The found poetry of state terror continues its strange mutilations of the English language. The bizarre verbal heavings of Donald Rumsfeld, for example, are rightly celebrated as choice examples of the genre. And noted English playwright David Hare once fashioned a whole play built largely on the “thought-tormented music” wrought from verbatim transcripts of the principal authors of the war crime in Iraq.
In this regard, as in almost every aspect of the Terror War, “continuity” has been the hallmark of the Obama Administration. But we would do the progressive, forward-looking president a grave disservice if we were to imply that this dynamic, historic figure has confined himself to mere continuity. No, in field after field of governmental endeavor, Barack Obama has striven mightily not just to uphold the many authoritarian and militarist innovations of the Bush Administration, but to expand them-increasing their scope and depth, codifying, normalizing and making permanent many practices which his predecessors had enshrouded with ambiguity, deception and deliberate murk. Bush and Cheney were afflicted with a vestigial embarrassment at the howling illegality and constitutional subversion of many of their Terror War policies, and seemed to fear these acts would provoke some kind of public outcry or political controversy-or even prosecution-should they be made too explicit.
But our cool, savvy and thoroughly post-postmodern president carries none of that dead lumber from our long-vanished past. Where Bush was content with smirks and hints about his assassination program, Obama is bold, sending his security chief to declare openly before Congress that the president now has the unrestricted right and power to murder anyone, Americans included, in cold blood, by the simple expedient of declaring his victim a suspected terrorist of some vague description. Whereas Bush and Cheney usually resorted to backroom bureaucratic knife-twisting or bombastic but empty public threats to try to silence and cow officials who expose high crimes of state, the Obama Administration brazenly brings down the draconian power of federal prosecution against whistleblowers. Our progressives-in-power will not just take away your government job or bluster at your editors if you give your fellow citizens a glimpse of the blood-soaked sausage-making that goes on behind the imperial curtain; no, they will put you in the penitentiary, to rot away with murderers and child abusers, which is where they rank all such treacherous tellers of truth.
So we should not be surprised to find the Obama Administration outstripping its mentors and models from the Bush years in the production of Orwellian nomenclature. Nor is it remarkable that these perversions of language are leading to further perversions of law, morality and plain common sense.
We refer to the recent story in the Los Angeles Times about the vast expansion of the CIA’s powers to murder people in Pakistan with missiles fired by robot drones. These remote-control killings were originally aimed at specific, known, named individuals suspected of being top “militant” leaders. But now, people are being targeted not because of any action they are known or alleged to have taken, but simply because they seem to fit an arbitrarily designated “pattern of life”-even if the remote-control killers don’t know the victim’s name. Read more…