Gates v. Eisenhower and Obama v. Justice

Looking to the past and to other nations sheds light on our notions of war and justice

Topics: Robert Gates, Washington, D.C.,

(updated below)

The Hill, yesterday:

Secretary Gates: On deficit, Defense Department is ‘not the problem’

Defense Secretary Robert Gates took a swipe on Tuesday at the proposal from the co-chairmen of President Obama’s deficit commission to slash the Pentagon budget by $100 billion.

Gates said that such drastic cuts could devastate the military’s force structure without any big impact on the nation’s red ink.

“The truth of the matter is when it comes to the deficit, the Department of Defense is not the problem,” Gates said at The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council on Tuesday. “I think in terms of the specifics they came up with, that is math not strategy.”

Inter-Press Service, May 28, 2010:

The United States continues to lead the world in defense spending, according to a new report released Thursday by the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, a U.S.-based non-partisan research organization.

In fact, the U.S. outspends Russia, the next highest spender, by more than 800 percent.

In 2008, the most recent year for which figures are available, the U.S. expenditure was 696.3 billion dollars, followed by Russia’s 86 billion and China’s 83.5 billion.

The U.S. defense budget is 15 times that of Japan, 47 times that of Israel, and nearly 73 times that of Iran.

Not only does U.S. spending dwarf that of other nations, but it has also grown in recent years.

The budget for fiscal year 2011 is 720 billion dollars, up 67 percent from 2001’s 432 billion, accounting for inflation.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “The Chance for Peace,” speech given to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Apr. 16, 1953 (h/t Hume’s Ghost):

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

I don’t have very many good things to say about the Bowles-Simpson deficit-cutting proposal, but its inclusion of surprisingly serious cuts in military spending (including the substantial reduction of American overseas bases) definitely qualifies as a good thing, for forcing such issues into the debate if nothing else.  

And, as always, few things underscore how far to the Right our political spectrum has shifted than reading something expressed by Eisenhower, who today would not be considered a moderate Republican but, at least in some instances, marginalized as a Far Leftist or, at best, a Crazy Pacifist-Isolationist.  That passage above — like his prescient, strident warnings about the dangers of the military-industrial complex — sounds like what one hears at a Code Pink rally or a Ron Paul gathering, but not many other places.  Then again, all Eisenhower knew was the insignificant conflict of World War II and the menace of Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads aimed at multiple American cities; I’m sure he would have thought differently had he known the True, Unprecedented, Existential Threat of cave-based Islamic Terrorists trying to blow up an airplane or a nightclub once every few years, or the frightening threat posed by the Persian Hitlers (our military budget is only 73 times larger than those expansionist, belligerent mullah-monsters and we’re only occupying two of their bordering countries for close to a decade now with hundreds of thousands of troops and other personnel; can you believe how aggressive and threatening they are?).

Also from the Department of Glaring Contrasts, we have this:

New York Times, yesterday:

Britain to Compensate Former Guantánamo Detainees

Bidding to restore the reputations of MI5 and MI6 and to rebuild damaged intelligence links with the United States, the British government said on Tuesday that it had agreed to pay compensation running into millions of dollars to 15 former detainees at Guantánamo Bay and one man still held there who have accused Britain’s intelligence agencies of colluding in their torture in the American-run detention system. . . .

They have said in their lawsuits that agents of MI5 and MI6 worked closely with the C.I.A. and other American agencies involved in their interrogation, and must have known about the torture and mistreatment. They said they suffered so-called stress techniques like sleep deprivation; subjection to extremes of noise: heat and cold, beatings and death threats.

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CBS News, January 6, 2007:

The [Canadian] prime minister apologized Friday to a Syrian-born Canadian [Maher Arar] and said he would be compensated $8.9 million for Ottawa’s role in his deportation by U.S. authorities to Damascus, where he was tortured and imprisoned for nearly a year. . . . Arar’s case was an example of rendition, a practice in which the U.S. government sends foreign terror suspects to third countries for interrogation.  He was exonerated in September after a two-year public inquiry led by Associate Chief Justice of Ontario Dennis O’Connor.

 The Washington Post, today:

The [British] settlement represents the first time any Guantanamo Bay detainee, of 779 who have passed through or are still held at the military prison in Cuba, has received a financial settlement because of his incarceration. . . . The George W. Bush and Obama administrations, as well as the federal courts, have rejected the idea of compensation. . . .

A number of former Guantanamo detainees have tried to sue in the United States. The courts have dismissed every case on the grounds that the government agencies and officials named have immunity from such civil lawsuits. . . .

The Bush and Obama administrations have also invoked the “state secrets” privilege to end a number of lawsuits that charged that various government and private entities were complicit in torture.

“The Obama administration continues to shield Bush-era torturers from accountability in civil proceedings by blocking judicial review of their illegal behavior,” said Steven Watt, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union. “To date, not a single victim of the Bush administration’s torture program has had his day in a U.S. court. The U.S. can no longer stand silently by as other nations reckon with their own agents’ complicity in the torture program” . . . .

But another former U.S. military officer praised the British action. “Without getting into whether they are good guys or bad guys, there is a global obligation that we don’t condone torture, and the U.S. has done everything to avoid its duty under domestic and international law to prevent and atone for torture,” said retired Air Force Col. Morris D. Davis, the former chief military prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay, who resigned in 2007 after alleging political interference in the military’s legal process.

It was clear from that start that, standing alone, Obama’s steadfast devotion to protecting and shielding all Bush crimes from any form of accountability — and his active blocking of all victims from obtaining compensation or any form of justice in a court of law — seriously mars his record, his legacy and his character.  That other nations are providing exactly the accountability that Obama has desperately sought to prevent makes that even more apparent.  The British are acting with less than pure motives here — they are particularly concerned that allowing these lawsuits to proceed will expose their intelligence agencies to judicial scrutiny — but the fact that their political and legal system (and Canada’s and Sweden’s and others’) does not permit a total whitewash of these crimes while ours eagerly does speaks volumes about comparative notions of justice and the rule of law — especially since, first and foremost, they are American crimes.  Leaders of the Free World.


UPDATE:  The New York Times has quite a good Editorial today on what it calls the “distressing contrast” between the Obama administration and other governments around the world on issues of accountability and basic justice.

Glenn Greenwald
Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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