Throughout the Cold War, the US national-security state told the American people that it was necessary for America to go over to the dark side in order to combat the threat of communism and the Soviet Union. By that, they meant adopting policies and practices employed by the communists. It was a mindset akin to fighting fire with fire.
That’s how America ended up with a formal program of assassination, whereby US agents wielded the power to assassinate people around the world who were suspected of being communists, despite the fact that the victims had never initiated any force against the United States. It was essentially a system of legalized murder or, as President Lyndon Johnson termed the program, “Murder, Inc.”
It’s also how the national-security state ended up with the authority to oust democratically elected regimes in which people had elected the “wrong” people (i.e., communists or communist sympathizers) to be their president or prime minister.
It’s also how the federal government embraced the top-secret medical experimentation program known as MKULTRA, whose records were destroyed by CIA officials when the program came to light, a program that could easily have been modeled after the medical experimentation program of National Socialist Germany, many of whose officials were secretly being hired by the CIA after World War II.
And of course there was a formalized program of torture, as manifested by Operation Phoenix in the Vietnam War, a war that sacrificed more than 58,000 American men in the purported attempt to keep America from being taken over by the communists.
Indeed, the entire national-security state apparatus, which was grafted onto America’s governmental system after World War II, was justified as a response to the Soviet communist threat, notwithstanding the fact that the Soviet Union was a national-security state as well.
Unfortunately, with the end of the Cold War, that dark-side mindset did not disappear. Not only did the national-security state apparatus stay in existence, so did its assassination program, its regime-change program, and other dark-side practices, many of which had been employed by the communists.
Among the most evident manifestations of the communist-like policies that US national-security state officials adopted was the “judicial” system they established at Guantanamo Bay — a system that would have fit perfectly within the Soviet regime of Joseph Stalin.
There is no better example of this phenomenon than the case of Abu Zubaydah, the man who has been incarcerated by the US national-security state for over 14 years. If there was ever a case that shocks the conscience, it is that one.
When US national-security state officials first took Zubaydah into custody, they were 100 percent convinced that he was a high official in al Qaeda, which was the US national-security establishment’s official enemy of the day at that time.
According to an article in yesterday’s New York Times, during the entire 14 years that Zubaydah has been in custody, he has never been seen by the outside world. When the outside world saw him for the first time at a hearing held this week, one of the things that people noticed about him was the fact that US officials, in some way, had destroyed one of his eyes as part of their top-secret torture and brutality system that they established early on at Gitmo.
Blinding him in one eye wasn’t all that they did to Zubaydah. He was the first detainee to be waterboarded, a brutal process that subjects a person to the feeling that he is drowning. Unfortunately for Zubaydah, they didn’t waterboard him only once or twice or even 10 times. They waterboarded him a total of 83 times. Yes, you read that right — 83 times!
Why did they do that so many times? Because – remember: they were absolutely, 100 percent convinced that Zubaydah was a top official in al-Qaeda, and so when he refused to disclose the information they were certain he possessed after the first few dozen times they waterboarded him, they were convinced that it was because of his top-notch training as a top-line terrorist. When a terrorist suspect isn’t opening up and talking, there is only one thing to do: waterboard him again and again again until he gives up the information.
Why did they stop at 83? That’s not exactly clear. But it could have something to do with the fact that they finally realized that they had made a mistake — that Zubaydah wasn’t a top al-Qaeda official after all and, therefore, didn’t possess the information that they were trying to get out of him with their 83 waterboardings.
Why hasn’t Zubaydah come to trial? After all, isn’t that what the Pentagon’s “judicial” system is supposed to be — an alternative to the judicial system established by the Constitution? Isn’t 14 years a sufficient amount of time to give a person a trial?
The reason he hasn’t been provided a trial in 14 years is because the Pentagon and the CIA don’t want to give him a trial. Equally important, they know that none of the other three branches, including the judicial branch, wields the power to force them to give him a trial.
What they’ve done to Zubaydah is no different from how the North Korean communists treat people who they consider are threats to the national security of North Korea. Don’t forget, after all, that North Korea is a national-security state too, just like the United States became to fight the Cold War. When the North Korean communists take a person into custody who they suspect is a threat to national security, they do the same things to him that the US national security state has done to Zubaydah and other suspected terrorists.
That’s not the America that the Framers envisioned when they called the federal government into existence. They didn’t want an America where the government could torture people, gouge their eyes out, isolate them from the world, keep them imprisoned for as long as they want, or execute them without trial or due process of law. That’s why our American ancestors adopted the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eight Amendments to the Constitution — to ensure that everyone, no matter how dangerous or no matter how guilty, would be guaranteed a speedy trial, due process of law, trial by jury, and other procedural guarantees. The last thing they wanted for America was the communist type system that the US national-security state runs and operates in Cuba.
Even Zubaydah’s hearing this week was bizarre. It wasn’t a trial where evidence was submitted to determine guilt or innocence. Instead, it was a hearing to determine whether he is “dangerous.” Presumably, if the Pentagon determines that he’s not “dangerous,” he will be released without ever having to go to trial. If the Pentagon determines that he is “dangerous,” which is a virtual certainty, then he will be returned to his isolated state to await a trial that is always pending but never arrives.
I’ll bet that George Orwell wouldn’t be surprised at what the Pentagon and CIA have done at Gitmo. I’ll bet that Stalin wouldn’t be either. Both of them fully understood the nature of governments that become national-security states.
Reprinted with permission from the Future of Freedom Foundation.