USA.”

Throughout the decades-long terms of the Middle East dictators, it was the U.S. government that was providing them with the cash and the means to oppress, terrorize, and brutalize their own people in order to remain in power. While no U.S. foreign aid was sent to Libya, President Obama actually gave it serious consideration. Moreover, British foreign aid was sent to Libya, and the British government would never do that without the approval and support of the U.S. empire.

In return for maintaining those dictatorial brutes in power, the U.S. empire secured their undying loyalty, along with the “order and stability” that comes with dictatorial rule.

Herein is one of the dark secrets of U.S. foreign policy, one that Americans would have preferred remained out of the limelight so that they wouldn’t have to think about it. But the ongoing protests in the Middle East have caused this dark side to surface for every American to see and contemplate.

And it’s not as if U.S. officials were ignorant of how these dictatorial brutes were treating their people. While Egypt is known around the world foremost for its pyramids, a close second is its torture chambers. It is well known that Egypt employs some of the most talented torturers in the world and maintains some of the most terrifying torture rooms anywhere. If you want someone tortured, you couldn’t go wrong by sending him to Egypt.

In fact, that’s precisely what the U.S. empire did. Several years ago, U.S. officials cut a deal with the Egyptian dictatorship to torture people on behalf of the U.S. empire. That’s what the rendition program was all about. The empire and the Mubarak regime entered into a deal whereby the empire would bring suspected terrorists to Egypt. The Mubarak regime would publicly agree not to torture the prisoner so that U.S. officials could have “plausible deniability.” That is, they could say, “We’re shocked to learn that the prisoner we renditioned to Egypt has been tortured because Egyptian officials assured us that they would not torture him. If we had known that they were lying, we would never have done this.”

Of course, it was all a sham. Both sides knew that the prisoner would be tortured notwithstanding the public declarations to the contrary.

Partnerships with dictators

Why did U.S. officials choose Egypt as a place to torture their prisoners? Because they were well aware of how well the Egyptian torturers torture their victims. And who were those victims? The Egyptian people themselves — the ones who dared to criticize what was going on, the ones who were objecting to the torture, the rapes, the brutality, the terror.

U.S. regimes, under both Democrats and Republicans, cannot escape the truth, which is now surfacing for the world to behold: U.S. officials supported the dictatorships; they partnered with the dictatorships; they knew that the dictators’ police, intelligence, and military forces were torturing, raping, and terrorizing the citizenry. And still the U.S. foreign aid flowed. The partnerships with the dictators were strengthened. The Pentagon continued training the forces of the dictators. Very few, if any, U.S. military officials, had even a slight pang of conscience. After all, “our interests” — such as oil or U.S. military bases thousands of miles away from U.S. shores — were at stake.

Thus, given the partnerships with the dictators, which were being strengthened year after year, it certainly shouldn’t surprise anyone that such partnerships morphed into torture partnerships. A few years ago, CIA operatives conspired to kidnap a man in Italy and rendition him to Egypt for torture. The CIA agents were indicted and convicted in an Italian court for violating Italian law. U.S. officials have steadfastly refused to send them to Italy to face justice. In the eyes of the empire, its operatives did nothing wrong. After all, they were all just following orders.

Several years ago, President George W. Bush steadfastly repeated the mantra, “We don’t talk to Syria.” The reason? Syria was listed among those brutal dictatorships that were state sponsors of terrorism. One day the CIA kidnapped a Canadian citizen while he was changing planes in the United States and renditioned him to Syria to have him tortured. During a year of captivity, the man was subjected to the most brutal and terrifying torture imaginable. Later, after he was released it was determined that he was totally innocent of the terrorism accusation. The U.S. government never indicted him for anything. The Canadian government apologized for its role in the sordid affair and entered into a financial settlement with the man with Canadian taxpayer money. The U.S. government never apologized and the U.S. federal courts dismissed the man’s lawsuit on grounds of “national security” — that is, the need for the government to keep the details of torture agreements secret.

Through it all, the mainstream press never asked Bush the following question: “If you were telling the truth when you repeatedly told us, ‘We don’t talk to Syria,’ then how in the world did the CIA arrive at the torture deal with Syrian torturers? Who handled the negotiations? Were you aware of the negotiations? Who signed off on the final torture agreement?”

When the horrific photographs came out of Saddam Hussein’s old torture prison, Abu Ghraib, showing U.S. personnel engaged in horrific acts against Iraqi prisoners, U.S. officials acted shocked and outraged. “We don’t torture,” they repeatedly said. A few bad apples. That’s all it was.

Nonsense! For one thing, U.S. officials admitted to authorizing the use of waterboarding, which has long been recognized as torture. Moreover, let’s not forget the longtime support that the U.S. government has given to foreign dictatorships renowned for torturing their own citizenry.

Iran and Guatemala

Think back to 1953, when the CIA ousted the democratically elected prime minister of Iran and installed the shah in his stead. For the next 25 years, U.S. officials partnered with and supported this “good friend” of the United States. During that entire time, U.S. officials knew that the shah was maintaining his grip on power through torture and terror inflicted on those who dared to challenge his control, the same type of torture being inflicted by Iran today and the various U.S.-supported dictatorships in the Middle East.

In fact, it’s ironic that U.S. officials love declaiming against the torture and tyranny of the current regime in Iran because when it was the shah doing the same things to the Iranian people, U.S. officials not only didn’t issue a peep of protest, they actually supported his tyranny and oppression.

Finally, after 25 years of torture, terror, and tyranny, Iranians revolted against the U.S.-supported dictator. Unfortunately, they were unable to set things back to 1953, when the U.S. empire interfered with their democratic process, and they ended up with a regime that is as tyrannical as the shah’s.

Consider Guatemala, which was headed by a series of U.S.-supported military dictators after the CIA ousted the democratically elected president of the country from office. Those dictatorial regimes killed hundreds of thousands of Guatemalan citizens under the guise of fighting “the communist threat.” Even worse, they let loose their troops, many of whom had been trained at the U.S. military’s School of the Americas, to rape and torture the citizenry. One of the most horrific acts of repeated rape and torture involved an American Catholic nun named Sister Dianna Ortiz, who barely survived the ordeal.

Recall Augusto Pinochet, the military general who became a U.S.-supported dictator in Chile. He let loose his military, police, and intelligence goons to rape, brutalize, torture, terrorize, and execute critics and dissidents to maintain the “order and stability” his U.S.-supported regime brought to the country. It was then that the CIA participated in the murder of a young American journalist, even denying for decades that it had done so.

In fact, the entire history of Latin American dictators is filled with tales of torture, rape, and brutality — dictators who were embraced and supported by U.S. officials and whose forces were trained at the U.S. military’s School of the Americas, which, as it was ultimately discovered, was even handing out formal torture manuals to its trainees.

It’s all part and parcel of the dark side of U.S. foreign policy, one that all too many Americans have simply chosen not to think about or confront. It’s been easier for Americans to ignore their consciences and defer to authority — the authority of those who were supporting, enabling, and partnering with evil.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

This article originally appeared in the June 2011 edition of Freedom Daily.

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    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.