Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Attacking Libya -- and the Dictionary - If Americans Don’t Get Hurt, War Is No Longer War

If Americans Don’t Get Hurt, War Is No Longer War

By Jonathan Schell

The Obama administration has come up with a remarkable justification for going to war against Libya without the congressional approval required by the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution of 1973. 

American planes are taking off, they are entering Libyan air space, they are locating targets, they are dropping bombs, and the bombs are killing and injuring people and destroying things. It is war. Some say it is a good war and some say it is a bad war, but surely it is a war.

Nonetheless, the Obama administration insists it is not a war. Why?  Because, according to “United States Activities in Libya,” a 32-page report that the administration released last week, “U.S. operations do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve the presence of U.S. ground troops, U.S. casualties or a serious threat thereof, or any significant chance of escalation into a conflict characterized by those factors.” 

In other words, the balance of forces is so lopsided in favor of the United States that no Americans are dying or are threatened with dying. War is only war, it seems, when Americans are dying, when we die.  When only they, the Libyans, die, it is something else for which there is as yet apparently no name. When they attack, it is war. When we attack, it is not.
This cannot be classified as anything but strange thinking and it depends, in turn, on a strange fact: that, in our day, it is indeed possible for some countries (or maybe only our own), for the first time in history, to wage war without receiving a scratch in return. This was nearly accomplished in the bombing of Serbia in 1999, in which only one American plane was shot down (and the pilot rescued).

The epitome of this new warfare is the predator drone, which has become an emblem of the Obama administration. Its human operators can sit at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada or in Langley, Virginia, while the drone floats above Afghanistan or Pakistan or Yemen or Libya, pouring destruction down from the skies.  War waged in this way is without casualties for the wager because none of its soldiers are near the scene of battle -- if that is even the right word for what is going on.

Some strange conclusions follow from this strange thinking and these strange facts. In the old scheme of things, an attack on a country was an act of war, no matter who launched it or what happened next.  Now, the Obama administration claims that if the adversary cannot fight back, there is no war.

It follows that adversaries of the United States have a new motive for, if not equaling us, then at least doing us some damage.  Only then will they be accorded the legal protections (such as they are) of authorized war.  Without that, they are at the mercy of the whim of the president.

The War Powers Resolution permits the president to initiate military operations only when the nation is directly attacked, when there is “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.”  The Obama administration, however, justifies its actions in the Libyan intervention precisely on the grounds that there is no threat to the invading forces, much less the territories of the United States.

There is a parallel here with the administration of George W. Bush on the issue of torture (though not, needless to say, a parallel between the Libyan war itself, which I oppose but whose merits can be reasonably debated, and torture, which was wholly reprehensible).  President Bush wanted the torture he was ordering not to be considered torture, so he arranged to get lawyers in the Justice department to write legal-sounding opinions excluding certain forms of torture, such as waterboarding, from the definition of the word.  Those practices were thenceforward called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
Now, Obama wants his Libyan war not to be a war and so has arranged to define a certain kind of war -- the American-casualty-free kind -- as not war (though without even the full support of his own lawyers). Along with Libya, a good English word -- war -- is under attack.

In these semantic operations of power upon language, a word is separated from its commonly accepted meaning. The meanings of words are one of the few common grounds that communities naturally share. When agreed meanings are challenged, no one can use the words in question without stirring up spurious “debates,” as happened with the word torture. For instance, mainstream news organizations, submissive to George Bush’s decisions on the meanings of words, stopped calling waterboarding torture and started calling it other things, including “enhanced interrogation techniques,” but also “harsh treatment,” “abusive practices,” and so on. 

Will the news media now stop calling the war against Libya a war?  No euphemism for war has yet caught on, though soon after launching its Libyan attacks, an administration official proposed the phrase “kinetic military action” and more recently, in that 32-page report, the term of choice was “limited military operations.” No doubt someone will come up with something catchier soon. 

How did the administration twist itself into this pretzel? An interview that Charlie Savage and Mark Landler of the New York Times held with State Department legal advisor Harold Koh sheds at least some light on the matter.  Many administrations and legislators have taken issue with the War Powers Resolution, claiming it challenges powers inherent in the presidency. Others, such as Bush administration Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, have argued that the Constitution’s plain declaration that Congress “shall declare war” does not mean what most readers think it means, and so leaves the president free to initiate all kinds of wars.

Koh has long opposed these interpretations -- and in a way, even now, he remains consistent. Speaking for the administration, he still upholds Congress’s power to declare war and the constitutionality of the War Powers Resolution. “We are not saying the president can take the country into war on his own,” he told the Times. “We are not saying the War Powers Resolution is unconstitutional or should be scrapped or that we can refuse to consult Congress. We are saying the limited nature of this particular mission is not the kind of ‘hostilities’ envisioned by the War Powers Resolution.”

In a curious way, then, a desire to avoid challenge to existing law has forced assault on the dictionary. For the Obama administration to go ahead with a war lacking any form of Congressional authorization, it had to challenge either law or the common meaning of words. Either the law or language had to give.
It chose language.

Jonathan Schell is the Doris M. Shaffer Fellow at The Nation Institute, and a Senior Lecturer at Yale University.  He is the author of several books, including The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Schell discusses war and the imperial presidency, click here, or download it to your iPod here.
Copyright 2011 Jonathan Schell

9/11 and the Orwellian Redefinition of "Conspiracy Theory"

While we were not watching, conspiracy theory has undergone Orwellian redefinition.

A “conspiracy theory” no longer means an event explained by a conspiracy.  Instead, it now means any explanation, or even a fact, that is out of step with the government’s explanation and that of its media pimps.

For example, online news broadcasts of RT have been equated with conspiracy theories by the New York Times simply because RT reports news and opinions that the New York Times does not report and the US government does not endorse.

In other words, as truth becomes uncomfortable for government and its Ministry of Propaganda, truth is redefined as conspiracy theory, by which is meant an absurd and laughable explanation that we should ignore.

When piles of carefully researched books, released government documents, and testimony of eye witnesses made it clear that Oswald was not President John F. Kennedy’s assassin, the voluminous research, government documents, and verified testimony was dismissed as “conspiracy theory.”

In other words, the truth of the event was unacceptable to the authorities and to the Ministry of Propaganda that represents the interests of authorities.

The purest example of how Americans are shielded from truth is the media’s (including many Internet sites’) response to the large number of professionals who find the official explanation of September 11, 2001, inconsistent with everything they, as experts, know about physics, chemistry, structural engineering, architecture, fires, structural damage, the piloting of airplanes, the security procedures of the United States, NORAD’s capabilities, air traffic control, airport security, and other matters.  These experts, numbering in the thousands, have been shouted down by know-nothings in the media  who brand the experts as “conspiracy theorists.”

This despite the fact that the official explanation endorsed by the official media is the most extravagant conspiracy theory in human history.

Let’s take a minute to re-acquaint ourselves with the official explanation, which is not regarded as a conspiracy theory despite the fact that it comprises an amazing conspiracy.  The official truth is that a handful of young Muslim Arabs who could not fly airplanes, mainly Saudi Arabians who came neither from Iraq nor from Afghanistan, outwitted not only the CIA and the FBI, but also all 16  US intelligence agencies and all intelligence agencies of US allies including Israel’s Mossad, which is believed to have penetrated every terrorist organization and which carries out assassinations of those whom Mossad marks as terrorists.

In addition to outwitting every intelligence agency of the United States and its allies, the handful of young Saudi Arabians outwitted the National Security Council, the State Department, NORAD, airport security four times in the same hour on the same morning,  air traffic control, caused the US Air Force to be unable to launch interceptor aircraft,  and caused three well-built steel-structured buildings, including one not hit by an airplane, to fail suddenly in a few seconds as a result of limited structural damage and small, short-lived, low-temperature fires that burned on a few floors.

The Saudi terrorists were even able to confound the laws of physics and cause WTC building seven to collapse at free fall speed for several seconds, a physical impossibility in the absence of explosives used in controlled demolition.

The story that the government and the media have told us amounts to a gigantic conspiracy, really a script for a James Bond film. Yet, anyone who doubts this improbable conspiracy theory is defined into irrelevance by the obedient media.

Anyone who believes an architect, structural engineer, or demolition expert who says that the videos show that the buildings are blowing up, not falling down, anyone who believes a Ph.D. physicist who says that the official explanation is inconsistent with known laws of physics, anyone who believes expert pilots who testify that non-pilots or poorly-qualified pilots cannot fly airplanes in such maneuvers, anyone who believes the 100 or more first responders who testify that they not only heard explosions in the towers but personally experienced explosions, anyone who believes University of Copenhagen nano-chemist Niels Harrit who reports finding unreacted nano-thermite in dust samples from the WTC towers, anyone who is convinced by experts instead of by propaganda is dismissed as a kook.

In America today, and increasingly throughout the Western world, actual facts and true explanations have been relegated to the realm of kookiness.  Only people who believe lies are socially approved and accepted as patriotic citizens.

Indeed, a writer or newscaster is not even permitted to report the findings of 9/11 skeptics.  In other words, simply to report Professor Harrit’s findings now means that you endorse them or agree with them.  Everyone in the US print and TV media knows that he/she will be instantly fired if they report Harrit’s findings, even with a laugh. Thus, although Harrit has reported his findings on European television and has lectured widely on his findings in Canadian universities, the fact that he and the international scientific research team that he led found unreacted nano-thermite in the WTC dust and have offered samples to other scientists to examine has to my knowledge never been reported in the American media.

Even Internet sites on which I am among the readers’ favorites will not allow me to report on Harrit’s findings.

As I reported earlier, I myself had experience with a Huffington Post reporter who was keen to interview a Reagan presidential appointee who was in disagreement with the Republican wars in the Middle East.  After he published the interview that I provided at his request, he was terrified to learn that I had reported findings of 9/11 investigators.  To protect his career, he quickly inserted on the online interview that my views on the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions could be dismissed as I had reported unacceptable findings about 9/11.

The unwillingness or inability to entertain any view of 9/11 different from the official view dooms to impotence many Internet sites that are opposed to the wars and to the rise of the domestic US police state.  These sites, for whatever the reasons, accept the government’s explanation of 9/11; yet, they try to oppose the  “war on terror” and the police state which are the consequences of accepting the government’s explanation. Trying to oppose the consequences of an event whose explanation you accept is an impossible task.

If you believe that America was attacked by Muslim terrorists and is susceptible to future attacks, then a “war on terror” and a domestic police state to root out terrorists become necessary to make Americans safe. The idea that a domestic police state and open-ended war might be more dangerous threats to Americans than terrorists is an impermissible thought.

A country whose population has been trained to accept the government’s word and to shun those who question it is a country without liberty in its future.