Skip to main content

Why are the billionaires always laughing?

Because they know the corporate media will never call bullshit on their bullshit.

Why are the billionaires laughing?

It’s easy to laugh when the corporate press treats you as a glorious success instead of the epitome of a broken social order. Billionaires laugh because they know the corporate media prefers to fawn over them rather than hold them to account.

Today, we ask you to support our nonprofit, independent journalism because we are not impressed by billionaires flying into space, their corporations despoiling our health and planet, or their vast fortunes safely concealed in tax havens across the globe. We are not laughing.

We are hard at work producing journalism for the common good. With our Fall Campaign underway, please support this mission today. We cannot do it without you.

Support Our Work -- Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Every donation—large or small—helps us bring you the news that matters.

CIA Director John Brennan being sworn into office on March 8, 2013. (Photo: White House/David Lienemann)

CIA Torture and the Imperialist Toolbox

Gary Olson

Last August, our Nobel Peace Laureate, President Barack Obama, admitted that “we tortured some folks,” but then added, this is “not who we are.” At best, his statement was a half-truth.

First, it’s not “some” folks but massive numbers over a long and sordid history. State-sponsored torture has been an implement in the imperialist toolbox at least since the early twentieth century when U.S. troops employed the “water cure” during the U.S. conquest of the Philippines. Alfred McCoy’s Torture and Impunity (2012) is only one book in a voluminous scholarly literature confirming that from the early 1950s to the present, the U.S. government has been the principal purveyor of direct and indirect torture around the globe. This background of torture in service to empire is the critical missing piece in the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee’s revelations of Oval Office-sanctioned CIA depravity.

A few examples include the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA) in Fort Benning, Georgia which trained Latin American soldiers in torture. SOA graduates returned to Central America and conducted wholesale barbarism; the CIA’s widespread torture program under Operation Phoenix in Vietnam; and the infamous Operation Condor in the 1970s where as many as 60,000 Latin Americans were kidnapped, tortured and murdered. The CIA provided the technical, financial and coordination to the governments carrying out the program.

Recall that the Nuremberg Laws under which high level Nazi officials were prosecuted in 1945-46, heads of state and other responsible government officials who committed acts considered a crime under international “does not relieve him from responsibility under international law.” (Principle III) The Torture Statute of the Federal War Crimes Act defines torture as an “act intended to inflict pain or suffering upon another person within his custody or physical control.” Under international law, the torturer is defined as hosts human generis, the enemy of mankind.

And J. Wells Dixon of the Center for Constitutional Rights reminds us that “Torture is a crime of universal jurisdiction.”

The 1949 Geneva Convention and Article 7 of the Convention Against Torture, approved by the U.S. Senate in 1994, obligate the United States to conduct a “prompt and impartial investigation” of any citizen suspected of engaging in torture. Further, it states “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability, or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture.” CAT Art. 2(2) No exemptions are listed for nations claiming to be “exceptional” and therefore not subject to the laws and moral standards applicable to everyone else. Parenthetically, for his heinous crimes against humanity, Osama bin Laden should have been captured and tried before an ad hoc international tribunal in The Hague. Extra-judicial execution is not who we are.

Second, ordinary American citizens neither authorized nor carried these heinous acts. However, we live in a society of us and them. For them, national security means doing whatever is necessary – at times, including torture – to further the interests of the one-tenth of the one percent who own and run our country. In their endless pursuit of wealth they seek to control the global economy, its natural resources, markets and sources of cheap labor. And “defense” spending also functions as gigantic public subsidy for the corporate sector. Understood in this larger context, torture is exactly who they are.

For these reasons it’s safe to assume that the political and military power of the United States will prevent the application of any universal jurisdiction for its own actions. No one in the upper chain of command will be prosecuted or held accountable by U.S. courts.

Must this be the case? Our rulers employ a tremendous amount of deception to keep us in the dark about the economic and geopolitical motives behind U.S. foreign policy. They fear that if the American people know even a fraction of the crimes done to other human beings – and on behalf of whose interests – it would awaken their nascent sense of empathy. Whether our rulers’ fears are warranted remains to be seen. Torture and other crimes against humanity won’t end until the American people demand that the global empire be dismantled and we reclaim our democracy. The whole world is watching.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Gary Olson

Gary Olson

Gary Olson is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA. His most recent book is "Empathy Imperiled: Capitalism, Culture and the Brain" (NY: Springer, 2013.) Contact:

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'When We Organize, We Win': Ocasio-Cortez Joins India Walton at Rally in Buffalo

The two progressives joined striking hospital workers on the picket line at Mercy Hospital after the early voting rally.

Julia Conley ·

Fatal Film Set Shooting Followed Outcry by Union Crew Members Over Safety Protocols

"When union members walk off a set about safety concerns, maybe 'hiring scabs' isn’t the solution you think it is."

Julia Conley ·

New Whistleblower Sparks Calls to 'Crack Down on Facebook and All Big Tech Companies'

Hours after another ex-employee filed a formal complaint, reporting broke on internal documents that show the tech giant's failure to address concerns about content related to the 2020 U.S. election.

Jessica Corbett ·

'Catastrophic and Irreparable Harm' to Wolves Averted as Wisconsin Judge Cancels Hunt

"We are heartened by this rare instance of reason and democracy prevailing in state wolf policy," said one conservation expert.

Brett Wilkins ·

West Virginia Constituents Decry 'Immorality' of Joe Manchin

"West Virginia has been locked into an economy that forces workers into low-wage jobs with no hope for advancement, and after decades of this our hope is dwindling," said one West Virginian. "The cuts that Sen. Manchin has negotiated into the agenda hurt our state."

Julia Conley ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.

Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo