Friday, May 22, 2009

Preemption to Prevention : Bush to Obama

Glenn Greenwald provides a thorough FAQ about the contexts and consequences of Obama's suggestion in yesterday's speech at the National Archive, that the US might need to institute "preventive detention" as a security strategy to protect the US from terrorist threats, particularly threats from Al Qaeda. As critics from the left and the libertarian right have quickly noted, the institutionalization of indefinite preventive detention would provide the US president with far more power to detain without trial so-called enemies of the nation than was ever granted to the Bush or any previous administration.

I count myself among the ranks of those who oppose preventive detention. As the medio-political blogosphere is loudly and correctly objecting, this policy would violate fundamental principles of the US Constitution. What is most interesting about preventive detention for me, however, is the way it indicates the persistence of premediation in the age of Obama.

Premediation furnishes the media regime for the Obama administration's preventive approach to terrorism as it did the Bush Administration's doctrine of preemption. In the case of Obama's prevention as of Bush's preemption, government security action (or "pre"action) is triggered not by an act of terrorism that has been committed in the past, nor by any specific threat or plan or plot to commit terrorism that presently exists, but by the potential to commit terrorism in the future.

Premediated terrorism takes no specific or particular form, and may never come about--or perhaps it may. But in the case of preventive detention it is immaterial if the terrorist threat is actual or not. It is a virtual terrorism that has real (which is to say virtual) consequences. The potential to commit virtual terrorist acts against the US may have as one of its consequences the triggering of US security action, the indefinite preventive detention of the virtual terrorist. Like Brian Massumi's characterization of the primacy of preemption in the Bush era, Obama's prevention comes prior to, or precedes, the terrorist action it would prevent. Prevention operates within a realm of premediated security--securitization, or security action, is triggered by the premediation of potential terrorism rather than the mediation (or remediation) of ongoing or completed terrorist acts.

The political conseqences of preventive detention are horrifying. Medialogically, however, the consequences of prevention are in some sense business as usual. At the present historical moment mediation is oriented persistently towards ongoing futures which can only emerge through the present and into the past by being subtracted or selected from an amorphous and indefinite field of other potential futures. Which is to underscore that premediation was not invented by the Bush administration but creatively deployed by them, particularly during the Cheney-Bush years from 2001-2005--and that premediation persists virtually into any number of potential future media regimes.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Preventive detention can be the legal route to prosecute a "thought crime."

The creation of thought crimes has been foundational in every massive purge of humanity from the Spanish Inquisition to Hitler's Holocaust and Stalin's 'Great Terror."

For more on the political approaches used to turn entire nations into machines of injustice from history to today, this is a thought provoking book: