Apr 24, 2009

The Pot Calls the Kettle Black

This is the day that a black Mercedes Benz driving forty five in a twenty-five mile zone almost cuts me off. Two Armenian flags fly from the rear windows and another Armenian flag is displayed on the top, clipped into the sun-roof sliding glass. The crazy driver is a young man with a booming stereo at full blast, a cigarette in his mouth. Today is a big day in my town because it is the commemoration of the Armenian genocide--1914-1918, the first holocaust of the 20th century. The orders that Hitler gave before the invasion of Poland ended with the question, "Who. after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?"

And though many decades have passed since US Ambassador Morgenthau first reported to the Wilson government that genocide was taking place, and headlines in the New York Times recorded the massacres and forced migrations, the United States still has not officially recognized the Armenian genocide, acting according to Realpolitikischen principles in not wanting to upset the Turkish government, our allies and fellow NATO member. Candidate Obama clearly indicated that he was in favor of recognizing the Armenian genocide. President Obama made a speech in Turkey in which he mentioned violence in the past, but failed to call it genocide.

I'll get angry at the young and reckless driver of the Mercedes tomorrow, knowing that his stupidity is probably not connected to the flag he displayed. At least, as Samantha Power pointed out in an interview on KPFK yesterday, the idea of an Armenian Genocide is now widely accepted and understood as historical fact in the United States. It will just be a matter of time until the Turks come around. In the meantime, we have the economy to worry about, and Realpolitik.

This is the week that it was revealed that before Passover, at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Center in Israel, a volunteer docent named Itamar Shapira, 29 years old, was fired for improperly pointing out to some of his tours that a massacre of Palestinians occurred in Deir Yassin in 1948 and should also be kept in mind. Yad Vashem's statement said he was fired for using his position to advance his own "political agenda."

This is the week that President Obama spoke at the Holocaust Museum some moving words regarding the Holocaust and how all of us must not turn away when faced with crimes against humanity:

Today, and every day, we have an opportunity, as well as an obligation, to confront these scourges -- to fight the impulse to turn the channel when we see images that disturb us, or wrap ourselves in the false comfort that others' sufferings are not our own. Instead we have the opportunity to make a habit of empathy; to recognize ourselves in each other; to commit ourselves to resisting injustice and intolerance and indifference in whatever forms they may take -- whether confronting those who tell lies about history, or doing everything we can to prevent and end atrocities like those that took place in Rwanda, those taking place in Darfur. That is my commitment as President. I hope that is yours, as well.

It will not be easy. At times, fulfilling these obligations require self-reflection. But in the final analysis, I believe history gives us cause for hope rather than despair -- the hope of a chosen people who have overcome oppression since the days of Exodus; of the nation of Israel rising from the destruction of the Holocaust; of the strong and enduring bonds between our nations.

It is the hope, too, of those who not only survived, but chose to live, teaching us the meaning of courage and resilience and dignity. I'm thinking today of a study conducted after the war that found that Holocaust survivors living in America actually had a higher birthrate than American Jews. What a stunning act of faith -- to bring a child in a world that has shown you so much cruelty; to believe that no matter what you have endured, or how much you have lost, in the end, you have a duty to life.

But anyone who stands on the side of justice, who opposes crimes against human rights, and who was not in a coma through the terrible days of December 27, 2008 to January 18, 2009 as cluster bombs, white phosphorus, and disproportionate massacres of Palestinian civilians took place could hardly read or hear those words with an ironic shake of the head. Nor could they think how the continuing resistance of Palestinians and their "duty to life" persists in spite of the oppression and control exerted in their apartheid existence.

This is the week that the Israeli Demolition Forces (IDF) released their preliminary self-investigation of their assault on Gaza and decided that they did nothing wrong except a "few mistakes." This is the week that it was announced that Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, the Gaza doctor who in January lost three of his daughters when IDF soldiers fired tank shells on his home, will share the Niarchos Prize for Survivorship with Nomika Zion from Sderot. You will note how the Jerusalem Post in reporting the announcement adds the official excuse that the soldiers who killed his daughters were "thinking there were terrorists inside." This is also the week that Dr. Mahmoud Iyad, who, during the daily four hour cease-fire watched Israeli soldiers shoot his two sons in front of him, killing one, and then watched the second one bleed to death because the Israeli soldiers would not let ambulances come, said that the IDF was lying. Dr. Lyad watched his dying son call his other brother in the United States to ask for help. We have recordings.

This is the week that the US boycotted the follow up UN Conference on Racism along with other European countries. This is the week that the garrulous President of Iran, Mahmoud AhmadiNejad gave a speech at the conference condemning Israel but also condemning the structure of the Security Council and calling for its reform, especially of the veto power. Instead of "denying the Holocaust," he talked of "the pretext of Jewish suffering" in creating the State of Israel (though he of course did not refer to a "State of Israel") and repeated that it was "in fact in compensation for the dire consequences of racism in Europe." Perhaps that's progress of a sort, but very little. The President of Iran can be a blowhard at times, but I urge you to read the rush translation of the speech, especially if you have been criticizing the bailout of the Wall Street Bankers.

And this was the day that a genuine racist, Avigdor Lieberman, who has been elevated into a prominent position in the new Israeli coalition government, was quoted in an interview in the Jerusalem Post--to be published on Tuesday next week, the 61rst "Independence Day"of Israel--that the main obstacle to peace in the Mideast is Iran.

That's the pot calling the kettle black.

Anyone who stands on the side of justice after over sixty-one years since the UN partition vote, and who knows the ugly and internationally illegal "facts on the ground," who knows of the atomic arsenal of Israel, who knows of the continuing house demolitions and land grabs in East Jerusalem, and who keeps in mind the terrible destruction of Gaza last December and January, also knows--despite the protests of Avigdor Lieberman, that the greatest obstacle to peace in the Middle East is the government of Israel.

To borrow President Obama's words, "we have the opportunity to make a habit of empathy; to recognize ourselves in each other; to commit ourselves to resisting injustice and intolerance and indifference in whatever forms they may take."

Apr 7, 2009

Chalk up one for the Good Guys in Peru

Justice is possible in the world. Alberto Fujimori has just been sentenced to 25 years in prison for crimes against humanity. (The story is here at the Financial Times.) Since he is seventy years old now and is serving a six year sentence, it appears that he may be destined to serve the rest of his life in prison. His daughter announced she was running for president so she could pardon him, but according to the FT story, there may be no possibility of pardon for a crime against humanity.

The real heroes in this affair are the judges of Chile, who decided he should be extradited to Peru.

Anyone want to set up a ski vacation for Cheney and company in the Chilean Andes? I think it wonderful that Chile and Peru show cajones of this sort. Perhaps they could do us a favor ? Maybe we could get AIG to schedule an executive planning conference and morale building retreat down there and have Cheney and Addington as guest speakers? You think?

You cannot "move on" from crimes like torture. You cannot preserve the rule of law if you do not identify the ones who break the law--no matter how rich or prestigious or politically sacrosanct they are--and identify them, investigate them, bring evidence against them in court, and sentence them appropriately if they are found to be guilty as charged.

It's been nine years since Fujimori left office and fled to Japan. Let us hope that our investigation starts before the trail gets cold.

Right now the Republicans are so afraid of the most damning torture memos being released that they are threatening to filibuster against the nominations of Dawn Johnson to the Office of Legal Counsel and Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh as State Department legal counsel, as reported on Democracy Now! Both of them were critical of the abuses of the justice department under Ashcroft, Gonzales, and Mukasy. (As I write their names, I feel a great satisfaction knowing all three are out of office.)

The Democrats need to call the Republicans' blustery bluff on this one. The February 2009 International Red Cross Report on the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo, released in full in the New York Review of Books this week, clearly indicates that torture was committed, and torture is an international as well as a domestic crime. Basta! with the appeasement line of "let's move forward and put the past behind us." Let the Republicans pay for their usurpation. This is not a matter of vengeance or even retribution. This is a matter of establishing justice in a society where notions of justice have been deeply distorted by the Republicans and some colluding Democrats--perhaps we can call them the "good Democrats"? Jane Harman. Jay Rockefeller. Nancy Pelosi. Now that the Democrats are in charge they do not need to aid and abet the distortions any further, especially out of cowardice. Bring on the filibuster. Let the Republicans blather in defense of their unholy law and order.

Just one excerpt of note transcribed from the ICRC report:

Basic materials such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, towels, toilet paper, clothes, underwear, blankets and mattresses wee not provided at all during the initial detention period, in some instances lasting several months. The timing of initial provision and continued supply of all these items was allegedly linked with compliance and cooperation on the part of the detainee. Even after being provided, these basic items allegedly were sometimes removed in order to apply pressure for purposes of interrogation.

In the early phase of interrogation, from a few days to several weeks, access to shower was totally denied and toilet, as mentioned above, was either provided in the form of a bucket or not provided at all--in which case those detainees shackled in the prolonged stress standing position had to urinate and defecate on themselves and remain standing in their own bodily fluid for periods of several days.

Followed by one excerpt of note from our former President at his White House Press Conference, September 15, 2006. [Stutters restored and interpolated]:

This debate is occurring because of the Supreme Court's ruling that said that we must conduct ourselves under the Common Article III of the Geneva Convention. And that Common Article III says that there will be no outrages upon human dignity. It's [ . . .it's . . . it's] very vague. What does that mean, "outrages upon human dignity"? That's a statement that is wide open to interpretation.

I said then and I say it again: with all due disrespect, Mr. "President," retract your head from where the sun don't shine.

Apr 1, 2009

General Petraeus--among others--Floats a Trial Balloon

First, over the weekend the two top Israeli officials who remain anonymous talking to two equally anonymous Time Magazine reporters, they want to "clarify" that Israel did indeed attack convoys in Sudan, and making perfectly clear that this was to send a clear message to certain unspecified parties (i.e. Iran) that they can go anywhere they want.

The US doesn't condemn it, of course, because violating another country's territory is something that we have already gotten used to doing. Borders? Sovereign territory? Hey, man, WTF! we're entitle. We do kidnappings and illegal assassinations too.

And what wonderful timing--on Tuesday--Netanyahu gives his first interview to The Atlantic, in which he threatens to attack Iran unless President Obama disarms them successfully (you will find the full Atlantic article here.) On Wednesday, President Obama talked to him on the phone and said he was committed 100% to Israel's defense; and lo and behold that very day General Petraeus testifies before Congress and warns about the possibility that Israel may go off
on its own and attack Iran. God almighty did you hear the Congress critters' outrage? Will you see the condemnation in the mainstream media this week? Watch for Bill O'Reilly to launch into appoplexy at the commission of another Obama crime. Well, the good general Petraeus carried water for the neocons. Why not carry it for the newly instituted racist government in Tel Aviv? It's a shame that the respected Atlantic has begun to carry the water as well.

You will hear no calls for caution, no calls for real hard evidence from the only folks that know what is going on, the AIEA (which unfortunately has its own internal problems trying to find a new director). No real diplomacy. Bush didn't question Israel's attack on Syria or call for an investigation, and the US didn't do it for this Sudan attack. (Our ambassador was apparently tipped off, however, and was telling the Sudanese about it when the missiles struck.) The more US diplomacy "changes" the more it remains the same.

At the end of his speech, Netanyahu warned that "When the wide-eyed believer gets hold of the reins of power and the weapons of mass death, then the entire world should start worrying, and that is what is happening in Iran." Since the whole accusation of Iranian nuclear intentions and capability seems to be more a matter of belief than credible evidence, and since Israel has already got in its possession probably well over a hundred atomic weapons, I think that sentence provides a fine mirror:

When the paranoid believer possesses the air force and the weapons of mass death, then the entire world should start worrying, and that is what is happening in Israel.

The problem is, of course, that the war-monger will never see the reflective irony in his statement of civic paranoia. Will someone finally demand some really hard evidence that Iran has the capability to make the bomb and not just fissionable material for its own nuclear power program? Will someone please explain how a country with one or two untested nuclear bombs would be stupid enough to risk its existence by attacking a country with at least 75 and perhaps as many as 200 nuclear weapons? When Netanyahu was asked that very question by interviewer Jeffrey Goldberg, his reply was, “I’m not going to get into that.”
(Will somebody please remind Israel that they started the nuclear proliferation in the Middle East to begin with?)

To see Iran as a real nuclear warfare threat demands that you believe that Iran is truly and absolutely run by mad men. Proud, yes; wily, to be sure; but above all, practical realists. You really think they want to get hit? (I will concede that they are being incredibly foolish in their tempting the Israelis.)

It is clear to me that if the Iranians are pursuing a bomb it is out of a desperate move to place themselves in a deterrent situation, not one of suicidal foolishness.

If Netanyahu truly believes that Iran is stupid enough to attack Israel with even one weapon, then he is deeply deranged. If he fears Iran supplying nuclear weapons to terrrorists, he has a fear, but he must also know that Iran will never escape unscathed if nuclear terrorism happens in Israel--an incident which will of course, damage Palestinians as well as Israelis. I think Netanyahu is in touch with one idea: pushing things as far as he can right now to see how much he can get away with and to detract attention from his plan for denying Palestinians their state. Because I also think he is a wild-eyed one--albeit beneath a squinting gunslinger's lids. (We Americans can't perceive it because he such good command of American idiom and the bare hint of an accent. Trust me--having him as prime minister is something akin to having David Addington or John Bolton as president.)

We need to fear him much more than the Iranians. There is no more dangerous madman than the one who believes irrefutably in his own sanity.