George W. Bush can still be used as an avatar for the evils of the American empire, because Bush’s presidency never really ended. The surveillance state, the lack of liberties like due process and the right to privacy, and constant direct warfare have all been part of our national reality since 9/11. The fundamentals of this Orwellian paradigm haven’t changed since then, and Obama and Trump have further established them by expanding America’s wars and by cracking down on whistleblowers.
As the U.S. gets ready to detain and prosecute Julian Assange, the consequences of staying complicit with this takeover’s earlier years are now ironically clear. When Bush authorized the CIA to carry out wildly unusual amounts of extraordinary rendition, the American people were told that this and the other new law enforcement measures would only be used to catch terrorists. Many people believed the government’s explanation, and those who didn’t believe it were powerless to stop this and the other policies of the “War on Terror.”
The initial results were tolerable, at least for non-Muslims who didn’t challenge the empire. In 2003, CIA agents used extraordinary rendition to detain Muslim cleric Abu Omar from the streets of Milan, Italy and send him to be interrogated and tortured in Egypt without trial. Throughout early-to-mid 2002, the current CIA director Gina Haspel authorized the torture of multiple Muslim prisoners in a Thailand “black site,” with the prison’s tactics having included beating an innocent pregnant woman in the stomach, anally raping a man with meals he refused, and freezing a shackled prisoner until he died. The prisoners in Guantanamo have been detained without trial, and a U.N. report from last year says that torture is still taking place in the prison. These precedents have helped Bush and Obama establish an unaccountable and extrajudicial drone assassination program that continues to primarily kill Muslims who the CIA brands as “terrorists.”
But because Americans assumed that these “security” measures would only ever affect the un-patriots and the Muslims, the U.S. government will have the ability to capture Assange through extraordinary rendition after he’s driven out of the Ecuadorian embassy. Reports have indicated that the Justice Department’s prepared indictment against Assange focuses on the Manning-era WikiLeaks releases, which means that the U.S. plans to prosecute Assange only for engaging in the routine journalistic practice of publishing leaks.
If the U.S. succeeds in this, any journalist who publishes government leaks-including the ones from corporate outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post-will be eligible for prosecution from the Trump administration. Earlier this year, the New York Times’ own lawyer David McGraw explicitly warned against prosecuting Assange, having said that “I think the prosecution of him would be a very, very bad precedent for publishers…from everything I know, he’s sort of in a classic publisher’s position and I think the law would have a very hard time drawing a distinction between The New York Times and WikiLeaks.”
But like was the case during the past steps in this 21st century takeover of the American national security state, the political and media class are fecklessly helping bring on the collapse of liberty. Despite the fact that the attempt to prosecute Assange is part of the Trump White House’s attacks against journalists, mainstream “Resistance” Democrats have rationalized the White House’s action as “karma” for Assange’s effort to defeat Hillary Clinton in 2016. And even though there’s no evidence that Assange worked with or got the Clinton emails from Russia, and even though the emails contained crucial information about Clinton that voters deserved to see, pundits have made Assange out to be a Russian stooge who should be disposed of.
Assange, who’s already undergone incomprehensible suffering during his mostly isolated eight-year confinement in the embassy, is an example for those who try to challenge the power of the deep state. For the journalists and activists who expose the evils of corporate capitalism, the crimes of the U.S./NATO empire, and the lies of our government, the current atmosphere is about as intimidating as it was during those scary first few years after 9/11. The main difference is that speaking truth to power now gets you called a Russian operative instead of a terrorist ally.
Meanwhile, the rot in the underbelly of American imperialism keeps growing bigger. Last month, the Pentagon failed its first-ever audit, with the U.S. military having been revealed to systematically engage in accounting fraud that’s left $21 trillion unaccounted for. According to a recent Brown University study, America has spent nearly $6 trillion to pay for the War on Terror. As the Washington foreign policy establishment and the mainstream media push for another military budget increase that will put the official annual defense spending at $733 billion, the U.S. already spends more on its military than the next 12 nations combined. With all costs considered, the country’s annual military spending is over $1 trillion.
This monumental siphoning of America’s resources into the Bush/Obama/Trump era’s permanent war is happening while the country’s infrastructure is in a pathetic state, and while a U.N. report this year stated that America is the most unequal developed country with 40 million of its people living in poverty. For the last half-century, the American empire has been collapsing both internally and externally, with the dollar being in decline, America’s hegemony disappearing in favor of countries like Russia and China, and all of America’s recent invasions having failed.
America is straining its military powers abroad while living conditions in the homeland deteriorate. And the response from the capitalist ideologues and “American exceptionalism” advocates is to impose tighter surveillance and policing so that the dissenters will be silenced. This is what the recent Russophobia from U.S. elites is about, and it’s why left-wing, anti-war, and independent media outlets have lately been censored by online companies in the name of stopping “Russian propaganda.” The next step in the effort to crush dissent will involve violence from the police forces that Trump has helped militarize.
It’s fitting that while Assange is being demonized by the media, George W. Bush gets adoring headlines when he gives Michelle Obama a piece of candy. Like was the case when policies like extraordinary rendition were started, the establishment’s attitude is that our president Bush should be admired while the atrocities and attacks on liberties he’s responsible for should be ignored. This was encapsulated by Michelle Obama’s comment this year about Bush: “he is my partner in crime at every major thing where all the formers gather. I love him to death.”