Can racial and religious profiling be made palatable if police are more polite?
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

 

NEW YORK — June 17, 2012. While thousands of New Yorkers took to the streets on Sunday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg addressed a Brooklyn church saying that his Stop And Frisk policy needed “reform” — but can a policy widely regarded as racist be reformed?

 


The NAACP, LGBT organizations, and labor turned out in force to protest “Stop And Frisk”
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

 
On Sunday thousands of New Yorkers, including labor unions and the NAACP, joined a march that traveled across 110 Street and down Fifth Avenue, along Central Park’s eastern edge. The procession was a diverse group united in their opposition to the NYPD’s “Stop And Frisk” program that allows police to arbitrarily detain and search citizens. Statistically, “Stop And Frisk” targets Blacks and Latinos.

 


The UAW fielded a large contingent
composed of various locals from Region 9A
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

 


A protester suggests that turnabout would be fair play
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

 
The march ended at 77 Street, near Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s apartment. The march was silent, at the request of the organizers who wanted an event that was dignified and disciplined. However, when the procession reached the mayor’s home, a small number of protesters began chanting. After allegedly defying police orders to disperse, nine protesters were arrested.

 


The march was silent – at the organizers’ request
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

 
The sheer size of the silent procession, held on Father’s Day, underscored the widespread opposition to Stop And Frisk and NYPD spying on Muslims — two programs described by critics as racial profiling.

 


Stop And Frisk is often compared to Jim Crow
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

 
Racial and religious profiling have unfortunate historical precedents. If “Stop And Frisk” and NYPD spying are based on race or religious affiliation can these programs be made less problematic if the police are more courteous, as the mayor argues? Can an arbitrary procedure, conducted by armed individuals with arrest powers — targeting unarmed, often underage and frightened, individuals — be regarded as acceptable if the police are more polite? Can syntactical sugar sweeten what most regard as an offensive and humiliating experience?

 


NYC Comptroller John Liu is an opponent of Stop And Frisk
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

 
Many of the signs carried by protesters in Sunday’s march compared Stop And Frisk to Jim Crow laws and law enforcement tactics. Could Jim Crow have been reformed to the point where it would be deemed acceptable? In legal terms, at what point does an arbitrary detention and search violate the Fourth Amendment? While the Constitution does not address the issue of courtesy it is seemingly straightforward on the issue of protection from “unreasonable search and seizure.”

 


Many New Yorkers regard arbitrary searches as a civil rights violation
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

 
About.com notes that, “The Fourth Amendment was written directly in response to British general warrants (called Writs of Assistance), in which the Crown would grant general search powers to British law enforcement officials. These officials could search virtually any home they liked, at any time they liked, for any reason they liked or for no reason at all.”

 


(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

 
Prior to the march, the NAACP’s Hazel Dukes sent out an email with the subject line “Skin Color Is Not Probable Cause.” This statement seems a reasonable assertion to this observer — it seems self-evident. And no amount of artificial sweetener can alter this reality.

 

View Photos From The Protest…

 


On Father’s Day a number of children marched with their parents
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

 

Posted by TAG - March 31, 2011 | Analysis


Protesters in Times Square on March 19
(Photo: Mike Morice / NLN)

NEW YORK — March 19, 2011. Apparently the journey from peace candidate to war president isn’t that long a trip — roughly equivalent to the distance Wall Street traveled in moving from bailout to bonuses.


(Photo: Mike Morice / NLN)

From Dubya To Libya…by way of Nixon?

During the 2008 presidential campaign Obama was photographed — at a carefully staged photo op — playing basketball with some high school students in Indiana. Candidate Obama was wearing a “USMC” t-shirt. Was Obama ever a member of the Corps? No. Was he ever really a peace candidate? Maybe. However, the campaign rhetoric about ending the Iraq War seems to have been diluted over time. On August 31, 2010, Obama announced that U.S. combat operations in Iraq had ceased. In the same speech he announced that he was sending additional troops to Afghanistan – the good war? – and leaving 50,000 troops in Iraq for “training” purposes. And on March 19, 2011, the eighth anniversary of the Iraq War, Obama attacked Libya. Without consulting Congress, without a declaration of war. Peace candidate? Is this not the man who received a Nobel Peace Prize?


(Photo: Carol Caver / NLN)

In July of 1972 Time Magazine reported that Senate Republican leader Hugh Scott and Finance Magazine (a monthly publication for bankers) editor Elizabeth MacDonald Manning were “joining forces to nominate Richard Nixon for the [ Nobel Peace ] prize.” Manning had argued that Nixon had turned “an idealistic vision of peace into a more realistic version of working together instead of fighting wars.” Nixon did not join the ranks of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson — or Barack Obama — he never received the Nobel Prize. But in many other respects he was not unlike that other “peace candidate,” the lanky fellow who likes to be photographed in Marine Corps tees.


Rep. Charles Rangel at the March 19 protest
(Photo: Carol Caver / NLN)

The Obama Department of Justice has not ushered in a new era of respect for the rule of law and human rights — Gitmo remains open, the FBI continues to profile and entrap, and political prisoners (Green Scare and Muslim alike) are tortured in “Communication Management Units” — a euphemism for sensory deprivation and isolation. Tricky Dick would have little issue with this approach. From his days at HUAC through the Watergate fiasco, Nixon was no champion of civil rights. Nor was he opposed to using military intervention in the quest for peace.

Given that Nixon carpet bombed North Vietnam, secretly bombed Cambodia until the illegal operation was discovered, and doubtless knew of the CIA’s Phoenix Program (assassination of suspected “Viet Cong” by U.S. special forces) can anyone be surprised that Obama would escalate the Afghanistan War, appoint General Stanley McChrystal to run what many called the “Phoenix Program for Afghanistan” (assassination of suspected Taliban leaders) and unilaterally bomb Libya — for peace?

I have heard it said that President George W. Bush made Nixon look like a liberal. Where does this leave Obama — the peace candidate who spoke out against Bush’s policies only to continue them?

***


(Photo: Carol Caver / NLN)

On March 19, as protesters gathered in Time Square to demand an end to U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, the NBC news ticker announced that U.S. missiles had hit targets in Libya. Dozens of Tomahawk missiles, costing over a million dollars each, had been fired in an undeclared war.


(Photo: Carol Caver / NLN)

NY1 covered the protest and one image from their coverage struck this observer as both indelible and archetypal. A protester turned to the NY1 videographer and said, “Yeah that’s a great idea. We’ve got a third war we’ll get ourselves into.”

And so it came to pass, that on the eighth anniversary of Mr. Bush’s war on Iraq, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Barack Obama attacked Libya while continuing two wars he had pledged to end. Perhaps Nixon really should have gotten that peace prize.


The “Raging Grannies” in Times Square on March 19
(Photo: Carol Caver / NLN)

Happy Anniversary

It’s always tough to assess the motivations of another person, especially a politician. But the fact that Obama chose March 19 to launch his strikes on Libya invites armchair psychoanalysts to raise questions. In his groundbreaking work, “The Psychopathic God: Adolf Hitler,” Robert G.L. Waite noted that Hitler attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. The date was significant in that 129 years earlier Napoleon had announced his forthcoming attack on Russia on this exact date, reviewing his troops in Poland on the eve of the attack (the Grand Armee mobilized on the 23rd and launched the campaign on the 24th). Obama is not Hitler and Bush was no Napoleon but the choice of March 19 for the Libyan attack was interesting. It could be argued that Obama needed to act within a small window of opportunity but even if this notion is accepted why did he choose this specific anniversary, this exact date? The idea that he didn’t know seems absurd. It’s possible but highly unlikely…

Boys Will Be Boys

Obama’s domestic policies have been less than successful. His signature issue, health care reform, produced a bill that almost no one is excited about — except perhaps the insurance companies. In addition, Obama has been accused of a seemingly endless litany of hallucinatory crimes by oxycodone addicts and hyperbolic paranoids on the far Right (he’s not a U.S. citizen, he’s a socialist, etc.) It must be tempting to turn away from domestic policy issues and the attendant discord and focus on military matters. All of that saluting from Marines, all of the gung-ho rhetoric (“you’re going on the offense, tired of playing defense!“) and appearances before audiences ordered to cheer wildly, must have an appeal. The USMC t-shirt photo op reverberates in this reporter’s sensorium. Clearly Obama is comfortable with at least the trappings of the military. Unfortunately for Barack, Iraq continues to be plagued by sectarian violence and Afghanistan is a long way from anything resembling stability. It’s tough to be a war president when you’re losing two wars.


(Photo: Carol Caver / NLN)

Perhaps a “limited role” in Libya will get Obama the recognition he seeks – from both Right and Left. Indeed, the PBS Newshour had two senators on the show a few days after the attacks – Democrat Jack Reed and Republican Johnny Isakson appeared on the March 29 episode. Moderator Judy Woodruff continued the Newshour’s tradition of throwing softball pitches and presenting “opposing” points of view that question only how to implement a policy not whether the policy itself is desirable, reasonable or even legal.

Rhode Island’s Reed described Obama’s attack as an “adroitly” executed “initiative” while Georgia’s Isakson said, “I think we have done the right thing but in the wrong way.” Isakson explained that Obama must not yield American “leadership” to NATO – he must not take ground assault off the table. As is typical of the “liberal” media, there was no dissenting voice. No one, not even Woodruff, questioned the sanity of fighting three wars. Perhaps the compliant media and the muted criticism from Republicans is a balm for a weary president – the first positive response to his “bipartisan” appeal. Obama would not be the first U.S. chief executive to seek the solace of being a war president after a succession of domestic policy failures. But he needs to “man up” to pull it off. As social theorist Wilhelm Reich noted, to appeal to an audience fed a diet of militaristic ideology and macho sexual repression, “Only insofar as this leader actually personifies the nation in conformity with the national sentiments of the masses [ i.e. authoritarianism ] does a personal tie to him develop.” (Mass Psychology of Fascism p. 62) And what better way to appeal to emotions than the heroic display of shock and awe? What Reich called the “libidinous mechanism” of martial fanfare. This was not lost on all of the observers — psychohistorian Lloyd DeMause recently referred to the Libyan attack as an example of the “We Are Powerful Group Fantasy.”

No matter who prevails in Libya, Qaddafi or the opposition, one sector of the U.S. will be pleased. Most of the munitions being expended in Libya by government forces are stamped “Made In The USA.” And increasingly the Obama administration is talking up giving weapons to the “rebels.” In a war where American arms traffickers have equipped both sides how can the “defense industry” lose? After all, the weapons will be paid for with tax dollars.

View Photos/Videos From The March 19 Protest

Posted by Tom Hayden - December 10, 2010 | Analysis


Julian Assange, from Wikileaks, at the SKUP conference for investigative journalism, Norway, March 2010
(Photo: Espen Moe / Wikimedia)

We know that conservatives are extremists for order, but why have so many liberals lost their minds and joined the frenzy over Julian Assange and WikiLeaks? As the secrets of power are unmasked, there is a growing bipartisan demand that Julian Assange must die.

Once-liberal Democrat Bob Beckel said on FOX, “there’s only one way to do it: illegally shoot the son-of-a-bitch.” Center-liberal legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said on CNN that Assange is “absurd”, “ridiculous”, “delusional”, and “well beyond sympathy of anyone”. The Washington Times called for treating him as an “enemy combatant”; Rep. Peter King of the Homeland Security Committee who wants him prosecuted as a terrorist; and of course, Sarah Palin wants Assange “pursued with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders”, or a wolf in Alaska.

This is a lynch-mob moment, when the bloodlust runs over. We have this mad overreaction many times since the witch-burnings and Jim Crow, including the Palmer Raids of the 1920s, the McCarthy purges of the 1950s, the Nixon-era conspiracy trials, the Watergate break-ins, and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11.

Most Americans now know that those frenzied periods of scapegoating did nothing for our security, which instead damaged our democracy and left in their wake a secretive National Security State.

There is wisdom in expecting calmer heads to prevail in the WikiLeaks matter, but what can be done when the calmer heads are going nuts or hiding in silence?

Do the frothing pundits remember that we have a legal system in which the accused is entitled to due process, legal representation and the right to a defense? The first obligation of our threatened elected officials, bureaucrats and pundits is to calm down.

No one has died as a result of the WikiLeaks disclosures. But the escalation by the prosecutors in this case could lead to an escalation, with more sensitive documents being released in a retaliatory spiral of this first cyber-war. Imprisoning the messenger will amplify his message and further threats of execution.

I can understand the reasonable questions that reasonable people have about this case. It is clearly illegal to release and distribute the 15,652 documents stamped as “secret.” Why should underground whistleblowers have the unlimited right to release those documents? There is a risk that some individuals might be harmed by the release. There is a concern that ordinary diplomatic business might be interrupted.

All fair, these concerns have to be weighed against two considerations, it seems to me. First, how important is the content of the documents? And how serious is the secrecy system in preventing our right to know more about the policies — especially wars — being carried out in our name? And finally, is there a reasonable alternative to letting the secrets mount, such as pursuing the “transparency” agenda, which the White House purports to support?

Let me weigh these questions with regard to the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and the “Long War” scenario that has occupied my full attention these past nine years.

It will be remembered that the Iraq War was based on fabricated evidence by U.S. and British intelligence services, the Bush-Cheney White House, and even the New York Times through the deceptive reporting of Judith Miller. The leading television media invited top military officials to provide the nightly narrative of the war lest there be any doubts in the mesmerized audience. Secrecy and false narratives were crucial to the invasions, special operations, renditions, tortures, and mass detentions that plunged us into the quagmires where we now are stranded. The secret-keepers were incompetent to protect our national security, even when cables warned of an immanent attack by hijacked airliners.

The secrecy grew like a cancer on democracy. Earlier this year, the Washington Post reported in “Top Secret America” that there were 854,000 people with top-security clearances. That was the tip of the iceberg. The number of new secrets rose 75% between 1996 and 2009, to 183, 224; the number of documents using those secrets has exploded from 5.6 million in 1996 to 54.6 million last year. The secrecy cult appears uncontrollable: the Clinton executive order 12958 [1995] gave only twenty officials the power to stamp documents top-secret, but those twenty could delegate the power to 1,336 others, while a “derivative” procedure extended the power to three million more officials and contractors. [Time, Dec. 13, 2010]


The 1917 U.S. espionage statute requires that Assange received secret documents and willfully, with bad faith, intended to harm the United States by releasing “national defense information.” That’s a tough standard. Perhaps in order to close what U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder describes as “gaps in our laws”, the State Department on Saturday sent a letter demanding that Assange cease the releases, return all classified documents and destroy any records on WikiLeaks databases.

These are difficult legal hurdles for the Justice Department under the First Amendment, but, according to a source close to the defense with experience in such cases, it seems clear that the U.S. government will prosecute Assange with every tool at their disposal, perhaps even rendition.

“What President Obama needs is a photo of Assange in chains brought into a federal court,” the source said.

This week the Assange defense team will appeal the London court’s decision to deny bail. If that fails, he will appear in court December 14 to face extradition to Sweden.

Assange has the right to appeal an extradition order to the European Court of Human Rights.

He has a very strong base of support in London where public anger over the fabrications that led to war still runs high. An extradition fight in London could carry on for weeks, providing an important platform for the defense. Or the UK government could take the risk of an accelerated emergency deportation process to send him to Stockholm, or even the U.S. in the most extreme scenario.


If Assange winds up in Stockholm, it could take several weeks to fight his way through a bizarre and complicated sexual harassment trial. Anything is possible there, from all charges being dropped, to the finding of a technical infraction, to jail time. Or Sweden could make an emergency finding to extradite him straight to the US, risking an adverse public reaction for serving as to a handmaiden of the Pentagon.

In the atmosphere of hysteria ahead, it is important for peace and justice advocates to remember and share what Americans owe to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

  1. WikiLeaks disclosed 390,136 classified documents about the Iraq War and 76,607 about Afghanistan so far. No one died as a result of these disclosures, one of which revealed another 15,000 civilian casualties in Iraq which had not been acknowledged or reported before;
  2. Fragmentary orders [FRAGO] 242 and 039 instructed American troops not to investigate torture in Iraq conducted by America’s allies;
  3. The CIA operates a secret army of 3,000 in Afghanistan;
  4. A secret US Task Force 373 is assigned to nighttime hunter-killer raids in Afghanistan;
  5. The US ambassador in Kabul says it is impossible to fix corruption when our ally is the corrupt entity;
  6. One Afghan minister alone carried $52 million out of the country;
  7. US Special Forces operate in Pakistan without public acknowledgement, apparently in violation of that country’s sovereignty;
  8. America’s ally, Pakistan, is the chief protector of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
  9. Following secret U.S air strikes against suspected al-Qaeda militants, Yeme’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh told General David Petraeus, “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours.”
  10. U.S. government contractor DynCorp threw a party for Afghan security recruits featuring trafficked boys as the entertainment. Bacha bazi is the Afghan tradition of “boy play” where young boys are dressed up in women’s clothing, forced to dance for leering men, and then sold for sex to the highest bidder. DynCorp has been previously linked to child sex trafficking charges.

The secretive wars exposed by WikiLeaks will cost $159.3 billion in the coming fiscal year, and several trillion dollars since 2001. The American death toll in Afghanistan will reach 500 this year, or fifty per month, for a total of 1,423, and 9,583 wounded overall — over half of the wounded during this year alone. The Iraq War has left 4,430 U.S. soldiers dead and 32,000 wounded as of today. The civilian casualties are ignored, but range in the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Afghans, and Pakistanis.

Is it possible that Julian Assange is the scapegoat for arrogant American officials who would rather point the fingers of blame than see the blood on their own hands? What else can explain their frenzy to see Assange dead?

It may be too late to prevent an escalation. The lynch-mob is rabid, terrorized by what they cannot control, completely out of balance, at their most dangerous. If they realize their darkest desires, they will make Assange a martyr — a “warrior for openness” — in the new age now beginning. A legion of hackers are fingering their Send buttons in response, and who can say what flood they may release?

The trial of Julian Assange is becoming a trial of secrecy itself. Wherever the line is drawn, secrecy has become the mask of power, and without new rules, the revolt of the hackers will continue.


Tom Hayden, with Mark Rudd, at Barnes and Noble, New York, June 2007
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

[ Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on TomHayden.com. It was reprinted with the author's permission. ]

Posted by Stephanie Basile - November 27, 2010 | Analysis


“Neither A Consumer Nor A Commodity Be.”
(Photo: Thomas Good / NY Dada)

Black Friday and the importance of having a voice on the job:
The government won’t do it. CEOs won’t do it. Only working people can build a better future

Every Thanksgiving I remind my friends and family of the deadly war waged against Native Americans in this country. This Thanksgiving, there is another war I’d like to discuss: the war being waged against retail workers.

This year I call on progressives to not only speak up for native people, but to remind our friends and family how important it is that workers have the right to organize for better conditions at work. And there’s no better time than Black Friday to have these conversations.

A CULTURE OF NEGLIGENCE

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently sent letters to 14 major retailers urging them to adopt crowd control measures this Black Friday.

It would almost sound serious if one had no idea how impotent OSHA is and how powerful the big box retailers are. Yes, I’m sure receiving a
“strongly worded letter” from OSHA has CEOs shaking in their booties!

In fact, it would be downright comical if it wasn’t for the fact that lives have literally been lost because of retailers’ utter disregard for their employees’ and customers’ safety.

Two years ago 34-year-old Jdimytai Damour, a temporary Wal-Mart maintenance worker, was trampled to death and four were injured at a Long Island Wal-Mart on Black Friday.

The bloggers and commentators used the event to lament just how crazy our consumer culture has become. While it’s tempting to comment on our frenzied consumer culture, the crowd basically did what any large crowd would do. News reports described a crowd of at least 200 people waiting outside one set of doors for the store’s 5am opening. Predictably, when the store opened, people bum rushed the entrance. And when 200+ eager customers are waiting to enter one set of doors at five o’clock in the morning on Black Friday, it’s going to be difficult, to say the least.

What’s amazing about this situation isn’t how the customers acted, but that they bore the brunt of the blame for what is gross negligence on the part of Wal-Mart. In any other situation, the company surely would have been to blame. When crowds get out of control at football games or rock concerts, the venue is immediately held to account. Where was security? Why wasn’t there better crowd control? Why weren’t safety measures properly enforced? We should expect no less of retailers expecting large crowds on Black Friday.

In May 2009, OSHA cited Wal-Mart for inappropriate crowd control and fined them $7,000. While most would argue that a life is worth much more than $7,000, apparently Wal-Mart feels that this number is TOO much! Wal-Mart is actually appealing the decision in court.

Aside from the OSHA fine, Wal-Mart cut a deal with the Nassau County DA to set up a $400,000 fund for victims, give $1.5 million to county social service programs, and implement a new safety plan at 92 of its locations. In exchange for this, Wal-Mart will not face criminal charges, and Mr. Damour’s family would have to waive their right to bring a separate civil suit against Wal-Mart if they participate in the victim’s fund. So as usual, the corporate executives shirk criminal responsibility and instead pay pennies (and yes, $2 million is pennies for a company that posted $3.44 billion net income in this year’s third quarter).

Continue Reading…

Posted by TAG - August 23, 2010 | Analysis, News


“I live here, Sarah Palin doesn’t”
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

NEW YORK — August 22, 2010. Sunday was another rainy day in New York City, as two sides of the Ground Zero mosque issue squared off in dueling protests — two sides who are responding to a catastrophe with two mutually exclusive answers: hatred and healing.


“Islamophobia defiles Ground Zero”
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

LOST

If volume validated an argument then the motorcycle contingent bound for Sunday’s anti-mosque protest would win, hands down. With loud pipes and shrill voices, the bikers from out of town who thundered down Broadway en route to the demonstration — apparently going the wrong direction — would have the final word in any debate whose outcome is measured only in decibels. But it isn’t that simple. And just as the issues surrounding the proposed building of a mosque-slash-community center in the general area of Ground Zero aren’t so simple — it’s too simplistic to write off all of the bikers as stereotypic toughs, incapable of compassion or human emotion. Some of them lost relatives in the September 11, 2001 attack on the Trade Center.

A short time after the loud cavalcade drove past this reporter, several of their number, now dismounted, emerged on a street corner looking confused, vulnerable and maybe even a little embarrassed. It was hard to deny their humanity. We’ve all been lost before — alone, wandering unfamiliar territory.

US V. THEM

To those who see the world from the vantage point of an “us versus them” perspective — there is no middle ground, no room for freedom of religion, no Constitution to defend, no reason to wince at racist epithets hurled at the Other side. To those who embrace an ideology based on interpreting 9/11 as a clash of two cultures, as an apocalyptic harbinger of a holy war — one protester’s angry outburst sums up the world view: “Islam is not a religion, it’s a cult.”

This was the statement one New Yorker hurled at another on Sunday.

And as if this statement was not sufficient to choke off discussion, to demonize and objectify an entire faith, the anti-mosque protester continued: “If you had a Qur’an here, I’d piss on it.”


“Support freedom of religion”
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

THE OTHERS

The objectification of Other as evil incarnate, the demonization of billions of believers, is not a rational construct but it is one that has currency, perhaps because choosing hatred over healing, choosing to adopt bumper sticker slogans over calm dialog is less threatening, less intimidating than attempting to grasp elusive nuances. There is no doubt that it is easier to hate than to love, to assimilate rather than to accommodate, to shout rather than to listen. This is the sad trajectory of terrorism itself.


“Isn’t the Constitution hallowed?”
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

The man who uttered that sad statement, who argued that Islam is not a religion, was eventually quieted by a white-shirted NYPD senior officer. The target of the protester’s venom — who had responded angrily — walked off to join the Other demonstration of the day: the group of civil rights activists, peace protesters and interfaith clerics who support the Muslims looking to build the Cordoba House mosque and community center on 51 Park Place.


(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

FROM NYC TO OKLAHOMA — AND BACK AGAIN

At the anti-Islamophobia rally, Alan Stolzer of the Military Project asked me a question.

“Has anyone built a church near the Oklahoma City bomb site?”

His rhetorical question was pointed: Timothy McVeigh was a blond and blue Christian. A home grown killer. The analogy was not ideal. McVeigh did not profess to kill in the name of his religion. But in our history other Americans have killed in the name of their faith, some acting in concert with other true believers. And yet in these cases, it was the killers who were judged, not the professed faith, not the religion in its entirety. It could not be otherwise. And yet it’s different for Muslims in America.


“Build and learn together”
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

BEYOND BINARIES

Somewhere in between the 9/11 ideologues — the Islamophobes and racists who look to burning books as a solution — and the Muslim community left holding a fractured First Amendment are the families of 9/11. Their grief is not ideological in nature but their numbers, their “hearts and minds,” are the perceived prize for those who would market rabid xenophobia disguised as patriotism. The Sarah Palins and other rank opportunists, none of whom have ever lived in New York, some of whom can’t spell xenophobia — even if they can see it from their back yard — are eager to profit from appeals to hatred and racism. But for those who lost loved ones, healing will have to be accomplished without hate. However this is done, whatever path is chosen, healing involves overcoming hate, not embracing it.

As the rain fell on the protesters who challenge the binary world view, those who want to heal and move beyond Islamophobia and the scourge of racism, as the mainstream media swarmed to get their soundbites from the “pro-mosque protesters” — a man in a priest’s collar quietly held up a sign. It read: “Build and Learn Together.”

View Photos/Videos From The Event…


A protester on Staten Island
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

NEW YORK — Last Tuesday, December 1, Obama told the world that anyone who compared Afghanistan to Vietnam was guilty of a “false reading of history.” It is true that history does not repeat, according to a number of prominent historians. However, it is also true that people often repeat the same error many times — in an attempt to “get it right.” According to Dan Ellsberg this is precisely what the military is doing in Afghanistan — refighting Vietnam. And Obama, not wanting to rock the boat, is allowing it to happen. But according to Ellsberg: “No victory lies ahead in Afghanistan.”

Last Tuesday the President announced that he is sending (four star) General Stanley McChrystal another 30,000 troops. The rationale is that sending more troops now will enable the military to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan, ultimately allowing for withdrawal of U.S. forces. When? After the Afghan forces have been trained in counterinsurgency.

A similar strategy was employed by Richard Nixon and he termed it “Vietnamization.” The strategy allowed the U.S. to withdraw from Vietnam in 1972 but the (South Vietnamese) government of President Nguyen Van Thieu collapsed in 1975 when the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) defeated the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). The war cost millions of Vietnamese lives and the U.S. lost over 58,000 troops.

THE OFFICIAL VERSION

Speaking at West Point, Obama told a group of cadets that, “The 30,000 additional troops that I am announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 – the fastest pace possible – so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers. They will increase our ability to train competent Afghan Security Forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.”

Unfortunately, the Taliban does not reside in key population centers, preferring to fade into the countryside where they can avoid a conventional war with the superior U.S. forces. The guerilla war the Taliban is waging is being met with classic counterinsurgency tactics (population control and monitoring, cordon and search, air strikes against “soft targets,” etc.) on the part of the NATO forces, commanded by McChrystal. In the Vietnam War this strategy was termed “pacification.”

In Vietnam, the U.S. won every major engagement, including the Tet Offensive. And yet the pacification strategy ultimately failed as it could not stop the either the NVA or the irregulars the U.S. called Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese called the National Liberation Front or NLF. The NLF fought like the Taliban – preferring guerilla tactics to conventional warfare.

Passing the mantle of pacification or counterinsurgency to the Afghans requires that the Afghan army be properly equipped and trained. This training has been ongoing for eight years already and the army, by most accounts, has improved. But according to Obama, it is not ready to fight the Taliban. The police force is in worse shape. It is riddled with corruption and unable or unwilling to perform. Thus, U.S. forces are being used for police duties in a war that is essentially a “police action.”

“Police action in military/security studies and international relations is a euphemism for a military action undertaken without a formal declaration of war.” – Wikipedia


A CodePINK Call To Action
(Image: CodePINK)

LEGENDARY CORRUPTION

In his speech Obama said that, “In Afghanistan, we and our allies prevented the Taliban from stopping a presidential election, and – although it was marred by fraud – that election produced a government that is consistent with Afghanistan’s laws and Constitution.”

Corruption is a traditional part of the fabric of Afghan politics. It parallels the corruption that plagued South Vietnam in the Sixties.

In February of 2009, Newsweek reported that: “As in [ President Ngo Dinh ] Diem’s Vietnam, government corruption is epic; even Karzai says so. ‘The banks of the world are full of the money of our statesmen,’ he said last November. His former finance minister, Ashraf Ghani, rates his old government as ‘one of the five most corrupt in the world’ and warns that Afghanistan is becoming a “failed, narco-mafia state.” In a country where seven out of 10 citizens live on about a dollar a day, the average family each year must pay about $100 in baksheesh, or bribes (in Vietnam, this was known as “tea” or “coffee” money). Foreign aid is, after narcotics, the readiest source of income in Afghanistan. But it has been widely estimated that because of stealing and mismanagement in Kabul, the capital, less than half of the money actually finds its way into projects, and only a quarter of that makes it to the countryside, where 70 percent of the people live.”

Karzai’s fraud-ridden 2009 election was followed by a second election in which his main opponent refused to participate. Running unopposed, Karzai was re-elected. A former CIA asset, Karzai has been called a puppet ruler.

In an exclusive interview with CNN, “Karzai also reluctantly accepted his image as ‘a puppet of America’ but he shied away from accepting reported U.S. doubts that NATO troops lacked the training to combat the Taliban.”

Obama raised this issue in his West Point speech: “Afghanistan is not lost, but for several years it has moved backwards. There is no imminent threat of the government being overthrown, but the Taliban has gained momentum. Al Qaeda has not reemerged in Afghanistan in the same numbers as before 9/11, but they retain their safe-havens along the border. And our forces lack the full support they need to effectively train and partner with Afghan Security Forces and better secure the population. Our new Commander in Afghanistan – General McChrystal – has reported that the security situation is more serious than he anticipated. In short: the status quo is not sustainable.”

MEET STAN MCCHRYSTAL

From September 2003 to August 2008, General Stan McChrystal headed the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which oversees such elite units as the Army’s Delta Force and the Navy SEALs. JSOC includes “Task Force 121,” a unit that operated out of the infamous “Camp Nama,” a Saddam Hussein era facility, located near Baghdad, retrofitted for torture by JSOC.

TORTURE

Esquire reported on Camp Nama: “Formed in the summer of 2003, it quickly became notorious. By August the CIA had already ordered its officers to avoid Camp Nama. Then two Iraqi men died following encounters with Navy Seals from Task Force 121 — one at Abu Ghraib and one in Mosul — and an official investigation by a retired Army colonel named Stuart Herrington, first reported in The Washington Post, found evidence of widespread beatings. ‘Everyone knows about it,’ one Task Force officer told Herrington. Six months later, two FBI agents raised concerns about suspicious burn marks and other signs of harsh treatment. Then the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency reported that his men had seen evidence of prisoners with burn marks and bruises and once saw a Task Force member ‘punch [the] prisoner in the face to the point the individual needed medical attention.’ Despite this record, The New York Times has reported that as late as June 2005, the Army dropped yet another investigation into torture at Camp Nama because of the confusion created by the use of ‘battlefield pseudonyms.’ The confusion extends to the name of the task force itself, which is also known as Task Force 6-26 and Task Force 145.”

The Esquire piece reported that McChrystal visited Camp Nama and refused to allow the Red Cross access.


Peace Action Staten Island protests Obama’s escalation
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

DEATH SQUAD

Famed investigative reporter Seymour Hirsch told CNN that JSOC was “an executive assassination wing,” a reference to its mission to liquidate “high value targets” (HVT).

“JSOC is awesome,” – George W. Bush.

During the Vietnam War the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) performed very similar functions, including the infamous Phoenix project – an assassination (of suspected NLF members and supporters) program run by William Colby.

“FRIENDLY FIRE” — AND “FRAGGING”

McChrystal was also involved in the coverup of the alleged friendly fire death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman.

Wikipedia notes that “McChrystal was criticized for his role in the aftermath of the 2004 death by friendly fire of Ranger and former professional football player Pat Tillman. Within a day of Tillman’s death, McChrystal was notified that Tillman was a victim of fratricide. Shortly thereafter, McChrystal was put in charge of paperwork to award Tillman a posthumous Silver Star for valor. On April 28, 2004, six days after Tillman’s death, McChrystal approved a final draft of the Silver Star recommendation and submitted it to the acting Secretary of the Army, even though the medal recommendation deliberately omitted any mention of friendly fire, included the phrase ‘in the line of devastating enemy fire,’ and was accompanied by fabricated witness statements. On April 29, McChrystal sent an urgent memo warning White House speechwriters not to quote the medal recommendation in any statements they wrote for President Bush because it ‘might cause public embarrassment if the circumstances of Corporal Tillman’s death become public.’ McChrystal was one of eight officers recommended for discipline by a subsequent Pentagon investigation but the Army declined to take action against him.”

The case has never been fully resolved – Army doctors told military investigators that Tillman’s wounds suggested murder and urged them to launch a criminal investigation. This never happened.

STAN THE MAN

Stan McChrystal was appointed by Obama to be commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan in 2009. The career officer and former JSOC commander assumed his new duties on June 15, 2009. Shortly afterwards, Sixty Minutes reported that “The only way to win, McChrystal insists, is to earn the support of the people.” A symbol of American military might, former commander of a unit that tortures prisoners and “liquidates HVTs” is now expressing the idea that winning hearts and minds is the path to victory. Has he had an epiphany?

During the Vietnam War, “Hearts and Minds” was a euphemism for a campaign by the United States military that was intended to win the popular support of the Vietnamese people. It failed. (The hearts and minds campaign ran concurrently with a U.S. effort to quantify success by reporting a weekly “body count” – a discredited practice that was later revived in Iraq).


Veterans For Peace in Times Square
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

FALSE READINGS

Obama at West Point:

“[..] there are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam. They argue that it cannot be stabilized, and we are better off cutting our losses and rapidly withdrawing. Yet this argument depends upon a false reading of history. Unlike Vietnam, we are joined by a broad coalition of 43 nations that recognizes the legitimacy of our action. Unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a broad-based popular insurgency. And most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan, and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border. To abandon this area now – and to rely only on efforts against al Qaeda from a distance – would significantly hamper our ability to keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and create an unacceptable risk of additional attacks on our homeland and our allies.”

Setting aside Obama’s argument that Afghanistan is not a Vietnam-style police action, his assessment of the need to fight al Qaeda in Afghanistan is problematic. Al Qaeda is a decentralized entity with many tentacles. In fact, it is apparently not operating in Afghanistan at this time – U.S. forces are fighting the Taliban, not al Qaeda. Further, al Qaeda murdered civilians IN THE U.S., not in Afghanistan. The jets that crashed into American buildings flew out of Boston, not Kabul. It would seem more logical to fight al Qaeda where they actually exist, rather than fighting a group that once upon a time harbored some elements of al Qaeda – many of whom are now either dead or out of the country.

Logical fallacies inform much of Obama’s speech. The quickest path to troop withdrawal is to send more troops. The Afghan presidential election, though “marred by fraud,” was legitimate. And increased military spending can be effectively addressed by working with the Congress to “bring down the deficit.”


Hope for rent?
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Obama: “All told, by the time I took office the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan approached a trillion dollars. Going forward, I am committed to addressing these costs openly and honestly. Our new approach in Afghanistan is likely to cost us roughly 30 billion dollars for the military this year, and I will work closely with Congress to address these costs as we work to bring down our deficit.”

Obama also argues that U.S. forces are liberators, not occupiers:

“For unlike the great powers of old, we have not sought world domination. Our union was founded in resistance to oppression. We do not seek to occupy other nations. We will not claim another nation’s resources or target other peoples because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours. What we have fought for – and what we continue to fight for – is a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and access opportunity.”

Torture, assassinations, corruption, incompetent indigenous armies, winning hearts and minds, bombings of civilians. All of these elements combine to form a tragic tale of two wars. Factor in the history of both the Vietnamese and Afghans successfully defeating invaders (the French and Japanese in Vietnam, the British and Soviets in Afghanistan), U.S. ignorance of the indigenous cultures, inhospitable geography, U.S. technology combating an agrarian culture on their terrain and their terms, border states that harbor insurgents, CIA and military support of local drug lords, and, lack of a clear, well defined, exit strategy and you have a perfect, man-made, storm.

A false reading of history indeed.


CodePINK’s Dana Balicki
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

THE GREAT SOCIETY V. THE PERMANENT WAR ECONOMY

“It’s time to strip the Obama sticker off my car.” – Tom Hayden

The progressive community isn’t buying Obama’s used war.

Tom Hayden: “Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan is the last in a string of disappointments. His flip-flopping acceptance of the military coup in Honduras has squandered the trust of Latin America. His Wall Street bailout leaves the poor, the unemployed, minorities and college students on their own. And now comes the Afghanistan-Pakistan decision to escalate the stalemate, which risks his domestic agenda, his Democratic base, and possibly even his presidency.”

Laura Flanders: “As tradition requires, Obama claimed progress is being made. Maybe so, but it’d be more convincing in Afghanistan were it not for all those US-backed Afghan warlords gearing up to fight each other with US weapons, fueled by a heroin trade that the CIA stands accused of letting rip. Obama’s words were too familiar — so too his silences.”

And Daily News sports writer Mike Lupica:

“As someone once said about Vietnam, ‘The only way out is the door.’

Obama should never have given in to all the tinhorn generals in Congress and the media, all the others war experts who never wore a uniform in defense of this country for a single day. At a time when he is clearly afraid of being called weak, that would have been real strength from him. Saying no to all of them. He keeps looking for ways to say no to a second term instead.”


Is the dream dead?
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

There were protests in several major American cities on December 2, the day after Obama’s speech. More are planned.

***

“No victory lies ahead in Afghanistan.” — Daniel Ellsberg

Posted by Elaine Brower - August 3, 2009 | Analysis


James and Elaine Brower
(Photo: Elaine Brower / NLN)

Listening this morning to Democracy Now! brought back a flood of memories which I would prefer to have forgotten. Marilyn Walker and Frank Lindh were being interviewed. If you recall they are the parents of John Phillip Walker Lindh who was captured in Afghanistan on November 25, 2001. Lindh, who is a US citizen, was crucified immediately in the media as being the “American Taliban.” He was 20 years old, and officially converted to Islam in 1997, traveled to Yemen to study the Quran, and returned to the US in 1999. He then went to Pakistan via Yemen in 2000, to study further at a madrassa.

When Lindh was “captured” by the Afghan Northern Alliance forces, they were also working with CIA special operatives and an elite Marine Corps Unit assigned to work in the foothills searching for bin Laden. The reason I know this is because my son was there. He participated in Lindh’s capture and in the subsequent battle when the “Taliban” prisoners at the military garrison, Qala-i-Jangi, near Mazar-e Sharif, became the scene of an uprising. One CIA officer, Johnny “Mike” Spann, was killed, along with other members of the CIA and military.

I remember the phone call I received in the early morning hours from the Marine Corps base “Camp Rhino.” I got used to the 3 AM calls when my son would return from his “hunting” missions and tell me every last detail of trying to capture bin Laden. But this call was different. I heard the entire story of what ensued with the fight and detention of the “American Taliban.”

If you look through the Wikipedia entry on “John Walker Lindh” you will note that a reference is made that his captors did not know who Lindh was because he refused to speak English, barely spoke at all, and when he did, he spoke Arabic, which he was fluent in. The Wiki entry also says that if “he had only told them he was an American, he would have received better treatment.” This is a downright lie. Those marines and CIA operatives knew the moment he was captured that he was an American citizen. I was also told about how he was thrown on the back of a marine corps truck, with the marines guarding him, and others they had grabbed.

During this conversation, my son told me how they had been working with the northern alliance bombing caves and hunting for bin Laden. The 15th MEU, a special operations battalion that drove deep into Afghanistan, was the first of its kind. Marines have always been trained to deploy on the beach and be the first fighting force to open the way for the Army. However, the MEUs, Marine Expeditionary Unit, were trained for land fighting, and have vehicles that travel on all types of terrain and can move far inside a Country’s borders.

On November 25th this MEU, and specifically my son’s platoon, Javelin Company, was operating deep inside Afghanistan. I knew exactly what he was doing, and was scared to death. Working in downtown Manhattan when the Twin towers fell, then living with the invasion of Afghanistan, it was an extremely difficult time for me as a mother and concerned human to fully grasp what was really happening around me. I think that most of the world, and people in this Country, felt the same way. We were shocked into fear, hatred, paralysis, and confusion.

My son told me that they took Lindh on the truck back to Camp Rhino and put him in a shipping container. He also mentioned that Lindh was wounded. I was horrified at this thought. I remember asking him if they took care of his wounds. He laughed and said “no way.” I think that at this moment my senses were “awakened” to the brutality of this invasion. There were times when I did question the “mission” in Afghanistan, but always felt that if bin Laden was responsible, then he must be caught and brought here for trial. Day by day I waited for this to happen, and day by day I realized that this would never happen.

Continue Reading…

Posted by TAG - April 21, 2009 | Analysis


One of the students arrested in the Good Friday occupation
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

NEW YORK — Did New School University president Bob Kerrey pepper spray his own students?

The student group calling itself the “New School In Exile” says that Bob Kerrey bears the bulk of the responsibility for police using physical force against unarmed students engaged in a peaceful protest — a protest that called for Kerrey to step down from his position as president of the New School.

In statements released on their website, students involved in the April 10th — Good Friday — takeover of the New School facility on 65 Fifth Avenue said that Kerrey called in riot police despite the existence of a “demonstrations policy” at the New School that banned the use of force and mandated other forms of action.

“The demonstrations policy states that “absolutely no form of physical violence or intimidation can be tolerated” on the part of demonstrators. But mobilizing the massive repressive apparatus of the riot police (or massacring an entire village in Vietnam) are apparently okay.”

New School In Exile statement April 13, 2009

Kerrey’s use of force against his students contradicts the core mission of the New School – to instill students with a passion for social justice activism:

“The New School is a legendary, progressive university comprising eight schools bound by a common, unusual intent: to prepare and inspire its 9,400 undergraduate and graduate students to bring actual, positive change to the world.”

About The New School

KERREY’S PAST: BACKDROP TO A CONFLICT

Kerrey has been a controversial figure ever since he arrived at the New School in 2001. Frustrated students and their supporters have been quick to point out that during the Vietnam War Kerrey led a Navy SEAL team on a Phoenix Program mission targeting the peasant village of Thanh Phong. The CIA’s Phoenix program orchestrated the assassination of thousands of Vietnamese — some of the targets were National Liberation Front (“Viet Cong”) but many others were innocent women and children.


A sign calling Kerrey a war criminal
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

“Kerrey should be tried as a war criminal. His actions on the night of February 24-25, 1969 when the seven man Navy Seal unit which he headed killed approximately twenty unarmed Vietnamese civilians, eighteen of whom were women and children was a war crime. Like those who murdered at My Lai, he too should be brought into the dock and tried for his crimes.”
– Michael Ratner (interview with CounterPunch)

KERREY’S GOOD FRIDAY GAMBLE

Activists at the New School are locked in a protracted struggle with Kerrey, arguing that he is “corporatizing” the school while ignoring basic needs of the students. The student activists are calling for “socially responsible investing” (SRI) — an end to investing university funds in corporations run by defense contractors who engage in war profiteering. They are also demanding Kerrey’s resignation.

STUDENT DEMANDS

The Demands:
The removal of Bob Kerrey as president of the university.
• The removal of James Murtha as executive vice president of the university.
The removal of Robert B. Millard as treasurer of the board of trustees.
• Students, faculty, and staff be allowed to elect the president, EVP, and Provost.
• Students be made part of the interim committee to hire a provost.
• Full transparency and disclosure of the university budget and investments.
• The creation of a committee on Socially Responsible Investments (SRI).
• The suspension of capital improvement projects like the tearing down of 65 Fifth Ave.

After a 30-hour student occupation of the Graduate Center in December of 2008, Kerrey agreed to form a committee to oversee investing as part of a negotiated settlement.

Issues From The December Takeover
Still Smoldering In The Spring:
• After the dismissal of Joe Westphal, Bob Kerrey appointed himself interim provost, the chief academic officer concerned with curriculum — angering both students and faculty.
• The turnover of provosts, 5 in 8 years, has frustrated faculty — who reacted with a vote of no confidence in Kerrey.
• Students complain about “a serious lack of resources, both technological and academic” – including a lack of study space and communal, social space.
• Students argue that Bob Kerrey has attempted to make the New School a profit making venture, rather than meeting basic student needs, offering scholarships and keeping tuition low – angering students.
• Students describe a “lack of democratic transparency” in the activities of Bob Kerrey and the board of trustees.
Students have called Kerrey a “war criminal” for his role in the Thanh Phong massacre (Vietnam, 1969).
• Students have called board of trustees treasurer Robert Millard a “war profiteer” – Millard is chairman of the executive committee of L3 Communications, a defense contractor being sued by several Abu Ghraib torture victims.

SMOLDERING ISSUES AND AN APRIL FOOL’S DEADLINE

The settlement resolved very little. Revolutionary Student Union (RSU) organizer Pat Korte told NLN in late December that he and others worried the investment committee might be a “sham”. In addition, Kerrey and Murtha did not resign by April 1, 2009 — a student demand that Kerrey consistently refused to honor. In response, students occupied the largely vacant Graduate Center a second time on April 10, 2009. The second occupation was short lived — almost immediately Kerrey ordered the NYPD to arrest his students.

Controversy surrounding alleged police misconduct resulted in additional protests — including several outside Kerrey’s Greenwich Village home — and additional arrests. Students and supporters have expressed outrage at what they describe as police brutality while the NYPD is insisting a choreographed arrest video, filmed by the Technical Assistance Response Unit (TARU) and available on YouTube, proves officers acted appropriately.

THE CONTROVERSY AND CORPORATE MEDIA COVERAGE

The videotaped beating and arrest of David Benzaquen, a student at the New School who was observing the second occupation from outside the facility on April 10, was filmed by an independent journalist named Brandon Jourdan and posted on the New York Times website. This video has been a precipitant for the growing controversy surrounding Kerrey’s handling of the occupation — and the NYPD’s use of physical force against unarmed students. The video, reposted by a number of New York City news agencies, clearly shows police pepper spraying students and an officer striking Benzaquen, knocking him to the ground.

Perhaps because of the video, the corporate media was surprisingly even handed in its coverage of the New School occupation. Coverage of the controversy surrounding police conduct by the Daily News and NY1 tended to support the student charges of brutality. The New York Times was far less critical than its peers in its commentary on the Police Department’s use of physical force to subdue unarmed students — despite the fact the Times city room blog was the first media website to post the Jourdan video.

NY1′s Pat Kiernan reported that “There is some controversy today over the way protests at the New School were handled by police yesterday…Protestors say police were too aggressive in their enforcement, and posted an amateur video of a man being arrested down the block from the school as proof.”

Kiernan went on to report that the NYPD had released its own video as the students continued to call for Bob Kerrey and James Murtha to resign.

The Daily News also provided coverage that tended to support the students: reporting that riot police were “caught” on videotape roughing up supporters and using pepper spray against students — “even though police brass categorically denied” that chemical agents (pepper spray and tear gas) were used. The News also quoted eyewitnesses who were horrified by the behavior of the police. The News piece concluded with Kerrey claiming he had no choice but to authorize the police to use force against his students.

David M. Halbfinger of the New York Times wrote a piece on the controversy surrounding police behavior in the occupation, offering a different perspective.

In his piece, Halbfinger reported that some knowledgeable observers feel that video evidence is not objective. Halbfinger’s piece makes no distinction between the police — credentialed professionals trained in crowd control — and unarmed civilians caught in the fray. The piece suggests that police behavior, as captured on video, cannot be assessed objectively — in part because an off camera provocation may have occurred. Key to this argument is the notion that the videographer could lie by omission, facilitated by editing, or that the framing of the shot can color the material. In effect, police behavior cannot be caught on film without observer bias distorting the image. Halbfinger raises the question: how can one make an assessment of what is and isn’t reasonable conduct on the part of law enforcement based on video evidence? Fortunately for civil rights activists, the public doesn’t seem to buy the inscrutability of reference argument, a kind of extreme relativism – as evidenced by the NYPD firing of Officer Patrick Pogon, the rookie cop who tackled a cyclist in a recent Critical Mass ride. [ The brutal act was videotaped and then posted on YouTube. As a result, Pogon's case was tried in the court of public opinion and he did not fare well. A lawsuit has been filed on behalf of Pogon's victim. ]

The principal problem with Halbfinger’s argument is that even if footage of a police officer beating an unarmed observer is not placed in a broader context by the videographer – the beating has nonetheless been documented. And should not have occurred as it is unprofessional – and, most likely, unlawful.

COPS ON YOUTUBE

In the NY1 story, New School faculty member and protest eyewitness Jan Clausen told a reporter that, “I know a lot of concerns have to do with militarism in the university, also concerns about students’ conditions of education. And I think that the administration needs to listen to the students and furthermore, I’m really shocked at the police presence.”

Perhaps in anticipation of controversy surrounding their tactics, the police created their own video.

TARU IN A POST-HANDSCHU WORLD

In 1985, the Handschu agreement, the result of a class-action lawsuit filed in 1971, was handed down by the federal court system. The court ruled that the NYPD could not tape peaceful protesters solely for the purpose of gathering intelligence. During the 2004 Republican National Convention the NYPD resumed taping nonviolent protesters and afterwards issued a written policy authorizing this violation of the Handschu agreement – which prompted the NYCLU to challenge the NYPD policy. After a three year court battle, the NYPD quietly rescinded the policy.

The blue jacketed TARU videographers, so ubiquitous during the RNC, have apparently redefined their mission — and have begun contributing to the NYPD presence on YouTube. After the occupation, the NYPD used their YouTube venue to release a TARU produced video of the New School arrests. Manhattan South Task Force commanding officer, Captain Francis Tloczkowski, leads his officers into a room inside the New School: “Task Force, come on!” The TARU videographers follow MSTF into the room and document the cordial arrest process – clearly showing the student occupiers as cooperative and the officers as courteous.

The NYPD has no video of what happened outside the New School and so it is unclear if those police who pepper sprayed students and roughed up supporters were members of MSTF or were attached to other precincts. The NYPD YouTube description of the TARU video is critical of the Jourdan video. It states that “A video on the New York Times website showed portions of these arrests, but did not show those elements captured on video elsewhere, including Youtube, which captured images of individuals from the group throwing the metal barriers. The same video showed an individual, later arrested, as he tried to wrest a prisoner away from an officer who either fell, or was knocked to the ground while attempting to make an arrest.”

Protesters maintain that the NYPD attacked supporters outside the New School without provocation, including Mr. Benzaquen, and the corporate media appears to agree. The Daily News reported that “Riot police were caught on videotape Friday manhandling New School student protesters” and quoted eyewitnesses who were disgusted by the behavior of the police.


The support rally at Union Square
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

RALLIES, MARCHES — AND ADDITIONAL ARRESTS

A rally to support the jailed students was held at Union Square at 10 p.m. on Good Friday. After a press conference supporters marched to Bob Kerrey’s home and shouted demands for him to step down as police looked on. The marchers were headed for 65 Fifth Avenue, the New School building the students had occupied, when a scuffle with police resulted in two arrests. Chris Crews, a journalist and grad student at the New School was filming one of the arrests when a police officer punched his camera, cracking the housing. Crews salvaged the video and posted it on YouTube.


Journalist and graduate student Chris Crews (left)
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Crews told NLN that “I am an independent filmmaker and New School graduate student who was personally assaulted by an unidentified security official on 14th St. at around 11pm Friday night while filming two NYPD officers arresting a demonstrator (4/10/09). The man had just pushed one person next to a metro stop, and after picking up his hat from the street, he walked directly at me and punched my hand and camera, attempting to break it. The force of his blow cracked my camera and may have permanently damaged it. I was in no way obstrucing or interfering with any police officer, nor was I being disruptive or confrontational. What I experienced was a completely unprovoked and violent assault against my person and my video camera simply for documenting these events. This is a clear case of intentional targeting of journalists and videographers at protests, and my experience was only one of several I have heard of. The blatant assault I experienced was unwarranted and inexcusable, and incidents of this sort threaten all potential journalists and reporters in the field.”

By Saturday, April 11, all of the students arrested for occupying the Graduate Center on Good Friday had been arraigned and released without bail. Supporters, including a number of New School students and faculty, began demanding reinstatement for the 14 students expelled by Kerrey for their role in the occupation. The Radical Student Union held a press conference the following Wednesday — April 15, Tax Day — to reiterate their demands for Kerrey and Murtha to step down.


A protester is arrested outside the New School
after a support rally for the first wave of arrestees.

On April 16, students and supporters held a speak-out on the issue of students rights and police brutality outside the New School campus on West 13th Street. Protesters took to the streets after the speak out and occupied the intersection at 13th and Sixth Avenue briefly. The demonstrators then marched south on Sixth and taunted Kerrey from the street as a row of police stood in front the New School president’s besieged home. The marchers moved on to the Grad Center at 65 Fifth Avenue where they occupied the street in front of the building. Community Affairs cops were unable to do much but they were eventually joined by Deputy Chief Chan and police from the 6th Precinct and Manhattan South. Three protesters were arrested and taken to the 6 for processing. The crowd moved back down Sixth Avenue making their way to Washington Square South and NYU’s Kimmel Building where mayoral candidate Reverend Billy Talen was scheduled to speak. Delivering a bullhorn sermon on NYU’s architectural “monstrosity”, the Kimmel building, Talen mentioned Bob Kerrey — calling him “our favorite war criminal.”


Reverend Billy Talen on Bob Kerrey: “our favorite war criminal.”

STATEMENTS OF SUPPORT

Statements of support for the students continue to be posted on the New School In Exile site and now include letters from the ComisiĆ³n Internacional de la CAE in Barcelona, La Sapienza University in Rome, the Graduate Faculty Student Senate, the Lang Faculty Executive Committee, the Economics Student Union (ESU) at the New School for Social Research and the union of part-time faculty at NYU and the New School, ACT-UAW Local 7902. ACT-UAW has its own issues with Kerrey who dismissed a dozen part-time faculty members in the Fine Art Department at Parsons, the New School for Design. ACT-UAW is holding a demonstration at the New School’s Administration building, 66 West 12th Street (between 5th and 6th Avenues) on Thursday, April 23 at noon.


A teacher from CUNY demands justice for the students at New School
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Many of the issues surrounding the behavior of the police department will likely be settled in court but the issue of Bob Kerrey and his embattled presidency remains on the front burner at the New School. The students continue to reiterate their demands at press conference and speak outs — and from the street in front of Kerrey’s Greenwich Village home.


One of the arrestees points to a gash in his forehead, sustained during his arrest
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

View Photos/Videos From The Actions…

PAST REPORTING ON NLN / RELATED ARTICLES:

Stories Related To The Takeover In December:
Iraq Moratorium III at L3 Communications, November 16, 2007
Lockdown at L3 Communications, 8 students arrested, March 19, 2008
SDS die-in at L3 Communications, April 18, 2008
Faculty Vote of No Confidence In Kerrey, December 10, 2008
Sit-in at New School Board of Trustees meeting on December 10, 2008.
Occupation of Graduate Center, December 17, 2008.
Agreement Signed, December 19, 2008


An NLN interview with Pat Korte of the Radical Student Union

View Photos/Video From The First Occupation
Watch An NLN Video Clip From The First Occupation

Posted by Gordon Clark - January 8, 2009 | Analysis


(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Gordon Clark was the Green Party candidate for Congress in Maryland’s 8th C.D. in 2008.

I was doing my level best to enjoy the recent holidays, and think about the hopeful prospect of a new year, but the steady barrage of TV, radio and newspaper headlines announcing war in the Middle East made it tough.

Just as disturbing as the violence itself was the eerie quiet that quickly descended around it in the media. There was precious little editorial or commentator protest against the Israeli military action in the Gaza Strip, even though the initial attacks killed more people than had died on any previous day in the long and anguished history of this conflict. And then, as the airstrikes escalated into a full ground assault, the prominence of the headlines and stories actually began to decrease, as if the media were already losing interest.

Of course this relative lack of concern only mirrors the position of official Washington. While it is no surprise to anyone who follows this issue, it was still amazing to observe the steady stream of commentators and Congresspeople ready to justify and support the attacks without hesitation – even John Stewart couldn’t help commenting on this lock-step non-debate. And they all do it in such a matter-of-fact, “move along folks, nothing to see here” manner.

Where was Barack Obama in this crisis? It took digging deep inside a couple newspapers to learn that his position was, essentially, “no comment.”



(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Why has Barack had nothing to say? His rationale that “we only have one President at a time” is, I’m sorry to have to point out, a ridiculous fig leaf. It didn’t stop him from commenting on the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, and it sure hasn’t stopped him from acting plenty Presidential when it comes to publicly fashioning the largest stimulus package in U.S. history, and making very public speeches about the dire consequences should it not pass..

Another rationale I heard is that he doesn’t want to distract from his focus on the economy. But let war flare up in the Middle East, and I guarantee he’ll be distracted.

Continue Reading…




17-year-old Keith Smith – Before His Arrest
(Photo: Paul Demko / Minnesota Independent)

The 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota produced over 800 arrests and numerous complaints of police misconduct: pre-emptive raids, mass arrests, targeting of journalists and police brutality – including violence directed against arrestees held in the Ramsey County jail. It was a smaller, but much more violent version of the 2004 RNC held in New York City. By the end of the convention, eight protest organizers had been charged with “conspiracy to commit riot in the second degree in furtherance of terrorism” – the first to be charged under Minnesota’s version of the Patriot Act. {1} Elected officials in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are pleased the convention is over but for those who protested, and those who reported on the protests, lingering questions remain about police conduct during the RNC. This “Twin Study” is an attempt to put the police behavior in a meaningful context – and to underscore the need to examine that behavior publicly.




Keith Smith – After His Arrest
(Photo: Minnesota Independent)

THINK FEDERALLY, ACT LOCALLY

Recent political conventions have been declared “National Special Security Events” by the Department of Homeland Security. {2} An NSSE designation generally means that security becomes the responsibility of an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) – a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security components (Coast Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Transportation Security Administration, and the Secret Service) and state and local law enforcement. JTTFs typically conduct surveillance and interrogations of individuals the FBI suspects of being linked to “domestic terrorism” – which includes protest activity.

Replicating what they had done in 2004, the FBI and its JTTFs increased activity a year prior to the 2008 RNC, surveiling and interviewing peace activists – and recruiting paid informants who were asked to infiltrate anti-war organizations. {3}

IN EVERY DREAM HOME, A HEARTACHE

In 2002, the Justice Department removed regulations put in place after the Church Commission hearings in the 1970s, which exposed evidence of politically motivated spying and obstruction of first amendments rights by the FBI’s COINTELPRO division. {4} Civil rights advocates worry that unregulated JTTF actions may constitute violations of the First Amendment, pointing to a number of questionable police practices that have emerged in the years since the 9-11 attacks.

FROM THE TWIN TOWERS TO THE TWIN CITIES

In Philadelphia in 2000, undercover state troopers posed as activists during the Republican National Convention protests, infiltrating street demonstrations and engaging in illegal activity – acting as provocateurs. {5}

In 2003 a Miami Herald reporter, covering the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) protests, reported that “a judge presiding over the cases of free trade protesters said in court that he saw ‘no less than 20 felonies committed by police officers’ during the November demonstrations.”{6}

The “Miami Model” described by the judge – the police response to the FTAA protests – established a standard procedure for police covering the Republican National Convention in New York City in 2004: surveillance, provocateurs, pre-emptive mass arrests, and extended detentions. And despite the fact that NYPD misconduct prompted several lawsuits – and several legal victories for protesters – the NYPD consulted with authorities planning security for the 2008 RNC in St. Paul. {7}

THE BRIBE STRIPPED BARE

St. Paul received a $50 million “security grant” from the Department of Justice for the 2008 RNC. While there were restrictions on how the cash could be spent, it did allow for equipment procurement and what former Minneapolis police chief Tony Bouza called an “orgy of overtime”. {8} 3000 police officers from other jurisdictions were brought in to the Twin Cities.

In addition, St. Paul signed a deal whereby the city’s first $10 million in payouts to litigants for civil rights violations would be paid by the Republican Party Host Committee. {*} This allowed the 600 local police and 3000 per diem police to engage in aggressive tactics while working the RNC, creating a crowd control force that functioned more like Blackwater mercenaries than a legitimate law enforcement entity.

THE MOCKINGBIRD MEDIA AND ‘KINKOS JOURNALISTS’

Importing a tactic from the Iraq War, the St. Paul police offered local corporate media a deal: journalists who signed a liability waiver were allowed to “ride along”, i.e. be embedded, with the police – after agreeing to not run any stories about police tactics until after the convention. The controversial “ride along” and “embargo” agreement allowed Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) reporter Tim Nelson access to the front lines of the conflict between police and protesters. Unlike many of his colleagues, Nelson was not tear gassed, arrested or beaten. Shortly after this came to light, MPR columnist Bob Collins wrote several pieces about police and their treatment of journalists. Collins argued that it was difficult for police to discern “real” journalists from the “posers” or “kinkos journalists” {9} – and this may have led to journalists being swept up in mass arrests. Collins’ animosity towards citizen journalists, and sympathy for law enforcement, served the police department very well – one reader left a comment on a Collins’ piece stating that, “If I were a bonafide journalist, it would piss me off beyond a bushel of kidney stones that protesters would pose as one of us.”.{10}

Trauma nurse Michael Cavlan worked as a street medic during the 2008 RNC and witnessed a number of confrontations between police and journalists. When asked about (St. Paul) Police Chief John Harrington’s comment that it was very difficult to determine who was a journalist and who was a protester, Cavlan told NLN that, “Chief Harrington is a liar”. Cavlan went on to say that he witnessed a police undercover, with press credentials, “masquerading as a journalist” in order to videotape protesters. {11}

When her staff members were arrested on “suspicion of rioting” on September 1, Democracy Now anchor Amy Goodman approached police officers to verify her crew’s credentials. She was arrested and a Secret Service agent confiscated her convention credentials. {12} This act outraged other journalists – and their readers. On September 2 – day two of the convention – a number of media representatives delivered a petition with 50,000 signatures to St. Paul’s Mayor Coleman demanding that he drop all charges against any journalists arrested during the RNC, many of whom were initially charged with felonies including the vague “suspicion of rioting”. {13}

Neither the 2003 FTAA protests or the 2004 RNC involved the targeting of independent journalists or the bargaining with corporate media to the extent seen in St. Paul – this represents a significant expansion of the Miami Model. Protesters did not fare much better. Police actions against activists began three days before the convention started.

Sign the petition calling for an investigation…

Continue Reading…