Friday, February 25, 2005

For Reasons of State

One of the more distressing trends of post-September 11th America is the government's, as well as the public's, apparent willingness to tolerate torture. This extends far beyond Abu Ghraib as suspected terrorists are shuttled off into the maws of friendly Arab regimes under the innocuous term "rendition."

Today, Bob Herbert profiles one such man rendered to Syria, Maher Arar. Arar was arrested by American authorities as he tried to board his plane at Kennedy Airport for his return trip home to Ottawa. He was then carted off to Syria via Jordan, where he was thrown into a rat-infested recess and then periodically tortured. Arar was never charged with a crime.

The contradictions of rendition and Bush's new meta-narrative of liberty are apparent and need no further comment. What's interesting to me is the reason why Mr. Arar's case cannot be adjudicated. (Arar is suing the U.S. government for damages.) Apparently it "would involve the revelation of state secrets."

The Russian radical, Mikhail Bakunin, understood this rationale well. Here's his thoughts on the state and its ability to become, in Herbert's conclusion, "answerable to no one:"

The State is the organized authority, domination, and power of the possessing classes over the masses the most flagrant, the most cynical, and the most complete negation of humanity. It shatters the universal solidarity of all men on the earth, and brings some of them into association only for the purpose of destroying, conquering, and enslaving all the rest. This flagrant negation of humanity which constitutes the very essence of the State is, from the standpoint of the State, its supreme duty and its greatest virtue Thus, to offend, to oppress, to despoil, to plunder, to assassinate or enslave one's fellowman is ordinarily regarded as a crime. In public life, on the other hand, from the standpoint of patriotism, when these things are done for the greater glory of the State, for the preservation or the extension of its power, it is all transformed into duty and virtue This explains why the entire history of ancient and modern states is merely a series of revolting crimes; why kings and ministers, past and present, of all times and all countries— statesmen, diplomats, bureaucrats, and warriors— if judged from the standpoint of simply morality and human justice, have a hundred, a thousand times over earned their sentence to hard labor or to the gallows. There is no horror, no cruelty, sacrilege, or perjury, no imposture, no infamous transaction, no cynical robbery, no bold plunder or shabby betrayal that has not been or is not daily being perpetrated by the representatives of the states, under no other pretext than those elastic words, so convenient and yet so terrible: "for reasons of state."