When you are on top, ‘might makes right’ is ‘rule of law’

The Obama administration’s moralistic paeans to the “rule of law” concerning whistleblower Edward Snowden would carry considerably more weight if the United States weren’t continuing to harbor an assortment of ex-dictators and a terrorist who killed dozens in an airplane bombing. As soon as we look under the hood, we see “might makes right” at work, not “rule of law.”

If the U.S. government actually cares about the sanctity of international law, it could start by handing over Luis Posada Carriles, convicted of blowing up a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people, to the government of Venezuela. Not only has Mr. Posada has been living in Florida for many years, he has at times worked for the U.S. government since escaping from a Venezuelan jail. Shortly after escaping prison (allegedly thanks to bribes paid by members of the Miami Cuban exile community) he was hired to work on Oliver North’s illegal Nicaraguan Contra supply network, and is suspected of involvement in an attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro in 1994 and a string of tourist-hotel bombings in the Havana area in 1997.

Mr. Posada, who trained with the CIA in the 1960s, gave an interview to three major U.S. newspapers in 1997 in which he admitted to some of activities. Writing about this topic in 2002 in an article published in BigCityLit, I wrote:

“The Miami Herald, Los Angeles Times and New York Times reported Posada’s revelations, which detailed a series of bombings and other terror acts and connections with Cuban exile groups in Miami. Posada, then 70 years old, ‘revealed that key Cuban American lobbyists in this country financed his activities, in apparent violation of U.S. law, while the FBI and CIA looked the other way,’ according to a Los Angeles Times report.”

The National Security Archive, a project of George Washington University that publishes declassified U.S. government documents, provided further details in 2005:

“The National Security Archive today posted additional documents that show that the CIA had concrete advance intelligence, as early as June 1976, on plans by Cuban exile terrorist groups to bomb a Cubana airliner. The Archive also posted another document that shows that the FBI’s attaché in Caracas had multiple contacts with one of the Venezuelans who placed the bomb on the plane, and provided him with a visa to the U.S. five days before the bombing, despite suspicions that he was engaged in terrorist activities at the direction of Luis Posada Carriles. …

“[A] report from the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research on the bombing of Cubana flight 455 … noted that a CIA source had overheard Posada prior to the bombing in late September 1976 stating that, ‘We are going to hit a Cuban airliner.’ This information was apparently not passed to the CIA until after the plane went down. There is no indication in the declassified files that indicates that the CIA alerted Cuban government authorities to the terrorist threat against Cubana planes.”

They said he’s a terrorist, but gave him a pardon anyway

The Cuban and Venezuelan governments have long requested extradition of Mr. Posada, to no avail. Another Cuban exile leader, Orlando Bosch, was granted a pardon by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 and lived free in the U.S. for three decades until dying in 2011. Mr. Bosch was also suspected in the Cuban airline bombing and in a series of other terroristic acts. Duncan Campbell, writing in The Guardian, reported a decade ago on him:

“According to US justice department records: ‘the files of the FBI and other government agencies contain a large quantity of documentary information which reflects that, beginning in the early 1960s, Bosch held leadership positions in various anti-Castro terrorist organisations. … Bosch has personally advocated, encouraged, organised and participated in acts of terrorist violence in this country as well as various other countries.’ ”

Lest we be tempted to chalk the above up simply to the U.S. government’s bipartisan obsession with Cuba, we’ve only scratched the surface of U.S. hypocrisy over the “rule of law.” Bolivia, for example, has requested extradition of former president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. At the time already responsible for the deaths of dozens of protestors, President Sánchez sent his security forces to put down a peaceful rally opposing the selling off of Bolivian gas reserves; 67 were killed and more than 400 injured. He later fled into exile and was formally charged in 2007 with genocide.

The Obama administration refuses to send him back. A report by Glenn Greenwald in The Guardian states:

“Bolivia then demanded his extradition from the US for him to stand trial. That demand, ironically, was made pursuant to an extradition treaty signed by Sánchez de Lozada himself with the US. … The view that Sánchez de Lozada must be extradited from the US to stand trial is a political consensus in Bolivia, shared by the government and the main opposition party alike. But on [September 7, 2011], the Bolivian government revealed that it had just been notified by the Obama administration that the US government has refused Bolivia’s extradition request.”

Then there is Warren Anderson, former chairman of Union Carbide, who is wanted in India in the wake of the explosion of his company’s Bhopal pesticide plant that killed thousands of people and injured tens of thousands. Indians courts have issued warrants for his arrest, which have been met with silence while he shuttles between houses on the U.S. East Coast.

It’s not only terrorists and corporate criminals who enjoy safe havens in the United States. Amnesty International, in a 2002 report, US is a ‘Safe Haven’ for Torturers Fleeing Justice, estimated that at least 150 torturers were living in the county then, none of whom was brought to justice. The number of torturers that the U.S. has trained, at its School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia, is far higher. At the SOA (currently operating under the name of “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation”) the U.S. Army trains Latin American military and police officers in torture techniques as part of its curriculum; the countries with the worst human rights records consistently send the most trainees.

If they don’t like terrorists, why do they train them?

The watchdog group School of Americas Watch, in an investigative report written by Bill Quigley, summarizes the work of the SOA:

“[G]raduates of the SOA have been implicated in many of the worst human rights atrocities in the Western Hemisphere, including the assassination of Catholic bishops, labor leaders, women and children, priests, nuns, and community workers and the massacres of entire communities. Numerous murders and human rights violations by SOA graduates have been documented in Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Paraguay among others. These horrendous acts correspond to part of the school’s curriculum: systematic use of torture and executions to neutralize dissidents.” [page 2]

An article in The Washington Post, a newspaper (despite its long-ago Watergate reporting) that often acts as if it were an official publication of the U.S. government (and which has eagerly joined in the attacks on Edward Snowden), nonetheless reported straightforwardly on the use of torture manuals released by the Pentagon under pressure:

“U.S. Army intelligence manuals used to train Latin American military officers at an Army school from 1982 to 1991 advocated executions, torture, blackmail and other forms of coercion against insurgents, Pentagon documents released yesterday show. Used in courses at the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas, the manual says that to recruit and control informants, counterintelligence agents could use ‘fear, payment of bounties for enemy dead, beatings, false imprisonment, executions and the use of truth serum.’ ”

That was the summation of a newspaper that ordinarily rushes to defend U.S. foreign policy. The techniques it described were not a small part of the curriculum, nor an aberration, as the Post article implied in an attempt to soften the revelation. A former SOA instructor, Major Joseph Blair, told The Progressive:

“I sat next to Major Victor Thiess who created and taught the entire course, which included seven torture manuals and 382 hours of instruction. … He taught primarily using manuals which we used during the Vietnam War in our intelligence-gathering techniques. The techniques included murder, assassination, torture, extortion, false imprisonment. … Literally thousands of those manuals were passed out. … The officers who ran the intelligence courses used lesson plans that included the worst materials contained in the seven manuals. Now they say that there were only eighteen to twenty passages in those manuals in clear violation of U.S. law. In fact, those same passages were at the heart of the intelligence instruction.” [“School of the Americas Critic,” July 1997]

He killed 1,000 a month, but he’s ‘dedicated to democracy’

The SOA continues to operate. One of the graduates of the school is Efrain Ríos Montt, the most blood-thirsty of a series of brutal dictators who ruled through terror in Guatemala. Each of these dictators ruled with the full support of the U.S. following the CIA-organized overthrow of the democratically elected Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán at the behest of the United Fruit Company, which had previously been the country’s de facto ruler. The succession of dictatorships killed more than 200,000 Guatemalans. The régime of President Ríos Montt murdered more than 1,000 people a month during 1982, with Ríos Montt himself hailed by U.S. President Ronald Reagan as “totally dedicated to democracy” and unfairly the target of “a bum rap.”

Simultaneously, the Guatemalan military intensified its assaults on Indigenous communities. For example, SOA Watch reports, a Guatemalan special forces unit with extensive ties to the SOA, the Kaibiles, carried out this operation:

“[The unit] entered the village of Las Dos Erres, systematically raped the women, and killed 162 inhabitants, 67 of them children. Current President of Guatemala Otto Peréz Molina, also a graduate of the SOA, spent much of his time in military service as a member of the Kaibiles. This military unit was developed by the Guatemalan government in 1974, and its initial leader was a fellow SOA graduate.”

Among the techniques used by Guatemala’s dictators, according to the book Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America by Juan Gonzalez, were dropping mutilated bodies from helicopters into crowded stadiums and cutting out the tongues of people who inquired about the “disappearances” of friends and family.

And let us not forget the loyal sidekick of the U.S., Great Britain, which seeks to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to Sweden merely for questioning at the same time it refuses to extradite a convicted pedophile, Shawn Sullivan, to stand trial in Minnesota, claiming that the U.S. justice system has a civil commitment program for sex offenders that is too draconian. The Daily Kos reports that the suspect is charged with raping a 14 year old girl and sexually assaulting two 11 year old girls in 1994, but escaped to Ireland.

In no way is Edward Snowden, a whistleblower who has provided a service to humanity, comparable to the murderous rouges gallery described in this article, but the Obama administration might want to meet its obligations under international law before it further strong-arms other countries. But then “rule of law” in a world in which force maintains vast inequality is a euphemism for “rule of the most powerful.”

20 comments on “When you are on top, ‘might makes right’ is ‘rule of law’

  1. Jeff says:

    Mushrooms are the fruit of an organism known as a mycelium. I think it is helpful to recognize that any government is a mushroom. We need to stop focusing on the mushrooms and start paying attention to the mycelium.

    • Yes! Government is not an abstract entity; it is a reflection of the balance of social forces with a society. The most powerful industrialists and financiers are the driving forces behind capitalist “markets” and are the dominant influences on the governments where they operate. Their ideas become the dominant ideas of a capitalist society and of course it is nearly impossible to gain higher political office without their backing and money.

      The U.S. government consistently acts in the interests of the most powerful capitalists, who are able to suffuse their ideology throughout society through a panoply of institutions and endless repetition in the mass media. I have made that point repeatedly in this blog and didn’t directly say it this time because I don’t want to endlessly repeat myself. Getting to the structure of society, of which dysfunctional government is a manifestation, is getting to the root of the problem. Thanks for giving us another reminder of that.

  2. tubularsock says:

    Systemic: An excellent article on just how fucked up Amerika happens to be. The sad thing is that step-and-fetch-it-Obummer fits in so well. When you’re part of the club you get to ride in the front of the bus! Sad state of affairs!

    • Thanks, Tubularsock! I think many people disappointed with Obama didn’t pay much attention to his actual record, which is not progressive. Obama’s corporate backers wanted a cool, calm hand at the head of empire after the adventures of Bush II/Cheney and it must be said they got what they paid for.

  3. Marc Batko says:

    Systemic, structural evil is more challenging than scapegoating the weak. The Anglo-Saxon labor market is dominated by hire and fire, winner take all and the right of the stronger. The financial sector was inflated and privileging capital over labor led to the explosion of financial products and generalized mistrust and insecurity. With language distortion, CEOs were/are stylized as job-creators and workers as cost-factors. The arsonists who caused the financial crisis and their political errand boys (cf. Bill Moyers) describe themselves as firefighters.
    Thanks Systemic Disorder for crusading for truth in an elite-democracy wedded to its privileges and oblivious to alternatives to the race to the bottom.
    Marc http://www.freembtranslations.net

    • Thanks for the vote of confidence, Marc. You can’t have the level of inequality and unfairness we have without an exceptional public relations effort, and if there is one thing that won’t be outsourced, that is it …

      • tubularsock says:

        Don’t be too sure about the outsourcing of “public relations”. The NSA has done some well placed
        outsourcing and the State Department and EPA …………

        International public relation firms have no boarders nor consciences.

    • Alcuin says:

      Marc – could you elaborate on your characterization of Bill Moyers as a political errand boy? I like your blog but I don’t have the time to take more that a quick glance right now. Thanks!

      • Marc Batko says:

        “The banks own this place,” Sen Durbin of Illinois said. A “quiet coup” was staged by the financial sector, the Wall St banks, economist Simon Johnson explained in an article in The Atlantic years ago. Bill Moyers described the government as an “errand boy” for the banks. Dependent on banks for campaign financing and unwilling to prosecute the fraudsters, the government adjusts to its role as “errand boy” in a “market-conforming democracy” (Angela Merkel).

  4. Vassilis says:

    A fine article SD. Have you ever wondered why people avoid the truth about such attrocities? Why they prefer to throw these facts in the conspiracy bin?

    • tubularsock says:

      My rule of thumb, when it comes to conspiracy theories, is that the closer you get to the real truth of any event the louder the chorus there is of making fun of it. And if you hit it on the nail then government spokespeople get into the act of denial.

    • Alcuin says:

      There are two related phenomena here, Vassilis. The first is confirmation bias – the tendency to only pay attention to those “facts” that support your world-view. This applies to everyone, on the Left, the Right, and in the middle. The second is cognitive dissonance – the desire to make facts that don’t fit your world-view fit, after all. This also applies to the Left, the Right, and those in the middle. Conspiracy theories don’t really apply here – such theories are an attempt to explain otherwise inexplicable events. I’d say that conspiracy theories tend to be more common among those with little education, though that isn’t always true!

      • Jeff Nguyen says:

        In reaponse to Alcuin’s request for articles on the relationship between political activity and traumatic bonding, i.e., Stockholm syndrome…”Traumatic bonding has been studied, “whereby powerful emotional attachments are seen to develop from two specific features of abusive relationships: power imbalances and intermittent good-bad treatment.” We have been conditioned in this country through the corporate media, education system and entertainment industry to not just love but identify more with our captors than fellow captives.”

        Source (full disclosure-it’s me): http://deconstructingmyths.com/2013/03/30/setting-the-captives-free/

      • Alcuin says:

        Thank you, Jeff. I found another post by Arthur Silber that deals with Stockholm Syndrome (SS). Your post on your blog, as well as Arthur Silber’s posts, are a good starting point. What I am looking for is work that links SS to capitalism. I’ve found a plethora of posts that link SS to everything except capitalism. Most of them are of the finger-pointing variety, as in “conservatives” accusing “liberals”. My thought is that the idea of linking SS to capitalism hasn’t occurred to many people because capitalism has infiltrated our consciousness down to the cellular (or even molecular) level and we simply cannot see the link. Nor do most of us even know what capitalism is. I’m trying to remedy that, personally – I’ve started reading Capital, Vol. 1. I’m also interested in the work of Ellen Meiksens Wood and The Invention of Capitalism, by Michael Perelman. Thanks again for the reference – I’ll check out some of the links.

    • As Alcuin said, there is a strong tendency to pay attention only to facts that fit one’s world view and to make the facts you do accept fit into pre-conceived notions. In the U.S., people are bombarded from the earliest age that the U.S. is the greatest country and brings peace and democracy to the world. Because this conditioning is so ubiquitous, and is continually reinforced when one becomes an adult, such training can be difficult to discard. If the U.S. is the greatest exporter of all that is right and just, how could it do anything bad? So it must be foreign propaganda.

      I would, however, like to distinguish the term “conspiracy theory.” A conspiracy theory is a concoction that purports to explain the state of the world, or history, through a “master scenario.” The tired canard of “Jewish bankers” manipulating the economy, for example, or asserting that a shadowy group (Trilateral Commission, “Bilderbergs,” free masons & etc.) secretly controls the economy. Some people on the Left believe in the idea that capitalists manipulate everything, to the point of bringing on recessions when it suits them.

      Everything in the above paragraph is a conspiracy theory because they represent attempts to pin all blame on one group of people, as if something as complex as the world capitalist system could possibly be controlled, much less controlled by a small cabal. These are not simply the work of people who are too lazy to attempt to figure out how the world works, they are dangerous because they obscure the real workings of the world. Instead of analyzing the capitalist system, and the mechanisms that maintain it, conspiracy theories point a finger at someone, or some group, and claim that if only we got rid of this handful of evil-doers, everything would be fine.

      The ongoing violence that maintains the capitalist system — or any system of inequality in which an elite hoards resources while leaving insufficient resources for the majority — that I barely scratched the surface of in this post is not part of any conspiracy; it is often not even hidden. It is simply the reality of the world and we can choose to observe what we see around or us or we can choose to believe fairy tales and keep our heads in the sand.

      Tubularsock noted that the counter-reaction to people getting closer to the truth tends to become stronger. There is an old line attributed to Gandhi that delineates the stages of activism: “First, they ignore you; then they ridicule you; then they attack you; and then you win.” Years ago, when Rudy Giuliani was mayor of New York City I was an organizer with the No Spray Coalition that sought to stop the city from conducting mass spraying of pesticides and we experienced just such a sequence. I was personally used as a foil for Giuliani by one of the local television stations who twisted the words I spoke at a public rally. But months later, another local television station used a 45-second clip of me speaking a press conference to explain the dangers of pesticide spraying — an eternity by TV news standards. Yep, we were ridiculed as conspiracy-mongers and crazies, but in the end the facts prevailed, along with hard work by many dedicated activists who knew the truth and were willing to act on it.

      Capitalism is not sustainable and it will not survive this century. What comes next is up to all of us, so among the best services we can provide is to study, analyze, speak out and organize for a better world. Needless to say, the elites who do fine by the present system are going to push back with all their might; when the Right-wing and its media mouthpieces attack us, then we are on the correct path. Reality is complicated and is never a “conspiracy theory”; one-dimensional ideas that blame everything on a single thing or group are.

      • Alcuin says:

        Thank you for elaborating on conspiracy theories.

        You write, “These are not simply the work of people who are too lazy to attempt to figure out how the world works, they are dangerous because they obscure the real workings of the world.”

        It isn’t that people are “too lazy” – it’s that they need to fight the conditioning that you outlined in your first paragraph and they don’t have the time, the resources, or the energy to do so. Under capitalism, by definition, almost everyone is a wage slave and the capitalists do everything possible to ensure that that status is reinforced. Between long working hours and Debordian media circuses, few have the discipline to be able to embark on a course of study that would lead them in the right direction. Conspiracy theories enable the powerless and the disenfranchised to make some sense of their plight. Unfortunately, as you write, doing so “obscure[s] the real workings of the world.”

        I’m glad that you pointed out that “Some people on the Left believe in the idea that capitalists manipulate everything, to the point of bringing on recessions when it suits them.” Here, they are conflating the inherent contradictions of capitalism with agency and not being able to see, because of their conditioning, that the two are not connected. Yes, the capitalists use recessions to further their agenda but no, they have no control over when those recessions occur.

        Do you have any resources on tomming on the Left? As in Uncle Tom?

        • And thank you for elaborating on some of my points. Indeed what you said about conditioning, and the weight of being a wage slave, is true. I whole-heartedly agree that people aren’t “lazy”; but I submit that many Left conspiracy-mongers (admittedly we are talking about a subset of a subset here) are lazy because they do grasp the larger realities but nonetheless fall back on simple theories. Such folks do, or should, know better and should be prodded.

          I don’t have any resources at hand as you requested. The creation of such a list would be a service.

      • Alcuin says:

        Looks like the answer to my query was staring me in the face:

        “Every syndrome has symptoms or behaviors, and Stockholm Syndrome is no exception. While a clear-cut list has not been established due to varying opinions by researchers and experts, several of these features will be present:

        Positive feelings by the victim toward the abuser/controller.

        Negative feelings by the victim toward family, friends, or authorities trying to rescue/support them or win their release.

        Support of the abuser’s reasons and behaviors.

        Positive feelings by the abuser toward the victim.

        Supportive behaviors by the victim, at times helping the abuser.

        Inability to engage in behaviors that may assist in their release or detachment.”

        I would guess, since I’m not a psychologist, that the behaviors labeled as “Uncle Tom” is included in the definition of the Stockholm Syndrome. Now, I wonder if any scholars have delved into connecting the behaviors labeled as being typical of the Stockholm Syndrome to political activity… There must be – I’m just not looking in the right places. Yet. I’ll report back if I’m successful …

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