It Isn’t Just the Principle That Matters: Liberalism, Feminism, and Equality

I’ve had some thoughtful questions posed in response to my last post on the abolition of the ban on women in combat, so I’d clarify why I don’t believe that “gender-equality” in a war-time military is an unqualified victory.  Indeed, insofar as the ability to be in combat is a “feminist achievement” for some women, it is a defeat for women of color or poorer white women who feel that their only available—or reasonable option is to join the military. These remarks expand on an earlier reply to a commenter.

It is possible to see the lifting of the ban purely as a feminist victory. Principles of most kinds—especially when they are couched as progressive—are more easily interpreted in the best possible light when they are separated from history and context, and not applied to examples.  It’s a classic liberal position, which allows a selective interpretation of the facts in favor of highlighting the “pure” principle. The brilliant effectiveness of liberalism is that it’s based on principles, and indifferent to the applications or details.  Moreover, separating the motives from the facts depoliticizes the policy (and strips it of its ethical content).  That is a great way to make a policy easier to swallow–precisely as those in power would like us to do.  By couching a strategic policy in the cloak of principle, it becomes much easier to co-opt a potentially progressive principle for political profit (P5).

But when we see these principles in conjunction with the way that they can (and often will) be exploited, such programs aren’t unqualified victories. The freedom to do something—without a range of options—can often be transformed into being forced to do something [The same does not necessarily apply to the freedom of speech. In fact, the opposite holds for speech: the freedom to speak is generally not transformed into being forced to speak].

Having said that, I’ll reiterate what some readers missed the last time I wrote it: I’m completely in favor of removing barriers to discrimination: sexual, marital, gender, racial.  Removing barriers to discrimination can lead to more options for some people—in some circumstances, in certain moments.  Removing barriers to discrimination is NOT, however, the equivalent of creating choices for everyone.  The freedom to do something is only a mark of progress when it becomes a legitimate option among several reasonable options.

Lifting the ban is consistent with the classic liberal feminist position, which favors the principle of “gender-equality.” However, the classical liberal feminist position is inherently problematic, since it prioritizes “gender-equality” without attending to economic disparities or racially relevant facts. Policies like allowing women in combat will affect women of color—especially single mothers–disproportionately: they are demographically more likely to have fewer employment options and thereby will be disproportionately inclined to join the Army–with its range of benefits. This is even more the case during difficult economic times. All women (and men) of color have to do is agree to be cannon fodder for an imperial war.

So, a “feminist victory” for those who actually have a range of options and decide that they want to be in combat positions, is not in fact a “feminist victory” for all women. It’s NOT an unqualified victory for many women of color—unless they choose to be in combat, given [and this is key] a range of several or many other reasonable options–such as a civil service equivalent, for example. It is NOT a victory for those who don’t want to be in combat and/OR who can’t challenge their superiors’ decisions to put them in combat positions, or for those who didn’t have many options for employment but are attracted by access to healthcare, childcare, etc. Such a position leaves those already vulnerable to the exigencies of authority, i.e., vulnerable to being exploited by those in power over them.

A non-conscription Army–in a society that suffers radical economic inequality (in wealth, employment, and healthcare)–is a classist institution that will disproportionately exploit the vulnerabilities of men and women of color. By ignoring this context, and the timing of this policy, one can trumpet the ‘victory’ or ‘principle’ without having to consider the implications for those who have to suffer through the exigencies of this policy.

This is similar to the “victory” of same-sex marriage, which can certainly facilitate lesbian and gay couples’ access to health care, living will decisions, adoptions, etc. However, it side-steps crucial implications, like (1) the national absence of health-care and (2) corporations’ decision to deny same-sex benefits to unmarried couples (because now everyone, including same-sex couples can get married–so they are forced to do so in order to have benefits). (3) the immigration policy that prohibits domestic partners from applying for visas to live in the US together regardless of marital status.

It’s a way to discipline citizens & residents into conforming to certain societal norms, while pretending that “progress” has been achieved.

One interlocutor pointed to the possibility that gender-equality had nothing to do with being anti-war.  But the idea that feminist equality should be favored over challenging violence or war is short-sighted–if not selective. Should violence only be challenged when it affects women in domestic violence or rape? Feminism and anti-war positions aren’t necessarily linked for everyone, but that does not mean that they have to be exclusive. Doesn’t violence affect others too? Isn’t part of the principle of feminism–any feminism–that human beings and their sanctity should be prioritized? Especially in the case of imperial wars that take brown and black bodies–not only as feed for army war-machines–but as the targets of drones, guns, bombs? For feminists like myself, feminism and anti-violence are intimately linked–especially, when I consider that the violence that has been disproportionately targeted toward black and brown bodies, male and female–here in the U.S. and internationally—in the last twelve years.

North American feminism is not monolithic–there are enormous variants and strands. But liberal feminism is often a conveniently myopic variety of feminism. It is one that cheers principle often when it won’t affect liberal feminists at all, even as it will affect many others adversely (and not by choice).

So, if it makes you feel good, then by all means, celebrate. But when it comes time to vote in our next election, I will refuse to accept this as a “progressive” achievement on the part of the Democrats.  The idea that it’s about principle is a dubious point at best—because it is a policy embedded in a calculation of timing and strategy–to win votes while costing even more Others their lives.

On the Regulation of Firearms

Robert Prasch thoughtfully unpacks the firearm regulation debate.

Robert E. PraschAlmost two months after the massacre in Newtown, and six months after Aurora and Oak Creek, our political classes show some signs of taking an interest in gun control.  I say some signs as the President has reiterated his deep concern for “rural gun culture” and Senator Harry Reid is on record as being unenthusiastic.  Senator Dianne Feinstein, amazingly, is largely on the correct side of this issue.  I guess there is a first for everything.

To enhance our understanding of the problem, we need to define some terms.  The next step is to consider the several parts of these crimes so as to reveal where intervention may be most effective.  Hopefully, such an exercise gets us away from the fatuous “pro-gun” vs. “anti-gun” narratives that generate more heat than light.

A Definition and a Few Facts

Mass shootings and serial murders are each forms of mass murder. In the United States, mass murders are, statistically speaking, a relatively minor element of the death-by-firearm problem. However, mass shootings are different from serial murders in that the latter occur over a period of time.  Additionally, serial murderers often target a specific type of person or persons (rival mobsters in the case of mafia hit-men, young couples in the case of the Son of Sam, or prostitutes in the case of the Green River killer).  However, though mass shootings are a small part of the problem, they induce the greatest “headlines.”  The reason, besides their intrinsic horror, is that their victims are often drawn from populations that — statistically speaking — are substantially less likely than others to be the victims of gun violence (Newtown, Columbine, Aurora, the Amish of Lancaster County, etc.).

Of the approximately 30,000 people killed by firearms in the United States during any one of the last ten years, just short of 2/3rds have been suicides.  Of the approximately 10,000 people murdered by gunshot, about 2/3rds were killed with a handgun.  Shotguns and rifles account for somewhat less than 10%.  The data on the variety of firearm used in the remaining 25% of murders seems to be unknown or unrecorded.  Some writers have invoked these statistics to suggest that “assault weapons” are too small a part of the overall problem to warrant regulation or an outright ban.  But their conclusion is founded upon the erroneous belief that a handgun cannot be an assault weapon (The Austrian Ministry of Defense clearly thought otherwise in 1980 when it selected Glock as the manufacturer of its semi-automatic pistols).

The Three Components of the Problem

Speaking analytically, mass shootings have three components: a malevolent shooter (or in a very few instances, shooters), one or (typically) more firearms, and a target location.

Examinations of what have by now become a tragically large number of such episodes points to an emerging “profile” of the “typical” mass shooter.  They are overwhelming white, male, between 17 and 35 years of age, and from small towns.  Most of them exhibit a fascination with violent games and movies, combined with little if any prior military experience (Wade Michael Page is an exception, although his poor record resulted in a General Discharge from the US Army, rendering him ineligible for reenlistment).  While, ex post, it has been found that most perpetrators were depressed, few of them had an “official record” at least in part because, being psychopaths rather than psychotic, they had few interactions with mental health professionals, and for that reason were not identified as a threat to society.

Let us turn to the qualities of weapons.  Relative to murderers and even serial murderers, mass shooters are more likely to use firearms that can be described as “assault weapons.”  Now, it must be understood that “assault weapon” is a popular but loose category, one that requires elaboration.  Usually implied in this term are semi- and fully-automatic rifles and handguns with detachable magazines that can hold ten or more rounds.  Precision requires a bit of context.

Soldiers are defenseless unless they can fire their weapon.  It follows that periods when the weapon is being reloaded are moments of vulnerability unless the soldier is being “covered” by companions.  As most mass shooters operate alone, the moments spent reloading are the single best opportunity for bystanders to charge the perpetrator, thereby bringing an end to their rampage.  As an example, the Tuscon shooting came to an end when Jared Lee Loughner attempted to change the 33 round magazine on his Glock semi-automatic pistol, which presented Patricia Maisch with an opportunity to grab it as other bystanders wrestled him to the ground.

In the 18th century, a well-trained soldier needed between 15 and 20 seconds to “prime and load” a musket after firing.  This means that four rounds a minute were his maximum sustainable rate of fire.  The bolt-action rifles that eventually replaced this weapon in the 19th century were not only more accurate, but the expended cartridge could be rapidly discharged and the firing chamber reloaded by merely pulling back and rotating a bolt on the side of the weapon.  This would take only 4-5 seconds depending upon the experience of the rifleman (today’s models, such as the Remington 700, a widely used hunting rifle with a 3 to 5 round internal magazine, are even faster).  The result was a substantial advance in the weapon’s offensive and defensive value.  Offensively, more shots may be fired per minute.  Defensively, there is less “down time” between shots, which reduces the rifleman’s vulnerability.

Let us consider the phrases “semi-automatic,” “fully-automatic,” and “selective fire.”  The quality of being “automatic” is all about reducing the lapse of time between the firing of rounds — an essential quality for any weapon to be useful for military or police purposes.  A semi-automatic weapon, which can be either a rifle (such as the A-15) or a pistol (such as the Glock), has the following quality. Upon pulling the trigger once, the weapon will fire, discharge the spent cartridge, and load a new round in the firing chamber without any further action on the part of the person firing it.

In the case of a fully-automatic weapon (such as the M16), all of the above will occur and the weapon will continue firing until such time as the person operating it releases the trigger, the magazine containing additional rounds empties, or the weapon jams.  The only factor limiting the rate of fire of a semi-automatic weapon is the speed with which one can pull the trigger.  By contrast, the limitation on the rate of fire of a fully automatic weapon is exclusively mechanical.  Consequently, the latter can fire at rates of between 450 and 900 rounds per minute (obviously, a soldier will have nowhere near enough ammunition on hand for this to be a sustainable rate of fire).  Finally, a selective fire weapon, such as the M16 (the military version of the A15), can be switched at will from semi- to fully- automatic.  Its most modern version, the M4, allows for an additional choice, a three round “burst.”

The final factor to consider is the locations favored by mass shooters.  As with their personalities, many factors are present, but the number of recent tragedies allows for the identification of some patterns.  In general and perhaps unsurprisingly, mass shooters are drawn to places where substantial numbers of unarmed persons congregate.  This suggests that these individuals are interested in killing while seeking to avoid a fight.  We do not see them going after “hard targets” such as police stations or border posts.  On the contrary, the locations they select have much in common, perspective-wise, with the violent video games and movies they seem to favor – where the “action figures” can act upon others without themselves being targets in any meaningful sense.  Stated simply, mass shooters are not “tough guys.”  Taken as a whole, they are distinctly cowards.  While they are clearly suicidal, they seem anxious to avoid a painful death.  While they are willing to kill themselves with a bullet to the head, or surrender to authorities, they appear equally anxious to avoid being shot in the course of their crime.  Of course, and most sickeningly, they do appear to take pleasure in imposing pain (and death) upon masses of people whom they have not met or otherwise interacted with.

What Can We Do?

From the above, it seems that there are essentially three “points of entry” for preventive measures.  We may enhance the monitoring and regulation of individuals.  We may enhance the regulation and monitoring of weapons. Or we may enhance the regulation and monitoring of spaces where large numbers of unarmed persons gather for fun, prayer, learning, or shopping.  Let us consider each of these, in rank order of their undesirability.

Greater Monitoring and Regulation of People

 For the past twenty years, there has been a strong and uninterrupted push by governments across the English-speaking world to increase the monitoring and surveillance of the citizenry.  CCTV cameras are ubiquitous in the United Kingdom and rapidly gaining ground across the United States and Australia.  National ID cards were a fascination of the Labour Party in the U.K. and are periodically raised in the United States.  Private data collection, NSA’s massive monitoring of all our communications, the evisceration of FISA under the flimsy guise of reform, data fusion centers, the insidious but persistent push for a national biometric data-base, and other efforts have each and severally been embraced by the political classes.  Whatever happens with firearms regulation, and we are already seeing it in the several Democratic Party proposals for “immigration reform,” we can be sure that increased monitoring of the citizenry will be part of the plan.  We already select whom to kill in Pakistan and elsewhere on the basis of a “disposition matrix,” and those who may or may not board an American flagged commercial aircraft are selected, secretly of course, by the same methods.  You can be certain that many of those who rule over us are itching to extend these information-based technologies to gun ownership for reasons other than the safety of the citizenry.

Just in case you do not know, a disposition matrix determining whether or not you could own a gun would likely draw upon criteria such as the status of your student loan, your credit rating, your employment history and whether or not you change jobs frequently, whether or not you adhere to an unpopular religion, things you have said by email or on your Facebook page, etc.  These and many other criteria could all be factors in the construction of such a matrix.  Again, as with those being barred from commercial aircraft, you would be deemed guilty until proven otherwise, you would not know the rationale for your having been barred, and there would likely be few, if any, grounds for appeal.  Big brother knows best.  As is always the case in these matters, being poor or individualistic are prominent “red flags.”  In short, the program would be just one more form of enforced homogenization of the population and its attitudes.  As mentioned, we have enough of this in the United States already.  Lets not present our government with yet one more rationale to secretly monitor and manage the population.

Securing Places Where the Public Congregates

What about securing more of the locations where innocents congregate?  This has been the “solution” advanced by the National Rifle Association and other self-styled 2nd Amendment protectors.  Their proposal is that more of us should carry weapons, and especially concealed weapons, in the hope that a modification of risk-factors will deter future shooters who, as indicated above, usually do not have any inclination to fight.  Now, if our focus is narrowly and exclusively to address the problem of mass shooters, this is not a completely stupid idea because, as we have seen, these are not “tough guys.”  Being fearful of pain and lacking much military experience, they are not prepared to handle the chaos of a shootout, even if (as would be likely) they had the inherent advantage of superior weaponry over a random civilian who happened to be nearby with a small pistol tucked into their handbag or under their coat.

Where the NRA is mistaken is in their belief that comparative firepower is the only consideration.  We know that suicides and accidental shootings rise sharply in households owning a gun, so it is likely that the total number of firearms deaths would rise.  Also, as fewer and fewer people have had any experience with the military, we have ever-fewer persons with any exposure to combat training.  Among other risks, we face the danger of a teacher’s weapon being grabbed by someone with evil intent, or of a civilian mistakenly shooting an innocent person in a panic.  Training America’s teachers, to say nothing of any substantial portion of civilians, in close-quarters combat, fire-discipline, and gun safety would seem to be both impractical and too expensive to be a serious solution.  Finally, the proposal to hire retired cops to wile away the day snoozing by the doors of our schools simply provides additional targets and the illusion of safety without adding much in the way of a deterrent.  Why?  Because the shooter will always have the element of surprise and it is unrealistic to expect an armed guard to be able to nullify that advantage by remaining at maximum vigilance throughout their shift.

Regulating the Qualities of Legally-Owned Weapons

This brings us to the qualities of the weapons circulating amongst the public.  Now, before we begin, let us be clear that the United States has always regulated the public’s access to weapons.  None of us can own or operate an F-18 fighter jet, a tank, or an artillery piece.  Neither may we own a heavy machine gun with its fully automatic features and light-armor-piercing .50 caliber rounds.  The principle as to whether or not the government may regulate the public’s access to certain classes of weapons has long been settled.  Our contemporary dispute is solely and exclusively about the variety of weapons that we may or may not own.

Let us, then, jump straight to the conclusion.  There is no reason why any law-abiding American civilian would ever need a semi- or fully-automatic weapon.  Rapidity of fire rather than accuracy is the only reason for such features and that quality, in itself, makes such weapons unsuited to our neighborhoods.  Moreover, there is no reason why a civilian would need a magazine that can hold more than seven rounds.  They should be banned.  I will add that the gun legislation recently passed by New York State’s does not “grandfather” large magazines already in the public’s possession, and I believe that any federal legislation would be wise to follow that example.  The problem is not the age of large magazines, it is their existence.  We don’t want them around.  Our police don’t want them around, and they should be illegal.  To ease the burden on those who purchased them in good faith, the government could offer to buy them back, perhaps at a reduced rate over time.  After a fixed period, owners of such magazines should be subject to non-trivial fines and other penalties.

The Counter-Arguments

But what of hunters?  Many people hunt for sport, but we should not ignore the fact that hunting makes a difference in the food budgets of many families.  Moreover, with the United States vigorously renewing its commitment to neoliberalism under Barack Obama, we can expect that the median family wage will to either continue the declines it suffered during his first term or the stagnation of the Bush terms that immediately preceded it.  Happily, the rules proposed above in no way impede hunting.  Hunters have freely selected their weapons for years and, for reasons of weight and accuracy, they overwhelmingly prefer bolt-action rifles.  Unsurprisingly, and for the same reason, the US military’s M24 sniper rifle is modified Remington 700 bolt-action rifle, so we can be confident that it is the superior firearm when accuracy is the primary consideration.

But what of defending our homes?  After all, with neoliberal economic policies, local budgets have been under pressure for decades.  One consequence has been a reduced police presence in the neighborhoods of the poor.  Simultaneously, that most stupid of all American wars – the War on Drugs – is continuing to support the growth of gangs.  For these reasons, many of our poorest citizens have been forced to contend with greater rates of violent crime even as they are increasingly dealing with it on their own. Are they not entitled to weapons with which to protect themselves?  While aggregate statistics support the propositions that increased gun ownership is correlated with increased accidental gun deaths and an increased probability of being the victim of a shooting, it is unreasonable for us to smugly suggest that statistical aggregates should define the choices of every citizen or family.  That said, it is hard to understand why any household would need a Glock semi-automatic pistol with one or more 19 or 33 round magazines for self-defense.  Anyone anticipating the possibility of such a destructive shootout in their home should be asking themselves some questions about what kinds of goods they are storing in that home.  The point is simple.  For most of the past hundred and fifty years, people who have felt the need for an additional level of home or personal protection have been well served by revolvers such as those manufactured by Smith & Wesson.  The ability to fire 5-7 rounds without reloading should be more than enough to deter anyone attempting to break into a home or, failing that, delay their progress until the police arrive.

In light of the above, the only constituency clearly harmed by the rules such as those proposed above would be “gun enthusiasts.”  Some people, as we know, enjoy owning and firing automatic weapons.  And let us be clear, they are not criminals and have no criminal intent.  While others may not share their taste in recreational activities, we should acknowledge that for some Americans laws such as those proposed here would constitute a positive harm.  However, all laws restrain the actions of a few in the interests of society.  This is no exception.  The point is to make such laws only when necessary.  Sadly, we cannot allow the recreational pleasures of a minority keep military-grade “weapons of mass destruction” legally available for anyone who can afford to purchase them.

There is a final point to consider.  A popular bumper sticker observes, “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.”  This may be true.  But automatic weapons are complicated to use, especially if one is planning a mass shooting.  Potential perpetrators who have not had the benefit of military training will need opportunities to learn to use them and maintain their skills, which will be difficult if such weapons are illegal.  That, in itself would constitute a substantial addition to public safety.

Progress: Cheering Feminists Who Kill

Revised (1/25/13, 7:38 am).

Leon Panetta’s announcement, overturning a 19-year ban on allowing women to join small-group combat units in the military, heralded some predictable responses from liberals and feminists: “How great! Let there be no inequality between men and women anywhere.” Some veterans tried to point to the legitimacy of this new permission by pointing to their newfound realization that women were just as capable as men in combat roles.

My generation assumed women’s capabilities—in all areas—were equivalent to those of men, so the veterans’ realizations were hardly earth-shattering. Generally, I’m in agreement with removing gendered and racial barriers to inequality and discrimination: in education and all other opportunities.  Moreover, there are genuine benefits to the DoD’s official position.  For women who are already in the army and serving de facto in combat-vulnerable positions, e.g., if they are attacked while serving in maintenance units (remember Pfc. Jessica Lynch?), ambulance units or escorting convoys, they can finally be compensated, promoted, and rewarded for the work that they have already been doing for years.

But I can hardly join in the feminist shouts of victory. Many have already understood the irony of this new “freedom”: women will now be officially allowed to join a war-time military that has been involved in several long-standing deadly wars, notably all over the Middle East. President Obama’s 2nd inaugural reality-bending notwithstanding, there is little evidence that a decade of war has ended, except in terms of troop withdrawal from Iraq.  As we know, that withdrawal is being done according to a timeline set under the Bush Administration, which the Obama Administration was unsuccessful in renegotiating. Never mind that a significant presence of non-combat U.S. troops private contractors will still remain in Iraq.

The war has gone underground or been expanded through remote-controlled drones directed towards regions with whom the US is not officially at war. War-like threats have also increased through the expansion of military bases all over sub-Saharan Africa. To boot, the US is now “assisting” France in invading Mali. These wars, it should go without saying, are targeted toward large swaths of the world’s brown and black populations.

There is a remarkable shallowness to the notion of “feminist progress.” We have heard various sources, including director Katherine Bigelow, exhorting the wonderful feminist dimensions of Zero Dark Thirty, which shows Jessica Chastain as Maya, the CIA operative and supporter of torture. As feminist scholar and professor Zillah Eisenstein points out,

This film is not to be made seemingly progressive or feminist because it presents a female CIA agent as central to the demise of Osama. Nor should any of us think that it is “good” that Maya is female, or that several females had an important hand in the murder of Osama. There is nothing feminist in revenge.

While I disagree with Eisenstein on this—sometimes revenge can be a feminist act, —there is typically nothing feminist in committing bodily, emotional, or psychic harm to any other person.

Harm to others violates the principle of the innate dignity of human beings.  Seeking physical retribution without using court and legal procedures violates due process, which is a US constitutional principle, but which should be a standard of human rights upon which states and individuals should be able to depend.

Still, I find it puzzling that there is something in the ethos of our age that suggests that “feminism” can be ascribed to women and policies supporting the most destructive of actions—from Maya, to Secretaries of State Condoleeza Rice and Hillary Clinton as advocates of violence military actions in the name of defending American security.

Last night, Jon Stewart and MIT drone expert Missy Cummings had this bizarre, if enthusiastic, interchange about the coolness of drones.  In the midst of it, Cummings pointed to her feminist credentials as one of the first female fighter pilots. Sounds great. Until one realizes that being a fighter pilot means that one is being trained…to engage in combat…to kill. It is a progress of a certain sort to realize that women can kill as easily and emotionlessly as men. Just as, I suppose, it is progress for an African American president to exceed a white president in his ability to promote secrecy, violence, absence of transparency, and endorse human rights violations.

What does it mean to talk about feminist progress when defined as enabling women to participate combatively in the colonizing project? To fight aggressively in the name of creating a world-wide imperialist presence? To join an institution whose policies for 11 years have involved, as Wikileaks has shown us, the shooting, maiming, and plundering of black and brown men, women, and children in the name of “U.S. freedom and security”?

There are other dimensions of this “feminist” policy to consider here as well: Why is this decision being taken now? It comes in the aftermath of another achievement for which the Obama Administration is being given full credit: the end of a 18 year “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy initiated under another neoliberal Democratic president.  Both of these policies augment the already-aggressive practice of recruiting poor or working-class whites and minorities–with more female and/or lesbian/gay/bisexual soldiers–for the US Army.

The timing of Panetta’s announcement is hardly coincidental: in the context of an improving economy, it is difficult and precarious to maintain a steady supply of troops in an all-volunteer army to service a global war that is more unpopular than ever among Americans (not to mention the folks that the U.S. is targeting—but perhaps that was obvious). The supply chain, as it were, is dying and new food sources need to be found.

The U.S. Armed Services, as a federal employer, provides a broad range of remarkable benefits to government employees: health care (not to be confused with Obamacare, which is a health-insurance scheme); child-care, housing, lodging, skilled training, and other forms of subsidized or free education.  It is neither hard to understand nor sympathize with the men and women who see the US Army as an employer of last resort in the face of a failing economy. But addendums such as the dissolution of DADT and “women in combat” will help erase any remaining barriers and supply a steady stream of—male, female, black, brown, working-class, gay, and patriotic—bodies to the war-feeding machine.

There is only one remaining obstacle. The Department of Defense hopes, with any luck, that said obstacle will soon be overcome with the passage of the DREAM Act. This act will offer young undocumented migrants the Faustian opportunity to enroll in college (one that they can somehow afford or which will subsidize them) or participate in American wars against other black and brown people around the world, in return for the miraculous chance to become “legal” residents of the United States.

3 cheers for Feminist Progress.

List of POTUS-led Actions during President Obama’s First Term

Please read this post first, which links to the following list:

-The 2012 decision to change habeas corpus rules for remaining GiTMO prisoners. This meant that they no longer had access to the evidence against them, access to their lawyers, and to force detainees to resort to military tribunals. Tribunals are not bound by the U.S. Constitution, which is one of their biggest flaws. How can the US maintain integrity when scolding other countries about human rights violations, when it refuses to abide that framework for its own practices?

-An official commitment to continue the policy of renditions, that is, kidnapping and detaining foreign nationals for months, occasionally flying them to the U.S. to be “officially charged.”

– Led by US Attorney General Eric Holder, The Department of Justice’s continued harassment of foreign nationals, by pursuing them aggressively on the basis of little evidence. See the examples of Tarek Mehanna, Rezwan Ferdaus, and Fahad Hashmi, to name a few. In each of these cases, US Attorneys of color (Carmen Ortiz and Preet Bharara) pursued excessive charges against them, allowed them to remain in solitary confinement for years at a time before allowing them to have trials. And then they were charged with “conspiracy” to commit terrorist acts. Conspiracy charges require an extremely low threshold of evidence for convictions.

-The DoJ’s refusal to release 86 prisoners, including now dead Yemeni national and accidental bystander Adnan Latif, from GiTMO. The DoJ refused to released Adnan Latif despite being cleared THREE times by the Department of Defense, and a Court’s mandate as long ago as 2009. Latif was found dead in his cell. The US Army calls it a suicide. Truthout’s Jason Leopold has damning evidence to the contrary.

-The DoJ’s refusal to remand Canadian citizen Omar Khadr (detained as a child in 2002 and imprisoned at GiTMO Omar Khadr (detained as a child) back to Canada until September 2012.

-The secret, private kill list of those who are deemed to be a danger to the US and its citizens, which correspondingly grows longer and longer with each new extrajudicial execution undertaken by the Obama Administration.

-Over 300 drone strikes on countries that have never been declared to be targets of war or enemies of the United States.

-Nearly 200 children killed by US-directed remote drones. They are of course “unintentional” tragedies. Unless they are 16 and above and therefore defined as militants (in which case the number of children, by American civilian standards, will increase drastically.

-Nearly 2000 civilian deaths by drones. That means grandparents, parents, shopkeepers, lawyers, schoolteachers, brothers, sisters, nieces, cousins.

-The disposition matrix, which appears to make the War on Terror endless.

-The Department of Justice’s decision to prosecute whistleblowers who challenged wrongdoing. I am referring, most recently, to ex-CIA official John Kiriakou, who will serve more time in prison for confirming the name of a CIA torturer to a NYT journalist Scott Shane– than that torturer will. Of course, we can point to ex-NSA’s official Thomas Drake’s persecution by the DoJ, along with that of Pfc Bradley Manning, and the general harassment of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who remains holed up in the London digs of the Ecuadorian embassy after receiving political asylum on the same grounds.

-Obama’s urging of the Yemeni President Saleh to reverse his decision to pardon Yemeni journalist Abudelelah Hider Shaye, who had just completed 2 of a 5 year prison sentence. Obama professed to be concerned about “his association with Al-Qaeda.” The Yemeni President quickly accommodated Obama’s request, even though as Jeremy Scahill reports, Shaye was arrested for revealing that the December 2009 Cruise missile strike that hit 41 Yemenis (21 were children) at a wedding party was directed by the U.S., and not an accident perpetuated by the Yemeni government, which took credit for that strike.

-Congress hardly prevented Obama from ending human rights violations at GiTMO, like those reported by former detainees David Hicks, Sami Al-Hajj, and Moazzem Begg.

-Congress hardly induced Obama to threaten not to sign NDAA 2012 if the Senate didn’t include a provision about giving the President unchecked authority to arrest and detain US citizens or foreign nationals anywhere in the world.

-Somehow, Obama forgot to send out a press release refusing to sign NDAA 2012 & 2013 if Congress “prevented” him from closing Guantanamo. I’m sure it was just an oversight.

-Between 2009-2012, under President Obama’s watch, the Department of Homeland Security has deported 1.5 million men and women in 4 years. Among them are 250,000 parents of U.S. citizen children who were separated from their parents as result of these deportations.

The Irony of MLK Day 2013: A Renewed Invitation into White Supremacy

I wonder how many consider today to be a magnificent symbolic coincidence rather than a Manichean irony: today, we commemorate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner and one of the greatest civil rights leaders of modern United States history—a man who went to jail to defend the civil rights of hundreds of thousands of minorities and to speak against injustice at home and abroad.  Today, we will also commemorate the re-election of the President of the Unites States and the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner—a man who supports a drug war that incarcerates hundreds of thousands of black and brown minorities; kills U.S. citizens and foreign nationals; eviscerates civil liberties for alleged terrorists and citizens alike; deports 1.5 million migrants and separate parents from their children; protects bankers while allowing poor homeowners to lose their homes; and persecutes whistleblowers without mercy.

There are those who insist that the wrongs of the last four years should be attributed to the malevolent impulses and political calculations of Congress. It is true that Congress can’t be exculpated from its decade-long foaming submission to the American drive to control what it refuses to try to understand, namely the War on Terror. Its shills and hacks have quickly leaped on the bandwagon to push (lean?) forward to sanction a military budget bill that continues the expansion of the drone program and the U.S.’s continued military presence in Afghanistan along with the expansion of bases in large swaths of Africa, the Pacific, and the Middle East. Congress enthusiastically pushed for the renewal of FISA in 2008 (along with the eager support of Senator Obama). In 2013, Congress again with the relentless leadership of Senator Dianne Feinstein, pushed for the passage of the renewal of FISA (without oversight) for five years, along with the passage of NDAA 2012 and 2013, despite the clear purpose of those bills to eviscerate the separation of powers. Congress eagerly endorsed Obama’s loud requests for unilateral presidential authority to arrest and detain any and all persons that it deems a danger to the United States—US citizens and foreigners alike.

With a couple of exceptions, our politicians in Congress are without initiative or honor.  But Congress is not the source of numerous other wrongdoings.  My optimism for this Presidency has all but evaporated in the face of Obama’s policies—unhampered by Congress–designed to tear apart families in the United States and around the world.  I cannot celebrate the second inauguration of the POTUS, under whose watch in the last 4 years, the minds and lives of thousands of innocents have been broken, if not downright destroyed. By drones, invasions, bombs, torture, solitary confinement, renditions, due process-less proceedings, secrecy, and lack of accountability or transparency.  Instead, I will be retracing the steps that have led to the amorality of the Democratic Party and the Presidential Administration that has been able to retain and expand some of the most heinous policies of the previous Republican Administration, and which has been able to initiate some horrifically destructive policies of their own (click on the link to see just a few of the actions I have in mind).

Today, some writers will invoke Dr. Martin Luther King’s courageous April 4, 1967 speech, and rightfully so. King calls for us to see the connections between the fight for civil rights at “home” and the injustice of the U.S.’s incursions, bombings, deaths, and destruction abroad.  He tells us of the response by those who are puzzled by his challenge to US continued attack in Vietnam:

Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking about war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don’t mix, they say. Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people, they ask?

In his long, detailed, passionate response—which is as apt today as it was in 1967, Dr. King pointed to one source of his awareness of the links between peace and civil rights:

It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

It is a prescient statement that resonates with the imperialist policies of the United States today. The men and women who enthusiastically endorse sending our young people to war will not suffer the same hurtful ramifications as those men and women who are sent to war–or those on the receiving end of drones, bombs, guns, and destruction. Dr. King’s speech itself is long, insightful, poignant and courageous. Please take some time to read it today if you haven’t already.

What, if anything, has changed between the circumstances of American imperialism in the 1960’s and today? I think it is this: that more and more men and women of color have been invited into the offices of White Supremacy to share in the destruction of other men and women of color who are vulnerable, disfranchised, and rapidly being eviscerated through the policies of a multi-racial white supremacy.

As philosopher and political activist Dr. Cornel West pointed out last week, if Dr. King were alive today, he would have been detained and arrested for his associations with then-terrorist Nelson Mandela, under the auspices of NDAA. Dr. King might have also been arrested for his political speech, namely, his ability to rouse millions with his stirring calls for political justice in the face of American-led atrocities.

By remaining steadfast in their allegiance to illegal overtures in domestic and foreign policy, Barack Obama, Eric Holder, Deval Patrick, Susan Rice, Carmen Ortiz, Preet Bharara and other leaders of color have helped the structures of White Supremacy profit and flourish: The imperialist state has extended its hand to brown and black “liberals” in order to help them into the reigning structures of Imperialism.  It has been remarkable to watch leaders of color as they refuse to challenge the wrongful legacy of colonialism and Jim Crow.  Yes, the civil rights of whites have also been slowly scrubbed away, but—with the exception of poor whites—it is much less than the wide-scale evisceration of the peaceful ability to live for Muslims in the U.S., Pakistanis, Yemenis, Somalis, Malians, Afghans, Iraqis.

I think there is another question that we must come to terms with: What is the function of an African American president in a society that has clearly not come to terms with its legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, legalized slavery and racial apartheid in the form of mass incarceration and the widespread criminalization of Blacks?

As Prof. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva points out unflinchingly, given the history in this country, how is it even possible that we could have elected a Black man to the presidency in 2008?

This brutally frank and funny 29 minute interview is worth watching in its entirety. But FF to 4:35 to hear some of Bonilla-Silva’s answer: The successful election of Barack Obama was an invitation to do the dirty work of White Supremacy for it.  He points out that in Puerto Rico, where he grew up, it was hardly unusual to see black leaders engage in the same racial apologetics and detrimental politics that the former colonial Spanish and current American government engaged in vis-à-vis Puerto Rico’s inhabitants. It doesn’t surprise him that this can be so.

There are many other such examples that we can choose from that illustrate similar white supremacist dynamics. Take for example, the White Supremacist government of Rhodesia that selected Bishop Muzorewa to take over the daily administration of its racist state.

But we have even more recent and better-known examples: Bush Administration’s former Secretary, Condoleeza Rice, DOJ attorney John Yoo (author of the Torture Memos), and U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, who created the marvelous quick-sandlike legal structure of Guantanamo and others.  Their invitations into white supremacy were still novelties, but identifiable because they did so under the auspices of a Conservative Administration that could make few credible claims to anti-racist activity. Nevertheless, the Bush Administration and the Republicans were able to promote their claims to be non-racist by using the presence of these individuals as cultural symbols to distract many of us—especially and including liberal Democrats in the Senate and Congress—from its overt return to a racial mission in the Middle East under the auspices of a colonizing/civilizing project. The War on Terror could thereby be couched as an ostensible hunt for justice and legitimized aim for retribution.

In order to engage the issue of state-led racism initiated, deployed and conducted effectively by men and women in power, we must address a system of multiracial white supremacy. This is a terrifying and politicized term. But we need to wrap our minds around it.  A multiracial white supremacy is a system of power that has invited in—or exploited wherever it could– people of color in order to wage institutional, legal, political assaults on other black, brown, and poor people—at “home” and internationally.

Four years ago, Ethnic Studies Professor Dylan Rodriguez wrote a frank and prescient assessment of the election of the first Black President. It is still painful to read, because it is still relevant. In 2008, Rodriguez wrote:

Putting aside, for the moment, the liberal valorization of Obama as the less-bad or (misnamed) “progressive” alternative to the horrible specter of a Bush-McCain national inheritance, we must come to terms with the inevitability of the Obama administration as a refurbishing, not an interruption or abolition, of the normalized violence of the American national project. To the extent that the subjection of indigenous, Black, and Brown people to regimes of displacement and suffering remains the condition of possibility for the reproduction (or even the reinvigoration) of an otherwise eroding American global dominance, the figure of Obama represents a new inhabitation of white supremacy’s structuring logics of violence.

The only phrase I would change is “new inhabitation.” It is no longer so.

Rodriguez ends his essay with the following:

At best, when the U.S. nation-building project is not actually engaged in genocidal, semi-genocidal, and proto-genocidal institutional and military practices against the weakest, poorest, and darkest—at home and abroad—it massages and soothes the worst of its violence with banal gestures of genocide management. As these words are being written, Obama and his advisors are engaged in intensive high-level meetings with the Bush administration’s national security experts. The life chances of millions are literally being classified and encoded in portfolios and flash drives, traded across conference tables as the election night hangover subsides. For those whose political identifications demand an end to this historical conspiracy of violence, and whose social dreams are tied to the abolition of the U.S. nation building project’s changing and shifting (but durable and indelible) attachments to the logic of genocide, this historical moment calls for an amplified, urgent, and radical critical sensibility, not a multiplication of white supremacy’s “hope.”

Instead, we saw the precise inverse of Prof. Rodriguez’s calls for action: Not only invocations of “white supremacy’s hope,” but languor and denial. In the last 12 months, we heard a constant (white) feminist and (multiracial) liberal moral “shaming” of those—especially whites–who attempted to point to a reality-based truth.  In this sense, the last four years have enhanced the wishes of a dominant power structure that deflects charges of racism through the public responses of “post-racist” liberal feminists, Democrats, and pundits who support African Americans and other minorities in leadership positions while marginally attending to the systemic force-feeding of a US military with black and brown bodies; while remaining silent in the face of the mass penalties that brown and black people face in this country under the auspices of the War on Terror and the War on Drugs; massive foreclosures on homes disproportionately affecting minorities; and in one of the latest international affronts to people of color—while insisting on Israel’s “Right of Self-Defense” in the face of what is clearly a bullying and brutish beat-down of a long oppressed Palestinian population.

What is egregious about the latter is not only the clear indifference and neglect of basic human rights for a group of people whose land has been increasingly diminished, but the willful blindness and insistence that those who have been imprisoned, brutalized, emaciated through sanctions, bombs, and sheer daily terror at the end of the legal machinery and weapons of a colonial police state—are on an equal playing field with a state with sophisticated arms funded and supported by the United States.

As we enter the second term of a Presidency that has proved that the wide-scale destruction of black, brown and Muslim peoples for political gain can be conducted spectacularly and quite profitably, I wonder what it will take for Americans to take stock of their racist and imperialist legacy to challenge the injustices waged at home and abroad? Is it even possible to remember the legacy of Dr. King without being ashamed at the intentional destruction of people of color at home and internationally? And if we can, doesn’t that say more about the dessication of the American moral conscience than anything else?

What a Small World: Carmen Ortiz, Aaron Swartz, and Tarek Mehanna

Revised: January 15, 2012, 3:25 pm; revised again 10:02 pm.

Update I & II (below).

You have probably heard of Carmen Ortiz. She is the US Attorney who has become notorious for vigorously initiating charges against Aaron Swartz, a cyber-activist and prodigy who, according to the Massachusett’s US Attorney‘s office, engaged in criminal activity by breaking through the security firewalls* of JSTOR via MIT computer networks and downloaded millions of public-access files. Swartz committed suicide a few days ago; his family suggests that the cause in part was the intense prosecutorial zealousness, where he faced a possible felony conviction and 30-year sentence, and up to $1 million in fines, for the “theft” of public-access articles. This was a prosecution which JSTOR opted out of supporting, but which MIT did support despite the fact that it has one of the most intentionally accessible networks of most universities.

What you may not know is that under Massachusetts law, the potential sentence that Swartz faced was more than the maximum sentence given to a rapist who has subdued his victim with a threat of physical force, namely 20 years. If a firearm is added to the mix, but if the victim is not subjected to “serious bodily injury,” then the rapist can receive a maximum of 20 + 10, or 30 years. In other words, the same as for downloading gazillions public-access, royalty-less articles—a crime which caused no harm.

What you also may not know is that Ortiz, who—until 5 days ago–was considering a run as the Democratic candidate for the Governor of Massachusetts, was chosen as the 2011 Bostonian of the Year by the Boston Globe. As evidence of her brilliant credentials, the Boston Globe referred to her work alongside a young Eric Holder in the Justice Department over fifteen years ago, during which time she helped to prosecute Abscam, sending the likes of Jim Jenrette and other Congressmen to jail for accepting bribes in one of the most famous FBI stings until the era of the War on Terror. Of course, in order to ascend through the ranks of (the Department of) Justice, one must make it a religion to be a “law and order” prosecutor. The Globe, in its attempt to confirm its support for this marvelous candidate, makes sure we know about Ortiz’ famous pursuit of James “Whitey” Bulger, the mafia member who was on the lam for 20 years before he turned up a few years back.

What you also may not know is that under Ortiz’s auspices as the US Attorney, other young Massachusetts men were inordinately harassed and pursued for political dissent–along with the singular crime of being Muslim. Among them are Tarek Mehanna and Rezwan Ferdaus. Mehanna, a US citizen, was convicted and sentenced to 17.5 years. Ferdaus, also a citizen, was entrapped by the FBI, convicted, and sentenced to 17 years for building explosive devices. I wrote about them some months ago, so here I will mostly highlight Mehanna’s case.

To judge by the U.S. Attorney’s prosecution of Mehanna, you would have thought there were enormous amounts of evidence pointing to his terrorist activities. Mehanna’s crime was political dissent against the U.S.’s vigorous pursuit and harassment of Muslims in its self-declared War on Terror. In fact, let me be even clearer: Mehanna was not convicted of killing, assaulting, or even threatening Americans. He was convicted of

conspiracy to provide material support to al Qaeda, providing material support to terrorists (and conspiracy to do so), conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country, conspiracy to make false statements to the FBI, and two counts of making false statements.

In the scheme of counterterrorism laws, conspiracy is one of the weakest charges that can be leveled, since conspiracy charges require an extremely low standard of evidence. In fact, the three men of Somali descent who were rendered from Djibouti last month to a Brookyn Federal court, are also charged with “conspiracy,” despite having been detained for over 3 months in Somalia and over 1 month in Brooklyn. This tells us that very little evidence has been found to support a stronger charge, like of actual material support to terrorists.

To hear the Boston Globe and the Boston FBI’s office tell the story, Mehanna was on the verge of waging jihad. The accounts by Adam Serwer, Kevin Gostola and Glenn Greenwald vigorously counter this story. Adam Serwer, for example, suggests:

Civil liberties advocates say the case represents a slippery slope. In the 2010 case Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, which decided whether or not providing nonviolent aid (such as legal advice) to terrorist groups constitutes material support for terrorism, the Supreme Court ruled that even protected speech can be a criminal act if it occurs at the direction of a terrorist organization. Based on that ruling, you could be convicted of materially supporting terrorism merely for translating a document or putting an extremist video online, depending on your intentions.

And yet, Mehanna was left in solitary confinement without a trial for over 3 years, with very few chances to see his parents–or anyone else. In prison, he like many other young Muslim men, faced a range of “Special Administrative Measures” (SAM’s) that are rather arbitrarily administered for various infringements of ad hoc rules, such as praying in Arabic, etc. All this…for…critical political speech.

Regarding Ferdaus, as I wrote in October, he is:

Another Massachusetts resident, a U.S. citizen of Bangladeshi descent, who was convicted of terrorism by making IED detonators per request of undercover FBI agents. He pled—i.e. there was NO trial and so NO public evidence—to charges of attempting to destroy a federal building and “attempts to provide material support” to terrorists.” He was also a drummer in a rock band “Goosepimp Orchestra,” and went by the name “Bollywood.” Until 2010—when he was 25 years old—not 16, 18, or 20—he suddenly evinced an urge to kill Americans—at the prompting of undercover FBI agents. Really? At the age of 25, he undergoes a shift from drummer to terrorist? Clearly, young South Asian musicians need to watch out—they might find themselves overwhelmed by “terrorist leanings.” Prior to 2010, Ferdaus’ only evidence of “terrorist” behavior was a high school prank—pouring cement on the doors of his high school as a senior, and smoking pot. Yes—such evidence of “terrorist behavior…just imagine. By this rubric, every male white high school senior is well on his way to being a terrorist. Wait. Except of course that they’re white. And Ferdaus is not.

Conversely, Aaron Swartz was not Muslim, and thus his chances of being targeted as a potential terrorist were significantly decreased. However, his crime was taking concepts like public-access and creative commons too seriously–and thus thwarting the private property interests of info-hoarding profitable (though “officially” non-profit) companies like JSTOR–and officially for-profit companies like Elsevier. As with most policies under the Bush and Obama Administrations, what we have come to understand is that they will fiercely, staunchly, defend the interests of banks, mortgage companies, and their Wall Street friends–and be perfectly equanimous about trampling powerless individuals–especially if they are hotheaded, suggestible, or “excessively” idealistic about standards of fairness and justice.

It is not surprising that Eric Holder and Carmen Ortiz are consistent in their overzealous prosecutions against individuals who are engaged in political dissent: For Aaron Swartz, this dissent took the form of challenging the electronic paywalls that prevented public access to work done by scholars like myself, who will never see a penny from the tens of articles that I have published. Mehanna’s speech at sentencing is worth reading; he is clearly a politically aware young man. His dissent took the form of challenging and criticizing the US government’s imperial war—perhaps in extreme terms—but that is also part of the flexible boundaries of speech.

When young white men engage in extreme speech in colleges, they might be suspended, but they are rarely put in maximum security prisons and solitary confinement for years at a time before they are given a trial. It appears however that the inexcusable sin of young white men–is to effectively run circles around big corporations and wealthy educational institutions–and to do so without remorse. That’s enough to get the state to come after you. As Marcy Wheeler notes, 2 days before Swartz’ arrest, his case was taken over by the Secret Service.

Are these cases really that different, then? They are all targets of nationally directed efforts to target young men for–essentially–the crime of significantly challenging the state’s actions and loyalties. In Walter Benjamin’s words, that makes them Great Criminals.

Swartz, Mehanna and Ferdaus are also young men who have little capacity to come up with the resources—the money or the connections–needed to fight the U.S. government. These are small fish, they’re easy to hook, and the prizes are big: fame and professional ascendance as the “good guys,” at the same time that—at least Holder’s office—decides to ignore the crimes of big banks like HSBC, who are engaged in deliberate money laundering and massive material support to terrorists and drug cartels.

It is horrific and tragic that Aaron Swartz is dead, by suicide no less. I didn’t know much about him, or even his name until Saturday morning, but I do remember the case of a young “hacker” who managed to download 4.2 million public-access JSTOR files. Given that they were public access files that could only be obtained by being affiliated with an institution who subscribed, i.e. paid thousands of dollars to JSTOR—and given that those profits were never seen by the authors whose articles were included–it is clear that this is a theft without a victim. The bigger theft is conducted by academic publishers and databases—and I suspect, by copyright attorneys, who made it profitable to aggregate these files and demand exorbitant rates for access to them.

Judging from the moving testaments by so many others whose work I admire, I sense that his is a tragic loss not only to his family and friends, but to the project of political justice. For that I am intensely sad and furious at the pressure that he must have felt during the last few years.

It is also horrific and tragic that Mehanna and Ferdaus were each subjected to years in solitary confinement and entrapped by the FBI, and that the FBI is doing this more and more frequently. These two men did not kill themselves. However, a number of young Muslim men have died at the hands of US government, like Adnan Latif did (see my last post for links). Still, Mehanna and Ferdaus are part of the same move to overzealous prosecution that has victimized many young men under the auspices of the US Attorney Ortiz—in Massachusets and her counterpart, Eric Holder, at the federal (and international) level. We can see similar prosecutions all over this country–including in New York under US Attorney Preet Bharara. Bharara’s office zealously prosecuted Fahad Hashmi–again for political dissent. Hashmi, who was ultimately convicted for “conspiracy” to provide material support, also spent years in solitary confinement and was sentenced to 15 years on the basis of very little evidence.

One of the many things that those who are outraged at the death of Aaron Swartz can do is to challenge the copyright restrictions that publishers and academic databases impose on universities and scholars alike.

Another is to recognize and articulate–constantly, repeatedly, loudly–the commonalities between Swartz’s prosecution and the persecution of others like Mehanna, Ferdaus, and Hashmi. Challenges to the harassment of individuals–whether cyber-activists, Occupy protesters, whistleblowers, or Muslim political dissenters by the U.S. state–need to be sought –and based–in the legal, political, thematic links between individuals who may look and appear to be engaged in different “crimes” but who in fact are not so different in terms of how they are being pursued and targeted by the US state.

_________________________________________

Update (Jan 14, 2013, 7:33 am): I forgot to add the obvious: Swartz was also a key figure in challenging SOPA, another reason the state was none too happy with him.

Update II:( January 19, 2013: 12:20 pm): Marcy Wheeler has made a remarkable set of connections between Aaron Swartz’ FOIA request for information on Bradley Manning and the Secret Services’ confiscation of his computer and then arrest several days later, and DoJ’s ensuing harsh treatment. Read her posts that follow as well.

*An earlier version of this post incorrectly described Aaron Swartz’s ‘crime’ as having hacked through JSTOR’s paywall. In fact, according to the US Attorney’s office, Swartz is alleged to have broken through the JSTOR’s and MIT’s security firewalls.

GiTMO: 11 Years of Pre-Emptive Policing, Indefinite Detention, and Human Rights Violations

As many of you already are aware, today is the 11th anniversary of Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility. My thoughts on this topic are all over this site. There is little more that I can say without trivializing this unspeakable horror. It is shocking that we still have to work to induce outrage among our friends and family.

Here I have aggregated some clear-eyed testimonies by former Guantanamo Detainees, by a Guantanamo Guard, and related articles. 166 detainees still remain in Guantanamo. 157 have not been charged. 86 have been cleared for release. Again one wonders what the good reasons are that still keep them there.

Also, former Guantanamo guard Brandon Neely tweeted the following today. They are words by which the past two Administrations should be inspired.

Screen Shot 2013-01-11 at 11.39.37 AM

-An Op-Doc in today’s NYT by director Laura Poitras on Adnan Latif (Yemeni national, now deceased). It’s about 9 minutes long, but you simply must watch it. And make everyone who thinks indefinite detention and pre-emptive policing good ideas watch it.

-Here is a link to an article by Jason Leopold on Truthout about new details on the death of Adnan Latif. The suspicions surrounding Latif’s “self-induced” death do not diminish after reading it:

David Hicks (Australian national, finally released):

-And a moving interview with David Hicks and provocative reflections by Jason Leopold.

-Journalist Sami Al-Hajj (Sudanese national; released after 6 years) describes his time in Guantanamo to Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman.

-An extremeley detailed Wikipedia entry about situation facing current Gtmo detainee Abu Zubaydah, despite the fact that the Department of Justice has recanted all Bush Administration terror claims against him:

-A report by Jason Leopold about the recanting of evidence against Zubaydah:

-It is worth clicking on the link Brandon Neely’s tweet to see Jody Zubaydah, the sister-in-law of GitMo detainee “Hani” Abu Zubaydah (more on him below). Hesham Zubaydah, to whom Jody is married, was incarcerated for 2 years based on his then-wife’s false allegations and the US government’s suspicions of his brother.

-In Washington, DC this morning, the New America Foundation sponsored a panel on Indefinite Detention, featuring ex-Guantanamo Chief prosecutor Morris Davis, Andy Worthington, and others. I’ll add a link to that panel if it becomes available.

-Brandon Neely was a US soldier and guard at GiTMO from its inception in 2002 until 2005. His testimony about being a guard is harrowing and thoughtful.

I’ll continue to add relevant links as I find them.

Swedish Government’s Story on Renditions Appears to Change

Yesterday, an English-language Swedish newspaper, The Local, reported that Anders Jorle, from the Sweden’s Foreign Ministry, called a “failure” the inability to keep 2 Swedish citizens from being rendered to the United States from Djibouti.

That statement suggests that the Swedish government actually tried to do so.  Jorle’s language is decidedly interesting: In fact, he states that the Swedish “proposed” that the men, Mohamed Ali Yusuf and Ali Yasin Ahmed, be returned to Sweden. Proposed, but not insisted.

But Jorle’s position is still at odds with his statement, issued after a visit by officials from the Swedish consulate to their citizens in NY, where they insisted that they had no opinion on the men’s guilt or innocence–but that they would leave it up to the US to decide that question:

As the Washington Post reported on January 1, 2013:

Anders Jorle, a spokesman for the ministry in Stockholm, said Swedish diplomats were allowed to visit the men in Djibouti and New York to provide consular assistance.

“This does not mean that the Swedish government has taken any position on the issue of their guilt or innocence,” Jorle said in a telephone interview. “That is a question for the U.S. judicial system.”

It is also striking, as I have written, that the Swedish government lodged no official protest against the rendering of their citizens.

The Swedish Foreign Ministry’s position also clashed against the story told 6 days ago by Gösta Hultén, a journalist and spokesperson for the civil rights movement Charter 2008 in SvD, a Swedish-language newspaper. There, he reported that an American intelligence agent told the 2 men on September 24, 2012, that they were waiting for permission from the Swedish government to bring them back to the United States.  According to him, the men were actually rendered to the United States in mid-November, but their families and attorney were only informed of this fact on December 7—over 2 weeks before they were formally charged in NY.

And yet, Hultén suggests, even as late as December 17, the Swedish Foreign Office would neither confirm nor deny that the men had been extradited to the US.

As many are asking, it is unclear why these men were rendered to NY, given that the charges involve no crimes against Americans or the United States.  Moreover, given the absence of objections by the Swedish consulate in their December 23 statement, one wonders whether and how hard they tried to keep their citizens from being rendered “extradited” to the United States.

Down the Rabbit Hole: The Obama Administration’s Version of Transparency

As soon as Judge Denise Lind’s ruling in the pre-trial punishment motion for Bradley Manning came out, the ironies began to pile up: It took nearly 2 hours to read her decision. She ruled that although Manning was mistreated at Quantico, she rejected the idea of “any unlawful command influence from superior officers that led the commanding officer of Quantico to keep Manning in restrictive conditions for no justifiable reason.”  For those reasons she refused to dismiss the charges against Manning, although she did give him 112 days’ credit for time already served. And even though it was apparently a long, detailed, decision, the ruling itself could not be released to the public. As journalists Kevin Gosztola and Nathan Fuller pointed out: this lack of transparency is in a case about a whistleblower making information available to the public.

This absence of transparency comes on the heels of a ruling by Judge Colleen McMahon denying FOIA requests for the reasoning behind Obama Administration’s targeted killings. In her ruling, she refers to the fact that relevant information on which she bases her ruling is classified.

And on the heels of the plea taken by ex-CIA official John Kiriakou, whose crime was—not to name—but merely to confirm a suspicion that a journalist already had about a CIA interrogator in the torture of Abu Zubaydah. Compare Kiriakou’s crime with that of Obama nominee John Brennan who (beyond his endorsement of torture and remarkable statement about there never having been any civilian casualties in drone attacks) is accused of being responsible for multiple high-security leaks. For Kiriakou, 3 years in jail. For Brennan—neither arrest, detention, or solitary confinement, but rather Deputy Chief of NSA, which moved him closer to POTUS’ long-held wish for him to become head of CIA.

The most remarkable irony (if that is the right word. Where is Alanis Morissette when I need to consult?) lies in a comparison of the above events to the 2 Presidential Memos that President Obama issued in the first 4 months of his Administration.

On the first day he took office, Jan. 21, 2009, POTUS bragged about the intention of his administrations to create transparency. The first “Transparency” memo (.pdf) was hailed by ProPublica as well as Electronic Frontiers Foundation.

My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.

To that end, Obama asserted that

government offices should harness new technologies to put information about their operations and decisions online and readily available to the public.

In his FOIA Memo, also issued the same day, the President loftily refers to Judge Louis Brandeis’ quote about sunlight and disinfectant. It continues on the same righteously lofty vein that was supposed to distinguish his Administration’s policies from the elusive, highfalutin, “we know better than you” tone of the previous Bush Administration:

Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve. In responding to requests under the FOIA, executive branch agencies (agencies) should act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of the public.

All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government. The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA.

Mr. “Hope & Change” continues on in the same vein, urging offices not to wait for requests in order to disclose information, but to be proactive in disseminating information.

The last time I checked, the Department of Justice was a government office. So were the CIA, NSA, and DoD. Yet, the trend over the last four years is the continual expansion of secrecy, an ever-increasing breadth of classified information—so much so that as the Senate debated Sen Wyden’s oversight amendments to FISA on New Year’s Day, Senator Feinstein boasted about how she knew that there was important information that couldn’t be shared—because it was classified, but she promised to retrieve it from the room it was in, and to “wave it around” so that everyone would know that it existed and said…something that she knew was important but classified. What we also know, as a leaked memo shows, is that she was doing exactly the White House’s bidding.  See how cool the whole accountability thing works?  Leaking classified information allows us to know what our pols’ intentions really are.

This is part of the series of hypocrisies ironies piling up: as the US government insists on making more and more information confidential, private, and unavailable for oversight, it insists that its own citizens have no right to privacy—none—in their cyber or phone communications, cars, among other activities.  Moreover, by breaching or challenging the punitive rules coming out of the White House and Congress, the only outcome that citizens or non-citizens face is severe punishment ranging from arrest to indefinite detention to solitary confinement. The latter, regardless of Judge Lind’s ruling in Manning’s case yesterday, can only be defined as torture.  The rules are arbitrary—what else can we call them when we have no ability to call our representatives, DoJ lawyers, CIA officials, or President and his staff to account for their actions?

Former Guantanamo Chief Prosecutor Colonel Morris Davis suggested in his interview on Russian TV yesterday that the most severe crime that Bradley Manning committed was to embarrass the Administration and the Department of Justice (see at 1:55), rather than aiding the enemy or harming anyone.

At one point, Obama was thought to have the integrity that the Bush Administration did not, when his FOIA memo clarified that

In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears.

The seeming transparency of that memo is augmented by this one on “Classified Information and Controlled Unclassified Information,” issued just four months later in May 2009.  It insists on the centralization of procedures for the public dissemination of information, also stating that

Effective measures to address the problem of over classification, including the possible restoration of the presumption against classification, which would preclude classification of information where there is significant doubt about the need for such classification, and the implementation of increased accountability for classification decisions;

Such a directive should have the beneficial effect of pushing previously presumptively classified information into the “disinfecting” sunlight.  Instead, the defining trend during the first Obama term was the very opposite.

That May 27 memo seems to be directly abnegated by the quiet passage of the Whistleblower Protection Enforcement Act. In effect, the WPEA explicitly re-envisions John Kiriakou’s actions as criminal even as it purports to reinforce protections for whistleblowers. As I wrote when it was quietly signed on the day after Thanksgiving last year, WPEA will criminalizes attempts to speak to agencies or journalists without permission from one’s supervisors.  This provision cuts off the ability to disseminate information informally and casually, and implicitly threatens severe punishments for those who have any sort of relationship with journalists.

Contrary to Samuel Rubenfeld’s bizarre article in the Wall Street Journal, the WPEA insists that email communications will not be protected under this act. Rubenfeld offers as proof of Obama’s whistleblower courage adoring quotations from Angela Canterbury, director of public policy at the Project on Government Oversight, who claims that

He’s done more to affirmatively protect whistleblowers than any other president

and

Obama wants to encourage internal reporting of wrongdoing.”

“Obama believes that “if there are more protections for internal whistleblowers, there will be fewer leaks of national security information,” Canterbury said. “We share that belief, but that does not de-legitimize the need for external whistleblowers.”

“Sometimes information needs to be disclosed outside the government for there to be accountability,

It’s hard to know whether these are prevarications or the trite misty-eyed aspirations of liberal Obama voters. But whatever they are, the statements are blatantly inaccurate. Notwithstanding Canterbury’s official title, which apparently negates the need to crosscheck her claims with actual content, the bills and memos that purport to protect whistleblowers have increasingly done the opposite.

The “Alice in Wonderland” reference that Judge Colleen McMahon made in her ruling on drone strikes last week is an apt literary allusion to the craziness, the upside-downness, the inversion of meaning of all statements emerging from the White House and…its fore(wo)men?

Today, when a memo is prefaced with a statement about the need for transparency, one can be fairly certain that the purpose of the memo will be the opposite. When the POTUS’ allies insist that they are pushing for the renewal of FISA for the “safety” of the American people, what comes to mind are the Muslim men (who are known to be) in detention in the U.S. and the fear that non-whites have of being arrested, detained, or deported. It is clear that FISA is being used against the “safety” of Americans, and its absence of oversight is used to guard against detecting the misuse and abuse of secret surveillance privileges by government offices.

When Obama insists on nominating Brennan—a man who endorsed torture, denied civilian casualties, and was himself responsible for leaks—to be the next director of the CIA—literally biding his time for 4 years until the furor of Brennan’s notoriously unethical credentials inevitably died down (Feet! To the Fire!), I can only believe that Obama and his Administration are only interested in continuing—as Glenn Greenwald calls it—the never-ending War on Terror.

Perhaps it is hardly shocking that the POTUS–and our Senators and Congresspersons—continually refer to that ubiquitous, irrefutable, state of national security in order to invoke a continual state of emergency. But the unflinching, chest-strutting, arrogance with which they do so—while creating ever-growing secret kill lists and disposition matrixes, is in large part engendered by the voters who continue to rehire them on the grounds that torture, drones, renditions—are tastier, more flavorful, and absolutely more palatable when done by a liberal.

After all, would you rather have Romney?

Violence is Not Power: Meditations on Obama’s Second Term

Revised 1/7/12, 3:25 pm.

Pervasive violence is the ever-louder siren of the U.S. state’s impotence. It is the beacon of this nation’s inability to garner respect by adhering to Constitutional principles. At the risk of being obvious, I have in mind principles such as the freedom to dissent; to challenge the state, to be free of undue invasions of privacy; to have a trial framed by charges, evidence, and clear, fair procedures. These are the principles which would—could–challenge the US’s increasing quest for violence as the means of political control at home and abroad. This quest, paradoxically, revitalizes loyalty among its people even as it drains the existential serenity of those elsewhere in the world.

By violence, I include overt violence, such as the kidnapping and rendition of black and brown men to the U.S; the drones directed towards South Asia, East Africa, and the Philippines; the detention and incarceration of men without charges, lawyers, fresh air. Solitary confinement.

By violence, I include psychic violence, such as warrantless wiretapping and surveillance of US citizens, residents and foreigners (sic); the silent spying on mosque-goers, protestors; the deportation of migrants by the millions; the separation of parents from their children by the hundreds of thousands; the fear of arrest by men and women who give money to charities and legal defense funds of groups deemed often ex post terrorist organizations; the deliberate withholding of justice for poor homeowners scammed by mortgage companies.

By violence, I include the existential violence enveloped in the fear that being Muslim, Black, or Latino marks you as a magnet for police attention. As a magnet for kidnapping. A magnet for arrest and endless incarceration without appeal. For drones. Bullets. Deportations. Among other kinds of invasions and violations.

Sociologist Max Weber talks about the state “as the rule of men over men based on the means of legitimate, that is, allegedly legitimately violence of the state.”

All modern states were founded on violence. On conquest and genocide and slavery.  That history was elided, concealed through the abiding fiction of the social contract. The logic of the social contract was that men agreed to give up violence in order to abide by principles of respect and reciprocity. What we call rights and duties. A social contract.  And even that Social Contract is founded on violence. It is a racial contract, one where the rights and duties of certain men were based on the eclipse of the rights of others: African men, women, and children. White women.

But social contracts—despite their origins– can be useful. Like the Constitution, they can make clear what our expectations are of each other.  They can change, evolve, adjust—but their chief basis is the reciprocity of respect and freedom.

This is why there is something so earth-shatteringly irrevocable when a state based on a social contract, on a Constitution such as ours, declares a—continual–emergency by citing the threat of cultural, racial minorities and political minorities—of Muslims qua terrorists. Of Black men qua drug dealers. Of Latinos qua undocumented migrants. Of all who are political dissidents or whistleblowers who publicize the nefarious actions of elites.

What is it that propels people to endorse their government’s shift from representing them to overseeing them like an abusive parent? Since when do Americans seek comfort in a parent who oversees every move, micromanages every action, punishes every step that it construes as a misstep, who locks their child in the closet for howling in pain? Since when do we endorse political leaders who embrace beatings and torture as implements of security?

The ingenuity of the transition from political representation to state-incurred violence is that it is always—always—done with an array of equipment that makes that violence seem technical, impersonal, clinical.  This is why it seems so natural to move from a society where we elect politicians to represent us with constraints–to one where we license them to expand their powers immeasurably while correspondingly narrowing ours.

As the formidable Miz Arendt point out:

Violence—as distinct from power, force or strength, always needs implements…the revolution of technology, a revolution in tool-making, was especially marked in warfare.

Crises of the Republic, Part I, On Violence

She refers to physical violence and its dependence on technology. Technology such as atomic weapons, missiles, long-range high power assault rifles —and now, drones, cybersurveillance, wireless interception of phone and email communications.  It is technology that becomes increasingly sophisticated in distancing the soldier, the pilot, the government IT specialist, from his targets. Less sophisticated is the distance in distinguishing the target from the bystanders.

Beyond the R & D advances of the US Armed Forces, we can add a range of old-school equipment to that list: torture rooms, undercover CIA operations, prisons in far away places, military bases in Djibouti. These are “necessary” equipment for the purposes of cinching security, to “nip danger in the bud.”

To Arendt’s point, I would add that physical and psychic violence intimately depend upon their own technologies. In particular, three kinds of technologies go hand in hand with violence:

Technologies of law, eager politicians, and enthusiastic citizens.

Technologies of law, as we have witnessed abundantly, include those that instigated the upside-downness of our legal world with categories like pre-emptive policing, (legal and illegal) enemy combatants, and terrorists.

They include the USA PATRIOT Act and the Military Commisions Act of 2006. But we shouldn’t forget the long, continual series of laws that have helped cement and entrench this world of violence.

More recent technologies of violence include the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (which legitimizesafter the fact–John Kiriakou’s criminality perfectly). FISA with its absence of oversight provisions and its latest 5-year renewal, and not 3 as proposed by Sen. Leahy. The NDAA 2013 which, like last year’s version, again legitimates the President’s and US Military’s authority to arrest and indefinitely detain anyone—anyone—that they suspect of terrorism. This year’s version prohibits the closure of Guantanamo Bay’s extra-judicial prison.

Another little remembered technology of violence: H.R. 347, which criminalizes protestors by making it illegal for them to stand near a public building or Secret Service officers with a sign or with “threatening intent.”

But of course, legal technologies of violence aren’t just limited to laws.  They also include US court decisions—and the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear appeals–that criminalize members of charities—or people who give money to them. They include judges’ insistence that they can’t challenge the illegality of drone strikes. Etc. Etc.

Technologies of eager politicians can be found in seemingly liberal upholders of the Constitution. A most recent example would be Senator Dianne Feinstein, who insists that we must give as much information to the NSA as possible in order to catch the terrorists who are in our midst. She simultaneously insists that the NSA knows who to surveil or not surveil, and that its reasons are too dangerous classified for the rest of us to know.

Such technologies of violence can be located in POTUS and his Administration, who demand the authority to assassinate, kill children with drones, arrest and detain, to surveil at whim. Or to collaborate with bankers to ensure that bailout money goes to the perpetrators of fraud, and not its victims.

This technology is replete with smiles, fine suits and coiffures, and the assurance that they are working in the interests and safety of their citizens. It comes with the additional ingredient of insisting that human rights violations in China must be addressed. That the genocidal intentions of Iran and Palestine must be addressed. And condemning the dictatorial powers of the Venezualan and Ecuadorian Presidents. Um, right.

Perhaps the most efficient technology is that of enthusiastic citizens who vote and vote and vote again for politicians who openly assure them that they only want the best for their “constituents.” It is a dangerous technology, this technology of willing self-described liberal citizens who claim to revere the principles of freedom, privacy, and known laws, while insisting that POTUS is constrained by his Congress, his staff, his difficult legacy as the first Black President.

This technology is accompanied by an all-too-easy amnesia (or is it dissociation?).  As Thomas Harrington writes,

…[W]hen a Democrat gets elected to office, it seems that this calculus suddenly changes…[w]hen I confront people whom I know voted for Obama and his party with this desultory and undeniably accurate bill of particulars, they act as if it had little or nothing to do with them and their vote.

In fact, then, the most effective technology of violence under a Democratic Presidency is the denial of facts. It is the willful amnesia that one of “their own,”—a liberal, a community activist, a constitutional law professor, a person of color (and his racially diverse Administration), a cosmopolitan—has taken the lead in violating the sanctity of human beings: through death, destruction of foreign lands, punishing journalists, torturing whistleblowers, kidnapping young men, and killing children. All the while, using secrecy, disposition matrices, surveillance—and–immunity laws—to breed the fear of God into us if we dare dissent.

The second most effective violence is the insistence that destroying and marginalizing one’s own people is better when it comes from a liberal.  As Ethnic Studies Professor Dylan Rodrigues presciently wrote back in 2008—in the aftermath of the Barack Obama’s first victory (the piece is worth reading in its entirety):

To be clear: the political work of liberation from racist state violence—and everything it sanctions and endorses, from premature death to poverty—becomes more complex, contradictory, and difficult now. The dreadful genius of the multiculturalist Obama moment is that it installs a “new” representative figure of the United States that, in turn, opens “new” possibilities for history’s slaves, savages, and colonized to more fully identify with the same nation-building project that requires the neutralization, domestication, and strategic elimination of declared aliens, enemies, and criminals. In this sense, I am less anxious about the future of the “Obama administration” (whose policy blueprint is and will be relatively unsurprising) than I am about the speed and effectiveness with which it has rallied the sentimentality and political investment (often in terms of actual dollar contributions and voluntary labor) of the purported U.S. “Left.

As we witness the nomination and selective framing of Drone collateral death denier and Torture endorser John Brennan by the POTUS for the Director of the CIA–can there be any doubt of how apt Prof. Rodrigues’ words are?

The state’s struggle is not one for political power (defined as that which represents the flourishing of its people)—but for control—to decide the dividing line between flourishing and emaciation, between success and immiseration, between bodily sanctity and bodily violation and destruction, between political freedom and abject fear.  Between life and death.  That struggle for control is a voracious hunger. It is the hunger to monopolize violence—to insist that violence belongs to the state—as an efficient, effective—and legal means to manage its people.

And yet, this Administration’s most effective legacy is the dissemination of fear. Dissemination of evisceration. Of bodily violations. Of the destruction of countless innocent lives.

Liberals who embraced this second term have enabled the continuation of an empire under multicultural leadership—one which continues, expands, and intensifies the war on people—especially on brown and black and Muslim peoples—through an array of technologies, which are so clean, precise, and beyond refute for so many liberals—those who helped perpetuate this war by re-electing the very people who continued it under the mantle of Freedom and Democracy.

Looking forward, not back.

Last week’s horrible news on December 29, 2012, of Sunando Sen, the South Asian man who was pushed off the subway by Erica Menendez prompted me to repost this piece written back in August. Menendez claimed that she hated “Hindus and Muslims” ever since the September 11 attacks. In this post, I addressed South Asians who somehow found an objective moral distinction between Muslims and Hindus and continued to perpetuate racist stereotypes of Muslims. In light of last week’s incident, and other moments of racism spouted by people of color, folks across the spectrum could usefully think long and hard about how we participate in a culture of racism and racial supremacy against other brown and black folks.

Translation Exercises

Yesterday, I received this message on a list of family friends and relatives who would self-identify as Indian. The email, which was in 24 point font, replete with a (different) picture of Julia Gillard, the Australian Prime Minister, who supposedly said these things, and an emblem of the United States flag, waving, at the bottom of the missive.

BRAVO!

W O W ! She Did It Again!!!Australia says NO — This will be the second Time Julia Gillard has done this!

She sure isn’t backing down on her hard line stance and one has to appreciate her belief in the rights of her native countrymen.


A breath of fresh air to see someone lead. Australian Prime Minister does it again!!


The whole world needs a leader like this!

Prime Minister Julia Gillard – Australia


Muslims who want to live under Islamic Sharia law were told on Wednesday to get…

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Swedish Government Lodges No Protest in the Rendition of 2 Swedish Citizens

Revised.

On the quiet first day of the New Year, the Washington Post published a quiet little story about the renditions of 3 young men from Somalia to the US shortly before Christmas. I wrote about them last week, in particular about Mahdi Hashi, whose British citizenship was stripped for “Islamic extremism,” shortly before he disappeared from near his home in August. At the time, I could find little to confirm whether the other two, Mohamed Yusuf and Ali Yasin Ahmed, were Swedish citizens.

WaPo confirms that they are indeed Swedish citizens. It also confirms that the US allowed them visits from Swedish diplomats. Strikingly absent was protest or objection by Sweden to the illegal rendering of their citizens. Rather, they insisted that

This does not mean that the Swedish government has taken any position on the issue of their guilt or innocence…That is a question for the U.S. judicial system.

What makes Sweden’s refusal to lodge a protest even more egregious is the following statement:

Authorities in Sweden and Britain had monitored the three men for years as they traveled back and forth to Somalia, but neither country assembled enough evidence to press criminal charges.

Insufficient evidence to press criminal charges—despite the fact that the Swedish authorities were following them for years. It is possible that that they were being followed before Al-Shabab was declared a “terrorist organization”in 2008.

And still, there is no interest from Swedish authorities to object to their renditions.

Over on Lawfareblog, Matthew Waxman insists that there is NO confirmation that the renditions occurred at the direction of the U.S. government. One wonders how these men found their way to a US Federal Court in Brooklyn.  Despite his analytical caution, Waxman nevertheless insists that US cooperation with Europeans has to be carefully managed—since the US will “handle particular suspects”—presumably in otherwise objectionable ways. Thus, as Waxman concludes, there is a good

…reason to allow the President significant flexibility, especially to use civilian criminal justice avenues…

These two positions appear to be in serious tension. Moreover, as Waxman points out there is no good reason to believe that

these detainees even had due process rights to invoke in a foreign interrogation. That, in turn, depends upon two distinct issues: (1) Whether the Due Process Clause could ever apply to the interrogation of non-citizens overseas (I think it could; plenty of others don’t); and (2) even if it does, whether the interrogation was a “joint venture” for purposes of the Miranda doctrine (i.e., whether U.S. officials were sufficiently involved in the interrogation to trigger constitutional constraints).

Clearly then, if they didn’t have American due process rights, it’s probably just fine to interrogate them without a lawyer present.

On the same blog, Stephen Vladeck points out that these are hardly “extraordinary” renditions, since those are defined as kidnapping a suspected terrorist and sending him to another country to be tortured. By contrast, these men were already on Somali soil—so there was no need to kidnap them. So they were just rendered. Not extraordinarily. But ordinarily.

We are also to take, according to Vladeck, the absence of a claim that the arrest and rendition are illegal—as confirmation that they were not illegal.  But isn’t the rendition of any citizen of another country—without warrants and extradition procedures—illegal?

The following certainly seems illegal according to international law:

Sweden’s security agencies have cooperated in the past with U.S. officials on rendition cases by sharing intelligence about targets. Mark Vadasz, a spokesman for the Swedish Security Police Service, declined to comment on whether the agency played a role in the cases involving Yusuf and Ahmed.

As Kevin Gosztola points out,

Sweden has cooperated with the United States on renditions before. In 2005, a parliamentary investigator, according to the Post, concluded “CIA operatives violated Swedish law by subjecting the prisoners to ‘degrading and inhuman treatment’ and by exercising police powers on Swedish soil.” Sweden covered up the rendition of Egyptians from Stockholm to Cairo in 2001 for three years before, in 2004, unofficial reports of CIA involvement began to surface. No Swedish officials were charged by the parliamentary investigator in 2005, but it was concluded the Swedish security police had been “remarkably submissive to the American officials.”

That these men have been trailed, kidnapped and rendered—despite the fact that Sweden could not find sufficient evidence to press criminal charges against them—suggests a number of interesting implications:

  1. Sweden’s standard of criminal evidence is much more stringent than that of the US.
  2. They are willing to be “flexible” about the standards of evidence of other countries that want to render their citizens..
  3. They are willing to abnegate their own standard at the request of the U.S.
  4. They may be just as willing to abnegate that standard for Julian Assange, if they have the opportunity.

Hashi’s story also suggests some sort of collaboration between the US and the UK. As Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported, Hashi had reported being harassed by British intelligence agents to become an informant. He finally left for Somalia, after continually refusing.  He also is charged with collaborating with Al-Shabab which, despite its recent placement on the US’s list of terrorist organizations, is reported to be a group challenging the UN-backed Ethiopian government in Somalia, and thus is part of Somalia’s internal civil war.

As WaPo reports,

Still, Obama administration officials acknowledge that most al-Shabab fighters are merely participants in Somalia’s long-running civil war and that only a few are involved in international terrorism.

Moreover, Al-Shabab is also one of the primary organizations that distributes funds for a variety of purposes, including charity.

Neither of these facts appear to have given the UK pause before stripping Hashi of his citizenship. Nor have these facts stopped the US Department of Justice from prosecuting a young Somali woman for having sent $1450 to Al-Shabab for charitable purposes. She was convicted of violating US material support statutes. In comparison, HSBC was involved in similar, but systematic and deliberate activities to a much higher degree. Coincidentally, HSBC bankers received no jail time. The bank was fined less than 1 month’s profits for their activities.

So far, the UK and Sweden have illustrated their intentions to cooperate fully with the United States in rendering Muslim men even with insufficient evidence. Is Julian Assange is paranoid to believe that if he were to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he has sought refuge after having been granted political asylum, he would easily be whisked to the United States with the cooperation of the Swedish and British governments?

Glass Houses: Rapes and Victim-Blaming in the Western World

Revised. Updates I & II below:

Apparently the U.S., unlike India, has moved past its own backward history of victim-blaming. Apparently, I am to believe, according to the New York Times and Nicholas Kristof, that it is India which must deal with its sexual violence. And the Good Mr. Kristoff and the New York Times know this because the US has dealt with its own sexual violence. It’s now in the past, judging from the smug authority of the Times.

The victim of gang-rape in India, as many of us know, died several days ago after having been brutally beaten, essentially to death. From the moment that the rape made the international news, even before she died, there was a collective audible, transnational gasp.

That gasp turned—-rightfully–into a loud protest by Indians, against an environment of fear and danger that is perpetuated from various segments of society. These include the police, who have been unwilling to protect women or arrest men who have been accused of rape. They include courts, who are unwilling to arrest and try accused rapists. These include politicians and media, who engage in victim-blaming. These include communities who are unwilling to defend their female family members who have been sexually assaulted.

That gasp also induced a gaping at what Margaret Kimberley calls the pornography of suffering—where first world denizens are mesmerized, horrified, by the spectacle of rapes in non-first world locales with darker residents. In the cases of Congo and Somalia, the spectacle is amplified by the long-standing racist fetishization of black men’s sexuality.  While India may not have the same associations, it is nevertheless subject to its own version of Orientalism: India is either the peaceful refuge of Om Shanti Shanti yoga chants and ashrams, or invoked for its seemingly unmatched teeming poverty and malnutrition. The men in this picture, over the last 3 weeks, thanks to the focus by Western media, are now the singular demons of unchecked sexual predation.

Indeed, it is difficult to miss the incessant focus by first world denizens and media at the “backwards” culture of India, such that, as one interlocutor informed me, “they have a history of victim-blaming” there.

It must be a relief for denizens of the Global North to point fingers at the “regressive” cultures of the darker nations.  Perhaps the spectacle of Indians marching in protest at the rape allows for the convenient, momentary forgetfulness (or maybe continued avoidance) of the US’s state-led policy of “inadvertently” or deliberately killing and torturing children, some of whom had the audacity to be born to irresponsible terrorist fathers—as Robert Gibbs reminds us.  It allows Americans to be undistracted by the racial profiling thousands of Black and Muslim men, or incarceration of hundreds of thousands of Black men in a gratuitous war on drugs, renditions and imprisonment of hundreds of Muslim men—most without ever knowing the charges against them. But at least we know it is because “they are terrorists.” It is a good thing that the US doesn’t have a history of victim-blaming.

Perhaps the spectacle of 3rd world rape allows Americans to forget its own “rape culture”–the one where the US has had a long history of putting the victims of sexual assault on trial while ostensibly pretending that they were holding a fair trial for suspected rapists. The one where 11 year old girls are gang-raped— –continuously over a period of months. And in which the entire town and one of the nation’s leading newspapers—the same one which points to India’s need to straighten itself out—manages to blame the child. Yes, that moral beacon of colonialism and hypocrisy: the New York Times.

According to The National Women’s Study and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 683,000 women are raped annually in the United States. That equals 1.3 rapes every 3 minutes, 78 rapes hourly, and 1,871 rapes daily.  These numbers are hardly insignificant. And they only indicate reported rapes. Eleanor Bader points to a Department of Justice August 2012 study that states that 33% of sexual victimization of the general public goes unreported.

Combined, these numbers indicate a serious rape culture in the U.S., one where Sen. Todd Aikin can openly claim that “legitimate rapes” don’t cause pregnancy.  Or as Senate candidate Richard Mourdock claimed, rape “is something that God intended.”

Consider Steuben, Ohio, where members of the high school football team are accused of drugging, gang-raping, urinating on, and carrying an unconsconscious female teen from party to party. One is accused of taking a nude picture or video of the girl. And no one in the entire town stepped forward to say what they saw—despite reams of evidence that appear to be circulating on Facebook, and elsewhere. Including statements about how “Some people deserve to be peed on.”

But it’s India that has a culture of “victim-blaming.”  Clearly, the U.S. isn’t backwards at all. I now recognize the New York Times’ moral authority in wagging its journalistic finger at India’s “backward” culture.  If I didn’t, I might be a little shaken by the statistics of sexual assault that occurred in US state and federal prisons, and jails, ICE special confinement facilities, and Indian reservation prisons:

Out of 81,566 inmates interviewed in 2008-9, 11,600 reported an unwanted sexual incident with another prison inmate. 15,800 reported an unwanted sexual incident that occurred with prison staff. 3,400 inmates reported unwanted sexual incidents by both inmates and staff.

1% of prisoners report having been the target of nonconsensual sexual acts: or approximately 815 inmates. And these are only the reported sexual assaults. If we assume that rapes in prison go unreported at the same rate as those in the general public (and the likelihood is that the percentage is even higher), then there is a very strong manifestation of rape culture in U.S. prisons.

In an earlier 2007 study by the Department of Justice, as cited by Eleanor Bader, out of over 40,000 inmates in local jails, 5.1% of women and 2.9% of men experienced some form of sexual assault.

Of course, it is easy to compartmentalize these statistics by somehow assuming that they are occurring to members of a criminal(ized), therefore deranged, primitive segment of the population—which is “rightfully” in prison. Until we remember the range of laws that can easily land someone in prison: 3 strikes, you’re out; material support statute violations, excessive drug laws, hate crimes laws (which disproportionately target minorities), etc.

In other words, the victims consist of many folks who are dangerously similar to many of us: one mistake, or skin color, or religion, or race, away from prison time. And like the western focus on India, the visual spectacle of dark men raping or dark women being raped somehow lands a collective Western audience in a state of horror that is strangely absent when considering rape in a whitely context:

In March of this year, a few media sources reported the death of a Ukrainian teen, who was gang-raped, strangled and set on fire by the sons of government officials. She had burns over 55% of her body, and had both of her feet and one arm amputated in an attempt to save her. Before she died, she made a video from her hospital bed naming her assaulters. Hundreds of Ukrainians marched in protest of her death. There was very little outrage from the rest of the world. There was no NYT editorial warning the Ukraine to get its house in order, even as it reported that 2 of the young men arrested in the incident were released by prosecutors.

It is hard, then, to argue that the reason so much attention was paid to the circumstances of the Indian woman was because of the horrific nature of the crime. Because she was gang-raped and beaten to death. Our hearts, mine included, went numb.  But so did my heart when I learned of the 11-year old who was gang-raped.

So did my heart when I followed the news of the young boys induced to trust Jerry Sandusky, only to be brutally betrayed. Only to feel that they must keep silent because of the stigma surrounding male rape. Because their families relied on Sandusky to raise their boys, to provide care and a “male role model.”

So did my heart when I learned of the woman who was horrifically and brutally raped, beaten, and killed by members of a “cult.” Rape victims die in the US. They die horrific deaths. And somehow they don’t grab our attention in the way that the horrible fate of this young woman did.

But they should–in order to challenge the systematicity of rape in every single society. In order to challenge the patriarchy of every single society, the abuse of power that enables girl-children and boy-children, to be raped.

Ten of thousands of Indian citizens marched in protest of the fear and danger that surround Indian women.  Imagine if mothers and daughters across the US had marched in protest of the rape and murder of Lalita Patel, a 62 year-old South Asian woman, who was killed by a U.S. army veteran this past summer.

Or after U.S. troops raped several Afghan women earlier last month.

Couldn’t we have drawn attention to the horror of rape?  Many young women and their allies did march in Canada and across the US last year. It was called the “Slutwalk.” They marched in protest of victim-blaming—by a Canadian police officer who insisted that women learn not to dress like sluts. (Oh, wait—sounds a lot like the claims of Indian policemen who blame Indian rape victims). The name alone created such a distraction that the fact of the protests around the US and Canada was lost amidst the debates over the name.

Indian women fear traveling outside by themselves, or late at night, or traveling alone at all. So do many women in the US. Yet, only the horrific, horrible tragedy of a young woman in Delhi can make us pause and think about rape.

Shouldn’t the gang-rapes of children, teenaged girls, and women in the US, in North America, in France, by ordinary men as well as by political elites such as Dominique Strauss-Kahn, make us pause? Perhaps the NYT and Nicholas Kristof might be able to persuade the Western world to get its own house in order.

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Update (12 pm, Jan 2): As of the latest NDAA, which goes into effect tomorrow, U.S. servicewomen will now be able to have Department of Defense-funded abortions in cases of rape and incest (Sec. 704). Sen. John McCain, feminist that he is, has endorsed a provision, according to NYT, that would “ensure” that U.S. servicewomen who are subject to sexual assault “will be treated with fairness.” This will be one of primary benefits of NDAA —a benefit that is not extended to women outside of the service, nor to those who are not federal employees.

How exactly does this ensure “fairness” for US servicewomen who are victims of sexual assault? It allows them to have access to coverage for abortions. It doesn’t exactly protect them or decrease the chances of sexual assault. Still, it is a huge feminist stance compared to Aikin or Mourdock’s positions, but also an admission of a rape culture in the U.S. Armed Services.

Update: (10:28 am, Jan. 15): According to this trailer for “Invisible War,” a Sundance Film on the pervasive rape culture in the U.S. Army, 16,150 sexual assaults occurred in 2009, and 500,000 men and women have been assaulted in total (I think that number refers to reported assaults; I wonder if the total number is significantly larger).

Why Not God?

Revised.

I was going to post another abysmally depressing column today. Then I convinced myself that I needed to find some reason for optimism to begin 2013. So here goes—what passes for optimism. It’s the best I can do.

Ferenc Feher, my philosophy professor and mentor in graduate school, once said to me: “After the Holocaust, we decided that God didn’t exist. God would never have allowed the Holocaust to happen.  We knew that it was up to us to stop evil.” His father had died in a concentration camp when he was a young boy.  Pointing to his stark, shoebox-sized office in one of the New School buildings in Manhattan, he said, “this office has all the ambiance in the world,” compared to the room lit by a single lightbulb, where he had been tortured and interrogated because of his criticisms of the Hungarian Communist Party.

This is the memory that came to mind several days ago as I read Maureen Dowd’s column, “Why, God?” More accurately, her friend Father Kevin O’Neill wrote that column, a moving rumination on searching for reasons behind the horrific tragedies that surround us, such as the deaths of the children and teachers in Newtown, CT and the ambushed firemen in upstate NY. Among his thoughts, he writes:

I don’t look for the hand of God to stop evil.

On that, Father O’Neill, Prof. Feher, and I agree. I will not count on God to stop evil. I will however look to those of us who recognize humanity on its own grounds–to vociferously, courageously, dangerously challenge and resist those who refuse to do so.  I will look to like-minded folks to insist that the U.S. Constitution, as flawed as it may be, must remain a model of human and political rights. I will count on those same folks to argue against the horrible dehumanization of others–to whom we have no relation whatsoever, except that they are human like us.  I will count on my allies, regardless of whether we can agree on strategies, means, or the details, to insist that torture, renditions, indefinite incarceration, warrantless surveillance, detention without habeas corpus, racial profiling, entrapment of innocent men and women, harassment and persecution of poor people and people of color—that all of these are an abomination of what it means to be human, to be a dignified and respectful American, to be a moral person. And I look to my intimates, neighbors, friends not yet met, colleagues, pundits, and students to insist that the presence of such actions in this society is an abomination to our aspiration to a fair, just, and democratic society. I look to them–to you–to insist that it is up to us to eliminate these from our existence, from our vocabulary.

But in the meantime, a girl can dream the impossible, can’t she? In that vein, here are my desires and hopes for the New Year:

-Sen. Dianne Feinstein suddenly comes to her senses and insists on a special session to repeal the 5 year renewal of FISA and warrantless surveillance.

-Former Sen. Joe Lieberman quietly moves far, far away and wrestle with his conscience. On everything he stood for.

-Somehow, magically, Pfc. Bradley Manning and Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Hayder Shaye are released from prison and hailed as the whistleblowing heroes that they are.

-Julian Assange receives safe passage to Sweden to be questioned on rape charges—without being extradited by the UK to the U.S.

-A Federal court will mandate that Mahdi Hashi be returned to Somalia on the grounds that he was kidnapped illegally by the US.

-Remaining Guantanamo Bay prisoners are finally moved out of limbo and released if no legitimate charges can be waged, or receive fair trials quickly in proper (non-military) courts.

-Omar Khadr will be pardoned and finally released, after having lost his childhood to miscalculations, suspicions, torture, and bureaucracy.

-Adnan Latif’s family will receive an apology from the US government for their mistaken incarceration, torture, and abuse of him. (yeah, right).

-We will stop rendering foreign nationals because they are Muslim, Arab, or live in close proximity to foreigners that POTUS and his people find “suspicious.”

-Drone strikes on the multiple countries with whom we have never declared war will miraculously cease. In large part, because President Obama has somehow come to his senses on the immorality and illegality of these strikes. And that the Supreme Court will rule to end such attacks.

-All Senators and Congresspersons will request an audience with Dean Baker, or William Black, Stephanie Kelton and other members of the UMKC School of economics—and finally realize/concede that the ‘fiscal cliff’ is a non-issue and that a fully funded Social Security program is necessary to the well-being of American society.

-The Department of Justice will realize that it is a useless drain on resources to police a drug war that has been resoundingly challenged by voters in CO and WA. And that Congress will find a way to end that futile exercise that has cost so many their lives and freedom. Having a bit of time on their hands, perhaps DOJ can start going after financial fraud at the largest banks.

-The Department of Homeland Security will reunite the 200,000 parents who have been wrenched away from their children because they are undocumented.

-The Obama Administration will end the war on undocumented migrants.

-All the homeowners who had their homes and life-savings wrested away from them due to unscrupulous mortgage companies and banks will be able to file a class action suit against the bankers and be awarded their houses back, with interest-free mortgage payments for the next 10 years.

-People suddenly take to the streets to protest rape culture and patriarchy. In the United States.

-Americans begin a constructive conversation about race, privilege, and white supremacy that acknowledges its complexity.

-Congress passes a law that mandates full employment for the next 10 years. And begins high-speed rail projects across the United States that employs every man and woman who needs work—at a living wage and full health insurance.

-Academics, lawyers, and journalists will stop legitimating drone strikes and murders of civilians and children on the grounds that “collateral damage” includes “inadvertent murders.” The same crowd will also refrain from justifying murders–by drone, invasion, village raids, or tanks–on the grounds that the U.S. and various legal traditions tell us that it’s ok to kill civilians in the name of war.

-Large numbers of Democratic voters will defect from the party and build an effective 3rd party in time for the next election. And a 4th party.

-Children all over the world–especially in countries that have experienced drone strikes, school shootings, and missile strikes–will no longer have to fear for their lives and parents and families as an existential condition.

-Children in schools all over the world will be able to attend school free of the fear of being shot–whether by lone individuals or military personnel or Al-Qaeda or Taliban.

And on a lighter note, I hope for the following:

-We finally get a reality show featuring South Asians.

-Cal finally beats Stanford in the Big Game.

-People will stop conflating Snookie and Teresa Guidice with real Jersey girls. Like me.

-A’s win the World Series. Failing that, the Giants repeat.

-I survive another winter in New England. In style.

-I get to finish my next book in a place that has gorgeous beaches. Or deserts.

-Corey Robin and I have drinks and talk about Hannah Arendt, great Broadway showtunes, and Friedrich von Hayek.

-The New Yorker offers Margaret Kimberley a regular column.

Rolling Stone offers NYT Public Editor Margaret Sullivan a regular gig.

-The NYT fires Nicholas Kristoff on the the grounds that he’s an ignoramus with colonialist impulses.

-Ditto Tom Friedman.

-John Cusack finally starts following me on Twitter.

-I get to visit Australia. And Argentina, or elsewhere in South America.

-I learn how to write shorter columns. More frequently.

-Someone donates to the “Falguni Sheth Designer Shoes Fund,” so that I can continue to pursue my remaining vice.

-Someone sends me a case–or two– of really good Bordeaux (Grand Cru St. Emilion). Or Malbec. Or Shiraz. So that  I can pursue my other remaining vice.

In the meantime, I hope that you, readers and allies and critics, prosper and find good health and spirits in order to keep fighting another year.  I can’t look to God to stop evil and horrific injustice. But I can look to us.

Happy New Year. Enjoy the day today. Many best wishes for the next 12 months. And thanks for the company, the feedback, the engagement, the support. It means more to me than I can express.

Tomorrow— back to work with another abysmally depressing column.

Warmly,

Falguni