News for progressives

Social Media Companies “Struggle” to Help Censors Keep us in the Dark

Counterpunch - Mon, 2019-03-18 15:55

According to CNN Business, “Facebook, YouTube and Twitter struggle to deal with New Zealand shooting video.”

“Deal with” is code for “censor on demand by governments and activist organizations who oppose public access to information that hasn’t first been thoroughly vetted for conformity to their preferred narrative.”

Do you really need to see first-person video footage of an attacker murdering 49 worshipers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand?

Maybe not. Chances are pretty good you didn’t even want to. I suspect that many of us who did (I viewed what appeared to be a partial copy before YouTube deleted it) would rather we could un-see it.

But whether or not we watch it should be up to us, not those governments and activists. Social media companies should enable our choices, not suppress our choices at the censors’ every whim.

If Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube had been primary news sources in 1915, would they have permitted us to view footage  (rare, as film was in its early days)  of New Zealanders’ desperate fight at Gallipoli?

How about the attack on Pearl Harbor?

The assassination of president John F. Kennedy?

The second plane hitting the World Trade Center.

Lucinda Creighton of the Counter Extremism Project complains to CNN that the big social media firms aren’t really “cooperating and acting in the best interest of citizens to remove this content.”

The CEP claims that it “counter[s] the narrative of extremists” and  works to “reveal the extremist threat.”  How does demanding that something be kept hidden “counter” or “reveal” it? How is it in “the best of interest of citizens” to only let those citizens see what Lucinda Creighton thinks they should be allowed to see?

CNN analyst Steve Moore warns that the video could “inspire copycats.” “Do you want to help terrorists? Because if you do, sharing this video is exactly how you do it.”

Moore has it backward. Terrorists don’t need video to “inspire” them. Like mold, evil grows best in darkness and struggles in sunlight. If you want to help terrorists, hiding the ugliness of their actions from the public they hope to mobilize in support of those actions is exactly how you do it.

Contrary to their claims of supporting “democracy” versus “extremism,” the social media companies and the censors they “struggle” to assist seem to side with terror and to lack any trust in the good judgment of “the people.”

 

 

Categories: News for progressives

Death in New Zealand: The Christchurch Shootings

Counterpunch - Mon, 2019-03-18 15:54

Five weapons were said to have been used, all inscribed with symbols, numbers and insignia.  The individual charged with the shootings at two Christchurch mosques that left 49 dead was an Australian with, it is alleged, a simple purpose: inflict death, and on specific communities in worship.  Even as the carnage became clear, Christchurch was already the epicentre of twenty-four hour news television, supplying a ghoulish spectacle.  Saturation coverage followed, and continues to do so, a point that will warm the attacker’s blood (his entire effort was streamed on live video on Facebook).

The alleged perpetrator, one Brenton Harrison Tarrant, left an unstirring piece – to call it a manifesto would be far-fetched – for those interested before the attack. It is a document of banality and off target assumptions. “Who are you?” he asks himself, suggesting an inner voice in need of reassurance and clarity.  “Just an ordinary White man, 28 years old.  Born in Australia to a working class, low income family.”  Stock: “Scottish, Irish and English”; a “regular childhood without any great issues”.

He did not like education, “barely achieving a passing grade.”  Universities did not offer anything of interest.  He invested money in Bitconnect, then travelled.  A sense of cognitive dissonance follows; Tarrant had recently worked part time “as a kebab removalist”.

No criminal record, no watch list, no registry. Nothing to suggest a tendency towards mass murder, disrespect or mania.  What Tarrant did have was a desire to avenge individuals he felt a kinship for, suggesting that the dull witted are just as capable of killing as the charismatically ideological.  The “radical”, rooted nature of violence lies dormant in many; all that is required is a match.

The simple language of the note resembled that of various European populist platforms, albeit trimmed of deep historical flourishes: fear the Islamic invader; take to the barricades to repel the forces of Allah.  Interestingly enough, Tarrant leaves the detail of the invaders unclear, given that European lands have received all manner of invasions over its existence, of which the Ottoman and Islamic is but one stream.  The broad statement strikes a note of nonsense: “To take revenge on the invaders for the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by foreign invaders in European lands throughout history.”

Other statements of motivation follow: the “enslavement of millions of Europeans from their lands by the Islamic slavers”; “the thousands of European lives lost to terror attacks throughout European lands”. Rather conveniently, and in manipulative fashion, the spirit of young Ebba Åkerlund, who died in 2017 in a terror attack in Sweden, is also channelled.  It was not sufficient to merely mention her; the eleven-year old inspired the shooter to name rifles after her.  “How the hell,” expressed stunned father Stefan Åkerlund, “can we ever get to mourn in peace?”

The problem with any such event is the risk of immoderate response.  Sensible comments have been noted: the risks posed by non-Islamic terrorists have tended to be neglected in budgets and rhetoric, though US President Donald Trump is, unsurprisingly, insisting that militant white nationalism is fringe worthy rather than common. Under the John Key government, the overwhelming focus of funding intelligence and security efforts was directed at the phantom menace of Islam, burrowing deep into the suburbs.  Watch lists of suspects were constantly noted; the fear of returned “radicalised” fighters was constantly iterated.  To add a greater sense of purpose to the mission, New Zealand troops were deployed to Iraq to fight the troops of Islamic State. “Get some guts!” exclaimed Key to his opposition counterpart, Andrew Little, who seemed somewhat half-hearted in committing to the effort.

Other policy recommendations, still embryonic and possibly never to fly, are making their errands.  There are suggestions of deploying around the clock security personnel to mosques in various countries, something that risks militarising places of worship.

Vengeful rebuke can also find room in legislative and executive action.  In New Zealand, reforms to gun laws are being promised.  (These are already strict, and it is by no means clear if safety would be improved by such changes.)  In Australia, Tony Burke of the Labor Party suggests punishing hate speech and denying visas to certain right wing advocates of the white supremacist persuasion. Australia’s immigration system is sufficiently intolerant and erratic enough to deny visas to those who might interfere with the false tranquillity of its society but a suspicious paternalism remains the enemy of free speech. Debate, in short, cannot be trusted.

The move to further push tech companies to reign in violent content will also receive a mighty boost.  The response from such companies as Facebook thus far is one of optimism: last year, some 99 percent of content linked with terrorism content promoted by Islamic State and al-Qaeda was successfully purged by artificial intelligence. Calls to do the same for other sources of inspiration are bound to follow.

There is also a stark, uncomfortable reality: no one is safe.  The entire field of terrorist and anti-terrorist studies is replete with charlatan impulses and the promise of placebo styled security.  There are fictional projections and assessments about whether an attack is “imminent” or “probable”.  There are calls to be vigilant and report the suspicious. Political leaders give firm reassurances that all will be safe, a point that, quite frankly, can never be guaranteed.

The actions of Friday demonstrate the ease with which an act of mass killing can take place, the damage than can arise from attacking freely open spaces where people commune.  Extremism is said to lack a face or an ideology, but on Friday, it manifested in an all too human form.

Categories: News for progressives

The Reality Behind Trump’s Venezuela Regime Change Coalition

Counterpunch - Mon, 2019-03-18 15:52

In the early 1970s, a handful of Sandinistas were in the mountains of Nicaragua fighting to overthrow the 40-year U.S.-backed, brutal dictatorship of the Somoza family. When a powerful volcanic eruption struck Nicaragua in 1971, Sandinista Omar Cabezas later recounted, they told the peasants whom they encountered that God was punishing them for not getting rid of Somoza.

After the Sandinistas triumphed in 1979, the U.S. waged a bloody war to take back the country with a terrorist paramilitary force called the contras, who regularly murdered civilians. President George H.W. Bush made it clear during the Sandinistas’ second election in 1990 that, although he was not God, he would continue to punish Nicaraguans with a trade embargo and war if they did not get rid of the Sandinistas. Weary of war, hyperinflation, and economic collapse, Nicaraguans voted for the opposition: The Sandinistas lost.

Today the Trump administration is repeating the collective punishment strategyin Venezuela with a crippling financial embargo since August 2017 and, since January, a trade embargo. The financial embargo has prevented any measures that the government might use to get rid of hyperinflation or bring about an economic recovery, while knocking out billions of dollars of oil production. The trade embargo is projected to cut off about 60 percent of the country’s remaining meager foreign exchange earnings, which are needed to buy medicine, food, medical supplies, and other goods essential to many Venezuelans’ survival.

Seeking to foment a military coup, a popular rebellion, or civil war, the Trump administration has made it clear that the punishment will continue until the current government is ousted. “Maduro must go,” said U.S. Vice President Mike Pence yet again in early March.

All of this is illegal under numerous treaties that the U.S. has signed, including the charter of the United Nations, the charter of the Organization of American States, and other international law and conventions. To legitimize this brutality, which has likely already killed thousands of Venezuelans by reducing access to life-saving goods and services, the Trump administration has presented the sanctions as a consensus of the “international community”—similar to what George W. Bush did when he put together a “coalition of the willing” of 48 countries to support his disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In this narrative, governments—mostly in the Americas and Europe—that have joined the U.S. in recognizing a parallel government in Venezuela are “democratic”; those who have not, or have declared against the attempt to overthrow the current government are “authoritarian,” with the examples of Russia, China, and Turkey most often listed in news reports.

Let’s look at some of the governments that have joined the Trump administration in this illegal regime change operation, and have joined the trade embargo by recognizing Juan Guaidó as “interim president.” The most important and solid ally of Trump in Latin America is Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, famous for telling a Brazilian congresswoman that he would not rape her because she “did not merit it,” for various racist and anti-gay remarks, and for glorifying political violence. Ironically, given that the Trump administration’s main justification for regime change in Venezuela is that Maduro’s election was illegitimate, Bolsonaro himself came to power in an election of questionable legitimacy. His leading opponent, former President Lula da Silva—at the time the most popular politician in the country—was jailed after a trial in which no material evidence of a crime was presented. The verdict rested on the coerced testimony of a witness who was convicted of corruption, and whose plea bargaining was suspended until he changed his story to match the prosecuting judge’s case. The prosecuting judge, Sérgio Moro, demonstrated strong animus against Lula on a number of occasions—including his release of illegally wiretapped conversations between Lula and then president Dilma Rousseff, his lawyer, and his wife and children. After these and other irregularities and illegalities secured Lula’s conviction, he was unconstitutionally imprisoned before the election. After the election that Judge Moro helped Bolsonaro win by these methods, he was appointed minister of justice.

Other Latin American governments in Trump’s Coalition of the Willing owe Washington some favors for helping them seize power. The government of Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández is probably the most extreme example. His party came to power in 2009 with the overthrow of the democratically elected president Mel Zelaya in a military coup. The Obama administration, along with Republicans, helped legitimize the coup and the “elections” that followed. Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, later describedin her memoirs how she maneuvered to keep the democratically elected president from returning to office. In 2017, Hernández retained power by brazenly stealing an election—simply altering the vote totals. This was the inescapable conclusion of journalists and observers from across the political spectrum. Even one of the most fanatical leaders of Trump’s Coalition of the Willing, current OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, rejected the results and called for new elections. Of course nothing happened because the Trump team accepted the results.

Colombia has perhaps the second-most bellicose leader in Trump’s coalition, after Bolsonaro. President Iván Duque is the protégé of former president, now kingmaker, Álvaro Uribe. U.S. diplomatic cables released last year showed widespread concerns among U.S. officials about Uribe’s ties to drug traffickers. In the 1990s, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency found that Uribe was “dedicated to collaboration with the Medellin [drug] cartel at high government levels.” Uribe is also believed to have long had ties to death squads. He resigned from the Colombian Senate last year in the midst of an ongoing criminal investigation. Uribe has long backed the U.S. regime-change effort against Venezuela. In 2009, numerous South American governments objected to and blocked his plans to expand the U.S. military presence in Colombia.

President Mauricio Macri of Argentina, another influential hard-right coalition member, also owes favors to Washington. In June, this relationship helped him score the biggest IMF loan in history, $50 billion dollars—subsequently upped to $56.3 billion when the economy did much worse than the IMF had forecast under the agreement. The United States blocked loans to the government of his predecessor and rival from multilateral lending institutions such as the Inter-American Development Bank. Since Argentina was running into balance of payments problems toward the end of President Cristina Fernández’s term, this was significant. An even bigger blow to her government came from an apparently politically motivated New York judge, who took more than 90 percent of Argentina’s creditors hostage in 2012 by ruling that they could not be paid until certain U.S.-based vulture funds were paid first. All of these problems with the U.S. were quickly resolved soon after Macri took office in 2015.

The media sometimes singles out President Lenín Moreno of Ecuador to show that there is a “center-left” presence in this illegal and somewhat barbaric enterprise. Moreno was indeed elected in 2017 with the support of former president Rafael Corea’s leftist Alianza PAIS party. But he quickly took a sharp turn away from his mandate, forming an alliance with right-wing oligarchs and using extra-constitutional means to consolidate power. He is now trying to put the former president in jail on what look like trumped-up charges. Moreno has been rewarded by Washington with $10 billion in loans from multilateral institutions, including $4.2 billion just scored from the IMF last week. If $10 billion doesn’t sound like a lot, consider that the loan, expressed as a percentage of the Ecuador’s economy, would be equivalent to the U.S. receiving $1.9 trillion. No surprise that Lenín Moreno has joined the Trump Coalition.

The president of Paraguay also has cause to thank the United States godfather. His party, the Colorado Party, ruled the country for 61 consecutive years, the majority of it under the dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner. In 2008, a leftist bishop named Fernando Lugo won the presidency against heavy odds. However, he was toppled in a parliamentary coup in 2012, which was opposed by almost all of South America; once again, Washington worked with the OAS to help legitimize the coup. So, there’s another South American president happy to join the U.S.-led push for a right-wing leader in Venezuela. Yet one more is President Sebastián Piñera of Chile, a Pinochet sympathizer who appointed two former allies of the U.S.-backed dictator to his cabinet last year.

This is how we do it—today, at least. A few years ago—when most of the region was governed by left-of-center governments, Trump wouldn’t have gotten a single government in the region to support an illegal regime change operation. Obama’s secretary of state John Kerry discovered this in 2013 when violent opposition demonstrators were in the streets in Venezuela, trying to overturn Maduro’s first election. There was absolutely no doubt about the election results, and almost every government in the world recognized them. Kerry soon found himself completely isolated; Washington gave in and accepted Maduro’s election.

Then there is Europe, which for a number of historical reasons has only occasionally pursued a foreign policy independent of the United States. This is especially true for Latin America, where the Monroe Doctrine, shamelessly invoked in public by National Security Advisor John Bolton a few days ago, is generally respected. That said, some arm twisting was necessary to flip Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of Spain, who had rather insubordinately opposed the Trump sanctions against Venezuela even prior to the trade embargo and recognition of Guaidó in January. His foreign minister, Josep Borell, told the press that the administration had received “pressure” from Washington. Sánchez’s PSOE socialist-led government was also under intense pressure from the big Spanish media, which has been in full regime-change mode for some time; they face elections at the end of April. Spain was particularly important in securing European support for this venture, since other countries, including Germany, often take Spain’s view seriously on policy in Latin America.

Even if the Trump team had a global majority—which it doesn’t, with only 50 out of 195 countries worldwide backing Venezuelan regime change—their deadly economic sanctions, theft of assets, military threats, and other actions to topple Venezuela’s government would be no more legal or legitimate than George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, or the many U.S.-led regime change efforts that have taken place in this hemisphere. That’s unsurprising, given who’s at the wheel: perennial regime-change advocate John Bolton, for example, or special envoy Elliott Abrams, who supported what the UN later found to be genocide in Guatemala, as well as the US-sponsored atrocities in El Salvador and Nicaragua in the 1980s. The cast of characters supporting this regime-change effort, whether in Washington or among some of its closest allies, should underline what is already obvious: The United States’ attempt to oust Maduro has nothing to do with democracy or human rights.

This article originally appeared in The New Republic.

Categories: News for progressives

Tragicomedy of Errors

by Jimmie Moglia for The Saker Blog The sublime Plato said that the soul has a trinitarian composition – a very coarse soul in the belly, a loving one in
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Ukraine’s Ecocide in Donbass, 1991 to post-Maidan 2019

by GH Eliason for The Saker Blog On February 26, 2019, Lugansk People’s Republic hosted a roundtable entitled “Ecocide of Ukraine: Consequences.” This provided a forum for environmental experts from
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The <I>MoA</I> Week In Review - OT 2019-15

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama: March 11 - Russian Internet Protests - These Crowd Estimates Are Propaganda March 12 - Boeing, The FAA, And Why Two 737 MAX Planes Crashed March 17 - Flawed Safety Analysis, Failed Oversight...
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Flawed Safety Analysis, Failed Oversight - Why Two 737 MAX Planes Crashed

Two accidents of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft led to a loss of 338 lives. Planes of that type are now grounded world wide. We earlier explained in detail why the incidents happened. New reports confirm that take. For commercial...
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Russian Army and the Free Market: Compatibility Issues

by Ruslan Ostashko Translated and captioned by Leo. The invisible hand of the market, which liberals like to praise so much, was unable to clean up the outsourcing services purchased
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Moveable Feast Cafe 2019/03/16 … Open Thread

2019/03/16 22:30:01Welcome to the ‘Moveable Feast Cafe’. The ‘Moveable Feast’ is an open thread where readers can post wide ranging observations, articles, rants, off topic and have animate discussions of
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Russian Warplanes Rain Hell On Idlib

Syrian War Report – March 15, 2019: Russian Warplanes Rain Hell On Idlib On March 13, warplanes of the Russian Aerospace Forces delivered a series of airstrikes on infrastructure of
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CIA Blames Its Proxy For Its Raid On North Korea's Embassy In Spain

The CIA is the main suspect in the military style raid on the North Korean embassy in Madrid. It now launched a somewhat hapless effort to deflect from it. The original Spanish report said: At least two of the 10...
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New Zealand and the Positive Feedback of Violence:

by Ghassan Kadi for The Saker Blog The tragic news of terrorism in New Zealand highlights the failure of Western governments in dealing with it. In its policy of denial
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Resistance report: New offensive looms as the Syrian Army prepares for a new confrontation in Idlib

By Aram Mirzaei for the Saker blog It’s that time again. Jihadist forces have pushed Damascus’ and Moscow’s patience for too long. These constant provocations have gone too far and
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Naval mini sitrep

by NatSouth for The Saker Blog Project 636.3 Kilo improved class submarine  ‘Krasnodar’ made a rare southbound transit through the Bosphorus. This is due to the Montreux Convention Article 12
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Is Ilhan Omar Wrong…About Anything?

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-03-15 16:05

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

It has been clear for some time that Ilhan Omar owes no one any apologies for her remarks on AIPAC and those who tow its line; quite to the contrary, apologies are owed her.  Developments over the past several weeks underscore how important it is to drive that point home.

Before the 2008 publication of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policythe subject was, for all practical purposes, taboo.

Everything had to be kept hush hush, just as it did with the NSA (no such agency), the massive signals intelligence operation at Fort Meade.  Everybody who cared knew that it was there and what it did, but only “conspiracy theorists” dared speak of it.

Ten years ago, and for many years before that, there was no shortage of books and articles critical of Israel and Zionist ideology.  But accounts of anything resembling an Israel lobby were as rare as snowstorms in July. To broach the topic was to invite charges of anti-Semitism.

Then in 2006, two years before they came out with the book, Mearsheimer and Walt published an article in The London Review of Books.  The authors are distinguished political scientists and public intellectuals, but no suitable mainstream American publication would touch it.

After the book appeared, it did not take long for its arguments to win the day — to such an extent that, nowadays, the taboo that protected the Israel lobby from scrutiny is, like the one that kept the NSA out of public view, a dead letter.  Too bad that the news has yet to penetrate the bubble that surrounds our political class, or the editorial offices of servile mainstream media.

But even in those benighted quarters, the existence of a powerful Israel lobby is, by now, in general currency.  The old taboos still survive, however — enough to keep scrutiny of its activities to a minimum.  Also dissidents still risk being labeled anti-Semitic.

But Israel’s salad days are over.  For that, it has mainly its wars on Palestinians in Gaza – massacres really — its brutal, seemingly never-ending, occupation of the West Bank, the predations of its settlers there, and the overall moral decline of Israeli politics in the Netanyahu era to thank.

It is only getting worse too, especially with elections looming and with Benjamin Netanyahu facing prison for corruption, while his political party, the Likud, is now in open alliance with the bona fide fascists of Otzmot Yehudit (Jewish Power), the latest incarnation of Meir Kahane’s outlawed Kach Party.

But none of this was about to bring on the sea change in American, especially Jewish American, attitudes towards Israel that now seems to be in the works.  For that, more than anyone or anything else, we have Ilhan Omar to thank.

She didn’t mastermind it, no one could have, but, standing on the shoulders of other progressives in Congress, especially newly elected ones not yet frozen into bad old ways, she precipitated it.  She was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.

The straw has been accumulating for a very long time, and there is a lot of it.  There is also a general sense now in many parts of the world, including the United States and Canada, and also Donald Rumsfeld’s “old Europe,” that, for the first time in many decades, the times may be changing rapidly and for the better.

Anxiety levels are therefore running high within the Democratic Party, at both the leadership level and among large strata of the rank-and-file.

Needless to say, Zionists are panicking too.

The large and growing numbers of Christian evangelicals within the Zionist fold are not the problem – they have many times shown that they are capable of believing almost anything.  That an omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good Being, the creator of all that is, wants Jews to “return” to the Promised Land where they will either accept Jesus or when the End Time comes be cast into Hell for all eternity is, by their lights, only common sense.

Jewish Zionists are another story.  So are the Senators and House members for whom, as Omar pointed out, it’s all about “the benjamins.”

Republicans, of course, are the worst of all; they were born to be vile.

They have always had the Christian Zionists in their pocket, but, true to Blake’s dictum that “the weak in courage are strong in cunning,” they are shrewd enough to realize that they’ll never win over the Jewish vote.  No matter: there are plenty of lesser or greater Sheldon Adelsons out there, reactionary old farts clinging on to their “identities,” and they wouldn’t mind getting their benjamins away from the Democrats, into whose pockets their money used to flow, and into the ever-greedy coffers of their Grand Old Party.

More important: they have figured out that in these days of post-post-modern times, when words mean whatever those who utter them want, and when speech is reduced to what cable news pundits, following the lead of obscurantist literary “theorists,” call “memes” or “tropes,” there evidently is a percentage, for racists and anti-Semites, in going after anti-racists and anti-anti Semites, by accusing them of, what else!, racism and anti-Semitism.

In much the way that, in the late seventies, the Brits led the way, with Mrs. Thatcher showing the hapless actor, Ronald Reagan, how to promote and implement free market theology – in the process, undoing decades of social progress and enriching the rich from whose troughs all blessings purportedly flow – followers of the despicable Tony Blair and others of their ilk in the British Labor Party have been showing Democrats how to go about keeping progress at bay.

With a true socialist and internationalist in line to become Prime Minister, should there soon be a general election that Labor would win, rightwing and centrist Laborites are now using all the means at their disposal to besmear Jeremy Corbyn and his allies.

Ilhan Omar should feel honored to be similarly targeted, and proud to be leading a resistance every bit as robust as the one that the Labor Party’s left wing has been able to mount.

And then in France there is Emmanuel Macron, a twit for all seasons, identifying anti-Zionism, and criticism of Israel generally, with anti-Semitism and then proposing to criminalize the former — this in the motherland of free speech.  This is not the first time that en route from Voltaire to the French political class, the message has become distorted, neutered, and nearly lost.

Craziness happens when times change.  The Omar Affair is a chapter in a larger crisis of ruling class confidence, a general freak-out the clearest sign of which is the way that corporate media are hell bent on disgracing themselves by going after Alexandria Osacio-Cortez, as if their aim is to expose their own imbecility.  Fox is the worst, of course, but they all do it to some extent.

Liberals and anti-Trump publicans do it mainly by evincing attitudes so condescending that, if they could be bottled and sold, would fast become the nation’s best selling emetic.

But the joke is on them. AOC has proven herself more than capable of countering every one of their provocations, leaving them and their desperation exposed.  Without breaking a sweat, she mows them down with consummate nonchalance.

***

On the spurious question of Omar’s anti-Semitism, I hesitate to belabor the obvious, especially inasmuch as the territory has, by now, been examined so thoroughly, so often, by so many, but there are a few points worth making over and over again nevertheless – until the mindless know-it-all Democrats and the Republican defectors at MSNBC and CNN finally get it.

Even in their world, even at NPR, even at The Washington Post and The New York Times, it would not be news to point out that not all criticisms of Israel warrant charges of anti-Semitism.

Not all criticisms are anti-Zionist either; quite to the contrary, most are not.

Opposition to the idea of a Jewish state in all or part of Palestine, as distinct from a state of the people who live in it, Jewish or otherwise, is a lot rarer than criticism of the Israeli government or its Apartheid policies or the ethnic cleansing it promotes.

The important point, though, is the one that Ilhan Omar has forced into public awareness: that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are not the same.

“Zionism” denotes an ethno-nationalist political movement that did not exist before the late nineteenth century.  Its aim, at first, was to establish a Jewish state, not necessarily in Palestine, that would provide a safe haven for victims of anti-Semitic violence and discrimination in Europe and elsewhere too, if need be.

It soon became a movement wedded to Palestine and dedicated, above all, to cultural revival – and to forging a Hebrew-speaking culture.

This exacerbated tensions within the Jewish community.  Jews were anti-Zionists before anyone else was.

Nowadays, “anti-Semitism” has many meanings.  In the term’s broadest sense, it signifies hatred of and opposition to Jews as such. It is largely a creature of late nineteenth century nationalist and racialist ideologies.

It draws on, but also differs from, anti-Judaism, which targets the Jewish religion – and Jewish people only insofar as they are practitioners of it.  Anti-Judaism goes back at least to the days of the Roman Empire; by the time Judaism and Christianity parted ways, it had grown into a full-fledged, theologically driven ideology.

Christian anti-Judaism had little in common with traditional Muslim views of Jews and Judaism.  Relations between Muslims and Jews have varied over the centuries; they were sometimes more hostile than friendly, but nearly always more benign than those that existed between Jews and Christians.

Outside the minds of the miscreants who crawled out from under the rocks that Trump overturned, most anti-Semitism these days has little connection, historically or conceptually, with the anti-Semitism that emerged and flourished in Europe in the years between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and Hitler’s defeat in World War II.

There is therefore an argument to be made for reserving the term for the anti-Semitism of that historical period.  It is the genuine article, the paradigm case. In addition differences between then and now are considerable enough that it might be useful if different words described them.

Today’s versions, in Eastern Europe especially, do echo some of the motifs of pre-Second World War anti-Semitism, but with important modifications.  For one, today’s anti-Semites are not, for the most part, viscerally opposed to all things Jewish; they love Netanyahu, for example, and they love Israel, Netanyahu’s “nation state of the Jewish people.”

Thus the original Zionists had a point: should there be a full-fledged fascist revival in the heartlands of modern anti-Semitism, Israel probably would save some Jews from the ravages of anti-Semitic persecution – by becoming like what it was concocted to oppose, and by redirecting animosities away from Jews – towards Muslims.

The most common forms of anti-Semitism, in the broadest sense, nowadays bear much less resemblance to the genuine article than to phenomena that are unfortunately all too common all over the world, and that involve Jews no more than other peoples.

Moreover, today’s anti-Semitic acting out has little or no ideological basis: it is like the racially tinged hatred that Americans felt, and for the most part no longer feel, towards the Japanese after Pearl Harbor.  The contempt that drove the Nazis and their allies on had deeper roots, and an ideology behind it — an idiotic and evil one, but an ideology nonetheless.

Can the phenomena that fear mongers today deride slide over into something more authentically anti-Semitic? Of course, it can. It sometimes does too, esp. in subaltern Muslim communities in Europe and the Middle East.

The amazing thing, though, is that there isn’t more of that going on than there is  – not just because moral and economic desperation in the communities where it exists is acute, but also because the Israeli propaganda machine has been working overtime to bring out the anti-Semitism in the communities they seek to repress.

Zionism came into being thanks to anti-Semitism and its well-being continues to depend upon it; with Israel having become so widely and justifiably despised around the world, the last thing Zionists need is to lose their reason for being.

***

In much the way that only people with “dirty minds” find problems with remarks that most people would find inoffensive, the remarks for which Omar has received so much grief would seem problematic only to troubled anti-anti-Semites.

On the other hand, people who only know what corporate media tell them would take it for gospel truth that Omar is an anti-Semite of the worst kind.  She can deny it all she wants, but they will not be moved.

Surely, there is some reason for all the consternation she elicited in some – by no means all – Jewish circles.  Omar must surely be wrong about something.

I would say that a better way to think about is that to get to where she wanted to go, she had to walk on eggshells, and, being somewhat new to the game, she didn’t do it quite delicately enough.

I hate to put it that way because it would seem to put me on the side of her high-minded, nauseatingly condescending – and generally obtuse – liberal critics.  But the facts are what they are; and the fact is that ours is a time when identity politics, though widely and justifiably criticized, is still riding high, and therefore when hypersensitivities abound.

To negotiate a way around and through them requires experience, the right kind with the right people and situations.  Novices beware.

On the other hand, there was and continues to be something ennobling in Omar’s honesty and fervor, and even, if that is what it is, in her naiveté.

But then who am I or anyone else, for that matter, to say?  Perhaps she did know what she was doing.  More likely, though, she did not.

In either case, it would not have hurt had Omar taken more care negotiating her way through the minefields.

But however that may be, three cheers to her for kicking down the doors; that was long overdue.  That she could have been more cognizant of the sensitivities and hypersensitivities involved doesn’t change that.

I say this not because I think that in general such feelings deserve deference, or that Jewish sensitivities merit more deference than those of other peoples.

I say it because I suspect that, all things considered, her remarks were impolitic, and therefore functioned as a distraction in much the way that her critics claim.

However, I am far from sure that I am right about this; perhaps she needed to do it the way she did.

She must have done something right, after all, because she did what no one else had been able to do — she got a national conversation going about what Israel, aided and abetted at every turn by the United States, has been doing to Palestinians for more than half a century in plain violation of simple justice, international law, and fundamental principles of political morality.

This probably wasn’t beginner’s luck either; there is every reason to expect that the role she will play in whatever comes next will be a constructive one, like the role she has played so far.

Categories: News for progressives

Grieving in the Anthropocene

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-03-15 15:59

The old Morada at Abiquiu. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

“Having a conscience now is a grief-soaked proposition”

– Stephen Jenkinson, author of Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble

“We are the first generations to grow up surrounded by evidence that our attempt to separate ourselves from ‘nature’ has been a grim failure, proof not of our genius but our hubris.”

– Paul Kingsnorth, Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and Other Essays

“The greatest challenge we face is a philosophical one: understanding that this civilization is already dead. The sooner we confront our situation and realize that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves, the sooner we can get down to the difficult task of adapting, with mortal humility, to our new reality.”

– Roy Scranton, Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization

A few years ago I saw my first glacier. I was on a trip to Alaska with my family before my father died and he had always dreamed of seeing the region; so we were happy we could do this one last trip to fulfill it for him. We cruised through the Inside Passage past glimmering mountains of cerulean blue ice, drove through part of the Yukon Territory of Canada by turquoise lakes, and hiked close to a receding glacier. It was breathtaking, yet throughout the journey a specter of sorrow accompanied me.

In the West we are conditioned to chase those specters away. Grief itself is often viewed as something unnatural, as some kind of disorder to be dealt with by silencing ourselves, ignoring it or medicating it to numbness. We often hear well-meaning people suggest to the bereaved that they “keep themselves busy.” If our grief lingers, we are told that we are “depressed” or “not coping well” or that we need “closure.”

But like many others I have found myself encountering a grief that envelops my entire being more and more. An existential grief that cannot ignore our collective predicament as a species and that often accompanies a sense of panic and powerlessness. And I have begun to relate even more to Edvard Munch’s iconic painting “The Scream.” It seems to me to be the perfect emblem of our times, an unheard anthem of despair silenced by the absurdity of an omnicidal status quo. And so many of us feel that sense of terrorized paralyzation at the madness of rising militarism, fascism and brutality and an unfolding ecocidal nightmare. But so often we feel confined to an interior space that our culture has consigned us to.

Today we are bombarded with distraction. Our brains are flooded with carefully programmed and meticulously marketed algorithms that condition us to respond to screens rather than each other and the living planet. The dominant economic order robs us of our feelings, thoughts and even our grief and transforms them into capital and commodities for sale. Indeed, it is incapable of doing anything else. But many ancient traditions grappled with grief in a public way that was not exploitative.

Years ago, in Europe and in the Americas, those who were mourning the death of a loved one announced their grief to others by wearing a piece of black cloth around their arm or by placing a black wreath upon their front doors. Many indigenous cultures have elaborate rituals to mark the death of loved ones and the passage of bereavement. In the small fishing and farming community where my mother grew up every able bodied person was expected to follow the casket up to the cemetery in a solemn procession. And these public expressions of private grief provided a bridge of solidarity and community.

Now many of these traditions have been rejected or forgotten. They are vestiges buried by modernity; and in their absence a deep sense of alienation has grown. Facing our grief can be transformative. It can foster empathy and has the power to galvanize people to action. It cannot alter the past. It does not have the power to halt climate feedback loops or predict and prevent tipping points. And it cannot stop a looming biospheric and societal chaos that is all but locked into the system. But it can strengthen the pysche, offer us an insight into resilience, and give us the tools we need to resist the inhumanity that accompanies collapse. It can also help us appreciate and protect what remains.

I remember pouring over wildlife books when I was a boy, always dreaming of exploring their exotic locations in person one day. The natural world was at once terrifying and abundantly rich with mystery and wonder. Of course in those days I never thought I might witness its end. I never considered that the Great Barrier Reef and scores of other coral reefs around the world would succumb to a bleached death. I never thought that the Arctic Ocean would be ice free, or that it would rain in Greenland in winter, or that gigantic nation-sized shelves of ice would simply break off and fall into the sea in Antarctica.  I never imagined the Amazon Rainforest would suffer from catastrophic fires every year, or that 40% of wildlife would be sponged away from the living earth, or that plastic in the seas would be so ubiquitous that a bag would be found in the deepest part of the ocean, the Marianas Trench. Now, decades later, I have witnessed all of that and more. This is the reality of the Anthropocene, so with all of this it becomes impossible at some point for any rational human being of conscience not to grieve.

But on that trip years ago I had the opportunity to meet grief face to face. I stood alongside my father in silent reverence at the nature before us. At the time I could not have known that he would not be with me on this earth much longer. Perhaps some other sense did. Standing on the deck of the boat, passing under great mountains of melting ice, I felt that sense of awe that a child does. I also felt immensely small. My heart beat hard in my chest as I attempted to comprehend what my species and, in particular, my society has done to this precious life giving earth.  I felt the cold air from that melting glacier roll over me.  But this time I decided to not chase that specter of sorrow away. For a brief moment I wouldn’t view him as an adversary, but as a companion. So I embraced him like a long lost friend and he smiled at me and said, “What took you so long?”

Categories: News for progressives

On the Death of Guantanamo Detainee 10028

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-03-15 15:58

Camp 6, Guantanamo, where Haji Naseem was held for part of his captivity. U.S. government photo in public domain.

Torture, secret confessions and recantations, an ominous email, a mysterious death, a detainee found hanging in a recreation yard outside his cell in the middle of the night — this is the story of the sixth man said to have died from suicide at Guantanamo.

Up until now, his story has gone totally untold. Even the location of the camp inside Gitmo where he died was kept secret for years. What follows is an in-depth examination into what really happened.

The narrative is largely based on an Army report that is mandated after a serious event like a detainee’s death. It is known as an AR 15-6 report. The article also draws upon declassified legal documents included in the detainee’s habeas filings. The full AR 15-6 report and Naseem’s Legal Response to the government in his habeas case are embedded at the end of this article.

These and other relevant documents relating to this story are also available at GuantanamoTruth.com.

A History of Mental Illness

Guantanamo detainee number ISN 10028, Haji Naseem (aka “Inayatullah”), resident of Cell E110 at Camp 6, was hearing “noises” in his head. It was his 18th month at the U.S. Navy-based prison in southeastern Cuba.

Naseem had arrived at Guantanamo after three months imprisonment at Bagram Detention Center in Afghanistan. The date was a good one for propaganda purposes: September 11, 2007, the sixth anniversary of 9/11.

By October he had been placed in one of Guantanamo’s more obscure settings, Camp Echo. The small complex of buildings was separate from the much larger Camp Delta, and held at most two dozen prisoners. It was known for harsh solitary confinement, and was said to consist of high-value prisoners headed for prosecution at the Bush Administration’s new Military Commissions. It may also have housed at one time a CIA black site.

At the start, Guantanamo interrogators found their new prisoner “somewhat cooperative.” But within a few months, Naseem told interrogators that all the information he previously had provided had been a “lie.” Later, he would tell a psychiatrist provided by his defense attorney that he was coerced to cooperate with interrogators by threats to himself and his family, and because at Bagram he had been kept in a dark prison cell and subjected to sleep deprivation.

Nonplussed, the interrogators told him, “cooperation was the only thing that is going to get [you] out of GTMO.”

By January 2008, it was clear that Naseem was having psychiatric difficulties. Four months earlier, in an initial psychiatric assessment during in-processing, Guantanamo medical personnel recorded that he complained of “mild depression and anxiety symptoms.”

But an interrogation report on January 9, 2008 stated that a linguist told Naseem’s interrogator that the prisoner was mentally ill, or “could be getting depressed and incoherent.” Despite this, he was not seen again by mental health personnel for over a year, when on March 3, 2009, he told medical personnel he was hearing “noises” in his head.

Naseem also told the doctors that he had a history of auditory hallucinations dating back to when he was 15 years old. He explained that as a result “he had been hospitalized and treated with medications,” according to a Summary of Behavioral Health Services Care written after Naseem died.

The psychotic episode in March 2009 subsided after eight days. By March 11, Naseem said he was no longer having either hallucinations or suicidal thoughts.

He did, however, tell his doctors that he believed “other detainees were accusing him of being a spy.” We shall see that this was not mere paranoia.

“Lost all hope”

In fact, Naseem was worried that tales of his cooperating with the Americans would get back to Afghanistan and bring retribution upon his brother, his wife, and his six children. U.S. interrogators had already played upon the prisoner’s fears that something bad could happen to his brother, Hidayatullah.

In a very early interrogation at Guantanamo, on September 28, 2007, the interrogator told Naseem his “brother could get killed or arrested.” The U.S. government was accusing he and his brother of helping a local Al Qaeda figure. The interrogator told Naseem Al Qaeda “did not care about what happened to [his] brother.” He said Naseem shouldn’t worry about Hidayatullah but about himself.

Naseem was very close with his brother. His father had died when both of them were young. Afterward, his mother had married his father’s brother. There were other children from this second marriage, and Hidayatullah was his only full sibling.

Naseem also worried about his family, who he loved. His youngest child was only two years old when Naseem was sent to the U.S. detention site at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. (Hidayatullah also seems to have been sent to Bagram at some point. It’s not clear whatever happened to him.)

There was more to worry about in his immediate situation. He was aware of “rumors” in the camp about his working with his captors. How could other detainees know about this? he asked his interrogators.

But the captors kept pressing him for more information, until Naseem said he could not cooperate any further. As a December 3, 2008 interrogation report explained, Naseem concluded he “had to refuse interrogations in order not to be seen as a spy.”

The “Collector,” whose job was to analyze the events of that day’s interrogation, concluded Naseem had reason to be afraid, yet oddly at the same time saw the refusal as a ruse.

“The detainee’s reasons for refusal are valid,” the Collector wrote in his report, “but… there is a potential that his new stress is a counter interrogation technique.”

On August 7, 2008, Naseem reported he was having dreams that he would be charged of crimes by the Americans and would therefore spend a long time in prison. His interrogator wrote that Naseem told him he had “lost all hope of ever going home and now knows that everything at GTMO is designed to keep detainees and not release them.”

At the same interrogation session, Naseem again recanted all his previous statements. The interrogators concluded, “The detainee is being influenced by other detainees.” Influenced how, they didn’t say.

One thing the camp authorities did do for Naseem was get him out of Camp Echo. He was sent to the more communal prison site at Camp 6 and remained there until hospitalized after a self-harm attempt in March 2009. He would remain in Guantanamo’s psychiatric ward — the Behavioral Health Unit — for the next 19 months.

Naseem was not the only detainee to have worries about being a government informant or otherwise providing information to interrogators. Other detainees are known to have cooperated with interrogators over the years, including Mohamadou Ould Slahi, author of the celebrated book, Guantanamo Diary. Like Slahi and Naseem, a number were tortured or threatened before they gave information.

According to government documents, Abdul Rahman al-Amri, a Saudi detainee who supposedly hanged himself in his cell in Guantanamo’s Camp V in 2007, had been a “very cooperative” prisoner, and like Naseem, had been deemed a “detainee of interest.”

Al-Amri also expressed anxiety to his captors about other detainees thinking he was “helping the Americans,” as he was seen so often talking with interrogators.

“A spy in the camp”

One detainee who took pains to hide his informant status was Harun al-Afghani, aka Haroon Gul (ISN 3148), who was held in Camp Echo at the same time as Naseem. Like Naseem, he was also brought to Guantanamo in 2007.

In a January 17, 2009 meeting al-Afghani told his interrogators that he “played like he is a different person in the camp because he doesn’t want the other detainees to think he was a spy or cooperated with the US government.”

In the same meeting, Al-Afghani mentioned that “everyone” thought that Naseem “was a spy,” because another detainee, Zain Ulla Bidden (ISN 1095) “told everyone before he left [Guantanamo] that [Naseem] was a spy.” Hence, there was no way Guantanamo intelligence and camp authorities did not know that Naseem had been outed in the camps. (As for al-Afghani, he remains one of forty prisoners left in “forever” detention at Guantanamo.)

In late February 2009, the FBI suddenly showed up asking Naseem questions about his family. Naseem was very upset by this visit. He complained to his interrogator that his family was “completely innocent.”

Shortly after the FBI visit, Naseem was physically attacked by another detainee, Shawali Khan (ISN 899), in Camp Echo’s recreation yard. Khan reportedly accused him of being an “American spy.” Naseem said Khan attacked him while he was sitting down in the yard. The fight was apparently quickly broken up.

According to Naseem, several detainees had told him in the recreation yard that they knew he was a “spy” as far back as Bagram, because they’d seen him at Bagram making phone calls. Only “American spies” were allowed to make phone calls home, the detainees believed. Naseem pressed his captors for “assurances” that he and his family would be safe if he were to continue to cooperate.

For the Americans, however, Naseem’s cooperation always seemed dubious. They felt he was not providing the information they believed he really had.

On March 21, Naseem’s interrogator observed in that day’s interrogation report that Naseem seemed “genuinely concerned of being perceived as a spy in the camp.” The interrogator noted he would speak to his team chief about the situation. It’s not known if he or she did, or what if anything happened as a result of that.

In Guantanamo’s Psychiatric Unit

Two weeks later, on March 26 , 2009— two weeks after he assured doctors he had no hallucinations or suicidal thoughts — Naseem attempted to cut his throat. Discovered in his cell, he had lacerations on both sides of his neck. Naseem denied harming himself, and attributed the wounds to an attack by Djinn, or “Central Asian ghosts,” as Guantanamo medical personnel described the term.

Later doctors discovered he had seen the “djinn” before. Two of them “would stand in front of his cell and throw rocks at him.” (See the “Summary of Behavioral Health Services Care” on page 137 of the AR 15–6 release.)

Naseem survived, but spent the next year and a half in a cell in the BHU, Guantanamo’s psychiatric ward.

U.S. Naval Hospital, Guantanamo Bay Gitmo staff participates in an emergency room training exercise. — U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Randall Damm [Public domain]

Very little is known of this time spent in the BHU. But we do know that three weeks after he entered Guantanamo’s psychiatric ward, Naseem attempted suicide again by cutting both of his arms. He told doctors that Djinn were responsible for this attack, too.

According to the BHU psychiatrist, writing retrospectively after Naseem’s death, the Afghan detainee never did rescind his belief in the attacks by the Djinn, and seemed “genuinely convinced” of their reality.

A week or so after he cut his arms inside the Behavioral Health Unit, another detainee also held inside Guantanamo’s BHU, Mohammed al-Hanashi, was found dead in his cell, reportedly the victim of self-strangulation with the elastic from his underwear.

There is much to contradict government accounts of his death. Additionally, it is possible that Naseem saw or knew more about al-Hanashi’s death.

Authorities responded to finding al-Hanashi’s body by temporarily shutting down the Guantanamo computer system, the Detainee Information Management System, meant to document detainee activity inside the prison, an unprecedented event that precipitated an internal investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). Later, all BHU computerized records for the days surrounding al-Hanashi’s death disappeared.

Nineteen months is a long time to be held in a locked mental ward. After the slashing of his arms in the first month of his stay, most of Naseem’s actual progress in the BHU is not known. But a few facts have been reported.

Naseem began taking 2mg of Risperdal (resperidone) on April 22, 2009, or almost a month after entering the psychiatric ward. Risperdal is a powerful and sedating antipsychotic drug. Given that Naseem had psychotic symptoms and suicidal behavior prior to the prescription of Risperdal, one wonders what drugs, if any, he was given prior that point.

Nearly a year into his stay in the BHU, in February 2010 he complained of insomnia and was prescribed Ambien CR (continuous release). But records indicate he stopped less the sleeping pill after approximately a month. Later, he was caught hoarding medications, although it was unclear if this was for an overdose attempt, or because he just didn’t want to take the pills.

His diagnosis by Guantanamo’s mental health unit was Psychotic Disorder NOS (not otherwise specified). In the Behavioral Health Services Summary written after his death, the BHS psychiatrist diagnosed Naseem as having Major Depressive Disorder, Severe with psychotic features.

Naseem continued to take the antipsychotic drug Resperdal, 2mg each day, after he left the BHU. The dose was reduced to 1mg about three weeks after he returned to Camp Echo.

Broken Promises

When Naseem finally was released from the BHU in October 2010, it was back to the interrogations, the fear over exposure, the fears over his family’s safety, the fears of being beaten or sent back to a small, dark cell, like he was kept in at Bagram, where he did not see the sun for months.

He felt embittered about broken “promises” made to him by U.S. interrogators at Bagram during his three month stay there. Despite certain “promises,” presumably of lighter treatment or even of release, after he “cooperated” with the Americans he was sent to Guantanamo. The Bagram interrogator had “lied” to him, and he was leery now about “promises” from interrogators.

On April 29, 2011, guards noted in the record that Naseem was seen talking with Guantanamo’s HUMINT or Human Intelligence Collection Team, presumably interrogators. In early May 2011, he fired his military psychiatrist and asked to be moved to a more isolated environment in the camp, somewhere distant from other detainees.

Previously, Naseem had been meeting with this psychiatrist, who was a woman, every two weeks after his release from the BHU unit.

Behavioral Health Services personnel planned to meet with Naseem again on May 18. They wanted to see if he possibly changed his mind about foregoing visits with the psychiatrist. But the meeting never happened. Around 3:50 am, the morning of May 18, Naseem was discovered by guards hanging from by an improvised noose made of bedsheets from the top pole of the small recreation “pen” adjoining his cell. His feet were hanging above the ground.

Recreation Yard at Guantanamo’s Camp Echo — U.S. government photo in public domain.

Half an hour after the grisly discovery, and as guards still applied CPR to the dead or dying prisoner, an assistant officer-in-charge who came over from nearby Camp Five was perturbed. The call had gone out for an ambulance five times, and still no ambulance had arrived.

Ultimately, Nassem was transferred to the Detainee Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Did Naseem kill himself? Was he possibly killed by other detainees, who were angry about his cooperation with the Americans, or by perhaps by guards?

Surveillance of Detainees of Interest

Standard Operating Procedures for Camp Echo allowed for a very limited number of other detainees to be in the recreation yards at the same time. There was another detainee out in the recreation yard the night Naseem died, but he was supposedly in a yard in a different quadrant. The records of what other detainees in Naseem’s quadrant were doing that night — part of the computerized Detainee Information Management System, or DIMS — were all redacted in the declassified release of the Army’s report.

The Army report that looked into Naseem’s death said the detainee had killed himself. A “history of auditory hallucinations, self-inflicted lacerations, and mental health issues… likely contributed to his motivation to self-harm.”

There was no mention in the report that any of Naseem’s experiences at Bagram or Guantanamo had anything to do with killing himself. There was no allusion in the autopsy report, as there was in the case of the supposed suicide death of Mohamed Al-Hanashi, that harsh “conditions of confinement” were connected with Naseem’s psychotic wish to harm himself.

“Applicable Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and other pertinent JTF-GTMO orders in effect at that time were professionally followed…” the Army’s report said.

“However,” the report continued, “due to confusion and misunderstandings about an ambiguous aspect of the JDG [Joint Detention Group] SOP, the guard force did not strictly follow the specific JDG SOP requirement to conduct [one word redacted] checks on all Detainees of Interest (DOIs).”

The redaction likely refers to “line-of-sight” or direct, continuous eyeball observation.

While much about the kinds of checks at Camp Echo at the time of Naseem’s death is redacted in the Army’s AR 15–6 report, it seems unlikely that anything unusual happened in relation to procedures inside Camp Echo on the day Naseem died. What was unusual were the procedures in Camp Echo, which were different than those of any other camp.

Member of U.S. Army Guard Force checks on a detainee in Camp 5 on Aug. 6, 2007. (JTF-GTMO photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Billings — Public Domain)

While we can’t know for sure due to censorship what kind of checks guards were supposed to do on DOIs, we do know that at least two other detainees who died of supposed suicide at Guantanamo were DOIs, Abdul Rahman al Amri and Adnan Latif.

According to a 2012 interview by Jason Leopold with Guantanamo spokesperson Captain Robert Durand, Detainees of Interest were so designated “if they represent a threat to themselves, other detainees, the guard force or good order and discipline in the camps.”

According to Durand, DOIs were subject to “continuous checks” every 60 seconds.

Interestingly, in what appears to be a slip up by government censors, who normally redacted any indication of how many Camp Echo detainees were DOIs, one official (not a regular guard) who worked at Camp Echo the night Naseem died indicated in his sworn statement that to his knowledge at Camp Echo “all of the detainees were detainees of interest” (see pg. 437, item 10 of the AR 15–6 report).

The Joint Detention Group SOP states, “Any detainee who is considered at increased risk of suicide will be designated a DOI.” The Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT), which usually included psychologists, were to make an Operational Threat Assessment on any DOI detainee, and determine risk of suicide. Detainees with a high risk level were assigned Acute Self Harm Procedures protection measures.

(Interestingly, one document released with the Army’s AR 15–6 report states that BSCT staff were also responsible for training guards at Camp Echo in the “elicitation” of information from prisoners.)

Given that all detainees at Camp Echo were DOIs, it’s difficult to believe they were there for suicidality, or were even mainly high-risk. One wonders if some kind of experiment wasn’t happening at Camp Echo. Certainly it has been documented that experiments on prisoners did occur at Guantanamo.

In his book Guantanamo: My Journey (unpublished in the United States), former detainee David Hicks, who like Naseem was imprisoned in Guantanamo’s Camp Echo, described how a guard would sit just outside a diamond wire partition next to his cell and watch him constantly, making notes all day long about what he was doing every fifteen minutes.

This kind of direct behavioral monitoring is consistent with techniques used in observational study.

“Certain privileges”

Despite the fact some DOI’s were supposedly at risk of self-harm, the discipline in Camp Echo seemed much looser than in other camps.

One Memorandum for the Record, dated July 14, 2011, stated, “Camp Echo was a more lenient camp and the detainees had more privileges given them than the other camps.”

Army investigators looking into the causes of Naseem’s death heard about how Camp Echo was different. The Assistant Officer in Charge at Camp V, who had responded to an emergency call guards when Naseem was found, said, “My authority in Camp Echo is limited because the detainees are treated uniquely.”

A different guard told investigators that guards were not responsible for determining how long a detainee spent in the recreation yards. Guards were also not responsible for inspecting the detainee’s cells, hence this guard could not answer a question regarding exactly how many bedsheets each prisoner had at Echo.

This situation was memorialized by the author of the AR 15–6 report in a memo to the Commander at U.S. Southern Command on July 21, 2011. “Not locking a detainee’s cell while he was at recreation was the standard practice and in the SOP…. the Echo guard force does not know how many linen a detainee has on a daily basis.”

The investigating officer added, “Due to the number of self-harm items detainees are allowed to have in Camp Echo, I recommend that no self-harm detainees should be allowed to live there.”

“A lot of stuff that they have in Camp Echo is not in SOP” — Statement of anonymous camp personnel, dated 5/25/2011, pg. 390, AR 15–6 report.

In another example of different procedures for detainees at Camp Echo, visits to doctors were not scheduled, as the doctors simply came to the detainee’s cell.

One statement given to Army investigators from someone whose identity is redacted speaks to the special situation that appears to have existed in Camp Echo. “A lot of stuff that they have in Camp Echo is not in SOP,” this person stated, contradicting assertions made by camp senior leadership.

In addition, the Executive Officer to the 525 MP Battalion, to which the guards belonged, told investigators that many of the procedures in the SOP “were out of date.”

The different level of security around Camp Echo detainees bothered the guards. According to the Assistant Officer in Charge at Camp Echo, guards complained to their superiors about detainees being able to use the recreation yards whenever they wanted, and about the difficulty maintaining visual contact on detainees when they did.

Camp leadership allowed Camp Echo’s detainees “certain privileges,” and guards’ complaints “went unaccepted until this incident,” the Camp V Assistant Officer in Charge (AOIC) told Army investigators.

“Many soldiers don’t want to work in Camp Echo because it has too many gray areas and information is not clearly articulated and posted,” the AOIC said.

Though the many redactions make it difficult to fully understand the controversies over type and timing of detainee checks discussed in the AR 15–6 report, it appears that over time the continuous, “line-of-sight” kind of check that was required for Detainees of Interest morphed into irregular, periodic checks.

Entry from March 6, 2011 “Camp Echo Westside/Backside Guard Pass On Log,” Exhibit 41 in AR 15–6 report.

One guard, labelled Westside 3, who was among the first detainees to find Naseem hanging, told investigators, “When the detainees are out at recreation we are suppose [sic] to check on them randomly.”

The final AR 15–6 report made it clear that a large and constant turn-over in guard force personnel at Camp Echo negatively impacted the situation at the detention site.

Another possible complication may have flowed from the fact that in April 2011, daytime guard training at Camp Echo had been suspended, in order to shorten the amount of hours guards worked. The shifts were too long, and the shortening of hours was “for morale reasons,” the Chief of Operations for the 525th MP Battalion told Army investigators.

There had been no training sessions in the month prior to Naseem’s death.

While detainees were monitored constantly by closed circuit video camera, some areas of the camp were not so covered, including the small recreation pen where Naseem was found hanging. Documents recently declassified show that when a video monitor lost visual on a detainee, they were to radio guards and “acquire a visual on the detainee and give confirmation of his wellbeing.”

But “when detainees are in the enclosed rec pen verbal feedback from the detainee is acceptable.” It is hard to imagine anywhere else in the high-surveillance, high-security environment of Guantanamo where a verbal assurance from a detainee was sufficient to offset a visual confirmation of their status.

With all the emphasis in the government investigation about how guards’ surveillance failed in the small recreation yard where Naseem died, almost no notice is made of the fact that the detainee’s cell, and the areas outside his cell and leading to the recreation area were under constant video surveillance. IN fact, detainees had complained about how this constant surveillance made them feel like animals in a zoo.

How could it be possible then that Naseem (or any other detainee) could take a bedsheet out of their cell and carry it to the recreation yard without being seen or noticed?

Leaving aside other more sinister possibilities, one possible answer is that the Monitor, whose job it was to check the camera feed, was negligent in his or her job, or overwhelmed by the amount of camera surveillance, with probably dozens of screens, he or she was supposed to do. Indeed, one military observer implied that the Monitor job was perhaps overburdened.

Other possible evidence appears unaddressed in the Army’s report. For instance, was there a forensic examination made of the bedsheet? We just don’t know. Aside from the autopsy and toxicology reports, Army investigation never mentions forensic evidence (unless it was mentioned in some redacted section of the report).

An Ominous Email

The day before Naseem died, on May 17, the Deputy Commander of the Joint Detention Group (JDG), Guantanamo, was sensing something amiss. He thought there was “a lot of tension in the camps.” He sent an email to the J2, or intelligence chief, sending copies to “applicable staff and camp leadership,” according to a memorandum by the Army investigating officer, appended to the AR 15–6 report.

Slide from Powerpoint presentation at Guantanamo training, an exhibit in the Army AR 15–6 release.

“Too many items are lining up that I don’t like…” the JDG Deputy wrote. “I am not trying to be ‘chicken little,’ but I also don’t want a repeat of 2006 or anything even close.”

In June 2006, three detainees had been found dead in their cells. The government said they had hanged themselves as an act of “asymmetrical warfare.” But their autopsies said they died of asphyxiation, not hanging. And a guard nearby later said he sawwhat looked like detainee movement the night they died, taking three prisoners to and from a secret CIA interrogation site at the base.

When this author was investigating the suicides of two other detainees who died in 2007 and 2009, I was able to show that the government itself had discovered that the guards’ headcount, which placed the detainees in their beds just before they would have killed (or hang themselves), had been falsified.

Strangely, it was also true that another email warning about a detainee’s possible suicide was sent to the guards’ commander the day that Adnan Latif, the last detainee to die of purported suicide at Guantanamo, was found dead in 2012.

In any case, there was no follow-up regarding the Deputy JDG’s email warning in any of the documents released by the government thus far.

The Night He Died

The night Naseem was discovered hanging, Camp Echo’s Officer in Charge said he asked one of the “backside” guards responsible for watching Naseem what time the prisoner had asked to go to the recreation yard.

As the Officer in Charge told government investigators, “The guard said that 10028 did not ask to go to rec. I asked the guard, ‘How did he get outside of this cell?’ and he replied that the cell was not locked. So I asked the guard why was the cell unlocked and he said he didn’t lock it and didn’t know he was supposed to lock the cell. After learning this, I was upset and walked around.”

In fact, as Army investigators discovered, it was Standard Operating Procedure to leave prisoner cell doors open when detainees went out to recreation. On the day he died, Naseem had spent hours in the Echo westside recreation pen — the camp’s computerized records showed he had gone to the rec yard around 8pm — mostly attending to a garden there, and had been able to freely walk back and forth from the “pen” to his cell.

DIMS readout charting detainee’s actions, including by time, in the days leading up to his death. From AR 15–6 report, pg. 557.

To the Command Sergeant Major of MP Battalion 525, Naseem’s death “all came down to the watch force lost accountability of this detainee.”

There is a lot that is mysterious about both the death of Haji Naseem and the detainee operations at Camp Echo. For instance, the timeline and circumstances surrounding the ambulance that took Naseem to the Detainee Hospital is heavily redacted.

But the general outline of events seems pretty clear. The last known or admitted contact with Naseem was at 3:30am, when three “backside” guards saw Naseem at the entrance to the recreation area.

The prisoner and the guards made eye contact with each other. Everything seemed “normal.” Naseem appeared to have been doing a lot of work in the small garden in the area that evening. It was not unusual for detainees to work outside in recreation yards at night, because it was cooler than during the hot Caribbean daytime hours.

The guards discovered Naseem hanging from a bedsheet tied into a noose sometime between 3:45 and 3:50am. He was motionless, hanging from the top pole of the fencing in the small recreation yard not far from his cell. By their own testimony, no guard saw the detainee bring the sheet into the yard.

The guards called for help. Naseem was hanging above the ground, possibly he had stepped off a small white plastic chair that was seen just below his feet.

The guards had trouble finding scissors or shears to cut him down. More than one person tried to lift Naseem’s body up, the better to get at the noose and cut it off. Finally someone found some garden shears and they were able to cut him down. Medical personnel started to arrive about ten minutes after guards made the grisly discovery.

The guards began CPR, and could feel a femoral pulse. By 4:00, personnel on the scene felt no wrist pulse, and Naseem’s pupils seemed “fixed.” The detainee looked dead and was unresponsive. When later an automated external defibrillator (AED) was attached to his body, his heart did not have any rhythm (was “asystole”) that allowed for its use. The AED was prompted multiple times, but each time it showed no shock was required.

The ambulance was sent from another camp, even though there was one parked outside Camp Echo itself. The Senior Nurse Executive from Joint Medical Group told Army investigators that this was due to “staffing requirements.” The SNE felt the delay was only “slight” and “would have unlikely changed any outcome.”

Even so, the ambulance had to be called five times, and arrived a full 35 minutes after Naseem was discovered. It took about 10 minutes more to get him to the hospital, where fruitless attempts to revive him with IV and epinephrine ended with pronouncement of death by the Senior Medical Officer on scene at 4:53 am, approximately an hour after he was initially found by the guards.

A chaplain arrived on the scene and tried to calm those present. He said a prayer. Guards were told to watch the other detainees via “line-of-sight” continuous surveillance during the emergency. One of the detainees requested to speak to an Arabic interpreter. Unfortunately, no testimony from this detainee or any of the other detainees at Camp Echo was included in documents released, assuming that it was even gathered by investigators.

Currently, the Trump administration maintains that Guantanamo may still be used for new prisoners, even as 40 detainees remain there with no hope of release. Recently, the government opened a padded cell for Guantanamo detainees with severe psychiatric problems.

It seems so easy for an individual to be lost in Guantanamo, forgotten and imprisoned for what seems like forever. That is why it’s important to remember that these people are individuals, with families, dreams, foibles and weaknesses. That they, like us, are all-too-human.

So who really was Haji Naseem?

“Inayatullah”

The Pentagon called him Inayatullah. In a Department of Defense press release the government maintained “Inayatullah” was an Afghan national “captured as a result of ongoing DoD operations in the struggle against violent extremists in Afghanistan.”

The exact date of his capture is not known, but apparently was late May or early June 2007. He was an Afghan national, a Balochi by ethnicity, and a Sunni Muslim. For years, he ran a small dried fruit business near Quetta, Pakistan. Later he moved to a town in Iran, where he ran a grocery and mobile phone business .The government alleged some of the traffic in mobile phones was illegal.

Naseem’s involvement with Al Qaeda supposedly began when he, and later his brother, were asked to temporarily house the wife and child of an Al Qaeda figure. Naseem refused to do this, though whether he ultimately was pressured to do so is not clear.

In any case, if Naseem was no “terrorist” or “enemy combatant.” The evidence in government documents shows that he was at most a very reluctant participant in anything having to do with Al Qaeda.

Nevertheless, the U.S. government maintained that its new prisoner supposedly had been “the Al Qaeda Emir of Zahedan, Iran, and planned and directed Al Qaeda terrorist operations.” The captive, in his mid-30s when he arrived at Guantanamo, was said to have confessed “to facilitating the movement of foreign fighters, significantly contributing to trans-national terrorism across multiple borders.”

The government described how Inayatullah “met with local operatives, developed travel routes and coordinated documentation, accommodation and vehicles for smuggling unlawful combatants throughout countries including Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Iraq.”

But if Inayatullah, aka Haji Naseem, confessed to some of these things as a result of coercive conditions amounting to torture after his capture at the American’s Bagram prison in Afghanistan, he recanted these confessions over and over again during his time at Guantanamo, even as early as December 2007.

“Forced to say things”

Naseem maintained that the government’s own records showed that he complied with Al Qaeda only when he was forced to. When confronted by interrogators on December 27, 2007 that someone named Abu Sulayman told the Americans that Naseem had been made Al Qaeda’s Emir of Zahedrin in October 2006, Naseem replied, “Abu Salayman is a fucking liar.”

“Detainee does not use profanity very often,” the interrogator noted in his report. But rather than telling the truth, U.S. intelligence felt that Naseem was “likely shutting down due to his interaction with other detainees in Camp Echo…”

The released and declassified interrogation reports released by the Pentagon are not complete, but of the 45 available, as well as the 31 intelligence reports based on Naseem’s interrogations (all available at GuantanamoTruth.com), many, if not most, describe Naseem as uncooperative, or uncertain about cooperating.

Naseem told his interrogators in February 2008 that he believed that other prisoners back in Afghanistan were making up things about him. He told them one man, Hajji Qayamuddin, told falsehoods about him after Qayamuddin was beaten in a Pakistani prison and “forced to say things.”

In June 2008, Naseem was given a chance to appear at a Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT). The CSRTs had been established after a 2004 Supreme Court ruling found that Guantanamo prisoners had certain procedural rights. The purpose of the CSRT was to determine a prisoner’s status, whether he or she were in fact an “enemy combatant.”

At first, Naseem refused to participate or even meet with his government appointed Personal Representative. Instead, he protested he had been treated “like a dog (i.e., having to be placed in level 4 restraint).”

Close-up of section of Army’s AR 15-6 report on Naseem’s death, pg. 129 of PDF release  — Yellow highlight in original.

Other documents released by the government in Naseem’s case include instructions on how guards should handle detainees in straitjacket or “double litters” restraints. While it can’t be certain what constituted “level 4 restraint” at Guantanamo, it likely included restraint of arms, legs, torso, and head.

While the government saw fit to highlight the issue of checking on prisoners in high-level restraints in the accompanying documentation to the AR 15–6 report, there is nothing in the redacted version of the report available that would explain why they included it, except this reference by Naseem himself about being “treated like a dog” by being put in heavy restraints.

Ultimately, Naseem was encouraged to participate in his CSRT review. He testified a few days after his initial refusal, but the government couldn’t have been happy with the result. The official government document on the review says, “detainee stated that he was innocent and the charges against him were baseless.”

Naseem maintained he did not help move Al Qaeda personnel from Iran to Pakistan. He did not receive any money to act as an AQ facilitator. He was not an “enemy combatant.” In fact, he wished the United States would “stop the al Qaeda like they did the Soviets.”

Whether or not one accepts the government’s narrative about who Naseem really was, it can’t be denied that he was one of the last detainees to arrive at Guantanamo, rendered from Bagram to the Cuba-based naval prison on September 11, 2007. Less than four years later he was dead.

No one could explain how the prisoner could smuggle a bed sheet past guards into a recreation yard. No one really even knew who he was, beyond the government’s claims at the time of his death that “Inayatullah” was “an admitted planner for al Qaida terrorist operations” who helped smuggle “al Qaida belligerents through Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Iraq.”

Indeed, at the time of his death his identity seemed swathed in mystery. He was one of a handful of Guantanamo detainees who were not included in the 2011 Wikileaks release of DoD assessment briefs of the hundreds of prisoners held by the U.S. Even the camp where he was found dead at was kept secret for years.

Only after his death did his attorney, Paul Rashkind, a Federal public defender in Florida, tell the world his client’s real name: Haji Naseem.

(Naseem’s real name is spelled many different ways, and I have used the form the U.S. government finally settled on. Paul Rashkind told the author via email that he would have “no comment” on this article.)

Rashkind also earlier revealed that his client had profound mental health issues, beginning in childhood. In a May 19, 2011 interview with the Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg, he said of Naseem’s death, “I have no doubt it was a suicide.”

Speaking of Naseem’s Guantanamo captors, Rashkind reportedly said, “they treated him pretty humanely, I’d have to say.”

But only a little more than a year later, in a legal filing in Naseem’s habeas lawsuit against the government, Rashkind criticized “the coercive conditions of Mr. Nassim’s confinement and interrogation sessions,” citing specifically threats of beating, threats of imprisoning his family, sleep deprivation, and confinement in small, dark cells. (See Naseem’s reply to the government’s “factual return” embedded at the end of this article.)

Indeed, these forms of torture were the reasons Naseem told a psychiatric examiner that he decided to provide information to the Americans.

For their part, the intelligence agencies always felt Naseem was withholding information from them. But it may be that Naseem just didn’t know that much, as he either was not really involved in terrorist activities, or was such a small player that he really didn’t know much.

A portion of “Unclassified Notes of Interview Conducted by Emily Keram, M.D. (11/10/10)”, published as an annex to Naseem’s attorney’s August 2012 response to the U.S. “factual return” in his habeas lawsuit.

In an examination of government documents, including redacted reports of some of his interrogations, part of a government factual release in Naseem’s federal habeas lawsuit, and the recent release of the Army’s AR 15–6 report on his death, a picture is revealed that is very contrary to government reports in almost every way. (The AR 15–6 report was obtained via FOIA lawsuit by reporter Jason Leopold, and provided to this reporter by U.S. Southern Command’s FOIA office.)

Camp Echo

A November 2012 GAO report to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence described Camp Echo as housing “compliant detainees in shared settings.”

Department of Defense photo of Camp Echo cell, with attached personal shower [Public domain].

“Camp Echo consists of 10 wooden hut-like structures, with each detainee’s housing unit containing a sleeping cell and a personal living area. Detainees assigned to Camp Echo may recreate together up to 20 hours per day,” the report stated.

According to a Guantanamo “primer” published by the Miami Herald, besides being used as a “as a meeting site between captives and their lawyers,” Camp Echo exists as a “segregation site for captives who can’t mix with others.” The Herald didn’t elaborate on that.

According to a 2008 Human Rights Watch report, Camp Echo was “previously used as interrogation and isolation units,” but was closed in 2004 and later reopened and “primarily used to house detainees deemed unsuitable for communal living in Camp 4.”

“Doors to the sheds have reportedly been replaced with bars that allow in natural light, and detainees are reportedly allowed to move freely between the cell, shower area, and small interrogation room in each shed,” the report stated, based on a May 2008 interview with a DoD official.

Again, it’s not stated why the detainees were “deemed unsuitable.”

A Washington Post article in December 2004 stated that part of Camp Echo was used as a CIA interrogation site in the early years at Guantanamo. In subsequent years, it was used to hold detainees presumed to be tried by Guantanamo’s military commissions. A portion of the facility was also used for detainee-lawyer meeting rooms, and for meetings with the International Red Cross.

In 2013, a controversy arose when attorneys for military commissions defendants discovered that listening devices were being used in the rooms where they met with their detainee clients. Camp Echo was apparently riddled with surveillance devices, both audio and video.

It is intriguing to wonder why Naseem was moved from one cell to another within Camp Echo eight times in the first two months he was there. It seems possible this frequent change of cell was meant to help disorient a prisoner, part of the process of “breaking down” detainees in their first months at Guantanamo.

Prior to Naseem’s arrival at Guantanamo, JTF-GTMO authorities utilized something called the “frequent-flyer” program to move detainees around as a way to sleep deprive them. There was also a similar unofficial program. But whether either of these was active in 2007 is unknown.

The period from December 2007 through May 2008 was unusually quiet, as Naseem stayed in the same cell throughout that period. However, some of the interrogation notes from that same time show that Naseem was not necessarily cooperating with interrogators during at a good deal of that period. Hence, it seems unlikely that the cessation of cell movement was due to cooperation. It may have been due to his mental status.

On June 3, 2008 Naseem was suddenly moved again. Then three days later he was transferred to Camp 6, a transfer that came after Naseem requested he be taken out of Camp Echo. He remained in Camp 6 until his hospitalization in March 2009.

After he was released from the BHU on October 25, 2010, he was returned to Camp Echo, where was allowed to keep the same cell until the day he died. His last home at Guantanamo would be the morgue.

This article originally appeared on Jeffrey Kaye’s Medium page.

Categories: News for progressives

In Salinas, Puerto Rico, Vulnerable Americans Are Still Trapped in the Ruins Left by Hurricane Maria

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-03-15 15:58

Socorro Rolon’s house. Photo: Stan Cox.

Abandoned by their country, residents refuse to accept the idea that they will never recover.

Nearly a year and a half after Hurricane Maria, about three-fourths of the houses in the Sierra Brava neighborhood of Salinas, Puerto Rico stand battered and empty.

Some families left because their homes were rendered uninhabitable and they had no money to fix them. Others left because they lost their jobs. In responding to Maria, federal agencies had hired some local people, but just for a few months; meanwhile, many other jobs disappeared and have not come back.

Sierra Brava lies low along the south side of PR Route 3 in the shadow of Salinas City Hall. Go for a walk through its now largely silent streets, and one residence in particular will catch your eye. On a corner along Calle Abraham Peña, the neighborhood’s four-block-long main avenue, stands a small grey house trimmed in bright blue and topped by a blue plastic tarp. It is in even worse shape than some of the abandoned houses. But Wilma Miranda Ramos still calls it home.

The hurricane shifted Wilma’s ramshackle little box on its foundation, separating the front and rear halves and giving it a distinct sideways tilt. Thanks to waters that flooded down the nearby Río Nigua from the mountains on the day of the storm, the floors now undulate wildly and give underfoot. Large portions of the ceiling are gone, and blue light streams in through the tarp above. Water pours in with every rainfall.

Wilma explained that she’d been living there six years, but because the house was not hers, she could get no help with repairs. “Now I have a stitched-together roof,” she said, “but as I have nowhere to go I’m still here. Staying here in these conditions is not easy. But since I have my daughter and grandson of four years here with me, living here and not in the street is worth gold.”

Certain now that no federal help will be coming, Wilma said, “I hope my guardian angel arrives soon.”

In the summer of Maria, the region around Salinas had an unemployment rate that hovered between 15 and 20 percent and a poverty rate of 54%. The median household income in Salinas was a little over $16,000. The city was in economic decline, rendering it deeply vulnerable to devastation by any hurricane, and the monstrous Maria was not just any hurricane.

More than a century of U.S. colonial rule, culminating in a harsh federal plan to deal with the island’s debt to vulture capitalists, guaranteed that Maria’s destructive force would be multiplied by socioeconomic vulnerability. To make matters worse, federal disaster assistance to Puerto Ricans after Maria was much smaller and was doled out much more slowly than the assistance that went to Texas and Florida after hurricanes Harvey and Irma that same season.

Across Puerto Rico, according to the New York Times, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which was responsible for awarding home-repair grants, rejected 58 percent of applications. When they did provide funds, the amount was often inadequate to restore a severely damaged house; the median grant was only $1,800, compared with about $9,127 in Texas after Harvey.

In Sierra Brava, only a lucky few managed to wrangle any home-restoration money out of FEMA. Roofs and the spaces where roofs used to be remain covered in blue tarp. The tap water is foul and undrinkable. Electricity was restored about four months after Maria, but with rates two to three times the cost of power on the mainland, people are falling farther and farther behind on their bills; as a result they now risk seeing their lights go out again, this time shut off by the power company.

Many houses in the neighborhood have been handed down within the same family for several generations, some going all the way back to Spanish rule. And that became many residents’ biggest problem. For almost a year after the storm, FEMA was approving repair funds only for those who could show proof of ownership, and many did not have sufficient documentation.

FEMA finally started accepting affidavits as proof of ownership last August but did not ensure that previously rejected homeowners were informed of the policy change. Anyway, by then, many had abandoned their ruined houses and moved away for good.

“It has just stayed the same way”

On a dead-end side street near Wilma’s home, another woman called us over to have a look at her house, a more substantial concrete structure with a vivid orange paint job and no roof. Throughout, jagged pieces of blue fabric hung from strands of rope above, as if in some ill-conceived art installation. The house was empty except for a stove and a refrigerator, and a couple of ruined mattresses.

The woman, Socorro Rolon, pointed to the shredded tarp. “This was given to me by the church, and I had to go look for some poles to hold it up, and me and a guy from the church put everything like this.” The tarp didn’t last long. “Everything got wet. My husband and I slept there on those old mattresses over there, and everything was wet, nothing could be saved.”

Socorro and her husband had taken refuge in Salinas’ emergency shelter during the hurricane. “When we returned from the shelter,” she said, “we found total destruction. So we went back to the shelter, but since my husband has had a stroke, we had to return to the house even though it was destroyed. We did what we could. The hurricane destroyed half the world over here. It took the street, and didn’t spare anyone.”

Maria survivors who received home-restoration money from FEMA could apply to a program called Tu Hogar Renace (Your Home Reborn), which sent crews to do repairs. Socorro and her husband received some FEMA money; she didn’t say how much. “So,” she said, “we signed up with Renace, and they came four times to check the house. I have a letter they sent, and it said the house couldn’t be fixed,” at least not for the amount of money they had. “It stayed like this, and we lived in it.” When life in a roofless house finally became unbearable, they rented a room in a neighbor’s house.

Tu Hogar Renace has received almost four thousand complaints about the quality or incompleteness of their work, and the Puerto Rican government has launched an investigation. But that won’t get Socorro out of her predicament. “So,” she said, “we have the house and a check that FEMA gave us, but they didn’t help anymore afterwards, and what we get from Social Security isn’t much. I get about $200 and he gets about $300 or so.”

Where they once lived for free in their own house, now, she said, “we are paying to live where we are because we cannot live on the street.”

In seeking help for home restoration, residents faced several obstacles. The closest FEMA office taking applications was in the city of Guayama, a half-hour drive east of Salinas. For car-less residents whose friends and neighbors had fled—and given the lack of a good public transportation system—that office might as well have been in Washington, DC. Those who could get themselves to Guayama found that application forms were in English, but at least the people in the office spoke Spanish.

Those calling the FEMA help line found non-Spanish-speaking employees on the other end. Residents could also apply online, but for four months after the hurricane, Sierra Brava had no electricity. Even if they got access to the Internet, senior citizens who had no family members nearby to help them were often stymied by the FEMA website. And for those who did get their applications submitted, the inspectors who came to check out their houses spoke only English; the documents they had to sign to receive compensation were also in English.

Waiting for FEMA . . .

Madeleine Flores Tenazoa, 30, had volunteered to be our guide and translator in Salinas. She is a kind of unofficial community organizer, deeply rooted in Sierra Brava. She showed us her grandmother’s house, which had been in her family for many decades. FEMA provided a paltry $400 to repair the home’s severely damaged roof and nothing to replace the contents of its flooded-out rooms.

Madeleine told us, “When they came, they asked, ‘Where is the furniture you lost? My grandma said it was all ruined, so it got hauled away. They said, ‘Well then we aren’t going to give you nothing, since we can’t see what you lost.’”

Her grandmother wasn’t the only one to have this problem, and word got around. In and around Salinas, we saw big curbside piles of ruined furniture and appliances, one bearing a hand-painted sign reading “No toque” (“Don’t touch”). Madeleine said that if city workers come now to remove the debris, “Those people say, ‘No, no, no! We are waiting for FEMA. They need to see what we lost!’ But come on, it’s been a year and a half. FEMA’s not coming.”

About a mile south of Sierra Brava is Playa de Salinas, the seafront area that Maria hit even harder than the central city. Riding through the area with Madeleine, we noticed an elderly woman sitting on a stack of concrete blocks in the dirt outside a small half-built house. She had a push broom with her and was shelling gandules—beans she’d plucked from the large bushes that grew nearby.

The woman, Fela Suren, called us over. She said she was “eighty something” years old. The house was being built for her by a local church, but the work was on pause until she or they could get more money together. Next to the unfinished house stood her longtime home, minus its roof and a couple of walls. It was clear that before Maria, it had been a larger, more attractive house than her new concrete-block one was going to be.

Most of Fela’s furniture and appliances sat exposed to the Caribbean sun and rain. A small, new section of roof covered only the kitchen area, which was now serving as Fela’s bedroom. The room was now open to the outdoors on one side. Her bed had big hardwood head- and foot-boards and was draped with  mosquito netting. Out back, her well’s hand pump still produced water, but it was a milky yellow color.

Fela said she has no family in Salinas, but she has good neighbors. One of them cooks meals for her and brings her water to drink. She spends her days tidying up in and around her ruined house and the construction site. As Fela spoke, she was all smiles. At eighty-something, she seemed to be leaving the past in the past and looking to the future. But in that future, she declared, “I never want to see anything like that hurricane again.”

The story of recovery from a devastating hurricane like Maria will always be a long and painful one—but it has to begin somewhere. For many residents of Puerto Rico, that story still hasn’t started. Until something changes, their story is one of survival, not recovery. It isn’t a nice one, but they want every one of us to hear it.

As Madeleine urged in a parting comment, “People need to come here and see how we are trying to live.”

Categories: News for progressives

Christchurch, the White Victim Complex and Savage Capitalism

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-03-15 15:58

Despite his own denials, anti-Muslim xenophobia underwrites the 74-page manifesto compiled by Australian mass murderer Brendan Tarrant. The title itself, The Great Replacement, references a far-right conspiracy theory holding that white genocide is being engineered by useful idiots amongst the liberal elite advocating mass migration, demographic growth and cultural diversity.

To this conspiracy theory, the failure to uphold cultural and racial supremacy is identified with the destruction of whites. The politics of the dummy spit underwrite the belief that acknowledging the existence of and respecting other cultures and ethnic groups is tantamount to the death of the Self. It reflects the mentality of the infantile ego, yet to discover the existence of others outside of the realm of the known, associated in practise with the ego.

It is not a little telling that this atrocity was carried out on the same day as the latest in a series of large-scale climate strikes by secondary students throughout Australia and the world. On the one side, those directly threatened by a very real crisis took active measures to do something positive and constructive. On the other, a small group of people preoccupied with the threat of the existence of others carried out a negative and destructive atrocity. The contrast could hardly be clearer.

What to make of the difference between the two? In an eponymous 2017 work, anthropologist Ghassan Hage enquires, is an environmental threat? Hage explicitly links the global rise in racism, demagoguery and bigotry, of which we can quite easily include this latest Christchurch massacre, with a reaction amongst elite groups to the social consequences of climate change.

In awakening a need for meaningful and profound social change amongst increasingly vast sectors of the world’s population, Hage argued, the climate crisis has come to present increasingly clear and present threats to elite privilege. It has done so in the main, he contended, through rude infringements of scientific fact and lived daily experience on the ideological mores that have upheld a world order of haves and have nots built on 500 years of colonialism.

Not the least of these was the Self vs. Other binary that had been at the core of what Edward Said called ‘Orientalism.’ Orientalism referred to the paternalistic frame of reference for subjugated peoples used to rationalise colonial extractivism as ‘civilising the savages’—a mentality with roots in the Roman propensity to view everyone not under their control as ‘barbarians,’ until they were ‘civilised’ (with all the attendant tributes for the imperial power).

Such formed the basis, Hage argued, for a tendency within advanced capitalism to oscillate between what he called‘savage’ and ‘civilised’ capitalism—the ‘savage’ being that of the racialised associated with the early period of colonialism. The ‘civilised,’ by contrast, was of the type commonly associated with modern industrial capitalism and the liberal democracies associated with it.

This oscillating tendency reflected in essence a scapegoating dynamic, deriving from the fact that capitalist development remained an ongoing process after it had reached an advanced stage. This was specially insofar as late capitalism is plagued by periodic crises driven by the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, or by democratic challenges from below. This, Hage argued, drove the oscillation between ‘civilised’ and ‘savage’ modes, as privileged elites returned to violence to rescue their privilege from the shortcomings of the system that upheld them, or from democracy, or from both.

Periodic returns to the ‘savage’ modalities and mentalities accompanying the conditions that produced its birth was encouraged then as a stopgap against crisis—in the manner documented by sociological research into moral panic and the documented tendency of elite-controlled corporate media to manufacture consent through scaremongering and the production of deviance. Herman and Chomsky produced a classic work exploring this phenomenon; more recent scholarship has identified moral panic in the process.

The Islamic bugbears and hobgoblins in particular were created as a result of the power of the corporate media to control the meaning of deviance and impose their definition on public discourse—not on the features of those so demonised. The global instability created by a world order in which the richest one percent owned half the world’s wealth and the richest ten percent owned ¾ of it could be blamed on the Islamic Other.

Which brings us back to this latest example of white supremacist terrorism in Christchurch. Nothing about this atrocity and the terrible loss of life is special, other than the fact that it took place on the same day as the latest round of climate strikes lead by secondary students. The contrast between the preoccupation with conspiracy and manufactured crisis and the very clear scientific understanding of climate crisis reflects with a unique conspicuousness the function of the former in dodging the reality of and constructing scapegoats for the latter.

If whites are feeling insecure, this has nothing to do with the social and environmental consequences of global economic modality built on the assumption that the world is an infinite resource and infinite garbage dump—it is the fault of those existing outside of the culturally hegemonic and supremacist monoculture for existing. Herein lies the scapegoating dynamic of savage capitalism, built on a white victim complex refusing to acknowledge any difference between respecting other cultures and the death of the Self.

As Ghassan Hage noted, the impetus for the scapegoating of savage capitalism and the white victim complex arises out of accumulation crisis, as the very real social, economic and environmental consequences of maintaining the world of haves and have-nots becomes harder and harder to sweep under the rug. As corporate-captured governments around the world continue to fail to act on climate change in prioritising profit over the planet, opposition from the young in particular can only ever grow.

In the face of this dire threat of democracy, the value of manufactured conspiracy theories alleging racial existential threats to be used as scapegoats increases accordingly—all the more so as the climate crisis continues to worsen, presenting an increasingly unavoidable existential threat to human society.

Atrocities like those perpetrated in Christchurch in the final analysis are driven by the impulse to blame the consequences of the social and economic modalities behind climate change on the victims and any other convenient scapegoats. They are driven by the impulse to reassert the fundamental modalities and mentalities that produced the interconnected crises of our age in the first place.

As long as they continue to be useful in suppressing the ultimate reality that there is no class privilege on a dead planet, prominent Islamophobes in the corporate media and politics (Andrew Bolt and Cori Bernadi here in Australia being prime examples) will continue to promote the conspiracy theories driving the likes of Brendan Tarrant and Anders Brevik to deadly violence. In the end, the terror that these atrocities produce for the affected communities only reflects the racialised terror from which the Western-dominated world order was born, and whose consequences condemn us all to ecological Armageddon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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