Politics and Social Justice Archive

The spectacle of terror and its vested interests

Friday, May 11th, 2012

Originally published by the Guardian.

The news stories, which quickly surface, long enough to cause scary headlines, then vanish before people can learn how often the cases are thrown out. These are stories about "bumbling fantasists", hapless druggies, the aimless, even the virtually homeless and mentally ill, and other marginal characters with not the strongest grip on reality, who have been lured into discourses about violence against America only after assiduous courting, and in some cases outright payment, by undercover FBI or police informants.

They have become a litany in recent years. The terrifying 2003-2004 national news stories that a Detroit "sleeper cell" had sent Muslim terrorists to blow up Disneyland and other landmarks, including in Las Vegas, was later thrown out of court, with accusations of prosecutorial misconduct, to almost no press attention – the same cycle of hype and failed convictions that have characterized many such stories. The evidence had included a home video taken in Disneyland, "doodles", and a guy with a credit card fraud problem, who had been pressured to diminish his own sentence by accusing his buddies.

But the tales of entrapment and terror hype continue apace – ten years after 9/11. Judith Miller, in Newsmax, writes that one recent case was so lame that even the FBI distanced itself from NYPD: "Despite FBI Doubts, NYPD Convinced Pipe Bomb Case Posed Real Danger", noted the headline on her 28 November 2011 article. A 27-year-old Dominican immigrant, Jose Pimentel, aka Muhamad Yusuf, had been monitored by NYPD for two years. Last fall, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr charged Pimentel with constructing pipe bombs to attack "police cars, post offices, veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, and other targets".

An email in the case, which purports to show that Pimentel was writing about violent jihad to the al-Qaida-supporting "glossy magazine" Inspire, was described to Judith Miller by anonymous "law enforcement officials". Given Miller's journalistic history, this sentence alone should raise eyebrows. But the alleged email is, she writes, "part of a vast investigative file containing over 400 hours of surveillance audio and video tapes, interviews, and other material amassed by the NYPD". New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, in a flashy press conference, called the young man a "lone wolf" terrorist – a recent DHS soundbite. But the case was so shaky that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as federal prosecutors, did not want to join the case: "Too many holes in the case", other anonymous officials told Miller.

Pimentel was one of what has become an army of FBI- or NYPD-entrapped losers. He had no money, no job, and at key points lived with his mom. The New York Times noted that he may have been psychologically "unstable", and that he had made threats after smoking pot. Officials say that in May 2010, he repeated loudly in Arabic that "America is my enemy." This scary guy was a circuit city clerk in Schenectady, New York.

Additional evidence that Miller's anonymous sources give for his being a terrorist? In 2010, he had $100. One witness told police "that he had flashed a $100 bill when he made some purchases."Another? "Pimentel scraped the heads of some 750 matches, officials say." The scenario that entrapped Pimentel involved a surround-sound of informants trying to entrap him in cyberspace and to lure him to incriminate himself in taped phone conversations. But the FBI dropped its involvement after they judged that the informant had been too active in helping: urging or arranging for Pimentel to start drilling into pipe pieces – the evidence that he intended to set off a bomb.

Many other, much-ballyhooed cases of "homegrown terrorism" show this creaky, effortful, farcical quality of people who, left to their own devices by the FBI or NYPD, would have remained harmlessly playing video games in their childhood bedrooms, smoking their doobies, or babbling gently to themselves, on their anti-psychotic meds, about geopolitical forces.

The "Newburgh Four" is another such case, as Russia Today reported: four African-American Muslims were found guilty recently of a plot to place bombs in two Bronx synagogues and to shoot down military aircraft in Newburgh. Another flashy press conference in May 2009 showcased these four men as "the faces of homegrown terrorism". The FBI had claimed that the men had planned to commit their acts of terrorism on the day that they were arrested. Joseph Demarest from the FBI called it "a terrifying plot".

The men were low-income former convicts who could not read or write with literacy. They could not drive and had no passports. Shahid Hussain, a Pakistani immigrant who was an FBI employee, got them to say they were going to commit these crimes – paying them $100,000. Hussain presented the men with a fake stinger missile, and Hussain offered these poverty-stricken men cars and money in exchange for their promise to carry out the manufactured plot.

The men's relatives accused the FBI of entrapment. "I do not think this is entrapment. I know it is. This is entrapment," said Alicia McWilliams-McCollum, aunt of 29-year-old David Williams. As with many of these scenarios, one can easily imagine poor people with criminal records, offered large sums of money by a fake jihadist, trying to get the money and then trick the instigator. Also, as any AA or Al-Anon counsellor can tell you, if drugs or alcohol are in the mix, entrapment is a ridiculous premise, too: an addict will say anything, and make any ludicrous promise, to get a giant check. It doesn't mean the addict has any intention of delivering on the supposed contract. David Williams' aunt says that her nephew is in prison because of a pretend terror attack created by the FBI:

"They are creating scenarios; they are manufacturing crimes. That would not have occurred if you had not planted an unconstructive seed into a community."

Attorney Steve Dowds, who tracks cases like the Newburgh Four, argues the US government is systematically employing preemptive prosecution:

"They are taking some down and out vulnerable individuals and not only planting the ideology of jihad on them, giving them all the things they need, all of the material. They are setting up the plan, giving them all the research and then grabbing them and claiming these were homegrown terrorists. It is just a fiction."

Now we have another "underwear bomber" – declared by the Pentagon to have been about to launch a major attack via a US-bound plane, but who appears, reportedly, to have been a CIA-run double agent. What is the evidence that the "device", which is supposedly so sophisticated that there is doubt as to whether existing surveillance technologies in US airports would have caught it, actually exists? As with so many of these stories, we have no independent verification – because reporters from the British Daily Telegraph, to Reuters, to the Huffington Post are simply taking dictation from New York Representative Peter King and from the Pentagon, and scarcely asking for backup evidence of their elaborate assertions.

It is important to note that we can no longer assume that the FBI and the CIA and the NSA work, first of all, for the safety of the American people; they also now represent a revolving door of government officials who become security industry lobbyists and manufacturers, which, in turn, get the multimillion-dollar contracts for tackling the very problems these stories appear to highlight. The stories about the first "underwear bomber" preceded the rollout of former DHS chief Michael Chertoff's costly scanners; the press interviews for this round of mystery "underwear bomber" stories are practically a press release for some expensive technological upgrade – or yet more hellishly invasive and demeaning search technique. The sad truth is that we can no longer report and consume such stories as if there were no commercial vested interests involved in creating and sustaining such "terror theater".

You know we have "terror theater" in the US because nations such as Israel, which are genuinely focussed on deterring terrorism, downplay risk and threats rather than trumpeting them, as DHS does. If the threat is real, they don't reveal all the details of the latest "planned attack" to the news media – because they are busy investigating real planned attacks, rather than doing corporate PR and product placement. Instead of TSA groping, aviation security, from Britain to Israel, to Spain to Norway, uses much less invasive and more acute security processes, such as face-to-face, in-line interviewing. They do not sell commercial products that subvert recall surety issues, such as the various costly and vastly lucrative new "Global Entry Trusted Traveller Network", an apparent government program that is not transparent or accountable. You can sign up for for a fee of $100 a year, after an interview. No TSA representative I interviewed knows who owns the initiative, which they said was private, not a government program; nor could they tell me where the money really goes.

Actual terrorism-fighting nations would never devolve such security concerns to private contractors or sell easier travel access for cash – because it is both dangerous and absurd to do so. In fact, what the FBI and CIA and the Pentagon are up against is that people – including Americans – are waking up to the fact that there would be no enemy if we weren't manufacturing new terrorists by taking out civilians in Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan. An end to foreign wars (which are already costing us thousands of casualties a year) would be a much more effective counter-terror strategy than this hyped, synthetic threat to justify a corporate surveillance-and-security product gold rush. Instead, we are treated to a spectacle orchestrated by alarmist officials who keep holding frightening press conferences promoting the threat of dazed, poor, drugged-out "lone wolves". The true, Orwellian agenda is to support a vast new crony-capitalist industry that uses terror theater to turn open democracies into surveillance societies.

Naomi Wolf is the author of The End of America

A tale of two rape charges

Monday, May 30th, 2011

With the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, New York City has abruptly become the scene of two very different official approaches to investigating sex-crime cases, one traditional and one new. The new approach so far appears to be reserved for Strauss-Kahn alone.

Consider the first case: the ongoing trial of two police officers, Kenneth Moreno and Franklin Mata, charged in the rape of a 27-year-old Manhattan woman. She was drunk, and, after helping her to enter her apartment, Moreno and Mata allegedly made a false emergency call so that they could return to her. At that point, the woman says, she woke periodically out of her intoxicated state to find herself being raped, face down, by Moreno, as Mata stood guard.

The alleged rape of a citizen by a police officer — and the alleged collusion of another officer — is surely a serious matter. But the charges and trial have followed an often-seen pattern: the men’s supporters have vociferously defended their innocence (the presumption of which has been scrupulously upheld in the press); the victim’s pink bra has been the subject of salacious speculation, and her intoxication has been used to undermine her credibility. As the wheels of justice grind unglamorously forward, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made no public statement supporting the victim’s side.

Moreover, Moreno and Mata have not been asked to strip naked for “evidence” photos, were not initially denied bail, and were not held in solitary confinement, and are not being strip-searched daily. Their entire case has followed the usual timetable of many months, as evidence was gathered, testimony compiled and arguments made.

Then there is the Strauss-Kahn approach. After a chambermaid reportedly told her supervisor at the elegant Sofitel hotel that she had been sexually assaulted, the suspect was immediately tracked down, escorted off a plane just before its departure, and arrested. High-ranking detectives, not lowly officers, were dispatched to the crime scene. The DNA evidence was sequenced within hours, not the normal eight or nine days. By the end of the day’s news cycle, New York City police spokespeople had made uncharacteristic and shockingly premature statements supporting the credibility of the victim’s narrative — before an investigation was complete.

The accused was handcuffed and escorted before television cameras — a New York tradition known as a “perp walk.” The suspect was photographed naked, which is also unusual, initially denied bail and held in solitary confinement. The Police Commissioner has boasted to the press that Strauss-Kahn is strip-searched now multiple times a day — also unheard-of.

By the end of the second day’s news cycle, senior public officials had weakened the presumption of innocence, a cornerstone of any civilized society’s justice system. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was calling for Strauss-Kahn’s resignation from the IMF, and Bloomberg remarked, in response to objections to Straus-Kahn’s perp walk, “don’t do the crime.” Whatever happened in that hotel room, Strauss-Kahn’s career, and his presumption of innocence, was effectively over — before any legal process had even begun.

If Strauss-Kahn turns out, after a fair trial, to be a violent sex criminal, may his sentence be harsh indeed. But the way in which this case is being processed is profoundly worrisome. In 23 years of covering sex crime — and in a city where domestic workers are raped by the score every month, often by powerful men — I have never seen the New York Police Department snap into action like this on any victim’s behalf.

Harriet Lessel, executive director of the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, agrees that this case has seen “a very quick and targeted response,” and points out that rape is “a grossly underreported crime” in New York. Worse, she says, many victims under other circumstances believe that the criminal justice system is unresponsive to their needs and more oriented toward ensuring that the innocent are not convicted.

While Lessel is quick to add that New York has “some great police officers and prosecutors who really care,” she says that the police do not normally issue public statements supportive of victims’ credibility, let alone early on, as they did with Strauss-Kahn’s accuser. Nor has she ever heard of someone being photographed naked as part of the evidence.

So what is happening here?

We now live in a world in which men like former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, who was investigating financial wrongdoing by the insurance giant AIG, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Strauss-Kahn — whose efforts to reform the IMF gained him powerful opponents — can be, and are, kept under constant surveillance. Indeed, Strauss-Kahn, who had been the odds-on favorite to defeat Nicolas Sarkozy in next year’s French presidential election, probably interested more than one intelligence service.

This does not mean that Strauss-Kahn is innocent or that he is guilty. It means that policy outcomes can be advanced nowadays, in a surveillance society, by exploiting or manipulating sex-crime charges, whether real or inflated.

In other words, ours is increasingly an age of geopolitics by blackmail. Why, after all, were U.S. operatives asked to secure the “biometrics” and DNA of subjects abroad, as some of the U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks were revealed?

After Strauss-Kahn’s arrest, a caller to a New York radio talk show, who identified herself as a domestic worker in a New York luxury hotel, reported that “every week” a man in a towel accosts her, seeking sex. Another caller, a hotel manager, confirmed that this is a common way for male hotel guests to solicit sex. The New York Times flagged on its front page a report that hotel domestic workers are often targeted with clients’  requests for sex in exchange for money.

Are these men disgusting predators soliciting desperate, underpaid women? Yes. Is knowing about this economy relevant to the charges against Strauss-Kahn? Maybe.

Unfortunately, such questions may never be investigated, much less answered, for this is not being treated as a typical New York City sex-crime case. The authorities, perhaps with their own agenda, have publicly asserted a foregone conclusion; and that kind of intervention ultimately diminishes the chance of any one of us being able to rely on what used to be real American due process of law.

Read the original article on Reuters.

Naomi Wolf is the author of The End of America

I Want My Al Jazeera

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Al Jazeera correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin is on a victory lap in the United States — or rather, Al Jazeera is sending him on its own victory lap.

After all, Mohyeldin is a modest guy, despite being one of Al Jazeera's best-known reporters — and clearly a rising international media star.

Al Jazeera has good reason to gloat: it has a new cachet in the US after millions of Americans, hungry for on-the-ground reporting from Egypt, turned to its online live stream and Mohyeldin's coverage from Cairo's Tahrir Square.

So now Mohyeldin is in the US for three weeks of media events — there will even be a GQ photo shoot — having become well known in a country where viewers are essentially prevented from seeing his station.

The network has been targeted by the US government since 2003, when former vice president Dick Cheney and former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld described it as tantamount to an arm of al-Qaeda.

Two of its reporters were later killed in Baghdad when US missiles hit its office. Al Jazeera and others voiced suspicions that the channel's reporters had been deliberately targeted.

And, to this day, Al Jazeera, which, together with BBC News, has become one of the premier global outlets for serious television news, is virtually impossible to find on televisions in the US.

The country's major cable and satellite companies refuse to carry it — leaving it with US viewers only in Washington, DC and parts of Ohio and Vermont — despite huge public demand.

So Al Jazeera is sending its news team around the US in an effort to "mainstream" the faces of this once-demonized network. And Mohyeldin can sound like Robert F. Kennedy: when the cry rose up from Tahrir Square hailing Mubarak's abdication, he commented, "One man stepped down and eighty million people stepped up."

The station's US push could hardly be more necessary — to Americans. By being denied the right to watch Al Jazeera, Americans are being kept in a bubble, sealed off from the images and narratives that inform the rest of the world.

Consider the recent scandal surrounding atrocity photos taken by US soldiers in Afghanistan, which are now available on news outlets, including Al Jazeera, around the globe.

In America, there have been brief summaries of the fact that Der Spiegel has run the story. But the images themselves — even redacted to shield the identities of the victims — have not penetrated the US media stream.

And the images are so extraordinarily shocking that failing to show them — along with graphic images of the bombardment of children in Gaza, say, or exit interviews with survivors of Guantanamo — keeps Americans from understanding events that may be as traumatic to others as the trauma of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

For example, the leading US media outlets, including the New York Times, have not seen fit to mention that one of the photos shows a US soldier holding the head of a dead Afghan civilian as though it were a hunting trophy.

So, for America's sake, I hope that Al Jazeera penetrates the US media market. Unless Americans see the images and narratives that shape how others see us, the US will not be able to overcome its reputation as the world's half-blind bully.

Indeed, Egyptians are in some ways now better informed than Americans (and, as Thomas Jefferson often repeated, liberty is not possible without an informed citizenry). Egypt has 30 newspapers and more than 200 television channels.

America's newspapers are dying, foreign news coverage has been cut to three or four minutes, at most, at the end of one or two evening newscasts, and most of its TV channels are taken up with reality shows.

I met Mohyeldin before a recent public appearance in Manhattan. His analysis of the Egyptian revolution, and others in the region, is that the kind of globalized media to which Americans do not have full access created the conditions in which people could rise up to claim democracy.

He points out that, "People are aware of their rights from the internet, from satellite TV — people are watching movies and reading bloggers. This was a revolution of awareness, based on access to fast-traveling information. The farmers, the peasants in Tahrir Square, were aware of their rights."

Americans have a hunger for international news; it is a myth that we can't be bothered with the outside world. Maybe Americans will rise up and threaten to boycott their cable and satellite providers unless we get our Al Jazeera — and other carriers of international news.

We would then come one step closer to being part of the larger world - a world that, otherwise, will eventually simply leave us behind.

Naomi Wolf is a political activist and social critic whose most recent book is Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries.

This article first appeared on Project Syndicate.

Read this article on The Huffington Post.

endofamerica Naomi Wolf is the author of The End of America.

Revolution at Sundance

Monday, January 31st, 2011

I am here in Park City, Utah, for my first encounter with the Sundance Festival; I had expected starlets in ski boots and parties in which people said 'Darling' and perhaps many worthy little films with artistic merit, but — my mistake, probably due to the grudging reluctance on the part of print journalists like myself to yield respect to a medium that seems to get all the glamor and sometimes go an inch deep — I had not expected subversion, analysis or, even, revolutionary ideas.

But thirty-six hours into Sundance at the time of this writing, I have to say: we seem at one of the few nexuses left in the US for brave journalistic critical thinking. Sundance this year is packed with substance, and documentarians especially are tacking head-on issue that US print journalists, especially those who work for corporate-owned media, have abashedly refused to tackle. The two main themes in the festival — to my amazement, given that the mainstream pop-culture world seems to have dismissed feminism and closed its eyes to threats to freedom — seem to be gender rebellion — and civil liberties.

I am here as part of an event put together by PEN — the organization that defends writers' freedom of expression — and the ACLU: on Saturday we staged 'Reckoning with Torture', an ensemble piece based on real documents related to US torture that the ACLU acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request. The parts were read by a lineup of writers and film actors, including Sandra Cisneros, Annie Proulx, and America Ferrera. A former US military interrogator and former CIA agent, Jack Rice, read with us as well. The piece was directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Fair Game). I am pleased to say I read the part of George Bush.
We arrived in the charming former mining town, which is set among high, rounded, snow-dusted hills; a white-blue sun blazes down on energized crowds of tourists, filmmakers and huge gaggles of ecstatic young film students ranging from Japan to the American Midwest. The vibe was much more down-to-earth than I had expected, for the most part, as we board free shuttles from theatre to theatre, ushered around the small town by upbeat locals who seem very proud of their community and their festival. Nonetheless a wave of tension undergirds it all, as so many careers of young hopefuls will be made — or not made here, and so many films either take off or never find an audience.

Our first night here, Wednesday, we made it to a screening of the much-buzzed about indie horror-comedy genre piece, The Woman. This terrifying film, about a woman living in the wild who is captured and imprisoned by a stern paterfamilias, locked in a root cellar and raped, becomes a violent rape revenge story. It has generated buzz online because of a screaming confrontation between viewers at an early screening, about the issue of how rape is portrayed. I had met the tiny, friendly, very young, strong-looking lead actress at a cocktail party the day before; she was interested, she said, in a career doing stunts. When we passed a group of undercover cops at the screening who were all dressed as working-class locals — all wearing baseball caps and single earrings, and neatly goatee'd; there had been a state attorney general complaint about minors seeing the nudity in this violent film.

I made it into the theatre for thirty seconds: there, fifty-foot high, was my tiny young friend from the night before — but covered in mud, hair tangled, and blood pouring form a wound in her side; the creepiness of the image and the music, and the knowledge of what the story line would be, were too much; I had to leave the theatre. But even though I was too much of a wimp to sit through it, I noted that this theme, of the gender tables being turned, was cropping up in many places in the festival. At one of the welcome cocktail parties I had met Ellen Barkin, who had just produced and starred in the much-anticipated Another Happy Day, written and directed by new discovery, 25-year-old Sam Levinson; it centers on a dysfunctional household of two generations of women, and Barkin was witty and scathing about how delighted she was to find such a good script with four parts for women over forty, as she skewered the refusal of Hollywood decisionmakers to understand what a longing there is in female audiences for films that portray older actresses in a range of complex roles. And 'Miss Representation' directed by Jennifer Siebel Newman, is a long-overdue look at how media objectification of women is internalized by young girls. Real, classic — that is, unapologetic — feminism is back, at least at Sundance.

Civil rights also crowd the roster of the most talked-about movies. Thursday morning, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! was broadcasting in our hotel's restaurant: Egypt was erupting in riots, and one of her sources, who was connected to a well-known activist there, had sent word that the whole country would be up in arms, whatever the cost, by the following day. (Indeed by Friday that prediction had come true — and the Mubarak regime had reacted by closing down the internet and all outside sources of news; Egypt would go dark). Later that day, we attended a provocative panel discussion between Goodman, David Carr, media critic at the New York Times, documentarian Eugene Jarecki (Reagan) and Stephen Engelberg of Pro Publica. WikiLeaks was the hot center of the discussion, and there were tense moments as panel members were confronted by the audiences' resistance to the notion — presented by Bill Keller the day before, in a shameful essay — that Assange is somehow not engaged in journalism, and that the New York Times publishing the Pentagon Papers — or the 2005 SWIFT banking story — is in some magical way 'different' than what Wikileaks has done.

Then on to one of the great documentaries of the moment: Hot Coffee, directed by attorney Susan Saladoff in her first film effort. This tracks the issue of 'tort reform' (the left has yet to come up with a soundbite to counter this right-wing phrasing of the issue) and, incredibly, makes vivid the story of how corporate America used the (much-distorted) story of 'the woman who spilled McDonald's coffee in her lap and sued for millions' to show how big business is propagandizing us all — and buying out the state judiciary, at Karl Rove's direction — to gut a consumer's right to seek accountability in the courts. Two other important documentaries center on activism: If a Tree Falls tells the story of the FBI infiltrating the Earth Liberation Front, and 'turning' the members to betray one another. And We Were Here tells the story of the Stonewall riots, which ushered in the latest wave of the gay liberation movement. The showing of Front Page, which is a love letter to the New York Times and reveals the way economic pressures are gutting traditional journalism — showing vividly what a cost to democracy will result from nothing taking the place of serious reporting — was yet another tribute to what seems like a grassroots cultural recognition of the importance of threatened freedoms: the integrity of civil law, of the right to assemble, and of the First Amendment.

Later that night, at a party with hip-hop music, director Kevin McCarthy (Last King of Scotland) was jumping up and down, a look of serenity on his face. He had just screened 'A Life in the Day', a well-received and very beautiful project in which YouTube invited people from all over the world to send in video of their daily lives, all on one day, July 24, 2010. 80,000 submissions resulted. The images, which flickered on a screen above young people making music-video moves and older people schmoozing, were so unexpectedly moving that I kept blinking back tears. Here was the life of a seven-year-old shoeshine boy in some Latin American city; here was a mom with cancer caressing the face of her child in what looked like a Brooklyn bedroom; here was a Japanese single dad preparing his little boy's lunch. Suddenly one had a sense of the power of film to really make the world a single family; adding together all we had seen in two days — and getting ready for our own event on Saturday, for which our scripts bore hand prints from prisoners who had died in US custody — it seemed from this Sundance, anyway, that ours was a global family that longed for equality — and longed to be free.

Photo credits: Charlie Ehlert, Redwell Imaging

Read the original article on The Huffington Post.

endofamerica Naomi Wolf is the author of The End of America.

Sweden's Serial Negligence in Prosecuting Rape Further Highlights the Politics Behind Julian Assange's Arrest

Friday, December 17th, 2010

As I have been making the case on media outlets in the past few days that the British and Swedish sex crime charges related actions against Julian Assange are so extraordinarily and unprecedentedly severe — compared to how prosecutors always treat far more cut-and-dry allegations than those in question in this case worldwide, including in the Scandinavian countries, and that thus the pretext of using these charges against Assange is a pimping of feminism by the State and an insult to rape victims — I have found myself up against a bizarre fantasy in the minds of my (mostly male) debating opponents.

The fantasy is that somehow this treatment — a global manhunt, solitary confinement in the Victorian cell that drove Oscar Wilde to suicidal despair within a matter of days, and now a bracelet tracking his movements — is not atypical, because somehow Sweden must be a progressively hot-blooded but still progressively post-feminist paradise for sexual norms in which any woman in any context can bring the full force of the law against any man who oversteps any sexual boundary.

Well, I was in Denmark in March of this year at a global gathering for women leaders on International Women's Day, and heard extensively from specialists in sex crime and victims' rights in Sweden. So I knew this position taken by the male-dominated US, British and Swedish media was, basically, horsesh-t. But none of the media outlets hyperventilating now about how this global-manhunt/Bourne-identity-chase-scene-level treatment of a sex crime allegation originating in Sweden must be 'normative' has bothered to do any actual reporting of how rape — let alone the far more ambiguous charges of Assange's accusers, which are not charges of rape but of a category called 'sex by surprise,' which has no analog elsewhere — is actually prosecuted in Sweden.

Guess what: Sweden has HIGHER rates of rape than other comparable countries — including higher than the US and Britain, higher than Denmark and Finland — and the same Swedish authorities going after Assange do a worse job prosecuting reported rapes than do police and the judiciary in any comparable country. And these are flat-out, unambiguous reported rape cases, not the 'sex by surprise' Assange charges involving situations that began consensually.

Indeed, the Swedish authorities — who are now being depicted as global feminist sex-crime-avenger superheroes in blue capes — were shamed by a 2008 Amnesty International report, "Case Closed", as being far more dismissive of rape, and far more insulting to rape victims who can be portrayed as 'asking for it' by drinking or any kind of sexual ambiguity — than any other country in their comparison group. As Amnesty International put it in a blistering attack: "Swedish Rapists Get Impunity."

The same Swedish prosecutors who are now claiming custody of Julian Assange are, indeed, so shamefully negligent in prosecuting Swedish rapists who did not happen to embarrass the United States government that a woman who has been raped in Sweden is ten times more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than she is of getting any kind of legal proceeding on her behalf undertaken by Swedish prosecutors.

Of all Swedish reported rapes (and remember this is rape, not "molestation"), fewer result in legal proceedings of any kind than do comparable cases in the US, Finland and Norway.

"Sweden needs to do much more to clamp down on rapists, according to reports from Amnesty International and the United Nations," Jennifer Heape reports for the website thelocal.se, which translates Swedish news for an English-speaking audience. Sweden tops European rape league, data showed in 2009, but "Sweden's image as an international forerunner in the fight for gender equality has been damaged by recent reports comparing rape statistics across various countries…."

The same prosecutors going after Assange for an ambiguous situation are doing worse in getting convictions today than they were forty-five years ago: "despite the number of rapes reported to the police quadrupling over the past 20 years, the percentage of reported rapes ending in conviction is markedly lower today than it was in 1965."

Sweden's horrific record in prosecuting all the accused rapists and men accused of sex crime in Sweden who are not Julian Assange drew consternation from as high up as the UN. UN rapporteur Yakin Ertürk warned in February 2007, that there is a shocking discrepancy "between the apparent progress in achieving gender equality and the reports of continued violence against women in the country."

The actual number of rapes in Sweden in 2006 was estimated to be close to 30,000, according to Swedish data compilation. This number indicates that Swedish women have so little faith in their own legal system that 85-90 percent do not bother reporting the crime to the same police who are ankle-braceleting Assange, as a 2007 study showed that only '5-10 percent of all rapes are reported to the police' — a reporting rate lower than the US and the UK, which have reporting rates of about 13-30 percent, a shameful enough set of numbers in itself.

The statistical survey by the Swedish organization BRÃ… showed that of that five or ten percent of rapes that resulted in reporting — fewer than thirteen percent resulted in a police decision to start any legal proceedings at all. "The phenomenon of alleged offenses not formally being reported to the police or dropped before reaching court is termed 'attrition'," the report remarks sadly. "Amnesty slams the Swedish judicial system and the prevalence of attrition within it, concluding that, "in practice, many perpetrators enjoy impunity," Heape writes. In other words, 1.3 women in a thousand who is raped in Sweden will not receive any legal response whatsoever.

In the US and in Europe, male-dominated media discussions seem to portray the Assange charges as a victory of Swedish authorities over the old canard that "date rape" is not prosecuted because of a tendency to "blame the victim." But in fact, whenever they are not prosecuting Julian Assange, if you are raped on a date, Swedish police are unlikely to pursue your assailant. If the victim has been drinking, or behaving in a way that can be stigmatized as sexually provocative, no matter how clear-cut the rape charge, Swedish police typically leave such charges by the wayside. "In analyzing attrition and the failings of the police and judicial system, Case Closed draws attention to 'discriminatory attitudes about female and male sexuality…Young (drunk) women, in particular, have problems fulfilling the stereotypical role of the 'ideal victim', with the consequence that neither rapes within intimate relationships nor 'date rapes' involving teenage girls result in legal action," reports Heape.

"Helena Sutourius, an expert in legal proceedings in sexual offense cases, concludes that, in Sweden, 'the focus appears to be on the woman's behaviour, rather than on the act that is the object of the investigation.'" Swedish prosecutors and police don't even keep proper track of their own rape issue and how their own police handle or mishandle cases. Amnesty accused Sweden of little scrutiny of or research into the quality of its own rape crime investigations, "a serious shortcoming that needs to be addressed immediately."

Finally, remember that in the Assange case it is the State rather than the women themselves that is bringing the charges. The Swedish state — which has proven, in politically neutral cases that merely involve actual assaults against women — such a shameful custodian of raped victims' well-being.

And then, conclude: shame on Sweden; shame on Interpol; shame on Britain. And lasting shame, given this farcical hijacking of a sex crime law that is scarcely ever enforced in Sweden in far less ambiguous contexts, on the United States of America.

Read the original article on The Huffington Post.

endofamerica Naomi Wolf is the author of The End of America.

Espionage Act: How the Government Can Engage in Serious Aggression Against the People of the United States

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

This week, Senators Joe Lieberman and Dianne Feinstein engaged in acts of serious aggression against their own constituents, and the American people in general. They both invoked the 1917 Espionage Act and urged its use in going after Julian Assange. For good measure, Lieberman extended his invocation of the Espionage Act to include a call to use it to investigate the New York Times, which published WikiLeaks' diplomatic cables. Reports yesterday suggest that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder may seek to invoke the Espionage Act against Assange.

These two Senators, and the rest of the Congressional and White House leadership who are coming forward in support of this appalling development, are cynically counting on Americans' ignorance of their own history — an ignorance that is stoked and manipulated by those who wish to strip rights and freedoms from the American people. They are manipulatively counting on Americans to have no knowledge or memory of the dark history of the Espionage Act — a history that should alert us all at once to the fact that this Act has only ever been used — was designed deliberately to be used — specifically and viciously to silence people like you and me.

The Espionage Act was crafted in 1917 — because President Woodrow Wilson wanted a war and, faced with the troublesome First Amendment, wished to criminalize speech critical of his war. In the run-up to World War One, there were many ordinary citizens — educators, journalists, publishers, civil rights leaders, union activists — who were speaking out against US involvement in the war. The Espionage Act was used to round these citizens by the thousands for the newly minted 'crime' of their exercising their First Amendment Rights. A movie producer who showed British cruelty in a film about the Revolutionary War (since the British were our allies in World War I) got a ten-year sentence under the Espionage act in 1917, and the film was seized; poet E.E. Cummings spent three and a half months in a military detention camp under the Espionage Act for the 'crime' of saying that he did not hate Germans. Esteemed Judge Learned Hand wrote that the wording of the Espionage Act was so vague that it would threaten the American tradition of freedom itself. Many were held in prison for weeks in brutal conditions without due process; some, in Connecticut — Lieberman's home state — were severely beaten while they were held in prison. The arrests and beatings were widely publicized and had a profound effect, terrorizing those who would otherwise speak out.

Presidential candidate Eugene Debs received a ten-year prison sentence in 1918 under the Espionage Act for daring to read the First Amendment in public. The roundup of ordinary citizens — charged with the Espionage Act — who were jailed for daring to criticize the government was so effective in deterring others from speaking up that the Act silenced dissent in this country for a decade. In the wake of this traumatic history, it was left untouched — until those who wish the same outcome began to try to reanimate it again starting five years ago, and once again, now. Seeing the Espionage Act rise up again is, for anyone who knows a thing about it, like seeing the end of a horror movie in which the zombie that has enslaved the village just won't die.

I predicted in 2006 that the forces that wish to strip American citizens of their freedoms, so as to benefit from a profitable and endless state of war — forces that are still powerful in the Obama years, and even more powerful now that the Supreme Court decision striking down limits on corporate contributions to our leaders has taken effect — would pressure Congress and the White House to try to breathe new life yet again into the terrifying Espionage Act in order to silence dissent. In 2005, Bush tried this when the New York Times ran its exposé of Bush's illegal surveillance of banking records — the SWIFT program. This report was based, as is the WikiLeaks publication, on classified information. Then, as now, White House officials tried to invoke the Espionage Act against the New York Times. Talking heads on the right used language such as 'espioinage' and 'treason' to describe the Times' release of the story, and urged that Bill Keller be tried for treason and, if found guilty, executed. It didn't stick the first time; but, as I warned, since this tactic is such a standard part of the tool-kit for closing an open society — 'Step Ten' of the 'Ten Steps' to a closed society: 'Rename Dissent 'Espionage' and Criticism of Government, 'Treason' — I knew, based on my study of closing societies, that this tactic would resurface.

Let me explain clearly why activating — rather than abolishing — the Espionage Act is an act of profound aggression against the American people. We are all Julian Assange. Serious reporters discuss classified information every day — go to any Washington or New York dinner party where real journalists are present, and you will hear discussion of leaked or classified information. That is journalists' job in a free society. The White House, too, is continually classifying and declassifying information.

As I noted in The End of America, if you prosecute journalists — and Assange, let us remember, is the New York Times in the parallel case of the Pentagon Papers, not Daniel Ellsberg; he is the publisher, not the one who revealed the classified information — then any outlet, any citizen, who discusses or addresses 'classified' information can be arrested on 'national security' grounds. If Assange can be prosecuted under the Espionage Act, then so can the New York Times; and the producers of Parker Spitzer, who discussed the WikiLeaks material two nights ago; and the people who posted a mirror WikiLeaks site on my Facebook 'fan' page; and Fox News producers, who addressed the leak and summarized the content of the classified information; and every one of you who may have downloaded information about it; and so on. That is why prosecution via the Espionage Act is so dangerous — not for Assange alone, but for every one of us, regardless of our political views.

This is far from a feverish projection: if you study the history of closing societies, as I have, you see that every closing society creates a kind of 'third rail' of material, with legislation that proliferates around it. The goal of the legislation is to call those who criticize the government 'spies', 'traitors', enemies of the state' and so on. Always the issue of national security is invoked as the reason for this proliferating legislation. The outcome? A hydra that breeds fear. Under similar laws in Germany in the early thirties, it became a form of 'espionage' and 'treason' to criticize the Nazi party, to listen to British radio programs, to joke about the fuhrer, or to read cartoons that mocked the government. Communist Russia in the 30's, East Germany in the 50's, and China today all use parallel legislation to call criticism of the government — or whistleblowing — 'espionage' and 'treason', and 'legally' imprison or even execute journalists, editors, and human rights activists accordingly.

I call on all American citizens to rise up and insist on repeal of the Espionage Act immediately. We have little time to waste. The Assange assault is theater of a particularly deadly kind, and America will not recover from the use of the Espionage Act as a cudgel to threaten journalists, editors and news outlets with. I call on major funders of Feinstein's and Lieberman;s campaigns to put their donations in escrow accounts and notify the staffers of those Senators that the funds willonly be released if they drop their traitorous invocation of the Espionage Act. I call on all Americans to understand once for all: this is not about Julian Assange. This, my fellow citizens, is about you.

Those calling for Julian Assange's criminalization include:

1. Rep. Candice Miller
2. Jonah Goldberg, Journalist
3. Christian Whiton, Journalist
4. Bill O'Reilly, Fox News Journalist
5. Sarah Palin, Member of the Republican Party, former candidate
6. Mike Huckabee, Politician
8. Prof. Tom Flanagan
9. Rep. Peter King
10. Tony Shaffer
11. Rick Santorum
12. Rep. Dan Lugren
13. Jeffrey T. Kuhner, Journalist The Washington Times
14. Rep. Virginia Foxx
15. Sen. Kit Bond, Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee
16. Sen. Joe Liberman
17. Sen. Charles Schumer
18. Marc Thiessen, Columnist

Read the original article on The Huffington Post.

endofamerica Naomi Wolf is the author of The End of America.

Julian Assange Captured by World's Dating Police

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Dear Interpol:

As a longtime feminist activist, I have been overjoyed to discover your new commitment to engaging in global manhunts to arrest and prosecute men who behave like narcissistic jerks to women they are dating.

I see that Julian Assange is accused of having consensual sex with two women, in one case using a condom that broke. I understand, from the alleged victims' complaints to the media, that Assange is also accused of texting and tweeting in the taxi on the way to one of the women's apartments while on a date, and, disgustingly enough, 'reading stories about himself online' in the cab.

Both alleged victims are also upset that he began dating a second woman while still being in a relationship with the first. (Of course, as a feminist, I am also pleased that the alleged victims are using feminist-inspired rhetoric and law to assuage what appears to be personal injured feelings. That's what our brave suffragette foremothers intended!).

Thank you again, Interpol. I know you will now prioritize the global manhunt for 1.3 million guys I have heard similar complaints about personally in the US alone — there is an entire fraternity at the University of Texas you need to arrest immediately. I also have firsthand information that John Smith in Providence, Rhode Island, went to a stag party — with strippers! — that his girlfriend wanted him to skip, and that Mark Levinson in Corvallis, Oregon, did not notice that his girlfriend got a really cute new haircut — even though it was THREE INCHES SHORTER.

Terrorists. Go get 'em, Interpol!

Yours gratefully,

Naomi Wolf

Read the original article on The Huffington Post.

endofamerica Naomi Wolf is the author of The End of America.

The Fear Profiteers

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

OXFORD - Just when it seemed that America's "Homeland Security state" could not get more surreal, the United States Transportation Security Administration has rolled out a costly Scylla and Charybdis at major airports: either you accept dangerous doses of radiation and high-resolution imaging of your naked body, or, worried about the health risks of cumulative radiation, you opt out of the new full-body x-ray machines (rapidly dubbed "porno-scanners").

But if you opt out, you are now subjected, as I was last week, to an extraordinarily sexualized and invasive "pat-down" by TSA officials. "I will now touch your private parts," a very uncomfortable female TSA official said to me when I flew out of New York's Kennedy Airport. And, sure enough, I experienced the invasive touching of genitals and breasts that is now standard policy for US travelers.

Continue reading at Project Syndicate.

This article appeared on December 2nd, 2010 on The Huffington Post.

endofamerica Naomi Wolf is the author of The End of America.