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The War in Colombia and Why It Continues June 24, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Human Rights, Labor, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: it is only four word phrase, but it reflects an iron law of human society; No Justice, No Peace.  Be it the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa or Latin America, conflict may appear ideological or religious, but it is always a question of justice.  That is why so-called settlements that do not address the inherent inequality of capital domination, can be at best stepping stones to genuine peace.  In Latin America we see this in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, where full-fledged and open armed conflict has been temporary suspended via agreements between the established “order” (I put this in quotes because it is in fact disorder) and organized rebellion; and the result is a continuation of suffocating neo-Liberal capitalism.  The settlement of virtually every conflict world-wide is further hindered by United States diplomatic, economic, military, and clandestine interventions for geopolitical reasons which inevitably boil down to the protection of corporate interests.

 

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Where Ecocide Turns Into Genocide

by W.T. WHITNEY Jr.

In Havana, representatives of the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have been negotiating peace for 30 months. The war they are trying to end has killed or disappeared 250,000 Colombians over 25 years. The future of the talks is uncertain.

“Today the mountains and forests of Colombia are the heart of Latin America.” At an international forum on Colombia on June 8, former Uruguayan President Jose Mujica was saying that developments in Colombia, including the peace process, are “the most important in Latin America.”

Interviewed on May 30, head FARC negotiator Iván Márquez, asserted that “confidence at the negotiating table is badly impaired and that only a bilateral ceasefire can help the process advance.” He said deaths of “human rights defenders [including] over 100 members of the Patriotic March coalition” and “persecution of leaders of the social movements” were poisoning the atmosphere.

Since March in Cúcuta, thugs have killed four labor leaders, including on June 2 Alex Fabián Espinosa, a member of the MOVICE human rights group. In May assassins killed community leader Juan David Quintana and professor and social activist Luis Fernando Wolff, both in Medellin. Analyst Azalea Robles says that “a total of 19 human rights defenders were murdered in Columbia during the first four months of 2015.”

On April 15, FARC guerrillas killed 11 Colombian soldiers in Buenos Aires (Cauca). According to Márquez, “They were defending themselves following the disembarkation of troops [from aircraft] who were advancing on them.” In apparent retaliation, the Colombian military, bombing from the air, killed 27 guerrillas on May 21 in Guapi (Cauca).   The FARC immediately ended the unilateral, indefinite ceasefire it declared in December, 2014. Within days, government forces killed 10 guerrillas in Antioquia and five more in Choco Department. The dead included two FARC peace negotiators who were in Colombia updating guerrillas on the talks.

Negotiators have reached preliminary agreements on three agenda categories: land, narco-trafficking, and political participation. But now they’ve have spent a year on the “victims” agenda item; reparations and assignment of blame were prime topics. On completion recently of their 37th round of talks, they did agree to form a truth commission as “part of the integral system of truth, justice, reparation, and non-repetition.” Work on that project may divert government negotiators from their steady focus on “transitional justice” which entails punishment and jail time for FARC leaders.

A pilot project on removing landmines and discussions by military leaders on both sides about ceasefire mechanisms are other markers of progress. Márquez insists on “reconciliation on the basis of actual history, far-reaching justice, comprehensive reparation, and no repetition [and] all of this is tied to structural transformations.” This last promises to be a sticking point.

Azalea Robles explains why: Emphasizing Colombian government dependency on powerful economic interests, she implies that the hands of government negotiators are tied. “The Colombian reality,” she says,” is shaped by dispossession and territorial re-accommodation destined for all areas … that are of economic interest. It’s a capitalist logic that allows no scruples and constitutes ecocide turned into genocide. In Colombia strategies of terror are promoted and they relate to capitalist plunder.”

For example, “80 percent of human rights violations and 87 percent of population displacements take place in regions where multinationals pursue mining exploitation, [and] 78 percent of attacks against unionists were against those working in the mining and energy areas.” Some “40 percent of Colombian land is under concession by multinational corporations.” She counts 25 environmentalists killed in 2014.

Capitalism in Colombia, Robles insists, rests on “state terrorism.” She cites “physical elimination” of the Patriotic Union party, “6.3 million dispossessed and displaced from their lands for the benefit of big capital,” and “60 percent of assassinations of unionists worldwide” having taken place in Colombia.

The fate of Wayuu Indians in La Guajira Department epitomizes the terror of extreme poverty and powerlessness. Some 600,000 of them occupy northern borderlands in Colombia and Venezuela. In 2012, 14 000 Wayuu children died of starvation and 36,000 survivors were malnourished; 38.8 percent of Wayuu children under age five died. La Guajira’s El Cerrejón, owned by the BHP Billiton and Anglo America corporations, is the world’s largest open-pit coal mine. Mine operators have destroyed Wayuu villages and poisoned soil and water. They pump 35,000 liters of water out of the Rancheria River each day thus depriving the Wayuu of water they need for survival

While ongoing violence and terror serve as backdrop for the peace process, that reality, ironically enough, originally prompted President Juan Manuel Santos to initiate the talks. He and his political and business allies worried that for civil war to continue might frighten off multinational corporations and international investors. To protect Colombia’s capitalist economy and its integration within the U. S. – led globalized system, they wanted it to end.

But, one asks, where is the common ground shared by a capitalist regime habituated to criminal brutality and Marxist insurgents still in the field after 50 years?

Maybe compromise is not to be, and civil war will continue. Writing for rebelion.org, Colombian political exile José Antonio Gutiérrez D. accuses the Santos government of using negotiations exclusively to create space for strengthening its military power, while beating up on its political opposition and the FARC. Peace, he implies, is not the government‘s objective.

In fact, the government anticipates a “neo-liberal peace.” Were that to occur, the FARC would be giving up on its basic objective of securing justice through political action. FARC negotiators have long called for a peace with mechanisms in place allowing for social justice and structural transformations to flourish. A constituent assembly is a prime example.

Commentator Fernando Dorado gives voice to the government’s line. Fearing that the FARC itself might use a bilateral truce to restore military capabilities, he specifies that, “The only solution is to de-escalate confrontation voluntarily and speed up the talks.” He regards ex-President Uribe’s recent switch to supporting peace on neo-liberal terms as facilitating this approach. Until now Uribe has masterminded obstruction to the peace process. Dorado claims the U.S. government is insisting that “the bloc of hegemonic power [in Colombia]’ unify itself in order to achieve its objective: ‘neo-liberal peace’ with tiny ‘democratic’ concessions.”

The spilt among conservative forces stems from the Santos-led group’s face-off against right wingers – ones Uribe speaks for – who are loyal to traditional forms of oligarchical power, among them: large landholdings, ranching, military force, paramilitaries, and more recently narco-trafficking.

The government now is riding high in the negotiations on account of its power, which is military in nature but rests also on its command of the economy and its U.S. alliance. To both achieve peace and rescue its goals, the FARC must, by any logic, also project power; good ideas are not enough. Indeed, ever such since negotiations began in 2012, FARC strategists have been clear on how to do that. They’ve called for popular mobilization in Colombia for peace with justice – for a people’s uprising.

In a recent interview FARC commander Carlos Antonio Lozada, a delegate to the Havana peace talks, explains: “What with vacillations by Santos and growing pressures from militarism against the peace process, the only guarantee of its continuing and its definitive consolidation is that the majority sectors who believe in a political solution to the conflict mobilize in its defense. Peace with social justice for our people will not come as a present from the oligarchy.” He regrets that, “Still there is no success in structuring a broad front that brings together and decisively mobilizes all the social and political forces that crave a peace with democratic changes.”

In the end, the outcome of negotiations probably will depend on what happens in Colombia. Jaime Caycedo, secretary – general of the Communist Party, announced on June 4 that “social and political organizations will be preparing a national mobilization in favour of peace and the demand for a bilateral cease fire.” It takes place in late July.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.

 

 

Hillary Clinton sold out Honduras: Lanny Davis, corporate cash, and the real story about the death of a Latin American democracy June 11, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Haiti, Hillary Clinton, Honduras, Human Rights, Imperialism, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: this entry partners with another (http://wp.me/pjfja-3cN) that describes the Clintons’ destructive if not genocidal presence in Haiti.  Hillary Clinton on foreign policy and military intervention is a super hawk, further to the right than some right-wing Republicans.  She supported the Iraq invasion and every other illegal and counterproductive US military adventure.  The notion of supporting her as the lesser of evil with respect to the Republican nominee I will not dignify with a response.  I learned a lesson in 1964 when I worked to elect the “peace candidate” Lyndon Johnson, who proceeded to escalate the Vietnam War resulting in millions of deaths.  Electing Democrats to the presidency has the ironic effect of destroying the peace movement.  We see this in spades with Barack Obama.

Monday, Jun 8, 2015 11:58 AM -0500

Want to know why Clinton’s State Dept. failed to help an elected leader? Follow the money and stench of Lanny Davis
Matthew Pulver

Riot police hit a truck after its occupants ran away as they protested the June coup against President Manuel Zalaya and today's general elections in San Pedro Sula, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2009.  With President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a military coup last June, still holed up in the Brazilian embassy, voters will choose a new president Sunday from the political establishment that has dominated Honduras for decades.  (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

Riot police hit a truck after its occupants ran away as they protested the June coup against President Manuel Zalaya and today’s general elections in San Pedro Sula, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2009. With President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a military coup last June, still holed up in the Brazilian embassy, voters will choose a new president Sunday from the political establishment that has dominated Honduras for decades. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

In this handout picture released by the Guatemalan Presidency, Hondura's President Porfirio Lobo talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Guatemala City, Friday, March 5, 2010. Clinton is on a one-day official visit to Guatemala. (AP Photo/Guatemala Presidency/Handout)

Hilllary hanging with the Honduran oligarch suits, including the illegally elected president: In this handout picture released by the Guatemalan Presidency, Hondura’s President Porfirio Lobo talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Guatemala City, Friday, March 5, 2010. Clinton is on a one-day official visit to Guatemala. (AP Photo/Guatemala Presidency/Handout)

Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, considered by some to be the only real threat to Hillary Clinton, has joined Sen. Bernie Sanders to be the only two challengers to the former secretary of state. Republicans, whose seemingly limitless field seems poised for a “Hunger Games”-esque cage match, worry that a Clinton cakewalk through the primaries will leave her relatively unscathed in the general election against a beaten and beleaguered GOP nominee whose every foible will have been exposed.

And yet for some reason, GOP candidates lob tired Benghazi charges at the presumptive Democratic nominee during the short breaks in infighting. The issue only really excites the GOP base, and it’s highly unlikely that after almost three years of pounding the issue the tactic will work. Plus, House Republicans’ own two-year investigation into the attack absolved Clinton’s State Department of the worst GOP allegations, giving her something of her own “please proceed, Governor” arrow in the quiver if she is attacked from that angle.

It’s the SCUD missile of political attacks when there are laser-guided Tomahawks in the arsenal.

Republicans really hit on something when they started making noise about the Clintons’ relationship with foreign governments, CEOs and corporations, following the lead set by Peter Schweizer’s bestselling “Clinton Cash.” Cross-ideological ears perked up to rumored quid pro quos arranged while Hillary was atop State and Bill was out glad-handing global elites. Even liberals and progressives paid attention when the discussion turned to the Clintons and international elites making backroom, under-the-table deals at what Schweizer calls “the ‘wild west’ fringe of the global economy.”

Though it’s less sexy than Benghazi, the crisis following a coup in Honduras in 2009 has Hillary Clinton’s fingerprints all over it, and her alleged cooperation with oligarchic elites during the affair does much to expose Clinton’s newfound, campaign-season progressive rhetoric as hollow. Moreover, the Honduran coup is something of a radioactive issue with fallout that touches many on Team Clinton, including husband Bill, once put into a full context.

In the 5 a.m. darkness of June 28, 2009, more than two hundred armed, masked soldiers stormed the house of Honduran president Manuel Zelaya. Within minutes Zelaya, still in his pajamas, was thrown into a van and taken to a military base used by the U.S., where he was flown out of the country.

It was a military coup, said the UN General Assembly and the Organization of American States (OAS). The entire EU recalled its countries’ ambassadors, as did Latin American nations. The United States did not, making it virtually the only nation of note to maintain diplomatic relations with the coup government. Though the White House and the Clinton State Department denounced only the second such coup in the Western Hemisphere since the Cold War, Washington hedged in a way that other governments did not. It began to feel like lip service being paid, not real concern.

Washington was dragging its feet, but even within the Obama administration a distinction was seen very early seen between the White House and Secretary Clinton’s State Department. Obama called Zelaya’s removal an illegal “coup” the next day, while Secretary Clinton’s response was described as “holding off on formally branding it a coup.” President Obama carefully avoided calling it a military coup, despite that being the international consensus, because the “military” modifier would have abruptly suspended US military aid to Honduras, an integral site for the US Southern Command, but Obama called for the reinstatementof the elected president of Honduras removed from his country by the military.

Clinton was far more circumspect, suspiciously so. In an evasive press corps appearance, Secretary Clinton responded with tortured answers on the situation in Honduras and said that State was “withholding any formal legal determination.” She did offer that the situation had “evolved into a coup,” as if an elected president removed in his pajamas at gunpoint and exiled to another country was not the subject of a coup at the moment armed soldiers enter his home.

It’s hard to see those early evasions by Clinton, though, as a Benghazi-like confusion in the fog of the moment. Nearly a month later, Secretary Clinton would call President Zelaya’s defiance of the coup government and return to Honduras “reckless” and damaging to “the broader effort to restore democratic and constitutional order in the Honduras crisis.” Thanks to Wikileaks, we now know from a cable from the Honduran embassy sent just the day prior how certain the State Department was that Zelaya’s removal was a cut-and-dried military coup: “The Embassy perspective is that there is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch,” wrote Ambassador Hugo Llorens, reporting from on the ground in Tegucigalpa.

And even months later, with the increasingly violent and basic rights-denying coup government still in place, State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley would incredulously maintain, “We aren’t taking sides against the de facto regime versus Zelaya.”

It was becoming widely believed that the Clinton State Department, along with the right-wing in Washington, was working behind the scenes to make sure that President Zelaya would not return to office. This U.S. cabal was coordinating with those behind the coup, it was being rumored, to bring new elections to Honduras, conducted by an illegal coup government, which would effectively terminate the term of Zelaya, who was illegally deposed in the final year of his constitutionally mandated single term. All this as Honduras was “descending deeper into a human rights and security abyss,” as the coup government was seen to be actually committing crimes worthy of removal from power. Professor Dana Frank, an expert in recent Honduran history at UC Santa Cruz, would charge in the New York Times that the resulting “abyss” in Honduras was “in good part the State Department’s making.”

Though the case has been made, it’s impossible to accuse Clinton of foreknowledge of the coup. Likewise, no smoking gun exists to definitively conclude that Clinton and her associates actively and willfully acted to maintain the coup government in league with the elite and corporate interests, but an abundance of evidence, combined with what we know about Clintonite ideals in foreign policy and global trade, makes a case deserving of a response from one of two or three people expected to become the most powerful person on earth.

Clinton herself even gets dangerously close to confessing a role in keeping Zelaya out of office in her book “Hard Choices,” in which she discussed the hard choice to ignore the most basic tenets of democracy and international norms:

“In the subsequent days [after the coup] I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere…We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.”

One of those strategic partners appears to have been Clinton family legal pitbull, Lanny Davis, deployed as an auxiliary weapon against the rightful, legal, democratically elected president of Honduras. Davis famously defended President Bill Clinton during his impeachment proceedings, and he’s been on Team Clinton for decades, most recently serving as a booster for Hillary’s campaign in its early days.

Davis, along with another close Clinton associate Bennett Ratcliff, launched a Washington lobbying offensive in support of the coup government and its oligarchic backers, penning a Wall Street Journal op-ed, testifying before a Congressional committee, and undoubtedly knocking on office doors on Capitol Hill, where he enjoys bipartisan connections, which valuable asset he demonstrated during his committee hearing.

“If you want to understand who the real power behind the [Honduran] coup is, you need to find out who’s paying Lanny Davis,” said Robert White, former ambassador to El Salvador, just a month after the coup. Speaking to Roberto Lovato for the American Prospect, Davis revealed who that was: “My clients represent the CEAL, the [Honduras Chapter of] Business Council of Latin America.” In other words, the oligarchs who preside over a country with a 65 percent poverty rate. The emerging understanding, that the powerful oligarchs were behind the coup, began to solidify, and the Clinton clique’s allegiances were becoming pretty clear. If you can believe it, Clinton’s team sided with the wealthy elite.

NYU history professor Greg Grandin, author of a number of books about Central and South America, boiled the coup down to a simple economic calculation by the Honduran elite: “Zelaya was overthrown because the business community didn’t like that he increased the minimum wage. We’re talking about an elite that treats Honduras as if it was its own private plantation.”

Grandin was echoed by a Honduran Catholic bishop, Luis Santos Villeda of Santa Rosa de Copan, who told the Catholic News Service, “Some say Manuel Zelaya threatened democracy by proposing a constitutional assembly. But the poor of Honduras know that Zelaya raised the minimum salary. That’s what they understand.”

One doesn’t have to believe professors and bishops, though; one of the central members of the oligarchic elite, Adolfo Facussé, admitted to Al Jazeera’s Avi Lewis two months after the coup that Zelaya’s reforms for the poor had angered the ruling economic cabal: “Zelaya wanted to do some changes, and to do that, instead of convincing us that what he was trying to do was good, he tried to force us to accept his changes.”

Facussé was, of course, describing democracy. The so-called “Diez Familias” of Honduras, the country’s 1 percent, were unhappy that the Honduran people—the families’ subjects, essentially—backed a leader who worked on behalf of the vast majority of Hondurans. Also known as, how representative democracy works.

Facussé’s family is one of, if not the, most powerful families in Honduras, with the family patriarch Miguel Facussé being described in a Wikileaked State Department cable as “the wealthiest, most powerful businessman in the country.” The elder Facussé was even vice president of the infamous Association for the Progress of Honduras (APROH) in the early 1980s, a time during which the right-wing, pro-Washington, ultra-capitalist business group had strong ties with the infamous US-trained death squads of Battalion 3-16.

The School of the Americas-trained death squads no longer terrorize Honduras and Central America at the behest of business interests, but the legacy and power remains in a more refined, technocratic, you might say “Clintonite,” means of effecting a good climate for the oligarchs and corporations who remain in control in the region. The coup leader, Gen. Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, is a two-time graduate of the Pentagon’s School of the Americas (SOA, now called WHINSEC), and he was able to enact a coup without the widespread ’80s-era bloodshed brought by the death squads.

Another SOA-trained Honduran military lawyer, Colonel Herberth Bayardo Inestroza, confessed to the Miami Herald just days after the coup that the Honduran military broke the law in kidnapping and exiling the president. But Inestroza still bore the ideological training he’d received under President Reagan’s pro-capitalist crusades in the region: “It would be difficult for us, with our training, to have a relationship with a leftist government. That’s impossible.”

The coup was cleaner, replacing Reagan-era death squads with high-priced PR and attorneys from Clinton’s world, but it still accomplished what the other, bloodier conflicts had aimed for in earlier decades: keeping Central America free of leftist leadership—or even progressive leadership, in Zelaya’s case—and keeping the region business-friendly. A post-coup government a couple years later would announce that Honduras is “open for business,” if not open for human rights and democracy. Foreign policy Clintonism may be more technocratic than the Republican model, but its goals are effectively the same. Clintonite mercenaries wear Brooks Brothers suits, not military fatigues.

Lanny Davis’ role as PR guerrilla is reminiscent of fellow Clinton team member James Carville, who worked in the 2002 campaign of multimillionaire Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (“Goni”) in Bolivia, another pro-globalization, pro-Washington, hyper-capitalist candidate running against socialist Evo Morales.

Detailed in the documentary “Our Brand is Crisis,” Carville’s role in Bolivia, along with other Clintonite luminaries, was much the same as the coup defenders nearly a decade later in Honduras, in that the expertise of Clinton team members were put in service of business elites. In 2002, Bolivia was convulsing after hyper-capitalist, neoliberal reforms had sold off the country’s state-owned resources at the order of international financial institutions. Goni had been a central figure in the neoliberal reforms during his first term as president. Losing office after his first term, Goni was trying to grab the reins again four years later.

The effects of his privatization plan—called “capitalization” in Bolivia—had come to be felt in the intervening years, especially in Bolivia’s third-largest city, Cochabamba, where even water service was sold off to multinational corporations, principally San Francisco-based Bechtel. The country’s majority indigenous population, mostly poor (Goni, called “El Gringo,” is rich, fairer-skinned and grew up in the U.S.), began to revolt as water prices suddenly rose by 50 percent after the corporation took control. Due to the giveaway Goni had initiated, residents even had to obtain a permit to collect rainwater. “Even rainwater was privatized,” said one of the principal activists. “Water sources were converted into property that could be bought and sold by international corporations.” Campesinos began to charge that the dystopian Bechtel, one of the largest contractors in the world, was “leasing the rain.”

Moreover, Bolivia’s long-suffering and indigenous poor majority was calling for constitutional reform, the same sort of measure Zelaya was floating in Honduras. The insurgent indigenous candidate Evo Morales, a lowly coca farmer, nearly defeated the Washington-backed and -assisted Goni on a platform that demanded constitutional reform. Throughout the past few decades as Latin American governments have begun to shed the vestiges of colonialism and Monroe Doctrine-based U.S. control, countries have democratically written new constitutions to replace former national doctrines in which racism, sexism, and radical inequity were constitutionally permitted in many cases.

Finally, Clinton’s State Department’s role in attempting to block a minimum wage increase in Haiti allows us to triangulate (so to speak) and speculate with some confidence on Clinton’s wishes vis-à-vis poor nations under the rule of oligarchs and corporate elites. State Department cables exposed by Wikileaks reveal that, according to The Nation, “[c]ontractors for Fruit of the Loom, Hanes and Levi’s worked in close concert with the US Embassy when they aggressively moved to block a minimum wage increase for Haitian assembly zone workers, the lowest-paid in the hemisphere.”

(The Haitian assembly zones are free trade enclaves of the sort the Clintons advocate, where corporations are permitted to take advantage of the hemisphere’s cheapest labor without paying high tariffs—tiny versions of President Clinton’s NAFTA.)

Just weeks before the coup in Honduras, the State Department acted on behalf of a “tiny assembly zone elite” and intervened in the Haitian government’s plan to raise the wage. This was after President Clinton had already ravaged the island nation and enriched U.S. agricultural companies with a devastating trade deal that led to Haitians eating dirt cakes to survive.

This sort of engineering of regional politics in the service of the economic elite appears to be something of a hallmark of the Clinton camp. A case is being built that it’s the family business to cater to the global elite, despite the Clinton campaign’s salt-of-the-earth optics in Iowa and New Hampshire, which appears disingenuous in light of virtually everything else we know about Clinton. And with a growing list of Clinton associates being complicit, concerns about a President Clinton’s criteria for cabinet and agency appointments grow, as well.

Keeping wages down in places like Honduras and Haiti virtually ensure that those formerly decently paying, often unionized, jobs will never return to the U.S. Going to bat by proxy for Bechtel, a conglomerate with close ties to the GOP and the military industrial complex, doesn’t seem like the best use of the political talent of members of the Clintons’ braintrust. It becomes fair to ask, “Who do the Clintons work for?”
More Matthew Pulver.

Criticism of the Israeli Government is NOT Anti-Semitism May 25, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Racism.
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CCR-frontlines-logo

 

FOJ-Criticism-Palestine

False anti-Semitism charges used to undermine campus movement for Palestinian rights
On Monday, Palestine Solidarity Legal Support (PSLS) and CCR released findings regarding the increasing use of accusations of anti-Semitism on U.S. college campuses to suppress speech critical of Israeli policy. Between January and April of this year, PSLS documented 60 incidents involving accusations of anti-Semitism made against students or faculty and 24 incidents involving accusations that students or faculty were “terrorists” or “supporters of terrorism,” based solely on speech critical of Israeli policy. At two universities, for example, votes on divestment resolutions were blocked because Israel advocacy groups claimed they would create an anti-Semitic climate. Such attacks deliberately conflate advocacy on behalf of Palestinian human rights with anti-Semitism in order to undermine such advocacy, including the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, as a way to shut it down. They thereby violate the free speech rights of students and scholars and undercut the university as a place of debate and critical thinking; they also detract from the fight against true anti-Semitism. Complementing the release of the findings was an analysis of the political context by Dima Khalidi, founder and director of PSLS and CCR cooperating counsel. Also on Monday, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) delivered a letter signed by over 250 academics to the U.S. State Department, asking it to revise its definition of anti-Semitism in order to prevent the charge of anti-Semitism from being misused to silence critics of Israel.

CCR represents Professor Steven Salaita, who was terminated by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign from a tenured position for tweets critical of Israeli policy – which were also called anti-Semitic. A court date scheduled for last week on the university’s motion to dismiss his case was cancelled, and we are awaiting a written decision.

GAZA GENOCIDE VICTIMS:

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Woman as Reason: Afghan women demand justice May 19, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan, Women.
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From the May-June 2015 issue of News & Letters

by Terry Moon

Is the March 19 murder of Farkhunda by a mob of men who beat her to death with stones and sticks, ran her over with a car, threw her body on the banks of the Kabul River and lit it on fire, a turning point for women in Afghanistan? Some are saying it is.

Farkhunda was a 27-year-old woman who was studying religion and thought she had a right to criticize mullahs selling good luck charms at a religious shrine in central Kabul. But then one mullah started screaming that she was an infidel and had burned the Koran. Even though Farkhunda had been at the shrine for hours castigating the trinket sellers as un-Islamic, the lynch mob believed the mullah and turned on her with inhuman fury.

Her death was captured by cell phones and projected on social media. The impact was profound. Nargis Azaryun, a youth activist and member of Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML), expressed what many felt when she checked her facebook page that morning: “The first sentences I read about the incident left me in shock: ‘Today we killed a woman who burned the Koran. Allah Akbar.’… I cried for hours, thinking how helpless she was when they were kicking her. She kept screaming and saying, ‘I haven’t burned the Koran,’ but no one was listening to her….The police did not help her because everyone believed that she deserved to die, deserved to be burned to death….”

Because Farkhunda’s death was broadcast all over social media, because it was so horrific and because there was such an outcry—for once, instead of taking the man’s word as the unchallenged truth—her murder was investigated and she was declared “completely innocent.”

AFGHAN WOMEN STAND TALL

Then women did something unprecedented: they went to Farkhunda’s family and asked if they could carry her coffin, this in a country where women are often banned from attending funerals. The women who made this move were activists, belonging to groups like WLUML, Solidarity Party, Women for Women International-Afghanistan; others held professional jobs in the city or university.

Against all tradition, women in Afghanistan carry Farkhunda's coffin.

There is no question that they were aware of what happened in Turkey in February at the funeral of 19-year-old student Özgecan Aslan, who was savagely sexually assaulted and murdered. Over 5,000 came to her funeral where women refused the Imam’s orders to step to the back of the crowd. Instead women stepped forward to carry Aslan’s coffin and bury her, vowing: “No other man’s hands would touch her again.” (See “From Turkey to USA, women as force & reason fight inhumanity,” March-April 2015 N&L.)

In Afghanistan at the burial the women chanted: “We want justice!” and “We are all Farkhunda!” A member of WLUML said that at Farkhunda’s funeral, “For the first time in Afghanistan we stood tall to say that no man will touch her burnt body’s coffin.”

It didn’t end there. On March 24 thousands of demonstrators marched on Afghanistan’s Supreme Court demanding justice for Farkhunda, the second protest in as many days. Organizers estimated that 3,000 marched—one of the largest demonstrations ever in Kabul. Demonstrators shouted, “Justice for Farkhunda” and “Down with ignorance.” Afghans in other countries have demonstrated too.

At the March 24 demonstration, the head of the Afghanistan Women’s Council, Fatana Gailani, expressed the hope that Farkhunda’s death would be a catalyst for change. Others thought the response to her death had brought people together who were sickened by the inhumanity of her attackers. Is this the beginning of a better life for Afghan women?

WOMEN AS FORCE AND REASON

If Farkhunda had burned the Koran, would there have been an outcry? When it was thought she had, the police stood by and watched her murder. A spokesman for them said that the killing of “an unbeliever” was justified. What of the women who are jailed for years for running away from home to avoid a forced marriage or those who die from honor killings? Who carries their coffins or demonstrates in the streets shouting for justice for them?

It means something that these women stood tall in Kabul. They took matters into their own hands and revealed their creativity through action, which is the way that genuine change comes about.

Azaryun made this clear, saying: “I picked up [Farkhunda’s coffin] because I wanted to tell the women in this country that if we want to achieve anything we should sit up and do what we want to do. Do it like a woman. And if we stick together, we break taboos. We proved it yesterday. No one could stop us yesterday from being by Farkhunda’s side because we were together and supporters of each other.”

The Church’s Genocidal “Requerimiento” May 8, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in First Nations, Genocide, History, Human Rights, Imperialism, Religion.
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Roger’s note: I am no great fan of the Roman Catholic Church, past, present, and  (presumably) future, albeit I acknowledge that there have been and are some notable exceptions to the murderous conservative institutional church: the Maryknolls, Bishop Romero, worker priests, etc.  Nonetheless, the genocidal crimes of the church, particularly in the third world, are as impossible to reconcile with the philosophy of the biblical Jesus as they are to forgive.

I first became aware of the notorious Requerimiento reading James Michner’s novel on the history of Texas, where it was used against the southwest indigenous tribes.  As a marriage of hypocrisy with homicide the concept knows no equal.  If genuine decent Roman Catholic members can reconcile these acts with their faith, so be it.  As for me, we have enough contemporary examples of the Church’s ethical putrefaction — from the tacit support of Hitler’s Nazis to the thousands of women condemned to botched abortions — there remains ample evidence of its moral decadence.

The following is from Eduardo Galeano’s notes on Haiti:

Three years after the discovery, Columbus personally directed the military campaign against the natives of Haiti, which he called Española.

A handful of cavalry, 200 foot soldiers, and a few specially trained dogs decimated the Indians. More than 500, shipped to Spain, were sold as slaves in Seville and died miserably. Some theologians protested and the enslavement of Indians was formally banned at the beginning of the 16th century.

Actually it was not banned but blessed: before each military action the captains of the conquest were required to read to the Indians, without an interpreter but before a notary public, a long and rhetorical Requerimiento exhorting them to adopt the holy Catholic faith: “If you do not, or if you maliciously delay in so doing, I certify that with God’s help I will advance powerfully against you and make war on you wherever and however I am able, and will subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their majesties and take your women and children to be slaves, and as such I will sell and dispose of them as their majesties may order, and I will take your possessions and do you all the harm and damage that I can.”

Targeting ISIS, US-Led Strike Kills 52 Civilians, Including 7 Children May 2, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Children, Human Rights, Imperialism, ISIS/ISIL, Syria, War.
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Roger’s note: your tax dollars at work in promotion of democracy death.

 

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Edited U.S. Air Force image of two F-15E fighters after conducting airstrikes in Syria on Sept. 23, 2014. U.S. Central Command directed the operations. (Photo by Senior Airman Matthew Bruch/USAF via Stuart Rankin/cc/flickr)

A U.S. military strike on Friday targeting fighters with the Islamic State has killed 52 civilians, including 7 children and 9 women, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Saturday.

According to the human rights watchdog group, an additional 13 Syrian civilians are missing following the attack on a village in the northern province of Aleppo. The deaths mark the highest civilian loss from a single attack since the U.S.-led coalition began its war against the Islamic State, or ISIS, in September 2014.

“[We] condemn in the strongest terms this massacre committed by the U.S led coalition under the pretext of targeting the IS in the village, and we call the coalition countries to refer who committed this massacre to the courts, as we renew our calls to neutralize all civilians areas from military operations by all parties,” the group said in a statement.

Coalition airstrikes have killed an estimated 118 civilians. However, Reuters notes, the U.S.-led attack has “had little impact on the hardline Islamic State group, slowing its advances but failing to weaken it in areas it controls.”

“Washington and its allies say their aim is to support what they call moderate rebels fighting against both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Isis,” Reuters continues. “But four years into Syria’s civil war, no side is close to victory. A third of the population has been made homeless and more than 220,000 people have been killed.”

There’s a Reason Gay Marriage Is Winning, While Abortion Rights Are Losing April 28, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Human Rights, LGBT, Women.
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Roger’s note: god forbid anyone should promote a rivalry between different groups of the oppressed; that is tantamount to divide and conquer, the oldest political trick in the books, one that predated Machiavelli by centuries.  Nevertheless, as this article points out, there is a complexity about the different dimensions of struggles for justice.  Homophobia, racism and sexism are pernicious; and, as the saying goes, no one is free until we are all free.  Nevertheless, homophobia, racism and sexism seem to have taken root to different degrees in North American society.  An example that has interested me relates to Vietnam War opposition; that is, the difference in attitude towards celebrity opponents Jane Fonda and Muhammad Ali.  The latter has risen to iconic hero status, whereas Hanoi Jane remains a pariah to many.  Does this mean that misogyny is deeper than racism in our society?  I don’t think that is exactly true, although to some extent it seems that the liberation of fifty percent of the population   poses more of a threat than any particular race.  This is a raw observation on my part, not to be taken too seriously I hope; and this article goes into a more rigorous analysis in the treatment of gay and women’s rights.

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Are these two “culture wars” issues really that similar?

 

The media present marriage equality and reproductive rights as ‘culture war’ issues, as if they somehow went together,” writes Pollitt. “But perhaps they’re not as similar as we think.” (Image credit: Getty)

Why are reproductive rights losing while gay rights are winning? Indiana’s attempt to enshrine opposition to gay marriage under the guise of religious freedom provoked an immediate nationwide backlash. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has allowed religious employers to refuse insurance coverage for birth control—not abortion, birth control—to female employees; new laws are forcing abortion clinics to close; and absurd, even medically dangerous restrictions are heaping up in state after state. Except when the media highlight a particularly crazy claim by a Todd Akin or Richard Mourdock, where’s the national outrage? Most Americans are pro-choice, more or less; only a small minority want to see abortion banned. When you consider, moreover, that one in three women will have had at least one abortion by the time she reaches menopause, and most of those women had parents, partners, friends—someone—who helped them obtain it, the sluggish response to the onslaught of restrictive laws must include many people who have themselves benefited from safe and legal abortion.

The media present marriage equality and reproductive rights as “culture war” issues, as if they somehow went together. But perhaps they’re not as similar as we think. Some distinctions:

§ Marriage equality is about love, romance, commitment, settling down, starting a family. People love love! But marriage equality is also about tying love to family values, expanding a conservative institution that has already lost most of its coercive social power and become optional for millions. (Marriage equality thus follows Pollitt’s law: Outsiders get access when something becomes less valued, which is why women can be art historians and African-Americans win poetry prizes.) Far from posing a threat to marriage, as religious opponents claim, permitting gays to marry gives the institution a much-needed update, even as it presents LGBT people as no threat to the status quo: Instead of promiscuous child molesters and lonely gym teachers, gays and lesbians are your neighbors who buy Pottery Barn furniture and like to barbecue.

Reproductive rights, by contrast, is about sex—sexual freedom, the opposite of marriage—in all its messy, feckless glory. It replaces the image of women as chaste, self-sacrificing mothers dependent on men with that of women as independent, sexual, and maybe not so self-sacrificing. It doesn’t matter that contraception is indispensable to modern life, that abortion antedates the sexual revolution by thousands of years, that plenty of women who have abortions are married, or that most (60 percent) who have abortions are already mothers. Birth control and abortion allow women—and, to a lesser extent, men—to have sex without punishment, a.k.a. responsibility. And our puritanical culture replies: You should pay for that pleasure, you slut.

§ Same-sex marriage is something men want. Lesbian couples account for the majority of same-sex marriages, but even the vernacular “gay marriage” types it as a male concern. That makes it of interest to everyone, because everything male is of general interest. Though many of the groundbreaking activists and lawyers who have fought for same-sex marriage are lesbians, gay men have a great deal of social and economic power, and they have used it, brilliantly, to mainstream the cause.

Reproductive rights are inescapably about women. Pervasive misogyny means not only that those rights are stigmatized—along with the women who exercise them—but that men don’t see them as all that important, while women have limited social power to promote them. And that power is easily endangered by too close an identification with all but the most anodyne version of feminism. There are no female CEOs pouring millions into reproductive rights or threatening to relocate their businesses when a state guts access to abortion. And with few exceptions, A-list celebs steer clear.

§ Marriage equality has cross-class appeal: Anyone can have an LGBT child, and parents across the political spectrum naturally want their kids to have the same opportunities other children have. Any woman might find herself needing an abortion, too, but she may not realize that. Improvements in birth control mean that prosperous, educated women with private doctors can control their fertility pretty well—certainly better than women who rely on public clinics—and if they need an abortion, they can get one. It’s low-income women who suffer the most from abortion restrictions—and since when have their issues been at the top of the middle and upper classes’ to-do list?

§ Marriage equality costs society nothing and takes no power away from anyone. No one has been able to argue persuasively that your gay marriage hurts my straight marriage. But reproductive rights come with a price tag: Government funding is inevitably involved. (“If you want to have a party, have a party, but don’t ask me to pay for it,” said one New Hampshire lawmaker as he tried to cut funding for contraception.) Also, contraception and abortion give power to women and take it from others: parents, employers, clergy, and men.

§In marriage equality, there is no loser. But many, including some who call themselves pro-choice, feel that abortion creates a loser: the embryo or fetus. You have to value women a lot to side with the pregnant woman, with all her inevitable complexities and flaws, over the pure potentiality of the future baby.

§ Marriage equality is a wonderful thing, an important civil right that brings dignity to a previously excluded group. Over time, it may subtly affect the gender conventions of straight marriage, but it won’t fundamentally alter our social and economic arrangements. Reproductive rights, though, are inescapably connected to the larger project of feminism, which has already destabilized every area of life, from the bedroom to the boardroom. What might women demand, what might they accomplish, how might they choose to live, if every woman had children only when and if she wanted them? “Culture war” doesn’t begin to describe it.

Surviving the Nazis, Only to Be Jailed by America February 23, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Europe, Genocide, Germany, History, Human Rights, War.
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Roger’s note: this is a companion piece to the post I put up the other day with respect to the Southwest concentration camps established to incarcerate mothers and children seeking asylum from Central American violence (http://wp.me/pjfja-3bB).  These camps were declared unconstitutional last week by a federal judge who ruled that these asylum seekers, who had already established a legitimate claim to asylum in the first step of the process, could not be held captive just to deter others from coming.

The article below shows how the victims of “liberated” Nazi concentration camps were re-victimized by their American “saviors,” under the stewardship of General George S. Patton, an avowed anti-Semite.  Following Winston Churchill and George Washington, Patton is the third in my series of western “heroes.” men guilty of crimes against humanity who walk away Scott free only because they hold enormous power within the ruling structure of the winning side.

This is not ancient history.  Today the likes of the Bushes, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Kissinger and Obama, to mention only the most noteworthy, all of whom belong behind bars, enjoy freedom in the same way that Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler and the rest of the Nazi band of war criminals would have, had the Axis won the War.

 

Photo

 Prisoners at the Buchenwald concentration camp, near Weimar, Germany, as it was liberated by American forces in April 1945. Credit Margaret Bourke-White/Time & Life Pictures — Getty Images

WORLD leaders gathered at Auschwitz last month to mark the liberation 70 years earlier of the Nazis’ most infamous concentration camp. More ceremonies will follow in coming months to remember the Allied forces’ discovery, in rapid succession, of other Nazi concentration camps at places like Bergen-Belsen that winter and spring of 1945.

Largely lost to history, however, is the cruel reality of what “liberation” actually meant for hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors discovered barely alive in the Nazi camps.

Even after the victorious American and Allied forces took control of the camps, the survivors — mainly Jews, but also small numbers of gays, Roma, Communists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others — remained for months behind barbed wire and under armed guard in what became known euphemistically as displaced persons, or D.P., camps. Many Jews were left wearing the same notorious striped pajamas that the Nazis first gave them.

With the American forces overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of refugees under their control, underfed survivors lived for months in decrepit camps in Germany and Austria — a number of them on the same grounds as the concentration camps. Even after conditions improved, thousands of former prisoners remained inside and in limbo for as long as five years because the United States and most other nations refused to let them in.

In the early months after the war, thousands of survivors died from disease and malnutrition. Food was so scarce that rioting broke out at some camps, as Allied commanders refused to give extra food rations to Jewish survivors because they did not want to be seen as giving them preferential treatment over German P.O.W.s and other prisoners.

Faced with complaints by outside Jewish groups about conditions of “abject misery,” President Harry S. Truman sent a former immigration official, Earl Harrison, to Europe to inspect the camps. His findings were blistering. The survivors “have been ‘liberated’ more in a military sense than actually,” Harrison wrote Truman in the summer of 1945.

“As matters now stand,” he wrote, “we appear to be treating the Jews as the Nazis treated them except that we do not exterminate them. They are in concentration camps in large numbers under our military guard instead of S.S. troops.”

I ran across Harrison’s report a few years ago while researching a book on the flight of Nazis to the United States after the war. As I examined the path the Nazis took out of Europe, I struggled to understand how so many of them had made it to America so easily while so many Holocaust survivors were left behind.

One answer came in a copy of Gen. George S. Patton’s handwritten journal. In one entry from 1945, Patton, who oversaw the D.P. operations for the United States, seethed after reading Harrison’s findings, which he saw — quite accurately — as an attack on his own command.

“Harrison and his ilk believe that the Displaced Person is a human being, which he is not, and this applies particularly to the Jews who are lower than animals,” Patton wrote. He complained of how the Jews in one camp, with “no sense of human relationships,” would defecate on the floors and live in filth like lazy “locusts,” and he told of taking his commander, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, to tour a makeshift synagogue set up to commemorate the holy day of Yom Kippur.

“We entered the synagogue, which was packed with the greatest stinking mass of humanity I have ever seen,” Patton wrote. “Of course, I have seen them since the beginning and marveled that beings alleged to be made in the form of God can look the way they do or act the way they act.”

Other evidence emerged revealing not only Patton’s disdain for the Jews in the camps, but an odd admiration for the Nazi prisoners of war under his watch.

Under Patton, Nazis prisoners were not only bunked at times with Jewish survivors, but were even allowed to hold positions of authority, despite orders from Eisenhower to “de-Nazify” the camps. “Listen,” Patton told one of his officers of the Nazis, “if you need these men, keep them and don’t worry about anything else.”

Following Harrison’s scathing report to Truman, conditions in the camps slowly became more livable, with schools, synagogues and markets sprouting up and fewer restrictions. But malaise set in, as survivors realized they had no place to go.

At Bergen-Belsen, as many as 12,000 Jewish survivors at a time remained there until the camp was closed in 1951. Menachem Z. Rosensaft was born at the camp in 1948 to two Holocaust survivors. He said in an interview that he believed that the survivors’ hardships after the war had often been overlooked because “it doesn’t neatly fit the story line that we won the war and liberated the camps.”

Mr. Rosensaft, the editor of a new book by Holocaust descendants called “God, Faith and Identity from the Ashes,” added: “Nobody wanted them. They became an inconvenience to the world.”

Joe Sachs, an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor who now lives outside Miami, said his three and a half years in a displaced person camp were tolerable. He met his wife there, learned a trade as a dental technician, and, on most days at least, there was enough food for everyone to get a piece of bread or meat.

Compared with the Nazi camps, “it was heaven,” he said. “But of course we felt abandoned,” Mr. Sachs added. “We were treated not quite as human beings. In a camp like that with a few thousand people, the only thing you feel is abnormal.”

The State Department finally approved visas for Mr. Sachs and his wife and their 18-month-old daughter in 1949, just as Holocaust survivors were finally being allowed into the country in large numbers, and they left for New York City.

That, he said, was truly liberating.

“I know I can go to hell for what I did to you.” January 20, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Torture.
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Last week, several Republican senators, including John McCain, called on President Obama to stop releasing detainees from the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Their argument was that after the terror attacks in Paris, the 122 prisoners still in Guantánamo should be made to stay right where they are, where they can do the West no harm.

On Tuesday, one of those detainees, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who was sent to Guantánamo in 2002 and remains there to this day, is poised to offer a powerful rejoinder. Three years into his detention — years during which he was isolated, tortured, beaten, sexually abused and humiliated — Slahi wrote a 466-page, 122,000-word account of what had happened to him up to that point

A native of Mauritania, Slahi, 44, is fluent in several languages — he learned English while in Guantánamo — and lived in Canada and Germany as well as the Muslim world. He came under suspicion because an Al Qaeda member, who had been based in Montreal — where Slahi had also lived — was arrested and charged with plotting to bomb the Los Angeles International Airport in 1999. Slahi was questioned about this plot several times, but he was always released. After 9/11, Slahi was detained again for questioning. That time, he was turned over to the American authorities, in whose captivity he has been ever since.

What was he accused of? Slahi asked this question of his captors often and was never given a straight answer. This, of course, is part of the problem with Guantánamo, a prison where being formally charged with a crime is a luxury, not a requirement. His efforts to tell the truth — that he had no involvement in any acts of terrorism — only angered his interrogators. “Looks like a dog, walks like a dog, smells like a dog, barks like a dog, must be a dog,” one interrogator used to say. That was the best his captors could do to explain why he was there. Yet the military was so sure he was a key Al Qaeda player that he was subjected to “special interrogation” techniques that had been signed off by the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, himself.

“Special interrogation techniques,” of course, is a euphemism for torture. The sections of the book that describe his torture make for harrowing reading. Slahi was so sleep-deprived that he eventually started to hallucinate. Chained to the ground, he was forced to “stand” in positions that were extremely painful. Interrogators went at him in shifts — 24 hours a day. Sometimes during interrogations, female interrogators rubbed their breasts over his body and fondled him.

It is hard to read about his torture without feeling a sense of shame.

Does Slahi crack? Of course: to get the torture to stop, he finally lied, telling his interrogators what he thought they wanted to hear, just as torture victims have done since the Inquisition. “Torture doesn’t guarantee that the detainee cooperates,” writes Slahi. “In order to stop torture, the detainee has to please his assailant, even with untruthful, and sometime misleading [intelligence].” McCain, who was tortured in Vietnam, knows this; last month, he made a powerful speech in which he condemned America’s use of torture, saying, “the use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights.” That is also why it is so disheartening that McCain has allied himself with those who want to keep Guantánamo open.

In 2010, a federal district judge ruled in favor of Slahi’s habeas corpus petition because the evidence against him was so thin. The government appealed, and the order remains in limbo.

I asked Nancy Hollander, one of Slahi’s lawyers, to describe her client. “He is funny, smart, compassionate and thoughtful,” she said. All of these qualities come through in his memoir, which is surprisingly without rancor. “I have only written what I experienced, what I saw, and what I learned firsthand,” he writes toward the end of his book. “I have tried not to exaggerate, nor to understate. I have tried to be as fair as possible, to the U.S. government, to my brothers, and to myself.” One of the wonders of the book is that he does come across as fair to all, even his torturers.

But the quote that sticks with me most is something that one of his guards told him, something that could stand as a fitting epitaph for Guantánamo itself: “I know I can go to hell for what I did to you.”

Saudi’s Perfidy: Ten Years In Prison and 1,000 Lashes In Public For Seeking to “Respect the Differences Among Us” January 15, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Human Rights, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Religion, Saudi Arabia.
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Roger’s note: Where is the outcry?  Where are the headlines?  Where is the righteous indignation?  Oh, I forgot.  Saudi Arabia is an American ally, its barbarism doesn’t count.

 
The same day the Saudi Arabian Ambassador marched in Paris against the attack on Charlie Hebdo and free speech, his country – the one that regularly persecutes and jails writers, artists, activists and intellectuals for expressing their views, that seeks to try women drivers as terrorists, and that just declared a fatwa against snowmen – dragged blogger Raif Badawi shackled from his jail cell and flogged him 50 times in the public square at Jeddah’s al-Jafali mosque for “insulting Islam” through his website, Saudi Arabian Liberals, which offered social and political debate. It was the first of 20 such scheduled “severe” floggings, to total 1,000 lashes over 20 weeks. Badawi’s sentence last May also called for ten years in prison, a ten-year travel ban, a hefty fine and a lifetime ban from media outlets. His lawyer was also sentenced to 15 years in prison.

The sentence and lashings have prompted international outrage, a sustained campaign by Amnesty International, #‎FreeRaif‬ and #‎RaifBadawi‬ campaigns online, a tepid response from a U.S. State Department that is “greatly concerned” and a likewise mild response from Canada – where Badawi’s wife and children have settled in Montreal after receiving political asylum – which says it has “raised his case…as part of an ongoing, respectful dialogue” with the Saudis. Today, supporters held a vigil in Montreal, where they and Badawi’s family demanded he be freed. Yesterday, he marked his 31st birthday in jail. On Friday, presumably, he will once more be dragged from his cell and publicly, severely whipped 50 times. His wife worries he will not survive many more. In one of his last blog posts, insisting that “as part of humanity” we all have the same duties and the same rights, he urged, “Let us all live under the roof of human civilization.” Help him to live, period, here.

Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar

 

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“Flogging for Blogging” Official Saudi Policy

On January 9, two days after the massive Paris march condemning the brutal attack on freedom of the press, a young Saudi prisoner named Raif Badawi was removed from his cell in shackles and taken to a public square in Jeddah. There he was flogged 50 times before hundreds of spectators who had just finished midday prayers. The 50 lashes—labeled by Amnesty International a “vicious act of cruelty”—was the first installment on his sentence of 1,000 floggings, as well as ten years in prison and a fine of $266,000. Badawi’s crime? Blogging.

The father of three young children, Badawi hosted the website known as Free Saudi Liberals, a forum intended to promote a lively exchange of ideas among Saudis. Badawi wrote about the advantages of separating religion and state, asserting that secularism was “the practical solution to lift countries (including ours) out of the third world and into the first world.” He accused Saudi clerics and the government of distorting Islam to promote authoritarianism. Unlike the Saudi rulers, Badawi cheered the Egyptian uprising against Hosni Mubarak, calling it a decisive turning point not only for Egypt but “everywhere that is governed by the Arab mentality of dictatorship.”

In mid-2012, Badawi was arrested for his blogs, including an article in which he was accused of ridiculing the kingdom’s religious police, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. He was also charged for failing to remove “offensive posts” written by others. The prosecution originally called for him to be tried for “apostasy”, or abandoning his religion, which carries the death penalty.

If nothing changes, Raif Badawi will be flogged every Friday for the next 19 weeks. And he will not see his wife or children for ten years, who were forced to flee to Canada to avoid public harassment at home.

Badawi’s case is not unique. In 2014, Reporters Without Borders describes the government as “relentless in its censorship of the Saudi media and the Internet”, and ranked Saudi Arabia 164th out of 180 countries for freedom of the press.

Last year, four members of the group Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, an organization documenting human rights abuses and calling for democratic reform, were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 4 to 10 years. The fourth member sentenced was Omar al-Saeed, who was handed four years in prison and 300 lashes because he called for a constitutional monarchy.

Or look at the case of another human rights lawyer, Walid Abu al-Khair, in prison since 2012. Just this week, on January 13, a Saudi court increased his prison term from 10 to 15 years after he refused to show remorse or recognize the court that handed down his original 10-year term for sedition. Al-Khair, founder of Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHRSA) and legal counsel for blogger Badawi, was convicted on charges of disrespecting King Abdullah and the Saudi authorities.

Saudi Arabia also remains the only country in the world to maintain a ban on women drivers. According to this law, women are strictly restricted to the passenger seat of vehicles. This ban is so harshly imposed that two women, 25-year-old Loujain al-Hathloul and 33-year-old Maysa al-Amoudi, were not only arrested for driving to the United Arab Emirates, but they were also referred to be tried by a terrorism court. In the past, punishments for women drivers have included loss of jobs, passport revocation, and even floggings.

The US government’s response to these egregious and inhumane punishments from its ally usually takes the form of a US State Department spokesperson expressing “concern.” But there is no major public condemnation. No threats of cutting arms sales. No sanctions against government officials. The US government basically turns a blind eye to the medieval forms of torture the Saudis still mete out.

One major reason is oil. Since before World War II, the United States has viewed Saudi Arabia as a strategic source of petroleum. In 1933, the Arab American Company (ARAMCO) was established as a joint venture by both countries. Currently, Saudi Arabia is the second largest supplier of petroleum to the United States.

With the money it receives from oil, the Saudi government purchases vast amounts of weaponry from the United States. In 2010, the US government announced it has concluded a deal to sell $60 billion of military aircraft to Saudi Arabia—the largest US arms sale deal in history. One use of US tanks was seen in Bahrain, where the Saudis intervened to crush a democratic uprising against the Bahraini monarchy.

There’s now Congressional legislation being introduced to declassify a 28-page section of the 9/11 Senate report which allegedly exposes the direct role of the Saudi government in the Twin Tower attacks on 9/11. After all, Saudi Arabia supplied 15 out of the 19 9/11 hijackers and was the home of Osama bin Laden. Saudi Arabia exports the radical version of Islam, Wahhabism, that fuels extremism throughout the Middle East. Saudi Arabia treats its women as second-class citizens. Saudi Arabia is the capital of beheadings, with the government carrying out 87 public beheadings in 2013 and nine already this year.

Being the world’s top oil provider does not give a country the right to dehumanize its own people. The US is certainly no model for respecting freedom of expression – as we saw in the streets of Ferguson where peaceful protesters were teargassed and beaten – but it shouldn’t overlook the human rights abuses carried out by a country that imprisons, tortures and executes its citizens simply for speaking their minds. This Friday, when Raif will once again be subjected to 50 lashes, take a moment to call the Saudi Embassy in Washington DC (202-342-3800, then press “3” for the Public Affairs office and tell them: “Free speech is not, and should never be, a punishable crime. Je suis Raif!”

 

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