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Moral Courage? And what other kinds of courage? Edward Snowden,  Hugh Thompson, whistle-blowers…

Last Thursday Chris Hedges opened a team debate at the Oxford Union at Oxford University with this speech arguing in favor of the proposition “This house would call Edward Snowden a hero.”

The others on the Hedges team, which won the debate by an audience vote of 212 to 171, were William E. Binney, a former National Security Agency official and a whistle-blower; Chris Huhne, a former member of the British Parliament; and Annie Machon, a former intelligence officer for the United Kingdom.

The opposing team was made up of Philip J. Crowley, a former U.S. State Department officer; Stewart A. Baker, a former chief counsel for the National Security Agency; Jeffrey Toobin, an American television and print commentator; and Oxford student Charles Vaughn.

Chris Hedges posted this Feb.23, 2014

Edward Snowden’s Moral Courage

I have been to war. I have seen physical courage.

But this kind of courage is not moral courage. Very few of even the bravest warriors have moral courage.

For moral courage means to defy the crowd, to stand up as a solitary individual, to shun the intoxicating embrace of comradeship, to be disobedient to authority, even at the risk of your life, for a higher principle. And with moral courage comes persecution.

The American Army pilot Hugh Thompson had moral courage. He landed his helicopter between a platoon of U.S. soldiers and 10 terrified Vietnamese civilians during the My Lai massacre.

Thompson ordered his gunner to fire his M60 machine gun on the advancing U.S. soldiers if they began to shoot the villagers. And for this act of moral courage, Thompson, like Snowden, was hounded and reviled.

Moral courage always looks like this.

It is always defined by the state as treason—the Army attempted to cover up the massacre and court-martial Thompson. It is the courage to act and to speak the truth. Thompson had it.

Daniel Ellsberg had it. Martin Luther King had it. What those in authority once said about them they say today about Snowden.

In this still image from video footage released by WikiLeaks on Oct. 11, 2013, former National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden speaks in Moscow during a presentation ceremony for the Sam Adams Award. (AP photo)

“My country, right or wrong” is the moral equivalent of “my mother, drunk or sober,” G.K. Chesterton reminded us.

So let me speak to you about those drunk with the power to sweep up all your email correspondence, your tweets, your Web searches, your phone records, your file transfers, your live chats, your financial data, your medical data, your criminal and civil court records and your movements, those who are awash in billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars, those who have banks of sophisticated computer systems, along with biosensors, scanners, face recognition technologies and miniature drones, those who have obliterated your anonymity, your privacy and, yes, your liberty.

There is no free press without the ability of the reporters to protect the confidentiality of those who have the moral courage to make public the abuse of power.

Those few individuals inside government who dared to speak out about the system of mass surveillance have been charged as spies or hounded into exile.

An omnipresent surveillance state—and I covered the East German Stasi state—creates a climate of paranoia and fear. It makes democratic dissent impossible.

Any state that has the ability to inflict full-spectrum dominance on its citizens is not a free state.

It does not matter if it does not use this capacity today; it will use it, history has shown, should it feel threatened or seek greater control.

The goal of wholesale surveillance, as Hannah Arendt wrote, is not, in the end, to discover crimes, “but to be on hand when the government decides to arrest a certain category of the population.”

The relationship between those who are constantly watched and tracked and those who watch and track them is the relationship between masters and slaves.

Those who wield this unchecked power become delusional.

Gen. Keith Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency, hired a Hollywood set designer to turn his command center at Fort Meade into a replica of the bridge of the starship Enterprise so he could sit in the captain’s chair and pretend he was Jean-Luc Picard.

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, had the audacity to lie under oath to Congress. This spectacle was a rare glimpse into the absurdist theater that now characterizes American political life.

A congressional oversight committee holds public hearings. It is lied to.

It knows it is being lied to. The person who lies knows the committee members know he is lying. And the committee, to protect their security clearances, says and does nothing.

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Meet Joe Sacco: Comic books, journalism, and the objective ideal

Joe Sacco was best-known for his early comic, Palestine. It is an illustrated book about his experiences in the West Bank and Gaza.

Sacco’s works have also covered situations in Bosnia, Iraq, India, The Hague, the United States, Africa migrants and horrible immigration journeys….

Sacco’s pencils portray come down on the side of the oppressed and the powerless.

Ellie  Violet Bramley posted on May 11, 2013 “When NOW met Joe Sacco”

Joe Sacco
Joe Sacco
Joe Sacco
Joe Sacco
Joe Sacco
Joe Sacco

An extended piece based on NOW’s interviews with cartoonist Joe Sacco, who was in town this week as part of the Beirut chapter of the Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts.

Questions of the aptness of the medium of the comic book as a vehicle for stories with serious subjects and messages are not new. It’s not something Sacco himself ever mulled over in the beginning: “I only approach it theoretically cause people like you ask me the question,” he says without reproach. “The way I approached comic book was: I love comics, but I had a serious streak and I studied journalism. I was interested in what was going on in the world so putting those two things together was organic without really being thought out.”

Organically conceived, a new sub-genre was born: a kind of journalistic cartoon (one could perhaps look to things such as Punch, the satirical cartoons of Victorian England, for a predecessor of sorts) – aesthetically mesmerizing, emotionally grueling, but daubed with the brush of entertainment, making the gruel more palatable.

Sacco is comfortable with the word ‘entertainment’ for what others before have labeled ‘humor’: “if you want to be artistic you’ve got to realize that a lot of your readings aren’t approaching your subject in the same way as you see it. There’s an entertainment factor in comics that I like, and I’m okay with the word entertainment, ultimately you want people to keep turning the page, that’s part of the art. If you show things as bleakly as they are over and over again without getting into the human side of things, who wants to read that?”

As with any method of reportage or storytelling it has its definite strengths: “what they can do is right away bring a person, bring the reader into a situation. They open up the book and there are images of a refugee camp.”

Anyone who has read any of Sacco’s work will know that the lines, drawing refugees camps, drawing the weary faces of West Virginia miners, drawing the cold metal of the Israeli bulldozers in Rafah, or drawing the welts of Russian torture on the back of a Chechen man, form a mesh; a net for the attention of the reader.

This ensnaring is ideal for what Sacco wants to achieve: “what you are trying to do is get the reader to walk in the same streets as you,” and by extension walk with refugee communities in the winding alleys between tents, or with the people whose lives are so pervaded with poverty that they have given up fighting it, along the pot-holed roads of New Jersey.

Could comics perhaps be an antidote to the sadly inevitable fatigue of readers, daily confronted with foreign deaths and despair, and a way to reel readers back into the realm of empathy and shock?

Sacco doesn’t blame people for their fatigue: “cause it’s very unpleasant to think people are being killed over there and after a while you go from shock to oh well that’s just the situation, what can I do.”

Besides: “people have their own lives. Even in the best places in the West, the most wealthy places, people have their own problems. I think it’s hard for people to engage in any case and for good reason – people just want to live their lives. I’m sure people in Gaza want to live their lives and people in Damascus want to live their lives and Aleppo, they’d rather just live their lives. The best journalism can do is probably makes us feel like we’re all sort of on the same planet and things are connected, more so now it seems, and our nations are engaged in certain things, even indirectly, so we have to be aware what is going to be done in our name or what might be done in our name. So if you feel like you belong to a society you need to know that your society presses on other societies.”

Perhaps the western media’s commitment to worshiping at the altar of objectivity is partly to blame for this fatigue, and Sacco’s comics, with their visual and humanizing tendencies can remedy what could be seen as an empathy gap. “Perhaps. Perhaps.”

Objectivity is often debated in relation to his work. In the preface to Journalism for instance, Sacco questions: “how should we respond…when they [naysayers] question the notion that drawings can aspire to objective truth? Isn’t that – objective truth – what journalism is all about? Aren’t drawings by their very nature subjective?

Perhaps this is why Sacco is reluctant to call his work reporting. Indeed, he is also reluctant to buy into the dignified moniker, “graphic novel,” that many people lend to it; he himself sees himself as a cartoonist – he has no problem with the “under the blanket with a flashlight” connotations of that, but recognizes many do. B

y placing himself physically into much of his own work – at first as a bumbling presence in Palestine and later as the slightly more “seasoned” presence in Footnotes – Sacco is conceding subjectivity whilst claiming a refreshing kind of honesty (“I think the best a journalist can do is be honest. You can report things from a Palestinian perspective, but show exactly what you’re seeing, which doesn’t always reflect well on the Palestinians, for example, but you have to be honest.”).

At odds with the American “’you’re just a fly on the wall, so unobtrusive;” style, his is an admission that no journalist is unobtrusive and that by revealing the presence you can allow the reader to take the perspective and transformative presence of the journalist into account, making a more informed decision for themselves. Sacco puts it brilliantly: “drawing myself in it makes it clear this is from a reporter’s perspective, it’s not ‘I am the omniscient journalism deity that hovers and knows all and sees all and understand things.’”

Sacco is skeptical to the notion of objectivity. It was in fact the realization that the so-called objective reporting of the American media had given him a starkly skewed view of the Israeli-Palestinian situation that led him to the Middle East, and to writing Palestine.

His frankness on the subject is illuminating: “without paying any attention to what was going on in the Middle East, just what I was hearing in the newspapers and all that, I used to think of Palestinians as terrorists. Why was that? Because every ‘objective’ report that I was seeing was about a bus bombing or a hijacking and Palestinians and Palestinians.

Any time the word Palestinians ever came up in the media, it was in relation to an attack on the Israelis… objectively, those were attacks; objectively those things happened, but there was no context at all, so just getting the objective facts I had a very, very skewed idea of what was going on.” (Interestingly, it was the Sabra and Shatila massacres in 1982 that made him think there was much more to it that he wanted to unearth.)

Just as a photographer can take a subjective image – a Palestinian militant wielding a rocket launcher trained on Israel, for example – so too can a writer, even in a factual report, use rhetoric that is biased – all language is loaded, and so objectivity is an illusive master. A writer can easily depict a single incidence without contextualizing it.

An account of an incident unleashed from its historical chains, even if reported strictly factually, is not a full account. This is one of the issues Sacco takes up with the notion of objective reporting: “journalism often doesn’t allow for that [the context or the history], it’s just the facts and anything other than that doesn’t matter.

What happened 20 years ago, 30 years ago doesn’t matter; but it does matter, those absolutely matter and you can objectively report about one incident and then leave out the next ten.”

For Sacco, history is vital, and when the dominant power structures mobilize the rhetoric of moving on, it is because they have things it suits them to sweep under the rug.

He gives the example of the Obama administration constantly encouraging people to look forward as a way to avoid looking at the torture that the US has committed in recent times in the name of the War on Terror. But, “if you never look backward, forward is also going to look like backward,” says Sacco.

One of the strengths of cartoons is that histories – personal or national – can be probed as easily as a pen dips into an inkwell.

As Sacco describes it: “if you’ve done enough research about what the past looked like, what people were wearing, you can switch behind the past and the present in quite a fluid way.”

It is this re-engaging with the past that reminds readers in the west, used to feasting on the limited lines of news reports, about their own involvement in the seemingly distant suffering of people around the world – not only that their countries are pressing on others, but have pressed and that is why we are where we are. Where older Palestinians feel the UK has a lot to answer for, for instance, many Britons would look blank at the mention of the Balfour Declaration.

Comics find more strength in numbers – the repetition of certain images. Sacco met journalist Chris Hedges during his time in Bosnia, where the two struck up a friendship that led to a collaboration on the book Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt. The project chronicles life in the United States’ most desolate spots, ‘sacrifice zones’ – described by the cartoonist as just like post-war Bosnia “but without the minarets” – where human beings and natural resources have been used and then abandoned. Hedges talks with insight over a montage of Sacco’s images from the book here, discussing how a writer can only, for instance, describe the mud and rain pervading a scene once, where a cartoonist can depict it in multiple frames, allowing the damp to seep into the reader’s consciousness through a subtle process of osmosis.

For Sacco, this is invaluable for “building up an atmosphere…without hitting them over the head with it.” Turn at random to any page of Sacco’s gargantuan Footnotes in Gaza for instance – the book he is perhaps most proud of for both its sheer scale (it took him seven years all in) and originality of research – and you cannot fail to be swept into the illustrated scenes.

Until Days of Destruction, all of Sacco’s work had focused on problems outside the country he was living in. But for him, behavioral patterns are the same the world over: “dominant power and economic structures work in the Middle East, and dominant power and economic interests work in your own backyard.”

An interesting difference is that whilst the Palestinians Sacco depicts would likely identify themselves as oppressed, many of the Americans in the areas Sacco deals with, such as Camden New Jersey and West Virginia, would not identify themselves as such: “they’re probably so used to being fed this American exceptionalism that they probably think of themselves as failures in the system rather than that the system itself is doing them a great disservice.”

Perhaps a little fatigued from seeing the same structures impacting in the same subordinating ways on “those run over by history,” Sacco is turning his attention to human psychology. Having seen such hardship he now wants to try and get to the murky bottom of “why humans do what they do,” and so he is looking to first civilizations, Mesopotamia, archaeologists and anthropologists for answers.

This befits Sacco’s persistent focus on humanity, whilst forcing a break with his past style of working which relies on getting “as close to your subject as possible.”

For Sacco: “you can talk to all the politicians and all the generals” and you find yourself listening to “spin spin spin.” To produce good work, he believes that you must delve deeper than this. By looking to earlier civilizations, perhaps Sacco will be able to excavate further still.

Court told: US anti-terrorism law curbs free speech and activist work

A group of political activists and journalists has launched a legal challenge to stop an American law they say allows the US military to arrest civilians anywhere in the world and detain them without trial as accused supporters of terrorism.

The UK daily The Guardian reported on March 29:

The seven figures, who include ex-New York Times reporter Chris Hedges, professor Noam Chomsky and Icelandic politician and WikiLeaks campaigner Birgitta Jonsdottir, testified to a Manhattan judge that the law – dubbed the NDAA or Homeland Battlefield Bill – would cripple free speech around the world.

Birgitta Jonsdottir, Icelandic MP

Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir said she fears she could be arrested for her association with WikiLeaks. Photograph: Halldor Kolbeins/AFP/Getty Images

The law, written into the National Defense Authorization Bill, which was signed by President Barack Obama at the end of 2011, effectively broadened the definition of “supporter of terrorism” to include peaceful activists, authors, academics and even journalists interviewing members of radical groups.

The controversy focus on the loose definition of key words in the bill, in particular, who might be “associated forces” of the law’s named terrorist groups al-Qaeda and the Taliban and what “substantial support” to those groups might get defined as.

Whereas White House officials have denied the wording extends any sort of blanket coverage to civilians, rather than active enemy combatants, or actions involved in free speech, some civil rights experts have said the lack of precise definition leaves it open to massive potential abuse.

Hedges, who is a Pulitzer Prize-winner and longtime writer on the Middle East, told New York judge Katherine Forrest on Thursday that he feared he might be subject to arrest under the terms of NDAA if interviewing or meeting Islamic radicals could constitute giving them “substantial support” under the terms of the law.

Hedges said: “I could be detained by the US military, held in a military facility – including offshore – denied due process and incarcerated until ‘the end of hostilities’ whenever that is. Any kind of language in my presence that countenances violence against the US … given the passage of the NDAA, really terrifies me.”  He added that the law was already impacting his ability to work as he feared speaking to or meeting with sources who the US government could see as terrorists or advocates of violence.

Testifying alongside Hedges was Kai Wargalla, a German organiser behind Occupy London, and a supporter of WikiLeaks, which has extensively published secret US government documents.

Wargalla contends that since British police had included Occupy London alongside al-Qaeda on a terrorism warning notice, she was afraid of the implications of NDAA. She said that after NDAA was signed she was no longer willing to invite an Islamic group like Hamas to speak on discussion panels for fear of being implicated a supporter of terrorism.  Wargalla said :”We are on a terrorism list just under al-Qaeda and this is what the section of the NDAA is talking about under ‘associated forces”.

Author and campaigner Naomi Wolf read testimony in court from Jonsdottir, who has been a prominent supporter of WikiLeaks and a proponent of free speech laws. Jonsdottir’s testimony said she was now afraid of arrest and detention because so many US political figures had labelled WikiLeaks as a terrorist group.

Despite receiving verbal assurance from US officials that she was not under threat, Jonsdottir testified she would not travel to the US despite being invited to give lectures in the country. “The NDAA Bill provisions create a greater sense of fear because the federal government will have a tool with which to incarcerate me outside of the normal requirements of the criminal law. Because of this change in the legal situation, I am now no longer able to travel to the US for fear of being taken into custody as having ‘substantially supported’ groups that are considered as either terrorist groups or their associates,” said Jonsdottir in the statement read by Wolf, who is also a Guardian commentator.

In an opening argument, lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that they would try to show the definitions used in the NDAA provisions were so unclear that it would have a “chilling” effect on the work of journalists, activists and academics even if no one was actually detained.

Lawyers for Obama, and other named defendants in the case like the defence secretary, Leon Panetta, offered no opening statement nor did they currently plan to call any witnesses. However, in cross-examination of Hedges, Wargalla and another witness they repeatedly pointed out that at no stage had the US government ever been shown to have threatened any of them with detention under the terms of the new law.

Judge Forrest will now seek to rule on whether any of the plaintiffs have shown enough convincing evidence that they have “standing” to move the case forwards. If that happens, she will  have to rule on a possible temporary injunction against the NDAA, which would undoubtedly trigger a high-profile legal battle.

What changed between 1991 and 2003 Iraq invasions? (Apr. 3, 2010)

The Morocco author Fatema Mernissi wrote in 1991 “Islam and democracy” after the first invasion of Iraq by President Bush the father or senior.

In 2002, she wrote an introduction to the English edition.

In 2010, the French editor Albin Michel asked Mernissi a fresh introduction to the updated French edition.

Mernissi suggested that the English introduction should be fine and Michel replied: “Do you think that nothing happened between 2002 and 2010 that young Europeans might be interested in knowing?”

After a good night sleep Mernissi realized that among the many changes, apart that Islamic/Arabic youth are double the Western rate, one change stands out grandly: In 1991, the Arabs were terrified of Western supremacy in technology (smart bombs for example that CNN kept showing their devastating effects in collateral damages on civilians);

in 2003 invasion it was clear that the American and British soldiers were the most scared of Islam virulence. Mainly, Islamic/Arab States had acquired the numeric information technology for disseminating instant news in sound, pictures, and videos and had begun rational communication discussions (jadal) on points and counter points to the benefit of every Arab/Moslems living in European States and the USA.

The unilateral monopoly in the diffusion and dissemination of information and “intelligence” was eroded: Moslems and Arabs could now enjoy 36 satellite channels broadcasting everywhere, including the most popular Al Jazeera channel that even the Western Medias watched for current and impartial news.  Moslems in China were able to keep up with the rest of Islamic World events.

This information victory scared the Western civilization after it realized that the new Islamic/Arabic generations are no longer attuned to their local monopoly Medias run by dictators and monarchs: it is internet age and youth want changes and to discourse rationally.  In 1991, Arabs had practically the CNN to cover the war in Iraq as direct source of information and it was biased toward showing the effects of “smart bombs” and Iraqi soldiers being shoveled alive under in the dune bunkers. Arab people got familiar with the term “collateral damages” and CNN failed to inform on the casualties. In 2003, Arab/Moslem masses had Al Jazeera channel to cover the war among 32 other satellite channels viewed for free.

It is estimated that by 2012, Islamic/Arab States will have over 1,200 free channels as option for the world to watch information and discussion sessions.

For example, since 1948, Israel has devoured all Palestine and waged countless major pre-emptive wars and the Arab masses had to rely on American Medias for totally biased information; the pickiest watchers occasionally selected the BBC.  Things have changed in this numeric information age. In 2003,

Al Jazeera was offering as bonuses well targeted discussion panels with many foreign figures. For example, in 2001 and before the September attack on the Twin Towers, Al Jazeera ridiculed Taliban for bombing the ancient giant Buddhist idols in Bamyan (Afghanistan) while Richard Keller of the giant oil multinational UNOCAL was proclaiming “Taliban is good thing for us”

Western humanists grabbed the successes of the Islamic/Arabic satellite channels to become regular guest stars.  For example, Dany Schechter of “Plunder: Investigating our economic calamity and the subprime scandal”; Adam Hochschild of “Burry the chains: Prophets and rebels in the fight to liberal”; and Chris Hedges of “War is a force that gives us meaning” are regular guests on Arab satellite channels.

Most ironic, it is the USA and a few European States that have been pressuring the obscurantist Arabic State dictators and monarchies to suppressing freedom of opinions and to shut down “controversial” Arabic channels.  In France a few city mayors ordered Arabic channels banned for dissemination because the Arabs and Moslems living in these cities were hooked to Arabic channels and their mind being “poisoned” away from France patriotic indoctrination and inclusion programs.




May 2020

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