Thursday, January 12, 2012

The importance of words

10 years of now infamous torture by the United States at Guantanamo, the horror at least of indefinite detention continues, and the criminals responsible are subject to no hearing or investigation. Of course, they, the former President, the Vice President, the Pentagon secretary, and my former student, the well-traveled Secretary of State, inter alia, can no longer go abroad. See here, here and here. Under Reagan and then the 1994 Congress, the United States has signed and ratified the Convention against Torture which bars torture in any circumstance. It calls for prosecution of torturers in the country responsible. See here. Obama has thus made himself the accomplice of Bush and the others by not pursuing such prosecutions as well as the torture, stopped under protest after 9 months, of Bradley Manning.

Witness against Torture has acted courageously against Guantanamo. Matt Daloisio sent me a newsletter about the heroic protests of people, including hunger strikes, in Washington against the continuing – still, 10 years later – crimes at Guantanamo, the prisoners detained, often mistakenly, and in any case, illegally, indefinitely – like the man in the iron mask with no future. But of course, Guantanamo creates a future of justified hatred for the United States; it nurtures enmity. Now, Arab Spring has blown a great breath of fresh air through movements in the Middle East (rendered Al-Qaida ineffectual) and inspired international protests – particularly the Occupy movements – which need to learn that torture and aggression, leading crimes of the 1% - must be stopped.

The New York Times has led the way in 1984 style misuse of words. For instance, water-boarding has been recognized as torture since the Inquisition and has long been barred under international treaties – the Geneva Conventions (styled “quaint” by the war criminal Alberto Gonzalez – see here) and the Convention against Torture – and American law (Article 6, section 2 of the Constitution, the Supremacy Clause, makes treaties signed by the United States the highest law of the land). When others commit torture – Iran, for example – the Times has no difficulty with ordinary English and names it. But when the US government does it, the Times' editor (now embarrassingly poking his head out as a columnist) encourages circumlocutions – “enhanced” or “harsh” or “brutal interrogations”…

What removed the crime? Cheney breathed on the Times' s editorship. Or to put it differently, he reminded the Times of its slogan “all the news that’s fit to print” – news that would name the American government in committing war crimes (see Richard Falk and Howard Friel, The Record of the Paper, which points out that in 50 years of American aggressions, for example in Vietnam, the Times does not allow the word – identifying a crime barred by Article 2 section 4 of the UN charter and which the Allied prosecutors led by later American Supreme Court Justice Robert L. Jackson, had indicted, tried and executed Nazi and Tokyo war criminals for – to be used in relation to American…aggressions

In addition to Matt’s reports which are very moving (and thus do not find their way into the Times), Iranian scientists, civilians, are being murdered (very likely by the increasingly police state Israeli government). When governments strike at civilians, with large and explosive displays (Masoud Ali Mohammedi was a fifty year old college teacher whose car was blown up), the message to all is clear. Though Israel is probably responsible, it could be the United States – and Santorum waxed on at one of the Republican debates explicitly about how the US government should murder Iranian scientists. The US under cleverer leaders, including Obama. tries to keep its murders of civilians with drones, for example, in a haze of denial. But none of it is secret (and the Democratic think-tank "experts" and pundits here like Roger Cohen , the neo-neo cons, still baying for drones and saying, murder of innocents by drone is superior to invasion, are refusing to look a) at the crime and b) at the fact that every drone that falls on civilians makes, justifiably, new enemies). In Pakistan or Yemen or Somalia, the innocents and their relatives all know who sent the drones.

The world cries out…

Santorum's criminal fecklessness compounds George W. Bush’s avowal of water-boarding last year....

The American elite becomes more and more crass, does not so much need phony or imitation words any longer, reaches for, gets high on criminality. “I am a torturer” says Bush brashly, “I did it to protect…you” [torture is repulsive and does the opposite]. Bush no longer blinks an eye… (though at night, it comes to him perhaps and he will not travel to Europe – he never liked travel anyway…).

Similarly, the murder of civilians is for the New York Times no longer a great crime of war (see Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars). The US, under Obama, is supposedly not already engaged in covert operations, including murders, in Iran, or not looking the other way or secretly cooperating in, Israeli murders of civilians...

If the US, through bombing, commits a more full-scale aggression against Iran, it will reverse all the slow movement toward getting out of its occupations and new reliance on the largely secret Joint Special Operations Command (the new center of American military/intelligence policy, the folks who justly murdered Bin Laden, the mass murderer, but in their 12 operations a night - at least - murder a large number of civilians and innocents. And then there are the drones…

Even in the Bin Laden case, the US government was afraid of a trial and daylight, for its effects in American politics – the desperate fear of Republicans and Democrats that “criminals” might “be” on American soil (they do not hear their own shrill cowardice), the lack of confidence in a serious judicial and prison system in contrast to the trials of accused terrorists in Madrid and the actions of civilized countries, the reason why the special infamy of Guantanamo continues after 10 years and Obama’s promise, and finally, the possibility that Bin Laden, at trial, might have highlighted important and embarrassing matters, like his long cooperation with American crimes (the US set him to overthrow the pro-Soviet Afghan regime by terror).

If the US or Israel attacks Iran, the possibility of world war in the Middle East, with in the midterm, use of nuclear arms, becomes increasingly likely, the way back to a frail peace, darkened…

But the New York Times, as Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Sullivan relate below, will not name terror against civilians – the murder of Iranian scientists – as terror (since neither Israel nor the United States is at war with Iran, these incidents stand out for their horror). And today comes news of the assassination of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshana, a 32 year old nuclear scientist. The Times' frontpage headline “Bomb kills scientist” and no whisper of terror in the article. Who are the “terrorists”?

It was said long ago by Thucydides, describing the Athens’ led butchery of aristocrats taken out of sanctuary in temples in Corcyra that words change their meaning in war. What is rash becomes good counsel (Santorum as well as Romney’s speech in New Hampshire two nights ago –“ the US will have the strongest military which will prevent anyone from attacking the US” – talk about idle promises – and in a depression), what is sensible is ignored. The shifts in these words now about torture and terror is public corruption heading toward an end which Thucydides once named. It needs to be stopped.

Here is Thucydides on the dynamic in Corcyra:

"Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question, inaptness to act on any. Frantic violence became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting, a justifiable means of self-defence. The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected. To succeed in a plot was to have a shrewd head, to divine a plot a still shrewder; but to try to provide against having to do either was to break up your party and to be afraid of your adversaries. In fine, to forestall an intending criminal, or to suggest the idea of a crime where it was wanting, was equally commended until even blood became a weaker tie than party, from the superior readiness of those united by the latter to dare everything without reserve; for such associations had not in view the blessings derivable from established institutions but were formed by ambition for their overthrow; and the confidence of their members in each other rested less on any religious sanction than upon complicity in crime. The fair proposals of an adversary were met with jealous precautions by the stronger of the two, and not with a generous confidence. Revenge also was held of more account than self-preservation. Oaths of reconciliation, being only proffered on either side to meet an immediate difficulty, only held good so long as no other weapon was at hand; but when opportunity offered, he who first ventured to seize it and to take his enemy off his guard, thought this perfidious vengeance sweeter than an open one, since, considerations of safety apart, success by treachery won him the palm of superior intelligence. Indeed it is generally the case that men are readier to call rogues clever than simpletons honest, and are as ashamed of being the second as they are proud of being the first. The cause of all these evils was the lust for power arising from greed and ambition; and from these passions proceeded the violence of parties once engaged in contention. The leaders in the cities, each provided with the fairest professions, on the one side with the cry of political equality of the people, on the other of a moderate aristocracy, sought prizes for themselves in those public interests which they pretended to cherish, and, recoiling from no means in their struggles for ascendancy engaged in the direst excesses; in their acts of vengeance they went to even greater lengths, not stopping at what justice or the good of the state demanded, but making the party caprice of the moment their only standard, and invoking with equal readiness the condemnation of an unjust verdict or the authority of the strong arm to glut the animosities of the hour. Thus religion was in honour with neither party; but the use of fair phrases to arrive at guilty ends was in high reputation. Meanwhile the moderate part of the citizens perished between the two, either for not joining in the quarrel, or because envy would not suffer them to escape."

(for more of Thucydides' account, see here).

Athens, the leading democracy of the time, got hungrier and hungrier, waged increasingly crazy and criminal wars, and was ultimately defeated in Syracuse (Sicily) as the US has been defeated in Vietnam and Iraq. (see W. Robert Connor, Thucydides, and my Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, ch. 4). The internal consequences of American war - depression, the war complex, a vast prison/probation system, and the increasing misuse of words - are all of a piece. This decadence can be reversed or stopped to a large extent, with a new movement toward green productivity; that was the promise of Obama, the new hope in his campaign. That hope is now with the Occupy movement and other courageous resisters like Witness against Torture to pressure this regime of the 1% for decency, for the rule of law, and not to destroy us (and the world) through ever expanding war and militarism. We should all work to further it…

Witness Against Torture 2012 – “HUNGERING FOR JUSTICE”

DAY 9 – January 11, 2012

Dear Friends,

When Joanne in New York heard that the ten-day forecast for Washington DC during our fast would be rather beautiful and warm except for Wednesday, January 11th, which was predicted to be cold and rainy, she remarked, “You see, even the earth will be weeping that day.” And it was. But as you will read below in the various reflections on today’s rally and events afterwards, we could not have had a more solemn and powerful marking of the tenth anniversary of the opening of the Guantánamo as a detention center for the US “War on Terror.”

In tonight’s reflection circle, Kevin from the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker shared that “hearing the reflections, names and stories of the men at Guantánamo” this past week, then seeing everything today come together, seeing all of the different groups and people form this demonstration and march in solidarity with the detainees—all of this together created “the most powerful experience.” What was so powerful was that this was for him evidence of the “connection of the human race…we don’t even know them [the men at Guantánamo]” and we didn’t even all know each other here today. But today we rallied, marched, and bore witness that we do not want to live in a world where indefinite detention and torture are justified.

And our work continues tomorrow…sentencing for Carmen, Brian & Judith in Superior Court, and then back to the White House before breaking our fast in the evening.

In peace,

Witness Against Torture

*** In this e-mail you will find:

1) Rally and March to the Supreme Court (Reflection by Mike Foley)

2) Frida Berrigan’s Opening Remarks for the Rally

3) Post-event Interfaith Prayer Service (Reflection by Martha Hennessy)

4) Fragments from this Evening’s Circle (Compiled by Amy Nee)

4) Letters of Support (Northern Iraq; Madison, Wisconsin)


1) “Protesters Mark Guantanamo Prison’s 10th Anniversary” (Reuters)

2) “Protesters Condemn Guantanamo Bay on 10th Anniversary with March from White House” (Washington Post)

3) “Guantanamo’s 10th Anniversary Marked by Protests” (video & article from VOA)

4) “Gitmo 10 Years On: So Much for Closure” (video from Russia Today)

5) “Opponents Start Guantanamo’s Second Decade with Jumpsuit Protest” (Miami Herald)

6) “Hundreds Protest on 10th Anniversary of Guantanamo Prison”

(LA Times)

7) “Activists at Rally Call on Obama to Keep Promise,

Shutter Guantanamo Bay” (CNN)

8) “Guantanamo 10th Anniversary Protests: Demonstrators March From White House To Supreme Court” (photos from the Huffington Post)

9) “Rights groups protest to mark Gitmo decade” (Peter Finn)



(Reflection by Michael S. Foley)

Today, January 11, 2012, marked ten years to the day since the first prisoners arrived at Guantanamo. You've seen the photos of that first day - of the men shackled, masked, kneeling before their shouting captors. Ten years later, and three years into the Obama administration, 171 men remain in Guantanamo with no end in sight. They can expect no release, no day in court, no end at all. All three branches of the United States government are responsible for this atrocity - and the hidden unending detention of more than 2,000 prisoners in Bagram - and today each branch was visited by more than 1,000 Americans who have had enough of the government's moral failings. It was the biggest demonstration against detention policies since the "War on Terror" began, organized by an historic coalition of human rights, religious, and activist organizations, including Witness Against Torture, Amnesty International, the Religious Campaign Against Torture, and the Center for Constitutional Rights. World Can't Wait and Occupy DC also joined in, as did Code Pink.

The forecasters predicted rain, but the morning began brighter. When we first arrived in Lafayette Park across from the White House, the sun kept trying to warm us. The Park Ranger in her Smokey-the-Bandit hat did her best to rain on us, telling us that we had no permit to carry juice - juice! - in the park [how the words and the basis of authority degenerate here…- AG]. And maybe she summoned the actual rain, too, but nothing got in the way of an historic assembly and moving program of speakers. As buses came in from distant cities, the coalition partners gathered their people, handing out jump suits, t-shirts, stickers, signs. The mood was alternately somber, effusive, and angry. To begin the program, habeas attorneys occupied the stage with the names of their clients, some of whom had won their habeas cases before federal judges but whose clients remain in prison. As the rain came, speakers huddled under umbrellas to move and inspired us with their words of anger and hope, criticism and conviction.

At the end of the program, more than 171 jump-suited "detainees" - one for every man still held at Guantanamo - led a spectacular human chain of citizens from the White House to the Justice Department to the Capitol and, finally, to the Supreme Court. The rain continued as we walked past the White House in a line that seemed unending. At the front, the detainees moved silently, as police on motorcycles blocked traffic. Police cruisers buzzed by, sirens chirping and lights swirling; as Bill Frankel-Streit said afterward, it seemed as though they were shining a light on our procession.

It is humbling, as ever, to march in a jump suit and hood - to think about the men in Guantanamo who have no such freedom of movement, many of whom have languished there for most of a decade, and more than half of whom have been cleared for release...

As the march proceeded up Capitol Hill, the usual array of tourists, curious onlookers, and apparently annoyed pedestrians looked on, but one group appeared as we reached the top of Capitol Hill whom we had never before encountered. Turning the corner from Constitution Avenue on to 1st Street, we could hear a small smattering of applause, most of it coming from the left hand side of the street, outside the Hart Senate Office Building. Senate staffers had come out of their offices to stand with us, signaling their own disapproval for policies that their bosses seem unable or unwilling to end.

At the Supreme Court, the detainees filed in four lines before the plaza; Supreme Court police guarded the steps of the plaza as if they expected us to follow past years' examples, and take our protest to the Justices more directly. Instead, British journalist Andy Worthington spoke to us about the US District Court we had passed at the base of Capitol Hill, and the judges there who had effectively gutted the Boumediene v. Bush decision; Andy called on the Supreme Court to intervene and reinforce that decision. Former Guantanamo guard Daniel Lakemacher spoke of the various methods of dehumanizing detainees at Guantanamo and how this march helped to make visible the humanity of the men held there. Vince Warren, the Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents many of the men at Guantanamo, spoke of the hard and important work the attorneys do, but also of the vital importance of citizen action. And Tom Wilner, one of the first American lawyers to represent Guantanamo detainees, described the ongoing struggle to secure justice for the detained men, while Steven Aleski, Boumediene's attorney, urged the participants to take the struggle for human rights and the rule of law back to their communities. Leili Kashani of CCR concluded by telling the moving story of CCR client Djamel Ameziane, and reading a poem, Is it true, written by Osama Abu Kabir while in Guantanamo.



Welcome. My name is Frida Berrigan and I work with Witness Against

Torture, a proud member of the vast coalition that organized this day

of action. On behalf of the coalition, I say again “welcome.”

Thank you so much for coming, for caring, for insisting—still, again,

after all these years—in justice, in the rule of law, in human rights.

Today, January 11, 2012, is the 10th year since the first "war on

terror" detainees were brought to the US Naval Base at Guantánamo.

This as a day of great shame -- ten years of torture, indefinite

detention, violation of the human rights and rule of law. This tragic

and criminal anniversary comes just 10 days after the US Congress and

President acted, through the NDAA, to make GTMO near-permanent, commit

more deeply to reprehensible policies, and expand detention powers at

precisely the time when we should be dismantling this pseudo-legal and

immoral detention apparatus.

So here we again. Grudgingly, unwillingly, but with outrage and energy

and even HOPE. I find a lot of hope in what Witness Against Torture

has been doing for the past nine days-- fasting, living in community,

and acting each day to draw attention to the scourge of indefinite

detention at Guantánamo and Bagram.

We are about to finish a 92 hour vigil in front of the White House

which we began on Saturday—with a representation of a Guantánamo cage

and a person inside of it. We have had countless profound and

educational conversations—alerting the tourists who come here from all

over the United States and all over the world that not all Americans

are comfortable with torture, abuse, indefinite detention. Are you

comfortable with that? No.

I also find a lot of hope in this extraordinary coalition. This “Ten

Years Too Many National Day of Action” is the result of months of hard

work by major human rights and civil liberties organizations, legal

collectives, advocates and citizens—like myself and my friends in

Witness Against Torture—who are of no special rank and have no

position other than to see justice done.

You are part of the biggest demonstration against detention policy

since the "War on Terror" began; we are part of a rising tide of

consciousness in this country to say no to torture, indefinite

detention, and the savaging of our rights.

Yes, despite everything (and despite the rain) this is a day of hope

because that so many people are gathered to say that we have neither

forgiven nor forgotten: that Guantánamo and indefinite detention and

torture are as wrong today as they were ten years ago; that there are

innocent men who must be released; that all detainees should be fairly

charged and tried or released; that those abused by US power should be

entitled to confront their captors and receive true justice.

Americans -- across the political spectrum -- are rising to say that

rights can't be taken away without us speaking out, that the men at

GTMO and Bagram cannot and will not be the forgotten victims of

American policy.

And it is a day of action. We are going to hear from a number of

brilliant and powerful speakers—we will learn and feel and connect and

then we will act. We will hear more specifics on this later, but

immediately following the rally we will begin a procession led by 171

"detainees" representing those who are still at GTMO.

The procession will form a "human chain" linking the institutions of

government-- Presidency, Department of Justice, Congress and the

Courts-- responsible for this shameful situation. At each site we

will hold a brief rally. These four nearly simultaneous events will

all end around 2:30 will the reading of a poem by a detainee

expressing his simple desire: to at last see justice done, to be

freed, to go home.



(Reflection by Martha Hennessy)

It is our ninth day of the fast and following a long procession to the Supreme Court we attended an interfaith prayer service for Guantánamo at the New York Avenue Presbyterian church. The National Religious Campaign Against Torture sponsored it with speakers from Presbyterian, Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim faiths. Despite my fatigue and late arrival I was able to take in the beauty and simplicity of the service. Sister Patricia Chappell, executive director of Pax Christi caught my heart and attention when she said. “When there is brokenness in the world God arrives there first.” After days of hearing stories about the trauma of war and torture I felt a ray of sunshine come through. The exquisite hope of this! She also quoted William T. Cavanaugh, author of “Torture and Eucharist” describing torture as “the sacrament of the liturgy of the state.” After ten years of the “war on terrorism” we have dismembered our own souls and the bodies of countless others.

Dr. Sayyid Syeed, national director of the Islamic Society of North America’s Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances also shared reflections of reconciliation. He spoke of whole countries functioning as huge Guantánamos where dictators sacrifice their own peoples while suppressing uprisings against injustice. Several Muslim countries were named but I couldn’t help think about my own country practicing similar brutality here.

The service ended with a beautiful sounding of the shofar and a moment of silence for the prisoners of Guantánamo and victims of torture. In this brief interlude of the faiths coming together to declare our ultimate purpose of loving one another and seeing the image of God in each other, we were given sustenance and courage to continue with these small efforts against colossal forces in bringing mercy to the prisoners.



(Compiled by Amy Nee)

Chrissy began the circle quoting the mother, Talat Hamdani, of a young man who died in the 9/11 attacks in 2002. “[This campaign against Guantánamo is] giving humanity a chance to redeem itself.”

Mike commented as many would concur, that the rain-soaked hoods were impossible to see through, and in our weariness “we were a ramshackly group, a beautifully ramshackly group.” An enlivening interruption as we trudged toward Capital Hill was “applauding senate staffers” who had emerged on the sidewalk to cheer us on.

Helen: “I was glad that it was grueling. The challenge made it more real.”

Dan shared that he has been carrying with him the theme of faithfulness and effectiveness – two aspects of action that are often presented in opposition, as an either or – and considering how to find the dynamic between the two. Thinking of all of the people involved in today’s demonstration, those symbolizing detainees, speakers, media, viewers there was the feeling that this was “as effective as I could wish it to be while being faithful at the same time.”

Beth had been responsible for coordinating a bus from North Carolina, a biodielsel van with composting toilet and dumpstered food! She spoke of her joy at the arrival of her family and friends and the struggle to separate herself from them by donning the hood. It was so sad, she added, considering her struggle with this “momentary separation when compared to ten years for the men at Guantánamo.”

Brian had started the day with a feeling of fear, having felt so weak yesterday, to the point that he considered eating something in the morning to fortify himself for the arduous day ahead. “But now, I don’t even feel like I am fasting. I feel so nourished by all that has transpired today.”

Mike, quoting the exclamation of a friend overlooking the long line of men and women in orange jumpsuits and black hoods winding through the capital, “looks like Guantánamo’s about to get it’s ass kicked!”

Tim talked about the fear that accompanied the obfuscation of the hood. He was all but blinded but felt guilty at raising it to clarify his vision because as he did so he thought of the men he was representing, and remembered, “they don’t have a choice, to pull off their hood or break a fast. And that is so sad.”

Lauren from N.C., in the circle for the first time was grateful to have come across this community. “I have been desiring a more grounded approach to activism…a group that takes the energy of anger and channels it…I feel like I’ve found that here.”

Erika had the opportunity, while waiting in line for the woman’s bathroom to open up, to share with a dozen Amnesty volunteers the story of Jumah Mohammed Abdul Latif Al Dossari who they knew only to be a Bahraini. “I didn’t know his story ten days ago, but now I was able to share it; now they know it not only because of me, but because of all of you.”

Josie had the opportunity to give an interview with a Turkish t.v. station. As she shared about how we were sending groups to connect these places of power that players in the continuation of indefinite detention her voice broke, “sometimes giving voice to something lets you get in touch with emotion.” She went on to talk about the buildings in the capital themselves, the feelings they build up. The architecture itself can be a source of awe and pride but from the context of our action the feelings associated with them are now sadness and tragedy. Yet, as we move amongst them together, taking action, “we find our voice.”

“What we contributed,” Paki shared, “was the Soulforce that Gandhi writes about.”

Experiencing a persistent irritation from the way his jacket rubbed him under the hood, John reflected on “how a little thing can become torture,” and while he could choose to adjust his position, step out of procession or bear with it, those who are tortured are not given that choice. And in the midst of this, still, his meditation became, “All is grace.”



From Northern Iraq with the Christian Peacemaker’s Team–

unwinding this afternoon, snapped on Al Jeezera and they did a piece on 10 years of Guantánamo and you folks were shown in front of the white house. i could hear Carmen's voice. i felt very much at home and grateful for your presence.

made me feel connected

bud courtney

* * *

From Madison, Wisconsin –

Dear Fasters in DC,

Just wanted to let you know I'm with you in spirit and hope the Day of Action tomorrow will be a good one. Here in Madison, WI our little committee has worked with local groups on raising the issue of torture and closing Guantánamo.

Yesterday (Jan 9) we joined an ongoing Monday noon peace vigil (My reflection on that is at the bottom of this e-mail.)

This evening (Jan 10) Joy First and I did the program for the monthly meeting of the Dane County Chapter of the United Nations Association. It was titled "Guantánamo, Military Tribunals and the Rule of Law." Joy talked about Guantánamo and WAT and I reviewed the provisions of the UN Convention Against Torture. We also showed the documentary titled "The Response."

Tomorrow (Jan 11) we're having a gathering co-sponsored with the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice at a local coffee shop. We'll write letters to elected officials and to prisoners still at Guantánamo.

I think I'm the only one here fasting, but I didn't start until Jan 7th because our family celebrates the full 12 Days of Christmas and Epiphany so I wasn't ready to start the fast on Jan 2nd.

Blessings to you all,


Bonnie Block

WEDNESDAY, JAN 11, 2012 1:57 AM MST

More murder of Iranian scientists: still terrorism?

In this photo provided by the semi-official Fars News Agency, people gather around a bombed car in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012

In this photo provided by the semi-official Fars News Agency, people gather around a bombed car in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012 (Credit: AP Photo/Fars News Agency, Mehdi Marizad)

(updated below – Update II – Update III – Update IV)

Several days ago I referenced a controversy that arose in 2007 when the law professor and right-wing blogger Glenn “Instapundit” Reynolds criticized President Bush for not doing enough to stop Iran’s nuclear program and then advocated that the U.S. respond by murdering that nation’s religious leaders and nuclear scientists. “We should be responding quietly, killing radical mullahs and Iranian atomic scientists . . . ,” he argued. The backlash against Reynolds’ suggestion was intense, especially among progressive writers.

Back then, I wrote about Reynolds’ suggestion several times, but I was far from alone. Law Professor Paul Campos wrote a column in the Rocky Mountain News denouncing Reynolds for publicly advocating “murder,” which, he pointed out, is exactly what this would be given that the U.S. is not at war with Iran (he went on to suggest that targeting civilian religious leaders and scientists would still be murder even if the U.S. were at war with Iran); Campos added: “government-sponsored assassinations of the sort Reynolds is advocating are expressly and unambiguously prohibited by the laws of the United States.” Law Professor Kevin Jon Heller documented with absolute clarity that such assassinations would be illegal in the absence of a formal war.

But the angriest reactions came from progressive bloggers, who widely denounced Reynolds as “contemptible” for suggesting this; one progressive writer, Lindsay Beyerstein, was horrified that one could even suggest such a thing, explaining that she ”despair[s] for our society when it’s necessary to supply a rigorous analytical exposition of why our government shouldn’t have scientists and religious leaders whacked.” Scott Lemieux railed against what he called Reynolds’ “kooky scheme for illegal death squads” as “crackpot,” “dumb” and “nuttier than a Planters factory.” And Kevin Drum, then of Washington Monthly, went the furthest of all — in a post he entitled “Terrorism” — branding the killing of Iran’s scientists as “Terrorism”:

I imagine a lot of people agree with [Reynolds], but his recommendation really demonstrates the moral knot caused by George Bush’s insistence that we’re fighting a “war on terror.” After all, killing civilian scientists and civilian leaders, even if you do it quietly, is unquestionably terrorism. That’s certainly what we’d consider it if Hezbollah fighters tried to kill cabinet undersecretaries and planted bombs at the homes of Los Alamos engineers.

If you think Iran is a mortal enemy that needs to be dealt with via military force, you can certainly make that case. But if you’re going to claim that terrorism is a barbaric tactic that has to be stamped out, you can hardly endorse its use by the United States just because it’s convenient in this particular case.

What is most amazing about all this is that, a mere three years later, some combination of Israel and the U.S. are doing exactly that which Reynolds recommended. Numerous Iranian nuclear scientists are indeed being murdered.

In January, 2010, a remote-controlled bomb attached to a motorcyclekilled Masoud Ali Mohammadi, 50, who “taught neutron physics at Tehran University.” In November, 2010, two separate car bombs exploded within minutes of each other on the same day, one that killed nuclear scientist Majid Shahriar and wounded his wife, and the other which wounded another nuclear scientist, Fereidoun Abbasi, along with his wife. Then, in July of last year, Darioush Rezaei, 35, was shot dead and his wife was wounded by two gunmen firing from motorcycles outside of their daughter’s kindergarten; Rezaei “did his doctorate in neutron transport – which lies at the heart of nuclear chain reactions in reactors and bombs” and “was a member of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, the country’s official atomic energy commission.”

And now, yet another Iranian scientist has been killed. According to Iranian media, a 32-year-old university professor, Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, died when an assailant riding on a motorcycle attached a magnetic bomb to his car, which then detonated and killed him. According to The Washington Post‘s Thomas Erdbrink, a conservative news outlet in Iran reported that the young scientist “was believed to be involved in procuring materials for Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz.”

What’s most remarkable here is to compare the boisterous, furious denunciations of the mere suggestion by a blogger on the Internet that Iranian scientists be killed, versus the relative silence in the face of its actually being done in real life, now that the corpses of murdered Iranian scientists are beginning to pile up. Does anyone doubt that some combination of the two nations completely obsessed with Iran’s nuclear program — Israel and the U.S. — are responsible? (U.S. officials deny involvement while pointing the finger at Israel, whose officials will not comment but “smile” when asked; the CIA has “targeted” Iran’s scientists in the past, several of whom have disappeared only to end up in U.S. custody, including one who “resurfaced in the United States after defecting to the CIA in return for a large sum of money”). At the very least, there has been no denunciation from any Obama officials of whoever it might be carrying out such acts.

I have no doubt that Professors Campos and Heller would apply the same legal rationale now that it’s actually being done, but what about the progressives who so stridently denounced Reynolds? Does Lemieux still believe that whoever is responsible — Israel, the U.S., or some combination — is guilty of dispatching “illegal death squads”? Does Beyerstein still “despair for our society” that such acts could even be contemplated? Does Drum still believe that whichever political leaders are responsible for these killings are Terrorists; specifically: if, as is widely assumed, the Israelis are responsible, does that mean that Israel is a Terrorist state, and if U.S. agencies are complicit in some way, does that mean President Obama is a Terrorist, a state sponsor of Terrorism or, at the very least, a supporter of Terrorism?

In general, the American covert war against Iran is extraordinarily dangerous and probably illegal (it’s certainly unauthorized), but in particular, the assassination of Iran’s scientists is just reprehensible. Now that it’s actually happening, one wishes the reaction to it were even partially as aggressive as it was when a right-wing blogger suggested it.

* * * * *

Three other brief noteworthy items: (1) yet again, the New York Times’ Public Editor admonishes that newspaper for baseless reporting about Iran that overstates the threat it poses (specifically for overstating the IAEA’s assessment of Iran’s nuclear program); FAIR first raised objections to the offending article last week; (2) here is a telling scene from Tom Friedman’s current field trip to Cairo; and (3) a sixth-grader named Wolf writes a nice little school report for his civics class on the presidential race.

UPDATE: This morning, Haaretz has a timeline of what it calls “Mysterious deaths and blasts linked to Iran’s nuclear program” — and by “linked to,” they mean: “aimed at” (h/t James Carter). It includes the murder of these scientists as well as various explosions killing many people. If you removed the proper nouns from this timeline (Iran, Ahmadinejad, Natanz), very few people would have any doubt that this is Terrorism.

UPDATE II: The right-wing religious extremist Rick Santorum said previously: ”On occasion scientists working on the nuclear program in Iran turn up dead. I think that’s a wonderful thing, candidly”; he added: “I think we should send a very clear message that if you are a scientist from Russia, North Korea, or from Iran and you are going to work on a nuclear program to develop a bomb for Iran, you are not safe.” This is how he justified all that:

If people say, “well, you can’t go out and assassinate people” — well, tell that to Awlaki. OK, we’ve done it. We’ve done it to an American citizen, so we can certainly do it to someone who’s producing a nuclear bomb that can be dropped on the state of Israel . . . .

We better hope and pray Rick Santorum never becomes President or else the legal prohibitions against assassinations will simply be ignored and that will become standard American policy — oh, wait. Meanwhile, long-time commenter DCLaw1 poses this question:

Even for people who don’t believe the US has anything to do with the assassination of Iranian scientists, just flip the scenario: how would they react to news that Israeli scientists were being systematically murdered, and Iranian officials just smiled and acted coy when asked about it? What would they say about that, and what would they say the US and Israel would be justified to do in response?

To answer that, just consider the consensus outrage that spewed forth when it was claimed (ridiculously) that Iran was sponsoring a Terror plot on U.S. soil to have a failed Texan used car salesman hire Mexican drug cartels to kill the Saudi ambassador: Terrorism!

UPDATE III: Lemieux responds by saying: “If the United States was involved in the killings — and we should stress the ‘if’ here — the Obama administration’s actions were both illegal and immoral, for the same reasons stated in my earlier posts.” Similarly, Drum strongly implies that he believes the assassinations are Terrorism. Meanwhile, Professor Campos, writing on the blog where Lemieux writes, tries to explain to Lemieux’s angry commenters what the point is of asking these questions and what the benefit is of hearing denunciations not only when a right-wing blogger proposes it, but also when it’s done in reality (in comments, David Mizner attempted the same).

For its part, the U.S. denied involvement in today’s murder and said they “strongly condemn all acts of violence, including acts of violence like what is being reported today,” while ”in Israel . . . the denial was much more vague. Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the Israeli military spokesman, wrote on his Facebook page that ‘I don’t know who took revenge on the Iranian scientist, but I am definitely not shedding a tear,’ Agence France-Presse reported.” Nonetheless, “Theodore Karasik, a security expert at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai, said the assassination fit a pattern over the past two years of covert operations by the West and its allies to ‘degrade and delay’ Iran’s nuclear program.”

UPDATE IV: Beyond what’s discussed here, John Glaser looks at the publicly available evidence, including what has been reported in The Guardian and Der Spiegel, regarding who is likely behind this spate of killings of Iranian scientists.

11 Jan 2012 Andrew Sullivan

NYT Fail

They refused to use the word torture to describe torture because it offended Republicans. Now they refer to an incident in which a mysterious figure on a motorcycle sticks a highly sophisticated bomb on the side of a car in Tehran, assassinating a scientist, and it's not an act of terrorism. It's an act of "terrorism". Maybe they're just using it in the British fashion to indicate the Iranians are merely describing it thus. But what word would the NYT use to describe a targeted car bomb, if, for example, it was planted by Hamas in, say, Tel Aviv or New York and killed a government scientist? Seriously, this matters. If this was not an act of terrorism, designed to create terror among scientists and others in Tehran, then it was an act of war.

My fear is that this is state terrorism directed by Netanyahu, in an attempt to increase tensions to bring about the full-scale war against Iran's nuclear program, over Washington's objections. But once US allies sanction car-bombing assassinations, it is legitimizing their use by others here. You reap what you sow.

12 Jan 2012 11:45 AM

What Civilization Means

I do not know the life, background or motivations of one Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, who was killed, along with another passenger, when a motorcycle rider out of a Bourne movie stuck a plastic explosive on his car door and blew him to smithereens. What I do know is that he was a scientist working, we're told, as a procurer in Iran's nuclear power/arms program. Does he make the decisions in this theocratic tyranny? Is he responsible for the policy? Maybe he is an adamant Khamenei supporter. Maybe not. But he has been assassinated by someone. How should we respond?

Here's how Rick Santorum responded to these kinds of killings:

On occasion scientists working on the nuclear program in Iran turn up dead. I think that’s a wonderful thing, candidly.

There is no way in Catholic - or indeed any moral - teaching that such assassinations can be celebrated as "wonderful". The person saying so is attacking some of the core truths of Christianity. Here's the response from the Israeli military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai:

I don’t know who took revenge on the Iranian scientist, but I am definitely not shedding a tear.

Not even for his fatherless child? Or wife? Here's Greenwald's account of one of the previous assassinations:

In November, 2010, two separate car bombs exploded within minutes of each other on the same day, one that killed nuclear scientist Majid Shahriar and wounded his wife, and the other which wounded another nuclear scientist, Fereidoun Abbasi, along with his wife. Then, in July of last year, Darioush Rezaei, 35, was shot dead and his wife was wounded by two gunmen firing from motorcycles outside of their daughter’s kindergarten.

I fear sometimes that we have badly lost our way here. When Americans rejoice in the assassination of scientists, they have lost their moral compass. When they cannot shed a tear for a dead man's wife or child, they are becoming dangerously close to the barbarians they claim to be fighting.

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