29 November, 2005
Noah Cohen - Repression of Palestinian Activists in the US
Thanks to Lana Habash for forwarding this from New England Committee to Defend Palestine and their site, One Palestine
April of 2002 saw some of the largest and most vocal demonstrations of solidarity for Palestine in US history. On April 5 in Boston, 2,000 people marched in the street protesting the Israeli invasion of Jenin and other Palestinian population centers; the march received prominent and unusually sympathetic coverage in the Boston Globe. On April 20 of 2002, between 50,000 and 100,000 people marched in Washington DC, protesting both the escalation toward war in Iraq, and continued US support for Israel in its military actions against Palestinians. The march was arguably the largest pro-Palestinian demonstration in US history; the Washington Post gave it front-page coverage, quoting Palestinians and supporters of the Palestinian cause at length. In both of these demonstrations, Arabs and Muslims turned out in large numbers.
The significance of rallies and marches for changing US policy can be debated. The purpose of this article will not be to discuss the relative merits of public demonstrations, but rather to observe something about the recent history of repression against the Palestinian cause in the US, as yet uncommented in most of the current discussion of civil liberties. This silence is a glaring omission to anyone directly involved in pro-Palestinian organizing over the last few years.
For in fact, by the end of 2003, both of the two Palestinians who had spoken from the national stage in DC on April 20th had been detained; one was subsequently forced to leave the country, the other faces long-term imprisonment inside the US. In Boston, five of the central non-citizen Palestinian organizers had been forced from the country; two had also been detained by the INS or by its later incarnation, the Department of Homeland Security, and one had also been tortured in custody.
Why have these facts not been more generally discussed? More importantly, why has so little been done about them?
The View from Boston
Jaoudat Abouazza was part of a small community of Palestinian, non-citizen organizers who were centrally involved in building public demonstrations in Boston. His picture appeared at the front of the march in the April 6 Boston Globe. He attended regular demonstrations in front of the Israeli Consulate and brought supporters.
On May 30 of 2002, he was stopped by police in Cambridge, MA, ostensibly for an elapsed vehicle registration. The police searched his car and found a stack of flyers announcing a protest of the upcoming Israel Day of Celebration. Soon Abouazza would find himself in the Cambridge jail being interrogated by members of the FBI.
During Abouazza’s arraignment on the following day, the police had formulated a laundry list of charges against which Abouazza would never have the opportunity to defend himself.
The prosecutor cited the presence of the protest flyers along with a roll of speaker wire as a reason to deny bail (now infamous as the “flyers and wires” theory), an argument that the judge found persuasive. He was held for another three days until his first pre-trial hearing. During that time, he was repeatedly questioned by members of the FBI concerning his political beliefs and associations, in the absence of his court appointed attorney. By the time his pre-trial hearing arrived, the INS had already filed a detainer; he pleaded innocence, but the INS took him into custody on the following day. Since he was therefore unable to appear at his next hearing on June 12, the Cambridge Court issued a warrant for his arrest.
The Jaoudat Abouazza Defense Committee (JADC) was formed immediately after Abouazza’s arrest in Cambridge. Members worked on two fronts: mounting a public pressure campaign for Abouazza’s release; securing effective legal representation. After Abouazza’s detention by the INS, the JADC held a meeting with members of the local chapter of the National Lawyer’s Guild who were centrally involved in the NLG Immigration Rights Project. The meeting seemed favorable. The NLG representatives surprised the committee a few days later by declining to take the case, without explanation. They provided instead a referral to an NLG affiliated immigration lawyer—Nelson Brill—who agreed to handle the case for his normal fee.
After Abouazza was transferred into INS custody, the interrogations continued, along with an escalating pattern of physical and psychological abuse. Upon his detention in Bristol County Jail, where he was moved from Cambridge, one guard punched him in the stomach; another called him “Taliban.” He was introduced to the other prisoners as a “terrorist.” He was repeatedly awakened in his cell by federal agents, who showed him flyers and pictures of political associates and asked him questions. He was placed in solitary confinement for refusing to answer questions. At no time was his lawyer present.
On Sunday, June 16, Palestinian activist Amer Jubran and another member of the defense committee visited Abouazza in Bristol. His mouth was swollen and bleeding. He told them that earlier on the same day he had been taken from his cell to a medical office inside the prison, strapped into a chair, and four of his teeth had been pulled against his will and without anesthesia. Attorney John Reinstein of the ACLU and Abouazza’s public defender, Emily Karstetter, visited Abouazza two days later. Karstetter confirmed to the press that she saw Abouazza’s wounds; Reinstein said nothing.
The JADC began a public pressure campaign to have Abouazza transferred to a medical facility both to receive treatment and to gain independent documentation of torture. Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson first denied that any teeth had been pulled; then claimed that the treatment was voluntary. He refused to grant access to an independent medical investigator, and later barred members of the defense committee and the ACLU from further visits.
On June 27, 28 days after his arrest, Abouazza was finally granted an immigration hearing. He asked for voluntary departure to Canada (where he was a citizen) in order to be released as soon as possible from the INS and from the threat of further abuse at the hands of US officials. The judge granted his request, but allowed for his continued detention by the INS pending their appeal. Amnesty International wrote a letter to Bristol on July 5, warning them that physical abuse of prisoners was a violation of international human rights, and asserting the need for independent medical review. The INS finally executed the order of voluntary departure to Canada a week later.
Partly as a result of the work of the JADC, news of Abouazza’s detention spread quickly through the local activist community. One consequence was an immediate chilling effect among local Arabs and Muslims, who recognized correctly that their own participation in political speech would not be protected. Whereas 2,000 people—disproportionately Arab and Muslim—had been on the street on April 5, less than 100 were present on June 9, for the protest for which Abouazza had been building at the time of his arrest. Abouazza’s subsequent torture in INS custody further drove home the message of intimidation.
Amer Jubran—active in Abouazza’s defense—was himself the object of political targeting and harassment. Jubran had helped to organize a protest of the Israel Day of Celebration in Brookline in June of 2001. The Brookline police arrested him and broke up the demonstration. They charged him with “assault with a dangerous weapon” (his shod foot) claiming that a local Zionist had accused Jubran of kicking him from behind.
A police video-tape gave clear evidence of the truth: Jubran had not kicked anyone. An independent eye-witness told the police that the accuser had been the aggressor, bumping into Jubran and speaking aggressively. The police at first attempted to suppress this evidence, along with dispatch tapes showing that there had been an advance order to “arrest Jubran” and “clear the demonstration.” As it turned out, the Brookline Police were also in the pay of the Israel Day of Celebration organizers, which included the Israeli Consulate; the Brookline Police had communicated information about the protest and protest organizers to the Israeli Consulate—an agent of a foreign government. After a long defense campaign, with 11 court appearances and lasting nearly a year, the Brookline court ultimately granted “pre-trial probation” and dismissed the charges.
Jubran went on to become a leading organizer of the New England Committee to Defend Palestine (NECDP), which helped to organize the June 9, 2002 protest against the Israel Day of Celebration. On November 2, 2002, the NECDP held its first fully independent event – a protest in commemoration of the disastrous Balfour Declaration of 1917—at which time it also announced publicly its principles: opposition to the existence of Israel as a colonial-settler state and support for a unified, democratic Palestine in all the historic territory of Palestine; full support for Palestinian human rights, including the right of Palestinians to resist colonization and the right of refugees to return their land; and an end of all US military, economic and political aid to Israel. Jubran led the demonstrators in a march through downtown Boston.
Two days later, on the morning of November 4, INS and FBI agents forced their way into Jubran’s home in Rhode Island and demanded that he answer some questions. INS agent David Adkins told Jubran that if he would “please the ears” of the FBI, he would be free by that afternoon. If he failed to do so, he “could rot in jail for 50 years.” Jubran said that he would only speak to them in the presence of an attorney. When he insisted on this right, the INS proceeded to arrest him.
Members of the NECDP formed a defense committee and organized a public pressure campaign to gain Jubran’s release, hiring Nelson Brill to handle his legal defense.
Initially the INS insisted that it planned to hold Jubran indefinitely, and refused to cite the statutes under which it claimed authority to do so. INS agent Mike Clifford hung up the phone on Brill when he demanded this information.
On November 21, the INS finally granted a bond hearing and did not contest bond when it was set by the judge. It nevertheless affirmed that it would move forward with deportation against Jubran, now claiming that his Green Card—granted three years earlier--had been obtained fraudulently, based on an alleged false marriage.
As the case unfolded over the following year, the INS—which became Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the Department of Homeland Security while the case was pending—systematically abused institutional power, withholding evidence and intimidating witnesses. A little more than a week before the trial scheduled for July 24, federal agents visited members of Jubran’s ex-wife’s family, interrogating one of them for nine hours and threatening to take her children away if she testified on Jubran’s behalf.
The prosecutor consistently failed to turn over documents, submissions of evidence, or witness lists. Jubran complied fully with these requirements. During the July 24 hearing, his ex-wife gave clear testimony that their marriage had been for love. The prosecutor submitted no evidence or witnesses to the contrary; instead, he used the proceedings to inquire about Jubran’s political activities and other extraneous matters. The judge over-ruled all objections to this line of inquiry. Although the judge claimed that he was prepared to rule in Jubran’s favor, he nevertheless granted the prosecutor time to prolong the case. It became clear to Jubran and the AJDC that the prosecutor was using the immigration proceedings to conduct a fishing expedition into Jubran’s political community.
The most disturbing aspect of Jubran’s trial was the tacit cooperation of his own lawyer with these proceedings. Brill made the appropriate political statements to the press: Jubran’s case was one of political silencing, an attempt to intimidate the activist community. He filed letters objecting to some of the most outrageous acts of the prosecutor—most importantly, the intimidation of Jubran’s witnesses. But he acted more as an officer of the court than as an advocate for his client’s rights. He defied specific instructions from his client not to enter into agreements with the prosecutor without consulting him, most importantly not to agree to repeated further continuances that were being used to facilitate an illegitimate investigation. As the final date of the trial drew near, this cooperation grew worse: against Jubran’s specific instructions, Brill agreed to a schedule for the trial itself that would have increased the ability of the prosecutor to use the trial as a means of conducting an illegitimate interrogation.
During his final trial on November 6, 2003, Jubran told the judge that he did not have faith in his lawyer and asked that he be granted time to obtain another. The judge told him that if he discharged his lawyer, he would be required to go on with the proceedings with no representation. The judge himself would proceed with direct questioning. Under these circumstances, Jubran requested voluntary departure. He would leave the country in January of 2004.
Two other members of the same Boston community of Palestinians were targeted during the same period. They will remain nameless, since they have not chosen to make their cases public. One was a very active member of the religious community who had been effective in the local mosques in building support for public demonstrations. He was visited by the FBI at his work and home. Although his immigration status was valid and he engaged in no illegal activities, he decided to leave the country after witnessing the treatment of Abouazza and Jubran.
His roommate was not so fortunate. Agents discovered that he had some irregularities in his immigration papers and detained him. They threatened him with 10 years in detention if he refused to discuss his roommate and other members of the activist community. He told them that there was nothing to discuss, since no one was engaged in anything illegal. They detained him for another ten months before deporting him.
Civil Liberties Organizations: a Pattern of Inaction
In the course of the proceedings against Jubran, the Amer Jubran Defense Committee submitted FOIA petitions to local, state, and federal police agencies. We obtained extensive evidence of police surveillance of activists: twelve video tapes from the Boston police department; evidence of the sharing of photographs between the Brookline and Boston police departments—including photographs of Jubran and his supporters inside the Brookline court; and communications between local and federal police agencies. During the July 24 hearing, an agent John Blake of the Department of Homeland Security attempted to attend the proceedings as if he were a “member of the interested public,” but was asked to leave after he was forced to reveal his true identity. The AJDC would later photograph him shadowing them at an anti-Ashcroft protest.
Jubran and members of the AJDC presented this information to civil liberties organizations, along with the record of federal abuse of institutional power in using immigration proceedings against Jubran to silence his political speech. In conversation, ACLU representatives affirmed that his case clearly showed a pattern of political harassment; they never followed-up with action on his behalf.
In August of 2003, Jubran wrote a letter to John Reinstein. Directed specifically to the ACLU, it expressed the failure of the civil liberties community in general to act in response to the unfolding repression of Palestinian activists in Boston:
“I am writing you to express my lingering dissatisfaction with the Boston Chapter of the ACLU. […]
The United States Government has targeted me because of my political beliefs and activities. The events that I have been subjected to in the last three years prove this beyond a doubt. Other Palestinian activists have been targeted as well.
The attacks on me started with Brookline case. I appreciated your involvement at the beginning of that affair. The information that we obtained from your inquiry was startling. This included the following discoveries:
• The Israel Independence Day organizers paid the city of Brookline for police protection;
• There was direct contact between the Brookline police captain and security officers at the Israeli consulate in Boston about our intention to protest on June 10;
• Surveillance of our demonstration in Brookline was done specifically to obtain mug shots of demonstrators;
• The FBI was contacted about local activists who only wished to express their political opinions.
Following this there continued to be other violations of my right to free speech and the linking of my name with September 11 by Brookline officials in the media. These events were of great significance to other activists and me. Yet, despite my numerous requests, you did not express any interest in following up with the any of above matters.
In the summer of 2002 Jaoudat Abouazza became the center of attention. His was a clear case of government targeting of Palestinian activists. On June 16, 2002, personnel at the Bristol County Jail extracted by force four teeth from Jaoudat's mouth, without using anesthesia. More disturbing was the fact that even though you saw the four wounds first hand and documented them with sketches, you did not provide any acknowledgement that this had happened. I hoped that you would at least confirm to the media, who did not think that I was a credible witness, what you saw that day. I did not then, and do not now, understand why you would not confirm what you saw.
Legal intervention was critical in the period while Jaoudat was still in custody—not only to remove him from the immediate danger of further abuse, but also to ensure that an independent medical and dental examination take place in time to document this act of torture. As it turned out, you helped us to obtain a lawyer […] who was willing to take on a lawsuit on Jaoudat’s behalf, but neither you nor [he] made any serious attempt to pursue either Jaoudat’s immediate release or immediate access to independent medical personnel. By the time Jaoudat was released from custody on ‘voluntary departure’ to Canada and we were able to re-establish contact with him, it was already too late for X-rays to show conclusively what had taken place.
The only other word I had from you last summer was your contacting us, not to inquire about Jaoudat, but to ask some questions on behalf of Nancy Geffen of the Jewish Council of Greater Boston. You asked to negotiate with us on our plans to protest the Israeli Day of Independence in Boston on June 9, 2002.
Last fall the government arrested me and put me in jail for seventeen days, without charges. After I was released, I visited with you and talked about my case in the hope that you would defend me. I was comforted by your strong statement that I was arrested because of my political actions and openly expressed opinions. In this December meeting, you explained that you could not do anything related to immigration defense. I replied that the Amer Jubran Defense Committee would take care of that. You also commented that the FBI's targeting of me based on my political actions would be hard to expose. Since then, friends of mine, with limited legal resources, managed to obtain important information through FOIA requests. This information, consisting of police reports and videotapes, provides clear evidence of an established network of surveillance and information sharing between local police departments, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security. […]
My case has reached a crucial juncture. The immigration judge has expressed his unwillingness to hear testimony concerning FBI witness intimidation; he suggested that the civil courts would be a more appropriate place to bring such allegations. A civil rights suit against the Department of Homeland Security is the next step that we must take -- a step that is both logical in my case, and necessary for defending the fundamental rights of others -- but this step will require serious legal support, not merely token gestures of interest.
With the limited resources of the Amer Jubran Defense Committee we managed to get a lot done. However, the government is getting bolder in attempting to harass, silence my dissent, and punish me, as well as others. More support is needed to stop these illegalities and to prevent further abuses. The ACLU is a respected organization. I have seen how eager ACLU is in protecting the freedom of expression of others, but for some reason this eagerness stops short with me. I am left to ask why?”
The ACLU replied by inviting Jubran to a meeting. Once again, Reinstein agreed that Jubran’s case demonstrated political targeting and required action, but again no action followed. Reinstein was present during the final trial; his only intervention was to interrupt the proceedings to recommend that Jubran take the stand and submit to direct questioning by the judge-- without the protection of a lawyer.
Other organizations were no better. Bill Goodman, a civil liberties attorney and former director of the Center for Constitutional Rights looked at the case and suggested that it be the subject of a civil lawsuit. He promised to contact the Center for Constitutional Rights and ask for their support. On further follow-up calls, he insisted that nothing could be done until the immigration case was over. At an initial meeting, the local NLG representative made the outrageous claim that Jubran’s arrest had nothing to do with his political activities, but was a mere coincidence of broad sweeps of the Muslim and Arab community. She would later threaten a member of Jubran’s defense committee that other NECDP activists should not expect any help from the legal community after they had spoken publicly of their dissatisfaction with Brill—an NLG affiliated lawyer. Although the AJDC had hired Brill privately and paid him more than $5,000, she spoke as though the NLG had provided Brill’s services pro bono.
Response from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), both local and national, was minimal. The local ADC took its cue primarily from the ACLU.
After the conclusion of the November 6 trial, members of the AJDC began to speak publicly about ACLU inaction. The Massachusetts ACLU Executive Director Carol Rose invited us to discuss our concerns in person. On December 3, 2003 we met with her, John Reinstein and Nancy Murray, and spoke of two things primarily:
1) The ACLU encouraged people to stand up for their rights—e.g. to insist on their right not to be questioned without an attorney. It then failed to act legally in their defense when they did so—this meant that the ACLU’s campaign of community legal education tended only to put people in danger, since it gave them the false impression that they could expect a vigorous legal defense of their rights.
2) When the ACLU failed to take any legal action, it also undercut the credibility of the people targeted when they turned to the public for support.
Members of the AJDC had also been active in immigrant and detainee response networks in New England. One member had given the ACLU lists of names of individuals who reported abuse in detention.
ACLU representatives asked that detainees be encouraged to document these abuses in writing—an action that placed their testimony in the hands of prison guards, often the same ones who had subjected them to the abuse. In only one case did the ACLU send a lawyer to investigate further, after a delay of more than two weeks; by then the inmate had been transferred to another facility, and the lawyer did not attempt to investigate allegations of abuse by other prisoners at the same facility. The ACLU undertook no further follow-up action that might have protected the prisoners from reprisal.
Rose admitted that the ACLU had not won the faith of the Arab and Muslim community, and she looked to us for help providing some guidance for improvement. She asked us to put our concerns in a letter to her, and invited us to meet again in order to initiate a plan of further action. We sent a five-page letter reiterating what we had said in conversation; she replied by breaking off all correspondence.
In our meeting, ACLU attorney John Reinstein claimed that he had never been asked to take any legal action on Jubran’s behalf, neglecting to mention Jubran’s letter. He also insisted that no legal action—such as a suit for a violation of Jubran’s constitutional rights—could be taken under the circumstances. The Supreme Court had already decided in the case of the LA8 that the federal government could selectively prosecute immigrants for deportation because of their political views. It was thus futile to litigate the matter further.
The View Nationally
Amer Jubran and Sami al-Arian had shared the stage as Palestinian activists in DC on April 20, 2001. In February of 2003, Al-Arian would be arrested and imprisoned on charges of “supporting terrorism.” For the next eight months he was forced to rely on court-appointed attorneys who did little to help him. Much of his time was spent in solitary confinement under 23 hour lockdown. Serious defense did not begin until his defense campaign was able to raise enough money to hire private attorneys in October of 2003.
His trial is finally coming to a conclusion. It has clearly been a case of targeting for political speech and other legal activities in support of Palestinian organizations.
The targeting of Palestinian political activists has taken place within a broader context of attacks on Arabs and Muslims. This has allowed the government to conceal the political nature of its campaign: specific attacks against activists can be hidden under sweeping policies. The overall purpose has nevertheless been to silence a community living within the US that has intimate knowledge of US imperial crimes in Palestine, Iraq and the surrounding region.
On the whole, the civil liberties community has protested against these sweeping attacks on Arab and Muslim men; it has—perhaps for this very reason—tended to distance itself from more overtly political cases. Few rallied around Ali Al-Timimi—a religious leader sentenced to life in prison for preaching in his mosque against US imperialism. Imprisonment specifically of politically oriented Muslims who support armed liberation of their countries has been normalized in the full range of US discourse, even in cases where “support” consists entirely of speech.
On April 9 of 2002 Lynne Stewart was arrested for vigorously defending Muslim cleric Shiek Omar Abdel Rahman. Many progressive lawyers expressed outrage, above all because the action targeted a member of their own community. Equal support has not been extended to her two assistants, Mohammed Yousry and Ahmed Sattar, arrested at the same time. Though Stewart herself has said that she, her client, and her two assistants have all been subject to the violation of the same basic right to freedom of speech, leading civil libertarian David Cole would write instead:
“So how did the prosecution meet its burden [against Stewart]? With classic McCarthy-era tactics: fearmongering and guilt by association. First, it tried Stewart together with Ahmed Sattar, an Egyptian-born US citizen against whom it had thousands of hours of wiretaps of communications with a terrorist group. Among other things, Sattar had issued a fake fatwa urging followers to "kill [Jews] wherever they are." By trying Stewart and Sattar together, the government could taint Stewart with Sattar's sins, even though, as was the case with the fatwa, she had nothing to do with them and no knowledge of them.” (“The Lynne Stewart Trial,” The Nation, February 17, 2005)
Notice that Cole takes Sattar’s “sins” at face value; he describes telephone conversations as “communication with a terrorist group,” adopting the government’s language. He objects not so much to trying all three defendants for their speech, but rather to Ashcroft’s “tainting” of Lynne Stewart by association.
Legal Action as Part of a Strategy for Change
Reinstein’s comments about the futility of litigating the rights of immigrants to freedom of speech and equal protection of the law after the 1999 Supreme Court decision in the case of the LA8 must be understood in its full ideological context. In fact, progressive lawyers have a long history of litigating cases on principle as part of a larger strategy of political change.
At an NLG forum in San Francisco in November of 2003, David Cole and Jules Lobel gave a talk entitled “Fighting (for) Justice after September 11: the Threat to Civil Liberties and What We Can Do About It.” Lobel’s talk centered around the issues raised by his book, Success Without Victory: Lost Legal Battles and the Long Road to Justice in America. He affirmed that it was not only necessary to fight “winning cases” that establish precedent. Where poor legal precedents have already been established, it was still necessary to fight “losing cases” in order to build political movements—in some cases political movements that will help to change the law.
Thus it was necessary to continue to challenge slavery in the courts after Dred Scott, since this was a part of building the movement to abolish slavery. It was equally useful to litigate against US military intervention in Central America—though bound to lose—because this would contribute to public education and the building of a movement to stop US military intervention.
This analysis leads to an important corollary: although a civil liberties attorney might take a “winning case” on principle in defense of freedom of speech for a cause he does not support, he will not take a “losing case” if the only consequence will be to build support for that cause. A “progressive” attorney might defend the free-speech rights of a Nazi or pedophile if he believes that it will set a valuable precedent in defense of the free-speech rights of all. He might take a “losing case” if he supports the political cause it represents.
Based on the official position of the National Lawyer’s Guild in support of the Palestinian Right of Return and other similar positions, one would expect strong support in NLG chapters across the nation for the rights of Palestinian activists in the US. The NLG has historically helped in the defense of Palestinians; David Cole continues to represent the LA8 in their ongoing appeals.
In Boston, this support has not been forthcoming from any of the existing organizations. In addition, active members of the civil liberties community who have taken public stands on the Palestinian cause have clearly been on the side of “left Zionism.” Our experience suggests that “left-Zionists” in particular may have an interest in silencing Palestinian activists, since this allows them to dominate what passes for “pro-Palestinian” politics in the US. Palestinians who call for strong positions in support of their full historic rights to land and their right to defend themselves from colonial settlers “by any means necessary” are frequently repudiated and shut out of public venues by these same nominal “pro-Palestinians.”
Will ideologically committed “left-Zionists” be likely to continue mounting challenges to the rules of “ideological exclusion” if they are not likely to win cases in the current ideological climate? Will they do so if one consequence will be to give Palestinian radicals a larger voice in the political movement?
There are individual lawyers in the existing civil liberties organizations who genuinely fight for the rights of Palestinians. There are young legal activists who support the full range of Palestinian rights. But these individuals are buried under the larger organizations and have no coherent voice.
Locally, in our attempts to fight repression, we have found that we cannot in good conscience provide Arabs and Muslims asking for legal aid with NLG, ACLU or ADC contact information, since we cannot rely on their genuine help. This is especially true in cases of activists targeted for their political views. Local immigrant rights and civil liberties organizations have largely confined their challenges to post-9/11 government action to defending what they call “innocent immigrants”—this means primarily non-political people who have been arrested as a result of racial profiling or other sweeping institutional and legislative actions. Even here their record has been shoddy.
We need an organization of radical lawyers who truly believe in the right of Palestinians to self-determination, including their right to speak out on behalf of their struggle here inside the US. Only such an organization will be willing to defend those rights zealously.
20 November, 2005
Remarks at the Saban Forum Closing Session - Deconstructing Condi
Jerusalem November 13, 2005
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Well, first of all, thank you, Haim, for that generous introduction and thank you to you and to Cheryl for what you do through this organization and through this forum to support and promote Israeli-American dialogue. I'd like to recognize Ambassador Indyk for his role in this. And to all of you who have participated in this dialogue, I only wish that I could have been to hear the fine panels that have taken place. But it is this kind of vision and leadership and generosity that are helping to make the Saban Center and this annual forum such a critical contribution to peace and understanding. The United States and Israel, of course, share history and share interests but most of all we share values and because we share values, our friendship will always be strong and deep and broad. (Applause.)
---They share history? Hmm. I would say that every nation that has had anything to do with Israel shares its history. What is this special historical role? They share interest$, yes, no argument there. Share values, agreed, and that is why neither of them value true democracy and are racist to the core. It takes no effort at all to see the ways the minority groups live in these countries to be the first barometer of the value (expressed in Dollars).
As I look out tonight at this audience, I see many businessmen and academics and statesmen and even a few journalists who are -- somehow made it on to the guest list -- (laughter) -- and I see that there's a depth of historic partnership that really does bridge -- as Prime Minister Sharon said, not just our governments but our people and that is what is represented here.
I am honored, too, by the many distinguished members of the Israeli Government who are here, including former Prime Minister Barak, Vice Premier Peres -- thank you very much for being here -- and of course, Prime Minister Sharon. Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, for your wonderful address but also for your leadership of this great country and for your friendship for America.
---Ok, Condi. You are enthusiastic about Arik, why not just immediately state that he is the candidate that the United States is endorsing and get it over with.
I would like to thank former Secretary of State James Baker who on behalf of President Bush -- 43, not President Bush 41 -- is leading our delegation here and it's a delegation to the events attending the 10th Anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination. It's a delegation that reflects every branch of the government. There are members of our Congress here, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer is here. And I want to thank all of you and the many private citizens from the United States who have come as well.
I want to recognize one person, however, and his wife and that's Jim Wolfensohn and Elaine. Jim was planning was on a very nice retirement in Jackson Hole after his work at the World Bank and we said, well, we have another small task for you and he has been thoroughly and completely involved since then. Thank you very much, Jim. (Applause.)
When I first came to Israel, I said that it was like coming home to a place I had never been. And, indeed, I am always happy to return here to Jerusalem, which is an especially powerful place to be for someone like me who holds deep religious beliefs.
---Boy, coming home to a place you had never been. Just think how it must feel for the Palestinians, who HAD been to their homes and aren’t permitted to come back. Can you relate to that? Or is it just a religious thing?
This visit, of course, to Jerusalem is also marked by the memory of sorrow because tomorrow, along with many of you, I will attend the memorial service honoring Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was tragically assassinated a decade ago.
Yitzhak Rabin represented the pioneer spirit of the Israeli heartland -- the impatient optimism and rugged determination that helped Israel to turn its barren soil green and to build a new home in its native land and indeed to take up arms when it was necessary against all who denied this nation’s right to exist.
---A propaganda speech straight from the Zionist myth. Barren soil, native land, take up arms against all who deny its right to exist (and the right to exist of the Palestinians doesn’t seem to phase her).
And when Israel needed to secure its independence and repel attackers along many fronts, Yitzhak Rabin distinguished himself on the field of battle.
---A war criminal, the mind behind Operation Dani, where 500,000 civilians were deported from Lydda and Ramleh. 5,000 more were expelled from three other villages during the Six Day War. Is this distinguishing oneself on the battlefield? If I were him I would be ashamed to look at my children in the eye.
And when Israel needed leadership, they summoned him to serve democracy and he distinguished himself in the halls of government. And when Israel needed a vision of peace, Yitzhak Rabin distinguished himself at the negotiating table.
He was a man who was a pioneer and a warrior and a statesman and a peacemaker. And he approached all of his callings, especially that of peace, with tenacity, and aplomb and a gritty realism -- but also with hope and trust and an abiding idealism.
---Warrior, yes. Leading Israel into the aggression against Lebanon. Any repentance he ever felt was not for “peace”, but for something else.
After risking death so many times in war, it was for the cause of peace that he ultimately gave his life. And despite the heroic efforts of many individuals since that time, the past decade has seen much pain and disappointment. Terrorists have claimed the lives of over one thousand innocent Israelis and injured thousands of others -- men and women and children who simply wanted to enjoy a pizza or catch a bus or celebrate Passover.
---Isn’t that a picturesque image? These nice families just wanting to be normal, and all those nasty terrorists coming around.
And the Palestinian people have suffered, too. They too have mourned the loss of innocent life. They too have been deprived of days that are normal, filled with peace and opportunity. And now, and for many years to come, they must work to overcome a legacy of corruption and violence and misrule by leaders who promised to fulfill their people’s dreams, but instead preferred arbitrary power over democratic progress.
---Condi doesn’t stop for a moment to reflect upon WHY they have suffered. She lists corruption, violence and misrule by their leaders who denied them democracy. She had better come down from her cloud soon, the air up there is very thin. As you will see in the rest of this discourse, NONE of the Palestinian suffering is due to anything the Israelis have done! It is self inflicted suffering, and if America starts to invest, now that there is a new president, all will turn nice for them. But, I jump too far ahead, those readers who are courageous enough to still follow me.
In the face of so much suffering, it is at times difficult to remain hopeful. But, ladies and gentlemen, I believe deeply when future observers are in a position to know the full history of this conflict, they may point back to this present moment as a time when peace became more likely, not less likely; when peace began to seem inevitable, not impossible -- for the last several years have seen deep changes in this region, changes conducive to real progress.
---Does Condi know the full history of this conflict? It doesn’t sound like it. And, as a matter of fact, peace seems to be less possible than before. The Wall, which is NEVER mentioned in this paper is disrupting Palestinian life like nothing before, the Jews Only Roads are being built, the checkpoints are being mechanised and if possible, even further militarised and Jerusalem and large areas of the West Bank are being taken away from Palestinians day after day in an irreversible way. Israel has picked off most of the leaders of Palestinian society, and there have been more killings of Palestinian civilians in the past few years than in recent memory. The Third Intifada seems to be far from a remote possibility.
Today, we have hope for peace because the international community is united in its historic struggle against terrorism. People in the Middle East are also speaking more clearly against terrorism. And they are rejecting the bankrupt belief that national struggles or religious teachings legitimize the intentional killing of innocents.
---Why blame national struggles only now? When Israel did it, you seem to hail it as nation building. Why equate religious teaching with terrorism, when Israel engages in State Terrorism under the name of a Jewish State by dropping bombs into crowded streets to assassinate a Palestinian leader.
As we have seen in the aftermath of the vicious attacks in Jordan -- and let me join the Prime Minister in extending our condolences to the people of Jordan -- an attack in which dozens of people were killed and wounded and many more harmed because their personal lives were turned upside down by this attack. Fortunately, now, leaders and clerics and private citizens are stepping forward and taking to the streets and calling this evil by its name. This is a profound change and there are others.
We have hope for peace today because people no longer accept that despotism is the eternal political condition of the Middle East. More and more individuals are demanding their freedom and their dignity. Mothers and fathers are saying that they want their children to be engineers, not suicide bombers; that they want their children, daughters as well as sons, to be voting citizens, not docile subjects. There is now growing agreement that democracy is the only path to stability, to real legitimacy and to lasting peace.
---Individuals have wanted the best for their children since time began. Why do you think that American style democracy is something that they want? They have values that predate this, and are more profound and relevant to them. Why not learn to respect that? Why call it despotism if many times, that is not what it is?
Of course, many skeptics still question whether freedom will truly lead to more peace in this region. I believe that it will. We have seen that when authoritarian governments cannot ensure justice and security and prosperity for their people, they look for false legitimacy and they blame their failures on modernity or on America or on the Jews.
---America and the Jews of Israel and those who support Israel have brought no end of suffering to the Arabs of the Middle East and to any area of the world that does not accept this brand of Western hegemony. Did America or Israel bring prosperity, justice or security to the Palestinians, to the Afghanis, to the Iraqis? Is it a question then, of just not being as GOOD as America or Israel, to whom they must model themselves? I would say, being an invaded and militarily occupied nation does kind of put a damper on progress and prosperity.
We have also seen that when people are denied freedom to express themselves, when they cannot advance their interests and redress their grievances through an open political process, they retreat into shadows of alienation to be preyed upon by fanatical men with violent designs. We are not naïve about the pace or the difficulty of democratic change. But we know that the longing for democratic change is deep and urgently felt.
---She sees the solution as a purple finger vote? When Palestinians and their supporters demonstrate non-violently in Bi’lin, they are shot at or arrested. What else are they supposed to do? How can people have the freedom to express themselves if it is expressing against the violent and racist regime that is Israel?
And when we look at a nation like Iran, we see an educated and sophisticated people who are the bearers of a great civilization. And we also see that as Iran's Government has grown more divorced from the will of its citizens, it has become more threatening, not less threatening. No civilized nation should have a leader who wishes, or hopes, or desires, or considers it a matter of policy to express that another country should be pushed into the sea. It is simply unacceptable in the international system. (Applause.)
---That America constantly destroys and creates countries at will, this comment is almost more than vulgar. America has overthrown, arrested or assassinated more than one foreign leader and invaded more than one country, never achieving victory. There might be something to reflect upon behind this. Sometimes the people do know better than the invaders. Sometimes the will of the citizens isn’t what Condi thinks it is. And, the question begs, how does she know what the Iranian people think? I believe that the majority is absolutely against Zionism, as was expressed by their president. I shall not comment on the non-application of Resolution 181, where Israel unilaterally declared itself a State, without recognising the Palestinian one. This is making Palestine fall off into the sea, and so far, no nation, or no international body had lifted a finger in seeing that this Resolution is applied either in spirit or in deed.
Now, it's given real freedom to hold their government accountable. It is doubtful that the majority of Iranian people would choose to deepen their country's international isolation through these incendiary statements and threatening policies. But more than anything, ladies and gentlemen, we have hope for peace because these moral and philosophical changes in the Middle East are leading to democratic progress in the region itself. Men and women are standing up for their fundamental freedoms. They are pressuring states with long habits of authoritarian rule to open their political systems.
One decade after Yitzhak Rabin’s murder, it is clear that the strategic context of the Middle East has changed dramatically and this is a hopeful development that can make Israel more secure, peace more possible, and America more secure.
---How does it make America more secure? By assuring that the leaders “elected” are those who are America-friendly regardless of any other issues they may have? Whether or not they are democracies, theocratic monarchies, or puppet regimes? It doesn’t matter, as long as they march to the tune you whistle.
During this time, really only in the last two years -- the blink of an eyelash in history -- the Government of Libya has made a fundamental choice to give up its weapons of mass destruction and to rejoin the community of nations.
---When will America and Israel give up their weapons of mass destruction and join the community of nations. In my eyes, any nation that has ever dropped an atomic bomb or two on any cities or groups of human beings should be excluded from the community of nations and should be making reparations from here to judgment day. Get off your high moral horse, because you don’t belong there. Look at what you are doing to the people of Iraq with your WMD’s. How do you sleep at night?
Egypt has had a presidential election and parliamentary elections under new constitutional rules. Saudi Arabia has taken initial steps toward political openness. And Kuwait has granted its women citizens the right to vote. The people of Lebanon have reclaimed their country after three decades of Syrian military occupation. They have held free elections. They are pursuing democratic reforms. And the international community is united in our defense of Lebanon’s rights as an independent, sovereign nation.
----Not a word about Israeli occupation of the Golan. Lebanon, actually, enjoyed defence against Israel by the so-called Syrian occupation, which was basically a military presence, and not a rule from the outside, which is what an occupation really is. This is pure propaganda that Condi utters. Not to mention, her thrill at Kuwait and Saudi Arabia starting to become modern, like Iraq was before the invasion.
The Government of Syria has increasingly isolated itself from the international community through its support for terrorism, its interference in the affairs of its neighbors, its destabilizing behavior in the region, and its possible role in the murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. And the recent speech by President Asad only reflects and reinforces the Syrian Government’s current isolation. And the United Nations is now holding Syria to account for its disturbing behavior.
----Blaming Syria for what precisely? If there is a destabilising force, it is the United States, which has brought around war to the region and destroyed a country in the process, without rebuilding it in any way, except to establish the pipeline routes and secure the oilwells.
And we have hope for peace because Saddam Hussein is no longer terrorizing his people, threatening his region and paying the families of suicide bombers. (Applause.)
----There were no suicide bombers before this war. The Iraqi insurgency, resistance and civil war was an American contribution to peace and love in the region.
Instead, Saddam Hussein is sitting in an Iraqi prison, awaiting trial for his many crimes.
---Why isn’t he being tried in an international court of law? When will the US be tried for its many war crimes?
The Iraqi people, after decades of tyranny, are now attempting to govern themselves through compromise, not conflict. They have freely voted twice. They have written and ratified a constitution. And the vast majority of Iraqis are now working through the democratic process to avert the very civil war that terrorists like Zarqawi wish to ignite.
----In case you haven’t noticed, the civil war is in full swing. Things have never been worse in Iraq than they currently are. Condi, you can find all of this stuff on Internet. No need to leave your office.
But perhaps the most extraordinary and hopeful change of recent years has been the growing consensus, led by the United States, that we must support the chorus of reform now resounding throughout the Middle East.
On Saturday, I was in Bahrain for the second meeting of the Forum for the Future, a partnership for political, economic, and social reform between the G-8 nations and members of government and civil society in the broader Middle East.
We had a conversation about political participation and women’s rights and the rule of law -- a conversation unthinkable just a few years ago -- and a conversation that must soon include Israel.
----It is clear that the United States and Israel are seen as negative forces in that they persist in engaging in a sort of “clash of cultures” and disregard the lives and values of Arabs. There is no lack of evidence that they do not support in any way real Arab independence, freedom or progress. If Israel wants to be accepted by their neighbours, they must first respect them, and this means, liberating them from the oppression that they are imposing on them.
The changes of the past decade are quite remarkable, then, in the strategic context of the Middle East. And those changes are also transforming the debate about the Israeli-Palestinian issue. In 2002, President Bush recognized that the Palestinian leadership at the time was an obstacle to peace, not a force for peace; and he encouraged the Palestinian people to begin opening their political system.
-----Arafat was elected by his people. Democratically. Isn’t this what you have been asking for? Why then, does the American president decide who is the appropriate leader and who can obtain peace? Why did he not have anything to say about the Israeli leader, who has more blood on his hands and is the immediate responsible for the occupation of an entire people and the restrictions placed upon their freedoms?
The President laid out an historic vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security and he made it the policy of the United States.
Now, the Palestinian people are finally undertaking the democratic and economic reforms that have long been denied to them. They have elected a president, Mahmoud Abbas, who openly calls for peace with Israel.
---Arafat also called for peace and had recognised Israel. What more could he do? The only choice left was to surrender, and that hadn’t been done. Any attempts made to establish dialogue were thwarted by Israel. At Aqaba, ceasefire was not enough, the Palestinian side had to disarm its groups as well, without being able to receive any guarantees from Israel. A demand of the sort is reminiscent of the prelude to the Iraq war. Iraq was completely stripped of its defences, and then invaded. Why should any group accept to be disarmed if there is no one preventing further disaster to come to them, including military invasion?
And for our part, we are helping them, providing $350 million to help them build the institutions of a democratic future. This movement toward democracy in the Palestinian territories and across the Middle East has also changed the debate here, in Israel, about the sources of security.
Because this nation no longer lives in fear of enemy tanks attacking from the east, we now hear it said, among most Israelis, that a peaceful and democratic Palestinian state is essential to Israel’s security.
---Ah, so that was what the Iraq war and the pressure on Syria and Iran are all about. And, she speaks as if the Palestinian State already exists. Why is this so common? Israel has done nothing to make any viable State exist, as it has been concentrating all of its efforts at getting as much as it can into the Jewish State.
And this new thinking led to new action in August when Israel chose to disengage from Gaza and the northern West Bank. Prime Minister Sharon: President Bush and I admire your personal courage, your leadership and the crucial contribution to peace that you are making. (Applause.)
Disengagement was a testament to the character and the strength of Israeli society, especially to the men and women of the Israeli Defense Forces and the police service, whose noble conduct during this painful event set a standard to which all democratic nations should aspire. And the effective cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians was both impressive and inspiring.
Disengagement can be a great step forward on the path to a different Middle East. It creates an opportunity for the Palestinians to secure their liberty and build a democratic state. At the same time, the changing nature of the Middle East can reinforce the democratic aspirations of the Palestinian people and deny the enemies of reform their favorite excuse for coercive rule and unconscionable violence. These positive developments will not jeopardize Israel’s security; they will enhance it. After all, true peace is that which exists between peoples, not just between leaders.
---She talks about disengagement, and will not utter the word OCCUPATION. Nor does she talk about the Wall. For her, it is so simple, it almost would be charming if it weren’t so naïve. Just what is the “favorite excuse” of the Palestinian people? To them, the occupation is real. The refugee camps are real. The lack of freedom of movement and political status are real.
Now, if Palestinians fight terrorism and lawless violence and advance democratic reforms -- and if Israel takes no actions that prejudge a final settlement and works to improve the daily lives of the Palestinian people -- the possibility of peace is both hopeful and realistic. Greater freedom of movement is a key for Palestinians, from shopkeepers to farmers to restaurant owners and for all seeking early easier access to their economic livelihood.
---Say it, Ms Rice. The Palestinians are being treated like dirt, and not only those who are trying to get to their workplaces, although the checkpoints are a terrible violation of their rights. Why do you refuse to criticise Israel, if you are such good friends, they should be able to accept this advice.
And let us be very clear about one other matter: Dismantling the infrastructure of terrorism is essential for peace because in the final analysis, no democratic government can tolerate armed parties with one foot in the realm of politics and one foot in the camp of terrorism. (Applause.)
---Yes, pull out the magical word and applause rains down. It is the easy catchall for anything too ugly to call by its real name. I would classify it as one of your “favorite excuses”.
This is the vision before us in the roadmap. And I look forward to our engagement to move it forward. But there are other responsibilities, too. Israel’s neighbors must demonstrate their concern for peace not only with rhetoric but with action. We encourage them -- Egypt to enhance its cooperation with Israel on basic security issues. And we call on all Arab states to end incitement in their media, cut off all funding for terrorism, stop their support for extremist education, and establish normal relations with Israel. (Applause.)
---In other words, capitulate without receiving anything in exchange. And, never, ever ask for Israel to reform its behaviour or be more forthcoming towards the Arab nations in any way.
We look to Arab states also to help revitalize the Palestinian economy because the Palestinians are a talented and well-educated people with great potential for prosperity. They cite greater economic opportunity as their most urgent desire. They deserve a chance to have it.
And so the responsibilities of peace, like the benefits of peace, will be shared among all parties. And peace must be more than a mere process if it is to summon our strength and demand our sacrifice. Peace must be a calling that stirs our very souls, a vision that is not only local but regional as well; a vision in which the sons and daughters of Israel are secure in their homeland and at peace with their neighbors.
---Can the Palestinians be secure in their homeland? This question will always be avoided, because it means recognition of the Right of Return.
The world saw a passing glimpse of this vision ten years ago when unprecedented numbers of Arab leaders journeyed here to see Yitzhak Rabin laid to rest in the land of the prophets. And today, we want to continue advancing that vision.
It should be a Middle East where democracy flourishes and the non-negotiable demands of human dignity form the foundations of citizenship. We envision a Middle East where all men and women are secure in their persons and in their property, with equal opportunities for prosperity and justice. And we will continue to envision and work toward a future when all the people of the Middle East may gather in this great ancient city, not to mourn a fallen hero, but to build a common future.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
---and in real words, blah blah blah….
15 November, 2005
Tomdispatch Interview: Ann Wright on Service to Country
November 13, 2005
[Note to Tomdispatch readers: This is the fifth in an ongoing series of interviews at the site. The most recent of these were: Cindy Sheehan and Juan Cole (parts 1 and 2). This interview also represents the first follow-up at the site to Nick Turse's The Fallen Legion: Casualties of the Bush Administration.]
"A Felon for Peace"
A Tomdispatch Interview with Ann Wright
She's just off the plane from Tulsa, Oklahoma, the cheapest route back from a reunion in the little Arkansas town where she grew up in the 1950s. For thirty years, she and her childhood friends have climbed to the top of Penitentiary Mountain, where the local persimmon trees grow, for a persimmon-spitting contest. ("All in the great spirit of just having fun and being crazy.") She holds out her hands and says, "I probably still have persimmon goop on me!"
We seat ourselves at a table in my dining room, two small tape recorders between us. She's dressed all in black with a bright green over-shirt, a middle-aged blond woman wearing gold earrings and a thin gold necklace. As she settles in, her sleeves pull back, revealing the jewelry she'd rather talk about. On her right wrist is a pink, plastic band. "This one was to be a volunteer in the Astrodome for Hurricane Katrina. I did two days work there, then three days in Covington, Louisiana, the first week after." On her left wrist, next to a watch from another age, are two blue plastic bands: "And this one," she says with growing animation, fingering the nearest of them, "was my very first arrest of my whole life on September 26th in front of the White House with 400 of my closest friends. This is the bus number I was on and this is the arrest number they gave me and then, later on, I had to date it because now I have two." She fingers the second band. "Last week 26 of us were arrested after a die-in right in front of the White House in commemoration of the two thousandth American and maybe one hundred thousandth Iraqi who died in this war. So now," she announces, chuckling heartily, "I'm a felon for peace."
When she speaks -- and in the final g's she drops from words ("It's freezin' in Mongolia!") -- you can catch just a hint of the drawl of that long-gone child from Bentonville, Arkansas. In her blunt, straightforward manner, you can catch something of her 29 years in the Army; and in her ease perhaps, the 16 years she spent as a State Department diplomat. Animated, amused by her foibles (and those of her interviewer), articulate and thoughtful, she's just the sort of person you would want to defend -- and then represent -- your country, a task she continues to perform, after her own fashion, as one of the more out-of-the-ordinary antiwar activists of our moment.
Last August, she had a large hand in running Camp Casey for Cindy Sheehan at the President's doorstep in Crawford, Texas; then again, that wasn't such a feat, given that in 1997 she had overseen the evacuation of 2,500 foreigners from the war zone that was then Sierra Leone, a harrowing experience for which she was given the State Department's Award for Heroism. "That's why I joined the foreign service," she comments, her voice still filled with some residual excitement from those years. "I wanted to go to places you wouldn't visit on vacation." In fact, the retired colonel opened and closed embassies from Africa to Uzbekistan and took some of the roughest diplomatic assignments on Earth, including the reopening of the American embassy in Kabul in December 2001.
On March 19, 2003, the day before the first Cruise missiles were launched against Baghdad, she resigned from the Foreign Service in an open letter sent from the U.S. embassy in Mongolia (where she was then Deputy Chief of Mission) to Secretary of State Colin Powell. In it she wrote, in part:
"This is the only time in my many years serving America that I have felt I cannot represent the policies of an Administration of the United States. I disagree with the Administration's policies on Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, North Korea and curtailment of civil liberties in the U.S. itself. I believe the Administration's policies are making the world a more dangerous, not a safer, place. I feel obligated morally and professionally to set out my very deep and firm concerns on these policies and to resign from government service as I cannot defend or implement them."
Once used to delivering official U.S. statements to other governments, she now says things like: "Everyone should have to be handcuffed with the flexi-cuffs they use now and feel just how unflexible they are, just how they cut, and then imagine Iraqis, Afghans, and other people we pick up in them 24 hours a day." She relaxes, sits back, awaits the first question, and responds with gusto.
Tomdispatch: I thought we'd start by talking about two important but quite different moments in your life. The first was not so long ago. Let me quote from a New York Times article on a recent Condoleezza Rice appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "It was a day that echoed the anguish, anger and skepticism that opinion polls show have begun to dominate the thinking of Americans. The hearing was punctuated by a heckler who called for an end to the war, only to be hustled out." Now, I believe this was you.
Ann Wright: [She chuckles.] Yes! Not a heckler, I was a protester.
TD: Tell me about it.
AW: It was as much a protest against the Senators as against Condoleezza Rice, because they were not holding our Secretary of State responsible. I picked up the Washington Post that morning and noticed that Condoleezza was going to testify on Iraq, and I thought, well, I'm free until noon. When I walked in, I was not planning on doing anything.
But I sat there for two hours and Senators were saying: We've heard the administration is discussing a military option in Syria and perhaps Iran. The committee needs to be brought in on this, because we've only given you authorization for military action in Iraq. In an almost rude, dismissive tone, the Secretary of State essentially replied: We'll talk to you when we want to; all options are on the table; and thank you very much. Then the senators just kind of sat there. It was like: Come on, guys talk! Pin that woman down! We, the people, want to know. I want to know. And then they just started off on something else. It was like: No! Come back to this question. We don't want to go to war in Syria or Iran...
TD: And did you stand up?
AW: So I stood up. I was back in the peanut gallery. I've never done anything like it before in my whole life. I took a deep breath and went, "Stop the killing! Stop the war! Hold this woman accountable! You, the Senate, were bamboozled by the administration on Iraq and you cannot be bamboozled again! Stop this woman from killing!"
At that point, I ran out of things to say because I hadn't really planned it. [She laughs.] I was looking around. There was only one police officer and he was just ambling toward me. It was like he enjoyed what I was saying. I thought, until he gets here I've got to say something more, so I went: "You failed us in Iraq, you can't fail us on Syria!" The police office finally said, "Uh, ma'am, you've got to come with me." This is the first time -- somebody told me later -- anyone's ever seen a protester put her arm around a police officer. [She laughs.]
TD: So you weren't "hustled" out?
AW: Noooooo. It was a slow walk and there was silence in the room, so I thought: Well, I can't let this go by and I started another little rant on the way out. That part wasn't mentioned in the news reports.
TD: At least some papers like the Washington Post mentioned you by name. The Times merely called you a heckler.
AW: Well, how rude! I wasn't heckling anyway. I was speaking on behalf of the people of America.
TD: This obviously takes you a long way from your professional life, because you were in the Foreign Service for...
AW: Sixteen years...
TD: ... and in all those years this would have been rather inconceivable.
AW: Having testified at congressional hearings as a Foreign Service officer, particularly on Somalia issues back in '93 and '94, I was always humbled to go into those rooms as a government employee. I always found it interesting when people in the audience stood up to say something. You know, I learned later that most protestors do it in the first ten minutes because that's when the cameras and all the reporters are sure to be there.
As it happened, the chairman of the committee declined to have me arrested. The police officer said, "Well, if you're disappointed, I can arrest you." I replied, "If you don't mind, I'll just run on over to my lunch appointment." I was actually on my way to a presentation by Larry Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff, where he would describe the secrecy of the administration and the way the State Department was isolated by the White House and the National Security Council.
TD: Another moment of protest, one I'm sure you thought about very carefully, took place the day before the shock-and-awe campaign against Iraq began. That day you sent a letter of public resignation to Colin Powell which began -- and not many people could have written such a sentence -- "When I last saw you in Kabul in 2002..."
AW: Indeed I had volunteered to go to Kabul, Afghanistan in December 2001 to be part of a small team that reopened the U.S. embassy. It had been closed for twelve years. I have a background in opening and closing embassies. I helped open an embassy in Uzbekistan, closed and reopened an embassy in Sierra Leone. I've been evacuated from Somalia and Sierra Leone. And with my military background, I've worked in a lot in combat environments.
I volunteered because I felt the United States needed to respond to the events of 9/11, and the logical place to go after al-Qaeda was where they trained, knowing full well that you probably weren't going to get a lot of people. The al-Qaeda group is very smart and few of them, in my estimation, would have been hanging out where we were most likely to go after them in Afghanistan. Actually, I was amazed the administration went in physically. I thought, like the Clinton administration, they would send in cruise missiles. Considering the severity of September 11, I guess the military finally said: Well, it looks like we're going into that hell-hole where the Russians got their butts whipped. Everybody knew it was going to be tough.
TD: You've commented elsewhere that a crucial moment for you was watching the President's Axis of Evil State of the Union address from a bunker in Kabul.
AW: A bunker outside the chancellery building meant to protect against the rockets the mujahedeen were sending against each other after they defeated the Soviets. We had taken [then interim leader] Hamid Karzai, who had been invited to the State of the Union, to Bagram Air Base and sent him off three days before. We told him, "You've got to start getting together some detailed plans for economic development funds because the attention of the United States doesn't stay on any country for long; so, get your little fledgling cabinet moving fast." Well, the President started talking about other interests that the United States had after 9/11 and these interests were Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. Just as he said that, the cameras focused on Karzai and you could almost see him going: Hmmmm [she mugs a wince], now I know what they were telling me at the embassy. And we were sitting there thinking, Oh my God!
TD: You had a functioning TV?
AW: Barely. We had a satellite dish made of pounded-out coke cans -- these were being sold down in Kabul -- and a computer chip sent in from Islamabad, because we wanted to hear from Washington what was going to happen with Afghanistan. When, instead of talking much about Afghanistan, the President started in on this axis-of-evil stuff we were stunned. We were thinking: Hell's bells, we're here in a very dangerous place without enough military. So for the President to start talking about this axis of evil! everyone in the bunker just went: Oh Christ, here we go! No wonder we're not getting the economic development specialists in here yet. If the American government was going after al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and clearing out the Taliban and preparing to help the people of Afghanistan, why the hell was it taking so long? Well, that statement said it all.
TD: Did you at that moment suspect a future invasion of Iraq?
AW: I'm a little naive sometimes. I really never, ever suspected we would go to war in Iraq. There was no attempt at that moment to tie 9/11 to Iraq, so it didn't even dawn on me.
Anyway, that was the preface to my letter of resignation. I wanted to emphasize that I had seen Colin Powell on his first trip to Kabul. I wanted to show that this was a person who had lots of experience.
TD: In the whole Vietnam era, few, if any, government officials offered public resignations of protest, but before the invasion of Iraq even began, three diplomats -- Brady Kiesling, John Brown, and yourself -- resigned in a most public fashion. It must have been a wrenching decision.
AW: I had been concerned since September 2002 when I read in the papers that we had something like 100,000 troops already in the Middle East, many left behind after the Bright Star [military] exercise we have every two years in Egypt. I thought: Uh-oh, the administration is doing some sneaky-Pete stuff on us. They were claiming they wanted UN inspectors to go back into Iraq, when a military build-up was already underway. It's one thing to put troops in the region for pressure, but if you're leaving that many behind, you're going to be using them. Then, as the mushroom-cloud rhetoric started getting stronger, it was like: Good God! These guys mean to go to war, no matter what the evidence is.
By November, I was having trouble sleeping. I would wake up at three, four in the morning -- this was in Mongolia where it was freezing cold -- wrap up in blankets, go to the kitchen table, and just start pouring my soul out. By the time I finally sent that resignation letter in, I had a stack of drafts like this. [She lifts her hand a couple of feet off the table.] I did know two others had resigned, but quite honestly I hadn't read their letters and I didn't know them.
TD: You were ending your life in a way, life as you had known it?
AW: Thirty-five years in the government between my military service and the State Department, under seven administrations. It was hard. I liked representing America.
TD: Was there a moment when you knew you couldn't represent this government anymore?
AW: I kept hoping the administration would go back to the Security Council for its authorization to go to war. That's why I held off until virtually the bombs were being dropped. I was hoping against hope that our government would not go into what really is an illegal war of aggression that meets no criteria of international law. When it was finally evident we were going to do so, I said to myself: It ain't going to be on my watch.
TD: Was it like crossing a border into a different world?
AW: It was a great relief. During the lead-up to war, I had begun showing symptoms of an impending heart attack. The State Department put me on a medivac flight to Singapore for heart tests. The doctors said, "Lady, you're as strong as a horse. Are you just under some kind of stress?" "Yes, I am!" The moment I sent in that letter, it was like a great burden had been lifted from my shoulders. At least I had made my stand and joined the other two who had resigned.
TD: And what of those you left behind?
AW: In the first couple of days, while I was still in Mongolia, I received over 400 emails from colleagues in the State Department saying: We're so sad you're not going to be with us, but we're so proud of the three of you who resigned because we think this going-to-war is just so horrible; then each one would describe how anti-American feeling was growing in the country where they were serving. It was so poignant, all those emails.
TD: Why don't you think more people in the government -- and in the military where there's clearly been opposition to Iraq at a very high level -- quit and speak out?
AW: There were a few. [General] Eric Shinseki talked about the shortchanging of the [Iraq] operations plan by a couple of hundred thousand people. He was forced out. But see, in the military, in the Foreign Service, you're not supposed to be speaking your own mind. Your job is to implement the policies of an administration elected by the people of America. If you don't want to, your only option is to resign. I understood that and that's one of the reasons I resigned -- to give myself the freedom to talk out.
There are a lot of people still in government service speaking out, but you've got to read between the lines. The senior military leaders in Iraq, what they've been saying is very different from what Donald Rumsfeld and the gang in Washington say. These guys are being honest and truthful about the lack of Iraqi battalions really ready for military work, the dangers the troops are under, the days when the military doesn't go out on the streets. They're signaling to America: We're up a creek on this one, guys, and you, the people of America, are going to have to help us out.
TD: ...Let's talk about [Colin Powell's chief of staff] Larry Wilkerson as an example. He assumedly left after the election when Colin Powell did, so almost a year has passed. He saw what he believed was a secret cabal running the government and it took him that long after he was gone to tell us about it. I'm glad he spoke out. But I wonder why there isn't a more urgent impulse to do so?
AW: If you look at Dick Clarke [the President's former chief adviser on terrorism on the National Security Council], he had all the secrets from the very beginning and he retired in January 2003. Yet he didn't say anything for over a year and a half, until he published that book [Against All Enemies] in 2004. If he had gone public before the war started, that man could have told us those same secrets right then. So could [the National Security Council's senior director for combating terrorism] Randy Beers. I worked with both of them on Somalia, on Sierra Leone. I know these guys personally and it's like: Guys, why didn't you come forward then?
As you probably know, on the key issues of the first four years of the Bush administration, the State Department was essentially iced out. I mean, look at the Iraq War. Colin Powell and the State Department were just shoved aside and all State's functions put into the Department of Defense. Tragically, Colin Powell, who was trying to counsel Donald Rumsfeld behind the scenes that there weren't enough troops in Iraq, never stood up to say, "Hold it, guys, I'll resign if we don't get this under control so that logical functions go in logical organizations and you, the Defense Department, don't do post-combat civil reconstruction stuff. That's ours." He just didn't do it. To me, he was more loyal to the Bush family than he was to the country. His resignation was possibly the one thing that could have deterred the war. Then the people of America would really have looked closely at what was going on. But tragically he decided loyalty to the administration was more valuable than loyalty to the country. I mean, it breaks my heart to say that, but it's what really happened.
TD: So what is it that actually holds people back?
AW: I think the higher up you go, the more common it is for people to retire, or maybe even resign, and not say what the reasons are, because they may hope to get back into government in a different administration. Dick Clarke had served every administration since George Washington and maybe he was looking toward being called back as a political appointee again. Sometimes such people don't speak out because they feel loyalty to the person who appointed them. Nobody appointed me to nothin', except the American people. I'm a career foreign service officer and I serve the American people. When an administration wasn't serving the best interests of the American people, I felt I had to stand up.
TD: And are you now pretty much a full-time antiwar activist?
AW: [She laughs.] That's the way it's turned out.
TD: What, if anything, do you think your military career, your State Department career, and this... well, I can't call it a career, have in common?
AW: Service to America. It's all just a continuation of a real concern I have about my country.
TD: And what would you say to your former compatriots still in the military and the State Department?
AW: Many of the emails I received from Foreign Service officers said, I wish I could resign right now, but I've got kids in college, I've got mortgages, and I'm going to try really hard, by staying, to ameliorate the intensity of these policies. All I can say is that they must be in agony about not being able to affect policy. There have been plenty of early retirements by people who finally realized they couldn't moderate the policies of the Bush administration.
TD: What message would you send to the person you once were from the person you are now?
AW: You trained me well.
TD: If in this room you had the thirty-five year-old woman about to go into Grenada, as you did back in 1983, what would you want her to mull over.
AW: I would say: You were a good Army officer and Foreign Service officer. You weren't blind to the faults of America. In many jobs, you tried to rectify things that were going badly and you succeeded a couple of times. My resignation wasn't the first time I spoke out. For instance, I was loaned, or seconded, from the State Department to the staff of the United Nations operation in Somalia and ended up writing a memo concerning the military operations the UN was conducting to kill a warlord named Addid. They started taking helicopters, standing off, and just blowing up buildings where they had intelligence indicating perhaps he was there. Well, tragically he never was, and here we were blowing up all these Somali families. Of course the Somalis were outraged and that outrage ultimately led to Blackhawk Down.
I wrote a legal opinion to the special representative of the Secretary General, saying the UN operations were illegal and had to stop. It was leaked to the Washington Post and I got in a bit of hot water initially, but ultimately my analysis proved correct. I was also a bit of a rabble-rouser on the utilization of women in the military back in the eighties, part of a small group of women who took on the Army when it was trying to reduce the career potentials of women. I ended up getting right in the thick of some major problems which ultimately cost the Army millions of dollars in the reassessment of units that had been given incorrect direct-combat probability codings. I was also part of a team which discovered that some of our troops had been looting private homes in Grenada. The Army court-martialed a lot of our soldiers for this violation of the law of land warfare. We used their example in rewriting how you teach the code of conduct and, actually, the Geneva Convention on the responsibility of occupiers.
TD: You know a good deal about the obligations of an occupying power to protect public and private property, partially because in the 1980s you were doing planning on the Middle East, right?
AW: Yes, from 1982 to 1984, I was at Fort Bragg, North Carolina when the Army was planning for potential operations using the Rapid Deployment Force -- what ultimately became the Central Command. One of the first forces used in rapid deployment operations was the 82 Airborne at Fort Bragg. I was in the special operations end of it with civil affairs. Those are the people who write up the annexes to operations plans about how you interact with the civilian population, how you protect the facilities --sewage, water, electrical grids, libraries. We were doing it for the whole Middle East. I mean, we have operations plans on the shelf for every country in the world, or virtually. So we did one on Iraq; we did one on Syria; on Jordan, Egypt. All of them.
We would, for instance, take the UNESCO list of treasures of the world and go through it. Okay, any in Iraq? Yep. Okay, mark 'em, circle 'em on a map, put 'em in the op-plan. Whatever you do, don't bomb this. Make sure we've got enough troops to protect this. It's our obligation under the law of land warfare. We'd be circling all the electrical grids, all the oil grids, all the museums. So for us to go into Iraq and let all that looting happen. Well, Rumsfeld wanted a light, mobile force, and screw the obligations of treaties. Typical of this administration on any treaty thing. Forget 'em.
So everything was Katy-bar-the-door. Anybody could go in and rip up anything. Many of the explosives now being used to kill our troops come from the ammo dumps we did not secure. It was a total violation of every principle we had for planning military operations and their aftermath. People in the civil affairs units, they were just shaking their heads, wondering how in the hell this could have happened. We've been doing these operations plans forever, so I can only imagine the bitchin' and moanin' about -- how come we don't have this civilian/military annex? It's in every other op-plan. And where are the troops, where are the MPs?
TD: If back in the early eighties you were planning to save the antiquities of every country in the Middle East, then obviously the Pentagon was also planning for a range of possible invasions in the region. Do you look back now and ask: What kind of a country has contingency plans to invade any country you can imagine?
AW: One of the things you are likely to do at a certain point in your military career is operations plans. It did not then seem abnormal to me at all that we had contingency plans for the Middle East, or for countries in the Caribbean or South America. At that stage, I was not looking at the imperialism of the United States. I just didn't equate those contingency plans with empire-building goals. However, depending on how those plans are used, they certainly can be just that. Remember as well that this was in the days of the Cold War and, by God, that camouflaged a lot of stuff. You could always say: You never can tell what those Soviets are going to do, so you better be prepared anywhere in the world to defeat them.
TD: And we're still prepared anywhere in the world...
AW: Well, we are and now, let's see, where are the Russians? [She laughs heartily.]
TD: Tell me briefly the story of your life.
AW: I grew up in Arkansas, just a normal childhood. I think the Girl Scouts was a formative organization for me. It had a plan to it, opportunity to travel outside Arkansas, good goals -- working on those little badges. Early State Department. Early military too. It's kind of interesting, the militarization of our society, how we don't really think of some things, and yet when I look back, there I was a little Girl Scout in my green uniform, and so putting on an Army uniform after college wasn't that big a deal. I'd been in a uniform before and I knew how to salute, three fingers. [She demonstrates.]
If you look, we now have junior ROTC in the high schools. We have child soldiers in America. We're good at getting kids used to those uniforms. And then there's the militarization of industries and corporations, the necessity every ten years to have a war because we need a new generation of weaponry. Corporations in the military-industrial complex are making lots of money off of new types of weaponry and vehicles.
TD: While you were in the military, did you have any sense that these wars were actually living weapons labs?
AW: Particularly seeing the privatization after Gulf War I, going into Somalia. All of a sudden, as fast as military troops were arriving, you had Halliburton and Kellogg, Brown, and Root in Somalia. They started saying, You need mess halls, oh, we'll do the mess halls for you. And it turned out they had staged a lot of their equipment in the Middle East after the Gulf War. So it was in Somalia lickety-split. The privatization of military functions is now so pervasive that the military can no longer function by itself, without the contractors and corporations. These contractors, these mercenaries really, are now fundamentally critical to the operations of the U.S. military.
TD: So a Girl Scout and...
AW: In my junior year at the University of Arkansas, a recruiter came through town with the film, "Join the Army, See the World." I had been an education major for three years. Nurse, teacher, those were the careers for women. I didn't want any of it. So, in the middle of the Vietnam War, I signed up to go to a three-week Army training program, just to see if I liked it. And I found it challenging. Even though there were protests going on all over America, I divorced myself from what the military actually did versus what opportunities it offered me. I hated all these people getting killed in Vietnam, but I said to myself: I'm not going to kill anyone and I'm taking the place of somebody who will be able to go do something else. All these arguments that now you look at it and go: Oh my God, what did you do?
TD: Don't you think this happens now?
AW: Absolutely! I sympathize with the people in the military right now. The majority didn't sign up to kill anybody. You always prayed that, whatever administration it was, it didn't go off on some wild goose chase that got you into a war you personally thought was really stupid.
TD: Would you counsel a young woman now to go into the military?
AW: I think we will always have a military and I think the military is honorable service as long as the civilian leadership uses it in appropriate ways and is very cautious about sending us to war. And yes, I would encourage people to look at a military career, but I would also tell them that, if they're sent to do something they think is wrong, they don't have to stay in, though they may have to take some consequences for saying, "Thank you very much but I'm not going to kill anybody."
In fact, if I were recalled to active duty, which is possible,I put myself purposely at the Retired Ready Reserve so that, if there was ever an emergency and my country needed me, I could be recalled, and in fact there are people my age, 59, who are agreeing to be recalled. The ultimate irony would be resigning from my career in the diplomatic corps and then having the Bush administration recall me, because my specialty, civil affairs, reconstruction, is in really short supply. I'm a colonel. I know how to run battalions and brigades. I can do this stuff. But I would have to tell them, sorry, I refuse to be placed on active duty. And if they push hard enough, then I'd just have to be court-martialed and I'd go to Leavenworth. I will not serve this administration in the Iraq war which I firmly believe is an illegal war of aggression.
TD: You know, if someone had said to me back in the 1960s that a Vice President of the United States might go to Congress to lobby for a torture exemption for the CIA the way Dick Cheney has done, I would have said: This couldn't happen. Never in American history. I'm staggered by this.
AW: Me, too. The other thing that's quite interesting is the number of women who are involved in it. There were something like eighty women I've identified, ranging from high officers to CIA contractors being used as interrogators in Guantanamo. Talking about things that will come back to bite us big time, this is it. And we are complicit, all of us, because, quite honestly, we're not standing out in front of the White House every single day, and every time that Vice President leaves throwing our bodies in front of his car, throwing blood on it. We need to get tough with these guys. They're not listening to us. They think we're a bunch of wimps. We've got to get tougher and tougher with them to show them we're not going to put up with this stuff.
TD: You've quoted Teddy Roosevelt as saying: "To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." I was particularly struck by that word "servile." Do you want to talk about dissent for a moment?
AW: Well, we shouldn't be hesitant about voicing our opinions, even in the most difficult of times which generally is when your nation is going to war and you're standing up to say, this isn't right. That's tough and, in fact, the first couple of months after I resigned, oh man, all that TV and nothing on but the war, and very few people wanted to hear me. It probably was a good four months before anybody even asked me to come speak about why I had dissented, and that was a little lonely. [She chuckles.]
TD: Any final thoughts?
AW: We now have a two-and-a-half-year track record of being a very brutal country. We are the cause of the violence in Iraq. That violence will continue as long as we're there, and the administration maintains that we will be there until we win. That means to me that this administration is planning for a long-term siege in Iraq. It means that young men and women in America should be prepared for the draft because the military right now cannot support what this administration wants. In fact, yesterday I was talking to about ninety high school seniors in Fayetteville, Arkansas, a very Republican part of the United States. I said: Your parents may support this war, but how strongly do you feel about it? If it drags on for years and there's a draft, how many of you will willingly go? Only three put up their hands.
We are continuing down a very dangerous road. The United States and its citizenry are held in disdain in world opinion for not being able to stop this war machine. So one of the things I'm doing is ratcheting up my own level of response. A dear friend, Joe Palambo, a Vietnam veteran in Veterans for Peace who went to hear the President in Norfolk when he talked about terrorism, was recently cited in the newspapers this way: There was one protestor in the second row of the audience who stood up and railed against the President, saying: "You're the terrorist! This war is a war of terrorism!" Joe called me right after that happened and said, "Hey, Ann, I heard what you did in the Senate and I thought, I'm going to go do the same thing to the President."
I mean, we're going to dog these guys all over the country. Our Secretary of State, our Secretary of Defense, our Vice President, our President, our National Security Adviser, the head of the CIA, any of these people who are the warmongers, who are the murderers in the name of our country, wherever they go, the people of America need to stand up to them to say, "No! Stop! Stop this war. Stop this killing. Get us out of this mess."
Because that's the only time they hear it, when we stand up in these venues. They don't come out to the street in front of the White House to see the hundreds of thousands of people who are protesting. They ignore that. But for those fifteen seconds, if you can stand up so that everybody in that audience sees that there's one person, or maybe even two or three... Who knows?
Copyright 2005 Tomdispatch :: Article nr. 17802 sent on 14-nov-2005 01:45 ECT
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