Perversity and honour: Scenes from a terrorist's election campaign

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Two weeks ago, Hollywood liberal and all-around gorgeous good guy George Clooney hosted a glad-handing fundraising event that, according to the Patriot Act's broad provisions, should have landed him and fellow attendees Billy Crystal, Barbra Streisand, Tobey Maguire, and Robert Downey, Jr., behind bars for violating broadly designed material support for terrorism laws.

The $15 million they raised went to a man who is suspected by many Americans of being a Muslim, though the fact that he isn't Muslim may be one reason why he is not being investigated for crimes that include the indiscriminate killing of civilians, repeated violations of national sovereignty, complicity in torture, and targeted assassinations. More likely, however, he's protected by his job as the U.S. Assassinator-in-Chief.

Indeed, guest of honour Barack Obama showed up at Clooney's cool crash pad fresh from a celebratory touchdown in Kabul where he bragged about "taking out" dozens of alleged national security threats -- a euphemism for extrajudicial executions that have become his favoured modus operandi. Obama had also just launched an attack ad questioning whether Republican Mitt Romney would have the cojones to order such illegal acts. The ad features self-styled elder statesman Bill Clinton opining on the "honourable" nature of the decisions Obama has made.

Romney subsequently fell in line with the low standard set by Obama by chiming in that he, too, would violate international law and order the same executions without charge or trial.

As Obama grabbed one last canapé at Clooney's and bid a fond farewell to the darlings of the Hollywood liberal set, he took Air Force One back to D.C., perhaps reflecting on the recent star-studded White House dinner where he had hosted Arianna Huffington, Reese Witherspoon, Charlize Theron, and dozens of other glitterati as another illegal drone strike claimed a dozen civilian lives in Yemen.

Obama's drone wars in Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan (in Pakistan alone they have claimed over 3,000 civilian lives), his deployment of special forces to upwards of 75 countries, and his notorious National Defence Authorization Act (legitimizing his policy of targeted assassinations of anyone, including American citizens) continue in spades the illegality of George W. Bush, drawing scant few headlines as, on a weekly basis, six people here, 10 people there, cease to exist because, as residents of certain countries, they are "suspect." Additional victims are those who respond to an initial drone strike and, while clearing rubble and searching out survivors, are hit with a second strike because they are perversely viewed as "associated" with the first group of "suspects."

That the movie stars don't question Obama is not surprising. Perhaps they, like much of the press, view Obama as a kindred personality, and because a lot of people like him and he is a Democrat, it is harder to imagine he has ordered such illegal and immoral acts as someone more socially gauche, like Republicans George W or Richard Milhaus. They also buy the traditional fallback that it would be worse under someone else, but fail to push their president to be better.

And so they applaud when Obama, perhaps sensing he needs to mobilize a base that has lost faith with him, finally, in an election year, says he supports gay marriage. A worthy sentiment, but what of the rights of the people of Afghanistan or Pakistan to get married without being hit by a drone-fired Hellfire missile, an occurrence so common it is the subject of late night TV jokes?

Given Obama's largely unreported but not so covert illegal wars and actions, it is perhaps understandable that folks on the ground who have seen loved ones obliterated and precious few belongings destroyed are pretty miffed at the U.S. Perhaps some of them are prone to be outright, and justifiably, angry. So much so that they talk about taking some sort of action against those who do such things.

And so, it is in this context that a sanctimonious Hillary Clinton took to the airwaves in early May with the news that the CIA had disrupted an underwear bomb plot, reminding us: "The plot itself indicates that the terrorists keep trying... to devise more and more perverse and terrible ways to kill innocent people." While the CIA got brownie points for "disrupting" the plot, there was only one problem with this scenario: the plot appears to have been largely driven by one of their own undercover agents.

This is not surprising. The great majority of so-called terrorist plots of the past decade, especially in the U.S. and Canada, have been the result of paid agents of the FBI, CIA, RCMP, and CSIS searching out angry, disaffected individuals (who are seen as irredeemable "radicals" because they have the nerve to be upset over our role in the torture and murder of people halfway around the world). These paid government agents create a business for themselves by playing on justifiable anger and despair and setting up individuals who often don't know what they're getting into and, before they know it, are facing years behind bars, while Obama's officials can talk tough with another anti-terror notch in their belts.

A year-long investigation by Mother Jones revealed that, since 2001, of 508 defendants in so-called terror cases, 48 per cent were targeted with a government informant, 31 per cent were arrested in a sting set-up by government agents, and 10 per cent involved with an informant who led the plot. In the end result, 53 per cent of those "terrorism-related" cases did not result in terrorism charges, but rather immigration violations, tax evasion, firearms, and other standard charges that had been trumped up under the cover of fighting terrorism. Indeed, three men from New Jersey were arrested in what the U.S. Department of Justice described as a terrorism-related case for having a warehouse full of stolen corn flakes boxes. Their lawyer told the Washington Post that "This case had no connection to terrorism unless you consider corn flakes weapons of mass destruction." (Some dieticians concerned about such high amounts of sugar may conclude these mini WMDs are nonetheless a blow to the digestive tract.)

One court document revealed that an informer trained to act as a Russian spy, white supremacist, and French Syrian Muslim received permission from a U.S. District Attorney "to engage in jihadist rhetoric, including but not limited to conducting terrorist operations, possessing weapons and initiating conversations to further terrorist acts against the United States" (emphasis added).

And so while spy agencies set up straw men so that they can take them down and then congratulate themselves for keeping the peace, sacrificing a few lumpen along the way, hypocrisy is too weak a word to describe Clinton addressing underwear bombers as perverse and terrible as her government develops new generations of nuclear weapons, cluster bombs and other "anti-personnel" horrors. And at election fundraisers and White House dinners, where Alicia Keys, Diane Keaton, Arianna Huffington, Sigourney Weaver, Anna Paquin, Steven Spielberg and other feel-good liberals sit eating cheerily with someone responsible for proudly authorizing unspeakable acts, the silence is stomach turning.

Some might argue the role of artists like these is to stay out of politics, but hanging out with such a powerful and dangerous fellow is, ultimately, a political choice. Their cowardice is in stark contrast to the far more principled stand of an artist we lost all too soon in March, Adrienne Rich.

That remarkable poet, essayist, and activist, while remembered for her pointed poetic insights, consistently principled political stands, and willingness to honestly look inward, illustrated a life well-lived in which she wrote that "I believe in art's social presence -- as breaker of official silences, as voice for those whose voices are disregarded, and as a human birthright."

Rich famously refused a National Medal for the Arts at a White House ceremony hosted by Bill Clinton. While most writers, performers, and liberals fell over themselves to be in the unctuous Clinton's presence, Rich concluded, "There is no simple formula for the relationship of art to justice. But I do know that art -- in my own case the art of poetry -- means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of power which holds it hostage. The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate. A president cannot meaningfully honour certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonoured."

Just as activists discourage musical and theatrical acts from performing in Israel as part of the boycott, sanctions, and divestment movement, perhaps some boycotting closer to home of artists who sit with a man who orders torture and assassinations is in order. Maybe it's not too late to begin reclaiming a sense of honour and, as Rich reminds us, refusing to debase one's integrity for such cheap gestures as glam shots with the smiling Prez.

Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. 'national security' profiling for many years.

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