Hamza Ali Al-Katheeb. Tortured, mutilated and killed by the Assad regime at age 13. Credit: Wikipedia
Two weeks ago, during the absurd multi-lateral Geneva peace talks with the Assad regime , I posted an image of Hamza Ali Al-Khateeb, a 13-year-old Syrian boy who was tortured, mutilated and murdered by the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Some folks asked for more information about Hamza, so I provided a link to a Wikipedia page devoted to his memory.
Today, the office of the U.N. Secretary General issued a report, to be presented next week to the U.N. Security Council, documenting widespread abuses and torture of children in Syria. While the report suggests that opposition forces, including the Free Syrian Army, have recruited child soldiers, primarily teenagers, the brunt of the report appears directed squarely at the Assad regime. From the New York Times:
In 2011 and 2012, the report said, children as young as 11 were held in government detention centers with adults and, according to witnesses, subjected to torture in order to coerce relatives to surrender or confess.
Credit: Creative Commons
“Ill treatment and acts tantamount to torture reportedly included beatings with metal cables, whips and wooden and metal batons; electric shocks, including to the genitals; the ripping out of fingernails and toenails; sexual violence, including rape or threats of rape; mock executions; cigarette burns; sleep deprivation; solitary confinement; and exposure to the torture of relatives,” the report said.
Investigators said they had documented reports of sexual violence against children in government detention, “perpetrated mostly by members of the Syrian intelligence services and the Syrian armed forces” against those who were suspected of being affiliated with the opposition.
From my standpoint, the question that ought to be asked by those of us who read this information could not be more plain: What is our responsibility to the children, and all the victims, who are living, dying and being tortured under the Assad regime?
A person angry at Israel, now angry at Starbucks too. Credit: Creative Commons
Back in 1995, while studying abroad in Jerusalem, an American Jewish friend and myself were invited by a Palestinian friend to go to a pop music concert at Bethlehem University in its outdoor arena. The female Arab singer was fabulously talented and charismatic, and of course she sang all the songs in Arabic. At one point, she led a song with her fist high in the air, repeating a rhythmic chant, with the impassioned audience repeating the chant, fists high in the air. Again, all in Arabic. Because it was so rhythmic, my Jewish friend and I joined in. When there was a break in the music, I turned to a Palestinian next to me who spoke English and said to him, “That was really great! Oh, and by the way, what were we chanting that whole time?”
He said, “Kick the Jews out!” Of course, that meant all of the land, not only the 67′ lines.
Memories of that Bethlehem episode came flooding back after reading Omar Barghouti’s op-ed in The New York Times today titled, “Why Israel Fears the Boycott.” It seems that at least some of those who reject Israel as a Jewish state for the Jewish people – a people who have endured milennia of persecution that culminated in the Holocaust – have finally seen the limited public relations range of fist-pumping exhortations of ethnic cleansing, and have instead gone all Madison Avenue on us. In fact, tobacco companies still holding out hope that they can get 5th graders addicted to cigarettes through all manner of subliminal messaging ought to read Barghouti’s op-ed. They could use some new pointers.
Samantha Power, United States Ambassador to the United Nations. Credit: Creative Commons
Three days ago, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power used a word that has been, for the most part, absent in the U.S. discourse surrounding the Syrian civil war: evil. Granted, the word “evil” is actually quite difficult to inject into a sentence structure that also includes phrases like “the two sides need to meet face to face at the negotiating table.”
Ever since George W. Bush’s infamous 2002 State of the Union speech in which he called Iraq, Iran and North Korea the “Axis of Evil,” the word “evil” seems to have left on a jet plane and hasn’t come back again. It seems that for most of the citizenry, from the influential power-brokers in Washington, to the town gossips on Main Street, to anonymous commenters on blogs, the word “evil” is best avoided if one wishes to persuade others.
Before she was even sworn in as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Power gave the faux sophisticates of the “no-such-thing-as-evil” crowd a major boost to their cause: her Senate confirmation hearing to be America’s next ambassador to the international body was simply brimming with all manner of denial of the U.S. government’s past atrocities. As mentioned in this article from last July, Power’s confirmation hearing was punctuated in particular with the repeated statement “I will not apologize for America.” Another notable standout from the hearing was her statement to senators that “America is the light of the world.” Needless to say, her confirmation vote passed the Senate with flying colors.
Yet it is precisely that kind of denial, both of history and present reality, that not only leads to foreign cynicism about the intentions of U.S. leaders, but effectively delivers a Betty Crocker cake to those inside the U.S. who would prefer to ignore the evil that Ambassador Power is so devoted to fighting.
Credit: Creative Commons
I will leave it to trained historians to figure out which presidents and first ladies would fall into the category of “Couple-in-Chief for the Exploitation of Wounded Soldiers for Political Gain.”
For now, I nominate Barack and Michelle.
At the close of his 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama drew the attention to Sergeant Corey Remsberg, who received severe brain injuries from a roadside bomb on his 10th tour in the war in Afghanistan – a war most Americans categorically reject, much less wish to get paid for. Mr. Remsberg, seated next to First Lady Michelle Obama, received a two minute standing ovation – the longest during the whole state of the union speech – from the very members of Congress who, year after year, fund the for-pay U.S.military enlistment system, which entices some young men like Mr. Remsberg to engage in state-directed violence, not to defend the country from real threat, or serve as foreign peacekeepers, but mainly to line the pockets of the bigwigs in the military-industrial-complex.
The question I’d like to ask is this: Putting aside the obvious gains that the CEOs et al. of the military-industrial-complex are receiving from the feigned affection of members of Congress for wounded soldiers, what do average Americans get out of this form of false worship of any humans, particularly the false worship recipients du jour, namely this for-pay soldiery that keeps us locked in pointless wars and, in turn, skews our sense of global realities?
Peter Schrank of The Economist
This week the Anti-Defamation League issued an important press release condemning a patently anti-Semitic cartoon published in the globally-renowned magazine The Economist. As you can see above, the cartoon characterizes President Obama being shackled by Congress – and the congressional seal has two Jewish Stars of David.
As ADL National Director Abe Foxman said of the cartoon:
This was nothing less than a visual representation of the age-old anti-Semitic canard of Jewish control. And it conjures up yet another classic anti-Semitic myth — the accusation that Jews have “dual loyalty” and will act only on behalf of Israel to the detriment of their own country. This is the stuff of the “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion,” recycled for a modern-day audience with a wink and a nod to Professors Mearsheimer and Walt and Jimmy Carter.
Today, U.S. Secretary State John Kerry, age 70, had his voice heard during the Syria “peace” conference in Switzerland, in which he reiterated the State Department’s position that Bashar al-Assad must leave office by “mutual consent.” As reported by the New York Times:
Putting the best face on the meeting, Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters on Wednesday night that it was significant that senior diplomats from 40 countries and organizations had gathered in the lakeside Swiss city of Montreux, to initiate the conference. Mr. Kerry insisted that he had always known that the talks would be “tough” and described the conference as a “process,” which he implied could last for months or even years.
Since Secretary Kerry, age 70, has had his voice today on how to respond to the atrocities of the Assad regime, I would like to use this post at Tikkun Daily to give voice to Hamza Ali Al-Khateeb, who was arrested, tortured, mutilated and killed by the Assad regime in 2011.
Hamza was 13 years old.
We could not heal and repair the world in time for Hamza and so many others around the globe, or even implement already established, and basic, international law to spare his short life, and his indescribable suffering.
Thus, the only voice he has to give us is from his perch in heaven, and through his before and after photos of his torture and murder:
by: Timothy Villareal on January 20th, 2014 | Comments Off
Anti-torture activists at the White House fence. Credit: Creative Commons
On January 11th, the dedicated activists from Witness Against Torture broke new ground: they raised public consciousness about the Obama administration’s ongoing torture regime at the Guantanamo Bay military prison and other military prisons, not by holding signs in front of the White House, but by creating a “living exhibit” at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, an unauthorized demonstration where the activists donned the orange jump suits that the United States government forces upon human beings who have never been charged with a crime.
The video of this “living exhibit” demonstration is compelling. Hundreds of tourists of all stripes, who thought they were in for a day of absorbing the extraordinary exhibits on display at the American History Museum, got to witness an exhibit on the most important feature of America’s founding document: the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the right of free speech, free assembly, and the freedom to petition our government for the redress of grievances – of which protest against the torture of human beings must be paramount, if all the other rights are to have any meaning whatsoever.
The Youtube link to this moving, unauthorized, live-person exhibit of the First Amendment and basic human decency is down below. Thankfully, however, all those of us who are not able to see, or participate in, these crucial anti-torture demonstrations taking place in our nation’s capitol and around the country have another outlet to voice our support.
The organization Women Against Military Madness is sponsoring an anti-torture activist video contest called “Tackling Torture at the Top.” There are eight short videos that have been selected as the finalists, and members of the public are encouraged to cast their votes. The public voting will end on January 30th, and the winner will be announced on February 7th. Make sure to cast a vote.
Credit: Creative Commons
As the National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen reveals in this article on the Vatican’s response to the never-ending atrocities in Syria, it’s not just the “family values” politicians who manipulatively exploit the warm sentiments that many associate with family life. It’s Roman Catholic prelates too.
But before getting to Allen’s must-read article and the too-close-for-comfort relations between the Vatican and the Assad regime, here is this opening paragraph in a New York Times report today about that regime’s so-called local “ceasefire” initiatives, which vividly describes Bashar al-Assad’s truly demonic use of food to attack his own people, be they rebel fighters or innocent civilians:
To the starving residents and rebel fighters in the bitterly contested suburbs of Damascus, the offer from the Syrian government can be tempting enough to overcome their deep mistrust: a cease-fire accompanied by the delivery of food supplies, if they agree to give up their heavy weapons and let state-run news media show the government’s flag flying over their town.
But as The Times reporter Anne Barnard chronicles in the same article, the offer of food is merely a ruse used by the Assad regime to get locals to hand over rebels:
The government rains aerial attacks on areas that refuse cease-fire offers. People in places that accept can find themselves facing new demands: to turn over wanted men, give up their light weapons and accept a military governor. Food is delivered piecemeal to retain the government’s leverage.
The government has repeatedly given permission for aid convoys to enter, then blocked them, as people continue to suffer and even die from a lack of food and medical care.
International aid workers, speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect aid projects, say that the government has shown little commitment to the politically neutral delivery of aid. Many contend that the government uses the truces more as a tool of surrender – starving people and luring them into one-sided deals – than as building blocks of compromise.
Now enter Pope Francis and the Vatican’s handling of the Syrian atrocities.
by: Timothy Villareal on January 16th, 2014 | Comments Off
Bashar al-Assad. Credit: Creative Commons
The very gentlemanly Hussein Ibish, formerly of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, has a chilling article in Now about the plight of Palestinians living under the Assad regime in the town of Yarmouk, Syria. As Ibish reports, there are Palestinians outside of Syria desperately trying to reach their besieged brethren in Yarmouk, some of whom have already starved to death, and thousands more in imminent danger of starvation:
They are, in effect, begging for the lives of innocent Palestinians suffering a siege that, while significantly smaller in scale, is without doubt much crueler and more arbitrary than anything imposed on Gaza by either Israel or Egypt.
The crucial thing is not simply that Assad and his allies - Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia - must be held fully and completely responsible for this outrage. It must also be noted that the international community and the Arab world are not doing enough to respond to it, practically or politically. They have done virtually nothing as Yarmouk’s pre-war population of 250,000 has shrunk in the past three years to 18,000 famished, cowering, and shivering souls.
by: Timothy Villareal on January 10th, 2014 | Comments Off
In Part Two of this Q & A with Coleen Rowley, the former FBI agent discusses bureaucratic arrogance, psychopathic leadership, and why strict adherence to just war doctrine, not “humanitarian” intervention, will lead to a safer world. In addition, Rowley offers her thoughts on the U.S. response to the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war, AIPAC’s political influence in Washington, among other issues.
Coleen Rowley, in our last session we discussed the need to have a more frank public discourse about the moral implications of the for-pay soldiery. I’d like to start off the second part of this interview by asking you about the other end of the military spectrum: how our democracy and our security are affected by power-hungry generals.
The 2000 film about the Cuban Missile Crisis, 13 Days starring Kevin Costner, dramatically depicted President Kennedy’s struggle to get control of the U.S. military’s top brass, particularly General Curtis LeMay who was intent on dragging our country into war with Cuba. This struggle between democratically-elected presidents and military generals, a struggle literally over our national destiny, does not appear to be letting up.
For example, in his new memoir to be released next week, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates is reported to describe President Obama’s deep-seated distrust of the military’s top brass over the war in Afghanistan.