IPS Blog

Yugoslavia: When a Country Actually Is Wiped Off the Map

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com. John is currently traveling in Eastern Europe and observing its transformations since 1989.

Irfan Besirovic

Irfan Besirovic

You are born in a country. You are a citizen of that country, and you don’t give it much thought. It’s like the air that you breathe.

And then the country disappears.

Everything that you took for granted has vanished. The ground beneath your feet has shifted irreversibly. Your national identity is up for grabs.

When Yugoslavia fell apart in the early 1990s, most people simply became citizens of what had once been constituent republics: Croatia, Bosnia, and so on. But for some, it was not a simple process at all.

In Slovenia, for instance, a significant minority of the population did not successfully make the transition. After the country’s independence, citizens of other former republics living in Slovenia had six months to file for citizenship. More than 25,000 failed to do so and, through an administrative decision, were denied residency in the land where some had lived virtually their entire lives.

They had once been Yugoslav, and they were not deemed Slovene. They fell between the stools, and the fall was a hard one.

Eventually, this group of people came to be known as the Erased. They are a diverse group. Many were born outside of Slovenia; some did not have personal documents; some did not know about the option to file for citizenship; some felt that they should not have to do so.

Irfan Besirovic was born in Bosnia and came to Slovenia when he was only a year old. Slovenia is the only land that he remembers.

This is his story.

The Interview

When did you first come to Ljubljana?

In 1963.

You were quite young.

I was five years old. Before that, our family lived in Pivka, a small Slovenian town. I came to Slovenia when I was one year old.

How was your early life when you were in school? Was it generally a happy time?

Until the breakup of Yugoslavia, it was generally a happy period. I finished school, made a family, had a job. My life was generally stable until the breakup of the country.

I went to a Slovenian school. When my family came to Slovenia, we were one of the first families to come from the south. There were not so many people coming to Slovenia from other parts of Yugoslavia in those days. In my primary school, there were only two families from Bosnia. The school was in Trnovo, near the Ljubljanica River. I didn’t have any problems because of my origin.

You didn’t experience any discrimination growing up?

From time to time we were called “Bosnians.” But everyone was a Bosnian in those days: the Serbs, the Macedonians, the Bosnians. The word didn’t have a bad connotation until after independence. After independence, they called all the people from the other side of the Kolpa River (a river bordering Slovenia and Croatia), from the republics south of Slovenia, they called such people “chifuti” or “chefurji.”

What does “chifuti/chefurji” literally mean?

It comes from “Chifuti”, which is another word for “Jew.” But here in Slovenia the word means Bosnian.

How did you think of yourself in those days: as Slovenian, Yugoslav, Bosnian?

We considered ourselves Yugoslavs. We didn’t know about republican citizenship. Whenever you were asked, you responded, “Yugoslav.”

Do you remember where you were when you heard about the fall of the Berlin Wall?

I was in Ljubljana. It was in the media a lot that the Berlin Wall fell. We said, “Finally, the Germans have joined their nation together. It’s great that that happened.” But then, all the other countries around here fell apart.

Was there a point at which you were worried that the situation in Yugoslavia would end up as a war?

No, never. When a Slovenian came to Bosnia or a Bosnian went to Slovenia, they were accepted. There was eating and drinking, and everyone did it together. I never imagined that a war would happen here in Yugoslavia.

What did you think when Slovenia declared independence?

I was not surprised. Everything had already started in the 1980s. There were signs, like the young people in Slovenia boycotting the shtafeta — when young people carried a baton in a relay race through all of Yugoslavia and gave it to Tito on his birthday, on May 25. Later, the Slovenian Communist Party left the party’s Central Committee. So, it was not a complete surprise. But no one thought it would end in this way.

Do you remember when Tito died?

I remember it well. I woke up with a terrible toothache. I went to work and told my boss. He told me to go to the dentist. On the way to the dentist, I heard that Tito died. So I went to the café bar Slon. There was really sad music, and all the people there were crying. The whole moment was really sad. Everyone was on the street in Ljubljana. Everyone was crying, regardless of nationality.

Were you sad too?

Tito meant something to us then. So, yes, I was sad, I had been a soldier. I had carried the shtafeta. I watched his train leave when he went to Romania. I was part of youth brigade when Tito visited along with an African president. It was 1976, and I was able to say hello to him.

Do you feel the same way about Tito today as you did back then?

I still respect Tito. But my feelings have changed a lot. There is too much nationalism — not only here but all over Yugoslavia.

Can you describe the moment that this process of erasure began and how you felt about it?

When they made a hole in my identity card, I didn’t know what that meant. They told me that I was erased from the registry of permanent residents, and I had to arrange my status as foreigner. I didn’t know what the extent of the consequences would be, not until I had health issues and I couldn’t go to the doctor because they wouldn’t treat me, not until my domestic situation worsened and I had an argument with my wife because I wasn’t earning any money and I couldn’t be an equal part of the community. Only then did I realize what the consequences would be. Without documents I couldn’t go to the doctor. Without papers, I couldn’t get a job.

I went to the Red Cross, and they said they couldn’t help me because I wasn’t a refugee, I wasn’t anything, I wasn’t entitled to any help. And then all my problems started. I broke up with my partner. I was homeless.

A couple years later, I met a person and made arrangements to stay at his place. I worked as a waiter at his restaurant. But I didn’t get a paycheck. I also took care of his baby and his grandmother. I roasted pigs. I cleaned. I did everything. But I wasn’t paid.

Before the erasure, I worked as a waiter. After I finally got citizenship in 2004, I got work in a construction company. I had to get a job quickly. But after a month at that job, the vein in my leg burst, so I was on sick leave.

Your health is better now?

It’s better, but it’s not okay. I still have problems with wounds on my legs. Some are healed, some are still open. They can’t discover where the veins are blocked. But even if they do, and they do the operation, there’s a risk that I could be an invalid. So the health consequences are long-lasting.

After the erasure, you knew very few people in the same situation.

Until 2002 when I joined the Association of Self-Organized Erased, I knew a couple people. I wasn’t aware that there were thousands of Erased. Only through this association did I learn about this. At the beginning, the official number of Erased was 18,000. Then the government admitted that it was 25,000.

What was your reaction when you learned there were so many people in the same situation as you?

Personally it was easier to know that the number was so huge. It was a relief that the public was becoming more aware of the Erasure. If we were fighting together, we could get something done about this issue.

It’s been nearly a decade of activity on this issue. How would you evaluate this work?

It’s been quite hard. There were a lot of provocations from a lot of people But overall, I would say that it was a success. We proved that it was the state’s fault, not our fault. And the European Court of Human Rights has proven/confirmed that.

Can you give an example of a provocation?

From the ordinary people, it was: “What do you want, you Bosnian? Just go back!” From the side of the politicians, they spoke of aggressors against Slovenia. They said that these illiterate cleaning ladies should just be put on trains and sent back.

These were provocations in the media or said to you personally?

Ordinary people said these things to me personally, but politicians said this in the media.

What did people say when you told them that you’d been in Slovenia since you were a baby?

When they heard the stories of me and others, the reactions changed. There is quite a lot of support now. When I meet someone who saw me on television, they tell me, “Good job, this is how it should be done.” So, it has changed on an everyday level. But some politicians haven’t changed.

Has this movement inspired other Slovenians to fight for their rights?

Yes, more and more people are fighting for their rights. The most important message is that if you don’t fight for your rights, if you stay at home and don’t fight, nothing will happen. It’s a really important part of this movement that it’s been inclusive. We weren’t just struggling for the Erased. We were fighting also for the rights of Roma and the LGBT community.

You’ve taken on a leadership position of the movement. How has that been?

I took over the function of president of our association two years ago. The public is quite fond of me, I think, because I choose my words carefully. I don’t attack ordinary people. I only attack the politics. So, it’s been a good experience to gain some recognition from the public. At first, when I took over this job, I was afraid of what would happen. There wasn’t so much support in the public. But now, I’m swimming in it. It’s no problem.

Was the decision of the European Court a surprise for you?

In 2010, when the first verdict was issued, I was really surprised. Then when the Slovenian government made a complaint, I was hoping that it would be positive in the end. When the court issues something positive the first time, it’s a bigger surprise if the decision isn’t positive the second time around. So I was more surprised after the first verdict in 2010 than the more recent one in 2012.

Do you think the Slovenian government will abide by the decision?

The Slovenian government must abide by the verdict. It has until June 26 to come up with a plan for compensation. Otherwise, the court will decide what kind of compensation will be made for the Erased. And just yesterday, a new commission was announced to come up with this compensation plan. The chief of the commission is the general secretary of the ministry of the interior. So I’m quite sure that they’re working on it. I just don’t know what the final result will be.

Will there be a representative of the Erased on the commission?

For now, I don’t know, because this is new information. But there should be a representative from one of the two associations of the Erased. We should decide our conditions. It’s not good when someone else decides that for us. Someone who was not erased cannot know what it was like to be Erased and what the compensation should be.

Are there major differences of opinion between the two associations of the Erased?

There’s a difference of methodology. The other association is fonder of negotiating behind the table and taking the legal path. Our organization is more for actions, demonstrations, and a more public way of struggling, though of course we also support the legal path. If we didn’t do demonstrations and hunger strikes, I’m sure that the European Court decision wouldn’t have been made. The legal case at the European Court was also a result of the actions of our association.

Using your own example, can you explain how the compensation might work?

I always say that there is no money in the world that can compensate for lost health, for lost work, for lost contact with my child. There should also be moral compensation. This would be punishment, prosecution, for the people guilty of the erasure.

Do you think that will happen?

Not in Slovenia. Compare the situation of the tycoons in charge of privatization who drained the companies before they went bankrupt. If they have not been punished for what they did, then the people responsible for the Erased will not be punished either.

Do you think the Slovenian public will accept the compensation? Or are they saying that Slovenia just doesn’t have the money for this?

I think that the people are divided. There are forums where many people speak against the compensation. But many people say, “Finally the situation is resolved and people should get compensation.”

The biggest problem is that the politicians are inflating the amount of money for compensation. Then the people are afraid of such a high amount, such a big hole in the budget. We need to know that not all Erased had equal damage. Some were erased for a year, some for five, some for 20. If we don’t give the same compensation to everyone, if we do it case by case, then the compensation won’t be so high. Also, some Erased are prepared to receive a certain amount of money each month – maybe 300-400 Euros per month — for the rest of their life. So it doesn’t mean a lot of money at once.

This may take years to figure out, especially if it’s case by case.

Of course it will be a complex process if it’s case by case. And each person must prove the damage.

There is also a large number of Erased who never asked for permanent residency. The opportunity to get permanent residency is open only for another year. And I’m worried that many people will not get that status. So it’s not clear whether they will get compensation.

And then there are all the people who died. I don’t know what will happen with them and their families.

But Slovenia will have to make the compensations. If it doesn’t, there will be a sanction. The government can’t say it doesn’t have the money. That would be like if I have to go to the prison and I say that I don’t have the time to do that!

In addition to compensation, what are the other unfinished tasks for your association?

If Slovenia provides compensation, it would be the end of the fight for the Erased. The only thing left would be maybe punishment of the guilty. The official statutes of our association say that it will function until the violations are corrected. Compensation would mean that the violations are corrected. But we can still go on with the struggle — just not within the association. We can struggle on behalf of other peoples’ human rights.

What do you think of the current political and economic situation in Slovenia — the economic crisis, the corruption trials?

There is corruption everywhere in Slovenia, in all spheres. We all know that this corruption has been happening for 20 years. Only now is it coming out in public. We also know that without this corruption the economic crisis wouldn’t be so big.

In terms of the political crisis, one huge problem is that the opinion of voters is not respected. The prime minister is on trial and still his situation doesn’t change. Other people in parliament have been accused of various crimes but they don’t leave their seats. They simply don’t respect the will of the people.

Until this generation of politicians passes, nothing will happen.

Many of the services that Slovenians have enjoyed over the last decades are being gradually taken away. Someone told me that they thought that the average Slovenian is now beginning to feel what the Erased felt.

What’s your opinion of that?

It’s not just a reduction in public services. It’s also fewer jobs. So, people in this situation will face something similar to the Erased, though it will be a bit better for them since they will receive some social benefits. But it is quite obvious that this policy is ruining the state. I can’t remember before, in former Yugoslavia, when so many people were unemployed and hungry. In a year or two, there will be more homeless people who can’t afford electricity, rent. I think that the future is bleak.

Ljubljana, October 18, 2012

Interview (2008)

I came here when I was one year old, from Bosnia. I’ve lived all my life in Slovenia. I’ve never really had any connection with Bosnia again.

I was erased 30 years later after I came to Slovenia. This is how it happened:

There was a period of time when the government was accepting applications for citizenship. Just before this period, I had a major car crash. It was on December 31, 1990. I was in a coma. I’d broken my pelvis. I’d bit through my tongue. During all of 1991, I was in hospital and undergoing rehabilitation. In April 1991, I received my identity card without a problem. I needed this for the health insurance. The term for applying for Slovenian citizenship lasted from July to December 1991. During this period, I went to apply for citizenship. But the employee at the unit told me that I’d already missed the term.

Then, in March 1992, I got an invitation from the administrative unit saying that I must go there and arrange things. The clerk asked me if I had Slovenian citizenship. I said no, but it’s being arranged. The last time they told me I’d missed the term. This clerk said that I must give her my ID card. She took it and made a hole in it so that it wasn’t valid any more. It was like this for many people: all the documents of the Erased just expired. But for other citizens of Slovenia, their old passports were valid again. Anyway, she gave me back my ID.

I was living at the time with the mother of my son, who was born in 1991. We broke up after the Erasure. In March and April 1992, I had no place to live. I was homeless. I had no papers, no documents. All the Erased at that time were hiding and were afraid to tell anyone that they didn’t have status. I knew that there were other people like me because my brother was also Erased. I heard from him from time to time, but not regularly, because we were all afraid. For almost one year, I was homeless. Sometimes I slept at my friend’s, but this was not a permanent solution. I was also sleeping outside. I spent the winter in basements.

I had surgery after the car crash, and they put a piece of metal inside my pelvis. But they made a mistake and cut the nerve. Later they were afraid to take out the metal because there might be something wrong with the nerve and I might become paralyzed. But the problem was that my body was rejecting this metal. In the early 90s, I began to get open wounds all over my body. Also in the 1990s, I survived thrombosis. I didn’t have health insurance. One of the side effects was that I almost lost sight in my right eye. I still don’t see well on that side, but it’s better than it was before.

I had been a waiter all my life. I knew many people and many people knew me. In 1993, I ran into a man that I had known before. He took me home. He gave me a job as a waiter in exchange for shelter and food, but I didn’t get any pay. This lasted for two years. Then in 1995, inspectors closed down the restaurant, and I was again on the street. This lasted for a few months. But it was the summer, so sleeping on the street was easier. Then I ran into another person and arranged to work as a waiter under the same conditions: in exchange for food and shelter. This restaurant was in a poor part of Ljubljana where many Erased lived. I was in contact with people in the same situation as me but we didn’t know it.

My first problem with the police came in 2002. They came to the bar at 7 a.m. and started to ask for documents. I didn’t have documents. They asked me for my name. They asked for my ID card. Since it was not valid, they took me with them to the court. They wanted to deport me. But the judge said that there was no need to deport me. The police put me in a detention center anyway and told me that they were going to deport me to Sarajevo.

“I have no connection to Sarajevo,” I said.

“It doesn’t matter,” they said. “We’ll leave you at the airport there.”

I stayed overnight at the detention center. I talked with the social worker, who told me to call a lawyer and the restaurant owner. They came and signed a guarantee that I will stay at a friend’s house. But the police still wouldn’t let me out of the detention center. The next day, the social worker came and said, “What are you doing here?” She called the police inspector. After two more hours of waiting, they released me. For the next two years, I had to go back monthly to get a stamp at the detention center. I could move around in the area of the city where I was living.

After two years, the police returned. They told me that my staying in Slovenia had expired and they were there to bring me back to the detention center. In 2003, the law was passed for the Erased to get Slovenian citizenship. It was easy for some, and not for others. If you could prove that you had stayed in Slovenia between 2003 and 2004, you could qualify. I told the police that I’d applied for citizenship. They said, “We will check,” even though I had confirmation from the ministry that I’d applied. I had to call the lawyer again. We went to the Ministry of Interior to get the original confirmation that I’d really applied. They said that until the procedure was approved or not, I could stay in the country. And then they left me in peace.

On October 13, 2004 I finally got Slovenian citizenship. I could finally get health insurance, but my problems were far from solved. I could move around freely, and I could get treatment for my health problems. I also could get a proper job. I found a job in construction. I worked for one month. Then a vein burst in my leg because the job was too strenuous and the veins could not take all the pressure. I lost almost a liter of blood on my way to the hospital. I didn’t have supplemental insurance on top of the basic insurance that doesn’t really cover anything. They just cleaned the wound. After one month, after I arranged for the supplemental insurance, I was able to get proper treatment. But I was in and out of hospital for the next few weeks. I had a problem with my eye. I was told my kidneys and lungs were weak. I spent two years on sick leave. After that, the construction firm couldn’t find me any work. The unemployment office couldn’t find me any work.

I’ve been part of the Erased movement since 2002. I’ve been in all the actions, demonstrations, and hunger strikes. It was not clear at first that the situation was so terrible, that there were so many Erased. After I was first on TV, all these guests that I’d been serving at the restaurant started to tell me that they were in a similar situation.

In the beginning our goal was to get back our status and our permanent residency. Some have gotten this status, some have not. Personally, if they would recognize all those years of my being Erased, I could accumulate enough of a working period so that I could retire. But I have this hole in my biography.

As for compensation, even if I get 5 million euros, that will not bring back my health. The only thing I wish for is that the people responsible for the Erasure, and for prolonging the Erasure, are convicted, that the Erasure is recognized as a crime.

This Week in OtherWords: May 22, 2013

This week in OtherWords, Martha Burk weighs in on the military’s lackluster efforts to stop sexual assaults within the ranks and Donald Kaul reviews the Obama administration’s outbreak of scandals.

Here’s a clickable summary of all our latest commentaries and a link to our new cartoon. We’re also featuring Jim Hightower’s take on Budweiser’s latest marketing maneuver on our blog.

If you haven’t already subscribed to our weekly newsletter, please do.

  1. Our Women in Uniform Deserve Better / Martha Burk
    The Pentagon has a systemic problem with foxes guarding henhouses when it comes to doing battle with the military’s sexual assault problem.
  2. With Americans Moving Forward on Gay Rights, Why Won’t the GOP? / Drew Courtney
    Congress will soon debate something the rest of America decided years ago: whether or not it’s okay to fire people for being gay.
  3. Faking Farm Savings / Ryan Alexander
    It’s a time-honored tradition in Washington to do as little as possible and look good while (not) doing it.
  4. Scandal Season at the Obama White House / Donald Kaul
    If Karl Rove is running a social welfare outfit, I’m the Queen of Romania.
  5. Money Still Can’t Buy Happiness / Sam Pizzigati
    And we finally have a nation that’s taking that reality to heart.
  6. Censoring Our Food / Jill Richardson
    If farms and slaughterhouses are rife with repulsive and sadistic abuses, why should we pass laws to help hide it?
  7. The New Crime of Eating While Homeless / Jim Hightower
    By outlawing dumpster diving, Houston is making life impossible for the most vulnerable.
  8. Cannon Fodder, 21st Century-Style / William A. Collins
    If the IEDs, PTSD, and risk of sexual assault don’t get you, the disillusionment will.
  9. The Pentagon’s Assault Guidelines / Khalil Bendib cartoon

    Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies OtherWords.org

    Military Assault Guidelines, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

    Military Assault Guidelines, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Will the Jordanian Parliament Expel the Israeli Ambassador from Amman?

A large majority of Jordanian Members of Parliament (MPs) voted last week to pass a resolution to force the government to expel the Israeli ambassador from Amman over Israeli settlers attacks and attempts to occupy the Islamic holy sit Al Aqasa Mosque in Jerusalem.

The resolution was sponsored by MP Yehiya Al Suad and was passed by a majority of 89 votes , enough to topple the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Nsour from power if he declined to act on it. Although the resolution is not binding, the MPs, however, can force a vote of no confidence against his government and bring it down if the government did not expel the ambassador.

On the surface this sounds like a very serious hard politics and democracy in action by the MPs. But according to many Jordanian analysts and experts I talked to here in Amman, this whole thing was nothing but a show for the cameras and that the Israeli ambassador will not be expelled from Amman and the government will not be brought down. During a visit to the Parliament, where I spent a considerable amount of time this past week speaking to several MPs including Speaker Saad Hayel al Souror, I found no indication that there was any serious attempt or even a hint that the Israeli ambassador will be expelled from Jordan.

MP Mohamad al Hejuj told me that although 89 MPs signed off on the resolution there were no real expectations and even skepticism by MPs about the likelihood of the seriousness of their resolution.

Why then 89 members of Parliament decided to create a false perception of solidarity with the Palestinians and with al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem fully knowing that their actions have no real value or even an honest effort.

Representative Mohamad Jamil Thahrawi explained to me that the whole issue was a spontaneous charade that grew out of hand. He said that none of the sponsors of the resolution thought that their resolution was serious enough to threaten the government. But since it garnered 89 votes, it created a constitutional quagmire whereby the government has to act on it and therefore risk a diplomatic battle with Israel and the US or risk losing a vote of confidence.

As a result several representatives who sponsored the resolution held a private session and decided to essentially kill it by allowing every sponsor to withdraw his vote including the main sponsor Yehya al Soud. Although this resolution stands at this point, it is by all accounts a dead on arrival.

Political columnist Osama Rantisis who writes for the daily Al Arab al Youm thinks that this whole thing was a ploy by the Intelligence department who activated its allies in the Parliament to create this whole show. The Jordanian Intelligence department (the Mukhabarat) is accused of running the Parliament in accordance to its own agenda through members it helps “elect” by rigging the Parliamentary elections.

Abdel Rahman Qatarneh, a former candidate for parliament in 1993, told me that he was asked to meet with the head of the intelligence department at that time, Mustfa Qaisy, in order to officially declare him the winner of that seat three days before the elections took place or two other people would be declared the winners. The reason for that, Qatarneh explained, was to have him as the Muhkbarat’s man inside the Parliament. Qatarmeh refused and he lost the elections to the same two people the Mukhabrat told him would win.

Mohamad Khalaf al Hadid, a well-known anti-regime activist, stated that, “The current Parliament is filled with the Mukhabrat’s men who function by remote control from its headquarters in Amman.”

Ali Younes is a writer and analyst based in Washington D.C. He can be reached at: aliyounes98@gmail.com and on Twitter at @clearali.

Emphasis Added: The Foreign Policy Week in Pieces (5/22)

We Have Met the Enemy Again and He Is Still Us

I remember when an American friend came to Yemen and I took her to Abyan, and I was … afraid AQAP would recognize her as an American and might do something bad to her [said Yemeni activist Farea Al-Muslimi]. So [we] covered her in a niqab, we even covered her hands, and she made a hole for her fingers so she could use her iPhone. … But, in Abyan, we heard a drone above our heads. … I told her, “I am not more afraid about your life from al-Qaida, I’m more afraid for your life from your own government.

Drone victim: U.S. strikes boost al-Qaida recruitment, Wajahat Ali, Salon

Arrive With a Bang, Exit With a Whimper

Ryan Crocker, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, said the United States rushed into countries, relied primarily on military force and expected immediate change.

“Let’s punch out their lights and realign their society,” is how Crocker explained it. “And then when we find out the latter is more difficult than we expect, we say ‘OK, let’s go somewhere else.’ That’s what our enemies count on — and our allies fear.”

The U.S.’s Anemic Civilian Outreach Abroad, David Rohde, the Atlantic

Drone as Panopticon*

The data stream is still growing, thanks in part to new data-gathering technology such as Gorgon Stare, a drone-mounted sensor with nine cameras that can scan an entire city at once. And the number of drone combat air patrols (CAPs), defined as having one drone aloft on a mission 24/7, is currently at 61 and is scheduled to increase to 65 later this year.

Obama Drone War ‘Kill Chain’ Brings War’s Toll Home To U.S., David Wood, Huffington Post

*The Panopticon is a type of institutional building designed by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century. The concept of the design is to allow a watchman to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. (Wikipeida)

Death by Degrees

Joseph Holliday, a former Army intelligence officer who has studied the conflict for the Institute for the Study of War, in Washington, suggested that the regime was attempting to use the weapons in a way that would frighten the rebels but wouldn’t cross the red line. “Assad has been extremely calculating with the use of force, increasing the levels of violence gradually, so as not to set off alarm bells,” he said. “First it was artillery. Then it was bombing. Then it was Scuds. A year ago, he wasn’t killing a hundred people a day. He’s introducing chemical weapons gradually, so we get used to them.”

The Thin Red Line, Dexter Filkins, the New Yorker

Protecting Syrians Takes a Back Seat

Other meetings with Western and Arab intelligence services have shown a similar obsession with Al Nusra, the [Syrian rebel] commander said.

“All anyone wants is hard information about Al Nusra, it seems to be all they are really interested in. It’s the most valuable commodity you can have when dealing with these intelligence agencies,” he said.

America’s hidden agenda in Syria’s war, Phil Sands, the National

The “notion that slashing government spending boosts investor confidence does not stand up to scrutiny”

As the economist Paul Krugman and others have argued, this claim assumes that consumers anticipate and incorporate all government policy changes into their lifetime budget calculations. When the government signals that it plans to cut its expenditures dramatically, the argument goes, consumers realize that their future tax burdens will decrease. This leads them to spend more today than they would have done without the cuts, thereby ending the recession despite the collapse of the economy going on all around them. The assumption that this behavior will actually be exhibited by financially illiterate, real-world consumers who are terrified of losing their jobs in the midst of a policy-induced recession is heroic at best and foolish at worst.

The Austerity Delusion, Mark Blyth, Foreign Affairs

“Useful Enemies”: U.S. Admitted Not Just Nazis After WWII, But Their Sadistic Collaborators

Useful EnemiesLost count of the sordid episodes in America’s past? In Useful Enemies: John Demjanjuk and America’s Open-Door Policy for Nazi War Criminals (Delphinium Books, 2013), Richard Rashke chronicles one that few of us know much about. Many Americans have heard of Operation Paperclip, the program run by the Office of Strategic Services (the predecessor to the CIA). After World War II, the United States made the cold calculation to recruit Nazi scientists both to secure their help in the Cold War and to keep Russia from acquiring their expertise.

Rashke explains that, even though the United States enacted the Displaced Persons Act and a special Displaced Persons Commission (DPC) to determine which European organizations’ members were to be denied U.S. visas

… it is safe to say that the United States used, protected, and opened the door to several thousand former SS and SD officers, Gestapo agents and chiefs, Abwehr intelligence officers, Nazi propagandists and scientists, Einsatzkommandos, Waffen SS volunteers, Vlasov’s army soldiers, Nazi quislings, and ethnic cleansers.

Vlasov’s army was the Russian Liberation Army composed of Russian prisoners of war opposed to communism. Einsatzkommandos were members of Nazi mobile killing squads known as Einsatzgruppen. The Waffen, Raschke writes, was

… defined as criminal by the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal and … by the DPC. [Its] battalions were made up of mostly non-fighting German volunteers. Besides fighting the Soviet army, Waffen SS volunteers executed Soviet POWs and assisted the Nazi Einsatzgruppen in rounding up, robbing, and killing Jews, Gypsies, and communists.


In September 1950, the DPC made a controversial decision that opened America’s door for a group of Latvian and Estonian Waffen SS who had survived the war. … A brief review of the scope and brutality of Estonian and Latvian collaboration with the Nazis helps explain the angry reaction of the Jewish community to the … decision and the impact the ruling had on U.S. immigration policy. [The Latvian and Estonian Waffen SS] were brutal. They raped and forced women to work as sex slaves, then killed then when they were worn-out; they tossed babies in the air for target practice; and they buried wounded victims alive.

Then, Rashke explains, in 1950, Congress passed the Lodge Act, which gave the U.S. military the authority to recruit immigrants into the U.S. Army to help fight the Cold War. It wasn’t just the military, but the FBI, the State Department, and the CIA which helped itself to not only Nazis, but Eastern European Nazi collaborators such as members of Croatia’s Ustasha, Hungary’s Arrow Cross, and the Romanian Iron Guard.

These included Andrija Artukov, known as the “Himmler of Croatia,” and Viorel Trifa, an Iron Guard leader responsible for the murder of thousands of Romanian Jews. Once in the United States, Trifa was made a bishop by the the Ukranian Orthodox church. A loyal anti-communist, he became a watchdog for J. Edgar Hoover in the Romanian community. Meanwhile, although Nicolae Malaxa, another Iron Guard leader, was a communist agent, he was allowed to emigrate and stay because he was also operating undercover for the National Intelligence Agency. Rashke writes

How America welcomed … major war criminals stands in stark contrast to how it hounded minor war criminal John Demjanjuk.

If you haven’t followed Demjanjuk’s case, like I hadn’t, Useful Enemies is suspenseful. What led to Demjanjuk being singled out? In 1973 Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman (D-NY), a member of the House Subcommittee on Immigration, got a call from an Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) bureaucrat who told her that the INS was in possession of a list of Nazi war criminals living in America who it was making no attempt to deport.

When the files were released to Rep. Holtzman, she found Artukovic and Trifa especially troublesome. The FBI moved to protect the two, but when Rep. Holtzman secured Russia’s cooperation in rooting out Nazi collaborators, Secretary of State Kissinger authorized an overture to Moscow and the INS released its list to the public. One of the names on the list was Iwan (John) Demjanjuk. He was a Russian solder captured by the Germans and enlisted into the Trawniki corps of Russian POWs, who were used to round up and kill Jews in concentration camps.

It appears that, once the United States was finally ready to make amends for its inaction on Nazis and Nazi collaborators, it fingered someone low on the food chain. But to give the devil its due, it thought he was more of a predator – a guard and gas chamber operator at Treblinka known as Ivan the Terrible whose sadism was off the charts – than he turned out to be.

Useful Enemies then becomes a gripping courtroom drama. Much of the case revolved around the authenticity of a Trawniki identification card apparently issued to Demjanjuk by Nazi bureaucracy. Over the course of 30 years of trials and a deportation hearing, a climax – no, anticlimax – was reached in1993 when he was found innocent by an Israeli court because the prosecution couldn’t establish that he was Ivan the Terrible. But, deported to Germany, in 2011, Demjanjuk was finally convicted instead for his role as a guard at Sobibor in 2011. (He died in 2012.)

Reading Useful Enemies, your emotions are apt to veer wildly from, in the early going, hoping Demjanjuk is found guilty to, when it becomes increasingly apparent that he’s not Ivan the Terrible, damping down your sympathy for this man. On the one hand, he’s being persecuted, but, on the other, he was obviously complicit in the Nazi war effort.

In the end, as Rashke makes clear:

If Nazis form the first tier of war criminals and Nazi collaborators the second tier, then the FBI, the State Department, the military, and the CIA have created a third tier – those policy makers, leaders, and implementers who hired, used, and protected thousands of men and women who had committed crimes against humanity.

What did the United States get out of this? Some scientific accomplishments from the Nazis granted admittance such as Wernher von Braun, whose work helped land a man on the moon and who was ultimately awarded the National Medal of Science. On the other hand, from the Eastern Europeans, shoddy or false intelligence (not that Nazis deserved to be admitted any more than them!). Just when its moral authority, whether deserved or not, was at an all-time high after World War II, the United States couldn’t get off its war footing and insisted on treating the Soviet Union as a threat on a par with Japan and Germany.

In the end all American immigration policies toward Nazis and their collaborators thought to be useful to the United States did was throw fire on the fuel of the Cold War. It also eroded the moral standing of the United States, as well as dishonored the memories of all those who lost their lives to Nazis and their Eastern European and Baltic collaborators.

From a historical perspective, World War II is a gift (if you can call it that) that never stops giving. Seventy years on, new truths continue to be unearthed. As if our minds hadn’t recoiled enough from the atrocities of World War II, the author turns over a new stone out from which human vermin like the Ustasha, Arrow Cross, and Romanian Iron Guard slither.

Richard Rashke’s voluminous research on U.S. immigration policies will be new to many. But, since it will likely establish itself as the definitive book on the subject, Useful Enemies is the best place to start.

TRIPping Up Least Developed Countries on Medicines, Green Tech, and Textbooks?

wto-world-trade-organization-intellectual-property-textbooks-medicines-haiti-tanzania-laos As Brazilian Ambassador Roberto Azevedo won the race to head the World Trade Organization (WTO) last week, he must have been at least a little worried about taking over an organization that even leading members say is sinking into irrelevance. With the collapse of the Doha Round of talks, trade idealists are pinning their hopes on the December 2013 Ministerial Conference in Bali. But in the corners of WTO political decision-making there is an immediate and clear place to make progress: intellectual property rules in Least Developed Countries (LDCs). Instead, though, in current negotiations with the world’s most impoverished countries, it seems the United States and the European Union remain committed to the flawed strategy that helped spark the Doha failure.

The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, known as TRIPS, sets out minimum standards for intellectual property (IP) protection and enforcement that all WTO Members are required to implement in their national laws. The subjects include patents that range from medicines to seeds to genes, and copyright that lasts until 50 years after the death of the author.

Whatever one thinks about IP in general, it is hard to argue that translating an economics book into Swahili for use in Tanzania, making generic AIDS medications for people in Haiti, or adapting climate technologies so they will work in the tropical climate of Laos, are unjust “piracy” efforts to be guarded against. That is why, since the agreement’s signing in 1994, LDCs have been exempted from implementing the full complement of TRIPS rules — first for ten years, then for an additional seven and a half. That exemption is scheduled to end in June 2013.

The TRIPS Council is currently taking up a proposal put forward by Haiti on behalf of the WTO’s LDC members to delay implementation of the TRIPS Agreement until these countries are no longer “least developed.” That request has garnered a great deal of support from development groups and from some leading members of the U.S. Congress.

It is worth remembering that we are not talking about fast-growing middle-income countries like India, China, or Argentina — or even Botswana, which graduated from LDC status in 1994. Instead, LDCs are the most impoverished and economically vulnerable countries. Officially, they are classified by the United Nations based on three factors: lowest income (Gross National Income of $ 1,190 per capita); poor human development indicators for nutrition, health, and literacy; and economic vulnerability. LDCs are home to 880 million people, one eighth of the world’s population, yet they subsist on 0.9% of the world total Gross Domestic Product. They largely lack the economic capacity to benefit from intellectual property rules, but are extremely vulnerable to the barriers that IP rules create to the diffusion of knowledge, science, and health. So why is it even on the table to force them to implement TRIPS fully in order to be WTO members?

When WTO talks broke down in acrimony during the summer of 2008 in Geneva, one of the main causes, most observers will acknowledge, was the “single undertaking” approach which put virtually every item of the negotiation into a single indivisible package. WTO members would be wise to take a message from failure: More diversity in the global trading regime is desperately needed.

Today’s rich countries largely got where they are by copying, adapting, and extending technologies first created elsewhere. Through much of the 19th century, the United States, for example, was a notorious pirate of English technology and written work — it denied foreign authors and inventors IP protection, arguing that the knowledge and technology was necessary for the country’s development. In the contemporary world few are promoting a wholesale indifference toward intellectual property. But taking advantage of IP requires a technological base, access to markets, and capabilities in finance, human expertise, and governance. Article 66.2 of TRIPS requires rich countries to support LDCs in obtaining technologies they need for development and economic growth — an obligation that most experts agree has not been met, as is made obvious by the continued abysmal economic performance of LDCs.

It seems time, then, for WTO members to simply recognize that WTO membership should not come with a TRIPS obligation until countries have at least graduated from LDC status.

Specifically, LDCs will continue to need policy space to:

• Ensure access to affordable medicines: LDCs, by definition, face substantial health problems—often high rates of HIV and malaria, weak health systems, and massively insufficient health budgets. Implementation of TRIPS IP rules drives up the price of key medicines by allowing them to be patented, thereby putting life-saving technology out of the reach of patients and national health programs. In places like Uganda and Bangladesh, where nascent industries are trying to produce medicines, patent rules meant for advanced economies will destroy these fledgling efforts.

• Educate their populations: Both the distribution and translation of important books — even out of date ones — are routinely blocked by copyright rules. LDC education budgets, though, can rarely afford new bulk purchase of copyrighted books for students or a reasonable selection of academic journals for universities. Licensed copies of software, equally critical for 21st century learning, are out of reach for most people in LDCs.

• Use seeds and agriculture goods to feed growing populations: As the U.S. Supreme Court casecurrently pending shows, IP can hinder traditional farming practices by preventing free exchange of IP-protected seeds and varietals that will be increasingly essential in places facing soil depletion and food insecurity.

• Adapt green technologies to fit tropical and low-resource climates: Is it illegal for Bangladesh, the most climate insecure country in the world due to sea-level rise and river flooding, to adapt Israeli-designed water filtration systems to work in a low-resource, tropical setting? Without permission of the multiple-patent holders it could be under TRIPS.

Each of these areas suggests that LDCs — given their low development levels and tiny public sector budgets — might do well to place limits on intellectual property rules. They might choose not to allow patents on “essential” medicines, provide broad exceptions for public-sector use of copyrighted works, and designate sectors as essential for national development and therefore temporarily unrestricted by IP. None of this suggests countries cannot differentiate between “pirated” TV shows and essential public goods. But it does suggest that least developed countries must have the space to set its own policy, with development needs front and center.

So what will happen at the WTO in the coming days? So far it is not clear. The United States, European Union, and Australia are pushing hard to keep in place the “no roll-back” provision that prevents LDCs from changing their existing laws, even if they’re left over from the colonial era or new laws that have proven bad for development. They’re pushing for a very limited timeframe, one that is too short for any serious development to take place. And they’re pushing even further, by insisting that LDCs must start immediately to implement TRIPS.

But so far, it seems, LDCs are holding on to their rights. The WTO agreement actually says that they “shall” be granted an exception upon a duly motivated request — so legally this is their right. And none of the powerful WTO members is relishing trying to make the case publicly for forcing the most impoverished countries in the world to enact restrictive rules or face sanctions.

If the WTO is going to claim relevance it is going to have to embrace global trade diversity. That is, it must move past the one size fits all model that derailed the Doha Round. The WTO needs to acknowledge that, whatever benefit it may claim for poor countries, prematurely imposing restrictive IP measures is not it. And a first step would be a permanent fix that gives LDCs predictable policy space: So long as you’re “least developed” and facing such massive economic and social challenges, take the flexibilities you need by making affordable medicines, distributing translated versions of books, maybe even use a copy of Windows 8 without permission. And if the “developed” countries hold up their end of the bargain — if technology transfer happens — LDCs will cease to be LDCs and that’s a global goal everyone has embraced.

Matthew Kavanagh is a fellow at the Center for Public Health Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania and Senior Policy Analyst for the Health Global Access Project.

Emphasis Added: The Foreign Policy Week in Pieces (5/17)

“When did the economy become more important than life itself?”

In the new way of reckoning, a carbon tax to prevent the atmosphere’s temperature from rising to dangerous levels would be “too expensive.” So too would be a thorough cleanup after a nuclear attack or accident, which is why the White House has endorsed a plan to relax decontamination standards. The health of businesses, not of people, is what newscasters monitor daily, if not hourly — as if the Dow Jones Industrial Average took the pulse of the nation, rather than that of 30 corporations.

Your money or your life, Dawn Stover, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Does Peace Have to Be This Expensive?

… the nation’s nuclear weapons programs … has cost at least $9.8 trillion in 2013 dollars — costlier than all other government expenditures except Social Security and non-nuclear defense programs. … In short: Nuclear weapons have been the United States’ third-highest national priority since World War II, in terms of dollars, and we spend a fortune every year to manage and secure them.

The Prophets of Oak Ridge, Dan Zak, the Washington Post

Democracy in Name Only

At some point shortly after the end of the Second World War, democracy reached its apex in countries such as Britain and the US. … it has been declining ever since [and] have reached the downward slope of the arc. The formal structures of democracy remain intact. People still vote. Political parties vie with each other in elections, and circulate in and out of government. Yet these acts of apparent choice have had their meaning hollowed out. The real decisions are taken elsewhere. We have become squatters in the ruins of the great democratic societies of the past.

There is no alternative, Henry Farrell, Aeon magazine

How Did Austerity Hawks Miss This?

… everybody cannot cut their way to growth at the same time. To put this in the European context, although it makes sense for any one state to reduce its debt, if all states in the currency union, which are one another’s major trading partners, cut their spending simultaneously, the result can only be a contraction of the regional economy as a whole. Proponents of austerity are blind to this danger because they get the relationship between saving and spending backward. They think that public frugality will eventually promote private spending. But someone has to spend for someone else to save, or else the saver will have no income to hold on to. Similarly, for a country to benefit from a reduction in its domestic wages, thus becoming more competitive on costs, there must be another country willing to spend its money on what the first country produces. If all states try to cut or save at once, as is the case in the eurozone today, then no one is left to do the necessary spending to drive growth.

The Austerity Delusion, Mark Blyth, Foreign Affairs

“He knew exactly which ones to push”

[Russian Foreign Minister] Lavrov had a particular knack for infuriating [Secretary of State Condoleeza] Rice: He had “perfected the art of irritating Rice,” wrote Glenn Kessler, who covered her for the Washington Post. “He knew how to push her buttons to get her annoyed,” said Kramer, Rice’s former assistant secretary. “He knew exactly which ones to push.”

Minister No, Susan Glasser, Foreign Policy

Priggishness Does Not Become Us

This isn’t an argument for using military force in Syria, or Iran, or anywhere else — maybe the use of force is justified and useful and maybe it’s not. But if we in fact intend to accept the “unacceptable” and tolerate the “intolerable,” we would be wise to develop a different and more nuanced vocabulary. … our absolutist rhetoric [is] just obnoxious — and its sheer obnoxiousness makes it dangerous. The rhetoric of “unacceptable” and “intolerable” risks generating and reinforcing the very bad behavior we’re trying to stop — not just because each empty threat further reduces our credibility, but because our general stance toward the world has become so hectoring and schoolmarmish.

Would Machiavelli Have Drawn a Red Line?, Rosa Brooks, Foreign Policy

Right-Wing Think Tank’s Racist Report Distorts Prospects for Immigrants’ Future

Jason Richwine, who just resigned from the Heritage Foundation.In 2007 the Heritage Foundation played a major role in derailing immigration reform. This year it tried to replicate its success by publishing a study claiming that unlawful immigration and amnesty would cost U.S. tax payers approximately $6.3 trillion dollars. However, their ploy to sabotage immigration reform failed in dramatic fashion. Not only were their exaggerated estimates on the cost of amnesty resoundingly refuted by both conservative and liberal groups, but their entire report appeared to hinge on a premise that reeked of racism.

According to the Heritage Foundation’s study, one of the primary reasons immigration reform would cost so much is that a typical undocumented immigrant lacks adequate education. And poorly educated individuals, according to the study, “are net tax consumers: the benefits they receive exceed the taxes they pay.”

This notion of the undocumented being “poorly educated” comes directly from Jason Richwine, one of the coauthors of the study. Richwine got his Ph.D. in public policy from Harvard University, where he wrote a dissertation titled IQ and Immigration Policy. In it he claims that Hispanics have on average lower IQs than their Caucasian counterparts. Moreover, he writes, “[n]o one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against.” In other words, Hispanics will probably never be as smart as white people.

Richwine goes on to say that the IQ disparity between the two races explains why Hispanics have never been able to fully assimilate into American culture and why they are more likely to accept government handouts: “When given the choice between a paycheck from a low-paying job and a welfare check, most intelligent people would realize that the welfare check offers them no potential for advancement. Low-IQ people do not internalize that fact nearly as well.”

There you have it: Hispanics are dumb. Dumb people rely more on government handouts. Therefore, Hispanics will use more government handouts than the average citizen and as a result they will drain the government of its resources. Keep them out!

To the Heritage Foundation’s credit, it is a straightforward argument.

Nevertheless, the argument is horribly flawed. This year Hispanic high school graduates enrolled in college at higher rates than whites. There is a substantial income gap between whites and Hispanics, but each successive generation of Hispanics continues to narrow this gap. No to mention the fact that Hispanics have served in almost every U.S. war and have received 44 Medals of Honor, the third most for any ethnic group. Not bad for a people who failed to “assimilate.”

Despite the fact that the Heritage Foundation’s study is faulty at best and racist at worst, it’s still hugely informative. The study offers a genuine glimpse of what many, especially on the right, think about Hispanics. Many Hispanics, including this writer, have generally felt that opposition to immigration reform does not stem from some intellectual argument, but from visceral emotions driven by xenophobia. The study produced by the Heritage Foundation has proven this point to be correct.

Luckily, the Heritage Foundation is in the minority. According to a CNN/ORC international survey, 84% percent of Americans support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

America is known as the melting pot of the world. Immigrants from across the globe call this place their home. The notion pushed by the Heritage Foundation that Hispanic immigrants need to assimilate is not only paradoxical but also deeply offensive. America is a country that embraces immigrants and all the diversity that comes with them; it doesn’t assimilate them into a homogenous stew. E Pluribus Unum — out of many, one. Most Americans seem to understand this, even if the Heritage Foundation does not.

Javier Rojo is the New Mexico Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

This Week in OtherWords: May 15, 2013

This week in OtherWords, Jill Richardson warns readers gearing up for their summer barbecues about the rise of superbugs. Those antibiotic-resistant bacteria are getting hard to avoid if you buy meat in American supermarkets.

We also have an op-ed by Raul A. Reyes on the Heritage Foundation’s ill-fated report that was supposed to pinpoint the high cost of giving undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. As Reyes explains, this “study” instead exposed the think tank’s shoddy research standards and the racist outlook of one of its lead authors.

OtherWords normally releases all our newsroom-ready commentaries on Wednesday mornings, but we make exceptions for work tied to breaking news. Following the resignation of disgraced report co-author Jason Richwine, we ran this op-ed on Saturday instead. We’re increasingly tinkering with our timing, so please visit our website more often. When you do, be sure to check out our blog, where we offer bonus commentaries by Jim Hightower. This week, we’re featuring our columnist’s hilarious salute to Rep. Louie Gohmert and other political “nincompoops.”

Here’s a clickable summary of all our latest commentaries and a link to our new cartoon. If you haven’t already subscribed to our weekly newsletter, please do.

  1. The Swinging Electorate / Marc Morial
    Despite formidable efforts to disenfranchise African Americans in 2012, a larger percentage of black voters than white voters turned out at the polls to assure Obama’s victory on Election Day.
  2. License to Kill / David Reingold
    Without environmental regulations, many companies would gladly poison you to earn bigger profits.
  3. No Junior Partner / Jess Hunter-Bowman
    Could someone please tell Secretary Kerry that Latin America is no longer our “backyard”?
  4. Heritage’s Immigration Nightmare / Raul A. Reyes
    If the conservative think tank’s intent was to derail immigration reform, that’s a losing battle.
  5. Uncle Sam: Please Tax the Titans / Donald Kaul
    Don’t ask me what a hedge fund is — if I knew, I’d manage one.
  6. A Primer for Taming Corporate Power / Sam Pizzigati
    For social change, slow and steady may win the race.
  7. Those Uninvited Guests at Your Barbecue / Jill Richardson
    With most samples of several common store-bought meats testing positive for antibiotic-resistant “superbugs,” factory farming practices must change.
  8. The Parched Truth About American Jobs / Jim Hightower
    The recent good news about job creation obscures the bad news facing the nation’s middle class.
  9. Don’t Fence Me In / William A. Collins
    The prosperous are further isolating themselves physically, as well as economically, from the rest of us.
  10. Superbugs at the Supermarket / Khalil Bendib cartoon
Superbugs at the Supermarket, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Superbugs at the Supermarket, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

President Obama Tries to Pass Guantanamo Closure Buck to Congress

Cross-posted from the People’s Blog for the Constitution.

GuantanamoAs the hunger strike at Guantánamo has widened to include all of the men held there, President Obama recently announced that he would renew a push on Congress to close the prison and examine his administrative options. However, the implication that Congress is preventing the closure of Guantánamo is at best disingenuous.

Obama has the power to transfer prisoners from Guantánamo right now. The president himself has placed a uniform ban on transferring any prisoners to Yemen, a collective punishment policy that he could reverse immediately. He could also release prisoners by issuing a certification through the Department of Defense and State that the administration has steps to assure the secure release and monitoring of the prisoners.

Moreover, President Obama’s seemingly newfound rhetorical opposition to indefinite detention runs counter to the policies of his administration. While he may have tried to move the prisoners to the United States, he still wanted them indefinitely detained, in violation of the Constitution and International Law. This has left even supporters of his detention policy befuddled.

The Guantánamo hunger strike can only be ended by the administration taking meaningful steps to close the prison. Those steps can begin immediately by releasing the 86 men who have been cleared for release by the government itself. The remaining men should either be given a speedy and fair trial or released as well.

The men at Guantánamo are resolute to peacefully protest through a hunger strike until they receive justice. One of them, Moath Hamza Ahmed al-Alwi put it this way:

I do not want to kill myself. My religion prohibits suicide. But I will not eat or drink until I die, if necessary, to protest the injustice of this place. We want to get out of this place. It is as though this government wishes to smother us in this injustice, to kill us slowly here, indirectly, without trying us or executing us.

Currently, 21 of the men, including Mr. al-Alwi, are being force-fed in violation of medical ethics. The force-feeding process is brutal, as was described by one prisoner in an New York Times op-ed and can constitute torture, if undertaken as a form of punishment.

As the hunger strike continues, people across the world are pushing for the closure of Guantánamo and an end to indefinite detention. A change.org petition started by a former Guantánamo prosecutor, calling for the prison’s closure, has gained over 100,000 signers in less that two days. From May 17-19, people of conscience will stand together to demand that President Obama close the United States’ forever prison.

Michael Figura is a legal fellow for the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.