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    Middle East
     Sep 25, 2007
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How Iraq won its 'freedom'
By Tom Engelhardt

Let's take a trip down memory lane.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the United States' highest civilian award, ranking second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor. According to its official website, the medal "is reserved for individuals the president deems to have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other

significant public or private endeavors".

In 2004, George W Bush had already awarded the medal to cosmetics queen Estee Lauder, golfer Arnold Palmer, columnist and political scientist Norman Podhoretz and singer and actress Doris Day, among others, when, on December 14 in a ceremony at the White House, he hit the trifecta.

Only the previous month, in a close race to the finish line - not so much against opposing presidential candidate John Kerry as against a ragtag fundamentalist insurgency in Iraq - he had just slipped under the re-election wire and, in a press conference, promptly talked about how "free" he was. ("You asked, do I feel free. Let me put it to you this way: I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it.")

The next month he would launch his second term with an inaugural address that put "freedom" as a global mission at the very center of his presidency. He would grandiloquently promise nothing less than a crusade to end tyranny globally and bring liberty to the world. (He would, in fact, use the word "freedom" 27 times, and "liberty" 15 times, in that address.) He also had a few debts to pay and, having already brought "freedom" to Iraq at the point of a cruise missile, he now paid those debts in the coin of "freedom" as well. He slipped medals around the necks of three men - each recently retired from the field of action - who had been crucial to his first-term "freedom" policies.

I'm talking about the former commander of his Afghan war and Iraq invasion, General Tommy ("we don't do body counts") Franks; the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and proprietor of a global secret prison and torture network, as well as the man who oversaw the intelligence process that led to the Iraq invasion, George ("slam dunk") Tenet; and his former viceroy in Baghdad, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, L Paul ("I didn't dismantle the Iraqi Army") Bremer III.

Of Franks, Bush said the general had "led the forces that fought and won two wars in the defense of the world's security and helped liberate more than 50 million people from two of the worst tyrannies in the world".

Of Tenet, the president claimed that he had been "one of the first to recognize and address the threat to America from radical networks" and, after September 11, 2001, was "ready with a plan to strike back at al-Qaeda and to topple the Taliban".

Of Bremer, he offered this encomium: "For 14 months, Jerry Bremer worked day and night in difficult and dangerous conditions to stabilize the country, to help its people rebuild and to establish a political process that would lead to justice and liberty." And the president added: "Every benchmark ... was achieved on time or ahead of schedule, including the transfer of sovereignty that ended his tenure." ("He did not add," the Washington Post pointed out at the time, "that the transfer was hurriedly arranged two days early because of fears insurgents would attack the ceremonies.")

Looking back, it's clearer just what kinds of "benchmarks" were achieved, what kinds of freedoms each of these men helped bring to the rest of the world.

Franks helped to deliver to southern Afghanistan's desperate, beleaguered peasants the freedom to be caught, years later, in a deathlike vise between a resurgent Taliban and regular US air strikes. He also brought them the freedom to grow just about the total opium crop needed to provide for the globe's heroin addicts - 8,200 tons of opium in 2007, representing 93% of the global opiates market. This was a 34% jump from the previous year and represented opium production on what is undoubtedly a historic scale. Afghanistan's peasants, surviving as best they can in a land of narco-warlords, narco-guerrillas and deadly air attacks have, once again, set a record when it comes to this unique freedom.

Tenet, though a holdover from the Bill Clinton years, wholeheartedly agreed with one of the earliest post-September 11 liberatory impulses of top Bush administration officials - the desire, as defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld liked to say, to take off "the gloves", or, as Tenet himself put it when it came to the CIA (so Ron Suskind tell us in his book The One Percent Doctrine), "the shackles". Those were the "shackles" that Vice President Dick Cheney and others believed had been placed by Congress on the imperial presidency after Richard Nixon came so close to committing the constitutional coup that we have come to call Watergate, but that involved an illegal war in Cambodia, illegal wiretapping, illegal break-ins, robberies, black-bag jobs and so many other crossing-the-line activities.

As CIA director, Tenet then delivered to agency operatives the freedom to target just about anyone on the planet who might qualify (however mistakenly) as a "terror suspect", kidnap him, and "render" him in extraordinary fashion either to a foreign prison where torture was regularly practiced or to a CIA secret prison in Afghanistan, eastern Europe or who knows where else. He also freed the agency to "disappear" human beings (a term normally used in our world only when Americans aren't the ones doing it) and freed the agency's interrogators to use techniques like waterboarding, known in less civilized times as "the water torture" (and only recently banned by the agency) as well as various other, more sophisticated forms of torture.

At the 2004 Medal of Freedom ceremony, the president spoke of 50 million people being liberated in his first term, but he probably should have used the figure 50,000,002. After all, Tenet, like Franks, had offered a necessary helping hand in the liberation of Bush - and Cheney as well. Both men took part in loosing a "wartime" commander-in-chief presidency (and vice-presidency) to which just about no traditional US check-and-balance restraints or oversight of any sort were said to apply.

Bremer may, however, be the most interesting of the three freedom-givers, in part because, thanks to Blackwater USA, the private security firm whose mercenaries continue to run wild in Iraq, his handiwork is in the news and in plain sight right now.

In December 2004, less than six months had passed since Bremer, in his role as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in occupied Baghdad, had turned over "sovereignty" to a designated group of Iraqis and, in essence, fled that already chaotic country. A day before he left, however, he established a unique kind of freedom in Iraq, not seen since the heyday of European and Japanese colonialism. By putting his signature on a single document, he managed officially to establish an "international zone" that would be the fortified equivalent of the old European treaty ports on the China coast and, at the same time, in essence granted to all occupying forces and allied companies what, in those bad old colonial days, used to be called "extraterritoriality" - the freedom not to be in any way under Iraqi law or jurisdiction, ever.

Creating the free world anew
General David Petraeus, the president's "surge" commander in Iraq, has often spoken about a "Washington clock" and a "Baghdad clock" being out of sync and of the need to reset the Washington one. Bremer, who arrived in Baghdad in May 2003, quickly went to work setting back that Baghdad clock. When it came, for instance, to Iraqi oil, he ensured that Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum, who had been involved in the US State Department's 

Continued 1 2

US captivated in the theater of war (Sep 22, '07)

The rise and fall of Iraq's oil law (Sep 20, '07)

Blackwater pays price for Iraqi firefight (Sep 19, '07)

1. Russia bolsters ties with Iran

2. Iranophobia hits Ground Zero

3. Shots in the dark over Syria's skies

4. Welcome to Planet Gaza 

5. US rate cuts: Like a blow to the head 

6. Rocking the land of Poppins  

7. US captivated in the theater of war 

8. A comparative failure

9. All hail Hu Jintao

10. Burning down Myanmar's Internet firewall 

(Sep 21-23, 2007)


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