january page 2013
the War on Terror for the age of Obama:
Criticism of the film has come from the highest levels of the political establishment. In a letter to the CIA, Diane Feinstein, Karl Levin and John McCain, members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, fault the film for showing that the CIA obtained through torture the key lead that helped track down Osama bin Laden. The letter further blasts former CIA leaders for spreading such falsehoods in public statements.
Film director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, who worked with the CIA in the making of this film, likely did not expect such push back since they seem to have got a green light from the White House.
In the face of these attacks, some have risen to the film makers defense such as Mark Bowden, the author of The Finish: The Killing of Osama bin Laden. Writing in the Atlantic, he argues that the film is not pro-torture because the first scene shows that torture could not stop an attack in Saudi Arabia, instead it was cleverness and cunning that produced results.
Far more commentators, however, in a range of mainstream media from the New York Times, to CNN and the Daily Beast, have stated that the film lied about torture. Taking their lead from Feinstein et al numerous voices have condemned the film and insisted that bin Ladens whereabouts where obtained through means other than torture.
Its hard to say who is correct. The CIA clearly has an interest in promoting its version in order to win public support for its clandestine activities. The Democrats have an interest in distancing themselves from torture so as to separate themselves from the worst of the Bush era policies.
While much of the air is being sucked up by this debate, scant attention has been paid to the larger, and in my view, more significant message of this film: that extra judicial killing is good. The film teaches us that brown men can and should be targeted and killed with impunity, in violation of international law, and that we should trust the CIA to act with all due diligence.
At a time when the key strategy in the war on terror has shifted from conventional warfare to extra judicial killing, here comes a film that normalizes and justifies this strategy. The controversy around this film will no doubt increase its box office success, but dont expect mainstream debate on extra judicial killing. On this, there is bipartisan consent. Therefore the real scandal behind this Oscar nominated filmits shameless propaganda for extra judicial murderwill remain largely hidden.
Rebranding the Killing Machine
Zero Dark Thirty has very clear cut good guys and bad guys. The CIA characters, in particular Maya and Dan, are the heroes and brown men, be they Arab or South Asian, are the villains.
The first brown man we encounter, Omar, is brutally tortured by Dan as Maya the protagonist (played by Jessica Chastain) watches with discomfort and anxiety. We soon learn, however, that Omar and his brethren wanted to kill all Americans thereby dispelling our doubts, justifying torture, and establishing his villainy.
In an interesting reversal (first established by the TV show 24) torture, a characteristic normally associated with villains, is now associated with heroes. This shift is acceptable because all the brown men tortured in the film are guilty and therefore worthy of such treatment. Maya soon learns to overcome her hesitation as she becomes a willing participant in the use torture. In the process, audiences are invited to advance with her from discomfort to acceptance.
A clear us versus them mentality is established where they are portrayed as murderous villains while we do what we need to in order to keep the world safe. One scene in particular captures their irrational rage against all Americans. This is the scene when Maya is attacked by a barrage of machine gun fire as she exits a safe house in her car. We are then told that her identity as a CIA agent is not public and that in fact all Americans are the targets of such murderous rage and brutal attacks in Pakistan.
Pakistan, the country in which the majority of the film is set, is presented as a hell hole. In one the early scenes, Maya as a CIA freshman new to the area, is asked by a colleague what she thinks of Pakistan. She replies: its kind of fucked up.
Other than being the target of bombing attacks in her car and at a hotel, a part of what seems to make Pakistan fucked up is Islam. In one scene she is disturbed late at night by the Muslim call to prayer sounding loud enough that it wakes her from her sleep. Disgusted by this, she grunts oh God and rolls back to sleep. Maya also uses the term mullah crackadollah to express her contempt for Muslim religious leaders (I have never heard this term before and hope that I transcribed it correctly. I certainly do not wish to waste another $14 to watch the film again, and will wait till the film is out on DVD to confirm this term).
What does not need re-viewing to confirm is the routine and constant use of the term Paks to refer to Pakistani people, a term that is similar to other racist epithets like gooks and japs. The film rests on the wholesale demonization of the Pakistani people. If we doubt that the Paks are a devious lot that cant be trusted, the film has a scene where Mayas colleague and friend is ambushed and blown to bits by a suicide bomber whom she expected to interrogate.
Even ordinary men standing by the road or at markets are suspicious characters who whip out cell phones to inform on and plot against the CIA. It is no wonder then that when Pakistanis organize a protest outside the US embassy we see them with contempt and through the eyes of Maya, who is standing inside the embassy, and whose point of view we are asked to identify with.
For a film maker of Bigelows talent it is shocking to see such unambiguous good guys and bad guys. The only way to be brown and not to be a villain in her narrative is to be unflinchingly loyal to the Americans, as the translator working for the CIA is. The good Muslim does not question, he simply acts to pave the way for American interests.
Against the backdrop of this racist dehumanization of brown men, Maya and her colleagues routinely use the word kill without it seeming odd or out of place. After Maya has comes to terms with the anguish of losing her friend in the suicide attack she states: Im going to smoke everybody involved in this operation and then Im going to kill Osama bin Laden. When talking about a doctor who might be useful in getting to bin Laden, she says if he doesnt give up the big man then we kill him.
At the start of the film Maya refuses a disguise when she re-enters the cell in which Omar is being held. She asks Dan if the man will ever get out and thereby reveal her identity to which he replies never, suggesting that Omar will either be held indefinitely or killed.
A top CIA official blasting a group of agents for not making more progress in the hunt for bin Laden sums up the role of the CIA as a killing machine in the following manner, he says do your fucking jobs and bring me people to kill. By this point in the film, the demonization of brown men is so complete that this statement is neither surprising nor extraordinary.
It is a clever and strategic choice that the resolution of films narrative arc is the execution of Osama bin Laden. After all, who could possibly object to the murder of this heinous person other than the do good lawyers who are chastised in the film for providing legal representation for terrorists.
Here then is the key message of the film: the law, due process, and the idea of presenting evidence before a jury, should be dispensed with in favor of extra judicial killings. Further, such killings can take place without public oversight. The film not only uses the moral unambiguity of assassinating bin Laden to sell us on the rightness and righteousness of extra judicial killing, it also takes pains to show that this can be done in secret because of the checks and balances involved before a targeted assassination is carried out.
Maya is seen battling a male dominated bureaucracy that constantly pushes her to provide evidence before it can order the strike. We feel her frustration at this process and we identify with her when she says that she is a 100% sure that bin Laden is where she says he is. Yet, a system of checks and balances that involves scrupulous CIA heads, and a president who is smart and wants the facts, means that due diligence will not be compromised even when we know we are right.
This, in my view, is the key propaganda accomplishment of the film: the selling of secret extra judicial killing at a time when this has been designated the key strategy in the war on terror for the upcoming decade.
The Disposition Matrix
As I have argued in my book Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire, the Obama administration has drawn the conclusion, after the failed interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, that conventional warfare should be ditched in favor of drone strikes, black operations, and other such methods of extra judicial killing.
The New York Times expose on Obamas kill list, revealed that this strategy is one presided over by the president himself. John Brennen, his top counterterrorism advisor, is one of its key authors and architects. Brennens nomination to head the CIA is a clear indication that this strategy will not only continue but that the spy agency will more openly become a paramilitary force that carries out assassinations through drone attacks and other means, with little or no public oversight.
Greg Millers piece in the Washington Post reveals that the Obama administration has been working on a blueprint for pursuing terrorists based on the creation of database known as the disposition matrix. The matrix developed by the National Counterterrorism Center brings together the separate but overlapping kill lists from the CIA and the Joint Operations Special Command into a master grid and allocates resources for disposition. The resources that will be used to dispose those on the list include capture operations, extradition, and drone strikes.
Miller notes that Brennen has played a key role in this process of codify[ing] the administrations approach to generating capture/kill lists. Based on extensive interviews with top Obama administration officials Miller states that such extra judicial killing is likely to be extended at least another decade. Brennans nomination to the CIA directorship no doubt will ensure such a result.
In short, at the exact point that a strategic shift has been made in the war on terror from conventional warfare to targeted killing, there comes a film that justifies this practice and asks us to trust the CIA with such incredible power.
No doubt the film had to remake the CIA brand dispelling other competing Hollywood images of the institution as a clandestine and shady outfit. The reality, however, is that unlike the films morally upright characters Brennan is a liar and an unabashed torture advocate (except for waterboarding).
As Glenn Greenwald notes, Brennen has spouted complete though highly influential falsehoods to the world in the immediate aftermath of the Osama bin Laden killing, including claiming that bin Laden "engaged in a firefight" with Navy SEALS and had "used his wife as a human shield".
Zero Dark Thirty, nominated for the best picture of year Oscar award, is a harbinger of things to come. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) signed into law by Obama earlier this month includes an amendment, passed in the House last May, that legalizes the dissemination of propaganda to US citizens. Journalist Naomi Klein argues that the propaganda amendment legalizes something that has been illegal for decades: the direct funding of pro-government or pro-military messaging in media, without disclosure, aimed at American citizens.
We can therefore expect not only more such films, but also more misinformation on our TV screens, in our newspapers, on our radio stations and in social media websites. What used to be an informal arrangement whereby the State Department and the Pentagon manipulated the media has now been codified into law. Be ready to be propagandized to all the time, everywhere.
We live in an Orwellian world: the government has sought and won the power to indefinitely detain and to kill US citizens, all wrapped in cloud of secrecy, and to lie to us without any legal constraints.
The NDAA allows for indefinite detention, and a judge ruled that the Obama administration need not provide legal justification for extra judicial killings based on US law thereby granting carte blanche authority to the president to kill whoever he pleases with no legal or public oversight.
Such a system requires an equally powerful system of propaganda to convince the citizenry that they need not be alarmed, they need not speak out, they need not think critically, in fact they need not even participate in the deliberative process except to pull a lever every couple of years in an elaborate charade of democracy. We are being asked, quite literally, to amuse ourselves to death.
Deepa Kumar is an associate professor of Media Studies and Middle East Studies at Rutgers University. She is the author of "Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire" and "Outside the Box: Corporate Media, Globalization and the UPS Strike". You can follow her work on her blog empirebytes.com.
This article was originally posted at Mondoweiss
© 2013 Mondoweiss
chief looks beyond EU borders - 14/01/2013 08:29:03
Posted on Jan 13, 2013
On Saturday Jan. 12, the Internet grieved at the news that 26-year-old Aaron Swartz, a writer, software programmer and champion of Internet freedom, had committed suicide in his Brooklyn apartment.
Swartzs death stunned many who sensed the possibility of a better future through the work of a man who had already achieved much by his mid-20s. When barely a teenager, Swartz helped develop RSS, the near ubiquitous Internet program that streamlined users access to frequently updated online publications. He was one of the early architects of Creative Commons, an alternative copyright system that qualifies intellectual property at various levels of free use. And in his late teens he played a crucial role in the creation of Reddit, an immensely popular social networking news site.
A future of riches and status, a life that beckons many young, successful Internet entrepreneurs, seemed to be his for the taking. But Swartz didnt bite. Instead, he devoted himself to activism. Through Demand Progress, one of the pro-democracy groups he co-founded, Swartz helped to defeat SOPA, a bill sponsored by the entertainment industry that would have empowered the government to censor parts of the Internet. Author Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing editor and friend to Swartz, described this era of Swartzs life as his true coming of age.
Throughout his teenage and adult years, the budding activist wrote volubly and passionately about Internet freedom, civil liberties and free access to information. As the grief that flooded the Internet after his death showedfrom remembrances written by friends to the appearance in article comment sections of periods (.) representing moments of silencehe was beloved, widely respected and admired for these achievements.
In the year and a half leading up to his death, Swartz faced prosecution potentially leading to felony convictions that carried punishments of decades in prison and millions of dollars in fines. His crime was allegedly entering an MIT computer closet and downloading some 4 million articles from digital academic publisher JSTOR. The journal charges high prices for articles, some written by professors at publicly funded universities, and the scholars are often not reimbursed for the sales. (
Even though, Swartz handed over his hard drives and the charges against him were dropped by the JSTOR, US Attorneys Carmen Ortiz and Steve Heymann, with the support of MIT, continued to pursue the activists prosecution. According to the statement by the activist's family, officials were demanding heavy penalties of more than 30 years in prison and up to USD 1.0 million in fines for Swartz, "to punish an alleged crime that had no victims."The activist's death comes weeks before he was due in court. A petition presented to the White House for overreach in the case of Aaron Swartz has been set up to remove US Attorney Ortiz and it has already gained almost 10,000 signatures. PressTV:CAH/SZH/HJ)
This secreting away of knowledge offended Swartzs sense of community obligation. In a 2008 manifesto, he wrote compellingly about the private theft of public culture:
Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The worlds entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations.
Those who seek to return these treasures to the public trust are slandered by societys leaders as thieves and pirates and forced to operate underground, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isnt immoral, he urged, its a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy.
Corporations and the politicians who serve them are blind, he argued. Together they craft laws that they use to monopolize societys physical and intellectual goods, depriving the rest of us of their benefits as a consequence.
There is no justice in following unjust laws, Swartz said. Its time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture.
We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff thats out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. [Italics added.] We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.
This vision was not meant to be merely an idealists dream. With enough of us, around the world, well not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledgewell make it a thing of the past.
was more than talk. In an essential piece on the deep,
social significance of his life published the day after
his death, Guardian columnist and former constitutional
and civil rights lawyer Glenn Greenwald unabashedly described
Swartz as a hero. In the tradition of ancient Greek drama,
tragic heroes were imperfect but virtuous
peopleusually young men or womenwho
unwittingly sacrificed themselves for the good of the
tribe. Unaware of the fate that awaited them, they fell
from good fortune to bad by way of some major flaw. The
heros death evoked pity, sympathy, empathy and
compassion in the audience, which had the chance to draw
its own moral benefit from what it saw.
and the Shame Haunted Life
January 04, 2013 "Information Clearing House" - In an era of corporate-state colonization of both landscape and mental real estate, when the face of ones true oppressors is, more often than not, hidden from view, thus inflicting feelings of anxiety borne of powerlessness over the criteria of ones life and the course of ones fate, often, to retain a sense of control, people will tend to displace their anger and shame. Firearms provide the illusion of being able to locate and bead down on a given target. (How often does a person without wealth, power, and influence have any contact with or even a glimpse of the financial and political elite whose decisions dictate the, day by day, criteria of ones existence?)
Beginning in childhood, carrying the noxious notions of the adult world, the viral seeds of mental enslavement to shame and the concomitant attempt to protect ego-integrity through psychological displacement are spread child to child.
All too often, internalized shame robs a child of his innate identity before it has a chance to jell. This is one, among multiple social factors, by which the collective mindset of capitalist/consumer state forcefully usurps an individuals mind and holds it in torment.
Therefore, it is imperative for an individual, marooned in the shame-haunted miasma of the capitalist/consumer paradigm, to reclaim his/her own name. Even if the process entails (as it as played out in my own story) a descent into the underworld of memory and a confrontation with the ghosts therein.
A personal encounter with the raging ghosts of memory: Late autumn. 1965. Atlanta, Georgia.
At my back, as I stepped from the yellow school bus, and hurried in the direction of the small, two story apartment building, a seething cacophony of taunts and insults seemed to buffet me forward. Marc Leftcoff had sneered that the apartment complex where my family dwelled was, The Projects that he proclaimed to be a roach nest for losers, unemployed rednecks and divorced hussies only a place white niggers would live.
(And no, I didnt grow-up in a Quentin Tarantino movie. People, even children, spoke like that in those days.)
Months earlier, on my first day of school after our family had moved from Birmingham to Atlanta, where my sisters and my new school district included white, laboring class families (often shattered and reconfigured by divorce and second and third marriages) and neighborhoods of affluent, upper middle class Jewish families I was debriefed by Josh Corbin.
So, he clicked, his tongue producing a percussive, supercilious sound by creating a vacuum at the top of his mouth. Are you upper-class, upper-middle class (like we are) just plain middle class, lower-middle class, or poor (he emitted that clicking sound at the word, poor). You look poor. What is that you have on Kmart Specials (click). My clothes come from Saks in New York. My Mother and I buy them there when we visit our relatives in New York City, three or four times a year.
I had no idea what he was talking about. But, I detected, through the mind-diminishing haze of my naivety, a discernible menace in his tone.
You should really have your parents buy you some presentable clothes Whats the matter, cant they afford to buy you anything decent?
I scanned his outfit. A little alligator seemed to be smirking at me from his shirt. Why did this kid have shiny dimes glinting from the surface of his oxblood loafers? (Why insert pennies when you can afford dimes, Corbin was inclined to boast?)
And what was the meaning of that clicking sound that he kept making with his mouth?
Later, I apprehended the sound pertained to the fact that I, and my family, had been labeled, White Trash.
Of course, I was ignorant of the social implications of the term, but, nevertheless, an image formed in my mind: My family had been dismissed as tossed-away refuse, reeking like garbage in the Georgia sun weightless as windblown litter. Inconsequential: our existence only a foul odor, fleetingly detected, and deserving, when noticed at all, of the contempt of societys betters.
My heart felt as though it had been ripped into tatters in a windstorm of shame. It seemed as though all I knew about myself had been negated.
This is how shame works on a person. Internalized shame seems to commandeer a persons DNA and replicate itself into the cellular structure of his being.
In the thrall of internalized shame, one is gripped by the compulsion to hide his face from the world. Ones own thoughts and feeling seem a foul pestilence from which to flee. Thus, a person will come to believe that the only way to absolve oneself of ones inherent reek (Marc Leftcoff claimed he had seen my father shirtless and announced to our classmates that he stunk like a rutting nigger) was to become someone else to have a family blessed with money and nice things to have a smug alligator gazing upon life from Saks Fifth Avenue-procured shirts, and have dimes glinting unto creation from the tops of ones polished loafers. This is one, among multiple means, that the capitalist/consumer state forcefully usurps ones mind and holds it in torment.
After school, buffeted by these sessions of shaming, I would take refuge in the wooded areas near my home. There, sheltered among the pines, popular trees, and ancient oaks of the Georgia Piedmont, I would seek solace in books and my own wild imaginings.
I recall writing a story in my loose leaf notebook involving a lonely, bullied boy, who, shaken by shame and humiliation, played hooky from school.
Hiding out in a section of woods near his school, he was bitten, while exploring a deep ravine, by a venomous copperhead snake camouflaged by a carpet of pines straw. The incident was witnessed by a grizzled hermit/wizard who dwelled in a secret cave in the woods. The boy is revived by an elixir of anti-venom of the wizards devising that had the unattended side effect of bestowing the boy with the ability to bring inanimate objects to life which, the boy, much to the distress and consternation of the old wizard, utilizes to transform the Izod alligators adorning his school yard tormentors clothing into agents of vengeance that devour the offending parties.
Anger dwells as deep as the pain leveled by being shamed and humiliated. From road rage, to internet trolling, to the compulsion to humiliate women in certain forms of porn, to right-wing radio ranters, to violent video games, to gun-sown episodes of mass murder the shame-besieged psyche of the American male, in vain, attempts to mitigate a psychologically devastating sense of powerlessness.
The actual progenitors of his torment reside in the ghostly domain of personal memory as well as are veiled from view by a class-stratified economic system that serves as an analog of childhood humiliation.
But such prodigious amounts of pain do not remain buried. In the current day U.S., there are multiple factors that bar access to collective memory: the heap of fragmented images constituting the mass media multi-scape and its attendant 24 hour news cycle; suburban atomization and urban alienation; a cultural refusal to confront the true nature of the nations history, other than through hagiography, because to face our past would serve to bring us to a rude awakening regarding where we stand at present.
Cue: Existential dread. We are approaching the endgame of (global) capitalism; the system is headed straight to the landfill (its own creation) of history (that is, if global, late stage capitalism doesnt bury the human species first by means of ecocide). Therefore, it is imperative, as we move towards the future, that we straddle the past, as we become attuned to the lamentation of the ghosts of memory, personal and collective.
Otherwise, the unhinged among us, psychically bearing the things we bury, literalize our denial, even by acts of murdering the living (even school children) in a futile attempt to kill the raging ghosts of memory deferred.
There has been a deadly legacy wrought by social structures that inflict shame and thus sows seeds of inarticulate rage. By the malefic vehicle of these tormented individuals, who are lashing out like a wounded animal, we can apprehend much about the death-besotted trajectory of U.S. culture.
Deep emotional scars can warp libido; thus, in our age of corporate state hyper-authoritarianism, obsessive materialism, and neo-puritan pathology, all too many people have become terrified of their own passion, from sweat plangent lust to incandescent enthusiasm, right down to even accepting the shadows and perfumes borne of an inner life, and have withdrawn into forms of self-exile, such as addiction, alienation, depression, compulsive materialism, and narcissistic striving.
We are convinced we know our own mind that the decisions we make are based on logic and the wisdom gathered from experience. We believe our night-borne dreams and seemingly random, daylight imaginings are furtive shadows, inconsequential to the choices we make moment by moment as we navigate the linear timescape of our days.
Yet, what if you were visited by a rude angel who revealed to you how your mind had been usurped the moments of your day harnessed for agendas not your own; your life had been waylaid by interlopers (e.g., Madison Avenue, family legacies, social pressures) who you do not remember granting entrance into your mind?
What kind of a tale of horror is this, you would demand? How did it come to this? Angel, you would cry out, what kind of a cruel joke is this? Why me?
And the angel would simply flash you eternitys impersonal grin and tell you it is not personal. You have done the very human thing of gathering thoughts and beliefs like a bower bird gathers shiny objects. You have mistaken the bauble-stippled nest of found material for the honey-hive of your soul.
In contrast, passion arrives as a surging flood; the caress of silver moonlight on dark water; a golden fire blazing through ones blood. But its purpose does not end there; i.e., in a fleeting incandescence of the soul. The energies of a fast moving wildfire must be transmuted into the persistence inherent to a stalwart heart the maintenance of an interior hearth.
Those who evince passion will suffer. Worse, those who demur will suffer confinement in a cold, protective lock-up of their own construction. The union of passion and suffering, with much patience and persistence, transforms winged passion into a deep-dwelling compassion. Luminous angels are drawn earthward to weep.
Life beckons, but all too many ignore the call or defer adherence until it is too late Too often people confuse a sense of purpose with an obsession for seeking safety; they long for purity, and fear the sublime awkwardness that allows you to lose your balance and fall into your essential self.
By embodying the latter, you have entered a realm that exists beyond success and failure, because when you venture into the heart of creation, you venture deep into your own being. The more passion you evince in life the deeper you inhabit your own humanity.
The only failure in life comes to be when you dismiss destinys invitation to dance.
The death-besotted, collective psyche of the late capitalist state reveals the consequences of a culture-wide refusal to heed the call.
Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.
C.G. Jung -
(*The names of the individuals discussed in this article have been altered by the author.)
Urgent Action Alert From The Haiti Action Committee:
Stop The Attacks on President Aristide and the Lavalas Movement
It is nearly two years since the joyous return of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, his wife and colleague Mildred Trouillot, and their two daughters, to their homeland of Haiti. Tens of thousands of people followed President Aristides car as it drove through the streets to his home, and then climbed over the walls to continue an emotional and heart-felt greeting for Haitis first democratically elected president. In his speech at the airport, President Aristide focused on education and the importance of inclusion for all Haitians in the process of restoring democracy.
return, President Aristide has done exactly what he
promised to do - reopen the University of the Aristide
Foundation's Medical School. On September 26, 2011 the
Medical School once again opened its doors -- this time
to a new group of 126 future Haitian doctors. Seven years
after the school's forced closure by the U.S.-orchestrated
coup in 2004, and four months after the return of
President Aristide to Haiti, medical education resumed at
UNIFA. Just this fall, UNIFA began accepting candidates
for a new nursing school. And this is just the beginning
of a determined initiative to improve health care for
Haitians, particularly with the ravages of the cholera
epidemic sweeping the country.
This court summons is the latest twist in the continuing campaign to undermine both President Aristide and his political party, Fanmi Lavalas. Twenty-one pro-Lavalas activists and musicians have been jailed without charges since December 16th, after taking part in a demonstration commemorating the 22nd anniversary of Pres. Aristide's election in 1990. This was followed by a court summons to seven Lavalas grassroots leaders and activists for speaking out against the arrest of the 21. And now the court summons President Aristide.
This is no surprise. The Haitian government of Michel Martelly came to power after a staged election in which Fanmi Lavalas, the most popular political party in Haiti, was banned from participation. Martelly has embraced Jean-Claude Baby Doc Duvalier, the brutal former dictator, who lives freely in Haiti and has just been granted a diplomatic passport. Human rights organizations estimate that Duvalier and his father, Francois Papa Doc, ordered the deaths of 20,000 to 30,000 Haitian citizens during their 29-year rule. While Duvalier has been cleared by the Haitian government of human rights charges, Aristide and the Lavalas movement remain targeted.
Enough is enough. We call on the Haitian government to withdraw the summons against President Aristide and to free the 21 activists now jailed in Haiti. We also call on the United Nations occupying forces in Haiti and the U.S. State Department to cease their attacks against President Aristide and the Lavalas movement.
Demand an end to the attacks against President Aristide and the Lavalas movement!
Ministry of Justice and Public Security
Ministre de la Justice et de la Securité Publique
Jean Renel Sanon
18 avenue Charles Summer
Salutation: Monsieur le Ministre/Dear Minister
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Washington DC 20520
Sent by Haiti Action Committee
www.haitisolidarity.net and on FACEBOOK
Model for Europe and the US?
Todays most highly celebrated anti-labor success story is Latvia. Latvia is portrayed as the country where labor did not fight back, but simply emigrated politely and quietly. No general strikes, nor destruction of private property or violence, Latvia is presented as a country where labor had the good sense to not make a fuss when faced with austerity. Latvians gave up protest and simply began voting with their backsides (emigration) as the economy shrank, wage levels were scaled down, and where tax burdens remained decidedly on the backs of labor, even though recent token efforts have been made to increase taxes on real estate. The World Bank applauds Latvia and its Baltic neighbors by placing them high on its list of business friendly economies, even though at times scolding their social regimes as even too harsh for the Victorian tastes of the international financial institutions.
Can this really be a model for the United States or Europes remaining social democracies? Or is it simply a cruel experiment that cannot readily be emulated in larger countries un-traumatized by Soviet era memories of occupation? One can only dream
But the dream is attractive enough. In a page one The New York Times feature article accompanying that papers celebration of the Obama Administrations Fiscal Cliff commitment to budget cutting, Andrew Higgins provides the latest attempt to applaud Latvias economic and demographic plunge as the Latvian Miracle. The newspaper thus has fallen in line with the surrealistic Orwellian attempts to depict Latvias austerity and asset stripping as an economic success as rendered in the brochures distributed by the Institute for International Finance (the now notorious Peterson bank lobby think tank) and international financial institutions from the IMF to the European Union banking bureaucracy. What they mean by success is slashing wage levels and leaving the tax burden primarily on labor and lightly on capital gains, without spurring a revolution or even Greek style general strikes. The success is one of psy-ops and engineering of consent Edward Bernays style, rather than of successful economic policy.
Latvia is the country that has come closest to imposing the Steve Forbes tax and finance model advanced during his failed Presidential campaign: a two-part tax on wages and social benefits that are near the highest in the world, while real estate taxes are well below US and EU averages. Meanwhile, capital gains are lightly taxed, and the country has become successful as a capital flight and tax avoidance haven for Russians and other post-Soviet kleptocrats that has permitted Latvia to afford de-industrialization, depopulation and de-socialization.
Higgins article nurtures two enduring misperceptions of the Latvian Crash of 2008 cultivated by its government advisors picked from the ranks of global bank lobbyists and austerity hawks. First, this star pupil of the international financial community proves that austerity works. Second, Latvians have accepted austerity at the polls. A Potemkin Village of austerity progress has been built by neoliberal lobbyists such as Anders Aslund for visiting journalists and policymakers. In the main, these visitors have accepted this Theresienstadt-like tour for reality.
Typically trafficked tales of Latvia as a Protestant morality play (an image we presented in our June Financial Times article on Latvia) depict plucky but stoic Balts confronting the crisis and wage reductions not with Mediterranean histrionics, but by getting busy with work. This idea appeals to certain smug middle-class prejudices and stereotypes in countries whose populations have not had to suffer economic experiments in neoliberal horror. While there is some truth in the characterization of Balts as taciturn and slow to protest, the cultural traits argument is a poor attempt at developing a short hand for explaining Latvias situation. They are authored by people bereft of an on-the-ground understanding of what has happened to Latvia. Meanwhile, work (employment) would be nice, Latvias unemployment remains high at 14.2% despite a significant portion of its population having departed the country.
Anyone with actual experience in Latvia will see the dissonance between myth and reality regarding the governments response to the crisis. First, Latvians most emphatically did protest both the corruption and proposed austerity following the fall 2008 crash. This was most evident at the massive January 13, 2009 protest in Riga attended by 10,000 people. This was followed by a series of protests by students, teachers, farmers, pensioners and health workers in the next months.
It is not in the character of neoliberal regimes to be sympathetic to such protests, peaceful or not. Committed monetarists, they were not going to yield on policy. So Latvians moved on to the next stage of protest.
No People, No Problem: the Great Latvian Exodus
A harsh austerity regime was imposed and protests did abate. What happened?
In a word, emigration. At least 10% of Latvians have left since EU accession in 2004 and access to the Schengen Zone. This exodus accelerated following the economic crash in late 2008. The problem was evinced in one Latvian student protest placard that read, the last student out at the airport, please turn off the lights! Latvias population is small enough for the bigger EU countries to absorb its departing workforce. And on balance, the nation has been experiencing emigration since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, when neoliberal policies replaced a failing Soviet economy. Yet, rather than lessening over time as one would expect, Latvia, which can ill afford emigration, saw people leaving in ever greater numbers nearly two decades out from independence.
Latvians were reproducing at replacement rates when the USSR collapsed. Its 2.7 million population in 1991 dwindled to an official 2.08 million in 2010 through a combination emigration and a financial environment too precarious to permit marriage and children. And, this official number from the 2010 census is quite optimistic. Demographic reports originally showed a figure of 1.88 million in 2010. Some Latvian demographers stated their belief that even this lower number was inflated. They report government pressure on census takers to come up with a number above the psychologically significant 2 million threshold. This success (yet another neoliberal Potemkin Village illusion) reportedly was achieved, in part, by using a government website to count Latvians as resident in the country even when they were just visiting to see relatives or check on property. Regardless of the veracity of the lower or higher numbers, both are unsustainably low and represent a slow euthanizing of the country. While many Russians quickly left at Latvias independence, most subsequent emigrants have done so for economic reasons. Within a half-year of the initial protests, emigration accelerated and the number of children born in the country plunged as Latvias economy crashed and its government intensified fiscal austerity.
Austeritys defenders rejoin that the country had two national elections and could have changed course. But they spin the details that explain just why Latvias policymaking elite have managed to remain remarkably constant over the past twenty years. Latvias two parliamentary elections both before and since the crisis have turned on endless ethnic politics. Austerity policy has been associated with mostly ethnic Latvian parties, while more social democratic alternatives have been associated with ethnic Russian parties. To be sure, both ethnic communities were divided over economic policy, but it was mainly the ethnic framing of this policy that ensured austerity would prevail in a country still traumatized by the Soviet occupation and divided over what economic policy to take in the wake of the 2008 crisis.
Latvias economic collapse was the deepest of any nation when the financial bubble burst in 2008. Hot money flows had inflated its property markets to world-high levels, thanks to its neoliberal minimal taxation of real estate that was the complemented by onerous taxation of labor. Given how deep the plunge was, there was room for the inevitable bounce up thereafter hailed as a recovery.
When one looks at the details, the so-called recovery was centered on four sectors. First, is Latvias correspondent (offshore) banking sector that attracts and processes capital flight. Already a site for illicit transfer of Soviet oil and metals to world markets before independence, Latvia became a major destination for oligarch hot money. The Latvian port of Ventspils was an export terminal for Russian oil, providing foreign exchange that was a Soviet and later Russian embezzlers dream. Figures such as the notorious Grigory Loutchansky of Latvia and his Nordex became notorious for money laundering. Even Americans were involved, such as Loutchanskys partner, Marc Rich (later pardoned by Bill Clinton) who later took over the Nordex operation.
The Latvian government signaled its intentions to defend this offshore banking sector at all costs (including imposing austerity on its people) when it bailed out Latvias biggest offshore bank, Parex. European Commission and IMF authorities gave a massive foreign loan for Latvia that in part enabled the government to function after bailing out Parex and thus its correspondent (offshore) accounts and continued payment of above-market interest rates to favored (read: well connected) customers.
Although not in the league with London, New York and Zurich as a criminogenic flight capital center, Latvia has carved out a substantial niche in the global money laundering system. According to Bloomberg: As non-European inflows into Cyprus stagnate, about $1.2 billion flooded into Latvia in the first half of the year. Non-resident deposits are now $10 billion, about half the total, regulators say, exceeding 43 percent in Switzerland, according to that nations central bank. These are big amounts in view of the fact that Latvia has only about a quarter of Switzerlands population and merely a tenth of its GDP. This activity may make many bankers rich, but does little to develop Latvias economy. Moreover, it represents a beggar thy neighbor policy that permits Latvia to benefit from taking capital out of neighboring post-Soviet countries.
Second, Latvias emergency response to the crisis was to ratchet up clear cutting of forests. Latvia inherited massive woodland reserves from the Soviet policy of converting farmland to forest. Export growth in this category reflects asset stripping post-Soviet style. That patrimony is being drawn down. While significant, one must remember that given Latvias far northern latitude, it takes fifty to a hundred years to replace trees to maturity. So this resource cannot be indefinitely sustained. Moreover, the move to develop more value-added processing of Latvias forests has been frustratingly slow. Promises by the chief consumers of Latvian logs (e.g., Sweden and others) to process logs into timber, paper and other products, have mostly been talk, with little action.
Third, the fact that Latvias neoliberalized economy has been de-industrialized over the past two decades means that nearly any increase in post-crash manufacturing represents growth in percentage terms. Latvia has nearly no effective labor protections, and only the weakest unions to advocate for decent working conditions and salaries (or even sometimes to be paid at all). Wages can be pushed down from what already were poverty levels, while businesses deploy labor in any fashion they see fit, without regulatory structures to protect workers. Simultaneously, Latvias labor costs are far higher than are economically necessary, thanks to the punishingly high set of labor and social taxes designed to keep capital gains and real estate taxes comparatively low. Even so, wages and flexibility have made Latvian labor cheap enough to encourage some enterprise. Yet, there are also real centers of innovation and entrepreneurial talent, but they mostly succeed in spite of Latvian government policy, not by support from it.
Europes recent star export performers on a percent basis have been Latvia and Greece a metric that makes sense only as a bounce up from a big post-crash. Latvias per capita purchasing power is well below that of even Greece. The modest uptick in manufacturing and exports is positive, but Latvia still is ranked last in Europe for innovation and R&D investment as percentages of GDP. The lack of investment in innovation, combined with anti-labor tax and finance policy, thus limits manufacturings potential for much faster growth as Latvian labor costs are higher than needed, due to regressive taxation.
Fourth, there has been growth in the previously underdeveloped agricultural and transit sectors. This has been encouraged by food-price inflation in recent years and better policy and planning from the Ministry of Transportation. Although transit historically has been among the most corrupt parts of the Latvian economy and government, centers of excellence have emerged in that ministry that have leveraged up Latvias transit potential. Russias agreement to use its rail lines to permit supply of American troops in Afghanistan via Latvian ports hasnt hurt either.
The most revealing part of the New York Times mostly puff piece on behalf of budget cutting that can be seen as a model for America to grin and bear the coming austerity, only comes in the concluding comments by economists in Latvia who reported: The idea of a Latvian success story is ridiculous. Latvia is not a model for anybody. You can only do this in a country that is willing to take serious pain for some time and has a dramatic flexibility in the labor market. In short, it cant be done in any real democracy.
For governments able to ignore the will of the people (an expanding trend in rich developed countries), the Latvian model can only be applied if ones country is:
Any larger country attempting this level of austerity would need to find an outlet for the some 10% of its people leaving. For the United States, that would mean countries willing to take 20 million American workers. Last time the authors checked, neither Canada nor Mexico had the willingness or capacity to take these numbers, and not enough American students have yet studied Mandarin to do Chinas laundry.
Latvia still has a well-educated population with highly developed design sensibilities. Its skilled workers are known for their creativity and attention to detail. With better economic policy, less anti-labor tax policy, less subsidy of real estate and finance and more investment in innovation the opposite of what The New York Times celebrates as Latvias success story it could replicate the successes of its Scandinavian neighbors. The alternative is for its neoliberalized economy to produce recovery in a way reminiscent of Tacitus characterization, put in the mouth of the Celtic chieftain Calgacus before the battle of Mons Graupius: Romes victories make a desert and they call it peace. Neoliberals call austerity and emigration stability and even economic growth and recovery, as long as people dont complain or demand an alternative.
Michael Hudson was Professor of Economics and Director of Research at the Riga Graduate School of Law. He is a research professor of Economics at University of Missouri, Kansas City, and a research associate at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College. His book summarizing his economic theories, The Bubble and Beyond, is available on Amazon. His latest book is Finance Capitalism and Its Discontents.
Jeffrey Sommers is visiting faculty at the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga, and Associate Professor of Political Economy & Public Policy at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee.
is co-editor and author with Charles Woolfson for the
forthcoming Routledge Press volume, The
Contradictions of Austerity: The Socio-Economic Costs of
the Neoliberal Baltic Model, of which Hudson has
a contributing chapter.
A letter bomb for God of terrors
Torture of Bradley Manning
I was soaking wet and still half asleep when our driver turned to the back seat of the press shuttle and said something so totally irrelevant and ill-timed that I knew right then and there that she was either innocently naïve or politely retarded.
Can you believe it, she said, Christmas is already less than a month away.
Festive fucking cheer is not particularly on the mind, at least not on this Tuesday morning at Fort Meade, Maryland. The sprawling 6.6-square mile United States Army base just outside of Washington, DC is the venue for the pretrial motion hearings in the case against Private First Class Bradley Manning. By the time the trial is over, a soldier considered a hero by some could be sentenced to life in prison. I was likely not the only one uninterested in having a holly jolly ol time, but that didnt do anything to change the fact that our driver had just adjusted the FM dial to pick up Santa Baby.
When only 22 years old, Pfc. Manning was arrested at his barrack in Baghdad and dragged off to Kuwait, then to perhaps the worst locale yet Quantico, Virginiafor the longest stretch of the two-and-a-half years of imprisonment thats been condemned by the United Nations and Nobel laureates as tantamount to torture. Pfc. Manning wont be court-martialed by a military judge until next March, and at that point hell likely have spent over 1,000 daysten percent of his lifein solitary confinement.
This, of course, is because the US says Manning took 250,000 diplomatic embassy cables and a trove of sensitive military documents and sent them to the website WikiLeaks. Among the documents Pfc. Manning allegedly leaked are the Afghan War Diaries, the Iraq War Logs, secret diplomatic communications, and a video of US soldiers firing at Iraqi civilians and journalists from the air in a clip that was dubbed Collateral Murder.
"This is possibly one of the more significant documents of our time, removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of 21st century asymmetric warfare, Pfc. Manning is alleged to have written of the footage. Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder currently sought for extradition from the UK to Sweden, credits those documents and particularly the video with ending a war that left over 4,400 Americans dead and countless Iraqis murdered.
It was WikiLeaks revelationsnot the actions of President Obamathat forced the US administration out of the Iraq War, Assange wrote last month. By exposing the killing of Iraqi children, WikiLeaks directly motivated the Iraqi government to strip the US military of legal immunity, which in turn forced the US withdrawal.
But the Obama administration doesnt consider Mannings alleged actions heroicthey deem them treasonous. The indictment against Pfc. Manning has made him one of just a handful of Americans charged under the World War I-era Espionage Act, and this week the court had to declassify a CD-ROM belonging to Osama bin Laden, presumably to prove that the al-Qaeda leader accessed the WikiLeaks files attributed to Manning thus justifying another charge he faces: aiding the enemy. That crime is punishable by death, but prosecutors have already acknowledged they wont seek anything beyond a life sentence.
It was overcast and gloomy as we made our way through the mornings relentless rain toward the court early Tuesday, the first day of the hearings. A throng of political protesters demonstrated their own countrys treatment of Manning. Just like with every motion hearing so far, they brandished protest signs saying Free Bradley, and wore matching T-shirts adorned with only the word Truth.
Soon wed be shuffled into the tiny, 50-person-capacity courtroom, but for now we were in our cars, part of a caravan of two-dozen autos with hazards flashing as we meandered across Ft. Meade. Our trek through the base and toward the judges quarters seemed too eerily like a slow march from mortuary to cemetery for me to handle. The Christmas tunes didn't help either: Feliz Navidad.
It wasnt the drizzle or the drive that got me thinking about death. We were preparing for at least a week of hearing about the torture of a man not-yet-convicted of any crime.
At this point it was likely too late to break Manning. Since the summer of 2010 Pfc. Manning has been held in military custody, and sadly that was the reason a handful of us had assembled this week. The latest round of hearings would involve soul-crushing first-hand accounts of the nine months at Qauntico that had nearly killed the soldier. Defense attorney David Coombs is asking the court to dismiss all charges with prejudice due to alleged illegal pretrial punishment that he says his client was subjected to in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Fifth and Eighth Amendments to the US Constitution. At a rare public appearance in Washington on December 3rd, Coombs said Pfc. Mannings time at Quantico will forever be etched in history as a disgraceful moment in time.
Inside the courtroom Manning, now 24, looks as if hes still in high school. Hes just five-two and weighs less than my last four girlfriends. His dashing blue military garb, particularly his fitted jacket donned with decorative accolades, dwarfs him, sleeves extending almost past the tips of his fingers. To say Pfc Manning looks like hes playing dress-up with items from his dads closet wouldnt be inaccurate; the only difference is no one, not at any age, can manage to look so goddamn confident in the court as Pfc Manning. Despite being detained for over 900 days and subjected to conditions considered cruel and inhuman by the UN, Pfc. Manning is not the ghost I imagined hed resemble. As we found out, though, thats all anyone would have expected.
Immediately upon his arrest on May 26, 2010, Manning was transferred to an 8 x 8 x 8 wire mesh cage in Kuwait with just a toilet and a shelf to keep him company. He had confessed online to a supposed confidant earlier in the week that he had submitted compromised intelligence to WikiLeaks, only for that correspondence to be handed to the FBI.
Hypothetical question: If you had free reign [sic] over classified networks for long periods of time ... say, eight to nine ... and you saw incredible things, awful things ... things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC ... what would you do? Manning is alleged to have asked in an AOL chat with Adrian Lamo, a hacker whom the private had never met.
I was the source of the 12 July 07 video from the Apache Weapons Team which killed the two journalists and injured two kids.
Within hours, the soldier was shackled and succumbing to what he described in court as a complete and total breakdown.
I just thought I was going to die in that cage. And thats how I saw itan animal cage, he told the judge as he testified for the first time.
Pfc. Manning was held captive in Kuwait for nearly two months, but it wasnt until he landed on American soil that the fury of Uncle Sam came completely crashing down on him. Weeks after being rushed out of Iraq, Manning found himself in full restraints onboard an airline en route to Baltimore, Maryland. It was only when the pilot announced the flight plan that the soldier was ever sure he knew where he was going: Military prisons in Germany and Guantanamo Bay all could have been possibilities, he thought. Ironically, a stay at Gitmo may have actually given the soldier a more fighting chance at justice than what he and his legal team have had to endure during the last two years: The US has been sued by the Center for Constitutional Rights for the governments failure to release court motion papers and transcriptsitems the CCR say are easier to obtain in the cases involving al-Qaeda insurgents detained at the Cuban military jail.
Once in Baltimore, Pfc. Manning was loaded into a car and transferred to the military base in Quantico, Virginia. There he was held for nine months in maximum custody in a cell smaller than the one he saw overseasjust 6' x 8'. For only 20 minutes a day, Pfc. Manning was left to see the sunlight while shackled in chains. Other times, he found that if he arched his neck and angled himself just right he could catch the reflection of the sun from a window that was mirrored into his unimaginable concrete hellhole. Once inside his isolation chamber for the customary 23-and-a-half hours or so, he was deprived of just about everything, including contact with other inmates and often his clothes. He was forced to sleep from 1 PM to 11 PM, naked, and was allowed to do so only when facing his lamp.
"I started to feel like I was mentally going back to Kuwait mode, in that lonely, dark, black hole place, mentally," he said.
The most entertaining thing in my cell was the mirror. You can interact with yourself. I spent a lot of time with it, he told the court on Thursday.
For those nine months, Manning had to. His commanders at Quantico were put on the stand this week and testified that the soldier was regularly stripped of his underwear and flip-flops because he was classified consistently as prevention-of-injury, or POI, a status that made his imprisonment essentially on par with the strictest of solitary confinement sentences on the basis that he was a suicide risk.
Pfc. Manning was"as normal as a max prisoner would be, Lance Corporal Joshua Tankersley told the court. Normal doesnt necessarily have the same definition with military detention personnel as others.
"You would look in the mirror at yourself or stare at the wall. That, said Tankersley, was normal behavior.
In the brig, Pfc. Manning was only allowed to make contact with the detainees directly on either side of his cell; for the duration of his extended stay, both rooms on the left and right remained vacant.
Sometimes, said Tankersley, POI status inmates were found snoozing. And we catch them and wake them back up, he said. There's basically nothing to do. Any time Pfc. Manning had to be moved from his cage, the entire facility was put in lockdown.
To pass the time, Pfc. Manning would dance. Hed dance alone and make funny faces, both habits his psychiatrist attested on the stand as being normal given his condition. Because he wasnt allowed weights, he lifted imaginary ones to stay agile.
"I would pace around, walk around, shuffling, any type of movement. I was trying to move around as much as I could, he said. "I would practice various dance moves. Dancing wasn't unauthorized as exercise."
When asked to explain in court this week why nine months of maximum custody was necessary, his jailers gave varying answers akin to what would be expected for such strict handling: He could have harmed himself; he could have been harmed by others; he wasnt mentally sound. Upon cross-examination, though, other information was unearthed revealing that the egregious conditions could easily be viewed as imputative, not imperative.
In multiple instances, the Quantico guards admitted that they subjected Manning to harsh treatment because the very antics he used to amuse himself in his cage were giving them cause for concern.
His erratic behavior was reason for putting him in protected watch, said Col. Dan Choike, the brig commander at the base
His acting out, playing pee-a-boo, licking the bars on the cell itself. Different dancing. Erratic dancing
Erratic dancing? asked Coombs.
In another example, Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. William Fuller cited Mannings little interest in discussion" as a reason to him as POI. Col. Choike, the brig chief, had similar rationale.
He was withdrawn, depressed, Col. Choike said of Pfc. Manning.
He wasnt the kind of guy that was going to sit there and talk to you, his jailers, ad nausea?" Coombs asked Choike, deadpan.
Would you agree with me that if youre talking with your jailers and you make causal conversation and then they use that casual conversation to take away your underwear from you, then you might stop talking to your jailer? he asked.
Upon further questioning, Quantico staffers acknowledged that the severity of the aiding the enemy chargealthough not formally introduced yet by the governmentalso warranted harsher imprisonment. While innocent until proven guilty is the norm for civilians, Manning hasnt been awarded that luxury of democratic society.
The United States government with all of its resources, all of its personnel, I see them standing against me and Brad, and I have to admit to youthat could be rather intimidating, Coombs told the crowd in DC during his first and likely only public appearance before his clients court-martial. "And I was intimidated. Especially when the president of the United States says your client broke the law. Especially when Congress members say your client deserves the death penalty.
Supporters of the soldier have argued that Pres. Obamas extrajudicial declaration that Pfc. Mannings guilt during a candid moment caught on camera last year may influence the militarys eventual court decision. During his turn cross-examining the Armys witnesses, Coombs made it clear that his client was not accommodated like any other inmate at Quantico. Sgt. Fuller told that court that in his 17 years in military corrections, most inmates were listed POI for "a few days. No more than a week." Manning was held in maximum confinement for nine months.
When a forensic psychiatrist was eventually commissioned to assess Manning at the brig, repeated recommendations were made to remove him from protected watch, which left him forced to cover himself with only a suicide smock and bedding that resembled something between a cardboard box and a liquidation sale rug. Those professional suggestions were all ignored in favor of the guards own instincts. Many of those staffers testified that they were trained in corrections for one month at an Air Force base in Texas and rightfully admitted that the guidelines for dealing and assessing with a suicide case they were taught there were thrown out the window when Private Manning arrived.
On Saturday afternoon, five days into the latest round of hearings, Quantico Staff Sgt. Fuller acknowledged that he routinely signed off on keeping Pfc. Manning a max custody detainee, and cited his reasons specifically for the court.
Those times that I actually did have interaction or communication with Manning, it seemed he was distant, withdrawn, or isolated. That gave me cause for concern, he told the court. When asked him to explain why he was worried, Fuller said, Im not sure why. You really couldnt get him to talk.
Quantico guards also testified that for initial health evaluations, a dentist was the qualified physician tasked with assessing Mannings mental wellbeing.
Why were you getting weekly updates from a dentist as opposed getting them directly from a forensic psychiatrist? Coombs asked Col. Choike.
She was the commanding officer, he said.
At Quantico, Pfc. Manning treatment wasnt by the book: the sleep depravation and stripping of clothes; the humiliation; the taunts and mockery; the nine months of putting Pfc. Manning in protected custody citing concerns over suicideconcerns that were rebuffed relentlessly by both Pfc. Manning himself and qualified psychiatrists. Thats why Coombs is looking to have the case against his client thrown out, and Mannings own testimony this week only accentuated the living nightmare he was made to endure for nearly a year while only a half-hour drive from the capital of the nation. As testimonies from Quantico staff, health professionals, and the private himself continued late into the night all week, often for hours without intermissions, more unraveled about not just the torturous conditions imposed on Pfc. Manning but the blatant mismanagement in the same institution he is accused of blowing the whistle on.
On Wednesday, the night of Mannings first day of testimony, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange embarrassed CNN during a 20-minute interview that seemed all too perfectly orchestrated to accentuate the mainstream medias mistake of first underestimating WikiLeaks, then thinking its the sites founder who needs to be forced into the spotlight.
The case is not about whether Bradley Manning allegedly stole cables or not. The case is about the abuse of Bradley Manning, said Assange.
Days earlier, Assange had again appealed the actions that his accused source is credited with contributing to the annals of history.
The material that Bradley Manning is alleged to have leaked has highlighted astonishing examples of U.S. subversion of the democratic process around the world, systematic evasion of accountability for atrocities and killings, and many other abuses, he wrote.
During his address in DC, Coombs didnt come close to buying Assanges hyperbole. He did, however, acknowledge that the circumstances in the case against Manningand to a lesser degree, other whistleblowers charged under Obamahave very real implications for everyone in the country.
When you look at the offense of aiding the enemy and take it out of this case and simply say, If you can possibly aid the enemy by giving information to the press with no intent that that information land in the hands of the enemy, and by that mere action alone you could be found to have aided the enemy, thats a scary proposition, said Coombs. Right there that would silence a lot of critics of our government, and thats what makes our government great, in that we foster that criticism and often times when its deserved, we make changes.
Last Tuesday, the president of the United States signed into law the Whistleblower Enhanced Protection Act, he continued. As President Obama was signing this bill into law, Brad and I were in the courtroom for the start of his unlawful pretrial punishment motion.
Coombs paused, dumbfounded.
How can you reconcile the two?
I dont know the answer to that question.
Before wrapping up his remarks, Coombs acknowledged Daniels Ellsberg, the former Pentagon staffer who spent countless hours inside the Department of Defense photocopying classified logs of the Vietnam War to release what became known as the Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg, perhaps the countrys most recognized whistleblower, has saluted Pfc. Manning as his own personal hero.
One of our nations most famous whistleblowers, Daniel Ellsberg, has on multiple occasions spoken out for Brad, said Coombs. History has been the ultimate judge of his courage and sacrifice. History has judged him well. I hope that history will judge Private first class Manning.
Meanwhile, though, history will be taking its sweet fucking time. During the latest round of motion hearings, Pfc Mannings court-martial was yet again postponed, this time from February to March. When the trial is convened next spring, Manning will have spent over 1,000 days in prison.
Someday, says Coombs, Brad Manning wants to walk out of his cell, earn a degree, enter public service, and perhaps even run for office.
I want to make a difference in this world, the soldier said to Coombs.
If one outcome occurs, Pfc. Manning may enter the history books as a traitor and sentenced to rot behind bars for acts of espionage and aiding the enemy. In another, hes renowned as a patriot and a hero. Either way, his life has already been ravaged by a flawed system.
No matter the verdict, at Ft. Meade this weekend, Pfc. Manning looked determined to fight. He did not look dead, like his treatment the last two and a half years might suggest. He even acknowledged dozen supporters who had just sat through 12 hours of arguments in a cramped military courthouse.
Im confident that by the time this case comes to a conclusion, the record of trial will be the longest record of trial in our militarys history, says Coombs. And that record will reflect one thing: that we fought at every turn, at every opportunity, and we fought to assure that Brad received a fair trial.
When I last saw Pfc Manning, he was brought out of the court, hands shackled, flanked by two deputies equipped with semi-automatic assault rifles as they ushered him into a SUV and sent him back to whatever cage he now occupies. It was cold, and the radio in the nearest car belonging to the Ft. Meade media convoy was predictably tuned to the hits of the holiday.
his article was originally posted at Vice
© 2012 Vice Media Inc
Libya Was Africas Most Prosperous Democracy
In 1977 the people of Libya proclaimed the Jamahiriya or government of the popular masses by themselves and for themselves. The Jamahiriya was a higher form of direct democracy with the People as President. Traditional institutions of government were disbanded and abolished, and power belonged to the people directly through various committees and congresses.
The nation State of Libya was divided into several small communities that were essentially mini-autonomous States within a State. These autonomous States had control over their districts and could make a range of decisions including how to allocate oil revenue and budgetary funds. Within these mini autonomous States, the three main bodies of Libya s democracy were Local Committees, Peoples Congresses and Executive Revolutionary Councils.
In 2009, Mr. Gaddafi invited the New York Times to Libya to spend two weeks observing the nations direct democracy. Even the New York Times, that was always highly critical of Colonel Gaddafi, conceded that in Libya, the intention was that everyone is involved in every decision Tens of thousands of people take part in local committee meetings to discuss issues and vote on everything from foreign treaties to building schools. The purpose of these committee meetings was to build a broad based national consensus.
One step up from the Local Committees were the Peoples Congresses. Representatives from all 800 local committees around the country would meet several times a year at Peoples Congresses, in Mr. Gaddafis hometown of Sirte, to pass laws based on what the people said in their local meetings. These congresses had legislative power to write new laws, formulate economic and public policy as well as ratify treaties and agreements.
All Libyans were allowed to take part in local committees meetings and at times Colonel Gaddafi was criticised. In fact, there were numerous occasions when his proposals were rejected by popular vote and the opposite was approved and put forward for legislation.
For instance, on many occasions Mr. Gaddafi proposed the abolition of capital punishment and he pushed for home schooling over traditional schools. However, the Peoples Congresses wanted to maintain the death penalty and classic schools, and ultimately the will of the Peoples Congresses prevailed. Similarly, in 2009, Colonel Gaddafi put forward a proposal to essentially abolish the central government altogether and give all the oil proceeds directly to each family. The Peoples Congresses rejected this idea too.
One step up from the Peoples Congresses were the Executive Revolutionary Councils. These Revolutionary Councils were elected by the Peoples Congresses and were in charge of implementing policies put forward by the people. Revolutionary Councils were accountable only to ordinary citizens and may have been changed or recalled by them at any time. Consequently, decisions taken by the Peoples Congresses and implemented by the Executive Revolutionary Councils reflected the sovereign will of the whole people, and not merely that of any particular class, faction, tribe or individual.
The Libyan direct democracy system utilized the word elevation rather than election, and avoided the political campaigning that is a feature of traditional political parties and benefits only the bourgeoisies well-heeled and well-to-do.
Unlike in the West, Libyans did not vote once every four years for a President and local parliamentarian who would then make all decisions for them. Ordinary Libyans made decisions regarding foreign, domestic and economic policy themselves.
Several western commentators have rightfully pointed out that the unique Jamahiriya system had certain drawbacks, inter alia, regarding attendance, initiative to speak up, and sufficient supervision. Nevertheless, it is clear that Libya conceptualized sovereignty and democracy in a different and progressive way.
Democracy is not just about elections or political parties. True democracy is also about human rights. During the NATO bombardment of Libya , western media conveniently forgot to mention that the United Nations had just prepared a lengthy dossier praising Mr. Gaddafis human rights achievements. The UN report commended Libya for bettering its legal protections for citizens, making human rights a priority, improving womens rights, educational opportunities and access to housing. During Mr. Gaddafis era housing was considered a human right. Consequently, there was virtually no homelessness or Libyans living under bridges. How many Libyan homes and bridges did NATO destroy?
One area where the United Nations Human Rights Council praised Mr. Gaddafi profusely is womens rights. Unlike many other nations in the Arab world, women in Libya had the right to education, hold jobs, divorce, hold property and have an income. When Colonel Gaddafi seized power in 1969, few women went to university. Today more than half of Libya s university students are women. One of the first laws Mr. Gaddafi passed in 1970 was an equal pay for equal work law, only a few years after a similar law was passed in the U.S. In fact, Libyan working mothers enjoyed a range of benefits including cash bonuses for children, free day care, free health care centres and retirement at 55.
Democracy is not merely about holding elections simply to choose which particular representatives of the elite class should rule over the masses. True democracy is about democratising the economy and giving economic power to the majority.
Fact is, the west has shown that unfettered free markets and genuinely free elections simply cannot co-exist. Organized greed always defeats disorganized democracy. How can capitalism and democracy co-exist if one concentrates wealth and power in the hands of few, and the other seeks to spread power and wealth among many? Mr. Gaddafis Jamahiriya however, sought to spread economic power amongst the downtrodden many rather than just the privileged few.
Prior to Colonel Gaddafi, King Idris let Standard Oil essentially write Libya s petroleum laws. Mr. Gaddafi put an end to all of that. Money from oil proceeds was deposited directly into every Libyan citizens bank account. One wonders if Exxon Mobil and British Petroleum will continue this practice under the new democratic Libya ?
Democracy is not merely about elections or political parties. True democracy is also about equal opportunity through education and the right to life through access to health care. Therefore, isnt it ironic that America supposedly bombarded Libya to spread democracy, but increasingly education in America is becoming a privilege not a right and ultimately a debt sentence. If a bright and talented child in the richest nation on earth cannot afford to go to the best schools, society has failed that child. In fact, for young people the world over, education is a passport to freedom. Any nation that makes one pay for such a passport is only free for the rich but not the poor.
Under Mr. Gaddafi, education was a human right and it was free for all Libyans. If a Libyan was unable to find employment after graduation the State would pay that person the average salary of their profession.
For millions of Americans health care is also increasingly becoming a privilege not a right. A recent study by Harvard Medical School estimates that lack of health insurance causes 44,789 excess deaths annually in America. Under Mr. Gaddafi, health care was a human right and it was free for all Libyans. Thus, with regards to health care, education and economic justice, is America in any position to export democracy to Libya or should America have taken a leaf out of Libyas book?
Muammar Gaddafi inherited one of the poorest nations in Africa . However, by the time he was assassinated, Libya was unquestionably Africa s most prosperous nation. Libya had the highest GDP per capita and life expectancy in Africa and less people lived below the poverty line than in the Netherlands . Libyans did not only enjoy free health care and free education, they also enjoyed free electricity and interest free loans. The price of petrol was around $0.14 per liter and 40 loaves of bread cost just $0.15. Consequently, the UN designated Libya the 53rd highest in the world in human development.
The fundamental difference between western democratic systems and the Jamahiriyas direct democracy is that in Libya citizens were given the chance to contribute directly to the decision-making process, not merely through elected representatives. Hence, all Libyans were allowed to voice their views directly not in one parliament of only a few hundred elite politicians but in hundreds of committees attended by tens of thousands of ordinary citizens. Far from being a military dictatorship, Libya under Mr. Gaddafi was Africas most prosperous democracy.
Garikai Chengu is a fellow of the Du Bois Institute for African Research at Harvard University
- This article was originally posted at Brave New World.