The definitive comment:
April 30th, 2011
The definitive comment:
April 30th, 2011
Visit http://saveworkers.org to join the fight and download “Union Town” for free. Video by Revolution Messaging. Directed and edited by Robin Bell. Tom Morello filmed by Sean Ricigliano Wisconsin convergence footage by Matt Wisniewski as well as the Transport Workers Union. LA Unity Rally footage by Chris Kissinger.
April 30th, 2011
BLESS THE TORTURERS
Our valiant efforts should not cease
until we find out who’s for peace.
As patriot I have no doubt:
those peaceniks must be routed out.
Such cowards who don’t like to kill
could undermine our righteous will.
Our wars are good, and we must win
to save the wicked world from sin.
And as for torture, it’s our job
to pacify the evil mob
by any means that we can find,
and thus redeem all humankind.
Let’s pray that God in Heaven will
bless torturers who maim and kill.
IN PRAISE OF TORTURE
Dictated to me by Jonathan Swift, author of “A Modest Proposal,”
upon learning of the American Psychological Association’s position
regarding psychologists participating in torture.
I think we really should be fair
to torturers who try to care
about their evil victims who
endanger folk like me and you.
Let’s be adult and realistic:
there is a time to be sadistic.
Yes, waterboarding has its place
and it is hardly a disgrace
for colleagues who would serve our state
to torture those we love to hate.
Let’s honor our astute profession–
if we would coerce a confession
then we must use effective tools,
not be deterred by squeamish fools.
If victory is our shared goal
I’ll gladly sacrifice my soul.
I think “enhanced” means
that champagne is served,
everyone is nicely dressed,
and the conversations are quite lively.
There are free plane trips to exotic places
and a lot of attention is lavished on you.
In return not much is asked,
certainly nothing beyond your comprehension,
and you end up with the feeling
of having participated importantly in history.
Given the tedium of ordinary life
and our natural love of drama,
I’m surprised more people don’t volunteer.
April 28th, 2011
There are an overwhelming number of articles on the Wiki8leaks’ Guantanamo Files. However, the most important take home message, that the prison was based on a tissue of lies, is outlined in this article from McClatchy. See also their Guantanamo secret files show U.S. often held innocent Afghans:
WikiLeaks: Just 8 at Gitmo gave evidence against 255 others
By Tom Lasseter and Carol Rosenberg | McClatchy Newspapers
WASHINGTON — U.S. military intelligence assessing the threat of nearly 800 men held at Guantanamo in many cases used information from a small group of captives whose accounts now appear to be questionable, according to a McClatchy analysis of a trove of secret documents from the facility.
The allegations and observations of just eight detainees were used to help build cases against some 255 men at Guantanamo — roughly a third of all who passed through the prison. Yet the testimony of some of the eight was later questioned by Guantanamo analysts themselves, and the others were subjected to interrogation tactics that defense attorneys say amounted to torture and compromised the veracity of their information.
Concerns about the quality of the “facts” from the eight men goes to the heart of Guantanamo’s “mosaic” approach of piecing together detainees’ involvement with insurgent or terrorist groups that usually did not depend on one slam-dunk piece of evidence. Rather, intelligence analysts combined an array of details such as the items in detainees’ pants pockets at capture and whether they had confessed to interrogators — American or otherwise.
More than two-thirds of the men and boys at Guantanamo were not captured by U.S. forces. So analysts were often left to weave together the stories told by detainees, the context of where and how they were initially scooped up, the information passed on by interrogators at other U.S. detention sites and, crucially, the testimony of fellow detainees at Guantanamo.
At Guantanamo, the captives were aware that some prisoners were providing a pipeline of information to interrogators — either to justify their continued detention or for use in potential prosecutions before military commissions.
“I heard there was another detainee talking about me,” former Briton detainee Feroz Abassi said in a recent interview with McClatchy. “I thought, let them talk. They’re only going to corroborate my story.”
After being held at Guantanamo for more than three years, Abassi was released in a diplomatic deal in January 2005 at age 25. He now works as a caseworker at the London-based detainee activist group Cageprisoners.
Abassi said it later became apparent that some informants were “straying away from the truth, trying to save themselves. They crack and they think it helps them to point fingers. But they only dig a hole for themselves.”
That appears to have been the case for Mohammed Basardah, a self-described one-time jihadist whose information was used in assessments for at least 131 detainees. In some instances, he accused fellow detainees of training at militant camps or taking part in the fighting in Afghanistan against the United States and its allies in late 2001.
Other times, intelligence analysts simply inserted a sliver of a quote from Basardah about the guilt of everyone caught at Tora Bora — the rugged mountain region where Osama bin Laden and members of his inner circle fled following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks — as a sort of blanket truism.
The Yemeni’s testimony was included despite worries highlighted in a 2008 Guantanamo intelligence assessment that his “first-hand knowledge in reporting remains in question” and a remark that many of fellow prison camp captives seemed “willing to reveal self-incriminating information to him.”
At the Pentagon, Army Lt. Col. Tanya Bradsher said the military would not comment on the findings, based on documents obtained by WikiLeaks and given to McClatchy, because “the documents disclosed by Wikileaks are the stolen property of the U.S. government. The documents are classified and do not become declassified due to an unauthorized disclosure.”
Among the other informants, who were used in the assessments to both make direct allegations against detainees and explain more general issues such as the relationship between various militant groups:
- A Syrian detainee known as Abdul Rahim Razak al Janko, whose own file said that “there are so many variations and deviations in his reporting, as a result of detainee trying to please his interrogators, that it is difficult to determine what is factual.” He was quoted or cited in records for 20 detainees.
- Muhammad al Qahtani, a Saudi man whose interrogations reportedly included 20-hour sessions and being led around by a leash, appeared as a source in at least 31 cases. A Guantanamo analyst note about Qahtani acknowledged that “starting in winter 2002/2003, (Qahtani) began retracting statements,” though it argued that based on corroborating information “it is believed that (his) initial admissions were the truth.”At the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, the firm that has championed Qahtani’s unlawful detention lawsuit, senior attorney Shane Kadidal said that “the information that was given in the first place (by Qahtani) was not reliable.” As a condition of his security clearance, Kadidal said, he couldn’t discuss the specifics of the WikiLeaks documents.
- Ibn al Shaykh al Libi, a Libyan, told CIA de-briefers in 2004 that he had earlier exaggerated his status in al Qaida because he thought that’s what American interrogators wanted to hear. He also said that he fabricated connections between Iraq and al Qaida to avoid mistreatment or torture by Egyptian interrogators. Information from al Libi, thought to have been collected elsewhere, was cited in at least 38 of the Guantanamo files.
- Mohammed Hashim, an Afghan whose reporting was described in one analyst’s note as “of an undetermined reliability and is considered only partially truthful,” showed up in assessments for 21 detainees.
- Statements from Ali Abdul Motalib Hassan, an Iraqi whose assessment said he “has admitted that he exaggerates in order to make himself appear more important” and who was seen as “unreliable,” appeared in 33 detainee files.
- Zayn al Abidin Muhammad Husayn, a Saudi-born Palestinian who’s known more widely as Abu Zubaydah, was cited in about 127 detainee files. His interrogations are reported to have included at least 83 instances of water boarding, and his attorney, Brent Mickum, recently told McClatchy that “he provided tremendous amounts of information that was worthless.”
- Fawaz Naman Hamoud Abdullah Mahdi was used in only six cases. But given a 2004 Guantanamo assessment of the Yemeni, it seems surprising that the fruit of his interrogations would be used as evidence against anyone: His “severe psychological disorder and deteriorating attention span” meant “the reliability and accuracy of the information provided by (Mahdi) will forever remain questionable,” according to the assessment.
On Sunday, the Department of Defense released a statement saying the Obama administration’s current Guantanamo Review Task Force has in some cases come to the same conclusions as the 2002-2009 assessments, and “in other instances the review task force came to different conclusions, based on updated or other available information.”
Any lingering doubts about the eight men and the quality of their statements were rarely listed when their information appeared in the case files of other detainees. Guantanamo officials were so pleased with Basardah’s work, for example, that his identifying a fellow detainee was used as an example in a guide to “threat indicators.”
But in a 2009 opinion ordering the Pentagon to release Guantanamo detainee Saeed Mohammed Saleh Hatim, U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina pointed out that Basardah’s allegations about Hatim were collected several years after Guantanamo interrogators knew there were problems.
While the government maintained that Basardah provided interrogators with “accurate, reliable information,” Urbina said that Basardah had been flagged as early as May 2002 by a Guantanamo interrogator who did not recommend using him for further intelligence gathering “due in part to mental and emotional problems (and) limited knowledgeability.”
The interrogation in which Basardah fingered Hatim for operating heavy weapons on the front lines in Afghanistan happened in January 2006.
For Human Rights Watch senior counterterror counsel Andrea Prasow, who earlier in her career defended several Guantanamo captives, the military’s heavy reliance on such prison camp snitches vindicates the role of federal judges in analyzing the Pentagon’s patchwork of cases.
“But for habeas,” she said Monday, “we’d never have known that Basardah was a liar.”
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler took a similar view of Basardah in the unlawful detention lawsuit of Guantanamo detainee Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed. Kessler referred to Basardah as having “shown himself to be an unreliable source whose statements have little evidentiary value.”
Kessler also wrote of the U.S. government’s case against Ahmed and other Guantanamo detainees that “the mosaic theory is only as persuasive as the tiles which compose it … if the individual pieces of a mosaic are inherently flawed or do not fit together, then the mosaic will split apart.”
Basardah was not named publicly in either case, but his identity is clear after comparing the new Guantanamo files and the court cases.
In both cases, the judges ruled that the detainees should be freed.
April 27th, 2011
A story I missed from last month demonstrating the lengths to which the government went to keep Guantanamo prisoners out of the US:
WikiLeaks cable casts doubt on Guantanamo medical care
By Carol Rosenberg | McClatchy Newspapers
WASHINGTON — The Bush administration was so intent on keeping Guantanamo detainees off U.S. soil and away from U.S. courts that it secretly tried to negotiate deals with Latin American countries to provide “life-saving” medical procedures rather than fly ill terrorist suspects to the U.S. for treatment, a recently released State Department cable shows.
The U.S. offered to transport, guard and pay for medical procedures for any captive the Pentagon couldn’t treat at the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba, according to the cable, which was made public by the WikiLeaks website. One by one, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Panama and Mexico declined.
The secret effort is spelled out in a Sept. 17, 2007, cable from then assistant secretary of state Thomas Shannon to the U.S. embassies in those four countries. Shannon is now the U.S. ambassador in Brazil.
At the time, the Defense Department was holding about 330 captives at Guantanamo, not quite twice the number that are there today. They included alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and two other men whom the CIA waterboarded at its secret prison sites.
The cable, which was posted on the WikiLeaks website March 14, draws back the curtain on contingency planning at Guantanamo, but also contradicts something the prison camp’s hospital staff has been telling visitors for years — that the U.S. can dispatch any specialist necessary to make sure the captives in Cuba get first-class treatment.
“Detainees receive state-of-the-art medical care at Guantanamo for routine, and many non-routine, medical problems. There are, however, limits to the care that DOD can provide at Guantanamo,” Shannon said in the cable, referring to the Department of Defense.
The cable didn’t give examples of those limits. But it sought partner countries to commit to a “standby arrangement” to provide “life-saving procedures” on a “humanitarian basis.”
It’s unclear what prompted the effort. The cable said then Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte had approved making the request at the behest of then Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, who at the time oversaw Guantanamo operations.
Negroponte said Wednesday that he had “no recollection” of the request but that it would have been unrealistic to expect the Latin American nations to agree to it, “because anything to do with Guantanamo was always so politically controversial for any of these countries.” England didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Earlier that year, a captive had managed to commit suicide, according to the military, inside a maximum-security lockup. Two medical emergencies also tested Guantanamo’s medical services in 2006: Two captives overdosed on other prisoners’ drugs they’d secretly hoarded, and then three men were found hanged in their common cellblock before dawn one Saturday.
In 2007, lawyers for Guantanamo’s eldest detainee, former U.S. resident Saifullah Paracha, who Pentagon officials said was a key al Qaida insider, also challenged the military’s plans to conduct a heart catheterization procedure at the base.
Paracha, now 63 and still suffering from a chronic heart condition, wanted to be taken to the U.S. or his native Pakistan for the catheterization. He refused to undergo the procedure at the base, even after the Pentagon airlifted a surgical suite and special equipment to the base to undertake the procedure.
The U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider Paracha’s request that he be brought to a U.S. hospital rather than have the experts brought to him.
“Where do they treat soldiers with heart problems?” said Zachary Katznelson, who at the time was part of Paracha’s pro-bono legal team. “They get them out of Guantanamo as soon as possible. They take them to a real cardiac care unit. It’s already risky enough.”
The WikiLeaks cable “clearly indicates that everything we were telling the courts, everything that Saifullah was telling us, was true,” Katznelson said. “Guantanamo did not have the facilities to adequately treat Saifullah on the island.”
The cable also makes clear that the driving force behind seeking the arrangements was the fear that detainees would use a medical emergency to exercise their legal rights.
The cable said that emergency medical treatment on American soil presented “serious risks” to the U.S. government, or USG.
“Admitting particular detainees might lead litigants to argue that U.S. courts should order the USG to admit other, more dangerous, detainees,” the cable said. “These concerns are unique to the United States and are not something that third countries face.”
A State Department official said the U.S. was never able to arrange for emergency medical treatment elsewhere. But a Pentagon spokeswoman argued such a deal wasn’t really necessary.
U.S. captives in Cuba “receive the highest quality medical care, the same caliber as that received by our own service members,” Army Lt. Col. Tanya Bradsher said.
“Medical emergencies are handled on a case-by-case basis to identify the most effective means of providing appropriate medical treatment to the detainee at Guantanamo,” she said. “This may include bringing in outside medical capabilities should the need arise.”
Those outside specialists have included cardiologists and a spinal surgeon. Colonoscopies are done more or less routinely.
Today, there’s an added complication: Congress forbids the Defense Department to use taxpayer money to transport Guantanamo captives to the U.S.
(Rosenberg reports for the Miami Herald.)
April 27th, 2011
Paul Krugman, long a critic of the deceit involved in the Ryan budget proposal and the failure of the Obama alternative, likes the budget proposal from the Progressive Caucus:
[T]he only major budget proposal out there offering a plausible path to balancing the budget is the one that includes significant tax increases: the “People’s Budget” from the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which — unlike the Ryan plan, which was just right-wing orthodoxy with an added dose of magical thinking — is genuinely courageous because it calls for shared sacrifice.
True, it increases revenue partly by imposing substantially higher taxes on the wealthy, which is popular everywhere except inside the Beltway. But it also calls for a rise in the Social Security cap, significantly raising taxes on around 6 percent of workers. And, by rescinding many of the Bush tax cuts, not just those affecting top incomes, it would modestly raise taxes even on middle-income families.
All of this, combined with spending cuts mostly focused on defense, is projected to yield a balanced budget by 2021. And the proposal achieves this without dismantling the legacy of the New Deal, which gave us Social Security, and the Great Society, which gave us Medicare and Medicaid.
But if the progressive proposal has all these virtues, why isn’t it getting anywhere near as much attention as the much less serious Ryan proposal? It’s true that it has no chance of becoming law anytime soon. But that’s equally true of the Ryan proposal.
The answer, I’m sorry to say, is the insincerity of many if not most self-proclaimed deficit hawks. To the extent that they care about the deficit at all, it takes second place to their desire to do precisely what the People’s Budget avoids doing, namely, tear up our current social contract, turning the clock back 80 years under the guise of necessity. They don’t want to be told that such a radical turn to the right is not, in fact, necessary.
But, it isn’t, as the progressive budget proposal shows. We do need to bring the deficit down, although we aren’t facing an immediate crisis. How we go about stemming the tide of red ink is, however, a choice — and by making tax increases part of the solution, we can avoid savaging the poor and undermining the security of the middle class.
April 25th, 2011
The Guardian correspondent Chris McGreal salutes the Libyan people opposing tyranny:
Dispatch from Libya: The courage of ordinary people standing up to Gaddafi
Chris McGreal, a veteran of 25 years of conflict, reveals why Libya’s revolution is one of the most inspiring he has witnessed
The Middle East. A man with a car fashioned into a bomb. He disguises his intent by joining a funeral cortege passing the chosen target. At the last minute the man swings the vehicle away, puts his foot down and detonates the propane canisters packed into the car.
It all sounds horrifyingly familiar. Mahdi Ziu was a suicide bomber in a region too often defined by people blowing up themselves and others. But, as with so much in Libya, the manner of Ziu’s death defies the assumptions made about the uprisings in the Arab world by twitchy American politicians and generals who see Islamic extremism and al-Qaeda lurking in the shadows. Ziu’s attack was an act of pure selflessness, not terror, and it may have saved Libya’s revolution.
In the first days of the popular uprising he crashed his car into the gates of the Katiba, a much-feared military barracks in Benghazi, where Muammar Gaddafi’s forces were making a last stand in a hostile city. At that time the revolutionaries had few weapons, mostly stones and “fish bombs” — TNT explosive with a fuse that is more usually dropped in the sea off Benghazi to catch fish. The soldiers had heavy machine guns and the revolutionaries, often daring young men letting loose their anger at the regime for the first time, were dying in their dozens as they tried to storm the Katiba.
Then Ziu arrived, blew the main gates off the barracks and sent the soldiers scurrying to seek shelter inside. Within hours the Katiba had fallen.
Ziu was not classic suicide-bomber material. He was a podgy, balding 48-year-old executive with the state oil company, married with daughters at home. There was no martyrdom video of the kind favoured by Hamas. He did not even tell his family his plan, although they had seen a change in him over the three days since the revolution began.
“He said everyone should fight for the revolution: ‘We need Jihad,’” says Ziu’s 20-year-old daughter, Zuhur, clearly torn between pride at her father’s martyrdom and his loss. “He wasn’t an extreme man. He didn’t like politics. But he was ready to do something. We didn’t know it would be that.”
Ziu may have been unusual as a suicide bomber, but he was representative of a revolution driven by dentists and accountants, lorry drivers and academics, the better off and the very poor, the devout and secular. Men such as Abdullah Fasi, an engineering student who had just graduated and was in a hurry to get out of a country he regarded as devoid of all hope until he found himself outside the Katiba stoning Gaddafi’s soldiers. And Shams Din Fadelala, a gardener in the city’s public parks who supported the Libyan leader up to the day government soldiers started killing people on the streets of Benghazi. And Mohammed Darrat, who spent 18 years in Gaddafi’s prisons and every moment out of them believing that one day the people would rise up.
Fasi joined the revolution on day two. The protests began after sunset on 15 February outside the police headquarters to demand the release of a lawyer, Fathi Terbil, who was arrested over a lawsuit against the government on behalf of the relatives of 1,200 men killed by Gaddafi’s forces at Abu Salim prison in 1996. Relatives of the dead men and lawyer friends of Terbil started to march. As they moved through the city, the crowd swelled and chanted slogans from the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. The police attacked them with water cannon and the government unleashed young men wielding broken bottles and clubs against the protesters. All that did was to bring thousands more on to the streets the next day, including Fasi.
“At first we didn’t ask Gaddafi to leave,” he says. “We just wanted a constitution, justice, a better future. Then they came shooting and beating the people. After that we said Gaddafi must leave.”
“I knew I had to go to the Katiba. They were shooting us. In front of me they killed seven people in those four days. The last day was very very hard. People started to get TNT from the other camps and make the fish bombs. Every five minutes I heard a fish bomb explode.”
Then Ziu charged the Katiba’s gates on his kamikaze mission. What followed wasn’t pretty. “(The revolutionaries) were beating Gaddafi people they captured, it’s true. When they captured a Gaddafi soldier they said: ‘What was this man doing? He was shooting us.’ Gaddafi’s soldiers wanted to kill anyone. They were using anti-aircraft weapons on humans. It cut people in half. People were angry,” says Fasi. So angry that some of Gaddafi’s soldiers were lynched. At least one was beheaded.
With the battle of the Katiba won and the revolutionaries in control of Benghazi, Fasi gravitated toward the city’s courthouse on the dilapidated Mediterranean sea front, a mix of ornate Italian colonial-era buildings and ugly but functional modern constructs. The revolutionaries had burned the court and the neighbouring internal security offices as symbols of repression. Now they were rallying centres and something of a shrine. Relatives of Gaddafi’s many victims over four decades pinned up hundreds of pictures of the dead on the courthouse walls alongside those killed around the Katiba. Ziu’s portrait is there as an heroic martyr. While some mourned, others let loose with graffiti plastered across Benghazi declaring that the 42-year nightmare was nearly over.
Benghazians still marvel at their own courage in taking on the regime. Failure would almost certainly have meant execution, years in one of Gaddafi’s brutal prisons or exile. Yet otherwise ordinary people inspired each other to take the risk, not for an ideological cause or over some ethnic divide but to enjoy the basic freedoms few have ever known.
Middle-aged men said they stood against Gaddafi because they couldn’t bear the thought of their children growing up to face a future devoid of hope. Younger people spoke of a realisation that they could either seize the moment or resign themselves to a half-existence under the tutelage of the next generation of Gaddafis. Even a few weeks later when the regime’s tanks were at the gates of Benghazi and the revolution looked as if it might be lost, expressions of regret were rare. The hardcore of revolutionaries — the female dentistry professor with an eight year-old child, the accountant with a family in the US, the shopkeeper who wonders where the money to feed his family will come from because the revolution has killed trade all said that at least they would die as free Libyans.
Few revolutions have been more inspiring. After years of reporting uprisings and conflicts driven by ideology, factional interests or warlords soaked in blood — from El Salvador to Somalia, Congo and Liberia – Libya’s uprising seems to me more akin to South Africa’s liberation from apartheid. For a start, the once pervasive fear of a hated regime is gone.
From the first days, scores of enthusiastic young revolutionaries, high on the prospect of looming victory, indulged the newfound freedom to finally say what they thought. They churned out screeds listing the dictator’s crimes and posters caricaturing Gaddafi as a common thief and agent of Mossad. Some posters imagined him on trial before the international criminal court or strung up on one of the gallows used for public hangings to terrorise the Libyan population.
Revolutionary committees sprang up. Among them was one charged with getting the message to the outside world that Libya 2011 was not Tehran 1979. The savvy revolutionary activists watching CNN and news websites were not slow in recognising the fearmongering in parts of the US media and Congress over what kind of revolution this was.
Almost the only foreigners in Benghazi during the early days of the revolution were journalists. We were feted with free coffee in cafés and regularly stopped on the street and thanked for coming. But reporters were also quizzed by Libyans who picked up on the talk about Islamic extremists hijacking the revolution. Where, they wondered, did the idea of al-Qaeda in Libya come from? Couldn’t people see what kind of revolution this is?
It is hard not to notice how desperate the core of revolutionaries is to be accepted by the west. It is common enough to run into accountants, oil executives and engineers on the frontline who have studied in Nottingham, Manchester and Brighton. They say they admire Britain and the US. Denunciations of America are noticeably absent, at least on the rebel side of the line. France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, is a hero in rebel-held areas for recognising the revolutionary administration.
Yet it is also not hard to see why the outside world was uncertain about the revolutionaries. No other country in the Middle East is quite so defined by its leader.
The cult of Gaddafi and his Green Book, his links to terrorism and the sheer brutality of a regime that publicly hanged students at Benghazi university for dissent, left little to be admired. The Libyan leader’s colourful behaviour, including a taste for Amazonian bodyguards, led much of the world to conclude that he was unstable as well as dangerous. From the outside, there were good reasons to wonder if the collective sanity of the Libyan people had not gone off the rails in those 42 years, especially when Libyans were seen on television in near hysterics as they fanatically waved Gaddafi’s green flag and swore to die for him.
“He made us ashamed of our country. He made us ashamed of ourselves,” says Mohammed Darrat, the former army officer who, in joining the throngs outside the Benghazi courthouse during the first days of the revolution, committed his first political act since Gaddafi flung him into jail in 1970. “Gaddafi gave this image to the world of the Libyan people as criminals or fanatics. It wasn’t true. We knew all along that he didn’t speak for us. It was always the people of Libya versus one family, the Gaddafis.”
That may not be entirely true. Many Libyans did very nicely out of the regime, at the price of unyielding loyalty to the “brother leader”. But it is true that large numbers of Libyans regarded Gaddafi with contempt. Fasi, 23, grew up listening to his parents talk of Gaddafi as mentally unstable. “They thought he was mad – all my family talking about him and what he did in the 70s and 80s. They regarded him as a criminal for Lockerbie and a lot of other things. They hated it that the rest of the world only saw Gaddafi and not the Libyan people,” he says.
Fasi was warned by his parents never to repeat such views outside the house. That didn’t stop him. “For my generation, we were talking about it a lot. You can’t say Gaddafi is mad to just anybody. You can say it to close friends, but not to someone you don’t know properly, in case he’s a spy for internal security. In the last few years we were talking about that a lot among ourselves, saying we don’t want Gaddafi. But none of us expected Gaddafi to fall. Everybody was waiting for him to die. We left it to God to deal with him and we told ourselves whatever happens after there can be no one worse than Gaddafi,” he says.
Until that day, many young Libyans saw no future in their own country. They were generally less concerned with Gaddafi’s crimes against his own people — Benghazi was a favoured place for public hangings of political dissidents — than with the despair of living in a country where they saw no future. “I had to join the revolution because we didn’t have any hope here,” says Fasi. “A lot of my friends left the country after graduation. You see the outside, you see the other countries, you see how they live free. Even if their economies are bad, they are free. That’s the point.”
For Darrat, the revolution is about something else entirely. It’s personal. He knew Gaddafi from their army days, recognised the nature of the man and turned against him almost from the moment he seized power in 1969. “I went to military academy in Iraq. I saw that revolution and all the suffering there, the crimes,” he says. “After Gaddafi’s revolution I joined a secret group of army officers. We watched a lot of soldiers in the upper ranks behaving immorally, harming people because they wanted power. Because of what I had seen in Iraq I thought the same terrible things would happen here. I was right.”
Darrat joined a clique of officers planning to overthrow Gaddafi, but after a few months they were betrayed and arrested. “Gaddafi said we were traitors. They showed no humanity. They beat us day after day to obtain information. They smashed my leg and my back. I couldn’t walk,” he said.
Darrat was sentenced to life in prison. He left behind a wife and four children. Hundreds of other military personnel were also jailed. He describes prison as “very, very bad”. After two operations to repair the damage done by the beatings to his legs and back he was immediately returned to his cell without anything to control the pain.
Darrat brings out a picture of his military academy graduation class. In it is one of the army officers who brought Gaddafi to power in the 1969 coup. Another in the group was executed for opposing the Libyan leader. He has no idea why Gaddafi freed him early. “Who knows what Gaddafi thinks,” he says. “I don’t know how we allowed him to take control of our lives. We could all see what he was.”
When Gaddafi seized power he promised to do more for the poor with his distinctive brand of socialism. Wealthier Libyans lost properties. People in rented accommodation were told it now belonged to them. Yet for all the ideological rhetoric a substantial part of Libya’s population still lives in poverty.
In a corner of Benghazi rarely seen by its better-off residents is a warren of roughly constructed shacks and containers made into houses. Shams Din Fadelala built his own place from breeze blocks and corrugated iron on a piece of barren land that was once the compound of a German oil company. From the outside, the house does not have an air of permanence. Inside it is immaculately turned out with china models of flowers and birds on the coffee table.
Fadelala says he had lived much of his life without expectations. Gaddafi’s Libya did not encourage hope for a better life. The only real ambition for many Libyans was to stay out of the hands of the dictator’s notorious security police and find a job abroad. But Fadelala could not even cling to that small dream. As a gardener in Benghazi’s parks, he earns just £90 a month (“I give it all to my wife,” he says).
None of that stopped him from supporting Gaddafi. “I had always supported Gaddafi,” he says. “There was no one else, so who else could I support? He was the leader.”
As Fadelala watched the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions on al-Jazeera he marvelled at the audacity of the revolutionaries while not entertaining a flicker of hope that the same thing could happen in Libya. “It was interesting but I though it could never happen here. This is a different country. They didn’t have Gaddafi,” he says.
The regime calculated that unleashing violence against the protesters would intimidate men like Fadelala from supporting the revolutionaries. It was wrong. By the second day of the revolution, Fadelala was so appalled at the violence that he took the first political stand in his life and went to the courthouse in solidarity with the revolution. “When I saw what was happening, the shooting of protesters at the Katiba, I thought: ‘No more Gaddafi’. People were just protesting. He had no right to kill them for that,” he says.
Fadelala was not alone. Plenty of Benghazians eyed the uprising with suspicion, worried at the breakdown of order. But Gaddafi’s reaction — to slaughter protesters and accuse those demanding democratic freedoms of being drug addicts and members of al-Qaeda — revived memories of the most brutal years of the dictator’s rule in the 1980s and bolstered support for the uprising.
The revolution has still to be won. Gaddafi controls more territory than the revolutionaries. He managed to get his tanks into Benghazi before western air strikes drove them back. The residents of “free Libya” are in the peculiar position of being the only people on the planet pleading with foreigners to bomb their country.
Yet the uprising has changed everything. The fear of the regime is gone. The revolution has exposed the myth of Gaddafi’s invincibility even if he manages to hang on for another few months. Fasi says he now has a reason to stay in Libya. “I really want to share in building this country,” he says. “It’s a dream to be the best country in the world. We can be that now. I think it needs democracy, and this country is rich. Democracy and oil, that’s all we need.”
April 24th, 2011
Paul Krugman recently raised the question of where the capitalist term “consumer” started being used for medical patients and discussed the pernicious effects this usage has on healthcare:
Here’s my question: How did it become normal, or for that matter even acceptable, to refer to medical patients as “consumers”? The relationship between patient and doctor used to be considered something special, almost sacred. Now politicians and supposed reformers talk about the act of receiving care as if it were no different from a commercial transaction, like buying a car — and their only complaint is that it isn’t commercial enough.
What has gone wrong with us?
On his blog today he answers the origins question:
Rashi Fein directs me to a paper he published in 1982, which begins
A new language is infecting the culture of American medicine. It is the language of the marketplace, of the tradesman, and of the cost accountant. It is a language that depersonalizes both patients and physicians and describes medical care as just another commodity. It is a language that is dangerous.
Alas, I can’t find a publicly available copy of the Fein paper.
April 24th, 2011
This reminds me of the conclusion to a 2004 article of mine [Iraq:What Went Wrong?]:
“[I]magine yourself an Iraqi. You’ve suffered terribly under a ruthless dictator. The Americans invade your country under false pretenses. They promise democracy but don’t organize elections. They appoint exiles to rule you, exiles who spend most of their time out of the country and the rest in a few highly protected areas. The occupiers break into your homes in the middle of the night and arrest your men, who then disappear, with no accountability. They shoot Iraqis at roadblocks and from convoys. They declare war on the second most popular man in the country, announcing his death in advance. They open the economy to US corporations and give them sweetheart contracts, ignoring local business. Then they write hundreds of laws and establish commissions limiting any future government. They build permanent military bases on your soil. Then they turn your country over to a former associate of Saddam Hussein, also a former CIA agent, known for his ruthless brutality. Imagine that was your country. What would you do?”
This was quoted by Pepe Escobar at the time in Asia Times:, where he contrasted it with statements by President Clinton:
Conspicuously absent from Clinton’s roadmap for Kerry was the Iraq question. For a simple reason: neither the Democratic Party, nor Kerry, nor Bush for that matter, knows what to say and do about Iraq. Stephen Soldz, founder of Psychoanalysts for Peace and Justice in Boston, frames the problem to perfection.
April 24th, 2011
This is apparently happening in other places across the country as Republicans who voted to abolish Medicare as we know it went home to their districts. Note that, alas, there is no organization behind these meetings as no progressive or left-wing organization is together enough to support these discussions. Reports are the Koch-Republican Party is now mobilizing to send in “supporters” to defend the Ryan plan.
BTW, Duffy is the one who earlier told his constituents “I can’t live on $174K a year.”
April 23rd, 2011
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