Sunday, December 28, 2014

Broken Countries Policing

Despite being disproven as a strategy for reducing crime, the broken windows policing theory is still utilized in New York and throughout in the United States to crack down on disorder and nonviolent crime. To think that harsh enforcement of this type of “crime” would prevent serious crime like homicide and assault is patently absurd on its face. If you want to rid society of the most serious crimes, you should be enforcing the most serious crimes, like aggressive war. Call it broken countries policing.

In the United States in 2014, you may be arrested for selling loose cigarettes, jumping turnstiles, dancing on the subways, and having small amounts of marijuana, but not for assassination, torture, anal rape, illegal surveillance, or invading, occupying and bombing sovereign countries. 


The “broken windows” theory that you can nip violent crime in the bud by punishing minor “quality of life” violations like smoking and drinking in the street or sleeping on the subway is so transparently nonsensical it is hard to believe anyone could even consider it seriously.


It is equivalent to a diet to prevent obesity that consists of forgoing vegetables and grains because foods with the least calories are a gateway to fatty, fried foods with no nutritional value. Corn seeds are not twinkies, and sleeping on a subway train is not murder. 


Basic common sense and years of empirical data demonstrate that broken windows theory has no effect on preventing serious crime. When you understand this, it is easy to see that the broken windows theory put into practice is about something entirely different than its professed aims. 


There is a strong correlation between race and socioeconomic status in the U.S. Racial minorities suffer disproportionately lower socioeconomic status compared to whites, creating a racial caste system. With the drastic decline in recent decades of agriculture, manufacturing and other forms of manual labor, populations previously depended on for cheap labor have become disposable in the modern economy.


The state has undertaken a system of social control to prevent any solidarity and political opposition that would recognize and oppose unjust racial castes. Not coincidentally, broken windows policing has been carried out predominantly against African American and Latino citizens.


“The public is constantly getting out of control,” Noam Chomsky says. “You have to carry out measures to insure that they remain passive and apathetic and obedient, and don’t interfere with privilege or power. It’s a major theme of modern democracy. As the mechanisms of democracy expand, like enfranchisement and growth, the need to control people by other means increases. 


This is accomplished by employing a police force that operates like an occupying army in poor neighborhoods of color under the guise of crime prevention. It would be impossible to admit publicly that the police mission in these communities is repression and subjugation. The idea of broken windows as a deterrent to violent crime provides cover to justify what is in reality a racist, punitive, paramilitary occupation.


As Henry Giroux wrote in a Truthout article on December 5 (State Terrorism and Racist Violence in the Age of Disposability: From Emmett Till to Eric Garner) we are living in “an age of disposability” which has seen “the rise of the punishing state as a way to govern all of social life.” 


“Under assault are those individuals and populations considered excess such as poor youth of color and immigrants” who are controlled by “fear of punishment, of being killed, tortured, or reduced to the mere level of survival,” Giroux writes.  


Raven Rakia describes in a Truthout article on November 20 (Subways Are an NYPD Hotspot in de Blasio’s New York) how low-level infractions have been disproportionately enforced against people of color, sweeping thousands into the criminal justice system and further marginalizing people already struggling economically.  


“Arbitrary rules such as ‘no sleeping on a subway car in a way that is hazardous or interferes with others’ have turned into the NYPD brutally arresting a man on his way home from work in an almost empty subway car. He was later charged with resisting arrest, obstructing governmental administration and violating local law (the MTA rules),” Rakia writes. 


Repressive policing has long been used to maintain political and economic domination over minority groups in the United States. After African Americans were nominally liberated from slavery following the Civil War, southern states manipulated the legal system to replicate their control over freed slaves.


In his Pulitzer-prize-winning book Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans From the Civil War to World War II, Douglas Blackmon describes how southern states criminalized black life, using the legal system to punish black and then lease them to corporations to work in coal mines, steel furnaces, farms, quarries and factories. This served the dual purposes of marginalizing blacks politically and supplying cheap labor to capitalist commercial interests.


“The original records of county jails indicated thousands of arrests for inconsequential charges or for violations of laws specifically written to intimidate blacks - changing employers without permission, vagrancy, riding freight cars without a ticket, engaging in sexual activity - or loud talk - with white women,” Blackmon writes.  


The criminalization of black life has continued since the Reconstruction era, morphing into a new form. Whereas once there was convict leasing, now there is mass incarceration. People are warehoused in prisons at the highest rate in the entire world. Public prisons create jobs for construction workers and corrections officers in rural, mainly white communities, while private prisons turn prisoners into profit centers for corporations and their investors. 


One hundred years ago, African Americans were persecuted through the criminal justice system en masse. Today the system is remarkably similar. Besides exploitation for profit, criminalization of African American enables many of same types of discrimination as previously existed under Jim Crow.


Michelle Alexander notes in her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness that discrimination against African Americans today is arguably even more pernicious than under Jim Crow because it is carried out under a nominally colorblind legal system. However, the mindblowing numbers of imprisoned ethnic minorities who are imprisoned mostly for nonviolent crime make the racial aspect of the system indisputable. The result is eerily similar to post-Civil War discrimination against blacks.


“The ‘whites only’ signs may be gone, but new signs have gone up - notices placed in job applications, rental agreements, loan applications, forms for welfare benefits, school applications, and petitions for licenses, informing the general public that ‘felons’ are not wanted here. A criminal record today authorizes precisely the forms of discrimination we supposedly left behind - discrimination in employment, housing, education, public benefits, and jury service,” Alexander writes.


If we pretend for a minute that the criminal justice system was meant as a deterrent to prevent the most serious violent crimes then we could imagine the most severe punishment for such crimes. The worst crimes are those of violence - murder, rape, torture, assault, etc. - and white-collar crimes like fraud that rob people of their financial security.


While individuals can commit atrocious crimes on their own, states and corporations, by virtue of their size, money and influence, can magnify the size of serious crimes exponentially. International crimes are committed on a scale much larger than retail crime committed by individuals or local criminal organizations. The Holocaust is six million times worse than a single homicide in New York City.


As the enforcer of domestic law, the state has the obligation to lead by example and follow international law if it expects its citizens respect its law enforcement at home. It is not possible to break the law abroad while claiming moral authority inside the country’s borders. Why should anyone listen to someone who says: “Do as I say, not as I do?” 


Martin Luther King, Jr. articulated a damning indictment of the U.S. government - which at the time was engaged in a murderous war in Southeast Asia that killed 3 million Vietnamese - in his speech at Riverside Church in 1967 when he pointed out that one cannot oppose crimes of individuals while ignoring much larger crimes of the state:

As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked -- and rightly so -- what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.

King notes the dissimilarity of one person throwing a Molotov cocktail with the U.S. state using 30 billion tons of munitions in Indochina - including napalm, Agent Orange, cluster bombs, “pineapple” bomblets, daisy-cutter bombs, artillery shells, rockets, grenades and countless other weapons of mass destruction.

Aggressive war was deliberately defined Nuremberg Trials as the “supreme” crime “differing only from other crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”


The U.S. government has been guilty of aggression multiple times since World War II, in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Grenada, Panama, Iraq and Afghanistan. 


The President himself maintains a “kill list” that he uses in his extrajudicial drone assassination program that has killed thousands of people since the start of his Presidency. Among the victims have been at least two American citizens who were never convicted or even faced a single charge in any court of law.


Why should any U.S. citizen show indignation against a common street criminal who kills someone, but not against the President of the country who has executed people many times over? Since when did the President of what is supposed to be a democracy, where no one is above the law, gain the powers of judge, jury and executioner? 


Earlier in December, the Senate released the Executive Summary of its “Torture Report” (while the remaining 6,300 pages remain classified. The details of the summary are so horrific, they make crimes of Japanese general hanged for torture after World War II seem mild.


In addition to the many well-known cases of waterboarding, the Senate Report details instances of “rectal feeding and rectal hydration” which consisted of a detainee’s lunch “consisting of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts, and raisins, [being] ‘pureed’ and rectally infused. Additional sessions of rectal feeding and hydration followed.” 


These heinous, savage acts are anal rape. Never was the detainee tried or convicted of anything in a court of law. What makes this any different than a man who forces himself on a woman in a dark alley?


There is no one alive that would claim a rapist who violates a woman walking home from the subway would deserve to be let free because we need to “look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” yet that is exactly what President Obama said about rapists and other torturers after taking office in 2009. 


If there could possibly be any doubt morally about the actions described in the Senate Torture Report, legally there is not. The Convention against Torture makes indisputably clear that “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” Furthermore, the state where torture takes place is obligated to “submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution.”


There is no room under the law for someone’s opinion - a person on the street or in the White House - whether we should look forwards, backwards, or sideways. The law and the obligations of each party to the treaty could not be more clear: torture is never justifiable, and must always be punished.


As Tom Engelhardt explains in his book Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World: “Today, in the wake of the rampant extralegality of the Global War on Terror - including the setting up of a secret, extrajudicial global prison system of ‘black sites’ where rampant torture and abuse were carried to the point of death, illegal kidnappings of terror suspects and their rendition to the prisons of torture regimes, and the assassination by drone of American citizens backed by Justice Department legalisms - it’s clear that national security state officials feel they have near total impunity when it comes to whatever they want to do. They know that nothing they do, however egregious, will be brought before an open court of law and prosecuted.”


Since George W. Bush took office, the countries of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya lie in complete ruins. In Iraq alone, estimates run as high as 1 million dead as a result of U.S. military intervention. Many millions more have been wounded, displaced, widowed and orphaned. That is in Iraq alone. The situations in Afghanistan and Libya are equally as serious. Syria and Ukraine have been destroyed by destabilization and proxy wars encouraged every step of the way by the U.S. government. Millions cannot farm their fields in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia without fear of being incinerated by U.S. drones. 


Until the criminals who cause untold death and destruction abroad are held accountable, it is impossible to preach respect for the rule of law at home. The imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the rash of unpunished police killings of unarmed black men like Michael Brown and Eric Garner, have made clear that the criminal justice system is not an impartial arbiter serving the nation to uphold justice but a weapon for those who control it, alternately enabling their own criminal actions and punishing others for actions that pale by comparison.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Persistent U.S. Opposition To Self-Determination

There is no principle in international law more fundamental than the right of all peoples to self-determination. This is universally accepted by the entire world, yet nearly 70 years after the signing of the UN Charter, the United States continues to fight tooth and nail against this most basic human right.

On December 18, the U.S. was one of only seven countries to vote against a UN General Assembly resolution that passed with 180 votes affirming the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.

Earlier this year, the U.S. also found themselves on the wrong side of the international consensus when the UN Special Committee on Decolonization approved a statement to “reaffirm the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination.”

Self-determination “denotes the legal right of people to decide their own destiny in the international order,” according to the Legal Information Institute.

This right was enshrined in international law with its inclusion in the UN Charter in 1945. Article 1 of the Charter states that one of the purposes of the United Nations is: “to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples.”

In the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, this was made even more explicit: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

For people deprived of equal rights and political participation, self-determination could take many forms: independence, assimilation, sovereign association, or another form they choose for themselves. But no one has a right to self-determination at the expense of someone else.

“It is well known that any attempt to deny a human group its self-determination only intensifies its demand for sovereignty and enhances its collective identity,” writes Shlomo Sand in The Invention of the Jewish People. “This does not, of course, give a particular group that sees itself as a people the right to dispossess another group of its land in order to achieve its self-determination. But that is precisely what happened in Mandatory Palestine in the first half of the twentieth century.”

Some people justify Israel’s right to exist by claiming that Jewish people deserve self-determination just like all other peoples. But European Zionists seeking self-determination did not have a right to conquer the indigenous population of an already-populated land to establish a state which did not include Palestinians. In 1947, Jews represented no more than 33% of the population and owned no more than 10% of the land in Mandatory Palestine. There is no justification for ethnically cleansing people, stealing their land, and preventing the return of refugees for seven decades in order to manipulate the demographics of the state and engineer an artificial ruling majority.

The United States has never respected self-determination as a concept or a right. As independence movements from Asia to Africa to the Middle East fought wars of liberation following World War II, the United States fought on the side of colonial domination and subjugation.

Self-determination is not just a utopian ideal. It is a legal right. The contents of the UN Charter and the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights - as well as all treaties ratified by the U.S. government - are the “supreme law of the land,” per Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution. Therefore, prevention of self-determination is a legally enforceable human rights violation.

The “traditional American conception” of self-determination, writes Noam Chomsky in The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians, is that “we will determine, since we are plainly the authentic representatives of the Palestinians - as of the Filipinos, the Nicaraguans, the Greeks, the Vietnamese, the Chileans, the Salvadorans, and many others who have been privileged to enjoy our beneficient attentions.”

When France decided to abandon a failed war to maintain colonial rule over Vietnam, the United States stepped in and escalated the war, carrying out wholesale slaughter of people seeking their liberation. U.S. military forces killed between 2.5  and 5 million Vietnamese, most of them civilians, in an attempt to prevent them from choosing their socioeconomic system on their own.

When the Portuguese dictatorship fell in 1974, clearing the way for independence for former colonies like Angola, the United States encouraged South Africa to invade that country the next year to install a puppet government friendly to the apartheid regime. The racist South Africans would have succeeded if it weren’t for a massive military intervention by Cuba on behalf of the populist Angolan government that crushed the invading forces and sent them back to Pretoria with their tail between their legs.

In 1898, American ships landed at Guánica. One hundred sixteen years later, Puerto Rico is still a colonial possession of the United States. In 1946, Puerto Rico was placed on the United Nations List of Non-Self Governing-Territories. The United States was forced to report regularly on the island’s political status with the goal of decolonization. Not willing to give up ownership of their tropical cash cow, the U.S. backed a new Puerto Rican Constitution that disguised the colonial status of the island. It was given the euphemistic status of a “Commonwealth,” in which the U.S. maintained sovereignty over Puerto Rico. Only the U.S. Congress - which Puerto Ricans cannot elect representatives to or participate in - is empowered to relinquish sovereignty over the island.

The United States has partnered with Israel in keeping Palestinians stateless since the creation of the Israeli state in 1948. In Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which Israel has occupied since 1967, Palestinians do not have citizenship in any state and do not enjoy sovereignty over the territory the entire world has recognized as their own.

Israel has for decades demonstrated that it intends to maintain the nearly half-century occupation indefinitely and prevent any Palestinian state. Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party charter states: “The Jordan river will be the permanent eastern border of the State of Israel,” and “The government will flatly reject Palestinian proposals to divide Jerusalem.” As the majority party in the Knesset, they have been carrying this out in practice.

There is an name for ruling over people while preventing them from being part of the political process that governs their lives. It’s called colonialism, In international law, it is a crime against humanity.  

Israel’s plan is to simply continue the status quo under the guise of a “peace process.” While Israel, with the help of the United States, uses the farcical cover of negotiations, they continue to steal Palestinian land and water while transferring in hundreds of thousands of Jewish Israelis onto stolen land and evicting residents of East Jerusalem to clear the way for more Jews.

It is what historian Illan Pappe and others have called “slow-motion genocide.” They create the conditions intended to drive as many Palestinians as possible from their land - to Jordan, Syria, or anywhere outside Greater Israel. They hope that as more 1948 refugees grow older and die their ancestors will lose their claim to the land they were systematically driven away from before the formation of the state of Israel. In this way, the Jewish state hopes to establish its permanence from the Jordan river to the Sea.

All this is only possible because the Israeli states denies Palestinians sovereignty to govern themselves or participate in a binational arrangement to share governance in Greater Israel. People who can’t vote and have no voice in these policies obviously cannot change them. Which is why it is so important to Israel to continue to deny Palestinians self-determination. Preserving their colonial domination over territory and people they have conquered is much more important to Israel than having a legitimate claim to being a democratic state that values human rights.   

The rest of the world showed in voting for the UN resolution affirming the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination how isolated the U.S. and Israel are as they cling to a morally and legally indefensible position. Only Canada and four American client states (all tiny Pacific Island nations) joined them in voting against the measure.

The vote is a “strong affirmation of the international support for the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, led by their right to self-determination and liberation,” said Riyad Mansour, Permanent Palestinian Observer at the UN.

When the Palestinians finally are able to achieve their basic human right of self-determination, it will be in spite of decades of U.S. interference and complicity in Israeli repression. As they were in Vietnam and Southern Africa, and as they continue to be in Puerto Rico, the United States will shamefully be on the wrong side of history.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Problem With Obama's Cuba Speech

Six years into his Presidency, Barack Obama has finally taken steps he campaigned on in 2008 to normalize relations with Cuba. The new policy towards Cuba will include important changes including establishing formal diplomatic relations, removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, and expanding trade relations. However, Obama is doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. His rationale for finally abandoning the hard-line Cold War stance demonstrates his belief that the morality and legality of United States actions are beyond reproach.

"In the most significant changes in our policy in more than fifty years, we will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries," Obama said in a live televised speech from the White House.

The problem with the policy is that it "failed to advance our interests," according to Obama. When he speaks of "our interests", he is of course referring to corporate business interests, not the public interest. Deciding an economy should belong to the population rather than unaccountable private interests is an affront to businesses that believe they have a right to operate in foreign markets and control local resources.

The socioeconomic system Cuba adopted after its successful revolution in 1959 was therefore a threat to American multinational companies. The threat was not only Cuba removing itself from the U.S. economic orbit, but serving as an example to other countries to do so themselves. Cuba had to be punished in order to stop the spread of independent decision making.

Obama's imperialist mindset is that the United States is benevolent. He believes in American exceptionalism with "every fiber" of his being. When the country does something wrong, it is never because its decisions and actions are immoral or illegal. They are merely mistakes. This was explicit in his explanation of why the U.S. isolation of Cuba began.

"Though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, no other nation joins us in imposing these sanctions," Obama claimed.

This is brazenly dishonest historical revisionism. American officials have long claimed the embargo and the freezing of diplomatic relations were implemented to promote democracy and human rights. This discourse is transparent propaganda, meant solely for public consumption.

The only way to determine the government's intent is to look at the internal deliberations that took place when the policy was formed. Fortunately, the documentary record exists and has been declassified. It makes clear the Cuba policy was based on anything but good intentions.

“The majority of the Cuban people support Castro. There is no effective political opposition,” wrote Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Lester D. Mallory in 1960. “The only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection and hardship… every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba… a line of action which… makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”

Clearly, it is morally reprehensible to attempt to induce "hunger" and "desperation" among people for exercising their right to self-determination. It is also illegal.

In 1970, the U.N. General Assembly passed Resolution 2625 which declared: “No state may use or encourage the use of economic, political or any other type of measure to coerce another State in order to obtain the subordination of the exercise of its sovereign rights and to secure advantages of any kind… Every state has an inalienable right to choose its political, economic, social and cultural systems, without interference in any form by another State."

To his credit, Obama did embrace the necessity of engagement: "Now, where we disagree, we will raise those differences directly." The principle of sovereign equality among nations is the basic foundation of international relations according to the UN Charter. However, Obama then states the reason to effect this change is a matter of pragmatism: "After all, these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked."

The problem with U.S. policy is not that it hasn't worked, it is that it is fundamentally wrong. This idea is outside the range of mainstream debate. After the release last week of the Senate Torture Report, much of the discourse among politicians and in the press has been about the effectiveness of torture.

Whether or not it worked is completely irrelevant. As the Convention against Torture makes indisputably clear: "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."

Despite this, public debate has failed to reckon with the horrific nature of the crimes authorized by American officials and carried out by agents of the state. Imagine the reaction if the crimes were instead committed by Russia or China and their press treated the issue the same way. Those media outlets would rightfully be vilified for propagandizing and serving as enablers of those crimes.

The U.S. corporate press predictably adopts the U.S. government's ideological framework on Cuba, behaving as expected by the Chomsky-Herman propaganda model.

A New York Times editorial claims that Cuba "remains a repressive police state." In the week after the release of the Torture Report, while the U.S. is consumed with mass popular protests in major cities from coast to coast against rampant, unpunished police brutality and murder of unarmed African Americans, with the vast scope of unconstitutional NSA surveillance still being uncovered, the Times' accusations are laughable.

The Times goes on to claim that "the United States has been right to press for greater personal freedoms and democratic change," despite the fact that the United States has pressed for neither. The United States has pressed for an end to socialism, Cuba's acceptance of the Washington consensus, and an end to Cuba's independent foreign policy. The Times is guilty of the same historical revisionism as Obama. They substitute facts with projections of American benevolence.

Meanwhile, Raul Castro has demonstrated Cuba's continued willingness to engage without animosity the country who has carried out an invasion, decades of terrorism, and a half-century-long, unprovoked economic war.

"I have reiterated in many occasions our willingness to hold a respectful dialogue with the United States on the basis of sovereign equality," Castro said, "in order to deal reciprocally with a wide variety of topics without detriment to the national Independence and self-determination of our people."

"We propose to the Government of the United States the adoption of mutual steps to improve the bilateral atmosphere and advance towards normalization of relations between our two countries, based on the principles of International Law and the United Nations Charter."

Castro rightfully declares adherence to international law and the UN Charter as the basis for how relations between the two countries should be conducted. Last year Castro said: “We don’t demand that the U.S. change its political or social system and we don’t accept negotiations over ours." This sentiment has not been reciprocated.

Obama's correct decision to abandon the Cold War policy towards Cuba needs to be accompanied by a recognition that the policy itself has been immoral, criminal and wrong. Period. As long as the economic blockade is not overturned by Congress, it continues to be so. The U.S. public was sold a bill of goods in the decades-long anti-Communist crusade. It's time to stop denying this and rewriting history to justify the pursuit of Empire.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Invasion Of Panama And The Proclamation of a Lone Superpower Above The Law

Twenty five years ago, before dawn on December 20, 1989, U.S. forces descended on Panama City and unleashed one of the most violent, destructive terror attacks of the century. U.S. soldiers killed more people than were killed on 9/11. They systematically burned apartment buildings and shot people indiscriminately in the streets. Dead bodies were piled on top of each other; many were burned before identification. The aggression was condemned internationally, but the message was clear: the United States military was free to do whatever it wanted, whenever it wanted, and they would not be bound by ethics or laws.

The invasion and ensuing occupation produced gruesome scenes: “People burning to death in the incinerated dwellings, leaping from windows, running in panic through the streets, cut down in cross fire, crushed by tanks, human fragments everywhere,” writes William Blum. [1]

Years later the New York Times interviewed a survivor of the invasion, Sayira Marín, whose “hands still tremble” when she remembers the destruction of her neighborhood.

“I take pills to calm down,” Marín told the paper. “It has gotten worse in recent days. There are nights when I jump out of bed screaming. Sometimes I have dreams of murder. Ugly things.”

In the spring of 1989, a wave of revolutions had swept across the Eastern bloc. In November, the Berlin Wall fell. The Cold War was over. No country was even a fraction as powerful as the United States. Rather than ushering in an era of peace and demilitarization, U.S. military planners intensified their expansion of global hegemony. They were pathological about preventing any rival to their complete military and economic domination.

U.S. government officials needed to put the world on notice. At the same time, President George H.W. Bush’s needed to shed his image as a “wimp.” So they did what any schoolyard bully would: pick out the smallest, weakest target you can find and beat him to a bloody pulp. The victim is irrelevant; the point is the impression you make on the people around you.

Panama was an easy target because the U.S. already had a large military force in 18 bases around the country. Until 1979, the occupied Panama Canal Zone had been sovereign territory of the United States. The Panama Canal was scheduled to be turned over to Panama partially in 1990 and fully in 2000. The U.S. military would be able to crush a hapless opponent and ensure control over a vital strategic asset.

Washington began disseminating propaganda about “human rights abuses” and drug trafficking by President Manuel Noriega. Most of the allegations were true, and they had all been willingly supported by the U.S. government while Noriega was a CIA asset receiving more than $100,000 per year. But when Noriega was less than enthusiastic about helping the CIA and their terrorist Contra army wage war against the civilian population in Nicaragua, things changed.

“It’s all quite predictable, as study after study shows,” Noam Chomsky writes. “A brutal tyrant crosses the line from admirable friend to ‘villain’ and ‘scum’ when he commits the crime of independence.”

Some of the worst human rights abuses in the world from the early 1960s to 1980s did originate in Panama - from the U.S. instructors and training manuals at the U.S.’s infamous School of the Americas (nicknamed the School of the Assassins), located in Panama until 1984. It was at the SOA where the U.S. military trained the murderers of the six Jesuit scholars and many other members of dictatorships, death squads and paramilitary forces from all over Latin America.

The documentary The Panama Deception demonstrates how the media uncritically adopted U.S. government propaganda, echoing accusations of human rights violations and drug trafficking while ignoring international law and the prohibition against the use of force in the UN Charter. The Academy Award-winning film exposed what the corporate media refused to: the lies and distortions, the hypocrisy, the dead bodies, the survivors’ harrowing tales, and the complete impunity of the U.S. military to suppress the truth.

The propaganda started with the concoction of a pretext for the invasion. The U.S. military had been sending aggressive patrols into the Panama City streets, trying to elicit a response. 

“Provocations against the Panamanian people by United States military troops were very frequent in Panama,” said Sabrina Virgo, National Labor Organizer, who was in Panama before the invasion. She said the provocations were intended “to create an international incident… have United States troops just hassle the Panamanian people until an incident resulted. And from that incident the United States could then say they were going into Panama for the protection of American life, which is exactly what happened. [2]

After a group of Marines on patrol ran a roadblock and were fired on by Panamanian troops, one U.S. soldier was killed. The group, nicknamed the “Hard Chargers,” was known for their provocative actions against Panamanian troops. Four days later, the invasion began. [3]

Targeting Civilians and Journalists

Elizabeth Montgomery, narrating The Panama Deception, says: “It soon became clear that the objectives were not limited only to military targets. According to witnesses, many of the surrounding residential neighborhoods were deliberately attacked and destroyed.” [4]

Witnesses recounted U.S. soldiers setting residential buildings on fire. Video footage shows the charred remains of rows of housing complexes in El Chorillo, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

“The North Americans began burning down El Chorillo at about 6:30 in the morning. They would throw a small device into a house and it would catch on fire,” recounted an anonymous witness in the film. “They would burn a house, and then move to another and begin the process all over again. They burned from one street to the next. They coordinated the burning through walkie-talkies.” [5]

People were crushed by tanks, captured Panamanians were executed on the street, and bodies were piled together and burned. Survivors were reportedly hired to fill mass graves for $6 per body.

Spanish fotographer Juantxu Rodríguez of El País was shot and killed by an American soldier. Journalist Maruja Torres recounted the incident in the Spanish newspaper the next day.

“’Get back!’ the U.S. soldier yelled from his painted face brandishing his weapon. We identified ourselves as journalists, guests at the Marriot,” she wrote. “’We just want to pick up our things.’ He didn’t pay attention. The hotel, like all of them, had been taken over by U.S. troops. Those young marines were on the verge of hysteria. There was not a single Panamanian around, just defenseless journalists. Juantxu ran out running toward the hotel taking photos, the rest of us took shelter behind the cars. Juantxu didn’t return.”

While the professed aim of the operation was to capture Noriega, there is ample evidence that destroying the Panamanian Defense Forces and terrifying the local population into submission were at least equally important goals.

American officials had been told the precise location of Noriega three hours after the operation began - before the killing in El Chorillo - by a European diplomat. The diplomat told the Los Angeles Times he was “100% certain” of Noriega’s location “but when I called, SouthCom (the U.S. Southern military command) said it had other priorities.”

No one knows the exact number of people who were killed during the invasion of Panama. The best estimates are at least 2,000 to 3,000 Panamanians, but this may be a conservative figure, according to a Central American Human Rights Commission (COEDHUCA) report.

The report stated that “most of these deaths could have been prevented had the US troops taken appropriate measures to ensure the lives of civilians and had obeyed the international legal norms of warfare.”

The CODEHUCA report documented massively “disproportionate use of military force,” “indiscriminate and intentional attacks against civilians” and destruction of poor, densely-populated neighborhoods such as El Chorillo and San Miguelito. This gratuitous, systematic violence could not conceivably be connected to the professed military mission.

When asked at a news conference whether it was worth sending people to die (Americans, of course, not thousands of Panamanians) to capture Noriega, President George H.W. Bush replied: “Every human life is precious. And yet I have to answer, yes, it has been worth it.”

'Flagrant Violation of International Law'

Several days later, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution condemning the invasion. But the United States – joined by allies Great Britain and France – vetoed it. American and European officials argued the invasion was justified and should be praised for removing Noriega from power. Other countries saw a dangerous precedent.

“The Soviet Union and third world council members argued that the invasion must be condemned because it breaks the ban on the use of force set down in the United Nations Charter,” wrote the New York Times.

After this, on December 29, the General Assembly voted 75 to 20 with 40 abstentions in a resolution calling the intervention in Panama a “flagrant violation of international law and of the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the States.”

The Organization of American States passed a similar resolution by a margin of 20-1. In explaining the U.S.’s lone vote against the measure, a State Department spokesperson said: “We are disappointed that the OAS missed a historic opportunity to get beyond its traditional narrow concern over ‘nonintervention.’”

In the ensuing occupation, CODEHUCA claimed that “the US has not respected fundamental legal and human rights” in Panama. The violations occurred on a “massive scale” and included “illegal detentions of citizens, unconstitutional property searches, illegal lay-offs of public and private employees, and … tight control of the Panamanian media.”

Despite the international outrage, Bush enjoyed a political boost from the aggression. His poll numbers shot to record highs not seen “since Presidents Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower.” The President had authorized crimes against the peace and war crimes. Rather than being held accountable, he benefitted. So did the Pentagon and defense contractors who desperately needed a new raison d’ etre after the fall of Communism.

No longer able to use the fear-mongering Cold War rationales it had for the last 40 years, Washington found a new propaganda tool to justify its aggressive military interventions and occupations.  Washington was able to appropriate human rights language to create the contradictory, fictional notion of “humanitarian intervention.”

“Washington was desperate for new ideological weapons to justify – both at home and abroad – its global strategies,” writes James Peck. “A new humanitarian ethos legitimizing massive interventions – including war – emerged in the 1990s only after Washington had been pushing such an approach for some time.” [6]

The stage was set for the even more horrific invasion of Iraq the following summer. Operation Gothic Serpent in Somalia, the NATO bombing of Serbia, Iraq (again), and the Bush and Obama interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq (a third time), Pakistan, Libya, Somalia (again), Yemen, Iraq (a fourth time) and Syria would follow.

The invasion of Panama caused unthinkable devastation to the people of Panama. Because of the U.S. military’s obstruction, the full extent of the death and destruction will never be known. The damage done to the legitimacy of international law compounded the devastation exponentially.

Indisputably, the U.S. invasion was aggression against a sovereign nation. Aggressive war was defined in the Nuremberg Trials as the “supreme international crime,” different from other crimes (like genocide or terrorism) in that it contains “the accumulated evil of the whole.” People convicted of waging aggressive war were sentenced to death by hanging.

Twenty five years later, the man who ordered the invasion of Panama, George H.W. Bush, enjoys a luxurious retirement at his Houston and Kennebunkport estates. He is considered by mainstream U.S. pundits to be a foreign policy moderate. 

Works Cited

[1] Blum, William. Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II - Updated Through 2003. Common Courage Press, 2008.

[2] The Panama Deception. Dir. Barbara Trent. Empowerment Project, 1992. Film. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-p4cPoVcIo&list=PLBMiR6FLgz2-BEFx0w_V-jE6hKb9uP3Wh&index=3, (30:54)

[3] Ibid (31:40)

[4] Ibid (34:08)

[5] Ibid (37:06)

[6] Peck, James. Ideal Illusions: How the U.S. Government Co-opted Human Rights. Metropolitan Books, 2011.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Puerto Rico’s Subjugation Prevents Decolonization And Freedom for Oscar López Rivera

With the holiday season underway and Eric Holder on his way out the door as Attorney General, many Puerto Ricans are stepping up their calls for President Barack Obama to pardon 71-year-old political prisoner Oscar López Rivera, who has spent the last 33 years behind bars for seditious conspiracy. The holiday season is a common time for Presidents to use their power to grant clemency, but this does not appear likely in 2014 for the President who has granted the fewest pardons in modern times. For Puerto Ricans, dismissal of their political demands is emblematic of their subjugation as colonial subjects.

Last week at a concert in San Juan, reggaeton singer René Pérez Joglar of the band Calle 13 brought López’s daughter Clarissa on stage to read a letter pleading for her father’s release. 

After winning the silver medal in judo in the Central American and Caribbean games in November, Augusto Miranda told the press: “I want to use this forum for all the people of Puerto Rico and the United States. It’s an abuse what they’ve done to Oscar López Rivera, political prisoner. It’s time to give him his freedom.”

The President of the Universidad de Puerto Rico (UPR), Uroyoán Ramón Emeterio Walker, joined with students at the university to call for Lopez’s release, citing “humanitarian reasons” for what Emeterio called a “disproportionate” sentence.

Human rights activists such as Nobel Peace Laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Máiread Corrigan Maguire and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel have called on Obama to release López. Anti-apartheid hero Tutu has said that López’s “crime” was “conspiracy to free his peoples from the shackles of imperial justice.” 

Thousands take to social media every day using the hashtag #FreeOscarLopez to express their support for his cause.

The fact that President Obama’s nominee for Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, is awaiting Senate confirmation could adversely impact a ruling on López’s clemency petition, noted El Nuevo Dia. The current Attorney General, Eric Holder, was Deputy Attorney General when President Clinton offered clemency to 16 Puerto Rican prisoners in 1999. López was one of those included in Clinton’s conditional offer, which would have required him to serve 10 more years in prison. López rejected the offer because it was not extended to all of his fellow nationalist prisoners. 

López was sentenced in 1981 to 55 years in prison. The main charge against him, seditious conspiracy, is the same one used to convict Nelson Mandela, who served 27 years in prison. López was convicted of other charges related to possession of firearms, which López described as “no more than a weapons collector would have at home,” and stolen cars. [1]

The government accused López of being a leader in the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional Puertorriqueña (FALN), a militant nationalist organization that sought independence for the island through armed struggle. The group claimed responsibility for a series of bombings of government and economic targets in New York in Chicago during the 70s and early 80s. The Chicago Tribune described the FALN bombs as “fortunately so placed and timed as to damage property rather than persons” and said that nationalists “were out to call attention to their cause rather than to shed blood.”

The judge said he would sentence López to the “electric chair” if he could, and the Lead Prosecutor said he “would like to see these Puerto Ricans die in jail.” [2] López’s political affiliations were clearly the motivating factor in his egregiously excessive sentence.

López himself was never accused of injuring and killing anyone. The government did not charge López in connection with a single bombing incident. In the U.S. justice system, you cannot punish someone for something they haven’t been personally tried for in court. Attempts to justify López’s sentence by blaming him for acts the FALN claimed responsibility for are nothing more than guilt by association.

Later, López would receive 15 more years for conspiracy to escape, the result of a plot devised by FBI informants placed in his unit.

In his defense, López argued that according to international law he had the status of prisoner of war as an anticolonial fighter. As colonialism is a crime against humanity under international law, and international organizations had determined that Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States, López argued that he should be judged by an international body. [3]

In a 1987 resolution condemning international terrorism, the UN General Assembly purposefully excluded actions by people seeking the “inalienable right to self-determination and independence of all peoples under colonial and racist regimes.” The resolution specified “the right of these peoples to struggle to this end.” The measure passed by a margin of 153-2. Only Israel and the United States voted against it.

A History of Repression

While today roughly only 5% of Puerto Ricans on the island favor independence, this was not always the case. After the United States defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War in 1898, the U.S. assumed possession of Puerto Rico along with Spain’s other colonies. The U.S. controlled Puerto Rico’s government and gave enormously profitable sugar and coffee plantations to private American corporations. The U.S. government suppressed resistance to colonial occupation and refused all demands to relinquish control of the island.  

In 1948, the Puerto Rican Senate passed Law 53. The “Gag Law” criminalized nationalist politics. It prohibited organizing, assembling, writing or speaking to promote independence. It even prohibited displaying the Puerto Rican flag.  

Luis Muñoz Marin, the head of the Senate at the time, became Puerto Rico’s governor the next year. His Partido Popular Democratico (PPD) passed a new Constitution in 1952 that granted Puerto Rico its Commonwealth status. However, this shed the territory’s colonial status in name only.

Independence movements had determined to resort to armed struggle after facing decades of repression politically. They saw the Commonwealth as a euphemism for an illegitimate arrangement that perpetuated the colonial status quo.

Pedro Albizu Campos, leader of Puerto Rico’s Nationalist Party, had been imprisoned along with other nationalists in 1936. He spent 10 years behind bars. After being released, he continued fighting for the liberation of Puerto Rico from colonialism. 

In 1954, Lolita Lebrón led an attack with other nationalists on the House of Representatives. Shooting from the gallery of the chamber, they wounded five Congressmen. Lebrón spent 25 years in prison. She later said “times have changed … I would not take up arms nowadays, but I acknowledge that the people have a right to use any means available to free themselves.”

Puerto Rican nationalist groups were among the first targeted as part of J. Edgar Hoover’s notorious FBI Cointelpro illegal spying campaign. Cointelpro became known to the public during the Church Committee hearings in the late 1970s, when it was revealed that the program had been used to illegally spy on civil rights leaders, anti-war protestors, American Indian movements, and other groups who challenged the political status quo.

While most Puerto Ricans do not support independence, most do support decolonization – whether it is through integration into the United States as a state, or through a sovereign association with the United States similar to that of Marshall Islands.

In a historic November 2012 referendum, Puerto Rican voters decisively rejected the current colonial status with a 54% majority. Only voters on the island were allowed to participate in the referendum. If Puerto Ricans and their descendants in the diaspora - where independence is more popular – were included, the number likely would have been much higher.

Today support for López’s release is shared by both the pro-status quo PPD and pro-statehood PNP. Puerto Rico’s Governor Alejandro García Padilla and lone (non-voting) representative in Congress Pedro Pierluisi – the former of the PPD and the latter of the PNP - have both petitioned President Obama for López’s freedom.

Latin American countries have expressed solidarity with Puerto Rico on both the causes of decolonization and freedom for López. In his visit to the White House, President of Uruguay José “Pepe” Mujica called for Obama to grant a pardon to López. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has called for Puerto Rico to be able to join the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and for freedom for López. “The Island of Puerto Rico is not alone in its struggle for dignity and independence,” Maduro said

The two causes also received international backing from the UN Special Committee on Decolonization, which approved a resolution this summer that called on the United States to “end subjugation” of Puerto Rico and to release López.

No Recourse to Political Participation 

Although Puerto Ricans are American citizens, Puerto Ricans residing on the island cannot cast a vote in federal elections. Entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare do not apply equally to Puerto Ricans. U.S. businesses are guaranteed the same access to Puerto Rico as to any state under the Interstate Commerce Clause, subverting the island’s self-sufficiency. Puerto Rico doesn’t have the ability to make foreign policy, enter into trade agreements, impose tariffs, or provide universal public health insurance.

In the Insular Cases, the Supreme Court determined that Puerto Rico and other territories belong to, but are not part of, the United States. In comparing this to the “Separate but Equal” system established by the Court’s Plessy vs. Ferguson decision, Judge Juan R. Torruella says that the Insular Cases created a “Separate and Unequal” system for Puerto Rico. The difference, Torruella notes, is that unlike Plessy, which has been overturned, the Insular Cases created “a regime of de facto political apartheid, which continues in full vigor.”

Without any representation in Congress or a vote in Presidential elections, Puerto Ricans have their political rights subjugated to the U.S. government. Even on an issue as popular among Puerto Ricans as the release of Oscar López, they have no recourse to participate in the political process at the federal level.

There is no indication that Obama intends to even respond to López’s clemency plea, much less grant it. In his speech at Nelson Mandela’s funeral, Obama said that “around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs.” The overwhelming opinion among Puerto Ricans is that this description applies precisely to López.

The disregard that Obama has shown for recognizing the will of Puerto Ricans to free Oscar López demonstrates the uphill challenges Puerto Ricans face to shed their second-class status and obtain equal rights. If the President refuses even to grant a simple pardon, what chance do Puerto Ricans have of the U.S. government acting on the 2012 referendum and allowing them to achieve self-determination?

Predictably, the issue has been put on the back burner in Washington. The extent of federal action generated by the referendum is a $2.5 million appropriation to hold another referendum, which would also be non-binding. Only the U.S. Congress can change Puerto Rico’s status. And with Republicans in control of both chambers, it is more likely they will dedicate a national holiday to Karl Marx.

There is broad support in Puerto Rico for decolonization, and almost unanimous support for the liberation of Oscar López. But, as has been the case for the last 116 years, Puerto Ricans find themselves at the mercy of first-class citizens on the mainland who control their fate.

Works Cited

[1] Rivera, O. L. (2013). Oscar Lopez Rivera: Between Torture and Resistance. PM Press. http://secure.pmpress.org/index.php?l=product_detail&p=511

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid