Category Archives: Incarceration

Assange’s Fifth Day at the Old Bailey: Supermax Prisons and Special Administrative Measures

Having had a coronavirus scare towards the end of last week, necessitating a brief suspension of proceedings for September 11, the extradition proceedings for Julian Assange resumed with Eric Lewis.  The chairman of the board of Reprieve, who has cut his teeth on representing Afghan detainees in US custody and those in Guantánamo, has not been shy in arguing against the extradition of Assange to the United States.  In 2019, he warned in The Independent that one did not have to swoon over Assange’s politics or embrace his personality “to understand that if he is extradited to the United States, not only does he face a de facto life sentence, but every journalist who receives and publishes classified information faces such jeopardy as well.”

Emphasis during the day’s proceedings was placed on the potential consequences of Assange’s pre-trial detention and incarceration.  Think of the ADX Florence, Colorado, with such non-commodious confines that would fall within the definition of solitary confinement.

James Lewis QC for the prosecution had been consulting his authorities, suggesting that the European Court of Human Rights had an instructive answer favourable to the US side.  In Babar Ahmad & Others v United Kingdom, a 2012 case involving six defendants accused of terrorism, the ECHR was not unfavourable to aspects of the US justice system.  The applicants, including four British nationals, an Egyptian and a Saudi Arabian, argued that they were at real risk of ill-treatment in the US from the conditions of supermax prisons including “special administrative measures” (SAMs) or the possible length of sentencing in the US.

The ECHR concluded “that there would be no violation of the applicants’ rights if extradited to stand trial in the United States.”  The court accepted the argument made by the UK that the risk of real torture constituted an absolute bar to extradition but that other forms of ill-treatment did not.  “[T]he absolute nature of Article 3 [of the European Convention on Human Rights] does not mean that any form of ill-treatment will act as a bar to removal from a Contracting State.”  A deciding factor would be whether the risk was “real” or “whether it was alleviated by diplomatic and prosecutorial assurances given by the requesting State.”

The judgment itself suffers from a judicial preoccupation with procedural soundness rather than prison reality, not to mention an unhealthy degree of trust.  The court was ready to accept the submissions made by the US that the inmates would not unduly suffer mistreatment, given various safeguards.  “The Federal Bureau of Prisons applies accessible and rational criteria when deciding whether to transfer an inmate to ADX [supermax prison].”   The placement process “is accompanied by a high degree of involvement of senior official within the Bureau who are external to the inmate’s current institution.  Their involvement and requirement that a hearing be held before transfer provide an appropriate measure of procedural protection.”

The words of Babar Ahmad were music to the prosecutor’s ears, and the case was duly thrown back at the board chairman of Reprieve.  It suggested another angle in the prosecution strategy: Assange’s frail mental health should not prevent him from being extradited to the US.  Eric Lewis suggested that the ECHR case should be distinguished from Assange’s.  For one thing, more material on the sinister nature of such supermax facilities had come to light since 2012. He also suggested that mental health was not a crucial factor being debated in the Babar case.

Unfortunately, this ignored the fact that three defendants relied on their mental health as relevant in the challenge.  Such health, noted the ECHR, had not prevented them being confined to “high-security prisons in the United Kingdom.”  The submission from Dr Paul Zohn, a psychologist assigned to assess ADX Florence, gave it a few good licks of decency.  “Care was provided by one psychiatrist and two psychologists who made regular rounds through the housing units at ADX.”  The inmates were not short of treatment programs.  “On the basis of Dr Zohn’s application, it would not appear that the psychiatric services which are available at ADX would be unable to treat such [mental health] conditions.”  There would be no violation of Article 3 should the inmates find themselves detained at ADX.

Despite the judicial heads reaching that conclusion, history is an instructive and refuting guide.  Babar Ahmad subsequently described his experience.  “During the supermax prison time in America, for two years I lived through complete hell.  Those two years were the darkest days of my life… I saw one suicide attempt a week, three suicide attempts in one day.”  The ECHR had also ignored US efforts in preventing the United Nations from evaluating the conditions present in such carceral facilities.  As the UN special rapporteur on torture, Juan Méndez, told the UN Human Rights Council in March 2016, “My request to visit the United States of America has been pending for five years over the terms of reference in order to obtain access to all places of detention.”

The application of SAMs has also been deemed, as the Center for Constitutional Rights and Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School did in their 2017 report, “the darkest corner of the US federal prison system, combining the brutality and isolation of maximum security units with additional restrictions that deny individuals almost any connection to the human world.”  Restrictions involve “gag orders on prisoners, their family members, and their attorneys, effectively shielding this extreme use of government power from public view.”

Given that the US Attorney General has sole discretion to use SAMs, the procedural protections accepted as adequate in Babar Ahmad would have to be reconsidered.  No adequate reason is needed for their imposition, even in a pre-trial setting; the Attorney General’s citing of the relevant charges is considered sufficient and besides, national security considerations are always elastic.  In the words of the CCR report, “They cannot challenge the SAMS designation until after they are placed under SAMs.  Even then, like all federal prisoners, they risk having their cases dismissed for failure to exhaust the effectively meaningless Administrative Remedy Program.”

In this punitive nightmare, prisoners can be subject to such administrative measures indefinitely.  Assange might also face the prospect of continued obstruction to legal counsel, hobbling his means of mounting challenges.  Most troublingly, the use of SAMS can become a punitive bargaining tool, coercing the accused into pleading guilty and cooperating with the authorities.

For prosecutor Lewis, the Babar Ahmad case enabled him to quibble and disagree about the degrees of justifiable cruelty and mental harm that might be visited upon Assange.  To assist his cause, he doubted the expert witness’ qualifications on assessing whether Assange would receive appropriate medical care in the US prison system.  “The bullying prosecutor,” observed journalist John Pilger, “is reduced to insulting the integrity of expert witnesses.”  The witness was also challenged for his lack of impartiality, which had the genuine tone of a pot-calling-the-kettle-black moment.

Eric Lewis stood firm.  While admitting to not being a psychiatrist or a warden, he was “an expert in the US prison system.”  Nor was bias a problem: his views since 2019 on extraditing Assange had not changed.

The testimony sought to drag the matter back to Assange as a special case.  While it did not fall within the category of terrorism, the authorisation of SAMs by Attorney General William Barr would engage the offices of the CIA, whose current director, Gina Haspel, did a nice line in operating black sites sanctioning the use of torture.  As Kevin Gosztola reports, “Haspel is complicit in some of the very examples of US torture that WikiLeaks exposed, and yet she would be able to play a role in determining how he was controlled and silenced while awaiting trial.”  Whether detained at the Alexandria Detention Center awaiting trial, where he would face solitary confinement, or convicted and sent to H Block at ADX Florence, Assange might well find himself on “the only known black site on American soil”.

As with other witnesses, Eric Lewis also reminded the court of various comments by Trump administration officials (former CIA director Mike Pompeo; former Attorney General Jeff Sessions) that indicated a definite and aggressive shift towards prosecuting Assange from that of the Obama administration.  The stuttered nature of the indictment process suggested a certain malice of prolongation: charges fitted to gain the lengthiest sentences.

Towards the end of the day’s proceedings, journalists found themselves cut off from the video link to the court, only to then be informed of its abrupt close.  Stefania Maurizi wondered whether this might be due to technical challenges facing UK courts or hacking.  Either way, it was symbolically apt for a trial that is turning, with each day, into a distorted parody of justice.

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White Allies For Black Lives Matter

We’re now emerging from an intense period of racial justice protests that began after the killing of George Floyd. It was exhilarating and pride-inspiring to witness the multitudes in the Lehigh Valley (Pa) who “took it to the streets” on behalf of racial equality, especially the waves of Black and white young people. According to the Pew Research Center, some 15 million adults participated in the protests which makes it the largest movement in American history. In terms of interracial composition, three times as many whites as Blacks participated and the percentage of Hispanics was higher than that for Black people. Further, so many young people participated that it could be rightly characterized as a generational revolt. But, will these events remain a historic “moment” or the start of an ongoing liberation movement?

After an interminable and unconscionably overdue response, we saw significant white allyship and we finally realized that white people must listen to Black voices and be accountable. However, in that vein, a key question remains: which voices should white allies heed? As Black activist Eric Jenkins reminds us, no organization speaks for all Black people and some Black-led organizations are totally disconnected from the lives of the Black working class. As Jenkins notes, some traditional Black organizations are even leery to accept white activists lest it disrupt their relationship with the dominant white power structure.

So, should white allies listen to the voices of the “go-along to get-ahead” types, like the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), composed of 55 members? The late Bruce Dixon, an editor at Black Agenda Report, characterized the CBC as part of the “Black Political Class,” whose first allegiance is enabling the 1% to rule, a class to which most Black Americans do not belong. “Blackness,” here, is just an image brandished to banksters, military contractors and corporate interests.” As Dixon asserted, CBC takes its marching orders from the Democratic Party and obscene gobs of cash donations from white corporate sponsors in exchange for safe Congressional seats, cushy lifestyles and undeserved status. Aside from rhetoric, they do nothing to advance the interests of 40 million Black citizens,

Should we listen to the Black voices those attempting to co-opt and neuter the system transforming potential Black Lives Matter by diverting it simply into voting for Democrats. As a Facebook friend recently wrote, “The Democratic Party is now “An upper-middle class party that’s singing ‘We Shall Overcome’ fifty years too late.”

Or, rather, should we be attentive to Black voices in our midst who echo the powerful legacy of social and political transformation derived from Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass, Paul Robeson to W.E.B. DuBois, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Audre Lorde to more recent voices like bell hooks, Margaret Kimberley, Keenanga-Yamahtta Taylor and Mary Hooks? Their work strongly suggests they would all advocate a gradual merging of BLM demands like “Stop Killing Black People,” ending mass incarceration (one in three Black boys can expect to be locked up during their adult lives) and abolishing institutional and cultural racism with demands to dismantle capitalism in all its predatory forms. The aforementioned social justice activists knew that a reckoning with America’s history of racism and economic injustice can never be realized without joining both sets of demands.

For example, as Martin Luther King matured as a leader, thinker and radical activist, be became openly anti-capitalist (and anti-U.S. imperialism). In a speech to his staff in South Carolina, just one month before his assassination on April 4, 1968, Dr. King spoke approvingly about the new and dynamic young radicals in the movement who understood that “only by structural change can current evils be eliminated because the roots are in the [capitalist] system rather than in men or in faulty operations…they all understand the need for direct, self-transforming and structural transformation. This may be their most creative collective insight.”

Finally, meaningful change will only come about when tens of thousands of people are willing to engage in large-scale civil disobedience and risk arrest in the revolutionary tradition of Dr. King. Is there any doubt that were he alive today he would be all about grass-roots organizing and planning another rally for the indefinite occupation of Washington, DC. This type of movement is the worst nightmare for those who own and rule the country. Doing anything less than attempting to bring their apparition to life would be wasting a convergence of favorable factors that may not appear again.

Britain’s War on Truth and Dissent

A man is confined for seven years of his life to a diplomatic compound, fearing arrest for exposing some of the worst war crimes and financial misdoings of the past two decades, only to be stripped of his asylum status in a blatant mockery of international law before being locked away in a high security prison to await extradition and a possible life sentence. The press has obediently mounted a campaign to discredit the man, accusing him of every imaginable cardinal sin, and everyone who speaks out is accused of treachery.

To most of us, this sounds like a horror story from behind the Iron Curtain, some cartoonish portrayal of the Evil Empire whose citizens live a lie and where dissidents disappear without trace.

But this isn’t the Evil Empire, not according to Reagan at least. This is twenty-first century Britain, whose ancient democratic institutions lie at the heart of her national identity.

The man, needless to say, is Julian Assange who today pays the price for defying the institutional rot at the heart of Western governments; a rot we pretend does not exist.

Documents showing the medieval depravity that is Guantanamo Bay, details of a dirty multi-million dollar scheme to snatch up mining rights in the Central African Republic and, of course, Collateral Murder, the haunting video which shows Iraqi civilians being shot from an American helicopter while the pilots maniacally laugh at ‘these dead bastards’. Assange and Wikileaks revealed this and much more.

Those embarrassed by the revelations have chosen to defame him. They claim that Ecuador’s decision to revoke Assange’s asylum status had something to do with how he behaved in the embassy. They would have us believe that the British police spent £12.6 million to bring him to justice for – extremely dubious and now dismissed – allegations of rape in a country where sexual assault claims are routinely ignored by the authorities. They would accuse him of serving Russian interests, of being a spy and conspiring to hack into a government computer, even though Assange did nothing that would not have been done by any other investigative journalist.

His trial was inherently unfair from the outset with Assange deprived of vital legal documents and communications with his legal team apparently spied on by Spanish contractors for the CIA. The judge, Emma Arbuthnot, had a clear conflict of interest as her husband has previously been exposed by Wikileaks.

Since his incarceration at HM Prison Belmarsh he has reportedly lost 15 kilograms and shown signs of ‘full-fledged psychological torture’. His family fears that he will die in jail.

Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture who visited Assange at Belmarsh, went as far as saying, ‘In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution I have never seen a group of democratic States ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonise and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law.’ Yet even esteemed jurists like Melzer have faced torrents of abuse and intimidation for merely stating the obvious: speaking the truth to power – that is Assange’s crime.

If the extradition goes ahead it will violate current provisions that exempt political prisoners from being extradited. It will also create fundamental legal obstacles to investigative journalism, silencing those who expose the most abhorrent acts of government cruelty and greed.

Two years ago, the British Government narcissistically took the high ground over the apparent involvement of the Russian state in the attempted poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. It bears restating that Skripal was an ex-GRU agent who turned to work for the MI6 and blew the cover of 300 former comrades-in-arms. He was no dissident and no hero. And he certainly did serve foreign interests.

The event triggered among the largest expulsions of foreign diplomats in history and became a symbol of Russian authoritarianism and intolerance of dissent. The Russian government denied involvement and responded by expelling Western diplomats.

Yet today Britain conducts a show trial designed to crush a man who exposed atrocities and corrupt financial dealings, and to set an example for others. It does not even need to resort to covert measures – the public and the press don’t care.

Assange will be locked away and silenced for the rest of his life, while our governments continue to sow chaos and suffering across the world in our name.

Prison: Therapeutic Centers Or Academies of Crime?

We may know where one is, we may regularly pass by one, but most of us will never go to prison. Dark Islands of Confinement, existing in a space separated from the rest of society, where men, women and youths are locked up, often poorly treated, seldom rehabilitated.

Black men and people from Asian and minority ethnic groups including tribal peoples, make up a disproportionate percentage of the prison population in many countries. In America, where incarceration based on race is routine, Prison Policy found that “Black Americans make up 40% of the incarcerated population despite representing only 13% of U.S. residents.” In Britain, Government statistics show that, “people of minority ethnicities made up 27% of the prison population compared with 13% of the general population.” This figure increases further in young offenders’ institutions (YOI), where about 51% of boys aged 15–17 and young men, aged 18–21, are from black minority ethnic backgrounds, nearly four times the BAME proportion of the wider UK population. In addition between 2018/19, black people were eight times more likely than white to be stopped and searched, and police are five times more likely to use force against black people than white people.

Globally there are around 10.35 million people in prison (World Prison Population List), half of who are held in just three countries – the USA, China and Russia. With 2.2 million people behind bars America has the highest number of prisoners in the world; 655 people per 100,000, in Russia its 615 per 100,000.

At the other end of the scale is Norway, a world leader in prison reform. The total prison population is 3,207, equating to 60 people per 100,000 – over 10 times lower than the US and Russia and five times lower than Britain (87,900 behind bars – 148 per 100,000). Norway also has among the lowest re-offending rates in the world at 20% – by comparison in the US 76.6% re-offend and are re-arrested within five years; in the UK it’s almost the same.

These stark statistical differences reflect alternate approaches in the judicial system, the prison environment and in the nature of the society, the values and ideals, as well as levels of wealth and income inequality, which are much lower, and the overall atmosphere in which people live.

Prison officers are well-trained professionals, not merely ‘guards’. The Governor of Norway’s maximum security Halden Prison told the BBC “We make sure an inmate serves his sentence but we also help that person become a better person. We are role models, coaches and mentors.” Staff and inmates take part in activities together: “they eat together, play volleyball together, do leisure activities together and that allows us to really interact with prisoners, to talk to them and to motivate them.”

Prisons are well designed, well resourced and properly maintained, humane places in which inmates can study, learn skills and prepare themselves for a new life on release; centers of rehabilitated and education, rather than hostile places in which retribution is sought and punishment meted out. This rather crude, but widespread approach is based on the misguided belief that tough sentencing and a rigid penal system will act as a deterrent.

Is fear a deterrent?

The idea of prison as punishment posits the power of fear to change behavior. It is part of a broader ideological approach that believes in competition, together with reward and punishment as effective means of motivation, of manipulating behavior to achieve the goal, whatever that may be – obedience and conformity for one thing. It is a common technique in the world of business, is widely employed by parents and to a lesser degree teachers when faced with ‘difficult’, children, usually meaning children who won’t conform.

It is an approach that ignores, disregards or has no time for underlying causes – social, psychological and behavioral, and determines, that criminals should be punished. And while this approach appears justified, and commonly has public support, all the evidence suggests that not only does this method not deter criminals or, as re-offending rates show, change behavior, but it feeds into a societal atmosphere of intolerance and judgment, strengthening embedded divisions.

Instead of institutions of retribution, prisons should be refashioned as Therapeutic Centers for Change in which the criminal takes responsibility for their actions but is not made to feel guilty, or despised. An approach that looks at the range of influences that lead a young person into crime and to joining a criminal gang. Communities in which inmates are offered educational and therapeutic support; the whole focus of activity should be to rehabilitate, educate and heal, with the aim of releasing people back into society better educated and (psychologically) better equipped to deal with the demands of life. As in the Norwegian model, prisoners need to be shown respect and compassion and prisons need to be well resourced, funded by the state – private companies have no place in prisons or anywhere else in the criminal justice system – and staffed properly with trained personnel.

Wealth, crime and confinement

The underlying causes of crime and anti-social behavior are complex, but study after study shows that poverty, poor education and lack of parental guidance (specifically a stable father), are key factors. Education is consistently hailed as key to release from poverty and social deprivation, and therefore crime. The education a child/young person receives, however, including extra tutoring, access to the Internet, parental support, exposure to the arts, freedom to travel, is conditional upon their social/economic background. Varied levels of opportunity are one aspect of a world defined by inequality.

Inequality is an issue of social justice. It is not simply a financial issue. It is inherent in the socio-economic order and impacts on all areas of life (including political influence – with wealth goes power), enabling broader social imbalances to prevail. Restricting social mobility, condemning those born into poverty, to, by and large – there are always exceptions – remain there. Interestingly there is a correlation between levels of inequality and crime. Homicides, suspicion and fear of others are higher in countries where differences in wealth/income/opportunities are most pronounced, as are child pregnancies and mental illnesses in addition to a range of other social issues.

Operating under the same socio-economic model all countries suffer from inequality. Comparing levels of inequality is not straightforward. South Africa often tops the list, with China and India close behind but according to inequality.org the US, is the “most top heavy, with much greater shares of national wealth and income going to the richest 1 percent than any other country.” America is also the prison capital of the world and has more people serving life sentences than anywhere else: 30% of the estimated global number.

All is interconnected; prisons and crime are consequential elements within a societal structure of injustice and prejudice, which requires fundamental change. The current outdated, habitual and in many cases shameful methods need to be reviewed, the interconnections revealed and alternate approaches developed.

Such an examination must seek to understand the psychological impact that certain habitual methodologies and relentlessly promoted values have; the widespread use of competition, reward and punishment; the impact of fear, its relationship with desire and comparison; the reductive construct of the self. It must also examine the social conditions people are exposed to. Education and housing, the lack of access to the arts and the impact of materialistic values relentlessly promoted by corporations and governments, as well as the behavior such ideals encourage and the focus on material success. Probably not everyone can be rehabilitated, but many can and all deserve the chance.

A radical shift is needed, rooted in the recognition that humanity is one, that prejudice has no place in our consciousness or society and that the seed of all that is good rests within each and every human being. In order for that to flourish the creation of environments free from competition, judgment and hatred is required; stimulating spaces (home, school/university, the workplace, prisons and society as a whole) built on compassion, understanding and tolerance.

Overcoming Civil Discourse and Other Illusions of Democracy for the 1%


Festishizing democracy

The U.S. racist-capitalist class and its ideological apparatus fetishize the word democracy. Using fatuous appeals to civil discourse, it sponsors the illusion that democracy is the most advanced political system in human history. In addition to voting for their representatives, people supposedly engage with civil society through which they achieve greater social goods through voting, civic involvement, and giving “voice” to their desires. Once people make a case for change and opinions are expressed in civil discourse, society theoretically modifies and incorporates new changes. In this idealized state, society no longer needs conflict or struggle. When groups or classes resort to struggle or fail to act passively, they are earmarked as dangerous and excluded from designations of civil discourse. (Note: this particular rule applies only to #BlackLivesMatter or Occupy protesters, not to heavily armed white “stay home” protesters or fascist Bolivian or Venezuelan coup plotters.)

Such is the idealized state. Reality is quite different. In truth, the most advanced form of democracy is confined to the already-powerful, the 1% minority of extremely wealthy people and members of the dominant racial group. The wealthiest groups maintain their power to use the state to enact their political, economic, and social agendas. For the 99%, however, there is an expectation that we consent to and ratify the domination of U.S. society by its racist capitalist rulers through these non-struggle forms, through minor tweaks and improvements.

Despite the ideals of democracy, most eligible Americans vote only occasionally; many who try to vote are denied access through various racist mechanisms. Most Americans are cynical about both the government and their impact through civic participation. Few people have the millions of dollars required to influence the political process. Economist Michael Zweig shows in The Working-Class Majority, the actual number of people who make up the U.S. ruling class is so small that they could fit easily into Yankee Stadium. The truth is that the U.S. political-economic system, as it is currently constituted, even at its most democratic, cannot be more than what it is. Belief in leaving the system intact and achieving a more “perfect union” is part of the illusion.

Sociologist Jennifer M. Silva shows in We’re Still Here, few working-class people any longer believe in the capacity of people in their position to make change through existing democratic processes. Anti-communism of the Cold War period, neoliberal assaults on organized labor, and the empowerment of corporations today with human rights undermined this capacity. Above all, the perpetual animation of racist whiteness allying white workers with white millionaires in their political and cultural values creates a toxic poison causing white workers to betray themselves. Many acquire a psychological reward, as W.E.B. Du Bois first showed in Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880, from witnessing the abusive power and corrupt enrichment of white millionaires and billionaires, value given to brutal symbols of white national identity and culture, and the racist and xenophobic equation of “American” with white.

Silva seems to demonstrate, by contrast, that Black and Brown workers tend to be more optimistic about their lives and political roles. Perhaps this optimism is shaped by the inclination of U.S. working-class people of color to frequently view struggle and life with what scholar John D. Marquez, in Black-Brown Solidarity, has called a “collective consciousness” rooted in shared conditions of oppression and exploitation. Moreover, the history of a valiant progressive struggle closely links many communities of color with a more firmly rooted refusal to accept dominant illusions about democracy condition this experience. Some polls suggest that African Americans are more likely than whites to have an unfavorable view of capitalism and are more likely to be members of unions than white workers. Latinx workers represent the fastest-growing ethnic demographic group in the labor movement. They have been consistently at the forefront to reshape citizenship rights, worker relations with capital, and dominant value systems. The humanizing effect of organized labor and collective struggle on white workers, research shows, when they gain union membership experience less racist resentment. (Notably, in the most densely unionized section of the workforce, the “protective sector” [police, prison guards, etc.], this humanizing impact fails to take root in any meaningful manner.)

In the end, most workers, even many unionized workers, struggle paycheck-to-paycheck. They suffer the financial consequences of unnecessary cycles of unemployment; they fear sickness and stalking poverty. Often, they cannot imagine how their children, in the present conditions, will achieve a better life, and they suffer the emotional torture of knowing their losing struggles mirror their powerlessness. For large numbers of white workers, Trump’s authoritarianism, as inept and shamelessly racist as it is, stands in as the antidote for powerlessness. Cynicism, fueled by mythological individualism and exclusion, is fostered and manipulated by and aids the cause of the most powerful.

Imperialism, capitalism, racism

Democracy for the wealthy few has been a murderous disaster. Over the past 70 years, each decade, with its democratic ideals in hand, the U.S. has started at least one, sometimes more than one, major military conflict. Conservative estimates of the death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan have so far reached between 1 million (directly) and 3 million (indirectly), just since 2001. U.S. war and “smart” sanctions in Iraq between 1991-2003 likely caused the deaths of at least 1 million people. Almost 8 million people died in Vietnam and neighboring Southeast Asian countries due to the U.S. invasion. Estimates of the number of deaths in the Korean War hover around 4 million. These numbers do not count the half of million Communists murdered by the U.S. propped-up South Korean regime or the 1 million Communists murdered with CIA direction and resources in Indonesia. Wars have been fought to promote democracy, for racist-capitalist domination of markets, geo-political power, corporate profits, or natural resources. Besides, dozens of other manufactured interventions in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East have established U.S.-backed or controlled dictatorships and undemocratic regimes. In all, U.S. imperialism has killed more than 16 million people since 1950 alone and has forced tens of millions to flee their homes.

Those choices have also cost the U.S. trillions of dollars in resources and vast amounts of goodwill. Very few people in the world regard the U.S. government, its racial capitalism, or its military in a friendly or uncritical fashion. Democracy for the minority means that the U.S. state machinery, in a democratic manner, will pass a 2020 military budget of $740 billion (a process that hides the real cost of war, intervention, and the violent subversion of other country’s sovereignty) with almost no criticism of the waste and irresponsibility of such spending.

Democracy for the 1% means that lobbyists for health insurance and medical corporations use democratic measures to block a streamlined public universal healthcare system consistently. Tens of millions of Americans are still excluded from health coverage, or pay massive costs for prescription drugs and medical procedures, even during a pandemic that has killed more than 130,000 people. The CEO of Gilead Sciences, which developed an antiviral treatment for COVID-19 using public resources, recently announced that his company’s drug will cost $3120 per vial. Gilead’s stock prices and profit margins promise better returns, while about 130,000 people in the U.S. alone, disproportionately people of color, are dead.

Democracy for the minority has seen explosive growth since the 1970s of racist police and criminal justice systems. Seventy years ago, the U.S. used a progressive tax on wealth to build a low-cost, world-class university system, sent people to the moon, and built highways, bridges, and tunnels. Today, militarized police forces and an expensive military machine dominate our lives. These systems brutalize and disproportionately imprison millions of African Americans and Latinx people. In early July, numerous media reports showed a widespread police culture of mocking the victims of police repression and racist violence. In the country with less than 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. has the world’s highest rate of imprisonment, far surpassing countries the U.S. government regularly demonize as undemocratic. About 7 million Americans are in prison or are under court-ordered surveillance through parole or probation. Further, as scholar and activist Angela Davis has shown in Are Prisons Obsolete?, the democratic process has created a criminal justice system dictated by privately-owned corporations that have a profit motive for expanding the number of arrested, convicted, and imprisoned people. As scholar Alex S. Vitale shows in The End of Policing, state and local governments, rather than fund high-quality public education, use up their limited resources to pay private security companies to train police to adopt a racist “warrior mentality” to confront and control non-white populations.

Democracy for the wealthy few means that one corrupt man was able to use his wealth to gain control of the machinery of the U.S. state, to manipulate his power to enrich his family and businesses, promote an agenda of “white power” and authoritarianism, and consistently lie to the American people and the world. When he was caught and tried for his crimes, he democratically squirmed away from conviction and punishment.

That is what democracy looks like.

Uprising and overcoming democracy

The May-June Uprising against racist police brutality, which began in Minneapolis as the protest of the murder of George Floyd, has also become a struggle against cynicism. It is becoming a struggle to “overcome democracy,” as Lenin, in State and Revolution, described the working-class movement’s ultimate goal. Under capitalism, he reasoned, democracy will always mean domination by the 1%. The socialist-oriented, working-class majority must overcome it. Today’s uprisings have become both a struggle against Trump’s abuse of power and a fight to overcome the democracy that operates by and for the white supremacist, wealthy few. Thus, the uprising has become a mass demand to reshape power relations more broadly, wrest control of all resources from the dominant racist-capitalist minority, and redirect the state’s machinery to serve the needs of the majority of the people.

It is tempting to follow the arguments of some Marxists who argue that a distinction between bourgeois democracy and socialist democracy must be made. For example, the late historian Ellen Meiksins Wood in Democracy Against Capitalism poses, without citing or discussing Lenin, what she sees as the political concept of democracy against the fundamentally economic concept of capitalism. She offers a socialist critique of democracy. Wood argues that democracy refers to all “extra-economic goods” or “political goods.” Political struggles around “extra-economic goods,” she avers, “remain vitally important, but they have to be organized and conducted in the full recognition that capitalism has a remarkable capacity to distance democratic politics from the decisive centres of social power and to insulate the power of appropriation and exploitation from democratic accountability.”

Wood’s idea shares some important affinities with Lenin’s metaphor of democracy as “the shell of capitalism.” Lenin writes, “A democratic republic is the best possible political shell for capitalism.” Capitalism uses this shell to protect itself, to conceal its relations, to hide its core truths behind a covering of dynamic political activity, speech, campaigns, and discourse. It is the appearance of freedom and dynamic discourse that “insulates” the true power of capitalist domination of the state. In the end, Wood distinguishes a fuller democracy associated with socialism and a limited version associated with capitalism––as if the political forms of the latter are simply extended for a greater portion of the population but essentially remain the same.

Creating a distinction between two types of democracy isn’t, however, Lenin’s purpose in State and Revolution. His doesn’t claim that democracy functions improperly under capitalism; it is, at its best, the limit of political maturity under capitalist social relations of production. Instead of distinguishing bourgeois democracy from socialist democracy, Lenin’s shows that Marxism envisions a revolutionary process that originates in capitalism (and its political forms) but which are seized, subordinated, and then supplanted by new working-class created and controlled political forms that better empower and fortify the public ownership, administration, and planning for development the enterprises, institutions, resources, and communities of the future.

We are witnessing in this Uprising an attempt to create in embryonic form the tools that may turn the struggle from one of extending democracy to one of overcoming democracy. Lenin called for workers to claim existing democratic machinery but to refuse to settle for merely holding onto that machinery. Without a process of overcoming democracy, a mass uprising that aims to secure power for the majority will fail, and the dominant minority will return to power. History shows us that the neoliberal class strategy implemented in the 1970s and 1980s restored the full racist-capitalist domination despite the communist and social democratic insurgencies in the 1930s through the 1960s. Through this uprising, in its resistance to racist police brutality––the truncheon of the racist capitalist class that dominates the U.S. state––the people seek to extend citizenship rights. But also, they seek to convert that mechanism of power into a tool to reconstruct themselves as rulers not as the ruled, or as subjects who consent to the democracy of racist capital.

The Big Plantation

European Left-wing political scientists find difficult to understand that the colonial contradiction is at the heart of our present, they think it’s a conceptual error, something anachronistic, that the joyful postmodernity – the one that delivers their Macs to them at home – has gone beyond all that, and that Trump or Bolsonaro are racist accidents of History, or of the “free world”. It’s just the opposite. Under the advertising varnish of capitalist globalization, the deep History of our world has never disappeared, it has even come back to the surface, even stronger. The revolt that is happening in the United States is the same one that founds the resistance of the Venezuelan people.
— Thierry Deronne, Algeria Resistance Mohsen Abdelmoumen’s blog, 2020

Everyone is a philosopher, though in his own way and unconsciously, since even in the slightest manifestation of any intellectual activity whatever, in ‘language’, there is contained a specific conception of the world, one then moves on to the second level, which is that of awareness and criticism.
— Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks

Three of the four police officers involved in the murder of George Floyd were previously employed as stock boys by TARGET and Home Depot, and two had worked at McDonalds. One stocked for a grocery store. One didn’t graduate high school. In other words these were economically part of that large temp minimum wage work force that is now increasingly unemployed. The fourth, officer Kueng, whose file was redacted, was apparently more middle class, from a nice family and who graduated with some distinction from his high school. It’s interesting, first off, why his file was redacted.

But one of them had served in the military, Derek Chauvin, the man now charged with the murder. Chauvin also had 17 complaints filed against him for excessive force before he kneeled on George Floyd’s neck.

There are a couple things to consider here. One is why these men are not on the side of the people they abuse (and murder)? The answer is multi-fold. One is a culture of machismo and violence that saturates American society. Another is that the United States was a slave owning nation where twelve presidents owned slaves. Racism and Calvinist and Puritan values have never left this society. And it was founded (and it’s in the constitution) as an unequal and anti-democratic republic. Owners of property were established as privileged. And so it has continued. But it also has the allure of the uniform. Now it’s understandable that being a cop and being handed a gun and impunity to harass and abuse the public is preferable to flipping burgers. One job is utter humiliation while the other is validated as heroic by popular culture.

Domestic police departments tend to hire military veterans before those without military service.

The Obama administration helped expand the preference: in 2012, the Department of Justice provided tens of millions of dollars to fund scores of vets-only positions in police departments nationwide. Official data on the impact of veteran-cops is scarce. Nearly all of the 33 police departments contacted by The Marshall Project declined to provide a list of officers who had served in the military, citing laws protecting personnel records, or saying the information was not stored in any central place. The Justice Department office that dispenses grants to hire cops and study policing said it has no interest in funding research into how military experience might influence police behavior.
— Simone Weichselbaum and Beth Schwartzapfel, The Marshall Project, May 30, 2017

Those with special forces training tend to go into Private Security. One in four soldiers in theatre in Afghanistan are private contractors. The wars of empire are increasingly being outsourced.

During the Obama administration, the Pentagon has been equipping US police departments across the country with a staggering amount of military weapons, combat vehicles, and other equipment, according to Pentagon data.

According to a New York Times article published last week, at minimum, 93,763 machine guns, 180,718 magazine cartridges, hundreds of silencers and an unknown number of grenade launchers have been provided to state and local police departments since 2006. This is in addition to at least 533 planes and helicopters, and 432 MRAPs — 9-foot high, 30-ton Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicles with gun turrets, and more than 44,900 pieces of night vision equipment, regularly used in nighttime raids in Afghanistan and Iraq. Much of the lethal provisions have gone to small city and county police forces. The recent militarization is part of a broader trend. According to Eastern Kentucky University professor Peter B. Kraska — who has studied this subject for two decades — as of the late 1990s, about 89 percent of police departments in the United States serving populations of 50,000 people or more had a PPU (Police Paramilitary Unit), almost double of what existed in the mid-1980s. Their growth in smaller jurisdictions (agencies serving between 25 and 50,000 people) was even more pronounced. Currently, about 80 percent of small town agencies have a PPU; in the mid-1980s only 20 percent had them. The domestic military ramp-up is far from being in proportion to any perceived threat to public safety. The Times notes that, “today, crime has fallen to its lowest levels in a generation… the number of domestic terrorist attacks has declined sharply from the 1960s and 1970s.” And yet, “police SWAT teams are now deployed tens of thousands of times each year, increasingly for routine jobs.
— Zac Corrigan, WSWS, June 2014

Couple this to the growing social inequality in the country, where 15% live below the poverty line (in 2015, and which no doubt is closing in on double that post Covid), and where on the heels of the pandemic hysteria and government fearmongering, which resulted in a nation wide (and global) house arrest, the problems with a militarily trained and equipped domestic police force, one drawing its officers from the low end of the educational spectrum, and one that provides at best rudimentary training, is obvious.

A Buddhist friend of mine was mentioning that at her retreat one of the Tibetan teachers observed that Covid-19 and the authoritarian policies it has engendered will unleash cataclysmic dark forces. Spiritual forces, so I take it. Or anti-spiritual, actually. And this is how it feels. And this is beyond the clear fascist agenda in play, but extends into realms of psychic transformation for the bourgeoisie in particular. The anxiety and fear that has grown silently for this privileged class, grown steadily over the last twenty years, is now cracking open and the toxic emotional slag of the atrophied inner lives is spilling out on the rest of society at large. It feels or is felt most deeply, from my anecdotal experience, in the white bourgeoisie’s fear of the other.

And I have not felt this sort of collective confusion, anxiety, and fear since the days of Vietnam. Things surface for people. The psychological effects of this lockdown are being wildly underestimated (especially in the long term for children). The difference from the Vietnam war is five decades of screen damage and an accelerated transference of wealth to the top 1%. The reality of such profound economic inequality is impossible to deny now, and the staggering numbers of homeless across the country eventually can’t be NOT seen.  It finally starts to serve as a psychic wound, a constant silent witness to the crimes of the system.

The ruling class, or certainly at the least one corner of it, launched the ‘Covid-19 panic’ as a means to shut down western society. No matter if the virus is man made or accidental or just a naturally occurring zoonotic virus… it served as a prop for their agenda. The ultimate plan remains a bit opaque but it likely includes a wholesale eradication of what is left of civil liberties, intensification of an already draconian surveillance state, and a transformation and rebranding of the meager welfare state into something fit for 7th century serfs, only far worse actually. This is the world of Bill Gates’ moist nocturnal dreams, and those elite new green capitalists, royal families, and digital billionaires. It should be noted that global health bureaucracies like WHO and the CDC are political organizations first. Both have deep and long standing ties to big Pharma and various other corporate interests. The WHO is privately funded (Gates essentially owns it and directs policy) and the CDC is actually a part of the Health and Human Services department of government. And the current head of the CDC is a former pharmaceutical company executive and a guy who worked with John Bolton drawing up the National Biodefense Strategy for president Trump. Anthony Fauci is the creepy and slimy little front man for all the agencies involved in urging governments around the world to shut down (they like the term lockdown for its prison connotations). Without digressing too much here, what is relevant is that when one starts to wonder how it is allowed for known white nationalists and Klansmen to openly serve as police officers, the answer is not that the de-centralized nature of state and city police departments are hard to reform or clean up but rather that the very top office holders in criminal justice share sympathy with the racists.

We are watching in real time the normalizing of martial law and the suspension of democracy. And these measures have given a bit of a boost to the beleaguered and increasingly brutish police departments across the country. When not even a high school diploma is necessary to be given a badge and gun, when the police recruit from the ranks of malcontent and angry TARGET stock boys and blank McDonald counter people, there must be a logic at work, and I suspect there is. First, flipping burgers is the only thing many young men and women have open to them. I’ve done that kind of work. And I hated it, too. But the domestic police, those city departments fresh with new military hardware, don’t want empathic or imaginative young men, they want the emotionally dead. As a side point here, I know martial arts masters who can train you to subdue the wildest suspect without any harm. Adroitly and calmly — but it would require a few months training, not a few hours. But that is not what the departments want. They want crude clumsy tactics, ones that instill fear and which cause pain and suffering and sometimes death. Those few percent of military trained special force guys, they don’t go the Minneapolis police department, or San Diego, or Toledo or Indianapolis. They go into high end private security.

This is not even to touch on the wide spread use of steroids.

When it came to incarceration, the US prison population had reached a staggering 2.4 million people by 2014. Out of this number — which accounted for a full quarter of the entire world’s prison population — 38 percent of inmates were black, even though as mentioned black people made up just 13.3 percent of the entire population. Compare this to whites, who made up 35 percent of the US prison population while constituting just under 78 percent of the country’s population. Mass incarceration was brought into being by Bill Clinton with the passage of his omnibus crime bill in 1994. Obama, over his two terms, did nothing to address what prison reform activists had long described as the new plantation.
— John Wight, Medium, 2020

The police today are increasingly used for purposes of optics, as much as any real police work. Most crimes go unsolved and for uniformed cops in their black and white (usually) Cruisers the job description is essentially to function as an occupying force in poor neighborhoods. They carry out parole checks, harass and detain the poor, often on a whim. Most acutely in black inner cities. `They are a new gestapo. They are there to brutalize and frighten what is seen as a surplus population. The essence of America’s slave legacy is found right there, in the grim counter insurgency tactics of domestic police departments on the streets of black inner cities. For important work, for the protection of important persons and prestige property the ruling class have turned to private security. That leaves the uniformed cops, badly paid, with minimum job security actually, as tools for enforcing racial oppression. And if any more proof were needed, one need only check the hyper incarceration rate in America’s prisons, and further, the results of the Innocence Project. The numbers of falsely convicted men and women is staggering, it is mind numbing and a spiritual stain on this society that can never be washed away. It is the overriding and ineradicable symbol of a savage culture of strict class separation, a separation enforced with lethality and pointless cruelty. For the hyper incarceration starts right there, on the same streets where Eric Garner was choked, or Tamir Rice was shot, where George Floyd was murdered, and Trayvon Martin and Philando Castile and hundreds of others have suffered and died. One topic not discussed enough is post arrest custodial deaths.

In properly staffed households throughout the world, the bodyguard is the new nanny, fear of terrorism, a volatile political climate and a pervasive sense that the wealth creation of a few has come at the expense of the many have made paranoia the norm.
Town and Country, December 2016

We learned that the contractors in our sample are predominantly white man in their 40s who chose contracting as a second career. Most are veterans with significant military experience. Among those contractors who were previously deployed as service members, many are former officers and about half of them are Special Forces veterans. They are more likely to have a college degree than their active-duty counterparts, but less likely than their fellow veterans in the general population. They come from parts of the U.S. or United Kingdom with higher unemployment rates and fewer job opportunities—not the areas with the strongest traditions for military service.
— Ori Swed and Thomas Crosbie, Pacific Standard, “The Demographics of America’s Private Military Contractors”. March 2019

In 2009, after Obama was elected, the Department of Homeland Security and FBI jointly wrote an intelligence study on white extremism in domestic police departments.  Janet Napolitano, then DHS head, quickly and quietly swept the report under the proverbial rug. Back in 1991 Los Angeles U. S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr found that sheriffs at the Lynwood substation were engaged in what he called ‘racial hostility’ and ‘terrorist tactics’ against Latino and Black prisoners. And that the top brass for the Sheriffs’ department were well aware of this. In 2006 the FBI released a redacted memorandum warning of white nationalists in domestic police departments. Or look up the Joe Burge case in Chicago. In departments in Florida, Texas, and Ohio, there were active Klansmen in police departments. It is common knowledge that across the country police culture is profoundly racist and reactionary. The educated classes in the U.S. have internalized the Hollywood version of all this. Just think how many hours of cop shows (all them, literally) you have watched and how every single one signs off on a fantasy version of police heroism …the thin blue line metaphor, and how it is only these handsome and beautiful (if slightly flawed, you know, human) public servants are protecting you and your family from the vicious underclass, from drug dealing gangs, all minority, and where all them, literally, portray inner cities are lawless wastelands without culture, brutish and bestial. This has led to the new narrative archetype of ‘taking the wrong off-ramp’. These are openly racist stories but the public has come to digest such pseudo storytelling in a sort of pattern recognition manner. And nearly every single cop show features one or more military veterans. Usually special forces, but not always. Service in the military is a signifier for virtue and honour.

Forward to 2019, and Los Angeles again, this time in the incorporated mostly black city of Compton in south LA. The details of the Ryan Twyman killing, by sheriffs again, is perhaps the most perfect example of American white supremacism and, when empowered, the violent consequences.

Ryan Twyman was unarmed inside a parked car when two Los Angeles sheriff deputies approached and fired 34 rounds. Video of the entire incident, which happened in roughly 50 seconds, was as shocking as many police brutality cases that have gone viral in the US. But the killing of the 24-year-old father of three barely made the news. On that day, his death was far from unique: officers across LA shot five people in five separate incidents in just over 24 hours. Only one person survived. Families and activists said the bloodshed on 6 June provided a terrifying illustration of the culture of police violence and a system that trains officers to kill – while ensuring they won’t face consequences.
— Sam Levine, Guardian, August 2019.

This is not what you see on the new FOX cop show Deputy. Watch a few episodes and get back to me. But that is hardly a unique phenomenon. There is SWAT, Chicago PD, the various Law & Order franchises, or Criminal Minds. I could go on and on, obviously. The problem is not the violence depicted, for Shakespeare is violent. It is the naked propaganda and the racism. Anti-black racism at the very top but today Islamaphobic narratives abound as well, often with pro Israeli sub plots. Military shows follow the same blueprint.

The point is that you cannot separate the Imperialist wars of aggression across the planet, which serve as recruitment pools for domestic police and private security and you cannot separate the counter insurgency tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan, or Syria, not to mention the covert activities against Venezuela and Bolivia both of which involved at least some uniformed military personnel, from the sadistic actions of America’s police. Nor can you separate these aggressions from the jingoistic entertainments (recruitment shows for the military and police) from Hollywood. These foreign policy actions remain largely accepted and popular. The country may hate Trump, with good reason, but his foreign policy is so far actually less lethal than Obama’s or Bush’s or Clinton’s. In any event every President gets a bump in approval ratings when he kills a dark skinned foreigner either by drone or by military actions. The public didn’t much care at all about Fallujah, and the architect of that butchery, Jim ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, former Secretary of State for Trump before being fired, is now a darling of the white educated liberals who are so incensed about the prez’ and his failure to lock down the country even more, harder, and certainly for longer. They are quite happy to cheer and identify with the FBI and war criminals like Mattis. That exaggerated hatred of Trump contains a number of contradictions. But for the purposes of this discussion the central one is that of soft or disguised racism vs. overt white sheets MAGA racism.

White paternalism knows no bounds. And the inherent tokenism of the educated white American has sort of reached its own, from their perspective, cultural horizon event. Another way of saying it is truly the death of irony epoch.

That Americans approve of military violence against the poor nations of the world suggests why the police in America are so steadfastly racist and white supremacist. They are hugely supported. Now, there is with the murder of Floyd a lot of discussion of defunding the police. The problem being, as many have pointed out, this would only increase privitization of security. The US spent 100 billion on domestic policing last year, give or take. And around 80 billion on prisons. The US defense budget is four or almost five times that amount. So it would seem critical to defund the military right along with the police. It is clearly a positive to reallocate cop money to mental health and community infrastructure and education. But this is the nefarious aspect of Covid-19 and the lockdown. In Philadelphia the proposed budget cuts, due to the massive effects of the lockdown, include cutting nearly all sanitation workers down to almost nothing, cutting stuff like soap in hospitals and upkeep of school and city buses. The Covid lockdown was a tool of the ruling class.

There is much press now given to polls showing American support for the Floyd protests. Except those polls are misleading.

Forty-five percent of respondents told Morning Consult that, on the whole, most of the protesters are peaceful and desire meaningful social reform, while 42 percent said most protesters are trying to incite violence or destroy property. In Monmouth’s poll, only 17 percent felt the actions of the protesters were fully justified, 37 percent said they were partially justified and 38 percent said they weren’t justified at all. And the Reuters/Ipsos survey found that most Americans (72 percent) didn’t think violent protests were an appropriate response to Floyd’s killing, and that property damage caused by protesters undermined their goals (79 percent). Morning Consult’s survey also found that Americans were less supportive of the protests when they were specifically asked about black people protesting.
— Five Thirty Eight

It’s that last sentence, you see. Whatever grass roots movements achieve is always going to run up against that last sentence. But I’m not cynical about defunding cops. It is a concrete material step in developing alliances in the working class. The movements for prison abolition and defunding are doing the ground work for alliance formation. It has to start somewhere. And they are the front edges of suggesting property and capitalism are the source of most all of their problems. Gramsci envisioned the ‘hegemonic’ struggle as two-pronged:  one to educate the working class from ideas that chain them to the existing order and their own exploitation, and two, to bring other ‘subaltern’ classes into what he called a ‘bloc’ with the working class.

I only see the average American remains bizarrely ignorant of US foreign policy. How many people know of Hillary Clinton’s coup in Honduras? I suspect not many. The violence against the global south has not abated for sixty years (okay, for three hundred). From AT&T to United Fruit to Dole Pineapple, the business interests of corporate America have stood on the backs of the developing world (sic). What would actually happen if police were defunded? What would massive upticks in privatized security look like? Possibly something out of Robocop. And that is the danger today, that is the situation in which we find ourselves.

Take a look at Alabama, which sits up top in the U.S. alphabetically and in the middle, population-wise: Since 1996, Alabama police departments have received $78,534,297.32 in planes, helicopters, rifles, and mine-resistant vehicles. How is there so much stuff to dole out? After 9/11, U.S. military funding increased 50 percent. In fact, the average American has paid $23,386 in taxes to support the military and its war efforts since 2001. All that spending has translated to a lot of extra mine-resistant vehicles, which local police now own.
— AC Shilton, Fatherly, 2020

Over the last thirty years funding for domestic police has grown over 400% according to the Justice Policy Institute. And there are millions of dollars shortfall for public education. The problem there is that public education sucks bad anyway. It is almost worse than no education, frankly (and, yes, I know there are exceptions). And this takes us back to the shelf stockers at Tesco and TARGET. The elite Universities and prep schools are available for the rich, and increasingly the very rich only. And which serves as yet another factor in the acute resentment that seems to fuel so much American discourse. And while private schools are better (how could they be worse?) the problem is the culture at large. It’s not only a reflexive and embedded and indelible racism, it is an anti intellectualism, and fast eroding literacy. And then there are the screens. The pernicious effects of social media (which really is a machine for creating resentment and/or guilt) and smart phones, aps, algorithms … the entire attention economy, has produced a populace of emotional deadness, of crippling anxiety and insecurity about self, and it has done nothing to even mitigate in the slightest of ways the Imperialist project and what is called American Exceptionalism. The cops that killed George Floyd, if prosecuted, will be exceptions that change nothing. Most cops serve with impunity. American soldiers shoot at Iraqi civilians as sport, amusement. The vicious IDF, fresh from killing teenagers, comes to the U.S. to teach domestic departments better how to instill terror and pain, nothing more. There is no secret magic Zionist martial art or mind control. It’s just brute terrorizing. As it has always been for fascists. And as it has always been for plantations and chain gangs.

“The World Cannot Breathe!” Squashed by the U.S., a Country Built on Genocide and Slavery

More than two centuries of lies are now getting exposed. Bizarre tales about freedom and democracy are collapsing like houses of cards.

One man’s death triggers an avalanche of rage in those who for years, decades and centuries, have been humiliated, ruined, and exterminated.

It always happens just like this throughout the history of humankind – one single death, one single “last drop”, an occurrence that triggers an entire chain of events, and suddenly nothing is the same, anymore. Nothing can be the same. What seemed to be unimaginable just yesterday, becomes “the new normal” literally overnight.

*****

For more than two centuries, the country which calls itself the pinnacle of freedom, has been, in fact, the absolute opposite of that; the epicenter of brutality and terror.

From its birth, in order to ‘clear the space’ for its brutal, ruthless European settlers, it systematically liquidated the local population of the continent, during what could easily be described as one of the more outrageous genocides in the human history.

When whites wanted land, they took it. In North America, or anywhere in the world. In what is now the United States of America, millions of “natives” were murdered, infected with deadly diseases on purpose, or exterminated in various different ways. The great majority of the original and rightful owners of the land vanished. The rest were locked up in “reservations”.

Simultaneously, the “Land Of The Free” thrived on slavery. European colonialist powers literally hunted down human beings all over the African continent, stuffing them, like animals, into ships, in order to satisfy demand for free labor on the plantations of North and South America. European colonialists, hand in hand, cooperated in committing crimes in all parts of the world.

What really is the United States? Is anyone asking, searching for its roots? What about this? A simple, honest answer: The United States is essentially the beefy offspring of European colonialist culture, of its exceptionalism, racism and barbarity.

Again, simple facts: huge parts of the United States were constructed on slavery. Slaves were humiliated, raped, tortured, murdered. Oh, what a monstrous way to write the first chapters of the country’s history!

The United States, a country of liberty and freedom? For whom? Seriously! For Christian whites?

How twisted the narrative is! No wonder our humanity has become so perverse, so immoral, so lost and confused, after being shaped by a narrative which has been fabricated by a country that exterminated the great majority of its own native sons and daughters, while getting insanely rich thanks to unimaginable theft, mass-murder, slavery,  and later  the semi-slavery of the savage corporate dictatorship!

The endemic, institutionalized brutality at home eventually spilled over to all parts of the planet. Now, for many decades, the United Stated has treated the entire world as full of its personal multitude of slaves. What does it offer to all of us: constant wars, occupations, punitive expeditions, coups, regular assassinations of progressive leaders, as well as thorough corporate plunder. Hundreds of millions of people have been sacrificed on the grotesque U.S. altar of “freedom” and “democracy”.

Freedom and democracy, really?

Or perhaps just genocide, slavery, fear and the violation of all those wonderful and natural human dreams and of human dignity?

*****

Then one single death of a man whose neck got crushed by the knee of a ruthless cop and the country has exploded. Hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy fighters and activists are now flooding the streets of Minneapolis, Washington D.C., New York City, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and other U.S. cities.

The death of Mr. George Floyd is a symbol, really, as black people get murdered in the most despicable way, almost every day. From January 2015 to date, for instance, 1,250 African-American citizens have been shot and killed by the police in our democratic U.S.A.

In the “Country of Freedom”, 2.3 million human beings are rotting away alive in the increasingly privatized prisons. The U.S. prisoner rate is the highest in the world. Holding people behind bars is big business. Minorities form a disproportionately high percentage of the detainees.

*****

And that is not all. Actually, the entire world has already become one huge prison. Look around: the whole planet is now being monitored, policed in that very special and thorough U.S. way; policed, brutalized, and if it dares to protest — pitilessly chastised.

Essential terms are all being twisted. The country abusing its own people, as well as the entire world, is defined by its own corporate mass media and propaganda system, as “free” and “democratic”. Those nations that are defending their own people against the brutal diktat of the empire, are insulted, called ‘regimes’ and ‘dictatorships’.

I have already described this madness in my 800-page book, “Exposing Lies of the Empire”, after witnessing some of the deadliest trends being spread by the United States in some 160 countries.

The murder of George Floyd unleashed resistance; it opened many eyes. In the United States, and everywhere else. Mr. Floyd, African-Americans, Native Americans and other oppressed people in the United States are brothers and sisters of those billions of men and women who are to this day, colonized, brutalized and murdered by the Empire all over the world.

Let this be the beginning of a new wave of the global liberation struggle!

Now more and more people can finally see what few of us have been repeating for years: The entire world has its neck squashed by the U.S. boot. The entire world “cannot breathe”! And the entire world has to fight for its right to be able to breathe!

Human Lab Rats: The U.S. Government’s Secret History of Grisly Experiments

They were monsters with human faces, in crisp uniforms, marching in lockstep, so banal you don’t recognize them for what they are until it’s too late.
— Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

I have never known any government to put the best interests of its people first, and this COVID-19 pandemic is no exception.

Now this isn’t intended to be a debate over whether COVID-19 is a legitimate health crisis or a manufactured threat. Such crises can—and are—manipulated by governments in order to expand their powers. As such, it is possible for the virus to be both a genuine menace to public health and a menace to freedom.

Yet we can’t afford to overlook the fact that governments the world over, including the U.S. government, have unleashed untold horrors upon the world in the name of global conquest, the acquisition of greater wealth, scientific experimentation, and technological advances, all packaged in the guise of the greater good.

While the U.S. government is currently looking into the possibility that the novel coronavirus spread from a Chinese laboratory rather than a market, the virus could just as easily have been created by the U.S. government or one of its allies.

After all, grisly experiments, barbaric behavior and inhumane conditions have become synonymous with the U.S. government, which has meted out untold horrors against humans and animals alike.

For instance, did you know that the U.S. government has been buying hundreds of dogs and cats from “Asian meat markets” as part of a gruesome experiment into food-borne illnesses?

The cannibalistic experiments involve killing cats and dogs purchased from Colombia, Brazil, Vietnam, China and Ethiopia, and then feeding the dead remains to laboratory kittens, bred in government laboratories for the express purpose of being infected with a disease and then killed.

It gets more gruesome.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has been removing parts of dogs’ brains to see how it affects their breathing; applying electrodes to dogs’ spinal cords (before and after severing them) to see how it impacts their cough reflexes; and implanting pacemakers in dogs’ hearts and then inducing them to have heart attacks (before draining their blood). All of the laboratory dogs are killed during the course of these experiments.

It’s not just animals that are being treated like lab rats by government agencies.

“We the people” have also become the police state’s guinea pigs: to be caged, branded, experimented upon without our knowledge or consent, and then conveniently discarded and left to suffer from the after-effects.

Back in 2017, FEMA “inadvertently” exposed nearly 10,000 firefighters, paramedics and other responders to a deadly form of ricin during simulated bioterrorism response sessions. In 2015, it was discovered that an Army lab had been “mistakenly” shipping deadly anthrax to labs and defense contractors for a decade.

While these particular incidents have been dismissed as “accidents,” you don’t have to dig very deep or go very back in the nation’s history to uncover numerous cases in which the government deliberately conducted secret experiments on an unsuspecting populace—citizens and noncitizens alike—making healthy people sick by spraying them with chemicals, injecting them with infectious diseases and exposing them to airborne toxins.

At the time, the government reasoned that it was legitimate to experiment on people who did not have full rights in society such as prisoners, mental patients, and poor blacks.

In Alabama, for example, 600 black men with syphilis were allowed to suffer without proper medical treatment in order to study the natural progression of untreated syphilis. In California, older prisoners had testicles from livestock and from recently executed convicts implanted in them to test their virility. In Connecticut, mental patients were injected with hepatitis.

In Maryland, sleeping prisoners had a pandemic flu virus sprayed up their noses. In Georgia, two dozen “volunteering” prison inmates had gonorrhea bacteria pumped directly into their urinary tracts through the penis. In Michigan, male patients at an insane asylum were exposed to the flu after first being injected with an experimental flu vaccine. In Minnesota, 11 public service employee “volunteers” were injected with malaria, then starved for five days.

In New York, dying patients had cancer cells introduced into their systems. In Ohio, over 100 inmates were injected with live cancer cells. Also in New York, prisoners at a reformatory prison were also split into two groups to determine how a deadly stomach virus was spread: the first group was made to swallow an unfiltered stool suspension, while the second group merely breathed in germs sprayed into the air. And in Staten Island, children with mental retardation were given hepatitis orally and by injection to see if they could then be cured.

As the Associated Press reports, “The late 1940s and 1950s saw huge growth in the U.S. pharmaceutical and health care industries, accompanied by a boom in prisoner experiments funded by both the government and corporations. By the 1960s, at least half the states allowed prisoners to be used as medical guinea pigs … because they were cheaper than chimpanzees.”

Moreover, “Some of these studies, mostly from the 1940s to the ’60s, apparently were never covered by news media. Others were reported at the time, but the focus was on the promise of enduring new cures, while glossing over how test subjects were treated.”

Media blackouts, propaganda, spin. Sound familiar?

How many government incursions into our freedoms have been blacked out, buried under “entertainment” news headlines, or spun in such a way as to suggest that anyone voicing a word of caution is paranoid or conspiratorial?

Unfortunately, these incidents are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the atrocities the government has inflicted on an unsuspecting populace in the name of secret experimentation.

For instance, there was the U.S. military’s secret race-based testing of mustard gas on more than 60,000 enlisted men. As NPR reports, “All of the World War II experiments with mustard gas were done in secret and weren’t recorded on the subjects’ official military records. Most do not have proof of what they went through. They received no follow-up health care or monitoring of any kind. And they were sworn to secrecy about the tests under threat of dishonorable discharge and military prison time, leaving some unable to receive adequate medical treatment for their injuries, because they couldn’t tell doctors what happened to them.”

And then there was the CIA’s MK-ULTRA program in which hundreds of unsuspecting American civilians and military personnel were dosed with LSD, some having the hallucinogenic drug slipped into their drinks at the beach, in city bars, at restaurants. As Time reports, “before the documentation and other facts of the program were made public, those who talked of it were frequently dismissed as being psychotic.”

Now one might argue that this is all ancient history and that the government today is different from the government of yesteryear, but has the U.S. government really changed?

Has the government become any more humane, any more respectful of the rights of the citizenry?

Has it become any more transparent or willing to abide by the rule of law? Has it become any more truthful about its activities? Has it become any more cognizant of its appointed role as a guardian of our rights?

Or has the government simply hunkered down and hidden its nefarious acts and dastardly experiments under layers of secrecy, legalism and obfuscations? Has it not become wilier, more slippery, more difficult to pin down?

Having mastered the Orwellian art of Doublespeak and followed the Huxleyan blueprint for distraction and diversion, are we not dealing with a government that is simply craftier and more conniving that it used to be?

Consider this: after revelations about the government’s experiments spanning the 20th century spawned outrage, the government began looking for human guinea pigs in other countries, where “clinical trials could be done more cheaply and with fewer rules.”

In Guatemala, prisoners and patients at a mental hospital were infected with syphilis, “apparently to test whether penicillin could prevent some sexually transmitted disease.” In Uganda, U.S.-funded doctors “failed to give the AIDS drug AZT to all the HIV-infected pregnant women in a study… even though it would have protected their newborns.” Meanwhile, in Nigeria, children with meningitis were used to test an antibiotic named Trovan. Eleven children died and many others were left disabled.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Case in point: back in 2016, it was announced that scientists working for the Department of Homeland Security would begin releasing various gases and particles on crowded subway platforms as part of an experiment aimed at testing bioterror airflow in New York subways.

The government insisted that the gases released into the subways by the DHS were nontoxic and did not pose a health risk. It’s in our best interests, they said, to understand how quickly a chemical or biological terrorist attack might spread. And look how cool the technology is—said the government cheerleaders—that scientists can use something called DNATrax to track the movement of microscopic substances in air and food. (Imagine the kinds of surveillance that could be carried out by the government using trackable airborne microscopic substances you breathe in or ingest.)

Mind you, this is the same government that in 1949 sprayed bacteria into the Pentagon’s air handling system, then the world’s largest office building. In 1950, special ops forces sprayed bacteria from Navy ships off the coast of Norfolk and San Francisco, in the latter case exposing all of the city’s 800,000 residents.

In 1953, government operatives staged “mock” anthrax attacks on St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Winnipeg using generators placed on top of cars. Local governments were reportedly told that “‘invisible smokescreen[s]’ were being deployed to mask the city on enemy radar.” Later experiments covered territory as wide-ranging as Ohio to Texas and Michigan to Kansas.

In 1965, the government’s experiments in bioterror took aim at Washington’s National Airport, followed by a 1966 experiment in which army scientists exposed a million subway NYC passengers to airborne bacteria that causes food poisoning.

And this is the same government that has taken every bit of technology sold to us as being in our best interests—GPS devices, surveillance, nonlethal weapons, etc.—and used it against us, to track, control and trap us.

So, no, I don’t think the government’s ethics have changed much over the years. It’s just taken its nefarious programs undercover.

The question remains: why is the government doing this? The answer is always the same: money, power and total domination.

It’s the same answer no matter which totalitarian regime is in power.

The mindset driving these programs has, appropriately, been likened to that of Nazi doctors experimenting on Jews. As the Holocaust Museum recounts, Nazi physicians “conducted painful and often deadly experiments on thousands of concentration camp prisoners without their consent.”

The Nazi’s unethical experiments ran the gamut from freezing experiments using prisoners to find an effective treatment for hypothermia, tests to determine the maximum altitude for parachuting out of a plane, injecting prisoners with malaria, typhus, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, yellow fever, and infectious hepatitis, exposing prisoners to phosgene and mustard gas, and mass sterilization experiments.

The horrors being meted out against the American people can be traced back, in a direct line, to the horrors meted out in Nazi laboratories. In fact, following the second World War, the U.S. government recruited many of Hitler’s employees, adopted his protocols, embraced his mindset about law and order and experimentation, and implemented his tactics in incremental steps.

Sounds far-fetched, you say? Read on. It’s all documented.

As historian Robert Gellately recounts, the Nazi police state was initially so admired for its efficiency and order by the world powers of the day that J. Edgar Hoover, then-head of the FBI, actually sent one of his right-hand men, Edmund Patrick Coffey, to Berlin in January 1938 at the invitation of Germany’s secret police, the Gestapo.

The FBI was so impressed with the Nazi regime that, according to the New York Times, in the decades after World War II, the FBI, along with other government agencies, aggressively recruited at least a thousand Nazis, including some of Hitler’s highest henchmen.

All told, thousands of Nazi collaborators—including the head of a Nazi concentration camp, among others—were given secret visas and brought to America by way of Project Paperclip. Subsequently, they were hired on as spies, informants and scientific advisers, and then camouflaged to ensure that their true identities and ties to Hitler’s holocaust machine would remain unknown. All the while, thousands of Jewish refugees were refused entry visas to the U.S. on the grounds that it could threaten national securi

Adding further insult to injury, American taxpayers have been paying to keep these ex-Nazis on the U.S. government’s payroll ever since. And in true Gestapo fashion, anyone who has dared to blow the whistle on the FBI’s illicit Nazi ties has found himself spied upon, intimidated, harassed and labeled a threat to national security.

As if the government’s covert, taxpayer-funded employment of Nazis after World War II wasn’t bad enough, U.S. government agencies—the FBI, CIA and the military—have since fully embraced many of the Nazi’s well-honed policing tactics, and have used them repeatedly against American citizens.

It’s certainly easy to denounce the full-frontal horrors carried out by the scientific and medical community within a despotic regime such as Nazi Germany, but what do you do when it’s your own government that claims to be a champion of human rights all the while allowing its agents to engage in the foulest, bases and most despicable acts of torture, abuse and experimentation?

When all is said and done, this is not a government that has our best interests at heart.

This is not a government that values us.

Perhaps the answer lies in The Third Man, Carol Reed’s influential 1949 film starring Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles. In the film, set in a post-WW II Vienna, rogue war profiteer Harry Lime has come to view human carnage with a callous indifference, unconcerned that the diluted penicillin he’s been trafficking underground has resulted in the tortured deaths of young children.

Challenged by his old friend Holly Martins to consider the consequences of his actions, Lime responds, “In these days, old man, nobody thinks in terms of human beings. Governments don’t, so why should we?

“Have you ever seen any of your victims?” asks Martins.

“Victims?” responds Limes, as he looks down from the top of a Ferris wheel onto a populace reduced to mere dots on the ground. “Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax — the only way you can save money nowadays.”

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, this is how the U.S. government sees us, too, when it looks down upon us from its lofty perch.

To the powers-that-be, the rest of us are insignificant specks, faceless dots on the ground.

To the architects of the American police state, we are not worthy or vested with inherent rights. This is how the government can justify treating us like economic units to be bought and sold and traded, or caged rats to be experimented upon and discarded when we’ve outgrown our usefulness.

To those who call the shots in the halls of government, “we the people” are merely the means to an end.

“We the people”—who think, who reason, who take a stand, who resist, who demand to be treated with dignity and care, who believe in freedom and justice for all—have become obsolete, undervalued citizens of a totalitarian state that, in the words of Rod Serling, “has patterned itself after every dictator who has ever planted the ripping imprint of a boot on the pages of history since the beginning of time. It has refinements, technological advances, and a more sophisticated approach to the destruction of human freedom.”

In this sense, we are all Romney Wordsworth, the condemned man in Serling’s Twilight Zone episode “The Obsolete Man.”

The Obsolete Man” speaks to the dangers of a government that views people as expendable once they have outgrown their usefulness to the State. Yet—and here’s the kicker—this is where the government through its monstrous inhumanity also becomes obsolete. As Serling noted in his original script for “The Obsolete Man,” “Any state, any entity, any ideology which fails to recognize the worth, the dignity, the rights of Man…that state is obsolete.”

How do you defeat a monster? You start by recognizing the monster for what it is.

Palestine’s Organic Intellectuals

“For my opinions,” wrote Italian intellectual Antonio Gramsci, “I am willing to lose my life, not only to stay in prison. And this is why I am calm and at peace with myself.” Gramsci spent 11 years in prison during the fascist reign over Italy, a brutal regime that crushed every form of political dissent between 1922 and 1943. He died only six days after he was released.

Gramsci’s revolutionary life and untimely death at the age of 46 reflected his own definition of the “organic intellectual,” someone who is not a mere “mover of feelings and passions” but an “active participant in practical life, as constructor and organizer—a ‘permanent persuader,’ not just a simple orator.”

This definition qualifies all men and women to be intellectuals, as per Gramsci’s thinking, even if they do not possess that function in society, simply because “there is no human activity from which every form of intellectual participation can be excluded,” particularly those activities that are guided by “a conscious line of moral conduct.”

All the people whose stories are being told in this book, every single one of them, possess a claim to true, organic intellect. They all fought for an idea, an opinion, were—and are—willing to lose their lives to defend these ideas. In the case of Faris Baroud (“I See You in My Heart”), and many other Palestinian prisoners, they have, indeed, done so.

These are the stories of Palestine’s true intellectuals, women and men, mothers and fathers, children and teens, teachers, fighters and human rights advocates, united by a single motive that transcends region, religion and ideology: resistance, that is, taking a brave moral stance against injustice in all of its forms.

It would be utterly unfair to box Palestinian prisoners into convenient categories of victims or terrorists, because both classifications render an entire nation either victim or terrorist, a notion that does not reflect the true nature of the decades-long Palestinian struggle against colonialism, military occupation and the entrenched Israeli apartheid.

According to United Nations and Palestinian sources, between 750,000 and 800,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned since the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in June 1967. They include 23,000 women and 25,000 children. Currently, there are 5,250 Palestinian political prisoners in Israel, a number that is constantly growing, not only because Israel insists on maintaining its military occupation, but also because Palestinians insist on their right to resist it. Expectedly, Israel dubs any form of Palestinian resistance an act of “terrorism,” a misleading depiction of the reality of Palestinian political dissent which ultimately aims at their dehumanization, and thus justifying the subjugation of an entire nation. But Palestinians are not passive victims, either.

“In the end, we did more than fashion hope out of despair,” wrote Khalida Jarrar, a Palestinian leader and prisoner, in her story, “The Cohort of Defiance”:

We also evolved in our narrative, in the way we perceive ourselves, the prison and the prison guards. We defeated any lingering sense of inferiority and turned the walls of prison into an opportunity. When I saw the beautiful smiles on the faces of my students who completed their high school education in prison, I felt that my mission has been accomplished.

Jarrar, who also wrote the Foreword to this book, is Gramsci’s true organic intellectual in its most ideal manifestation. She has been more than a “mover of feelings and passions,” and has defiantly and tirelessly challenged her tormentors, educated a generation of women who were denied such opportunities in prison, and has never deviated from her strong, revolutionary discourse. It is no surprise that she was imprisoned repeatedly by Israel. Each time, she emerged stronger, more defiant and determined.

Dima al-Wawi is Khalida Jarrar in the making. At the age of 12, she was arrested, tried and imprisoned on the basis of the ever-convenient charges of attempting to stab a fully armed Israeli settler, near the settlement of Karmei Tzur, which was built illegally on Palestinian land that belongs to her town of Halhul, north of Al-Khalil (Hebron).

“After I was released I returned to the Halhul Martyrs School,” she wrote:

It was wonderful to be back, and I cannot wait to finish my education and become a journalist, carrying the message of the prisoners and their suffering to the world. I want to show the world how the children of Palestine are mistreated every day by the occupation.

In prison, many Palestinian female prisoners protected young Dima, serving the role of mother and older sister, in itself an act of solidarity that defines Palestinian society. Israa Ja’abis is one of these prisoners who assumed the role of family; her story inside prison is conveyed through her sister, Mona.

“The harshness of the occupier scarred her face and body, amputated her fingers and is relentlessly trying to break her spirit,” wrote Mona. The fact that Israa embraced Dima during her short stay in the Ofer Prison is proof that the young mother’s spirit was never broken, although severe burns have covered most of her body.

Whether Khalida, Dima, Israa, Ali, Dareen, Faris and all others have met in prison, in court or anywhere else, matters little. Their lives are connected at their very core. The struggle is one and the same. Their stories are elaborations on the same narrative, that of engaged resisters, organic intellectuals who are serving a higher cause than their own freedom: the freedom of their people.

And because Palestinian resistance is a collective experience, the writing of this book has also been a collective effort. It is our attempt to reclaim the narrative of our people, to liberate it from the suffocating confines of political, media and academic discourse and take it into the heart of the resistance. These Chains Will Be Broken is a collection of the stories of Palestinian resisters, either conveyed by them, or through close family members, in an intimate setting that is free from the typical representation and misrepresentation of Palestine and her people. Here, the prisoners will not be defending themselves as if in an Israeli military court, or trying to directly address media reporting about their presumed “guilt.” Nor will the issue of violent vs. non-violent resistance be dealt with. Such a “debate” may satisfy the theoretical preoccupations of western audiences in far-away academic circles, but none of these prisoners—whether accused of killing Israeli soldiers or of writing a poem—have sought to classify their muqawama—resistance—in any way.

The stories in this book were written directly or conveyed in person, through interviews or audio recordings, by those who have lived them. The initial research questions that prisoners or their families were asked to address sought to elicit an understanding of the prison experience and its impact on the individual, the family and the community. The end result provided here expresses the individually unique experience of each prisoner, while highlighting a recurring theme—a thread in the narrative that represents the collective story of Palestinian resistance.

While conducting interviews related to the book with several freed Palestinian prisoners in Istanbul, Turkey in April 2019, I was astonished by the clarity of their political discourse. Of the three prisoners we interviewed, one was associated with the political movement Fatah, another with Hamas, and a third with Islamic Jihad. Despite the seemingly great ideological divides among the three groups, I was struck by the degree of unity and cohesion in their individual narratives when it came to the subject of resistance, whether in or outside prison. As the book demonstrates, muqawama is the common denominator among all prisoners; in fact, among all Palestinians.

The above truth explains, in part, why we have chosen this form of narrative to tell the story of Palestinian prisoners and, by extension, the story of Palestinian resistance as a whole. As in all my previous books, I am compelled by this imperative to relocate the centrality of the Palestine narrative from an Israeli perspective to a Palestinian one, especially one that overlooks the typical, elitist angle and focuses, instead, on retelling the story from the viewpoint of ordinary, poor, underprivileged and working-class Palestinians.

Undoubtedly, however, this work is not mine alone. I and those who have dedicated to putting this book together, are mere conveyors of ideas, notions and the intelligence of Palestine’s true organic intellectuals, even if they are not accorded such a role in society. On the other hand, these are also our stories, for all the Palestinian contributors who helped facilitate and assemble the content of this book have also experienced Israeli imprisonment in various forms. I lived in a Gaza refugee camp for much of my life and was held, along with thousands of my fellow refugees, under protracted military curfews, some lasting months at a time. It is this “positionality” that allowed me, together with other Palestinian researchers, to be able to relate to the text in an entirely different way. This is not a detached journalistic or academic text. It is our own collective story, as well.

Indeed, the “prison” in this book is a metaphor for the collective Palestinian prison experience. All Palestinians are prisoners—those held in besieged Gaza or those trapped behind walls, fences and checkpoints in the West Bank. All experience some manifestation of prison every day of their lives. Even those trapped in their seemingly endless exiles, unable to reunite with their families or visit their Palestinian homes, are also enduring that prison experience in one way or another.

One would dare to claim that Israelis, too, are prisoners, though of a different kind. “A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness,” wrote the late iconic anti-Apartheid hero and long-time prisoner, Nelson Mandela. “The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.”

I believe that this book needed to be written. This stems from my insistence that only “people’s history” or “history from below” is capable of unearthing and fairly conveying reality in the most egalitarian and democratic way. Specifically, people’s history directly defies two, dominant narratives concerning Palestine: the elitist rationalization of Palestinian political reality (which sees history as an outcome of the workings of an individual or a faction/group), and the reductionist approach to any subject concerning Palestinians, a discourse that teeters between the extremist view, which denies their very existence, and that which presents their struggle and national aspirations as a “problem” to be quickly—if not haphazardly—remedied.

The story of Palestine cannot be truly appreciated through the understanding of the counter-claims on this precious piece of land: those made by the original inhabitants of Palestine, the Palestinian people, and those by mostly European colonialists, who began arriving in Palestine in the late 19th century. The Palestinian story is also that of emotions, of resistance and sacrifice, of defiance and sumoud, steadfastness. Though it is a Palestinian story, it is also the story of every nation that has fought against injustice, regardless of when and how it expressed itself.

Antonio Gramsci could have easily been a Palestinian prisoner, as Faris Baroud could have been an Italian partisan, fighting fascism. The former wrote to his mother from prison; the latter never received his mother’s letters to him.

“Dearest mum,” wrote Gramsci:

I would love to hug you tight to show you how much I love you and to relieve some of the pain that I caused you, but I couldn’t do otherwise. That’s life, it is very hard, and sometimes children must deeply hurt their own mother, to preserve their honor and their dignity as human beings.

“Oh, how I cried for you, Faris,” wrote Ria Baroud:

My eyes can only tell day from night, but nothing else. But thanks to God, thanks to God, I am content with my fate, for this is what Allah has decided for me. It is you that I am concerned about. So, I pray all day, every day. I make supplications to God so that you come back, and that I may choose your bride for you. We will throw a big party and all the neighbors and friends, all the Barouds and all the freed prisoners and their families will come and celebrate with us.

Antonio Gramsci died on April 27, 1937 from a cerebral hemorrhage, only six days after he was released.

Faris Baroud died on February 6, 2019, from a kidney disease, in Nafha Prison in the Naqab Desert.

They were both organic intellectuals of the highest caliber.

What Governments Aren’t Telling You about the COVID-19 Pandemic

RT’s On Going Underground speaks to legendary journalist and film-maker John Pilger about the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. He discusses the fact that the Conservative government was warned about shortages leaving the NHS vulnerable in pandemics 4 years ago, the damage privatisation has done to the National Health Service, budget cuts which have seen bed capacities fall to record lows, his criticisms of the Boris Johnson administration’s response to Coronavirus, the lack of mass-testing in the U.K. which has been seen in other countries such as Germany, South Korea and China, the government blaming China for the Coronavirus crisis, the threat to Julian Assange’s life as he is denied release from prison as Coronavirus claims its first victim in Belmarsh Prison and more!