Tag Archives: United States

The racist in the mirror

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
January, 2016

DieAgain/Flickr/Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/people/diegain/

DieAgain/Flickr/Creative Commons

He’s there. Every day. Staring back at me. A white, late middle-aged man, who lives in an overwhelmingly white neighborhood. While he has a few financial woes, he has lived most of his life in comfort. He’s had a decent diet, good health care, good jobs, and his children go to good local schools.

He doesn’t get profiled at airports. He can’t remember the last time he was stopped by the police for anything. Most of the places where he shops, the movie theaters he frequents, the restaurants he likes, are in ‘nice’ neighborhoods.

He cares about issues of race and has always encouraged his children to think of people as equals, but other than talking about it, and writing the occasional column about it, he really hasn’t done much.

He has two or three black friends. He really doesn’t know anybody who’s Hispanic, and the only Asian Americans he meets on a regular basis are the ones he meets when he stops in at the local dry cleaner or pharmacy.

He is, of course, me. I am the very personification of white male privilege. I am a racist.

It’s odd to write about yourself in this way. You have one idealized image of yourself that you hold in your head, but who you really are in the world around you is a different matter. I do care about racism, and I do think it’s the worst problem that America has, but if I’m totally honest with myself, my concerns are little more than a white guy just trying to sound like he cares, but who doesn’t really do much about it.

It’s a problem that white people have in this time and in this place. We cannot bring ourselves to admit that we live in a racist society and that by living in that racist society and enjoying its benefits, we are racists.

Many whites, if you were to ask them about racism, would say “Well, I’ve never said anything bad about black people.” And on the surface they’re probably right. On the surface. Or if you were to ask them about racism in our society their answer would probably be something like that they know it exists but many of the blacks that they know seem to be doing okay, and heck, we have a black president, that they can’t be racist because their favorite actor is Will Smith, or that they think it’s cool that one of the leads in the new Star Wars is black, or that their favorite basketball player is Stephen Curry etc., etc.

But it’s what they don’t see, or don’t want to admit that they see, that makes us all part of a racist conspiracy that effectively denies blacks and other minorities the same opportunities, benefits and choices that those of us who are white take so for granted that we barely even think of them.

Everywhere we look we can easily see the tentacles of this institutionalized racism and its grip on our society and culture.

The most obvious example is the number of African-American males who have been, or will be, incarcerated. (One in three.) Study after study has shown African-American men are jailed more often (or in the worst case, executed) at far greater numbers than whites who are charged with similar crimes. In schools, African-American kids are punished far more often than white kids.

African-Americans have a much more difficult time buying a house, and when they do they pay higher mortgage rates. You’ll often find several liquor and gun stores in African-American neighborhoods but no grocery store. When there is a grocery store, the food is often inferior but still costs more.

How many TV shows are there where black actors and actresses have leading roles? And what about Hollywood? After last year’s brouhaha about the lack of any minorities being nominated for Academy Awards, Neil Patrick Harris, the host on the TV broadcast of the award ceremony, joked that night’s award ceremony was where Hollywood would honor the “best and the whitest.” It really wasn’t so funny.

Television news reports, especially on conservative outlets like Fox News but also on more liberal ones like CNN or MSNBC, regularly refer to protesters in groups like Black Lives Matter, or local gatherings that have protested police killings, as “thugs,” which is the new way for these folks to say “niggers” without actually saying it.

African-Americans on welfare are stigmatized as lazy and shiftless and only interested in government handouts. But in reality, far more whites are on welfare, but seldom face the same condemnation: you’ll never see the media (conservative or otherwise), or politicians, refer to whites on welfare in these terms

Justice Antonin Scalia, a longtime opponent of affirmative action, during a recent Supreme Court hearing on the issue, brought up the popular theory in conservative circles that maybe top universities are just too “advanced” for minorities, that they have a better chance of succeeding at less strenuous educational institutes. And so one of the leading legal voices in the United States basically called African-American kids stupid and not as smart as white kids.

Maine Governor Republican Paul LePage, just a few days ago, recycled the oldest black stereotype of them all: the black man after white women. You know, the stereotype that lead to many black men being lynched not so long ago in America.

How many white parents have had to have the “talk” with their teenage sons to not talk back to the police, to just do as they say, to not give them any reason to, well, shoot you. I never had to have that talk with my teenage son. Because I’m pretty sure he never be pulled over while driving just because he’s a white kid. That’s the way our culture works. And instead of us being outraged or demanding change, most people are actually okay with it. Just as long as they don’t hassle their kids.

We Americans live in a racist society. The evidence is overwhelming, as you can see from the examples provided above. Those of us who benefit from this system want to pretend that we don’t see it, because if we really did see it, it would require making substantial changes. But most of all, we don’t want to look in the mirror and see a racist.

But as long as whites continue to live in a system that consistently denies equality to African-Americans and other minorities — and I’m not talking about government handouts here, I’m talking about the way we treat people in their everyday lives — and we are compliant in the maintenance of that system, then we are racists.

And facing that fact is absolutely one of the first things that we have to do if we’re going to solve this problem.

Copyright Tom Regan 2015

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

 

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Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.

 

 

 

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Canada and the US: a foot in both worlds

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA  
July, 2015 

Flags-of-usa-and-canada copy

Many years ago, standing outside the main entrance to Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, a street vendor was trying to sell me and my then-girlfriend (now wife) a rug. He made a remark praising Americans, trying to soften us up. I scrunched my eyebrows and said, “I’m not an American, I’m a Canadian.”

He then made the mistake of saying, “It’s the same thing,” to which I replied, “Just like there’s no difference between you and the Greeks.” Things went downhill quickly after that. No rug was sold.

I was ferociously Canadian in those days, as are almost all Canadians once they are outside Canada, particularly when compared to Americans. But times change, and I ended up married to an American and living in the US. I eventually decided to get American citizenship in order to vote, because I can’t live somewhere and not vote. I have dual citizenship now; I understand that, due to recent changes by the current Conservative government, makes me a “second-class Canadian.”

After 35 years in Canada and 24 in the US, I have a much more nuanced understanding about the difference between the two countries that, once upon a time, had the world’s longest undefended border. And since Wednesday of this week was Canada Day and Saturday is America’s 4th of July, I thought I would ruminate on the differences between the two for a few moments.

The late, great Canadian writer Robertson Davies, a devoted believer in Jungian psychology, once wrote an article on this issue for the 100th anniversary of the now-defunct Canadian magazine Saturday Night. He said Canadians were by and large introverts, while Americans were extroverts. Canadians he wrote, tend to think first and act later, while Americans tend to act first and think later. Canadians often overthink and paralyze themselves in inaction (think, trying to solve the Quebec constitutional issue), and Americans act too quickly, and then have to deal with the consequences (think the second Gulf War).

For many, many years Canadians have defined themselves by saying they’re not Americans (part of that comes from the founding of the country, which basically happened in order not to become part of the US). I think that’s changing, as Canada matures as a nation. But there is still a tendency for Canadians to feel both superior AND inferior to Americans at the exact same moment. It is an extremely annoying trait, and one I personally hope Canadians get over sooner, rather than later.

Americans just don’t care much about Canada, truth be told, but that’s because Americans don’t tend to care much about anybody but Americans.

There are some obvious differences on which I give Canada the upper hand: universal health care, no abortion law, gay marriage for over a decade, far more effective gun regulations, multiculturalism as a matter of public policy, a much-less politicized Supreme Court (despite the recent efforts of current PM Stephen Harper to change that). But I want to look beyond these obvious factors.

The first and most important difference, that became very apparent to me almost from the beginning, was the role that religion plays in public and political life. In the US, religion often dominates and dictates the direction of public debate. Anyone who publicly declared themselves an atheist (like me for instance) has no possibility of any kind to play a public role in the political life of the country. This may change in the next decade, as recent polls show the numbers of non-religiously affiliated and atheists growing in America, but for the moment such a declaration is political suicide.

The situation in Canada, however, was once described to me by a well-known Canadian politician like this: “If you stood up at a political meeting and told people you’re an atheist, the next question would be ‘Yea, that’s fine, but what are you going to do about the roads?’”

I have no idea what the religious beliefs of most Canadian leaders are, while the situation is the opposite in the US. Religious belief is a much more private matter in Canada, unlike America were it is very much a matter of public record. Canada gets the upper hand on this issue. You particularly see this on issues like gay rights and abortion.

Allow me one more story to highlight another key difference. In the late 90s I was visiting a friend in downtown Halifax. As I later waited for a taxi outside the building where his office was located, I overheard two young men discussing a business they had just started. “Yea, but if it doesn’t work, the government will bail us out,” one said to the other.

I’m a big fan of government and the very important role it plays, and I think Canadians have a much more realistic approach towards this then Americans do. But Canadians are TOO dependent on government and TOO willing to do what the government tells them to do. Americans are far more willing to take risks than Canadians are, and live with the consequences of those risks, and are far more willing to stand up to the government. There are pluses and minuses to this approach, but by and large, it gives Americans more control over their personal lives.

My final thought is this: Americans need to realize that Canadians are not Americans. There are fundamental cultural differences between Americans and Canadians, and culture is what makes us who we are. Now and then I see a columnist pen some ridiculous idea about Canada joining the US, and to me this betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the two nations. I can tell you from personal experience it would never work.

Canadians on the other hand, need to realize that Americans are not the stereotypical buffoons often portrayed in Canadian media. I know many, many Americans who are deeply and passionately concerned about important issues with which many Canadians could identify. Things may take longer to happen in the US but when they do happen, they reverberate around the world.

In the end, I’m happy to have a foot in both worlds. I still love hockey, but I prefer baseball. There are some nice microbrews in the US, but Canadian beer is still far away the best. Now I just have to wait for Tim Horton’s (now owned by Americans) to come to Virginia, and all will be right in the world.

Copyright Tom Regan 2015 

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio A former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.

 

 

 

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us with a donation (below), by telling others about us, or purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page. 

 

 

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The unbearable lightness of US presidential campaigns

Photo by Allen Brewer, Creative Commons

Photo by Allen Brewer, Creative Commons

 

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA  
April, 2015   

A United States presidential campaign is a bit like that old joke about the definition of insanity: doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result.

Because oh my Lord, here we go again, 19 months before actual voting day. The only thing that lasts longer than the US presidential campaign is the Republican-led investigation into the events at Benghazi, which will apparently still be going on sometime in the 22nd century at its current pace.

There are so many things wrong with the way Americans go about picking people to run for the presidency every four years, it’s hard to know where to start, so let’s just jump right in.

The first thing to point out is that the campaign actually started before the last midterm election several months ago. That’s when candidates of either political party get a hankering to eat corn dogs in Iowa and visit small diners in New Hampshire. This falls under the category of “millionaires proving they’re just like the rest of us,” which nobody believes but is part of the illusion that is maintained by the candidates, the media, and often the citizens of the states themselves. There is also the legitimate question about why two of the whitest states in a country as diverse as America basically get to narrow down the field of candidates, but this is part of the process that goes into the myth-making about the role that Americans play in selecting presidential candidates.

Phase two of the campaign shifts into high gear when politicians start announcing that they actually are running for their party’s presidential nomination. Once upon a time this meant large crowds of bused-in supporters, replete with buttons, banners and badges at the town hall, post office, or library in the “small town” that all politicians like to tell us they came from. But these days the prodigal homecoming has been cast aside for the tweet, the Facebook announcement, and if it’s a really big deal, a video on YouTube.

The second thing wrong with the way Americans pick presidential candidates transpires because of this long lag time and it is here that the media play a very important but ultimately frivolous role. Anything and everything becomes grist for the media’s insatiable 24 x 7 desire for news. Every small news bit, especially if it’s a glitch, misspoken word, or misstep, both figuratively and literally, basically anything from the sublime to the ridiculous will be reported on ad nausea over the next 19 months. What candidates eat, what they wear, whether or not they had on their jacket when they gave a speech, did they smile enough, how many people tweet about them, what are their relatives like, what do former grade 3 classmates remember about them, if they look believable or not when they shoot a gun (all candidates must be seen shooting guns, particularly Republican ones), etc. etc. (We saw a small example of this last weekend when Hillary Clinton unannounced her presidential campaign and one of the lead stories on every major news website was that there was a typo in the announcement. Or when it was national news that Clinton had ordered a burrito bowl at a Chipotle’s on her way to Iowa.)

There will be a minor attempt to actually report on policies and positions, but these will soon be relegated to hard to find links on the websites of news organizations, where candidates’ actual thoughts and ideas about how to govern will be left to rot like badly written books in the remainder bin at Barnes & Noble. Oh, they’ll be tarted up nicely for the relatively .5% of the people who will actually read them, but their main purpose is to allow the various news organizations to pretend they actually care about this stuff.

The third problem is money. US presidential campaigns have become all about the money. Money money and more money. Running for in the United States is like being given your own license to print it. It will become the main preoccupation of all presidential candidates over the next year and a half, because if you don’t have the money you can’t afford to make national and local TV commercials that accuse your opponent of being, well, practically a child molester. Or worse. And thanks to the Supreme Court and its definition about who exactly can give money, and how much they can give, a casino-owning billionaire or wealthy pair of siblings who want to basically buy the presidency can make a good run at it. Oh, there will be a little bit of noise made about the fact that the rest of us can contribute our $5 or $10 online and what an important part we’re playing in supporting a candidate, but basically that’s all just horse manure.

And that basically leads us to the fourth problem. The idea that the American people actually elect a president. Here we could expound on the difference between direct presidential voting and the way the president is actually elected via the electoral college, an institution originally created to make sure that ordinary people did not elect a leader of the country, but why beat a dead horse. Because when you come right down to it, the real problem with American presidential campaigns is that nobody cares. So few Americans actually vote to elect the president that one wonders why we bother at all. More people are interested in voting for Team Farrell or Team Adam on The Voice than they are in voting for the person who will lead their country, and them, over the next four years into who knows what hell of a mess.

It’s hard not to feel depressed. It’s not that elections in Canada or Britain produce any kind of a different result or leader than they do in the United States, it’s just that in those countries, it’s all over in 28 to 45 days. We like to pretend in America that the next 19 months are really important, but to quote Shakespeare, it’s really a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

Copyright Tom Regan 2015

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio A former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.

 

 

 

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us with a donation (below), by telling others about us, or purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page. 

 

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There’s something mysterious about reviving Harper Lee’s Mockingbird

By Richard Gray, University of Essex 
February 6, 2015

Every now and then, the writer Josephine Humphreys has suggested, our lives veer from their day-to-day course and become for a short while “the kind of life that can be told as a story – that is, one in which events appear to have meaning”. As the astounding news breaks that she is to publish a second novel, Harper Lee must be feeling like her life has become a story – a story which the meaning of remains just a little hidden and mysterious.

Harper Lee being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, November 5, 2007. White House photo by Eric Draper

Harper Lee being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, November 5, 2007. White House photo by Eric Draper

The background to this story seems simple and straightforward enough. Harper Lee was born Nelle Lee in the small town of Monroe, Alabama in 1926. Her father, Amasa Coleman Lee, was a lawyer who, among other things, defended two African Americans accused of murdering a white storekeeper. Given the racist attitudes prevalent in the South at that time, it must have come as no surprise to anyone when the two men were found guilty, despite serious doubts over the evidence, and hanged.

Lee was a tomboy as a child. (Yes, To Kill a Mockingbird is deeply autobiographical). She then developed an interest in English literature as a school and college student. Moving to New York in 1949, she worked in various jobs and spent her spare time writing several long short stories, none of which were published.

The turning point in her early life came when Lee developed what had begun as a string of short stories into a novel that was eventually published in 1960 as To Kill a Mockingbird. It was an immediate success, winning several awards including a Pulitzer Prize and went on to sell more than 30 million copies worldwide. In 1999 it was voted “Best Novel of the Century” in a poll by the Library Journal.

And the popular acclaim hardly stops there. In 1991, a survey of 5,000 Americans conducted by the Library of Congress to find out which book had made the greatest difference in readers’ lives listed To Kill a Mockingbird second only to the Bible. Bill Clinton claimed that reading the novel inspired him to become a lawyer. And, ironically, during President Clinton’s impeachment proceedings, the special prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, tried to co-opt the novel’s hero, Atticus Finch, for the prosecution. The response of Clinton’s attorney, David E Kendall, was to write a piece for the New York Times titled: “To Distort a Mockingbird”, interpreting the moral values of the novel in defence of the president.

So far, so straightforward: but this is where the story begins slowly to turn strange. The central consciousness in To Kill a Mockingbird, a tomboyish young girl called Scout is clearly based on the author herself. Autobiographical it may be, but Lee was and remains a deeply private person; a symptom of this is that she identified herself as “Harper” not “Nelle” when the book was published. After publication, Lee seemed almost mortified by its success: “I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird,” she said in 1964.

“I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I’d expected.”

Perhaps it was this, being frightened by her own success and the subsequent invasion of her privacy, that persuaded Lee to become a virtual recluse. She has granted almost no requests for interviews or public appearances. At one of the few public ceremonies she agreed to attend, in 2007, she reacted to an invitation to address the audience by declaring: “Well, it’s better to be silent than a fool.” And, apart from a few short essays, she has published nothing more. Until recently, she appeared likely to join the ranks of those many American authors whose first completed and published novel is also their last.

Now comes the strangest part of the story. Lee is now very frail. According to her late sister Alice, writing in 2011, she “can’t see and can’t hear and will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence”. Presumably, she has confidence in her lawyer who, according to Lee, discovered the manuscript of this second novel, Go Set a Watchman.

The novel describes an adult Scout returning to Maycomb County, visiting her father and recalling her childhood. A sequel, in a way, to Mockingbird, it was evidently written prior to it; after reading the story, Lee’s editor asked her to rewrite it from the viewpoint of Scout as a child. “I was a first-time writer”, Lee has said, “so I did what I was told” – and the rest is literary history.

“I hadn’t realised it had survived”, Lee has said of the discovery of Go Set a Watchman: “So I was surprised and delighted when my dear friend and lawyer Tonja Carter discovered it. After much thought and hesitation I shared it with a handful of people I trust and was pleased that they considered it worthy of publication. I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years.”

Exactly what part, if any, Lee has played in the preparation of the manuscript for press is unclear. What is clear is that the initial print run is for two million copies. Also unclear, to me at least, is the precise relationship of Go Set a Watchman to Mockingbird: do the two stories, for instance, overlap at all, given that the 1960 novel evolved out of this earlier manuscript? Precisely what the status is of Go Set a Watchman as a story – and a story worth reading – also remains open to debate.

Less open to debate is the strange, compelling character of the story of its origins. An ageing author, with just one novel to her credit, the surprise discovery of a manuscript that she thought had been lost, the mystery surrounding the condition of the author… all this is the stuff of fiction.

A belief of Emily Dickinson comes particularly to mind:

Publication – is the Auction
Of the Mind of Man

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The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us by telling others about us, and purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

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Harper Lee’s gamble could undermine her Mockingbird

By Paul Giles, University of Sydney
February 6, 2015

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, has sold tens of millions of copies worldwide, and was voted The Greatest Novel of All Time in a London Daily Telegraph poll of 2008. To say there was a little pressure on its follow-up – some 55 years later – would be an understatement.

Lee, 88, has announced she will in July publish her second novel, Go Set a Watchman, involving some of the same characters as To Kill a Mockingbird. It is certain to be a commercial success, and indeed Lee’s publishers, Harper Collins, are planning an initial print run of 2 million copies.

In truth, though, Go Set a Watchman will be less a “new” novel than a variorum edition, or “director’s cut,” of To Kill a Mockingbird itself. In that work’s original manuscript, which turned up by chance last year, the focus is not so much on the six-year-old Scout Finch, from whose perspective Mockingbird is related, but on Scout Finch as a New York lawyer who returns to her fictional southern town of Maycomb to visit her father, lawyer Atticus Finch, who defended Tom Robinson against charges of rape.

Lee’s original editor persuaded her to relinquish this adult centre of gravity, to abandon her ambitious modernist time-shifts, and to tell Scout’s story not through flashback but through the eyes of a child within a more traditional linear sequence. As things turned out, one of the reasons for Mockingbird’s immense popularity was the way the book reconciled edgy and difficult racial issues through a child’s apparently innocent consciousness.

In that sense, Mockingbird spoke perfectly to its time, manifesting itself in classrooms throughout the world as a less rebarbative version of Huckleberry Finn, with Lee’s book speaking to the complexities of American racial conflict from within the safe confines of family life.

Although the novel does address issues of rape, sexual violence and embryonic sexuality, it simultaneously keeps them at a safe distance through the way it mediates them all through the eyes of a young child. But since its publication, the treatment of race in American fiction has moved on apace, in works by Toni Morrison and many others. It will be interesting to see whether Lee’s “new” novel stands the scrutiny of readers in a different century.


Harper Lee, circa 1962. Wikimedia Commons

Like her exact contemporary JD Salinger, who died in 2010, Lee has made a profitable career out of various forms of silence, both artistic and personal. Not only did she never publish another book after Mockingbird, she also refused consistently to speak or grant interviews about her famous novel.

With typical reticence, when declining to address one Alabama audience after being inducted into an Academy of Honor she remarked on how “it’s better to be silent than to be a fool”.

Go Set a Watchman will thus represent a significant risk for this least productive of writers. It will be interesting to see whether this first version of the novel does actually succeed in addressing racial and family issues in all of their multifarious adult complexity. Lee’s recent remarks on how she was “a first-time writer, so I did what I was told” would seem to imply a belief on her part that the original editor did her a disservice, artistically if not commercially, by editing out the story’s flashbacks and turning the book into a more conventional narrative.

On the other hand, if Go Set a Watchman disappoints, readers may conclude that the original editors knew what they were doing and that the book’s mass-market appeal derives not from its artistic subtlety or complexity but from its sentimental pungency, its capacity to hit all the right notes.

George W. Bush presented Lee with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007, and Barack Obama awarded her the National Medal of Arts in 2010, precisely because Mockingbird ticks so many of America’s conventional boxes. The novel textually valorises racial empathy, legal justice, family feeling and innate childhood wisdom, and as a cultural object it embodies the classic American virtue of overwhelming popularity in a commercial marketplace.

It would not have been so surprising if Go Set a Watchman had been published as a scholarly curiosity after Lee’s death, just as unfinished manuscripts of Salinger and Ralph Ellison have been produced recently by academic publishers. But by sanctioning the publication during her lifetime, Lee would seem to be taking the bold gamble late in life of staking a claim for artistic originality and legitimacy.

Concurrently, she runs the risk of undermining, or at least placing in a different light, the market niche of an indeterminate patriotic sentiment on which all of her fame and fortune have been based.

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The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us by telling others about us, and purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

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Some presidential pointers to the meaning of Cuban-American rapprochement

 

Roosevelt and the Rough Riders atop San Juan Hill. 1898. Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site.

Roosevelt and the Rough Riders atop San Juan Hill, 1898, Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site, New York City.

 

 

MICHAEL SASGES: VERBATIM
December, 2014

 

Restoration of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba would reverse an estrangement that has endured for more than half a century.  As President Obama said in his dramatic announcement: “I was born in 1961 –- just over two years after Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, and just a few months after the Bay of Pigs invasion, which tried to overthrow his regime.” What follows are observations and professions by American presidents about Cuba, really about its definitional role in American national consciousness, in the half-century before Barack Obama’s birth.

Private letters from Theodore Roosevelt are reminders that Cuban affairs have troubled American presidents and divided Americans since there was an independent Cuba, and that there was an independent Cuba because of U.S. military intervention.
About a Russian painter who wanted to visit the geography of the Rough Rider attack Roosevelt commanded, the president writes:
He wishes to paint a picture of the San Juan charge, especially covering the part taken by my regiment. I think that what he desires is to go over the ground . . . .

Theodore Roosevelt to Elihu Root, Feb. 22, 1902,
Theodore Roosevelt Papers, manuscripts division, Library of Congress

About a confidant’s concerns, the president writes:
With what you say about Cuban reciprocity I heartily agree, although I wish to add with all emphasis that I entirely understand the opposition from certain districts and States to the reduction of sugar duties. The western farmer is anxious to have the tariff revised in the direction of lower duties upon the so called trust products . . .; and he does not like to have even an appearance of a reduction of duty on a farm product as the first step towards reciprocity. Of course to my mind there are great moral and economic issues of a national kind involved in this Cuban reciprocity business, and I think the attitude of those who have been against me on it is wholly wrong; but it is difficult to convince a man of this when his interests are the other way.

Theodore Roosevelt to Nicholas Murray Butler, May 27, 1902,
Theodore Roosevelt Papers, manuscripts division, Library of Congress

 A speech in 1918 by Woodrow Wilson, his audience Mexican newspaper editors visiting the White House, acknowledges the asymmetrical quality of the relationship of the United States and the rest of the Americas.
The famous Monroe Doctrine was adopted . . . without the consent of any of the Central or South American States. If I may express it in terms that we so often use in this country, we said, “We are going to be your big brother, whether you want us to be or not.” We did not ask whether it was agreeable to you that we should be your big brother. We said we were going to be.

“Disinterested Service to Latin America,”

Selected Addresses and Public Papers of Woodrow Wilson,

https://archive.org/stream/selectedaddresse02unit – page/261/mode/1up/search/Latin

 

Calvin Coolidge, in 1928 in Havana, praised the just-like-us achievements of Cubans.
The intellectual qualities of the Cuban people have won for them a permanent place in science, art, and literature, and their production of staple commodities has made them an important factor in the economic structure of the world. They have reached a position in the stability of their government, in the genuine expression of their public opinion at the ballot box, and in the recognized soundness of their public credit that has commanded universal respect and admiration. What Cuba has done, others have done and are doing.

http://coolidgefoundation.org/?s=Cuba

 

 In 1933, however, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, after meeting Cuba’s ambassador, inserted into American considerations of Cuba’s fortunes some dreadful news.
[The] President and Ambassador Cintas . . . feel that the problems of starvation and of depression are of such immediate importance that every political problem should be met in the most patriotic spirit in order to improve conditions at the earliest possible moment. The Ambassador is communicating with his Government.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Joint Statement with Ambassador Cintas
on the Cuban Situation,” Aug. 9, 1933,
The American Presidency Project,
http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=14498.F

 

Harry Truman welcomed the president of Cuba to Washington, D.C., in 1948 with words that suggest that, for the Americans, Cuba was a more consequential neighbour than the two countries with whom the United States shares a border, Canada and Mexico .
No two countries of this closely knit hemisphere have been bound together more closely than the Republic of Cuba and the United States. The friendly bond between them was forged in a common struggle for freedom, and it has continued through all the trials of two world wars and through the many other problems in the political and economic growth of our two countries. There is no relationship which better typifies the firm solidarity of the American States than the traditionally cordial collaboration between Cuba and the United States.

Harry Truman, “Remarks of Welcome at the Washington National Airport to President Prio of Cuba,” Dec. 8, 1948,
The American Presidency Project,
 http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=13097

 

In 1960 Dwight Eisenhower thought Fidel Castro’s successes the previous year the successes of a Soviet proxy in the Cold War.
. . . the United States government has confidence in the ability of the Cuban people to recognize and defeat the intrigues of international communism which are aimed at destroying democratic institutions in Cuba and the traditional and mutually beneficial friendship between Cuban and American peoples.

Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States,
http://quod.lib.umich.edu/p/ppotpus/4728424.1960.001/188?page=root;rgn=full+text;size=100;view=image;q1=Castro

 

In 1961, during a White House meeting with advisers and members of his cabinet on Jan. 28, John Kennedy directed the American military and the CIA to prepare to insert into Cuba anti-Castro Cubans then undergoing military training by the CIA. The Bay of Pigs invasion on April 17 was a disaster for the attackers and the Kennedy administration. The minutes of the Jan. 28 meeting record this direction from Kennedy:
The Defense Department, with CIA, will review proposals for the active deployment of anti-Castro Cuban forces on Cuban territory, and the results of this analysis will be promptly reported to the President.

Papers of John F. Kennedy, Presidential Papers, National Security Files,
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
http://www.jfklibrary.org/JFK/JFK-in-History/The-Bay-of-Pigs.aspx

 

Read more:

A White House transcript of President Obama’s statement is here:
http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/12/17/statement-president-cuba-policy-changes

A London academic foresees a lot more Cuban cigars being enjoyed in the U.S.
http://theconversation.com/diplomatic-thaw-with-the-us-is-a-gift-to-the-cuban-economy-35692

An extraordinary account, authored by Stephen Kimber and published earlier this year by Facts and Opinions, of immediately recent American-Cuban relations and of Miami and the rest of America is here:

Heroes of the Revolution? The Cuban Five, by Stephen Kimber   http://www.factsandopinions.com/galleries/magazine-in-focus/heroes-of-the-revolution/

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CIA psychologists failed both scientific rigour and morality

By Laurence Alison, University of Liverpool
December 10, 2014

During the War on Terror, the CIA’s operations subjected hundreds of suspected terrorists to harsh interrogation techniques, which were often criticised as constituting torture. Now, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the operation has made it clearer than ever that the CIA used many forms of “enhanced interrogation” to elicit information – very harsh methods indeed that simply did not yield the intended results.

American soldiers Charles Graner and Lynndie England posing with prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Grander and Lynndie were later court-martialled, and given jail terms. Photo via Wikipedia by U.S. military, public domain

Torture of prisoners by the CIA “is a matter of outrage for everyone, but as psychologists, we have a particular obligation to speak out,” writes Laurence Alison. Psychologists helped the CIA develop techniques of deprivation, humiliation, threats and repeated water boarding. Above, American soldiers Charles Graner and Lynndie England posing with prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Grander and Lynndie were later court-martialled, and given jail terms. Photo via Wikipedia by U.S. military, public domain

As a leaked State Department memo put it, the report “tells a story of which no American is proud”.

This is a matter of outrage for everyone, but as psychologists, we have a particular obligation to speak out. Many of the approaches the CIA used were developed by our discipline, and by individuals who will have known about the codes of conduct by which US psychologists are bound – which include beneficence and non-maleficence, and respect for rights, dignity and integrity.

It is profoundly disturbing to see that the CIA’s techniques included deprivation of basic needs (warmth, food, water), humiliation, threats and the repeated use of waterboarding.

Ironically, many of the methods adopted were based on psychologists’ previous work directed at training members of the military, intended to assist them in avoiding talking to interrogators should they be captured and tortured. This work was apparently reverse-engineered for use on terrorist suspects.

Although these techniques have been given the newspeakish euphemism “enhanced interrogation”, they are consciously meant as a powerful assault on the basic conditions necessary for mental survival, specifically by overloading the subject’s homeostatic system.

Homeostasis is the body’s ability to adjust in response to external changes in order to maintain a stable internal equilibrium. The objective of an extreme assault on a human system is to stop the individual from adjusting in time, or at all.

For example, we are built to respond to various complex stimuli throughout the course of any given day, and when the arousal system is subjected to severe sensory deprivation over long periods, it seeks to readjust.

If the deprivation is intense and persistent, the arousal system seeks to fill the gap. And in the process, it can fill the void created with psychotic symptoms: hallucinations, paranoia, hearing voices and a loss of a sense of a cohesive or continuous sense of self.

Several other methods are directed at overload rather than deprivation, such as threats, “feral treatment” (treating people like animals), pharmacological manipulation, and humiliation. These can induce similar psychological effects, and may result in severe short, medium and even long-term symptoms, including loss of memory and a damaged ability to learn, reason or make decisions.

In fact, such techniques can damage brain structures such as the hippocampus (one of the first regions to suffer in Alzheimer’s disease) and lead to the loss of brain mass by inhibiting the regeneration of brain cells.

So both from an ethical standpoint and going on the evidence of myriad studies of trauma, enhanced interrogations are both unlikely to work and manifestly objectionable. The psychologists involved in this work should clearly have known it was an incredibly dangerous path to tread.

If you really want to stage an effective interrogation, the literature points in entirely the opposite direction – and so does orthodox law enforcement practice.

In the US (as in many other countries), rapport is considered a vital part of police interrogation. Psychological research has long shown that building rapport with witnesses increases the amount of accurate information generated. We know that rapport enhances cooperation during interviews, and elicits more accurate information.

In our own work, based on hundreds of hours of observation of field interviews, we found that interrogators that used approaches more akin to methods used in therapy were more effective at both decreasing detainee disengagement (including “no comment” interviews) and eliciting useful information and evidence.

We found that where non-judgemental acceptance, empathy and autonomy were present, alongside the ability to fluidly adapt to the detainee’s topics and shifts in what they were prepared to talk about (or not talk about), reflective listening and attentiveness were by far the most successful approach.

In fact, interrogators who resisted the (perhaps natural) urge to try and change or challenge the detainee’s behaviours and beliefs engaged more with their suspects and got more information from them.

Our work on rapport is nothing new. More than 200 clinical trials, efficacy reviews, and meta-analyses have found more humane approaches to be effective in the treatment of a range of health problems once treated with harsh and coercive methods – issues as diverse as chronic mental disorder, cardiovascular rehabilitation, problem gambling, and substance use disorders.

In all those arenas, the original notion was that the “problem” needed to be dealt with through rational/persuasive and manipulative means that might persuade, coerce or control individuals “out” of their errant, criminal and destructive ways – essentially to bully them into compliance.

So a fundamental point stands: despite the ethical sanctions, the evidence is that enhanced interrogations just don’t work, and that rapport-based methods do.

It remains to be seen exactly why psychologists working today might have advocated, designed or implemented the methods described in the Senate report, but there can be no doubt that their complicity is a failure of both scientific rigour and morality. As the committee’s findings are picked over, and the political back-and-forth over them gets underway, this must not be forgotten.

The ConversationCreative Commons

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Related work on F&O:

Verbatim: Senate report — CIA torture, misleading, and mismanagement , by F&O

Laurence Alison is the Director of the Centre for Critical and Major Incident Psychology at University of Liverpool.  Alison receives funding from the University of Texas El Paso subcontracted work of the High Value Detainee Interrogation Group , with the UTEP work under the direction of Dr Chris Meissner. The reviewer of this article, Michael Humann, is Training Director, Centre for Critical and Major Incident Psychology Research at University of Liverpool. He does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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Report released on CIA torture

Iconic image of Ali Shallal al-Qaisi being tortured in Abu Ghraib prison, Iraq

The infamous image of Ali Shallal al-Qaisi being tortured in Abu Ghraib prison, Iraq

Stark findings of torture and of the CIA misleading officials and the public are among the conclusions of a report released today by the outgoing Democrats on the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

As part of our Verbatim series, F&O provides a brief overview, selected excerpts, and links to the original report and other documents. An excerpt of Senate report on CIA torture, misleading, and mismanagement

From 2002 to 2007, America’s Central Intelligence Agency tortured prisoners to no avail; misled elected officials, journalists and the public; kept prisoners in conditions that led to their deaths, and “damaged the United States’ standing in the world.”

None of these allegations are new. Never before, though, have they come from the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which Tuesday released a set of official conclusions that can only be called damning.

The CIA acted in the context of the 9/11 terror attacks on the country, acknowledged committee chair Dianne Feinstein in her forward to the summary of the long-awaited report. But the context should not serve as an excuse, she said, “rather as a warning for the future   … continue reading Verbatim: Senate report on CIA torture, misleading, and mismanagement. 

 

If you value our journalism, please help sustain us by buying a day pass or subscription. Facts and Opinions is an online journal of first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: choice journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.

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Verbatim: U.S. senators condemn CIA detention, interrorgation activities

 

 December, 2014

 

For six years after the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States, the country’s Central Intelligence Agency tortured prisoners;  misled American leaders and the American public; kept prisoners in conditions that led to their deaths, and “damaged the United States’ standing in the world.”

This iconic image of Ali Shallal al-Qaisi being tortured in Abu Ghraib prison, in Iraq, eventually commanded the cover of the Economist magazine.

This iconic image of Ali Shallal al-Qaisi being tortured in Abu Ghraib prison, in Iraq, eventually commanded the cover of the Economist magazine.

None of these allegations are new. Never before, though, have they come from American law-makers.

The U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, on Dec. 9,  released a set of official conclusions about CIA activities after the terror attacks that can only be called damning.

“It is my personal conclusion that, under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured,” said the committee’s chair, Dianne Feinstein, Dem-Calif. “I also believe that the conditions of confinement and the use of authorized and unauthorized interrogation and conditioning techniques were cruel, inhuman and degrading. I believe the evidence of this is overwhelming and incontrovertible.”

 The report was approved by the Senate committee in 2012. It was declassified and released by Democrats on the committee in what is effectively their 11th hour — Democrats will soon lose control of the the committee to Republicans. All but one of the Republicans on the committee, as well as former CIA and other officials, had objected to both the committee’s approval of the report in 2012, and to its release.

For the history of the report, we recommend ProPublica’s Timeline: The Tortured History of the Senate’s Torture Report.

Selected excerpts: Senate Select Committee on Intelligence:

#1: The CIA’s use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees.

#2: The CIA’s justification for the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness.

The CIA represented to the White House, the National Security Council, the department of justice, the CIA Office of  [the] Inspector General,Congress and the public that the best measure of effectiveness of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques was examples of specific terrorist plots “thwarted” and specific terrorists captured as a result of the use of the techniques. The CIA used these examples to claim that its enhanced interrogation techniques were not only effective, but also necessary to acquire “otherwise unavailable” actionable intelligence that “saved lives.”

The committee reviewed 20 of the most frequent and prominent examples of purported counterterrorism successes that the CIA has attributed to the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques, and found them to be wrong in fundamental respects.

U.S. Senatore Diane Feinstein in 2011. Official photo

U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein, Chair, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Official 2011 photo

#3: The interrogations of CIA detainees were brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others.

Beginning with the CIA’s first detainee, Abu Zubaydah, and continuing with numerous others, the CIA applied its enhanced interrogation techniques with significant repetition for days or weeks at a time. Interrogation techniques such as slaps and “wallings” (slamming detainees against a wall) were used in combination, frequently concurrent with sleep deprivation and nudity. Records do not support CIA representations that the CIA initially used an “an open, non- threatening approach,”^ or that interrogations began with the “least coercive technique possible”^ and escalated to more coercive techniques only as necessary.

The waterboarding technique was physically harmful, inducing convulsions and vomiting. Abu Zubaydah, for example, became “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, fullmouth.'”^ Internal CIA records describe the waterboarding of Khalid Shaykh Mohammadas evolving into a “series of near drownings.”^

Sleep deprivation involved keeping detainees awake for up to 180 hours, usually standing or in stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads. At least five detainees experienced disturbing hallucinations during prolonged sleep deprivation and, in at least two of those cases, the CIA nonetheless continued the sleep deprivation.

Contrary to CIA representations . . . , the CIA instructed personnel that the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah would take “precedence” over his medical care,^ resulting in the deterioration of a bullet wound Abu Zubaydah incurred during his capture. In at least two other cases, the CIA used its enhanced interrogation techniques despite warnings from CIA medical personnel that the techniques could exacerbate physical injuries. CIA medical personnel treated at least one detainee for swelling in order to allow the continued use of standing sleep deprivation.

At least five CIA detainees were subjected to “rectal rehydration” or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity. The CIA placed detainees in ice water “baths.” The CIA led several detainees to believe they would never be allowed to leave CIA custody alive, suggesting to one . . . that he only leave in a coffin-shapedbox.^ . . . CIA officers also threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families — [including] threats to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee, and a threat to “cut [a detainee’s] mother’s throat.”

#4: The conditions of confinement for CIA detainees were harsher than the CIA had represented to policy-makers and others.

Conditions at CIA detention sites were poor, and were especially bleak early in the program. CIA detainees at [one] facility were kept in complete darkness and constantly shackled in isolated cells with loud noise or music and only a bucket to use for human waste. Lack of heat at the facility likely contributed to the death of a detainee. . . .

At times, the detainees at [this facility] were walked around naked or were shackled with their hands above their heads for extended periods . . . . Other times, the detainees . . . were subjected to what was described as a “rough takedown,” in which approximately five CIA officers would scream at a detainee, drag him outside of his cell, cut his clothes off, and secure him with . . . tape. The detainee would then be hooded and dragged up and down a long corridor while being slapped and punched.

Even after the conditions of confinement improved with the construction of new detention facilities, detainees were held in total isolation except when being interrogated or debriefed by CIA personnel. . . .

#5: The CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the department of justice, impeding a proper legal analysis of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program.

#6: The CIA has actively avoided or impeded congressional oversight of the program.

#7: The CIA impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making.

#8: The CIA’s operation and management of the program complicated, and in some cases impeded, the national security missions of other presidential agencies.

#9; The CIA impeded oversight by the CIA’s Office of [the] Inspector General.

#10: The CIA coordinated the release of classified information to the media, including inaccurate information concerning the effectiveness of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.

CIA director John Brennan, appointed long after the events, responded to the report by saying efforts by the agency and other American and foreign agencies’ prevented terrorist attacks, maintaining “countless lives have been saved and our Homeland is more secure.”</p>

John O. Brennan, Director, U.S. Central Intelligence Agency

John O. Brennan, Director, U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Official photo

As part of the CIA’s global effort to dismantle al-Qa’ida and to prevent future terrorist attacks, the agency was directed by President Bush six days after 9/11 to carry out a program to detain terrorist suspects around the world. Certain detainees were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques, which the department of uustice determined at the time to be lawful and which were duly authorized by the Bush administration. These techniques, which were last used by the CIA in December 2007, subsequently were prohibited by an Executive Order issued by President Obama when he took office in January 2009.

We acknowledge that the detention and interrogation program had shortcomings and that the agency made mistakes. The most serious problems occurred early on and stemmed from the fact that the Agency was unprepared and lacked the core competencies required to carry out an unprecedented, worldwide program of detaining and interrogating suspected . . . terrorists. In carrying out that program, we did not always live up to the high standards that we set for ourselves and that the American people expect of us. As an agency, we have learned from these mistakes, which is why my predecessors and I have implemented various remedial measures over the years to address institutional deficiencies.

. . . we part ways with the [Senate]  committee on some key points. Our review indicates that [enhanced interrogation techniques]. . . did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives. . . .

We also disagree with the Study’s characterization of how CIA briefed the program to Congress, various entities within the executive branch and the public. While we made mistakes, the record does not support the study’s inference that the agency systematically and intentionally misled each of these audiences on the effectiveness of the program. . . .

Amnesty International described the Senate report as “a stark reminder of the ongoing impunity for the many appalling human rights violations perpetrated in the name of ‘national
security.’ “

The [summary] provides more details of how the Central Intelligence Agency resorted to “waterboarding”, mock execution, sexual threats and other forms of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment against detainees who had been forcibly disappeared. The acts were carried out during the rendition and secret detention programs that followed the crime against humanity committed on 11 September 2001 (9/11).

The summary report also provides some information of the effects of the interrogation techniques and detention conditions on the detainees themselves, including “hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, and attempts at self-harm and self-mutilation”.

“This report provides yet more damning detail of some of the human rights violations that were authorized by the highest authorities in the USA after 9/11. Despite much evidence having been in the public realm for years, no one has been brought to justice for authorizing or carrying out the acts in these CIA programmes,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director Amnesty International.

Limited US Department of Justice investigations into CIA interrogations were ended in 2012 without anyone being charged. Likewise the CIA’s destruction of videotapes of interrogation sessions – containing possible evidence of crimes under international law – did not result in any charges.

Access to justice for those who endured abuses has been systematically blocked by US authorities, including on the grounds of state secrecy….

Excerpts of statement by Republican Senator John McCain:

Mr. President, I rise in support of the release – the long-delayed release – of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s summarized, unclassified review of the so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ that were employed by the previous administration to extract information from captured terrorists. It is a thorough and thoughtful study of practices that I believe not only failed their purpose – to secure actionable intelligence to prevent further attacks on the U.S. and our allies – but actually damaged our security interests, as well as our reputation as a force for good in the world.

“I believe the American people have a right – indeed, a responsibility – to know what was done in their name; how these practices did or did not serve our interests; and how they comported with our most important values.

“I commend Chairman Feinstein and her staff for their diligence in seeking a truthful accounting of policies I hope we will never resort to again. I thank them for persevering against persistent opposition from many members of the intelligence community, from officials in two administrations, and from some of our colleagues.

“The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow. It sometimes causes us difficulties at home and abroad. It is sometimes used by our enemies in attempts to hurt us. But the American people are entitled to it, nonetheless.

“They must know when the values that define our nation are intentionally disregarded by our security policies, even those policies that are conducted in secret. They must be able to make informed judgments about whether those policies and the personnel who supported them were justified in compromising our values; whether they served a greater good; or whether, as I believe, they stained our national honor, did much harm and little practical good.

“What were the policies? What was their purpose? Did they achieve it? Did they make us safer? Less safe? Or did they make no difference? What did they gain us? What did they cost us? The American people need the answers to these questions. Yes, some things must be kept from public disclosure to protect clandestine operations, sources and methods, but not the answers to these questions….

“I have long believed some of these practices amounted to torture, as a reasonable person would define it, especially, but not only the practice of waterboarding, which is a mock execution and an exquisite form of torture. Its use was shameful and unnecessary; and, contrary to assertions made by some of its defenders and as the Committee’s report makes clear, it produced little useful intelligence to help us track down the perpetrators of 9/11 or prevent new attacks and atrocities.

“I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence. I know that victims of torture will offer intentionally misleading information if they think their captors will believe it. I know they will say whatever they think their torturers want them to say if they believe it will stop their suffering. Most of all, I know the use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights, which are protected by international conventions the U.S. not only joined, but for the most part authored….

References and further reading:

The Senate report has been removed from the intelligence committee site, but its contents are discussed on the Stanford Library site: http://library.stanford.edu/blogs/stanford-libraries-blog/2014/12/official-senate-cia-torture-report (updated Dec. 2015)

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, summary.

CIA redacted response to the Senate study, June, 2013, redacted, and released Dec. 9: https://www.cia.gov/library/reports/index.html

CIA Fact Sheet response to the Senate study: https://www.cia.gov/news-information/press-releases-statements/2014-press-releases-statements/cia-fact-sheet-ssci-study-on-detention-interrogation-program.html

Amnesty International press release: http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/usa-senate-summary-report-cia-detention-programme-must-not-be-end-story-2014-12-09

Senator John McCain’s floor statement in support of the report and its release.

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If you value our journalism, please help sustain us by buying a day pass or subscription. Facts and Opinions is an online journal of first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: choice journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.

Click here to purchase a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95 per month to $19.95 annually. Subscribe by email using the form on the right to our free FRONTLINES blog. Find news in REPORTS; commentary, analysis, magazine and arts writing in OPINION/FEATURES, and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS.  Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and check our Contents page for regular updates.

 

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Why the United States is a perilous country for a young man, black or white

 

Armed and dangerous, in the right circumstances, these members of the San Francisco Police Department were photographed in 2012. Wikimedia Commons

Armed and dangerous, in the right circumstances, these members of the San Francisco Police Department were photographed in 2012. Wikimedia Commons

TOM REGAN 
December, 2014

There’s a deadly virus in the United States. Much more deadly than Ebola. (Two people have died of Ebola in this country.) The virus I’m talking about kills thousands of people every year. It’s a poisonous concoction of racism, police departments unaccountable to anybody but themselves and a tsunami of guns, guns, guns.

Alone, each of these problems is serious. But put all three of them together and you end up on a street in Ferguson, Mo., or in a playground in Cleveland, or a stairwell in Brooklyn. These are but a few locations where these three factors came together and someone was killed by a police officer as a result.

The racial problem is an obvious one. The whole idea of a post-racial America that resulted from the election of Barack Obama to the presidency is a joke. While it is significant that millions of Americans voted for a black man, the reality is that millions of others voted against him for the same reason. The ongoing racial attacks on President Obama by Republican and Tea Party members and legislators since his election in 2008 is well documented.

There’s no need to go deeper into the racial issue because it is so obvious it needs no comment, even by those who want to deny it exists. African-Americans face discrimination in almost every aspect of life in the United States. One place where this racism shows through is during any interaction with America’s police departments.

The statistics on the number of minorities, African-Americans in particular, who are confronted by police in their daily lives, often for no reason other than the color of their skin, is staggering: It is far  greater than the actual percentage of African-Americans in the U.S.

I recently heard John Ameachi, who played in the NBA for seven years (and later became a well-known educator and writer and was awarded the Order of the British Empire) talk about his experiences when he moved to the U.S. from the United Kingdom to play basketball at a high school in Ohio.

His new teammates took him aside to tell him the rules of being a black in that state. Basically it was a guide to not being hassled, or shot, by the police for no other reason then you are a young black man.

But the problem with the police goes far beyond a racial one. Police departments across America are arming themselves to the teeth with military-grade weapons and are basically unaccountable to anyone but themselves.

Although the federal government says it keeps no statistics on police killings in the country, an absence that is staggering in itself, several groups have taken up the challenge in recent years to document these incidents.

According their statistics, more than 1,000 people a year are killed in the United States during a confrontation of some kind with the police. And of that number some 80 to 85 per cent are questionable in some way.

And yet despite this sobering revelation, very, very few police officers are ever charged with any kind of a crime or receive any kind of a suspension or even a mild reprimand.

Michael Bell, a retired U.S. Air Force officer and father of a young man killed by police in Wisconsin, campaigned and succeeded in getting Wisconsin to pass a law that mandated that all police shootings would be investigated by an outside group, and not by police themselves.

In an article on Politico, Bell succinctly outlines the problem:

“Yes, there is good reason to think that many of these unjustifiable homicides by police across the country are racially motivated. But there is a lot more than that going on here.

“Our country is simply not paying enough attention to the terrible lack of accountability of police departments and the way it affects all of us — regardless of race or ethnicity.

“Because if a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy — that was my son, Michael — can be shot in the head under a street light with his hands cuffed behind his back, in front of five eyewitnesses (including his mother and sister), and his father was a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who flew in three wars for his country — that’s me — and I still couldn’t get anything done about it, then Joe the plumber and Javier the roofer aren’t going to be able to do anything about it either.”

But there is a third factor that at play here that almost no one in the media has talked about. And that is the role of the National Rifle Association and its continuing efforts to arm every American that it can. (I recently saw a cartoon by Michael Luckovich of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that perfectly illustrates the situation. It showed a map of America with people shooting each other in every corner of the country, and across the pond in Iraq, a member of ISIS saying to another member “No need to attack America.”)

All 50 states have laws that allow people to carry a concealed weapon in a variety of situations. More than half have open-carry laws, or laws that permit an individual to carry a firearm openly in public.

Eleven of the open-carry states don’t require individuals to get a permit to carry openly. Thirteen others require a licence or some other permit.

Only seven states prohibit open carry. (And don’t assume that this is only happening in more conservative states. Massachusetts, perhaps the country’s most liberal state, has an open-carry law. Texas, one of the more conservative states, prohibits open-carry.)

So imagine you’re a police officer. You already have an institutional (if not personal) bias against African-Americans. And you also have to deal with the fact that your state may have a law that means that anybody can be carrying a gun at any time. This unlimited supply of weapons means that police are almost always going to think their life is in danger, in every situation.

And when you add in the first two factors of racism and lack of accountability, this means that more and more young African-Americans (and Americans in general) are going to die as a result of some kind of interaction with an American police officer.

Copyright Tom Regan 2014

Contact Tom Regan::  motnager@gmail.com

 Editor’s note: Michael Bell was killed in a U.S. state which allows individuals to carry firearms openly, and without a licence or permit. Here’s an electronic map of open and concealed America, state by state: 

blogs.wsj.com/numbers/map-where-is-open-carry-legal-1715/

 

Tom Regan

Tom Regan

Tom Regan is the author of F&O‘s Summoning Orenda column.

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