Dallas: Into the Belly of the Beast
The hellish-hot weather persuaded me that I was wise to ignore the caution expressed by a close friend who grew up in Dallas, as I set off to give talks there. Better wear a bulletproof vest, he told me.
I was, nonetheless, feeling a bit anxious, given what had happened during my last major speech there, when I addressed the World Affairs Council of Greater Dallas on Jan. 20, 2004.
Then my topic was “Intelligence and War: Lessons From the Recent Past,” and I was very intentional about being, well, fair and balanced in devoting equal time to listing the baleful lies of two Texans — Lyndon Baines Johnson and George W. Bush — both of whom got a lot of people killed in unnecessary war.
I even reached back into history to enlist help from a former president whom Bush had called his favorite — Teddy Roosevelt, who said:
“To announce that there is to be no criticism of the president or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong is not only unpatriotic and servile, but morally treasonable to the American people.”
Suffice it to say that my attempt at evenhandedness failed miserably, even though I used up a lot of precious time rehearsing LBJ’s perfidy on Vietnam — dissecting, in particular, his exploitation of dubious intelligence regarding the Gulf of Tonkin non-incident of Aug. 4, 1964.
I gave pride of place to that well deserved castigation before I delved into a reconstruction of what was already discernible as of January 2004 with respect to the lies told by George W. Bush to “justify” attacking Iraq exactly 10 months before.
Okay, so maybe I laid it on a little thick in citing what Nazi war criminal Hermann Goering told his American interrogator in Nuremberg:
“Naturally, the common people do not want war. That is understood. But after all it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a communist dictatorship….
“The people can always be brought to do the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”
Oil executives and other Dallas insiders in the audience took that as a signal to bolt — and did.
One of the early departed, Herbert Hunt of the Hunt Oil family expressed chagrin at having been tricked into attending on false pretenses. He told an associate that, hearing of my continuing friendship with George Herbert Walker Bush, he was deceived into thinking I was “one of us.”
Following the Q & A session after my presentation, the World Affairs Council president at the time, Jim Falk, was icily proper. It was not until much later that I learned that he labeled my speech “awful,” and that the WAC Executive Committee member who had invited me became the target of a whispering campaign for not really being “one of us.”
My inviter was declared persona non grata and removed from the Executive Committee.
I had made what I thought was an honest effort to be fair and balanced but, clearly, my attempt had fallen far short in Dallas.
This Time It Would be Different
Now, five and a half years later, the task of exposing lies and spreading some truth around had become much less daunting, given the abundant material that had become available in the interim.
And Dallas seemed the ideal place to do so, since George W. Bush had just moved in, causing not a ripple of concern — much less disapproval — among the indigenous, so to speak.
Indeed, far from the embarrassment I thought I would encounter among Dallasites over having a suspect war criminal as neighbor, the vast majority seemed utterly pleased — with one notable exception.
There were recurrent complaints over inconvenient delays on the golf course, when the former president and his friends insisted on playing through.
Neither George nor Laura Bush came to the Dallas Peace Center dinner at which I spoke on July 9 (although I extended them a cordial invitation). And the nouveau riche were conspicuously absent. Fine by me.
Except for a few predictable grimaces when I mentioned the dangerous Israel-centric policy pursued by Bush-43 in the Middle East, I enjoyed an audience that was, in Ciceronian terms, “benign [and] attentive.” No one stormed out this time.
The week before my talk, I had offered an op-ed draft, “Is Texas Harboring Torture Decider,” to the Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, both of which rejected it (surprise, surprise).
That homework having been done, I rang some changes on the theme of the op-ed — namely, that a “smoking-gun” executive memorandum of Feb. 7, 2002, signed by George W. Bush, is confirmation that the responsibility for torture is correctly attributed to rotten apples, but that they fouled the barrel from the top, not the bottom.
The four nauseating “torture memos” under Department of Justice letterhead show (1) that the “banality of evil” did not stop with Adolf Eichmann and other functionaries of the Third Reich; and (2) that top CIA officials displayed fawning obeisance in their eagerness to go over to “the dark side.”
But the sum total of ALL the memos and investigations now at hand shows with embarrassing clarity that there was only one “decider” — the one now playing 18 holes in a fancy Dallas neighborhood.
And if further proof were needed, we now have the full text of the Senate Armed Services Committee report, approved by the full Committee without dissent, the executive summary of which was released by Carl Levin and John McCain on Dec. 11, 2008.
Its conclusions are equally nauseating, showing — among other things — that not one of the eight addressees of Bush’s Feb. 7, 2002, directive demurred about his decision to exempt al Qaeda and Taliban detainees from Geneva protections — a violation of the War Crimes Act of 1996, as well as the Geneva agreements.
The Senate report asserts that the president’s memorandum “opened the door to considering aggressive techniques.”
Conclusion Number One states:
“Following the President’s determination, techniques such as waterboarding, nudity, and stress positions … were authorized for use in interrogations of detainees in U.S. custody.”
None of the guests at the Dallas Peace Center dinner did a Cheneyesque shrug, as if to say, “So…?” That was encouraging, and an easy segue into What Do We Do Now?
Accountability Are Us
Dallas progressives were receptive to the notion that, by happenstance, they may bear a special responsibility to face into the reality that one of their new neighbors is, arguably, a war criminal.
How does one actually deal with that? It seems a matter of conscience; ignoring the situation does not seem quite right. And yet, an American is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
A dilemma. Because, those who are not captives of the Fawning Corporate Media, are aware of so much incriminating evidence of such heinous crimes, that walking down the street with a, “Hi, George; how’s Laura?” really jars.
A consensus seems to be building that perhaps Dallasites are uniquely situated to bring their dilemma to the attention of the country as a whole. How do we Americans handle this unprecedented set of circumstances?
By investigating what happened and, if warranted, initiating a judicial process.
As one Dallas Peace Center activist put it, “We are here in Dallas, with George W. Bush playing golf and living a life of ease, while a library and institute is built to enshrine his version of history.
“Our struggle for clarity and accountability must intensify, not out of vindictiveness but because there will be dire consequences in the future, if no one is held accountable for the suffering and devastation of torture.”
Even Dick Cheney now says that the former president knew everything Cheney knew about “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
On May 10 the former vice president told Face the Nation’s Bob Schieffer that Bush “knew a great deal about the program. He basically authorized it. I mean, this was a presidential-level decision. And the decision went to the president. He signed off on it.”
This is not to suggest we have to take Cheney at his word, but is there not a compelling need to get to the bottom of this? The question answers itself. No One Is Above the Law cannot become an empty slogan.
And so, it was very encouraging to have a good turnout on Saturday morning, July 11, at the Dallas city branch library nearest the new Bush residence. We took some time to think these things through, and ponder Cesar Chavez’ dictum: Without action, nothing good is going to happen.
And you know the best news? As one hardened activist put it:
“For some of those joining us this was their first such march. There was the distinct possibility we might end up in the pokey, but they did not blink an eye. It was a small group, but the point was, we took it right to the belly of the beast. I think we all knew that we were doing what has to be done. We were jacked!”
No pious platitudes for peace. Rather, placards for justice and accountability. And BLOCK LETTER reminders that no one, no one is above the law.
It is, no doubt, too early to know for sure. But it does seem as though a sturdy group of George W. Bush’s neighbors are determined to hold their new neighbor accountable, and may become an example — a catalyst — for the whole country.