Monday, January 26, 2009
Hate. Remorse. Forgiveness
The conversation quickly took the group back to Jan. 31, 1961.
Elwin Wilson, one of those white men, had come that day to that very lunch counter four steps from where he was now, wanting to pull one of those black men off of the stool he was sitting on. He wanted to give a beating.
But 48 years later, Wilson, now 72, and Coleman, in his mid-60s, wanted something entirely different from these five black people.
They wanted forgiveness.
These black men and women -- just a few of the folks known as the "Friendship Nine" and the "City Girls" -- have been honored in museums.
They have been apologized to by politicians.
Their names are etched on stools at that lunch counter.
But never before had any of the white men from that day in 1961 asked to meet any of them, and sit down with them where it all started and apologize for hating them.
So, David Williamson and Willie McCleod, Phyllis Hyatt and Elsie Springs, and for sure Patricia Sims, didn't skip a beat to forgive.
Williamson said words that he and the other men and women protesters have said for decades.
"We accept your apology," Williamson said. "We forgave everybody a long time ago."
During Eric Holder's confirmation hearing, Arlen Specter scolded the attorney general-designate, but no one mentioned Israeli pressure.
By Joe Conason
From beginning to end, the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Eric Holder's nomination as attorney general observed the ban on candid discussion of the main objection to confirming him. The forbidden topic: the real reason behind the pardon of Marc Rich eight years ago, a controversial action that Holder reviewed as deputy attorney general -- and that he failed to oppose for reasons he did not mention.
In an editorial that appeared on the morning of the hearings, the Washington Post urged the Senate to question Holder "closely" on the Rich matter. But it is difficult for senators (and editorial writers) to ask pertinent questions when they are completely ignorant of the real background and motivations of the players in the case. Even now, the true machinations behind the Rich pardon cannot be discussed honestly -- perhaps because they implicate the government and the security services of the state of Israel.
Sitting quiet and grave before the committee, Holder listened as Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., one of the leading windbags of our time, held forth on how dreadful Rich is and how awful the pardon was. The fugitive trader, who still lives in Switzerland, had "a reprehensible record," Specter said -- alluding to reports that Rich did business in Iraq and Iran. The Pennsylvania Republican demanded to know how Holder could possibly have recommended a pardon for such an odious figure.
No doubt Holder was advised by the president-elect's transition team not to argue with Specter or anyone else about Rich. He must have been told not to talk about the foreign-policy issues that heavily influenced his view of the Rich decision. So he offered a meek mea culpa, took his lumps from Specter, and promised that his mistakes had made him a better man. Considering that his objective is to get through the hearings without undue stress, that was probably the wisest course. Telling the truth would only have inflamed the Republicans and the press, while creating unwanted drama for Obama.
Still, it would have been a refreshing change from the usual confirmation minuet if instead of humbly apologizing, Holder had tartly instructed the buffoonish Specter, his fellow senators, the press, and the public about the actual circumstances of the Rich affair. He might have started with the fact that continuous lobbying on Rich's behalf from the highest Israeli leaders and their American friends -- among whom Specter no doubt counts himself -- became even more intense in the days before Clinton left office. He could have noted that such pressures coincided with Clinton's efforts to conclude a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. And he could have explained to Specter that Rich's deals in Iran and Iraq were often related to his other role -- as an asset of the Mossad who gathered intelligence and helped to rescue endangered Jews from those regimes.
It is clear that Holder and his colleagues in the Justice Department had ample reason for concern over the proposed pardon, in part because pardoning a fugitive violated precedent. But for the Post to call him "the pardoner" in a front-page headline directing readers to the editorial was grossly unfair. Clinton had sole constitutional discretion to grant the pardon, and he would have done so whether Holder liked it or not.
But Holder understood that there were deeper reasons why the pardon was likely to be approved, which had nothing to do with the political and charitable contributions of Rich's ex-wife, the Manhattan socialite Denise Rich. The New York Times offered just a hint in a front-page story that appeared shortly after the Holder nomination was announced. Only at the very end did the Times mention the pressure from "the Israelis" that had persuaded Holder not to oppose the pardon -- as he told Beth Nolan, then the White House counsel.
Placed in its international context, that remark puts an entirely different coloration on Clinton's decision and on Holder's forbearance.
"The commanders and soldiers sent to Gaza should know they are safe from various tribunals and Israel will assist them on this front and defend them, just as they protected us with their bodies during the Gaza operation," Ehud Olmert said during a cabinet meeting yesterday.
The US could find itself isolated as the conflict goes on
President Barack Obama is facing warnings that the US risks repeating some of its errors in Iraq as the new administration turns its focus to Afghanistan, where Nato forces are engaged in a conflict which has already lasted longer than the Second World War.
Having received a briefing on his first day in office from General David Petraeus, the top US commander in the region, Mr Obama is preparing to meet his military chiefs to decide on the size and shape of the Afghanistan reinforcements he promised during his election campaign. The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, said just before Christmas that up to 30,000 more troops could be sent by summer, nearly doubling the size of the US force in the country. Britain, the next largest contributor in the 41-nation international force, has fewer than 9,000 troops in Afghanistan, which means American dominance of the campaign against the Taliban is set to increase.
"There are fears that this could become a US war rather than a Nato one," said Christopher Langton, senior fellow for conflict at the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) in London. "With other Nato members already planning to scale back, the US could find itself isolated. Rather than being an international operation, it would become another 'coalition of the willing', as in Iraq - though with the crucial difference that the Afghan mission has had a United Nations mandate throughout."
By Patrick Martin
In a series of meetings and public appearances Wednesday and Thursday, and with the first military strikes of his administration, President Barack Obama has given a clear signal that he plans intensified bloodshed in Afghanistan and Pakistan as the US escalates its military intervention in Central and South Asia.
Missiles fired from unmanned Predator drones struck two targets inside Pakistan Friday morning, killing at least 18 people. As is always the case with such exercises in remote-controlled murder, US officials claimed they were targeting Al Qaeda, although even US media accounts admitted that the majority of those killed were local residents.
Three missiles struck the village of Zharki in North Waziristan, killing ten people, of whom five were described by US "security sources" as Al Qaeda militants. A few hours later, another missile hit a house in South Waziristan, killing eight people whose identities were not known.
The strikes were the latest in a series of more than two dozen such attacks since last August, and Pentagon officials said they had carried out the attacks under existing authority from the outgoing Bush administration, while keeping the new president fully informed of the action.
The death toll from the missile campaign, according to Pakistani government figures, numbers at least 263 people. Even US government officials claim only a handful of those killed had any ties to Al Qaeda or the Taliban.
The attacks on sovereign Pakistani territory are blatant violations of international law, which the regime in Islamabad protests verbally, while continuing to accept billions in US subsidies to the country's military.