Decency Lost: McCarthyism Revisited

{Originally published October 27, 2017 in CounterPunch}

Decency Lost

With unsurprising convenience, a growing chant can be heard from a choir of lay scholars who find revisionist console in diluting the aim and reach of what was the very real, dark and damning nativist clutch of Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Like its political ancestor, today’s cheap sale does great damage to not just truth but, as important, the survivors and memory of the generational victims of a domestic political purge come to be known as simply McCarthyism.

From social media pundits to accomplished bloggers, trendy journal keepers and political gurus, a partisan echo can be heard that reduces any attempt to investigate institutional accountability to little more than a global witch hunt that targets the vulnerable super rich, the powerful and the despots among us… be they the current resident of the White House, the Kremlin or offshore banks.

Quite frankly, I don’t give a shit. Let them eat caviar. Better still, a one way ticket to the Bastille, for them all, will not leave me with an overwhelming sense of lament or loss.

McCarthyism, by its very definition, was the storied practice of manipulating facts through accusations of “disloyalty”… especially through pro-Communist activity… based upon little more than speech, association or artistic voice… as if that matters ,at all, given the intended broad reach of the First Amendment.

Had it just stopped there, veterans of the day would have little more to complain of than, perhaps, noxious harassment that sought to mute or compartmentalize a diverse and unorthodox chorus into neat political and social “norms.”

After-all, the rush to mandate the political culture of a given era has, in the United States, become very much the routine ritual that provides cover for arbitrary purpose and power whether it be the prevailing winds that blow across our political bow from the East… or the West.

No, McCarthyism was much more than purification of language and view in the broadest sense. It was a calculated, vicious drive to control the tenor of the times as it aimed to vanquish individual thought as so much a compelled, but necessary, sacrifice to “patriotic” group speak.

During the McCarthy era, thousands of Americans were accused of being communists, or sympathizers, and became the targets of aggressive inquisition before government or private-industry panels, committees and agencies.

Most of those, so marked, paid dearly for their voice or vision with the number imprisoned for their alleged beliefs or associations running into the many hundreds. Often, simply being subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) or one of the other “security” committees of the day… such as the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee or the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations… was sufficient cause to be fired.

Indeed, between 1949 and 1954, it is estimated some ten to twelve thousand people lost their livelihood falling victim to an environment of fear and repression generated by various Congressional Committees that held a total of 109 separate “loyalty” investigations.

Though remembered largely for HUAC, the campaign to cleanse the United States of “seditious” political, cultural or social diversity had its genesis well before McCarthy grabbed his damning15 minutes of fame.

As very much a cheap stench of what was yet to come, the first legislative salvo against the artificial threat of Communist subversion was empowered through a series of federal laws.

Under the Alien Registration Act or Smith Act of 1940 it was a criminal offense for anyone to “knowingly or willfully advocate, abet, advise or teach the […] desirability or propriety of overthrowing the Government of the United States or of any State by force or violence, or for anyone to organize any association which teaches, advises or encourages such an overthrow, or for anyone to become a member of or to affiliate with any such association”.

Between the start of World War II through well after the armistice in Korea, hundreds of communists and alleged supporters were prosecuted under this law.

In 1949, eleven leaders of the Communist Party were convicted under the Smith Act; ten received sentences of five years, the eleventh three years. Several of their defense attorneys were, themselves, imprisoned having been held in contempt of court. Two years later, twenty-three other leaders of the party were indicted… including Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a founder of the ACLU.

In 1952, Albert J. Lima, a Latino community activist, who ran twice, unsuccessfully, in California as a Communist candidate for the House of Representatives. 13 others were convicted of threatening to overthrow the United States government.

By 1957, 140 leaders and members of the Communist Party had been prosecuted under the law, with 93 convicted on the basis of little more than speech and association propped up by government induced false testimony.

In quick succession, other national laws laid the ominous footing of McCarthyism well before the Senator himself had a chance to deceptively proclaim that he had a list of 205 known members of the Communist Party who were “working and shaping policy” in the State Department.

For example, the McCarran Internal Security Act, which became law in 1950, required the registration of Communist organizations with the Attorney General and established the Subversive Activities Control Board to investigate so-called Communist-front organizations so they could be required to register.

In 1952, the Immigration and Nationality, or McCarran-Walter Act, was passed which allowed the government to deport immigrants or naturalized citizens engaged in “subversive” activities and to bar suspected subversives from entering the country.

In 1954, the Communist Control Act was passed as an adjunct to the Internal Security Act of 1950. It sought to outlaw the Communist Party by declaring that the party, as well as other “Communist-Infiltrated Organizations”, were “not entitled to any of the rights, privileges, and immunities attendant upon legal bodies.”

In 1954, this Act was used to prevent Communist Party members from running for political office in New Jersey. In 1960, it was cited to deny the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) lawful status as an employer under New York State’s unemployment compensation system.

Not to be outdone by Congressional pandering to a public looking for a new generation of women to be hanged as witches, Presidents Truman and Eisenhower gladly joined the torch lit parades of the day.

Under Truman’s Executive Order 9835 of 1947, all federal civil service employees were required to be screened for “loyalty.” In relevant part, the order said that one basis for determining disloyalty would be a finding of “membership in, affiliation with, or sympathetic association” with any organization determined by the Attorney General to be “totalitarian, Fascist, Communist or subversive.

When Eisenhower took office in 1953, he expanded Truman’s loyalty review program while limiting appellate rights available to the many government employees dismissed on the basis of mere political belief or unacceptable party affiliation or sympathy.

One such victim of the political purge was J. Robert Oppenheimer, scientific director of the Manhattan Project that built the first atomic bomb. Then working as a consultant to the Atomic Energy Commission, Oppenheimer was stripped of his security clearance and, essentially, driven from his chosen field following a “fact finding” hearing.

During the same period, various states and municipalities enlisted in the palpable rampage against speech and association by enacting statutes against criminal anarchy and criminal syndicalism.

Although ultimately struck down as unconstitutional, or repealed, local governments banned Communists and other subversives from public employment or receiving public aid, demanded loyalty oaths from employees, or restricted or proscribed the Communist party as a whole.

Some states had their own equivalent to HUAC… including California which established the California Senate Factfinding Subcommittee on Un-American Activities.

Others passed draconian laws that targeted political organizations or activists within their own state lines.

Thus, in 1950, Michigan passed a law which called for a sentence of life imprisonment for subversive propaganda. A year later, Tennessee approved the death penalty for mere advocacy of the violent overthrow of the government. The death penalty for nothing more than membership in the Communist party was widely discussed and supported in Texas.

New York had laws that prohibited state employees from belonging to any organization that advocated the overthrow of the US government or was “treasonous” or “seditious.”

The regents of the State University of New York required teachers and employees to sign an oath that they were not members of the Communist Party. Those faculty and staff who refused to sign the oath were fired. In 1952 the New York City Board of Education dismissed a public school teacher because of his previous “connection” to the CPUSA.

Reaching levels of absurdity, those applying for licenses to fish in New York reservoirs had to sign loyalty oaths.

During the same period, in 1950, thirty-one professors, after refusing to sign a loyalty oath, were dismissed from the University of California. Not long thereafter, the Los Angeles City Council enacted anti-Communist ordinances that required local Communists to register with the Police Department and prohibited any Communist or “Muscovite model of police-state dictatorship” from owning a firearm. In Birmingham, Alabama and Jacksonville, Florida, Communists were banned from being within the city limits.

Like blind oaths, proper patriotism knows neither bounds nor modesty, whether in government or out, as private agencies and groups willingly volunteered during this time to ensure the proper decorum of speech and association.

At its height McCarthyism was supported by a variety of private groups, including, predictably, the American Legion and a number of women’s organizations such as the American Public Relations Forum and the Minute Women of the U.S.A. Both were fiercely anti-communist with thousands of their membership organized into study groups and letter-writing networks that worked to identify and stamp out perceived subversion.

Private loyalty review boards and anti-communist investigators found bountiful work in industries anxious to ensure their employees had the appropriate beliefs. For a fee, these teams would investigate employees and question them about their political identity and affiliations at informal hearings where their attendance was mandated… but their right to counsel disavowed.

By 1958, it was estimated that roughly one out of every five employees in the United States was required to pass some sort of loyalty review which was often cross referenced against a private nationwide data bank.

This collection of personal information contained detailed referenced lists of leftist organizations, publications, rallies and charities along with a registry of those known or suspected to be Communists. Books and newsletters, such as Red Channels , Counterattack and Confidential Information were published by private organizations to monitor and share the identity of Communist and leftist organizations and individuals.

Not to be outdone by private patriots, in the vanguard of our national defense against the Communist menace stood, of course, the Department of Justice which started maintaining a list of “subversives” as early as 1942. Made public in 1948, when it included 78 groups, the list grew to include some 154 organizations… 110 of them identified as Communist.

FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, was the architect of President Truman’s loyalty security program with its background investigations of employees carried out by his agents. As a result of these investigations, thousands of government workers lost their jobs without the benefit of any due process whatsoever. Most targets of loyalty security reviews were not allowed to cross-examine or even know the identities of their accusers. Often, they were fired without learning of what they had been accused.

Although the results of Hoover’s loyalty screening program were to be maintained as strictly confidential, “evidence” developed through the investigations (reliable or otherwise) was routinely shared with other government and private entities.

For example, information was provided to Congressional committees such as HUAC. So, too, from 1951-1955 the FBI operated a secret “Responsibilities Program” that distributed anonymous, unreliable documents to state governors and civic leaders pertaining to alleged communist “affiliations” by teachers, lawyers, and other professionals. Many of the accused were promptly fired without any notice of consequence or other fundamental due process.

Never known to be uncomfortable with skirting the very laws they were sworn to uphold, during this frenzied period of subversive hunt the FBI engaged in a wide range of illegal practices as it tried to build so-called loyalty cases against Communists or sympathizers. Indeed, agents routinely undertook warrantless searches, burglaries, illegal wiretaps and opened mail.

The National Lawyers Guild, then at the forefront of the defense of many Communist-related cases, was a favorite target of the FBI with its offices burgled by agents at least fourteen times between 1947 and 1951 as they sought to uncover legal strategies of NLG defense attorneys.

On other occasions, the FBI used illegal undercover operations to disrupt Communist and other dissident political groups, meetings and speak outs. In 1956, this strategy led directly to Hoover formalizing a covert “dirty tricks” program under the name COINTELPRO… short for Counterintelligence Program.

Initially designed to disrupt the activities of the Communist Party of the United States, in short order, and over the following 15 years, it went on to target all major domestic civil rights organizations… with a particular focus on such groups as the Black Panther Party, the Latino organization… Young Lords, the American Indian Movement (AIM), Students for a Democratic Society, and the Socialist Workers Party.

In Hoover’s own words, a now declassified 1967 document set forth the willful criminal use of COINTELPRO:

. . . to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of black nationalist, hate-type organizations and groupings, their leadership, spokesmen, membership, and supporters”

The government goal to disrupt and destroy these movements was accomplished through a wide range of largely lawless activity. It included planting forged documents, smear campaigns and blackmail, leaking information to the press, unleashing IRS audits, physical harassment and intimidation.

COINTELPRO resulted in various show trials designed to tie up activists, their lawyers and resources… usually ending in acquittals and, often, with those charged spending many months in jail awaiting trial.

Numerous targeted activists were sent to prison on the basis of fabricated evidence and testimony from paid government informants. Others were murdered… in particular, members of the Black Panther Party including Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.

Though formally “disbanded” when exposed in 1971, COINTELPRO tactics remained very much the hallmark of the FBI attack on AIM. Virtually every known AIM leader , since the organization’s emergence in 1968,was incarcerated… some time and time again.

In 1973, during the 71 day siege at Wounded Knee, the FBI fired over 250,000 rounds of ammunition into the Tribal Reserve… killing two Natives whose deaths were never investigated.

After the standoff ended, the FBI caused 542 separate charges to be filed against those identified as key AIM leaders. This resulted in only 15 convictions, all on petty offenses. As with the persecution of the Black Panther Party, AIM members often languished in jail for months on end unable to raise bail.

HUAC

Of all the high profile Congressional loyalty programs, the one most active was the House Un-American Activities Committee which initiated a televised effort, it professed, to identify and eradicate Communist subversion in the United States.

Although HUAC also targeted educators, union activists and State Department “liberals”, it achieved its greatest notoriety through its harassment, indeed purge, of the Hollywood film industry.

In October 1947, the Committee began to subpoena screenwriters, directors, and other film industry members to testify about their known, or suspected, membership, or association, with the Communist Party and/or any support of its beliefs.

It was at these appearances that what came to be known as “the $64,000 question” was routinely asked: “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party of the United States?”

Among the first movie industry witnesses who appeared before the Committee were ten who decided not to cooperate with its investigation. Known as the “Hollywood Ten“, these men cited the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech and assembly which they believed provided them ample protection from being required to answer the Committee’s questions. Falling on deaf ears, this defense proved to be, at the time, but an abstract constitutional shibboleth… as the ten were ultimately sentenced to prison for contempt of Congress. Two of the ten were sentenced to six months, the rest to a year.

The day after the House of Representatives approved citations of contempt for the Hollywood Ten, the President of the Motion Picture Association of America issued a press release on behalf of all of the major studios. Known simply as the Waldorf Statement, with patriotic flare, it announced the Hollywood Ten had been fired and would not work again until they renounced Communism. In relevant part, the release went on to proclaim that “We will not knowingly employ a Communist or a member of any party or group which advocates the overthrow of the government of the United States.”

This was to unleash the decade-long artistic purge known simply as the Hollywood Blacklist. Though hundreds would be denied employment, with many forced to find work outside their chosen field or under pseudonyms or abroad, the studios, producers and other employers denied the existence of any such blacklist.

Not satisfied with the damage already done by their televised political inquisition, HUAC continued to subpoena additional witnesses connected to the entertainment industry and government agencies.

Although many of the next generation of witnesses successfully invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination before the Committee, and were thus safely beyond the reach of its questions, it was not without adverse consequence.

Now known as “Fifth Amendment Communists”, a soubriquet coined by Senator Joseph McCarthy, this particular constitutional protection proved too little too late, when it came to careers, as its invocation was deemed grounds for dismissal by various government and private industry employers.

Indeed, in the film industry alone it is estimated that more than 300 actors, authors and directors were denied work in the U.S. because of “questionable” political beliefs or associations.

During this period, blacklists were by no means limited to the entertainment industry alone. For example, it is estimated that nearly 3000 seaman and longshoremen lost their jobs, not long after the start of the Korean War, due to a loyalty review program initiated by the Coast Guard.

Under this program, long employed workers were summarily fired on the basis of accusations which, all at once, challenged their patriotism yet kept secret the identity of their accusers and the nature of any accusations lodged against them.

Within the trade union movement, as a whole, the government moved with swift pace to control the political tone of its membership. Thus under the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 all union officials were required to sign an affidavit affirming they didn’t belong to, or sympathize with, any communist or subversive organization.

Unions, with officials who refused to sign the affidavit, were denied any government protection through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Unions that failed to sign the affidavits could not participate in NLRB elections or challenge unfair labor practices directly to the NLRB.

Enter Senator McCarthy

Senator Joseph McCarthy spent almost five years trying, without success, to expose alleged Communists and other left-wing “loyalty risks” both in the U.S. government and out. In the hyper-charged atmosphere of the Cold War, McCarthy’s witch hunt, fueled by sweeping claims of disloyalty, was enough to convince many Americans that their government was overrun with traitors and spies.

Given the times, and McCarthy’s bluster, his accusations, alone, were so menacing, and strangely credible, that few “ordinary” Americans dared to challenge, or to look beyond, his simplistic patriotic screed. Others of political prominence or office feared, as well, to challenge his shrill bombast lest their own loyalty become suspect.

As noted by a Gallop poll in 1954, at the height of his popularity a majority of Americans supported McCarthy even as he blindly railed against long accomplished institutions and individuals on the basis of little more than explosive rhetoric and unsubstantiated accusations. Indeed, at the time Earl Warren, then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, opined that if the Bill of Rights was put to a vote it likely would have lost. It seems history does, in fact, repeat itself.

From 1953 to 1954, McCarthy headed the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations which he used to its full tyrannical potential for a number of his “Red Scare” investigations that ultimately proved to be a complete waste of time and expense. During these hearings, witnesses were badgered… and lives destroyed … by explosive accusations of Communist subversion that proved to be groundless.

At first, the McCarthy inquisition raised allegations of pervasive Communist influence in the staffing and content of Voice of America. It failed.

Next, he moved on to the overseas library program of the State Department. Demanding its card catalogues, McCarthy vetted them for publications he considered to be subversive. Reciting the list of authors, and their books, which he deemed to be “un-American” before his Committee and the press, the State Department and many libraries in the US were cowered into removing the books from circulation.

It is estimated that some three hundred books were removed from library shelves… with some being burned. They included Robin Hood, Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience and John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. In Providence, Rhode Island, the post office barred Lenin’s State and Revolution from being delivered to Brown University.

McCarthy’s committee then began an investigation into the United States Army with televised hearings watched by 20 million people. Beginning with the Army Signal Corps laboratory at Fort Monmouth, McCarthy once again made headlines through wild baseless claims of a spy ring among the Army researchers at the base.

One line of examination by McCarthy into Stanley Berinsky, a civilian worker for the Signal Corps at Fort Monmouth, about the political affiliations of his mother (Refer to Part XXI) speaks volumes about the Red Scare of the day. “Did you ever ask her if she was a communist? …When you went to see her, weren’t you curious?”

Needless to say, nothing came of this particular investigation, either.

Next, McCarthy took on an Army dentist who had been promoted to the rank of major despite his refusal to answer questions on a loyalty review form.

During this inquest, McCarthy levied various public insults at a brigadier general which led to the Army-McCarthy hearings… with the two trading charges and counter-charges for more than a month before a national television audience seemingly fixated on the proceedings.

Following this public exposure, McCarthy’s popularity dropped precipitously. Not long thereafter he was censured by the Senate and his calling as the country’s leading red-baiter ended.

It is difficult to estimate the number of victims of McCarthy, or the era from which he sprang, and which he subsequently came to personify. McCarthy sought to promote himself as the guardian of social morality… as the embodiment of certain rigid values and traditions which he, and others of the day, falsely found to reflect uniformity of belief and purpose.

While America, as a whole, was assaulted by the poisoned pledge that McCarthyism promoted, tens of thousands of its citizens felt the immediate injury of his political cleanse through the loss of jobs, opportunity and hope. Millions were formally investigated. Thousands lost their liberty or reputation. Many fled the United States to find freedom abroad no longer available to them at home. Still, others took their own lives from the desperation fed by the narrow and hateful voice of a man who would stop at nothing to promote his narrow agenda.

We are a people that generally applaud success and recognize accomplishment. In that light, some of the notable persons who were blacklisted or suffered other persecution during McCarthyism, and which follows, provides a dramatic view of just how damning and far its reach existed in the United States:

The decade plus run of McCarthyism was not simply about red baiting or a drive to demand political purity or obedience whether in the workplace or the world of electoral politics, academia or entertainment.

At its core, McCarthyism demanded rigid uniformity in sexual identity and expression… and unleashed cold war attacks upon race and those who deviated from religious faith. It was also noted for sweeping conspiracy theories.

Not far from the shadow of World War II, social conformity became very much the rallying cry, across the country, in a staged shriek against communism.

No longer needed for the war industry, women were dropped from the work force and told to go home and become obedient housewives. African American soldiers who fought in largely segregated units, and who survived, returned home to the pain and punishment of “separate but unequal”. Meanwhile, American religion was fixated on what McCarthy called an “all-out battle between communistic atheism and Christianity.”

While examples of each drive for cultural uniformity abound, several sum up the place and time that was America during its full-time chase for subversives.

Thus, while Jim Crow was at its zenith, African American civil rights organizations and activists were targeted for their alleged connection to communists who had long supported their struggle for equal rights.

Because of little more than his work in the civil rights movement, famed international actor and artist, Paul Robeson’s passport was seized by the Government… eliminating his ability to travel and earn a living.

Never one to be slowed or intimidated by government restriction, Robeson would speak to the roar of enormous rallies in Harlem and then move on to the next demonstration… despite ever-present FBI surveillance as it tried to build a subversion case against him.

In 1951, W. E. B. Du Bois, then 83 years of age (and a founder of the NAACP) was tried in federal court as a Soviet agent for little more than exercising his First Amendment rights through circulating a petition protesting nuclear weapons.

Branded “un-American”, the government argued Du Bois’ long relationship with the CPUSA ,during his civil rights work, had led him to protest in order to advance American pacifism at a time when Soviet aggression was on the march.

Acquitted by a federal judge because prosecutors failed to present any evidence, nevertheless, the trial and attendant publicity ruined his career.

The following year, not satisfied with leaving Du Bois penniless, the State Department illegally revoked his passport to prevent his travel to a peace conference in Canada… and to thwart his move to a country where he was not blacklisted.

At the same time that Black activists were being harassed and imprisoned, cold war “warriors” routinely spoke of the core disconnect between “godless communism” and “god-fearing Americanism”.

Religious conservatives such as Baptist Minister, Billy Graham, exalted the idea of traditional god-fearing families as a bulwark against atheistic totalitarianism. In 1950, he preached that communism aimed to “destroy the American home and cause… moral deterioration.”

At times, the anti-internationalist aspect of red scare rhetoric and literature took on a rabid anti-Jewish tone because of the role that many Jews had played in both the Russian revolution and establishment of the Communist Party.

On the Senate floor, Senator J.W. Fulbright of Arkansas, the long-term Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee who supported multilateralism and opposed McCarthyism and HUAC, read from a letter he had received from the president of the Chemical Attraction Oil Corporation of Texas:

When you joined the only Jew to vote against 76 Senators that proved you were the henchman of the Jew Deal. H. H. Lehman should be deported out of this nation to Russia, or let Germany take that ‘bird’ in and give him the gas, like Hitler did, as per my opinion of his record.”

The red scare produced more than a few sweeping conspiracies. For example, some in the McCarthy camp attacked the public health services particularly in the areas of vaccination, mental health and fluoridation as communist plots to poison or brainwash the American people.

The “lavender scare” drove cold war attacks on “homosexuality” with a hunt for “sexual perverts” who were presumed to be subversive by nature and, thus, a threat to state security.(Gary Kinsman and Patrizia Gentile. The Canadian War on Queers: National Security as Sexual Regulation. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010, p. 65).

Having heard the State Department was employing gay staff members, and never one to miss an opportunity to manipulate American fears, McCarthy was the prime mover in the establishment of an FBI surveillance program intended to identify gay and lesbian government employees. (John D’Emilio and Estelle B. Freedman. Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America, 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012, p. 316). As a result, thousands lost their employment in the name of protecting “national security.”

One tragedy, in particular, sums up the convergence of cold war homophobia and its exploitation by the political thirst of Joe McCarthy… which knew no bounds.

In 1954, a sitting Democratic Senator was found dead inside his Senate office. A year earlier, his son had been arrested and convicted of soliciting sex with a male undercover police officer. Looking to pick up a Senate seat for the Republican Party, McCarthy threatened to expose the event as a scandal, in the Senator’s campaign, if he did not withdraw his bid for re-election. Two weeks later, Senator Lester Hunt of Wyoming committed suicide.

Fast Forward… 2017

It’s McCarthyism”… Nonsense.

I’ve known victims of McCarthyism; real life artists, activists, lawyers, educators, writers, union organizers and street corner screamers. Women and men of diverse race, faith, political belief and sexual identity who took seriously their commitment to their own unique voices, visions and skills. These were people of great courage and principle… of loud and soft presence… who sacrificed much as they fought to make a difference in a world they struggled to leave better than that which they had inherited.

It’s very difficult to read the history of McCarthyism, even an abbreviated version, without feeling some sense of the direct, immediate pain and punishment an entire nation was subjected to in one of the most politically charged, indeed explosive, periods in US history.

Whether it was the hundreds that went to prison, the tens of thousands that lost their livelihood, the millions investigated, a nation cowered to silence, or those who preferred death to the fear of tomorrow, McCarthyism was not an abstract debate. It was a nightmare… a real, seemingly timeless, repeat that passed victims from inquisition to inquisition with no relief in sight.

The red scare was much more than an intangible political thought about the course of the future. It was not an evening’s amusement for those who race to hear stories that cheer on their particular hero of the day or demonize an expedient foe. Nor was it virtual information fodder for activists of the moment to fill their blog page with artisan passage of the next day.

No, the witch hunt that was McCarthy ripped a real, immediate, and deep hole in the liberty and light that dared to entice people to express themselves and to do so in ways that were personal and, at times, provocative.

The women and men who paid the price for their associations and expressions were much more than interesting passing footnotes to a now silenced historical sideshow.

Yet, today, for some, their sacrifice has been reduced to an opportune shroud to provide cover for what a narrow group did or did not do during this past election and in the years to its run-up.

For months, now, we’ve heard simple chants of “McCarthy” as partisans have apparently grown fatigued… others, perhaps, scared of what a search for truth may or may not reveal.

I’ve spent more than three decades shredding or putting together cases, criminal and civil, in state, federal and international courtrooms…often high profile, complex litigation. More than a few were matters handled in quiet and well beyond the reach of the public eye. The search for truth is not a quick-speak or a head-note to be embraced, or not, by simple majority vote or process.

I have no idea what an intensive and widespread investigation will, or will not, ultimately reveal about what a small group of individuals, perhaps entities, did or did not do in their chase to obtain more and more personal wealth or political power.

But to hear a necessary search to hold accountable those that may have done so, politicized by passion and silenced by secret, is to craft a double standard of law that send millions of poor, political and powerless to prison while providing a free passageway to those that have usurped their collective rights.

It’s McCarthyism”… Nonsense.

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View from the Outside/The Danger of a Single Media Voice

{This is the original version of edited piece published as The Danger of a Single Media Voice in Al Jazeera July 4, 2017}

View from the Outside

Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple, who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free open encounter?”

—John Milton,Areopagitica: A Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing

The march from fake news to no news is as straight and unbroken as the runway from Washington D.C. to Riyadh.

Tyranny knows no truth… just unbridled power and a drive to extinguish it whether by mob appeal or the slam of a prison gate. Today, we are witness to a unity of drive and purpose, in both West and East, where full scale attacks on debate and dissent have become very much the norm… with news outlets shuttered, journalists jailed and thinkers shamed.

Whether it is the most recent royal family in Washington, the perpetual caste in KSA or the wannabe one in Cairo, diversity of thought, identity and purpose is under siege in ways not seen since Galileo dared to suggest that a central tenet of Christian cosmology… the Earth lies at the center of the universe… was factually untrue. Charged with heresy, Galileo was forced to recount and abjure.

Today, in many places, the channel of peeling truth from cosmetic reality has moved well beyond the mere papal process of 16th century Europe to the full-on embrace of singularity of thought… be it coerced by force, banishment or closure.

Nowhere is this more painfully evident than it is, today, in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) where a coalition of states, along with an assist from the African state of Egypt, have challenged Qatar’s independence by a subterfuge checklist that, in reality, boils down to their fear of Al-Jazeera and what it represents.

Since its genesis, Al-Jazeera has served as much more than a mere signpost of speech or thought… popular or otherwise. Its existence, alone, stands as a safety valve against those closed societies that embrace repression as so much a check against the light of day of which they fear.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has no autonomous media, nor does it endure political parties, unions or human rights groups. The government treats online journalists, writing for state approved news outlets, the same as it does print and broadcast journalists… subjecting them to exacting regulation and content based intimidation.

The internet, alone, is the sole means, within KSA, by which a relatively robust exchange of information, from within and without the state, can circulate. However, its closely monitored “citizen-journalists” are subject to strict filtering mechanisms that scrutinize and, often, block their internet content.

Indeed, authorities regularly monitor websites, blogs and chat rooms, as well as the content of e-mail and mobile-phone text messages.

Sites that contain “harmful”, illegal, anti-Islamic, or offensive material are blocked… as are those that carry criticism of Saudi Arabia, the royal family, or the other Gulf States.

So, too, sites that call for political reform or are critical of the current political and social landscape are blocked, as are human rights websites (“Country Profile: Saudi Arabia” August 6, 2009) making the country one of the worlds most repressive with respect to freedom of expression whether online or in print.

For those whose print and internet communications, or blogs, cross the rigid and narrow divide of government criticism, they run the risk of swift state reprisal… often arrest and detainment, without specific charges, for critical or controversial remarks. Others have been accused of blasphemy, inciting chaos and defaming the king and state which can bring punishments that can run into years of imprisonment and, at times, include flogging.

Several cases speak volumes about a Saudi state that, very much the norm, seeks to silence dialogue with ruthless punishment meted out against those who dare to dissent,.

For example, Raif Badawi was arrested in 2012 on a charge of “insulting Islam through electronic channels.” Subsequently he was prosecuted for apostasy and criticizing the regime on his blog… which included material critical of “senior religious figures” and suggested that Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University had become “a den for terrorists.

For pure speech, and nothing else, Badawi was convicted on several charges, in 2013, and sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes. In 2014 his sentence was increased to 10 years in prison, 1000 lashes, and a fine. The first 50 lashes were administered on January 9, 2015 with the remainder postponed more than a dozen times since.

Following his arrest, Amnesty International designated Badawi a prisoner of conscience, “detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.” Human Rights Watch has noted: “The charges against him, based solely to Badawi’s involvement in setting up a website for peaceful discussion about religion and religious figures, violate his right to freedom of expression”.[2]

Meanwhile, Badawi’s attorney, and prominent human rights activist, Waleed Abu al-Khair, continues to serve a 15 year sentence on charges imposed on him in 2014 stemming solely from his criticism, in media interviews and in social media, of human rights abuses in KSA. Among other things, Waleed was found guilty by a security and counter-terror court of:

Disobeying the ruler and seeking to remove his legitimacy

Insulting the judiciary and questioning the integrity of judges

Setting up an unlicensed organization

Harming the reputation of the state by communicating with international organisations

Preparing, storing, and sending information that harms public order.

In March of 2016, Saudi Arabia sentenced journalist, Alaa Brinji, to five years in prison plus an eight year travel ban for tweets in which he criticized religious authorities and voiced support for the right of women to drive and for jailed human rights activists.

KSA is ranked 168th out of 180 countries in Reporters without Borders (RSF) 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

Bahrain

Bahrain, an island Kingdom located off of the eastern coastline of Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf, is no more respectful of speech and press freedoms It was listed 164th in the most recent RSF world rankings. It sees independent and vigorous journalism as an ever-present danger to its ability to control the state’s domestic narrative and maintain its political power.

Infamous for jailing large numbers of journalists… in particular photographers and cameramen… Bahrain has a recent history of targeting political dissidents, as well. Their crimes are typically little more than the will to challenge blanket restrictions upon assembly and prohibited speech.

Journalists and dissidents convicted of charges that include unlawful demonstrations and supporting “terrorism” typically receive long sentences. Often mistreated in detention, many have been imprisoned for life. Others have been sentenced to death.

Scant weeks ago, a raid by Bahrain security forces, against an opposition stronghold, left five people dead and hundreds detained. Recently, a court sentenced two young anti-regime protesters to death. Two others were imprisoned for life while sentences of 3 to 10 years were imposed upon an additional eight. Nine of the pro-democracy activists saw the sentencing court revoke their nationality.

Just this past month, Al-Wasat, the island’s sole independent newspaper, was closed in yet another government effort to target the free flow of information among its population of a bit more than one-million.

Describing it as a temporary suspension “until further notice”, the government accused this highly respected newspaper of “dissemination of information that affects national unity and the kingdom’s relationship with other countries.”

Egypt

When it comes to state repression of media freedom, Egypt stands alone, As we say in the law, it’s “sui generis”… one of a kind.

Since the revolution of 2011, and the subsequent military coup of 2013, more than a dozen journalists have been killed. None have been the subject of proper and thorough investigation. No one has been held accountable. Countless others have been injured, many tortured, by security officials after having been swept up for little more than covering demonstrations.

Although precise figures are difficult to obtain, it has been estimated by various human rights groups, including the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), that, today, hundreds of journalists, bloggers and social media activists are entombed in maximum security prisons throughout Egypt. Many will spend years in detention… uncharged and untried. Others face long jail terms, including life sentences, in political witch hunts targeting those seen as enemies of the state… often subjected to mass trials, by the hundreds, and denied even a modicum of due process. In 2015 alone some 600 activists were sentenced to death in show trials of pro-democracy activists.

Under a terrorism law adopted in August 2015, journalists are obliged, on national security grounds, to report only the official version of “terrorist” attacks. Failure to do so renders the offender subject to a variety of punishments ranging from a loss of government license to fines and imprisonment.

In the summer of 2015, three privately owned newspapers were prevented from printing, or placing into circulation, articles that were critical of the Egyptian President.

Earlier this year, the government banned circulation of an edition of an Egyptian weekly newspaper after it was set to distribute an image, on its cover, of famed ex-football player Mohamed Aboutrika and his mother. Designated a “terrorist” for his support of the presidential bid of the Muslim Brotherhood‘s Mohamed Morsi in 2012, today, Aboutrika lives in Qatar where he works as a sports analyst.

Recently, Egyptian authorities suspended two issues of a privately owned newspaper… only one day after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared a three-month state of emergency … when it published a front-page editorial blaming the interior ministry for the Palm Sunday church bombings,

In December of 2016, Egypt’s president ratified a new law regulating media outlets which extended his control over them. The new law creates three regulatory bodies… two to oversee state-owned press and media organizations and a Higher Council for Media Regulation to “regulate”all of Egypt’s media outlets… whether public or private. This supreme council will have the authority to fine, or suspend, publications and broadcasters, and to provide, or revoke, foreign media permits.

To understand the full nature and extent in Egypt, these days, of the government’s effort to control what is reported, and how, one need only take a glimpse of who has been targeted, and for what, since the military coup that brought al-Sisi to power.

In 2016, the head of Egypt’s Journalists’ Union and two board members stood trial in Cairo… charged largely with spreading “false news.” Arriving at court, Union head Yahya Qalash, and supporters, described the proceedings as a government effort to silence critics and “muzzle the media.” After a seven month trial, the three were convicted of harboring two journalists, who wrote for a website critical of the government, sentenced to two years in prison and fined $650.00 each.

Other prominent journalists have been swept up by security officials in what has been described as little more than a government effort to create a “state of fear.” According to CPJ, photojournalist Mahmoud Abou-Zeid, known as “Shawkan”, has been imprisoned since 2013, along with 700 others, for covering the dispersal of a pro-Muslim Brotherhood sit-in. Recipient of the CPJ International Press Freedom Awards in 2016, “Shawkan” remains imprisoned, despite deteriorating health, with as yet no trial because of the sheer number of those charged alongside him.

Others, on a CPJ list of untried or imprisoned Egyptian journalists, include Mahmoud Abdel Naby, a correspondent for Rassd News Network (an alternative media network based in Cairo), who has been detained since 2013. Also arrested, in 2013, were RASSD executive director, Abdullah Al-Fakharany, co-founder, Samhy Mostafa and Amgad TV presenter Mohamed al-Adly.

According to CPJ, the trio was charged with “spreading chaos and forming an operations room to direct the Muslim Brotherhood to defy the government during the dispersal of the sit-in at Rabaa Al-Adaweya.

Among others, CPJ has also adopted as human rights case the matters of Abdallah Shousha from Amgad TV, arrested in September 2013, Omar Abdel Maqsoud, from Misr al-Arabia and freelance journalist Hassan El-Kabbani, also detained without trial since January 2015.

Others held, and unconvicted, include freelance journalist Ismail Alexandrani, Sabry Anwar from El Badil, Hisham Gaafar, director of the Mada Foundation for Media Development, Mohamed El-Battawy from Akhbar Al-Youm, and Abdelrahman Abdelsalam Yaqot from the Karmoz website.

Likewise CPJ points to the politically motivated detention of the well-known human rights activist and blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah, who is serving a five-year prison term based upon protest charges alone.

Egypt is ranked 161 out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

The GCC Attack on Al-Jazeera

According to the Egyptian human rights group, the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, and news reports between May24 and June 12, 2017, state authorities blocked access to at least 64 websites… including dozens of alternative news sources. The number was considerably higher than the 21 sites security officials announced had been censored for “spreading lies” and “supporting terrorism.”

The information blackout came in the wake of similar moves by GCC members, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, which blocked access to websites, in their respective countries, run by the Qatari-funded network al-Jazeera.

Although the GCC claimed, at the time, that the block was necessitated by an alleged hack of Al-Jazeera and an ensuing fake news report, as it turns out, it proved to be the first information broadside in a coordinated effort to control an independent narrative available to several hundred million viewers in one of the most volatile regions of the world.

In the days to come, what began with a move to control website access quickly escalated to a complete break in diplomatic relations in which the GCC and Egypt demanded of Qatar that it close the international network, Al-Jazeera, and defund various other news sources including Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed, Middle East Eye, Arabi21 and Egypt’s Rassd News Agency.

Although other demands were made of Qatar, it is clear that a prime focus of GCC and Egypt, in the staged diplomatic crises, is a desire to once again limit access to independent news sources by the region’s restive populations.

Indeed, in the 1980’s and 1990’s, Saudi Arabia controlled almost all of the public dialogue through the purchase of most of the popular Arabic newspapers employing many of the region’s most respected journalists of the day. Although the government permitted some diversity of thought and expanded coverage of Arab and international issues, no critical discussion of Saudi Arabia and its royal family, direct or otherwise, was permitted.

To some degree, this standard was relaxed by virtue of a joint venture between the Saudi controlled Orbit Communications Company and BBC which introduced the Arabic language television station to the region. It proved, however, to be short-lived… closing less than two years later because of growing censorship demands, by the Saudi Government, which included refusal to permit the station to air prominent dissident viewpoints.

That was to soon change. In 1996 Al-Jazeera opened, staffed largely by those same dissenting voices that lost their jobs with the Saudi closure of the Arabic-language BBC news service. Though funded by the Qatari government, the new network was empowered, like no other, with broad editorial discretion.

From the beginning, Al-Jazeera was controversial… willingly broadcasting dissenting opinions on important issues, including from opposition figures silenced domestically in their own nations, at a level unheard of in the region.

Al-Jazeera’s availability throughout the Middle East changed its information landscape. Prior to Al-Jazeera, most in the Middle East were unable to watch TV channels other than those controlled by the state. Al-Jazeera introduced a level of freedom of speech, on TV, that was previously unheard of in many of these countries.

In just five years, Al-Jazeera became the most widely viewed Arab television station for news. Within ten years, three-quarters of Arabs identified it as their primary source of information.

Al-Jazeera became an instant counter-weapon to the tailored news of, in particular, Saudi and Egyptian controlled media. It presented controversial viewpoints regarding the governments of many Arab states on the Persian Gulf… including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and, even, Qatar. It also presented particularly contentious views about Egypt and its judiciary.

Predictably, from the beginning, there was a backlash against Al-Jazeera which manifested itself in a variety of ways… and only intensified with the passage of time. Thus, in May of 2002, Bahrain banned Al-Jazeera’s broadcasts from within it’s borders… due to the channel’s comments about Bahrain’s municipal elections… labeling it as “serving Zionism”. Saudi Arabia soon jumped on this row. Saudi Arabia had, reportedly, pressured advertisers to avoid the channel almost from the day it opened its doors.

Most contentious of all, however, was its coverage of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions during the Arab Spring. Criticized by some for its “pro-democracy” bent, Al-Jazeera was, all at once, greeted with tremendous support by people in the streets yet disparaged by autocratic states in the region which feared the reach of the democratic movement to their own capitals.

Of all the states in the region, none has been more arbitrary and punitive towards Al-Jazeera than Egypt… which has long targeted it in a wretched drive to maintain government control of information for this nation of ninety million having seen both a revolution and military coup in this decade, alone.

Indeed, Egypt’s recent decision to join member states of the GCC, in using Al-Jazeera as a convenient pretext, to divert attention from its own internal political repression and failure is by no means of recent vintage. Since the military coup of 2013, the regime of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has proven resilient, and arguably desperate, in looking elsewhere for crafting convenient foils in its own political and economic missteps.

To look toward Egypt, as a veritable primer in state repression of free speech and information, is a perverse understatement. Thus, not long after the coup, charges were filed against legendary Al-Jazeera television host, Ahmed Mansour, an Egyptian national, who was tried, in absentia, on allegations dating back to Tahrir Square in the final days of the successful 2011 revolution.

Tried in secret, in absentia, without notice, counsel, or an opportunity to be heard, and without any recognized judicial safeguards, Mr. Mansour’s persecution, like so many others in Egypt in this day and age… and before… are routinely rejected by the broader world community as so much a sham… a political vendetta lacking independence and trustworthiness.

Indeed, when Egypt sought Mansour’s extradition from Germany, to face a fifteen year sentence, Germany broke with well settled international law and refused to comply with the request… taking note that “Egypt’s judicial system is politically motivated.” Not long before, the African Union, of which Egypt is a member, concurred…, holding that the Egyptian judiciary is politically controlled and corrupt.

On other occasions the al-Sisi government has purposely targeted Al-Jazeera journalists. In 2013, ten employees of Al-Jazeera were accused of spreading “false news” while covering public demonstrations against the military coup that removed President Mohammed Morsi. Ultimately, of the ten, only three… Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste… were detained. Greste was held in prison for over a year, while Mohamed and Fahmy spent 437 days in detention before they were released.

This past December, Al-Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein, an Egyptian national, was arrested upon arrival at Cairo’s airport, on December 20, without charge. Not long thereafter, Egypt’s interior ministry accused Hussein of “disseminating false news and receiving monetary funds from foreign authorities in order to defame the state’s reputation”. Six months later he remains in custody.

In May, a Cairo court sentenced a former editor-in-chief of Al-Jazeera Arabic, Ibrahim Helal, to death, charging him, in absentia, with endangering national security.

We are all Al-Jazeera

Make no mistake about it, the demand that Al-Jazeera close its door, as so much the price of regional “peace”, is nothing short of a desperate autocratic drive to strip the human spirit of its thirst for knowledge and its innate right to grow. It will not happen.

For time immemorial, those in power… whether by force of arms, royal edicts or the shade of a ballot box too small to effect meaningful change… have sought to control the dialogue as a desperate effort to hang on to power that is not theirs to own. It will not happen.

The marketplace of ideas transcends time and place. It is a community that knows no wealth, authority or limits. It is a boundless souk that welcomes all… no matter race, religion or gender.

From the time of Plato to Avicenna to de Beauvoir to Marx, women and men of principle and courage have struggled in pursuit of truth. Many have paid the ultimate price, in their search for it, while others have fled it… sated with the fleeting comfort born of fame or fortune and little else.

Al-Jazeera is one voice of many. It competes with a crescendo of other information partisans who seek to influence today’s vision and tomorrow’s journey. This competition of ideas demands the freedom that is untempered speech… if it is to work, and work well.

At times, Al-Jazeera is surely right… at others, mistaken. Ultimately, it matters not. Al Jazeera is a much needed voice… and a welcome space for the freedom of voices in agreement and opposition.

Voices bring thought. Thought brings information. Information is knowledge. Knowledge is power.

Charlottesville Redux

{Originally published in Al Jazeera Oct 4, 2017}

Charlottesville Redux

I’ve spent a lifetime accustomed to an open marketplace of ideas; one where I can speak or shout out what I want, when I want, without the need of any government stamp of approval. At times, the content of my voice has surely irked more than a few but that’s the purpose, indeed, the precise intent of a robust open public dialogue.

On occasion, the echo of my voice has not at all ended with consensus but rather bruises… be they to my self-esteem, face or liberty. But that’s ok. Public heresy can and does, at times, carry an exacting price. It’s a cost of freedom.

The exchange of ideas is not intended to be soft, kind, or even welcome. To the contrary, left to its own device, it serves as an often controversial funnel for an informed body politic to draw its own conclusions about relevance and truth based not upon official state dogma but information and personal opinion… no matter how popular, or not, it may otherwise be.

For weeks now, I’ve watched the roar grow over recent events at Charlottesville, supplemented, since, by demonstrations in Boston, Berkeley and elsewhere. For those who seek to control the narrative or have failed to learn or have forgotten the hard taught and hard fought lessons of history, these demonstrations of faith have proved to be controversial beyond any uniform voice. That’s just fine. Those who see uniformity of tone as a healthy guide-post of liberty are damned to a perpetual, and narrow, field of vision.

When it comes to speech, I’m a purist… many would say an absolutist. It’s true. I want a choice on what to hear or see and, with that, the unimpeded opportunity to turn the page, change the channel or get up and leave the room. To do that, however, demands of opportunity the widest diversity of uninhibited ideas… the good, the bad, and the ugly from which to choose.

I welcome neo-Nazis, the Klan, and other white supremacists to the debate. They have an absolute right to march in lockstep and to air their ignorant and vile screed as they seek to enflame more with their powerless blank chant and stare. Ultimately, the market place of untempered ideas will put to rest the bluster and hatred that is their scurrilous, empty oath.

On the other hand, it is well settled under First Amendment jurisprudence that no one is guaranteed an unchecked or easy parade when their words swell to become action or incitement. Lest there be any doubt or debate over when the safety net of speech transcends the bounds of “legitimate”, or protected, expression and falls into the hinterland of unshielded action, that question was resolved long ago.

Thus, in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 (1942) and later in Brandenberg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969) the Supreme Court recognized the “fighting words” and “call to action” exceptions to the First Amendment.

In “Chaplinsky”, a riot broke out on a city street after citizens complained to police that Chaplinsky was handing out religious literature and “denouncing all religion as a ‘racket.’” Once the riot began, he screamed at a responding officer that he was “a God damned racketeer” and “a damned Fascist and the whole government of Rochester are Fascists or agents of Fascists.” Having been convicted of disturbing the peace, Chaplinsky’s First Amendment defense was rejected by the Supreme Court on the ground that his speech amounted to ‘fighting words’ and was, thus, unworthy of constitutional protection.

As noted by the Court, “fighting words” are words “which by their very utterance inflict injury and tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.” Such words are “so valueless and so harmful that government may prohibit them entirely without abridging the constitution.”

Later, in “Brandenburg v. Ohio”, the Supreme Court revisited the extent of constitutional protection when it comes to free speech and an unencumbered press. In what today remains very much controlling case law, the Court prohibited a State from forbidding or proscribing advocacy of the use of force or of violation of law except where such advocacy is directed to inciting imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.

In its unanimous decision, the “Brandenburg Court” set aside a Klu Klux Klan leader’s criminal conviction on the ground that his remarks were protected by the First Amendment. The leader had staged a rally for several television reporters where he made derogatory remarks against “blacks” and Jews suggesting that the government should return blacks to Africa and Jews to Israel.

Importantly, for First Amendment purposes, the speaker stated that if blacks and Jews did not leave, the Klan would take matters into their own hands to force their removal. Nevertheless, the Court ruled that the mere advocacy of violence did not forfeit First Amendment protection. Instead, it stated that speech lost such shelter only if, and when, it incited imminent lawless activity and was likely to produce it.

In need of a working definition of the “call to action exception” to First Amendment protection, fast forward to Charlottesville in the summer of 2017.

Little need be said, here, that is not already widely known about the weekend of hate and violence in Charlottesville where hundreds, perhaps many more, white supremacists converged upon a university town to exercise their fundamental free speech rights about race and religion. What began with an ominous torchlight parade of odium reminiscent of Nazi Germany in the 1930’s, filled with chants of “blood and soil”, quickly moved well beyond mere words or empty threats.

Indeed, not long after the demonstration began, dozens of “militia” members suddenly appeared dressed in camouflage and heavily armed with semi-automatic rifles and pistols. Against this backdrop, chants of “Jews will not replace us,” and screams of “go the fuck back to Africa”, “fuck you nigger” and “Dylann Roof was a hero” circulated throughout the crowd. Roof was the white supremacist who murdered nine African Americans in a church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015.

Not long thereafter, the horde of hate unleashed much more than a spew of offensive, even painful, words as racists clubbed African American bystanders and aimed weapons… with at least one discharged at counter demonstrators. Ultimately, one neo-Nazi drove his automobile into a group of protestors… killing one and injuring many others.

Against this light, there can be little debate that this rally of supremacist hatred and violence almost immediately lost constitutional protection such as that enjoyed by the Klan long before in the expansive but well supported reach of “Brandenburg” with its appreciation for mere words. Here, with predictable imminence, words soon gave way to the precise kind of lawless incitement that proved to be exactly what the First Amendment does not protect.

This is not to suggest that the neo-Nazis and the Klan did not have an absolute right to begin their stalk in the first stead, but rather recognition that protected speech is often but the starting point in a constitutional analysis that, like a demonstration, can prove to be fluid and certainly not without its bounds.

A Long History of Supremacist Hate

Let’s be clear… there is simply no comparative bearing between those who seek to perpetrate genocide and those who fight back against it by any means necessary.

The notion of a relative ring between the chant of those who target people of color, women, immigrants, refugees, the LGBTQ community, political dissidents, Muslims and Jews… for extermination… and those who confront such through militancy is but an all too convenient and removed call for self-righteous inaction.

Indeed, the excuse that a determined resistance will be manipulated to serve as a pretext for state repression is not just a palpable blinder to a dark historical reality, but very much furthers an empty contemporary misspeak.

In the United States, race, religion and class-directed hatred and violence is not an historical anomaly. Tragically, for many, it is who and what we are. From our earliest days, our Republican ideal has been stained by genocide, built through slavery, and extended by notions of supremacist greed and power. These noxious bell tones are not the texture of dishonest statues alone, but have weaved their way into an unbroken experience that has fed, and continues to feed, upon the most vulnerable among us.

After all de jure slavery may be long gone but its badges and incidents continue on today recast in an ever present stark reality of economic, political and prison servitude. And while “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” may still shine brightly high above the harbor of New York City, from coast to coast can be heard a very different and growing dark refrain which seeks to indict the next generation of now unwelcome immigrants for the sins of many of our earlier.

One need not walk too far down the pathway of history to see the disfigured body of 14-year-old African American, Emmett Till, murdered for the temerity of “flirting” with a white woman. His was an execution different only in means from almost 5,000 other documented lynching’s that occurred in the United States from 1882-1968 and which targeted mostly black women and men… although many whites suffered the same fate for helping African Americans or being anti-lynching.

Not to be undone by more recent historical events, in the old West Native Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans were routinely victimized by the same extrajudicial “tree of justice”.

This was not the hallmark of merely a passing unsophisticated time and place but rather evidence of a dodgy culture that has exalted the reflection of its own narrow mirror image against the diversity that many have long struggled to become and maintain. Nor is its reach, by any means, relegated solely to earlier, simpler times when mob rule typically overpowered an uncertain, and as yet evolving, people and political class.

To the contrary, while the United States today sits as the worlds most powerful and “developed” sovereign, many in its nativist chorus still find great value, indeed, perverse comfort, through hatred and violence that no longer even bothers to seek safety through the cover of a sheet or the shadow of a darkened tree line.

It remains very much a question as to what motivated yesterday’s mass murder in Las Vegas where a madman mowed down hundreds of strangers… innocent victims guilty of no wrongdoing other than the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Yet, it says much of a Country where mindless hatred has been overwhelmed by the deadly tenor and tone of a time where racial and religious odium has been exploited by political and supremacist rhetoric alike.

To be sure, recent US history speaks volumes about just how unhinged and dangerous far right supremacists among us have become in their pursuit of a land that is not theirs to claim or a collective destiny not theirs to direct.

In that light, the list of hate motivated mayhem seems to run almost as predictable and steady as each passing month.

Thus, in April of 2014, Frazier Glenn Cross, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, opened fire on two Jewish sites in a Kansas City suburb on Passover eve, killing a doctor and his 14-year-old grandson and a third woman. He shouted “Heil Hitler” as he was taken into custody.

Two months later, Jerad and Amanda Miller, a couple who shared their extreme anti-government positions through videos posted online, shot and killed two Las Vegas police officers, and later a civilian. They spent time on Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s property during his standoff with the federal government.

In November of 2014 Larry Steve McQuilliams fired more than 100 rounds at government buildings in downtown Austin, including a police station, a Mexican consulate, a federal courthouse, and a bank. He tried to set the consulate on fire before he was shot dead by police. Recovered later from his van were homemade bombs, a map containing 34 targets, and a white supremacist book called “Vigilantes of Christendom.”

In July of 2105 John Russell Houser opened fire at a movie theatre killing two women, ages 21 and 33, and injured nine others before committing suicide. Houser espoused extremist right-wing views and was an ardent anti-feminist.

Several months later, four men wearing ski masks attacked Black Lives Matter protesters during a demonstration, wounding five. The four reportedly met online in forums frequented by those with racist and anti-government views and exchanged text messages which discussed shooting black people and photos of one man that showed him posing with confederate symbols.

Not long thereafter Robert Louis Dear, a 57-year-old attacked a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. Armed with four assault rifles and other weapons, he killed three people and injured nine others. Later, he told investigators he hoped he would be met in heaven “…by aborted fetuses thanking him for saving unborn babies.” Dear also described members of the “Army of God,” a group of anti-abortion extremists behind other attacks on abortion clinics, as “heroes.”

In October of 2016, three men belonging to a group called “The Crusaders,” an anti-immigrant, anti-government militia, were charged with conspiring to bomb a Somali immigrant building complex in Kansas. The men, who stockpiled firearms and explosives, repeatedly referred to the Somalis as “cockroaches”.

These are but a few of the more glaring recent instances of crimes carried out against persons or institutions motivated by hate. Under the Hate Crime Statistics Act, such crimes are those “…that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, gender and gender identity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.”

According to a recent Department of Justice study, more than 250,000 Americans over the age of 12 are victimized every year by hate crimes. Of significance, the study found that, in recent years, only about one in three hate crimes are ever reported to law enforcement.

While many of these offenses are carried out by individuals, according to the Southern Poverty Law center, an Alabama based group well-known for its tracking of hate crimes, the number of hate groups in the United States rose to 917 in 2016. The most dramatic increase was in the number of anti-Muslim hate groups, which jumped some three hundred per cent to 101 from 34 in 2015.

Among the most dangerous and active of all hate groups are those committed to violent right-wing terrorism motivated by various ideologies and affiliations such as those recently on display at Charlottesville. They include anti-communists, neo-fascists, neo-Nazis, the Klan and those opposed to abortion.

Since 2001, the number of violent attacks by such groups, in the U.S., has surged to an average of more than 300 a year according to a study by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

Enter Donald Trump

Above all else, the campaign of Donald Trump was one that sought to exploit and stoke the supremacist and nationalist flames of right-wing “populists” who rarely before had felt at ease with a public display of odium that has stretched across the country from rural hamlets to major urban settings.

However, with Trump and his appeal to an ethnocentric supremacist base, we saw the introduction of extremist ideology into the mainstream of our political process.

Predictably, his platform, rhetoric and policies have created a political climate in which hate crimes have flourished.

Indeed, campaign attacks, month after month, on Muslims, immigrants, inner city residents, refugees, the media… and race based protectionist policies, along with a demand for a wall to protect us from “rapists”, created a political climate that has served as an incubator for an aggressive public display of nationalist supremacy not before seen in contemporary politics.

Beginning with an upsurge that started with the presidential campaign and has continued unabated to date, hate crimes, including attacks against African Americans, American Muslims and Jews, have soared… especially in major US cities long viewed by fascist forces, in and out of government, as the home of a “cosmopolitan elite” and “fake news”. Sound familiar?

Since Trump’s election, news outlets and social media accounts have swelled with reports of swastikas at schools, racist taunts, public bullying and other hate-fueled attacks and acts of intimidation. These supremacist fueled attacks have been borne out by the Southern Poverty law Center which has documented 63 publicly reported incidents from January to July 2017, where mosques were targets of threats, vandalism or arson. In addition, it has documented well over a thousand reported incidents of race, religious, or political motivated harassment or intimidation in the immediate period following the presidential election.

As recent events in Charlottesville have shown, the unleashing of supremacist violence has now become very much the norm in a time where, and when, the President sees exploitation of fear and ignorance, among his nationalist base, as a necessary step to safeguard not just his political agenda but his very presidency.

Led by an explosive misfit who sees truth as detriment and care as cause for concern, today, throughout this country, disaffected, disenfranchised, indeed, lost women and men find hope, if not temporary reprieve, in the pain of others. It speaks volumes, not just about who we have become as a people, but the need, now, more than ever, for a determined resistance to stand up to race, religious and class based violence.

Enter Antifa

Much has been written, over the last few weeks, about Antifa… a loose knit collective of anti-fascists that, with increasing fervor, have challenged neo-Nazis, the Klan and other white supremacist hate groups;, at times matching them blow for blow.

Comprised largely of young women and men of all races, religions and politics Antifa has confronted racial and religious supremacists who seek to intimidate the marketplace of ideas and who resort to deadly violence whenever that effort fails… or where it proves to be more convenient.

Not surprisingly, some neo-liberal commentators and progressive academics have seemed to fall all over one another in a race to see who can indict Antifa first for “strategic blunders” or so-called missteps of “principle.” Can dissertations be far off?

Meanwhile politicians for sale and law enforcement agencies long since sold, hold court, daily, on how to criminalize Antifa relying upon long out-dated and unconstitutional practices which not only seek to silence protected dissent but hush the many for the acts of the few… and to do so with arbitrary abandon.

On this score, I’ll defer to classic constitutional scholars to ultimately pick apart and put to rest the notion that government can lawfully cherry pick particular domestic movements to criminalize in a race to purify speech while it labels others, committed to overt acts of terrorism, as generally within the reach of legitimate dissent.

Before, however, moving on, I wonder whether to fall within the scope of this new collective criminal designation one must carry a formal identification card in an organization without existence or membership. Must the card say Antifa or does anti fascist suffice? Must one go through a formal initiation rite as so much a rush for a political frat before criminal accountability can ensue? Perhaps culpability will be determined not on the basis of formal membership but, rather, a particular chant or a color mask, a style of shield or the length of one’s hair?

The possibilities of constitutional misstep are endless as fence sitters and apologists, alike, sprint to curry favor with a public that generally likes its debate prim and proper and, at all times, limited to mainstream politics and redress.

Ultimately, at this time, I’m less concerned with dissecting constitutional infirmity than I am selective historical memory.

On this point, one need only look to the early 30’s to wonder how much different the world might have been today if a militant, fierce resistance stood up, then, against the winds of fascism that blew across Nazi Germany with a very certain and public gale.

Imagine life today in the United States if Harriet Tubman had not thrown caution to the wind or if John Brown had not moved, with speed, to Kansas just after that territory had been opened for the possible expansion of slavery… or had not made his later fateful march to Harper’s Ferry.

And what of the uncontested political slaughter that was endemic to Latin America in the 60’s as petty despots… often bedfellows to US counterparts… brought us the desaparecidos still mourned by mothers who meet and march years after their children vanished, not for deeds, but mere thoughts and words.

I fear not at all a determined, at times, even militant response to a dark violent time worn supremacist message which, left free to fester, will quickly and surely convert ugly words to deadly force leaving principled liberals stunned in its lethal wake.

Commissions galore have found ample cause for hate; historically however they have done little to stop its march… resting, instead, on volumes of excuse filled with petty footnotes. Politicians, theologians and studied experts always seem to know the answer to the wrong questions no matter how popular or certain the discourse which flows.

To balance hate, as an expression of aim, with love, as a statement of purpose, has a nice collegial ring to it but must be left to the debate of classrooms… not the streets where they’re marriage is just not possible.

To academics and historians, fascism may make for an interesting analytical read, but for those who wear its target through their color, creed or political candor, it is very real and it is here and it is now.

This is not a call to arms or a preach that the only answer to violence is to meet it with violence, but rather a recognition that there are crossroads in history when a drive to alter a violent public path has required a diversity of strategy and tactics that may or may not be limited to protest and pen alone.

On the other hand, those that choose to walk down a pathway of militant resistance must do so with not just resolve and principle, but a willingness to pay the personal price often demanded of those that have crossed the line from speech to action.

For those of us who are closer to the end of the journey than its start, it seems far too easy, almost predictable, to try to dictate the march of those yet to follow. Armed with experience and dogged opinion, ours has been a travel for us and us alone.

I have great faith in the ability of those who will soon inherit the world to determine the course of the world that will be theirs, and theirs alone, to claim. Today, in streets throughout the United States, indeed the world, young women and men of great principle and fierce purpose have learned to dare to struggle, to dare to win.

Although our view of the future may very well differ with theirs… perhaps even clash at times… we’ve had our run and it is, now, they who must, and will, decide how to confront and reshape a world built far too long of excuse fueled by supremacist hatred and violence.

Why Netanyahu’s Departure Will Mean Nothing

{Originally published in Al Jazeera Sept 17, 2017}

 

Why Netanyahu’s Departure Will Mean Nothing

It’s been said those who fail to recall the lessons of history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. Built of help and hope, this preach is as familiar as it is simple: knowledge is the gateway to informed transformation… and with it, educated change is, necessarily, sure to follow.

Breaking news: Don’t Kid Yourself. When the chorus of selective history finds its path to be, of necessity, narrow and unbending, it’s but a convenient echo of certain repetition.

Indeed, time and time again, history does repeat itself. When it comes to Israel, we are, if nothing else, naïve, if not slow, learners to believe that enlightened change is either inevitable or just around the corner. It’s not… at least not of its own volition.

If reports are to be believed, the reign of Benjamin Netanyahu is now in its final stretch as prosecutors and purchased politicians, alike, line up to see that “justice” be done… and done with ease and smooth political transition. As always, the aim is to remove the bombast, yet, ensure the same old supremacist tune.

Seemingly, a power with many hats forever… for almost a decade… Netanyahu, as Prime Minister, has been a storm cloud that has sucked the sheen from the sun wherever his path has taken him. From South Lebanon to the Golan, to Rafah, to the halls of the U.S. Congress, his has been a reckless belligerent trek built of nationalist venture and little else.

Never one to grin in a vacuum, he’s long been the ugly, but very real, face of Israel in its march to expand occupation and recast and darken opposition… be they home grown dissidents or crafted “belligerents” from elsewhere.

From the mourn of Deir Yassin, to the wail of Sabra-Shatila, to the level of Jenin, to the final breath of Palestinian infants denied energy to incubate in Gaza, historically each and every act of wanton cruelty has been packaged by Israel as a necessary defense to the willful guile of others. In Israel, no politician can weave their way up the path of power and survive without the hymn of perpetual victimization. It’s become very much the traditional tribal chant.

Indeed, no Israeli leader has worked it better, and been more adept at palpable deflection, than has Netanyahu who, for decades, has found an enemy lurking around each and every corner… even when no such corner exists.

Make no mistake about it… while Israel claims self-defense as a necessity from the ever present looming hate of others, if there is hatred to be had it is very much a convenient sale of Israel’s own liking and design. To be sure, the mentality of siege dictates that decency knows no reach and avarice no limits. On both fronts Israel has excelled.

For 70 years, Israeli tropes, whether addressed in Tel Aviv, Brooklyn or Toronto, have mastered the art of self-deception. As almost an obstinate rite of passage, generations of insular, perhaps insulated, Israelis have been birthed on myth. No, not the Holocaust… for it was very real… but the offer that no speech is too vile, no detention too long, no act too extreme once swept up into a sham talismanic call of survival.

The hate that is Israel is not, at all, limited to the handful of political, military or settlement leaders that have flourished in a society whose mantra is “don’t ask don’t tell”. Like a steady unbroken drumbeat, supremacist odium has, by design, weaved its way into all segments of an Israeli culture that sees kind as weak, just as soft, and equality as something much less than equal.

For generations of Israeli leaders, the message, although, at times, massaged, has essentially remained very much unremitting and uniform in its hymn.

Ultimately, other than the spelling of their names, be it Begin, the wanted terrorist of the 30’s and 40’s, Sharon, the war criminal covered with the blood of women and children in Beirut and, later, again, in Jenin, or Netanyahu, the proud architect of multiple slaughters in Gaza, deceitful deflection has remained an ever present constant in the halls of Israeli power.

Absent a dramatic shift, don’t expect that to change, any time soon, should the current Prime Minister ultimately find his way to his much deserved place in the prisoner’s dock.

Indeed, waiting in the wings to assume the grand lie are, yet, other scions of a shaded story that began with the romanticized myth of Kibbutzim which, almost magically, blossomed from the sand and evolved its way to the uneasy canard which, today, wraps Israel in the tattered whole cloth of democracy.

Among those surely awaiting their place in the run of ruin is Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. Recently described as a classic fascist in the tradition of Mussolini, Shaked, of the Jewish Home Party, has long been a critic of individual rights or equality under Israeli law. To her, justice is little more than a legislative doorway to Zionist superiority with travel limited to but the state’s Jewish majority.

Not at all one to run from her very public and proud supremacist wrap, more than once, Shaked has announced the need for a “moral and political revolution” that would smother universal individual rights under the rule of national and Zionist values.

Having long learned that, in Israel, the pathway to political power is seeded with exploitation and pain of non-Jews, Shaked’s racist raves have run the hateful course from attacks on “infiltrators from Africa” to her well known declaration that Palestine must be destroyed because “the entire Palestinian people is the enemy… including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure.”

Lest there be any doubt about what drives this proposed heir to the Israeli political throne, her vitriolic Facebook screed of 2014 ended with a public embrace of nothing short of outright genocide which “calls for the slaughter of Palestinian mothers who give birth to little snakes.”

Not to worry, there is competition galore. Thus stands Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu’s former Chief of Staff who has headed the The Jewish Home party since 2012. At various times Israel’s Minister of Education, Minister of Diaspora Affairs, Minister of Economy and Minister of Religious Services, Bennett is an ultra-nationalist adored by Israel’s explosive and criminal settler movement.

He has not only repeatedly spoken out in support of unilateral annexation of the West Bank, but opposes the creation of any Palestinian state… proudly boasting that “I will do everything in my power to make sure they never get a state.” On that note, with the election of Donald trump, Bennett proclaimed “The era of the Palestinian state is over.”.

Not to be outdone by Shaked’s call for genocide, in keeping with Israeli political necessity and tradition, Bennett once boasted “I already killed lots of Arabs in my life, and there is absolutely no problem with that.”

Rhetoric, such as this, might very well mean the end of one’s political future in a rational state that sees violence as the final exception to the rule and not the end chase, itself. But in Israel, where bravado and bombast carries with it a seductive political allure and future, it helped to transform Bennett from Manhattan software entrepreneur to fire-brand political hero in the eyes of both settlers and secular Jews, alike.

Highly critical of what he considered to be Israel’s tepid onslaught in Gaza in 2014… that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, most of them civilians, hundreds of them children, Bennett is but another in a generation of Israeli self-apologists who see themselves beyond the reach of humanity, let alone international law.

Indeed, if history is in fact a guidepost of what is yet to come, Israel’s view of bed-fellows has long been established as not just strange but remarkable for an unbroken marriage of vile and venom which extends back decades.

Thus, Israel’s support for South African and Rhodesian apartheid was very public as it provided materials for the building of nuclear weapons or assault weapons and helicopters in violation of UN-imposed sanctions against both. Elsewhere, in Africa, it funded and trained the military forces of brutal dictatorships. It armed the Rwandan military and Hutu militia responsible for genocide against the Tutsis.

In South America, Israel supported Guatemalan death squads, the Contras, Pinochet in Chile, and the military junta in Argentina which disappeared thousands of political opponents including numerous Jewish civilians.

In Southeast Asia and the Pacific Region, it aided the Suharto and Marcos dictatorships. In Iran, the Shah’s secret death squads (SAVAK) received training from Israel and purchased over 150 million dollars in arms from it. Never known for its selfless virtue, Israel was to benefit. The Shah was one of the first leaders in the region to recognize it as a state.

Today, while most of the world recoils, in sheer horror, with the sight of the rape, displacement and slaughter of hundreds of thousands in Myanmar, Israel continues to train and arm death squads that have targeted the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority for genocide.

Baring a dramatic change, 70 years of history should leave little doubt about the future of Israel, both in the land that it occupies and, elsewhere, where it has shown scant hesitancy in support of other regimes which, like itself, see abusive power as a virtue and absolute, brutal control as a desired end.

Netanyahu will surely go… whether this year or next. In his place, will come another in a long unbroken line of autocrats who see human rights and international law as barriers in their drive to complete the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians started long ago when the Nakba began… early in the morning of April 9,1948.

Do I believe it will succeed? No. Do I believe fundamental change in a system fueled by apartheid and occupation will suddenly reverse a steady stalk of hatred through an Israeli ballot box that has long provided a silent pretext for appalling crimes? Of course not.

Yet, ultimately, I remain hopeful that with determined, at times, militant resistance by Palestinians on the ground, along with the support of a growing world community that understands well that silence is complicity, change will come and come in a way that will echo loudly… “From the River to the sea…“

In the end, I have no doubt the community of Nations will run out of excuses, if not time, and finally say enough… and do so in a way which ensures that millions of stateless Palestinians will return home, at long last, to find that aged rusted keys can still open the doors to equality, freedom and justice.

Sessions’ Jaded Justice

{Originally published in CounterPunch Magazine print version vol 24 #5 Nov. 2017}

 

Sessions’ Jaded Justice

by Stanley L Cohen

Although Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III long ago traded in his white bed sheet for one that’s red, white and blue, his eyes still sparkle at the sight of a good old fashioned torch lit parade marching across Main Street… especially down South.

Indeed, rumor has it, the most powerful cop in the US raced more than once to take “selfies” as he posed against the large TV screen in his office with his smiling cultural offspring, perched just behind him, making monkey sounds during their recent virtual family get-together in Charlottesville.

Once rejected for a federal judgeship on the grounds of a well documented record as a racist, who better to take over the mantle of leadership at DOJ, for Donald Trump, than a proud supremacist who’s seen his life’s work as maintaining racial, ethnic and religious purity in the United States.

Of all the seats of discretionary and arbitrary power in a president’s circle of friends, the one with the most unbridled and destructive reach is the head of the Department of Justice.

Be assured, Beauregard has used every day of his own personal Fantasy Island at DOJ to give meaning to “arbitrary” and “capricious” in his effort to wage an all out attack on any semblance of civil rights and justice in this country.

To date, in many ways, he’s proven to be one of a kind as he strives to re-set the clock to days that stretch back well before the death of Jim Crow.

For those of us experienced in the hallways of federal criminal justice, it’s a short walk from courtroom door to the expanse of government discretion in selecting the nature and extent of charges which prosecutors can seek against an accused.

Under the Trump owned DOJ, it’s been all downhill as prosecutors have once again been unleashed to target non-violent drug offenses… including marihuana possession and distribution charges.

Make no mistake about it, there’s nothing at all new about DOJ’s reignited “war” on drugs. Years ago, the Clinton Administration began it as so much a simple, but popular, electoral tease. Not to be bested by an earlier “progressive”, Obama sent more people of color to federal prison for getting high, or helping others to do so, than any other president.

When it came to drugs, it took years of reeducation for Obama to finally evolve from “tough” on crime to real on life. As a result, during his second term, sweeping new policies at DOJ prohibited federal prosecutors from pursuing charges that would trigger mandatory minimum prison sentences for certain categories of drug offenders even when convictions for far more serious charges could otherwise be had.

Unlike decades of mindless charging doctrine, those now caught even with large amounts of drugs were to be charged with less serious offenses that didn’t unleash mandatory minimum sentences if, among other things, the crime was not one of violence and the accused did not have a long criminal history.

Not long into his tenure, Sessions directed federal prosecutors to undo these changes and to, once again, seek the most severe penalties possible; including mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses as he aims to repack prisons with persons of color.

In addition, the Attorney General recently sought Congressional leave to target and prosecute medical marihuana providers otherwise protected under various state laws.

Not to worry. There will be plenty available cellblocks to absorb expected increases in our federal prison population, in the years to come, as Sessions has sought to re-institute use of private prisons which were in the process of being phased out as little more than inhumane corporate profit making ventures.

Rife with systemic corruption and wide spread abuse that often targeted vulnerable prisoners for physical and sexual assault, on occasion, inmates were found dead in these private facilities… typically under “mysterious” circumstances.

In other ways, DOJ is aiming to increase prison population through announcing it will crackdown on leaks coming from within the Trump administration… and said it would consider going after reporters who receive and publish leaked material.

The Attorney General also announced DOJ is reviewing guidelines related to subpoenas of journalists which raises the distinct specter of civil and criminal contempt citations and prison for those who take serious not just their First Amendment protection but professional obligations pursuant to the journalist-source privilege.

In the past, such dares would often go untested as numerous police departments found themselves bound by consent decrees, sought by DOJ and approved by federal courts, to reign in what had been widespread long-term police abuses throughout the Country.

Among others, police departments in Baltimore, Miami, Newark, Cleveland, Ferguson, Seattle and Chicago found themselves subject to federal court oversight for a wide variety of unconstitutional police tactics ranging from excessive, often deadly, force against mostly youth of color, hitting suspects in their head with weapons, unnecessary use of stun guns on handcuffed people, race based pedestrian and automobile stops, false arrests based on race, heritage and “disrespectful” speech to improper internal investigation of allegations of police misconduct.

Under Sessions, DOJ will move to undo consent agreements, reached with rogue police departments, to remove external limits on police abuse and corruption in an effort to ensure they do not “adversely impact” the Trump administration’s priorities of combating violent crime and “promoting police safety and morale.” The Attorney General will also refuse to enter into any additional consent decrees in the future.

Indeed in what was to prove to be a dire precursor of events to come not long after a meeting with the National Fraternal Order of Police, on March 31 Sessions issued a memo notifying Justice Department officials, including those in the Civil Rights Division, that “It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies.”

Just recently, the Sessions memo of intent became official DOJ practice as it refused to involve itself in the explosive matter of Freddie Gray whose inexplicable killing, several years ago, at the hands of police ultimately led to federal oversight of the Baltimore Police Department.

Indeed, no event sums up better, or worse, the decision by this administration to walk, even run, away from its obligation to ensure local police forces comply with their constitutional obligations than the police murder of Freddie Gray.

Gray, a twenty five year old African American resident of Baltimore, elected to run past police officers when encountering them on a street. Having been “chased” by them on bicycles, according to a court document, Gray came to a stop, voluntarily, without the need of police to use any force. Although a knife was recovered from him during a search… without probable cause… as it turned out, the knife was entirely legal.

Nevertheless, Gray was arrested for possession of a “switchblade.” Offering no resistance, he was pinned to the ground and placed in a “tactical hold” with his hands cuffed behind his back. Before the arrival of a transport van, Gray’s request to use an inhaler was ignored. Likewise, police refused to obtain medical attention for Gray, an asthmatic, who was obviously going through significant distress… repeatedly asking for medical assistance as he screamed-out for help.

Dragged from the street, Gray was loaded, head first and on his stomach, into the police van. In violation of Baltimore police department regulations, he was not restrained by a seat belt. Later, he was placed in leg irons after becoming “irate.” Apparently, at some point while in transit, Gray suffered a neck injury. Upon arrival at a police station, he couldn’t talk and wasn’t breathing. Subsequently, he was pronounced dead.

Following an autopsy which concluded Gray’s death was caused by a “high-energy” injury to his neck and spine that likely occurred as he was thrown about the moving van without a seatbelt, the medical examiner ruled Gray’s death a homicide.

Gray’s murder, which became a symbol of the black community’s mistrust of police, and triggered days of protests and riots in Baltimore, led to an Obama-era Justice Department review of the police force which found a widespread pattern of abuse and misconduct by the Baltimore Police Department.

Like so many other instances which ultimately led to consent decrees and federal oversight of other police departments, DOJ concluded, in Baltimore, police routinely stopped, searched and arrested residents without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, disproportionately targeted black residents, and frequently resorted to unnecessary physical force during these interactions, and others, with persons exercising their free speech and filming rights involving police.

Ultimately, six police officers were charged with depraved homicide, and other charges, in the killing of Gray. After trials in which three of the officers were found not guilty, state prosecutors dismissed all charges against the remaining police.

In keeping with the clear message and intent of the Sessions memo, the Department of Justice recently announced it will not pursue federal civil rights charges of any sort against the officers.

While some might wonder how costly or dangerous the prospect of unshackled policing might become under Sessions, local police forces will not want for either a lack of money or weapons to meet their task. The Attorney General recently rolled back a series of extant curbs on civil-asset forfeitures, thereby, strengthening the federal government’s power to seize cash and property from citizens without first bringing criminal charges against them.

As one observer noted, “civil-asset forfeiture is tantamount to policing for profit, generating millions of dollars annually that [federal and local police] agencies get to keep” and use as they wish.

Apparently, Sessions unilateral reinstatement of civil forfeitures goes on even though, very recently, the House unanimously voted on 3 amendments to a spending bill which would, once again, curtail the program… effectively eliminating the Sessions expansion. Pending action by the Senate, DOJ thefts will continue.

No doubt, all that extra cash will come in handy to subsidize the dramatic increases in arrests of immigrants, by ICE, following Trump’s inauguration.

Thus, on the basis of new immigration priorities, in the early days of this administration, agents arrested 38% more undocumented immigrants than they seized during the same period last year, increasing the number from approximately 30,000 to 41,300. At roughly the same time, there was a 150% increase in the number of undocumented aliens detained by ICE for “non criminal arrests” growing from 4,200 in 2016 to 10,800 in 2017.

On the other hand, to give credit where credit is due, in terms of deportations during essentially the same period of time, the administration did reduce their number by all of 1.2 percent removing “only” 54,741 aliens from the United States.

Because increased policing can necessarily mean increased “risk” for local police forces, in particular, the president has removed restrictions previously imposed upon militarization of local police across the country.

Under new policies, the Trump administration is lifting limits on transfer, from the federal government to local police, of surplus military equipment including grenade launchers, bayonets, large-caliber weapons and armored personnel carriers… some the size and power of tanks.

In other ways, Sessions has moved quickly to ensure that notions of justice and civil rights lose traction in Trump’s full-time race to play to his supremacist base.

Thus, Sessions will end a Justice Department partnership with independent scientists to improve forensic standards that, in the past, had contributed to thousands of wrongfully obtained convictions across the country.

He will also end an expanded review of countless other cases in which FBI techniques and testimony had come under belated challenge while numerous other prisoners await an honest day in court.

In but six months of tenure, Sessions has managed to undo, or walk away from, the legacy of a wide range of civil rights priorities within the DOJ. In addition to police reform and on-going school desegregation, among other efforts no longer a priority, DOJ has begun to roll back decades of progress on civil rights and voting rights, equal protection for the disabled and more recent successes around issues of LGBTQ rights.

Indeed, not long after taking office, the administration withdrew in-place protections for transgender students in public schools that let them use bathrooms and facilities corresponding with their gender identity. Recently DOJ argued to the Supreme Court that a Christian baker could refuse a cake for a gay couple… ignoring long settled protections under the Interstate Commerce Clause; the very vehicle used to break the back of much of Jim Crows “private” discrimination practices years ago.

At the same time, the Trump administration prepares to redirect resources of the DOJ’s civil rights division toward investigating and suing universities with affirmative action admission policies.

DOJ has also moved to obstruct enforcement of federal voting rights laws and recently sided with Ohio’s voter purge program. Under this program, Ohio can continue to remove “infrequent voters” who fail to cast a ballot over a six-year period yet otherwise remain citizens of the same state at the same address.

Just this past week, DOJ refused to defend DACA as an unconstitutional reach of the Executive Order power of the president… at the very time it supports the Muslim ban Trump moved to implement through an identical EO practice.

Not sufficiently pleased with a presidential pardon for Ex-Sheriff Joe Arpaio, convicted for contempt in willful and multiple failures to obey a federal court order demanding he cease unconstitutional practices of racial profiling, harassment, and detention, in a palpably clear political act, earlier this week, Sessions moved to support Arpaio’s motion to vacate his underlying conviction… obtained by Session’s own office.

These are but a few of many issues within criminal justice and civil rights spheres where this administration has sent a loud, clear, and unprecedented message that justice is tough, prisons are good, and civil rights are for those who can afford to pay to play.

Elsewhere, this administration has moved, with reckless abandon, to undo generations of priorities and protections which range from those that extend to our environment, our public schools, women and family rights, Native American rights, subsidized food and housing programs, and regulations intended to end unfettered corporate and banking greed.

While not nearly as exhaustive as the catalogue of abuse and abandon in the halls of the DOJ, they still provide a powerful glimpse of an administration that has chosen to walk, indeed, flee from, or target, the most vulnerable among us.

Nowhere, however, has the attack on constitutional and civil rights and safeguards been more glaring, or immediate, than it has been under the Department of Justice headed, now, by one once found by the US Senate to be too racist to serve in the federal judiciary, but apparently, now, just xenophobic enough to become the top cop in this country.

Peter Kassig the Untold Story

Peter Kassig the Untold Story

{Previously published in Arabic in Newsweek Middle East & in English by The MideastWire Blog

*By Stanley Cohen

The life of a “radical” defense attorney in the United States is a seamless journey of never ending, tense, often complex battles with implications that extend well beyond a given case or the courthouse doors. At times, some of these struggles necessarily make for strange bedfellows.

The life and death of Peter Kassig is one such journey.

To activist attorneys, in particular, people’s liberty… on occasion their very lives… comes at us in waves of political uncertainty sculpted by events and decisions over which we have little control.

I had just finished almost two years of non-stop work on behalf of Suliman Abu Ghayth, Usama Bin Laden’s son-in law. Having been released from prison in Iran, Abu Ghayth was kidnapped by the US from Jordan after tasting short-lived freedom for the first time in eleven years. Shackled, ear muffed and hooded, he was immediately renditioned to NYC to stand trial, more than a decade later, not far from the footprint of 9-11.

Seated, surrounded by a pile of files, in my time worn leather chair and dozing off as I prepped for my next trial… a case of an 87 year old who, having consumed a few beers too many, had run over and killed a jogger on a deserted mountain road… I was suddenly jarred awake by my phone.

“Hello, is this Mr. Cohen? My name is Mohammad. We’ve never met, but I’m a fan of yours. I’m Palestinian, and a friend of an American, Peter Kassig, who has been taken by ISIS… to cut his head off. Can you help? He is a very good man… and you know many important people here.”

Though exhausted, and busy, I’ve never been able to say no, at least without listening to the troubles of one who’s reached out to me. So, Mohammad and I chatted for about 20 minutes as he told me the Kassig story, an aid worker kidnapped by ISIS while helping those in need in Syria. Before we parted, I promised to look into it and asked him to call me back in a week.

Hanging up, I browsed an online story of Mr. Kassig who had converted to Islam and was now known as Abdul-Rahman. Set to begin a trial in a few days, and with a flight to catch, I made a mental note to follow-up with our discussion when I returned.

A week later, not long after my arrival back in NYC, my phone rang to the voice of an old friend, a photo journalist who had served in the military, many years before, during the Vietnam era. Irate over the lack of support for Kassig, a veteran himself, he asked whether I might be able to do anything to help.

With two calls from people and worlds and scant weeks apart, I asked an associate to research Abdul-Rahman’s background and circumstances.

“The first thing I want to say is thank you. Both to you and mom for everything you have both done for me as parents, for everything you have taught me, shown me, and experienced with me. I cannot imagine the strength and commitment it has taken to raise a son like me but your love and patience and things I am so deeply grateful for.

I am obviously pretty scared to die…

I wish this paper would go on forever and never run out and I could just keep talking to you. Just know I’m with you. Every stream, every lake, every field and river. In the woods and in the hills, in all the places you showed me. I love you.”

Kassig aka Abdul-Rahman’s words… part of a longer message smuggled out to his parents from his ISIS captors… moved me very much the way visits to Gaza or refugee camps or still smoldering ruins of civilian dwellings turned to steaming rubble have moved me for years. As tears welled up in my eyes, I knew I had to try.

“Salaam-Alaikum X. It’s Stanley. “kaif halak”? With these words, a desperate race against time to save the life of Peter Kassig began.

“X” is the code name I gave my friend who I met, along with a dozen or so other ex long-term Gitmo detainees, during my frequent trips to the Middle East and Gulf while preparing the defense of Abu Ghayth.

Although I had spent years in the courts and the streets representing various national liberation movements such as Hamas, up to this point I had scant hands–on experience with Al-Qaeda and none with ISIS. With the defense of Abu Ghayth, that was to change.

Over the course of a year, I met with these men fairly often. All had been tortured by the US, and its allies, beginning in Kandahar and Bagram… eventually ending up in Gitmo. All but one had been captured and sold by Pakistanis to US forces… usually for a bounty of five-thousand dollars each.

They were the lucky ones. Thousands of other Arabs were simply executed by the US or Northern Alliance in Afghanistan.

All of these men knew Abu Ghayth, not as a member of Al-Qaeda but from his days in the Gulf as an Imam and school principle or during the short period of time he was in Kandahar in the days leading up to 9-11.

X and I hit it off almost immediately… me with my broken Arabic and him with his Gitmo assimilated English filled with slang. Of all the men I got to know, he alone had been “involved” with Al-Qaeda. The rest were teachers, tourists or laborers… in the wrong place at the wrong time.

One man, in particular, speaks volumes of how so many Arabs ended up in Gitmo uncharged and untried. Anas (not his real name) spent years imprisoned there solely because of his Rolex watch. Yes, a watch.

According to declassified Department of Defense reports, when seized, he became a presumptive subject of “interest” because of a Rolex watch on his wrist… “The preferred IED timer of choice for Al-Qaeda.” Years before, he had received the watch to commemorate his membership in an Olympic sports team. Ultimately, this gift came to steal 7 years of freedom from Anas and his family.

His crime? He was in Afghanistan helping to set up a youth sports league at the time of 9-11.

Not long before my call to X, I heard from a mutual friend that he and some Islamic scholars had quietly played the lead in the successful negotiated release of 45 UN peacekeepers held hostage, by Al-Nusra Front (Al-Qaeda’s arm in the Levant), for two weeks in Syria. If anything could be done to save Peter, this I thought was the way to go.

With help from a translator, X and I briefly revisited old friends and places. Soon, the discussion turned to Peter Kassig with me asking if there was anything that could be done to save him. When he asked why, I simply recounted the letter to his parents and the two phone calls I had received. For me, that was enough. Mere coincidence had suddenly become reality. He understood and said he would get back to me later on.

Early the next day, X called and said reliable contacts had spoken to ISIS directly. He continued on telling me that Abdul Rahman was still alive and that he thought we might be able to win his release.

With the usual signpost of caution I had come to expect from him, X asked how soon I could come to the region for further discussions… noting that my presence there would be viewed by ISIS as a sign of our seriousness. I agreed, but did so only with a guarantee that Abdul Rahman would remain alive while I traveled and during discussions among the parties. Not long thereafter, X called again indicating ISIS had agreed.

Hanging up, I remained frozen, in time and place, for what seemed like an eternity. Though, on occasion, I’d been involved in very sensitive unfolding matters in the Middle East, this was different.

Having no experience with ISIS, and but a relatively short-term connection with X and his contacts, the usual advice and protection that comes from long-term relationships with clients and friends in the Middle East was markedly absent. Here, I was essentially on my own.

In Gaza, years before, I moved quickly to save the life of a US intelligence “asset” who had been unmasked in the early stages of a blackmail scheme directed, by him, at a prominent political leader in the coastal enclave long before the Israeli siege began. It took a series of flights and discussions to have him evicted from the territory… rather than fed to the sea.

Did I intervene because he was an agent, or an American? Of course not. That wasn’t the issue at all. No, politically, his killing would have been bad “business” for Gaza.

Some four years on from this Gaza intervention, I became involved in the negotiated surrender of the beheading tape of Wall Street reporter Daniel Pearle… by Khalid Sheikh Mohammad… when a client of mine, a local Pakistani journalist, received the tape from Al-Qaeda.

Though asked to provide it to US officials, he didn’t know how to proceed, let alone without casting a feared shadow over him for its possession and his contact with Al-Qaeda. Once again, I was able to reach out to sources that I trusted to accomplish the best end without any damage to my client.

If the Kassig effort was to have any chance of success, personal experience had taught me that it could not be undertaken in a vacuum and without the knowledge, if not, at times, assistance from reliable sources within the United States Government.

For me, however, “reliable” and “sources” are not two words that typically merge… let alone resonate when it comes to the United States. I‘ve spent 30 plus years fighting the government in and out of courts and though I’ve developed a begrudging respect, if not trust, for some of my adversaries, as a whole, I’ve seen institutions and persons with very dark lives driven not by principle but by narrow, often, selfish and destructive purpose.

Despite trepidation, I reached out to a federal terrorism prosecutor with whom I had handled a number of cases over the years. Although our battles had often been intense, I found him to be a person of integrity… one who could be trusted. His response? “This is above my pay grade. I’ll have to get back to you.”

Later that day, I heard from him and was told there was a senior FBI supervisor from Washington, on hold, on a separate line with overall responsibility for hostage situations in the Middle East. Not knowing this person, I agreed to speak with him as long as the prosecutor remained on the line.

Over the next few days, calls went back and forth among the prosecutor, FBI supervisor, and me. Though X did not participate, as was my practice, he was well aware of them and their purpose… and the limits that I had set, including my refusal to identify him by name.

For me, these exchanges were an attempt to set up a protocol that could be used if, and when, the need arose for assistance from the government…and nothing else. Although uncertain as to just what that might come to mean, given the fact I was about to leave for the Middle East… for parts and persons unknown (including ISIS)… to do otherwise would have been reckless.

Although the FBI supervisor (to be called Bob) pushed for a procedure that would keep him informed of my efforts… including knowing the identity of who I was meeting with, when and where and the essence of our discussions… I refused. As I did, his suggestion that I maintain face to face contact with government “assets” wherever I might be… for my own “safety.” Talk about an oxymoron.

Boarding the airplane with a private translator, the only agreement that had been reached with Bob was that I was proceeding as a private citizen, could not make any representations on behalf of the government, and would stay in periodic contact with him just to assure that I was safe.

As I settled into my seat and prepared for takeoff, I laughed, to myself, over Bob’s push to know where and when I would be… as if the optics of my cell phone, itself, and a worldwide network of surveillance and informants would fail to leave him with a very well documented trail of my journey.

I’ve traveled abroad dozens of times over the course of my life and work. Unlike many who find departing the United States as a source of great stress, for me it’s always been a welcome respite from the drudgery and defeat that has long been companion to a society that generally views itself as exceptional but, deep down, knows it is lost.

De-boarding the plane, almost a dozen hours later, and anxious to meet X in a country that I visited often without incident, for the very first time, I was detained by security personnel who obviously were expecting me as I was led to their office upon arrival at the visa gate.

Oddly, no questions were asked of me. In what struck everyone there as very much an awkward moment of procedure without purpose, security scurried around until a supervisor arrived to welcome me and provide a visa.

In what was to become ritual throughout the arduous effort to save Abdul-Rahman, on each occasion, when I entered or left a country… whether in the Gulf or Middle East… I was detained by security personnel for varying periods of time. Subtle, Bob… subtle.

There are no places in the world with more hospitality and warmth than the Middle East and Gulf. With so much to do and so little time, on the drive to the hotel I hoped that, for once, this would prove to be the exception. I was wrong.

Two hours later, X arrived… predictably, with food and lots of it… and a half dozen or so friends, of his, to greet us. Though I knew none of the other men, each told me they had followed and respected my work in the region over the years and wanted a chance to say hi and thanks in person.

Over the next several hours, we exchanged lots of anecdotes and laughter with me periodically, nodding to X as I pointed to my own watch. He just smiled and shrugged his shoulders. One by one, the men eventually departed with the last one saying goodnight to us at around 2:00 in the morning… leaving the two of us free, at last, to chat.

“He’s all right”, said X… referring to Abdul Rahman (Kassig)… as we spoke until sunrise designing a plan of how to proceed. That was the good news. The bad news seemed to grow by the hour.

To begin, unlike negotiations which freed UN hostages, ISIS was a completely different beast from Nusra. It was, after-all, not concerned with being seen as receptive to “reason” but rather exploited public displays of senseless brutality as an organizing tool to draw fighters toward its own unique brand of explosive nihilism. Indeed, by this point, it was well into its grotesque bi-monthly beheadings of captive aid workers, journalists and travelers. Although on hold, Abdul Rahman was scheduled to be next.

Nor was ISIS open to “token” gestures, such as hostage releases, without getting something of significant value in return … whether large ransoms of cash and equipment or the release of their own “soldiers.” I came to the table with none of these.

Finally… the most daunting roadblock of all: ISIS leadership was angry with former members and leaders of Al-Qaeda who had frequently vilified it in public for its systematic brutality against civilians, women, and other Muslims. These were the very persons at the heart of our effort to free Abdul-Rahman.

With these hurdles in mind, I bid my friend goodnight to attempt obtaining some much needed relief from jet lag as the Gulf sun overtook the sky. I didn’t. I kept hearing Peter Kassig’s final words to his parents… over and over again.

That evening, X returned for more discussions that, again, lasted long into the early morning hours covering a wide range of potential obstacles.

One problem was strategic tension within the group in which X was working. Though fully committed to obtaining Kassig’s freedom, some members also wanted to initiate a long term protocol with ISIS to end its un-Islamic attacks on civilians. While I agreed with the goal, I opposed the conflation of the two issues as needlessly complicating and likely delaying the very narrow effort to obtain the release of Abdul-Rahman.

This debate was to continue right up to the first formal discussion with ISIS after my arrival… when the idea of the protocol was, at last, abandoned.

Likewise, others didn’t see Kassig being released by ISIS solely as a sign of good faith… even for a civilian aid worker who had converted to Islam before his capture. For them, the nagging question remained, of whether the US might be willing to release ISIS captives or, even, Abu Ghayth as part of a package deal.

When I immediately noted there was no possibility of any such exchange, with classic Gitmo banter X replied, “You can’t blame a guy for trying.” It proved to be one of the few moments of shared laughter that were to punctuate the intensity of our efforts over the coming days.

As our meeting ended, it was agreed X would continue speaking with ISIS, through intermediaries, while I traveled on to speak with others who were interested in meeting with me. Among those I saw over the next week were Gitmo veterans, former Al-Qaeda members, some religious scholars and other activists.

Except for one unexpected meeting, it seemed the discussions had less to do with the process of obtaining freedom for Abdul-Rahman than about some wanting a chance to draw their own conclusions about me and my intentions.

In the surprise meeting which occurred at a local mini-mall, and almost as an afterthought, two men asked lots of detailed probing questions of me. In particular, they were specifically interested in how I became involved with the effort to save Abdul-Rahman, the relationship of the US government to this effort, and what the US might be willing to do in exchange for his release. Only much later, did I learn that these men were members of ISIS.

Though Abdul-Rahman remained alive, on the return flight to the country where the journey had begun, I was not particularly hopeful… as all who I had met with, though supportive, were largely guarded in their beliefs about whether the effort could succeed. Much to my surprise, when X and I met at the airport he congratulated me for a successful journey… noting that, as a result of it, everyone had agreed to proceed with our plan.

More important, I learned that, after a day or so of rest, I was to travel on to Jordan to meet with a well-known religious scholar, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, who would take the lead in continuing the discussions with ISIS.

Maqdisi, who I had heard of but not previously met, and who had not long before been released from a Jordanian prison, is a Jordanian-Palestinian scholar who is seen as a spiritual mentor of al-Qaida… and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in particular. Zarqawi went on to found ISIS, in Iraq, after a reported split with his mentor due, at least in part, to Zarqawi’s attacks on civilians.

Not one to miss a chance at intrigue, I was present during a lengthy discussion with a caller… with the echo of a fire-fight blasting out over the car’s speaker phone. I later learned that the caller was in Syria and confirming that Abdul-Rahman was still alive.

As the car pulled up next to a modest three story sandstone building with a stairway facing the street, my heart began to race with uncertainty. This racing grew stronger as I started the climb. The day before, I was present during a news conference, of sorts, at the home of Abu Qatada… a Salafi Jordanian cleric who had, several years before, been extradited from the UK to stand trial in Jordan on terrorism charges for which he was acquitted. Although al-Maqdisi was also present, we spoke only briefly as he welcomed me to Jordan and invited me to come see him the following day at his home.

Knocking on the door, it opened, slowly, to a young girl hiding partially behind it revealing just her glowing face and a mass of curly brown unkempt hair streaming down it. As she smiled, uncertain who we were, al-Maqdisi suddenly arrived to welcome us inside. A humble apartment, with the sound of lots of kids, we were led to a rear room and settled into the library.

We, in the West, are maneuvered by descriptions of dark insular Salafist scholars, locked in century old space, driven by the narrow vision born of rigid minds and experience. It sells.

Sitting in the book lined library of Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi quickly put that sale to bed. Maqdisi is a smart man with a wide reach of world events… well beyond those driven solely by any theological construct or limited to the geographical confines of the world where he exercises such significant influence.

Well before our discussion turned to Abdul-Rahman, we spoke at length about a wide range of contemporary world events including the summer’s Israeli aggression on Gaza, increasing police violence in the United States, and tension in Ukraine and Crimea. Throughout our exchange, his daughter sat by her dad coyly stealing periodic glimpses of me as we enjoyed a never ending stream of coffee and, of course, the treasured sweets of Jordan.

Just as suddenly as our discussion began with Palestine, as so much a light switch, it abruptly turned to Abdul Rahman.

Not surprisingly, it was apparent there was no need for me to spend any time briefing him on whom Peter Kassig was or why I had hoped to obtain his release. He also was aware that while the US government knew of my efforts I was not there as its representative.

Describing ISIS as Islam’s worst nightmare, my host made it very clear that he would help in any way he could. He hoped the effort to free Abdul-Rahman would begin to move ISIS away from its brutal assaults upon civilians which he described as nothing short of an all-out assault on Islam, as well.

Al-Maqdisi went on to speak of some of the religious leadership of ISIS as former students of his that had strayed from his teachings. In particular he noted Turki al-Binali who was to become the mufti… or chief religious advisor of ISIS… and whom al-Maqdisi had authorized, years before, to teach his works. At one time, they were more like father and son than teacher and pupil.

He was optimistic that, if given a chance to speak with them, we could succeed… but noted that, under the terms of his recent release from prison, he was prohibited from meeting with, or speaking to, any members of ISIS.

As I left al-Maqdisi’s home, I asked him for the names of those in ISIS he felt he needed to speak with in order to further our efforts. Although he provided three names, today I can recall only that of Turki al-Binali.

“Hey, Bob. How are you?” With these few words, I reached out to the FBI contact that had, before I left the United States, agreed to help with my efforts. Though, as agreed, I had periodically kept in touch with him while traveling… just to let him know I was ok… this was the first time that I asked him for specific help:

“I’ve just met with al-Maqdisi (I had told Bob in advance) who has agreed to assist but cannot reach out to ISIS under the conditions of his release from prison.

These are the three men he wants to speak with but obviously cannot do so unless Jordanian security approves. In addition, I am setting four conditions of my own that must be agreed to, as well, for us to proceed: 1) al-Maqdisi’s discussions cannot, at any time, be used against him for any purpose whatsoever; 2) the calls, if approved, will be unmonitored and made on his own phone… at a time and place of his own choosing; 3) the substance of the calls will not have to be shared or vetted with anyone else… including intelligence officials either in Jordan or the US; and 4) there is no requirement that he provides copies of any exchanges with ISIS, including text and email messages, to anyone.”

Hanging up, Bob indicated that my requests were not “his call” but that they would be passed along to those with the authority within the Unites States and in Jordan for approval, if possible.

Over the next day or two, al-Maqdisi and I stayed in touch… as did X, who spent his time continuing to deal with ISIS who, by now, was well aware that I was in the region. Abdul-Rahman was still alive and, to the surprise of US officials, the bimonthly beheadings had stopped with the last occurring before I traveled abroad.

Awakened by an early morning call, it was Bob who tersely indicated, “it was a go”… with all the required terms and conditions agreed to. Before hanging up, I asked that he email the stream of our discussions, and the approval, for me to share with al-Maqdisi. He agreed.

A few minutes later, I received the email and observed that there was a redacted name and local address on the exchange which indicated that the approval on the Jordanian end had been conveyed to Bob through a local US based “asset.”

Later that morning, just after his required weekly report to Jordanian security… a condition of his release from prison… al-Maqdisi met with me, and my translator, at our hotel.

Even before I had a chance to share, with him, the email I had received, he told me that he had learned, earlier that morning, that the proposed plan to communicate with ISIS had been approved as outlined by me, with the added caveat that his discussions with the three persons could not involve anything other than the effort to obtain Kassig’s release. He agreed.

Anxious to proceed, al-Maqdisi wanted to immediately make his initial outreach to Turki al-Binali. In abundance of caution, and for added security, I suggested that it be delayed until we purchased a new cell phone, and obtained a new number, from which to place the call.

What unfolded that day, as we set off to buy the phone, quickly became truly a comedy of errors. Not far from the hotel, al-Maqdisi, a humble man, was forced to exit his ten year old car which had suddenly come to a halt and could not be restarted.

Opening the hood, there stood one of the world’s most influential Islamic scholars, about to talk with ISIS, standing in the middle of the narrow street pulling and cleaning wires from his car while the traffic jam of beeping vehicles grew behind us. Some five minutes later, we drove off… however, the scene was to repeat itself twice more… turning what should have been a 30 minute drive, to an old Suq, into a three hour odyssey.

Arriving at the phone store not long before it was to close, al-Maqdisi and I proceeded to “argue” over which phone to buy, with him leaning towards the cheapest possible one… that required an app to be purchased elsewhere… and me insisting on a high-tech one that came with the necessary app already built in. I lost. We bought the cheap phone but lost a day as the necessary app could not be installed in this particular model phone. The next morning, we set off, once again. This time, in a borrowed car, to a high tech phone shop where we got the right phone.

Not long thereafter, al-Maqdisi called his former pupil and left a message. As we sat in a coffee shop directly across the street from the ruins of an old Roman amphitheater, busy with the bustle of tourists posing for pictures, I suddenly began to travel without leaving our cramped table.

With al-Maqdisi and my translator speaking about favorite dishes and exchanging family anecdotes I was suddenly struck by the oddity, almost strangeness, of the moment. It was not the first time. It’s happened before, over my many years in the region, where, inexplicably, I found myself trying to reconstruct how I had come to be in this place and time. It was not a long journey… as, suddenly, I was jarred back to the discussion by a ring on al-Maqdisi’s phone. It was Turki al-Binali returning the call.

Faces speak volumes… often more so than words themselves. As I sat watching al-Maqdisi and his former student talk, it was obvious the exchange, though awkward at times, was nevertheless one built of warmth and a rich past.

I could have asked the translator what was being discussed but, instead, the two of us got up and went across the street to take a seat on the aged stone benches of the amphitheater, grab some sun, and reflect on history. Half an hour later, al-Maqdisi joined us with thanks for a chance to speak in private with his onetime apprentice.

Over the next few days, the two of them apparently spoke often… at times, voice to voice… at others, by text or email. On several occasions, I was present during an exchange and, after they ended, had a chance to review the email or text.

Though I never saw the name of Abdul Rahman metioned between them, more than once, Turki al-Binali noted he knew what al-Maqdisi wanted and, while not easy, would likely be achieved.

Understandably, most of their communications were directed at trying to rebuild personal bonds that had been broken through the passage of time and, according to al-Binali, because of al-Maqdisi’s public, and ceaseless, attacks on ISIS.

At one point, Turki al-Binali texted that it pained him beyond words to see his teacher, who he loved, attack him for what he had, in fact, learned from him. Al-Maqdisi simply replied that he had obviously missed the lesson and moved on.

Over the week, I came to see less and less of al-Maqdisi. Though we still spoke by phone, he seemed removed, distant, unable or willing to keep appointments… although he was still upbeat about his efforts. Of interest, his detachment seemed to parallel a series of calls that I received, from X, about the need for me to return to meet with him, and some others, for a face to face update on my efforts and theirs.

On my final day in Jordan, I met al-Maqdisi, late in the afternoon, just beyond the security barrier of the hotel. He was not the same up-beat man I had spent a lot of time with over the previous days… seemingly, now, edgy, nervous, and stripped of his smile and humor. As we spoke one final time, in person, he promised that late that night he was going to, in a call, bring up the issue of Abdul-Rahman’s release… and was hopeful the release would take place not long thereafter.

When I asked him to join me for one final dinner, he declined… noting that he had been ordered by security forces to come and see them. This was an odd request, he opined, given the fact that he had just seen them several days before.

I have good instincts that, on occasion, provide a pathway into events as yet to unfold. As it turned out, this was to be one such time. As I boarded the airplane, I had a strange feeling something was terribly wrong. It was the first time I had felt this way since the journey had begun.

Eight or nine hours later, I was startled by a pounding on my door. I opened it to find my translator, visibly upset, and rambling on about something he had seen on TV. He brought me to his room where a bulletin flashed across the top of the screen, in Arabic, that Abu Maqdisi had, once again, been arrested by Jordanian security officials for some non-descript terrorism charge.

Racing from the room, I immediately called Bob and, as he was unavailable, left a message. I next reached out to X who, himself, had only just learned what had happened. We agreed to meet at my hotel as soon as possible… a drive of some 30 minutes.

Not long thereafter, Bob returned my call… denying any knowledge about al-Maqdisi’s arrest or why. I believed him. He seemed every bit as shocked as me and said several times that all the news he was getting back from his sources, in Amman, was upbeat. He promised to follow-up on al-Maqdisi and get back to me as soon as possible.

As the sun set, X arrived desperate for answers about what had happened in Jordan, now the day before. Although I had spent a lot of time with him over the last several years, I had not before seen him to be in a state of panic. He was. Indeed, this is a man who had survived years of imprisonment and torture at the hands of the US, and its allies, with his determination and dignity intact… one not likely to panic because of unforeseen events.

Yet, this was different. X was at the center of an international effort to free an American aid worker essentially because I, another American, had asked him to do so and because it was the right thing to do. In that effort, he had enlisted the help of a group of friends and activists… including one of the world’s preeminent Islamic scholars who was, once again, back in custody, seemingly, because of our efforts… efforts that had been approved, I had thought, at the highest level of government in the United States and Jordan.

Over the next half hour or so, I revisited, with X, all that had occurred in Amman, with and without al-Maqdisi, and shared not just the content of his discussions with Turki al-Binali, but my email exchanges with Bob that had given us the necessary cover, I thought, upon which we had proceeded.

Though I told him of al-Maqdisi’s recent change in demeanor, I had no explanation for it… nor did he. Quickly, however, it became obvious that X already knew much of what I told him about events in Jordan… including al-Maqdis’s contacts with al-Binali and the fact that we seemed to be moving toward the release of Peter Kassig.

Though X expressed no doubt in my personal integrity, he pointed out what I had already realized… namely that some might view this entire effort as a ruse to bring about the re-arrest of Abu Maqdisi. Rejecting this out of hand, X noted that not all in the region knew me personally, nor my reputation, and might just jump to wild conclusions. He also noted that this very visit, by him, had been opposed by some of his own friends because of events in Jordan.

On that point, for one brief moment, the thought flashed through my mind that, all at once, the government had, perhaps, been able to accomplish not just the re-arrest of al-Maqdisi but compromised me, in a way, and in a region where I had long challenged its policies, and those of its proxy states, with some degree of success.

I didn’t have much time to dwell on this thought, however, as the phone rang. It was Bob. Still looking for how this plan had gone awry, he indicated only that he had learned that the arrest had been initiated solely by Jordanian security … and because al-Maqdisi had violated the terms of his release by contact with ISIS leaders!

Hearing this, I yelled into the phone that these were the precise authorizations that had been approved, in writing ,with the agreement of Jordanian security and that he needed to do whatever must be done to obtain al-Maqdisi’s release… and right away.

I closed by demanding that if he, or the FBI, could not accomplish it then someone had to get a hold of the State Department or the White House to get it done… as our own bad faith had, essentially, now become the threat to Abdul-Rahman’s life.

Not long thereafter, X got up and left… telling me, as he did, that he had heard all he needed to know at this point and was on his way to a meeting with others that had been involved in the effort to win Peter Kassig’s release.

The next morning, X dropped by, unexpectedly, just to say goodbye… as he, and others, had been contacted by domestic security agents and told they were no longer permitted to see me.

As X left, he stopped, and turned to tell me they had heard from al-Maqdisi who was doing well, that he did not believe I had played any role in his arrest, and had asked for my help in trying to gain his release. It was the last time I was to see X.

Return flights, to the United States from the Middle East, are, for me, always the most difficult. Despite the tension and, at times, violence once airborne, I always miss the echo of the call to prayer. Even as a non-believer, it seems to ground me.

Leaving X and al-Maqdisi behind that day, my flight was particularly painful. As the plane lifted, my spirits dropped with each rise in altitude. Weeks had been spent to save the life of Peter Kassig from a fate that was now all but certain to follow.

Betrayal had surely undone a slow, but steady, march to freedom that, for Kassig, could have meant a return to the very streams, lake and fields about which he had written in what was to become his final message of love to his parents.

As the first sound of music came through my earphones, I hoped to find comfort in the sleep that was expected… deep down, I knew there would be none.

Arriving back in my office, exhausted, I called Bob hoping to hear some good news about al-Maqdisi. There was none. Instead, I reached a voice mail. Not long thereafter, I received a call-back from a Deputy Director of the FBI.

Though he thanked me for my efforts, predictably, his message was little more than excuse wrapped in apologia as to what had gone wrong… and why.

Indeed, I was shocked to hear the United States try to sell the specious tale that it didn’t know Jordan had decided to arrest al-Maqdisi… and to, then, claim it could do nothing to undo the damage.

Over the next few days, I heard from Bob several times. Although he assured me efforts were underway to see what could be done, neither of us really believed any good would come from it. I don’t fault Bob. I have no doubt that he was very much an unwitting surrogate to a collective of governments that, on the eve of a possible success, made a conscious decision to sacrifice Abdul-Rahman to the mantle of political expedience.

After-all, non-state actors accomplishing what states themselves could not seemed to be a bad message for a public looking for assurance that leaders could and would ,in fact, lead. This is particularly true where the guys coming to the rescue were former Gitmo detainees and an Islamic scholar vilified for his beliefs.

From nowhere, a few days later, I picked up the phone to hear the familiar voices of my translator and X who wanted to say hi and assure me that all was well with him and his friends.

Though al-Maqdisi was still in custody, he had sent his salam to me… and his thanks for my efforts on his behalf. Much to my surprise, X indicated that they wanted to once again try to obtain the release of Abdul-Rahman who was still very much alive. However, in order to do so, it required that his government lift the ban against them having any direct contact with me.

Over the next few days, Bob and I once again spoke as he tried to resolve this problem. Late one night, he called and suggested that I start to look for flights as it appeared the ban, along with my spirits, would soon be lifted.

Hours later, I received a second call from Bob asking me to check with “my people overseas” as they had heard that Abdul-Rahman had been beheaded. I immediately called X who doubted the veracity of the information, indicating that he would likely have heard about it had it happened. He had not. As he hung up he promised to get back to me shortly.

Not long thereafter, the phone rang. It was X. I will never forget his brief message. “I’m sorry, we waited too long… he’s gone.”

Conclusion

 The notion that an FBI supervisor, or even Director, could themselves unilaterally approve breach of an agreement between the Government and a foreign State… and thereby sentence a United States citizen/hostage to certain death… is patently absurd.

Likewise, it is impossible to fathom a subordinate member of the executive branch of Government sitting idly by while another foreign State abrogates an agreement intended to safeguard a US citizen… and in so doing, guaranteed their death.

Yet, that is precisely what occurred here, in a circle dance of death, where the FBI first feigned ignorance about how the agreement with Jordan had been unilaterally breached… and then claimed it was powerless to intervene, with a country that has received billions in dollars of aid, to simply require it to adhere to the very agreement with which they were a knowing party in the first stead.

Here, there should be no doubt that the decision to permit the arrest of al-Maqdisi… and, thereby, blow up an effort to save the life of Peter Kassig, could not have happened without the specific knowledge, and approval, at the very highest reaches of the United States Government.

Though Peter Kassig was beheaded with a scimitar wielded by an ISIS assassin, ultimately, it bore the signature of the United States of America.

Speaking, not long after news of Peter Kassig’s beheading had been verified, then President, Barrack Obama stated “’He was taken from us in an act of pure evil.” On this point Mr. President we can all agree.

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Los palestinos tienen un derecho legal a la lucha armada

Los palestinos tienen un derecho legal a la lucha armada

20 JULIO 2017

Es hora de que Israel acepte que como pueblo ocupado, los palestinos tienen derecho a resistir – en todas las formas posibles.

En Palestina, el derecho internacional reconoce los derechos fundamentales a la libre determinación, la libertad y la independencia de los ocupados, escribe Cohen [Reuters]

por Stanley L Cohen

Stanley L Cohen es un abogado y activista de derechos humanos que ha hecho un trabajo extenso en Oriente Medio y África.

Hace mucho tiempo, se decidió que la resistencia e incluso la lucha armada contra una fuerza de ocupación colonial no sólo se reconocen bajo el derecho internacional, sino que son específicamente apoyadas.

De conformidad con el derecho internacional humanitario, se han adoptado expresamente las guerras de liberación nacional, mediante la adopción del Protocolo Adicional I a los Convenios de Ginebra de 1949 (pdf), como derecho protegido e imprescindible de las personas ocupadas en todo el mundo.

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Durante décadas, la Asamblea General de las Naciones Unidas (AGNU), una vez descrita como la conciencia colectiva del mundo, ha observado el derecho de los pueblos a la libre determinación, la independencia y los derechos humanos.

De hecho, ya en 1974, la resolución 3314 de la Asamblea General de las Naciones Unidas prohibía a los Estados “cualquier ocupación militar, no importa cuan temporal fuera”.

En la parte pertinente, la resolución no sólo afirmó el derecho a la “autodeterminación, libertad e independencia […] de los pueblos privados de ese derecho, […] particularmente los pueblos bajo regímenes coloniales y racistas u otros Formas de dominación extranjera”, pero señaló el derecho de los ocupados a” luchar … y buscar y recibir apoyo “en ese esfuerzo.

El término “lucha armada” estaba implícito sin una definición precisa en esa resolución y muchos otros principios que defendían el derecho de los pueblos nativos a desalojar a un ocupante.

Esta imprecisión iba a cambiar el 3 de diciembre de 1982. En ese momento la resolución 37/43 de la Asamblea General eliminaba cualquier duda o debate sobre el derecho legítimo de los ocupados a resistir las fuerzas de ocupación por cualquier medio legal. La resolución reafirmó “la legitimidad de la lucha de los pueblos por la independencia, la integridad territorial, la unidad nacional y la liberación de la dominación colonial y extranjera y la ocupación extranjera por todos los medios disponibles, incluida la lucha armada”.

Una ilusión palpable

Aunque Israel ha intentado, una y otra vez, refundir la intención inequívoca de esta resolución en particular-y colocar así su ocupación de medio siglo en Cisjordania y Gaza más allá de su aplicación- es un esfuerzo que se desgastan hasta un punto de ilusión palpable por el lenguaje exigente de la propia declaración. En la parte pertinente, la sección 21 de la resolución condenó enérgicamente “las actividades expansionistas de Israel en el Oriente Medio y el continuo bombardeo de civiles palestinos, que constituyen un serio obstáculo para la realización de la autodeterminación e independencia del pueblo palestino”.

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Los sionistas europeos, que no se caracterizan por titubear cuando se trata de reescribir la historia, mucho antes de que se establecieran las Naciones Unidas, se consideraron como un pueblo ocupado cuando emigraron a Palestina, una tierra en la cual cualquier vinculo histórico que hubieran tenido había ya ampliamente cedido hace mucho tiempo a través de un tránsito voluntario .

De hecho, 50 años antes de que la ONU hablara del derecho de la lucha armada como vehículo de la liberación indígena, los sionistas europeos cooptaron ilegalmente el concepto mientras que Irgun, Lehi y otros grupos terroristas emprendieron un largo reinado de una década de caos mortal.

Durante este tiempo, mataron no sólo a miles de palestinos nativos, sino que se enfocaron en la policía británica y al personal militar que durante mucho tiempo había mantenido allí una presencia colonial.

Una historia de ataques sionistas

Tal vez, mientras los israelíes se sientan a llorar la pérdida de dos de sus soldados que fueron muertos a tiros la semana pasada en Jerusalén -en lo que muchos consideran un acto legal de resistencia- una visita por el sendero de la memoria podría simplemente colocar los eventos en su debido contexto histórico.

La autodeterminación es una marcha difícil y costosa para los ocupados. En Palestina, no importa cuál sea el arma de elección -ya sea voz, pluma o arma- hay un precio muy alto que se debe pagar por su uso.

Hace mucho tiempo, describiendo a los británicos como una fuerza de ocupación en “su patria”, los sionistas atacaron a la policía británica ya las unidades militares con un desenfreno despiadado en Palestina y otros lugares.

El 12 de abril de 1938, el Irgun asesinó a dos agentes de policía británicos en un bombardeo de tren en Haifa. El 26 de agosto de 1939, dos oficiales británicos fueron asesinados por una mina de Irgun en Jerusalén. El 14 de febrero de 1944, dos policías británicos fueron muertos a tiros cuando intentaron arrestar a la gente por pegar carteles en la pared en Haifa. El 27 de septiembre de 1944, más de 100 miembros del Irgún atacaron cuatro comisarías británicas, hiriendo a cientos de oficiales. Dos días después, un alto oficial de la policía británica del Departamento de Inteligencia Criminal fue asesinado en Jerusalén.

El 1 de noviembre de 1945, otro oficial de policía murió cuando cinco trenes fueron bombardeados. El 27 de diciembre de 1945, siete oficiales británicos perdieron la vida en un bombardeo en la sede de la policía en Jerusalén. Entre el 9 y el 13 de noviembre de 1946, miembros judíos “subterráneos” lanzaron una serie de atentados con minas y maletas con bombas en estaciones ferroviarias, trenes y tranvías, matando a 11 soldados y policías británicos y ocho agentes árabes.

Cuatro oficiales más fueron asesinados en otro atentado en una jefatura de policía el 12 de enero de 1947. Nueve meses después, cuatro policías británicos fueron asesinados en un robo a un banco de Irgún y, nada mas tres días después, el 26 de septiembre de 1947, 13 oficiales adicionales fueron asesinados en otro ataque terrorista contra una comisaría británica.

Estos son sólo algunos de los muchos ataques dirigidos por terroristas sionistas a la policía británica, que fueron vistos por la mayoría de los judíos europeos como blancos legítimos de una campaña que describieron como una de liberación contra una fuerza de ocupación.

A lo largo de este período, los terroristas judíos también emprendieron innumerables ataques que no perdonaron parte alguna de la infraestructura británica y palestina. Asaltaron instalaciones militares y policiales británicas, oficinas gubernamentales y barcos, a menudo con bombas. También sabotearon ferrocarriles, puentes e instalaciones petroleras. Decenas de blancos económicos fueron atacados, incluyendo 20 trenes que fueron dañados o descarrilados, y cinco estaciones de tren. Se produjeron numerosos ataques contra la industria petrolera, entre ellos uno, en marzo de 1947, en una refinería de petróleo Shell en Haifa, que destruyó unas 16.000 toneladas de petróleo.

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Los terroristas sionistas mataron a soldados británicos en Palestina, usando trampas, emboscadas, francotiradores y explosiones de vehículos.

Un atentado, en particular, resume el terrorismo de aquellos que, sin ninguna fuerza de derecho internacional en su momento, no vieron ninguna limitación a sus esfuerzos por “liberar” una tierra a la que, en su mayoría, habían emigrado recientemente.

En 1947, el Irgún secuestró a dos suboficiales del Cuerpo de Inteligencia del Ejército británico y amenazó con colgarlos si se llevaban a cabo sentencias de muerte de tres de sus propios miembros. Cuando estos tres miembros del Irgún fueron ejecutados por ahorcamiento, los dos sargentos británicos fueron ahorcados en represalia y sus cuerpos con explosivos escondidos, fueron dejados en un bosque de eucaliptos.

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Al anunciar su ejecución, el Irgun dijo que los dos soldados británicos fueron ahorcados tras su condena por “actividades criminales anti-hebreas”, que incluían: la entrada ilegal a la patria hebrea y la pertenencia a una organización terrorista criminal británica – conocida como el Ejército de Ocupación – que fue “responsable de la tortura, el asesinato, la deportación y la negación del derecho de vivir al pueblo hebreo”. Los soldados también fueron acusados de posesión ilegal de armas, espionaje anti-judío en ropa civil y diseños premeditados hostiles contra el metro subterráneo (pdf).

Mucho más allá de los límites territoriales de Palestina, a finales de 1946-47 una campaña continua de terrorismo fue dirigida a los británicos. Se llevaron a cabo actos de sabotaje en las rutas de transporte militar británico en Alemania. El Lehi también trató, sin éxito, de lanzar una bomba sobre la Cámara de los Comunes de un avión fletado volado desde Francia y, en octubre de 1946, bombardeó la Embajada británica en Roma. Varios otros artefactos explosivos fueron detonados en y alrededor de objetivos estratégicos en Londres. Unas 21 bombas en cartas fueron dirigidas, en varias ocasiones, a altas figuras políticas británicas. Muchas de estas fueron interceptadas, mientras otras alcanzaron sus objetivos pero fueron descubiertas antes de que pudieran estallar.

El alto precio de la autodeterminación

La autodeterminación es una marcha difícil y costosa para los ocupados. En Palestina, no importa cuál sea el arma de elección -ya sea voz, pluma o arma- hay un precio muy alto que se debe pagar por su uso.

Hoy, “hablar verdad al poder” se ha convertido en un mantra popular de resistencia en círculos y sociedades neoliberales. En Palestina, sin embargo, para los ocupados y los oprimidos, es un camino casi seguro para la prisión o la muerte. Sin embargo, para generaciones de palestinos despojados del mismo aliento que resuena con el sentimiento de libertad, la historia enseña que simplemente no hay otra opción.

El silencio es rendición. Estar en silencio es traicionar a todos los que han venido antes y a todos los que aún han de seguir.

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Para aquellos que nunca han sentido el yugo constante de opresión, o por lo menos visto de cerca, es una visión más allá de la comprensión. La ocupación se sienta pesada en los ocupados, cada día en todos los sentidos, limitando lo que eres y lo que puedes atreverte a ser.

El constante roce con las barricadas, los cañones, las órdenes, la prisión y la muerte son compañeros de viaje para los ocupados, ya sean infantes, adolescentes en la primavera de su vida, ancianos o aquellos atrapados por los confines artificiales de fronteras sobre los cuales no tienen control.

A las familias de los dos policías drusos israelíes que perdieron la vida tratando de controlar un lugar que no era suyo para comandar, extiendo mis condolencias. Estos jóvenes, sin embargo, no se perdieron en el círculo de la resistencia, pero voluntariamente se sacrificaron por una ocupación maligna que no tiene legitimidad alguna.

En última instancia, si hay un duelo por hacer, debe ser para los 11 millones de ocupados, ya sea en Palestina o fuera, como tantos refugiados apátridas, despojados de una voz significativa y de oportunidad, ya que el mundo hace excusas que son construidas en gran parte basadas en un regalo político y económico que lleva como insignia la Estrella de David.

No pasa un día sin el lamento escalofriante de una nación vigilando a un niño palestino envuelto en un sudario, despojado de la vida porque la electricidad o el tránsito se han convertido en un privilegio perverso que lleva a millones de rehenes por los caprichos políticos de unos pocos. Ya sean israelíes, egipcios o aquellos que afirman llevar el manto del liderazgo político palestino, la responsabilidad del infanticidio en Gaza es suya y sólo suya.

“Si no hay lucha, no hay progreso”

Los tres jóvenes, primos, que voluntariamente sacrificaron sus vidas en el ataque a los dos oficiales israelíes en Jerusalén, no lo hicieron como un gesto vacío nacido de la desesperación, sino más bien como una declaración personal de orgullo nacional que sigue a una larga línea de otros que entendieron bien que el precio de la libertad puede, a veces, significar todo.

Durante 70 años, no ha pasado un día sin la pérdida de mujeres y hombres palestinos jóvenes que, trágicamente, encontraron mayor dignidad y libertad en el martirio que en una vida obediente y pasiva controlada por aquellos que se atrevieron a dictar los parámetros de sus vidas.

Millones de nosotros en todo el mundo sueñan con un mejor tiempo y lugar para los palestinos … libre para extender sus alas, para volar, para descubrir quiénes son y en que desean convertirse. Hasta entonces, no me lamento por la pérdida de los que detienen su vuelo. En cambio, aplaudo a los que se atreven a luchar, se atreven a ganar – por cualquier medio necesario.

No hay magia para la resistencia y la lucha. Estas trascienden el tiempo y el lugar y derivan su propio significado y ardor en la inclinación natural y, de hecho, nos impulsan a todos a ser libres – a ser libres para determinar el papel de nuestras propias vidas.

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En Palestina, no existe tal libertad. En Palestina, el derecho internacional reconoce los derechos fundamentales a la libre determinación, la libertad y la independencia de los ocupados. En Palestina, eso incluye el derecho a la lucha armada, en caso de ser necesario.

Hace mucho tiempo, el abolicionista famoso Frederick Douglass, siendo él mismo un esclavo antes, escribió acerca de la lucha. Estas palabras no resuenan menos hoy, en Palestina, que lo hicieron hace unos 150 años en el corazón del Antebellum Sur en los Estados Unidos:

“Si no hay lucha, no hay progreso. Aquellos que profesan favorecer la libertad y, sin embargo, despreciar la agitación, son hombres que quieren cultivos sin arar el suelo, quieren lluvia sin truenos y relámpagos. Quieren el océano sin el horrible rugir de sus muchas aguas. Esta lucha puede ser moral, o puede ser física, o puede ser tanto moral como física, pero debe ser una lucha. El poder no concede nada sin una exigencia y jamas lo hará.”

Stanley L Cohen es un abogado y activista de derechos humanos que ha hecho un trabajo extenso en el Medio Oriente y África.

Las opiniones expresadas en este artículo son propias del autor y no reflejan necesariamente la política editorial de Al Jazeera.