Category Archives: We The People

Warmbeir’s Murder is Vile, but Spare Me the Outrage

UPDATE BELOW

Otto Warmbier’s death, like the death of any young person is tragic. The fact that it was done at the hands of the North Korean regime makes is particularly vile. The thought that this could ever happen to my own son is heart-wrenching.

But Americans need to be careful in their outrage. Just yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court – the supreme guardian of our fundamental rights – ruled that those abused by the U.S. government while in custody have absolutely no right to recourse against their abusers. In other words, the hundreds of people illegally rendered, tortured, held captive without trial and even those killed in the process have no right to sue the government for their abuse.

Just take a look at the CIA Torture Report. People like:

  • Khalid El-Massri, a German citizen who was rendered in Macedonia (by mistake), held incommunicado and abused, taken to a secret prison in Afghanistan where he was tortured, and then when the CIA realized they had the wrong guy, he was left in the middle of the night on a street in Albania. Macedonia was help responsible, but the U.S. courts have refused to hear his case.
  • Abu Zubaydah who was waterboarded at least 83 times in one month, and once claimed to be one of the worst of the worst, is now considered wrongly accused, regardless of have now spend a decade and half in a cage without trial or charges. He is now mentally unfit for trial. The European Court of Human Rights ruled against Poland – who was complicit in the rendering – and awarded damages.
  • Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, was stopped by the U.S. authorities due to transit through JFK where he was then rendered to Syria and tortured by the Syrian government and the behest of the U.S. government. The U.S. courts refused to hear his case, but the Canadian courts would and ruled in his favor.
  • Omar Khadr, Guantanamo’s youngest detainee. He was picked up in Afghanistan at age 15, tortured and sent to Guantanamo for allegedly throwing a grenade at U.S. soldiers (though it was likely a rock). He was held without trial or charges for 10 years. He was a Canadian citizen.
  • Gul Rahman was killed by the CIA while held in the secret prison in Afghanistan called the “Salt Pit”. He froze to death after the CIA order his guards to leave him chained to the concrete floor naked overnight.

Stories like these seem endless, with hundreds of people having been rendered or locked up in cages, and all end in the same way: a young man (even teenager) was wrongly accused, rendered, tortured, and then refused his day in court.

So stop for a minute and think about that. Were Warmbier killed by the U.S. instead of by North Korea under exactly the same circumstances, Warmbier’s family would be in the same predicament they are today: they have no right to sue their son’s murders. Ironically, the U.S. courts are more likely to entertain a case of abuse by the North Koreans than to hear a case against their own government.

Now, I am perfectly aware of the fact that the U.S. is not North Korea. I would never want to live in North Korea, let alone visit there. The U.S. is my country, and although I no longer live in America, it is my first destination of choice for travel.

But as an American how should I react? My heart goes out to this boy’s family, but it’s hard to argue with a straight face that Americans should be outraged, especially those who defend and defended torture – including our current president who campaigned on bringing torture back and our former Vice President Cheney who continues to defend torture today – and especially when our Supreme Court hot off the press rules against abuse victims’ rights to access our courts for redress. Or is it so hard for Americans to believe that a Muslim could be as innocent or unworthy of torture as an American college student?

UPDATED JUNE 22, 2017:

There is an article in yesterday’s New York Times about the two American psychologists who designed and oversaw the U.S. torture program. The pieces gives further insights in the program based on their own testimony. It is well worth the read and describes the torture and everlasting trauma of many of the program’s victims (some of whom were wrongly associated with terrorists), including this bit on Abu Zubaydah:

Drs. Mitchell and Jessen were sent to the jail to carry out the techniques, including waterboarding. Water was poured over a cloth covering Abu Zubaydah’s face to simulate drowning. He underwent the procedure 83 times over a period of days; at one point he was completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising from his mouth, according to the Senate report. A newly declassified August 2002 cable from the prison to headquarters noted: “At the onset of involuntary stomach and leg spasms, subject was again elevated to clear his airway, which was followed by hysterical pleas. Subject was distressed to the level that he was unable to effectively communicate or adequately engage the team.”

Imagine the outrage we would have if this was the treatment that Mr. Warmbeir had been subject to by the North Koreans.

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No, It’s Not Comparable, but …

I would much rather be a Catholic woman than a woman living in Saudi Arabia any day. Women in Saudi Arabia suffer all sorts of daily humiliations, indignities and inequalities. They are prohibited from driving, their mobility is limited when not accompanied by a male chaperone, and they are subject to strict dress requirements. Furthermore, women and men are segregated in the workplace.

Lots of praise was given to Melania and Ivanka for not covering their heads in Saudi Arabia (contrasting with Trump’s own criticism of Michelle Obama for doing the same), yet not much was made of these women covering their heads when visiting the Pope at the Vatican (other than that it was mere protocol).  And there was of course no mention whatsoever about the other similarities between the Vatican and Saudi Arabia, mainly the conspicuous absence of women in official state business and the total prohibition of women in government. Without any women around, it almost looked like the Republican leadership debating women’s health.

So of course, you cannot compare the two, but still …

 * * *

This week we saw in Manchester another disgusting, gut-wrenching, and inexcusable attack on innocent lives. That someone is capable of willfully taking the lives of these young people is mind blowing. Communities around the world are and should be rightfully calling these murders an inexplicable, unjustifiable evil.

Meanwhile we have just learned that a U.S. airstrike killed 100 civilians in Iraq on March 17th.  Also “US-led air strikes on Syria killed a total of 225 civilians over the past month” including 44 children and 36 women, making it the deadliest month for civilians at the hand of American leadership since we entered the country in 2014. Those 100 people who were one moment alive in Iraq and those 225 people who were one moment alive in Syria but are all now dead today, were human beings just like those people in Manchester, Paris, Brussels, and elsewhere. They were just different people.

So of course, you cannot compare the two, but still …

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Are We the Rapists?

Just a few months ago our worst fears were confirmed: maybe Trump was right, immigrants crossing the Mexican border are a band of rapists after all. In my own backyard, in a Montgomery Country Maryland public school no less.

So goes the narrative that Mexicans, Muslims and other men of color are serial rapists and a danger to our more advanced Western Christian societies and enlightened sensibilities. In fact, during most of America’s history, so devastating was the threat of a black man entering into physical contact with a white woman, that the mere allegation that a woman had been raped (or even looked at) by a black man, sparked mass hysteria amongst white folk, leading to populist lynch mobs who would execute the first black man or child they found in their paths.

So goes the narrative that German women are suffering mass rape at the hands of refugee mobs, female journalists are being sexual assaulted by Egyptians, and of course that Mexicans are crossing the border to rape American girls.

But remember your incensed social media feed and links to conservative news sites about those two illegal immigrant teenagers who had raped wholesome white girls in a Rockville, Maryland high school? In their high school bathroom no less! Boys from Central America with very dark skin! Remember how liberal political correctness was at fault? Guess what? The prosecution will drop its case. It looks like video footage and text message evidence make proving rape very difficult.

Call me a liberal, but just because a girl sends naked pictures of herself to a boy, says she’ll meet to have sex, and then enters a bathroom with him for that purpose, doesn’t mean she loses the right to say “no” at the last minute. There still could have been rape. Nevertheless, when it is a white boy (especially a football player) being accused and when those accusations are later proven false, the right wingers are in an uproar over an epidemic of false rape accusations. Now you get why VP Pence won’t be alone with a woman not his wife. Wouldn’t want to fall into the trap of a conniving feminist.  So why didn’t we side with the boys on this one, rather than doing a Jim Crow era lynching campaign? Why weren’t we siding with those refugees accused of rape in Germany? And you guessed it: those accusations also turned out to be trumped (excuse the pun).

So the narrative goes, everyone other than us has a rape culture. But we do have a problem. Forget about journalists in Egypt. Our female journalists have been suffering sexual harassment at Fox News for years, by both its CEO and its top media star. America’s favorite TV father, Bill Cosby, turns out to be a serial rapist. And twenty years after one president was receiving fellatio in the Oval Office by an intern half his age, the American people nevertheless elect an old man who bragged about moving on a married bitch and being entitled to assault women at will, well, at least if he has a Tic Tac on hand.

Far worse, one in five of your daughters report having been sexually assaulted on college campuses. Think about that, dads. You’ll pay between $20-60k/per year to have a 20% chance your beautiful little daughter will be sexually assaulted at one of your elite clubs. And those aren’t Muslim or Mexican boys with their hands on your precious girls. They are not poor, uneducated street roughs. They are the sons of those who can afford the world’s most expensive colleges and universities. They are being groomed to be the nation’s future elite.

So forget about Mexican rapists. Think about the Baylor University football team being accused of 52 rapes, and why Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, and rich kids around the country are told that if you’re rich and entitled enough, you can move on any bitch you want. Why else would you want to go to college or be on the team? And when those hysterically clever Baylor frat boys have a dress-like-a-Mexican-day-laborer theme party, it makes a lot of sense why we mistakenly thought it was Mexicans raping our daughters. Ooops, my bad. But no need for a full retraction.

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Twenty Years

I dug up this old photo from twenty years ago. It’s of the same view that Mr. Trump would have had at his inauguration this January as he looked over the Washington DC Mall from the Capitol. Every time I’d read about the crowd size controversy, I’d think about that photo from a time when I was still living in my hometown.

Twenty years ago it was 1997. The English Patient had just won the Oscars, and Titanic was out in theaters. Notorious B.I.G., whose songs “Hypnotize” and “Mo Money, Mo Problems” were hits that year, had just been murdered. And it was the year that Mother Theresa and Princess Di would die.

I was finishing my second and entering my third year of law school. Bill Clinton was a few years older than I am now, and Monica Lewinsky was a few years younger than I was then. In a matter of months scandal would break.

Twenty years ago, a president had to lie about smoking pot and about consensual sex with an intern, long before a president could openly say inhaling was the point or another one could brag about being able to grab a woman by her private parts without her consent.

Twenty years ago, Donald Trump was getting ready for his second divorce and was about to “move on” Melania. The Twin Towers were still standing in Lower Manhattan and no one had heard of Bin Laden. George W. Bush was not yet president and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who were alive under a local dictator had not yet lost their lives to an American democracy. It would be a decade before the U.S. had its first black president or female presidential nominee.

In 1997, I was a few years away from my first cellphone, Apple still hadn’t made its comeback, and I got my email from AOL on a

desktop computer with a firm “you’ve got mail”. I made mix tapes, was building my CD collection, and apparently dedicated a lot of time to my hair.

Later that year, the Buena Vista Social Club soundtrack was released, with its stellar roster of vintage Cuban musicians, including the great Omara Portuando singing:

Si las cosas que uno quiere
Se pudieran alcanzar
Tú me quisieras lo mismo
Que veinte años atrás

[If the things that we wished for
Were ever attainable
Then you would love me the same
As you did 20 years ago]

Twenty years ago, I had no idea where and to whom my life would take me. Twenty years later, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, I wake up in the middle of the night to someone crying in the next room. I look at my wife sleeping next to me. I walk past my baby girl breathing softly, past my middle child snoring, to my eldest who’s calling for Daddy, and Daddy is me. A wife and three kids. A family. People I didn’t know or who didn’t exit twenty years ago. Who would have thought all this was possible in just twenty years and at such a young age?

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Filed under Digressions, Living la vida española, Parenthood, Trump 45, We The People

Get a Warrant

Been hearing stories of people being asked by TSA for access to their cellphones at airports, even on domestic flights. In theory, the Fourth Amendment is something both Republicans and Democrats should agree on.

So get a warrant!

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Brand USA® and What Makes America Great

As an American in Europe for more than fifteen years, I have a pretty clear idea of what makes America great and where we could also use some improvement. Contrast this month’s decision by the EU Court of Justice to permit employers to discriminate against employees based on religious practice to the U.S. courts’ repeated decisions to overrule or stay the sitting president’s orders to bar entry to nationals from six Muslim countries. And I am reminded of what I love about my country.

According the EU Court of Justice,

An internal rule of an undertaking which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discrimination,” the court said in a statement.

This is, of course, the exact opposite of the right to freedom of expression, association and religion enshrined in the First Amendment to the US Constitution and guaranteed to Americans by more than two hundred years of legislation and jurisprudence. Europe has never experienced anything similar to our anti-discrimination laws, Civil Rights Movement, or other social movements to make the “the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” of our Declaration of Independence available to all. Looking at the European court’s ruling with the eyes of an American lawyer, the Europeans have in fact perfectly defined and then legalized direct discrimination.

If you’re not convinced about the difference, read the rules prohibiting religious discrimination in the American workplace, including “religious garb”. Or read the judge’s decision on the second Trump travel ban:

According to Plaintiffs, the Executive order also results in “their having to live in a country and in a State where there is the perception that the Government has established a disfavored religion”

But isn’t that the real difference between how Americans and European define themselves? A large part of the American self-image is based on living in a society that does not promote or prohibit religion; in theory thus allowing for new entrants to compete for the American Dream based on economic ambition, rather than pure cosmetic and ethno-cultural assimilation. Of course in practice the reality has been less than optimal, but at least as a society we are able to aspire to the principles of our founding, and with the help of lawyers and activists, improve step by step. Where were the religious freedom activists when the EU Court of Justice gave its ruling? Meanwhile, there were scores of pro bono lawyers camping out at airports around the country when Trump passed his first ban.

On the other hand, Europeans have a lot of trouble figuring out what it means to be European other than simply being from Europe. So Europeans expect you as the new entrant to become just like them. To eat, dress, and talk like they do. In fact the biggest compliment a European can give you is “you are just like one of us”. Almost every single day of the week when I go to lunch an hour earlier than my colleagues here in Spain, I always get a comment about how strange I am for eating at 12:30, instead of at 2:00pm. Or for eating just a sandwich instead of a hot meal.

It’s no doubt that after having cleansed themselves of practically all non-Christians in the 20th Century, Europeans find any other form of religious expression, foreign and confrontational. No one finds it strange that women have to wear a veil when meeting the Pope at the Vatican, but could never understand why a woman would voluntarily wear a Muslim veil, unless under male duress.

They also forget that European women wore scarves well into the last century. In Madrid, for example, on the feast day of their patron Saint Isdro, local women and little girls were the traditional Chulapa dress and headscarf. And in my old neighborhood of Chamberí, if you saw a woman dressed like she was from Saudi Arabia, she was usually a Catholic nun (and teaching at a publicly subsidized charter school).

From an American perspective, having grown up in a multicultural town where my next door neighbors were Jewish, Iranian, Hindu, Black, Mormon, Nicaraguan, and Korean, there was nothing strange about having, for example, a Jewish or Sik boy sitting next to me on the yellow public school bus wearing a kippah or turban respectively or seeing my friend’s mother get the mail dressed in a sari.  As long as you bought into the fiction of the American dream (hard work and meritocracy), you could be whatever religion you wanted.

While I enjoy some of the significantly more civilized and advanced aspects of European life (few guns, low crime, free universal health care, generous vacation and paid maternity/paternity leave), when I read about the EU court permitting religious discrimination in the workplace by the same Je Suis Charlie hypocrites, I dearly miss my First Amendment right to be both free from religion and free to be openly religious.

But it’s not just the Bill of Rights. As my former boss and now president of George Mason University, Angel Cabrera, wrote yesterday in the Washington Post,

American innovation has been the envy of the world for the last century. Our ability to discover scientific breakthroughs, invent disruptive technologies and build successful companies that make those advances broadly available has been unparalleled. This creativity is the product of a culture that is uniquely open to new ideas, that encourages and rewards risk taking, that values people for what they achieve, not where they come from. It is also the result of a constant supply of talented people from outside the United States, many of whom came to this country seeking world-class education and an open society where they could thrive.

America is more than just my rights story. It’s a global brand with its can-do outlook. It’s about being solution-driven, making things happen, and moving forward. It’s about striving to be the best. But, people around the world don’t buy the American flag t-shirt or beach towel because they think it stands for “America First” or you are not welcome or trusted here. For that, they could have worn a different flag on their outfit.

Of all people, Mr. Trump of the Trump brand empire should understand that his words, travel bans, walls and nativism will have a major effect on the American brand.

So it is to Trump and Trumpsters that I ask: when you talk about “making America great again” what exactly is it that made us great in the first place? And when the rest of the world looks at USA® what is that you want them to buy into?

 

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Becoming a Developing Country

Back in January I asked the question, “Have You Ever Been to a Developing Country” to describe how Trump and Republicans’ vision of America would bring America closer to resembling a developing country where you cannot drink the water, only the rich can prosper, educate themselves, afford health care, and where the government only spends money on national defense and the police.

Guess what? Now it is official. Trump’s budget proposal looks just like that of any third world Banana Republic. At least unlike third world despots, we know that our president is not milking the presidency for personal gain.

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