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Now You See Him, Now You Don’t

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Posted on Jul 29, 2013
hsingy (CC BY 2.0)

By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch

(Page 2)

He’s only appeared in public once since his “disappearance”—at a press conference at that airport with human rights activists from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.  The U.S. government promptly deplored and denounced the event as something Moscow “facilitated” or “orchestrated,” a “propaganda platform,” and a State Department spokesperson even suggested that Snowden, not yet convicted of anything, shouldn’t have the right to express himself in Moscow or anywhere else.

The truth is: when it comes to Snowden, official Washington can’t shut up.  Congressional figures have denounced him as a “traitor” or a “defector.”  The world has repeatedly been lectured from the bully pulpit in our national capital on how necessary his return and trial is to freedom, justice, and global peace.  Snowden, it seems, represents the opposite of a magician’s trick.  He can’t disappear even when he wants to.  Washington won’t let him, not now, not—as officials have made clear—ever.  It’s a matter of morality that he faces the law and pays the (already preordained) price for his “crime.”  This, in today’s Washington, is what passes for a self-evident truth.

The Lady Vanishes

It’s no less a self-evident truth in Washington that Robert Seldon Lady must be protected from the long (Italian) arm of the law, that he is a patriot who did his duty, that it is the job of the U.S. government to keep him safe and never allow him to be prosecuted, just as it is the job of that government to protect, not prosecute, CIA torturers who took part in George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror.

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So there are two men, both of whom, Washington is convinced, must be brought in: one to face “justice,” one to escape it.  And all of this is a given, nothing that needs to be explained or justified to anyone anywhere, not even by a Constitutional law professor president.  (Of course, if someone had been accused of kidnapping and rendering an American Christian fundamentalist preacher and terror suspect off the streets of Milan to Moscow or Tehran or Beijing, it would no less self-evidently be a different matter.)

Don’t make the mistake, however, of comparing Washington’s positions on Snowden and Lady and labeling the Obama administration’s words and actions “hypocrisy.”  There’s no hypocrisy involved.  This is simply the living definition of what it means to exist in a one-superpower world for the first time in history.  For Washington, the essential rule of thumb goes something like this: we do what we want; we get to say what we want about what we do; and U.N. ambassadorial nominee Samantha Powers then gets to lecture the world on human rights and oppression.

This version of how it all works is so much the norm in Washington that few there are likely to see any contradiction at all between the Obama administration’s approaches to Snowden and Lady, nor evidently does the Washington media.  Its particular blind spots, when it comes to Washington’s actions, remain striking—as when the U.S. effectively downed the Bolivian president and his plane.  Although it was an act of seemingly self-evident illegality, there was no serious reporting, no digging when it came to the behind-the-scenes acts of the U.S. government, which clearly pressured four or five European governments (one of which may have been Italy) to collude in the act.  Nor, weeks later, has there been any follow-up by the Washington media.  In other words, an act unique in recent history, which left European powers disgruntled and left much of Latin America up in arms, has disappeared without explanation, analysis, punditry, or editorial comment here.  Undoubtedly, given the lack of substantial coverage, few Americans even know it happened.

The lucky Mr. Lady’s story has followed a similar trajectory.  Having vanished in mid-air, he has managed so far not to reappear anywhere in the U.S. press.  What followed was no further news, editorial silence, and utter indifference to an act of protection that might otherwise have seemed to define illegality on an international level.  There was no talk in the media, in Congress, or anywhere else about the U.S. handing over a convicted criminal to Italy, just about how the Russians must return a man Washington considers a criminal to justice.

This, then, is our world: a single megapower has, since September 2001, been in a financing and construction frenzy to create the first global surveillance state; its torturers run free; its kidnappers serve time at liberty in this country and are rescued if they venture abroad; and its whistleblowers—those who would let the rest of us know what “our” government is doing in our name—are pilloried.  And so it goes.

All of it adds up to a way of life and the everyday tradecraft of a one-superpower world.  Too bad Alfred Hitchcock isn’t around to remake some of his old classics.  Imagine what a thriller The Lady Vanishes would be today.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture (just published in a Kindle edition), runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.

Copyright 2013 Tom Engelhardt


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