Week's End Thoughts & Reflections, May 19, 2018


Gina Haspel's anointment by the Senate gives the CIA a new director who would be better than we have any reason to expect from the president if not for the little matter of her role in the CIA's torture program during the Bush presidency. Balanced against that is her experience, the high regard of her peers, the not inconsequential fact that she would be the agency's first woman director, and the dismal near certainty that if she had been rejected Trump's next nominee for the position would be some hack the caliber of Scott Pruitt, Steve Mnuchin, or Betsy DeVos. Is that enough?

Barack Obama established the unfortunate precedent that torture committed by agents of the US government may go unpunished when provided cover by officials at the highest level of that government. This was an act of political expediency that tarnishes his legacy. I can understand and have some sympathy for the reasoning behind it, but this was not a proud moment for him or for the country. The president made clear his position on torture during the 2016 campaign. Now the Senate has confirmed that a role in the torture program will not stand in the way of promotion and career advancement.

Haspel figures to person the helm at the CIA more on the model of Rod Rosenstein at DOJ with his oversight of the Mueller investigation and Christopher Wray at the FBI than the Pruitt-Mnuchin-DeVos type. There is some comfort in that.

The week's events in Gaza are dismaying. As usual, there are competing narratives about what happened. The Israeli version places the blame solely on Hamas:

They [Hamas] incite people to violence, place as many civilians as possible in the line of fire to maximise civilian casualties, then they blame Israel and come to the UN to complain. It is a deadly game they play at the expense of innocent children. (Dany Danon, Israeli envoy to the UN, quoted in Gaza violence: Israelis and Palestinians in fierce exchanges at UN, BBC, May 15, 2018)

By way of counterpoint I offer Tuesday's commentary by Pat Lang at his blog Sic Semper Tyrannis:

Well, pilgrims, what happened at Gaza yesterday was an attempted jail break, an effort to escape from the world's largest outdoor prison. …Gaza is a reservation in which the inmates are ringed by walls of sand atop which are positioned Israeli teenagers armed with "military style rifles" who have permission to shoot anyone who looks like trouble or who might be a leader in the attempted escape.

To understand the desperation of the Gazans, it helps to have actually visited this overgrown slum town, a ramshackle jungle of pot-holed streets. The Israelis have tried hard to stunt the economic growth of the city through refusal to allow imports, and placing obstacles in the path of development projects like the port, the airport and a casino resort. Ironically, a retired IDF intelligence officer of my acquaintance had the security contracts for these projects but Israeli national policy kept them from being built. (If you cut us do we not bleed?, May 15, 2018)

You would not know from American media, not even the "lying, fake news" New York Times or the "lying, fake news" Amazon Washington Post or other major "fake news" organizations that Palestinian resistance to Israel is not waged exclusively through armed struggle and terror. The Palestinians have a history of nonviolence that goes back to the British Mandate for Palestine before the establishment of the state of Israel. Too often nonviolence has been met with tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition. Yet nonviolent resistance continues to the present, just as, unfortunately, does the impulse to violence.

For more about Palestinian engagement in nonviolent resistance:

Terror is never justified, not even when it comes in the context of Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, continuation and expansion of illegal settlements, destruction of property, and the blockade of Gaza, where millions of people have lived their entire lives in what is in effect a concentration camp (a politically loaded term, but I think it fits). Yes, the leaders of the Hamas and the PLO have not served their people well. Those responsible for terror should be in the dock at The Hague on trial for their crimes, right alongside Bibi Netanyahu.

We can understand the hopelessness and desperation that leave people with a sense of nothing to lose that leads to terrible acts that are not acceptable. I stand with those who try to find their way to be neither victims nor executioners, in the words of Albert Camus, writing in the aftermath of World War II as the French confronted the issue of dealing with those who collaborated during the war and the left faced the crimes of Stalin's Russia, in response to which too many failed to acquit themselves with honor. How will we acquit ourselves today?

Yesterday's school shooting is disheartening. They all are. That makes 22 school shootings in the first 20 weeks of 2018. I suppose there will be a lot of thinking and praying in the White House, the halls of Congress, and state capitals throughout the land. This seems to be all our elected leaders can do. Maybe our votes in November can begin to change it.

Keep the faith, somehow.

Memo from the Editorial Desk

The author perhaps should have noted that references to the "lying, fake news" media are intended as sarcastic jibes at the fake-news-in-chief. They are not directed at the media. Just for the record.


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David Matthews

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