White House Protest Corps


Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives
April 30, 2010, 3:33 am
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Discussion of the newly discovered Henri Cartier-Bresson Film on the Brigade, and the 74th ALBA Reunion honoring Amy Goodman this weekend!
Scholar and Filmmaker Juan Salas and ALBA ED on Leonard Lopate today! 12:40 pm ET today (4/30) on WNYC 93.9FM
Leonard Lopate Show: Scholar Juan Salas and ALBA ED Jeanne Houck will be talking about the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, the newley discovered Cartier Bresson Film and the Reunion on the Leonard Lopate show at 12:40 pm ET today (4/30) on WNYC 93.9FM and 820AM, or streaming at WNYC.org. Please listen – and remember that ALBA’s 74th Volunteers for Liberty Reunion is this Sunday at Museo del Barrio. Come to our facebook event page. ALBA 74th Re union of the Volunteers of Liberty (1936-2010)
Brigadistas & Activists: A Legacy Without Borders
For details visit www.alba-valb.org
Ticket Price: $40. Tickets at the door and for online ticket purchases click here.

With Amy Goodman, recipient of the ALBA Activist Award. Includes Reception and Book signing for Breaking the Sound Barrier!

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010, 4:30pm
Program, 6:00pm Reception and book signing with Amy Goodman

Museo del Barrio
1230 Fifth Avenue at 104th Street
(at 104th Street and 5th Avenue)
New York, N.Y. 10029

Ticket Price: $40. For online ticket purchases go to http://www.alba-valb.org or click here.
You can also email Jhouck@alba-valb.org or call the ALBA office (212 674-5398). Tickets will be held at the door at the day of the event.

This year’s reunion celebrates the Lincoln Brigade’s legacy of internationalist activism, featuring:

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!

Amy Goodman’s news coverage as an award winning journalist, nationally syndicated columnist, author,and host of Democracy Now! embodies the Lincolns’ internationalism and resourceful activism.

Matti Mattson, Abraham Lincoln Brigade Volunteer

A front-line ambulance driver in Spain and indefatigable champion of the good fight, Matti was awarded honorary Spanish citizenship in August of last year.

Archives Without Borders: How the Search for One Soldier’s Identity Changed the Lincolns’ Story As We Know It

Who is the young black soldier in doughboy gear whose portrait the Spanish government hoped to give to Barack Obama? James Fernández and Sebastiaan Faber take us on an archival adventure.

Bruce Barthol and Friends
Dred Scott, Lisa Asher, Jamie Fox, Andy Teirson

Songs of the Spanish Civil War

A songwriter, musician (Country Joe and the Fish, San Francisco Mime Troupe) and long time associate of the Bay Area Post, Bruce returns with Dred Scott, Liberty Ellman and Andy Tierstien to play songs of and about the Spanish Civil War.

With projections by Richard Bermack.

*** Reception & Amy Goodman book signing to follow ***


Read The Volunteer, founded by the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade:

http://www.albavolunteer.org/
For online ticket purchases click here.



ALBA relies on friends like you. Donate now !

ALBA
799 Broadway, Suite 341
New York, NY 10003
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18,000 students in New Jersey walkout after Budget Cuts
April 29, 2010, 4:51 pm
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18,000 students in New Jersey walkout after Budget Cuts

Thursday, April 29 2010 @ 03:04 PM UTC

Read the original http://news.infoshop.org/article.php?story=20100429150413569

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Deschooling and Education

It was a silent call to arms: an easy-to-overlook message urging New Jersey students to take a stand against the budget cuts that threaten class sizes and choices as well as after-school activities. But some 18,000 students accepted the invitation posted last month on Facebook, the social media site better known for publicizing parties and sporting events. And on Tuesday many of them — and many others — walked out of class in one of the largest grass-roots demonstrations to hit New Jersey in years.

18,000 students in New Jersey walkout after Budget Cuts

April 28, 2010



From The New York Times:

It was a silent call to arms: an easy-to-overlook message urging New Jersey students to take a stand against the budget cuts that threaten class sizes and choices as well as after-school activities. But some 18,000 students accepted the invitation posted last month on Facebook, the social media site better known for publicizing parties and sporting events. And on Tuesday many of them — and many others — walked out of class in one of the largest grass-roots demonstrations to hit New Jersey in years.

Michelle Ryan Lauto, 18, a college freshman, joined students who walked out of High Tech High School in Bergen County. It was Ms. Lauto’s Facebook message urging students to take a stand against budget cuts that led to the protests around the state. “All I did was make a Facebook page,” she said. “Anyone who has an opinion could do that and have their opinion heard.”

The largest turnout was in Newark, where thousands of students from various high schools converged on City Hall.

The protest disrupted classroom routines and standardized testing in some of the state’s biggest and best-known school districts, offering a real-life civics lesson that unfolded on lawns, sidewalks, parking lots and football fields.

The mass walkouts were inspired by Michelle Ryan Lauto, an 18-year-old aspiring actress and a college freshman, and came a week after voters rejected 58 percent of school district budgets put to a vote across the state (not all districts have a direct budget vote).

“All I did was make a Facebook page,” said Ms. Lauto, who graduated last year from Northern Valley Regional High School in Old Tappan, N.J. “Anyone who has an opinion could do that and have their opinion heard. I would love to see kids in high school step up and start their own protests and change things in their own way.”

At Columbia High School in Maplewood, that looked like 200 students marching around the building waving signs reading “We are the future” and “We love our teachers.”

In West Orange, a district that is considering laying off 84 employees, reducing busing, cutting back on music and art, and dropping sports teams, it was high school students rallying in the football stands.

At Montclair High School, it meant nearly half of the 1,900 students gathered outside the school in the morning, with some chanting, “No more budget cuts.”

In the largest showing, thousands of high school students in Newark marched past honking cars stuck in midday traffic to fill the steps of City Hall under the watchful gaze of dozens of police officers.

With their protests, the students sought to send a message to Gov. Christopher J. Christie, a Republican whose reductions in state aid to education had led many districts to cut staff and programs and to ask for larger-than-usual property tax increases. Mr. Christie, who has taken on the state’s largest teachers’ union in his efforts to close an $11 billion deficit, has proposed reducing direct aid to nearly 600 districts by an amount equal to up to 5 percent of each district’s operating budget.

“It feels like he is taking money from us, and we’re already poor,” said Johanna Pagan, 16, a sophomore at West Side High School in Newark, who feared her school would lose teachers and extracurricular programs because of the governor’s cuts. “The schools here have bad reputations, and we need aid and we need programs to develop.”

Michael Drewniak, the governor’s press secretary, released a statement on Tuesday saying that students belonged in the classroom. “It is also our firm hope that the students were motivated by youthful rebellion or spring fever,” Mr. Drewniak said, “and not by encouragement from any one-sided view of the current budget crisis in New Jersey.”

Bret D. Schundler, the education commissioner, also urged schools to enforce attendance policies and not let students walk out of class. State education officials said they had a call from one district that had moved students taking standardized tests to another part of the building because of potential noise.

Not every school had students walk out. Nancy Dries, a spokeswoman for the top-ranked Millburn district, which has used surplus money to avoid major cuts, said it was “business as usual” there.

But in many other places, students came to school ready to make a political statement. Emma Wolin, a junior at Columbia High, walked out of second-period Spanish with several classmates, even though the school had warned that they would face detention.

“It’s the activities and school spirit that make Columbia a great school, and I want to keep it that way,” she said.

Judy Levy, a spokeswoman for the South Orange and Maplewood district, said that teachers did mark protesting students absent, and that some students went back and forth between the walkout and their classes, while others chose not to participate because their classes were reviewing for Advanced Placement exams that begin on Monday.

Ms. Lauto, whose message inspired the walkouts, said in an interview that she was amazed and gratified that so many students had responded. She said the state education cuts had really hit home because her mother and sister both work in public schools in Hudson County.

Ms. Lauto, enrolled at Pace University, said she has always had an activist streak. In seventh grade, she tried — but failed — to organize a protest over a new dress code, and after President George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004, she wrote “Going to Canada, Be Back in 4 Years” on a T-shirt and wore it to class.

But until now, Ms. Lauto said, she has used Facebook only to keep in touch with friends and let them know when she is performing in shows. She alerted those 600 Facebook friends to her message calling for a student walkout and asked them to pass it on.

Within a week, Ms. Lauto received hundreds of responses, not all of them positive. In fact, so many students insulted her and said the walkout was a stupid idea that she disabled the message function on her Facebook page. On Tuesday, Ms. Lauto joined students who walked out of High Tech High School in Bergen County. She said she was not planning any more protests, but hoped that students learned that their voices could be heard.

“I made this page with the best of intentions,” she said. “The fact that it has become so wildly successful — I’m so overwhelmed.”

http://reoccupied.wordpress.com/2010/04/28/18000-students-in-new-jersey-walkout-after-budget-cuts/



The Nation: A handful of recent revisionist histories of the Vietnam War are shaping counterinsurgency policy in Afghanistan and Iraq.
April 29, 2010, 2:47 pm
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Read the orifinal article in The Nation

http://www.thenation.com/doc/20100517/turse

The Pentagon Book Club

By Nick Turse

This article appeared in the May 17, 2010 edition of The Nation.
April 29, 2010

In the spring of 1984, a young Army officer wrote a seminar paper about the use of force in the post-Vietnam era. Three years later he returned to the subject in a Princeton University doctoral dissertation titled “The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam.” What “today’s junior officers think about Vietnam–which is fast becoming ancient history–is likely to undergo significant change before they assume positions of power and influence,” he claimed. In his dissertation, he sought to investigate the legacy of the war and its “chastening effect on military thinking about the use of force,” which made military leaders, he contended, “more cautious than before.” “Caution has its virtues, of course,” he wrote. However, “the lessons from which that caution springs are not without flaws.” Among the flawed lessons he identified were a professional aversion to counterinsurgency operations, “a new skepticism about the efficacy of American forces in the Third World countries where social, political, and economic factors are the causes of unrest” and “a widespread fear among officers that assignment to counterinsurgency, special forces type missions will be the end of their career.”

Nick Turse: The eerie confluence of the tales of two convicted mass murderers, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi and William Calley–and their fates.

The author of those words is David Petraeus, now a four-star general and commander of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Petraeus graduated from West Point in 1974, one year before the fall of Saigon, and he has lately consolidated his military career around trying to reverse the lessons of Vietnam. He tasted combat for the first time during the invasion and occupation of Iraq, where he commanded the 101st Airborne Division and the Multinational Security Transition Command (tasked with training Iraqi military forces). In 2005-06, after his second tour in Iraq, Petraeus oversaw the revision of FM 3-24, the military’s counterinsurgency (COIN) field manual. (The previous Army COIN manual was published in 1986; the Marines were still using a guide from 1980.) It was a chance for Petraeus to put his dissertation into practice by literally rewriting the book on the type of warfare American officers had shunned since Vietnam. Early in 2007, following the futile efforts of generals Ricardo Sanchez and George Casey, Petraeus took command of US forces in Iraq and aided a reeling President George W. Bush by implementing the “surge” strategy, designed to tamp down violence to a so-called acceptable level. Taking a page from FM 3-24, Petraeus offered money and weapons to Sunni insurgents in exchange for a cessation of attacks on US troops, a strategy that helped to lessen bloodshed and get bad news about Iraq off the front page. In exchange, Bush made “King David” his most influential adviser on the war (Petraeus was granted much clout at National Security Council meetings) and even took him mountain biking.

To a segment of the military establishment that Andrew Bacevich has dubbed the “Crusaders,” officers who “see the Army’s problems in Iraq as self-inflicted,” the consequence of excessive post-Vietnam caution, Petraeus is seen as a successor to another top Army general, Creighton Abrams. A West Point grad and World War II tank commander under Gen. George Patton, Abrams assumed command of US forces in Vietnam in 1968 when his predecessor, William Westmoreland, was kicked up and out, to Army chief of staff, after a four-year run of failure in Southeast Asia. Abrams’s star has been on the rise in recent years too, thanks in large part to the efforts of his chief booster, the prominent historian, retired Army lieutenant colonel and CIA veteran Lewis Sorley.

Last fall, as the debate over the way forward in Afghanistan geared up, Sorley’s ten-year-old book A Better War was the pick of the Pentagon and, according to Peter Spiegel and Jonathan Weisman of the Wall Street Journal, “recommended in multiple lists put out by military officers, including a former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, who passed it out to his subordinates.” (A Better War is also listed in FM 3-24’s annotated bibliography of recommended texts, and Abrams is mentioned and quoted several times in the manual.) Sorley’s book was also read and reread, according to Newsweek, by Petraeus’s top commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal–a counterterrorism specialist who worked closely with Petraeus when he led the Joint Special Operations Command, a unit that The New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh called “an executive assassination wing.” Under this program, according to Hersh, elite units were reportedly given the authority to track and kill suspected terrorists and militants with minimal oversight, in noncombat situations and across national boundaries.

There is much for the Crusaders to like about Sorley’s account of the often neglected latter half of the Vietnam War, especially his assertion that by late 1970 “the fighting wasn’t over, but the war was won” by the United States. Abrams had achieved this victory, Sorley contends, through a kinder, gentler strategy of pacification operations and population protection that stood in abject contrast to Westmoreland’s ineffective “search and destroy” missions in the countryside. As Sorley explained in a New York Times op-ed published in 2009 when President Obama was weighing his options in Afghanistan, “Abrams decided instead to try ‘clear and hold’ operations, in which small patrols were sent to villages to protect the populace.” According to Sorley, Abrams recognized that under Westmoreland US forces had been “causing undue ‘collateral damage’ to the South Vietnamese people and their property”; thus enlightened, Abrams “reined in the use of heavy firepower like artillery and tactical airstrikes.” Defeat, however, was snatched from the jaws of victory when the United States cut its support for South Vietnam’s Saigon government–a stab in the military’s back by weak-willed politicians and a war-weary public back home.

In 2004 Sorley took an up-close-and-personal approach to his hero in Vietnam Chronicles, a collection of passages selected and transcribed by Sorley from tapes of high-level meetings chaired by Abrams in 1968-72. The book is a tremendous resource, yet one gets the feeling while reading it of being not a fly on the wall but the object of a concerted propaganda campaign. In the spring of 1969, for instance, we hear Abrams yukking it up over cigars he had imported from Hong Kong. At the same time, in South Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, his World War II buddy from the Siege of Bastogne, Gen. Julian Ewell, was coordinating a civilian slaughter during Operation Speedy Express, which was executed with the same heavy artillery and tactical airstrikes Abrams had supposedly shut down [see Nick Turse, “A My Lai a Month,” Dec. 1, 2008]. During the operation, Abrams publicly praised Ewell’s performance. Behind closed doors not long afterward, he laughed off his subordinates’ bloodthirsty talk while warning Ewell to consider how a proposal of his to kill Vietnamese civilians for petty crimes might look if Newsweek got wind of it.

In 1971 two reporters from Newsweek discovered much worse: namely, that as many as 5,000 noncombatants–ten times the number killed during the My Lai massacre–had been slaughtered during Speedy Express, according to one US official. When one of the Newsweek reporters, Kevin Buckley, brought the results of the investigation to Abrams’s attention and asked for comment, the general claimed to have no information and denied Buckley an interview. What Buckley couldn’t have known, and what goes unaccounted for in Vietnam Chronicles, is that Abrams knew a lot about Speedy Express. He learned of reports about mass killings in 1969 from US advisers who charged Ewell’s division with having driven up the enemy body count by killing civilians with helicopter gunships and artillery. Then, on a 1970 trip to Vietnam, Army Secretary Stanley Resor, on the advice of the Army’s acting general counsel, discussed with Abrams reports of widespread civilian killings provided by a different source, a whistleblower from Ewell’s division who had witnessed the bloodshed firsthand. Buckley and his Newsweek colleague Alex Shimkin learned about the carnage from still other US and Vietnamese sources during the meticulous investigation they conducted over a period of months. A Pentagon-level cover-up and Newsweek’s desire not to upset the Nixon administration in the wake of the My Lai revelations kept the full results of their work under wraps. The publication of a severely truncated version of Buckley and Shimkin’s original article allowed the Pentagon to ride out the coverage without being forced to convene a large-scale official inquiry of the sort that followed public disclosure of My Lai. A secret Army report, commissioned in response to Buckley and Shimkin’s investigation but buried for decades, concluded:

While there appears to be no means of determining the precise number of civilian casualties incurred by US forces during Operation Speedy Express, it would appear that the extent of these casualties was in fact substantial, and that a fairly solid case can be constructed to show that civilian casualties may have amounted to several thousand (between 5,000 and 7,000).

In both his books Sorley ignores the carnage of Speedy Express. Consequently, his readers, including McChrystal and other Crusaders in the Pentagon book club, taking notes for their own pacification campaign in Afghanistan, are left with a counterfeit history of Abrams’s bloodless “better war.”

Not all of Sorley’s fans, however, labor under the same misconceptions about what the Vietnamese call the American War. In the acknowledgments of his Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War, 1945-1975, John Prados writes admiringly of the herculean labors of transcription that Sorley–a friend–performed to produce Vietnam Chronicles. But Prados’s scholarly admiration goes no further. He squarely challenges the contentions of Sorley and others who have, over the years, attempted to recast US and allied efforts in Vietnam as a Lost Victory or an Unheralded Victory, among other wishfully titled studies [see Rick Perlstein, “The Best Wars of Their Lives,” October 15, 2007]. Regarding Sorley’s belief that victory was thrown away, Prados writes:

Most recent commentators of this school call themselves “revisionists,” arguing that Americans are wrong to believe they lost the Vietnam war. This is not revisionism, it is neo-orthodoxy.

Something happened in the countryside, but it was not Saigon’s victory….

The neo-orthodox commentators of the “lost victory” school make their claims as if the only important elements were pacification and Vietnamization, as if politics did not matter. Not only is this strange, given the kind of conflict–where supposedly everyone now understood the political to be paramount–but those same analysts take no account of Saigon politics.

For these reasons, General McChrystal would do well to forgo another reading of Sorley’s text and instead wade into Prados’s Vietnam. Steeped in the copious records generated by the US government during the conflict, Prados offers an expansive history, written in a lucid style, that scholars of the war will want to make room for on their shelves and casual readers can accommodate by purging a few faded volumes. Prados, a senior fellow of George Washington University’s National Security Archive and the head of its Vietnam Documentation Project, surveys the wars in Vietnam against the Japanese, French and Americans, from 1945 through 1975, and makes smartly written sojourns back to the United States to listen in on White House phone calls and take it to the streets with returning antiwar veterans. Prados demonstrates the dire effects a foreign war can have on the homeland, as criminality abroad acted as a catalyst for an increasingly lawless government at home.

While he ably covers a lot of historical territory in the United States and Southeast Asia (with surprisingly thorough, if brief, treatments of the contiguous conflicts in Cambodia and Laos), Prados is strongest on Nixon’s war in Vietnam–the period from 1969 onward–making his book a natural counterweight to Sorley’s study of the same period. Through a staggering array of primary and secondary sources, Prados discredits the “better war” thesis and the “neo-orthodox” school through his clear and thorough examination of the increasingly hollow and corrupt South Vietnamese government and its failures to win over the people, which made supposed US pacification successes meaningless.

With devastating clarity, Prados demonstrates that neo-orthodox claims of an increasingly effective South Vietnamese military taking charge, from 1969 onward, are based on smoke and mirrors and outright fabrications. In truth, just as the US military was increasingly wracked by drug use, racial tension, AWOLs, fraggings (attacks on officers and noncommissioned officers, often by fragmentation grenade), combat refusals, mutinies and other disciplinary issues, Saigon’s military forces were in dire straits, as draft evaders and deserters thinned the ranks, officers collected the pay of nonexistent “ghost soldiers” and child soldiers were, instead, put into uniform. At the same time, government corruption was rampant. (In one scandal top officials got away with skimming from a tax on soldiers that was designed to aid veterans.) Prados then couples his nuanced study of the ample shortcomings of the South Vietnamese government and armed forces with, more important, an astute analysis of the many “levels and layers of reasons” the revolutionary forces from North and South Vietnam won the war. It’s here that Prados really shines and demonstrates what a historian at the height of his powers of scholarly synthesis can accomplish.

Paying attention to the Vietnamese–whether ordinary civilians being slaughtered in the name of pacification or Saigon’s political elites emptying the public treasury–has never been a strong suit of American commentators on the war. Consciously written to render the Vietnamese visible in ways too few American histories of the war do, Mark Philip Bradley’s important history Vietnam at War mines Vietnamese novels, poetry and films, as well as a plethora of recent and often overlooked works of scholarship, to paint a more complete picture of the lived experience of the war for the people of Vietnam. Bradley begins with the millennium-long Vietnamese anticolonial struggle against the Chinese beginning in 111 BC and then chronicles the rise of French colonialism in Indochina during the latter half of the nineteenth century; the often-ignored political and intellectual developments among elites and the economic upheaval and demographic explosion in the countryside during the early part of the twentieth century; and finally the wars of liberation against France and the United States.

Bradley discusses the many ways that ordinary people struggled to “navigate and survive the complicated terrain of wartime South Vietnam.” Weaving together disparate threads, from contemporary commentary about changing Vietnamese romantic and sexual mores amid wartime uncertainty (“It’s no longer about appreciating love but escaping the sense that one has been abandoned”) to social anthropologist Heonik Kwon’s recent meticulous and skillful reconstruction of the complex and clandestine networks of social connections that allowed a wounded South Vietnamese officer to defect to the revolutionary side, Bradley offers a social history of wartime Vietnam and of a people in a state of acute crisis. Perhaps the most important aspect of Vietnam at War, however, is Bradley’s effort to convey the ubiquity of civilian suffering during the American War–the decimation of the countryside, the mass population dislocations, the indiscriminate use of firepower, the collapse of farming, the savaging of the economy, the rampant inflation and the proliferation of a culture of corruption and prostitution among the desperate, war-ravaged Vietnamese. Given the scale of misery caused by the war, Bradley doesn’t devote enough attention to the subject. But he makes a noble effort and, even in a slim volume, is stronger on the subject than many thicker histories.

In fact, very few of the more than 30,000 books about the conflict plumb the depths of Vietnamese misery during the American War. One volume that should, by any stretch of the imagination, be counted among them is Eddie Adams: Vietnam, but the book–a glossy collection of photos and text–in many ways defies conventions. Most books, for instance, don’t begin with an admission of the photographer’s opposition to the project. But Adams didn’t have a say in the matter. He died several years ago, and Eddie Adams: Vietnam–edited by his wife, Alyssa, with text by Hal Buell, Adams’s former boss at the Associated Press, as well as short interviews with contemporaries like Morley Safer, Peter Arnett and the late David Halberstam–was published against his wishes.

Adams is best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of Col. (and later Brig. Gen.) Nguyen Ngoc Loan shooting a defenseless, restrained prisoner at point-blank range in the head with a pistol. (It is the cover image of Eddie Adams: Vietnam.) It was a photo, Arnett notes in the opening of the book, that Adams “was sorry for.” Adams would later commiserate with Nguyen (known to Americans as “General Loan”) at a pizza parlor in Virginia operated by the former general, who immigrated to the United States with help from a friend in the CIA. Adams felt the photo had been used unfairly to vilify Nguyen and not only apologized for his picture but took great pains to excuse the general’s actions. “General Loan was killing our so-called ‘bad guys,’ but the U.S. government kind of disowned him,” Adams later lamented. In his introductory piece, Arnett recalls telling Adams that he had captured a moment of truth–executions were common but rarely photographed–yet “Eddie, Mister Patriot, just would not accept that. He enjoyed winning the Pulitzer Prize as well as the fame that came with it, but in his heart he felt that he had let the country down.”

Adams, who served as a photographer in the Marines during the Korean War, was hardly critical of the US war in Vietnam and maintained a close relationship with the military. Yet while no equal of Philip Jones Griffiths’s magisterial Vietnam Inc., a 1971 collection of more than 250 photos documenting the destruction of the Vietnamese people’s way of life during the war, Eddie Adams: Vietnam almost inadvertently manages to convey the scale of Vietnamese suffering. When defending Nguyen, Adams noted that a picture can lie; yet it can also be said that multiple images can often offer a less cloudy vision of the truth. In Adams’s book we see many disturbing scenes: a bound prisoner threatened with a bayonet; another with a spear at his throat; a noncombatant being punched; a woman beckoning Adams and fellow Americans to help her wounded husband, his arm vainly grasping at air as they fly away in their helicopter; a child suspect trussed up with a rifle trained on him, mangled bodies lying in the open; children crouching and wailing in fear as an armed US marine approaches them; a young girl, hands raised to the sides of her head, whose eyes lock on Adams’s camera as she runs for cover; and a Saigon demonstrator being threatened with a bayonet.

Whatever his internal conflicts, Adams’s fearlessness, skill and fine eye are evident in a picture he shot on April 25, 1965, in Quang Nam province. Crawling on his belly, Adams captured the abject terror on the faces of a mother, crouched low and clutching her baby, and a father, frightened and powerless, shielding his tiny child as marines, their weapons at the ready, stalk through their hamlet searching for the guerrillas who had fired at them from afar. That November, Adams pronounced the shot his favorite. Of all his many magnificent photos, including his iconic shot of the prisoner and Nguyen Ngoc Loan–which many consider the defining photograph of a conflict that produced not a few worthy contenders–this image may capture the essence of the American War as well as any other. The combination of helplessness and sheer terror in the parents’ eyes, their inability to do any more for their children than to hold them close and act as human shields while a hulking group of heavily armed foreign teenagers draw fire and return it from their yard, says much about the American War in Vietnam and American warmaking in general.

Several years ago, during a trip through the Mekong Delta, I talked with Nguyen Van Tu, a well-weathered farmer residing in a simple wood-and-thatch home with an earthen floor, likely very similar to the one he lived in during the war. Probably the only major difference was the absence of a nearby bomb shelter. During the war, such bunkers were as ubiquitous as the bombs and artillery shells from which they provided uncertain protection. Year after year, families were forced to live a semi-subterranean existence. But they still had to eat, and that meant farming and foraging out in the open. One afternoon in 1971, Nguyen heard artillery being fired from a nearby base and shouted for his family to bolt to their bunker. They made it. He didn’t. A 105-millimeter US artillery shell slammed into the ground near him and ripped off most of his right leg. It was, in fact, one of numerous tragedies he endured as a result of the American War. His brother, a simple farmer, was shot dead by America’s South Vietnamese allies in the early years of the conflict. His father was killed just after the war. While tending his garden, he accidentally detonated a US M-79 round–a 40-millimeter shell fired from a single-shot grenade launcher–buried in the soil.

In 2008 I published a story about Nguyen, and thanks to readers’ generosity he received a new prosthetic leg to replace the rudimentary wooden model he’d walked with for years. But Nguyen hadn’t asked for a new leg; it wasn’t what he wanted out of the interview. What he wanted was a story in the US press about the true suffering of the Vietnamese people that would spur the government to “take responsibility” for what it had done during the war. Nguyen was skeptical that an American would tell this story. “Do you really want to publicize this thing?” he asked. “Do you really dare tell everyone about all the losses and sufferings of the Vietnamese people here?”

Nguyen’s skepticism was well founded, even if he knew nothing of the Crusaders or their revisionist histories. There’s a moment in Petraeus’s dissertation when he pauses to take stock of the “impact of America’s longest war” and its fallout. He devotes not a word to Vietnamese civilians. There’s no mention of women with shrapnel still lurking beneath their skin, or the men with faces melted years ago by incendiary weapons, or the inconsolable people still grieving for mothers, fathers, siblings and children gunned down decades ago. Instead, Petraeus wrote, without apparent irony, that “the psychic scars of the war may be deepest among the Army and Marine Corps leadership.”

Drawing too many conclusions from a years-old dissertation is a risky proposition, but Petraeus’s writings then and his efforts since raise serious questions about just who he believes has suffered most because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, what role he has played in that misery and the lessons he has drawn from the carnage. Given the Crusaders’ cheery (and bizarre) conclusions that Petraeus turned the bloody US war in Iraq into a victory and that his “surge” there offers a template for similar success in Afghanistan, one also worries what dubious lessons the next generation of Crusaders will draw from him and his “better wars.”

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About Nick Turse
Nick Turse, the associate editor of The Nation Institute’s Tomdispatch.com, is the author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Every­day Lives (Metropolitan). He was the recipient of a Ridenhour Prize and a James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism in 2009 for his Nation article “A My Lai a Month,” a multi-year investigation of mass civilian slaughter by US forces in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. more…
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The New Authority Smashing Hour, Wednesday, 4/28/2010
April 29, 2010, 4:01 am
Filed under: Uncategorized
by authoritysmashers

The Authority Smashing! Hour

With Mr1001Nights and

Paul from RI


Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)



Political Prisoners Locked Away in the “Land of the Free”
April 29, 2010, 2:48 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Political Prisoners Locked Away in the “Land of the Free”

http://www.finalcall.com/artman/publish/printer_6923.shtml

POLITICAL PRISONERS LOCKED AWAY IN THE “LAND OF THE FREE”

New report calls for justice for U.S. political prisoners and takes human rights case to the United Nations

U.S. political prisoners have endured decades of abuse, many face death in prison

By Richard B. Muhammad -Editor-in-Chief

CHICAGO (FinalCall.com) – When it comes to the United Nations and countries charged with rights violations, the United States is usually the chief accuser of others and remains a self-ordained defender of human rights.

But a recent report filed with the world body raises the ugly issue of political prisoners and repression in America and her human rights violations.

“The United States is very, very concerned when its citizens begin to raise questions in these international forums, because the United States still prefers to posture itself, including the Obama administration, as still the leader of the free world and that they don’t have any human rights violations and they certainly don’t have any political prisoners, and we have to dispel that notion in the international community,” said Stan Willis, of the National Conference of Black Lawyers.

Atty. Willis filed the report April 14 as part of a process in which the United Nations reviews the status of each country and its human rights record. The U.S. is currently under review and will respond in November during a gathering in Geneva, Switzerland.

The United Nations’ Universal Period Review process was introduced in 2006 and community-based, non-governmental and other organizations are allowed to point out human rights issues within their countries and where they feel violations of international law or UN treaties have been committed.

For Black America, the process is another way to hold the U.S. government accountable and to demand the release of Black Power era leaders and members of organizations whose political views are objectionable, said Mr. Willis, in an interview.

Beyond freeing an aging population of some 100 former Black Panthers, members of the MOVE organization and other revolutionary-oriented groups, taking the issue to the United Nations puts America and her dirty laundry on front street, said the longtime activist and lawyer.

“They (American officials) do not want to have these issues reach the world’s people. How do you go into Iraq or Afghanistan telling people about their democracy when you got Black people that are locked down in prison for 30-40 years as political prisoners?”

Whether the problem was leftist ideology, nationalists and those calling for a Black homeland, demands for a new economic order or Native American rights and anti-Vietnam War efforts, government security agencies infiltrated dissident groups.

The security activity went hand-in-hand with crackdowns on Black, Latino, Native American and even some White groups demanding a more just and peaceful society­and greater demands for respect for rights and opposition to police violence.

“Such repression resulted in murders, injuries, false arrests, malicious prosecutions and lengthy imprisonments of scores of political activists,” the report said.

The continued incarceration and mistreatment of these prisoners violates UN treaties and conventions that guarantee human rights, forbid torture and outlaw racial and political targeting by government, the report charges.
Surveillance and destroying organizations

The plight of political prisoners is largely rooted in the 1960s-1970s era surveillance against Black groups, which included respected civil rights organizations as well as so-called Black radicals, according to Mr. Willis. About two-thirds of the jailed dissidents are Black, he said.

The FBI teamed with local law enforcement to attack, disrupt and destroy groups like the Black Panther Party and the Nation of Islam, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which was admitted during congressional hearings in 1976 empanelled to probe these secret domestic wars.

The covert Counterintelligence Program run by then-FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, and approved by the White House, focused in specially on the Black Panther Party, and most political prisoners are either former Panthers or from MOVE, a radical “back-to-nature” group whose homes were bombed by the Philadelphia Police Department in 1985.

“U.S. political prisoners have languished in U.S. prisons for decades under cruel and inhumane conditions. Several have died in prison; others have endured years of solitary confinement, poor medical health care, various other forms of abuse, and perfunctory parole hearings resulting in routine denial of human rights,” the report noted.

The report calls for the unconditional release of political prisoners jailed as a result of the government’s Counterintelligence Program, an executive review of all cases related to the covert operation, a murder probe into the deaths of Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark and actions to repair and redress harm done and to prevent similar acts in the future.

While Atty. Willis is pushing the plight of political prisoners, he said the impact of the government wrongdoing went beyond the heavy price young activists paid at the time.

“Movements move forward with masses of people but they move forward with a certain kind of leadership,” said Mr. Willis.

During the revolutionary times of the 1960s and 1970s, youth and students were influenced by the efforts of the Nation of Islam, Congress of Racial Equality, and NAACP as well as the African liberation movement on the continent and Cuba’s revolution, he continued.

A type of leadership was developing that America had never seen before and the government moved to crush that leadership, Mr. Willis said.

The Panthers and SNCC were wiped out and law enforcement and government sent clear signals that if others persisted in demanding progressive action they would also be destroyed, he said.

“Our community suffered. Our community deserves reparations just on that issue because it set us back in the 1960s and we see where we are now, we haven’t recovered from that,” he said. “It’s not just those in prison that suffered, and they certainly suffered mightily because they have been locked down and some of them are dying in prison. Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were murdered. But the community suffered,” he said. Young leaders Hampton and Clark headed the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. They were shot and killed in a police raid on a west side home in 1969.
U.S. power vs. the power of the people

While the U.S. wields considerable power at the United Nations, in particular with its veto power on the Security Council, Atty. Willis rejects the notion that holding the superpower to international standards is a futile effort.

The General Assembly is largely made up of delegates from around the world, and public opinion and moral authority is bigger than U.S. power, he said.

The lawyer pointed to fighting in Chicago for two decades for Blacks tortured in a police precinct and officers under former police commander John Burge. It was only after the case, which involved hundreds of suspects coerced into making confessions because of torture, was put before international bodies that U.S. law enforcement officials moved against Mr. Burge. He will go on trial May 10 in federal court and is accused of obstruction of justice and perjury.

“It was only after the United Nations mentioned torture in the context of Abu Grahaib, Guantanamo Bay and Chicago, in the same paragraph, that John Burge was indicted within months of that,” Mr. Willis said. The Justice Dept. reached out about the case after the world body noted the violations, he said.
International forums and broader remedies

More involvement is needed in international forums, where violations of basic rights to education, health, employment, housing, and abuses of discrimination and police brutality can be brought out, Mr. Willis argued.

Essentially the forums provide a way to call attention to government failures or misdeeds and ask that the UN or other bodies where the U.S. holds membership to investigate and demand America comply with international law or treaties. The forums can also be highly embarrassing for the world’s greatest democracy.

“We can have a mighty voice because when we speak in the international context it resonates with African people all over the world, unlike anybody else, and they look for us to speak because they know we are in the lion’s den,” said Atty. Willis.

The U.S. civil rights laws also say what government can’t do, while the international standards stress what countries must do, Mr. Willis explained. Under the United Nations standards, countries must educate children and localities could not argue that because of a lower tax base Black children get a lesser quality or failing education, he explained.

Remedies are much broader in the international context, which include reparations as a common remedy, but civil rights laws don’t provide for reparations, Mr. Willis added.

It’s not just going to Geneva but confronting local entities, like school districts, and being able to redefine education and press districts to come in line with international standards, he said. Blacks have also tried to take their struggle to the United Nations in the past, Mr. Willis said.

“We have a history of trying to get there, but we haven’t got there because I think we got so focused on civil rights we forgot there is a remedy out there and we can draw on the collective sentiments of the world community by trying to take our case into a more international forum,” he said. “We don’t have to rely on who is the president, we can force the president because the president and the administration is very, very sensitive to world opinion. There is no question about that,” he said.

Concerns about the arrest and targeting of Arab and Palestinian communities and Muslims after 9-11 and 23-hour-a-day lockdowns make government abuses relevant today, Atty. Willis said.

Political prisoners have traditionally been locked down, not because they violated prison policy or disrupted prison but because officials don’t want disruption based on ideas, he said.

The Obama administration, unlike its predecessors, has taken the position that they support human rights and the U.S. has a member on the Human Rights Council, said Mr. Willis.

His goal is to get the political prisoners on the agenda, but filing a report isn’t enough, he said.

It will take more awareness and education of the Black community, activism and lobbying for political prisoners at the United Nations, town hall meetings to explain where the issues are, and getting the academic and faith communities to weigh in on the problem, he said.

“It’s a way of organizing our people and encouraging them to take these international forums seriously and adding that to their tools of raising issues related to various problems we have in the United States. It doesn’t mean you stop doing anything else.

“The fact that I am trying to raise issues in the international forum doesn’t mean I am stopping suing police,” he said.

“It just means this is an additional weapon that we have to try to get this country in compliance with international human rights laws.”

FCN is a distributor (and not a publisher) of content supplied by third parties. Original content supplied by FCN and FinalCall.com News is Copyright 2009 FCN Publishing, FinalCall.com. Content supplied by third parties are the property of their respective owners.



“Please Give Me Another Son”
April 28, 2010, 4:29 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,


Chomsky: For Obama to Suggest He Cares About Human Rights in Gaza Is a Joke in Bad Taste
April 27, 2010, 11:07 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

Chomsky: For Obama to Suggest He Cares About Human Rights in Gaza Is a Joke in Bad Taste

friends till the end

friends till the end

By Noam Chomsky, Tomdispatch.com
Posted on April 27, 2010, Printed on April 27, 2010
http://www.alternet.org/story/146641/

[To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com here.]

The fact that the Israel-Palestine conflict grinds on without resolution might appear to be rather strange.  For many of the world’s conflicts, it is difficult even to conjure up a feasible settlement.  In this case, it is not only possible, but there is near universal agreement on its basic contours: a two-state settlement along the internationally recognized (pre-June 1967) borders — with “minor and mutual modifications,” to adopt official U.S. terminology before Washington departed from the international community in the mid-1970s.

The basic principles have been accepted by virtually the entire world, including the Arab states (who go on to call for full normalization of relations), the Organization of Islamic States (including Iran), and relevant non-state actors (including Hamas).  A settlement along these lines was first proposed at the U.N. Security Council in January 1976 by the major Arab states.  Israel refused to attend the session.  The U.S. vetoed the resolution, and did so again in 1980.  The record at the General Assembly since is similar.

There was one important and revealing break in U.S.-Israeli rejectionism.  After the failed Camp David agreements in 2000, President Clinton recognized that the terms he and Israel had proposed were unacceptable to any Palestinians.  That December, he proposed his “parameters”: imprecise, but more forthcoming.  He then stated that both sides had accepted the parameters, while expressing reservations.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Taba, Egypt, in January 2001 to resolve the differences and were making considerable progress.  In their final press conference, they reported that, with a little more time, they could probably have reached full agreement.  Israel called off the negotiations prematurely, however, and official progress then terminated, though informal discussions at a high level continued leading to the Geneva Accord, rejected by Israel and ignored by the U.S.

A good deal has happened since, but a settlement along those lines is still not out of reach — if, of course, Washington is once again willing to accept it.  Unfortunately, there is little sign of that.

Substantial mythology has been created about the entire record, but the basic facts are clear enough and quite well documented.

The U.S. and Israel have been acting in tandem to extend and deepen the occupation.  In 2005, recognizing that it was pointless to subsidize a few thousand Israeli settlers in Gaza, who were appropriating substantial resources and protected by a large part of the Israeli army, the government of Ariel Sharon decided to move them to the much more valuable West Bank and Golan Heights.

Instead of carrying out the operation straightforwardly, as would have been easy enough, the government decided to stage a “national trauma,” which virtually duplicated the farce accompanying the withdrawal from the Sinai desert after the Camp David agreements of 1978-79.  In each case, the withdrawal permitted the cry of “Never Again,” which meant in practice: we cannot abandon an inch of the Palestinian territories that we want to take in violation of international law.  This farce played very well in the West, though it was ridiculed by more astute Israeli commentators, among them that country’s prominent sociologist the late Baruch Kimmerling.

After its formal withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Israel never actually relinquished its total control over the territory, often described realistically as “the world’s largest prison.”  In January 2006, a few months after the withdrawal, Palestine had an election that was recognized as free and fair by international observers.  Palestinians, however, voted “the wrong way,” electing Hamas.  Instantly, the U.S. and Israel intensified their assault against Gazans as punishment for this misdeed.  The facts and the reasoning were not concealed; rather, they were openly published alongside reverential commentary on Washington’s sincere dedication to democracy.  The U.S.-backed Israeli assault against the Gazans has only been intensified since, thanks to violence and economic strangulation, increasingly savage.

Meanwhile in the West Bank, always with firm U.S. backing, Israel has been carrying forward longstanding programs to take the valuable land and resources of the Palestinians and leave them in unviable cantons, mostly out of sight.  Israeli commentators frankly refer to these goals as “neocolonial.” Ariel Sharon, the main architect of the settlement programs, called these cantons “Bantustans,” though the term is misleading: South Africa needed the majority black work force, while Israel would be happy if the Palestinians disappeared, and its policies are directed to that end.

Blockading Gaza by Land and Sea

One step towards cantonization and the undermining of hopes for Palestinian national survival is the separation of Gaza from the West Bank.  These hopes have been almost entirely consigned to oblivion, an atrocity to which we should not contribute by tacit consent. Israeli journalist Amira Hass, one of the leading specialists on Gaza, writes that

“the restrictions on Palestinian movement that Israel introduced in January 1991 reversed a process that had been initiated in June 1967. Back then, and for the first time since 1948, a large portion of the Palestinian people again lived in the open territory of a single country — to be sure, one that was occupied, but was nevertheless whole.… The total separation of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank is one of the greatest achievements of Israeli politics, whose overarching objective is to prevent a solution based on international decisions and understandings and instead dictate an arrangement based on Israel’s military superiority.…

“Since January 1991, Israel has bureaucratically and logistically merely perfected the split and the separation: not only between Palestinians in the occupied territories and their brothers in Israel, but also between the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and those in the rest of the territories and between Gazans and West Bankers/Jerusalemites. Jews live in this same piece of land within a superior and separate system of privileges, laws, services, physical infrastructure and freedom of movement.”

The leading academic specialist on Gaza, Harvard scholar Sara Roy, adds:

“Gaza is an example of a society that has been deliberately reduced to a state of abject destitution, its once productive population transformed into one of aid-dependent paupers.… Gaza’s subjection began long before Israel’s recent war against it [December 2008]. The Israeli occupation — now largely forgotten or denied by the international community — has devastated Gaza’s economy and people, especially since 2006…. After Israel’s December [2008] assault, Gaza’s already compromised conditions have become virtually unlivable. Livelihoods, homes, and public infrastructure have been damaged or destroyed on a scale that even the Israel Defense Forces admitted was indefensible.

“In Gaza today, there is no private sector to speak of and no industry. 80 percent of Gaza’s agricultural crops were destroyed and Israel continues to snipe at farmers attempting to plant and tend fields near the well-fenced and patrolled border. Most productive activity has been extinguished.… Today, 96 percent of Gaza’s population of 1.4 million is dependent on humanitarian aid for basic needs. According to the World Food Programme, the Gaza Strip requires a minimum of 400 trucks of food every day just to meet the basic nutritional needs of the population. Yet, despite a March [22, 2009] decision by the Israeli cabinet to lift all restrictions on foodstuffs entering Gaza, only 653 trucks of food and other supplies were allowed entry during the week of May 10, at best meeting 23 percent of required need. Israel now allows only 30 to 40 commercial items to enter Gaza compared to 4,000 approved products prior to June 2006.”

It cannot be too often stressed that Israel had no credible pretext for its 2008–9 attack on Gaza, with full U.S. support and illegally using U.S. weapons. Near-universal opinion asserts the contrary, claiming that Israel was acting in self-defense. That is utterly unsustainable, in light of Israel’s flat rejection of peaceful means that were readily available, as Israel and its U.S. partner in crime knew very well. That aside, Israel’s siege of Gaza is itself an act of war, as Israel of all countries certainly recognizes, having repeatedly justified launching major wars on grounds of partial restrictions on its access to the outside world, though nothing remotely like what it has long imposed on Gaza.

One crucial element of Israel’s criminal siege, little reported, is the naval blockade. Peter Beaumont reports from Gaza that, “on its coastal littoral, Gaza’s limitations are marked by a different fence where the bars are Israeli gunboats with their huge wakes, scurrying beyond the Palestinian fishing boats and preventing them from going outside a zone imposed by the warships.” According to reports from the scene, the naval siege has been tightened steadily since 2000. Fishing boats have been driven steadily out of Gaza’s territorial waters and toward the shore by Israeli gunboats, often violently without warning and with many casualties. As a result of these naval actions, Gaza’s fishing industry has virtually collapsed; fishing is impossible near shore because of the contamination caused by Israel’s regular attacks, including the destruction of power plants and sewage facilities.

These Israeli naval attacks began shortly after the discovery by the BG (British Gas) Group of what appear to be quite sizeable natural gas fields in Gaza’s territorial waters. Industry journals report that Israel is already appropriating these Gazan resources for its own use, part of its commitment to shift its economy to natural gas. The standard industry source reports:

“Israel’s finance ministry has given the Israel Electric Corp. (IEC) approval to purchase larger quantities of natural gas from BG than originally agreed upon, according to Israeli government sources [which] said the state-owned utility would be able to negotiate for as much as 1.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas from the Marine field located off the Mediterranean coast of the Palestinian controlled Gaza Strip.

“Last year the Israeli government approved the purchase of 800 million cubic meters of gas from the field by the IEC…. Recently the Israeli government changed its policy and decided the state-owned utility could buy the entire quantity of gas from the Gaza Marine field. Previously the government had said the IEC could buy half the total amount and the remainder would be bought by private power producers.”

The pillage of what could become a major source of income for Gaza is surely known to U.S. authorities. It is only reasonable to suppose that the intention to appropriate these limited resources, either by Israel alone or together with the collaborationist Palestinian Authority, is the motive for preventing Gazan fishing boats from entering Gaza’s territorial waters.

There are some instructive precedents. In 1989, Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans signed a treaty with his Indonesian counterpart Ali Alatas granting Australia rights to the substantial oil reserves in “the Indonesian Province of East Timor.” The Indonesia-Australia Timor Gap Treaty, which offered not a crumb to the people whose oil was being stolen, “is the only legal agreement anywhere in the world that effectively recognises Indonesia’s right to rule East Timor,” the Australian press reported.

Asked about his willingness to recognize the Indonesian conquest and to rob the sole resource of the conquered territory, which had been subjected to near-genocidal slaughter by the Indonesian invader with the strong support of Australia (along with the U.S., the U.K., and some others), Evans explained that “there is no binding legal obligation not to recognise the acquisition of territory that was acquired by force,” adding that “the world is a pretty unfair place, littered with examples of acquisition by force.”

It should, then, be unproblematic for Israel to follow suit in Gaza.

A few years later, Evans became the leading figure in the campaign to introduce the concept “responsibility to protect” — known as R2P — into international law. R2P is intended to establish an international obligation to protect populations from grave crimes. Evans is the author of a major book on the subject and was co-chair of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, which issued what is considered the basic document on R2P.

In an article devoted to this “idealistic effort to establish a new humanitarian principle,” the London Economist featured Evans and his “bold but passionate claim on behalf of a three-word expression which (in quite large part thanks to his efforts) now belongs to the language of diplomacy: the ‘responsibility to protect.’” The article is accompanied by a picture of Evans with the caption “Evans: a lifelong passion to protect.” His hand is pressed to his forehead in despair over the difficulties faced by his idealistic effort. The journal chose not to run a different photo that circulates in Australia, depicting Evans and Alatas exuberantly clasping their hands together as they toast the Timor Gap Treaty that they had just signed.

Though a “protected population” under international law, Gazans do not fall under the jurisdiction of the “responsibility to protect,” joining other unfortunates, in accord with the maxim of Thucydides — that the strong do as they wish, and the weak suffer as they must — which holds with its customary precision.

Obama and the Settlements

The kinds of restrictions on movement used to destroy Gaza have long been in force in the West Bank as well, less cruelly but with grim effects on life and the economy. The World Bank reports that Israel has established “a complex closure regime that restricts Palestinian access to large areas of the West Bank… The Palestinian economy has remained stagnant, largely because of the sharp downturn in Gaza and Israel’s continued restrictions on Palestinian trade and movement in the West Bank.”

The World Bank “cited Israeli roadblocks and checkpoints hindering trade and travel, as well as restrictions on Palestinian building in the West Bank, where the Western-backed government of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas holds sway.” Israel does permit — indeed encourage — a privileged existence for elites in Ramallah and sometimes elsewhere, largely relying on European funding, a traditional feature of colonial and neocolonial practice.

All of this constitutes what Israeli activist Jeff Halper calls a “matrix of control” to subdue the colonized population. These systematic programs over more than 40 years aim to establish Defense Minister Moshe Dayan’s recommendation to his colleagues shortly after Israel’s 1967 conquests that we must tell the Palestinians in the territories: “We have no solution, you shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wishes may leave, and we will see where this process leads.”

Turning to the second bone of contention, settlements, there is indeed a confrontation, but it is rather less dramatic than portrayed. Washington’s position was presented most strongly in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s much-quoted statement rejecting “natural growth exceptions” to the policy opposing new settlements. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with President Shimon Peres and, in fact, virtually the whole Israeli political spectrum, insists on permitting “natural growth” within the areas that Israel intends to annex, complaining that the United States is backing down on George W. Bush’s authorization of such expansion within his “vision” of a Palestinian state.

Senior Netanyahu cabinet members have gone further. Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz announced that “the current Israeli government will not accept in any way the freezing of legal settlement activity in Judea and Samaria.” The term “legal” in U.S.-Israeli parlance means “illegal, but authorized by the government of Israel with a wink from Washington.” In this usage, unauthorized outposts are termed “illegal,” though apart from the dictates of the powerful, they are no more illegal than the settlements granted to Israel under Bush’s “vision” and Obama’s scrupulous omission.

The Obama-Clinton “hardball” formulation is not new. It repeats the wording of the Bush administration draft of the 2003 Road Map, which stipulates that in Phase I, “Israel freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements).” All sides formally accept the Road Map (modified to drop the phrase “natural growth”) — consistently overlooking the fact that Israel, with U.S. support, at once added 14 “reservations” that render it inoperable.

If Obama were at all serious about opposing settlement expansion, he could easily proceed with concrete measures by, for example, reducing U.S. aid by the amount devoted to this purpose. That would hardly be a radical or courageous move. The Bush I administration did so (reducing loan guarantees), but after the Oslo accord in 1993, President Clinton left calculations to the government of Israel. Unsurprisingly, there was “no change in the expenditures flowing to the settlements,” the Israeli press reported. “[Prime Minister] Rabin will continue not to dry out the settlements,” the report concludes. “And the Americans? They will understand.”

Obama administration officials informed the press that the Bush I measures are “not under discussion,” and that pressures will be “largely symbolic.” In short, Obama understands, just as Clinton and Bush II did.

American Visionaries

At best, settlement expansion is a side issue, rather like the issue of “illegal outposts” — namely those that the government of Israel has not authorized. Concentration on these issues diverts attention from the fact that there are no “legal outposts” and that it is the existing settlements that are the primary problem to be faced.

The U.S. press reports that “a partial freeze has been in place for several years, but settlers have found ways around the strictures… [C]onstruction in the settlements has slowed but never stopped, continuing at an annual rate of about 1,500 to 2,000 units over the past three years. If building continues at the 2008 rate, the 46,500 units already approved will be completed in about 20 years.… If Israel built all the housing units already approved in the nation’s overall master plan for settlements, it would almost double the number of settler homes in the West Bank.” Peace Now, which monitors settlement activities, estimates further that the two largest settlements would double in size: Ariel and Ma’aleh Adumim, built mainly during the Oslo years in the salients that subdivide the West Bank into cantons.

“Natural population growth” is largely a myth, Israel’s leading diplomatic correspondent, Akiva Eldar, points out, citing demographic studies by Colonel (res.) Shaul Arieli, deputy military secretary to former prime minister and incumbent defense minister Ehud Barak. Settlement growth consists largely of Israeli immigrants in violation of the Geneva Conventions, assisted with generous subsidies. Much of it is in direct violation of formal government decisions, but carried out with the authorization of the government, specifically Barak, considered a dove in the Israeli spectrum.

Correspondent Jackson Diehl derides the “long-dormant Palestinian fantasy,” revived by President Abbas, “that the United States will simply force Israel to make critical concessions, whether or not its democratic government agrees.” He does not explain why refusal to participate in Israel’s illegal expansion — which, if serious, would “force Israel to make critical concessions” — would be improper interference in Israel’s democracy.

Returning to reality, all of these discussions about settlement expansion evade the most crucial issue about settlements: what the United States and Israel have already established in the West Bank. The evasion tacitly concedes that the illegal settlement programs already in place are somehow acceptable (putting aside the Golan Heights, annexed in violation of Security Council orders) — though the Bush “vision,” apparently accepted by Obama, moves from tacit to explicit support for these violations of law. What is in place already suffices to ensure that there can be no viable Palestinian self-determination. Hence, there is every indication that even on the unlikely assumption that “natural growth” will be ended, U.S.-Israeli rejectionism will persist, blocking the international consensus as before.

Subsequently, Prime Minister Netanyahu declared a 10-month suspension of new construction, with many exemptions, and entirely excluding Greater Jerusalem, where expropriation in Arab areas and construction for Jewish settlers continues at a rapid pace. Hillary Clinton praised these “unprecedented” concessions on (illegal) construction, eliciting anger and ridicule in much of the world.

It might be different if a legitimate “land swap” were under consideration, a solution approached at Taba and spelled out more fully in the Geneva Accord reached in informal high-level Israel-Palestine negotiations. The accord was presented in Geneva in October 2003, welcomed by much of the world, rejected by Israel, and ignored by the United States.

Washington’s “Evenhandedness”

Barack Obama’s June 4, 2009, Cairo address to the Muslim world kept pretty much to his well-honed “blank slate” style — with little of substance, but presented in a personable manner that allows listeners to write on the slate what they want to hear. CNN captured its spirit in headlining a report “Obama Looks to Reach the Soul of the Muslim World.” Obama had announced the goals of his address in an interview with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. “‘We have a joke around the White House,’ the president said. ‘We’re just going to keep on telling the truth until it stops working and nowhere is truth-telling more important than the Middle East.’” The White House commitment is most welcome, but it is useful to see how it translates into practice.

Obama admonished his audience that it is easy to “point fingers… but if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.”

Turning from Obama-Friedman Truth to truth, there is a third side, with a decisive role throughout: the United States. But that participant in the conflict Obama omitted. The omission is understood to be normal and appropriate, hence unmentioned: Friedman’s column is headlined “Obama Speech Aimed at Both Arabs and Israelis.” The front-page Wall Street Journal report on Obama’s speech appears under the heading “Obama Chides Israel, Arabs in His Overture to Muslims.” Other reports are the same.

The convention is understandable on the doctrinal principle that though the U.S. government sometimes makes mistakes, its intentions are by definition benign, even noble. In the world of attractive imagery, Washington has always sought desperately to be an honest broker, yearning to advance peace and justice. The doctrine trumps truth, of which there is little hint in the speech or the mainstream coverage of it.

Obama once again echoed Bush’s “vision” of two states, without saying what he meant by the phrase “Palestinian state.” His intentions were clarified not only by the crucial omissions already discussed, but also by his one explicit criticism of Israel: “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.” That is, Israel should live up to Phase I of the 2003 Road Map, rejected at once by Israel with tacit U.S. support, as noted — though the truth is that Obama has ruled out even steps of the Bush I variety to withdraw from participation in these crimes.

The operative words are “legitimacy” and “continued.” By omission, Obama indicates that he accepts Bush’s vision: the vast existing settlement and infrastructure projects are “legitimate,” thus ensuring that the phrase “Palestinian state” means “fried chicken.”

Always even-handed, Obama also had an admonition for the Arab states: they “must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities.” Plainly, however, it cannot be a meaningful “beginning” if Obama continues to reject its core principles: implementation of the international consensus. To do so, however, is evidently not Washington’s “responsibility” in Obama’s vision; no explanation given, no notice taken.

On democracy, Obama said that “we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election” — as in January 2006, when Washington picked the outcome with a vengeance, turning at once to severe punishment of the Palestinians because it did not like the outcome of a peaceful election, all with Obama’s apparent approval judging by his words before, and actions since, taking office.

Obama politely refrained from comment about his host, President Mubarak, one of the most brutal dictators in the region, though he has had some illuminating words about him. As he was about to board a plane to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the two “moderate” Arab states, “Mr. Obama signaled that while he would mention American concerns about human rights in Egypt, he would not challenge Mr. Mubarak too sharply, because he is a ‘force for stability and good’ in the Middle East… Mr. Obama said he did not regard Mr. Mubarak as an authoritarian leader. ‘No, I tend not to use labels for folks,’ Mr. Obama said. The president noted that there had been criticism ‘of the manner in which politics operates in Egypt,’ but he also said that Mr. Mubarak had been ‘a stalwart ally, in many respects, to the United States.’”

When a politician uses the word “folks,” we should brace ourselves for the deceit, or worse, that is coming. Outside of this context, there are “people,” or often “villains,” and using labels for them is highly meritorious. Obama is right, however, not to have used the word “authoritarian,” which is far too mild a label for his friend.

Just as in the past, support for democracy, and for human rights as well, keeps to the pattern that scholarship has repeatedly discovered, correlating closely with strategic and economic objectives. There should be little difficulty in understanding why those whose eyes are not closed tight shut by rigid doctrine dismiss Obama’s yearning for human rights and democracy as a joke in bad taste.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the author of numerous books, including the New York Times bestsellers Hegemony or Survival and Failed States. His newest book, Hopes and Prospects, is out this week from Haymarket Books.


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