Archive for December, 2011

Drone on 53rd Street

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

As I turned the corner from Fifth Avenue, I could see it hovering in the middle of the block, an eyeless drone, blind and lethal.

What I really saw was the replica of a reaper drone created by Nick Mottern, being used in a protest in front of the Museum of Modern Art of these weapons that bring death to thousands of people whom the US targets.  I hurried along, fearing I was late.  It turned out that the installation of this high tech replica required a lot of time.

Drone replica at protest in DC earlier

When he had finished setting up, Nick made it possible for passersby to see themselves on computer monitors in the sights of his model drone, which is equipped with a camera that streamed to the monitors.  This is how the real ones work, but the people it targets are often on the other side of the globe, in Pakistan and Afghanistan for example, from the arm chair pilots in Arizona and Nevada and other sites in the US.

Also, Nick’s drone was not far off the earth, so we could easily recognize ourselves, whereas the images that determine when the pilots launch the drones’ lethal weapons are not so close and people are not distinct.  The result is many deaths by drone of people who are just going about their lives unsuspectingly.

The event I participated in was organized by the World Can’t Wait and the site was chosen to coincide with the exhibit in the museum of artist Harun Farocki’s Images of War (At A Distance).  You can read about it here.

We were on the street handing out flyers about drones and talking with people.  As Nick interviewed people who stopped by, a filmmaker shot footage.  The rest of us also engaged when we could with people who stopped.

It was Friday afternoon when the Museum of Modern Art offers free entry and huge crowds made it hard to step back and get a really good look at the replica drone and hard to connect the scene of the computer monitors with the overhead drone at first.  Even so, we passed out nearly five hundred flyers in the time we were there, and a number of people stopped long enough to get the full picture.

Some of the people I spoke with were, not surprisingly since they had come to the Farocki exhibit, well acquainted with the horrors of drone warfare and the insidious nature of its expansion during the current regime.  Often they thanked us for this action.  A few people who stopped did not know much about drones and were interested in what we had to say.  Some young men had been in military recruiting centers where video war games are offered to the young to entice them to join.  I found their attitudes complex and reflected on the subtleties of US corporate media and entertainment in the ubiquitous US propaganda campaigns of the last few decades. I am saving those reflections for a separate post, but note the issue here.

Nick Mottern, the creator of these replicas, told me that he made the first one after writing an article for TruthOut.org “Calling Them Out: War Profiteer Steven R. Loranger” about the CEO of ITT which manufactures the bomb releases for the drones.  He decided to protest at Loranger’s house in Connecticut and that a model drone would enhance such an action.  One thing led to another, as he conceded to me in talking about the origins of these replicas, and the result is the high tech model that he contributed to our action yesterday.

Nick is a journalist with a great many other skills.  It was especially good to have met him and watched him in action as a journalist making the documentary as well.

In speaking with people, Nick said frequently that he wanted to see these weapons banned internationally.  Me, too.  I also want to see media reporting the truth about them and a more informed public willing to act to stop the wars and crimes and human rights violations of its government.

And I didn’t speak out, because I wasn’t a ….

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

At this moment I am on a train stopped in Rochester with a border patrol officer hassling an English speaking national of another country in the seat behind me.  It is 11:30 at night, the car lights are dim, people are resting, some were sleeping.  We have been violently jerked awake and alert; the tension is very high in what had been a peaceful car.  No one of us makes a sound.  The poor young man is hauled off to custody for not having proper identification.  The young woman who sat beside him did have the right things and remains with us.

I had just signed on and was going to quote German pastor Martin Niemöller for another reason.  It seems fortuitous that I had found this statement before the officer burst in.

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me

 

I felt during the incident as though I should have risen to the defense of this young man.  I do not have the skills to do that, nor the community of OWS that Bonnie speaks about below.  I feel terrible.  I don’t know what would have happened if I had risen to his defense; probably nothing but that I, too, would have been arrested.

I just had a conversation with the two men next to me, one of whom, a professional photographer, had gotten to Occupy Wall Street at Liberty Square at 6am on the morning of the threatened eviction when Bonnie and I had been there all night.  The other, a student in Albany, had been there for a short time to support the movement.  The older man does not share my rage about this treatment of human beings, including the rest of the people on this train; he says I don’t know anything about the young well spoken man who was just hauled off. I replied that I know he is a human being and so are all of us.   The younger one says he shares my feelings, including that of helplessness and impotence in the face of this act of repression.

In a country where extra-judicial imprisonment and torture of anyone, anywhere is “legal,” the arrest of someone in this circumstance could be very serious.  Indeed, none of us is safe from this and we delude ourselves if we think we are.

I want to quote now from Bonnie’s article as I had intended to.  It is  about a different world that is already emerging, one where people resist police repression together.  She reports first hand of an incident at OWS:

 

“After Bloomberg’s shameless and violent paramilitary crackdown in the dead of night on OWS in Zuccotti Park last month, I attended the general assembly meeting there the night after. I was awed by the resilient communal spirit of the occupiers facillitating and attending the meeting.

“Suddenly there was a disturbing distraction to the proceedings. Some occupiers were sitting on top of a wall ledge on the south edge of the park. A few overzealous police officers were ordering them to get down. To my mind it seemed gratuitous power-flexing by the police.

“After hundreds of NYC Occupiers were roughed up and/or arrested, their tents and personal items damaged or destroyed, and metal barricades erected around every last inch of the encampment’s borders, with that night only four police-monitored entrances available, in which each entrant was carefully inspected (for sleeping bags?) while going in and clandestinely, no doubt, had his or her photo taken. After hundreds of occupiers now had to find alternative sleeping accommodations this ‘get off the ledge’ power dictum to a tiny cluster of peaceful occupiers seemed insult to injury.

“A young man near me began to aim a stream of expletives at one aggressive officer hassling a young woman in particular. I inhaled worriedly, sure that his provocation would not bode well for the individuals in direct line of police engagement. Would one hot head cop and one hot head occupier derail the civilized Occupation community this evening tending to its vital and noble business?

“Suddenly an attractive dark-haired young woman stood up on the ledge, cupped her hands around her mouth and queried loudly, ‘Should I get down from the wall?’ I twisted my head to view the crowd of occupiers behind me re-chanting her message earnestly but without inflated hysteria. How empowering for her and all of us was that rhetorical ritual! She would not get down unless called to by her Occupy community.

“I looked back to the feisty young woman and had to blink. Every inch of the ledge was suddenly — it seemed automatically — filled with bodies defiantly sitting. Had there been a lot more sitters all along and I had not registered them, or, more likely, had countless occupiers hastened to the wall to join the woman and her comrades? The message of this passionately bonded proactive community was clear, if she were to be forcibly removed and arrested so would they all be. I’d call it a ‘checkmate’ moment for the police.

“I was awed by the display of loyalty as well as savvy.

“The most aggressive policeman was clearly enraged by the dazzling dynamic and seemed all the more motivated to force the issue, but four of his fellow officers were backing away, encouraging him to let it go.

“I exhaled, believing that was the end of it. But from the front of the meeting, a message was chanted back to us that the meeting may be momentarily terminated. Again, no strident messaging. The voice of calm, conveying ‘Please stand by, we will handle this as we have handled so much already. More maturely than we have been treated, certainly.’ The police apparently were deciding if the wall incident should be used by them for more broadscale power-flexing.

“The meeting was allowed to go on. A meeting that was taking care of business. The business of finding sleeping accommodations for 300 people, which they did, informing people where they could go to retrieve whatever remnants of their personal possessions had not been destroyed by the violent police, informing the community of the status of their fellow occupiers who had been arrested, and sharing and soliciting preliminary plans for further action.”

You can read Bonnie’s full article here.

Thank you, Bonnie, for putting your body on the line with the OWS movement and for reporting on it.  Thank you to all the courageous, smart, committed occupiers who are showing us that another world is possible.

I don’t know what would have happened in this train car if I had asked my fellow passengers if I should rise to defend the young man.  The time did not seem right to try to find out, so I didn’t.  I long for the day when anyone could ask and know that the mass of other people would respond wisely and courageously  in such a situation.

Torture Still Goes On

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Jeffrey Kaye in The Public Record of Dec 8th, 2011 quotes Diane Feinstien:

“As chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, I can say that we are nearing the completion [of] a comprehensive review of the CIA’s former interrogation and detention program, and I can assure the Senate and the Nation that coercive and abusive treatment of detainees in U.S. custody was far more systematic and widespread than we thought.

“Moreover, the abuse stemmed not from the isolated acts of a few bad apples but from fact that the line was blurred between what is permissible and impermissible conduct, putting U.S. personnel in an untenable position with their superiors and the law.”

This testimony by Senator Diane Feinstein concludes with more obfuscating language, but this part is at least clear and direct.   Kaye continues:

“One reason for the lulled non-murmur over torture is the outrageous lie that Obama, after coming into office, ‘ended torture.’  He enshrined the Army Field Manual as the supposedly humane alternative to the Bush torture regime of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques.’ Feinstein, who certainly knows better, is an exemplary model for such myth-making — ‘myth’ because the Army Field Manual actually uses torture of various sorts, and even though about half-a-dozen human rights and legal organizations, and a number of prominent government interrogators have said so in a Nov. 2010 letter signed by 14 well-known interrogators to then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates..” Feinstein clearly knows this and,  as Kaye shows in the rest of the article, but she still claims that the AFM and other guidelines are enough without secret documents.  What she fails to say is that they allow torture openly.

He states that he does not expect Feinstein to respond to questions he has about US torture methods.  He continues:

“Instead I ask readers, what kind of a country is it that has torture written into its public documents, and no one raises a fuss (or practically no one)?

“The failure to take on the AFM [Army Field Manual]and its Appendix M abuses in a serious fashion has led in a straight line to the political pornography of watching torture debated in Congress and among Presidential candidates, as well as a surge of political effort being made in some circles to make sure all such abuse is hidden forever behind a veil of classification. This failure is directly the responsibility of the human rights groups, who have not made it clear to their constituencies and the public at large how serious the problem currently is. While most of them are on the record of opposing the abuses described above, they repeatedly have pulled their punches for political reasons (as during the recent debate on the Ayotte amendment), and as a result, they must take the hard criticism when it comes, until, or unless they turn this around.”

I ask why we as citizens depend on the “human rights groups” who don’t do what they can for “political reasons.”  Such groups are not worth supporting.  What can we do directly as citizens?  Are we among those who have let US torture go unchallenged?  What can we do to resist torture by the US government right now?

US Reaps What It Has Sown

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

I just read a BBC story that a seventy year old US “aid expert” was kidnapped in August by armed men in Lahore Pakistan and continues to be held, and that the current head of al Qaeda has said he is being held “in retaliation.”

US Aid Expert Warren Weinstein

“‘Just as the Americans detain whomever they suspect may be connected to al-Qaeda or the Taliban even in the slightest of ways, we have detained this man who has been involved with US aid to Pakistan since the 1970s,’ Zawahiri said in the 31-minute video.

“He also demanded that America stop air strikes on Somalia and Yemen, according to a US monitoring group, Site Intelligence.”

My heart goes out to Mr Weinstein and his family.  I am also very afraid for his conditions of imprisonment there, and in no small part because of what the US has done and continues to do to aid workers and other completely innocent people at Guantanamo and in its other black sites.  My own values do not condone retaliation; the eye for an eye concept has not historically achieved desirable results, nor does it fit with my ideas about the way all human beings should be respected in and for themselves.  I can, however, understand that people could want to retaliate against US crimes against humanity.

One of the grisliest stories at Guantanamo is about Shaker Aamer, a British resident with a British wife and children, who was engaged in humanitarian and educational work in Afghanistan at the time of the US invasion.  Andy Worthington reported on 24 November of this year about his deteriorating condition and said,he  “remains held, exactly ten years since he was first seized, even though he was notified that he had been cleared for release in 2007, and even though successive British governments have requested his return to the UK.”

Worthington further reports there that Aamer, an English speaker and greatly humanitarian person was a “foremost advocate” for his fellow prisoners.  He “was tortured to within an inch of his life” during the same night that three prisoners died   Shaker Aamer is held in complete solitary confinement since that  incident reported as three “suicides” at the torture camp by US authorities, but which lawyer/writer Scott Horton has shown could not have been suicides. Military guards at the camp who later spoke with Horton suggest the three men were tortured to death.

Like so many of the nearly 800 men and boys who ended up in Guantanamo, Aamer was swept up in Dick Cheney’s indiscriminate drag net to catch enough people to populate the Guantanamo torture camp that had already been built and which was likely to go empty otherwise after he let the military president of Pakistan airlift probable al Qaeda and other leaders out of Kunduz.  Cheney had to fill up the camp and anybody, especially Arab Muslims living in Afghanistan were the primary targets of his dragnet.

Torture still goes on at Guantanamo.  Indefinite, extra-judicial imprisonment of people is against international law, and unless the current bill in Congress passes, is also illegal under US law.  Whether the US “law” changes or not, such treatment of people clearly does not adhere to international legal standards.

The BBC article mentions the capture and beheading of Wall Street Journal writer Daniel Pearl, a horrific crime, to be sure .  It does not, however, make any reference to the kidnapping and torture by the US of many people, not just the 779 in Guantanamo, but the thousands more in Bagram and black sites all over the world.

As it has sown, the US now reaps.  People will not infinitely allow themselves to be attacked by drones, their countries ravaged by US wars of aggression, their people victims of US crimes against humanity.

The US must take the first step by stopping all aggression, closing all the prisons abroad and releasing the prisoners, withdrawing its military personnel from its bases all over the world, closing the bases and returning the property to the countries where they are located, stopping all drone and other air wars, and making amends to the world.  Only in this way, can US citizens begin to be free and safe in the world.