Posted by TAG - December 31, 2010 | Editorial


TAG, I’m It – Self Portrait, 2010
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

May 28, 2010 began innocently enough — but by mid-morning I found a woman I hadn’t seen in over 50 years.

“The Conversation” took place early in the day. It was a Friday that seemed ordinary enough. But it would turn out to be truly remarkable.

“Hello, can I speak to Sandra?”

“This is Sandra…”

“Hi, my name is Thomas Good and I have reason to believe that I might be your son.”

***

I am a Leo, born in mid-August. But my mother says that I have a new birthday, that I was reborn on the day she and I were re-united after a 50 year separation: May 28th. So, like George Washington, I celebrate two birthdays. We are party animals, George and me.

Whenever I think about how it felt to find my mother — and to discover my family history — I am astounded.

***

The phone call, “The Conversation,” happened after a long search.

When I was very young, my adoptive mother told me that I was adopted and that my birth name was “Altfather.” She told me that my family came from the German part of Pennsylvania and that my mother was an artist. I studied art and German as a kid in an attempt to embrace my roots. Years later I went to the “Heimat” (homeland) for the first time. It was 1996 and I was in Rotterdam on business. Seizing the opportunity, I jumped on a train to Düsseldorf. As the sun rose I traveled from Appledorn to Emmerich, crossing the Dutch frontier. At the border the Dutch train crew departed and their German colleagues came on board. The rising sun illuminated the steel rails and I exhaled slowly. It was almost impossible to believe that I had finally arrived in the ancestral homeland. Everywhere I went in Düsseldorf, I met people who were very excited that a son of Germany had returned home. “Inspiring” would be an understatement. And so, in 2000, I took my wife and young son to München. I was visiting a colleague and took the opportunity to show my family a little bit of Germany. After landing at the airport we went through customs. Stamping my passport, the German border guard looked up when I said, “Schönes Tag.” For whatever reason he got very excited and came out of his booth to shake my hand. I have no explanation and no words. Another ethereal experience. Another one of Andre Breton’s “surreal Moments.” Life should be about joy, it should be celebrated. I don’t know that official’s name but I am grateful. Whatever else we are, we are both somebody’s son.

A few years later I discovered that, although they had sealed birth records in 1964, the great state of Ohio allowed people born prior to 1964 (or after 1996) to access their original birth certificates (http://www.odh.ohio.gov/vitalstatistics/legalinfo/adoption.aspx). On my 51st birthday I mailed in my application and the filing fee, expecting little – I already possessed the documents my adoptive mother had given me before she died. A month later my original birth certificate arrived. I felt like a kid getting a decoder ring. On it was my birth mother’s name. And her home town in Pennsylvania: Berlin. Two valuable clues. I searched via google for Altfathers from Pennsylvania — as I had already done many times. But this time I zeroed in on Berlin. I would repeat this search innumerable times in the coming weeks. Not much came up. But everything changed on May 28.

On a quiet Friday, sitting at my desk sipping some coffee and preparing to get to work, I googled one more time, expecting nothing from the familiar exercise. And then I got a lead. A break.

I never met Bill Altfather – he died in 1998. But a woman in South Carolina had posted his obituary on a genealogy website. The obit listed the surviving relatives. My mouth fell open when I discovered that one of the survivors was a woman whose maiden name was very familiar. It also gave her married name. That was the missing piece that tied things together neatly. And from there I found a viable phone number.

***

I “met” my mother in July of 2010 — we had met once before — when my family and I journeyed to her home. I can’t help but cry as I type. The first look, the first hug. Beyond words. Imagine what it means to be a complete human being and you’ll have an idea of what it feels like.

Unfortunately there is a political reality that many adoptees encounter when researching their past. Far too many states block adoptee access to what are known as “Original Birth Certificates” — or “OBCs” in the adoptee rights movement. There is no national standard and “States Rights” means that, in many states, adoptees have no rights to access their own birth certificates. Imagine your doctor saying, “Is there a history of diabetes in your family?” and you have to reply that you have no way of knowing. Imagine you spend your entire life not knowing the circumstances around your adoption. Imagine you can’t recall what your mother looks like? Imagine an impersonal response from a state official.

What is to be gained from blocking access to OBCs? Statistics show that birth mothers overwhelmingly embrace their long lost offspring when reunion occurs. And adoptees like yours truly don’t feel any need to turn their backs on those who raised them. Family is not an either/or scenario. The bottom line: adoptees are not the property of the State. We have rights and it is time that they be respected. Adult adoptees are as capable of making their own decisions as any other citizen is. There isn’t any rational reason adult adoptees should be second class citizens.

Sadly, New York State lags behind Ohio in respecting the civil rights of the adoptee. Sealed adoption records leave individuals searching for birth parents with only one recourse: a state-run adoption “registry” that can help facilitate a reunion. But there are no guarantees as one woman’s story reveals. According to the Utica Observer Dispatch, Kelly Wittman Clausen, a 37-year-old adult adoptee, has been on the registry since she was 21 — and has yet to find her mother.

Except for an accident of birth, I would not have found my mother. By sheer luck, being born in Ohio rather than New York — or Pennsylvania — I had access to my original birth certificate. My mother cried when I called her. And when I apologized she said, “These are not tears of sadness.”

***

When I visited my mother in July I spoke to her about an idea I had. I had decided that, on the occasion of my 52nd birthday, I would rectify what I had come to regard as an error. Mom smiled and said, “So you’ll be ‘TAG’.”

When I was barely two months old I had been given a middle name by my adoptive family — the surname of a distant relative whom I had never met. As my adoptive parents were both dead by the time I found my birth mother I made a unilateral decision. With the assistance of my friend and occasional attorney, an amazing National Lawyers Guild member named Gideon, I petitioned the State of New York for a name change. I filled out several forms, got my wife’s permission in writing, got everything notarized and filed my papers at the civil court. When it came down, I took the judge’s decision to the local newspaper for publication. The technicalities completed, I procured new ID. Once the process was finalized — it took about two months — I was a hybrid. My first and last where the names I had been given upon adoption. And sandwiched in between was what I jokingly referred to as my “maiden name.”

The change is no small matter.

With the exception of my middle name, I kept my adopted name(s). I am grateful to my adoptive family and the name they provided was, by and large, a good fit. But with the new middle name I feel complete, whole — part of an extended family.

I had no control over decisions made at the time of my birth and so it is gratifying that I will die as what I am – an Altfather, as well as a Good. It is my decision and one I am very comfortable with. I like to tell people “TAG, I’m it.”

I believe that every adoptee has the right to know their past, to find their birth parents and reunite – if the adoptee and the parents wish to do so. It is the right of any human being to possess their history, to define themselves, to make their own decisions.

The process is hard enough without the state interfering — I was scared shitless at several points along the way. I felt some guilt. I felt some frustration, some remorse. But throughout, I felt joy. Everyone should have the opportunity to discover who they are and where they came from. Our past is our property.

I am proud to be reborn as my mother’s son. TAG, I’m it.

Happy New Year to all of the adoptees and ALL of their parents.

Thomas Altfather Good,
New York City
December 31, 2010

“All of my days, all of my life, standing by you — all of my days, all of my life, I will find you.” — Cyndi Lauper, “Echo”

Posted by TAG - December 29, 2010 | News


December 26, 2010 delivered an historic snowstorm to NYC –
catching the City totally unprepared
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Bloomberg’s Bungled Blizzard is a nice piece of alliteration — unless it’s your neighborhood that is impassable, your public transportation system that is unusable and your emergency service provider who is unavailable.

“It was a perfect storm – and a horribly flawed response.” — NY Daily News

City Council members from around the boroughs have spoken out about the dismal performance of the Department of Sanitation — some neighborhoods have yet to see a snow plow — and this has left some critics demanding DSNY Commissioner Doherty’s resignation. Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) said, “This lack of response is nothing less than criminal. My office has been inundated with calls demanding answers why no one’s streets have been plowed two days after the storm. There is no excuse.”

According to Yiddish Nayes Hikind is demanding Doherty’s resignation, citing Mayor Bloomberg’s promise to ensure accountability in his administration.


Who wants Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty to Resign?
asks a Facebook page

The Staten Island Advance is reporting that a facebook page calling for Doherty’s resignation has been set up.

Responding to their constituents’ frustration, the City Council has called for an investigation into the City’s anemic response to the blizzard and council member Bill de Blasio sent a letter to Bloomberg demanding to know what happened.

Working people in the outer boroughs have angrily noted that Bloomberg’s street — in Manhattan — is well manicured while Brooklyn and Queens are snowbound. NY1 is reporting that a number of New Yorkers believe the Mayor only cares about Manhattan and is out of touch with the other boroughs.

For his part, Bloomberg has offered only platitudes, noting that Broadway shows were running on schedule — and no tourists were seriously inconvenienced. Let them eat cake?

On Staten Island, Doherty’s home borough, City Council member Debi Rose spoke for many local residents, expressing frustration with the Mayor and his non-response to the historic storm.


City Council member Debi Rose
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Echoing frustrations heard across Staten Island and by many residents who remain stranded and snowed-bound, North Shore City Council Member Debi Rose is also steaming over the city’s response — or lack thereof — to the weekend’s snow storm.


A fire hydrant buried in a snowbank in Staten Island
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

“Despite warnings from forecasters that a severe snow storm was headed toward the Northeast, the City and the Department of Sanitation were still caught flat-footed,” said City Council member Rose (D-49th District). “For an Administration that constantly talks about efficiency and effectiveness, I don’t understand how this major failure occurred.”


Multitasking: a sanitation driver has a cigarette
as he spreads salt and plows snow
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Rose noted that, like many Island residents, she too wrongly assumed the Staten Island’s Department of Sanitation was prepared and out in force. Yet, by late Sunday evening, Council Member Rose had yet to hear of or see any streets in her Arlington community being plowed. Calls from her neighbors and other constituents began pouring in by Sunday night.


The calculus of snow removal
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

“My constituents were outraged and wanted to know what was going on and did I know anything” said Rose. “I told them that my streets had not been plowed either and moreover I had not been able to gain any clear understanding about the process or timelines.”


(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Rose acknowledged that the Department of Sanitation is working feverishly to remove snow off the city streets. However, the overall failure of the Office of Emergency Management to coordinate the snow emergency removal effort jeopardized the health and safety of all of the residents of Staten Island .


A resident of the Stapleton section clears his sidewalk
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

“Accordingly, I spoke with the Council’s Sanitation Chairperson Letitia James and requested that hearings be held on how the system failed our residents,” said Rose.


The garbage piled up as New Yorkers waited for the roads to be cleared
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

The Council Member noted that outer-borough communities across New York suffered much the same fate as their Staten Island neighbors.


Service ground to a halt when buses got stuck in the uncleared streets
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

“As reported in the Advance’s online poll taken about the city’s response to the storm, I concur that it deserves a big ‘F’. Moving forward, we demand that the city does better,” said Rose.

View Photos From The Blizzard…


Santa sporting a message for the season: “Peace On Earth”
(Photo: Bill Reed / NLN)

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — The original meaning of Christmas is Peace on Earth, according to Santa Claus.


Santa with one of his helpers
(Photo: Bill Reed / NLN)

On Saturday, December 18, Brooklyn For Peace hit the streets to spread the word. BFP members and others were helping Santa bring the demand of “Peace on Earth — End The Wars!” to people who were out to do some holiday shopping. In a very busy part of Brooklyn — the Atlantic Mall at the intersections of Flatbush, Atlantic and Fourth Avenues — Brooklyn neighbors and tourists alike got to hear a Christmas message that was not about buying more stuff.


Buttons distributed by Santa — and Brooklyn For Peace
(Photo: Bill Reed / NLN)

Santa and his helpers gave out gifts of peace buttons. They read, in English and Spanish, “Peace on Earth — End the Wars” and “Paz en el Mundo / No A Las Guerras!” Santa and his helpers also gave out candy canes and leaflets with the message, “Give Our Kids A Holiday Gift — Get the Military OUT of Our Schools!” The back of the leaflet listed sources of news and news analysis that are not part of the well known corporate media. Brooklyn For Peace feels that there is a strong need for people to learn more about the important news of the day but feels that the corporate media is not informing people properly and often distorts or ignores important information. The leaflet recommended Democracy Now!, the Middle East Report, Black Agenda Report, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting and others.


Santa preaching peace
(Photo: Bill Reed / NLN)

The peace activists received a thankful, supportive, response from pedestrians, as well as honking and waving from passengers in cars and buses.

View Photos From The Event…


Noor Elashi whose father is incarcerated in a “CMU”
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

NEW YORK — On November 11 the Center for Constitutional Rights sponsored a forum on “Experiments in Social Isolation: Communication Management Units and the Expansion of Unconstitutional Detention Policies in the Post 9/11 Federal Prison System.” It was held at the Community Church of New York City. Co-sponsors included the CUNY Law School chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, the Brooklyn Law School Student Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at the NYU School of Law, and the NY Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Suzanne Adely, a recent law graduate, Arab American activist, and Racial Justice organizer at DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving) introduced the subject and the speakers. Speaking at the event were: Alexis Agathocleous, a CCR staff attorney who works in the Government Misconduct and Racial Justice docket; Noor Elashi, writer and daughter of Ghassan Elashi — a political prisoner currently serving a 65 year sentence as one of the Holy Land Foundation defendants. Elashi is incarcerated in a so-called “Communication Management Unit.” Jenny Synan is the wife of Daniel McGowan, a social justice and environmental activist currently in prison. Synan has been part of a campaign to promote awareness of McGowan’s case as well as the cases of others being held in CMUs. Nahal Zamani, the final speaker, is the Outreach Associate for the CCR’s Government Misconduct and Racial Justice docket. She focuses on domestic advocacy, education, and outreach efforts.

The program distributed at the meeting the CCR stated:

“The Bureau of Prisons claims that the Communication Management Units (CMUs) are designed to hold dangerous terrorists and other high-risk inmates, requiring heightened monitoring of their external and internal communications. Many prisoners, however, are sent to these isolation units for their constitutionally protected religious beliefs, unpopular political views, or in retaliation for challenging poor treatment or other rights violations in the federal prison system.

Unlike other prisoners in the federal system, CMU prisoners are categorically denied any physical contact with family members and are forbidden from hugging, touching, or embracing their children, spouses or loved ones during visits. The CMUs are an experiment in social isolation.”


Alexis Agathocleous, a CCR staff attorney
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

Attorney Alexis Agathocleous told the audience that the CCR filed a lawsuit against the CMUs in April of 2010. The CMUs were opened secretly by the previous administration in 2006, first in the federal prison in Indiana and then in Illinois. The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is supposed to announce changes and ask for legal opinions but that never happened. There was none of the private scrutiny required by law. CMUs are the only units that place a blanket ban on any physical contact with visitors. The normal visitation rules allow people to hold hands, embrace, share food, and play games with children. There is also a limited time for visits (two four-hour visits a month) and visits cannot occur on holidays or weekends, forcing visitors to lose work time. Only English can be spoken and the visits are strictly monitored. Literature tells us that the biggest factor in a successful transition to the community when a person leaves prison is the maintenance of family ties. The CMUs make this almost impossible to achieve.

Prisoners are allowed two 15 minute phone calls a week. The general population gets 300 minutes. The 15 minutes may have to be divided between all members of a family sometimes leaving only seconds to each person if there are many children. Family integrity is suffering, according to Agathocleous.

When there are visits the no touching rule (a plexiglas wall separates the inmate from his visitors and they talk on a phone) is particularly hard on young, pre-verbal children where touch is the only way to communicate.

Agathocleous said that there is often no valid penological rationale for CMUs and no discernable process regarding why a person is placed in one of these units. Prisoners don’t know why they are put in one — or how to get out. There is no mechanism to contest the decision. Nationally 65 to 70 percent of prisoners currently in CMUs are Muslim men – either from the Middle East or men who have converted to Islam while in prison. In Marion, Illinois 72 percent of the CMU population is Muslim. The national average of Muslim prisoners in federal facilities is about 6 percent. Non-muslim prisoners placed in these units may have unpopular political views, especially environmentalists, or may have been active in organizing for prisoners rights — filing grievances alleging mistreatment or protesting conditions of confinement. Consequently, confinement in CMUs is often seen as retaliatory. The majority of prisoners in CMUs have a perfect prison record — no infractions of any kind.

There has been a serious effort in recent years to attack environmentalists – what some observers term “the green scare.” The FBI has stated that “eco-terrorists” are the number one threat in the country. Congress passed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) using the word “terrorism” rather loosely — perhaps because it is a key word — an “impact line” in advertising jargon — that frightens people. Anyone threatening commercial property can be convicted as a terrorist because it is linked to the loss of profit. If a company has to put more money into security it is considered a financial loss, according to AETA. AETA and material support statutes both label non-violent protestors as “terrorists.”

Noor Elashi explained that her father was put in a CMU in May of 2009. She said that he, Ghassan Elashi, a Palestinian, was one of the co-founders of the Holy Land Foundation in the late 1980s – a charitable group that sent humanitarian aid to many peoples, including Palestinians. Three months after 9/11 Holy Land was shut down by the Bush administration and its leaders charged with giving material support to Hamas. Elashi said that the charge was untrue, they were giving money to the same charities that other humanitarian aid groups, like the Red Cross, give to. In 2007 Ghassan Elashi was tried and a secret witness identified only as an Israeli secret agent named Avi, said he could smell Hamas in this case. There was a trial that lasted 3 months and after 19 days of deliberation the jury said they were deadlocked. He was retried in 2008, convicted, given a 65 year sentence, and sent to a medium security prison.

During a family visit to Elashi, prisoners were separated from their families and instructed to line up on the opposite side of the room. Noor said her little brother, Omar, who has Downs Syndrome, ran across the room to hug his father. In response to this rule infraction Elashi’s family was told that Ghassan Elashi could have no visits for a year. He was moved to a CMU in Marion, Illinois. The family will visit Elashi in a CMU next week.

Noor Elashi read a short piece that she wrote describing the first time the family went to visit her father: the barbed wire, passing through door after door, the visiting room with the smell of wet rags, having to wait 30 minutes — out of a two-hour visit — for her father to emerge behind a plexiglas wall. Elashi was handcuffed. Omar pressed his face against the plexiglas that separated him from his father — as if he was trying to penetrate it.

The next speaker, Jenny Synan, spoke about her husband, Dan McGowan, an environmental activist who was arrested in 2005 for damaging property in an environmental action. The action took place at a time that nobody was around so that nobody would come to harm. In 2007 the judge on his case recommended that he be sent to a low security prison but the BOP sent him to a medium security prison in Minnesota where he started taking classes toward a graduate degree. He was an ideal prisoner — he had a job there and he had no violations.

In May of 2008 McGowan didn’t call his wife on their anniversary so she called the prison and was told that he “was no longer there” and they couldn’t tell her where he was. She spent a week searching for him and was finally able to find out that he was sent to the CMU in Marion. As she told the story of learning that they couldn’t touch each other she started to cry, explaining that finding out that you can’t touch someone you love is very hard. She couldn’t figure out how they would manage to maintain their relationship, adding that every animal thrives on touch.

She nervously went to see him and was stressed by the close monitoring. She feared that she would do or say something that would cause the prison to end their visit. He told her to be verbal and not make any hand motions. Their short phone calls had them making lists so that precious seconds would not be wasted. If there was an argument, which occasionally happened, they had to wait for the next phone call a week later to make-up. E-mail, because of the monitoring, takes three or four days to reach someone. When his mother was dying it took the chaplain several days to arrange for Daniel to be able to call her in her hospital room to say goodbye to her. By then his mother could no longer speak so his sister held the phone to his mother’s ear while he spoke to her — the 15 minute rule was observed then too.

McGowan, with the help of CCR, was recently released from the CMU and Jenny said that she planned to spend Thanksgiving with him.


Nahal Zamani, Outreach Associate for the CCR’s Government Misconduct and Racial Justice division
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

The final speaker, Zamani, said that CCR was undertaking a major campaign to inform people around the country about the CMUs — which the organization regards as unconstitutional. CCR has organized friends and families of people in CMUs, defense lawyers, former correction officers, and psychologists to contact the BOP and protest the existence of these units. CCR has also contacted the South Asian community which is deeply affected and communities where people of color, who know how hard it is to maintain a relationship with a family member through plexiglas walls and with extremely abbreviated phone time, can meet with each other and discuss this issue. She added, if you bring isolated communities together you “empower the disempowered.”

View Photos From The Forum…


A protester is arrested at Times Square
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

NEW YORK — December 16, 2010. December 12th was a bitter cold night but that did not discourage a hundred people from attending a peace demonstration at Times Square. The protest was being held in unity with a large demonstration in Washington D.C.


(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

Ten people were arrested in the Times Square civil disobedience act for blocking traffic at 44 Street and 7th Avenue. Police slapped on the nylon flexcuffs as the protesters chanted “End The Wars…”


(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

The protest was organized by Veterans For Peace and supported by the Raging Grannies, The Granny Peace Brigade, The War Resisters League, Catholic Worker and the Green Party.

View Photos/Videos From The Action…


John Lennon at Madison Square Garden, 1972
(Photo: John Skelson / Silver Print Photography)

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — December 15, 2010. John Skelson teaches the art of photography, including darkroom skills, at Snug Harbor Cultural Center’s Art Lab. But he also loves another art — that of Rock and Roll. And in 1972 he witnessed the historic Madison Square Concert given by John Lennon. It was Lennon’s last full length concert and Skelson was there, with his Nikon F Photomic FTN, a long (300mm) lens and a roll of ektachrome. In a typically generous gesture, Skelson agreed to allow NLN to post the Lennon shots in an NLN gallery.


John Lennon and Yoko Ono
(Photo: John Skelson / Silver Print Photography)

Recently I had a chance to talk with Skelson about the famous concert and this conversation is part of a video clip that includes a slideshow of the photos.


John and Yoko at the Garden
(Photo: John Skelson / Silver Print Photography)


(Photo: John Skelson / Silver Print Photography)

View More Photos/Video…


About John Skelson:


John Skelson at “Art By The Ferry,” Summer 2010
Photo: Thomas Good / NLN

John Skelson is a well-respected photographer from Staten Island who teaches photography and printmaking at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center’s “Art Lab” on Staten Island’s North Shore. Skelson is devoted to his craft and popular with his students. His darkroom class allows local photographers (including this photog) an affordable opportunity to work in a fully equipped darkroom — and to socialize with other shooters who are passionate about black and white photography. In warmer weather Skelson conducts
“photo walks”to provide other photographers opportunities to shoot some of New York’s lesser known historical sites — in NYC’s “forgotten borough.” Although he shoots digital, Skelson is also skilled with pinhole, 35mm and medium format. He uses Nikon cameras and is a member of the Nikonians user community.

Skelson maintains a website of his work: www.silverprintphotography.com

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 Fran Korotzer - December 1, 2010 | News


(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

NEW YORK — On November 16th human rights activists from Adalah-NY, Al-Awda-NY, Brooklyn for Peace, CodePink, Jewish Voice for Peace, the War Resisters League, Women In Black-Union Square, the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions-USA, Jews Say No!, J Street U and several other organizations gathered at the Chelsea Piers in Manhattan and formed a mostly silent human corridor on both sides of the roadway leading to the marina where the boat taking people from the Hebron Fund on a fundraising cruise was docked. The fund was calling it an aid to Hebron flotilla. Despite threatening skies, a chilly wind off the Hudson, and the godforsaken location, scores of demonstrators came and carried signs that read: Hebron is in Palestine, End the Siege of Hebron, Palestinians Hunger for Justice, Return the Land, Remove the Settlers, and US Dollars out of Israel. They also carried large photographs depicting settlers (colonists) abusing Palestinians in Hebron.


(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

Hebron is a Palestinian city of 150,000 on the Palestinian West Bank, all of which is under Israeli occupation. 500 frequently violent Israeli colonists backed up by the Israeli army have formed a colony there and are creating a hell on earth for the Palestinian inhabitants in an effort to drive them off their land. The highly respected Israeli human rights group B’tselem calls the Hebron colony an “ongoing war crime”. (www.btselem.org/English/Hebron/).


(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

According to B’tselem and the Association for Human Rights in Israel (ACRI)-Hebron “Settler attacks include physical assault, including beatings, at times with clubs, stone throwing, hurling of refuse, sand, water, chlorine, empty bottles and other objects, occasionally using sharp objects, destruction of shops and doors, shattering of windows, thefts, cutting of fruit trees, destruction of merchant stands and verbal insults. Settlers have also been involved in gunfire, attempts to run people over, poisoning of a water well, breaking into homes, spilling hot water on the face of a Palestinian, and the killing of a young Palestinian girl.” Palestinian children are attacked by settler children and adults. A US Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT) said that “Die Arab Sand-Niggers” is often sprayed on Palestinian homes by the Jewish colonists. In reality they are conducting a pogrom against the Palestinian population and the Hebron Fund must bear some of the responsibility for the violence against the Hebron Palestinians since they supply financial and emotional support to the colonists.


(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

The Hebron colony is illegal. It violates international law according to the UN, the International Court of Justice, and Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention which states that an occupying power “shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population in the territory it occupies.”


(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

Still the Hebron Fund raises and sends millions of US tax deductible dollars to this colony which, with Israeli military backing, is ethnically cleansing the indigenous population. Over 1,000 Palestinians have been driven out of Hebron. The army has created a contiguous strip of land in the city center, including the commercial Shuhada Street, where movement of Palestinian vehicles is forbidden. This has led to the closing of hundreds of Palestinian shops making economic survival impossible. (See Matthew Duss, Underwriting the Conflict in Hebron, 12/20/07, AmericanProspect.org)


(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

Yitzhak Rabin referred to the Hebron colonists as “a Jewish Hamas” (ibid). In 1994 Hebron was the scene of one of the most violent acts in the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. A Brooklyn born dentist named Baruch Goldstein entered a Hebron mosque with his Uzi submachine gun where he murdered 29 worshippers and wounded 150 others before a crowd beat him to death. His grave has become a shrine and a pilgrimage destination to the extremist colonists. After this event the Hebron Fund sold T-shirts on their site with the slogan, “Uzi Does It” (ibid).


(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

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