Reproduced below is an excerpt of a conversation in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, where Oscar Schindler (played by Liam Neeson) sits with the heinous German prison camp leader, Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes). They have been drinking on the balcony of Goeth’s villa on the outskirts of the prison camp. Goeth expresses admiration for Schindler because he doesn’t get drunk. Schindler responds that getting drunk limits a person’s control and control is power. He then goes on to say that real power and control is to pardon or forgive…..
Schindler: ‘They fear us because we have the power to kill arbitrarily. A man commits a crime, he should know better. We have him killed and we feel pretty good about it. Or we kill him ourselves and we feel even better. That’s not power, though, that’s justice. That’s different than power. Power is when we have every justification to kill – and we don’t.’
Goeth: ‘You think that’s power? ‘
Schindler: ‘That’s what the emperors had. A man stole something, he’s brought in before the emperor, he throws himself down on the ground, he begs for mercy, he knows he’s going to die. And the emperor pardons him. This worthless man, he lets him go.’
Goeth: ‘I think you are drunk.’ ***laughs***.
Schindler: ‘That’s power, Amon. That is power.’
***Schindler gestures toward Goeth as a merciful emperor***
‘Amon, the Good.’
Goeth: ***Smiles and laughs***
‘I pardon you.’
The man I have been reading up on has so far expressed as little remorse, about the actions he has taken and the lives he has destroyed, as Amon Goeth did. The difference – Goeth did not wrap himself in holy piety. Makes me think that sometimes it better to live with an evil that has no pretensions.
Exactly 40 years back, one morning in May 1975, Americans awoke to a New York Times front page that read, “US submarines stage secret spy missions inside Soviet waters”. The story was by a reporter who was then just beginning to cut his teeth in investigative journalism. He would go on to win the Pulitzer prize and become America’s sole keeper of it’s conscience for a while in the 1960s & 70s – Seymour Hersh. I love the guy and believe he personifies all that is good about America.
Detailed in his NYT report was an account of how highly classified US Navy missions were tapping into Soviet undersea communication cables.
The Ford White House was disturbed by the revelations and that was a natural reaction. By being inside the territorial waters of another sovereign nation, the US was breaking several international maritime treaties and protocols.
But this is America. Instead of showing contrition and saying sorry, President Gerald Ford’s Chief of Staff wanted action – against the source of the leak, the journalist and the newspaper. If I tell you the name of the guy, you’ll know why that kind of reaction must have come to him naturally – Donald Rumsfeld, the same Don Rumsfeld of that grinning/back-slapping with Saddam Hussein photo-op fame.
Rumsfeld had a 33-year old aide, interesting fellow, who immediately began gathering and assessing the options to deal with the NYT story, making extensive notes on a yellow legal pad. The aide’s final list of possible actions might have been termed ‘revealing’ then but we have all come to know this man well over the decades and wouldn’t bother to bat an eyelid worrying that they were out of character.
The aide laid out options for his boss, proposing actions that revealed a predatory, vindictive, hawkish and wholly criminal mindset. Some of the more colorful ones in his list included:
- An FBI investigation of the Times, Hersh and/or ‘possible government sources’.
- Grand jury indictments and prosecution of Hersh and the Times;
- A search warrant ‘to go after Hersh papers in his apartment’.
- Enforce ‘the law which prohibits such disclosure’.
- Discourage the Times and others from similar publications.
- Find and prosecute the person who leaked the information.
- Discourage others from leaking.
- Demonstrate ‘the dangers to nat’l security which develop when investigative reporting exceeds the bounds of propriety’.
- Create ‘an environment in which the ongoing investigations of the intelligence community are conducted without harming our intelligence capabilities’. Make an example of Hersh and the NYT, so the others shall stay in line.
I forgot to name the note’s author, Donald Rumsfeld’s aide. He was (and still is) a reptilian, viper-mean denizen who rose over the decades to become the most powerful Vice President that America has ever seen – Richard Bruce ‘Dick’ Cheney, code named Angler, by the Secret Service.
The dust hadn’t even settled after the Watergate scandal and here was young Dick Cheney suggesting exactly similar courses of action that saw Nixon burned at the stake for targeting his political enemies. That draconian list-making was glaring evidence that if there was any regret remaining within the Republican White House and it’s apparatchiks after the Watergate affair, it was only just one – getting caught.
In 2007, an almost identical note in Cheney’s same looped handwriting appeared as a key piece of evidence in the trial of another powerful White House aide, his Chief of Staff, Scooter Libby. It contained notes on how best to ‘deal’ with Joe Wilson, an American ex-diplomat who had written a series of op-eds in the NYT suggesting that the then President George W Bush had lied to the American people when he claimed that Saddam Hussein had imported yellow cake (enriched uranium ore) from the uranium-rich African state of Niger, a report that turned out to be an out-and-out forgery.
They found a way to take Wilson down – Joe Wilson was married to Valery Plame, a spook who undertook covert operations for the CIA. Through a right-wing journalist named Robert Novak, Cheney’s assistant, Scooter Libby, blew Plame’s cover and named her, thus finishing off her career and destroying any chances that she might had, for advancement with the CIA.
Now retired, Cheney has had six heart attacks but most unfortunately, the Almighty seems to want to keep him alive even when the saner components of the human race would be happy to see him go. He continues to walk in our midst, spewing hatred – a living blazing sign from America’s dark Nixonian past, his latest rant – that Barack Obama has been the ‘worst President in my time’. Equally unfortunately, there are in America today, enough bible-belt rednecks and stupid racist Republicans who will agree with Cheney’s warped world view.
But then, folk like Cheney are what you get when you elect dumb and simplistic Presidents that are incapable of original thought, like George W. Usually, when a President leaves office after eight years, journalists typically write retrospectives about his time in office and his ‘legacy’. Bush doesn’t have one. The outgoing vice presidents are barely mentioned as regards legacy, but Cheney has turned out to be vastly different, like no other VP in American history. More has been written on the legacy he has left behind than George Dubya. He is the only VP in history who, when asked by Bush to search for a suitable VP candidate for his 2000 Presidential bid, chose himself. Neat.
In the foreign policy front, Cheney had always been a foaming-in-the-mouth ultra right wing member of the Republican Party. He was the hidden bulwark behind Dubya’s justification to go to war in Iraq, his pudgy fingerprints found all over the Niger-Uranium fraud and the pretext for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. I am not suggesting that he pressured Bush into going to war, but he didn’t have to sweat it. He had a President who abhorred reading memos and reports and disdained going into the details of anything. Although Bush was the one who took the decisions, Cheney helped in framing those decisions, by severely limiting the available options and sometimes even suppressing information in a Rasputin-like manner.
All those things that you and I would unhesitatingly associate with raw evil, Richard Cheney has had an active hand in – setting up Guantanamo after 9/11, establishing the process of extra-judicial renditions to third countries, authorizing torture in the form of water-boarding, sleep deprivation and a host of other stomach churning techniques, while calling all that a part of the ‘war on terror’ and classifying insurgents as ‘enemy combatants’ so that they could be prosecuted outside of the US legal system, by special military courts.
And if he had meant this to be designated a war, he certainly subverted all Geneva conventions by holding detainees indefinitely without habeas corpus review. At one point Dick Cheney had a team of lawyers working on how to treat folk they captured, men they believed had info on Al Qaida, on the first 9/11 and any future 9/11s that might have been on the drawing board. The lawyers worked on the tortured definition of the word ‘torture’ as per law. Was it okay to water-board? Or bury someone alive? What were the things that American troops and torturers could do that would fall outside the narrow definition of ‘torture’ and thus be okay to carry out?
On the domestic front, Cheney was a true Rasputin. He screened potential Supreme Court nominees, presided over the budget, led the selection of personnel from Cabinet officers right down to key lower-level positions. He led an industry-friendly revamping of energy and environmental regulations. Without the president’s knowledge, he engineered the rewriting of the president’s tax bill so it included a capital gains tax break for the wealthy that the president had initially rejected. It helped that George Bush hated reading and going into the details of any report.
Then something happened in March 2004 that was a sort of awakening for Bush, to the fact that, for his own political survival it wouldn’t be a bad idea to start keeping Cheney at a arm’s length. His first term was drawing to an end and Bush wanted to be re-elected for a second term. He didn’t want anything messing up his chances and it looked to him like they would if he let Cheney run amok inside the White House.
(to be continued…)