Category Archives: Civil and human rights
On January 30, 2019, Allan Nairn, an award-wining American investigative journalist whose opinion I trust, was on “Democracy Now” talking about the current situation in Venezuela. He admitted that the regime of democratically elected Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, has become increasingly unpopular, not only with the rich, the US, and the corporate world, but also with the ordinary and poor Venezuelans who supported former president Hugo Chavez. Nairn reminded us that the US supported a coup in 2002 to topple Chavez, because it can’t accept a government in Latin America that doesn’t go along with the corporate program. That’s the background to today’s situation, in which Maduro tolerates governmental corruption and orders brutal crackdowns on anti-government demonstrations, while the Trump administration maintains sanctions that increase the country’s problems and appears more than willing to invade Venezuela militarily to establish a puppet government.
Nairn told Amy Goodman, “I think the proper role for the U.S. at this moment is, one, to lift the sanctions, lift the stranglehold that’s currently increasing the level of hunger. There’s a level of misery in Venezuela that was already caused by the incompetence of this government, but the U.S. has done everything it can to increase it. And secondly, disavow the invasion option, and then step back. Some people in the Democratic Party are floating the idea of the U.S. trying to mediate a political solution for Venezuela. But that’s not appropriate. The U.S. has no standing to be a mediator, a disinterested third party. It’s on the side of the right and the rich who are trying to topple Maduro’s government. It’s somewhat comparable to Israel-Palestine, where, for years, the U.S. has claimed to be an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians, when in fact, everyone knows the U.S. is on the side of the Israelis and against the aspirations of the Palestinians to have their legal rights under international law enforced.
You would need an outside party as a mediator that has some credibility, maybe a figure like the pope or some outside countries. A couple of years ago the pope was involved in such an effort, but he received no backing from the U.S. at the time, because they don’t really want a political solution that leads to a truly open political field where all options are available, where a different government, one that’s pro-poor and anti-U.S., could gain power. If you had a genuinely open political process in Venezuela, a political outcome like that is conceivable. But the U.S. would never tolerate it. So they’re now trying to engineer a way for the U.S. to regain control. And to do that, they’ll be willing to use violence if and as necessary.”
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.”
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 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.”