Friday marks 100 days since the beginning of the hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay that has recaptured international attention on the offshore prison President Obama promised to close when seeking office five years ago.
As of Thursday, military officials say that 102 out of 166 detainees are participating in the strike. Lawyers say that number is closer to 130.
Since the hunger strike began 100 days ago, international groups including the European Parliament, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and several nations with detainees at GITMO have stepped up pressure on the Obama administration to release detainees or close the prison altogether.
As the strike continues past its 100th day, here are four of the most disturbing facts about the situation at Guantanamo.
1. The torturous force-feeding
Thirty of the 166 prisoners held at Guantanamo are being subjected to force-feeding--a practice that’s considered torture and in violation of international law by the UN human rights office. Earlier this week, the ACLU, as well as a handful of human rights organizations, sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel urging a halt to force-feeding at GITMO.
While the military says it’d be “inhumane” to let the prisoners starve themselves, several human rights and medical groups disagree.
“Under those circumstances, to go ahead and force-feed a person is not only an ethical violation but may rise to the level of torture or ill-treatment,” said Peter Maurer, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The military’s force-feeding procedure involves shoving a tube into a prisoner’s nose, through the sinuses, throat, and eventually, stomach. The process inflicts severe pain and discomfort. According to an analysis of military documents by Al Jazeera, prisoners are forced to “to wear masks over their mouths while they sit shackled in a restraint chair for as long as two hours” while a liquid nutritional supplement is pumped into their stomach. “At the end of the feeding, the prisoner is removed from the restraint chair and placed into a ‘dry cell’ with no running water,” Al Jazeera explains. “A guard then observes the detainee for 45-60 minutes ‘for any indications of vomiting or attempts to induce vomiting.’ If the prisoner vomits he is returned to the restraint chair.”
2. Alleged attempts to “break” hunger strikers
Several reports have emerged that Guantanamo guards are mistreating hunger strikers in an effort to “break” them. Lawyers for Yemini prisoner Musaab al-Madhwani says guards are targeting strikers by denying them drinking water, forcing them to drink non-potable tap water, and keeping their cells at “extremely frigid” temperatures, reports AFP. In a complaint, lawyers said, “When Musaab and his fellow prisoners requested drinking water, the guards told them to drink from the faucets … The lack of potable water has already caused some prisoners kidney, urinary and stomach problems.”
Another lawyer tells RT that guards are removing striking detainees from communal living spaces and forcing them to live in single cells to break their spirit.
3. More than half of GITMO’s prisoners have been cleared for release. Ninety percent haven’t even been charged with a crime.
Eighty-six of 166 prisoners at GITMO have already been cleared for release, yet legal and bureaucratic barriers have kept them detained indefinitely. First of all, Congress imposed restrictions on detainee transfers, requiring proof that potential transfers would never pose a threat to U.S. national security in the future. In a press conference last month, President Obama reiterated this fact, saying that he’s “going to need some help from Congress.” Yet, as several commentators have pointed out, Congress also granted Obama the power to use waivers to transfer detainees, a power he has not exercised once.
Complicating things is the 56 Yemeni nationals detained at Guantanamo. As AlterNet's Alex Kane explained, Yemen is “a strong U.S. ally that also has a problem with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a group that has plotted attacks against the U.S. After a 2009 terrorist plot that purportedly originated in Yemen was halted, the Obama administration decided to halt repatriation of detainees to Yemen.”
4. No alternative to leaving -- except in a coffin
The hunger strike reportedly began as a response to prison guards mishandling personal property and detainees’ Qu’rans. But as several commentators, organizations and detainees themselves have pointed out, that was just a tipping point. The strike represents prisoners’ boiling frustrations for being kept from their families in inhumane conditions, some being held for more than 11 years.
"Officials say two detainees have attempted suicide since the strike began."
“The men are not starving themselves so they can become martyrs...They’re doing this because they’re desperate,” said Wells Dixon an attorney representing five GITMO detainees. They’re desperate to be free from Guantanamo. They don’t see any alternative to leaving in a coffin. That’s the bottom line.”
Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, through a phone call with his lawyer, explained that the hunger strike is driven by a last-resort mentality in an op-ed for the New York Times last month:
The situation is desperate now. All of the detainees here are suffering deeply … I have vomited blood.
And there is no end in sight to our imprisonment. Denying ourselves food and risking death every day is the choice we have made.
I just hope that because of the pain we are suffering, the eyes of the world will once again look to Guantánamo before it is too late.Related Stories
From arresting an honors student whose science experiment went wrong to hauling kids off to jail for snoozing in class, local newspapers have been filled recently with increasingly scary stories about the criminalization of students and youth.Thanks to North Carolina, we now have the latest example of police and the criminal justice system interfering with kids, simply for being kids. This year, a handful of students at Enloe High School in Raleigh North Carolina appear to have plotted perhaps the most unimaginative prank in high school history: tossing water balloons at other students. But thanks to aggression from the school's administration and local police, the prank didn't end peacefully. In anticipation of the prank, school officials called in "increased security" and teachers held their students inside classrooms. After the balloons flew, seven boys were arrested, at least one handcuffed after being taken down down the asphalt by police. Six are being charged with disorderly conduct, while one is being charged with assault and battery. Russ Smith, senior director of security for the school system, told local station WRAL that school officials are taking the incident seriously. "Somebody gets hit with a water balloon. They don't like it. So, the potential is there for there to be a physical altercation," Smith said. Three of the boys remained in custody overnight, with one held on $3,000 bail. Anyone who attended high school will remember seniors' end-of-the-year pranks. They're usually harmless and relatively uninventive acts: moving furniture out of classrooms, soaking younger students with squirt guns, parking cars in the wrong places. In the Fast Times at Ridgemont High era, water balloons would have been all fun and games. But today, as police and security guards increasingly patrol high school hallways, this joke was no laughing matter. Watch the local news report here: Related Stories
Dispensaries providing marijuana to doctor-approved patients operate in a number of states, but they are under assault by the federal government. SWAT-style raids by the DEA and finger-wagging press conferences by grim-faced federal prosecutors may garner greater attention, but the assault on medical marijuana providers extends to other branches of the government as well, and moves by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to eliminate dispensaries' ability to take standard business deduction are another very painful arrow in the federal quiver.
The IRS employs Section 280E, a 1982 addition to the tax code that was a response to a drug dealer's successful effort to claim his yacht, weapons purchases, and even illicit bribes as business expenses. Under 280E, individuals involved in the illicit sale of controlled substances -- including marijuana, even medical marijuana in states where it is legal -- cannot claim standard business expenses on their federal taxes.
"The 280E provision which requires certain businesses to pay taxes on their gross income, as opposed to their net income, is aimed at shutting down illicit drug operations, not state-legal medical marijuana dispensaries," said Kris Hermes, spokesman for the medical marijuana defense group Americans for Safe Access." Nonetheless, the Obama Administration is using Section 280E to push these local and state licensed facilities out of business."
The provision can be used to great effect. Oakland's Harborside Health Center was hit with a $2 million IRS assessment in 2011 after the tax agency employed Section 280E against. Harborside is fighting that assessment, even as it continues to try to fend off federal prosecutors' attempts to shut it down by seizing the properties it leases. Similarly, when the feds raided Richard Lee's Oaksterdam University that same year, it wasn't just DEA, but also IRS agents who stormed the premises. Lee said it was because of a 280E-related audit.
The attacks on Harborside and Oaksterdam were part of an IRS campaign of aggressive audits using 280E to deny legitimate business expenses, such as rent, payroll, and all other necessary business expenses. These denials result in astronomical back tax bills for the affected dispensaries, threatening their viability -- and patients' access to their medicine.
"Should the IRS campaign be successful; it will throw millions of patients back in to the hands of street dealers; eliminate tens of thousands of well paying jobs, destroy hundreds of millions of dollars of tax revenue; enrich the criminal underground; and endanger the safety of communities in the 17 medical cannabis states," said Harborside's Steve DeAngelo as he announced the 280E Reform Project to begin to fight back.
It's going to be an uphill battle. In the last Congress, Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) introduced House Bill 1985, the Small Business Tax Equity Act, designed to end the 280E problem for medical marijuana businesses, but it went to the Republican-controlled House Ways and Means Committee, where it was never heard from again.
Still, something needs to happen, said Betty Aldworth, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, which this year is working with members of Congress to try to find a fix for the 280E problem.
"When Section 280E was created in the 1980s, no one imagined state-legal marijuana providers," Aldworth told the Chronicle. "Whether or not it is part of a larger effort to curtail the development of regulated models for providing marijuana, which is a model that is clearly preferable to leaving this popular and relatively safe medicine (or adult product) in the underground market, these onerous tax rates have severely hampered the development of the regulated market."
It's a brake on the overall economy, Aldworth said.
"Not only has it resulted in stymieing job development, but it also curtails other economic activity such as reinvestment in business and the rippling positive effects of that spending," she argued. "And in many cases, it has created a tax burden that is simply unbearable: many providers have had to close their doors and lay off their staffs because the tax burden was simply too great."
Because of this unintended application of 280E, medical marijuana providers are paying overall taxes at a rate two to three times those of other small businesses, Aldworth said.
"It's important to note that just as they want to apply for licenses, follow regulations, and otherwise participate in the legal business community, state-legal marijuana providers also want to pay their fair share of taxes," she pointed out. "Most small businesses pay an effective tax rate of between 13% and 27% on net income, according to the Small Business Administration. State-legal marijuana providers pay an average effective tax rate of 65-80%. An industry that can provide thousands of jobs is being held back by these crazy tax rates."
While the lobbyists look to Congress for a fix, one academic tax law expert thinks he has hit upon a novel solution, but not everyone agrees.
Benjamin Leff, a professor at American University's Washington College of Law, raised eyebrows at a Harvard University seminar this spring when he presented his report,Tax Planning For Marijuana Dealers, where he suggested that dispensaries get around 280E by registering with the IRS as tax-exempt social welfare organizations, known as 501(c)(3)s or 501(c)(4)s.
The IRS has already ruled that medical marijuana providers can be exempt under 501(c)(3) because its "public policy doctrine" does not allow charitable organizations to have purposes contrary to law, but in the paper, Leff argued that "a state-sanctioned marijuana seller could qualify as tax-exempt under 501(c)(4), since the public policy doctrine only applies to charities, and 501(c)(4) organizations are not charities."
The organization would have to be operated to improve the social and economic conditions of a neighborhood blighted by crime or poverty, by providing job training, employment opportunities, and improved business conditions for commercial development in the neighborhood, just like many existing community economic development corporations that run businesses.
"When taxes get too high, you can drive compliant dispensaries out of business," Leff told the Chronicle.
Americans for Safe Access' Hermes would agree with that, but he's not so sure about Leff's idea.
"The concept of medical marijuana dispensaries registering with the federal government as a 501(c)(4) in order to sidestep section 280E is novel and may be hypothetically valid," he said. "However, the IRS will refuse to grant tax-exempt status to a business that the agency believes is violating federal law. Perhaps, it would be possible for a dispensary to obtain 501(c)(4) status under false pretenses, but such status would not very likely withstand an IRS audit."
There are better ways, he said.
"A much more realistic and sensible approach -- pending a change to the federal classification of marijuana for medical use -- is to amend the tax code to exclude state-lawful medical marijuana businesses from Section 280E," Hermes recommended. "This is the kind of legislation that Congress should pass in order to allow states to implement their own medical marijuana laws, without undue interference by the federal government."
"I agree with everything he said," Leff replied. "But it's not just the Obama administration that is using 280E this way. The Supreme Court has held that there is no exception to the Controlled Substances Act for state-level legal marijuana sales, and since 280E makes references to Schedule I controlled substances, it applies to legal marijuana unless Congress changes the law. I totally agree that Congress should amend 280E to exempt marijuana selling that is legal under state law. Congress could also amend the Controlled Substances Act to remove marijuana from it, which would probably also make sense," he added.
Whether it is by act of Congress, internal policy shifts, or creative thinking by law school professors, some way has to be found to exempt state-permitted medical marijuana providers from the clutches of 280E and its punitive tax burden aimed at dope dealers, or there may not be any medical marijuana providers.Related Stories
MANHATTAN (CN) - "Topless paparazzo" Holly Van Voast claims in court that New York City police repeatedly arrested and institutionalized her for legally baring her breasts while wearing a Marilyn Monroe wig and Don Juan mustache. Van Voast aka Harvey Van Toast sued New York City, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, the Metropolitan Transit Authority and dozens of police officers in Federal Court. The 46-year-old performance artist calls going topless part of her commitment to "personal, artistic and gender freedom," inspired a "broad artistic community of punk drag" performers such as Little Kimchi, Misty Meaner and Mary Jo Cameltoe, according to the complaint. Van Voast says the law has been on her side since 1992, when the New York State Court of Appeals dismissed an indecent exposure violation against Rochester woman Ramona Santorelli. Ignoring the "clear command" of the Santorelli ruling, the NYPD "has stopped, detained, harassed, arrested, summonsed, charged and/or prosecuted plaintiff on dozens of occasions - solely for exercising her right to be to be topless in public in New York City. The NYPD has repeatedly charged and arrested Ms. Van Voast for appearing topless in public although she has committed no crime," the complaint states. "On multiple occasions when plaintiff was peacefully going about her business in New York City, the NYPD has wrongfully detained and charged Ms. Van Voast, either with 'Indecent Exposure' pursuant to New York Penal Law § 245.01, or with a host of other sham charges. The NYPD has charged Ms. Van Voast on these occasions not because she was doing anything illegal, but for the impermissible and unconstitutional purpose of penalizing and deterring her from being topless in public." The NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne told the Village Voice in June 2011 that toplessness was legal. "The state's highest court established long ago that women have the same right as men to appear topless in public," Browne told the Voice. Two months later, Van Voast says, police detained and charged her for toplessly waltzing into the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station without a "permit." That charge was adjourned in contemplation of dismissal. Another indecent exposure charge for walking topless in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn on Oct. 23, 2011 was dismissed entirely. On March 14, 2012, Van Voast says, she chose the P.S. 6 elementary school in Manhattan's wealthy Upper East Side neighborhood to send her message. "Plaintiff chose that location to stand specifically to express her opinion that the sight of women's breasts is not dangerous to children, and that claims of 'protecting' children from toplessness were misplaced," the complaint states. She claims that two unidentified officers took her for psychiatric evaluation to New York Presbyterian Hospital, where she was held against her will for about six days. After she appeared topless at the Bronx Day Parade on May 20, 2012, police sent her for evaluation at Montefiore Hospital, where she was handcuffed to a bed for "an extended period of time," according to the complaint. Oblivious to irony, NYPD officers sent her to St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital for being topless in front of a Hooters restaurant in Midtown Manhattan, she claims. The complaint recites several more such incidents. Van Voast claims the NYPD tried to justify its actions by issuing a "FINEST" message on Feb. 3 this year, instructing police to take "enforcement action" against "male or female individuals who are simply appearing in public unclothed above their waist." Van Voast demands punitive damages and legal fees for constitutional violations and negligent supervision. She is represented by pugnacious civil rights attorney lawyer Ron Kuby and Katherine Rosenfeld, with the heavy-hitting law firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady. A New York City Law Department spokeswoman told Courthouse News that the New York State Court of Appeals decision does allow women to be topless in public, but that the decision included "various qualifiers" prohibiting "lewdness," among other things. "We will review the allegations in the complaint, which at this point are just that, allegations," the spokeswoman said. She said Thursday that the NYPD had not yet been served with the complaint. She added that she could not speak to whether the Santorelli qualifiers applied in this case. The text of the Santorelli opinion is vague on that. The majority opinion states: "Considering the statute's provenance, we held in Price that a woman walking along a street wearing a fishnet, see-through pull-over blouse did not transgress the statute and that it 'should not be applied to the noncommercial, perhaps accidental, and certainly not lewd, exposure alleged.'" The opinion does not state that New York Penal Law § 245.01 applied to lewdness, but a concurring opinion says the opposite. "Nor can it be argued that Penal Law § 245.01 was intended to be confined to conduct that is lewd or intentionally annoying," the concurring opinion states. "First, there is absolutely no support in the legislative history for such a construction. Second, a construction of Penal Law § 245.01 requiring lewdness would be of highly questionable validity, since it would render Penal Law § 245.00 [prohibiting the exposure of 'intimate parts' 'in a lewd manner'] redundant." Neither of Van Voast's attorneys replied to a request for comment. Related Stories
The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is overturning Roe v. Wade. Or, at least, that’s what freshman Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) seemed to suggest in a speech earlier this month:
Just in the last several days, a Bismarck news anchor mistakenly uttered vulgarity on live television. He’s been heralded by celebrities from New York to California as some sort of pop icon. His bosses have been called goons because they fired him. We learned this week that the Pentagon is vetting its guide on religious tolerance with a group that compared Christian evangelism to rape, and advocated that military personnel and colluding chaplains who proselytize should be court-marshalled.
Forty years ago, the United States Supreme Court sanctioned abortion on demand. And we wonder why our culture sees school shootings so often.
Cramer’s link between recent school shootings and a 40 year-old Supreme Court decision is certainly an unusual take on what causes events to transpire, but his attempt to present abortion as more dangerous to society than weakly regulated access to firearms is far from unique. Indeed, in five states, it is significantly harder to obtain an abortion than it is to purchase a gun.
The congressman’s statement appears to be part of a broader theory about how bad things are happening in the United States because people have turned away from Cramer’s version of Christianity. At another point in the speech, he claims that “[i]nnocent people in New York have airplanes flown into their places of work, and marathoners in Boston are victims of bombs, yet Christianity is singled out as bigotry in our public institutions because politicians and academics lack the courage to speak truth. We’ve normalized perversion and perverted God’s natural law to the point where the only thing not tolerated anymore is a stand for truth.”Related Stories
“Will America be a place where anyone can get a gun regardless of mental health or criminal record or will face the nightmare of not that?” Colbert began on his show last night.
Our favorite fake conservative talk host took on the latest and perhaps easiest avenue to firearm acquisition: a 3D printer and the Internet. That’s right. News reports recently unveiled that a fully operational gun had successfully been created with a 3D printer, “making it the fastest way of getting a gun in America next to opening a checking account in Texas.”
Colbert introduced us to the 3D gun pioneer, 25-year-old University of Texas Law Student Cody Wilson, founder of Defense Distributed. In an interview, Wilson says he is making high-capacity magazines easily available online because of “The collectivization of manufacturing” or something, and “I don’t know.”
“That’s a real rallying cry,” Colbert observed. “‘What do we want? Guns. Why do we want them? I don’t know.’”
“Folks, this is a game changer. And not just because it looks like it was made by Hasbro,” Colbert continued, mocking the rather toyish look of the new weapons.
Wilson’s Defense Distributed calls the gun Wikiweapon, “because like Wikipedia, it will also be used to settle bar bets.”
Concerned, the Feds ordered Wilson’s company to remove the files that provide the blueprint for 3D guns. But as Colbert notes, that move will probably have limited effectiveness.
“And we all know that once something is deleted from the Internet, it is as gone as Anthony Wiener’s crotch,” Colbert quipped.
The following is taken from a transcript of a special event featuring Jeremy Scahill and Noam Chomsky with Amy Goodman hosted by the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, the ACLU of Massachusetts, the American Friends Service Committee of Massachusetts, the Cambridge Peace Commission and the Community Church of Boston that was broadcast by Democracy Now!.The event covered the subjects explored in Scahill's new book, Dirty Wars. The transcript starts with a speech by Scahill, who is later joined in a discussion with Goodman and Chomsky.
Jeremy Scahill: I’m really honored to be here with both Amy Goodman and Noam Chomsky. On my own Facebook page, I list Democracy Now! as my university, because I learned journalism not from the classroom. I wouldn’t have been able to be—you know, I was saying to Professor Chomsky, when we were walking, I’ve never been on Harvard and didn’t actually spend much time in an actual classroom when I was technically enrolled in college anyway. So it’s a little bit odd to be here [at the Harvard Kennedy School]. But I bring that up because I think that journalism is a trade and should be accessible to people. And I learned journalism as an apprentice under the person that I think is a great journalist of our time, and that is Amy. And I had to stalk Amy before she would agree to let me come in and volunteer at Democracy Now! I think she had—I was calling her and writing her letters, and I was saying—this was in the mid-'90s—"If you have a cat, I'll feed your cat. I’ll wash your windows." And she had to decide whether, I think, to get a restraining order against me or to let me come in and volunteer for her. And, you know, she has just been such a dear friend and teacher for so long.
And I like to think of the footnotes in my book as a tribute to Professor Chomsky, because one of the first things I do when I look at a book is to check out the notes in the index to see how serious the book is, how serious the author was about citing every fact that he states in the book. And it was something that I very much learned reading Professor Chomsky’s books. And it’s a real honor to be here with you, Noam.
We’re here at a time when a popular Democratic president, who is a constitutional lawyer by trade, has expanded, intensified, continued and, most importantly, legitimized, in the eyes of many liberals, some of the most egregious aspects of what the Bush administration called its counterterrorism policy and the Obama administration continues to call its counterterrorism and national security policy. And despite the fact that this very popular Democratic president campaigned on a pledge to radically change the way that the U.S. conducted its business around the world and, upon taking power, issued a number of executive orders that were purportedly aimed at shutting down secret prisons, ending torture and closing Guantánamo, what has actually happened is that the Obama administration has made cosmetic changes, tweaked the language, made a few adjustments to the detention program, to the—what’s called the targeted killing program, but it’s anything but targeted, as we’ve seen so often—it’s an assassination program. And this administration has sold the idea to many liberals in this country that this is a clean war, that it’s a smarter war than the ones that were being waged by his predecessor.
If you look at the administration’s claims of bringing the Iraq War to an end, you have to examine what was on President Bush’s desk the day he left office. It was the very plan that President Obama implemented. It was already in motion. So this administration did not bring an end to the Iraq War; the Bush administration’s plan was implemented. But also we’ve seen an expansion of CIA paramilitary activity in Iraq over the past several months. The largest embassy in the world is the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, and strike teams continue to operate out of it alongside thousands of mercenary forces.
In Afghanistan, the Obama administration is waging two wars: the conventional war that you see through embedded journalism, and then the covert war that we seldom see, which consists of special operations night raids, drone strikes and snatch operations. In Afghanistan itself, the U.S. military and the CIA continue to run detention facilities that are categorized as filtration sites, so that people can be held incommunicado because they’re not categorized as prisoners. They’re categorized as potential intelligence assets that can be used in interrogation to produce the next night raid or the next drone strike.
Under this administration, U.S. intelligence agents utilize a secret prison that is buried in the basement of Somalia’s U.S.-funded National Security Service. When Richard Rowley, the director of our film, and I flew into Mogadishu, Somalia, in the summer of 2011, and we landed in the airport—at the airport, at Aden Adde Airport, as the plane taxied and made its way to the gate we noticed what to us looked like a forward operating base that we had seen in Afghanistan. It was a large walled compound with small hangars inside of it, and then a small cluster of buildings that resembled a small village. And it looked just like other forward operating bases, except that it had a pink hue. It was sort of the—the walls had been pinkwashed on this building. And the Somalis called it the "Pink House." And when we landed and we started asking our Somali contacts, "What’s that building?" they said, "Oh, that’s Guantánamo." That was the nickname that they had given for it. But what it was shorthand for saying: "That’s where the Americans are based."
And what it turns out it was, and I found this out from interviewing Somalis who were liaisons with the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. military intelligence, is that the Obama administration had initiated a targeted killing and snatch operation based out of that airport, where they were building an indigenous capability of Somalis that could hunt down individuals that were suspected to be members of or members of Al Shabab, the Somali militant group that pledged its allegiance to al-Qaeda. And these agents, I was told by the Somalis that were helping the CIA to run this program, are lined up monthly and paid $200 in cash for being part of this targeted kill-capture operation.
In the case of captured prisoners, they take the ones that they determine to have intelligence value, and they hold them in the basement of this National Security Services building, which is a bedbug-infested gulag. Prisoners are not given access to the outside world. They are not given access to lawyers. The Red Cross—when I was on Democracy Now! talking about this when I came back from Somalia, the Red Cross said it was—had never heard of the facility. And then I gave them the address on the air and told them where they could go and find it. And, to my knowledge, they haven’t followed up on it.
But I discovered—I discovered that prison because I met a colleague in Somalia, who works for an international news organization, who’s Somali, who had been put in that prison in retaliation for filming an operation that the U.S.-backed Somali forces didn’t want him taking pictures of. And he was put into that prison as a warning. And he said, when he was there, he saw American and French agents interrogating prisoners.
So I started to investigate the story, and I found out that there was a prisoner named Abdullahi Hassan, who was a Kenyan of Somali descent, who was in that prison. And he had been snatched from his home in Eastleigh, the Somali neighborhood in Nairobi, and shackled, hooded and driven to Wilson Airport in Nairobi and then shipped to Somalia, where he was put in this basement prison. And we were able to get testimony smuggled out of that prison of him describing the story and describing how he was interrogated by American agents around the clock and how he hadn’t seen a lawyer, can’t communicate with his family and has no access to the outside world. When I called the CIA for comment on the condition of this prisoner, they confirmed that he had been snatched on orders from the United States government and that he was being held in that prison, and they said he was dangerous and it’s good that he’s taken off the streets. They said that he was one of the advisers to the then-head of al-Qaeda in East Africa, Saleh Ali Nabhan.
And so, this man was snatched on orders from the U.S. government while President Obama is in office, sent to a secret prison in the basement of a U.S.-funded agency, and then interrogated, at times by U.S. intelligence and military intelligence personnel. And the CIA did not dispute any of those facts that I reported. They simply said, "Well, it’s more that we sit in on debriefings with Somalis when they’re interrogating them." So, that is the reality of one aspect of the rendition program, the secret prison program.
And I think it also speaks to torture and definitions of torture. So, President Obama and CIA Director Panetta said in early 2009 that we’re out of the secret prison business, that we brought an end to torture. But what we know and what we can prove is taking place is a sort of back-door continuation of the policy by tweaking it. In fact, it’s very similar to the rendition program under President Clinton in the 1990s.
People try to heap everything and say that the beginning of all the problems happened when Bush and Cheney were in power. Bush and Cheney continued many of the Clinton-era doctrines on these core issues. President Clinton tried to assassinate Saddam Hussein. President Clinton authorized cruise missile strikes that blew up a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan and bombed Afghanistan, as well. Clinton sustained the longest—initiated the longest-sustained bombing campaign since Vietnam under the guise of the so-called no-fly zones in the north and south of Iraq. And he also initiated the rendition program. And so, President Obama spoke of bringing an end to all of these things but then found a way to continue them.
And as the surge happened in Afghanistan and the drawdown happened in Iraq, we saw the Obama administration unveil what would become one of the lynchpins of its counterterrorism policy, and that is the intensification of U.S. drone wars. So, in Pakistan, the number of drone strikes increased exponentially under President Obama. He also began issuing a series of secret orders, at times through General David Petraeus, who was theCENTCOM commander responsible for all military operations in the Middle East. And they started to issue what are called execute orders for joint special operations forces commandos, elite SEALs, Delta Force, Army Rangers and others, to begin penetrating countries that were outside of the stated battlefields, like Yemen and Mali and Somalia and elsewhere in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and began constructing drone bases in Saudi Arabia, in Djibouti, where the U.S. has its major hub of operations in East Africa. Camp Lemonnier was a French military base that was taken over by the U.S. And so you had the expansion of these wars where you didn’t have embedded journalists, you didn’t have congressional hearings, and the administration tried to portray its drone wars as a smarter, cleaner war. But there is no such thing as a clean war.
And what we see happening right now is that the signature strikes ... has become the tip of the spear of U.S. policy in both Yemen and Pakistan, where you have what is almost—it’s a grotesque form of pre-crime, where people, because of the region that they live, the fact that they are, quote-unquote, "military-aged" males, and they may or may not have had association with certain people, makes them worthy of preemptive designation as terrorists. And so, when they are killed, and then we hear a report about 11 militants being killed or suspected militants being killed, oftentimes those are people that have been determined through the pre-crime process—and that’s even not the right term, because who knows if they were even going to commit a crime? When you’re killing people whose identities you don’t know, who you have no intelligence to speak of that they’re actually involved with criminal activity or plotting terrorist acts, and you bomb them, what you’ve done in doing that is to create new enemies that have an actual legitimate grievance against the United States. Our actions in Pakistan and Yemen and Somalia are going to come back to blow against us. It will be blowback. We will pay a price for our actions around the world. There is no clean war in Yemen. There is no clean war in Pakistan.
When President Obama was asked about his resolve during the political campaign, he said, "Ask the 22 or 30"—I forget which number—"leaders of al-Qaeda who have been killed under my administration about my sense of resolve." And it’s true. They’ve killed a number of leaders. The number three man in al-Qaeda has been killed 20-something times. There’s Said al-Shihri. Said al-Shihri, who’s one of the heads of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, by my count has died eight times this year—and just released a new audiotape last week. But there have been individuals that we’re told are these notorious leaders of al-Qaeda that have been taken out, and some of them very clearly have been involved with horrid activities. But for the most part, the end result of the drone policy has been to inflame hatred, to inspire new enemies.
And a story that has affected me very deeply, that I think should be of great concern to everyone in this country, is the story of what happened in September and October of 2011, when President Obama authorized operations in Yemen that resulted in the deaths of three U.S. citizens.
Now, I want to preface what I’m about to say with this: I don’t believe that we should ever view the lives of American citizens as worth more than any other people in the world. On a moral level, there should be no difference in how we view the killing of someone in a village in Pakistan to how we view the killing of a kid born in Denver, Colorado. But it is a relevant story to us here in the United States because it cuts to the heart of how far off the cliff we’ve fallen, particularly since 9/11, and under Democratic and Republican administrations alike.
We now have a process in the chambers of power in Washington where a small group of men and women meet on Tuesdays—and they call it Terror Tuesdays—to decide who’s going to live and die around the world, to go over lists of people that are on the target list, off the target list. What’s our intelligence on this person? What patterns of life has this person engaged in? Can they be made a legitimate target? And these meetings then result in briefings to the president of people that the CIA or the Joint Special Operations Command want taken out. There are at least three separate kill lists that are being run in the U.S. government. The CIA has a kill list. JSOChas a kill list. And then the National Security Council has a working group that also keeps its own list of high-value targets. For all I know, there could be more, but those are the three that we know exist. And they’ve also developed something called the "disposition matrix," which is an attempt to create a sort of algorithm for determining if someone could be captured or we need to kill them, if someone can be taken by cooperation with a local government or we need to send in a team of SEALs, if someone should be taken out by a drone strike or if we should try to seek to capture them through other means.
This administration is normalizing the process of assassination as a central component of U.S. policy for many generations to come. And I don’t believe for a moment that if John McCain had won the election or Mitt Romney had won the election, that you would see polls indicating that 70 percent of self-identified liberals support drone strikes and that the support for it would drop only negligibly in the case of a U.S. citizen. I think that this has been a political campaign to sell this idea and this program to liberals, and the results are going to be far-reaching for generations to come.
So, on this particular operation I started to tell you about, on September 30th, 2011, President Obama was presented with a choice by Admiral William McRaven, who was the head of the U.S. special operations forces, and by the CIA. And it was a decision about whether or not he should kill an American citizen with a drone strike that had not—and this citizen had not been charged with a crime and had not been indicted and had not had evidence publicly presented against him to back up the leaks that were being used to litigate the case against a man named Anwar al-Awlaki. There was no indictment. There was no charge. There was no evidence publicly presented against him. And on this day, September 30th, 2011, President Obama served as the prosecutor, the judge, the jury, and ultimately the executioner of a U.S. citizen who had not been charged with a crime, and authorized a drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki and another U.S. citizen named Samir Khan, who was a Pakistani American from North Carolina.
Samir Khan was widely believed to have been the editor-in-chief of Inspiremagazine, the publication of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. But I know the Khan family, and I spoke to his mother, Sarah Khan, and she described to me the repeated visits of the FBI to their house before Samir’s death. And the FBI said, "There’s no indictment against Samir. He’s not charged with a crime. We want to encourage you to get him to come home, but he hasn’t done anything that we feel—that we believe is unlawful. But we’re concerned about who he might be with." And so you have this American citizen killed in this operation who, the FBI was telling the family, hadn’t been charged with a crime.
After those two were killed, one Republican congressman said that, "Well, if Samir Khan wasn’t on the kill list, it’s still a bonus. It was a 'twofer,'" he called it. So these two individuals were killed in this drone strike, and the response in Washington fell into two basic camps: silence or enthusiastic support. Hillary Clinton, Dianne Feinstein, John McCain all rushed to celebrate the assassination of two U.S. citizens. The only people on Capitol Hill that made a peep after those killings were Dennis Kucinich, the former congressman from Ohio, and Ron Paul from Texas, who at the time was running an insurgent campaign for the Republican nomination for president.
Congressman Kucinich is an interesting character in this story, because he—when we first found out that they had Americans on the kill list, which it happened because The Washington Post had published a story in January 2010, Dennis Kucinich put forward a bill that said that the United States government does have the right to extrajudicially execute its citizens without due process. And only six members of Congress signed onto that legislation, not a single senator. You know, it’s ironic to watch the filibuster with Rand Paul that day and some of—and the tea party cavalcade or cavalry coming through there. Where were all of these people before the killings started in this way, when Dennis Kucinich was trying to actually get people to pay attention to it? Even after this killing, it wasn’t an issue at all in most political circles, and certainly not in the political elite circles in Washington.
But then, two weeks later, another drone strike occurred in Yemen. And this time, among the victims was a 16-year-old boy, whose only crime in life appears to have been that his last name was Awlaki and that his father was Anwar Awlaki. This was a kid who was born in Denver, Colorado, in August of 1995. He spent the first seven years of his life in the United States. And when he moved back to Yemen with his father and mother and his siblings, they were living in the family’s home in Sana’a.
And Nasser Aulaqi, his grandfather, Anwar’s father, is an upstanding citizen. He is a man who came to the United States as a Fulbright scholar in 1966 and adored and still adores the United States. He is a man who wanted his children to have a college education from the U.S. When he had come here to get his education, he wanted to stay, but he decided to devote his life to dealing with Yemen’s water crisis, which is severe. And he built the Department of Agricultural Engineering with money from the U.S. Agency for International Development in Sana’a and was trying to raise his children to be academics or to be scientists or to be engineers. And when Anwar took a different path and became an imam—and that’s a whole story that I tell in the book of his, how he became who he was. That didn’t happen in a vacuum. It had a lot to do with what the U.S. did after 9/11 that pushed him to become what he eventually was.
But this boy, this teenage boy, Abdulrahman Awlaki, hadn’t seen his father since May of 2009, because when his dad went underground, Anwar left his children with his father to raise. And this kid—I looked through all of his Facebook posts, their family videos, talked to his friends—was into hip-hop music. He had this huge unruly afro that his grandfather and his mother were constantly picking on him to cut. They wanted him to cut his hair. There’s photos of him posing with his friends like rappers. We have one video where he’s sort of in the streets reenacting a video game scene with his friends. And the videos that we’ve seen from their family show a gentle older brother to his younger siblings, and everyone we’ve talked to said that he was a quiet, gentle, smart boy. And this kid is living with his grandparents while his father has become public enemy number one, and the Americans are hunting him with the CIA and JSOC. And his grandfather is raising him with dreams of sending him to the U.S. to go to university.
And a few days before his father was killed, this kid runs away from home, from his grandparents’ house. He stole the equivalent of $40 from his mother’s purse. He packed a small bag. He hopped out the kitchen window. He boarded a bus in Babel Yemen, in the old city in Sana’a. And he took the bus to where he thought his father was, which was Shabwa province, the scene of repeated drone strikes by the U.S. trying to kill Anwar al-Awlaki. His grandmother told me that she was afraid when he left that it would be bait for the CIA, that they were maybe going to track his telephone calls, if he managed to get in touch with his father, or read his text messages. They also wonder if maybe the CIA was following him the whole time. When Rick—when Rick and I, the director of our film, when we went into the Awlaki home in Sana’a the first time, all of the—we couldn’t find an open frequency to record the audio of the interview, because there were so many waves going through the house. They were being monitored from every angle. We couldn’t find an open channel. So that family, we know, was being followed. But this—and I tell the story about how Anwar al-Awlaki’s youngest brother, Ammar, who works for an oil company, they approached him in Vienna, Austria, the CIA, and tried to pay him $5 million to give up the location of his brother. The CIA also found a bride for Anwar al-Awlaki, using a Danish spy named Morton Storm. They arranged a marriage for Anwar al-Awlaki, and so they supported his wife underground.
But this kid, Abdulrahman, he’s there. He’s looking for his father. He’s waiting in Shabwa province. And he is there when his father is killed in a drone strike—not in Shabwa but in the north of Yemen. And his grandmother called him and said, "Abdulrahman, it’s finished. You have to come home. Your father is dead." And he said, "Yeah, I’m going to come home, but the roads are blocked," because the Arab Spring was happening, and there was a revolt against Ali Abdullah Saleh, the U.S.-backed dictator in Yemen. So he couldn’t make it back to Sana’a, so he had to wait in his family’s tribal province. And he went into a depression. And his relatives were saying, "Abdulrahman, you need to get out and do something. Go out with your cousins. Go out with the other kids from the neighborhood." And one night they were all out, gathered in an outdoor restaurant at about 9:00, and a drone appeared above them and launched a missile and blew up 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, his 17-year-old cousin Ahmed and all of the other kids that were with them.
And when the reports came that this kid had been killed and was among the dead, a military—U.S. military official leaked a story that he was 21 years old. And then the Awlakis had to produce the birth certificate showing that he was born in August of 1995 in Denver, Colorado. And then they said that he was a suspected militant himself and that he was at an al-Qaeda meeting. And then they said he was actually collateral damage; he was killed because he was meeting with an Egyptian member of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula named Ibrahim al-Banna. And then AQAP releases a statement saying, "That’s a lie. Ibrahim al-Banna wasn’t there, and he’s still alive." And AQAP actually has a much better track record than the U.S. government at deciding when the number two guy in al-Qaeda gets killed. I mean, they’re generally reliable when they say someone is alive or dead. And Ibrahim al-Banna, as far as we know, is still very much alive.
And so, then the question became: How was it that this kid was killed, this 16-year-old U.S. citizen, who was not his father, who played video games, hung out in the Change Square with the nonviolent revolutionaries, had an afro, listened to hip-hop, and spent most of his time being an older brother and a goof-off? How is it that he was killed two weeks after his father? The coincidence just seemed impossible to take. And I’ve spent the past almost two years trying to get an answer to this question, "Why was Abdulrahman Awlaki killed?" because, for me, the answer to that question says a lot about what kind of nation we are and what kind of nation we want to be.
And yet, there are no answers. The Obama administration has never been asked about it. President Obama has never been asked about it at all of those press conferences. He has never had to face the direct question, even though he’s in charge of the program. When Robert Gibbs was asked by an enthusiastic young reporter named Sierra Adamson about why Abdulrahman was killed, Robert Gibbs’ answer was: "He should have had a more responsible father." There is no—I can think of almost nothing more shameful than blaming the killing of a child on who their parents are or were. The paying for the sins of your parent, it is a reprehensible, criminal idea, that you would blame the killing of a child on something that their parents had done when that kid wasn’t even with his father.
Then they tried to say, "Well, he was sitting next to him." When Harry Reid, the leader of the Senate, the Senate majority leader, was asked on CNN by Candy Crowley about the killing of Anwar Awlaki, Samir Khan and Abdulrahman Awlaki, his answer was that if there were any three Americans that deserved to die, those three did. And I went after Harry Reid and tried to get him to answer, "When you said those three did, you realize that one of them was a 16-year-old boy who had never been charged with a crime and wasn’t with the other two at the time?" And his office would never provide a response as to why he said that. And as the majority leader of the Senate, he has access to the intelligence on these strikes and refused to talk about it.
Then I recently met a former senior official who was working on the kill program for the first—the entire duration of the first term of Obama and was part of the process targeting Anwar Awlaki and at the highest level of the U.S. government. And when I asked him what happened there, he said that the CIA and JSOC had told the president that Ibrahim al-Banna was alone. And he claimed we didn’t know—he said, "We didn’t know that the kid was there." And I continued to press him on that, and he said that John Brennan, who at the time was the senior adviser on counterterrorism and homeland security, believed that either JSOC or the CIA had intentionally targeted Abdulrahman Awlaki and that Brennan ordered a review of that strike to determine how it was that he was killed. No review certainly has been published, if it ever will be. And the official said he wasn’t sure what ever happened with the review. But then he assured me, "It all was, I’m sure, a big misunderstanding, an outrageous mistake." And I said, "Well, if it was simply a mistake and he was collateral damage, why didn’t you own it? Why don’t you say it publicly?" And he said to me, "Look, we had just killed three American citizens in a two-week period, two of whom weren’t even targets—Samir Khan and Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. That doesn’t look good. It was embarrassing." "It was embarrassing" is the most current answer we have as to why this administration has not answered how it was that a 16-year-old U.S. citizen was killed in this drone strike.
I’m looking forward to talking with Amy and Noam, and I want to wrap up by just saying something that brings things back locally here. You know, we all watched, of course, with horror what happened in your city, in Boston. And I’ve been thinking a lot about the way that the media coverage has unfolded, the leaks, the presumptions about motivation for these attacks. And we live in this society now where this other young man here who was—his image was put around, and it’s this student who was missing, and they said that he’s a suspect, and now he’s been found dead. And that family was dragged through the mud and tarred for something that their son had nothing to do with. And you saw the racism and the bigotry that grips people when these events happen. I was asked on this—about this when I was onMSNBC the other day by Martin Bashir. He asked me to comment on this. And I said, "Well, at the risk of seeming out of place on cable news, I’m not going to speculate until we see actual evidence or information that indicates what’s happened."
And then, a few days after this Tsarnaev kid was taken into custody, something extraordinary happened. And that was a young man named Farea al-Muslimi from Yemen testified in front of the U.S. Senate. And I know Farea. I met him in—I met him in Yemen. And he’s an extraordinary young man, incredibly articulate, sharp, manages to say scathing things about al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and in the same breath turn it to the U.S.-backed dictatorship. He’s consistent in his morals. And he’s such a young man, but he has a moral clarity that I wish so many of us had. And when he was asked about Boston, he said something that I think is profound, to the reporter who has a kid, a young man, in front of him whose own village was drone-bombed in Yemen six days before he testified in front of the U.S. Senate. And he was live-tweeting the bombing of his village from text messages he was getting from his relatives who were near the scene. And then he ends up in front of this powerful body in the United States, and reporters are asking him, "What do you think of Boston?" And he said, "The difference between you and me is that I condemn both of them. I condemn both of them." And it’s profound, if you think of it.
The media coverage of the victims of that bombing has been outstanding, of the bombing in Boston. We know the names, the stories of heroes who responded. We know the future taken away from children and grad students, because the media—the journalists are doing their job. They’re informing the public. They’re humanizing the people who were victimized and targeted in that bombing, because only if we have empathy for others and we realize the humanity of others can we actually muster up the strength to stand and do the right thing or to call for justice.
If we had that kind of coverage of the victims in the drone bombing of Farea Muslimi’s village, or we saw the humanity of Abdulrahman Awlaki and his teenage cousins who were bombed in an operation authorized by a popular, Democratic, constitutional law professor president, if we saw the humanity in the real widows of Baghdad instead of being obsessed with the real housewives of Los Angeles or Beverly Hills or whatever, if we actually see them as human beings, then the game changes, the equation changes, because you don’t view it through a nationalist lens, you don’t view it through the lens of American exceptionalism. You view it as all of our responsibility as human beings to stand up, even when someone is in power, especially when someone is in power, who you may have voted for, or who you like, or who you think is the lesser of two evils. That’s when your principles are tested. You know, a society’s values are not defined—our values are not defined by how we treat the rich and the powerful and the popular. It’s defined by how we treat the least of our people, how we treat the poorest.
And it’s also how we treat the most reprehensible. And so, I could talk for an hour about all the things that I think Anwar Awlaki did that were reprehensible. And I could talk about orders to target specific cartoonists. And we can talk about the smoke around his interactions with various people that the U.S. has determined to be terrorists. All—everything they’ve leaked in the media, maybe it’s true. Maybe it’s not. But if we are not going to give that man due process, then we should change our Constitution. We live in a different society then. We shouldn’t project this idea that we have anything resembling the rule of law, unless it can apply in the most inconvenient of cases. That’s the standard that we should be judged by. And that’s our challenge. And it’s the challenge of young people—and there’s a lot of young people in the room tonight—to keep the struggle going to build a world where justice prevails and where humanity is recognized, with no difference between nationality or citizenship. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: What an honor it is to be here with Jeremy Scahill and Noam Chomsky. And I wanted to start with Noam responding Jeremy’s investigations and the description, putting it in the context of the history of U.S. foreign policy.
NOAM CHOMSKY: ... Well, I happened to get an email this morning from a person whom many of you know, Fred Branfman. He’s a counterpart of Jeremy from back in the '60s. He's the person who worked for years, with enormous courage and effort, to try to expose what were called the "secret wars." The secret wars were perfectly public wars which the media were keeping secret, government. And Fred—this was in Laos—was—he finally did succeed in breaking through, and a tremendous exposure of huge wars that were going on—a war in northern Laos attacking a peasant society that was so remote from what was happening in the Indochina wars that many of them probably didn’t even know they were in Laos. Actually, with Fred, I met many of them in refugee camps after a CIA mercenary army drove them out from areas where they had been hiding in caves for two years under intense bombardment. He then proceeded to help expose the even worse wars in Cambodia and then the air wars, in general. Anyway, background.
One thing he pointed—what he pointed—he’s a great admirer of Jeremy’s, I should say, for very good reasons, which you’ve just heard and, I hope, will read and see. But Fred made an interesting point. He reminded me of a comment by a high American official back in 1968, who Fred was trying to get to speak. It’s not easy to get these people to speak, but he did. And this official—he was asking him, "Why is this intensive bombing going on of northern Laos?" Nothing to do with the war in Indochina, just destruction of a poor peasant society, one of the most malevolent acts of modern history, I think. And he finally—the official finally explained. He said, "Look, there’s a temporary bombing of North—a cessation of the bombing of North Vietnam, and we have all these planes, and we don’t have anything to do with them. So we’ll bomb Laos."
OK, I think that’s the lesson of history that we should bare in mind in reading Jeremy’s exposures of, first, Blackwater and the mercenary army, and now JSOC, the so-called secret army—secret the same way the secret wars were secret. If you have a reporter who’s willing to—that has the courage and integrity to expose it, you can expose it. These resources are there. They’re growing. They have a self-generating capacity. They’re going to get larger and larger. They’re going to want more and more to do. And if one target disappears, they’ll be turned somewhere else. And as Jeremy hinted, they’ll be turned here.
And there’s a history of that, too. If some of you want to read about it, there’s a very important book by a historian, very good historian, Al McCoy, who, among other things, studied the history of drugs and torture and so on. But he’s a Philippine historian mainly, and he did a study of the Philippine War, the U.S. counterinsurgency war in the Philippines in the—over a century ago. It was a brutal, murderous war, hundreds of thousands of people slaughtered, a horror story. And he pointed out that, at the time, after the war was over, when the so-called pacification began, the U.S. forces were—the Marines, mostly, in those days—were using the highest technology available to develop a surveillance system over the Philippine society, so they could do what—what, by our standards now, at a primitive level, the kinds of things that Jeremy described. And they did. And it’s turned the Philippines into a—this is the Philippines a hundred years later, have never escaped from this. Philippine society is permeated by the consequences of this long terror war.
But McCoy pointed out something else. He pointed out that these measures, from before the First World War, were very quickly picked up domestically, both by the British and the United States, and applied to surveillance and control techniques within their own societies—the FBI here and so on. And now that’s what we can expect, and signs of it are already around. The resources are there. They’re self-generating. They’re kept under a veil, so not too much inspection of them, though there could be, as you’ve seen. They’re going to grow. They’re going to develop. If the current targets disappear, they’ll move on to new targets, because that’s the nature of these systems, just like the planes who had nowhere to bomb so they decided to send them to bomb northern Laos. And they’ll come home. Already happening. And we can expect more and more of it. I think that’s the historical background that should very much be kept in mind.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy?
JEREMY SCAHILL: ... You know, there was a time when Amy and I, I think we were in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and we were—I’m from Milwaukee, but we were doing Democracy Now!, the show, from there, and Amy had been on a speaking tour going all around the country and had given probably, you know, 200 speeches in like 199 days or something. I mean, it was this incredible tour that she was on. And in the middle of a show, she lost her voice in—I mean, had some coughing and then lost her voice. And it was this moment on the air no one knew what to do, because this—the voice we all listen to all the time all of a sudden like went sort of dead on the air. And I think there was a congresswoman or someone on the show, who was left to kind of deal with it. And Amy’s like going like this, like—and she’s not—she’s just meaning, like, "Let’s go to break." But anyway, so, I think it’s a product of as much great speaking as you do.
One thing, though, in response to this, you know, I think that one thing that’s important to keep in mind is that very little of what this administration or the Bush administration did was actually new ideas. They were old, existing ideas and resurrections of certain plans and programs. I mean, if you look at the Phoenix program in Vietnam, which was this assassination program that was being run in Vietnam, there are very serious parallels to what the United States was doing in Iraq.
You know, the dominant historical narrative is that the surge won the Iraq War. And General Petraeus, had he not gone down for—you know, the only thing that seems to be capable of taking down the powerful is these sort of—you know, what they do in their top-secret chambers. They can wage all the so-called secret wars they want, but if they do something in their own secret life, then, you know—then you can bring them down. But Petraeus is often celebrated as this sort of hero who won the Iraq War because of the surge. But in reality, you had this merciless killing campaign that was being run by General Stanley McChrystal and Admiral William McRaven, where they were just bumping off the leadership of any cell that would pop off—pop up, but also just killing a tremendous number of people, in general.
And so, you had military figures that grew up in a certain era with an understanding of these programs. And when Cheney and Rumsfeld came into power with Bush, they really saw—but even before 9/11 happened, saw the historical moment that they had in front of them to sort of redraw maps and implement a vision of the world where Iran-Contra was a noble act and sort of the model for how the U.S. should be conducting its foreign policy. I don’t know if you—if many of you know this, but Cheney was in Congress at the time that Iran-Contra was being investigated, and he authored the minority report in the House defending Iran-Contra and viewed it as a sort of heroic, necessary action. And they had this view of the unitary executive, the idea that when it comes to these national security issues, that the White House is essentially a dictatorship and that Congress’s only function is to fund the operations but not be involved with overseeing them or having any meaningful oversight of these operations.
And President Obama really had an opportunity to roll back some of the executive branch power grabs that Bush and Cheney had engaged in. And instead, he sort of doubled down on them and has been waging this unprecedented war against whistleblowers and using the Espionage Act and reserving the right of the state to keep secret from the American people evidence that would indicate why someone was being assassinated, to keep secret—to use the state secrets privilege in repeated lawsuits brought against former officials or torturers, having cases thrown out of court, using the full power structure of the executive branch in the same excessive way that was being used under Bush and Cheney.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy, you were talking about U.S. officials. Can you talk about McRaven and Gardez?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, that’s one of the stories in the book, and also you’ll see this in our film, one of the characters in our film is Admiral William McRaven, who is, I think, one of the most powerful military figures in modern U.S. history. McRaven is the current commander of SOCOM, the Special Operations Command, in charge of all special operations activity across the globe in more than a hundred countries. But McRaven was actually an original member of SEAL Team 6, the Naval Warfare Development Group—DEVGRU, it’s called now. He was an original member of SEAL Team 6 and spent much of his career in the shadows of covert and clandestine U.S. military operations. And he would have been forward-deployed to Afghanistan shortly after 9/11, but he had injured his back in a parachuting accident at a training exercise in California, where there was a—where his SEAL team was based at the time.
And so, instead of forward-deploying to Afghanistan, Admiral McRaven was tapped by General Wayne Downing, who was coming up with the—with the process for putting people on these kill lists after 9/11 and trying to take down all of the leadership of al-Qaeda or anyone that they could attach to the 9/11 attacks. And Downing asked Admiral McRaven to come and advise the National Security Council. People think of the National Security Council as this huge body. It’s the president, the vice president, the secretary of defense and the secretary of state, and then staffers. But it really is just the core officials who dictate this policy. So, if the NSC is making decisions about targeted killing, it’s really the principals that are doing national defense, national security, counterterrorism.
So McRaven became the adviser to the most powerful officials in the U.S. government in developing how to implement the hunting down and killing of Osama bin Laden and others. And at the beginning, there were, by some estimates, between seven and two dozen individuals that were put on this list for—in the beginning it was kill or capture, but the emphasis was often on kill. And McRaven saw firsthand how the White House worked, and he learned a great deal about the politics of an administration, because he was there helping to craft a policy that he would later then run when he became the head of all special operations forces.
So, McRaven is there for a couple of years, and then ends up going to Iraq, where he was the deputy commander of the Joint Special Operations Command under Stanley McChrystal, who was very close to Dick Cheney. Cheney had gotten him a fellowship at the Council on Foreign Relations. And McChrystal was the commander of JSOC for much of the Bush administration. McRaven is working under McChrystal, running the kill campaign in Iraq and coordinating all of these actions against against both the—what was called al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia or al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and also going after Muqtada al-Sadr’s forces and others. So he sort of understood both ends of the game: how it was run in the White House and then how it was implemented in the field.
And when President Obama came into office, the two people who were responsible for the most covert, sensitive operations, being run by primarily Cheney and Rumsfeld, outside of the chain of command, were General McChrystal and Admiral McRaven. And they became the two most influential figures in shaping the Obama administration’s counterterroism policy. And, so, President Obama really empowered those forces and actually had McRaven in the White House helping to shape the policy—not just implement the military actions, but actually shaping policy. And most people had never heard of Admiral McRaven. And, of course, he’s now a kind of iconic figure because he commanded the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. And, of course, Disney tried to trademark SEAL Team 6 after the bin Laden raid—it’s a true story.
But what I—the way that I discovered the identity of Admiral McRaven was, in February of 2010, there was a raid in Gardez in Afghanistan, in Paktia province. And a U.S. special operations team had intelligence that there was a Taliban compound and that people living in a particular compound in this area were members of the Taliban who were plotting attacks against American forces. And they raid this compound in the middle of the night, and they end up killing a number of men and two pregnant women. And it turned out that this was not a Taliban family. In fact, they weren’t even ethnic Pashtun; they were from a minority ethnic group in the province. And the man of the house was a senior Afghan police commander who had been trained by the U.S. forces. And his family showed me his documents. He had actually been trained by a private security company called MPRI, which is made up of very—of high-ranking former military officials, intelligence officials and others. And so, these women were killed, this Afghan police commander who had fought with U.S. soldiers against the Taliban and against the Haqqani network in his province, and whose house was filled with pictures of him and U.S. soldiers smiling in these pictures, had just been killed.
And when the commandos that—the U.S. commandos that raided the house realized that they had killed these women and that the men that they had killed were not in fact Taliban, and that what they were doing that night was the most anti-Taliban of things they could have been doing, which was to be having a party with live music celebrating the naming of a child—the men were dancing and playing instruments, and it was this loud, boisterous party, and we have their cellphone video from that night. So, they raid this house; these people are killed. Instead of saying, "Wow! We really messed up," and owning it—and that stuff happens every day in Afghanistan. People are getting killed all the time that have no attachment whatsoever to the Taliban or al-Qaeda or the Haqqani network, and the U.S. will often just pay them a little bit of money and move on, and it never makes it into the papers. That wouldn’t have been out of place. But instead of doing that, they dug the bullets out of the women’s bodies, and then they told their commanders that what had happened in the compound that night was a Taliban ambush of this family and that they had come upon these women who had been killed by the Taliban. And then they—there were leaks saying that, well, no, this was actually an honor killing, and the women were killed by their own family members. And they put out a press release, and spokespeople made these statements saying that this—that the U.S. soldiers were essentially heroes that had gone in there and saved everyone else.
But then, the family members, because they were a prominent family—one of the fathers of the women was the vice dean at Gardez University, who spoke fluent English, started calling reporters and telling people, you know, this is not what the—what NATO is saying. Then a very great reporter named Jerome Starkey actually went down there — he writes for The Times of London — and interviewed the family members and did a story saying that this was a NATO raid—he didn’t know it was JSOC at the time—that this was a botched NATO raid and that NATO had tried to cover it up. And he told the story of these families. And when Jerome Starkey did this,NATO did something extraordinary: They named him in a press release and said, "Jerome Starkey of The Times of London is lying." They actually accused him of lying. And, I mean, that could have ended Starkey’s career. And Starkey, to his credit, kept pushing and pushing, and ended up doing a number of stories and got close to that family. And Rick and I also went to this family and filmed with them, and you see this in our video, and tell this story and tell the story of what happened to Jerome Starkey, as well.
So, media attention is focused in now on this village and this one family’s compound. And eventually NATO calls up Starkey, and they said, "We’re about to put out a press release. We’re going to change our version of events." And they admit that their forces had killed, that NATO forces had killed these pregnant women and that the men were not Taliban commanders. So, the family told me and told Jerome Starkey the same thing, which is that they got a call, and a person they believed was General Stanley McChrystal was going to be coming to visit them. And at the time, McChrystal was the commander of all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. And they actually were plotting—they wanted to kill General McChrystal. They wanted to stab him to death when he came into their home. And one—and one of the men told me that "When they did this to my family, I wanted to put on a suicide vest and blow myself up among the Americans." Remember, these were U.S. allies, and now they’re saying, "I want a suicide vest, and I want to kill General McChrystal," who was the leader of the war. And an imam at their local mosque said, "No, you’re not to do that. You’re to give him hospitality, like our people do, and you’ll welcome him into your home and hear what he has to say."
So they thought that General McChrystal was coming to see them. They called Jerome Starkey. Starkey goes down there with his photographer, Jeremy Kelly, and they’re waiting with the family, thinking that McChrystal is going to show up. And up pulls this convoy of vehicles with countless Afghan military officials and some Americans interspersed with them. And in the center of this crowd is a guy with a name tag that says "McRaven" on it and has three stars on the lapel. And they’ve brought with them two sheep. And they approach the compound in the very place where the women had been killed and this police commander had been killed, and they offload these sheep, and they put a knife up to the sheep’s neck, and they were going to sacrifice the sheep. And what they were doing was a ritual from these people’s culture, the people who were the victims of this. And they were—it was like a forgiveness ritual. So they were coming—Admiral McRaven shows up with some sheep, after this family had been gunned down and then they—and they had blamed it on the family and then said it was Taliban, and that—
So, this is unfolding. This photographer, Jeremy Kelly, starts taking photos of—he didn’t know who he was at the time—of Admiral McRaven. And at the time, Admiral McRaven was the commander of the most elite, secretive U.S. military force. And he shows up with the sheep in Gardez, Afghanistan, and they’re offering to sacrifice it. And the American and Afghan forces try to stop the photographer. They try to hit the camera away. They say that Starkey and Jeremy Kelly are not allowed in. But the family—and it was so smart of them—the family said, "No, we want him here as a witness, so that someone independent is here to know what goes on today." And so they have photos, and Starkey took, in shorthand, all the notes of what McRaven said in the room that day. And McRaven admitted to the head of this household that it was his forces that had killed these pregnant women and the Afghan police commander. And he apologized.
And then there were all these stories that went out on ABC News and others that the head of the household had accepted the apology. When I spoke to him, he said, "I don’t accept their apology at all." He said, "The special forces did cruel things to us. They beat us. They ruined our life. They wiped out our economy in our compound by taking away all of these people. And they killed our pregnant women. I wouldn’t trade my two sons for the entire kingdom of the United States," is what he said. And another man chimed in, and he said, "These are these commandos with beards. We call them the American Taliban." And this is an anti-Taliban family.
And so, you know, when I watched the bin Laden raid coverage, and people started saying JSOC publicly, and we were showed that the dog was named Cairo and was a French—Belgian Malinois, or whatever, and then we know what guns were used. And, you know, Rick and I talk about this all the time. We know every detail that was leaked—and, of course, a lot of it turned out to be not true, but that’s for a different story. I was thinking, where was the coverage of—like, wall-to-wall coverage of this operation that they did? Because that would give us a little bit more of a balanced picture of what happens in the thousands of night raids that happen every year in Afghanistan or in Pakistan or in countries that we’re not even aware we’re raiding right now. And so, that story, for me, really resonated strongly, because I think we only have a tiny fraction of understanding the extent of the kinds of operations that are being done on a daily basis around the world, and we often hear about them when they go the way that those in power want or when the version that they want publicized is the one accepted by powerful media outlets.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam, if you could respond to what Jeremy said. And also, you have written extensively about the killing of Osama bin Laden, and I was wondering if you could comment on that.
NOAM CHOMSKY: ....I’ve written plenty of unpopular articles, and one of the most unpopular had to do with the murder, not killing, of Osama bin Laden. Osama bin Laden was a suspect. There are principles, believe it or not, that are not only in the Constitution, but that go back to 800 years, to Magna Carta, the foundations of Anglo-American law. That’s—I mean, they put it in narrow terms, but the general principle, including —Jeremy is quite correct—expansion of it to people other than our own citizens, is that a person can’t be punished by the state without due process of law and a speedy trial by his peers. That’s a reasonable principle. It’s in the Constitution. It was narrow, if you look, so in the Constitution it didn’t—naturally, it didn’t apply to Native Americans, it didn’t apply to blacks, and it dubiously applied to women, who at the time were considered property, not people. But over the years, it’s been expanded. And unless it gets to the point where—that Jeremy was talking about, where it’s just human beings, we can’t call ourselves a civilized society. Anyway, those are the principles.
Osama bin Laden was a suspect. In fact, personally, I don’t have any doubt that he was responsible, but my personal opinion is nothing that stands up in a court of law. You have to have evidence. You have to have a trial, a serious trial. And it was pretty clear that the U.S. government didn’t want that. He was captured, apprehended, by, you know, the most skilled masters of war—to use the Somali warlord’s expression—that exist in the world, 80 of them, I think. He was defenseless. The first story that came out was that they had to shoot him because his wife lunged at the SEALs. And what could they do? You know, they had to kill everybody. But that story was later withdrawn. It was nothing. He was just apprehended, defenseless, murdered, body throw into the ocean, leaving obvious questions as to why. And the dangers of this operation—a lot of the aspects of this operation—so it was a criminal—in my view, just total—a complete criminal act. No justification.
But, there’s more to it than this. And I was kind of reminded of it when Jeremy talked about the Yemeni testimony at the Senate. Now, those of you might have looked at the little, tiny report on that hidden in The New York Times. He said something else, this man who testified. He said that, for years, the al-Qaeda—the Islamist radicals—al-Qaeda, they call them—had been trying to turn the people of this village against the Americans. And they didn’t succeed. But you’ve succeeded with one drone strike. You’re creating more people to kill you, as you pointed out. And the same is true of the Osama bin Laden assassination. First of all, the action itself was extremely hazardous. The Navy SEALs who were sent in were under orders to shoot their way out if they got into any trouble. Well, if they had started—the Pakistani army is a professional army, very committed, committed to the defense of the country, the sovereignty of the country. If they had been caught there and tried to shoot their way out, they wouldn’t have been left alone. The American forces next door would have come in in a massive force, and, you know, we might have been involved in a nuclear war. I mean, it was quite possible. That was part of the threat.
But there was something else that happened. Actually, it’s been reported recently, I think in Scientific American. But it was no—I mean, the way that they identified bin Laden was through a fraudulent vaccination campaign. They had doctors posing to do a anti-polio vaccination in a poor area of this town. Well, they pretty soon figured out it’s not the poor area, it’s the rich area, so they stopped the program in the middle, which is criminal in itself. Actually, running the program was criminal. You know, using a vaccination program and doctors to try to apprehend a suspect, I mean, that violates principles going back to the Hippocratic Oath. But then they stopped it in the middle, because they thought they were in the wrong area. More crimes. Then they finally identified him. But one consequence of their actions was to—there is always in these societies serious concern about what outsiders, Americans, are up to when they come in and start, you know, sticking needles in people and so on. It’s always there. Takes a lot of work to overcome that hostility. And it was being overcome in Pakistan. Now it’s gone. They will not permit people to come in carrying out vaccinations. Polio is almost gone in the world. Pakistan is one of the last places where it survives. OK, we’re encouraging the spread of polio. And as one commentator pointed out—back to the Yemeni in the Senate—one of these days, people are going to look at this crippled child and say, "You did it to us." And you can guess what’s going to happen then.
AMY GOODMAN: If you missed that testimony in the Senate, in the first-ever Senate drone hearings of this young Yemeni activist and freelance journalist, you can go to democracynow.org, because last Wednesday we played it in full. And you can watch him and also read the transcript. But, Noam, I wanted to ask you to follow up on Jeremy’s opening point around the killing—and closing point—the killing of Americans versus people anywhere.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, Jeremy’s point is exactly right. And the murder of Awlaki—and we should be honest about it—was—you take a look at The New York Times the next day. There was a headline which said something like, "West Celebrates Death of Radical Cleric." You know, good, we murdered a radical cleric. Then, concerns began to mount over the fact that he was an American. You know, bit of a problem if we go around killing Americans. And that’s pretty scandalous. I’ll just reiterate what Jeremy said. It doesn’t matter whether they’re Americans or whatever they are; they’re people. Going back to Magna Carta, the concept of people free of these—should be free of state terror, has been expanded over the years, substantially. And it should be expanded to include people. They should be free of state terror.
And I should say that I, myself, am kind of hesitant about some of the things I do myself. Right now I’m a plaintiff in a suit on the—against the NDAA, at least the NDAA proposals, Obama’s latest. The National Defense Authorization Act included—includes provisions which make it—which—optional for the government, if it chooses, to place American citizens under indefinite detention in military prisons, which is an incredible crime. You know, again, back to Magna Carta, much worse. And Chris Hedges organized a suit to try to oppose this, and I signed on, but with reservations, because what difference does it make if they’re American citizens? I mean, the same NDAA act authorized—in fact, makes it mandatory in some circumstances—for the government to place non-Americans under indefinite preventive detention. Should be—that’s what we should be—that’s what we should be concerned with.
This suit, incidentally, has taken an interesting course. Obama originally had said that he was opposed to those provisions in the act, but he would sign them. Then, when the case went to court, at the lower court level, the government case—the plaintiffs won. The judge threw out the government prosecution, on the—because the prosecution refused to answer a simple question: Will these plaintiffs be subject to administrative detention? Could they be? And they refused to answer that, so the judge threw that out. Obama immediately took it to the higher court. That shows you how much opposed he is to it. It will work its way to the Supreme Court. And given the Supreme Court, the government will probably win. Well, you know, these are things we should really be concerned about.
It’s not—if you want to know what—I’m sure you all know, but if you really want to know in detail what happens to non-citizens, read some of the testimonies. So, for example, there’s a recent book that came out by an Australian—David Hill, I think his name is. Very much worth reading. He’s a young man who was hiking around somewhere in northern Afghanistan. He was picked—
AMY GOODMAN: David Hicks.
NOAM CHOMSKY: David Hicks, yeah. He was picked up by the Northern Alliance, the U.S. allies. They sold him for bounty to the American forces. And then he describes his years in Bagram and then at Guantánamo, and it was six or seven years. The torture, the sadism, the cruelty are just indescribable. These are American soldiers, you know, elite American soldiers. You just really have to read that to—I mean, if anybody knows American history, it won’t surprise you that much, but it’s right in front of our eyes.
And he said something quite interesting in his testimony, which I was struck by. He says the soldiers—of course, these guys were shackled, bound, you know, couldn’t move, surrounded by all kinds of military police and so on. But he said the guards were afraid of the prisoners. He said the guards had been so brainwashed by whatever training they went through, that they thought these prisoners were superhuman. He said that guards would come to his cell sometimes, where he’s shackled and, you know, so on, and ask him to perform some of his feats, like, you know, climb on the ceilings. "Will you show us how you do it?" And this kind of thing. And, in fact, when they took them out to be interrogated, they’d have like a platoon of marines around them to make sure that they didn’t carry out some incredibly monstrous act that these soldiers had probably seen in a video movie somewhere. But he said they really were terrified of the prisoners.
And that tells us something else about our own society, that what are we doing to our own society when we’re creating such terror and fear among ordinary people? I mean, it’s kind of like having guns in—you know, armed policemen in schools. Is that what you want your children to see, that we live in a society where you have to have people with guns around to protect you from some unimaginable danger? And here, there’s another serious—as far as American culture is concerned, something very much to be concerned about. This is a very frightened society, always has been—goes back to colonial times. Very striking. Today it is taking a remarkable form. If you look at the—you know, the gun culture, the people who are pressing for having guns are terrified. A lot of them are simply terrified. They’re like these guards standing outside the prison. What are they terrified of? You’ve got to have guns to protect theirselves from who? The federal government, the United Nations, aliens, whoever it may be. We don’t know what horrible force is coming after us, but we have to have guns to protect ourselves. I mean, put aside the fact the guns wouldn’t do you any good and you’ll probably kill each other, but the fear throughout the society is simply incredible.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Just a couple of things in response to that. I was remembering, when you were talking about David Hicks’ story, this case that I came across in Yemen of a journalist named Abdulelah Haider Shaye. When President Obama first authorized the bombing of Yemen was in December of 2009. The first strike that we know of authorized under the Obama administration was on December 17th, 2009, in Yemen. There hadn’t been a bombing, a U.S. bombing, there, that we know of, since November of 2002. The first drone strike, actually, that was conducted outside of Afghanistan was in Yemen in 2002, and it killed a number of people, including a U.S. citizen named Kemal Derwish. And he actually was not—was not supposedly the target of that strike, but they claimed that he had ties to a terror cell called the Lackawanna Six, which, like many of the plots we’ve seen lately, seemed to have been the—in large part, the FBIbreaking up its own plot, and which is really scandalous if you look at how many times this has happened and all these cases of entrapment.
But so, President Obama starts—decides to start bombing Yemen in December of 2009. They do this strike on what they are told by the Yemeni government and by U.S. intelligence is an al-Qaeda training camp and that there is this notorious al-Qaeda figure who’s known to be in the camp. Well, it turned out that this guy, when we investigated it and went to Yemen and spoke to people that knew him and knew the infrastructure of AQAP, that he was an old jihadist who had fought in the mujahideen war in Afghanistan and had a very peripheral connection to al-Qaeda. So it seems like what happened is that, you know, the U.S. outsources a lot of its intelligence gathering in Yemen to notoriously corrupt Yemeni officials and agencies and to the Saudis, and the Saudis have their own war that they’re waging inside of Yemen. The U.S.-backed dictatorship of Ali Abdullah Saleh was playing multiple sides—playing the Saudis, playing the U.S., playing various tribes inside the country. There were several occasions when Saleh fed the U.S. intelligence saying someone was al-Qaeda, and it turned out to being a political opponent of the regime that was being killed or assassinated by the U.S. on behalf, in the service of the dictator of Yemen.
And so, in this case, on December 17th, 2009, they bomb this village, supposedly to kill this one guy, who does not seem to have been anything even vaguely resembling a senior al-Qaeda figure in the country. And after the missile strike happens, the Yemeni government puts out a press release taking credit for the strike, saying it had conducted these air strikes. And the Obama administration congratulated the Yemeni government on taking the fight to the terrorists in Yemen.
A number of tribal leaders in Yemen got phone calls from this small, poor Bedouin village called al-Majalah that these missiles had slammed into the area and had shredded people into meat. And these tribal leaders went there, and also a young—this young journalist, Abdulelah Haider Shaye, who had done reporting and work for The Washington Post, for ABC News, for Al Jazeera. He was a very, very well-known journalist in Yemen. And he was known because he was a brave guy who would go and actually interview al-Qaeda figures. Much of what the United States knows about certain leaders in al-Qaeda comes from the reporting of Abdulelah Haider Shaye. You could look at one way and say he was a very valuable guy to have out talking to these people, because it helped the U.S. intelligence officials understand or operatives understand who it was they were supposedly trying to kill. But that’s for a different story.
So this guy goes there. These tribal leaders go there. And they take photographs of the missile parts. And they then show them, broadcast them on Al Jazeera and other outlets, and share them with Amnesty International. And Amnesty International has a weapons expert come in and analyze them, and they determined that they were—that it was a cruise missile attack. And when Rick and I were in Abyan province, we had the parts filmed. They’re still there in the desert, by the way. You can go—if you want to try to go to al-Majalah, you can go there, and they’re still in the middle of the desert, with "General Dynamics" and "Made in the U.S.A." right there, visible, and we show this in our film. We show the aftermath of this bombing and the missile parts that were still there, you know, well after the bombs had dropped.
But the U.S. also—but the other bombs that they found there were cluster bombs, which of course are banned under international conventions. And the cluster bombs are basically—I saw the effect of them when the U.S. was using them in the Kosovo War in 1999. I went to the Nis marketplace after it was bombed in Serbia and saw the aftermath of it. They’re like flying land mines, and they shred everything in its path into meat and limbs. And it is horrifying to see the aftermath of any bombing, but cluster bombs are a particularly brutal weapon. And there were unexploded cluster bombs that were left there, and after the bombing had taken place, some children were playing near a cluster bomb and picked one of them up, and it blew them to pieces, two days after the bombing had happened.
So they take these pictures. They send them to Amnesty International. And these sheikhs, tribal sheikhs, organized a gathering to say that this is not the Yemeni government that did this, because Yemen doesn’t have these missiles. Amnesty does an analysis of them and determines that they were in fact U.S. weapons and that only the United States could have been responsible for that bombing.
And so, this sort of scandal was brewing inside of Yemen because the people who were killed there—there were at least 46 people killed. Fourteen of the people killed were women, and 21 were children. When the Yemeni Parliament, which is a—which is supported by the United States, went to investigate it, they listed all of the dead—their ages, their names, their genders—and I got a copy of that report and have the list of every single person that we know of that was killed in that strike. And we added it up, and it was 14 women and 21 children among the 46 dead, and in the pursuit of trying to kill this one person who the president of the United States had been told was this high-value target, who everyone in Yemen says was an older mujahideen who had primarily done his jihad in Afghanistan and not inside of Yemen.
When this started to become public, this Yemeni journalist was going on Al Jazeera and was helping other U.S. media outlets report that story, that it was in fact a U.S. strike. U.S. officials were denying it, and eventually then anonymously said, "Yes, we were behind the strike," but General David Petraeus said that no civilians were actually killed in the strike and that it’s all a big exaggeration, which was very offensive to Yemenis of all political stripes. And so, it was an enduring scandal.
And this one journalist was really pushing this story, and he continued to report on other—on the expanding U.S. air war in Yemen. And one night, in the middle of the night, he was—in the middle of the day, he was out with a friend of his who was a political cartoonist, and they were shopping, and he was snatched by U.S.-backed, U.S.-trained counterterrorism forces in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, and was taken to the political security prison and was beaten bloody by the security services and told that he was to stop talking about the missile strikes. And then they released him onto the streets. And what this journalist did was to go straight to Al Jazeera and say, "I was just beaten by the political security officers, and they’re trying to stop me from talking about the U.S. missile strikes that are happening in the country."
And soon after he did that, his house was raided by the CTU, the counterterrorism unit, which is a JSOC- and CIA-trained entity. And they snatched him out of his home and disappeared him for 30 days. And no one knew where he was. And then they hauled him into a court that had been specifically set up by the dictatorship to prosecute journalists for crimes against the state, and was ultimately convicted of being an al-Qaeda facilitator, because he facilitated al-Qaeda members being able to speak to the media, and which—I’ve talked to people in U.S. intelligence who actually also believe that this case is outrageous, because they said, "You took off the streets one of the best reporters that we would read so we could actually understand what was going on in Yemen, because of the notorious corruption of all of the informants."
So he is put into this prison. He’s put on trial, total sham trial. His lawyers refuse to present a defense. No lawyer would represent him, at his own request, because he said, "I don’t want to recognize a shred of legitimacy of this process." And we have video of him when he is in prison. They bring him in front of the—into the courtroom in a cell. They have him in a cage in a cell. And as they’re pulling him away, he said, "My crime is exposing the American missile attack on the tiny Bedouin village of al-Majalah in Abyan province. They’re putting me in jail because I exposed their cruise missile attack." And he said, "This is what happens when Yemeni journalists are real journalists," and they pull him away, and they disappear him into this prison.
There was so much outrage in Yemen, from his tribe and from human rights organizations and from mainstream civil society in Yemen, that the dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh, had no choice but to issue a pardon against Abdulelah Haider Shaye. This happens a lot in Yemen. Someone gets arrests, the tribes protest, and then the person is released. It’s a whole—it’s a game that’s been playing out in that country for a long time. So, he’s going to issue a pardon, and the official news service, the Saba News Agency, does a report saying that this journalist is going to be pardoned.
That day, the dictator of Yemen receives a phone call from the White House—not from some liaison, not from secretary of state—from President Obama himself, personally. And President Obama tells the dictator of Yemen that he’s deeply concerned about news that Abdulelah Haider Shaye is going to be released. And the pardon is torn up. And lest you think I’m making this up or I’ve just heard it secondhand, I know this because the White House put it on their own website in a read-out of the phone call from that day. And when I called the State Department to ask them — this is a year-and-a-half after Abdulelah Haider had been in prison since this phone call — "What is the U.S. State Department’s position on Abdulelah Haider Shaye?" they said, "Our position remains the same as that articulated by President Obama in that phone call. We believe he should be kept in prison." So this journalist is in prison because of the president of the United States making a phone call and having his pardon ripped up.
And he is not doing well in prison. I’m in touch with his family. He is—my understanding is that he’s losing—he’s starting to lose his mind, which is very common with people that are kept in solitary confinement or in these conditions.
And none of news organizations that worked with him in the U.S.—ABC News, Washington Post and—none of them have said anything about his case. Where are they? When he’s getting them sensationalist footage, when he interviewed Anwar al-Awlaki, they all wanted to broadcast his comments about Nidal Hasan, you know, who conducted the massacre at Fort Hood, Texas. And they wanted to ask—they wanted to know what Awlaki said about the underwear bomber. You know why we know what Awlaki thought about that? Because Abdulelah Haider Shaye found him, interviewed him and published it in The Washington Post, on NBC. And yet, when he’s in prison, they say nothing. It’s shameful. It’s shameful.
And that’s often what happens in these cases. Journalists—journalists, like myself and others, we go into these countries. And, you know, I encourage people to read the acknowledgments in my book, because I tell you—I name the names of all of the journalists in Yemen and Somalia and Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world who made it possible for this story to be told. And they’re the real heroes of this. Unfamous journalists, who report oftentimes not in English, take the great risks. People like me, I go in, and I can go somewhere for a few weeks or a month, and I depend on them to be able to tell these stories. And so, when something happens to one of our colleagues—Somalia, journalists are being gunned down in record numbers; in Yemen, journalists are being thrown in prison—if we don’t speak up when we have a platform and defend our colleagues, we should be ashamed of ourselves, and we should be ashamed to call ourselves journalists.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam, as we wrap up, this is the week that the Bush library is being opened in Dallas, where there is an evaluation, a reevaluation going on of his record. It’s the 10th anniversary of the War in Iraq. And today we’re talking about the years of the Obama administration. Can you talk about President Obama’s record?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, let me tell you what I felt, and maybe some of the rest of you felt, when I saw the pictures of the Bush library presentation. There was a group of men standing there, former presidents, the ones that are alive. Every one of them is a major criminal. A major criminal. Obama is continuing the grand tradition—shouldn’t be a great surprise. And I guess the sentence that came to my mind at the time is actually from Thomas Jefferson, who said once that—he said, "I tremble for my country when I think that God is just, and some day will bring us to his judgment." Well, if we can’t them to some kind of judgment either, if not in the courts, at least in public opinion, then it’s kind of like what Jeremy said: We’re not doing are duty just as responsible people.
AMY GOODMAN: And let—Jeremy, we’re going to end with you. This is your second major book. Your first book was Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, where you really reframed—you reframed the whole discussion about mercenaries and the privatization of the U.S. military. Suffice it to say, here we are, what, six years later, and Erik Prince had to move, the founder of Blackwater, to Abu Dhabi, and you remain here in the United States. Less—and I wanted to ask, with this second book—and Jeremy is going to be signing afterwards, and I encourage everyone to get this book, not just for interesting summer reading, but that we can see a spring and a summer of U.S. foreign policy. When we are informed, what a difference it makes to begin with those tools, to be empowered, to challenge what we—how we are represented in the rest of the world. But I want to ask you, Jeremy, finally—your new book is called Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield. What are you hoping to accomplish with this book? And why you even call it Dirty Wars?
JEREMY SCAHILL: One thing that I think you’ll notice if you read the book—you know, I’ve talked to friends about the—you know, when I wroteBlackwater. I think I’ve grown up a lot since I wrote that book, in a sense, because something really strange happened to me after I wrote Blackwater, and that was that I started to get emails and other electronic communications from people that had served in special operations forces or worked with the CIA—not senior officials. I don’t hobnob with the powerful ever. In fact, when I was talking about this official who told me what he said about the killing of Abdulrahman, I had to chase him around the campus of a university I found him on, and, you know, he did not want to speak to me. I had to sort of chase him. That’s pretty much the only interaction I have with powerful officials is chasing them somewhere.
But I started to get communications from operators and people that were doing these operations. And there was a sort of a pattern to them early on, and sometimes they would come to events and come up to me afterwards. And they would say, you know, "I don’t"—a lot of them would say, "I don’t care very much for your politics, but you were totally right about Blackwater. You know, I can’t stand them." And I got to know people in that world, in that community, because they also were—had problems with Blackwater and didn’t like various actions or problems that the company’s actions had caused for their units or the fact that they were getting paid so much more than the conventional soldiers—whatever it was. But I started a dialogue with some of these people that continues to this day, and I’ve learned a tremendous amount from them about how these operations run.
And what I tried to do in the book—I mean, I hope I succeeded, to a degree, with it—is to weave in and out of stories that show the complicated landscape of the killing fields and the men who do the operations on the ground, the figures who are identified as the targets, the civilians that are forced to live on the other side of the barrel of the gun or in the place where the bombs are going off, and to put it in a historical context.
I think if you had asked me years ago what I think—you know, what I wanted to accomplish or what I think should be done, I would have pretended to have an answer, because I think it’s—I was, you know—I was bull-headed.
I think that we, unfortunately, are only at the very beginning of a conversation that we have to—that’s urgent and that we have to have in this country about how far we, as a society, have let things go since 9/11 in the name of protecting our security. And I concur very much with what Noam said about being gripped by fear. You know, fear is a very powerful force. And if you don’t figure out a way to confront it and not be owned by it, then things like the PATRIOT Act happen, and civil liberties get rolled back. And, you know, people say, "Oh, NDAA, the people that are whining about that are crazy, and it’s conspiracy theory," and all of these things. And you just have—just study history. It starts somewhere. It starts with an idea, and then a crisis happens, and they implement the idea that’s been laying around. You know, it’s a very age-old concept.
And my hope is that people use the book as actionable intelligence, which is actually an—you know, a term in the CIA or in the targeting business. But I want it to be actionable intelligence to work toward a democratic process of confronting our own fear and also holding those in power accountable, whether they’re Democrats or Republicans. I think all of us should be defined not by the public pronouncements of politicians, but by what we do in response to the actions they’re doing in our name. And that’s the spirit I wrote this book in.
Arresting a Teen Girl for Dozing Off in Class? Why Normal Kid Behavior Is Treated As a Crime or Psychiatric Disorder
Brianna Pena, a 5-year-old, was told she could not return to her kindergarten classroom at her Bronx, NY, charter school until she was “psychiatrically cleared” to return by a medical professional. It was her first day at a new school. She didn’t know anyone and repeatedly cried, “Nobody cares about me!” School officials insist that Brianna kept “yelling and throwing chairs” during the incident. Administrators placed her on a list of so-called “psychiatric suspensions.”
In Bartow, FL, Kiera Wilmot, a 16-year-old student was expelled from Bartow High School and arrested for conducting an unapproved chemistry experiment. She combined some household chemicals in an 8-ounce water bottle and the top popped off, giving off a small explosion. According to the school principal, Ron Pritchard, "she made a bad choice. ... She wanted to see what would happen [when the chemicals mixed] and was shocked by what it did.” She was charged with possession of and discharging a weapon on school property.
Brianna’s and Kiera are but two examples of the growing “discipline” crisis besetting schools throughout the country. School administrators are resorting to an increasing number of questionable tactics to address problems associated with the breakdown of the classroom as a learning environment. These include the use of local EMS workers to remove pre-teen children as well as such high-tech methods as RFID tracking and CCTV video surveillance. An increasing number of officials are resorting to aggressive in-school policing, with on-campus uniformed and armed officers ticketing and arresting more and more kids. All to contain “disruptive” students often engaged in what was once considered bad behavior but is now criminalized conduct.
Reports that American education is in crisis appear in the media almost every day. From Pres. Obama to mayors across the country, everyone complains about the country’s supposedly failing education system. Each promises to fix the problem – and it only seems to be getting worse. Yet, efforts to police schools reflect the further shifting of education spending from the classroom to the administrative apparatus of control.
A major contributing factor to this crisis is the failed “zero tolerance” discipline program promoted by the Bush administration and still in force in school systems throughout the country. Like its abstinence-only sex ed program, Bush policies made a serious issue worse. The effort to enforce classroom discipline through the expulsion and punishment of students is an example of the moral absolutism propagated during much of the last few decades. It further extends the “school-to-prison pipeline” by aggressively incarcerating ever-younger children, particularly African-American and Hispanic youth.
Some cities, like New York, are increasingly turning to costly emergency medical services to restrain students. Cashmiere Turner, a 7th grader at New York’s Intermediate School 151 in the Bronx, struggled both academically and socially in the classroom. Her mother, Sonya, repeatedly sought school administrators’ help with her daughter’s learning problems and the bullying she faced, but was ignored. In October 2011, school officials claimed that the troubled teen acted out, attempting to harm herself. They contacted Cashmiere’s mother, who rushed to the school only to find that the officials had also contacted the local EMS. Refusing to let Ms. Turner take her daughter home, EMS workers and police officers brought her to a local hospital that found her neither a threat to herself nor others. She was released, but not before the hospital billed her mother an estimated $1,300 for services rendered.
The city’s Board of Education (BOE) reports that during 2010-2011 school year, EMS was called 947 times to handle disruptive or dangerous kids; this is up 12 percent from the previous year. Nelson Mar, an attorney with Legal Services NYC-Bronx, represented both Brianna Pena and Cashmiere Turner, warns, “minor children are removed by EMS for childhood behavior or misbehavior which does not rise to the level of a medical emergency.” He points out that at one Bronx hospital, there were 58 EMS calls from schools during a 10-day period in February 2011. Most troubling, doctors and psychologists found that only 3 percent of the kids brought to an Emergency Room were admitted to the hospital.
Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s stewardship, removal and suspension are among the principal means to enforce discipline in the classroom. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), the BOE’s “Citywide Standards on Discipline and Intervention” – the discipline code -- reported infractions increased 49 percent and “zero tolerance” infractions resulting in a suspension doubled between 2001 and 2010.
Part of this increase was due to the nearly two-fold increase in the number of code “infractions,” from 38 (2001) to 67 (2007). The NYCLU found that infractions range from using profane language and throwing chalk to being insubordinate and can lead to a student’s suspension from school for a year. And “zero tolerance infractions” are the worse, misbehavior requiring suspension. Over the last decade, they jumped from 7 (in 1998-2001) to 29 (2007-2008, 2008-2010); they declined to 21 (2010-2011). Not surprising, black students, who make up a third (33%) of the student population, received more then half (53%) of the suspensions.
In New York, school administrators have increasingly turned to EMS to address disciplinary problems. Mar reports that in the 2011-2012 school year, 3,435 calls were placed to the EMS, up from the 3,024 calls in 2009-2010, a 13.5 percent increase; these calls are separate from calls to NYC police that, during the same period, declined to 241 from 291, a 17.2 percent decrease. “The practice of removing misbehaving students by EMS is a costly waste of EMS and hospital resources,” Mar warned.
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A high school student from Hoover, AL, was recently beaten by a school official and then arrested for falling asleep in school, according to a recent lawsuit. Ashlynn Avery is not your typical teenager. She suffers from diabetes, asthma and sleep apnea. Sadly, while sitting in the in-school suspension room and reading “Huckleberry Finn,” she dozed off. She asserts that the classroom supervisor seized the book and hit her with it; he claims it was an accident. The police were called and the girl was “forcefully” arrested, causing her to have a seizure, vomit, pass out and end up in the hospital.
To enforce discipline, school systems across the country are employing harsher techniques and turning to the local police. In Maine, educators report an increase in school disruptions with students pulling fire alarms and scratching and bruising teachers. The state is considering allowing teachers to use restraints or seclusion on misbehaving students; the current bill limits such actions to those authorized in writing by a student's parent, whether this will remain in the final bill is an open question. In Connecticut over the last few years, nearly 1,700 students were arrested, almost two-thirds of them for breach of peace, minor fights and disorderly conduct. In-school busts account for 20 percent of all youth arrests in the state.
In Georgia, school misbehavior incidents bring in the local police. In Milledgeville, GA, a small town about 90 miles from Atlanta, Salecia Johnson, a 6-year-old student at Creekside Elementary School, was handcuffed and taken away in a patrol car to the police station. According to the Baldwin County schools Superintendent, Geneva Braziel, the police were called due to Johnson’s "violent and disruptive" behavior that threatened other classmates and school staff. In Clayton County, police recently arrested seven students at the North Clayton High School for disorderly conduct; Precious Woods was busted for spiting on a fellow student who had thrown a trashcan at her and Trinell Kennedy was arrested for using profanity during the same incident.
In Albuquerque, NM, during the 2009-2010 school year, 900 of the district's 90,000 students were referred to the criminal justice system. More than 500 of were handcuffed, arrested and brought to juvenile detention. More than 200 were arrested for minor offences, including disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, refusing to obey and interference with staff. (In response to a 2010 class-action lawsuit, student arrests fell by 53 percent.)
Things are far worse in Texas. In a 2010 report, Texas Appleseed, a public-interest group, found that each year more than 275,000 non-traffic tickets are issued to juveniles. It reports that the vast majority of offences are due to classroom disruptions and disorderly conduct. It noted that in 1989, only 9 school districts in Texas had separate police agencies while in 2010 more than 160 had police units. Ticketed students received fines of between $250 and $500 or do community service in lieu of fines.
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Steven Teske, MA, JD, and a Judge, Juvenile Court of Clayton County, Jonesboro, GA, writing in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, defines zero tolerance as “policies operate under the assumption that removing disruptive students deters other students from similar conduct while simultaneously enhancing the classroom environment.” His detailed analysis makes clear not only that the policy doesn’t work, but contributes to the deepening crisis of American education and harms children.
The concept of zero tolerance originated during the Reagan-era’s so-called “war on drugs.” It entered the educational sector in 1994 when Pres. Bill Clinton signed the Gun-Free Schools Act that required a student’s 1-year suspension if s/he was found possessing a firearm. In the wake of the Columbine shootings of 1999, the law has been expanded to include any so-called weapon, including Kiera Wilmot’s chemistry experiment. Under Pres. George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind program, zero tolerance was linked to teaching-to-the-test policies as a solution to the education crisis.
The increased policing of the classroom is part of the effort to transform schools from “educational” institutions that cultivate citizenship to “training” campuses inculcating workplace discipline. It is a battle that has shaped American education since mass public schooling was introduced more then a century ago.
In New York during the ‘90s, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani adopted a zero-tolerance city-management approach as part of his “get-tough" policies. It originally was designed to curb minor offenses, like squatters in abandoned buildings, subway graffiti artists, squeegee car-window cleaners, panhandlers and street prostitutes; they were part of the “quality of life” troubles gripping the city. In parallel, Giuliani implemented a zero-tolerance program in city schools to address such issues as fighting, smoking and other forms of inappropriate behavior.
Zero tolerance policies are now being applied to a broad range of disciplinary infractions, both major and minor. A 2012 report by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) makes clear the painful consequences of zero tolerance. It warns, “minority students across America face harsher discipline, have less access to rigorous high school curricula, and are more often taught by lower-paid and less experienced teachers.” It found that African-American students, particularly males, make up 18 percent students, but 35 percent of suspended students and 39 percent of those expelled. Suspended students face a greater risk of dropping out of school or getting involved in criminal activity even though their initial misbehavior was minor.
A host of factors are contributing to the increase in behavior-based disruptions. Shrinking school budgets have lead to increased class size and cut backs of in-school therapeutic support. Teachers are not sufficiently trained to deal with in-class disruptions. Mounting child and family poverty rates, especially in poor and minority communities, only aggravate a bad situation.
Behavior problems are real issues; they interfere with teaching and learning and are occurring throughout the country. A recent study by Scholastic magazine and the Gates Foundation found that 68 percent of elementary, 64 percent of middle school and 53 percent of high school teachers reported increased behavior problems.
Local and state officials across the country are making school discipline a political issue. In 2012, New York City Council Member Robert Jackson declared: “I’m tired of hearing stories about children who are having tantrums or behavior problems being taken out of school by police or EMS! ... This is unacceptable! … Having police and EMS respond in these situations is both expensive and traumatizing for children and youth.”
Also in 2012, Maryland’s State Board of Education banned zero-tolerance approaches. They replaced the failed policy with one emphasizing rehabilitation over punishment, believing it would led to more classroom time and higher achievement for students. In Florida, following a much-publicized 2007 case in which the police arrested a kindergartner who threw a tantrum during a jelly bean-counting contest, a bill was introduced to block police from arresting children who commit acts that do not pose serious safety threats.
In the wake of Newtown, CT, shootings new question have arisen about the effectiveness of zero tolerance. In December 2012, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, convened the nation’s first Congressional hearing on “Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline.” He stressed that instead of making schools safer, the policy has redefined “rather normal behavior” into criminal activity.
Many civil liberties lawyers, educators and parents believe that the zero tolerance approach to classroom misbehavior needs to be replaced by one based on a more humane classroom environment and whole-person curriculum. They point to such programs as Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (PBIS), Safe Responsive Schools (SRS) Restorative Practice and “social-emotional learning” as alternative programs. “Although many of these approaches are already utilized in some form in many public schools in New York City,” Mar warns, “the BOE has not adopted a policy requiring all NYC public schools to utilize these methods.” “Instead,” he adds, “the BOE fails to even encourage the use of these in their policies.”
Only by ending the tyranny of zero tolerance and providing full financial and other support to schools, especially in poor and minority neighborhoods, will the school-to-prison pipeline be broken. And only then will we begin to meaningfully address the deeper crisis of American troubled education system.
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David Rosen writes the Media Current column for Filmmaker and regularly contributes to CounterPunch, Huffington Post and the Brooklyn Rail, check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com; he can be reached at email@example.com.Related Stories
Even though our ideas about sex and sexuality have greatly advanced over the last half-century, our culture still holds a double standard about infidelity. While no one is entirely surprised by the behavior of a Bill Clinton, an Elliot Spitzer, or a Tiger Woods—men will be men, after all—we still tend to pathologize women or shame them (or both) for having affairs.
In my view, far from being evidence of pathology or marital bankruptcy, a woman’s affair can be a way of expressing a desire for an entirely different self, either separate from the marriage altogether or still in it. An affair can be what I call “a can opener” for women unable to articulate for themselves why they’re unhappy in their marriages, much less empower themselves to leave or begin an honest conversation with their husbands about what they feel is wrong. In my practice, I’ve heard many women say, “I didn’t even know what I wanted until the affair was over and I realized that I really wanted to end my marriage,” or “I had no idea that I used the affair as a way to wake up our relationship.”
Many infidelity treatment approaches today are based on the idea that the unfaithful spouse is a perpetrator, someone who wronged the other person. While the pain caused by infidelity can’t and shouldn’t be denied, it generally isn’t understood well enough that many women cheat because they struggle with their self-identity in their lives and lack of empowerment in their marriages. To some extent, the affair makes up for a felt lack of an adult self. Sometimes, understanding an affair as an unconscious bid for self-empowerment, relief from bad sex, or a response to a lack of choices or personal freedom is an important first step toward a fuller, more mature selfhood.
Searching for the Bartered Self
Sarah came to therapy with her husband, Rob, for couples therapy after he caught her cheating. Married for 10 years, he felt hurt, angry, and hopeless about the marriage. He sat across from Sarah on the couch, with his head in his hands. “I have no idea how we’re going to get past this. Sarah says she wants to work this out, but I don’t know if we can put this marriage together again after what she’s done.”
Rob had read emails between Sarah and her boyfriend that explained in detail how much they were enjoying virtual sex—watching each other masturbating over a webcam—which had both shocked and devastated him. He’d thought their sex life was good, but admitted that having kids had gotten in the way of their relationship. He thought they still loved each other, and Sarah agreed. They were both unclear why the affair had happened, but said they wanted to recover their marriage, if possible.
At the end of their first joint session, Sarah asked whether she could see me individually. Rob consented, so I asked if they’d be OK with an open secrets policy: what’s said in the individual session stays in the session. They agreed that whatever Sarah said could be kept private, though she could share with Rob what she wished to from our individual sessions.
In our first individual session, Sarah asked if therapy could be a place where she could talk honestly about the affair. This led to a discussion of the difference between privacy and secrecy, both in her marriage and in her sessions with me. Keeping secrets in her marriage had given Sarah a sense of space—a secret place where she could grow her sexuality, dream her dreams, and keep a part of her that no one else had control over. Our first conversation revolved around how the space she’d created could be shifted from secret to private, and how she could keep a differentiated, individuated boundary around herself in her relationship. This could give her a healthy degree of separation from her husband without having to lie or be deceptive to stake out her space.
I then explained to Sarah that, in my view, infidelity recovery has three phases: crisis, insight, and vision. The crisis stage occurs right after disclosure or discovery, when couples are in acute distress and their lives are in chaos. At this point, the focus of therapy isn’t on whether or not they should stay together or if there’s a future for them, but on establishing safety, addressing painful feelings, and normalizing trauma symptoms.
In phase two, the insight phase, we talk about what vulnerabilities might have led to the extramarital affair. Becoming observers of the affair, we begin to tell the story of what happened. Repeating endless details of the sexual indiscretion doesn’t help, but taking a deeper look at what the unfaithful partner longed for and couldn’t find in the marriage—and so looked for outside of it—as well as finding empathy for the other, who was in the dark, can elicit a shift in how both partners see the affair and what it meant in their relationship.
Phase three is the vision phase, which includes seeking a deeper understanding of the meaning of the affair and moves forward the experience and resulting lessons into a new concept of marriage and, perhaps, a new future. In this phase, partners can decide to move on separately or stay together. This is where the erotic connection will be renewed (or created) and desire can be revived. In this phase, the meaning of monogamy changes from a moralistic, blanket prohibition on outside sex to a search for deeper intimacy inside the marriage. A vision of the relationship going forward includes negotiating a new commitment.
During early sessions in the crisis phase of treatment, Sarah’s view of the world was shifting, and she didn’t know what she wanted. She wavered about whether she wanted to stay with Rob, wondering whether she should move on and seek genuine emotional independence alone or stay and try to be both fully herself and fully married to Rob. She wasn’t sure she could trust me to understand her and didn’t trust her husband, either, even though she herself had acted in a way that wasn’t trustworthy.
Gradually, Sarah revealed that she’d felt that she had no space of her own in the marriage, literally or figuratively. Her husband had a home office, but she had no comparable space for herself. Her dependence on Rob was nearly total: he balanced the checkbook, paid the bills, earned the money, and told her when she could make ATM withdrawals. He even counted the cash in her wallet and decided how much she should spend at the hair salon. She’d never been encouraged or allowed to feel empowered and independent. As a result, she’d started rebelling against her husband like an adolescent against a too-strict father, sneaking out at night or during the day when he was at work and having clandestine sexual encounters.
Sarah’s affair consisted primarily of quick liaisons in the back of her car. Her boyfriend met sexual needs not being fulfilled at home. Although the sex was quick, furtive, and secret, he gave her orgasms and oral sex and was willing to experiment in ways she found exciting. But while buoyed by the thrill and energy of this new relationship and her long-buried ability to feel pleasure—even wondering if she might be falling in love—she also felt guilty. Frightened by the growing intimacy with her lover when they were together, she began meeting him online, masturbating with him through a webcam.
After Rob discovered the affair, he’d demanded Sarah’s email and voice mail passwords, which she gave him. Although this made her feel exposed, vulnerable, and humiliated, she thought her husband deserved the transparency—as the “innocent” party—and that she should be punished. All these thoughts conformed with many of society’s constructs about women who have affairs, but they reinforced her long-brewing resentment that her marriage wasn’t an equal partnership: she was the “bad child”; her husband, the aggrieved parent.
At this point, I reframed the affair for Sarah in a way quite different from her own perspective (and that of many therapists). I asked whether it was possible that the infidelity was less a transgression than a move toward self-respect and self-empowerment. Could she have been seeking autonomy and individuation, as well as a more mature state of sexual development? Was she trying to find her voice, maintain a stronger sense of herself, create a personal boundary that no one could cross, and remain in her marriage? Yes, she’d betrayed her husband; this was beyond doubt, I added. And this method for finding herself was clearly not working if she wanted the marriage to survive. But perhaps she’d paradoxically tried to sabotage the marriage as a desperate attempt to develop more emotional maturity and become a more independent and grown-up wife.
As we spoke, Sarah realized that, while her intentions in having the affair hadn’t been conscious, she did want to grow into a fuller woman and mature sexual adult. She admitted she thought she could bring that woman back into the marriage and into the relationship. This made one point crystal clear: she could no longer be satisfied with the marriage as it was.
Having gotten a clearer portrait of Sarah’s marriage, we moved on to the insight phase of treatment. What did the affair mean about her? What did it mean about Rob? And what did it mean about their marriage?
As we explored these questions, Sarah discovered quickly that the affair had far more to do with her marriage than with her husband, whom she said she loved and with whom she wanted to stay—but only if it could become a more equal partnership. When I asked what the affair told her about Rob, she said, “I felt that he wanted me to fill a certain kind of role; it wasn’t just about replaying my mother’s position. Rob liked being in charge, liked bossing me around and being a kind of father. I know why, too. He recently lost his job, and the only place he felt any power or control was at home. He was mad that they’d fired him and took it out on me. In a way, he’s always done that: when people reject him, he gets angry and controlling. But with us, the more he tried to control me, the more I wanted independence from him.”
We worked in sessions to identify some key areas where she could feel more autonomy and still be in relationship with Rob. She started small, choosing their television shows, making decisions on where to go to dinner, instead of saying, “I don’t care where we go. Where do you want to go?” When Rob asked her to have sex, she told him she wasn’t ready yet, but would let him know when she was. Although Rob felt he had little or no control in these situations, he did begin to appreciate signs of the new, more adult Sarah, someone equal to him, with whom he could have a conversation and negotiate choices. He realized it was a relief that he didn’t have to do it all himself, and he actually felt less lonely in the marriage.
When I asked Sarah what the affair meant about her marriage, she said, “In the affair, I felt stronger, more mature, sexier, calmer, more charming, and more alive.” We talked about whether she could integrate her sexier, more mature self into the marriage or whether the relationship was fundamentally flawed. To her, being in her marriage meant giving up a sense of personal power, while having an affair gave her a sense of independence, choice, and more control. She didn’t know how to have a grown-up relationship with her husband that encompassed safety and desire.
Reenvisioning a Marriage
Treatment in the third phase included helping Sarah get in touch with her fantasies and reconnect with pleasure—one of her greatest challenges in therapy. She felt guilty when she thought about her own pleasure, and had compartmentalized her needs into the affair, as something separate, wrong, and forbidden. Her fantasies and desires were something she felt shame about sharing with her husband. Bringing that sexual part of her into the marriage was the beginning of erotic recovery for her and for her marriage, but she still had to learn to connect with her desires and to communicate them to Rob.
I asked her to write down some of her sexual fantasies and share what she thought the desire or longing underneath them was. For instance, if the fantasy was to have someone grab her hair and kiss her, was this spurred by a longing to be held, to be out of control, to know that she was wanted and desired, or all of the above? The goal was to normalize her sexual needs: her affair had been a breach of monogamy, not a sexual pathology.
“If you could have anything you wanted, what would you ideally expect from your sex life with your husband?”
Sarah answered shyly, “That he’d pursue me and we’d try new things in bed.”
When I asked her if she knew what the longing underneath might be, she said, “My real longing underneath is to be totally special to him.”
Sarah went on to work on a vision of a more intimate and adult sexuality. This included asking Rob to behave in ways that made her feel special and trying to make him feel special as well. By this point, she was committed to creating a mutual vision of a new monogamy with her husband, and I suggested they return for couples therapy and focus together on their erotic recovery.
Several months later, Rob and Sarah are still working on an agreement for a new, monogamous marriage together. Sarah is committed to sharing her real thoughts and feelings with Rob. In this way, her adult self and her adult needs become a priority that can be talked about and negotiated in the relationship. She feels they’re now given as much importance as Rob’s needs.
Rob’s commitment to Sarah is that he tries harder to share his feelings and work on creating a more emotionally intimate relationship. They both try to be conscious of the distant and disconnected roles learned in their childhoods, and focus instead on the emotional intimacy they really want from the relationship.
Their new monogamy includes a focus on their erotic recovery. The affair created an erotic injury to their relationship, and Rob and Sarah continue to work on this as a goal of healing. They’ve made a commitment to sharing their fantasies and talking about what’s working in their love life. When they feel distant or dissatisfied, they want to learn to talk about it and turn toward each other instead of shutting down or turning to someone else outside the marriage.
Sarah now understands that her journey to self-empowerment and freedom can happen at the same time that she’s a wife and partner. Her adult choices include staying in a mature, monogamous relationship, while creating space for working on her own self-identity. Her worth in the relationship continues to be a focus of our couples therapy. Her cheating makes sense to her now in the context of her life issues, but she has a new empathy for Rob and how it affected him.
As therapists, it’s important to discern what our goal is for the women we treat in infidelity therapy. Are we helping them end an affair or end their marriage? Is it our job to remind them of their vows or simply to help them heal? By viewing women’s infidelity as a possible search for a new way of being, we can help them reenvision a fully committed relationship with greater empowerment and equality.
By David Treadway
While I admire the sensitive work Tammy Nelson did in rejuvenating Sarah and Rob’s marriage, both emotionally and erotically, I believe that zooming in too quickly to examine the root causes of an infidelity without addressing the emotional impact of the betrayal on both parties usually leads to incomplete healing. Although I say to couples that each partner is 50 percent responsible for what’s not working in a marriage, I always add that choosing to have a secret affair is 100 percent the responsibility of the unfaithful spouse. Most of the time, couples need a way of healing the fundamental breach of trust before being able to fully repair the relationship.
In working with couples following a secret affair, I use a four-step model based on the treatment approach of clinical psychologist Janis Abrahms Spring:
Step 1: The betrayed partners have as much time as needed to share their hurt, anger, and sense of devastation while unfaithful partners listen as nondefensively as possible without explaining or rationalizing their behavior. The therapist helps the partner who had the outside relationship to be compassionate and caring about the impact of the affair. Needless to say, this may take more than a single session.
Step 2: The unfaithful partners are then taught to write a letter in which they take full responsibility for having done harm, indicating what they’ll do to ensure it won’t happen again and what concrete steps they’ll take to make amends. In addition to agreeing never again to see the other party in the affair, other ways to make amends might include giving up drinking for a year or getting rid of the boat where the affair took place.
Step 3: The letter of amends is read in session, and the concrete actions that constitute an attempt at atonement are agreed upon by both partners.
Step 4: Only at this point is the challenge of learning how to forgive discussed, and only if betrayed partners are ready to begin to work on it. If so, they’re coached on how to write a forgiveness letter that involves accepting the attempts at atonement and expressing a willingness to let go of a sense of injury. This all takes place with the understanding that forgiveness can’t be legislated; it has to grow over time.
It’s my experience that patiently and thoroughly working through this difficult process without shaming and blaming is what allows a couple to move on to achieving a level of intimacy and trust that they typically never had before. I remember a man named Paul who’d gone on to transform his relationship with his wife after her affair and referred to their new sense of connection as his “second marriage.” In one of our last sessions, he put his arm around his wife, smiled at me conspiratorially, and said, “You know what I like best? Here I have this extraordinary woman and a brand new ‘second marriage,’ and the lawyers didn’t get a dime!”
I agree with David Treadway’s observation that working with couples after an infidelity takes lots of finesse and that, of course, the feelings of the person who’s been deceived and betrayed need to taken into account and addressed. Like Treadway, I think Janis Spring’s “secrets policy” can be invaluable, offering helpful clinical guidelines for individual work when necessary.
Since this case study was told from Sarah’s point of view, it doesn’t delve into Rob’s feelings, nor do we get to see much of the couples work. Instead, the focus is on the special issues of identity and empowerment for women who have affairs. If I’d told the fuller story of the therapy with this couple, I’d have devoted more attention to the third phase of treatment—the attempt to help them develop a new vision of their marriage, which I call the “new monogamy.”
However, the most important message I hope readers take away from this case is that even after the wrenching pain of an affair, therapists still have an opportunity to help troubled couples create a new relationship with better communication, fuller intimacy, and realistic hope for a better future together.
Tammy Nelson, Ph.D., M.S., a board-certified sexologist, licensed professional counselor, certified sex therapist, and Imago therapist, is the founder and executive director of the Center for Healing. She’s the author of The New Monogamy; Getting the Sex You Want; and What’s Eating You?
David Treadway, Ph.D., is director of the Treadway Training Institute. He’s the author of Home Before Dark: First Year with Cancer and Intimacy, Change, and Other Therapeutic Mysteries: Stories of Clinicians and Clients.Related Stories
How Monsanto Is Using Cronies in Congress to Take Away States' Rights to Label Genetically Modified Foods
Reliable sources in Washington D.C. have informed the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) that Monsanto has begun secretly lobbying its Congressional allies to attach one or more “Monsanto Riders” or amendments to the 2013 Farm Bill that would preempt or prohibit states from requiring labels on genetically engineered (GE) foods.
In response to this blatant violation of states’ rights to legislate, and consumers’ right to know, the OCA and a nationwide alliance have launched a petition to put every member of Congress on notice: If you support any Farm Bill amendment that would nullify states’ rights to label genetically modified organisms (GMOs), we’ll vote – or throw – you out of office.
On Wednesday, May 15, an amendment (the King Amendment) to the House version of the Farm Bill, inserted under the guise of protecting interstate commerce, passed out of the House Agricultural Committee. If the King Amendment makes it into the final Farm Bill, it would take away states’ rights to pass laws governing the production or manufacture of any agricultural product, including food and animals raised for food, that is involved in interstate commerce. The amendment was proposed by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), largely in response to a California law stating that by 2015, California will allow only eggs to be sold from hens housed in cages specified by California. But policy analysts emphasize that the amendment, broadly and ambiguously written, could be used to prohibit or preempt any state GMO labeling or food safety law.
Will the King Amendment survive the Senate? No one can be sure, say analysts. However few doubt that Monsanto will give up. We can expect that more amendments and riders will be introduced into the Farm Bill--even if the King Amendment fails—over the next month in an attempt to stop the wave of state GMO labeling laws and initiatives moving forward in states like Washington, Vermont, Maine, Connecticut and others.
Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) have admitted privately that they’ve “lost the battle” to stop GE food labeling at the state level, now that states are aggressively moving forward on labeling laws. On May 14, Maine’s House Ag Committee passed a GMO labeling law. On May 10, the Vermont House passed a labeling bill, 99-42, despite massive lobbying by Monsanto and threats to sue the state. And though Monsanto won a razor-thin victory (51 percent to 49 percent) in a costly, hard fought California GMO labeling ballot initiative last November, biotech and Big Food now realize that Washington State voters will likely pass I-522, an upcoming ballot initiative to label GE foods, on November 5.
If Monsanto can’t stop states from passing laws, then the next step is a national preemptive measure. And all signs point to just such a power grab. Earlier this year, Monsanto slipped its extremely unpopular “Monsanto Protection Act,” an act that gives biotech immunity from federal prosecution for planting illegally approved GE crops, into the 2013 Federal Appropriations Bill. During the June 2012 Farm Bill debate, 73 U.S. Senators voted against the right of states to pass mandatory GE food labeling laws. Emboldened by these votes, and now the House Ag Committee’s vote on the King Amendment, Monsanto has every reason to believe Congress would support a potential nullification of states’ rights to label.
The million-strong OCA and its allies in the organic and natural health movement are warning incumbent Senators and House members, Democrats and Republicans alike, that thousands of health and environmental-minded constituents in their Congressional districts or states will work to recall them or drive them out of office if they fail to heed the will of the people and to respect the time-honored traditions of shared state sovereignty over food labels, food safety laws, and consumers’ right to know.
Trouble in Monsanto Nation
Over the past 20 years Monsanto and the biotech industry, aided and abetted by indentured politicians and corporate agribusiness, have begun seizing control over the global food and farming system, including the legislative, patent, trade, judicial and regulatory bodies that are supposed to safeguard the public interest.
In the U.S., despite mounting evidence of the damage GE crops inflict on human health and the environment, approximately 170 million acres of GE crops, including corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, sugar beets, alfalfa, papaya, and squash, are currently under cultivation. These crops, untested and unlabeled, comprise 41 percent of all cultivated cropland, or 17 percent of all cropland and pastureland combined. According to the GMA, at least 70 percent of non-organic grocery store processed foods contain GMOs. And GE grains and mill byproducts now supply the overwhelming majority of animal feed on the factory farms that supply 90 percent to 95 percent of the meat, eggs and dairy products that Americans consume.
Yet despite their marketplace dominance, record profits and enormous political clout in Washington D.C., Monsanto and the biotech industry are in deep trouble. A new peer-reviewed study in the journal Entropy reports that Monstanto’s top-selling herbicide, Roundup, is a deadly poison, destroying important human gut bacteria and likely contributing to the rapid increase of food allergies and serious human diseases including cancer, autism, neurological disorders, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), dementia, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Those most susceptible to poisoning by Monsanto’s Roundup are children and the elderly.
Scientists aren’t the only ones raising new questions about Roundup. Farmers are complaining that they’re being forced to spray more and more chemicals on crops increasingly under siege from a growing army of herbicide-resistant weeds. The situation is so bad that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just raised the limits of Roundup residue allowed on grains and vegetables to even more dangerous levels. But just in case the EPA someday stops raising the limits, Monsanto, Dow and the biotech industry are working on a new “solution” to the onslaught of herbicide-resistant Superweeds: They’ve applied for approval of a new and highly controversial generation of super toxic herbicide-resistant GE crops, including “Agent Orange” (2,4-D and dicamba-resistant) corn, soybeans and cotton.
As a recent widely-circulated article points out:
The use of 2,4-D is not new; it’s actually one of the most widely used herbicides in the world. What is new is that farmers will now ‘carpet bomb’ staple food crops like soy and corn with this chemical at a previously unprecedented scale—just the way glyphosate has been indiscriminately applied as a result of Roundup Ready crops. In fact, if 2,4-D resistant crops receive approval and eventually come to replace Monsanto's failing Roundup-resistant crops as Dow intends, it is likely that billions of pounds will be needed, on top of the already insane levels of Roundup being used (1.6 billion lbs were used in 2007 in the US alone).
In addition to these Agent Orange crops, an expanded menu of genetically engineered organisms are awaiting approval. Next on the menu? GE apples, trees, and salmon.
State Labeling Laws: The ‘skull and crossbones’ that terrify Monsanto
Monsanto’s greatest fear isn’t a federal government charged with protecting the health and safety of its citizens. Congress and the White House seem only too happy to oblige the biotech industry’s unquenchable thirst for growth, power and dominance. No, it’s the massive, unstoppable (so far) grassroots movement of Millions Against Monsanto that strikes fear in the heart of the Biotech Bully. U.S. citizens are waking up. They’re demanding labels on genetically engineered foods, similar to those already required in the European Union. They’re calling for serious independent safety-testing of GE crops and animals, both those already approved (especially Monsanto’s Roundup-resistant crops) and those awaiting approval.
The anti-GMO movement has finally figured out, after 20 years of fruitlessly lobbying Congress, the FDA and the White House, that the federal government is not going to require labels on GE foods. Instead the movement has shifted the battleground on GMO labeling from Monsanto and Big Food’s turf in Washington D.C. to the more favorable terrain of state ballot initiatives and state legislative action—publicizing the fact that a state GMO labeling law will have the same marketplace impact as a national labeling law.
State laws spell doom for Monsanto. Companies like Kellogg’s, General Mills, Coca-Cola, Pepsi/Frito-Lay, Dean Foods, Unilever, Con-Agra, Safeway, Wal-Mart and Smuckers are not going to label in just one or two states. Monsanto knows that U.S. food companies will go GMO-free in the entire U.S., rather than admit to consumers that their products contain GMOs.
As Monsanto itself has pointed out, labels on genetically engineered foods are like putting a “skull and crossbones” on food packages. This is why Monsanto and their allies poured $46 million into defeating a California ballot initiative last year that would have required labels on GMO foods. This is why Monsanto has lobbied strenuously in 30 states this year to prevent, or at least delay, state mandatory labeling laws from being passed. This is why Monsanto has threatened to file federal lawsuits against Vermont, Connecticut, Maine and Washington if they dare grant citizens the right to know whether or not their food has been genetically engineered or not.
And this is why Monsanto’s minions are trying to insert amendments or riders into the Farm Bill that will make it nearly impossible, even illegal, for states to pass GMO labeling laws. And there’s nothing to stop them when Congress is filled with pro-biotech cheerleaders who could care less that 90 percent of U.S. consumers want mandatory labels and proper safety testing of genetically engineered crops and foods.
Countering Monsanto’s Final Offensive: Throw the Bums Out!
Only a massive grassroots resistance will deter the U.S. Senate and House from stomping on our rights. Only an unprecedented campaign of public education, petition-gathering and grassroots pressure will be able to convince the ever-more corrupt and indentured politicians in Washington D.C. to back off.
Eighteen state constitutions have century-old provisions for state registered voters to collect petitions and recall state and local officials, forcing them to either resign or stand for reelection. But what very few Americans, and even members of Congress, realize is that 11 states have constitutional provisions to recall U.S. Senators and House of Representative members, as well as state elected officials.
It’s time we exercise the full power of direct democracy, not just state and municipal ballot initiatives. We must continue to support efforts like the current state ballot initiative to label GMOs in Washington state, and county ballot initiatives to ban GMOs, factory farms and other corporate crimes, in the 24 states and hundreds of counties and municipalities where these are allowed. But we also need to use the power we have to recall and throw out of office our out-of-control Congressional Senators and Representatives as well.
If our elected officials in Congress continue to represent Monsanto and big corporations, rather than their constituents, then let’s throw the bums out! If the Washington political establishment, both Democrats and Republicans, continue to trample on our inalienable constitutional rights and contemptuously disregard the 225-year principle of a shared balance of power between the federal government, the states and local government, then we have no choice but to recall them or throw them out of office.
Please join the nation’s organic consumers and natural health advocates in this strategic battle, the Food Fight of Our Lives. Please join this campaign to save, not only our right to choose what’s in our food, but our basic right to democratic representation and self-determination as well. Sign the petition. Tell your Congressmen and women, especially the 73 incumbents who voted last year to eliminate states rights’ to legislate on GMO labels, and those in the House this week who voted to support the King Amendment that “enough is enough,” “basta ya.” Power to the People!Related Stories
Is anyone really surprised that Attorney General Eric Holder said that the Justice Department followed the rules in seizing two months of telephone records from 20 Associated Press journalists to investigate a CIA leak aas he recused himself from a FBI investigation?
The Obama era has been one of the worst for domestic civil liberties. It has become the status quo for law enforcement at every level to spy on Americans. Los Angeles police track tens of thousands of cars daily. Seattle police read text messages without search warrants. California police look at old e-mails the same way. Internet companies say they will protect users’ privacy, but have policies that still give police what they want.
Which brings us to the Justice Department’s subpeona of the AP’s phone records for an investigation into who leaked details about a failed terror attack to the country’s largest news organization. The DOJ informed the AP on Friday that it had obtained the phone records, creating an uproar in media circles. But no one should be surprised.
“This administration is as untransparent as the Bush administration—if not more,” Dana Priest, Washington Post investigative reporter told the new released documentary, War on Whistleblowers, which traces how the Bush and Obama White Houses have declared war on a litany of national security and Pentagon leakers. “They have really tried very hard to prosecute people who they believe have leaked information.”
“It does have an intimidating effect—not just on leakers, but on the process, on us doing our job” said Michael Isikoff, NBC investigative reporter, told the filmmakers. “And I think the impact is the American public learns less and American democracy is poorer rather than richer as a result of these prosecutions.”
The Dismal Obama Years
Civil libertarians have had very few victories under Obama. In March, a federal District Court blocked the FBI from ordering telecom companies to turn over customer data and blocked FBI gag orders on this domestic spying program, although the government will appeal. And last fall, a federal court also suspended a section of a major defense bill that gave the government permission to arrest people who were suspected of speaking with alleged terrorists, which included the journalists who sued. However, another federal court reinstated that provision pending appeal.
Moreover, even Obama’s latest pledge to try to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been seen as disingenuous—and not because Republicans in Congress say they will block that move—but because he hasn’t issued an executive order to do it.These developments underscore that Obama barely differs from the George W. Bush when it comes to the ‘War on Terrorism.’ While Obama has not continued some tactics used by his predecessor, such as CIA black sites and torture, he’s gone further than Bush with targeted assassinations and with expanding the domestic national security state. Let’s list Obama’s assault on civil liberties including newest attack on whistleblowers. 1. War on whistleblowers. The seizure of AP phone records is just the latest twist in a deepening war on media whistleblowers. Obama has revived the century-old Espionage Act to prosecute more then double the number of whistleblowers than all prior presidents combined. And he has draped these actions in secrecy. For example, the DOJ told the AP last Friday that it had already taken the phone records with one line in a letter. 2. War on domestic dissent. The Atlantic’s Wendy Kaminer, writinga powerful piece after Obama’s second inaugural said, “Kelly Clarkson’s musical paean to liberty seemed more sincere.” She lists five areas where the Obama is worse that Bush on civil liberties. “They include, but are probably not limited to, summary detention and torture; the prosecution of whistleblowers; surveillance of peaceful protesters; the criminalization of journalism and peaceful human-rights activism; and extensive blacklisting that would have been the envy of Joe McCarthy; and secrecy about a shadow legal system that makes the president's ‘We the people’ trope seem less inspirational than sarcastic.” 3. Expanded surveillance state. In May 2011, Obama signed a renewal of several of the Patriot Act’s most controversial segments, including the use of ‘roving wiretaps,’ the government’s expanded access to business records, and the ‘lone wolf’ provision, which allows surveillance of individuals not affiliated with any known terrorist organization. And last December, Obama signed five-year extension of the FISA Amendments Act, which was temporarily blocked in federal court but the administration is appealing it. 4. No legal recourse. Obama has claimed power not merely to detain citizens without judicial review but to execute them if they join America’s enemies abroad, about which The New York Times said, “It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing.” The Bush administration never claimed this right, but last fall The Washington Post reported the administration was formalizing a process for approving kills or captures and initially the CIA will not be bound by the new rules.” 5. Expanded military tribunals. Military justice systems do not fall under the U.S. Constitution. In late 2011, Obama signed a bill codifying theadministration’s stance on military commissions and detention of terror suspects that extended Bush war on terror doctrine. But this is not even the full list of the civil liberties abuses under Obama. His response to the Wikileaks case and prosecution of Bradley Manning and lack of transparency on his national security portfolio despite campaign pledges, pose an undeniable conclusion: Obama, the former constitutional law professor, is no friend of civil liberties.
Self-immolation isn't what it used to be.
This ultimate form of protest became global news in 1963 when the venerable monk Thich Quang Duc set himself ablaze in the middle of Saigon, Vietnam, protesting religious oppression. Doused in gasoline, the monk sat serenely in lotus position and lit a match. A bird of paradise thus blossomed and bloomed, and quickly charred his body.
The photographer Malcolm Browne captured Thich Quang Duc's fiery renouncement of the mortal coil, the image quickly becoming an icon of the Vietnam War era. The term "self-immolation," in fact, entered into common English usage after his death, which led to a coup d'etat that toppled the pro-Catholic Ngo Dinh Diem regime.
Half a century later, to die by fire in protest registers little more than a media blip.
As of this writing, 117 Tibetans have set themselves ablaze since 2009 in a series of protests against Chinese rule. The most recent incidents came in April, when two young Tibetan monks and a lay Tibetan woman set themselves on fire. There was little coverage of their deaths.
Indeed, with the exception of Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian fruit vendor who set himself on fire and thus sparked what became known as the Arab Spring, self-immolation has by all accounts become a failed form of protest as an agent of change. Whether in Syria or Palestine, Greece, Italy or Vietnam, individuals continue to go up in flames as crowds look on. Since Bouazizi, in fact, 150 more Tunisians have set themselves on fire protesting the new government, according to al-monitor.
"All the Tibetans who resort to self-immolation do so because they feel they have no other way to make China and the rest of the world listen to their country's call for freedom," Byrne-Rosengren, director of the London-based advocacy group Free Tibet, told Radio Free Asia last month.
Alas, China has turned a deaf ear to their cries, while the world media has averted its eyes.
Aristotle once observed that the plot of a tragedy should be so framed that, even without witnessing the events, simply hearing of them should fill one with "horror and pity" -- even lead to insight and action. But the amphitheater of the 21st century has fallen into decay, scattered and fragmented into a multitude of media platforms. There are too many actors in too many theaters and their tragedies -- overwhelming, lacking in context, incoherent, truncated or badly reported -- have lost their grip on the human psyche.
Studies about desensitization of the modern mind are aplenty, but the general consensus is that over-saturation of images and narratives of violence have resulted in a collective numbness. A profound act of public death cannot hope to sway a world in which horror itself has lost its power.
What we want instead is entertainment, and what we gravitate toward and react to, more often than not, is profanity.
A year after Bouazizi went up in flames in Tunisia, an unknown amateur filmmaker named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula," aka "Sam Bacile," inflamed the Middle East with incendiary video clips ridiculing the prophet Muhammad. His film turned the Arab Spring of 2011 into the Autumn Rage of 2012, resulted in the death of an American ambassador in Libya, and continues to be a bone of contention in Washington.
The cynic observer can't help but wonder: If self immolation no longer works as an agent for change, then is it still worth the price? Has it been reduced to mere suicide by fire?
At its most profound the act stands as the highest form of human compassion, a confirmation of life by giving up one's own. At its most incoherent self-immolation becomes more expressive of the frustration of the powerless. The individual, enamored by death, possessed by anger, elicits neither horror nor pity but cynicism. After all, to burn with passion is very different than to be consumed by rage.
Fire -- this gift and curse to humanity -- is a terrifying beauty. Contained, it hints at elegance, cooks our food and propels our world. Out of control, it engulfs body and soul. It seduces. It overpowers. And it destroys.
Potential self-immolators may want to rethink their relationship with fire. In a world where individuals leverage more power online than in the public square, it may be that to live burning with desire to bring attention to one's cause -- regardless of the oppression and humiliation -- is the real challenge to becoming actual agents of change in the world. So why not live instead? And find new ways to force the world's attention once more back onto the stage -- and evoke pity and horror in us all.
To burn with that desire, to call our attention and hold our gaze until we weep -- isn't that worth living for?
Andrew Lam is an editor with New America Media and the author of three books, Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora, East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres, and his latest,Birds of Paradise Lost.
Pat Robertson has advice for women who are struggling to forgive their cheating husbands: “Well, he’s a man.”
On today’s 700 Club, Robertson told a woman whose husband was cheating on her that she should stop focusing on the adultery and instead ponder, “Does he provide a home for you to live in, does he provide food for you to eat, does he provide clothes for you to wear, is he nice to the children…is he handsome?”
After encouraging the woman to focus on the positives rather than her husband’s adultery, which Robertson imagined to be a one night stand with a stripper in a hotel room, he said she should “give him honor instead of trying to worry about it.”
He also suggested the woman could have done more to prevent her husband from cheating: “But recognize also, like it or not, males have a tendency to wander a little bit and what you want to do is make a home so wonderful that he doesn’t want to wander.”
“What you have to do is say, ‘My husband was captured and I want to get him free,’” Robertson said, concluding that the woman should still be grateful that she lives in America: “Begin to thank God that you have a marriage that is together and that you live in America and good things are happening.”
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Billionaires with an axe to grind, now is your time. Not since the days before a bumbling crew of would-be break-in artists set into motion the fabled Watergate scandal, leading to the first far-reaching restrictions on money in American politics, have you been so free to meddle. There is no limit to the amount of money you can give to elect your friends and allies to political office, to defeat those with whom you disagree, to shape or stunt or kill policy, and above all to influence the tone and content of political discussion in this country.
Today, politics is a rich man's game. Look no further than the 2012 elections and that season's biggest donor, 79-year-old casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. He and his wife, Miriam, shocked the political class by first giving $16.5 million in an effort to make Newt Gingrich the Republican presidential nominee. Once Gingrich exited the race, the Adelsons invested more than $30 million in electing Mitt Romney. They donated millions more to support GOP candidates running for the House and Senate, to block a pro-union measure in Michigan, and to bankroll the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other conservative stalwarts (which waged their own campaigns mostly to helpRepublican candidates for Congress). All told, the Adelsons donated $94 million during the 2012 cycle -- nearly four times the previous record set by liberal financier George Soros. And that's only the money we know about. When you add in so-called dark money, one estimate puts their total giving atcloser to $150 million.
It was not one of Adelson's better bets. Romney went down in flames; the Republicans failed to retake the Senate and conceded seats in the House; andthe majority of candidates backed by Adelson-funded groups lost, too. But Adelson, who oozes chutzpah as only a gambling tycoon worth $26.5 billion could, is undeterred. Politics, he told the Wall Street Journal in his first post-election interview, is like poker: "I don't cry when I lose. There's always a new hand coming up." He said he could double his 2012 giving in future elections. "I'll spend that much and more," he said. "Let's cut any ambiguity."
But simply tallying Adelson's wins and losses -- or the Koch brothers', or George Soros's, or any other mega-donors' -- misses the bigger point. What matters is that these wealthy funders were able to give so much money in the first place.
With the advent of super PACs and a growing reliance on secretly funded nonprofits, the very wealthy can pour their money into the political system with an ease that didn't exist as recently as this moment in Barack Obama's first term in office. For now at least, Sheldon Adelson is an extreme example, but he portends a future in which 1-percenters can flood the system with money in ways beyond the dreams of ordinary Americans. In the meantime, the traditional political parties, barred from taking all that limitless cash, seem to be sliding toward irrelevance. They are losing their grip on the political process, political observers say, leaving motivated millionaires and billionaires to handpick the candidates and the issues. "It'll be wealthy people getting together and picking horses and riding those horses through a primary process and maybe upending the consensus of the party," a Democratic strategist recently told me. "We're in a whole new world."
The Rise of the Super PAC
She needed something sexy, memorable. In all fairness, anything was an improvement on "independent expenditure-only political action committee."Eliza Newlin Carney, one of D.C.'s trustiest scribes on the campaign money beat, didn't want to type out that clunker day after day. She knew this was big news -- the name mattered. Then it came to her:
The Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision is often blamed -- or hailed-- for creating super PACs. In fact, it was a lesser-known case, SpeechNow.org vs. Federal Election Commission, decided by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals two months later, that did the trick. At the heart of SpeechNow was the central tension in all campaign money fights: the balance between stopping corruption or the appearance of corruption, and protecting the right to free speech. In this instance, the D.C. appeals court, influenced by the Citizens United decision, landed on the side of free speech, ruling that limits to giving and spending when it came to any group -- and here's the kicker -- acting independently of candidates and campaigns violated the First Amendment.
Wonky as that may sound,SpeechNow reconfigured the political landscape and unchained big donors after decades of restrictions. The lawyers who argued the case, the academics and legal eagles whose expertise is campaign finance, and the beat reporters like Carney Newlin soon grasped what SpeechNowhad wrought: a new, turbocharged political outfit that had no precedent in American politics.
Super PACs can raise unlimited amounts of money from pretty much anyone -- individuals, corporations, labor unions -- and there is no limit on how much they can spend. Every so often, they must reveal their donors and show how they spent their money. And they can't directly coordinate with candidates or their campaigns. For instance, Restore Our Future, the super PAC that spent $142 million to elect Mitt Romney, couldn't tell his campaign when or where it was running TV ads, couldn't share scripts, couldn't trade messaging ideas. Nor could Restore Our Future -- yes, even its founders wince at the name -- sit down with Romney and tape an interview for a TV ad.
It's far easier, in other words, for a super PAC to attack the other guy, which helps explain all the hostility on the airwaves in 2012. Sixty-four percent of all ads aired during the presidential race were negative, up from 51% in 2008, 44% in 2004, and 29% in 2000. Much of that negativity can be blamed on super PACs and their arsenal of attack ads, according to a recent analysis by Wesleyan University's Erika Franklin Fowler and Washington State University's Travis Ridout. They found that a staggering 85% of all ads aired by “outside groups” were negative, while only 5% were positive.
And it will only get worse. "It's going to be the case that the more super PACs invest in elections, the more negative those elections will be," Michael Franz, a co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, told me. "They're the ones doing the dirty work." Think of them as the attack dogs of a candidate's campaign -- and the growling packs of super PACs are growing fast.
The savviest political operatives quickly realized how potentially powerful such outfits could be when it came to setting agendas and influencing the political system. In March 2010, Karl Rove, George W. Bush's erstwhile political guru, launched American Crossroads, a super PAC aimed at influencing the 2010 midterms. As consultants like Rove and the wealthy donors they courted saw the advantages of having their own super PACs -- no legal headaches, no giving or spending limits -- the groups grew in popularity.
By November 2010, 83 of them had spent $63 million on the midterm elections. Nearly $6 of every $10 they put out supported conservative candidates, and it showed: buoyed by the Tea Party, Republicans ran roughshod over the Democrats, retaking control of the House and winnowing their majority in the Senate. It was a "shellacking," as President Obama put it, powered by rich donors and the new organizations that went with them.
In 2012, no one, it seemed, could afford to sit on the sidelines. Having decried super PACs as "a threat to democracy," Obama and his advisers flip-flopped and blessed the creation of one devoted specifically to reelecting the president. Soon, they were everywhere, at the local, state, and federal levels. A momstarted one to back her daughter's congressional campaign in Washington State. Aunts and uncles bankrolled their nephew's super PAC in North Carolina. Super PACs spent big on abortion, same-sex marriage, and other major issues.
In all, the number of super PACs shot up to 1,310 during the 2012 campaign, a 15-fold increase from two years earlier. Fundraising and spending similarly exploded: these outfits raised $828 million and spent $609 million.
But what's most striking about these groups is who funds them. An analysis by the liberal think tank Demos found that out of every $10 raised by super PACs in 2012, $9 came from just 3,318 people giving $10,000 or more. That small club of donors is equivalent to 0.0011% of the U.S. population.
Into the Shadows
In late April, roughly 100 donors gathered at a resort in Laguna Beach, California. They were all members of the Democracy Alliance, a private group of wealthy liberals that includes George Soros and Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes. Over five days, they swapped ideas on how best to promote a progressive agenda and took in pitches from leaders of the most powerful liberal and left-leaning groups in America, including Organizing for Action, the rebooted version of Obama's 2012 presidential campaign. Since the Democracy Alliance's founding in 2005, its members have given $500 million to various causes and organizations. At the Laguna Beach event alone, its members pledged a reported $50 million.
At the same time, about 100 miles to the east, a similar scene was playing out. A few hundred conservative and libertarian donors descended on the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort and Spa in Palm Springs for the latest donor conference convened by billionaire Charles Koch, one-half of the mighty "Koch brothers." Over two days, donors mingled with politicians, heard presentations by leading activists, and pledged serious money to bankroll groups promoting the free-market agenda in Washington and around the country.
The philosophies of these two groups couldn't be more different. But they have this in common: the money raised by the Democracy Alliance and the Kochs' political network is secret. The public will never know its true source. Call it “dark money.”
So what is dark money? How does it wind up in our elections? Say you're a billionaire and you want to give $1 million to anonymously influence an election. You're in luck: you can give that money, as many donors have, to a nonprofit organized under the 501(c)(4) section of the tax code. That nonprofit, in turn, can spend your money on election-related TV ads or mailers or online videos. But there's a catch: unlike super PACs, the majority of a 501(c)(4) nonprofit's work can't be political. Note, though, that where the IRS draws the line on how much politicking is too much, and even what the taxman defines as political, is very murky. And until Congress and the IRS straighten all of that out, donors wanting to influence elections have a mostly scrutiny-free way to unload their money.
This type of nonprofit has a long history in U.S. politics. The Sierra Club, for instance, has a 501(c)(4) affiliate, as does the National Rifle Association. But in recent years, political operatives and wealthy donors have seized on this breed of nonprofit as a new way to shovel secret money into campaigns. Between 2010 and 2012, the number of applications for 501(c)(4) status spiked from 1,500 to 3,400, according to IRS official Lois Lerner.
During the 2010 campaign, politically active nonprofits -- “super secret spooky PACs,” as Stephen Colbert calls them -- outspent super PACs by a three to two margin, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis. Take the American Action Network (AAN), run by former Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota. The group purports to be an "issue-based" nonprofit that only dabbles in politics, but its tax records suggest otherwise. From July 2009 through June 2011, as Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington noted, 60% of AAN's money went toward politics. (An AAN spokesman called the complaint "baseless.")
Because they're so lacking in transparency, some nonprofits have been emboldened to bend -- if not break -- the tax law. One of the more egregious examples was benignly named the Commission on Hope, Growth, and Opportunity (CHGO). Created in the summer of 2010, it informed the IRS that it wouldn't spend a penny on politics. During the 2010 elections, however, it put $2.3 million into ads attacking 11 Democratic congressional candidates. Then, sometime in 2011, CHGO simply closed up shop and disappeared -- a classic case of political hit-and-run. And it wouldn't have happened without a secretive wealthy bankroller: of the $4.8 million raised by CHGO, tax records show that $4 million came from a single donor (though we don’t know his or her name).
Transparency advocates and reformers supporting more limits on spending have pushed back against the new wave of dark money. They have filed numerous complaints with the IRS and the Federal Election Commission alleging that politically active nonprofits are flouting the law and demanding a crackdown. Marcus Owens, the former head of the IRS's exempt organizations division, which oversees politically active nonprofits, agrees that the agency needs to take action. "The government's going to have to investigate them and prosecute them," Owens, who is now in private practice, told me in January. "In order to maintain the integrity of the process, they're going to be forced to take action."
Don't hold your breath for that. This week, a report by a Treasury Department inspector general revealed that IRS staffers singled out tea partiers and other conservative groups which had applied for tax-exempt status for special scrutiny. Now, Republicans and Democrats are howling with outrage and demanding that heads roll. One result of this debacle, ex-IRS director Marcus Owens told me, is that the IRS will certainly shy away from cracking down on those nonprofits that do abuse the tax code.
At least one politician is upset enough by the steady flow of dark money into our politics to do something about it. Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, who is retiring in 2014, has made the issue of dark money one of the priorities of his time left in office. He plans to "look into the failure of the IRS to enforce our tax laws and stem the flood of hundreds of millions of secret dollars flowing into our elections, eroding public confidence in our democracy."
Do millionaires and billionaires dominate the donor rolls of nonprofits, too? Without disclosure, it's near impossible to know who funds what. But not surprisingly, the limited data we have suggest that, as with super PACs, rich people keep politically active nonprofits flush with cash. The American Action Network, for instance, raised $27.5 million from July 2010 to June 2011; of that haul, 90% of the money came from eight donors, with one giving $7 million. The story is the same with Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS. It raised $77 million from June 2010 to December 2011, and nearly 90% of that came from donors giving at least $1 million. And while Priorities USA, the pro-Obama nonprofit, raised a comparatively tiny $2.3 million in 2011, 80% of it came from a single, anonymous donor.
Big Money Civil War
A few days after the 2012 elections, a handful of Republican politicians including Governor John Kasich of Ohio and Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana met privately with Sheldon Adelson. They were officially in Las Vegas for a gathering of the Republican Governors Association, but it was never too early to court the man who, with a stroke of his pen, could underwrite a presidential hopeful's bid for his or her party's nomination.
Democratic candidates are no different. House and Senate hopefuls are flocking to Hollywood studio boss Jeffrey Katzenberg, one of their party's biggest donors and fundraisers. And why wouldn't they? Barack Obama might not be where he is today without Katzenberg. Days after Obama launched his presidential campaign in 2007, the DreamWorks Animation mogul gave the junior senator his imprimatur and prodded Hollywood into raising $1.3 millionfor him. Years later, Katzenberg provided $2 million in seed money for the pro-Obama super PAC that played a pivotal role in his reelection.
As 2016 nears, don't be surprised to see the next set of Democrats clambering over each other to win Katzenberg's endorsement and money. Paul Begala, the Democratic consultant and TV pundit, is already predicting what he calls the "Katzenberg primary."
More than ever, a serious Senate or White House bid is dependent not on climbing the party ranks, but on winning the support of a few wealthy bankrollers. In fact, it’s no longer an exaggeration to say that while the political parties still officially pick the candidates for office, the power increasingly lies with the elites of the political donor class.
Super PACs, just three years old, are now a fixture, not a novelty. They'vebecome de rigueur for candidates running at the federal, state, and even local level. Want to scare off potential primary challengers? A super PAC with millions in the bank will help. Need to blast away at your opponent with negative ads without tarnishing your own reputation? Let a super PAC do the dirty work. Any candidate running for office begins with a to-do list, and with each month, getting a super PAC and making friends in the dark money universe rises higher on those lists.
Super PACs and their wealthy donors are also stoking civil wars within the parties. At the moment, they have been springing up to offer cover to politicians who vote a certain way, or stake out traditionally unpopular positions. For instance, Republicans for Immigration Reform, a relatively new super PAC, says it will spend millions to defend GOP politicos who take a moderate stance on immigration reform. And another super PAC, bankrolled by hedge fund investor Paul Singer, intends to spend big money to push more Republicans toward the middle on same-sex marriage. But there are also vigorous tea-party-style super PACs pushing their politicians toward the fringes. Each faction of the GOP is getting its own set of super PACs, and that means an already contentious fight for the future of the party could get far bloodier.
Democrats could find themselves in a money-fueled internal struggle, too. Tom Steyer, a former hedge fund investor worth $1.3 billion, says he’s sick of seeing climate change neglected in campaigns. He now plans to use his vast wealth to elevate it into a banner issue. In a recent primary in Massachusetts, hespent hundreds of thousands of dollars attacking Democratic Congressman Stephen Lynch for supporting the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Lynch's opponent, Congressman Ed Markey, a leading House environmentalist, went on to win the primary, but Steyer's intervention raised plenty of eyebrows about possible Democrat-on-Democrat combat in 2014.
Meanwhile, as the recent Democracy Alliance and Koch retreats show, millionaires and billionaires are revving up to take ever-greater control of the political process via secretive nonprofits. In April, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg unveiled FWD.us, a quasi-dark-money outfit created to give Silicon Valley a greater political presence in Washington. It has already raised $25 million.
Right now, the best avenues for fired-up billionaires exist outside the traditional political parties. The Supreme Court could change that. In a case calledMcCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission, the court is consideringwhether to demolish the overall aggregate limit on how much a donor can give to candidates and parties. If the court rules in favor of Republican donor Shaun McCutcheon, and perhaps goes on to eliminate contribution limits to candidates and parties altogether, super PACs could go out of style faster than Crocs. Donors won't need them. They’ll give their millions straight to the Democrats or the Republicans and that will be that.
There is an important backdrop to all of these changes, and that's the increase in income inequality in this country. Just as the incredibly wealthy are given the freedom to flood the political system with money, they've got more and more money to spend. Our lopsided economic recovery affords a glimpse of that growing inequality gap: from 2009 to 2011, the average wealth of the richest 7% of American households climbed by almost 30%, while the wealth of the remaining 93% of households actually declined by 4%. (So much for that “recovery.”)
Can there be any question that this democracy of ours is nearing dangerous territory, if we're not already there? Picture the 2016 or 2020 election campaigns and, barring a new wave of campaign reforms, it’s not hard to see a tiny minority of people exerting a massive influence on our politics simply by virtue of bank accounts. There is nothing small-d democratic about that. It flies in the face of one of the central premises of this country of ours, equality, including political equality -- the concept that all citizens stand on an equal footing with one another when it comes to having their say on who represents them and how government should work.
Increasingly, it looks like before the rest of us even have our say, before you enter the voting booth, issues, politics, and the politicians will have been winnowed, vetted, and predetermined by the wealthiest Americans. Think of it as a new definition of politics: the democracy of the wealthy, who can fight it out with each other inside and outside the political parties with little reference to you.
In the meantime, the more those of modest means feel drowned out by the money of a tiny minority, the less connected they will feel to the work of government, and the less they will trust elected officials and government as an institution. It’s a formula for tuning out, staying home, and starving whatever’s left of our democracy.
I caught a glimpse of this last November, when I spoke to a class of students at Radford University in Virginia, a state blanketed with super PAC attack ads and dark money in 2012. Over and over, students told me how disgusted they were by all the vitriol they heard when they turned on the TV or the radio. Most said that they ended up ignoring the campaigns; a few were so put off they didn't bother to vote. "They're all bought and sold anyway," one student told me in front of the entire class. "Why would my vote make any difference?"Related Stories
On last night’s Daily Show, Jon Stewart took on the conservative response to the recent onslaught of scandals facing the White House, or as Stewart calls it, “Hurricane Scandy, the continuing tropical shitstorm that is rocking the Obama administration.”
“Yesterday, White House press secretary Jay Carney, like an intrepid weather man let the wind and rain pummel him for our entertainment purposes,” Stewart said, before showing a lengthy montage of press corps reporters grilling Carney on the IRS, Associated Press and Benghazi.
“But you know what, fair is fair,” Stewart observed. “It is a good week for conservatives. The angry rhetoric and level of upset about the president, for once, seems somewhat appropriate.”
Stewart proceeded to play another montage, this time of Fox pundits wetting their pants over the president’s recent troubles, ending with a clip of Fox and Friends’ Steve Doocy saying, “this is very bad news for the White House,” while showing a rather suggestive smirk.
“Mr. Doocy, I could go without knowing what your “O” face is,” Stewart quipped.
“See what you have done Obama administration? Their complaints are legitimate!” Stewart continued. The host played a clip of Fox’s Megan Kelley questioning how these scandals never reached any senior leadership, adding “Is there anybody who’s minding the shop?”
“That’s what I was saying yesterday! You know what, Megan Kelley? We’ve had our differences. Maybe it’s time we have a show together — call it ‘Fox and Frenemy’. No wait, ‘Beauty and the Bris’.”
I was traveling with students in Barcelona in the summer of 2011, walking through La Rambla, when I noticed two guys making fun of me. I could see them in the reflection of a mirrored building, making gestures with their hands to suggest how much bigger I was than the thin girl standing next to me, her small waist accentuated by her crop top and cut-off shorts. They painted her figure in the air like an hourglass. Then they painted my shape like the convex curves of a ball. The guys were saying something, too, but there was only one word I could make out: Gorda. Fat woman.
I’ve been hearing comments like this for much all my life. Maybe someone else would have yelled at them, or shrunk inside. But I don’t get upset when this happens.
I pulled out my camera, and set up a shoot.
For about a year, I’d been taking pictures of strangers’ reactions to me in public for a series I called “Wait Watchers.” I was interested in capturing something I already knew firsthand: If the large women in historical art pieces were walking around today, they would be scorned and ridiculed.
So I found a crowded crosswalk farther down La Rambla, used my rangefinder camera to set the exposure and focus of where I would stand, and handed the camera to my assistant. I bought a cup of gelato and began eating it. I’ve learned I get more successful reactions if I am “doing” something.
In my peripheral vision, I saw a teen girl waiting for the signal to cross the street. As I stood there, eating my ice cream, I heard a repetitive “SLAP, SLAP, SLAP” of a hand on skin. I signaled to my assistant to shoot. It was only when I returned home to Memphis and got the film developed that I realized the sound was the girl hitting her belly as she watched me eat. She did this over and over. I have five frames of her with various facial expressions. I called the resulting image “Gelato.”
My struggle with my body started after I graduated high school. I played soccer my whole life, sometimes three teams at one time. I never thought about “exercising.” I just ran around, knocked people over and kicked the ball hard. When I started college, there was no more soccer and my weight ballooned from a size 7 to a size 14 in weeks.
Eventually, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Though I did go through phases of food restriction and over-exercise, I came to realize that I shouldn’t punish myself for something I can’t control. Self-criticism is a waste of time. I look worse with tons of make up and products in my hair. I am happy when I am not stressed — so I don’t stress.
That doesn’t mean the world is comfortable with how I look. Even though I’m a college professor, who works 12-hour days and eats healthy, even though I have none of the diseases constantly reported in the media as linked to obesity, I’m up against quite a few stereotypes as an overweight blond female artist. I’m constantly fighting strangers’ criticisms that I am lazy and slow-witted, or that I am an overly emotional slob.
I suspect that if I confronted these narrow-minded people, my words would have no effect. So, rather than using the attackers’ actions to beat myself up, I just prove them wrong. The camera gave me my voice.
The idea of the “Wait Watchers” series came one day when I was shooting on the bleachers in Times Square. I’d been doing a series of photographs in which I sought out public spaces where I’m most uncomfortable, like swimming pools and restaurants (I always feel like I’m not “allowed” to order fattening food).
Going through the film, I noticed an image with a man standing behind me. There he is, being photographed by a woman who appears to be quite beautiful, standing in the middle of the sensory assault that is Times Square. But at the moment the shutter is released, he is smirking at me. He clearly does not approve. This kind of moment had happened many times. Until that moment, I never thought I could capture it on film.
I embarked on a social experiment: to set up my camera in plain sight and document how the world reacted to me. To create my images, I seek out interesting compositions in public areas. My goal is to capture a wide range of social groups so I travel as much as I can. I’ve photographed in Spain, Peru, Chicago, New York and Memphis. My ideal settings have linear compositions or gendered references in signs in the landscape. I set up my camera in plain sight on a tripod or bench, or an assistant will take hundreds of photographs in several minutes. I then comb the images to see if I captured a reaction.
I do not know what the strangers are thinking when they look at me. But there is a Henri Cartier-Bresson moment when my action aligns with the composition, the shutter and their gaze that has a critical or questioning element. Even though they are in front of a camera, they feel they have anonymity because they are crossing behind me.
And I don’t get hurt when I look at the images. I feel like I am reversing the gaze back on to them to reveal their gaze. I’m fine with who I am and don’t need anyone’s approval to live my life. I only get angry when I hear someone comment about my weight and the image does not reflect the criticism. That’s frustrating: when I didn’t get the shot.
But since the project started getting media attention, I’ve received hundreds of emails from people thanking me. There are so many people in the world who feel they have the right – no, the obligation — to criticize someone for the way they look, and to be that recipient of those insults can feel so lonely. I got an email from a 15-year-old girl in Belgium who said my images made her “feel better and not care about what others think and live my life.” That made me proud. As for what the images mean, viewers may interpret the images as they see fit. I’m just trying to start a conversation.
The ironically named criminal justice system in this country is good at prosecuting and creating many criminals but not very good at producing any justice. The United States would not have the largest prison population of any other country on earth if it did not also have the harshest prosecution and sentencing system of any other country. America’s addiction to racism and violence creates outright criminality among police and prosecutors. Their misconduct is tolerated and even encouraged and the result is an untold number of innocent people in jail.
In 1989, five New York City teenagers, four black and one Latino, were convicted of raping and assaulting a then anonymous woman known as the Central Park jogger. In the now infamous case the teens were coerced into giving false video taped confessions. None of the established procedures for interviewing minors were in place and police and prosecutors broke the law in order to convict them. Unable to pay for good legal representation and convicted in the court of public opinion, the five spent between six and thirteen years behind bars.
In 2002 a sole perpetrator confessed to the attack, DNA tests proved his guilt and the convictions were vacated. Thanks to the new documentary, The Central Park Five, the prosecutors who orchestrated the travesty have come under scrutiny but none of them have suffered as a result of their actions. Until very recently prosecutor Elizabeth Lederer bragged about her involvement in the case and included it in her biography. She is still a law professor at Columbia University. It isn’t clear why anyone would want her to teach anything about the law, but there she sits in the lap of establishment legal profession luxury. When an outraged citizen circulated a petition pressuring Columbia to fire Lederer, the wagons circled around her and the media excoriated those who only wanted accountability and justice.
“The prosecutors who orchestrated the travesty have come under scrutiny but none of them have suffered as a result of their actions.”
Lederer’s boss, Linda Fairstein, also made quite a name for herself in the ensuing years. She became a best selling author and a wealthy woman after the prosecution. Her behavior in getting the teens arrested and convicted was particularly egregious.
“Fairstein gruffly dismissed Yusef Salaam's aunt and threatened his mentor, Brooklyn federal prosecutor David Nocenti, in refusing to let them see the teen while he was being interrogated. According to both Sharonne Salaam and Timothy Sullivan's book on the case, Unequal Verdicts, Fairstein then called her husband to demand the home number of Nocenti's then boss, Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Andrew Maloney, so she could get the young attorney fired. According to court records, Fairstein even tried to block Sharonne Salaam from interrupting the interrogation, despite Sharonne's claims that Yusef was 15 and too young to be questioned without an adult.”
The five men will not get back the years they lost in prison, but the world knows they were innocent. However, the city of New York still maintains their guilt and fights every effort to bring them some financial justice. The exonerated men filed a $250 million lawsuit in 2003 but the city has spent the past ten years defending itself and even attempted to intimidate the documentary producers by issuing subpoenas for theirvideo footage.
In New York others still languish in jail, sometimes for decades, because of law enforcement corruption. There are now 50 murder convictions under review by the Brooklyn district attorney’s office because of one man, retired detective Louis Scarcella. His criminal behavior came to light when an innocent white man, David Ranta, was freed after spending 23 years in jail because Scarcella coached a witness into falsely identifying him as a killer.
When Scarcella wanted an individual convicted he stopped at nothing to make his case. He took informants out of jail and allowed them to smoke crack and visit prostitutes. Supposed witnesses deny having spoken to him, or were told whom to pick out of a line up or told what to say. One prostitute allegedly witnessed six different murders investigated by Scarcella and testified under oath every time.
The district attorney’s office is now investigating these cases, but they can hardly investigate themselves. How did supposedly smart people allow the same person to testify numerous times that she had witnessed murders? The answer is obvious. Anyone who noticed the implausibility of these situations must also have noticed that the Scarcellas of the NYPD worked hand in hand with prosecutors to prosecute as many people as possible and that their bad behavior was condoned.
Shabaka Shakur is serving the 26th year of a 40 year sentence in part because Scarcella claimed he made self-incriminating statements. There are no records of such a statement, yet Shakur was convicted anyway. Derrick Hamilton was paroled after serving 21 years in prison and now strives to prove he was set up by Scarcella. “He told me, ‘I know you didn’t commit this murder, but I don’t care.’ “
Those words may have been spoken by one man, but they represent the thinking of an entire system and its attitudes towards black people. One-half of all wrongfully convicted prisoners are black. Mass incarceration depends on an assembly line of conviction and imprisonment and too few who are charged with caring about justice really do.
It is indisputable that America strives to put as many black people behind bars as possible. Inevitably some white people will be caught up too, but the goal of criminal justice is to make every black person a criminal. No one knows how many Shabaka Shakurs and Derrick Hamiltons there are behind bars in New York and across the country.
Any discussion of ending mass incarceration must address these travesties which take place on a daily basis. The crooked prosecutors and cops must be held accountable. They ought to be charged criminally themselves. There is no incentive for them to obey the law if they are not. The exonerated men and women are expected to quietly accept their misfortune and disappear without expecting any relief. In a sense that is the expectation for all black people. We are known to be innocent but the system doesn’t care.
Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.Related Stories
About a year ago, on March 26, 2012, Sandra Steingraber, an environmental writer and activist against natural-gas fracking, wrote a public letter titled “Breaking Up with the Sierra Club.” Breakups are never easy, and the letter, published on the website of the nature magazine Orion, was brutal from the start: “I’m through with you,” Steingraber began.
The proximate cause of the split was the revelation that between 2007 and 2010 the nation’s oldest environmental organization had clandestinely accepted $26 million from individuals or subsidiaries associated with Chesapeake Energy, a major gas firm that has been at the forefront of the fracking boom. “The largest, most venerable environmental organization in the United States secretly aligned with the very company that seeks to occupy our land, turn it inside out, blow it apart, fill it with poison,” Steingraber wrote. “It was as if, on the eve of D-day, the anti-Fascist partisans had discovered that Churchill was actually in cahoots with the Axis forces.”
In 2010, the club’s new executive director, Michael Brune, stopped taking Chesapeake Energy’s cash. Brune also made the decision to come clean with the revelation and express regret for his predecessor’s lack of better judgment. “We never should have taken this money,” Brune wrote in response to the breakup letter.
But to Steingraber and many others, the betrayal had been done.
“I call them gang-green,” says Maura Stephens, an activist based in Ithaca, New York, who spearheads several anti-fracking groups, including Frack Busters and the Coalition to Protect New York. “There are a lot of so-called environmental groups that were started with noble ideals—for example the ideals of John Muir—but who no longer live up to their mission. … They do good work on some level, but on this [fracking] they are selling us out.”
The eco-infighting over natural gas is just one example of internecine strains that appear to be intensifying in the green movement. When it comes to prescribing ways to address the planet’s ecological challenges, environmentalists increasingly find themselves at odds with each other. In a way, greens’ predicament is a measure of their own prescience. For at least 40 years, they have been warning about the consequences of overpopulation, the risks of industrial pollution, and the loss of wilderness and wildlife habitat due to human encroachment. Few heeded the warnings in time to halt the first effects of large-scale global pollution and resource depletion, and now the consequences of ignoring the warnings have come to pass. Many global fisheries are on the brink of collapse; nearly half of the planet’s land is dedicated to feeding a global population that will soon reach nine billion; freshwater scarcities in some regions are becoming acute; and, most frighteningly, we appear intent on wrecking the global atmosphere, the ecosystem on which all other ecosystems depend.
Environmentalists have found themselves being taken seriously, and it has proved to be something of a curse. As they are asked to come up with solutions for the cascading eco crises, internal divisions are becoming more obvious. The biggest divide may be between those who would do anything to cut carbon emissions and slow climate change—going so far as to support natural gas and nuclear fuel, or even supporting geo-engineering and other controversial ideas—and conservationists who don’t want to trade one earth-damaging practice for another.
“I feel like the community has splintered,” says Chris Clarke, a writer in Joshua Tree, California, and a co-founder of the group Solar Done Right, which has battled the construction of utility-scale solar stations in the Mojave Desert that involve destroying vast stretches of wilderness. “Some people are unwilling to call themselves ‘environmentalists’ because ‘environmentalist’ has now come to mean climate-change mitigation at any cost.”
Some environmentalists say the divisions have been fueled by gadflies looking to appear contrarian for the sake of minor celebrity. “I think, bluntly, that part of this is [happening] because there’s some value to the post-environmentalists in hippie-punching,” says Alex Steffen, a self-described “bright green” futurist who is the author of a new book, Carbon Zero. “Just saying, ‘Oh, those guys are wrong’—since there are a lot of people who want to think that traditional environmentalists are wrong—is a great way to sell books and get speaking gigs.”
It’s true that some of the noise seems calculated for effect. But it would be dangerous to wave off the differences of opinion. A careful look at the environmental movement reveals a profound gap among people who share a worry about the state of Earth. There is a real split over what should be considered a smart survival plan for billions of people on a finite planet. That split, if it’s not navigated constructively, threatens to sap the environmental movement’s political muscle just when it is needed most to achieve its goal: keeping the planet healthy enough to maintain our civilization.
In a sense, today’s differences are just a new variation on a century-old dispute. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, American environmentalists fell into two distinct camps. The first, led by Sierra Club founder John Muir, was part of the larger Romantic movement that viewed wild areas as pristine places that needed to be saved from the scourge of humanity’s hand. The second, led by the founding head of the U.S. Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot, thought of nature more like a garden—something to be tended by man. Natural resources, in Pinchot’s view, should be mindfully stewarded to conserve them for future generations.
The split between those who esteem nature for its intrinsic value and those who want to protect it for its instrumental value persisted through the years. Some 21st-century environmentalists—most prominently the leaders of The Nature Conservancy—now talk almost exclusively about environmental protection in terms of preserving ecosystem services. We should invest in nature and protect natural infrastructure because humans benefit from them: Wetlands blunt hurricanes, forests suck up carbon dioxide, clean rivers bring us water. At the same time, some environmentalists have been re-energized by a nascent grassroots movement to recognize legal rights for natural systems, an effort inspired by the new constitutions of Ecuador and Bolivia that grant nature formal rights.
Opposing opinions on what constitutes appropriate use of modern technology also divides some putative eco allies. An instinctual techno-skepticism has formed an undercurrent in environmental thought—at least since Silent Spring and the backlashes to the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl and near disaster at Three Mile Island. As worries intensify about unchecked greenhouse-gas emissions, however, some greens are rethinking their posture toward once-verboten technologies. James Hansen, the NASA climatologist who twice has been arrested at the White House while opposing the Keystone XL pipeline, has said, “Next-generation, safe nuclear power is an option which we need to develop.” Nuclear power is anathema to many other environmentalists, but the British writer George Monbiot reversed his long-standing opposition two years ago and wrote in The Guardian, “Abandoning nuclear power at a time of escalating greenhouse gas emissions is far more dangerous than maintaining it.”
The use of genetically modified organisms also highlights this divide. Even as most rank-and-file environmentalists remain suspicious of them—with their vibe of Promethean overreach and their control by monopolist corporations like Monsanto—some self-identified greens say GMO technologies are the only way to feed a growing population. In a speech earlier this year, Mark Lynas, another British environmentalist, told the Oxford Farming Conference, “The risk today is not that anyone will be harmed by GM food but that millions will be harmed by not having enough food.”
Another rift involves the geographic scope of individual environmentalists’ concerns. Ever since Henry David Thoreau set up a shack on Walden Pond, environmentalism has been animated by a love of place. A righteous parochialism was the spark that inspired scores of successful environmental campaigns: a desire to protect this river, this forest grove, this mountaintop. On the other hand, environmentalism has also been animated by a planetary consciousness from the moment the Apollo mission beamed back images of a tiny blue marble floating in space. For a generation these two ideals were in chorus, exemplified best by the greenie bumper sticker: “Think Global, Act Local.” But in the era of global climate change, a love for the local and a concern for the global might be in conflict.
This is best illustrated by the controversies over putting giant solar installations in the Mojave Desert and building a wind farm off of Martha’s Vineyard. One person’s blueprint for clean energy infrastructure is another person’s unthinkable desecration of a beloved place. While some environmentalists argue that we have to pave parts of the desert with solar panels in order to save other parts of the desert from a four-degree Celsius temperature rise, others see that as heresy.
“I think the important split is actually between people are who thinking in planetary terms and people who are not,” Steffen, the futurist, told me. “The key to intelligent planetary thinking is to recognize that goal number one is to be promoting the stability of planetary systems, and then figuring out goal number two: how to get the greatest set of interesting possibilities for humanity into that constraint. And I worry that this debate between ‘old environmentalists’ and ‘post-environmentalists’ or whatever totally misses the larger point. The only kind of conservation worth having is one that starts at those larger systems, talks about what is necessary to maintain their stability, and starts scaling down from there into the particularities of political contexts, and specific places, and technological systems.”
Achieving those goals could get increasingly difficult, however, if the movement is publicly split, as has happened with the issue of hydrofracking for natural gas.
The Sierra Club, under the leadership of its previous executive director, Carl Pope, wasn’t the only prominent environmentalist organization heralding natural gas as a bridge fuel that could take our energy system from carbon-intense coal to renewables like wind and solar. (When burned, gas emits about half as much carbon dioxide as coal.) Among the most vocal proponents of natural gas today are Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, founders of the Oakland-based liberal think tank the Breakthrough Institute. Nordhaus and Shellenberger ticked off greens in the early aughts with the essay “The Death of Environmentalism,” which urged green groups to rethink the core assumptions of their political strategy. The pugnacious pair is often bashed for their rhetoric, but the two are genuine in their hawkishness on the climate and their commitment to global equity.
“As we look ahead to the human-development challenge, we’re going to need other kinds of low-carbon and zero-carbon energy,” Shellenberger says. “If we have everything riding on solar and wind, then we have all of our eggs in one basket.”
Nordhaus adds: “Look, we have two billion people who don’t have access to anything other than wood and dung [for energy]. Assume a world of nine billion people. Now assume that we have perfect economic redistribution from rich to poor, and everybody makes $15,000 a year. And then just do the math on global energy use—it still triples. You can’t meet that all with renewables.”
But since the fracking boom began in earnest, a larger, anti-fracking grassroots has emerged. Small towns in the East that were unaccustomed to the thrum of the fossil-fuel industry have been shocked to find themselves surrounded by trucks and heavy machinery and with compressors in their back lots whirring all night long. Some homeowners had their wells contaminated with flammable methane. Places like Ohio and Arkansas that weren’t used to seismic activity started to experience earthquakes when underground wastewater injections stimulated geologic faults. Today, the movement against gas fracking has become a cause célèbre (Yoko Ono and Mark Ruffalo have an “Artists Against Fracking” group) and is one of the most invigorating issues among grassroots environmentalists. At February’s Forward on Climate rally near the White House, easily a fifth of the placards in the crowd of 35,000 had to do with gas drilling.
“No sensible person would ever be a proponent of shale gas,” anti-fracking activist Maura Stephens says. “The number of people whose water is contaminated, I can’t even count. And the number of people who have been given a gag order and been given shut-up money is incredible. The whole idea is to do the harm and then mitigate.”
“Of all the forms of fossil-fuel extraction, fracking is the only one that is wrapped up in a green myth,” says Sandra Steingraber, who wrote the letter against the Sierra Club. “The demand for energy is not some inexorable thing like gravity. We control that. And it’s plain to me that we could reduce our energy use by half and entirely run our economy on renewables.”
Nordhaus and Shellenberger have a nearly opposite worry: that the intensity from partisans like Steingraber and Stephens has forced some big green groups to retreat from gas. The World Resources Institute, a D.C.-based environmental research organization, is an example of that shift. As recently as early 2012, the organization was expressing qualified enthusiasm for gas as a “potential game changer” that “should be part of America’s low-carbon energy mix.” But when asked recently to comment on the gas controversy, Jennifer Morgan, director of the institute’s climate and energy program, chose her words carefully. “It’s an extremely fraught and tough discussion,” Morgan told me. “I think we recognize both the risks—and the risks are significant—and the potential opportunity.”
And, of course, the Sierra Club has retreated from natural gas under its new executive director. Last week at a conference in Santa Barbara organized by The Wall Street Journal, Michael Brune warned that fracking’s greenhouse-gas emissions might be worse than coal due to leaks of methane, a potent heat-trapping gas. The club also has launched a new section on its website: “Beyond Gas.”
Whether the question is shale-gas development, nuclear power, utility-scale solar and wind, or GMO crops, the core of the debate among environmentalists comes down to what’s realistic. That, of course, is the same dilemma that confronts any political movement, whether on the right or on the left. But environmentalists’ conundrum is especially complicated because it involves a system beyond our control: Earth.
Nordhaus and Shellenberger say their pragmatism is grounded in what is politically possible given a range of shitty options. In the other camp, Steffen, Steingraber, and Stephens also claim the mantle of pragmatism, one based on geophysical necessity. The existential threat of climate change has become a sort of projection screen: Either it confirms that we are locked into business as usual, or it’s proof that we need to make a societal 180-degree turn in how we relate to the planet.
“Those of us who are calling ourselves the latter-day abolitionists, our idea of what’s possible is grounded in physical and natural laws. How much water and land and resources do we need to feed ourselves?” Steingraber says. “My hope that is that we can help people imagine, have a vision of a future when blasting gas out of the ground to make our tea kettles whistle is just barbaric, which it is.” It’s a view Nordhaus and Shellenberger call naïve.
It’s clear that, much of the time, environmentalists are arguing past each other. Beyond any debates over strategy or technology, the various factions of greens harbor completely different ideas about human nature and the planet’s capacity to hold us. While some eco-policy wonks appear to have internalized the notion that there are no alternatives to our modern, energy-dependent ways, the environmental grassroots remain committed to encouraging a change in consciousness that will prompt a new, less resource-intense mode of living. It’s as if the environmental movement is playing three-dimensional chess, but with the players operating on totally different planes.
Such differences of opinion aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Political movements often benefit from some degree of ideological tension. The differences only become a political liability because our environmental situation urgently needs a solution. Carbon emissions continue to rise, the number of humans continues to grow, and Earth isn’t getting any bigger.
The environmental movement has a surplus of good ideas for how to manage ecological problems. It’s got plenty of smart and passionate people. The one key asset it doesn’t have is time to sort its issues out.Related Stories
CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) - South Carolina's Department of Social Services ordered doctors to do irreversible, medically unnecessary sex-assignment surgery on a year-old child in state custody, her adoptive parents claim in court.
Pamela and John Mark Crawford sued three doctors and four Social Services workers on behalf of their child, M.C., in Federal Court. M.C. is 8 years old.
"This lawsuit challenges the decision by government officials and doctors to perform an irreversible, painful, and medically unnecessary sex assignment surgery on a sixteen-month-old child in state custody. Defendants performed this surgery for the purpose of 'assigning' the child the female gender despite their own conclusion that he 'was a true hermaphrodite but that there was no compelling reason that she should either be male or female,'" the complaint states.
M.C. was taken into state custody because his mother was deemed unfit and his father had abandoned him, according to the complaint. The Crawfords say the parental rights of the child's biological parents were terminated.
"At birth, M.C. was identified as a male based on his external genitalia. Shortly after birth, however, M.C.'s doctors discovered that M.C. had 'ambiguous genitals' and both male and female internal reproductive structures. As his medical records repeatedly indicated, M.C.'s doctors determined that he could be raised as either a boy or a girl," the complaint states.
"Despite not knowing whether M.C. would ultimately grow up to be a man or a woman, and whether he would elect to have any genital surgery, Defendants, who include doctors at a state hospital and SCDSS officials, decided to remove M.C.'s healthy genital tissue and radically restructure his reproductive organs in order to make his body appear to be female."
The Crawfords claim the doctors acted rashly upon Social Services' decision, going ahead with the surgery though there was no medically compelling reason to do so. The defendant doctors, Ian Aaronson, James Amrhein and Yawappiagyei-Dankah, cut off M.C.'s phallus to reduce it to the size of a clitoris, removed one testicle, excised all testicular tissue from the second gonad, and constructed labia, the complaint states.
"The surgery eliminated M.C.'s potential to procreate as a male and caused a significant and permanent impairment of sexual function," the adoptive parents say.
M.C. was not quite 16 months old, and "the defendant doctors knew that sex assignment surgeries on infants with conditions like M.C.'s pose a significant risk of imposing a gender that is ultimately rejected by the patient," the complaint states. "Indeed, one of the doctor defendants who performed the surgery on M.C. had previously published an article in a medical journal wherein he recognized that 'carrying out a feminizing-genitoplasty on an infant who might eventually identify herself as a boy would be catastrophic.'"
The Crawfords say that since he was very young, M.C. has shown strong signs of developing a male gender, and that he is living as a boy.
"His interests, manner and play, and refusal to be identified as a girl indicate that M.C.'s gender has developed as male. Indeed, M.C. is living as a boy with the support of his family, friend, school, religious leaders, and pediatrician," according to the complaint.
The Crawfords say M.C. could have been raised as either a girl or a boy until he was old enough for his gender identity to emerge. At that point, they could have made appropriate decisions regarding medical treatment - including whether to have surgery at all.
"Defendants usurped these intimate and profound decisions from M.C. when he was barely older than an infant, knowing that surgically mis-assigning M.C.'s sex would lead to disastrous results. Unfortunately, medical technology has not devised a way to replace what M.C. has lost," the Crawfords say.
"By their actions, Defendants also interfered with M.C's future ability to form intimate, procreative relationships, choices central to his personal dignity and autonomy."
They call the defendants' actions an egregious, arbitrary, and enduring invasion of M.C.'s bodily integrity. They seek compensatory and punitive damages for constitutional violations.
They are represented by Kenneth M. Suggs of Columbia, S.C.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges joined Democracy Now! to discuss what could mark the most significant government intrusion on freedom of the press in decades. The Justice Department has acknowledged seizing the work, home and cellphone records used by almost 100 reporters and editors at the Associated Press. The phones targeted included the general AP office numbers in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Hartford, Connecticut, and the main number for the AP in the House of Representatives press gallery. The action likely came as part of a probe into the leaks behind an AP story on the U.S. intelligence operation that stopped a Yemen-based al-Qaeda bombing plot on a U.S.-bound airplane. Hedges, a senior fellow at The Nation Institute and former New York Times reporter, calls the monitoring "one more assault in a long series of assault against freedom of information and freedom of the press." Highlighting the Obama administration’s targeting of government whistleblowers, Hedges adds: "Talk to any investigative journalist who must investigate the government, and they will tell you that there is a deep freeze. People are terrified of speaking, because they’re terrified of going to jail."
NERMEEN SHAIKH: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder [headed to Capitol Hill on Wed, facing questions] over Justice Department’s decision to secretly seize the work, home and cellphone records used by almost a hundred reporters and editors at the Associated Press. On Tuesday, Holder defended the move as a necessary step in a criminal probe of leaks of classified information.
The phones targeted by the subpoena included the general AP office numbers in New York City; Washington, D.C.; and Hartford, Connecticut; and for the main number for the AP in the House of Representatives press gallery. The records were from April and May of 2012. Among those whose records were obtained were Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, three other reporters and an editor, all of whom worked on a story about an operation conducted by the CIA and allied intelligence agencies that stopped a Yemen-based al-Qaeda plot to detonate a bomb on an airplane headed for the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: The Associated Press had delayed publication of the story 'til May 7, 2012, at the government's request. One day before the AP story was finally published, a U.S. drone strike in Yemen killed Fahd al-Quso, a senior leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Attorney General Holder, who says he recused himself from the leak probe, defended his department’s actions.
ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: This was a very serious—a very serious leak, and a very, very serious leak. I’ve been a prosecutor since 1976, and I have to say that this is among, if not the most serious, it is within the top two or three most serious leaks that I’ve ever seen. It put the American people at risk. And that is not hyperbole. It put the American people at risk. And trying to determine who was responsible for that, I think, required very aggressive action.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking Tuesday. In a letter to Holder, AP’sCEO Greg Pruitt protested the government’s seizing of journalists’ phone records. He wrote, quote: "There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations, and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know."
AMY GOODMAN: In an editorial today, The New York Times strongly criticized the Justice Department’s move. The editors wrote, quote: "These tactics will not scare us off, or The A.P., but they could reveal sources on other stories and frighten confidential contacts vital to coverage of government."
Well, we’re joined right now by a former Pulitizer Prize-winning journalist from The New York Times. He’s now a senior fellow at The Nation Institute and author, along with Joe Sacco, of the book Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt. We’re joined by Chris Hedges. ... Your response to this revelation about the—about what happened with AP and the U.S. government?
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, it’s part of a pattern. That’s what’s so frightening. And it’s a pattern that we’ve seen, with the use of the Espionage Act, to essentially silence whistleblowers within the government—Kiriakou, Drake and others, although Kiriakou went to jail on—pled out on another charge—the FISA Amendment Act, which allows for warrantless wiretapping, the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows for the stripping of American citizens of due process and indefinite detention. And it is one more assault in a long series of assault against freedom of information and freedom of the press. And I would also, of course, throw in the persecution of Julian Assange at WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning as part of that process.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Chris Hedges, you wrote in the recent article that was published, your article "Death of Truth" in Truthdig and Nation magazine—you also write about the significance of the Espionage Act and how often it’s been invoked, and you say that it eviscerates the possibility of an independent press. So could you talk about the Espionage Act and how it also is somehow related to this AP story?
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, it’s been used six times by the Obama administration. It was written in 1917 and was—is our Foreign Secrets Act. It is never meant—it was not designed to shut down whistleblowers, first used against Daniel Ellsberg in the Pentagon Papers. So, three times from 1917 until Obama takes office in 2009, six times. And if you talk to investigative journalists in this country, who must investigate the inner workings of government, no one will talk, even on background. People are terrified. And this is, of course—the seizure of two months of records, of AP records, is not really about going after AP; it’s about going after that person or those people who leaked this story and shutting them down. And this canard that it endangered American life is—you know, there’s no evidence for this. He’s not—yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, the news conferences that Eric Holder and the White House held yesterday were interesting. This is White House spokesperson Jay Carney questioned Tuesday about the AP spying scandal and the Obama administration’s prosecution of whistleblowers.
REPORTER: This administration in the last four years has prosecuted twice as many leakers as every previous administration combined. How does that reflect balance?
PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY: I would say that the president is committed to the press’s ability to pursue information, to defending the First Amendment. He is also, as a citizen and as commander-in-chief, committed to the proposition that we cannot allow classified information to be—that can do harm to our national security interests or to endanger individuals to be—to be leaked. And that is a balance that has to be struck.
REPORTER: But the record of the last four years does not suggest balance.
PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY: That’s your opinion, Ari. But I—
REPORTER: No, it’s twice as many prosecutions as all previous administrations combined. That’s not even close.
PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY: Well, I—I understand that there—you know, that there are ongoing investigations that preceded this administration, but I—again, I’m not going to—I can tell you what the president’s views are. And the president’s views include his defense of the First Amendment, his belief that journalists ought to be able to pursue information in an unfettered way, and that is backed up by his support for a media shield law, both as senator and as president. And it is also true that he believes a balance needs to be struck between those goals and the need to protect classified information.
AMY GOODMAN: And the questions of Jay Carney about the spying scandal on AP just continued.
REPORTER: As a principle, does the president approve of the idea of prosecutors going through the personal phone records and work phone records of journalists and their editors?
PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY: I—I appreciate the effort to generalize the question, but, obviously, that goes right to the heart of some of the reporting on this specific case. I can tell you that the president believes that the press, as a rule, needs to be—to have an unfettered ability to pursue investigative journalism and—
REPORTER: How can it be unfettered if you’re worried about having your phone records—
PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY: Well, again, I can’t—I can’t respond to this in the specific. And, you know, I—I am very understanding of the questions on this issue and—and appreciate the—the nature of the questions. And I think they—they go to important issues, and they go to the fundamental issue of finding the balance between—when it comes to leaks of classified information of—of our nation’s secrets, if you will, between the need to protect those—that information, because of the national security implications of not protecting them, on the one hand, and the need to allow for an unfettered press and its—in its pursuit of investigative journalism.
AMY GOODMAN: That is Jay Carney, the White House press spokesperson, who used to be the Washington bureau chief of Time magazine. Your response, Chris Hedges?
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, I find, you know, all of these measures to essentially shut down the freedom of information, including the persecution of Assange and Manning, as symptomatic of a reconfiguration of our society into a totalitarian security and surveillance state, one where anyone who challenges the official narrative, who digs out cases of torture, war crimes—which is, of course, what Manning and Assange presented to the American public—is going to be ruthlessly silenced. And I find the passivity on the part of the mainstream press, publications like The New York Times,The Guardian, El País, Der Spiegel, all of which, of course, used this information, and turning their backs on Manning and Assange, to be very shortsighted for precisely this reason. If they think it’s just about Manning and Assange, then they have no conception of what it is that’s happening. And, you know, everyone knows, within the administration, within the National Security Council, the effects of climate change, the instability that that will cause, the economic deterioration, which is irreversible, and they want the mechanisms by which they can criminalize any form of dissent. And that’s finally what this is about.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what do you think allowed this to happen, Chris Hedges? You think it’s related to, you’ve suggested in your piece, the war on terror, that it gave kind of sanction, in a way, to this kind of crackdown on journalists?
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, you know, it becomes the same paradigm in the war against communism. It’s an excuse to ferret out and destroy legitimate movements that challenge centers of power. And that’s, of course, how the war on terror has worked in exactly the same way. But we are seeing environmental activists, Occupy activists, people who function, like Manning, as a whistleblower being caught up in this war on terror and silenced through these rules.
So what they do is they pass, you know, for instance, Section 1021 of the NDAA. They pass it in the name of the war on terror, but then they can use it. Anybody can become a terrorist. I mean, in the trial in federal court, which we brought against—in the Southern District, we used, in the Stratfor-leaked emails that were put out by WikiLeaks, where they were trying to link a group that was close to Occupy, US Day of Rage, and al-Qaeda. That’s precisely what happened. So when we allow this kind of thing to go forward, we essentially shut down any ability not only to ferret out what’s happening internally within the mechanisms of power, but to protest or carry out dissent.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to another clip of the news conference of Attorney General Eric Holder being questioned on Tuesday.
REPORTER: The real question here, the underlying question, is the policy of the administration when it comes to the ability of the media to cover the news. And I think the question for you is, given the fact that this news organization was not given an opportunity to try to quash this in court, as has been precedent, it leaves us in the position of wondering whether the administration has somehow decided policy-wise that it’s kind of going to go after us.
ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: Well, that is certainly not—I mean, I can talk about policy. That is certainly not the policy of this administration. If you will remember, in 2009, when I was going through my confirmation hearings, I testified in favor of a reporter shield law. We actually, as an administration, took a position in favor of such a law, didn’t get the necessary support up on the Hill. It is something this administration still thinks would be—would be appropriate. We’ve investigated cases on the basis of the facts, not as a result of a policy to get the press or to do anything of that nature. The facts and the law have dictated our actions.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Attorney General Eric Holder. Chris Hedges, I wanted you to respond to him and then talk about your recent trip. Well, you just came back from London, where you met with Julian Assange in the Ecuadorean embassy, and then you came here and went to Pennsylvania and met with Mumia Abu-Jamal.
CHRIS HEDGES: It was a good week. Yes. I mean, I find what’s happening terrifying, truly frightening. And when you look closely at all of the documents that were purportedly given to WikiLeaks by Bradley Manning and published through Assange, none of them were top-secret. I mean, as a former investigative reporter for The New York Times, it was my job to go and find out often top-secret information. And that’s why I can’t understand the inability of the traditional press to grasp that we are now in the last moments of an effort to, in essence, effectively extinguish press freedom. And if you—I mean, AP is an—like The New York Times, an amazingly cautious organization, but read the comments. I mean, they get it, internally. But, unfortunately, you know, they have divided us against ourselves, and—and this is—you know, what we’ve undergone, as John Ralston says and as I’ve said many times, a kind of corporate coup d’état.
What we are seeing is a system put into place where it’s all propaganda. And anybody who challenges—I mean, look, this constant reference to a shield law is absurd, because they just violated the shield law by not going to court and informing AP of a subpoena but doing it secretly. So, I mean, you’ve got to hand it to the Obama administration. They’re far more clever than their predecessors in the Bush administration, but they’re carrying out exactly the same policy of snuffing out our most basic civil liberties and our most important press freedoms. And that’s because they know what’s coming, and they are going to legally put in a place by which any challenge to the centers of corporate power become ineffectual or impossible.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: But how do you think this is already impacting the work of journalists?
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, talk to any investigative journalist who must investigate the government, and they will tell you that there is a deep freeze. People are terrified of speaking, because they’re terrified of going to jail. And Kiriakou is now sitting for 30 months in a prison in Pennsylvania. So—
AMY GOODMAN: And Kiriakou is?
CHRIS HEDGES: That’s the former CIA official who purportedly gave information to The New York Times. And, you know, they’ve subpoenaed Risen’s records, both for his book and—
AMY GOODMAN: James Risen of The New York Times.
CHRIS HEDGES: Right, of the Times. I mean, so, it is—
AMY GOODMAN: For reporting on warrantless wiretapping.
CHRIS HEDGES: Exactly. And—
AMY GOODMAN: Which they held onto, a story they held onto for more than a year and that took the—
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, that gets into the cowardice of The New York Times, but that’s another show. Yeah, it was about to come out in the book, and then the _Times_’ Bill Keller ran it, because—but they had held it. And so, yeah, I think we’re in a very, very frightening moment.
AMY GOODMAN: And the fact that these—the phones were—the logs were taken of these different phones that more than a hundred AP reporters used, reporters and editors, shows who is calling them and who they’re calling.
CHRIS HEDGES: Right, that’s what they want.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the significance of that.
CHRIS HEDGES: Right. Well, what they’re clearly—
AMY GOODMAN: These aren’t tape-recorded conversations.
CHRIS HEDGES: Right. And, I mean, having done that kind of work, I’m almost certain that whoever gave the AP this information didn’t give it to them over the phone. But what they’re doing is finding out—matching all of the phone records to find out who had contact with someone in an AP bureau, whether that was in New York or Hartford or Washington or wherever else, and then they will probably use the Espionage Act to go after them, as well. That would—that’s certainly what the Obama administration has done since its inception.
AMY GOODMAN: Very briefly, can you talk about your visit with Julian Assange and then your visit with journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal?
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, I mean, I have tremendous respect for Julian Assange and what he’s done. Again, even within the liberal intelligentsia, who should know better, they’ve turned their back on him. You know, whatever the sexual misconduct charges in Sweden were, it certainly wasn’t rape, but there was something. But that has been used—
AMY GOODMAN: Well, they aren’t charges, but he’s wanted for questioning.
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, he’s actually not been charged at all, so that’s right, in a legal sense. But, you know, that kind of character assassination has left him very much alone. And I think the courage of a Manning, the courage of an Assange, the courage of a Mumia—I mean, how that man remains unbroken. I was there with Cornel West and the theologian James Cone. I mean, it was a privilege for me. I mean, three of the probably greatest African-American intellectuals in the country, and certainly radicals. It’s—you know, those people who hold fast to the—a kind of moral imperative, or hold fast to the capacity for dissent, whether that’s Manning, who exhibited—I was in the courtroom when he read his statement—tremendous courage, poise, whether that’s Assange, whether that’s Mumia, let’s look at where all those three people are, because for all of us who speak out, that’s where they want us to be, as well. And that gets back to this AP story, because that is exactly the process that we are undergoing and where—if they win, where we’re headed.