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Is there any particular reason why Americans should be surprised at the tales of torture coming out of the world’s youngest democracy in Iraq?

What else exactly did you expect? That we really went to Iraq for the purpose of creating a democracy?

My purpose is not to sound either blasé or cynical about the atrocities and abuses American soldiers have been perpetrating on Iraqi prisoners for the last several months or about what looks increasingly like an attempted but bungled cover-up of the details by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld.

What took place at the torture palace known as Abu Ghraib is brutal and disgusting and merits severe punishment for those involved in it—including the secretary and his advisers.

But I suspect the story is far from over.

It’s not over because what happened there in many respects is a logical development of the way this country went to war in the first place. Stoked to the eyeballs with perfectly justified anger over the September 11 attacks, Americans allowed themselves to be hornswoggled by the Bush crowd that virtually all Arabs or Moslems were in some vague way implicated in the attacks.

Neoconservative propagandists who beat the war drums loudest welcomed that linkage, if only to crank the country into the proper mood for going after Saddam Hussein.

Self-righteousness wedded to blanket generalizations about the Middle East does not encourage careful distinctions about justice and injustice. That neither Saddam nor any Iraqi had anything to do with 9/11 was lost as the administration slyly allowed that impression to sink in.

Probably far more than the myths of “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” the unstated implication of Iraqi involvement in the 9/11 attacks and support for anti-American terrorism in general helped drag the country toward war.

On top of that little bit of deceit, there is the larger neoconservative rationalization for the war (and all the future wars they expect us to fight), namely, imperialism. The Weekly Standard and other neo-con publications for the last several years have rehearsed the stale arguments for imperialism constantly, well before 9/11.

Interviewed in the Washington Post in August, 2001, Thomas Donnelly, deputy executive director of the neo-con think tank Project for the New American Century, called for nothing less. “In ways similar though not identical to the Roman and British empires, he argues, the United States is an empire of democracy or liberty—it is not conquering land or establishing colonies, but it has a dominating global presence militarily, economically, and culturally.” [Empire or Not? A Quiet Debate Over U.S. Role By Thomas E. Ricks August 21, 2001]

Mr. Donnelly’s neat little ideas merely reflected a global strategy plan crafted by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz a decade ago in the first Bush administration. The war with Iraq is the logical outcome.

And so is torture.

Does anyone really think you can wage war against other countries, conquer them, depose their leaders and overthrow their ruling classes, and then get involved in a protracted guerrilla war without “violating human rights”?

The imperialism peddled by the neo-cons may not be “identical” to the imperialism of the past, but it’s close enough that the more imperial we become, the more identical will be the tactics we deploy.

In a recent essay, paleoconservative political thinker Claes Ryn argues that the “democratic imperialism” the United States has embraced descends ultimately from the crusading fanaticism of the Jacobins of the French Revolution—and with much the same consequences.

“The ideas of the French Jacobins provided a sweeping justification for exercising unlimited power. As followers of Rousseau, the Jacobins were not content with reforming historically evolved ways of life. ‘Freedom, equality and brotherhood’ required the radical remaking of society. Because of the scope and glory of the task, the Jacobins had to gather all power unto themselves and deal ruthlessly with opposition. Good stood against evil, all good on one side—their side. The Jacobins called themselves ‘the virtuous.’ In the twentieth century, their communist descendants offered an even more blanket justification for wielding unlimited power….

“Americans attracted to the Jacobin spirit have therefore sought … to redefine American principles so as to make them more serviceable to the will to power. They have propounded a new myth—the myth of America the Virtuous—according to which America is a unique and noble country called to remake the world in its own image. The myth provides another sweeping justification for dominating others.”[Which American? by Claes G. Ryn,, May 5, 2004]

Professor Ryn’s remarks were uttered well before the horror stories from Abu Ghraib started to emerge, but just as Edmund Burke foresaw the Jacobins’ Reign of Terror enforced with the guillotine, so paleoconservatives foresaw what would happen once the New Jacobins launched their own empire of virtue backed up by torture.

Americans can either pull back from those consequences now—or get used to more horror stories.

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Abu Ghraib, Iraq, Torture 
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Most Americans don’t know and probably don’t want to hear about it, but the fact is that somewhere between the box cutters of Sept. 11 and the anthrax-in-the-envelopes of the last several weeks, civil liberties are slowly beginning to vanish.

Columnist Nat Hentoff, a lifelong civil libertarian, may exaggerate when he writes, as he does in a recent column, that the “new antiterrorism law, signed by the president, is the worst attack on the Bill of Rights since World War I,” but what’s even more worrisome is that virtually no one except Mr. Hentoff seems to give a hoot.

Not only are most opinion makers silent about or actually supportive of the contraction of freedom but some whom you’d expect to be moaning about it are demanding that the government go further. I recently noted a column in the Wall Street Journal by historian Jay Winik, who chirped happily over the trampling of civil liberties during various “emergencies” in the American past and gloated over the prospect of yet further trampling in the near future. Mr. Winik, however, is not alone.

The Washington Post reported last month ["Silence of 4 Terror Probe Suspects Poses Dilemma", Oct. 21, 2001] that the FBI and Justice Department are getting pretty fed up with the silence of several terrorist suspects they’ve been holding for some weeks. The louts just aren’t squealing on their comrades, despite all the toys and candy canes the FBI has dangled—”lighter sentences, money, jobs, and a new identity and life in the United States for them and their family members.” Amazingly, some people really don’t want to be Americans.

And so, reports the Post, some in the federal law enforcement leviathan “are beginning to say that traditional civil liberties may have to be cast aside if they are to extract information about the Sept. 11 attacks and terrorist plans.” The article quotes one FBI agent as saying “But it could get to that spot where we could go to pressure … where we won’t have a choice, and we are probably getting there.” In other words, if you don’t say what we want you to say, we have ways to make you talk.

The Post is pretty specific about what those ways might be. “Among the alternative strategies under discussion are using drugs or pressure tactics, such as those employed occasionally by Israeli interrogators, to extract information. Another idea is extraditing the suspects to allied countries where security services sometimes employ threats to family members or resort to torture.” Indeed. If Americans don’t have the stomach for tyranny, we have plenty of allies who do. But it’s really not the FBI we need to worry about. It’s Harvard professors.

Last week in St. Louis who should pop up to propose the outright legalization of torture but Harvard law professor and veteran left-winger Alan Dershowitz. Speaking at a book fair at the Jewish Community Center on his new book about the Supreme Court’s ruling on last year’s presidential election, Mr. Dershowitz managed to sound less like Louis Brandeis than Heinrich Himmler.

As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on Nov. 5, “Even torture may not be off the table as an information-gathering tool, Dershowitz said. But there must be a national debate about the circumstances in which torture is permissible and who should have the power to decide when to use it.” We wouldn’t want to just leap to extremes without thinking it through, would we?

Mr. Dershowitz as lawyer, teacher, and author has made a long and profitable career out of defending the indefensible, inventing “rights” that no one ever suspected existed, denouncing hate groups,crusading against oppression, repression and suppression and supporting just about every species of Do-Good known to the mind of Bolshevism. Now at last we discover just how “liberal” this fraud really is.

It would be fascinating to learn who exactly Mr. Dershowitz has in mind as his first candidate for the torture chamber and how he’d like to manage it. We can look forward to the “national debate” as to whether we should merely rely on cattle prods and rubber truncheons or go so far as to set up a rack and iron maiden in the basement of every police station.

“Necessity, the tyrant’s plea,” wrote poet John Milton. Every tyrant begins his career by claiming that infringements of liberty are “necessary” for something or other—survival, prosperity, security, even freedom itself. Then, the people who let the tyrant get away with it are always amazed when they find themselves the next guests in his torture chamber.

Having let phonies like Alan Dershowitz wreck the Constitution in the courts, why should we be surprised when they preach getting rid of it altogether, and why should we expect Americans who have already forgotten what constitutional government means to care whether he and his allies succeed?

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Alan Dershowitz, Torture 
Sam Francis
About Sam Francis

Dr. Samuel T. Francis (1947-2005) was a leading paleoconservative columnist and intellectual theorist, serving as an adviser to the presidential campaigns of Patrick Buchanan and as an editorial writer, columnist, and editor at The Washington Times. He received the Distinguished Writing Award for Editorial Writing of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) in both 1989 and 1990, while being a finalist for the National Journalism Award (Walker Stone Prize) for Editorial Writing of the Scripps Howard Foundation those same years. His undergraduate education was at Johns Hopkins and he later earned his Ph.D. in modern history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

His books include The Soviet Strategy of Terror(1981, rev.1985), Power and History: The Political Thought of James Burnham (1984); Beautiful Losers: Essays on the Failure of American Conservatism (1993); Revolution from the Middle: Essays and Articles from Chronicles, 1989–1996 (1997); and Thinkers of Our Time: James Burnham (1999). His published articles or reviews appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, National Review, The Spectator (London), The New American, The Occidental Quarterly, and Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, of which he was political editor and for which he wrote a monthly column, “Principalities and Powers.”