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“We Are Not Beginning a New Cold War, We are Well into It”: Stephen Cohen on Russia-Ukraine Crisis April 18, 2014

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Roger’s note: First of all, you can watch this on video by going to this link: http://www.democracynow.org/2014/4/17/we_are_not_beginning_a_new.  If you have a half hour to spare, it will be well worth it.  After listening to Stephen Cohen’s analysis, it appears to me that what is happening in the Ukraine is somewhat of a Cuban Missile Crisis in reverse.  NATO/Obama playing the role of Khrushchev getting too close for comfort to Russia’s border via its coup in the Ukraine, playing Cuba in this scenario.  Putin in the unlikely role of Kennedy having to face down the bold and unacceptable move of his major adversary and thereby risking a dangerous escalation that could lead to the use of nuclear weapons.  Also, if you believe Cohen, you see how inept and ignorant is President Obama.  One thinks of the Peter Principle, getting promoted beyond one’s capacity.  Obama rose to the presidency on his silver tongue and ability to raise millions in campaign contributions.  These are not qualities that makes on adept at foreign policy (among other things).

 

Democracy Now! April 17, 2014

As negotiations over the crisis in Ukraine begin in Geneva, tension is rising in the Ukrainian east after security forces killed three pro-Russian protesters, wounded 13 and took 63 captive in the city of Mariupol. Ukrainian officials said the pro-Russian separatists had attempted to storm a military base. The killings came just after the unraveling of a Ukrainian operation to retake government buildings from pro-Russian separatists. Earlier today, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the authorities in Kiev of plunging the country into an “abyss” and refused to rule out sending forces into Ukraine. Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has announced a series of steps to reinforce its presence in eastern Europe. “We will have more planes in the air, more ships on the water and more readiness on the land,” Rasmussen said. We are joined by Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University. “We are not at the beginning of a new Cold War, we are well into it,” Cohen says, “which alerts us to the fact ‘hot war’ is imaginable now. It’s unlikely, but it’s conceivable — and if it’s conceivable, something has to be done about it.”

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: As negotiations over the crisis in Ukraine begin in Geneva, tension is rising in eastern Ukraine after security forces killed three pro-Russian separatists, wounded 13 and took 63 captive in the city of Mariupol. Ukrainian officials said the pro-Russians had attempted to storm a military base. The fighting comes just after the collapse of a Ukrainian operation to retake government buildings in several eastern towns. On Wednesday, pro-Russian separatists took control of some of their armored vehicles, and crowds surrounded another column, forcing the troops to hand over the pins from their rifles and retreat. Earlier today, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the authorities in Kiev of plunging the country into an “abyss.”

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] People in eastern Ukraine have started to arm themselves. And instead of realizing that something bad is going on in the Ukrainian state and making any attempts to start a dialogue, the authorities have started to threaten with force even more and unleash tanks and aviation on civilian populations. This is another grave crime of the current Kiev authorities. I hope it will be possible to realize which hole and which abyss the current authorities are moving towards and dragging the whole country with them. And in this regard, I think the start of today’s talks in Geneva is very important. I think it is very important today to think about how to get out of this situation, to offer people a real—not ostentatious, but real—dialogue.

AMY GOODMAN: Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking on Russian television earlier today. On Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced a series of steps to reinforce its forces in eastern Europe because of the Ukraine crisis.

SECRETARY GENERAL ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: We will have more planes in the air, more ships on the water and more readiness on the land. For example, air policing aircraft will fly more sorties over the Baltic region. Allied ships will deploy to the Baltic Sea, the eastern Mediterranean, and elsewhere as required.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about Ukraine, Stephen Cohen is with us, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University; his most recent book, Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War, out now in paperback. He recently wrote a piece for The Nation headlined “Cold War Again: Who is Responsible?”

Are we seeing the beginning of a new Cold War, Professor Cohen? And what exactly is happening right now in Ukraine?

STEPHEN COHEN: Those are big questions. We are not at the beginning of the Cold War, a new one; we are well into it—which alerts us to the fact, just watching what you showed up there, that hot war is imaginable now, for the first time in my lifetime, my adult lifetime, since the Cuban missile crisis, hot war with Russia. It’s unlikely, but it’s conceivable. And if it’s conceivable, something has to be done about it.

You did two things on your introduction which were very important. Almost alone among American media, you actually allowed Putin to speak for himself. He’s being filtered through the interpretation of the mass media here, allegedly, what he said, and it’s not representative. The second thing is, let us look just what’s happening at this moment, or at least yesterday. The political head of NATO just announced a major escalation of NATO forces in Europe. He did a Churchillian riff: “We will increase our power in the air, in the sea, on the land.” Meanwhile, as negotiations today begin in Geneva, we’re demanding that Russians de-escalate. And yet, we, NATO, are escalating as these negotiations begin.

So, if you were to say what is going on in Ukraine today—and, unfortunately, the focus is entirely on eastern Ukraine. We don’t have any Western media—in eastern Ukraine. We don’t have any Western—any Western media in western Ukraine, the other half of the country. We’re not clear what’s going on there. But clearly, things are getting worse and worse. Each side has a story that totally conflicts with the other side’s story. There seems to be no middle ground. And if there’s no middle ground in the public discourse, in the Russian media or the American media, it’s not clear what middle ground they can find in these negotiations, though personally, I think—and people will say, “Oh, Cohen’s a Putin apologist”—but it seemed to me that the proposals the Russians made a month ago for resolving the conflict are at least a good starting point. But it’s not clear the United States is going to accept them.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Stephen Cohen, it was just a few weeks ago when we had you on, as the crisis was beginning to unfold in Ukraine, and a lot of what you said then turned out to be true, which was that you feared that there would be a split in Ukraine itself between the east and west. And obviously Crimea was just developing then. But it seems that all of the emphasis in the coverage here is as if the crisis started with Russian aggression, not with the earlier period of what was NATO and Europe’s involvement in Ukraine before the deposing of the elected president.

STEPHEN COHEN: Well, I think you’ve emphasized the absolute flaw in at least the American—because I don’t follow the European press that closely—the American media and political narrative. As a historian, I would say that this conflict began 300 years ago, but we can’t do that. As a contemporary observer, it certainly began in November 2013 when the European Union issued an ultimatum, really, to the then-president, elected president, of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, that “Sign an agreement with us, but you can’t have one with Russia, too.” In my mind, that precipitated this crisis, because why give a country that has been profoundly divided for centuries, and certainly in recent decades, an ultimatum—an elected president: “Choose, and divide your country further”? So when we say today Putin initiated this chaos, this danger of war, this confrontation, the answer is, no, that narrative is wrong from the beginning. It was triggered by the European Union’s unwise ultimatum.

Now flash forward to just one month ago, about the time I was with you before. Remember that the European foreign ministers—three of them, I think—went to Kiev and negotiated with Yanukovych, who was still the president, an agreement. Now, the Russians were present at the negotiation, but they didn’t sign it. But they signed off on it. They said, “OK.” What did that agreement call for? Yanukovych would remain president until December—not May, when elections are now scheduled, but December of this year. Then there would be a presidential election. He could run in them, or not. Meanwhile, there would be a kind of government of national accord trying to pull the government together. And, importantly, Russia would chip in, in trying to save the Ukrainian economy. But there would also be parliamentary elections. That made a lot of sense. And it lasted six hours.

The next day, the street, which was now a mob—let’s—it was no longer peaceful protesters as it had been in November. It now becomes something else, controlled by very ultra-nationalist forces; overthrew Yanukovych, who fled to Russia; burned up the agreement. So who initiated the next stage of the crisis? It wasn’t Russia. They wanted that agreement of February, a month ago, to hold. And they’re still saying, “Why don’t we go back to it?” You can’t go back to it, though there is a report this morning that Yanukovych, who is in exile in Russia, may fly to eastern Ukraine today or tomorrow, which will be a whole new dimension.

But the point of it is, is that Putin didn’t want—and this is reality, this is not pro-Putin or pro-Washington, this is just a fact—Putin did not want this crisis. He didn’t initiate it. But with Putin, once you get something like that, you get Mr. Pushback. And that’s what you’re now seeing. And the reality is, as even the Americans admit, he holds all the good options. We have none. That’s not good policymaking, is it?

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to President Obama. Thursday, he was interviewed by CBS News by Major Garrett.

MAJOR GARRETT: Is Vladimir Putin provoking a civil war there? And will you and Western leaders let him to get away with that?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I think that what is absolutely clear is not only have Russians gone into Crimea and annexed it, in illegal fashion, violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, but what they’ve also done is supported, at minimum, nonstate militias in southern and eastern Ukraine. And we’ve seen some of the activity that’s been taking place there.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Cohen?

STEPHEN COHEN: You left out one thing that he said which I consider to be unwise and possibly reckless. He went on to say that Russia wouldn’t go to war with us because our conventional weapons are superior. That is an exceedingly provocative thing to say. And he seems to be unaware, President Obama, that Russian military doctrine says that when confronted by overwhelming conventional forces, we can use nuclear weapons. They mean tactical nuclear weapons. I don’t think any informed president, his handlers, would have permitted him to make such a statement. In fact, depending on how far you want to take this conversation about the Obama administration, I don’t recall in my lifetime, in confrontations with Russia, an administration—I speak now of the president and his secretary of state—who seem in their public statements to be so misinformed, even uninformed, both about Ukraine and Russia. For example, when Kerry testified last week to Congress that all the unrest in Ukraine was due to Putin’s meddling and his provocations, he denied the underlying problem which has divided Ukraine. I mean, everybody knows that history, God, whoever’s responsible for our destiny, created a Ukraine that may have had one state, but wasn’t one country. It may be two, it may be three countries. But for John Kerry to say that all this conflict in Ukraine is due to Putin simply makes a resolution of the problem by denying the problem. Or let me ask you a question: What in the world was the director of the American CIA doing last Sunday—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I was going to ask you about that.

STEPHEN COHEN: —in Kiev? It is mind-boggling that it was called a secret mission, when my grandson knows that the Ukrainian intelligence services are full of pro-Russian officers. And yet they send the head of the CIA, at this crucial, inflamed moment, thereby—to Kiev, thereby reinforcing the Russian narrative that everything that’s happening in Ukraine is an American provocation. What are they thinking?

AMY GOODMAN: Well, aside from having a very educated grandson, I just want to turn to NATO for a moment.

STEPHEN COHEN: Well, I told him that [inaudible]. But he got it. He got it.

AMY GOODMAN: NATO announced a series of steps to reinforce its forces—this is NATO in eastern Europe—because of the Ukraine crisis. NATO’s top military commander, Philip Breedlove, described the moves as defensive measures.

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE: All the actions that we have proposed and have been accepted today are clearly defensive in nature. And I think it’s going to be very straightforward to see them as defensive in nature. They are designed to assure our allies. And so, I think that, in any case, it’s always a chance that you run that something might be misinterpreted. But we specifically designed these measures to assure our allies only and to be clearly seen as defensive in nature.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response, Professor Cohen?

STEPHEN COHEN: I’ve never known what “purely defensive weapons” have meant—I mean, presuming they are guns that shoot in only one direction. I mean, it’s going to have no effect. I mean, they’re talking about giving the Ukrainians maybe some small arms, some night vision stuff, some superior intelligence. They can’t give them intelligence information, because the Ukrainian intelligence services, as we know from the tapes we’ve had, the leaked tapes, and from the CIA secret mission which was exposed to Ukraine, revealed.

The real debate going on in NATO—the real debate, because this is a distraction—is what Rasmussen said in your earlier clip—he’s the political head of NATO—that we’re building up, as we talk, our forces in eastern Europe. Now, understand what’s going on here. When we took in—”we” meaning the United States and NATO—all these countries in eastern Europe into NATO, we did not—we agreed with the Russians we would not put forward military installations there. We built some infrastructure—air strips, there’s some barracks, stuff like that. But we didn’t station troops that could march toward Russia there. Now what NATO is saying, it is time to do that. Now, Russia already felt encircled by NATO member states on its borders. The Baltics are on its borders. If we move the forces, NATO forces, including American troops, to—toward Russia’s borders, where will we be then? I mean, it’s obviously going to militarize the situation, and therefore raise the danger of war.

And I think it’s important to emphasize, though I regret saying this, Russia will not back off. This is existential. Too much has happened. Putin—and it’s not just Putin. We seem to think Putin runs the whole of the universe. He has a political class. That political class has opinions. Public support is running overwhelmingly in favor of Russian policy. Putin will compromise at these negotiations, but he will not back off if confronted militarily. He will not.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about the situation in Russia, especially the growing—some reports are that Putin’s popularity has now surged to about 80 percent of the population, at a time when there was actually a dissident movement that was beginning to gather strength within Russia against the more authoritarian aspects of Russian society.

STEPHEN COHEN: Since this is Democracy Now!, let me assert my age and my credential. Beginning in the 1970s, I lived in Russia among the then-Soviet dissidents. They were brave people. They were pro-democracy. They struggled. They paid the price. With the coming of Gorbachev, who embraced many of their democratizing ideas, they were marginalized, or they moved into the establishment as official democratizers. This struggle has continued, even under Putin. But the result of this confrontation, East-West confrontation—and I can’t emphasize how fundamental and important it is—is going to set back whatever prospects remained in Russia for further democratization or re-democratization, possibly a whole generation. It is simply going to take all the traction these people have gotten out from under them. And still worse, the most authoritarian forces in Russia and Russia’s authoritarian traditions will now be reinvigorated politically in kind of a—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And it’s all ultra-nationalist, as well, right?

STEPHEN COHEN: Well, I wouldn’t say it’s ultra-nationalists, but it’s certainly nationalist.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Right.

STEPHEN COHEN: And, I mean, by the way, we’re a nationalist country.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Right.

STEPHEN COHEN: We use a different word: We call it “patriotism.” Do you remember an American president who ever ran and said, “I’m not an American patriot”? I say I’m an American patriot. We don’t call ourselves “nationalists.” Also, we don’t have a state in the United States; we have a government. The Europeans have states. We have a government. But you take away the language—this is not unusual, but there—when it surges like this, as it does in run-ups to war—and we’re in the run-up at least to a possible war—this is what you get. That’s why I think the policy, the American policy, has been unwise from the beginning.

AMY GOODMAN: The front page of The New York Times: “Russia Economy Worsens Even Before Sanctions Hit.” And they’re attributing it partly to Russia’s action in Crimea.

STEPHEN COHEN: Yeah. Well, I mean, the asymmetry of all of this, right? We say Putin’s got 40,000 troops on Ukraine’s border. And there may or may not be; nobody’s exactly clear how long they’ve been there and what they’re doing, but obviously they’re not helping the situation. But what we have are sanctions that we may put in place against Putin’s cronies. This is—this is the threat. This is what the White House says: “We are going to sanction his oligarchical cronies.” And presumably, on this theory, they will go to him and say, “Look, Volodya, you’ve got to stop this, because my bank accounts …” This is utter nonsense. First of all, he’ll just appoint new oligarchs. Secondly, there’s a law in the Russian Duma, the Parliament, being debated that the state will compensate anybody whose assets are frozen in the West. Now, I don’t know if they’ll pass the law, but you could see that this doesn’t bother the Kremlin leadership.

AMY GOODMAN: We just have one minute. The significance of the meeting in Geneva with Ukraine, Russia, United States, European Union, and what’s going to happen in eastern Ukraine?

STEPHEN COHEN: Well, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but things are getting worse and worse. People are being killed. So, obviously, that’s bad, and we’re moving closer toward a military confrontation. The Russians are asking at negotiations the following. They want NATO expansion ended to its all former Soviet republics. That means Ukraine and Georgia, period. I think we should give them that. This has been a reckless, endangering policy. It’s time for it to end. They want a federal Ukrainian state. That’s a debate. But Ukraine is several countries; you can only hold it together with a federal constitution. And they want, in the end, a stable Ukraine, and they will contribute financially to making that possible. I don’t see any reason there, other than the White House saving political face, why that’s not a good negotiating position to begin with.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Stephen Cohen, we want to thank you very much for being with us, professor of Russian studies at New York University, before that, Princeton University, author of numerous books on Russia and the Soviet Union. His most recent book, Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War, just out in paperback. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Stay with us.

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Operation Condor Trial Tackles Coordinated Campaign by Latin American Dictatorships to Kill Leftists March 14, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, History, Human Rights, Latin America, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay.
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Roger’s note: The world media is focused on Argentina from where the worlds largest patriarchal, misogynist, authoritarian, homophobic institution has chosen its new leader.  At the same time in Argentina, a trial is being held which reflects on the world’s most violent imperial nation.  The two events are related with respect to the massive and systematic violation of human rights.

http://www.democracynow.org, March 2, 2013

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: An historic trial that began Tuesday in Argentina is set to reveal new details about how six Latin American countries coordinated with each other in the 1970s and 1980s to eliminate political dissidents. The campaign, known as Operation Condor, involved military dictatorships in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. They worked together to track down, kidnap and kill people they labeled as terrorists: leftist activists, labor organizers, students, priests, journalists, guerrilla fighters and their families.

The campaign was launched by the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, and evidence shows the CIA and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were complicit from its outset. At least 25 military generals are facing charges, and more than 500 witnesses are expected to testify during the trial. Last August, an Argentine federal judge issued a formal request to the Obama administration’s Justice Department to make Kissinger himself available for questioning. The Obama administration did not respond.

AMY GOODMAN: This trial is taking place in Buenos Aires, the site of a former auto mechanic shop turned torture camp. Argentina is where the greatest number of killings of foreigners was carried out under Operation Condor. All of this comes just weeks after Uruguay’s Supreme Court struck down a law that had allowed similar prosecutions in that country.

Well, for more, we’re joined by John Dinges, author of The Condor Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents. The book brings together interviews and declassified intelligence records to reconstruct the once-secret events. Before that, Dinges was with NPR and worked as a freelance reporter in Latin America. He is currently a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism.

John Dinges, welcome to Democracy Now!

JOHN DINGES: Yeah, nice to be here. Thanks.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the significance of this trial that’s now underway in Argentina.

JOHN DINGES: Well, there have been several trials, and this goes back to when Pinochet was arrested in London in 1998. That unleashed an avalanche of evidence that went across Europe and led to trials in many places—Rome, Paris, Argentina, Chile—but all of them much smaller than this one. This one has 25 people accused. Unfortunately—or fortunately, who knows?—many of the people who were involved in this have already died, they’re getting old, of the top leaders. But this is 25 Argentinians and one Uruguayan, all of whom were in military positions, all of whom were involved directly with the actions of Operation Condor.

This is historic in the sense that we’re going to hear from 500 witnesses. And really, in the Latin American legal system, it’s unusual. It’s really only coming to the fore now that you hear witnesses, as opposed to just seeing them give their testimony to judges in a closed room, and then later on people like me might go and read those testimonies, but really it doesn’t become public. This is all public. And apparently, a lot of it is being videotaped. So this is—this is the first time that the general public is going to hear the details of this horrible, horrible list of atrocities that killed so many people.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, John, for folks who have never heard of Operation Condor or know little about it, the origins of it, how it began, and the nations or the governments that spearheaded it, could you talk about that?

JOHN DINGES: Well, it is a Chilean invention. Augusto Pinochet had dominated his opposition by—the coup was in 1973; by 1974, there was no internal opposition to speak of. But many of the people who had been part of the previous government, that he had overthrown, had gone overseas. There was a very major, important general who was living in Argentina. Political leaders, for example, Orlando Letelier, the former foreign minister and former ambassador to the United States, somebody who would have lunch with Henry Kissinger, was living in Washington. People were spread around, in Europe and all over Latin America, and Pinochet wanted to go after them. And so he mounted Operation Condor.

And he convinced the other countries—Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay—to go along with him, with the argument that there are these guerrilla operations that are a threat to all of them. And there was indeed a guerrilla operation, called the Revolutionary Coordinating Junta, of people who were taking up arms against these governments. And the idea was that they would cooperate in tracking these people down. And they did.

Most of the—the biggest part of the exiles were in Argentina, because Argentina was the last country to give up its civilian government. It wasn’t a dictatorship until March of 1976. And this was created in late 1975. So they were all geared up. And when the coup happened in Argentina, they began killing hundreds of people, of these foreigners. And it’s interesting that you mentioned the Automotores Orletti. This is that auto repair shop that was used as a torture center, and that’s where they kept the international prisoners.

AMY GOODMAN: We, Democracy Now!, went there, visited this shop. I want to read from a declassified record of a CIA briefing that shows that American officials were aware that Latin intelligence services were casting their net wide in Operation Condor. It says, quote, “They are joining forces to eradicate ‘subversion’ … a word which increasingly translates into nonviolent dissent from the left and center left.”

It goes on to another document that you obtained, John Dinges, that’s from the Chilean secret police, known as the DINA. It details the number of dead and disappeared compiled by Argentine intelligence. The cable, sent by DINA’s attaché to Buenos Aires, says he’s, quote, “sending a list of all the dead,” which included the official and unofficial death toll. Between 1975 and mid-’78, he reported, quote, “they count 22,000 between the dead and the disappeared.” Talk about the the number of the dead and what the U.S. knew.

JOHN DINGES: Well, let’s do the U.S. first. The United States, in this period, the 1970s, was a major sponsor of the military dictatorships that had overthrown some democracies, some faltering civilian governments. Whatever it was, the result was governments, like Videla, like Pinochet, like Banzer in Bolivia, who were killing their citizens with impunity. The United States knew about the mass killing. We had this kind of schizophrenic, Machiavellian attitude toward it. We really don’t want these communists to be taking over governments, and we fear that democracy is leading to communist governments. Indeed, a leftist government led by Salvador Allende installed a democratically elected, civilian and revolutionary government in Chile, and that’s why—and Pinochet overthrew that government. The United States was deathly fearful that this would spread in Latin America, and so supported the coming of dictatorships.

When they began mass killings, the United States was aware of these mass killings. When they—they learned of Condor shortly after it was created. There’s no evidence that they knew about it the day it was created. The earliest evidence is a couple months after it began its operations. But they certainly knew these things were happening. And if you look at the meetings, the transcripts of the meetings between Henry Kissinger and these leaders, both in Argentina and in Chile, where we have the records, what do they say in private? You know, “We support what you are doing. We understand that you have to assert your authority. Try your best to release some prisoners, because I’m under a lot of pressure in Congress, because the Democrats are trying to make me, you know, defend human rights. Do the best you can, but I understand what you’re doing.”

And in one case, two weeks after Kissinger visited Santiago, there was a—the second major meeting of all the Condor countries to discuss Condor. And at that meeting, in June 1976, they approved operations for assassination outside of Latin America. The first assassination that occurred was in Washington, D.C. Orlando Letelier, the former foreign minister, was killed on the streets of Washington.

AMY GOODMAN: This is an astounding story. You wrote a book about it, in fact.

JOHN DINGES: And this is—I’ve written actually two books, one about the assassination, in which I, for the first time, wrote a chapter on the discovery of Operation Condor. I didn’t have a lot of detail. In fact, I was misled by the State Department, to a certain extent.

And then, years later, after Pinochet was arrested in London, a flood of documents, including many, many—60,000 pages of documents released by—ordered released by President Clinton, I was able to then, you know, really dig in and understand it from the point of view of the United States. But also, many, many documents were revealed in Latin America. And that is, I think, even more important, because if we just had U.S. documents, it’s always subject to: “Well, that’s the U.S. view of these things.” What was really going on in those Latin American governments—

AMY GOODMAN: But explain how Ron—how Orlando Letelier and his assistant, Ronni Moffitt, were killed in the streets of Washington, D.C., in the United States, in 1976.

JOHN DINGES: Pinochet began this operation shortly after that meeting with Kissinger. Within a month, he gave the order approving this. They sent an agent who had been working for DINA for several years named Michael Townley, an American. I don’t believe it was any accident that they made an American working for them the hit man on this, because, obviously, as soon as suspicion was cast on them, they said, “Oh, this guy was working for the CIA.” And a lot of people like to believe the CIA does all these things. In fact, both the extreme right and the extreme left were saying, “Oh, it was the CIA who did it.” There’s no evidence that Townley was working for the CIA, but he certainly was working for the Chileans.

He allied with some Cubans up in New Jersey, anti-Castro Cubans. They came down to Washington. They—Townley crawled under the car, installed a bomb that he had constructed himself. It was run by one of those old beeper devices. They followed the car down Massachusetts Avenue, and at Sheridan Circle, right outside near the Chilean embassy, they pushed the button, killed him. Ronni Moffitt was the wife of Michael Moffitt, who was actually Orlando’s assistant. She was sitting in the front seat, and that’s why she was killed. Michael survived, and Orlando of course was devastated, died immediately.

AMY GOODMAN: And Townley went to jail for a few years. And then—

JOHN DINGES: Townley—the Chileans turned him over. The story of how we solved this case is incredible. The presumption was that the United States is not going to investigate this very strongly. Everybody that thought that was wrong. The FBI did—made an enormous investigation, solved the case, got pictures of the people. And that’s the long story that I tell in the book. When they identified the people that had come up to the United States to carry this out, they went down to Chile, asked for the cooperation of the Pinochet government. And Pinochet eventually—they had two choices: Either they were going to kill Townley—and there’s evidence that that was one of their plans—or they had to turn him over. And they eventually turned him over. He was taken to the United States, and he began to give testimony. And another flood of information came from Michael Townley. Townley still lives in the United States. He served only five years in prison.

AMY GOODMAN: And then went into witness protection.

JOHN DINGES: And was in witness protection for a while. I understand he’s not anymore in witness protection. He lives in the Midwest. And he’s—he has cooperated. I don’t know whether there’s any remorse on his part, but he has cooperated with many investigations since his imprisonment.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: John, I’d like to ask you about an unusual figure that you talk about in the book and his role in trying to end Operation Condor: Ed Koch, the recently deceased mayor of New York, who was then a young liberal congressman and who began asking all kinds of questions about what was going on and angered our own government. Could you talk about that?

JOHN DINGES: Ed Koch, a beloved figure in this city, and certainly everybody that’s dealt with him has had the same experience. And I was reporting this story. He was very cooperative with me. And he came to my book party, so I love him, too.

Ed Koch was a congressman. He spearheaded a bill, an amendment to a bill, to cut off military aid to Uruguay. The Uruguayans were members—this was 1976. The Uruguayans were members of Operation Condor. And the CIA discovered—and I think the evidence is that they discovered because they were—they talked about it in front of them, that they said they were going to get the Chileans to go up to Washington to kill Koch. And whether that actually was put into action, we don’t know. But George Bush, who was head of the CIA at the time, called up Ed Koch and said, “Ed” — and it’s wonderful to hear Ed Koch tell this story — “I’ve got to tell you something: There’s a plot to kill you.” And Ed Koch said, “Are you going to provide me protection?” They said, “No, no, no. That’s not our job. We’re the CIA. We’re just telling you, and it’s up to you to provide your own protection.” Ed Koch didn’t know this was Operation Condor. He just thought this was some crazy people from the dictatorship.

Later on, in my investigation, I was—I actually talked to one of the people who was involved in this, one of the Uruguayans, and who—it was a Condor operation. It was kind of a typical one, even though it didn’t actually kill anybody, luckily. But it was the modus operandi. In order to cover their tracks, one country would use another country’s nationals to do their dirty work in the operations that were planned outside of Latin America. Inside of Latin America, you had a much more systematic and effective way of operating, in which they would just track down each other’s dissidents in whatever country they happened to be—Peru, Brazil, Uruguay, mainly in Argentina. And then they would—the methodology was simple: capture them, kidnap them, torture them, kill them, make their bodies disappear. Very few victims have survived Operation Condor, almost none. It’s very difficult to find a survivor.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And yet, today in Latin America, many of the leaders of the new populist governments were folks who had emerged from some of the very groups that Condor was tracking. And Uruguay especially, a former Tupamaro. And throughout the region, those dissidents now are part of the governing apparatus of their countries.

JOHN DINGES: I was in Bolivia just two weeks ago, and I interviewed one of the—one of the people in the Ministry of Communications, and a man who’s among the many, many, many indigenous people who are in the Morales government. And he described how his father had been a prisoner, had been in Chile as an exile. When the military coup happened, he was imprisoned and kept prisoner for seven months and tortured. And I talked to, in that same office, another person who also had been involved in the Bolivian resistance in the 1980s, going back with the group that had fought together with Che Guevara in the 1960s. His father had been involved with them.

These are revolutionaries, but they are a different brand of revolutionaries. They are as dedicated, I think, but they’re not taking up arms. I really believe that they realize that that did not lead to successful revolutions, and so I’m much more optimistic about what’s going on with the—with this current group of governments.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, a State Department cable, 1978, begins—the jacket of your book, says, “Kissinger explained his opinion [that] the Government of Argentina had done an outstanding job in wiping out terrorist forces.” The significance of the judge calling for Kissinger’s testimony and the Obama administration not responding?

JOHN DINGES: They have asked for Kissinger to give testimony many times. And in my book, I quote the one time where he actually responded to a petition from France, I believe it was. And he basically denied everything. This is very frustrating. I was able to—it was clear to me that, there’s no other word for it, these were lies. I mean, the documents say one thing; Kissinger said another thing. And he knew what those documents said. It’s not—the United States has never allowed any of its officials to face trial in other countries. We are not a member of the ICC. There’s never—

AMY GOODMAN: The International Criminal Court.

JOHN DINGES: The International Criminal Court. There’s never been any participate—there’s never been any trials that have brought Americans in the dock. There was an attempt in Italy; of course, all of those people were gone. The United States, for one reason or another, Democrats and Republicans, protect our own human rights criminals when it’s involving human rights crimes outside of the United States. It’s just the way it is.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you describe Henry Kissinger in that way, as a human rights criminal?

JOHN DINGES: Yes, absolutely.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the relevance of this history of farming out the battle against terrorism, and so you could have no finger marks—no fingerprints of your own involvement to the current war against terrorism in the United States?

JOHN DINGES: Well, I wrote—I was writing chapter one, when 9/11 happened, in my house in Washington. And as I finished the book—and I actually end with a reference to 9/11—I said this is not something that we’re condemned to repeat. And I was making the comparison between the war on terror in the 1970s and the current war on terror that was launched by President Bush. I thought we were going to—we had learned the lesson, that you don’t imitate the methods of your enemies and—or those who had been shown to be human rights criminals. Unfortunately, we crossed that line, I think, many times.

The current discussion about drones, I think, is very frightening, because I’m having a hard time distinguishing between what they did with Operation Condor, low-tech, and what a drone does, because a drone is basically going into somebody else’s country, even with the permission of that country—of course, that’s what Operation Condor did, in most cases: You track somebody down, and you kill them. Now, the justification is: “Well, they were a criminal. They were a combatant.” Well, that may or may not be true, but nobody is determining that except the person that’s pulling the trigger.

I just think that this has to be something that we discuss. And maybe trials like this, going back to the ’70s, people say, “Well, that was the dictatorships of the 1970s.” But the tendency of a state to feel that they can move against their enemies in the most effective way possible is still there, and it is certainly not limited to dictatorships.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, John Dinges, for being with us. John Dinges is author of The Condor Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents. Before that, he was with National Public Radio, NPR, worked as a freelance reporter in Latin America, is currently a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll be joined by filmmaker Dave Riker and actress Abbie Cornish about a new film about human smuggling on the border, called The Girl. Stay with us.

Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón on Holding Torturers Accountable, Why He Opposes the Killing of Osama bin Laden, and His Threatened Ouster from the Bench May 12, 2011

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www.democracynow.org, May 12, 2011

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Citing the doctrine of universal jurisdiction, Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón has used the Spanish courts to investigate cases of torture, war crimes and other offenses around the world. In 1998, he ordered the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, a move that led to Pinochet’s arrest and detention in Britain. In 2003, Garzón indicted Osama bin Laden and dozens of other members of al-Qaeda. Garzón later attempted to indict six high-ranking members of the Bush administration for their role in authorizing torture at the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay and overseas, before the case was eventually dropped under U.S. pressure. While Garzón has long been one of the world’s most feared judges, he is now facing his own legal battle. Last year he was indicted for exceeding his authority for launching an investigation into the disappearance of more than 100,000 civilians at the hands of supporters of Gen. Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War. Garzón was suspended as a judge in May 2010 and is facing three separate trials.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We’re joined now by the Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, perhaps one of the world’s most famous judges. Citing the doctrine of universal jurisdiction, Garzón has used the Spanish courts to investigate cases of torture, war crimes and other offenses around the world.

In 1998, he ordered the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, a move that had led to Pinochet’s arrest and detention in Britain for 18 months.

In 2003, Garzón indicted Osama bin Laden and dozens of other members of al-Qaeda. The indictment led to Europe’s biggest trial of alleged al-Qaeda operatives. Eighteen were eventually found guilty.

Garzón also led the case against Argentine ex-naval officer Adolfo Scilingo for crimes committed during Argentina’s Dirty War. Scilingo is now serving a 640-year sentence.

Garzón attempted to indict six high-ranking members of the Bush administration, including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, for their role in authorizing torture at Guantánamo and overseas. The case was eventually dropped. We now know, thanks to WikiLeaks, that the Bush administration privately pressured the Spanish government to drop the prosecution.

AMY GOODMAN: While Judge Garzón has long been one of the world’s most feared judges, he is now facing his own legal battle. Thirteen months ago, he was indicted for exceeding his authority for launching an investigation into the disappearance of more than 100,000 Spanish civilians at the hands of supporters of General Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War. Garzón was suspended as a judge in May 2010 and is facing three separate trials.

The attack on Garzón has been widely criticized by human rights defenders. Lotte Leicht of Human Rights Watch said, quote, “Garzón sought justice for victims of human rights abuses abroad and now he’s being punished for trying to do the same at home. The decision leaves Spain and Europe open to the charge of double standard.”

Judge Baltasar Garzón is here in New York this week to receive the first Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives/Puffin Foundation Award for Human Rights Activism. He flew in from Spain last night, joins us in the studio today.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: Good Morning. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: And thank you to Tony Geist for translating.

Judge Garzón, let’s start with the latest news: the assassination of Osama bin Laden. You have condemned this. Why?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] Any person who leads a terrorist organization like al-Qaeda is obviously a target. Under the rule of law, justice should be sought by legal means. According to the information we have, he could well have been arrested and brought to trial for his crimes.

AMY GOODMAN: Yet he was assassinated. Talk about the example you believe this sets.

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] According to international law, the murder or the assassination of bin Laden was not the appropriate solution. Clearly, from the information we have, it’s an undefined situation, given the state of conflict between the United States and al-Qaeda.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I wanted to ask you about the case, particular case, that you have been now indicted for, specifically overreaching your authority, supposedly, in terms of the investigation into the civilian deaths under the Franco regime. You prosecuted similar cases, where amnesties had been declared, in Argentina and Chile, and your government had no problem with that. But now, when you challenge the amnesty that was supposedly granted to the perpetrators of the Franco atrocities, suddenly the government has problems with your methods?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: Yeah. [translated] This is the paradox and the irony of a situation in which Spain has been a pioneer in the application of universal jurisdiction. Yet, when it actually comes to investigating the case and the facts of the case in Spain, the country denies access to the facts and puts the judge himself on trial. It is the obligation of a judge to investigate the cases and to search for truth, justice and reparation for the victims of these crimes.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And in terms of the particular powers of a judge in Spain that may differ from what we here in the United States understand as a judge’s power, that the judges in Spain have both a sort of prosecutorial as well as a judgment aspect to their responsibilities, could you explain that?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: Yes. [translated] Judges in Spain are a combination of prosecutor, investigator and judge.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about the WikiLeaks revelations. In Spain, there’s a lot of attention, of the documents, the U.S. government cables that have come out, about U.S. interference with the judiciary in Spain. One of the WikiLeaks cables was signed by Edward Aguirre, who is the—President Bush’s ambassador to Spain, who met with you. And he was concerned about a number of issues, and the U.S. has been concerned about the case in which—you opened against six former Bush administration officials, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, for torture at Guantánamo. Explain this case and why it has now been dropped.

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] In Spain, opened two procedures against—in the Guantánamo case: a general case against—regarding those six people and another specific case in four cases of torture. They were each in separate courts. The case of the four specific cases of torture is in his court, and it’s gone forward, although without specific indictments against particular individuals. Under the principle of universal jurisdiction, they have requested that the United States answer whether they are following up, investigating that case, or not. And if not, we’ll take it to the next step. It’s quite clear that they’re crimes against humanity, cases of torture, and therefore the government is obliged, under universal jurisdiction, to investigate them.

AMY GOODMAN: The ambassador in the document, in the WikiLeaks cable, said you have an anti-American streak. Your response?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: No, you know, no, I don’t. Enemy against the United States, no. I think that is the justice, only justice, as the torture is a universal crime, is necessary to investigate. Only this.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask you about—to go back to the case of the Franco era. The New York Times, in an editorial in support of you, said recently, “The real crime[s] in this case are the disappearances, not Mr. Garzón’s investigation. If, as seems likely, these were crimes against humanity under international law, Spain’s 1977 amnesty could not legally absolve them.” Interestingly, the charges were brought against you initially by right-wing, pro-Franco groups in the country. So, in essence, some claim that the only one to be prosecuted for the crimes of the Franco era are the judge that has tried to investigate the cases. Could you—for Americans who are not familiar with what happened during the Franco era, could you talk a little bit about that?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] The paradox again is that the government refuses to investigate the crimes against humanity and at the same time is prosecuting the judge who wants to uncover them. There were between 150,000 and 200,000 people disappeared under the Franco regime, as part of the civil population. It’s still not known where the victims lie buried. It’s a permanent crime, and therefore it cannot be absolved by an amnesty law.

AMY GOODMAN: Judge Baltasar Garzón, you have called for the exhumation of 19 unmarked graves, among them the one believed to contain the remains of the great poet, Federico García Lorca. Why?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] He ordered specifically the opening, the exhumation of Lorca’s grave, because it was requested by the families of the other people who apparently are buried with him. And the request was made specifically to the judge of Granada, the area where the burial is.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you hope to find?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] So, the process is paralyzed right now because the judge of the location where Lorca is buried is one of those who objected and brought the case against Garzón. And the Supreme Court has suspended his decision to exhume the grave.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we’re going to go to break, but when we come back, we want to talk to Judge Baltasar Garzón about what this means that he now has been indicted, he has been suspended, he can’t practice law right now in Spain, what it means for all of these cases. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Víctor Jara. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. Víctor Jara, the great Chilean singer who was killed when the Augusto Pinochet forces rose to power and Allended died in the palace, September 11th, another September 11th, remarkably enough, 1973, who died among so many thousands of Chileans. It’s our guest today, Judge Baltasar Garzón, who first held Augusto Pinochet accountable, after his 17 years of brutal rule in Chile. When Augusto Pinochet went to Britain in the late ’90s for a doctor’s appointment, Judge Baltasar Garzón, from Spain, had him indicted. And it was because of that indictment that Augusto Pinochet was held in Britain for a year, until eventually allowed to go home.

Now Baltasar Garzón, Judge Garzón, faces his own trial, as he has been taken off the bench after crusading on many different issues, including the indictment of Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda operatives in 2003.

I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan Gonzalez.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Judge Garzón, I’d like to ask you about another case that you were involved with, which was the investigation of the “dirty war” that occurred against Basque separatists under a Socialist government, the government of Felipe Gonzalez, in Spain. And you—many say that you were responsible for the fall of that government as a result of what you uncovered. Could you talk about what you found? And interestingly now, Felipe Gonzalez is supporting you and saying that what is happening to you is unjust.

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] I would never be responsible for an electoral loss that is due to the citizens who voted. What I did was simply investigate accusations of persecution against people accused of terrorism. The state of law is equal for all people. It cannot depend on electoral politics. A number of highly placed officials in the Socialist party, ruling party, government were accused and found guilty and removed. I believe that the democracy and the rule of law was strengthened by this action.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to Chile. The family of the former Chilean president, Salvador Allende, asked last month for his body to be exhumed to help determine the cause of his 1973 death. President Allende was overthrown in a U.S.-backed coup, September 11th, 1973. The official cause of death on that day in the palace was listed as suicide, but it’s long been speculated he was assassinated by the forces of General Augusto Pinochet. Allende’s daughter, Isabel Allende, spoke to the media.

ISABEL ALLENDE: [translated] We requested the exhumation and autopsy. I think it’s the most rigorous and definitive proof to clear up the causes of his death, and we think this is going to be tremendously important.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the daughter of Salvador Allende, Isabel Allende, not to be confused with the great writer who is his niece. What do you say about the calling for the exhumation and the investigation of whether this was assassination or whether he took his own life as the Augusto Pinochet forces moved into the palace?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] In the first instance, they investigated the criminal actions of those who rose up against a democratically elected government. The actual cause of death is less important than recognizing the fact that this was an illegal action, a coup against a legally elected government. And for those crimes, Pinochet was investigated and indicted in London.

AMY GOODMAN: So where do you stand right now, Judge Garzón? You’ve been suspended. You face trial. You face prison for many years.

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: I am provisionally suspended in my function, jurisdictional function. But I hope the trial against me, that we will, in the next month, I think—but it’s very complicated for me, my actual situation, because I cannot to investigate, to work in Spain. But I work right now in La Haya, in the International Criminal Court, with the prosecutor. But it’s not my destination. I hope the resolution, it will be proximally.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Some of your—you have many people who are passionately supporters of yours, as well as very strong critics, including among your colleagues on the bench. Several major judges in Spain have accused you of basically being a media personality trying to grab attention and really overstepping your responsibilities as a judge. How do you answer those in the judicial community who have criticized you in the past?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] What’s most important are the cases in which I have participated. Any judge who had done what I did would be well known. That’s not, in principle, a bad thing. What’s wrong is to impede those investigations and that the victims should not be aided. It’s true that my personality gives an additional passion to it. But that should be appropriate for any judge. All I’ve done is my job, and I intend to continue doing it. And I’m not especially worried about the criticism that comes from the bench.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And even if you’re absolved of the charges, do you think you will be able to continue to function as a judge in Spain?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] It’s possible that I could continue, but right now I’m involved in a very interesting project in Colombia. For a certain amount of time, I’m going to be working with the OAS in Colombia on furthering the peace process and mediating, to work on a means of transitional justice.

JUAN GONZALEZ: In terms of having—achieving a peace between the FARC and the government?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] To be able to mobilize and put into practice the law which came after the demobilization, so cases can go to trial and victims can receive justice.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to, as we wrap up, talk again about universal jurisdiction, what this means, using the Spanish courts to hold tyrants accountable, wherever they may be. The Spanish government is now curtailing this, saying they don’t want to use universal jurisdiction. You have been a crusader for this. Lawyers around the world have looked at what you’re doing, seeing if it’s possible in their own countries. Yet your own government is cracking down on this. Will you be able, if you are cleared of all the charges and can go back to work, to continue to hold international torturers, tyrants, accountable?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] Yes, indeed. Not just me, but any judge should be able to and will be able to do so. No government in the world is easy with the application of the principle of universal jurisdiction. It’s a mistake. I believe it’s a mistake, because the principle of universal jurisdiction allows the fight against impunity to move forward. It’s the final scenario when the country itself is not willing to investigate these crimes, any government.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Were you surprised by some of the WikiLeaks revelations that indicated an extraordinary degree of pressure by the United States government on the judiciary and the government of Spain on cases affecting the United States?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] Yes, it did surprise me. Those who are susceptible to being pressured will be pressured. And if not, the pressure is meaningless. In this case, the justice system in Spain, specifically in regard to Guantánamo, steadfast, stood fast.

AMY GOODMAN: We have just 10 seconds. Short answer. Your assessment of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] The war in Iraq was an unjust and illegal war. And the war in Afghanistan, which has been conducted properly until now, there are many other things that still need to be revealed.

AMY GOODMAN: Judge Baltasar Garzón, thank you so much for being with us.

Human Rights Attorney Vince Warren: Obama’s “Preventive Detention” Plan Goes Beyond Bush Admin Policies May 25, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice.
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www.democracynow.org, May 22, 2009

We get reaction to President Obama and Vice President Dick Cheney’s dueling speeches on torture from Vince Warren, the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Warren took part in a secret meeting Wednesday between Obama and several human rights groups. Warren says although he welcomes Obama’s willingness to hear critical views, he’s disappointed in Obama’s new support for preventive detention.

AMY GOODMAN: Vince Warren joins us now. He’s in San Francisco, though he’s usually based in New York, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He met with President Obama earlier this week, the day before President Obama gave his speech at the National Archive yesterday.

Vince, welcome to Democracy Now! And start off—well, explain why this meeting that you, representing CCR, and other human rights groups had was supposedly originally a secret meeting. And then, what happened? And where did you meet? Tell us all the details.

VINCENT WARREN: Well, I’m not—still not allowed to talk about the substance of the meeting, but it was a meeting in which we met at the—in the Cabinet Room of the West Wing. And there were a number of high-level officials that were there at the meeting.

And what was sort of shocking about it is we were told that we should not at all talk about the meeting, but right promptly afterwards, the press started calling us, because the White House Press Office told everybody about the meeting.

But it was—in my sense, it was something that President Obama wanted to do to be able to talk and to hear our views, the views of some of the human rights organizations like CCR, and to really embrace his critics, which I think is a wonderful hallmark of this administration.

The problem is that he goes out the next day, and he has a speech in which he not only embraces the opposition, meaning George Bush’s policies, but then he comes out with things that even George Bush didn’t come out with, like preventive detention.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Vince, while you’re saying you can’t talk about the substance of the meeting, were you surprised at all, after the meeting you had, about the positions that he took, or did you have at least some indication that this was going to happen beforehand?

VINCENT WARREN: Well, with respect to how I felt about it, the military commissions piece was something that he had come out with earlier than the meeting. And so, the Center had opposed that very vigorously. You know, putting a few due process protections on an old George Bush policy is like rehabbing a house on a toxic waste site. You know, it really didn’t make a whole lot of difference. And you can’t make the military commissions better.

What was very surprising was to hear President Obama talk about what he called prolonged detention, but what I think we can all safely say is preventive detention, moving forward, the idea of detaining people not because they’ve committed a crime, but because of their general dangerousness or that they may commit a crime in the future. That’s something that the documents that President Obama was standing in front of, particularly the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, simply doesn’t permit. And when I heard that in his speech, I was deeply, deeply shocked that he would go in that direction.

AMY GOODMAN: Had he told you that the day before?

VINCENT WARREN: No, he hadn’t—he didn’t talk about his speech at all. We really didn’t have a sense of what was going to come the next day. And we didn’t discuss preventive detention. And I think what’s interesting about it is, for most people in the room, I suspect that that wasn’t even something that anybody was contemplating or really could conceive of. We haven’t heard that discussion for, you know, eight or nine months. And so, this was really the first time that we were confronted with it.

AMY GOODMAN: Vince, why can’t you talk about that meeting? Why is it off the record? Why is it supposed to be secret? And, well, that’s the question.

VINCENT WARREN: Yeah, well, you know, there are probably a couple of reasons. And one thing you can say is that the President wants to be able to have frank discussions with folks without the concern that those discussions will leak out to the press, and I think there’s some benefit to that.

You know, there’s another way to think about it, which is that President Obama wants to silence his critics. I don’t think that’s the sense, because all of the positions that I took in that meeting were positions that CCR had taken publicly before that meeting and certainly are positions that we’re still going to be taking after that meeting. So I’m not really sure what that is.

My view is that, in entering the meeting, I gave my word that I would keep the meeting confidential. And I take those things seriously.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Vince, your reaction to seeing former Vice President Cheney immediately afterwards with a speech that’s televised, the enormous pressure that has been coming on the Obama administration from some sectors of the Republican Party? The Vice President is actually being seen publicly a lot more now, the former Vice President, than he was when he was in office. And, of course, he said in his speech that those who criticize enhanced interrogation are practicing “recklessness cloaked in righteousness.”

VINCENT WARREN: Yeah. I really yearn for the day when I don’t have to turn on my television and see Dick Cheney talking. It’s been eight years of that, and I can’t believe that it’s still moving forward.

And, of course, you know, he’s done—he’s doing the same thing that the Republican machine has done ever since September 11th, is every time that there are policy discussions on the table, every time that they begin to lose the fight about what is legal and what is proper, they roll out the fear carpet, which, of course, he’s doing again.

And not only has he, you know, I fear, spooked this administration a little bit, but he’s also spooked the Congress. It’s outrageous that the Congress is playing this entire piece on the Republican battlefield.

The President said—you know, let’s focus on some of the good things. President Obama said that he was going to close Guantanamo in a year, and he should be applauded for that. But, of course, Congress is messing with that timeline fairly severely by not providing the funding for him to do that and by saying no one will be able to release to American soil, whether they’re in—they come as prisoners or detainees or they come as free people, which, of course, holds up the timeline for any types of trials that the administration wants to do. It doesn’t allow groups like the Uyghurs, the Chinese Muslims who everybody says pose no threat to anyone, to possibly be resettled in the United States, which they absolutely should. And when that doesn’t happen, it keeps the doors to Europe locked. So, the question is, with the Congress taking this stance, how is the administration going to close Guantanamo and send people who can be released back to where they came from or to third countries, or to try the people that can’t be released?

AMY GOODMAN: Vince Warren, I want to go to that issue of the Uyghurs, for people to understand what you’re talking about. A judge says they should be released immediately. The Chinese government doesn’t allow them back into China. So, where are they? And explain why this is such a good example of the argument of people being allowed into the United States?

VINCENT WARREN: The Uyghurs are a very, very interesting group. And we should start out by saying that there used to be more Uyghurs in Guantanamo than there are now. There were a group of Uyghurs that were released several years ago and are now living in Albania in a camp there, posing no threat to anyone. The remainder of the group are still in Guantanamo. But, of course, the factual circumstances of the people in Guantanamo are the same factual circumstances of the people that were released to Albania. And, of course, it’s just a hallmark of the Bush era that they would release some people but not release others.

So now we have court cases in which we’ve gotten orders that the Uyghurs should be released or can be released. And first the Bush administration and now, it appears, the Obama administration, in terms of their legal position, has been opposing that. So we’re in a situation where the Uyghurs fall into, I believe it was, the third category of detainees that President Obama talked about, when these are people that have been released—ordered released by courts, but right now what makes it difficult is that China doesn’t want them back, and then no other country wants to take them, because they fear getting into a tangle with China.

So this has completely politicized a situation that has fallen on the backs of innocent men who have been in Guantanamo for years. And no one, especially not Congress, is stepping up to do anything about it.

What we need to do is to release the Uyghurs into a Uyghur community into the United States. That will then unlock the door to Europe to take a whole range of other people that should be released, some that have ordered been released and some that have been cleared for release by the Bush administration that are sitting in Guantanamo right now.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama’s opposition to an independent commission?

VINCENT WARREN: That was an interesting discussion, because our view at the Center for Constitutional Rights is that the purest form of accountability is criminal prosecution. We don’t oppose a commission at the Center for Constitutional Rights, one in which there’s subpoena power, in which criminal charges can come, and there’s no amnesty.

But what I found interesting is that President Obama opposed blue ribbon commissions like the 9/11 Commissions, but at least in his discussion seemed to leave open the possibility of criminal prosecution, by saying that the existing part of the democracy, the Justice Department, has the full ability to investigate folks. So, I found it a little bit interesting. I think that there’s room there for a criminal investigation, and I certainly think that accountability and transparency go hand in hand.

And to the extent that this administration is agreeing to release documents and release information as a subject of our lawsuit and the ACLU lawsuit and to the extent that those documents show criminal activity, it’s beholden—it behooves this government to start criminal investigations of the very information that they’re releasing to the public. You can’t just put it out there and pretend it doesn’t exist.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Vince Warren, I want to play one more part of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s speech yesterday and then get your response.

    DICK CHENEY: Over on the left wing of the President’s party, there appears to be little curiosity in finding out what was learned from the terrorist. The kind of answers they’re after would be heard before a so-called truth commission. Some are even demanding that those who recommended and approved the interrogations be prosecuted, in effect treating political disagreements as a punishable offense and political opponents as criminals. It’s hard to imagine a worse precedent filled with more possibilities for trouble and abuse than to have an incoming administration criminalize the policy decisions of its predecessor.

 

JUAN GONZALEZ: Vince Warren, your reaction to former Vice President Dick Cheney calling this an issue of political disagreements?

VINCENT WARREN: That is a tremendous amount of nonsense. This is not a political disagreement. What has happened here, this is arguably some of the worst and notorious criminal activity committed by government officials in the history of the United States.

So, what we really need to be focusing on is, once the criminal activity is exposed, what is this administration going to do about it? This is not about partisan wrangling in the Beltway. This is not about respectful policy disagreements. This is about torture. This is about illegal activity that was engaged in by members of the administration and military operatives and CIA operatives under the Bush administration. And it is absolutely beholden on this administration, and in fact required under Article IV of the Geneva Conventions, once this information is out there, specifically around torture, to begin an investigation. It’s not a question of “if”; it really is a question of when he’s going to do it.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And on a related note, what’s your reaction to the report that came to light this week, the Pentagon report that one in seven former detainees at Gitmo who were released have gone back to terrorist activities?

VINCENT WARREN: Yeah. Juan, every couple of months, the Department of Defense rolls out these statistics of who’s gone back to the battlefield. I have a couple of comments on that. Number one, they’ve never been specific, for the most part, about who these detainees are. Number two, when you look at the going-back-to-the-battlefield rhetoric, they talk about a range of things. They talk about people who may have taken arms up against the US, but they also talk about people that support people that take arms up against the US. So, theoretically, you can be one of those people on the Department of Defense list if you are consorting with people who have expressed that they want to take up arms against the United States. And so, the devil is in the details in these numbers.

And I think the important piece is this: they are way over-inflated. We’ve never gotten any details of this. Interestingly enough, this document has been the subject of a Freedom of Information Act suit for a very long time, and we still haven’t gotten it. But they like to roll out those numbers.

And I think, finally, the thing that’s important is I am convinced that the specter, the fact of Guantanamo, generates more dangerous people than the number of people that have ever been released. For every one person that may go back to the battlefield or may harbor ill will towards the United States, those number—the people that are beginning to do that for every day that people are held in Guantanamo far out-cede that—outweigh that. And so, the issue really isn’t about who’s going back to the battlefield; the issue is, who are we going to prevent from going to the battlefield in the first place by doing the right thing in the United States?

AMY GOODMAN: Vince Warren, I want to thank you very much for being with us, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Union Leaders Accuse Stern of Scheming for Control of America’s Only Union-Owned Commercial Bank February 21, 2009

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In his latest column for the New York Daily News, Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez writes, “Last year alone, Amalgamated Bank’s profits provided more than $23 million to UNITE HERE for its everyday operations. Some leaders of the union accuse one of the country’s most powerful labor leaders, Andy Stern, of the Service Employees International Union, of scheming to seize control of the bank in a corporate-style takeover.”

AMY GOODMAN: You wrote an interesting piece, before we move on with our new segment, on a big battle brewing within unions.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes, another battle has now erupted in the so-called reform wing of the American labor movement. Now, the UNITE HERE, which is the large union that represents hotel workers, garment workers, textile workers—it was actually a merger of two unions that occurred about five years ago. And UNITE HERE now has a major battle that has implications beyond its union, because the SEIU has also become involved, Andy Stern, Service Employees International Union, the largest—the fastest-growing union in America.

Apparently, the original merger of UNITE HERE had Bruce Raynor, the former head of UNITE, as the president of the merged union and John Wilhelm, who was the head of the hotel workers, as the second in command of the new merged union.

But there’s been a lot of battles internally between the two camps since they’ve been merged, and the big battle is over the bank that the union has, the only union-owned bank in America, commercial break, the Amalgamated Bank, which has about $5 billion in assets. I call it one of the crown jewels of the American labor movement. And that bank produces—for instance, last year, it produced $23 million in profits that all went to help fund the union’s activities.

But now, as the battle has erupted, John Wilhelm looks likely to be elected the new president of UNITE HERE, and the Raynor forces are battling against that. They want a divorce. They say that the marriage has not worked; after five years, they want a divorce. And they want to move their entire operation into, apparently, SEIU. And the problem is that the union constitution that everyone approved does not allow a secession. And so, now there is basically a scorched earth battle between the two sides, with Wilhelm trying to keep UNITE HERE together and Raynor, in essence, it appears to be, working cooperatively with Andy Stern to tear his own union apart and take his section over to SEIU.

Of course, I’ve called—in my column today, I called SEIU the Roman Empire of the American labor movement. They keep expanding and absorbing new additions into their growing empire. And I talked with Stern about that yesterday. He acknowledged that he is working very hard to convince UNITE HERE that they would be better off as members of SEIU, and he’s got lawyers and a whole bunch of people working to make that possible. But the rest of the labor movement, I think, considers that interference in the internal affairs of a fraternal organization.

And so, I don’t know what’s going to happen now, but I do think that this is a bad sign now that SEIU, which was leading the reform movement when they split off from the AFL-CIO to establish Change to Win, is now embroiled in yet another battle, which looks very much like the old battles in the labor movement for pure control by union leaders over resources, money and members. So we’ll see how it works out over the next few months.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll certainly continue to follow that story.

Israel Pounds Gaza: Shells Crowded Hospital, UN Compound and Building Housing Media Organizations January 15, 2009

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www.democracynow.org, January 15, 2009 

AMY GOODMAN: We go directly to the Middle East to Gaza. Juan?

 

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Israeli forces are continuing to pound Gaza City, hitting civilian targets, including a UN building, a hospital and a building housing several media organizations, in some of the heaviest shelling in nearly three weeks. Israeli troops, backed by helicopter gunships, tanks and heavy guns, have pushed deeply into densely populated neighborhoods. Thousands of Gaza City residents are fleeing their homes.

The Palestinian death toll now stands at at least 1,045, at least half of them civilians. Another 4,860 have been injured. Thirteen Israelis have been killed, including four by friendly fire.

 

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Gaza to speak with Dr. Moussa El-Haddad, a retired physician. He lives in Gaza City.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Tell us where you are and what’s happening right now, Dr. El-Haddad.

 

DR. MOUSSA EL-HADDAD: Well, I am in Gaza City itself. What’s happening is a state that is almost impossible to describe. The Israeli army has escalated the attack on civilians since last night. I did not have a single minute of sleep for the last probably eighteen hours. There have been bombardment every day, every minute, all night long. My house was rocking all the time.

 

And this morning, when the sun rose, we could at least look from the window, and I could see, as you probably have seen on the TV, smoke coming out buildings, civilian buildings, apartment buildings. Actually, two hospitals were bombarded this morning, the Al-Quds and the Al-Wafa Hospital. Al-Wafa Hospital is a hospital for handicaps, by the way, and old people. A media apartment was also hit this morning not far from my house. That’s Abu Dhabi news agency.

 

So, wherever, it’s extremely unsafe now, even inside our homes, smoke everywhere. I could see cluster bombs being fired this morning, and the phosphorus bombs now are used freely on the civilians. I’m sure you have seen it on the TV.

 

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. El-Haddad, we heard that white phosphorus was dropped on the UN compound, that hundreds of people, families were there taking refuge. We discussed white phosphorus yesterday with Human Rights Watch. Can you talk, as a doctor, about the effects of the burning? For example, they say it can’t be put out, the fires that it creates, just by pouring water on it. In fact, that exacerbates it.

 

DR. MOUSSA EL-HADDAD: No, no, no. You cannot, actually. If you pour water on it, it gets worse, if you get this burn. Number one, those people who get exposed to white phosphorus get severe respiratory distress. They can hardly breathe, and then the exposed skin gets burned. If you put water on it, the burning increases, becomes worse. So you cannot really do much about it. And if the affected area was exposed too much for white phosphorus, it burns the skin, muscles and deep to the bones. So, eventually, a lot of these patients will lose some of their limbs.

 

AMY GOODMAN: Doctor El-Haddad, we’ve just been joined by Christopher Gunness. He’s the spokesperson for the UN Relief and Works Agency.

Can you tell us, Chris Gunness, what has happened to the UN compound in Gaza?

 

CHRISTOPHER GUNNESS: Well, this morning, there were three rounds of white phosphorus which landed in our compound in Gaza. That set ablaze the main warehouse and the big workshop we have there for vehicles. At the time, there were 700, also, people displaced from the fighting. There were full fuel tankers there. The Israeli army have been given all the coordinates of all our facilities, including this one. They also knew that there were fuel tankers laden with fuel in the compound, and they would have known that there were hundreds of people who had taken refuge.

 

The Israeli Defense Minister apologized to the Secretary-General for this, but, for us, we need deeds, not words. We have to get on with our humanitarian task. Amazingly, our operations are continuing today, and I have to pay tribute to the extraordinary bravery and commitment of our staff in Gaza. We’re continuing with our food distributions. We’re picking up humanitarian goods from the crossings, and we are doing healthcare as best we can.

 

JUAN GONZALEZ: And from this latest strike, were there any casualties in your compound?

 

CHRISTOPHER GUNNESS: There were at least three, and that’s when I was last able to talk to office, but it’s possible there are more. But for the moment, three people injured. And it, again, tragically illustrates that when you have this [inaudible] on and off, the military machine, when you have rockets flying out of Gaza, humanitarian workers and innocent civilians are going to get caught in the crossfire. Of course, we condemn the rockets that come out of Gaza.

But the world has been revulsed by the pictures that have come out of Gaza, which is why today we’ve, on the ground, utterly endorsed and backed the call of the world’s top diplomat, Ban Ki-moon. [inaudible] he’s the conscience of the world. He’s come here with a Security Council resolution, which says stop the fighting. And those parties on the ground who are continuing to fight are doing so in defiance and in isolation.

 

JUAN GONZALEZ: And this use of phosphorus munitions, your response to that?

 

CHRISTOPHER GUNNESS: Well, I’m not a military person, but a colleague of mine said to me in Gaza today, who, you know, has a military background and knows these things, it looks like white phosphorus, it smells like white phosphorus, and it burns like white phosphorus. We weren’t able, initially, to put the fighting out, because we had only conventional fire extinguishers. White phosphorus needs sand, and we didn’t have sand in quantities. But I’m pleased to say that the Red Cross fire services have managed to make [unintelligible] a compound and are now fighting the blaze.

 

AMY GOODMAN: Chris Gunness, in addition to the three people you say that were wounded there, what about the thousands of tons of supplies? Is that right? Food, medical supplies, other aid in this building?

 

CHRISTOPHER GUNNESS: Yes, I don’t have a handle on exact quantities, but there’s no doubt that aid was destroyed, aid paid for with your tax dollars and mine. It’s a tragic piece of symbolism that the very pallets that we deliver humanitarian assistance on are on fire in Gaza. You know, what more tragic symbolism could there be of the situation that we find ourselves in today?

 

AMY GOODMAN: Ehud Barak said this was a mistake, the attack on the UN compound. Your response?

 

CHRISTOPHER GUNNESS: Well, we want deeds and not words. Our workers and, indeed, the civilians in Gaza have come in harm’s way too many times. This on-off with the pause, so-called, is not good enough. It’s woefully inadequate, because, of course, we have to preposition our aid before the actual pause takes place, where—there’s heavy fighting where I am—the booms—anyway, which is slightly distracting. There are—you know, we have to preposition our aid at our food distribution centers. We have to get our medical supplies to hospitals, which we are doing our best to supply. We have got to get fuel to hospitals, because most of the hospitals in Gaza today are running twenty-four/seven on emergency generators, so babies on life support systems, patients, the dying, the elderly, the sick, who need electricity, are in a life-threatening situation.

 

So, we are continuing with our work, but we say, “Please, will the parties on the ground listen to the call of the world’s top diplomat today?” On his first day of his peace mission to Israel, he has, again, endorsed the call of the Security Council for an immediate ceasefire. And this terrible attack on the United Nations headquarters is another tragic illustration of what happens when you don’t have a ceasefire. There has to be a permanent ceasefire.

 

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask Dr. Moussa El-Haddad, who is still on the line with us—

 

DR. MOUSSA EL-HADDAD: Yes.

 

JUAN GONZALEZ: —the Israelis say that they keep notifying the population to flee areas that they are attacking. What does this mean to you? Where could you possibly go to flee to safety?

 

DR. MOUSSA EL-HADDAD: Well, number one, let me tell you that I’ve heard from many people whose houses have been demolished, bombarded, that no warning has been given. Some people were given warnings through the Red Cross, but many people were not warned. So, those who leave their houses, they just go out to shelters, UNRWA shelters—you know, it’s not actually shelters; it’s schools and—or to their relatives.

 

But let me just add a comment to what Mr. Ehud Olmert said, that he apologized, that it was a mistake. If that was one mistake—and I tell you right now on the air—that they have committed hundreds of mistakes during the last three weeks. You know, what about all these apartment buildings that only civilians occupy? Children and families are trapped in elevators and under the stairs. Children and women bleeding in the streets, and the Israeli Army tanks are not allowing Red Cross or humanitarian aid to go and help them. The ambulances are not allowed to go in. They bleed for hours. And we can hear them on the radio asking for help and somebody to come and help them and take them. Dead bodies are in the streets down in our area in the southwest of Gaza. It’s—I’ll tell you, this is a disaster on humans. This is a human disaster in the twenty-first century. And everybody is looking.

I’m a—as a physician, I am telling you. You know, even now, you know, I just hope they stop this, whatever you want to call it, massacre or what. But I hope that they just stop it [inaudible]. And even if they do, there will be, years to come, people suffering psychologically, handicap people. You know, we already started seeing things like this. So, I don’t know how long we have to take until this thing stops. And I just hope that Mr. Bush is enjoying his time playing with his cat or dog right now.

 

AMY GOODMAN: Doctor Moussa El-Haddad, we’d like to ask you to stay on with us. We’re going to go to break. But Christopher Gunness, if you haven’t left us yet, spokesperson for UNRWA—

 

CHRISTOPHER GUNNESS: No, I’m here.

 

AMY GOODMAN: —just a comment on UNICEF. It’s rare that it speaks out. Ann Veneman is the head of UNICEF, used to be the head of Department of Agriculture here in the United States. But UNICEF has condemned the Gaza attack. In a rare statement, it urged an immediate ceasefire, calling the deaths of children tragic and unacceptable. Final comments, Christopher Gunness?

 

CHRISTOPHER GUNNESS: Well, it is entirely unacceptable. And, of course, we’re very gratified and welcome the statement by Ann Veneman. Too many innocent children, too many babies, too many women have been killed. And, of course, in Israel too, there have been rockets which we condemn. The pictures have revulsed the world, and Ban Ki-moon has come here as the conscience of the world. He’s expressing the revulsion of the world and is calling for the rockets to stop and for the fighting in Gaza to stop. Enough innocent civilians have been killed. It has to stop.

 

AMY GOODMAN: Christopher Gunness, thanks for being with us, spokesperson for UN Relief and Works Agency.

 

CHRISTOPHER GUNNESS: Thank you very much.

 

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. El-Haddad will stay with us. When we come back from break, we’re joined by Rabbi Michael Lerner, an open letter to Barack Obama. Rabbis have taken out a full-page ad in the New York Times to make a statement about Gaza. Stay with us.

[break]

JUAN GONZALEZ: A coalition of American rabbis and other religious, cultural and community leaders bought a full-page ad in the New York Times on Wednesday calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and for President-elect Barack Obama to convene an international Middle East peace conference. The initiative was led by Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine. Lerner said the group had to buy ad space because the nation’s major newspapers are not giving room for this perspective.

AMY GOODMAN: Rabbi Michael Lerner joins us in San Francisco.

Welcome to Democracy Now! You’ve been listening as we spoke to Christopher Gunness, UN Relief and Works Agency, as well as Dr. El-Haddad, who is trapped in his house in Gaza, observing what is happening outside. Rabbi Lerner, talk about your message, who put out this ad and what it says.

RABBI MICHAEL LERNER: Well, it was put out by Tikkun magazine, and we are actually trying now to get other liberal and progressive people around the country to help us. Go to tikkun.org, so that we can reproduce this in the Washington Post and in other major media. Unfortunately, the media, except for Democracy Now! and Pacifica and a few other places, are obliterating the message that many, many American Jews and other religious leaders, spiritual leaders and just American citizens are outraged at the immorality of what is happening.

So we’re demanding an immediate ceasefire, but we’re also asking for President Obama to take an immediate leadership in convening an international conference, because the direction that was laid out by Senator Clinton yesterday, that she said Obama and she agreed on, which would call for—would say that there are no negotiations with Hamas until Hamas recognizes the state of Israel, which, of course, is not going to happen—Hamas is going to be agreeable to a ceasefire, and maybe a long-term ceasefire, twenty or thirty years, but it’s not going to recognize Israel, so this policy is a non-starter. It’s a stupid policy. And it’s exactly in reverse of what Obama said he would do during the elections, when he was saying he would negotiate with people, including Iran and Syria, despite the fact that he abhorred their policies.

Why, in Israel, do we have the one time when he won’t negotiate, won’t talk to Hamas? Well, of course, the answer is obvious. It’s that the Israel lobby, combining extremely right-wing Jews in this country with a powerful Christian Zionist movement, have blocked out of public discourse all of the moral sentiments of the American public, which would be outraged at what’s going on in Gaza at this moment and, more generally, understand that the best interests of Israel and Israeli security lies in reconciliation with the Palestinian people, not in trying to wipe them out.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Rabbi Lerner, in your open letter to Barack Obama, you raise your concern that, having met him several times in the past, that you saw a great hope in terms of the Middle East in his policies, but that you were concerned, starting with the election campaign last year, that you saw a change in his direction. Could you elaborate on that?

RABBI MICHAEL LERNER: Well, you know, in my conversations with Obama—Obama came to a Tikkun conference in 1996, and I spoke to him about these issues in 2006. And he was very much aligned with the Tikkun perspective, which is a perspective that says that the best interest of Israel lies in peace and reconciliation with the Palestinian people.

But the pressures that have been brought upon him during the campaign and now afterwards are immense. You cannot underestimate the amount of push that is going on all around him. And remember that last week the Senate voted overwhelmingly—that is, unanimously—to support the Israeli position, and the House voted—I think it was 405-to-five in support of the Israeli position.

There is nothing coming from the other direction. And that’s why those of us who really care about the security of the Palestinian people and the Israeli people need to stand up and speak very loudly at this time and to ask President Obama to intervene, to intervene directly, and to not listen to all those forces that are saying to him, “Forget about the Israel thing. Don’t risk your political capital on Israel-Palestine. Turn to other issues.” Now, this is happening—as you see and you beautifully demonstrated, this is happening, this moral outrage, this violation of human rights, is happening on a daily basis right now, and we need leadership right now.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to end with Dr. Moussa El-Haddad back in Gaza, retired physician living in Gaza City, as best he can right now. Dr. El-Haddad, why don’t you leave your home? How far are the Israeli troops from your home?

DR. MOUSSA EL-HADDAD: Why don’t I leave my home?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes.

DR. MOUSSA EL-HADDAD: Well, number one, there is nowhere to go. As you know, all the borders are closed. And if I leave, all the places are unsafe now. As we mentioned in the beginning, the civilians are trapped into this, between—this is a game being played between the politicians, and the civilians are paying the price. Number one, all the borders of Gaza Strip are closed. As you know, also the sea is closed. You cannot leave.

And as a human being, I would like to leave when I want and where I want. I don’t want to leave because Israel wants me to leave.

So the Israeli army now is pretty close to me, the tanks. Nobody is safe in this area. And as you know, more than 300 children have been killed so far, and some of them are as young as five months old. Can you believe it?

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Moussa El-Haddad, the program is ending now. I want to thank you for being with us—

DR. MOUSSA EL-HADDAD: That’s my pleasure, dear.

AMY GOODMAN: —and wish you safety, a retired physician living in Gaza City. His daughter, Laila El-Haddad, is the journalist who we’ve interviewed who writes the popular blog “Raising Yousuf.” Yousuf is Dr. Moussa El-Haddad’s grandson.