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August 1, 2004 - Using the law to keep delusions under control...

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The Brits Look at America Again –

Using the law to keep delusions under control, and another stab at why we had to have this war….



Some of the more interesting commentary often comes from the outside.  And the left-of-center Guardian is always amusing.

Wednesday’s edition this week carries on.

Here’s one.  It tangentially refers to the case of Maher Arar discussed in Just Above Sunset here – December 21, 2003- Bitter Brits.  Arar was the Canadian citizen we secretly deported to Syria.  We don’t do torture.  They do.  Torture is not US policy.  And we thought he was a bad guy.  We picked him up at the Newark airport.  But, damn, is seems he wasn’t as bad guy.  We had bad information.  As this item points out, his crime was that his mother's cousin had joined the Muslim Brotherhood long after Maher moved to Canada.  And after ten months of torture and incarceration in a quite tiny cell in Syria, he was allowed to return to his home in Canada.  Oops.  Now he is suing the US government.  He is not happy.

Well, we were just being careful, and a bit overly enthusiastic.  Understandable, of course.

The larger issue is covered in this –

The 800lb gorilla in American foreign policy
Alleged terror suspects are held incommunicado all over the world
Isabel Hilton, The Guardian (UK), Wednesday July 28, 2004

After a nod to the ongoing Democratic Party Convention in Boston, Hilton lays out the issue – and that is respect for the law.


The delusion that officeholders know better than the law is an occupational hazard of the powerful and one to which those of an imperial cast of mind are especially prone. Checks and balances - the constitutional underpinning of the democratic idea that no one individual can be trusted with unlimited power - are there to keep such delusions under control.

The Abu Ghraib photographs awakened many in the US to the abuses that lie beneath the rhetoric of the global war on terror but the institutions responsible have not taken the message on board. On the day the Congressional report into 9/11 was published, another document was quietly released - a military report that exonerated the high command for the Abu Ghraib abuses. The implications go beyond Abu Ghraib: without a repudiation of the administration's actions, there will be no remedy for the even more sinister treatment of the unknown number of prisoners not captured on camera - those who have been kidnapped and disappeared by US forces across the world.

Under military order No 1, issued by President Bush in November 2001, the president gave himself the right, in defiance of national and international law, to detain indefinitely any non-US citizen anywhere in the world. Many ended up in Guantánamo where at least some of their names were discovered. Others simply vanished. They became in the US euphemism, "ghost prisoners", an unrecorded host held in secret, their detention denied, hidden from the Red Cross, legal or family access barred, their fate in the hands of unaccountable and unnamed US personnel.

When disappearance became state practice across Latin America in the 70s it aroused revulsion in democratic countries where it is a fundamental tenet of legitimate government that no state actor may detain - or kill - another human being without having to answer to the law. Not only has President Bush discarded that principle, he even brags about it. In his state of the union address in February 2003, he said: "More than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries. Many others have met a different fate. Put it this way, they're no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies."

What are we to understand by this? That they have been murdered? That they are rotting in some torture cell in Jordan, or Egypt, or Diego Garcia? And, given the US record on "suspected terrorists" - who have included taxi drivers and their passengers, boys of 13, old men who could hardly walk and migrants whose crime was to overstay a visa - how can we trust a practice that disposes of people first and asks questions afterwards?


Well, I guess the answer is you just have to trust your leaders.

More detail?


Beyond the Iraqi jails, others - including, but not limited to, the dozen or so high-profile al-Qaida detainees captured since the war in Afghanistan - have disappeared into the international ghost prison system, detained in one country and secretly transferred to another in what the official euphemism describes as "extraordinary rendition".

Extraordinary rendition was codified in the Clinton administration. Under Bush it has been hugely expanded. As the US co-ordinator for counter-terrorism, Cofer Black, acknowledged in April 2003, "a large number of terrorist suspects were not able to launch an attack last year because they are in prison. More than 3,000 of them are al-Qaida terrorists and they were arrested in over 100 countries."

Congressman Edward Markey, who last month introduced a bill to make extraordinary rendition illegal in US law, has noted that in the year after 9/11, George Tenet, then director of the CIA, admitted to the rendition of 70 people, describing them all as terrorists.


Markey is a Democrat from Massachusetts (Seventh District) – first elected in 1976 and probably in Boston at the moment.  (A profile here if you are at all interested…)

His bill, to make extraordinary rendition illegal, is going nowhere.  No one wants to be seen as soft on these terrorist folks.  But Hilton points out he is not a happy camper – and quotes him - "Extraordinary rendition is the 800 pound gorilla in our foreign and military policymaking that nobody wants to talk about. It involves our country out-sourcing interrogations to countries that are known to practice torture, something that erodes America's moral credibility."

Will his fellow Democrats to support him?  Probably not.  And it wouldn’t matter anyway.  Both houses of congress are firmly in control of the president’s party.  Why bother?

Is the problem big?  Hilton notes this -


Some indication of the scale of the network of detention centres can be gleaned from a recent report by Human Rights First, formerly the Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights. In Afghanistan, they say, in addition to the Bagram and Kandahar bases, the US acknowledges 20 other centres. In Iraq, there are three official centres, including Abu Ghraib, and an additional nine US military facilities. In Pakistan, a prison at Kohat, near the Afghan border, is under US control. In Jordan, the al-Jafr prison in the southern desert is used as a CIA detention centre. Human Rights First suspects that prisoners are held on US military ships and in bases such as Diego Garcia. Other prisoners have been "rendered" to Egypt and, as in the Arar case, to Syria, both countries in which torture is well established.

Torture is illegal in the US. Facilitating torture elsewhere is also illegal under the convention against torture, to which the US is a signatory. "I think it's time," said Jamie Fellner of Human Rights Watch, "that we began to recognise that ghost prisoners are the new disappeared. And disappearance is almost invariably associated with mistreatment and torture."


Yeah, yeah.

Let them complain.  We do what we want.  And Markey is tilting at windmills.

Markey’s bill did not come up as an issue at the convention is Boston.  It would only give the Republicans one more way to say the Democrats hate America and are soft on terror.

The bill will die.


The second item of interest is this –

The real reasons Bush went to war
WMD was the rationale for invading Iraq. But what was really driving the US were fears over oil and the future of the dollar
John Chapman. The Guardian (UK), Wednesday July 28, 2004

Chapman makes these points -

There were only two credible reasons for invading Iraq: control over oil and preservation of the dollar as the world's reserve currency.

… In the 70s, the US agreed with Saudi Arabia that OPEC oil should be traded in dollars. American governments have since been able to print dollars to cover huge trading deficits, with the further benefit of those dollars being placed in the US money markets. In return, the US allowed the OPEC countries to operate a production and pricing cartel.

And this is followed by along economic analysis.

And he calls for replacing the dollar with the euro for all oil trading.  The euro then becomes the world's reserve currency.  This would be a BIG deal.

It would likely devastate the US economy.  We’d go third-world – maybe.

But it’s not like this is news.  A month before I launched Just Above Sunset - and many months before the web log As seen from Just Above Sunset first hit the net – my friends and I were discussing this in – in April of 2003 – an analysis from Farrukh Saleem in The News International, Pakistan: Saddam falls, dollar rules

Here’s his opening -


Americans have now guaranteed America's continued global economic domination for another 25 years. The "liberation" of Baghdad has done it all. The American dollar shall continue to reign supreme as the planet's second largest oil reserves will only be available in exchange for dollars printed in the US.

Eleven OPEC-member countries hold 78.7 percent of world proven crude oil reserves. Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, UAE and Kuwait are 80 percent of OPEC. As long as Saudi Arabia, Iraq, UAE and Kuwait demand US dollars for their oil some 200 countries and territories are bound to keep US dollar reserves to meet their oil imports. As long as the dollar remains the premier reserve currency America rules.

Saddam Hussein al Takrti tried to play it smart. In 1997, Saddam Hussein recruited three permanent members of the Security Council. Russia's Lukoil was contracted to extract 5 billion barrels of oil from Iraq's West Qurna field. France's TotalFinaElf was to develop Nahr bin Umar and the Majnoon field with 20 billion barrels of oil. The same year, China's National Petroleum Corporation signed a deal to develop the Adhab oilfield and the North Rumailah reservoir.

On 6 November 2000, Saddam played his second ace by instructing the United Nations to convert all his dollars accumulated through the UN 'food-for-oil' program into euros (the euro was launched on 1 January 1999 as an electronic currency and became legal tender on 1 January 2002). In November 2000, Saddam began switching his oil and non-oil international transactions from the dollar to the euro. If major OPEC producers move away from the dollar, the dollar falls in value and America looses the game.

On 31 December 2001, Iran announced that it "sees euro as a way to free itself from the US dollar." On 12 August 2002, Iran's Bank Markazi issued the country's first Eurobond raising Euro 625 million. Iran also converted 50 percent of its foreign exchange reserves to euros. More recently, North Korea has also announced that it will soon shift to euro. Saddam's disease was becoming contagious. After all, Iraq has common borders with Saudi Arabia (814km), Iran (1,458km) and Kuwait (240km). The disease had to be contained.


Hey, we had to take care of this.



According to OPEC's World Energy Model (OWNM), total world oil demand has been put at 76 million barrels a day. Of the total oil demand, OPEC produces around 27 million to 28 million barrels per day. If all of OPEC's oil was to be traded in dollars then central banks of oil importers need to hoard anywhere between $100 billion to $200 billion at any given point in time. If central banks were obliged to keep high dollar reserves for their essential imports of oil then they might as well trade other goods in dollars as well. Imagine, just one producer of dollars and hundreds who are out piling it. One supplier, a thousand users. Now, that's injecting real value into paper.

For decades Americans have been importing a whole lot more than they exported. It's like having fun at someone else's expense (and a whole lot of fun). In January 2003, American exports amounted to $81.9 billion while imports stood at $123 billion for a monthly deficit of $41.1 billion (if Pakistan runs an annual deficit of a couple of billions the IMF, the World Bank and the ADB begin calling us all sorts of names). America's goods and services deficit averages a colossal $350 billion a year or a billion dollars a day. By 2005, the current account deficit is projected to grow to about $600 billion a year or $1.5 billion a day.
How do Americans manage to have fun at others' expense? In America it's called 'OPM', 'other people's money'. As long as the dollar remains the premier reserve currency hoarders of dollars outside of America are bound to invest their dollars in dollar-denominated financial assets. According to the IMF, banks outside the Untied States have invested $2.5 trillion into the US by buying dollar denominated bonds issued by the US Treasury (where are our own $10 billion worth of reserves if not with the US Treasury?). In effect, America's huge surplus on the capital account covers her massive deficits on the trade account and that's how Americans manage to extend their picnic year in year out.


Got it?

It is pretty obvious that the whole American way of life actually depends on the strength of the dollar.  And the secret lies in a strong, unchallenged dollar.  And OPEC must conduct its trade in dollars.  And the central banks of the world must be forced to keep heaps of dollars.  The secret lies in keeping the dollar as the world's reserve currency.

Saddam and North Korea were moving toward the euro.  They were starting a trend that could destroy us.  And we nipped that in the bud.

So… And we have reason number six for why the war had be launched, and won.  Last weekend the British government admitted the stories of the mass graves of those who Saddam killed was, well, over-reported.  Try 5000 dead, not 400,000 or more.  Oops.


… it does seem the reasons we said we had to got to war, against the advice of the UN and most of our traditional allies – not to mention most world opinion - were not supported by the facts of the matter.

Of course since then we’ve said the original reason – that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was an immediate and grave threat to this country – wasn’t the REAL reason. It was the ties to al-Qaeda – Iraq was in league with those guys to bring us down. Seems the facts don’t support that either.

We’ll that wasn’t the REAL reason. We went to war to liberate the Iraqi people. But they don’t seem to like our version of liberation and things are a bit difficult on the ground there. They don’t want this kind of liberation?

Well, that wasn’t the REAL reason we went war. It was set up a representative democracy there, with voting and a free press, and open, utterly deregulated markets – and the nations in the area would then get the idea and toss out their monarchies or theocracies or tribal confederations and jump on the Jeffersonian bandwagon. The Iraq example would transform the region.

Well, that doesn’t seem to be working out as planned – we’re selling this idea and not many folks are buying it, even with our armed troops in their streets and with many, many local folks in prison being treated, to put it mildly, shabbily, and we won’t tell them why they are in prison because we don’t have to. Guess they just get this democracy thing. They think we’re bullies and fools? Doesn’t matter.

That wasn’t the REAL reason we went to war. It was humanitarian - Saddam was a bad man. Yes he was. Did horrible things to his own people. He did. Things are better with him gone. Probably.

And now this. We were kind of exaggerating. We do that.

As someone else said, Stalin probably killed more people than this on any given Thursday in 1931, and if you amortize the executions Bush signed off on in his few years as the governor of Texas, versus the five thousand executions Saddam pulled off in twenty-five years, well, I wonder who’s ahead? Some wise-ass is probably doing the math right now.

I guess we may need a new reason why we did this war. Number six, if you’re keeping count.


And now reason number six has come up, a reason that actually defines a serious threat, and one that is hard to explain to the man in the street.


But it was a real threat.

We took care of it.


From Joseph, who left life out here in Hollywood to live in France –


There are some things Bubba ain't gonna understand.


I don't think that support of the dollar (an old discussion of ours that seems to be gaining popularity) was the only reason we went to war.  Things this big usually don't happen for one reason.  Too many different kinds of people and institutions with different priorities and ideologies for that.  But in my mind, it is the most legitimate reason. 


Let me tweak your comments on this: were the dollar to lose its place as the world's dominant trade currency, it wouldn't be just “America that loses big time” - it would be an economic disaster of global proportions.  Think '29.  Don't you agree, Wall Streeters?


Think of it - the value of the Dollar is halved overnight under the pressure of selling the trillion-dollar kitty the rest of the world has collected, in exchanged for goods.  Forget about the dangers of failing to balance the budget, that's small potatoes.  The dollar halved means everything we now buy from the rest of the world costs twice as much.  Much of that is stuff we depend on to make the country work, and to put the country to work.  Think '78 (high unemployment, high inflation, high interest rates) and multiply by ten.  Panic.  As America stops buying goods from the rest of the world, the contagion spreads like wildfire.  We have never seen a global disaster as that which would ensue.  Eventually, the balance of accounts will equalize somewhat, thanks to the "invisible hand" we all know and love.  But long before that, we would use force, nukes if necessary, to secure what we need.  Then we would have a crusade indeed: break out the neutron bombs.  Instead of ridding Jerusalem of infidels, we'll have to rid the Arabian Peninsula of Arabs.  Preventing such a mess is indeed worth going to war to prevent.


On the other hand, the Saudi's aren't dumb, and surely could foresee such a disaster and the response.  Are they suicidal?


This is all a classic variation of the "Aswan Conundrum" - Egypt builds the Aswan Dam, a huge reservoir which if breached (by en enemy terrorist unit, for example) would wipe out 90 percent of the population and fertile land.  Kind of like pointing a missile at yourself, and leaving the key in the launcher.  This is what we have done to ourselves, or what our government has, for the last thirty years let us do to ourselves.  Explaining how THAT happened to Bubba would be the trickiest thing of all.




OPEC abandoning the dollar as its exchange currency – and thus the world shifting its reserve currency from the dollar to the euro – would indeed be the end of the world as we know it here.  A worldwide depression would inevitably follow – deeper than anything ever seen.  Agreed.  And it is hard to explain this to Bubba – this hypothetical man in the street.


Economics just isn’t sexy.  But economic policy can be deadly.


We are close to walking off a cliff – living dangerously.  By choice. 


Change metaphor.  When does our new record deficit (announced late Friday afternoon after the press put their Saturday newspapers to bed and the nightly newscasts were over) become the missile that we pointed at ourselves - exploding in our faces?  Print more money, print more money – and hope no one calls in the loans, because when that starts it will snowball.


Change metaphor.  We dodged a bullet for now.




The Republicans – the party of shrewd businessmen and fiscal responsibility – have held the White House and both houses of Congress for almost four years now.  Maybe they know best?  There is some irony here.


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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