" /> Bill Moyers Journal: July 2008 Archives
Photo of Bill Moyers Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Watch & Listen The Blog Archive Transcripts Buy DVDs

« June 2008 | Main | August 2008 »

July 28, 2008

A New Administration, A New Policy On Torture?

(Photo by Robin Holland)

This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with investigative reporter Jane Mayer, whose new book, THE DARK SIDE: THE INSIDE STORY OF HOW THE WAR ON TERROR TURNED INTO A WAR ON AMERICAN IDEALS, chronicles the use of torture by the United States following the events of September 11th, 2001. Mayer addressed what she sees as evasive statements from U.S. government officials about interrogation techniques.

“The CIA's always said, ‘We did nothing to the detainees that we haven't done to our own people in training.’ And that sounds okay maybe, until you really know what do we do to our people in training. Well, there's a special program inside the military called the SERE program... It stands for survival, evasion, resistance, and escape. What is that program? The program is... mock torture program based on hideous Communist methods of torture that U.S. soldiers have had to endure in the past. They do it in order to inoculate our soldiers, to give them sort of a defensive training. So when they said, ‘Well, we're just doing what we do with our own people,’ they didn't explain that what we're doing to our own people as a special program is Communist torture methods... We copied the methods of the people that we labeled the evil empire, ironically enough.”

What do you think?

  • How should the incoming administration deal with the question of torture?

  • What specific actions would you like to see the next administration take in terms of future policies?

  • How should they deal with actions taken by the current administration over the last seven years?

  • Money, Politics, and Your Local Leaders

    Speaking with Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL this week, former Senator Ernest F. “Fritz” Hollings (D-SC), author of MAKING GOVERNMENT WORK, described one of his objections to the way Congress operates:

    “All the time is fundraisers. All the time is is money, money, money, money... [Former Senator] Dick Russell of Georgia says, ‘Now a senator is given a six year term rather than a two year term. He's given six years: the first two years to be a statesman, then the second two years to be a politician, [and] his last two years a demagogue.’ We use all six years to raise money. That's why I wrote the book, to try to get the government off its fanny and cut out all the politics and let's work for the country for a change.”

    What do you think?

    Does Hollings’ quote describe your Senators and Congressman? Who are your elected officials and what specific examples led you to your answer?

    Michael Winship: The Company We Keep

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Below is an article by JOURNAL writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

    The Company We Keep
    By Michael Winship

    At one point during the five and a half years John McCain spent as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, he was tortured and beaten so badly he tried to kill himself. After four days of this brutality, he gave in and agreed to make a false confession, telling lies to end the unbearable pain. Later, he would write, “I had learned what we all learned over there: Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine.”

    Similar techniques were utilized in the Asian war preceding Vietnam – Korea. The Communist Chinese used them to interrogate US POW’s and force them to confess to things they didn’t do, such as germ warfare. A chart of the Chinese methods, compiled in 1957 by an American sociologist, includes “Sleep Deprivation,” “Semi-Starvation,” “Filthy, Infested Surroundings,” “Prolonged Constraint,” and “Exposure.” The effects are listed, too: “Makes Victim Dependent on Interrogator,” “Weakens Mental and Physical Ability to Resist,” “Reduces Prisoner to ‘Animal Level’ Concerns,” and others.

    On July 2, THE NEW YORK TIMES reported that the chart had made a surprise return appearance, this time at Guantanamo Bay, where in 2002 it was used in a course to teach our military interrogators “Coercive Management Techniques,” to be used when interrogating detainees held there as prisoners in the war on terror.
    In other words, we had adopted the inhumane tactics of enemies past, tactics we once were quick to call torture. Tactics created not to get at the truth but to manufacture lies that we then characterize as credible. How can we expect this to be an effective way to extract real information from terrorists?

    Since 2005, Congress has banned the use of such methods by the military but we have no way of knowing whether the CIA continues to use them. (For example, The Associated Press reported Thursday that, “CIA Director Michael Hayden banned waterboarding in 2006, but government officials have said it remains a possibility if approved by the attorney general, the CIA chief and the president.”)

    Such is the secrecy and deliberate obfuscation that have characterized our nation’s descent into lawlessness and duplicity, depicted brilliantly in New Yorker magazine investigative reporter Jane Mayer’s new book, THE DARK SIDE: THE INSIDE STORY OF HOW THE WAR ON TERROR TURNED INTO A WAR ON AMERICAN IDEALS.

    Post 9/11, she reports, “For the first time in its history, the United States sanctioned government officials to physically and psychologically torment US-held detainees, making torture the official law of the land in all but name.” The late American historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., she says, told her that “the Bush administration’s extralegal counterterrorism program presented the most dramatic, sustained and radical challenge to the rule of law in American history.” Over lunch in 2006, the year before Schlesinger died, he said, “No position taken had done more damage to the American reputation in the world -- ever.”

    Read all of this in light of the series of hearings on Capitol Hill over the last weeks in which members of Congress have tried to find out how in the name of protecting us from further terrorist attacks, the Bush White House has twisted or abandoned the law to allow what most of the international community recognizes as torture.
    The administration remains in denial. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft told the House Judiciary Committee, “I don’t know of any acts of torture that have been committed by individuals in developing information,” he said. “So I would not certainly make an assumption. I would attribute the absence of an attack [since 9/11] at least in part, because there have been specific attacks that have been disrupted, to the excellent work and the dedication and commitment of people whose lives are dedicated to defending the country. Interrogators have used enhanced interrogation techniques but they haven’t used torture.”

    Grim hairsplitting. This week, as the result of a Freedom of Information Act suit, the ACLU received a heavily redacted copy of an infamous August 2, 2002 memo, signed by then-head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel Jay Bybee and written with his subordinate, the equally infamous John Yoo. “An individual must have the specific intent to inflict severe pain or suffering,” it reads. “… The absence of specific intent negates the charge of torture… We have further found that if a defendant acts with the good faith belief that his actions will not cause such suffering, he has not acted with specific intent.”

    Jameel Jaffer, head of the ACLU’s national security project told Spencer Ackerman of The Washington Independent, “Imagine that in an ordinary criminal prosecution a bank robber tortures a bank manager to get the combination to a vault. He argues that the torture was not to inflict pain, but to get the combination. Every torturer has a reason other than to cause pain. If you're going to let people off the hook for an intention other than to cause pain, you're not going to be able to prosecute anyone for torture.”

    Deborah Pearlstein, a constitutional scholar and human rights lawyer who has spent time at Guantanamo monitoring conditions there, testified to Congress that, “As of 2006, there had been more than 330 cases in which U.S. military and civilian personnel have, incredibly, alleged to have abused or killed detainees. This figure is based almost entirely on the U.S. government's own documentation. These cases involved more than 600 U.S. personnel and more than 460 detainees held at U.S. facilities throughout Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay. They included some l00-plus detainees who died in U.S. custody, including 34 whose deaths the Defense Department reports as homicides. At least eight of these detainees were, by any definition of the term, tortured to death.”

    Pearlstein cited a recent British study that discovered that our detainee policies had led to Britain’s withdrawal from joint, covert counterterrorism operations with the CIA “because the U.S. failed to offer adequate assurances against inhumane treatment.” The House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs has issued a report stating the United States can’t be trusted to tell the truth about how it interrogates detainees. “Given the clear differences in definition,” the report concludes, “the UK can no longer rely on US assurances that it does not use torture, and we recommend that the Government does not rely on such assurances in the future.”

    On Monday, the first American war crimes trial in since World War II opened at Guantanamo, the United States presenting its case against Salim Ahmed Hamdan before a jury of US military officers. Hamdan, who at the time of 9/11 was Osama bin Laden’s driver, is charged with conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism. Two surface-to-air missiles were found in a car he was driving – he says it was a borrowed vehicle and that he had no idea what was in the trunk. The judge has thrown out confessions Hamdan made in Afghanistan after his capture. “The interests of justice are not served by admitting these statements,” the judge said, “because of the highly coercive environments and conditions under which they were made.” Hamdan was bound for long periods of time, with a bag over his head.

    You will know us by the company we keep. The burners of witches and the medieval masters of thumbscrews and Iron Maidens, the interrogators of the Spanish inquisition, the North Vietnamese soldiers who beat John McCain and his fellow American prisoners of war into false confessions. We have joined their ranks. In the almost seven years since 9/11, we have countered terror not only with vigilance and war but fear, imprisonment without due process and yes, torture.

    Torture is no more about learning the truth than rape is about sex. Both are about the violent abuse of power.

    Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Michael Winship are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.

    Blog Restored

    PBS Blogs are back. Thanks for your patience. Let us know what you thought of our July 25, 2008 show. Review it online and comment below.

    July 18, 2008

    Facing Economic Troubles

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    This week, the JOURNAL presented two different perspectives on our troubled economy. The first came from frustrated citizens of Cleveland grappling with their community’s extraordinarily high rates of foreclosure. Cuyahoga County treasurer Jim Rokakis said:

    “Back in the old days when there was no sheriff in town, people would rob the banks. Well, here we are in the modern day era, and there’s no sheriff in town. The banks were robbing the people... I learned a hard lesson: I learned that the Fed really is there to protect banks, and not to protect the consumers.”

    For another viewpoint, Bill Moyers spoke with journalist William Greider, who wrote in THE NATION:

    “We are witnessing a momentous event--the great deflation of Wall Street--and it is far from over. The crash of IndyMac is just the beginning. More banks will fail, so will many more debtors. The crisis has the potential to transform American politics because, first it destroys a generation of ideological bromides about free markets, and, second, because it makes visible the ugly power realities of our deformed democracy. Democrats and Republicans are bipartisan in this crisis because they have colluded all along over thirty years in creating the unregulated financial system and mammoth mega-banks that produced the phony valuations and deceitful assurances. The federal government protects the most powerful interests from the consequences of their plundering. It prescribes 'market justice' for everyone else.”

    What do you think?

  • How have the recent economic troubles played out in your community?

  • What do you think should be done about our economic troubles? Who should do it? What do you expect to happen?

  • Update: Body of War - Tomas Young

    BODY OF WAR introduced viewers to Tomas Young, a young veteran who was paralyzed less than a week after arriving to fight in Iraq.

    Today, Tomas Young is leaving his Kansas City hospital for a rehabilitation center in Chicago. While his speech and motor control of his hands and arms have been compromised, his family is hopeful that he will recover.

    Correspondence is still welcome and his family will forward mail sent to him at:

    Tomas Young
    112 NE 113th Street
    Kansas City, MO 64155

    What's the Future of the American Dream?

    We're asking our guests and our viewers what is their vision for the future of the American Dream — and how we can achieve those visions. View a sample below and then tell us your vision for the future of the American Dream.
    Update Required

    Sorry in order to watch this video clip you need the latest version of the free flash plug in. CLICK HERE to download it and then refresh this page.

    Check up on all the answers to date and find out more about the Deepening the American Dream project.

    Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: Mother’s Milk of Politics Turns Sour

    By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

    Once again we're closing the barn door after the horse is out and gone. In Washington the Federal Reserve has finally acted to stop some of the predatory lending that exploited people’s need for money. And like Rip Van Winkle, Congress is finally waking up from a long doze under the warm sun of laissez faire economics. That's French for turning off the alarm until the burglars have made their getaway.

    Philosophy is one reason we do this to ourselves; when you worship market forces as if they were the gods of Olympus, then the gods can do no wrong -- until, of course, they prove to be human. Then we realize we should have listened to our inner agnostic and not been so reverent in the first place.

    But we also get into these terrible dilemmas – where the big guys step all over everyone else and the victims are required to pay the hospital bills – because we refuse to recognize the connection between money and politics. This is the great denial in democracy that may ultimately mean our ruin. We just don't seem able to see or accept the fact that money drives policy. It's no wonder that Congress and the White House have been looking the other way as the predators picked the pockets of unsuspecting debtors. Mega banking and investment firms have been some of the biggest providers of the cash vital to keeping incumbents in office. There isn't much appetite for biting – or regulating – the manicured hand that feeds them.

    Guess who gave the most money to candidates in this 2007-08 federal election cycle? That's right, the financial services and real estate industries. They stuffed nearly $250 million dollars into the candidate coffers. The about-to-be-bailed-out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac together are responsible for about half the country's $12 trillion mortgage debt. Lisa Lerer of Politico.com reports that over the past decade, the two financial giants with the down home names have spent nearly $200 million on campaign contributions and lobbying. According to Lerer, “They’ve stacked their payrolls with top Washington power brokers of all political stripes, including Republican John McCain’s presidential campaign manager, Rick Davis; Democrat Barack Obama’s original vice presidential vetter, Jim Johnson; and scores of others now working for the two rivals for the White House.”

    Last Sunday's NEW YORK TIMES put it as bluntly as anyone ever has: “In Washington, Fannie and Freddie's sprawling lobbying machine hired family and friends of politicians in their efforts to quickly sideline any regulations that might slow their growth or invite greater oversight of their business practices. Indeed, their rapid expansion was, at least in part, the result of such artful lobbying over the years.”

    What a beautiful term: "artful lobbying." It means honest graft. Look at any of the important issues bogged down in the swampland along the Potomac and you don't have to scrape away the muck too deeply to find that campaign cash is at the core of virtually every impasse. We're spending more than six percent of our salaries on gasoline, and global warming keeps temperatures rising but the climate bill was killed last month and President Bush just got rid of his daddy's longtime ban on offshore drilling. Only in a fairy tale would anyone believe it's just coincidence that the oil and gas industries have donated more than $18 million to federal candidates this year, three-quarters of it going to Republicans. They've spent more than $26 million lobbying this year – that's seven times more than environmental groups have spent.

    Follow the money – it goes from your gas tank to the wine bars and steak houses of DC, where the payoffs happen. Or ponder that FISA surveillance legislation that just passed the Senate. It let the big telecommunications companies off the hook for helping the government wiretap our phones and laptops without warrants. Over the years those telecom companies have given Republicans in the House and Senate $63 million dollars and Democrats $49 million. No wonder that when their lobbyists reach out and place a call to Congress, they never get a busy signal. Do the same without making a big contribution, and you'll be put on "hold" until the embalmer shows up to claim your cold corpse.

    The late journalist Meg Greenfield once wrote that trying to get money out of politics is akin to the quest for a squirrel-proof birdfeeder. No matter how clever and ingenious the design, the squirrels are always one mouthful ahead of you. Here's an example. Corporations are limited in how much they can contribute to candidate's campaigns, right? But someone's always figuring out how to open another back door. So Democrats have turned to Steve Farber. He's using the resources of his big K Street law and lobbying factory to help raise $40 million for the Democratic National Convention. Half a dozen of his clients have signed up, including AT&T, Comcast, Western Union and Google. Their presence at the convention will offer lots of opportunities to curry favors at private parties while ordinary delegates wander Denver looking for the nearest Wendy's. By the way, just as you pay at the gas pump for those energy lobbyists to wine and dine your representatives in Washington, you'll pay on April 15 for Denver –corporations can deduct their contributions.

    Another back door – one quite familiar to Steve Farber and his ilk – leads to presidential libraries. Bill Clinton’s in Arkansas required serious political bucks, and we're not talking penny ante fines for overdue books. Again, there's no limit to the amount a donor can give and no obligation to reveal their names. Clinton's cost $165 million and we still don’t know the identities of everyone who put up the dough, even though four years ago a reporter stumbled on a list that included Arab businessmen, Saudi royals, Hollywood celebs and the governments of Dubai, Kuwait, Qatar, Brunei and Taiwan. Hmmm…

    Once George W. is out of the White House, he, too, plans what one newspaper described as a “legacy polishing” institute – a presidential library and think tank at Southern Methodist University in Dallas costing half a billion dollars. Last Sunday, THE TIMES of London released a remarkable video of one of the president's buddies and fund raisers –Stephen Payne, a political appointee appointed to the Homeland Security Advisory Council.

    THE TIMES set him up in a video sting, and taped a conversation in which Payne offers an exiled leader of Kyrgyzstan meetings with such White House luminaries as Vice President Cheney and Condoleezza Rice – provided he makes a whopping contribution to the Bush Library, and an even bigger payment to Payne's lobbying firm. Payne tells him, “It will be somewhere between $600,000 and $750,000, with about a third of it going directly to the Bush Library... That's gonna be a show of 'we're interested, we're your friends, we're still your friends.'”
    The White House denies any connection between library contributions and access to officials and harrumphed at the preposterous idea that Payne had a close relationship with the President. Unfortunately, there's at least one photo of Payne with the President cutting brush at his Crawford ranch. There’s also one of Payne demonstrating more guts than common sense, on a rifle range with Deadeye Dick Cheney.

    Payne, who now is supporting John McCain, says he's done nothing wrong, but a congressional investigation intends to find out. So from the financial meltdown brought on by predatory lending to global warming to tax breaks and other favors, the late California politician Jesse "Big Daddy" Unruh got it right: Money is the mother's milk of politics. He knew what he was talking about, because Big Daddy swigged it by the gallon. Now it has curdled into a witch's brew.

    July 16, 2008

    EXPOSÉ: Reporters Answer Viewer Questions

    We thank reporters Franco Ordoñez, Kerry Hall and Ames Alexander for taking time to answer your questions about their story on working conditions in poultry plants. The CHARLOTTE OBSERVER recently reported on the indictment of a House of Raeford manager.

    Please note that the views and opinions expressed by the reporters are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.

    Can you tell us more about the roll-back on ergonomic standards. Why were they put in place? Is there any movement in Washington toward reinstating these or even tougher standards? Is there movement in Washington at all on these issues? Have concrete steps come out of the hearings your story helped spawn?

    Musculoskeletal problems have long been the most common injuries in American factories. Recognizing that fact, OSHA enacted an ergonomics standard in January 2001, but Congress and President Bush repealed the regulations two months later. Some lawmakers, including Sen. Hillary Clinton, have said a new standard is needed. But most say there’s little chance that will happen before a new president takes office.

    There has been movement, in Washington and elsewhere, on the issues we explored. Legislation recently approved by a U.S. Senate committee, for instance, would give government agencies more money to uncover and study the underreporting of workplace injuries.

    In North Carolina, Gov. Mike Easley has spoken out against the mistreatment of poultry workers, and an influential state senator has introduced legislation aimed at keeping closer tabs on their employers.

    State and federal authorities are investigating a company we wrote about.

    And the head of S.C. OSHA said she will ask a special task force to study the state’s poultry industry and suggest ways to keep workers safe.

    The “plant nurse” was referred to several times. Part of the professional duty of the RN is to advocate for the patient and to act in the patient’s best interests. As described, at least some of the nursing actions in these reports constitute malpractice.

    If the reporters visited the Departments of Nursing at their nearest Universities, I’ll bet you that some Department Chairs, professors of Public Heath Nursing, Industrial & Organizational Nursing, and nursing ethics would tell them precisely what professional standards and statutory injunctions have been violated.

    I wish some of you guys would pursue this avenue. If health professionals are pressured to act on their obligations to their clients rather than in response to the demands of their employers, some injustices can be addressed from a novel angle. (Obviously, it would be a start on other health “industry” scandals as well.)

    You raise important issues. The fourth day of our series focused on the role of company nurses – and the workers who say those nurses prevented them from getting the medical care they needed.

    Company nurses are often pulled in competing directions. They’re supposed to look out for the health of injured workers. But they’re not always shielded from corporate profit pressures. It’s costly for companies when workers require medical treatment after getting hurt on the job. We spoke with former company nurses who said they were encouraged to keep injured workers away from doctors.

    Kudos to the reporters for an excellent expose of this disgraceful situation. It's hard to believe that there were some safeguards in place at the end of President Clinton's term but overturned by President Bush. No wonder the employee noted that OSHA works for the businesses and not the employees. Now for my question: I know there were reports in the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER about the doctors piece in this inhuman puzzle but there was no mention of what they have done to be a MAJOR part of the problem. Dr. McLellan from the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine couldn't have been any clearer in his quote. He basically said that the doctors also work for the poultry industry and not the patients. Why no emphasis on their culpability?

    We have done some reporting on this issue, and we may do more. We’ve reported in a follow-up story that doctors often become popular with companies if they rarely order time off work for injured employees, or if they seldom recommend costly treatments or conclude injuries are work-related. One Atlanta lawyer told us that in more than 200 cases where he’s represented poultry workers, independent physicians gave different assessments than the company doctors.

    Do you have any intentions of carrying this investigation further into the collusion of OSHA , Dept of Labor deregulating, and other industries hard hit like mining or others?

    We plan to keep reporting on many issues related to the stories we’ve written this year. Please visit www.charlotte.com/poultry from time to time to look for follow-ups.

    I am looking forward to seeing this EXPOSÉ:and hoping it goes into the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine's (ACOEM) role in actually allowing/ forcing the under reporting and mistreatment of injured workers.

    We have not yet done extensive reporting on ACOEM’s role and history, but we’re keeping our eyes open for important issues related to the stories we’ve written so far.

    Regarding workers at the poultry plants who were undocumented, about how many fell into that category? And for those who were undocumented, how many were using social security numbers purchased on the "black market" or stolen?

    We reported that of the 52 current and former Latino workers at House of Raeford who spoke to us about their legal status, 42 said they were in the country illegally. Most of those would have had to purchase fake Social Security numbers in order to get their jobs. House of Raeford officials say they hire mostly Latino workers but don't knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

    Federal authorities are now investigating alleged immigration violations at House of Raeford’s Greenville plant, and they’ve just indicted a human resources director who they say instructed employees to use fraudulent employment eligibility forms.

    A viewer who is an MD responded to a section of the report on a worker's injury: " Of course his ankle was repaired 'with screws' that is how that type of fracture is repaired. The reporters revealed either manipulation of their audience or ignorance when they presented this as if it was aberrant."

    We made no judgments about the quality of medical care in this case. We wrote about this as an example of a workplace injury that didn’t appear on company injury logs. Companies are supposed to record workplace injuries that require medical attention beyond first aid, as this injury clearly did.

    July 9, 2008

    Sorting Right From Left

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers talked with conservative authors Mickey Edwards and Ross Douthat about the state of American conservatism and the Republican party. Edwards said that in recent years the GOP has abandoned conservative principles:

    “Republicans used to believe in a certain set of basic principles about divided powers, limited government. What’s happened is with the Bush presidency, we have become the exact opposite of what we used to stand for.”

    Similarly, Bill Moyers suggested that the Democratic party may have become compromised:

    “I look at the [Democratic] party in Congress and realize how beholden it is to wealthy interests, corporate interests, the blue dogs, and all of that. And I think, well, maybe there’s fervor in the country but there seems to be ossification in Congress.”

    The charge that both parties have drifted from their core ideological principles, and may even have become similar to each other, has become popular among outsider candidates for the presidency. Speaking with Bill Moyers in January, libertarian Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) said that the Republican Party is no longer truly conservative:

    “I've been elected as a Republican for ten times, and Republicans have a platform – and had a better platform in the past... It's not like I'm completely a stranger to the Republican ideas – they talk about balanced budgets and they're strict Constitutionalists. I think the ones who are in charge right now have left the Republican Party and the platform, which makes it more difficult, because people in the party, the hard core base, which unfortunately for the Republicans is getting smaller, stick loyal to the leader. And they're loyal to maintaining power... I think I can be a good Republican and fight for these ideals, because they have been in the Republican Party in the past. And the question is, will these ideas be revived once again in the Republican Party?”

    Furthermore, some critics like Ralph Nader see little difference between the parties at all. When asked by THE NEW YORK TIMES, "So you really believe that the parties are the same?", Nader responded:

    “Yes, on most issues. On the most basic issues of cordoning power from people as voters, consumers and taxpayers, [the two parties are] very similar. Look at the massive mergers that went on during Clinton-Gore. GATT, Nafta, corporate crime, corporate welfare -- the same.”

    What do you think?

  • Are the differences between Republicans and Democrats as clear as the differences between Conservatives and Liberals?

  • Have America’s major political parties abandoned the political philosophies they claim to represent?

  • July 2, 2008

    A Note from Tomas Young --- What's Your Favorite Antiwar or Protest Music?

    Veteran Tomas Young, the subject of the new documentary film BODY OF WAR, was paralyzed within a week of arriving in Iraq. He is now the co-executive producer of a new compilation of antiwar and protest songs, BODY OF WAR: SONGS THAT INSPIRED AN IRAQ WAR VETERAN, which Young calls his personal "soundtrack to Iraq." We thank Tomas Young for drafting a few words for THE MOYERS BLOG below.

    Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Mr. Young are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.

    Being an antiwar activist in this day and age is frustrating. You fight and fight and nothing gets done and, when you add the daily struggles I endure just to get out of bed and try to have a normal day, life can be a tiring experience both physically and mentally. Music has helped me find the motivation to not only get up and fight another day but to do it with determination no matter how the frustration may stack up against me. Whether it be a song that is written from the perspective of a soldier confused at being in a position he doesn’t want to be in but has no say in the matter (“Hero’s Song” by Brendan James or “Day After Tomorrow” by Tom Waits), or a song written to inspire a vitriolic anger at the state of the union and inspire the listener to action (“B.Y.O.B. by System of a Down or “The 4th Branch” by Immortal Technique), music like the songs I chose for the BODY OF WAR CD compilation inspired a particular emotion in me that made me want to act towards the goals of ending the war and bringing light to the need for better veterans’ health care. These things are bigger than all of us and need to be paid attention to, so I can only hope that music of any kind helps and inspires you as much as it has helped me.

    We invite you to respond and share some of your own favorite anti-war or protest songs.

    How Have You Been Impacted By The War?

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers explored the new documentary film BODY OF WAR with filmmakers Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro. Donahue explained that the film, which follows disabled Iraq war veteran and anti-war activist Tomas Young, was intended to capture the brutal realities of war:

    "My inspiration for this film was the naked child running from the napalm. Remember that Vietnam picture? I mean, terrified, this little girl is totally naked... See the pain. Don't sanitize the war. If you're gonna send young men and women to fight for this nation, tell the truth. That's one of the biggest reasons for the First Amendment, and we haven't been. And so I thought 'I will tell the story,' the real story of the harm in harm's way."

    Photo Credit: Associated Press

    How have you been impacted by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

  • Do you have a friend, family member, or loved one involved in the war effort?

  • Phil Donahue said a single photograph inspired him to want to make BODY OF WAR. How has the media coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan affected you?

  • Does today's media, as Donahue would say, "tell the truth?"

  • Michael Winship: What Patriotism Is, and Is Not

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Below is an article by JOURNAL writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

    What Patriotism Is, and Is Not
    By Michael Winship

    At the beginning of the week, a friend sent me a scurrilous, anonymous e-mail attacking Barack Obama that has been circulating around her elderly cousin’s Jewish senior living community in New Jersey. Headlined “Something to Think About,” it lists 13 acts of assassination, kidnapping, war and terrorism, all of which, it notes, were committed “by Muslim male extremists between the ages of 17 and 40.”

    After several other claims, including a bogus citation from the Book of Revelation, the e-mail concludes, semi-literately, “For the award winning Act of Stupidity Now... the People of America want to elect, to the most Powerful position on the face of the Planet -- The Presidency of the United States of America to A Muslim Male Between the ages of 17 and 40? Have the American People completely lost their Minds, or just their power of reason? I'm sorry but I refuse to take a chance on the 'unknown' candidate Obama.”

    To point out the obvious errors, that Barack Obama’s a Christian, not Muslim, and that he’s 46, not “between the ages of 17 and 40,” feels a bit lame, like damning with faint fact checking. Let’s call this appalling missive what it is – bigoted, hysterical and more than a little nuts. Unless, of course, it comes from the hands not of a mere delusional crank, but one of those beneath-the-radar smear forces that we all know are out there, ratcheting into higher and higher gear as November gets closer.

    E-mail’s such as the one my friend passed along are insidious, appealing to our deepest fears and prejudices. A front-page story in Monday’s WASHINGTON POST profiled retired worker Jim Peterman of Findlay, Ohio. He’s a decent guy who “believes a smart vote is an American’s greatest responsibility,” the POST’s Eli Salsow wrote. “Which is why his confusion about Barack Obama continues to eat at him…

    “Does he trust a local newspaper article that details Obama's Christian faith? Or his friend Leroy Pollard, a devoted family man so convinced Obama is a radical Muslim that he threatened to stop talking to his daughter when he heard she might vote for him?

    "’I'll admit that I probably don't follow all of the election news like maybe I should,’ Peterman said. ‘I haven't read his books or studied up more than a little bit. But it's hard to ignore what you hear when everybody you know is saying it. These are good people, smart people, so can they really all be wrong?’”

    So it goes across the nation. Chances are, many of the perpetrators of this nonsense think they’re being patriots, saving us from Obama and ourselves. And goodness knows, there’s a long history of this kind of guttersnipery in American politics. As Obama pointed out in his Monday speech on the nature of patriotism, “Thomas Jefferson was accused by the Federalists of selling out to the French. The anti-Federalists were just as convinced that John Adams was in cahoots with the British and intent on restoring monarchal rule… the use of patriotism as a political sword or a political shield is as old as the Republic.”

    Details of Obama’s speech got buried in the wake of General Wesley Clark’s politically lunkheaded comment about John McCain that, “I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president.” But over the Fourth of July weekend, it might be appropriate and enlightening to take a few minutes to read or watch the whole thing.

    It’s a good speech. The senator talks about American history and his own patriotism, about the need for service and sacrifice. “For those who have fought under the flag of this nation,” he said, “for the young veterans I meet when I visit Walter Reed; for those like John McCain who have endured physical torment in service to our country – no further proof of such sacrifice is necessary. And let me also add that no one should ever devalue that service, especially for the sake of a political campaign, and that goes for supporters on both sides.”

    And this: “I believe those who attack America's flaws without acknowledging the singular greatness of our ideals, and their proven capacity to inspire a better world, do not truly understand America… But when our laws, our leaders or our government are out of alignment with our ideals, then the dissent of ordinary Americans may prove to be one of the truest expressions of patriotism.”

    Which brings me to what I think was an unusual and especially fine expression of American patriotism. It’s the June 19 closing argument of Air Force Reserve Major David J.R. Frakt, arguing for the dismissal of charges against Mohammed Jawad, a young detainee at Guantanamo, charged with throwing a hand grenade that wounded two GI’s and their interpreter in Afghanistan. Frakt argued that Jawad should be released because sleep deprivation – two weeks’ worth – was used to torture him. You can read it on the website of the ACLU (http://www.aclu.org/safefree/detention/35753res20080619.html).

    Frakt stood before the military commission upholding the inviolability of the American principle of due process, even for an alleged enemy of the United States. “Under the Constitution all men are created equal, and all are entitled to be treated with dignity,” he said. “No one is ‘undeserving’ of humane treatment. It is an unmistakable lesson of history that when one group of people starts to see another group of people as ‘other’ or as ‘different,’ as ‘undeserving,’ as ‘inferior,’ ill-treatment inevitably follows…

    “After six and a half years, we now know the truth about the detainees at Guantanamo: some of them are terrorists, some of them are foot soldiers, and some of them were just innocent people, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. But the detainees at Guantanamo have one thing in common — with each other, and with us — they are all human beings, and they are all worthy of humane treatment.”

    Thus, in the face of adverse public opinion and White House opposition, Frakt bravely defended a constitutional principle as all-encompassing, including under its protections even those who might seek to destroy us and the very constitutional principles for which we stand. In fact, he said, “It is a testament to the continuing greatness of this nation, that I, a lowly Air Force Reserve Major, can stand here before you today, with the world watching, without fear of retribution, retaliation or reprisal, and speak truth to power. I can call a spade a spade, and I can call torture, torture.”

    To me, that makes Major David Frakt a patriot and this a great country. Happy Fourth of July.

    Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Michael Winship are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.

    A Companion Blog to Bill Moyers Journal

    Your Comments


    THE JOURNAL offers a free podcast and vodcast of all weekly episodes. (help)

    Click to subscribe in iTunes

    Subscribe with another reader

    Get the vodcast (help)

    For Educators    About the Series    Bill Moyers on PBS   

    © Public Affairs Television 2008    Privacy Policy    DVD/VHS    Terms of Use    FAQ