The relevance of democratic socialism in the 21st century – posted 9/18/2016

September 18, 2016 1 comment

There were many surprising things about Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. One of the most surprising was the emergence of a major candidate who explicitly described himself as a democratic socialist. I don’t think anyone in America has seen that before, at least not for over 75 years.

Up until recently, socialism had a taboo quality but Bernie Sanders smashed that. Although he did not win the Democratic nomination, he won the New Hampshire primary by a 22 point margin and he garnered 13 million votes in the primaries. The conventional wisdom had been that no socialist candidate would be taken seriously by voters.

Going back to the Cold War and the Senator Joe McCarthy period, socialist had been turned into a smear word. People identified as socialist often paid a steep price for having the courage of their convictions. In the late 1940’s-early 1950’s, thousands were hounded out of their jobs and their careers were destroyed. Socialists were blacklisted.

However, in America, we have a way of forgetting dark episodes. Now the Red Scare of that time is little-remembered ancient history. To quote Gore Vidal, we are the United States of Amnesia.

The witchhunt of that era focused on loyalty. Alleged subversives were considered disloyal to America. Anyone who was an active liberal or further left faced the possibility of being tagged “subversive” and treated as a pariah.

In New Hampshire, the state Attorney General at the request of the state legislature investigated “subversive persons”. In 1951, the state had passed a New Hampshire Subversive Activities Act. The Attorney General, with encouragement from William Loeb, publisher of the Manchester Union Leader, pursued an assortment of leftists, especially professors at UNH.

I will mention two examples. Louis C. Wyman, the New Hampshire Attorney General, investigated and relentlessly hounded Paul Sweezy, an economics professor from Harvard who also lectured at UNH. Sweezy, a New Hampshire native, went on to be co-editor of the independent socialist magazine, Monthly Review. Wyman dragged Sweezy before an investigative panel and questioned him extensively about his past conduct and associations. Sweezy declined to answer several questions, citing the First Amendment. Wyman wanted Sweezy to give up the names of other activists. Following the hearings, Wyman petitioned the Superior Court to get the Court to force Sweezy to answer which he steadfastly refused to do.

The Court found Sweezy in contempt and Sweezy appealed. The case worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ultimately, in 1957, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a case titled Sweezy v New Hampshire, ruled that Sweezy’s rights were violated under the First Amendment.

In a companion situation, Wyman also went after another beloved UNH professor, Gwynne Daggett. In a beautifully told story written by Kimberly Swick Slover that appeared in the UNH Magazine, Slover described Professor Daggett’s persecution. Unlike Sweezy, Professor Daggett complied and answered all questions.

Still, William Loeb despised Daggett and he used the Union Leader to launch vitriolic front page editorials against Daggett and others. Union Leader attacks on Daggett continued into the 1960’s. Daggett did ultimately manage to keep his job as an English professor.

It is necessary to tell these stories to show how popular understanding of socialism became so skewed. The Red Scare profoundly affected the nation and demonized progressives of all stripes. It narrowed the range of what was considered politically acceptable discourse by equating socialism with disloyalty.

Unlike almost every other advanced industrial country, the United States has not even had a labor party, let alone a socialist party of any consequence. You have to go back to the time of Eugene Debs and Norman Thomas for the last time socialists had a mass following.

Not surprisingly, no word in politics has been more misused and misunderstood than socialist. Opponents were happy to see socialism described as tyranny. At the same time, countries that defined themselves as socialist had a very checkered record at best. They ran the gamut from Scandinavian social democracy to the Soviet bloc. The label socialist got reduced to being a word used to describe and denigrate a political opponent.

To those who do not like it, socialist has multiple negative meanings. Here are some: supporter of big government programs, taxer and spender, aggressive regulator, advocate of class warfare, enemy of religion, believer in dictatorship and opponent of individual rights.

Because of confusion and demagoguery around the word, I think popular understanding of socialism is minimal. I do identify as a democratic socialist and I wanted to offer my own take on what socialism actually means. The definition I like best comes from John McDermott, a labor educator.

“Socialism is the movement for the emancipation of working people from the fetters of authoritarian government. This means every kind of authoritarian government – of the left, the right, the center; of capitalist, of communist; of church; of state; of corporation; of expert; and of zealot.”

I would expect that is not a definition that most people would identify with socialism. The word has so much baggage. Isn’t socialism about supporting big government programs? Or nationalizing industry? Or isn’t it about defending the old Soviet Union or other repressive regimes?

I would say “no”. I would argue democratic socialism means working class self-rule. In the 21st century there is no blueprint about how that could happen but democratic socialism is about working people having more power and control over their lives. When I say working people, I mean the great majority of people who work, whether blue collar or white collar.

Democratic socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few rich people. The moral superiority of socialism is that it stands for the possibility of a good life for everyone. Capitalism does not stand for that. While a small number of people do fabulously well in capitalist society, most people are left behind, caught in a daily struggle for economic survival. Social mobility is actually quite narrow in America. The con is getting the masses of people to conclude otherwise.

Socialists believe extreme wealth inequality is a product and result of capitalism. Sadly, many workers blame themselves for bad outcomes when they should be looking at how the system operates. Generally speaking, it is not the workers’ fault for being poor. Poverty flows from a profit system where money is worshipped and held as the highest value. In capitalism, poverty for many is the inevitable other side of the coin from wealth for a few.

Socialists value the quality of life over the accumulation of things.

Democratic socialists believe that workers and consumers who are affected by economic institutions should own and control them. Social ownership could take many forms. For example, worker-owned cooperatives, worker councils, or publicly owned enterprises managed by worker and consumer representatives could all be part of the picture. There is certainly also a role for private businesses. In a future society, it would be up to workers to decide what balance would be most desirable between social and private ownership.

I would say that contrary to popular mythology, libertarian socialists favor as much decentralization as possible.

There are many socialisms just as there are many variants of capitalism. Others may define socialism as a comprehensive welfare state, social democracy, or just raising the living standards of poor and working class Americans. The Sanders campaign opened this discussion and I think it is appropriate that there is a wide range of views about what socialism should look like.

I would acknowledge that the movement for democratic socialism in the United States is in its infancy. There is no substitute for persuasion. The masses of people in the United States have not been persuaded that socialism is preferable to capitalism. That is the job for socialists now and in the future.

Socialists need to compete in the political arena like any other political entity. There are no shortcuts to influence and power. The experience of the 20th century shows the dangers of both right wing and left wing authoritarianism. Socialists respect the voting system, the rule of law and the importance of civil liberties. Democracy and concern for economic, racial and sexual equality must be central values for 21st century socialists.

Interestingly, polls show millenials have a higher opinion of socialism than of capitalism. Whether socialism reemerges in the United States remains an open question. At this point, it is hard to know if the voters just liked a candidate who had consistent principles and integrity. On the positive though, the agenda of massive redistribution of wealth and power remains a just one.

A Little-Discussed But Important Gun Control Win From the U.S. Supreme Court – posted 9/4/2016

September 4, 2016 Leave a comment

In recent years, gun control advocates have had precious little to cheer about. Victories have been exceedingly rare.

So it is important to acknowledge a real win when it happens. Back in June, at the end of the U.S. Supreme Court’s term, the Court issued a decision which limited domestic violence abusers’ access to guns.

In the case of Voisine v U.S., the Court held that misdemeanor assault convictions for reckless conduct do trigger the ban on abusers’ owning or possessing firearms. The Court ruled on the case on the same day it delivered a big abortion rights decision. As a result, Voisine got buried in the news and the case did not receive the publicity it deserved.

The facts of the Voisine case demonstrate its significance as this is a domestic violence situation that has been and will be replayed many times. In 2004 Stephen Voisine, a logger from Maine, pled guilty to assaulting his girl friend and violating a restraining order. This was a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction. A few years later, Voisine got into trouble again by shooting and killing a baby bald eagle. That is also a crime as bald eagles are protected under federal law.

When law enforcement officers investigated the killing of the bald eagle, they found out that Voisine owned a rifle. A background check turned up the prior misdemeanor conviction. The Government then charged Voisine under federal law.

There was also a second defendant in Voisine’s case when it reached the Supreme Court as the cases were consolidated. William Armstrong, also from Maine, had pled guilty in 2002 and 2008 to beating his wife. A few years back, law enforcement searched Armstrong’s home as part of a narcotics investigation. They found six guns plus a large quantity of ammunition. The Government also charged Armstrong under federal law.

Under a 1996 amendment to the federal Gun Control Act, anyone convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense is barred from owning forearms. The ban is lifetime. Of course, the existence of a federal ban on firearm possession for misdemeanors does not mean that law will necessarily be enforced.

Voisine and Armstrong both challenged their convictions. They argued that they were not subject to the federal law because their crimes were reckless – not intentional. Essentially they were saying that they never meant to hurt their intimate partners.

The Supreme Court did not buy that argument. By a 6-2 vote, the Court, in an opinion from Justice Kagan, upheld Voisine and Armstrong’s convictions.

On its face, the idea that the defendants in this case did not commit intentional acts seems very weak. Although they were charged with reckless conduct, was it mere accident they beat up their partners? Supposedly they lost it so much that their violence was unintended. Such an argument does not square with what we know about domestic violence.

Domestic violence is almost never a one-off incident. The pattern typically includes long-term psychological, sexual and physical abuse. I believe abusers usually act deliberately not by accident or by losing control. For the abuser it is about power and control. The abuser gets pleasure out of feeling he rules.

The idea that domestic violence is reckless, not intentional, misses the context in which the abuse occurs. If the pattern is long-standing, defining a beating as “reckless” wrongly sees that episode as an aberration.

Abusers specialize in denying personal responsibility for their bad acts. The argument that abuse was reckless not intentional fits perfectly into abusers’ common game plan. It is never their fault.

Interestingly, only one group filed an amicus brief at the Supreme Court on the side of Voisine and Armstrong. That group was the Gun Owners of America. They did not think a misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence was a sufficient ground to deprive an American citizen of the right to possess a gun. That was also the position argued by Justice Thomas in his dissenting opinion.

The term “misdemeanor” can be misleading. In a New Yorker piece, Rachel Louise Snyder explains:

“To many ears, a misdemeanor, reckless or intentional, sounds like no big deal. But it’s important to point out that when it comes to domestic violence, the seriousness of misdemeanors is markedly downplayed. Most domestic violence incidents across the United States are charged as misdemeanors, though they are often part of a larger pattern of violence.”

Snyder goes on to show that very serious crimes can be charged as misdemeanors. She uses the example of non-fatal strangulation. In 12 states, this is a misdemeanor charge, not a felony. Unfortunately, somewhat misleading legal language can, in effect, play into an abuser’s hand because the term “misdemeanor” could be construed as something minor.

The statistics about guns and domestic violence remain sobering. For at least the past 25 years, more intimate partner homicides have been committed with guns than with all other weapons combined. Statistics also show that women are more likely to be killed by an intimate partner than by any other offender group. When a gun is present in a domestic violence situation, the risk of homicide skyrockets.

Voisine points to the need for an improved background check system. We should not be making it easy for prohibited batterers to have access to guns. Background checks should be required for sales from all private gun sellers. The domestic violence example highlights this need possibly more than any scenario.

Guns and domestic violence are a lethal mix. In my earlier life when I did some representation of domestic violence victims, I saw how just the presence of guns in a household could act as a visible threat and source of intimidation. Guns and their showing are used to keep the woman in line and under subjugation.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Voisine offers some much needed protection for domestic violence victims.

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The Dark Night of Mohamedou Ould Slahi – posted 8/22/2016 and published in the Concord Monitor on 8/25/2016

August 22, 2016 1 comment

In a little noticed story on July 14, the Periodic Review Board of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp approved the release of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a Mauritanian citizen and author. The Periodic Review Board, which must assess the threat posed by the remaining 61 Guantanamo detainees found that Slahi represented “no continuing significant threat to the security of the United States”.

The Board noted Slahi’s “highly compliant behavior in detention” and also felt there were “clear indications of a change in the detainee’s mind-set”.

What is unique about Slahi is that he is a best-selling author. In his book, Guantanamo Diary, he described his ordeal. Slahi spent nearly 14 years at Guantanamo. He was never charged with any crime. Before he landed in Guantanamo, he was held in Mauritania, experienced rendition to Jordan with 8 months interrogation there and he then had another rendition to Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. The book begins with Slahi being stripped, blindfolded, diapered, shackled and flown to Bagram.

All these events are what Slahi humorously referred to as “my endless world tour”.

Slahi wrote the book back in 2005 but it took more than 6 years of legal fights to have the manuscript cleared for public release. Slahi wrote the book from his segregation cell in Guantanamo. The book is still heavily redacted by government censors.

Slahi’s account presents the best picture we have of what went on at Guantanamo in the years after 9/11. Probably for most all of us, torture remains an abstraction. It is something you read about or see a story about on TV. Slahi takes you inside the experience.

The famous writer, John le Carre described Slahi’s book as “a vision of hell, beyond Orwell, beyond Kafka..” It is hard to disagree. We don’t have a clue what has gone on at Guantanamo. Sadly, it is a very sick, sadistic form of torture that is absolutely contrary to our constitutional values as well as international law.

I feel what sets Slahi’s book apart from other books or articles about Guantanamo is the human dimension. You are not reading about a list of torture techniques he experienced. Slahi describes the torture experience but the book presents a much deeper view that includes humor, wit, his relationships with his guards and interrogators, his political and religious observations and his subjective feelings about his suffering.

The book is, not surprisingly, an indictment of the view that torture works. Slahi made up stories to get the torture to stop. I think just about any human being who went through what he did would do the same. The crazy thing is that the wilder Slahi’s statements about his terrorist activities, the happier the torturers got.

Slahi was so broken by the torture that he would tell the torturers whatever they wanted to hear. “I don’t care as long as you are pleased. So if you want to buy, I am selling.”

The book is a window into a form of organized madness. You might think some of the torture is spontaneous and random. In a way, it would be nice to think that because that would seem less malevolent. Many of the torture techniques are based on years of study into the best way to break people down without leaving physical evidence of the torture. They were part of the “special plan” personally approved by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Slahi was subject to extensive sleep deprivation, prolonged isolation, stress positions, restricted diet, extreme cold temperatures, sensory bombardment (noise), a simulated kidnapping, a mock execution on a boat, sexual assault, threats to kidnap his mother, beatings, cold water dousings that left him shaking, and ice cube stuffing under his clothes. He was chained constantly and hooded. For years, all his guards and interrogators wore masks during the torture. It is hard to imagine how you would not lose your mind under these circumstances. From Slahi’s account, many detainees did lose it.

In describing the torture methods, I am not doing justice to the extent of the harm. For example, regarding Slahi’s diet, his captors would serve him a meal and take it away one minute later or they would force him to drink so much water he felt his stomach would burst. Food and the quality of food he received were integrated into the torture routine. When the captors became happier with Slahi’s responses to the same questions they asked him for years, his diet would be improved.

Unfortunately for Slahi, he fit a possible terrorist profile. He had fought against the Russians in Afghanistan with Al Qaeda when the United States was allied with Al Qaeda. He had a relative who was an advisor to Osama bin Laden. Like the 9/11 co-conspirators, he had studied in Germany. He was an electrical engineer. He had also spent some time in Canada. With that profile, there was no presumption of innocence. Although he could not be told what crime he committed, his captors told him he met all the criteria of a top terrorist.

While they lacked evidence, the captors believed Slahi was mastermind of the so-called “millenium plot”, a 1999 attempt by Ahmed Ressam to smuggle explosives over the Canadian border to blow up the Los Angeles International Airport. The facts did not fit this theory at all because Ressam had left Montreal before Slahi moved to Canada. Because that plot made no sense, the interrogators creatively tried out the theory that Slahi recruited the 9/11 hijackers.

The assumption remained that Slahi was a big fish terrorist, among the worst of the worst. Because of his profile, guilt was assumed. Forgotten was the fact that on November 20, 2001, Slahi drove himself to the police station in Noakchott, Mauritania and turned himself in voluntarily for what he thought would be some further questioning. Before his rendition, Slahi never tried to run.

In March 2005, Slahi handwrote a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Because of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2008 in the case of Boumediane v. Bush, Slahi and other Guantanamo detainees obtained the right to challenge their detention through habeas corpus.

U.S. District Court Judge James Robertson heard Slahi’s habeas petition in 2009. In March 2010, Judge Robertson granted Slahi’s habeas petition and ordered his release. The Obama administration appealed Judge Robertson’s decision. At the time of Slahi’s release, the case was still pending. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals had sent the case back for rehearing at the Federal District Court.

Slahi’s experience is an example of what happens when hate, fear, and paranoia replace rules of evidence, due process and a speedy trial. The victim faces the absurd situation where, regardless of the facts, there is no way to establish innocence.

No doubt there are many who will not care about command-sanctioned torture of a prisoner in custody. Numerous polls show a majority of Americans support torture against terror suspects. We even have a presidential candidate, Mr. Trump, who favors “a lot worse than waterboarding”.

Slahi’s story shows the danger in normalizing torture. Innocent people can be swept up in dragnets and get subjected to the sickest abuse.

I think Guantanamo has done enormous damage to the moral authority of the United States. Torture leaves an indelible stain. We need to never forget that torture remains a crime. The United States needs to stand up for a firm commitment to international standards for human rights.

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Summertime 2016 Shady shots – posted 8/6/2016

August 6, 2016 5 comments
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Voter Suppression versus Voter Fraud: It Is Not Even Close – posted 7/24/2016 and published in the Concord Monitor on 8/7/2016

July 24, 2016 Leave a comment

As we head toward the general election, voters on both sides of the political divide bring their own sense of paranoia to the process. Each side is worried about the other side cheating. The Republicans concern has been voter fraud. On the Democratic side, the concern has been voter suppression.

John Lennon once described paranoia as a heightened sense of awareness. So you have to ask: whose paranoia is more justified?

I don’t think the answer is close. Concerns about voter suppression have a substantial basis in fact. The same cannot be said about voter fraud. In our historical period, in the United States, almost all allegations of voter fraud have turned out to be baseless.

While Donald Trump has said that you have people fraudulently voting many times, there is zero evidence that is true. In 2014, Justin Levitt, a law professor and now an assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice, surveyed more than a billion votes cast in general, primary, special and municipal elections across the United States from 2000 through 2014. He found only 31 credible instances of voter impersonation. Statistically, that is an infinitesimally small number.

Levitt has written that voter impersonation is rarer than being struck by lightning.

Other types of voting fraud – voting in the name of dead people and voting by foreign nationals – have not been substantiated. Saying there is fraud does not make it so. Those concerned about voting fraud have not made a case based on evidence.

On the other hand, concerns about voter suppression do have a basis in fact and that can be easily demonstrated. Seventeen states have new voting restrictions in place for this upcoming presidential election. This is the first presidential election without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act. Also, this is one of the first elections in the aftermath of the Citizens United decision from the U.S. Supreme Court where the full power of Big Money can weigh in. And that only scratches the surface.

I would begin with voter ID laws. They are now in place in 33 states. Although they are justified as a way to insure election integrity, there is evidence that the photo ID requirement discriminates against groups that are less likely to possess photo IDs. Typically these voters are poor, Black, other minority, elderly or disabled.

On July 20, this argument received powerful validation from an unexpected place. The full United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, widely seen as a very conservative court, ruled that Texas’ voter ID act had a discriminatory impact on minorities and did violate the Voting Rights Act.

A 2011 study from the New York University’s Brennan Center had previously shown that 6-11% of the U.S. population that is voting age lack a government issued photo ID. A more recent 2014 study by the Government Accountability Office found that voter ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee reduced turnout by 1.9 and 2.2 percent respectively compared to four states that did not pass voter ID laws – Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware and Maine. The report found that young people, black people and newly registered voters were most likely to see reduction in turnout.

A second cause of concern is early voting cutbacks. States vary dramatically as to when and how much early voting can go on. For example, in 2012, Florida cut early voting from 14 to 8 days. In 2013, North Carolina cut early voting from 17 to 10 days. It seems to me there should be some national standard so there is uniformity among the states. In the absence of a national standard, cutting voting days seems both arbitrary and destined to deflate voting numbers.

States also vary on same day registration which allows any qualified resident of a state to go to the polls on election day, register that same day and then vote. States with election day registration have 5-7% higher turnout. At present 13 states plus the District of Columbia offer same day registration. New Hampshire, to its credit, does. Procrastinators and those who wait until the eleventh hour benefit from same day registration.

We have witnessed the repeated embarrassing spectacle of voters standing in line for many hours waiting to vote. In March, during the Arizona primary, people waited five hours to vote. Many disgusted voters left without casting a ballot. The cause: election officials reduced the number of polling places by 70% from 2012 to 2016. The officials said they wanted to save money.

In Florida, in the 2012 general election, people waited up to seven hours to vote. In this instance, the lines disproportionately affected African American voters and other minorities. The question arises: how could this be happening in Florida, the state of Bush v Gore ? And how many more times is this going to happen? The track record of too many states, especially Southern states, is not reassuring.

While many may not remember or may not want to remember, in 2000 then-Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris had ordered the removal of over 57,700 “ineligible” voters from the voter rolls. Harris had claimed the voters were ex-felons and ineligible to vote. It turned out, after the election, that the scrub list distributed by Harris was full of errors. She disenfranchised up to 12,000 legally registered voters, 41% of whom were African-American. That was an election Bush won by 537 votes. That was the margin in Florida.

That election remains the classic example of how small manipulations in the electoral process can make a huge difference.

I would be remiss if I did not mention both voter purges and felon disenfranchisement. While states have an interest in accurate and correct voter rolls, too often legitimate voters disappear from the rolls, show up election day, and can’t vote. As for felon disenfranchisement, even though many states have moved forward and removed archaic state statutes, it remains a big deal. One in every thirteen Black adults cannot vote as a result of a felony conviction. Nationally, an estimated 5.85 million voters are banned from the polls. States vary significantly in their rules about when the voting ban is invoked but, bottom line, these rules still affect millions.

To appreciate the historical background of voting suppression, all the restrictions I have mentioned must be understood inside the context of the struggle over the Voting Rights Act. In his book, Give Us the Ballot, the writer Ari Berman shows how these issues have played out since 1965. We have moved from poll taxes and literacy tests to voter ID and subtler ways to discourage the vote.

I am struck by how much more attention gets paid to the question of who people are going to vote for rather than the question of whether every eligible voter will be able to cast a ballot. Just considering the experience of Bush v Gore, we appear to be sleepwalking.

With voter turnout so low in the United States (only 57.5% of eligible citizens voted in 2012) it is past time to work to increase voter participation and to modernize voter registration. Many states still rely on outdated paper records.

I would make the case for universal automatic voter registration at age 18. Unless the potential voter chooses not to be on the rolls, the government would automatically register eligible citizens. If this vision was fully implemented it would add 50 million voters to the rolls. There is something wrong with the perspective that hopes to win by minimizing the vote.

If the election this fall is close, voter suppression could be quite consequential. We should not have elections decided by a concerted effort to keep the turnout down.

I saw this quote from James Madison which seems especially apropos now:

“Who are to be the electors? Not the rich, more than the poor, not the learned, more than the ignorant, not the haughty heirs of distinguished names, more than the humble sons of obscurity and unpropitious fortune. The electors are to be the great body of the people of the United States.”

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Some Late Justice for Victor Jara – posted 7/8/2016 and published in the Concord Monitor on 7/20/2016

July 8, 2016 2 comments

Throughout history, accountability for political torture and murder has been exceedingly rare. The world is full of unpunished crimes. Horrible things happen and, more often than not, perpetrators act with impunity.

It is typically impossible to get foreign war criminals into an American courtroom. And we generally do not look too hard at our own war crimes.

So it was a total shock when I saw that on June 27 a Florida jury returned a guilty verdict in a civil trial against the murderer of Victor Jara. No one symbolizes the struggle for human rights in Latin America better than Victor Jara.

Jara was a leading Chilean folksinger, songwriter, theater director, activist and supporter of the socialist government of Salvador Allende. I have heard him described as a Chilean version of a cross between Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie. Jara was executed in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 1973 military coup that overthrew the Allende government.

The coup led by General Augusto Pinochet initiated a very dark chapter in Chilean history. It is estimated that 3,100 victims were either killed or disappeared by Pinochet’s dictatorship. An estimated 29,000 people were tortured by Pinochet’s forces in the years following the coup.

The day of the coup, Jara went to work at the Santiago Technical University where he was a professor and researcher. He had a date to sing at an event with Allende later that day. Jara did not come home.

His wife Joan waited for a week not knowing what had happened to him. A young man came to the Jara home on September 18 and told Joan that Victor’s body had been recognized in the city morgue. Victor had been very well known. He was very popular in Chile.

Joan Jara accompanied the young man to the morgue where she saw hundreds of bodies piled up in a parking area. She was able to identify Victor’s body and save him from disposal in a mass grave.

It took years for Joan Jara to find out what happened to her husband. On the day of the coup, the military arrested him. The military detained him, along with thousands of others, in Chile Stadium. He was beaten badly at the university and then later tortured for three days at the stadium.

While there are many stories about his torture, the amputation of his fingers by the military, and his singing to the other prisoners before his death, a forensic pathologist found he sustained a single bullet wound through the back of his head. When Joan Jara and other family members claimed his corpse, they found he had been shot 44 times, his wrists were broken and his face was disfigured from beatings.

On the 40th anniversary of Jara’s death, Joan Jara filed a civil lawsuit in Florida against a former military officer Pedro Barrientos, a lieutenant under Pinochet who had command responsibility at Chile Stadium. Joan Jara filed her lawsuit under the Torture Victims Protection Act, a federal civil statute that allows American courts to hear about human rights abuses committed outside the United States.

The trial presented a wealth of information about what happened at Chile Stadium. Several witnesses who had been Chilean military conscripts identified Barrientos as Jara’s murderer. Other witnesses testified that Barrientos had repeatedly bragged that he was the one who shot and killed Victor Jara.

The jury found Barrientos liable for Jara’s torture and murder and awarded his wife and daughters $28 million in punitive and compensatory damages.

Barrientos had fled Chile in 1989 and he became a U.S.citizen through marriage. According to Peter Kornbluh, a reporter for the Nation Magazine, Barrientos misrepresented his involvement in the 1973 coup when he filed his naturalization application. Barrientos has lived in Deltona, Florida.

In 2012, he was one of eight retired officers indicted for Jara’s murder in Chile. In 2013, the Chilean government formally requested Barrientos’ extradition back to Chile. For whatever reason, the U.S. Department of Justice has not yet responded to Chile’s request.

Complicating the pursuit of justice is a blanket amnesty passed in Chile in 1980, when Pinochet was still in power, which absolves all government officials of any wrongdoing. Pinochet died in 2006 but the remnants of his old regime have tried and are still trying to throw a veil over their human rights atrocities.

Why should Americans care about Victor Jara and these sad events that happened more than 40 years ago?

I would say that Jara’s murder is fundamentally a matter of justice that transcends national boundaries. As a symbol of the struggle for human rights in Latin America, his example and accountability for his torture and murder matter. If torturers and murderers can act with impunity, the likelihood of future torture atrocities increases everywhere in the world. Making torturers pay for their crimes has some disincentive value.

We also need to recognize the American role in these events. While it is disputed, there is substantial evidence that our government bears a degree of responsibility both for the 1973 Chilean military coup and for the gross violations of human rights that occurred in Chile and more generally in Latin America in the 1970’s. We trained the Latin American military dictatorships in how to torture.

There are many layers to this story. The writer, Isabel Allende,a relative of Salvador Allende, explained it this way:

“On September 11, 1973, a military coup ended a century of democratic tradition in Chile and started the long reign of General Augusto Pinochet. Similar coups followed in other countries, and soon half the continent’s population was living in terror. This was a strategy designed in Washington and imposed upon the Latin American people by the economic and political forces of the right. In every instance the military acted as mercenaries to the privileged groups in power. Repression was organized on a large scale; torture, concentration camps, censorship, imprisonment without trial, and summary execution became common practices. Thousands of people “disappeared”, masses of exiles and refugees left their countries running for their lives.”

I personally cared about these events because the Chilean revolution was a thunderbolt that rocked my political world. Conventional wisdom had previously dictated that no socialist government could ever be democratically elected. The 1970 election of the Popular Unity government led by Allende and his 1973 reelection showed that was not true.

Chile symbolized the electoral viability of democratic socialism. The coup, on the other hand, was a devastating rejoinder.

I recall Henry Kissinger’s oft-quoted, reprehensible quote from the time: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.”

The Jara trial revealed a tremendous need to fill in gaps in the public record about what happened in Chile and more generally in Latin America in the years from 1973-1980. Much effort has gone into concealing the history.

The best American political tradition is committed to transparency and intellectual honesty. The public deserves to know the truth. There is a seamy underside to the American role in supporting Pinochet and the other torturing Latin American regimes that included Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay. The full extent of the American role in the Chilean coup has not been revealed. Nor do we know the American role in Operation Condor, Pinochet’s plan, in conjunction with other Latin American militaries, to eliminate his perceived enemies all over the world.

The verdict in Jara’s trial is a long-overdue victory for his family and brings a measure of accountability for the egregious human rights violations of the Pinochet regime . Life can be so surprising. I never expected to see justice for Victor Jara, and finally, it has come.

Lore Krüger’s Life of Exile – posted 6/25/2016 and published in the Concord Monitor on 7/3/2016

June 25, 2016 3 comments

Immigration is so much in the news these days and there has been no shortage of demagoguery. Now the hating against immigrants is directed at Mexicans and Muslims. I wanted to tell a different kind of immigration story. Because it is little known, I wanted to tell the story of Lore Heinemann Krüger, a Jewish woman who survived the Nazis.

When I was in Paris in May, I went to the Jewish Museum of Art and History. The museum currently has a photography exhibit featuring Krüger’s work. The photos were shot between 1934-1944. Krüger was a pioneer among avant-garde female photographers. Her work was eclectic: she photographed street scenes, workers, gypsies, young Parisians as well as classic still life shots like bowls of cherries. She experimented with highly original and creative techniques that were ahead of her time.

The photos only became public in 2015 when they were displayed at the Gallery C/O Berlin in Germany. Krüger, who died in 2009, did not live to see the exhibition. She had managed to safeguard some of her photos in big folders she kept under her sofa. While much of her work did not survive, about 250 photos remain, of which about 100 are displayed.

Lore Krüger was born in 1914 in the central German city of Magdeburg. On her 10th birthday, her father gave her a camera. She was passionate about photography and she immediately started taking shots.

Krüger’s family was Jewish. With the rise of Hitler and anti-semitism, peril increased. As the Jews achieved pariah status, few friends remained loyal. Most acquaintances kept a wary distance from the family. Lore Krüger had worked as a typist at a savings bank.

On April 1, 1933, after Hitler came to power, Krüger witnessed a “Jew Boycott” and attacks on Jewish stores, offices and medical practices. Krüger later wrote:

“Never in my life will I forget this day. All over town, members of the SA in their brown uniforms with swastika armbands were standing guard in front of buildings in which Jewish doctors or lawyers practiced, or in front of Jewish stores. On the shop windows and nameplates they had smeared the word ‘Jew’ or ‘don’t buy from the Jews – the Jews are our enemies!’ in huge letters.

In 1933, at age 19, Krüger decided to leave Germany. With help from a rabbi friend, she was able to obtain work as an au pair in England. Her parents and sister also fled Germany, moving to Mallorca, a Mediterranean island off Spain.

Krüger ended up joining the rest of her family in 1934 after failing to get an extension of her visa in England. She apprenticed with a photographer in Barcelona. She was also able to study with Florence Henri, a renowned photographer who lived in Paris. Paris was a refuge for exiled European artists and intellectuals escaping fascism. She became friendly with the philosopher Walter Benjamin and the author Arthur Koestler. Both lived in the building where she was staying.

While in Paris, Krüger became more interested in politics. She studied at the Paris-based German Free University, an anti-fascist and communist-oriented evening school. She wrote a dissertation on Nazi ideology. There is a quote in her art exhibition that reflects the change in her life:

“Art was my principal preoccupation, everything revolved around it but politics was increasingly taking over my life.”

As a German anti-fascist, Krüger realized that the world was insufficiently aware of the barbarism Hitler represented. In that time, only the left wing press wrote about the danger the fascists represented. Krüger wrote that the Nazis owned much of the right wing press in France.

In 1936, when the Spanish Civil War broke out, Krüger supported the Republican side. Her husband-to-be, Ernst Krüger, a German union leader and communist, had fought in Spain. Lore Krüger worked to promote secret distribution of books with anti-Nazi content into the Reich.

Krüger travelled to Mallorca to visit her parents. Things were sticky because the Falangists, the Spanish fascists allied with Hitler, controlled the island. A Republican regiment landed on Mallorca and contested control of the island. After a battle lasting several days, the Republican forces lost. Krüger’s parents knew an officer who allowed Lore entry into the war zone. She went there with her camera. She wrote:

“I will never forget the stench of the corpses filling that completely deserted place. The inhabitants had left suddenly, all the doors were open. Corpses of young people littered the streets. Franco’s troops had poured petrol over them and set them alight. I will never forget that sight. My heart bled but I said to myself, “You must take photographs, you musn’t think about anything else!”

Krüger had a very difficult time returning to Paris. The Spanish police confiscated most of her photos when she left Mallorca. In April 1939, Franco’s fascist forces, with huge help from Hitler, won the Spanish Civil War and they tightened the noose on Jews. The authorities told Krüger’s parents to leave Mallorca within 10 days. Unable to get a visa to a safe country and afraid of falling into the hands of the Spanish police or the Germans, Krüger’s parents committed suicide together. They had a realistic fear of torture at the hands of the fascists or removal to a concentration camp.

Lore Krüger did not find out about her parents’ suicide until years later. Both parents wrote their children absolutely heart-rending letters explaining their decision. Those letters are displayed in the photo exhibition.

After the Germans invaded France in May 1940, Lore and her sister Gisela were imprisoned in an internment camp in southern France. They were considered “hostile foreigners”. Both were freed months later. Since they lacked a residence permit, the only route of escape they saw was to leave Europe by ship from Marseille. They hoped to get to Mexico, a country that took in anti-fascists, Spanish Republicans and their families.

Lore, her future husband, and her sister were all able to get to Marseille with forged papers. Both the journey to Marseille and the next six months in Marseille where they hid out were fraught with great danger. They knew that if they were caught they could be handed over to the Gestapo. With help from the French Vichy government, the Germans were combing through lists of people who had been in camps and they were hunting down opponents.

Lore lived in constant fear of raids. She and her little band moved constantly, staying in cinemas and hotels that charged by the hour. In May 1941 they finally were able to get a collective visa that allowed all three to leave for Mexico on a cargo ship, the Winnipeg.

En route to Mexico a Dutch gunboat captured the Winnipeg. The gunboat forced the passengers to go to the island of Trinidad. From there, Krüger appealed to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, an organization of Americans who had fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. The Lincoln Brigade raised the money and helped with the transit visa to get to New York. The Krügers settled into a small apartment in Long Island City. Because of a law change, they were never able to get to Mexico.

Once in New York, the Krügers helped to found an anti-fascist newspaper, the German American. Krüger worked on the paper from May 1942 until 1944. Writers for the paper included Bertolt Brecht, Heinrich Mann, and Lion Feuchtwanger. Krüger wanted to demonstrate that not all Germans were Nazis. In the photo exhibition, Krüger is quoted saying that she believed there were many Nazi sympathizers in the United States at the time, especially in the press.

Krüger was especially concerned about the lack of an anti-fascist press. She wrote:

“The first number of The German American came out in May 1942. The editorial entitled “What we want” stated that out of the more than two hundred newspapers and reviews published in the United States, including more than a dozen dailies, there was not a single anti-fascist paper, not even during the war.”

After the war, in 1946, the Krügers returned to Germany to live. Krüger wrote, “who should bring about a change in Germany… if not German anti-fascists everywhere in the world, if they didn’t return.”

In 1947, Lore became ill. She came down with a case of diptheria and she sustained heart damage. She did not continue with photography after that. She became an English to German translator in the later part of her career. Among other books, she translated “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, “Robinson Crusoe” and books by Doris Lessing, Joseph Conrad and Henry James.

Krüger died on March 3, 2009.

In a very dark time, she lived an honorable life of principle and artistic self-expression. As we face the growth of extreme right wing and fascist parties around the world, Krüger’s example shines bright.

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