On July 16th, 2015, a heavily armed, naturalized American citizen, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, engaged in a shooting rampage at a US Armed Forces Career Center and a U.S. Navy Reserve facility in Chattanooga, TN, killing five people and wounding two others before himself being killed by police. The shooter has been described by authorities as a “self-radicalized” extremist, who may have been suffering from depression or more severe mental disorders, and had allegedly been abusing various narcotics. While Abdulazeez has probably not secured himself a place in heaven, his actions may have turned out to be a gift from the Gods for the American empire and those who do its bidding, serving as the pretext for further intensification of a state of war in the precious Homeland. While various state governors authorized their National Guards to arm their full-time personnel to defend their stations, retired General Wesley Clark, a prominent Democrat whose close ties to the Clintons may soon elevate him to a senior position in the empire, took to the airwaves to float a rather nasty trial balloon:
Before we consider the implications of Clark’s proposal for the nature of our country and our place within it as citizens, it is worth noting the partisan identity of the messenger. As the antiwar activist David Swanson recently reminded us, Democrats can, quite literally, get away with murder. When Barack Obama was running for reelection, his Administration openly publicized the fact that the president spent time with his national security team every Tuesday to develop a “kill list” – a list of people in foreign countries, sometimes including women and children, who would be exterminated by remote-controlled drones piloted by America’s “heroes.” There was barely a murmur of protest, yet had a Republican president advertised the empire’s sadism with such obvious pride in his own machismo, America’s liberals would have erupted in a fit of selective indignation. Exploiting this tendency, Wesley Clark has been able to call for the creation of internment camps for American citizens as an honored guest of a putatively liberal organ of the corporate media, accomplishing far greater penetration of our culture than, say, Dick Cheney would ever have been granted. In such ways, the “lesser evil” of the Democratic Party is arguably even more useful to the owners of America than their more obvious handmaidens in the GOP, advancing plutocratic and military agendas with little opposition from the so-called left1 and complete misunderstanding from the right (where condemnations of Obama as a socialist or Marxist remain common). Anyone still doubting the allegiances of the Democrats should consider Clark’s position in the heart of Wall Street with the private-equity firm Blackstone, and should recall his role as NATO’s Supreme Commander when NATO engaged in the deliberate and spectacularly cynical destruction of Yugoslavia, conveniently paving the way for the privatization of an economy that had been largely state- and worker-owned. It is this happy little confluence of financial and imperial interests that the descendants of America’s black slaves can be trusted to vote for every four years – an irony that may not be sufficiently appreciated by the members of Republican-controlled state legislatures who would prefer those voters to stay at home.
Bury Our Constitution at Heart Mountain
Having provided the General with an uncritical platform, America’s “free press” – the supposed bulwark against government infringements of our liberties – would probably reassure us that his comments apply only to terrorists who engage in violence against us. They might add that he is concerned solely with Islamic terrorists; after all, he did not make these remarks immediately after the “self-radicalized” white racist, Dylann Roof, terrorized black churchgoers in Charleston, SC, or immediately after any of the other mass shootings that have already occurred in America this year. (It’s a long list, and most of the perpetrators are not Muslims.) Why, the question appears to be, if we can have a Guantanamo Bay for foreign Islamic terrorists, can we not also have a new Tule Lake or Heart Mountain2 for domestic Islamic terrorists? One of the answers to that question is that Clark is explicitly calling for the internment of American citizens who have done nothing more than exhibit symptoms of disloyalty to the United States. The timing of his remarks should not be allowed to blind us to the fact that his own language is vague enough to embrace anyone caught by the proposed loyalty dragnet. Constitutional guarantees of free expression, habeas corpus, and due process are blown away by the winds of (an unquestioned) permanent war, taking us back not just to the Bush-era aggrandizement of executive powers but to one of the darkest chapters in American history. For a country that routinely criticizes the human rights records of other nations, one might have thought that giving serious consideration to the (re)creation of concentration camps for alleged troublemakers might smack of hypocrisy. In fact, it is nothing more than a cost of doing business.
In 1990, President G.H.W. Bush did something truly exceptional: he issued a formal apology for the wartime actions of the United States. Under the terms of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which most Republicans opposed (being more loyal than their Democratic colleagues) but which President Reagan signed, survivors of the WWII Japanese internment camps were granted the princely sum of $20,000 each, with payments starting when Bush had become president. Compared to the amounts routinely awarded to Americans who have been falsely imprisoned for criminal offenses and subsequently exonerated by new evidence, this reparation was insultingly trivial as well as 45 years too late. (These amounts also pale into insignificance when compared to the sums awarded by the WTO’s secretive tribunals when corporations allege that a country’s environmental regulations have deprived them of the profits to which they were “entitled.”) If that’s all it costs to lock up thousands of Americans for the duration of a war, then why should the empire even think twice about it? If popular opinion can be brought in line (a few more persuasive incidents could always be arranged, as they were in several European countries after WWII when the CIA sought to blame communist elements for domestic violence), then the only possible obstacle would be the Supreme Court.
In Korematsu v. U.S. (1944), the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the internment of the Japanese pursuant to Executive Order 9066, allowing the government’s rationale (an espionage threat) to survive the Court’s first application of strict scrutiny review in a civil rights case. In 1983, Fred Korematsu’s conviction for evading internment was overturned by a federal district court after new evidence (chiefly, the degree of the military’s racism) came to light that would have affected the Supreme Court’s ruling in 1944. However, since lower courts cannot overturn Supreme Court precedent, the constitutional argument made in Korematsu is still on the books, a problem anticipated by the dissenting Justice Robert Jackson (who went on to be the chief prosecutor at Nuremberg):
[O]nce a judicial opinion rationalizes [a military] order to show that it conforms to the Constitution, or rather rationalizes the Constitution to show that the Constitution sanctions such an order, the Court for all time has validated the principle of racial discrimination in criminal procedure and of transplanting American citizens. The principle then lies about like a loaded weapon, ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of an urgent need. Every repetition imbeds that principle more deeply in our law and thinking and expands it to new purposes.
But Jackson’s dissent left the door wide open for a military order that lacked the obvious racial element of Japanese internment, to which both he and Justice Frank Murphy strongly objected:
Korematsu was born on our soil, of parents born in Japan. The Constitution makes him a citizen of the United States by nativity and a citizen of California by residence. No claim is made that he is not loyal to this country. There is no suggestion that apart from the matter involved here he is not law abiding and well disposed. [Emphasis added.]
The loyalty issue was central to Ex parte Endo, handed down on the same day as Korematsu. In Endo a unanimous Court held that a citizen who was “concededly loyal” could not be detained. For Justice Owen Roberts, the third dissenter in Korematsu, Endo‘s holding was hard to square with Korematsu, but for our purposes the salient point is that neither Endo nor Korematsu offers much succor to those who may be deemed disloyal in today’s global, amorphous, and permanent War on Terror.
As we shall see shortly, Wesley’s Clark’s understanding of WWII internment is rather selective, but he (or whoever is coaching him) has clearly read the legal signposts in the Japanese internment cases. His camps are open to guests of all races, obviating the equal-protection problem that an overtly racist camp system might face. The entry fee is paid by a demonstration of disloyalty to the country (the definition of which we shall explore presently). His reminder to the judiciary that we are at war – such a useful condition! – may allow him to drive a Humvee straight through any other constitutional roadblocks that could potentially reduce camp occupancy rates, although the Court’s more recent decisions suggest that he might be waved right on through.
For detainees at America’s current concentration camp, Guantanamo Bay,3 most of whom are not U.S. citizens, the struggle to challenge indefinite detention has been agonizing. In Boumediene v. Bush (2008), the Supreme Court held (by only five to four) that detainees were entitled to habeas corpus rights. However, a subsequent decision by the Federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia required lower courts to give the government’s case the benefit of the doubt in habeas cases, and since then the courts have only ruled in favor of petitioners in one case out of twelve. The situation may not be much better for U.S. citizens. In Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004), the Supreme Court held that detainees who are citizens have not forfeited their rights to due process of law, but the question of how much process is due has so far received a dismal response. After killing American citizens overseas on the basis of mere allegations that they were enemy combatants, the government of the Peace Laureate, picking up where its predecessors left off, offered a legal justification for these killings that empties the meaning of due process as cleanly as coyotes gut a downed fawn. When the temperature of a war fever exceeds safe levels, due process rights readily evaporate.
In sum, concentration camps, having been invented by our civilized friends, the British, in South Africa, are nothing new in Albion’s uncouth American child. Both the people and the courts have allowed them to exist, America’s “deeply held values” and the Constitution notwithstanding. This history is obviously not something that General Wesley Clark is ashamed of; on the contrary, he is exploiting it to the hilt. But instead of talking about the Japanese, which would now be politically incorrect, he must invoke everyone’s go-to guy for evil, Adolf Hitler. Nazi sympathizers, he tells us, were put in camps. But, just as with our criminal justice system today, whether one ended up in a camp depended upon one’s station in society. There is considerable evidence, some of it only recently revealed (see, for example, here and here), that numerous members of the American ruling class in the 1930s and 1940s were either sympathetic to Nazi Germany or profited from investments there, even after the U.S. had officially entered the war. Such figures included Prescott Bush, Averill Harriman, and the Dulles brothers. Probably the best writer on this subject is the Belgian-Canadian historian, Jacques Pauwels, whose revisionist history of WWII argues convincingly that America’s industrialists desperately wanted Hitler to succeed in his quest to eradicate Soviet communism. We include a sample here, both as a counterpoint to Wesley Clark and as an appetizer before we try to understand what loyalty means in our plutocratic empire.
Loyalty is in the Eye of the Beholder
So, what does Wesley Clark mean by loyalty to the United States? Who is going to set the standards by which loyalty is to be judged, and who will enforce those standards? (Presumably these functions are to be performed by the parliament of corporate whores known more politely as the U.S. Congress and by the Corporate Court, rather than by citizens’ committees. But snitching will be perfectly fine, just as it was in Nazi Germany.) Is loyalty even a meaningful concept susceptible of definition or adjudication in a country where the people are theoretically sovereign and therefore entitled to change their form of government at any time? Were the framers of the Constitution of 1787 disloyal to the United States because they abused their remit to propose amendments to the Articles of Confederation and very cleverly imposed an entirely different system on the people of the United States (which pre-dated the Constitution)? Would we be disloyal today if, inspired by Jefferson’s argument that the Constitution should be refreshed by every generation, we argued that the Constitution should be abolished because it no longer serves the interests of the people? Were Jefferson and Madison disloyal to the United States when they sought to undermine John Adams’s Alien and Sedition Acts, outrageously repressive measures imposed during the country’s first case of war hysteria after the Revolution itself? Where are we going to draw these lines, Wesley?
Perhaps we can answer that question by considering a few examples of contemporary, real-world behavior that might be indicative of disloyalty to the United States, broadly defined.
- Crashing the economy by engaging in reckless and fraudulent financial practices on an unprecedented scale.
- Contaminating the food supply by coercing farmers into planting genetically-modified crops and spraying them with carcinogenic chemicals.
- Poisoning drinking water supplies by fracking for oil and gas, injecting toxic drilling fluids deep underground.
- Violating the Geneva Conventions and the Nuremberg Principles by committing war crimes, genocide, and torture all across the globe.
- Subverting the Constitution by conspiring to transfer legislative and judicial authority to unelected corporate tribunals in the name of “free trade.”
- Undermining democracy by granting corporations rights of political speech that drown out the voices of real people.
- Destroying our natural treasures by testing lethal weapons in sensitive land and marine ecosystems.
- Fomenting worldwide hatred of the United States by supporting Israel’s brutality against the Palestinians and its secret nuclear weapons arsenal.
- Secretly funding, training, and equipping Islamic extremists and then using the manufactured enemy as a pretext for war.
We could go on, but the point is obvious. We can assume with a very high degree of confidence that General Clark, and the ruling elite of which he is a servant, would not regard any of the foregoing offenses as evidence of disloyalty worthy of punishment by internment in a concentration camp. On the contrary, behavior of this nature is what the United States as currently constituted is all about. It is only those who dare to question the actions or motivations of the ruling class who run the risk of being deemed disloyal. Wall Street bankers have their financial empires restored by the federal government; Occupy protesters are gassed and beaten with clubs. Monsanto’s Frankenstein foods are being pushed on the planet by the State Department’s diplomats and negotiators; concerned citizens who seek to film inside factory farms are labelled as domestic terrorists by ag-gag laws in several states. The Israelis are God’s other chosen people; critics of Zionist atrocities are demonized as anti-semites. American soldiers are heroes even when they massacre civilians in cold blood; antiwar activists are unpatriotic.
Similarly, the corporate media’s conception of terrorism – the public relations technique being used to justify a global war that is now trying to come home – does not apply to the American military-industrial complex that engages in violent terrorism against other, less important people, on an industrial scale that dwarfs anything ever done to the United States. We’re not going to lock up Barack Obama for killing civilians in Pakistan, or Bill Clinton for killing civilians in the former Yugoslavia or Iraq, are we? The very notion that our leaders might be terrorists worthy of internment is patently absurd. There is nothing extreme about the killing of millions of people when the manifestly correct ideology of our ruling class causes those deaths. They have not been “self-radicalized” into believing that they are the rightful masters of planet earth, for this is a God-given fact, and questioning it is an act of disloyalty to the noble cause of American progress.
Postscript: Burning Books, American Style
On May 20th, 2015, U.S. intelligence agencies released a list of 39 books that they claim to have found in Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan at the time of his (alleged) assassination by Navy SEALs. The list includes many works that doubt the official story about 9/11 – books that the mainstream media (such as this toady in The Telegraph) delight in dismissing as conspiracy theories. But the list also includes works by critics of U.S. foreign policy, including noted linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky, former State Department official William Blum (who gained brief notoriety after 9/11 when bin Laden directed us to Blum’s book Rogue State as a partial explanation for his attitude toward America), Canadian economist and anti-globalization activist Michel Chossudovsky, muckraking reporter Greg Palast, and John Perkins (whose Confessions of An Economic Hit Man exposes the role of the IMF and the World Bank in enslaving poor countries through cynical lending practices).
While the list includes a few mainstream, noncontroversial titles, like Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, possibly to lend it an air of credibility, the publication of this list positively reeks of intentional demonization of America’s critics. Publication of the list came around the same time as a story by the highly regarded journalist, Seymour Hersh, which cast doubt on most of the bin Laden assassination story except for the fact of his killing. Paul Craig Roberts, the dissident former Assistant Treasury Secretary, was disappointed that Hersh had been taken in, noting:
I would wager that the Hersh story was planted in order to gin up renewed interest in the bin Laden saga, which could then be used to discredit Washington’s critics. Notice that the authors in bin Laden’s alleged library are those careful and knowledgeable people who have severely whipped Washington with the truth. The whip wielders are Noam Chomsky, David Ray Griffin, Michel Chossudovsky, Greg Palast, Michael Scheuer, William Blum. You get the picture. You mustn’t believe these truth-tellers, because bin Laden approved of them and had their books in his library. By extension, will these truth-tellers be accused of aiding and abetting terrorism?
But this may be only half of the story. It seems to us that publication of bin Laden’s “book list” was not just a sophisticated, virtual book burning4, but a way to lure the potentially disloyal into a trap. The kinds of people who are inclined to read Chomsky and Blum may be even more likely to read books on this list if they feel that the federal government is telling them not to. Where do most people buy books these days? Amazon.com. What does Amazon do better than any other commercial website? Track the activities of its visitors. And is Amazon going to share that list of readers with the agencies of the security state? Of course it is, for this is the company that caved as soon as then-Senator Joe Lieberman complained about Wikileaks being hosted on Amazon’s servers. So, if you would like to begin your own process of self-radicalization and disloyalty to the United States, we would like to recommend a terrific place to start. See you in camp.
- Even Salon.com, which many consider to be progressive, limited its comments to the observation that Clark seems to have changed his tune after being critical of the Bush Administration’s handling of the “war on terror.” Party politics, it would seem, is all we’re supposed to think about. ↩
- Two of the ten concentration camps for Japanese-Americans in WWII. ↩
- This is the one we all know about. Other facilities, the so-called “black sites,” at America’s far-flung military bases, are not discussed but should not be forgotten. And then we have the phenomenon of “rendition,” a term that several Latin American dictators supported by the U.S. would have appreciated. ↩
- As Ray Bradbury warned, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” ↩