Pleading With the Conscience Of A Nation With No Soul

Washington Post Op-ed: CIA report shows need for national conscience

Our belief in the national image is astonishingly resilient. Over more than two centuries, our conviction that we are a benign people, with only the best of intentions, has absorbed the blows of darker truths, and returned unassailable. We have assimilated the facts of slavery and ethnic cleansing of Native Americans, and we are still a good people; we became an empire, but an entirely benevolent one; we bombed Southeast Asia on a scale without precedent, but it had to be done, because we are a good people.

Even the atrocities of Abu Ghraib have been neutralized in our conscience by the overwhelming conviction that the national image transcends the particulars of a few exceptional cases. And now the Senate torture report has made the unimaginable entirely too imaginable, documenting murder, torture, physical and sexual abuse, and lies, none of them isolated crimes, but systematic policy, endorsed at the highest levels, and still defended by many who approved and committed them.

Again, it has become a conversation about the national image, this phoenix of self-deception that magically transforms conversations about what we have done into debates about what we look like. The report, claimed headlines, “painted a picture of an agency out of control,” and “portrays a broken CIA devoted to a failed approach.” The blow to the U.S. reputation abroad was seen as equally newsworthy as the details themselves, and the appalling possibility that there will never be any accountability for having broken our own laws, international law and the fundamental laws of human decency.

The national image is essentially a metaphor, and that metaphor operates differently in the United States than outside. Today, when we speak of how we are perceived in the wider world, we don’t seem to mean a coherent set of ideals about what America represents, or even an image at all, but rather something like a stock ticker that registers upticks and downdrafts in the value of our international brand. What people envision when they think about America isn’t really knowable, and in any case, it’s far easier to simply poll for the favorable and unfavorables. In April, a Gallup poll gave us the latest news from the market: up in Asia, recovering (after the spying scandals) in Europe, flat in South America, falling off peak in Africa. Expect a bear market in coming months.

The idea of a national image as essentially like a marketplace is an appealing one, especially in a country so in love with the market, so convinced they always rise, always recover, always recalibrate. America is always right, and markets are always right, so any deviation from a high-value assessment of the American brand is necessarily temporary. This conviction helps us keep at bay the thought that in many parts of the world, the national image includes scenes of waterboarding, of Americans smashing heads, forcing men to stand on broken limbs, killing by hypothermia and “rectal feeding,” which is rape.

At home, our sense of ourself is more psychologically constructed, like an amalgam of individual pictures. We bring to it the deep love of the lives we lead, so it becomes a composite, made of innumerable images of family and friends, of grandfathers who fought in the war, Thanksgiving dinners and the nice people from church who tend to the soup kitchen. It is a mostly stable image that comprises sepia-toned data points and the sentimental soft colors of Polaroid snapshots of picnics, beaches and candles on the birthday cake. This is who we are.

But that is not at all who we are. As long as the crimes done in our name remain unpunished, they remain our crimes. The lives we love — as many apologists for torture now openly claim — are purchased at the cost of extreme violence and brutality perpetrated on other people, many of them innocent, none of them deserving of torture.

We have come to a critical moment in the debate about torture. It’s no longer possible, as it was when the images of Abu Ghraib emerged in 2004, to pretend that these events were rare, exceptional or the work of a few rogue agents. Nor will it be easy to assimilate them into that beloved average image of our national goodness. We are confronted with our own barbarity, as we have been confronted with the barbarity of the Islamic State. We torture, they behead. We beat men senseless, slam their heads into walls, strip them naked and leave them to die, while they march men into a field and put bullets in their heads. We might still cling to the idea that our crimes are not quite so bad as theirs. But to quibble over the degree of cruelty we tolerate is to acknowledge that cruelty is now standard practice. Unless we punish the guilty, we can have no more illusions that there is anything fundamental about who we are, how we are governed or what religion we practice, that distinguishes us from the worst in the world.

How does the national image survive this? The usual forces will struggle to resist the new information. Some will wear blinders; others will see things selectively. But what do the rest of us do, everyone one of us who woke up, yesterday, to a powerful feeling of helplessness and shame? If the report leads to no further investigation, no indictments or prosecution, does it then just lay there, on the side of history, as something that can’t be assimilated, while the national image slowly comes back to its usual, gauzy, soft focus on our own unquestionable goodness?

If no one in public life is capable of punishing the guilty, if nothing comes of this but more denials and obfuscations, if the CIA is indeed more powerful than the president, the Congress and the Constitution, what is left of our beloved and benign national image?

Moral revolution begins at home, with a revolution in one’s own values. If you are horrified by what has happened, then you must remake your own mental picture of America, in yourself, in your own mind, ruthlessly and mercilessly, until it conforms to the truth of who we are. The first duty is not to look away.

But the crimes are so horrible, the injustice so vast, that it must go further than that. We should take our cues from a species of painting made throughout the Renaissance, vanitas images, which were a type of still life laden with reminders of death: skulls and hourglasses, guttering candles and fruit going bad. Vanitas elements, which also occurred in other kinds of paintings, reminded the living of the inexorable fact of death and Christians of the inevitable day of judgment. They compelled the faithful to see the skull always under the skin.

We are all, to some degree, narcissists, in love with our lives. But we must re-envision those lives with the hard truth of vanitas paintings. We must have the discipline to see the extent of our national depravity. We must bring it home to the very texture of the lives we lead. When you look at your children, remember dead children, torn to shreds by our smart bombs. When you sit by a warm fire, remember the windowless dungeons we made to break our enemies — and not infrequently innocent men accidentally caught up in our wars. When you fall asleep in your bed, remember the sleep deprivation “for up to 180 hours, usually standing or in stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads.”

If you can, if only for a day, or an hour, let every comforting thought be infected with the truth of what we have done.

And will that right the national image? Will it correct its contours, average in a little ugliness? Perhaps not. But we must atone. And we must learn that the national image is a hollow conceit. What we desperately need is a national conscience.

Video of Taliban Suicide-Bomber Attack On Kabul Chief of Police

Shocking video shows Taliban suicide bomber entering police headquarters before explosives in underwear go off


This shocking video shows a Taliban suicide bomber entering a police station just moments before he explodes.

The incident took place in the Afghanistan capital of Kabul, killing one person and wounding six. The bomber was believed to  have been hiding the explosives in his underwear.

In the clip you can see a bearded man, dressed smartly in a grey suit, calmly walk up the stairs at the station to the third floor. He appears to be completely ordinary, and not in any hurry.

With nothing more than an innocent-looking blue folder under his arm he opens the door to an office, walks into a room off camera and then the explosion takes place.

Video shows suicide bomber entering building before explosion
Police Target: Seconds after he opens the door on the right, the bomb goes off

Smoke fills the building, which was badly damaged during the blast. Police believe he was let into the building by an unknown ‘infiltrator’ who helped him get past the usual security checks.

The apparent target was the chief of the police General Zahir Zahir, who resigned at the end of last month following a rise in such attacks.

Video shows suicide bomber entering building before explosion
CCTV Footage: The cameras capture the smoke from the explosion

After the bomber entered the building he asked where the police chief was and then went up to the third floor where he thought his target would be working. He was even directed to the chief’s office by police security.

But by a twist of fate the police chief was not where he would normally be and so survived the attempted assasination.

Marked Man: Kabul police chief General Zahir Zahir was the apparent target

Speaking to the BBC about the November 9 incident,  General Zahir said: “The explosives were very soft and very modern. Our foreign and tactical friends  who investigated this said this kind of explosive could only be made in a government factory.

“It was very powerful. Investigations show he was driven here in a police vehicle that was barely searched. ”

Ruined Building: The blast was so large it tore part of the ceiling off

The general continued: “By this means he could get past all of the checkpoints so he could then be dropped off by the entrance to the staircase and by the stairs he walked to one of my offices.

“He came in very normal way with documents and a letter saying he had a problem. ”

Total Devastation: The chief’s office was totally gutted in the blast

Fortunately for the general, at the time he was away from his office running a seminar with foreign delegates.  But another man in the building was killed and a number of others injured.

The same day a second explosion went off in the centre of Kabul but it did not kill or injure anyone, the government said.

The insurgents, who were ousted from power by an American-led coalition in 2001, are seeking to destabilise Afghanistan as most foreign troops leave the country this year.

Violent Insurgents: One person was killed and six were injured, but not the intended target

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the police HQ attack on Twitter and said it was carried out by a suicide bomber, Reuters reported at the time.

“The attack took place during a meeting between foreign advisers and police inside the police compound,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.

The group has called the new government of national unity led by President Ashraf Ghani a US-backed sham and has vowed to continue fighting after the combat mission led by the United States officially ends in 2014 after more than 13 years of war.

India and Russia Sign 20 Trade Agreements

List of agreements signed between Russia and India


List of agreements signed between Russia and India
MoU signed between TATA Power and Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF).

New Delhi: Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Delhi for the annual summit talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday that is aimed at building on the already close strategic ties, particularly in the fields of nuclear energy, hydrocarbons and defence.

Here is the list of agreements signed during the official Visit of Putin to India.

1. Protocol for consultations between the Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia for the period 2015-2016: Envisages close consultation between the two Foreign Ministries on as many as 17 issues, ranging from Asia-Pacific to West Asia to West Europe to Latin America as also at various multilateral for a like UN, G20, BRICS, SCO, RIC.

List of agreements signed between Russia and India

MoU signed between TATA Power and Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF).

2. Agreement for Training of Indian Armed Forces Personnel in the Military Educational Establishments of the Defence Ministry of the Russian Federation: Lays down provisions and procedures for training courses in military educational and training establishments. It will facilitate better understanding between the two defence forces.

3. Strategic Vision for Strengthening Cooperation in Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy between the Republic of India and the Russian Federation: Envisages roadmap of bilateral cooperation in the civil nuclear energy sector for the next two decades.

4. Provisions for the Technical Data and Information Nondisclosure in the framework of cooperation in the field of Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy: Envisages provisions/terms of information exchange between the nuclear agencies of both the countries. Will provide an impetus to scientific and technological cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

5. Programme of Cooperation (POC) under Framework of Inter-governmental Agreement for Enhancement of Cooperation in Oil and Gas in 2015-16: Sets out a concrete programme for cooperation, envisaging projects including joint exploration and production of hydrocarbons, long term LNG supplies and joint study of a hydrocarbon pipeline system connecting Russia with India.

6. MoU between Quality Council of India (QCI) and Federal Accreditation Service of Russian Federation on technical cooperation on accreditation: Aims at development of accreditation systems, sharing of information, recognition of test reports, and creation of conditions for the elimination of technical barriers in trade and economic cooperation.

7. Memorandum of Understanding between the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (RFBR) on cooperation in Health Research: Envisages programme of cooperation in specific areas of health research such as oncology, bioinformatics and bioimaging, neurosciences, new generation vaccine research and research in HIV/AIDS.

8. MoU between TATA Power and Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF): Describes cooperation in exploring investment opportunities in the energy sector across the Russian Federation.

9. MoU between ACRON of Russia and NMDC of India (consortium leader) to implement the understanding reached to acquire stake in a potash mine in Russia: Envisages acquisition of stakes by a consortium of Indian companies in a US dollar two billion project of ACRON, a Russian fertilizer company.

10. MoU between VTB (Vneshtorgbank) of Russia and ESSAR Group: Envisages finance arrangement of US$ one billion to ESSAR by VTB for general corporate purpose.

11. MoU between IDFC (Infrastructure Development Finance Corporation Ltd) and RDIF (Russian Direct Investment Fund) on a co-investment opportunity up to US $ one billion: Describes terms and conditions on creation of a fund for investments in India and Russia.

12. MoU between ‘Oil India Limited’ and ‘Zarubezhneft’: Envisages cooperation in joint search and evaluation of new hydrocarbons exploration, production, and transportation projects. Will facilitate technological association on hydrocarbon projects in India.

13. MoU between FICCI and Delovaya Rossiya: It aims at broadening and strengthening economic ties and identifying new areas of economic cooperation. It will facilitate exchange of information and support to enterprises in both countries.

14. MoU between news agencies PTI and TASS: Envisages cooperation on exchange of news and the right to use news items. Aims at exchange of expertise and technical assistance through contacts between editorial staff, experts, journalists, press photographers and senior managers.

15. MoU between Electronics and Software Export promotion Council of India (ESEPCI) and Skolkovo Foundation of Russia: Describes support to companies in the Information Technology and ‘innovation’ sectors in their efforts to enter new markets by means of joint ventures, strategic alliances and in joint research and development.

16. MoU between ESSAR and ROSNEFT for long-term supply of crude oil: Envisages ten year supply and purchase by India of crude oil and feed stocks/products.

17. Supplement to the General Framework Agreement (GFA) for Units 3 and 4 of Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project between Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and ATOMSTROYEXPORT (ASE): It will operationlise the General Framework Agreement (GFA) and Technical Commercial Offer (TCO) signed in April 2014, for the implementation of Kudankulam Nuclear Power project (KKNPP) Units 3 and 4.

18. Contract between Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and ATOMSTROYEXPORT (ASE) for unit 3 and 4 of Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant: It will mark the commencing of the implementation of the Units 3 and 4 of Kudankulam Nuclear Power with supply of some major equipment by ATOMSTROYEXPORT.

19. MoU between Gamesa Wind Turbine Pvt Ltd of India and ROTEK of Russia: It will facilitate cooperation between the two companies in wind power equipment.

20. MoU between EIRENE SYSTEMS and GLONASS Union: Envisages a joint venture to market GLONASS technologies and solutions in India. Will contribute to joint development and implementation of projects like ‘Navigation Platform’ and ‘Geographical Information System’ in India.

Putin and Modi Sign Contract for 12 Nuclear Reactors

“Today we will sign a strategic document that foresees the construction of no less than 12 nuclear reactors over the next 20 years….”

Going Nuclear: Russia and India agree to build 12 nuclear power reactors by 2035


Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on December 11, 2014. (AFP Photo/Findlay Kember)

Russia and India are ramping up energy ties and will construct at least 12 new nuclear reactors by 2035. Two will be completed by 2016 at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant, Russian state-owned power company Rosatom confirmed Thursday.

“This morning a general framework agreement was signed on the construction and equipment delivery for the third and fourth blocks of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant at the present site. Cement foundations [for the new blocks] will be poured in the beginning of 2016,” Rosatom head Sergei Kiriyenko said Thursday, as quoted by Sputnik news agency.

In April, Russia and India agreed to begin phase two of the Kudankulam plant, which includes adding Block 3 and Block 4. It is the only nuclear power plant which meets all the ‘post-Fukushima’ safety requirements.

“Today we will sign a strategic document that foresees the construction of no less than 12 nuclear reactors over the next 20 years, or in other words this would be no less than two nuclear power plants,” Kiriyenko said

Nuclear cooperation between Russia and India has been on the rise, and has been a main topic of discussion during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s official visit to New Delhi December 10 -11. Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will also discuss at $3 billion helicopter deal, oil exploration and supply, infrastructure projects, and diamond sales by Alrosa, the Russian state-owned diamond company, to India.

READ MORE: Putin: Nuclear projects core of cooperation between Russia and India

Russia and India first agreed to build the Kudankulam nuclear plant in November 1988, and the first 1,000-megawatt reactor ‘Block 1’ was completed on October 22, 2013. The second power block has also been completed, but needs to be tweaked before it can be connected to the grid. The plant is located in the southern Indian province of Tamil Nadu.

Relations with India have become a priority for the Kremlin, as US-led sanctions have hindered diplomatic and economic ties between Russia and the West.

Bilateral trade between the two BRICS nations in 2013 was $10 billion, a small amount compared to the $90 billion Russia exchanges with China or the €326 billion it turns over with the European Union every year.