TIDE TURNING ON AFGHANISTAN: American forces in Afghanistan suffered a tragic week leading up to Memorial Day when a roadside bomb in the Shorabak district killed eight US soldiers and two Afghan police officers. It was the worst single attack in an already deadly month that ended with twenty-eight US service personnel killed.
That same day in Washington, on May 26, lawmakers undertook the most serious debate yet about ending the war. During passage of a massive defense spending bill that would allocate $119 billion for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next year, members of both parties offered a variety of amendments that attempted to hasten the end of the nearly decade-old conflict.
One bipartisan bill by Representatives James McGovern of Massachusetts and Walter Jones of North Carolina called for the White House to outline a plan for an “accelerated” troop withdrawal. Though the measure didn’t call for an immediate removal of combat forces, it sought to attract lawmakers who might want to pressure the White House without taking a bolder vote for withdrawal. Many were shocked when the McGovern-Jones amendment fell only twelve votes short of passage. All but eight Democrats supported it, and twenty-six Republicans joined them.
A year ago, McGovern offered a similar amendment that garnered forty-two fewer votes—and that was when Democrats controlled the House. McGovern said the tide is clearly turning in Congress, and he called the vote “a huge step forward in the effort to bring the war in Afghanistan to a close.” On Memorial Day, the Washington Post reported that many in the White House are voicing concerns about the cost of the war, including an anonymous senior official who said, “Where we’re at right now is simply not sustainable.” GEORGE ZORNICK
ZELAYA RETURNS: Deposed President Manuel “Mel” Zelaya finally returned to Honduras on May 28, almost two years after the military coup that ousted him in June 2009. In the biggest demonstration in Honduran history, a sea of hopeful Hondurans in red T-shirts were there to greet Zelaya when he landed in Tegucigalpa. Turnout was estimated at 900,000 (from a population of 7.8 million in the country).
Almost unanimously the US media declared the crisis over. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisted that democracy had been restored and Honduras could be readmitted to the Organization of American States. Despite the enormous symbolic meaning of Zelaya’s return, however, little has changed. As human rights groups and the opposition have been quick to point out, the pact with current President Porfirio Lobo that permitted Zelaya’s return does nothing concrete to stop the coup regime’s reign of terror. The same oligarchs and military officials who launched the coup remain in power. None of its leaders have been prosecuted. Neither have those behind the killings of more than 300 opposition members since Lobo took office in January 2010. In fact, the level of repression in the past three months exceeds the period immediately after the coup, including the use of tear gas and live bullets by police against a group of protesting high school students two days after the accord between Zelaya and the regime.
On May 31, eighty-seven members of Congress sent a letter to Clinton demanding an immediate suspension of US military and police support to Honduras. The debate over Honduras isn’t over, despite the Obama administration’s insistence that it is. DANA FRANK
REMEMBERING GIL SCOTT-HERON: When the role of media not just as observer but as shaper of our politics was barely discussed outside academic circles, Gil Scott-Heron gave us “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” still the savviest critique of the disengaged character of broadcast news—and the crisis of commercialism.
As it turned out, some revolutions would be televised. But the blow-dried reporters and drive-by anchormen never quite got the whole story. And time confirmed that Scott-Heron was right about the radical politics he embraced and outlined so brilliantly on a series of groundbreaking albums in the 1970s. That politics is still best communicated via the spoken word. So it is that when activists gather, they continue to note the failures of the media and utter the “revolution will not be televised” catchphrase that Gil Scott-Heron added to the discourse.
Scott-Heron, who died on May 27 at age 62, has been hailed as the “godfather of rap.” But as a student of the Harlem Renaissance who was steeped in the literature and the ideas of the liberation movements that preceded the ’60s, he had an even broader influence on the culture and the next generations. He taught us about apartheid (“Johannesburg”), environmental racism (“South Carolina”), the military-industrial complex (“Work for Peace”) and the harshest realities of an America that never seems to get its priorities right (“Whitey on the Moon”). His lyrics demanded that serious young people start thinking, start studying, start creating—and he made no secret of his determination that all this activity needed to be fused with activism. He was always challenging Americans to get into the streets, to connect with one another and to act—rather than waiting for the revolution to be televised. JOHN NICHOLS
SILENCING THE PRESS IN PAKISTAN: On May 29, Syed Saleem Shahzad, a well-known Pakistani journalist, disappeared on his way to a TV studio in Islamabad. He was supposed to discuss his latest story: an exposé on alleged infiltration of the Pakistani Navy by Islamic militants. He had reported that a recent attack on a naval base in Karachi was retaliation for the arrest of naval officers with alleged links to Al Qaeda. Shahzad never made it to the interview. His body was found in a canal two days later. A doctor concluded the “cause of death is torture.”
Human rights groups believe Pakistan’s spy agency, the ISI, may be responsible for Shahzad’s death. In October, Shahzad told Human Rights Watch of threats he’d received, allegedly from ISI operatives. Shahzad is the sixteenth journalist known to die in a targeted killing in Pakistan since the 2002 execution of the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl. With the exception of Pearl’s, none of the killers have been prosecuted. Last year, Pakistan was the world’s deadliest place for journalists. JEREMY SCAHILL