American lawyers defending six Algerians before a habeas corpus hearing in Washington this week learned some very odd things about US intelligence after 9/11. From among the millions of "raw" reports from American spies and their "assets" around the world came a CIA Middle East warning about a possible kamikaze-style air attack on a US navy base at a south Pacific island location. The only problem was that no such navy base existed on the island and no US Seventh Fleet warship had ever been there. In all seriousness, a US military investigation earlier reported that Osama bin Laden had been spotted shopping at a post office on a US military base in east Asia.
That this nonsense was disseminated around the world by those tasked to defend the United States in the "war on terror" shows the fantasy environment in which the Bush regime has existed these past eight years. If you can believe that bin Laden drops by a shopping mall on an American military base, then you can believe that everyone you arrest is a "terrorist", that Arabs are "terrorists", that they can be executed, that living "terrorists" must be tortured, that everything a tortured man says can be believed, that it is legitimate to invade sovereign states, to grab the telephone records of everyone in America. As Bob Herbert put it in The New York Times a couple of years ago, the Bush administration wanted these records "which contain crucial documentation of calls for a Chinese takeout in Terre Haute, Indiana, and birthday greetings to Grandma in Talladega, Alabama, to help in the search for Osama bin Laden". There was no stopping Bush when it came to trampling on the US Constitution. All that was new was that he was now applying the same disrespect for liberty in America that he had shown in the rest of the world.
But how is Barack Obama going to repair the titanic damage which his vicious, lying predecessor has perpetrated around the globe and within the US itself? John F Kennedy once said that "the United States, as the world knows, will never start a war". After Bush's fear-mongering and Rumsfeld's "shock and awe" and Abu Ghraib and Bagram and Guantanamo and secret renditions, how does Obama pedal his country all the way back to Camelot? Our own dear Gordon Brown's enthusiasm to Hoover up the emails of the British people is another example of how Lord Blair's sick relationship with Bush still infects our own body politic. Only days before the wretched president finally departs from us, new US legislation will ensure that citizens of his lickspittle British ally will no longer be able to visit America without special security clearance. Does Bush have any more surprises for us before 20 January? Indeed, could anything surprise us any more?
Obama has got to close Guantanamo. He's got to find a way of apologizing to the world for the crimes of his predecessor, not an easy task for a man who must show pride in his country; but saying sorry is what - internationally - he will have to do if the "change" he has been promoting at home is to have any meaning outside America's borders. He will have to re-think - and deconstruct - the whole "war on terror". He will have to get out of Iraq. He will have to call a halt to America's massive airbases in Iraq, its $600m embassy. He will have to end the blood-caked air strikes we are perpetrating in southern Afghanistan - why, oh, why do we keep slaughtering wedding parties? - and he will have to tell Israel a few home truths: that America can no longer remain uncritical in the face of Israeli army brutality and the colonization for Jews and Jews only on Arab land. Obama will have to stand up at last to the Israeli lobby (it is, in fact, an Israeli Likud party lobby) and withdraw Bush's 2004 acceptance of Israel's claim to a significant portion of the West Bank. US officials will have to talk to Iranian officials - and Hamas officials, for that matter. Obama will have to end US strikes into Pakistan - and Syria.
Indeed, there's a growing concern among America's allies in the Middle East that the US military has to be brought back under control - indeed, that the real reason for General David Petraeus' original appointment in Iraq was less to organise the "surge" than it was to bring discipline back to the 150,000 soldiers and marines whose mission - and morals - had become so warped by Bush's policies. There is some evidence, for example, that the four-helicopter strike into Syria last month, which killed eight people, was - if not a rogue operation - certainly not sanctioned by Washington or indeed by US commanders in Baghdad.
But Obama's not going to be able to make the break. He wants to draw down in Iraq in order to concentrate more firepower in Afghanistan. He's not going to take on the lobby in Washington and he's not going to stop further Jewish colonization of the occupied territories or talk to Israel's enemies. With AIPAC supporter Rahm Emanuel as his new chief of staff - "our man in the White House", as the Israeli daily Maariv called him this week - Obama will toe the line. And of course, there's the terrible thought that bin Laden - when he's not shopping at US military post offices - may be planning another atrocity to welcome the Obama presidency.
There is just one little problem, though, and that's the "missing" prisoners. Not the victims who have been (still are being?) tortured in Guantanamo, but the thousands who have simply disappeared into US custody abroad or - with American help - into the prisons of US allies. Some reports speak of 20,000 missing men, most of them Arabs, all of them Muslims. Where are they? Can they be freed now? Or are they dead? If Obama finds that he is inheriting mass graves from George W Bush, there will be a lot of apologizing to do.