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Sikh Rights Group Seeks Info On Obama’s To Invite PM Modi

Sikh Rights Group Seeks Info On Obama’s To Invite PM Modi

Washington: A US-based Sikh rights group has filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) seeking documents relating to the Obama administration’s decision to invite Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a meeting at the White House here in September.


In its FOIA filed before the State Department, the New York-based Sikh for Justice (SFJ) has also sought documents related to the visa ban of Modi after August 2005.


In 2005, the US State Department had revoked a visa that Modi had for travelling to the US in the wake of the 2002 riots in Gujarat.


He never applied for an American visa after the US move.


Following his historic win in the general elections this year, President Barack Obama called Modi personally and invited him for a meeting in September.


White House officials say, Obama is looking forward to welcoming Modi.


Urging the Department of State to expedite, the SFJ’s FOIA states that “Modi’s visa was cancelled/revoked by the US government in 2005 for his involvement in serious human rights violations during 2002 massacre in the state of Gujarat while he was the Chief Minister of that state.


“Since Modi is due to arrive in the United States during September 2014 and is scheduled to attend a summit at the White House, it is urgent that public be aware of how and under what US law a decision was taken to reverse ban on the issuance of visa to Modi, a known human rights violator”.


“The law requires USDOS to respond to such FOIA requests within 20 business days,” the rights group said.


Last year, SFJ had filed a human rights violation case against the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

While the case is still pending in a Washington DC court, the US Government has ruled that Singh enjoys immunity from the case.

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The Specter of Authoritarianism and the Future of the Left


1. It is widely believed that the advanced liberal societies are suffering a crisis of democracy, a view you share wholeheartedly, although the empirical research, with its positivists bias, tends to be more cautious. In what ways is there less democracy today in places like the United States than there was, say, 20 or 30 years ago?

What we have seen in the United States and a number of other countries since the 1970s is the emergence of a savage form of free market fundamentalism, often called neoliberalism, in which there is not only a deep distrust of public values, public goods and public institutions but the embrace of a market ideology that accelerates the power of the financial elite and big business while gutting those formative cultures and institutions necessary for a democracy to survive. The commanding institutions of society in many countries, including the United States, are now in the hands of powerful corporate interests, the financial elite and right-wing bigots whose strangulating control over politics renders democracy corrupt and dysfunctional.  More specifically, Americans now live in what the new Pope has condemned as the “tyranny of unfettered capitalism,” where the corporate, financial, and ruling elites shape politics, assault unions, mobilize great extremes of wealth and power, and enforce a brutalizing regime of neoliberalism. This is a period that lacks any sense of social and economic justice, a historical moment in which the existing norms, values, and for that matter language itself legitimate the production of zones of social and civil death, death spheres—driven by a mad violence rooted in a dystopian theater of cruelty.  Some have argued that Americans have entered a new Gilded Age or an oligarchy, but in reality it is more brutal than these terms suggest. This new period of political, social, and economic savagery is more reminiscent of what Hannah Arendt called “dark times,” a historical conjuncture rooted in the reworked attributes of a life-sapping totalitarianism, posing shamelessly as an updated version of democracy. The new authoritarianism  reinforces what conservative politicians, hedge fund managers and pundits refuse to admit, which is that in the United States the social contract and social wage are under sustained assault by right-wing politicians and anti-public intellectuals from both political parties.  Moreover, those public spheres and institutions that support social provisions, the public good and keep public values alive are under sustained attack. Such attacks have not only produced a range of policies that have expanded the misery, suffering, and hardships of millions of people, but have also put into place a growing culture of cruelty in which those who suffer the misfortunes of poverty, unemployment, low skill jobs, homelessness, and other social problems are the object of both humiliation and scorn.

Neoliberal societies, in general, are in a state of war-a war waged by the financial and political elite against youth, low income groups, the elderly, poor minorities of color, the unemployed, immigrants, and others now considered disposable. Liberty and freedom are now reduced to fodder for inane commercials or empty slogans used to equate capitalism with democracy. At the same time, the very idea of freedom, equality, and civil rights are under sustained condemnation just as racism is spreading throughout the culture like wildfire, especially with regards to police harassment of young black and brown youth. A persistent racism can also be seen in the spiraling attacks on voting rights laws, the mass incarceration of African-American males, and the overt racism that has become prominent among right-wing Republicans and Tea Party types, much of which is aimed at President Obama and poor minorities. At the same time, women’s reproductive rights are under assault and there is an ongoing attack on immigrants.

It gets worse. Education at all levels is being defunded and defined as a site of training rather than as a site of critical thought, dialogue, and critical learning. Public education is under siege by the forces of privatization and advocates of charter schools, rendering public education a dead zone bereft of curiosity, imagination, and critical pedagogy. Critical thought and learning have been replaced by mind numbing testing agendas just as teachers have been reduced to clerks of the empire. At the same time, higher education is under massive attack by the apostles of corporatization just an entire generation has been plunged into life-draining debt that stifles the imagination and reduces young people to a culture of precarity and an endless struggle for survival. In addition, democracy has withered under the emergence of a national security and permanent warfare state. This is evident not only in endless wars abroad but also in the passing of a series of laws such as the PATRIOT ACT, the Military Commission Act, the National Defense Authorization Act, and many others laws that shred due process and give the executive branch the right to hold prisoners indefinitely without charge or a trial, authorize a presidential kill list, and conduct warrantless wiretaps. Of course, both Bush and Obama claimed the right to kill any citizens considered to be a terrorist or who have come to the aid of terrorism. Targeted assassinations are now carried out by drones that are more and more killing innocent children, adults, and bystanders. Similarly, the war on terror migrates touching everything in its path and is no longer limited to matters of foreign policy. Domestic terrorism has opened new war zones, operating off the assumption that all Americans are potential terrorists.

Another index of America’s slide into barbarism and authoritarianism is on display with the rise of the racial punishing state with its school-to prison pipeline, the criminalization of a range of social problems, the rise of a massive incarceration system, the increasing militarization of local police forces, and the growing use of ongoing state violence against youthful dissenters and ordinary citizens. The prison has now become the model for a type of punishment creep that has impacted upon public schools where young children are arrested for violating something as trivial as a dress code. It is also evident in the management of a number of social services where poor people are put under constant surveillance and punished for minor infractions. It is also on full display in the militarization of everyday life with its endless celebration of the military, police, and religious institutions, all of which are held in high esteem by the American public, in spite of their undeniably authoritarian nature.

In addition, as Edward Snowden has made clear, the US is now a national security-surveillance state illegally gathering massive amounts of information from diverse sources on citizens who are not guilty of any crimes. There is also the shameful exercise under Bush and to a lesser degree under Obama of state sanctioned torture coupled with a refusal on the part of the government to prosecute those CIA agents and others who willfully engaged in systemic abuses that constitute war crimes. What this list amounts to is the undeniable fact that in the last forty years, the US has launched an attack not only on the practice of justice and democracy itself, but on the very idea of justice and democracy.

Nowhere is the more obvious than in the realm of politics. Money now drives politics in the United States and a number of other countries. Congress and both major political parties have sold themselves to corporate power and have become utterly corrupt. Campaigns are largely financed by the financial elite such as the right wing Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, major defense corporations such as Lockheed Martin, and major financial institutions such as Goldman Sachs. As a recent Princeton University report pointed out, policy in Washington, DC has nothing to do with the wishes of the people but is almost completely determined by the wealthy, big corporations, and financial elite, made even easier thanks to Citizens United and a number of other laws enacted by a conservative Supreme Court majority.  Hence, it should come as no surprise that Princeton University researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page came to the conclusion that that the United States is basically an oligarchy where power is wielded by a small number of elites.

2. In other words, you do not think we have an existential crisis of democracy, the result of an economic crisis, with unforeseen and unintended consequences, but an actual corrosion of democracy, with calculated effects? Is this correct?

I think we have both. Not only has democracy been undermined and transformed into a form of authoritarianism unique to the twenty-first century, but there is also an existential crisis that is evident in the despair, depoliticization, and crisis of subjectivity that has overtaken much of the population, particularly since 9/11 and the economic crisis of 2007. The economic crisis is not matched by a crisis of ideas and many people have surrendered to a neoliberal ideology that limits their sense of agency by defining them primarily as consumers, subjects them to a pervasive culture of fear, blames them for problems that are not of their doing, and leads them to believe that violence is the only mediating force available to them, just the pleasure quotient is colonized and leads people to assume that the Henry Girouxspectacle of violence is the only way in which they can feel any type of emotion and pleasure. How else to interpret polls that show that a majority of Americans support the death penalty, government surveillance, drone warfare, the prison-industrial complex, and zero tolerance policies that punish children. Trust, honor, intimacy, compassion, and caring for others are now viewed as liabilities, just as self-interest has become more important than the general interest and common good. Selfishness, self-interest, and an unchecked celebration of individualism have become, as Joseph E. Stiglitz has argued, “the ultimate form of selflessness.”  What we are witnessing is an extensial crisis rooted in the destruction of meaningful solidarities,  supportive collective provisions, and the eradication of all public spheres that open up spaces for critical and compassionate public connections.  One consequence of neoliberalism is that it makes a virtue of producing a collective existential crisis, a crisis of agency and subjectivity, one that saps democracy of its vitality.  There is nothing about this crisis that suggests it is unrelated to the internal working of casino capitalism. The economic crisis intensified its worse dimensions, but the source of the crisis lies in the roots of neoliberalism, particularly since its inception since the 1970s when social democracy proved unable to curb the crisis of capitalism and economics became the driving force of politics.

3. In your writings, you refer frequently to the specter of authoritarianism. Are you envisioning western liberal democracies turning to authoritarian-style capitalism as in China, Russia, Singapore, and Malaysia, to “friendly fascism,” or to oligarchic democracy?

Each country will develop its own form of authoritarianism rooted in the historical, pedagogical, and cultural traditions best suited for it to reproduce itself.  In the US, there will be an increase in military style repression to deal with the inevitable economic, ecological, political crisis that will intensify under the new authoritarianism. In this instance, the appeal will largely be to security, reinforced by a culture of fear and an intensified appeal to nationalism. At the same time, this “hard war” against the American people will be supplemented by a “soft war” produced with the aid of the new electronic technologies of surveillance and control, but there will also be a full-fledged effort through the use of the pedagogical practices of various cultural apparatuses, extending from the schools and older forms of media, on the one hand to the new media and digital modes of communication, on the other, to produce elements of the authoritarian personality while crushing as much as possible any form of collective dissent and struggle. State sovereignty has been replaced by corporate sovereignty and this constitutes what might be called a new form of totalitarianism that as Michael Halberstam once stated “haunts the modern ideal of political emancipation.” In addition, as Chris Hedges has argued “There is no national institution left that can accurately be described as democratic. What is unique about this form of authoritarianism is that it is driven by a criminal class of powerful financial and political elites who refuse to make political concessions. The new elites have no allegiances to nation states and don’t care about the damage they do to workers, the environment, or the rest of humanity. They are unhinged sociopaths, far removed from what the Occupy Movement called the 99 percent. They are the new gated class who float above national boundaries, laws, and forms of regulation. They are a global elite whose task is to transform all nation states into servile instruments willing to enrich the wealth and power of this monstrous global elite. The new authoritarianism is not just tantamount to a crisis of democracy it is also about the limits now being placed on the very meaning of politics and the erasure of those institutions capable of producing critical, engaged, and socially responsible agents.

4. The role of neoliberalism in reducing democracy and destroying public values is an undeniable fact as the economics of neoliberal capitalism seek to establish the supremacy of corporate and market values over all political and social values. Many of your books represent a systematic attack on the neoliberal project. Do you treat neoliberalism as policy paradigm congruent with a certain stage in the evolution of capitalism or as a particular philosophy of capitalism?

Neoliberalism is both an updated and more ruthless stage in predatory capitalism and its search for the consolidations of class power globally, buttressed by the free market fundamentalism made famous by Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, without any regard for the social contract. As Robert McChesney has argued, it is classical liberalism with the gloves off or shall we say liberalism without the guilt–a more predatory form of market fundamentalism that is as ruthless as it is orthodox in its disregard for democracy. The old liberalism believed in social provisions and partly pressed the claims for social and economic justice. Political and economic concessions were necessary under the old liberalism in order to preserve class power and control.  That paradigm disappeared under the force of global neoliberal capitalism. Neoliberalism considers the discourse of equality, justice, and democracy quaint, if not dangerous and must be either trivialized, turned into its Orwellian opposite, or eviscerated from public life. It certainly represents more than an intensification of classical liberalism and in that sense it represents a confluence, a historical conjuncture in which the most ruthless elements of capitalism have come together to create something new and more predatory amplified by the financialization of capital and the development of a mode of corporate sovereignty that takes no prisoners.

5. Some years ago, in an attempt to analyze the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, you invented the term “the politics of disposability.” Do you consider “disposability” to be a systemic element of global neoliberal capitalism?

Neoliberalism’s war against the social state has produced new forms of collateral damage. As security nets are destroyed and social bonds are undermined, casino capitalism relies on a version of Social Darwinism to both punish its citizens and legitimate its politics of exclusion and violence. It also works had to  convince people that the new normal is a constant state of fear, insecurity, and precarity. By individualizing the social, all social problems and their effects are coded as individual character flaws, a lack of individual responsibility, and often a form of pathology. Life is now a war zone and as such the number of people considered disposable has grown exponentially and this includes low income whites, poor minorities, immigrants, the unemployed, the homeless, and a range of people who are viewed as a liability to capital and its endless predatory quest for power and profits.  Under the regime of neoliberalism, Americans now live in a society where ever-expanding segments of the population are subject to being spied on, considered potential terrorists, and subject to a mode of state and corporate lawlessness in which the arrogance of power knows no limits.

As American society becomes increasingly militarized and political concessions become relics of a long abandoned welfare state, hollowed out to serve the interests of global markets, the collective sense of ethical imagination and social responsibility towards those who are vulnerable or in need of care is viewed as a weakness or a pathology. What has emerged under the regime of neoliberalism is a notion of disposability in which entire populations are now considered excess, relegated to zones of abandonment, surveillance, and incarceration. The death-haunted politics of disposability is a systemic element of neoliberal capitalism actively engaged in forms of asset stripping as is evident in the wave of austerity policies at work in North America and Europe. The politics of disposability is also one of neoliberalism’s most powerful organizing principles rendering millions who are suffering under its market-driven policies and practices as excess, rendered redundant according to the laws of a market that wages violence against the 99 percent for the benefit of the new financial elite. Disposable populations are now consigned to precincts of terminal exclusion, inhabiting a space of social and civil death. These are students, unemployed youth, and members of the working poor as well as the middle class who have no resources, jobs, or hope. They are the voiceless and powerless who represent the ghostly presence of the moral vacuity and criminogenic nature of neoliberalism. They are also its greatest fear and potential threat. What is particularly distinctive about this neoliberal historical conjuncture is the way in which young people, particularly low-income and poor minority youth, are increasingly denied any place in an already weakened social contract and the degree to which they are no longer seen as central to how the many neoliberal societies define their future.

6. Adjusting themselves to the neoliberal reality, universities worldwide are turning increasingly toward corporate management models and marketization. What impact are these shift likely to have on the traditional role of the university as a public sphere?

The increasing corporatization of higher education poses a dire threat to its role as a democratic public sphere and a vital site where students can learn to address important social issues, be self-reflective, and learn the knowledge, values, and ideas central to deepening and expanding the capacities the need to be engaged and critical agents. Under neoliberalism, higher education is dangerous because it has the potential to educate young people to think critically and learn how to hold power accountable.  Unfortunately, with the rise of the corporate university which now defines all aspects of governing, curriculum, financial matters, and a host of other academic policies, education is now largely about training, creating an elite class of managers, and eviscerating those forms of knowledge that conjure up what might be considered dangerous forms of moral witnessing and collective political action.  Any discipline, academic subject, idea, or pedagogical practice of any worth is that does not serve the instrumental needs of capital is rendered unworthy or useless, suggesting that the only knowledge of any value is one that is blessed by commercial interests and the dictates of commerce.  At the same time, the only pedagogical practice of any is measured by the degree to which is can be viewed as a commercial transaction. The corporate university is the ultimate expression of a disimagination machine, which employs a top-down authoritarian style of power, mimics a business culture, infantilizes students by treating them as consumers, and depoliticizes faculty by removing them from all forms of governance. As William Boardman argues, the destruction of higher education “by the forces of commerce and authoritarian politics is a sad illustration of how the democratic ethos (educate everyone to their capacity, for free) has given way to exploitation (turning students into a profit center that has the serendipitous benefit of feeding inequality).”

Particularly disturbing here is the corporate university’s attempt to wage a war on higher education by reducing the overwhelming number of faculty to part-time help with no power, benefits, or security. Many part-time and non-tenured faculty in the United States qualify for food stamps and are living slightly above the poverty level. The slow death of the university as a center of critique, a fundamental source of civic education, and a crucial public good make available the fundamental framework for the emergence of a formative culture that produces and legitimates an authoritarian society. The corporatization of higher education constitutes a serious strike against democracy and gives rise to the kind of thoughtlessness that Hanna Arendt believed was at the core of totalitarianism. A glimpse of such thoughtlessness was on display recently at Rutgers University. How else to explain the fact that a Rutgers University recently offered an honorary degree to  Condoleezza Rice, while offering to pay her $35,000 to give a  commencement speech. There is no honor in giving such a prestigious degree to a war criminal.  But, then again, higher education is now firmly entrenched in what President Eisenhower once called the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex. The culture of business has become the most valued cultural capital in the university, hardening and soiling everything it touches.

7. What role does popular culture play in contemporary democratic life?

Popular culture is largely colonized by corporations and is increasingly used to reproduce a culture of consumerism, stupidity, and illiteracy. Mainstream popular culture is a distraction and disimagination machine in which mass emotions are channeled towards an attraction for spectacles while suffocating all vestiges of the imagination, promoting the idea that any act of critical thinking is an act of stupidity, and offering up the illusion of agency through gimmicks like voting on American Idol.  What is crucial to remember about popular culture is that it is not simply about entertainment, it also functions to produce particular desires, subjectivities, and identities. It has become one of the most important and powerful sites of education or what I have called an oppressive form of public pedagogy.  Film, television, talk radio, video games, newspapers, social networks, and online media do not merely entertain us, they are also teaching machines that offer interpretations of the world and largely function to produce a public with limited political horizons.  They both titillate and create a mass sensibility that is conducive to maintaining a certain level of consent while legitimating the dominant values, ideologies, power relations, and policies that maintain regimes of neoliberalism. There are a number of registers through which popular culture produces a subject willing to become complicit with their own oppression. Celebrity culture collapses the public into the private and reinforces a certain level of stupidity. It infantilizes as it seduces and promotes a kind of civic death.  Surveillance culture undermines notions of privacy and is largely interested into locking people into strangulating orbits of privatization and atomization. A militarized popular culture offers up the spectacle of violence and a hyper-masculine image of agency as both a site of entertainment and as a mediating force through which to solve all problems. Violence now becomes the most important element of power and mediating force in shaping social relationships. Market culture functions largely to turn people into consumers, suggesting that the only obligation of citizenship is to shop. This is largely a way to depoliticize the population and distract them from recognizing their capacities as critically engaged agents and to empty out any notion of politics that would demand thoughtfulness, social responsibility, and the demands of civic courage.

As the late  Stuart Hall argued, there is also a subversive side to popular culture both as a site of resistance and also as a sphere in which education becomes central to politics.  This was particularly clear when he argued that the left “has no sense of politics being educative, of politics changing the way people see things.” He was pointing in part to failure of the left to take seriously the political unconscious and the need to use alternative media, theater, on-line journals and news outlets. At the same time, there is enormous pedagogical value in bringing attention in the rare oppositional representations offered within the dominant media. In this instance, popular culture can be a powerful resource to map and critically engage the everyday, mobilize alternative narratives to capitalism, activate those needs vital to producing more critical and compassionate modes of subjectivity. Film, television, news programs, social media, and other instruments of culture can be used to make education central to a politics that is emancipatory and utterly committed to developing a democratic formative culture. At stake here is the need for progressives to not only understand popular culture and its cultural apparatuses as modes of dominant ideology but to also take popular culture seriously as a tool to revive the radical imagination and to make education central to politics so as to change the way people think, desire, and dream. Stanley Aronowitz is right in arguing that “education would be one of the crucial tasks of a radical political formation” and would need to launch a comprehensive educational program extending from the creation of online journals and magazines to the development of alternative schools.

8. While we speak of a crisis in democracy, some writers speak of a crisis in neoliberalism, probably influenced by the recent global crisis in neoliberal capitalism.  Do you believe that neoliberalism is in a crisis?

I think it is more appropriate to argue that neoliberalism creates and thrives on crises. Crises provide the opening for radical neoliberal reforms, for suspending all government regulations, and for building support for extreme policies that under normal conditions would not be allowed to be put in place. One only has to think about Hurricane Katrina and how the Bush administration used to destroy the public school system and replace it with charter schools. Or how 9/11 offered up an opportunity for going to war with Iraq while drastically curtailing civil liberties that benefitted the rich and powerful defense corporations.

9. The “retreat of the intellectuals is not a recent phenomenon, yet it has become quite pervasive, partly due to the collapse of socialism and partly due to the marketization of contemporary society as well as the neoliberal restructuring of the university.  In your view, how critical is the “retreat of the intellectuals” to the struggle for radical social change?

The seriousness of the retreat of intellectuals from addressing important social issues, aiding social movements, and using their knowledge to create a critical formative culture cannot be overstated. Unfortunately, the flight of the intellectuals from the struggle against neoliberalism and other forms of domination is now matched by the rise of anti-public intellectuals who have sold themselves to corporate power. More specifically, neoliberalism has created not only a vast apparatus of pedagogical relations that privileges deregulation, privatization, commodification, and the militarization of everyday life, but also an legion of anti-public intellectuals who function largely in the interest of the financial elite. Rather than show what is wrong with democracy, they do everything they can to destroy it. These intellectuals are bought and sold by the financial elite and are nothing more than ideological puppets using their skills to destroy the social contract, critical thought, and all those social institutions capable of constructing non-commodified values and democratic public spheres. They view both informed critique and collective dissent as dangerous.  As such, they are the enemies of democracy and are crucial in creating subjectivities and values that buy into the notion that capital rather than people are the subject of history and that consuming is the only obligation of citizenship.  Their goal is to normalize the ideologies, modes of governance, and policies that reproduce massive inequities and suffering for the many and exorbitant and dangerous privileges for the corporate and financial elite.  They are the apostles of an unmitigated apology for thoughtlessness and assume that any act of critical thinking is tantamount to a form of  stupidity.  Moreover, such intellectuals are symptomic of the fact that neoliberalism represents a new historical conjuncture in which cultural institutions and political power has taken on a whole new life in shaping politics. What this implies is that the left in its various registers has to create its own public intellectuals in higher education, the alternative media, and all of those spaces where meaning circulates.  Intellectuals have a responsibility to connect their work to important social issues, work with popular movements, and engage in the shaping of policies that benefit all people and not simply a few. At the heart of this suggestion is the need to recognize that ideas matter in the battle against authoritarianism and that pedagogy must be central to any viable notion of politics and collective struggle. Public intellectuals have an obligation to work for global peace, individual freedom, care of others, economic justice, and democratic participation, especially at a time of legitimized violence and tyranny. I completely agree with the late Pierre Bourdieu when he insisted that there is enormous political importance “to defend the possibility and necessity of the intellectual, who is firstly critical of the existing state of affairs. There is no genuine democracy without genuine opposing critical power.”  The very notion of being an engaged public intellectual is neither foreign to nor a violation of what it means to be an academic scholar, but central to its very definition.  Put simply, academics have a duty to enter into the public sphere unafraid to take positions and generate controversy, functioning as moral witnesses, raising political awareness, and making connections to those elements of power and politics often hidden from public view.

10. One final question. Are you optimistic about the future of the Left and of progressive politics in general?

It is impossible to be on the left and at the same time surrender to the normalization of a dystopian vision. One has to be optimistic, but also realistic. This means that there is no room for a kind of romanticized utopianism. Instead, one has to be motivated by a faith in the willingness of young people to fight principally for a future in which dignity, equality, and justice matter and at the same time recognize the forces that are preventing such a struggle. More specifically, hope has to be fed by the need for thoughtful collective action.  Power is never completely on the side of domination and resistance is not a luxury but a necessity. The left in its various registers has to engage the issue of economic inequality, overcome its fragmentation, develop an international social formation for radical democracy and the defense of the public good, undertake ways to finance itself, take seriously the educative nature of politics and the need to change the way people think, and develop a comprehensive notion of politics and a vision to match. History is open, though the gates are closing fast. The issue for me personally is not whether I am pessimistic, but how am I going to use whatever intellectual resources I have to make it harder from getting worse while struggling for a society in which the promise of democracy appears on the horizon of possibility.

C. J. Polychroniou writes for Eleftherotypia


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US Court To Hear Sikh Massacre Case Against Congress

US Court To Hear Sikh Massacre Case Against Congress On March 19, Jurisdiction Major Issue

JALANDHAR: A US Court is scheduled to hear human rights violation case against Congress (I) on March 19 pertaining to massacre of Sikhs in Delhi and other cities of the country in November 1984. Federal Judge Robert W. Sweet will hear the arguments of the Congress (I) and US based rights group Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) regarding US Court’s extra-territorial jurisdiction to conduct the trial against India’s ruling party.

While Congress is seeking dismissal of the rights violation case before the US Court due to lack of subject-matter jurisdiction; failure to state a claim; expiry of statute of limitation; and SJF’s legal standing to file the case, the complainant SFJ has argued that the subject matter jurisdiction is being invoked on the grounds that Plaintiffs have been granted refugee status in the US for being victims of November 1984 violence organized by the Congress party.

SFJ had accused Congress (I) of conspiring, aiding, abetting, organizing and carrying out attacks on the Sikh population of India after assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

The case of genocidal violence against the ruling party of India was filed by two victims of November 1984 violence and SFJ under the Alien Torts Statute (ATS) and Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA), which grants jurisdiction to US Courts to hear the human rights violation cases committed outside United States if there is a connection between the tort committed and the United States.

Even as SFJ legal advisor Gurpatwant Singh Pannun has said that victims of November 1984 had a strong case because the evidence proved that Congress party had virtually complete control over governance of the country and as the ruling political party was able to pursue a policy of genocide against the Sikhs with the apparent or actual authority of the government of India but the challenge at this stage remains to prove the maintainability and jurisdiction of the case in US court.

In case the complainants get a favourable order they are mulling to present the evidence before the US court that the ruling party of India taking responsibility for the deaths of the Sikh population after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, released more $50 Million Dollars as the compensation to the affected families. “The documentation shows that more than 37000 claims for deaths and injuries were filed by the victims of November 1984,” Pannun said.

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US denies going soft on Narendra Modi #NaMo # NOMOre


IANS India Private Limited/Yahoo India NewsBy Arun Kumar | IANS India Private Limited/Yahoo India News 


Washington, Feb 28 (IANS) Denying it had gone soft on Bharatiya Janata Party‘s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi over his alleged role in 2002 Gujarat riots, the US says it continues to express concerns about communal violence across India

Unlike previous years, India section of the State Department’s Congressionally mandated “2013 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” released Thursday makes no reference to the Gujarat chief minister by name.

But spokesperson Jen Psaki insisted that it did not indicate any softening of US stand saying, “We’re very clear about our concerns about several episodes of communal violence across India.

“I don’t have any new policy or change in policy or new update to report to you,” or anything “to convey to you on the status of a visa” for Modi, she said.

Modi was denied a diplomatic US visa and his business/ tourist was revoked by the State Department in 2005 over his alleged role in the 2002 riots. Modi has not applied for a US visa since then.

Repeating the standard US formulation, Psaki said: “We encourage individuals to apply, and those proceedings or processes are private by standard. It’s standard that they’re private.”

“What I’m conveying to you is that we continue to express concerns about communal violence as it exists in India,” she said.

Psaki also “cautioned against linking” US ambassador to India Nancy Powell’s recent meeting with Modi saying, “Obviously, we’re meeting with a broad range of officials” ahead of India’s May general elections.

“There’s obviously a political season happening, but we’ll meet with a range of officials on the ground, and it’s an indication of nothing more than that,” she said.

The Human Rights report released by Secretary of State John Kerry Thursday said “The most significant human rights problems” in India “were police and security force abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and rape; widespread corruption at all levels of government, leading to denial of justice; and separatist, insurgent, and societal violence.”

“Other human rights problems included disappearances, poor prison conditions that were frequently life threatening, arbitrary arrest and detention, and lengthy pretrial detention,” it said

“Authorities continued to infringe on citizens’ privacy rights,” the report said. “The law in some states restricts religious conversion, and there were reports of arrests but no reports of convictions under those laws.”

“Some limits on the freedom of movement continued. Corruption was widespread,” it said. “Rape, domestic violence, dowry-related deaths, honour killings, sexual harassment, and discrimination against women remained serious problems.”

On Gujarat, the report said: “The government made some progress in cases that seek to hold police and security officials accountable for killings committed during the Gujarat riots in 2002.”

But “Civil society activists continued to express concern about the Gujarat government’s failure to protect the population or arrest many of those responsible for communal violence in 2002 that resulted in the killings of more than 1,200 persons, the majority of whom were Muslim, although there was progress in several court cases.” It said.

The Gujarat government appointed the Nanavati-Mehta Commission to investigate the 2002 violence, the report noted. In December the Gujarat government granted an extension for the 21st time, extending the commission to June 30, 2014.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])


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US state draws criticism for execution that took 24 minutes #deathpenalty


  • Federal public defender Allen Bohnert talks about the execution of his client, death row inmate Dennis McGuire, by a never-tried lethal drug process, on Jan. 16, 2014 at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio.
    AP Federal public defender Allen Bohnert talks about the execution of his client, death row inmate Dennis McGuire, by a never-tried lethal drug process, on Jan. 16, 2014 at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio.
  • This undated file photo provided by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction shows inmate Dennis McGuire.
    AP This undated file photo provided by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction shows inmate Dennis McGuire.

An execution in the U.S. state of Ohio has drawn criticism after reports that it took 25 minutes for the lethal injection of a new mixture of chemicals to work.

The 53-year-old convicted murderer was put to death on Thursday at a state prison. Witnesses to the execution of Dennis McGuire described it as a gruesome death caused by the two-drug execution method that had never before been used by the U.S.

McGuire gasped for air and choked for more than 10 minutes, according to the Columbus Dispatch newspaper. He also struggled and made guttural noises before succumbing 24 minutes after the chemicals began to flow.

Allen Bohnert, one of McGuire’s lawyers, called the execution a “failed, agonizing experiment by the state of Ohio.” McGuire was convicted of killing Joy Stewart in 1989. He forced the pregnant 22-year-old from her car, attempted to rape her, sodomized her, choked and stabbed her. Her family issued a statement after the execution saying McGuire was treated “far more humanely” than he treated Stewart.

The two drugs used in the lethal injection were midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a morphine derivative, the state said.

The reason the new chemical mixture was used was because of a shortage of the chemical usually used in executions, pentobarbital.

There was no clear indication that the drug combination triggered McGuire’s death struggles. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction had no comment on the execution.

U.S. states where the death penalty is legal previously bought the chemical from Europe, but countries there banned its export because of opposition to its use in executions.

A statewide organization to stop executions called for an immediate moratorium on executions after the “horrific events”.

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A trend in U.S. Maternity Care #womenrights #maternalmortality

Two Events on  Suggest a Trend

By Rita Henley Jensen

WeNews editor in chief

Thursday, December 5, 2013

In a one-week period last month two major developments–both tied to Women’s eNews‘ coverage–could signal a rousing from complacency. One was a New York hearing; the other was $6 million in funding by pharmaceutical giant Merck.

baby hands


Credit: Timothy Wood/Code Arachnid on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–Years’ of complacency about the worsening rates at which U.S. women are dying or being injured during childbirth might be ending.

In a one-week period last month maternal mortality in the United States suddenly gained significant attention in the political and corporate spheres.

9 Questions to Raise about Quality of U.S. Birthing FacilitiesTo improve the understanding of U.S. maternal health, Women’s eNews invites its readers to seek answers to some or all of the following questions from their city or state health departments and to send the results to[email protected]. Women’s eNews will publish the information once we have 10 cities or states to compare and update the data as it comes in throughout the year. If no data is available, please send us that information as well. Questions to consider:

    1. How many births were recorded at each birthing facility during the most recent calendar year?


    1. For each birthing facility, what are the current standard charges for a vaginal birth, paid for by Medicaid, by private insurance, by an uninsured patient?


    1. For each birthing facility, what are the current standard charges for a Cesarean birth, paid for by Medicaid, by private insurance, by an uninsured patient?


    1. How many maternal deaths were recorded at each birthing facility during the most recent calendar year?


    1. Of those who died, what type of health insurance coverage did the patient have: Medicaid, private or none?


    1. What is the birth facility’s readmission rate for maternity care patients (a measure of maternal morbidity) during the most recent calendar year? What type of insurance did the readmitted patients have: Medicaid, private or none? Of those readmitted maternity care patients, what is the racial and ethnic breakdown?


    1. What percentage of patients who underwent C-sections had Medicaid? Private insurance? Were uninsured? What were the racial and ethnic breakdowns?


    1. What percentage of the birthing facility’s revenue come from Medicaid fees for vaginal births for the most recent calendar year? For C-section births?


    1. What percentage of patients who underwent C-sections died or suffered from maternal morbidity in the most recent calendar year? What is the racial and ethnic breakdown of these patients?



In New York, the health committee of the City Council held on Nov. 13 a public hearing on the city’s high maternal mortality rate among women of color. The city, where 9 percent of all African Americans live, reported in 2010 that African American women in New York City died nine times as often as white women from pregnancy-related causes.

Six days after the council hearing, Merck announced, in an unrelated event, a total of $6 million in donations to eight organizations to work toward reducing the number of U.S. women not living to see their child’s first birthday. Merck, the drug-making giant based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., will be donating $150,000 each to four grassroots organizations providing direct care to pregnant women and new mothers. The rest of the money–Merck would not specify an amount–will go toward a collaborative research project among six states with maternal mortality review boards to develop best policies and practices to reduce maternal deaths and three projects with health professionals to improve responses to obstetric emergencies.

These two developments could indicate a growing realization that healthy mothers are crucial to reducing racial disparities in maternal deaths and premature or low-birth weight infants.

Women’s eNews is tied to both developments. With support from theW.K. Kellogg Foundation we have been reporting over several yearson the unexplained and rarely questioned disparities in the high death rates among African American women giving birth. After Women’s eNews hosted a Brooklyn meeting in May of this year, based on our coverage, the staff of the City Council health committee contacted us for assistance in planning the hearing.

The same series of news articles and videos also informed Merck about the need for leadership in saving the lives of mothers in the United States, in addition to other nations.

“On behalf of Merck for Mothers I would like to thank Women’s eNews for all of your dedication in helping to raise awareness of maternal mortality, particularly here in the United States,” Dr. Naveen Rao, head of Merck for Mothers, a $500 million global initiative, wrote to us in an email. “‘Healthy Births, Healthy Moms: Black Maternal Health in America’ is a powerful series that will go a long way towards helping us reduce the growing rates of women dying from complications experienced during pregnancy and childbirth.”

Women’s eNews named Rao as a Women’s eNews 21 Leader in 2013.

Increasing Death Rates

The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed nations. While across the globe the rates are dropping, by 2010 rates in the U.S. rose to 21 deaths per 100,000 births, according to the World Health Organization, twice the rate it was in 1990.

African American families suffer a maternal mortality rate that’s three to four times higher than white women in the United States,according to the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs. In addition, the number of maternal deaths in the United States may be significantly undercounted. Since 2007 the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stopped publishing current U.S. maternal mortality data on its website because data is reported inconsistently.

Outside the circles of maternal health advocates, the growing numbers of U.S. women dying from pregnancy-related causes, regardless of race, has failed to catch public attention. For example, who knows that there is a federal program that hears experts’ testimony on what is needed to reduce maternal mortality in the United States? To find it you have to know what you are looking for and search “Task Force on Infant Morality” on the Health and Human Services website. The task force is said to be on hiatus and has no meetings planned.

As for African American maternal health, reports from the Office of Minority Health make rare, if any, mentions of maternal death disparities. The same is true for many other organizations advocating for improved health in African American communities.

Dr. Priya Agrawal, executive director of the Merck for Mothers campaign, said mothers dying in childbirth are an “unacceptable tragedy.” She added that the U.S. health care system does not have a standard routine for treating obstetric emergencies.

“If you see one hospital, you have seen one hospital,” she said, emphasizing the lack of standard protocol for medical providers when mothers in labor are in urgent need of life-saving care.

“Every death must be counted and reviewed,” Agrawal said, “and the lessons shared.”

She added that the leading causes of maternal mortality in the United States are the same as elsewhere: post-partum hemorrhage, embolisms and preeclampsia.

Merck-Sponsored Programs

The four maternal care practice and policy organizations receiving grants for Merck-sponsored programs are: 

    • Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs: a collaboration among Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, New York, North Carolina and Ohio to strengthen the states’ maternal mortality review boards and translate findings into policies and practices.


    • Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses: a program to improve current responses to post-partum hemorrhage in Georgia, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.


    • American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: A New York State project to work with 10,000 health care providers and 130 birthing facilities to develop standard approaches for handling severe bleeding, blood clots and extremely high blood pressure.


    • California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative: A large-scale implementation of strategies for all birthing facilities in the state to adopt quality improvement toolkits for hemorrhages and extremely high blood pressure.


The four direct-service organizations receiving Merck grants are:


    • Baltimore Health Start to improve prenatal and primary care for women with chronic conditions.
    • Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers in New Jersey to design a model for data-sharing among care providers of pregnant women with complex medical issues to coordinate care during pregnancy and beyond.
    • Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition to support its Safe Start MOMobile, a home-visiting program for at-risk pregnant women.
    • New York City’s Northern Manhattan Perinatal Partnership to support preventive programs that reduce chronic health conditions among women of reproductive age.


At the New York City Council hearing last month, the chair of the committee, Maria del Carmen Arroyo, insisted that it was just the “beginning of the conversation” and promised to spend her next four years on the council pushing for better maternal health in the city. She also agreed to support a $2.5 million funding request for the Bronx Health Link, which provides prenatal care and post-delivery follow up care, and a related volunteer doula program in the heart of Brooklyn. The two boroughs of New York experience the city’s highest rates of maternal mortality.

Deborah Kaplan, assistant commissioner for maternal, infant and reproductive health at the city’s health department, was the first public official to testify at the hearing. Kaplan said the city’s maternal morbidity rate–a measure of chronic poor health resulting from injuries sustained during labor–was 100 per 100,000 births, double the national rate.

Kaplan also said the city used two different time periods when reporting maternal mortality in 2010 (African American women were reported to have died nine times as often as white women) and 2011 (African American women were reported to have died three times as often as white women). She said in 2010, the city counted deaths up to a year after delivery and the following year counted deaths occurring only up to 42 days after delivery.

Personal Testimony

In my testimony, I told the story of Akira Eady, whose death is similar to events that continue to be played out in New York City.

Eady died shortly after giving birth at Mount Sinai Medical Center in 2007. The official cause of death of the 21-year-old mother of three, as recorded by the New York City medical examiner, was heart failure after post-partum seizures.

Eady’s aunt, Carole Eady, recounted to Women’s eNews that her niece, employed and with private medical insurance, bled heavily after receiving an epidural to ease the pain of labor. After giving birth, she complained of headaches. Nevertheless, the hospital released her. Two days after giving birth, she had a seizure and then a heart attack. She was brain dead four days after giving birth.

Carole Eady, now raising Akira Eady’s older daughter Nivea in her Harlem home, acknowledges that her niece’s partner might have played a role in her death by hitting her on the morning of her seizure, but she feels strongly that the hospital staff did not properly administer the epidural or respond to her headache. Regardless, the hospital staff sent her home.

Less than a year later, Akira Eady’s son, 2-year-old Khamerin Antwine, was savagely beaten to death in the Bronx while in custody of his father. The infant born the week she died is being raised by the infant’s father, also in Harlem.

To put Akira Eady’s death into context, I reported to the committee that a review of the New York City maternal deaths from 2001 to 2005, published by the city’s health department, indicated that 82 percent of those mothers who died from embolisms were black non-Hispanic, 14 percent were Hispanic, 4 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander and 0 percent were white.

In the three other categories of most common causes of maternal death, the disparities were also pronounced. For example, 44 percent of those who bled to death were black non-Hispanic, 33 percent were Hispanic, 15 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander and 7 percent were white.

Cesarean sections are believed to put women at a greater risk for severe complications. The same health department report reveals that 54 percent of the women who died underwent C-sections and only 4 percent of those who died gave birth vaginally (28 percent died while pregnant and 14 were classified as non-applicable.)

I also informed the council that the Women’s eNews team found that, nationally and in New York City, the explanation for the high rate of African American maternal mortality can’t be found in the answers that quickly come to mind: teen pregnancy, obesity, lack of pre-natal care, poverty, pre-existing conditions or low education. These are other factors I encouraged the council to explore:

That not a single hospital in New York City meets the World Health Organization’s guidelines for Cesarean sections. In some hospitals in the city, more than 40 percent of births are via C-sections.

With proper care the numbers of mothers dying could be cut nearly in half, according to Dr. Jo Ivy Bufford, president of the New York Academy of Medicine.

Due to an interpretation of the federal privacy act, the causes and birthing sites of these maternal deaths are not made public.



Rita Henley Jensen is founder and editor in chief of Women’s eNews.




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The deep roots beneath 1,000,000 dead Iraqis

Iraq continues to suffer the legacy of two decades of US military intervention and meddling, with little end in sight.

Last Modified: 21 Oct 2013
Al Jazeera

>Mark LeVine

Mark LeVine is professor of Middle Eastern history at UC Irvine, and distinguished visiting professor at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in Sweden and the author of the forthcoming book about the revolutions in the Arab world, The Five Year Old Who Toppled a Pharaoh.

“Iraqis continue to die in an endless struggle to divide the spoils of the world’s second largest oil reserves,” writes Professor LeVine [Reuters]

The scene is painful to anyone concerned about the long-range impact of the first US-Iraq war in 1991. Then US Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright was asked by 60 Minutes correspondent Leslie Stahl if the sanctions imposed on Iraq after the 1991 war, which according to UN estimates had led to the deaths of upwards of half a million children, were “worth it.”

“I think this is a very hard choice but the price we think, the price was worth it,” was Albright’s now infamous reply. Well, perhaps not to everyone; despite her shocking candour, she was promoted by President Clinton to Secretary of State a few months later.

Seven years later, the United States once again invaded Iraq, and according to the most detailed survey of Iraqi civilians yet conducted it’s likely that another 500,000 Iraqis were killed in the invasion and its long and brutal aftermath. This latest estimate is thirty percent lower than the roughly 655,000 war-related deaths arrived at by a much-disputed Lancet study in 2006, but still far higher than the 100,000 deaths estimated by Iraq Body Count.

If we add in the untold thousands of Iraqi soldiers who’ve died in both wars, over 1,000,000 Iraqis have died since 1991 as a result of US invasions and subsequent policies in and towards Iraq.

At least no one in the US asks if “the price was worth it” anymore. By now, even Americans, whose broad estimation of Iraqi casualties is roughly two percent of the actual number, realise it wasn’t, unless your stock portfolio is heavily tilted towards the defence, security, intelligence and petroleum sectors (in which case, the last decade has been one helluva ride).

But this level of death and destruction can’t be laid all at America’s door step. If it takes a village to raise a child, it take as many people and forces to kill her by the thousands in so many perverse ways. Iraq is crucial here because it reminds us that simply blaming America or the forces of imperialism does nothing to unfold the structural causes of the such large-scale and long-term disasters.

Sharing Blame

Before 1,000,000 Iraqis were killed in American-sponsored wars they were killed by the hundreds of thousands by Saddam Hussein as a result of the eight-year war he launched against Iran, from 1980-88. This war received the strong support not merely of the US government (which we now know knowingly supplied logistical information that helped Hussein’s troops deploy chemical weapons against Iranians) but of the Arab Gulf states as well, which helped finance the war. The Soviet Union, China, and Europeans, all sold Saddam whatever weapons systems he would buy. Not surprisingly, many of the same countries also sold weapons to Iran.

Of course, the world’s growing addiction to oil provided the incredible wealth that allowed Hussein, Khomeini, the House of Saud and all the other petrocrats to spend so much wealth on repression and death in the name of their own power and self-aggrandisement. So in the end, the guilt trickles down to all of us who so eagerly have addicted ourselves to black heroin. But it must be said that the half-million Iraqi children that died during the 1990s sanctions regime, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians who died in the previous decade, died primarily because of the whims of one man, Saddam Hussein, and the brutal regime he headed. Everyone else were ultimately hand maidens to his death machine.

The latest report stresses that a large share of the war-related deaths—as high as forty percent, or several hundred thousand—were not directly from violence, but because of the lack of infrastructure for health care, and the physical and mental stresses associated with the civil war. Who is to blame for these deaths? As the occupying power the United States bore legal responsibility during the official Occupation, and its utter mismanagement of the occupation and reconstruction, coupled with routine violations of international law also contributed to the high mortality rate. But Iraqis on all sides—the Sunni leaders who bragged they would “kill all the infidels” to get the US out of Iraq (as the head of the Sunni Ulama put it to me in 2004), to the Shia leaders who were happy to let the US do the dirty work of reining in the Sunnis while they took the lead in the new Iraqi state—and all the foreign interests, from al-Qa’eda to competing regional powers like Saudi Arabia and Iran, equally share responsibility.

The point is that the one million dead Iraqis are the product of a global system that for decades has rewarded little but greed, violence and repression. It’s a system that so many parties have profited from that no one with any degree of power has any interest in changing it. And so Iraqis continue to die in an endless struggle to divide the spoils of the world’s second largest oil reserves.

Speaking Dead

The 1,000,000 Iraqi dead are still speaking to us. They speak about Syria, where the Obama Administration is happy to arm the rebels just enough to ensure a stalemate but not enough to defeat Assad—thus ensuring that another 100 or even 200,000 Syrian civilians die so that the balance of power between the US and Iran, Hezbollah and al-Qa’eda, isn’t upset in a way that America can’t control. They remind us how Assad was feted by everyone from the CIA and Sarkozy to Brangelina in the last decade before, as Hussein did before him, he became enemy number one. They speak to us about how regional powers like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Qatar can spend billions to support a civil war whose dynamics seem poised to produce a history of death that will rival the miserable toll in Iraq, especially if the war’s long term effect on refugees is accounted for.

They remind us about what happens when civil society, including—and in fact especially—civil resistance is ignored or even repressed instead of being encouraged, and how costly is the ultimate turn to violence to meet even greater state violence for all sides. And they point to how easily a sense of national solidarity can be ripped apart and a society that seemed a model of stability ripped in two or even three if enough forces benefit from such a development.


The question remains, Is anyone listening? And if they are, Is there the any will in the international community to change this murderous dynamic?


Mark LeVine is professor of Middle Eastern history at UC Irvine and distinguished visiting professor at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in Sweden, and the author of the forthcoming book about the revolutions in the Arab world, The Five Year Old Who Toppled a Pharaoh. 



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U.S – Four Most Awful Arguments for Attacking Syria Made So Far

There’s no shortage of commentators itching for a U.S. attack on Syria.

The Syria flag painted on cracked ground with vignette.
Photo Credit: Aleksey Klints/

August 27, 2013  |

There’s no stopping the U.S. now: the gears of war are grinding for an attack on Syria in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack last week that killed at least hundreds of people.

President Obama will releasehis report on why the U.S. is justified in striking at Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry upped the rhetorical ante yesterday, calling the alleged chemical weapons attack a “moral obscenity” and stating that “President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people.” And NBC News reports that a strike on Syria could occur as early as Thursday.

Media figures are now racing to opine on what America’s response should be. And there’s no shortage of commentators itching for a U.S. attack, consequences be damned. Here’s 4 bad media justifications for an attack on Syria.

1. Eugene Robinson

The Washington Post’s liberal columnist madethe case for an attack in a column published yesterday. Robinson wrote that Obama has to “punish” Assad for the attack because the use of chemical weapons cannot be tolerated and because “this is a case in which somebody has to be the world’s policeman.”

Robinson takes the Obama administration’s claim that the Assad regime carried out the attack at face value. It’s clear that an attack took place. Less clear is who, exactly, carried it out. While the evidence certainly leans towards Assad being the perpetrator, the U.N. still has to do its ground work, and cruise missile strikes can wait.

There’s also other avenues for punishment if it becomes clear Assad did carry out a chemical weapons attack: the International Criminal Court and economic sanctions.

2. New York Times

Here’s another group of liberals providing cover for an Obama attack on Syria. The New York Times editorial board statesthat “the arguments against deep American involvement remain as compelling as ever.” But the Times also says that “Presidents should not make a habit of drawing red lines in public, but if they do, they had best follow through.”

So the main argument the Times is using to justify an attack is that Obama must prove his “red line” on chemical weapons cannot be crossed. But what if the cost of proving that is deeper U.S. involvement in a brutal civil war?

The Times states “the aim is to punish Mr. Assad for slaughtering his people with chemical arms, not to be drawn into another civil war.” But once the U.S. dives into war, the pressure for even greater intervention to tip the balance of the civil war towards the rebels becomes greater.

3. Washington Post’s Editorial Board

It’s not a shock that the hawkish editorial board at the Washington Post favors interventionin Syria. But the board wants the U.S. to go even further than the few pointless and futile cruise missile strikes that the Times and Robinson seem to want. “The military measures could include destroying forces involved in chemical weapons use and elements of the Syrian air force that have been used to target civilians, as well as helping to carve out a safe zone for rebels and the civilian populations they are seeking to protect,” the board writes.

There’s a risk that limited cruise missile strikes on the Syrian regime will raise the pressure for greater U.S. involvement down the road. But the Post wants the U.S. to go all in and throw our military weight on the side of a mixed and divided bag of rebel forces. That nearly guarantees U.S. blood and treasure going to wither on the Syrian battlefield.

4. Bret Stephens

The most hawkish–and easily derided–case yet comes from Bret Stephens, a neoconservative writer at the Wall Street Journal.Stephens writes that Obama’s“main order of business must be to kill Bashar Assad.” He goes on to compare the situation to the 1930s, and argues that a Tomahawk missile aimed at Assad’s head could “hit and hasten the end of the civil war…What’s at stake now is the future of civilization, and whether the word still has any meaning.”

The hyperbole is all too easy to spot. And Stephens seems to think killing Assad will end the civil war. But the death of Assad is unlikely to bring about an end to civil war. It could lead to further ethnic cleansing. And the rebels could then turn the guns on themselves and jockey for power. Killing Assad may feel good, but it would hardly mean an end to the bloodletting.

Alex Kane is AlterNet’s New York-based World editor, and an assistant editor forMondoweiss. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

  • #999; padding: 2px; display: block; border-radius: 2px; text-decoration: none;" href="" target="_blank"> #RIP Helen Thomas, Pioneering Journalist and Trailblazer
  • #999; padding: 2px; display: block; border-radius: 2px; text-decoration: none;" href="" target="_blank">Soldiers’ Perspectives on the Use of Chemical Weapons


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Cuba – Guantánamo Bay, Another Injustice

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A restraint chair used to force-feed detainees at the military hospital at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Published 10th aug, NY Times
ABOUT two months ago I learned that some of my books had been banned at Guantánamo Bay. Apparently detainees were requesting them, and their lawyers were delivering them to the prison, but they were not being allowed in because of “impermissible content.”
I became curious and tracked down a detainee who enjoys my books. His name is Nabil Hadjarab, and he is a 34-year-old Algerian who grew up in France. He learned to speak French before he learned to speak Arabic. He has close family and friends in France, but not in Algeria. As a kid growing up near Lyon, he was a gifted soccer player and dreamed of playing for Paris St.-Germain, or another top French club. Tragically for Nabil, he has spent the past 11 years as a prisoner at Guantánamo, much of the time in solitary confinement. Starting in February, he participated in a hunger strike, which led to his being force-fed. For reasons that had nothing to do with terror, war or criminal behavior, Nabil was living peacefully in an Algerian guesthouse in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sept. 11, 2001. Following the United States invasion, word spread among the Arab communities that the Afghan Northern Alliance was rounding up and killing foreign Arabs. Nabil and many others headed for Pakistan in a desperate effort to escape the danger. En route, he said, he was wounded in a bombing raid and woke up in a hospital in Jalalabad. At that time, the United States was throwing money at anyone who could deliver an out-of-town Arab found in the region. Nabil was sold to the United States for a bounty of $5,000 and taken to an underground prison in Kabul. There he experienced torture for the first time. To house the prisoners of its war on terror, the United States military put up a makeshift prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Bagram would quickly become notorious, and make Guantánamo look like a church camp. When Nabil arrived there in January 2002, as one of the first prisoners, there were no walls, only razor-wire cages. In the bitter cold, Nabil was forced to sleep on concrete floors without cover. Food and water were scarce. To and from his frequent interrogations, Nabil was beaten by United States soldiers and dragged up and down concrete stairs. Other prisoners died. After a month in Bagram, Nabil was transferred to a prison at Kandahar, where the abuse continued. Throughout his incarceration in Afghanistan, Nabil strenuously denied any connection to Al Qaeda, the Taliban or anyone or any organization remotely linked to the 9/11 attacks. And the Americans had no proof of his involvement, save for bogus claims implicating him from other prisoners extracted in a Kabul torture chamber. Several United States interrogators told him his was a case of mistaken identity. Nonetheless, the United States had adopted strict rules for Arabs in custody — all were to be sent to Guantánamo. On Feb. 15, 2002, Nabil was flown to Cuba; shackled, bound and hooded. Since then, Nabil has been subjected to all the horrors of the Gitmo handbook: sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, temperature extremes, prolonged isolation, lack of access to sunlight, almost no recreation and limited medical care. In 11 years, he has never been permitted a visit from a family member. For reasons known only to the men who run the prison, Nabil has never been waterboarded. His lawyer believes this is because he knows nothing and has nothing to give. The United States government says otherwise. In documents, military prosecutors say that Nabil was staying at a guesthouse run by people with ties to Al Qaeda and that he was named by others as someone affiliated with terrorists. But Nabil has never been charged with a crime. Indeed, on two occasions he has been cleared for a “transfer,” or release. In 2007, a review board established by President George W. Bush recommended his release. Nothing happened. In 2009, another review board established by President Obama recommended his transfer. Nothing happened. According to his guards, Nabil is a model prisoner. He keeps his head down and avoids trouble. He has perfected his English and insists on speaking the language with his British lawyers. He writes in flawless English. As much as possible, under rather dire circumstances, he has fought to preserve his physical health and mental stability. In the past seven years, I have met a number of innocent men who were sent to death row, as part of my work with the Innocence Project, which works to free wrongly convicted people. Without exception they have told me that the harshness of isolated confinement is brutal for a coldblooded murderer who freely admits to his crimes. For an innocent man, though, death row will shove him dangerously close to insanity. You reach a point where it feels impossible to survive another day. DEPRESSED and driven to the point of desperation, Nabil joined a hunger strike in February. This was not Gitmo’s first hunger strike, but it has attracted the most attention. As it gained momentum, and as Nabil and his fellow prisoners got sicker, the Obama administration was backed into a corner. The president has taken justified heat as his bold and eloquent campaign promises to close Gitmo have been forgotten. Suddenly, he was faced with the gruesome prospect of prisoners dropping like flies as they starved themselves to death while the world watched. Instead of releasing Nabil and the other prisoners who have been classified as no threat to the United States, the administration decided to prevent suicides by force-feeding the strikers. Nabil has not been the only “mistake” in our war on terror. Hundreds of other Arabs have been sent to Gitmo, chewed up by the system there, never charged and eventually transferred back to their home countries. (These transfers are carried out as secretly and as quietly as possible.) There have been no apologies, no official statements of regret, no compensation, nothing of the sort. The United States was dead wrong, but no one can admit it. In Nabil’s case, the United States military and intelligence agents relied on corrupt informants who were raking in American cash, or even worse, jailhouse snitches who swapped false stories for candy bars, porn and sometimes just a break from their own beatings. Last week, the Obama administration announced that it was transferring some more Arab prisoners back to Algeria. It is likely that Nabil will be one of them, and if that happens another tragic mistake will be made. His nightmare will only continue. He will be homeless. He will have no support to reintegrate him into a society where many will be hostile to a former Gitmo detainee, either on the assumption that he is an extremist or because he refuses to join the extremist opposition to the Algerian government. Instead of showing some guts and admitting they were wrong, the American authorities will whisk him away, dump him on the streets of Algiers and wash their hands. What should they do? Or what should we do? First, admit the mistake and make the apology. Second, provide compensation. United States taxpayers have spent $2 million a year for 11 years to keep Nabil at Gitmo;give the guy a few thousand bucks to get on his feet. Third, pressure the French to allow his re-entry. This sounds simple, but it will never happen.

A lawyer and author of the forthcoming novel “Sycamore Row.”
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US Wars, Dehumanization, and Me

 Common Dreams

“I was experiencing an epiphany,” writes Toy, “a complete spiritual awakening that became almost unbearable at times. I was overwhelmed by a new connection to humanity. A part of me that had been dead, or never alive, bloomed.” (File photo: adjusted)An Iraq veteran and five-year employee at private defense contracting corporation General Dynamics publicly resigned from the private defense contractor in late July in protest of the company’s arming of US-led wars, declaring: “I have always believed that if every foot soldier threw down his rifle war would end. I hereby throw mine down.”

Brandon Toy sent his resignation letter in an email to his immediate supervisors, coworkers, and the corporate chain of command, as well as to Common Dreams, who published the statement. The letter has since gone viral, racketing tens of thousands of views on social media sites.

In his own words, Toy shares the story of his personal transformation, first as a veteran and then as an employee of a private defense contractor.

The Dehumanization of War

I arrived in Baghdad believing that Iraqis were simple people in need of having civilization thrust upon them, and that we were the enlightened civil ones who would show them the right way to live. To me, they were less than human.

One pivotal night three years ago, I bragged to my wife and cousins about a family I had terrified by pointing my rifle at them to get them to stop in traffic. I laughed about the way the father and mother had frantically waved their arms at me, begging not to be shot.

When I told this story in the past to my fellow soldiers, they had laughed and told me similar stories of their own. On this night, no one laughed. To my great surprise, my wife, my cousin, and his girlfriend were horrified. I even scared the waitress. They let me know in no uncertain terms that it was wrong to laugh about such a thing.

I was immediately defensive. “You guys don’t understand,” I told them. “If you had been there, you would get it.” But, they insisted that it wasn’t funny.

Where I saw humor, they saw a terrified family whose only crime was travelling from one place to another.

The conversation stuck with me. I began to wonder why it was funny to me and not to them. Why was I unmoved by that family’s fears, while my family was horrified by my laughter?


I began searching for information about US wars. I discovered the writing of Noam Chomsky, Glenn Greenwald, Chris Hedges and many more progressive thinkers and writers. I was introduced to Wikileaks, Anonymous, and Julian Assange. I started watching Democracy Now! in the morning and The Young Turks at night. I browsed Common Dreams and Salon on a daily basis. And of course, I followed the story of whistleblower Bradley Manning, without whom many of these revelations would be impossible.

Around this time, I saw Collateral Murder for the first time. I recognized my own attitudes reflected in the pilots’ apathetic chatter. I thought of my own laughter at the suffering of civilians.

In the spring of 2012, I immersed myself in World War II history. I was particularly fascinated and repulsed by the atrocities committed by the Germans. How could so many people be so culpable in the mass murder of millions of innocent people? I watched and read everything I could find, trying to gain an understanding of exactly how it had all happened. How had the German people become willing accomplices in the biggest mass murder in recorded history?

“I became keenly aware of my connection to the never-ending war. I no longer saw myself as removed from the events taking place overseas. I was part of the same power structure; it was the department of defense that signed my paychecks and the Army that used the vehicles I was helping design. Each new revelation – each new report of another criminal government action – felt like a self-betrayal.”

Of course, Germany didn’t go from depressed nation to genocidal superpower overnight. Boundaries were crossed one by one until they culminated in the near total destruction of Europe and horrible crescendo now known as the holocaust.

I studied every major war crime I could find record of, including those committed by the US government. I came to realize that, without exception, each of these acts was committed under the banner of a government in the name of the common good. Every killing of civilians has a pretext. Take these pretexts away and these events all look the same: dead men, women, and children whose only crime is being in the wrong place and time.

Change of Heart

I was experiencing an epiphany; a complete spiritual awakening that became almost unbearable at times. I was overwhelmed by a new connection to humanity. A part of me that had been dead, or never alive, bloomed. At times I felt on the verge of being uprooted and washed away. I sought spiritual guidance from friends, family, coworkers, pastors, and therapists. I searched for a higher power everywhere.

I became keenly aware of my connection to the never-ending war. I no longer saw myself as removed from the events taking place overseas. I was part of the same power structure; it was the department of defense that signed my paychecks and the Army that used the vehicles I was helping design. Each new revelation – each new report of another criminal government action – felt like a self-betrayal.

I carried on in this state of cognitive dissonance, alternating between acceptance and revulsion. I was making a choice but hadn’t chosen. Would I surrender and accept the moral emptiness of my profession and the safety and security it provided me, or would I follow what I knew in my heart was right?

My disillusionment was complete the night I watched the US Dirty Wars in Iraq expose by BBC Arabic and theGuardian. Realizing that I had unwittingly been aiding the training, transporting, and equipping of US sanctioned death squads was the last betrayal.

Taking Action

I didn’t sleep for several nights. I was irate and wanted to leave General Dynamics immediately. I spent the weekend pouring my soul into my resignation letter and planning my exit. My wife was worried sick. She persisted to push back on the plan, insisting that I find work before I left my job. I reluctantly agreed and set aside my letter, telling myself that I was playing my part for the good of my family and nothing else.

I hit a new low point in mid-June. It became a chore of Olympic proportions just to slog through my days. Some mornings I woke up and dry heaved at the thought of going to work. I chain smoked five to six cigarettes during my 25-minute drive. I moved in slow motion, forcing my feet to move my body into the building.

On July 4th I went and watched Jeremy Scahill’s film Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield. I was moved to tears by the pain of the family members of the victims of US drones strikes, particularly the children. I walked out of the theatre in a daze. I no longer questioned if it was really my country that was doing these things. I knew in my heart that it was.

On July 8th, the Guardian released the second part of Glenn Greenwald’s interview with Edward Snowden in which he said this:

“…I enlisted in the army shortly after the invasion of Iraq and I believed in the goodness of what we were doing, I believed in the nobility of our intentions to free oppressed people overseas. But over time, over the length of my career, as I watched the news and I increasingly was exposed to true information that had not been propagandized in the media that we were actually involved in misleading the public and misleading all publics not just the American public in order to create a certain mindset in the global consciousness and I was actually a victim of that….”

When I watched this in the first time, I heard my own thoughts coming out of Mr. Snowden’s mouth. It filled me with hope. I had known that there were people out there who had been through the same exact experience I had been through, but here was someone who had risked everything to tell the truth. It inspired me.

My livelihood was dependent on the continuing war I had turned against. If I wanted to advance in my career, send my children to college, buy a house, and do all of those things that we generically call the American dream, I needed more war. The hours I toiled were in the service of those committing the very war atrocities I despised. More importantly, as long as I served the corporate war masters my voice, which had become one of dissent, was silenced.

I brought my wife flowers that night and sat her on the bed and told her that I must do this thing. She again resisted but could tell I had made up my mind. We made an accounting of the meager amount of money we had, discussed the possible repercussions, and planned the actions we would need to take. I called my cousin, who came over and helped me edit my letter. I took a sleeping aide and went to bed.

No Turning Back

I am a coward in the morning. I awoke with a panic and walked nervously up and down our little apartment, mindlessly dressing myself. I drove the long way to work. I parked down the street, behind a vacant building and walked in through the security gate. I went straight to my desk and downloaded the letter, which I had sent to myself buried in an email titled “Birthday Party.” I carefully copied it over into two emails: one addressed to the entire company, and one slimmed down to just the bare essentials: a few friends, the journalists I respected the most, and my corporate chain-of-command.

I found an empty conference room and connected to the internet. I carefully set down my company phone, badge, and General Dynamics property slip. I stared at the emails, rereading them one more time.

I can only remember one other such unquestionably pivotal moment in my life: the day I signed my enlistment papers. At that moment, sitting in front of the recruiter, I had thought to myself: Are you sure you want to do this, because there is no turning back?

As I had then, I had made one small motion and changed the course of my life. Ten years ago, that small motion had sent me to a war I didn’t understand. On this day, I hit send and left that war.

Change will not be hoisted on us from above—at least not the change we desire. It will come from us, those who have given our consent to the state. Until we take back our explicit or tacit support of the criminal actions taken in our name, nothing will change.

To learn more about a new documentary film Brandon Toy is working on, go here.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
Brandon Toy

Brandon Toy resigned his job working for US defense contractor General Dynamics as an Engineering Project Manager building Stryker armored fighting vehicles on July 16, 2013. Previously, Brandon served in the Michigan Army National Guard as a Multiple Launch Rocket System Fire Direction Specialist, Team Leader and Vehicle Commander. He was deployed as a military policeman to Baghdad, Iraq in 2004 – 2005.

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