Hope against hope

Read with mounting horror the stories about the Justice Dept. white paper leaked to NBC that’s supposed to be a legal justification for the extrajudicial killing of US citizens believed to be linked to terrorist organizations:

The paper’s basic contention is that the government has the authority to carry out the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen if “an informed, high-level official” deems him to present a “continuing” threat to the country. This sweeping authority is said to exist even if the threat presented isn’t imminent in any ordinary sense of that word, even if the target has never been charged with a crime or informed of the allegations against him, and even if the target is not located anywhere near an actual battlefield. The white paper purports to recognize some limits on the authority it sets out, but the limits are so vague and elastic that they will be easily manipulated.–“The Justice Department’s White Paper on Targeted Killing,” by Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director, ACLU

Apparently, the leak was timed to coincide with Senate hearings on the confirmation of John Brennan as director of the CIA.  According to the New York Times, “Mr. Brennan has served as the principal coordinator of a ‘kill list’ of Qaeda operatives marked for death, overseeing drone strikes by the military and the C.I.A., and advising Mr. Obama on which strikes he should approve.” (“Hazards of Drone Strikes Face Rare Public Scrutiny,” Feb. 6, 2013.)

The language is Orwellian–“high-value targets”–and the concepts chilling.  What adds to the horror is that the discussion is restricted to extrajudicial killing of US citizens, as though the extrajudicial killing of citizens of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and who knows where else, is of no consequence.  Even their efforts to select the ‘right’ targets–that is, actual high-level members of Al Qaeda–terrorize the population. Sometimes the drones hover over an area for weeks. In a strike in Yemen that killed an anti-terrorist cleric and his cousin, “At least one drone had been overhead every day for about a month, provoking high anxiety among local people, said Aref bin Ali Jaber, a tradesman who is related to the cleric. ‘After the drone hit, everyone was so frightened it would come back,’ Mr. Jaber said. ‘Children especially were affected; my 15-year-old daughter refuses to be alone and has had to sleep with me and my wife after that.'” (NY Times, Feb. 6, 2013.)

I can’t imagine how terrifying it must be. No one should be subjected to that, and we, here, should be stopping it; yet thinking about where to begin, I’m overwhelmed with feelings of powerlessness.

I haven’t always felt that way.  When I was young, I was lucky enough to be active in both the civil rights and the anti-Vietnam war movements. For the first time, I felt part of something that might actually change the world. Well, they did make some difference, but like World War I, the war to end all wars, they didn’t turn out as planned.  We still have wide-spread racism and discrimination in this country,  and the US is still involved in war after war after war.  Looking back on the last half-century, it is hard to keep hoping…but what are the choices?  Withdraw into hedonism? Curl up in despair? Drown my sorrows in a bottle of wine?

Oscar René Castillo was a poet from Guatemala, exiled after a CIA-sponsored coup overthrew Arbenz’ democratic government.  In the 1950s, he wrote a poem that I’ve always loved because it held out such hope for the future from a very dark time in Latin America. Here’s an excerpt:

Return to Smiles

at the end
of the century
will be happy.
(their smile
is made
of collective

a man struggling
in the middle of the century
tell you: at the end
of the same century
the children will be happy,
they will laugh again,
be born again in gardens.

From my bitter darkness
I go beyond
my own hard times
and I see
at the end of the line
happy children!
they appear
they rise
through the tropical cloudbursts
like a sun of butterflies.

(It’s too long to quote all of it here. There’s a translation by Jack Hirschman online, but I don’t like it as well as the one I have, and, sad to say, I’ve lost the name of that translator. I’d be happy to email a copy of the whole poem to anyone who’s interested.)

Photo by Frans Lanting/Corbis

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4 Responses to Hope against hope

  1. Their smile is made of collective smiles….

    How beautiful.

    I think often how I am the sum of all the individual experiences, passings, DNA, trials, triumphs, of all in my family and in the world around me—like one big chain of dominoes. It’s mind-boggling. And I am leaving that imprint on those around me. Everything really is interdependent.

    I would love a copy of the full poem, Susan, as your time allows. Thank you!

  2. Mary LA says:

    I’d also love a copy of that poem in full, Susan. Very akin to the tensions between urban ‘gentrification’ and ‘decay’ in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Not to mention the ubiquity of ‘gated communities’.

    Did you see Tom Engelhardt here?


    And Rebecca Solnit on the invasions of Google?


    • sswl says:

      Both very interesting articles, Mary. I wish Engelhardt’s had more context–why it’s all happening–but he certainly does a good job describing the state of the nation.

      I always love Rebecca Solnit’s writing, and this one on San Francisco and the invading tech hoards is right on target.

      Thanks! Enjoyed them both.

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