Thursday, September 30, 2010

Nonviolence and the brittleness of Harvard

At the 50th anniversary of social studies, Stanley Hoffmann spoke on tape of two great protests, the Harvard strike of which I was a leader, and the recent and massive dissent, within social studies and nationwide, about Peretz’s racism. I admire the student protest against Harvard’s naming of a research fund for Peretz. See here. And the students were, in both cases, mainly nonviolent (did not destroy property or hurt anyone). In the strike, however, some did escort deans to the exits at University Hall (one was accused of touching an elbow). That was more dramatic. But the greatest difference was police intervention at 5 am at University Hall including beatings (protestors were bloodied, one nose was broken), 200 arrests, and a strike that followed for the next week.

As I walked into the morning session this past Saturday, the head tutor of social studies of my time, Rick Hunt, now grand marshal of the University, was there and I gave him a hug. “You know,” he said, “ I wrote about you in my autobiography.”

“Oh,” I said, “what did you say?”

“Everything was falling apart. Someone was speaking from the steps of Widener library. You were standing there with a cup of coffee in your hand. You finished the cup, took it over and put it in the garbage can. And I knew everything was going to be all right.”

As an account of the great issues of the American aggression in Vietnam and the University’s role in it, Rick’s is lacking. It is also no early ecological thought (nor was I aware of such things at the time). It reflects the terrible image created by President Nathan Pusey of Harvard that the 500 of us who sat in against the Dow Chemical Company were not, as we thought, protesting against the napalming of children – the photograph of a 9 year old girl running naked down a dirt road burning had recently appeared in mainstream American newspapers – but that we were “nihilists,” who wanted “to tear Harvard down stone by stone and jump up and down in the rubble.” My subsequent career is a counterexample (there are many others). But when the President of Harvard says something really stupid – much like President Bush – it commits itself to the minds of quite a number of other important people. Harvard is often very good educationally but sometimes a hierarchical order, where people yearn to be “somebody” and to hear requests from the President as Amy Gutmann spoke about in the afternoon (and yes, I too, if asked – I wouldn’t be – by Barack Obama to do something honorable about which I was competent, would think about doing it). But I am very grateful that Rick saw my gesture then – one of ordinary politeness, connected to some concern about people who work on campus – as a memory of order in the midst of what seemed to him chaos.

Stanley Hoffmamn recalled the early leaders of social studies, including the economic historian Alexander Gerschenkron. I took courses with Gerschenkron, a Marxian historian on the development of serfdom in Russian agriculture and the rebellions against it in the 19th century as well as a Menshevik exile from the revolution. Gerschenkron’s Bread and Democracy in Germany sees the preconditions for the triumph of Nazism in the influence of the Junkers, the landed aristocracy and officer class, allied with the capitalist iron oligopoly. As Barrington Moore would emphasize, the weak 1848 German Revolution failed to overturn this aristocracy, Gerschenkron was thus the source of Barrington Moore’s vision of Nazism. No predominant capitalism and class struggle from below, no eugenics from the United States enter this account. Moore draws an absolute contrast of Germany with France which had had a successful democratic revolution. He forgets the leader of Vichy - Nazi-puppet - France, the World War I hero General Petain. He forgets that Charles de Gaulle, a corporal in exile, and Madame Michelin - the French were not then notably anti-sexist - were the leaders of the resistance, the elite genocidally pro-Nazi. All this is missing from Moore’s and Gerschenkron’s approach. That the American government could not be waging a genocidal aggression in Vietnam – even thugh Moore* strongly opposed the war – or that authoritarianism from the Right was also an American possibility were too easily dismissed in Moore's and Gerschenkron's nonetheless significant contrast.

I had written a long paper comparing Gerschenkron and Lenin on Russian agriculture. Lenin’s book on the latter, volume 3 of his Collected Works, is a powerful study, based on the third volume of Marx’s Capital, of the combination of capitalist and serf oppression, the one superimposed on and magnifying the other. Gerschenkron, I too remember, as Stanley said, had many books strewn on the shelves of his office. If he liked you, he offered the good sherry hidden behind the books (I had some with him, not that I could tell). If he didn’t like you, he supposedly fed you bad sherry.

Harvard has a shining status in education, and some there imagined it a Winter Palace. Gerschenkron saw the students taking over the building as the Bolsheviks had overthrown the tsar. He identified fiercely with the administration. The students politely but firmly showed administrators out of University Hall. For touching a dean’s elbow, Carl Offner, a math graduate student and a fine, rather shy person, was expunged from Harvard. This means that Harvard afterwards denied that he had been associated with the place. That Harvard smugness – a pretention to Christ’s power at the Last Judgment - has always been hard for me and perhaps others to bear.

Students sat in University Hall and discussed what to do (including as Stanley said, how, if at all, to get out of the situation). But the 700 or so in the Building and the thousands outside were prepared for a long sit in. Some person like Reverend Coffin, then President at Yale, who fiercely opposed the war, might have talked us out of the building. But it is hard to state the panic that possessed the Harvard administration and many of the faculty. Even Stanley, as elegant, insightful and delicately ironic a teacher as I can imagine and for whom I have enormous fondness, was caught up in this (served on the punishments committee). Still, he and Michael Walzer and some others on the faculty strove to help people in an out of control situation. As Stanley reported Gerschenkron’s statement, ”What you must do to such people is beat them, beat them, beat them.”

At the 50th Anniversary on Saturday, Richard Tuck, fellow political theorist and Director of the Social Studies Program, told me that when I was asking the question I reported yesterday here, the police came up from the back and asked him whether I was one of the student agitators and they should arrest me. “No,” he told them, “he’s faculty, just asking a question.”

Actually, the Harvard police were unusually restrained, asking picketers outside Adams House to move back on the sidewalk and let people pass, but arresting and tasering no one.

The picketers, about 100, had devastating signs – among the best I have seen - composed entirely of words from Peretz. It is sad and frightening that one man can have produced so many “wild and wounding words.” This last phrase Peretz said on the Jewish day of atonement, Yom Kippur, with the insight that his words were particularly wounding toward Muslims. Peretz almost reached a point of decency here, from which he might have found the person he once was. At the 50th anniversary, there was no sign of this, however.

He held a private dinner for 50 friends, Rick Hunt told me, the night before. The only honorable thing he could have done was to ask that the award not be named for him – atonement for his remarks of 10 days ago ought to mean something. With a tidal wave of justified mass anger breaking over him, he could also not have come to the celebration. That would have been wise. But Marty is, as Robert Wolff says, a supporter of Likud in Israel, and just too used to intimidating others. Perhaps a year of reflection might make a difference – taking in just how apt the criticisms were - but he tried to shut his ears and brazen it out.

The protestors, however, found Peretz as he came out the back door of the Science building and walked him and Michael Walzer across campus chanting loudly (there is a film of this "party for Marty" here). I have some trouble with this. Michael was an early supporter of the civil rights movement. He walked with Marty because Marty is his friend. Bigotry needs to be confronted, but Peretz is no longer young. It seemed to me too much. The words of the signs against Peretz would have been at least as powerful without the chanting just then. The demonstrators did nothing menacing or untoward. Nonetheless…

When they reached Adams House, Peretz went in to the lunch. There, as a concession to the protests including by many teachers, the Social Studies program had removed him as a speaker. Robert Paul Wolff, the first head tutor, made the one speech here. He invoked the section in Capital, volume 1, on the circulation of commodities and money. Money, Marx says, non olet. As Wolff relates, the Roman emperor Vespasian taxed the urinals and sent his son, Titus, to collect the loot. Titus threw the coins down angrily before the Emperor, the task, he thought, beneath him. "Pecunia," Vespasian responded, " does not stink." Wolff said that Harvard takes any kind of cash. But Social Studies should have higher standards. This money stinks.

These words etch the corruption of the fund vividly. But I also agree with Steve Walt here, who points out that Harvard turned down $2.5 million from the President of the United Arab Emirates because he funded a think tank promoting anti-semitic and anti-American propaganda. Walt says: apply the standard evenhandedly. Peretz’s 30 years of bigotry means the University should have accepted money in his name neither for the Professorship in Yiddish Studies, nor for this research fund. Harvard, too, has a standard higher than this, which it has flagrantly violated. It could have stood shiningly for freedom of conscience – as Mayor Michael Bloomberg does - and against a wave of anti-Arab bigotry. It does not.

When Peretz was honored as former head tutor, 6 social studies teachers stood up, turned their backs on him and walked out, the women in high heels, clicking. They came back for subsequent head tutors. They are among 15 who signed the statement of over 500 protesting against the taking of the money. Peretz said a few words, including that those who criticized him were cowards.

Michael Walzer chaired the afternoon panel, which also included two of the leading contributors to Marty’s fund, Jamie Gorelick and E..J. Dionne. I saw the film of the walk over, have now learned the main elements of Wolff’s speech, and can see why Michael was disturbed. He pointed out that he and Marty had worked to save the undergraduates in the Harvard strike, all in social studies he thought, and the grad students, many in philosophy, from having their careers cut off. I know at the time that a request came down from the Board of Trustees to the Government Department to fire me as a teaching assistant. Michael drafted a response, refusing and saying to charge me through the regular punishments procedure - the Committee on Rights and Responsibilities - if there were charges to be made. Especially given Michael’s uneasiness about the student movement, what he did was commendable, and I believe him that Marty did such things also and am grateful to both of them. But that Marty was against the Vietnam war 40 years ago and did some things to achieve leniency toward the protestors does not remove 30 years of pretty much unbroken racism. Even so, none of this would have provoked demonstrations if Marty had not blogged in a vicious way toward Muslims 10 days before the Social Studies gathering. In Clifford Bob’s phrase here, what does it mean when a powerful editor says the First Amendment applies only to him and not to those whom he opposes?

Michael then made the sad argument that I who had asked a critical question earlier and others should read the entire works of all the social studies professors and would find equally awful things to criticize.

He also later asked me if I had checked the context of Marty’s remarks in the Spine. I said: no and that I would. Unfortunately, they aggravate the lack of respect for persons. Peretz starts with baiting all Middle Easterners as of "alien philosophy" and committed to "foreign governments, foreign insurgencies." It was as if a Junker were speaking in the 1920s, of East European Jews in Prussia. That Marty's allegiance to Israel is his leading conviction is so overpowering that the word "projection" glimmers in neon over his words about others. Peretz says:

"In fact, there has not been a single rally or demonstration in America aimed at Muslim or Arab interests or their commitments to foreign governments and, more likely, to foreign insurgencies and, yes, quite alien philosophies. I suggest that this is largely the case because Americans are so fearful of being accused of bias, however the injustice of the charge might be."

"This is certainly not the situation in Britain and France, Germany and Denmark, Holland and Spain where a demo against the Arabs or the Pakis or the Algerians or the Moroccans or the Turks and Muslims more generally is a regular feature of the political landscape and where parties win parliamentary seats precisely because they campaign with Islamists and islam as the targets."

"Of course, Muslims and Arabs do not not act in America as they do in the increasingly Islamicized but non-practicing Christian and democratic sovereignties of Europe. Still, I wouldn't close my eyes or our eyes to the increasing number of both naturalized and native-born citizens who enlist in the Islamic terror networks of our time, here and abroad."

"Liberal political theory has virtually ignored the philosophical, legal and ethical questions posed by the threatening demographics of Europe. Is not western society, imperfect as it may be but immensely more liberal than the domains of Islam, obliged to defend its own...and their future. Immigration is key to this discussion, and it's the one issue that no one wants to discuss. Imagine what the Times would say if the matter became a subject of real public discourse."

Peretz worries about whether the US will be "overrun by Muslim immigrants like Europe" and seems to yearn for the racism there. He disregards the aid and brutality of the United States government – for instance, Rumsfeld in providing Saddam the poison gas to use against the Kurds at Halabja. He even refers unself-consciously to “Pakis,” a racist term of abuse in England since the 1960s. Peretz says Nick Kristof agreed that his statement about “Muslim life is cheap, especially to Muslims” is "factual." But this is just a standard racist idea, like General Westmoreland’s about the Vietnamese while committing genocide against them.

Peretz also looks down on Palestinians as a people incapable of forming a state. Turn the medal, Marty: it is of the Jews that European and American bigots used to speak in this way. John Rawls’s original position is a good test for your words. Just imagine them applied to you and those you love. As Edward Said says wonderfully in Orientalism, Palestinians often listen to anti-semitism toward Jews and know that it is just the same as anti-semitism toward Arabs. In the 1930s, how many good Germans, even how many elite Protestants at Harvard parties,** snickered at the idea of a Jewish state?

Jamie Gorelick and others suggest that social studies people learn to argue and disagree, and this is just another disagreement. Peretz’s statement demeans a billion and more people, and as the social studies standing committee members and over 500 graduates and teachers in the program averred, is a matter of repugnant, anti-democratic harm in a context of a sweeping national campaign of bigotry (remember the black electrician threatened by the racist rally at Ground Zero for looking "Muslimish"). If Peretz had supposed the Vietnamese revolutionaries were Laplanders or misidentified Karl with Harpo (my favorite among the Marx brothers) or embraced one of hundreds of interesting if slightly dotty alternative explanations of social phenomena, say the sunspot theory of the current economic depression, those, however heated, would have been mere disagreements....

Several students, Arab-American, Chicano, black and white, asked insightful questions from the floor, for instance, just what kind of teacher was Peretz? See here and here. Richard Tuck then said perhaps the issue had been fully discussed and that there should be questions to what the panelists had otherwise said. The case was clear. A movement from below had disrupted the rituals of power. Intellectually, it was no contest.

*A philanthropic banker on the afternoon panel joked about Moore, a banker's son and a sometimes difficult person, for going skiing in the alps while being a "Marxist." Moore started at Harvard as an appointee in the Russian Research Center, whose task, Alex Inkeles, the director, said "was to shake the faith of intellectuals in Marxism." HIs first two books, though very intelligent, reflect this aim. That he moved toward reading some of Marx and a distant sympathy with some of Marx's ideas - he never liked the Russian or Chinese revolution, for example - only reveals an admirable intellectual honesty.

**My father, Richard Gilbert, was an instructor at Harvard for 15 years until 1937. No Jew could then be promoted at Harvard, until everything changed: after World War II.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Is the rule of law dead? - reply to Brad Delong

I decided to go the 50th anniversary of social studies for two reasons: to celebrate it and to protest Harvard's tolerance of anti-Arab, anti-black, anti-Chicano racism. The program is special. As Stanley Hoffmann says in a video interview – sadly, he could not be here – it tries to get students to think broadly about economy, history, society and politics. Social studies 10 - the common, beginning, yearlong course - reads Marx, Weber, Smith, Durkheim, Hume, sometimes Ricardo, inter alia. The program abridges or ignores rigid disciplinary styles and obfuscations. I once remember Stanley at an early social studies gathering when I was a sophomore, lifting the lapel of his jacket with one hand to conceal one side of his face and saying: “now speaking as an Africanist…,” then lifting a lapel with the other hand, to cover the other side of his face, and saying, “now speaking an an international relations specialist…” One would no more imagine, as my niece Kate who was in social studies later said, not reading a good book in sociology because one majored in anthropology than that the sky is falling. She said this, Brad Delong reported to the anniversary gathering, while talking to sociologists about a book that they were reading excitedly that they could not imagine she, being an anthropologist, could have read.

Brad also reported forcefully that Marty Peretz had corruptly attacked a billion people (Arabs and even all Muslims). And Brad said, rightly and courageously: what the “frackedy frack” is going on with Peretz?*

There is an experience of being on the outside – or in exile – looking in which I acquired from living in Pakistan with my parents during high school. Whatever positive influence the US had as an undercurrent – my father was a Keynsian economic advisor to the Pakistan planning commission, pushing for a works program in what later became Bangla Desh; my friend Peter Linebaugh’s father who worked in the American embassy was a democrat and profoundly disturbed at the Ayub Khan dictatorship – there was a conspiracy of American forces, officers’ families often drawn from South, ** a few corporate executives, government, world bank and other officials, who seemed united around a reactionary policy. Even quite wonderful people, some of the women who taught me at the Karachi American School - were fatalistic about Pakistanis (one who introduced me to E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India had absorbed this foolishness strikingly). On Sundays, my family would drive to the Indian ocean, and be surrounded by a sea of boys all calling “Baksheesh sahib.” (a tip, sir). If one had all the drops of water in the Indian ocean as rupees to give them, there would probably not have been enough to help. Or I would go to Dacca for the first time, and see a beautiful four year old in a sari begging, her wrists snapped and turned inside out, by whoever had set her to do so…

So I became very interested in the social theory we read, particularly Marx, but also Weber and Freud, and did not just do so in four or six weeks. After I became a radical as a senior, I read a great deal about what Marx did and found that he organized a demonstration of 10,000 peasants in rural Worringen (the stereotype taught to me by the wonderful Barrington Moore was that Marx thought all peasants reactionary, and studied and wrote in the British Museum, but never did anything). In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels surmised that the German democratic revolution of 1848 might be immediately followed by a proletarian revolution. As a graduate student , I wrote my thesis and first book on Marx’s Politics: Communists and Citizens (Rutgers and Martin Roberson, 1981).

I then came to do work in philosophy of science and ethics, and wrote Democratic Individuality on moral objectivity – that we know slavery is bad a lot more straightforwardly than most of us know quantum mechanics – and how many complex, controversial moral and political questions arise from differences in social theory, roughly empirical differences, than from underlying moral standards (mass murder and genocide, for example, are just uncontroversially bad). In Democratic Individuality, I also settled some things, for me, that came out of Social Studies 10 – I read Weber’s political writings, untranslated at the time, and reinterpreted his social theory contextually (historically) in the setting of his political activity. Democratic Individuality then compared it, in the light of moral objectivity to Marx and socialist/communist experience, and developed a new theory – one based in Marx but with an emphasis on what I call radical democracy.

I have since gone on to write a book on how aggression in foreign policy undermines or destroys democracy at home – Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? – and a new one on Emancipation and Independence on the shockingly unexpected centrality of the fight against slavery in the American Revolution. These efforts also grow out of social studies for which I am grateful from the heart – I wanted to celebrate social studies because it has meant something fundamental to who I am. I am one among many exemplars, as I learned again wonderfully at our gathering, of the diverse flowering of its students and have the greatest affection for the people who taught in it. But I have also become in a certain way critical of social studies, which was reflected in my question to Brad Delong – see Brad's is there hope for the rule of law in America? here - on the first panel.

What is true about social studies as Richard Tuck and Stanley Hoffman said in the beginning is that far from pretending to eschew “values,” it sees moral values as the base of important studies. It is thus a vigorous version of Kuhn or Feyerabend rather than empiricism. Their observation is true, and reveals standard strivings for “value freedom” – not just to see and counter one’s own biases but somehow to shun conclusions of importance for our values – as superficial. But the point of moral objectivity, as I raised in the first question at the panel, is that torture is really bad for human beings – is inconsistent with a decent society, and the rule of law since the Magna Carta in 1218. Defense of habeas corpus is a moral insight, "the rack" a horror. I then underlined that opposition to torture and affirmation of freedom of conscience, as with Mayor Michael Bloomberg here, are shining principles of justice – what makes political regimes decent to the extent they are – and that Marty Peretz’s attacks on more than a billion people, including blacks and Chicanoes, are no ordinary disagreement. They violate the equal liberty of each citizen which is the prerequisite of freedom of conscience and freedom of speech. They destroy toleration. They falsely legitimize continuing oppression. I did not know Marty was in the room but I challenged him to come up and talk with me and he certainly could have. He has perhaps been overwhelmed by a tidal wave of apt criticism, however, and when I eventually saw him, just looked grim. But he then had the gall to call his critics cowards in one of his few statements at the social studies luncheon just after Bob Wolff, devastatingly spoke. See below and here. I concluded by underlining Obama’s odious notion of state secrets – see here and here – which attempts to consolidate a bipartisan regime (Jack Balkin’s concept) of illegality, in fact, war criminality in the United States, and asked what could be done to restore the rule of law.

Brad replied to me by mentioning that he had been in correspondance with my niece Kate – who blogs as Aimai and whose wonderful posts one can find here – and then giving a lively account of the fight concerning habeas corpus in the 17th Century. Charles II, a Catholic king, tried to get parliament to affirm the rack; it would not, the parliamentarians honorably replied, recognize that possibility under law (Blackstone). Instead, it conceded the “privilege” to Charles as a matter of royal – executive or "commander in chief" – prerogative. I seem to recall the revolution later cut off his head (see Walzer’s Revolution of the Saints, and Christopher Hill, Puritanism and Revolution). It is this lingo – prerogative exaggerated in Locke by special advisor Robert Goldwin to President Ford and chief of staff Cheney – which found its way into Cheney’s pseudo-legal advocacy of torture. See here. Brad’s exposition of this point was very good, in fact, devastatingly learned in history – he is a true social studies major, furthering interdisciplinary education at Berkeley to this day – for an economist! His ending at the meeting, and on his blog, however, is weak and unself-aware. For he says the rule of law is dead. At the Social Studies meeting, only Jamie Gorelick in the afternoon disagreed head-on with Brad about torture. She said rightly: the US does not have to torture, but offered no argument.

I would say it differently. With the election of Obama, the US, at once, surged to a new credibility for decency – his second day executive order eliminating water-boarding. The fact that the American people elected Obama, a black man in the land of slavery and segregation, a seeming anti-war figure, and even an admirer of Gandhi and King, was rightly, internationally, considered a miracle. It seemed a hope where in the darkness of Cheney, none had glimmered. Since I have been an outsider here for a long time, I have never thought that the head of the Empire was likely to do many good things. I like Jimmy Carter, but not as President. So even though I am very critical of Obama, I am not as disappointed in Obama as many people who had taken his campaign vision to heart. He has sought to mitigate torture rather than “doubling the size of Guantanamo” (Romney’s platform in 2008). Nonetheless, Brad is right that Obama has gone far to protect elite torturers, including my student Condi; in his doctrine of state secrets and his arrogation, beyond Bush, of a supposed royal prerogative to murder Americans – see Greenwald here - taken America far toward becoming a police state.

But this is amazingly destructive and self-destructive for ordinary Americans and for Obama as President. Obama with advice from the Democratic think-tank neo-neo cons, is firing drones here and there, murdering a much larger number of civilians than “suspects,” in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan, Neocon think-tanks in Washington make the ratio of murder of innocents 5 to 1, the Pakistani government 600 to 1. But since US intelligence isn’t very good (Bin Laden is still at large), the claimed killing even of Taliban may be a problem. More importantly, the US blew up a wedding party of over a hundred in Yemen including 50 women and children. How many enemies among all the relations of these people and even those who hear about it has the US government made? The US is thus aggressing against and making new enemies in three other countries, beyond its continuing though slightly phased down occupation of Iraq, and its escalation in Afghanistan. See here. Americans cannot afford to be, in addition, the torturers of innocents, the sender of drones murderously here and there. If the Obama administration continues doing this, it can ensure a cycle of self-destructive incidents, which will – I would emphasize the poisoning of the planet through wars, the already visible and growing destructiveness of global warming which are deep, perhaps already irreducible threat to human existence. This temporarily benefits the war complex, but drags most Americans down. Everyone, including the citizens who were sitting in that Social Studies celebration, needs to fight this. It is by no means clear, even with the Supreme Court hanging by a thread and Obama’s corrupt doctrine of state secrets, that the rule of law must be dead. Obama, by the way, has appointed two women whom one may hope (even Kagan) will stand for the rule of law. Yes, the elite is serious about and quite crazy and comfortable with the "legalization" of torture, the routinization of drones. And no, a mass movement to restore jobs, peace and the rule of law, is possible, and the arguments against doing something decent are powerful only in the elite. Brad spoke too easily as if this has to be. So here is a challenge to his fatalism.

* The panel on social studies and the social sciences was very interesting, particularly Sherry Turkle who gave a striking talk on the internet and the enthusiasm we all feel which conjoins with virtual but not physical – real - interactions. Seyla Benhabib spoke of the privatization even of the army and though she argued for globalization being a new stage, beyond what one could grasp through social theory, did mention that Marx is taken very seriously on the business pages – perhaps, one might say, an income distribution worse than that imagined in the Communist Manifesto diminishing the bottom 80% of the population to elevate the top 1% deserves notice - even though academics sometimes fail to see Marx's relevance.

**I went with some of their sons at the Karachi American School to play basketball with a Pakistani team. The Pakistanis had basketballs with the stuffing hanging out. I took one of our new basketballs to shoot around with them, a “race-traitor” as I soon learned. Now one might think that becoming friendly with Pakistanis was what nice white boys from America might want to do. But I came back to join my teammates for the start of the game, was derided by the coach and two of the other players for fraternizing with “Pakis,” and quit the team on the spot. Bigots have never been my idea of honorable Americans…

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Poem: exchanges

1


come spring of orange
tulips orange stamens
napalm
on Harrisburg draft

flames of Berrigans
illumine properties

quiet the cell help others
read laundry/daffodils
listen to burning footfalls
beneath the voices

the war goes on


2


the edge of sadness
god’s voice to officers
who class at Lowry
still afternoons
where nuns beneath roadsides

San Salvador Quito Guatemala
are but a distance

you move across the
line

a quiet candle
guards escort

to shadow y buses


3


ammoniaalcohol
holding
cell

your eyes in blanker distances
trade upon mine




This poem initially appeared in Pequod.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Principle in the Middle East and the Peretz controversy

Louis Cooper is the son of Eddie Cooper who was a dear friend of my father, mother and aunt. See Poem 1937 here and here. A fellow graduate from Social Studies, he finds Peretz’s views repellant, and raises useful questions about my post two days ago here. First, I was factually mistaken about Marty's teaching: Marty was, for a long time, a lecturer in social studies, and had, as owner/editor of the New Republic, an unusual and significant role in the program. Second, there is a Martin Peretz Yiddish studies professorship established in 1993. It is a separate corruption at Harvard from the Social Studies fund. Third, I stressed the issue of scholarship because though Marty has a Ph.D., he lacks or fakes the vocation of a scholar. Robert Paul Wolff’s phrase about him “an egregious wannabe” New Leftist is sadly the sense many got about him. It explains, perhaps, his abrupt pivot to extreme pro-Israel, reactionary (backing the Contras), warmongering and racist politics. But of course it is good to welcome diverse practitioners to universities so long as their views do not attack some of the students and faculty because of their being and thus poison the environment for everyone else. As one of those not directly attacked, I find the atmosphere in such "gatherings" particularly nauseating since the lecturer orr "teacher" relies on the assumption that others present are willing collaborators or converts. But one may always say: no.

Put differently in the idiom of John Rawls, university life involves a mutual regard among persons of diverse comprehensive or conscientious views, Whatever fierce debate occurs, it cannot attack the rightfulness of any class, status or gender group to belong. When racism actually disappears, Klan views will have (being then a harmless idiocy in the museums of foolishness) a place on campus. Not in this historical epoch…

Fourth, I did not mention Marty’s recanting of his misunderstanding about the first amendment on Yom Kippur. Perhaps Marty is beginning to reflect on these things and will go further. I used to like Marty (I describe his encouraging gesture toward me around the time of my debate with McGeorge Bundy in the last post) and with Gandhi, King and Mandela, am happy to welcome anyone who sees things anew. But as Louis says, Marty’s belated inkling about the First Amendment does not eliminate the racism. In Robert Paul Wolff's words:

“…the more offensive part of his remarks was what he had to say about Muslims. ‘But frankly,’ he wrote, ‘Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims.’ I thought I might just remind everyone what that oft-used phrase actually means. What it does NOT mean is that Muslim lives are unimportant, or are thought to be unimportant by Muslims or anyone else. That is what Peretz meant, but in this, and in so much else, he simply shows himself to be ignorant.” See here (Robert’s most recent comment on what it means to be a scholar is especially poignant).

To put this point another way, in racist wars as in the aggression in Vietnam, oppressors say: life is cheap for x [the nonwhite people attacked]. One has but to study the mourning of a Vietnamese family when someone dies as the documentary “Hearts and Minds” did; one will then see, frozen forever in time, who General William Westmoreland was.

As with Westemoreland, there are some things one can do that are so awful, little can expiate them. Sadly during a possible great turning point in American foreign policy in the Middle East (though it is hard to see hope now amid the continuing wreckage), Marty did this very thing two weeks ago. That is how a sense among many that Marty is empty blossomed into mass revulsion.

On BBC news in America yesterday morning, a lawyer in London spoke about the beating of a Muslim child as a “terrorist” by bullies in a Manhattan school. At the racist rally at ground zero, a hulking white guy intimidated a black electrician attempting to pass by for looking “Muslimish.” Marty’s racism toward Chicanos and blacks might not have come back to haunt him so sharply had he not launched yet another outrageous diatribe about Muslims two weeks before the Social Studies anniversary celebration. See Ta-Nehisi Coates’ post on a particularly racist fantasy about “Taxi-cabs and the Meaning of Work” Marty put on the cover of the New Republic (h/t John Mearsheimer and Rusty). In addition, one of the bits of neoconservative baggage that Andrew Sullivan has not seen through is the racism of Murray and Herrnstein’s The Bell Curve. I have found Andrew's insights a relief on Obama from the beginning – Andrew is quite sensible about the dangers of war and empire and except for demanding cutbacks in social security, on trying to heal America. But endorsing pseudoscientific racism is not a virtue, let along Peretz (or Andrew if he were still editor) putting it on the front page.

I and others have written on this extensively over the last 30 years. See, for example, Ned Block and Gerald Dworkin “IQ, Heritability and Inequality” in Block and Dworkin, ed., The IQ Controversy; Alan Garfinkel, Forms of Explanation, and Gilbert, The Storming of Heaven section 3 in J. Roland Pennock, ed., Marxism, Nomos, 1984, and Democratic Individuality, ch. 10. For instance, IQ testing seeks to evade any debate about what intelligence is by a circular or "operational" definition : intelligence is what IQ tests test. Operationalism avows that since we cannot see, say, electrons, we must emphasize the instruments that measure them. But this doctrine, articulated by Percy Bridgman in the 1920s, failed within three years in philosophy of physics. Note the difference, prima facie, with real sciences – one can say mathematically and theoretically as well as evidentially, what electrons or quarks are. One also knows whether it is a hot day even if all the thermometers around here are broken and read: –30 degrees celsius. In contrast, the circular definitions on which behavioral psychology relies are empty. What IQ tests actually do is predict achievement in class, race and gender biased schools. Unsurprisingly, they reproduce as ostensibly objective numbers above the heads of individuals the social oppression of workers, especially minority groups.

Consider, for example, a traditional Jewish community. Only boys go to school to become rabbis. The correlation between being male and high IQ is 1, between being female and IQ zero (Isaac Bashevis Singer’s "Yentl" is of course an emblem in the sea of boys over the generations which indicates the stark oppressiveness of this, also traditional Jewish practice).

IQ testing was used to stigmatize some 80% Jewish and southern and eastern European immigrants to the United States during World War I as “feeble minded.” The IQ tests were given in English to people who didn’t now the language. These "results" wee contrasted by Carl Brigham, in A Study of American Intelligence (1921) with "high IQ" Scandanivian immigrants of the 1890s. Considering an alternative, environmental explanation – time to learn English – did not occur to Professor Brigham. Someone perhaps was feebleminded here, but it is not the immigrants. See Leon Kamin, The Science and Politics of IQ and Stephen Chorover, From Genesis to Genocide. Brigham’s testimony before Congress helped shape the 1924 immigration law which refers to preserving “the pure Nordic stock of the United States.” Resonantly, the library at the Educational Testing Service in Princeton is named for Carl Brigham.

Jews particularly Richard Herrnstein, whose article "IQ" in the Atlantic in 1976 and book IQ in the Meritocracy alleged genetic inferiority of blacks in intelligence to whites as well as his 1989 argument in the Atlantic that the national IQ was declining because black and brown people were breeding and “high IQ” women need not be in college but home breeding – eugenics - mimic Hitler. Jews should know better…

All bigotry is not on a par in terms of social and political consequence. Some of the victimized become embittered toward their oppressors. But they do not lynch them. In a society which uses racism to justify wars abroad and especially to harm and divide groups at home, advocacy of racism is like shouting fire in a crowded theater. See here. Thus, Marty’s outbursts have some serious impact in “justifying”/”sanctifying” the beating of a Muslim child in New York. Such bigotry also contributes to sanctioning the unemployment rate among poor black teenagers; 4 in 100 found work according to a New York Times editorial, December 22, 2008. At the same time, Goldman Sachs made fabulous profits from government (taxpayer) funding. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s article below is particularly striking on the odious racism of the New Republic.

Peretz and others would, of course, bring up Hamas as a counterexample. In the last Israeli slaughter in Gaza, some 1200 Palestinians including 300 children were killed. Honorable Israeli soldiers in “Breaking the Silence” reported, for instance, on a sharpshooter being ordered to murder an old woman at a distance of several hundred yards. Hamas fired off rockets which murdered 1 Israeli child. 300 to 1 - good to hear the defenders of the Israeli government think that Hamas is depraved...The Israeli occupation is illegal and immoral. Gaza to this day remains a “large open-air concentration camp” as my friend Tom Farer puts it.

Worse yet, Europe and America allowed Jews to settle, after the Nazi genocide, only in the Middle East. The famous slogan “A people without land for a land without people” was a lie. Palestinians lived there and were “transferred” (see Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine). It was a war against Palestinians, and an act of aggression (see Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars for a clear account of the moral standards). All of this makes fighting back – though not the killing of innocents - self-defense. Meanwhile, Palestinian resisters are finally taking up determinedly the weapon of nonviolence. See here.

No wonder the Israeli government and its supporters in the United States resort more and more to crass racism, being at this point, nakedly – to Americans and particularly most American jews - in the wrong. Are most of us now not sickened by endless US aggressions in the Middle East, the neocon and Democratic thinktank threat of war with Iran and the refusal of the Israeli government to make a minimally decent settlement with the Palestinians? Hence, one hopes that Netanyahu – and his American echoers – would achieve sanity in the current talks pushed by Obama. One might think setting up the Peretz scholarship fund in social studies is just an issue of the decency of Harvard, but I am happy to say that the pushback by students and colleagues in social studies and others at Harvard stands up, far more firmly than Obama, for a decent settlement of this core conflict in the Middle East. In contrast, this week’s apparent increase in the Peretz endowment to $650,000 from $500,000 is an expression of misguided political support for further “transfer." Thus, nonviolent resistance to the celebration of Peretz's racism is one act among many that could push the United States government to do the right thing, as opposed to being instrumental – the big dog – in protecting Israeli wrongs.

Israel’s government has long relied on war and enmity to keep Arab hostility at bay. But it has long needed to make peace with the Palestinians it has victimized, to settle into the Middle East rather than be a belligerent guardian for American imperialism. Instead, Israel further oppesses the Palestinian daily, and in an increasingly openly genocidal vein – the words of Foreign Minister Lieberman, the proposed “Loyalty Oath” to be forced on Arab-Israelis in the Knesset. That government is also acting toward a further “transfer” in the occupied territories, a “greater Israel.” Only pressure from below here and in Israel will allow decency to win out.

Because of this issue's international significance, Steve Walt has offered some further reflections on the double standard at Harvard below. Harvard can stand up against Arab bigotry. It refused a $2.5 million dollar gift from the President of the United Arab Emirates who also sponsored a racist think-tank. There, the words are plain. But the Peretz professorship in Yiddish Studies and scholarship fund in Social Studies will be accepted. Read again Peretz’s words aloud about Muslims, blacks and Chicanoes from the student letter to the director of Social Studies in the last post. Walt offers James Fallows’ useful suggestion that Harvard have a fund for Muslim students to go there. But this would, though an improvement, leave the bigotry surrounding the honoring of Peretz wholly in tact. The Ku Klux Klan fellowship and the SNCC fellowship for African-Americans are not the same. In addition, able Muslims of many races should get funding at Harvard just as any other able candidate. Lastly, Marty might have a change of heart himself, but only that – only a rejection of his racism and acceptance of a decent settlement with the Palestinians – would remove the taint from this “honor.”

In The House Stood Forlorn, my grandfather, the anarchist JJ Cohen, spoke of himself as a scion of “an accursed race.” He and many jews were and are repulsed by racism directed by oppressors toward anyone. As is now noticeable, many Jews, especially in America but also in Israel, are standing up against the brutality of the Israeli government toward Palestinians. As Abraham Heschel said shortly before Martin Luther King was assassinated, the fate of America rests, to some large degree, in realizing King’s vision. This is a sense of uniting with the oppressed. engaging in revolutionary transformation, an exodus from Pharoah’s slavery or quite possibly capitalism as King imagined in 1968 into freedom which is additionally the central heritage of Judaism (cf. Michael Walzer, Exodus).

Under the influence of the Israeli government, however, some Jews abandon this tradition and side with the kings (see here). They look down on lesser people and denounce the inheritors of Amos as “self-hating Jews.” Particularly in America where there have been, initially, few to cry the truth about the occupied territories (that Gaza remains a “large open air concentration camp” in the words of my friend Tom Farer), Peretz and others have had a long day in the sun. They puff themselves up, bully others, pull around them the emperor’s new clothes. No wonder Marty is not quite real. Such clothes do not fit jews. In any case, that day is over.

Here is Louis’s letter:

“Dear Alan,

My brother Harry forwarded me your blog post about Martin Peretz and the Social Studies 50th anniversary celebration. I am no fan of Peretz, whose views on a variety of issues I find quite repellent. I would prefer that he not speak at the event.

That said, there are a few facts (or at least what I understand to be facts) which I think make the situation a bit less dire than your depiction suggests.

First, Peretz is not being honored with a professorship in Yiddish studies, as I understand it, but with an undergraduate research fund to be named after him (the money for which was raised by former students of his). Second, Peretz on his blog The Spine has publicly apologized for and retracted his suggestion that Muslims are not entitled to First Amendment rights (unfortunately, he has not retracted the statement about Muslim life being valued cheaply by Muslims). Third, I believe it is inaccurate to say, as you do, that Peretz has not been a teacher "for many years." My understanding is that he retired from teaching about five years ago (I could be wrong about this). It's true he is not a scholar, but if being a scholar were a prerequisite for speaking at a Harvard-sponsored event the university probably would have to cancel at least a quarter of the speakers who currently appear. After all, filmmakers, visual artists, musicians, and poets are not scholars, but they speak regularly at Harvard. So do journalists, who are also not scholars. So do publishers of magazines, who are also not scholars. Although I have a Ph.D., I do not consider myself primarily a scholar, and plenty of people will be attending the event on Saturday who are not scholars. Indeed one of the panels on Saturday consists entirely of people who are not scholars. That Peretz is not a scholar is thus neither here nor there, it seems to me. He is not being recognized for being a scholar, but rather for his long association with Social Studies; he was a Lecturer in the dept. when I was an undergrad (though I never knew him or took one of his classes) and, as I say, I think he retired only about five years ago. The luncheon at which he is speaking is only one aspect of a day-long program. You're right about the some of the unsavory people at Harvard (e.g., Larry Summers) and that mercenary considerations are always present in these matters, but in that context this whole episode really is not too surprising -- nor, I think, the kind of thing that should cast a shadow on the occasion.

Finally, it is too bad that you didn't get an invitation to the event; this speaks very poorly of Soc. Stud.'s record-keeping. I would gladly have forwarded you the invitation had I known.

Sincerely,
Louis Cooper
(A.B., Social Studies, 1979)"

James Galbraith also wrote to me (his father and my father were close friends). Many of us, it seems, have some common Harvard and even social studies legacy:

“Dear Prof. Gilbert,

Just a note of appreciation for your post on Social Studies. As a '74 graduate, I too was not on the list for the celebration. But under the circumstances I would have stayed away. I have a warmer view of Moynihan than yours, but otherwise we're in firm agreement.

Regards,
James Galbraith"


Ta-Nehisi Coates
Sep 20 2010, 11:50 AM ET |

Andrew [Sullivan] and Jack Shafer's reminiscence over the legacy of Martin Peretz, and quasi-defense of his bigotry, motivated me to do some of my own reflecting. To the present business, there is no actual defense of the statement "Muslim life is cheap, particularly to Muslims." African-Americans are overrepresented among both the perpetrators and victims of homicide. And yet had a writer for The New Republic, in the midst of asserting that blacks should not enjoy constitutional protection, argued that "Black life is cheap, particularly to blacks," and then doubled down on the assertion, I don't think we'd be having this debate--emphasis on "think."

On close reading, neither Andrew nor Jack are offering a defense so much as they are changing the subject. The question at hand is something along the lines of, "Does Martin Peretz exhibit a pattern of bigotry?" Andrew and Jack, instead, are addressing a question along the lines of "Is Martin Peretz a great journalist?" With respect for both Andrew and Jack, this is obfuscation. Ty Cobb was both a great baseball player and a bigot. The notion that we must choose between the two, that one mitigates the other, that good people don't do deplorable things, that deplorable people don't do great things, emanates from our own inability to understand that bigotry is not strictly the preserve of orcs.

That said, I would not have Peretz' legacy forgotten. But I would have it considered in a fullness befitting its breadth and splendor. Andrew asserts the following:

“...Marty owned a magazine that pioneered the military and marriage debate that transformed a civil rights movement; or race, where his insistence on airing the really tough issues helped shift the debate, in my view, for the better. TNR's brave pioneering of welfare reform made a huge difference.”

Peretz' alleged courage on race is a peculiar sort. Andrew may well be thinking of Peretz' assent to his stewardship of the infamous ‘Bell Curve’ cover questioning the innate intellectual aptitude of African-Americans. He could also be thinking of Ruth Shalit's 1995 story which asserted that affirmative action was degrading the quality of The Washington Post. The story was filled with errors which Shalit dismissed as "a handful of unfortunate but minor inaccuracies" and "one major error." Repeated charges of plagiarism ultimately doomed Shalit at the The New Republic.

Or Andrew could be thinking of the magazine's 1996 cover story "Taxis, and the Meaning Of Work." Here is the central thesis of the piece:

“In 1978, at the American Enterprise Institute, Jesse Jackson explained that dirty work was better than no work, since it paid in long-term benefits. But his advice has not been universally accepted, not least in his own community.”

Proceeding from there, the article goes on to contrast the flagging work ethic of African-Americans, with hard-working immigrant taxi-drivers--many of them Muslim. The article ends with a flurry of spectacular reportage, in which the journalist witnesses the robbery of one of his cab-driving subjects by a black man, and then tracks down a folk-hero of the local cab-driving community--Kae Bang "a Korean cabdriver-turned-vigilante who is to the D.C. cab community what Stagger Lee was to the Mississippi Delta." Bang, an expert martial artist, attracted his flock after he beat down "three brick wielding black teenagers" who'd assaulted him.*

The story was a whirlwind of spectacular ‘gets’ which could only have been executed by a crack reporter on his best day, or an outright liar willing to invoke every odious stereotype from Steppin Fetchit to Bruce Lee to Willie Horton. Martin Peretz put ‘Taxis and the Meaning Of Work’ on the cover of The New Republic, a first for the article's author, Stephen Glass. Glass's name comes up whenever the latest instance of gumshoe malfeasance arises. What should not be forgotten is that one of the greatest fraud sprees in modern journalistic history, was aided and abetted by The New Republic's belief in shiftless, dangerous blacks and the immigrant avenger Kae Bang.

Washington Post editor Len Downie, and Washington Post Company CEO Donald Graham stung by Shalit's piece, once suggested ‘Looking for a qualified black since 1914’ as a motto for The New Republic. I don't know the magazine's employment record in regards to people who are not white, but I do know that the magazine field--political and otherwise--is probably the whitest field in all of journalism. And not simply American white--but privileged, coastal, Ivy League white. (I include my present employer in that assessment.)

Peretz is oft-saluted for bringing different perspectives under the same roof. In all my time of reading The New Republic, it's been clear that very few of those perspectives originate in communities of color. My sense of the diversity question has never been one of simple egalitarianism, but of the kind of humility that makes you question your courage on race, when your newsroom looks a graduate seminar at Harvard. Or worse. By my lights, every newsroom needs someone willing to ask, "Who the fuck is Kae Bang?"

And so it is, 15 years later, with a magazine whose effective co-editor defends the statement "Muslim life is cheap," and within weeks skips off to be honored at Harvard. This is all about firepower. The fact is that Peretz has the social and economic guns to be a bigot, to then be defended by even those who acknowledge his bigotry, and finally be honored at the highest levels of American academia.

But that aside, I would be very interested in precisely how much ‘Muslim life’ is presently ensconced in The New Republic's venerable offices. It's very easy to raise tough questions, when you don't have to endure even tougher answers.

* "Taxi Cabs and The Meaning of Work" no longer appears on The New Republic's website. I tracked the piece down myself, and will gladly e-mail it to anyone who doubts its existence, or the parts quoted. Just send me a note.

UPDATE: I'd also be remiss to not link to Fallows' thoroughly convincing posts on all of this. The latest of which includes this incredible piece written by Peretz during the Iraq War:

‘I actually believe that Arabs are feigning outrage when they protest what they call American (or Israeli) ‘atrocities.’ They are not shocked at all by what in truth must seem to them not atrocious at all. It is routine in their cultures. That comparison shouldn't comfort us as Americans. We have higher standards of civilization than they do. But the mutilation of bodies and beheadings of people picked up at random in Iraq does not scandalize the people of Iraq unless victims are believers in their own sect or members of their own clan.’

I'm really amazed by the inability to call this what it is. If Peretz is not a bigot, then the word has no meaning. My sense is that the latter is actually true for people whom we believe to be respectable. James also links to a Peretz apology. I'm not convinced, but I'm not the one who needs to be. Maybe I will be after I think about it more.

Ta-Nehisi Coates

More on the Martin Peretz affair (UPDATED)
Stephen M. Walt Tuesday, September 21, 2010 - 1:18 PM

I hadn't intended to say anything further about the shameful Martin Peretz affair, and lord knows there are plenty of good reasons for me not to poke my finger in the eye of Harvard's current leadership. But seriously: You'd think after nearly 400 years the leaders of the university would have figured out what the principles of academic freedom and free speech really mean -- and also what they don't mean. But judging from the official university response to the furor, the people I work for appear to be somewhat confused about these issues.

To recap: A couple of weeks ago, Peretz made some offensive and racist statements about Muslims on his blog. Specifically, he wrote that "Frankly, Muslim life is cheap, especially for Muslims," and then went on to say that he didn't think American Muslims deserved the protections of the First Amendment, because he suspected they would only abuse them.

These statements were not an isolated incident or just a lamentably poor choice of words. On the contrary, they were the latest in a long series of statements displaying hatred and contempt for Muslims, Arabs, and other minorities. Peretz retracted part of his latest remarks after they were exposed and challenged by Nicholas Kristof (Harvard '82) in his column in the New York Times, but in his "apology," Peretz nonetheless reaffirmed his belief that "Muslim life is cheap." Indeed, he declared that "this is a statement of fact, not value."

A number of people then began to question whether it was appropriate for Harvard to establish an undergraduate research fund in Peretz's name and to give him a prominent role in the festivities commemorating the 50th anniversary of its storied Social Studies program. A University spokesman defended the decision to accept the money for the research fund and to have Peretz speak at a luncheon by saying:

As an institution of research and teaching, we are dedicated to the proposition that all people, regardless of color or creed, deserve equal opportunities, equal respect, and equal protection under the law. The recent assertions by Dr. Peretz are therefore distressing to many members of our community, and understandably so. It is central to the mission of a university to protect and affirm free speech, including the rights of Dr. Peretz, as well as those who disagree with him, to express their views."

In a masterful display of understatement, the Atlantic's James Fallows (Harvard '70) termed this response "not one of the university's better efforts." As he (and others) pointed out, nobody was questioning Peretz's right to write or say whatever he wants. For that matter, nobody has even questioned whether Harvard ought to give him a platform to expound his views on this or any other subject. (For my own part, if the Kennedy School invited him to speak on any subject he chose, I wouldn't object.

As should be obvious, this issue isn't a question of free speech or academic freedom. Rather, the issue is whether it is appropriate or desirable for a great university to honor someone who has repeatedly uttered or written despicable words about a community of people numbering in the hundreds of millions. And isn't it obvious that if Peretz had said something similar about African-Americans, Catholics, Jews, Asians, or gays, the outcry would have been loud, fierce, and relentless and some of his current defenders would have distanced themselves from him with alacrity.
And let's also not lose sight of the double standards at work here. After a long and distinguished career, journalist Helen Thomas makes one regrettable and offensive statement and she loses her job, even though she offered a quick and genuine apology. By contrast, Peretz makes offensive remarks over many years, reaffirms some of them when challenged, and gets a luncheon in his honor and his name on a research fund at Harvard.

And why? Because Peretz has a lot of wealthy and well-connected friends. Bear in mind that in 2003 Harvard suspended and eventually returned a $2.5 million dollar gift from the president of the United Arab Emirates, after it learned that he was connected to a think tank that had sponsored talks featuring anti-Semitic and anti-American themes. As the Harvard Crimson said at the time, "no donation is worth indebting the university to practitioners of hate and bigotry." So the University clearly has some standards, it just doesn't apply them consistently.

For more on this unequivocally depressing business, you can read:
1. An open letter from Harvard students protesting the honor to Peretz, and the petition protesting Harvard's policy that now has over 500 signatures, many from Social Studies alums.
2. James Fallows' summary of recent developments.
3. A powerful statement by Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic, examining Peretz's achievements as an editor and questioning his liberal bona fides.
4. A comment by Alan Gilbert of the University of Denver, a former tutor in the same Social Studies program.
5. And while you're at it, you might read the Boston Globe's editorial whitewashing Peretz, and compare it with their reaction to the Helen Thomas affair.

And no, this isn't just a matter of Ivy League academic politics, unrelated to issues of foreign policy. As everyone knows, U.S. relations with the Arab and Muslim world are especially delicate these days. You can read this or this to understand why, but it certainly doesn't help when one of the nation's premier academic institutions decides to honor someone with such deplorable views, even after they have been widely exposed. This is obviously not the main reason why the America's image in the Arab and Muslim world is so negative, but it surely adds fuel to the fires of bigotry.To take this matter a step further, Islamophobia is on the rise here in the United States. Efforts to combat this pernicious and dangerous trend would be furthered if institutions like Harvard took a principled stand on this issue, and declined to honor anyone who has made bigoted remarks about Muslims (or any other group). This has not happened with Peretz, and history will not treat Harvard well for its behavior in this case.

Update: As I write this, I've received a couple of emails suggesting that Peretz was not going to be speaking at the Social Studies event after all. I don't know if that's true or not, but to me the issue is less about his being one of the speakers, and more about having his name permanently attached to an undergraduate research fund.

Update 2: James Fallows reports on the reported resolution of the dispute (i.e., Peretz won't have a speaking role at the event), and suggests that Harvard could address the controversy by creating a scholarship fund for students of Muslim background.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Marty Peretz's emptiness and the corruption of Harvard

Harvard has named a professorship for Marty Peretz in Yiddish studies and proposes to honor him at a 50th anniversary of the Social Studies program this coming Saturday. 4 undergraduates have sent a pointed letter below, featuring three racist citations form Marty about Muslims, blacks and Chicanoes. If the tradition of the jews is to stand for internationalism and against bigotry, Marty is not a jew. That there is such a letter is a true and sad comment on Marty’s career, despite the largely purchased honors, and a deep one about Harvard.

I was an undergraduate in Social Studies in 1962, the second year of the program. It could be quite lively. As a senior I wrote a thesis with Barrington Moore on why there was a peasant-based Communist revolution in China but not a working-class based socialist evolution in Germany. Though I often receive information about class reunions (I also have a Ph.D. from Harvard, and the Government Department does not fail to request contributions), I received no notice of the 50th year anniversary. I would have been happy to have heard Robert Paul Wolff, whose work I have known for years. Social studies was then a multidisciplinary, social theoretical program which encouraged students to go their own way. Its leading spirit was Stanley Hoffmann, a lecturer of wonderful eloquence and irony and an exemplar in collegiality (he has also led the West European Studies program). In 2000, Hoffmann wrote a short letter to the New York Times on the Supreme Court selection of George W. Bush as President, saying presciently that darkness had fallen over America. There is little memorable in the Times of that time. But what decent person these 10 years later, here and abroad, would not agree?

I saw Marty around in Social Studies. I was in the first anti-Vietnam War movement, the May 2nd Committee, that had rallies on campus when President Lyndon B. Johnson bombed North Vietnam. I spoke at one, and was later nominated by the group to debate National Security Advisor and former dean, McGeorge Bundy, one of 6 questioners, on a panel at the end of the year. I asked Bundy how he expected to win a war against a successful peasant revolution by fighting to restore the landlords. See poem: Sanders Theater here. Most of the 800 people in the audience cheered. Saying something that is true to the powerful, even if it is attacked ferociously just then, tends to stand up over time. I had run into Marty the evening before. He encouraged me in speaking out – he opposed the war – and wished me well. I have always remembered Marty for that.

I was in Widener library around the same time and ran into John Rubinstein, a European history graduate student and social studies tutor who had a table piled high with books on early 20th century German social thought, mostly in German, some in translation – Sombart, Weber et al. I asked: “John what are you working on?”

“Oh”, he said, a little embarrassed, “death in German social thought. I’m helping Marty with his thesis.”*

“Gosh,” I said, “I thought you were supposed to write your own thesis.” On his blog, Wolff refers to Marty as a “wannabe leftist” below. Among students and junior professors, everyone knew that Marty was not quite real.

Later, Marty married a wealthy woman and purchased the New Republic. He changed it, siding with the Contras in Nicaragua – a CIA-sponsored, murderous attempt to overthrow a decent radicalism. Michael Parenti once compared the 1984 elections in Nicaragua and the United States, with equal funding and air time for 8 political parties, as opposed to the inegalitarian, two party duopoly, the Republican surge of money and in the commercial media, favorable publicity for Reagan. The Sandinistas were the “dictatorship” Reagan needed to fund the Contras to overturn. The Contras were mainly led by adherents to Somoza, the tyrant imposed by the United States to succeed the clerk in an American company brought to power by Woodrow Wilson in an aggression in 1913. If the US is friendly to nonwhite democracies, what would it mean to be inimical?

Reagan worked overtime to reduce another small country in the hemisphere which had tried to do something decent to misery (Haiti and Cuba also come to mind; fortunately no empire managed with the American Revolution). Poor Marty - having a lot of money sometimes corrupts, especially if the money is un- or badly earned.

Marty is not a scholar. He was a tutor, but he has not been a teacher for many years. He writes editorial opinions which support the government of Israel. Were it a decent government, the editorials would be decent. Unfortunately, that government brutalizes the Palestinians and is perhaps the most warlike government in the world (one thinks of the 9 murdered in international waters on the relief ship, the Mavi Marmara – see here). Some of its American supporters vilify anyone who notices Palestinians are human. But Palestinian shadows cry out in ethnically cleansed Israel (not to mention the remaining Arab citizens whom Foreign Secretary Lieberman wants to swear a loyalty oath and drive out). Yet the Israeli government, so well armed, with such a huge ally, refuses to make a decent settlement. It often seems to support a further “transfer,” a "greater" Israel.

Marty’s voice and some others are loud to persecute anyone who notices these things. No, Marty, Palestinians including Muslims and Christians, Arab citizens of Israel as well as a billion people, are human. If your gut rises up against them, something is wrong with your gut. It is being able to think about such feelings and understanding one's worst prejudices which marks off someone who will do evil acts – call for aggression against Iraq or Iran - and someone who can free herself of partisanship, and occasionally, think intelligently about politics.

Judaism started with the prophets who spoke up against the king's oppression. The prophets stood for truth against power. They stood with slaves who freed themselves from Egypt. In turn, the prophet Amos - for whom “righteousness flows down like waters and justice like an everlasting stream” - was denounced by Amaziah, the king's man. Harvard itself, as most universities, supposedly stands for truth. But veritas is often a fundraising gimmick. Except that he is no scholar, Marty is little different from Larry Summers whose views on the lives of South Africans or the capacities of women are equally foolish and base.** Serving on an advisory committee to Governor Alvan T. Fuller in 1927, Harvard President Abbot Lawrence Lowell, for whom Lowell House is name, helped send the immigrant anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti - two innocent Italian men - to their deaths.*** Marty perhaps has yet to achieve so illustrious a status.

Still in historical perspective, Marty is a sad case. The name is purchased but if anyone remembers his career, it does no honor.

Harvard is up for bidding. Universities need money and prostitute themselves to those who give it. It is not alone. Bicyclers in the Tour de France have uniforms covered with advertisements. But the money to purchase advertising has nothing to do with the courage, determination, sometimes sleek and enduring exertion and heroism of the race. In ancient political thought, this distinction is the basis of eudaimonism. A human being should engage in activities or relationships for the right reasons, not for the money’s or status's sake (see my Democratic Individuality, ch. 1; this is also the view of my teacher Michael Walzer in Spheres of Justice).

Comparably, those who run universities (the Harvard Corporation) have little to do with seeking or speaking the truth. Occasionally, they know something of it, have some affection for it, especially if those who speak the truth are not too forceful. Academia is thus truth milled down to celebrate, say, a Larry Summers. This is a fundamental tension in university life.

The Social Studies progam is honored by Stanley Hoffman, the late Barrington Moore, Robert Paul Wolff and many others. As the students’ letter suggests, to honor Marty is a disgrace. Harvard has been graced by such figures in recent times as John Rawls, Hilary Putnam, and others who say what is true and sometimes go down the line for it. But there is also big-time corruption there, the McGeoge Bundys and Henry Kissingers (war criminals), or Richard Herrnstein, Edward Banfield, Daniel P. Moynihan and E.O. Wilson (proponents of IQ testing, “lower class” culture, sexism fused with racism, and sociobiology - diverse fashions in pseudo-scientific, racist cant reactionaries can sing by and fancy themselves something more than mere bigots). As is true of all universities, the people who make Harvard deservedly well-known are often not those honored or celebrated by the University.


The following letter was recently delivered to the organizers of the Social Studies 50th Anniversary Celebration:

Dear Professor Tuck and Dr. Bernstein,

We are writing on behalf of the Harvard Islamic Society, Harvard-Radcliffe RAZA, Society of Arab Students and Latinas Unidas. In a recent blog post for The New Republic Martin Peretz, wrote:

“But, frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imaam Rauf there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood. So, yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.”

He had the following to say about Mexicans in another TNR piece:

“Well, I am extremely pessimistic about Mexican-American relations, not because the U.S. had done anything specifically wrong to our southern neighbor but because a (now not quite so) wealthy country has as its abutter a Latin society with all of its characteristic deficiencies: congenital corruption, authoritarian government, anarchic politics, near-tropical work habits, stifling social mores, Catholic dogma with the usual unacknowledged compromises, an anarchic counter-culture and increasingly violent modes of conflict.”

And the Washington Post reported the following remarks Mr. Peretz made about African Americans:

Citing statistics on out-of-wedlock births among blacks, Martin Peretz, editor in chief of The New Republic, said, “So many in the black population are afflicted by cultural deficiencies.” Asked what he meant, Peretz responded, “I would guess that in the ghetto a lot of mothers don’t appreciate the importance of schooling.” Mfume challenged Peretz, saying, “You can’t really believe that. Every mother wants the best for their children.” Peretz agreed, then added, “But a mother who is on crack is in no position to help her children get through school.” Some in the audience of 2,600 young Jewish leaders hissed at Peretz’s remarks.

We acknowledge Mr. Peretz’s right to hold and express these views, but we are disturbed that he is honored at Harvard University by being invited to speak at the Social Studies Anniversary Celebration on September 25. Such an invitation lends legitimacy and respectability to views that can only be described as abhorrent and racist in their implication that the rights guaranteed by the U.S. constitution should be withheld from certain citizens based on their religious affiliation.

While the organizers of the Celebration cannot be held accountable for every statement made by its guests, we the undersigned take great exception to Harvard giving such ideas a platform, and we worry that in so doing the University, and the Committee on Degrees in Social Studies in particular, will be alienating a large segment of its student body. In light of these concerns, we respectfully ask that you reconsider having Mr. Peretz as one of the Celebration’s speakers, or at least that he be publicly challenged to defend views that are, in our opinion, indefensible.

Sincerely,

Abdelnasser Rashid, Harvard Islamic Society
Maricruz Rodriguez, Harvard-Radcliffe RAZA
Annissa Alusi, Harvard Society of Arab Students
Beverly Pozuelos, Latinas Unidas

Here is Robert Paul Wolff's blog comment:

TIMES THAT TRY MEN'S SOULS

Two weeks from now, Susie and I will go to Cambridge, MA for the fiftieth anniversary celebration of an undergraduate interdisciplinary program at Harvard called Social Studies. I was the first Head Tutor of the program in 1960-61, as readers of my Memoir will recall. There is a day-long program of symposia and speeches on Saturday, September 25th, and I have been penciled in to make a few remarks at the lunch, which will be held in the Adams House dining room. On the program with me, I am very sorry to say, will be Martin Peretz, who was involved with Social Studies a little later than was I.

Back in 1960, Marty was an egregious little wannabe hanger-on to the group of young proto-lefties who called ourselves "The New Left Club of Cambridge," but subsequently, he married money, bought The New Republic, and turned that fine old progressive magazine into a flack for the State of Israel. Marty has done well for himself, if you ignore the sort of person he is. It seems there is a Martin Peretz Professorship of Yiddish Literature at Harvard, no less. A scholarship fund will now be set up in his name at Harvard, and he will be honored at the lunch.

When I heard that I was going to be sharing the podium with Marty, I thought seriously about canceling. I don't know how much time I have left on this earth, and somehow spending even a lunch of it in the presence of Marty Peretz doesn't strike me as a good use of my time. But I am genuinely proud of my small role in the establishment of Social Studies, and besides, Susie and I have arranged to have dinner Friday evening with our old friends, Milton Cantor and Margaret Taylor. So we will go.

Now I read that Marty has shot his mouth off about the controversy surrounding the proposed Muslim community center near the former World Trade Center in New York. Here is what he is quoted as having said: 'But, frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood. So, yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.'

Apparently a doctorate from Harvard isn't what it is cracked up to be. Marty is under the impression that the First Amendment protections are a 'privilege' -- which, I am sure, he imagines he has earned. I wonder whether he has remembered to register as an agent of a foreign power.

I told Anya Bernstein, the current Head of Social Studies, that I was well brought up and will behave myself at the lunch, but I begged her not to seat me next to Marty at the head table. She agreed.
Posted by Robert Paul Wolff

*On the issue of death. Heidegger who made Sein zum tode – being toward death and living an authentic life - central in Continental and even slowly perhaps Anglo-American philosophy was not among the readings. He was the most egregious imperialist and Nazi among these thinkers, but the importance of his argument is not debatable. Social studies did not, generally speaking, include philosophy though Robert Paul Wolff was among the original tutors. But the field then meant to push disciplinary boundaries.

**At the World Bank, Summers sent around a memo proposing that the U.S. should dump industrial poisons in the waters off South Africa because the low life expectancy of South Africans would prevent radiation or chemical toxin from taking them. But five year olds who die of cancers brought to South Africa or Somalia by Western “waste” were overlooked by Summers. If he were not so wellknown and inventive an economist – enough even to have gotten in with Obama – this example might suggest that he is, as a statistician, a fool.

***Lowell also sought to restrict Jews to 15% of Harvard undergraduates and prevent blacks from living in the freshmen dorms. The Overseers overruled him. Though Lowell tried to recruit Harvard scabs for the 1919 Boston policemen's strike, he commendably - a rare instance - supported the young Harold Laski's right to support it. Lowell admired Southern segregation and worked for the Immigration Restriction League, its honorary Vice-President. Following Woodrow Wilson, he became an early President of the American Political Science Association. See here.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

"State Secrets" and European indictments, part 2

Scott Horton has a post on the real reason for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' anti-legal decision that evidence of criminal conduct by high officials of the United States government, even already public evidence, must be shielded from admissibility in a court of law by a doctrine of “state secrets.” Thus, no victim of a government crime can seek a remedy in an American “court.” See part 1 here. But trials about American kidnapping, torture and indefinite detention of people, often innocents, are now occuring throughout Europe. European citizens, prosecutors and courts are standing up for the rule of law not only in Italy where 23 CIA agents were convicted in absentia for the “rendition” of a shaikh to be tortured in Egypt, as I mentioned in the first post, but in Spain, Germany, and Poland as well. The Convention against Torture, signed by Ronald Reagan in 1986 and ratified by Congress in 1994 requires the government of the offending country to hold legal hearings against those officials of whom there is significant evidence about ordering or participating in torture. See here. But the Obama administration – led by a man who taught constitutional law - has ducked this.

Obama, as the campaign and his role as a teacher of the law, shows, knows better. Even he has been dragged down by the military-intelligence-thinktank-media-political complex - for short, the war complex. Too many high officials have done sadistic, degraded, murderous and counterproductive things (at the principals meeting in the basement of the White House, every foreign policy leader of the Bush administration with the possible exception of Colin Powell planned the details of torture; Bush himself has now averred publically and proudly - he forgot himself completely - that he ordered waterboarding. CIA official Jose Rodriguez who destroyed tapes of torture because he knew the horror internatonally they would produce is, as it were, a walking prisoner. Everyone knows. Interestingly 2 tapes of the 93 have survived and might emerge in a court of law at some point. The outrage would very likely include intelligent questioning by Americans about whether the covert opeations wing of the CIA should exist (as opposed to its knowledge gathering and assessment wing). The brief answer: no. If any legal proceeding arises about the Rodriguez case, it will not be a difficult one to prosecute.

Obama of course could allow proceedings, initiated by an independent prosecutor – that is observe the law – and then pardon Rodriguez and other criminals because of the situation after 9/11. That too would be decadent - the two remaining films probably reveal Cheney's America more graphically than Abu Ghraib - but less destructive of law and what was or might be decent about America. As it stands, this is no longer the country of the Bill of Rights; it is now the bipartisan opponent of the sometimes shining principles which made it great. And yet America, as Langston Hughes suggests in another context, will be. Obama probably reached his decision because the criminality is so extensive, including most of the highest officials of the last administration.

In addition, America has profoundly undermined the rule of law internationally. These European governments are operating for law, and for the rule of law in international affairs for which America had for a long time, at least in principle, stood. In practice, Cold War and subsequent foreign policy and CIA actions – from Vietnam to South Africa to Guatemala to Iraq - have been so markedly at odds with these principles that perhaps there is no necessity to rehearse the tale. Still, America following World War II, led by Supreme Court and Nuremberg prosecutor Robert L. Jackson, fought for the adoption of the Article 2, section 4 of the UN charter which bars aggression. That was the crime under which the Nuremberg and Tokyo war criminals were tried and executed. America fought for the Geneva Conventions and the Convention against Torture even though the CIA was simultaneously overseeing tortures throughout Latim America, for instance by Battalion 316 in Honduras – see my Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, ch. 5.

Still the United States was, in a very central way, publically a fighter for intenational law and for holding international criminals to account. Again, one must not look too hard at the practices of Eisenhower (say in Iran, Guatemala or Lebanon), Johnson, Nixon et al. But the principle meant something. America supported and often oversaw the depravity of others; it was not, as it is now, publically a regime of depravity. To his credit, Obama ended much of the torture (in secret prisons or dark sites, however, we have only his word for it). But by preventing any legal proceedings, by shielding the criminals, he has made his administration - under the Convention against Torture - an accomplice to these crimes. Making America unspeakable was what Cheney did; attempting to hide these crimes in daylight, as Obama and Hilary Clinton do, gives new meaning to the word hypocrisy, They criticize tortures by regimes, often ones that the US has rendered kidnapped prisoners to. The eyes of Europe are an American-inspired mirror for American war crimes.

The Bush-Cheney administration struck at the core of international law – the laws against torture.. It was a criminal organization, a vast apparatus of paid informants, random pickups, and demonstrative torture, not for information - torture gets only what the torturer wants to hear - but to scare Arabs and others. Inside America, Bush rightly sought in words to isolate Al-Qaida from a billion Muslims; in Guantanamo, Bagram and Abu Ghraib, Bush’s random torture of innocents dwarfed his torture of enemies and had the effect of linking the horrors of Al-Qaida to the deep grievances of Arabs and extending them far more widely among Muslims. It is hard to imagine what more disastrous and endangering policy for Americans – one good only for the increasing dominance of a self-destructive war complex – the US government could have pursued (Obama, of course, has now added random murders of innocents from afar with drones, a serious competitor).

Bush-Cheney also enlisted the help of other secret police organizations, MI-6 in Britain and Italian intelligence. Two of the latter’s members were sentenced in the same trial as the 23 Americans; Tory Prime Minister Cameron has launched legal proceedings in Britain – with far more integrity about law and the rule of law than Obama – which will have serious consequences for high officials, possibly including Tony Blair (the taint of torture haunts Blair as the protests against his marketing of his autobiography, particularly in Dublin, show. See here .

Presidents like Bush and Clinton liked to invoke the ‘democracies don’t go to war with one another” hypothesis. This ostensible insight of political science is riddled with bad statistics. See here, here and here. For instance, political "science" draws a misguided and morally speaking apologetic, operational distinction between a war (in a war, both sides must lose a combined total of 1000 soldiers killed) and an intervention (which involves few American deaths or deaths of soldiers in battle on the overthrown democracy’s side). Thus, the disappeared in Chile in 1973 vanish from this “science” and the rhetoric of Presidents. This deception results in the exclusion of more than a dozen covert overthrows of non-white democracies by the US during and after the Cold War. If this is "peace" toward other democracies, what is aggression?

But another aspect of the inimicality of the American government to decency is its all out attack on the core of international law. America tolerates, even celebrates torturers, Cheney, Bush, Rice et – in the news media, in occasional events - as if their hands did not reek. It is this bipartisan undermining of an international regime concerning minimal decency about war which Obama has now consolidated. Public evidence cannot be used in the Mohamed case, the 9th District "Court" has ruled, because of “state secrets.” The evidence, which would result in damages in an American court, would be invoked in Europe to prosecute and convict Americans. But that evidence - what is already in the public record- will be so used anyway. High officials of the “law” in America may attempt to ignore the Bill of Rigths and the treaties against torture ratified by the United States, and hence according the Supremacy Clause (Article 6 section 2 of the Constitution) the highest law of the land. But the renditions for torture – disappearances - are a great crime. As Scott says:

“Under the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, [see here] which adopts the position that the U.S. Justice Department took in 1946, the crime of disappearance connected to torture is a crime against humanity, with no statute of limitations and no defense of superior orders applicable.”

Presidents may carry on as bloody tyrants, or in Obama’s case, as bipartisan accomplices to such tyrants. Fortunately, in at least parts of Europe, retaining the onetime American emphasis on laws against torture and disappearance, these “decisions” hold no weight. Fortunately, Americans like Andrew Sullivan and many of the rest of us, including the editoial pages of the Los Angeles Times and New York Times remember and value the Bill of Rights, international law and what America was. Scott uses the term risible for what Eric Holder asked, what the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled. It is an unusual word, and of government justifications in this matter, all too true. Shame might have silenced honorable judges. Would that the seriousness of the acts was not so great.

Here is Scott’s post:

State Secrecy and Official Criminality
By Scott Horton

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals split down the middle in finding (PDF) that the Justice Department was entitled to halt a civil lawsuit between private parties because of the threat that the suit would expose state secrets. By the margin of a single vote, it reversed the decision of a panel of the same court (PDF) holding that the doctrine could only be applied to individual pieces of evidence, not to entire lawsuits.

The case, Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, involved claims by an individual that he was seized and then tortured in a proxy arrangement directed by the CIA. Jeppesen Dataplan was directly involved, restraining and transporting the victims with knowledge that they would be tortured; that knowledge is exhibited, for example, in briefings to the company’s employees. These facts were established beyond any reasonable doubt without the need to turn to classified information. Indeed, one of the most respected courts in the English-speaking world—the Court of Appeal in London–had already viewed the formidable evidence and demanded a criminal investigation, now pending. The British court concluded, just as the Ninth Circuit was legally obligated to do, that state-secrecy claims could not be used to block discovery of evidence of crimes. Under the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which adopts the position that the U.S. Justice Department took in 1946, the crime of disappearance connected to torture is a crime against humanity, with no statute of limitations and no defense of superior orders applicable.

The Holder Justice Department would have us believe that it is protecting state secrets essential to our security. That posture is risible, and half of the court saw through it. The dilemma faced by the Justice Department was rather that evidence presented in the suit would likely be used in the future (not in the United States, obviously) to prosecute those who participated in the extraordinary renditions process. Twenty-three U.S. agents have already been convicted for their role in a rendition in Milan. Prosecutors in Spain have issued arrest warrants for a further 13 U.S. agents involved in a botched rendition case that touched on Spanish soil. Prosecutors in Germany have opened a criminal investigation into the use of Ramstein AFB in connection with torture and illegal kidnappings. Prosecutors in Poland are pursuing a similar matter. And Prime Minister David Cameron was recently forced to brief President Obama on his decision to direct a formal inquiry which could lead to prosecutions tied directly to the subject matter of the Mohamed case. This is the remarkable background to the case decided by the Ninth Circuit, and remarkably not a single word about this appears anywhere in the opinion—or even in most of the press accounts about it.
Both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times have called the Department on its acts of constitutional treachery. From the West Coast:

'The decision to short-circuit the trial process is more than a misreading of the law; it’s an egregious miscarriage of justice. That’s obvious from a perusal of the plaintiffs’ complaint. One said that while he was imprisoned in Egypt, electrodes were attached to his earlobes, nipples and genitals. A second, held in Morocco, said he was beaten, denied food and threatened with sexual torture and castration. A third claimed that his Moroccan captors broke his bones and cut him with a scalpel all over his body, and poured hot, stinging liquid into his open wounds.'

From New York:

'The state secrets doctrine is so blinding and powerful that it should be invoked only when the most grave national security matters are at stake — nuclear weapons details, for example, or the identity of covert agents. It should not be used to defend against allegations that if true, as the dissenting judges wrote, would be “gross violations of the norms of international law.” All too often in the past, the judges pointed out, secrecy privileges have been used to avoid embarrassing the government, not to protect real secrets. In this case, the embarrassment and the shame to America’s reputation are already too well known.'

The majority opinion is so thoroughly unconvincing that the court makes a pathetic plea to other branches of the government to do what is properly its function: fixing the claims of torture victims and awarding them damages.

By signing the Convention Against Torture, the United States made an unequivocal commitment to the international community to compensate those who are tortured by its agents. The Ninth Circuit has made a liar out of Uncle Sam and a mockery of its duty to uphold the law proscribing torture.