Storming the SCIF

On Wednesday, October 23, 2019, a day that will live in infamy, roughly two dozen Republican Congressmen led by Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida stormed the House Intelligence Committee Hearing Room, delaying the scheduled interview of Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper as part of the impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump. Ms. Cooper, who was about to begin testifying when the “storm-the-room” political stunt disrupted the proceedings, was forced to vacate the hearing room for about five hours before order was finally restored.  

Ironically, many of the Republican Congressmen who joined in this orchestrated chaos were entitled to participate in the hearing, which was open to all members of the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight Committees. Republican members of those committees were also given equal time to cross-examine witnesses, even though they were in the minority and had less than 50% of the members of those committees.  

Most disturbingly, many of the Republican protesters breached the tight security restrictions surrounding the hearing room by bringing their cell phones and other electronic devices into this Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (“SCIF”), knowing full well that even when a cell phone is turned off, it can be turned into recording or surveillance device by an adversaries’ intelligence services. 

The disruption came one day after Bill Taylor, the U.S.’s top diplomat in Ukraine, gave devastating hearing testimony, confirming that the White House had specifically held up desperately needed military aide to Ukraine in return for a public announcement by Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky that his country was investigating the conspiracy theories designed to exonerate Russia for its interference with the 2016 U.S. presidential election and targeting Joe and Hunter Biden for alleged “corruption.” 

The disruption was apparently carefully planned in advance and had the full backing of President Trump, who had met with some key Republican lawmakers the night before and approved of their planned legislative assault the next day. Trump had been complaining about the lack of support and “push back” from Republicans on the House impeachment inquiry, and some physical demonstration by the Republicans seemed to be one of their few remaining options. 

After all, there is an old saying among lawyers that when you have the facts on your side, you pound on the facts; when you have the law on your side, you pound on the law; and when you have neither the facts or the law on your side, you pound on the podium. Trump and his die-hard supporters apparently realize that the factual record of the impeachment inquiry is quickly painting a starkly disturbing portrait of a president who is willing to sacrifice the national interests of the U.S. and the security of one of its staunchest allies on the alter of his own self-interest and political expediency. Republicans also know that this factual record of a massive abuse of presidential power is beginning to squarely fall into the “high crimes and misdemeanor” category that is, in and of itself, more than enough to result in a positive impeachment vote on at least one article of impeachment. With both the facts and the constitutional law lining up against them, Trump and his rabid Republican supporters in Congress decided that they only had one remaining option, which was to unleash the “pound the podium” tactics that have been used so effectively by fascist, communist and other authoritarian forces throughout history to destabilize democratic institutions.     

On February 27, 1933, the Nazi Party finally succeeded in its goal of destroying the last democratic bastion of the struggling Weimar Republic by burning down the Reichstag – the German Parliament — precisely four weeks after Adolph Hitler had been sworn in as the Chancellor of Germany. This was the culmination of years of escalating violence and intimidation both within and outside the Reichstag by Nazi political leaders and their thuggish “brownshirt” storm troopers, which eventually tore apart the fragile democratic German republic, consolidated all state power in the hands of one leader and his fascist party, and plunged Europe and the world into war and chaos. 

Trump’s MAGA rallies have increasingly come to resemble the massive Nuremberg rallies that Hitler and his Nazi party used to prepare Germany and its youth for another world war that would inevitably lead to a glorious Third Reich that would last 1000 years. The American Nazi Party tried to transplant this ideology to this country, and Trump’s recent rally in Phoenix attended by 20,000 of his true believers was eerily reminiscent of the 1939 Nazi Rally in New York’s Madison Square Garden, which also set record attendance levels for those who found the fascist message of hate and prejudice to be irresistible. 

More recently, Putin and his autocratic cronies have used state-sponsored violence and terror to silence the press and to neutralize and eliminate all significant political opposition both in Russia and other former Soviet states that are still in the Russian orbit. In Russia itself, physical altercations between and among members of the Russian Duma (Parliament) over the span of many years has served Putin’s purposes by bringing the entire institution into disrepute and further consolidated Putin’s unchallenged executive power. 

Similarly, in Ukraine, in what BBC has referred to as the “Rumbles in the Rada,” legislative debates over Ukraine’s official language policy and other matters have repeatedly devolved into fist-swinging, clothes-ripping brawls among sweaty, screaming members of parliament. During the presidency of pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych, pro-Russian members of the Party of Regions staged several legislative assaults on pro-democracy and western-leaning legislators who opposed the recognition of Russian as Ukraine’s second official language and who opposed Yanukovych’s heavy-handed attempts to deliver Ukraine back into the arms of Putin and his Kremlin cronies. After one particularly brutal confrontation, Volodymyr M. Lytvyn, the speaker of the Ukrainian Rada, expressed the common view that Ukraine was on the verge of a “total collapse of parliamentarianism in the country.” 

Indeed, the efforts by the pro-Russian president of Ukraine and his allies to destabilize Ukraine’s fledgling and beleaguered democracy may well have succeeded if it were not for the Maidan Uprising in February and March of 2014, where pro-democracy demonstrators in Independence Square in the center of Kyiv were able – after weeks of violence and tragic loss of life by dozens of democratic martyrs – to face down Yanukovych’s pro-Russian storm troopers and force him to flee into exile in Russia. Notwithstanding Yanukovych’s departure, however, fights in the Rada continued up to and including December 2018, undermining the effectiveness of Ukraine’s parliamentary democracy and further polarizing an already deeply-divided country that has still not recovered from the trauma of the Russian annexation of Crimea and a continuing bloody war against Russia and pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country known as Donbas.  

Although the U.S. Congress has been largely free of physical confrontations over the past several decades, the recent orchestrated and partisan disruption of the impeachment hearings are most reminiscent of the last time in American history when the  House of Representatives was disrupted on a regular basis during the late 1850s, prior to the breakout of a bloody Civil War. The most infamous fistfight there erupted on February 6, 1858, while member of the House were debating Kansas’s pro-slavery constitution. It was reported that more than fifty representatives participated in the melee. Within a few short years, America’s irreconcilable divisions boiled over into a civil war from 1861 to 1865, from which we have not yet fully recovered. 

Just to ensure that the racial and regional divisions of the Civil War will never fully be healed – at least while Trump occupies the White House – Trump went out of his way earlier this year to remind us that there were some “good people” among the tiki-torch toting neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville, and that Confederate General Robert E. Lee was “a great general.” He then threatened another civil war if Congress follows through on its likely course of action, which is to issue Articles of Impeachment against him. He tweeted a quote from a Baptist pastor’s statement to the effect that impeachment would result in a “Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.” 

In 1858, then-Senator William Henry Seward of New York correctly predicted that the accelerating divisions and violence over the slavery and “states’ rights” issues were tearing the country apart and that an “irrepressible conflict” was inevitable. The election of Republican Abraham Lincoln as president on November 6, 1860 was the final catalyst for the 11 Southern and border states, along with most of their Congressional representatives, to refuse to accept Lincoln as the country’s chief executive and to withdraw from the Union. 

Are we now at a similar crossroads in our history? Are we on the brink of Civil War II? Trump and his most ardent allies seem to relish the idea that America needs another bloodletting. Are the upper 1% of America’s super-rich class who benefitted from Trump’s recent massive tax cuts going to stand idly by while Congressional Democrats pass articles of impeachment which may not lead to his removal, but will likely lead to a landslide election in November 2020 of an Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders or other progressive-leaning and audacious Democrat who is calling for the enactment of a “wealth tax” and other “radical” measures designed to remedy the growing chasm between the super-rich and the rest of us? And what about the racists, neo-Nazis, xenophobes, nativists, gun nuts, right-wing conspiracy theorists and other who irrational devotees who make up some (but not entirely all) of Trump’s base? Are they going to stand idly by when their Great Leader is impeached and removed from office or, more likely, resoundingly beaten at the polls in November 2020? Not likely. Trump followed up his earlier “civil war” threats by tweeting: “ I am coming to the conclusion that what is taking place is not an impeachment, it is a COUP, intended to take away the Power of the People, their VOTE, their Freedoms, their Second Amendment, Religion, Military, Border Wall, and their God-given rights as a Citizen of the United States of America!” Trump even went so far as to accuse Chairman Adam Schiff of the House Intelligence Committee of “treason,” no doubt forgetting that the Constitution’s definition of “Treason” is the giving of “aid and comfort” to America’s enemies, which is something that Trump has been doing from day one in the White House. 

In other words, now that as a result of the ham-handed, amateurish and disastrous efforts of Rudy Giuliani, Mick Mulvaney, Mike Pence, a couple of Ukrainian-American mobsters (Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman) and a few rogue State Department operatives, Trump has finally been hoisted onto the “Ukraine Affair” petard and fully exposed for the narcissistic, self-serving and treasonous lout that he always was. He has no real options other than to (number 1): come to his senses, stand down, resign while the going is still good (a la Nixon), and grab a full pardon from Pence in the process as he boards the Marine 1 helicopter on the White House lawn after delivering a dark and angry non-apology complaining to the end that he was persecuted and driven from office unfairly by a “deep state” conspiracy and coup d’etat. This would be the smart move, which means that “double down” Trump is not even remotely likely to take it.

So, then, what is the only other “door” that is open to him? He will continue to whip his “base” into a frenzy, promoting acts of violence and, if necessary, an armed revolution. As Lawfare and other commentators have already noted, the internet chatter far right-wing militias about pursuing their “second amendment” options has been on the rise and is unlikely to abate.    

On June 27, 2018, a Rasmussen Reports survey of U.S. voters found that 31% said “it’s likely that the United States will experience a second civil war sometime in the next five years.”  Given the rancor engendered by the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings, the Mueller Report, the administration’s callous caging of refugee children at the border and the commencement of Congress’ impeachment inquiry, it is likely that the percentage of Americans psychologically (or otherwise) preparing themselves for a civil war has only increased.     

For 243 years, America has been the beacon of light and protector of freedom, democracy, inalienable human rights not only in this country, but around the world. Generations of Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve these values, but if we take democratic institutions for granted and think that Trump and what he stands for is just some aberration or bad dream that will go away once the fever breaks, we do so at our peril. Numerous once-vibrant democracies such as Hungary and Turkey have slid into “illiberal democracies” with a decidedly authoritarian edge, where the rule of law with truly independent legislative and judicial branches have buckled under the stress and wily maneuverings of strong authoritarian leaders. America could very well be next.   

In 1778, Benjamin Franklin asked by a bystander outside the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia: “What kind of government will it be?” Without hesitation, Franklin replied: “A democracy, if you can keep it.” Also painfully aware of the fragility of liberty and any democratic form of government, Thomas Jefferson wrote from Paris in 1787: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants.” He also fretted that “lethargy … is the forerunner of death to the public liberty.”

So when our children and grandchildren ask us years from now about this watershed moment in our nation’s history, when anti-democratic and authoritarian forces occupied the White House, much of Congress, and tried their mightiest to shred the Constitution and silent dissent: “What did you do? Which side were you on?” Each of us should have a good answer to give them, because the storm clouds are forming, and it definitely feels like rain. 

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Kenneth F. McCallion is an attorney, former federal prosecutor and author of Treason & Betrayal: The Rise and Fall of Individual 1. He is currently working on his next book: Civil War Two.  Peter Borisow is a Ukrainian-American and film maker who has been active in the pro-democracy movement in Ukraine.     

October 23 was a stab in the heart, a blow to the very soul of America and all it stands for.  We must flush this evil before it destroys us altogether. 

Trump Betrayal of the U.S. Now Extends to the Kurds

The Kurds have been America’s staunchest and most effective allies in the war against ISIS in the Middle East. They have worked closely with U.S. Special Forces to drive out, kill or imprison thousands of ISIS fighters in the northeastern area of Syria that they effectively control. This has been one of the great success stories of America’s War on Terror since September 11th, and Kurdish forces deserve the undying gratitude for taking the brunt of the combat responsibilities and the casualties required to rid this area of the ISIS scourge. 

As the proud step-father of a Marine, and I am sure on behalf of the families of active U.S. service members in the Middle East and elsewhere around the globe, there can be no doubt that the loss of life by U.S. combat units in areas where they are fighting alongside their Kurdish brothers and sisters in arms would have been much greater but for the fact that Kurdish forces had their backs and could always be counted on when the going got tough.

The shame and frustration felt by U.S. servicemen and women in having a commander-in-chief abandon and betray our most trusted Kurdish fighting allies cannot be underestimated. On the battlefield or off, America’s word has always (well, almost always) been its bond, and while it takes a long time to build a relationship of genuine trust, whether on an interpersonal or state-to-state basis,  that trust can disappear in an instant when America betrays an ally in such a callous and surprise manner as was done with the Kurds. After a phone call with President Erdogan, Trump announced that U.S. troops in Syria would be pulled back from the Turkish order so that Turkish military forces could “clear out” a buffer zone along the border. 

Even Trump’s use of language, since terms like “clear out” or “clean out” have been used all too often in the past to justify ethnic cleansing, mass murder and genocide. The chaos and carnage involving the civilian populations of the area predictably ensued, as Turkish troops and allied militia groups rapidly advanced with indiscriminate shelling of civilian centers and the reported possible use of white phosphorous chemical munitions, which is banned under international law for use against civilian populations and causes horrific burns and injuries to anyone who comes into contact with it. 

    Not only have the Kurds been our trusted allies in the Middle East in the fight against ISIS, but there are more than 40,000 loyal Kurdish-Americans in the U.S., with about 15,000 in the Nashville, Tennessee area and many Kurdish-Americans proudly serving in the U.S. armed forces. I had the honor of representing some of these U.S. citizens who were victims or families of victims of the March 16, 1988 chemical attack by Saddam Hussein’s forces in Iraq against the Kurdish village of Fallabja. I also represented the Kurdish National Congress in the U.S., one of the U.S.-based organizations that was seeking to obtain compensation for the victims of the chemical attack and their surviving families. 

Having been subjected to chemical attacks on the Kurdish civilian population in Iraq, the Kurds once again appear to be the victims of recent chemical attacks in Syria, only now the perpetrators and violators of international law seem to be one of America’s own NATO allies with U.S. nuclear weapons stored there.

There are about 25 to 35 million Kurds that inhabit the mountainous region straddling Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia. They have their own language and culture, and comprise the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East. Indeed, they are one of the largest ethnic groups in the world without their own nation state, having had their hopes for an independent “Kurdistan” crushed by the treaties signed by the European powers after World War I.  

A Meeting in Namibia and Botswana

I travelled from New York to Windhoek, Namibia on Wednesday, March 27th at the invitation of Paramount Chief Rukoro of the Ovaherero Traditional Authority (OTA) and Chief Isaack of the Nama Traditional Leaders Association (“NTLA”). I was accompanied by my wife, Susan, and my youngest son, Foard. We were warmly greeted at the Hosea Kutako International Airport by a large delegation of Nama leaders, and by a Herero delegation from the OTA, led by Bob Kandetu, the OTA’s Chief-of-Staff and a well-known Namibian journalist and writer.

We first travelled to Swakopmund to attend a three-day international law conference there on the 1904-1908 Genocide of the Ovaherero and Nama by German imperial forces and “The Case for Restorative Justice.” The sponsors for the conference included the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), the Ovaherero Genocide Foundation (OGF), and the Nama Genocide Technical Committee (NGTC). The Conference had an overflow crowd for most of the sessions, and was well attended by delegations of academics, experts, leaders and representatives of the Herero and Nama communities from Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, the UK, Canada, Germany and the U.S.

Among the topics discussed were the continuing impact on Namibian society caused by the German colonial past, including the fact that Herero and Nama families and communities that had their land, cattle and other properties expropriated by the Germans during the 1904 to 1908 period and thereafter continue to suffer inter- generational poverty. Since much of the Herero and Nama wealth and well-being depended on their ownership and use of their rich grazing lands for their cattle and other livestock, they continue to suffer from these losses still they have not had those lands and other property restored to them and have still not received any just compensation for these expropriations and unlawful takings. Based upon what we saw during our travels in Namibia, much of the wealth in the country still depends on land and grazing rights, such as the vast areas in eastern Namibia around Gobabis, which proudly declares itself to be “cattle country.”

It became clear during the discussions at the Swakopmund conference that without significant land reform or a settlement with Germany providing substantial funds for the Herero and Nama communities to purchase grazing lands and purchase cattle and other livestock, the cycle of poverty that has held many Herero and Nama communities in its iron grip for generations cannot be broken.

During the Swakopmund conference, Paramount Chief Rukoro and Chief Isaack addressed a packed hall on their efforts on behalf of the Herero and Nama people to seek restorative justice from Germany for the losses that their communities suffered as a result of the genocide and loss of their lands and property without compensation or restitution. They and the other Herero and Nama leaders and technical advisors at the Conference emphasized that the Herero and Nama communities of Namibia have unanimously chosen them as their lawful representatives, as well as the Herero and Nama communities in Botswana, South Africa, the U.K. Canada and the U.S., which are where all the significant communities of the Herero and Nama diaspora are located. Moreover, it was emphasized by the Herero and Nama leadership, as well as the numerous members of those communities who were attending the Conference, that the government of Namibia could not possibly represent the interests of the Herero and Nama communities in Botswana, South Africa and elsewhere since they are not Namibian citizens, and the Namibian government has not even offered them dual citizenship. Their families fled for their lives during the 1904-1908 genocide, seeking protection in Botswana, South Africa and elsewhere, and they have never been offered the return of their stolen lands, cattle or other property. Consequently, they have no incentive or reason to return to what is now Namibia, where they would be little more than poor, powerless and landless refugees. They have, therefore, unanimously decided, on an individual and family basis, and through their own community and regional chiefs, that P.C. Rukoro (in the case of the Herero) and Chief Isaack (in the case of the Nama) are their chosen and lawful representatives for, among other things, all matters relating to negotiations and settlement of their genocide claims against Germany.

At the Conference, Paramount Chief Rukoro recounted a moving personal family history regarding its losses suffered during the German colonial period, which is apparently typical of many Herero and Nama families. His family’s ancestral lands remain today under the ownership of the descendants of the Germans who originally expropriated their property without compensation. Although the current German owner of the property is kind enough to let the Rukoro family members visit their ancestors’ gravesites on the property, the harsh reality is that 115 years after the expropriation of their lands, Herero and Nama families have never received any compensation for their property or livestock losses, and there is no indication that the current “negotiations” between Germany and the Namibian government will result in any restitution or compensation to these Herero and Nama families and communities.

In fact, Germany has made it clear that it will not make any restitution as part of a “settlement” with the Namibian government. Since when, it may be asked, does a criminal have the right to dictate the terms of his or her sentence? No criminal ever wants to pay a significant price, either in jail time or in restitution to the victims of the crime. And yet the Namibian government seems to be acquiescing to Germany’s flawed “no restitution” argument, as if there can somehow be a final peace and final settlement of these issues without a true plan for restorative justice, which would require the participation of the Herero and Nama acknowledged leadership in the settlement negotiations. What is the Namibian government afraid of? Why is it of no apparent importance to them that the Herero and Nama communities in both Namibia and worldwide will view any “settlement” entered into without the participation of their chosen leaders as an illegitimate sham? Nor have the terms of the “imminent” settlement with Germany ever been publicly disclosed so that the communities that were targeted for genocide – the Herero and the Nama – can even comment on them before the government tries to sign away their rights? These were some of the significant and timely questions and considerations discussed at the Conference.

During the Swakopmund Conference, I also participated – along with my colleague Michael Lockman — in a panel discussion on the status of the U.S. federal court litigation in New York. Although the federal district court recently granted Germany’s motion to dismiss, most of the court’s written decision was a landmark victory for the Herero and Nama plaintiffs in that, for the first time, a court recognized that the mass killings, attempted extermination of the Herero and Nama and expropriation of their property by Germany during the 1904 to 1908 period was, in fact, a violation of existing international law both now and at the time, which prohibited wars of annihilation and extermination. The U.S. federal court’s written decision also contained an acknowledgment that the Herero and Nama peoples have never been justly compensated for the unlawful taking of their property. In so ruling, the court rejected Germany’s shameful argument that its horrific actions did not violate international law at the time, and its suggestion that the Herero and Nama were not “civilized” peoples, such as Europeans, who could claim the protection of international law.

The court found, in essence, that although the term “genocide” was not widely used prior to the end of World War II, the attempt to exterminate a people based upon their race, color or ethnic identity was prohibited during this 1904 to 1908 time period, and that Germany violated this established international law at the time by attempting to exterminate both the Herero and Nama peoples, and in substantially succeeding in that goal. The court decision also acknowledged that Hereroland and Namaqualand were highly developed tribal entities at the time, and that Germany accepted these sovereign states as independent political and legal entities by entering into treaties with them, and thus acknowledging their sovereign rights. Germany, of course, broke these treaties by, among other things, stealing land directly from the Namas and Hereros through deceit, fraud and trickery, and later by force, without compensation.

The U.S. federal district court also accepted plaintiffs’ argument that the monies obtained by the Germans through the confiscation and sale of the Herero and Nama expropriated properties went into the German treasury and then became part of the available funds for Germany to buy buildings and property in New York, which it still owns. In addition, the court also acknowledged plaintiffs’ evidence establishing that Germany benefitted financially from the sale of the human skulls and bones of the genocide victims, which were transported to Germany in crates and then displayed or sold to various museums. Some of these skulls were sold to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York, where they remain today.

It was further discussed at the Swakopmund conference that, although the district court found that plaintiffs had not met the technical requirements for exceptions to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) that would give the U.S. courts jurisdiction over another sovereign state, such as Germany, the plaintiffs’ lawyers have already appealed the lower court’s decision to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. We further explained that in this appeal to a three-judge appellate panel, we had identified 17 clear- cut errors in the court’s decision that we belief are the basis for a reversal of the lower court’s decision. This appeal has been put on an expedited schedule, in recognition of the importance of the case.

While in Swakopmund, we also participated in the annual remembrance walk there by members of the Herero and Nama communities to the burial ground for victims of the 1904-1908 Genocide. We visited the site of the Concentration Camp and Mass Grave Memorial of the Herero and Nama victims who died there. At the closing ceremonies of the Conference, Paramount Chief Rukoro honored the legal team by giving Michael Lockman and I Herero names in recognition for the legal work that we have been doing on behalf of the Herero communities. We were very moved and honored by this gesture of confidence in us by the Herero leadership and community. My Herero name is now “Nokokure.” We were also both given walking sticks inscribed with our Herero names, which was a very moving experience for me and my family, especially since we have established some close collegial bonds of friendships in Namibia and the U.S. with P.C. Rukoro, members of the OTA staff, as well as leaders of the Ovaherero community in New York and elsewhere in the U.S.

We then travelled back to Windhoek and then down to Keetmanshoop and Luderitz, where we were warmly welcomed by Nama Chief Isaack, Chief Kooper and other leaders and members of the NTLA and the Nama communities. The meeting halls we went to were packed with Nama, who welcomed the opportunity to share with us the terrible suffering that their families experienced during the genocide. They also honored my son and I with traditional colorful Nama hats, and they very generously gave my wife a traditional Nama shawl. We were all very moved by their generosity.

We visited the notorious concentration camp at Shark Island, near Luderitz, where we were surprised to see that there were no plaques or historical markers explaining that this was the concentration camp and extermination camp for Nama and Herero prisoners during the 1904 to 1908 period, and that after they died and were worked to death by the German authorities, many of their heads of the victims were severed, boiled and the Nama and Herero women were forced to cut off the remaining skin from the skulls so that they could be shipped back to Germany and sold as part of a profitable “bone trade” by the Germans. The Germans also performed pseudo-scientific experiments on the dead Herero and Nama victims in an attempt to “prove” that the white and Germanic races were superior to black Africans. The bodies of the victims were then thrown into the sea, where they were eaten by the many sharks in the area. There is a monument there to Chief Fredericks of the Nama, who was interned and died there, along with hundreds of his family members and Nama followers. However, there is no other historical plaque or other information provided at Shark Island telling the story of how it was used by the Germans as a concentration camp as part of its campaign of genocide against the Herero and Nama peoples.

We were also disturbed to see that this sacred ground was being managed by the Namibian government authorities as a campsite for tourists, and that the most prominent memorial at Shark Island is to German soldiers and to Luderitz himself, who was one of the chief architects of German colonialism in South West Africa. None of the German soldiers buried there now and who are honored with a memorial died (to the best of my knowledge) at Shark Island. Rather, they were active participants in the 1904-1908 genocide, and shared responsibility with their German government in carrying out the extermination orders clearly in violation of international law. Along with General von Trotha, who issued the extermination order, these soldiers may well have been war criminals for carrying out this extermination plan. When these soldiers died, they were buried elsewhere, not at Shark Island, and then their remains were then exhumed and re- buried at Shark Island as part of a plan to honor the reprehensible and genocidal actions of the German military during this period. This is as shameful and shocking as if monuments to the Nazi soldiers who murdered thousands and millions of Jews at the death camps such as Auschwitz were erected at those concentration camps, rather than honoring the memories of the victims of the genocide.

In our opinion, Shark Island and the locations of the other concentrations camps in Swakopmund and elsewhere where Herero and Nama were worked to death and slaughtered should be both national and world historical sites in memory of the 1904- 1908 genocide and a remembrance by all Namibians and all Africans to the courageous resistance of the Herero and Nama peoples to German colonialism and attempts to subjugate the African peoples. This anti-colonial resistance was initially successful, where Herero and Nama warriors with little more than spears and their own courage defeated a well-armed German military force. It was only when the Germans retreated to fortified position and called for help from a large German expeditionary force that was sent to support them that Germany was able to defeat the Herero and Nama forces. Germany felt humiliated by having been initially defeated by native Herero forces, and retaliated by issuing an extermination order against the Herero on October 2, 1904, and then another one in 1905 against the Nama.

We actually visited the site at Ozumbu Zovindimba (near Otjinene) where German General Lothar von Trotha issued his written extermination order against the Herero, and the “hanging tree” nearby where German troops hung captured Herero unarmed men, women and children who were trying to flee eastward into Botswana. The metal hanging nooses are still on the dying tree 115 years later, but there is no memorial plaque or other historical marker explaining the importance of what happened there. There are also burial puts there near wells and watering holes that the Germans poisoned, and where the Herero and Nama died. Their bones are still lying in these unmarked pits, unprotected from the dogs and jackals that roam the area and feed on the unprotected remains of the bones of the dead.

The historical significance of this place cannot be overestimated, since this was the first (and last time) in history that there was a written extermination order of an entire peoples. Not even the Nazis, in their zeal to exterminate the Jewish people, ever put their plans into writing. And yet there is not one government plaque at the site commemorating this terrible and historically significant event. It is also my understanding that not one Namibian government representative has ever attended one of the annual October 2nd remembrance events at this sacred site organized by the Herero and Nama leadership. I, therefore, cannot understand why the Namibian government thinks that it can speak for the Herero and Nama peoples in their negotiations with Germany, when it cannot even bring itself to send a representative to such important historical remembrance events. I also have come to understand why the Herero and Nama peoples are skeptical of the Namibian government’s promises to protect their interests in any settlement, when they have seen very little if any of the German foreign aid money trickle down to their communities over these many years. Many – if not most – of the Herero and Nama communities we visited consist primarily of shacks with no water, sewer or electricity, as far as I can tell. There are no power lines to these communities, and their main roads are mostly dirt roads riddled with potholes. It seemed to me as if these communities had been lost in time, forgotten by their own government.

We also visited Okahandja, which is a sacred place to the Ovaherero, and we visited and prayed with a large group of Herero and Nama at the grave sites of the fallen Paramount Chiefs of the Herero who are buried there, and who had chosen to be buried next to Nama Chief Afrikaner, as a demonstration of the solidarity and friendship between the Herero and Nama peoples as joint victims of the genocide. During a ceremony there, my family and I received a lovely gift of traditional Herero pottery, which is used for storing milk and churning it into buttermilk. I am not sure we will actually use it for its originally intended purpose, but the pottery items are clearly works of arts that we will proudly display in our home upon our return to New York.

While entering Botswana, we had a bit of a scare when the Botswana immigration officer told us that we needed our son’s birth certificate, since he is under 16. We had not been previously told about this when we had checked the U.S. State Dept. on what papers we needed to travel to Botswana. However, when they saw that my son is a virtual xerox copy or duplicate of me (only much younger) and that he bears the same name as me (I am “Sr.” and he is “Jr.”) we were permitted to enter Botswana without further problem. Just across the border, at Charles Hill, we were greeted by a huge crowd of both Herero and Nama residents of Botswana, with the women attired in their colorful red dresses and distinctive hat, and many of the men wearing traditional Herero military-style uniforms. Young members of the local Herero “commando” unit marched for us and gave us a sample of their traditional Herero war cries, which sent an involuntary shiver down my spine even though we were clearly on the same side and they were honoring our visit. I imagined how the German soldiers must have felt when they heard the same war cries in the initial battles where the Herero warriors prevailed, despite the overwhelming German superiority in equipment and firepower.

When the festivities at Charles Hill in Botswana moved indoors into a packed hall, some of the colorfully-dressed Herero women took my wife aside, and shortly thereafter, she re-appeared wearing a yellow Herero gown and hat, which she greatly appreciated and made her look even more lovely than usual. She looked like a true Herero woman, only with blond hair. After the speeches in the hall by the assembled Herero chiefs of Botswana, and by myself, the entire crowd was invited to a traditional outdoor after-dark gathering around a huge bonfire. A huge dinner was served, with ample portions of beef and lamb, which is a staple of all Herero meals at special occasions. Songs were sung and stories were told around the “circle of fire,” and after several hours, when the embers of the fire began to die out, we reluctantly left for a good sleep in a room provided by the local Herero chief.

On Friday, April 5th, our final full-day in Namibia, we attended a large and enthusiastic gathering of Herero at Katutura Township, near Windhoek. A local Herero commando group gave an enthusiastic display of their skills, and both I and Paramount Chief Rukoro addressed the gathering, telling them about the Conference, the New York case and our travelling experiences over the past two weeks in both Namibia and Botswana. My son received a colorful red Herero hat and shirt, and I received a statute of a horse, which is a traditional Herero symbol of their attachment to the land. Members of the Herero delegation that accompanied us from the U.S. to Namibia — Dr. Ngondi A. Kamatuka of Kansas University, Barnabas Veraa Katuua, a noted architect from New York, and Vepuka Kauari, Director of Nursing at New York Presbyterian Hospital — were also honored with very special Herero lapel pins. The Namibian Broadcasting Corp. (NBC) covered the event, and earlier in the day I had a taped interview at the NBC studio in Windhoek.

All in all, our entire trip to Namibia was breathtaking, exciting and memorable, which my family and I will always cherish.

U. S WITHDRAWAL FROM THE PARIS CLIMATE ACCORD WOULD NOT ONLY BE BAD NEWS FOR THE PLANET, BUT IT WILL HARM THE AMERICAN ECONOMY AND ITS STANDING AS LEADER OF THE FREE WORLD

If Russia’s goal in meddling with our 2016 election in order to support the election of Donald J. Trump as President was to isolate the U.S. from the rest of the international community of nations and to weaken the NATO alliance standing in the way of Russia’s ambitions to recover parts of eastern Europe that it had “lost” after the collapse of the Soviet Union, then it has succeeded beyond its wildest imagination.

Every one of the U.S’s allies and trading partners has signed onto the Paris Climate Agreement, which has the goal of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions and slow the alarming rise in global temperatures. There are now 194 countries that have joined the Agreement, with only two holdouts (Syria and Nicaragua).

If the Trump Administration decides to withdraw from the Agreement, it will not only be jeopardizing this historic effort to address the serious perils of climate change, but it will mark the death knell of America’s position for the past 70 years as the leader of the free world. Since the end of World War II, the U.S. has – with limited exceptions – provided the leadership as well as the economic and military might to ensure that global and regional alliances promoting peace and stability can work effectively. In 1945, the international conference establishing the United Nations was sponsored by the U.S. in San Francisco, and it has been headquartered in New York City since then. The World Bank and the IMF are headquartered in Washington, D.C., and have helped contribute to global economic and financial stability for decades. In Western Europe, U.S. leadership of the NATO alliance has kept the peace in Europe and deterred the Soviet Union and its Communist allies from engulfing our democratic allies in Western Europe.

When President George W. Bush pulled the U.S. out of the Kyoto Protocol — an international treaty acknowledging that global warming exists and that that human-made CO2 emissions have caused it — the U.S.’s standing in the world was severely damaged and took years to repair. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has recently acknowledged that the international and diplomatic “blowback” from this last attempt by a Republican administration to undermine international efforts to combat climate change was far greater than anticipated.

A similar blunder by the Trump Administration with regard to the Paris Accord would be likely to have even more severe consequences, given the fact that our allies are already questioning the U.S.’s willingness and ability to lead the Western democratic alliance. The Trump White House has already caused consternation among our NATO allies by raising doubts as to whether the U.S. can continue to be relied upon to come to the defense of another NATO country that is attacked, and his suggestion that Climate Change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese has made us the laughingstock of the rest of the world. President Trump also could not resist picking a fight with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany over trade and other issues during his recent overseas trip, and his ham-handed attempt to elbow another leader out of the way during a photo-op did little to repair the damage that he has already caused to our standing among our European allies. Chancellor Merkel has already started publicly talking about the necessity for Europe to forge its own destiny without the U.S., and this kind of thinking will only accelerate if the U.S. pulls out of the Paris Accord.

THE U.S. MUST NOT TURN ITS BACK ON THE SYRIAN PEOPLE

Dozens of people, including children, were killed on Tuesday following a chemical airstrike by Syrian government forces on a rebel-held area of the country. Video footage of the victims who were suffering the agony of chemical poisoning — writhing, choking and foaming at the mouth – was horrific.
World leaders immediately condemned this violation of international law in the strongest terms, with many calling for the immediate ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Trump Administration joined in blaming the Syrian government, but dismissed calls for the departure of the Syrian President as “impractical,” implying that it was not in America’s interests to focus on such human rights abuses. President Trump also blamed the Obama Administration, although Trump himself has not favored direct intervention in the Syrian conflict.
The use of chemical weapons is so abhorrent that after the massive death and destruction of the First World War, where both sides used mustard gas and other chemical weapons, the European powers agreed to ban the use of chemical weapons and to treat any chemical weapons use as a war crime. Amazingly, chemical weapons were not used by either side during the World War II, and chemical weapons were not used again until March 16, 1988, when Iraqi forces under Sadaam Hussein, mounted a chemical attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja in northern Iraq. The attack killed between 3,200 and 5,000 civilians and injured between 7,000 and 10,000 more. Thousands more died of various complications, diseases and birth defects in the following years. The Halabja attack has been generally recognized as a crime against humanity and as part of a campaign of genocide by the Hussein government against the Kurdish people.
In sharp contrast to the Trump Administration’s near-hostility to Syrian refugees who have fled this war-torn area, the U.S. – which then prided itself as a beacon of hope for millions of suffering peoples around the world – opened its door to thousands of Kurdish refugees who fled from the northern areas of Iraq and sought asylum here. Many of them settled in the Nashville, Tennessee area, which now has a thriving Kurdish community that has fully integrated itself into American society, just as successive waves of immigrants from other countries had come here seeking to participate in the American dream, making both themselves and America the better for it. I have had to opportunity to represent the Kurdish communities throughout the U.S., and their contributions to the U.S. as teachers, professors, doctors, scientists. lawyers and in the arts never ceases to amaze me. They are better off for having come here, and the country is also a better place now that they have come.
Our great country was founded on a commitment to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We have been the champions of democracy and human rights around the world for over 250 years. Now we have a President who not only wants us to close our borders to many genuinely peace-loving refugees but is no longer willing to take decisive and tangible steps to prevent further atrocities from being carried out by brutal despots in Syria and elsewhere.
If America’s commitment to democracy and human rights continues its downward slide, no amount of military spending or tough-guy bluster from the White House can prevent our country from losing its most valuable asset. We are in danger of losing our soul.