Thursday, May 29, 2014

Vincent Harding, part 2



Vincent is perhaps the only person I have known who would meet me for lunch at Poppy’s (a favorite restaurant of his, not too far from Iliff) or at his office at the Veterans of Hope at Iliff and ask me to join him on adventures and I would just do so (he eldered me a bit, too…). I was looking, for example, to communicate about my new book Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War of Independence, and he invited me to the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History (ASALH) conference in Richmond, Virginia. See here. ASALH, as an organization mainly of black scholars and including high school teachers and students, was born in the struggle; the people who come (like Jim Turner, Bob Harris, Bill Strickland, Berenice Johnson Reagon, Sterling Stuckey and John Bracey - they worked together with Vincent, after King was shot, at the fledgling Institute of the Black World - are often part of, when they were younger, nurtured in, gave voice to - Sweet Honey and the Rock- the movement. It is thus part of a fledgling beloved community in a way that other professional associations, say the philosophical or political science or sociology associations, are not (there are, of course, aspects – I have old friends from the anti-War movement like Tracy Strong or Mike Goldfield or Hilary Putnam - or panels that are, but this association, often in its spirit, is).

***

It was the thirtieth anniversary of the publishing of There is a River; there was a gathering to celebrate it and Vincent's long career of activism and writing. Many spoke powerfully, the words eloquent, even divine about it, including Rachel Harding, and Vincent read the fiery conclusion, drawn from the spirituals, about the Jordan River and transformation:

"Always the blood of life, the blood of death. Knowing that more blood would be shed, they were remembering the blood streaking the waves of the Atlantic, remembering the blood on Nat Turner's dying ground, remembering the blood on the tracks of the Underground Railway, remembering the blood on a hundred thousand white hands, remembering the blood crying out from the battlegrounds of the Freedom War, blood so freely shed in that year of Jubilee, blood for the remission of sins. Many thousands gone."

"Near the close of that chaotic, brooding year, black people were remembering the past and moving forward, committing their lives to all the unfinished struggles of the river. With the crossing over just begun, with the requisites for true freedom still beyond their grasp, still beyond the vision of white America, with fierce, but needful battles just ahead, black people were celebrating their God and themselves, for a great victory had surely been won. It had been a brutal, magnificent struggle, reaching over more than three centuries, over thousands of miles, from the sunburned coasts of the homeland to the cold and dreary trenches near Petersburg, Fort Wagner, and Milliken's Bend. And they were the soldiers, their people were the soldiers, the singers, the petitioners, the creators of the new time."

"So as they sang and prayed and cried into the night, the night when slavery was officially ended in the United States, black people were celebrating themselves, honoring their forebears, holding up their children to the midnight sun, praising the mysterious, delivering God who had made it possible for them, and all who lived before them, to come so far and stand so firm in the deep red flooding of Jordan."

***

Vincent wrote the book, he said, to have it read aloud to all those engaged, to students, to the unemployed, to prisoners, to grannies…It is the way books once were read (or epic poems told by storytellers in the evening over fires, the Homers or the unnamed authors of Beowulf). Not so many modern books can meet such a test.

***

We also went to the Virginia Theological Union in Richmond. The churches have long been involved in this struggle. James Kinney, the president, took some of us, including Vincent’s great friend, the eloquent Lerone Bennett - author of "The Road Not Taken" about the nature of English colonial and American elite divide and conquer - to a chapel. There those who freed themselves in the struggle of the civil war, hungering to be able to read, were made visible in beautiful stained glass dating from 1865 (the year There is a River ends).

The aspirations of Reconstruction were in the glass; poor blacks and whites worked for the education embodied there (it was perhaps the only decent, integrated, education ever in America I think – cf. W.E.B. Dubois, Black Reconstruction - and it says a lot about how the Ku Klux Klan, the “Democratic” Party in the South and today’s “Republican” successor to which the racists fled during and following the civil rights movement seek, again and again, to imprison and break spirits ("hungry ghosts," as Buddhists say). See here. There is a River tells the story of a woman, at the end of the Civil War, going out to wash clothes, propping up a book, working to read...

***

The Seminary was built on the Lumpkin Plantation, formerly known as Devil's Acre; the slave master fell in love with and married Mary and left it to her. In 1865, she gave it to become the Baptist Freedom School...

***

Vincent also brought Michelle Alexander to Denver to speak at the DU law school and a church in Park Hill. He said to me that she is the new Ida B. Wells and a powerful movement has sprung up importantly instigated by her work The New Jim Crow, which underlines that America holds 2.3 million in prison, 25% of the world’s prisoners. I also had lunch with her at the political science meetings where her work helped bring some of that life and struggle into a professional world which is often surprisingly shielded from/uninterested in powerful and decent democratic politics…See here, here and here.

***

At another lunch with Vincent, he asked: why don’t you come, with a civil rights and Jewish activists against the Occupation sponsored by the Dorothy Cotton Institute, to visit Israel? I had sometimes been invited to Israel (the invitations never worked out), and as I learned about the Palestinians of course, I could only come - as someone loyal to the people who suffered from and fought back against the pogroms in Russia; my ancestors on my mother’s side come from the ghtetos of the Ukraine - to meet and learn from nonviolent resistors, Palestinian and Israeli alike (we met the courageous Anarchists against the Wall who go out to be shot at with tear gas canisters and live ammunition for supporting nonviolent demonstrations in the villages).

I had long realized that the Palestinians are the jews of the Occupied Territories and the Occupiers are the Europeans (just as Americans are the immigrant Occupiers of indigenous land, the killers and “transferrers” of indigenous people),

***

Vincent was there, leading us in song and in conversations about what we saw and what to do about it. Some weeks afterwards, he read aloud his letter to Bassem Tamimi, leader of nonviolent resistance in the village of Nabi Saleh, jailed and beaten in a way recalling the struggles against racism in America. His powerful cadences, prophetic as well as poetic, are worth taking in (listen here).

***

When we entered the police state of Israel, we couldn’t even take books on the Middle East we were reading for the trip because if the customs inspectors found them, we might be turned away. Aren't many Jews known for curiosity and taking things on politically and in the investigation of nature? Israel, not so much...

***

The government wants no visitor to notice the Wall and the people behind it, the people imprisoned and being, with meticulous calculation, disenfranchised, decitizenized, removed. Palestinians who have lived in Jerusalem for generations have been transformed by decree of the Occupation into “permanent residents.” We met Clay Carson’s student Ramzi Maqdisi who was expelled from his home for going and learning acting in Spain, denied “permission” to return. Israeli officials stifle others and drive them out for acquiring skills – who does that to whom?

***

On the way home, we had to put the fliers and pamphlets we got in the bottom of our small suitcases because if the young airport inspectors found them, we would be taken off and questioned fiercely for 7 or 8 hours.

***

The Israeli state wants to harass and exile those who resist its policies, but in the case of us visitors in solidarity would simply have wanted to get rid of us. This contrasts with Palestinians who can never take their children 35 or 40 kilometres through check points to the sea. In a home in Budrus, another village, we saw "Five Broken Cameras" – the film maker had had his camera broken five times by Israeli authorities who don’t want photos of what they do getting out - which had this theme in it among others. The film maker got shot by the army while filming, and needed an operation in Israel. Then he at last got permission to take his children for a day at the stolen beach.

***

The government would not, after harassing us, have kept us, wanted us to go home. In contrast, this is the Palestinians' home; the process of the second "transfer" or ethnic cleansing in the Occupied Territories, is calculated, longstanding, meticulous; the State of Israel illegally and immorally strips people of their homes.

***

Like the Israeli soldiers those who are too young to be fully formed, to know better, the customs officers are being shaped, except of course, for those who admirably come to themselves. Natan, a young man from Breaking the Silence, showed us around the “Jews only” Shuhadah street in Occupied Hebron - see here. Normally, however, these soldiers do an evil which their elders suffered in Europe.

***

On the trip, we went to Occupied Nabi Saleh, a small village where the Tamimis (the family name of the some 1500 inhabitants) protested nonviolently, except a few teenagers throwing rocks, to save their olive trees. The olive trees, sometimes 2000 years old, pray to heaven, as the villagers say and as Vincent speaks to. See here and here. The Wall cuts them off. Villagers, usually older women, get to water them but one day a year. Settlers sometimes burn them…

The gleaming pink settlement, subsidized by the Israeli government, looms on a nearby hill.

****

Among the black people who came, there wasn’t a person unsympathetic to the plight of jews in Europe. There was also not a person who didn’t see this instantly, as everyone remarked at the Airport, as “Jim Crow” or apartheid.

***

Among our sojourners was Aljosie Aldrich, a powerful and gentle spirit from rural Georgia, long part of the movement, who married Vincent last winter.

***

During the trip, Vincent gave a wonderful interview to Amira Haas, the great Haaretz reporter who lives in and reports from the territories. See here. Though much of the richness of his upbringing was in the support he received from a Victory Tabernacle Seventh Day Church in Harlem where his single mom and he were welcomed and nurtured - see here - he also recalled an upstairs neighbor had become a Jew; his teachers, often Jews, saw the immense potential in him and eldered him.

Vincent's own eldering - seeing the potential of young Osama and Janna Tamimi before they quite see it themselves - mirrored his own.

***

Vincent also went to City College which was then 96% Jewish; Vincent took part in SNCC (though Vincent was active in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Stokely Carmichael, his fellow immigrant from the Caribbean, lived with Vincent and Rosemary), alongside volunteers, many of whom were Jews. One of the noble features of Jewish life has been to accompany - the word is Staughton Lynd's, also a participant in that movement and Vincent’s great friend - others who are oppressed on their path of liberation, to swim in that river…

***

From first to fourth grade, I was a classmate and friend at Walden School of Andy Goodman. I had gone on a freedom ride to Chestertown, Maryland where the people had been attacked by a mob led by the sheriff the week before. Three years later, I decided not go to Freedom Summer in Mississippi. Andy did.

***

Vincent did not know Andy (he was murdered on his first day in Mississippi, having gone from the freedom school in Ohio where most of the volunteers were still gathered, a week early), but was friends with Michael Schwerner and James Cheney.

***

When Vincent or Dorothy Cotton, the education minister and sole woman in the leadership of the SCLC, spoke of freeing the Palestinians, it was thus not for any lack of love for Jews. Quite the contrary. It was seeing what Jews had done straight up, seeing the souls of those who fought oppression, mourning the Europeanness of Israel, and fighting for a community where all people, Jews and Arabs can be treated decently.

***

Israel has been the expelling community. Vincent listened and spoke to all, with great force, of recognizing the Palestinians, of supporting and developing mass nonviolent resistance, and of what, given the end of Occupation, Israelis can do to begin to do to heal…

***

In the small village of Nabi Saleh, we stayed with Bassem Tamimi – see here. Bassem had been in jail for over a year for organizing nonviolent protest against the Wall. Shortly after we left, he held up a sign and chanted at a nonviolent demonstration at a settlement supermarket. He was beaten terribly by the IDF (Israeli "Defense" Forces) – his ribs broken – and was thrown again in an Israeli prison for four months. See here. and here. He adopted Vincent as a cousin when Vincent came (Vincent refers to him as cousin, nephew, brother, son). Listen here. We sat on Bassem’s and Neriman's roof watching a demonstration below (within range of Israeli guns, they knew that we were there and it must have taken some “restraint” to fire live ammunition only at the young Palestinians demonstrating down the hill…).

Vincent and Bassem became fast friends.

***

The Israeli government and its American supporters do not know what to do with Palestinians who walk in the path of Martin Luther King, who mount nonviolent resistance to the Wall. In Nabi Saleh, the Israeli army murdered two younger Tamimis at demonstrations Mohammed Tamimi two weeks before and Rushdi Tamimi two weeks after we were there - see here and Janna's Song here. But the demonstrations forced Israel to move the wall back beyond more of the olive trees.

***

We all walked by the Wall, picked up the silver American-made tear gas canisters - by the deceptively misnamed Consolidated Systems Inc. - and the black "rubber" bullet shells littering the sand and among the rocks. Yes, pictures of this are not to be shown in America, for they would make news like Bull Connor's fire hosing of children and siccing police dogs on demonstrators in Birmingham…People would - and increasingly will - stand up against it.

***

In his interview with Amira Haas, Vincent drew a line:

"Harding wrote King's speech against continuing the war in Vietnam, which was delivered to a huge audience at a New York church exactly a year before King's murder. Harding reassures us that King usually wrote his speeches by himself, but 'at the time he apparently assumed that college professors had more time than freedom leaders.'

They formulated their views against the war together. Harding and King told the skeptics within the black community that 'we have been very glad whenever voices came from outside the U.S., especially from the Third World, to stand in solidarity with us.'

For the same reason it is natural for Harding and his friends to come now and listen to the Palestinians and Israelis who are actively fighting the occupation: In Jerusalem and Bil'in, Ramallah, Hebron, the Deheisheh refugee camp and the village of Walaja. One of the things that he learned immediately in the first two days was 'how ignorant I was about what is really happening in this part of the world, how little I know and how little I have thought about how little I know - which is not characteristic of me. I come to this situation not simply as somebody who has been involved with non-violent actions of various kinds over many years, but as someone who for some known and unknown reasons, ever since I was in high school, was deeply concerned about learning about the Holocaust.'

...'I come from an American situation in which apartheid has been in one shape or another the reality of the country from its beginning up to the 1950s and 1960s, and then a struggle with how to get rid of it. As I have listened to my sisters and brothers here I felt familiarity and identification. I could identify on both levels - it's important to emphasize I came here as someone deeply in love with specific Jewish people, and deeply concerned by the great tragedy of the Holocaust experience. I came here as someone who experienced and fought against racial segregation and racial domination for half a century or more. So all this was very fresh and painful to me and very recognizable.'

And what will you do now with what you've learned?

'I have been gifted with a great network of acquaintances, friends and colleagues, and I see a great responsibility right now to disseminate this knowledge and information in writing and by word. I will meet with lawmakers.'" See here.

Every one of us on the delegation and many others will continue, perhaps less eloquently and humorously but with some persistence, this dissemination...

***

No wonder that Jewish students on campuses all over the country – those who have gotten some knowledge of the Occupation - have joined the fight for divestment. For those of you who think this movement means nothing, consider again the beloved community of solidarity and decency…

***

Vincent had brought the deep red flooding of There is a River back to the Jordan.

***

Vincent and Dorothy Cotton would lead us at a morning or evening meeting and on the bus, in song. Song is hope. See here.

***

After Andy and James Cheney and Michael Schwerner disappeared in Philadelphia, Mississippi, everyone in SNCC knew they were dead. Bob Moses, a great student leader, told all the volunteers to call home and talk with their parents and take a day to think about whether they would stay. We won’t think badly, he said, of anyone for deciding to go home.

They stayed and talked and sang. And the songs, in the immense darkness that surrounded them and those whom they met like Fannie Lou Hamer, a Tamimi of Ruleville, Mississippi, filled them, against all odds, with hope. (Vincent named his center at Iliff the King-Gandhi-Fannie Lou Hamer Center).

Few went home.

***

Vincent remarked on the foolishness of those who mock – "Come by here Lord - 'Kumbaya'"…

***

One morning, we almost sang "Joshua fit the battle of Jericho." But we had a discussion instead. Vincent pointed out that “the walls come tumbling down” so that Joshua can commit genocide against the Canaanites. We all left that spiritual behind. The story of liberation of the Jews has inspired other oppressed people. Barack spoke of how the story of Jews leaving slavery had moved him; Vincent wrote to his younger brother Barack and his advisors, some of whom he knew, about some of the many missteps, even the celebration of taking out Bin Laden - see here).

***

Vincent loved “we are climbin Jacob’s ladder" and composed a resonant new verse:

"We are building up a new world, we are building up a new world, we are building up a new world, builders must be strong." Listen here.

***

In November, after we came back, Vincent invited me to go for lunch and gave me a copy of "This American Life" on the driving of the Sioux out of Minnesota in 1862, “You know”, he said, "the closest analogy to the Palestinians isn’t African-Americans but indigenous people and we should do something about it.”

***

I have long known of and demonstrated against the oppression of indigenous people (at DU, I helped organize a protest in the late 1970s against a racist fantasy in the Clarion about a young woman tanning herself in the New Mexico sun and having elaborate fears of a Native American man walking nearby), but somehow hadn’t taken in the magnitude and bearing on Denver - its founding in the Sand Creek massacre - of this. In January, 2013, I and my wife wrote a letter against the Chivington monument – formally, a 1909 statue to an Anonymous Veteran of the Civil War, not the Civil War against slavery in the South but a second Civil War of ethnic cleansing against indigenous people in the West – in front of the state capitol. See here. And since then, as readers know, I have been engaged in excavating the full meaning of the celebration of John Evans.

This journey, too, began from one of our lunches.

***

I saw Vincent for the last time at a brilliant conversation with Omid Safi, an Islamic scholar who was visiting at Iliff. See here. I shared with them the sesquicentennial of DU and Sand Creek – a journey also set in motion by Vincent's invitation – and its role in the founding of DU and Iliff. Chivington and Evans were on the original board of the Colorado Seminary which became DU, a Methodist University; Iliff became DU’s School of Theology and then an independent institution in 1910. The administration at DU has taken very significant steps to recognize the evil of the Massacre and make, to the extent possible, a new start.

What I said turns out to be a kind of last spiritual callback or report to my friend.

***

I spoke with Vincent at the end of the gathering and gave him a hug.

***

It gave Vincent life, wisdom and wholeness to be on the path of struggle and compassion. In his own way like Dr. King, he was an astronaut, exploring ever new territories which are part of the diverse movement for a beloved community, a multiracial democracy. He named the newness of this American experiment which has emerged from the civil rights movement and is but 50 years old. He was not weary…

***

Vincent Gordon Harding, that great heart and spirit, is no longer here. But I will not, one single day, cease to learn from his powerful, gentle, healing voice or hear his singing. He has brought together many of us through his eldering.

There is a great hole now in the Universe. But we, too, are astronauts…

And there is also unforgettable and marvelous presence. We are, sisters and brothers, of one heart…



Monday, May 26, 2014

Vincent Harding, part 1



Over the past 25 years, it has been my privilege to get to know Vincent Harding. Vincent was a man for whom many of us are, here and in eternity, in the words of Mennonites and the civil rights movement, brothers and sisters.

***

Sometimes, Vincent would come to speak in my seminars on nonviolence. He asked each person her name, where she was from, her maternal grandmother’s maiden name and where she was from, and initated a conversation with each as a full person, even, as it were, among her ancestors. He welcomed everyone into the circle. Vincent preferred to start talks and conversations from questions (I used to listen harder in the seminars with Vincent even than in the ones I teach…; I, too, now start seminars with these questions).

He was as much a radical democrat in teaching as in the movements we were a part of.

***

Vincent lived in a country with a promise of democracy and equal rights (for some), a reality of slavery, segregation and imprisonment toward black people and a great river of resistance against it (racism toward African-Americans is also a linchpin of many other oppressions of poor people and others, at home and abroad, and resistance to it…).

At the center of the civil rights movement in Atlanta and then every day since in Denver, he made and stood for a beloved community, a democracy of friendship and nurturing the young to find themselves as artists, as storytellers and be transformative figures politically. The beloved community is a hope for all of us. In his own spirit and that of his great friend Martin King, he listened, encouraged and exemplified this fledgling community, this movement which enacts a new kind of society.

***

For many summers, Vincent organized multiracial groups of young people to share their arts and politics. He would occasionally invite people to come talk with them, and once I did, talking about and reading some of my poems. The artists engaged with me both about what they did as well as the poems which are about some of my experiences growing up, politics embedded aslant in my life. See "Five Poems" here. Vincent said to me afterwards, with amusement, about some of a distance of worlds: “That’s the first time they met a Jewish communist…”

***

It was not mainly the rule of the rich which Vincent was concerned, though he wrote poetically about King’s last thoughts against it in The Inconvenient Hero. There he pursued the metaphor of King as an astronaut, reaching far beyond others in the movement, striking out against poverty and a world in which ownership by the few meant the unnecessary suffering of millions, particularly of nonwhite people. This is also a theme in King’s "A Time to Break Silence" about the Vietnam aggression - "my government - the most violent government in the world" - of which Vincent wrote the first draft. On the anniversary of the speech and King’s assassination on April 4th 1967 and 1968, he shared the draft with Tavis Smiley – see here, here and here. King spoke marvelously of how the earth’s waters and the chance of each person for a decent life can be no one’s property.

***

I was in New York giving a talk one April a few years ago; on the anniversary of King's speech and his death in Memphis, Vincent invited me to a large gathering at the Riverside Church in Harlem at which he spoke. I asked him from the audience about King and capitalism. What he said in response was that we need a democratic movement of many voices, seeking to create the beloved community. His response surprised me (he had his own version modeled on participatory democracy from support of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee – SNCC - to fight segregation and the constant threat of violence and death. Vincent and Rosemary, his wife, had befriended Stokely Carmichael who lived with them in Atlanta). He thought the movement to build a democratic community would have to find its own collective way – his voice was a powerful guide but always one among others, questioning, counseling as an elder to help each person find her own voice in the moment.

***

I have long been a radical democrat, but I learned from his emphasis (from his eldering a movement). He was surrounded by the spirits of those who had come before of Nat Turner and Harriet Tubman and Ida B. Wells, of those who resisted and made the river – There is a River – of resistance. He taught me what it means to be surrounded by ancestors…

Being a great scholar was the companion of a powerful eloquence, a fiery and somewhat nationalist (John Brown plays little role) and not in spirit nonviolent resistance to oppression. He sometimes chided me when my idiom was not nonviolent - I incline to forceful metaphors for stopping oppression - and I realized, in reading his book, that this was also one of his own struggles, though long settled by the time I knew him.

***

In 1991, I heard Vincent speak at an anti-War rally organized by the AFSC against the first Gulf war (rarely, not a formal case of American aggression though President George H.W. Bush and much of the establishment basely hungered for oil and military bases) and we had lunch afterwards. I asked Vincent if he knew what was the best way forward for the movement (I didn’t beyond some broad strategic points about the importance to democracy of fighting all forms of racism) and he said, like me, he didn’t know. But he did know something that I only sensed: that it is out of the democratic efforts of young people and serving as an elder – telling the stories or narratives of one’s own experiences and inviting those of others, helping each person find his voice, in the larger river of struggle that hope – Vincent's name for his organization, the Veterans of Hope, is beautiful – against the odds, flourishes.

***

On February 16, 2003, I asked Vincent to speak at a rally in Colorado Springs against the Second Gulf War. I and Paula, my wife, and Sage, my then 5 year old son, gave him a ride down. The talk turned to how he had gone with 4 other Mennonites, black and white, on a car trip – a pastoral freedom ride - through the segregated South in 1958 and called Dr. King in Atlanta. King was recovering from a near fatal knife wound, and they had spoken at first with Coretta, but he then invited them over. As they were about to leave, he took Vincent aside and asked him to move to Atlanta. He and Rosemary did three years later, living 5 doors down from the Kings. Martin and Vincent talked often, became alter egos.

***

Martin King was on the road 300 days a year. He wanted to give a powerful speech on Vietnam which would lay out persuasively what they both felt. Vincent was the expert in the movement on Vietnam (I discuss his two brilliant articles from 1965 in Reinhold Niebuhr’s journal Christianity and Crisis, containing the signature phrase about “Western arrogance,” which is also in “A Time to Break Silence” in My Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, ch.2). Vincent wrote the first draft of that speech…

***

The speech is so apt about the trajectory of American aggression, militarism and self-destruction (he speaks of three evils: militarism, racism and materialism), that during the Iraq War, we simply changed the name to Iraq and used some of King’s signature phrases on signs for a demonstration on Martin Luther King’s birthday. Just 4 of us from the anti-War movement over New Year’s - not a good time to meet - planned activities leading up to the demonstration and a few days later, helped make signs and brought them to the march; thousands of marchers took them, and the whole demonstration turned to this issue.

In addition, April Guy, a wonderful social work student, gave a talk and made a slideshow in one of my nonviolence class with this theme and then invited Vincent and I to speak to what became a forum of 150 people against the War at the University of Denver School of Social Work. April gave that slide show just as effectively again.

***

Along with King’s “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail,” “A Time to Break Silence” is a great piece of American writing. If there are humans in a few hundred years, and they read public documents, I would suspect that with Thoreau’s "Civil Disobedience" and the Gettysburg Address, and perhaps some Tom Paine and the Declaration of Independence and if we are lucky Barbara Deming’s “Revolution and Equilibrium”, these will be, among the words about America that survive and are read…

***

On February 16, 2003, the demonstrations worldwide against the American aggression in Iraq involved tens of millions of people, for instance, 2 million in Barcelona, 1 million in Madrid and 1 and ½ million in New York – the police had pens for 10,000 in front of the UN, but the marchers stretched like sardines, my daughter Claire told me, for thirty blocks…

***

But even Vincent, far along the road into the mountains of the spirit compared to many of us (to me anyway), had some deep struggles. Vincent had long thought that the state assassinated King (he was no enthusiast for LBJ…) a year to the day after that speech was given (the King family also does not believe that James Earl Ray was the killer…). And he had a long ordeal over the fact that King had spoken words, many of which Vincent had written, which had led to his death. Vincent wrestled with this spiritual connection and though he made peace with it, though it had quieted in his heart and spirit, though he was a man without bitterness or self-wounding, it seemed to me still to remain there as a presence later on…

***

Vincent had asked his friend Jim Lawson whether he felt guilt for asking Martin King to come to Memphis to support the sanitation workers (I met Lawson, the imaginer of Nashville sit-ins, a three year prisoner for resisting the Korean War, and a brilliant speaker against war and imperialism, through Vincent in Denver). Lawson had counseled him that Martin was acting against the war and against the anti-democratic oppression of workers and the poor in America and had come of his own volition, there to Memphis, to speak. He took on the risks…

One might even say: King’s fate was not determined by happenstance. In that last year as The Inconvenient Hero implies, there was no shielding him from it. At Coretta King’s memorial service, Martin Luther King was called by Jimmy Carter “the greatest political leader my state has ever produced and perhaps the greatest leader my country has produced”…And that is not, as we also know from Lincoln, without sacrifice. For some of Vincent's thoughts about King's last year, see his interview with Amy Goodman here.

Now assassination attempts had been made at least yearly against King from the time he was 26 in Montgomery. It was King’s unique courage in the face of darkness, his spiritual blessing, which enabled him to act with such determination to heal America, to call forth, among people, a determined movement to stop the oppressors, but also to heal their souls in a beloved community.

He told Coretta he wouldn’t make it to age 40. He didn’t…

***

But Lawson was not King’s brother in quite the way Vincent was. The great words that brought on ostracism by corrupt, mainstream civil rights organizations, the New York Times, and LBJ – Johnson knew that King’s words were true, as Johnson’s tapes talking to Senator Russell, now reveal… - had also initially been Vincent’s. It was a long wrestling with an angel…

***

This demonstration on February 16, in the shadow of NORAD built into a mountain there (militarism and misshapen, perhaps one should say nuclear missile-bent “Christianity” are a hallmark of the Springs) was a gathering of 3,000. It was later attacked by the police, one of two nonviolent demonstrations worldwide that day, the other in Madrid, that were.

***

We both spoke that day. Vincent said to me afterwards that I was a child (or leader) of anti-war movements as he in the civil rights movement. (I was on the periphery of the civil rights movement, though my childhood friend Andy Goodman went to the heart of it). One of the many things I learned from Vincent is that the anti-war movement(s) were not a home or a community in the way that the civil rights movement in the American South, a movement out of deeper, lifelong and more immediately life-threatening oppression – see King’s "Letter from the Birmingham City Jail" was and remains. The Southern movement was filled with song and group singing, drawn from the experience of slavery in the spirituals (not just the wonderful ironies and beautiful love songs of Phil Ochs or the grace of Simon and Garfunkel or Country Joe and the Fish…).

That community also grew out of the spiritual communities (Mennonite and perhaps diverse Protestantisms and Buddhism among others) of which Vincent was a part.

***

Yet the community of great movements, afterwards, is somehow brittle. Denver has one of the most vigorous MLK marches in the country (often thirty thousand people show up). But mayors often speak and the official gathering is labelled the “State Farm Martin Luther King Day,” commodity fetishism run amok.

It always struck me as ironic that I might hear Vincent Harding speak at the Riverside Church in Harlem or in Atlanta, but that he was somehow not recognized in Denver, I don’t recall a King march in Denver at which Vincent was asked to speak…

It also always struck me as ironic that so great a figure in the anti-War movement, one whose words embodied truths about the devastating consequences for war for domestic politics, for instance that the war in Vietnam or Iraq was a war on the poor - words which John Mearsheimer or Barack Obama barely touch in mentioning the connection of militarism and authoritarianism here today - see here and here - would be at the Iliff School of Theology at the Veterans of Hope office, a walk across the parking lot, but that only I and one or two colleagues would send, from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, students to work with, learn from him…

***

When Thich Nat Hanh came to Denver to speak, Vincent introduced him (Vincent and I and my wife also went on retreats and did walking meditation with Thich Nat Hanh). Nat Hanh had been the colleague and friends of Thich Quang Duc who burned himself in Cholon to protest the American dictator Diem’s suppression of Buddhism - see here. But he concluded this was not the way. Instead, he came to America to fight the war and has set up monasteries here and in France to heal spirits, to find the beloved community.

In his introduction, Vincent said that it was Thich Nat Hanh’s meeting with King which impelled him, in many ways at great cost, to break his public silence and speak out against the war. Four months before King was assassinated in Memphis, Thich Nat Hanh came back and spoke at a gathering. “We in Vietnam consider you a Boddhisattva” (a being of divine compassion who will not pass into nirvana until every living being has passed…).


***

King was. And in a certain way, so, too, was Vincent…

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Pow wow Sunday noon, Driscoll Green, at DU



Tomorrow at noon (till 8) the Native American students have organized a Pow Wow at DU. This will be good in its own right (indigenous food and dance), but this is also the 150th anniversary both of the founding of the University of Denver and of the Sand Creek massacre.

***

Colonel John Chivington, chief military officer in Colorado and commander of the slaughter, Governor John Evans, Chivington's ally and the man who paved the way for the killing (it could not have happened without Evans's persistent actions from fall, 1863 on, and Walter Newton Byers, publisher and editor of the Rocky Mountain News which instantly proclaimed the massacre "the greatest victory in the history of Indian wars" (it was more ferocious and despicable - these Cheyennes and Arapahos had sought persistently to make peace with the United States and were "in the power of the US army" as an 1865 Joint Congressional Hearing avowed - and yet typical of ethnic cleansing across the country from 1638 in Massachusetts - the Pequot Massacre - on) were on the founding Board of the Colorado Seminary. The seminary evolved into the University of Denver and the Iliff School of Theology.

***

Six descendants of the Cheyennes and Arapahos who were massacred at Sand Creek will be at the Pow wow, and Chancellor Bob Coombe will take part in the blanket ceremony at 1 o'clock. This is part of a long process of recognition and beginning to heal at our University from an awful history (quite typical of American universities both in slaveholding and the murder of indigenous people - see Craig Steven Wilder, Ebony & Ivy, 2013, on the Ivy League colleges and William and Mary...).

The University administration has taken unusual steps to recognize this history, and this is an important one.

***

A previous event this January on lacrosse as a sacred sport united the coaches and players at DU, the indigenous students, and the committee working on Evans and DU for a film showing and discussion of the Medicine Game. Some three hundred fifty people came out on a freezing night. See here. There is now some interplay of the indigenous origins in this sport and indigenous players and coaches - long horribly excluded from a "white" sports activity - and other players. There are novel aspects to this process, and in answer to an ignorant comment, revealing what I call a founding amnesia about ethnic cleansing, Mark Kiszla, below, wrote an unusual column in the Denver Post Friday which touches on some of them.

***

"DU lacrosse star Zach Miller's grandfather embodies family, tradition
By Mark Kiszla
The Denver Post
POSTED: 05/16/2014 12:01:00

Love is the sound of the engine cranking in a gray Ford pickup truck. The man behind the wheel is 65 years old. Brian Miller drives more than 1,500 miles, from the Allegany Reservation in New York to the University of Denver, to watch his grandson play lacrosse. He drives alone. It gives him time to think.

"Lacrosse is special to my people," says Miller, a member of the Seneca Nation. "Lacrosse is the creator's game. So it's very special to us."

From sunrise to sundown, Miller drives with straight-arrow purpose. His creator rides shotgun. As the trusty Ford F-150 slowly outruns Lake Erie, then ducks under the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, waves at wind turbines standing sentry on the Kansas prairie and finally stops at the front door of the Rocky Mountains, an elderly gentleman sees 21st century America and we begin to see the truth:

This is not a story about lacrosse, but a reminder family, tradition and hugs still matter.

You do not need to know the rules of lacrosse to understand what it means for 19-year-old DU freshman Zach Miller to look up from the field and see his grandfather in the stands at games the Pioneers have played from Chapel Hill, N.C., to Orange County, Calif., during their remarkable 15-2 season.

"Nobody's counted it up, but if you look at the team's schedule and take out a map, you could probably figure out how many miles I've driven," Brian Miller says. "I don't miss a game."

The odometer on his pickup truck is closing in on 100,000. By conservative estimate, at least 15 percent of the mileage has been recorded in 2014, during a lacrosse pilgrimage from the heart. What moves Brian Miller to drive so far, so relentlessly and so faithfully?

According to lore of the Iroquois Nations, lacrosse is a gift from the creator as a medicine game to heal the people. The sport's documented history dates to American Indians in the 1600s. Zach Miller began playing lacrosse at age 3 on a reservation in upstate New York. It took him to college halfway across the country. Back home, on any given night, his grandfather can watch children sweeping lacrosse sticks like scythes to win the ball.

For the photo, see here.
University of Denver freshman lacrosse player Zach Miller (Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post)

"The Native American kids play lacrosse for a bigger reason than a lot of people do," Pioneers coach Bill Tierney says. When Zach Miller graduates from DU in 2017, Tierney insists it will be the best story of his storied coaching career.

What Mike Krzyzewski is to college basketball, Tierney is to lacrosse. He's the gold standard. Before taking the job on lacrosse's western frontier in 2009, Tierney won six NCAA championships at Princeton.

So are we really to believe Zach Miller can be his crowning glory as a coach?

"We all want to win. Any coach who says he does it only for the love of the game is full of baloney," says Tierney, who has won big for three decades.

"When you get to my stage in the coaching journey, you realize those wins are really important to the young men who play the game, and I coach them as hard as I did 20 years ago, but you also start to have some perspective about the meaning of this game. I've never had a Native American play for me. Zach Miller brings such meaning to the game, it makes you think. He's using lacrosse to get his education, to help his family, to help his reservation and to help his people. If his goals are so big, then my goals have to match his ambition."

On a blustery spring Saturday afternoon, the Pioneers blow open their NCAA Tournament matchup against North Carolina when Zach Miller scores twice on booming left-handed shots almost as loud as the sound of nearly 3,000 jaws dropping throughout Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium. Later, in the half light of dusk, the freshman star can be found standing in his uniform a full hour after the game, as he quietly chats with his grandfather outside the locker room.

What does it mean to catch the eye of a family member who drives across three time zones and eight states to watch him play?

"It's crazy to think about. It shows how proud he is. It shows how much family matters," Zach Miller says. "My grandfather tells me he prefers driving over flying. But all the way across the country and back? Now, that's crazy."

A pickup truck can haul two tons of love.

After publishing a column saluting the 9-5 victory that sends the Pioneers to an Elite Eight date against Drexel, however, an electronic message from a DU alum drops with a thud in my e-mail box.

"I personally think it's nice the rich, white kids don't have the pressure of making the baseball or football team any longer, but lacrosse becoming a cool thing? Come on," writes the alum, who seems to think any sport that requires a ball to be whacked with a stick belongs next to golf on the country club buffet line.

Well, here's my humble suggestion: Put your cynic's heart in a box, jump in the pickup truck of 65-year-old Brian Miller and let him take you for a drive on a lacrosse tour across America. Like a family hug, the good stuff of his creator's game can warm the soul. There's something to love in every mile of highway, if you're willing to open your eyes.

The road goes on forever, and the opportunities are endless."

Friday, May 16, 2014

Close Guantanamo demos, UK hooding and murder, and Sand Creek



You might think Sand Creek or the Amritsar massacre were in the past for the US or British army in Iraq. You would be wrong...

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In the second story below, the British army captured a nameless man, kicked him to death for loosening the bonds on his hands, and couldn't be bothered to find out his name. Tariq Sabri al-Fahdawi has not been given justice.

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Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas Mercer, the British military's most senior lawyer in the country just after the American-British invasion who saw the prisoners hooded, warned about international law (Tony Blair and George Bush are special "Christian" perpetrators of torture, like the folks who tacked that perpetrator in Bethlehem up on a cross along with many others). Founding amnesias runs deep; Sand Creek is today, to American and British pundits, far away.

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Chivington was a Methodist Elder...

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Al Qaeda in Iraq cut off the head of an innocent American. It needs to be put out of business. But is there no mote in the American and British eye?

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Iraq is "Indian country,"an American captain announced to his troops, poised to invade in 2003. See here.

***

Habaes corpus - the right of each person to a day in court and not to be tortured - is the centerpiece of Anglo-American law. These militaries under orders from the Executive - authoritarian "commander in chief power" (cf. Carl Schmitt, Leo Strauss) - spat on the rule of law.

***

As in the expansion in the American West - "Manifest Destiny" - or British colonial conquest and administration, nonwhite people then and now may be tortured and thrown away.

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The war criminals, whose tracks are in these articles, are American and British leaders and officers. Yet there are no hearings about these Sand Creeks. In contrast to today's official silence, three Federal hearings, once upon a time, rightly condemned that massacre.

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Counts of Monte Christo have been on hunger strike at Guantanamo...

***

Every human being who wants to live in a decent democracy and not feel or face revulsion - something each of us has a profound concern about or interest in - should come to a "Close Guantanamo" demonstration a week from Friday, May 23 (see the first article below), and push hard for hearings for those who did this and more importantly, those who sent them. Torturers on parade - see here and here - these are high American and British government officials, soldiers and now those who protect them. CIA criminal Jose Rodriguez illegally destroyed tapes of American/CIA torture (like a Picture of Dorian Gray, these tapes revealed Mr. Rodriguez's soul...), but tapes of British torture still exist.

Early in his first term, Obama released the torture memos, but has since abetted the torturers. It would be an act to restore civilization for the UK government to release these tapes and condemn (rather than shelter like some all encompassing poison) what they show...

***

"Close Guantánamo: Take Part in the Global Day of Action on May 23, 2014
12.5.14

The links in this article can be found here.

Next Friday, May 23, is a global day of action, “Not Another Broken Promise! Not Another Day in Guantánamo!” organized by the campaigning group Witness Against Torture, with the support of numerous other groups including Close Guantánamo, Amnesty International, Blue Lantern Project, Center for Constitutional Rights, CloseGitmo.net, Code Pink, London Guantánamo Campaign, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, No More Guantánamos, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, Torture Abolition and Survivor Support Coalition, Veterans for Peace and World Can’t Wait.

25 events in five countries have been arranged so far, and they include events in New York, Washington D.C., Boston, Chicago, London, Munich and Toronto. The full list can be found here, and Andy Worthington, the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, will be speaking at the London protest, which takes place in Trafalgar Square from 12 noon to 2pm. If your hometown isn’t represented, and you want to set up your own event, please contact Witness Against Torture, and see this page for a comprehensive toolkit for those organizing protests.

It’s a year since President Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo

The reason for the global day of action next Friday is because, on May 23, it will be exactly a year since President Obama delivered a major speech on national security issues, in which he promised to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, after a period of nearly three years in which the release of prisoners had almost ground to a halt. Sadly, it took a prison-wide hunger strike — and unprecedented domestic and international interest in the plight of the prisoners — for the president to promise action.

Congress had imposed restrictions on the release of prisoners, requiring the administration to certify that, if released, prisoners would be unable to engage in terrorism — a certification that was, essentially, impossible to make. However, although a waiver existed in the legislation, allowing President Obama to bypass Congress if he regarded it as being “in the national security interests of the United States,” the president chose not to use it.

What made this so unacceptable was the fact that 86 of the 166 prisoners still held in Guantánamo when President Obama made his speech and delivered his promise last May had been cleared for release in January 2010 by a high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, appointed by President Obama shortly after he took office in 2009. The task force reviewed the cases of all the prisoners held when the Obama presidency began, and recommended them for release, for prosecution or for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial.

Two-thirds of these prisoners were Yemenis, and another obstacle was raised to prevent their release after a airline bomb plot, hatched in Yemen, was foiled in December 2009, and, in response, President Obama issued a moratorium on releasing any Yemenis. The president only lifted that ban in his speech last May, but it had never been fair, as it constituted a blanket form of “guilt by nationality,” and there is no way that establishing a review process and then not releasing prisoners recommended for release can be regarded as anything other than a desperately cruel measure that would shame a dictatorship.

Since President Obama made his promise last May, he has appointed two envoys to assist with the closure of Guantánamo — Cliff Sloan in the State Department and Paul Lewis in the Pentagon — and 12 prisoners have been released. This is commendable, but it is just a start. 77 cleared prisoners are still held — 75 cleared for release by the task force, and two cleared for release by the new Periodic Review Boards established last year — and as long as these men are held, in such significant numbers, there can be no complacency regarding Guantánamo and the still urgent need for the prison to be closed and for this dark chapter in America’s history to be brought to an end.

It is particularly important for the Yemenis — who make up 57 of these 77 men — to be released, and to be released immediately. Not a single Yemeni has been released since President Obama dropped his ban a year ago, and it is disgraceful that everyone in a position of power and responsibility in the US seems to believe that having fears about the security situation in Yemen justifies holding men forever, despite a presidential task force — and, in two recent cases, high-level Periodic Review Boards — concluding that they should be released.

What you can do now

- Please call the White House on 202-456-1111 or 202-456-1414 to urge President Obama to act immediately to release the cleared Yemeni prisoners. You can also submit a comment online.

- Call Cliff Sloan at the State Department on 202-647-4000 to demand action on the release of prisoners. Tell him you’re disappointed that only 12 men have been released since President Obama’s speech last May.

Note: This article was published simultaneously here and on the website of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here – or here for the US).


- See more at: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2014/05/12/close-guantanamo-take-part-in-the-global-day-of-action-on-may-23-2014/#sthash.TVS5NpX1.dpuf

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"Films of UK army interrogations in Iraq 'show the good, the bad and the ugly'
With efforts to force a public inquiry proving unsuccessful, a cache of at least 2,626 recordings remains mostly unseen

ICC to investigate claims that British troops carried out war crimes

Ian Cobain
theguardian.com, Tuesday 13 May 2014 11.21 EDT

Describing what he witnessed in Iraq, Nicholas Mercer said: 'It's a bit like seeing a picture of Guantánamo Bay for the first time. It is quite a shock.' Photograph: Martin Argles for the Guardian

Not long after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas Mercer, then the British military's most senior lawyer in the country, paid a visit to an interrogation centre that the army's intelligence corps had established near Basra.

He was appalled by what he saw.

Around 40 handcuffed Iraqis were being forced to squat on the ground with their hands cuffed high behind their backs. Dark blue hoods covered their heads and nearby a generator was running. Later, in a statement to the inquiry into the death of Baha Mousa, Mercer described what he saw as "repulsive" and added: "It's a bit like seeing a picture of Guantánamo Bay for the first time. It is quite a shock."

Mercer warned the interrogators that the use of hooding had been banned three decades earlier, and that it would impair the detainees' breathing. He was told, however, that the use of hoods and stress positions "was in accordance with British army doctrine on tactical questioning".

Mercer suspects the generators were intended to muffle the sound of whatever was happening inside the tents where interrogations took place.

He may well have been correct. A couple of years into the occupation, the intelligence corps began making video films of their interrogations in Iraq. At least 2,626 recordings were made, and one investigator who has watched them told the Guardian that the contained images that included "the good, the bad and the ugly".

Just a handful have been made public, during judicial review proceedings at the high court in London that lawyers brought in an attempt to force a public inquiry into the UK military's entire detention and interrogation regime during the five-and-a-half years of the occupation of the south-east of Iraq.

The films show detainees being threatened, intimidated, subjected to sensory deprivation and complaining of starvation.

One video shows a prisoner protesting that he is in pain. The interrogator shouts: "Good. I hope you die of cancer. I hope your kids die." At the end of that session the prisoner is ordered to replace the goggles and the interrogator shouts an order for a guard to take him away "for a little run". The earmuffs are replaced and the prisoner is dragged away by his thumbs.

Guards at the interrogation centre have told the Guardian that between interrogation sessions – and out of sight of the cameras – they were ordered to kick the prisoners and strike them with rifle butts while forcing them, blindfolded, around obstacle courses. They also say they were ordered to prevent prisoners going to sleep.

As the evidence mounted, the Ministry of Defence appeared increasingly nervous that the high court could conclude that the abuse was systemic, arising out of the training of troops and the instructions they had received, rather than the work of small numbers of "rogue" service personnel.

Four years ago – as part of an attempt to persuade the courts that they did not need to order a wide-ranging public inquiry – the MoD established the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) to investigate complaints from detainees.

IHAT is currently investigating 93 allegations of mistreatment involving 179 people. Nobody has been charged with any serious offence. One man was fined after he was filmed beating an Iraqi.

Some MPs complain that the absence of any charges suggests that IHAT's £35.7m budget is a waste of public money [this is the least of its problems, what it abets...]; lawyers for former detainees say the failure to prosecute is evidence that a more effective investigation is needed.

IHAT is not just examining allegations of mistreatment of detainees. The MoD admitted to the Guardian in 2010 that at least seven Iraqi civilians had died in UK military custody, in addition to Baha Mousa.

IHAT is now examining 52 allegations of unlawful killing involving 63 deaths, some of them individuals who were in custody.

The deaths include one that the Guardian examined in detail in 2011 and 12. Tariq Sabri al-Fahdawi was one of 64 men detained at a roadblock [was there a specific crime any soldier or official can recall?] shortly after the invasion and taken to a prison in western Iraq that was being run by US, British and Australian special forces. The existence of the prison was concealed from both military lawyers like Mercer, and from the Red Cross.

The men had been hooded, their thumbs were bound together, and they were being ferried to the prison aboard RAF Chinook helicopters. Fahdawi died aboard one of the helicopters, allegedly kicked to death by troops from the RAF regiment when he managed to slip out of the plastic ties around his thumbs.

The Guardian discovered that the RAF police who conducted the initial investigation waited more than a year before asking an RAF pathologist whether they should exhume Fahdawi's body. When the RAF pathologist said they should not – a decision that surprised a civilian pathologist – RAF prosecutors concluded that there was insufficient evidence to bring any charges.

Documents from the case obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and through leaks showed that the RAF police had failed even to establish the dead man's name.

Responsibility for service prosecutions has since been removed from the three armed forces and handed to the Service Prosecuting Authority, formed in 2009.

IHAT has re-investigated the death of Fahdawi, but it is unclear what conclusions it has reached. A report has been handed to the MoD, but the MoD says it will not be published [i.e. nothing that can stand the light of day...]..

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Secret memos and Presidential "authority" to kill Americans



Laws are public. But David Barron's memos, licensing the President to murder Americans far from the field of battle, are secret.

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Executive power which is not tyrannical does not allow the President to act as a court of law, to be judge, jury and executioner. That is the meaning of separation of powers and of the rule of law.

Drone murders, including the 16 year old Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki and his cousin, have no legal sanction. In that case, there is no doubt that the Obama administration murdered two innocent Americans, along with 10 innocent Yemenis, at a rural food stand in Yemen.

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The Office of Legal Council is, since Bush, often mere shady lawyering for the administration. Their secret opinions have no legal standing - they are mere advice to a client often serving as "cover" (cf. John Yoo's memos on torture) for crimes. Obama or Bush or Condi can merely allude to them - "oh, the lawyers told us..."

To use such memos as a secret justification of murder is something for a tyranny or a rogue state, not a regime with the rule of law.

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But America, under Bush and now Obama, lacks both a rule of law and decency...This looks to be, in Jack Balkin's sense (the Yale constitutional law professor; see Balkinization), a new bipartisan regime. Balkin calls it a national surveillance state, but one might add, a murder of citizens-by-drone state.

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Breaking with this sick consensus, Rand Paul commendably tells the truth about these killings below, as do the ACLU and Code Pink. It is ridiculous to appoint a person to a permanent federal judgeship who has written sanctioning such murders. But worse yet, underlining their reek, Barron and the Obama administration refuse even to release the memos sanctioning murder...

These memos will not - as Obama's policies will not - stand the light of day, the publicity of law.

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It is very important that the rule of law be restored in America. Bush and Cheney were nearly fatal to it, but Obama has also done many horrific things - having no hearings about torture - see here, committing drone murders in countries the US is not at war with (acts of aggression in Somalia, Pakistan and Yemen), murders of American citizens...

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In addition, the NSA has become a completely irresponsible and illegal apparatus for spying on everyone. See the Times' review of Glenn Greenwald's new book No Place to Hide here.

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Imagine an America not dominated by militarism (an official budget of $708 billion in Obama's first year in office, a real expenditure, counting "intelligence" of over a trillion, feeding a war complex - a military-industrial-congressional-think tank- media - university presidents - foreign military clients like Egypt - intelligence complex...

Imagine an America, as Conor Friedersdorf suggests below, in which the President shuns committing murder (in today's America, even Obama, the admirer of King and Gandhi, has become, he says, "good at killing).

Imagine...

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The Establishment (Democratic-Republican) coalition to sustain torture, murder, drone murder, spying on Americans, and hold no hearings about such crimes (Bush officials have recently been on tour, widely protested from below, though, of course, none dare go abroad...) needs to be challenged. About murder, Mr. Paul does.

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"The Opinion Pages | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
New York Times

Show Us the Drone Memos
By RAND PAUL MAY 11, 2014

WASHINGTON — I BELIEVE that killing an American citizen without a trial is an extraordinary concept and deserves serious debate. I can’t imagine appointing someone to the federal bench, one level below the Supreme Court, without fully understanding that person’s views concerning the extrajudicial killing of American citizens.

But President Obama is seeking to do just that. He has nominated David J. Barron, a Harvard law professor and a former acting assistant attorney general, to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

While he was an official in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, Mr. Barron wrote at least two legal memos justifying the execution without a trial of an American citizen abroad. Now Mr. Obama is refusing to share that legal argument with the American people.

On April 30, I wrote to the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, urging him to delay this nomination, pending a court-ordered disclosure of the first memo I knew about. Since that letter, I have learned more. The American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to all senators on May 6, noting that in the view of the Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman, Dianne Feinstein, “there are at least eleven OLC opinions on the targeted killing or drone program.” It has not been established whether Mr. Barron wrote all those memos, but we do know that his controversial classified opinions provided the president with a legal argument and justification to target an American citizen for execution without a trial by jury or due process.

I believe that all senators should have access to all of these opinions. Furthermore, the American people deserve to see redacted versions of these memos so that they can understand the Obama administration’s legal justification for this extraordinary exercise of executive power. The White House may invoke national security against disclosure, but legal arguments that affect the rights of every American should not have the privilege of secrecy.

I agree with the A.C.L.U. that “no senator can meaningfully carry out his or her constitutional obligation to provide ‘advice and consent’ on this nomination to a lifetime position as a federal appellate judge without being able to read Mr. Barron’s most important and consequential legal writing.” The A.C.L.U. cites the fact that in modern history, a presidential order to kill an American citizen away from a battlefield is unprecedented.

The Bill of Rights is clear. The Fifth Amendment provides that no one can be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The Sixth Amendment provides that “the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury,” as well as the right to be informed of all charges and have access to legal counsel. These are fundamental rights that cannot be waived with a presidential pen.

In battle, combatants engaged in war against America get no due process and may lawfully be killed. But citizens not in a battlefield, however despicable, are guaranteed a trial by our Constitution.

No one argues that Americans who commit treason shouldn’t be punished. The maximum penalty for treason is death. But the Constitution specifies the process necessary to convict.

Anwar al-Awlaki was an American citizen who was subject to a kill order from Mr. Obama, and was killed in 2011 in Yemen by a missile fired from a drone. I don’t doubt that Mr. Awlaki committed treason and deserved the most severe punishment. Under our Constitution, he should have been tried — in absentia, if necessary — and allowed a legal defense. If he had been convicted and sentenced to death, then the execution of that sentence, whether by drone or by injection, would not have been an issue.

But this new legal standard does not apply merely to a despicable human being who wanted to harm the United States. The Obama administration has established a legal justification that applies to every American citizen, whether in Yemen, Germany or Canada.

Defending the rights of all American citizens to a trial by jury is a core value of our Constitution. Those who would make exceptions for killing accused American citizens without trial should give thought to the times in our history when either prejudice or fear allowed us to forget due process. During World War I, our nation convicted and imprisoned Americans who voiced opposition to the war. During World War II, the government interned Japanese-Americans.

The rule of law exists to protect those who are minorities by virtue of their skin color or their beliefs. That is why I am fighting this nomination. And I will do so until Mr. Barron frankly discusses his opinions on executing Americans without trial, and until the American people are able to participate in one of the most consequential debates in our history.

Rand Paul is a Republican senator from Kentucky."

***

"The Atlantic
Rand Paul's Call for Releasing the Extrajudicial-Killing Memos
Will President Obama refuse a demand that unites the Kentucky Republican and the ACLU?

CONOR FRIEDERSDORF MAY 12 2014, 7:24 AM ET

Senator Rand Paul wrote a Sunday op-ed in the New York Times arguing that all Americans deserve to see the Office of Legal Counsel memos used to justify the killing of an American citizen without charges, trial, or due process of law. President Obama wants to appoint a lawyer who helped to write those memos to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Crying foul are voices as diverse as Paul, Senator Ron Wyden, the ACLU, and antiwar group Code Pink.

Under pressure, the Obama Administration has already agreed to show at least some of David Barron's legal work on drone killing to senators, but as the New York Times editorialized last week, the public ought to see these memos as well. I've gone farther, arguing that Barron enabled killing that clearly transgressed against the Fifth Amendment, cannot be trusted to safeguard our constitutional rights on the federal bench, and should be disqualified from consideration.

Paul contextualizes the damage Barron has helped to do (emphasis added):

Anwar al-Awlaki was an American citizen subject to a kill order from Mr. Obama, and was killed in 2011 ... I don’t doubt that Mr. Awlaki committed treason and deserved the most severe punishment. Under our Constitution, he should have been tried—in absentia, if necessary—and allowed a legal defense. If he had been convicted and sentenced to death, then the execution of that sentence, whether by drone or by injection, would not have been an issue.

But this new legal standard does not apply merely to a despicable human being who wanted to harm the United States. The Obama administration has established a legal justification that applies to every American citizen, whether in Yemen, Germany or Canada. Defending the rights of all American citizens to a trial by jury is a core value of our Constitution.

For a different assessment of Barron's legal work, here's Benjamin Wittes writing at Lawfare (Lawfare often assesses executive power from the anti-rule of law, anti-decency Right):

"The memos Barron wrote—at least to the extent we can judge them from summaries of them in the press and in the administration’s white paper—are not permissive with respect to targeted killing. As I explained in detail in this congressional testimony, they are actually quite narrow. One can argue about whether they are too narrow or whether they are appropriately cautious, but it’s actually difficult to imagine the administration’s having adopted a more limiting set of legal rules than it did."

In a way, this is hard to dispute. The plain text of the Fifth Amendment forbids the premeditated killing of an American far from any battlefield–but after eight years of George W. Bush, featuring the legal work of John Yoo and David Addington, and the the national-security state's behavior under Obama, including the disappointing tenure of Harold Koh, I find it "difficult to imagine" executive-branch lawyers adhering to the Constitution when it forbids some action that they've settled on. After all, we've seen the federal government violate the Constitution and the law on many occasions during the War on Terrorism. Almost no one is ever punished and there are always lawyers around to twist words in ways that empower their bosses.

But I can imagine a Congress that stops acceding to executive-branch overreach. I can imagine efforts to deny advancement to people who play a part in eroding our rights. With sufficient political pressure, the national-security state could be forced to pay more deference to the Constitution. OLC lawyers could be shown that enabling the president is no longer a good career move if it comes at the expense of the Bill of Rights. One day, I hope we'll all be able to imagine executive-branch lawyers who err on the side of protecting liberty. And I hope an OLC lawyer declares, "The U.S. Constitution flatly forbids this sort of targeted killing."

Friday, May 9, 2014

Poem: is


the chemistry teacher is gone
the English teacher is gone
the Confederate history teacher

the principal who stood inviting over
the baseball coach whose son the star

creamchippedbeef

the nature teacher greensnake
nightjanitor
woman behind the

curls

(even Greens itself
t y p e write r


is gone

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Student protest comes home to Condi Rice



For a vivid tape of the vigorous student protest and questioning of a Rutgers Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, see here.

The Vice Chancellor's argument was that the decision had been made and would not be changed. In fact, however, Condi has backed out. If you feel the anger at torture and the Iraq aggression of these students and the faculty who condemned this whitewash "invitation," you will understand why.

***

What has Condi to say about torture? That the President ordered it? What has she to say about the hundred who died, according to Pentagon statistics, in Pentagon custody? For the relevant international and American laws which the Bush administration violated, see here; for my debate with Republican State Senator Shawn Mitchell about whether Condi is a war criminal, see here; and for "A Performer Lost in her Performance," see here.

What has Condi to say about the illegal and immoral aggression against Iraq? There were many smoking guns and deaths; Condi's fantasies about a nuclear cloud and authority, as an official of the United States of America, strove to legitimize this.

***

Condi has been at five Universities to speak. She has been at Southern Methodist University, home of the Bush library, and the University of Denver (her alma mater where many people who were appalled stayed away). She has been protested at Boston College in 2006 where many faculty and students turned their back on her and held up signs about war criminality below and at the University of Minnesota last month. But students and faculty at Rutgers found her giving a commencement speech too much; it betrayed what the search for truth, or as a student says, what all the hard work and massive debt to earn a degree today means.

This anger at the celebration of a war criminal - a role for some University administrations in return for raising money from rich donors, parents and alumni but also part of the elite attempt to smooth over American war crimes as if Obama can speak forcefully on human rights and yet shelter/become complicit with these criminals - is apt.

***

These students and faculty spoke for international opinion, for the opinion of humankind. This well travelled Secretary of State cannot go abroad, nor can her fellow war criminals for fear of arrest. Below is my poem about this:

Poem: Er in ye s


blackwoman among whites

Madame Secretary

cannot g o

Mr. President

boxedtheSuperbowl

can not g o

Mr. Pentagon


thickarethechainsofspirit

bighousein Marylan d

Mr. Cheney

can not g o



a b r o a d"

***

It was not the Chancellor or the Vice Chancellor who speaks as an adult (her phrase); it is those who stand up for international law and decency.

***

The Vice Chancellor offered the thought that the demonstrators were violating the right to a quiet work environment of others. Nobody asked the people who worked at the Chancellor's office (some of them probably enjoyed it). But the main point is that aggressing against a country does massive harm (over a million Iraqis killed, several million displaced) and that Bush's torture and Obama's looking away have made America an outlaw state. Further, none of the students or faculty who opposed the invitation were consulted beforehand. That is a blow against democracy. Taken together, these crimes vastly override a supposed right - invoked by a boss yet, against widespread, reasonable - to a calm work atmosphere.

***

Chancellor Barchi is also reported as saying that Condi is a leading "intellectual and politics figure" of the last 50 years. As an intellectual, this is a nonstarter (she has written a book about the Czech army under Soviet domination). As a politician, the first black woman who is Secretary of State, this might be true, except that she carried out massive war crimes. The latter as the students underline make the praise repulsive.

***

That a man as arrogant and ignorant as Barchi is the Chancellor and that the Vice-Chancellor makes such silly, fatalistic and false arguments is a sad commentary on a University community becoming dominated by corporations ("privatization").

***

That the students at Rutgers are so vigorous and dominated this issue intellectually (there is no question who on moral, intellectual and political grounds ought to be in charge) is, however, very heartening.

***

Today, someone in the elite, even one of the torturers, needs to speak out in condemnation of torture, to make it clear that it is something America will not do again (except Rand Paul who is, sadly, awful on domestic issues, we could expect more torture from any Republican President, and continued sheltering of and apology for war criminals from Hillary Clinton). But crimes - as with drone murders of civilians including teenage Americans - are what the US government, in a bipartisan way, stands for (the ACLU-Senator Paul rightly objects to a lifetime judgeship for David Barron who refuses, along with the Obama administration, to release his memos on the supposed justification for taking out Anwar Al-Awlaki - a dishonorable opinion, morally and legally speaking. Has the Senator, however, objected to Obama's protection of war criminals?).

***

A University President who sponsors Rice speaking - "murder, torture, it's just a figure of speech," a vapid postmodernism/relativism - is just part of a way that a ruling class spreads a criminal message.

***

The students and faculty stood for what is decent. Sometimes, like Governor John Altgeld of Illinois who pardoned those framed for "the Haymarket massacre" in 1886 or Governor Ralph L. Carr of Colorado who was the lone federal official to speak out against the internment camps for Japanese-Amricans in World War II (the new judicial building in Denver is honorably named for Carr), officials do the right thing about great issues of peace, war and justice. It is rare.

Temporary applause is often loud. But here the students - and the truth - break through...

***

The comment below by Juan Cole, though for some reason he understates laws against torture inscribes beautiful words in the stone of history. Condi stepped down Saturday because history will not look kindly at her, her administration or the foreign policy elite (many, many Democrats) for what was done in this time. The competing narrative, as we have seen about her debacle at Rutgers, is to try, with some desperation, to change the subject...

***

"Torture

Condoleezza Rice, Charged with War Crimes at Rutgers, withdraws as Commencement Speaker
By Juan Cole | May. 4, 2014 |


Condoleezza Rice on Saturday pulled out of giving the commencement address at Rutgers University after professor and student protests.

Rutgers historian Professor Rudy Bell argued that while it would be appropriate to have Rice on campus as part of an academic debate, she is unsuitable as a commencement speaker because of her role in an administration that launched an illegal and destructive war and practiced torture. He said, “Commencement is a day when we honor the graduates, who have accomplished so much. It’s a day when there should not be controversy.” He also pointed to her role in an administration that practiced torture.

Some 50 students occupied the offices of Rutgers University’s president last week in protest.

Professor Bell is being polite. Dr. Rice is a war criminal in international law. She played a key role in launching a war that contravenes the United Nations charter, which requires that use of force against another country come either in self-defense after an attack or be authorized by the United Nations Security Council (as was the case with the Gulf War, Afghanistan and Libya). Even if one took seriously the “responsibility to protect,” which some feel justifies a humanitarian intervention to stop an ongoing genocide, there was no massive humanitarian crisis in 2002 in Iraq that justified a foreign invasion. Nor did any large international organization back the war in Iraq– even the US’s NATO allies were almost universally opposed (excepting the UK and some recent Eastern European additions, who also cooperated with Bush’s torture program).
Not only did she back an illegal invasion and occupation, she did so on the basis of a set of falsehoods. She retailed 56 distinct falsehoods to the American people. She warned that we do not want the smoking gun for Iraq’s (non-existent) nuclear weapons program to be a mushroom cloud, a piece of war propaganda that would have caused Goebbels’ heart to swell with pride. As then Rep. Robert Wexler argued, Rice had at hand intelligence that contradicted her talking points, but always made a forceful case for war. She even had the US public convinced that poor, weak, ramshackle Iraq, lacking a navy or air force and under severe economic sanctions for a decade, posed an existential threat to the United States.

Rice’s actions established a precedent that has been cited by Vladimir Putin for his intervention in the Ukraine, and so contributed to a profound weakening and deterioration of the framework of international legality that the post-World War II generation, including Dwight Eisenhower, attempted to erect.

As for Iraq, she left it a broken country, with hundreds of thousands dead, 2 million displaced abroad, 4 million displaced internally, likely 400,000 badly wounded, where car bombings and sniping still take some 800 lives a month and where radical Sunni al-Qaeda affiliates have established themselves and Iran-linked radical Shiite militias have free play. She hinted around at an al-Qaeda link to Iraq before she invaded it, but there was none. She brought al-Qaeda to Iraq and it has killed far more Iraqis than the 3000 Americans whose lives it took on September 11. Iraq never had anything at all to do with al-Qaeda, but she made it a scapegoat so as to get at its petroleum resources [though an oil woman, however, China among others cashed in on Iraqi oil contracts; the policy was ineffectual even from an imperialist point of view].

I’m with Rudy Bell, that campuses should be open to all kinds of people. But when we bring war criminals, it should be at least in part to debate with them their criminal actions, not to honor them with a doctorate and give them $35,000. And graduating students at a liberal arts university deserve to hear from admirable people, like Foreign Service Officers John H. Brown and Peter Van Buren {and Ann Wright]. High office does not mint a person as an exemplar. It is a platform for potential achievements, and where it is used for death and mayhem and illegality, it is a badge of dishonor.

Related videos:

Representative Press: 'Condoleezza Rice: Liar, Secretary of State, War Criminal'

pt1

For the videos, see here.


Pt. 2:

Pt. 3'

***


DemoracyNow
"'War Criminals Shouldn’t Be Honored': Rutgers Students Nix Condoleezza Rice from Commencement Speech

For photos, see here.

GUESTS
Carmelo Cintrón Vivas, media spokesperson for the No Rice Campaign and a senior at Rutgers University. He was one of the organizers of the protests and was involved in every direct action that the university students staged.

Baher Azmy, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has withdrawn as commencement speaker at Rutgers University following protests by faculty and students over her role in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Rutgers faculty had circulated a petition decrying the role Rice played in "efforts to mislead the American people about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq." Last week, Rutgers students occupied a campus building in a call for the invitation to be withdrawn. In a statement this weekend, Rice said her appearance "has become a distraction." We discuss the "No Rice Campaign" with Rutgers University student protester Carmelo Cintrón Vivas and Baher Azmy, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has withdrawn as commencement speaker at Rutgers University in New Jersey following protests by faculty and students over her role in the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and U.S. interrogation policies. The Rutgers Board of Governors picked the former high-ranking Bush official in February. Rutgers faculty immediately circulated a petition decrying the role Rice played in, quote, "efforts to mislead the American people about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq." In September of 2002, speaking to CNN, then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice uttered these famous words explaining the threat presented by Saddam Hussein.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: There will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire a nuclear weapon, but we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.

AMY GOODMAN: In a statement posted on her official Facebook page on Saturday, Condoleezza Rice said, quote, "Commencement should be a time of joyous celebration for the graduates and their families. Rutgers’ invitation to me to speak has become a distraction for the university community at this very special time," she wrote. Rutgers President Robert Barchi had refused to disinvite Rice after the protests and organized sit-ins at the university.

Well, to talk more about the protest, how it came to be known as the No Rice Campaign, we’re joined now by Carmelo Cintrón Vivas, a senior at Rutgers University, one of the organizers of the protest, involved in every direct action that the university students staged. And still with us, Baher Azmy. He is legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Carmelo. So, your response to Condoleezza Rice withdrawing from the commencement address?

CARMELO CINTRÓN VIVAS: Well, first of all, thank you for having me and for covering us. I think that, speaking for the group, we are very happy. On Monday morning, we were—Saturday morning, we were very happy and very pleased when we heard the news that Condoleezza Rice herself decided to back out. We think that that might be even a more powerful statement than the university disinviting her, and we are proud that our direct actions and our pressure were felt and our voices were heard from the bottom up.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did you oppose her speaking at commencement?

CARMELO CINTRÓN VIVAS: Well, as a group of students—and I’m referring to the group of students protesting—we felt that war criminals shouldn’t be honored by our university. Someone who has such a tainted record as a public servant in this country should not go to our university, speak for 15 minutes, get an honorary law degree for trying to circumvent the law, and receive $35,000. We believe that that is wrongful, and that’s not fair to any student graduating or not graduating at Rutgers University.

AMY GOODMAN: So what did you do? And how widespread was the opposition?

CARMELO CINTRÓN VIVAS: Well, first of all, it was very small. This started about two weeks ago, and it was maybe—the actions started about two weeks ago. It was maybe about three or four people flyering at public activities. And all of a sudden, we decided that it was our chance to start creating direct actions. So we called for a rally and a sit-in on Monday, if we had the numbers. And luckily enough and hopefully enough, we had the numbers on Monday. So we staged a sit-in at the president’s office. And after that, it just grew exponentially, and it continues to grow. And we haven’t stopped working. We’re still on educating and making sure everyone knows why we protested this.

AMY GOODMAN: What was the process for her being selected? Who chose her?

CARMELO CINTRÓN VIVAS: Well, that is something the Board of Governors and the president have not been clear about. The process is normally one where there’s a 20-person committee, and they make different suggestions, and they vet different candidates. And admittedly, that process was changed when President Barchi first came into office, and that 20-person committee came down to two people. And after that, it’s very blurry. We have—the most information that we have from the whole process is a 96-email exchange between different function persons in the Board of Governors and the president that we acquired through OPRA, the Open Public Records Act. So it hasn’t been clear, and they haven’t really said anything. We have just been undigging the mystery of how she was invited.

AMY GOODMAN: And let me bring Baher Azmy into this conversation. You’ve long been dealing with Bush administration officials around the issue of accountability. The significance of Condoleezza Rice in the war with Iraq in—both as national security adviser and secretary of state?

BAHER AZMY: Oh, she was critical in promotion of the lies that led up to the war and the selling of the war to the American people. And I just—I want to congratulate Carmelo and his colleagues. I mean, I think it’s so heartening that this generation is reminded and thinking about the crimes of the Bush administration officials and not letting them get away with these sort of gauzy histories about what happened from 2001 to 2008. And I get discouraged when the sort of younger generation thinks things like war is normal or Guantánamo is normal or indefinite detention is normal. And this is an important step by this group.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Carmelo, the argument of the university, the issue of free speech and other issues that they put forward?

CARMELO CINTRÓN VIVAS: We have always—we have been receiving since the beginning our main backlash, if we can say it’s that, is that, "Well, she’s a minority. It’s a woman. Why are you protesting this? This is supposed to be something that you’re always for. And she has free speech." We think that those are a really valid question, but you have to go beyond that. You have to go beyond reducing a person to their race or to their gender and looking into their actions. Just because I am a minority—because I am, I’m Puerto Rican, I’ve only been here in the United States for two-and-a-half years—doesn’t mean that I’m not to be held to the same standards as everyone else and that I can break the law whenever I want to.

AMY GOODMAN: And your response to the arguments that her academic achievements outweigh her political positions?

CARMELO CINTRÓN VIVAS: That’s just ludicrous. If we look into a lot of criminals and we look into a lot of international criminals and just bad people in history, a lot of them had great academic careers or great medical careers or great—your career is one thing, and the way you act as a person, as a human being, is another one. And that’s why you make this an issue about human rights.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there, and I want to thank you very much for being with us, Carmelo Cintrón Vivas, media spokesperson for the No Rice Campaign, a senior at Rutgers University who will be graduating and won’t be hearing the commencement address of Condoleezza Rice because she has withdrawn from giving that address as a result of the protests. And, Baher Azmy, thanks so much for being with us, from the Center for Constitutional Rights."

***

"New York Times
N.Y. / REGION

Condoleezza Rice Backs Out of Rutgers Speech After Student Protests
By EMMA G. FITZSIMMONS MAY 3, 2014

For a photograph of the Boston College protest, see here.

Protests during former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s speech at Boston College in 2006. Credit Brian Snyder/Reuters

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who had been invited to give the commencement address at Rutgers University in New Jersey this month, said on Saturday that she would no longer give the speech. Her announcement came after weeks of protests by some students and faculty members over the university’s decision to invite her.

Protesters had argued that Ms. Rice should not have been selected as the speaker because of her involvement in the Iraq war during the Bush administration. Students staged a sit-in last week outside the office of the university’s president, Robert L. Barchi, to protest the speech, scheduled for May 18th.

On Saturday, Ms. Rice released a statement saying that she did not want to detract from the day’s festivities.

“Commencement should be a time of joyous celebration for the graduates and their families,” the statement said. “Rutgers’ invitation to me to speak has become a distraction for the university community at this very special time.”

“I am honored to have served my country,” she added. “I have defended America’s belief in free speech and the exchange of ideas. These values are essential to the health of our democracy.”

Photo

Condoleezza Rice was to give the commencement speech at Rutgers University on May 18. Credit Ben Margot/Associated Press

Mr. Barchi had defended the university’s selection of Ms. Rice, saying that it was important for Rutgers to protect free speech and academic freedom.

“Whatever your personal feelings or political views about our commencement speaker, there can be no doubt that Condoleezza Rice is one of the most influential intellectual and political figures of the last 50 years,” Mr. Barchi wrote in a letter to the university community in March.

On Saturday, Mr. Barchi said that the university “stands fully behind the invitation” to Ms. Rice but respected her decision not to participate. The university, which is a state university, said it would soon announce who would replace her.

The fee for the speech, which Ms. Rice will not collect, was $35,000.

Ms. Rice, who is on the faculty at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, was secretary of state from 2005 to 2009 and was President George W. Bush’s national security adviser from 2001 to 2004.

Students confronted Mr. Barchi on campus on Friday, chanting “Cancel Condi” as he walked out of a meeting.

In late February, the faculty council for the university’s New Brunswick campus approved a resolution asking officials to rescind the invitation because Ms. Rice, the council charged, had played a prominent role in misleading the public about the reasons for the war in Iraq.

Two years ago, Ms. Rice gave a commencement address to a friendly audience at Southern Methodist University, the site of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.

But in 2006, when she gave the commencement address at Boston College, dozens of students and professors turned their backs to her and held up signs protesting the Iraq war."