When United Nations troops kill residents of the Haitian slum Cité Soleil, friends and family often place photographs of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on their bodies. The photographs silently insist that there is a method to the madness raging in Port-au-Prince. Poor Haitians are being slaughtered not for being “violent,” as we so often hear, but for being militant; for daring to demand the return of their elected president.
It was only ten years ago that President Clinton celebrated Aristide’s return to power as “the triumph of freedom over fear.” So what changed? Corruption? Violence? Fraud? Aristide is certainly no saint. But even if the worst of the allegations are true, they pale next to the rap sheets of the convicted killers, drug smugglers and arms traders who ousted Aristide and continue to enjoy free rein, with full support from the Bush Administration and the UN. Turning Haiti over to this underworld gang out of concern for Aristide’s lack of “good governance” is like escaping an annoying date by accepting a lift home from Charles Manson.
Even after her death, it seems the attacks on Zahra Kazemi will not end. It was only two months ago that Canadians were stunned by new evidence that the Montreal photojournalist was tortured to death while in Iranian custody. Kazemi was arrested in June 2003 while taking photographs outside of a prison in Iran, the country of her birth. To punish her for this transgression, Kazemi’s captors raped and beat her, according to a doctor who fled Iran to tell the story.
Close to two years later, there are new attempts to cover Kazemi’s lens, to prevent her photographs from reaching public eyes – only now the censorship is happening inside her adopted country of Canada. Last week Montreal’s Cote St. Luc Library removed five of Kazemi’s photographs from display after Jewish patrons complained of alleged “pro-Palestinian bias”; they left up the rest of the exhibition, which had already been displayed in Paris. Kazemi’s son, Stephan Hachemi, called the removal of the Palestinian photographs “a violation of my mother’s spirit” and rightly demanded that the library show the entire exhibit or nothing at all. So the library took down the entire show.
Gordon Brown has a new idea about how to “make poverty history” in time for the G-8 summit in Scotland. With Washington so far refusing to double its aid to Africa by 2015, the British Chancellor is appealing to the “richer oil-producing states” of the Middle East to fill the funding gap. “Oil wealth urged to save Africa,” reads the headline in London’s Observer.
Here is a better idea: Instead of Saudi Arabia’s oil wealth being used to “save Africa,” how about if Africa’s oil wealth was used to save Africa—along with its gas, diamond, gold, platinum, chromium, ferroalloy and coal wealth?
Brace yourself for a flood of gruesome new torture snapshots. Last week, a federal judge ordered the Defense Department to release dozens of additional photographs and videotapes depicting prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.
The photographs will elicit what has become a predictable response: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will claim to be shocked and will assure us that action is already being taken to prevent such abuses from happening again. But imagine, for a moment, if events followed a different script. Imagine if Rumsfeld responded like Col. Mathieu in "Battle of Algiers," Gillo Pontecorvo's famed 1965 film about the National Liberation Front's attempt to liberate Algeria from French colonial rule. In one of the film's key scenes, Mathieu finds himself in a situation familiar to top officials in the Bush administration: He is being grilled by a room filled with journalists about allegations that French paratroopers are torturing Algerian prisoners.
I recently caught a glimpse of the effects of torture in action at an event honoring Maher Arar. The Syrian-born Canadian is the world's most famous victim of "rendition," the process by which US officials outsource torture to foreign countries. Arar was switching planes in New York when US interrogators detained him and "rendered" him to Syria, where he was held for ten months in a cell slightly larger than a grave and taken out periodically for beatings.
Arar was being honored for his courage by the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations, a mainstream advocacy organization. The audience gave him a heartfelt standing ovation, but there was fear mixed in with the celebration. Many of the prominent community leaders kept their distance from Arar, responding to him only tentatively. Some speakers were unable even to mention the honored guest by name, as if he had something they could catch. And perhaps they were right: The tenuous "evidence"—later discredited—that landed Arar in a rat-infested cell was guilt by association. And if that could happen to Arar, a successful software engineer and family man, who is safe?