It has been ten years since the Bush administration let slip the dogs of war in Iraq. Millions of lost and broken lives – and estimated trillions of dollars later – Americans still have no idea how much damage the illegal war has done to others and us.
It all started when the government picked up – as my father had called it – deception’s hammer, smashing reality and burying the truth under toxic rubble of official lies; all done to protect an indefensible illegal foreign policy along with unconstitutional domestic laws. How far and hard we’ve fallen to break democracy’s bones.
Truth’s burial continues, even 10 years later. Just weeks before former CIA Director and retired Gen. David Petraeus made his March 26 public apology for the extramarital affair that stripped him of his CIA directorship, a new BBC documentary links the general to torture and death squads in Iraq. It was a policy referred to as the “El Salvador option.” Petraeus, a student of the demonic handiwork of the Reagan administration’s dirty and illegal wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua, worked with his onetime mentor, ret. Col. James Steele in Iraq to bury democracy’s bones in shallow graves or simply leave them on the streets.
Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld, architects and survivors of Watergate and Iran-Contra, unleashed United Nations Ambassador John Negroponte and Steele to build an infrastructure of torture, detention and death squads in Iraq. Under the command of Petraeus, these bone crushers set in motion a cycle of death and destruction with impunity.
This Iraq impunity helped lead to indefinite detention and Gitmo still being open, constant surveillance, the Patriot Act renewal and the National Defense Authorization Act; it led to treason charges against whistleblower Bradley Manning.
This is a bleak trajectory. But the arc of the universe bends towards justice, because the fulcrum upon which it rests is a moral balance inescapable mutuality. We are bound to each other and our actions by universal laws of cause and effect. A nation of jailers and occupiers loses its soul. It’s the moral equivalent of dumping mercury into our public discourse. The Obama administration and Congress have the power to clean up with a “look back,” which is how every criminal justice system rooted in law works. Illegality and violence are degenerative cancer in a democracy’s bones.
Petraeus apologizes for cheating on his wife, but not for unleashing death squads. He apologizes for breaking his wife’s trust, but not for deploying American troops in failed surges, which left more American soldiers dead and maimed.
He asks the nation to forgive him for a human failing and not for the unforgivable failing of the public trust. To call this man an expert in counterinsurgency is like calling a fat man an expert in food. Both go together, but not in healthy ways. This is a man without conscience who seeks absolution so that he can return to the business – and positions of power – to destroy lives.
The beginning of Petraeus’ comeback accompanies more evidence of the dirty war in Iraq. If truth is the first casualty of war, one of the last is trust.
Don Washington does public policy research and political and media strategy on issues of civil, human and labor rights and the keeper of one large and mischievous cat.
Photo: Petraeus apologized for his marital infidelity, but said nothing about his role in designing a program of murder and torture in Afghanistan and Iraq. AP