Sunday, May 29, 2005

We Don't Need no Stinkin' Compassion

By Jason Miller

Why did I open that box?

Oh to be blissfully unaware! Alas, in my studies for my activist writing and advocating for social justice, I have opened Pandora’s Box. In some ways I wish I could have closed it before frightening truths permeated my mind, but it is too late. As I delve more deeply into the sea of knowledge about current events, history, ideology, and politics, I am experiencing seriously altered perceptions, thoughts and feelings with respect to many facets of the world. Having passed the point of “know return”, I remain in America in a physical sense, but in an intellectual sense, “I am not in Kansas anymore!” My faith in America and our government has been severely shaken. While disturbing, my awakening has been quite liberating. In some ways I miss the warm fuzzy feelings that came with belief in the pleasant fiction of the America that our leaders portray. However, in spite of the discomfort, I relish the freedom of seeing my world with clarity. In an ongoing effort, I will strive to seek the information necessary to continue piercing the veil of propaganda disseminated by our leaders.

With eyes wide open , I yearn to share the truth with others. An editor once complained that many of my pieces were "litanies of the wrongs" in America. I write my litanies precisely because there are many "wrongs", and the mainstream media is not going to expose them. My goals are to present information that the mainstream media omits, and to persuade readers to act for social change. I often harp on the "wrongs in America" so that readers will want to take non-violent action to make them "rights". As my writing has evolved, I have also incorporated solutions to the problems on which I harp, and have been doing my part to carry out the solutions which I offer.

Tristful day for justice

Priscilla Owens is now a federal judge, setting her up for an eventual nomination to the US Supreme Court. I shake my head in disgust that such a person has reached a position of power in the federal judiciary. Disgust and repulsion fill me as I ponder this turn of events.

From a 5/25 NY Times article:

"She represents a part of the Texas culture that is basically a frontier mentality," said Linda S. Eads, a law professor at Southern Methodist University and a former deputy attorney general of Texas who supports Ms. Owen's nomination.

"You don't cry about your hardships, you just keep moving forward," Professor Eads said. "In some ways, it's a very empowering philosophy, and in some ways it can be seen as cold. I guess it depends on which side of the outcome you are."

During the Senate nomination process, Owens enumerated her "most significant opinions" from her days on the Supreme Court in Texas. Her choices belie her harsh, severe nature, and are a harbinger of bleak prospects for the victimized, poor, or disenfranchised who will seek justice in her court.

From the NY Times again:

“"she chose opinions overturning rulings in favor of a child born with birth defects, a worker injured on an oil rig, a nurse fired for blowing the whistle on a drug-dealing co-worker, a family with an interest in an oil field that had been drained by a nearby company, asbestos and breast-implant plaintiffs and a student whose school made him cut his hair."

Owens simply mirrors the Oligarchy which rules our nation. Her pride in opinions that favored corporations and victimized those who were truly deserving of justice reflects her cold, callous, and hypocritical nature. The Oligarchs’ newly anointed arbiter of justice will implement their inhumane, fascist agenda with zeal and joy.

Oligarchy in America? Can it be true?

Monolithic corporations like Wal-Mart, obscenely wealthy clans with names like Bush, DuPont, and Kennedy, leaders of the Religious Right like James Dobson, powerful religious organizations like Opus Dei, and the intricate web of entities comprising our military industrial complex have psychologically and economically enslaved the American people. We have relinquished our power to this collection of avaricious demagogues which I call the Oligarchy. Sadly, many Americans are unaware that they are unwitting servants of an imperialistic machine built to establish world domination ( Many of the "elected representatives" in our government are naturally part of the Oligarchy by virtue of their wealth. With powerful lobbying groups, the Oligarchs are able to use pressure or bribes to ensnare many of the true representatives of the people who sneak into our government. If Mr. Smith went to Washington today, the Oligarchs would make him one of their own very quickly.

George Bush, the figurehead of the Oligarchy, projects a reassuring image of a "strong and resolute" leader with the Texas machismo to make brash (yet incalculably obtuse) statements to the terrorists. Remember, "Bring it on"? When the Oligarchs either allowed 9/11 to happen, or actually caused it to happen (, they had the psychological lever they needed to essentially crush the remnants of America's republic. Fear drove the American people to surrender many of their freedoms to a tyranny. Bush's tough talk, declaration of a “war on terror”, rush to war with a "terrorist" nation, close alignment with the Religious Right, and his alleged adherence to "absolute, family values" in a world of uncertainty, provided an illusory shelter from the storm. Already psychologically shackled by years of mind-numbing propaganda, many Americans surrendered themselves to the powerful embrace of Big Brother. If they could only see his true face, they would recoil and run away in horror.

Mirror, mirror on the wall....who is the ugliest soul of all?

Greed, hubris, narcissism, bigotry, hatred, intolerance, and deceit are but a few of the "attributes" which many of the Oligarchs possess. These qualities are necessary ingredients to achieve the success defined and portrayed by the Oligarch-sponsored media machine. Thinness, self-reliance, strength, financial prosperity, influence, youth, and beauty are essential to being a successful American. Getting ahead and feeling good about oneself, regardless of the cost to others, lie at the black heart of the American dream. The quintessential American strives to meet these goals with abandon and disregard for the impact on others, and generally receives the welcoming embrace of the Oligarchs when they do reach these hallowed objectives. Narcissism be thy name.

Tyranny wears many masks

Our land has been beset by a twisted version of Christianity that spreads itself like a virus through the use of psychological terrorism. Various groups and sects comprise the Religious Right and the Dominionists, the carriers of this contagion. While the individual groups and leaders vary to some extent in beliefs and tactics, their goals are closely aligned. These modern day crusaders have relentlessly pursued the persecution of gays, and hence provided the Oligarchs with the scapegoat that a tyranny needs in order to thrive. Fortified by the hubristic belief that theirs is the one true religion, and that Jesus guarantees them a place in heaven, members of the Religious Right feel confident that they possess the "manifest destiny" to impose their agenda on the rest of America. They have grossly abused their tax exempt status with their forays into the political arena. The Religious Right is also threatening to corrupt our secular public institutions with their "truth", which they derive from selective interpretation of the Bible. Someone needs to remind them that truth is not easily plumbed from a book which the Church revised many times throughout history for the purpose of manipulating the masses.

Spiritually deficient

Priscilla Owens and her fellow Oligarchs lack compassion, a crucial spiritual value. Were one to confront them, they would probably claim they were "compassionate conservatives", or they might downplay the value of compassion. Compassion was the hallmark virtue of Christ. Jesus was the one of the most empathic and liberal activist in history, and were he alive today, Bush and his ilk would be leading the march to Golgotha. Jesus was mostly about compassion, the virtual antithesis of the core motivations of the Oligarchs.

Matthew 9:35: "Jesus was going about all the cities and villages teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the reign of God and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Seeing the crowds, Jesus felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd."

As Carolyn Baker pointed out in a series of articles in Dissident Voice about the Religious Right (, their claim to be a “pro-life” is little more than Orwellian Newspeak. The fact is that they are actually "pro-birth" and are hostile to women's rights. Striving to advance their patriarchal agenda, they relentlessly push to deny a woman's right to reproductive choice, even going so far as to enlist pharmacists to deny birth control, and in extreme cases, killing abortion doctors. Recently, Tom Delay has even made veiled threats against members of the judiciary who dare to rule in ways inconsistent with the goals of the Religious Right.

Denying the reality that many teen or unwanted pregnancies often result in horrendous lives for the resulting children, the Religious Right continues to press for the reversal of Roe vs. Wade. Were that to happen, their efforts to “save the unborn” would actually result in more death and suffering as women continued to seek abortions. It is a foregone conclusion that the unborn would continue to die in similar numbers, while many women seeking illegal abortions from back-alley butchers would be maimed or killed. Like the Pharisees, the Religious Right and the scoundrels at the helm of our nation are far more concerned with their artificial, abstract "family values" than they are with the welfare of real human beings. Their strident objection to abortion ultimately boils down to a psychological power-play of men over women. What does the Bible say about the equality of women?

"There does not exist among you Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus."(Gal. 3:28)

Need evidence that the Oligarchs and their Religious Right brethren are also "pro-death"?. Look to the war in Iraq. Over 1600 Americans have died, thousands more have been injured, and countless Iraqis have been killed or injured in this imperialistic foray into the Middle East. With strong support from the leadership of the Religious Right, Bush and his fellow Oligarchs gleefully launched "Shock and Awe" on Iraq, after lying to the American people to legitimize the invasion. Offering a textbook example of psychological projection, in 2/02 Pat Robertson characterized Islam as a religion that wants to "dominate and then, if need be, destroy." Portraying this crusade as a struggle of "good versus evil" enables the Oligarchs to lend moral justification to plundering the US treasury and channeling the money to their mega-corporations, like Haliburton. Characterizing Islam as our enemy enables them to use the Middle East as their springboard for the world domination they so desperately crave. What might Jesus have said to Bush as he prepared to invade Iraq?

"Do not resist one who is evil. but if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other."

As they continue to pillage our treasury and further bankrupt America, the Oligarchs are now on a relentless campaign to slither their way into Social Security to plunder its revenues. Bush touts privatization as a means to strengthen our "ownership society". The reality is that the Americans who would benefit most from privatization would be the current "owners", the wealthiest 1% of Americans, who have more capital than the combined wealth of 90% of the rest of the population. Average Americans would be playing the lottery with their Social Security money while wealthy investment bankers would fatten their already burgeoning wallets with the astronomical up tick in transaction fee money. Under the Oligarchs, the wealth gap continues to widen, the middle class is rapidly shrinking, and the rich continue to increase their holdings through enormous tax cuts. Where might Jesus say to the 1% who is vying to add to their wealth?

After the young man left, Jesus talked to his disciples about how hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. "It is easier", he said, "for a camel to go through the eye of a needle."

While the Oligarchs continue to prosper with increased corporate welfare, decreased taxes, and increased funding for the military industrial complex, the less fortunate suffer the budget cuts which are badly needed to keep the $7.5 trillion dollar debt from spinning further out of control. The elderly, the disabled, the poor, single mothers, and family farmers tighten their belts for the "good of their country" while the elite let theirs out a few notches. Why are we giving the biggest tax cuts to those who already possess great wealth? Why are we cutting taxes at all? Thanks to the unrestrained spending and tax cuts of the Oligarchs, our legacy to our children is a $7.5 trillion debt that continues to mount. What did Jesus say about paying taxes?

Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?" "Caesar's," they replied. Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

It has become personal

I grew up under the reign of a tyrannical father who, despite his denial, shares many of the Oligarchs' values. Having prospered financially, he met one of the most important goals of success in the perverse system of "American" values. However, the tab was three heart attacks and the loss of his family. My mother divorced him and got remarried. My brother has disappeared somewhere in Alaska. I elected to walk away from him. Had I licked his boots long enough, I probably would have inherited a small fortune. However, I would not abide his tyranny, and I will not abide the tyranny of the ruling elite in America today.

Both my wife and I suffered deep emotional wounds inflicted by Christian churches which embodied the values of the Religious Right. She and I have both forged our own personal spiritualities. Neither of us has chosen to reconcile the Christian religion into our spiritual beliefs after the damage that the churches rendered upon us. My wife and I are both people of honesty and integrity. We respect the rights and dignity of others, and embrace many of the teachings of Christ. However, neither of us calls ourselves Christian.

I went through extremely difficult times in the past. During those times, I utilized several components of the social welfare system to get myself back on my feet. Had those life-lines not been there, I would not be where I am today. I now have a college degree and earn a middle class wage as an account representative at a finance company. My wife and I are raising our son, and I have joint legal custody of two boys from a previous marriage. I am an active parent in their live, and pay my child support to their mother. I am also a successful activist writer in a climate where dissident voices are all too scarce of a commodity.

Should I stay or should I go?

I choose to stay in America so that I can make a positive difference. Like Judge Owens, I am exceedingly persistent and tenacious, and I have empowered myself by overcoming significant adversities. However, unlike Owens and the rest of Bush's Neocon subordinates, I do not see the "frontier mentality" as a virtue. My wife and children have taught me not to expect others to be as tenacious as I am in facing challenges. People need compassion, and some need more help than others. As much willpower as I have, I needed serious help during my trials, and still need help and support. I have reconciled my strengths and limitations, and feel more connected with others because of my limitations. Compassion and mercy are values that I embrace, in spite of my strength.

I have chosen to align myself with the disenfranchised of society and to pursue social and economic equality. My friends are mostly women, minorities, gays, intellectuals, or people who are economically disadvantaged. I have chosen to advocate for social justice, civil liberties, and intellectual freedom through my activist writing and through my ACLU affiliation. I am teaching my children to think critically to free their minds and to seek social justice. I dissent against the Oligarchs through my writing. I have chosen to learn Spanish as a second language so that I can communicate with my numerous Hispanic immigrant customers rather than demeaning them by forcing them to speak a language that they have not had time to learn. My wife and I work hard to live within our means. Unlike our government, we are virtually debt-free because of our thrift. We boycott multinational corporations like Wal-Mart and spend our money at small, local vendors when possible. My wife and I both strive enthusiastically to be part of the solution in a nation beset with problems..

My one regret in staying in America is that I pay taxes to the federal government. However, despite the fattening of the Oligarchs and the furthering of the imperialistic agenda, I feel gratified knowing that some of my tax money goes to social welfare, educational, and other programs to benefit humanity. Since I am not prepared to stop paying taxes and engage in a futile battle with the IRS, I live with this ambivalence.

Man is free at the moment he wishes to be (Voltaire)

As the tyranny grows more overt, and the light of democracy grows dimmer, the Oligarchs grow bolder in implementing their foreign and domestic policy agendas. With rising frequency, their policies clash significantly with the welfare of the poor and working class. Still, I believe that once enough of the uneducated and undecided American people awaken and become motivated to act, the Oligarchs will be forced to render a measure of social and economic justice. Studying the Populists, the Wobblies, the New Dealers, and the Civil Rights protestors, I see how they forced significant social change in favor of the people. I rest my faith and hope on their successes. I am prepared to go a step beyond what I am doing now and engage in civil disobedience when it becomes necessary, and will encourage others to do the same.

I envision a grassroots movement rising to power over the next few years. It has already started gathering momentum through the subversion of the mainstream media via the Internet. Non-profit news sites, blogs, email, and over 2 billion websites give people an unprecedented means to communicate and exchange information. The human spirit thirsts for freedom, and when enough people begin to realize that they have been enslaved, the dissidence and non-violent revolution will become so powerful that the Oligarchs will capitulate and yield a share of the wealth and power back to the people. We of the poor, working and middle class have the advantage in numbers, and in the fact that tyrants are destined to fail because of the intolerance of the human spirit for enslavement. The Oligarchs need us to buy their products and do their dirty work, and people will not wear the yoke of oppression indefinitely. Despite their possession of most of the wealth, the true economic power lies in our hands. It is only a matter of time before increased awareness and activist efforts shift the balance of power, but more people need to wish to be free, and take the steps necessary to attain freedom. Remember, you have more power than you think, and compassion is an empowering virtue!

Saturday, May 28, 2005

How The Mighty Are Falling

By Jason Miller

Mom, apple pie and malevolent leaders

Somebody tell Karl Rove to drop the applause sign. The minions he manipulates are cheering for an America that does not exist. That abstract concept of America, and its embodiment of liberties and human rights, is a fiction. Norman Rockwell's portrayal of America was an idealistic perversion of a landscape, which for many, has been littered with oppression, bigotry, greed, torture and even murder. Goya's brutal painting "Duel with Cudgels" comes closer to capturing the essence of the underlying mean-spiritedness of that is very much a component of this nation. Bush, his Neocons, and the obscenely wealthy Oligarchs, who finance Republicans and Democrats alike, embody the face of America which is seldom portrayed by our flag-waving mainstream media. Yes, there is a dark, brutish aspect to this self-proclaimed beacon of freedom and liberty, and I am going to delve into it. Read on if you dare to take an introspective look at the darker aspects of our national identity.

Evil heritage

As early as 1661, American colonists began engaging in the slave trade. With the advent of the birth of our nation in the late 18th Century, even our hallowed Constitution legally endorsed the evil institution of slavery. Abolitionists who rose to oppose slavery, like John Brown, were executed as terrorists. Even an incredibly bloody Civil War and three Amendments to the Constitution were not enough to end American oppression of the black race. The specter of Jim Crow arose in the south in the 1890's. Its power did not dwindle until courageous leaders like Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall, and Martin Luther King, Jr. arose in the mid Twentieth Century. Their tireless efforts forced the federal government to enforce human rights for the black race. Fear of the growing power of a minority led to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., a peaceful proponent of civil rights. One can make a strong case that the US government facilitated the assassination to stem the spread of King's "radical ideas". In today's America, racism hides behind a veil of "political correctness", and those who practice bigotry do so covertly, in a cowardly attempt to avoid legal consequences.

The Native Americans have not fared so well in America either, at least not since the Western Europeans invaded their continent. In 1830, the US Congress passed the "Indian Removal Act". This measure eventually enabled the federal government to resolve the problem of a growing population in the state of Georgia by moving the Cherokee Nation to the state of Oklahoma. In 1838, on the forced 1,000 mile march, 4,000 Cherokee men, women and children died in what is now known as "The Trail of Tears".

Tecumseh, a Shawnee leader who organized opposition to forced Native American colonization, showed his insight into the ugly aspect of America when he spoke to the Osage tribe in 1812. In his speech, he said, "Brothers, the white people are like poisonous serpents: when chilled, they are feeble and harmless; but invigorate them with warmth, and they sting their benefactors to death."

Thanks to Howard Zinn in Voices of a People's History of the United States for uncovering a telling quote from the Saturday Pioneer, a newspaper in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Ironically, L. Frank Baum, who also wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (an "American literary classic"), was the paper's editor in 1890, when the quote appeared. Shortly after the massacre at Wounded Knee, and the subsequent murder of Sitting Bull, Baum's paper wrote, "The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent....and the best safety of the frontier settlers will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians." The Saturday Pioneer had just defined the concept of "Manifest Destiny", the belief that America had the divine right and destiny to expand its borders across the North American continent and beyond.

We take what we want

Driven by a psychotic hubris, our leaders were convinced that America had the right and the duty to "civilize" the rest of our continent with our "superior" Democratic and Protestant ideals. Sound familiar? America began unleashing its imperialistic impulses on sovereign nations in 1846. President James Polk annexed Texas, and sent American troops to help this future state gain its independence from Mexico. Two years and 38,000 dead combatants later, America brought Mexico to its knees, and proudly included Texas, New Mexico, and California in its borders. Robbing the Native Americans of their land was not enough to satiate the appetites of our imperialist leaders for "White" conquest.

William McKinley came to office in 1896 to preside over a country that still had a ravenous appetite for expansion. Under McKinley, the US waged war against Spain in Cuba. America drove the Spaniards out, leaving a power vacuum that was quickly filled by greedy US corporations. 500,000 Filipinos were killed as America wrested the Philippine Islands away from Spain. Our government justified their deaths by proclaiming that the American victory would enable the US to civilize the savages in the Philippines. McKinley also arranged for the annexation of Hawaii and Puerto Rico during his unprecedented advance of the cause of Manifest Destiny.

The price of avarice

In the early Twentieth Century, Upton Sinclair and his fellow muckrakers cast bright lights into the shadowy corners of corporate America. There they exposed ruthless, avarice-driven exploitation and victimization of American workers and consumers. Sinclair's expose' of the corrupt and dangerous practices of the meat-packing industry, The Jungle, led to the passage of The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Prior to the efforts of Populists and Socialists like Sinclair, America's system of unbridled capitalism, enabled by laisez-faire economic policy by the federal government, allowed ruthless corporations to treat their workers like cattle. Greedy profiteers were also able to market their products to consumers with virtual disregard for quality and safety. Millions of Americans sustained injuries, worked in perilous, inhuman conditions, received grossly inadequate wages, or died as a result of corporate lust for profits. During the so-called Gilded Age, corporations reigned with an appalling disregard for humanity. However, pressure from muckrakers, Socialists, unions, and Populists eventually curtailed the power of the Oligarchs.

All is fair in love and war.....

Woodrow Wilson continued to justify American imperialism under his foreign policy of Wilsonian Democracy. Refining the notion of Manifest Destiny, Wilson asserted the necessity of America to employ any means necessary, including force, to install democracies in nations around the world. In large part, his doctrine rested on Kant's notion that democracies are less likely to be war-like than dictatorships or monarchies. Wilsonian Democracy propelled the US into World War I. How ironic that America, the self-proclaimed model for democracy, engaged in yet another war. Is this an indication that Kant's notion was inaccurate, or can one conclude that the US is not truly as democratic as the state-sponsored propaganda would have the masses believe? During the war, Eugene Debs, Emma Goldman, and other war protestors who violated the Sedition Act sacrificed their freedom for exercising their First Amendment rights. As they sat in prison for standing up to our imperialist leaders, over 100,000 Americans died in the "war to end all wars". Our government employed flag-waving propaganda and mandatory conscription to thrust millions of young men into the horror of war, yet those who protested in the "land of the free" were imprisoned.

Ask the Japanese citizens during World War II for their perspective on the "American Dream". After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the federal government employed curfews as a means to marshal control of the "enemy within". Bowing to pressure from business interests who wanted to eliminate Japanese-American competitors, the US government eventually made the decision to move 110,000 people of Japanese descent into ten relocation centers throughout the United States. Stripped of their homes, businesses, and possessions, they were interned behind barbed wire for over two years. Their alleged crime was disloyalty to America. Over 2/3 of them were American citizens born on American soil. Disgracefully, our government imprisoned them without a trial and without charging them with a crime. Guantanamo Bay is not without precedent. It is frightening that in a "free nation" like the United States that such a history could repeat itself without widespread public outcry.

Appetite for destruction

American leadership is still drunk with power, arrogance, and an insatiable appetite for the accumulation of wealth. Based on a statement of principles drafted in 1997, and a think-tank created to formulate ways to implement the principles, The Project for the New American Century paved the way for George Bush and his pack of Neocons to launch the unprovoked and unsubstantiated invasion of Iraq. Several of the war hungry Neocons, like Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney, signed the statement of principles. The events of 9/11 gave them the rationale they needed to initiate their aggression. Their imperial intentions are clearly outlined at Their concluding paragraph states:

"Such a Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity may not be fashionable today. But it is necessary if the United States is to build on the successes of this past century and to ensure our security and our greatness in the next."

What is perhaps equally disturbing is that a vast majority of the Democrats have made little tangible effort to challenge the illegal actions of Bush and the Neocons, making them complicit partners. Short of a few exceptions, like Bill Moyers, the mainstream media has forsaken their duty as the Fourth Estate. Rather than informing the American people of the truth about our corrupt and malevolent government, they bow to the pressure of their corporate masters and feed us versions of the truth that withhold details and present criminal act by our government in a benign manner. A British Member of Parliament recently showed the guts to openly challenge several of our venal Senators ( When will our own elected representatives and members of the press show that kind of spine? Perchance most of them have simply sold out and become party to the "Dark Side" of our national identity.

The Bush administration has demonstrated its commitment to making the Twenty First Century the "American Century". However, the reality is that the invasion of a small country like Iraq has stretched our military to its limits. After two years of US military occupation, Iraq is still in a state of chaos, and many Iraqis want our military to withdraw. The sun is setting on the "American Empire" as Bush and his people desperately struggle to fan the dying embers and rekindle the flames. There are multiple countries with nuclear capabilities. China wields a great deal of economic power over the United States as it continues to parlay its colossal trade surplus into an opportunity to finance a large portion of the US debt. Terrorist acts, over-dependence on credit, and weaker nations with nuclear capabilities are proving to be the David to our Goliath. Redefining the term "debtor nation" with a $7.5 trillion national debt, America is bleeding red ink. The failing effort in Iraq is costing billions of dollars that this country does not have. America's dominance is rapidly diminishing.

Bush has launched a war with no end in sight against the "evil terrorists", an elusive, shadow target which cannot be definitively beaten. Perpetual fear and hatred of the "terrorists" motivate many Americans to support a seemingly endless war, and enable Karl Rove to manipulate the masses. The Neocons are free to pursue their policy of military proliferation of American interests to their hearts' content. However, the waning strength of this nation, coupled with the rising strength of nations like China, make this model unsustainable. Americans have been duped into following a ruinous course.

Hypocrisy and hubris....when do they end?

In 1997, with the advent of The Project for the New American Century, America laid out a publicly available plan for global domination. Historically, Americans have pursued a policy of aggressive global expansionism under the guise of altruism, the "right of manifest destiny", or under the pretext of protecting its regional interests. The United States flaunts its lofty Constitution and Bill of Rights, yet with each passing day continues to deny basic civil rights to homosexuals (5% of the US population). It defies the UN and Geneva Convention with alarming regularity. Americans earn an annual per capita income of $34,000.00 compared to the world per capita of $7,000.00. We consume 25% of the world's fossil fuels while 2 billion people in the world have no access to electricity. In 2000, the Bush regime installed itself to rule our Executive branch by manipulating the voting process. Had Jeb Bush not been the governor of Florida, Al Gore would be our president. Grossly abusing their ill-gotten power, Bush and his Neocons have engaged in a consistent pattern of false propaganda to manipulate public opinion. Their unilateral decision-making almost never shows regard for relationships with allies or the United Nations. Bush has consistently rewarded incompetents, war criminals, and deceitful individuals with promotions in his regime. America has some serious house-cleaning to do before we forcefully export our value systems to our neighbors.

In the spirit of advancing the cause of Protestant superiority, our Senate is now considering a bill heavily promoted by America's own religious radicals, the Religious Right. The Constitution Restoration Act would, for the purposes of judicial review, recognize "God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government." And Bush really expects critical thinking people to swallow his Newspeak about "spreading freedom and liberty" around the world? With the virtually silent consent of the Democratic minority in Congress, Bush and the Neocons continue to pursue an evolved version of Manifest Destiny as they attempt to brutally force America's "Christian" and "Democratic" ways upon the American people, and upon the rest of the world.

Sweet little lies.... and crimes against humanity

Why were Americans surprised at the attack of 9/11? The Neocons have convinced many Americans that our nation was an innocent victim of attacks of "evil terrorists". How naive can a person be? America, in its supreme arrogance and imperialistic endeavors, has been enraging people in foreign nations for years. If the terrorists did actually carry out these attacks autonomously, America was far from innocent. Was it tragic? Yes. Do the perpetrators deserve to be punished severely? Yes. However, America has been provoking people and nations for many years. Those who died in the World Trade Center that day were certainly innocent victims, but America as a nation was not.

In saying "if the terrorists did actually carry out" 9/11, I intentionally left the culpability ambiguous. While there is little doubt that Bush, the Neocons, and other members of the obscenely wealthy Oligarchy (see knew that the strikes were going to occur and chose to allow them to happen, there is also compelling evidence that they actually orchestrated and perpetrated 9/11. David Ray Griffin advances that theory with clarity in 9/11 and the American Empire at The deaths of 3,000 American civilians in an attack that appeared to be carried out by terrorist representatives of the Middle East (with its coveted oil reserves) provided the Neocons and Oligarchs with a golden opportunity to mobilize the American people to engage in the invasion of Iraq, yet another scapegoat in this sick scenario. Given much of the world's justifiable hatred of America, it is unlikely that the terrorists needed much prompting by our leadership to carry out the attacks. Careful scrutiny of the evidence presented by Griffin, including the actions of our government before and after the strike, the nature of the strike on the Pentagon, and the collapse of the WTC towers, lends significant credibility to the idea that the Neocons and the Oligarchs were directly involved in the perpetration of the WTC tragedy.

Whether one believes the terrorists acted autonomously, or that the Neocons and Oligarchs sponsored the attacks, Bush, the Neocons and our other Oligarch leaders bear the responsibility for the deaths of the 3,000 Americans in the World Trade Center. Foreknowledge of the attacks and subsequent failure to defend our nation are crimes against the American people. Direct responsibility for the attacks represents an even more substantial crime. Both are grounds for impeachment, removal from office, and criminal prosecution.

Hope on the horizon

I still believe in the inherent decency of many of the people in the United States. Our Constitution is an unparalleled contract between citizens and government upon which to build a republic that fosters individual rights and freedom. A capitalistic economic system which includes government restraints and social welfare programs for the poor has proven to be beneficial to a majority of the American population in the past. Despite the ugly stains on our history, Americans made great evolutionary strides in the 20th Century toward realizing our tremendous potential for economic and social justice. However, under the Neocons, the Religious Right, and the Oligarchs, much of that progress is eroding. America is a nation comprised of millions of people and dynamics, and to expect it to live up to the idealized notions of truth, justice, and the American way would be unrealistic. Yet, the fact that the ideal is unattainable does not give us license to abandon the principles of our Constitution to the extent that we have. Americans have a choice. If enough people are willing to take an introspective look into the soul of our nation, and into our own souls, it is not too late to peaceably end the reign of the corrupt and restore America to a place of sanity, and dignity. People of conscience and critical thought need to stand up and say "enough" to the Oligarchs and Neocons. Together we can reclaim our nation and make it a true beacon of liberty!

Jason Miller blogs at Thomas Paine's Corner.


By William Fisher

Let’s give Donald Rumsfeld the benefit of the doubt. He’s not a war criminal. He never wrote any memo authorizing specific techniques for abusing prisoners. He doesn’t believe in abusing people. He’s an amusing guy. He used to be a media superstar in the Bush family firmament. The President called him the best Secretary of Defense in our country’s history.

But it’s time for him to go. And here’s why.

One of the principal reasons the United States has a Secretary of Defense is to maintain civilian control over the uniformed military. By that criterion alone, he has been a cataclysmic failure. And by that criterion alone, he might well be judged by history as the worst, not the best, SecDef in the nation’s history.

If the reason for having a SecDef is to control our armed forces, how did they ever get so out of control?

What’s happened on his watch is simply too egregious for Mr. Rumsfeld to get a pass.

The U.S. invaded a country about which it knew nothing, with too few troops and no awareness that there would even be an occupation, much less a plan for one.
In so doing, America created the world’s biggest job fair for terrorists.

We know that Rumsfeld believes you go to war “with the army you have, not the army you want.” Well, the army we had didn’t have the right kinds of troops in the right places at the right times. American soldiers didn’t have the protection they needed. Nor did they have the intelligence they needed. So people died and were maimed.

Then there was Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, Bagram Air Base, and Lord only knows how many other hidden military prisons. People were tortured. People became ghost detainees. People died. Even assuming they were the worst of the worst, prisoners in U.S. custody are not supposed to die. They are supposed to be protected. But die they did.

And it would be a major error to overlook the superb work of his non-uniformed Viceroy, L. Paul Bremer, who turned enemy soldiers into criminals by disbanding the Iraqi army. Who instituted the so-called De-Baathification program that fired all the teachers and street cleaners and electricians – people who were compelled to join Saddam’s party just to get a job. Who supervised the ‘training’ of Iraqi police and soldiers – America’s exit strategy – no doubt immeasurably helped by wannabe Homeland Defense Department boss Bernard Kerik. And who, as a modest token of appreciation for his many contributions, got the Medal of Honor from his president.

Then there were the omnipresent profiteers – the Halliburtons, the Blackhawks, and the dozens of other Defense Department contractors who did little and made millions.

And through it all, there was the Rumsfeld Review -- Donald’s Good News Bears performing their Daily Show at the Pentagon rostrum. Reporters could barely wait for the spin machine to start. It was a wonder to behold the questions evaded, ignored, left answered, the deftness at changing the subject, the assurances that there were now 140,000 (or was it 180,000?) Iraqi police and national guardsmen trained and that things were getting better all the time. The Donald’s quips disarmed even veteran journalists and turned the Pentagon press corps into a small army of un-uniformed stenographers, dutifully writing their embedded reassuring pieces in the face of a mountain of evidence to the contrary supplied by their colleagues on the ground.

So how does all this add up to civilian control of the uniformed military? It doesn’t.

If one of Rumsfeld’s major mandates was to make sure that a suit, not a uniform, would be accountable for all our shock and awe, it didn’t happen. No one is accountable.

The Donald told a congressional committee last year he would resign when he felt he could no longer serve effectively. That time has passed.

Time to think again, Mr. Secretary.

Friday, May 27, 2005

A Grim Foreshadowing?

The article below appeared in the American Journalism Review. It describes the experiences of four Iraqis working for Western news organizations who say they were abused by American troops in January 2004, and sound hauntingly familiar to the horrors of Abu Ghraib that emerged four months later. But the episode has received little media attention. The government denies that the soldiers acted improperly.

By Jill Carroll

Jill Carroll, a former Wall Street Journal and Jordan Times reporter, is a freelance journalist living in Baghdad. Her stories are published by the Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle and the Italian newswire Ansa.

NBC cameraman Ali Mohammed Hussein was simply following his news instincts when he set off to track down the crash site of a U.S. military helicopter on January 2, 2004. His brother, a cousin and a friend, all of whom work for Reuters, joined him.

They didn't return for three days. When the Iraqis finally turned up, it was with an outlandish tale of abuses suffered in U.S. military detention facilities. Their story foreshadowed the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison that came to light four months later. But unlike Abu Ghraib, their ordeal has been largely ignored by the media, and the military does not admit any wrongdoing.

This account of what happened to them is based on interviews in Iraq with three of the men, using a translator, and transcripts of lengthy interviews conducted by Reuters. A U.S. military investigation said soldiers did not abuse or torture the men, but Reuters continues to push for a more thorough inquiry. The Pentagon said it had no further comment on the allegations for this story.

The four Iraqis were accused not of shooting film, but a OH-58 Kiowa observation helicopter that crashed near Fallujah, killing one U.S. soldier and injuring another. Eventually, they were released and were not prosecuted.

On that Friday afternoon Ali, now 33, was praying at a mosque in Fallujah with his cousin Sittar Jabbar Hussein al-Badrani, 29, a driver for Reuters. When they left the mosque, word had already hit the street that an American helicopter had crashed nearby.

Ali's brother, Ahmed Mohammed Hussein al-Badrani, 29, who works as a cameraman for Reuters, was near the mosque helping a friend fix a broken-down car. Ali and Sittar spotted him and rushed over.

The three, who had been working for Reuters and NBC for less than a year, knew their bosses would need footage of what was likely to be the biggest news of the day. As cameramen, they have to get to the site of an attack before the area is sealed off and the scene cleared. It's no use shooting pictures from hundreds of yards away behind a military cordon. They all hopped in Sittar's car and sped off to find the crash.

As is usual when violence erupts, the U.S. military had closed off the roads leading to the site. So the three men drove up and down roads in the lush farmland surrounding the Euphrates River, which cuts through Fallujah, looking for a way to the crash site. While crossing a bridge, they came across Reuters cameraman and reporter Salem Ureibi, who was also looking for the site, along with his driver. Salem had been working for Reuters in Iraq for more than a decade.

They decided to team up and soon found a spot behind a military checkpoint where they could see the site. They got out several hundred yards from the checkpoint and donned their flak jackets with "PRESS" emblazoned across them. Salem started filming the soldiers at the checkpoint down the road while the others were setting up their equipment.

But then they noticed that one of the military vehicles had started to move toward them. One of the most dangerous places in Iraq is anywhere shortly after an attack. There are angry crowds, jittery soldiers and sometimes another attacker waiting for civilians and security forces to gather before launching a second strike.

Unsure of what the approaching military vehicle was going to do, the men decided it was time to go. They packed up their cameras and got back into their cars. As they sped away, gunfire followed them. It appeared to be coming from the Americans.

They stopped a few kilometers away. Salem gave his driver the film he had shot and sent him to Baghdad to deliver it to the Reuters office. He climbed into Sittar's car next to Ali and Ahmed, and the four set off to find a closer spot to film the wreckage.

They ended up at a school where several other reporters and cameramen had gathered, but American military vehicles weren't far behind. Everyone scattered as the soldiers rumbled up. Sittar drove down a dead-end road.

One of the military vehicles swung into view at the other end of the street and moved in behind them. Cornered, Salem, Ali, Ahmed and Sittar got out of the car, raised their arms above their heads and shouted that they were journalists. Soldiers were moving toward them with guns raised, firing warning shots and shouting instructions that the men couldn't understand.

"We got out of the car, and the soldiers started shouting and shouting and putting us on the ground. But we don't speak English that well, and we couldn't understand what the soldiers were saying, and we shouted, 'Cameraman,' " says Ali, a tall, barrel-chested man with light, yellow-gold eyes.

With the men lying on the ground, the soldiers searched them, pulling satellite phones, identification cards and money out of their pockets and slipping them into plastic bags. The men's hands were put behind their backs and secured with plastic handcuffs called "flex-cuffs." The thin plastic strips bit into their skin, tightening if they struggled and leaving marks that would remain for weeks.

Hoods were slipped over their heads. The soldiers grabbed the Iraqis by their belt buckles and their shirts and tossed them into a Humvee like sacks of potatoes.

"Even until this moment I wasn't afraid. I thought they would release us. This is my job, and I have an ID showing I work for an international company," says Ali in a steady voice. "I didn't expect the coming things would happen."

After a short trip the Humvee stopped. Blinded by the hoods, the men struggled to gain their bearings and decipher what was happening from the shouts in English and the noises of an armored vehicle nearby.

They soon knew the armored vehicle all too intimately. Ali, Ahmed and Sittar were grabbed by the soldiers and shoved face-down on the floor under the seats of what they came to call "the tank." Salem was tossed across a row of seats.

The seats were pushed down on top of Ali, Ahmed and Sittar and locked into place. Ali bulged out of the space. The lock securing the seat to the floor cut into his leg, he recalls, reaching to his thigh and rubbing the area.

Soldiers sat on top of the three men and squeezed their boots around Ali's, Ahmed's and Sittar's heads, which were poking out the ends of the rows.

"I couldn't breathe because of the bag on my head, and I was squashed into a small space," Ali says. "I was only thinking they would search us and release us. When they put the handcuffs and bags on our heads, I thought they were just trying to scare us into not [filming a crash site] again. When they put us in the tank, I began to feel something was wrong."

Talking was forbidden in the tank. But Ali, Ahmed and Sittar say the pain of the bouncing ride and pressure from the seats squeezing them made it impossible to keep quiet. "I was shouting 'I can't breathe,' " Ali says. The soldier sitting on him hit him with the butt of his gun in response. The soldier said, " 'Shut up, shut up,' and I asked Salem [who speaks some English] to translate that I couldn't breathe, and the soldier told Salem to tell me if I didn't shut up, he'd put a bullet in my head."

Ali recalls it all calmly now, looking down at his feet, gaining steadiness by striking a monotone. He asked to recount his experience alone, and the others volunteered to leave the room while he spoke. Being older than his relatives, and particularly as Ahmed's big brother, it's shameful for him to discuss his humiliation in front of them. (Salem declined to be interviewed for this article, citing the difficulty of discussing the experience and the fact that little had come of his telling his story in the past.)

"It was winter, but I was sweating all over," Ali says. "I tried to gather all the strength I had to relieve the stress on my chest to breathe better, but I couldn't." He puffs up his shoulders and chest to show how he tried to relieve some of the pressure of the seat crushing him by pushing against it.

"I felt like I was dying, and I wanted an explosion [to come] and finish this torture," says Ali. "This was the worst part of my life, these few hours in the tank. I told my brother Ahmed to take care of my daughter."

The bouncing metal floor of the tank beat bruises across Ali's, Ahmed's and Sittar's faces. Sweat was pouring over their bodies, and slowly they lost feeling in their limbs as the flow of blood was pinched off by the seats pressing them into the floor. The ride seemed to last for hours.

Then the rumbling stopped. The back hatch of the vehicle opened, and suddenly the seats popped up and air came rushing into their lungs.

"I felt like life was coming back to me again when the soldier stood up. I could breathe," Ali says. But when they pulled him out of the vehicle he couldn't stand on his own. All four were laid on the ground. They inhaled deeply, relishing the fresh air, and they began to get feeling back in their limbs. The plastic handcuffs were cut off and their hoods removed, revealing a night sky.

The men sat upright on the ground, distracted by the cold wind whipping through their sweat-soaked clothes.

English started flying at them: "Name," "address," "hometown," asked a new group of soldiers. The four stammered out answers, which were recorded on a badge that included one more piece of information about their arrest: a "C" or "G" label. They are unsure which letter it was but soon learned not to forget it. They realized it entitled them to punches, insults and harsh treatment not meted out to other prisoners. Neither the men nor Reuters knows what the letter stood for.

"When [soldiers] would look at our ID, they would say, 'Ooooh,' " Ali says of the label.

They still didn't know why they were being held, but that first night the seriousness of their situation finally hit home. They spent it on a cement floor, shivering two to a blanket in a long hall with dozens of other detainees from Fallujah. Soldiers walked the length of the breezy hall, forcing the prisoners to stay awake.

"It was cold. We were just sitting on the ground," says Ali. "If [a soldier] sees someone sleeping, he will kick him or make him do push-ups or heavy exercise. You have to keep your eyes open."

"The guys in the [hall] were not soldiers, they were monsters," says Ahmed, slouching in a chair, his deep, rumbling voice belying his matchstick-like frame.

From then on, everything became a confusing, terrifying swirl. Each individual incident is clear in their minds, but time stretched and bent in their exhausted, fearful state. The men say it's hard to remember the exact order in which everything happened.

When morning broke, food arrived for the prisoners. But the smell repulsed them, and fear had left them without an appetite.

That day they discovered why they were being detained. One at a time they were hooded, handcuffed and led to a trailer that served as an interrogation room. There, the hoods were removed. Two soldiers and a translator sat behind a desk. Each man was questioned separately but their experiences were similar. Each was instructed to kneel on the floor and raise his arms in the air for the entire interrogation.

"'Why did you attack the helicopter?'" the interrogators demanded. "'We found machine guns and RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] in your car,'" Ali recalls them charging.

He was dumbstruck at the accusation.

"The only equipment we had was a camera. I am a journalist; it is my duty to take pictures," Ali told them, his arms still in the air, small rocks on the floor digging into his knees.

The questions continued for hours. Where was he when the helicopter crashed? How long had he been working for NBC? Did he have children? Where did he live?

Sometimes the soldiers had orders, not questions.

In the Arab world, sitting so someone can see the soles of your shoes is considered rude. Playing on that social more, Sittar was told to lick the bottoms of the slippers he was wearing, a humiliating gesture. He started to lick the width of the slipper but was corrected by the soldiers and the bearded translator, who spoke Lebanese Arabic.

"Like this," he says, holding an imaginary shoe and demonstrating how they made him lick the sole lengthwise. "If I was one of the attackers, I would admit it. But I didn't do anything. I am a journalist, and look what they did to me," Sittar says.

Then the soldiers said " 'Put your finger in your ass,' " Sittar recalls, leaning forward and putting his hand behind him with an embarrassed laugh.

When it was Ahmed's turn, he also knelt and had to raise his long, thin arms in the air and wave them back and forth. He was ordered not to say "wullah," a common phrase in Iraqi Arabic that means "swear to God."

"When I said 'wullah,' the translator told the Americans, and they hit me," Ahmed says. "When I would say it, [the soldier] would say, 'Hit yourself' or he will hit me."

Other times "they made me suck my middle finger. They told me to stick my middle finger in my anus and then lick it," he said in a transcript of an interview about his experience with Andrew Marshall, chief correspondent in Iraq for Reuters.

The interrogations were finished by that night but, as the men were to find out, the hard part was just beginning.

One by one as their interrogations were finished, the tired, frightened men were brought to a small room adjoining the main hall and told to stand in a corner and face the wall.

"Then they started the torture," Ali says.

It lasted all night. They were ordered to perform strenuous exercise until they were exhausted and to assume humiliating sexual poses. Soldiers would come by the door of the room and watch, the men recall. Some took pictures. All laughed.

"They made us lie on each other like a cross. One of the soldiers forced me to move like I was having sex, and they had personal cameras taking pictures of us," Ali says.

The whole time he kept his eyes on the small, open windows in the room, watching for a streak of sunlight that would bring dawn and, hopefully, an end to the suffering. It seemed to never come.

Every few hours a new group of soldiers would take over. Each time the men hoped the new guards would be kinder, but they just brought a new form of punishment.

Some played deafeningly loud music and forced the men to dance to it. Others would whisper things in their ears--most of which they didn't understand except a few choice swear words--while forcing them to do push-ups or other exercise. "Each time a soldier would pass, they would hit me in the head and shine a flashlight in my eyes," says Ahmed.

Salem understood some of what the soldiers said. "They would whisper, 'Please bring your wife here,' " Salem said in a transcript of his recounting of the incident to Marshall. "I thought they were going to rape us. They were standing at our backs."

The only respite came when a soldier named Jerry arrived and allowed Salem to rest, he said, according to the transcript.

As morning approached, the men were told to put their hands on each other's shoulders in a circle. Soldiers placed tape over their mouths and pulled hoods over their heads. Then they were ordered to walk quickly in unending circles.

They kept going until Ahmed, so thin he barely fills out his clothes, collapsed. Sittar asked for water, but he was forced to drink an entire bottle, which he quickly threw up from the strain of physical exertion.

"Because of the bags I could see nothing, but I heard Ahmed coughing and fall and heard Sittar and [Salem] fall," Ali says. "I was the last one standing, and a soldier was saying, 'Oh, you're strong?' and he started hitting me in the mouth and head and groin."

After Ahmed and Sittar collapsed, the soldiers decided the night was over. The men were brought back to the drafty hall and given food and water. It was the first time in hours they had been allowed to sit down. Sick from fear and exhaustion, they could barely choke down the food, even though they had hardly eaten in more than a day.

"I was pretending this food is delicious. It smelled like dead flesh [but] I wanted to encourage them to eat because Ahmed was white and looking weak," Ali says.

But soon they were on the move. The men found themselves in a Humvee, desert wind whipping past them as they jolted and bumped their way to an unknown destination.

"I heard a soldier saying 'Cuba, Cuba' and I was really afraid," Sittar says. The large prison at Camp Buca in southern Iraq is often called "Cuba" by U.S. and Iraqi security forces.

When they stopped, they weren't in southern Iraq, however, but at a base near a town that used to be called "Saddam near Fallujah." It appeared to be run by military police.

"There was no way out. When we got to the military police prison I was thinking of escaping, even if they kill me, because I couldn't bear it anymore," Sittar says.

They were taken in for more interrogation individually, but this time in a warm room where a woman asked them again about their activities the day they were arrested and details about their work and lives. They were even given a chair to sit in.

"The second place was like a tourist trip compared to the first place. There was a bench to sit on" while they waited to be interrogated, Ali says.

This time, at least, no one hit them during the questioning--that was reserved for trips to the bathroom.

Sittar never saw the path to the bathroom – once again a hood was over his head. But he found out the path was lined with barbed wire when the soldiers escorting him pushed him into it. They pulled him by the hood, punching and shoving him.

"On the way back [from the bathroom] I asked for a cigarette," he says. "They said 'No' and hit me."

Sittar, frazzled and beleaguered after days without sleep and unable to eat, says the other prisoners took care of him. They showed him where to get a mattress, two warm blankets and bottles of water, more comfort than he and the others had seen in days.

"The other detainees saw that I was miserable," says Sittar.

They also told him that this was the camp where their fate would be decided. From here it was either freedom or Abu Ghraib prison, notorious for torture under Saddam Hussein.

The next morning, January 5, they were briefly interrogated again. At the end of the questioning the interrogator said, " 'You're going home,' " Sittar recalls. "I said, 'I love you.' "

It would still be several hours, but as dusk fell that night Ali, Ahmed, Sittar and Salem were finally sent home.

"2978, 2978," called out a soldier, Ali says. "The other detainees said, 'It's you.' I grabbed my stuff and went out. I saw the soldiers cutting off the [prisoner identification] bracelets. Even the way of the soldiers was different. They apologized."

The men were driven to the gate of the base, and Sittar's car was returned to them. They got into the familiar vehicle and pulled out past the gates, confused, in shock and guided by two tanks until they got to the main road.

"We were terrified. At that moment they released us, we saw two tanks coming, and we felt it was a joke and these two tanks would capture us and take us back," Ahmed says.

More than a year later they still haven't been able to leave behind the experiences of those three days.

"It's an unforgettable thing. For a week I stayed home in my bed. I couldn't move," Sittar says. "It used to be a normal thing to talk to Americans. Now I don't do that, and when I see a tank, it really terrifies me."

Sittar, Ali, Ahmed and Salem all returned to work shortly after their detention, though Ali considered whether he should do so for a number of weeks. Their jobs demand that they go to dangerous places, risking their lives to bring home the images of Iraq's violent, tumultuous experience. The U.S. military also made clear in public and private statements that they could arrest these Iraqis again at any time, a threat whose significance is not lost on the men.

"I'm very careful what I take a picture of... Each time I hear the sound of a tank or helicopter, I feel like I am the target because of the savage treatment I faced. I have fear inside," Ali says. "I was hesitating to decide to return [to work] for a month. [But] I am a journalist, and I accept the consequences."

Thursday, May 26, 2005


By William Fisher

Try Googling: “James Dobson, Jerry Fallwell, Pat Robertson, and Religious Right”. Then click “search within results” for “Bush Administration, Human Rights, Civil Rights, Freedom of the Press, Independent Judiciary, Guantanamo Bay, Intelligence Reform, Prisoner Abuse, Poverty Reduction, Religious Tolerance, US Aid”.

You may be surprised by the results.

Out of millions of documents, you will find virtually none that refer to Guantanamo Bay, Prisoner Abuse, Poverty Reduction, Religious Tolerance, or Intelligence Reform.

On the other hand, you will find hundreds that refer to Bush Administration, Human Rights, Civil Rights, Freedom of the Press, and Independent Judiciary.

But these are almost exclusively devoted to the relationship of these issues to one over-arching subject: SEX.

Thus, the “human and civil rights” citations are about the evils of abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, teen pregnancy, contraception, and kindred issues.

“Freedom of the Press” is reduced to attacking the ‘left-wing bias’ of journalists who disagree with the religious right – and lionizing those who agree.

The “independent judiciary” category is monopolized by Roe v. Wade, Terri Schiavo and other end-of-life issues, opposition to ‘activist’ judges who ‘legislate from the bench’, Darwin vs. Creationism, and embryonic stem cell research, support for Bill Frist and Tom delay, and acclaim for President Bush’s court nominees.

US AID is dominated by scathing criticisms of the family planning, HIV prevention, and sex education programs America funds in poor countries.

And under “Bush Administration”, you will find unquestioning enthusiasm not only for the president’s positions on these issues but, implicitly and explicitly, for virtually every position and action Mr. Bush has ever taken.

So the issues most trumpeted by the so-called religious right are about how we got here, how we reproduce ourselves, how we should die, the kinds of intimate relationships we should and shouldn’t have, who should judge the appropriateness of those relationships – and how our Constitution should be protecting us against the ‘devil’ in our midst.

In other words, by an obsession with reproduction. SEX!

How the religious right got from Calvin to “The Crucible” to Condoms and Terri Schiavo requires a long journey through history. For theological scholars – indeed, for all of us -- it is a fascinating and illuminating journey. But we’ll have to save that for another time.

For now, the more relevant questions are: Is this what faith is about? And, if not, where are those people of faith who express alternative views? And why aren’t we hearing their voices?

Well, you may not have noticed, but we are. These voices are not as deafening or as undoubting or as strident as Pat Robertson’s or Jerry Falwell’s or James Dobson’s. But they’re out there. And they’re struggling to be heard over the cacophony of the politically-savvy, exquisitely-organized, Bible-quoting machine of the extreme right wing of the God-squad.

There are many moderate voices among ‘people of faith’. Perhaps best known is Rev. Jim Wallis, an evangelical Protestant who edits “Soujourners” magazine and is the best-selling author of “God’s Politics”.

Wallis says, “I've witnessed a new movement of moderate and progressive religious voices challenging the monologue of the Religious Right. An extremely narrow and aggressively partisan expression of right-wing Republican religion has controlled the debate on faith and politics in the public square for years. But that is no longer true…"The monologue of the Religious Right is finally over, and a new dialogue has begun!"

There are, he says, “visible signs that the Religious Right does not speak for all Christians, even all evangelical Christians. What I hear, from one end of this country to the other, is how tired we are of ideological religion and how hungry we are for prophetic faith.”

Wallis is conservative theologically, yet believes his faith mandates support for progressive policies. "The Bible is full of poor people," he said. "Biblical politics has the poor at the center."

Wallis is not alone; many religious groups and conservative Christians oppose the Religious Right -- both in politics and in their church hierarchies. For example:

The Interfaith Alliance "is a non-partisan, clergy-led organization dedicated to promoting the positive, healing role of faith in civic life and challenging intolerance and extremism."

The Rev. Albert Pennybacker, a Lexington, Ky.-based pastor, is head of the Clergy Leadership Network, a cross-denominational group of liberal and moderate religious leaders seeking to counter the influence of the religious right and to mobilize voters to change leadership in Washington. Pennypacker says he is “tired of the conventional wisdom that equates religiosity with conservatism. He says the religious right “often squeezes out the left in public debate”.

Sojourners for Peace and Justice is an evangelical progressive Christian commentary on faith, politics, and culture. Episcopal Bishop John Chane said at a recent Sojourners/Call to Renewal chapel service: "We've gone from a war on poverty to a war on the poor."

The Evangelical Environmental Network is a coalition of Christian groups promoting environmental protection.

A web site by a former Catholic Priest turned Methodist minister, “Christ as a Liberal”, demonstrates a religious/political alternative to the Religious Right.

These are but a few of the so-called "freestyle evangelicals" who are averse to the right wing's intolerance and lack of charity. Their concerns extend beyond the conservative morality issues of abortion and gay marriage to a broad range of issues –from social justice for the poor to America's role in the world.

They are beginning to attract sizable audiences. And for at least some politicians, their message is beginning to resonate.

For example, Governor Bob Riley of Alabama proposed a tax increase to help the poor, calling this action his Biblical duty. On CBS News, Gov. Riley said, "we're supposed to love God, love each other, and help take care of our poor."

And former US Ambassador to the United Nations John C. Danforth, a former senator and an Episcopal minister, says he does not fault religious conservatives for political action on high-profile issues like the Terri Schiavo case, but that the Republican party has gone so far in adopting a sectarian agenda that it has become the political extension of a religious movement. He warns that, aside from obvious First Amendment issues, the work of government and political leaders is to hold together as one people very diverse nation in which religion can be uniting influence but is more often highly divisive.

Karl Rove notwithstanding, ‘people of faith’ like Jim Wallis and John Danforth may well be triggering a backlash against right wing Christianity. Watch this space!

William Fisher writes for InterPress News Service. He has managed economic development programs for the US Agency for International Development and the US State Department in the Middle East and elsewhere. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


By William Fisher

As the Muslim world continued to demonstrate its hostility to the U.S. on the heels of a Newsweek magazine article charging that a copy of the Koran was flushed down a toilet, America’s premiere foreign policy organization issued a new report claiming that better communications could still win Muslim hearts and minds.

But the report, issued by the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, said better U.S. communications will require "listening more, a humbler tone, and focusing on bilateral aid and partnership, while tolerating disagreement on controversial policy issues," as well as substantial funding and effort.

Newsweek reported that it was told by an unnamed source that evidence of desecration of the Koran would be included in an upcoming government report on events at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The source later turned out to be unreliable, and Newsweek retracted its story.

The CFR report -- A New Beginning: Strategies for a More Fruitful Dialogue with the Muslim World – is based on the results of focus group research in Morocco, Egypt, and Indonesia. The research was carried out by Craig Charney and Nicole Yakatan of Charney Research.

The report points out that in all three countries, images of the United States are dominated by resentment of American power and anger directed at President George W. Bush--negative attitudes that spill over to American brands and people. "Perceptions matter: most Muslims do not hate America for 'who we are' or 'what we do', but for what they perceive we do."

The Council said, “Muslim views of the United States as domineering and hostile reflect relentless local reporting on Iraq, Palestine, and purported negative American attitudes toward Muslims, along with ignorance of U.S. aid programs to the region and U.S. support for regional reform.”

Reports on television networks largely hostile to the United States are Muslims' main source of information; U.S. government-sponsored media (Al-Hurra TV and Radio Sawa) have little impact in the region.

The effects of unfavorable media coverage are reinforced by stereotypes about the U.S. decision-making process, particularly about alleged Jewish influence on U.S. foreign policy.

However, the report finds, America currently has a window of opportunity to change Muslim attitudes. Positive impressions about tsunami relief efforts in Indonesia, Iraq's recent election, and new Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts are providing the second Bush administration a chance for a fresh start.

“Rather than trying -- and failing -- to persuade Muslims to support American policies in Iraq or Palestine”, the report says, “the United States should publicize its significant development aid to their lands, which, despite soaring aid budgets, is almost invisible to them.”

Other commentators have taken a different view.

“The US government can repackage its policies all it wants, but people will see through the words as long as the US government continues to treat the region simply as a means to an end: strategic control over oil,” said Brian Foley, a professor at the Florida Coastal Law School in Jacksonville, Florida.

And Jack N. Behrman, professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina and former Assistant Secretary of Commerce, said, “Nothing in the PR or public diplomacy arena can offset the acts of the U.S. and the statements of Bush himself, which remain dictatorial, arrogant, and insensitive to the Arab world and it peoples. AID remains locked into its old-style assistance and cannot apparently focus on the fundamental, long-term needs there -- namely education, development of enterprise, and employment opportunities, plus openings to the world economy. Joining the world community gives hope, but it must be done while permitting cultural differences--so long as they do not include intolerance from any quarter.”

The CFR report says, “When focus group members learned of U.S. aid efforts -- via media reports on tsunami relief in Indonesia or support for women's rights in Morocco -- it significantly improved their attitudes toward the United States”.

Although the seriousness of the anti-American attitudes has won growing recognition, neither public nor private efforts have addressed Muslim hostility to America with the sustained focus or resources required, the CFR said.

Among the report's recommendations:

Focus on partnerships in support of local Muslim initiatives, without presenting the United States as the motor of change.

Agree to disagree on contentious issues involving other countries, such as Iraq or Israel and Palestine.

Engage local and regional media via press releases, interviews, Op-Eds, press conferences, and site visits.

Launch an advertising campaign on U.S. aid and support for reform in local and regional media, and acknowledge the U.S. government as the source.

Improve reporting of aid programs, particularly those concerning economic, education, and health aid, in U.S. government media.

The CFR research found that immediate reactions to the United States reveal resentment of American power and of President George W. Bush. American behavior is perceived as being largely predatory. The report said this hostility is spilling over into negative attitudes toward American people and brands.

Other key findings:

“Since September 11, 2001, the United States is also viewed as hostile to Muslims both abroad and domestically, in its visa policy as well as in daily life.

The Palestinian intifada and the Bush administration’s embrace of Israel’s government have helped strengthen the impression of double standards in
America’s treatment of Muslims.

These attitudes have been reinforced by “widespread stereotypes and misinformation about American foreign policy, particularly regarding Jewish influence on it, even among the well-educated Muslims in the focus groups”.

Another important influence is the rise of television, especially Arabic satellite networks such as al-Jazeera. “Their constant critical coverage of U.S. policy is the main source of information about America for focus group members and drives local Arab media.

Focus group members “do not take seriously U.S. government media, such as Radio Sawa, al-Hurra TV, and Hi magazine, as information sources.

Prominent local Islamists have little following among the educated Moroccans and Egyptians but have some standing among Indonesians. Osama bin Laden retains substantial appeal as an anti-American symbol in all three countries.

American development assistance has become “all but invisible to the populations it benefits”.

What Muslims say they want from America is respect, understood as consultation and nonintervention, and development aid in which they, not Americans, define their needs.

The CFR cautioned that “substantial efforts will be required to communicate more effectively. Turning information and initiatives into communications that are heard requires more actively engaging local media—including the controversial al-Jazeera — as well as paid advertising, effective spokespeople, and logos and labels on aid. “

Numerous reports by government agencies and private non-government organizations have been harshly critical of U.S. public diplomacy efforts. President Bush recently nominated his former senior aide and close confidante, Karen Hughes, to lead a new public diplomacy push by the U.S. State Department. Several high profile figures have taken on the task in the past few years, but have ultimately resigned.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Easy Way of Blaming the Victims

The op-ed piece below is reprinted from the Jordan Times, Amman.

By Hasan Abu Nimah

Earlier this month, Newsweek reported that American interrogators used provocative methods, such as the desecration of the Holy Koran, in order to force Muslim detainees to release desired information. In one instance, the paper claimed, the holy book was flushed down a toilet.
This obviously inflamed sentiments all over the Muslim world. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, there were violent popular eruptions in protest and as a result, sixteen demonstrators were killed.

Newsweek, clearly under official administration pressure, finally had to retract the story and apologise for having it wrong.

Some Muslim reaction was undoubtedly severe, and this is understandable. Not only because any community would be equally enraged if its religious symbols were so badly and so deliberately treated, but also because this happened in a context of repeated American scandals related to inhumane and illegal treatment of Muslim detainees.

It is probable that anger, therefore, was more for the ongoing trend than for the incident itself. New scandals bring to light older ones, and people tend to see them together, and to react to them together, too.

The scandal of the torture of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib caused enormous damage to American Muslim/Arab relations. But further, repeated revelations about the treatment and, of course, torture of detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Bagram prison, Afghanistan, at the hands of their US captors have been putting Washington in a very critical standing before international law. Even American justice ruled that the Guantanamo detention formula was illegal.

Last Sunday fresh news broke out about brutal atrocities in Bagram prison. “Even as the young Afghan man was dying before them, his American jailers continued to torment him,” Tim Golden wrote in the International Herald Tribune on May 21-22, 2005.

The story of the death as a result of torture of the two Afghan men Delawar and Habibullah within six days from each other in December 2002 emerged from a 2,000-page file of the US Army's criminal investigation into the horrifying case which The New York Times had obtained and reported on.

The army report ,according to the paper, indicated that many of Delawar's interrogators believed he was innocent. He was a taxi driver who simply drove past the American base with three other passengers after a rocket was fired at the base. Many months had however passed before the army knew of such details. But even after the military coroners had ruled the two deaths as homicides, military spokesman declared that the two men had died of natural causes. Like in Abu Ghraib earlier, the Bagram file “depicts young, poorly trained soldiers repeatedly abusing prisoners”, sometimes to extract information, at others as punishment by military police guards, and in yet other cases, “the torment seems to have been driven by little more than boredom or cruelty or both”.

This harsh treatment was, according to the file, routine, and guards could strike shackled detainees with virtual impunity.

Within this ever expanding context of US soldiers treating their Muslim detainees as less than animals, it was perhaps normal to view the desecration of the Holy Koran as an abstract expression of degradation and contempt to people who, in the eyes of the tormentors, deserve no better. In another report, Saman Zia Zarifi wrote in the same issue of the International Herald Tribune that “ for more than two weeks before the magazine [Newsweek] ran its story, newspapers in the United States, Britain and throughout the Muslim world published interviews in which detainees held by United States in Guantanamo, in Afghanistan and in Iraq claimed that their guards and interrogators denigrated Islamic religious symbols and in particular desecrated copies of the Koran by kicking them across the floor, tearing out pages and tossing them into toilets”.

Washington, with scandals regularly unfolding, was right to struggle to contain the damage, although not by trying to repair one wrong by committing another, such as suppressing press freedom.

This is not the view of the famous columnist Thomas Friedman, who, in his column in the same IHT which reprinted the Bagram torture scandals, apparently prefers to blame the Arab and Muslim worlds instead.

Friedman chides the White House spokesman for “excoriating Newsweek... while not offering a single word of condemnation for those who went out and killed 16 people in Afghanistan in riots linked to Newsweek report”.

He urged President George Bush that, while he should declare that any desecration of any holy book is wrong and is to be punished if proven, he should also require that the “Arab-Muslim world must also look in the mirror when it comes to how it has been behaving towards an even worse crime than the desecration of God's words, and that is the desecration of God's creation”.

Reading Friedman's thesis immediately after the IHT's report on the army file on desecration of “God's creation” in Bagram and remembering Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, I was for a moment bewildered at this terribly flawed and deeply confused logic. Who was actually desecrating both God's words and God's creation?

But Friedman's super-confidence has apparently elevated him far above the level of analysts and opinion writers, to the level of those whose word must simply be taken for granted as the final truth. He wants to know, he wrote, why Muslim spiritual leaders do not repeat his words that Islam “teaches that you show reverence to God by showing reverence to his creations”. That is absolutely right. The only difference is that those sixteen Muslim victims he mourns, who were killed for protesting the American desecration of their holy book, were killed by Muslims representing a democracy which America had just established, by a US-made puppet regime. And the carnage in Iraq, (which he also cites as proof of his “novel” thesis), condemnable as it should be, is the result of the illegal war in a country which is under US occupation. Under international law, it is the responsibility of the occupiers, the 140,000 US soldiers there, to secure the safety of all Iraqis and to preserve order.

Worst still is Friedman's reference to a “courageous Arab intellectual” who joins him in ridiculing Muslim reaction, quoted as saying: “When thousands in Afghanistan are concerned about a report in a magazine that does not reach them, written in a language that they do not speak... it tells us more about the dangers of propaganda.”

Is the message, then, that one has the right to be offended and the right to react only when the offence is made in his own language and when the magazine which carries the offence reaches him physically? And who determines that English and Newsweek are not read in Afghanistan?

This logic only adds insult to injury and is bound to aggravate even further a situation which is critically bad.

The US does indeed need to repair a lot of damage to its relations with the Arab-Muslim world, and to its standing in the world for regular violations of human rights and international law. Looking into the mirror is probably one way of doing it, but by no means the only way. Blaming the victim is always easy, but it is only bound to make the situation worse.

Monday, May 23, 2005


Editorial: Outsourcing of Torture

The editorial below was published in the Arab News newspaper in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on May 21.

The Bush administration misses no chance to trumpet its devotion to the ideal of upholding the rule of law at home and abroad. It has imposed sanctions on those regimes with a poor record in the rule of law, especially those suspected of torturing prisoners. Yet increasingly the evidence is that Washington is quite prepared to cut corners and split legal hairs to justify actions which, in less heightened times, US legislators and jurists would reject out of hand.

Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, Bagram air base in Afghanistan and Abu Ghraib in Iraq all serve to undermine American claims that they are behaving with justice and fairness.

Now comes no less serious evidence that US spies have been kidnapping terrorist suspects and handing them over to governments where beatings and torture are a regular part of the treatment of detainees, against whom no guilty verdict has yet been delivered by the courts.

Investigations are under way in three European states — Sweden, Germany and Italy — into the abduction of suspected international terrorists, who were then flown, often in US aircraft, to third countries for interrogation in order to wring confessions from these individuals.

If these strong suspicions are confirmed, then Washington will be convicted of deeply depressing cynicism. So far Bush administration officials have protested that as and when alleged terrorists have been handed over, often to their home countries, it has only been following an assurance from the local authorities that the men will not be tortured in order to extract information from them and will be given fair trials.

Human rights groups maintain that such protests are nonsense. Many suspects have been tortured and their trials have been travesties of justice.

It simply will not do for the United States to be a strident champion of human rights one minute and then use, either directly or indirectly, torture on people that it chooses to believe have somehow placed themselves beyond the protection of law. For a start, this double standard totally undermines all the criticism that Washington has launched against China, Russia, Cuba and Middle East countries for the selfsame abuse of human rights.

World leaders who have to endure these self-righteous lectures from top American politicians can stifle a yawn and ignore them. In the tough world of realpolitik, maybe this duplicity is not so important. But among ordinary people across the world, it is.

President Bush’s readiness to abandon his own high standards just whenever it suits him is corrosive of fragile confidence. Washington’s double standard is a betrayal of all those who hope that somehow America can take a leading role in the region and not only defeat Al-Qaeda but can also bring a just and lasting settlement to Palestine.

Tragically, every time the United States approves an abuse of human rights, it gives another victory to the terrorists and another defeat to all decent people, who expected better of the Land of the Free whose citizens pledge “liberty and justice for all”.

Sunday, May 22, 2005


Below is the latest email from my 'mole' in Iraq. Where is the so-called mainstream press?

The election at the end of January 2005 was more than a national election to elect an assembly to write a constitution. It also included elections in governorates and districts, and in the Kurdish areas of Arbil, Dohuk and Sulamaniyah, the populace was asked to elect a Kurdish Regional Parliament.

The Kurdish Parliament is suppose to appoint a Kurdish Regional Government,or KRG. And the KRG, is the Kurds pay-off for supporting the neo-cons before and doing the Bush Jr. war.

Bremer enshrined the KRG in the Transitional Authority Law. The TAL is a highly controversial document, even though it had significant input from the Governing Council. The two most controversial features of the TAL are the KRG and the phrase that Iraqi law is based on Islam as the national religion. This is one of those documents that had to satisfy everyone, and thus satisfied none.

None the less, perhaps its most important achievement was to lay out a timetable and the steps needed to elect a democratic government in Iraq. And this is what was suppose to happen in January 2005.

Of course in the Kurdish region of Iraq all of us knew who would win the election. Long before the voters went to the polls, the word on the street and at dinner tables around Arbil was that Talabani would get a national high level position, probably President, which is what happened, and that Masoud Barzani would become the President of the KRG. Also, the two main parties, KDP and PUK agreed that the Prime Minister of KRG would be Nachrivan Barzani, the nephew of Masoud, and that the deputies would be from Talabani's PUK. (By the way, Dohuk and Arbil are KDP and Barzani; and Sulamaniyah is PUK and Talabani.) The plan at the time of the election was that as soon as the national government is formed, the KRG would be formed. And what that meant was that the two governments in the Kurdish region, KDP's in Arbil and PUK's in Suly, would be merged, and representation in the assembly and amongst ministers would be evenly split between the two groups.

But that has not happened. Even though the national government was formed about two weeks ago, there still is no KRG and the two government remain divided as before. Why? Simply put, because Masoud Barzani reneged on all agreements. He was suppose to be in office as KRG president as long as Talabani is Iraq's President. But instead, he is demanding a 12 year term of office, control of the Kurdish security forces, control of the economy and finance, and he refuses to accept a deputy president.

The Suly PUK is naturally not amenable to any of this. It would be anathema for them to cede this level of power to this tyrant (and he really is).The KRG is thus not formed, and it does not look like it will be any time soon.

Though speculative, but good speculation, Condi's mission to Arbil this week was to get Masoud to cooperate. The photos and videotapes showing Condi and Masoud scowling at each other are clear evidence that their meeting did not go well. I can imagine that Condi told Masoud that the US did not come to lose soldiers in Iraq to make him a dictator over Iraqi Kurdistan. He probably told her to stuff it, and mind her own business.

As an aside, but one with tangential relevance, one cannot find an Iraqi flag in Arbil and Dohuk. The Kurdish flag flies over all government buildings, it is on the shoulders of soldiers' uniforms, and the Iraqi flag is absent even at the border at Zakho. More recently, especially since the election, certain buildings and uniforms have dispensed with the Kurdish flag also in favor of the KDP flag. Except for the currency, there is no evidence anywhere in these two governorates that this is part of Iraq. But even accepting new money was not without protest. Bremer had to work very hard to get Barzani to do away with "Swiss Dinars" and use instead what the
locals here call "Bremer Dinars".

I could go on for a long time about the awful antics of Barzani and his KDP. But this is enough to digest for now. The perplexing feature of this story is what you are on about all the time - why is this story not reported in the main stream press. This is yet another Bush failure. Has our media become so timid that they cannot report on the recalcitrance of a Saddam in the making?

Saturday, May 21, 2005


By William Fisher

It was only fifty-one years ago this week that the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision that would forever change life in America. The Court ruled that “separate but equal” schools for white and African-American children were inherently unequal.

On May 17, 1954, Chief Justice Earl Warren looked down from the bench to a hushed and tightly packed courtroom to read the unanimous decision:

“Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other "tangible" factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities?” he asked.

“We believe that it does,” he answered. “We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

That landmark – and unexpected -- decision triggered years of protest throughout the segregated Southern states of America, and opened the gates to an avalanche of additional civil rights legislation and court decisions that reversed laws and practices in force since the abolition of slavery in the U.S. in 1865.

Paradoxically, the beginnings of the case – known as Brown v. Board of Education – had nothing to do with education. It was about railroad cars.

In 1890, the state of Louisiana passed a statute providing "that all railway companies carrying passengers in their coaches in this state shall provide equal but separate accommodations for the white and colored races…”

Homer Plessy, a 30-year old shoemaker, was jailed for sitting in the "White's" car of the East Louisiana Railroad. Plessy was a mix of seven-eighths white and one-eighths black. But Louisiana law still considered him black.

Plessy went to court and argued that the Separate Car Act violated the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. The judge ruled that Louisiana could regulate railroad companies that only operated within its state. He found Plessy guilty, and the Louisiana Supreme Court agreed.

Plessy then appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1896, the court found Homer Plessy guilty once again. In an 8-1 decision, the judges ruled that the Separate Car Act “does not conflict with the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery...The object of the [Fourteenth Amendment] was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but… it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either."

The lone dissenter was Justice John Harlan. “Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law…”, he wrote.

Justice Harlan proved prophetic. But it would take another 64 years before "separate but equal" would be struck down as the law of the land, in a case known as Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.

In the city of Topeka, a black third-grader named Linda Brown had to walk a mile through a railroad switchyard to get to her black elementary school, even though a white elementary school was only seven blocks away. Linda's father, Oliver Brown, tried to enroll her in the white elementary school, but the principal of the school refused. In the other cases outside Kansas, African American children attended poor facilities without basic school equipment and supplies.

Brown approached the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which had long wanted to challenge segregation in public schools. Other black parents joined Brown and, in 1951, the NAACP requested an injunction to stop segregation in Topeka's public schools.

The head of Brown’s defense team was Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP’s chief lawyer, who was later appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

At the Circuit Court trial, Marshall argued that segregated schools sent the message to black children that they were inferior to whites; therefore, the schools were inherently unequal.

The Board of Education's defense was that, because segregation in Topeka and elsewhere pervaded many other aspects of life, segregated schools simply prepared black children for the segregation they would face during adulthood.

The Court ruled that segregation of white and colored children in public schools indeed had a “detrimental effect on the colored children...A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn.” But Plessy v. Ferguson allowed separate but equal school systems for blacks and whites, and no Supreme Court ruling had yet overturned that decision. Thus the lower court felt "compelled" to rule in favor of the Board of Education.

Brown and the other families appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging school segregation in South Carolina, Virginia, and Delaware, as well as in Topeka.

The Supreme Court’s decision was the end of a long road for opponents of ‘separate but equal’ schools. As early as 1849, African American parents had challenged separate schools based solely on race. In Kansas alone there were eleven school integration cases dating from 1881 to 1949.

In 1955, the Court completed its ruling by ordering the states' to desegregate "with all deliberate speed."

But the Brown decision did not immediately end school nor did it deal with segregation in public accommodations, such as restaurants or bathrooms, owned by private parties. This would not be achieved until well into the civil rights movement of Dr. Martin Luther King, and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, led by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

The school desegregation decision generated two decades of fierce resistance, especially in the American south. In Virginia, a U.S. Senator organized a resistance movement that called for the closing of schools rather than desegregating them. Throughout the south, so-called Citizens’ Councils attempted to set up white-only private schools. The Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist organization, terrorized African Americans and those who supported them. Businesses siding with the Supreme Court were boycotted.

In the South, most public schools would not be desegregated until about 1970 under the Nixon administration.

There are many lessons to be learned from Linda Brown’s long march to justice. One is that our system of democracy can be infuriatingly slow and frustrating in righting wrongs. Another is that our independent judiciary is the pivotal actor in this process – even when we hate some of the decisions it makes. The third lesson, sadly, is that the Justices who handed down the Brown v. Board decision would be pilloried today as ‘judicial activists’.

Have we really learned anything?