The incredible thing about the controversy surrounding soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's kissing up to the racist legacy of Strom Thurmond is that anyone thinks it is incredible.
Lott is on the hot seat for telling a 100th birthday party for Thurmond, the South Carolina senator who in 1948 ran an overtly racist campaign for president on the State's Rights Party ticket: "I want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years either."
Those remarks have caused a major stir, which is appropriate. But this is hardly the first time that Lott, who began his political career in the 1960s as an aide to segregationist Democratic Congressman William Colmer, has hailed the legacy of those who fought to defend the practices of slavery and segregation. Nor is the tortured "apology" Lott has issued the first to come from the senator.
Indeed, there is no greater constant in Trent Lott's political career than his embrace of all things Confederate.
* In 1978, after his election to the US House, Lott led a successful campaign to have the US citizenship of Jefferson Davis restored. Davis lost his citizenship when he became president of the Confederate States of America when southern states were in open revolt against the US government.
* During the 1980 campaign, after Thurmond spoke at a Mississippi rally for Ronald Reagan, Lott said of the old Dixiecrat: "You know, if we had elected that man 30 years ago, we wouldn't be in the mess we are today."
* In 1981, when he was lending his prestige as a member of the US Congress to an effort to preserve the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University -- the notorious South Carolina college that was under fire for prohibiting interracial dating -- Lott insisted that, "Racial discrimination does not always violate public policy."
* Despite the fact that he represents the state with the largest percentage of African-American citizens in the US, Lott has throughout his career been an active supporter of the Sons of the Confederacy, a group that celebrates the soldiers who fought to defend the "right" of Mississippians to own African-Americans as slaves." Lott even appears in recruitment videos for the group.
* Speaking at a 1984 convention of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Lott declared that "the spirit of Jefferson Davis lives in the 1984 Republican Platform." Asked to explain his statement in an interview with the extreme rightwing publication Southern Partisan, Lott said, "I think that a lot of the fundamental principles that Jefferson Davis believed in are very important to people across the country, and they apply to the Republican Party... and more of The South's sons, Jefferson Davis' descendants, direct or indirect, are becoming involved with the Republican party."
* Lott gave the keynote address at a 1992 national executive board meeting of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a successor organization to the old white Citizens Councils, segregation-era groups the Southern Poverty Law Center refers to as "the white-collar Ku Klux Klan. The C of CC may have changed its name, but it remains a passionate "white racialist" group that condemns intermarriage, integration and immigration by non-whites. As Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson, who has researched the group, argues, "There is no question of the resegregationist agenda of the Council of Conservative Citizens when four of the seven links listed on the home page for former Klan leader David Duke link back to the Council of Conservative Citizens." Other links, Jackson has noted, "deny the Holocaust and sell T-shirts with swastikas and Nazi stormtrooper symbols." But when Lott appeared at that Greenwood, Mississippi, meeting of C of CC leaders, he did not address his disdain for racism or anti-Semitism. Rather, he discussed his concerns about "the dark forces" that he said were overwhelming America and said, "We need more meetings like this across the nation... The people in this room stand for the right principles and the right philosophy. Let's take it in the right direction and our children will be the beneficiaries."
* In 1997, Lott was photographed meeting with national leaders of the C of CC in his Washington office. At his side were two prominent C of CC leaders: Gordon Baum, a former field organizer for the Citizens Councils in the days when they were referred to as the "uptown Klan," and William Lord, who has acknowledged using the mailing lists of the Citizens Councils to build the C of CC in the 1980s and 1990s. That same year, the C of CC used an endorsement quote from Lott in recruitment literature.
* When the Washington Post began to detail Lott's ties to the C of CC, his office announced that he had "no firsthand knowledge of the group's views." But when The New York Times asked Lott's uncle, former Mississippi state Sen. Arnie Watson, a member of the C of CC executive board, about ties between the senator and the organization, Watson said, "Trent is an honorary member." When a reporter for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger showed up at a 1998 C of CC meeting in Mississippi, he was told by those in attendance that Lott was a member. Lott's office never challenged the report when it appeared in his homestate's largest newspaper. But a year later, when the Washington Post took the issue up, Lott said, "I have made my condemnation of the white supremacist and racist view of this group, or any group, clear."
* Yet, a column written by Lott still appeared on a regular basis in the Citizens Informer, the group's publication, alongside articles thick with statements like: "Western civilization, with all its might and glory, would never have achieved its greatness without the directing hand of God and the creative genius of the white race. Any effort to destroy the race by a mixture of black blood is an effort to destroy Western civilization itself."
* Go to the website of the Council of Conservative Citizens today and you will find, beneath the Confederate flag and the section attacking an African-American professor at Vanderbilt, a big smiling picture of the Mississippi senator next to headlines that read: "A Lott of Courage!" "C of CC Passes Resolution Commending Lott" and "Lott Needs Your Support."
When he started to face questions about his most recent praise of Thurmond's 1948 Dixiecrat campaign, Lott initially said that his remarks were just part of "a lighthearted celebration" of the retiring segregationist's career. That was enough for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, to give Lott an initial pass. But, thankfully, Julian Bond and the NAACP, and a few African-American and progressive members of the House, refused to allow the matter to die. Only under this lingering pressure did Lott sort of apologize by saying of his statement at the Thurmond bash: "I regret the way it has been interpreted."
That's the standard line from Lott, who always apologizes when he gets caught defending the defenders of slavery and segregation. But, so far, Lott has never failed to follow each "apology" with another tribute to the Confederacy or the segregationists who seek even in the 21st century to maintain the racist legacy of Jefferson Davis, Strom Thurmond and the "uptown Klan."
Thousands of mourners braved sub-freezing temperatures in West Baltimore on Monday to say farewell to an infantry lieutenant turned Roman Catholic priest, remembered as a father, peace activist and prisoner of conscience. For a fitting appreciation of the life and legacy of legendary social justice activist Philip Berrigan, check out this moving tribute by James Carroll from yesterday's Boston Globe.
It was at the time of the October 26 antiwar rally in Washington--where tens of thousands of demonstrators heard speakers oppose war against Iraq and demand the destruction of capitalism, the end of Zionism, the liberation of convicted cop-killers Mumia Abu-Jamal and Jamil Al-Amin (a.k.a. H. Rap Brown), and the release of five imprisoned Cuban spies--that longtime nonviolence advocate David Cortright and several other activists decided there was a pressing need to put together what Cortright calls "a broader, more mainstream coalition" to oppose unilateral US military action in Iraq.
The October 26 protest--one of the more prominent antiwar actions so far--had been organized by International ANSWER, a group dominated by the Workers World Party, a small revolutionary-socialist outfit with a fancy for North Korea's Kim Jong-Il and the goal of abolishing private property. So it was no surprise that the antiwar message--which, according to polls, resonates with at least one-third of Americans--was accessorized with the demands of the fringe far-left. Nor was it a shocker that many speakers did not adopt a give-inspections-a-chance position. The WWP, which hails world leaders that stand against US hegemony (such as Slobodan Milosevic), opposes weapons inspections in Iraq and has assumed the task of trying to steer the antiwar movement away from endorsing them. ANSWER eschews criticism of Saddam Hussein.
Cortright, who was executive director of SANE from 1977 to 1987 (when it was the largest peace organization in the United States) and his colleagues in Washington were looking to assemble an opposition that would possess wider appeal, that would press a message that extends beyond a no-to-war demand and endorses an alternative to military action. In the meantime, television actor Mike Farrell (M*A*S*H and Providence) and longtime movie producer/director Robert Greenwald (Steal This Movie) had weeks earlier begun an effort to round up Hollywood folks for a statement opposing unilateral war against Iraq and supporting the United Nations' weapons-inspection process. "It was just the two of us with two computers," says Greenwald. "We sent out an email to friends, who sent it to their friends. We were surprised the response was so positive so soon. We thought people would be more hesitant." (Greenwald has just finished a movie for CBS on the Enron scandal, in which Farrell plays disgraced Enron chief Kenneth Lay; it is set to air on January 5.)
In November, the Washington and Hollywood endeavors converged. And this week, several large organizations of a progressive bent--the NAACP, the National Council of Churches, the National Organization of Women--and 100 or so entertainers are launching the Win Without War coalition, described by its organizers as the "new mainstream coalition to oppose Bush war policy." The leaders of this project don't put down ANSWER, but this clearly is an attempt to recast and reshape the antiwar opposition.
In the rollout, Hollywood went first. At a press conference on December 10 attended by actors Tony Shalhoub, David Clennon, Martin Sheen and Farrell, the entertainment crowd unveiled a letter to George W. Bush declaring its support for Win Without War. The short missive has been signed by Gillian Anderson, Kim Basinger, Matt Damon, David Duchovny, Laurence Fishburne, Jeananne Garofalo, Ethan Hawke, Helen Hunt, Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Lange, the members of REM, Noah Wyle, and dozens more, including two former US ambassadors.
Their letter begins: "War talk in Washington is alarming and unnecessary. We are patriotic Americans who share the belief that Saddam Hussein cannot be allowed to possess weapons of mass destruction. We support rigorous UN weapons inspections to assure Iraq's effective disarmament." But the group argues "a preemptive military invasion of Iraq will harm America's national interests. Such a war will increase human suffering, arouse animosity toward our country, increase the likelihood of terrorist attacks, damage the economy, and undermine our moral standing in the world." The Win Without War artists accept "the valid US and UN objective of disarming Saddam Hussein." They want to achieve that not by "first-strike attacks," but by "legal diplomatic means." At the press conference, retired Rear Admiral Eugene Carroll Jr. reported that he had spoken with retired General Anthony Zinni, former head of US Central Command, and Zinni agreed with the coalition's position.
The organizations Cortright recruited for Win Without War--which also includes MoveOn.org and Working Assets--are expected to issue a formal announcement of the coalition's formation on December 11. Earlier in the week, Win Without War organizers noted ithe Sierra Club was considering signing up. No unions are yet participating, but there have been preliminary conversations between Win Without War reps and labor officials.
The Win Without War message does differ from the antiwar declarations that only decry oil-greedy US imperialism. "We're trying to spread as wide a net as possible," says Greenwald. "Millions of Americans have doubts about the war. We want to get the word out: you're not alone. And it doesn't do any good to speak to a small group. We've designed this to try to create a broader impact." The coalition acknowledges that Saddam poses a problem--not a direct and immediate threat to the United States, as the White House suggests, but a threat that still needs to be confronted. "This is a different message beyond the traditional antiwar message," Cortright remarks. "We're for a sound, credible security policy that addresses threats. Saddam Hussein and Iraq are a potential threat, due to Iraq's weapons capacity, and there has to be a way to deal with it. Peaceful and diplomatic means have to be pursued. The positioning of this message is extremely important. We have the potential to build broad support."
The coalition's central demand is, let the UN and its weapons inspectors do their jobs. But what if Saddam thwarts the inspectors or they find he has ready-to-go weapons of mass destruction? Would Win Without War back a UN-sanctioned military response? Elements of the coalition are pacifists, according to Cortright; most are not: "There might be circumstances where some of our groups would support [military action against Iraq], such as if there were explicit authorization from the UN Security Council." Greenwald notes that the artists' statement "leaves open the possibility of a multilateral attack. We felt it was premature to get into that. The biggest point of agreement among the signers is that the United States should follow the law, follow the Security Council."
Cortright concedes that Win Without War got a late start. (Some Washington prognosticators are claiming--more as a hunch than an educated guess--that a US military assault could come as early as January.) "We didn't begin this until the October rally," he notes, "and it takes time to get a national coalition together." He expects the coalition to sponsor advertisements and draw on the membership of its component organizations to mount local actions. "Some of our groups might participate in big marches," he says, "but that's not our focus." The Hollywood contingent wants to deploy its celebs to gain media notice for the antiwar position. "We know we'll be dismissed by some, we will be infantalized," says Greenwald. "We'll have to see how far they go in this."
One slogan being used by Win Without War is "Keep America Safe"--a sign its creators are hoping to encourage opposition to a unilateral invasion without bemoaning US interventionism, appearing soft on Saddam or terrorism, or coming across as harsh critics of America at home and abroad. (The latter may not always be easy. In an interview with UPI, actor Ed Asner, a signer of the Win Without War statement, said of the American public, "They're sheep. They like [Bush] enough to credit him with saving the nation after 9/11. Three thousand people get killed, and everybody thinks they're next on the list. The president comes along, and he's got his six-guns strapped on, and people think he's going to save them.") Also, the coalition is not preparing to compete with the WWP-controlled ANSWER and its highly motivated cadre of volunteers in the street-protest category. And its internal cohesion may be tested in the future, if events occur in Iraq that persuade the UN Security Council--or several of its members--that force must be used to deal with Saddam. But until such a development occurs, the main question is, can a self-professed "mainstream" antiwar coalition bearing a nuanced message succeed and attract many more people to the stop-the-war cause?
There may not be enough time to derail precipitous US action, but before the antiwar movement even has a shot at preventing or curtailing a US first-strike, it must grow much larger. Bringing tens of thousands of protesters to Washington on a Saturday--or even the 100,000-plus ANSWER claimed for its October 26 event--is not going to impress or worry the decisionmakers of the nation's capital. That's a tiny slice of America. (See Asner's comments above.) The antiwar movement, as Bush might say, has to raise the pie higher--a lot higher. If Win Without War takes off, Americans critical or skeptical of the president's apparent policy will have an outlet for dissent unencumbered by the wackiness of the WWP. And the antiwar movement will benefit from the institutional strengths of the coalition's founding partners. Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Dick Cheney do not yet have to fear that citizen action is going to interfere with their plans. ("Look out, here comes Ed Begley Jr.") But an effective Win Without War coalition could move the antiwar campaign in a direction that causes the White House--or, maybe at best, other politicians and perhaps even the reportedly reluctant military--to take notice.
"The light has shown that the Democratic Party is alive and well and united,"Louisiana U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu shouted over the weekend, as she celebratedher victory in the last Senate contest of 2002.
Well? No, but perhaps better diagnosed.
United? Get real.
Louisiana's unique election laws require that, if no contender in acongressional race wins 50 percent in initial voting, the two top vote gettersmust face one another in a runoff election. When Landrieu won just 46 percent ofthe vote on November 5, forcing her into a runoff with Republican Suzanne HaikTerrell, Republican strategists declared that an already battered DemocraticParty would lose another southern Senate seat.
It didn't turn out that way. Landrieu prevailed by a 52-48 margin, and inanother runoff election Democrat Rodney Alexander appears to have narrowly won aUS House seat that had previously been held by a conservative Republican.
Indeed, if November 5 was the worst day of the year for the Democrats, December7may well have been the best.
Of course, nothing has really changed. Republicans will still control theSenate by a margin of 51-49 (Independent Jim Jeffords, I-Vermont, caucuses with48 Democrats). And even if Alexander prevails in an expected recount, the Housewill still be solidly Republican.
But when the results of Louisiana's runoff elections were delivered Saturdaynight, Democrats gained a significant psychological victory. President Bush,Vice President Cheney and just about everyone else who has ever clipped on aWhite House pass showed up in Louisiana to stump for
Terrell. "You had anational parade of Republican all-stars coming into Louisiana for Terrell, ledby Bush himself," recalled veteran Louisiana political commentator Silas LeeIII. But the presidential coattails that supposedly pulled so many Republicansinto Congress in November proved to be slippery in December.
But a couple of wins in Louisiana do not a partisan comebeck make. Democratsstill have a tremendous amount of regrouping to do if they want to be seriousplayers in the presidential and congressional politics of 2004. There are stillthose in the party who push a Republican-lite line on economic issues -- anapproach that, had she adopted it in the runoff, would have guaranteedLandrieu's defeat.
Democrats who are interested in unlocking the secret to their party's future --if there is to be one -- would do well to study the race that led to Saturday's win for Landrieu.
How did Landrieu prevail? She started by firing the Washington-based campaignconsultants who had her bragging during the pre-November 5 campaign about votingwith the Republican president over 70 percent of the time. As oneAfrican-American minister in Louisiana explained, Landrieu's campaign actuallydepressed the Democratic vote becuase sincere Democrats have a hard timefiguring out why they should vote for someone who boasts about backing theRepublican president.
After she fired the consultants, Landrieu made a dramatic shift in her message.Instead of claiming to be 70 percent pro-Bush, she highlighted her differenceswith the president and Republicans in Congress -- especially on bread-and-buttereconomic issues. While Terrell did everything she could to wrap herself in theGOP label, Landrieu ripped the White House for secretly negotiating a trade dealthat would undercut Louisiana sugarcane growers. Sure Terrells is a goodRepublican soldier, Landrieu said, but the Democratic senator and her backersasked: "Do you want a label or a leader? Do you want a rubber stamp or a senator?"
"In the primary, Mary Landrieu ran as a friend of Bush. In the runoff, she hadto distance herself from him," says Lee, who noted that Landrieu's switch to amore skeptical stance regarding Bush administartion policies seems to havehelped her draw more African-American and white working-class voters to thepolls. That effort was aided tremendously when, apparently with a push fromformer President Bill Clinton, state Sen. Cleo Fields, a popularAfrican-American leader who has been at odds with Landrieu since she undercuthis 1995 gubernatorial campaign, endorsed the senator in a show of party unity.
Mary Landrieu was no progressive before December 5, and she is no progressivenow. But by putting some distance between herself and Bush, by reaching out tocore Democratic constituencies, and by focusing in on local economic issues, sheoffered an alternative not just to Terrell but to the Bush administration andRepublican policies.
"Many Democrats who ran close to Bush lost in November -- in Georgia, inMissouri and in other states," says Lee. "Landrieu gained an advantage bydistinguishing herself from the president."
For Democrats, that's a healthy lesson. Running scared and then running tooclose to the Bush administration in November cost opposition party candidatesdearly. Running in December on the argument that it is right to say "no" to Bushwhen he's wrong, especially on economics, paid off for the party -- or at leastfor one of its most embattled senators.
President Bush has agreed that war with Iraq should be the very last resort. But, as weapons inspectors move into high-gear, senior members of the White House seem off-message in their public determination to invade Iraq regardless of the inspection's outcome. And though it's difficult to believe Bush is sincere, it's still worth trying to hold his Administration accountable to his words.
Toward that end, MoveOn.org is sponsoring a nationwide petition drive calling for the Administration to give inspections and diplomacy a chance. The call is picking up steam with close to 100,000 signatures in little more than four days.
The petition will be presented to President Bush, Secretaries Powell and Rumsfeld and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. It'll also be publicized via national newspaper ads starting with one in The New York Times this week. Sign the petition today. You can also help Move.On place more ads with a donation or volunteer to help out in a variety of ways.
All respect to legendary antiwar and social justice activist Philip Berrigan , who passed away Friday in Baltimore, MD, surrounded by thirty friends and family-members. During his forty years of activism , eleven of them spent in prison, all for non-violent civil disobedience, Berrigan focused on building an actual community as a model for the sustainable world he was working to create. His legacy can best be seen in the continuing work of Jonah House , the community he co-founded in 1973 as a haven and resource for Vietnam War protesters.
If President Bush had set out to undermine the credibility of the commission charged with probing the intelligence and security flaws that allowed the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to succeed, he would have begun by naming as the chair someone with a track record of secrecy, double-dealing and bartering himself off to the highest bidder.
And so the president, who has resisted the investigation for more than a year, did just that.
With the selection of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to head the 10-member commission, Bush has signaled that he is more interested in covering for the intelligence establishment – and the administration's allies in corrupt oil-producing nations such as Saudi Arabia -- than in getting to the truth.
Even by the relatively low standards that one must apply when dealing with former Nixon administration insiders, Kissinger is a reprehensible figure. As Britain's Guardian newspaper put it: "This man is regarded by many outside the US as a war criminal."
Guardian writer Julian Borger summed up a rather common reaction to the Kissinger selection in a column titled "Henry's Revenge," which opened with the observation that: "Those Europeans who were aware that the old cold warrior was still alive could be forgiven for assuming he was in a cell somewhere awaiting war crimes charges, or living the life of a fugitive, never sleeping in the same bed twice lest human rights investigators track him down."
It is not just a European reaction. In the US Christopher Hitchens' fine book "The Trial of Henry Kissinger" -- which details the former Nixon and Ford adminsitration aide's responsibility for mass killings of civilians, genocide and coups -- remains a best-selling title.
"The Bush administration did not want an objective inquiry into the disastrous intelligence failures," Hitchens said after Kissinger's selection was announced, "and having an inquiry chaired by Henry Kissinger is the next best thing."
Kissinger's role in perpetuating the war in Vietnam, as well as the illegal attacks on Cambodia and Laos during the Nixon years is well documented. So too is his involvement with the murderous coup that overthrew the elected government of Chilean President Salvador Allende and installed the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.
Kissinger was, as well, involved in the dirty dealing that encouraged Indonesia's military to invade East Timor and oppress the people of that island nation for a quarter century. And, as chair of the National Bipartisan Commission on Central America (1983-84), Kissinger helped the Reagan administration provide cover for the illegal war in Central America.
More recently, Kissinger has been a paid apologist for the Chinese government and a consistent defender of dictatorships around the world. While Kissinger refuses to release the names of his clients -- and client states, it is widely believed that, in addition to his Chinese paymasters, Kissinger is collecting hefty sums of money from interests in the Persian Gulf. National Security Archive founder Scott Anderson, a former staff member of Senate Watergate Committee, is of the view that Kissinger's sordid past -- and compromised present -- will make it impossible for him to lead a credible investigation.
"He has so many clients whose interests are so completely tied up in the results of this investigation," Armstrong says of Kissinger. "The minute you start talking about clerics in Saudi Arabia, it's in no way in the interests of his clients for the whole truth to be told."
About the best that can be said of the selection of Kissinger is this: At 79, he may be inclined to try and finally do something useful for America and the world – in hopes of earning a measure of redemption for an ill-spent life. But no one who cared to find out what really led up to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington would gamble an investigation so important as this on so remote a prospect.
Asking Henry Kissinger to investigate government malfeasance or nonfeasance is akin to asking Slobodan Milosevic to investigate war crimes. Pretty damn akin, since Kissinger has been accused, with cause, of engaging in war crimes of his own. Moreover, he has been a poster-child for the worst excesses of secret government and secret warfare. Yet George W. Bush has named him to head a supposedly independent commission to investigate the nightmarish attacks of September 11, 2001, a commission intended to tell the public what went wrong on and before that day. This is a sick, black-is-white, war-is-peace joke--a cruel insult to the memory of those killed on 9/11 and a screw-you affront to any American who believes the public deserves a full accounting of government actions or lack thereof. It's as if Bush instructed his advisers to come up with the name of the person who literally would be the absolute worst choice for the post and, once they had, said, "sign him up."
Hyperbole? Consider the record.
Vietnam. Kissinger participated in a GOP plot to undermine the 1968 Paris peace talks in order to assist Richard Nixon's presidential campaign. Once in office, Nixon named Kissinger his national security adviser, and later appointed him secretary of state. As co-architect of Nixon's war in Vietnam, Kissinger oversaw the secret bombing campaign in Cambodia, an arguably illegal operation estimated to have claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians.
Bangladesh. In 1971, Pakistani General Yahya Khan, armed with US weaponry, overthrew a democratically-elected government in an action that led to a massive civilian bloodbath. Hundreds of thousands were killed. Kissinger blocked US condemnation of Khan. Instead, he noted Khan's "delicacy and tact."
Chile. In the early 1970s, Kissinger oversaw the CIA's extensive covert campaign that assisted coup-plotters, some of whom eventually overthrew the democratically-elected government of Salvador Allende and installed the murderous military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. On June 8, 1976, at the height of Pinochet's repression, Kissinger had a meeting with Pinochet and behind closed doors told him that "we are sympathetic to what you are trying to do here," according to minutes of the session (which are quoted in Peter Kornbluh's forthcoming book, The Pinochet File.)
East Timor. In 1975, President Gerald Ford and Kissinger, still serving as secretary of state, offered advance approval of Indonesia's brutal invasion of East Timor, which took the lives of tens of thousands of East Timorese. For years afterward, Kissinger denied the subject ever came up during the December 6, 1975, meeting he and Ford held with General Suharto, Indonesia's military ruler, in Jarkata. But a classified US cable obtained by the National Security Archive shows otherwise. It notes that Suharto asked for "understanding if we deem it necessary to take rapid or drastic action" in East Timor. Ford said, "We will understand and will not press you on the issue. We understand the problem you have and the intentions you have." The next day, Suharto struck East Timor. Kissinger is an outright liar on this subject.
Argentina. In 1976, as a fascistic and anti-Semitic military junta was beginning its so-called "dirty war" against supposed subversives--between 9,000 and 30,000 people would be "disappeared" by the military over the next seven years--Argentina's foreign minister met with Kissinger and received what he believed was tacit encouragement for his government's violent efforts. According to a US cable released earlier this year, the foreign minister was convinced after his chat with Kissinger that the United States wanted the Argentine terror campaign to end soon--not that Washington was dead-set against it. The cable said that the minister had left his meeting with Kissinger "euphoric." Two years later, Kissinger, then a private citizen, traveled to Buenos Aires as the guest of dictator General Jorge Rafael Videla and praised the junta for having done, as one cable put it, "an outstanding job in wiping out terrorist forces." As Raul Castro, the US ambassador to Argentina, noted at the time in a message to the State Department, "My only concern is that Kissinger's repeated high praise for Argentina's action in wiping out terrorism...may have gone to some considerable extent to his hosts' heads....There is some danger that Argentines may use Kissinger's laudatory statements as justification for hardening their human rights stance." That is, Kissinger was, in a way, enabling torture, kidnapping and murder.
Appropriately, Kissinger is a man on the run for his past misdeeds. He is the target of two lawsuits, and judges overseas have sought him for questioning in war-crimes-related legal actions. In the United States, the family of Chilean General Rene Schneider sued Kissinger last year. Schneider was shot on October 22, 1970, by would-be coup-makers working with CIA operatives. These CIA assets were part of a secret plan authorized by Nixon--and supervised by Kissinger--to foment a coup before Allende, a Socialist, could be inaugurated as president. Schneider, a constitutionalist who opposed a coup, died three days later. This secret CIA program in Chile--dubbed "Track Two"--gave $35,000 to Schneider's assassins after the slaying. Michael Tigar, an attorney for the Schneider family, claims, "Our case shows, document by document, that [Kissinger] was involved in great detail in supporting the people who killed General Schneider, and then paid them off."
On September 9, 2001, 60 Minutes aired a segment on the Schneider family's charges against Kissinger. The former secretary of state came across as partly responsible for what is the Chilean equivalent of the JFK assassination. It was a major blow to his public image: Kissinger cast as a supporter of terrorists. Two days later, Osama bin Laden struck. Immediately, Kissinger was again on television, but now as a much-in-demand expert on terrorism.
In another lawsuit, filed earlier this month, eleven Chilean human rights victims--including relatives of people murdered after Pinochet's coup--claimed Kissinger knowingly provided practical assistance and encouragement to the Pinochet regime. Kissinger's codefendant in the case is Michael Townley, an American-born Chilean agent who was a leading international terrorist in the mid-1970s. In his most notorious operation, Townley in 1976 planted a car-bomb that killed Orlando Letelier, Allende's ambassador to the United States, and Ronni Moffitt, Letelier's colleague, on Washington's embassy row.
Kissinger has more trouble than these lawsuits. The Chilean Supreme Court sent the State Department questions for Kissinger about the death of Charles Horman, an American journalist killed during the 1973 coup in Chile. (Horman's murder was the subject of the 1982 film Missing.) A criminal judge in Chile has said he might include Kissinger in his investigation of Operation Condor, a now infamous secret project, in which the security services of Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina worked together to kidnap and murder political opponents. (Letelier was killed in a Condor operation.) The Spanish judge who requested the 1998 arrest of Pinochet in Great Britain has declared he wants to question Kissinger as a witness in his inquiry into crimes against humanity committed by Pinochet and other Latin American military dictators. In France, a judge probing the disappearance of five French citizens in Chile during the Pinochet years wants to talk to Kissinger. Last May, he sent police to a Paris hotel, where Kissinger was staying, to serve him questions. In February, Kissinger canceled a trip to Brazil, where he was to be awarded a medal by President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. His would-be hosts said he had pulled out to avoid protests by human rights groups.
A fellow who has coddled state-sponsored terrorism has been put in charge of this terrorism investigation. A proven liar has been assigned the task of finding the truth. By the way, in 1976, when Kissinger was secretary of state, he was informed by his chief aide for Latin America that South American military regimes were intending to use Operation Condor "to find and kill" political opponents. Kissinger quickly dispatched a cable instructing US ambassadors in the Condor countries to note Washington's "deep concern." But it seems no such warnings were actually conveyed. And a month later, this order was rescinded. The next day, Letelier and Moffit were murdered. (Peter Kornbluh and journalist John Dinges recently chronicled this sad Kissinger episode in The Washington Post.) Kissinger's State Department had not responded with the force needed to thwart the official terrorism of its friends in South America. Perhaps this provides Kissinger experience useful for examining the government's failure to prevent more recent acts of terrorism.
Other qualifications for the job, as Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney might see it? A leaks-obsessed Kissinger, when he served as Nixon's national security adviser, wiretapped his own staff. (One of his targets, Morton Halperin, sued and eventually won an apology.) And when he left office, Kissinger took tens of thousands of pages of documents--created by government employees on government time--and treated them as his personal records, using them for his own memoirs and keeping the material for years from the prying eyes of historians and journalists. He and the Bush-Cheney White House agree on open government: the less the better.
Remember, the White House was never keen on setting up an independent commission that would answer to the public. Cheney at one point reportedly intervened to block a compromise that had been painstakingly worked out in Congress regarding the composition and rules of the commission. Finally, the White House said okay, as long as it could pick the chairman and subpoenas would only be issued with the support of at least six of the commission's ten members. With Kissinger in control, the secret-keepers of the White House--who already have succeeded in preventing the House and Senate intelligence committees' investigation of 9/ll from releasing embarrassing and uncomfortable information--will have little reason to fear.
The Bush-Cheney administration has been a rehab center for tainted Republicans. Retired Admiral John Poindexter, a leading Iran-contra player, was placed in charge of a sensitive, high-tech, Pentagon intelligence-gathering operation aimed at reviewing massive amounts of individual personal data in order to uncover possible terrorists. Elliott Abrams, who pled guilty to lying to Congress in the Iran-contra scandal, was warmly embraced and handed a staff position in Bush's National Security Council. But the Kissinger selection is the most outrageous of these acts of compassion and forgiveness. It is a move of defiance and hubris.
For many in the world, Kissinger is a symbol of US arrogance and the misuse of American might. In power, he cared more for US credibility and geostrategic advantage than for human rights and open government. His has been a career of covertly moving chips, not one of letting them fall. He is not a truth-seeker. In fact, he has prevaricated about his own actions and tried to limit access to government information. He should be subpoenaed, not handed the right to subpoena. He is a target, not an investigator.
With Kissinger's appointment, Bush has rendered the independent commission a sham. Democrats should have immediately announced they would refuse to fill their allotted five slots. But after Bush picked Kissinger, the Democrats tapped former Democratic Senator George Mitchell to be vice-chairman of the panel, signaling that Kissinger was fine by them. How unfortunate. The public would be better served and the victims of 9/11 better honored by no commission rather than one headed by Kissinger.
These are times of threat and crisis. So say the leaders of our government, and maybe they are right. Al Qaeda, they report, is on the rise, and terrorism alerts have been issued. The message: expect something big--"spectacular," said one memo--to happen any day now. On top of that, the President and most of Congress warn that Saddam Hussein poses a severe danger--perhaps a nuclear risk--requiring immediate and complete neutralization. There is not a second to lose, for at any moment he might develop a nuclear bomb--that is, if he hasn't already!--and slip it to the operatives of Osama bin Laden's resurgent terrorist network. Meanwhile, the sluggish economy persists, and millions of unemployed workers will be walloped by a suspension in unemployment benefits during the holiday season.
How does Congress meet its responsibilities in such a perilous period? It skips town--without careful consideration of the homeland security bill, without finishing up its budget business, without providing funding for the newest domestic security measures, without completing work on extending unemployment payments, without carefully vetting the latest anti-terrorism surveillance measures being embraced by the Bush administration, and without providing further oversight of Bush's movement toward war against Iraq.
Both Democrats and Republicans share fault. Each party was eager to wrap up the lame duck session, which had been arranged when Congress failed to take care of much of its business by mid-October. (After all, senators and representatives up for reelection had to hurry home to campaign.) But in the post-election session, the Democrat-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House rushed through important tasks and ignored others.
Top on its to-do list was okaying legislation creating a homeland security department. Congress did so, but at a cost. The 74-year-old Democratic Senator Robert Byrd complained on the Senate floor that the 484-page homeland security legislation was plopped on senators' desk: "It has not been before any committee. There have been no hearings on this bill. There have been no witnesses who were asked to appear to testify on behalf of the bill or in opposition. It did not undergo any such scrutiny....The American people expect us to provide our best judgment and our best insight into such monumental decisions. This is a far, far cry from being our best...If I had to go before the bar of judgment tomorrow and were asked by the eternal God what is in this bill, I could not answer God."
God may not care about the details of this piece of legislation, but the public--and, certainly, its elected representatives--should. The measure marked the largest reorganization of the government in five decades. It is a project that will require 12 to 18 months (if not more) to complete. Yet George W. Bush and the GOPers called for quick passage, and the Democrats (after putting up a losing fight in the Senate over several special-interest gifts tucked into the bill) acceded. Given the time needed to pull together the new department, it did not matter greatly if Congress approved this legislation in mid-November or waited a month or two and used that extra time to read the bill and rid it of those corporate perks (such as the provision granting drug manufacturer Eli Lilly protection from a particular class of lawsuits). And it might not matter (in terms of providing more security) whether such a Cabinet-level department is ever set up. Critics and government-organization specialists have argued that the new department might have to spend so much time and so many resources dealing with internal bureaucratic issues (who answers to whom, who gets what parking space, what offices are merged or purged) that the mission at hand--preventing acts of terrorism against the United States--will be undermined. A few months back, the Brookings Institution released a report raising serious questions about this sort of reorganization. As one terrorism expert says, "In Washington, if you cannot eat something or make love to it, you reorganize it." Byrd huffed, "This is a hoax...This bill does nothing--not a thing--to make our citizens more secure today or tomorrow."
Byrd has a penchant for dramatic rhetoric. But, then, so does Bush. When he signed the legislation on November 25, he declared, "we are taking historic action to defend the United States and protect our citizens against the dangers of a new era....This essential reform was carefully considered by Congress." Bush, you might recall, spent about nine months after 9/11 opposing such a reorganization, maintaining it would not increase security for Americans. But when questions were raised about his administration's performance prior to the attacks, he quickly pivoted and called for lickety-split approval of his own legislation setting up a new department. The ensuing debate in Congress focused mostly on Bush's attempts (successful in the end) to deep-six workplace protections for the department's employees. (Democrats howled; Republicans cheered.) Conservatives in and out of Congress were not all enamored with this big-government response to September 11, but they mostly kept mum, and few Democrats examined the wisdom of rushing ahead with this reshuffling.
What made the rush to enact this legislation all the more silly was that it came as Congress failed to address more immediate security concerns. As the Senate and House got hung up on the homeland security department bill and legislation authorizing Bush to declare war on Iraq whenever he sees fit, both houses failed to find the time to pass most appropriations bills. The government continues to operate because the Senate and the House approved a stopgap measure keeping programs funded at their current levels. But this means money is not available for new homeland security initiatives--emergency response, bio-chemical weapons defense, and much more--and now this new funding may not hit the relevant agencies until the middle of 2003. Take a step back and survey the scene: supposedly vital programs designed to protect Americans are going unfunded, and Congress skedaddles for seven weeks.
Yet no one has to pay for such dereliction of duty--partly because it's a bipartisan evasion. The Democrats could have tried to stir up a fuss, perhaps demand Congress remain in session to deal more thoroughly with the homeland security bill and to appropriate funds for counter-terrorism programs (as well as tend to the unemployed). But they often fret about coming across as obstructionists. And Senate Democrats had recently witnessed their colleague, Max Cleland of Georgia, lose in the election thanks to an underhanded commercial that cited his votes against the homeland security bill and questioned his patriotism. (Cleland apparently was vulnerable because he lost only three limbs while serving in Vietnam.) It was understandable that Democrats were spooked by the possibility of being branded anti-homeland. Still, in Washington, there is always justification for caution. The bottom line--politics aside--is that Congress is shirking fundamental responsibilities.
War may be at hand, a terrorist attack reminiscent of 9/11 may be imminent, and Congress vacates Washington as if nothing was different. What a lack of seriousness. Is al Qaeda taking time off?
The Republican landslide on November 5 was a sobering reality for progressives, but this GOP ascendance has done nothing to tamp down the enthusiasm and energy of the emerging antiwar movement.
On November 17, a coalition of prominent women's groups began a peace vigil and fast at Lafayette Park, in front of the White House. The idea, organizers say, is to issue an urgent call that our safety and well-being as a nation will not be served by war but by focusing on non-violent resolution of conflicts, and by using our nation's wealth, energy and skills for social programs such as schools, health care and affordable housing for the world's poor. This will ultimately provide the seeds of a safer, more stable world order in a way that military might never can.
The goal of the vigil is to continue the protest through March 8, International Women's Day, when the action will culminate in a peace march along the Mall in DC. The coalition is sponsoring a simultaneous online women's peace petition, "Listen to the Women," which organizers hope will contain at least one million signatures by March 8, 2003, when it will be presented to its recipients in the White House. Sign the petition and/or download a copy and help distribute it in your communities.
There are numerous other ways you can assist this effort:
--Join the vigil in Washington for as much time as you can--an hour, a day, a week, a month. You can fast or not fast, as you wish. While this action is initiated by women, men are welcome too.
--Initiate a solidarity vigil in your own community.
--Convince as many people as possible to come to the DC Women's Peace March on March 8, 2003.
--Make a contribution to sustain this peace vigil and build the rally. Send your checks--large and small--to Women's Vigil, c/o Global Exchange, 2017 Mission St #303, San Francisco, CA 94110.
You can email Kristi Laughlin at email@example.com with questions, suggestions or ideas.
You can also find more info at United For Peace, a new website representing a national network of more than 70 peace and justice organizations working to prevent war with Iraq.
Featuring a close-to-comprehensive collection of peace event listings nationwide, UFP is also coordinating a day of local actions--rallies, marches, protests, teach-ins--on Tuesday, December 10th, International Human Rights Day. Check out planned events in your area. And, if you're involved in organizing something yourself, please post the details, using United For Peace's easy-to-use submission page.
"If you think you're too small to be effective, you've never been in bed with a mosquito." This is the War Resisters League's arresting way of refuting the hopelessness so many of us sometimes experience. In the face of the mass media, big government, multinational corporations, mega-military machines, and a flood of information too great to handle, it's easy to sometimes feel helpless. But we're not. See the WRL's list of ways one individual can make a difference.
Other things one person can do include signing and promoting the Pledge of Resistance and the MoveOn.org antiwar petition, downloading and displaying antiwar window signs, joining Cities for Peace, a growing effort to get City Councils and other representative bodies to pass resolutions against an invasion of Iraq, distributing Stephen Zunes' Nation article rebutting the Bush Administration's eight central arguments in favor of war and calling or faxing the White House's opinion poll hotline to politely express your opposition to a preemptive attack against Iraq: 202-456-1111 (tel) or 202-456-2461 (fax).
Finally, for background material, see The Nation's special antiwar page featuring a collection of articles, a set of links and a series of organizing resources.
Back in the days when the United States government was overtly and covertly assisting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the most extreme Muslim fundamentalists in Afghanistan, US Navy Rear Admiral John Poindexter was in the thick of it.
Serving as the Reagan administration's national security adviser, Poindexter helped devise the secret Iran-Contra networks that the White House used to illegally sell arms to the fundamentalist dictators of Iran and then schemed to divert the ill-gotten gain to the Nicaraguan rebels who sought to overthrow the government of Nicaragua.
Poindexter's violations of the public trust were so extreme that in the late 1980s his story came to serve as an internationally recognized example of what happens when government officials begin to operate outside the legal and moral boundaries of civil society.
Poindexter beat several of his felony convictions (a jury convicted him in 1990 on five felony counts of misleading Congress and making false statements, only to have an appeals court overturn the verdict not because Poindexter was innocent but because Congress had given him immunity in return for his testimony). But few people associated with the scandal-plagued Reagan administration were more discredited than Poindexter. And nothing the retired admiral has done in the past 15 years has restored the faith of rational Americans - or international observers - in this troubled man's sullied integrity.
Except, of course, within the Bush Administration.
With the election of George W. Bush, Poindexter returned to Washington's good graces. Now, with a Congressional seal of approval that was tucked into the Homeland Security bill, he is developing the Total Information Awareness program within a new federal operation, the Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (SARPA). The TIA project, which Poindexter devised, is an ambitious plan to use new software and computer-generated data collection that -in the words of the New York Times - seeks to "use the vast networking powers of the computer to 'mine' huge amounts of information about people."
Under the aegis of the Pentagon, the TIA initiative is ostensibly being designed to help federal agencies identify and locate "potential" terrorists. In reality, the TIA initiative could result in shadowy federal agencies having unprecedented access to the private communications of Americans. Indeed, according to the Times, if Poindexter's plans come to fruition, "all the transactions of everyday life - credit card purchases, travel and telephone records, even Internet traffic like e-mail - would be grist for the electronic mill."
Phil Kent, president of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, refers to the initiative as "the most sweeping threat to civil liberties since Japanese-American internment."
The federal government has a responsibility to take legitimate steps to protect Americans from terrorists and terrorism. But that responsibility must be balanced with another responsibility to respect the privacy of law-abiding Americans and to preserve the civil liberties that underpin our freedom.
There is nothing legitimate - or necessary - about creating the sort of massive, secret surveillance network that the TIA has the potential to become. If Poindexter's latest scheme is fully realized, terrorist plotters won't be the only ones posing threats to the security of average Americans. The most persistent threat may well come from reckless players within their own government - one of whom, John Poindexter, has a track record of lawlessness.
That's something that responsible players in Congress ought to be concerned with.
The US Senate Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on the Constitution will be chaired until January by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis. Feingold, whose courageous opposition to the Patriot Act was based on his concerns about threats posed to civil liberties in general and privacy rights in particular, should use the last weeks of his chairmanship to examine, challenge and steps to place a check upon Poindexter's TIA project. Poindexter and others associated with the Bush administration are still seeking additional legislative authority to undermine privacy rights -- in particular, amendment of the Privacy Act of 1974 -- and the debate over these moves can open the way for an examination of the sorry state of civil liberties in the age of the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Department. Feingold and other senators who raise these issues will find they have unexpected allies among conservative Republicans -- an important factor, since Republicans will soon control all the key committees in the House and Senate. Conservative columnist William Safire has referred to Poindexter's current project as "a sweeping theft of privacy rights." Outgoing US Representative Bob Barr, R-Georgia, has been outspoken in his condemnation of the sections of the Homeland Security legislation that authorize the collection of public and private data into the Pentagon's "centralized grand database," saying: "You would think the Pentagon planning a system to peek at personal data would get a little more attention. It's outrageous, it really is outrageous."
If members of Congress had been more aggressive with Poindexter in the 1980s, the rule of law might well have been respected and many lives would have been saved in Central America. Now, with Poindexter threatening civil liberties at home, Congress again has an opportunity - and a duty - to remind this man that the United States has a Constitution and that it guarantees Americans a right to privacy.