The Tucson Memorial: Politics is Everywhere


Wednesday night’s memorial in the McHale Arena at the University of Arizona did strike me as slightly strange, like an Irish wake that had prematurely transitioned into the later boisterous phase. The offbeat tone was established from the outset by Carlos Gonzalez, an associate prof at AU who delivered us from stuffy Anglican proprieties by very properly  “politicizing” the event .  He identified himself as half Pascua Yaqui Indian (his reservation is in Giffords’ district),  half Mexican, fifth generation  from the Tucson Valley and from a heritage richly stained by massacre.  Take that, governor Jan Brewer! There was no way anyone in the world audience was going to mistake this for an event taking place in the Cathedral in Washington DC.

Gonzalez flourished a talisman of eagle feathers  and  chanted a bracing traditional Indian blessing, walking the 13,000 crowd inside McKale Center (plus an overflow 13,000 at Arizona Stadium) around the four “doors” to wisdom, spirit, visions and energy and guidance, plus the male energy of the sky and the female energy of earth.   He blessed the victims, their families, all Americans, his son in Afghanistan and all his relations, all creatures including snakes. “I ask this so that we all can once again achieve harmony and balance in our lives. Oh, Creator, welcome — we welcome those people who come to our beloved city here, our beloved city of Chukson or Tucson as it’s known.”

It was a bracing one-in-the eye for the Judeo-Christian tradition, and we should applaud the master of ceremonies, AU president Robert Shelton and his campaign to bring diverse  thought, culture and traditions to  AU’s campuses. He surely knew what he was doing by having Gonzalez launch off the most widely viewed event in the history of Tucson.   “Together we thrive” was on the funeral programs and on t-shirts handed out at the door. Later in the evening Republicans were angrily asking whether this was some low Democratic ploy.  Together we thrive… outrageous!

Student body President Emily Fritze spoke well and so did Giffords’ intern, Daniel Hernandez Jr., a powerful speaker who gracefully rejected the role of “hero” assigned to him. The event then nosedived into bad faith and tedium with an address by the shifty Brewer, followed by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, (who read highly inappropriate verses from Isaiah, ch 40)  and U.S. Attorney Eric Holder  (giving us verses from the second letter to the Corinthians written by the markedly intolerant Paul.)

Obama did okay by conventional measures. How could he not? He spent the whole of 2008 campaigning on the theme of reconciliation, and rising-above-our-worser-selves. On Wednesday night you could see him gaining in confidence as he ploughed these familiar furrows.  Of course, despite its pretensions to Rise Above Politics and Heal, it was a political speech, since every time he denounced the idea of suggesting that Loughner might have been directly or indirectly  incited to his murders, all thoughts rushed to Palin, cross hairs, bullseyes and so forth. Why shouldn’t they?  Paranoids, schizophrenics, and people soak up the social vibes and energy currents like blotting paper. I remember the week before Hinckley shot Reagan my phone at the Village Voice never stopped ringing with one person after another confiding their paranoid fears and fantasies.

If Palin was in the Animal Rights movement she would have  been indicted, sentenced and imprisoned long ago. To draw a specific comparison: the SHAC 7 were convicted of “animal enterprise terrorism” for running a website which posted the names and addresses of individuals tied to the animal testing lab Huntingdon Life Sciences. They were not charged with any act of property destruction, they were charged with “conspiracy” on the grounds that they should be held accountable for the actions of others in the same movement.

Palin of course is a vigorous opponent of abortion. An anti-abortion campaigner back in the 1990s ran a website called The Nuremberg Files. It published the names and addresses of doctors who performed abortions and others who made that possible, either by running clinics or providing protection or issuing legal opinions from the bench. When one of the doctors on the list (or clinic owners, cops providing protection, judges, etc.) was killed, a strike-through line would appear over their information. When they were wounded, their names would be greyed out. In its old form the site is now down after a court ruled following the murder of Dr Barnett Slepian  that the strike-through and euphoric rhetoric accompanying each ‘aborted’ abortionist amounted to incitement. Check out  what’s on line at present, from the man who originated the site:

What’s missing now is the detailed information about where the targets live and work. But there’s still euphoria, if you click on the link at the top to Tiller the Killer Aborted!

Loughner’s life and mind have been saturated  with “politics”. Unsurprisingly.  “Politics” are the air we breathe.  Those who try to evict politics  — “don’t bring politics into this!”  — are all in the business of  Cover-Up.  It would have been fitting if one of those raucous students at the Tucson memorial had taken the opportunity during Obama’s final dose of rhetorical treacle about  Christina Taylor Green to hold up a photo of an Afghan kid blown apart last week courtesy of one of Obama’s Predator strikes. After all, the President said apropos Christina, “I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us – we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.”  You’re murdering children in Afghanistan, Mr Obama. One, two, many, many Christinas.  Reform, or clamber in shame off your moral stump.

The American Way of Torture, Continued

I wrote here last week about the present status of torture in America, now in a noonday of public and official approval unequalled since the glory days of waterboarding in the Philippines just over a century ago, or on the domestic front, lynching and flaying black people.

A CounterPuncher wrote:

I think your argument can actually be taken much farther… I don’t watch much TV these days, but from everything I’ve read that “24” series about Jack Bauer had him playing a government agent who righteously tortured people almost every episode, hence a dozen or more times each day in the story timeline.  I think for several years it was one of the most popular American shows and Bauer a leading television hero. Now correct me if I’m mistaken, but this sort of thing might be almost unprecedented in modern history.  Certainly lots of cruel dictatorships such as Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia widely used torture and had professional torturers, but I’d never heard that they actively glorified their professional torturers in the popular culture or portrayed their exploits as heroic in films and such.  I’d think if that had been the case, the American history newspapers and books would have endlessly cited that fact.  I don’t recall Saddam producing movies about his official torturers going about their work.  I’m not even sure whether the Spanish Inquisition made huge efforts to draw public attention totheir harsher actions. I think the whole situation in present-day America may really be more remarkable than most people realize. I think I remember a couple of years back some top Pentagon officials complained to Hollywood that “24” and other shows like that were hugely influencing the behavior of American troops, persuading them to torture prisoners even when their superiors told them not to.  It’s really quite a remarkable story—war crimes flowing from “liberal” Hollywood entertainment media to the military, rather than the other way round…

Here’s the wiki-bio of  Joel Surnow – the guy who created and  wrote the series.  He is of Lithuanian descent. His parents were Jewish. He graduated from UCLA film school in 1976.

Soon after graduation, he began writing for film; he then switched to television. Surnow’s most successful work was on the TV series 24, which he co-created and also executive produced with Robert Cochran.

“Surnow has described himself as a supporter of the Republican Party, donating money to the campaign of Rick Santorum and expressing particular admiration for former President Ronald Reagan. He is also a close friend of conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.” Surnow is a self-described “isolationist” and has stated that he has “no faith in nation building.” He is the owner of an American flag that flew over Baghdad during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which was sent to him as a gift from one of the regiments stationed there.

According to CounterPuncher JoAnn Wypijewski:

“24 was a very interesting show. Technically, in terms of editing, quite brilliant. It was terrible, of course, totally accepting the idea that torture ‘works’: there was lots of torture, and the victim always gave up completely credible information, or else refused and died. No one ever gave bad information, not once. But the show in its early seasons was interesting because along with the Limbaugh-lover as exec producer there was some liberal conspiracy type making the show, and so there was a continual tug of war in the show between torture as another useful tool in the war on terror and torture as an absolute evil, just as behind every Arab or African or unreconstructed Soviet terrorist there was a major US corporation or a major US political figure — in one season, the President; in another, the Vice President’s chief of staff — working in concert or actually pulling the strings.

“The ultimate bad guy, in every season I watched, was an incredibly rich and powerful American. The show was a pretty fascinating gauge of American sensibilities, politically a muddle, with there always being someone or ones trying to rein in Jack Bauer, our hero. And as the years went by Jack became more and more damaged by killing and torturing for a living. Keifer Sutherland is a lefty Canadian. He ultimately had some producer role in the show, so maybe that is the reason. But by now Jack was a mess. He kept trying to retire and something keeps sucking him back in, but the plots got increasingly crazier, just as Jack did. I think the show has lost its moorings, and if one wanted to get all metaphorical about it, you could say its degenerated along with the political culture that was its impetus and subject.

“24 was extremely popular with the troops in Iraq, and the Army sent someone to the producers to tell them: Look, the guys love this show and it makes an argument 180 degrees from what we’re telling them: that torture doesn’t work, you get false answers, etc. You’ve got to change the show; the troops are confused. What you show is what they’re juiced for. At least sometimes have torture result in a colossal failure of intelligence, failure of policy, response, etc. But I think the lure was always too great for the show’s makers, and probably the Limbaugh-lover wouldn’t hear of it. Nothing changed immediately after that meeting.”

“Ending U.S.-Sponsored Torture Forever”

In our latest newsletter Joann Wypijewski gives CounterPunchers a very important story, not only about the present elevated  status of torture in America, but about the church-led campaign led by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) which is striking  a match amid the darkness. Five years ago, NRCAT announced its arrival in the form of banners that suddenly festooned churches and other religious institutions, declaring, “Torture Is a Moral Issue.”

“There are reasons for being discouraged, of course,”  NRCAT’s Rev. Rich Killmer tells JoAnn, “ but I’ve seen more movement on this issue for a longer time than any other issue I’ve been involved with in all my years of religious social justice work.” That’s 42 years, some of them with the National Council of Churches, working on environmental, peace, justice, anti-nuclear issues.”

NRCAT aims to abolish torture in U.S. prisons as well, meaning eliminating long-term solitary confinement, the internal gulag of 45 SuperMax prisons that hold some 62,500 souls, and other forms of isolation warehousing that hold thousands more in standard prisons.

Subscribe to CounterPunch and read Wypijewski’s very important piece.

Also in this latest newsletter, Diana Johnstone explores the one of the sinister monuments of the Clinton years, when liberal intervention surged to full crest in the onslaughts on Yugoslavia. Her point of departure is the terrifying report to the Council of Europe by Swiss liberal senator Dick Marty.

As Diana begins: “U.S. media have given more attention to hearsay allegations of Julian Assange’s sexual encounters with two talkative Swedish women than to an official report accusing Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Hashim Thaci, of running a criminal enterprise which, among almost every other crime in the book, has murdered prisoners in order to sell their vital organs on the world market.”

Thaci, now gangster in chief  in Kossovo was handpicked back in 1999 by Madeleine Albright and the late Richard Holbrooke. Johnstone paints a searing portrait of Criminal Kosovo: America’s Gift to Europe.

Please,  subscribe now! And have this newsletter your inbox, swiftly deliveredas a pdf, or – at whatever speed the US Postal Service first-class delivery system may muster – in your mailbox.

And once you have discharged this enjoyable mandate I also urge you strongly to click over to our Books page, most particularly for our latest release, Jason Hribal’s truly extraordinary Fear of the Animal Planet – introduced by Jeffrey St Clair and already hailed by Peter Linebaugh, Ingrid Newkirk (president and co-founder of PETA) and Susan Davis, the historian of Sea World,  who writes that “Jason Hribal stacks up the evidence, and the conclusions are inescapable. Zoos, circuses and theme parks are the strategic hamlets of Americans’ long war against nature itself.”

Alexander Cockburn can be reached at

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