Saturday, March 28, 2009

Former Uighur Prisoner writes to President Obama

Abu Bakker Qassim's letter to Barack Obama

Dear Mr. President,

I express my gratitude and my best respect for the contribution of the United States of America to our Uighur community. At the same time, I express my gratitude for your right and prompt decision to close the jail of Guantánamo Bay. I hope you will forgive my English, which I have tried to learn.

I hope my letter will find you in a good health. Please allow me to express my wish and prayer to read my letter.

My name is Abu Bakker and I'm writing on behalf of Ahmet, Aktar, Ejup, with whom I have lived since May 2006 in Albania, the only country that offered us political asylum from Guantánamo when US courts concluded that we were not enemy combatants.

I would like to write something about myself. The Uighur people have a proverb: "Who thinks about the end will never be a hero." Obviously it is human to think about the end, as it is human for me to remember things long ago.

30.12.2000. My last night in my little home. No one was sleeping … not even my eight-month twins in my wife's womb. No one was speaking … even my two-year old son … I had decided that I would confess that night to my wife the end I had thought of in my heart, but I hesitated because of a question my son had asked me, that I could not answer. It was at the beginning of winter. We were standing near the oven, and I was cuddling his hands. He took with his little hands my forefinger.

Dad! Is a fingernail a bone?

No, I said. The fingernail is not a bone.

It is flesh?

No. Neither is it flesh.

So, the fingernail: what is it, Dad?

I didn't know.

I don't know, I said.

So small was my boy, and I couldn't answer his questions. And when he grows up and the questions are not about the fingernail? How shall I answer then?

31.12.2000. Without telling the end, without turning back my head, without fear I started my long and already known way. "Ah, if only …! Ah, if only I reach Istanbul, am hired in the factory, to work day and night, to save my self and money. God is great! Ah, if only I could bring my wife there, my son and – the most important – to see my twins for the first time in Istanbul. To hold them on my breast, to pick up as I could … to show my son and to tell to them: We are from the place where the sun rises. I would embrace them, I would answer all of their questions, I would teach to them everything my mother taught me, as her mother taught her, to my grandmother her grandmother … as though in a movie with a happy ending: me film director, me scenarist, me at the lead role. The hero of my dearest people … Me."

After three years and a half, questions after questions, the military tribunal in Guantánamo asked me:

If you will die here, what will you think at your last minutes?

I'm a husband and a father that is dying in the heroism's ways, I answered and I asked the permission to put a question of my own:

If Guantánamo Bay were closed today, would you be a hero for your children?

I was proclaimed innocent. The lawyer proposed – meantime we were waiting for a state which will accept us – to live in a hotel in the Military Base of Guantánamo Bay. No way! We were put in a camp near to the jail, which was called "Iguana Camp." We were nine. Sometimes, one of my friends asked the soldiers about the time. Even today, I hadn't understood why he needed to know the time. I asked the time … I had reasons …

In Camp Iguana, there were iguanas. We fed them with bread, so they began to enter in our dormitory. All of us needed their company. Sometimes, when they were late, everyone missed them …

One morning, I had an unforgettable surprise from my friends. They gave to me cake from their meal, since that day was my twins' birthday. The same day, in our dormitory entered two iguanas and I give to them the cake … thinking about my kids … thinking about my end … My dream finished from Istanbul to Guantánamo, from my kids to iguanas …

Finally in 2006 I arrived in Albania, my second homeland. The ring of the telephone! What anxiety! Are they alive? For the first time, I spoke with my wife and my kids. They were alive!

Every morning, I go out of my home before the sun rises and wait for him with the hands up and empty. Since I'm still from the country where the sun rises. I think about the family which perhaps I will never see again and I resolve not to forget my vow, seven years ago, to be their hero.

Yet, Mr. President, seventeen of my brothers remain in that prison today. It is three years since I left the prison, and still they are there. Please end their suffering soon. Your January 22 words were so welcome to us, and I congratulate you for that and for your historic election. But many months have passed.

For the four of us who remain in Albania (one of us is in Sweden today, trying for asylum), life is very hard, and our future still seems far away. I hope that one day soon your government and countrymen will meet our seventeen brothers. Maybe when that day comes there would be hope that we might come to America too.

Mr. President.

In life not everyone will reach his desired end. Perhaps you don't know, but we are similar … Except as to the end. Since you, like me, without thinking abut the end of your long way, managed to be a hero … I'm at Your side … I'm proud of you …

Mr. President.

Please allow me to share with You a thought. Gift a pair of shoes to every child, to every woman, or every barefoot man since the barefoot people doesn't think too much before walking on the dirty mud. Begin with everything from above.

Very truly yours,

Abu Bakker Qassim

Tirana, Albania

March 24, 2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Congress: Tell Them in Person April 4 - 19

By David Swanson

It's just spring, when the world is puddle-wonderful, and your representative and your two senators pack up their lingerie and come dancing from hop-scotch and toy soldiers to make the trek outside the Beltway for a well-earned vacation sponsored by corporations completely indifferent to legislative news and dedicated to appreciation of nature's bounty in this season of new birth -- er, I mean, to begin a District Work Period dedicated to discovering exactly how much you appreciate the good work they've done so far -- er, that is to say, the last frazzled human threads that our democratic republic hangs by are coming home from April 4th to 19th and if you want to nudge them gently or forcefully in any direction you should call and ask for an appointment NOW.

This is something you have a right and a responsibility to do, either alone or with your friends and family, or with some like-minded neighbors, or with a coalition representing activist groups, labor unions, and other civic bodies. If your polite request for an appointment with your representative or one of your senators does not work, insist on it. Do not take no for an answer. If you cannot get an appointment or you can but cannot get a commitment to better represent your district or state, I highly recommend sitting down in your elected official's district office, phoning the media, and picketing out front. All is not well in our nation, and while there is no point in turning a friendly meeting unnecessarily confrontational, in most districts and states that WILL be necessary.

Why? What are we asking for that they aren't willing to provide? Well, peace, justice, the rule of law, and a fair break for working people, to name a few things. But, of course, every elected official on the planet will agree to those vague values, shake your hand, and blow you kisses out the door. What you want are specific hard commitments, and what they understand committing to are bills. So, where we have bills for them to cosponsor, ask them to cosponsor. Where we don't, ask them to introduce a new bill. Where appropriate, ask them to sign or draft a letter, make a statement, or commit to voting yes or no. Each congress member or senator is unique, as are the needs of each district and state. Knowledge is power: know as much about the person you are meeting with as possible. You can't discuss a dozen things in a meeting. But you can hand them a list of a dozen things and insist that they agree to at least one of them. You can choose to win their support on three minor matters rather than sitting-in at their office over one big one. You can use your judgment, but you should bear in mind that there is no conflict between respectful conversation and public pressure. Pressure is what the public is supposed to provide in a democracy. Disagreement need not and should not look like it does on television shoutfests.

You may want to make clear to your congress member and senators that you want them to have more power, not less, and that you want to help them get it. They've given up the power of war, the power of the purse, the power of treaty, the power to legislate without signing statements and secret laws and executive decrees, and even the power of subpoena. We want Congress to reclaim some powers and we want Congress members to think of themselves as powerful defenders of the first branch of our government, not members of political parties attending a royal court. We want them to envision what Congress could be if it resembled the body described in Article I of the Constitution. Here are steps they can take:

Cosponsor the State Secrets Protection Act
This is a bill to deny presidents the power to keep information secret from even a closed court of law by claiming "state secrets." While this power was abused greatly by President Bush, this bill was reintroduced by leading Democrats because President Obama began abusing this power. This is a rare instance of Congress standing up for itself (er, for the courts, but walking begins with baby steps) despite the party membership of those involved. Your representative and senators should be willing to sign onto this regardless of their party or politics. The House version (HR 984) has 16 cosponsors. The Senate version (S 417) has 6. Learn more:

Impeach Jay Bybee
If Congress wanted all of its powers to start flowing back up Capitol Hill, it would reclaim the power of impeachment, and it has a perfect opportunity. John Yoo didn't write those torture memos alone. His boss was Jay Bybee, and Bybee's signature is on memos that amount to confessions to felonies. Meanwhile, Bybee is serving as a federal judge in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. That the people of San Francisco and their Congresswoman who serves as Speaker of the House tolerate this is a disgrace. Any member of Congress of any party and from any state can introduce an article of impeachment or a bill to initiate impeachment hearings. Learn more:

Ask Eric Holder to Appoint a Special Prosecutor
In June 2008, 56 Democratic Congress members, led by Congressman John Conyers, wrote to Attorney General Mukasey asking for a Special Prosecutor. Conyers and Congressman Jerrold Nadler wrote to Mukasey again in December 2008. Please ask them to re-send these letters to the new Attorney General, Eric Holder. Nadler says he's drafting a new letter. The demand for prosecution has been supported by many members of the House and Senate. Almost 200 organizations are calling for a special prosecutor, as are almost 50,000 Americans. Ask your representative and senators to work with Nadler or on their own to publicly ask Holder to do what the law requires. Learn more:

Co-sponsor the Employee Free Choice Act
This bill would enforce the basic human right to assemble and self-organize, to form a union in the workplace free of intimidation and retribution from employers. This is a bill to restore power beyond Congress, to the people. You don't have to tell congress members that, but you do have to show it to them and compel them to back this. The House version (HR 1409) already has more than enough cosponsors to pass (224), but the Senate version (S 560) has only 39 and needs 50 (or 60 if the Senate leadership chooses to allow a filibuster to block it. If unions won't pressure senators hard for this, that doesn't mean future larger unions can't be made to fight for justice. We know they won't if they don't exist. Learn more:

End the Filibuster
Ask your senators to ask Senator Reid to support changing the filibuster rule (which can be done with a simple majority) to henceforth require only a simple majority to bring a bill to a vote. It is obscene to continue with a system in which senators representing 12 percent of the country can block all the efforts of the House and Senate. Learn more:

Cosponsor Single-Payer Healthcare
The United States National Health Care Act or the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, is a House bill, HR 676, that now has 72 cosponsors. Some members of the Senate supported this bill when they were in the House, but there is not yet any bill in the Senate. Your far-right elected officials will call this "socialized medicine" but it uses private doctors, private hospitals, complete freedom of choice (unlike the current system), saves businesses billions, and nets 2.6 million new jobs. Your moderate-right elected officials will tell you they want to just follow the president's plan, but unless they do their jobs and represent you by pushing for single-payer there will not be even a partial solution to our healthcare disaster in the final compromise bill. You can't compromise unless you have a starting position. And that requires putting your name on the line. Learn more:

Cosponsor Resolution Rejecting Treaties Made Without Congress
Bush made a treaty with Iraq for three more years of war, without congressional approval, and President Obama has declared in a signing statement that he has the power to make treaties without congress "interfering," despite the Constitution's requirement that two-thirds of the Senate approve any treaty. Feel free to mention Bush or Obama depending on who you're talking to. A House resolution (HRes 72) would express opposition to Bush's Iraq treaty unless approved by Congress. It has 6 cosponsors. Many groups and individuals are urging Pelosi to support this. No Senate resolution or bill has yet been introduced. Learn more:

Oppose Escalation of War in Afghanistan
Even when Congress members won't use their powers and choose to behave as advisors to the throne, it is possible for them to say the right thing and for that to help build the willingness to act. A bipartisan group of fourteen members of Congress recently wrote to the president asking him to reconsider his proposal to ship more troops to Afghanistan. Your representative and senators should send similar letters. Learn more:

Promise to Vote No Money for War Escalation, War Extension, Military Enlargement, or Bankers
Congress plans to vote on another supplemental spending bill for 2009 to continue the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and expand the latter. This will be for $75.5 billion on top of the $68.5 billion already stolen from our children and forked over. We want commitments to vote no on appropriating or authorizing any such spending, unless amended to be used purely for withdrawal. Enough is enough. We have seen huge struggles over this in past years that should not be allowed to dissipate because the wars are rebranded with the face of a new commander in chief. We do not have another $75.5 billion to spend on death and destruction and the antagonizing of the Muslim world. That money must go to human needs.

Another $130 billion or so will be marked for war funding in the upcoming FY 2010 budget as well, on top of another $557 billion or so in military spending, not counting various pieces of Pentagon spending and the military spending scattered across various other departments. In other words, the plan is to increase the largest military budget in world history. More than half of every dollar of income tax now goes to killing rather than living, investment in weapons and only weapons is destroying our economy, we desperately need jobs, green energy, mass transportation, healthcare, infrastructure, and schools, our government has already put our grandchildren in deep debt to China, and the plan is to INCREASE this approach. It's time to say No. We need a commitment to vote No on appropriating or authorizing any spending that extends illegal wars and fails to significantly decrease the wasteful spending of the Pentagon. If that means passing an amendment to the budget, so be it. If it means revising the budget until it will pass, so be it. We waste some $140 billion per year maintaining military bases around the world that damage our relations with the world. We dump billions and billions into weapons systems that do not work or are designed to combat enemies we do not have. Investing in non-military areas creates more and better-paying jobs, and without all the blowback. We need change, and we will not get it by voting, or by watching basketball. Change comes through organized public pressure. Learn more:

Cosponsor the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act
Congress passed a law in March permanently banning exports of nearly all U.S.-made cluster bombs. But Congress has not banned the use of cluster bombs by the U.S. military. The Senate version of a bill to do so (S 416) has 23 cosponsors, and the House version (HR 981) has 24. Learn more:

Let Wall Street Bankers Try Working for a Living
We need an understanding in congress that we will not tolerate any more bailouts for bankers, and we need leadership in efforts to undo what has been done, take our money back, allow fraudulent finance companies to fail, and fund the real economy. We want New Orleans rebuilt. We want a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions. We want a living wage minimum wage. And we want investment of the size traditionally reserved for weapons makers and now expanded for bankers to go, instead, into the creation of non-military non-Wall Street jobs. We want money for every useful local and state need and pet project any elected representative has in mind, and we want our representatives to begin seeing potential funding for human needs when they look at massive military and Wall Street waste. We want local groups that work on domestic issues to see the same thing, and we should use these visits to build such coalitions. Here are two more things we DO want:

Cosponsor the Universal Prekindergarten Act
This House bill (HR 555) would assist States in establishing a universal prekindergarten program to ensure that all children 3, 4, and 5 years old have access to a high-quality full-day, full-calendar-year prekindergarten education. It has 6 cosponsors.

Cosponsor a Department of Peace
This House bill (HR 808) has 65 cosponsors. Learn more:

You can find your representative and senators at:

Friday, March 20, 2009

Obama reaches out to Iran

This is a positive development. As someone entirely dedicated to peace, I am extremely pleased with the direction Pres. Obama appears to be taking

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What happened at the Pentagon on St. Patrick's Day?

Myself and several other activists associated with the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance visited the Pentagon Tuesday morning taking with us copies of a letter that had been delivered a week earlier to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. The letter asked for the U.S. government to pursue peace and just diplomacy over illegal and immoral wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as an immediate cessation of bombing portion of the nation of Pakistan. We also said that if we did not receive a response, we would pay him a visit.

Seven of us approached the doors of the Pentagon, about 30 yards from an entrance to the Metro station. We spoke with a guard monitoring those entering the building, as we did not carry officially-issued Pentagon badges. However, we are all citizens and taxpayers of the U.S., and wished to meet with at the very least someone from Gates' office. We were told to go into a security booth for those arriving at the Pentagon for business where we had to show two forms of ID. Inside this booth a senior Pentagon Police Officer quickly rushed in and started talking with us. He said he recognized three of our group (from previous actions at the Pentagon), and knew why we were there. He ordered us out of the booth where he would speak further with us on the sidewalk.

Once back outside on this sidewalk connecting the Metro to the doors of the Pentagon, he told us a meeting would not be granted but he would do his best to make sure the letter would get to Gates' office. We told him that the letter had already been delivered, and that we were taxpayers, that we paid all of the Defense Department employees' salaries, and we were determined to have a meeting with someone in the secretary's office. He again denied us entrance, and said no meeting would happen. We said that we had already mailed, faxed and petitioned our government to change its disastrous courses in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that we were now trying a more direct approach.

The officer became a little more agitated and warned us that the police would begin making arrests if we did not leave. We then began sitting down on the sidewalk, and continued communicating with this officer, and another one who was on the scene. Manijeh from New Jersey said that her right to petition her government for a redress of grievances was enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution. I said we would keep talking to anyone who would listen, but at the same time we were determined to have that meeting with someone in Gates' office. I also stated that we were remembering Capt. Brian Bunting, from Montgomery County, Maryland, who was killed by an IED in Afghanistan a couple days before, and that he was 10 years younger than me. "I do not want anymore young Americans to loose their lives for illegal and immoral wars based on lies," I uttered loud enough so a couple passersby could hear.

The only response we got at that point was the senior officer to first ask us to move to yet another part of the sidewalk, and when we refused he issued two more warnings that we were about to be arrested. He said we were blocking an entrance to the Pentagon, as dozens of Pentagon workers easily passed by us quickly as they entered the building. Several of us said we were not blocking anything. Both officers started calling for back up to assist with making arrests.

Within a minute, a few police arrived on motorcycles, while our young friends with Our Spring Break watched nearby. The police rushed us, rapidly snatched us up and slapped handcuffs on us. I assured them that we were all nonviolent, and that all of us were compliant. We also in turn asked for illegal wars and immoral occupations to be stopped as they lead us to waiting police cars.

Once we made it to the Pentagon holding cells, the police treated us with respect and I found them to be extremely polite. One officer admitted that he was against the occupation of Iraq. And as another of us was fingerprinted his large, long fingers were compared to the late great activist Peter DeMott's. "You have the same fingers as that farmer, DeMott?" A couple of us shared small recollections of Peter with the police. Peter died in a tragic accident recently, and one of his greatest anti-war actions occurred on March 17, 2003 -- exactly 6 years earlier, and two days before Shock and Awe. He and three other Catholic Workers poured their blood inside a military recruiting station in upstate New York. They shut the station down for several hours that day, and all of them did some time in jail for this powerful witness.

We were all charged with Failure to Obey a Lawful Order. Within two and a half hours, all seven of us were released with a court date of May 8th. That day we will appear in Alexandria Court in order to continue to speak out and resist.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bush, Yoo, Etc tried to destroy our Constitutional rights

This further confirms what many of us activists long believed about the modus operandi of the Bush regime. Of course many of us (including myself and 52 others in Maryland) were tracked and labeled terrorists by the Maryland State Police. And a subset of that group was further spied on by the Department of Homeland (Fatherland) Security. Here it is, Bruce Fein explains what happened to the U.S. Constitution following September 11, 2001.

FEIN: End presidential secrecy
Bruce Fein

Congress should swiftly enact a statute prohibiting secret presidential government.

The urgency was demonstrated last week when nine ill-conceived legal memoranda to justify despotism cobbled together by the pliable Jay Bybee and John Yoo in the Justice Department under President George W. Bush were belatedly released.

Their shelf-life would have been nanoseconds if they had been immediately exposed. Their counterconstitutional reasoning would have been instantly discredited. Instead, the memoranda remained intact until the twilight hours of the Bush presidency when their secrecy could no longer be guaranteed under a successor administration.

Like a death bed conversion, all nine were recanted by then- Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Steven Bradbury in twin disclaimers on Oct. 6, 2008, and Jan. 15, 2009. Similarly, the department backed down from its post-Sept. 11, 2001, claims of presidential authority to torture or to spy on Americans in contravention of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) after published leaks to the media. As Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis lectured, sunshine is the best disinfectant.

The common but chilling theme of the memoranda was that only the commander-in-chief clause of the Constitution remained standing after Sept. 11, 2001. The Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures could be disregarded in pursuit of suspected terrorists. The First Amendment's protection of free speech could be subordinated whenever the president thought it helpful to defeating international terrorism.

John Yoo, then deputy assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel, advised: "First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully." Moreover, "The current campaign against terrorism may require even broader exercises of federal power domestically." Laws or treaties prohibiting torture, warrantless electronic surveillance, mail openings, or even burglary could be defied under the banner of counterterrorism.

The commander-in-chief power was inflated manifold. Alexander Hamilton, the strongest proponent of a muscular chief executive, in Federalist 69 accepted the modesty of the president's war powers under a Republican form of government. He elaborated that the commander-in-chief authority "would be nominally the same with that of the King of Great Britain, but in substance much inferior to it. It would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the military and naval forces, as first general and admiral of the confederacy; while that of the British king extends to the declaring of war, and to the raising and regulating of fleets and armies; all which by the Constitution under consideration would appertain to the Legislature."

The department's legal memoranda insist that the president's commander-in-chief authorities exceeds that of the British monarch to include the power to suspend the Great Writ of habeas corpus and to hold American citizens as "enemy combatants" indefinitely without accusation or trial.

Indeed, no limiting principle is articulated that would prevent the president from doing anything he believes might assist in waging war against international terrorism. In other words, to borrow from Cicero, Sept. 11, 2001, silenced all laws but one: the commander-in-chief power.

If the executive branch were infallible, then these constitutional abuses would be less troublesome. The victims of the violations would all have been genuine terrorists, "the worst of the worst" in the words of the Bush administration. But the vast majority of Guantanamo Bay detainees held as "enemy combatants" have been exonerated in habeas corpus proceedings mandated by the United States Supreme Court last year because the government had no evidence.

Exemplary are 17 Uighur adversaries of the Chinese communist government who have been detained for more than seven years without a crumb of evidence of hostility to the United States. The Bush administration's constitutional transgressions justified by the nine legal memoranda made the United States less safe by serving as recruiting agents for al Qaeda and discouraging anti-terrorism cooperation from foreign countries like Great Britain, Germany or Italy.

There were no offsetting counterterrorism benefits. Torture yields false information. Thus, Abu Zubaydah, an al Qaeda cipher according to the FBI's leading expert, confessed to everything to relieve the pain of torture. Every authentic enemy combatant or Sept. 11, 2001, conspirator can be criminally prosecuted in civilian courts with the trappings of due process.

Jose Padilla was initially erroneously detained as an enemy combatant. He was later prosecuted for conspiring to provide material assistance to a foreign terrorist organization. Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called "20th hijacker," was criminally prosecuted and convicted in a civilian court for complicity in the 2001 attacks on America. Every scrap of useful intelligence gathered illegally in violation of FISA could also have been obtained in compliance with the law.

The government also revealed last week that the CIA had destroyed 92 interrogation videotapes of Mr. Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. Of that number, 12 involved so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques," a euphemism for torture or cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment.

Secret government is twice-cursed. Darkness invites lawlessness. And self-government requires public knowledge of what the government is doing. James Madison, father of the Constitution, warned: "A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps both."

Congress should enact a statute prohibiting the executive branch from withholding information requested by Congress or the public based on an asserted need for confidentiality. Any adviser whose candor to the president depends on a promise of secrecy should be fired. National security secrets like the Manhattan Project should be disclosed to Congress in executive session.

Sunshine on the presidency has never harmed the United States.

Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer at Bruce Fein & Associates Inc. and author of "Constitutional Peril: The Life and Death Struggle for our Constitution and Democracy."

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Obama Pressured by Israel Lobby to Boycott World Conference Against Racism

By Roberto Lovato, New America Media
Posted on March 3, 2009, Printed on March 3, 2009

At a time when racial conflict and discrimination are on the rise around the world, the Administration of the world's first black U.S. president will not be attending the world's most important conference on race and racism.

In what may signal a dangerous new, "post-racial" approach to global race relations, President Barack Obama's Administration announced that it will not attend the second World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Geneva next April. According to this article in the New York Times, the Administration will boycott the conference to protest what it deems the unfair equation of Zionism with racism in the outcome documents of the first conference held in Durban, South Africa, and now the second conference, also known as "Durban II, as well." Other concerns cited by Administration officials, some of whom recently attended preparatory meetings in Geneva, in their justification of the boycott include a proposal to place restrictions on the defamation of religions and any language calling for reparations for slavery. According to the Times article, one of the primary reasons for the Obama Administration's decision was that "Israel and some American Jewish groups urged a boycott of the April conference, and several close American allies, including Canada."

Praised by groups that lobbied against Durban II like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), whose leaders applauded the U.S. decision, "for refusing to participate in a process that would in any way brand Israel as a racist country," the Obama Adminsitration's boycott comes at the worst possible time for a planet facing rapidly increasing levels of recession-inspired racism, xenophobia and hatred.

Increasing numbers of experts report that most continents -- Europe, Africa, Asia -- are seeing exponential growth in hate crimes, ethnic tensions and other manifestations of the racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance, the kind on intolerance that will be discussed at the Durban II Conference. And in the Américas, the very palpable rise in racial tensions, hate crimes and other discrimination are well illustrated by events here in the "post-racial" United States: the NY Post Chimpanzee cartoon scandal, the U.S. visit (including a film screening in Congress) by Danish racist Veert Wilder and the massive protests against the racial profiling, humiliation and other practices of Maricopa County Sheriff, Joe Arpaio, to name a few taking place in the United States. And these were only the events that the Obama Administration was silent about this past week.

The Obama Administration's silence on both these racial incidents and on such fundamentally racial -and global-problems as the "drug war," criminal justice reform and immigrant detention contrasts with the much-lauded statements on race by Attorney General Eric Holder. In statements made to coincide with the start of Black History Month, Holder called the U.S. "a nation of cowards" when it comes to discussion of race.

Apparently, as indicated by Obama Administration's boycott of the Durban II conference, Mr. Holder's statements are equally applicable to the global discussion of race. Consider, for example, Mr.Holder-and the Obama Administration's relative silence on reversing the abject failure and tragedy that is the global and domestic "war on drugs" (he's actually in favor of pursuing it more intensely) and the unprecedented levels of racialized imprisonment it entails. In the face of the radicalization of racial hatred that is afoot throghout the world, both the Durban response and Holder's Black History Month statements are beginning to sound like the oh so many hollow and jaded "Si Se Puede"'s and other ethnic, racial "History Month"-like slogans designed to gain favor among former minorities, all the while pursuing right-of-center criminal justice policies that devastate these same communities.

And with its very dangerous boycott of Durban II in response to pressure from the very powerful Israel Lobby , the Obama Administration may be giving the green light to governments and other groups practicing their own brand of racial discrimination, promoting hatred and other forms of discrimination. While much of the media is discussing the U.S. boycott, most of these reports neglect to the mention the near universal condemnation of the Israeli government's treatment of Palestinians, which United Nations General Assembly President Miguel D'Escoto likened to apartheid last November:

"More than twenty years ago we in the United Nations took the lead from civil society when we agreed that sanctions were required to provide a non-violent means of pressuring South Africa. Today, perhaps we in the United Nations should consider following the lead of a new generation of civil society, who are calling for a similar non-violent campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions to pressure Israel."

Rather than join the rest of the world in Durban and in condemning the killing and discrimination on the part of the Israeli and other governments -- including our own -- Obama's boycott reflects his choice to pursue the more dangerous path to dealing with race, racism and discrimination: symbolism at the expense of real changes to very devastating policies. Such are the perils of our increasingly post-racial presidency in a racially-troubled world.

Political choices like the Durban decision or the blind eye turned to the indiscriminate killing of and discrimination against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank make one wonder if the Obama Administration has also chosen to become the black face of empire.

Roberto Lovato, a frequent Nation contributor, is a New York-based writer with New America Media.