Category Archives: Journalism

Save the Refugees — A matter of Decency and Defiance (1940 and now)

By Peter Eisner

In June 1940, after the fall of Paris, an American vice consul in Marseille, Hiram Bingham IV, received an order from the State Department to slow down and effectively block issuing visas for  refugees attempting to flee the Third Reich. The refugees were mostly Jews.

A xenophobic and possibly anti-Semitic official at the State Department, Breckenridge Long, had issued a declaration to delay and stop Jews from entering the United States. He and others claimed — without evidence — that Hitler could sneak Nazi agents into the United States among the Jewish refugees. He wrote:

“We can delay and effectively stop, for a temporary period of indefinite length, the number of immigrants into the United States. We could do this by simply advising our consuls to put every obstacle in the way which would postpone and postpone and postpone the granting of the visas.”

 

Bingham, however, acted on conscience and out of decency in the highest traditions of the country he believed in. As I wrote, Bingham:

…challenged indifference and anti-Semitism among his State Department superiors. In speeding up visa and travel documents at the Marseille consulate, he disobeyed orders from Washington. In all, an estimated 2,500 refugees were able to flee to safety because of Bingham’s help.

I wrote about Bingham’s story in Smithsonian Magazine: Saving the Jews of Nazi France.harry-bingham-marseille-631-jpg__800x600_q85_crop

Today, the United States faces a disgusting wave of xenophobia and prejudice. Think about the example of Hiram Bingham, whose promising career was destroyed — because he took a moral stance. More than half a century after his actions, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell honored Bingham posthumously for his actions.

Breckenridge Long’s order, obeyed by others, contributed to blocking tens of thousands of refugees from entry into the United States. Many who could have been saved died under the Nazi boot.

The times are changing, and yet the principles of decency remain unchanged.

 

 

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Alan Gross’s Mission in Cuba: How Much Did the White House Know?: Newsweek

Alan Gross
Jailed USAID contractor Alan Gross, right, poses for a picture during a visit with Cuban Jewish Community leader Adela Dworin, center, and David Prinstein, vice president, at Havana’s Carlos J Finlay Military Hospital September 28, 2012. REUTERS

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“Waterboarding” is Torture — Torturers have been imprisoned and executed

Dick Cheney claims that “waterboarding” “stops short” of torture, but victims knew the reality. Torturers have been executed for submitting prisoners to simulated drowning, now tagged with  that indistinct, even innocuous-sounding term.

Go no further than John McCain, who is unequivocal on the subject. He says waterboarding is not “enhanced interrogation” — it is torture.

In World War II, German and Japanese interrogators — and their commanders — were punished, imprisoned and executed for such crimes:

“The torture of the bathtub consisted in plunging the patient into a bath of icy water, his hands handcuffed behind the back, and keeping his head underwater until he was on the point of drowning. He was dragged to the surface by the hair and, if he still refused to speak, was immediately plunged underwater again.”Jacques Delarue, an anti-Nazi French intelligence officer during World War II.

The quote is from The Freedom Line, my book about the rescue of Allied pilots rescued by underground fighters in occupied Europe during World War Two. One key practitioner of simulated drowning at Gestapo headquarters in Paris was Jacques Desoubrie — aka Jean Masson. Desoubrie, a double agent who had infiltrated the underground, was captured by the United States after the war and executed in France.

 

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Pepe Eliaschev — Conspiradores en Momentos Dificiles

El fallecimiento de mi amigo y colega, el periodista argentino José “Pepe” Eliashev, me recuerda una historia que merece ser contada. Pepe falleció de cáncer de páncreas en Buenos Aires, el 18 de noviembre de 2014. Tenía 69 años. Durante décadas fue un comentarista y locutor de radio muy popular en la Argentina.

Como jóvenes periodistas de la Associated Press en Nueva York en los años 70, Pepe y yo nos convertimos en conspiradores para frustrar el intento de los editores que supervisaban América Latina de censurar o de limitar las noticias sobre la dictadura militar derechista.

Yo trabajaba en el World Desk en la oficina de AP en Nueva York. Mi trabajo consistía en editar, transmitir y a veces cubrir las noticias del exterior, en inglés, para nuestro servicio mundial en Europa, Asia y África.

Pepe se sentaba a unos metros de mí en La Prensa Asociada –la sección de América Latina que traducía y transmitía noticias en español a México, América Central y Sudamérica. Algunos redactores de esa sección eran, como Pepe, exiliados de países cuyos regímenes represivos dificultaban el periodismo y lo volvían peligroso.

Quedó pronto claro que algunos redactores eran también escandalosamente de derecha e incluso hacían comentarios despectivos sobre los periodistas que trabajan a su lado. En particular, algunos de los editores latinos apoyaban la dictadura argentina, la que en aquel momento estaba sumida profundamente en la Guerra Sucia, que acabaría matando o “desapareciendo” a más de 20.000 personas. Esos editores no sabían que yo hablaba español y que podía oír lo que estaban diciendo.

Pepe me dijo que algunos de los jefes estaban interceptando –“desapareciendo”– historias que podían “avergonzar a la Argentina”. Los editores latinos podían desechar las historias que llegaban habitualmente y además impedir que Pepe, y otros de la sección, cubrieran historias que eran relevantes para la Argentina y una vergüenza para la dictadura.

Sabíamos, sin embargo, que no podían bloquear esos artículos –las inquietudes del gobierno de Carter con respecto a los derechos humanos o el papel de la Iglesia Católica, por ejemplo– si éstos se originaban o seleccionaban en la sección en inglés. Así es como Pepe me informaba cuando alguien trataba de eliminar una historia que pintara negativamente a la dictadura argentina. Todo lo que yo tenía que hacer era guardarla y publicarla en la línea internacional en inglés. Los forzábamos, de esa manera, a traducirla y trasmitirla vía las líneas noticiosas sudamericanas.

La maniobra tenía su importancia, porque muchos diarios de América Latina censuraban sus propios reportajes internos por razones de seguridad, pero las historias que venían de la AP en Estados Unidos podían publicarse con mayor facilidad.

En 1978, en plena Guerra Sucia, hubo una historia que recuerdo en particular. Pepe me dijo que una de las Madres de Plaza de Mayo estaba en Nueva York lista para ser entrevistada.   Hice la entrevista y redacté una historia nacional e internacional sobre los esfuerzos del grupo para encontrar a los niños robados de sus padres prisioneros y asesinados.

Pepe y yo tratamos de no llamar  la atención –esa historia y otras aparecieron en el cable latino como era nuestro propósito. Nuestro único objetivo era asegurar que se pudiera acceder a todas las noticias. Fue una gran satisfacción.

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Pepe Eliaschev–A Proud Memory

The death of my friend and colleague, the Argentine journalist Jose “Pepe” Eliaschev, brings to mind a story that deserves to be told. Pepe died of pancreatic cancer in Buenos Aires on November 18, 2014. He was 69. He had for decades been a popular commentator and host on Argentine radio.

As young newsmen at The Associated Press in New York in the 1970s, Pepe and I were proud conspirators when some supervisors on the Latin America desk tried to censor or limit news about the right-wing Argentine military dictatorship.

I was on the World Desk at AP headquarters in New York. My job was to edit, transmit and sometimes report world news in English for our worldwide service in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Pepe sat several yards away at La Prensa Asociada — the Latin America desk, translating and transmitting news into Spanish for Mexico, Central and South America. As in the case of Pepe, some were from countries whose repressive regimes made journalism difficult and dangerous.

Others were right-wingers and even made sneering remarks in Spanish, assuming no one could understand. They didn’t know I spoke Spanish. In particular, some of the Latin editors supported the Argentine dictatorship, which at the time was deep into on a Dirty War and would end up killing or “disappearing” more than 20,000 people.

Pepe told me that some of the bosses were intercepting—“disappearing”—news stories that might be “embarrassing to Argentina.”

We knew, though, they couldn’t block stories if the English-speaking side of the desk originated or selected stories to publish – for example, the Carter administration’s human rights concerns, or questions about the role of the Catholic Church.

So Pepe would let me know when someone tried to weed out a story that might reflect badly on the Argentine dictatorship. All I had to do was resurrect the story on the international line in English.  They were then forced to translate and transmit the report to the South American news lines.

This was significant, because many newspapers in Latin America self-censored their own reporting at home for reasons of safety; stories originating from AP in the United States could more easily be published.

One story in particular came in 1978 – the height of the Dirty War.  Pepe told me that one of the members of the organization Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo was in New York and ready to be interviewed. I was able to write a national and international story about the group’s efforts to find children stolen from their imprisoned and murdered parents.

Pepe and I kept our heads down – that story and others appeared on the Latin wire as was only fair and fitting to our role as journalists. The goal was to make sure that all the news was available regardless of politics. It’s a proud memory of my old friend.

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Before Bombing Syria, Read “The Italian Letter”

Posted on September 4, 2013 by Laurie Garrettcover1 copy

          As Congress debates whether President Bashar al-Assad’s apparent use of sarin gas to kill some 1,400 fellow-Syrians merits retaliatory American military action, many are recalling the “weapons of mass destruction” rationale used to justify U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
         Though Secretary of State John Kerry has been at pains in recent days to underscore the caliber of intelligence supporting the Obama administration’s claims of Assad genocidal use of nerve gas, there is public doubt.
      We’ve been here before, and Americans are weary not only of war, but also of con artists in positions of power.      Much of the language used to describe the Syrian situation is reminiscent of phrases and claims utilized by the George W. Bush administration to garner intervention backing from the United Nations Security Council, a long list of allies, and the United States Congress.

         So it is inevitable that nine years later, amid chatter of U.S. cruise missile launches to take out Syrian government military stockpiles I should revisit the sorry history of Bush’s drumbeats of war. 

          The Italian Letter is my choice for a brilliantly researched, jaw-dropping book that ought to be on every politician’s reading list this week.  READ ENTIRE POST

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Snowden: Whistleblower or Spy?

The Guardian, home paper of Edward Snowden’s leaks on data mining, publishes an editorial defending him as a whistleblower who should be tried in that context:

Edward Snowden: a whistleblower, not a spy

He has published US government information. And it is for this – not espionage – that he will have to answer to the law

read the full Guardian editorial

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