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Glenn Greenwald: Is It A Coup? What Is Happening in Brazil is Much Worse Than Donald Trump May 14, 2016

Posted by rogerhollander in Brazil, Imperialism, Latin America, Right Wing, Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note: here is an alternative view on the Brazil political crisis that you are not likely to see in the mainstream media.  What is happening in Brazil is complex, but bottom line: a right wing US supported coup d’etat.  After the Glen Greenwald interview on Democracy Now!, which foreshadows last weeks Impeachment against President Dilma Rouseff; an article outlining the not surprising evidence of US complicity unearthed by Wikileaks.  Finally, the most recent interviews on Democracy Now!

Democracy Now!MARCH 24, 2016

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We begin in Brazil, which is facing its worst political crisis in over two decades as opponents of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff attempt to impeach her on corruption charges. But Rouseff is refusing calls to resign, saying the impeachment proceedings against her amount to undemocratic attempts by the right-wing opposition to oust her from power. On Wednesday, former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva called the impeachment proceedings against Rousseff an attempted coup d’état. Lula, who was indicted last month on corruption charges, spoke Tuesday at a trade union event in São Paulo.

LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] The current attempt against Dilma is a coup. There’s no other word for it. It is a coup. And this country cannot accept a coup against Dilma. If there was one last thing I could do in my life, it would be to help Dilma turn this country around, with the decency that the Brazilian public deserves.

AMY GOODMAN: Last week, a judge suspended President Rousseff’s appointment of Lula da Silva to a Cabinet post. Rousseff says Lula will help strengthen her government, but critics see his appointment as a bid to protect him from what Lula says are politically motivated charges of money laundering. The judge who blocked Lula’s appointment had recently posted photos of himself on social media marching in an anti-government protest. Lula and President Rousseff are both members of the left-leaning Workers’ Party. On Tuesday, Brazil’s president, Rousseff, said she would not resign under any circumstances.

PRESIDENT DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] Those who call me to resign show the fragility of their conviction of the process of impeachment, because, above all, they are trying to instate a coup d’état against our democracy. I can assure you that I will not cooperate with this. I will not resign for any reason whatsoever. … I have not committed any crime under the constitution and law to justify an interruption to my mandate. To condemn someone for a crime that they did not commit is the greatest violence that can be committed against any person. It is a brutal injustice. It is illegal. I was victim to this injustice once, under the dictatorship, and I fought to never be a victim again, under democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: In recent weeks, mass protests have occurred in Brazil calling for President Rousseff to resign.

PROTESTER: [translated] The people are tired. The people don’t want this president, this Workers’ Party, this gang in power, anymore, this gang which only steals and conceals its illicit actions. The people are tired. Lula deserves to be in jail. That’s what he deserves.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we’re joined by Glenn Greenwald, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist based in Brazil. He’s been covering Brazil closely for The Intercept. His recent piece is headlined “Brazil Is Engulfed by Ruling Class Corruption—and a Dangerous Subversion of Democracy.” In it, Glenn Greenwald writes, quote, “this is a campaign to subvert Brazil’s democratic outcomes by monied factions that have long hated the results of democratic elections, deceitfully marching under an anti-corruption banner: quite similar to the 1964 coup.”

In a moment, we’re going to be talking with Glenn Greenwald about the attacks in Brussels, as well as the presidential elections here in the United States and the battle between Apple and the U.S. government over encryption. But right now we’re starting with Brazil.

Glenn, there is very little attention in the United States in the mainstream media about what’s taking place in Brazil. President Obama is right next door in Argentina, but can you talk about what is happening in the country you live in, in Brazil?

GLENN GREENWALD: Definitely. It is a little odd that such extreme levels of political instability have received relatively little attention, given that Brazil is the fifth most populous country in the world, it’s the eighth largest economy, and whatever happens there will have reverberations for all sorts of markets and countries, including the United States. The situation in Brazil is actually fairly complicated, much more so than the small amount of media attention devoted to it in the U.S. has suggested. The media attention in the U.S. has suggested that it’s the people, by the millions, rising up against a corrupt government, and sort of depicting it as the heroic population against a corrupt left-wing, virtually tyrannical regime. And in a lot of ways, that’s an oversimplification; in a lot of ways, it’s simply inaccurate. So let me just make a couple of key points.

First of all, it is the case that the Brazilian political class and its—the highest levels of its economic class are rife with very radical corruption. That has been true for a really long time. And what has happened is that Brazil’s judicial institutions and police agencies have matured. Remember, Brazil is a very young democracy. It only exited military dictatorship in 1985. And so you finally have the maturation of these institutions applying the rule of law. And so, for the first time, political and economic elites are being held accountable for very serious political and economic corruption. The corruption is pervasive in essentially every influential political faction in Brazil, including all of its political parties. That includes the Workers’ Party, the left-wing party of Lula and Dilma, the current president, but also, even to a greater extent, the opposition parties on the center and the right that are trying to replace it. So corruption is very real. There is a very—there’s been a—what has been, until recently, an impressive judicial investigation that has resulted in the arrest and prosecution of some of the country’s richest and most powerful figures—something that you would never see in the United States—billionaires being hauled off to jail for bribery and money laundering and tax evasion and corruption, and sentenced to many years in prison. And virtually every political opponent of President Rousseff is implicated by this corruption, and many of the people in her party are, as well.

The irony of this widespread corruption is that President Rousseff herself is really the only significant politician, or one of the only significant politicians, in Brazil not to be implicated in any sort of corruption scheme for the—with the objective of personal enrichment. Everyone around her, virtually, including those trying to bring her government down and accuse her of corruption and impeach her, is implicated very seriously in schemes of corruption for personal enrichment. She’s essentially one of the only people who isn’t implicated that way.

The problem is that there—at the same time as you have this massive corruption investigation, you also have an extremely severe economic recession, as the result of lowering gas prices and contraction in China and a variety of other factors. And up until very recently, up until 2008, 2010, Brazil’s economy was booming. The people of that country, including its poorest, have been—thought that their prospects were finally improving, that the promise of Brazil, the long-heralded promise of Brazil, to become this developed power in the world was finally coming to fruition. Millions of people were being lifted out of poverty. And what this recession has done has been essentially to reverse all of that and to reimpose huge amounts of suffering, borne primarily by Brazil’s lower and working classes. And so there’s an enormous amount of discontent and anger towards President Rousseff and towards her Workers’ Party over the suffering that the people in Brazil are experiencing. And so, what you have is this corruption scheme and corruption investigation and scandal at the same time as great economic suffering.

And in Brazil, there are really rich and powerful factions, who have long hated Lula and Dilma and the left-wing Workers’ Party, who haven’t been able to defeat them at the ballot box. The Workers’ Party has won four straight national elections, going back to 2002 when Lula was first elected. And so, what they are doing—and they’re using their extremely powerful media institutions, beginning with Globo, which is by far and away the dominant, most powerful media institution in Brazil, run by, like all Brazil’s significant media outlets, extremely concentrated wealthy families—are using this corruption scandal to—or using the anger towards the government to try and rile up people and essentially remove the Workers’ Party and President Dilma Rousseff from power, really because they can’t beat her at the ballot box. But they’re trying to latch on this corruption scandal to the discontent that people feel because of the economic suffering. And so there is a validity to the corruption scandal and to the investigation, even aimed at the Workers’ Party, but at the same time what you’re now seeing is, unfortunately, the judiciary, which has been pretty scrupulous until now about being apolitical, working with the plutocrats of Brazil to try and achieve a result that really is a subversion of democracy, which is exploiting the scandal to remove President Rousseff from power through impeachment, even though there really are no grounds of impeachment that would be legal or valid as a means of removing her from office.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, one of the points that you make, Glenn, in that article is that—and I’m quoting you here—”Brazil’s extraordinary political upheaval shares some similarities with the Trump-led political chaos in the U.S.” Could you explain what you mean by that?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, what I essentially mean by that is that in the U.S. there is political upheaval, in the sense that the political order has been largely overturned. The people who have been in control of and running the Republican Party, which are largely monied interests, have completely lost control of their political apparatus. They poured huge amounts of money first into Jeb Bush and then into Marco Rubio. And typically, those factions get their way. And in this particular instance, they haven’t. And you have this kind of political outsider who has been rejecting all kinds of political orthodoxies, breaking every political rule, who is looking closer and closer to becoming the nominee of the Republican Party and potentially, after that, the president of the United States, and has done so in a way that has unleashed all kinds of instability and very dangerous and dark sentiments in the United States.

In Brazil, the instability is far greater. I was just writing for an American audience, trying to get them to understand the level of instability by saying that, actually, what’s happening in Brazil is much greater in terms of the disruption than what’s happening as a result of Donald Trump’s successful candidacy, because it pervades almost every economic and political institution. And what you really see is this young democracy in Brazil that is now being threatened as a result of this really opportunistic and exploitative attack on the part of the country’s richest media outlets and richest factions to essentially undo the result of four consecutive democratic elections by trying to remove a democratically elected president—she was just re-elected in 2014—on totally fictitious grounds of pretext. And it’s really quite dangerous once you start, you know, sort of undermining the fundamentals of democracy in the way that’s currently taking place in Brazil.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, this is interesting that today President Obama is in Argentina, and it was Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, who won the Nobel Prize, Peace Prize, who said he welcomed Obama but thought that the American president should not be going to Argentina on March 24th, because that day, in 1976, 40 years ago, the military staged a coup. Human rights groups estimate something like 30,000 people were killed or disappeared in that coup that followed for the next seven or so years. Esquivel said, “I’m a survivor of that era, of the flights of death, of the torture, of the prisons, of the exiles. And,” he said, “when you analyze the situation in depth, the United States was responsible for the coups in Latin America.” What parallels, if any, do you see? And also talk about Petrobras and the role that it’s playing in all of this, the state oil company in Brazil.

GLENN GREENWALD: You can’t really understand Latin American politics, in general, and the ongoing instabilities and difficulties that almost every country in South America is still plagued by without talking about the central role that the United States has continuously played for decades in trying to control that part of the hemisphere.

In Brazil, like in so many countries, they had a democratically elected government in early 1960s, which the United States disliked because it was a left-wing government—not a communist government, but a left-wing government—that was devoted to the distribution of wealth for the social welfare, for opposing United States’ capitalistic interests and attempts to interfere in Brazil. And the Brazilian military, in 1964, staged a coup that overthrew that democratically elected government, and proceeded to impose on Brazil a really brutal military dictatorship that served the interests of the United States, was allied to the United States for the next 21 years. Of course, at the time, the United States government, U.S. officials, before Congress and in the public eye, vehemently denied that they played any role in that coup. And as happened so many times in the past, documents ultimately emerged years later that showed that not only was the U.S. supportive of that coup, but played a direct role in helping to plot it and plan it and stage it and then prop up that dictatorship for 21 years. That dictatorship used very extreme torture techniques on the nation’s dissidents, on the Brazilian citizens who were working to undermine that right-wing military dictatorship, among whom was the current president, Dilma Rousseff, who in the 1970s was a guerrilla, essentially, working against the U.S.-supported military dictatorship. She was detained and imprisoned without trial and then tortured rather severely. And the documents have revealed that it was the U.S. and the U.K. that actually taught the military leaders the best types of torture techniques to use.

And so, what you have now is not really a repeat of the 1964 coup. It’s not really responsible to say it’s identical to what’s taking place, because the impeachment against Dilma is proceeding under the constitution, which actually does provide for impeachment. There’s an independent judiciary that’s involved in the proceedings. But at the same time, if you go back and look at what happened in 1964 with that coup, the leading media outlets in Brazil, that also hated the left-wing government because it was against their oligarchical interests, justified and supported that coup. They depicted it as necessary to uproot corruption in this left-wing government. You had the same media factions—Globo, and the families who own it, and other media outlets that still persist to today—agitating in favor of the coup and then ultimately supporting the military dictatorship. And so you have similarities in terms of the anti-democratic processes at work that prevailed in 1964 and throughout Latin America in so many other years, where the United States was at the center of.

As far as Petrobras is concerned, Petrobras is the Brazilian-owned oil company, and it has become crucial to Brazil’s economic growth, because as oil prices increased and as Brazil found huge amounts of oil reserve, it was anticipated that Petrobras would essentially be the engine of Brazil’s future economic growth. And it started being drowned, essentially, in profits. And the scandal, the corruption scandal, has Petrobras at the center because it largely involves Petrobras paying bribes to various construction companies, that they would essentially hire private construction companies to build various platforms and other infrastructure for Petrobras for oil exploration, and they would essentially pay far more than what the contract really called for, and there would then be kickbacks to the head of the construction company, but also to Petrobras and to the politicians who control Petrobras. And that really is what this corruption scandal was triggered by, was the discovery of huge numbers, huge amounts—you’re talking about millions and millions of dollars in kickbacks and bribes to the politicians, in virtually every significant party in Brazil, that control Petrobras. Virtually nobody is unaffected by it. And the more they’ve investigated, the more people have turned state’s evidence, the more corruption has been discovered, to the point where even if you now do impeach Dilma, it’s almost impossible to envision somebody who could take her place who isn’t far more implicated in that corruption than she is.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Glenn Greenwald, we are going to break, and then, when we come back, we’re going to move from Brazil to Brussels, to the attacks there and the response by the U.S. presidential candidates. We’re talking to the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, co-founder of The Intercept. And we’ll link to hispiece in this segment, “Brazil Is Engulfed by Ruling Class Corruption—and a Dangerous Subversion of Democracy.” We’ll be back with him in a moment.

WikiLeaks Reveal Brazil’s New Coup President Is ‘US Informant’

  • Brazil

    Brazil’s Senate-imposed President Michel Temer gestures during a ceremony at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, May 12, 2016. | Photo: Reuters

Senate-imposed President of Brazil Michel Temer met with U.S. Embassy staff on at least two occasions to brief them on the country’s politics.

Whistleblower website WikiLeaks described the Senate-imposed President of Brazil Michel Temer as a “U.S. Embassy informant” in a tweet and provided two links where Temer’s candid thoughts on Brazilian politics serve as the basis for a report by the U.S. embassy in Brazil.

The cable from Jan. 11, 2006, states that Temer met with embassy officials on Jan. 9, 2006 to give his assessment of Brazil’s political landscape ahead of the 2006 general election that saw Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva reelected to the presidency.

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Temer became interim president after the Brazilian Senate voted to proceed with an impeachment trial against President Dilma Rousseff, forcing her to step down for a period of 180 days.

Temer has been criticized for making clear his intention of pursuing a pro-business, neoliberal program as president, despite the fact that Rousseff and her Workers’ Party were reelected on the basis of a progressive program of social investment and wealth redistribution.

The leaked cable indicates that Temer has always held a neoliberal outlook.

“Temer criticized Lula’s narrow vision and his excessive focus on social safety net programs that don’t promote growth or economic development,” reads the cable from Jan 11, 2006.

The cable also reveals that in 2006 Temer’s party, the PMDB, was considering an alliance with both the leftist Workers’ Party and the right-wing PSDB.

The PMDB’s tendency to switch sides would later prove to be a critical element in efforts by Brazilian elites to oust Rousseff.

Despite having been elected vice president alongside Rousseff, Temer betrayed his former allies and joined in efforts to oust the president via impeachment.

A June 21, 2006 cable shows Temer held a second meeting with U.S. embassy staff to once again appraise them on the political situation in Brazil.

RELATED:
Coup Gov’t in Brazil to Implement Neoliberalism via Repression?

In that cable Temer laments the lack of power given to PMDB ministers during the Lula government.

“Temer spoke caustically of the Lula administration’s miserly rewards for its allies in the PMDB,” reads the cable.

Temer’s bitterness over being left out of Rousseff’s governance decisions was said to be one of the factors that motivated his eventual support for her impeachment.

 

With Rousseff Out, Brazil’s Interim President Installs Conservative All-White, All-Male Cabinet

Democracy Now! May 13, 2016

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We begin today’s show with the political turmoil engulfing Brazil. On Thursday, the country’s former vice president, Michel Temer, assumed power as interim president after the Senate voted to suspend President Dilma Rousseff and begin impeachment proceedings. She is accused of tampering with accounts in order to hide a budget shortfall. The 55-to-22 vote followed more than 20 hours of debate. One politician described it as, quote, “the saddest day for Brazil’s young democracy.” Rousseff called it a coup. She gave a defiant speech before leaving the presidential palace, where she was greeted and hugged by former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. She vowed to fight the impeachment.

PRESIDENT DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] It isn’t an impeachment; it’s a coup. I did not commit high crimes and misdemeanors. There is no justification for an impeachment charge. I don’t have bank accounts abroad. I never received bribes. I never condoned corruption. The trial against me is fragile, legally inconsistent, unjust, unleashed against an honest and innocent person. The greatest brutality that can be committed against any person is to punish them for a crime they did not commit. No injustice is more devastating than condemning an innocent. What is at stake is respect for the ballot box, the sovereign desires of the Brazilian people and the Constitution. What is at stake are the achievements of the last 13 years.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: President Dilma Rousseff has been suspended for up to 180 days or until her Senate trial is concluded. Attorney General José Eduardo Cardozo called the Senate vote a, quote, “historic injustice.”

JOSÉ EDUARDO CARDOZO: [translated] An honest and innocent woman is, right at this moment, being condemned. A judicial pretense is being used to oust a legitimately elected president over acts which have been practiced by all previous governments. A historic injustice is being committed; an innocent person is being condemned.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The new interim president is not part of Rousseff’s Workers’ Party, but a member of the opposition PMDB party. Temer has been implicated in Brazil’s massive corruption scandal involving state-owned oil company Petrobras. Several of his top advisers are also under investigation, and just last week he was ordered to pay a fine for violating campaign finance limits. After Thursday’s vote, he vowed to, quote, “restore respect” to Brazil’s government.

INTERIM PRESIDENT MICHEL TEMER: [translated] My first word to the Brazilian people is the word “trust”—trust in the values that form the character of our people, the vitality of our democracy; trust in the recuperation of our country’s economy, our country’s potential and its social and political institutions.

AMY GOODMAN: Michel Temer was sworn in Thursday along with a new Cabinet that is all white and all male, making this the first time since 1979 no women have been in the Cabinet. The New York Times reports Temer attempted to appoint a woman to oversee human rights policies, but faced blowback after it became clear she had voted in favor of legislation to make it difficult for women who are raped to get abortions. Temer also offered the Science Ministry to an evangelical pastor who does not believe in evolution, and, when he faced opposition, made him trade minister instead. On Thursday, dozens of women chained themselves to the gates of Brasília’s Planalto presidential palace to support suspended Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

FATIMA: [translated] The coup leaders in Brazil are trying to get President Dilma out and are usurping our democracy. They will only get us out of here by force, because we are defending democracy and the elected mandate for more than half of Brazilians.

AMY GOODMAN: All of this comes as Brazil is set to host the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in early August, and parts of the country are facing a Zika outbreak.

For more, we go directly to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where we’re joined by Andrew Fishman, a researcher and reporter for The Intercept, where he’s covered Brazil extensively along with his co-authors Glenn Greenwald and David Miranda.

Andrew Fishman, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about what’s happened.

ANDREW FISHMAN: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: The president, or I should say at this point the suspended president, Dilma Rousseff, has called what’s happening in Brazil a coup.

ANDREW FISHMAN: Yes, there’s been a concerted action to remove her from office by the leaders of the opposition in Congress and also by the media. The current interim president, Michel Temer, was, before, her vice president. They ran together twice. And he was, until very recently, her ally. And so, she’s had very strong words against him for being one of the leaders to remove her from power. The Workers’ Party was—has been in power. They’ve won four straight elections. They had—they have great popular support, or they had, at least until recently, once the economy started going sour. And as is the case in basically any country, once the economy goes south, so does the approval rating of the president.

The opposition, seeing a chance to finally take advantage of this moment and get into—get into a position of power, decided that this is the moment, and they started pushing this case for impeachment, which, even though a lot of the coverage that you’ve seen, and especially down here in Brazil, has been based on corruption, corruption, corruption, and the corruption case in Petrobras, the state oil company, this has nothing to do with her corruption—with her impeachment proceedings. She’s being impeached on a technicality of some financial accounting measures, where she used some state-sponsored banks to cover some short-term deficits, which were all paid back in the end. Basically, any jurist says that this is not—does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense, although the opposition has run with it. But in the discussion that they’ve had going forward, they’ve always focused on the impeachment angle—or, the corruption angle, because it’s much more powerful. And the Brazilian people are really fed up with corruption.

One thing that’s really noteworthy is that while the majority of the Brazilian population does support President Rousseff’s—or, former President Rousseff’s removal from office, the majority all support, in similar margin—want President Temer impeached, because they think that he’s also—that he is involved in corruption, unlike Dilma, where there’s no proof that she is. It’s very possible that she is involved and she knew about the schemes, but there’s no evidence to that nature, whereas there is much greater evidence that Temer and his allies are involved actively in corruption and illicit enrichment. Only 8 percent of the population wants Temer as president, which is shocking. In a most—in a recent poll, 2 percent of the population said that they would vote for him. If it weren’t for this impeachment, which they call a coup, it would have been impossible for someone like Michel Temer to become the president of Brazil.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Andrew Fishman, you mentioned that what Dilma Rousseff is charged with is not in fact an impeachable offense, and many jurists agree on that. So how is it that she’s been impeached?

ANDREW FISHMAN: Yeah, and, of course, I mean, there are people—there are jurists aligned with the opposition that say that it certainly is, it certainly does rise to the level. But, you know, international observers far and wide, from international organizations to the press, to diplomats, to a Nobel Peace Prize winner in Argentina who fought against the military dictatorship there, have all agreed that this is not an impeachable offense, and therefore some call it a coup. Others say, at the very least, it is certainly an antidemocratic, undemocratic action to remove her from power.

AMY GOODMAN: On Thursday, Marcelo Ninio, from the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo, questioned U.S. State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau about the situation in Brazil.

MARCELO NINIO: I wanted to ask about Brazil first. It’s—what the State Department and the U.S. government expect about the relationship with the interim government? And has there been any communication yet with the new government?

ELIZABETH TRUDEAU: Well, I can’t speak to our embassy communication there. You know, as you know, we maintain a strong bilateral relationship between our two countries. As the two largest democracies in the hemisphere, Brazil and the United States are committed partners. You know, we cooperate with Brazil on a number of issues—you know, trade, security, environment. We expect that’ll continue.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s the U.S. State Department, Andrew Fishman. And Pravda, an article in Pravda, explained that over the last few years the BRICS nations—you know, that’s Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—have become a significant geopolitical threat to the interests of the United States. And again, this is Pravda, the Russian paper, said it’s quite possible the CIA is involved in the plan to stage riots in Brazil nationwide, that U.S. intelligence agencies are involved with this coup. Is there any evidence of this?

ANDREW FISHMAN: I mean, there has been plenty of speculation about this. Obviously, the CIA operates in secrecy, so it’s difficult to say one way or another. Dilma herself has said that there’s absolutely no proof to that nature. I have not seen anything that convinces me that that’s the case. Again, who knows what the actual situation is?

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Andrew Fishman, even though—

ANDREW FISHMAN: But also, the State Department spokesman also said that she’s not sure if the—if anyone from the United States has reached out to President Temer to congratulate him. They referred to the White House. Josh Earnest, the spokesperson for the White House, then said, “You should speak to the State Department.” So it’s not clear that even any foreign leaders have gone out to congratulate President Temer, although the statement that the State Department spokesman made, saying that they believe that Brazil will continue to function within democratic means and the democratic systems and will be strengthened, it’s a tacit show of support. I mean, they haven’t come out strongly one way or another in public saying that they’re for or against impeachment, because really that’s—the implication of that would be so strong. It would be—if it were in fact that the United States wanted this, wanted the Temer administration above Dilma’s administration—and I believe that is the case, that they much prefer, as the foreign investors much prefer, having Temer—at least that’s what they’ve shown, based on his statements. Just making that statement that—reaffirming the democratic nature of this movement, which is clearly antidemocratic, that says a lot, even though it’s done quite in diplomatic terms.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Dilma Rousseff’s suspension is temporary, but some are saying that it seems all but certain that she’ll be permanently removed from office. Is that correct?

ANDREW FISHMAN: Yeah. It would take some sort of miracle or massive change in the political landscape for her not to be—for the vote to not go through. You need a two-thirds vote in the Senate for her to be impeached after the trial. They already had that number, and then a few more, voting for the—this initial vote the other day. So, I mean, unless something massive were to change, it seems quite clear.

And the—I mean, the only people that could really intervene right now would be the Supreme Court. They’ve shown that they also prefer the Temer presidency. They want this. They think that Temer is the quickest path to resolve the political crisis and to move forward from the chaos that’s currently going on. And they’ve said—they said so quite explicitly in some statements that they’ve given to the press, which, as an American coming from the U.S. context, where at least the Supreme Court in the United States tries to maintain the appearance of impartiality in maintaining pure judicial decisions, in this case they’ve made statements that show that they’re making very political calculations in their decisions, as has the prosecutor general.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, Andrew, about an article by Greg Grandin about who’s profiting from this coup, as Dilma Rousseff has called it. Grandin wrote in The Nation, a piece that was headlined, “A Slavers’ Coup in Brazil?: Among the many groups pushing for the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, one is seldom discussed: companies that profit from slavery.” In the article, Grandin notes Rousseff’s Workers’ Party creates a—created a “dirty list” of “hundreds of companies and individual employers who were investigated by labor prosecutors and found to be using slaves.” Grandin goes on to write that one of the members of the opposition that’s pushed for Rousseff’s impeachment directly profits from slave labor. According to Grandin, Congressman Beto Mansur is, quote, “charged with keeping 46 workers at his soybean farms in Goiás State in conditions so deplorable that investigators say the laborers were treated like modern-day slaves.” Andrew Fishman, what business interests have aligned themselves against Dilma Rousseff? And what about this congressman?

ANDREW FISHMAN: Yeah, and going one step further even, I mean, Greg’s article was about a week ago, and just yesterday, President Temer installed his Cabinet, his ministers. The agricultural minister is a massive soybean farmer who has huge tracts of land, they’ve—responsible for massive deforestation, and he’s been personally linked to slavery. His time in Congress, he actually introduced a bill to try and limit the definition of what slavery actually is, to try and help himself and his partners and his business interests. Slavery is a massive problem in Brazil. Brazil has plenty of social problems. This, slavery, is obviously one that should not exist in the modern world; however, it clearly does here and around the world. If you go out into the interior of the country, which is massive tracts of wilderness, it’s basically wild, wild West out there. There’s very little law. Journalists, activists, anyone who tries to push back against these massive corporate interests, who have benefited greatly under the PT government time in the last 10, 12 years, they are all—they’re all able to use this sort of slavery, because they have no—there’s basically no rule of law to stop them from doing so.

So, yeah, the massive agribusiness has aligned themselves against Dilma and have actually said that they want—wanted her to be impeached, as has big industrialist groups and as has the media, which is also a huge industry here, obviously. But all these groups benefited greatly under President Rousseff and President Lula da Silva. Just last year, they’ve had hundreds of millions of reais, you know, over the time—hundreds and billions of dollars in subsidies that have gone to these groups and these industries, and they’ve gotten really rich off of it, much more money than has gone to the social distribution programs, which President Temer has now indicated that he probably will be cutting or reducing. So, it’s an interesting moment. I think that they never really were entirely aligned with the PT, but it was a pact of political convenience: They saw a way to get a deal, a way to get their interests met. Now that the economy has gone down slightly and her popularity has gone down dramatically, it seemed like a good opportunity for them to push back with their more conventional allies, which are the PSDB and the PMDB.

AMY GOODMAN: Andrew Fishman, thanks for joining us, researcher, reporter for The Intercept, has covered Brazil extensively, along with Glenn Greenwald and David Miranda, speaking to us from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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The Rise of ISIS: US Invasion of Iraq, Foreign Backing of Syrian Rebels Helped Fuel Jihadis’ Advance August 14, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Syria, War.
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Roger’s note: the great minds of the presidency, the Pentagon, the CIA, etc. don’t get it right even in terms of their own imperial objectives, much less with respect to what is moral and just.  The Keystone Kops who own and manage the United States military industrial complex would be entertainingly amusing, if the results of their machinations did not result in bloody death and destruction.  From Bush to Obama/Hilary Clinton the U.S. interventions in the Middle East have only served to strengthen he hands of their counterparts, the Muslim extremists.

http://www.democracynow.org, August 13, 2014

The United States is sending 130 more troops to Iraq amidst a bombing campaign against ISIS militants in the north and a political crisis gripping Baghdad. We are joined by veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn, author of the new book, “The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising.” Cockburn addresses the power struggle in Baghdad, Hillary Clinton’s claim that President Obama’s “failure” to support Syrian rebels helped fuel ISIS’s advance, the role of oil in the current U.S. airstrikes, and his fears that Iraq is entering a “new, more explosive era far worse than anything we’ve seen over the last 10 years.”

TRANSCRIPT

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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: A hundred and thirty additional U.S. marines and special forces have been sent to Iraq. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made the announcement Tuesday speaking to marines at Camp Pendleton in California.

DEFENSE SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL: I recommended to the president, and the president has authorized me, to go ahead and send about 130 new assessment team members up to northern Iraq in the Erbil area to take a closer look and give a more in-depth assessment of where we can continue to help the Iraqis with what they’re doing and the threats that they are now dealing with.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The news comes one day after the U.S. confirmed the CIA was directly arming Kurdish fighters, known as Peshmerga, who are battling Sunni militants of the Islamic State who have seized large swaths of Iraq and Syria. Earlier today, France announced it would also send arms directly to the Kurds.

The Guardian is reporting the United States is also preparing to send the Iraqi government a shipment of missiles, guns and ammunition, but it is waiting to do so until Haider al-Abadi officially becomes Iraq’s new prime minister. It remains unclear if Iraq’s current prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, will relinquish power to Abadi, who has the backing of both Washington and Tehran. Maliki has rejected Abadi’s appointment, saying it violates Iraq’s constitution.

AMY GOODMAN: On the humanitarian front, the United Nations says 20,000 to 30,000 Yazidis may still be trapped on the arid Mount Sinjar where they fled, fearing attacks from Islamic State militants. U.N. Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues Rita Izsák said, quote, “All possible measures must be taken urgently to avoid a mass atrocity and potential genocide within days or hours.”

To talk more about the situation in Iraq, we’re joined by Patrick Cockburn, Middle East correspondent for The Independent in Britain. He was in Baghdad last month. His new book, The Jihadis Return: ISISand the New Sunni Uprising, is out this month with OR Books.

Patrick, it’s great to have you with us from Cork, Ireland. Can you talk about the latest news, the sending of an additional 130 more U.S. marines and advisers, as the U.S. calls them, into Iraq?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, it shows a little more U.S. commitment to the Kurds. I don’t think it makes an enormous difference. The most—the really significant action was the airstrikes, although limited, a few days ago. That was important. That raised Kurdish morale. That meant a new U.S. military involvement in Iraq. So I think that’s what’s really significant.

AMY GOODMAN: The situation of what’s happening now in Baghdad with the new prime minister, the current prime minister, and what this all means, who will be the actual prime minister?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, I think, you know, that Maliki is finished. I think he’s been finished for some time. The question was: Would he fight it out? He had military units that were personally loyal to him, but he found that after the new prime minister had been appointed, the Iranians had turned against him. They wouldn’t support him. He didn’t have any outside political support. His own party was disintegrating or would no longer support him. So I think that the transition will happen.

But I think what is wrong is to think that—almost everything now is being blamed on al-Maliki, both inside and outside Baghdad, that he was the person who provoked the Sunni uprising, he was the hate figure for the Sunni, he produced an army that was riddled with corruption. But I think that it’s exaggerated, that it’s as if there was a magic wand that would be used once al-Maliki had gone. But there were other reasons for this uprising, for the creation of ISIS—notably, the rebellion in Syria in 2011. This changed the regional balance of power. That was a Sunni rebellion, which Iraqi politicians over the last couple of years were always telling me, if the West supports the opposition in Syria, this will destabilize Iraq. And they were dead right. It wasn’t just al-Maliki.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Patrick Cockburn, you mentioned that the current Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is obviously not solely responsible for the situation there now. You’ve also pointed out in a piece that he still retains the support of Iraq’s Shia majority. What do you think the consequences of that will be with this shift in power to Abadi?

PATRICK COCKBURN: I think he did have that support. I don’t think it’s going to last very long, because he had it because he had portrayed himself as the Shia leader who protected their interests, and he tried to get away from the fact he had presided over one of the greatest military defeats in history, when ISIS took Mosul, by claiming that he’d been stabbed—the army had been stabbed in the back by the Kurds, that there had been treachery. But he still had support because he had power, because he controlled the budget, $100 billion, because he controlled millions of jobs. I think once he’s no longer in control of the executive and the money, that support will diminish very fast. There are millions of Iraqis who have their jobs through Maliki. Now that’s changed, and so will their support.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaking Tuesday.

DEFENSE SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL: The Iraqi people, the government of Iraq, country of Iraq is now under threat from some of the most brutal, barbaric forces we’ve ever seen in the world today and a force, ISIL, and others that is an ideology that’s connected to an army, and it’s a force and a dimension that the world has never seen before like we have seen it now.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick Cockburn, you have written a book on ISIS, The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising. I just want to point out, as it has come as such a shock to people in the United States, you had time to write a whole book about who they are and their rise. But can you respond to what Hagel says? What has added to their surge of power now, and do you think that will change?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, as you said, they’d been growing in strength over the last two or three years. They captured Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, at the beginning of the year, and the Iraqi government didn’t have the power to get rid of them. That showed that they were growing. I think that Hagel—in fact, the U.S. government as a whole—and foreign powers steer away from one very crucial aspect of the rise of ISIS, which is that in Syria, the West backed the uprising against President Assad, and still does, and this enabled ISIS to develop, gain military experience and then use it back in Iraq. Now Washington is saying, “We oppose ISIS in Iraq, but in Syria we want to get rid of the Syrian government,” which is the only real opposition to ISIS. So there’s a different policy towards ISIS in these two different countries. And just as before, ISIS will benefit from that difference.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Patrick Cockburn, you’ve also said about ISIS that it’s made very few military mistakes. Could you explain what you think accounts for the extraordinary victories that it’s had in recent months in Iraq and Syria?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Yes, I mean, it’s this blend, a rather terrifying blend, of extreme religious fanaticism combined with military expertise, and at times caution. Where does that expertise come from? I think it comes primarily from having fought in Iraq in 2004 to 2009 against the Iraqi Shia government and against the Americans, and again gaining experience in Syria. There’s probably the involvement of some former Saddam Hussein officers or special forces, people who have been well trained. But I think a lot of it is just military experience. And when you have a long war, the survivors who are still around and still fighting are probably pretty good at it.

AMY GOODMAN: In an interview with The Atlantic magazine, Hillary Clinton criticized President Obama’s policy on Syria. She said, quote, “The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad—there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle—the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.” So this has become a big brouhaha. Hillary Clinton and President Obama will be meeting tonight at the house of Vernon Jordan. There’s a big party for Ann Jordan. Hillary Clinton’s people have put out that they’ll hug it out. David Axelrod has tweeted about the issue of stupid moves Hillary Clinton was talking about: Not making stupid moves is not a policy. President Obama, apparently, had talked about not making stupid moves. And David Axelrod said, “’Don’t do stupid stuff’ means stuff like occupying Iraq in the first place, which was a tragically bad decision,” alluding to Hillary Clinton voting for the original attack on Iraq in 2003. But can you talk about this difference? It’s particularly significant, of course, because she is possibly running for president.

PATRICK COCKBURN: True. Yeah, I mean, I was—I’m pretty contemptuous of it, to be honest, because it’s opportunism by Hillary Clinton. And it’s nonsense. You know, the idea, which is very widespread, that there was a moment that, with a few more guns and ammunition, that a moderate Syrian opposition could have taken over in Syria in 2011 or ’12 or ’13, is just unreal. There are 14 provincial capitals of Syria. Assad held all of them until last year, when he lost one of them, Raqqa, toISIS, not to any of these moderates. These moderates are an endangered species on the battlefields of Syria. The opposition is now dominated—military opposition is dominated by ISIS. They hold a third of the country. But the other military opposition are people like Jabhat al-Nusra, which is the official representative of al-Qaeda, of bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, and some other jihadi organizations. So this is sort of fantasy that there was a moderate Syrian military opposition which, with a bit more support from Obama, could have taken power in Damascus. It was never going to happen. It’s just sheer opportunism.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Patrick Cockburn. He has a new book out; it’s called The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising. We’ll come back with him in a minute, and then we’ll be speaking in Brazil with Glenn Greenwald. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Mohammed Saleh, here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Patrick Cockburn, I want to ask you about Obama having said that the military strikes in Iraq will not just last for a few weeks, it’s likely to be a longer fight. And I want to turn to comments that senior Pentagon official, Army Lieutenant General William Mayville, made. He was speaking to reporters on Monday about the U.S. military campaign in Iraq.

LT. GEN. WILLIAM MAYVILLE: We assess that U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq have slowed ISIL’s operational tempo and temporarily disrupted their advances toward the province of Erbil. However, these strikes are unlikely to affect ISIL’s overall capabilities or its operations in other areas of Iraq and Syria. ISIL remains focused on securing and gaining additional territory throughout Iraq and will sustain its attacks against Iraqi and Kurdish security forces and their positions, as well as target Yazidis, Christians and other minorities. … In the immediate areas where we have focused our strikes, we’ve had a very temporary effect. And—but I, in no—and we may have blunted some tactical decisions to move in those directions and move further east to Erbil. What I expect theISIL to do is to look for other things to do, to pick up and move elsewhere. So, I in no way want to suggest that we have effectively contained or that we are somehow breaking the momentum of the threat posed by ISIL.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Lieutenant General Mayville speaking on Monday. So, Patrick Cockburn, could you talk about what you think the objectives and the length of this military campaign will be, given that the general has pointed out that the operation with regard to ISIS has not been by any means conclusive and also that Obama said that the operation would go far longer than a few weeks?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Yeah, they’re being cautious, and probably sensibly so. They want to stop the ISIS advance on Erbil, and they wanted to prop up Kurdish morale, and they probably have the same objectives in Baghdad. I mean, ISIS has been advancing around Baghdad. It took one important town a couple of days ago to the northeast. And it’s been getting stronger—and this is very important—in the towns to the south of Baghdad. So, in theory, they could cut it off. There are seven million people in Baghdad. But they could sort of besiege them, in which case I guess that Obama would want to prevent the fall of Baghdad, but doesn’t want to get sucked into a bigger war.

I mean, it’s important to realize that ISIS is really pretty—is not only strong but has a lot of territory now. It has an area probably greater than the size of Great Britain or the size of Michigan or some such U.S. state, stretching all the way from the Iranian border to just east of Aleppo. It probably has a population of five or six million. Now, how many fighters do they have? You know, maybe they probably had only about 6,000 to 10,000 fighters at the beginning of June. But an Iraqi security official told me that where the jihadis take over, where ISIS takes over, they recruit five or 10 new fighters for every one they had initially. So if they had—you know, so we’re probably up to 40,000 to 50,000 fighters now. So it’s an expanding and strengthening organization all the time. And it has arms to equip them—American arms in Iraq taken in Mosul, and Russian and other arms taken in recent victories that ISIS has had in Syria.

AMY GOODMAN: In an article in The Independent headlined “West’s ‘Mandate’ Limited by National Borders—and Don’t Dare Mention Oil,” your colleague Robert Fisk writes, quote, “recent reports suggest that current Kurdish oil production of 200,000 barrels a day will reach 250,000 next year—providing the boys from the caliphate are kept at bay, of course—which means, according to Reuters, that if Iraqi Kurdistan were a real country and not just a bit of Iraq, it would be among the top 10 oil-rich countries in the world.” Can you talk about that word that has not been talked about by the Obama administration—oil?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Yeah, I think that it underlies everything. I mean, it’s—you know, why is there so much interest in the Middle East, in general, over the last century, you know? If the Middle East, if Saudi Arabia and Iraq, if Iraq was—I think the second-biggest export of Iraq used to be dates. If it was dates rather than oil, would there be such acute interest in what goes on in Iraq? Kurdistan doesn’t produce much, apart from some crude oil. So I think that’s true generally of the Middle East, and it’s true of Iraq, and it’s true of Syria. It’s worth pointing out that ISIS is very interested in oil and gas, and they’ve taken most of the oil and gas fields in Syria, and now they’ve taken some in Iraq. That’s how they’re funding their campaigns. They can’t sell it necessarily directly onto the market, but if you control the oil wells, you can, some point, if your price is low enough, you can generally get them to a refinery, and you can make money.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick, what happens to companies like Chevron, ExxonMobil?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, I think, you know, they were involved in Kurdistan. They were involved in the rest of Iraq. Some of the very biggest companies, like Exxon, they have resources elsewhere. But I think that there’s probably a feeling that what they’re expected from Iraq is going sour. It’s going sour in southern Iraq, the big superfields there, because they’re beginning to worry about security. And they’re right to do. I mean, this is a Shia area, but there’s a great, big western desert. ISIS could send forces to attack these oil fields. They’re not very well defended. And in Kurdistan, they thought, well, security is good here, and this was a sort of boom town. It was one of the few areas in the world that was booming in recent years—you know, big hotels in Erbil filled with oil executives and other company executives. And I often wondered—I sat in those hotels wondering if these guys know how far they are from Mosul. You know, they’re a half-hour car drive. I think that some of them may be noticing which part of the world these new oil fields are in and realizing just the extent of the insecurity of Kurdistan and Erbil, as well as Baghdad.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Patrick Cockburn, before we conclude, I want to ask you about the role of Saudi Arabia in the rise of these Sunni militant movements. You’ve suggested that it’s not only because of financing, private financing principally from Saudi Arabia, that these groups have become as strong as they have, but also because of the ideology of Wahhabism that originates in Saudi Arabia. Could you explain what that is and how it spread?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, the Wahhabi ideology is very—has always been very similar to that of al-Qaeda. It’s a puritanical Islamic ideology, very bigoted. They’ve been blowing up shrines in Mosul. But the Saudi government has also been responsible for shrines being removed. In Bahrain in 2011, when a Saudi force entered to support the Bahraini government against a protest by the majority Shia community, they destroyed 20 to 30 Shia shrines and mosques. They bulldozed them. So, I think Wahhabism and the ideology of al-Qaeda and the ideology of ISIS today is very similar—Shia are regarded as heretics, so are Christians—that there isn’t that much difference. And this has had enormous impact, because it’s backed by Saudi Arabia’s enormous wealth. You know, if somebody wants to build a mosque in Bangladesh where it’s going to cost $30,000, where would he get $30,000? Normally it comes from Saudi Arabia or the Gulf. So I think one of the most important things that’s happening in the world over the last 50 years is the way in which mainstream Sunni Islam, which is the religion of about one-and-a-half billion people in the world, has been increasingly colored and taken over by the very intolerant Wahhabi faith.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, the U.S. government’s, you know, fierce opposition to Iran and close cozying up to Saudi Arabia, whether it’s President Obama, Clinton, the Bushes, of course, well known for that?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Yeah, I mean, this is—you know, after 9/11, all the links of the hijackers—15 out of the 19 hijackers were Saudi. Bin Laden was part of the Saudi elite. U.S. investigations all showed that money had come from private donors in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. But they always ignored this. And I think it’s one of the reasons that al-Qaeda survived, and its ideology, its ideas and so forth have now been transmuted into ISIS. You know, it is extraordinary that you had this war of terror, and hundreds of billions of dollars, trillions of dollars spent on it by the U.S. and other governments, and 13 years later that there’s an al-Qaeda-type organization, worse in many ways than al-Qaeda, more violent than al-Qaeda, which has taken over a great chunk of the Middle East. I mean, this is a tremendous failure, and very little attention is being given to it.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Patrick Cockburn, before we end, could you give us a sense of what your prognosis is for Syria and Iraq? You outlined it in your August 10th piece, “The End of a Country, and the Start of a New Dark Age.”

PATRICK COCKBURN: Yeah, I mean, ISIS is very strong. It’s not going to evaporate. It’s not even necessarily going to get weaker. And it’s also at the cutting edge of a new sectarian war. It’s an organization that kills Shia, that kills Yazidis, that kills anybody who disagrees with it. So I think this is a—the wars that we’ve seen over the last 10 years in Iraq are expanding and going to get worse. ISIShas no plans to negotiate with anybody. Its ambitions are boundless. It wants to spread its faith to the whole world, not just the Muslim community. So, I think we’re in a new, more explosive era, far worse than anything that we’ve seen over the last 10 years.

AMY GOODMAN: Oxfam said something very similar today, saying Middle East is facing its worst humanitarian crisis in decades with over 28 million people in need of aid spread across Iraq, Gaza, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Yemen. Oxfam’s Jane Cocking said, quote, “In my entire career, I’ve never seen so much need in the Middle East. The crisis across the region has escalated over the last five weeks with the outbreak of conflict in Gaza and increasing violence in Iraq.” Would you agree, Patrick Cockburn?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Oh, yeah, absolutely. And, you know, not just in Gaza and not just in Iraq, but look at the places in between. You know, there’s suddenly been a new level of fighting in eastern Lebanon. Though nobody much reports it these days, but there’s lots of fighting in Syria, with, you know, hundreds of people killed—thousands of people killed, and ISIS advancing, you know, getting very close to Aleppo now. So I think there’s a great swathe of violence, from the Iranian border right over to the Mediterranean, right down to Gaza. And it’s not getting any less. And I think that Washington, other foreign governments, they sort of are horrified by it. They’re kind of hoping it will go away. They disclaim responsibility for it. They’re not really changing their policy. And they can’t think how to stop it.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick Cockburn, we want to thank you for being with us, Middle East correspondent for The Independent, was in Baghdad last month. His new book is called The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising. He was speaking to us from Cork, Ireland. When we come back, we go to Brazil to speak with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald. Stay with us.

Hannah Arendt” Revisits Fiery Debate over German-Jewish Theorist’s Coverage of Eichmann Trial November 27, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in History.
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Roger’s note: The French proverb “tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner” tells us that to understand all is to forgive all.  Hannah Arendt says otherwise, to understand is not necessarily to forgive, but she was pilloried by many when she refused to picture Eichmann as a Hitler-like monster, but rather as a nondescript and mediocre bureaucrat.  From this her classic notion of the banality of evil.  I believe this issue is not simply a question of historical interest but has much relevance  today for Americans, Canadians, British, etc.  

Those who oppose the murderous and planet destructive actions of the United States government fall into different categories.  Two of these interest me: those who see the politicians  and others  (arms manufacturers, energy corporations, banksters, etc.) who are responsible as people who support bad policies versus those of us who see them a criminals.  I also find it most interesting that many who would find the likes of Bush and Cheney to be criminal, are somehow able to absolve Obama for the very same policies and actions.

I have coined the phrase “the congeniality of evil” to describe especially those politicians who seem to have attractive personal characteristics and who do some things people like me can agree with.  After Bush, many thirsted for an Obama, a man who is intelligent, articulate, personable and charismatic.  A man who talked with apparent conviction, for example, about peace, transparency in government, human rights, etc.  What was there not to like about Obama (apart from the fact that we now know that he is a serial dissimulator and a totally cynical self-indulgent lackey to the banks, generals and the mega corporations)?  He has done a few progressive things that no Republican president would do, such as supporting (belatedly) same-sex marriage rights.  Does, this, I ask, absolve one from grossly criminal and unconstitutional behavior?

When I read that Eichmann claimed not to know where the trains he had sent out were going, and that Arendt believed him, it brought to mind the bitingly satiric lyrics of the great satirist, Tom Lerher, where he sings that Werner Von Braun, the Nazi scientist whose V-2 rockets killed thousands of British civilians, only sent the missiles up, where they came down was”not his department.”

Back to the question of understanding and forgiving.  Ethics and morals are far more complicated than fundamentalists (Christian, Muslim, Hindu, etc.) would have us believe.  For me a vital distinction is that between individual and societal dimensions.  As in individual, for example, within my own community (whatever that may be), then the Jesus ethic of “turn the other cheek” may have validity.  But with respect to dealing with individuals outside my own community, and with respect to the communal/societal dimension (politics, government), then “turn the other cheek” can be an absurdity.  On an individual level, a “love philosophy” is what I believe in.  On a societal level, for me the highest notion of morality is “from each according to her ability, to each according to her need.”  Most of us practice this level of morality at the familial level, and some day, most likely long after I am gone, perhaps the way society organizes itself economically and politically, “from each … to each …” will become a reality.

http://www.democracynow.org, November 16, 2013

Guests

Margarethe von Trotta, award-winning German director, who directed the film “Hannah Arendt.” Her previous works include “Rosa Luxemburg”, and “Marianne & Juliane” — both starring Barbara Sukowa in lead roles — “Rosenstrasse”, and “Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen.”

Barbara Sukowa, actor who was awarded the Lola Award for Best Actress for her role in “Hannah Arendt.”

Related:


As head of the Gestapo office for Jewish affairs, Adolf Eichmann organized transport systems which resulted in the deportation of millions of Jews to extermination camps across Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe. Eichmann helped draft the letter ordering the Final Solution — the Nazi’s plan to exterminate the Jewish people in Nazi-occupied Europe. After the war, Eichmann fled to Argentina, where he lived under a false identity until he was kidnapped by the Israeli intelligence agency, the Mossad, on May 11, 1960. He was flown to Israel and brought to trial in Jerusalem in April 1961. After being found guilty he was executed by hanging in 1962. One writer reporting on the trial was the German-Jewish philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt, the author of “The Origins of Totalitarianism” and “The Human Condition.” Arendt’s coverage of the trial for the New Yorker proved extremely controversial. She expressed shock that Eichmann was not a monster, or evil, but “terribly and terrifyingly normal.” Even more controversial was her assertion that the Jews participated in their own destruction through the collaboration of the Nazi-appointed Judenrat, or Jewish Councils, with the Third Reich. Arendt’s coverage of the Eichmann trial is chronicled in the 2013 film, “Hannah Arendt.” We air clips of the film and speak with the film’s star, Barbara Sukowa, who was awarded the Lola Award for Best Actress, the German equivalent of the Oscars, for her role. We are also joined by the film’s director, Margarethe von Trotta, one of Germany’s leading directors, who has won multiple awards over her 40-year career.

Transcript

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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: After the U.N. in climate summit concluded in Warsaw, last week. Democracy Now! traveled Treblinka, an extermination camp built by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland during World War II. The camp operated officially between July 1942 and October 1943 during which time over 800,000 Jews were killed. Tens of thousands of Roma, disabled people and others were also killed at the camp.

AMY GOODMAN: Our tour guide at Treblinka was Zuzanna Radzik of the Forum for Dialogue Among Nations, a Polish nonprofit group that works to eliminate anti-Semitism in Poland.

ZUZANNA RADZIK: This camp could actually receive 10,000 to 12,000 people daily, so — a day. Those people didn’t live there longer than an hour or two hours. Immediately from the trains, they went to the gas chambers and then were buried or their bodies were moved to a crematoria. The process was not very long.

AMY GOODMAN: The landscape of the memorial was dotted by thousands of large rocks, many of them not of individuals, but of whole communities with nearly a million killed, there would not have been room. One of the individuals responsible for sending Jews to their death in Poland and other countries in the Nazi occupied Europe was Adolph Eichmann. As head of the Gestapo Office for Jewish Affairs, Eichmann organized transport systems which resulted in the deportation of millions of Jews to extermination camps across German occupied Eastern Europe. He helped draft the letter ordering the final solution plan to exterminate the Jewish people in Europe. After the war, Eichmann fled to Argentina where he lived under a false identity until he was kidnapped Israeli intelligence agency the Mossad on May 11, 1960, flown to Israel, brought to trial in Jerusalem in April 1961. After being found guilty, he was executed by hanging in 1962.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: One writer reporting was the Eichmann’s trial was the German Jewish philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt, the author of “The Origins of Totalitarianism” and “The Human Condition.” Arendt’s coverage of the trial for The New Yorker proved extremely controversial. She expressed shock that Eichmann was not a monster or evil, but “terribly and terrifyingly normal.” Even more controversial was her assertion that the Jews participated in their own destruction through the collaboration of the Nazi appointed Judenraete or Jewish Councils with the Third Reich. She first coined the term the banality of evil to apply to Eichmann following her reporting of her trial. Well, we spend the rest of the hour on a recent film which profiles Arendt’s coverage of the trial. The film is simply called “Hannah Arendt.” This is part of the trailer

ACTOR: They were recognized Jewish leaders and this leadership cooperated with the Nazis. They’ll have our heads for this.

ACTOR: [translated] This was the headline in the daily news. “Hannah Arendt’s Defense of Eichmann.”

ACTOR: [translated] These think your articles are terrific, and these want you dead. Some of them are quite colorful.

ACTOR AS HANNAH ARENDT: [translated] The greatest evil in the world is the evil committed by nobodies.

ACTOR: [translated] Did you really have no idea there would be such a furious reaction?

ACTOR AS HANNAH ARENDT: [translated] Trying to understand is not the same as forgiveness.

ACTOR AS KURT BLUMENFELD: [translated] This time you’ve gone too far. .

ACTOR AS HANNAH ARENDT: [translated] It is this phenomenon I have called the banality of evil.

AMY GOODMAN: The trailer to the film “Hannah Arendt.” Democracy Now! spoke to the lead actor and director of the film earlier this year when the film was released in New York. Margarethe von Trotta is the director of “Hannah Arendt.” She is one of Germany’s leading film directors, has won multiple awards over her 40-year career. The actress, Barbara Sukowa, who plays Hannah Arendt in the film, she was awarded the Lola award for best actress, the German equivalent of the Oscars for her role. We started by asking Margarethe von Trotta why it was so significant for Hannah Arendt to decide to cover Eichmann’s trial.

MARGARETHE VON TROTTA: She wrote it because she offered herself to The New Yorker to go there and she wrote to them, I was not in Nuremberg. I did not see one of these monsters, one of these Nazis in flesh, in the face and I want to go there to look at somebody, to see him and to make it my own mind. Then she meets him there and he’s so different from what she expected, and that was in the beginning it was difficult for her to understand. And one of her most important sentences “I want to understand.” She wanted to understand why he’s so different, why he is not a monster, why he’s not a Saddam.

AMY GOODMAN: But, her husband saying to her there, I know what this is going to turn you back to, the pain that you knew. What is this pain that she knew personally?

MARGARETHE VON TROTTA: That is a pain that they both had when they heard about the Holocaust and heard about what happened in Poland and everywhere in the camps. They were both totally destroyed for months. So, he knew when he goes back and there are coming out all the testimonies, with all their stories, that she would go back into this depression. He feared for her. But, she wanted it. But, she was critical with the Hausner, with the prosecutor. That he had all these — and that the testimonies had to retell all her story and they’re some of them, they’re fainting and they’re really — you can see how much it cost them to tell the stories.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the devices in the film was to actually use the archival footage of Eichmann in trial. Because that amazingly was all videoed. Before we go to a clip that shows both your dramatic film but with the actual archival footage of Eichmann, so you have no one playing Eichmann, he is, in a sense, playing himself, talk about that decision.

MARGARETHE VON TROTTA: I saw, a long time before I knew that I would make a film about Hannah Arendt, I saw “The Specialist,” an Israeli documentary that is only one hour and a half only the trial. He followed the line of Hannah Arendt, and he said it in the beginning. So, when we started to write the script, with Pam Katz, I’d immediately told her, we have to look it up again. We have to go with this material. And so, we already — during we wrote — we already chose some of the clips, let’s say, some of it. And then when I started to make the film, I saw much more material and I chose also other material that was not in “The Specialist.” But, for me, it was from the beginning, totally clear that I had to use this because to put an actor in, the spectator only would have looked at him, oh he’s so brilliant, he’s fantastic, how we did it. So, they will admire the actor and not see the mediocrity of the man. So, that was my point, to see the mediocrity, to go with Hannah Arendt to look at him and to get the same thought out of him.

BARBARA SUKOWA: That was also a reason that we didn’t go for an impersonation of Hannah Arendt, because we didn’t want people to look at an acting job and say, now she looks like Hannah Arendt. We did not do a lot of prosthetics or anything. We just wanted people to concentrate and focus on what she is saying and what she is thinking. And not think about acting.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The film that you referred to, Margarethe, “The Specialist,” the documentary by the Israeli filmmaker Eyal Sivan, as you said, it is only two hours long, but apparently the footage of Eichmann, up to 350 hours of the trial itself?

MARGARETHE VON TROTTA: At Youtube you can see 270, but there is still more, yes. But, I did not see that at all. But, I said to my assistant who saw it all, I want to have some of these scenes in, and so he looked for.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, let’s just go to a clip of the Eichmann trial. This is the trial being watched by reporters on a television screen, which is how Arendt witnessed it. This is part of Eichmann’s testimony.

ADOLPH EICHMANN: [translated] I read here that during the transport, 15 people died. I can only say that these records, were not the responsibility department for 4B4.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Eichmann testifying as you show it in your film, “Hannah Arendt.” In another scene from the trial, Eichmann is asked explicitly about the final solution.

PROSECUTOR: Was it proven to you that the Jews had to be exterminated?

ADOLPH EICHMANN: I didn’t exterminate them.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Margarethe Von Trotta, can you talk about those scenes?

MARGARETHE VON TROTTA: Somebody now who read the [Indiscernible] papers. They were coming out now in Germany but also before. That was a judge, a fanatic Nazi who went to Argentina, who knew where he was hiding, Eichmann, and did they did a long interview. And there he spoke about himself as if he was a real fanatic Nazi and he wanted to kill all the Jews, even after the war and so. He gave himself such an importance that that was not true. My interpretation is that he was hiding so long that then coming up somebody who he could show what a kind of man he was, and then in the trial, he put down his light — how do you say, he put down his importance and perhaps he was more important than he made believe in the trial. But I think it was in between. But this main point for “Hannah Arendt” is that she says he was not stupid. He was thoughtless. He did not think. And that you can really, in some of the clips I show, you can really see it. And when you speak German, you can even feel it more because he is unable to say one sentence in the right way.

AMY GOODMAN: As the trial in Jerusalem is underway, Arendt meets with friends at a restaurant and reveals what she perceives of Eichmann’s character. Her old political mentor and friend, Kurt Blumenfeld, fiercely disagrees with her.

ACTOR AS HANNAH ARENDT: [translated] He swears he never personally harmed a Jew.

ACTOR AS KURT BLUMENFELD: [translated] So he claims.

ACTOR AS HANNAH ARENDT: [translated] But isn’t it interesting that a man who did everything a murderous system asked of him, who even seems eager to give precise details of his fine works, that this man insists he personally has nothing against Jews?

ACTOR: [translated] He’s lying!

ACTOR AS HANNAH ARENDT: [translated] False, he’s not.

ACTOR: He claims he didn’t know where the trains were going. Do you believe that to?

ACTOR AS HANNAH ARENDT: [translated] Knowing that was irrelevant for him. He transported people to their deaths but didn’t feel responsible for it. Once the trains were in motion his work was done.

ACTOR AS KURT BLUMENFELD: [translated] So we can say he’s free of guilt? Despite what happened to the people he transported?

ACTOR AS HANNAH ARENDT: [translated] Yes, that’s how he sees it. He’s a bureaucrat.

ACTOR AS KURT BLUMENFELD: [translated] Your quest for truth is admirable but this time you’ve gone too far.

ACTOR AS HANNAH ARENDT: [translated] But, Kurt, you can’t deny the huge difference between the unspeakable horror of the deeds and the mediocrity of the man.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Hannah Arendt fiercely debating Kurt Blumenfeld. Margarethe Von Trotta, talk about the heart, because this is the heart of what Hannah Arendt is arguing in the banality of evil. Explain.

MARGARETHE VON TROTTA: Yeah, because she went there expecting a monster like everybody else because she couldn’t understand or she could not expect it’s only a normal bureaucrat. So, she had to wait to get to her idea about him. She did not have it immediately. But then in this scene, she was already there for certain time, so she could look at him and observe him already. So, she came up with this idea of the only bureaucratic. And Kurt Blumenfeld who was [Indiscernible] in this scene in the end, he’s so angry with her that she turns away. Even when he is on his deathbed, he even doesn’t want to see her anymore. So, we have both opinions in the film. You can choose where you want to stand and where you want to be, with Blumenfeld or with her, or also Hans Jonas her old friend, a student with her with Martin Heidegger the philosopher — he also turns away.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: One of the criticisms of the film has been that it gives the impression that there were no Jewish intellectuals who agreed with Hannah Arendt at the time of her writing these articles in The New Yorker with the subsequent publication of the book, whereas people point out that there were, you know, Bruno Bettelheim, for example, as well as Raul Hilberg, there were Jewish intellectuals who agreed. Was their a decision that you made to represent only the voices of opposition for dramatic purposes, or can you just talk about that?

MARGARETHE VON TROTTA: There were very few who did understand her and who defended her, very few. We chose Mary McCarthy because she was a friend of her during the whole life in America and also during the period we show. So, we put in all the defending theme in her part. And others are portraits and others enable and ho and so.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain, once she wrote the pieces in The New Yorker, the fire The New Yorker came under and that she came under, because she like many German Jewish intellectuals had come to be in New York at the New School, they founded the New School, and she might even have lost her job there. There were so much pressure for her to resign.

MARGARETHE VON TROTTA: Yeah, and she feared all of the sudden she will go to exile again. That was also a point she was suffering about, because when you had to go away from your country for once and then she went to Paris and when the Germans invaded France, they put these people who came to France to be protected, they put them in interment camps. All of a sudden there again she had to flee. So, it was from both countries she was exiled or she had to flee. Then she came to America. For her, it was paradise. Like she said in the film, she was so happy with her — even if she didn’t speak a word of English when she came here, no? And then after this controversy, she had the feeling that also in this country, who became her home, she was not well seen and she became again a stranger. That was very, very painful for her.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Let’s go to a clip from the film where Hannah Arendt is put under extraordinary pressure after the articles have appeared in The New Yorker and she is even asked to leave the university in the U.S. where she is lecturing at the time.

ACTOR: [translated] We’ve discussed it at length and arrived at unanimous decision.

ACTOR: [translated] We respectfully advise you to relinquish your teaching obligations.

ACTOR AS HANNAH ARENDT: [translated] Under no circumstances will I give up my class.

ACTOR: [translated] You may not have enough students were willing to study with you.

ACTOR AS HANNAH ARENDT: [translated] Perhaps you’ve not been in communication with your own students, but I am entirely oversubscribed at the moment. And because of the extraordinary support of the students, I have decided to accept the invitation and I will speak publicly hysterical reaction to my report.

ACTOR: [translated] That is Hannah Arendt, all arrogance and no feeling.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Barbara Sukowa, could you talk about that particular scene? And she goes on after that to give an absolutely spectacular speech, which one reviewer has said is the greatest articulation of the importance of thinking that will ever be presented in a film.

BARBARA SUKOWA: Really? Well, I had a good script writer.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: It is a seven-minute long speech. Can you talk about how you prepared for it and how it is you delivered it? It is very powerful.

BARBARA SUKOWA: Well, as Margarethe said before, what goes through all her writings is the sentence “I want to understand.” She wants those students to understand, too. I thought it was really important that I as an actor really have to understand what she is saying because otherwise the audience will understand it. So, we worked on that scene quite a bit. We changed a little lines. We really tried to make it in a way that people understood it. And there had to find a balance between an emotional approach because she was emotional at this point. She was very afraid. She always was very afraid when she had to go in front of the public and to talk. She had like almost stage fright. And also be very clear on the thinking. So, it cannot be — as an actor, you cannot only go the — you can’t be just like a cold thinker in that moment. You have to also bring in her emotion. So, we tried to find that balance so that those people would understand.

For me, the reason why I did also this film with Margarethe because of the topic of the Holocaust is one that has been a big topic of my life because the generation that raised me, my teachers, my parents, they were all part of that generation.

AMY GOODMAN: Where were you born?

BARBARA SUKOWA: I was born in Bremen.

AMY GOODMAN: Germany.

BARBARA SUKOWA: When Hannah Arendt says, if you see that man, in the scene before, that you showed, and the difference, the horrors that happened, it was something that she could not bring together. How is that mediocre man there and there are these incredible horrors. The same for us. It was, how are there are these nice people that we know? How could they witness his incredible horrors? Are they lying? Are they not lying? What did they really know? So, this was, for me, also, a reason why I was very attracted to that topic again and to Hannah Arendt. I really do think that the question whether Eichmann is really mediocre or not, there’s been a lot of research out since Hannah Arendt wrote the book — I mean, JYad Va’Shem was only just founded at that time. Now they have big archives.

AMY GOODMAN: The memorial in Israel.

BARBARA SUKOWA: But, the thing is, that he is a prototype. It doesn’t matter whether he personally — whether she was right on him. Other people might see a demon in him. But these people existed, these bureaucrat. The thing is that he never regretted. He felt justified with what he did. He said, “I obeyed the law of my country and a lot my country was Hitler’s law.” I think that is interesting for us, today. How much do you obey a law? You have to think about the law.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Actress Barbara Sukowa, is the star of “Hannah Arendt.” We were also joined by the film’s director Margarethe von Trotta. The film has just been released on DVD.

AMY GOODMAN: Tune in Thursday and Friday for our holiday shows our tribute to Yip Harburg, black-listed lyricist who the rainbow in “The Wizard of Oz.” He also wrote the words to “Brother Can You Spare a Dime,” and so much more. Then our discussion about “Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery and the Troubled History of America’s Universities” with Craig Steven Wilder and Katrina Brown.

Sonia Jacobs and Peter Pringle on Their Journey From Death Row to the Wedding Altar November 23, 2011

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www.democracynow.org, November 23, 2011

Sonia Jacobs and Peter Pringle each served years on death row — Jacobs here in the United States and Pringle in Ireland. Both were exonerated after their convictions were overturned for murders that they steadfastly maintained they did not commit.  They began dating shortly after meeting while both publicly campaigning against the death penalty. Their wedding earlier this month was perhaps the first of its kind — the union of two exonerated death row inmates. Joining us from their home in Ireland, Sunny Jacobs and Peter Pringle recount their remarkable story from death row to the wedding altar.

Sonia “Sunny” Jacobs, was sentenced to death at the age of 28 for the murder of two police officers in Florida. When she was imprisoned, her two young children were cast into the foster care system. Nearly 17 years after her arrest, Sunny’s conviction was overturned on appeal. Her story, along with those of five other wrongfully convicted death row inmates, became “The Exonerated,” a play put on by the nonprofit theater Culture Project.  Sunny is the author of, “Stolen Time: One Woman’s Inspiring Story As An Innocent Condemned To Death.”
Peter Pringle, was accused of being one of three men who had murdered two police officers following a bank robbery in Ireland. After his conviction, he had been sentenced to be hanged. Just days before a noose was tied around his neck, Pringle learned that Ireland’s president had commuted his sentence to 40 years without parole. Pringle then immersed himself into legal books and effectively became a “jailhouse lawyer”.  Serving as his own counsel. Pringle successfully plead his case, leading the Court of Criminal Appeal quashed his conviction. He is a human rights and anti-death penalty activist.
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AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber announced yesterday that he would halt all executions in the state during his time in office. He said, “I refuse to be part of this compromised and inequitable system any longer.” Kitzhaber, a physician, noted that he had allowed two previous executions to go forward under his watch, but had since agonized over the decisions.

GOV. JOHN KITZHABER: Those were the most agonizing and difficult decisions I have ever made as governor, and I have revisited and questioned them over and over again for the past 14 years. I do not believe those executions made us safer. Certainly, I don’t believe they made us more noble as a society. And I simply cannot participate once again in something that I believe to be morally wrong.”

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was the Oregon Gov. Kitzhaber. In all, 34 states allow the death penalty, but only 27 have executed someone in the past decade, according to The Death Penalty Information Center.

AMY GOODMAN: In an oddly related story, I was reading the marriage section of New York Times this past weekend and saw a piece about the wedding of a couple in Manhattan earlier this month; Peter Pringle and Sonia Jacobs. Their photograph wasn’t that unusual. Perhaps they were older than most newlyweds, Sunny was 64, Peter 73, but it was a story of their lives and their coming together that we will spend the rest of our show on today. Both Sunny and Peter have survived the death penalty. They survived death row and have been exonerated since. Sonia Jacobs and Peter Pringle.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Sonia Jacobs and Peter Pringle each served a decade and a half on death row; Jacobs in the U.S., Pringle in Ireland. Both gained freedom after their convictions were overturned for murders that they steadfastly maintained they did not commit. The two would both become passionate anti-death penalty activists and their activism brought them together.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Pringle was accused of participating in a murder of two police officers following a bank robbery in Ireland. After his conviction he was sentenced to death by hanging. Just days before a noose was to be tied around his neck, Peter learned Ireland’s president had commuted his sentence to 40 years without parole. He then immersed himself in legal text and effectively become a jailhouse lawyer. Serving as his own counsel, he eventually convinced the Court of Criminal Appeals to quash his conviction.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Sonia, known as Sunny, was sentenced to death, along with her then husband, at the age of 28 for the alleged murder of two police officers in Florida. Her two young children were cast into the foster care system. Although the two maintained their innocence, it was after her husband was executed and another man confessed to the murder, that she was exonerated. Nearly 17 years after her arrest, Sunny’s conviction was overturned on appeal. She is the author of, Stolen Time: One Woman’s Inspiring Story as An Innocent Condemned To Death. Sunny’s story, along with those of five other wrongfully convicted death row inmates, became The Exonerated. Sunny has been portrayed by 28 actresses, including Mia Farrow, Brooke Shields, Amy Irving and Susan Sarandon, some of whom attended her wedding. This is Susan Sarandon playing Sunny in The Exonerated, reflecting on the murder charges leveled against her.

SUSAN SARANDON: My husband, Jesse, was tried first. He had a past record from when he was 17 years old and his trial lasted four days. We both had, of course, no good attorneys, no dream team, no expert witnesses. And so he was convicted and sentenced to death. My trial came later, and I thought, surely, that won’t happen to me. I mean, I was a hippie. I’m one of those peace and love people. I’m a vegetarian. How could you possibly think that I would kill someone? And so, I thought that I’d just—-I’d go in and they’d figure out I didn’t kill anyone and they’d let it go. but that’s not how it works.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Susan Sarandon playing Sonia Jacobs in the play The Exonerated, put on by The Culture Project, here in New York. Well, Sunny and Peter have since spoken in schools, churches, other venues across the country and the world on human rights and abolishing the death penalty. Their wedding earlier this month was perhaps the first of its kind, the union of two exonerated death row prisoners. And so we go to Galway, right now, to Ireland to be joined by the newly weds themselves, the former death row exonerees, modern day human rights activists, Sunny Jacobs and Peter Pringle. Sunny and Peter, congratulations on your wedding. Welcome to Democracy Now!. We’re going to talk about your activism today. But I want to start with Sunny. If you wouldn’t mind going back in time and telling your story, how it was you and your husband since executed, ended up on death row, your first husband.

SONIA JACOBS: Well, briefly, we were in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people. And as a result, we ended up being present when two police officers were killed. And the man who actually did the killing took a plea bargain, which I do not think should be allowed in capital cases, which I don’t think should be allowed in capitol cases, and testified against us saying that we did it. He in turn was given three life sentences in exchange for his testimony. Jessie’s trial, as you know, took four days and he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. My trial took longer because I was a young mother of two children and had never been in trouble for anything violent in my life. Aside from his testimony, they also brought in a young woman who had been arrested for a drugs violation. And in order not to go to prison for a long time herself, she also testified. As a result of that, and the judge’s instructions to the jury, my jury voted for conviction. But, when it came to the sentencing phase of the trial, my jury, actually, was not able to be unanimous because one man held out for his own beliefs, rather than giving in to the pressure that was being put upon him to agree, and so my jury voted for life. The judge overruled the jury in my case and voted for—-and sentenced me to death.

AMY GOODMAN: The picture of what happened, the date that it happened, you were all driving in a car; you, your husband, Jesse, your two kids and the driver who eventually turned out to be the one that confessed. What happened? You were in Florida?

SONIA JACOBS: Yes, we were in Florida, and we were just getting a lift from one place to the other. And it got late with visiting here and there, and so we decided to pull off into a rest area on the interstate. I was asleep in the back with the children when the policeman came to do a routine check of the area, as I now know, and saw a gun between the driver’s feet, opened the door, took the gun, pulled him out, asked for his identification, called it in, and when they found out that he was on parole, that, of course, is a violation of parole, and then the scene turned ugly, and the shooting began. I ducked down to cover the children, and when I looked up, the policemen were dead and we were ordered into the police car by the man who had done the killing and driven away. So at that point, we basically had become hostages.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re both given life—-your both sentenced to death, you and Jesse. You’ve lost your children. Your children went where?

SONIA JACOBS: Well, at first, my children were held in custody. My daughter was only 10 months old at the time, and my son was 9 years old. It took my parents a couple of weeks to get my daughter. But. it took two months to get my son who was being held in the juvenile detention center in isolation because he was so young. And as a result, he was very traumatized. He was actually taken to hearings at night, handcuffed behind his back without any representation as a nine-year old boy. So when, finally, my parents were able to get a hold of him because the kind-hearted judge ordered him to be released, he developed a speech impediment and he had to be put in special school. From then on they lived with my parents, for the next six years, until my parents were killed in a plane crash, and then they went into care.

AMY GOODMAN: They went into foster care. So you wrote back and forth with your husband, Jesse, as you both sat on death row. How long were you on death row? How long were you in solitary? Explain what happened to Jesse?

SONIA JACOBS: Well, it’s interesting that you say that because, you see, the man had a death row, the women didn’t have a death row. At the time that I was convicted, I was the only woman the sentence of death in the U.S. because three years prior, they had stopped sentencing people to death. There was a sort of moratorium in the United States against using the death penalty. And so, there was, actually, no one on death row for a while. And then there were men on death row. But, as you know, murder is mostly a problem of men, not women. Women argue and smack each other, and men kill each other. And so, at the time, there were a few men on death row where Jesse was sent, but there were no women. So I was sent to the maximum security women’s prison in Florida and put into a unit all by myself, and I spent the next five years in solitary confinement.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Sunny, you also talk about how it is that while you were in prison, you made your cell a kind of sanctuary. Can you talk about how you did that?

SONIA JACOBS: Yes. At first, when I was first sent to—-got my death sentence, I couldn’t really process it because. It just was beyond my imagining how it could even happen to me, no less, actually be a reality. And so my cell was very small. It was six steps from the door until the toilet. And if I reached out my arms to both sides, I could touch the walls. And all there was in the cell was a metal shelf on which there was a thin mattress and a pillow. And then there was a sink and toilet, and that’s all there was. There were no bars. There was a solid metal door. And the guards were under orders not to speak to me. And so, I just paced back and forth, mostly in anger and confusion, and truth be known, in fear, that they would actually kill me. I had no communication whatsoever with the outside world at first; no phone calls, no visits. I didn’t get out of my cell. It wasn’t 23 out of 24 hours a day in the cell, it was 24 hours in the cell, except for twice a week when I was taken out for a quick shower and was given some prison clothing and allowed to spend a few moments out in a courtyard with a guard, and then brought back into my cell again.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And during this time, actually, the guards were forbidden, even, from speaking to you?

SONIA JACOBS: And I had no books. Yes, yes, because if there were going to participate in my execution, they couldn’t see me as another human being and sympathize with me. I had to be less than human. And in order to do that, we couldn’t have conversations. Anyway, so I had a Bible and a law book. The law book was useless because I couldn’t even understand the language and the Bible, I considered it a book of wisdom at the time, because I wasn’t even sure there was a god anymore, because I could not imagine how God could let this happen to me and my whole family. Because it doesn’t just happen to one person, it happens to the entire family.

AMY GOODMAN: Sunny, I wanted to ask, after your parents were killed in that Pan Am…

SONIA JACOBS: I was going to finish answering your question about how I turned my cell into a sanctuary. I didn’t mean to take so long to get there, but I read something in the Bible that told me, that they don’t say when I die. And it was at that point that I realized that until they do end up taking my life or setting me free, which I thought would be the proper result, my life still belonged to me. And that it would be foolish of me to spend the rest of my life, be it long or be it short, in fear and anger and confusion. So, I decided that the cell could become my sanctuary, and instead of waiting to die, I could use my time to make myself the best person I could be. And so, that’s how I turned my cell into a sanctuary. I did yoga and meditation and I prayed and had my discussion with God. I ended up, I think, maybe healthier than when I went in, in some ways.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Sunny Jacobs, your parents die in the Pan Am Flight 759 in Kenner, Louisiana. You lose touch with your children who were then in foster care. You’re writing back and forth with your then husband Jesse Tafero. And on May 4, 1990, he was executed. How did you survive after that point, and then talk about how your case turned around.

SONIA JACOBS: Well, I think the worst day of my entire life was when my parents died in the plane crash, because then, not only did my children become orphans again, but I became an orphan too, and there was no one to look out for me outside. And if you’re in prison, and especially if you’re on death row, you need someone to hang onto you from outside. The day that Jesse was executed, we were given a 10 minute phone call to say goodbye, and we told each other that we loved each other until the phone went dead. And then the officer that had escorted me to the phone call gave me a few moments to myself, and then I asked if she would bring me back to my cell, and she did. Actually, because Jesse’s execution was so horrible and so gruesome, I think everyone was sympathetic that day. It was just so horrible.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: What happened, actually, Sunny, during his execution?

SONIA JACOBS: Well, you see, when Jesse was put in the electric chair and they pulled the switch, he didn’t die. Instead, his head caught fire. And they say, the witnesses that were there, say flames shot 2 feet in the air out of his head and smoke came out of the helmet. Instead of dying, he struggled against the restraints and they had to pull the lever three times before he was actually pronounced dead, and that it took thirteen and a half minutes for Jesse Tafero to die. And the reason was because they had substituted the natural sea sponge in the helmet, which was supposed to conduct the electricity properly, they switched it with for an artificial sponge, which didn’t conduct the electricity properly, and as a result, he caught fire. As his mother later said later, when Sister Helen Prejean was escorted her to the church that night, her son was burned at the stake. It was so horrible that where our daughter, who was then fifteen and a half years old, heard what happened to her father she tried to kill herself.

AMY GOODMAN: So, it was, what, two years later in 1992, nearly 17 years after you both were arrested, that the confession of the shooter was made and you were exonerated, though Jesse was killed?

SONIA JACOBS: Yes, about two and a half years after Jesse was executed, with the help of lawyers who worked for free, pro bono, and friends, one of whom you know, my friend Micki Dickoff who is a documentary filmmaker, because of their effort, we were able to uncover evidence that had been hidden for all those years, including the fact that the man who actually did the killing had confessed in front of other witnesses. As a result, I was then released.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break right now. When we come back, we’ll hear your new husband, your bridegroom’s story, Peter Pringle, and then hear about what the two of you are doing to gather as you continue to travel and speak out against the death penalty. Our guests are Sunny Jacobs and Peter Pringle. They are newlyweds, and they are both exonerees, they both survived death row. This is Democracy Now!, back in a minute.

STEVE EARLE: (Singing)

AMY GOODMAN: Steve Earle singing, “Christmas in Washington.” I’m Amy Goodman with Nermeen Shaikh. Our guests in Ireland are the newlyweds Peter Pringle and Sunny Jacobs. They got married in New York, flew home to Ireland, and are now telling us their story. Steve Earle, who we just played, was instrumental in the two of you coming together. But, Peter, before you tell us about Steve, tell us, if you would, your own story of how you ended up on death row and then free.

PETER PRINGLE: OK. Thank you. Very briefly, on July 7, 1980, there was a bank robbery in a town called Ballaghaderreen, in County Roscommon in Ireland, following which the escape car collided with a police car, there was an exchange of gunfire and two police officers were killed. The raiders split up, separated across country. One man was arrested that evening and another the following morning, and the third man was being pursued across country by the police. I had nothing whatever to do with it. I was in a different county in a different city at the time. The person they were chasing was chased right through the city where I was, which is the city where I am now, Galway, and he eluded them. So, they arrested me, fabricated evidence against me, and brought me before the Special Criminal Court in Dublin, which is a non-jury, politically established court, where I was convicted and sentenced to death. Upon the word of a police officer that after 43 hours of interrogation, I had uttered these words, “I know that you know I was involved, but on the advice of my solicitor, I am saying nothing and you have to prove it all away.” That is the sole evidence upon which I was convicted and sentenced to death. I should state that in the twelfth day of the trial—-the trial lasted for 34 days over six weeks, and in the twelfth day of the trial, a police officer who had attempted to arrest the culprit two days after the crime, had actually, was within arm’s reach of him and had spoken to him, but he ran away from him and escaped, he gave evidence in the trial and he was asked, had he seen the man again. He said he had, in fact, he was in the court. I was sitting in the dock. The police officer was asked to point out the man. He pointed up to a man standing in the back row of the public gallery and he said, that is him standing over there with his back to the partition. He pointed out the man in the public gallery. At which, the people standing beside this man all moved away from him. He was standing on his own like something you would see in a movie. But he was never stopped. He was allowed to leave the court, he wasn’t stopped or charged or anything else, and I was duly convicted. Sentenced to death. I spent six—-in Ireland, we didn’t have death row. I spent six months in the death cell, which would be the equivalent to deathwatch in the United States. My lawyers made an application for leave to appeal which put an automatic stay on the execution. The Court of Criminal Appeals refused that application for leave to appeal and set a new date for execution for the 8th of June, 1981. About 11 days before that, the President commuted the sentence on the advice of them and I was sentenced to forty years without any possibility of parole. I was put out into the prison population. I couldn’t possibly face forty years in prison and so I determined I would try to prove my innocence. I began to try and study law. In order to relax so I could ease my anger, my rage at what they had done to me, I began to teach myself the disciplines of yoga and meditation. It was those two disciplines that brought me through.

When, of course, Sunny and I met, we discovered we both used the same disciplines, 7,000 miles apart, without even knowing each other. That was another bond we had with each other. In January of 1992, I eventually opened my case in the high court in Dublin, on my own behalf, because I had no money and no lawyers, and I was escorted from the prison under armed escort and handcuffed, etc., and I offered my case there. In July of that year 1992, I won an order for discovery of the police papers in the case. Six months later when I got some of those documents, I found—-I was supplied with a photocopy of the notebook of the police officer who claimed I had made that statement. In his notebook, he had written in the alleged statement before his entry for the interrogation of which he claimed I said it. In any event, the case ran from January 1992 through to May 1995. Just before that, before that time in 1994, a human-rights lawyer offered me his help and I took it. In 1995 in May, the conviction was quashed by the Court of Criminal Appeal. The state asked for retrial. The court ordered a re-trial, I was sent back to prison on remand. The following day I was brought back to the Court of Criminal Appeal where I was given bail. A week later, the state dropped the case. So consequently, I received no compensation for damages whatsoever. When I was released on May 17, 1995, out of the Special Criminal Court onto the street, I had no money, I had no identification, no passport, no driving license, no Social Security number, no where to live, nothing. I didn’t even get my bus fare. But I had family and friends and they looked after me, and I survived.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Is it the case, Peter, that you were the last person who was sentenced to death in Ireland?

PETER PRINGLE: No, that’s not, actually. The media picked that one up. I was one of the last. There were—-let me see, now, there were I think three or four were sentenced to death after me. But all of those sentences were commuted as well.

SONIA JACOBS: But you were the only person who ever was released.

PETER PRINGLE: I was the only person in history of the state who got my conviction quashed, overturned, in a capital case. I did most of it on my own. I think I’m probably the only living person in Europe who has had his conviction overturned and released, had an exoneration from a death sentence. Three years after I came out of prison, and having gone through the difficulty of settling back into society—-which is very, very difficult—-I met with Steve Earle. Steve had been communicating with a man on death row in Texas named Jonathan Noble who asked Steve to witness his execution because he wanted one person there who didn’t hate him. Steve agreed to do that, and was so traumatized by what he saw, that he came back to Ireland to chill out a little and recover from that ordeal. While there, I was introduced to him. We exchanged our stories, we became friends. Consequently, when Sunny later was on the Journey of Hope, marching against the death penalty through Texas, people from the Irish section of Amnesty International were present and heard her speak. They invited her to come to Ireland the following year to speak at the annual general meeting of the Ireland section of Amnesty, which she agreed to. And then following on that, in Tennessee on another March, she met with Steve and told him she was coming to Ireland. He said to her, oh, you should talk to Peter Pringle, but he didn’t say why. When she got to Ireland the next year, and she spoke at a meeting in Dublin, somebody asked her if she’d spoken to me. She said, no. They gave her my number.

One day at home, I got a phone call from this American lady who said to me she wanted to speak to Peter Pringle. I said, that is me. She said she was Sunny Jacobs and was going to speak at a meeting in Galway the following Friday—-going to speak at a meeting the following Friday and if I wished to come along I was welcome. I asked her what she was going to speak about it she said, the death penalty. I said, well, yeah, I’m interested in that. At the time I was thinking, what does this woman know about the death penalty? So I went along anyway the following Friday with two friends. We were in the venue, which was a room over a pub at 1:00 in the day, and the people who had traveled with Sunny had gone to get lunch. But we, neither of us, like to eat before we speak about these matters in detail. So I was up in the room waiting for the event to happen when the door opened on the far side and this little lady walked in. I walked over to her and said, you must be Sunny Jacobs.

SONIA JACOBS: And I said, you must be Peter Pringle.

PETER PRINGLE: I heard her talk. I was mesmerized by her story. I was blown away by the horror of what had happened to her. I knew I had to speak with her again. I said that to her. But she told me she had to leave in an hour to go to court with Mary, who is the general secretary of Amnesty. So when she spoke to Mary, Mary was delighted I was going to take Sunny in charge and she transferred her back to me. A friend of mine in Galway loaned me his Mercedes car and packed us a lunch, a pack lunch.

SONIA JACOBS: A cheese lunch. We’re both vegetarians.

PETER PRINGLE: …at the time. And I drove her through Ireland and down to Cork, and as we were sitting in the car, in the car ferry crossing the river Shannon, she turned to me and she said, well, what is your interest in all this? And I said … this is the first time she had heard what my story was…and I said to her, I told her that I too had been sentenced to death and I had been exonerated. She said, and how did you get through? I said yoga and meditation. She said, wow, that is something, because that is what happened with her. So we traveled down, down to Cork together, sharing our story. At times laughing, at times crying, but very, very close with each other. She spoke at the meeting that evening. Amnesty booked us into a hotel, two separate rooms. We went over to the hotel and she came to my room and we sat down together. For three hours, we discussed forgiveness. And then she went back to her room. The following morning, I went off to…back home, to return the car. We kept in communication long distance. After 9/11, we decided that we really had to make a decision whether we were going to live together or not. Neither of us did not know if we could live with someone else because we have been on our own for so long. We opted for the west coast of Ireland. Sunny reversed what her ancestors did, she packed two bags, got rid of all her belongings in California and traveled back East and came to live with me in a little cottage by the sea on the west coast of Ireland. We live there now, a different cottage now, but we still live on the west coast of Ireland and we have a, we rent a little cottage with three and half acres. We have two dogs and two cats, a couple of hens, a couple of ducks, eight goats, and our garden. We grow our vegetables. We grow our potatoes. We have our eggs from our fowl. We milk the goats and she makes wonderful goat cheese. We try to be as self-sufficient as we can be, because of course we have no money. Neither of us got compensation. But we live a very good life there together.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet you decided to…you got married in New York, you were surrounded by—-of actually in your case, Sunny, the women who played you in The Exonerated like Brooke Shields and Marlo Thomas and Amy Irving. Talk about what you were just saying, Peter, when you are not on the west coast of Ireland, what you’re doing, in these last few minutes that we have.

PETER PRINGLE: What we do is we work with different human rights organizations like Amnesty, a group in London called Amicus, a wonderful group of people in Italy called The Community of Sant’Egidio…

SONIA JACOBS: The Journey of Hope in America.

PETER PRINGLE: The Journey of Hope.

SONIA JACOBS: The Seeds of Hope.

PETER PRINGLE: The Seeds of Hope is an Irish group in Ireland. But the Culture Project in New York was the not-for-profit theater organization that put on The Exonerated. The Culture Project, we knew that if…we could get married in New York very easy, and of course Sunny is a native of New York, so that kind of was nice, to do that. But we cannot afford to go to New York. We got a phone call from the Culture Project inviting us to come to their producers’ weekend to speak at that weekend and also for Sunny to present awards. So when they heard that we were looking to get married, they said, we will host your wedding. So that is what happened. They brought us to New York and put us up and hosted our wedding.

AMY GOODMAN: We have thirty seconds.

PETER PRINGLE: The Culture Project initiated a new award, which they called the Sunny award. They’ve given it out every year to people who shed a light, an artistic light, on injustice. And Sunny got the first award and she presented the other ones.

SONIA JACOBS: If I could just say one small thing, it’s that everyone out there can do their part. If you believe something is wrong, then do something about it whether it is write a letter, protest with a sign, go down to Wall Street and support them. Bring them sandwiches. Join an organization. Every person makes a difference. If you do something about what you believe, then it makes your life and everyone’s life better.

PETER PRINGLE: And if I may make a plug here, we each of us have a book written ready for any publisher who might be interested.

SONIA JACOBS: We need a publisher.

AMY GOODMAN: Sunny Jacobs and Peter Pringle—-

SONIA JACOBS: You have always been one of my heroes, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you for joining us. Happy holiday to everyone.