Category Archives: Civil and human rights

Which of the dead should we respect?

Uncritically praising and fondly remembering a famous person when they die, as is being done now in all the mainstream media after the death of former president George H.W. Bush and was done recently when Senator John McCain died, is an insidious form of national propaganda. I’m sure it’s done in the name of “respect for the dead,” but isn’t respecting the nameless folks whose deaths were caused by these powerful men more important? It is to me, though I realize that as an anti-war far-leftist, I probably represent a small minority. Still, I think we all could stand to be more thoughtful about our history.

Bush was undoubtedly a “good person” as an individual, but in public life he was a privileged millionaire Republican, who represented the interests of other members of the corporate elite and continued and initiated destructive US foreign policies, which try to control the world for that elite’s benefit. During his year as CIA director under President Ford (1976-77), for example, he actively supported the murderous and repressive Operation Condor operations of right-wing military dictatorships in Latin America.

Operation Condor, as noted in Wikipedia, was “a US–backed campaign of political repression and state terror involving intelligence operations and the assassination of opponents, officially implemented in 1975 by the right-wing dictatorships of the Southern Cone of South America. The program, nominally intended to eradicate communist or Soviet influence and ideas, was created to suppress active or potential opposition movements against the participating governments’ neoliberal economic policies, which sought to reverse the economic policies of the previous era. Officially, the targets were armed revolutionary groups, but the governments broadened their attacks against all kinds of political opponents and their families. The Argentine ‘Dirty War,’ part of this phenomenon, resulted in approximately 30,000 being kidnapped, tortured, and killed. All in all, the dictatorships and their intelligence services were responsible for tens of thousands of killed and missing people in the period between 1975 and 1985. Victims included dissidents and leftists, union and peasant leaders, priests and nuns, students and teachers, and intellectuals.”

Bush, Sr. didn’t initiate US cooperation with and aid to Operation Condor – that was the arch-war-criminal Henry Kissinger – but he continued it with no apparent qualms. Wikipedia says “the United States provided key organizational, financial and technical assistance to the operation into the 1980s, sponsoring and collaborating with intelligence organizations in Condor countries. Evidence shows that it was aware of the relevant coups and planning of human rights violations before they occurred and did not step in to prevent them.”

As president, Bush was responsible for the invasion of Panama in 1989 and the Gulf War (August 2, 1990 – February 28, 1991). Both of these military actions, in the American backyard of Central America and the oil-rich Middle East – key areas of US control – were initiated to remove former US puppets becoming too independent/no longer serving their purpose: Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein. Noriega ended up in prison and the US was able to install a new puppet in Panama, but Saddam Hussein wasn’t ousted until Bush’s son, George W., launched a new and much more costly military action, the 2003-2011 Iraq War.

What was the cost of the Panama invasion? Wikipediasays that “the US reported 23 servicemen killed and 324 wounded, with Panamanian casualties estimated around 450. Described as a surgical maneuver, the action led to estimates of civilian death from 200 to 4,000 during the two weeks of armed activities. The United Nations put the Panamanian civilian death toll at 500, the United States gave a figure of 202 civilians killed, and former US attorney general Ramsey Clark estimated 4,000 deaths. The number of US civilians (and their dependents) working for the Panama Canal Commission and the US military, who were killed by Panamanian Defense Forces, has never been fully disclosed.

On December 29th, the United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution calling the intervention in Panama a ‘flagrant violation of international law and of the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of’ Panama. A similar resolution in the Security Council was vetoed by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France.

The urban population, many living below the poverty level, was greatly affected by the 1989 intervention. As pointed out in 1995 by a UN Technical Assistance Mission to Panama, the bombardments during the invasion displaced 20,000 people. The economic damage caused by the intervention has been estimated between 1.5 and 2 billion dollars.”

How about the Gulf War (Desert Shield and Desert Storm)? According to Wikipedia, “the increased importance of air attacks from both coalition warplanes and cruise missiles led to controversy over the number of civilian deaths caused during Desert Storm’s initial stages. Within Desert Storm’s first 24 hours, more than 1,000 sorties were flown, many against targets in Baghdad. The city was the target of heavy bombing, as it was the seat of power for Saddam and the Iraqi forces’ command and control. This ultimately led to civilian casualties. In one noted incident, two USAF stealth planes bombed a bunker in Amiriyah, causing the deaths of 408 Iraqi civilians who were in the shelter.

The Iraqi government claimed that 2,300 civilians died during the air campaign. According to a Project on Defense Alternatives study, 3,664 Iraqi civilians were killed in the conflict. A Harvard University study predicted tens of thousands of additional Iraqi civilians deaths by the end of 1991 due to the ‘public health catastrophe’ caused by the destruction of the country’s electrical generating capacity. ‘Without electricity, hospitals cannot function, perishable medicines spoil, water cannot be purified, and raw sewage cannot be processed,” the report said. The US government refused to release its own study of the effects of the Iraqi public health crisis.

An investigation by Beth Osborne Daponte estimated total civilian fatalities at about 3,500 from bombing, and some 100,000 from the war’s other effects. Daponte later raised her estimate of the number of Iraqi deaths caused directly and indirectly by the Gulf War to just over 200,000.

A United Nations report in March 1991 described the effect on Iraq of the US-led bombing campaign as ‘near apocalyptic,’ bringing Iraq back to the ‘pre-industrial age.’

The exact number of Iraqi combat casualties is unknown, but is believed to have been heavy. Some estimate that Iraq sustained between 20,000 and 35,000 fatalities. A report commissioned by the US Air Force estimated 10,000–12,000 Iraqi combat deaths in the air campaign, and as many as 10,000 casualties in the ground war.

The US Department of Defense reports that US forces suffered 148 battle-related deaths (35 from friendly fire). A further 145 Americans died in non-combat accidents. The UK suffered 47 deaths (nine from friendly fire, all by US forces), France nine, and the other countries, not including Kuwait, suffered 37 deaths (18 Saudis, one Egyptian, six UAE, and three Qataris).

Many returning coalition soldiers reported illnesses following their action in the war, a phenomenon known as Gulf War syndrome. Common symptoms were reported chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and gastrointestinal disorder. Infants born to male veterans also had higher rates of heart valve and kidney defects. Many have cited the use of depleted uranium in armaments as a contributing factor to a number of major health issues in veterans and surrounding civilian populations, including birth defects and child cancer. In 2004, Iraq had the highest mortality rate due to leukemia of any country.”

 

Why Honduran migrants are fleeing their country

Most of this post is an edited version of yesterday’s interview by Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman and Juan González with Professor Dana Frank, who’s just published a book calledThe Long Honduran Night: Resistance, Terror, and the United States in the Aftermath of the Coup. But before I get to the interview, I want to give you a few facts about Honduras from Wikipedia: “Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate and high levels of sexual violence…

In the late 19th century, it granted land and substantial exemptions to several U.S.-based fruit companies, which built an enclave economy in northern Honduras, controlling infrastructure and creating self-sufficient, tax-exempt sectors that contributed relatively little to economic growth. American troops landed in Honduras in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924 and 1925. [Repression in aid of corporate interests?] In 1904, the writer O. Henry coined the term ‘banana republic’ to describe Honduras. According to a literary analyst writing for The Economist, ‘his phrase refers to the fruit companies from the United States that came to exert extraordinary influence over the politics of Honduras and its neighbors.’

During the early 1980s, the United States established a continuing military presence in Honduras to support the Contra guerrillas fighting the revolutionary Sandinista government in Nicaragua [can’t let any government devoted to meeting the needs of the people survive in “our” backyard]. Though spared the bloody civil wars wracking its neighbors, the Honduran army quietly waged campaigns against Marxist–Leninist militias such as the Cinchoneros Popular Liberation Movement, and against many non-militants as well. The operation included a CIA-backed campaign of extrajudicial killings by government-backed units [“death squads”].

In 1998, Hurricane Mitch destroyed 70% of the country’s crops and 70–80% of the transportation infrastructure, including nearly all bridges and secondary roads. Across Honduras 33,000 houses were destroyed, and an additional 50,000 damaged. Some 5,000 people killed, and 12,000 more injured. Total losses were estimated at $3 billion.

In 2007, Honduran president Manuel Zelaya and George W. Bush began talks on U.S. assistance to Honduras to tackle the latter’s growing drug cartels, using U.S. Special Forces. This marked the beginning of a new foothold for the U.S. military’s continued presence in Central America.

In 2008, Honduras suffered severe floods, which damaged or destroyed around half of the roads.

In 2009, a constitutional crisis resulted when the head of the Honduran Congress took power from Zelaya, the democratically elected president. The Organization of American States (OAS) suspended Honduras because it didn’t feel its government was legitimate, but the U.S. supported the coup, condemned as such by countries around the world and the United Nations.

The U.S. maintains a small military presence at one Honduran base. The two countries conduct [rather unsuccessful] counter-narcotics and other exercises.

The United States is Honduras’ chief trading partner, with coffee and bananas as the main imports.

The nation’s per capita income sits at around $600, making it one of the lowest in the Americas. In 2010, 50% of the population were living below the poverty line, and this had increased to 66% by 2016.  Estimates put unemployment at about 27.9%, which is more than 1.2 million Hondurans. Following the 2009 coup, trends of decreasing poverty and extreme poverty were reversed. The nation saw a poverty increase of 13.2% and an extreme poverty increase of 26.3% in just 3 years. Unemployment also increased dramatically. Levels of income inequality in Honduras are higher than in any other Latin American country. Unlike other Latin American countries, inequality steadily increased in Honduras between 1991 and 2005. Poverty is concentrated in southern, eastern, and western regions where rural and indigenous peoples live.

Sexual violence against women has caused many to migrate to the U.S. Femicide is widespread in Honduras. In 2014, 40% of unaccompanied refugee minors were female. Gangs are largely responsible for sexual violence against women as they often use sexual violence. Between 2005 and 2013 according to the UN Special Repporteur on Violence Against Women, violent deaths increased 263.4%. Impunity for sexual violence and femicide crimes was 95% in 2014. Additionally, many girls are forced into human trafficking and prostitution.

Official statistics from the Honduran Observatory on National Violence show that Honduras’ homicide rate was 60 per 100,000 in 2015, with the majority of homicide cases unprosecuted. Highway assaults and carjackings at roadblocks or checkpoints set up by criminals with police uniforms and equipment [police moonlighting?] occur frequently. Although reports of kidnappings of foreigners are not common, families of kidnapping victims often pay ransoms without reporting the crime to police out of fear of retribution, so kidnapping figures may be underreported.”

 

Dana Frank on how a U.S.-backed Coup in Honduras fueled the migrant crisis, Democracy Now!, 11-29-18

AMY GOODMAN: As the United States continues to face criticism for tear-gassing asylum seekers on the U.S.-Mexico border, we look at the crisis in Honduras and why so many Hondurans are fleeing their homeland. Honduras has become one of the most violent countries in the world because of its devastating drug war and a political crisis that stems in part from a U.S.-backed coup in 2009. We speak with Dana Frank, professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her new book is The Long Honduran Night: Resistance, Terror, and the United States in the Aftermath of the Coup.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Could talk about the night of terror that’s descended on Honduras, especially following the 2009 coup against President Zelaya?

DANA FRANK: When you read the interviews or the mainstream news reports about why the migrants in the caravan are fleeing, they say they’re “fleeing gangs and violence and poverty.” True, but what’s missing from that narrative is where the gangs, violence, and poverty come from. It’s not a natural disaster, but the result of the deliberate policies of the governments that came to power in the aftermath of the coup, most recently the illegal government of Juan Orlando Hernández.

The violence and the gang terror come from the almost complete destruction of the rule of law. The coup, itself a criminal act, opened the door for every kind of conceivable criminal activity. Gangs and drug trafficking proliferated, infiltrating throughout the police and military. The government itself is implicated in the gangs and that people are fleeing. So it’s not just random violence – it’s a U.S.-backed regime that’s in cahoots with it. A lot of people are fleeing gangs because their small businesses are being destroyed by gang taxes. And the police cooperate with the gangs in extracting these taxes.

The second factor here is poverty, because people are very much fleeing poverty, but their poverty again is the direct result of post-coup policies. First of all, the state itself has been destroyed by the neoliberal policies of multilateral development banks like the International Monetary Fund. State services have also been destroyed because the elites that run the government are robbing it blind. For example, the president and his party stole as many as $90 million from the health service in 2013 to pay for their campaigns, and now the national health service doesn’t function. The sectors of the economy that are supposed to be the growth sectors are also destroying livelihoods. For example, palm oil production is being imposed at the point of a gun, with campesinos trying to defend other forms of agriculture being killed. Extractive mining projects and hydroelectric dams are forcing indigenous peoples off their land, and that’s why Berta Cáceres, the environmental activist leader, was killed in 2016. Tourism is forcing the Afro-Indigenous Garifuna people off their land at the point of a gun. The only other functional sectors are agriculture and the maquiladora sector, which is apparel and electronics factories for the export market. And those are very, very destructive of people’s bodies under really repressive working conditions. So, when we hear about economic development in Honduras, it’s actually accelerating this destruction, along with the gang activity that’s destroying small businesses.

Those who are trying to have an alternative economic future for Honduras through Libre, the opposition party, through social movements at the base, are the people getting tear-gassed just like at the U.S. border. These are the people that are getting assassinated. The journalists that report on this alternative vision and the people who would like some kind of democratic alternative are being repressed.

JG: I wanted to ask you about the repression in the countryside, because I thought that was some of the most graphic material that you have in your book about the escalation of the repression in 2011 after Manuel Zelaya came back as a result of a brokered agreement. In places like the Aguán Valley, the campesinos were subjected to mass repression.

DF: Some of that is because the campesinos, who had these collectives that had been in place for a long time and were being forced off their land, started re-occupying land that they’d been forced off of by neoliberal policies pushed by members of the elite, especially Miguel Facussé and his Dinant corporation. They were killed off one by one, two by two, in what we could call a slow-moving massacre. As many as 150 campesinoshave been assassinated in the Aguán Valley since 2010.

AG: I want to go back to 2009 when there was a coup in Honduras and the democratically elected leader, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, spoke on Democracy Now! about what happened to him.

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] They attacked my house at 5:30 in the morning. A group of at least 200 to 250 armed soldiers with hoods and bulletproof vests and rifles aimed their guns at me, fired shots, used machine guns, kicked down the doors. And just as I was, in pajamas, they put me on a plane and flew me to Costa Rica. This all happened in less than 45 minutes.

AG: That was Manuel Zelaya. Democracy Now! followed him back to Honduras after the brokered agreement – we flew on the plane with him from Nicaragua to Honduras. But then a new regime was put in place, the coup regime of Porfirio Lobo, whose son has now been sentenced to well over 20 years in prison for drug trafficking. Juan, when you interviewed Hillary Clinton when she was running for president, you asked her about her support, U.S. support for the coup when she was Secretary of State. Dana, can you talk about the extent of this support and why you see it linked to what we’re seeing with the migrants today? As you say, these are refugees from U.S. policy.

DF: Well, we don’t have a smoking gun that shows the U.S. backed the coup from before it happened, but all of the evidence is very clear that it wanted the coup to stabilize after it took place, that it recognized the bogus election of November 2009 that brought Porfirio Lobo to power, and that it’s continued to recognize the leaders of the ongoing coup regime, especially Juan Orlando Hernández, even though he has probably stole an election in 2013. He also ran for president last year in violation of the Honduran constitution, which bans reelection, and stole it from the united opposition which very clearly won. So it’s not just a question of the U.S. supporting the 2009 coup itself. It could have recognized Xiomara Castro, Zelaya’s wife, when she won the election in 2013. It could have protested when Juan Orlando Hernández overthrew the Supreme Court in 2012 when he was president of Congress. It could have protested when he ran for reelection. And of course, it could have called for a new election last winter, or recognized the real winner. The U.S. has given this post-coup regime green light after green light after green light. It’s an ongoing policy.

AG: Now we have a situation where thousands of Hondurans are fleeing to the U.S. border. Your response to the tear-gassing of the migrants? And also Mexico’s incoming foreign minister, not the government of Peña Nieto but the government of AMLO, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, saying that they’ll allow the migrants to wait on Mexican soil, but that in return, the U.S. government should pay at least $20 billion for Marshall Plan-style programming to develop the economies of Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

DF: Obviously the use of the tear gas fired into a foreign country against people exercising their legal rights is terrifying, as is the presence of the U.S. military at the border in violation of the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act. This militarized response to the refugees is morally disturbing, to say the least. Since 2014, the U.S.-funded and trained Honduran military has also actively stopped people from leaving their country. And the same tear gas, which is often manufactured in the United States, has been used against peaceful protesters and bystanders in Honduras for years. It was used last week against protests on the anniversary of the stolen election.

As far as the $20 billion Marshall Plan goes, people might remember that after the so-called crisis on unaccompanied children coming to the U.S. in 2014, the Obama administration’s response was something called the Biden Plan, promoted by Vice President Joe Biden, that wanted to give $1 billion to the governments of the so-called Northern Triangle of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador in order to stop migration and address root causes. And if you look at that, $750 million of which was eventually funded by Congress, it’s pouring precisely into the same security forces and sectors of the economy that are causing the very repression, the very destruction of the economy that people are fleeing.

Of course we’re all watching to see what López Obrador is going to do in Mexico, and of course the Honduran economy needs to be rebuilt, but not according to a model run by the current U.S. government and the repressive regime of Juan Orlando Hernández and the Honduran elites. That’s what’s so terrifying here –  pouring money into the same model, when you’re just handing money over to the elites to steal and use it to terrorize their people over and over again at higher and higher levels. [That’s what it’s all about: elite control, preferably white and male, everywhere.]

JG: Dana, one of the most interesting parts of your book is your portrayal of the enormous and widespread popular movement that developed after the coup against Zelaya. You say that back in the 1980s, Honduras was a relatively quiet place, while El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala were all embroiled in major civil conflicts – uprisings and government repression. But I remember being in Honduras in 1990, and it was then a terrorized state – there were military all over the place – but there wasn’t the kind of popular movement that somehow developed after the coup against Zelaya. Could you talk about that?

DF: There was an active left in Honduras in the ’80’s, but on a much smaller scale than in the other countries, and tremendously repressed by some of the figures that are popping up again since the coup. The Honduran resistance was and still is a tremendously beautiful thing that was a great surprise, though in retrospect, you could see the social movements that were building at the grassroots in the women’s movement, the campesino movement, the indigenous movement, the Afro-Indigenous movement, and human rights defenders.

When the coup happened, people poured into the streets and formed this tremendous coalition called the National Front of Popular Resistance, known as the Frente or the Resistencia, which was an amazing coalition, not just of the folks I just named but of the labor movement, the LGBT movement, and people committed to the constitutional rule of law. It wasn’t about so-called Zelaya supporters as it was often framed, but people who were committed to a positive transformation of Honduras. That resistance was a beautiful thing, and in the first chapter of my book, I wanted the reader to feel the joy of it — the terror and the joy, the creativity, the music, the humor, the bravery, the graffiti, and the way it changed Honduran culture and made people proud of their resistance and helped them discover ties across different social movements in a massive coalition of the kind that we fantasize about in the United States today. Unfortunately, that resistance has been repressed over and over again, and a lot of its key figures are now in exile. People have been killed, and journalists that covered it have been killed or are in exile. It’s been terrifying to watch that repression, but Hondurans have it in their hearts that they know what they can do and they can feel a beautiful sense of solidarity.

 

 

The Muslim ban

On June 26th, the Supreme Court handed the president a huge victory in Trump v. Hawaii, the case challenging the legality of his executive order barring citizens of five Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. The verdict upholding the ban generated a wave of condemnation across the country, as well as comparisons to some of the most ignominious court decisions in U.S. history.

The same day, in an episode of his podcast, “Deconstructed,” journalist Mehdi Hasan went over “some of the patently absurd and dishonest arguments made in favor of the ban by Trump and by his Republican apologists over the past year and a half. This is about national security, they said. Despite the fact that the number of Americans killed on U.S. soil by citizens from countries on the banned list is exactly zero. This is about vetting refugees from Syria, they said. Despite the fact that it is near-impossible for a Syrian refugee to get into the United States without already going through quote-unquote ‘extreme vetting’ by both the United Nations and the FBI.

This isn’t about security, this isn’t about vetting, this Muslim ban is about white nationalism, just as stripping brown kids from their parents at the border isn’t about security or vetting; it’s about white nationalism. Wake up America, wake up media, and smell the racist coffee. This is not a drill. This is the real thing; the United States is being governed by a group of racists, nationalists and, yes, wannabe fascists, who it turns out have the full blessing and protection of a nakedly partisan and rigged judiciary. Let’s not forget that the Republican 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court this morning only happened because the Republican Party stole a Supreme Court seat that should have been filled by President Obama in his last year in office.

But, look: We can complain all we want about Supreme Court fixes and the pro-Trump Electoral College, but we are where we are. We now have to look forward, not back. How do we push back against decisions like this going forward? How do we stand with those families who won’t be able to see or meet the people they love because of this cruel and discriminatory ban? How do we make a stand with kids from Muslim communities, minority communities, migrant communities, who are seeing kids being banned from the U.S., who are seeing kids being stripped from their parent? How do we make sure that we don’t become immune to this stuff, and turn a blind eye to it? Because there’s so much of this racist, discriminatory stuff around. It’s exhausting. Last week it was caged kids, this week it’s the Muslim ban; it’s easy to want to switch off and look away.

But we can’t afford to. And I say this to my American friends and neighbors, as well to my fellow journalists here in the United States: We Muslims, and our Latino brothers and sisters at the border, are the canaries in the coal mine, and we’re not just chirping right now, we’re screaming. This is not a drill.

My guest today is one of America’s leading progressive politicians, the first-ever Muslim American to be elected to the United States Congress and now running for attorney general of the state of Minnesota. Who better to speak to for reaction to this horrific Supreme Court ruling than Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison, who’s also deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee, the DNC? Keith, you’ve been very active on Twitter this morning talking about this. Give us your initial response to this verdict from the Supreme Court.”

KE: This is really sad because we’ve seen these kinds of failures by Supreme Courts over the years. We all know Dred Scott, where they ratified slavery. We know Plessy, where they said separate but equal. They ratified Korematsu, where they said it was OK to intern Japanese Americans, U.S. citizens. So this is an ugly issue, but there’s also another history and that is people pushing back, people fighting back, people litigating, marching, protesting, speaking out and that is what I’m counting on now.

MH: Yeah. A lot of people, today, are going to be very dejected, really dispirited. The whole reason this ban got to the Supreme Court was because lower-level federal judges took on the Trump administration and shot it down as discriminatory. Now it’s gone to the highest court in the land and they’ve rubber-stamped it. Where do we go legally, judicially from here? You’re running for attorney general of Minnesota; a lot of states attorney generals have tried to push back against Trump. What’s the legal strategy, before we get to the politics. Is there any?

KE: Well, I think that there absolutely is, because the Supreme Court made a decision that I think is wrong, that’s not based on the facts. We could continue this battle in the courts, and we should, since real people are aggrieved and separated from their families. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve had a stellar life. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve had an exemplary history. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a two year-old girl. It just matters what your religion and your country is, and I don’t believe that can stand. In order to overrule this decision, we need another case. We have to keep up the fight and not relent. I’m committed to it. That’s why I’m running for attorney general of the State of Minnesota, to protect people’s rights.

MH: We have a Supreme Court that’s not really about the law, the precedent, or the principle. They’re a highly partisan, carefully selected group of politicians, and I expect we’ll see more bad decisions that favor the powerful over regular people, that allow the big to roll over the small. These are the kind of decisions that Neil Gorsuch specializes in. He doesn’t need to know what the law and the history and the facts are. He just needs to know who’s got the money and the power, and then he knows whose side he’s on. What’s your message to Americans listening to you today on a dark day like this in American history? What’s your message to Americans, especially Muslim Americans? What would you say to someone like my 11-year-old daughter who’s wondering what her place is in the country, with the Supreme Court ruling like this?

KE: What I say to her is that we love her, that she’s safe, that her family is with her, and that her community is looking forward to her offering her leadership to this nation. I say: Go run for student council. Go be a leader in your community. Go offer your leadership, your talent, and your skills, because it’s you who’s going to lead us forward, not these people who let hate drive them. That’s what I say to your wonderful, blessed young daughter. Because I know she’s a little nervous, but she has all of us around her, and she’s our hope.

MH: Congressman Keith Ellison, thanks for joining me on Deconstructed.

KE: You bet, buddy. Take care.

MH: For more on the impact of the travel ban on the ground, inside of Muslim-American, Arab-American, Iranian-American communities who are suffering as a direct result of this ban and now of this Supreme Court ruling, I’m joined by Debbie Almontaser, one of the co-founders of the Yemeni-American Merchants Association.

Debbie, when you heard the news of the Supreme Court ruling upholding this Muslim ban, what was your response?

DA: I felt like someone punched me so hard in the stomach. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I was trying very hard to be optimistic and say to myself, you know, the Constitution is on our side, this is a country that was built on the back of immigrants, this is a country that was built on freedom of religion and expression. But today’s decision didn’t uphold these great values.

MH: You’re a Yemeni-American immigrant who came to this country as a child, right?

DA: Yes. I came at the age of three.

MH: And you came with your family. You now have a family, a community in New York and beyond. Members of your family, your own children have served in the armed forces and the police, I believe. You’ve done a lot for this country, your family, and the Yemeni-American community. And now people from your community can’t see members of their own family because of this ban.

DA: That’s correct. My phone and text messaging has been off the hook with people calling and saying, “What does this mean?” “Is my daughter going to be able to come?” “Is my wife going to be able to come?”And, I have to say, this is truly a betrayal to the existence of my family, seven of whom have served in the U.S. Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have family members in the New York Police Department. I have family members who are teachers, you know, civil servants. And this is saying to me and my family, “You don’t belong here,” when, in fact, we’ve been a part of the American fabric and building this nation.

MH: And your father, who brought you to this country, I believe he passed away. How do you think he would feel if he were alive today to see the Supreme Court ruling? He came here as an immigrant — to build a life for his family, for his kids, for his community — from Yemen.

DA: My father, today, would be devastated to hear this. When we first came to the United States, his thing was: “You’re an American now. You’re going to get educated, you’re going to work, you’re going to be a part of this country. You don’t need to speak your language, talk about your culture. You’re American.” And I know that if he were here today, he’d be absolutely devastated, because this isn’t the country that welcomed him and gave him an opportunity to raise his children in America.

MH: Where do we go from here? We’ve seen so much protesting, so many examples of people taking to the streets, and yet the Supreme Court comes along and says: This is all fine. This is all legal. Where do you as an activist go from here?

DA: Well, where we go from here is we continue to resist this decision. For example, today, at 6 PM, we’re congregating at Foley Square in New York City with thousands of Yemeni Americans and other impacted countries, along with our allies and organizers. This isn’t over. We have to stay strong, we have to stay committed, and we’ll get through this. The best and greatest way for us to combat all of this is to make sure that people across this nation are registered to vote, and when it comes to the presidential race, we put this administration out of its misery.

MH: What would you say to a young Muslim-American kid who’s listening to this podcast, who wonders about his or her place in America?

DA: Be proud of who you are and where you came from. Stay strong. Don’t let this break you. You have people like me and other activists in your community, and outside of your community, who believe in you and believe in your right to exist with respect and dignity in this nation.

 

 

Trump’s immigration policies are illegal

Trump’s immigration policies are against both international and US law. As Juan Cole writes in an article published yesterday on common dreams.org, they’re also part of an “overall refugee policy. In essence, the Trump administration is attempting gradually to abolish the acceptance by the US of asylum seekers, in stark contravention to US treaty obligations and hence to domestic US law. These measures are being taken at a time when the world refugee crisis is more acute, with 68 million displaced, than at any time since World War II.

From October 15, 2017 to the present, only 15,383 refugees were legally admitted to the US. In previous years up to 40% of those given asylum were Muslims, but almost none of those recently admitted are. Refugee rights organizations reckon that the US will accept only 25,000 refugees this year, down from 110,000 in Obama’s last year. Trump had reduced the ceiling for refugees to 50,000, but has put in place obstacles to the process that result in only half that number coming in.

The United States didn’t sign the 1951 Convention on the Treatment of Refugees, which concerned the refugees created by WWII, but did sign the 1967 Protocol to that treaty, which commits it to abide by articles 2-34 of the Convention and to apply its provisions to those made refugees after WWII. The Protocol binds Trump to act in concert with the UN High Commissioner on Refugees, who has just denounced Trump.

Jeff Sessions is not abiding by the terms of the Protocol. Although he keeps maintaining in public that refugees will have their applications for asylum processed if they present them at a regular border crossing, the evidence is that such applications are being summarily dismissed by immigration officials, who – against the law – aren’t permitting asylum-seekers access to counsel or judges. As for his policy of arresting undocumented immigrants for the misdemeanor of crossing the border even where they are asylum-seekers from political persecution, this is a violation of international and of US domestic law.

Relief Web points out that ‘under Article 31 of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, to which the United States is bound by its accession to the 1967 Refugee Protocol, parties “shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.”’

Sessions has also removed abuse of women as a grounds for seeking asylum, even though in Honduras and other countries from which asylum-seekers come, police and authoritarian males often use abuse and rape as methods of controlling and silencing women dissidents.”

 

Disposable people

Not only does yesterday’s executive order reversing Trump’s policy of separating families at the border do nothing about the three to four thousand separated children now suffering psychological damage in ICE facilities, it raises the specter of families detained together indefinitely in ICE camps — an equally scary and inhumane policy.

Guatemalans and others are fleeing dangers many of which have been created by past US foreign policy, so, in fact, we owe them a safe refuge.

We need to demand an end to all policies and practices based on the idea that certain large groups of people are dispensable, disposable, and not to be cared about. Look around — there are many — US support for the Saudi war against Yemeni civilians and for the Israeli war against Palestinians being glaring examples.

Oh, yeah — almost all of these “disposable” people are poor and black or brown. And the people creating the policies killing them, at least in this country, are white hypocritical “Christians.” But as the vestments worn by the leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign say, “Jesus was a poor man.” His work developed out of similar cruelty and oppression — in this case, by the Roman Empire — against the poor, brown people of Judea. No way would he support the cruelty and oppression perpetrated and supported by the American Empire against “disposable” (because powerless) people today.

Well, you know what? We’re not powerless if we join together and demand something different. Let’s do that. Power to the people!