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Revolution #69, November 19, 2006
Last Tuesday’s mid-term elections marked a significant turn of events. For the first time in 12 years, Republicans in the House of Representatives and Senate were voted out, and Democrats were returned to power. As soon as the results were in, the much-hated Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was forced to resign.
Yet the question of the day remains: what is actual significance of these elections? What changes are—and aren’t—likely to result? What will—and won’t—they mean for the overall Bush agenda and the Iraq war? And what challenges and responsibilities confront those who oppose everything Bush and his regime stand for, and understand the need to reverse the whole direction they’ve been taking the world?
What do you think of the Democratic victory? is on everyone’s lips, and this post-election discussion and debate is one that every reader of our paper should plunge into.
The War—Their Agenda and Ours
Many people see the vote as a popular referendum repudiating Bush, his administration, and the Iraq war. Millions of those who voted did so out of anger and disgust with the war. But in reality the war was not up for a vote—at least not in the way people may think.
The elections marked the crescendo of months of dire warnings and criticisms—including from within the U.S. military and other major voices in the imperialist foreign policy establishment—concerning the deteriorating situation in Iraq.
The Bush team had thought they’d quickly be able to turn Iraq into a pro-U.S. client state, a platform for further aggression in the region, and a signal to the world that U.S. power was unchallengeable. Instead, U.S. forces have been unable to either quell the growing insurgency or cobble together a new Iraqi ruling class with the power, cohesion and legitimacy to stabilize the situation. All this has the potential to turn Iraq into a center of anti-U.S. hatred and instability, further strengthen Iran, destabilize the region, weaken the U.S. military, and open the door for rival powers. In short, exactly the opposite of what Bush and company set out to accomplish.
This caused forces within the ruling class to maneuver to force Bush to adjust his strategy. These forces want to prevent a strategic debacle and to salvage what is possible from Iraq—in order to maintain U.S. military, political, and economic domination over the Middle East. They are not aiming for an immediate end to the war but instead for a shift in tactics within Iraq and, perhaps, in regard to other forces in the region. They are not questioning the morality or justness of the war, merely its execution. For these forces, the elections became one means of both criticizing the Bush team and forcing (and creating political cover for) a serious reassessment of the war’s conduct and adjustment in strategy.
The Democrats’ calls for a “new direction” and “competent” leadership in Iraq and their criticisms of Bush’s “failed policy” served these objectives. The Democratic denunciations of the war were vague. Few candidates spelled out specifically what they would do, and fewer still called for immediate withdrawal. Some called the war a “mistake,” but none called it what it actually is: reactionary, criminal, and immoral.
This vagueness had two major virtues for the ruling class. First, it enabled the Democrats—who have consistently voted for and supported the Iraq war and continue to support its broad objectives—to divert the broad anti-war anger into a framework that doesn’t question the whole nature of the war. Second, it gives the Democrats the flexibility to join into a “bipartisan consensus” to “adjust,” rather than end, the war. Indeed, the “neocon” fascist William Kristol said on FOX News that the Republican defeat could actually give Bush the political cover to put more pressure on the Iraqi government and to call for some sort of regional conference (both Democratic demands), while also increasing the number of troops (which Kristol and other Republican forces like McCain favor).
The Fall of Rumsfeld and the Rise—and Further Taming—of Nancy Pelosi
The fall of Donald Rumsfeld has to be seen in this light. Rumsfeld is most associated with his insistence on attempting to conquer and occupy Iraq with the minimum number of forces necessary. His exit is at least in large part a signal that this strategy is open for “re-evaluation.” Knocking down someone so high up is meant to show that Bush recognizes that all is not well, that they face serious problems and significant dangers, that some significant adjustments are necessary, and that he is going to have to forge a broader consensus among the ruling class to deal with all this.
The pledges of the Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi for “civility and cooperation” must also be seen in this light [see “Post Elections: Dissecting the Democrats”]. She is pledging to hold tight, to not do anything that could possibly endanger the stability of the whole thing, and to keep “her base”—those who do look to the Democratic Party as an agent of change—firmly in check. The people may have been voting to end the war and even to reverse the ugly direction of this regime—but Pelosi and the rest are already reinterpreting things and using their power to put a stamp on what people did—to fit it into and make it serve a whole other set of objectives than most people intended through their votes.
The elections, therefore, by themselves, will not signal a fundamental reversal of course on Iraq, still less a repudiation of the logic that led to the invasion. Instead—absent a massive movement in determined opposition—they will end up as a vehicle to adjust, sustain and rehabilitate this hated war.
The Democrats and the Bush Agenda
But Iraq is only one part of the Bush package. What about the other Bush horrors?
Where was the Democrat, for instance, who came out against the legalized torture and gutting of habeas corpus that was passed in September? Where were the “attack ads” that called out the Republicans for supporting such outrages?
Where was the Democrat who went on the offensive against the mounting moves toward a theocracy—the rule by Christian fundamentalist fascists? Where were the attack ads that called out a Republican for something like the “Terri Schiavo” incident?
Where was the Democrat who sounded the alarm against the Bush regime plans to invade Iran, or who criticized the support for the brutal Israeli invasion of Lebanon over the summer? Or who stood up for the rights of gay people to marry and dared to uphold the morality of a woman’s right to an abortion?
Instead, the Democrats not only tacitly—and in some cases openly—went along with the Bush agenda on these and other questions, they took great pains to claim the “war on terror” as their own, even as that “war on terror” forms the logical underpinning of a huge part of Bush’s agenda. [see “The (Deadly) Logic of the ‘War on Terror’”] And despite widespread sentiment to hold Bush accountable for his many and horrific crimes, Nancy Pelosi denounced on 60 Minutes any idea of impeaching Bush. That fact alone means that the crimes and outrages of the Bush regime—from its doctrine of pre-emptive war to its widespread use of torture and illegal imprisonment, among others—will now become legitimated and “normal.”
Many commentators have remarked that the current election is unlike 1994, when the Republicans took over Congress with a clear-cut program for radical overhaul. This is because the forces behind the Bush regime (and behind that 1994 takeover as well) have developed a “package” that speaks to some of the main underlying economic and political dynamics in the world—and the Democrats haven’t. This package includes aggressive international projection of the overwhelming military power of the U.S., a huge intensification of repression domestically, a drastic cut in government-funded social welfare programs, and the increasing buildup of a Christian fascist movement in the politics and culture of society (with some of the key forces in this mix pushing for an outright fascist theocracy).
The Democrats, try as some of them might, have not come up with either the program or the organized social and political forces to counter that—and they are not willing and they are not able, at this point, to oppose it with anything more than what Lenin once called “pious doubts and petty amendments.” The top Democratic leaders make their main priority the preservation of this system, no matter what horrors (and horrific compromises) this preservation may require—and at this point they are quite open about that. For the past several years they have been intent on keeping the outrage of the people suppressed and diverted into channels that end up shoring up the system, and even the Bush regime itself. This dynamic has not fundamentally changed through the election.
Moreover, we should step back here and look at the whole system that both Bush and the Democrats maintain is the “greatest country on in the world.” What, after all, is it that U.S. military force defends in the over 100 countries in which U.S. soldiers are based? Fundamentally, it is the “right” of U.S. capital to go anywhere and do anything, no matter how monstrous, in search of the highest possible profits; to dominate and despoil whole countries and even regions, sometimes if only to make sure that their rival imperialists do not; to drive people off their land in the blind pursuit of profit and then to use those same people as “cheap labor” either within their home countries or the imperialist countries themselves; to fortify repressive social orders and customs so long as they serve the needs of imperialist expansion; to crush whoever gets in their way, even fellow reactionaries and gangsters; and to violently and viciously suppress any revolutionary or radical movements that arise when people dare to throw off their chains, or even resist.
This very basic truth must be returned to, brought out and driven home to people, in a million different ways, as we get into with them what the Democratic victory will—and will not—mean.
The Bush Regime: Still Intolerable, Still Must Be Driven Out
To return to the questions at the beginning of this editorial, we must also ask all those we work with and meet: what do you think about the elections? And what are you going to do?
The elections are now over, but we still confront a criminal regime and the urgent need to drive it from power and repudiate its program. Everything it is doing is STILL intolerable!
Now is not time for political retreat or wait-and-see. The contradiction between the burning desires of the millions who voted against Bush and the war on one hand, and what Bush and the Democrats will actually do on the other, could drive many more into resolute opposition. But that depends on us—and on you. Left to itself, that contradiction will only become a source of despair and a force for further passivity and paralysis. We—and you reading this—have to find the ways to resist, and to recast the political terms in this situation.
We have to insist that what was unacceptable yesterday remains unacceptable today—and tomorrow. We have to work with World Can’t Wait to rally others to the basic indictments, as well as the political stand and the moral certitude expressed in its very powerful Call to drive out the Bush regime. Teach-ins, massive distribution of that call, getting out the materials from the Bush Crimes Commission, joining in and supporting resistance—all these are the order of the day.
Beyond that there is the urgent need to get the works of Bob Avakian into this situation—in college courses and on the campuses more broadly, into the communities of the oppressed, on the radio, into the bookstores and libraries, out among intellectuals and in intellectual journals, and hundreds of other ways. These works not only shed real light on the underlying dynamics of this whole situation and speak very directly to the huge political questions of the day, they also pose the way forward—both in regards to how a revolution could be made, and to the truly liberating character such a revolution must have—the ways in which it must build on but go way beyond the revolutions of the past. And with that, there is also the urgent need to get out this paper—to get the truth, every week, into many many more hands and build the scaffolding of the revolutionary movement.
The underlying dynamics of this system—the misery and horror it means to billions of people every day—have not changed. The ways in which these dynamics have brought forward the perverse Bush regime—and the ways in which that regime answers the “needs” of that system, with whatever “course corrections” are needed—have not changed. The great dangers—and the potential openings—posed by this whole course taken by imperialism have not changed. The acute need for revolution continues.
We must act.
Revolution #69, November 19, 2006
Every major politician and commentator talks about the “war on terror.” But what is the war on terror? Who decides what countries are “with the terrorists,” and on what basis? What are the objectives of this war? And, what kind of “war on terror” is fought with illegal wars, massacres, and torture?
Think about it. If the use of terror—specifically the conscious targeting of innocent civilians for attack—defines who is a terrorist, then the closest allies of the United States and most of all the United States itself would be at the top of the list. Often the U.S. “outsources” its terrorist attacks. During the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the Israeli army fired over a million cluster bomblets into Lebanon, for example. These are anti-civilian weapons, designed to more or less randomly blow body parts off people—often children—who pick them up. The delivery systems for these weapons of terror were rushed to Israel by the U.S., and the entire Israeli military machine is funded by and operates under the overall direction of the U.S.
While the U.S. often hides behind proxy states, dictators, and armed groups to carry out terror, the current war on Iraq is full of examples of direct U.S. terrorist attacks. In numerous documented incidents, uniformed U.S. troops barged into the homes of random, innocent civilians and raped women and murdered entire families. And while those at the top of the chain of command hypocritically blame a few low-level torturers, it is clear that directives for the horrific torture at Abu Ghraib came directly from Donald Rumsfeld who, for years, and even after his resignation, has gotten nothing but praise from the commander-in-chief himself.
And then, of course, there is the entire history of this country—from the genocide practiced against the Native American peoples to the nuclear bombing of the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to Vietnam and beyond. By any objective definition, the United States leads the list of “terrorist states.” But somehow this same government can decide who is, and who isn’t, a “terrorist.”
Imperialism vs. Reactionary Forces in Oppressed Nations
But let’s step back a minute. The global system of imperialism has produced a horribly lopsided world—where one billion of the world’s people do not have drinkable water and obscene wealth is controlled by the ruling classes of a few countries. This stunning inequality is an expression of a capitalist system that squeezes the life out of child laborers in Pakistan, miners slaving in the Congo, and Brazilian peasants scratching out a living growing coffee for the world market. When you hear someone talking about investment—and in particular investment in the oppressed nations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America—this is what they are talking about. Such investments are the lifeblood of a global imperialist economy that lives off of exploitation, and superexploitation. And, from the standpoint of the interests of imperialism, this whole structure needs to be protected—from those who rise up against being exploited, and from global and regional rivals who want a bigger piece of the action.
How does this connect with the “war on terror”? In the geopolitical landscape that emerged after the collapse of the former Soviet Union, and the end of the “cold war,” U.S. imperialism emerged in a position to establish itself as the world’s sole superpower. In this context, the dominant forces within the U.S. ruling class—grouped around the “neocons” (or neoconservatives) in imperialist think tanks, felt the freedom, and need, to tear up the post-World War 2 setup in the Middle East. As they saw it, the complex web of imperialist domination and regional powers in the Middle East could be, and had to be, forcibly replaced with regimes that were both more stable and more reliably subservient to the U.S. Barriers to the investment of imperialist capital had to come down. And political and military challenges to the structure of global imperialism had to be smashed. People like Saddam Hussein who, while overall subordinate to imperialism, were wildcards—playing on whatever space they could find between the U.S. and other powers (like Russia, Europe, and China)—and had to go.
Plans for all this were long on the shelf when 9/11 hit. Immediately after the attacks, the neocons—who were in dominant positions in the White House—seized the moment and wrapped their agenda for more intensified U.S. global domination in the American flag and the banner of a “war on terror.” Donald Rumsfeld told an aide right after the attack that this was the moment to “go massive—sweep it all up, things related and not.”
It is this system of imperialist exploitation and domination, then, that is being defended in the name of the “war on terror.”
Breaking the Deadly Dynamic
For a number of reasons, key forces that the U.S. needs to “sweep up” in the Middle East are Islamic fundamentalists. Many of them were brought into being by the U.S. during the “cold war” to fight the Soviet Union. At the top of their structure, they represent classes within oppressed nations who, like small-scale mobsters operating under a capo de tuti capos, itch for a larger cut of the profit extracted from the sweat and blood of the people in their countries, and a more powerful role for themselves in the process. They base themselves on and feed off of the more backward social relations in these countries—the oppression of women, feudal relations in the countryside, enforced ignorance, etc. To people broadly, Islamic fundamentalism has a certain backward-looking appeal as a way of dealing with traumatic changes to the economic and social life in these societies. The opposition they get from the U.S., along with the corruption and open subservience of the local elites, adds to their credibility among sections of the people. At the same time, their ideology does have a “life of its own,” even as it ultimately reflects more underlying class relations. Some of these forces actually aspire to a form of Islamic empire, and those kinds of ambitions add an element of chaos into the situation that works against U.S. designs. And some have attacked within the imperialist countries themselves.
At the same time, the U.S. is the “dynamic factor” in all this—it is the U.S. that presides over the subjugation of Arab and Middle Eastern lands and that has intensified this over the past two decades through the two Gulf wars, the continued and intensified support of Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians, the basing of American soldiers around the region, the invasion of Afghanistan, and now the threats against Iran. Moreover, the worst crimes become justified in the name of the “war on terror”—from Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo, from Haditha to Lebanon, all in the name of American “safety” and “saving American lives.”
The paradox is that the “war on terror” is not about making anyone safer. In addition to the injustice and immorality of the “war on terror,” it creates more hatred for America—and for Americans who seem to go along with it—and more Islamic fundamentalism. And it justifies a qualitatively more severely repressive environment in the U.S. Both sides in this conflict feed off each other. When Bush talks about a “crusade,” a reference to hundreds of years of religious wars between Christians and Muslims in the Middle East, or General Jerry Boykin brags that his god is bigger than the Muslim god, how do you think that plays out in the Middle East? And then the reaction gets used to strengthen the hand of the imperialists in the West, who pose as more rational—even as people like Bush promote their own brand of fundamentalist ignorance.
In light of all this, the Democrats’ attempt to recast the widespread opposition to the war against Iraq into rallying behind a “‘smarter’ war on terror” is particularly dangerous and despicable. This is a logic that leads to what we have already seen: U.S. wars against, and occupation of, Afghanistan (which has been such a horror that some sections of people are actually rallying around the dreadful Taliban) and Iraq. It leads to the deepening subjugation of the Palestinian people—and the growth of forces like Hezbollah. And the logic of “defending ourselves from the terrorists” leads to defending torture—again, to “save American lives.” It even prepares the ground for an escalation of the existing wars, or new ones (like against Iran).
You cannot understand the world today—and you cannot act on it in a consistently progressive way—unless you understand the dynamic of what Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP, has called the contention between “Jihad on the one hand and McWorld/McCrusade on the other hand…the historically outmoded strata among colonized and oppressed humanity up against historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system;” and unless you understand the ways in which each reactionary pole reinforces the other; and how siding with either reinforces both. Going along with the “war on terror”—even the supposedly more refined and “smarter” war on terror proposed by some Democrats—mean supporting that whole ugly dynamic. It is a trap without escape. It is a road to horror—one we are already on, one we must urgently rupture with.
The alternative must be provided. The one provided by World Can’t Wait speaks to those who hunger for a different way in this country, and it also speaks to those in other countries being drawn into the dead end of Islamic fundamentalism—there is a different way that is fighting to be born. People all over the world must see this where it counts—in the streets—if they are to come to see that another world is, after all, possible.
Revolution #69, November 19, 2006
The following is taken from an article posted on the World Can’t Wait website,”Bush and His Whole Program Must Go.”
In the 72 hours since she has taken the mantle of the next Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi repeated her pledge that “impeachment is off the table.” In her victory press conference, she didn’t speak of the need to repeal the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that revoked habeas corpus and legalized torture. She didn’t decry the unending death and destruction that is daily terrorizing the people of Iraq. She did not pledge to stand firmly against the new war being prepared against Iran. Nor did she make a peep about defending women’s right to abortion and gay rights—even as Roe v. Wade is under increasing threat and gay marriage bans passed in an additional seven states.
Instead, she recast this election as a mandate on manners and effectiveness: “The American people spoke out for a return to civility to the Capitol in Washington and how Congress conducts its work…And Democrats pledge civility and bipartisanship in the conduct of the work here, and we pledge partnerships with the Republicans in Congress and the president, not partisanship.”
The next day she sat down with a President who by any objective standard is a war criminal and who has been massively rejected by the people. But instead of seizing on the fact that Bush is rapidly losing legitimacy in the eyes of millions who are looking for a way to say “NO MORE!,” she lent him a sense of legitimacy by, in her own words, “extend[ing] the hand of friendship, of partnership.”
Think what it means to pledge “partnership” with a regime that lied its way into a war that has for years struck panic in the corridors of hospitals, terror in the beds of children, overcrowding in the morgues throughout Iraq and stolen more than half a million lives.
Think of what this means to pledge “partnership” with a regime that left thousands of Black people on rooftops in New Orleans for five days, keeping help out at gunpoint, while green-lighting orders to “shoot to kill” those who tried to fend for themselves.
Think what it means to pledge “partnership” with a regime that has just made legal everything captured in the gruesome pictures of torture at Abu Ghraib prison.
Think what it means to pledge “partnership” with a regime that undermines science and celebrates ignorance—about global warming, about the cruelties and failure of “Abstinence-Only” programs, about the actual death-count in Iraq, about evolution, and so much more!
Nothing good can come from “partnering” with this regime or its program. This whole direction must be reversed and it is becoming clearer each day that this has nothing to do with what the Democrats intend to do. As it says in the Call issued by the World Can’t Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime over a year ago, “There is not going to be some savior from the Democratic Party. This whole idea of putting our hopes and energies into ‘leaders’ who tell us to seek common ground with fascists and religious fanatics is proving every day to be a disaster, and actually serves to demobilize people.”
Pelosi is not alone in her eagerness to work together with the President. Chuck Schumer, of New York who headed the Democrats’ Senate Campaign Committee, said, “We had a tough and partisan election, but the American people and every Democratic senator—and I’ve spoken to just about all of them—want to work with the president in a bipartisan way.”
On Jon Stewart’s Daily Show the day after the election, Howard Dean said bluntly, “I know half the audience wants us to impeach the President and all that kind of stuff,” at which point he was interrupted with cheers, but then he continued, “but we’re not going to do that.” Instead, he bragged that the Democrats had won one third of the white Evangelical Christian vote.
Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks spelled out what this means, “So voters kicked out Republicans but did not swing to the left. For the most part they exchanged moderate Republicans for conservative Democrats. It was a great day for the centrist Joe Lieberman, who defeated the scion of the Daily Kos net roots, Ned Lamont. It was a great day for anti-abortion Democrats like Bob Casey and probably for pro-gun Democrats like Jim Webb. It was a great day for conservative Democrats like Heath Shuler in North Carolina and Brad Ellsworth in Indiana.”
Revolution #69, November 19, 2006
Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein in 1983, at a time when the U.S. was backing its Iraqi ally with arms and intelligence in Iraq’s brutal border war with Iran.
Saddam Hussein sentenced to death.
Saddam Hussein’s Baath party seized power in Iraq in a 1963 coup publicly praised by the U.S. The Baath government consolidated power by eliminating opponents, including by using a CIA-provided hit list of Iraqi leftists. In 1979, Saddam Hussein personally seized control over the Baathist regime, and for the following 12 years, the U.S., Britain, Germany, and France, all considered Saddam their favorite Arab leader. They provided him arms, high-tech intelligence and heavy financing for waging a brutal eight-year war against Iran—and provided him with the components of chemical weapons that were used against Iranian soldiers and Kurdish civilians.
Most of Saddam Hussein’s atrocities were committed at the instigation of the U.S. or with its complicity. And both Donald Rumsfeld (the most recent U.S. Secretary of Defense) and Robert Gates (the CIA operative picked to replace Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense) worked as top level representatives of the U.S. to Saddam Hussein. Now the U.S., through its lackey regime in Baghdad, has sentenced Hussein to death. The U.S. has no more right to judge and hand down a death sentence to Hussein than Tony Soprano had a right to “whack” his hired hirelings like Ralph Cifaretto.
In his trial, Hussein was accused and convicted of a 1982 massacre of 148 Shiite men and boys in Dujail. That particular crime was chosen as the main focus of the trial (and not far larger massacres and war crimes), because what the U.S. occupiers in Iraq did not want to come out—and what Saddam didn’t want to reveal either—is that he was a hired killer for the U.S. for most of his career. During this trial, according to British journalist Robert Fisk, Saddam "was formally forbidden from describing his relationship with Donald Rumsfeld... Nor, of course, was he permitted to talk about the support he received from George Bush Sr., the current U.S. President's father."
Bush tells Donald Rumsfeld to step down from the office of Secretary of Defense
With the presidential election of George W. Bush in 2000, Donald Rumsfeld became a major architect of this regime’s aggressive attempt to impose the U.S. as the single, dominant imperialist power all over the globe. The crimes he has organized, justified, and covered up in the following years, from his post as Secretary of Defense, head of U.S. military forces, have been truly monstrous.
Rumsfeld oversaw the U.S. invasion and conquest of Afghanistan in 2001. During that war he personally issued orders for a covert special operations program able to capture, assassinate, and torture people targeted by the U.S. government around the world. He oversaw the expansion of that program into a whole system of U.S. interrogation and torture—including the special detention camps at Guantánamo Bay and within Baghram airforce base in Afghanistan. In August 2003, orders from high levels pressured interrogators at Abu Ghraib prison to intensify the torture of prisoners. A month later Rumsfeld personally toured the prison and approved its operations. Former Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who was the overall commander of all the U.S. military prisons in Iraq, has written, “It was clear the knowledge and responsibility [for what happened at Abu Ghraib] goes all the way to the top of the chain of command to the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.”
Meanwhile, Rumsfeld played a key role in the U.S. government’s campaign of lies —- falsely insisting that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction” and was threatening the U.S.
On March 30, 2001, Donald Rumsfeld blatantly lied: “We know where [the WMD] are,” he said. “They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.”
And when Iraq was attacked—Rumsfeld played a key role leading the horrific “shock and awe” bombardment, the invasion itself, and then brutal U.S. moves to suppress any resistance—including repeated attacks on Fallujah. It is now estimated that as many as 650,000 Iraqi people may have died as a result of this invasion and occupation.
Rumsfeld is now being made to take the fall—not because of his true crimes, but because powerful forces at the top think he did not carry out his criminal activities efficiently or successfully enough.
Revolution #69, November 19, 2006
Lawyers from Germany and the U.S. are preparing to present a formal complaint in German court on November 14 to seek criminal prosecution of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and several other major U.S. officials for war crimes.
Shortly before he left for Germany, Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and one of the lawyers working on this case, said on Democracy Now!: “One of the shocking things really so far about the coverage of Rumsfeld’s resignation, there’s not a word in any of it about torture. And here, Rumsfeld is one of the architects of the torture program of the United States.”
Lawyers in this case are preparing to document how Rumsfeld and other U.S. officials, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former CIA director George Tenet, authorized such torture.
The complaint will be brought in German court on behalf of 12 torture victims—11 Iraqis brutalized in Abu Ghraib prison and one Guantánamo detainee. The Iraqis say they were victims of electric shock, severe beatings, sleep and food deprivation, and sexual abuse.
This new court action builds on a complaint previously filed in German court, and the lawyers say they have substantial new evidence that reveals just how closely Rumsfeld was involved in directing the torture of a U.S. captive at Guantánamo named al-Qahtani. Ratner says that this evidence shows that “Rumsfeld essentially supervised that entire interrogation [of the prisoner al-Qahtani], one of the worst interrogations that happened at Guantánamo.”
One of the witnesses expected to testify in Germany is former Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who was once commander of all U.S. military prisons in Iraq. Karpinski has already issued a written statement to accompany the legal filing, which says: “It was clear the knowledge and responsibility [for what happened at Abu Ghraib] goes all the way to the top of the chain of command to the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.”
Revolution #69, November 19, 2006
Post Election 2006
On November 7, in South Dakota, Referred Law 6—the most restrictive and cruel abortion ban in the country—was defeated. This was a defeat for those who would enslave women to the dictates of fundamentalist religious dogma. Passed by the South Dakota legislature last March and signed into law by the governor, the law displayed utter contempt for woman, banning all abortions with no exceptions for rape, incest, or the health of the pregnant woman—allowing for abortion only in cases where the woman is about to die.
I was in South Dakota for a week leading up to the elections—and the dedication, energy, and determination to knock down this ban pulsed from campuses and street corners across the state in a contentious political atmosphere that split families and friends. The campaign in support of the law, backed by massive infusions of funds from anti-abortion forces, blasted out blatant lies about the law and abortion with ads, billboards, and yard signs. Appeals to “God” and Jesus, with threats of eternal damnation for those who opposed the ban, filled letters to local newspapers. The atmosphere was tense on campuses and in the community generally, with some fearing to display “No on 6” signs and students reporting that they felt vulnerable when they put pro-choice buttons on their backpacks.
When pro-choice people overcame their initial fears and spoke out, they found they were not alone, and others came forward to volunteer and contribute in different ways to the campaign to defeat the ban. In the days leading up to Nov. 7, there were probably hundreds of volunteers across the state who swung into gear to canvass, phone bank and get out the “No on Referred Law 6” vote. Most were from South Dakota, but others came from Washington DC and NYC, the Midwest and even the West Coast to be part of the effort. National organizations, including the National Abortion Federation, Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, Feminist Majority, and World Can’t Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime, organized volunteers to go to Sioux Falls.
While this abortion ban was defeated, the equally reactionary Amendment C, which targets both gay and straight couples who are not officially married, passed. This state constitutional amendment prohibits gay marriage and civil unions, domestic partnerships, and the recognition of what it calls “quasi-marital relationships.” In addition, Republican State Senator Bill Napoli, who supported the ban and commented last spring that abortion should never be an option in the case of “simple rape,” was re-elected. This disgusting comment infuriated women who poured out their hearts in letters to the newspaper, about how rape is never “simple.” Rape is rape and heterosexual rape is always a means to exercise patriarchal power over women by assaulting them in the most brutal and degrading way.
There is also discussion now about how the SD state legislature will continue its assault on the right to abortion—passing the same or a very similar law in the next legislative session or passing a ban with exceptions for rape, incest, and the woman’s health (as Napoli now favors). As it is, South Dakota is one of the states with the most restrictions in the country, including a 24-hour waiting period, mandatory counseling to discourage abortion, and parental notification for minors. There is only one clinic in the state, Sioux Falls Planned Parenthood, that offers abortions, and they do so only one day a week with a doctor who flies in from Minneapolis.
And it’s not just in South Dakota where the whole right to abortion is seriously under attack. The day after the elections the U.S. Supreme Court heard two cases challenging the federal abortion ban that was passed in 2003 that would outlaw the most common and safest procedures for abortion as early as 13 weeks of pregnancy. Since the Court heard a similar case in 2000 about an almost-identical law and ruled it unconstitutional, its composition has changed—with the addition of two Bush-appointed extreme right-wing, anti-woman judges, John G. Roberts and Samuel Alito, who have expressed strong opposition to Roe, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
Meanwhile, the Democrats have continually shown just how little they will actually fight to defend a woman’s right to abortion. They offered only token opposition when Bush nominated Roberts, with even some Democratic pro-choice forces using the excuse that they were holding their strongest fire for the next Bush nominee to the Court. But then when Alito—who has said that “the Constitution does not protect the right to an abortion”—was named, the Democrats refused to call a filibuster that could have blocked the nomination.
This strategy of the Democratic Party leadership of token squeaks of opposition before total capitulation on this most fundamental and essential right of women to control their own reproduction, was played out over and over in the recent elections—with the Democratic Party leadership openly seeking out anti-choice Democrats and even promoting their candidacies over those who were pro-choice.
The Senate race in Pennsylvania was a prime example where anti-abortion, pro-war and anti-stem cell research incumbent Rick Santorum was defeated by anti-abortion, pro-war and anti-stem cell research candidate Robert Casey Jr. A pro-choice Democrat, Barbara Hafer, was forced out of this race by Democratic Party leaders, and this appalling move was backed by all nine ostensibly pro-choice women Democratic senators in the interests of getting a Democratic majority in the Senate.
I can understand people’s great desire to get rid of Santorum, who is infamous for equating homosexuality with bestiality, and many may have cast their vote more out of hatred for Santorum than support for Casey. But this is the LOSE-LOSE proposition that is presented to people as democracy in this country where they get to “choose” between pre-selected candidates, neither of which represents the people’s interests.
The elections may have changed what ruling class party has a majority in the House and Senate. But it hasn’t and won’t change the ruling class interests of both parties in enforcing male supremacy and patriarchy and, as part of this, denying women the right to abortion.
Democratic Party leader Charles Schumer, who is being congratulated for his winning strategy, has said that defending abortion is a game that the Democrats “can’t afford to play” any longer. The Washington Post recently reported that earlier in the year Schumer conferred with Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell and gave the nod to Casey, saying “the days are over when a Democrat has to check 28 boxes to get our support.” In other words, women’s lives are just one more optional issue, and reproductive freedom will be sacrificed to political expediency so the Democrats can enact a program that has basic unity with that of the Republicans.
Marine combat veteran and former secretary of the Navy James Webb, whose close victory in Virginia gave the Senate majority to the Democrats, condemned the investigation of the Navy Tailhook sexual abuse scandal in the 1990s as “a political witch-hunt, driven by a radical-feminist agenda to undermine the masculine culture of the military.” With senators like Casey and Webb, what will women’s lives be worth in this so-called “new” Congress?
The Hillary Clinton position that abortion is a “tragic choice” and should be “rare” has become the official mantra of the Democrats. Not only does this give moral ground to the religious reactionaries who claim that fetuses are the same as born children and that abortion is murder, but the logic of this position would—and will—lead you to accept the South Dakota abortion ban as long as it has exceptions for rape and incest and the health of the woman. You will be forced to accept more and more restrictions, including the federal abortion ban now before the Supreme Court, until all that is left of Roe is a hollow shell, if that.
What we need is an unapologetic, bold and righteously moral defense of women’s right to participate fully in all of society, to be full human beings and not incubators, slaves to their biology and the dictates of church and state. We need to raise the slogan “abortion on demand and without apology.” We need intense discussion and strategizing about how everyone who cares about women and the future of humanity can take the offensive around this critical question. And we need to break out of the confines of politics-as-usual and take independent political action to drive out the Bush regime and its whole theocratic direction.
The Democratic Party leadership has no intention of seriously challenging efforts to enforce patriarchal morality and authority over women—even (and perhaps, especially) with a woman, Nancy Pelosi, as Speaker of the House. We have already seen the Democrats try to “out-family-values” the Republicans in the election campaigns, which can lead nowhere good for women. And Pelosi and the new Senate majority leader, abortion opponent Harry Reid, have already said they plan to lead from “the middle”—a “middle” which is already so far to the right on everything from the war in Iraq, to torture, immigrants, and abortion.
The future for women as projected by Democratic Party leadership offers little hope for positive change. This is a future people fought against in the battle to defeat the abortion ban in South Dakota—from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation where overwhelmingly, women said the government had no business interfering in women’s reproductive choices to the streets of Sioux Falls and Rapid City where many women were finding their voices for the first time and speaking out in ways they never had before.
Revolution #69, November 19, 2006
On Nov. 8, Israeli artillery shells screamed through the sky toward the Palestinian town of Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip. The shells exploded in a complex of residential buildings, killing 18 people, 17 of whom were members of a single family. Since then, several more have died as a result of their injuries.
This latest Israeli massacre came only one day after the Israeli army (the “Israel Defense Force” or IDF) announced it was withdrawing from Beit Hanoun after a week-long siege in which at least 77 Palestinians were killed and 250 wounded (figures from the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, www.pchrgaza.org).
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert issued a statement expressing “regret” at the deaths and injuries from the Nov. 8 shelling—then he declared that “the military will continue as long as there will be Qassam shooting…we are not going to stop.” [Qassam is the name of the crude rockets often fired by Palestinian militants into Israel proper.]
The IDF’s explanation of the massacre in Beit Hanoun is that the newly installed memory card for the radar-guided artillery system had “malfunctioned.” Yet an article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Nov. 10 stated that such a malfunction had never been previously reported in the 30 years in which the IDF has used this system, nor had it been reported in any similar systems.
The assault on Beit Hanoun began on Nov. 1 with the purported Israeli objective of stopping explosive rockets from being fired into Israeli-occupied Palestine adjacent to Gaza. Israel’s attacks over the following days were carried out with tank shells, missiles fired from helicopter gunships, and strikes said to be targeting specific Palestinians in the town—that is, assassinations—sometimes carried out with remote controlled flying drones that shoot missiles. At least 12 people have been killed in 5 such “extra-judicial executions.”
In the course of the siege, the entire Palestinian population of 40,000 was ordered to stay at home; schools, businesses and workplaces were closed; water and electricity were cut off. Border crossings between Gaza and Israel were closed, preventing Palestinians from traveling to work and transporting needed food and supplies.
The Israeli siege of Beit Hanoun is a magnified demonstration of the Israeli policy of collective punishment against the Palestinian people. Making this clear, the IDF had blared on loudspeakers a demand for all Arab men in Beit Hanoun between the ages of 16 and 45 to gather in one of the town’s squares (New York Times, Nov. 3). The men who showed up were loaded into trucks and driven out of town, supposedly for questioning. Many were later released, but about 15 have still not been heard from.
One of the most dramatic episodes in the siege of Beit Hanoun took place on Nov. 3. As the Israeli troops rumbled through the town, the IDF declared that around 75 armed men had taken refuge in a mosque. The IDF surrounded the mosque and demanded that the men inside surrender or the mosque would be attacked. A group of unarmed Palestinian women began a demonstration against this threatened Israeli assault and the whole siege. As the women moved toward the mosque to place themselves as human shields between the Israeli tanks and the mosque, IDF soldiers opened fire, killing two women and wounding 10. But the crowd of women grew even larger, and eventually most of the men in the mosque reportedly escaped.
Behind these brutal Israeli occupiers of Palestine stand the U.S. imperialists. As a sharp expression of this, on Nov. 11 the U.S. vetoed a resolution in the United Nations Security Council that would have condemned Israel’s brutality in its Gaza assaults.
The U.S. backing for the bloody Israeli invasion of Lebanon in July and August showed how the U.S., under the Bush regime, has actually further stepped up and solidified support for Israel, which has long been an indispensable attack dog for U.S. imperialist interests. As the Israeli military carried out its carnage in Lebanon (including dropping hundreds of thousands of U.S.-supplied cluster bombs), Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, “What we’re seeing here…is the birth pangs of a new Middle East.” This increased backing for Israel stems from the U.S. rulers’ need in this region for a reactionary fortress where the majority of the internal population is not a tinderbox of potential upheaval and opposition.
During the entire time of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and the more recent massacres in Gaza, there has been almost complete unanimity between the Bush administration and all leading Democratic Party officials of total, uncritical support for Israel. For example, during the invasion of Lebanon, Democratic House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi said, "Israel has an inherent right to defend itself, and the United States supports our ally."
As tank shells, bullets, and missiles have killed and maimed Palestinians and destroyed buildings and infrastructure in Beit Hanoun, the IDF has been on the offensive throughout Gaza and the West Bank, both areas which are supposedly under Palestinian control. Since June, Israeli troops have re-occupied most of Gaza (see “Life in Gaza: Daily Hell for the Palestinian People,” in Revolution #63, online at revcom.us). The PCHR reports that 342 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including 64 children and 15 women, have been killed by Israel’s military since June 25. In the same period, at least 1186 people, including 344 children and 49 women, have been wounded by IDF gunfire.
The PCHR also reports that in the West Bank in this period, the IDF has launched 34 military incursions into various Palestinian communities. 123 people have been arrested in the West Bank. In addition, Israel continues to construct the separation wall (known widely as the “apartheid wall”) with which they plan to physically imprison the whole Palestinian population of the West Bank. On top of this, though the Israeli government ordered all Jewish settlers to leave Gaza earlier this year, the number of new Jewish settlements in the West Bank has dramatically increased. These settlements have government approval, and the separation wall is part of the land-grab process. The wall does not follow the traditionally recognized borderline between Israel and the West Bank, but instead is designed to incorporate vast new areas into Israel’s “legal” occupation of Palestine.
Simultaneously, the Palestinian people have been collectively held hostage by the demands of the U.S., the European Union and Israel that the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement in Palestine, which won the majority of seats in the Palestinian legislative elections earlier in 2006, recognize the state of Israel if funding to the Palestinian government is to be resumed by these major powers. This strangulation has meant the loss of $60 million per month in tax revenues that Israel has cut off; millions more have been denied in direct aid from foreign governments. At least 160,000 Palestinian government workers have gone unpaid since March 2006. The Palestinian people are being starved, denied the ability to work, and placed under renewed direct Israeli military occupation.
Revolution #69, November 19, 2006
On October 29, the Mexican government sent 4,000 heavily armed federal police (PFP) into the southern state of Oaxaca to break the struggle of people there by armed force.
For over five months, teachers and their supporters had taken over the central town square of Oaxaca City, shut down the highways, blocked government buildings and taken over radio and television stations. Their movement demanded a living wage and that the state’s hated governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO), be thrown out of power.
The invading PFP forces attacked the barricades and encampments of the people and took back most of the radio and TV stations. Since then, the police and pro-government death squads have carried out a brutal campaign of arrests, killings, and open armed attacks. At least 15 people have been murdered, at least 120 people have been imprisoned, and dozens of people have “disappeared.” There are reports of government torture.
People have continued to resist in the face of these heavy attacks and have attracted broad support and solidarity. On November 3, the federal police tried to retake the Autonomous University of Oaxaca Benito Juarez (UABJO). Hundreds of people stood their ground, armed with sticks and rocks through a seven-hour confrontation, until the police retreated. “We did it! They couldn’t take it!” the crowd shouted.
On November 4, in Los Angeles, 250 marched in support of the Oaxacan struggle from Pico Union to the Mexican consulate. Many spoke of the bitter suffering of people in Mexico. One man from Oaxaca said, “Humanity is capable of many things, but the government suffocates us, they have us working like animals, they have us fighting each other.”
On Sunday, November 5, people poured into Oaxaca City—braving military roadblocks in surrounding areas—to join the first “Mega March” since the October 29 PFP attack. Hundreds of thousands of people covered three miles of Highway 190—demanding the removal of URO from power, the withdrawal of the government’s murderous armed forces, and the safe release of all people seized by police and reactionaries. In defiance of the government’s naked brutality, people chanted, “Dying is not too much to ask for Oaxaca!” And, on this day at least, the hated federal police were forced to hunker down defensively behind fortifications in the city center.
On November 7, 10,000 women marched to denounce government murders and arrests. Spearheaded by the families of the “disappeared” and militant teachers, the marchers demanded the immediate release of all political prisoners and the return of all those “disappeared.” The federal police fired water cannons and marbles into the crowd, as women shouted “Murderers!”
Revolution #69, November 19, 2006
Friends and acquaintances describe Alyssa Peterson as someone who was generous and full of life. She came from a Mormon family. In 2001, after graduating with honors in psychology from Northern Arizona University, Peterson joined the army. With great ability to pick up languages, she learned Arabic and was sent to Iraq as a military interrogator in August 2003.
On Sept. 15, 2003, just three weeks after arriving in Iraq, 27-year-old Peterson was dead. Her family was told that she had been killed as a result of a “non-hostile weapons discharge.” Three days after her death, the Arizona Republic reported that the army “said that a number of possible scenarios are being considered, including Peterson’s own weapon discharging, the weapon of another soldier discharging, or the accidental shooting of Peterson by an Iraqi civilian.”
What the army did not tell the family or anyone else was that Alyssa Peterson’s death occurred shortly after she had objected to and refused to take part in interrogations of Iraqi prisoners. The Army also did not reveal that their own investigation had concluded that Peterson had commited suicide.
Three years later, Kevin Elston, host of “Weekend Edition” on radio station KNAU in Flagstaff, Arizona (Alyssa Peterson’s home town), reported on recently released army documents that revealed new details about Peterson’s death. Elston said that when he first began learning about Peterson’s death, the army’s story didn’t sit right with him. After repeated attempts to get information from the army, Elston filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for documents of army investigations into Peterson’s death.
According to the army documents obtained by Elston, Peterson participated in two interrogations of Iraqi prisoners at the end of August 2003 with her unit (in an area which is known as “the cage”). After the second one, she told superiors that she “could not carry out” the interrogations and asked to be re-assigned. She was placed on duty at the base’s gate. Two weeks later, according to the account in the army documents Elston obtained, Peterson shot and killed herself with her rifle.
In a Nov. 5 article in the Arizona Republic, Elston wrote, “The investigative report states that a sergeant and team leader both ‘detailed the aversion she had towards applying the interrogation methods to detainees.’” Sergeant James D. Hamilton told army investigators, “It was hard for her to be aggressive to prisoners/detainees, as she felt that we were being cruel to them.”
Elston summarized comments made by others in Peterson’s unit about her suicide: “The reactions to the suicide were that she was having a difficult time separating her personal feelings from her professional duties. That was the consistent point in the testimonies, that she objected to the interrogation techniques, without describing what those techniques were.”
Army representatives wouldn’t comment to Elston on Peterson’s death or on the nature of the interrogation “techniques” that she had refused to carry out. An army spokesperson from Fort Campbell, where Peterson’s 311 Military Intelligence Unit is based, said that all the records of the interrogations that Peterson had been part of had been destroyed.
Her death in Iraq occurred 7 months before the Abu Ghraib tortures were exposed to the world, and millions of people saw the crimes being carried out by the U.S. in the prisons in Iraq: detainees beaten to death; simulated drowning by “waterboarding”; snarling dogs unleashed on frightened prisoners; men stripped naked and forced to pile up on each other; prisoners forced into excruciating “stress positions” for hours, etc.
We still don’t know all the details of Alyssa Peterson’s death, what she saw during the interrogations of Iraqi prisoners, and how all this impacted her. What we do know is that her story points to the need for people broadly to support those within the military who come forward to oppose torture and other war crimes being carried out by the U.S.
Revolution #69, November 19, 2006
On Nov. 6, the U.S. Army announced they are going to court-martial First Lt. Ehren Watada, the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq. The army first brought charges against Watada in July and has been seeking to punish him for his public refusal to participate in a war that he has called “morally wrong” and “manifestly illegal.” His unit left for Iraq in June.
Watada is stationed at Ft. Lewis in Washington state. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, “The base commander, Lt. Gen. James Dubik, agreed with the recommended charges of missing a military movement and conduct unbecoming an officer. But in referring the case today for court-martial, Dubik dismissed a charge of contempt toward officials.”
Watada’s attorney, Eric Seitz, notes that “contempt toward officials” is basically a charge for “disloyal speech.” Seitz told Revolution he believes the military dropped this charge because of the difficulty of proving it and because it so blatantly targets Watada for his words. But he noted that the military’s refocusing on the “conduct unbecoming” charge amounted to the same thing—targeting Watada for speaking out, specifically against Bush and other top officials. Seitz said, “They think they can prove [this charge] more easily, but they face the same difficulties. They are trying to get away with First Amendment restrictions under this provision, but we believe this will be even more difficult for them to prove.”
Watada faces four counts under the “conduct unbecoming” charge, including a new count the Army added in September for a speech he made at the Vets for Peace convention. In that talk, he said in part: “Enlisting in the military does not relinquish one’s right to seek the truth—neither does it excuse one from rational thought nor the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. ‘I was only following orders’ is never an excuse… Today I speak with you about a radical idea…to stop an illegal and unjust war, the soldiers can choose to stop fighting it.”
If convicted of all charges, Lt. Watada could be jailed for 6 years in a military prison.
No date has yet been set for the court-martial. Family and Friends of Lt. Watada (www.thankyoult.org) has previously called for "December 8-10 days of action to support Lt. Watada and all GI resisters."
The move to court-martial Ehren Watada shows how intent the U.S. military is to silence him, to punish him for his principled stand, and to deliver a warning against others within the military. This unjust prosecution must be opposed and defeated.
Revolution #69, November 19, 2006
Plans to organize a Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem have been met with murderous threats and demands for state suppression.
As the day of the planned parade, November 10, approached, anonymous posters appeared in the communities of ultra-orthodox Jews promising $500 for every gay man or woman killed during the parade. Some groups reportedly had plans to bombard the marchers with apples studded with razor blades.
This campaign of persecution brought together leading fundamentalist and orthodox forces of the three major religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—that consider Jerusalem their Holy City.
Among Jewish fundamentalists, the campaign was rooted most strongly among the ultra-orthodox religious parties who demand that all of society accept their rigid, backward-looking and highly oppressive rules for what is permitted and what is not. Rabbi Yehuda Levin, who is based in Brooklyn, New York, emerged as one of the leading organizers for these ultra-orthodox forces by making inflammatory statements like “Israel is the Holy Land, not the Homo-Land.” These forces reached out to clerics among Palestinian Islamist forces who believe that their reactionary version of Islamic law (Sharia) should be imposed on everyone.
Rabbi Shmuel Pappenheim (a spokesman for the politically powerful Haredim “ultra-orthodox” forces) denounced the Gay Pride parade as “a provocation against the Torah, against morality and against humanity.” Meanwhile, Sheik Tayseer Tamimi, the head judge of the Islamic Sharia court in the West Bank and Gaza, declared: “This march is part of the wild campaign against Islam, the doctrine, the holy sites.”
Sheik Ibrahim Hassan, who preaches at a Jerusalem mosque, said, “Not only should these homosexuals be banned from holding their parade, but they should be punished and sent to an isolated place.”
The alliance between Jewish and Muslim reactionaries included plans for jointly confronting gay and lesbian people in the streets. As the November 10 date approached, anti-gay forces blocked the streets in Haredim neighborhoods night after night, lighting dumpsters on fire—and declaring that if the government didn’t suppress the gay march, they would do so using vigilante violence.
While these Jewish theocratic forces were threatening to attack gay marchers in west Jerusalem, Sheik Tamimi of the Palestinian Sharia court called on his supporters to confront gay and lesbian marchers in east Jerusalem.
The campaign to suppress the Gay Pride march also received international support. Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar personally appealed to Pope Benedict XVI for his intervention. In response, the Vatican (which is an openly theocratic state under Roman Catholic rule) sent a formal diplomatic note requesting that Israel’s government “exert all its influence” to cancel the parade. The Vatican’s note argued that freedom of speech should not include the right to offend “religious values.” (You only have to think about all the many things that would offend the “religious values” of such people to realize how sweeping and repressive this logic is.)
A U.S.-based evangelical coalition, Jerusalem Prayer Team, which includes leading Christian fascists like Jerry Falwell and author Tim LaHaye, also called on the Israeli government to stop the Gay Pride parade.
Ben Yizri, a parliamentary representative of a religious party within Israel’s ruling coalition, declared: “We believe God will be very upset” if the march was allowed to proceed. In Haredim neighborhoods, posters claimed that a Gay Pride march could cause their god to unleash earthquakes, war or other destruction on Jerusalem (just like he supposedly did on the ancient “Sodomites”).
This is the same totally unscientific “wrath of god” logic promoted by Christian fascists in the U.S. Rev. Pat Robertson claimed that god sent a hurricane to punish Orlando for a gay pride parade, and other Christian fascist preachers have said Katrina was god’s way of punishing New Orleans.
As November 10 arrived, the escalating threats against the Gay Pride parade were used by the Israeli city authorities as an excuse to ban the march. This parade had been postponed twice, rerouted, pared back, and viciously denounced. Then at the last minute, it was simply canceled by the Jerusalem city government, which is itself dominated by ultra-orthodox Jewish forces. The parade supporters were told to gather in a sports stadium without any public march at all.
Rabbi Levin declared victory: “A level of purity has been returned to Jerusalem.” And while such rabidly anti-gay forces celebrated, the gay and lesbian people who tried to march outside the stadium were attacked by reactionaries.
And in a final insult, Israel’s top court allowed anti-gay forces to march, even as the gay pride forces were being suppressed. The anti-gay forces led a parade of cows and horses—to make the point that they consider gay and lesbian people less than human. This “March of Beasts” moved through the very streets that had just been denied to gay people!
In the face of all the reactionary threats and attacks, on Nov. 10 thousands rallied at Hebrew University’s sports stadium for gay rights. According to the New York Times, “The police contingent of 3,000 was nearly as large as the crowd.” The police sealed off the area surrounding the stadium for half a mile, blocking any routes for an unscheduled march. The Times reported, “Many in the crowd said they were not gay, and had come to show support for civil rights in what has become a contentious annual affair in this religious, conservative city.” On the same day, the police arrested 30 gay rights activists who tried to march from a park in Jerusalem. The police also detained five orthodox Jewish men who were found with knives.
What stands out from these months of confrontation and debate in Jerusalem is that—despite all their other long-standing differences and hostilities—these conservative and aggressive religious forces have found common ground in their commitment to imposing extremely backward traditions, including the dominance of men over women and the harsh punishment of people for same-sex relationships.
Revolution #69, November 19, 2006
World Saxophone Quartet
Justin Time Records 2006
Political Blues is enjoyable, potent, and provocative. In the tradition of Max Roach’s 1960 Freedom Now Suite, this new CD by the World Saxophone Quartet is squarely in and of the moment, capturing widespread and deeply felt dissatisfaction and downright anger—especially in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. As the liner notes put it, the WSQ have chosen to address the current political climate of the United States with “no-holds-barred lyrics, provocative arrangements and superlative performance… a recording that is seething in its disdain for the current Administration.”
An upright hand grasping a saxophone graces the CD cover, evoking the power fist of the 60s that silk-screened its way onto millions of t-shirts and armbands, becoming a symbol of rebellion for a whole generation. And the fervor of that time clearly reverberates in this compilation.
The title track begins with a cow-bell introducing heavy hard-popping electric bass. After eight bars, the whole ensemble joins in, somehow producing a full big-band sound with the horns swinging and starting the testifying. Then, with a raucous mood firmly established, David Murray delivers an opening salvo, not on his tenor sax or bass clarinet, but with blistering vocals, melding rap, funk and traditional blues:
I’ve got the political blues/I’m sick of hearing it everyday/I’ve got the political blues, Katrina broke the levee today/I’ve got to get up on out of here and find some good news coming my way. I’m gonna take the iron bird and fly to another continent/I’m gonna climb the Great Wall of China and ask Chairman Mao exactly what he meant; I’ve got the political blues, the country’s in another war/I’ve got the political blues, the homeless is knocking at my front door…
And more are added to the list of indictees, including: Bush, Cheney, Rice; the 2004 elections that brought us this motley crew; the GOP; and the U.S. role in the Third World.
Three of the WSQ founding members, Oliver Lake (alto), David Murray (tenor, bass clarinet), and Bluiett (baritone) are present. And Bruce Williams and Jaleel Shaw share the alto spot to fill out the saxophone quartet (founding member Julius Hemphill on alto died in 1995). But this is not the usual WSQ sound with nothing but sax. And the list of guest musicians is impressive: Jamaaladeen Tacuma on bass, Craig Harris on trombone, Lee Pearson on drums, James “Blood” Ulmer on guitar and vocals, Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, Carolyn Amba Hawthorne on vocals, and Herve Samb on guitar.
Longtime fans hearing Political Blues will immediately recognize WSQ’s signature and completely unique sound — the unpredictable unruliness of tightly tiered saxophone voices that you always just wait to fly off into tonal outer space. David Murray has been one of my favorite jazz musicians for over 25 years. His music, not just with the WSQ, but in his many other projects, has always delivered a good dose of defiance, including in its edge of challenging any notion of complacency in “traditional jazz.” Murray is known for his exploration of stratospheric-register squawks and squeals that can be shocking and jarring but at the same time fluidly integrated into a whole musical journey—where even if you temporarily get left behind, he always comes back round to get you. And his most far-out sonic explorations still remain rooted in blues and the swing of jazz, with a heavy dose of funk and soul.
The government’s unforgivable abuse and neglect in the wake of Katrina is an abiding theme of outrage on Political Blues, not just in the lyrics, but in the presence of New Orleans jazz riffs and Bourbon Street marching tempos that ride right alongside super-funk, gut-bucket blues, and improvisational wildness.
There are other notable tracks here as well. On Mannish Boy, James Blood Ulmer sings a version of a Muddy Waters standard tune that combines traditional foot-thumping blues with signature WSQ swirling and screeches, giving new passion to the refrain, “I’m a man… I’m a man.” Amazin’ Disgrace calls to mind the familiar gospel (minus the “dis”). But when Carolyn Amba Hawthorne sings: Amazin’ Disgrace/When they brought us to/This god forsaken place/They raped our mothers/Incarcerated our fathers, stole all the land/They’re destroying all the Earth Water and Air, this is no hymn to resignation or surrender. Bluocracy has Bluiett mocking conservative tradition-bound jazz musicians—whom he calls “neos” and “so-sos,” then asks, “Must we go back to slavery? A 21st-century modern minstrelsy?” Part 2 of this bluesy 3-part suite has Craig Harris on didjeridoo (an Aborigine Australian wind instrument) offering a decidedly dissatisfied growling underneath an upbeat saxophone chorus that gives way to an unruly duet between a Harris trombone that is both avant-garde and New Orleans-ish, and Murray launching supra-register riffs on tenor. The ultra funky Blue Diamond with its insistent plucking bass reminded me of Sly and the Family Stone’s Thank You Falettinme Be mice Elf Agin (yes, that is the actual title!). And this composition by Craig Harris is just plain fun, with a laid-back swing providing the stage for great solos by Harris, Murray, and Bluiett. The ending track, Spy On Me Blues has the saxes trading solos before featuring Oliver Lake on vocals, delivering a searing, satirical commentary on the government’s abysmal and criminal response to Katrina.
This is definitely one worth not just checking out, but listening to again and again. As the liner notes say, Political Blues is “a statement that’s both timely and timeless, and never less than utterly compelling.”
Revolution #69, November 19, 2006
University of Arizona is a large campus of over 35,000 students in Tucson. Over the last month, activists with the World Can’t Wait movement have stepped forward as a force of resistance on this campus—and they have faced suppression by the school administration and attacks from right-wing students.
On October 5 hundreds of people gathered at the University of Arizona (UA) Mall for the World Can’t Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime rally. (For a report about this event and about World Can’t Wait protests in many other places around the U.S. on Oct. 5, go online to worldcantwait.org.)
The Oct. 5 rally touched off a reaction from right-wing pro-Bush forces on the campus, including a column (titled “Actually, the World Can Wait”) and letters to the editor in the Daily Wildcat bashing the World Can’t Wait organization. When World Can’t Wait (WCW) organizers asked the Daily Wildcat for space to respond to the column, the campus paper refused and only agreed to a letter to the editor from WCW.
In a email correspondence to Revolution, a WCW organizer in Tucson discussed this right-wing response at UA in relation to the larger struggle on campuses around academic freedom and the reactionary offensive by campus brownshirts led by David Horowitz: “The right-wing students aren’t particularly organized here. It’s not like it is at, say UCLA or other schools where the Horowitz thing is going full-on. I mean, they’re here in probably the same numbers and they have a real effect on things, they just don’t seem to have leadership. They act more as individuals. Progressive and radical professors definitely feel pressured. Several have told me that they have changed their classes in the last couple of years to avoid being accused of ‘bias.’”
Recently, when the WCW challenged the campus Young Republicans to a debate, the Republicans refused. The Tucson WCW organizer wrote, “Earlier in the school year, someone from Hillel [a campus pro-Israel group] went to the new University president to try to whip up an attack on us (people in WCW had done work in support of Palestine and against the attack on Lebanon, though WCW as an organization hadn’t said anything about them). Our understanding is that the president said what we were doing was within the bounds of academic freedom.”
The UA WCW chapter had recently planned a “Resistance Through Art Festival”—but the plans were undermined by the actions of the campus administration and police who specifically targeted WCW. As the Tucson organizer recounts, “We had planned on having an all-day music and arts festival on the UA Mall on Saturday, November 4. We went through all the proper channels and had our event approved by Mall Services. However, in the week before the event, we were presented with steadily escalating requirements for our event by the UA Police Department (along with the Associate Dean of Students, Veda Kowalski, who has tried to block events by us for years). Some really petty things—like we aren’t going to have enough trash cans, etc. Finally, just three days before the event, we were told that we had to pay $1600 for the UAPD to provide ‘security.’ We had been previously told that we did not need any security because there was no foreseeable threat. This sudden requirement forced the cancellation of our event, into which we had put considerable time and resources. We were told that security would be necessary because we had anticipated attendance, at any given time, to be between 50 and 100. However, another student group had an event on the Mall that weekend that had the same attendance estimate—and they were not required to have any security. Indeed, it seems that none of the demands made of us were made of this other group. Clearly, different standards were being applied to us. Our suspicion is that someone…decided that our event was not going to be allowed and that policy was made (or enforced) on that basis.”
Another incident right after this further revealed repressive activities by the authorities against WCW. The local WCW had been asked by the UA Debate Club to participate in a public debate on the question of civil liberties. Due to a miscommunication, the WCW chapter put the wrong date for the debate on their website, although it was clearly indicated that the event was sponsored by the Debate Club.
The Tucson WCW activist wrote: “It turns out that the UAPD routinely monitors our site and possibly our MySpace account. They saw the notice, called Mall Services, which checked and found that there was a different event scheduled for the Alumni Plaza on that day… The UAPD suggested that we were planning on disrupting the scheduled event. We then received a rather angry phone call from Mall Services. We’ve written a letter to the [university] President outlining these events and asking for a meeting. We feel that such surveillance is a tactic appropriate for a police state, not a university. We feel quite adamantly that such monitoring, of us or any other student group, should stop immediately. We’ve been told that we are probably on a ‘watch list’ of the UAPD, which is evidently supposed to be for monitoring frats for any underage drinking and excessive partying. It’s clear we’re being targeted. We’re planning an overall response to all this.”
The website of the national World Can’t Wait organization (worldcantwait.org) points out, “While these attacks need to be repudiated by UA’s student body and the Tucson community; this is part of shaking up campuses and we need situations like this erupting on campuses across the country.”
As they resist the attacks, the UA activists are stepping out to reach more students and people in the Tucson area. One upcoming event is the Nov. 28 program featuring Rev. John Fife speaking on “Theocracy, Pre-emptive War, and Torture: George W. Bush and the Theology of Empire.” Rev. Fife co-founded the Sanctuary Movement, and his church provided sanctuary for 12,000-15,000 Central American refugees during the 1980s. He and others formed the Samaritan Patrol, now part of No More Deaths, which give humanitarian aid to immigrants crossing the border through the Arizona desert.
The Tucson WCW organizer wrote about this event, “We’re doing outreach to local churches—it’s a part of Tucson that we’ve never really connected with. We’ve reserved a hall that seats 500 people, and we’re pretty sure we will fill it up.”