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The Outrageous Trial of Cecily McMillan

Occupy Wall Street protesters Eric Linkser and Cecily McMillan

Occupy Wall Street protesters Eric Linkser, left, and Cecily McMillan, right, take turns shouting information to protesters on November 15, 2011. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Two years ago, a young activist named Cecily McMillan attended a protest at Zuccotti Park marking the six-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. When police moved in to clear the demonstrators, a cop roughly grabbed her breast—photos show an ugly bruise—and she ended up being injured so badly that she had a seizure and ended up in the hospital. In a just world, she would be getting restitution from the City. Instead, in a grotesque act of prosecutorial overreach, she’s currently on trial for assault and facing up to seven years in prison.

According to prosecutors, McMillan, now 25, intentionally attacked her arresting officer, Grantley Bovel, by elbowing him in the face, and was then hurt when he tried to subdue her. She says that she instinctively struck out when she felt his hand on her breast, not knowing that he was a cop, and was then further assaulted.

Her story is more convincing for a number of reasons. McMillan, a veteran of the anti–Scott Walker protests in Wisconsin, was a dedicated pacifist; in Dissent, her masters thesis adviser Maurice Isserman writes about the “many and long discussions Cecily and I have had about nonviolence.” Her injuries, which you can see in this Democracy Now! piece, are indisputable, particularly the hand-shaped bruise on her right breast.

Meanwhile, The Guardian, which has covered McMillan’s case closely, reports that Bovel has twice been investigated by Internal Affairs, including for one incident in which he and his partner were alleged to have run down a 17-year-old on a dirt bike. He received a “command discipline” for failing to radio that they were in pursuit. In another case, he was filmed kicking a suspect on the floor of a Bronx bodega. (Unfortunately, the judge in McMillan’s case has ruled against turning Bovel’s internal disciplinary file over to the defense.) Austin Guest, a protester who was arrested the same day as McMillan, is currently suing him, claiming that Bovel purposefully bashed his head into the seats of a police bus as he was dragged down the aisle.

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In her opening argument last week, assistant district attorney Erin Choi tried to use McMillan’s outcry during the arrest against her. Choi quoted McMillan asking onlookers, “Are you filming this? Are you filming this?” Choi’s implication was that McMillan didn’t want her premeditated attack on tape. But anyone who has ever covered a protest knows that this is what demonstrators say when they feel they’re being mistreated—it’s a call for documentation, not for turning the cameras off.

Now, with the trial entering its second week, McMillan and her supporters are once again asking for people to witness an unfolding injustice. “It is important that the jury see that Cecily is not some isolated kook, but has a community behind her,” writes Isserman, noting that the trial runs daily at the New York Criminal Court at 100 Centre Street. “I urge anyone concerned with Cecily’s case, and the broader issues it raises about civil liberties and police violence, to attend for a day, or even just for an hour or two.”

Read Next: How is it that about one-third of police reports in Albuquerque involved unreasonable uses of force?

The Tea Party’s New Hampshire Circus Takes On the GOP Establishment

Tea Party flag

The Tea Party flag (Reuters/Brian Snyder)

It’s always a good idea to bring fruitcakes to a tea party. At least, that’s the way it seemed this weekend in New Hampshire, when the fruitcakes on the far right of the Republican party assembled to perform in front of an audience of 700 gathered together by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation and Citizens United, at the first annual Tea Party “Freedom Summit.” Present were Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump, Utah’s Mike Lee and other wild-and-crazy would-be candidates and spokespeople for the far right of the Republican party.

Here’s the context for that meeting. Tea Party and its allies are so far zero-for-everything in running candidates in 2014 Republican primaries in House and Senate races around the country. What seemed like an unstoppable wave of rightist frenzy in 2010, when the Tea Partyers managed to elect a lot of folks to Congress, has virtually collapsed. By helping odd, fringe candidates win nominations, especially for the Senate in 2010 and since, the Tea Party has guaranteed that Democrats were able to hold onto the Senate majority, and in 2014 the Republican establishment is determined not to let that happen again, since this year the GOP has a real shot at retaking the Senate. So the Tea Party finds itself pitted against that establishment in primaries across the country, and it’s losing big. In 2016, the GOP mainstream, including the US Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, The Wall Street Journal and others, aren’t going to let the Tea Party hijack its presidential candidate either.

So the Tea Party’s Freedom Summit in New Hampshire is nothing more than an exercise in irrelevancy. None of the candidates who appeared there have a prayer of being elected president, especially when matched against Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street–funded, foreign policy hawk–dominated, Establishment-backed juggernaut. And the GOP, Sheldon Adelson included, has figured that out.

According to The Washington Post, the big stars at the Freedom Summit were Ted Cruz, Mr. Government Shutdown, and Rand Paul, the kooky libertarian-isolationist who dearly wants to eliminate America’s entire social safety net, including Medicare and Social Security. But Trump weighed in, too, and he made news when he ridiculed former Florida Governor Jeb Bush for his support for immigration reform. The crowd booed and hissed when Trump said that Bush had said last week that immigrants often come to the United States as “an act of love.”

And here was Paul’s message, accusing the GOP establishment of being weak-willed:

Some say we just need to dilute our message, let’s just be a little more like the Democrats. You think that’s a good idea? Hogwash. It’s exactly the wrong thing to do. Our problem isn’t that we are too bold. Our problem is that we are too timid.

Likewise, Cruz seemed to tailor his message not against Democrats but against his fellow GOP colleagues:

You want to know why people are frustrated out of their mind in Washington? The biggest divide we have is not between Democrats and Republicans. It’s between entrenched politicians in both parties, and the American people.

If that’s their message, Paul and Cruz will guarantee that they remain angry young men shouting into the Republican winds. Though both have the ability to raise substantial funds through direct-mail appeals and the like, neither one can assemble the vast sums from billionaires and millionaires who’ll pour dollars into the coffers of whatever establishment candidate emerges in the campaign. Indeed, the Tea Partyers only hope is that the mainstream candidates falter—specifically, that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is too badly wounded by scandal to run, that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker fails to get re-elected in 2014 or otherwise drops out, that Jeb Bush stays put in Florida and that other, relatively mainstream candidates such as Paul Ryan and John Kasich don’t get traction. But the likelihood of every one of these potential candidates failing is vanishingly small.

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Interestingly, though Christie is still hampered by an expanding series of investigations by US attorney’s in New Jersey and New York, he’s now got two aides placed in New Hampshire. Christie Watch already reported, back in February, about the fact that Matt Mowers, a former Christie political aide who’s himself caught up in Bridgegate, is in place as executive director of the New Hampshire Republican party. Now CBS reports that another Christie aide, Colin Reed, the deputy spokesman for Christie, has taken a job as Scott Brown’s campaign manger in a senatorial race against Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen.

Fact is, the GOP standard-bearer in 2016 is far more likely to be chosen among Christie, Bush, Walker and the others willing to kowtow to the Republican party’s big-money people and its establishment backers. But they’ll need the votes of the Tea Party masses, so events such as the Freedom Summit will serve only to rally the GOP’s base for another version of Bob Dole, John McCain or Mitt Romney.

 

Read Next: Why do Republicans no longer support voting rights?

Will Obama and Kerry Play Their High Cards Against Israeli Hardliners?

Obama with Netanyahu and Abbas

President Obama with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. (Reuters/Jason Reed)

The deadline, supposedly April 29, for a deal of some kind between Israel and the Palestinians—what Secretary of State John Kerry calls a “framework agreement”—is close, and although the talks appeared to have fallen apart earlier this month, the two sides held what The Wall Street Journal calls “a rare meeting without U.S. mediator Martin Indyk present” on Sunday. It isn’t clear what the meeting means, and it may be too late for any deal to be reached by the end of April, but at least Kerry is putting the blame for the roadblocks where it belongs: on Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

To recap: last week, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he used to chair, to howls of outrage from Israel and from its American partisans, Kerry directly blamed Israel for sabotaging the talks, by announcing the construction of 700 settlements in occupied territory outside Jerusalem. “Poof!” said Kerry, describing how the talks came to a sudden halt. “That was sort of the moment.” Israel also threw a tool-box full of monkey wrenches into the talks by refusing to release a fourth group of Palestinian prisoners, though they had pledged to do so as part of the Kerry-led talks. Following those actions by Israel, the Palestinians announced their intention to apply for membership, as a state, in more than a dozen United Nations organizations, and then Netanyahu escalated by declaring his intent to take more “unilateral” actions that would further throw the talks into the deep freeze. But it was clearly Israel, and its intransigent prime minister, who was chiefly to blame for wrecking the talks.

It wasn’t only Kerry who put the blame on Israel. As The New York Times reported last week:

Tzipi Livni, the justice minister and the government’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians, said she believed that Uri Ariel, the housing minister, had acted deliberately to sabotage the peace effort.

Hardly a liberal peacenik, Livni is a former member of the ultraright Likud coalition. But more recently, she’s emerged as a strong advocate for a two-state solution, and the fact that she was named as Israel’s chief negotiator was thought to be a good sign, at the start of the talks in 2013. Now, Livni is engaged in political warfare with the far-right components of the ruling coalition—not only Housing Minister Ariel but Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, too, who Livni says is the representative of Israel’s fanatical settler movement, including the settlement of Yitzhar, where settlers attacked security police recently, and not of Israel itself. According to Haaretz, the Israeli daily, Livni added:

And so everything is connected. This man and his party are damaging Israel’s security. They’re the ones trying to make sure that there’s no peace agreement—that the young men of Yitzhar become official Israel. I won’t let this happen.

Bennett, the leader of the hardline Jewish Home party, closely affiliated with the settler movement, and other extremists inside Netanyahu’s coalition, are the ones sabotaging the talks, says Livni. Reports The Times of Israel:

She also accused the hard-line “Jewish Home,” a pro-settler party, of trying to thwart her efforts. She took special aim at the party’s leader, Naftali Bennett, and Housing Minister Uri Ariel, a strong supporter of Jewish settlements.

“There are people in the government who don’t want peace,” Livni said. “Bennett and Uri Ariel represent those who want to prevent a peace process.”

So far, it seems that Netanyahu is leaning toward the hardliners. But Livni’s courageous stand provides crucial cover for Kerry’s decision to blame Israel for the breakdown. And that’s important, because even a slight move by Kerry to take the Palestinian side in the talks will terrify Israeli politicians and political powers. Although it often seems as if Israel is immune to American pressure, in fact that pressure is rarely applied, and Israel is so dependent on the United States for political support—in the UN, say—and for American economic and military support that even a slight indication that the United States is reviewing its Israel policy will send chills down Israeli spines. The problem, historically, is that the United States has rarely been willing to use that influence.

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Kerry, naturally, is under fire from the Israel lobby’s partisans on Capitol Hill. But they’re greatly weakened, because of their opposition to the ongoing US-Iran talks, which appear to be progressing successfully. When the Israel lobby on the Hill and its organizer, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, tried to sabotage the Iran talks by legislating yet another round of anti-Iran sanctions, President Obama’s White House in January suggested that backers of those sanctions want war with Iran, and called their bluff. As I reported back in January, a White House statement said:

If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be up front with the American public and say so. Otherwise, it’s not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran’s nuclear program to proceed.

That statement shocked AIPAC and its allies to the core. Right now, despite Israel’s intransigence, Obama and Kerry hold all the high cards. Let’s see if they lay them down.

 

Read Next: Bob Dreyfuss on how to break the Israel-Palestine deadlock.

Republicans Used to Support Voting Rights—What Happened?

Barack Obama

Then presidential candidate Barack Obama (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

During a speech on Friday at the National Action Network, President Obama made his strongest and most extensive comments yet on the topic of voting rights. “The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago,” Obama said. “Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote.”

The election of the first black president and the resurrection of voter suppression efforts was hardly a coincidence. New voting restrictions took effect in nineteen states from 2011–12. Nine states under GOP control have adopted measures to make it more difficult to vote since 2013. Since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in June 2013, half of the states (eight in total) previously covered under Section 5 have passed or implemented new voting restrictions.

These laws, from voter ID to cutting early voting to restricting voter registration, have been passed under the guise of stopping voter fraud, although there’s scant evidence that such fraud exists. Obama cited a comprehensive study by News21 that found only ten cases of in-person voter impersonation since 2000. “The real voter fraud,” the president said, “is people who try to deny our rights by making bogus arguments about voter fraud.”

Obama’s speech highlighted how Democratic leaders are embracing the cause of voting rights. (Attorney General Eric Holder has made it a signature issue, with the DOJ filing lawsuits against new voting restrictions in Texas and North Carolina last year.)

A day before arriving in New York, Obama spoke about civil rights at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library’s commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act—where the subject of contemporary attacks on voting rights came up often. “Is this what Martin Luther King gave his life for?” asked Bill Clinton. “Is this what Lyndon Johnson employed his legendary skills for? Is this what America has become a great thriving democracy for? To restrict the franchise?”

Democratic presidential hopefuls like Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden have recently championed voting rights. The Democratic National Committee has launched a new Voter Expansion Project and veterans of the Obama campaign started iVote to elect Democratic secretaries of state in Colorado, Iowa, Ohio and Nevada. Democrats hope that an appeal to voting rights will help mobilize key constituencies, like in 2012, when a backlash against GOP voter suppression efforts increased African-American turnout. “The single most important thing we can do to protect our right to vote is to vote,” Obama said on Friday.

It’s great that Democratic leaders are finally recognizing the severity of the attack on voting rights. But it’s sad that Republicans are almost unanimously supporting the restriction of voting rights rather than the expansion of the franchise.

Things weren’t always this way. In his new book about the Civil Rights Act, An Idea Whose Time Has Come, Todd Purdum tells the story of Bill McCulloch, a conservative Republican from Ohio who championed civil rights as the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. The Politico excerpt from the book was titled “The Republican Who Saved Civil Rights.”

There would have been no Civil Rights Act of 1964 or Voting Rights Act of 1965 without the support of Republicans like McCulloch and Senate minority leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois. For decades after the 1960s, voting rights legislation had strong bipartisan support in Congress. Every reauthorization of the VRA—in 1970, 1975, 1982 and 2006—was signed by a Republican president and supported by an overwhelming number of Republicans in Congress.

Republicans like Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, an heir to McCulloch who as the former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee oversaw the 2006 reauthorization of the VRA and is co-sponsoring a new fix for the VRA, used to be the norm within the GOP. Now he’s the rare Republican who still believes the GOP should remain the party of Lincoln. Where is the Republican Voter Expansion Project?

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It’s also unfortunate that many in the media continue to report on voting rights like it’s a left-versus-right issue, as if supporting a fundamental democratic right suddenly makes one a flaming liberal. Jamie Fuller of The Washington Post called voting rights “the Democrats’ most important project in 2014.” Michael Shear of The New York Times dubbed Obama’s speech an effort “to rally his political base.”

The right to vote used to be regarded as a moral issue, not a partisan one. As President Johnson said when he introduced the VRA before Congress: “It is wrong—deadly wrong—to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country.”

As long as Democrats are the party of voting rights and Republicans are the party of voter suppression, the right to vote will continue to be under siege.

 

Read Next: Ari Berman on the Supreme Court’s ideology of more money and less voting.

UPDATE: ‘The Guardian’ and ‘Washington Post’ Win Pulitzer Prizes for NSA Reporting

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald speaks to media in Hong Kong on June 10, 2013. (AP/Vincent Yu)

UPDATE 3 pm: Yes, it's a win—and go here for full list of prizes, and finalists, and comments by Edward Snowden, and more, such as fiction, poetry and theatre winners.

Earlier: They won a prestigious Polk Award the other night for their wide-ranging and groundbreaking journalistic work on the NSA and Edward Snowden—and they took a risk flying to the United States to pick it up. But now it’s Pulitzer day, and we’ll soon get an answer to the question that’s been posed for months: Will the committee up at Columbia University honor them with a major one?

Speculation has run riot for the past several weeks. Back in the days when I was editing Editor & Publisher we would have had that halfway solved by now. My ace reporter Joe Strupp found a way each year to get leaks from Pulitzer panel members, put them together, stick out his neck and predict, or rather reveal, the three finalists in most categories, although the winners, picked at nearly the last moment, were harder to get and we felt we shouldn’t reveal them out-front anyway.

However, we would then run fun stories about how most of the winners were told hours or a day in advance, making some of the “surprise” shots at 3 pm on the Monday afternoons a little goofy.

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So it’s safe to say that Poitras and Greenwald, and compatriot Bart Gellman, know what’s up by now. But stay tuned this afternoon. (Years ago I covered Greenwald’s work extensively in my books on Iraq and the media and on Wikileaks and Chelsea Manning.)

Meanwhile, here’s the full Greenwald-Poitras press conference in New York.

Read Next: Greg Mitchell: “Stephen Colbert Gets Letterman’s Job—and Right-Wingers Freak Out.”

Pat Tillman, the Boston Marathon and the Tale of Two Anniversaries

Pat Tillman

Former Arizona Cardinal and US Army Ranger Pat Tillman (AP Photo/Photography Plus via Williamson Stealth Media Solutions)

Two wrenching anniversaries loom in the world of sports. Both are in many respects conjoined by the dominant narratives of the twenty-first century. Both show how the military adventures of the last decade have even breeched the escapist sanctity of the sports page. Both contain elements of tragedy, honor and courage. But you can be sure that one of these anniversaries will get a whole hell of a lot more attention than the other.

On Monday, April 21, the Boston Marathon will take place, and we will be compelled to remember the horror of last year’s bombing attack at the finish line. Three were killed and more than 250 were injured. Two immigrant brothers, driven by their anger, ideology and alienation towards what is called the “Global War on Terror” set the blasts. Two brothers: one now dead the other facing state execution.

Now, one year later, we’ll have what will surely be an emotionally raw celebration of what makes the city that hosts the marathon “Boston-Strong.” Expect round-the-clock media coverage. Expect the names of the dead to be remembered. Expect every politician with a pulse to exploit their particular version of what last year’s bombing “means.” (Here’s hoping that they learn the lesson David Gregory of Meet the Press discovered, and not blithely tread upon the post-traumatic stress of those who were damaged a year ago. The media’s “reality television” just might be someone else’s reality.)

As everyone follows the—we hope and pray—safe and successful completion of the marathon, there is a very different kind of anniversary the following day. April 22 marks ten years since the death of NFL player turned Army Ranger Pat Tillman. Expect the media to take cursory notice and expect a press release from the NFL, but don’t expect much else. That’s because the Pat Tillman narrative doesn’t exactly lend itself to swelling music and sonorous sound bites.

Compelled by the attacks on 9/11, Tillman exited the NFL in his prime, leaving millions of dollars on the table to join the Army Rangers. Square-jawed, Caucasian and handsome as hell, he was a dream for people like Cheney, Rumsfeld, David Frum and everyone who drooled at the thought of a glorious, post-9 /11 clash of civilizations. Yet after several missions into Iraq, in a war Tillman believed was “fucking illegal,” he started to read the work of people like Noam Chomsky and other critics of the war. Upon his return to the United States, Tillman even expressed a desire to meet Chomsky .

On April 22, Pat Tillman was killed. The first story, repeated at his nationally televised funeral, was that he was shot down by the Taliban in a ferocious firefight. He was posthumously given a Silver Star, which is awarded when a soldier falls at the hands of enemy combatants. The Bush Pentagon public relations machine was in overdrive, using Pat Tillman in death in a manner he refused when still alive. As his mother Mary Tillman said to me in 2008, “What’s so disturbing about after Pat’s death is the way the media ran with the perception they had of him, some kind of caricature of who they thought he was. It was so off that it was like he died twice.”

As if exploiting his death to aid the Iraqi war drive wasn’t obscene enough, the truth then emerged—Tillman actually died at the hands of fellow Army Rangers, killed in an incident described as “friendly fire.” His military journal and his uniform were burned on site. His death report was falsified.

Tillman’s family has undergone a decade-long quest to find out what actually happened and why they were lied to about his death. As Mary Tillman said to me in 2011, “If it had happened to someone else, Pat would be busting through walls to find the truth.”

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But the truth has been hard to find. The person who oversaw what Pat’s father, Pat Tillman Sr., called a “falsified homicide investigation,” Lt. General Stanley McChrystal, wasn’t indicted or brought up on charges. Instead, he was promoted by President Obama, before eventually resigning in disgrace so he could write a book and appear on The Colbert Report.

Today, in Fenway Park, the Army has used the post-marathon Boston-Strong narrative of recovery and community to aid its recruitment efforts. As the blog WMTC discussed, the many screens of Fenway Park now show ads that blare, “There’s strong and then there’s Army Strong!” The message could not be clearer: there is Boston Strong, there is Army Strong and one is only as, well, strong as the other. If you want to keep Boston strong and prevent more bombings, you better join up and make sure than the Army is strong as well. There are no ads to suggest that maybe occupying countries, sending in armed drones and conducting dirty wars in remote lands will create conditions that bring the war back to the United States.

The Army and the government can’t use the Tillmans like they use the Boston Marathon for the simple reason that the Tillmans refuse to be used. That’s also what makes the Tillman anniversary so difficult for the mainstream media, the armed forces and the NFL to commemorate. By continuing to search for the truth, by refusing to let Pat be turned into a prop for war, the Tillmans have no value to those who benefit politically or economically from this era of endless war. For the rest of us, however, the Tillmans are invaluable. They deserve something the US Congress, the NFL and the mainstream media have refused to give them over the last decade: our unconditional solidarity and support as they search for the truth.

 

Read Next: Why is Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald playing the union buster?

Joy Behar Beats Chris Christie—and Women Love It

Joy Behar

Joy Behar at the 2010 GLAAD Media Awards (Nick Stepowyj/Flickr)

A couple days ago, a friend of mine witnessed this scene on West 65th Street in Manhattan: in a crowd lining up to get tickets for The View, two middle-aged women were talking excitedly about Joy Behar, though the comedian hasn’t co-hosted the show for nearly two years. Suddenly, one of the women lunged at her friend, acting out that startling moment when New Jersey governor Chris Christie stole the podium from Behar during a ninetieth-birthday roast of former Governor Brendan Byrne on April Fool’s Day.

“She’s my heroine,” the lunging lady said. “She stood up to that fat man.”

The second woman replied, “She’s fearless. She got right up in front of him.” Then she mimed the stern posture of what might be a mother reprimanding a son who towered over her. “I’ve known women like her in my neighborhood all my life,” she said.

Other women in line were nodding in agreement, one saying to another, “If Chris Christie thinks he’s going to get somewhere by treating her this way, he’s a fool.”

It’s easy to overlook the effect Behar’s run-in with Christie has had on public perception, especially on women. When the governor tried to intimidate the 71-year-old comedian, as he has so many women before her, she called him a bully and a coward. And when he physically got up in her face, she came back at him with more searing jokes.

Christie attacks anyone who publicly disagrees with him, of course, but he’s best known for bullying the female teachers who’ve protested his cuts to education, or the mother who politely asked, “You send [your children] to private schools, so I was wondering why you think it’s fair to be cutting funding to public schools?” (“Hey Gail,” Christie responded, “…it’s none of your business. I don’t ask you where you send your kids to school. Don’t bother me where I send mine.”) His lawyer’s report that “exonerated” him of Bridgegate tried to paint Bridget Anne Kelly as psychologically unstable after another Christie aide broke off a relationship with her. As if feminine emotion caused the five-day traffic nightmare on the world’s busiest bridge.

Five former governors and five comedians spoke at the Governor Byrne roast, and Behar wasn’t the only one who detoured to roast Christie instead. But she was the only one he took on physically. We know all this thanks to Ryan Lizza, who led a long New Yorker piece, “Crossing Christie,” with the roast incident and put his cellphone video of it (below) on YouTube. (A clearer but edited version is here.)

It went down like this: Like others at the event—including Governor Byrne himself—Behar cracked wise about Christie’s weight. “You have to have your eye on the White House,” she said. “It used to be the House of Pancakes.” Sitting on the dais next to the lectern, Christie touched Behar’s arm and reminded her, “This is a Byrne roast.” When that got big applause, he stood up and, amazingly, tried to grab Behar’s notes. “Stop bullying me,” she told him. The audience laughed awkwardly: She called him the B-word to his face. Back in his seat, Christie said something that was inaudible and Behar responded, “Why don’t you get up here at the microphone instead of being such a coward?”

No doubt she provoked him, but, unable to control himself (you might say he was too emotional), he took the bait. He stood up again and, as she backed away in fear, he took over her space at the lectern, asking her, “Really? Really, is that what you’re thinking?” Christie went beyond, say, Rick Lazio’s infamous move into Hillary Clinton’s space during a 2000 debate and into something more reminiscent of Ralph Kramden telling Alice “to the moon!” But Christie regained his composure, delivered a zinger (“At least I don’t get paid for this”), and returned to his seat.

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Behar was noticeably rattled, as Lizza says, but she didn’t back down. “I really don’t know about the presidency,” she jibed. “Let me put it to you this way, in a way that you’d appreciate: You’re toast.”

In this brief encounter, you could find Christie’s entire governorship: he intimidates, he threatens, he can’t stand not to control the mic and he always gets the last word.

But Behar was, for once, a female who got the last word—she signed off with a joke about feeling safe from Christie’s wrath because she was “taking mass transit home.” Sure, she was scared of him, but she rebounded. Repeatedly. That’s why she’s a hero to the women waiting in line to get into The View.

 

Read Next: Greg Mitchell on the right-wing freakout over Colbert hosting the Late Show.

The ‘Real Racists’ Have Always Worn Suits

Paul Ryan

Representative Paul Ryan (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

This week we’ve commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the monumental piece of legislation aimed at outlawing discrimination based on race. A three-day-long “civil rights summit” was organized at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, where many past and present activists and politicians spoke on the legacy of the Civil Rights Act.

With the commemoration has come further discussion about the contemporary face of American racism (Chris Hayes hosted a great segment on the topic last night with Salon’s Brittney Cooper and New York’s Jonathan Chait). Over at BET, Keith Boykin wrote:

Despite the progress of the past half century, the struggle continues. “The bigger difference is that back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts.” So said baseball hall of famer Hank Aaron in an interview with USA Today this week, in which he seemed to compare the racist klansmen of the 1960s with the supposedly post-racial cynics of our current generation.

You see, today’s racists don’t wear white hoods and scream the N-word. They wear dark suits and scream about government handouts. They don’t set up racist poll taxes to deter Blacks from voting. They set up voter ID laws to do the same thing. And they certainly don’t defend lynch mobs, which legitimize vigilante justice. Instead, they defend Stand Your Ground laws, which achieve the same purpose.

But I have trouble with this framing. It’s neat and easily digestible for anyone with only a cursory understanding of American history and racism, and therefore popular as a means of telling that history. It has broad appeal, but it’s not accurate. It flattens history and does the work of placing the onus for past bad deeds on a select few. It reinforces the image of “the real racist” as one who expressed their hatred in demonstrably violent ways. It suggests that racists have simply become more sophisticated, changing the tactics of their hatred from burning crosses to writing legislation, from white hoods to business suits, as that Hank Aaron quote contends.

Here’s the problem with that narrative: the architects and gatekeepers of American racism have always worn neckties. They have always been a part of the American political system.

I understand the impulse in wanting to find some way to convey that what we’re dealing with currently is a system of racism that is less overt than it once was. Saying things like “we’ve gone from white hoods to business suits” is one way to seem to speak to contemporary racism’s less vocal, yet still insidious nature. But it does a disservice to the public understanding of racism, and in the process undercuts the mission of drawing attention to contemporary racism’s severity.

It wasn’t the KKK that wrote the slave codes. It wasn’t the armed vigilantes who conceived of convict leasing, postemancipation. It wasn’t hooded men who purposefully left black people out of New Deal legislation. Redlining wasn’t conceived at a Klan meeting in rural Georgia. It wasn’t “the real racists” who bulldozed black communities in order to build America’s highway system. The Grand Wizard didn’t run COINTELPRO in order to dismantle the Black Panthers. The men who raped black women hired to clean their homes and care for their children didn’t hide their faces.

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The ones in the hoods did commit violent acts of racist terrorism that shouldn’t be overlooked, but they weren’t alone. Everyday citizens participated in and attended lynchings as if they were state fairs, bringing their children and leaving with souvenirs. These spectacles, if not outright endorsed, were silently sanctioned by elected officials and respected members of the community.

It’s easy to focus on the most vicious and dramatic forms of racist violence faced by past generations as the site of “real” racism. If we do, we can also point out the perpetrators of that violence and rightly condemn them for their actions. But we can’t lose sight of the fact that those individuals alone didn’t write America’s racial codes. It’s much harder to talk about how that violence was only reinforcing the system of political, economic and cultural racism that made America possible. That history indicts far more people, both past and present.

 

Read Next: The function of black rage

Eritrean Refugees at Risk

Immigration protest in Israel

Eritrean refugees are one of the main groups in this protest against Israel's hard line on immigration, Tel Aviv, January 5, 2014. (Reuters/Nir Elias)

This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.

Hundreds of thousands of Eritreans have fled a repressive dictatorship since 2001. Their small northeast African country, which has a population of 4-5 million and was once touted as part of an African “renaissance,” is one of the largest per capita producers of asylum seekers in the world.

Many languish in desert camps. Some have been kidnapped, tortured and ransomed—or killed—in the Sinai. Others have been left to die in the Sahara or drowned in the Mediterranean. Still others have been attacked as foreigners in South Africa, threatened with mass detention in Israel or refused entry to the United States and Canada under post-9/11 “terrorism bars” based on their past association with an armed liberation movement—the one they are now fleeing.

It’s not easy being Eritrean.

The most horrifying of their misfortunes—the kidnapping, torture and ransoming in Sinai—has generated attention in the media and among human rights organizations, as did the tragic shipwreck off Lampedusa Island in the Mediterranean. But the public response, like that to famine or natural disaster, tends to be emotive and ephemeral, turning the refugees into objects of pity or charity with little grasp of who they are, why they take such risks or what can be done to halt the hemorrhaging.

This is abetted by the Eritrean government, which masks the political origins of these flows by insisting they are “migrants,” not refugees, and no different from those of other poor countries like Eritrea’s neighbor and archenemy, Ethiopia. This fiction is convenient for destination countries struggling with rising ultra-nationalist movements and eager for a rationale to turn Eritreans (and others) away.

But this is not a human—or political—crisis amenable to simplistic solutions. Nor is it going away any time soon.

The Source

Eritrea’s history has been marked by conflict and controversy from the time its borders were determined on the battlefield between Italian and Abyssinian forces in the 1890s. A decade of British rule was followed by federation with and then annexation by Ethiopia. Finally in the 1990s, after a thirty-year war that pitted the nationalists, themselves divided among competing factions, against successive US- and Soviet-backed Ethiopian regimes, Eritrea gained recognition as a state.

Since then Eritrea has clashed with all of its neighbors, climaxing in an all-out border war with Ethiopia in 1998–2000 that triggered a rapid slide into repression and autocracy. The government has survived by conscripting the country’s youth into both military service and forced labor on state-controlled projects and businesses, while relying on its diaspora for financial support, even as it has produced a disproportionate share of the region’s refugees. This paradox underlines the strength of Eritrean identity, even among those who flee.

Eritrea is dominated by a single strong personality: former rebel commander, and now president, Isaias Afwerki. He has surrounded himself with weak institutions, and there is no viable successor in sight, though there are persistent rumors of a committee-in-waiting due to his failing health. Meanwhile, the three branches of government—nominally headed by a cabinet, a National Assembly and a High Court—provide a façade of institutional governance, though power is exercised through informal networks that shift and change at the president’s discretion. There is no organizational chart, nor is there a published national budget. Every important decision is made in secret.

The ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), a retooled version of the liberation army, functions as a mechanism for mobilizing and controlling the population. No other parties are permitted. Nor are non-governmental organizations—no independent trade unions, media, women’s organizations, student unions, charities, cultural associations, nothing. All but four religious denominations have been banned, and those that are permitted have had their leaderships compromised.

Refugees cite this lack of freedom—and fear of arrest should they question it—as one of the main reasons for their flight. But the camps in Ethiopia and Sudan reflect a highly unusual demographic: Most such populations are comprised of women, children and elderly men, but officials of the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Ethiopia and Sudan say that among those registering in the camps there, close to half in recent years have been women and men under the age of 25. The common denominator among them is their refusal to accept an undefined, open-ended national service. This, more than any other single factor, is propelling the exodus.

The UNHCR has registered more than 300,000 Eritreans as refugees over the past decade, and many more have passed through Ethiopia and Sudan without being counted. The UNHCR representative in Sudan, Kai Lielsen, told me last year that he thought seventy to eighty percent of those who crossed into Sudan didn’t register and didn’t stay. Thus, a conservative estimate would put the total close to a million. For a country of only four to five million people, this is remarkable. And it is the combination of their vulnerability and their desperation that makes them easy marks.

The Trafficking

For years, the main refugee route ran through the Sahara to Libya and thence to Europe. When that was blocked by a pact between Libya and Italy in 2006, it shifted east to Egypt and Israel. Smugglers from the Arab tribe of Rashaida in northeastern Sudan worked with Sinai Bedouin to facilitate the transit, charging ever-higher fees until some realized they could make far more by ransoming those who were fleeing.

The smugglers-turned-traffickers eventually demanded as much as $40,000-$50,000, forcing families to sell property, exhaust life savings and tap relatives living abroad. As the voluntary flow dried up, they paid to have refugees kidnapped from UN-run camps after identifying those from urban, mostly Christian backgrounds (those most likely to have relatives in Europe and North America).

I spoke with one survivor in Israel last year whose story was typical. Philmon, a 28-year-old computer engineer, fled Eritrea in March 2012 after getting a tip he might be arrested for public statements critical of the country’s national service. Several weeks later, he was kidnapped from Sudan’s Shagara camp, taken with a truckload of others to a Bedouin outpost in the Sinai and ordered to call relatives to raise $3,500 for his release. “The beatings started the first day to make us pay faster,” he told me.

Philmon’s sister, who lived in Eritrea, paid the ransom, but he was sold to another smuggler and ransomed again, this time for $30,000. “The first was like an appetizer. This was the main course,” he said. Over the next month, he was repeatedly beaten, often while hung by his hands from the ceiling. Convinced he could never raise the full amount, he attempted suicide. “I dreamed of grabbing a pistol and taking as many of them as possible, saving one bullet for myself.”

Early on they broke one of his wrists. During many of his forced calls home to beg for money they dripped molten plastic on his hands and back. After his family sold virtually everything they had to raise the $30,000, he was released. But his hands were so damaged he could no longer grip anything. He couldn’t walk and had to be carried into Israel. Because he was a torture victim, he was sent to a shelter in Tel Aviv for medical care. In this regard, he was one of the lucky ones.

For some 35,000 Eritreans who have come to Israel since 2006, each day is suffused with uncertainty, as an anti-immigrant backlash builds. The government calls them “infiltrators,” not refugees, and threatens them with indefinite detention or—what many fear most—deportation to Eritrea. Philmon has moved on to Sweden, where the reception was more welcoming, though there, too, a virulent anti-immigrant movement is growing.

Last year, the Sinai operation began to contract due to a confluence of factors: increased refugee awareness of the risks, the effective sealing of Israel’s border to keep them out and Egyptian efforts to suppress a simmering Sinai insurgency among Bedouin Islamists. But this didn’t stop the trafficking—it just rerouted it.

What I found in eastern Sudan last summer was that Rashaida tribesmen were paying bounties to corrupt officials and local residents to capture potential ransom victims along the Sudan-Eritrea border—and even within Eritrea and Ethiopia—and were holding them within well-defended Rashaida communities there. Such captives would not be counted by government or agency monitors and would not show up at all were it not for the testimony of escapees and relatives.

Last fall, Lampedusa survivors revealed that Libya is becoming another site for ransoming and kidnapping, illustrating that as one door closes, new opportunities arise across a region of weak states and post–Arab Uprising instability. What Sudan and Libya have in common is not the predators but the prey. And the practice is expanding as word spreads of the profits to be had, much as with the drug trade elsewhere. And it will continue to expand as long as there’s a large-scale migration of vulnerable people with access to funds and no coordinated international response to stop it.

Eritrean refugee flows today run in all directions. They’re facilitated by smugglers with regional and, in some cases, global reach. The gangs behind this engage in a range of criminal activities, within which human trafficking is just a lucrative new line of business. Some have ties to global cartels and syndicates. Some have political agendas and fund them through such enterprises. Most are heavily armed.

Under such conditions, a narrowly conceived security response could quickly spin out of control and escalate into a major counterinsurgency, as in the Sinai in Egypt. For weaker states across the Sahel, the risks of ill-thought-out action are infinitely greater.

What Needs to Happen

An effective approach to this crisis would start with education and empowerment of the target population and involve efforts to identify and protect refugees throughout their flight. A key step is the early, uncoerced determination of status according to international standards. This could be coupled with an expansion of incentives to deter onward migration, including education, training, employment and, where appropriate, integration into host communities. But none of this can work without refugee engagement in the process itself.

Then, and only then, would a security operation targeted at the smuggling and trafficking have a chance of success. But it, too, needs to be multidimensional in substance and regional in scope. Each state in this network is acting independently of the others. Sudan has arrested individuals implicated in trafficking, including one police officer, but has not cracked down on corrupt officials or gone into Rashaida communities to take down the ringleaders. Ethiopia has instituted security measures within the refugee camps on its northern border but is not working with Sudan on cross-border movement. Egypt has launched military operations in the Sinai where the torture camps are situated, but the announced aim is to break up the Islamist insurgency—the government denies trafficking is taking place. A coordinated initiative would start with a conference of affected states, and it would have to be supported by donor states and appropriate agencies (Interpol among them), not only in terms of aid but also intelligence, logistics, coordination and communication.

But if the trafficking operations are truly to be rolled up, the marginalized populations from which they arise and on which they depend need to be offered sufficient incentives to withdraw support for the criminals. This means access to resources, economic alternatives to off-the-books trading, involvement in the local political process, education for their children and more. These people need to be made stakeholders in the states where they live, which is not the case today for the Sinai Bedouin or the Sudan-based Rashaida or most of the other groups involved in trans-Sahel smuggling.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

Meanwhile, to dry up this particular supply of prey, political change is needed at the source, in Eritrea. That means, at a minimum, opening up the political system and the economy, limiting (not necessarily ending) national service, releasing political prisoners, implementing the long-stalled constitution and ending controls on travel so those who do want to go abroad as migrant workers can do so without illegally crossing borders and going through illicit smuggling networks.

The most important thing the United States can do to facilitate this process is convince Ethiopia to back off the border dispute that centers on a frontier town, Badme, and accept in practice—not just rhetorically—the 2002 Border Commission ruling that went in Eritrea’s favor.

Ethiopia’s intransigence on this issue—and US inaction—has long been the Asmara regime’s most powerful argument for keeping the lid on all forms of dissent. Eritreans will simply not trust Washington—or Addis Ababa—until they see some evidence of good faith.

 

Read Next: Bob Dreyfuss on racism in Israel

Hundreds of thousands of Eritreans have fled a repressive dictatorship since 2001. Their small northeast African country, which has a population of four to five million and was once touted as part of an African “renaissance,” is one of the largest per capita producers of asylum seekers in the world.

Many languish in desert camps. Some have been kidnapped, tortured and ransomed—or killed—in the Sinai. Others have been left to die in the Sahara or drowned in the Mediterranean. Still others have been attacked as foreigners in South Africa, threatened with mass detention in Israel or refused entry to the United States and Canada under post-9/11 “terrorism bars” based on their past association with an armed liberation movement—the one they are now fleeing.

It’s not easy being Eritrean.

The most horrifying of their misfortunes—the kidnapping, torture and ransoming in Sinai—has generated attention in the media and among human rights organizations, as did the tragic shipwreck off Lampedusa Island in the Mediterranean. But the public response, like that to famine or natural disaster, tends to be emotive and ephemeral, turning the refugees into objects of pity or charity with little grasp of who they are, why they take such risks or what can be done to halt the hemorrhaging.

This is abetted by the Eritrean government, which masks the political origins of these flows by insisting they are “migrants,” not refugees, and no different from those of other poor countries like Eritrea's neighbor and archenemy, Ethiopia. This fiction is convenient for destination countries struggling with rising ultra-nationalist movements and eager for a rationale to turn Eritreans (and others) away.

But this is not a human—or political—crisis amenable to simplistic solutions. Nor is it going away any time soon.

The Source

Eritrea’s history has been marked by conflict and controversy from the time its borders were determined on the battlefield between Italian and Abyssinian forces in the 1890s. A decade of British rule was followed by federation with and then annexation by Ethiopia. Finally in the 1990s, after a thirty-year war that pitted the nationalists, themselves divided among competing factions, against successive US- and Soviet-backed Ethiopian regimes, Eritrea gained recognition as a state.

Since then Eritrea has clashed with all of its neighbors, climaxing in an all-out border war with Ethiopia in 1998-2000 that triggered a rapid slide into repression and autocracy. The government has survived by conscripting the country's youth into both military service and forced labor on state-controlled projects and businesses, while relying on its diaspora for financial support, even as it has produced a disproportionate share of the region’s refugees. This paradox underlines the strength of Eritrean identity, even among those who flee.

Eritrea is dominated by a single strong personality: former rebel commander, and now president, Isaias Afwerki. He has surrounded himself with weak institutions, and there is no viable successor in sight, though there are persistent rumors of a committee-in-waiting due to his failing health. Meanwhile, the three branches of government—nominally headed by a cabinet, a National Assembly and a High Court—provide a façade of institutional governance, though power is exercised through informal networks that shift and change at the president’s discretion. There is no organizational chart, nor is there a published national budget. Every important decision is made in secret.

The ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), a retooled version of the liberation army, functions as a mechanism for mobilizing and controlling the population. No other parties are permitted. Nor are non-governmental organizations—no independent trade unions, media, women’s organizations, student unions, charities, cultural associations, nothing. All but four religious denominations have been banned, and those that are permitted have had their leaderships compromised.

Refugees cite this lack of freedom—and fear of arrest should they question it—as one of the main reasons for their flight. But the camps in Ethiopia and Sudan reflect a highly unusual demographic: Most such populations are comprised of women, children and elderly men, but officials of the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Ethiopia and Sudan say that among those registering in the camps there, close to half in recent years have been women and men under the age of 25. The common denominator among them is their refusal to accept an undefined, open-ended national service. This, more than any other single factor, is propelling the exodus.

The UNHCR has registered more than 300,000 Eritreans as refugees over the past decade, and many more have passed through Ethiopia and Sudan without being counted. The UNHCR representative in Sudan, Kai Lielsen, told me last year that he thought seventy to eighty percent of those who crossed into Sudan didn’t register and didn’t stay. Thus, a conservative estimate would put the total close to a million. For a country of only four to five million people, this is remarkable. And it is the combination of their vulnerability and their desperation that makes them easy marks.

The Trafficking

For years, the main refugee route ran through the Sahara to Libya and thence to Europe. When that was blocked by a pact between Libya and Italy in 2006, it shifted east to Egypt and Israel. Smugglers from the Arab tribe of Rashaida in northeastern Sudan worked with Sinai Bedouin to facilitate the transit, charging ever-higher fees until some realized they could make far more by ransoming those who were fleeing.

The smugglers-turned-traffickers eventually demanded as much as $40,000-$50,000, forcing families to sell property, exhaust life savings and tap relatives living abroad. As the voluntary flow dried up, they paid to have refugees kidnapped from UN-run camps after identifying those from urban, mostly Christian backgrounds (those most likely to have relatives in Europe and North America).

I spoke with one survivor in Israel last year whose story was typical. Philmon, a 28-year-old computer engineer, fled Eritrea in March 2012 after getting a tip he might be arrested for public statements critical of the country’s national service. Several weeks later, he was kidnapped from Sudan’s Shagara camp, taken with a truckload of others to a Bedouin outpost in the Sinai and ordered to call relatives to raise $3,500 for his release. “The beatings started the first day to make us pay faster,” he told me.

Philmon’s sister, who lived in Eritrea, paid the ransom, but he was sold to another smuggler and ransomed again, this time for $30,000. “The first was like an appetizer. This was the main course,” he said. Over the next month, he was repeatedly beaten, often while hung by his hands from the ceiling. Convinced he could never raise the full amount, he attempted suicide. “I dreamed of grabbing a pistol and taking as many of them as possible, saving one bullet for myself.”

Early on they broke one of his wrists. During many of his forced calls home to beg for money they dripped molten plastic on his hands and back. After his family sold virtually everything they had to raise the $30,000, he was released. But his hands were so damaged he could no longer grip anything. He couldn’t walk and had to be carried into Israel. Because he was a torture victim, he was sent to a shelter in Tel Aviv for medical care. In this regard, he was one of the lucky ones.

For some 35,000 Eritreans who have come to Israel since 2006, each day is suffused with uncertainty, as an anti-immigrant backlash builds. The government calls them “infiltrators,” not refugees, and threatens them with indefinite detention or—what many fear most—deportation to Eritrea. Philmon has moved on to Sweden, where the reception was more welcoming, though there, too, a virulent anti-immigrant movement is growing.

Last year, the Sinai operation began to contract due to a confluence of factors: increased refugee awareness of the risks, the effective sealing of Israel’s border to keep them out and Egyptian efforts to suppress a simmering Sinai insurgency among Bedouin Islamists. But this didn’t stop the trafficking—it just rerouted it.

What I found in eastern Sudan last summer was that Rashaida tribesmen were paying bounties to corrupt officials and local residents to capture potential ransom victims along the Sudan-Eritrea border—and even within Eritrea and Ethiopia—and were holding them within well-defended Rashaida communities there. Such captives would not be counted by government or agency monitors and would not show up at all were it not for the testimony of escapees and relatives.

Last fall, Lampedusa survivors revealed that Libya is becoming another site for ransoming and kidnapping, illustrating that as one door closes, new opportunities arise across a region of weak states and post–Arab Uprising instability. What Sudan and Libya have in common is not the predators but the prey. And the practice is expanding as word spreads of the profits to be had, much as with the drug trade elsewhere. And it will continue to expand as long as there’s a large-scale migration of vulnerable people with access to funds and no coordinated international response to stop it.

Eritrean refugee flows today run in all directions. They’re facilitated by smugglers with regional and, in some cases, global reach. The gangs behind this engage in a range of criminal activities, within which human trafficking is just a lucrative new line of business. Some have ties to global cartels and syndicates. Some have political agendas and fund them through such enterprises. Most are heavily armed.

Under such conditions, a narrowly conceived security response could quickly spin out of control and escalate into a major counterinsurgency, as in the Sinai in Egypt. For weaker states across the Sahel, the risks of ill-thought-out action are infinitely greater.

What Needs to Happen

An effective approach to this crisis would start with education and empowerment of the target population and involve efforts to identify and protect refugees throughout their flight. A key step is the early, uncoerced determination of status according to international standards. This could be coupled with an expansion of incentives to deter onward migration, including education, training, employment and, where appropriate, integration into host communities. But none of this can work without refugee engagement in the process itself.

Then, and only then, would a security operation targeted at the smuggling and trafficking have a chance of success. But it, too, needs to be multidimensional in substance and regional in scope. Each state in this network is acting independently of the others. Sudan has arrested individuals implicated in trafficking, including one police officer, but has not cracked down on corrupt officials or gone into Rashaida communities to take down the ringleaders. Ethiopia has instituted security measures within the refugee camps on its northern border but is not working with Sudan on cross-border movement. Egypt has launched military operations in the Sinai where the torture camps are situated, but the announced aim is to break up the Islamist insurgency—the government denies trafficking is taking place. A coordinated initiative would start with a conference of affected states, and it would have to be supported by donor states and appropriate agencies (Interpol among them), not only in terms of aid but also intelligence, logistics, coordination and communication.

But if the trafficking operations are truly to be rolled up, the marginalized populations from which they arise and on which they depend need to be offered sufficient incentives to withdraw support for the criminals. This means access to resources, economic alternatives to off-the-books trading, involvement in the local political process, education for their children and more. These people need to be made stakeholders in the states where they live, which is not the case today for the Sinai Bedouin or the Sudan-based Rashaida or most of the other groups involved in trans-Sahel smuggling.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

Meanwhile, to dry up this particular supply of prey, political change is needed at the source, in Eritrea. That means, at a minimum, opening up the political system and the economy, limiting (not necessarily ending) national service, releasing political prisoners, implementing the long-stalled constitution and ending controls on travel so those who do want to go abroad as migrant workers can do so without illegally crossing borders and going through illicit smuggling networks.

The most important thing the United States can do to facilitate this process is convince Ethiopia to back off the border dispute that centers on a frontier town, Badme, and accept in practice—not just rhetorically—the 2002 Border Commission ruling that went in Eritrea’s favor.

Ethiopia’s intransigence on this issue—and US inaction—has long been the Asmara regime’s most powerful argument for keeping the lid on all forms of dissent. Eritreans will simply not trust Washington—or Addis Ababa—until they see some evidence of good faith.

 

Read Next: Bob Dreyfuss on racism in Israel.