Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Poem: water


made a speech the last day of the strike

I made the Pakistanidean turn over in his house

the palace could not contain the strikers

the man’s politeness, arm around my shoulder

I walked with him by the jeweled

lake where a trust of sky

spotted the earth with vines

found words lying about

coiled amidst stones

nectar of cactus   air of the

unatomed desert

a place to walk   signs of unwritten

perhaps you can see them now


waterplacards them 

                            to the Page 

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Democratic solidarity with Gazans

            An international solidarity brigade of 1400 people from many countries has gone to Gaza.  Among them are Jews including Hedy Epstein, an 85 year old holocaust survivor whose parents were killed in the Nazi camps.  But they have been stopped at the border by the American-funded dictatorship of Mubarak in Egypt.  She and other grandmothers are currently on hunger strike (one ceases being a newsworthy Jew even a concentration camp survivor if one is on the wrong side of the Times' preferred though self-destructive policies in Israel; so far, only one brief mention on December 26 of this demonstration here).  Some 300 from France staged civil disobedience at a major boulevard.  The passer-bys honked or waved (ordinary Egyptians are naturally sympathetic to uprooted and brutalized Palestinians).  But the government is so corrupt that it is planting a deep metal wall to prevent food and supplies from getting into Gaza.   It will not allow housing materials to enable the reconstruction of the buildings destroyed by the Israeli offensive a year ago which murdered some 1400 people (as opposed to 11 dead Israelis from Hamas rockets). It took down paper signs of solidarity put by the marchers on the Kasr al-Nil bridge (the bridge over the Nile). 

          Gaza has been rightly described by my friend Tom Farer (a well-known international lawyer and also a Jew) as a large open air concentration camp.  In a crime against international humanitarian law, Palestinians trapped within are unable to flee Israeli rockets.  As the Goldstone report revealed (written by another Jew and wellknown Zionist), the army of Israel aimed its rockets at houses in which children slept. That is a hard sentence.  Perhaps one should repeat it to oneself.   The Israeli government murdered some 300 Palestinian children; Hamas murdered a 7 year old Israeli boy.

         Internationalism as in the Abraham Lincoln and European brigades that fought the fascists in Spain (Franco armed by Hitler) between 1936 and 1938 is one of the great and noble forces of the last century and of the modern world.  The Lincoln brigade was half-black; more than half of its 3,000 members, barely armed against Franco and harassed by the U.S. government, were killed by the fascists.  The surviving heroes returned to the United States of America to be stigmatized by the House Unamerican Activities Committee headed by Martin Dies, as “premature antifascists.”  Democratic internationalism is the idea that we are linked and that the most terrible suffering needs our solidarity, even against our own government and media, and sometimes at the risk of our lives; if not, others, and perhaps we too will suffer such things (See my Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? or think of Pastor Martin Niemoller’s famous poem that first they came for the Jews and the Communists…).  Such actions are also called by my friend Ilene Cohen in today’s idiom, those of civil society elsewhere uniting with Palestinian civil society against corrupt governments and parties like the Democrats.  Today, the conduct of Democrats as well as Republicans toward the Palestinians is reminiscent of the solid Democratic Segregationist South.

        As in Palestine, however, internationalist action, the democratic action from below of civil society, can be nonviolent.  It does what it can to heal the world.  Even stopped in Cairo, the 1400 participants on this march are recognizing the force and joy of such solidarity (see the comments of Phillip Weiss below).  It is possible to stand up against the murder and corruption of powerful governments, and the enormous self-destructiveness of the Israeli government and of American foreign policy (five wars and counting as Greenwald says this morning here).

       This morning Cindy Sheehan who lost a son in Iraq and has courageously led protests at Bush’s Texas manor and elsewhere, reported, from friends, that Americans holding a peaceful demonstration outside the Embassy were turned over to the police state.  International or not, 50 were beaten and arrested.  One who escaped arrest was Ann Wright, a career military officer and American diplomat, who was one of three people who resigned because of the Bush-Cheney aggression in Iraq.  Her words are also below.

       Sheehan points out that today is the sad anniversary of the massacre of Native Americans at Wounded Knee in 1890  by the US government. The Palestinians are the indigenous people of Palestine.  Ben Gurion and other Israeli leaders saw them as the American Indians or the blacks of apartheid South Africa.  They could be “transferred” and persecuted, and the international community would remain silent.

       Many Jews have thought (Uri Avnery, Martin Buber, Hannah Arendt inter alia) that such policies were criminal from the beginning.  Jews needed a place to settle after the genocide.  There was no help for the original crime; Europe and America would not permit Israel on their territories.  But Israelis needed to achieve a workable peace with the Palestinians in one state with equal basic rights (Arendt – see here) or two.   The renewal of this crime today – and the madness that has seized Israeli leadership about “Greater Israel”  – is now instigating world wide resistance.  Even in the United States, Obama’s opposition to the settlements (now sadly dropped)  is popular and the desire for a decent two state solution strong among Jews and others.  In the United States, however, the veil of ignorance about this international protest in Israel and the facts of life in the occupied territories is drawn especially tight in the mainstream media.  But these facts will out.  There is such movement.  Change from below is happening before our eyes.  

BREAKING: U.S. Citizens attacked by Egyptian Riot Police in Cairo outside of U.S. Embassy

Cindy Sheehan 

One of my friends, Joshua Smith, just texted me from Cairo and said that some U.S. citizens of the Gaza Freedom March went to the U.S. Embassy today there to try and implore the staff there to intercede on behalf of the March to help get them into Gaza--they were not so warmly welcomed.

Recently, almost 1400 people from around the globe met in Cairo to march into Gaza to join Gazans in solidarity and to help expose their plight after years of blockade and exactly a year after the violent attack in what Israel called "Operation Cast Lead" that killed hundreds of innocent Gazan civilians. So far the Marchers have been denied access (Egypt closed the Rafah crossing) and their gatherings have become increasingly and more violently suppressed. 

In my understanding of world affairs, embassies are stationed in various countries so citizens who are traveling can seek help in times of trouble [not when they protest our Government’s reactionary policies however], but this doesn’t appear to be so right at this moment in Cairo.

Josh reports, and I also just got off the phone with my good friend and Veterans for Peace board member, Mike Hearington, that about 50 U.S. citizens were very roughly seized and thrown (in at least one case literally) into a detention cell at the U.S. embassy. We are talking about U.S. citizens here being manhandled by Egyptian riot police. According to Josh and Mike (who both just narrowly escaped), it appears that people with cameras are especially being targeted. Another good friend of mine, and good friend of peace, Fr. Louis Vitale is one of those being detained. Fr. Louis is well into his seventies!

Josh posted this on his Facebook wall about his near-detention experience:

We just got away. They were trying to drag me in but we kept moving... And most were dog piling another guy. Then they drug him into the parking lot barricaded riot police zone, lifted him up and threw him over the police and down into the zone. And attacking those taking pictures or attempting to.

When I was talking to Mike he said that an Egyptian told him that all Egyptians are in solidarity with the Marchers and with the people of Gaza/Palestine, of course, but the “Big Boss” (the U.S.) is calling the shots.

Egypt is third in line for U.S. foreign aid (behind Iraq and Israel) and its dictator for life, Hosni Mubarek, is a willing puppet for his masters: the US/Israeli cabal. Israel could not pursue its apartheid policies without the U.S. and it’s equally important for this cabal to have a sold-out ally as its neighbor.

Today also happens to be the anniversary of the 1890 U.S. massacre of Native Americans (Lakota Sioux) at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. It is sad enough that we are also living on stolen land, but also that the Israeli government had good teachers in disposing of its indigenous population!

What are the Israeli settlements on the West Bank, if not stolen land from the indigenous population and what is Gaza if not a mega-reservation? As at Wounded Knee 119 years ago, the Israeli siege and attack on Gaza is nothing more than big bullies shooting fish in a barrel.

Call the U.S. Embassy to demand the release of those detained/that permission is granted for the March to cross into Gaza: Telephone: (20-2) 2797 3300.

Please re-post this alert and spread the word.

Weren’t things supposed to “change” in the Age of Obama?

Stymied in Cairo–still something is gelling among the international marchers

by Philip Weiss on December 28, 2009  

The photo wouldn’t reproduce.

Gaza Freedom March delegates in Cairo. (Photo: codepinkhq)

The Egyptian authorities have told the organizers of the Gaza Freedom March once, twice, three times and four that we can’t go to Gaza, but the organizers will go back a fifth, sixth and seventh time, Medea Benjamin promised outside the U.N. offices in Cario here today. Still, it doesn’t look good for our year-end march. The chances are “less than zero,” says a friend.

Yet I have to say that the broken Gaza Freedom March has been a great achievement. How can that be, when we are going stir in Cairo? Well an international conversation over the issue is taking place here among the most diverse collection of people. I keep thinking of ways to convey just how inspiring that is. One minute you are talking with a slim, proper Japanese man. Then a minute later an Egyptian youth is telling you that Gaza thanks you for your moral solidarity. Then a minute after that Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb is saying that she came here to march, and she will march. Borders have fallen away here, and the American frame is gone. On my plane I met a kid from Jersey who had done the free Jewish “birthright” trip a year ago and whose Jewish friends have been angered at his decision to come here, but when I saw him today, he seemed enthralled, transformed, way down the path of education, in a pink scarf.

He had been up most of the night, talking to the French. They are most inspired delegation. 300 of them are camped on the sidewalk outside the French embassy, surrounded by what appear to be 600 Egyptian policemen in riot helmets and black uniforms. The French came here to get into Gaza, they are angry and have taken direct action. They are without water and toilets, and this will be their second night, that is if they are not taken away in the scores of paddywaggons set up across the road, in this police state. Many of them wear t-shirts that call for boycott and show a missile aimed at a baby carriage. “Reminds me a lot of the J Street conference," Antony Loewenstein joked, after we got into the French camp for a ten minute police-supervised visit.

It was a good joke because it was about the limiting American frame. No one here is talking about the two-state solution or land swaps. They know what the Goldstone report says–those missiles aimed at houses with sleeping children–and they are morally clear on the question. They reflect an international consensus: the end of patience for war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and an ideology of Jewish exceptionalism supported by western governments. Those governments have failed to act so we are speaking out as civil society (Loewenstein again).

I sense something gelling here. We held a protest at the U.N. plaza here today, and Medea Benjamin called up the hunger strikers, eight or ten of them, and, flanked by young men from Syria, Egypt, and Libya, for once it did not matter that Hedy Epstein, the oldest of the strikers at 85, is a Holocaust survivor. In the U.S. that is her principal license to speak: the giant neon over her head, Hedy Epstein survivor. Here it means little; her ultimate status is, She is from St. Louis, USA. Decades ago the Palestinian leader George Antonius said that if he only took the issue to the court of world opinion, he would gain support against an injustice. Well it never happened. Yet now that support is forming, because global activists have embraced the cause, and yes, because the privileged European and American left has accepted the issue and are proud at last to be melding with Muslims and Arabs.

We didn’t do what the brave French did, and try to claim the UN plaza with sleeping bags and tents, but when we left we sang We Shall Overcome, mingling the American civil rights anthem with this international cause. Gaza will be free-ee-ee. No it doesn’t look like we will be getting into Gaza, still we are doing important work in Cairo, to transform ourselves and our presence on the world stage.


Here are some words from Democracynow this morning here which did cover the protests:

ANN WRIGHT: My name is Ann Wright, and I’m a retired US Army colonel and a former diplomat who resigned in opposition to the war in Iraq back in December 2003. We are stalled here in Cairo because the decision of the Egyptian government was that we cannot go into Gaza. We have been appealing that decision every day, providing more information to the government of Egypt about how important this mission is, not only on the humanitarian basis, but also on the human basis of people that have been imprisoned in a quarantined small area for many, many years now and who have been the subject of a brutal twenty-two-day attack that started a year ago yesterday, on December 27th, and ended up with the deaths of 1,440 Palestinians, the wounding of 5,000 others, 50,000 people made homeless, and virtually every government institution blown up.  Now, a year later, the international community continues the siege. No construction materials have been able to be brought in. And the people of Gaza are living in the ruins that were created over a year ago. The collective punishment of the people of Gaza for their election of Hamas and now the siege of the international community on those people is wrong. It’s a violation of international law, and it must be ended. And that’s why all of these people have come here, to say with the voices of the citizens of the world, “The siege must end. We must force our governments to stop this.”

HEDY EPSTEIN: I’ve been for many, many years—in fact, for most of my life, I’ve been involved in human rights and civil rights struggle. But I’ve never been on a hunger strike before. And I think there comes a time in one’s life when one meets up with this kind of obstruction that the Egyptian government is providing us, instead of opening the borders and letting us into Gaza, and there comes a time in one’s life when maybe one needs to do more than just talk and march and picket, and maybe go on a hunger strike, as I am now about to do here, to change the opinion of the Egyptian government so that they will let us go to Gaza. I desperately need to go to Gaza. I have a severe case of Gaza fever, and it can only be cured by going to Gaza. And I don’t want to go alone. I want to go with the 1,300 or 1,400 people of us from forty-two different countries.

RAE ABILEAH (Codepink organizer): I think this is a very exciting moment. I mean, it’s amazing! There’s a bus that just drove by with Egyptians with their hands in the peace sign out the window. The people are really, really supportive, and that’s exciting to see. And it’s powerful just to see. It’s the first time that everybody has converged for our Gaza Freedom March, and here we are on the anniversary of the start of Operation Cast Lead, devastating reality of people still living in their homes one year after this attack. And one year later, the world is saying no. The world is saying, “Lift the siege.” And we’re gathering in mass and in mourning and also in action and with hope. And so, that feels exciting to me. 

ANNA: Hello, my name is Anna. I come from France, and I came with this group to go to Gaza. We were all supposed to take buses yesterday night at 7:00, but they didn’t come. So, we understood that it was from the government, so we just went through the road, and it’s one of the biggest road of the Caire, so we just blocked the traffic. Finally, the big trucks came, and we were quite obliged to come here. So we slept here.


Letters: on the journalism of Sami Elhaj

         Carole Pateman, a wonderful democratic theorist who teaches at UCLA, sent me several relevant additions/corrections to the post on Sami Al-Hajj here. From England, she has no childhood attachment to the Times.   She underlines the fact that many Al-Jazeera correspondants are BBC-trained and are better journalists than at the Times.  This is largely because Al-Jazeera covers more of the real human rights situation in the Middle East, including the role of the United States' government in it, which the Times censors. Ideological coverage, as my post showed is not intelligent coverage. The reporter Brian Stelter could say what is true, what he probably knows is true, mainly by quoting Al-Hajj.

       Elhaj (the correct transliteration according to Al-Jazeera, h/t Joseph Dumas) is really a journalist, like I.F. Stone, somebody who covers the real story seriously, somebody straightforward about human rights (torturing people is repulsive; there is no “journalistically objective” description of Guantanamo or Bagram which makes the US government other than repulsive just as there is no such description of the Inquisition or of Stalin’s trials).  He is also someone whom the US government imprisoned and tortured for 7 years.  This man, like Izzy, admires the Bill of Rights and the rule of law, and fights for it.  Brutalized by the United States, he drew the correct conclusions about it and about oppression, for instance, in Jordan generally.  He is one of “nature’s noblemen” and has swiftly become the leading journalist in the Arab world.

        7 years with torture. Did the Bush administration – which made of innocents enemies with every moment in the day – really need to do that?  But a capitalist democracy (and perhaps any government) is always a tyranny over some.  As Carole suggests, the distance between here and a police state – this regime is already the worst kind of tyranny for many (Arabs, immigrants) and treats the poor and even the middle class, for instance, with foreclosure and unemployment – even under Obama is not so far. 

       But many of us are moved to speak out.  I also received an interesting letter from Joseph Dumas, an independent journalist who has interviewed Elhaj, and written a deeper article on the case which he is seeking to get published (anyone who can help, please contact me and I will put you in touch).

      Dumas allows Elhaj to give the point of view of the tortured (Moazzem Begg, Enemy Combatant, is another good place to look).  If one wants to understand what America has become, listening to these words is important.  For instance, he asks in the interview what struck Al-Hajj most about Guantanamo.  Here is a brief interchange:

From your experiences of the imprisonment, and now, one year following your return to your physical freedom, what do you believe is the biggest misperception about your ordeal? Or, perhaps expressed differently: what is the biggest mis-perception about the Detention Center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and its prisoners?

“One great misperception is the idea that Guantanamo is a prison full of terrorists, or potential terrorists. Most of the men I met were innocent and peaceful people.”

In a recent edition of the London newspaper, “The Guardian,” [05-May-2009,  “Miscarriage of Justice”] there was a series of interviews with innocent people who had been imprisoned without merit—some for years, in situations with similarities to yours. One man described the experience as like being “buried alive.” What went through your mind the moment you were arrested? Fear? Disbelief? How do you manage your anger about this experience?

“I always thought it was a mistake and everything would be sorted soon, especially because I know they had my name spelt wrong and my date of birth was incorrect. Everything was telling me that I was the wrong person and that I would be released maybe the next hour, the next day, the next week, etc., until I was flown to Guantanamo, where I realized that things were much more complicated.

“I do not have anger, I have a responsibility. Because of what happened to me, the responsibility is great for me to expose human rights abuses and defend people’s right to information.”

Please speak about the people you met there?

“As I mentioned earlier on, the people I met during my detention were young, peaceful and innocent people. It saddens me whenever I remember that there are still, in Guantanamo, innocent people who have families, sons, daughters, wives whom they miss terribly, and that if I do not fight for their release, they will remain imprisoned even longer.“

Dear Alan, 

        I have been receiving your writings for some while now, but have not been moved to reply before. I don't read the New York Times (what is the point?) but I do know about Sami. That is because, although I am not one of "Al Jazeera's viewers in the Arab world," I am one of very many, who you neglect to mention, who look regularly at their English language edition -- though in our peculiar country I cannot watch their television, since that is prohibited (informally if not formally). But I can see it in the UK and elsewhere, where it is readily available like other news channels, and I can read their English-language website. Their international coverage is by and large large excellent and they often have reporters in places where Brian Seltzer -- whoever he is -- and his ilk would never go. You also do not mention two other relevant points: first, that the US has waged war against Al Jazeera journalists, as you can see in the documentary Control Room (I think that is the title). Second, that when it was set up and still today, a large number of their staff have been trained by the BBC or other Western news companies, and they even employ that old pussycat David Frost. Obama speaks very well but I'm beginning to think that the rule of law is a lost cause here (not the only one of course!). Best wishes, Carole

Dear Professor Gilbert

         With interest, I have just read your posting about the NYT story. I have the un-filtered, un-sanitized back-story on Sami Elhaj (sp: confirmed by the Al Jazeera network). As Glenn Greenwald noted, there has been a near black-out on this story. I am trying to get my in-depth piece published; in addition, I have interviews with key players:  Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff, who gives the back-story to the creation and maintenance of Guantanamo; and the lead attorneys:  Clive Stafford Smith, whose legal charity, "Reprieve," has represented more than 50 Guantanamo prisoners; and Joseph Margulies, the lead-attorney, in Rasul-v-Bush, which was affirmed by the Supreme Court in June 2004; in consequence, Guantanamo detainees--for the first time--were granted the accorded legal recognition. I would welcome the opportunity to chat with you.  A lone voice in the wilderness.

          Joseph Dumas

Sunday, December 27, 2009

“Journalistic Objectivity” or The New York Times’ moral confusion

     On December 23, the front page of the New York Times reported on Sami Al-Hajj, a journalist for Al-Jazeera imprisoned secretly and without charges for 7 years at Bagram and Guantanamo and tortured by the United States government.  The editor and the reporter Brian Stelter named the article “From Guantanomo Cell to a Desk at Al Jazeera.”   In the fourth paragraph, Stelter speaks of al-Hajj’s job at Al-Jazeera as a matter of passion or perhaps propaganda instead of “journalistic objectivity”:

       “Among Al-Jazeera’s viewers in the Arab World, perhaps nothing has damaged perceptions of America since the 9/11 attacks more than Guantanamo Bay.  For that reason, Mr. Hajj who did a six-part series on the prison after his release, is a potent weapon for the network, which does not always strive for journalistic objectivity on the subject of his treatment.  In an interview, Ahmed Sheik, the editor in chief of Al Jazeera, called Mr. Hajj ‘one of the victims of the human rights atrocities committed by the ex-US administration.”

          But in the first and second paragraphs, Stelter notes that Al-Hajj was the sole journalist among the 779 prisoners in the secret prison at Guantanamo, and that he was imprisoned for 7 years without charges being brought against him. 

           “Of the 779  known detainees who have been held in Guantanamo, Cuba – terrorist suspects, sympathizers of Al Qaeda, people deemed enemy combatants by the United States military – only one was a journalist.”

             “The journalist Sami Al-Hajj was working for Al-Jazeera as a cameraman when he was picked up by Pakistani forces on the border with Afghanistan in late 2001.  The United States military accused Mr. Hajj of among other things, falsifying information and delivering money to Chechen rebels, although he was never formally charged with a crime during his years in custody.”

Al-Hajj was thus permitted no day in court, no habeas corpus.  But since the Magna Carta in 1215, that is the basic principle of Anglo-American law.  It is the basic human right, the one that distinguishes a system of law from tyranny (see Jeremy Waldron, "Torture and Positive Law" here).  So Stelter has already named a human rights atrocity committed by the US government a few lines before he suggests that the editor of Al-Jazeera mistakenly refers to Al-Hajj “as one of the victims of the human rights atrocities committed by the ex-US administration.”  Stelter contradicts the truth he has just written.  How does this contradiction escape the attention both of Stelter and the editor (presumably Bill Keller)?

       On the one hand, Stelter, as any decent person would, sympathizes with Al-Hajj, a fellow journalist, who was locked up for 7 years and tortured.  On the other hand, Stelter and the editor believe foolishly in a misguided doctrine of “journalistic objectivity” which maintains that if the powerful say anything on an issue – even something that is complete nonsense or is plainly immoral on the basis of widely known facts - it must be reported with the same seriousnessness as views for which there is evidence.  If in the first 7 years of the Bush administration, President Bush asserted that global warming is not a problem, that is to be taken as seriously as, in fact more seriously than  (reported at great length on the front page first column on the right)  the views of a consensus of scientists (usually reported at the end of the article on a back page).  If a person has been held in a secret prison by the United States for 7 years on a series of changing charges none of which have any basis, and has been finally released because he was picked up on a confusion with another Al-Jazeera photographer who had taken a photo of Osama Bin Laden (that, too, is not a crime; the New York Times has run photographs of bin Laden – perhaps I should say being picked up on the basis of being brown, since Al-Hajj’s moral and political sympathies are with the Bill of Rights), these facts must all be ignored, his story cast in doubt by a merely possible Pentagon denial.  In the ninth paragraph, Stelter mentions that this story is widely known to Arabs and unknown in America (in 2006, Nicholas Kristof did do a column on the Al-Hajj story, its lone coverage previously in the Times – see here and Glenn Greenwald here).  During the Inquisition, how many Italian Catholics knew about the burning of a Jewish teenage girl in Portugal?…

       “Mr. Hajj’s story is well-known to Al-Jazeera viewers but not to most Americans (As with the experiences of many detainees at Guantanamo Bay, his version is uncorroborated by American officials or any documents).”

      But Stelter’s article makes it clear that this last claim is false.  He says, once again, that Mr. Al-Hajj was imprisoned for 7 years and then abruptly released without any changes being preferred against him.  At least these damning facts are corroborated by the U.S. government (which imprisoned and released him).

       Yet Stelter also reports Al-Hajj's lawyers’ description of the changing charges.  That description is prima facie believable since the government which imprisoned Al-Hajj held no legal or even sham-legal – military tribunal – proceeding against him:

       “According to Zachary Katznelson, the legal director for Reprieve, a human rights group that represented Mr. Hajj, the allegations against him changed over the years; ‘First, he was alleged to have filmed an interview of Osama bin Laden.  It was another cameraman.  So, that allegation disappeared.  Then the US said that Sami ran a jihadist Web site.  Turns out there was no such site.  So that allegation disappeared.  Then the U.S. said Sami was in Afghanistan to arrange missile sales to Chechen rebels.  There was no evidence to back that up at all.  So that allegation disappeared.’”

     Even if the reporter could not verify these allegations with the Pentagon, the authority over the secret prison which is ashamed to release the report of the tortures which it ordered, Stelter did know that Al-Hajj was released, in bad physical shape, after 7 years arbitrary confinement.  The fact that the Pentagon would not give any of the charges [or that the charges it told Stelter it never pursued even in a military “court”] itself is already, as Stelter does not say and perhaps does not recognize, an acknowledgment of wrong:

      “M. Hajj’s release, back to Sudan [he is Sudanese] on a stretcher, came in May 2008 after lobbying by human rights groups and the government of Sudan.” 

         Now the Pentagon may have told something about the case to Stelter, for he  (and the editor) work hard to give the Pentagon some credibility.  Recall that the second paragraph  says: “The United States military accused Mr. Hajj of falsifying documents  and delivering money to Chechen rebels, although he was never formally charged with a crime during his years of custody.”

         A serious reporter might have looked at these charges and and asked: what documents?  Falsifying a driver’s license or passport in Afghanistan or Pakistan (Al-Hajj was arrested at the border) does not constitute an offense over which the American government has any jurisdiction, let alone should detain someone in secret prisons for 7 years.  In a Rawlsian vein, imagine if some Arab power were to do this to an American in Australia how we might feel.

        The second charge is fighting Russian rule in Chechnya.  Before 9/11, the American administration and the New York Times used to side with the Chechens, oppressed by Russia.  After 9/11, this shifted.  But is being a courier for money to rebels in Chechnya a crime against the United States?  This “reporter” repeats government lies without the slightest attempt at asking questions or noting any implausibility.

        Now the United States claims not to be waging a war on Islam (a billion people).  But locking up people protesting against Russian murderousness in Chechnya (the Russians barbarically repress Chechen dissidents) or Uighurs from China (over a hundred prisoners of the minority of the 779 prisoners left in Guantanamo are Uighurs – a majority have been released without charge -  who cannot, for their own safety be returned to China, but are no danger to the United States, unless the US has created that danger by false imprisonment and torture at Guantanamo) or Moazzem Begg (see his book Enemy Combatant and here), who wanted to fight the Indian occupation of Kashmir, all place the U.S. government on the wrong side of conflicts about occupations of Moslem populations by large oppressive powers.  The U.S. chooses to regard opposition to those oppressors as opposition to itself.  It thus identifies itself with those oppressors. 

       This is not a brilliant tactic in foreign policy where being against the oppression of ordinary Muslims somewhere - say, Obama's initial policy on Palestine - would actually make America more attractive to Muslims and others.  Along with arming Israel in Palestine and occupying two other Muslim countries, such policies create the impression, in any objective observer, that the US is making war indiscriminately against Muslims; they make it easy for Al-Qaida and other extremists to recruit.   A serious reporter might have raised some questions.

          But Mr. Stelter is not, in this respect, a serious reporter, the New York Times, when it comes to the American government’s crimes, a serious journalistic organization.  Instead, prating ideologicially about “journalistic objectivity,”* Stelter and his editor do not exhibit minimal journalistic competence.

           Stelter more or less, however, allows the truth of this case to come out.  Al-Hajj had worked as a cameraman for Al-Jazeera.  Reporting his beatings and interrogations at Bagram and Guantanamo, Al-Hajj says, they all concerned Al-Jazeera:

          “Mr. Hajj claims that in lengthy interrogations he was asked for details of the network’s staffing, practices and processes and that some guards started calling him ‘Al Jazeera’ as a nickname.”

          For the Times, “journalistic objectivity” means overstressing the views of the government – stitching in words the emperor’s new clothes – and refusing to look at facts or ask questions about contradictions in the supposed case.  In perhaps many stories, this would not be an obvious moral problem (except that reporting which lacks integrity is of course a moral problem).   But in the case of major crimes like the government's undermining of habeas corpus or torture, vapid reporting is a great problem.  Consider another Rawlsian example.  Would the Times cover advocates of slavery (“slaves are  happy, singing on the old plantation”) or those of  genocide against indigenous people (well. perhaps the latter – consider Columbus Day) or a holocaust denier with the same deference that it exhibits toward these torturers who obeyed order from the highest American officials?  At least not the holocaust deniers or the advocates of slave-owning.   But in the Bush administration except perhaps for Colin Powell, the torturers just were the U.S, government and are today's war criminals.  The Times caters to the crimes.

        In the third to last paragraph, the reporter cites one intelligent observation by Al-Hajj as if it were controversial:

         “When a visitor mentioned ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’, an American term that characterizes harsh treatment of detainees, Mr. Hajj interrupted the translator and said in Arabic ‘instead of torture.’”

         Contrary to Stelter, “enhanced interrogation techniques” is not an “American” term.  The United States government, notably under Ronald Reagan in 1988, ratified by the Congress in 1994, approved the United Nations' Convention against Torture. Under Article 6, section 2 of the Constitution, the Supremacy Clause, treaties signed and ratified by the United States are the highest law of the land.  For the wording of these laws, see here.  So the United States of America is legally and morally bound not to torture. That is the American usage.   The term “enhanced interrogation” is the Bush-Cheney and Nazi – they called it “verschaerfte Vernehmung” - evasion of responsibility for torture. The wording adopted by Brian Stelter is an apology for torture.

        Al-Hajj makes another true point about journalism, though again Stelter tries to report it merely as his opinion:

         “’We are giving the wrong impression’ with that term, he said. ‘We as journalists are violating human rights  because we are changing the perception of reality.’”

          Habeas corpus and the right not to be tortured are basic human rights, fundamental to the rule of law.  Whether indefinite detention without charge and torture occured are factual matters.  The facts about Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram, including homicides against 100 prisoners in Pentagon custody (these are Pentagon statistics) are clear.    Despite some decent sympathies and confusion, Stelter and his editor abet torture.

          Al-Hajj talks about the depth of torture, how it must be reported to the next generation.  In this, he especially reveals his allegiance to decency and the rule of law:

          “’I felt that I needed to document this for history,’ he said, ‘so that the next generation knows the depth of the crime that was committed.’  He audibly emphasized the Arab word for depth as he spoke.”

           In fact, Al-Hajj, Stelter reports, has always believed in the rule of law and the American people, and in the last paragraph, Stelter says oddly, “oddly,” continues to:

           “Oddly while in a prison sanctioned [sic: run] by United States authorities, Mr. Hajj put his faith in the American political system.  He gathered bits of news from the guards and , leading up to the 2004 election, was sure that American voters would reject Mr. Bush, which would lead to his freedom.  When the guards informed him that the president had been re-elected,** he was stunned, ‘I was sure I would outlive Bush,’ he said.”

             And as Stelter underlines early in the article:

             “Nor has his experience radicalized him: he said that despite his upbringing in a violent and often repressive country and his experience in detention, he maintained a sustaining belief in democracy and the rule of law.”

              Perhaps Stelter has forgotten that the United States is the country of 5,000 unsolved lynchings and the assassination of Martin Luther King (leaving aside the Vietnam War, etc.). We, too, face many troubling examples of anti-legal  and antidemocratic conduct. 

               Al-Hajj has drawn from his experience a resolve to publicize other cases of injustice and violations of the rule of law.  Silenced for 7 years, he has found a voice for human rights:

             “But Mr. Hajj has not restricted himself to Guantanamo and his own incarceration.  He has expanded the network’s coverage of other rights issues, including press freedom in Iraq, Palestinians in Israeli prisons [there are some thousands in those prisons, Gilad Shalit in Palestinian custody] and the implications of the Patriot Act.  On a Wednesday morning in mid-August,  Mr. Hajj pushed Al Jazeera’s news desk to cover a hunger strike by political prisoners in Jordan, and he happily pointed to a nearby television when the Jordan news scrolled on the bottom of the screen.”

                Note that Stelter appropriately uses the term political prisoner with regard to Jordan.  Only in the case of those politically imprisoned by the United States like Al-Hajj does Mr. Stelter lose an accurate vocabulary.  See Greenwald on the accuracy of the Times’ use of the term torture except for the United States here.

                 Let us ask, who -  the Bush administration, the New York Times’ reporitng pages and Brian Stelter or Sami Al-Hajj - side with Thomas Jefferson and the Bill of Rights,  The answer is, sadly: only Sami Al-Hajj.  With the rule of law? Al-Hajj.  

                 The so-called “War on Terror,” fortunately eliminated as a term of fear and incitement by  the Obama administration, a great improvement despite Obama’s misguided belligerence in Afghanistan,  had no fixed target and permitted the Bush administration – and any subsequent administration which chooses to - to wage an indefinitely long attack on the rule of law.  It also falsely perfumed a  universal war against Muslims, the picking up, indefinite detention and torture of Al-Hajj or Moazzem Begg or the Uighurs.  Under such a definition, the British empire could have tortured George Washington the “terrorist” or any other prisoner picked up during the American Revolution.  Al-Qaida, that handful of terrorists slinking in the dark, could not destroy those aspects of the U.S. constitution. But the Bush administration, the Obama administration in letting its crimes go and changing the names of things (protesting “state secrets” when those tortured by the US government attempt to sue in a court of law), and the New York Times’ slippery reporting day by day have subverted the rule of law.  See Tortured reportings here and Quaint here

         In contrast, the editorial page of the Times has spoken out against torture and for upholding international law***.  But the powerful drip drip drip of the bipartisan policy of the US administrations, sadly confirmed by Times' reporting – to let official war criminals walk away without hearings, to “look to the future,” to provide euphemisms for torture – has sabotaged the rule of law here and striven to corrupt law internationally..  Such “reporting” and so-called journalistic objectivity erase even the name of law.  Kafka could perhaps not have described this.  Unintentionally, Stelter’s words reveal an American tragedy.

* The problems with this kind of journalistic objectivity parallel some of those of alleged value-neutrality in social science.  The latter of course attempts to focus on purported facts; this differs from uncritically retailing any opinion, no matter how silly, when it is espoused by the powerful.  Both ignore the moral objectivity, for humans, of basic rights; both attempt to redescribe atrocities in neutral language; both thus abet governments who commit atrocities.  See here and Democratic Individuality, ch. 1. 

**Exit polling which is the only accurate instrument produced by political science (it got Kerry’s and Bush’s votes right to three-tenths of a point in 41 states), differed dramatically from the counted votes in three crucial states, including Ohio.  It was off between 4.9 and 6.6 percentage points.  40 million people voted on computerized voting machines which leave no paper trail and are pretty easy to manipulate.  There were many errors in counting, all in favor of Bush.    The claim that George W. Bush was elected President is less plausible in 2004 than in 2000 (where it is implausible).  See my "Corrupt before a Vote was Cast" here.

***Over the last 50 years, the Times has, however, never mentioned the crime of aggression - violations of Article 2, section 4 of the UN Charter, when committed by the United States.  See Richard Falk and Howard Friel, The Record of the Paper.  It also refuses to publish even op-ed pieces which do mention it.  See my "Condoleeza Rice and the President have lost their way" - Condi was my student - initially submitted as an op-ed to the Times here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Letters: some meanings of hidden writing


        My cousin Joe Conason wrote me a note taking pleasure in the “Strauss chronicles” as he calls some of these posts.  They are.  Strauss’s writing and my often amusing quest to understand it has a bit of fairy tale in it in that Leo is a hidden, would-be eminence (he would be a lion, leonine, almost an Aslan), is a very creative scholar,  a stoic in personal demeanor, and is also, the sad, lonely and weak person behind it all. He once wrote jokingly in this vein as a “little and weak” creature to his friend Gershom Scholem, but the feeling of falling apart – “my fingers refuse me their services” – was real enough, and, in terms of isolation, and thus a kind of helplessness and rage – he also once wrote of Jacob Klein’s book on Greek mathematics that it would be understood by only a handful of people, which is both a reflection of its genuine merit and for Strauss, of a kind of invisible and not likely successful striving - of longstanding. (Strauss, Gesammelte Schriften, 3:764, 771).    It is sad that he once annexed himself to reaction, fell into it as a rural German (Heidegger’s thrownness) and never got beyond it.  Yet there is also something sublime about Strauss's reaction particularly in America where it is so distant in origin – “Nietzsche!” as Strauss once put it – as well as horrifying in its unfolding corruption of the Presidency (“executive power”).  There are American exemplars, Lincoln and FDR at their worst, but there is a Nietzschean-Schmittian strain here – do away with the legislature and judiciary, what the President does is law.  He is sovereign who makes the decision in the state of the exception is the opening line of Schmitt’s Political Theology – 1923.  This borrowed thought is Strauss’s theme.

     A comment on “Using a god for politics” here from my friend Mark Kramer gets at the belligerence of Strauss’s esoterica.  He was at war, as his metaphors often show – see here.    There is trust only among “philosophical” reactionaries. But these were extraordinarily rare.  In a letter to Kojeve on December 6, 1948, he says that you are one of three people who will get “what I am driving at” in his first American essay “On Tyranny” – see here and here (When he was not being a philosopher or perhaps a god or an acolyte of Stalin, Kojeve sympathized with ordinary people).  The third was probably Carl Schmitt (whom Strauss was no longer directly in touch with).  For the rest, there is what they find – the surface - myths or, for Strauss, deliberately misleading ideas even for many Straussians. For others, there are bromides and hiddenly, fear and enmity.  Strauss, as I have suggested, was not only anti-democracy but anti-the modern age.  See "Seceding from the last men - Strauss's fascination with nuclear war" here.

       For self-deceived acolytes, there is the myth that such practices are “salutary,” designed to help them and others.  But why such things should be healthy when neither the hearer nor often the utterer understands them is a mystery. The “soft” authoritarianism of the sect (leaving some students of Strauss often bewildered but giving them a kind of identity) and harsher authoritarianism guided by religion for the masses is easy to annex to war and torture.  The highest percentage of Americans for torture in polling (a useful, but extremely peculiar, easily biased specimen of social “science”)  is among Southern Evangelicals.  But the neo-cons who use them for the most part do not abjure torture (in an interview with me, Gary Schmitt was an exception).   Endorsing torture, perhaps the Evangelicals should really admire Roman soldiers nailing perpetrators up on the cross.   But this miasma of smug reaction is anything but healthy to the Bill of Rights (and the separation of church and state). See here and here.

       In a second note on the post on Arendt and Strauss here, Don Campion, a wonderful correspondent with me and former student with Gary Schmitt at the University of Dallas, remarks on Strauss’s elitism even toward the elite.  As in his own view an outstanding man in exile in America, he could not rule, but he hoped to shape the rulers. In addition, Don emphasizes Strauss’s loneliness (in Arendt’s sense).  The god is by himself.   As a scholar, Strauss had some sort of inner dialogue of the sort Arendt mentions.  But there are some complicated further elements, that of fear and rebelliousness as well as a peculiar humor, even self-deprecation, in Strauss’s elitism.  He was a Jew, ever having to hide in Germany, as well as a would-be German.  He was also furious at this condition.  In the story of his and Klein’s pretending to be businessmen studying in a coffee shop, and his suddenly shouting “Nietzsche!” at Klein and observing/laughing at Klein’s expression, one can discern all these elements.  He (and perhaps others) might find an awful place as a god, looking down, with Spinoza, on the play of nature, the supposed advantage of the stronger. What Strauss describes as Spinoza's view about that advantage was also his own view.   Spinoza threw flies on a spider’s web to watch godlike the spider’s attack and consumption (Spinoza’s Critique of Religion, p. 302 n. 302.)  Strauss's friend Hans Jonas promoted himself, on Strauss's view at the end of his life, as a philosopher. Strauss responded: if that is philosophy, I want to be a "pants-cutter" (Gesammelte Schriften, 3:771).  If this is the divine, one might choose irreligion and compassion.

      When Aristotle writes of the beauties of contemplation in the Nicomachean Ethics, perhaps he is thinking of this kind of state.  But at the least, he was more restrained and had a rather different image of nature (things unfolding to their potential or goal).  Wherever one is fortunate enough to get in these matters, one is still just a human being, one among others.  As the Greeks thought, it is off one’s rocker with resentment and hubris to quite, even in imagining, “become a god.”

       Don also mentions Stanley Rosen, Strauss’s first student, regarded skeptically by other Straussians, who is more independent of Strauss than most  – a modern – and who says Kojeve, whom he knew well,  as well as Strauss, desired to be gods in Hermeneutics as Politics: "Strauss and Kojève, and Strauss as much as Kojève (once we put aside Strauss's exoteric flirtation with Hebraic tradition) are atheists who wish to be gods" (pp 16-17, 92 - Rosen also speaks amusingly of a conversation in which  Kojeve suddenly remembers he is a god).  Strauss and Kojeve were able men, who were a bit unfortunate (stewed in their own abilities). Again, at least Kojeve sometimes remembered he was once an Hegelian and Marxian, sympathetic to the slaves and the Chinese peasants…

      They were atheists.  Perhaps the Spinoza citation illustrates that Strauss could see, he imagined, from the standpoint of a god.  Rosen suggests that this is the esoteric meaning of On Tyranny.  In contrast, I think it is mainly that a philosopher becomes or advises a tyrant, who then rules wisely but without laws (what I call philosopher-tyranny).  But Rosen was close to both and had this sense of them. In Hermeneutics as Politics, he says, they wanted to be gods. Perhaps Kojeve imagined this in the sense of creating a world (what Kojeve's interpretation of Hegel and modern politics and action as counselor to De Gaulle tries to do).  I do not see it fully, although it seems a frame of mind into which they might on occasion have fallen.  

      Rosen’s recent interpretation of the Republic (2005) – seeing it as an experiment in philosopher-tyranny - is important and far superior to Bloom’s.  See my "Do Philosophers Counsel Tyrants?", Constellations, March, 2009, here.

     Mark writes:

     “Just back from my trip--did succeed in gathering the infrastructure to put together an ongoing conference on narrative nonfiction in Amsterdam.  Then went to Auxerre for a few days with friends.  Ran into a young instructor in Poli Sci in Paris, who went on for a while, more subtly than I do here in this brief note to you, Alan, describing his dissertation, on the interesting fact that the same act, depending on context, can be criminal or heroic, namely con games, double-dealing in one's own tribe, vs. in time of war.  If you hide inside a FedEx crate, get hauled into a neighbor's house, then leap out and rob and rape the occupants, that's criminal.  But if you arrive inside your enemies' gates inside a large wooden horse, the sky's the limit.  I suppose you dexterous and learned scholars of these matters know this and may find it commonplace, but it was indeed an aha! moment for me [for me, too].  Thinking about why, I suspected it might have to do with the fundamental expectation of and trust of civility among citizens that's missing between enemies.   Seemed relevant to your posting, as well as I could get it.”

     The use of a god to justify politics can secure a common good in legislation (can be friendly, if elitist, to ordinary people) or can deceive and harm ordinary people to justify wars and torture.  Strauss rarely speaks of a common good for ordinary people, and was, sadly, much more the latter sort.

       Don writes:

       “Thanks for another great post. What has struck me is that for Strauss, it seems that only the philosopher is happy and has a life worth living.  Somewhere he says we are lucky if there is one philosopher in the world during our lifetime. Talk about loneliness. Rosen, a Strauss student who seems to have tried to think for himself thought that Strauss thought he was a god! This disdain for the ‘last men’ makes sense only if one elevates one self above the crowd. It seems to be elitist to the extreme.  

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Video: lecture on what's wrong with the democratic-peace hypothesis

     In early November, I gave a talk on the debilities of the democratic peace hypothesis at Illinois State University (many thanks to Amentahru Wahlrab and T.Y. Wang). The youtube address is below.  This hypothesis suggests that parliamentary regimes do not go to war with one another.  In terms of negative consequences, this hypothesis is arguably the saddest fantasy of American political science. It has been used by Presidents Clinton and Bush to justify harmful interventions - aggressions - in other countries, with the suggestion that somehow overthrowing dictatorships (often ones that we have previously aided like Iraq) will somehow at gunpoint lead to democracy.  It has coincided with the overthrow or attempted overthrow of many nonwhite democracies by the United States, for instance, elected Presidents Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti in 2004 and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 2002. For students of American foreign policy to maintain that the American elite is not belligerent toward other democracies takes some choutzpah. In this regard, Obama's ambivalent conduct toward the coup in Honduras is a move toward decency.  See here.

       Now there is an important truth in Kant's vision that republics would be more peaceful through the influence of citizens than monarchies; the latter waste the lives and wealth of subjects in the mere "pleasure party of war."  But in our era, that truth - or a national or international common good or in realist terms, a well-stated national interest - is brought about, to the very limited extent it is, by citizen protest movements from below and not by the policies of an oligarchic elite. In America, the tendency to belligerence is driven by a war complex (shorthand for military-industrial-politician-thinktank "expert"-media complex).  See Must Obama find the "right war"? here.   In contrast, as we can see in the anti-Iraq war movement, the greatest movement against a war before the war started  in the history of the world as Noam Chomsky put it, such protest inspires people in many countries; the good of peace or at least blocking Imperial aggression is international. Those aspirations were also visible in the movements against World War I and World War II, but in this case, the peace movement had no socialist or communist international to facilitate the organizing. It is thus a movement against aggression even more sharply from the grassroots.  This remarkable democratic movement from below would be the kind of thing that social "science," if it were not imaginatively imprisoned by the status quo, as well as political theory, would take up. 

      This talk is related to two previous posts "A Tale of 'Powerful Pacifists': Empire and Political 'Science" here and "Political Science and American aggressions" here and to a paper which will appear next spring in the philosophy journal Ethics and Global Politics and which I will post in a draft form shortly.  If you click on one of the parts, youtube will give you the others and so you can listen to the talk sequentially without returning to this post.   

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

Part 6:

Part 7:



Monday, December 21, 2009

Poem: Cranes




from gay Paris

          anarchist granddad

                           frail as a crane







                                                                                stamp after


                                  mangy MADAGASCARLIONS


                                  wolvish ADOLF


                                                                 posings of



                  edited Die Freie Arbeiter Stimme

                              in Yiddish choutzpah

                                   tranced by American music

                                                  as by


                                   jostled me piggyback



                                               of the bells









                                       nap -

                                           ping tappings as of visitant’s





                                           more than Lenore for -







yeshiva student


                          bed to




                         reported a frightened


joined the Russian army

             to agitate



             who’d still moved

                         against Odessa



           fled Okhrana whistle s

                   shadowed by yapping


                                                               across the


                                                        hush baby



                                                         a child near


                                                          behind an interrogated


                                                          Hamburg and Philadelphia




                                                                told my irate


and started with Yoine

        a co-op

           in the far woods

                but others


                       a Michigan judge dubbed him

                       bitched and



                                    recalled a solemn






    this cigarmaker farmer

    stamp collector


    rabbinical listener

    intriguer educator


    sometime piggybackgiver



                  died of a sundappled


sense a shadow


                                  sans intonement



                     on the shimmer