"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

My Photo
Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Right-To-Life Party, Christian, Anti-War, Pro-Life, Bible Fundamentalist, Egalitarian, Libertarian Left

Saturday, February 05, 2005

A Culture of Secrecy

What has happened to the principle that American democracy should be accessible and transparent?

"Political language . . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."

–George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

In the world's oldest democracy, pressure on investigative journalists is usually exerted in sophisticated, non-lethal ways, under the public radar. Every day in Washington, D.C., thousands of government and corporate public relations flaks and lobbyists purvey their "talking points" with a friendly smile, no matter how odious the client, no matter how intellectually dishonest or morally dubious their message. Journalists must trudge through the shameless "spin"-that vanilla word admiringly used these days instead of "lying," which has a harshly judgmental, jarringly rude ring in Washington power circles.

Sometimes the persuasion becomes less subtle. For example, when the Center for Public Integrity obtained and prepared to publish online the secret, proposed draft sequel to the USA Patriot Act, known as "Patriot II," we got calls from the U.S. Justice Department beseeching us not to publish.

Over the years, those unhappy with my investigations have tried just about everything to discourage our work. They have issued subpoenas, stalked my hotel room, escorted me off military bases, threatened physical arrest, suggested I leave via a second-story window, made a death threat personally communicated by concerned state troopers who asked that we leave the area immediately (we didn't), hired public relations people to infiltrate my news conferences and pose as "reporters" to ask distracting questions, attempted to pressure the Center's donors, and even brought expensive, frivolous libel litigation that takes years and costs millions of dollars to defend.

Being despised and frozen out by those in power is an occupational hazard-indeed, a badge of honor-for investigative reporters everywhere. Certainly no one at the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity harbors any illusions that he or she will ever be invited to dinner at the White House. This is hardly surprising given that the Center broke the Clinton White House "Lincoln Bedroom" fundraising scandal, first revealed that Enron was George W. Bush's top career patron and years later disclosed that Vice President Dick Cheney's former company, Halliburton, is by far the Bush administration's favorite contractor in Iraq. For these impertinent affronts to officialdom, the Center's reports have received 28 awards from respected journalism organizations since 1996.

Public apathy, though, is another matter. Take our 2003 Center report in which we posted and tallied up all of the major U.S. government contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan-a project which won the George Polk Award for online journalism. Center investigators found that nearly every one of the 10 largest contracts awarded for work in Iraq and Afghanistan went to companies employing former high-ranking government officials, and all 10 top contractors are established donors in American politics, contributing nearly $11 million to national political parties, candidates, and political action committees since 1990. And on the eve of the Iraq war, at least nine of the 30 members of the Defense Policy Board, the government-appointed group that advises the Pentagon, had ties to companies that had won more than $76 billion in defense contracts in 2001 and 2002.

The personal financial disclosure forms of those advisers are secret, and much about the entire contracting process is deliberately hidden, and therefore unknown to the public. For example, it took 20 researchers, writers, and editors at the Center for Public Integrity six months and 73 Freedom of Information Act requests, including successful litigation in federal court against the Army and State Department, to begin to discern who was getting the Iraq and Afghanistan contracts, and for how much. Why? What has happened to the principles of accessible information and transparency in the decision-making process in our democracy?

True, there is nothing illegal about such cozy, convenient confluences in the mercenary culture of Washington, D.C. But what does it say about the state of our democracy that, beyond some spot news coverage of the Center's findings around the world, there was almost no reaction or interest by Congressional oversight committees, which are controlled by Republicans loath to criticize the Bush administration? Of course, no official reaction means no second day story, no "hook" for the cautious and sometimes deferential national news media, no mounting public awareness or concern, and no political problem. Welcome to business-as-usual Washington.

Undeterred by what we had found, we plunged even deeper, producing a report entitled Outsourcing the Pentagon, in which a team of 23 researchers, writers and editors examined more than 2.2 million Pentagon contract actions totaling $900 billion spent over six years. This massive nine-month investigative report profiled the 737 largest Defense Department contractors who, including their subsidiaries and affiliates, have received at least $100 million in contracts. Once again, the Center found, the largest contractors are among the most lavish spenders on political influence. And, most notably, we found that no-bid contracts like the infamous one Halliburton received to do business in Iraq have accounted for more than 40 percent of Pentagon contracting since 1998. That's at least $362 billion in taxpayer money given to companies without competitive bidding.

Following news coverage of our findings, what was the reaction? Another Washington yawn. There was barely any sign of an official pulse, let alone government investigative interest or, perish the thought, outrage. And yet most Americans assume-and expect-that government contracts are competitively bid, partly because White House, Pentagon and company officials have, year after year, emphasized what they want us to know and, like a circus magician, misdirected our attention away from what would expose them.

A Culture of Lying

Over the years, I have investigated and interviewed members of Congress, presidential candidates, judges, captains of industry, government spooks, labor union presidents, crooks and terrorists, FBI agents and Ku Klux Klansmen, billionaires and the homeless, brilliant thinkers and the mentally deranged. And it is fair to say that I have been lied to by people in virtually every part of the United States, in swank marble buildings, smoky bars and dusty local jails, eyeball-to-eyeball and by phone, fax, email and hand-delivered letter, in all kinds of imaginative ways, almost always with a straight face.

The line between truth and falsehood-between the facts and a veneer of verisimilitude-has become so blurred as to be indistinguishable. Increasingly, what the powers that be say has become the publicly perceived reality, simply because they say it is so.

Take the war in Iraq. According to national election polling, a majority of voters for George W. Bush believed that weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq, and months earlier, more than half of the nation thought Saddam Hussein and Iraq had close ties to Al Qaeda or were directly involved in the attacks that brought down the World Trade Towers on September 11th. How could most Americans be so tragically misinformed, when official U.S. and international government investigations, widely reported by the news media, concluded otherwise?

Between 1999 and mid-2004, there were more than 700 specific utterances by George Bush or Dick Cheney mentioning Iraq, often banging the war drums in ominous tones; interestingly, there was not a single sentence explicitly linking Saddam Hussein to September 11. Instead, that was often slyly implied contextually. At the same time, with some notable exceptions such as Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker and Walter Pincus of the Washington Post, investigative news coverage before March 2003 of the Bush administration's ramp-up to the war in Iraq was underwhelming, to say the least. Daily coverage of government policy pronouncements and rationales was largely uncritical, almost stenographic.

At a time in America's history when discerning the truth is more elusive-and more essential-than ever, the mainstream news media seem increasingly incapable of playing their traditional watchdog role and digging out lies and inaccuracies.

The world of journalism is in a crisis that goes well beyond the spate of recent, highly-publicized scandals involving fraudulent or poorly reported stories. The country has witnessed Sumner Redstone, the chief executive officer of Viacom, home of CBS News and its hallowed legacy of journalistic excellence dating back to Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow, publicly endorse an incumbent President on the eve of a national election-something once considered unimaginable. Over the years CBS and many news organizations have become hollow shells of their former selves, letting go of hundreds of newsroom people and positions in order to achieve ever higher profits and corporate consolidation. The result? Less investigative reporting, reduced scrutiny of those in power and, ultimately, a more easily bamboozled populace.

The inadequate picture of reality that emerges is not limited to politics and government. The fact is, most major news organizations, particularly broadcasters, failed to recognize and report on the business lawlessness of the 1990s, in which literally hundreds of companies-aided and abetted by lawyers, underwriters and accountants-cooked the books and lied to their shareholders and federal authorities. Yes, the media did cover the "perp" walks of CEOs in cuffs at the time of arrest or trial, after the fact. But that's not investigative journalism. Where was the high-profile scrutiny when these companies were deregulated, which enabled their greed, deception and fraud and victimized millions of employees and shareholders?

Nor do the American people get "all the news that's fit to print" when it comes to the political activities of the media corporations themselves. The Center for Public Integrity has been exposing their coziness with our national leaders. News companies claim to objectively cover the President, his administration and Congress, but lavish hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbying and political donations in the hopes of greater deregulation and other favors from them. That included taking Federal Communications Commission officials on 2,500 all-expense-paid trips over an eight-year period.

What does it all mean? For the most part, there is little appetite for investigative journalism. For the "suits" who control what we read, see and hear, besides potentially alienating the political power structure against their own company or industry, thereby possibly jeopardizing millions of dollars in future profits, this edgy enterprise journalism is not efficient or cost-effective. It simply takes too much time, requires too much money and incurs too many legal and other risks. Forget whether or not this is fair or accurate, or relevant given the civic obligation broadcasters and publishers have to the communities they ostensibly serve. It simply is, and it helps to explain why today we have so little independent, critical reporting and why instead we are mostly fed a steady diet of pap from morning to night.

The problem is made worse by the presence of brilliant communications tacticians in the White House who cleverly frame their controversial policy agendas, setting up the class's stenography assignment for the day, with bold, positive names: "No Child Left Behind," the "USA Patriot Act," the "Clear Skies" environmental policy, the "Healthy Forests Initiative." Needless to say, such Orwellian word ploys-exacerbated by largely docile, straight news coverage-slip devilishly into common usage, leaving the public ill-equipped, unprotected and vulnerable to breathtaking, unabashed manipulation.

The Politics of Fear

That seismic date in our history, September 11, 2001, enabled those in power to strengthen the prerogatives of the Presidency in the name of national security, giving rise to a new politics of fear which has severely diminished what the public can know about its government. The Bush administration came to power already overtly hostile to openness and the public's right to know. In its first months, for example, it unsuccessfully attempted to ensconce George W. Bush's gubernatorial documents in his father's presidential library, outside the state's sunshine disclosure laws. The White House has tenaciously and more successfully kept from the American people information about public policy meetings on public property between energy company executives and top federal officials. A respected reporter's home telephone records were secretly seized in order to ascertain his next story and his confidential sources.

Since 9/11, the country has seen a historic, regressive shift in public accountability. Open-records laws nationwide have been rolled back more than 300 times-all in the name of national security. For the first time in U.S. history, the personal papers of past presidents now may only be released with White House approval. A Justice Department "leak" investigation of the White House regarding an Iraq war-related news story has degenerated into a full-fledged witch-hunt against the news media and the First Amendment, with reporters facing imprisonment if they don't reveal their sources.

Against this backdrop, thousands of people have been interrogated by law enforcement officials and hundreds illegally detained-in many cases held for more than three years without any charges filed against them, their right to counsel and court review denied, the customary arrest information withheld. White House and other senior government officials have defended such policies (some of which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in June), as well as the physical and psychological abuse and torture of foreign prisoners, as essential to the "war on terror," disregarding the Geneva Conventions and continuing to systematically violate human rights.

How far has the national security state mentality gone? Consider the issue of political expression. In China last June, the fifteenth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, the government tightened security in the name of "sound, stable social order," and scores of dissidents (potential protesters who might politically embarrass those in power) were harassed, physically detained and removed from Beijing. The U.S. Government, via the State Department at its daily briefing, expressed its concern "about the harassment, house arrest, detention and any other restrictions . . . We call on the Chinese government to respect the right of the citizens to peacefully express their views."

Yet two months later, at the Republican National Convention in New York, more than 1,800 protesters-predominantly non-violent-were arrested during the days of the convention and kept from public view, some held for 60 hours without seeing a judge, prompting a State Supreme Court judge to order hundreds of them released and finding city authorities in contempt. Civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel said at the time, "We believe the city's plan is to keep protesters detained until George Bush leaves the city tonight." Although Siegel's statement was hotly denied by authorities, the incident nevertheless represented the largest number of dissidents arrested at a political convention in U.S. history, more than Chicago 1968 or Miami 1972. Mayor Michael Bloomberg's explanation: "The city did what it was supposed to do: It protected the streets."

Of course we are not China, where, as New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently noted, 42 reporters are in prison, or Russia or Colombia, where according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 29 and 30 reporters, respectively, have been murdered in the past decade. The situation here is nowhere near as tragic or dire. But more than anytime in recent history, political authorities in the United States are doing many, many things in the name of "protecting the streets," to the ominous detriment of truth in our democracy.

Despite the inhospitable landscape and the grim nature of the work-forensically excavating the cold corpus of unvarnished reality-most investigative reporters would probably grudgingly acknowledge that they are, to paraphrase John Kennedy, "idealists without illusions," with some modicum of hope that things can and should be better than they are.

Hope and perspective are essential, for there is much work to be done.

Charles Lewis
Julia DiLaura, Sheetal Doshi, Eva Koehler and Julia Kohen of the Center contributed research.

© 2005, The Center for Public Integrity

Judge OKs Discarded Embryo Lawsuit

Couple suing over wrongful death

A couple whose frozen embryo was accidentally destroyed at a fertility clinic has the right in Illinois to file a wrongful-death lawsuit, a judge has ruled in a case that some legal experts say could have implications in the debate over embryonic stem cell research.

In an opinion issued Friday, Cook County Judge Jeffrey Lawrence said "a pre-embryo is a 'human being' ... whether or not it is implanted in its mother's womb."

He said the couple is as entitled to seek compensation as any parents whose child has been killed.

The suit was filed by Alison Miller and Todd Parrish, who stored nine embryos in January 2000 at the Center for Human Reproduction in Chicago. Their doctor said one embryo looked particularly promising, but the Chicago couple were told six months later the embryos had been accidentally discarded.

In his ruling, Lawrence relied on the state's Wrongful Death Act, which allows lawsuits to be filed if unborn fetuses are killed in an accident or assault. "The state of gestation or development of a human being" does not preclude taking legal action, the act says.

Lawrence also cited an Illinois state law that says an "unborn child is a human being from the time of conception and is, therefore, a legal person."

"There is no doubt in the mind of the Illinois Legislature when life begins," Lawrence wrote.

Another judge had thrown out the couple's wrongful-death claims, but Lawrence reversed that decision, partly because that judge did not explain his decision at the time.

An attorney for the fertility clinic said an appeal would likely be filed.

The decision could curb reproductive research, said Colleen Connell, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Chicago.

Connell expects the ruling will be overturned on appeal.

"It may be groundbreaking, but it's the wrong decision," Connell said. "No appellate court has ever declared a fertilized egg a human being in a wrongful-death suit."

Stem cells can potentially grow into any type of human tissue. Many scientists believe they could someday be used to repair spinal cord injuries and treat some diseases. Anti-abortion groups oppose such research because it involves destroying embryos, and the Bush administration has severely restricted federal stem cell funding.

Abortion opponents praised Lawrence's ruling. "Life begins at fertilization, not implantation," Pro-Life Action League director Joe Scheidler said.

Saturday, February 5, 2005 Posted: 5:45 PM EST (2245 GMT
Associated Press

Token Balance

How the NYT News Department Persuades Readers to Identify with Prowar, Pro-Bush Military Families

"In all fairness, the NYT apparently allows its columnists freedom in choosing their material, including Paul Krugman, Bob Herbert, and Frank Rich. But remember, it's the front page headlines and stories that have an impact in Washington, D.C." ~Buzzflash

Most Americans sympathize with parents who've lost their children, especially when those losses are said to be in the service of one's country. So when parents start to speak out against the war that killed their child, doubts can spread rapidly throughout the community. If military families' antiwar views are granted visibility and legitimacy in the mainstream media rather than diminished and tucked away at the tail end of news stories, public opinion could easily turn against Mr. Bush's mission to install democracy around the world, whatever the cost.

As noted in a previous article, news departments help to prevent this from happening by spinning "Us vs. Them" stories to provide positive PR for pro-Bush, prowar military families, making anti-Bush, antiwar families appear weak, confused, "troubled" or misguided through the strategic use of token balance.

Using this New York Times article as a reference, let's take a closer look. In this story, it appears on the surface that both sides are being given equal billing, but the prowar parents come out on top in every way: they're allotted more space, more direct quotes, and more positive descriptors than the antiwar parents.

Positive activities listed: many for prowar, none for antiwar families

The first thing that caught my eye was the name Cindy Sheehan, which I recognized immediately. She's been writing passionately against the war in a number of publications since her son was killed in Iraq. What struck me as very odd was the complete absence of any reference to her antiwar views on which she could have spoken eloquently had she been quoted regarding them – but she was not.

Ms. Sheehan subsequently wrote a letter to the Times regarding the omission of emphasis on positive activities by antiwar parents, as was done for prowar parents. Tellingly, the Times chose not to publish her letter, which begins:

"Dear NY Times Editor, I wish the article could have mentioned some of the positive things we families of Fallen Heroes who oppose the war are doing. We do all we do to bring our brave troops home before any more are killed and before any other families have to go through what we are going through..."

Ms. Sheehan corrects the impression created by this article that only prowar parents are proud of their children (and vice versa, were the children able to say so) when she adds: "We are all so proud of our children. I know Casey is proud of the work I do to end this war and to bring his buddies home."

Readers don't learn from this "balanced" article that it's not only prowar parents who do positive things (e.g., public speaking and baking cookies). The article omits any mention of the positive things that antiwar parents are doing (e.g., trying to prevent more soldiers from being killed, and more families from suffering grief).

More direct quotes for prowar, pro-Bush family members

In the story's first comparison of parents, the antiwar parent, Ms. Walker, is never quoted directly, and is granted only 65 words. In contrast, Mr. Carman, the prowar parent, is awarded twice as much space (137 words) is quoted directly, and is even allowed space in which to quote his young son prior to his death – quotations inside quotations.

What about Ms. Walker? Did she have nothing to say directly? Did she really have so few words to share? Did her child say anything about the war?

The next comparison was between an antiwar parent, Ms. Hilsendager, who was given only 234 words, and two prowar parents, Mr. and Mrs. Kesterson, who are allotted 353 words, not counting another 186 words describing a member of the Kestersons' "extended family" (the slain soldier's biological mother) who's negatively described as "troubled" by the war.

Ms. Hilsendager is granted several direct quotes, but the few statements chosen for inclusion in the story fit well with the rightwing stereotype of the "Bush-hater" who thinks with her emotions, not her reason: "And we talk about how mad we are about Bush…" Why was this quote selected for inclusion in the story? Here's a woman in mourning but readers are left with the idea that she's really just "mad," When you're "mad," you're not able to see reality, or so the popular assumption goes. You just need time to calm down. Subtle, very subtle.

Prowar quotations feature Bush administration phrases and slogans

While news stories aren't allowed to promote governmental doctrines, there's nothing that says the interviewees can't do so. In the military family article, a prowar parent repeats verbatim several phrases used repeatedly by George Bush, faith-based email campaigns urging millions of Christians to pray for (i.e., support) him and his military adventures, and by his favorite military men:

"'"Freedom isn't free" means that our country was founded on heroes like ours. We'd love to turn back the clock, but you can't have it both ways. It's why Erik put on the uniform. He was totally willing to take the risk. Our son would be disappointed if we didn't honor the decision of President Bush,' she said. 'Out of respect for Erik, we can't possibly think otherwise. It would be dishonoring him.'"

Prowar family members are described in more positive terms

It's natural to migrate away from people who are grief-stricken, angry and upset. We tend to identify more readily with calm, happy, upbeat people. Note the numerous, extremely positive descriptions used in the longer story of the prowar couple:

– "They have been to some 20 funerals. They even camped in a tent on the lawn of one family in Klamath Falls who had just lost a son."

– "'We understand and we want to let the other families know that we're in support. Every single soldier with a uniform on was doing something for his country.'"

– "The Kestersons said they had thrown their grief into efforts to raise money for a memorial…"

– "They spend nearly every weekend now speaking to veterans' groups and seeking contributions."

– "Last week, as part of an effort they dubbed Operation Cookie Drop, they carried cookies to soldiers…"

As mentioned above, the story omits mention of the many outreach activities that antiwar parents like Ms. Sheehan are busy doing. It would appear that antiwar military family members do nothing to help others or their country, perhaps just "crawling under a rock," to use one prowar parent's phrase.

Readers learn that pro-Bush, prowar family members are warm, sociable beings who "gravitate toward" one another and "don't talk about politics." Though it's startlingly illogical, the story suggests in many ways that expressing pro-Bush and prowar views isn't "talking politics," whereas expressing anti-Bush, antiwar views is.

Readers learn that pro-Bush, prowar military family members don't "bring politics into" conversations about their slain loved one (i.e., don't express antiwar or anti-Bush views), talking instead about pride, sacrifice, and loneliness:

"Relatives who believe the war in Iraq was necessary tend to gravitate toward one another, talking little of politics and more of pride, sacrifice and loneliness. And those like Ms. Sheehan, who questioned the need to invade Iraq, find one another too, wrestling with their doubts about the war and the meaning of their losses." (emphasis added)

We are given to understand that antiwar parents don't gravitate towards others or talk about patriotic or family issues. The paragraph concedes that they "find one another, too," but this doesn't sound nearly as warm or friendly as "gravitating towards others,"

While the outreach activities of the prowar parents sound appealing, charitable and supportive – which no doubt they are – what receives no comment from the writer is the level of grief and sensitivity shared by the antiwar parents:

"Dolores Kesterson said she had grown close to two other mothers who are as troubled by the war as she is. She exchanges e-mail and talks with them on the phone, she said, but she cannot bring herself to go to all the soldiers' funerals, as some people do. It would be too crushing, she said." (emphasis added)

The story doesn't describe antiwar parents as strong, perceptive, patriotic or rational in their opposition to Bush or his policies; nowhere are they noted to be firmly opposed to Bush's wars on personal, ethical or religious grounds. Instead, we learn that they're "wrestling" with "doubts," and "meaning" – clearly a confused, negative, troubled group.

Theme 1: Antiwar military families are objects of pity

Contrast this tentative, "troubled" stance with the firm convictions of prowar parents:

"And this summer, one mother, Nancy Walker of Lancaster, Calif., said she found herself awkwardly starting to describe why she believed the war was wrong at her first dinner meeting with a couple in Iowa, whose marine son had died the same day as her own and whom she had driven many miles to see. Clearly, she said, the couple did not agree with her.

"'I think what I told her was, "Let's not go there with the politics,"' said Nelson Carman, the father…who met with Ms. Walker that day. 'I do believe firmly in this war. Those terrorists are going to bring the war to us. They hate you. They hate me. They hate our life. They hate what we stand for. To bring politics into our son's sacrifice is just something that is not conceivable to me,' Mr. Carman said, adding that he felt a special sorrow for those families who felt as Ms. Walker did…."

The theme of feeling "sorrow" or "compassion" (pity) for antiwar family members is repeated by Erik Kesterson's stepmother:

"Ms. Kesterson said she felt compassion for those who did not agree with the war and said she thought their struggle must be even harder. "It is a relief that we not only understood the mission but that we understood the uniform," she said." (emphasis added)

The prowar family story, oddly enough, describes the dead soldier's biological mother as merely part of the "extended family." This error (intentional or accidental?) caused me to assume that Dolores Kesterson was the young man's aunt or some other distant relation whose opinion most people would give less weight to than that of the soldier's parents.

"But even within the Kestersons' extended family, there are divisions. Dolores Kesterson, Erik's mother and Mr. Kesterson's former wife, who lives in Santa Clara, Calif., said she was plagued by her doubts about the war and what it meant about her only child's death. 'I feel it was a waste, like Vietnam,' she said. 'All these deaths are as big a waste as Vietnam.'" (emphasis added)

This "extended family" member, the soldier's mother, is quoted with fewer direct quotes:

"In a way, she said, she wishes someone who lives in Iraq could change her mind for her. 'Can't I see the light or something and look at it differently?' she said on a recent afternoon. 'I wish I could. But then I watch and it gets worse over there.'" (emphasis added)

It's fair to wonder if this antiwar mother said anything stronger during the interview. One thing's for sure: This quote reinforces the portrayal of antiwar relatives as troubled, plagued, wishing, hoping for enlightenment, and groping for answers.

Theme 2: Antiwar military families are dishonoring and disrespectful

A second major theme emerges through the selection of quotations that echo the notion that antiwar sentiments dishonor soldiers who've died in Bush's wars. As in all honor-based tribal societies, issues of respect/honor override all other considerations: questioning or disagreeing is reframed as disrespecting/dishonoring:

"'Our son would be disappointed if we didn't honor the decision of President Bush,' she said. 'Out of respect for Erik, we can't possibly think otherwise. It would be dishonoring him.'"

Note the opposites and what they imply: not having doubts and not having to wrestle to find meaning suggest (in Bushian culture) strong character and strong religious faith. Disagreeing with George Bush's decisions – even those that kill one's child – is "dishonoring"; the slain child would be "disappointed" if his family disagreed with or resented Mr. Bush's decision.

It is "impossible to think otherwise": to disagree with the president is to disrespect and dishonor the child whose life was cut short by the former's decision. What kind of person would do such a thing? People who do things like disrespect and dishonor. The slam is subtle, and it may be unintentional. But it's there, and it works.

Dr. Teresa Whitehurst

Leo Strauss' Philosophy of Deception

Many neoconservatives like Paul Wolfowitz are disciples of a philosopher who believed that the elite should use deception, religious fervor and perpetual war to control the ignorant masses.

What would you do if you wanted to topple Saddam Hussein, but your intelligence agencies couldn't find the evidence to justify a war?

A follower of Leo Strauss may just hire the "right" kind of men to get the job done – people with the intellect, acuity, and, if necessary, the political commitment, polemical skills, and, above all, the imagination to find the evidence that career intelligence officers could not detect.

The "right" man for Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, suggests Seymour Hersh in his recent New Yorker article entitled 'Selective Intelligence,' was Abram Shulsky, director of the Office of Special Plans (OSP) – an agency created specifically to find the evidence of WMDs and/or links with Al Qaeda, piece it together, and clinch the case for the invasion of Iraq.

Like Wolfowitz, Shulsky is a student of an obscure German Jewish political philosopher named Leo Strauss who arrived in the United States in 1938. Strauss taught at several major universities, including Wolfowitz and Shulsky's alma mater, the University of Chicago, before his death in 1973.

Strauss is a popular figure among the neoconservatives. Adherents of his ideas include prominent figures both within and outside the administration. They include 'Weekly Standard' editor William Kristol; his father and indeed the godfather of the neoconservative movement, Irving Kristol; the new Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, Stephen Cambone, a number of senior fellows at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) (home to former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle and Lynne Cheney), and Gary Schmitt, the director of the influential Project for the New American Century (PNAC), which is chaired by Kristol the Younger.

Strauss' philosophy is hardly incidental to the strategy and mindset adopted by these men – as is obvious in Shulsky's 1999 essay titled "Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence (By Which We Do Not Mean Nous)" (in Greek philosophy the term nous denotes the highest form of rationality). As Hersh notes in his article, Shulsky and his co-author Schmitt "criticize America's intelligence community for its failure to appreciate the duplicitous nature of the regimes it deals with, its susceptibility to social-science notions of proof, and its inability to cope with deliberate concealment." They argued that Strauss's idea of hidden meaning, "alerts one to the possibility that political life may be closely linked to deception. Indeed, it suggests that deception is the norm in political life, and the hope, to say nothing of the expectation, of establishing a politics that can dispense with it is the exception."

Rule One: Deception

It's hardly surprising then why Strauss is so popular in an administration obsessed with secrecy, especially when it comes to matters of foreign policy. Not only did Strauss have few qualms about using deception in politics, he saw it as a necessity. While professing deep respect for American democracy, Strauss believed that societies should be hierarchical – divided between an elite who should lead, and the masses who should follow. But unlike fellow elitists like Plato, he was less concerned with the moral character of these leaders. According to Shadia Drury, who teaches politics at the University of Calgary, Strauss believed that "those who are fit to rule are those who realize there is no morality and that there is only one natural right – the right of the superior to rule over the inferior."

This dichotomy requires "perpetual deception" between the rulers and the ruled, according to Drury. Robert Locke, another Strauss analyst says,"The people are told what they need to know and no more." While the elite few are capable of absorbing the absence of any moral truth, Strauss thought, the masses could not cope. If exposed to the absence of absolute truth, they would quickly fall into nihilism or anarchy, according to Drury, author of 'Leo Strauss and the American Right' (St. Martin's 1999).

Second Principle: Power of Religion

According to Drury, Strauss had a "huge contempt" for secular democracy. Nazism, he believed, was a nihilistic reaction to the irreligious and liberal nature of the Weimar Republic. Among other neoconservatives, Irving Kristol has long argued for a much greater role for religion in the public sphere, even suggesting that the Founding Fathers of the American Republic made a major mistake by insisting on the separation of church and state. And why? Because Strauss viewed religion as absolutely essential in order to impose moral law on the masses who otherwise would be out of control.

At the same time, he stressed that religion was for the masses alone; the rulers need not be bound by it. Indeed, it would be absurd if they were, since the truths proclaimed by religion were "a pious fraud." As Ronald Bailey, science correspondent for Reason magazine points out, "Neoconservatives are pro-religion even though they themselves may not be believers."

"Secular society in their view is the worst possible thing,'' Drury says, because it leads to individualism, liberalism, and relativism, precisely those traits that may promote dissent that in turn could dangerously weaken society's ability to cope with external threats. Bailey argues that it is this firm belief in the political utility of religion as an "opiate of the masses" that helps explain why secular Jews like Kristol in 'Commentary' magazine and other neoconservative journals have allied themselves with the Christian Right and even taken on Darwin's theory of evolution.

Third Principle: Aggressive Nationalism

Like Thomas Hobbes, Strauss believed that the inherently aggressive nature of human beings could only be restrained by a powerful nationalistic state. "Because mankind is intrinsically wicked, he has to be governed," he once wrote. "Such governance can only be established, however, when men are united – and they can only be united against other people."

Not surprisingly, Strauss' attitude toward foreign policy was distinctly Machiavellian. "Strauss thinks that a political order can be stable only if it is united by an external threat," Drury wrote in her book. "Following Machiavelli, he maintained that if no external threat exists then one has to be manufactured (emphases added)."

"Perpetual war, not perpetual peace, is what Straussians believe in," says Drury. The idea easily translates into, in her words, an "aggressive, belligerent foreign policy," of the kind that has been advocated by neocon groups like PNAC and AEI scholars – not to mention Wolfowitz and other administration hawks who have called for a world order dominated by U.S. military power. Strauss' neoconservative students see foreign policy as a means to fulfill a "national destiny" – as Irving Kristol defined it already in 1983 – that goes far beyond the narrow confines of a " myopic national security."

As to what a Straussian world order might look like, the analogy was best captured by the philosopher himself in one of his – and student Allen Bloom's – many allusions to Gulliver's Travels. In Drury's words, "When Lilliput was on fire, Gulliver urinated over the city, including the palace. In so doing, he saved all of Lilliput from catastrophe, but the Lilliputians were outraged and appalled by such a show of disrespect."

The image encapsulates the neoconservative vision of the United States' relationship with the rest of the world – as well as the relationship between their relationship as a ruling elite with the masses. "They really have no use for liberalism and democracy, but they're conquering the world in the name of liberalism and democracy," Drury says.

Jim Lobe writes on foreign policy for Alternet. His work has also appeared on Foreign Policy In Focus and TomPaine.com.