America’s Eichmann November 22, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Racism, Torture.
Tags: american gulag, american prisons, banality of evil, barry sussman, bureau of prisons, charles samuels, Criminal Justice, eichmann, godwin's law, hanna arendt, non-violent offenders, prison industrial complex, prisons, roger hollander, torture
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Roger’s note: Going back to my days protesting racism and the Vietnam War I have unapologetically used the word “fascist” or “neo-fascist” to describe aspects of the actions of the United States government. I am well aware of what the author of this article refers to as Godwin’s Law, that we dare not compare Americans to Nazis in polite company. I often try to think what it would have been like to have been an “ordinary” German citizen in the 1930s and 1940s. I imagine that one woke up in the morning, ate breakfast, sent the kids off to school, and then headed to whatever job she/he worked at. The sun came up in the morning and the moon at night. People ate, drank, partied, and, yes, they would also have discussed politics. Their discussions would have had a lot in common with how many Americans see themselves, that is, as victims. The reparations imposed by the Allies after WWI had created economic hardships that all Germans felt. That was their primary reality. Germans who were educated and who should have known better, would obviously been aware of the officially sanctioned antisemitism and other excesses of the Hitler regime. Some few would have protested and paid a price, other would have rationalized. How is this different, I ask, from American reaction the atrocities in my lifetime that have occurred as a direct or indirect result of U.S. government activity, including but not limited to Vietnam, Agent Orange, Latin American death squads, endemic racist, sexist and homophobic urban policing, the Bush/Cheney torture and rendition regime, the hundreds of thousands if not millions killed in the declared wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the men, women and children destroyed by American drone missiles?
This article focuses on the prison industrial complex, but I note that it fails to include a discussion of the privatization of a large segment of the prison industry, using prisoners as slave labor, and the various forms of torture including years to decades of solitary confinement.
Since this article if focused on criminal justice, it identifies only one of thousands of Eichmanns who spend your American tax dollars on destroying human life.
OpEdNews Op Eds 11/21/2013 at 19:44:02
Godwin’s Law is an assertion, widely credited to Mike Godwin of the Electronic Freedom Foundation, basically holding that a discussion essentially ends when a Nazi or Hitler analogy is raised and signals that the party making such a comparison has lost the argument. It is widely cited, particularly in the blogosphere, whenever the inevitable comparisons are made between current U.S. repressive/invasive procedures and those employed by an earlier repressive regime that according to Godwin, must remain nameless when discussing despicable state tactics.
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Godwin’s Law, credited to Mike Godwin, has diminished the discussion of parallels between current U.S. policy and Nazi Germany
Various players have different motives for promulgating Godwin’s Law. There are the victims of Nazi oppression who seek to ensure a unique place in history for themselves, and in order to do so must see that any other villainous regime is perceived to be relegated to a level no greater than penultimate evil. Then there are the regimes themselves which have a vested interest in quelling any embarrassing or unwanted comparisons. Regardless of the motivation, there seems to be little doubt that absurdities like Godwin’s Law do little to advance meaningful analysis and more likely stifle necessary and legitimate discourse.
An honest examination of the prison-industrial complex in the U.S. demands a total defenestration of Godwin’s Law and anything else interfering with the ability to compare the U.S. “justice” system with those of other similarly malevolent regimes. Those who seek to defend the status quo in the U.S. will reflexively cite the fact that Hitler, Stalin, Mao and others have killed more of their people, etc., but while true, this misses the real point and inherent maliciousness of the current situation in the U.S.
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Adolph Hitler is uniquely evil and exempt from comparison according to Godwin’s Law
Much of the damage done by the U.S. justice system is allowed to occur with little or no oversight as a result of the U.S.’s self-proclaimed role as the world’s moral arbiter. Indeed, much in the way in which Richard Nixon claimed that “when the president does it, that means it is not illegal,” it is now similarly asserted that if the U.S. does it, it must be permissible. Even the most egregious violations can be explained away by attributing their necessity to something as vague as “terrorism.” Godwin’s Law prevents the interjection of the historical fact that similar claims were made by another regime that relied upon comparable and similarly vague justifications.
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Adolph Eichmann was executed for crimes arising out of overseeing a network of prisons for the Third Reich
And so in the spirit of breaking free from the artificial constraints of Godwin, it can be straightforwardly reported that America has its own equivalent of Adolph Eichmann in the person of Charles E. Samuels, Jr., director of the federal Bureau of Prisons. There are obvious parallels between the governmental tasks performed by Eichmann and Samuels. Like Eichmann, he is responsible for the management of prisoner logistics, heading a nationwide network of gulags where enemies of the regime are dispatched for an ever-expanding variety of infractions, both real and imagined.
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Charles Samuels currently serves as the head of America’s vast network of federal gulags
Samuels, installed by President Barack Obama, is the first person of color to hold the post. This fact was widely celebrated by a fawning press following his installation but given that minorities are the largest victims of the prison-industrial complex in the U.S., placing a black man in the position was recognized by more seasoned observers as a cynical ploy to sugar-coat the face of systematically repressive mass incarceration.
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Despite promises of “hope and change,” the Department of Justice and Bureau of Prisons have only grown more repressive under the Obama regime
Samuels’ relatively unimpressive biography suggests he is merely another government functionary seeking sustenance at the public trough. There is nothing in his background which would indicate an extraordinary or unusual level of malice. In his mind he is most likely serving at his post in an unthinking and uncaring manner that is little different from the way in which millions of other government workers perform their assigned tasks. It is entirely possible that he fails to recognize the holocaust he has been entrusted to oversee and perpetuate, instead perceiving it to be nothing more than an element of a necessary state function.
Fifty years ago renowned sociologist Hanna Arendt penned her classic work, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Arendt’s work was revolutionary in its contention that evil in individuals mainly occurs as a result of thoughtlessness. Arendt wrote it was the tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without a critical evaluation of the consequences of their actions, even if it results in unspeakable crimes.
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Famed sociologist Hanna Arendt identified the banal nature of evil found in the likes of Eichmann and Samuels
It was the capture of Eichmann, widely considered at the time to be evil personified, and the reactions observed at his ensuing trial that caused Arendt to formulate her theory. She recognized that the evil being attributed to Eichmann was misplaced. Arendt viewed him as a mere cog in the wheel of an inherently evil system, performing his duties as would ordinarily be expected of any dutiful bureaucrat.
Performing horrific tasks in an organized and systematic way relies upon “normalization.” This is the process whereby such abominable and heinous acts become routine and are ultimately accepted as part of the process through which things are done. The process requires a division of labor in doing and rationalizing the unthinkable. The direct brutalization of people is performed by one set of individuals while others keep unrelated mechanisms of government functioning. Giving cover to the enterprise are supposed intellectuals and other pseudo experts who work through various media outlets to rationalize for the general public what would otherwise be unimaginable.
The media has certainly aided Samuels in efforts to make his endeavors palatable. Press accounts disseminated soon after his appointment credited “an interest in public service” as being what led him to take his first job as a federal prison guard. Samuels reportedly hails from a family of public servants, with a father who worked for the U.S. Postal Service and a mother who was employed by the Social Security Administration. Various media outlets reporting on Samuels’ appointment treated his position with the federal Bureau of Prisons as simply another civic minded endeavor. One article even went so far as to try and humanize his efforts by citing Samuels’ enjoyment of “chess, video games and reading books on a variety of topics.”
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Samuels rules over the largest network of prisons ever assembled
When he’s not reading or playing chess, Samuels oversees the largest network of prisons and prisoners that the world has ever seen. It is largely a retributive network in which nearly three quarters of those imprisoned are non-violent offenders with no history of violence. Mandatory sentencing, rampant federal prosecutorial misconduct and an absurd and patently illegitimate 99% conviction rate in U.S. federal courts guaranty a steady stream of prisoners for the facilities overseen by Samuels.
Many of the victims dispatched to Samuels’ custody find themselves imprisoned as a result of gross abuse of governmental power. People are targeted for prosecution for a variety of reasons, many of which bear no rational relationship to the commission of an offense. The system in which Samuels plays a key role tends to select targets for prosecution and then, after expending limitless resources, finds a suitable “crime” with which they can be charged. It operates much in the spirit of Lavrentiy Beria, head of Joseph Stalin’s secret police in the Soviet Union, who is alleged to have said, “Show me the man, and I’ll show you the crime.”
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The tactics of Lavrentiy Beria, head of Stalin’s secret police, have been embraced by the U.S. Department of Justice
The federal Bureau of Prisons, as overseen by Samuels, is viewed by many detractors as nothing more than another example of state sponsored terrorism. The bureau exists to inflict harm upon its victims and exact retribution from perceived enemies of the regime. Even the pretense of rehabilitation has long been abandoned. Recent press reports claim that there are thousands of people, convicted of non-violent offenses, who have been sentenced to die in prison. The mission of the bureau is to rigidly exact as much time as possible from each and every prisoner. Samuels has taken the task to heart, routinely denying various motions for the compassionate release of terminally ill prisoners and instructing that good time calculations be made in a fashion that cheats every federal prisoner out of seven days of freedom for each year served. Ever the loyal soldier, he holds that every discretionary situation must be resolved in accordance with the goal of ensuring that federal prisons are kept full, well above capacity.
While Arendt’s ideas on the nature of evil were generally rejected when first proposed, the success of subsequent U.S. efforts at wholesale systematic implementation of sanitized decimation through mass incarceration suggests she was years ahead of her time. A man like Samuels, despite the realities of his job description, is widely accepted as being no more villainous than any other high ranking bureaucrat. Much like his predecessor Eichmann asserted, Samuels is widely viewed as one who is doing nothing more than following orders and unquestioningly administering the will of the regime.
Eichmann’s reliance on the Nuremberg Defense in which he sought to deflect guilt by claiming he was “only following orders” was predictably unsuccessful. Despite its past failed applications, it seems inevitable that if Samuels’ day of reckoning comes where he is called to account for the crimes that occurred on his watch, he would invoke a similar defense.
Even Eichmann’s trial speech appears to have applicability to the potential jeopardy faced by Samuels.
“I cannot recognize the verdict of guilty. . . . It was my misfortune to become entangled in these atrocities. But these misdeeds did not happen according to my wishes. It was not my wish to slay people. . . . Once again I would stress that I am guilty of having been obedient, having subordinated myself to my official duties and the obligations of service and my oath of allegiance and my oath of office . . . At that time obedience was demanded, just as in the future it will also be demanded of the subordinate.”
History has demonstrated that this is a losing argument. Samuels, and others whose warped sense of duty impairs their ability to discern right from wrong, run the risk of being called to account. The tipping point is growing near as there are almost daily calls to reform the federal sentencing scheme. The bureau headed by Samuels will predictably defy such calls as bureaucracies tend to resist efforts to diminish their size and scope. Samuels’ unfettered fealty to the regime prevents him from seeing that the administration he heads is one which feeds on bodies. It can only grow by creating correspondingly greater death and misery. America, which leads all nations in number and percentage of people under lock and key, has its Eichmann.
School of Assassins Faces Protest, Congressional De-Funding November 21, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Latin America.
Tags: D’Abuisson, death squads, fort benning, Hugo Banzar Suarez, human rightss, john laforge, Latin America, Manual Noreiga, military dictatorships, otto perez molina, Rios Mont, roger hollander, soa, soa watch, torture, whinsec
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The US Army School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, Georgia is a notorious training operation for Latin American officers and soldiers. It’s associated with some of the worst dictatorships and human rights violators in the hemisphere. For over 20 years, the grassroots School of Americas Watch (SOA Watch) has grown into one of the most dynamic, multi-generational, cross-continental movements against militarism in the Americas.
This weekend, November 22-24, will see thousands gather for a massive rally at Ft. Benning in the ongoing campaign to shut down the school. Vans from colleges and universities will make the trek with students who’ve studied the grim history of U.S.-sponsored military coups and U.S.-friendly dictators, many of whom got their inspiration and training at the SOA (now renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation or WHINSEC).
Among the more infamous SOA graduates are Gen. Jose Rios Montt, who was convicted May 10th of committing genocide between March 1982 and August 1983 during his Guatemalan military dictatorship; death squad leader Otto Perez Molina who under Rios Montt directed massacres of Maya people, and who recently maneuvered Guatemala’s high court to reverse Rios Montt’s conviction; Gen. Manual Noreiga of Panama, who moved from dictatorship via SOA to the BOP (Federal Bureau of Prisons that is) on drug charges; Roberto D’Abuisson, leader of El Salvador’s death squads in the 1980s; and Gen. Hugo Banzar Suarez of Bolivia who seized power in 1971 and who jailed, disappeared and assassinated suspected political opponents for eight years. SOA graduates led military coups in Venezuela in 2002 and the 2009 coup in Honduras.
For more background, “Somos Una America” — a new documentary that focuses on the campaign against the Pentagon mindset that promotes U.S. domination and ‘military solutions’ in the Western Hemisphere — is available online for free (visit: soaw.org/somos).
This past April, the SOA Watch campaign won a long-sought court victory over the U.S. government’s refusal to release the names of the trainers at the SOA/WHINSEC. Federal Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton in Calif. ruled that the Pentagon has no grounds for refusing to release these names. President Obama has OKed the Justice Department’s appeal of this ruling, protecting the Pentagon’s effort to keep the information secret. As SOA Watch points out, this is because instructors there have coached “torturers, death squads and military dictators throughout the Americas.” The president’s decision to appeal puts the lie to his claim that his administration would be the most transparent in history. And you thought after his persecution of whistle blowers Julian Assange, Pfc. Manning and Edward Snowden that Obama could not get more cynical.
Teaching Torture the World Over
The SOA burst into the news in 1996, when the Pentagon released copies of its torture training manuals. The Sept. 21, 1996 Washington Post, in “U.S. Instructed Latins on Executions, Torture; Manuals Used 1982-91, Pentagon Reveals” by Dana Priest, notes that the manuals promote the use of “fear, payment of bounties for enemy dead, beatings, false imprisonment, executions and the use of truth serum.” By 1996, 60,000 military and police officers had been through SOA training.
The torture manuals were distributed to thousands of military officers from eleven South and Central American countries, although the actions advocated in them violated U.S. Army law at the time. The Pentagon ordered the manuals destroyed, but only a few thousand were ever recovered. They have doubtlessly been reproduced and employed by militaries and counterinsurgency forces the world over. U.S. military occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan appear to be direct beneficiaries, considering the torture regimes conducted at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq (2004) and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Afghanistan has become a torture regime too — first under U.S. forces and now by their Afghan trainees (See “U.S. Practiced Torture After 9/11, Nonpartisan Review Concludes,” NY Times, Apr. 16, 2013, and “Government Panel in Afghanistan Confirms Widespread Torture of Detainees,” Jan. 21, 2013).
Demands to abolish the SOA/WHINSEC now come from across the political spectrum. From the point of view of the victims, more than 300 human rights defenders have employed nonviolent direct action at the base, and as a result have collectively spent over 100 years in prison and served additional years probation. (Disclaimer: I did 6 months in the Duluth prison camp for trespassing at SOA back in 2006. My cellie R.J., who was doing eight years, put me straight when he announced, “I see him doing his exercises, his yoga. He’s just here for an oil change.”) From officialdom, the Latin American Military Training Review Act of 2013, H.R. 2989, would suspend operations at the school. It also mandates an investigation into SOA’s connection with abuses of human rights. It’s got 40 co-sponsors but needs more.
If you’re not heading down to the Georgia for the rally, at least push your Congressional Rep’s to join the shutdown effort.
Congressional No-Show at ‘Heart-Breaking’ Drone Survivor Hearing October 30, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Pakistan, War on Terror.
Tags: Alan Grayson, civilian casualties, congress, drone missile, drone wars, lauren mccauley, pakistan, pakistan drones, Rehman, robert greenwald, roger hollander
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Roger’s note: I posted on this subject yesterday, but I am repeating it here to underscore the blatant and callous disregard for human life (that is not white American) demonstrated by U.S. congressmen. Five of 435 showed up to listen to how the drone missiles they casually lob into civilian neighborhoods took the life of a mother/grandmother and injured two children. That represents 1.4% of the members of the House. And this family is just the tip of the drone’s murderous iceberg.
In “historic” briefing, Rehman family gives heartbreaking account of drone killing of 65-year-old grandmother… to five lawmakers
Despite being heralded as the first time in history that U.S. lawmakers would hear directly from the survivors of a U.S. drone strike, only five elected officials chose to attend the congressional briefing that took place Tuesday.
Pakistani schoolteacher Rafiq ur Rehman and his two children—9 year-old daughter Nabila and 13 year-old son Zubair—came to Washington, DC to give their account of a U.S. drone attack that killed Rafiq’s mother, Momina Bibi, and injured the two children in the remote tribal region of North Waziristan last October.
According to journalist Anjali Kamat, who was present and tweeting live during the hearing, the only lawmakers to attend the briefing organized by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), were Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.).
Before the handful of reporters and scant lawmakers, however, Rafiq and his children gave dramatic testimony which reportedly caused the translator to break down into tears.
In her testimony, Nabila shared that she was picking okra with her grandmother when the U.S. missile struck and both children described how they used to play outside but are now too afraid.
“I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer grey skies. Drones don’t fly when sky is grey.” –Zubair Rehman, 13-year-old drone victim
“I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer grey skies. Drones don’t fly when sky is grey,” said Zubair, whose leg was injured by shrapnel during the strike.
“My grandmother was nobody’s enemy,” he added.
“Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day,” Rafiq wrote in an open letter to President Barack Obama last week. “The media reported that the attack was on a car, but there is no road alongside my mother’s house. Several reported the attack was on a house. But the missiles hit a nearby field, not a house. All reported that five militants were killed. Only one person was killed – a 65-year-old grandmother of nine.”
“But the United States and its citizens probably do not know this,” Rafiq continued. “No one ever asked us who was killed or injured that day. Not the United States or my own government. Nobody has come to investigate nor has anyone been held accountable.”
He concluded, “Quite simply, nobody seems to care.”
You can watch a recording of the briefing below and here:
The purpose of the briefing, Grayson told the Guardian, is “simply to get people to start to think through the implications of killing hundreds of people ordered by the president, or worse, unelected and unidentifiable bureaucrats within the Department of Defense without any declaration of war.”
The family was joined by their legal representative Jennifer Gibson of the UK human rights organization Reprieve. Their Islamabad-based lawyer, Shahzad Akbar, was also supposed to be present but was denied a visa by the US authorities—”a recurring problem,” according to Reprieve, “since he began representing civilian victims of drone strikes in 2011.”
“The onus is now on President Obama and his Administration to bring this war out of the shadows and to give answers,” said Gibson.
Also present was U.S. filmmaker Robert Greenwald, who first met Rafiq when he traveled to Pakistan to interview the drone strike victims for his documentary Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars. Before the briefing, Greenwald told the Guardian that he hoped the briefing “will begin the process of demanding investigation. Innocent people are being killed.”
The following clip from Unmanned was shown at Tuesday’s hearing:
The U.S.’s 64-Square-Foot “Torture Chambers” October 19, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
Tags: constitution, cruel and unusual, extreme isolation, human rights, pam johnson, pennsylvania, pennsylvania prisons, prisons, roger hollander, sensory deprivation, solitary confinement, torture, torture chambers
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ROGER’S NOTE: WHEN I READ ABOUT AMERICA’S TORTURE CHAMBERS (AND I DO NOT PUT THAT PHRASE IN QUOTATION MARKS) AND THE NEARLY 100,000 MOSTLY BLACK, LATINO AND FIRST NATIONS PEOPLES BEING TORTURED DAILY, I THINK OF THE AMERICAN MEDIA AND POLITICAL CULTURE AND ITS SELF-RIGHTEOUS, ARROGANT AND HYPOCRITICAL SERMONIZING ABOUT THE SOVIET GULAG OR THE NAZI CONCENTRATION CAMPS. I WANT YOU TO IMAGINE THAT THE AVERAGE TIME FOR AN AMERICA PRISONER IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IS SEVEN AND A HALF YEARS WHEN THE UNITED NATIONS ETHICAL STANDARD IS FIFTEEN DAYS MAXIMUM.
He has not had human contact or a good night’s sleep in nearly three decades. Every single day, he wakes to the sound of metal doors clanging open and a pair of disembodied hands pushing a tray of food through a slot into his 64-square-foot cell.
For the next 23 hours, he will stare at the same four walls. If he is lucky, he’ll be escorted, shackled at his ankles and wrists, into a “yard” – an enclosure only slightly larger than his cell – for an hour of solitary exercise.
This is how Russell “Maroon” Shoatz, a prisoner in the restricted housing unit at the State Correctional Institute (SCI) Frackville in northern Pennsylvania, has spent the past 22 consecutive years.
On Thursday, Shoatz’s lawyers submitted a communication to Juan E. Mendez, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, urging him to inquire into why a “father, grandfather and great grandfather” is being held in extreme isolation despite having a near-perfect disciplinary record for over 20 years.
The appeal comes on the heels of a surge in public debate on the practice of solitary confinement in the United States, where on any given day an estimated 81,000 men, women and children are held in some form of “restricted housing” unit, according to Federal Bureau of Justice statistics.
Authorities in each state have a myriad of euphemisms for the practice: administrative segregation, secure housing units (SHUs), “supermax” facilities, protective custody. Whatever the language, critics say the basic conditions remain the same: extreme isolation and sensory deprivation for years at a time.
According to a 2012 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), the restrictions imposed in “maximum security” facilities often “exceed the fathomable. In Pennsylvania’s most restrictive units, for example, prisoners have all the usual supermax deprivations plus some that seem gratuitously cruel: they are not permitted to have photographs of family members or newspapers and magazines.”
Mendez has already affirmed that holding a human being in isolation for a period exceeding 15 days constitutes a violation of the U.N. Convention Against Torture (CAT).
Back in 2011, his office called for a complete global ban on the use of solitary confinement “except in the most extreme circumstances and for as short a time as possible”, citing numerous studies – some dating back decades, others as recent as Amnesty International’s 2012 report ‘The Edge of Endurance’ – that have documented the long-lasting psychological impacts resulting from even a few days of social separation.
This past August, a hunger strike involving over 30,000 prisoners protesting conditions in restricted housing units at the Pelican Bay State Prison in California prompted the rapporteur to make an urgent appeal to the U.S. government to “eliminate the use of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement under all circumstances”, stressing that the average U.S. prisoners banished to the hole typically stays there roughly 7.5 years – “far beyond what is acceptable under international human rights law.”
Harold Engel, an attorney with over 43 years of experience and a retired partner of the global corporate law firm Reed Smith, said he co-signed the appeal Thursday in the hopes that an investigation undertaken by the office of the special rapporteur, housed at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva, will bring an end to indefinite isolation.
“I first became involved in this case because my daughter told me about Shoatz’s situation and I found it abhorrent,” Engel told IPS.
“As I learned more I realised there wasn’t any clear law on the question of whether keeping someone in solitary confinement under conditions that Shoatz has been kept in violates the eighth amendment of the U.S. constitution [prohibiting the government from imposing cruel and unusual punishment] – which, in my opinion, it does.”
Speaking to IPS under condition of anonymity, an inmate who spent several years in solitary confinement in a Pennsylvania prison before being released back into the general population said his life was measured out in a series of arbitrary numbers: he was permitted one hour of exercise on five days out of the week; he was allowed three meals a day but zero contact visits with his family. His cell contained a single cot and one steel sink. Showers were taken thrice weekly, overseen by guards.
“Getting through each day felt like hewing a single stone from a mountain of despair,” he said.
Bret Grote, an activist who has worked for over six years with the Human Rights Coalition (HRC) – an advocacy group comprised predominantly of prisoners’ families, ex-prisoners and their supporters – says he and others have documented “hundreds upon hundreds of instances of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment inside the solitary confinement units of Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC).”
“The approximately 2,500 prisoners warehoused in solitary by the PA DOC are held in units where physical abuse, psychological deterioration, retaliation for exercising constitutionally-protected rights, food deprivation, extreme social isolation, severely reduced environmental stimulation, theft and destruction of property, obstruction of access to the courts, and racist abuse are normative features,” Grote told IPS.
As Shoatz’s lawyers await an official response from the U.N. rapporteur, they are holding out hope that a full investigation into his case could also bring some respite for the tens of thousands of others enduring such conditions.
Ecuadorian Victims’ Struggle for Justice Against Chevron October 16, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Ecuador, Energy, Environment, Human Rights.
Tags: bianca jagger, chevron, cofan, Ecuador, ecuador oil, ecuadorian amazon, environment, environmental devastation, environmental lawsuit, Huaorani, human rights, kichwa, lewis kaplan, oil spill, oil-contaminated water, roger hollander, secoya, siona, texaco, toxic waste
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And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
Ecosystemsin the Ecuadorian Amazon have been contaminated with by-products of oil extraction
Tomorrow, October 15, a landmark trial opens in federal court in New York City: Chevron Corp v. Steven Donziger et al., one of the world’s largest oil companies against the attorneys and advocates who represent the 30,000 “Lago Agrio Plaintiffs.” The case is the latest in a long and often tragic saga of the Ecuadorian victims struggle for justice.
I am writing this because I don’t want the real issue to be forgotten. The Ecuadorian communities are fighting for justice for the human rights violations and environmental crimes committed by Texaco between 1971 and 1992 in the Northern Ecuadorian Amazon. Since 1993 these Ecuadorian victims have been seeking relief in the largest environmental lawsuit in Latin America to date.
In 2003 I visited the affected communities in the Ecuadorian provinces of Orellana and Succumbios, and I have long supported them in their quest for justice.
Bianca Jagger by an oil pit, Ecuador, 2003I am not writing as an apologist of the legal team, nor am I condoning their behavior — but I feel the need to speak up on behalf of the Ecuadorian victims who may now never get the justice they deserve. It’s critical that Judge Lewis Kaplan, the media, and the public at large don’t lose sight of the real issue.
The original case against Texaco (now Chevron) has been well documented.
Between 1971 and 1992, Texaco embarked upon reckless oil exploration, pumping 1.5 billion barrels of oil from Ecuador. Texaco carved more than 350 oil wells in a rainforest area roughly three times the size of Manhattan and dumped approximately 16.5 billion gallons of oil-contaminated water into unlined pits — one and a half times the amount spilled by the oil tanker Exxon Valdez. When Texaco left Ecuador in 1992, it left behind 916 unlined open toxic waste pits, some just a few feet from the homes of residents. Leeching of highly toxic wastewater byproducts of oil extraction from these pits contaminated the entire groundwater and ecosystem in one of the world’s most valuable rainforests. As there is no running water in the region families, including thousands of children, have no alternative but to drink, bathe, and cook with poisoned water from streams, rivers, lagoons and swamps that have been contaminated by Texaco.
U.S. states have laws requiring that pits have impermeable liners. Louisiana and Texas, two major oil-producing states, passed such laws in the 1930s. Texaco must have been aware of the dire consequences of leaving unlined pits exposed — they made a calculated decision, based on profit. The company saved an estimated $3 per barrel of oil produced by handling its toxic waste in Ecuador in ways that were unthinkable and illegal in the US. The cost to the human population is immeasurable. Ecosystems have been destroyed, diseases have proliferated, crops have been damaged, farm animals killed.
During my visits to the affected communities in 2003, I was appalled at the evidence of the consequences of direct exposure to these toxic waters. The suffering and environmental devastation I witnessed is not a fabrication, or a fiction. There is a toxic legacy left by Texaco for present and future generations.
In May 1995, three years after Texaco left Ecuador, the Republic of Ecuador and Texaco reached a settlement regarding Texaco’s obligations to clean up a percentage of the well sites roughly corresponding to its percentage ownership in the consortium that made money from the drilling. Ecuador’s state-owned oil company, PetroEcuador, was the 62.5 percent majority owner of that consortium from 1976 to 1992, so Texaco was required to clean up only a minority of the well sites. The settlement would later form part of Chevron’s claims that the case had been settled. It did not, however, extinguish the claims of individual third parties, or affect the rights of the communities affected by Texaco’s actions. Certainly the “clean up” undertaken by Texaco was limited and has made no material difference to the lives of the Ecuadorian communities.
Ecosystems contaminated by Texaco’s activities in Ecuador.
The Texaco disaster culminated in the largest environmental lawsuit in Latin America to date; brought by 30,000 plaintiffs from the Ecuadorean Amazon. They filed a billion dollar class action against Texaco in New York. Texaco moved to dismiss the U.S. lawsuit on forum non conveniens grounds. In 2002 the court granted Texaco’s motion, and the case moved to Ecuador on the condition that the company stop using an expiration of the statute of limitations as a defence and that any judgment be enforceable in the U.S. Among the plaintiffs are five indigenous tribes, the Cofán, Siona, Secoya, Kichwa and Huaorani.
The Ecuadorian Amazon in the wake of Texaco.
Chevron acquired Texaco in 2001. Unlike the Exxon Valdez and the Deepwater Horizon accidents, where Exxon and BP, respectively, took some responsibility for their negligence, Chevron has successfully managed to move the case outside of the U.S. because it provided them with two options: to rig the judicial system in a foreign country, or to dodge its responsibility by not recognizing the validity of the verdict if it was not in their favor.
In February 2011, Judge Nicolas Zambrano issued a final verdict, ordering Chevron to pay $18.5 billion to the Ecuadorian plaintiffs. But as Chevron has no holdings in Ecuador, the plaintiffs have been unable to collect that judgement.
Chevron has paid more than $400 million to an army of lawyers to help the company avoid payment and spent over $100 million in lobbying firms to influence U.S. lawmakers and government officials to affect Ecuador’s trade with the U.S., and to discredit Ecuador, its government and legal system. Chevron has even been lobbying Congress and the U.S. Trade Representative not to renew Ecuador’s Most Favored Nation status, which expired on July 31, 2013.
Even prior to the 2011 Ecuadoran ruling, the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, representing Chevron, was shifting the case physically, from Ecuador to New York, from pollution and human rights to attorney ethics.
Gibson Dunn won U.S. court orders forcing the makers of the feature documentary CRUDE to turn over 600 hours of raw footage on the Ecuadorean case in 2010. This footage apparently shows an attorney for the Ecuadorian communities, recounting how he has put pressure on Ecuadorian judges. Now Chevron has accused the attorney of fraud and racketeering — of attempting to obtain the settlement for his own personal benefit, and brought the civil lawsuit against the trial lawyers and consultants for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs.
Chevron brought three collateral actions against the Ecuador judgment in a New York federal court, all overseen by Judge Lewis Kaplan, who has a puzzling attitude toward the case. The Ecuadorians asked that Judge Kaplan be recused from the case in 2011. In their writ of Mandamus the Ecuadorians expressed their concern at the Judge’s language — referring to them as the “so-called Lago Agrio plaintiffs,” and in one written order, describes them as “a number of indigenous peoples said to reside in the Amazon rainforest.”
On Jan. 26, 2012, a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Judge Kaplan previously overstepped his authority when he tried to ban enforcement around the world of the $18.5 billion judgement against Chevron Inc. for environmental damage in Ecuador. But Chevron has retaliated.
Which brings us back to the suit that begins tomorrow, October 15, in a federal district court in New York, once again before Judge Kaplan. In order to avoid a trial by jury Chevron has dropped their claims for damages against the defendants. There is a massive imbalance of power and resources between the two sides. Unlike Chevron, the defense has scant resources — as demonstrated by this motion by Julio Gomez, which asks that the trial schedule reflect the fact that
My firm has no funds to hire an associate, a paralegal or even an assistant to help me through trial given the fact that I have insufficient funds to cover outstanding bills – much less fees going into trial. I have not even been able to contract the two assistants who aided me temporarily with the filing of Defendants’ draft pre-trial submissions in August.
Chevron has also subpoenaed nine years’ worth of email metadata — from September 2003 to 2012 — from 101 email accounts belonging to people with connections to the case. Data requested includes names, time stamps, and detailed location data and login info. Judge Kaplan granted this subpoena in September 2013. According to Mother Jones, this strays dangerously close to violation of First Amendment rights.
The Republic of Ecuador is also seeking leave to intervene to protect the confidentiality of privileged documents which appear to have made their way into Chevron’s suit without explanation.
The case of the Ecuadorians is being lost in a legal labyrinth. Avenues of legal recourse are being closed off, so that the victims have nowhere to turn.
The $18.5 billion judgement in favor of the Ecuadorian plaintiffs should have been historic, a landmark, a precedent for ending impunity for powerful multinational corporations in the developing world and achieving justice. It was a beacon of hope. But after 20 years of long, hard battle, I am beginning to have serious doubts as to whether the victims in Ecuador will ever be compensated.
The Ecuadorian communities were the victims of exploitation by a multinational corporation, Texaco. Their lives, and that of their children, are affected by the toxic waters that leaked into water sources on which they are dependent. This is the real issue, and it is a story that is all too common throughout the developing world. With their legal team on trial, who will pursue justice for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs now?
I appeal to Judge Kaplan, to the media, and to the public at large — please don’t forget what is at stake here. Don’t let this legal imbroglio eclipse the issues which are really at the heart of this case: human rights, justice and environmental protection.
Tags: child soldiers, egypt coup, human rights, military aid, president obama, roger hollander, sarah lazare
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Overrides law banning such aid; critics charge ‘Obama becoming an expert at waiving human rights laws’
Amid the hoopla of the government shutdown, the White House quietly passed a bill Monday that overrides a law banning military aid to countries that use child soldiers.
The Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 prohibits the U.S. government from providing military assistance to countries that directly use, or support the use of, child soldiers. Built into the law is an option allowing the U.S. president to override the ban if he/she deems it necessary.
On Monday, President Obama issued complete waivers to Yemen, Chad, and South Sudan, opening up those countries to U.S. military aid despite their known use of child soldiers, declaring in a written memorandum it is “in the national interest of the United States” to override the ban.
Obama also granted partial waivers to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia to allow “International Military Education and Training” and “nonlethal” defense for both countries and “provision of assistance under the Peacekeeping Operations authority for logistical support and troop stipends” in Somalia. According to Think Progress writer Hayes Brown, these waivers open the door for military aid for ongoing “peacekeeping” operations in both these countries.
“Obama is becoming an expert at waiving human rights laws,” writes Ken Hanly in Digital Journal. “He waived part of a law last month that banned the US from supplying lethal aid to terrorist groups so he could send aid to Syrian rebels. In the case of Egypt, Obama has refused to call the coup by the armed forces a coup and by doing so does not run afoul of a law that would ban aid to a country where there had been a military coup.”
“Human rights are to be promoted but only insofar as they do not conflict with US national interest as understood by the president,” he added.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government has come under criticism for filling its own military ranks with hundreds of thousands of teenagers, including 17-year-olds who can enlist with parental consent.
‘The Economy Runs on Our Toil’: Record Protests Sweep Bangladesh September 22, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Asia, Bangladesh, Human Rights, Labor.
Tags: bangladesh, benetton, child labor, disney, Gap, garment industry, garment workers, labor, labor unions, roger hollander, sarah lazare, Sears, third world, unions, walmart, worker protest
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Roger’s note: the myth is that we are living in a post-industrial society (as if somehow the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the houses we live in, etc. somehow are magically made). In reality exploited industrial labor has been shifted for the U.S. and Europe to the third world, mostly Asia. Just about anything we buy, from running shoes, to screw drivers, to pillow cases, is manufactured by some exploited worker, quite possible a child working 12 hours a day for slave wages, in Bangladesh or the Philippines. It is an iron law of capitalist production to continually search out sources of cheap labor. Capital accumulation originated on the backs of indigenous miners in Peru and African slaves. Today, while it is mainly low paid services industry workers who are subjected to exploitation in the former industrial nations, the beat goes on for dark skinned factory workers in the third world.
Over 50,000 demand ‘dignity’ in garment industry where majority-female worke-force faces dangerous conditions and some of lowest wages in world
50,000 garment workers demanding higher pay flooded the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh Saturday, and 20,000 shut down dozens of factories by walking off the job, in the largest demonstrations to ever sweep the notoriously dangerous and low-wage Bangladesh garment industry.
The protests continued on Sunday, with workers and their supporters blocking traffic, marching along a key highway, and clashing with police who shot rubber bullets and tear gas at crowds of thousands, the AFP reports.
“Our backs are against the wall, so we don’t have any alternative unless we raise our voice strongly,” Nazma Akter, president of the United Garments Workers’ Federation, which groups 52 garment worker’s groups, told Saturday’s protest, Reuters reports. “We will not hesitate to do anything to realize our demand.”
Bangladesh’s garment industry is the second largest in the world, accounting for 80 percent of the country’s annual exports. Its estimated 4 million workers, 80 percent of whom are women from rural areas, earn a paltry $38 U.S. dollars a month, making them some of the lowest-paid garment workers in the world.
Unions have demanded a wage increase that would bring them to a monthly wage of $100 dollars to lift workers out of deep poverty, but factory owners rejected the demand, offering a paltry 20 percent raise.
“We are not the object of mercy, the economy moves with our toil,” Akter declared addressing Saturday’s rally.
Bangladesh’s garment industry has been swept with protests since the collapse of a factory in April killed more than 1,200 workers and injured over 2,500, with most victims women—one of many tragedies to sweep the country’s dangerous garment industry. While the catastrophe captured global headlines, little has been done to improve the bleak conditions of an industry that sells to numerous U.S.-based corporations, including Walmart, Gap, Sears, Disney, and Benetton.
“[W]e want these jobs with dignity,” Akter declared previously, “with safe working conditions, decent wages, and a voice in the workplace, and a unionized work place.”
Tags: Colombia, colombia free trade, colombia healthcare, colombia indigenous, colombia mining, colombia neoliberal, colombia poverty, colombia privatization, colombia strike, colombia workers, Free Trade, general strike, human rights, juan manuel santos, labor, neoliberal, privatization, roger hollander, sarah lazare, worker rights
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Ignored by English-language media, rural uprisings spread across industries as hundreds of thousands protest US-backed govt
A nationwide strike in Colombia—which started as a rural peasant uprising and spread to miners, teachers, medical professionals, truckers, and students—reached its 7th day Sunday as at least 200,000 people blocked roads and launched protests against a U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement and devastating policies of poverty and privatization pushed by US-backed right-wing President Juan Manuel Santos.
“[The strike is a condemnation] of the situation in which the Santos administration has put the country, as a consequence of its terrible, anti-union and dissatisfactory policies,” declared the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT), the country’s largest union, in a statement.
The protests and strikes, largely ignored in the English-language media, have been met with heavy crackdown from Colombia’s feared police, with human rights organization Bayaca reporting shootings, torture, sexual assault, severe tear-gassing, arbitrary arrests, and other abuses on the part of state agents. Colombia’s Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon recently claimed that the striking workers are being controlled by the “terrorist” Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in a country known for using unverified claims of FARC connections as an excuse to launch severe violence against social movements.
“Violent clashes continue in rural areas where farmers and truck drivers have been setting up roadblocks since Monday, and the Santos administration has deployed 16,000 additional military personnel to ‘control the situation,’” Neil Martin of the Colombia-based labor solidarity organization Paso International told Common Dreams Sunday. “There have not been deaths reported in relation to this violence, but human rights organizations and YouTube videos have documented military personnel beating protestors, stealing supplies, carrying out vandalism unwarranted arrests, and generally inciting violence.”
Protesters are levying a broad range of concerns about public policies that devastate Colombia’s workers, indigenous, and Afro-Colombian communities. The US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement has forced small farmers to compete with subsidized US products, made them more vulnerable to market fluctuations, and eroded their protections and social safety nets through the implementation of neoliberal policies domestically. Farmers are demanding more protections and services in a country beset with severe rural poverty.
Meanwhile, the Colombian government is handing out sweetheart deals to international mining companies while creating bans and roadblocks for Colombian miners. Likewise, the government is giving multinational food corporations access to land earmarked for poor Colombians. Healthcare workers are fighting a broad range of reforms aimed at gutting and privatizing Colombia’s healthcare system. Truckers are demanding an end to low wages and high gas prices.
“This is the third or fourth large-scale non-military rural uprising this year,” Martin told Common Dreams.
Colombian workers organizing to improve their lives are met with an onslaught of state violence: Colombia is the deadliest country in the world for union activists, according to the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center, and 37 activists were murdered in Colombia in the 1st half of 2013 alone, leading news weekly Semana reports.
Santos, who says he refuses to negotiate while the strikes are taking place, has so far been unsuccessful in his efforts to quell the swelling protests that are paralyzing much of the country, particularly in rural areas.
“[W]e just want solutions to our problems,” Javier Correa Velez, the head of a coffee-growers association called Dignidad Cafetera, told the Miami Herald. “The strike is simply a symptom of an illness that the entire agriculture sector is suffering from.”
Tags: 2014 Sochi Olympics, anti-gay, Anti-Gay Discrimination, Gay Sochi, Gay Voices News, ioc, lgbt, olympics, roger hollander, russia, Sochi, Sochi Olympics, Sochi Russia, Stoli Boycott
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Between the Stoli boycott and statements from athletes around the world with regard to next year’s Winter Olympics and Russia’s new, draconian anti-gay laws, most of you know what’s been going on. For those who don’t, the short version is this: Earlier this year, Russia passed some horrifically anti-gay laws that make it illegal to “promote” homosexuality. Apparently you can be gay, but you just can’t ever tell anyone about it for fear that you’ll be reported and go to prison. These laws have given cover to neo-Nazi groups and others who take the law into their own hands by beating and murdering any person they think doesn’t measure up to their standard of heterosexuality.
Many have called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to make strong statements against these laws, and some have even called for them to move the 2014 Winter Olympics from Sochi, Russia, to a place that is more accepting of all athletes. The IOC responded by declaring that they’d spoken to Russian authorities and had been assured that Olympic athletes and fans would be exempt from the anti-gay laws while in Sochi. Not so fast, responded Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, who made it clear that Olympic athletes and fans would have to respect the host country’s bigoted laws. And today, Russia’s Interior Ministry stated unequivocally that the anti-gay laws will be enforced during the Olympic Games in Sochi.
This game of media ping-pong has left Olympic participants without any actual information regarding the situation in Russia. The truth of the matter is that no matter what kinds of assurances the IOC makes, LGBT people are not welcome or safe in Russia. The IOC can say whatever they want to, but it will not stop some Russian thug in a bar from kidnapping, beating and potentially murdering someone he perceives as gay.
Gay Star News asked the IOC what they thought about plans for athletes to wear rainbow pins or hold hands during the opening and closing ceremonies. They also asked if the IOC would provide a safe space — or Pride House — for LGBT athletes, spectators, dignitaries and others during the Games, to celebrate gay sport and community, as has been done in previous years. The IOC’s spokesperson replied, “[T]he IOC has a clear rule laid out in the Olympic Charter (Rule 50) which states that the venues of the Olympic Games are not a place for proactive political or religious demonstration. This rule has been in place for many years and applied when necessary.” Indeed, Rule 50 of the IOC’s charter states, “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”
So instead of actually standing up for LGBT athletes, the IOC is essentially siding with Russia and issuing a warning to lesbian and gay athletes. The IOC has made it clear that they have a double standard when it comes to accepting all athletes. The Pride House in Vancouver was historic in that it provided a safe space for LGBT athletes from around the world. The IOC clearly didn’t see this as a violation of Rule 50 a few years ago, but it seems as though athletes must now be forced to step back into the closet for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
If the Olympics remain in Sochi, LGBT athletes are automatically at a disadvantage. It’s really hard to perform to one’s full capabilities when one is spending part or most of the day in actual fear for his or her life. Gay New Zealand speedskater Blake Skjellerup told USA Today, “I don’t want to have to tone myself down about who I am. That wasn’t very fun and there’s no way I’m going back in the closet. I just want to be myself and I hate to think that being myself would get me in trouble.” I don’t think you’ll find a single athlete out there who’d disagree with the notion that you perform better when you don’t have to hide who you are. In fact, many said as much when basketball player Jason Collins came out last year.
At this point, I can’t imagine that there is anything that the IOC can say to actually ensure the safety of Olympic participants or fans, whether it be from the Russian government itself or from vigilantes who are rarely if ever prosecuted for their crimes against LGBT people. While boycotts and news stories have been effective at getting the word out about the atrocities being carried out against LGBT people in Russia, none of this will actually make anyone safer in Russia. And none of it will stop LGBT athletes from constantly having to look over their shoulders as they compete for Olympic gold.
Follow Jamie McGonnigal on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mcbenefit
Olympics Petition Delivered August 7, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, LGBT, Russia, Sports.
Tags: all out, anti-gay, anti-gay crackdown, gay rights, human rights, lgbt, olympic committee, olympics, olympics petition, putin, roger hollander, russia, russia olympics, winter olympics
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Today in Switzerland: more than 50 All Out members delivered our petition of over 322,000 names from around the world to the International Olympic Committee.
In fewer than 200 days, Russia will host the Winter Olympics. Their anti-gay laws are fuelling terrible violence and murders across the country and they fly in the face of the Olympic values of friendship and respect.
That’s why we gathered at Olympics HQ today to ask the Olympic Committee to speak out against Russia’s anti-gay crackdown, face-to face.
The Olympic Committee hasn’t hosted such a gathering before! Their Director of Communications accepted the massive petition and held a long meeting with us.
He listened to our concerns and announced that the Olympic Committee has now asked for the Russian government to state in writing that no athletes or visitors will be persecuted because they are gay. That shows they’re feeling our pressure to do more – but it’s not enough.
We’re going to keep asking the Olympic Committee to be a true guardian of Olympic values, by speaking out against the Russian anti-gay crackdown. The International Association of Athletics Federations spoke out today – it’s time for the Olympics to follow.
Today the 1.8 millionth member joined All Out, and together we did something really important for people power. We showed the biggest world leader in sport that we’re not just anonymous names on the internet. We’re real people and we want them to speak out for love and equality.
Right now, we’re figuring out the next things we can do together to persuade the Olympic Committee to speak out. If we can do it, it will build the pressure on President Putin to stop the anti-gay crackdown. So watch out for the next call to action!
Thanks for going All Out,
Andre, Guillaume, Hayley, Jeremy, Joe, Marie, Mike, Tile, and the rest of the All Out team.
PS: Recently, more than 3,738 All Out members chipped in for a fighting fund to power the campaign. That meant we could send some of our team to Switzerland to deliver the petition in person. There’s so much more to do – and it’s not too late to help by chipping in to support All Out. Click here to donate: https://www.allout.org/donate