Illustration: Kieth Tucker has a new book out and I suppose this amounts to a "plug". He has been good enough to let us use his cartoons from time to time and they are worth the low price.
Visit him at http://www.whatnowtoons.com
That's quite a title.
We start with domestic torture and Chicago. If you grew up in Chicago, you know you don't mess with the police or the mob. Actually, you'd have a better chance with the mob. Little Richie did not prosecute this policeman, but let's understand the situation. First, he failed the Bar Exam at least three times, maybe four. Rumor is that someone else finally took it for him. In any case, he knew damn well he wasn't up to a jury trial, especially against the police department.
The the great John Pilger defends Rolling Stone Magazine. It's been called "counter-culture," and given this culture anything counter to it has to be an improvement.
The last one is on one more of the countries we choose to "Help" overseas. No wonder we are loved around the world.
Isn't it interesting to hear the term "Gulf Crisis" and know it applies to the Western Hemisphere?
A Nobel Prize in Physics is about as helpful in Oil Well Disasters as a Dickens' novel is in, well, actually less helpful than a Dickens' novel.
Finally, any Russian spies in your neighborhood?
AMY GOODMAN: Decades after torture allegations were first leveled against the former Chicago police commander Jon Burge, a federal jury has found him guilty of lying about torturing prisoners into making confessions. Burge has long been accused of overseeing the systematic torture of more than a hundred African American men. The police department fired him in 1993 for mistreatment of a suspect, but did not press charges. More than a decade later, Cook County prosecutors looked into the torture allegations and found that although there was evidence to show torture had occurred, the statute of limitations had expired.
Two years ago, federal prosecutors finally brought charges against Burge—not for torture, but for lying about it. On Monday afternoon, after a five-week trial, Jon Burge was found guilty on all counts of perjury and obstruction of justice for lying about the abuse. He could face up to forty-five years in prison.
Outside the courthouse, the verdict drew a visibly emotional response from one of the men who had been tortured under Burge, Mark Clements.
MARK CLEMENTS: These people stole my [bleep] life! I hate to tell you the truth. I sat in a prison cell, and I prayed for this day! Today is a victory for every poor person. I was sixteen years old! This is America! Sixteen years old! What are we going to do about other people who are sitting in those prisons? And I’m sorry if I’m offending anyone, but it’s out!
AMY GOODMAN: This was Mark Clements’s response when reporters asked him how he felt.
MARK CLEMENTS: Relieved that finally at least one of these people are now going to finally feel the pain. My daughter is twenty-nine years old. I missed all those years with my daughter, sitting in them prison cells for a crime I did not commit. I do not feel sorry for Jon Burge. That’s all I have to say.
AMY GOODMAN: Mark Clements, one of the dozens of men who were tortured under former Chicago police commander Jon Burge.
I’m joined now from Chicago by Flint Taylor, an attorney with the People’s Law Office in Chicago. He’s represented many of the torture victims.
Welcome to Democracy Now! Your response to the guilty verdict, Flint Taylor?
FLINT TAYLOR: It was a wonderful victory for the African American community and all people here in Chicago who have fought so long and so hard for justice. This fight, as you’ve mentioned, has gone on for decades. It’s a human rights victory that should be understood across the entire country, because here in Chicago we’ve now done something, after thirty years of struggle, that has not happened anywhere else. And that is, we have a conviction of a torturer, a United States torturer. And that is what the lesson needs to be taken by the Obama administration, who seems so leery to prosecute people like Cheney and people under his command for torture abroad by the US. Now we have an example. And actually, it was a Republican prosecutor who did this. So I think that we all across this country should take a lesson from Chicago.
But we’re also saying this struggle has to continue, because there are many men under the command of Jon Burge who are being investigated, who need to be indicted. There are men behind prison bars still who are there because of the torture, by tortured confessions. We need to have a federal statute that says that torture is a crime akin to other human rights violations that has no statute of limitations, so future Burges cannot end up being prosecuted only for perjury and not for the torture that happened. And we need to have full compensation by the city for the men, many of whom have never had or cannot have lawsuits, men who came forward and are the true heroes of this piece and this prosecution, the men who testified against Burge and who were ripped from pillar to post by his lawyer in a very racist way and presented to this jury that it was OK to torture them, it’s OK to torture poor black men who are charged with crimes, who may have been in street gangs.
And this jury, which only had one African American on it, spoke loudly and said no, it’s not right to torture. Doesn’t matter if you’re poor and black and a criminal. And I think the message is, it doesn’t matter if you’re a terrorist either, or an alleged terrorist, that we cannot countenance torture in this country or by this country. And until all people who torture and all those people who are responsible for torturing are brought to justice, the conscience of Chicago and the conscience of this country cannot be cleansed.
AMY GOODMAN: Last month, just as the trial was beginning, I spoke to Darrell Cannon, one of the dozens of men to come forward with allegations of abuse at the hands of the Chicago police. He says police tortured him in 1983 and forced him to confess to a murder he didn’t commit. He spent more than twenty years in prison. But after a hearing on his tortured confession, prosecutors dismissed his case in 2004. Now he’s suing Chicago for wrongful conviction. In this clip, he’s describing the torture he was subjected to by the Chicago police under Jon Burge’s command.
DARRELL CANNON: By them not being successful in getting what they wanted out of me, they then did a third treatment, which was they put me in the backseat of a detective car. They unhandcuffed my cuffs from behind, put them in front. John Byrne had a gun to my head and told me, "Don’t move," when they redid the handcuffs. They put me sideways in the backseat of a detective car and made me lay down across the seat. They pulled my pants and my shorts down, and that’s when Byrne took an electric cattle prod, turned it on, and proceeded to shock me on my testicles. They did this what seems like forever with me, but it wasn’t that long. At one point, I was able to kick the cattle prod out of the detective’s hands, and that knocked the batteries out. He got the batteries, put them back in. One of them tried to take his feet and put it on top of one of my feet, the other one did the same thing, to stop me from kicking. Then this is when they started using the electric cattle prod on me again, while telling me that they knew that I wasn’t the one they wanted, but I had information that could lead them to the other person that they wanted. They continued to do this until finally I agreed to tell them anything they wanted to hear. Anything. It didn’t matter to me. You know, if they said, "Did your mother do it?" "Yes, yes, yes." Because the diabolical treatment that I received was such that I had never in my life experienced anything like this. I didn’t even know anything like this here existed in the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: I also want to turn to an interview I did in 2006 with David Bates, who says he was tortured by men under Burge’s command. This is how he described what happened to him.
DAVID BATES: I believe it was October the 28th or 29th of 1983, when a few officers knocked on my mom’s door and announced that they were police officers and let my mom know that I’ll be taken away and that I’ll be coming home shortly. There were supposed to be some questions regarding a case. Of course, I got to the police station. I was questioned. I let the officers or detectives know that I had nothing to do with the case. I knew nothing. This went on for two days.
At that time, it was five sessions of torture, starting with two with slaps and kicks and threats. It was two particular sessions of torture that was very devastating, in which a plastic bag was placed over my head. I was punched and kicked. And I’ll tell you, when you talk about torture, you’re talking about individuals who, most part, were young, had a few brushes with the law, but never in a million years thought that they would have a plastic bag placed over their head.
More importantly, the torture has never been resolved. No one has ever owned up to the torture. So we have hundreds of individuals who have psychologically been warped, been destroyed. There’s never been any clinical resolution to the torture. No one has owned up to it.
AMY GOODMAN: That was [David Bates]. We talked to him in 2006. Flint Taylor, how is it possible that we’re talking perjury here and not actual torture?
FLINT TAYLOR: Well, it goes right back to the mayor of the city of Chicago, Richard Daley. Back in the early '80s, when this torture first came to light and the doctor from the jail brought definitive evidence to the chief of police, who then brought it to Daley, who was the chief prosecutor at that time, Daley chose not to prosecute Burge, but rather continued to use Burge as a key witness in the prosecution of the person who was tortured. That went on for six or eight years after that, while Daley was the prosecutor. And Darrell Cannon's case arose during that time. David Bates’s case arose during that time. And scores of others were tortured. If those men—those men never would have been tortured if Daley had acted back in 1982 and prosecuted Burge for torture, rather than for obstruction of justice. Since he did not do that, and since the Justice Department, under Reagan, first Reagan, later Bush I, then Clinton, and then Bush II, none of those Justice Departments listened to the movement’s pleas to prosecute Burge for torture when the statute had not run. So the statute was gone by the time that Fitzgerald, the prosecutor who did indict him, after decades of struggle and decades of fighting by the people that were fighting for justice, did indict him. All that was left was his lying in lawsuits that we had brought, that he had lied about torturing people, that he obstructed justice by lying about torturing people. That’s all he could be charged with now.
That’s why we need a federal stature that not only makes police torture a federal crime, but says no statute of limitations. If you cover it up, you can be prosecuted ten, twenty, thirty years later, because these crimes against humanity, this is like the prosecutions in the South of the Klansmen who blew up the church and killed the little children. No matter how long it takes, how many decades, you have to prosecute these people for what they did. In David Bates and Darrell Cannon’s case, they were both prosecuted by John Byrne and Peter Dignan, the two right-hand men of Burge. They have to be prosecuted, as well. There’s an open investigation, and we’re now calling for them to be indicted and to be prosecuted. And the entire political structure here is in question. And the mayor has still been—is silent at this point.
AMY GOODMAN: Mayor Daley.
FLINT TAYLOR: But the money that the city of Chicago has paid has to be stopped, for defending Burge and his men.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re talking Mayor Daley.
FLINT TAYLOR: Yeah, of course. The city has paid, and still pays, tens of millions of dollars for pensions for these men. They’ve paid over $10 million to defend the cases in civil courts. They’re still paying for defense of Burge in the civil courts. The Fraternal Order of Police has paid millions of dollars to defend Burge in the criminal cases. So the city is still on the wrong side of this issue after all these years. And one man who testified, Melvin Jones, is homeless. He never has gotten a nickel over all these years, yet he’s come forward and testified. The city has to make these people whole. Just because they don’t have a lawsuit that they can bring, there has to be compensation. There has to be treatment offered to these men. There are over 110 men who have been tortured. That’s been documented. So this jury only heard it from a few of them. There are many others that are still behind bars. All of these issues remain unresolved in the city. And so, the conscience of the city and justice in the city cannot be obtained until all of these issues are dealt with. And that’s why people rejoice in this verdict, but that we know that how many more years, or decades, hopefully not, however much longer it takes, we have to get full justice in these cases and make sure that this kind of thing cannot and does not happen again.
AMY GOODMAN: Flint Taylor, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Flint Taylor, the attorney with the People’s Law Office in Chicago. By the way, that last clip was David Bates, who I interviewed in 2006.
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AMY GOODMAN: It’s been a week since Rolling Stone published its article on General Stanley McChrystal that eventually led to him being fired by President Obama. In a piece called "The Runaway General," McChrystal and his top aides openly criticized the President and mocked several top officials. Joe Biden is nicknamed "Bite me." National Security Adviser General James Jones is described as a "clown." Ambassador Richard Holbrooke is called a "wounded animal."
Since the article came out, Rolling Stone and the reporter who broke the story, Michael Hastings, have come under attack in the mainstream media for violating the so-called "ground rules" of journalism. New York Times columnist David Brooks penned a column attacking Hastings for being a, quote, "product of the culture of exposure." Brooks wrote, quote, "The reporter essentially took run-of-the-mill complaining and turned it into a direct challenge to presidential authority." He goes on to write, "The exposure ethos, with its relentless emphasis on destroying privacy and exposing impurities, has chased good people from public life, undermined public faith in institutions and elevated the trivial over the important," he said.
On Fox News, Geraldo Rivera attacked Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings for publishing quotes McChrystal and his aides made at a bar.
- GERALDO RIVERA: This is a situation where you have to put it in the context of war and warriors and honor and the penumbra of privacy that is presumed when it’s not on the record specifically. When you’re hanging out at a bar waiting for a plane or a train or an automobile and you’re stuck together hours and hours, and you’re drinking in a bar, or you’re at an airport lounge, this is not an interview context. These guys, particularly the staffers who gave the most damning statements about the civilians in office, including the Vice President of the United States, these guys had no idea that they were being interviewed by this guy. BILL O’REILLY: I’m not sure about that, Geraldo. GERALDO RIVERA: This reporter—wait, hold on, Bill. BILL O’REILLY: I’m not sure about that. GERALDO RIVERA: This reporter from Rolling Stone, he was a rat in an eagle’s nest.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Fox News. But other mainstream media outlets have also attacked Michael Hastings for writing the story. This is Lara Logan, the chief foreign affairs correspondent for CBS News, being interviewed by Howard Kurtz on CNN.
- HOWARD KURTZ: If you had been traveling with General McChrystal and heard these comments about Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Jim Jones, Richard Holbrooke, would you have reported them? LARA LOGAN: Well, it really depends on the circumstances. It’s hard to know here. Michael Hastings, if you believe him, says that there were no ground rules laid out. And, I mean, that just doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me, because if you look at the people around General McChrystal, if you look at his history, he was the Joint Special Operations commander. He has a history of not interacting with the media at all. And his chief of intelligence, Mike Flynn, is the same. I mean, I know these people. They never let their guard down like that. To me, something doesn’t add up here. I just—I don’t believe it. HOWARD KURTZ: Washington Post quoted an unnamed senior military official as saying that Michael Hastings broke the off-the-record ground rules. But the person who said this was on background and wouldn’t allow his name to be used. Is that fair? LARA LOGAN: Well, it’s Kryptonite right now. I mean, do you blame him? The commanding general in Afghanistan just lost his job. Who else is going to lose his job? Believe me, all the senior leadership in Afghanistan are waiting for the ax to fall. I’ve been speaking to some of them. They don’t know who’s going to stay and who’s going to go. I mean, just the question is, really, is what General McChrystal and his aides are doing so egregious that they deserved to—I mean, to end a career like McChrystal’s? I mean, Michael Hastings has never served his country the way McChrystal has.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Lara Logan, the chief foreign affairs correspondent for CBS News, being interviewed on CNN. Meanwhile, both the Washington Post and ABC have published articles quoting anonymous military sources attacking Hastings’s Rolling Stone article.
For more on the story, we’re joined by the award-winning investigative journalist, documentary filmmaker John Pilger, began his career in journalism, oh, nearly half a century ago and has written close to a dozen books and made over fifty documentaries. He lives in London but is in the United States working on a forthcoming documentary about what he calls "the war on the media." It’s called The War You Don’t See.
We welcome John Pilger to Democracy Now! John, welcome. Talk about the war you don’t see.
JOHN PILGER: Well, the war you don’t see is expressed eloquently by the New York Times, that range of extraordinary media apologists that we’ve just seen. The reason we don’t see the war on civilians, the war that has caused the most extraordinary devastation, human and cultural and structural devastation in both Iraq and Afghanistan, is because of what is almost laughingly called the mainstream media. The one apology, not these apologies that we’ve seen this morning from Fox to CBS, right across the spectrum, to the New York Times this morning, the real apology that counted was the New York Times when it apologized to its readers for not showing us the war in—or the reasons that led up, rather, to the invasion of Iraq that produced this horrific war. I mean, these people now have become so embedded with the establishment, so embedded with authority, they’re what Brecht called the spokesmen of the spokesmen. They’re not journalists.
Brooks writes about a "culture of exposure." Excuse me, isn’t that journalism? Are we so distant from what journalism ought to be, not simply an echo chamber for authority, that somebody in the New York Times can attack a journalist who’s done his job? Hastings did a wonderful job. He caught out McChrystal, as he should have done. That’s his job. In a country where the media is constitutionally freer, nominally, than any other country on earth, the disgrace of the recent carnage in the Middle East and in Afghanistan is largely down to the fact that the media didn’t alert us. It didn’t report it. It didn’t question. It simply amplified and echoed authority. Hastings has proved—God bless him—that journalists still exist.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, it’s interesting to read the first paragraph of Hastings’s piece. He talks about, yes, this group in a French bar—and, by the way, Rolling Stone said, you should see what we didn’t print, because in fact there were things they said that were off the record. But to say that Hastings violated the off-the-record rule, they said, was not the case. There was many things we didn’t print. But right after they talked about the French—he talked about the French bar and McChrystal and his high officials in the bar, his aides, you know, dancing and singing the words "Afghanistan, Afghanistan," Hastings writes, "opposition to the war has already toppled the Dutch government, forced the resignation of Germany’s president [and] sparked both Canada and the Netherlands to announce the withdrawal of their 4,500 troops. McChrystal is in Paris to keep the French, who have lost more than 40 soldiers in Afghanistan, from going all wobbly on him." But this is something most people in this country don’t know, that the US, despite the US-led coalition, the NATO troops, is very much almost going this alone.
JOHN PILGER: Yes, it’s going it alone in terms of the American people. And what journalism, like Hastings, does is represent the American people. A majority of the American people are now opposed to this colonial debacle in Afghanistan. I mean, I was very interested to read what President Obama said about Afghanistan, if I can find it. Yes, here it is. On February the 10th, 2007, quote, "It’s time to admit that no amount of American lives can resolve the political disagreement [that lies] at the heart of someone else’s civil war," unquote. That’s what President Obama said before he became president. And unless the people of the United States, like the people of Europe, like most peoples in the world, understand that, that this is a long-running civil war, that it needs the kind of sympathy, if you like, for the people of Afghanistan—it certainly doesn’t need this brutal imposition of a colonial force there.
Now, that happens to be a truth that the likes of Michael Hastings and others are expressing. But it’s also a forbidden truth. And the moment you even glimpse that truth in the United States, the kind of barrage that—the grotesque sort of cartoon barrage of Fox, right up to the rather sneering barrage that comes from the New York Times, through to CBS and so on, the barrage against truth tellers becomes—Amy, we’re dependent now on the few Hastings, but also on whistleblowers. The most important exposé was the Wikileaks exposé of the Apache attack on those journalists and children in Iraq. And here they are prosecuting the whistleblower, when in fact those responsible should be prosecuted. But that’s verboten now.
AMY GOODMAN: I just want to encourage people to go to our website at democracynow.org. We interviewed Julian Assange, who’s on the run now, afraid that he will be picked, that he will be arrested. He’s the founder of Wikileaks, and we played that 2007 video that someone within the military gave to Wikileaks, to Assange, to show the killing of civilians on the ground in Iraq. Astounding.
I wanted to go back to this comment of the CBS correspondent, of Lara Logan, who says, "Michael Hastings has never served his country the way McChrystal has." This is the reporter. You say that the media is not covering the war; it’s promoting the war.
JOHN PILGER: Michael Hastings is serving his country. This country tells the rest of the world about its magnificent beginning, about its magnificent Constitution, about its magnificent freedoms. At the heart of those freedoms is the freedom of speech and the freedom of journalism. That is serving your country. That is serving humanity. The idea that you only serve your country by being part of a rapacious colonial force—and, you know, I’m not speaking rhetorically here. That’s what is happening in Afghanistan. This is a civil war in which European and American forces have intervened. And we get a glimpse of that through the likes of the Hastings article. I really call on journalists, young journalists, to be inspired, if you like, by this Rolling Stone article, not to be put off by the apologists, not to be put off by those who serve their country embedded in the Green Zone in Baghdad, but to see journalism as something that is about truth telling and represents people and does serve one’s country.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting you say this, as up in Toronto—we just came from Toronto yesterday—well, hundreds of people and a number of journalists have been beaten and arrested—
JOHN PILGER: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —as they try to cover what’s happening on the streets, the protests around the G8/G20 meetings, as they talk about protecting banks and promoting war—
JOHN PILGER: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —in the summits.
JOHN PILGER: Yeah. Well, there is a war on journalism. There’s long been a war on journalism. Journalism has always been—I mean, if you read, let’s say, General Petraeus’s counterinsurgency manual, which he put his name to in 2006, he makes it very clear. He said we’re fighting wars of perception—and I paraphrase him—in which the news media is a major component. So, unless the news media is part of those wars of perception—that is, that not so much the enemy that is our objective; it’s the people at home—then, you know, they’re out. They’re part of—they can easily become part of the enemy. And as we’ve seen in the numbers of journalists who have been killed in Iraq—more journalists have been killed in Iraq, mostly Iraqi journalists, than in any other war in the modern era—there is a war on this kind of truth telling. And we’re seeing this—another form of this attack on truth telling by the likes of Fox and CBS and New York Times this morning. It embarrasses them. What Hastings has done deeply embarrasses these apologists.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, interestingly, it was Hastings himself that exposed the mainstream media. Just quoting from Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com, as Barrett Brown notes in Vanity Fair, "Hastings in 2008 did to the establishment media what he did to Gen. McChrystal—[he] exposed what they do and how they think by writing the truth—after he quite Newsweek (where he was the Baghdad correspondent) and wrote a damning exposé about how the media distorts war coverage. As Brown put it: 'Hastings ensured that he would never be trusted by the establishment media ever again.'"
JOHN PILGER: What a wonderful accolade! My goodness! That’s a tremendous honor for him to bear.
AMY GOODMAN: Before we wrap up, I want to ask you about the coverage of the Gaza aid flotilla that was attacked by the Israeli commandos. You’ve come in from Britain to the United States—
JOHN PILGER: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —to do this piece on the media.
JOHN PILGER: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Your assessment of the media’s coverage?
JOHN PILGER: Well, it’s very different. I mean, there was—I think things—I think the perception of Israel and Palestine has changed quite significantly in Europe, and there was horror at the murder of these people on the Turkish ship. And there was quick understanding, I felt, that how the Israelis manipulated the footage in order to suggest that the victims were actually assaulting those who attacked the flotilla.
The coverage here has been bathed in the usual euphemisms about Israel. It’s always put into the passive voice. Israel really—the Israeli commandos never really killed anybody; it was a tragic event in which people died, and so on and so forth.
Having said that, I must say, Amy, since I’ve been in the United States, I see a—there’s a shift that is in—both politically, but certainly in the media. Since Lebanon, since Israel’s attack on Lebanon in 2006, since the attack on Gaza, Christmas 2008 and early 2009, and now this assault on the flotilla, Israel can’t be covered up. It can’t be apologized for as effectively anymore. And even in the New York Times, which has always been a stalwart in supporting the Israeli regime, the language is changing. And I think this again reflects a popular understanding and a popular disenchantment with the Middle East and the United States role in the Middle East, the apologies for one atrocity after the other, the lack of justice for the people in Palestine. So, I don’t know whether I’m being optimistic or not, but there is a change. And where that change is going to, I don’t know.
AMY GOODMAN: Are there any other key stories that you feel the media is missing or distorting?
JOHN PILGER: Well, I mean, one of the key stories is the devastation, the economic devastation, in people’s lives, that it seems to me extraordinary. And this is true in Britain, as it is in the United States, that ordinary people have suffered since the collapse in September 2008 of significant parts of Wall Street, since the bubble burst. The idea that a president was elected as a man of the people—at least that’s the way he presented himself—is still, I think, promoted by the media, whereas Obama has made clear that he has very much reinforced Wall Street, he has helped to rebuild Wall Street, his whole team is from Wall Street. He’s reached into Goldman Sachs for his senior people. I think that that anger that I’ve felt in the United States over the last few years, that anger at a popular level, is still not expressed in the so-called mainstream media. I remember in the last year of George W. Bush, someone said that in one day 26,000 emails bombarded the White House, and almost all of them were hostile. That suggests to me a popular anger in this country that is often deflected into—down into cul-de-sacs, like the Tea Party movement. But the root of that anger—and that is a social injustice in people’s lives, in the repossession of houses, the loss of jobs, a rather weak reform, if it is a reform, of the scandalous healthcare arrangements, none of these—this popular disenchantment, disaffection, is not expressed in the media.
AMY GOODMAN: John Pilger, I want to thank you very much for being with us. John Pilger here in the United States doing a film, The War You Don’t See, as he covers the media’s coverage of war. He’s an award-winning investigative journalist and filmmaker. Thank you so much.
The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to
democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.
AMY GOODMAN: Tomorrow marks the fiftieth anniversary of Congolese independence from colonial Belgian rule. On June 30th, 1960, the new prime minister of the independent Congolese government, Patrice Lumumba, declared an end to the slavery of colonialism and a new beginning for the country and the liberation of the entire continent of Africa.
But today jubilee independence celebrations in the Democratic Republic of Congo are marred by ongoing violence and increasing political repression, in particular the recent murder of Congo’s leading human rights activist Floribert Chebeya. He was found dead in his car earlier this month, a day after being called to meet the national police chief. The Joseph Kabila government has announced several investigations and suspended the police chief, but no charges have been filed, and the cause of Chebeya’s death remains unknown.
Meanwhile, repression is on the rise in neighboring Rwanda, as well, ahead of the scheduled elections this August, which incumbent President Paul Kagame is widely expected to win. Two opposition leaders have been arrested. Dozens of opposition party members have been detained. Last week a critical journalist was murdered, a case in which Rwandan authorities deny any involvement.
American attorney and law professor, Peter Erlinder, was also arrested in Rwanda last month, and he was held for nearly three weeks and released on health grounds. Peter Erlinder is a lawyer at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and a past president of the National Lawyers Guild. He was jailed shortly after arriving in Rwanda to help with the legal defense of an opposition presidential candidate charged with “genocide ideology.” Erlinder himself stands accused of violating laws barring the denial of the Rwandan genocide. We turn now to Peter Erlinder, who joins us from the Twin Cities, from Minneapolis.
Peter, welcome to Democracy Now! How are you felling? What happened to you?
PETER ERLINDER: Good morning, Ms. Goodman. Of course, I’m feeling much better now that I’m out of detention, but it strikes me that the earlier piece with Pilger is actually an introduction to this piece, because the reality is that most people in the United States don’t know about the US support for the Kagame dictatorship or the US responsibility for about ten million deaths in the eastern Congo, most of which have been the result of the invasions of the Congo by Rwanda and Uganda in the 1990s and the continued occupation of the Congo today. There’s been a massive disservice done to the American people regarding the truth of their government’s involvement in Central Africa. And unfortunately, until we’re able to find the documents in the UN files that tell the other story, the entire world has been misled with respect to what happened in Rwanda in 1994.
AMY GOODMAN: Why were you arrested? Peter Erlinder, why were you arrested?
PETER ERLINDER: Well, you’ll have to ask that of the Rwandan government, wouldn’t you? I was having breakfast and a croissant, finishing a document that I was working on for my client, and six large men surrounded me and took me away from the hotel. As to why that happened, I suspect that only the Rwandan leaders know.
AMY GOODMAN: They claim that you tried to commit suicide. Is that true?
PETER ERLINDER: Well, it seems to me that there are so many more important issues to talk about, like the ten million people that have been killed in the Congo. The state of my health and getting through that issue, it seems—or that circumstance, seems to me to be not the most important question to talk about. And because it was necessary for me to go public in court, with all of the various ills that I have as a guy who’s getting older, I think I’ve made a complete record of all that up until now, and I’m not talking about that in the media. I’d rather talk about the conditions of the US support for the military dictatorships in Central Africa, which I think is the much larger question.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, why don’t you talk about who you were representing there and what is the situation in Rwanda today—
PETER ERLINDER: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: —and as it relates to Congo, as well.
PETER ERLINDER: OK, thanks a lot. Yeah, I went there to represent Madame Victoire Ingabire, who had left Rwanda before 1994 to study in Europe. She returned at the beginning of this year with the idea of running for the presidency against the current president, Paul Kagame. Within a few hours after she arrived in Kigali, she went to the memorial for the Tutsis who were killed in the genocide, and she raised the question as to why it was that there were only Tutsis that were memorialized, when even the government says that moderate Hutus and Tutsis were the victims. And based on her questioning of the Tutsi being the only victims, she herself was charged with genocide ideology.
When I arrived in Rwanda, she had been charged. And I went there to consult with her to see if there was anything I could do. And five days later, I was arrested myself, based on, we later found out, my writings, written in the United States that were published on the web in English, which is both a medium that most Rwandans don’t have access to and a language that they don’t understand. It would have to be translated into Kinyarwandan in order for the ordinary Kinyarwandan to—only ordinary Rwandan to know what my articles were about at all.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined from Washington, DC by the Congolese pro-democracy activist Alafuele Kalala, who ran for president in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2006.
We welcome you to Democracy Now! on this eve of the fiftieth anniversary of the independence of the Democratic Republic of Congo under Patrice Lumumba. Your thoughts today about where your country is?
ALAFUELE KALALA: That’s a very—thank you. It’s a very difficult question. I think that the country is nowhere. It’s completely destroyed. In fact, it’s a nightmare for most Congolese, and they don’t know what fifty years of independence, formal independence, I should say, means. So, people are suffering. The country is completely bankrupted, at all levels. I say it’s a quintuple bankruptcy: political, economic, social, military, cultural. So, the country is nowhere. It’s completely destroyed. That’s what I can say in a few words.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the death of the human rights activist Floribert Chebeya?
ALAFUELE KALALA: Yeah, as I said it in my—just to summarize how I view it, it’s that this is a horrible murder that reveals the nature of the regime. It was shocking, but I was not surprised, because a couple of months ago I spoke with someone close to the Congolese government who told me, making a comparison between the Mobutu regime and the Kabila regime in the way they were treating human rights activists or human rights pro-democracy movement in the Congo. He said, during the Mobutu years, Mobutu was very cautious with human rights activists. Here we are dealing with people who don’t care, who arrest, torture and even kill pro-democracy activists and human rights activists. So that was told to me just a couple of months ago. And when this happened, I was shocked, but I was not surprised.
In fact, they tried to send a shockwave throughout the Congolese community, the Congolese society, in general, because if they can kill a leading human rights activist, a standing, leading human rights activist, respected in the world, what can they do of ordinary Congolese? And they are trying to frighten the human rights activists in the Congo not to take the ordinary tough stand against them.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, there—
ALAFUELE KALALA: So it’s a sad day for Congelese and for the world, I should say.
AMY GOODMAN: Eve Ensler and other women’s rights activists have been trying to shine the spotlight on what’s been happening in the eastern Congo, the massive number of rapes by soldiers and others there. People hear, and they think, what can we do? It’s so far away. Can you talk about the US role in the Democratic Republic of Congo?
ALAFUELE KALALA: Yeah. I should say, the past, the present and the future. What is happening in the Congo now, I summarize it saying that it’s fifty years of American foreign policy at work. The Americans played a role in the assassination of Lumumba; it’s a secret for no one. They put Mobutu in power and supported him unconditionally, allowing him to destroy an otherwise wealthy country. They knew everything that was happening. I would refer, if I had some time, to an editorial that Jim Hoagland put in the Washington Post in 1993 saying briefly that successive American administration knew everything that Mobutu was doing in the Congo, but they considered it to be a small Cold War tax on Zairians, as it was called at that time. So now, I am—OK, that was explained with the Cold War. I don’t think that it’s a complete explanation of the American role in the Congo. In my opinion, it shows the power and the influence of mining companies on the American foreign policy in the Congo, in particular.
Unfortunately, I thought that after the Cold War, the American administration was going to amend its act and allow the people of the Congo to chart a new course. Unfortunately, in the 2006 elections, they imposed—they worked with other Western countries to impose Kabila on the Congo. It was a sham election. And now we are witnessing a total collapse, deliquency of the country, because we are dealing with a widespread corruption on top of the violence that they use against even ordinary people, political activists, human rights activists. So, so far, to date, the US administration has—
AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.
ALAFUELE KALALA: —played a negative role in the Congo. Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have—
ALAFUELE KALALA: They also supported Rwanda in its invasion of Congo. So, so far, it has been a totally negative role in the Congo.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, but we will continue the discussion. Alafuele Kalala, Congolese pro-democracy activist, former presidential candidate in Democratic Republic of Congo, and Peter Erlinder, thank you so much.
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