Thursday, January 6, 2011

Franco's stealing of babies and the American trashing of international law, part 1

In a recent debate at IBEI (Institut Barcelona d’Estudis Internationals), on Wikileaks, I spoke along with Ricardo Gonzalez Samaranch, a journalist for El Mundo,* covering the United States, and also a political scientist, and Martijn Vlaskamp, a German-Dutch graduate student who has written an op-ed piece and appeared on Catalan tv about Wikileaks (the forum sadly was not taped). Interestingly, Martijn, partly playing devil’s advocate, emphasized how little he had learned from the release of documents. Both he and Ricardo put forward the need for secret negotiations; exposure particularly weakens moderates, they argued, since those who don’t wish to negotiate can cite the dangers of dealing secretly with the United States. Ricardo also contrasted, in a binary way, pure release of documents – Wikileaks – and an ideal of complete secrecy. He then opted for a middle ground. He echoed the common error of the corporate press in America since Wikileaks has been quite cautious about publishing these documents, putting up on its website mainly those released by the 5 newspapers with which it is working.

In contrast, I put forward that we had learned a lot from Wikileaks about the calculated criminality of American policy. For instance, in Spain, El Pais revealed American ambassador Edward Aguirre's corruption of Spain’s legal process, his persistent, secret meetings with high court prosecutor Javier Zaragoza and officials of the Zapatero government to suppress investigations and hearings scheduled by Judges. Jose Couso, the Spanish journalist, had been murdered by American troops at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad in 2003. Over the next few years, Aguirre worked covertly to prevent Spanish prosecution of the three soldiers who did the killing. In addition, Madrid airport had been used for extraordinary rendition for torture to Guantanamo, and from Europe to vicious dictatorships beyond any reach of law. These acts, too, involved illegalities by Americans on Spanish soil, and had been under-investigation. Once again, Aguirre demanded up to the minute executive and prosecutor reports on crushing the efforts of the judiciary.

In 2004, two weeks after entering office, Zapatero heroically withdrew Spanish troops from Iraq. Bush had spoken of a "coalition of the willing" - those who supported imperial unilateralism - but the “willing,” for Spain in the Iraq case, had extended only to the reactionary President Aznar, who hid with Bush and Blair in the Canary Islands, and not the Spanish people. On February 16, 2003, 1 million demonstrated against the war in Madrid; 2 million more protested in Barcelona. Zapatero acted democratically. But that was in the early period of Zapatero’s rule, one marked, even more sharply than Obama’s, by decent social measures.

In contrast, American pressure to suppress judicial investigations of American criminality had been effective with the Zapatero government under Bush and even more so now, given Zapatero’s hope to curry favor with the new Obama administration. Zapatero speaks of a “special relationship” and hopes to make Rota, the US naval base since Franco, with a “Spanish vice-admiral” figure-head or “commander,” the center of the new African command in the American military (the military operates 6 commands, including Centcom for the Middle East and one to dominate outer space…). Spain is affected by, exists within the sphere of American militarism, and democracy and the rule of law, unless defended from below, suffer accordingly.

Thus, American criminality - or protection of crimes - has become a bipartisan regime, in Yale Constitutional law professor Jack Balkin's phrase. The Aguirre/Bush efforts to bury the truth and subvert international law were enhanced by the arrival of the Obama administration. One of Janet Napoletano's central roles as Homeland Secuity director is to undermine the rule of law inside and outside the United States, for instance, she has collected fingerprints of 96 million Americans. In the opposite of democracy, as Glenn Greenwald has emphasized, citizens have no rights to privacy before government spying; the government apparatus, save for Wikileaks, has become completely opaque to citizens. In 2009, Napoletano memorably referred to the idea of universal justice and the Spanish courts' attempt to enforce basic human rights against torture and murder as “an irritant.” Universal justice means that every court in the world can prosecute crimes of torture, if the courts of the offending countries do not.

This is also the law of the United States. In 1987 President Reagan signed the Convention against Torture, which authorizes such investigations and says rightly that there are no exceptions in which torture is permitted; it was ratified by Congress in 1994. Treaties signed by the United States, are, by the Supremacy Clause, Article 6, section 2 of the Constitution, the highest law of the land. See here).

While I acknowledged the value of secret negotiations, I suggested that US militarism is a great danger to the world and to itself – see the fine, lead article “Imperial by Design” by John Mearsheimer in the Janaury-February issue of the National Interest here about the American strategy of global domination under Clinton, one exacerbated by Bush and Cheney, and still active (the escalation in Afghanistan, and aggression by drone in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia) under Obama. Contrary to Ricardo, I suggested that the particular dangers of American militarism in this historical situation override many otherwise decent practices. What we are dealing with in such cases, is not a simple good, but a conflict of goods; the evil and self-destructiveness of American militarism overrides many otherwise decent features of American policy, ones that it would be good to preserve in ways that Wikileaks, publishing relatively few of the State Departments documents itself, is plainly trying to do.

In the debate, however, Ricardo admitted that the Wikileaks disclosures have been a concomitant or complement to journalism, He very carefully and honorably described the pressures which often currently limit investigate reporting. But more strikingly, these documents, as a reading of El Pais, releasing them day by day, over the past several weeks, shows, make journalism alive.** Correspondingly, there is a major failure to cover many of these documents in the United States, though the New York Times did print a story on US attempts to block any German investigation into the kidnapping from Germany and torture of a German citizen, Khaled El-Masri, at Bagram. El-Masri had been mistaken by the CIA for someone who had a similar name.

The spectrum of opinion on the panel was a rough duplication of the positions at the forum at the Korbel School of International Studies in November and in my correspondance with Joseph Chamberlain (see here and here). What I take this to mean is that even in Spain, where many more people are horrified by Bush-Cheney policies (this is a relative point, there was a huge American opposition movement before the aggression in Iraq. Obama was elected by a mass movement because he ran as an anti-"dumb Iraq War" candidate; now in classes and seminars, the War has no defenders, and no public popularity), there is a huge tendency to bury the truth about Obama. Seeing the darkness of Cheney, Europeans often like Obama (I like Obama, too, but underline his betrayals of truth and decency – he is after all the head of an declining empire…). In the face of El Pais' coverage of American crimes – and even that in the International Herald Tribune – that this spectrum of opinion in a situation where important facts about American criminality have been in the press, repeats an American spectrum where facts are ignored by the corporate press as much as possible is surprising.*** And yet Spain is but a new democracy – since 1975, and has had no Truth and Reconciliation commission as in South Africa or accounting with the past. All the republicans who had relatives murdered or had their babies stolen – all who have lived for 60 years with sadness at and horror about the facts – must not be allowed, in the new Spain, to come forward, to speak…

Curiously, the same High Prosecutor Javier Zaragoza, whom Ambassador Aguirre manipulated to corrupt the law, has acted fiercely to prevent the truth from coming out about stealing babies and even sought to punish the leading judge, Balthasar Garzon, who has bravely taken on this issue. The American regime of torture and renditions undermined European and international law (not to mention American) during the Bush administration. But this is a new and startling example about how Obama's attempt to protect the American elite, not to punish the criminality of Bush and his cabinet, all those who lied for aggression and tortured (with the possible exception of Colin Powell), has led America into dovetailing with, upholding child-stealing fascism in Spain. This post and the next two will explore this.

Under the idea of universal jurisdiction about human rights, the Spanish Judge Balthasar Garzon had indicted Pinochet, the murderous Chilean dictator. Garzon is rightly regarded internationally as a hero for doing this; the Spanish courts, in standing up for human rights, are seen as taking the lead in the world to produce a decent international environment. In addition, Garzon has recently taken up the cases to two families whose babies were stolen under Franco. These were among, he suggested, some 30,000 babies of “reds” and republicans in the Spanish Civil War who were taken from their mothers and never seen again. The cases had not been investigated for “60 years,” though many were more recent. The crimes are living, palpable to relatives, seared into memory against official repression.

For a long time, the murderous culture of fascism, and its powerful influence in the new republic after 1975, helped to stave off action. Some parents did not quickly move to find out what happened to babies who mysteriously died of “ear aches” at the O’Donnell Clinic in Madrid. But siblings, who are younger and not as weighed down by the 40 year experience of Franco, have increasingly spoken up, and joined their parents (sometimes moving their parents, sometimes moved by their parents - h/t Whitney Bard).

Garzon was removed from the case by High Prosecutor Zaragoza who has suppressed all hearings about this. Thus, the long hand of fascism extends to the High Prosecutor’s Office even today. Further, Zaragoza is charging Garzon with the “crime” of investigating fascism; the new Spanish semi-democracy will not tolerate serious investigation of stealing children…Here Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napoletano’s and Ambassador Aguirre’s criminal activity – interfering with the rule of law and judicial independence in Spain – pivots on protectors of fascism like Zaragoza high in the Spanish government. The new crimes reinforce the old.

In addition, El Pais has just published Raul Limon’s “The Killing Fields of Andalucia: Civil War atrocities report finds that 130,000 civilians were murdered in the region” (December 31, 2010). “The Killing Fields” reports the findings of The Andalucian Commission for Historical Memory released to the press on December 28th. The Commission had been under heavy attack from the Right. At the press conference, Jose Antonio Gomez Perignan, the head of Andalucia’s Department of Justice, spoke fiercely for rolling back the heavy fog of fascism; the report aims, he said, “‘to avoid fear, repression and self-censorship to prevent us from looking into what was a deliberate and methodical process of exterminating political enemies using war as an excuse, and which involves the deaths of thousands of people. The aim of this policy was simple: to erase from public memory the victims by throwing them unidentified into mass graves.’”

Yet under the influence of this pressure, even Limon’s newspaper report refers to civilian killings on both sides. Now peasant and worker anarchists, a mass movement in Spain which revolutionized Barcelona, as George Orwell relates in Homage to Catalonia, sometimes burned churches, an expression of the horrific role of the church in creating Espana negra, the dark Spain. The Inquisition operated in Spain from 1300 at least until 1826 (a public execution of a school teacher). Thus, the 1933 Luis Bunuel documentary "Las Hurdes: Tierra sin pan" [Land without Bread] depicts the hovels in which peasants lived, the comparative luxury of the village church, and children learning to write with chalk on a blackboard over and over again: "respect the property of others." The new Spanish republic of 1930 marked a sharp departure from the Church's political power in Spain. In this respect alone, the Spanish republic had real greatness (more recently Zapatero's passage of gay marriage underlines a fought for, still emerging independence of government from the Church****).

Comparatively, the Spanish Church has stood out dramatically for darkness and corruption. In Italy, the Catholic Church would support Mussolini and in France, Vichy. But in both cases, rank and file priests joined the resistance – see Rosselini’s “Open City.” The resistance did not burn churches, and fascism did not span 40 years….

Now the worker and peasant burning of churches in Spain was not a wise tactical move – it made the Republic lasting enemies among rank and file Catholics. And Orwell glosses this over rather breezily. But the anarchists killed relatively few. Orwell rightly emphasizes the killing on both sides, the sheer horror of this war; curiously, Limon's article does not mention a single example of republicans killing civilians. Yet the headline and the first two paragraphs stress “a definitive record of the killing carried out by both sides in the region during and after the war through maps, photographs and interviews” (the editing here by El Pais and the International Herald-Tribune is simply bizarre). With the dark hand of fascism still upon it, the story resembles frequent New York Times' “reporting” of, for example, American torture as “harsh” or “brutal” interrogations (ironically, the article also appears in the English version of El Pais, a supplement to the International Herald Tribune, a less corrupt and more interesting paper than the Times for a European audience, published by the New York Times).

But in the third paragraph, Limon tells the truth - Franco ordered massacres of innocents:

“The majority of massacre sites were in Sevilla, Huelga and Cadiz provinces. This is where the uprising led by General Francisco Franco and other senior officers in July, 1936 first took hold. The anti-Republican forces [the Republic was the government], backed by civilians in many cases, began a campaign of savage repression. More than 80% of the killing took place in the first months of the war and saw government officials, labor activists, teachers, intellectuals, artists and anybody suspected of leftist tendencies summarily executed without trial.”

Among those executed and thrown into a mass gave in Granada, given no place of burial, was the great poet Federico Garcia Lorca. See here. Some have attempted to find his body, though much of his family resists this. They think that his spirit would be happier among his fellow victims.

Historians found 130 mass graves in Sevilla, 120 in Huelga, 100 in Cadiz, 76 in Malaga, 69 in Cordoba, 24 in Jaen and 8 in Almeria: 527 (Limon gives a total of 614, some of which may be scattered throughout the province). 492 came from massacres in 1936, 73 from 1937, 4 from 1938, 25 from 1939, and 25 post-1939 (this is a total of 629). 435 were butcheries inside cemeteries, 21 outside cemeteries, 54 by roadsides or paths, 36 in riverbeds or ravines, 27 in "built-up areas" and 71 "other." (this is a total of 644).***** Thus, Limon continues: “Most of the victims were shot in or near cemeteries. In total, 130,199 men and women were murdered in this way in 1936.”

Remarkably at the outset, Franco’s was an even more base, rapacious fascism than Mussolini’s or Hitler’s (Hitler, of course, has a special place in the history of rapacity). It deserves to be well-known, the victims remembered, not thrust into darkness.

Orwell speaks repeatedly of how his own view of the repression by the Communist International of anarchists/POUM, fighters against Franco who also were carrying out a social revolution and were labeled “Trotskyist/spies,” is partial. He reports what he sees, seeking to correct widespread errors in England, but saying that no one can see the whole truth (he would also celebrate the heroism of rank-and-file communists at Madrid). Yet Orwell did tell the truth about it (as I will post on subsequently). One of the few mistakes in his book is, however, something that came from his experience at Barcelona and at the front. He saw fascist soldiers living in the same, mind-numbing conditions of cold, lack of food or drink, shit, and fear as the anarchists (he fought along with the POUM – a radical Marxist organization), the Communists and other republicans. Late on in his time there, he had a distant shot (he probably would have missed) at a man running atop a stone wall, holding up his unbuckled pants with one hand, to deliver a message. He looked at him – saw the human being – and could not shoot…Orwell had sworn to kill at least one fascist soldier. He thought if everyone did, the fascists would soon be defeated. He himself was shot through the throat. He never did kill anyone.

Orwell emphasizes the horror of war. Though he regards war against fascism as necessary, he does not glorify it. But Orwell was far from Franco’s killing fields in Andalucia. 130,199 innocents shot by Franco, shot for being supporters, or perhaps supporters (because someone disliked them). This is a large number (the number would grow over the Franco period) of crimes against humanity to hide…

*The paper of the Partido Popular, a conservative/reactionary party, that of Aznar.

**Assange only released the papers to El Pais. Speaking for El Mundo, Ricardo was angry at this. But Assange was trying to make sure the word got out, was not suppressed, as for instance, the Times alone would have. Consider that paper's suppression of evidence that Bush illegally spied on Americans for over a year, helping Bush win reelection against Kerry instead of go to jail…Assange has had to face US government action to jail him – the phony “rape” charges and imprisonment/confinement to a house in Britain for example, as well as death-threats from vigilantes like William Kristol. Assange was not worrying about competition between papers.

Amusingly, Monday, the gullible, neocon liar Judith Miller – formerly a “major” reporter at the Times - had the nerve to accuse Assange of “being a bad journalist"…

***Democracynow has been covering Wikileaks, for example.

****Spaniards still make an automatic tax contribution to the Church unless they shift it to other purposes...

*****As I learned in writing my new book on Emancipation and Independence on slavery during the American Revolution, even historians, let alone journalists, often report hearsay and give figures which, though inaccurate, are then repeated. But the investigation here, challenging the myth of the fascist victors, is valuable; the researchers did go to the graves themselves. There are between 500 and 650 mass graves, and some 125 to 131,000 civilians slaughtered...

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