Who is The Talking Dog?

The Talking Dog

"Sure, the dog can talk…but does it say anything interesting?"

He ain't The Man's best friend

August 14, 2016, Footsteps


What I share with Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte is that I am a fabulously handsome thirty-two year old am an incredible athlete with a dozen Olympic swimming medals was mugged in Rio de Janeiro... in Lochte's case, at gunpoint.
Naturally, the Olympic organizers' reaction was... to deny it even happened.

Lots of good stuff going on at Rio-- such as first time gold medals for Fiji (rugby) and Puerto Rico (women's tennis), or Phelps and Ledecky and Biles and (f'ing eh!) Usain Bolt and Wayde van Niekerkand (the latter, a South African who just destroyed Michael Johnson's 400 meter world record, with his 74 year old female coach named Botha no less watching) and so many other notable moments (such as algae-laden swimming pools, polluted waterways for boating and other events, and, well... crime...)

Sadly, the Brazilian state is in financial distress, and paying for both the World Cup of Soccer in 2014 and the current Olympics... is a problem. Rio has always been crime ridden (as far as I know... I was mugged there in 1989... albeit not at gunpoint... and indeed. ,my youngish assailants abandoned their efforts when all I had was a brick of local currency, having already changed much of my yankee dollars into what were then cruzeiros.)

But I digress. An Olympics featuring a refugee team... quite a statement. Recognition of what is an increasing issue, to be sure. An American competing in hijab. Majority of the USA team is female. Times they are a changing.

Except that Rio is still a crime-ridden and troubled place.

Update (8-20-16): Of course, it's entirely possible that Ryan Lochte, pissed off that he and his comrades had to piss outside (a gast station that they stopped at to use the rest room) in some bushes, decided to vandalize a poster and then be arrogant and militant about it, resulting in a (perhaps) armed response from security guards at a gas station (say two of the four Americans involved). As usual... don't know... wasn't there. Of course, the saturation coverage of this story does make one wonder... just what other story out there hasn't been getting coverage, under... cover (as it were) of these swimmers behaving badly?


August 9, 2016, The Hits Just Keep on Coming






What assessment to make of Donald "the Donald" Trump's latest... gaffe? Well, the kerfuffle comes from a speech given in North Carolina, where the speech went:

“Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish the Second Amendment,” Trump said to boos from the crowd. “By the way, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks,” he then added. “Though the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know.”

Wait a minute (and wtf?) Did he just call for his supporters to assassinate his opponent (or at least her judicial nominees) in the event she prevails in the election? As Kevin Drum correctly tells us, it would have been easy enough to just write this off as yet another "inappropriate" statement by a candidate who can't seem to make another kind. Indeed-- simply a bad taste joke--Hillary came to his damned wedding for Chrissake... he doesn't seriously want her rubbed out does he? [BTW, Mr. Drum wonders if, now that House Speaker Paul Ryan has won his primary, there is anything that will make Ryan "unendorse" Mr. Trump... I'll just say, "maybe, but not how you bet."]

Back to our story. DOES HE SERIOUSLY WANT SOMEONE TO GUN DOWN HILLARY CLINTON? Naturally, his campaign argues that this is a rallying call to his Second Amendment friends to come out and vote... even though, unquestionably, the context is if Hillary wins (as Kevin Drum correctly points out). As usual, Trump is stepping on his own message. But hey, he just says whatever crap comes into his head... if it incites violence... well, he's a (perceived to be) rich, White male, so... no consequences. Hell, there haven't been adverse consequences to him for any bad decision he's ever made in seventy years... so why start now?

The great Matt Taibbi observes that a clear influence on Trump is pro wrestler Ravishing Rick Rude... or maybe this "Bobby the Brain" guy (who has his own kind of Boris Johnson 'do...)


Or not. Speaking of hair...

I suppose the question is, now that we have reached the point where someone who apparently can't discern statements and behavior appropriate for the WWE and that appropriate for running for the Presidency of the United States is now a major party's candidate for that office... what now? As Mr. Taibbi has observed, Trump has captured the fact that Presidential campaigns have devolved into a sick joke, and exploited it into his present position. We know for sure that millions of people are probably willing to just say "fuck it" with their vote (or to paraphrase Hillary herself... what difference does it make?) .

The question for the rest of us... is whether we believe the Presidency itself is ready for a similar devolution.


August 1, 2016, TD Blog Interview with Naomi Paik

A. Naomi Paik is Assistant Professor of Asian American studies at the University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana. Professor Paik holds a B.A. from Columbia, and an M.A., M.Phil. and Ph.D. from Yale University, She is the author of "Rightlessness: Testimony and Redress in US Prison Camps since World War II." On July 15, 2016, I had the privilege of interviewing Professor Paik by telephone. What follows are my interview notes, as corrected by Naomi Paik.

The Talking Dog: Where were you on 11 Sept. 2001?

Naomi Paik: I was in New York from 1996 until 2010. On the morning of September 11th, I was on my way to work when the first plane hit, and arrived at work when the second plane hit. I was then working in mid-town, and living in Queens. It doesn't feel all that long ago to me, but at the time, many of my students were around five years old on 9-11! I feel a responsibility to teach them about the events of that day and the aftermath... many of my students are shocked to find out about things like the Abu Ghraib photographs! September 11th seems to be fading with the passage of time, even as the consequences are quite current.

The Talking Dog: Your book, of course, juxtaposes the three camp-based rightlessness situations of the United States in the last 80 years or so-- the WWII internment of ethnic Japanese (both U.S. citizen and non-citizen alike), the 1990's internment of Haitians, most notably HIV- positive Haitians trying to flee that country's political violence, and the post-9-11 internment of Muslim men at Guantánamo Bay for the last 14 plus years. The Japanese internment, at least it seems to me, is now a "consensus act of national shame"... something we as a nation are supposed to regret having done... possibly for reasons associated with the ultimate economic and social success of ("model minority") Japanese people in this country and perhaps because the "success" of the African American civil rights movement required a specific backlash against darker skinned people (rather than all non-Whites in general), but whether or not you accept my characterization, do you see any circumstances under which either the Haitian internment or the present iteration of Guantanamo will ever be regarded as "consensus" acts of national shame in the same manner (let alone the subjects of broad national apology and monetary compensation), or is the apology to Japanese-Americans for the internment a complete one-off?

Naomi Paik: I don't know if I would categorize the Japanese internment situation as a one-off. I will say that for the Haitians or Arab Muslim men detained at Guantanamo, in order to get the kind of national consensus that declares this detention is a shameful thing requiring apology-- for that, we will need a dramatic shift in national circumstances. The redress for Japanese internment was not about the U.S. government and people feeling remorseful and wanting to make amends, but resulted from a convergence of multiple factors and changes in the circumstances of the United States itself that came together in the 1980s. We were in a supposed "post Civil Rights era" period, as well as the fading final years of the Cold War. We were (and are) in an era when it’s no longer socially acceptable be overtly racist (though it looks like movements around Trump and Brexit, for example, are encouraging overt displays of racism)... but a Congressional statute or Supreme Court opinion, like those involved with Japanese American redress, does not magically make racism go away. Now, it is practiced in more subtle and more sinister ways. You can't be so racist openly, so racism is still operating, but in a roundabout way.

And so the Japanese American redress marks or highlights how we have moved from racial domination to racial hegemony, from being able to sweep away thousands of people explicitly based on racial and ethnic difference to sweeping away thousands of people through less overtly racialized categories, like the “terrorist” (someone who appears Arab and/or Muslim) or the “criminal” (racialized as Black or Brown.). The "reconciliation" was useful to show that we are "no longer racist." While we have this cover story, all of the other structures and ideas of racism remain active and present, although it appears to go deeper underground, it’s not as visible. It actually operates through its obfuscation. And so, for example, we get this national apology and redress of the mass internment of Japanese Americans at the same time that we accelerate the mass incarceration that clearly targets Black and Brown people, but without explicitly saying so. (Instead of saying we target Black and Brown people, we say that we want to preserve “law and order” against “criminals.” These categories are racialized, but not overtly.) How does one hold all of this-- our supposed status as no longer racist with actual serious racist policies and practices- together? The public at large does not see the "other side" (the racism inherent to mass incarceration)-- just the cover story (fighting crime). There have been excellent books on the mass incarceration phenomena-- but how does one reconcile that with the cover story of not (or no longer) being a racist country?

The context of something like the Japanese apology/compensation (including the actual implementing legislation) turns on its usefulness to the United States government-- in particular, if it helps us believe that we are who we think we are—that we in fact believe in equality and justice for all, etc.. But we have watched a significant shift-- from overt to covert racism, from racial domination to racial hegemony. That was the context of the Japanese internment situation. Redress helped consolidate a story about the U.S. as a nation so great that it could acknowledge its past mistakes and move forward with the knowledge that we’re no longer racist. It’s a great story, one that is clearly not true.

With respect to Haitians and Muslims/Arabs (both held at Guantanamo), unless circumstances change entirely, there will be no expressions of national shame or remorse. For one thing, Japanese Internment was historically contained-- it aligned with WWII, our last formally declared war, beginning on a certain date, and ending on a certain date . The treatment of Haitian migrants as a group targeted for exclusion from the U.S. is a continuing condition. I think the kind of xenophobic thinking, as well as the practices of migrant detention and deportation, that have targeted Haitians is spreading to other racial migrants from the global South. And the surveillance and detention of Arabs/Muslims preceded 9-11 and still obviously goes on today... We are still quite overtly doing it and will continue to do so under the never-ending War on Terror. And that said, absent both a major shift in national circumstances and for such an apology to be useful to the state -- it won't happen. I don't see any of this happening now.

The popularity of Trump, the success of the Brexit vote, along with the rhetoric about walls and massive deportation of "undesirable migrants" and a proposed ban on all Muslims reflect an environment that is getting worse and not better.

The Talking Dog: One of the incidents you report in your book that I confess I was unaware of was the forcible kidnapping and internment of Japanese national persons in Latin America, especially Peru, numbering in excess of 2,000, who were brought from their home countries in Latin America and the Caribbean and held in the same internment camps as Americans of Japanese descent. (They were actually different camps run by a different government agency.) Obviously, the parallels are uncanny to the United States behavior in the war on terror (quite literally kidnapping Muslim men off the streets of just about everywhere on Earth and then moving them into extraordinary rendition in places like torture-dungeons in Egypt or Syria or elsewhere, or American custody in CIA ghost prisons or military prisons in Afghanistan, Guantanamo, etc.)... Is there a reason of which you are aware why that particular act of American aggression is so little known (or am I wrong on that?), and am I missing something, or does this not put an exclamation point on how "seamless" American behavior in creating "the rightless" has proven as a historic matter?

Naomi Paik: I would describe what is going on at Guantanamo as certainly less anomalous than meets the eye, but perhaps not "seamless." The conditions associated with the JLA, or Japanese Latin Americans, and the Muslims/Arabs at Guantanamo are similar, but there are also substantially different historical conditions between the 1940s and the present, so there are both distinctions and connections.

I'm not sure how well known the incident of the JLA internment is even in Peru; I'd actually like to know and look into it further.

One distinction, of course, that there were "only" about 2,000 such people detained, as distinct from over 100,000 U.S. nationals and residents. Another important distinction that could explain their obscurity is that the JLAs were excluded from the redress. Even though some testified before the government commission and were part of the movement for redress, most were not able to receive the formal apology and redress payment because they were not U.S. citizens or permanent residents at the time of their imprisonment. Most of them were forced to leave their homes, with their documents like passports taken from them, and were considered stateless after the war. So, the very reason they were excluded from redress has everything to do with the U.S. government’s extraditing them in the first place. But this part of the history is irresolvable in the terms of nation-based redress for a very particular group of people. (So, for example, the exclusion of JLAs from redress also raises the question of why there will be no redress for the descendants of slavery or of Indian massacres.)

I note that when I was in elementary school and high school in the 1980s and 1990s, the school curriculum taught that the internment of Japanese "was for their own good." Over time, the narrative has shifted, and now we are ostensibly sorry about the whole thing. But because the JLAs were not part of the redress, they are not even part of that official story. The redress for internment was meant to smooth over a disquieting history... about a nation and how it mistreated its own people. Grappling with the Japanese Latin Americans would be less useful for that purpose and would raise the contradictions inherent in the redress, which was always only partial, For one thing, our government still takes it upon itself to intervene all over Latin America-- it wouldn't want a narrative that its prior conduct there was problematic.

The Talking Dog: Obviously we are still in the middle of the war on terror detentions, and debate over the propriety of, say, keeping Guantanamo open takes as a given-- a new normal if you will- of the overall propriety of indefinite detention by the US military and government, particularly of its supposed enemies, no matter where they can be found. To what extent would you credit the whitewashing effect of the compensation and "normalization" afforded to the formerly interned Japanese-- the overarching premise of "but we're the good guys"-- as enabling the later process of... I'll call it "rights-stripping of the other" process once applicable to Japanese, then to Haitians and now to Muslims? I note that some military personnel I talked to spoke with a fair amount of pride in the fact that during the Viet Nam and first Iraq Wars, the United States military very carefully tried to adhere to Geneva Conventions treatment of captured personnel, whereas now, evidently, once again, our policy requires "flexibility" (i.e. jettisoning inconvenient restrictions, such as the protections afforded by Geneva Conventions)... do you see any relationship between all of these developments?

Naomi Paik: I do see a relationship. I want to go back to the earlier part of your question, noting that indefinite detention, as a "normal thing", has indeed become a default position. And so, we might ask, where do we put the "forever detainees"? We have already made the assumption that not only can we hold them, but we have to hold them, without trial, until they die. Indeed, this default assumption virtually precludes all of the other questions we presume to ask about Guantanamo.

I can certainly say that the current Guantanamo detention camp will not close before Barack Obama leaves office, for various reasons. But even if it closes, and the government simply brings the forever detainees to Florence, Colorado or Leavenworth, Kansas or elsewhere in the United States, and keeps them in the same "forever prisoner" status they are now in—without trials, charges, or remedies—it not only solves nothing, it actually worsens the problem, because the prisoners will disappear into the much larger U.S. prison apparatus, rather than being in a hyper-visible (in some ways) locale. Because while Guantanamo itself is that hyper-visible site and symbolic of the whole program, moving its prisoners without changing their status does not answer the key questions: To whom do laws apply? What about habeas corpus-- what does it mean? To whom does it extend? This is not just about Guantanamo and its prisoners, but presents much broader issues of much more general concern. Bringing prisoners here not only doesn't answer these questions, it makes the Guantanamo prisoners "less remarkable"-- they are just more men, among thousands in supermax confinement and millions incarcerated within the U.S. prison industrial complex. They become less visible, and as noted, their status-- as rightless-- becomes a new normal. And we have to recognize that it is our own government that is holding these people; other peoples and other governments are not. So the short answer is that while I don't want Guantanamo to remain open, I don't want its conditions to continue while the problems are simply moved around, and only the nomenclature and venue changes.

As to the other part of your question, that is, how did the "redress" process associated with the Japanese internment enable the “rights-stripping” project writ large.My response would be, redress has everything to do with allowing conditions of rightlessness to fester, even while (in fact, partly through) proclaiming ourselves to be the bearers and guardians of rights. We trot out a process to shine light on an unfortunate past episode, the internment of our citizens and lawful residents solely on the basis of race. The point was to re-cast the internment as "our story" but in a useful framing-- to wit, that we did it, but apologized for it, as well as provided compensation, reaffirms that "we are the good guys," as you put it, and hence, whatever we do-- anything and everything-- must be justified for that reason. So now, we capture and indefinitely imprison people we deem terrorists, rendering them rightless, because we are invested in securing everyone else’s rights. We are the “good guys” doing what we must to contain “the bad guys.” Given differing historical conditions, it is important to note that we will never do anything exactly like we did it before. As I’ve been saying, the internment of Japanese on the West Coast was not executed the same way as the detention of Haitian refugees or “enemy combatants” of the War on Terror. But we will continue to create rightlessness, again and again, in part by asserting that we are the global leader in human rights and civil rights. Therefore, whoever we are detaining must have done something wrong on this basis. This is the logic that creates conditions of rightlessness. Indeed, "the good guy" narrative effectively papers over any other competing narrative-- whatever particular story of a defendant’s innocence that an individual "forever prisoner" may have, for example. Any explanation affirmed by any other factor is duly wiped out by the overarching power of this narrative.

The Talking Dog: Can you comment on "prisoner resistance," most notably hunger strikes... resistance of course took various forms in the Japanese internment camps besides hunger strikes (such as refusing military service or to sign the requisite loyalty oaths, for example) and hunger strikes are the best known form of resistance in the Haitian detention situation and of course, in the Guantanamo Bay detention of Muslim men, and can you comment on why it is that the American jailers felt (and still feel) so disproportionately threatened by the people under their penal control deciding to exercise any control over their own circumstances whatsoever? If you could, please compare and contrast the experience of other Western "jailer-nations" of which you aware (the UK comes to mind) when dealing with hunger striker situations?

Naomi Paik: This is a great question-- why does the United States military feel so threatened by hunger strikes, when it already has control over virtually every aspect of its prisoners' lives? There is kind of a long answer to this. The United States has effectively banned or forbidden its prisoners to engage in hunger strikes through the mechanism of force-feeding of prisoners. The government then justifies these force-feedings with the narrative that "we care"-- we are so much "the good guys" that we care for the brutish “terrorists” that we are imprisoning, for whom we are compelled to maintain their health and safety. If a prisoner refuses to eat, we have to make them eat, to maintain their life and health.

The Talking Dog I understand that during Ramadan, the force-feeding only takes place at night.

Naomi Paik: That would be perfectly consistent with the narrative-- we are so "the good guys" that not only do we care about their health and safety, but we even care about the religious views of our enemies!

With a hunger strike, prisoners are trying to make themselves visible. From their point of view, the United States is already killing them, but in a slow, protracted way. They are living a life that is not a life and dying slowly. By hunger striking, they are trying to make their plight visible-- it is both an act of defiance and an act of communication. Habeas corpus has not proven to be a useful remedy for them, and in any event, has not managed to capture public imagination. Hunger strikes have managed to break through this indifference. While many people like you and I maintain an interest in the plight of the men at Guantanamo, many others in the U.S. public don’t think about these men at all-- out of sight is out of mind for most people. In that sense, then, from the government's perspective, Guantanamo is a successful detention. One of the points of removing these men to an isolated corner of the world, with such limited access to public view, is to keep us from being interested in the prisoners’ plight or in seeing them as connected to us. But the hunger strike broke through all this, and got attention. Obama had to respond to it-- he replaced his envoy for detainee relocation, he had to deal with hecklers on this issue, and he, eventually, dramatically stepped up the release of "not-forever" prisoners. The problem with hunger strikes, from the government's and the military's perspective, is that the they undermine one of their main goals in the detention scheme, and that is to make us simply not care what happens to the people the government declares without rights.

The other reason the military and the government see hunger strikes as a serious problem is more oblique, but centrally important. There is concern that a "successful" hunger strike could lead to a prisoner death, and this in turn will create a martyr, both within the prison and without. The prisoners, for their part, believe so thoroughly that their detention is unjust that they are willing to die, even if life beyond Guantanamo, not death, is their goal. But the United States exercises and asserts its powers through places like Guantanamo. Put another way, Guantanamo highlights the power the U.S. state has and can and will use against its declared “enemies.”

If a hunger-striking person manages to take their own life, then s/he takes away from the total power of the United States. Because it is the hunger striker who ultimately takes power over his own life and death into his hands. S/he steals the object of the U.S. state’s power. So, force-feeding is not just about keeping the hunger striker alive out of concern for his health and safety. (If that were the case, the U.S. would not indefinitely imprison them under conditions of slow death in the first place.) It is about maintaining power over the prisoners. The state controls the conditions their lives and prohibits their dying on their own terms. As you mentioned, upon entering the camp, detainees are told by guards that they are the property of the United States. If we could ventriloquize the Defense Department’s logic, it might claim to the detainee: “you don't get to decide what happens to you! You're ours now!"

The Talking Dog I'm reminded that in the very early days of Guantanamo, as prisoners were dazed after their long flights, and kneeling on the tarmac in their orange jump-suits, all shackled, military officers supposedly shouted out "You are now the property of the United States Marine Corps!"

Naomi Paik: And that would be perfectly consistent with this rationale. Hunger strikes by prisoners unveil so many contradictions of rightlessness and the camp. We are force-feeding you at night because we respect your religious beliefs. We are force-feeding you at all because we respect your life and health and safety, even as we keep you under conditions of slowly dying, and we have to protect you by inflicting pain.

The Talking Dog: Haiti and its nationals have presented a peculiar situation for the United States. Despite being the second oldest independent nation in the Western hemisphere and also a nation that achieved independence via a revolt from an imperial European power, the United States hasn't had the warmest of relationships with Haiti, presumably because the revolutionaries and their descendants were (and are descended from) Black African slaves. That said, of course, the United States has often felt able to help itself for its military to directly intervene in Haiti (even after the recent earthquake there, American troops landed in Haiti and ostensibly imposed martial law). More obviously, the Japanese internees and Guantanamo Bay detainees were captives of more clearly understood "wars"-- World War II and the "War on Terror"... my assertion is that the Haitians were captives of over two centuries long military hostilities toward Haiti. Regardless of my characterization of the Haitian situation, would you not concur that it's almost "too easy" in our system (that pretends to confer "equal justice under law" and a whole panoply of human rights) to (unofficially, of course) suspend our constitutional protections in order to vilify a convenient "other" who, of course, (always) represents an "existential threat," be it descendants of citizens of Imperial Japan, Black Haitians suffering with AIDS or Muslim males... or for that matter, their domestic counterparts (pretty much "poor people" as well as immigration law violators)... and then the rightlessness promptly follows this "emergency"?

Naomi Paik: On the one hand I agree with your premise, but on the other hand, I'd like to push back somewhat. I agree that whenever Constitutional protections are suspended, we usually see it in the context of fear of an existential threat, duly projected on to a racialized "other."

However, you do not need outright suspension of constitutional protections to create rightlessness-- indeed, you don't have to have "legal" rightlessness to have effective on-the-ground rightlessness. You can see this plainly in mass incarceration in our criminal justice system and immigrant detention system. Indeed, even in domestic post 9-11 detentions, large numbers of Muslim, Arab, and South Asian were picked up and held-- as if their rights were formally suspended-- but this detention was executed using existing domestic laws.

I would describe this practice as the selective mobilization of existing laws -- against certain people. For example, with respect to the Haitian HIV+ detainees, the U.S. already had a law barring entrance to persons with HIV, but there had been no regular enforcement. When the government discovered that hundreds of Haitians it had already granted asylum carried HIV, suddenly, the law-- already on the books-- was effectively mobilized to exclude them from the U.S. (and hold them at Guantanamo) for the indefinite future. That's how we do things. We don’t actually need martial law or other exceptional strategies to create rightlessness. We have regular tools at the ready.

The Talking Dog: I would liken this to "prosecutorial discretion" as used in the "war on drugs"-- while Whites' incidence of drug use is at the same or higher levels as that of Black or Brown people, the heavy hand of enforcement tends to come down on the latter.

Naomi Paik: And I would agree with that. The extreme cases we see, like those at Guantanamo, are not divorced from our regular system, culture and legal apparatus-- they operate within it. In this sense, Guantanamo is not shocking. It is rather a predictable consequences of laws we already have resulting in actions and policies that are remarkably effective at creating rightlessness.

And so, there was a wide discussion of the government's response to 9-11 that generated so much shock and outrage, to the effect that the nation’s actions at that time were so "un-American"— we don't do things like this. But despite the President's constant refrain of "this is not who we are"-- this is exactly who we are. When one has an understanding of American practices in a historical context and overall sense, you realize that current "abusive" practices are connected to who we are and what we have been doing for a very long time.

The Talking Dog: Let's talk about "legal redress." You note, of course, that the people who end up finding themselves rightless in American prison camps tend to first be removed from their communities from whence it is easy to strip them of their rights; in the case of West Coast Japanese, their entire community was picked up and moved to internment camps; in the case of Haitians and Haitians with AIDS, they had left their homes amidst an unstable and violent political situation and found themselves picked up at sea and taken to nearby Guantanamo, where they were held in open air prisons, and of course, in the case of Muslim men at Guantanamo, they were picked up from virtually anywhere on Earth and moved to Guantanamo, but clearly in the latter two cases, the detainees were physically separated from their own communities and indeed, often held outright incommunicado. That said, of course, in many cases, these groups lack a broader constituency outside of their own relatively powerless communities, and members of those communities may well not wish to risk their own status by advocating too vigorously for their unfortunate brethren. Regardless of how, once again, our system promises "equal justice under law," the reality all too often could be interpreted as "justice to the highest bidder." My question is, does not the prejudice (in its dictionary sense of baked-in-to-the-cake systemically "pre-judgement" rather than classically "racist" as such ) against poor and/or Black and/or Latino criminal defendants in a particular case just scale up with respect to the legal status of these groups? And, just as wonderfully lofty constitutional protections for individual defendants nonetheless fail to stop (or even slow down) the mass incarceration of poor and/or Black and/or Latino criminal defendants domestically "scales up" when we're talking about large groups of "the unpopular," and the courts that supposedly vindicate the "robust" array of constitutional rights, in reality merely sanitize the "rightlessness," be it directly in cases such as Korematsu (sustaining the Japanese internment), or indirectly in the Haitian context (the "HCC" or Haitian Centers Council I, II, and III cases) and Guantanamo (such cases as Rasul, Hamdan and Boumediene, that seemed to redress the plight of the rightless but had somewhat less impact "operationally" than one would think...) does this lead one to come to the conclusion that the courts, rather than the cartoon civics lesson of being unbiased arbiters of rights are simply themselves, essential components of the political system that imposed "rightlessness" in the first place?

Naomi Paik: I'm of two minds on this one. Sometimes, the judiciary has effectively intervened on behalf of the rightless, as, for example, in the "HCC III" case in which Judge Sterling Johnson of U.S. District Court in Brooklyn ordered the release of the HIV+ Haitian refugees. Other times, the courts affirm rightlessness, as seen in HCC II, which maintained the interdiction and forcible repatriation policy against Haitian migrants, or Korematsu, which effectively legitimized internment, by the U.S. Supreme Court. And the courts, especially the Supreme Court, have been "cautious" with respect to the war on terror detentions, casting a fine line that is more muddling and frankly less helpful. On the one hand, the Supreme Court has decided that detainees do have habeas corpus rights and that the federal judiciary does reach Guantanamo. On the other hand, however, the Court has refused to take up cases on the conditions of confinement (like force-feeding, for example), and has refused to hear a Guantanamo case since Obama was elected to clarify these issues. In the end, the Courts have provided "guidance" that is not necessarily useful, purporting to vindicate rights but not quite getting there.

Another case I'd note in this area is the domestic case of Utah v. Strieff, which effectively guts the Fourth Amendment. The court enables abusive police practices on the ground, which had already been happening for trumped up purposes. The judiciary has now affirmed these practices in contravention of what we understood to be constitutional law. Justice Sotomayor saw where this was going in her dissent, noting that while on paper this decision might not seem a big change, for Black and Brown people, this could have a huge effect "on the ground" and literally result in deaths.

The Talking Dog: Following up on the "resistance" question, let's talk about the "speaking out" part. You discuss some rather poignant observations (both direct and in various forms of art and media) associated with the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians ("CWRIC") and hearings it held, as well as statements coming from the Haitian refugee and Guantanamo detainee situations. I suppose what struck me most was the five-minute limitation on statements to the CWRIC commissioners, as if hearings to discuss what was (as a matter of consensus) one of the great injustices committed by the American state were to be equated with comments on a zoning variance application. Similarly, it is extremely difficult to get a statement out of a detainee at Guantanamo while they are still there, as it is presumptively classified, and in turn, has to be thoroughly vetted by the Defense Department before it can be publicly disseminated, although at least one book ("Guantanamo Diary" by Mohammedou Ould Slahi) made it out, albeit heavily redacted. Some former detainees have spoken out, of course. That said, how important to the "creation of rightlessness" project do you believe it is that the people "who don't have the right to have rights" are systemically stifled-- that is, even after the fact-- decades after the fact in the case of the Japanese internment-- it is necessary that the experience be boxed into the official narrative ("the model minority") or otherwise, not discussed at all? While on this subject, how would you fit the role of "collaborators" (Japanese American Citizens League or JACL comes to mind), particularly in the "decades later" stage...i.e., one might choose to cut that group some slack for trying to make the best of a bad situation at the time, but even decades later, it remained an apologist for the whole program... how does this fit in to the creation of "the rightless" project?

Naomi Paik: That's a number of questions. As to the "speaking out" point, a core component of rightlessness is the inability to make oneself heard. The rightless, of course, speak out and communicate all the time. But they are unable to be heard. We either cannot or refuse to hear them. And because they cannot be heard, we are not compelled to do something about their plight. Of course, in the context of the law, this cuts multiple ways, as judicial forums can become venues to speak back to power (as seen in the CWRIC hearings, trials, CSRTs, and military commissions that I look at in the book), but of course, we can never be certain that the state or the public is listening. Still, in the context of rightlessness, the fact that these prisoners can, if sporadically or inconsistently, make themselves heard, and that we pay attention to their plight despite all efforts to muzzle them, is itself remarkable.

Another point raised is the issue of how the status of "rightlessness" manages to continue even after the detention itself comes to an end. In the context of the Japanese internment redress process, of course, limiting CWRIC witnesses to only five minutes, and limiting the impact of the testimony that did come through, is a mark of the enduring power of rightlessness, not only after the fact, but decades after the fact. Rightlessness does not necessarily end with the mere end to imprisonment.

As to the issue of silencing of the rightless by "collaborators," I too would try to think through the historical conditions with respect to actions at the time. The JACL responded to their plight by reasoning the community needed their leadership and that resistance would make a bad situation worse. That said, as to "collaboration continuing decades later," we should note that the JACL, including Mike Masaoka, did a great deal of leg-work to get the redress bill through Congress and written into law in the first place. (But the JACL also initially opposed any movement to address internment out of fears such mobilization would foster anti-Japanese sentiment.) Their redress work included organizing witnesses who exposed the racist violence that surrounded the evacuation and internment during World War II. The problem of course, is the silencing of other witnesses, ones who criticized the JACL, who sought to broaden the reach of redress to talk about the pervasive U.S. racism that affects many other communities, who valorized resisters to internment. I note, however, that "dissenting witness" testimony was not written out of the record. It was rather deemphasized, like the plight of the Japanese Latin Americans. The more expansive analyses of internment connected Japanese Americans to JLAs or to Black, Brown, and indigenous communities were not the central story of redress. The “exceptional” nature of race-based interment (as if it has never happened to another group in the U.S.) was the story. The JACL and dominant narrative of redress confront only a partial history (and one helpful to national narratives of the U.S. as the leader of rights.) ,

The Talking Dog: One of your theses is that while the United States purports to champion inalienable rights at home and internationally, it has built its global power in part by creating a regime of imprisonment that places certain populations perceived as threats beyond rights. The United States' status as the guardian of rights coincides with, indeed depends on, its creation of rightlessness. Please explain the "depends upon" portion of that thesis; certainly, the establishment and maintenance of the American continental empire required the subjugation (and partition of) its indigenous and aboriginal peoples, as does, presumably, the establishment and maintenance of its more subtle global empire, but I'm wondering if you have a broader notion of the U.S. status as "guardian of rights" beyond simply its status as a super-power?

Naomi Paik: I would re-frame this question a bit. It's not so much about the United States being "the world's super-power." We are, without doubt, at least notionally, the world's richest, militarily dominant, and influential economic power. This is mostly about how the United States has framed itself as the global force for good. That we are not merely the most powerful in a military sense, but morally the most powerful, motivated by the greater good-- which is why we actually stand up for human rights and are their champion.

Hence, our interventions in Haiti were always framed as "humanitarian"-- we are bringing civilization and modernity to a backward people. Similarly, we are bringing women's rights to Afghanistan, and we entered Iraq for humanitarian reasons, because Saddam Hussein's regime was so oppressive to its own people. And so, of course, this creates massive contradictions when the United States itself engages in the deprivation and indeed evisceration of the very rights it is supposed to be championing.

This contradiction is why I argue that rights depend on rightlessness-- they are not two separate things. Rightlessness is more than the deprivation of rights. We need to de-bunk the proposition that "all people are born with inalienable rights, but rights have unfortunately been stripped from some." No-- some people have to be rightless for rights to make sense. There is a fundamental contradiction of supposedly inalienable rights. Hannah Arendt described this as “the right to have rights.” Human rights are not solely about rights with content, like habeas corpus. They are at their core about the “right to have rights, which means that you have to be part of a community that can guarantee your rights. If deprived of that community (through camp imprisonment, for example), then you are effectively rightless. This is not to say that there are the rightless and the rightful, with no shades in between. As I’ve been suggesting here and in the book, there are gradations of rights and rightlessness.

And so, on the one hand, the United States pitches itself as a "moral leader" and a guardian of rights. On the other hand, we have the reality that there is a gradation or spectrum of those with rights, in which the U.S. produces conditions of rightlessness. One can, of course, be in the middle of the gradation, such as people of color who have only limited claims to the “community” of the U.S. political culture, are targeted for exclusion, removal, imprisonment, and their testimony is always subject to doubt. So for example, whenever we see yet another video of lethal police brutality on a person of color, we are also almost immediately met with a discrediting of the victim, who must have brought his/her death on him/herself. The issue can never be about a criminal justice and policing system that targets certain people and not others, and that then treats those targeted people with violence not inflicted on others. It becomes about how the victim’s behavior, body, clothing, compliance, etc. warranted his/her own killing. What these videos on tiny cameras show us is 1) the perspective of the victim is never really heard; we have so many strategies for not listening; and 2) certain people, even if citizens of the U.S., do not have the full luxury of the right to have rights, of the “community willing to guarantee any rights whatsoever.” You don’t have to be imprisoned in a camp to understand the implications of rightlessness.

The Talking Dog: Is there anything else I should have asked you but didn't, or anything else that needs to be said, on these important subjects?

Naomi Paik:The main thing, even as I focus my own analysis on the "exceptional" plight of the peculiarly rightless, like Japanese internees, HIV+ Haitian refugees, and so-called “enemy combatants” at Guantanamo, is that the exceptions are not really exceptional. Rather, they are deeply embedded in our history, culture and legal system. The fate of the "rightless" is closely connected to our own futures. We are implicated in the plight of the rightless people I examine in the book. The currently "rightless" are being deprived of their rights by our government, on our behalf. We need to know that there are powers that can create rightlessness, not just for those currently in camps, and we need to understand how these powers operate. What are its strategies, policies, legal apparatuses, technologies, etc.? And if rightlessness can be exacted against others, then it is threatening to us as well. These rightless conditions are threatening for everyone, and the message of the rightless is relevant to all of us.

The Talking Dog: I join all of my readers in thanking Naomi Paik for that fascinating interview. Interested readers should check out Naomi Paik's website, the Facebook page for her book, or her Twitter: @ANaomiPaik, as well as checking out her book, Rightlessness.

Readers interested in legal issues and related matters associated with the "war on terror" may also find talking dog blog interviews with former Guantanamo military commissions prosecutors Morris Davis and Darrel Vandeveld, with Guantanamo military commissions defense attorney Todd Pierce, with former Guantanamo combatant status review tribunal/"OARDEC" officer Stephen Abraham, with attorneys Pardiss Kebriaei, Nancy Hollander, Jon Eisenberg, David Marshall, Jan Kitchel, Eric Lewis, Cori Crider, Michael Mone, Matt O'Hara, Carlos Warner, Matthew Melewski, Stewart "Buz" Eisenberg, Patricia Bronte, Kristine Huskey, Ellen Lubell, Ramzi Kassem, George Clarke, Buz Eisenberg, Steven Wax, Wells Dixon, Rebecca Dick, Wesley Powell, Martha Rayner, Angela Campbell, Stephen Truitt and Charles Carpenter, Gaillard Hunt, Robert Rachlin, Tina Foster, Brent Mickum, Marc Falkoff H. Candace Gorman, Eric Freedman, Michael Ratner, Thomas Wilner, Jonathan Hafetz, Joshua Denbeaux, Rick Wilson,
Neal Katyal, Joshua Colangelo Bryan, Baher Azmy, and Joshua Dratel (representing Guantanamo detainees and others held in "the war on terror"), with attorneys Donna Newman and Andrew Patel (representing "unlawful combatant" Jose Padilila), with Dr. David Nicholl, who spearheaded an effort among international physicians protesting force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, with physician and bioethicist Dr. Steven Miles on medical complicity in torture, with law professor and former Clinton Administration Ambassador-at-large for war crimes matters David Scheffer, with former Guantanamo detainees Moazzam Begg and Shafiq Rasul , with former Guantanamo Bay Chaplain James Yee, with former Guantanamo Army Arabic linguist Erik Saar, with former Guantanamo sergeant-of-the-guard Joseph Hickman, with former Guantanamo military guard Terry Holdbrooks, Jr., with former military interrogator Matthew Alexander, with law professor and former Army J.A.G. officer Jeffrey Addicott, with law professor and Coast Guard officer Glenn Sulmasy, with author and geographer Trevor Paglen and with author and journalist Stephen Grey on the subject of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, with journalist and author David Rose on Guantanamo, with journalist Michael Otterman on the subject of American torture and related issues, with author and historian Andy Worthington detailing the capture and provenance of all of the Guantanamo detainees, with law professor Peter Honigsberg on various aspects of detention policy in the war on terror, with Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch, with Almerindo Ojeda of the Guantanamo Testimonials Project, with Karen Greenberg, author of The LeastWorst Place: Guantanamo's First 100 Days, with Charles Gittings of the Project to Enforce the Geneva Conventions, Laurel Fletcher, author of "The Guantanamo Effect" documenting the experience of Guantanamo detainees after their release, and with John Hickman, author of "Selling Guantanamo," critiquing the official narrative surrounding Guantanamo, and with Rebecca Gordon, author of "The New Nuremberg" identifying potential war crimes prosecutions arising from the conduct of the War on Terror,to be of interest.


July 29, 2016, TD Blog Interview with Pardiss Kebriaei

Pardiss Kebriaei is a Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, where she works on challenging U.S. government abuses in the national security context, including representation of current and former Guantanamo detainees, and others implicated in or affected by the "war on terror." She also advocates on behalf of other cases as part of the No Separate Justice Campaign, a grassroots initiative formed to shed light on unjust domestic terrorism prosecutions. Prior to coming to the Center for Constitutional Rights she worked at the Center for Reproductive Rights. She has also taught courses at Hunter and Brooklyn Colleges of the City University of New York. She graduated from Northwestern University and the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
I had the privilege of interviewing Ms. Kebriaei by telephone on May 17, 2016. My interview notes, as corrected by Ms. Kebriaei, are below.

The Talking Dog: Can you please tell us where were you on 11 Sept. 2001?

Pardiss Kebriaei: I was in my third year at law school at the University of Pennsylvania. I was coming out of classes. There were televisions set up in common areas, with students gathered around. We saw one of the planes go into the tower on t.v.; there was some confusion about what we were seeing. Other than that, I remember leaving school with my friend, and there was already speculation that this was a terrorist attack. Walking out of the school, we were in a daze. We walked into an ice cream shop to sit down and process this. I remember an unfortunate exchange with someone in the store in the nature of, "Now we should deport all foreigners", or something of that nature.

The Talking Dog: Please identify your still-detained-at-GTMO clients, by name and nationality. Please tell us something about each, such as their families, age, background or anything of interest, and finally, what their GTMO "Status" is, i.e., "cleared for transfer," "awaiting trial by commission," or "awaiting Periodic Review Board" or whatever is applicable.) Although they have been released, please tell us about your father/son Syrian clients (the Khan Tumanis), and whether they have had a chance to reunite since their release.

Pardiss Kebriaei: There are two men still held at Guantanamo who I am still actively representing, and visiting with some regularity; CCR, of course, represents quite a few more. These two men are Ghaleb Al-Bihani and Zahir Hamdoun.

Ghaleb Al-Bihani, ISN 128 He is Yemeni. His is about 35, and has been held at GTMO since 2002 without charge. He is one of the men that Obama had once designated as "too dangerous to release." The contention against him is that he was an assistant cook for a group aligned with the Taliban in Afghanistan. There is no allegation of fighting or firing a weapon, and his "associated group" no longer even exists. His detention was upheld by the District Court in Washington, and affirmed by the D.C. Circuit Court, and the U.S. Supreme Court denied cert. review. The Obama Administration reviewed his case, and put him the category of "can't charge but too dangerous to release."

When the Periodic Review Board, or PRB process, was set up, Ghaleb was the fourth person before the PRB. He had a hearing in the spring of 2014, and he was cleared for transfer by the PRB. The Board heard his statement about just wanting to go on with his life. His statement was acknowledged, and he was cleared for transfer... and yet he remains detained.

Ghaleb loves to paint. He is a real artist; it is a new found talent that he has discovered in prison. I have over sixty of his drawings. He has made a gift of them to me and to CCR-- they are a thank you for our efforts on his behalf. We have a few at CCR. They do have to be stamped by the military unit running Guantanamo - JTF-GTMO - in order to be released out of Guantanamo. Some drawings of a political nature, like depictions of the Statue of Liberty in chains or barbed wire, don't get out. Ghaleb paints a number of landscapes-- what he imagines life outside of prison looks like, or images of flowers as he imagines them.

He has diabetes and related complications. He is very physically sick, and struggling both physically and emotionally.

The other client I represent is Zahir Hamdoun ISN 576 . He too is Yemeni, and he is also cleared by the PRB (his hearing was in December 2015 and he was cleared in January 2016). The allegations against him are very low level-- that he stayed in a safe house in Pakistan, and as a matter of "guilt by association." Nonetheless, he was still found "too dangerous to release" and his review for transfer took years because of bureaucratic delays. He remains in prison with no clear prospects for transfer, before Obama leaves office.

Zahir was a good student. He is now in his mid-30's, but he was offered a scholarship to college after high school. While waiting for his scholarship, he left Yemen for Pakistan. He was ultimately captured in Pakistan. Zahir is smart, and is trying to pursue his education. He is close to his family, particularly to his mother and his siblings. Unfortunately, he has not been able to speak to them for
over a year because of the conflict in Yemen. The United States military requires the Red Cross to be present with the family at the time and place of their phone call, and as a result, Zahir hasn't been able to speak to his family; Zahir is particularly troubled that he hasn't been able to speak to his mother.

As to the Khan Tumanis, unfortunately, they have not been able to see each other since their release, not since the father, Abdul Nasser, was released to Cape Verde- another island- in 2010, or the son to Portugal in 2009. They skype, and talk by phone and the internet, but they have not been able to meet. The son, Muhammad, has seen his Syrian family (now refugees from the conflict in that country) in Turkey, but Abdul Nasser is stuck on Cape Verde, and even his wife cannot visit him there. Though Abdul Nasser communicates with his wife by phone and the internet, he has not had a single moment with his wife since he has been detained at Guantanamo.

The Talking Dog: Please tell us the status of your "drone" cases, Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta, which challenged the killings of three American citizens in U.S. drone strikes in Yemen [and, to the extent any part of the case is viable, Al-Aulaqi v. Obama, which challenged the authorization for the targeting of an American citizen added to secret government “kill lists” although obviously, Anwar al-Aulaqi and his then 16-year old son Abduulrahman were both killed in separate U.S. drone strikes]. I am interested as much in the "public relations" or "atmospheric" fallout as in the legal system's handling of these cases (i.e. "abdication"). What do you think are the broader implications of what now appears to be an enshrined "liquidation of enemies of the State" doctrine into American law?

Pardiss Kebriaei: There were two court cases. The first case was called Al-Aulaqi v. Obama in 2010, challenging the authorization for the killing of Anwar Al-Aulaqi before the killing took place. And then we brought the second case Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta, in 2012 as a damages case after the killings of Anwar Al-Aulaqi and two other American citizens, Samir Khan and Al-Aulaqi's 16 year-old son, Abdulrahman. Both cases ended in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. on jurisdictional grounds. In the first case, our argument that the Fifth Amendment due process clause was violated by the execution of someone on a secret kill list was rejected, and the case was found to present a "political question" and was dismissed. Nasser Al Aulaqi, Anwar's father (and Abdulrahman's grandfather) who was our client, decided not to appeal. In the second case, which also terminated in the D.C. District Court, the court actually rejected the government's "political question" argument, but ultimately dismissed the case on Bivens grounds-- that the question raised national security concerns, and hence "counseled hesitation." This dismissal took place in 2014. By then, Nasser and the Al Aulaqi family, as well as the family of Samir Khan, who was also killed in the drone strike that killed Anwar, decided that they could not receive justice in American courts, and decided not to appeal that case either. and so, both cases ended at the District Court level.

Because of these dispositions, the constitutional questions have never actually been answered by the higher courts. The government, of course, claims that there is "agreement" on the validity of extra-judicial killing by the judiciary, the executive and Congress, but the only court to weigh in on this was the D.C. District court, and even it did not opine on the broader question of the validity of the practice.

I note that there has been progress outside of the judicial process, however. We did manage to shift focus away from the government's specific allegations against Anwar Al-Aulaqi to the broader question of the government's claimed authority to secretly identify, target and kill enumerated "enemies" without any public accounting. The most significant moment of public debate took place in 2013, after the leak of a white paper (a redacted Justice department memo) which discussed the authority for the targeted killing of Anwar Al-Aulaqi.

There has also been some greater degree of transparency-- not full or meaningful transparency, but more, and our litigation was the key to spurring that.

Of course, since 2012, the landscape of the world has changed. The challenge is the distance-- both metaphorical and geographic-- between the U.S. public and the government's conduct. The geographic distance is obvious-- these actions take place far off in other countries, and the public just doesn't see what the government is doing. Furthermore, the secrecy of the actions provides invisibility-- there is a lot known, but very little information from the government.

But now there are raging wars in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, now in Yemen in addition to continuing strikes outside of conventional battlefields, in Pakistan, Somalia and other places, and there is just a fog about the United States and its war making. Indeed, it is overwhelming even in trying to critique the government's conduct, when it is so difficult to know what the government is doing.

And so, in the last few years, there has been quite a bit of backsliding. The world is different- before we "just" had wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and regular strikes "outside" of the"battlefield"-- but now the U.S. has managed to create "battlefields" in multiple countries all over the place and what it's doing in each of those places is largely in a fog.

The Talking Dog: And in the "American justice system," you also have involvement in the representation of Fahad Hashmi, who pleaded guilty to the nebulous charge of "material support of terrorism," for supposedly allowing an acquaintance to stay in his apartment in London for about two weeks, and "store military gear" there, consisting of socks and rain ponchos; Hashmi, as I understand it, is serving fifteen years sentence at the federal super-max prison in Florence, Colorado, largely in solitary confinement in circumstances perilously similar to many GTMO detainees, who themselves will soon be approaching fifteen years there, albeit with no established release date. Please tell me your impressions of Hashmi, and the system that imprisoned him. The tie-in question I have is whether you would concur with my observation that extraordinarily draconian prison conditions-- both the prison conditions and the length of sentences, even for minor "crimes," particularly for people White Americans perceive as "the other" (and I understand Hashmi is of Pakistani origin and a devout Muslim)-- have become perceived as a "normal" circumstance in American life, making it, in some sense, hard for many Americans to perceive GTMO as a particular aberration, all things considered? Further, do you observe something eerily similar to Hashmi, who allegedly received the full panoply of due process rights (whatever that means these days), but was ostensibly imprisoned for allowing socks and ponchos to be stored in his apartment in another country, to GTMO detainees who may have simply stayed at the wrong guesthouse or been wearing the wrong watch or some other unfortunate trivia (deemed extraordinarily "material" as a pretext for ongoing detention) at the time of their apprehension?

Pardiss Kebriaei: Fahad's situation is that he was charged with material support of terrorism, support of al Qaeda, based on having stored an acquaintance's luggage at his flat in London for about two weeks, and that luggage was supposedly delivered to an al Qaeda senior member in Pakistan. The luggage as you noted contained socks and rain ponchos. Fahad faced seventy years in prison-- he pleaded guilty only after having been held for three years in solitary confinement and "special administrative measures" or SAMs limiting communication with the outside world, to one count of material support of terrorism and got a fifteen year sentence. The conditions he was held included 22-24 hour a day total isolation, and three years of SAMS pre-trial. SAMs are in part a restriction on speech-- an effective gag not only the prisoner, but on his family and advocates. After three years of this, that was the condition under which Fahad's conviction was obtained.

After conviction, he was transferred to the federal ADX "super-max" at Florence, Colorado, where he continues to be held in that level of isolation-- indeed, the prison is half underground-- and hundreds are held there in similar conditions. He was in the Florence Admin. Max, or ADX, from 2007 to 2011, under SAM conditions, isolated and gagged. In 2012 he was transferred to the so-called "Communication Management Unit" in Indiana -- he is not in solitary confinement, but it is a type of group isolation. There are two such facilities (one in Indiana, one in Illinois). They are disproportionately full of those convicted of terrorism, heavily Muslims. Communications management is another euphemism for a gag on speech. And all visits have specific restrictions. Fahad's parents have not been permitted to embrace him since 2007... their visits happen through a thick glass partition. His situation is that he continues to serve his sentence, and hopefully he will be released in 2019, although he has doubtless been damaged from years of solitary confinement conditions.

As to his treatment via the judicial process, when compared to how Guantanamo prisoners are treated, one does not see a great deal of daylight between them today. If you look at the basis for Fahad charges and the basis of detention for my GTMO clients, on both sides it's often a matter of a guilt by rather broad association. Fahad's criminal process was a plea deal after three years in solitary confinement. Fahad's torture did not look like "enhanced interrogation" techniques-- there was no dog leash or sexual abuse or water-boarding or other Medieval type tortures-- but solitary confinement for years is torture in a different form. There were a lot of similarities in what I have seen at GTMO, what I have seen in Fahad's case, and in other situations I have seen stateside.

I no longer see GTMO as an aberration or unique in the American context. Its roots clearly exist in the United States. At best, GTMO is just a grotesque manifestation of things that were happening here already, and unfortunately, still are.

The Talking Dog: Please tell us the status of your cases involving the alleged prisoner suicides in 2006 (I note that last year I did my own interview with Joseph Hickman, a soldier who called into question the "official story" of those events), both in U.S. federal courts (to the extent still extant) and to the extent applicable, other fora, such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. To the extent you can answer this, have the events of that night-- which I also understand may have involved now released UK resident Shaker Aamer-- resonated with the public (be it the American public, or any other public)?

Pardiss Kebriaei: The status of that case is that it was first brought as a Bivens action in the D.C. District Court. We first alleged that the deaths were unlawful under the military's own publicly disclosed theory. It was dismissed on national security grounds. There was then a good deal of new information disclosed by Joe Hickman's observations, that the "suicides" may well have actually been murder. We alleged this in a second amended complaint, which was also dismissed.

What the families we represent want is a meaningful inquiry-- an accounting of how their children actually died. This has yet to happen. There are military investigations, and some redacted reports of those have come out, but they raise more questions than they answer, and thus far, only the military has been permitted to investigate. Whether the men were actually murdered or took their own lives because of depression or despair over the conditions of their confinement is an open question. There has been no accountability of any kind for anything associated with these deaths.

We appealed the dismissal of the civil case to the D.C. Circuit, which affirmed the dismissal. We did not take this any further in U.S. Courts.

We filed a petition in the Inter American court of Human Rights, and that body's decision on admissibility (i.e. whether it can or will even hear the case) is still pending. There is a huge backlog of cases before that body, and it often takes substantial time before it decides if it will even hear a case at all.

The families we represent just want to know why their children are dead. The father of Yasser al-Zahrani still carries around a picture of his son, and he has been waiting for ten years to know what happened to his son. Yasser, who was only 17 when he was taken into custody, was actually about to be transferred.

These deaths were right after the long "incommunicado" period-- secrecy enabled the brutality of the early years at Guantanamo to largely still be unknown. Neither of the families of the two men we represent (the second is the family of
Salah Al-Salami; from Yemen (the family of the third deceased detainee did not want to litigate) know the real details of their sons' death. The two men had not even met with a lawyer at the time they died-- the only information we know about them has been provided by the government itself. We at least know some more details thanks to Joe Hickman and a few soldiers who said they needed to speak out and clear their consciences.

The Talking Dog: Please tell us about the "No Separate Justice" campaign, and other advocacy efforts (besides CCR) in which you are engaged? Again, this is a broad "general interest" question, but do you see these campaigns as particularly resonating with the American public, and do you have a view of why that is? Do you have an overall view on media coverage of these issues-- i.e., adequate, inadequate, no interest on the part of the public, or any other way you think is relevant to answer?

Pardiss Kebriaei: No Separate Justice grew out of frustration on the part of families of people who have been charged domestically with crimes relating to terrorism and the invisibility of abuses in their proceedings. There has been little analysis of what goes on in these proceedings. These cases get thin reporting at best, and little scrutiny or analysis, if any.

No Separate Justice is an attempt to shine light and generate awareness of government abuses in this context. It's something that I expect to evolve, in the manner of Guantanamo activism, which grew into a large scale international campaign, but it certainly did not start out that way. And so we are starting from scratch, domestically, addressing domestic terrorism prosecutions.

We have to recognize that human rights groups have had a role in the invisibility of domestic terrorism prosecution. The messaging surrounding Guantanamo is that "we need to return to the federal system and the federal courts." But, in hearkening to "the competence and strength" of the federal system, and its high conviction rate and the like, the effect has been to whitewash what actually happens in the federal courts themselves, which also needs to be carefully examined.

So we activists have had a role to play in generating the invisibility of abuses in these domestic terrorism prosecutions, and No Separate Justice is trying to expose the broader issues.

The Talking Dog: In a recent Guardian article, you provided some quotes from GTMO detainee Zaher Hamdoun; one of them is:

Will Obama’s conscience weigh on him when he remembers that tens of human beings who have fathers, mothers, wives and children have been waiting here for over 13 years, and some of them died before even seeing their loved ones again? Will his conscience weigh on him and make him finally put an end to this matter? Or are we going to remain the victims of political conflicts, which we have nothing to do with?

My question to you concerns (my college classmate) President Barack Obama, who, of course,campaigned to close GTMO, promised to close it within a year of his inauguration, didn't succeed, promised ongoing periodic reviews of the men there, which are slow at best (and mostly incomplete) , has recently submitted a plan to close GTMO that ostensibly simply moves it stateside. and, although he has managed to release over 100 men, has been a disappointment to many who have been paying attention. What do you see happening for the remainder of his ten months or so left in office (i.e. will he undertake extra effort to end this situation as "a legacy thing," or do you believe he'll hand this mess to his successor (Hillary Clinton? Donald Trump?), who, in turn, will muddle along with it, until, perhaps, at least some detainees are four or even eight years older? And quite frankly, do you see any circumstances besides the collapse of American global military and political dominance that will bring about the final end to the Guantanamo predicament [and even if GTMO itself is shuttered and razed, where do you see American policies of indefinite detention going?] Do you have any comment on how GTMO is playing in the American political process now (Republicans promise to expand it, Democrats don't talk about it much)?

Pardiss Kebriaei: The bottom line is that Obama's plan to close Guantanamo is not a plan to close Guantanamo at all. The idea is not to actually close the prison, but to reduce its population, and, at the end of the day, whether the literal prison facility in Cuba is shuttered and the remainder of its prison population is moved elsewhere or the existing place stays where it is, the Administration intends to continue the underlying policy of indefinite detention, unabated. The only question is just "how many people," followed by whether those people will be detained in Cuba, or moved here (to the United States mainland). And that number is unknown. And this is all the Administration's own words.

I believe that between now and next January when Obama leaves office, they will try to transfer the two dozen or so "cleared men" (some of whom were first cleared by the Obama Administration in 2009). The State Department is definitely working on this. Of course, there are serious concerns about the circumstances that men released from Guantanamo face upon resettlement or repatriation, and, not enough attention has been paid to post release experiences. But State is definitely trying to transfer men to third countries (or to their own countries when possible).

The PRB process will continue. It was first set up in 2011, and should have cycled through all the men at least once by 2012-- but the first hearing was not held until 2013, and still, many men are waiting for their first look by the PRB. There is a lot to be said about these delays. Obama has tried to point a finger at Congress when it comes to obstacles to closing GTMO, especially Republicans there, but the PRB process is entirely within his Administration's control, and he simply has no defense as to why it took two years to have even the first hearing. Of course, in 2011, GTMO had fallen off the agenda, and only after the 2013 hunger strike, when the detainees themselves finally took action, did this become a priority of the administration again.

And so the PRBs will continue, notwithstanding how delayed this process has been so far. The issue now is that so many men are having their proceedings go at a breakneck pace, that there is a genuine question as to whether prisoners can have meaningful participation in this process.

And there is the separate question of the fact that the PRBs don't address the underlying legitimacy of the "indefinite detention" paradigm, i.e., that we can hold people without charge forever is an intrinsic assumption of the whole process. The PRBs were at least supposed to accomplish a "meaningful look" at each prisoner-- but it's not clear that is how it's all playing out, especially for those men still waiting for their first review.

The Administration's "preferences" would be for PRBs for men who have not yet been cleared but won't be charged, and release of those who can be released. The preference was at one time to use the federal courts to try the tiny number at GTMO who have even been or ever will be charged, but the military commissions process obviously still exists, and is so far the only system that has been used.

At the end if the day, there will also be a group of people supposedly "needed" to be held without charge-- soon to be in their 16th year, and under their third different Administration.

I think GTMO will continue for some time to come. The main issue is where it will be (and how many men it will hold) and, of course, what will a new President do-- expand it? Or limit it to people already there?

The Talking Dog: I understand that you have devoted your career to international human rights work. How have you been effected by your Guantanamo and "war on terror" representations, from the standpoint of personally, professionally, or any other way you'd like to answer?

Pardiss Kebriaei: I've certainly been personally transformed. The work has taken quite a personal toll-- you cannot care and get up close to our clients-- and I say this both for myself and my colleagues-- and not have it get to you. It's been very hard that way, but then, it's also been the most meaningful, as well as the hardest work experience I've had.

Through the years, I've come to realize the limitations of a purely legal and litigation-based strategy, I've seen the need for other ways of working through these issues. And so I look now at efforts developing to start a new generation of habeas cases, and see this as possibly necessary and appropriate, but realize that we should learn lessons from the limitations of Guantanamo advocacy over years past, and what works, and what has not worked, and move forward on that basis.

I also think Guantanamo has to be placed in a broader context, concerning the wider questions of how we punish people, how we treat our "enemies," how we define our enemies. We have to be cognizant of how much we have talked about Guantanamo in isolation, and how we need a broader movement and to address issues at a much deeper and more basic level, and not just address one particular situation at one particular place.

The Talking Dog: Is there anything else I should have asked you but didn't, or that the public needs to know about these critically important issues?

Pardiss Kebriaei:As I think about the personal and professional effects on myself, I think about Michael Ratner, who was such a source of support. I think about his sustainability. You look ahead, and whether you see a President Clinton, or worse yet, a President Trump, and you can see an endless cycle of abuses continuing and repeating itself over and over again, and it can be daunting. So I think about Michael, about his life's work, and his stamina and dedication. Was he optimistic? He had a certain hope-- I'm trying to channel that.

The Talking Dog: I join all of my readers in thanking Pardiss Kebriaei for that extremely informative interview.


Readers interested in legal issues and related matters associated with the "war on terror" may also find talking dog blog interviews with former Guantanamo military commissions prosecutors Morris Davis and Darrel Vandeveld, with Guantanamo military commissions defense attorney Todd Pierce, with former Guantanamo combatant status review tribunal/"OARDEC" officer Stephen Abraham, with attorneys Nancy Hollander, Jon Eisenberg, David Marshall, Jan Kitchel, Eric Lewis, Cori Crider, Michael Mone, Matt O'Hara, Carlos Warner, Matthew Melewski, Stewart "Buz" Eisenberg, Patricia Bronte, Kristine Huskey, Ellen Lubell, Ramzi Kassem, George Clarke, Buz Eisenberg, Steven Wax, Wells Dixon, Rebecca Dick, Wesley Powell, Martha Rayner, Angela Campbell, Stephen Truitt and Charles Carpenter, Gaillard Hunt, Robert Rachlin, Tina Foster, Brent Mickum, Marc Falkoff H. Candace Gorman, Eric Freedman, Michael Ratner, Thomas Wilner, Jonathan Hafetz, Joshua Denbeaux, Rick Wilson,
Neal Katyal, Joshua Colangelo Bryan, Baher Azmy, and Joshua Dratel (representing Guantanamo detainees and others held in "the war on terror"), with attorneys Donna Newman and Andrew Patel (representing "unlawful combatant" Jose Padilila), with Dr. David Nicholl, who spearheaded an effort among international physicians protesting force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, with physician and bioethicist Dr. Steven Miles on medical complicity in torture, with law professor and former Clinton Administration Ambassador-at-large for war crimes matters David Scheffer, with former Guantanamo detainees Moazzam Begg and Shafiq Rasul , with former Guantanamo Bay Chaplain James Yee, with former Guantanamo Army Arabic linguist Erik Saar, with former Guantanamo sergeant-of-the-guard Joseph Hickman, with former Guantanamo military guard Terry Holdbrooks, Jr., with former military interrogator Matthew Alexander, with law professor and former Army J.A.G. officer Jeffrey Addicott, with law professor and Coast Guard officer Glenn Sulmasy, with author and geographer Trevor Paglen and with author and journalist Stephen Grey on the subject of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, with journalist and author David Rose on Guantanamo, with journalist Michael Otterman on the subject of American torture and related issues, with author and historian Andy Worthington detailing the capture and provenance of all of the Guantanamo detainees, with law professor Peter Honigsberg on various aspects of detention policy in the war on terror, with Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch, with Almerindo Ojeda of the Guantanamo Testimonials Project, with Karen Greenberg, author of The LeastWorst Place: Guantanamo's First 100 Days, with Charles Gittings of the Project to Enforce the Geneva Conventions, Laurel Fletcher, author of "The Guantanamo Effect" documenting the experience of Guantanamo detainees after their release, and with John Hickman, author of "Selling Guantanamo," critiquing the official narrative surrounding Guantanamo, and with Rebecca Gordon, author of "The New Nuremberg" identifying potential war crimes prosecutions arising from the conduct of the War on Terror,to be of interest.


July 19, 2016, American Values

We could start with "plagiarism" (of one's supposed arch-nemesis at that!)

But let's go right to... well... this:


July 16, 2016, Acclerating news cycle

Hey, let's all party like it's 1968 1914 1848,,, damned if I know.

WTF is going on in Turkey, with an apparent coup against the already-power-grabbing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and presumably his merry Islamist friends, which seems to have been put down within hours, if not minutes... for one thing, the airports (at least the important ones) were not under the control of "rebels" and Erdogan himself--also conveniently unaccounted for by coup plotters-- returned from a beach resort to Istanbul, to reassert "control."

Meanwhile, "senior" military leaders were behind the government, as was the opposition, and evidently, many people who (evidently) "answered Erdogan's call to the streets." Lots of, I suppose, junior military personnel "will have 'splaining to do." Maybe. Assuming they're not simply shot before too many questions get asked.

All curious. In a world where more and more things seemingly make no sense, maybe that's enough of an explanation. Or, perhaps, there is an explanation, as, for one thing, Erdogan has purged thousands of judges and prosecutors and arrested hundreds of military personnel... the coup presenting a very convenient opportunity for Erdogan to consolidate power after a seemingly easily thwarted "coup attempt."

The horrifying Nice attack (for which, on schedule, ISIS claimed responsibility) was barely twenty-four hours old as a story-- if that-- before the Turkish "coup" hit the news, more or less simultaneously with Trump's Mike Pence announcement (and a really bad day in general for Chris Christie).

Will the Republican National Convention next week (and the Democratic Convention the week after) even make the front pages? Who knows anymore?

Update: And, on cue, apparently three police officers in Baton Rouge, LA have been killed and a number of others wounded in multiple shootings there. Never a dull moment, it seems.


July 14, 2016, Bastille Day Bad Stuff

Perhaps adding another page to the terrorist play book, a truck driver in Nice, France piled through a crowd until he managed to kill at least 75, with at least another 100 injured, during the aftermath of fireworks to celebrate the annual Bastille Day holiday. One assumes that the Islamic State/ISIL/ISIS/whatever it's called in French will soon be identified as responsible, with calls for increased assaults against that group in Syria notwithstanding that so much progress has been made in rolling it back that even Russian-American cooperation in Syria is possible (or, at least, Sec. of State Kerry is in Moscow trying to cooperate with Putin to some degree). Even the Donald has postponed his supposedly expected announcement of President of the He-Man Woman Haters Club Indiana Chapter Indiana Governor Mike Pence to be his running mate. Even as polls show that her elite immunity may have saved Hillary Clinton from prosecution for electronic security lapses, but not necessarily from severe political fallout.

Obviously, France has suffered the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the attacks last November that killed around 100 centered on the Bataclan nightclub, and now this. And, in turn, Belgium recently suffered horrifying assaults at its airport and a train station. Here, in the United States, we attributed the San Bernardino shootings (really, just one of numerous mass shooting incidents here) to the Islamic State (even though there was no evidence of anything other than "sympathizing" on the part of the alleged perpetrators, who were conveniently executed before being able to talk... kind of like what happened to Micah Xavier Johnson, alleged killer of at least five police officers in Dallas, who was executed by domestic police drone (an exploding robot, actually), and hence, conveniently, unable to talk.) I'm not even going to talk about horrifying recent events in Istanbul, Bangladesh, Baghdad and God knows where else. Nor will we talk about the European soccer championship, stolen from host France by Portugal.

So much going on... so little known, and I'm reasonably sure, so little will be known. I assume the killer's passport or i.d. or whatever will be conveniently found somewhere, and the place raided, and the usual suspects rounded up. Query whether France-- already under a state of emergency following the (multiple) Paris attacks, will step things up in any manner (such as, oh, their own version of a "Frexit," perhaps, as if the perps came through a "borderless Europe," maybe it's time they re-think the whole thing... just saying...)

So much bad stuff going on... Obviously, the premise of going to war with pretty much everyone in the Middle East... hasn't gone so well... even France, once derided as "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" for not backing he-man Dubya in his holy war against Islam war against Iraq-- the war that gave us the Islamic State in the midst of the power vaccum that Dubya caused in Iraq (and Barack hasn't helped much by seamlessly continuing Dubya's wars and policies)... now seems to be front and center as a terror target...

What can one even say?


July 10, 2016, The right of WHITE People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Well, well, well... for those who thought that the National Rifle Association, at least to the extent of the professionals who do its public bidding, was little more than a money-grubbing arm of the culture wars, rather than any kind of "principled civil rights organization," we have this hit piece on the NRA (as it were) from WaPo. Specifically, the piece notes the deafening silence of the NRA leadership on one of the clearest infringements on Second Amendment rights we have ever seen, to wit, the apparent summary execution (by a White police officer) of one Philandro Castle (a Black man) in Minnesota during a traffic stop over an alleged broken tail light, after Mr. Castle verbally advised officers that he had a concealed carry permit, and that he was going to slowly reach for his wallet to provide them license and registration. Slate provides more details on Mr. Castle's history of being stopped (and the NRA's curious non-response.)

I wasn't there, bubbela, be it in Minnesota, in Louisiana, or in Ferguson, MO or even in nearby Staten Island, NY, or in any of the other myriad places it seems that the encounters of Black (and Brown) persons with (often but by no means always White) police officers have gone horribly, fatally wrong. I can't-- and I won't-- judge the merits of any particular episode... I will just note that as a cumulative matter, this sort of thing keeps happening, and even in the era of "everyone has a cell phone camera"... does not appear to be so much as slowing down. It is unfortunate that the response of some to this unfortunate (but seemingly eternal) trend has gone beyond thoughtful and peaceful protests and into the realm of violence against officers-- but that's missing the point on the NRA silence, here, as would be commenting on the President's reaction.

From the NRA's own website:

The National Rifle Association is America's longest-standing civil rights organization. Together with our more than five million members, we're proud defenders of history's patriots and diligent protectors of the Second Amendment.

Well then. The apparent, at least, execution of an American citizen by officials of the government for no other apparent reason than his entirely lawful exercise of Second Amendment rights, it seems, should trump, oh... everything else as far as that goes, don't you think? Millions of NRA members should be taking to the streets themselves, whether in alliance or at least in parallel with Black Lives Matter and other protestors. I would think so, anyway. Or...

Or does Mr. Castle's race provide, ahem, the usual exemption with respect to considerations of constitutional rights? We're waiting NRA...


July 8, 2016, Long, hot summer

Amidst protests over police shootings of persons of color in Louisiana and Minnesota, eleven police officers were shot and five killed during protests in Dallas yesterday.

Pretty much defies comment-- the murder of anyone is a horrendous act, but it seems that something unsettling is happening at an increasing pace, perhaps some wheels are coming off. Why can't we all just get along? We kind of never have before, btw.

In the middle of this civil unrest, we note (Hillary) that if you're rich and powerful enough, you can, these days, get away with things that will land other people in jail, while still other people... find themselves gunned down altogether.

We've got at least two more months of summer coming up... not to mention two political conventions where both candidates have terrible unfavorable ratings, and of course, the Olympics, where Brazil... has some problems.

Alrightie then.


June 19, 2016, Happy Fathers Day, such as it is


For your talking dog, the first such Fathers Day following the death of TD Dad last December falls into the realm of somewhere between confusing and surreal; I've spent the day at Stately Dog Manor with Mrs. TD and the Loquacious Pup, but of course, there's definitely something missing. There's no question that I grew up with my Dad, and now, an irreplaceable part of my life has moved on.

The last two Democratic Presidents have some issues with that sort of thing. Tragically, Bill Clinton's biological father died three months before the future president was born. And similarly, Barack Obama's father left the future president as an infant, and at least according to the President's book "Dreams from My Father," he only met him face to face after his infancy one time. Both Clinton and Obama had other male figures in their lives, as their respective mothers remarried, but nonetheless, it makes me wonder. A lot.

For his part, President George W. Bush, son of uber-politician George H.W. Bush, often did not see his father for lengthy periods when his father was on government or other business... well, in any event... Dubya had his own "Daddy issues."

I say this as I ponder what has happened to us as a nation, as our three Baby Boomer "commanders in chief" all seem to have had something other than the classic paternal relationship. No requirement that they do, and each of the three certainly has their supporters. I just wonder if, maybe... something... grown-up might be missing from the gestalt of this country, particularly as the last twenty-four years have, to all but those peddling fiction (Barack)... seen a rather precipitous decline in a great many areas... we can start with the mother of all economic statistics, the workforce participation rate if you like. BTW, I'm not blaming my college classmate Barack for what I view as structural problems largely caused by the policies of Bill Clinton and then exacerbated by Dubya-- although Barack didn't help much, and Obamacare has basically been a stake in the heart of full-time employment. Then again... I assume that the real people who run this country (that would be a consortium of agents for the fabulously rich-- not all of whom are even from this country, of course-- running their games via Wall Street and the Military Industrial Complex/Deep State) prefer to have man-children (or, if Hillary is elected, woman-children) as their front-persons, as, well, pliability is good.

There all too often doesn't seem to be a "grown-up" in the room, and the country is desperately craving one. Yes, the presumptive Democratic and Republican candidates are, respectively, going to be 69 and 70 on Election Day (Hillary sharing my birthday, albeit she was born 15 years before me). But neither is remotely a grown-up, and Mr. Trump does not seem to have advanced much beyond the narcissism often displayed by pre-schoolers, and wherever Hillary is, we're not sure it's "adulthood," so much as the cloying high school student body president you voted for... but didn't like. Of course, Bernie Sanders, btw, will be 75, and I suspect a huge part of his popularity such as it is derives from the perception of many that he seems to be the only adult in the room, not counting either Libertarian Gary Johnson or Green Dr. Jill Stein... and our old friend Bill Scher says "Just you wait Hillary" about Dr. Stein.

That said, I take a minor diversion into this N.Y. Post hit-piece suggesting that the reasonably attractive Monica Lewinsky freaked out when Bill Clinton was having an affair with the drop-dead gorgeous Eleanor [Walter's daughter] Mondale. Sure, it comes from supposedly leaked excerpts from former Secret Service agent Gary Byrne's upcoming tell-all book (among other things, he depicts Hillary as... quite violent... gun control advocates might wonder about Hillary's own propensity for firearms... just saying). I don't know why I'm so interested in the goings on of Mephistopheles Caligula Bill Clinton, but hey... it's Fathers Day (and after all, Chelsea just gave Gomez and Morticia Hillary and Bill their second grandchild Aiden Clinton Mezvinsky.)
Mazel tov, Chelsea and Marc... I'm sure you're kvelling.

Where was I going? I don't know... it seems we have a whole series of predicaments coming up-- structural in nature. Environmental seems quite serious. The possibility of nuclear war with Russia because, among other things, Hillary's friends at the State Department think World War III is a good idea... seems serious. The overall economy seems to be treading water at best, and not exactly at a good level. And, regardless of whether we start WWIII, we are certainly military engaged all over the place at a calamitous cost. Europe is being overrun by migrants (some of whom are refugees from the places we are militarily engaged), and is in its own economic doldrums. China-- the supposed savior of the world economy-- is rife with corruption, environmental problems almost beyond comprehension, and its own under-reporting of bad economic news.

All that said... seems to be that a grown-up-- someone fitting the, dare I say it, role of the effective parent (I'll go gender neutral here)-- is what is called for as our notional leader. And of course, is exactly what we're not going to get.

Happy Fathers Day, such as it is.


June 14, 2016, TD Blog Interview with Rebecca Gordon


Rebecca Gordon received her B.A. from Reed College and her M.Div. and Ph.D. in Ethics and Social Theory from Graduate Theological Union. She teaches in the Philosophy department at the University of San Francisco and for the university’s Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good. Previous publications include Letters From Nicaragua and Cruel and Usual: How Welfare “Reform” Punishes Poor People, the book Mainstreaming Torture, and her latest book is American Nuremberg: The Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post 9/11 War Crimes. On June 14, 2016, I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Gordon by email exchange.

The Talking Dog: Where were you on 11 Sept. 2001?

Rebecca Gordon: I was in San Francisco, getting ready to teach the first session of a course at Graduate Theological University called “The Communist Manifesto for Seminarians.” The clock radio woke us at 6:00 a.m., we heard the news of the first plane, and my partner and I did something we never do – turned on the television in the morning. We were just in time to see the second plane hit the tower. My father lived in New York, although he was out of the city that day. Friends I’ve come to know in the intervening years lost their son in the World Trade Center.

I’ve been teaching undergraduates since 2005. It’s strange to realize that this fall I’ll have students in my classes who were only two years old that day. September 11, 2001 does not have the salience for them that it did for my students a decade ago. They’ve never known a time when the U.S. was not at war against “terror,” and yet they have no memory of those attacks.

The Talking Dog: Your book "American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes," lays out a straightforward bill of indictment against a number of Bush Administration (and to a lesser extent Obama Administration) officials. Obviously, a good deal of this material has been out in the public domain for a significant amount of time now. Is there a particular reason why, now, at the end not of the Bush Administration, but near the end of the Obama Administration, that you believe the time is ripe for any form of "an American Nuremberg?" Related question-- given your veritable lifetime of human rights related activities, what is it about the excesses associated with "the war on terror" (by whatever nomenclature) that has impelled you to write on this particular subject now?

Rebecca Gordon: You’re right, of course, that much of this material has been in the public domain for some years now. That’s part of why I wrote the book – out of frustration that none of these revelations of criminal activity have led to any action to hold government officials accountable. Some of what we know has come to light relatively recently – for example, in the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture, which came out in December 2014. But some of it has hidden in plain sight for over a decade. As early as 2002, Dana Priest was writing in the Washington Post about the use of “stress and duress” tactics at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan.

But you ask, why now, at the end of the Obama administration? I did write an earlier book, Mainstreaming Torture, about how, especially under Bush, the people in this country were trained to accept torture as the necessary price of an illusory security. Sadly, however, the Obama administration has continued some of the practices of Bush & Company – specifically the use of remotely piloted drones to murder people half a world away. And President Obama made it very clear, the day after his first inauguration, that the country should “look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” when it comes to holding anyone responsible for the crimes of the “war on terror.”

The Talking Dog: As you might know, I was one city block north of the WTC on Sept. 11th, where I worked until that very morning (as my office building was in "the frozen zone," my law firm laid me off)... Shortly after 9-11, while I was working as a temp for another law firm, I was sitting in a courtroom in Brooklyn overhearing a conversation between another man and a young attorney who, it turned out, was an Air Force JAG reservist who was being placed on active duty so that he could help develop what would become the protocols for military commission trials of terrorism suspects, to wit, "the new Nuremberg". Notwithstanding that in a high school International Relations class project, in a mock Nuremberg trial, I was assigned as defense counsel and secured the acquittal of a Nazi propagandist who was hanged in real life, I was professionally jealous of that young man in getting to be part of "the new Nuremberg" paradigm. While I went about my quotidian business of practicing law in a city with the WTC site still smoldering less than a mile away from its busiest courts (the President, for his part, suggested that our best response as a people was to "go shopping"), others would get to "be the current greatest generation" and "bring justice" to the supposed "terrorists." Fast forward to 2016; our "new Nuremberg" has, of course, been a complete and utter disaster-- we seem no closer to trying the alleged 9-11 perpetrators, notwithstanding their apparent open confessions and desire to plead guilty, than we were years ago, while the question of their torture and various government malfeasance (such as listening to attorney client communications) is hush-hushed or tut-tutted. Indeed, only three remaining GTMO detainees have been "convicted" by military tribunals, and even those "convictions" are under judicial assault for various legal infirmities. Indeed, almost no one outside the American government itself (including two former military commissions prosecutors whom I have interviewed) believes that the military commissions afford any degree of fundamental fairness, and a tiny fraction of the men remaining at GTMO are even subject to the commissions in any event. And so, the military commissions thought by some to be "the New Nuremberg," what was once a key justification of maintaining a prison at Guantanamo (a prison that has been the site of many of at least the best known and best documented war crimes and other human rights violations in the war on terror, if only a comparatively small scale compared to hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere) has itself become little more than cover for an entirely different set of additional war crimes in the realm of torture often intended to generate "evidence" to be used against other GTMO detainees. While your book didn't discuss this, one set of the later Nuremberg cases-- after the initial "Big 22" of major Third Reich figures, was "the Judges' Trial" where members of the Third Reich's judiciary were put on trial for their own role in atrocities. Can you comment on the irony of the role of attempting to reconstitute Nuremberg style "war crimes" tribunals in the context of an overall detention policy regime that is itself (and I thoroughly agree with you that it is) ripe for war crimes prosecutions in its own right? Please include the term "victor's justice" in your response, if possible.

Rebecca Gordon: I shouldn’t be surprised that in the beginning the JAG attorneys thought of their work as participating in a new Nuremberg. I do think that some of these lawyers became true heroes when they began to recognize Bush’s military commissions were nothing like the Nuremberg tribunals, and refused to participate further. When they realized that defendants were not allowed to see the charges or evidence against them, and that some of that “evidence” was produced under torture, and that their supposedly confidential conversations with clients were being monitored, they said no.

When it became clear they were going to win the war, the Great Powers (France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States) met to consider how to deal with defeated Nazi officials. One option – originally proposed by Joseph Stalin – was simply to line them up and shoot them. In the end, though, it was Stalin who argued for trials. The question was, how to make these genuine legal proceedings, rather than a piece of theater that could be interpreted by the rest of the world as “victors’ justice.” In other words, these trials had to be legitimate, and not just an excuse for those who’d won the war to exact vengeance on a defeated enemy.

Imperfect as the Nuremberg tribunals may have been, I think they achieved something genuinely new in human history: a group of nations established the principle that international law is real law, and that violating international law can have real consequences.

The Talking Dog: As a follow-up to the "victor's justice" issue, Nuremberg (and its Far Eastern theater parallel "the Tokyo War Crimes Trials") did not become "institutionalized" as permanent bodies to prosecute crimes against humanity, war crimes, etc., and the Bush Administration pulled the U.S. out of the International Criminal Court (U.S. membership was never ratified by the Senate in any event), specific courts have been set up for Rwanda and Yugoslavia, although representing horrifying atrocities, neither of them remotely representing "world powers," and of course, the ICC itself has only been deployed against defendants originating in Africa. Obviously, as, following W.W. II the U.S. became arguably the most powerful empire in the history of humanity (and certainly no empire ever had as many foreign military bases in as many foreign countries), and clearly did not want its own hand checked by having its officials and operatives subject to the jurisdiction of some international judicial body not ultimately controlled by American politicians, but do you see that as the only reason for the post- WW II tribunals being a cul-de-sac or one-off, do you see any other reasons?

Rebecca Gordon: That’s a good question. In the years immediately following the war, many people expected that the tribunal established at Nuremberg would eventually turn its attention to the Allies’ war crimes as well. These included not only the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the less well-known use of incendiary weapons – fire bombing – both in Europe and against Japan. In fact, near the end of the war, the United States leveled sixty-seven Japanese cities with incendiary bombs that killed half a million residents outright and burned to ashes the homes of five million more. War crimes, all.

Sadly, I think that the United States has been consistent in its reluctance to be bound by international law or international legal bodies. For example, unlike the ICC, the United States is a member of the International Court of Justice (informally known as the World Court). This is the equivalent of a civil court, in which countries can sue each other for violations of treaties or for other harms. In 1986 Nicaragua sued the United States for mining its harbors, an act of war. The court ruled in Nicaragua’s favor and granted reparations – which the United States never paid. American exceptionalism seems to mean that this country, which as you point out is the most powerful the world has ever known, considers itself exempt from the rule of law. That’s why I think it’s so important that we call our war criminals to account.

The Talking Dog: I realize that judgments are subjective and that you have space and editorial constraints, but I note, for example, that Sec. of State Colin Powell did not make your "top 22" of most "trial-worthy" officials, notwithstanding his UN speech (btw, I don't disagree with your judgment not to include him), and Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice did make your "short-list" (she was also National Security Advisor, to be sure). Let me throw out another one-- not necessarily as implicated in the "war on terror", but possibly so, and unquestionably in the category of "crimes against peace," that being recent Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, who was, in simple terms, a very effective warmonger on Team Obama. In my view, she might well be a worthy presence in the dock in her own right (and admittedly, her "damned emails" might be helpful evidence in this regard). We can throw in Mr. Obama's Defense Secretaries (Gates, Panetta, Hagel and Carter) as well, in my view. Do you have any comment on these suggestions, and what was your criteria for inclusion of hypothetical defendants in the hypothetical dock?

Rebecca Gordon: I’d say that at least since the end of World War II, the two major parties in this country have largely shared the same foreign policy. They may have differed on matters of domestic concern, but they were united in waging the Cold War against the Soviet Union and the socialist and national liberation movements in which they saw nothing but Soviet puppets.

So it’s no surprise that Hilary Clinton continues that tradition. Maybe because of the time I spent in Central America in the 1980’s, I especially hold her responsible for supporting the 2009 coup against the elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya. Today, a brutal military is once again ascendant in that impoverished country. I hold her responsible for helping to create the conditions that allowed the murder of the environmental activist Berta Cáceres.

I would not be at all surprised to learn that Clinton was one of the most powerful hawkish influences in the Obama administration. Certainly her response to the horrific murders in Orlando suggests that she continues to look to military solutions for what I think of as terrible crimes rather than acts of war. I think the reason she barely appears in the book is that she’s not left behind the same kind of public records other Obama administration officials. In general one’s less likely to be obviously directing war crimes from the State Department than from various parts of the official national security apparatus.

The Talking Dog: Arguably related to the last question, from your own review, rather than pick a top "villain," do you have, say, "the medal winners" or perhaps a top five? If not names-- categories, perhaps? Lawyers (Addington, Yoo, Bybee, etc.), or politicians (Bush, Cheney, Obama perhaps), or CIA personnel (Rizzo, Tenet, Petraeus) or contractors (Jessen and Mitchell) or military (Rumsfeld, Gen. Geoffrey Miller)? Related question-- do you have a top one, three or five classification of "war on terror" conduct that warrants prosecution?

Rebecca Gordon: You’ve done a great job of listing the “medal winners.” I’d have to put Dick Cheney at the very top of the list, because although Bush bears ultimate responsibility for his administration’s actions, it’s pretty clear the Cheney was the brains of the outfit.

As to the conduct that warrants accountability: this is one of the questions I faced when trying to bring some kind of order to my story in the book. At Nuremberg, the Allies settled on three categories of crime: Crimes against Humanity, War Crimes, and Crimes against Peace. This last category caused real disagreement. The U.S. and Great Britain argued that, when they started an aggressive, unprovoked war, Nazi Germany committed the original crime, out of which all the other crimes, including the Holocaust, arose.

Similarly, I divide the crimes of the “war on terror” into three categories: Crimes against Peace, War Crimes, and Human Rights Crimes. I also label the crime against peace, in this case an aggressive, unprovoked war on Iraq, as the original crime. The torture and renditions – at Guantánamo and in CIA black sites, actually began because the Bush administration desperately wanted to get someone, anyone, to say that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. And if you torture people enough, they will say whatever you want them to say.

You may wonder why I use the category of Human Rights Crimes. Many of the things the United States has done under Bush and Obama are genuine war crimes – violations of the laws and customs of war. These laws govern the conduct of actual wars, which involve sustained hostilities between armies. Much of what the United States has called a “war” does not fit that description. But that doesn’t mean that the kidnappings, renditions, torture, and assassinations are not crimes; they just aren’t war crimes. They are instead violations of equally valid international human rights laws and treaties. The expression “human rights violation” doesn’t carry the same verbal cachet as “war crimes.” But it should.

The Talking Dog: As we find ourselves in 2016, the war on terror, or whatever it's called, notwithstanding, it seems clear to me anyway that the global American empire is fraying on all sides-- morally, economically, even militarily (the U.S. military has not had a decisive win against a foe larger than Panama or Grenada since 1945). While, as I noted, one candidate is arguably herself implicated in possible war crimes, humanitarian crimes, etc., and was certainly an integral part of the "look forward not backward" Obama Administration, another candidate vows "to make America great again," and, despite an impressively vacuous campaign overall big on personal insults and small on actual details, he has apparently secured a major party's nomination. As bizarre as it seems (particularly given the candidate's apparent embrace of war crimes), in an "Only Nixon Could Go to China" scenario, do you see it as possible that while Barack Obama might want to "look forward not backward," that, in a very real and legally binding sense (rather than in a rhetorical "citizen's tribunal") "Only Trump Could Give Us Nuremberg?" [in the sense of the tribunals rather than the evocative-of-Lani-Riefenstahl style of his campaign rallies]?

Rebecca Gordon: Wow. I understand what you’re suggesting, but I can’t see it, especially in the light of Trump’s posturing after the Orlando murders. I don’t think it would play with his audience, and I think his only guiding principle is to do whatever will continue to garner him the attention he seems to crave.

The Talking Dog: Your previous book, "Mainstreaming Torture," suggests, of course, a reckoning for those who "mainstreamed torture" into the American context, and, of course, this includes the horrific treatments meted out to "high value detainees," other detainees in CIA, military or other country custody and detention, and prisoners taken in Iraq and Afghanistan, that, despite fourteen and a half years of official euphemism, are "torture." You have carefully addressed each of the three "Nuremberg categories" of crimes in your book and bill of indictment (war crimes, crimes against humanity and "crimes against peace"), and admittedly, the lynch-pin does seem to be the "crimes against peace"-- decisions by politicians to commence wildly disproportionate military responses, both against Afghanistan (a war in which we forget that the Taliban were rather quickly routed by a force of largely proxies and a small American and NATO footprint, at least at the start) and, of course, against Iraq, which has resulted in a massive invasion, "shock and awe," illegal munitions and tactics, and, of course, hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties, millions of displacements, and the rise of a failed official state as well as "the Islamic State." I would also suggest the "planet as battlefield" is more real than we care to admit, with only places likely to respond with nuclear weapons [Russia, China, North Korea and their closest allies] seemingly off-limits to drone strikes, "special operations," "military advisers," or whatever applicable euphemism for American military action is in play. All that said, would you have been motivated to write about this subject absent the torture... in other words, in the horrific major American wars of the last century (the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, the first Gulf War, not to mention the Cold War), it is almost indisputable that abuse of prisoners and others occurred (and certainly CIA activity in the Cold War often strayed into torture). And, of course, at least some of these (if not most) can be termed "aggressive wars." That said, would you agree that there is something qualitatively different-- as in hearkening to the Third Reich different-- about regimes such as the Bush Administration that go out of their way to pretend that torture (and summary execution via drone-strike as endorsed by our current "constitutional scholar President") is legal that seems, regardless of scale, to take us into another dimension of horror warranting perpetrators being brought to account in a way that mere "initiating aggressive war" might not be enough? In other words, does the pretense that some of the most outrageous actions are "legal" actually make them worse?

Rebecca Gordon: Absent the torture, I might have still been motivated to write a book about U.S. crimes against peace, but I’m not sure anyone would have asked to publish it!

I think you’re right that there is something especially horrifying about these attempts to pervert the meaning of law. For me, though, what’s most disturbing isn’t so much the claim that torture is legal, as the claim that it doesn’t matter whether or not it’s legal – if that is the necessary price of “security.” As you point out, the U.S. is still the world’s most powerful nation (and the fact that it’s faltering only makes it more vicious). I’d argue that the country’s utter contempt for the rule of law makes it more dangerous still.

About torture in particular, I’d also suggest that it’s not only the violation of U.S. laws and international treaties that shocks the conscience. It’s the breakdown of a moral consensus in this country that torture is wrong. It’s a shameful fact that the further away we get from the 9/11 attacks, the more people will tell pollsters that torture is sometimes or often acceptable.

The Talking Dog: As you note in your book, it seems inconceivable that accountability of any kind will be meted out by the American civilian or military justice system (although, perhaps, the occasional official may travel to the wrong foreign country, and face some level of accountability there). Rather than the self-interest of the powerful to enforce their "elite immunity," which is obviously in play, let me come at this from another direction: I've always believed that a huge portion of the American public (for reasons unique to it, i.e., our isolation in the world via our status as a remote continental power-- on a micro-scale, the phenomena might be observed in housewives in suburban and exurban America whose isolation seems to drive them into reactionary politics) have been duly conditioned to believe there is a terrorist lurking under every rock and behind every tree, and genuinely feel that anything and everything done to "make us safe" is fair game-- helped along by Twenty-Four and denizens of "controlled torture" and the ridiculous "ticking time bomb" scenario, ranging from Alan Dershowitz to the late Antonin Scalia (both evidently fans of the show). I note that it's be my anecdotal personal observation that people in closest physical proximity to the events of 9-11 tend not to feel this way. All that said, have people of goodwill in this country, who believe in norms of human decency (not to mention compliance with laws international and domestic) now actually become the outliers? On the optimistic side, I admit it may merely be simply "a large portion" of the populace (as well, as of course, a complete consensus among elites) that this is the case, but how hard do you think that nearly fifteen years of post 9-11 fear-mongering (and in the interim, the introduction of the total-surveillance and total-security state) will be toward establishing even a rhetorical "citizens" accountability tribunal? How would you address this factor?

Rebecca Gordon: That is the question, isn’t it. My working title for Mainstreaming Torture was A Nation of Cowards, but the publisher thought that was a little over the top. Unfortunately, I think you’re absolutely right that 15 years of fear-mongering, combined with the occasional actual attack, has convinced many people in this country that no price is too great to pay for “security.” The truth, of course, is that no amount of surveillance, no amount of torture, or assassination, or boots on the ground, can keep the promise of immortality that successive administrations seem to be making: “Let us do whatever we must, and in return we promise that you will always be secure.”

How do you make a cultural change? I don’t know, but what I will say is that we’ve seen a cultural shift in the last few years on two issues that Black communities have been talking about for decades: police violence and mass incarceration. I’ve had the privilege to play bit parts in many movements for justice. Why does a movement like Black Lives Matter catch fire? I’m still mystified about how it is that you can bang your head against a particular wall for years, and then one day, instead of a wall there’s a door. But you have to be ready when the door opens to rush through.

One thing that gives me hope is the students I’m teaching today. They’re over half young people of color; thirty percent are first generation college goers, and compared to their peers a decade ago, they are much more engaged with the political world, much more prepared to take up the mantle of citizenship in its largest sense.

The Talking Dog: Related to the previous question, given media complicity with the total security state, assuming, as you suggest, a blue-ribbon panel of thinkers, scholars, public officials and perhaps lawyers and judges could be assembled to run a modern "Russell-Sartre Tribunal," that anyone not physically present or in the immediate email and social media circle of the participants would even hear about it?

Rebecca Gordon: Fair question. Perhaps not. It would depend on the caliber of participation we were able to pull together, and whether we could get any buy-in from mainstream media. There are attorneys whose clients are still in Guantánamo who’ve expressed an interest. I’m in touch with people who think they might be able to get torture survivors to testify. If they can’t get their day in (even civil) court, maybe they can at least be heard and their stories acknowledged.

The Talking Dog: Is there anything else I should have asked you but didn't, or that my readers and the public should know about these critically important subjects?

Rebecca Gordon: Only that we must not surrender to despair. To use another metaphor, working for justice is sort of like surfing. You sit out in the ocean, watching and waiting and keeping hope strong for that wave. And when it comes, you have to be ready to catch it. And it will come.

The Talking Dog: I join all my readers in thanking Rebecca Gordon for that thought-provoking interview.


Readers interested in legal issues and related matters associated with the "war on terror" may also find talking dog blog interviews with former Guantanamo military commissions prosecutors Morris Davis and Darrel Vandeveld, with Guantanamo military commissions defense attorney Todd Pierce, with former Guantanamo combatant status review tribunal/"OARDEC" officer Stephen Abraham, with attorneys Nancy Hollander, Jon Eisenberg, David Marshall, Jan Kitchel, Eric Lewis, Cori Crider, Michael Mone, Matt O'Hara, Carlos Warner, Matthew Melewski, Stewart "Buz" Eisenberg, Patricia Bronte, Kristine Huskey, Ellen Lubell, Ramzi Kassem, George Clarke, Buz Eisenberg, Steven Wax, Wells Dixon, Rebecca Dick, Wesley Powell, Martha Rayner, Angela Campbell, Stephen Truitt and Charles Carpenter, Gaillard Hunt, Robert Rachlin, Tina Foster, Brent Mickum, Marc Falkoff H. Candace Gorman, Eric Freedman, Michael Ratner, Thomas Wilner, Jonathan Hafetz, Joshua Denbeaux, Rick Wilson,
Neal Katyal, Joshua Colangelo Bryan, Baher Azmy, and Joshua Dratel (representing Guantanamo detainees and others held in "the war on terror"), with attorneys Donna Newman and Andrew Patel (representing "unlawful combatant" Jose Padilila), with Dr. David Nicholl, who spearheaded an effort among international physicians protesting force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, with physician and bioethicist Dr. Steven Miles on medical complicity in torture, with law professor and former Clinton Administration Ambassador-at-large for war crimes matters David Scheffer, with former Guantanamo detainees Moazzam Begg and Shafiq Rasul , with former Guantanamo Bay Chaplain James Yee, with former Guantanamo Army Arabic linguist Erik Saar, with former Guantanamo sergeant-of-the-guard Joseph Hickman, with former Guantanamo military guard Terry Holdbrooks, Jr., with former military interrogator Matthew Alexander, with law professor and former Army J.A.G. officer Jeffrey Addicott, with law professor and Coast Guard officer Glenn Sulmasy, with author and geographer Trevor Paglen and with author and journalist Stephen Grey on the subject of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, with journalist and author David Rose on Guantanamo, with journalist Michael Otterman on the subject of American torture and related issues, with author and historian Andy Worthington detailing the capture and provenance of all of the Guantanamo detainees, with law professor Peter Honigsberg on various aspects of detention policy in the war on terror, with Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch, with Almerindo Ojeda of the Guantanamo Testimonials Project, with Karen Greenberg, author of The LeastWorst Place: Guantanamo's First 100 Days, with Charles Gittings of the Project to Enforce the Geneva Conventions, Laurel Fletcher, author of "The Guantanamo Effect" documenting the experience of Guantanamo detainees after their release, and with John Hickman, author of "Selling Guantanamo," critiquing the official narrative surrounding Guantanamo, to be of interest.


June 11, 2016, TD Blog Interview with Wesley Kendall (Part 1)


Wesley Kendall is a Law Lecturer at the University of the South Pacific. Dr. Kendall holds a J.D. from Texas Southern University, an M.A. in Political Science and Government from the University of Missouri Kansas City and a Ph.D. in Political Science and Government from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. He is author of The U.S. Death Penalty and Diplomacy and Language of Terror, and most recently, From Gulag to Guantanamo: Political, Social and Economic Evolutions of Mass Incarceration. On June 9, 2016, I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Kendall by email exchange.

The Talking Dog: Where were you on 9-11?

Wesley Kendall: It’s an interesting and portentous question to lead with Seth (having previewed the next few questions already). For most Americans the question of what we were doing on 911 resonates along a historical wavelength that runs parallel to other national traumas such as the JFK assassination or the bombing of Pearl Harbor. These were defining events for an entire generation of Americans, indelibly seared into their minds and foreclosing any opportunity for the respite of forgetfulness. But the reverberations of 911, due to the immediacy of internet technology and America’s position as the world’s last remaining superpower, created a shock wave that would ripple across an entire globalized society, inflicting a worldwide trauma (as would the American response). As an American living abroad for over five years, I’ve occasionally asked this same question of non-Americans, and can report no person under thirty years old, from Australia to Vietnam, doesn’t remember where they were on that fateful day.

On 911 I was working as a reference attorney for LexisNexis in Dayton, Ohio. I saw the second plane strike the WTC South Tower on TV while walking into the foyer of the company’s headquarters, which were closed shortly thereafter. I drove to a friend’s house, where we watched the towers collapse on CNN. I had been following Al Qaeda and Bin Laden for years, and the report the day before regarding Shah Massoud’s assassination in the north of Afghanistan by two suicide bombers posed as journalists (a common AQ tactic), had given me some presentiment that the Taliban and AQ were moving together to consolidate power away from the Northern Alliance. Not long after the towers fell, I started to understand how the two events were connected. Piecing these connections together and unraveling the tangled roots of American policies in the Middle East became been one of my many interests over the following years.

The Talking Dog: I note that your two prior books- "The Death Penalty and U.S. Diplomacy" and "Language of Terror", coupled with your current book "From Gulag to Guantanamo: Political, Social and Economic Evolutions of Mass Incarceration," appear thematically related to many of my favorite "talking dog" themes, notably crime and punishment (rarely in that order), particularly in the context of the United States of America's rather aggressive position of "Policeman (or some would argue "Dirty Cop") to the World". Can you thematically tie your mass incarceration examination (your case studies span the globe from an Australian detention center on a remote New Guinea island to Russian and Chinese prisons, to American prisons used for juveniles, undocumented immigrants, and millions of prisoners) ultimately to Guantanamo Bay, with the subjects of your earlier works? In particular, I am wondering if you can work in the "language" part-- that is, how the "cover" of public relations and propaganda angles of detention policy, particularly from the American standpoint) serves to enable the entire venture?

Wesley Kendall: Thank you for noting my earlier work, and for asking such an insightful question. The short answer is yes, I absolutely see a thematic convergence between my previous books. Now the long answer. I’m a proponent of the Aristotelian notion of philosophical poetics, which holds that all fields of intellectual inquiry are harmoniously bound together, and should be understood as interconnected avenues of academic pursuit. All of my books are independently multidisciplinary but share certain foundational features, which involve tying together social sciences such as criminal justice, political science and economics to craft a more holistic lens through which we can view societal problems. However, I further examine the hard science that underpins the social science theories, which new medical technologies have made possible only recently. The empirical connections between mind and body have long been a subject of unproven scientific speculation, leaving social systems of belief (e.g. political or religious affiliation) and individual behavior (personal preferences) as uncharted territory. The gulf of ignorance that separates unsupported speculation with scientific certitude is narrowing, and our understanding of exactly how DNA shapes our political identity (and thereby informs policies on crime and terror) is coming into fuller view. In the not so distant past, divergent sexual identities were considered a psychological infirmity caused environmental factors (a “condition” which continues to be criminalized in less enlightened enclaves of the world), before it was understood to be largely the result of a genetic predisposition. In the not so distant future political preferences and religious beliefs may also eventually be understood as a partial product of genetic origin.

Returning to your question regarding the connections I discuss in my second book between our genetically encoded impulses and the way we perceive the use of language in the war on terror, it most certainly can reveal the ways in which we respond to the use of certain charged words across different narratives (e.g. a discussion on the death penalty, the war on terror, or crime and punishment), and illustrates how the three books are interrelated. The scientific literature that supports “biopolitics”, or the contention that genetic predispositions can shape political ideology is robust and compelling, and meticulously detailed in my book on the subject. However, here I will only outline a few studies that illustrate the general state of the extant body of knowledge ( I should at this point acknowledge my co-author, Dr. Kevin Noguchi, associate professor of neuroscience at Washington University School of Medicine) .

In a seminal study by Oxley in the esteemed journal of Science, it was discovered that subjects in the study who exhibited “protective political attitudes” (expressed approval for policies such as military spending, the death penalty, school prayer, patriotism, obedience, biblical truth, etc.), where more easily aroused emotionally when exposed to sudden noises and threatening images. Oxley’s study suggests that subjects, who self identify as being aligned with traditional conservative values, display an automated reflexive response to external stimuli that triggers arousal of the limbic system, which regulates the processing of emotions, most notably fear. An individual who is predisposed to emotional arousal is more inclined to politically reactionary responses to threats, rather than a cautious deliberative approach. Kahan suggested that these cognitive political biases could also interfere with an individual’s ability to think logically. Subjects in Kahan’s study were given mathematical tables and then asked to perform basic computations. Those who self identified as conservatives were able to successfully perform calculations regarding the treatment of rashes using skim cream, but displayed a decline in ability when asked to perform similar calculations regarding gun control statistics. Interestingly, those subjects who possessed advanced mathematical skills exhibited a higher likelihood of political views intruding upon their logical ability to perform simple mathematical calculations. Nyhan conducted several studies concerning political confirmation bias, including a study where conservative subject’s belief that weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq was only further strengthened after being presented with unequivocal evidence of the opposite. The emotional circumventing of logical cognitive processes was the subject of an fMRI study by Weston, wherein he found that subjects who preferred one political candidate were less critical of verbal gaffes their candidate made, and overly critical of gaffes made by candidates they didn’t approve of. The brains of the subjects in Weston’s study were neuroimaged using fMRI scans, and fascinatingly displayed a remarkable inactivity of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (associated with logical thought) and heightened activity in the orbital frontal cortex (which processes emotion). My book concludes, after an exhaustive review and examination of the literature and its qualitative application to several cases, that those who are more closely aligned with a conservative ideological system of values (defined as possessing characteristics such as a protective nature, adherence to tradition, respect for authority) are genetically predisposed to emotional, reactionary responses to language which presents as threatening, whereas those subjects who are aligned to more progressive ideologies (defined by characteristics such as tolerance, inclusion and openness to new experience) are more nuanced in their responses to threats, and tend to be less reactionary and more contemplative. As concerns the subject of my second book, language and the war on terror, certain words have been used to great effect to incite fear for political purposes, but have also been distinctly compelling to certain audiences genetically predisposed to respond to fearful rhetoric.

A theme throughout this book is one of cognitive dissonance; the ability to hold in one’s mind two competing and possibly conflicting ideas simultaneously. I contend in my research that conservatives, as reactionaries impelled to act first and think later, are genetically predisposed to suspend rationality and instinctively trust emotion, and are largely incapable of cognitive dissonance, whereas progressives engage in a more detached, dispassionate evaluation of the context and meaning of language. I often use one particular proposition to illustrate this point. “This man is a terrorist, and this man is your friend.” A conservative, according to my hypothesis, would be unable to reconcile this ostensibly conflicting proposition. A man can only be one or the other. If he is a terrorist, kill him, but if he’s a friend, than he can’t possibly be a terrorist. To paraphrase Bush, you’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists. This polarized approach of good verus evil is largely rejected by progressives, who may take a more nuanced approach to this proposition, and instead of reacting viscerally may assume a more deliberative attitude and ask “How are we defining ‘terrorist’? By “friend” could you mean a political ally who may share common strategic interests? Would we define Pakistan or Saudi Arabia or Israel as a friend?” My ultimate contention is that our divergent approaches to these questions are a product of heredity.

The cautious parsing and thoughtful logical dissection of a progressive which represents a stark departure from a conservatives emotionally reactionary response, illustrates the concept of cognitive dissonance. Those unable to tolerate nuance or uncertainty, who seek the security of authority, and reject the threat of the unknown other, are unable to comfortably entertain conflicting ideas. They can easily become the target of political propaganda, enlisted emotionally to support wars against other countries such Iraq (using coded language to dehumanize the feared other, as when Rumsfeld talked of “smoking them out of their holes”), or operationalized in domestic wars against drugs and crime (Dululio’s use of “superpredator” which became a codeword for young violent black males). These words operate like psychic skeleton keys, unlocking emotions that drive an impulse to impassioned action. Unfortunately, as my book demonstrates, the actions committed are often unfounded, ill-conceived and frequently wrong. Thoughtless and emotional support for complicated policymaking has not only been devastating to American policy, it’s also a huge money making machine. Allow me to conflate two great American quotes, “a fool is born every minute”, and “a fool is easily separated from his money,” the first from PT Barnum, the second from Ben Franklin. Genetic science tells us some fools are in fact born, and some policymakers have recognized those fools, and as carnival barkers for low political theater they cynically use inflammatory language designed to stoke emotion and dim logical thought to separate taxpayers from their money by inciting wars and imprisoning citizens. Counting the money made by the military and prison industrial complexes, supported by the banking industry and the Washington political and media classes, it becomes quickly apparent that the business of enraging foolish Americans is indeed a very profitable one.

The Talking Dog: You lay out a pretty dystopian vision of American (and more and more, other nation's) detention practices, as a wider and wider net is cast to ensure a profitable penal servitude (be it from exploiting labor at minimal if any compensation, or from development of private prisons to per diem fees for privatized prisons themselves), taking the reader through "a primer on the evolution of the penitentiary," a discussion of the institution of American slavery as an antecedent to modern mass incarceration, immigration detention, youth detention and a culmination in a discussion of "the gulag to Guantanamo" and torture for profit... did any particular example or case study jump out at you as "the most egregious," and if waved around, maybe even the usually apathetic American public might care about it? (For me, notwithstanding my longstanding Guantanamo interest, it was the Luzerne County, Pennsylvania case of judges inventing draconian sentences for children in order to fill up private prisons for their own profit... although I was, admittedly, already familiar with the case...)

Wesley Kendall: Yes, the Luzerne County example you cite may possibly be the most glaring instance illustrating the venality of a judicial system captured by corporate interests and exploiting and destroying the lives of children for profit. And while it was an unconscionable episode in American judicial history, the fleeting outrage expressed at those involved in Luzerne towers above the general disregard most people feel for others (others most often being primarily poor and black, but increasingly rural whites) also ensnared in a capitalist justice system that operates as a source of economic oppression for far too many Americans. In my book I also talk about the countless masses who are targeted by ostensibly legitimate but overtly exploitative privatization schemes, launched by cash strapped states and local municipalities like Ferguson Missouri, that have transformed regressive law and order policies into revenue streams. The privatization of state services such as probation, mandatory drug testing and treatment and surveillance services such as mandatory home monitoring, has created a shadow economy where lobbyists promote tougher laws to move markets, profits are made a priority over people, and creating an environment where punishments are not determined not by governments, but private companies who conflate criminal justice policies with the profit motive. The prison industrial complex is actually shifting away from prison incarceration policies, which are becoming more politically indefensible and less cost effective than house arrest. In the future state of mass incarceration, American’s will languish in their own private prisons, unable to work, under constant surveillance, subjected to routine drug screens, and paying exorbitant costs for all of the fees associated with perpetual home detention. The psychological impact of the inmate’s family under house detention is incalculable. One striking story in my book talks of a young boy, who had begun to wear a small plastic watch around his ankle, saying that he wanted to be like his father, who was required to wear and ankle monitor 24 hours a day. To answer your question, what stands out to me are the routine unspoken tragedies unfolding every day that never make it into a case study, that I hear from those I’ve interviewed or worked with before.


The Talking Dog: I believe it was George Santayana who suggested that those who forget history are condemned to repeat it, or something like that; of course, we live in the "post-modernist" world where the shock of the new is demanded on a daily basis, particularly in academia (your bailiwick), where history is constantly being rewritten to reflect current sensibility (and, of course fashion-sense), and to avoid discussion of the actual "past," lest it teach us something. That said, you note the religious antecedents of the American penitentiary, to wit, a toggling between "punishment" (the Calvinists holding sway) or "reform" (along with silent contemplation) (the Quakers and their influence), with the ultimate irony, being that one particular Quaker, President Richard Nixon, pretty much set in motion modern mass incarceration as we know it (he being a law and order Republican, except when it came to himself following the law or being punished for breaking it), with his "Southern strategy" and appeal to the baser instincts of our southerly White populace by stepping up "the war on drugs" and attendant punishment that even, at the time, were regarded as a thinly veiled war against Black people (though, eventually, Latinos and poor Whites by the millions were sucked into the criminal justice system for dubious "crimes"). Of course, currently, the "tough on crime" crowd seems to have bipartisan support, particular if we have a national security implication, although at the same time, there is a trend to liberalization of marijuana laws (and seemingly, only marijuana laws). That said, my question is, at a time when 7 per thousand Americans are already in jail (at whatever social and financial cost that entails), how do you get the public to understand that this is not only not normal, it is unprecedented, and that mass incarceration is not only not the American norm (as late as the 60's and 70's there was talk about reducing prison populations to virtually zero), but that even as recently as the middle of the Reagan Administration, we had far fewer prisoners-- indeed, I think the figure is a seven-fold increase in the last 30 years [falling heavily on Blacks and Latinos, of course]? What are your thoughts on that?

Wesley Kendall: Well, the question you ask could be the subject of a PhD dissertation. But allow me to try to fashion a quick answer, which I think may cut to the core of your question. The rightward shift on incarceration policies really begun in earnest under Bill Clinton, who successfully outflanked Republicans in his 1992 presidential campaign. Afraid of being labeled (as many Democrats had been previously) as “soft on crime” Clinton was able to win the White House by essentially co-opting the Republican strategy of using fearful rhetoric to peel of conservative white independent voters while simultaneously appealing to minorities. Clinton was the first Democratic candidate to embrace retributive policies on criminal justice, including mass incarceration, the death penalty, drugs, as well as promote welfare reform and social safety net cuts. After signing the Violent Crime and Control act in 1994, as I note on page 27 of my book, Democrats made “tough on crime” a central plank of their party platform. Politically, the move to the right was a product of effective political campaign posturing that lifted Clinton to two terms in the White House. Socially and economically, it was an American disaster that cost over $30 billion dollars, and gave as our current state of mass incarceration.

The Talking Dog: I join my readers in thanking Dr. Kendall for that thought-provoking interview, and look forward to the second part of the interview shortly.
Interested readers should check out From Gulag to Guantanamo: Political, Social and Economic Evolutions of Mass Incarceration.


June 4, 2016, Requiem for the ultimate heavyweight


Muhammad Ali has died at 74.

Don't have to say anymore than that.


June 3, 2016, "Dangerous Donald"... part ___


The Grey Lady's Adam Liptak treats us to his exegesis as to why Donald "the Donald" Drumpf Trump (whom his likely opponent Hillary Clinton now calls "Dangerous Donald"... good one, eh Hillary?)... will be constitutionally dangerous. It's not thematically all that different from what fellow Establishment-writer-named Adam Gopnick, says here in the New Yorker. [Shorter Times/New Yorker: "Trump = Hitler".] Seriously?

What actually makes Trump so popular in certain American circles-- his willingness just to say wtf he feels like, which often includes criticism of the rest of government or arguably sacrosanct institutions (such as the judiciary)... is what also makes him potentially "dangerous" in a "constitutional sense." Because he's clearly not interested in "making America great again"... whatever that even means... so much as in maximizing his own power... and while the American system has checks and balances (indeed, an almost infinite number of veto-points) against doing anything remotely good or beneficial for the people, as "the war on terror" has shown us, it is now virtually turbo-charged for power grabs by the ruthless and ambitious (especially when they are feckless). OTOH, Mr. Trump has proposed shrinking NATO, negotiating with Putin over everything, jettisoning middle-class-destroying trade agreements... in quite a few places, positions to the left not merely of Clinton, but of Bernie Sanders... What will we get with a President Trump? That's just it... there's no real telling...

So let me make this easy: Trump's Nuremberg-rally-style thuggeries-- which now seem to be matched tit for tat by agents provocateurs his opponents (such as a recent melee in San Jose, Calif.) hearken back to a certain other demagogue's campaign... in 1933. And honestly, this is as fair a criticism as you can make of the man, as he apparently has no substance... so we can-- and have to-- look at his style, and his style is that of early brown shirts. He is an aggressive bully, he is thin-skinned and obnoxious, and he has encouraged thuggery, particularly against the press and non-whites, his very political success is based on the ongoing bashing of non-Whites, be they Mexican, Muslim, or just plain not White and not male.

The very fact that the Democratic Establishment would rather run Hillary Clinton and risk handing the Presidency to this inexperienced, unstable individual... whose style, at least, if not necessarily his "governing philosophy" (because no one including him knows what that is) hearkens to a certain Austrian man with a funny moustache... tells you everything you need to know about the Establishment. Everything. In short, the Democratic Establishment is more comfortable with Trump than it would be with Sanders. And maybe Trump will "work out" (in a way Clinton will not, unless you think the trajectory we are now on is absolutely perfect). But then again...who knows?

Mr. Trump... Dangerous? Really? It was so nice of the media to legitimize Mr. Trump with billions in free coverage, gratuitous appearances on Saturday Night Live (as the host no less), guest spots on the late night talk shows... while crowding out not just Sanders, but even Hillary... and of course, all of the other Republican candidates, and indeed, providing a coverage that basically helped mock legitimate politicians out of the race.

And now he's here. And if Hillary Clinton, ostensibly with the moral stature of Richard Nixon after Watergate, is, as she and the Establishment demands, the shoo-in Democratic nominee, then Mr. Trump will, almost certainly, be elected President of the United States. And then I guess, we will all learn just exactly what "Make Germany America Great Again" actually means.


June 1, 2016, Happy June


And happy birthday to TD mother-in-law, now 85 years young.

Your talking dog is pleased to have made it through the worst part of an appendectomy (that being... the appendectomy) and looks forward to... recovering.

And another day, another month even, and more of same in American politics...

The Grey Lady's Tom Friedman tries to give equal "untruth" values to statements of Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Have to admire the Establishment's pluck in its unwavering support of Hillary, even as (sadly, behind paywall), one-time Bill Clinton pollster Doug Schoen observes that a Bernie win in California and he might well be the nominee, given the rest of Hillary's... baggage.

Meanwhile, court documents released in California show that some of its own workers regarded the now defunct Trump University as a "lie" and "scheme." I'm betting that Mr. Trump will manage to avoid having his eponymous "university" cause him too much political damage; the one way he can be derailed however, is suggested by actual billionaire Mark Cuban, that is, Trump isn't even really a billionaire (and indeed, has far less money than he pretends). Americans will forgive a liar, a blowhard, a racist, or just an all-around asshole... but we will not forgive someone who isn't actually rich.


The Story of
the talking dog:

Two race horses have just been worked out on the practice track, and are being led back into the stable.

After the stable boy leads them into their stalls, the first race horse tells the second, "Hey, did you notice something odd about that guy?  I don't know, he just doesn't seem right to me".

The second race horse responds, "No, he's just like all the other stable boys, and the grooms, and the trainers, and the jockeys – just another short, smelly guy with a bad attitude, 'Push, push, push, run harder…We don't care if you break down, just move it, eat this crap, and get back to your stall".

The first race horse says, "Yeah, I know what you mean!  This game is just a big rat race, and I'm really tired of it."
A stable dog has been watching the two of them talk, and he can't contain himself.

"Fellas", he says.  "I don't believe this!  You guys are RACEHORSES.  I don't care what they say about lions, YOU GUYS are the kings of the animal world!  You get the best digs, you get the best food, you get the best health care, and when you run and win, you get roses and universal adulation.  Even when you lose, people still think you're great and give you sugar cubes.  And if you have a great career, you get put out to stud, and have an unimaginable blast better than anything Hugh Hefner ever imagined.  Even if you're not in demand as a stud, you still get put out to pasture, which is a mighty fine way to spend your life, if you ask me.  I mean, you guys just don't appreciate how good you have it!"

To which, the first race horse turns to the second race horse and says, "Would you look at this!   A talking dog!"

Your comments are welcome at:  thetalkingdog@thetalkingdog.com

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