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How the Pentagon punished NSA whistleblowers

Not a secret. Just how doing it

Sunday 22 May 2016

Long before Edward Snowden went public, John Crane was a top Pentagon official fighting to protect NSA whistle-blowers.

By now, almost everyone knows what Edward Snowden did. He leaked top-secret documents revealing that the National Security Agency was spying on hundreds of millions of people across the world, collecting the phone calls and emails of virtually everyone on Earth who used a mobile phone or the internet.

When this newspaper began publishing the NSA documents in June 2013, it ignited a fierce political debate that continues to this day – about government surveillance, but also about the morality, legality and civic value of whistleblowing.

But if you want to know why Snowden did it, and the way he did it, you have to know the stories of two other men.

The first is Thomas Drake, who blew the whistle on the very same NSA activities 10 years before Snowden did. Drake was a much higher-ranking NSA official than Snowden, and he obeyed US whistleblower laws, raising his concerns through official channels. And he got crushed.

Drake was fired, arrested at dawn by gun-wielding FBI agents, stripped of his security clearance, charged with crimes that could have sent him to prison for the rest of his life, and all but ruined financially and professionally. The only job he could find afterwards was working in an Apple store in suburban Washington, where he remains today. Adding insult to injury, his warnings about the dangers of the NSA’s surveillance programme were largely ignored.

The government spent many years trying to break me, and the more I resisted, the nastier they got,” Drake told me.

Drake’s story has since been told – and in fact, it had a profound impact on Snowden, who told an interviewer in 2015 that: “It’s fair to say that if there hadn’t been a Thomas Drake, there wouldn’t have been an Edward Snowden.”

But there is another man whose story has never been told before, who is speaking out publicly for the first time here. His name is John Crane, and he was a senior official in the Department of Defense who fought to provide fair treatment for whistleblowers such as Thomas Drake – until Crane himself was forced out of his job and became a whistleblower as well.

His testimony reveals a crucial new chapter in the Snowden story – and Crane’s failed battle to protect earlier whistleblowers should now make it very clear that Snowden had good reasons to go public with his revelations.

During dozens of hours of interviews, Crane told me how senior Defense Department officials repeatedly broke the law to persecute Drake.

First, he alleged, they revealed Drake’s identity to the Justice Department; then they withheld (and perhaps destroyed) evidence after Drake was indicted; finally, they lied about all this to a federal judge.

The supreme irony? In their zeal to punish Drake, these Pentagon officials unwittingly taught Snowden how to evade their clutches when the 29-year-old NSA contract employee blew the whistle himself.

Snowden was unaware of the hidden machinations inside the Pentagon that undid Drake, but the outcome of those machinations – Drake’s arrest, indictment and persecution – sent an unmistakable message: raising concerns within the system promised doom.

“Name one whistleblower from the intelligence community whose disclosures led to real change – overturning laws, ending policies – who didn’t face retaliation as a result. The protections just aren’t there,” Snowden told the Guardian this week. “The sad reality of today’s policies is that going to the inspector general with evidence of truly serious wrongdoing is often a mistake. Going to the press involves serious risks, but at least you’ve got a chance.”

Snowden saw what had happened to Drake and other whistleblowers like him. The key to Snowden’s effectiveness, according to Thomas Devine, the legal director of the Government Accountability Project (GAP), was that he practised “civil disobedience” rather than “lawful” whistleblowing. (GAP, a non-profit group in Washington, DC, that defends whistleblowers, has represented Snowden, Drake and Crane.)

“None of the lawful whistleblowers who tried to expose the government’s warrantless surveillance – and Drake was far from the only one who tried – had any success,” Devine told me. “They came forward and made their charges, but the government just said, ‘They’re lying, they’re paranoid, we’re not doing those things.’ And the whistleblowers couldn’t prove their case because the government had classified all the evidence. Whereas Snowden took the evidence with him, so when the government issued its usual denials, he could produce document after document showing that they were lying. That is civil disobedience whistleblowing.”

Crane, a solidly built Virginia resident with flecks of grey in a neatly trimmed chinstrap beard, understood Snowden’s decision to break the rules – but lamented it. “Someone like Snowden should not have felt the need to harm himself just to do the right thing,” he told me.

Crane’s testimony is not simply a clue to Snowden’s motivations and methods: if his allegations are confirmed in court, they could put current and former senior Pentagon officials in jail. (Official investigations are quietly under way.)

But Crane’s account has even larger ramifications: it repudiates the position on Snowden taken by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton – who both maintain that Snowden should have raised his concerns through official channels because US whistleblower law would have protected him.

By the time Snowden went public in 2013, Crane had spent years fighting a losing battle inside the Pentagon to provide whistleblowers the legal protections to which they were entitled. He took his responsibilities so seriously, and clashed with his superiors so often, that he carried copies of the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 and the US constitution in his breast pocket and pulled them out during office conflicts.

Crane’s attorneys at GAP – who were used to working with all types of government and corporate whistleblowers – were baffled by him: in their experience, most senior government officials cared little for whistleblowers’ rights. So what motivated Crane to keep fighting for the rights of whistleblowers inside the Pentagon, even as his superiors grew increasingly hostile and eventually forced him to resign?

To hear Crane tell it, the courage to stand up and fight runs in his family. He never forgot the story he heard as a child, about his own grandfather, a German army officer who once faced down Adolf Hitler at gunpoint – on the night the future Fuhrer first tried to take over Germany.

A former press aide to Republican members of Congress, John Crane was hired by the Inspector General’s office of the Department of Defense in 1988. Within US government agencies, an inspector general serves as a kind of judge and police chief. The IG, as the inspector general is known, is charged with making sure a given agency is operating according to the law – obeying rules and regulations, spending money as authorised by Congress. “In the IG’s office, we were the guys with the white hats,” Crane said.

By 2004 Crane had been promoted to assistant inspector general. At the age of 48, his responsibilities included supervising the whistleblower unit at the Department of Defense, as well as handling all whistleblower allegations arising from the department’s two million employees (by far the largest workforce in the US government), in some cases including allegations originating in the NSA and other intelligence agencies.

Drake, a father of five, had worked for the NSA for 12 years as a private-sector contractor. Now, as a staff member proper, he reported directly to the NSA’s third highest ranking official, Maureen Baginski; she headed the NSA’s largest division, the Signals Intelligence Directorate, which was responsible for the interception of phone calls and other communications.

Tall, sombre, intense, Drake was a championship chess player in high school whose gift for mathematics, computers and languages made him a natural for foreign eavesdropping and the cryptographic and linguistic skills it required. During the cold war, he worked for air force intelligence, monitoring the communications of East Germany’s infamous secret police, the Stasi.

Within weeks of the September 11 attacks, Drake was assigned to prepare the NSA’s postmortem on the disaster. Congress, the news media and the public were demanding answers: what had gone wrong at the NSA and other federal agencies to allow Osama bin Laden’s operatives to conduct such a devastating attack?

As Drake interviewed NSA colleagues and scoured the agency’s records, he came across information that horrified him. It appeared that the NSA – even before September 11 – had secretly revised its scope of operations to expand its powers.

Since its inception, the NSA had been strictly forbidden from eavesdropping on domestic communications. Drake’s investigation persuaded him that the NSA was now violating this restriction by collecting information on communications within as well as outside of the United States. And it was doing so without obtaining legally required court orders.

A straight arrow since high school – he once gave the police the names of classmates he suspected of selling pot – Drake told me he felt compelled to act. “I took an oath to uphold and defend the constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic,” he explained.

To Drake, the President’s Surveillance Program, as it was known inside the George W Bush administration, recalled the mindset of the Stasi. “You don’t spend year after year listening to a police state without being affected, you just don’t,” he told me. “I remember saying to myself, ‘Wow, I don’t want this to happen in our country!’ How could you live in a society where you always have to be looking over your shoulders, not knowing who you could trust, even in your own family?”

Drake’s descent into a nightmare of persecution at the hands of his own government began innocently. Having uncovered evidence of apparently illegal behaviour, he did what his military training and US whistleblower law instructed: he reported the information up the chain of command. Beginning in early 2002, he shared his concerns first with a small number of high-ranking NSA officials, then with the appropriate members of Congress and staff at the oversight committees of the US Senate and House of Representatives.

Drake spent countless hours in these sessions but eventually came to the conclusion that no one in a position of authority wanted to hear what he was saying. When he told his boss, Baginski, that the NSA’s expanded surveillance following 9/11 seemed legally dubious, she reportedly told him to drop the issue: the White House had ruled otherwise.

John Crane first heard about Thomas Drake when Crane and his colleagues at the Pentagon’s Office of the Inspector General received a whistleblower complaint in September 2002.

The complaint alleged that the NSA was backing an approach to electronic surveillance that was both financially and constitutionally irresponsible. The complaint was signed by three former NSA officials, William Binney, Kirk Wiebe and Edward Loomis, and a former senior Congressional staffer, Diane Roark.

Drake also endorsed the complaint – but because he, unlike the other four, had not yet retired from government service, he asked that his name be kept anonymous, even in a document that was supposed to be treated confidentially within the government.

Binney, Wiebe, Loomis and Roark shared Drake’s concerns about the constitutional implications of warrantless mass surveillance, but their complaint focused on two other issues.

Drake had discovered a shocking example while researching his postmortem report on the September 11 attacks. Months beforehand, the NSA had come into possession of a telephone number in San Diego that was used by two of the hijackers who later crashed planes into the World Trade Center. But the NSA did not act on this finding.

As Drake later told the NSA expert James Bamford, the NSA intercepted seven phone calls between this San Diego phone number and an al-Qaida “safe house” in Yemen. Drake found a record of the seven calls buried in an NSA database.

US officials had long known that the Yemen safe house was the operational hub through which Bin Laden, from a cave in Afghanistan, ordered attacks. Seven phone calls to such a hub from the same phone number was obviously suspicious. Yet the NSA took no action – the information had apparently been overlooked.

The NSA whistleblowers first sent their complaint to the inspector general of the NSA, who ruled against them. So they went up the bureaucratic ladder, filing the complaint with the Department of Defense inspector general. There, Crane and his staff “substantially affirmed” the complaint – in other words, their own investigation concluded that the NSA whistleblowers’ charges were probably on target.

In the course of their investigation, Crane and his colleagues in the inspector general’s office also affirmed the whistleblowers’ allegation that the Bush administration’s surveillance programme violated the fourth amendment of the US constitution by collecting Americans’ phone and internet communications without a warrant. “We were concerned about these constitutional issues even before we investigated their complaint,” Crane told me. “We had received other whistleblower filings that flagged the issue.”

In line with standard procedure, these investigative findings were relayed to the House and Senate committees overseeing the NSA – and this helped nudge Congress to end funding for the Trailblazer programme. But for the NSA whistleblowers, this apparent victory was the beginning of a dark saga that would change their lives for ever.

Crane could not believe his ears. “I told Henry that destruction of documents under such circumstances was, as he knew, a very serious matter and could lead to the inspector general being accused of obstructing a criminal investigation.” Shelley replied, according to Crane, that it didn’t have to be a problem if everyone was a good team player.

On 15 February, 2011, Shelley and Halbrooks sent the judge in the Drake case a letter that repeated the excuse given to Crane: the requested documents had been destroyed, by mistake, during a routine purge. This routine purge, the letter assured Judge Richard D Bennett, took place before Drake was indicted.

“Lynne and Henry had frozen me out by then, so I had no input into their letter to Judge Bennett,” Crane said. “So they ended up lying to a judge in a criminal case, which of course is a crime.”

With Drake adamantly resisting prosecutors’ pressure to make a plea deal – “I won’t bargain with the truth,” he declared – the government eventually withdrew most of its charges against him. Afterwards, the judge blasted the government’s conduct. It was “extraordinary”, he said, that the government barged into Drake’s home, indicted him, but then dropped the case on the eve of trial as if it wasn’t a big deal after all.

“I find that unconscionable,” Bennett added. “Unconscionable. It is at the very root of what this country was founded on … It was one of the most fundamental things in the bill of rights, that this country was not to be exposed to people knocking on the door with government authority and coming into their homes.”

When John Crane put his career on the line by standing up for legal treatment of Pentagon whistleblowers, he was following a moral code laid down 80 years before by his German grandfather. Crane grew up in suburban Virginia, but he spent nearly every summer in Germany with his mother’s extended family.

During these summer sojourns, Crane heard countless times about the moment when his grandfather confronted Hitler. His mother and his grandmother both told the story, and the moral never changed. “One must always try to do the right thing, even when there are risks,” Crane recalled being instructed. “And should someone do the right thing, there can of course be consequences.”

Crane’s grandfather was days shy of turning 40 on the night of Hitler’s “Beer Hall Putsch”, 8 November, 1923. Plotting to overthrow the Weimar Republic, Hitler and 600 armed members of his fledgling Nazi party surrounded a beer hall in Munich where the governor of Bavaria, Gustav von Kahr, was addressing a large crowd. The rebels burst into the hall, hoping to kidnap Von Kahr and march on Berlin.

After his men unveiled a machine gun hidden in the upstairs gallery, Hitler fired his pistol into the air and shouted, “The national revolution has begun!”

Crane’s grandfather, Günther Rüdel, was in the hall as part of his military duties, Rüdel recalled in an eight-page, single-spaced, typewritten affidavit that provides a minute-by-minute eyewitness account of the putsch. (Rüdel was later a government witness in the trial that sentenced Hitler to five years in prison, though he was not called to testify.)

The son of a prominent German general, Rüdel had served with distinction in the first world war, earning two Iron Crosses. By 1923, he was serving as chief political aide to General Otto von Lossow, the German army’s highest official in Bavaria. As such, Rüdel was the chief liaison between Von Lossow and Von Kahr and privy to the two men’s many dealings with Hitler.

Suspecting that Hitler and his followers were planning a coup, Lossow and Rüdel had forced their way into the beer hall to monitor developments. The head of Bavaria’s state police, Hans Ritter von Seisser, was also there, accompanied by a bodyguard. Rüdel was standing with Lossow and Von Seisser when armed men burst into the hall, with Hitler in the lead.

“Hitler, with pistol held high, escorted on right and left by armed men, his tunic stained with beer, stormed through the hall towards the podium,” Rüdel wrote in his affidavit. “When he was directly in front of us, police chief Von Seisser’s adjutant gripped [but did not unsheath] his sword. Hitler immediately aimed his pistol at the man’s chest. I shouted, ‘Mr Hitler, in this way you will never liberate Germany.’ Hitler hesitated, lowered his pistol and pushed his way between us to the podium.”

In the surrounding chaos, Hitler’s men tried to force Von Kahr, Lossow and Von Seisser to join the coup, but their uprising soon fizzled. A few days later, Hitler was arrested and charged with treason. He served a year in jail, where he wrote his autobiography, Mein Kampf.

Incredible as it may sound, Crane aims to get his old job back. His attorney, Devine, thinks that is a fantasy. In Devine’s view, the problems facing whistleblowers are systemic – and the system does not forgive, especially someone who has exposed the system’s corruption as devastatingly as Crane has done.

To Crane, however, it is a simple matter of right and wrong. It was not he who broke the law; it was his superiors. Therefore it is not he who should pay the price but they.

“I just want to see the system work properly,” he says. “I know the system can fail – world war two, Nazi Germany – but I also know that you need to do what is right. Because the government is so powerful, you need to have it run efficiently and honestly and according to the law.”

“What are the odds the system will work properly in your case?” I asked Crane.

“I’m not giving you odds,” he replies with a chuckle. “This is just something that I have to do.”

This article is adapted from Mark Hertsgaard’s new book, Bravehearts: Whistle Blowing in the Age of Snowden (Hot Books/Skyhorse)

Illustration by Nathalie Lees

Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, or sign up to the long read weekly email here.


A 3-month journey of regularly playing Petanque

After 3 months of regularly playing Petanque and being on time, I discovered that irregularities in behaviors of the members have taken a toll on me.

It was no longer that much fun and pleasant to pass quality time with the new acquaintances I linked up friendship with.

We enjoyed wonderful evenings accompanied with plenty of quality laughter, the kinds of involuntary loud laughter. It was a nice journey that permitted me to learn and socialize and discover my humoristic tendencies and joking mind.

So he got upset and quit the game. All the players left, sheep-file, through the gate

It was a good 3-month ride (moushwaar). An opportunity to communicate and observe my town people, closely and personally, on the game field.

A few examples of the unnerving behaviors of some players who considered themselves above regulations and polite rules.

Someone enters late and decide to be the leader and pick his team, irrespective of whose turn to play.

Another one come in drunk, sit on a chair, appoint himself leader and exercise a veto right of whom should be on his team. He has no idea who is playing and when he gets up, he hits the balls of his team members, claiming that he was Not aware. And it happens twice in a row.

At my last game I had a row with A.B Knot, who considers himself the best player of the club in seniority. He played with his preferred team. My team, all of them used to come regularly and on time to games, registered 4 points and I said: “The other team should remain at zero”. I guess this joke didn’t set well with Knot but he didn’t reply to my challenge.

In the next set of the game, it was our team turn and I was studying the field and Knot got upset on the ground that he knows the disposition of the balls and he insisted on interfering with my right. I finally got upset and told him defiantly that the rules say that he should Not interfere. (Actually, this was his own rule that refuses to abide by it on the ground that he has some privileges that he bestowed on himself)

A few seconds elapsed to rewind the spring, and this tiny and wiry toy sprung at me, screaming “Are you shouting at me? Are you shouting at me!”. It was a comical moment but I retained my composure.

We resumed the game and we were 8 to zero since we lodged 4 more points to add to the score. The Leader of the losing team, AB Knot, opted to remind himself that he is still pretty upset and created to himself an excuse Not to continue the game.

So he got upset and quit the game.  He should be sanctioned for quitting, but he was rewarded grandly: all the remaining members in the tent decided to quit also. All the players left, in sheep-file, through the gate, tink tink.

We all get upset, angry and we shout. So what? Getting upset and quitting is a generalized flawed sense of pride.

Note: These are a few notes and comments I posted on FB related to my experiences and this event.

Ejetlo sha7meh 3ala ftireh, wa narvaz le2enno nabreti tol3et. Ma tebe3 al kanoon elleh houweh 7atto 3ashwa2eyyan, wa etddakhal fi keef lazem faree2na yel3ab. “3am tosrokh 3aleyyeh?”  I was about to laugh, but maintained a serious demeanor.

T3ebt: ketret al 7azazaat. Heda ma byel3ab ma3 heda. Heda ma byelyab ella iza heda le3eb bi fari2o. Heda ma 3endo raghbeh yel3ab sa7: biyel3ab 3afshika le2enno modtarr yefel wa bi hott al mishkleh 3ala rfi2o. Mnarvaz, jou3aan, nharo sayye2… Iza  ma baddak tel3ab min kel alba2, fel, wa ma tsamem al jaw

Saar kel wa7ad mnarvaz, mhayyaj, met7ammass… bado yet7atat 3aleyyeh. Ou3a tejra7 shou3ouro al morhaf bi telmi7a. Wa ana saber 3ala kalimaat, wa estehdafaat montazima, wa mwata 7ayteh min ajel al jam3a. Shou ana walad ta seer maksar 3assa? 3arfeen ma bosbor 3ala zolm, wa 3a yalleh dareb 7alo bi 7ajar akbar minno, wa laysh ketret hal zakzakeh? 

3am bet3ayyet 3alay? wa lesh 3ayyat 3allay abel ma 3ayyet? Enta moush bi fari2e tat wajjeh te3limatak. Haydeh we7de min kawaninak al 3ashwaeyyeh.  baddo youda3 al shourout wa al 2awaneen  3ala zao2o, fi al aw2at  elleh betnasbo, wa biyekser al awaneen 3ala zao2o. . Ma 7ada bi ello ra2yo, wa 7atta washwasheh.

houweh shayef kel shi. a3ed 3ala kersi wa moush dari enno wa7ad min fari2o arrab aktar 3ala al koshonneh. saret martayn bi da2 wa7ad. wa ba3do mousser enno shayef kel shi.

2el shou? wa laww. houwweh 3allamna 3ala le3beh al boule, wa biye7lelo yebahdel elleh baddo, sa3et elle baddo. Ka2nno mawdou3 boule.  wa moush drouret mouwajehet al zolm.

Shou ana walad 3ind Mr. Mawalad?

For Women Under ISIS, a Tyranny of Dress Code and Punishment


C’était un dimanche .. Il y a dix ans de cela .
J’étais de garde ce matin là . Il faisait beau et je prenais mon café en y trempant tous mes projets des prochaines vacances que je me servais en tartines anticipées !

Le téléphone sonna .
Ce maudit téléphone qui vous arrache à votre cocon privé pour vous balancer dans la sphère publique qui peut disposer de vous à chaque instant .
Une voix masculine rappelant celle de « Bob » dans NIKITA , lorsqu’il rappelait à une mission Anne Parillaud
« Allo Joséphine ? »

…Le téléphone retentit donc et cette voix m’annonça que je suis demandé d’urgence .
Une dame qui exigeait de voir un médecin car « n’allait pas bien »
Après tout c’est mon boulot , que j’aime ( et que parfois je déteste)
Me voici au chevet de cette dame , assise dans son lit paraissant en bonne forme mais aux yeux brillants de malice

Un dialogue s’engagea
– Bonjour Madame , on m’a appelé pour vous examiner .. Il paraît que vous n’allez pas bien .
– Bonjour Docteur . Justement pas trop bien non . . J’ai beau le dire à l’infirmière elle me martèle « mais vous avez une bonne tension ». Je lui parle d’un moral à zéro elle me parle d’une tension à 14 !!

Tout en l’examinant et en l’interrogeant , j’ai compris qu’elle avait juste envie de parler .
Je me suis résolu à l’écouter .( Je vous ai dit que j’aimais mon métier . )
Elle avait pris ma main dans les siennes , et me raconta d’une voix paisible , heureuse d’avoir un « co-assis ou un co-locuteur » comme on dit en arabe ( jaleess aw nadeem )
Elle me raconta ses escapades de jeunesse .

– Je connais toute l’Europe presque , j’ai été en Amérique , j’ai même été une fois en Australie avec feu JEAN mon mari. Ah c’était une belle époque .

A chaque nouveau pays elle serrait plus fort ma main !
– Et nous avions passé 2 mois entiers en Egypte , puis deux semaines en Jordanie . Elle me dévisagea soudain d’un peu trop près et me demanda
– Vous êtes bien brun vous docteur , mais je ne sais d’où vient votre accent .
( Si je lui disais mon origine libanaise je prenais pour une heure de plus )
– Je verrouillais son imaginaire : Je suis de St .Médard Madame ( localité à côté de Bordeaux . )

– Ca ne fait rien me dit-elle !! vous savez nous avons passé notre lune de miel avec Jean à Guernesey . Vous savez où c’est ?
– Je peux vous demander de lâcher ma main Madame svp.

– Pourquoi donc ? … ( comme si ma main était son dû )
– Pour rien … Juste que nous sommes dimanche matin ; il fait beau , et je suis là avec vous qui n’avez pas un véritable besoin médical de moi . Je vous ai écoutée très attentivement mais moi , madame , vous pensez un peu à moi ?

– Comment ça penser à vous ?! Voilà autre chose. C’est aux malades de penser aux médecins maintenant ?

Je repris fermement :

Je dirai quoi moi quand j’aurai 86 ans et que j’appellerai le médecin parce que je me sentirai vraiment mal .
Je lui répondrai quoi quand il me dira « vous avez largement profité de votre jeunesse , pensez-y au lieu de déprimer ».

Je lui dirai justement pas trop non ; car je passais mes dimanches, main dans la main, avec les mamies qui elles me racontaient comment elles ont bien profité de la leur …

( je vous ai dit que parfois aussi, je détestais mon métier )

( Jamil BERRY )

Counting on you: Tell me if my jokes have tacit issues

It is frustrating for me to describe abstract emotions and moral issues. I feel ridiculous talking seriously on issues that I didn’t experience or are forgotten or can’t recall.

I need to be told personal experiences from others in order to recall or have a handle on what is being asked of me.

This conversation is a fiction, a daydream conversation with myself

She: I don’t know when you’re joking and when you’re serious.

He: As if I know. I’m counting on you.

She: come again, how?

He: When you laugh, it’s probably a joke. When you frown, you ferreted out a serious issue.

She: And you’ll be ready to discuss the issues?

He: No. Maybe your issues. Though it would be useful to know how you discovered and interpreted my supposed issues.

She: So you discuss My lame issues and Not yours.

He: correct. I figured out if we start with mine, you’ll quickly add so many on the list that the backlog will be too traumatic to work on any of them issues.

She: Will make a short priority list.

He: I beg to disagree. I find it more productive to select the easier and more feasible ones.

She: And why you jumped to the conclusion that my priority list is of the heavy guns?

He: We start with the simple ones and surreptitiously you gradually move the hardest to the forefront. I like to leave the hard issues to my next life. Or when age give me an excellent excuse to retire from life difficulties.

She: You certainly love your comfort and won’t take any risks to confront this nasty living of yours.

He: My comfort is to leave me with enough energy to tackles your issues.

She: You jumped to the conclusion that mine are harder than yours.

He: Just untangling your white lies from the darker ones is a full-time job. I’m Not trained for such investigative job of sorting out your ambiguous talks.

She: Not trained? And what you guys have always been doing? Legifering in our name?…

Out of subject matter

What the priest confessed?

‎غسان كركي‎'s photo.

حدثني الكاهن الذي عرفّهُ

خطاب لم ُيلقَ .أعدّ ووزع مناشير في ليل 8 تموز . استجوبني الأمن العام بشأنه في اليوم التالي . ودخل السجن بسببه عشرات الشبان . ولكنه بعد ذلك ، صار ُيلقى علناً وينشر في الصحف .
تلقاني صبيان الحي بصراخ الهزء حين ترجلت ، وراح أحدهم يتباهى مذيعاً ان التاكسي اسمها فورد ، وأعلن ترب له أنه لونها رمادي ، فيما ضج جمهورهم بإخباري ، قبل أن أسألهم ، أن الكاهن ليس هناك . بل إن أحدهم تسلق السلم وفتح باب العلية من غير أن يطرقه ثم أطل من نافذتها ضاحكاً : “أرأيت ؟ إنه غير موجود” .
ذلك لأن شياطين الحي الصغار صاروا يعرفون عمن اسأل وأصبح يروقهم أني لا أجد من أفتش عنه . ولعلهم لمحوا من تذمري ومن خيبتي ما استثار فيهم السادية ، فجاء جذلهم على نسبة ما تجلى عليّ من زعل وضياع أمل .
فلقد كانت تلك المرة الرابعة التي قصدت فيها إلى رجل الدين لأستطلعه السر الرهيب .
وفي المرة الخامسة توجهت إليه ليلاً وعلى موعد ، فكان هناك . وحالاً أمحت من ذهني صورة رسمها خيالي ، فلم أجد نفسي أمام شيخ متداع أبيض اللحية ، ولم اسمع صوتاً متهدجاً ، ولا صرعتني مظاهر الوقار وكلمات أبوة ، وجلسنا تحز مسامعي توافه الأحاديث التي تعود الناس مبادلتها فور اجتماعهم . وطالت النزهة الكلامية على شاطئ الموضوع ، وبرح بي القعود على عتبة باب جئت لأفتحه ، فوثبت إلى الهدف مقاطعاً المحدثين قائلاً : حدثني يا محترم عن ليل 8 تموز 1949 .
وغاظني من رجل الدين أنه لم بتلبس حالاً بمظاهر التهيب ، بل بدأ الكلام ، بشيء من غير الاكتراث . ولكن صوته ولهجته وخشوعه وانفعاله بل وبطاءه ، كلها تماوجت مع وقائع ما كان يرويه ، فكأنه عبقري يعزف من موسيقاه قطعة رائعة على البيانو . فدغدغت أنامله أصابع العاج أولاً بعفوية لا تبالي ، وتوالت الألحان تتأرجح وتتسامى متجانسة متضاربة متوافقة حتى بلغت ذروة موسيقى من غير هذه الدنيا . فإذا نحن في العلية نكاد لا نسمع ما يقول ، ولا نرى البيانو ولا اللاعب ولا نعي الألحان . بل شعرنا أن جدران الغرفة انفتحت وارتفعت أرضاً بمن فيها ، فإذا نحن و “سعادة” في السجن ، في الكنيسة ، في المقبرة ، في حفرة من الأرض ، في مسمع الدنيا ، بين المغتربين ، في القصور ، في المحكمة العسكرية ، في المفوضيات ، في غصة القلوب ، في عبسة المغاور ، في لوعة المعاقل ، في رصانة التهذيب ، في هدوء البطولة ، في عزة الصراع ، بين يدي الكبر ، أمام الجلادين ، في طمأنينة المؤمن ، في كهف الغدر ، حراب تطارد المجرمين ، أعلام تصفق للجيوش ، زوبعة تمحق ، وصرخة تعكس موكب التاريخ .
وتناول رجل الدين ورقة من مطاوي جلبابه الأسود الفضفاض منتزعة من دفتر مدرسي ، وهم بقراءتها ، فاعترضته وقلت : اسمعني حديثك لا تقرئني أوراقك ، ولو كانت مذكرات .
فراح يتكلم :
حين فتحت الباب على صوت القرع الشديد في منتصف ذلك الليل ، وجدت نفسي أمام ضباط من الجيش يطلبون إلي أن أرتدي ملابسي وأحمل صليبي وعدة الكهنوت بسرعة . قلت : ما الخبر ؟ أجابوا : سنعدم أنطون سعادة هذه الليلة . ونريد أن تُّعرّفه وتقوم بمراسم الدين قبل إعدامه .
قلت : إن أمراً كهذا لا يسعني أن أفعله ، آتوني بإذن من سيادة المطران ، هكذا ينص قانونناً الكنائسي . قالوا : ليس لدينا من وقت ، إفعل هذا على مسؤوليتنا نحن . فاعتذرت من جديد . وراحوا يلحون عليّ مرددين أن خرق النظام الكنائسي هو أقل ضرراً من أن يرسل مسيحي إلى الموت غير متمم واجباته الدينية .
وأخيراً أذعنت بكثير من التردد والحيرة ، وركبت سيارتهم في طرقات تعج برجال الأمن من جنود وبوليس ودرك وأسلحة مشرعة ، وأطللنا على سجن الرمل ، فإذا هو منار من الداخل والخارج ، ونزلنا حيث كان ضباط آخرون بانتظارنا .
وأقبل عليّ مدير السجن يعرفني إلى نفسه ، وأخبرني أن هذا هو الإعدام الثالث عشر الذي مر به ، وأن الأمر بسيط فأجبته : “لقد مضى عليً ثلاث عشرة سنة في الثوب الكهنوتي، وهذا أول إعدام سأشهده” وكان الطبيب الذي اشترك معنا في الحديث مثلي ، لم يشهد إعداماً في ما مضى .
وزاد مدير السجن فقال : إن هذا المحكوم الخائن أنطون هو رجل خائن ، وكافر ملحد يبشر بالكفر والإلحاد ، إنه لن يأبه لك يا أبانا هذا الخائن الملحد الكافر .
ودخلنا حيث كان الزعيم ، في حبس من الغلو نعته أنه غرفة ، فوجدناه مفترشاً بساطاً من قذارة ورقع ، وكان هذا الفراش أقصر من قامته ، فجعل من جاكيته وصلة بين الفراش والحائط كي لا ترتطم به قدماه .
وكان نائماً نوماً طبيعياً ، ورأسه على ذراعه اليسرى التي جعل منها بديلاً عن مخدة لم تكن هناك .
وأيقظناه فنهض حالاً ، وبادرنا السلام ، وخصني بقوله : “أهلاً وسهلاً يا محترم” فأبلغناه أنه لم يصدر عنه عفو وأن الإعدام سينفذ به حالاً . فشكرنا باسماً رزيناً ، واستأذن بلبس جاكيته التي كانت مطوية تحت قدميه ، فأذنوا له ، فشكرهم من جديد ، ولبسها .
وخلوت به ، وسألته إن كان يود أن يقوم بواجباته الدينية ، فأجاب : لم لا ؟ وطلبت إليه أن يعترف ، فأجاب : ليس لي من خطيئة أرجو العفو من أجلها ، أنا لم أسرق ، لم أدجل ، لم أشهد بالزور ، لم أقتل ، لم أخدع ، لم أسبب تعاسة لأحد .
وبعد أن فرغت من المراسيم الدينية ، تركنا الغرفة فكبلوا يديه ، وخرجنا إلى مكتب السجن .
هناك طلب أن يرى زوجته وبناته ، فقيل له ذلك غير ممكن ، وقدموا له ترويقة فاعتذر شاكراً ، ولكنه قبل فنجان القهوة متناولاً إياه بيمناه وأسنده بيسراه ، وكانت تسمع للقيد رنات كلما ارتطم بالفنجان .
وكان الزعيم يبتسم صامتاً هادئاً مجيلاً عينيه من وجه إلى وجه وكأنه يودعنا مهدئاً من روعنا . هنا انفجرت أنا بالبكاء ، وبكي معي بعض الضباط ، بل أن أحدهم أجهش وانتحب .
وبعد أن شرب القهوة ، عاد يصر على لقاء زوجته وبناته ، فسمع الجواب السابق .
وسئل لمن يريد أن يترك الاربعماية ليرة ليرة التي وجدت معه ، فأجاب أنها وقطعة أرض في ضهور الشوير هي كل ما يملك ، وهو يوصي بها لزوجته وبناته بالتساوي .
وطلب مقابلة الصحافيين ، فأخبروه أن ذلك مستحيل ، فسألهم ورقة وقلماً ، فرفضوا ، فقال : إن لي كلمة أريد أن أدونها للتاريخ . فصرخ به أحد الضباط منذراً : “حذار أن تتهجم على أحد ، لئلا نمس كرامتك” فابتسم الزعيم من جديد وقال : أنت لا تقدر أن تمس كرامتي ، ما أعطي لأحد أن يهين سواه ، قد يهين المرء نفسه ، وأردف يكرر : “لي كلمة أريد أن أدونها للتاريخ ، وأن يسجلها التاريخ” .
فسكتنا جميعاً ، في صمت يلمس سكونه ويسمع دويه .
أصارحك أنني كنت في دوار من الخبل ، ومن المؤكد أنني لا أعي كل ما سمعت ، ولكن الراهن أني سمعته ، سمعته يقول : “أنا لا يهمني كيف أموت ، بل من أجل ماذا أموت . لا أعد السنين التي عشتها ، بل الأعمال التي نفذتها . هذه الليلة سيعدمونني ، أما أبناء عقيدتي فسينتصرون وسيجيء انتصارهم انتقاماً لموتي ، كلنا نموت ، ولكن قليلين منا يظفرون بشرف الموت من أجل عقيدة . يا خجل هذه الليلة من التاريخ ، من أحفادنا ، من مغتربينا ، ومن الأجانب ، يبدو أن الاستقلال الذي سقيناه بدمائنا يوم غرسناه ، يستسقي عروقنا من جديد” .
ومشينا إلى حيث انتظرنا السيارات ، والزعيم ماش بخطى هادئة قوية يبتسم ، إنه لم ينفعل ، كأن الإعدام شيء نفذ به مرات عديدة من قبل . إنه لم ينفجر حنقاً أو تشفياً . أنه لم يتبجح شأن من يستر الخوف.
في تلك اللحظة وددت لو خبأته بجبتي ، لو تمكنت من إخفائه في قلبي أو بين وريقات إنجيلي . إن عظامي لترتجف كلما ذكرته .
وحين خرجت إلى الباحة رأيت إلى يميني تابوتاً من خشب . من خشب الشوح لم يخف الليل بياضه. وتطلع الزعيم إلى نعشه فلم تتغير ملامحه ولا ابتسامته .
وقبل أن يرقى الجيب ، طلب للمرة الثالثة والأخيرة أن يرى زوجته وأولاده . وللمرة الثالثة والأخيرة ، سمع الجواب نفسه . فتبينت ملامحه ، وفي تلك اللمحة العابرة فقط من عمر ذلك الليل لمحت وميض العاطفة خلال زوبعة الرجولة .
وسارت الجيب بالزعيم يحف به الضباط وخلفه تابوته ، وقافلة سيارات وشاحنات من ورائه وأمامه ملأى بالجنود المسلحة . ولعل مساً من البله اعتراني ، فبدا لي أن تنفيذ الإعدام سيؤجل ، أو أن عفواً سيصدر . سيطر عليّ هذا الوهم فخدرني ، حتى انحرفنا عن الطريق العامة إلى درب ضيقة بين كثبان . ووقفنا في فجوة بين الرمال كأنها فوهة العدم .
وقفز من بينهم ، مكبلاً ، إلى عمود الموت المنتظر ، فاقتربوا منه ليعصبوا عينيه ، فسألهم أن يبقوه طليق النظر ، فقيل له : القانون .
أجاب إنني أحترم القانون .
وأركعوه وشدوا وثاقه إلى العمود . وكأن الحصى آلمته تحت ركبته فسألهم إن كان من الممكن إزالة الحصى ، فأزالوها ، فقال لهم : ” شكراً ” ، ” شكراً ” ، رددها مرتين ، وقطع ثالثتها الرصاص .
فإذا بالزعيم وقد تدلى رأسه وتطايرت رئته ، وتناثرت ذراعه اليسرى ، فلم يعد يصل الكف بالكتف إلا جلدة تتهدل .
وكوموا الجثة في التابوت ، وتسارعت القافلة نحو المقبرة ، وهناك كادوا يدفنونها من غير صلاة لو لم يتعال صياحي . أخيراً قالوا لي : “صل ، إنما أسرع ، أسرع ، صل من قريب” .
ودخلنا الكنيسة ، ووضعنا التابوت على المذبح ، ورحت أصلي ، والدم يتقطر من شقوق الخشب ، ويتساقط على أرض الكنيسة نقاطاً نقاطاً ، ليتجمع ويتجمع ثم يسيل تحت المذبح .
وخرجنا من المعبد ، ووقفت أمام بابه أواجه الفجر الذي أطل وأناجي الله ، وأسمع رنين الرفوش ترتطم بالحصى وتهيل التراب ، وترتطم بالحصى وتهيل التراب” .
بذاك حدثني الكاهن الذي عرّفه .
أقول لك أن تراب الدنيا لم يطمر تلك الحفرة .
أقول لك أن رنين الرفوش في ذلك الفجر سيبقى النفير الداوي ليقظة هذه الأمة . أقول لك أن منارة الحياة قد ارتفعت على فوهة العدم .
بقلم الأديب الكبير : سعيد تقي الدين

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Have you played Bachi, Petanque, Boule, Horse shoe throwing? This is my story

In the past 3 months I joined a club for playing petanque. I had a lot of fun and laughter, and encountered many wonderful young people.

Petanque is a game of throwing two iron balls close to a tiny ball called cochonet that is your target. The closer to come compared to your adversary team, the more likely an expert in hitting your ball away from the cochonet become necessary. The iron balls weight between 650 to 730 g.

The space is between 6 to 10 m long and 3 m wide. Many players get used to throw the cochonet as far as possible, and get fretful when closer to 6 m.

Usually, in competitions, the teams are of 3 members. Otherwise you can form teams of 4 or even two. If teams of 2, then you may used 3 balls.

Very simple game, yet you need plenty of consistent practice to discover your right movement, rhythms and capability to control your throw.

In my hometown, we have 3 summer clubs, one of them is formally registered with ministry of sport and erect a plastic tent for the colder and rainy weather.

We knew how to throw parties after the games. Everyone brought the menu of the day, frying or charcoaling hamburger, onions, potatoes, cheese… with plenty of whiskey and arak.

Many times singing and dancing was all the rage. Practically, everything that Daesh frowned at “publicly”

Once, a player came and was in the mood of playing and found us eating. He got upset and went back murmuring: “They are better off opening a restaurant“.

Slowly but surely, a few players poisoned the game. Some people would Not play with another one, or would Not play unless a certain player is in his team.

Most of the time, players would appoint themselves leader of a team, though they are Not that good.

I made sure to come to every game. Those who appointed themselves leaders of teams were the occasional players. They have no shame.

There are rules and regulations, mainly meant for competitions.

A member of the club considered himself the most expert and laid downs rules and regulations of his own (3ashwa2eyyan), without concerting with anyone.

The worst part, he considered himself above his own rules and interfered in the game. Nobody dared to confront this tiny and wiry person, or even whisper their opinions because the parcel of land belonged to him or his family.

I swallowed a lot of crap in these months for the sake of meeting these young happy people and getting some laughter and spending quality time.

I recall a shocking event during one of outside town competitions.  Two teams of our club were selected to play against one another, and the organizers didn’t care to appoint any impartial arbiter. So the leader of the other teams made a deal with two of my teammate to lose the game at a score of zero, so that they might be advantageously be selected in the quarter final.

I didn’t agree. The more my teammates threw the balls nonchalantly, the more I played better and made winning the game for the other team much harder. All the members of the other team had no choice but to hit my ball: They could afford this strategy since my teammates were Not to play well or approach the cochonet.

Once, they couldn’t hit my ball and instead of scoring for my team, they appointed one of them to handle the scoreboard: They added the point to their score so that we remained Zero.

The irony of this stupid deal is that both teams had already lost the first round and they were no match to the other contending teams.

Apparently, the sense of loyalty has many shades. For me, the only valid loyalty in any team game is for each member to play the best he can. Otherwise, there is no point playing any game.




January 2018
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