by John McMurtry
“The system works”
— U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld1
Decoding the Compulsion to Disconnect
In May 2004, leading Americans and the international community were indignant at the tortures of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. occupying forces when undeniable pictures were published. Yet no-one of record in the media or anyone else in a position of public trust scrupled to observe what had started it all-the lawless U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, “the supreme crime” under international law, the crime which the judges at Nuremberg described as “only differing from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”2 The torture was, as the judges at Nuremberg had foreseen, a predictable consequence of “the supreme crime.” Yet all in official culture remained disconnected from the cause.
It was reassuring to life consciousness that the international media finally broadcast crimes against humanity instead of ignoring them. But manichean slogans of “the Free World” versus “the Terrorists” remained delinked from the criminality of the occupation itself. That the U.S. focus of concern was “damage to America’s image” indicated the nature of the problem. Although the Red Cross had reported that 70 to 90 per cent of the torture victims were ordinary citizens picked up at random, this did not diminish cries for redirecting attention back to “the real danger, the terrorists endangering America.” That the official Taguba Report itself was not permitted to question anyone above a part-time reserve-army woman officer (who was kept out of the interrogation room by U.S. Defense Intelligence), was nowhere reported as evidence of top-down control.3
That the far worse crimes of maiming and killing defenseless Iraqi women and children by bombs were delinked from the torture regime inside the prisons indicated that the murderous blind eye was still closed.
In fact, documented reports of criminal abuse of prisoners by U.S. forces had been coming in to high command since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 with no decision to stop the routines.4 “Stress positions,” “humiliation,” “use of [attack] dogs,” “sleep deprivation,” “subjection to noise,” “prolonged isolation,” “food and water deprivation,” “restriction of toilet facilities,” and “diet denial” were the generic orders.5 Yet ever since November 13, 2001 (shortly after 9-11), Presidential decree had unilaterally overridden the U.S.-signed Geneva Convention of 1949 on the Treatment of Prisoners for the first time in its history. Anyone who objected was deemed to be “lending support to terrorists.” The TV public itself daily watched prisoners-never charged or tried under any due process of law-hooded, shackled and limb-trussed, there were no visible asked questions about the brutality of the abuse, nor about the colonial occupation of the Cuban territory to perpetrate the crimes. What was central was “the torture scandal” and opinions on how to manage perception of it. Accordingly, “communist Cuba” was subjected to new and crippling sanctions for its “human rights abuses” as the state of siege by illegal U.S. embargo and destabilizations was stepped up. The Orwellian set-points of meaning did not arouse media or expert questions.
What could explain the systematic disconnect from reality with no consciousness of it? It was not confined to the U.S. right or even the U.S. itself. As the torture regime was exposed, the omnipresent liberal intellectual, Michael Ignatieff, urged fellow Canadians on public television to build up their military to join the U.S. in enforcing “human rights” across the globe.6 The disclosure of the videotaped Iraq tortures after years of lawless prescription was itself revealing of the selective mind-set at work. In fact, the story of U.S. torture on 60 Minutes in late April 2004 was a broadcast that had been held back for weeks because its pictures of torture by Americans were “not very patriotic” to show.7 Only when “CBS heard that Seymour Hersh, working for the New Yorker” was planning to publish fresh photographs-and a damning report [by the army itself] did the network decide to go ahead.”8 Until the reports came out elsewhere first, the facts could not be seen. In consensual closing of the doors of perception, the documented evidence was blocked out as non-existent.
Throughout, U.S. concern remained narcissistic. “America is suffering a blow to its international image,” the elite and the many regretted with indifference to the fate of the victims about whom there was no further interest. The fatal pattern was overlooked that tells all-that the U.S. security state repudiates any law if it protects the lives of people outside itself. Since “America’s defence of its interests and investments” abroad entails the right to reject whatever is deemed inconsistent, it follows that its right is to act above the law. In the words of the U.S. September 2002 National Security Strategy document:8
“We will take the actions necessary to ensure that our efforts to meet our global security commitments are not impaired by the potential for investigations, inquiry, or prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC), whose jursidiction does not extend to Americans and which we do not accept.”9 Not only immunity from international criminal law was thus assumed. Unilateral American repudiations of the Convention for the Prevention of the Crime of Genocide, the Kyoto Protocol, the Rights of Children, the Landmines Treaty, the Convention Against Racial Discrimination, the Comprehensive [Nuclear Bomb] Test Ban Treaty, the monitoring and testing requirements of the Chemical and Biological Weapons Treaties, the Covenant for Economic, Political and Cultural Rights of Nations, and the proposed Treaty on the Limitation of the Military Use of Outer Space all continued with no joining of the dots by expert commentary. What repels the pattern from view? Something deeper than class and faction is at work. A regime of meaning operates across classes and scientific disciplines themselves to disconnect the elements so that the whole cannot be seen. To be above the law-including laws applied by the U.S. to prosecute others-was assumed by all as “America’s leadership of the Free World.” Silently, the impunity that once only God-Kings pretended was internalized by other states and the UN itself as the regulating freedom of globalization.10 Exposure of the U.S. torture regime in Afghanistan and Iraq left the impunity intact. The pictures made plausible denial impossible, but the criminal occupation of Iraq continued with renewed UN support on June 8, 2004. Only disconnected pieces were perceived. The “War on Terrorism vindicated all. That the same justification was used decades earlier by the Third Reich was not observed, least of all by those invoking “appeasement of Hitler” as a justification to invade poor non-industrialized countries.11
The comparison was unthinkable through America’s lenses of self-conception which assumed itself as “the society of human rights.”
Behind one corporation-friendly state was the precipitating Reichstag Fire of February 27, 1933 to declare war on all who stood in the way. Behind the successor war state was the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9-11 to allow the same in different degree. Both industrial super states were supported by familiar transnational corporations working both sides.12 Both claimed “terrorism” by shadowy others as the ground of “self-defence” by emergency legislation and wars of invasion. But unlike the Reichstag Fire, 9-11 was advised as desirable before the event – by the Bush regime’s own Project For A New American Century. To be exact, PNAC planned a “process of transformation” to achieve “full spectrum U.S. dominance” across the world which was made contingent on “some catastrophic and catalysing event-like a new Pearl Harbour” if the process was not to be a “long one.”13 The wish of the men positioned to enable its fulfilment was duly granted within a year of Bush Jr’s inauguration, on September 11, 2001. Well known former allies monitored around the clock fulfilled their long known declaration of intention to attack the World Trade Center.14 One former U.S.-financed agent, Omar Abdel Rahman, was specially experienced at the job, having masterminded the first attack on the WTC in 1993 before warning at his trial of another to come15. Another formerly assisted agent in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden, who was U.S. armed and supported to attack the Soviet-supported government of Afghanistan, was better known for the plan. When 9-11 happened, CIA Director, George Tenet, immediately attributed the attack to him, and named the U.S. flight-trained Zacarias Moussaoui.16 Still, any foreknowledge was ruled out as “conspiracy theory,” and so the ruling mind-set stayed closed as “realistic” and “patriotic.” The facts of 9-11 which are disconnected from are now copiously documented.17 But why and how these facts are ruled out by the masses and elites at the same time is not explained. The argument has been at the first-order level of the facts, not the lawlike operations on the facts by the collective thoughtsystem that selects, ignores and reconnects them in new form-what I call the “regulating group-mind” (RGM).18 Only when we understand this meta-level of constructing the facts and their meaning in accordance with their conformity to and expression of a pre-existing structure of understanding can we know what is going on or, more specifically, can we find our way out of the anomalies and disconnects of our era.
The Regulating Group-Mind: A Paradigm Example
Understanding of the RGM in the first instance proceeds by three basic principles of explanation:
- there is a “regulating group-mind” or socially regulating syntax of thought and judgement which
- blocks out all evidence against its assumptions; and
- blinkers out the destructive effects which reveal its delusions.
Response to 9-11 and the 9-11 Wars are my central paradigm example of the operations of the RGM 9 across classes and borders. Yet the RGM operates on every level, and explains also the paralysis of nations in responding effectively to planetary ecosystem collapse. The RGM may lie behind every systematic social pathology of our era. In each case, it blocks out facts and connections of life-and-death significance, and in each instance, its exclusion is a variation on one life-blind thought regime, the “shadow subject” of our era.
Received understanding of 9-11 is a turning-point instance of the operations of the ruling group-mind, but is selected for forefront attention because of its taboo hold against so much uncontested evidence and reason. Primary connections which are preempted on the most general plane are: (1) the policy declaration in 2000 by PNAC of U.S. national security planners which expressed the commitment to “fullspectrum dominance” by the U.S. state across the world; (2) its expressed desire for a fast-track to this dominance rather than “a prolonged one”; and (3) the perfect consistency between this policy, what happened on 9-11, and what happened afterwards through the 9-11 Wars on Afghanistan and Iraq. An acute example of blocking out the defining elements of this evident continuity of fact and meaning is that all U.S. air defences at the most central level were coincidentally down on September 11, 2001 in precise accord with (1), (2) and (3). This connection is as important and demonstrable as any could be for history, but it is nevertheless consistently excluded from the contents of consciousness in all public commentary, and Left discourse itself-the tip of the deeper disorder of the RGM that we do not yet suspect.19 In fact, there was no attempt to achieve any U.S. air-defense intervention with the rogue 9-11 planes until after two jumbo jets had hit different buildings of the World Trade Center in leisurely succession and a third plane or missile had hit a just-vacated wing of the Pentagon-all of this long after the four known and separately hijacked planes had rerouted and flown around unimpeded within the most heavily defended airspace in the world for well over an hour altogether with none disturbed by any sign of defense reaction until after all three buildings had been hit.20 That the U.S. war state which then went into motion showed signs of long planning in each case was not perceived as significant,21 nor was connection to the past statements proclaiming the purpose these plans sought to fulfil. All conformed to the taboo against joined meaning. There were many levels of the disconnect. Singly and together, they ruled out of view the evident through-line of events from the policy record prior to 9-11, to 9-11 itself, and then to “America at War” continuously since enactment of the original policy plan. Disconnect also ruled on the question of “terrorism” itself. Even as young Americans were killed in rising numbers in Iraq, while non-American families were terrorized across entire countries by the U.S. invasions in violation of the most solemn law of nations, “terrorism” was perceived in all received discussion as solely the Other’s affliction on the Free World and its allies. That in fact, on the contrary, virtually all the terrorization proceeded from the war-crimes, carpet bombings of societies, and systematic torturing of the legally innocent by the U.S. in its “war against terror” was elided from consciousness. The legal definition of terrorism itself was excluded from expert discussion of it.22
That “the central issue facing America and the world” was in these ways reversed in its meaning across cultures and classes was inexplicable when the majority had no interest in reproducing the inverted story as their own meaning. No received theory can explain such a phenomenon, yet there was an explanation. All the facts and connections were unthinkable within the a priori set-points of the reigning thought-system.
The connections across plan and fulfilment, cause and effect are not seen by the RGM to the extent that they conflict with its deciding assumptions. When one recognises that each and all are consistent in expression of one regulating syntax of meaning, anomalies of 9-11 or ecological blindness are no longer anomalous. Since this “way of life” is presupposed by all its creatures as their own framework of cognition,23 the problem is always with what does not conform to it, which is therefore perceived as subversive, irrational or the enemy. Variations on the terminology of abuse of those whose thought does not conform is the media commentator’s principal poetic license and flair. Since the ruling group-mind always operates a priori, facts cannot dislodge what its categorial structure perceives and knows already. Thus no-one in the international media noticed 33 months later in the most dramatic exposure of U.S. defense intelligence cover-up and criminality in a generation-the “Iraq torture scandal”-that the clear connections between the master strategy minted before 9-11 and everything that had occurred since held intact with no movement to modification even after the exposures of the most brutal moral and political crimes.
The lead idea of a “catastrophic and catalyzing event” to expedite desired geostrategic control over vast regions of formerly public-owned oilfields which were no longer within or protected by the Soviet Union was simply not discussed. No-one appeared to notice how amidst all the disasters of the Iraq occupation that the master strategy had strikingly achieved all of its declared pre-9-11 objectives. The through-line of meaning-seizure, control and restructuring of the routes and sources of the vast and publicly owned oil resources of Central Asia (“the Afghanistan War”) and the Middle East (“the Iraq War”)-remained unseeable as the reason for 9-11. The RGM perceived, instead, “another historic step forward for freedom” and “a better world without Saddam’s brutal regime.” Diversion of thought to the designated enemy of the group is certainly an RGM operation of the greatest importance, perpetually disconnecting consciousness from unthinkable objects of attention. It precedes any conspiratorial concealment or ruling class manipulation because it is a preempting block by a collective regime of understanding. Since it vindicates the knowing group and its members in a manner on which all can agree whatever facts contradict their perceptions of self and other, its perception remains secure and consensual.
1 U.S. Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Press Conference, May 3, 2004. ^
2 See http://www.crimesofwar.org/thebook/crimes-against-peace.html ^
3 Reserve officer Brigadier-General Janet Karpinski revealingly reported after “the torture scandal” had disappeared from the headlines that she was a “scapegoat”, and that the man who the U.S. Defense Department replaced her with, Jeffrey Miller, relocated from the Guantanamo prison in Cuba operating outside the Geneva Conventions, advised: “They’re like dogs. If you don’t treat them like dogs, you’ll lose control”(CNN, June 15, a clip not repeated). ^
4 The torture began as routine a soon as the invasion of Afghanistan occurred with all of the methods exposed in Iraq only three years later used primarily on ordinary people picked up at random.“The torture were in many ways worse”, observed the Human Rights Watch in the area, “not operated even nominally in accordance with the Geneva Conventions – - – the whole system operates outside the rule of law”. The Independent Human Rights Commission set up in June 2002 by the European Union “Bonn agreement” concurred: “From those who are talking about human rights and democracy, it is a great shock” (Duncan Campbell, “America’s Afghan Gulag”, Guardian Weekly, July 2-8, 2004, pp. 15-16). Over two years before, a press report had revealed that prisoners had been held in inhuman conditions at the U.S. Bagram airbase in Afghanistan with fatalities from the criminal abuse (Dana Priest and Barton Gellman, “US Decries Abuse, but Defends Interrogations”, Washington Post, December 26, 2002). ^
5 See, for example, John Stanton, “The Practices of Torture”, Global Outlook, Summer 2004, p. 26. ^
6 Michael Ignatieff earlier described the U.S. in the New York Times Magazine as a “global hegemony whose grace notes are free markets, human rights and democracy enforced by the most awesome military power the world has ever known” (cited by Gilbert Achcar, “Greater Middle East: The US plan”, Le Monde Diplomatique, June 2004, p. 6). As we will see ahead from its regulating assumptions, Ignatieff, “a human rights specialist”, expresses the ruling group-mind well in a faux-cosmopolitan variation. ^
7 Ignacio Ramone, “`Torture in a good cause’”, Le Monde Diplomatique, June 2004, p. 1. ^
8 Quoted by Ramone, ibid. ^
9 Cited by Nicola Short, “The Challenges of Bush’s Foreign Policy”, Science for Peace Bulletin, May 2004, p. 2. ^
10 U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte, for example, is described by U.N. Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, as “an outstanding professional, a great diplomat, and a wonderful ambassador here” (Robin Wright and Colum Lynch, “Tough road ahead for Negroponte”, Washington Post/Guardian Weekly, April 29-May 5, 2004, p. 29). Negroponte first presided over the funneling of weapons, money and political support to war criminal attacks on Nicaragua as ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985, and then led the U.S. at the United Nations Security Council when it perpetrated “the supreme crime under international law” by directly invading Iraq in 2003 while U.N arms inspections were proceeding. (Annan was U.N. Secretary-General at the time.) ^
11 See, for example, William Shirer’s classic_, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich_ (Greenwich CT: Simon and Shuster,1960), pp. 453-54., 792-93). The German commander-in-chief’s words were almost exactly the same as the American’s almost 70 years later: “We have no interest in oppressing other people – - He has led a reign of terror – - [with] a tremendous military arsenal – - It is intolerable for a great power to remain a passive onlooker”. (CCPA Monitor, April 2003, p. 9). ^
12 In 1933, President Roosevelt’s U.S. Ambassador to Germany, William Dodd, said: “A clique of U.S. industrialists is hell-bent to bring a fascist state to supplant our democratic government and is working closely with the fascist regime in Germany” (Richard Sanders, Facing the Corporate Roots of American Fascism (Ottawa: Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade, 2004), p. 3. President George Bush Jr. may be understood from a biographical standpoint as carrying on a family tradition originating with his maternal and paternal grandfathers, George Herbert Walker, his namesake, and Prescott Bush, who were investigated by the Roosevelt government for collaboration with the Nazis – Prescott Bush as a primary financial operative in the banking structure of the Nazi war machine (see webster Tarpley, “legacy of Prescott Herbert Bush”, Global Outlook, Summer/Fall, 2003, p. 54). Transnational corporations which armed, equipped and financed the Nazis also included major subsidiary operations of General Motors, Ford, I.B.M., Dupont, IT&T and Standard Oil (now Exxon). ^
13 See http://www.newamericancentury.org/ The exact quotation from PNAC is (emphasis added): “Further, the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor”. ^
14 Despite claimed surprise by George Bush and Condoleeza Rice at the mode of the 9-11 attacks, a simulated plane attack on the Pentagon was conducted long before as a “Mass Casualty Exercise“on October 24-26, 2001 (Michel Chossudovsky, “The Pentagon simulated a scenario of an actual terrorist attack 10 months before 9-11”, Global Outlook, Summer, 2004, p. 36. ^
15 See notes 40 and 41 in the full version of this paper for sources of documentation of these and other facts referred to through this analysis which are neither widely reported nor connected, but are screened out by the operations of what is analyzed in this study as “the regulating market group-mind”. ^
16 An exact account runs as follows: “Tenet told Boren that he feared Bin Laden was about to try something big, and that people underestimated “the capabilities and the reach” of what al-Qaida was “putting together.” What Tenet didn’t tell Boren, [Washington Post journalist Bob] Woodward said, is that the CIA had intercepted a flurry of communications over the summer of 2001 suggesting that something `spectacular’ was imminent. As the two men talked, Tenet’s security guards approached their table and told Tenet that there was a “serious problem” — the World Trade Center had been attacked. – - According to Woodward, Tenet then turned to Boren and said: `This has bin Laden all over it.’ But before Tenet left the table, Woodward said he made one more comment — a reference to Zacarias Moussaoui — that suggested that the CIA Director’s prescience may have fallen short when it came to preventing the attacks. `I wonder,’ Tenet said, `if it has anything to do with this guy taking pilot training”
17 Thus legendary socialist and worker leader of Brazil, President Lula da Silva, leading a delegation of 450 people, met with Communist Party officials in China in the first week of June to further “Brazil’s success in locking into Chinese markets” by mass supply of soya grown from a 50% increase in burnt-out and clearcut Amazon rainforests (“from 30 to 60 million hectares under agriculture”), while China simultaneously planned to remove 300 million people from their ancestral rural lands to the mega-cities of China. (AP News Service, June 4, 2004). The global market formula is in such ways universalized as “progress and development“by the leading heirs of socialism and communism. ^
18 I take this opportunity to distinguish the concept of “group-mind” from the related, but circumscribed micro-concept of “groupthink” associated with the work of Irving L. Janis, Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1972). Janis proposes a model for a “defective” decision outcome by a small, isolated group of homogenous and cohesive members in a stress situation (ie., U.S. national security decisions such as the U.S. Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba). While there are common operations at work here – principally, moral certitude of cause, stereotyping of opposition, and collective rationalization – “groupthink” in the committee sense is an exact micro-symptom of the much deeper and wider structure of group delusion of “the group-mind“. The group-mind, in turn, is constituted by unexamined a priori principles regulating everyday and elite consciousness via a normative syntax of perception, understanding and judgement which is presupposed across individual and cultural divisions. The top-level, secret and ultimately failed decisions which Janis and co-researchers examine are, I contend, downstream expressions of a more systematic cultural disorder – just as a criminal war of aggression is the downstream effect of a social regime of thought that selects for and approves it, and blocks out any criterion of value other than operational failure. Janis’s model itself symptomises the problem of the RGM by selecting for case study only what fails operationally, thus excepting ecogenocides themselves if there is no failure to operationalize the desired objective. ^
19 Interestingly, “the tacit dimension” of cognition which has been pioneered by Michael Polanyi (eg., Michael Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension (New York: Doubleday, 1967) is solely constructive, never systematically misleading, in his analysis of its meaning and operations, which he characterizes in general as “we know more than we can say”. In consequence, his inquiry does no address the “regulating group-mind” investigated here. ^
20 Barrie Zwicker is a long-time national reporter and broadcaster in Canada was the first to publicly document, establish and broadcast the facts of the “stand-down” of central air defenses in the U.S. on September 11, 2001 in “The Great Deception: What Really Happened on 9-11” (Mediafile, Vision TV Insight, January 21 and 28, 2002, www.visiontv.ca), with no rebutting evidence countering his nationally broadcast two-part documentary since). Years later, on June 17, 2004, CNN broadcast an isolated exchange between the FAA (U.S. Federal Aviation Administration) and NORAD (North American Aerospace Command) which relayed the emergency message of hijacked planes and the requirement to “scramble” intervening military aircraft. The NORAD respondent replied: “Gee I don’t know —”, and when a response was demanded rejoined, “Everybody’s just left the room”. The first question is, how did this blocking happen? The second is, why would a mere fragment of its meaning appear only three years after the fact with no media investigation or explanation of such a hot fact of news.
21 It has become publicly well known that Bush Jr. had been pressing intelligence personnel for reasons to attack Iraq since he entered the White House, but less well known that five days after 9-11 an “unidentified Pentagon spokesman” reported to the Gainesville Sun: “We’ve been planning this war [against Afghanistan] for the last three years”. (I am indebted to Bruce Gagnon, Coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space for this report
22 Terrorism is defined by the standard world insurance clause to exclude liability as: “an ideologically motivated act or acts including but not limited to the use or force or threat of violence or force, committed by or on behalf of any groups for the purpose of — instilling fear in the public or a section of the public”. So far as I know, no-one has applied this definition of terrorism to the daily acts of the U.S. and Israel in countries they illegally occupy, although these actions fit the legally binding definition. ^
23 A revealing case of the “creature” mind is U.S. National Security Adviser to the Bush Jr. Administration, Condoleeza Rice, as she is described by her former Professor of Political Science at Denver University, Alan Gilbert.(I am indebted to G.A. Cohen for sending me this account). Gilbert pays full credit to her all-round “capacities to excel”, but concludes from such decisions as her demand that the illegally ousted and U.S-kidnapped Bertrand Aristide, President of Haiti, be prohibited any residence in the West Indies, that “she is lost in her performance” (“The performer lost in her performance”, Salon Magazine, April 9, 2004). This account does not explain the evil actions of the lead-vector role she fills, whereas the group-mind regulating it does.