Moral indignation is in the air, and rightly so. At a time of the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War, when more migrants have died crossing the Mediterranean than any other time in recent history, the British government revoked funding for EU coastal ‘rescue’ services.Their reasoning – brutal in its intentionality – is that it encourages migrants to gamble their fates on the crossing. The UK government has decided that the greatest deterrent to migration is death itself. Lampedusa looms large over the hopes and prospects of the underdeveloped world. The dreams of a better life shall be crashed by the waves of the Med.
While this should morally outrage us, the situation is far more complex than it would first appear. With the unprecedented wave of migration that has hit the Italian coastline in the last year, a coastal service call ‘Mare Nostrum’ was formed. Mare Nostrum is an old Roman imperial and fascist term of Mussolini’s Italy, literally translated to ‘our sea.’ Funded through the European Commission, all European economies contribute to the service, accounting for around 90 percent of Mare Nostrum’s kitty. The rest, it seems, comes from Israel and Jordan. Mare Nostrum’s future seems uncertain with the EU’s FRONTEX agency taking more responsibility of policing the border.
Couched in the language of ‘search and rescue,’ the project polices the borders of Europe – already amongst the world’s most impenetrable. Throughout the EU and Israel, the position taken towards migrants is violent. Migrants represent an existential threat to the identities of the so-called ‘civilised world.’ Israel brazenly refers to African migrants seeking security in its territory as ‘infiltrators,’ threats to the purity of the settler-colonial state.
Migrants hoping for a better life across the sea find themselves on a perilous journey between Scylla and Charybdis. On the one hand, they face death at sea. On the other, they face the possibility of being picked up by border security services, detained indefinitely and in most cases deported back to their homeland. Those lucky enough to avoid capture or death enter into a world of uncertainty, where they are likely to work in unregulated labour, forming the under-class of Europe.
As European governments like the UK reduce their support for sea border control, the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) forms. MOAS is a recognized foundation based in Malta and led by Martin Xuereb, a Sandhurst graduate with 26 years of military service throughout the EU to boast. The commander on the seas – or Onboard Operations Manager in bureaucratic parlance – is Marco Cauchi, an anti-terror expert coming from 20 years of service in the Maltese Army. Ostensibly set-up for saving migrants after the Lampedusa disaster, this foundation is now filling the gap left by the states of Europe, who have left Italy overburdened by the growing migration crisis.
Watching MOAS at work is telling. Kitted-up as if they are dealing with a biohazard, the staff treat migrants as walking vessels of disease. They jetty the boat to the side of their rescue ship, take the migrants to the nearest coast and go back to port. What happens to the migrants next is not a consideration, for at least they ‘saved’ them from the perilous sea.
The spectacle of the overcrowded boat is not what it seems. To us, they seem to be a daredevil mission, so overcrowded it is as if they are just jumped upon. To those on them they are a gamble of the highest order. Whereas we would not be paid to take the risk, they often pay upwards of $1,000 to smugglers to get them a space on the criminally overcrowded vessels. So, to them, being picked up by the benevolent MOAS is not being saved, it is like dropping to the bottom of a pinball machine. Another chance lost, an even more risky gambit to attain their hopes and dreams if they have the will or ability to ante up again.
The migration crisis is not going anywhere. In our lifetimes, it is only going to get worse. The people who fill the boats do so in the hope of having the agency that life in the centres of capital provide. The underdevelopment of Africa, the protracted warfare in the Middle East and the effects of climate change are all causal factors for the crisis. And all of them have their roots in Europe and its settler colonies.
The short-term solution is bleak. The people who will risk everything to find a better life than what they’ve been born into will not be assuaged by the threat of death or detention and deportation. They remain trapped between Scylla and Charybdis. In the long-term, if Europe does not want to accommodate the masses of people who knock upon its door, it must start to address the underlying causes of migration. That entails making our governments break-away from the imposition of neo-liberal orthodoxy through international financial institutions, an active mobilization against our governments’ open and proxy warfare in the Middle East and a real attempt to limit the effects of climate change, vastly cutting our emissions. Any other solution is no solution at all.
“It is no use painting the foot of the tree white, the strength of the bark cries out from beneath the paint” (Aime Cesaire).
After years in the doghouse, the doctrine of humanitarian intervention is once again scratching at the door – begging for a return from exile. The line of obfuscation: “we were hijacked by neo-cons in the case of Iraq, really the doctrine stands for the type of morality exhibited in Sierra Leone or the Balkans”. The recent media contortions of unrest in Libya have not only opened the doghouse, but added a sense of immediacy to the need for debate of this issue and let the mongrel back in.
Having myself previously espoused the theory, believing it to be a continuation of the internationalism of the left, I critique it on the most fundamental issue with the doctrine – that it is a moral cloak. The doctrine is of no practical value – it is merely ideological. Platitudinous as it may be, it needs to be said: military aggression is never “humanitarian”, neither is starving third world countries through sanctions, installing puppet governments nor riding rough shot over historical and cultural traditions. Abstract morality, the supposed guiding principle, necessarily excludes historical analysis – as from a vacuum it is far easier to make blunt Manichean decisions where the West is good and all systems that are different are evil. Engaging in a genuine global political discussion of ethics entails fidelity to the truths of history – acknowledging that Western imperialism in all its forms and guises is not the solution, but the fundamental problem stifling true progress through imposing its will upon the world. Our global ethic seeks to break the chains of hegemony and unleash the forces, some good, some bad that have been excluded from the modern conception of statehood and stability.
Humanitarian language is spoken to drive up popular support for what would otherwise be seen as antithetical to the values of freedom, democracy and justice. The self-acknowledging imperialist does not care for internationalism and does not recognise the universality of their obligations. Their support is harnessed through statistics and analysis about the effect on Western markets – a cost/benefit analysis suffices to garner their support.
Fluffed up language about alienated and oppressed “others”, who require the liberal media to speak for them is used for a purpose. At times prefiguring imperial intervention it is worth comparing the business and mainstream news. The business is brazen in its intentionality – the mainstream news argues for the same conclusions, not through appealing to heads or wallets, but to hearts. It is of no coincidence that the manual for liberal intervention is dusted off when the cost of a barrel of oil has increased to as much as it was pre-Iraq. Liberal humanitarianism carries the “compassionate” along with the imperial without the vast majority being aware of this reality.
Although bereft of practical functionality, the doctrine evokes “morality” as if it is absolute and recognised by all. An analysis of our moral heart is instructive. Principles of exception run through all moral calculuses from Bentham to Rawls. Action based (deontological) and consequentialist (teleological) ethical systems have restricted scope that essentially break down to subjective choices on the part of the moral agent. When applied internationally a deeply Eurocentric and worrying political ethic manifests. The realpolitick, as most know only too well, restricts moral salience to nation-hood, cultural affinities or whiteness. The unseen foundation upon which abstract thought takes place is oppression.
Liberal internationalism is paternalistic and neo-colonialist at heart. The presupposition is that the Enlightenment provided the whole world with the tools and pathway for progress – in light of this, all that predated must be destroyed for the dawn of the new demands the disintegrating of the old. The march of “progress” and “civilisation” can only be described as barbarous. World history will judge the damage of our new ontologies – our whole way of being in the world is infected with a sense of mastery. Liberal internationalism is predicated upon the global hierarchy which places the thought, products, culture and lives of the West on high and all “others” upon low. Our moralising is nothing more than a shrill call for assimilation.
Human Rights may purport to be universal. In their abstract form, the declarations are universal in scope – but never in application. That many do not even reflect upon their inconsistent and contradictory ethics is enough to underwrite their claims. Universal morality is not an ideal that I wish to shatter, rather, like Aime Cesaire: “I have a different idea of a universal. It is of a universal rich with all that is particular, rich with all the particulars there are, the deepening of each particular, the coexistence of them all”. It is time we all realised we cannot attain this ideal without acknowledging the rotten core of Western morality and its vacuous and decrepit universality, and follow the consequences of this realisation through, no matter the cost. In the short term this entails removing the West’s global military and “diplomatic” presence, not extending it.
By Adam Hudson
During the Nuremberg Trials, the chief American prosecutor, Robert H. Jackson, famously stated[i]: “To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” America has a long history of war and its accumulated evils. It began as thirteen small colonies that sat along the Atlantic coast. In over a century, the United States expanded all the way to the Pacific Ocean – from sea to shining sea. The process was not pretty. It involved the genocide of the native Americans and the enslavement of millions of black Africans whose free labor was needed to fuel the American capitalist economy. At the dawn of the twentieth century, the United States began to colonize other lands, such as Hawaii, the Philippines and Cuba. Since then, it has occupied and intervened with military force in all regions of the globe[ii], such as Latin America, Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. This is not to mention the democratically-elected leaders America overthrew in places like Chile and Iran. The United States currently occupies two countries – Iraq and Afghanistan – and has a network of over 700 military bases globally[iii]. As such, the United States is a de facto empire[iv].
One key element of American imperial history is its use of torture, which can be traced back to America’s treatment of African slaves. Such an analysis of torture, especially in the post-9/11 era, is very uncommon in mainstream political discourse. As such, before I proceed, it is important to dispel the current myths about torture propagated in the mainstream media.
As is well known, the United States has tortured hundreds of detainees suspected of being involved in terrorism. It is hard not to notice when the former Vice President brags about personally authorizing the use of torture on national television[v]. These acts included water-boarding, physical beatings, stress positions, sleep deprivation, and, in some cases, murder[vi].
The primary justification is that torture is a necessary tool to extract information from people who might know about impending threats of terrorism. Politicians (both Republican and Democrat), intellectuals, pundits and other leaders argue that America faces a new kind of threat. America is up against extremist, religious fanatics who hate the United States and wish to kill innocent Americans. Current domestic and international laws and law enforcement tactics are not sufficient to subdue this threat. As Alberto Gonzalez said to former President George W. Bush, the Geneva Conventions are “obsolete” in this new war against terrorism.[vii]
As a result, the United States must be willing to torture terrorist suspects in order to extract vital information that could prevent the next terrorist attack. This apocalyptic mindset has impacted the current American psyche and post-9/11 American foreign policy. Since the war is against a nebulous enemy, the war against terrorism is essentially a permanent war.
Despite the compelling arguments used to justify torture, adopting an objective view of the facts rips them asunder. First, there is little to no evidence to prove that torture is a useful interrogation technique. In fact, the evidence that does exist proves the opposite – that torture is ineffective because the suspect will say anything, whether it’s true or not, in order to make the torture stop. Ali Soufan, an intelligence official who interrogated Guantanamo terror suspect Abu Zubaydah, stated[viii] that conventional interrogation techniques compelled Zubaydah to provide actionable intelligence. It was only after Zubaydah was waterboarded several times that he could not provide useful intelligence.
Second, most of the people detained, usually indefinitely, in places like Guantanamo Bay and CIA-owned black sites are not diehard terrorists. The vast majority of them are innocent. Even President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and other high government officials may have been aware of this[ix]. Lawrence Wilkerson, a top aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell said that Cheney “had absolutely no concern that the vast majority of Guantanamo detainees were innocent…If hundreds of innocent individuals had to suffer in order to detain a handful of hardcore terrorists, so be it.” The apocalyptic mindset of the broader War on Terror justified this tragedy.
Third, torture and cruel or inhumane treatment is a violation of U.S. domestic law and international law. The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment and the Torture Act prohibits the use of torture[x]. There are several international treaties that prohibit the use of torture. Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions[xi], the Universal Declaration of Human Rights[xii], the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention Against Torture explicitly prohibit torture and cruel or inhuman treatment[xiii]. The Convention Against Torture even states that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”
Sending a person to a country where it is known they will be tortured – a practice known as extraordinary rendition – is also illegal under international law. However, the current Obama administration continues this practice. Torturing an individual violates that person’s fundamental human rights and their inherent dignity as a human being. Not only is torture illegal, it is also immoral and one of the many accumulated evils of war.
Given the transparency of official justifications for torture, one question remains. Why does the United States continue to torture people, even though it is ineffective, illegal and immoral? Torture has historically been used by governments for four main reasons.[xiv] One reason is to extract a confession and establish guilt. Torture is commonly used in countries where the presumption of innocence does not exist in the legal system. The second reason is for power. Powerful rulers would torture people in order to instill fear in their citizenry and remind them of who has authority. The third reason is to curb political dissent. While all three of these reasons may be applicable to the United States, the fourth reason gets to the heart of why America tortures. The fourth historical reason for utilizing torture is to subjugate a group of people considered to be sub-human.
An apt comparison to the American use of torture would be the French use of torture during the Algerian War of Independence.[xv] The French colonization of Algeria was based on the racist ideology of the French civilizing mission. In the eyes of the French colonial power, their culture was superior and more advanced than the cultures of racially-inferior “others”, in this case, the Algerians. The French saw it was their duty to “civilize” people who they viewed as primitive through colonialism. As such, the French annexed Algeria and established colonial settlements on Algerian land. When Algerian nationalists engaged in guerrilla warfare to oust the French, France felt it was up against a new kind of enemy – Maoist-inspired guerrillas. In order to defeat this enemy, the French believed it was necessary to engage in exceptional and unconventional means of warfare. This included denial of prisoner-of-war protections for captured combatants, trials in military tribunals, torture and execution. The French counter-insurgency strategy is very similar to American foreign policy post-9/11. It was motivated, in large part, by a belief in Algerian sub-humanity; in other words, racism.
Racism is not just an individual problem of prejudice or hate. It is an ideology used to justify systems of hegemony and oppression. It creates a binary between the Self and the Other. The Self is ascribed all positive aspects of humanity, such as rationality, intelligence, high culture, and credit for creating the benefits of modern civilization. The Other is ascribed all negative aspects of humanity, such as irrationality, primitivity, criminality, and barbarity. By categorizing certain groups as inferior “others”, hegemonic powers rob those people of their humanity, thus, making it easier to commit acts of brutality against them for imperial interests.
Racism, under the banner of “manifest destiny”, was used to justify the genocide committed against the Native Americans that made room for American territorial expansion. Racism was used to justify the enslavement of millions of black Africans whose free labor was exploited to work on plantations and build the American economy.
Despite the advancements made during the civil rights movement, racism still exists in many areas of American life, such as the disproportionate number of African-Americans and Latinos in prison, de facto housing segregation, inequality in the education system, and police brutality committed against people of color. Some of the most recent cases of police brutality were the deaths of 22-year-old Oscar Grant in Oakland[xvi] and 7-year-old Aiyana Jones in Detroit[xvii] – both of whom were African-American.
America’s wars against Afghanistan and Iraq serve to maintain American global hegemony and access to key resources such as oil. The racist dehumanization of Muslims, Arabs and South Asians is committed to justify America’s wars and acts of torture primarily against people from countries whose populations are predominantly Muslim and black and brown-skinned, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen. It is not difficult to witness the manifestations of Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism in American society. It exists within the media and underlies the sophistry of politicians and leading intellectuals. Muslims, Arabs and South Asians are always suspected of being terrorists, similar to how black and Latino people are suspected of being drug-dealers, gang members and criminals. Racism is the fundamental ideological motivation behind America’s wars and use of torture.
The key task now is to end America’s use of torture and, more broadly, eliminate racism and imperialism; a daunting task but a necessary one, nevertheless.
Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, has been an ardent supporter of US-backed actions in Somalia. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
The dangers of turning Africa into a front in the “war on terror” – much as it was a front in two world wars and a cold war that were not of its making – have been starkly revealed in Uganda following the 11 July bombings that killed 76 people watching the World Cup final in popular nightspots. That atrocity was attributed to Somali al-Shabaab extremists seeking to carry out retribution for the presence in Somalia of Ugandan “peacekeeping” troops.
But there is no peace to keep in Somalia, where a transitional federal government (TFG), established under UN auspices in 2002, controls only a few blocks of the capital city and would have collapsed altogether but for a US-backed invasion by Ethiopia in 2006. Why did Uganda’s veteran leader, Yoweri Museveni, rush in with military support for Somalia’s decrepit regime where other African countries, barring Ethiopia and Burundi, had feared to tread?
One factor is that Museveni needs to project Uganda as a “responsible member of the international community” to deflect criticism of its own army’s alleged pillaging in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. The Ugandan People’s Defence Forces, built out of the guerrilla army that brought Museveni to power 24 years ago, are accused of human rights abuses while crushing rebellion in Uganda’s northern region.
More generally, western aid still supplies around a third of Uganda’s government budget, but donor countries were becoming uncomfortable with the corruption that has increasingly marred Museveni’s long rule. Alignment with US-backed efforts to see Somalia pacified – so as to prevent the incubation and export of terror – serves both to smooth relations and to attract US logistical and training support for the Ugandan army.
Yet Ugandans, who have paid in blood for their country’s part in the botched counter-insurgency efforts in Somalia, are now paying again in a clampdown on their civic freedoms. In a new round of security measures, the citizens of Kampala will need police clearance for all gatherings, including private parties and wedding receptions. “No gathering of more than five people, even if it is in your compound, should be held without clearance from the inspector general of police,” the Kampala metropolitan police commander, Andrew Sorowen, told the press last week.
This measure comes as no less than 35 suspects await trial, which will be held behind the closed doors of the Luzira maximum security prison, charged with involvement in the 11 July attack. Sceptical Ugandans attribute the speed and number of arrests to a “beauty contest” between Uganda’s various security forces – police, army and special operations units – vying for anti-terror funds.
A Kenyan lawyer who travelled to Kampala last week to represent one of the defendants was arrested and questioned by police before being put on a plane back to Nairobi. A Muslim human rights activist accompanying him remains in custody.
Curtailment of civil liberties is widely interpreted as a move to muzzle the opposition in the run-up to February 2011 general elections. Campaigning has already been marred by violence and fraud in the primaries to select candidates for the ruling party, headed by Museveni, who is seeking another 5-year term.
Thus, far from containing “Islamist” terror, efforts forcibly to pacify Somalia have created fertile ground – attractive to fanatics from outside that country – for it to develop and spread, while also risking fragile freedoms elsewhere
This fiasco has been led politically by Washington which, since the catastrophic American occupation of Somalia in 1993 (and given the sobering experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan), has preferred to see its security objectives advanced through African proxies and private security contractors.
Museveni, a lifelong warrior who does not know the meaning of the word “retreat”, has proved a willing proxy. In a predictably bellicose response to the Kampala bombings, he increased Uganda’s troop commitment to Somalia and led calls for other African Union states to send their own troops. The rules of engagement have been adjusted to allow peacekeepers to fire first if they feel threatened: a highly ambiguous directive that will leave nearly all actions in a grey zone.
Bolstering the Somali peacekeeping forces may be good news for US contractors such as DynCorp International, who equip and train the peacekeepers in Somalia with US state department funding. But it is hard to see how it is good for anyone else.