Saturday, July 30, 2016

An Example of Moral Courage: Nadja Dizdarevic

Nadja Dizdarevic 

Nadja Dizdarevic (Nađa Dizdarević) is the name of woman who lives in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The mother of four, she wasn't even thirty years old when her husband, Hadj Boudella, a Muslim of Algerian descent, and five other Algerians living in Bosnia were arrested on October 21, 2001, after US authorities informed the Bosnian government of an alleged plot to blow up the American and British Embassies in Sarajevo. One of the suspects in this alleged plot had (supposedly) placed some seventy phone calls to the Al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah in the days immediately following September 11th WTC tower attacks. 

At the request of the US government, the Bosnians held these six men for three months. No charges were filed against them. No evidence was ever presented to substantiate any of the claims made against them. On January 17, 2002, the Bosnian Supreme Court ruled that they should be released. But as the men left prison, they were kidnapped, handcuffed, forced to put on surgical masks with nose clips, their heads covered in hoods, and they were forced into unmarked cars by masked men, some of whom were wearing uniforms of the Bosnian special forces. Nadja Dizdarevic had come to the prison that day to meet her husband, Hadj Boudella, and recognized him, despite the hood, because he was wearing a new suit that she had brought him the day before. "I will never forget that night," she said. "It was snowing. I was screaming for someone to help." A crowd gathered and tried to block the vehicles, but didn't succeed. The suspects were taken to a military airbase and kept in a freezing hangar for hours; one member of the group later claimed that he saw one of his abductors remove his Bosnian uniform, revealing that he was an American. The US government has refused to confirm or deny that it was involved in the kidnapping, but the men were immediately turned over to the Americans.

Six days after her husband's abduction, Nadja Dizdarevic found out that her husband and the 5 other men had been sent to the US detention facility in Guantánamo Bay where he was held for the next 6 years. During his 6 years at Guantánamo, Nadja organized demonstrations, sit-ins, and hunger strikes, to draw public attention to her husband's case. During her last hunger strike, in December 2005, Dizdarevic collapsed and was hospitalized. She did anything and everything she could to draw attention to her husband's case and his innocence. Wouldn't you do the same if you were in her position? If not, then why not

When Boudella attempted to plead his innocence before a Pentagon Combatant Status Review Tribunal, he asked that the Bosnian Supreme Court's verdict exonerating him and freeing him, be read to the court. The tribunal said that it was "unable to locate" a copy of the verdict. No evidence was ever presented against Boudella at his "trial", only a list of "allegations" (link), none of which could be proven. 

On 20 November 2008 US Federal District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled that Mr. Boudella and four of the other five men with whom he was arrested, was not being lawfully held and ordered his release because the U.S. had absolutely no credible evidence to justify their detentions. In telephone interviews, Nadja Dizdarevic called on Bosnian authorities to follow up with a demand to the United States that the men be released immediately. On 16 December, 2008, Boudella al Hadj and two other men were released back to Bosnia, never having been formerly charged with, or tried for, any crimes. By the presumption of innocence (a cornerstone of the American system of justice), they are not guilty of any crimes, and they never have been. The three men are Mustafa Ait Idir, Mohamed Nechla, and Hadj Boudella. They are all free men now, as they deserve to be. 

Ms. Dizdarevic said that she was astounded that her husband could be seized without charge or trial, at his home, during peacetime, and after his own government had exonerated him. The term "enemy combatant" perplexed her. "He is an enemy of whom?" she asked. "In combat where?" She said that her view of America had changed. "I have not changed my opinion about its people, but unfortunately I have changed my opinion about its respect for human rights," she said. "It is no longer the leader in the world. It has become the leader in the violation of human rights." 

Some of this is may be hearsay, but there are certain things that we know for sure. What do we know for sure??? 

We know that Hadj Boudella was an innocent man. He was held for seven years without charges being filed. We know that was absolutely un-American. I'm not claiming that was was a violation of Boudell's "civil rights." The US government claims that, even as an innocent man, he has no rights if accused (even without evidence or without judicial process). Boudella' imprisonment without charges or trial was not a violation of his civil rights, hear me now: it was a violation of the very most basic American principles of justice. It was a violation of my principles, and I hope, yours.  I'm saying that my principles (and I hope, your principles) were spat upon, were crapped on. 

I'm not concerned about Hadj Boudella; he's a free man. He's also an innocent man who was imprisoned by the United States military, illegally and unjustly, for seven years. But I'm not concerned about him. He's a free man now. I'm not concerned about Nadja Dizdarevic, either. She won her courageous fight for her husband's freedom. She's a heroine. That's something no one can take from her; ever. 

I'm concerned about Americans; and what happened to their country. They betrayed their own stated principles; which remain my principles; they failed themselves. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

An Example of Moral Courage: Michael Roberts

An American displaying his "patriotism" 

The TSA's security screening procedures made their way into the mainstream news five years ago when a video was posted on YouTube of a 6-year old girl being forced to submit to a pat-down search. According to the girl's father, that pat-down left her confused and crying because she thought she'd done something wrong. After the release of that video, others came forward with their own stories of underage children being groped. 

I haven't flown on a commercial air-flight in over ten years, and I will not (at least through US airports). I would never suggest that others do the same.  That was my choice, a personal choice.  And it's not one I could have made during most of my professional career, especially working for the US Department of Defense.  It was a personal choice and it is one most people cannot or will not make. I understand that; I accept that. But I also believe there should be a point at which one's moral revulsion to acts like these should outweigh a person's willingness to submit to authority. For me, that point was reached a long time ago. But no one should ever believe that individual conscience and dignity are always superseded by the demands of authority. At some point; a person of character must draw a line. Fair warning: if you do; you may have to stand alone. 

On October 15, 2010, a 35-year-old ExpressJet pilot (and father of six) from Memphis Tennessee named Michael S. Roberts put his job and career squarely on the line when he refused to submit to a TSA full body scan, invoking constitutional grounds for that refusal.  Michael Roberts wouldn't submit to the indignity and humiliation of a full body scan, and refused to remain passive and silent in obedience to a government authority that required it. One man among tens of millions. He stood alone. 

Michael Roberts' very individual stand would never have been noticed by the general public had he not appeared on ABC's Good Morning America on October 22, 2010: 

Michael Roberts did nothing more than any one of us should be willing to do. He exhibited courage, in a time of almost universal weakness and cowardice. In a time in which violations of liberty that would once have been considered unreasonable or outright absurd were meekly accepted by nearly everyone for the sake of convenience and comfort. The price of security? How much is too much? 

I am not trying to encourage any other person to take these same actions; it was easy enough for me, my job didn't hang in the balance.  In Michael Roberts' case, it could have cost him his job; his livelihood; his career.  He put a lot on the line.  

It was affirming for me to know that I'm not the only American who is absolutely disgusted by the complacency of American citizens toward unprecedented and unwarranted intrusions on civil liberties in the wake of a single terrorist attack on one American city, which occurred nearly fifteen years ago.

Michael Roberts later formed an organization called We Won't Fly; which stated this as their founding principle:
Citizens of a free society must not tolerate attempts by government security agents to see beneath their clothing or lay hands upon them without probable cause. Such acts are inconsistent with the undergirding principles of a free and virtuous society. Federal sanction does not and cannot negate the criminal nature and design of such acts. These despotic overtures violate Natural Law and are expressly prohibited by the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
How could any American disagree with that? 

Before I read his opinion piece, I had never before run across the Latin expression Michael Roberts quoted in that essay: "Malo periculosam libertatem quam quietum servitium." It is translated as "Better freedom with danger than peace with slavery." That says it succinctly. 

This is not a political issue; it is one of the conscience. How much government control are you willing to live with? How much obedience to authority are you capable of?  How much do you cherish your liberty? Most Americans, if they were honest with themselves, would have to admit "not very much; not when I'm frightened." 

Michael S. Roberts answered those questions differently.

Update: I chatted briefly with Michael Roberts on New Year's Day 2014. He confirmed that he was still employed with ExpressJet. He added that they wanted to fire him at the time, but he explained to them that he never refused to do his job, but that he was PREVENTED from going to work by the TSA. "Besides," he added, "ExpressJet was never in control of the situation."

Sunday, July 10, 2016

An Example of Moral Courage: Kimberly Rivera

Kimberly Rivera with the late Canadian leader, Jack Layton, 
who fully supported her desire to remain as a refugee in Canada

Kimberly, a U.S. Army reservist, and a mother of two, was assigned to a field artillery unit in August 2006 which was deployed to Baghdad, Iraq that same year. While in Iraq, Kimberly realized the truth about the war. She says she woke up to the reality of the war "in the lives of the civilians who don't get to escape the trauma, or the pain and the loss of people they love. I was seeing the truth and it wasn't pretty." 

People, she said, were "losing their lives for the greed of a nation, and still some people can't see the lies behind the media." 

Kimberly decided to seek a better future for her children. In her own words, "The most important thing was for us to live as a happy, safe family with both parents in the picture."

While on a two-week leave, in January 2007, she and her family left their home in Mesquite, Texas and drove to Canada. They crossed the Rainbow Bridge at Niagara Falls into Canada on February 18, 2007. Kimberly became the first woman war resister to ever seek refuge in Canada. Her original claim for refugee status in Canada was denied by the Immigration and Refugee Board in 2007, but she remained here while her claim was appealed.

She applied for refuge on Humanitarian & Compassionate grounds, but she was denied status as a refugee and ordered to leave the country by January 27th, 2009 or be forcibly removed. On that very day, in an 11th hour reprieve, Kimberly was granted a temporary stay of removal by the Federal Court of Canada. 

In August, 2009, she won another victory against the government when the Federal Court granted her a new Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA) because of improprieties in her first review, probably (I believe) the result of the Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's sustained attacks on U.S. war deserters seeking refuge in Canada. 

During the five years Kimberly lived as a refugee in Canada, her third and fourth children were born. It wasn't easy for her to remain here in Canada, and she fought hard against the Harper government's attempts to deport her. She received a lot of support from Canadians who stood with her in her struggle. 

Sometimes courage means simply refusing to take the path of least resistance. Sometimes it means making a difficult decision to be in control of one's own destiny; rather than to simply accept one's fate, as a "victim of circumstances." That's always a decision with long-term consequences, and it is the hardest one for most people to make; to choose a path of uncertainty because of what they believe is right. It's far easier to simply let events take their course; and accept a passive role in them. 

After five years as a refugee in Canada, on August 2012, Kimberly received a second deportation order, this one ordering her to return to the United States by September 20, 2012. On that day, she presented herself at the U.S. border. She was immediately arrested and transferred to military custody. At a sentencing hearing held on April 29, 2013 at Fort Carson, Colorado, she pleaded guilty and was sentenced to ten months' imprisonment and given a bad-conduct discharge. She was imprisoned at Fort Carson. 

On November 26, 2013, Kimberly Rivera gave birth to her 5th child, Matthew Kaden, in a military hospital in San Diego. Kimberly was taken back into custody when her hospital stay ended, her request for clemency (45 days early release in order to care for her newborne), was rejected by the US Army, which chose to separate this mother from her newborn child, her husband, and her four other children. 

Ironically, after denying her that early release in order to bond with her newborn, Kimberly was freed due to good behavior and extra work duties 18 days after giving birth. What were those extra work duties? She crocheted blankets for wounded veterans. 

I find the actions of the military officers who made this decision to force Kimberly Rivera back to prison after having her baby very disturbing because I personally, even trying to understand their actions, and their reasons for what they did, cannot conceive of any circumstance in which I’d do the same. I simply cannot imagine acting as callously as they have for any reason at all. Not for money, power, or patriotism. Nothing. 

Kimberly and Mario and their five children are now living with Mario's mother in Texas. Mario is unable to work due to chronic health problems. His mother is disabled and dependent on her own brothers for support, so that residence is temporary for them. They are close to being homeless. 

And I have this personal note to add to Kimberly's story: it is far harder to struggle against the system in a new country, and a new culture, without the support of family and friends. 

Kimberly Rivera is my hero because she put her family above her allegiance to a military she saw running amok in Iraq. She chose a path of uncertainty. She made the choice any responsible mother would've made. 

"This might be merely delaying the inevitable," Kimberly said, "but at least no one chose the path for me. Regardless of the outcome, I chose the path.

On 15 February 2012, my wife, my daughter and I became Citizens of Canada, something we are very proud of. This is our permanent home, and that completely by choice. I fully support anyone, anywhere, who through no other reason than personal conviction, makes that same bold and sacrificial choice. Kimberly Rivera is such a person. 

We have continued to work for and support all the other war resisters who have chosen to remain here in Canada. They remind us of what Canada once stood for, and can stand for again. They are an example to us of what we can be, if we can be equally courageous. That is the role of heroes. Not blind unquestioning allegiance to leaders and institutions. Live your life courageously.

"I'm so happy. Like the other war resisters, I just want to stay in Canada. Our families shouldn't be broken up, with a mother or father thrown in jail because they stood up for what's right." 

– Kimberly Rivera

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Sophie Scholl: Somebody had to do it

Sophie Scholl, with her brother, Hans (left) and Christoph Probst
leaders of the White Rose Society, 1942

Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just do not dare express themselves as we did.

– Sophie Scholl, die Weiße Rose (The White Rose) Society

   Guillotined at 17:00 hrs, on 22 February, 1943 for treason against the State
   Statement to the Volksgerichtshof [People's Court], 21 February 1943

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Who is Ravil Mingazov?

Ravil Mingazov is a Russian citizen who has been detained in Guantanamo Bay since 2002, despite having no charges brought against him or even accusations of wrongdoing.  Under the most basic precepts of American law, Ravil Mingazov is an innocent man, being held extra-judicially.

Six years ago, in 2010, Mingazov's attorney Gary Thompson brought Mingavoz’s case to an independent (non-military) federal judge "determined that there was no support whatsoever for the government’' case and independently ruled that he should be released."  They've got nothing on him.

Despite being cleared for release, Mingazov is being held because of a series of appeals by the government that have resulted in stays of his release.

His attorney Gary Thompson:  "I don’t think there’s any doubt that the government has been engaging in intentional delay at every step of the Guantanamo story, whether it’s the military commissions, whether it’s the DOJ lawyers and habeas proceedings ... all of it has been this long, torturous, Kafkaesque legal maze that just goes on and on and on and is really quite frustrating."

Americans need to accept that the fact that the worst abuses have not been of any prisoners' legal or human rights (indeed, the US has declared they essentially have no such rights) ... the worst abuses have been of American principles of justice, morality, and of the standards that defined "civilized behaviour."

The worst abuses have always been of MY principles and (I hope) your own.

Look, they shat on our principles, and I am personally offended by that.   Yeh, I do take it personally.

(On this independence Day, consider defending your own liberty by standing up and defending that of someone who has been rendered helpless to defend his or her own)