Monday, April 21, 2008

What Does 9/11 Have to Do With the Weathermen? Ask Hillary Clinton

What Does 9/11 Have to Do with 60's Radicals? Ask Hillary Clinton

By Robert Parry, Consortium News
Posted on April 18, 2008

While nearly all politicians shade the truth now and then, some utterly disdain the truth, a category that includes George W. Bush and increasingly Hillary Clinton, as she made clear again in Wednesday night's debate on the strange topic of Vietnam-era Weather Underground leader William Ayers.

Since last year, the Clinton campaign has been pushing the supposed Ayers connection to Barack Obama as an attack "theme" to take down his candidacy. But Clinton went even further in the debate suggesting that Ayers had reveled in the 9/11 attacks -- a false claim clearly meant to inflame Americans against Obama.

Ayers, now a graying college English professor living in Chicago, did support Obama's state senate campaign and served with Obama on a board of the Woods Fund of Chicago, a philanthropy that gives out grants aimed at alleviating poverty.

I first heard this Ayers connection from a Clinton operative in December when it already was circulating in media circles. However, mainstream journalists generally dismissed it as a cheap-shot case of guilt by a tenuous association. It got little traction.

But Clinton surrogates didn't give up, taking the Ayers attack line to right-wing talk radio and the Internet where it was kept alive. The Clinton's campaign's doggedness was rewarded as the issue surfaced prominently in Wednesday night 's debate in Philadelphia.

ABC News moderator George Stephanopoulos, whose national career was launched when he served as a top spokesman for President Bill Clinton, framed the Ayers question much as the Clinton campaign and the right-wing media have, suggesting some dangerous association between Obama and a mad bomber.

Stephanopoulos even suggested that Ayers had taken pleasure in the 9/11 attacks, saying: "In fact, on 9/11 he was quoted in the New York Times saying, 'I don't regret setting bombs; I feel we didn't do enough.'"

Obama was left protesting how the ABC moderators were conducting a debate largely devoid of policy substance and focused on silly distractions.

"The notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago when I was 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values doesn't make much sense, George," Obama responded.

"So this kind of game, in which anybody who I know, regardless of how flimsy the relationship is, is somehow -- somehow their ideas could be attributed to me - I think the American people are smarter than that. They're not going to suggest somehow that that is reflective of my views, because it obviously isn't."

Piling on

At this point, Sen. Clinton could have demurred, but instead chose to pile on. (After all, her campaign has been flogging this theme for months behind the scenes.) She also couldn't resist pushing the 9/11 hot button.

"If I'm not mistaken, that relationship with Mr. Ayers on this [Wood Fund of Chicago] board continued after 9/11 and after his reported comments, which were deeply hurtful to people in New York, and I would hope to every American, because they were published on 9/11 and he said he was just sorry they hadn't done more. And what they did was set bombs and in some instances people died," Clinton said.

In her comments, Clinton created the clear impression that Ayers had either hailed the 9/11 attacks or used the 9/11 tragedy as a ghoulish opportunity to suggest that more bombings were desirable.

But none of that is true. The offensive comment that Clinton and Stephanopoulos referred to was from an interview about a memoir that Ayers published earlier in 2001. The comment was included in a New York Times article that appeared in the newspaper's Sept. 11, 2001, edition.

As Sen. Clinton and Stephanopoulos surely know, that edition went to press on Sept. 10, hours before the 9/11 attacks. In other words, the Ayers comment had no relationship to the 9/11 attacks.

What Clinton and Stephanopoulos did was what lawyers refer to as "prejudicial" -- they introduced an emotional component, 9/11, in a deceptive way to elicit a visceral reaction from those listening.

"I'm going to have to respond to this just really quickly," Obama said after Clinton finished. "By Sen. Clinton's own vetting standards, I don't think she would make it, since President Clinton pardoned or commuted the sentences of two members of the Weather Underground, which I think is a slightly more significant act."

After the debate, the New York Times published a fact-checking article that noted the time discrepancies between Ayers's comment and 9/11:

"Mr. Ayers did not make the remarks after the attacks on the World Trade Center that day. The interview had been conducted earlier, in connection with a memoir that he had published, Fugitive Days, and he was referring to his experience in the Weather Underground."

Robert Parry's new book is Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq."

1 comment:

Pan-African News Wire said...

Reprint of Interview From October 2001

AGR talks with Bill Ayers, former member of the Weather Underground

By Eamon Martin

For ten years, Bill Ayers lived on the run as a fugitive on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. As an integral member of the Weather Underground, he was wanted in connection with the bombing of New York City’s police headquarters in 1970, the US Capitol building in 1971, and the Pentagon in 1972, among other acts, which included breaking Timothy Leary out of jail. AGR spoke with Ayers about his recently published memoir, Fugitive Days (Beacon Press), and the uncanny timing of the book’s release coinciding with the attacks on September 11. Today, Ayers is Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois in Chicago, and Director of the Center for Youth and Society. Bill Ayers will be speaking at Malaprop’s bookstore on Friday, Oct. 26 at 7pm.

AGR: Many people today don’t know about the Weather Underground or even that the Pentagon was actually bombed once before. How would you describe who the Weathermen were, today?

Ayers: Well, I think you’re absolutely right, first of all, that people don’t know and that’s part of the legacy of living in a country with a short attention span. I refer to America a couple of times as the United States of Amnesia and that’s both a great strength in some sense in that we’re kind of allowed to be innocent and reborn and everything anew. But it’s a weakness in that we lose the historical thread, and I think it puts us in peril again and again. Right now, we can sort of see that.

But I would describe the Weathermen as a militant group that when the main student organization opposing the war in Vietnam and supporting civil rights splintered, the Weathermen were the most militant opposition to the war. They went underground for a decade and fought against the war, using all means – including illegal means. That’s who they were.

AGR: In your book you make a crucial distinction between what you refer to as the “armed struggle” of the Weather Underground and bombings by “terrorists.” You say the “real” terrorists are – for example – the ones who have executed much of US foreign policy. You cite the nightmares of the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War. Could you elaborate for our readers about the moral distinctions you make in your book?

Ayers: I have to try and make this distinction first – that what I wrote was a memoir, even though it’s being read as a manifesto. But, anyone who reads it will see that it is a story that tries to capture the resonant feeling of those times and then describes how I made choices in that terrible and difficult time. So it’s not a legal brief, it’s not a manifesto, a defense or polemic. It is a story. The story that I tell is a story of a kid blinking his way awake in a relatively over-privileged situation, seeing the world on fire and trying to figure out what just, caring thing to do in that situation. So I became a part of the civil rights movement, and I believed deeply in the anti-war movement and the questions of social justice, fairness, and compassion and so on, that were in the air when the Vietnam war began to build up. But what I describe is, I think, a crucial distinction in that violence is one of the most terrible things in the world. It really is. But violence exists in all kinds of official and invisible ways that we’re not always aware of. So when we see violence burst forth, we tend to condemn what we’re seeing on the surface, but we sometimes forget to look a little deeper and wonder about what are the conditions that create that kind of violence. So I talk in the book about a couple of things. One is the kind of violence, for example, of US policy in Latin America where kids die of curable diseases all of the time. They’re violent deaths, but they’re quietly executed all the time. And then when we see Guatemalans rise up with guns, we say, well, they’re being violent. But we actually missed chapters one through ten that led us to that situation. In our own history, the clearest example of this is slavery. Slavery is a violent relationship, whether anyone objects, resists, rises up, or escapes. It’s all in its nature, as is colonialism.

So, the chapter I think you’re pointing to is the chapter where I narrate two stories, both using my imagination: In one, a group of young, despairing, determined Americans, slightly off the hook, gather together and steel themselves to put a small pipe-bomb inside a drain pipe in the Pentagon. It’s to go off at two in the morning and they call in a warning saying their intent is not to hurt anybody but to cry a shrill, shrill alarm against war. In that very same chapter I describe another group of young Americans, equally despairing, frightened, also off the hook, who walk into a Vietnamese village and kill 347 people [including many] women and children. They go on a rampage, burning and raping and stealing, killing animals – and then I raise the question: well, what is “terror”? And I don’t even accuse those young Americans. I basically say that this is policy. This is policy. And so, there’s culpability right up the line. And, in some ways I think that’s why I wrote the book, to try to tell the truth about those days so there’d be some truth-telling, some understanding, some sharing of the good things that went on in those days, as well as the not-so-good things.

AGR: A lot of people don’t understand the “desperate times – desperate measures” or the “bring the war home” mentality that drives a person to expose or directly thwart US imperialism, now euphemistically referred to as “our foreign policy.”

Ayers: Right. Exactly, exactly.

AGR: Could you describe for our readers your awakening to this form of radical consciousness and maybe how – no pun intended – it has weathered over the years?

Ayers: Well, I guess what happened to me…one of the themes in my book and in my life is the theme of self-exile. That is, I find myself, again and again, wanting to leave the comfort of what I know in order to perhaps embrace something broader and bigger and so one of the first exiles I completely planned was leaving the privileged, suburban Chicago life I lived while at the University of Michigan, where, as it happened, I got opened to all kinds of things, which is kind of a common college experience. But what happened in 1963, ’64, and ’65 -- as the war in Vietnam built up -- I found myself drawn to people trying to make sense of that. I describe in some detail taking part in the first teach-in, the first international day of protest against the war, because really, I think what America needed then and what we need now is to wake up to see ourselves as a nation among nations – as situated in a world with a history and an economy and a socio-cultural surround. And we need to see we’re one among many, not the “one and only,” not – as we designate ourselves – “the world’s only superpower,” which has a hollow ring after September 11, but to see ourselves as partners with others, not dominator of others. So for me, the first eye-popping, eye-opening event was the civil rights movement, where the social justice agenda for a generation was set, and the notion that some human beings are not less than other human beings -- that all human beings have a right to a life in pursuit of liberty and to full participation. And when that struggle that started in the South went all over this country, I just got in the act. The fight against racism led easily to the fight against the concepts of neocolonialism or America dominating other people for our own purposes. This was what woke me up. This was what radicalized me and for reasons that I can’t fully explain, I began to feel that every Vietnamese life lost was personal, was my responsibility, because it was being done in my name, and I found myself wanting very much not only to stop the war, but to know the Vietnamese people personally.

I find one of the most moving aspects of the coverage of what’s going on today is the New York Times’ little biographies of the people who died in the Trade Center. I read them religiously. They make me cry. And in an odd way, that’s exactly what I wanted us to do for the Vietnamese that were being killed in this other terror war. That is, I thought, each of them – I actually have a passage where I say each of them had a mother and a father, each of them had people who relied on them and now each was dead – without a name, without a reminder or sense of the horror of it all. So, I took it very personally, and that is what radicalized me. How has it weathered over the years? I hope I’ve gotten a little less self-righteous, a little less close-minded, arrogant perhaps, but I hope that the values that powered me when I was 18, 19, and 20 are still the same values, that is, the notion that the world can be more democratic, that we can have a democracy here that is more robust, that we can end the situation where as 5% of the world’s people, we as Americans consume over half of the world’s stuff. That’s an untenable plan in the long run. So I feel like we need to find ourselves and wake up and participate.

AGR: At the time of the Weathermen bombing, you described the Pentagon as “ground zero for war and conquest,” the “organizing headquarters of a gang of murdering thieves, a colossal stain on the planet, a hated symbol around the world.” Right now, a lot of people don’t understand or have that perspective. Would you say the same thing today?

Ayers: I would. I would say that one of the distinctions that the Vietnamese made that I think is terribly important, and one that I think we made, is that there’s a great difference between the American people and the American government, policy, and military. The Vietnamese never were at war with the American people. They were embracing the American people. We, on the other hand, were at war with the Vietnamese people that were being killed indiscriminately. What we just witnessed in September is not only a monstrous crime against humanity, but in the service of a monstrous ideology. And that’s quite a different situation. But the Pentagon – and this is something that we have to be very clear about – when George Bush says to us that “you’re either with us or with the terrorists,” that’s a terrible conflation because most people in that part of the world are not with us in terms of policy, but they’re not with the terrorists either. And I’m not with us in terms of policy, but I’m not with the terrorists either. And you can’t make those things “one.” You have to separate them, and you have to say, American people can be good people and are capable of great things. Our democratic institutions, as imperfect as they are, should be strengthened, not weakened. People all over the world admire us for our history, especially our early history – the Declaration of Independence and so on – our prosperity. What they don’t admire is our presence in their lives. They don’t actually find the beneficent American presence in their lives to be, in fact, kind or gentle or helpful. So, we as Americans should wake up to the fact. Frankly, I’m encouraged by a couple of things right now -- the fact that more and more Americans are listening to BBC, to Canadian radio, to al Jazeera. These are good things because the world doesn’t look the same from Europe or from Latin America or Asia as it does from Chicago.

AGR: What is your impression of the social justice movement today? It seems like in the past couple of years that there’s been a groundswell.

Ayers: Oh, I think these are very exciting times, and I think the struggle of young people in Seattle, Genoa, and Washington has been very encouraging. I also think there’s kind of a globalism – a good globalism – that you and I couldn’t have imagined a decade ago or twenty years ago. The good globalism is international human rights, a world court – unthinkable. There’s actually discussion now about Pinochet and Kissinger being in the dock. This was unthinkable twenty years ago. Another good global movement is the movement for women’s rights and the movement for environmental sanity. These are things that young people are spearheading, that progressive people are participating in, all of which give me a tremendous amount of hope.

AGR: Would you still advocate for a lifestyle of radical resistance?

Ayers: Absolutely. I think of Rosa Luxemburg when she was in prison. At one time she wrote to a friend and said, Whatever you do, try to be a ‘mensch.’ And then she said, I can’t really define ‘mensch,’ but it means something like enjoying each day, loving each day, the life you’re given, the sunrise, the sunset, the clouds and the sky. But also, enjoy yourself on history’s wheel in the hope of a more just social order. And it’s that combination, that dialectic of living in happy resistance to the immorality and the insanity that you see all around you. But don’t forget to enjoy your life.

AGR: Would you say your political desires are the same today?

Ayers: The conditions have changed but I don’t think that my long-term goals are very different. I can easily imagine a future that’s fit for children, where there is a world at peace and where people are fed and where there’s some measure of social justice. I think that we have to always be willing to struggle and fight, but I think that we can’t accommodate the enduring stain of racism in America or the enduring conquest of others for the service of – what – some other consumer good? It’s just nuts. I think we have to resist. I know where dreams of Utopia go. I mean, I know that they go to the gulag and the guillotine. On the other hand, I can’t give up the idea that there could be a Utopia, or a fairer, more just social order. Otherwise, you live accommodating yourself to the unacceptable. I don’t want to do that and I don’t want my kids to do it and I hope none of us do it.

AGR: By odd coincidence, your book appeared right in the midst of the attacks on September 11. You mentioned before how profoundly that affected you. Right now, there’s a lot of contentious debate about the role of political violence in the world today. Have these circumstances given you any pause to reflect any differently about your past?

Ayers: As I said, I think violence is one of the terrible things in the world. I think political violence exists in certain situations. One of the things that I try to draw attention to is the ways in which violence is not always a choice, but is sometimes embedded in relationships and the ways in which America has a tradition of wanting to think of itself as innocent and violent-free. But actually it rains violence all over the world. One of the things that I think is troubling and that people should pay attention to is that many, many people in the world look at our policies in Iraq, for example, or our policies supporting Israel against any aspirations of the Palestinian people to rise up, off the ground and not be humiliated constantly – to have the right to a job, and free access to work and so on – many people look at us and say, You are the terrorists. You’re the people that we’re against. Political violence -- I think we should always be discussing it. It’s always troubling. But one of the things we should not allow is that America gets a kind of exceptionalist path. “We never do anything.” The fact is that long before the bombings started on October 6, we were perceived in many parts of the world as the most violent, the most frightening. If you ask Americans what percentage of the world’s people makes up the United States, the guesses range from ten to twenty percent. Well, it’s less than five. So we don’t know who we are in the world and that’s troubling. And we don’t know how we’re perceived and that’s troubling as well. So we need to wake up. We need to think about our role and the ways in which our support of Israel, for example, is seen as the most violent, aggressive thing and why we’ve become a target of every wingnut in the world who has a grievance.

One of the themes that I would say is relevant from the book comes near the end. I reread the book after the 11th, and there were a couple of places where I actually felt like I was going to break down and weep. And one is where I say, if I can read a few sentences: “I think back to my childhood, to the houses in trim rows and the identical lawns and the neat fences; I remember everyone sleeping the deep American sleep, the sleep that still engulfs us and from which I worry we might not awake in time. We are living our isolated lives in our shattered communities, and in our names the US project shatters communities everywhere -- in the Middle East, in Colombia, in the Philippines. The world roils in agony and despair, the catastrophe deepens, and our ears are covered, our eyes are closed. Perhaps only the bark of bombs at our doors will shake us up after all.”

Now that freaked me out. I don’t want it to be true. I don’t wish it upon us. I hate it. I’ve had so much trouble, psychologically, since September 11 because it’s so huge and so horrible. And yet, could we wake up? Could we notice where we are in the world? Not to forgive or impugn good motives onto these rightwing, feudal fanatics -- no. What they did was unforgivable. On the other hand -- and this feels really important to me too – to say that this is a war and to use the war metaphor is a mistake. I don’t think it’s a war against terrorism. I think that it’s a monstrous criminal act against humanity and that it should be dealt with as a criminal justice problem. Which doesn’t mean that you don’t fight. You do fight in a criminal justice situation. But, it means strengthening the UN, strengthening the World Court, strengthening justice and peace efforts, not weakening them. And who are we at war with? Forty-three countries? What are we – nuts? There, the dream of the rightwing, feudal fanatics comes true. We’re closer to world war. We’re closer to an arid, one-dimensional society and that’s all bad. So we should resist it.