By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan
It was a bad week for dictators, and a good one for international justice. Two brutal, U.S.-backed dictators who ruled decades ago were convicted for crimes they committed while in power. Hissene Habre took control of the northern African nation of Chad in 1982, and unleashed a reign of terror against his own people, killing at least 40,000 of them, until he was deposed in 1990. Reynaldo Bignone was a general in the Argentinian military, and was the last dictator of the military junta that ruled that country from 1976 to 1983, the period known as “The Dirty War,” when an estimated 30,000 dissidents were “disappeared,” i.e., killed. Both men will most likely spend the rest of their lives in prison. These verdicts won’t bring back the tens of thousands they tortured and killed, but, hopefully, they will hasten the end of the modern era of impunity for human-rights abusers and their allies.
Bignone’s guilty verdict for his role in the transnational “Operation Condor” conspiracy was not his first. He was one of the Argentine generals who overthrew that country’s government in 1976. Bignone took a lead role in setting up and running several of the hundreds of secret detention centers where people suspected of communist or left-wing sympathies were taken and, in most cases, tortured, then killed. Argentina in those years was led by a succession of military dictators, with Bignone being the last in the line, ruling from 1982 to 1983. Bignone oversaw the destruction of documents and other evidence that might have implicated him and his fellow junta members in human-rights abuses and crimes against humanity, and also granted blanket immunity to himself and others, protecting them from future prosecution. Eventually, the amnesty was overturned, and Bignone was convicted in 2010 for the rampant kidnapping, torture and murder he oversaw.
Bignone’s most recent guilty verdict was for his role in Operation Condor, in which six U.S.-backed South American dictatorships—Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay—conspired to track down and kidnap or kill dissidents anywhere in the world. Bignone, 88, now has an additional 20 years added to the life sentence he is currently serving. Operation Condor was coordinated out of Chile, then under dictator Augusto Pinochet, and with the knowledge of the U.S. government, and in particular, then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Chad is a mostly desert country in northern Africa that was under French colonial rule from 1900 to 1960. Sectarian warfare followed. U.S. President Ronald Reagan supported a coup in Chad, led by Hissene Habre, despite knowing his record of brutality. Habre had a mass grave behind his residence. He ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990, and he terrorized his critics, both real and imagined. More than 40,000 people were killed, many tortured in the notorious “Piscine,” or “the Pool,” a prison and torture center located in a converted swimming pool.
In 2001, 11 years after Habre fled to Senegal (taking most of Chad’s national treasury with him), an intrepid attorney with Human Rights Watch, Reed Brody, entered the abandoned headquarters of Habre’s notorious secret police force, the DDS. What he found there was astounding: thousands upon thousands of documents, dust-covered and forgotten, that detailed arrests, torture and killing of more than 13,000 of Habre’s victims. This documentary evidence, along with unrelenting organizing among the victims themselves, by people like prison survivor Souleymane Guengueng, led to the first trial in an African nation of a former head of state from another African nation. In the past, such trials have taken place in international tribunals, outside of the continent. Senegal formed a special court specifically to try his case.
“It hurts me that many of my colleagues died along the way. They could not be here to see the result, which is why I was moved and brought to tears,” Souleymane Guengueng said after the verdict was read. “Hissene Habre was sentenced to life imprisonment. He will finish off his life in prison, and that’s all we wanted. I hope this serves as a lesson to all the other dictators out there.”
Bignone and the Argentine junta, and Hissene Habre, could not have committed their atrocities were it not for the support of the U.S. government. Secretary of State John Kerry called Habre’s verdict “an opportunity for the United States to reflect on, and learn from, our own connection with past events in Chad.” The U.S. should definitely reflect on, and learn from, these guilty verdicts. But we also should investigate, charge and put on trial U.S. government officials who aided and abetted these dictators. We need a uniform standard of justice, applied equally, across the globe.
We continue our conversation with Dave Zirin, author of the book "Brazil's Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy," and Jules Boykoff, author of "Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics." In early August, more than 10,000 athletes across the world will convene in Rio de Janeiro's Olympic City for one of the most widely watched sporting events of the year. This comes as Brazil is battling an economic recession, a massive Zika outbreak and its worst political crisis in over two decades.
Watch Part 1 || In Wake of Coup, Should Brazil's Olympics Be Moved or Become a Site of Protest?
Extended interview with Setsuko Thurlow, who survived the Hiroshima atomic bombing, about the bombing of 1945 and her push to eliminate nuclear weapons. On August 6, 1945, Thurlow was at school in Hiroshima when the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb on a civilian population. She has been an anti-nuclear activist for decades.
Watch Part 1
Holocaust survivor and peace activist Hedy Epstein has died at the age of 91. Epstein was born in Germany and left in 1939 on a Kindertransport to England. Her parents died in Auschwitz. She later returned to Germany to work as a research analyst for the prosecution during the Nuremberg trials. She was involved in civil rights and antiwar movements throughout her life. In 2011, she was part of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and was a passenger on the U.S.-flagged ship, The Audacity of Hope. She was a frequent guest on Democracy Now! She first appeared on the program in 2009, as she and other activists were planning for the Gaza Freedom March.
Three years later, just days after her 90th birthday, Hedy was arrested in St. Louis during a protest outside Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s office over the police killing of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown. She spoke about her arrest on Democracy Now!
That was Hedy Epstein speaking on Democracy Now! in 2014. She died of cancer in her home in St. Louis on Thursday at the age of 91.
By Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan
Thursday, Jan. 28, was a cold morning in Durham, North Carolina. Wildin David Guillen Acosta went outside to head to school, but never made it. He was thrown to the ground and arrested by agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). He has been in detention ever since. Wildin, now 19 years old, fled his home in Olancho, Honduras more than two years ago. He was detained when crossing the border, but, as he was a minor at the time, he was allowed to join his family in North Carolina. He started out at Riverside High School, and was set to graduate this June. He wanted to become an engineer. Instead, he has been locked up in the notorious Stewart Detention Center in rural Lumpkin, Georgia, which is run by the for-profit Corrections Corporation of America.
Wildin is just one of hundreds of thousands of children who have fled the violence of Central America in recent years, either alone or, often, with their mothers. They come primarily from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Honduras is now one of the world’s most violent countries, and Olancho has one of the highest murder rates there, causing many to flee. The U.S. Army and the Drug Enforcement Administration both have special-forces units permanently stationed there, joining in counternarcotics operations that have also killed Hondurans.
Wildin was arrested in part of a series of immigration raids, dubbed “Operation Border Guardian.” Many believe its intent was to create fear among those still in Central America who might consider taking the perilous journey north to the U.S. “As I have said repeatedly, our borders are not open to illegal migration,” Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said at the time. “If you come here illegally, we will send you back consistent with our laws and values.” Immediately after Wildin’s arrest, family, friends, classmates and teachers at Riverside High demonstrated their values, rallying to support him and five others who were similarly arrested. The group of imprisoned youth is often referred to as the “NC6.” Durham’s Human Relations Commission appealed to ICE to release him, as did the Durham City Council.
“There is so much fear in our community, because, unfortunately, he is not the only child that they have detained,” said one of Wildin’s teachers, Ellen Holmes, in a support video. “It’s creating absences and dropouts in our schools. It’s creating just a huge feeling of fear inside our school and in our community.” While there is scant evidence that the mass arrests and deportations have slowed the flow of Central American refugees to the U.S., they have certainly scared students and families currently here, forcing them to keep their kids out of school lest they be swept up like Wildin.
Wildin’s request for asylum was denied, and on March 19, an immigration judge denied his appeal to reopen his case. He was set for deportation back to Honduras on March 20. However, bowing to the enormous public pressure brought by this youth-led grass-roots organizing, ICE Director Sarah Saldana issued an order that morning, delaying his deportation. Wildin’s case for asylum is before the Board of Immigration Appeals, a process that could take months or even years to resolve.
“He should be released. Ninety days, by any standard, is an egregious period of time to be spending in detention,” Paromita Shah told us on the “Democracy Now!” news hour. She is the associate director of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, and was in Washington, D.C., with several Riverside High students and teacher Ellen Holmes, visiting members of Congress and Education Secretary John B. King Jr., asking them to support Wildin.
Axel Herrera was one of the students who went to Washington. Like Wildin, he was an undocumented immigrant from Honduras, but entered at the age of 7, and thus qualified for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. “We’ve talked to representatives. We’ve made calls. We’ve sent letters. We’ve gotten support from a few of our congressmen in North Carolina to ask for their release,” he told us. “But we haven’t had the response we’ve wanted, which is to have Wildin and have some of the other NC6 back at our schools.”
Wildin Acosta remains locked up in ICE’s private prison in Georgia. His request that his schoolwork be sent to him was initially denied. After public outcry, the warden relented. Many high-school students get detention for refusing to study. Wildin is stuck in permanent detention, and he has to fight for his right to study. That is determination and commitment Jeh Johnson and everyone at ICE should agree is “consistent with our values.”
Amy Goodman appears on the PBS show MetroFocus and breaks down all that is wrong with the media’s coverage of Election 2016.
Watch the Full Interview
By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan
“Welcome to Fort McMurray. We have the energy,” reads the signs as one enters this northern deep-woods outpost at the center of the Alberta tar sands petroleum-extraction zone. The forests surrounding Fort McMurray are on fire, closing in on the vast tar sands operations. More than 90,000 people have been evacuated, most from Fort McMurray, but thousands more from the oil sands work camps, where what is considered the dirtiest oil on the planet is extracted from tarry sand dug from earth-scarring open-pit mines. Across the hemisphere, the oil giant Shell has begun cleanup operations in the Gulf of Mexico, where oil-drilling operations have leaked, spilling more than 2,000 barrels of oil into the water, 97 miles off the coast of Louisiana.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported this week in its annual Greenhouse Gas Index that “human activity has increased the direct warming effect of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere by 50 percent above pre-industrial levels during the past 25 years.” The U.S. space agency NASA reported that April was the hottest April in recorded history, by a greater margin than ever. This continues a streak of month after month breaking each month’s temperature record.
The official response to catastrophic climate change is embodied in the Paris Agreement, the 31-page document agreed to by 175 countries so far. The agreement, reached last December in Paris and signed in April, was the culmination of years of negotiations that many criticized as being far from “FAB”: Fair, Ambitious or Binding. The agreement is overseen by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC, which is now holding a high-level meeting in Bonn, Germany, the first since the Paris Agreement was settled.
Kumi Naidoo, the former head of Greenpeace International, told us in Paris on the eve of the release of the final Paris Agreement, “There are so many loopholes in that draft text, you could fly Air Force One through it ... the bottom line is, I would say that the fingerprints of the fossil-fuel industry is in far too many places on this draft text.” He added, “Most of us in civil society never said, ‘The road to Paris,’ we always said, ‘The road through Paris.’”
And along that road, coordinated globally to precede the Bonn meeting, people are putting their bodies on the line, with blockades, sit-ins, banner-hangs and a whole constellation of confrontational actions, driven by the urgency of the climate crisis. Here is just a sample of some of the protests from the past two weeks, as summarized by the climate action nonprofit group 350.org:
In the U.K., protesters shut down the country’s largest open-cast coal mine for a day. A similar protest halted coal shipments in Newcastle, Australia. In the U.S., people occupied train tracks overnight to stop “bomb trains,” oil-filled tanker cars that have exploded in the past, killing hundreds. In Germany, 3,500 people shut down a lignite mine and nearby power station for over 48 hours. In the Philippines, 10,000 marched against a proposed coal plant. Community members blocked traffic outside the gates of Brazil’s largest thermal coal plant. On land and water, people blockaded the Kinder Morgan tar sands facility in Vancouver, and in Turkey, 2,000 people marched to a large coal dump and surrounded it with a giant red line.
World-renowned linguist and political dissident Noam Chomsky has just written a new book called “Who Rules the World?” He says that the two critical issues facing humanity are nuclear weapons and climate change, and that it is astounding how rarely these issues are addressed in the 2016 presidential campaign.
“When the Republicans on the Supreme Court just recently beat back a pretty moderate proposed Obama regulation on coal, that again is a message to the world, says, ‘Don’t bother doing anything,’” Chomsky told us last week. “The biggest, most powerful country in the world doesn’t care, so ‘you go ahead and do what you like.’ This is all literally saying, ‘Let’s race to the precipice.’”
There is hope in people taking action, though. In Professor Chomsky’s home state of Massachusetts, four teenage high-school students sued the state Department of Environmental Protection, claiming the state was breaking its own law mandating a reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions of 80 percent by 2050 by not taking action quickly enough. This week, the state’s highest court agreed, and Massachusetts must now implement a plan to cut emissions.
There has long been a clarion call to save the planet for future generations. It becomes increasingly clear that it is the younger generation that will save us all.
In Part 2 of our wide-ranging conversation with the world-renowned dissident Noam Chomsky, we talk about the conflict in Syria, the rise of ISIS, Saudi Arabia, the political crisis in Brazil, the passing of the pioneering lawyer Michael Ratner, the U.S. relationship with Cuba, Obama's visit to Hiroshima and today's Republican Party. "If we were honest, we would say something that sounds utterly shocking and no doubt will be taken out of context and lead to hysteria on the part of the usual suspects," Chomsky says, "but the fact of the matter is that today's Republican Party qualify as candidates for the most dangerous organization in human history. Literally."
To watch Part 1 of the interview, click here.
On Saturday, Amy Goodman appeared on CSPAN's Washington Journal to discuss progressive media on CSPAN's Washington Journal, and take calls from viewers. Watch below, or click here.