February 7, 2013

Crisis: Fifth Amendment and "The power of nightmares"

1. The Fifth Amendment and Presidential kill lists
2. Documentary:
"The power of nightmares"
About ME/CFS


The graphics in yesterday's Nederlog about ME/CFS: Several causes - many confusions where a bit experimental, but showed I can do these things with such eyes as I have now, though not easily.

Today's Nederlog is again about the
crisis (<- link 151 other Nederlogs on the subject since September 1, 2008), and specifically about the demise of the Fifth Amendment and about a documentary that considers "the war on terror" critically.

1. The Fifth Amendment and Presidential kill lists

The Fifth Amendment to the American Constitution (<- Wikipedia link) has this text:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
I suppose one can differ in opinion on how to interpret the beginning, but then the issue of what is an "infamous crime" - see the link - has been answered that in these days this corresponds to "felony".

I would have supposed that the part I am presently most concerned with
nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law
is rather clear, but then the US government has just redefined "due process":

These days, someone may be killed by US forces because one is on a Presidential kill list, where one may have arrived because one was accused, suspected or associated with someone the Presidential aides, or the CIA or FBI, call "terrorists".

Glenn Greenwald has an interesting article about it:
As Greenwald puts it
Not only is the entire process carried out solely within the Executive branch - with no checks or oversight of any kind - but there is zero transparency and zero accountability. The president's underlings compile their proposed lists of who should be executed, and the president - at a charming weekly event dubbed by White House aides as "Terror Tuesday" - then chooses from "baseball cards" and decrees in total secrecy who should die. The power of accuser, prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner are all consolidated in this one man, and those powers are exercised in the dark.

In fact, The Most Transparent Administration Ever™ has been so fixated on secrecy that they have refused even to disclose the legal memoranda prepared by Obama lawyers setting forth their legal rationale for why the president has this power.

It has happened before, of course: Stalin too had kill lists, and in his case it is easy to say why he had them: To get rid of his opponents.

Now one may think - quite correctly - that the present US and the late SU were built one quite different principles, but I quote again from the article I provided a link for:

But when it comes to Obama's assassination power, this is exactly what his administration has done. It has repeatedly refused to disclose the principal legal memoranda prepared by Obama OLC lawyers that justified his kill list. It is, right now, vigorously resisting lawsuits from the New York Times and the ACLU to obtain that OLC memorandum. In sum, Obama not only claims he has the power to order US citizens killed with no transparency, but that even the documents explaining the legal rationale for this power are to be concealed. He's maintaining secret law on the most extremist power he can assert.

And now there is  a 16-page "white paper" prepared by the Obama DOJ that purports to justify Obama's power to target even Americans for assassination without due proces. Effectively, it comes to this - and I quote Glenn Greenwald's article again:
The core distortion of the War on Terror under both Bush and Obama is the Orwellian practice of equating government accusations of terrorism with proof of guilt. One constantly hears US government defenders referring to "terrorists" when what they actually mean is: those accused by the government of terrorism. This entire memo is grounded in this deceit.
Quite so, for indeed this is deceit, also practised under Bush Jr.: In a state of law it is not the executive branch that has the final decision on imprisonment, punishment and killings. As Greenwald puts it:
The core freedom most under attack by the War on Terror is the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of due process. It provides that "no person shall be . . . deprived of life . . . without due process of law". Like putting people in cages for life on island prisons with no trial, claiming that the president has the right to assassinate US citizens far from any battlefield without any charges or trial is the supreme evisceration of this right.
And Greenwald quotes Colbert, to similar effect:

Stephen Colbert perfectly mocked this theory when Eric Holder first unveiled it to defend the president's assassination program. At the time, Holder actually said: "due process and judicial process are not one and the same." Colbert interpreted that claim as follows:

"Trial by jury, trial by fire, rock, paper scissors, who cares? Due process just means that there is a process that you do. The current process is apparently, first the president meets with his advisers and decides who he can kill. Then he kills them."

Actually, he has them killed: he doesn't do it himself, but then that is again like Stalin did it, who also left the actual killing (and torturing and imprisoning) to his minions. I agree there are differences. There also are analogies:

Is this quite as it was in Russia during Stalin's rule? Not quite - American citizens and papers may (still) protest this, for example, unlike citizens who lived under Stalin's rule, and far fewer are killed, tortured or locked up without due legal process - but it is frighteningly similar as it is indeed totalitarian or authoritarian, and shows what used to be a mark of police states: That the president or his staff could decide who to arrest, torture or kill, and get away with it, as if that was proper and right.

How did this come about? It is "because of the war on terror", but that is mostly a propaganda label, that by itself explains little, and misleads much?

And in fact there is a good documentary about how did this come about, to which I turn now.

Documentary: "The power of nightmares"

This is another BBC documentary series by Adam Curtis, who also made The Trap, that I have mentioned before, and the "The Century of the Self", which is about the influence of the Freud family on politics, advertising, marketing and "public relations", that I will consider later, and that so far is both the best and the longest of the documentaries that Curtis made and I saw. [1]

As it happens, there is a Wikipedia article for The Power of Nightmares from which I quote the beginning (minus some links):

The Power of Nightmares, subtitled The Rise of the Politics of Fear, is a BBC documentary film series, written and produced by Adam Curtis. Its three one-hour parts consist mostly of a montage of archive footage with Curtis's narration. The series was first broadcast in the United Kingdom in late 2004 and has subsequently been broadcast in multiple countries and shown in several film festivals, including the 2005 Cannes Film Festival.

The films compare the rise of the Neo-Conservative movement in the United States and the radical Islamist movement, making comparisons on their origins and claiming similarities between the two. More controversially, it argues that the threat of radical Islamism as a massive, sinister organised force of destruction, specifically in the form of al-Qaeda, is a myth perpetrated by politicians in many countries—and particularly American Neo-Conservatives—in an attempt to unite and inspire their people following the failure of earlier, more utopian ideologies.

The Power of Nightmares has been praised by film critics in both Britain and the United States. Its message and content have also been the subject of various critiques and criticisms from conservatives and progressives.

And as it also happens, there are good summaries of the three parts of The Power of Nightmares - which also seems to be the most controversial documentary series that Curtis made:

As of 1 January 2008, the film has yet to be aired in the United States. Curtis has commented on this failure:

Something extraordinary has happened to American TV since September 11. A head of the leading networks who had better remain nameless said to me that there was no way they could show it. He said, 'Who are you to say this?' and then he added, 'We would get slaughtered if we put this out.' When I was in New York I took a DVD to the head of documentaries at HBO. I still haven't heard from him.'
The main reaon seems to be that the general drift of The Power of Nightmares
is that "The War on Terror" is not what the US and European governments claim it to be. As Curtis put it himself
"In an age when all the grand ideas have lost credibility, fear of a phantom enemy is all the politicians have left to maintain their power."
I agree this seems to be at least part of the reaon why "The War on Terror" was started:

Not to do battle with "Al Qaida" - as I pointed out myself in 2005, in Dutch, even if that organization really exists, compared with the forces that were embodied in the Soviet Union and China during the Cold War it must amount to a very small threat - but to give politicians willing to defend the establishment much more power and authority, and to give them many more possibilities and pretexts for surveillance and control of their citizens.

But that is a point of view that is not popular with the American and English governments, nor with (neo-)conservatives, and indeed also not with some who call themselves progressives and support Obama, though it seems most criticism of the documentary series came from the conservative side of the politicial spectrum.

Since all of this is treated in the Wikipedia article
on The Power of Nightmares I refer you to that article in case you are interested, and only select one part cited there, to show my own line of criticism of the conservative stance, after briefly remarking that while I did find Curtis' treatment of American neo-conservatism and the parallel with the radical Islamist movement interesting, I did not find it convincing, though I agree both are kinds of totalitarian or at least authoritarian mind sets.

Here is the part I want to briefly comment on:
Peter Bergen, writing for The Nation, offered a detailed critique of the film. Bergen wrote that even if al-Qaeda is not as organised as the Bush Administration stressed, it is still a very dangerous force due to the fanaticism of its followers and the resources available to bin Laden. On Curtis's claim that al-Qaeda was a creation of neo-conservative politicians, Bergen said: "This is nonsense. There is substantial evidence that Al Qaeda was founded in 1988 by bin Laden and a small group of like-minded militants, and that the group would mushroom into the secretive, disciplined organisation that implemented the 9/11 attacks."
I have two objections against this:

First, even if al-Qaeda exists as the US and English governments, in their propaganda, claim it exists, to say that "
it is still a very dangerous force due to the fanaticism of its followers and the resources available to bin Laden" is fallacious and rhetorical nonsense: Compared to what Reagan called "The Empire of Evil" i.e. the combined forces, armies, territories, riches, and atomic weapons of the Soviet bloc and China and their allies, al-Qaeda is as a gnat compared to an army of tanks.

If you read Dutch, there is considerably more on this theme in my "Over terrorisme" from 2005 (when I certainly was not aware of
Adam Curtis or his documentaries): There just is no rational justification for the destruction of an open and free society because of "al-Qaeda", if a similar destruction was not necessary for defending the West against the combined armies of the Soviet Union and China during the Cold War - and it wasn't.

Second, to say that "
There is substantial evidence that Al Qaeda was founded in 1988 by bin Laden and a small group of like-minded militants" is a fallacy: The issue is not whether bin Laden headed some small group of fanatic islamists, who did engage in some sickening terrorist activities - and the documentary indeed agrees with both points - but whether that group constitutes the kinds of dangers that would justify the kinds of measures - such as: forced identity papers of all citizens, surveillance of all computer activities, the end of habeas corpus, the denial of the fifth amendment, the creation of presidential kill lists, the use of torture, the use of concentration camps, the renditions of people to foreign torture chambers - that the US and European governments have claimed they justify.

To me that line of argument has always appeared to be a conscious
propaganda lie, that cannot be taken serious by anyone who knows history and politics, and who is aware of the intellectual foundations of the separation of power, of open and free societies, and of what a state governed by law is for.

So I can't agree with Mr Bergen, though I would agree that there may be more to the propagandistic abuse of "al-Qaeda" so as to justify "the war on terror" than merely to serve as a pretext for politicians to obtain more power.

In fact, that diagnosis seems to me to be an optimistic reading of what has been happening ever since 9/11:

Wars in Irak and Afghanistan, and a breakdown of many rights and freedoms that the citizens in the West did have during the Cold War, when the dangers of terrorism, constituted as they were by the enormous armies of the Soviet Union and China, were very much larger than anything "al-Qaeda" could possibly come close to.

In any case,
The Power of Nightmares is well worth seeing, whether you agree with it or not [2], because it provides personal and intellectual backgrounds for the American neo-conservatives and the radical Islamists, that are interesting and worth knowing about, and because it questions the obvious
propaganda - regardless of intent and motive - that is so common these days from US and European governments, in the context of what they have styled as "the war on terror" that they claim was caused by "al-Qaeda".

To me it has seemed, ever since 9/11, that if you believe that, you may as well believe anything - but I agree that a recognition of the fact that what one is served is a lot of dishonest
propaganda is not yet any adequate explanation why one is propagandized.

[1] There are more, as anyone interested can find out about from this link: Adam Curtis. And as I mentioned before, one of my oddities is that I have no TV since 1970, while I only have fast internet since the summer of 2009. At present, I am therefore less informed about Mr Curtis and his documentaties than I would like to be, so I just say this about them: Regardless of my agreements (considerably but varying) and disagreements (also considerable but varying), they are interesting, well made, informed and worth seeing and thinking about. I certainly intend to write about another documentary series Mr Curtis made, indeed the most interesting of the three I saw: "The Century of the Self", which also has a Wikipedia link: The Century of the Self.

[2] Speaking for myself, I am not convinced by the parallels between neo-conservativist thinkers and the thinkers who created radical Islamism, though I agree both seem to me to manifest a totalitarian or - at least - authoritarian mind set, and also not by the central role of Leo Strauss, but then - like almost everybody else, while I know more about philosophy than almost everybody else - I do not know enough about either subject (neo-conservatism and Strauss, and radical Islamism) to be confidently dogmatic.

About ME/CFS (that I prefer to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate search machines) which is a disease I have since 1.1.1979:
1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS(pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why  (currently not available)

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2003)
5. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2011)
6. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

7. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)

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