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  torture and abuses at Abu Ghraib, at Guantanamo and at the other outposts of the American gulag

round the world were part of a system, the product of an ideology and a psychology which refuses

to admit that all human beings are entitled to the same rights.



 Book by John Maxwell

How to Make Our Own News: A Primer for Environmentalist and Journalists

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Not even the shadow of Truth

By John Maxwell


When Colin Powell attempted to blind the world with science, to convince us that the regime of Saddam Hussain was too dangerous to tolerate, he spoke in front of a carefully hidden symbol  of human outrage against war and the murder of innocent people. Behind him, but covered by an arras, was Picasso’s Guernica  a passionate protest in paint  against the fascist warplanes of Hitler and Mussolini slaughtering  the innocent civilians of the Spanish town of Guernica.

If the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour is a day that will live in infamy, one wonders how historians of the future will describe the Anglo-American led assault against the people of Iraq.

As the New York Times editorialised on Thursday “Even after most of the sites were searched, the places that had been identified in spy photos as sinister weapons-production sites had been shown to be chicken coops, and the scary reports about nuclear weapons ready to be detonated proved to be the fantasies of feckless intelligence analysts, die-hard supporters of the invasion insisted that something would turn up.”

In Britain, as in the United States, the truth-tellers have been disgraced, one committed suicide, while the liars, the spin doctors and the maleficent farceurs have moved on to bigger and better things.

In Iraq, where hundreds of thousands of children died because of sanctions and thousands more were killed by picking up attractively styled packages of death, the killing continues.

The United States President, Mr Bush, with no rational excuse to be in Iraq, demands the right to install democracy in that country if he has to kill every Iraqi to do so.

As the world waits the second installation of Mr Bush as President of the United States, it may yet be determined that despite all the damage he has caused in Iraq and in other places, the greatest damage the President has  done is to his own country and its reputation for decency and fairness, however flawed:  to the idea of the United States as the pillar of Liberty  and a haven for democracy.

At this moment, in a military court in Iraq, an American soldier is on trial for gross abuses against helpless prisoners of war. The official story is that he and a few other delinquents violated established military orders and rules and subject prisoners to humiliating and sometimes fatal terror and abuse.

Unfortunately for the official story, it is now becoming clearer that the torture and abuses at Abu Ghraib, at Guantanamo and at the other outposts of the American gulag round the world were part of a system, the product of an ideology and a psychology which refuses to admit that all human beings are entitled to the same rights.

The President of the United States, with the advice of his Attorney General and of the man slated to succeed that worthy, decided that prisoners in the “war on terror” were ‘unlawful combatants’ rather than prisoners of  war.

According to the Attorney General Designate, Alberto Gonzales, the president’s warmaking powers gave him the constitutional authority to overrule any relevant laws in the conduct of the war on terror. Mr Bush, Gonzales argued, had the discretion whether to respect  the Geneva Conventions. An Assistant Attorney General, one Jay S Bybee, alleged  that it would be unconstitutional to attempt to interfere with the  President’s direction of such core matters as the detention and interrogation of  prisoners .

Bybee argues in another memo: ''Any effort to apply Section 2340A in a manner that interferes with the president's direction of such core war matters as the detention and interrogation of enemy combatants thus would be unconstitutional.'' Section 2340A refers to the United States law that incorporates the international Convention Against Torture. (Atrocities in Plain Sight; book review by Andrew Sullivan, NYT 13/1/05.)

Bybee analyzed the relevant statutes against torture to see exactly how far the military could go in mistreating prisoners without blatant illegality. His answer was surprisingly expansive. He argued that all the applicable statutes and treaty obligations can be read in such a way as to define torture very narrowly. Bybee asserted that the president was within his legal rights to permit his military surrogates to inflict ''cruel, inhuman or degrading'' treatment on prisoners without violating strictures against torture.

For an act of abuse to be considered torture, the abuser must be inflicting pain ''of such a high level of intensity that the pain is difficult for the subject to endure.'' If the abuser is doing this to get information and not merely for sadistic enjoyment, then ''even if the defendant knows that severe pain will result from his actions,'' he's not guilty of torture. Threatening to kill a prisoner is not torture; ''the threat must indicate that death is 'imminent.' ''

Beating prisoners is not torture either. Bybee argues that a case of kicking an inmate in the stomach with military boots while the prisoner is in a kneeling position does not by itself rise to the level of torture.

Bybee even suggests that full-fledged torture of inmates might be legal because it could be construed as ''self-defense,'' on the grounds that ''the threat of an impending terrorist attack threatens the lives of hundreds if not thousands of American citizens.'' By that reasoning, torture could be justified almost anywhere on the battlefield of the war on terror. Only the president's discretion forbade it. These guidelines were formally repudiated by the administration the week before Gonzales's appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee for confirmation as attorney general.

It is difficult to see how Mr Bush and his Cabinet can escape responsibility for any or all of the heinous acts alleged against US soldiers anywhere in the war on terror.

According to the International War Crimes Tribunal indictment against Slobodan Milosevic, Individual criminal responsibility includes committing, planning, instigating, ordering or aiding and abetting in the  planning, preparation or execution of any crimes  referred to in Articles 2 to 5 of the Tribunal Statute.

The Milosevic indictment makes it plain that it does not matter whether the defendant actually ordered any of these crimes, only that being in a position to stop them he could and should have prevented them.

I believe that any judge would be compelled to find not only  that Mr Bush aided and abetted these heinous crimes but that he was the intellectual author of them.

Certainly the American soldiers carrying out these acts believed that they were doing them on behalf of their Commander in chief.

The White House has been even more recently involved in ensuring that torture could continue as a means of interrogation.

According to a story in the New York Times on Thursday, the White House defeated a recent Congressional initiative to limit the use of harsh interrogation techniques. The Senate had approved overwhelmingly (96-2) new restrictions on the use of extreme interrogation measures by US intelligence officials. The new rules would have explicitly forbidden intelligence officers to use torture or inhumane treatment and would have required the CIA and the Pentagon to report to Congress about the methods they were using.

This Congressional initiative was killed in committee after the intervention of the White House. The National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, opposed the restrictions on the ground that they provided “legal protections to foreign prisoners to which they are now entitled under existing law and policy.”

Death Squads For Iraq

According to Newsweek magazine, the US Department of Defense, the Pentagon, is now considering a bold new option for checking the insurgency in Iraq.  One senior military officer told the magazine: "What everyone agrees is that we can’t just go on as we are … We have to find a way to take the offensive against the insurgents. Right now, we are playing defense. And we are losing."

The new strategy is not really new – it was used by the Reagan administration to defeat the leftist insurgency in El Salvador twenty years ago. Faced with losing the war, the United States funded or supported nationalist forces that included death squads which hunted down and murdered actual or suspected left wing leaders and community organisers. The insurgency was eventually defeated, at the cost, some say, of more than a hundred thousand civilian lives/.

The same strategy was tried even earlier, in Vietnam, where Operation Phoenix decimated the community leadership of the Vietnamese countryside in an unsuccessful attempt to quell that insurgency by "drying up the swamp.”

The interim Iraqi regime of Iyad Allawi is according to Newsweek, among the most forthright supporters of the ”Salvador option.”  The rationale is to intimidate the largely Sunni insurgency by terrorising those who are thought to be giving at least tacit support to the guerrillas.

According to a new report prepared for the Central Intelligence Agency, the ultimate result of the Iraq war may be to incite more terror, not less. Just as the US attempt to squash the Fallujah uprising helped instead to spread it, the CIA think-tank theorises that the war in Iraq is creating a training and recruitment ground for a new generation of professionalised Islamic terrorists. The report says that the risk of a terrorist attack involving biological weapons is steadily growing.

The "dispersion of the experienced survivors of the conflict in Iraq" to other countries will create a new threat in the coming 15 years, especially as the Al Qaeda network mutates into a volatile brew of independent extremist groups, cells and individuals, according to the report by the National Intelligence Council.

I don’t think it needed a think tank to tell the CIA that. In fact I myself suggested it a month after 9/11:

“Trying to 'get' bin Laden, as the FBI got Al Capone, is impossible, and anyway is sure to lead to further terrorist attacks. As I said in my first column on this subject, terrorists and/or 'freedom fighters' do not need to be led, if they are sufficiently imbued with a righteous sense of injustice and grievance. It is, after all, perfectly possible that the WTC terrorists were a self-contained group, determined to do their bit for Allah and the greater glory of Islam. Did they really need a bin Laden?

“The grievance and bitterness were there before bin Laden and will survive him. As long as the causes for this bitterness and grievance persist, so long will the destructive anger and the horrific self-sacrifices continue.

“Fighting "terrorism" is fighting a symptom. The disease will continue as long as Corporate America continues to push the American state in the furtherance of its own, hidden agenda while concealing its true nature from its own people.”

I may, of course, have been wrong.

Copyright 2005 ©John Maxwell /

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

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#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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