And of course, ironically, this appears the same week that the blogosphere made such a big deal over the fact that BoingBoing.net achieved the famously coveted title of "banned in Boston." Compared to the even more ridiculous censorship bans that Smith talks about down at Gitmo, not merely the outbound information bans but the bans on sending information in to people the US military intends to never release, making such a big deal out of the BoingBoing ban seems kind of petty to me.
I maintained a log reflecting the fate of each publication. Magazines awarded the stamp DENIED included National Geographic, Scientific American and Runner's World. On one occasion it seemed justified, since that month's National Geographic had a story about building an atomic bomb, but the editions about whales and African tribes hardly seemed a threat to national security. One soldier explained the censorship of Scientific American to me: the prisoner might learn about some hi-tech weapons system. Banning Runner's World was less obvious, given the naval base was surrounded on one side by a Cuban minefield and on the other three by ocean.
I was surprised - and Shaker Aamer was incensed - that they would not let in The African-American Slave by Frederick Douglass. Uncle Tom's Cabin was also barred. I dropped off an anthology of first world war poetry for Omar Deghayes that included Wilfred Owen's poem "Futility," about the ghastly violence of war. It was returned DENIED. ...
The Save Omar campaign auctioned off an autographed copy of John Pilger's book Hidden Agendas to raise funds. The highest bidder donated it back, so I could try to get it in to Omar. It was written in 1998 and the index had no references to Islamic extremism. The most controversial statement I could see in the book was Pilger's comment that most of the victims of terrorism were Muslims. It never got through.
At this point British political authors began to vie for the status of having a book banned. The New Statesman editor John Kampfner gave me a signed copy of his book Blair's Wars for Omar. Clare Short signed a copy of An Honourable Deception? New Labour, Iraq and the Misuse of Power with a dedication: "Hope you will be back with us soon, Omar.". An inverted snobbery began to develop: if your book slipped through the censors, perhaps that would cast doubt on the credibility of your opinions. I worried that Jeremy Paxman would be disappointed that his book The English was allowed in.
I have mixed feelings about the idea of pre-ordering a copy of Smith's book for exactly the same reason that I've been struggling to find something to write about for several weeks now. It's for the same reason that, on some level, I almost welcomed the grisly topic of what should be done about the Virginia Tech shootings: it was break from a subject that is painfully and powerfully depressing, that is consuming much of my attention, and that I could write about every day if I let myself. I don't let myself write about it every day because it's not merely depressing, but it's pointless. And if there's anything worse for me as a writer than being pointlessly depressing, it's becoming repeatedly pointlessly depressing, perpetually repeatedly depressing. And I would, if I let myself, because the subject of the Bush administration's war profiteering and war crimes, and the Democratic Party's ongoing inability to muster enough votes among their own members to stand up to that war profiteering and those war crimes, is just that important to me.
But what's the point of going on about it day after day after day, when there isn't anything we can do about it?
Slate.com's always-brilliant legal affairs columnist Dahlia Lithwick had an article on Friday called "Gonzo for Gonzo" in which she shared her guess as to how President Bush could have seen, could have known in advance about, Attorney General Gonzalez' shamefully awful and openly perjurious testimony to the Senate the other day and then, afterwards, declare that he still had full confidence in Gonzalez. She suggests that Bush likes Gonzalez's stonewalling of and open lying under oath to Congress because to Bush, contempt of Congress isn't a crime, it's policy. The legal analysis goes like this: the Constitution gives Congress the right to investigate whatever they want, but very little power to do anything about it. So as far as Bush is concerned, it's all pointless theater that deserves to be treated with condescension, mockery, and contempt. Sure, because they pay Gonzalez's salary, Congress is entitled to talk to him about his job. But once they made what is now obvious in hindsight (and should have been obvious in advance) to have been a catastrophic mistake of confirming him in the first place, Congress has no power to fire the Attorney General. The only power they have over the Justice Department now is to defund Gonzalez. But since he's at the top of the organization, the only way they can do that is and make it stick is to defund the entire Justice Department. Which they're obviously not going to do. So if they're going to insist on their little bit of pointless theater over the "little" fact that the Bush administration corruptly interfered with investigations of Republicans and punished attorneys for not bringing trumped up cases against innocent Democrats, the most appropriate response from a Bush administration official is contempt. He's the "unitary executive," the "war time President," and they're not. So what are they going to do about it, send someone to arrest Gonzalez for contempt of Congress? The cops all work for him, who are they going to send?
No, they're going to do the same thing that they're going to do about his increasingly obviously illegal war in Iraq. The same thing they're going to do about the blatantly unconstitutional Military Commissions Act their Republican predecessors passed. The same thing they're going to do about the increasingly undeniable monstrosity that is our facility down in Cuba that's resorted to torture to extract "terrorism confessions" from randomly grabbed people when the threat of indefinite detention under inhumane conditions wasn't enough to break them. That is to say, not one damned thing. 2/3rds to 3/4ths of the American people have made it clear that they want something done about all of those things. But, for example, when Bush vetoes the war spending bill that includes a threatened (and distant) cut-off date, they're not going to do what they should do. They should then simply refuse to pass a war spending bill at all. Since the Pentagon said this week that they have enough money to fund even the current level of operations through the end of June, Congress should simply instruct the Pentagon that once they have spent that money, it will be illegal to spend even one more taxpayer dollar on any kind of war in Iraq, so they had better use the money they have left to get our troops out of there safely. But they won't. The latest word is that they'll pass a "temporary" spending bill to cover another 100 days of the war, and go through this same pointless theater over again in another 3 months. That the toughest measure the Democrats can muster the votes to pass is to engage in more utterly pointless posturing every 3 months for the next year and a half, minimum, while continuing to participate in Bush's ongoing crimes and war crimes by funding them. So why shouldn't Alberto Gonzalez have shown contempt of Congress? With a Congress like this, how can anybody not feel contempt?
(It's like that old Marx Brothers movie where the judge threateningly asks Groucho, "Are you showing contempt of court?" And Groucho says, "No, your Honor, I'm trying to hide it.")
And of course, Guantanamo Bay is no longer even on the political agenda; the Democrats caved so hard on that one that they don't even have the guts to bring it up again. And why should we expect otherwise out of a party whose leadership, and whose major donors, are still bluntly determined to nominate Joe Liebermann's junior partner in the Senate, Hillary Clinton? Clinton waffles in her speeches and interviews now, during the primary, to try to confuse people about her position, but don't be fooled. Her position on the phonying-up of the War on Terror and the war crime that is our invasion of Iraq is functionally identical to George Bush's: keep detaining, keep spying on Americans, keep torturing the innocent, and maintain permanent military occupation in Afghanistan, Iraq, and maybe even Iran and Syria when we get around to them. What else did you expect from the still-dominant Republican wing of the Democratic Party?
Impeaching George Bush over all of this, for all that it's farther than the Democrats are willing to go, isn't far enough, really. The man should spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement in Spandau Prison, the place that we, the Americans, set aside for governmental leaders like him who issue orders to torture the innocent while also ordering full scale military conquest of nations that never threatened their countries. I'm reading Lee Iacocca's new book, and while Iacocca doesn't go as far as I do on this, even he, who campaigned and raised money for George Bush, thinks that all of this is not merely bad for the country but actively criminal. Iacocca says that this is why the 2008 elections are going to be so important, but are they? When both parties seem fiercely determined to nominate leaders who'll co-conspire with George Bush and perpetuate the same monstrous crimes against our own Constitution and against humanity?
The Guardian excerpt from Clive Stafford Smith's book is so good, and so well written, that I feel a strong urge to buy it -- but do I really need encouragement to think about these things more? I could already write about this every day, because it's so important to me that it makes it hard for me to take seriously almost any news story on almost any other subject. But who'd want to?