Friday, January 27, 2012

Death and Democracy

Yesterday, 32 people were killed at a Shia funeral, the day before 17 killed in a bombing in a predominately Sunni neighborhood. Iraq remains on the brink, the brink we led them to.

On Jan 26th, 2012 Hilary Clinton answered a question regarding Iraq. She schooled the Iraqi's on democracy, compromise, and the inappropriate use of power at a Town Hall Meeting on the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.

"The United States, led by our very able, experienced Ambassador Jim Jeffrey – I don’t know if the man has slept more than an hour or two, because he is constantly, along with his able team, reaching out, meeting with, cajoling, pushing the players, starting with Prime Minister Maliki, not to blow this opportunity. Let me just be very clear: This is an opportunity for the Iraqi people of all areas of Iraq, of all religious affiliation, of all backgrounds – this is an opportunity to have a unified Iraq, and the only way to do that is by compromising.

And one of the challenges in new democracies is that compromise is not in the vocabulary, especially in countries where people were oppressed, brutalized over many years. They believe that democracy gives them the opportunity to exercise power...

But at the end of the day, Iraq is now a democracy, but they need to act like one, and that requires compromise.

And so I’m hoping that there will be a recognition of that, and such a tremendous potential to be realized. Iraq can be such a rich country – it’s already showing that with the oil revenues starting to flow again – but problems have to be resolved. They cannot be ignored or mandated by authoritarianism; they have to be worked through the political process. (Applause.)"

Clinton's equating richness with oil revenue rather then equating it with the ability to live lives of dignity, respect, and peace with your neighbors makes me wonder if she has any concept of peace whatsoever. It is obvious she is utterly clueless as to what richness is.

Monday, January 23, 2012


Demanding to be allowed to sail. Athens, Jun 27, 2011
In the late spring of 2011, I was one of 37 passengers and 4 crewmembers on the Audacity of Hope, the U.S. boat to Gaza.

I had spent the prior month in Gaza and actually left Gaza to join the flotilla sailing from Greece. I was hoping to use my modest skills as an EMT in the event that Israeli naval forces began shooting people on board as they did in May 2010, when they killed nine people on board the Mavi Mamara. Many of these victims, including 19-year-old US citizen Furkan Doğan, were shot point-blank in the head. Doğan was shot five times from less than 45 cm (1.5 ft), in the face, in the back of the head, twice in the leg and once in the back. He was filming the attack when he was murdered. He was unarmed.

When it was announced that there would be a boat from the U.S. participating in the next flotilla, I applied immediately.

Preparing to sail. Athens, Jun 30, 2011
On June 29th as we were preparing to sail from Athens to Gaza, I read with amazement – and some amusement – that the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, had asked that the Justice Department to "take immediate steps" against those found to be violating U.S. law, including providing "material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization." Having never heard of Rick Perry, I assumed that he was just pandering to AIPAC. Little did I know he was pandering ahead of entering the Republican race for President.

On October 6th, I was in Afghanistan meeting with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers (AYPV) with members of Voices for Creative Nonviolence (VCNV) when Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL9) introduced HR 3131 in Congress. In summary, this bill “Expresses the sense of Congress that the United States should take diplomatic steps to express gratitude to Greece for upholding the rule of law in preventing hostile forces1 from violating a legal naval blockade2 of Gaza by Israel and thereby advancing the security of its ally Israel. Directs the Secretary of State to report to Congress on whether any support organization that participated in the planning or execution of the recent Gaza flotilla attempt should be designated as a foreign terrorist organization.”

The bill is a frightening reminder of how some people in power are entirely too eager to throw around a “terrorist” designation for non-violent activists. Only in uninformed, closed minds can carrying letters of support from Americans to those trapped in Gaza constitute support of terrorism, yet this is what the bill suggests.
Our largely ignorant Congressional representatives are quite willing to assume that any information from Israeli sources is infallible to the exclusion of other factual findings, such as evidence that Israeli soldiers summarily executed participants on the Mavi Marmara. Israel maims and kills Americans such as Emily Henochowicz, Brian Avery, and Rachel Corrie with impunity. There is no house resolution pending that condemns the maiming or killing of American citizens by Israeli forces.

In a recent issue of Foreign Policy magazine, Mark Perry reported that Israeli Mossad agents posed as CIA agents to recruit from Jundallah, an Iranian dissident group that is currently on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. On January 11, the fourth Iranian nuclear scientist in two years was blown up by a magnetic bomb attached to his car door. Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, Israel's military chief of staff, was quoted as saying on January 10th. "For Iran, 2012 is a critical year in combining the continuation of its nuclearization, internal changes in the Iranian leadership, continuing and growing pressure from the international community and things which take place in an unnatural manner." None of the 14 co-sponsors3 of HR 3131 have called for a resolution to condemn Israeli state-sponsored terrorism. 

Filming our detention by the Greek Coast Guard. Jul 1, 2011
HR 3131 is a prime example of the danger facing American citizens. Citizens participating in nonviolent acts of dissent are targeted while other violent actions of the US and Israel are simply ignored.  This is less about objective political reality than pursuing political enemies.

With President Obama’s signing of the National Defense Authorization Act, American citizens have lost a fundamental right of citizenship, the right to habeas corpus. The NDAA codifies indefinite detention of American citizens on the “battleground” of America. It is extremely troubling that President Obama would sign this into law, declare he has no intention of using the powers, yet authorize such powers for all those who follow him, including the likes of Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and other future apologists for the Israeli occupation – an occupation which the RNC recently denied even exists.

In October of 2006, after the “Enemy Combatants Bill” passed our Congress and was signed into law I wrote,

“I, for one, am facing my so called “leaders” in Congress, and this corrupt, morally bankrupt administration that would strip the Constitution, suspend habeas corpus, and destroy the very foundation this country was built on while in the same breath promising the world that democratic reform will reduce tyranny. I, for one, will not be silent in these dark days of our dying democracy.”4

Today, an action I assumed was an aberration by fearmongers and torturers in the Bush administration has become further codified into American law. I stand by my statement as our rights and freedom continue to erode.

1 There is no evidence of any sort that the Flotilla was comprised of “hostile forces”. The U.S. boat was comprised of 37 nonviolent peace activists.

2 This is based on the Palmer report released on July 7th, 2011. The committee responsible clearly states in the document “We must stress we are not asked to determine the legality or otherwise of the events. What we express are our views on what took place.” The findings of the Palmer report on the legality of the blockade were disputed by a panel of five UN human rights experts, who said that the blockade amounted to a "flagrant contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law"

3 Co-sponsors: Shelley Berkley (D-NV1), John Carter (R-TX31, Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL21, Eliot Engel (D-NY17),Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ11), Michael Grimm (R-NY13), Peter King (R-NY3), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY14), Peter Roskam (D-NJ9),
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL18), Steven Rothman (D-NJ9)
, John Sarbanes (D-MD3), Albio Sires (D-NJ13), Bill Young (R-FL10).


Friday, January 06, 2012

Guantánamo and Inflaming Passions in the Courthouse and the World

Four members of Witness Against Torture were found guilty in a jury trial at D.C. Superior Court on January 5, 2012. The jury brought back guilty verdicts in the cases of defendants Brian Hynes of the Bronx, NY, Mike Levinson of White Plains, NY, Judith Kelly of Arlington, Virginia, and Carmen Trotta of New York City, NY. Josie Setzler of Fremont, Ohio was acquitted mid-trial after the prosecution’s witnesses failed to identify her.

The demonstrators were charged with one count of disorderly and disruptive conduct on Capitol grounds. The charges stemmed from protests against a Defense Appropriations Bill—a precursor to the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA)—that took place in the citizen’s gallery at the House of Representatives on June 23, 2011. The protests were in response to provisions in the bill that make it essentially impossible to close the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba and that legalize indefinite detention. 

Prior to the start of the trial, the Prosecutor Brandon Long asked District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Gerald Fisher to disallow any statements regarding Guantánamo into the courtroom fearing that mentioning the detention center and the torture that occurred there “could possibly inflame the jury”. Judge Fisher readily agreed, saying, “Speaking about Guantánamo is inappropriate for the purposes of this trial.” Carmen Trotta responded that it was vital for him to mention Guantánamo Bay because “due process everywhere is being threatened and we have the privilege of due process here, right now.” The judge rejected Trotta’s argument, saying, he “does not want an improper politicization of the defendants’ charge.”

In addition, the judge barred any mention of indefinite detention, torture, President Obama and his policies, including the recently signed NDAA, or the former President Bush and his establishment of Guantánamo, Bagram and various CIA black sites around the world.

Defendants were also unable to appeal to international law as justification for their actions. The Nuremburg principles?  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights? These defenses are not appropriate in DC Superior Court.

The judge even disallowed a reading of the statement the defendants were attempting to deliver to Congress, saying, “The statement made from the gallery is not appropriate for the purposes of this trial.”1

As the trial progressed the prosecutor was intent on focusing on the minutia of the regulation. What is important is a regulation was broken. Decorum was lost! Voices were raised! When the prosecutors claimed that distracting Congress members “causes inefficiencies in the process” I laughed out loud.

The prosecutors relied on the tried and true “time and place” restrictions on free speech, saying the House of Representatives was neither the time nor the place to voice disapproval of Congress, even though they were in fact voting on a bill with provisions to keep Guantánamo open, the very issue the activists went to Congress to discuss.

In closing, Prosecutor Long said, “Rules are rules, the law is the law.” He asked the jury, “Why does it matter? Why should you care that the four defendants stood up and yelled in the House of Representatives?” Answering his own question he said, “It matters because it is the law, the law is important.” Apparently the complete hypocrisy of this statement eluded him. For 10 long years the very government Brandon Long represents have been breaking international and domestic law. There have been no repercussions, no accountability and the current administration continues to act with impunity. After 10 years Guantánamo remains open, 89 men cleared for release remain imprisoned there, many others are imprisoned without due process, and the recently signed National Defense Authorization Act makes their release virtually impossible. Rules are rules, laws are laws!

Bahraini national Jumah al-Dossari was taken into custody by the Pakistani army while trying to leave Afghanistan. According to the testimony he gave Amnesty International, he was imprisoned, robbed, tortured, and then sold to American soldiers searching for potential terrorists. He was detained in Guantánamo for over five years. According to the US military, he attempted suicide at least 12 times during his detention. In a letter written to his lawyer and published in the Los Angeles Times newspaper on 11 January 2007, Jumah al-Dossari wrote, "The purpose of Guantánamo is to destroy people, and I have been destroyed. I am hopeless because our voices are not heard from the depths of the detention centre." He wrote this poem as part of a suicide note sent to his lawyer:

Take my blood.
Take my death shroud and
The remnants of my body.
Take photographs of my corpse at the grave, lonely.
Send them to the world,
To the judges and
To the people of conscience,
Send them to the principled men and the fair-minded.
And let them bear the guilty burden before the world,
Of this innocent soul.
Let them bear the burden before their children and before history,
Of this wasted, sinless soul,
Of this soul which has suffered at the hands of the "protectors of peace."

Indeed. The point of our witness is to enflame passion in the courthouses and the streets! The time and place is here and now, always and everywhere, until Guantanamo is closed and torture is not the law of the land. Join us in our continuing fast and witness and culminating in a mass mobilization in Washington DC Jan 11, 2011. See for additional information and ways you can support this effort.

1 The statement barred in the House of Representatives and in court as irrelevant read as follows: “Today the House of Representative is in the process of contemplating not the passage of a bill but the commission of a crime. Provisions in the proposed Defense Appropriations Bill grant the United States powers over the lives of detained men fitting of a totalitarian state that uses the law itself as an instrument of tyranny. The law would make the prison at Guantánamo permanent by denying funds for the transfer of men to the United States, even for prosecution in civilian courts.”