One Woman’s Journey from Warlord Somalia to Neocon Washington

by Chesley Hicks, WW4 REPORT

Book Review:

The Caged Virgin
An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam
by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Free Press/Simon & Schuster 2006 (translated), originally published in Netherlands 2004

by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Free Press/Simon & Schuster 2007

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is, among many things, a Somali-born feminist and former Dutch parliamentarian. Her name gained worldwide attention in 2004 after Theo Van Gogh, the grandnephew of the famous Dutch painter, was murdered for his work with Ali on their short film Submission, an artistic statement on the status of women in Islam.

Ali’s first book, The Caged Virgin, was originally published in 2004 in Holland, where she’d become a well-known, outspoken critic of Islamic oppression of women. A collection of essays, the book lays the bones of Ali’s beliefs and offers some insight to the personal history that thrust her to international prominence.

Her essential contentions in Virgin are first, that Islamic doctrine mandates female subservience, oppression, and abuse; second, that the degradation of women underlies the greater ills and unrest that plague Muslim countries; and third, that it is incumbent upon both Muslims and Westerners to openly critique and take action against violence and oppression committed in the name of religion.

Central to her argument is what she recognizes as Western liberal apologism in the face of Islamic violence against women. In the book’s prologue she writes: “In certain countries, ‘left wing,’ secular liberals have stimulated my critical thinking and that of other Muslims, but these same liberals in Western politics have the strange habit of blaming themselves for the ills of the world, while seeing the rest of the world as victims.”

This contention puts her at variance with many, including leftists with whom she otherwise shares values. Later in the book, she also writes, “Everything you do here in the free west is your choice. For heaven’s sake, grow up! Take responsibility for yourself.”

Such proclamations—obviously ripe for right-wing picking yet coming from an avowed humanitarian, feminist pluralist—have positioned Ali as a boundary-challenging lightning rod of a public figure. At the book’s beginning, she writes: “I have taken enormous risk by answering the call for self reflection and by joining the public debate that has been taking place in the West since 9-11. And what do the cultural experts say? ‘You should say it in a different way.’ But since Theo van Gogh’s death, I have been convinced more than ever that I must say it my way only and have my criticism.”

Reading this for the first time alongside some of her more scathing indictments of Islam, one could wonder if Ali is as much interested in positing herself as a cult of personality as she is in promoting her cause.

That she feels deep and genuine angst over the plight of Muslim women is never in question. But the polemical approach she takes in The Caged Virgin can at times strike the reader as blunt and lacking strategy. People listen to Ali because she is intelligent, extraordinarily accomplished, mediagenic, and knows Islam from the inside. She was raised in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Saudi Arabia and witnessed firsthand the complicated, mutually exploitative interplay between religion, culture, and corrupt regimes in those countries. In particular, she argues that the Muslim “obsession with virginity” insidiously undermines and corrupts all of Islamic culture. She was forced to undergo excision (clitoridectomy, or female circumcision) at age five. She arrived in Holland at age 23 because she was making a clandestine escape from an arranged marriage. She knows conflict and developing-world travails better than most Westerners.

Ali compares Muslim women’s internalizing of their subjugation to Stockholm syndrome. She inventories Islam’s unrelenting doctrinaire proscriptions, and describes the reactionary mechanics instilled in its believers. So it seems she might take a more nuanced approach in making an appeal to its would-be dissidents. Instead, Virgin serves incendiary statements aplenty: “Many Muslims lack the necessary willingness and courage to address this crucial issue,” for example, or: “September 11, mark my words, was the beginning of the end of Islam as we know it.”

She has little patience for any abiding of oppression in the name of tolerance. “The worst thing is that this worry about discrimination pushes Muslim women ever further down into the pit,” she writes. “Whom do you help by saying nothing? It’s selfish not to want to appear racist.”

Later chapters in the book sketch Ali’s conflicted relationship with her family and how her charismatic but generally absent father—Hirsi Magan Isse, a scholar and leader of the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF)—might have informed her own sense of singular heroism. In one chapter a nearly child-like Ali explains that she does not see herself as a saint: “I’ve been naughty,” she—a real-life, international agent provocateur—writes without irony. “I teased other girls, rung people’s bells and run away.” She proceeds to describe how she feels responsible for stigmatizing the Koran teacher who beat her nearly to death as a child. This simplicity might be due in part to Virgin‘s translation, or a hasty effort to get it published in order to illuminate Ali’s views in the wake of her fast ascent to fame. Though it seems to point to something more profound, it is never clear. The personal anecdotes are intriguing but beg for more detail. Similarly, the book feels at times redundant and meandering, and leaves one wondering where her editors went.

In these ways, Virgin can leave readers scratching their heads. Though bold and explicit in places, the book leaves too much up to readers’ conjecture. Most readers, based on their own prejudices, likely either want her to be right or want her to be wrong. Response to the book, it seems, lies along those lines. An internet search reveals as much.

But one need read no further than Ali’s next book for the full insight required to understand all this and more.

In lucid, fine detail Infidel makes fluid sense of Virgin‘s stark outlines. A chronological memoir that traces Ali’s life from rural Somalia and urban Mogadishu to Nairobi, Mecca, The Hague, New York, Washington DC and many places in between, Infidel lends texture, depth and sense to Virgin‘s angles. It also reveals the author’s deeply compassionate, devoted, sound and powerful mind.

While double the length of Virgin, Infidel is a far more coherent, fleet read. And though more subtle, it is ultimately more rousing in its cause-appeal and firming in its conviction. It also tells an enthralling tale.

At the end of chapter four in Infidel, Ali writes, “That is how, by the time I turned ten, I had lived through three different political systems, all of them failures.”

“The police state in Mogadishu,” she continues, “rationed people into hunger and bombed them into obedience. Islamic law in Saudi Arabia treated half its citizens like animals, with no rights or recourse, disposing of women without regard. And the old Somali rule of the clan, which saved you when you needed refuge, so easily broke down into suspicion, conspiracy, and revenge.”

In describing her childhood growing up in east Africa and the Middle East in the ’70s and ’80s, Ali shows herself always trying to make sense of the turmoil around her. In so doing, she sheds light from below on the reality of life during wartime and under oppressive regimes. And beyond that, what she often reveals is a girl. A girl who is in most ways like any other girl, yet growing up amid deep violence and chaos. The disarray she describes in the culture and politics of her environment likewise tore her family apart, from both the outside and the inside. The external forces-the wars, famine, and repressive culture-she recognizes as inextricably linked with the internal forces of guilt, resentment, deceit, and unreason. And all of that she sees as both caused by and reinforced by blind submission to clan identity and Islam.

As Ali chronicles her interior quest to reconcile her own will and intelligence with the forces around her, she also tells some rich stories about the life, culture and era in which she was raised.

In chapter eight, she describes the events in her life after the fall of Said Barre’s regime and the outbreak of total civil war in Somalia. Her rendering of the weeks she spent trying to rescue relatives from a Somali refugee camp along the Kenyan border bring to life the reality of a such camps in a way few documentaries or news stories ever could.

Unlike Virgin, Infidel delivers Ali’s revelations gradually, via intimate, sometimes painful detail. Neither sordid nor sensational, she tells her tale through the wide eyes of lively girl often literally beaten into submission. As she ages and alternately internalizes and fights the tyranny around her, two consistent threads emerge: love for her family and an indomitable drive toward justice. And in her world, most of the injustice she sees is justified by verses in the Koran.

When she finally escapes the world of her past and makes her way to Holland, she finds her past is already there. Holland in the early ’90s proves a fertile zeitgeist: a microcosm of highly developed liberal democracy and social welfare experiencing a significant immigration wave, much of it Muslim.

Poignantly, even though she’d witnessed more brutality and life-altering change than most adults of any age, Ali was still, in many ways, a girl when she reached the West at age 23. Some of her new-arrival descriptions are amusing. Upon her first night in a hotel, she writes, “I examined the duvet, vowing to tell Haweya [her younger sister] about this amazing invention… The room was small, but somehow cleverly planned to fit: the closets fit into the wall, the TV inside the cabinet. How cool I thought.” Within the context of Infidel, these ultra-earnest ingĂ©nue statements make more sense than they do in Virgin.

In the months and years after she reaches the West, her line of observation and reasoning quickly become vast and sophisticated. She undergoes a self-motivated crash course in philosophy and politics, enrolls in school, and applies her learning to everything she sees around her. She learns Dutch atop all the other languages she knows from having moved around Africa, and so becomes a sought-after interpreter. This brings her into constant contact with the conflicting realities growing within Holland: that of the educated, liberal-minded, secular West and the impoverished, immigrant, religion-bound culture of her past.

The rest has become history. Ali ended up in the Dutch parliament; Theo van Gogh was murdered for his work with her; she was ushered into hiding; she lost and regained her Dutch citizenship; and she finally joined the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC.

Forever grateful to the institutions that she sees as having freed her from submission, Ali quickly comes to the conclusion that Western democracy is a system that works better than any other. She is not a blind proponent of all things Western. She names its faults in sober and unromantic terms. But unlike many native-born heirs to democracy, she sees it as something not to be taken for granted, and has made it her life’s work to defend it. In so doing, she tests it to feel its outermost limits. She pushes its boundaries and revels in its contours. Democracy, she believes, though it must be protected, is also tough. She does not like party politics—it limits thought and reminds her too much of Somali clan identity. Thus she has made some scandalizing jumps between left and right parties in pursuit of her own agenda: namely to advance the rights and protection of Muslim women. During her time in parliament, she called herself a “single issue” candidate. It is the continuation of a singular compulsion to justice that began in her youth in Africa. She crosses boundaries, not to make headlines but to get close to truth. It’s hard to imagine that, in the 21st century, one could move from the Iron Age to the Internet Age, but Ayaan Hirsi Ali went from one to the other within thirty years. This brings an invaluably broad yet balanced perspective to her work.

Ali expresses an unflagging appreciation for the principled minds in Holland who encouraged her to pursue her arguments even when they disagreed with her. She doggedly upholds their model, and abides by the fruition of rigorous debate. Further engagement with varied opposition, one suspects, will nurture her inquiry. So we will watch with eager curiosity what emerges from Ayaan Hirsi Ali from within the conservative American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.


From our weblog:

Ayaan Hirsi Ali faces death threats—in Pennsylvania
WW4 REPORT, May 15, 2007

Dutch legislator to step down following Islamist threats
WW4 REPORT, May 18, 2006


Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, June 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution



Nicaragua Sticks It to Tio Sam —Again!

by Michael I. Niman, Art Voice, Buffalo, NY

For the very first time ever,
When they had a revolution in Nicaragua,
There was no interference from America
Human rights in America
Well the people fought the leader,
And up he flew…
With no Washington bullets what else could he do?

—The Clash, “Washington Bullets,” 1980

In the flash of this moment
You’re the best of what we are—
Don’t let them stop you now— Nicaragua.

—Bruce Cockburn, “Nicaragua,” 1983

The Bush administration just appointed Robert Gates, a man who helped orchestrate an illegal terrorist war against Nicaragua in the 1980s, as our new Secretary of Defense, replacing Donald Rumsfeld. The Nicaraguans, for their part, just returned the president that our dirty little war ousted back to office. And they did this despite direct threats last month from the Bush administration, delivered by a convicted criminal, who went to Nicaragua days before the election and told the Nicaraguan people that if such a victory occurred there’d be hell, all too literally, to pay. It’s not dĂ©jĂ  vu—this is the story of a White House bent on world domination and a little democratic revolution that just won’t go away.

The last time I was in Nicaragua was 1989. Public transportation was crippled by an army of 15,000 US-backed terrorists with a penchant for blowing up or burning buses—sometimes full of passengers. Known as the Contras, they also crippled the nation’s electric system and regularly assassinated elected officials from the ruling democratic-socialist Sandinista party. Downtown Managua, the capital, was in ruins, not from Contra attacks but from an earthquake that had hit 17 years earlier when Nicaragua was a dictatorship ruled by Anastasio Somoza, a brutal US ally. It seems his regime pocketed all the international relief aid and murdered any Nicaraguan who objected to this looting. The Sandinistas, taking power in a 1979 revolution, inherited a bankrupt government and had no money to rebuild the capital. Cows grazed near the ruins of the National Cathedral.

I was a Costa Rican-based journalist at the time, helping lead a liberal guilt-trip tour of Nicaragua that my magazine regularly sponsored as a fund-raiser. Our clients were middle class Americans who came to marvel at a revolution that was gasping its last breath. My most important job was to wake up each morning before dawn and change the day’s money from American dollars into worthless Nicaraguan cordobas. Sometimes I’d do this twice a day as the money lost its value by the hour. The inflation rate was running at 16,000 percent. Nicaragua’s currency was sloppily printed, sometimes with new numbers sporting three or four extra zeros hastily stamped over the old ones. Each time I’d walk away with a shopping bag of cordobas—bills that doubled as toilet paper.

The Sandinista drive for power began in the late 1970s, during Jimmy Carter’s presidency, when the Nicaraguan people rose up to support a decade-old revolutionary struggle that took its name from Augusto CĂ©sar Sandino, the Nicaraguan revolutionary who led an insurgency against the US occupation of his country from 1927 to 1933. Sandino was killed in 1934 but his memory remains very much alive across Latin America, alongside other revered heroes such as Ernesto Che Guevara and SimĂłn BolĂ­var.

The Sandinistas took power in July 1979 after Jimmy Carter, abiding by his stated human rights policy, refused to intercede on behalf of the Somoza dictatorship. The new government established friendly relations with the US and immediately began a crash program of building schools and health clinics. Idealists from around the world flocked to Nicaragua. An army of 225,000 volunteers cut the nation’s illiteracy rate by 50% in six months. Music and hope filled the air.

The celebration was short-lived, however. In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected president of the United States. Using what later proved to be false and fabricated intelligence reports—sound familiar?—Reagan argued that the impoverished Central American country represented a military threat, and hence set out to wage an undeclared war against Nicaragua. The Reagan administration, with the help of the Argentinean military junta, armed, trained and funded the Contras, a mercenary army led by former Nicaraguan National Guardsmen loyal to the ousted dictatorship.

The Contras combined amorality and ruthlessness with a smart strategy: defeat the Sandinistas by turning their country into hell on earth. The problem, as political theorist Noam Chomsky put it in his book, The Managua Lectures, was that Nicaragua posed “the threat of a good example.” If Nicaragua could oust its oppressive, US-backed government and effectively address problems of hunger, health care, education and political oppression, then why couldn’t, say, neighboring Honduras do the same thing? This was the real domino effect Reagan feared in Latin America—the one we’re seeing now.

To defeat the Sandinistas, the Contras had to erase the gains of the revolution. Working in conjunction with the CIA, they targeted schools and health clinics as well as public services and the institutions of democracy. The American Christian peace group Witness for Peace collected evidence of Contras using systematic rape of civilians as a terror tactic, as well as castrating, cutting out the tongues and gouging out the eyes of government supporters. They also destroyed bridges, phone lines, power stations and port facilities. They failed, however, to break the will of the people—who, in an internationally supervised election in 1985, handed a landslide victory to the ruling Sandinistas. Daniel Ortega, leader of the Sandinista junta that took power in 1979, was elected president with two thirds of the popular vote.

Undeterred, the personable, grandfatherly Reagan turned the screws harder, giving more weapons to the Contras and illegally mining Nicaraguan harbors in an attempt to destroy the country’s economy—in defiance of the World Court, which ruled for Nicaragua in 1986, finding the U.S. aggression illegal. Reagan also, despite reports from international governments who observed the vote, unilaterally declared the Nicaraguan election a sham and imposed a devastating economic embargo against Nicaragua. The combined forces of the war, the embargo, the mining of the harbors and terrorist attacks against economic infrastructure led to the total collapse of the Nicaraguan economy, making Nicaragua the second poorest country in the hemisphere after Haiti and spiraling the nation into a hyperinflationary cycle.

When the US Congress finally said enough was enough and outlawed Reagan administration aid to the Contra terrorists, the administration began covertly funding the war, raising cash by selling arms to Iran and, according to a US Senate investigation released in 1989, by helping the Contras smuggle cocaine into the US.

The cocaine angle to the so-called Iran-Contra Affair broke first in the alternative press, then years later in the mainstream press. Put simply, the Reagan administration allowed American inner-city communities to be destroyed by a growing cocaine epidemic and armed Iran—which they also claimed was a terrorist state—in order to fund internationally condemned terrorism against a democratically elected government in a neighboring state, all in contempt of Congress. This was the real Reagan revolution—turning the US into a rogue state. The Reagan administration’s pointman overseeing the whole operation was Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North. Convicted of lying to Congress in the hearings on the scandal 1988, North would have his conviction thrown out on appeal on the grounds that his public testimony compromised his right to a fair trial.

Five other high-ranking officials— former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, former National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane, former CIA officers Duane Clarridge and Alan Fiers, and former assistant secretary of state Elliot Abrams—were all pardoned for their crimes by George Bush the First as he was leaving office.

In the end, the Contras won. Back in 1989 I was walking through a poor neighborhood in Managua when someone hailed me. Soon a small crowd formed. They all had the same question. Did I think my country would launch an air war? Did I think they’d bomb Managua? It was a friendly, people-to-people discussion. Nobody blamed me. They just thought, as an American, I might have some insight. They were stressed out. More than 50,000 of them died in the Contra war. The rest were tired of queuing up for buses that never came—or having to ride on the roofs of the ones that did. They were tired of having to spend their money the hour they earned it, before it lost all its value. They were tired of worrying about Contras blowing up their kids’ school, maybe with the kids in it.

And they were tired. Just plain tired. A few months after I left Nicaragua they cried uncle and voted the Sandinistas out of office. They voted for promised US aid rather than an embargo and endless war. But significant aid never came. Neither did the reparations the World Court ordered the US to pay. There was money for death, but never for life. We just stopped funding the Contras. After turning Nicaragua into the second-poorest country in the hemisphere, we turned our back on them.

Now let’s fast-forward to the future. Twenty years after Reagan launched the Contra war, classified documents showing the roles of public figures such as the first President Bush were due to be released to the public. That all changed after September 11, 2001, when history itself was classified.

Then the ghosts from the Iran-Contra scandal started to reappear, haunting the new Bush White House. Elliot Abrams, pardoned by Bush Senior for his criminal activity in the Iran-Contra scandal, was appointed by Bush Junior as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director on the National Security Council—the folks who wage covert wars.

Then there was John Negroponte, who, as ambassador to Honduras under Reagan, was the White House’s point man in the region, ultimately supervising the Contra terrorism in Nicaragua. George W. Bush appointed him as Director of National Intelligence, ostensibly managing our current dirty wars wherever they may be.

During the Contra war, the Reagan administration appointed Cuban-born Otto Reich to oversee, in conjunction with Oliver North, the White House’s propaganda operation to demonize the Sandinistas while painting the Contra terrorists as “freedom fighters.” In 2002, George W. Bush appointed Reich as Special Envoy to the Western Hemisphere for the Secretary of State. Iran-Contra felon John Poindexter (his conviction overturned on immunity grounds) was appointed by George W. Bush as Director of the Information Awareness Office, where he was supposed to oversee spying on law-abiding Americans. While Reich and Poindexter no longer hold these positions, they are still Bush administration insiders, essentially treating the White House as their own personal halfway house. North went on to become a Fox News analyst. Negroponte became a US Deputy Secretary of State.

Fast-forward to November 2006. It seems there has been another bit of a revolution in Nicaragua—this time an electoral revolution. Friendship with the US got the Nicaraguans nothing except the right to work in sweatshops “assembling” our clothing. Perhaps there really is nothing to fear but fear itself. Or perhaps they remember the dignity they enjoyed for that brief decade when they served as a beacon of hope to the world. Or perhaps it really is the threat of a good example—this time the example of Venezuela—that did it.

Not even the sickeningly gross spectacle of a pre-election visit from Oliver North last month deterred them. Yes, North, a major architect of the Contra war, who is to Nicaragua what Osama bin Laden is the US, told the Nicaraguans that a Sandinista victory would be “the end of Nicaragua.” Given his history of working with mercenaries coordinating barbaric terrorist attacks against that country, North is not to be taken lightly. Undeterred by threats—perhaps fearless because they have nothing left to lose—Nicaragua, two days before the US election that “thumped” the Republicans, once again elected Sandinista Daniel Ortega as president.

And a week later George W. Bush appointed one more Iran-Contra criminal to his cabinet. This time it’s the former Iran-Contra era-Deputy Director of the CIA, Robert Gates, our new Secretary of Defense. Perhaps the plan is to quickly chop Iraq into a few small, weak, feuding countries locked in fratricide, and return our focus to Latin America to stop the dominos of democracy before they sweep right up to Washington, DC.


This article first appeared Nov. 16, 2006 in Art Voice, Buffalo, NY

Dr. Michael I. Niman’s previous columns are archived at

From our weblog:

U.S. threatens to tighten noose on Nicaragua
WW4 REPORT, Oct. 7, 2006

Oliver North meddles in Nicaragua —again!
WW4 REPORT, Oct. 25, 2006

Robert Gates: another ex-Saddam symp takes helm at Pentagon
WW4 REPORT, Nov. 9, 2006

Negroponte to Sudan: no ultimatum on Darfur
WW4 REPORT, April 12, 2007

From our archive:

Contragate criminals back on top
WW4 REPORT #63, Dec. 9, 2002


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, May 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution



How a Yippie conspiracist changed America, mainstreamed marijuana and was destroyed by his dream…

Thomas K. Forçade was one of the most influential figures of the counterculture, and changed American culture as much as his confederates Abbie Hoffman and Larry Flynt. Forçade built a media empire, revolutionized journalism, mainstreamed marijuana and helped found the legalization movement before his untimely and still-mysterious apparent suicide at the age of 33. But he was the counterculture’s Howard Hughes, who labored behind the scenes, shunned the spotlight, wrote under pseudonyms—and continued to move large quantities of grass right to the end. Nearly 30 years after his death, it is time those who stand on his shoulders to know the man and the myth that was Tom Forçade.

by Bill Weinberg, Cannabis Culture

The Youth International Party (YIP)—popularly known as the Yippies—came to fame in 1968, with the violence at that summer’s protests against the Democratic Convention in Chicago, where the pro-war candidate Hubert Humphrey won the nomination. The protesters themselves had overwhelmingly been the target of violence by the Chicago police and Illinois National Guard—yet in the aftermath, eight activists associated (to varying degrees) with the Yippies were charged with federal conspiracy. In what was widely perceived as a travesty of justice, five of the “Chicago eight”—Yippie co-founders Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and Dave Dellinger and Rennie Davis of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (“The Mobe”)—were convicted of inciting to riot (although cleared of conspiracy) and each sentenced to five years. Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers was charged separately and convicted of contempt after being ordered bound and gagged in the courtroom by Judge Julius Hoffman. The convictions were reversed on appeal. But the trial—and the prankish antics by the defendants—catapulted Hoffman, Rubin and their cohorts to celebrity status. They were breathing the same rarefied air as the rock stars with whom they jointly defined the “counter-culture”—and they as eagerly exploited the media attention.

The irony of the outlandish conspiracy charges for First Amendment activity is that the Yippies did actually see themselves as a sort of conspiracy. Hoffman especially saw his mission as to bring a political consciousness to the hedonistic hippies, and to harness the creative energies of the counter-culture to protest the war in Vietnam. They set about this with a methodical intent that belied their seeming spontaneity. In fact, a case can be made that many of the vast cultural and political changes that swept America in the years of the Vietnam adventure’s grim endgame traced their origins to a New Years Day 1968 conclave, in a smoke-filled room in Hoffman’s apartment on New York’s Lower East Side, where the “Yippie” concept was conceived. And the smoke in that room wasn’t tobacco.

So the movement was riven with paradoxes from the start: Activism versus hedonism. Idealism versus opportunism. Ultra-democracy versus conspiracism. Anarchists versus hustlers. Disciplined cadre versus dope-fueled rabble. Even the “party” of Youth International Party was intended as a pun, with both senses of the word equally legitimate.

The Yippies’ unlikely fusion of these seeming opposites was, somehow, a real one. They saw themselves as the harbingers of a new culture, seeking to psychedelicize the left as well as to politicize the hippies. While the traditional left (like the Mobe) held orderly marches and chanted in unison, the Yippies used hit-and-run street guerilla tactics and bizarre theater, like their October 1967 “exorcism” ritual at the Pentagon. While the traditional left disdained marijuana and LSD as decadent self-indulgence, the Yippies embraced them as agents of liberation, and adopted their legalization as a cause. They saw themselves—however unrealistically—as genuine revolutionaries, and the notion of a populist revolution as the product of an elite conspiracy can be traced back to the 19th-century Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin and Auguste Blanqui, who fancied himself the secret mastermind of the Paris Commune from his prison cell. The Yippies’ ethic of media manipulation—”using the system against the system”—fit this mentality perfectly.

But if Hoffman played the media by acting the role of irreverent jester for the cameras, there is another figure who was arguably even more influential—yet virtually unknown because, by choice, he labored in the shadows. And rather than merely manipulate the media, this man of mystery (an image he consciously cultivated) actually built his own modest media empire in the 1970s, creating something that, at least briefly, approached a real alternative to the corporate press, and helped move the whole American spectrum to the left, the loose and the funky. Tellingly, he killed himself on the very eve of the Reagan revolution, in which those gains would be largely repealed.

With the country once again as divided as it was in 1968, perhaps it is time that Thomas King Forçade received his posthumous due.


Born Kenneth Gary Goodson (the name-change came when he forged his new identity), he started life as the nomad brat of a military contractor. After stints in Okinawa, Alaska and Greenland, the family returned to their native Arizona—where Gary’s father met his death in a car accident when the boy was 11. Gary’s principal passion as a teenager was hot-rodding, his anti-authoritarian streak manifested by getting into chases across the desert with the Utah state police. He eventually graduated to smuggling in trunkloads of marijuana from across the Mexican border. He briefly served in the Air Force in 1965, but, feigning insanity, was dishonorably discharged before he could be dispatched to Vietnam. Back in the civilian world, he earned a degree in business administration from the University of Utah. In 1967, he caught the psychedelic wave, grew his hair long, and moved into a communal household in the Tucson area. When the commune was raided for marijuana and LSD by the police, and some members arrested, he became politicized—and somewhat paranoid. He changed his name and began publishing his drug-culture journal Orpheus, which seems to have been inspired by San Francisco’s contemporaneous Oracle. But this had more of an edge—each edition of one issue was shot through with a bullet as an artistic statement. He produced it from a 1946 Chevy school bus he drove around Arizona to avoid police harassment. The name Forçade was an intentional play on the word “facade”—a wink to the initiated that it was an alias (although some sources maintain Forçade was his paternal grandmother’s maiden name).

Isolated in conservative Arizona, Forçade identified with the then-mushrooming radical or “underground” press movement. Small publications were springing up from coast to coast. Some, like Oracle, were focused on psychedelic exploration and mysticism. Others, like the Los Angeles Free Press, were journalistic, full of leftist muckracking. But increasingly, papers like New York’s East Village Other, which merged the two sensibilities, set the template. The underground press came to be seen as the voice of the radical youth movement of which the Yippies were the avant-garde.

In 1969 Forçade drove the school bus to New York where he teamed up with John Wilcock of the East Village Other to launch what they dubbed the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS), which served as a clearing house for the numerous new radical journals around the country. (The acronym, of course, was another play—on United Parcel Service.) UPS affiliates could lift material from each other, and link as a network. Forçade’s friends back in Arizona continued to publish Orpheus, which now metamorphosed into the official “directory” and periodic anthology of the UPS. But the UPS national headquarters, in a big loft on New York’s West 17th Street, became Forçade’s new base of operations.

Already Forçade was harboring dreams of the counter-culture supplanting and becoming the mainstream. “A daily underground paper in every city, and a weekly in every town,” he articulated his vision. “The underground press,” he wrote in the UPS founding manifesto, “is crouched like a Panther, dollars and days away from daily publication and thus total domination in the print media. After the underground press goes daily, they’ll die like flies.”

He saw his enterprise as on the frontlines of a culture war: “The Underground Press Syndicate papers, as advance scouts for journalism in Amerika & the world, often find themselves in conflict with the last vestiges of honky mentality… uptight Smokey-the-Bears of the totalitarian forest running around with axe-wielding blue-meanie henchmen, stomping out the fires of a people who have found their voice and are using it.” But he was convinced of victory. “The fires are too many and too big.”

The UPS claimed a collective 20 million readers, and Forçade strove to make the venture economically self-sustaining. He sold the microfilm rights of all UPS affiliates to the firm Bell & Howell for re-sale to libraries—which simultaneously brought in money and made the material more widely available. He contracted one Concert Hill Publications of Pennsylvania as the syndicate’s official ad agency. Some expressed fears that UPS was becoming too capitalistic with this move, but revenues from rock bands and concert promoters flowed in, and the underground press movement grew.

In New York, Forçade cut a strange figure. In an era and milieu of self-conscious flamboyance, he went around in an austere black outfit resembling a priest’s cassock, with a matching black wide-brimmed cowboy hat and ever-present dark glasses. He also rode around in a matching black Cadillac. He seemed to relish the rumors surrounding him that he was moving large quantities of marijuana into the city. In these years—like Hoffman, a senior figure in the New York radical scene, and clearly a role model—he actively sought notoriety, while justifying it as a tool of social change.

But, with Richard Nixon now in power, there was also an increased sense of paranoia. The Senate Internal Security Subcommittee investigated the finances of Liberation News Service, the journalistic collective that serviced many UPS affiliates. Federal legislation was introduced that sought to ban publications that ran communiquĂ©s from armed groups like the Black Panthers and Weather Underground. Local district attorneys and police forces launched a campaign of harassment. The Phoenix office of the UPS was raided in an ostensible drug search; no drugs were found, but police confiscated files and subscription lists. Wrote Forçade: “With obscenity busts, they get your money; with drug busts, they get your people; with intimidation, they get your printer; and if you still manage somehow to get out a sheet, their distribution monopolies and rousts keep it from ever getting to the people.”

The obscenity busts were also real—there was a cross-fertilization between pornography and the underground press at this point, with the radical journals pushing the limits on sexual frankness, providing personal ads for amorous readers (a new idea back then), and (in theory at least) making erotic imagery less voyeuristic and objectifying and more participatory and instructive. These distinctions were, of course, lost on the authorities. And on May 14, 1970, Forçade registered a rather dramatic protest.

Dressed in his trademark outfit, Forçade showed up at the hearings of the President’s Commission on Obscenity and Pornography in Washington DC, carrying an open letter to the commission listing 45 publications that had been censored or shut down by busts or intimidation. His testimony accused the commissioners of being “walking antiques…trying to stamp out our…working model of tomorrow’s paleocybernetic culture, soul, life, manifesting love force, anarchy, euphoria…flowing new-consciousness media… So fuck off, and fuck censorship!” Concluding his comments, he stepped forward and—with a war cry of “The only obscenity is censorship!”—wafted a cream pie right into the face of the commission’s chairman, Otto N. Larsen of the University of Washington.

This event—which took place the same day that two black student protesters were killed and nine injured by police gunfire at Mississippi’s Jackson State College—is now known as the first Yippie pie-ing. The tactic would later be taken up by Yippie Pie-Man Aron Kay, who would go on to symbolically “assassinate” Nixon aides G. Gordon Liddy, E. Howard Hunt and John Dean; CIA director William Colby; UN ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan; conservative pundit William F. Buckley; anti-feminist crusader Phyllis Schlafly; pop artist Andy Warhol; California governor Jerry Brown; New York mayors Abe Beame and Ed Koch, and several other icons of the establishment. Other Yippies creamed H-bomb mastermind Edward Teller, anti-gay mouthpiece Anita Bryant and Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, a perceived exploiter of the youth culture. (The tradition is still being carried on today by a loose network known as the Biotic Baking Brigade, which has pied many captains of government and industry in recent years, including San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, Microsoft magnate Bill Gates and corporate raider Charles Hurwitz.)

In August 1970, Forçade undertook another high-profile caper. Warner Brothers was filming a movie entitled Medicine Ball Caravan, that chronicled the adventures of a tribe of hippies—including ex-Merry Prankster Wavy Gravy and his Hog Farm commune—as they made their way cross-country to attend the Isle of Wight rock festival in England. Forçade intercepted the caravan near Boulder. In his Cadillac limousine (now painted a militaristic olive drab) was a wide assortment of fireworks and smoke-bombs. In his entourage was one of the Yippies’ most provocative characters, David Peel—the group’s official songster, whose John Lennon-produced album The Pope Smokes Dope was an underground classic then being banned all over the world (and who took his name from his habit of smoking banana peels). Peel’s incessant taunting of the caravan leaders as whores for Warner Brothers finally brought the situation to violence. The camp boss pulled a knife on Peel; then Forçade (decked out like a frontiersman in a fringed leather jacket with a skull-and-crossbones button reading “The American Revolution”) jumped the boss from behind. The whole episode was caught on film—and used in the movie. While Forçade claimed his aim had been to expose the caravan as corporate exploitation of the counter-culture, rumors circulated that he had actually been in Warner Brothers’ pay—to provide some on-camera violence and publicity. Others claimed he was piggy-backing a big cross-country marijuana run on the caravan.

In 1971, when rock producer Phil Spector was accused of sitting on money raised by ex-Beatle George Harrison and friends (Ravi Shankar, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan) at Madison Square Garden’s legendary Concert for Bangladesh, Forçade joined with another Yippie, AJ Weberman, to found the Rock Liberation Front—which occupied Spector’s office to demand the funds be released. The negative publicity worked. Finally, the money started to arrive at the relief organizations working at the camps in northeast India, where some 10 million had taken precarious refuge from the brutal war in Bangladesh.

But there was again an ambiguity of motives surrounding the next escapade, which represented both the pinnacle of Forçade’s career as a visible activist leader and the impetus for an abrupt change in his trajectory—the defining moment in his life. It was also the last gasp of the Yippies, and the group’s inevitable Oedipal revolt.

Forçade had, of course, been drawn into the Yippies’ orbit upon his arrival in New York. His first ego-clash with Hoffman surrounded production of Abbie’s third and most popular tome: the cleverly entitled Steal This Book. The previous two, the Yippie manifesto Woodstock Nation and the stream-of-consciousness Revolution for the Hell of It (written under the pseudonym “Free,” even though Hoffman’s highly recognizable image adorned the cover, and several inside pages), had been successful—as had Rubin’s own manifesto Do It! But Steal This Book would have to be self-published—given the provocative title (which Hoffman refused to compromise on), and the fact that it was an explicit how-to manual on subverting and ripping off the system, including detailed instructions on squatting, shoplifting and building pipe-bombs and Molotov cocktails, complete with charts and diagrams.

Woodstock Nation and Revolution for the Hell of It were credited to the celebrity-hungry Hoffman despite the fact that—by many accounts—they were actually collective efforts, with lesser-known and younger Yippies helping out on the editing and even writing. Steal This Book was to be an even more explicitly collaborative project. When Hoffman had to return to Chicago in 1969 to serve a 13-day jail sentence for writing “FUCK” on his forehead in public, he hired Forçade to edit, typeset and lay out the manuscript. Upon his return to New York, Hoffman was presented with a bill of $5,000 for two weeks of work. Unhappy with either the price or the work, he refused to pay. The Yippies organized a “people’s court” to settle the matter, with Hoffman and Forçade each presenting their case to a panel of three arbiters.

Forçade argued that his fee was based on what he was paid by Madison Avenue advertising agencies as a “youth market” consultant—which particularly galled Hoffman, as this was exactly the kind of work he regularly turned down. For Forçade, in turn, the Yippies’ spirit of volunteerism and shoestring improvisation masked exploitation. As panelist Craig Karpel put it: “If Tom was trying to use his competence to hustle Abbie, Abbie was trying to use his incompetence to hustle Tom.” The panel ultimately issued what was conceived as a compromise: Hoffman would pay Forçade $1,000. There is a famous photo taken after the verdict was announced, in which a smiling Hoffman extends his hand to Forçade, as one of the panelists, a young Yippie named Mayer Vishner, looks on between them, clearly hoping for reconciliation. Forçade makes no move to accept Hoffman’s hand, or even turn to face him; he looks at the camera, ramrod-straight and poker-faced.

After the verdict, Forçade hit Hoffman with a double-whammy. First, he held a press conference in which he announced that the “people’s court” had ruled in his favor because it had ordered Hoffman to pay him money. The “Abbie Guilty!” headline hit both the mainstream and underground media. Then, he sued Hoffman in civil court—which was seen as a grave betrayal of counter-culture ethics.

Ultimately, two rival editions were issued, identical in every particular except the title and cover. Ironically Hoffman’s was printed under the moniker of “Pirate Editions,” while Forçade’s smaller print run was a pirate edition of this version! Printed by “Hopscotch, Inc.,” Forçade’s knock-off was dubbed The “Steal Yourself Rich” Book. Hoffman’s name only appeared on the title page, not the cover. A line of small print read: “Large portions of this book were previously published under the title ‘Steal This Book.'” Of course, the text said nothing about getting rich, but much about living for free on the fringe of society, fighting the police and generally making trouble for the “Pig Empire.” The two titles exemplified the divergent philosophies of the two men: Hoffman’s saw theft as an act of resistance against the system of private property; Forçade’s as a mere hustle.

The Yippie split intensified with the presidential campaigns of 1972. Both the Republicans and Democrats would be holding their conventions in Miami. The Republicans stood behind Nixon, who had escalated the bombardment of Vietnam and spread the war to Cambodia. But this time the Democrats seemed poised to nominate the anti-war candidate George McGovern—in the first election in which 18-year-olds would have the vote. The old Yippie leaders announced that they were prepared to protest the Republicans, but not the Democrats. Hoffman, Rubin and Ed Sanders (the rock star/poet of The Fugs, a Lower East Side-based band) joined to co-author the book Vote!, which urged the anti-war movement to support McGovern. Read Hoffman’s jacket blurb: “This is the first time since 1776 that America is up for grabs. Vote and its yours.” Sanders: “I might have done a lot of crazy things before, but now, it’s time to get the rock and roll people to vote.”

The younger generation of Yippies wouldn’t go along with this. A counter-triumvirate to Hoffman/Rubin/Sanders congealed around Forçade, Dana Beal and Cindy Ornsteen, and insisted on protesting both parties at Miami. They assumed a more hard-left posture, arguing that the Democrats as well as Republicans were a party of big business and war, and that the founding Yippies had become ossified and sold out. The breakaway faction around Forçade dubbed themselves the “Zippies,” and adopted the slogan: “Put the zip back into YIP!” Another Zippie slogan was “We are not McGovernable!”

Accused a post-Miami manifesto officially purging Hoffman and Rubin as YIP leaders: “Their endorsement of the McGovern candidacy was an attempt to commit YIP to surrendering our independent identity to a party controlled by oil billionaires and labor reactionaries, the Connallys and Meanys. Our survival as a party is absolutely incompatable [sic] with that of the Democratic Party. We cannot represent the interests of youth within the Democratic Party.” It also accused them of being anti-democratic and elitist.

The folks around Hoffman and Rubin saw baser motives. Chicago ’68 had been the Yippies’ moment of glory, and these younger Yips had missed it. Forçade had still been in Arizona, and Beal had been in jail on a marijuana charge during the “Battle of Chicago.” Now they wanted their own chance to make history—or at least headlines.

Sexual rivalries may have also played a part—Forçade’s love interest, former Berkeley Barb reporter Gabrielle Schang, had recently dumped him for Sanders. In fact, some sources maintain that finding out Schang was in Miami with Sanders was what prompted him to go there and assume the role of protest leader in the first place—and that he took a New York City taxi-cab all the way down in a split-instant decision!

Finally, there were the inevitable rumors that Forçade was a paid agent provocateur—assigned a task of discrediting the protest movement as kneejerk nihilism, and even tilting the election to law-and-order candidate Nixon. In a possible revenge strategy by Hoffman for Forçade’s media zap against him over the Steal This Book affair, the old Yippies (or somebody) succeeded in selling this spin to the mainstream press. Wrote Jack Anderson in the Washington Post: “Published reports claim that the young radicals who slashed tires, threw rocks and terrorized Republicans at the national convention were really on the GOP payroll.” Mike Royko in the Chicago Tribune: “Is somebody in the White House the real leader of the Zippies?” Both stories mentioned Forçade by name, and Anderson even revealed his real name.

The Miami protests did indeed explode into violence, and even the Zippies afterwards said that real agents provocateurs had been at work. In an effort to split the Zippies from other groups at Miami—particularly Vietnam Veterans Against the War—poison-pen leaflets were distributed bearing Forçade’s face in the style of a “WANTED” poster, accusing him of dealing heroin and getting vets hooked on smack. This was almost certainly part of the FBI’s COINTELPRO (Counter-Intelligence Program), which widely used such tactics against the New Left and especially the Black Panthers (as declassification of documents subsequently revealed). A goon squad of burly crew-cut men with shirts reading “FUC” attacked and beat up protesters. It was said this stood for Florida Undercover Coalition, a semi-official extremist wing of the Miami police.

Worse, the Miami protests failed to win the media attention that had riveted the nation and the world in the summer of ’68. Wrote historian Todd Gitlin in his account of the protest movement, The Whole World is Watching: “There was, in fact, far less live coverage of the demonstrations at the 1972 Republican Convention in Miami Beach, though those demonstrations were numerically larger than the Chicago events.”

But the real trouble came in the aftermath—when Forçade was charged by federal prosecutors with possession of a firebomb and intention to incinerate the convention center. (He had been arrested during the protests for attempting to steal a portrait of Lyndon Johnson from the convention center, but the charge didn’t stick.) The nostalgia for Chicago ’68 was becoming too real. If convicted, he faced a lengthy prison term.

Initially, he considered going underground. He laid low for weeks, checking into motels under false names with Cindy Ornsteen (while planting the rumor that he had fled to Argentina). Finally he turned himself in to face the charges—and in one last hurrah of bravado boasted to the feds that the Weathermen would soon break him out of jail (as they recently had Timothy Leary). Shotgun-wielding guards were posted outside his cell around the clock.

Forçade was cleared of the charges, but the episode prompted a radical change of direction in his life. On the lam with Ornsteen, he had arrived at a new strategy to realize his ambitions—to build the radical press movement and effect social change—but this time from the shadows rather than the limelight. And, this time, to get rich in the process.


1974 was a turning point. US troops were finally home from Vietnam. Abbie Hoffman, wanted on a cocaine sale rap, went underground. Jerry Rubin dropped out of activist politics. Richard Nixon resigned to avoid facing impeachment proceedings. And Tom Forçade launched High Times magazine.

The concept was brilliant, and more successful than Forçade himself had anticipated. A whole industry of marijuana paraphernalia and growing equipment had sprung up in recent years, and needed a place to advertise. And there was a public eager for the magazine’s unique mixture of sophisticated alternative journalism and marijuana pornography. A small print run disappeared from the news-stands in a flash; more were printed, and they too were gone in the blink of an eye. It was an instant sensation.

As Albert Goldman would write in a retrospective in High Times on the magazine’s founder 15 years after his death: “Starting the magazine on a $20,000 shoestring, Forçade would see the circulation double with every issue for years, until at its peak, in 1978, High Times was read by four million people a month, grossed five million dollars a year and had been acclaimed as the ‘publishing success story of the seventies.’ The same shrewdness exemplified by the concept and the financing was evinced in the design and packaging of the product… Forçade produced a slick knock-off of the paramount magazine formula of recent times: the Playboy-Penthouse sex mag. His reasoning was flawless. Dope was the sex of the ’70s: a universal pleasure fighting for full acceptance… [W]hy shouldn’t the formula that worked for pussy work for pot?”

Forçade had found his true calling. He had once theorized to the UPS: “You’re going to have to identify…some sort of base that the straight press can’t co-opt. Either sex, drugs or politics.” Precisely because drugs were illegal, they fit the bill perfectly. Sex could be commodified, and politics could go soft. But dope was inexorably outlaw—and especially after Nixon, who had launched a “War on Drugs,” and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). High Times was inherently oppositional.

In addition to full-color centerfolds of high-grade marijuana, there were columnists—principally Ed Rosenthal and Mel Frank—who provided explicit instructions on how to grow the stuff, and one, “‘R.’, Dope Connoisseur,” who reviewed the latest strains. As the magazine was popularized, the homegrown movement flourished. There were also first-hand accounts of smuggling, and domestic growers followed in the footsteps of High Times journalists to bring back exotic strains from Morocco, Afghanistan and Nepal.

But being the Hugh Hefner of the dope culture also fueled Forçade’s paranoia. While he was both full owner and real editorial director (closely managing the official publisher, Andy Kowl, and editor, Ed Dwyer), his name did not appear in the magazine. When he wrote, it was under pseudonyms like “Leslie Morrison.” At first High Times operated out of the UPS office; eventually both moved to a bigger space at East 27th Street. Forçade (who now developed a penchant for white suits—again with matching cowboy hat and ever-present shades) rented a loft across the street, or stayed in nearby hotels, where he hosted conclaves with the staff. He ceased to be a visible figure—he now craved anonymity as avidly as he had once craved notoriety. He had become the Howard Hughes of the counter-culture, as much as the Hugh Hefner.

His old sense of absurdist humor was still at work. The company he formed as official publisher of High Times was dubbed the Trans-High Corporation, or THC—the acronym for tetrahydro-cannabinol, the psycho-active ingredient in marijuana. Its official icon was the P-38, a twin-tailed World War II fighter which Forçade re-envisioned as the ultimate smuggler plane.

A remnant faction of the Yippies, meanwhile, continued to exist under the leadership of Dana Beal, from a building at 9 Bleecker Street in the East Village. They continued to launch protests at national political conventions (Kansas City, 1976), but marijuana legalization became their special cause. They held public “smoke-ins” around the country, the most prominent being the annual affairs in Washington DC on July 4, New York’s Fifth Avenue on May 1, and Washington Square Park on Halloween. They also launched their own publication, Yipster Times. Forçade and Beal remained close collaborators—High Times publicized and covered the Yippie events, and Tom sunk money into them.

He also sunk money into an array of other publications. Just before High Times was founded, the Underground Press Syndicate officially changed its name to the Alternative Press Syndicate, hoping to win greater mainstream legitimacy—and less heat from the authorities. The APS launched its own magazine, Alternative Media, published at the High Times offices, and conceived as a more serious and activist-oriented sibling journal. Forçade also quietly provided seed money for many new additions to the APS network around the country—from gay and feminist publications to the burgeoning ecologist, anti-nuclear and Native American press.

When the punk sub-culture exploded, many old hippies were aghast, but Forçade cheered it on, providing seed money, advertisers and national distribution for Punk magazine, the brainchild of cartoonist John Holmstrom (who did the back-cover art for the Ramones’ third album, 1977’s Rocket to Russia, and the front-cover art for the following year’s Road to Ruin). This became the prototype for a whole universe of punk fanzines, and was key to popularizing the genre in America. Forçade also slapped down $400,000 for a documentary of the Sex Pistols’ legendary and star-crossed 1978 US tour, DOA.

Forçade even for a time published (it is widely suspected) his own ostensible rivals to High Times, called Stone Age and Head—another of his obsessive pranks. And he opened his own bookstore in Soho, called New Morning (from the title of both a Bob Dylan album and a Weather Underground manifesto).

High Times, it must be emphasized, contained intelligent journalism, not just pot pornography. One star reporter was Rob Singer (who in the ’90s would serve a prison term for a huge California marijuana operation, which involved moving the stuff around in a fleet of refrigerated cross-country rigs). In 1976, he authored an in-depth and highly prescient piece, “Dope Dictators,” which documented the drug ties of various despots around the planet and predicted: “In the years to come the rhetoric of the Dope War will replace rhetoric of the Cold War as the justification for foreign military intervention. Instead of sending in the Marines, Washington will send in the narcs.” These lines anticipated the 1989 invasion of Panama, and the secret war currently underway in Colombia.

Key to High Times’ success was Forçade’s partnership with Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler. Flynt bucked the Mafia, which had traditionally maintained control of pornography distribution, by establishing his own distribution company for Hustler and his other magazines. High Times also used this company, which—in a practice unheard-of in the business—paid for magazines up front. This allowed Forçade to maintain High Times’ extensive payroll (it is said two staffers were hired just to roll joints for the rest!), throw lavish parties regularly, and still sink money into political causes.

And Forçade’s success extended to his personal life—he finally won the love of Gabrielle Schang, who became his common-law wife (and editor of Alternative Media).

However, there were also contradictions eating away at the dream. Forçade, it became clear, was (like Abbie Hoffman) manic-depressive—or, more accurately, afflicted with what is now called seasonal affective disorder, SAD. He was full of frenetic energy in the spring and summer, but grew despondent as the days grew shorter. His mood swings made life difficult for High Times staff. In one episode, he staged a “Saturday Night Massacre,” firing everybody—only to hire them all back the next day. Andy Kowl related to Albert Goldman an incident in which Tom produced a .45 pistol in the midst of an argument—only to hand it to Kowl and demand he shoot him.

While Forçade ploughed money into the DC-based National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML, founded 1970), he could also lord it over the organization in the most arrogant manner. In one famous episode, he showed up at a NORML benefit party at a posh Park Avenue apartment and intentionally offended the hostess—putting his boots up on the polished wood table, lighting a joint and meeting protests with “Go fuck yourself!”

Most bizarrely, even as High Times became massively successful, Forçade continued to smuggle massive quantities of marijuana into the country. He established a clandestine “smoke-easy” at 714 Broadway, where the city’s pot dealers congregated to share samples, compare prices and conduct business. Goldman relates one escapade in which Forçade was personally overseeing the ferrying of boatloads of Colombian to a drop-off point from a freighter off the Florida coast. The operation was discovered by the police, and Forçade fled into the Everglades, where he hid out for days before he made his escape.

One such operation in the spring of 1978 went horribly wrong—and cost the life of Forçade’s close friend and longtime smuggling partner Jack (O’Lantern) Coombs, who was flying in a load of Colombian in a twin-engine cargo plane. Forçade was to meet him mid-air in a smaller plane and guide him to a Florida drop-off point, where the cargo would be parachuted to a waiting ground crew. Coombs’ plane came in too low, hit tree level—and burst into flames. Forçade, it was said by those who knew him, always blamed himself for his friend’s death. This is counted as the beginning of his downward spiral.

Some of High Times’ journalistic coups also backfired. In 1978, President Carter’s drug policy advisor Dr. Peter Bourne—already under fire for allegedly approving a Quaalude prescription for a secretary’s recreational use—was spotted snorting coke at a NORML party in the fashionable DC district of Georgetown. High Times writer Craig Copetas had been present, and the magazine eagerly reported this hot gossip, hoping to shame Carter into following through on his promises to decriminalize marijuana. Predictably, it had exactly the opposite effect. Bourne was forced to resign, and Carter stepped up aid to Mexico to spray the defoliant paraquat on marijuana fields.

A key turning point in High Times’ fortunes came with the attempted assassination of Larry Flynt. In March 1978, during a legal battle against obscenity charges in Georgia’s Gwinnett County, Flynt and his lawyer were shot outside the courthouse. A white supremacist militant later confessed to the crime, but rumors of Mafia or CIA involvement abounded. They both survived, but Flynt was confined to a wheelchair for life—and during his lengthy recovery, the distribution business fell into disarray. High Times lost the sweet distribution deal on which it depended. Economic chaos loomed for the magazine.

Later that year, Gabrielle Schang interviewed Tom on tape at their Greenwich Village apartment, at his request. He spoke about his ongoing dreams of building a viable alternative press, about his fears of government surveillance. (“Effectively, I’ve already spent the last 10 years in jail—I’ve been under such close surveillance.”) Incredibly, he denied ever breaking any laws. (“My only crime is not agreeing with the straight media.”) He boasted of his voracious reading and work habits. Asked what motivated him, he said: “I have a deep fear of killing myself out of boredom.”

On November 16, 1978, alone in his bed, with Gabrielle in the very next room, Tom Forçade, depressed, insomniac and paranoid (and—allegedly—having taken Quaaludes in an effort to sleep), shot himself in the temple with a pearl-handled .22.

He was 33 years old.


There were, of course, the inevitable rumors of government involvement. Forçade’s old Yippie friend AJ Weberman—a notorious conspiracy theorist, author of the book Coup d’Etat in America, claiming Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt killed JFK for the CIA—immediately charged that Schang was a paid agent and had killed Forçade for the CIA. He noted that right-handed Tom had been shot in the left temple. Mel Frank would assert that Forçade had been followed by mysterious black cars in his final weeks.

Schang became the new High Times editor, but control of THC passed to Forçade’s lawyer Michael Kennedy, and she remained at the helm only a few issues. A succession of new editors followed, but it was clear the magazine was foundering.

The general cultural atmosphere changed rapidly. Reagan was elected. Hippies—and even Yippies, like Jerry Rubin—became yuppies. Colombia’s marijuana syndicates morphed into the sinister cocaine cartels, and coke replaced pot as America’s fashionable youth drug—but now as a symbol of affluence, not rebellion. Hardcore porn put the sexual frankness of the old underground press to shame, but utterly betrayed any ethic of equalitarian eroticism and de-objectification.

High Times, its circulation plummeting, followed this cultural de-evolution. Under editor Larry “Ratso” Sloman (who would later write an unflattering biography of Abbie Hoffman), photos of sparkling cocaine replaced marijuana buds and hashish balls in the centerfold spreads. Serious journalism nearly disappeared from the magazine. The APS withered, and Alternative Media ceased publication.

The remnant Yippies around Dana Beal (adopting a plethora of ad hoc front organizations) continued with their smoke-ins and protests at the political conventions (Detroit, New York, 1980; San Francisco, Dallas, 1984), but with greatly reduced numbers and far less support from High Times. Forçade’s final interview was run in the premier issue of Overthrow, as Yipster Times was re-named in 1979. Adopting a punk aesthetic and launching the American branch of the UK Rock Against Racism movement, the latter-day Yips that year opened a rock club at 10 Bleecker Street (just a few doors down from CBGB), popularly called Studio 10 but officially the Thomas K. Forçade Memorial Multi-Media Center. It would be evicted in 1981, with the gentrification of the East Village. Overthrow would finally cease publication in the late ’80s (perhaps marking an official end of the underground press movement), although Beal continues even now to reside in the building at 9 Bleecker, where a faded sign over the door reads “Yipster Times”—an incongruous anachronism among upscale boutiques and eateries. He is currently touting it as “The Yippie Museum.”

In 1986, as crack was infesting the streets of America’s cities, Reagan launched his own renewed War on Drugs. In the inevitable crackdown on the paraphernalia industry, High Times’ advertising base was virtually wiped out; the Justice Department even launched an investigation into the magazine for conspiracy to distribute paraphernalia. As the cheap freeze-dried variety became ubiquitous, cocaine quickly went from being a symbol of yuppie prosperity to a stigma associated with the urban poor and criminal element. Ironically, the official anti-drug hysteria came just as the CIA’s “contra” operations in Nicaragua were overseeing massive cocaine imports into the United States. (Abbie Hoffman, who had cut a deal with the authorities and come out from underground in 1980, made opposition to the secret war in Nicaragua one of his new activist campaigns. He too would fall victim to an apparent suicide in 1989.)

It was clear that High Times had to change. Steve Hager was brought in as the new editor in ’86. He cleaned out the cocaine, brought back the marijuana and a degree of political idealism. John Holmstrom, formerly of Punk, became publisher. In the late ’80s and ’90s High Times underwent something of a renaissance, with writers such as Peter Gorman, Steve Wishnia, Preston Peet and myself covering the War on Drugs as a serious political issue. Dean Latimer, the news editor from the Forçade era, was brought back. But this came to an end in subsequent editorial purges. High Times remains today the proverbial shadow of its former self—and something of a self-parody, with lots of pot pornography and sophomoric humor, but very little real journalism or political consciousness.

Controversy also surrounded Forçade’s stated desire that a certain percentage of High Times’ profits go to NORML in perpetuity. Former NORML board member Don Wirtshafter has accused THC of cooking the books to avoid giving the organization what it is due under Forçade’s deal. In 2000, THC was officially turned over from the trustees of Forçade’s estate (including some fairly conservative family members in Arizona) to those who had been on High Times staff for more than 10 years—again, in accord with Forçade’s stated wishes. But both Ed Rosenthal and John Holmstrom have sued THC, claiming they didn’t get what they were owed under the arrangement. Rosenthal lost his case, and Holmstrom’s was dropped. Michael Kennedy (while never a trustee or share-holder) is still seen as the real brains behind THC.

Marijuana, of course, remains illegal, with some 50,000 doing time for the stuff nationwide (out of over a million nonviolent drug offenders)—although several states have decriminalized, and several others passed laws or referenda legalizing medical marijuana, sparking a states’ rights showdown with the feds. Ed Rosenthal has been officially licensed to grow medical marijuana for the city of Oakland, California, and is prevailing in the courts against federal efforts to prosecute him on various felonies.

New publications on the High Times model have sprung up—principally Cannabis Culture, Heads and Skunk (all published in Canada), Weed World (UK), Cáñamo (Spain) and Stickypoint (Australia). The whole notion of an “alternative press” has been changed by the Internet in ways Forçade never could have anticipated, with webzines and blogs filling a similar niche. The Independent Media Centers, which emerged from the 1999 Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization, are in some ways an updated answer to the UPS. But the IMCs are a uniform franchise, contrasting the homespun individualism of the old underground press. And the sheer abundance of electronic media also has a marginalizing effect. With the IMCs lost amid a cacophony of right-wing blogs, there is certainly no sense of a unified oppositional culture animating the new digital alternative media.

Yet, the USA is once again bitterly divided over an unpopular war, riven by stark cultural contradictions; and issues of government surveillance and abuse of power have only grown more pressing since 9-11. These parallels make this an opportune moment to look back, re-asses what has brought us to this point. The legacy of Tom Forçade is now more worthy of examination than at any time since his death.

Bill Weinberg is a former High Times news editor and currently editor of the online journal World War 4 Report. He is the author of Homage to Chiapas: The New Indigenous Struggles in Mexico (Verso Books, 2000), and is at work on a book on the secret war in Colombia.

This story originally appeared in the January/February edition of Cannabis Culture


Tom Forçade reminiscences at AcidTrip.com

Abbie Hoffman website

Ed Rosenthal’s website

John Holmstrom’s website

Yippie Pie-Man’s Homepage

The Yippie Museum


High Times

Cannabis Culture on the Forçade Trust controversy

Accuracy in Media on Ed Dwyer: “From Pot to Porn to AARP”


Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, April 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution



The Vietnam GI Revolt & Iraq

by Michael I. Niman, Art Voice, Buffalo, NY

The name Vietnam is back in our vocabulary, as we seem to be developing an interest in history—or at least in the history of wars that just would not end. Americans seem to be catching on that if we ignore history, we’re condemned to repeat it. The problem is that certain crucial elements of the Vietnam story have been censored from our national memory.

The unfortunate reality is that people aren’t suddenly interested in Vietnam because, like Iraq, it’s a war we had no legitimate reason for entering. No. If that were the issue, Vietnam would have returned more strongly to the national zeitgeist back in 2002 as the Bush administration and the national media were beating the drums for war. The reality is that if the US had been able to pacify Iraq easily and grab whatever spoils the neo-con crowd lusted after, people wouldn’t be talking about Vietnam. Sadly, this isn’t a groundswell of moral indignation. It’s just that in Iraq, like in Vietnam, we seem to be losing.

We’re losing in Iraq on many counts: We control less and less of the country; the violence we are supposedly trying to quell is instead escalating; reconstruction has been largely a failure; and Iraqis, instead of enjoying freedom from tyranny, are living in a state of abject deprivation and terror.

Losing breeds discontent. It’s like Argentina’s 1982 invasion of Britain’s Falkland Islands colony. The Argentines ousted their dictatorship after Argentina lost that war, not because the war was wrong but because they lost it. This is why revisionist American history texts never use the word “lost” in connection with the Vietnam war. It just sort of ended. And now the Vietnamese make Nikes.

Vietnam Redux?

Iraq is not Vietnam, however. We’re dealing with a different geopolitical situation—more a north-south global conflict than an east-west one. Vietnam’s significance, the hawks argued, was political. Iraq’s significance, of course, is oil.

What is the same is that we’re bogged down in a war with no achievable objective, right or wrong, no exit plan and no end in sight. Put the words “quagmire” and “Iraq” into a Lexis/Nexis news database search of major American newspapers and you’ll come up with 649 articles published in the last six months.

Current Vietnam myths don’t accurately address why and how that war ended. First there was the “peace with honor” line pushed by Richard Nixon. Then there was the blame game. We could have “won” if we weren’t wimps—with “winning,” one assumes, meaning destroying Vietnam in its entirety and forcing the US-created South Vietnamese dictatorship on whatever poor souls survived a thermonuclear holocaust. (“Bomb Hanoi” was the pro-war battle cry.) Then there was the admission that the war was lost, but with the caveat that it was lost at home. The peaceniks ruined our will to “stay the course.” This theory gives the peace movement full blame or credit for finally ending the war, depending on how you look at it.

History, however, is far more complex. Ultimately the war ended because the US armed forces just stopped fighting. A 1975 study published in The Journal of Social Issues documents how US troops, proportionally, opposed the war more than college students. In the end, some troops rioted, a few killed their commanding officers (fratricide emerged as the leading cause of death for lieutenants), up to 33,000 a year went AWOL and an overwhelming number of active-duty grunts refused orders and simply would not fight. The military was in shambles. It was impossible to continue the ground war, while the air war was politically untenable without the ground war to justify it.

The Spitting Myth

The war ended when the peace movement and the military became one and the same. In fact, returning soldiers played a pivotal role in building the peace movement. Veterans placed anti-war ads in newspapers as early as 1965. That’s the forbidden history we cannot know—because it’s the formula for ending wars. The revisionist history paints a picture of gung-ho patriotic soldiers being “spit upon” by “traitorous anti-American” peace activists. For the last 20 years, peace activists have had to contend with this image of self-righteous, violent, troop-hating hypocrisy.

For the pro-war crowd, the image of the hippie spitting on the returning soldier has become the iconic image of the Vietnam war. Oddly, however, this “image” exists despite the absence of any photographic evidence of a single spitting incident. Vietnam veteran and sociology professor Jerry Lembcke spent years chasing this myth, eventually writing a comprehensive historical study, The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam, published by NYU Press (1998).

Lembcke found an odd similarity to many of the spitting stories. The incident often happened to returning soldiers as they arrived at the San Francisco airport, with a young hippie woman doing the spitting. In doing his research, however, he found no news stories about soldiers being spit upon, even though the press was generally hostile to the anti-war movement. Likewise, he couldn’t find any official reports documenting such incidents, though stories of pro-war demonstrators spitting on peace activists were plentiful. And even though the supposed incidents usually occurred in well policed airports, no one was arrested for spitting on a vet.

Even odder, there are no reports of any veteran retaliating physically against a spitter, as if after months or years of fighting, returning vets suddenly embraced pacifism in the face of humiliating abuse. And despite the supposed predictability surrounding the alleged incidents—you know, hippie women loitering around the San Francisco airport waiting for uniformed soldiers to arrive—no one was ever able to produce photo of a spitting incident.

Lembcke writes: “Not only is there no evidence that these acts of hostility against veterans ever occurred, there is no evidence that anyone at the time thought they were occurring.” In fact, he adds: “Ninety-nine percent of the veterans polled soon after returning described their reception by close friends and family as friendly, while 94 percent said the reception from people their own age who had not served in the armed forces was [also] friendly.” Lembcke’s study shows that “stories of veterans being abused by anti-war activists only surfaced years after the abuses were alleged to have happened.” Most of these stories emerged after the popular Rambo films and other movies strengthened this myth and created a collective conscious memory of events that do not seem to have transpired—or at least did not transpire on any significant level.

Myths of soldiers being abused by peace activists have long been mainstays in pro-war propaganda, with early examples coming from the Nazis, who compared their opponents to mythological peace activists who supposedly attacked and degraded returning veterans from World War I. This turned out to be a winning formula for marginalizing dissent and has been used around the world ever since.

Hanoi Jane and the GI Uprising

Then there’s the Hanoi Jane myth: Like the other peace activists who hated our troops, Jane Fonda was a traitor.

It’s a little-known fact that Fonda went to military bases, like her pro-war nemesis Bob Hope, as an entertainer performing in front of as many as 60,000 soldiers at a single event—a number that would have turned Hope green with envy. Fonda toured with anti-war activists who appeared with her on stage. And the GI audience cheered wildly as they performed their “Fuck the Army” show. Pro-war soldiers—and there were plenty of those as well—hated her. It’s their voice that we hear almost exclusively today, building the myth of a schism between the peace movement and the grunts fighting the Vietnam war. With this media-enhanced stigma hanging over her head, Fonda refrained from speaking at anti-war rallies for 34 years—until January 27, 2007. She feared her presence and the association with this persistent myth would hurt the peace movement.

Another lost piece of history is the story of the GI underground press. According to the Department of Defense, active-duty, Vietnam-era service personnel had published 245 anti-war newsletters and newspapers by 1972, with their editors, writers, distributors and even readers risking court-martial and jail. There was even a GI-run pirate anti-war radio station operating for a short time in Saigon. Government officials took the threat of the GI peace movement extremely seriously, going so far as to court-martial an officer in 1971 for distributing copies of the Declaration of Independence at McChord Air Force Base in Washington state. The base’s underground newspaper reported the case.

That same year, 380 military and civilian police were called in to Travis Air Force Base in California to combat an anti-war rebellion that resulted in the burning of the Officer’s Club and the arrest of 135 GIs. Also in 1971, the Armed Forces Journal published a study entitled “The Collapse of the Armed Forces,” documenting a virtual global uprising by US combat troops. Government studies produced at this time document that 32% of active-duty service personnel participated in some form of resistance ranging from going AWOL to attacking officers. A report issued by the Army documents 86 officers murdered by their troops in that one branch of the service. Attacks injured another 700.

In 1972 the House Armed Services Committee reported hundreds of cases of sabotage disabling Navy equipment, including major instances of arson on two ships. The vessel dispatched to replace one of these fire-damaged ships was delayed by an onboard riot. Another ship was disabled a few weeks later by a strike. Meanwhile court-martialed service personnel were rioting in military stockades around the world.

As 1972 rolled to a close, it became clear to the Nixon administration that “staying the course” in Vietnam was no longer an option. More and more, the war the military was fighting was not against the Vietnamese. We had met the enemy and he was us.

Iraq War Soldiers Want Out

Fast-forward to Iraq. A Le Moyne College/Zogby poll conducted last February found that 72% of active duty military personnel wanted a complete pullout from Iraq by the end of 2006. On January 27, 2007, a contingent of active-duty service personnel marched as participants in the massive anti-war rally in Washington, DC. That week 1,171 active-duty service personnel signed an “Appeal for Redress” demanding that the US Congress support an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Sixty percent of the signatories had fought in Iraq.

When you join the military you in effect waive your constitutional rights as an American—including the right to free speech. Active-duty military personnel can’t show “disrespect” for the president or their commanding officers. Nor can they make statements that “subvert the mission of the military” or wear their uniform when protesting. And the Defense Department’s “Guidelines for Handling Dissent and Protest Among Members of the Armed Forces” prohibits activities such as petitioning Congress. Hence the service members’ statement was an “Appeal for Redress” and not a petition—a gray area that works when the petitioner is joined by 1,170 others. We call this a critical mass.

There are also a growing number of in-your-face deserters living both in Canada and underground in the US. One such war resister, Carl Webb, went so far as to maintain a Web site while he was on the run. The military ended this embarrassing situation not by finding and prosecuting him, but by discharging him, albeit dishonorably.

The All-“Volunteer” Armed Forces

Speculation about a Vietnam-style GI uprising is often tempered by the argument that in the Vietnam war era, most soldiers were reluctant draftees. Today we have an all-volunteer military. The inference is that the military is now a career choice and that today’s fighters are gung-ho to excel.

The counter-argument is that we do in fact have a draft today. The skyrocketing cost of a college education coupled with cuts in student aid, and the disappearance of good entry-level jobs in the US economy, has created an economic draft. As a result, the vast majority of Iraq and Afghanistan casualties come from poor and working-class backgrounds.

Former NBC News correspondent Peter Laufer, author of Mission Rejected: US Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq (Chelsea Green, 2006), interviews military resisters such as AWOL soldier Ryan Johnson, who says he joined because he was poor, describing himself as “a guy who made a wrong decision who wants a forklift job.” Another told Laufer that he couldn’t support his family on a McDonald’s salary. In effect, while we might not ave an official military draft, the new Wal Mart economy has stepped up to the plate to keep the supply of cannon fodder coming.

Then there’s the “stopgap” draft. The military reserves the right to “call up,” or draft, military veterans who have served their time and earned honorable discharges, but technically remain in what the Pentagon calls the Independent Ready Reserves. These draftees, people who served and chose to leave military life only to be put back in against their will, make up the angriest and most vocal group of today’s military resisters. That’s because they, like their Vietnam predecessors, are clearly draftees.

People who feel that today’s volunteer military is less likely to engage in resistance and disobedience need to look back at another little-known fact about the Vietnam war. According to David Cortright, author of Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance During the Vietnam War (Haymarket Books, 2005), enlisted troops were more likely to resist fighting than were draftees. Many joined out of patriotism and were sorely disappointed with the reality on the ground in Vietnam. Others, like today’s volunteers, were victims of an economic draft.

Also, during the Vietnam war, once soldiers served on one tour of duty, they were done with Vietnam. In the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, however, almost one third of the 1.4 million service members who were deployed to the war zones were deployed at least twice—and many considered their second rounds more or less as a draft.

And finally, there’s the National Guard—the “weekend warriors,” many attracted by educational benefits, who signed up primarily to serve their communities during natural disasters. The National Guard was never a part of the Vietnam equation. It’s where George W. Bush hid out during the Vietnam war, before finally going AWOL himself.

Today National Guard troops from all 50 states and Puerto Rico are dying in Afghanistan and Iraq. Others are having their lives upended. They didn’t sign up for this. In effect, they, like the stopgap veterans, are draftees. And for the most part they don’t support this war or this president.

Our Not-So-Free Press

Reporting on military resistance puts journalists in the middle of a minefield. The political and economic pressure to ignore this story and just go with the yellow ribbons is enormous. Anti-war activity by active military personnel, in most cases, is illegal, even when it’s nonviolent and no property is threatened. Encouraging such activity is also illegal—and potentially dangerous in a country whose press freedoms are in a freefall. The US, once a beacon of free speech, is now ranked by the international journalism group Reporters Without Borders as 53rd in press freedom, tied with Botswana, Croatia and Tonga. It is legal to report, for example, on soldiers going AWOL, but is illegal to encourage, in print or otherwise, soldiers to go AWOL or to otherwise resist military duties.

What we can legally say is that resistance to war by active-duty military personnel, like fighting in war, is a brave act. Conscientious objection to war takes courage. Saying no is no more cowardly than saying yes to something you feel is wrong. Resisting the command to put your own life in peril when you don’t see a reason to do so is an expression of sanity. We have a right to support sanity over insanity.


This story first appeared February 1 in Art Voice of Buffalo, NY. It was inspired by the award-winning documentary film Sir! No Sir!


It is also archived at Michael Niman’s website, MediaStudy.com



Sir! No Sir! web site

Carl Webb web site

From our weblog

Military families to Congress: cut the funds
WW4 REPORT, Feb. 17, 2007

Beirut Jane distorts her history
WW4 REPORT, July 26, 2005


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, March 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingWHO’LL STOP THE WAR? 

Dear WW4 REPORT Readers:

For starters, a couple of apologies.

Yes, our February issue is coming out five days late, and our daily weblog has been inactive for nearly a week. This is because your hard-working editor (yours truly) has been down with the flu. (At first I thought it was an ultra-virulent genetically-modified strain of SARS, but I was just being bionoid.)

We are also aware that for the past few weeks, readers have been unable to post comments on the weblog. We are still trying to work out the bugs from switching to a new server last year, and hope to have the problem fixed soon. Please bear with us.

Meanwhile, our winter fund-raiser is still $1,385 short of our goal of $2,000. The only reason we are asking for $2,000 is because that is what we NEED to be able to continue our work.

To cite just one example of our work that we think is critical: the shocking evictions of Maya peasant settlements by the Guatemalan army on behalf of multinational mineral interests last month was a throwback to the days of the dictatorship. Yet with the escalating horrors in the Middle East, such injustices are now overlooked even by the “alternative” media. The Guatemalan evictions received virtually no other coverage in English. A shorter version of my account appeared in the weekly Indian Country Today. The full version appears only on WW4 REPORT.

The reason we produce WW4 REPORT is because there is simply no market elsewhere for this kind of journalism. While much of the rest of left media descend into obvious and redundant Bush-bashing, we actually do the work of looking beyond the headlines and sound-bites to INVESTIGATE rather than merely moralize, to INFORM rather than to preach.

We urgently appeal to you, our readers, to allow us to continue this work! Please find your category (honestly) on the chart below, and send something TODAY, while you are still thinking about it.

Minors, indigent and prisoners: FREE
Students, fixed-income and unemployed: $5
Working class Jane/Joe: $10
Professionals with health insurance: $25
Professionals who just got a raise: $75
Just closed a big dope deal: $100
SUV owners: $200
Confused Republicans who like us because we’re “anti-government”: $500
Self-hating CEOs: $1,000 and up

Send checks to:

89 Fifth Ave. #172
Brooklyn NY 11217

Please make checks payable to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT.

Or donate by credit card:


Thank you for your support. We can’t do it without you—really.

Bill Weinberg

PS Hopefully, we will be doing another print run of our pamphlet series
this month, so we will have something to send you as a token of our


Feb. 1, 2007

Continue ReadingDear WW4 REPORT Readers: 


Stephen Kinzer Traces a Century of Destabilization

by Tom Cornell, The Catholic Worker

OVERTHROW: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq
by Stephen Kinzer
Times Books, Henry Holt & Co., New York 2006

From the Introduction: “Why does a strong nation strike against a weaker one? Usually because it seeks to impose its ideology, increase its power or gain control of valuable resources. Shifting combinations of these three factors motivated the United States as it extended its global reach over the past century and more. This book examines the most direct form of American intervention, the overthrow of foreign governments… [I]t focuses only on the most extreme set of cases: those in which the United States arranged to depose foreign leaders. No nation in modern history has done this so often, in so many places and so far from its own shores.”

Then, chapter by chapter with some review to illustrate a point or fill out an argument, Stephen Kinzer’s Overthrow takes us through a series of fourteen case histories.

Th estudy starts with the overthrow of the of the Hawaiian monarchy and the incorporation of the Hawaiian Islands into US territory for commercial interests. “The influence that economic power exercises over American foreign policy has grown tremendously since the days when ambitious [American] planters in Hawaii realized that by bringing their islands into the United States, they would be able to send their sugar to market without paying import duties.” This first chapter, “A Hell of a Time up at the Palace,” reads like a good thriller. The writing is vivid and fast-paced and sets a tone for the rest of the book. The Hawaii take-over was a brazen “seat of the pants” operation, which nevertheless formed a template for future subversions of increased complexity and sophistication.

From Hawaii, Stephen Kinzer takes us to the US seizure of the remnants of the Spanish Empire in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippine Islands, then to Central America—Nicaragua, Honduras and Panama. We all know of the Monroe Doctrine from grammar school days, but few have heard of the 1904 (Theodore) Roosevelt Corollary which asserted the right of the US to intervene in any country in the Western hemisphere where its interests are threatened or where, in the eyes of the US power elite, the natives don’t yet know how to order their affairs. Can we now speak of a “Bush Corollary” to extend to the whole world?

Kinzer stresses economic interests but he does not neglect cultural aspects, racism, or “the White man’s burden.” He cites excerpts of speeches on the floor of the House and Senate in support of Theodore Roosevelt’s military campaigns by Rep. Charles Cochrane of Mississippi, who invoked “the onward march of the indomitable race that founded the Republic,” and the prediction of “the conquest of the world by the Aryan races.” Sen. Albert Beveridge of Indiana described expansion as part of the natural process, “the disappearance of debased civilizations and decaying races before the higher civilization of the nobler and more virile types of man.” These brought ovations from the chambers.

Americans must believe that whenever we intervene in the affairs of other nations, we do so for the highest motives, for their own good. In fact, the conquered seldom benefit and the victors lose as well, by the inexorable law of unexpected consequences, as Kinzer clearly demonstrates. Many have drawn parallels between President McKinley’s war in the Philippines and the war in Vietnam, or between Vietnam and Iraq, but this is the first study to trace the arc of military intervention for regime change from the beginning of the 20th century to the present, with all its sorry consequences.

The cast of characters over this century is fascinating, and none more so than John Foster Dulles. If you think Dick Cheney has connections, consider John Foster Dulles, President Eisenhower’s secretary of state. Both his grandparents and his uncle had served as secretaries of state-for Benjamin Harrison and Woodrow Wilson. His son is the revered theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles. His father was a Presbyterian missionary, and (Kinzer does not note this) the family trace their ancestry to Charlemange. John Foster “spent decades working for some of the world’s most powerful corporations… It was Dulles who ordered the 1953 coup in Iran to make the Middle East safe for American oil companies. A year later he ordered another coup, in Guatemala, where a nationalist government challenged the power of United Fruit, a company his old law firm had represented.” As the century progressed, captains of industry and commerce not only influenced national policy, they made it.

The study in the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iran under Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953 is particularly thorough and detailed while still reading like a thriller. Kinzer had already published All the Shah’s Men on the subject in 2003. At the beginning of the Eisenhower administration, the Cold War was at a high point and England this country’s closest ally. Britain’s “ability to project military power, fuel its industries and give its citizens a high standard of living depended largely on the oil it extracted from Iran. Sinec 1901, a single corporation, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, principally owned by the British government, had held a monopoly on the extraction, refining and sale of Iranian oil. Anglo-Iranian’s grossly unequal contract…required it to pay Iran just sixteen percent of the money it earned from selling the country’s oil. It probably paid even less than that, but the truth will never be known, since no outsider was permitted to audit its books. Anglo-Iranian made more profit in 1950 alone than it had paid Iran in royalties over the previous half century.”

Mohammad Mossadegh, twice designated prime minister by Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, determined to nationalize Anglo-Iranian (now British Petroleum). President Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles saw in this a tilt towards socialism and the Soviet Union. They sent Theodore Roosevelt’s son Kermit and the CIA to overthrow the government in Iran to protect British oil interests. Needless to say, they did not foresee the chain of events that would lead from the Shah’s imposition of an authoritarian regime-the backlash and eventual triumph of the Shi’ite Islamic revolution.

Bringing the arc to the present state of turmoil in the Middle East and West Asia, Kinzer writes, “Fateful misjudgements by five presidents had laid the foundation, the groundwork not only for the September 11 attacks but for the emergence of the worldwide terror network from which they sprang. Jimmy Carter launched the covert CIA project in Afghanistan. During the 1980s, Ronald Reagan spent billions of dollars to arm and train anti-Western zealots who were fighting the Soviets there. George HW Bush further inflamed Muslim radicals by establishing permanent military bases in Saudi Arabia… Bill Clinton failed to grasp the scope of the threat…and during his presidency, guerillas who had been trained and armed by the United States a decade earlier completed their transformation into terrorists.”

Many Americans still find it hard to grasp that their leaders might not be motivated by the highest ideals. Kinzer points out many times in many ways, the founding myth, that this country is uniquely blessed by God and that it has been divinely appointed to bring peace, freedom, prosperity and enlightenment to the lesser races. He cites President McKinley’s stated intent to bring Christianity to those poor benighted people of the Philippines-unaware that over 90 percent of its population outside the southern island of Mindanao is Roman Catholic. American power is exerted “for their own good,” even if that entails murder and theft on a monumental scale. In the 21st century, the crime is worse than that. It is a crime against peace itself.

This book is a very valuable teaching tool and may help to bring the US back into the community of nations subject to international law. That is the only hope for lasting peace.

This story originally appeared in the January-February edition of the Catholic Worker, 36 East First St. New York, NY 10003


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Feb. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution



How Bob Geldof De-Contextualizes African Hunger

by Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero

Amidst all the hype and hoopla generated by the Live 8 concert last month, it is necessary to raise some critical questions and propose some criticisms. The organizer of the event, Irish rock star Bob Geldof, has received more attention from the media than all other individuals and institutions dedicated to combating hunger in Africa and the rest of the world. Anyone would think that Mr. Geldof is lthe only person in the world who has made a real effort to combat hunger in Africa. It may be necessary for the organizations of civil society that have attended to the problem of hunger –AND ITS CAUSES–especially in Africa, to draw up an open letter to Mr. Geldof raising a few points.

A little background is in order: In 1984, Geldof took the initiative to do something about the tragedy of Africa, and brought together several of pop music’s most renowned personalities to form an ad hoc group called Band Aid, with the purpose of raising funds. It is to the credit of the Irish musician that he aspires to advance a just cause, although he is not the first rock’n’roller to follow his ideals. In the past decades, there have been many interpreters of popular music who have assumed much more controversial and less popular postures, and received in turn fewer elegies than Geldof, and much repudiation and abuse from reactionary sectors. Victor Jara comes to mind, but there are many others.

Fame breeds imitation, and Band Aid was not an exception. It was followed by initiatives in the same style, like USA for Africa, Comic Relief, Farm Aid and the Live Aid concert in 1985, organized by Geldof himself. But the point of view of this enterprise was totally ignorant. There was never an effort to uncover the causes of hunger. Viewing the propaganda of these efforts, one could imagine that people die of hunger in Africa for no particular reason.

On occasion, the tragedy is attributed to drought or other natural disasters–a convenient and apolitical pseudo-explanation which leaves us asking why natural disasters are really worse in Africa than other parts of the world.

Twenty years later, Geldof is a much more worldly man. The Live 8 concert included an effort to identify the causes of hunger and an unequivocal demand to the leaders of the G8 to do something in that respect. Among the demands was cancellation Africa’s foreign debt, and for a fair trade policy.

It is simply immoral to discuss how to pull Africa out of poverty without demanding the cancellation of the oppressive foreign debt. Geldof did support cancellation of the debt–but under the deal worked out at the G8 summit in Edinburgh, in exchange for this the African nations must accept the economic recipes of the World Trade Organization, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF): neoliberal measures and open markets. That is to say, changing one form of slavery for another. Does Geldof justify this? He needs to clarify his position.

How can the organizers of Live 8 advocate the cancellation of the debt if they don’t name names? The principal institutions responsible for the strangling and unpayable debt have names and addresses: the World Bank and the IMF, the so-called Bretton Woods institutions. A decade ago, activists across the world united to form the 50 Years in Enough coalition to take advantage of the festivities marking the fiftieth anniversary of these two institutions, to tell the world that their policies and bad loans have been a total disaster for the countries of the South, and especially for the poor. Did Geldof support this coalition? Has he ever issued a declaration critical of the Bretton Woods institutions? Has he ever assisted in any of the numerous and multitudinous protests against the World Bank and IMF in the past 15 years?

FAIR TRADE. Geldof and company also called for fair trade for Africa. But they should make clear exactly what they mean by this. It is certain that agricultural protectionism and export subsidies (dumping) by the rich countries has been a mortal blow to the economy and food security of Africa and all the South. The further opening of the markets of the North to products from the South will not change North-South relations in any essential way. Wore still, it could only reinforce the role of the South as provider of cheap raw materials.

And the dumping of the vast agricultural surpluses of the European Union and the United States has been a virtual massacre for agriculture in the South, especially the small producers which are the vertebrate column of rural communities and the most promising sector for ecological production and food sovereignty. Geldof and his cohorts should make clear their position on this macabre trade practice. And spare us the argument that you favor the end of agricultural subsidies in the North and South equally. Because it is truly barbaric to equate the two, and it is a simplistic Manicheanism to allege that all agricultural subsidies are evil.

And on the subject of food exports, one wonders if Geldof has ever said anything about how food aid has been and is being used as a weapon of coercion against the poor countries, how this has often pulverized local productions, and how the United States is using to find captive markets of last resort for genetically engineered (GE) grain that nobody wants.

And what does Geldof think about GE grain? Certainly someone such as himself, who has been so long occupied with the problem of hunger, has to have heard the siren songs of companies like Monsanto and Syngenta. How is it possible that he has never expressed himself on an issue that has sparked such heated controversy? Had he ever sought the expertise of Tewolde Egziabher, Ethiopia’s official spokesman in matters of biodiversity and biosafety, or some of the other African farmers and organizations that unequivocally oppose GE crops?

It is not possible to speak of GE crops and world hunger without taking on the agroindustrial model of the Green Revolution. In all the grassroots forums which have addressed the problem of hunger from a political and ecological perspective, there has been an energetic condemnation of this model as inherently anti-ecological and socially retrograde. What does Geldof think of the Green Revolution?

Nor can we speak of the hazards of GE crops and industrial agriculture without speaking of intellectual property rights. If Geldof is as worldly as he appears, he must be aware that in Africa millions of people are suffering unnecessarily from the dire consequences of the HIV virus because they don’t have access to medicines that could save their lives. He should know that when the South African government proposed to make generic versions of these medicines, the pharmaceutical transnationals protested, claiming this would be piracy, unauthorized reproduction of patented products. The pharmaceutical companies, that own the patents to these medicines, insist that the famished of African must pay market price, even if they die. If he is so moved by the agony of Africans, has he ever said anything about these medical patents?

And what of patents on seeds, an issue with very obvious and serious implications for world food security?

And turning to positive proposals, did Live 8 say anything about the concept of food sovereignty? What about agrarian reform?

Well, better to leave it here. What irritates is that initiatives like Live 8 ignore the efforts–many far more serious and substantive–of numerous individuals and organizations that also fight the hunger, but do not fear to call the things by their name, that do not aspire to be become figures of show business, and that do not hesitate to tackle controversial and unpleasant matters. In the course of one week, Geldof and Live 8 have received more fame and publicity than a lot more deserving agencies as Via Campesina and the World Social Forum. For this reason, it may be opportune for these groups to release an open letter while the hoopla occasioned by Live 8 persists.

I will close with the wise words of the Argentine agronomist Jorge E. Rulli of Grupo de ReflexiĂłn Rural:

“No queremos que nos ayuden. Con que nos saquen las manos de encima es suficiente.”

We do not want their help. It is sufficient that they take their hands off us.


Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero is director of the Proyecto de Bioseguridad Puerto Rico, a research associate at the Institute for Social Ecology and a senior fellow at the Environmental Leadership Program. His blog is online at: http://carmeloruiz.blogspot.com


50 Years is Enough

World Social Forum

Via Campesina

Grupo de ReflexiĂłn Rural

“Food Security: Not Biotech,” by Tewolde Egziabjer, International Forum on Globalization http://www.ifg.org/news/sac/sacbtew.htm

See also WW4 REPORT’s coverage of Live 8 and the G8 summit:

Also by Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero:

“US Attacks Iraqi Agriculture,” WW4 REPORT #105

Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Aug. 1, 2005
Reprinting permissible with attribution




Against “Leftist” Revisionism on the Srebrenica Massacre

by Bill Weinberg

With all of the current horrors in the headlines, the world has paid little note to the tenth anniversary of the July 1995 massacre of 8,000 at the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica after it was overrun by besieging Serb rebel forces. The town’s women, children and elderly were put on buses at gunpoint and expelled to Bosnian government-held territory. But the adult men were separated out and kept by the Serb forces for “interrogation.” Their whereabouts became the subject of an international investigation which is now bearing grim fruit–thousands of corpses exhumed from mass graves, held in Bosnia’s morgues, where international teams are conducting the lugubrious work of DNA identification, matching genetic material from the bones with samples provided by relatives of the missing. Some 2,000 of the dead have now been thusly identified, the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) reports. The massacre is rightly called Europe’s worst since World War II.

The leadership of the Bosnian Serb Republic (which now has de facto independence under a peace deal brokered by the US shortly after the massacre) has also formally investigated, confessed to and apologized for the crime. A total of 19 people have been charged by the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the Srebrenica massacre, and 16 are currently being held at The Hague. Three Bosnian Serb soldiers have pleaded guilty to many of the charges against them.

But the supposedly “progressive” Z Magazine, and its online extension ZNet, mark the anniversary of Srebrenica by running a lengthy piece by Edward S. Herman (one of the American left’s official darlings and a one-time Noam Chomsky co-author) arguing that the massacre never happened–or that it was exaggerated, or that the victims deserved it. Like most genocide-apologist propaganda, the piece never makes its arguments explicit: it just leaves the uninitiated reader with the vague but strong impression that anyone who believes that there was a massacre at Srebrenica is a dupe of imperialist propaganda.

The piece, entitled “The Politics of the Srebrenica Massacre,” spends its first half arguing that the affair must be placed in the “context” of the “convenience” of the massacre to the Bosnian Muslims, who sought Western military intervention against the Serb forces. Herman notes a string of “convenient” atrocities attributed to the Serbs, such as the deadly rocket raids on Sarajevo’s market, suggesting that they were “planned and executed by Bosnian Muslims.” Ironically, the suspicions (not facts) Herman cites in support of this speculation come almost entirely from US military and government sources. Herman does not point out the obvious “convenience” of such charges to a Pentagon that was reluctant to intercede as the Serb rebel army attempted to strangle in its birth Europe’s first Muslim-led nation.

One footnote for the claim that the Bosnian government bombed its own people in Sarajevo is an Internet link for a 1997 report from the US Senate Republican Policy Committee–so heartwarming to see leftists making common cause with their domestic enemies. This page, at least, cites some mostly European media accounts claiming secret UN studies had determined that the shells that hit Sarajevo’s market came from Bosnian government lines. But the studies themselves are not cited, and in any case these attacks account for but a handful of the 10,000 Sarajevo residents killed during the three-and-a-half-year siege of the city by the Serbs. Furthermore, even if these attacks were faked, it says nothing about whether the far more massive Srebrenica massacre was faked–and not even Republicans have dared to assert that. Yet that is implicitly (not explicitly, which would require more courage) what Herman argues. This line of reasoning (if we may so flatter it) is akin to arguing that My Lai didn’t happen because it was “convenient” to the NLF.

Most bizarrely, this pseudo-thinking fails to consider that in the post-Srebrenica peace deal brokered by the Clinton White House, the Bosnian government was forced to cede effective control of the majority of its national territory to the Serb and Croat rebel zones, which then gained a cover of legitimacy. A more accurate reading of the situation would suggest the atrocities were far more “convenient” to the Serbs, helping to force the Bosnian government to accept these harsh terms. Crime, it seems, does pay.

When Herman finally turns to the actual mechanics of the massacre, the results are even worse. Herman’s principal argument seems to be that the supposedly UN-protected “safe areas” such as Srebrenica weren’t disarmed, so (again, implicitly) the Serbs were justified in overrunning them and slaughtering 8,000 mostly civilian war captives. (He expresses no outrage that the Dutch UN peacekeepers offered no resistance as the Serbs overran the city.) He claims that Srebrenica was being used as a staging ground for raids on Serb villages in which up to a thousand civilians were killed in the three years prior to the massacre–an assertion footnoted to a report from Yugoslavia’s UN ambassador, without the slightest suggestion that this might be a dubious touchstone for veracity. This is especially ironic given that all pronouncements from the Bosnian leadership are summarily dismissed as lies. Herman regales us with horror stories about atrocities committed by Nasir Oric, a Muslim commander at Srebrenica. These are footnoted to more credible sources, but Herman seems pretty oblivious to the overwhelmingly obvious “context” (to use his favorite word)–Serb rebel armies had overrun some 70% of Bosnia by that point, expelling the Muslim inhabitants, leaving Srebrenica and a few other towns besieged pockets. This doesn’t let Oric off the hook, but it does point up Herman’s hideous double standards.

Herman’s secondary argument (more explicit if no more honest) is that the bodies said to be those of the Srebrenica victims have been unearthed from several mass graves around eastern Bosnia rather than “huge grave sites” at Srebrenica. A look at the ICMP website would tell Herman this was due to Serb commanders ordering bodies exhumed and reburied at scattered sites to hide evidence of the crime. This finding is backed up by the Serb Republic’s own investigation into the massacre–which, it emerges, actually took place at several different locations, with reburial in secondary graves intentionally adding to the confusion. Herman, who is now more intransigent on the question than the Bosnian Serb leadership, dismisses the reburial findings as “singularly unconvincing.”

Next Herman turns to the old genocide-denial trick of fudging the numbers. He guides the reader through arithmetic somersaults to “prove” that if 8,000 were executed Srebrenica’s population would have had to have exceeded its actual 37,000. Yet the ICMP has a database of 7,800 listed as missing from Srebrenica. Were these names simply invented? (Fans of such pseudo-demographic sophistry will have lots of fun at the Holocaust revisionist websites.)

Next he turns to another standard of the genocide-denial set: arguing that the majority of the dead were not executed but killed in combat. This is contradicted by the testimony of the accused at the ICTY. Momir Nikolic, former chief of intelligence in the Bratunac Brigade, one of the Serb units at Srebrenica, has pleaded guilty to his role in the massacre, stating openly that “able-bodied Muslim men within the crowd of Muslim civilians would be separated…and killed shortly thereafter. I was told that it was my responsibility to help coordinate and organize this operation.”

Nikolic’s testimony is called into question by admissions that he perjured himself following his plea-bargain, the massacre-denial crowd is quick to point out–although why he would do so is still mysterious, and he did not contradict himself on what the basic orders were, only his own role in carrying them out. But there are numerous other examples untainted by any such contradictions. Nikolic’s co-defendant Dragan Obrenovic states that he received orders that prisoners were to be shot, and describes the slaughter in intimate detail in his official confession. He notes at one point that a commander “was angry as the last group of prisoners were not taken to the dam to be executed, but were executed right there at the school and that his men (the 6th Battalion Rear Services) had to clean up the mess at the school, including the removal of the bodies to the dam.” Bosnian Serb Army infantryman Drazen Erdemovic (who first volunteered his guilt to foreign journalists and pleaded for their help in fleeing Bosnia) tearfully told the court of his participation in the killing. “I had to do it. If I’d refused, I would have been killed together with the victims.”

These accounts are also backed up by forensic evidence: tribunal investigators exhumed hundreds of blindfolds and ligatures along with the bodies, and in many cases hands were still tied behind the back. Foresnic specialists also found evidence of reburial, such as parts of the same body in separate graves. This may not be conclusive proof that all 8,000 were killed in cold blood–but it is certainly suggestive of this, and it shows Herman’s bad faith that he doesn’t even mention it.

That Herman is getting his information overwhelmingly (and his analysis exclusively) from the Serb extremists is evident from his terminology. He routinely uses the acronym BMA, for “Bosnian Muslim Army,” to refer to the Bosnian goverment’s military. The official name was the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ARBiH), and (in contrast to the self-declared “Bosnian Serb Army” of Bosnia’s “Serb Republic”) it was explicitly multi-ethnic, not “Muslim.” BMA is a propaganda term, and capitalizing it as if it were a proper noun is extremely misleading.

Finally, Herman makes much of what he calls Bosnian President Alija “Izetbegovic’s close alliance with Osama bin Laden,” how the Bosnian government provided “Al Qaeda a foothold in the Balkans.” Now isn’t this funny. The same ZNet which asks us to believe (in a Jan. 13 piece by Robert Scheer–whose name ZNet mis-spells) that “Al Qaeda [is] Just a Bush Boogeyman” prints shamelessly lurid propaganda about the Islamic menace in Bosnia. I guess al-Qaeda is just a “boogeyman” when it slams jets into New York skyscrapers or blows up trains in London and Madrid, but suddenly becomes real when it loans a few mujahedeen to protect the legitimate government of multi-ethnic Bosnia from a lawless fascist rebellion. Herman offers not a word about how Izetbegovic was driven to this alliance (if, in fact, it existed) by the West’s betrayal of Bosnia’s legal government into the hands of the Serb rebels who, with superior firepower thanks to their patrons in Belgrade, quickly subsumed the majority of Bosnia’s territory. Herman dismisses this version of events as a mere “narrative”–a word which has been subject to such abuse at the hands of the “post-modernists” that it should now be purged from the English language. Herman, who is not bothered by the use of the Islamic terrorist image to justify this illegal usurpation of power, calls the “‘Srebrenica massacre'” (in quotes of course) the “greatest triumph of propaganda” for the “colonial occupations in Bosnia and Kosovo” by NATO. One wonders if Herman is himself aware of the cognitive dissonance.

This is but the latest in a whole string of such articles Z has run by Herman and others in the decade since the climax of the Bosnian horror show, all minimizing Serb war crimes and essentially arguing (as Reagan said about the genocidal Guatemalan dictatorship) that the Serbs have been given a “bum rap.” And Z still seems to think it has any moral ground to stand on to oppose US-backed genocide in Guatemala, Colombia and so on. It is both demoralizing and terrifying that this is the level to which the supposed “left” press has sunk in this dumbed-down age.

NOTE: This article started out as a post on our weblog, and was expanded as Ed Herman (and others) weighed in with retorts. If Herman (or anyone else) has any further responses, they can be posted there: /node/757


“The Politics of the Srebrenica Massacre,” by Ed Herman

“Debating Srebrenica”: responses to Herman on ZNet

“Srebrenica: Anatomy of a Massacre,” Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR)

Dragan Obrenovic statement to ICTY

Momir Nikolic statement to ICTY

IWPR story on Momir Nikolic perjury, from FreeRepublic

ICMP press release on identification of bodies

Open Democracy report, “Srebrenica: ten years on”

Radio Netherlands report on the Tribunal ten years after Srebrenica

BBC story on Serb Republic apology for massacre

“Serbia Struggles to Face the Truth about Srebrenica,” by Tim Judah, Crimes of War Project

“Is Al Qaeda Just a Bush Boogeyman?” by Robert Sheer [sic], ZNet

Deniers of Serbia’s War Crimes, Balkan Witness

“Did Six Million Really Die?” Holocaust-denial numbers-fudging


Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Aug. 1, 2005
Reprinting permissible with attribution




Part Two in an Unfortunately Continuing Series

by Michael I. Niman

Earlier this year the media reported on “The Salvador Option,” referring to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s stated intent to train and employ Salvadoran-style death squads to hunt down and kill or “disappear” suspected Iraqi resistance fighters and their alleged supporters. Such wholesale execution of political opponents resulted in approximately 70,000 deaths in El Salvador during Ronald Reagan’s reign in the White House.

Knight Ridder correspondent Yasser Salihee also covered this story. Unlike stateside journalists doing research online, Salihee was on the ground in Iraq, compiling primary data–including damning evidence about extra-judicial killings. Knight Ridder, on June 27, published Salihee’s preliminary findings. Working less than a week, Salihee and another Knight Ridder journalist turned up over 30 cases of suspected extra-judicial executions by U.S.-backed Iraqi death squads.

In the article, Salihee and his co-author document how victims show up at the morgue blindfolded, with their hands tied or cuffed behind their backs. Most showed signs of Abu Ghraib-style torture. Many were last seen in police custody. They were usually killed with a singe shot to the head.

On June 24, while Salihee’s article was in-press, a U.S. military sniper killed him, also with a single shot to the head. According to Knight Ridder, it was his day off. He was on his way to his neighborhood gas station to fuel up before a family trip to a swimming pool when he encountered a makeshift U.S. checkpoint unexpectedly set up blocks from his home. Witnesses say he was shot without warning and for no apparent reason. For the record, Knight Ridder says: “There’s no reason to think that the shooting had anything to do with his reporting work.” Such disclaimers seem to be a de facto mandate these days. When an investigative reporter is shot dead by a member of an organization he or she is investigating, there’s clear reason for suspicion.

Also earlier this year, CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan made his now famous retracted comment about U.S. forces in Iraq targeting journalists. Eason’s comment cost him his job–and no genuflecting to the god of disclaimers and apologies could save it. He resigned. The problem was that he was right. This was the conclusion of a Reporters Without Borders investigation into the deaths of two journalists killed by U.S. troops in Baghdad. U.S. military documentation of the killings of journalists by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Iraq and Serbia indicate that many were in fact deliberately targeted.

Journalists are the outside world’s pipeline for documentation of atrocities in war zones. When military forces remove journalists from war zones–usually through terror and intimidation, if not outright murder–they’ve successfully removed the most credible witnesses working to document their crimes. Salihee certainly appears to be one of these witnesses–uncovering the smoking gun behind a series of what appear to be Rumsfeld-ordered war crimes. It’s the brave reporting by the few remaining unembedded journalists on the ground in Iraq that allow armchair columnists like myself to write about Iraq, citing sources such as Salihee, Robert Fisk and Dahr Jamal.

Salihee’s killing at the hands of a U.S. military sniper is not an isolated incident. Since his death, two more Iraqi journalists were also shot dead by U.S. forces. Maha Ibrahim, a TV news editor who publicly opposed the U.S. occupation, was shot to death by U.S. troops who opened fire on her car as she drove to work on June 26. On June 28 , al-Sharqiya TV program director Ahmad Wail Bakri was also shot to death by U.S. troops as he drove near an American military convoy in Baghdad. The International Federation of Journalists has called for investigations into all three murders. The Committee to Protect Journalists has also expresses alarm over the killings and is launching its own investigation.

If these journalists in fact were not targeted by U.S. forces, and were instead just killed as unintended victims of jittery soldiers shooting up Baghdad, these killings are evidence of a depraved indifference to human life–resulting from the stress of fighting a prolonged war against a civilian population, with no clear goals or exit strategy.

If any of these journalists were killed because of their work–and Yasser Salihee’s damning investigative work certainly raises that question–then what we are witnessing is not only a war against Iraq, but against the world’s right to know what is going on in Iraq as well. With Salihee dead, it will now be more difficult to document death squad activity in Iraq. When you kill the messenger you kill the truth.


Dr. Michael I. Niman’s previous columns are archived at


Reporters Without Borders investigation of the US Army’s firing at the Palestine Hotel, April 2003, at TruthOut:

See also:

“TRUTH DEATH AND MEDIA IN IRAQ, Pt. 1” by Michael I. Niman, WW4 REPORT #107


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Aug. 1, 2005
Reprinting permissible with attribution