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Wednesday evening, when the news was mistakenly announced that Troy Davis would not be killed, the crowd that I was with erupted with joy and with the enthusiastic realization that we all were capable of believing that something good had been done by our government. I was at the dedication of the Howard Zinn room in the new Busboys and Poets restaurant in Hyattsville, Maryland.
Prisoners risking death by refusing food in the Pelican Bay supermax, and those hunger striking in solidarity in prisons around California are a judgment of our sickness. "The degree of civilization in a society," said Dostoyevsky, "can be judged by entering its prisons."
Civilization is something we no longer seem to aspire to. The United States locks up more people and a greater percentage of its people than anyone else. We lock them in training centers for anger and violence. We subject them to rape, assault, humiliation, and isolation. We throw the innocent in with the guilty, the young with the old, the nonviolent with the violent, the hopeful with those who've lost all interest in life.
Am I the only one who noticed that ex-Nixon lawyer John Dean's article "John Dean Knows How to Get Rid of Clarence Thomas" concludes thus: "In short, nothing is going to happen to Clarence Thomas." Talk about false advertising!
But Dean left out of consideration one strategy, the same one that five years ago he argued against pursuing with Bush and Cheney, whom many of us at that time wanted removed from office. The strategy is the one now being advanced by RootsAction: Impeach Clarence Thomas.
There's a great deal of disappointment, even distress, in the air as news spreads that Dominique Strauss-Kahn might not be charged with rape (or attempted rape, or sexual assault). He's guilty, the victim's character is being attacked in order to protect him, and the Culture of Rape will emerge triumphant once again -- or so I'm being told by various Emails, Tweets, etc.
On the other hand, the whole thing was a conspiracy to facilitate the pillaging of the Greek people and the replacement of DSK at the IMF by a robber baron more loyal to the Austerity Agenda. Or so I have been assured.
The Declaration of Independence is best remembered as a declaration of war, a war declared on the grounds that we wanted our own flag. The sheer stupidity and anachronism of the idea serves to discourage any thoughts about why Canada didn't need a bloody war, whether the U.S. war benefitted people outside the new aristocracy to whom power was transferred, what bothered Frederick Douglas so much about a day celebrating "independence," or what the Declaration of Independence actually said.
On September 18, 2009, seven former heads of the CIA publicly told President Barack Obama not to prosecute CIA torturers. On April 16, 2009, Obama had already publicly told Attorney General Eric Holder not to prosecute CIA torturers. On September 18th, Holder publicly reassured the CIA.
The coast was clear. The books started flowing. George W. Bush and John Yoo put their books out in 2010, Donald Rumsfeld in 2011, and Dick Cheney's also later this summer.
Just as the torture techniques drifted down the chain of command from these dealers in death to the rank and file, so too the book contracts. The cogs in the machine are now documenting their bit parts in the past decade's torture epidemic with pride and publishing deals.
Fifty years ago, freedom riders traveled by bus into the U.S. South. Now American freedom riders are joining their allies from around the world on a flotilla bound for Gaza. The U.S. ship is called The Audacity of Hope.
The heroes on this ship have pledged to sail unarmed and to refuse to use violence. The Israeli military, which continues to illegally blockade Gaza, causing endless suffering to the Gazan people, has pledged to use violent force to prevent the ships getting through.
Last May, the Israeli military, in international waters, illegally boarded another ship on a similar mission, the Mavi Marmara, killing nine people, including one American, and wounding dozens. Israel claimed, in its defense, that the Mavi Marmara carried no humanitarian aid, that all such supplies were on other ships in the flotilla.
The 36 American passengers (plus 4 crew and 10 members of the press) on board The Audacity of Hope have publicly stated that they will carry only letters: "thousands of letters of support and friendship from people throughout the U.S. to the women, children and men of Gaza."
This selfless courage will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with these freedom riders. Some of the ones I know best and am deeply concerned for the safety of are Ann Wright, Ray McGovern, Kathy Kelly, Medea Benjamin, Paki Wieland. These are people who habitually take risks for others. One comes to expect it of them, but also to expect them to always be there doing it. Robert Naiman will be on this ship, and Alice Walker, and Hedy Epstein. Below are videos of 17 of these heroes explaining why they are going.
The Freedom Riders of 1961 asked the U.S. government to protect them. Its efforts to do so were too little too late. The Freedom Riders of 2011 have also asked the U.S. government to protect them, and thus far received no such commitment. We can ask the U.S. State Department to ask Israel (recipient of billions of dollars in U.S. weaponry every year) not to assault this flotilla, and to allow those transporting aid and letters of good will to reach the suffering people of Gaza unharmed.
CONTACT THE U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,
You have urged our fellow citizens not to participate in an unarmed nonviolent humanitarian mission to Gaza by sea.
But have you urged Israel not to interfere with ships in international waters?
Have you urged Israel not to harm unarmed activists engaged in an actual humanitarian mission, the very thing your government pretends its wars are?
Have you urged Israel to lift the illegal and murderous blockade of Gaza?
We encourage you to take these steps to ensure the safety of Americans on board The Audacity of Hope sailing for Gaza in the Freedom Flotilla. And we encourage you to pressure Israel in the way that only a nation providing Israel with billions of dollars worth of weapons every year can, by threatening to cut them off.
We look forward to your response.
Videos and other resources at the same link.
I ran into some of your employees, John, at Boston Logan airport, believe it or not. In fact, I had no choice but to run into them or I couldn't get home.
Now, I had just flown from London to Boston without blowing up the airplane, and in fact the Heathrow coppers have their own Insecurity Theater similar to yours. But that didn't matter. I couldn't continue on to our nation's corporate headquarters on the Potomac without being further treated as a mass-murderer, as all my compatriots so happily submit to. One has to wonder if some people actually take it as a sick compliment in some sort of dark fantasy.
When other nations' governments go off track, their people do something about it. In Tunisia and Egypt people have nonviolently claimed power in a way that has inspired Americans in Wisconsin and other states, as well as the people of Spain and the rest of the world.
Washington, D.C., is the weakest point in our democracy, without which state-level reform cannot succeed. Most Americans want our wars ended, our corporations and billionaires taxed, and our rights expanded rather than curtailed. We want our money invested in jobs and green energy, not a global military that can't stop itself. Our government in Washington goes in the opposite direction, opposing popular will on these major issues, regardless of personality or party.
Eight years ago, Donald Rumsfeld asked Jim Haynes whether they should seek new legislation on detainee treatment "so we get off the hook legally." Rumsfeld's request and Haynes' response are here: PDF.
Haynes admitted that legislation could "reduce arbitrariness" but warned that by asking for legislation a precedent would be set for future presidents. In addition, Haynes cautioned, legislation might "limit the President's ability . . . to gather intelligence from those detained at GTMO."