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Unmasking the State

Le Carré's anger finds an echo at Guantanamo

John Le Carré, the consummate spy story writer, insists that his first best-seller was a figment of his own fevered imagination. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was simply, “a bad dream”, he says, in an article to mark the 50 years since its publication.

His story was set in the shadowy world of post-war Berlin, when Western secret services set out to make Germany “safe for democracy”. Somewhat paradoxically, Le Carré says, this saw British and US security heads “positively mollycoddling” former Nazis. It was an ugly process which disillusioned and repelled those who thought the war had been about getting rid of Fascism.

That all seems a very long time ago. But the hunger strike at the Guantanamo prison camp that erupted over the weekend into open clashes with guards, shows that the secret state retains a corrosive and corrupting power.

Military guards at what is being dubbed Obama’s “gulag” wrestled protesting detainees into single cells – a process known as “Forcible Cell Extractions” or FCEs. As prisoners’ resisted, guards fired four “less-than-lethal rounds” of ammunition.

According to their lawyers, some 130 out of the 166 inmates are on hunger strike, many since February. Some are being force-fed despite the brutal practice being outlawed for decades by the United Nations and the World Medical Association.

The prisoners are hunger-striking out of despair. Although a majority have been cleared for release, they are still being detained. Lawyer Clive Stafford Smith says that his client, Saudi-born British resident Shaker Aamer, who was captured in Afghanistan in November 2001 and brought to Guantanamo in February 2002 has been cleared not once but twice, in 2007 and then by the Obama administration in 2009. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of defence emails have been handed over to the prosecution in a clear breach of procedure.

Not only does Guantanamo remain open, Obama is now directly involved in signing off “kill lists” which decide the life and death of Taliban fighters and other individuals not only in Afghanistan but also in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan.

A new book by New York Times journalist Mark Mazzetti, The Way of the Knife, shines light on how Obama has presided over an exponential expansion of the “military-intelligence complex”. From attempting to withdraw from its killing programme, the CIA is now consumed with man-hunting in what Mazzetti says is a “third war”, following Iraq and Afghanistan.

So much so, that some operatives, US and British intelligence chiefs included – as well as Republican and Democrat politicians have became queasy about drone warfare. Mazzetti describes how Richard Dearlove, head of Britain’s MI6 counter-intelligence agency until 2004 was at CIA headquarters in Virginia in 2001. Watching a strike on a pickup truck in Afghanistan live on a screen, he said “It isn’t very sporting, is it?”

The CIA gets what
the CIA wants

But after 2009, instead of curbing the power of the CIA and the “intelligence” community, Mazzetti document’s how the power of the agency has grown hugely. Under Obama’s slogan, “The CIA gets what the CIA wants”, concerns by diplomats like the US ambassador to Islamabad and even Hillary Clinton are ruthlessly overridden.

So, back to Le Carré’s closing thought:

Today, the same man [the spy chief], with better teeth and hair and a much smarter suit, can be heard explaining away the catastrophic illegal war in Iraq, or justifying medieval torture techniques as the preferred means of interrogation in the 21st century, or defending the inalienable right of closet psychopaths to bear semi-automatic weapons, and the use of unmanned drones as a risk-free method of assassinating one's perceived enemies and anybody who has the bad luck to be standing near them. Or, as a loyal servant of his corporation, assuring us that smoking is harmless to the health of the third world, and great banks are there to serve the public.

One could and should add, however, that in today’s hollowed-out “democracy”, their political counterparts have truly lost legitimacy in the eyes of the majority of people.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary
15 April 2013

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