The Golden Platform

A FOCUS ON THE FORCES CHANGING OUR WORLD

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Was this 16-year-old, killed by a US drone, really a terrorist?

by Pratap Chatterjee

Tariqhighlight - Pratap Chatterjee

Tariq Aziz (ringed) was killed three days after this meeting.

He walked quietly between his two friends as he entered the conference hall in one of the best hotels in an exclusive enclave of Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. The carpeted room filled with chairs draped in white as if for a wedding, usually hosted business conferences. But this event was different. The smart suited-business men and laptops had been usurped by rough-hewn boys and traditionally-dressed older men from the tribal mountains a few arduous hours from the capital.

A row of elders greeted the attendees, lightly shaking hands as they gently touched their own chests in a traditional gesture. Deep-cut lines in their sun-hardened skin marked their years, full beards and elaborate head gear denoted their social standing. There was little chat as the three teenage boys filed to their seats. The men gathered had come to discuss death and destruction – the destruction of their homes and villages, the deaths of their children and friends.

Like many in the room, Tariq Aziz had travelled for eight hours by public bus to join the group. Despite his black kameez, flat-topped cap and the start of a neat beard, Aziz was clearly much younger than many of the other men gathered.

Seated just two rows directly in front was Jemima Khan, the British heiress, also dressed in a black traditional outfit edged with antique red and yellow embroidery, her thick, flowing hair left uncovered while in the hall. She tried hard not to attract attention, but her presence was so much at odds with those around her that it was difficult not to watch her reactions, not least because her former husband and now politician Imran Khan was also at the meeting.

Events a few hundred miles away, in the mountains of the north had brought this odd group together. Waziristan is an inaccessible, remote region on the border of Afghanistan. Few people other than the locals ever travel into the rugged interior. Frequent checkpoints keep journalists and foreigners out. The ubiquitous mobile phones have stopped working since the mobile network was switched off. There is no major industry and little farm-land. Most supplies are driven in by colourfully painted Bedford or Hino trucks, one of the few jobs available. People live as they have for centuries, following old traditions and tribal codes.

More than fifteen years ago, in 1996, Jemima Khan had travelled to the area, with her then husband Imran, and her father, Sir James Goldsmith, the billionaire financier. The tribesmen had regaled the visitors with stories of their fierceness. ‘One of the tribal elders came up to my father and said welcome to Waziristan. I just want to let you know that the last Englishman that came to these parts was 100 years ago, and our great grandfathers shot him,’ she recalled with a laugh. The men were warriors, violence was common, and Kalashnikov rifles carried openly, as they still are today.

But it was not the tribal fighting that concerned the men who had gathered in the Islamabad hotel. Life in Waziristan was being threatened by a far more fiercesome weapon than the automatic rifle. Unmanned planes, remotely-controlled from the Nevada desert thousands of miles away, have become an almost everyday sight in the skies above the arid lands of the north. It was the frequent attacks by these planes, or drones, operated by America, supposedly an ally, that were the focus of the gathering.

The drones had started flying, infrequently at first, over the northern mountains almost eight years ago. Initially they had hovered in the skies streaming video back to the operators – agents working for the US Central Intelligence Agency. They were gathering information about al Qaeda members allegedly hiding in the cut-off lands.

But now these unmanned planes have become an almost constant, and deadly presence.  Their deep, low dirge a terrifying symphony accompanying the villagers’ daily lives. They fly in packs, sometimes as many as a half dozen, circling the villages for hours, hovering over roads, before firing Hellfire missiles. As many as 3,000 people have been killed, though little more than a few lines ever gets reported in the Western press. This is a war fought largely out of sight of the global media, away from the connected world.

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Filed under News Feature Drones Killing Teenager Pakistan Afghanistan

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Reading Fanon in Palestine/Israel

By Nasser Rego

The fiftieth anniversary of the death of revolutionary, writer and psychiatrist Frantz Fanon was commemorated this past December. In late February, the not-so-revolutionary judge Asher Grunis was elected President of the Israeli Supreme Court. 

The fanfare that accompanied Grunis’ inauguration was an opportunity to extol Israeli democracy by playing out the ritualized Supreme Court induction ceremony. Yet, there was a disquieting stink about the celebration. Mum among the lot of Hatikva-singing judges was Justice Salim Jubran, the Arab. His refusal to join the chorus likely stemmed from not identifying with the lyrics, “as long as in the heart, within, a Jewish soul still yearns…” His silence, however, prompted loud condemnation from the public and Israeli Knesset members, leading some to propose legislation that would impeach Jubran and effectively bar Arabs from serving on the bench. 

This article reads Fanon’s death anniversary and Grunis’ appointment and inauguration ceremony against one another, as an opportunity to recycle Fanon’s ideas to better situate the place of Palestinians, as a colonized people, within the imagination of Israeli law today. In particular, the article traces the outlines of Fanon’s historico-racial schema in Israel/Palestine, emphasizing the legal experience of Palestinians from the Beersheba region, or the Naqab. 

Look Mama, an Arab!

Fanon’s historico-racial schema builds on Merleau-Ponty’s (1964) corporeal schema, which is the body’s agency in relating to itself and its historical world (surrounding environment) wherein there is a communication between the two through a perpetual contribution to and reordering of one another. Therefore, as the world contributes to how the body sees itself, the body is an agent that continually transforms and disrupts the historical world, their mutual constructions always being altered and differentiated. For Fanon, the colonial context describes a historico-racial schema rather than a corporeal one. The colonized self does not contribute to this schema as a full sovereign (i.e., citizen) because in an encounter with whiteness, the black body constructs a self-image that is deficient, owing to signifiers by a white mythos that weaves the black body from “a thousand details, anecdotes and stories” (Weate 2001, Fanon 1967: 89-119).  This article shows how Israeli law functions as a powerful element of a similar white mythos, weaving the ”Bedouin, Palestinian” subject out of anecdotes of comparable mythical proportion.  As a result, the possibilities are similarly thin for Naqab Palestinians to effect free agency and participate fully in the schematization of the historical world they inhabit.

The legal status of Palestinians in other locales in Israel/Palestine also reveals how Israeli law is in fact, vis-à-vis Palestinians, not only illiberal and undemocratic, contrary to the claims of certain enthusiasts, but even more harmful. After the Arab Supreme Court Justice stood out like the reluctant elephant in a room full of Hatikva-singing comrades, the liberal and democratic court could be forced to ask very existential questions. Why were the Court’s most touted values denied to one of its own members by the larger society, including the legal community? Why was a Supreme Court judge, who happened to be Arab, not allowed the liberal privilege of being “tolerated” for his silence? And why was he condemned for exercising his democratic right to non-participation and silent expression?

The heterogeneous strands of Fanon’s works can be applied in the Israeli/Palestinian context to speak about the need for an episteme of colonialism to inform the power-knowledge system of Palestinians’ habitation, to highlight the shortcomings of national consciousness, and to probe the psychiatric treatment of political prisoners in a colonial context. Edward Sa’id (1989) also mobilized Fanon to criticize fixed ideas of identity as a mark of colonial thought.

To discover how the Fanonian white mythos is propagated by Israeli courts, we look at  the discursive effects of a few cases over the past two decades. Law is a major propagator of the white mythos, though the media (see Kabha), education and the medical establishment are also contributing factors (Fanon 1963: 249-310).

Legal rules, decisions, settings, negotiations, confrontations, affidavits, minutes, appeals, orders nisi and other temporary remedies, press releases, news reports and analyses recycle the facts of the case and the ways in which Palestinians are mythified. As each textual form peters down to the lived conditions of those who are immersed in but unequal before the law, or all Palestinians, it leaves an imprint on how the senses see the self and the historical world they inhabit. 

The dominant legal framing of Palestinians from the Naqab is within the strictures of criminality by a homogenous mass, even in cases that achieve legal victories for the community. Other characteristics that the courts contrive are those of violent, irresponsible Palestinians, and those who deserve “a minimal right to life in dignity,” or in layman’s terms, the right to be ”the living dead.” 

"The native…a sort of quintessence of evil… invisible to ethics… the corrosive element, destroying all that comes near him" (Fanon 1963: 41).

The first case we will examine is the 1984 “landmark” el-Hawasheleh decision (CA 218/74). This decision set the precedent for future courts to undermine Bedouin settlement and pastoral lifestyle, thereby classifying their lands as mawat (dead), thus providing the basis to conclude that Bedouin had no historical rights to the land. In reaching this conclusion, the court cited the work of the nineteenth-century British explorer E.H.Palmer, who “found a wasteland, ruins of antiquities, Bedouin vagabonds, who did not work the land in any particular manner.” Later in the same text Palmer wrote that “the Bedawí… wherever he goes… brings with him ruin, violence and neglect.”

"The fellaghas are ambitious peasants, criminals… (1963: 287)… The Algerian people: they were born slackers, born liars, born robbers, and born criminals" (1963: 296).

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Filed under Feature Frantz Fanon revolutionary Israel Palestine

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Operation Midnight Climax: How the CIA Dosed S.F. Citizens with LSD

By Troy Hooper

It’s been over 50 years, but Wayne Ritchiesays he can still remember how it felt to be dosed with acid.

He was drinking bourbon and soda with other federal officers at a holiday party in 1957 at the U.S. Post Office Building on Seventh and Mission streets. They were cracking jokes and swapping stories when, suddenly, the room began to spin. The red and green lights on the Christmas tree in the corner spiraled wildly. Ritchie’s body temperature rose. His gaze fixed on the dizzying colors around him.

The deputy U.S. marshal excused himself and went upstairs to his office, where he sat down and drank a glass of water. He needed to compose himself. But instead he came unglued. Ritchie feared the other marshals didn’t want him around anymore. Then he obsessed about the probation officers across the hall and how they didn’t like him, either.Everyone was out to get him. Ritchie felt he had to escape.

He fled to his apartment and sought comfort from his live-in girlfriend. It didn’t go as planned. His girlfriend was there, but an argument erupted. She told him she was growing tired of San Francisco and wanted to return to New York City. Ritchie couldn’t handle the situation. Frantic, he ran away again, this time to the Vagabond Bar where he threw back more bourbon and sodas. From there, he hit a few more bars, further cranking up his buzz. As he drank his way back to Seventh and Mission, Ritchie concocted a plan that would change his life.

Now in his mid-eighties and living in San Jose, Ritchie may be among the last of the living victims of MK-ULTRA, a Central Intelligence Agency operation that covertly tested lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) on unwitting Americans in San Francisco and New York City from 1953 to 1964.

"I remember that night very clearly, yes I do," he said in a recent interview. "I was paranoid. I got down to where I thought everyone was against me. The whole world was against me."

After the day had bled into night on Dec. 20, 1957, Ritchie returned to his office in the Post Office Building and retrieved two service revolvers from his locker. He was going rogue.

"I decided if they want to get rid of me, I’ll help them. I’ll just go out and get my guns from my office and hold up a bar," Ritchie recalls. "I thought, ‘I can get enough money to get my girlfriend an airline ticket back to New York, and I’ll turn myself in.’ But I was unsuccessful."

Out of his skull on a hallucinogen and alcohol, Ritchie rolled into the Shady Grove in the Fillmore District, and ordered one final bourbon and soda. After swallowing down the final drops, he pointed his revolver at the bartender and demanded money. Before joining the marshals, Ritchie served five years in the Marines and spent a year as anAlcatraz prison guard. But the cop had suddenly become the robber.

It was over in a flash. A waitress came up behind him and asked Ritchie what he was doing. When Ritchie turned around, a patron hit him over the head and knocked him unconscious. He awoke to a pair of police officers standing over him.

Ritchie says he had expected to get caught or killed.

The judge went easy on him and Ritchie avoided prison. He resigned from the Marshals Service, pleaded guilty to attempted armed robbery, paid a $500 fine, and was sentenced to five years’ probation.

Ritchie’s story is certainly peculiar, but not unique. Other San Franciscans were unsuspecting participants in a strange research program in which the government effectively broke the law in an effort to fight the Cold War.

Seymour Hersh first exposed MK-ULTRA in aNew York Times article in 1974 that documented CIA illegalities, including the use of its own citizens as guinea pigs in games of war and espionage. John Marks expertly chronicled more of the operation in his 1979 book, The Search for the Manchurian Candidate. There have been other reports on the CIA’s doping of civilians, but they have mostly dished about activities in New York City. Accounts of what actually occurred in San Francisco have been sparse and sporadic. But newly declassified CIA records, recent interviews, and a personal diary of an operative at Stanford Special Collections shed more light on the breadth of the San Francisco operation.

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Filed under Feature CIA LSD Drugs Experiments US Government Secret San Francisco California MK-ULTRA

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A fog of drugs and war

More than 110,000 active-duty Army troops last year took antidepressants, sedatives and other prescription medications. Some see a link to aberrant behavior.

By Kim Murphy

U.S. Air Force pilot Patrick Burke's day started in the cockpit of a B-1 bomber near the Persian Gulf and proceeded across nine time zones as he ferried the aircraft home to South Dakota.

Every four hours during the 19-hour flight, Burke swallowed a tablet of Dexedrine, the prescribed amphetamine known as “go pills.” After landing, he went out for dinner and drinks with a fellow crewman. They were driving back to Ellsworth Air Force Base when Burke began striking his friend in the head.

"Jack Bauer told me this was going to happen — you guys are trying to kidnap me!" he yelled, as if he were a character in the TV show "24."

When the woman giving them a lift pulled the car over, Burke leaped on her and wrestled her to the ground. “Me and my platoon are looking for terrorists,” he told her before grabbing her keys, driving away and crashing into a guardrail.

Burke was charged with auto theft, drunk driving and two counts of assault. But in October, a court-martial judge found the young lieutenant not guilty “by reason of lack of mental responsibility” — the almost unprecedented equivalent, at least in modern-day military courts, of an insanity acquittal.

Four military psychiatrists concluded that Burke suffered from “polysubstance-induced delirium” brought on by alcohol, lack of sleep and the 40 milligrams of Dexedrine he was issued by the Air Force.

In a small but growing number of cases across the nation, lawyers are blaming the U.S. military's heavy use of psychotropic drugs for their clients' aberrant behavior and related health problems. Such defenses have rarely gained traction in military or civilian courtrooms, but Burke's case provides the first important indication that military psychiatrists and court-martial judges are not blind to what can happen when troops go to work medicated.

After two long-running wars with escalating levels of combat stress, more than 110,000 active-duty Army troops last year were taking prescribed antidepressants, narcotics, sedatives, antipsychotics and anti-anxiety drugs, according to figures recently disclosed to The Times by the U.S. Armysurgeon general. Nearly 8% of the active-duty Army is now on sedatives and more than 6% is on antidepressants — an eightfold increase since 2005.

"We have never medicated our troops to the extent we are doing now…. And I don’t believe the current increase in suicides and homicides in the military is a coincidence," said Bart Billings, a former military psychologist who hosts an annual conference on combat stress.

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Filed under News Feature Military Drugs Antidepressants Army War Air Force

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