Category Archives: Torture

Patriarchy:  The Struggle Continues

In a day when America is ruling over a global Empire maintained with violent enforcement to insure universal subordination to its will;  and in a day when a military-style domestic police state relentlessly makes sure anti-government protest and dissent is contained,  the patriarchal part of that America has been enhanced and strengthened.

Feminist movements have launched long, fierce struggles to undermine patriarchal culture:  to ensure female power, to assert woman’s image as showing woman’s strength, to refute women’s inferiority to men, to establish female equality, politically, economically, and personally.  In my own work, I’ve analyzed those struggles:  first, the National Woman’s Party’s heroic campaign for woman’s suffrage, which included jail, beatings and forced feeding;  second, the uphill battle of women athletes, from the late 19th century on, striving to rid themselves of the necessity to have an image of “sex appeal” and just play ball.  And last, I’ve written of the amazing courage of American women political prisoners, women who challenged a government and society which refused to recognize their right to be  dissenters against imperialism—racism—capitalist inequality and ecocide—and sexism.

The Patriarchy, in spite of all the movements, campaigns and struggles, is not dead yet. The problems come from many directions, but they circle back to age-old conditions.  We feminists of the 1960s-70s thought we might have won some of the battles.  I almost got out of my car to object when I drove through a town near where I live to challenge workers sporting “men working” signs.  My Saratoga NOW chapter succeeded in eliminating separate sections for male and female in the local paper’s help wanted section in the 70s.  What happened to that?!  We feminists must continue to stubbornly insist on our equality, on woman’s image not being sexualized, and on changing women’s lack of power.  We must keep on insisting that women are not inferior to men, should be believed, should be listened to.

American sports, still a stubbornly male-dominated institution, has largely held the line against real female equality.  All this was very evident last March when NCAA women’s basketball was not accorded anywhere near balanced attention, or its needs met in a comparable way to the men’s.  More ominously, the NCAA has shown their (lack of) concern for women athletes, especially vis-à-vis some criminally violent male athletes, when it decided, as Jessica Luther wrote in the LA Times, that “rape is not an NCAA violation.”  Between 2011 and 2016, 17 women reported assaults by Baylor University football players, including four gang rapes.  In the spring of 2012 a woman volleyball player reported being assaulted by “multiple football players” at a party.  After her mother spoke to the athletic director and football coach Art Briles, nothing was done.  A player was convicted of sexual assault in 2015, but in 2016 and 2017 lawsuits against Baylor accused the school of continuing to ignore its “culture of sexual violence.”  Coach Briles was finally fired in 2016, and college president Ken Starr, who had belatedly started an investigation, also resigned.  Recently, citing pandemic delays, the NCAA finally ruled on Baylor’s culture of violence by deciding it “did not break NCAA rules.”  Although the NCAA panel punished them for an academic infraction, they did not find Baylor guilty for not reporting or addressing “sexual and interpersonal violence.”  They declared it was a failure of the coaching and athletic staff, but not an NCAA problem.  They who supposedly wanted (women) athletes to be safe, offered no assistance in the case of “gendered violence.”  Numerous attempts to get the NCAA to change this policy have not succeeded.  Remember Michigan State was cleared of blame for allowing gymnastics’ doctor Larry Nasser’s unspeakable sexual crimes against young women!

The NFL also does not do well dealing with sexual violence.  Player violence against women has been commonplace, with few repercussions.  The recent case of accused multiple sexual assaulter DeShaun Watson is illustrative of valuable player versus serious female complaints about him.  The Houston quarterback has had a number of licensed massage therapists accuse him of unwanted sexual acts and assault.  At this time, Watson is facing 22 civil law suits and 10 criminal complaints, and is thus on the NFL’s “inactive” list.  The victims were interviewed by NFL investigators who treated them—said the women—in a “patronizing” and “victim-blaming” manner.  The NFL placed no restrictions on Watson during the investigation, who, according to his accuser Ashley Solis, not only assaulted her but threatened her career when she got upset.  When the investigator questioned what she wore for their massage sessions, she asked:  “What did they think I should wear to suggest that I don’t want you to put your penis in my hand?”  She has said that “the NFL is taking a stand against women and survivors of sexual assault.”  The NFL is also not so great in other areas regarding women’s worth and dignity.

Cheerleading is a (predominantly) female sport which has encountered all kinds of indignities.  The NFL teams Buffalo, Cincinnati, Jets, Tampa Bay and Oakland all faced lawsuits from cheerleaders in 2014.  Two Buffalo Jills told HBO’s Real Sports they receive $125 a game, and nothing for ads, photo shoots or practices.  Some of these lawsuits were successful, but today there are still NFL cheerleaders making less than $1,000 a year.  The interviewed Jills also said they were rejected as dancers if they didn’t pass “the jiggle test” while doing jumping jacks. First female Jet football coach Collette Smith said on “Real Sports” that it does not seem right for cheerleaders, “athletes,” to just have to “shake with no clothes on, like sex kittens!”  There’s a new documentary film called “A Woman’s Work:  The NFL’s Cheerleader Problem,” about which Director Yu Gu says, that in a culture with “toxic masculinity… men feel entitled to women’s bodies.”  An even darker situation took place with youth cheerleaders.  In an unregulated sport, except by its own million-dollar profit-making organizations, abuses have been many.  Male cheerleading “coaches” supposedly training cheerleaders, instead sexually assaulted them—and continued to participate in the sport.  Two were even featured on the Netflix “Cheer” show, before finally being arrested and scheduled for trial.  Not much protection there, when, as usual, it might interfere with image and therefore profit.

Image is also an issue regarding this year’s Tokyo Olympics.  I watched with admiration as silver medalist shot putter Raven Saunders demonstrated for human rights and against racism on the Olympic podium by crossing her arms over her head to show their intersection.  The IOC’s (International Olympic Committee) restrictions on protests held quite well, although hammer thrower Gwen Berry and the US women’s soccer team took a knee before competing.  Women Olympic athletes have not been afraid to speak out.  Track and field athlete Sara Goucher, with several other women, accused former champion marathoner and prominent track coach Alberto Salazar of “doping violations” and of abuse.  He is banned, at least for now.  A problem which has always resonated with me is the way female athletes dress to do their sport.  It’s not new:  female baseball players had to wear short skirts and female basketball players sported red wigs in the 40s, but now it is beyond absurd.  Women have to wear (it’s mandatory) very revealing outfits as skaters, runners, beach volleyball players and gymnasts.  But some women are protesting this.  Norway’s women’s beach handball team (not yet an Olympic sport) were fined after they wore shorts instead of bikinis at EURO2021.  And at the Olympics, the German women’s gymnastics team wore unitards covering their whole body from the neck down.  They said they wanted to “push back against the sexualization of women in gymnastics.”  Male gymnasts wear shorts and loose pants.  It’s the Olympic women who wear revealing outfits to run, and bikinis to play beach volleyball.  It’s an extreme demonstration of “sexualization,” of a patriarchal culture limiting woman’s image to a sexual one, rather than one of a competent, strong athlete.

In a patriarchal culture, male power attempts to supersede women’s.  In such an environment, women have little value and receive little respect.  And when powerful male politicians do this (and there are so many of them), it becomes very public.  (Former) Governor Andrew Cuomo is the latest to fall from grace after many years of getting away with sexual misconduct toward his staff, campaign organizers, and even a female state trooper.  Some of his fellow Democratic politicians have called him “a lecherous tyrant” who empowered his staff “to threaten and intimidate.”  Cuomo collected young, good-looking women to work for him and they were expected to always dress well, including makeup and high heels.  If a woman decided she didn’t like his demands and cruel work environment, it was made clear she’d have a hard time getting another job.  Inappropriate comments and touching were his trademarks.  He was able to maintain this extremely harmful situation for women in his employ until on August 3rd, New York Attorney General Letitia James, after taking on the growing complaints (which had gotten nowhere with senior staff), issued her thorough and well-investigated report which accused the governor of “sexually harassing 11 women in violation of the law.”  The report detailed “unwanted groping, kissing, hugging and inappropriate comments.”  Some were worse, such as the Albany staffers who reported that he grabbed their breasts.  And so the media darling who supposedly handled the COVID crisis so well (except for that pesky problem with covering up nursing home deaths), had to resign.  Most Democratic politicians abandoned him in the end:  but two who held out a long time were President Biden and Vice President Harris.

President Trump’s sexual misadventures were numerous, as such things are very much bipartisan.  Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct got him impeached.  He admitted to relations with Monica Lewinsky, but faced more serious allegations of rape from Juanita Broaddrick.  Last March Kamala Harris held a discussion about “empowering women and girls”—something the Clinton Foundation states that it does around the world—which included Mr. Clinton.  Broaddrick asked in a tweet if conference host Howard University might “like to include me in their empowering event with Bill Clinton?”  Harris had no comment on that, nor, at that point, on the accusations surrounding Governor Cuomo.  The President also did not feel Cuomo should resign, until after the Letitia James report was revealed.  Funnily enough, Joe Biden has been accused of the self-same thing as Cuomo, for years.  During Biden’s presidential campaign, these proclivities were brought up, especially by Tara Reade, his former staffer.  Reade accused Biden of serious sexual assault, including pressing her against a Capitol corridor wall and digitally penetrating her.  She reported this incident to friends and family, and senior staff (to no avail), at the time.  Other women have complained of similar incidents of inappropriate touching, up to and including on the 2020 campaign trail.  Reade’s May 2020 interview with Megyn Kelly tells of her experience, but she also talks about the overwhelming hate she has received from the media and the utter disbelief from Democratic women protecting their candidate.  As Reade said to Kelly:  “Do we want [as president] someone who thinks of women as objects, who thinks that they can just take what they want in that moment for their pleasure and that’s it?”   She was not believed, an experience common to so many women who have undergone abuse by powerful men, from Dylan Farrow (re Woody Allen), to Ambra Gutierrez (re Harvey Weinstein), to Andrea Costand (re Bill Cosby), and to women aides and staff of important and powerful men.  #Me Too has been a good thing, to a point.  Women still shy away from believing accusations against certain men.

Not believing women is inherent to patriarchal culture.  I remember going to the hospital when I was teaching in Fargo, where I was eventually admitted for severe dehydration and a bad case of the flu.  The male doctor who first saw me talked of “the so-called pain in my chest.”  He apparently didn’t believe me.  The value of women’s bodies certainly seems to be in question when yet another struggle supposedly won in the 70s—a woman’s right to choose abortion—is, thanks to the rise in power of Christian right fascists who are (!) patriarchal, again in jeopardy.  Women’s lives are in jeopardy on many fronts.  Attorney and John Jay professor Marcie Smith Parenti wrote a piece for the Grayzone, entitled “Why Won’t the US Medical Establishment Believe Women?”  She outlines a serious situation where the CDC and FDA, in their rush to vaccinate everyone (only 23% of pregnant women have at least one dose), have seriously downplayed and dismissed evidence that thousands of women have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 vaccines (most related to the mRNA vaccines).  Large numbers of vaccinated women have had their menstrual cycle disrupted:  extreme cramping, passing golf-ball size blood clots, and having “hemorrhagic bleeding.”  Parenti has several friends with such symptoms.  But beyond possibly anecdotal experience, by July of this year, the UK had 13,000 reports of “menstruation disruption,” with similar reports in Canada and India.

The US, with its “Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), had thousands of reports (they admit VAERS only catches a low percentage of adverse events) by July as well:  such reports included 88 “fetal deaths” and 25 “stillbirths” along with the hemorrhagic bleeding.   Although the FDA and CDC quickly warned of the myocarditis threat (a heart ailment) to young men posed by the vaccine, no warnings have been issued regarding menstrual disruption.  Parenti argues that menstruation is a central issue for women’s health and there are many incidents revealing that cycle’s disruption in myriad and very serious ways, including possible infertility.  She says that women deserve an investigation into these reports, with explanations and medical information, and “non-punitive accommodations if they decline a vaccine at this time.”  But no:  they can be barred from school and public places, and lose their jobs.  And if women are showing too much concern publicly, Parenti says they are “subjected to 1950s-style dismissal and demonization.”   After all, such concerns could “stoke unwarranted vaccine fears.”  And about such trivial health issues as menstruation, just “woman troubles.”

Last June the National Institute of Health called for proposals to study a possible link between the vaccine and menstruation disruption.  And now, the NIH has at last ordered a study about that possible link, $1.67 million worth, with a half million (!) participants.  But Diana Bianchi, NIH head of child health and human development says the FDA should not be faulted for the investigation’s delay.  And the (of course, justifiable) reason for the delay has been echoed in every single item of media coverage I’ve read over the last few days.  The FDA was “worried this was contributing to vaccine hesitancy in reproductive-age women.”  Bianchi says the vaccine certainly does not cause infertility.  And (again echoing all the news reports on it), “really [menstruation} is not a life and death issue.”  Women should simply do what they’re told and ignore their “so-called bleeding.”

Another area where there is a lack of confidence in what women say is when they warn of wider environmental dangers.  Traditionally women have tried to prevent harm and bring healing to the environment.  Women whistleblowers have suffered repercussions for warning against corporate entities’ disastrous policies; while indigenous women have sacrificed to try to protect Mother Earth from corporate disregard for the Earth’s destruction.  African-American women are all too familiar with environmental racism, from the drinking water of Flint, Michigan to the waters of Hurricane Katrina (and now Ida).  When Mississippi environmental analyst Tennie White, a Black woman, brought to light highly toxic wastes produced by Kerr-McGee endangering the people of Columbus, Mississippi, she was railroaded by the EPA’s “Green Enforcement” Unit and went to jail.  And recently, another woman whistleblower was ignored and punished.  Ruth Etzel was hired by the EPA as an expert in children’s health; a pediatrician and epidemiologist she has done stints at the WHO and CDC.  Etzel was to investigate lead poisoning in the chemical industry.  She found herself put on leave, demoted and then became a victim of an EPA smear campaign.  Etzel and other fellow scientists found that the EPA’s biggest concern is protecting chemical companies. Her suggested policy to help children avoid lead poisoning, formed after she found industries were doing “irreparable harm,” has yet to be put into effect.  Neither Obama, nor Trump, nor now Biden has changed the trend to protect corporations, and not the environment, humans, or even children.

Native-American women fighting fiercely against the terrible poisons of oil pipelines are harassed and jailed.  Winona LaDuke, Green Party VP candidate and head of environmental advocacy group “Honor the Earth,” was arrested and jailed repeatedly last July for protesting against construction of a new Enbridge oil pipeline in northern Minnesota.  Minnesota recently granted Enbridge the right to displace five billion instead of the former half billion gallons of water.  Such a disastrous situation leads LaDuke to protest and thus be charged with trespassing, harassment, unlawful assembly and public nuisance charges.  She charges Minnesota governor Tim Walz with giving “the water, the land and our civil rights to a Canadian multinational.”  The incomparable LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, died last April, fighting to the very end against the Dakota Access Pipeline.  As of a month ago, federal regulators had fined DAPL for safety violations like not doing necessary repairs and insufficient oil spill impact studies.  But Biden’s Army Corps of Engineers is still allowing the pipeline to operate.  The women of Standing Rock and Honor the Earth will never stop their campaigns against corporate poisoning of their lands.  As LaDonna Allard said, the movement is not just about a pipeline.  “To save the water, we must break the cycle of colonial trauma.”  And:  “We are fighting for our rights as the Indigenous peoples of this land; we are fighting for our liberation, and the liberation of Unci Mako, Mother Earth.”  Women fight to protect the Earth from the American corporate state and women fight to protect people from the violence of the American police state.

The penalties can be dire for those who dare challenge police violence.  Lillian House and Eliza Lucero of the Denver area’s Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) helped lead a persistent protest against the police and paramedics’ killing of the unarmed and unresisting young man, Elijah McClain.  Lucero and House faced felony charges of incitement to riot and kidnapping (of police) which could have meant sentences of 48 years.  Thanks to public pressure and a new district attorney, all charges were dropped on September 13th.  Earlier in the month, three police officers and two paramedics were indicted for McClain’s murder.  PSL’s Lillian House stated that “the indictments are a major victory, but they’re not convictions yet.  This is just the beginning of the people here taking power.”  And this is what these women activists want:  a dismantling of the police state in favor of “the people” being in charge.

This is the goal of the movement, bringing huge numbers of people into the streets after George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s executions.  But these demonstrations, gradually called “riots” by the corporate media, have been hard-pressed to continue.  A report by the Movement for Black Lives found there has been a major crackdown on dissenters against police violence.  Charges against protesters were made into more serious federal crimes, with harsher penalties.  Surveillance, violence, and intimidation, in a coordinated vast federal enterprise, has been the usual response to potentially viable movements to change the corporate police state.  Because Rev. Joy Powell tried to curb police violence in Rochester, NY, she’s served 14 years inside, framed for crimes she didn’t commit.  But she is never cowed, despite solitary, COVID, and all the harassment they dish out.  She recently wrote me (and I get some of her letters, but she gets very few of mine) that she “made it to an interview” with Essence magazine, which did a great job of gaining her deserved attention.  The Police State is an entrenched corporate/capitalist/patriarchal institution, as is the American Empire.

The Empire is not feminist.  It is dangerously extreme in its macho Patriarchy.  The military, particularly one which has for years fed on death and destruction against helpless civilians, many of them women and children, is not feminist in its aims.  Expecting an occupying army to initiate and protect women’s rights is insane.  The women of Afghanistan have been tortured and murdered by US forces for over 20 years.  Perhaps a few elite women were helped and protected under American occupation, but their numbers are few.  Aafia Siddiqui, Muslim woman prisoner of the Empire is serving her 86 years in a Texas maximum security prison—or not, it’s not clear if she’s still alive.  Siddiqui was raped, mutilated and tortured in American black sites, including Bagram (US) Air Force Base, Afghanistan, and was grievously shot in Ghazni, Afghanistan by American soldiers who needed her to be seen as a “terrorist” and so staged what was supposed to be her attack on the soldiers.  This is women’s rights in Afghanistan.  As the incredible Caitlin Johnstone has written:  “If the US empire hadn’t manufactured consent for the invasion by aggressive narrative management about Taliban oppression westerners would give 0 fucks about women in Afghanistan, just like they give 0 fucks about women in all the other oppressive patriarchal nations.”  Was it worse for women to have a Taliban government, or to endure a 20-year occupation which has brought untold death and destruction to Afghan women and their families?  Occupying and controlling Afghanistan is not a feminist undertaking.  And so-called American feminist leaders should know better than to support it.  But NOW leaders urge you to write your Congress people to protect Afghan women (from the Taliban).  The “advances in [Afghan] women’s rights of the last 20 years are in jeopardy.”  The Feminist Majority web page asks for money for the same purpose, telling us that in 2009 Obama showed concern for “Afghans’ security” and the Americans “have brought much progress for women there,” in the last 20 years.  With all Obama’s drone killings?  Are you people serious?  This is not feminism.

“Feminists” are also proud to see female warmongers as part of President Joe Biden’s Team.  There is Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who helped engineer the Iran deal (not a great one for them) and spent her early days in office busily scolding China to ramp up our newest Cold War.  Or Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland, who famously helped arrange the neo-Nazi takeover of Ukraine in a power play vs. Russia, with her also famous leaked diplomatic conversation where she said “fuck the EU” re involving American allies.  Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth has a strong police/Homeland Security background; and Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks will oversee a “modernization of our nuclear triad.” Avril Haines, Biden’s Director of National Intelligence, from the CIA, directed the drones program for Obama, sometimes having to get up in the middle of the night to decide who should be killed by a drone next.  Of course, there was never “collateral damage,” as we’ve seen just recently in our Afghanistan drone hit which killed an entire family (they were not ISIS K).  Wonderful to have such feminist examples!  As commentator Richard Medhurst (half Syrian, half British) has said:  isn’t it great for Biden to have all these women involved?  Will they drop pink bombs—rainbow bombs?—on my country?

The real feminists are the stalwart anti-war women who fight the very real threats of Empire.  The women to be truly admired are women like Elizabeth McAlister, Martha Hennesy (Dorothy Day’s granddaughter) and Clare Grady. In 2018 they entered Kings Bay, Georgia naval base to bear witness against the Empire’s potential for nuclear war.  They have all now served time, 10 to 12 months, for trying to, as McAlister said, “slow the mad rush to the devastation of our magnificent planet.”  They too would save Mother Earth.  They too, like the tortured and ruined Julian Assange, are truth-tellers against the Empire.  Dismissed, ignored, not believed, imprisoned.  These are what 1980s political prisoner Marilyn Buck called “noncompliant women”—women who the patriarchal authorities believe should be put back into subordinate, quiet and compliant status.  Such authorities believe women should wear bikinis and makeup as athletes, not question if a vaccine has deleterious side effects on them, and overlook a governor’s inappropriate behavior.  Let’s not be compliant.  Let the struggle continue.

The post Patriarchy:  The Struggle Continues first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Say Their Names

I watched Jordan Peele’s Candyman last Thursday night, and it freaked me out.

Especially as a Texan.

Can acts of injustice curse a place? Can acts of monstrosity—as Peele et al. suggest—stain a community?
A quasi-sequel to the 1992 film of the same name, Candyman explores the affirmative answer to these questions. And that’s what scares me.

Over the last several years I’ve researched and written about numerous acts of injustice and monstrosity in Texas. And, no, monstrosity is not too strong a word. In 2014, The History Press published my second book, The 1910 Slocum Massacre: An Act of Genocide in East Texas. It explored the history behind a wholesale slaughter of African Americans that occurred just south of Palestine, Texas in the early 20th century. The number of casualties far exceeded those of the Rosewood Massacre in Florida in 1923, and rivaled those of the Tulsa Race Massacre in 1921. And hardly anyone in Texas had ever even heard of it.

In 2015, I followed the Slocum Massacre book up with Black Holocaust: The Paris Horror and a Legacy of Texas Terror, released by Eakin Press. The term “Holocaust” was too strong for my first publisher, and probably too controversial in general, but I felt I owed it to the subject matter. Between 1861 and 1933, over forty black men were burned at the stake in Texas. And not like the witches that were burned at the stake in Salem, Massachusetts—because that never happened—but like real, living, breathing human beings (and fellow Texans) burned at the stake, often in front of cheering white folks.

Again, no, that isn’t an exaggeration.

Cheering.

White.

Folks.

Four black men were burned at the stake in the Paris, Texas area, three in Sulphur Springs, three in Kirven, two in Waco, at least two in in Tyler, one in Rockwall, one in Hillsboro, one in Temple, one in Belton, one in Conroe, one in Sherman, one in Texarkana, one in Corsicana, one in Greenville, etc., etc. And some of these cases involved levels of evil and depravity that make the Candyman plotlines pale (pardon the pun) in comparison.

In Paris, Texas in 1893, a mob of thousands watched on as Henry Smith—a black man suspected of raping and killing a white toddler—was tortured with red hot iron pokers for forty-five minutes (by the infant’s father and older brother) before being gruesomely burned to a crisp. They peeled away the skin on his arms, legs, back and abdomen by rolling the searing pokers on contact, reheating them as necessary, and then used them to boil away his eyeballs and burn out his tongue. The white crowd cheered the vicious cruelty and raucously jeered the black suspect’s moans of pain and suffering. The Paris mayor even canceled school for the day so the community’s children could view the spectacle with their parents.

In 1895, the citizens of Tyler seized Henry Hillard—a black man suspected of raping and killing a white woman—and burned him at the stake in front a mob of thousands, partially extinguishing and then reviving the flames so as to extend the effect and general excruciation of the torture to entertain and appease white onlookers. After futilely begging his tormentors to put him out of his misery, Hillard began attempting to bash his own brains out by slamming the back of his head against the iron rail he was affixed to.

In 1915, the citizens of Waco perpetrated the ghastly burning at the stake of Jesse Washington (a mentally handicapped black man suspected of killing a white woman) in full view of the mayor and the local police. The perpetrating mob castrated Washington on the way to the stake and also cut off his fingers. Then, after several times being raised and lowered into the flames for the greatest effect as he was burned alive, Washington began trying to escape his hellish fate by climbing the chain with fingerless hands.

And these are just a fraction of the dozens of macabre atrocities that make the origins of Candyman seem tame. Texans, our forebears, committed atrocities in front of cheering white neighbors. And then created lynching postcards and stereographic viewing sets to celebrate and commemorate these horrific events, which—don’t kid yourself—many of our great-great-great grandads and kinfolk jovially referred to as roasts and barbecues.

Mr. Peele and his associates (and their predecessors) touch on something fundamentally raw, here; something largely unheralded and involving injuries long concealed and clearly unaddressed.

I’d urge fellow Texans to refrain from the namesake character’s name-chant game, because the facts in Texas are darker than the fiction in Candyman.

That’s why conservatives don’t want the truth taught in schools.

The post Say Their Names first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Guantanamo Past the Point of All Shame

https://worldbeyondwar.org/guantanamo-past-the-point-of-all-shame/

U.S. high schools should teach courses on Guantanamo: what not to do in the world, how not to make it even worse, and how not to compound that catastrophe beyond all shame and recovery.

As we tear down Confederate statues and continue brutalizing victims in Guantanamo, I wonder if in 2181, had Hollywood still been around, it would have made movies from the perspective of Guantanamo’s prisoners while the U.S. government committed new and different atrocities to be bravely confronted in 2341.

That is to say, when will people learn that the problem is cruelty, not the particular flavor of cruelty?

The purpose of the Guantanamo prisons was and is cruelty and sadism. Names like Geoffrey Miller and Michael Bumgarner should become permanent synonyms for the twisted dehumanizing of victims in cages. The war is supposedly over, making it difficult for aging men who were innocent boys to “return” to the “battlefield” if freed from the Hell on Earth stolen from Cuba, but nothing ever made sense. We’re on President #3 since promises were first made to shut Guantanamo down, yet it moans and rattles on, brutalizing its victims and their captors.

Don’t Forget Us Here is the title of Mansoor Adayfi’s book about his life from age 19 to age 33, which he spent in Guantanamo. He could not be seen as the youngster he was when first kidnapped and tortured, and was seen instead — or at least the pretense was made — that he was an important top anti-U.S. terrorist. That didn’t require seeing him as a human being, quite the opposite. Nor did it have to make any sense. There was never any evidence that Adayfi was the person he was accused of being. Some of his imprisoners told him they knew it was false. He was never charged with any crime. But at some point the U.S. government decided to pretend he was a different top terrorism commander, despite the lack of any evidence for that one either, or any explanation of how they could have captured such a person accidentally while imagining that he was someone else.

Adayfi’s account begins like so many others. He was abused by the CIA in Afghanistan first: hung from a ceiling in the dark, naked, beaten, electrocuted. Then he was stuck into a cage in Guantanamo, having no idea what part of the Earth he was in or why. He only knew the guards behaved like lunatics, freaking out and screaming in a language he couldn’t speak. The other prisoners spoke a variety of languages and had no reason to trust each other. The better guards were awful, and the Red Cross was worse. There seemed to be no rights, except for the iguanas.

At any opportunity, guards stormed in and beat prisoners, or dragged them off for torture/interrogation or solitary confinement. They deprived them of food, water, healthcare, or shelter from the sun. They stripped them and “cavity-searched” them. They mocked them and their religion.

But Adayfi’s account develops into one of fighting back, of organizing and rallying the prisoners into all variety of resistance, violent and otherwise. Some hint of this appears early on in his atypical reaction to the usual threat to bring his mother there and rape her. Adayfi laughed at that threat, confident that his mother could whip the guards into shape.

One of the main tools available and used was the hunger strike. Adayfi was force-fed for years. Other tactics included refusing to come out of a cage, refusing to answer endless ridiculous questions, destroying everything in a cage, inventing outrageous confessions of terrorist activity for days of interrogations and then pointing out that it was all made-up nonsense, making noise, and splashing guards with water, urine, or feces.

The people running the place chose to treat the prisoners as subhuman beasts, and did a pretty good job of making the prisoners play the part. The guards and interrogators would believe almost anything: that the prisoners had secret weapons or a radio network or had each been a top ally of Osama bin Laden — anything other than that they were innocent. The relentless interrogation — the slaps, the kicks, the broken ribs and teeth, the freezing, the stress positions, the noise machines, the lights — would go on until you admitted being whoever they said you were, but then you’d be in for it bad if you didn’t know lots of details about this unknown person.

We know that some of the guards really thought all the prisoners were crazed murderers, because sometimes they’d play a trick on a new guard who fell asleep and put a prisoner near him when he awoke. The result was sheer panic. But we also know it was a choice to view a 19-year-old as a top general. It was a choice to suppose that after years and years of “Where is Bin Laden?” any answer that actually existed would still be relevant. It was a choice to use violence. We know it was a choice to use violence because of an extensive multi-year experiment in three acts.

In Act I, the prison treated its victims as monsters, torturing, strip-searching, routinely beating, depriving of food, etc., even while trying to bribe prisoners to spy on each other. And the result was often-violent resistance. One means that sometimes worked for Adayfi to lessen some injury was to beg for it like Brer Rabbit. Only by professing his deep desire to be kept near screaming loud vacuum cleaners put there, not to clean, but to make so much noise around the clock that one couldn’t talk or think, did he get a break away from them.

The prisoners organized and plotted. They raised hell until interrogators stopped torturing one of their number. They jointly lured General Miller into position before hitting him in the face with shit and urine. They smashed their cages, ripped out the toilets, and showed how they could escape throught the hole in the floor. They went on mass hunger srike. They gave the U.S. military vastly more work — but then, is that something the military didn’t want?

Adayfi went six years without communication with his family. He became such an enemy of his torturers that he wrote a statement praising the crimes of 9/11 and promising to fight the U.S. if he got out.

In Act 2, after Barack Obama became president promising to close Guantanamo but didn’t close it, Adayfi was permitted a lawyer. The lawyer treated him as a human being — but only after being horrified to meet him and not believing he was meeting the right person; Adayfi did not match his description as the very worst of the worst.

And the prison changed. It became basically a standard prison, which was such a step up that prisoners cried for joy. They were allowed into common spaces to sit and talk to each other. They were allowed books and televisions and carboard scraps for art projects. They were allowed to study, and to go outside into a recreational area with the sky visible. And the result was that they didn’t have to fight and resist and get beaten all the time. The sadists among the guards had very little left to do. Adayfi learned English and business and art. Prisoners and guards struck up friendships.

In Act 3, in response to nothing, apparently due to a change in command, old rules and brutality were reintroduced, and the prisoners responded as before, back on hunger strike, and when intentionally provoked by damaging Qur’ans, back to violence. The guards destroyed all the art projects the prisoners had made. And the U.S. government offered to let Adayfi go if he would dishonestly testify in court against another prisoner. He refused.

When Mansoor Adayfi was finally freed, it was with no apology, except unofficially from a Colonel who admitted to knowing his innocence, and he was freed by forcing him to a place he did not know, Serbia, gagged, blindfolded, hooded, earmuffed, and shackled. Nothing had been learned, as the purpose of the whole enterprise had included from the start the avoidance of learning anything.

The post Guantanamo Past the Point of All Shame first appeared on Dissident Voice.

How Can America Wake Up From Its Post-9/11 Nightmare?

Looking back on it now, the 1990s were an age of innocence for America. The Cold War was over and our leaders promised us a “peace dividend.” There was no TSA to make us take off our shoes at airports (how many bombs have they found in those billions of shoes?). The government could not tap a U.S. phone or read private emails without a warrant from a judge. And the national debt was only $5 trillion – compared with over $28 trillion today.

We have been told that the criminal attacks of September 11, 2001 “changed everything.” But what really changed everything was the U.S. government’s disastrous response to them.

That response was not preordained or inevitable, but the result of decisions and choices made by politicians, bureaucrats and generals who fueled and exploited our fears, unleashed wars of reprehensible vengeance and built a secretive security state, all thinly disguised behind Orwellian myths of American greatness.

Most Americans believe in democracy and many regard the United States as a democratic country. But the U.S. response to 9/11 laid bare the extent to which American leaders are willing to manipulate the public into accepting illegal wars, torture, the Guantanamo gulag and sweeping civil rights abuses — activities that undermine the very meaning of democracy.

Former Nuremberg prosecutor Ben Ferencz said in a speech in 2011 that “a democracy can only work if its people are being told the truth.” But America’s leaders exploited the public’s fears in the wake of 9/11 to justify wars that have killed and maimed millions of people who had nothing to do with those crimes. Ferencz compared this to the actions of the German leaders he prosecuted at Nuremberg, who also justified their invasions of other countries as “preemptive first strikes.”

“You cannot run a country as Hitler did, feeding them a pack of lies to frighten them that they’re being threatened, so it’s justified to kill people you don’t even know,” Ferencz continued. “It’s not logical, it’s not decent, it’s not moral, and it’s not helpful. When an unmanned bomber from a secret American airfield fires rockets into a little Pakistani or Afghan village and thereby kills or maims unknown numbers of innocent people, what is the effect of that? Every victim will hate America forever and will be willing to die killing as many Americans as possible. Where there is no court of justice, wild vengeance is the alternative.”

Even the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, talked about “insurgent math,” conjecturing that, for every innocent person killed, the U.S. created 10 new enemies. And thus the so-called Global War on Terror fueled a global explosion of terrorism and armed resistance that will not end unless and until the United States ends the state terrorism that provokes and fuels it.

By opportunistically exploiting 9/11 to attack countries that had nothing to do with it, like Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Syria and Yemen, the United States vastly expanded the destructive strategy it used in the 1980s to destabilize Afghanistan, which spawned the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the first place.

In Libya and Syria, only ten years after 9/11, U.S. leaders betrayed every American who lost a loved one on September 11th by recruiting and arming Al Qaeda-led militants to overthrow two of the most secular governments in the Middle East, plunging both countries into years of intractable violence and fueling radicalization throughout the region.

The U.S. response to 9/11 was corrupted by a toxic soup of revenge, imperialist ambitions, war profiteering, systematic brainwashing and sheer stupidity. The only Republican Senator who voted against the war on Iraq, Lincoln Chafee, later wrote, “Helping a rogue president start an unnecessary war should be a career-ending lapse of judgment.”

But it wasn’t. Very few of the 263 Republicans or the 110 Democrats who voted for the Iraq war in 2002 paid any political price for their complicity in international aggression, which the judges at Nuremberg explicitly called “the supreme international crime.” One of them now sits at the apex of power in the White House.

Trump and Biden’s withdrawal and implicit acceptance of the U.S. defeat in Afghanistan could serve as an important step toward ending the violence and chaos their predecessors unleashed after the September 11th attack. But the current debate over next year’s military budget makes it clear that our deluded leaders are still dodging the obvious lessons of 20 years of war.

Barbara Lee, the only Member of Congress with the wisdom and courage to vote against Congress’s war resolution in 2001, has introduced a bill to cut U.S. military spending by almost half:  $350 billion per year. With the miserable failure in Afghanistan, a war that will end up costing every U.S. citizen $20,000, one would think that Rep. Lee’s proposal would be eliciting tremendous support. But the White House, the Pentagon and the Armed Services Committees in the House and Senate are instead falling over each other to shovel even more money into the bottomless pit of the military budget.

Politicians’ votes on questions of war, peace and military spending are the most reliable test of their commitment to progressive values and the well-being of their constituents. You cannot call yourself a progressive or a champion of working people if you vote to appropriate more money for weapons and war than for healthcare, education, green jobs and fighting poverty.

These 20 years of war have revealed to Americans and the world that modern weapons and formidable military forces can only accomplish two things: kill and maim people; and destroy homes, infrastructure and entire cities. American promises to rebuild bombed-out cities and “remake” countries it has destroyed have proven worthless, as Biden has acknowledged.

Both Iraq and Afghanistan are turning primarily to China for the help they need to start rebuilding and developing economically from the ruin and devastation left by America and its allies. America destroys, China builds. The contrast could not be more stark or self-evident. No amount of Western propaganda can hide what the whole world can see.

But the different paths chosen by U.S. and Chinese leaders are not predestined, and despite the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the U.S. corporate media, the American public has always been wiser and more committed to cooperative diplomacy than America’s political and executive class. It has been well-documented that many of the endless crises in U.S. foreign policy could have been avoided if America’s leaders had just listened to the public.

The perennial handicap that has dogged America’s diplomacy since World War II is precisely our investment in weapons and military forces, including nuclear weapons that threaten our very existence. It is trite but true to say that, ”when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

Other countries don’t have the option of deploying overwhelming military force to confront international problems, so they have had to be smarter and more nimble in their diplomacy, and more prudent and selective in their more limited uses of military force.

The rote declarations of U.S. leaders that “all options are on the table” are a euphemism for precisely the “threat or use of force” that the UN Charter explicitly prohibits, and they stymie the U.S. development of expertise in nonviolent forms of conflict resolution. The bumbling and bombast of America’s leaders in international arenas stand in sharp contrast to the skillful diplomacy and clear language we often hear from top Russian, Chinese and Iranian diplomats, even when they are speaking in English, their second or third language.

By contrast, U.S. leaders rely on threats, coups, sanctions and war to project power around the world. They promise Americans that these coercive methods will maintain American “leadership” or dominance indefinitely into the future, as if that is America’s rightful place in the world: sitting atop the globe like a cowboy on a bucking bronco.

A “New American Century” and “Pax Americana” are Orwellian versions of Hitler’s “Thousand-Year Reich,” but are no more realistic. No empire has lasted forever, and there is historical evidence that even the most successful empires have a lifespan of no more than 250 years, by which time their rulers have enjoyed so much wealth and power that decadence and decline inevitably set in. This describes the United States today.

America’s economic dominance is waning. Its once productive economy has been gutted and financialized, and most countries in the world now do more trade with China and/or the European Union than with the United States. Where America’s military once kicked open doors for American capital to “follow the flag” and open up new markets, today’s U.S. war machine is just a bull in the global china shop, wielding purely destructive power.

But we are not condemned to passively follow the suicidal path of militarism and hostility. Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan could be a down payment on a transition to a more peaceful post-imperial economy — if the American public starts to actively demand peace, diplomacy and disarmament and find ways to make our voices heard.

— We must get serious about demanding cuts in the Pentagon budget. None of our other problems will be solved as long as we keep allowing our leaders to flush the majority of federal discretionary spending down the same military toilet as the $2.26 trillion they wasted on the war in Afghanistan. We must oppose politicians who refuse to cut the Pentagon budget, regardless of which party they belong to and where they stand on other issues. CODEPINK is part of a new coalition to “Cut the Pentagon for the people, planet, peace and a future” — please join us!

— We must not let ourselves or our family members be recruited into the U.S. war machine. Instead, we must challenge our leaders’ absurd claims that the imperial forces deployed across the world to threaten other countries are somehow, by some convoluted logic, defending America. As a translator paraphrased Voltaire, “Whoever can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

— We must expose the ugly, destructive reality behind our country’s myths of “defending U.S. vital interests,” “humanitarian intervention,” “the war on terror” and the latest absurdity, the ill-defined “rules-based order” whose rules only apply to others — never to the United States.

— And we must oppose the corrupt power of the arms industry, including U.S. weapons sales to the world’s most repressive regimes and an unwinnable arms race that risks a potentially world-ending conflict with China and Russia.

Our only hope for the future is to abandon the futile quest for hegemony and instead commit to peace, cooperative diplomacy, international law and disarmament. After 20 years of war and militarism that has only left the world a more dangerous place and accelerated America’s decline, we must choose the path of peace.

The post How Can America Wake Up From Its Post-9/11 Nightmare? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The System Isn’t Broken, It’s Fixed

Both chronic stress and manipulative abuse can lead to an impairment of cognitive functioning. Whenever humans experience ongoing anxiety, their prefrontal cortex will generate increasingly higher levels of cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that helps us deal with threats and danger. If stress — real or perceived — becomes chronic, we can get stuck in this state of high alert. The brain cannot differentiate between real and fake news. It initiates and sustains the body’s stress response for as long as you feel anxious, tense, worried, or scared.

  • The projected overall 2021 poverty rate is 13.7 percent of Americans. 
  • 78 percent of American workers are living paycheck to paycheck.
  • Roughly 30 million Americans are without health insurance. 
  • Americans collectively hold about $81 billion in medical debt.
  • Approximately 325,000 Americans (age 12 or older) are sexually assaulted each year — about 1 every 93 seconds. As for those under 12, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of reported child sexual abuse. Keyword: reported.
  • The top three causes of death in the U.S. would be mostly preventable in a society that included economic stability, access to quality health care, protection of the environment, an emphasis on healthy eating habits, and even a modicum of humanity. Instead, each year, heart disease kills about 650,000, cancer kills 600,000, and the third leading cause of death is (wait for it) medical error — taking out at least 250,000 Americans per year. The powers-that-be test their corporate medicines and procedures on us while granting themselves immunity from liability.

According to the American Psychological Association:

  • 63 percent of Americans reported that the future of the nation is a significant source of stress 
  • 62 percent were stressed about money
  • 61 percent were stressed about work
  • 51 percent were stressed about violence and crime
  • 43 percent were stressed about health care

Fifty-six percent said that the mere act of staying informed by following the news causes them intense stress. Three out of four Americans reported experiencing at least one stress symptom in the last month — and this survey was taken BEFORE the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns.

Prices go up. Rents go up. The number of billionaires goes up. Everything goes up… except wages and quality of life. I could go on but you get the idea. Everyday life in the Home of the Brave™ — by definition — keeps the vast majority of its residents in a state of deep distress and high anxiety.

High anxiety = high cortisol. High cortisol negatively impacts our executive functioning, e.g.:

  • Inability to pay attention
  • Decrease in visual perception
  • Feeling agitated and unorganized
  • Memory loss
  • Loss of emotional regulation and rational thinking

This explains why so many of us jammed into supermarkets to fight each other for the right to hoard inordinate amounts of toilet paper when the dangerous and unnecessary pandemic lockdowns were implemented.

When stress is chronic and cortisol is raging, we make exponentially more mistakes. We struggle to complete tasks, we lose concentration, we forget basic information, and we repeat ourselves in conversation. Since life itself in this corrupt culture is a source of relentless anxiety, most of us live in an altered state of inefficiency and confusion. However, this reality is so normalized that it’s become invisible and we often think we’ve got it good. After all, look at all these neat gadgets we own and get to stare at all day, every day.

Think about it: We’re alive because our ancestors were the ones who used anxiety and hyper-vigilance to survive. The more casual or reckless early humans weren’t around long enough to pass on their genes. So, here we are — hard-wired with a hair-trigger fight-or-flight response — and we’re stuck in a world in which simple acts like breathing air or visiting a doctor are unhealthy or possibly lethal. Translation: We are the ideal subjects for a grand social experiment.

If you were a member of the elite class — or the proverbial 1% — wouldn’t you prefer that the masses were pliable, easily controlled, and happy to settle for crumbs? Why wouldn’t you rig circumstances in such a way as to keep billions of potential challengers off-balance, frightened, and divided? What better way to maintain power and control than to implement an insidious form of group manipulation? It’s what cult leaders do. It’s what domestic abusers do. It’s what dictators do. And what are those in power if not abusive and narcissistic sociopaths?

I know, the easiest and most alluring path for you right now is to dismiss this as a “conspiracy.” I get it. Life seems far more palatable if you choose denial. It feels so much simpler if you choose to believe those on top are not abusing you. You may even tell yourself that people never do things like create an oppressive, unfair system just to keep their fellow humans subdued and passive. If that’s your premise, let’s explore it for a few minutes.

Would the folks who run things in God’s Country™ ever coerce people through abusive behaviors? You might want to ask the detainees at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay. As reported by the New York Times, the U.S. hired “two C.I.A. contract psychologists” to create a program that used “violence, isolation and sleep deprivation on more than 100 men in secret sites, some described as dungeons.” Tactics included waterboarding and cramming men into small confinement boxes. The idea here was to induce so much chronic stress, it would break their resistance.

Human Rights Watch has documented other devious and abusive red-white-and-blue techniques paid for by your hard-earned tax dollars; e.g., mock execution by asphyxiation, stress positions, hooding during questioning, deprivation of light and auditory stimuli, and use of detainees’ individual phobias (such as fear of dogs) to induce debilitating stress.

The Land of the Free™ incarcerates more people than any other nation in the world. The Center for Constitutional Rights reports that such prisoners are “repeatedly abused by their guards, fellow prisoners, and an ineffective and apathetic system. They suffer beatings, rape, prolonged solitary confinement, meager food rations, and frequently-denied medical care.” All in the name of punishment and pacification.

Perhaps the best comparison for America’s brutal molding of its citizens is domestic abuse. The United Nations defines domestic abuse as “a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.” Read that again: a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control.

Abusers, says the UN, use actions or threats of action to influence others. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure, or wound someone. Are you frightened by the lack of financial stability? Are you terrorized by the threat of sexual assault or injury by medical error? Does the possibility of eviction, homelessness, and poverty manipulate you into making choices you abhor, choices that violate your deepest values and individual freedoms?

If you declare “the system is broken,” just about everyone will agree with you for one reason or another. But what if it’s not broken? What if it’s running exactly as it’s designed to run? A minuscule percentage of humans make the rules and thus reap virtually all the material rewards. The rest of us suppress our desires, our individuality, and our dreams in the name of survival — in its most meager sense. We’re wounded and intimidated into submission, too programmed and fearful to even think about rebellion… let alone solidarity with all the other victims.

Pro tip: All it takes to flip the script is for each of you to change your mind. Demand more pleasure instead of less pain. It doesn’t have to be like this. In fact, it can’t be like this if we take off the blinders and see the ugliness of reality.

“To ask serious questions about the nature and behavior of one’s own society is often difficult and unpleasant,” writes Noam Chomsky. “Difficult because the answers are generally concealed, and unpleasant because the answers are often not only ugly but also painful. To understand the truth about these matters is to be led to action that may not be easy to undertake and that may even carry a significant personal cost.”

Truths like those discussed in this article are ugly and painful but that’s why the big lies are invented in the first place. On that note, I leave you with this from the English Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley:

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number –
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you
Ye are many – they are few.

The Mask of Anarchy, 1819

The post The System Isn’t Broken, It’s Fixed first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Israel: Racist, violent policing is at the heart of apartheid

Police made sweeping arrests of Israel’s large minority of Palestinian citizens after protests rocked the country in May during Israel’s 11-day attack on Gaza. Officers were documented beating demonstrators, and in some cases torturing them while in detention. Police also failed to protect the Palestinian minority from planned, vigilante-style attacks by far-right Jewish extremists.

This was the damning verdict of an Amnesty International report published last week. The findings indicate that Israeli police view the country’s Palestinian minority, a fifth of the population, as an enemy rather than as citizens with a right to protest.

The report echoes what Palestinian leaders in Israel and local human rights groups have long said: that the default policing of the Palestinian community in Israel is racist and violent. It reflects the same values of Jewish supremacism seen in the Israeli army’s brutal treatment of Palestinians under occupation.

The contrast between how police responded to protests by Palestinian citizens and supportive statements from their leaders, on the one hand, and to incitement from Israeli Jewish leaders and a violent backlash from the Jewish extreme right, on the other, is stark indeed.

More than 2,150 arrests were made following May’s inter-communal violence. But according to reports cited by Amnesty, more than 90 percent of those detained were Palestinian – either citizens of Israel or residents of occupied East Jerusalem.

Most face charges unrelated to attacks on people or property, despite how their demonstrations were widely portrayed by police and the Israeli media. Rather, Palestinian protesters were indicted on charges such as “insulting or assaulting a police officer” or “taking part in an illegal gathering” – matters related to the repressive policing faced by the Palestinian minority.

‘Torture room’

Amnesty cites repeated examples of unprovoked police assaults on peaceful protesters in cities such as Nazareth and Haifa. That contrasts with the continuing indulgence by police of provocations by the Jewish far-right, such as their march through Palestinian neighbourhoods of occupied East Jerusalem on 15 June, during which participants chanted: “Death to Arabs” and “May your village burn.”

Amnesty also documents testimony that Israeli police beat bound detainees in Nazareth’s police station – setting up what the local legal rights group Adalah has described as an improvised “torture room”.

In addition, a protester in Haifa appears to have been tied to a chair and deprived of sleep for nine days, using torture techniques familiar to Palestinians in the occupied territories.

In contrast, Israeli police were alerted in real time to messages from Jewish far-right groups about precise plans to smash up “Arab” shops and assault Palestinian citizens on the street. And yet, police either ignored those warnings or were slow to respond. An investigation by Haaretz has further suggested that police subsequently failed to use film footage to identify these Jewish vigilantes and, as a result, made few arrests.

This picture of police turning a blind eye to planned Jewish violence echoes scenes from the time of the protests. Footage showed police officers allowing armed Jewish thugs – many bused in from settlements – to wander freely around Palestinian neighbourhoods during a curfew on the city of Lod. There was even footage of police and Jewish far-right extremists conducting what looked like joint “operations”, with police throwing stun grenades as Jewish extremists threw stones.

Jewish politicians who incited against the Palestinian minority – from Israel’s former president, Reuven Rivlin, and Lod’s mayor, Yair Revivo, to far-right legislator Itamar Ben-Gvir – have faced no consequences.

Charged with ‘terror acts’

Instead, police arranged what amounted to a provocative, entirely unnecessary assault by special forces on the home of a Palestinian community leader, Kamal al-Khatib, to arrest him. The deputy head of the northern Islamic Movement was charged with supporting terrorism after he expressed pride at what he called the minority’s solidarity with the people of Gaza and occupied East Jerusalem.

And last week, apparently too late for inclusion in the Amnesty report, Israel’s racist policing moved in new directions.

Small numbers of Palestinian citizens suspected of attacking Jews were charged with “terror acts”, in some cases without any physical or DNA evidence tying them to the crime. In several cases, the defendants were indicted based on confessions made after prolonged interrogation by Israel’s secret police, the Shin Bet.

Israel’s legal system is treating inter-communal violence as an act of terror when Palestinian citizens are involved, and as an ordinary law-and-order issue – assuming it is dealt with at all – when Israeli Jews are involved.

Underlining this distinction is the decision to place Palestinian citizens of Israel under administrative detention, jailing them without charge and not allowing lawyers to see the supposed evidence against their clients. This draconian move – with one such order approved last week by Defence Minister Benny Gantz – is usually reserved for Palestinians under occupation, not Israeli citizens.

Settling scores

In its report, Amnesty pointed to public statements from Israeli police commanders indicating that the current harsh crackdown is really about “settling scores”. And in part, that is true.

Nearly two decades ago, a judicial-led public inquiry concluded that Israeli police treated Palestinian citizens as “the enemy”. Nothing has changed since. Police regard it as their primary job to protect the privileges of the Jewish majority by keeping the Palestinian minority crushed and obedient, as a subordinate community inside a self-declared Jewish state.

The eruption of protests in May, which caught police off-guard, was implicitly a sign that they had failed in that role. Police interpreted the demonstrations as a public humiliation for which “deterrence” needed to be urgently restored.

Israeli politicians, including the then-police minister, Amir Ohana, as well as the Jewish far-right, viewed the protests in much the same light. They argued at the time that police were being held back by legal niceties, and that it was the job of Jewish citizens to back police by taking the law into their own hands.

Yet, the “settling of scores” with the Palestinian minority relates to a separate matter. External observers, such as Amnesty, tend to notice Israel’s racist policing only when direct violence is used against Palestinian citizens. But the Palestinian minority’s experience of discrimination from police is much broader.

For years, the minority has been taking to the streets in large numbers to protest against not only the violent policing of dissent, but a complementary near-absence of policing towards Palestinian communities in Israel when it comes to tackling crime.

The harsh repression seen in recent weeks contrasts strongly with police inaction as a crime wave has swept Palestinian communities, with each year bringing a record number of violent deaths. Both Palestinian and Jewish criminal gangs have exploited the policing void in Palestinian towns and villages, knowing that they are free to act as long as the violence is “Arab-on-Arab”.

Even during the Covid-19 lockdowns, Palestinian community leaders kept up the pressure, leading go-slow convoys of dozens of cars along Israel’s busiest roads to draw attention to Israel’s racist policing priorities.

These presented a different kind of humiliation for police. Unusually, commanders were forced onto the back foot, swallowing unrelenting criticism and condemnation for failing to deal with crime in Palestinian communities. It even became one of the top issues for Palestinian parties in Israel’s string of recent elections.

Now, police are having their moment of revenge. “You want more active policing? We’ll give you more active policing. See how you like this!” seems to be the new message of the mass round-ups.

Jewish supremacism

The reality is that both kinds of policing towards Palestinian citizens – the violent policing of dissent, and the lack of policing of crime – are rooted in the same, ugly ideology of Jewish supremacism.

This is the same supremacism highlighted in a report early this year by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. It broke new ground in the human rights community by explicitly identifying Israel as an apartheid state, one that treats Palestinians as inferior, whether in the occupied territories or inside Israel, and Jews as superior, whether in Israel or in the illegal settlements.

The new Amnesty report is the latest snapshot of a society where everything follows that apartheid logic, including policing. That should surprise no one, because apartheid is, by definition, systematic.

Most Jewish Israelis, whether they identify with the left or right, have shown little interest in the lethal crime wave that for years has washed over Palestinian communities near their own, despite the regular protest campaigns by the Palestinian minority.

And now – through their silence – most ordinary Jewish Israelis and their politicians have demonstrated that they support, or are at least indifferent to, the current crackdown by police on the Palestinian minority. The deeper causes of May’s protests, and the violent backlash from the far right, appear to have provoked little self-reflection.

The Israeli Jewish public seems equally unconcerned by the fact that Jewish far-right thugs have chanted “death to Arabs” on their streets, that videos show police cooperating with those thugs, or that police have been making mass arrests of Palestinian citizens for weeks on end, while failing to search for the Jews who were filmed attacking Palestinians.

Belligerent occupation

The truth is that Israeli police get away with racist, violent policing because wider Israeli Jewish society approves. Police regard themselves as defenders of a Jewish supremacism that many ordinary Jewish citizens see as their birthright.

The Palestinian minority hoped that it had opened a tentative conversation with Israeli Jews both about the responsibilities of police in a state claiming to be a democracy, and about the right of Israel’s 1.8 million Palestinian citizens to personal security.

There was much fanfare at Mansour Abbas’s United Arab List becoming last month the first party representing Palestinian citizens to enter an Israeli government coalition, ousting former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from power. Like other Palestinian parties, Abbas put changes to the racist police culture in Israel at the top of his platform.

But any signs of progress have been all too readily snuffed out by a reassertion of Jewish supremacism by police and their Jewish far-right allies, and by the silent complicity of wider Israeli Jewish society.

Israel had a chance to address its racist policing policies, but that would have required the difficult work of examining the much wider apartheid structures that underpin them. Instead, most Israeli Jews are happy to reassert the status quo – oppressing all Palestinians under Jewish rule, whether they are subjects of a belligerent occupation or third-class citizens of a Jewish state.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Israel: Racist, violent policing is at the heart of apartheid first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Known Knowns of Donald Rumsfeld

“On the morning of September 11, 2001, Donald Rumsfeld ran to the fire at the Pentagon to assist the wounded and ensure the safety of survivors,” expressed a mournful George W. Bush in a statement.  “For the next five years, he was in steady service as a wartime secretary of defense – a duty he carried out with strength, skill, and honor.”

Long before Donald Trump took aim at irritating facts and dissenting eggheads, Donald Rumsfeld, two times defense secretary and key planner behind the invasion of Iraq in 2003, was doing his far from negligible bit. When asked at his confirmation hearing about what worried him most when he went to bed at night, he responded accordingly: intelligence.  “The danger that we can be surprised because of a failure of imagining what might happen in the world.”

Hailing from Chicago, he remained an almost continuous feature of the Republic’s politics for decades, burying himself in the business-government matrix.  He was a Congressman three times.  He marked the Nixon and Ford administrations, respectively serving as head of the Office of Economic Opportunity and Defense Secretary.  At 43, he was the youngest defense secretary appointee in the imperium’s history.

He returned to the role of Pentagon chief in 2001, though not before running the pharmaceutical firm G.D. Searle and making it as a Fortune 500 CEO.  It was under his stewardship that the US Food and Drugs Administration finally approved the controversial artificial sweetener aspartame.  A report by a 1980 FDA Board of Inquiry had claimed that the drug “might induce brain tumors.”  This did not phase Rumsfeld, undeterred by such fanciful notions as evidence.

With Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1980, and Rumsfeld’s membership of the transition team, the revolving door could go to work. The new FDA Commissioner, Arthur Hull Hayes, Jr., was selected while Rumsfeld remained Searle’s CEO.  When Searle reapplied for approval of aspartame, Hayes, as the new FDA commissioner, appointed a 5-person Scientific Commission to review the 1980 findings.  When it became evident that a 3-2 outcome approving the ban was in the offing, Hayes appointed a sixth person.  The deadlocked vote was broken by Hayes, who favoured aspartame.

In responding to the attacks of September 11, 2001 on US soil, Rumsfeld laid the ground for an assault on inconvenient evidence.  As with aspartame, he was already certain about what he wanted.  Even as smoke filled the corridors of the Pentagon, punctured by the smouldering remains of American Airlines Flight 77, Rumsfeld was already telling the vice-chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff General Richard Myers to find the “best info fast … judge whether good enough [to] hit SH@same time – not only UBL.” (Little effort is needed to work out that SH was Saddam Hussein and UBL Usama/Osama Bin Laden.)

Experts were given a firm trouncing – what would they know?  With Rumsfeld running the Pentagon, the scare mongers and ideologues took the reins, all working on the Weltanschauung summed up at that infamous press conference of February 12, 2002.  When asked if there was any evidence as to whether Iraq had attempted to or was willing to supply terrorists with weapons of mass destruction, given “reports that there is no evidence of a direct link”, Rumsfeld was ready with a tongue twister.  “There are known knowns.  There are things we know we know.  We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.  But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”  This was being frightfully disingenuous, given that the great known for Rumsfeld was the need to attack Iraq.

To that end, he authorised the creation of a unit run by the under-secretary of defense for policy Douglas Feith, known as the Office of Special Plans, to examine intelligence on Iraq’s capabilities independently of the CIA.  Lt. Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, who served in the Pentagon’s Near East and South Asia (NESA) unit a year prior to the invasion, described the OSP’s operations in withering terms.  “They’d take a little bit of intelligence, cherry-pick it, make it sound much more exciting, usually by taking it out of context, often by juxtaposition of two pieces of information that don’t belong together.”

One of Rumsfeld’s favourite assertions – that Iraq had a viable nuclear weapons program – did not match the findings behind closed doors. “Our knowledge of the Iraqi (nuclear) weapons program,” claimed a report by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “is based largely – perhaps 90% – on analysis of imprecise intelligence.”

None of this derailed the juggernaut: the US was going to war.  Not that Rumsfeld was keen to emphasise his role in it.  “While the president and I had many discussions about the war preparations,” he notes in his memoirs, “I do not recall him ever asking me if I thought going to war with Iraq was the right decision.”

With forces committed to both Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States found itself in the situation Rumsfeld boastfully claimed would never happen.  Of this ruinously bloody fiasco, Rumsfeld was dismissive: “stuff happens.”  Despite such failings, a list of words he forbade staff from using was compiled, among them “quagmire”, “resistance” and “insurgents”.  Rumsfeld, it transpired, had tried regime change on the cheap, hoping that a modest military imprint was all that was necessary. The result: the US found itself in Iraq from March 2003 to December 2011, and then again in 2013 with the rise of Islamic State.  Afghanistan continues to be garrisoned, with the US scheduled to leave a savaged country by September.

Rumsfeld was not merely a foe of facts that might interfere with his policy objective.  Conventions and laws prohibiting torture were also sneered at.  On December 2, 2002, he signed a memorandum from General Counsel William J. Haynes II authorising the use of 20-hour interrogations, stress positions and the use of phobias for Guantanamo Bay detainees.  In hand writing scrawled at the bottom of the document, the secretary reveals why personnel should not be too soft on their quarry, as he would “stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?”  The results were predictably awful, and revelations of torture by US troops at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison in 2004 led him to offer his resignation, which President Bush initially rejected.

By November 2006, military voices had turned against him.  With the insurgency in full swing and Iraq sliding into chaos, the Army Times called for the secretary’s resignation.  “Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large. His strategy has failed, and his ability to lead is compromised.  And although the blame for our failures in Iraq rests with the secretary, it will be the troops who bear the brunt.”  Bush eventually relented.

It is interesting that so little of this was remarked upon during the Trump era, seen as a disturbing diversion from the American project.  When Trump came to office, Democrats and others forgave all that came before, ignoring the manure that enriched the tree of mendacity.  The administration of George W. Bush was rehabilitated.

In reflecting on his documentary on Rumsfeld Errol Morris found himself musing like his protagonist.  “He’s a mystery to me, and in many ways, he remains a mystery to me – except for the possibility that there might not be a mystery.”  The interlocutor had turned into his subject.

The post The Known Knowns of Donald Rumsfeld first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Israel Rejects ICC Investigation: What Are the Possible Future Scenarios?

The Israeli government’s position regarding an impending investigation by the International Criminal Court of alleged war crimes committed in occupied Palestine has been finally declared by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“It will be made clear that Israel is a country with rule of law that knows how to investigate itself,” Netanyahu said in a statement on April 8. Subsequently, Israel “completely rejects” any accusations that it has committed war crimes.

But it won’t be so easy for Tel Aviv this time around. True, Israel is not a party to the Rome Statute, according to which the ICC was established, but it can still be held accountable, because the State of Palestine is a member of the ICC.

Palestine joined the ICC in 2015, and the alleged war crimes, which are under investigation, have taken place on Palestinian soil. This grants the ICC direct jurisdiction, even if war crimes were committed by a non-ICC party. Still, accountability for these war crimes is not guaranteed. So, what are the possible future scenarios?

But first, some context …

‘Blatant Impunity’

On March 22, the Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, declared that “the time has come to stop Israel’s blatant impunity”. His remarks were included in a letter sent to the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, and other top officials at the international body.

There is modest – albeit cautious – optimism among Palestinians that Israeli officials could potentially be held accountable for war crimes and other human rights violations in Palestine. The reason behind this optimism is a recent decision by ICC to pursue its investigation of alleged war crimes committed in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Mansour’s letter was written with this context in mind. Other Palestinian officials, such as Foreign Minister, Riyad al-Maliki, are also pushing in this direction. He, too, wants to see an end to Israel’s lack of accountability.

Till Netanyahu’s official position, the Israeli response has been most predictable. On March 20, Israeli authorities decided to revoke Al-Maliki’s special travel permit in order to prevent him from pursuing Palestinian diplomacy that aims at ensuring the continuation of the ICC investigation. Al-Maliki had, in fact, just returned from a trip to The Hague, where the ICC is headquartered.

Furthermore, Israel is openly attempting to intimidate the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah to discontinue its cooperation with the ICC, as can be easily gleaned from the official Israeli discourse. “The Palestinian leadership has to understand there are consequences for their actions,” an Israeli official told The Jerusalem Post on March 21.

Despite years of legal haggling and intense pressure on the ICC’s outgoing Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, to scrap the investigation altogether, the legal proceedings have carried on, unhindered. The pressure was displayed in various forms: direct defamation by Israel, as in accusing the ICC of anti-Semitism; unprecedented American sanctions on ICC officials and constant meddling and intervention, on Israel’s behalf, by member states that are part of the ICC, and who are described as amici curiae.

They did not succeed. On April 30, 2020, Bensouda consulted with the Court’s Pre-trial Chamber regarding whether the ICC had jurisdiction over the matter. Ten months later, the Chamber answered in the affirmative. Subsequently, the Prosecutor decided to formally open the investigation.

On March 9, a spokesman for the Court revealed that, in accordance with Article 18 in the Rome Statute, notification letters were sent by the Prosecutor’s office to ‘all parties concerned’, including the Israeli Government and the Palestinian leadership, notifying them of the war crimes probe and allowing them only one month to seek deferral of the investigation.

Expectedly, Israel remains defiant. However, unlike its obstinacy in response to previous international attempts at investigating war crimes allegations in Palestine, the Israeli response, this time, appears confused and uncertain. On the one hand, Israeli media revealed last July that Netanyahu’s government has prepared a long list of likely Israeli suspects, whose conduct can potentially be investigated by the ICC. Still, the official Israeli response can only be described as dismissive of the matter as being superfluous, insisting that Israel will not, in any way, cooperate with ICC investigators.

Though the Israeli government continues to maintain its official position that the ICC has no jurisdiction over Israel and occupied Palestine, top Israeli officials and diplomats are moving quickly to block what now seems to be an imminent probe. For example, Israeli President, Reuven Rivlin, was on an official visit to Germany where he, on March 18, met with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier, thanking him on behalf of Israel for opposing the ICC’s investigation of Israeli officials.

After lashing out at the Palestinian leadership for attempting to “legalize” the conflict, through an international investigation, Rivlin renewed Israel’s “trust that our European friends will stand by us in the important fight on the misuse of the International Criminal Court against our soldiers and civilians.”

Unlike previous attempts at investigating Israeli war crimes, for example, the Jenin massacre in the West Bank in 2002, and the various investigations of several Israeli wars on Gaza starting in 2008-09, the forthcoming ICC investigation is different. For one, the ICC investigation targets individuals, not states, and can issue arrest warrants, making it legally incumbent on all other ICC members to enforce the Court’s decisions.

Now that all attempts at dissuading the Court from pursuing the matter have failed, the question must be asked: What are the possible future scenarios?

The Next Step

In the case that the investigation carries on as planned, the Prosecutor’s next step would be to identify suspects and alleged perpetrators of war crimes. Dr. Triestino Mariniello, member of the legal team that represents the Gaza victims, told me that once these suspects have been determined, “the Prosecutor will ask the Pre-trial chamber to issue either arrest warrants or subpoena, at least in relation to the crimes already included in the investigation so far.”

These alleged war crimes already include Israel’s illegal Jewish settlements, the Israeli war on Gaza in 2014 and Israel’s targeting of unarmed civilian protesters during Gaza’s Great March of Return, starting in 2018.

Even more ideally, the Court could potentially widen the scope of the investigation, which is a major demand for the representatives of the Palestinian victims.

“We expect more crimes to be included: especially, apartheid as a crime against humanity and crimes against Palestinian prisoners by Israeli authorities, especially torture,” according to Dr. Mariniello.

In essence, this means that, even after the investigation is officially underway, the Palestine legal team can continue its advocacy to expand the scope of the investigation and to cover as much legal ground as possible.

‘Narrow Scope’ 

However, judging from previous historic experiences, ideal scenarios in cases where Israel was investigated for war crimes rarely transpired. A less than ideal scenario would be for the scope of the investigation to remain narrow.

In a recent interview with former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Occupied Palestinian Territories, Professor Richard Falk, he told me that even if the narrow scope remains in effect – thus reducing the chances of all victims seeing justice – the investigation is still a “breakthrough”.

The reason why the investigation may not be broadened has less to do with justice and much to do with politics. “The scope of the investigation is something that is ill-defined, so it is a matter of political discretion,” Professor Falk said.

In other words, “the Court takes a position that needs to be cautious about delimiting its jurisdiction and, therefore, it tries to narrow the scope of what it is prepared to investigate.”

Professor Falk does not agree with that view but, according to the seasoned international law expert, “it does represent the fact that the ICC, like the UN itself, is subject to immense geopolitical pressure.”

Still, “it’s a breakthrough even to consider the investigation, let alone the indictment and the prosecution of either Israelis or Americans that was put on the agenda of the ICC, which led to a pushback by these governments.”

Israel’s Missed Opportunity

While the two above scenarios are suitable for Palestinians, they are a non-starter as far as the Israeli government is concerned, as indicated in Netanyahu’s recent statement in which he rejected the investigation altogether. According to some pro-Israeli international law experts, Netanyahu’s decision would represent a missed opportunity.

Writing in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, international law expert Nick Kaufman had advises Israel to cooperate, only for the sake of obtaining a “deferral” from the Court and to use the ensuing delay for political maneuvering.

“It would be unfortunate for Israel to miss the opportunity of deferral which could provide the ideal excuse for reinitiating peace talks with the Palestinians,” he wrote, warning that “if Israel squanders such an opportunity it should come as no surprise if, at a later date, the Court will hint that the government has no one but itself to blame for the export of the judicial process to The Hague.”

There are other scenarios, such as even more intense pressures on the Court as a result of ongoing discussions between Israel and its benefactors, whether in Washington or among the amici curiae at the Court itself.

At the same time, while Palestinians remain cautious about the future of the investigation, hope is slowly rising that, this time around, things may be different and that Israeli war criminals will eventually be held accountable for their crimes. Time will tell.

  • Romana Rubeo contributed to this article
The post Israel Rejects ICC Investigation: What Are the Possible Future Scenarios? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“Is This Who We Are?”: Gitmo is America’s Enduring Shame

“That’s certainly our goal and our intention.” This was the non-committal answer given by White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, when, on February 12, she was asked by a reporter whether the new Joe Biden Administration intends to shut down the notorious Guantánamo Bay Prison by the end of the president’s first term in office.

Psaki’s answer may have seemed reassuring, that the untold suffering experienced by hundreds of men in this American gulag – many of whom were surely innocent – would be finally coming to an end. However, considering the history of Guantánamo and the trail of broken promises by the Barack Obama Administration, the new administration’s pledge is hardly encouraging.

Compare the new language with that of Obama’s impassioned diatribes about humanity, justice and American values, which he utilized whenever he spoke of Guantánamo. “Gitmo has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law,” Obama said at a speech at the National Defense University in May 2013.

Enamored with his every word, Obama’s audience clapped with enthusiasm. When he delivered that particular speech, Obama was then serving his second term in office. He already had ample opportunity to shut down the prison which operated with no international monitoring and entirely outside the realms of international and US laws.

Obama is likely to be remembered for his words, not his actions. Not only did he fail to shut down the prison which was erected by his predecessor, George W. Bush, in 2002, but the Guantánamo industry continued to thrive during his terms. For example, in his speech, Obama made  reference to the high cost of “a hundred and fifty million dollars each year to imprison 166 people.” According to the New Yorker, reporting in 2016, Guantánamo’s budget had morphed to “$445 million last year,” when Obama was still in office.

Yet, as the budget grew by leaps and bounds, the number of Guantánamo prisoners dwindled. Currently, there are only 40 prisoners still residing in that massive edifice of metal, concrete and barbed wire located at the eastern tip of Cuba, built atop a piece of land ‘leased’ by the US in 1903.

It is easy to conclude that the US government keeps the prison open only to avoid international accountability and, arguably, to extract information by torture, an act that is inconsistent with American laws. But this cannot be it. On the one hand, the entire wars against Afghanistan and Iraq were illegal under international law. Such a fact hardly stopped the US and its allies from savagely invading, humiliating and torturing entire populations with no regard whatsoever to legal or moral arguments.

On the other hand, Guantánamo is merely one of many American-run prisons and detention centers throughout the world that operate with no manual of rules and according to the most ruthless tactics. The tragedy of Abu Ghraib, a US military detention center in Baghdad, only became famous when direct evidence of the degrading, and incredibly violent conduct that was taking place within its walls was produced and publicized.

In fact, many American officials and members of Congress at the time used the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004 as an opportunity to whitewash and rebrand American crimes elsewhere and to present the misconduct in this Iraqi prison as if an isolated incident involving “a few bad apples”.

The ‘few bad apples’ argument, made by G. W. Bush was, more or less, the same logic utilized by Obama when he championed the closure of Guantánamo. Indeed, both Presidents insisted that neither Abu Ghraib nor Guantánamo should be made out to represent what America is really all about.

“Is this who we are?” Obama animatedly and passionately asked, as he made a case in favor of the closure of Guantánamo, speaking as if a human rights advocate, not a Commander-in-Chief who had direct authority to shut down the entire facility. The truth is that the Abu Ghraib tortures were not ‘a few bad apples’ and Guantánamo is, indeed, a microcosm of exactly what the US is, or has become.

From Bagram, Afghanistan, to Abu Ghraib, Iraq, to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to the many ‘floating prisons’ –  news of which was leaked by US media in 2014 – the US government continues to make a mockery of international and humanitarian laws. Many American officials, who genuinely advocate the closure of Guantánamo, refuse to acknowledge that the prison is a symbol of their country’s intransigence and refuse to accept that, like any other country in the world, it is accountable to international law.

This lack of accountability has exceeded the US government’s insistence to ‘act alone’, as in to launch wars without international mandates. One US Administration after another has also made it clear that, under no circumstances, would they allow accused war criminals to be investigated, let alone stand trial, before the International Criminal Court (ICC). The message here is that even America’s ‘bad apples’ can potentially walk free, regardless of the heinousness of their crimes.

Just months after the Trump Administration imposed sanctions on ICC judges to punish them for the potential investigations of US crimes in Afghanistan, it freed the convicted criminals who carried out horrific crimes in Iraq. On December 22, Trump pardoned four American mercenaries who belonged to the private military firm, Blackwater. These convicted murderers were involved in the killing of 14 civilians, including two children, in Baghdad in 2007.

What became known as the ‘Nisour Square massacre’ was another example of whitewashing, as government officials and mainstream media, though expressing outrage at the unlawful killing, insisted that the massacre was an isolated episode. The fact that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, mostly civilians, were killed as a result of the American invasion seems irrelevant in the country’s skewed logic in its never-ending ‘war on terror’.

Whether Biden fulfills his promise of shutting down Guantánamo or not, little will change if the US remains committed to its condescending attitude towards international law and to its undeserved view of itself as a country that exists above the universal rights of everyone else.

That said, Guantánamo, on its own, is a crime against humanity and there can never be any justification to rationalize why hundreds of people are held indefinitely, without trial, without due process, without international observers and without ever seeing their families and loved ones. The explanation often offered by the pro-Guantánamo pundits is that the prison inmates are dangerous men. If that was, indeed, the case, why were these supposed criminals not allowed to see their day in court?

According to a report by Amnesty International published in May 2020, of the 779 men who were taken to that facility, “only seven have been convicted.” Worse, five of them were convicted “as a result of pre-trial agreements under which they pleaded guilty, in return for the possibility of release from the base.” According to the rights group, such a trial by ‘military commission’ “did not meet fair trial standards”.

In other words, Guantánamo is – and has always been – a fraudulent operation with no real inclination to holding criminals and terrorists accountable and to preventing further crimes. Instead, Guantánamo is an industry, and a lucrative one. In many ways, it is similar to the American prison military complex, ironically dubbed the ‘criminal justice system.’  Referring to the unjust ‘justice system’, Human Rights Watch derided the US for having “the largest reported prison population in the world”.

“The (US) criminal justice system – from policing and prosecution, through to punishment – is plagued with injustices like racial disparities, excessively harsh sentencing and drug and immigration policies that improperly emphasize criminalization,” HRW stated on its website.

The above, too, can be considered an answer to Obama’s rhetorical question, “Is this who we are?”. Yes, Mr. Obama, in fact, this is precisely who you are.

While offering the world’s most miserable detention conditions to hundreds of potentially innocent men, Guantánamo also offers career opportunities, high military perks and honors, and a seemingly endless budget for a small army to guard only a few shackled, gaunt-looking men in a far-away land.

So, even if Biden is able to overcome pressure from the military, from the CIA and from Congress to shut Guantánamo down, justice will still be absent, not only because of the numerous lives that are forever shattered but because America still refuses to learn from its mistakes.

The post “Is This Who We Are?”: Gitmo is America’s Enduring Shame first appeared on Dissident Voice.

From the Murder of Berta Cáceres to Dam Disaster in Uttarakhand

March 2, 2021 was the five year anniversary of the murder of Berta Cáceres, who opposed the Agua Zarca dam in Honduras.  That date was less than one month after the deaths of dozens of people from Tehri Dam disaster in Uttarakhand, India.  The two stories together tell us far more about consequences of the insatiable greed of capitalism for more energy than either narrative does by itself.

In addition to being sacred to the indigenous Lenca people of Honduras, the Gualcarque River is a primary source of water for them to grow their food and harvest medicinal plants.  Dams can flood fertile plains and deprive communities of water for livestock and crops.  The Lenca knew what could happen if the company Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA) were to build the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque.  As Nina Lakhani describes in Who Killed Berta Cáceres?, the La Aurora Dam, which started generating electricity in 2012 “left four miles of the El Zapotal River bone dry and the surrounding forest bare.”

In 2015, Cáceres won the Goldman Environmental Prize for organizing opposition to the Agua Zarca.  She had been a co-founder of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH).  The following year, thousands of Lenca marched to the capital Tegucigalpa demanding schools, clinics, roads and protection of ancestral lands.  Indigenous groups uniting with them included Maya, Chorti, Misquitu, Tolupan, Tawahka and Pech.  Lakhani describes that “From the north coast came the colorfully dressed, drumming Garifunas: Afro-Hondurans who descend from West and Central African, Caribbean, European and Arawak people exiled to Central America by the British after a slave revolt in the late eighteenth century.”

A Garifuna leader, Miriam Miranda remembered that Berta stopped to sketch anti-imperialist murals on the US airbase in Palmerola.  As Berta and Miranda became close during the more than two decades of joint work Berta began to identify with the Garifuna.  She loved going with Miranda to the town of Vallecito to join Garifuna rituals with drums, smoke and dancing while enjoying herb-infused liquor.

She knew that the Garifuna suffered landgrabs parallel to rivergrabs the Lencas experienced.  Lakhani relates how the government ignored the ancestral land claims of the Garifuna as it gave land to “settlers” who sold them to palm oil magnates.  In less than a decade lands held by Garifuna communities plummeted from 200,000 to 400 hectares.

Similarly, in the Bajo Aguán region the government allowed construction of a resort on ancient Garifuna burial sites and ancestral lands. The community was not consulted prior to the landgrab and 150 people died resisting it.

Manufacturing Impressions

The dam-building elite had a thorn in its side that threatened the megaprojects.  Due in no small part to 1995 efforts of Berta’s mother Doña Austra, Honduras had signed onto the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention of the International Labor Organization (known as ILO 169).  It guarantees the right of indigenous communities to have “free, prior and informed consultations” for any development affecting their land, culture or way of life.

The first tactic of the elite for getting around this obstacle was to promise enormous benefits such as building roads and schools.  Or else, they claimed that the project would bring electricity for homes, a health clinic, an ambulance, and a flood of jobs.  By the time the project was completed, few or no benefits had materialized.  Who Killed Berta Cáceres? documents what happened in communities that did not fall for empty promises.  For the Honduran Los Encimos dam, the power brokers bused in hundreds of people from neighboring El Salvador to sign a decree favoring the project.  Following an October 2011 town hall meeting when residents voted 401 to 7 against the Agua Zarca dam, the mayor curried favor of the elite by issuing a permit for it two months later.

Representatives of the company owning the future dam, DESA, repeated the absurd claim that they only bought land from willing sellers.  Dam proponents then denounced Berta’s COPINH organization as causing the division.  In other words, the developers were skilled at shouting that project opponents were doing what they, the dam pushers, were, in fact, doing.  Outside observers would then have difficulty distinguishing fact from fiction.  If these impression management tricks failed to overcome Earth defenders, the method of threats and violence remained.

Threats and Hit Lists

Berta was rare as she “could understand and analyze local struggles in a global context and had the capacity to unite different movements, urban and rural, teachers and campesinos, indigenous groups and mestizos.”  More than any other reason, this meant that Berta would be targeted by the cabal of business owners, government heads, military brass and foreign investors.

Berta had told Lakhani that “Seventy million people were killed across the continent for our natural resources.”  When a researcher for the Goldman prize committee visited Berta in Tegucigalpa, she asked him what would happen if she died before receiving the prize money, a question no recipient had asked before.  She had been warned not to stay in the same hotel two nights in a row.

Nina Lakhani documents how widespread and intensely grisley the murders in Honduras were.  “Olvin Gustavo García Mejía was widely feared by COPINH.”  He boasted of having a personal hit list with Berta’s name on it.  In March 2015, Olvin used his machete to chop off the fingers of a dam opponent.

Even more revealing were eyewitness reports to Lakhani from First Sergeant Rodrigo Cruz who saw a military hit list which included Berta.  Cruz had survived a specialist training so grueling that only 8 of 200 completed it. The graduation ceremony included killing a dog, eating the raw meat, and getting a hug from the commander.

On one mission Cruz reported being “ordered to shovel decomposing human remains into sacks which they took to an isolated forest reserve, doused them in diesel, petrol and rubbish and burned.”  At Corocito he saw “torture instruments, chains, hammers and nails, no people, but fresh clots of blood.”  During his Trujillo mission “naval colleagues handed over plastic bags containing human remains.  Later that night they tossed them into a river heaving with crocodiles.”  After seeing Berta’s name on a hit list belonging to his lieutenant, Cruz was sent on an extensive leave.  When he heard that Berta was dead, he fled from Honduras fearing that he himself would be murdered.

The Honduran elite discovered another weapon for its arsenal against environmental defenders: criminalization.  During a 2020 interview with InSight Crime, Lakhani reported a pattern suggestively similar to that practiced in the US and many other countries: “People are still being killed but really the main weapon being used currently is criminalization.  There’s so much fear involved, and it can really break up and silence a movement. All of your energy and resources go to trying to stay out of prison.”

2009 Coup as a Game Changer

On January 27, 2006 Manuel Zelaya was inaugurated as president of Honduras as an advocate of modest reforms such as reforestation, small business assistance, reduction of fossil fuels and an end to open pit mining.  But even these baby steps were too much for the country’s increasingly corrupt elites, who had the military march him out of his home in pajamas and into exile on June 28, 2009.  As bad as the situation was before 2009, the coup intensified the violence.

Though Barack Obama acknowledged that the coup was a coup, his underling Hillary Clinton quickly altered the official rhetoric, claiming that it was not a coup.  She explained “in her 2014 memoir, Hard Choices, the US ensured that elections could take place before the ousted president, Manuel Zelaya, was restored to office.”  This helped the coup ensure that Zelaya and his tiny improvements would not show their face again.

The economic consequences of the coup were an avalanche of projects attacking the country’s land, water, air and indigenous cultures.  The congress rushed to approve them without studies or oversight required by Honduran law.  During the next eight years, almost 200 mining projects received a nod.  Lakhani records how, during one late night session in September 2010 congressional president Juan Orlando Hernández “sanctioned 40 hydroelectric dams without debate, consultation or adequate environmental impact studies.”  John Perry wrote in CounterPunch that “Cáceres received a leaked list of rivers, including the Gualcarque, that were to be secretly ‘sold off’ to produce hydroelectricity. The Honduran congress went on to approve dozens of such projects without any consultation with affected communities. Berta’s campaign to defend the rivers began on July 26, 2011 when she led the Lenca-based COPINH in a march on the presidential palace.”

Dubious Partners of Green Energy

So-called “green” energy companies profited at least as much as other corporations from the great sell-off of Honduran treasures.  Lakhani’s research reveals that on June 2, 2010, the National Electric Company approved contracts for eight renewable energy corporations, including DESA, the owners of the Agua Zarca dam project.  Though it had no track record of constructing anything, it received permits, a sales contract, and congressional approval.  A 50-year license for the dam sailed through without any free, prior or informed consent from the Lenca people.  Lakhani also documents that January 16, 2014 was a particularly good day

… for solar and wind entrepreneurs as congress approved 30 energy contracts for 21 companies in one quick sitting.  There was no bidding process… After the rivers were all sold, they started on wind and solar contracts…  Honduras boasts more than 200 tax exemption laws, which cost state coffers around $1.5 bn each year.  Renewable energy entrepreneurs have benefited enormously, saving a whopping $1.4 bn between 2012 and 2016.

Even the World Bank had its finger in the pie, despite its requirement to give socially responsible loans.  It sought to cover up its role in Agua Zarca by channeling funds through intermediaries.

Lakhani also relates stories of (a) how six members of congress embezzled $879,000 using a fake environmental group, Planeta Verde (Green Planet); (b) connections between a criminal family and the solar company Proderssa; and, (c) the link between the solar plant in Choluteca and Douglas Bustillo, who was sentenced to 30 years for his role in the murder of Berta.

Jorge Cuéllar writes that:

DESA’s Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, like similar megaprojects, effectively reconfigures communities into sacrifice zones for insatiable energy needs. “Alternative” energy (Alt E) is just one more category of energy which is added to the mix with fossil fuels.  Increases in Alt E are not replacing fossil fuels, but are mainly being used to create feelings of do-goody.  In cases where there is a preference for Alt E, it is due to short term profit.  As Lakhani explains, “African palms were the most profitable crops because the oil was sold to North America and Europe for biofuel and could be traded in the carbon credit market.

A Farcical Trial

On March 2, 2016 Berta Cáceres was brutally murdered in her hometown of La Esperanza in western Honduras.  The trial that followed was a transparent cover up.  As Vijay Prashad notes, none of the executives of DESA, the dam company responsible for the murder, were charged with the crime.  Lakhani reported in the InSight Crime interview that “The crime was never framed as political murder, as gender-based violence or a hate crime against indigenous people despite the vitriolic and racist language that was used in phone chats about the Lenca people. There was a decision to make sure that anybody political, and the military and police as institutions, would be completely left out.”

Adam Isacson hit the nail on the head in his blog when describing those found guilty as “… just trigger-pullers, mid-level planners, or scapegoats… They are employed by Honduras’s elite, but they aren’t of the elite. They’re on the make, and have found a rare path to social mobility in Honduras, beyond gang membership and drug trafficking.”

Lakhani’s own account reflects how bizarre and contrived the trial was.  She recalls that “My request to read the admitted documents was denied. ‘Yes, it’s a public trial, yes, the documents are public, no, you can’t read them,’ said the court archivist.”  She heard international observers being told “Don’t worry, people will be convicted” as if it was common knowledge that the outcome had been prescripted.   It was yet another exercise in impression management.

US Role

Though there is no evidence that the US directly planned and executed the 2009 coup, its role has been to ensure that the coup remains intact.  As Isacson asks, “Why did 1 in every 37 citizens of Honduras end up detained at the US-Mexico border in 2019, after fleeing all the way across Mexico? Why did 30,000 more Hondurans petition for asylum in Mexico that same year?”  People are fleeing Honduras in such numbers in large part because the coup gang has shown that if it can get away with murdering someone as well known as Berta, it can murder anyone.

In the New York Journal of Books, Dan Beeton observes that “authors of the assassination have yet to be brought to justice. The US government could insist that this happen; it could pressure Honduran authorities to find and arrest them, but it has not…”  In fact, Lakhani points out that the US is doing the opposite by persecuting those trying to escape from the violence: “… in 2010 US border patrol detained 13,580 Honduran nationals.  The numbers jumped to over 91,000 in 2014 under Deporter-in-Chief Barack Obama.”

Though the US insists that it does not train the executioners in the Honduran militarized police, it does not deny that it trains the trainers – many of torturers in Central America attended the notorious School of the Americas.  Even if the US were to withdraw its support from individual criminals in Honduras, they would be replaced by clones who would preserve the post-coup structure and power.  Control was successfully passed from a mildly reformist Zelaya government to a criminal extractionist network which permeates state and corporate institutions.  With aide and comfort from the US, the Honduran energy mob has reinvented itself.

Coming to Uttarakhand

The story of dams in India may seem highly different from events on the other side of the globe.  But lurking deep beneath surface appearances an eerie consistency links the two.  One similarity between the widely separated areas is that, as in Honduras, the Indian government has aggressively pursued a development strategy of mines, logging and hydro-power.  This often results in tribal people suffering the disruption of their farming systems and relocation.

On February 7, 2021 a deluge washed away two power plants of the Tehri Dam on the Bhagirathi River in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, India.  At least 32 people were found dead and more than 150 were missing.  The event barely made it to US media but has been extensively covered by the progressive Indian online publication Countercurrents.  With 34 people trapped, “Rescue workers armed with heavy construction equipment, drones and even sniffer dogs were struggling to penetrate the one-and-a-half-mile long tunnel that filled with ice-cold water, mud, rocks and debris.”

Years before construction of the Tehri Dam began, there was controversy regarding if it should even be built.  Bharat Dogra, a regular contributor to Countercurrents, wrote that “the Environmental Appraisal Committee (River Valley Projects) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India … has come to the unanimous conclusion that the Tehri Dam Project, as proposed, should not be taken up as it does not merit environmental clearance.”

The region has a history of dam disasters:

At least 29 workers were killed in a serious accident at the Tehri dam site (in Uttarakhand) on August 2 2004… On 14 February 2010 six workers died and 16 were seriously injured in Kinnaur district (Himachal Pradesh) when stones and boulders destabilized by the blasting work carried out for dam construction… Over 154 workers were killed in a span of 12 years, as over one worker was killed every month during the construction of the Nagarjunasagar dam.

Actually Existing Dangers in the Himalayas 

Several factors compound dangers of dams which are built in hazard-prone region of the Himalayas.  First is the observation by seismologist Prof. James N. Brune that “No large rock-fill dam of the Tehri type has ever been tested by the shaking that an earthquake in this area could produce… Given the number of persons who live downstream, the risk factor is also extreme.”  Second, the reservoirs created by the dams can themselves increase the likelihood of quakes, a phenomenon called reservoir induced seismicity.  Third is the huge tectonic plate below India called the “Indian Plate.”

As economist Bharat Jhunjhunwala explains, “The rotation of the earth is causing this plate to continually move northward just like any matter moves to the top in a centrifugal machine. The Indian Plate crashes into the Tibetan Plate as it moves to the north. The pressure between these two plates is leading to the continual rise of the Himalayas and also earthquakes in Uttarakhand in particular.”   The result is an earthquake in the region roughly every 10 years.

Which of these was the primary cause of the February 2021 dam disaster?  None of them.  According to public health specialist Dr. Anamika Roy, the most likely cause was “retreating glaciers which result in the formation of proglacial lakes, which are often bounded by their sediments and stones, and therefore any breach in the boundaries may lead to a large stream of water rushing down the streams and lakes resulting in a flood down streams.”  Dr. Roy thinks that climate change is a leading factor in the formation of proglacial lakes.

Professor of glaciology and hydrology Dr. Farooq Azam suggests that a hanging glacier falling from 5600 meters could have caused a rock and ice avalanche, leading to the dam accident.  Taken together, these factors indicate that the Himalayan region is a very bad place to build a dam.  We might even say that the reason for the Tehri dam disaster was that the dam was built.

Social Problems of Dam Disasters 

Bharat Dogra details a host of problems for those constructing dams in very remote areas such as the Himalayas:

  • First, a large portion of those constructing dams are migrant workers who are less familiar with floods and other risks than are local residents;
  • Second, even if migrant workers begin to understand on-site risks, they have little or no ability to find other employment if companies order them to continue at their jobs;
  • Third, migrant workers typically live in temporary housing that offers little protection;
  • Fourth, not being near to family or friends, they have little ability to go to others with health problems, special needs, distress, or risk; and,
  • Fifth, it is easier for contractors to suppress information concerning accidents so that workers or surviving families may not receive compensatory payments.

Common to all of these issues is the fact that laboring in remote parts of the world leaves workers out of the pubic eye, meaning that they can easily be ignored or quickly forgotten after a tragedy.

A different type of tragedy results from the release of water from the dam reservoir.  The two types are (a) routine releases, which are typically scheduled to occur during peak demand for hydropower generation, and (b) emergency releases, which occur during heavy rain or other high water events.  Release disasters are typically due to emergency releases.  But, on April 11, 2005 thousands of pilgrims attending a religious fair at Dharaji in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh were in the water when 150 were swept away by a huge water surge, causing the death of 65.  This was caused by a routine water release from the Indira Sagar dam on the Narmada River.  Bad judgment during routine operation of a dam can be as deadly as bad judgment regarding where to build a dam.

Dams in the Time of Exponential Growth

It is an obscenity to call hydro-power “clean” when it is so closely tied to destruction of aquatic life, threats to land-dwelling flora and fauna, displacement of indigenous people and destruction of their culture, murder of Earth defenders, and exploitation of workers.  It is a double obscenity to claim that hydro-power is an “alternative” to fossil fuels when dams can produce more greenhouse gases than does coal.  Not only do their reservoirs produce methane by rotting organic matter, dams interfere with the ability of downstream ecosystems to remove carbon and they require massive amounts of fossil fuel for the manufacture of concrete and steel for their construction and removal of their debris when they reach the end of their live cycle.

Nor are dams “renewable.” They do not last nearly as long as the rivers they disrupt.  Concrete and steel eventually rot, which leads to construction of yet another dam.

A core problem of dams is their exponential growth during the 21st century as it becomes increasingly obvious that they can more rapidly replace fossil fuel energy than can solar and wind power.  The climate crisis is fundamentally due to the uncontrollable growth of capitalism, which requires exponential expansion of energy production.

Exponential expansion means that every year requires not just more energy but a larger quantity of new energy than the year before.  Eternal economic growth was the root cause behind the murder of Berta Cáceres and the hundreds or thousands of other Earth defenders in Honduras and across the globe.  The unquenchable thirst for energy is why India foreshadows a world building an increasing number of dams where dams should not be built.

To satisfy their need for energy, corporations first grab the low hanging fruit.  Energy fruit can be “low hanging” because it is in an extremely good location, and/or current land owners are eager for the development, and/or those living on the land can be easily swayed.  The nature of first picking that which is lowest hanging means that, once it is gone, the energy corporations will go to the next lowest hanging fruit.  As time goes by, capital will get closer and closer to the most difficult-to-pick fruit until the last drop of energy is sucked from the planet.  Obviously, having less corrupt politicians and an educated and organized people is much better.  But this will not stop them from being victimized – it will only place them later in line.

Is “free, prior and informed consent” real or an illusion?  As time passes, the commitment to infinite energy growth intensifies pressure to falsify consent.  What is presented to poor people throughout the world who do not have enough to feed and clothe their families is the question “Do you voluntarily choose to improve your life by giving consent to this project which will destroy the lives of your grandchildren or great-grandchildren after you are gone or do you chose to watch your children go without schools and medical care right now?  Thank you so much for your free and prior consent to this dam/wind farm/solar array.”

There are essential lessons to learn from the murder of environmentalists and dam collapses.  Capital must bring more violence to communities when using less violence for building dams is not as effective.  Capital must build in increasingly unsafe locations after the safest locations are used up.  If dams which threaten the fewest number of aquatic species are built first, then corporate expansion dictates that dams which threaten more riparian extinctions are next in line.  Capital must move into increasingly biodiverse environments after less biodiverse environments are no longer available.

This is true for the construction of dams just as it is true for fossil fuels.  It is also true for the location of solar arrays and the location of wind farms.  It is likewise the case for mining the massive number of minerals that go into the production of various type of energy.  This is why “alternative” energy cannot be “clean” or “renewable.”  Perhaps it is time to realize that there is only one form of “clean” energy – less energy.

A webinar at 7 pm CT on March 10, 2021 will honor the life of Berta Cáceres with a panel featuring Nina Lakhani, author of Who Killed Berta Cáceres?: Dams, Death Squads, and an Indigenous Defender’s Battle for the Planet.  Email the address of the author below for details.

The post From the Murder of Berta Cáceres to Dam Disaster in Uttarakhand first appeared on Dissident Voice.