Saturday, June 04, 2005


By William Fisher

If enthusiastic White House and Congressional support could solve America’s public diplomacy problems, Dina Habib Powell would be well on her way to becoming a national heroine.

The Egypt-born Ms. Powell, currently the top personnel official at the White House, is about to be confirmed as President Bush’s choice to be Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). She will supervise all international student and other cultural exchange programs and serve as senior deputy to Karen Hughes, the long-time Bush confidante who has been nominated to direct all U.S. public diplomacy efforts.

Powell, whose parents emigrated from Egypt when she was a child, speaks fluent Arabic. She has risen quickly through Republican Party ranks, serving in the personnel office of the Bush-Cheney transition team and as Director of Congressional Affairs for the Republican National Committee.

At her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (May 26), New Hampshire Republican Senator John Sununu, himself an Arab-American, observed, “Ms. Powell was born in the Middle East but raised in the United States. Who better to understand many of the challenges that lie before us, particularly in engaging with the Muslim world?”

And Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin – a consistent critic of the Bush Administration and the only senator to vote against the USA Patriot Act --applauded Powell’s dedication to dialogue and assured her, “you will have strong allies on both sides of the aisle.”

Addressing the committee, Ms. Powell acknowledged the challenges facing American public diplomacy efforts. She said, “Our nation must engage with the rest of the world. But to be successful, we must listen. Our interaction with the world must be a conversation, not a monologue.”

She said she is committed to widening the “two-way highway of people-to-people exchange,” adding that she would work to “ensure international students know they are welcome at U.S. colleges, encourage more women and girls to participate in exchange programs, and enlist the private sector more fully in our public diplomacy efforts.”

ECA-sponsored exchange programs have served more than 800,000 people from 185 countries, including more than 200 former or current heads of state and 1,500 cabinet ministers.

However, post-9/11, the difficulties of obtaining student visas and Muslim fear of ‘Islamophobia’ in the U.S. have caused a precipitous decline in foreign enrollments in American colleges.

Powell has also expressed her views on public diplomacy during trips abroad. In Egypt, she addressed the perception that the U.S. is attempting to impose its ideas of democracy on others. She said, “We do not wish to impose reform. It is not our place. We want to listen to the voices of the region and where it is appropriate, lend a helping hand.”

She said that the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 triggered a “psyche change for the American people”. Despite that, she added, one day later, “the president visited a mosque, took off his shoes and paid his respects, and said 'this should not [make people] even begin to think about discrimination against people of Arab descent’. Shortly thereafter, racial profiling was made a federal crime.”

However, human rights organizations charge that racial profiling and harassment of Muslim- and Arab-Americans are still being practiced by government agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), the body within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) responsible for screening airline passengers and maintaining Federal ‘no-fly’ lists.

Despite the high profile nominations of Karen Hughes and Dina Powell, America’s public diplomacy efforts remain problematic, particularly in the Middle East. Opinions of the U.S. remain at an historic low. And the country’s expensive broadcasting operations, including the Arabic-language satellite TV channel, Al Hurra, have to date failed to attract significant audiences.

Commenting on Powell’s nomination, Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland, said, “People are not going to legitimize the policy because someone is speaking Arabic to them.”

Criticisms of America’s current public diplomacy efforts have come both from home and abroad.

A number of U.S. and overseas commissions and think-tank reports have faulted the Bush Administration for not fully explaining U.S. policies and practices, including the invasion of Iraq, the Arab-Israeli dispute, rendition of detainees to countries where they would likely face torture, and prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

Typical was a report issued late last year by a bipartisan commission appointed by President Bush. It concluded that the American campaign to communicate its ideas and ideals, particularly to Muslim audiences, was “uncoordinated and underfunded, and risks sending contradictory messages about U.S. intentions.”

The United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy said that one of the few successful initiatives -- exchange programs between US and foreign students -- has been burdened by ''redundant" security measures and ''excessive" visa fees.

Another report, by the Middle East Institute in Washington and the Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, that said, Americans “have to learn that ignoring the feeling of peoples in the Arab world and their desire for justice and dignity can only lead to expanding the pool of terrorists, rather than drying it up.”

The Brookings Institution, a highly respected Washington-based think-tank, also found U.S. communications efforts “not only under-resourced, but also lacking an effective strategic direction, particularly towards the Islamic world.”

And Dr. John Brown, who resigned from the State Department in opposition to the invasion of Iraq and who is now a research associate at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., told IPS, “The objective of public diplomacy should be to win long-term friends for the U.S. One way to do that is to respect others, which the administration seems incapable of. The Bush White House doesn't really believe in diplomacy -- if it did, would it select John Bolton as U.S. Ambassador to the UN -- so how can it possibly believe in public diplomacy"?


By William Fisher

Fifty-five years ago this summer, two white men abducted, tortured and killed a 14-year-old black youth, Emmett Till, allegedly for whistling at a white store clerk while on a visit to Mississippi.

An all-white jury acquitted the clerk’s husband and half-brother in a state court trial most regard as a farce.

Till's murder proved to be one of the catalyzing events of the civil rights movement. Black leaders, religious and labor organizations and numerous public officials called on the Justice Department (DOJ) to act. But Federal authorities claimed, erroneously, that only state officials could prosecute racially motivated crimes.

Rosa Parks – often hailed as “the mother of the civil rights movement” -- has said that it was the Till murder that motivated her to refuse to move to the back of an Alabama bus from the ‘white’ seating section in 1955. Her action would lead, almost a decade later, to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ending racial segregation in public accommodations and services in the U.S.

Last year, after relentless pressure from civil rights, labor and religious leaders, the FBI finally reopened its investigation into Till's murder, and two weeks ago exhumed his body to perform DNA and other analyses to determine that the body is indeed that of Emmett Till. After identity has been determined, investigators will seek clues about how Till died. No autopsy was ever performed on the young body found in a river wrapped in barbed wire.

It was similar evidence that led to the 1994 conviction white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith in the 1963 shooting death of civil rights activist Medgar Evers, whose body was exhumed in 1991.

And since 1989, federal authorities have re-examined 22 deaths from the civil rights era and made 25 arrests, leading to 16 convictions, two acquittals and one mistrial.

Perhaps the most famous of these trials was for the murder of civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, Mickey Schwerner and James Chaney, who were targeted for their Freedom Summer work challenging segregation. The trio was intercepted by three carloads of Ku Klux Klansmen near Philadelphia, Mississippi, in 1964. They were shot, and their bodies buried beneath a 15-foot earthen dam. Federal officials conducted a massive hunt for the three, but it was ultimately a Klan informant who led them to the bodies.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said more than 20 men took part in the killing plot by the Klan, and 18 were indicted and tried. The jury convicted seven defendants. Eight others were acquitted. The jury was unable to reach a verdict in three other cases.

The judge in the case, an ardent segregationist, sentenced two of the men to ten years, two others to six years, and the other three to four years. The judge said of his sentences, "They killed one nigger, one Jew, and a white man -- I gave them all what I thought they deserved."

The convictions in the case represented the first ever in Mississippi for the killing of a civil rights worker. The investigation and trial later became the basis for the film “Mississippi Burning”.

But more than a dozen Mississippi civil-rights-era murder cases remain
un-reopened and un-investigated. These include:

Rev. George Lee, a minister who preached about voting rights in black Baptist churches more than a decade before the height of the civil rights movement, was driving home in 1955 when he was hit with gunfire from a passing car. The County sheriff quickly claimed his death was a traffic accident. Asked about the lead pellets taken from Lee's face and head, the sheriff replied they were probably dental fillings. The coroner ruled the death resulted from "unknown causes."

Lamar Smith, a World War II veteran, organized voter registration drives. In 1955, he and some white men got into an argument. A number of witnesses saw one of the white men pull out a pistol and shoot Smith at close range. Three men were arrested but went free when none of the witnesses would testify to what they had seen. Those three men have since died.

Four years later, Mack Charles Parker was accused of raping a white woman. When he was arrested, a Mississippi state trooper offered the woman's husband a pistol to shoot Parker. Three days before Parker was to stand trial, he was dragged from his jail cell, beaten and shot. His body was found in a river 10 days later. The FBI investigated and obtained confessions from some of the eight white suspects. However, the county prosecutor refused to present evidence to a state grand jury and a federal grand jury refused to indict.

When civil rights activist Bob Moses arrived in 1961 in Mississippi, Herbert Lee served as one of his guides. Lee drove Moses around in the black community to talk about voting rights. Lee was killed by a then-state legislator after an argument. He told authorities he shot Lee in self-defense, and a black witness testified to a coroner's jury that Lee was armed and arguing. No charges were filed. The witness later recanted his story, only to be killed himself.

Louis Allen was a witness to the killing of Herbert Lee. He initially testified to a coroner's jury that Lee was armed with a tire iron and killed in an argument, but later told civil rights workers he had been ordered to lie by a white man and followed the instructions to protect his family. He kept silent for more than two years. He was about to move away from Mississippi when he was found dead in his driveway, riddled with buckshot.

Fifty-five years on, Mississippians say the mentality of the 1950s and 60s has disappeared – indeed, African-Americans have been elected to the state legislature and to many mayoral offices. But the many unsolved murders ensure that the civil rights movement will continue to cast a long shadow. Each passing year sees the deaths of prospective suspects and victims, making the work of investigators extremely difficult, and sometimes impossible.

Be Mournful, America

The article below is by Gerald S. Rellick, Ph.D., who worked in the defense sector of the aerospace industry for 22 years, and now teaches in the California Community College system.

By Gerald S. Rellick

Be mournful, America. We have lost yet another courageous, noble countryman to a senseless, corrupt cause. John McCain eulogized Pat Tillman at his funeral, but now that the world knows the Army lied about the details of Tillman’s death, he remains silent. Where is our Vietnam War hero when we need a champion to challenge the venality and deceit of the Bush administration?

In the summer of 2002, I wrote a long letter to John McCain, a politician and leader that I admired and respected. I asked him to seriously consider opposing George Bush for the Republican presidential nomination. I felt that McCain was the best chance to put an end to what was clearly developing into the worst presidency in American history. I stressed to him that if Bush was allowed to continue for four more years, it would not only devastate the country, but also ravage the Republican Party for many years to come. Only John McCain had the stature to challenge an incumbent—either as a Republican, or as independent, like McCain’s hero, Teddy Roosevelt. I cited a passage to him from an essay by Alan Wolfe from the July 8, 2002, issue of The New Republic. Eight months before the invasion of Iraq and long before Bush’s lies had become common in the American media. Wolfe’s words were prescient:

“As Lord Bryce noted in 1888, the American way of choosing presidents rarely produces politicians of quality. Subsequent events vindicated his point: in the half-century since his book appeared, Americans elected…as mediocre a political leadership as we have had in our history…Will [the Bush] administration take its place among the worst presidencies of modern times? [I believe] George W. Bush will be lucky if his presidency ever rises to the level of Taft’s or Harding’s.

“During the 2000 election, Bush’s advisers discovered something that no one before had ever quite known: there are simply no limits to how much you can lie in American politics and get away with it. And it is the transposition of that approach to politics into policy that constitutes the disgrace of the Bush method.

“[This situation]…opens the political territory for a challenge from a Roosevelt-style Republican such as John McCain…There is every reason to believe that there exists a hunger for leadership in America.”

Hunger for real leadership, indeed! Then came the summer of 2004 and rumors of a possible Kerry-McCain ticket. Polls showed the public loved the idea—two real men versus two weenies: Batman and Robin against Barney Fife and the Penguin. It was a winner -- a movie ending with America saved from the brink of disaster.

But it was not to be. For reasons known only to McCain, he made the decision to support George Bush for reelection. Admittedly, he wasn’t the most enthusiastic campaigner, but he made enough appearances that it probably made a difference in what turned out to be an extremely close election. And now the country is stuck—stuck for four more years of what is now most certainly the worst presidency in American history.

So John McCain joins Colin Powell in the ranks of those Americans who served their country bravely and honorably, in Vietnam and elsewhere. Despite their valor on the battlefield, these Americans have failed the test of moral courage in the political arena. McCain is another fallen hero, having traded his integrity for political gain.

These festering sores were exacerbated for me recently when I read of the circumstances surrounding the tragic death a year ago of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan. Tillman, as we all know, was the star NFL player who, after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, turned down a $3.6 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals in order to be an Army Ranger. The Army initially reported that Tillman died in a heroic defense of his position. They awarded him the Silver Star for bravery posthumously. However, we have since learned that Tillman was accidentally killed by his own troops. Moreover, it is now evident that the Army hid the truth from the public, and even from Tillman’s family.

As the Washington Post reported, "A new Army report on the death shows that top Army officials, including the theater commander, Gen. John P. Abizaid, were told that Tillman's death was fratricide days before the [funeral] service." But it wasn’t until weeks later that Tillman’s family was informed. “And even then,” writes Robert Scheer in the Los Angeles Times, “They provided no details and answered no questions, saying only that friendly fire ‘probably’ killed Tillman.”

Continuing a consistent practice in the Bush administration, the Army lied about Tillman’s death to prevent the loss of their “patriotic poster boy”. How would potential recruits react if they discovered that a true American hero had died at the hands of his own men? The Neo-cons needed a steady supply of soldiers to carry out their imperialistic wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Tillman, they had a propagandist’s dream. They were not about to let a nagging detail like truth destroy their false image of Tillman dying a hero’s death.

Tillman’s father, Patrick, had this to say:

"After it happened, all the people in positions of authority went out of their way to script this…They purposely interfered with the investigation …. I think they thought they could control it, and they realized that their recruiting efforts were going to go to hell in a hand basket if the truth about his death got out."

Tillman's mother, Mary, told the Post, "The fact that he was the ultimate team player and he watched his own men kill him is absolutely heartbreaking and tragic. The fact that they lied about it afterward is disgusting."

So where does John McCain fit into this? McCain was clearly moved by Pat Tillman’s patriotism, self-sacrifice and courage—as we all were. McCain delivered a eulogy at Tillman’s funeral and spoke publicly about his admiration for this fine young man. The newly revealed circumstances of Tillman’s death don’t change any of that. However as one who spoke so eloquently of Tillman and his sacrifice, as one of the most prominent members of the Senate, and as a man who was going to “talk tough” to Don Rumsfeld after the election, why is John McCain now silent? Why isn’t he asking for accountability in this matter? Patrick Tillman may have answered this question when he said, "Maybe lying's not a big deal anymore."

Make no mistake, John McCain wants to be president – and he wants it badly. But for those of us who would have supported him enthusiastically in 2004, it’s too late. Ironically, George Bush has paved the way for him by demonstrating that honor and integrity are worth nothing in the Republican Party of today.

I would suggest that there was a time not long ago that the Army would have lived up to a higher standard and told the truth about Pat Tillman. But as Norman Mailer remarked in a recent essay, “The motives that lead to a nation's major historical acts can probably rise no higher than the spiritual understanding of its leadership.”

Or put another way, sewage flows down hill.