“Terrorism” charges at Chicago NATO protests

As with the May Day mobilization, “terrorism” charges have emerged from the protests against the NATO summit in Chicago—or so the media are playing it, with headlines sporting the T-word. But it seems Sebastian Senakiewicz was charged with “terroristic threatening” for bad-assing that he had explosives hidden in the hollowed-out interior of his “Harry Potter” book (which he didn’t). Mark Neiweem was charged with “attempted possession of explosive or incendiary devices”—basically, he was asking around for material to make Molotov cocktails. So neither of them have actually been charged with terrorism. (Chicago Tribune, NYT, May 20)

Funny, “terrorism” charges against anti-NATO protesters come days after Human Rights Watch issued a statement “NATO: Acknowledge Civilian Deaths in Libya,” calling on the alliance to investigate possible war crimes (although HRW carefully avoids using that phrase) by its forces during the conflict. In a new report, “Unacknowledged Deaths: Civilian Casualties in NATO’s Air Campaign in Libya,” HRW examined eight NATO air strikes which resulted in 72 civilian deaths, claiming that “the absence of a clear military target at seven of the eight sites Human Rights Watch visited raises concerns of possible laws-of-war violations that should be investigated.” (Jurist, May 14)

Now, we could get cheap applause from the lefty legions if we left it at that. But the difficult fact remains that Libya’s rebels were avidly rooting for NATO intervention, which seems to have saved them from a massacre in Benghazi as Qaddafi’s forces advanced on the city in March. The apres-Qadddafi isn’t looking too good at the moment, and an undoubted US war aim was to have the new regime beholden to Western imperialism upon taking power, the central stratagem in the greater project of controlling the political trajectory of the Arab Spring. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a serious political contradiction, at least, at that moment last March. And the whole thing could be set to repeat itself in Syria.

Without having actually been there, we would imagine that the stance on the Libya question among protesters in Chicago fell into two basic categories: Those who simply ignore the dilemma altogether, and those who rally around Qaddafi as an anti-imperialist hero and demonize the rebels as “contras.” Those in the prior camp are perhaps slightly more palatable than the latter, but neither position is particularly honest or courageous.

Do any Chicago protesters wish to weigh in here? We’d love to hear from you.

See our last posts on Libya, the Arab revolutions and the politics of the anti-war movement.

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