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Take Action: Share Fahd’s Story December 11, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Torture, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: On the very day of his inauguration in 2009, Obama promised to shut down the Guantánamo Gulag.  Since then he has murdered thousands with his drone missiles, including United States citizens, bombed several Muslim countries, including Libya, Iraq and Pakistan, escalated the invasion in Afghanistan, returned to warfare in Iraq, allowed windfall payouts to corrupt financial institutions, kept his head in the sand about torture in Bagram and torturous forced feeding in Guantánamo, passed a health reform plan that is a windfall to private HMOs and other insurance companies, gone after whistle blowers with a vengeance, developed the doctrine of indefinite detention, deported more undocumented immigrants than all the presidents before him combined, etc. etc. etc.  But over a hundred remain in the rotting confines of  Guantánamo. He claims he lacks the power to close it.

This is known as “hope you can believe in.”


After months of planning, filming, and production, we are excited to launch our short documentary “Waiting for Fahd: One Family’s Hope for Life Beyond Guantánamo,” which tells the story of CCR client Fahd Ghazy. Last night, we debuted the film at an event in New York City and people were moved to tears. Now we turn to you: please help us SHARE FAHD’s STORY.

Fahd has been illegally detained at Guantánamo since he was 17. He is now 30 years old. Through moving interviews with his family in Yemen, the film paints a vivid portrait of the life that awaits a man who, despite being twice cleared for release, continues to needlessly languish at Guantánamo because of his nationality. A heartbreaking tale of a dream deferred, “Waiting for Fahd” is also a story about the durability of hope.

Over Thanksgiving, I met with Fahd in Guantánamo. He was moved to know that so many of you will now know more about his plight. On his behalf, I ask you to help us tell Fahd’s remarkable story! Please share the film through e-mail, Facebook and Twitter (hashtag #FreeFahd). Stand in solidarity with Fahd by taking a photograph of yourself holding a #FreeFahd sign and uploading it to our Tumblr page.

Raising public awareness around Fahd’s story and the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo is critical to moving decision-makers in the Obama Administration to release Fahd and the scores of other men now approaching their thirteenth year without charge or trial at Guantánamo, including CCR clients Ghaleb Al-Bihani, Tariq Ba Odah, and Mohammed Al-Hamiri.

I asked Fahd what he would say to someone who had seen his film. “Now that you have heard my story and seen my dreams, you cannot turn away… Be a voice for the voiceless – for another human being who is suffering,” he answered.

Be that voice. SHARE FAHD’s STORY. Help us share this film and send a clear message to those who have power over his fate that now is the time to free him so that he can be reunited with his family. Together we can work towards ending indefinite detention at Guantánamo once and for all.

Thank you for your support,

Omar Farah

© Center for Constitutional Rights

666 Broadway, New York, NY 10012
(212) 614-6464

‘Death of a Prisoner’ at Obama’s Guantánamo January 11, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
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Roger’s note: WATCH THE VIDEO: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IO2gwKLKHOo


Published on Friday, January 11, 2013 by The New York Times


When President Obama pledged to close the Guantánamo Bay prison on his first day in office as president in 2009, I believed the country had shifted direction. I was wrong. Four years later, President Obama has not only institutionalized Guantánamo and all the horrors it symbolizes, but he has initiated new extrajudicial programs, like the president’s secret kill list.

In September 2012 I read the news that another prisoner at Guantánamo had died, and I knew I had probably met his family. I traveled to Yemen in 2007 with the idea of making a film about a Guantánamo prisoner. I went there with the Guantánamo lawyer David Remes. He met with families and delivered the news of their sons, brothers, fathers and husbands. I had hoped to film the journey of someone being released from Guantánamo and returning home. Five years later, I find myself making that film, but under tragic circumstances.

Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif recently died in solitary confinement at Guantánamo at age 36, after nearly 11 years of imprisonment there, despite never having been charged with a crime. Last month his body was returned to his family in Yemen, but we are left with many unanswered questions about his imprisonment and death.

Mr. Latif’s death is under investigation by the United States military, which claims he committed suicide from an overdose of prescription medication complicated by acute pneumonia. But that’s hard to take at face value. Why was he placed in solitary confinement when he was suffering from acute pneumonia? How could he have overdosed on medication, given the strict protocols at Guantánamo? Why did it take three months for the body to be returned to Yemen? And finally, why are his autopsy and toxicology report classified and being withheld from his family?

These questions are not just about Adnan Latif.  They also address the injustices that our government has instituted and normalized in the war on terror.

© 2012 The New York Times



Laura Poitras

Laura Poitras is an Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker. She is currently working on a trilogy of films about post-9/11 America. She is the recipient of a 2012 MacArthur Fellowship and is on the board of the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

LAND FILLHARMONIC December 14, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Environment, Latin America, Paraguay.
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Roger’s note: this is truly amazing and inspring.

This is the teaser for Landfill Harmonic,  an upcoming feature-length documentary about a remarkable musical orchestra in Paraguay, where the young musicians play instruments made from trash. Inspiring! (See more info on their ‘Landfill Harmonic’ Facebook page.)





Omar Khadr’s Torture by Canadians at Guantanamo October 31, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
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“You don’t like the truth: 4 days inside Guantanamo.”  The most powerful and disturbing documentary I have ever seen over my 50 some odd years of political involvement.

I cannot tell you how painful it was to watch for over an hour as a Canadian CSIS officer systematically applied psychological torture to this 16 year old child.

If you are a Canadian, you will feel a profound shame (the Canadian Supreme Court found that the interrogation was a violation of the child’s rights, but didn’t order the government to do anything about it).  If you are a human being with an ounce of humanity …

The documentary, using the video of the four days of interrogation, shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that the child was innocent of the charge against him.  It shows him (who already had been brutally tortured by the Americans) virtually destroyed emotionally over the persistent hectoring of his interrogator and yet, in the end, having more courage and decency than his monster of an adversary (a veritable wolf in sheep’s clothing).

There is much more I could say, and maybe I will add another post once I calm down.  If you want to know the truth about this disgusting travesty of justice, try to find a way to see this documentary, or at least view the trailer whose link is at the top of this post.  The documentary’s home page is http://www.youdontlikethetruth.com/?lang=En&page=Home

Roger Hollander, October 31, 2010

Chevron’s Amazon Disaster Lands at Sundance January 18, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Environment, Latin America.
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Kevin Koenig: 415-726-4607
Mitch Anderson: 415-342-4783

Joe Berlinger’s “Crude” Shows David v. Goliath Legal Battle to Hold Oil Giant Accountable for Destroying Rainforest

Trudie Styler and Sting Join Indigenous Leaders at Opening Jan. 18

San Francisco, CA (January 15, 2008) – A new documentary by the acclaimed filmmaker Joe Berlinger (director of BROTHER’S KEEPER, PARADISE LOST, and METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER), which portrays the epic 15-year legal battle between indigenous tribes and oil giant Chevron over massive oil contamination in Ecuador’s Amazon, will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 18th.

The film, titled Crude, was produced and directed by Berlinger and shot by Berlinger, producer/second unit director Michael Bonfiglio, and a film crew of Ecuadorians during the time the case was on trial in Ecuador’s Amazon region at the request of Chevron. It documents the travails of a team of young lawyers and activists, including Pablo Fajardo (CNN Hero Award winner) and Luis Yanza (Goldman Environmental Award), as they take on one of the world’s largest oil companies over what experts believe is the worst oil-related contamination on earth.

A co-production of Entendre Films, Neflix, Radical Media, and Third Eye Motion Picture Company, Crude has been invited to a number of international film festivals and will be released theatrically later this year. Alyse Spiegel is the editor, Juan Diego Perez is the director of photography, and Pocho Alvarez is the cinematographer. Perez and Alvarez are from Ecuador.

The trial documented by Berlinger is nearing an end, with Chevron facing a potential $27 billion damages claim that would be enforceable in the United States, according to lawyers for the plaintiffs. The amount of damages was determined by an independent, court-appointed expert who relied primarily on Chevron’s own scientific data to draw his conclusions. If the court accepts the damages assessment, Chevron could be hit with the largest judgment ever in an environmental lawsuit.

Trudie Styler and Sting, who are shown in the film helping to provide clean water to the Amazon residents through the Rainforest Foundation and UNICEF, will attend the premiere along with several Ecuadorians. Also attending will be leaders from Amazon Watch, an American environmental organization that works with the affected Amazon communities.

Selected as one of the 16 finalists at Sundance out of 879 submissions in the documentary category, Crude is described by the Sundance Committee as the “inside story of the ‘Amazon Chernobyl’ case in the rainforest of Ecuador”. The Committee says Crude “makes a concerted effort to show the case from all sides: from the scientists and lawyers employed by Chevron, to Ecuadoran judges, to celebrity activists and humanitarian organizers, to the role of the media, to the dramatic intervention of Rafael Correa himself, the first Ecuadoran president to sympathize with the indigenous perspective.”

The lawsuit, initially filed in the U.S. in 1993, charges that Texaco deliberately dumped more than 18 billion gallons of waste water into Amazon waterways and abandoned more than 900 unlined waste pits filled with oil sludge. Five indigenous groups in the area – the Cofan, Secoya, Siona, Huaronai, and Kichwa — say the contamination left by Texaco has decimated their traditional lifestyles and caused an outbreak of cancer and other health problems never before seen in the rainforest.

Chevron, which bought Texaco in 2001 and assumed defense of the case, now says Petroecuador, Ecuador’s state-owned oil company that took over Texaco’s fields, is responsible for the damage. Those claims have been rejected by the plaintiffs and the court-appointed expert, and two Chevron lawyers are under indictment in Ecuador for lying about a purported clean-up designed to secure a legal release from Ecuador’s government.

Chevron’s contamination also has captured the attention of the U.S. Congress and President-elect Barack Obama. Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA), the House Co-Chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, spent time touring the area in November with his congressional staff. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and then-Senator Obama asked the Bush Administration in 2005 to reject efforts by Chevron to undermine the case via a lobbying campaign in Washington.
Shortly after his recent trip to tour the disaster, Congressman McGovern wrote President-Elect Obama, requesting that relevant federal agencies provide technical assistance and other resources to bolster efforts by the government of Ecuador to clean up the contamination.

About Amazon Watch

Amazon Watch’s mission is to work with indigenous and environmental organizations in the Amazon Basin to defend the environment and advance indigenous peoples’ rights in the face of large-scale industrial development-oil and gas pipelines, power lines, roads, and other mega-projects.

Amazon Watch
Kevin Koenig, 415-726-4607
Karen Hinton, 703-798-3109

Tragedy Repeats Itself December 30, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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 Dec 28, 2008, www.truthdig.com

Waltz with Bashir

By Sheerly Avni

Several months ago, when Ari Folman was promoting his new animated documentary, “Waltz With Bashir,” the film screened for a Palestinian audience in Ramallah, less than 40 miles from his home in Tel Aviv. 

The director was asked not to attend.

Folman had already traveled far and wide to promote the movie, which had received wildly enthusiastic accolades everywhere from Cannes to Auckland. But the French company presenting in Ramallah had asked the 45-year-old war veteran not to come to this screening so close to home, because it was not sure it could guarantee his safety. The company had a point: “Waltz With Bashir,” a graphic and violent series of recollections of the 1982 war in Lebanon, told almost entirely from the point of view of Israeli soldiers, culminates in bloody live footage of the aftermath of the infamous Sabra and Shatilla refugee camp massacres in which thousands of Palestinian men, women and children were murdered by Christian militia with Israeli troops stationed directly outside the camps.

As it turned out, the audience response in Ramallah, though passionate, was the kind every filmmaker dreams of: There was high demand for more screenings, because there wasn’t enough room in the theater for all the people who wanted to see the film.

This did not surprise Folman, whose intent for his documentary was always to tell a universal story, not a specifically political one: “I show how stupid wars are,” he said in a telephone interview. “I wanted to make a movie that no teenager could watch and think ‘Oh, sure, war sucks, but those soldiers are cool.’ There is nothing cool or glamorous about war.”

Folman should know. He was just 19 when he was flown over the Lebanese border for the Israeli offensive in 1982, and as we learn in the film, he passed the flight daydreaming about a romantic death in battle, hoping to inspire regret in the heart of the girlfriend who had just dumped him. What the boy found instead was fear, and absurdity, and enough trauma to blot out his memories.

It would be 20 years before Folman, now a successful screenwriter and director who barely even thought about his time as a soldier, would be forced to grapple with the meaning of his wartime experiences. He was 40 years old and tired of his time in the Israeli reserves, where he’d been put to work writing scenarios for military videos explaining, among other things, the proper care and feeding of gas masks. The army agreed to let him go—but only if he would agree to a series of exit interviews with a therapist.

Thought not a big believer in psychotherapy, he took the deal. Over the course of eight or nine sessions, he realized that he had no memory whatsoever of the massacres themselves, even though he had been stationed nearby. He then set out on a quest, both personal and professional, for answers to the questions that had come up in therapy: What had happened to him in Beirut? What had he seen? Why couldn’t he remember? What had the war done to him?

Folman sought out classmates, as well as men from his old unit and the first Israeli reporter on the scene of the massacres, and gathered their stories. He consulted an expert in post-traumatic stress disorder. He reached out to his best friend, Ori Sivan (listed in the credits as “filmmaker and shrink”), and he set out to make a film that would capture the surrealism of war and the fluidity of memory. He had already experimented successfully with animation for his popular Israeli TV show “The Material That Love Is Made Of,” and so he hired the artist Yoni Goodman, a gifted illustrator, and then set about trying to raise the money to get his movie made. Despite the modest $2 million budget of “Waltz With Bashir,” potential investors were reluctant to back the film—the first feature-length animated documentary ever made, and Folman ended up having to mortgage his house.

“I knew it had to be this way,” he explained. “If I couldn’t animate the film, I couldn’t do it at all.”

Folman and his animators filled the movie with dreams, memories and nightmares, all set to a soundtrack that alternates between rock music and Max Richter’s haunting score: A pack of dogs running rabid and wild though the streets, an exhilarating sequence of young soldiers boogie-boarding at the beach (Folman admits this was an intentional homage to “Apocalypse Now”), a teenage soldier dreaming that he’s being swum to safety by a giant naked woman, and, finally, Folman’s only clue to his blocked memory: a recurring dream about emerging naked from the sea.

The film owes much of its visual impact to the artistry of Goldman and his animation team, but its dramatic tension derives from Folman’s own Jason Bourne-style search for his missing memories. But when it comes time for the moment of revelation, the “Bourne moment” that might unlock his memory, Folman’s friend Ori hits him with an apparent anticlimax: the suggestion that his obsession stems from a much earlier moment in history—that his dreams are connected to an earlier massacre, an earlier nightmare.

“It’s all about those camps,” Ori suggests in the film. “Your parents were in Auschwitz. The massacre has been with you since you were 6 years old. … You felt guilty; you were cast for the role of the Nazi. It’s true you didn’t massacre. You just fired flares.”

As a child of survivors, said Folman, he had long been preoccupied by questions of circles of responsibility during the Holocaust. “How much did they know? Did they realize there was a mass murder happening? How many knew what was going on in the camps?

The same questions plagued him as he searched for his own memories of the Palestinian massacre, and as he spoke with soldiers who had been nearby. “What I learned was that people had all the elements, but they found it too complicated to put it together in one frame, because mass murder is not in our system. … You don’t think that things like that are happening just around the corner, even if you are participating in a war.”

In part, this is a particularly Jewish/Israeli problem, one which Folman does not shy away from: Is a culture that has experienced genocide more likely to recognize it the next time it appears? Not necessarily, says Folman, speaking personally again. “For us who grew up in those kinds of families, are we more ready to listen to those kinds of stories? On the contrary, I think it is harder. The Holocaust was like a one-time experience in the history of humankind for us. We are not ready for anything else.”

But Folman is adamant in insisting that there are no easy comparisons to be made between the Nazi murder of the Jews and the massacre at Sabra and Shatilla. “There is no comparison, there can be no comparison. But mass murder is mass murder, and it is something that the imagination cannot believe or accept, even while it is happening.”

War is horror beyond human comprehension: This is the theme of “Waltz With Bashir. “This film,” insisted Folman, “could have been made by an ex-American soldier in Vietnam, a Russian in Afghanistan, an American today in Iraq. … It could have been made by anyone who wakes up one morning and finds himself hundreds of kilometers away from home, in a remote city that has nothing to do with him or his life, nothing whatsoever. He doesn’t know what he’s doing there, he is terrified, and he has no clue.”

Asked if working on the film had turned him into a pacifist, Folman answered: “For that I didn’t need to make a movie. I became a pacifist by my second day in Lebanon.”


Get Milk November 27, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Human Rights.
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Posted on Nov 26, 2008

By Sheerly Avni

First things first. Gus Van Sant’s “Milk” is a movie to be thankful for. Go see it, tonight if you can, and in a crowded theater. See it because as a grass-roots activist and California’s first openly gay elected official, Harvey Milk led and won the fight to defeat Proposition 6, an anti-gay measure as bigoted in its own time as Proposition 8 is today. Or because it features one of our best actors at his least actorly—in his most winning performance since “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Or because on Nov. 4, civil rights took a step back on the very day it leaped forward—though Milk would have known how to use that defeat to galvanize a movement. See it because Milk is a legend in his community and in San Francisco but he hasn’t yet been written into the history of American civil rights at large, where he belongs.

Hell, see it because it’s going to take all Wednesday night to defrost the turkey, anyway, and how often does a movie about a martyred hero leave you wanting to buy tinted prescription glasses and dance in the street?


Related Links


“Milk” does not exactly paint Dan White as a homophobe or racist—the scenes in which White rants against a gay demonstration and fights to keep a facility for troubled young people out of his district tell only half the story. Before White, a Vietnam veteran and former crusader for racial justice in his own Fire Department, came completely unhinged, he was supportive of gay San Francisco.  SF Weekly has the backstory.

Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, writer on HBO’s “Big Love,” was raised in the Mormon church. Last week he told Terry Gross how Harvey Milk inspired him to come out, and he offers some astute insights into church leaders’ possible motivations for backing Proposition 8.

Get Out of the Bars and Into the Streets on this audio walking tour of Milk’s San Francisco.

Rob Epstein, who won an Oscar for “The Times of Harvey Milk,” talks about his current project, a feature film about Allen Ginsberg starring James Franco.

If you live in a city or town with a gay neighborhood large enough for its own theater, see it there. After the credits roll—and yes, you’ll stay through the credits, weeping and clapping—take advantage of the fact that for a minute “Milk” will have done for that crowd what Harvey Milk did for the Castro district: help transform a group of isolated individuals into a community. Scan that community for cute strangers. Smile, strike up a conversation, and then invite them back to your place to share some cheap merlot and watch the documentary “The Times of Harvey Milk,” by Robert Epstein (see sidebar to watch online)—because these two films belong together.

Epstein’s Oscar-winning documentary, which he began working on before Milk’s assassination, is a marvelously constructed narrative of both Milk’s achievements and the political context of civil rights in the late 1970s. And now it’s also worth seeing just for the pleasure of appreciating how well Penn captures the real life politician’s gestures, charm and infectious humor, and how well Van Sant and his screenwriter, Dustin Lance Black, capture the ebullience of those first heady days of pre-AIDS freedom in the Castro.

Almost as impressive are James Franco as Scott Smith, Milk’s longtime boyfriend, and Josh Brolin—who specializes in bad guy pathos—as ally-turned-assassin Dan White. Diego Luna’s twitchy performance as an unhinged lover is an embarrassing distraction, and Van Sant and Black spend a bit too much time on Milk’s private life, at the expense of the much more gripping drama taking place back of Milk’s camera store, where he and his ad-hoc advisory council plotted out his campaign strategies. 

Which is why—inspired, tired and a little drunk—you and your new best friends might now take a look around your living room, and admit that it’s not nearly as shabby as the collection of beat-up couches and overflowing ashtrays that Milk and his staff used to plan some of most important campaigns in the history of American civil rights.

Sean Penn’s spectacular laugh lines inspire, but it’s Epstein’s film that blocks out Milk’s strategies and political philosophy in ways that Hollywood can only touch on, what with the need to make time for Love, Loss, Moments of Quiet Reckoning, and extraneous flashbacks to scenes that that were extraneous to begin with. Epstein instead explores Milk’s effect on some of the labor leaders he worked with, his almost spooky mutual love affair with news cameras, his insistence on the need for minorities to find strength by working together, and the darker days of unrest following White’s unjustly light sentencing, which culminated in a riot that did a million dollars worth of damage to City Hall and landed almost 200 San Franciscans in the hospital.

“The Times of Harvey Milk” is in essence a riveting primer in effective grass-roots activism. Epstein’s cameras followed Milk’s supporters straight into hostile neighborhoods where they reached out to voters one by one. Today, Milk would have sought out newly influential minorities through churches, pamphleteering and precinct walking. And we can be sure he’d have condemned intimidation campaigns against individuals who supported Prop. 8 and the recent name-calling by angry demonstrators directed at African-Americans on the streets of Los Angeles. Instead, he’d have preached a relentless optimism, the kind that rallies masses and empowers individuals.

“I know you cannot live on hope alone,” he told an enthusiastic crowd on the steps of City Hall 30 years ago. “But without it, life is not worth living. And you … and you … and you … gotta give ’em hope.”

Hope is Milk’s legacy, and action his imperative. And if in the course of following both, you also brought some cute strangers home, Harvey Milk would not disapprove.