"Collective Psychopathology" And US Police State Methods
By Jon V Kofas
04 March, 2015
In February 2015, The Guardian published a couple of new stories about the connection between the Chicago police department “black site” at Homan Square and the Guantanamo prison where terror suspects have been kept as political prisoners without ever been charged. Neither the national media in the US nor the Chicago media organizations, including African-American, have pursued this story. Even after the British paper brought these issues to the attention of the public, the mainstream media in Chicago and across the US are ignoring the revelations, a subject in itself revealing about the role of the US media in a democratic society where human rights and civil rights violations occur.
One could assume that publishers are not interested in exposing corruption, torture, detention without due process, violation of civil rights and human rights for ideological and political reasons. Besides, the media assumes that if the police have detained a black man, interrogated and tortured him, while never charging him and keeping him in an undisclosed location rather than in jail, and denied him access to a lawyer there must be a good reason for it. That black man is a suspect of criminal or terrorist conduct and must indeed be guilty. After all, why aren’t the police arresting a white suburban bank executive (for a bank such as HBSC) who has facilitated money laundering operations for drug lords, all based on the bank’s testimony.
The assumption of guilt is almost automatic when it comes to blacks and Muslims in America because the political climate and institutional culture facilitates it. After all, an estimated 40% of prison inmates are blacks when the percentage of the African-American population is 13%. Although the same percentage of whites as blacks are drug users, one in three black males go to prison. The racism rooted in American culture and institutions, especially law enforcement, courts, and prisons, has now shifted to include Muslims, while Hispanics were always part of the targeted minority group.
In the post 9/11 political culture and legal environment, police state methods are justified in the name of law and order and in the name of national security. The convergence of local law and order and national security actually has its origins in the Cold War, but it has assumed entirely new dimension with Muslims as a target group in the 21st century instead of Communists in the 20th. The ideology is the same, namely to crush dissidents, and people of color and Muslims are “natural” suspects not just for the police but mainstream media and society.
Local civil rights organizations and lawyers have dealt with specific victims of Chicago’s Homan Square and indeed the city has paid out millions in damages. But the culture of racial profiling and illegal tactics remain an integral part of the culture. Just as significant, neither the Chicago mayor’s office nor the US Justice Department is acknowledging any links between Homan and the larger police-state methodology in the US to what has been taking place in Guantanamo as the US Senate report on torture of political prisoners has revealed. The US media is silent on this issue as well, and even The Guardian article has no in-depth analysis of the broader society of an evolving quasi-police state. Instead, the focus is on specific individuals carrying out torture at the Homan Square center and Guantanamo and on a few victims willing to go public with their stories.
A recent US newspaper article on why the media refuses to deal with the Homan Square detention and torture center and its links to Guantanamo reveals that journalists mostly are politically and ideologically in agreement with both the Chicago police department’s torture policy of blacks and with US torture policy of Muslims. The main focus of civil rights groups and lawyers has been on those wrongfully charged so they may receive monetary compensation. Why is the media not exposing the broader problem of institutional convergence between local police departments and Department of Defense treatment of political prisoners? One reason is advertisers on the mainstream media are not interested in the publication exposing cases of such immense magnitude that make the US appear more like Argentina under the dictatorship of the late 1970s than Norway of the 21st century.
This is not to deny that there is a legitimate role for the police force in every society. Nor is it realistic to deny the legitimate role of the US armed forces as protectors of the nation’s territorial integrity and national sovereignty. There are hardened criminals out there as much as there are politically, ideologically, and religiously-motivated fanatics that have used and continue to use unconventional means to harm at random US interests. How the police and courts handle criminal suspects and how the US government handles political prisoners is important, as is the issue of crossing the line to institutionalizing a surveillance state imposed upon all of society, torturing suspects in “black sites”, and denying them due process.
The issue before us is whether the US is a nation of laws that enforces and not violates them, and whether the Constitution still has any relevance, or whether the counter-terrorism culture overrides the legal system. If indeed the political culture of counter-terrorism converged with racism has taken over then this is leading the nation toward a unique form of authoritarianism within an electoral system. If indeed the US is slipping down the slope of authoritarianism and quasi-police state, then a segment of the American people must have accepted this is the norm. Like other authoritarian societies in the past that embraced collective psychopathology, the US has redefined it value system now so rooted in the politics of power that civil rights, human rights and social justice are impediments rather than democratic principles that government ought to follow.
Political correctness as a veil of a racist and unjust society, the American culture of racism has been an integral part of the police force in American society, no matter the civil rights movements and laws on the books. Reinforcing the racist police culture is the “war on terror” and the culture of counter-terrorism since 9/11. The result is institutionalization of “collective psychopathology” to the degree that torturing people, violating their civil rights and their human rights is the now the norm that the media accepts as necessary, and often criticizes those who dare question the abuses of law enforcement in American cities and CIA torturers. The US Senate report on CIA torture revealed that the US looked to Israel as a model for justifying torture on the basis of preventing “imminent attack” in the future. That the US would use Israel, an apartheid society, as a model makes sense if one accepts that the US like Israel in a state of perpetual war with potential Muslim enemies.
Not the courts, not any agency at the local, state or federal level, not the media or any institution such as a university or church will go on record raising questions about the US government violating civil rights and human rights because there is a price to pay for such criticism and benefits to derive by going along with the culture of collective psychopathology. Psychologist Richard Koenigberg is correct to label political violence “collective psychopathology”. However, this phenomenon is not limited to the Third Reich and to serial killers in the US. The phenomenon of collective psychopathology has become very powerful in the US because of the convergence between the racist-rooted law enforcement apparatus – police, prosecutors, courts, and prisons – and the national security apparatus based on Home Land Security to CIA torturers of political prisoners. If collective psychopathology is a reality in America as much as it was in societies of previous epochs, including the Third Reich, is America a democracy as it claims, and if soc what kind of “democracy”? Just as in Israel the majority is part of the “collective psychopathology” that dictates the enemy must be eliminated by any means no matter how the state circumvents international and domestic laws, so is the case in the US.
Collective psychopathology is part of the cultural milieu and we see it in societies from ancient Sparta to 21st century America. We now have enough evidence from various sources to confirm that indeed the phenomenon that Koenigberg is describing and with which critics of institutional racism and Islamophobia agree is widespread in America. Despite the growing phenomenon of collective psychopathology, the US government and media project an image of a democratic society, an open and pluralistic one on the path of political correctness, a society interested only in the diffusion of its freedom-loving institutions to the rest of the world.
There is now sufficient evidence that the US has embraced enough aspects of police state and authoritarian state methods and policies we can longer argue that the institutional structure is democratic as the Founding Fathers envisioned it. However, one could argue that even James Madison and Thomas Jefferson as the most progressive of the Founding Father lived in a democracy that had slavery. Why then must we not separate in the 21st century the national security and law and order issue from the rest of the democratic “structure”, just as Madison and Jefferson did? Actually, that is exactly what the two political parties, the media, businesses and mainstream institutions do. In short, collective psychopathology is reserved for minorities always suspect of “criminal proclivities by nature”, and Muslims that the state suspects of potential links to terrorism.
Social-political conditioning of the public mind has been a reality in all societies throughout civilization. Convincing the public today to accept torturing and killing people of different ideological and political convictions because national security dictates as much is a daily reality. Whether the state injects religion into the justification as is the case today as much as during the Crusades, or racist ideology such as Social Darwinism during the European and US wars against native populations in Africa and Asia in the Age of Imperialism, 1870-1914, the goal and end result is the same. Collective psychopathology is not a neutral phenomenon, but rather there are those who benefit from the suffering of victims. In other words, this phenomenon serves a political, economic and social purpose today as it did in societies past.
Whether it is the case of German citizens living during the Third Reich knowing of systematic extermination of Jews, Gypsies and Communists, Russians under Stalin knowing the Kremlin was assassinating and imprisoning dissidents, or Americans since 9/11 accepting the police-state counter-terrorism culture as normal, all are morally repugnant and indicative of manifestations of “collective psychopathology”. Perhaps it is true as physicist Stephen Hawking noted that human beings emerged into civilization partly because aggressive proclivities helped them overcome obstacles to survival of the species during the process of human evolution in the last one million years. However, the same caveman aggression proclivities may result in the demise of civilization and perhaps the human race, and collective psychopathology is certainly one catalyst to mass destruction.
Do Homan Square and Guantanamo reveal only the “bad apples” within the Chicago police department and CIA, or do these “black sites” tell us something more America’s value system and society? The Guardian story focused on the specific torturers, not the policy, not institutional problem, not the responsibility of the Chicago political authorities and the US Justice Department that has known about Homan and has been trying to obstruct due process of political prisoners whose human rights are systematically violated. In other words, the issue as far as the mainstream media is concerned is not the US government cooperating with the Chicago police department under both the Bush and Obama administrations in securing experienced torturers and systematically violate civil rights of American citizens and human rights of foreign nationals. The issue is not that the US has become slipped toward the road of an authoritarian state that in many respects reminds us of others that the US accuses of violating human rights.
There is really no other country that one could compare the US because it does hold elections at all levels, although those elections are invariably financed by the wealthy. Even with a surveillance network under the NSA that is a glaring violation of the US Constitution, the US permits expression of cultural freedom – art, speech, religion, etc. - as much as it permits social freedom such as gay marriage, right to form social organizations as long as they do not impede what the state defines as national security. Even if the US looks to Israel as a model of how to project a “legal” face on illegal activities, one cannot argue that there is no trace of democracy in America as there was none in many totalitarian and authoritarian countries during the 1920s and 1030s in Europe.
On the other hand, there are limits to political freedoms, especially for minorities whose rights are systematically violated at an institutional level and social justice is not only the lowest priority of government, but an impediment to its quasi-police state methods. Justified in the name of national security, the government expects that collective psychopathology works for the majority of the population, and for minorities whose socioeconomic status transcends race/ethnicity. This explains why the minority elites are hardly exercised by either by civil rights or human rights violations, unless there is a monetary of political incentive behind speaking out. This also explains why the white majority remains docile and accepts the system as democratic when in fact it is practicing authoritarian and police state policies.
When I first read about the “black sites” that the Federal government is running and the Homan Square facility I thought of Argentina during the military dictatorship of 1976 to 1983. Thousands of people totally unconnected with what the Argentine Junta called “terrorism” were assassinated, tortured and disappeared never to be seen again, all in the name of law and order and security. This was a regime that US was fully supporting, until 1982 when the Falklands War resulted in British military intervention that essentially meant the end of the US-backed regime. I am not suggesting that the US in the early 21st century is like Argentina of forty years ago, because the US has very different institutions and history. However, there are parallels because in both cases law and order, and national security were invoked.
That blatant racism and glaring human rights violations are taking place under the stewardship of the first black US president and a black attorney general clearly demonstrates that these individuals are “token” symbols of political correctness, symbols to project an image of openness in a society that is racist beneath the surface, has disdain of human rights and civil rights, of dissident voices and of democracy. The first African-American US president and a black attorney general have not done anything about Homan in Chicago devoted mostly to torturing blacks, nor have they prosecuted or stopped the torture in “black sites”. The Homan Square detention and torture center in Chicago has cost the city an estimated $64 million in payments for innocent victims suffering civil rights abuses under the watchful eye of the authorities. The Homan Center’s link to the CIA and Department of Defense, as The Guardian noted in its recent publication, are sources for alarm on the part of those who value the US Constitution and principles of democracy and social justice.
One of the most notorious torturers in both Homan and Guantanamo was Richard Zuley of the Chicago police department. I have no doubt that it takes a specific type of human being to have as a job the torture of other human beings. However, this police officer with special talents in torture techniques was approved by his superiors in Chicago and by DoD for Guantanamo. As far as he is concerned, Zuley is a law enforcement man doing his patriotic duty, which happened to be torturing blacks in Chicago and Muslims in Guantanamo. I am not trying to excuse Duley, but I would rather focus on the local and federal government authorities and the policies they are pursuing because if it were not Duley carrying out such horrendous tasks it would be someone else like him. Responsibility in this case is not with Duley but with the Mayor’s office in Chicago and with Washington D.C.
This is a case of the American police forces becoming increasingly militaristic in their tactics, treating suspects of color as enemies of the state to be shot down in cold blood without any questions asked by policymakers. The sharp rise in police shootings of blacks and Hispanics, along with the revelations of torture at Homan, and the link to Chicago police torturers the DoD used in Guantanamo proves beyond any doubt the existence of an institutional structure that bypasses the laws of the land and violates the Constitution. Using Israel’s legalistic tactics to bypass US laws hardly speaks well for the US.
The recent revelations of Guantanamo prisoner Mahamedou Ould Slahi, a former German resident from Mauritania, have shocked those around the world who still believe that the US is a democratic nation of laws respecting its own Constitution and the UN convention on human rights. Although the Mauritanian Muslim has never been charged, there is no shred of evidence to link him with any fanatic Islamic organization as far as the US has been able to disclose, he was tortured, and never charged. Yet, the Obama administration has blocked all efforts to have this individual either charged with a crime or released. The only thing the Department of Justice has done is to obstruct legal efforts to have this Mauritanian released precisely because his release will mean even more political damage to the US. Just as with the case of Mahamedou, the minorities housed in the Homan “black site” do not really exist, they cannot be found in any official database, they cannot see a lawyer, they are not charged with any crime, but they are detained, and some tortured to confess anything the police want.
It is easy to blame to blame Zuley, his immediate supervisors, the Chicago police department, the men and women working for CIA and DoD, but never go beyond the level of the operatives and their supervisors. While I am not suggesting that these operatives have any moral fiber and human values, responsibility ultimately rests with government policy that shapes the culture of authoritarianism rooted in racism against blacks and Muslims, and the collective psychopathology that permits people to accept the police state. The question is who is next after blacks and Muslims? There were debates between Jeffersonians influenced by Rousseau who subordinated individual rights to the "General Will", and the more classical Liberal followers of John Locke who placed individual rights above all else. This is the debate that Supreme Court Justice Luis Brandeis picked up and reflected the Progressive movement of his times that found expression in both political parties.
If there is a Constitutional basis for human rights and privacy rights, the government violating such rights can only resort to the old argument of "national security". Brandeis issued a dissenting opinion on the privacy matter, stating that: "Government was identified as a potential privacy invader....the makers of our Constitution conferred against the government, the right to be let alone—the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men." The Brandeis dissenting opinion was a warning about a government violating the human rights of citizens when it violated their privacy rights. The issue was then was government spying on its own citizens as it does today under a SURVEILANCE REGIME. The Supreme Court today would not side with Brandeis on this issue, because the Justice Department will argue that the "war on terror" takes precedence over the natural, human and civil rights of citizens.
It is ironic that the US government strongly condemns human rights abuses wherever they occur around the world. It is ironic that the US government speaks out for freedom and democracy, and for tolerance of dissident voices in other countries. It is ironic that the US government sides with minority voices where they are repressed and projects an image of siding with the oppressed around the world. The only problem here is that the US government is guilty of every single violation it accuses its enemies. Yet, it invokes the doctrine of “American Exceptionalism”, which means that the level of hypocrisy remains very high and the US has no moral or political authority to speak on any of the issues stated above unless it first starts to practice what it preaches and stops violating its own Constitution.
Slowly degenerating into a police state with authoritarian tendencies reminiscent of dictatorships that the US has supported around the world in the name of national security will backfire at some point. The time will come when the American people will begin to question the “collective psychopathology” and the culture of fear intended to keep the public docile and supportive of military solutions abroad and police state methods at home. The time will come when the institutional racists structure currently against blacks and Muslims as the main target groups will expand to include white middle class dissidents, as was the case in 2012 in Chicago with NATO protesters detained at Homan Square.
The time will come when the mask of democracy will slowly drop and the naked face of raw aggression will manifest itself. The time will be during the next cyclical recession when the only way the government will be able to justify transferring income from the lower and middle class to the elites is by peddling culture of fear and collective psychopathology.
I have often argued that there are no utopian societies, except in philosophy books and novels. One could argue that violating human rights and civil rights, ignoring the Constitution and overlooking laws is "Pragmatic Democracy" because of overriding national security issues. The NSA and other agencies spy on American citizens in violation of the Constitution, as a former CIA chief has readily admitted, because it is necessary for "national security", as the government defines it, meaning no limits. If the American people have no problem with their government violating human rights, for practical considerations that national security justifies, then that is part of the collective psychopathology that prevails.
But what if the American people have no clue of the depth and breadth of US government violations of the Constitution and the law because there is no public disclosure? Is failure to inform the citizenry "pragmatic democracy" as well? Does "pragmatic democracy" have any Constitutional or legal limits at all, from torture of its own citizens to political prisoners, from denying due process to its own citizens to ignoring the UN convention on Human Rights? If this kind of democracy is above the Constitution and ignores the basic rights of its own citizens, when do we stop calling it democracy and start calling it what it really is?
Jon V Kofas is a novelist. He blogs at http://www.jonkofas.blogspot.in/
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