The torture report on the CIA is an exercise in damage limitation. Realising how much the supposed ‘excesses’ of the Bush administration and the stratagems for US/Israeli world domination of the neocon Project for the New American Century have damaged the self-proclaimed moral authority of US imperialism, the Democratic Party are using this report, of the CIA’s Inspector-General, to try to distance themselves from some of the crimes of their predecessors.
It is cynical hogwash on the part of the Obama administration. This report was commissioned apparently in 2004, under Bush. Its findings were suppressed earlier but ultimately, in the aftermath of US imperialism’s obvious failures and defeats in Iraq and the wider Middle East, it became untenable for an American bourgeois establishment that is not (as yet) prepared to openly break with the formal pretence of democracy, to suppress these facts indefinitely. Not if it wanted to continue the hubris and chutzpah that makes US Presidents believe they have the authority to lecture the world on ‘human rights’.
Cameron’s government in Britain is more brazen still. It says that it has ‘already dealt with’ the issues posed by British state involvement in such crimes, which was then widespread and intimate, and no doubt still is in terms of whatever dirty tricks are the flavour of the year in imperialist ‘intelligence’ circles right now. Cameron’s government, being to the right politically of the Blair government that in office was most implicated in these activities at their apparent peak, feels less need to distance itself from its predecessor, as part of its pitch to voters no doubt will be to accuse today’s Labourites under Ed Miliband of being in some way ‘soft’ on perceived ‘enemies’ of Western imperialism.
They tried that around Syria in 2013 when the war drive against Assad’s regime foundered in the face of popular opposition and lack of clarity within the bourgeoisie about objectives. They have less opportunity to do this now, since the West’s current bogey-men and would-be candidates for the ‘new Hitler award’ first given to Nasser in 1956, goes to Islamic State, who even normally forthright opponents of imperialism such as George Galloway, or the SWP et al, do not dare to defend.
We have seen the left take a big dive over this. Pro-imperialist and Zionist political prostitutes like the Alliance for Workers Liberty, Harry’s Place and others of similar disposition, have felt emboldened to abuse the few who have taken a principled position on IS, and gloat about the capitulations today of those who in the past at least made clear their defence of countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, against the imperialist war-makers. Even apparently innocuous appeals to the imperialists to ‘Don’t Attack Iraq’, ‘Don’t attack Iran’, or even ‘Don’t attack Syria’ carried a kind of moral message that such attacks, invasions and occupations were noxious, and amounted to a kind of defence of those polities and peoples against imperialism.
They may not have been purist anti-imperialist sloganising as beloved of some of the more purist – and often half-crazed and semi-religious – sects on the left. But they were the basis for one of the greatest anti-war and implicitly anti-imperialist mass movements in the history of capitalism. The great worldwide movement against the Iraq war, mobilised on this kind of basis, was not a merely economistic type ‘welfare not warfare’ movement, implying that the welfare of those ‘at home’ was more important than those suffering elsewhere.
That sentiment had often marred some kinds of opposition to some of imperialism’s wars in the past: the sentiment over Ireland, for example, that the British should cut their losses and just let the Irish get on with killing each other, opportunistically appealed to by some on the left in the 1970s in particular, was absent from the Iraq movement. Instead of this narrowness and ignorance, the Iraq war movement led to a boom in sales of books about the history and politics of the Middle East, about the Arab-Israeli conflict, and other aspects of the explosive contradictions in world capitalism that were fuelling these wars.
It is a significant retreat that such an attitude is absent over the war against IS. The small anti-war demonstration on September 25th in London, for instance, mobilised on slogans calling for ‘Hands off Iraq and Syria’. Speeches at the rally, deplored the crimes of ISIS in beheading Western journalists and aid-workers, and attacked the imperialist coalition for supposedly ‘playing into the hands’ of ISIS by starting a new bombing campaign. But no organisation on the left, apart from the very marginal force of Communist Explorations, put out any propaganda saying that it was reactionary as a matter of principle to attack Islamic State itself.
The leaflet by Communist Explorations, titled Imperialist Hands off Syria, Iran, Iraq and Islamic State was the only piece of propaganda to make this elementary point, and to point out that the partisans of Islamic State had every right and reason to defend themselves against imperialist attacks, and to expect solidarity from anti-imperialists in the West for doing so. Thus implying no support whatsoever to IS’s political programme or actions directed against other peoples in the region by Islamic State’s militants.
It does appear that in late October, one marginal organisation on the international left, the Spartacists, have taken a position in defence of Islamic State, but it is an index of how cowed the international left has been that it has taken even this grouping well over a month to take this position. Their original statement on this simply called for ‘Down with Bombing of Syria‘ (3 Oct) echoing the same capitulation made by others on the left – since it was not ‘Syria’ that was being bombed, but IS. But on 31 Oct, they changed tack, with a piece calling for defence of Islamic State, and denouncing the defenders of the mainly Kurdish city of Kobane, who are being besieged by IS forces, as supporters of imperialist war.
Which amounts to flipping from capitulation to imperialism to a stupid political softness on IS. A sign of lack of principle and a degree of irrationalism. It is perfectly possible to defend IS against imperialism without endorsing such things as its campaign to seize Kobane. Part of the programme of Marxists on the Middle East is the right of the Kurdish people to self-determination, and to national unification. Obviously this becomes impossible if Kurdish fighters are overrun in areas of Kurdish population by Sunni sectarian forces such as Islamic State.
So why in the interests of anti-imperialism, is it necessary not only to oppose Western imperialist attacks on IS, and to endorse their own right to defend themselves and the Sunni Arab regions where IS are the dominant force with a degree of evident popular consent, but also to endorse actions that contradict another people’s right to self-determination? Of course, it is not necessary at all, and by this stupid and reactionary flip-flopping, the Spartacists actually discredit the struggle against this imperialist war, just as if someone had idiotically insisted that in order to oppose the Bushes’ wars against Iraq you had to endorse and support Saddam Hussein’s wars against the Kurds.
It is actually possible to walk and chew gum at the same time. It is possible to defend the rights of Sunni Arabs to defend themselves, under whatever leadership, against imperialist attack, and to create if they wish a contiguous Sunni Arab state that obliterates the Sykes-Picot line. This is what the Islamic State actually is: its theological self-conception notwithstanding. It is also possible at the same time to defend the Kurdish people from land grabs of territory inhabited by them, and their right to self-determination and unification. These territories overlap at points, but they are distinct and were both forced together, and in other ways chopped up, in Balkanised states by the imperialists when the Ottoman Empire was dismembered.
In neither case can the left currently deliver any real independent support, which could actually begin to shift things on the ground. But to lay the basis for this, we have to defend the rights of all peoples’, and at least lay down some principles about this. We should steer clear of any ‘aid’ campaigns for the Kurdish forces that are being manipulated as tools by the imperialists, but it is still necessary to defend the rights of both Kurds and Arabs from conquest, subjugation and expulsion. This is called consistent democracy.
Anyway, the point of this article is to address some of the implications of the latest CIA torture revelations. It has to be said that these facts, widely known in the Arab and Muslim world, expose once again that the imperialists are the real barbarians. On top of murdering millions of Iraqis through wars and sanctions, on top of the never-ending expropriation of the Palestinians from their land by the Israeli-Jewish state with its ruling class that overlaps with that of the US and many of its junior partners in Europe as well, on top of the nuclear threats against Iran by the same unholy imperialist hydra, we have the large scale use of torture against militants who counter-attack. The ideology of Al Qaeda and ISIS may be reactionary and grotesque. Its methods in hitting back against imperialism with indiscriminate attacks aimed at inflicting substantial civilian casualties are reactionary and inimical to really defeating imperialism – in fact many of their actions only strengthen imperialist reaction.
But all the same, they are still marginal compared to the real world barbarians, the imperialist states, of which today the US-Israel-led alliance/hydra is the centrepiece. It is hardly surprising that, faced with the racist monstrosity of this formation waging seemingly endless wars in the Middle East, a layer of often highly educated young militants from the Muslim communities in the West are signing up to fight for Islamic State. We must defend the rights of such people even when we oppose the strategy and tactics of movements like Islamic State.
It is clear that even beheadings are relatively civilised and merciful compared to the grotesque and nightmarish tortures that the imperialists inflict on their perceived opponents. Those strident capitulators traitors and renegades, who attempt to tar principled anti-imperialists with the odium of IS’s more ‘radical’ and bloody actions, need in turn to be branded with responsibility for endorsing those who engaged in the torture to death of at least 100 – likely many more – through techniques involving bizarre, agonising prolonged anal violations, deliberate freezing to death, forcing people to stand on broken limbs, and other kinds of often sexual tortures that make Abu Ghraib seem mild by comparison. Theses are the people the ‘humanitarian interventionists’ want to have us cheering for in yet more imperialist wars. No way!