Eugene V. Debs nearly 100 years ago was a political prisoner in the United States for the “crime” of opposing the United States government’s participation in World War I and conscription of people to fight in that war. In March of 1919, the US Supreme Court, pointing to the Espionage Act of 1917 for justification, upheld Debs’ conviction by a trial jury and ten-year prison sentence for making antiwar comments in a June 16, 1918 Canton, Ohio speech.
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wrote the Supreme Court’s short Debs v. United States opinion that upheld the conviction and ten-year prison sentence of Debs for two charges that Holmes described as follows:
This is an indictment under the Espionage Act of June 15, 1917… It has been cut down to two counts, originally the third and fourth. The former of these alleges that on or about June 16, 1918, at Canton, Ohio, the defendant caused and incited and attempted to cause and incite insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny and refusal of duty in the military and naval forces of the United States and with intent so to do delivered, to an assembly of people, a public speech, set forth. The fourth count alleges that he obstructed and attempted to obstruct the recruiting and enlistment service of the United States and to that end and with that intent delivered the same speech, again set forth.
In effect, Debs was incarcerated for exercising his right to free speech regarding two political matters — the US government choosing to participate in World War I and the US government using the draft to help fight that war. One may expect the justices to have reread the First Amendment to the US Constitution and promptly overturned Debs’ conviction. However, Holmes explains that a prior Supreme Court decision had already settled the inapplicability of Debs’ First Amendment defense.
The prior Supreme Court decision, announced just seven days earlier, was for the case Schenck v. United States. The Supreme Court’s Schenck opinion allowed Holmes in the Debs opinion to bypass offering ridiculous contortions of logic to justify throwing a prominent labor and political leader in prison for criticizing the heart of the US government’s war policy. Instead, Holmes could just summarily deem Debs’ conviction and sentence constitutional and legitimate based on precedent. Here is how Holmes, again writing for the Supreme Court, argued in the court’s Schenck opinion that a flier opposing the draft was not protected under the First Amendment:
We admit that, in many places and in ordinary times, the defendants, in saying all that was said in the circular, would have been within their constitutional rights. But the character of every act depends upon the circumstances in which it is done. Aikens v. Wisconsin, 195 U.S. 194, 205, 206. The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. It does not even protect a man from an injunction against uttering words that may have all the effect of force. Gompers v. Bucks Stove & Range Co., 221 U.S. 418, 439. The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent. It is a question of proximity and degree. When a nation is at war, many things that might be said in time of peace are such a hindrance to its effort that their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight, and that no Court could regard them as protected by any constitutional right.
So there you have it: the First Amendment protects your free speech so long as that speech cannot affect US government policy, or at least so long as your free speech cannot pose a serious threat to something the Supreme Court thinks it is very important to promote, such as the US government participating in World War I and forcing Americans to fight in that war.
Debs was an eloquent opponent of this war, and for that, coupled with his prominence in American labor and politics, he was imprisoned.
In addition to his labor union activities, Debs had run four times as the Socialist Party nominee for US president before his conviction, winning more votes each time. In his last pre-imprisonment run in 1912, Debs won over 900,000 votes — 6.0% nationwide.
In 1920, while serving his prison term, Debs again ran for president, winning a few thousand more votes than in 1912 and 3.4% nationwide.
Debs knew his June 16, 1918 Canton, Ohio speech — despite his care in presenting the speech such that it would comply with US government speech restrictions — could lead to his imprisonment. Indeed, in his speech, Debs talks of other individuals who had been imprisoned for the “crime” of exercising their right to free speech. Debs explains near the beginning of the speech why he spoke anyway:
I realize that, in speaking to you this afternoon, there are certain limitations placed upon the right of free speech. I must be exceedingly careful, prudent, as to what I say, and even more careful and prudent as to how I say it. I may not be able to say all I think; but I am not going to say anything that I do not think. I would rather a thousand times be a free soul in jail than to be a sycophant and coward in the streets.
Debs’ complete speech may be read here.
Watch here actor Mark Ruffalo present a reading of some excerpts concerning war from the speech:
A military alliance in search of an identity: For over two decades NATO has had branding issues. To justify its existence, it absolutely needs an enemy. In the wake of the Ukraine crisis, Russia now fits that bill.
CrossTalking with Mark Sleboda, Alexander Mercouris and Brian Becker.
I don’t wanna see no more blood shed
I don’t wanna see no more violence
We don’t want no war tonight, we don’t want a fuss and a fight
if we all unite
We don’t want no war tonight, we don’t want a fuss and a fight
if we all unite
Mala – Anti War Dub (Compa Refix)
Efforts to expose videos and photos that documented torture at Guantánamo have been blocked by a federal appeals court in New York that sided with the Obama administration in its refusal to turn over the information.
The case centered on the treatment of Mohammed al-Qahtani, dubbed the 20th hijacker in the 9/11 attacks. Captured in 2001 and held at Guantánamo since then, al-Qahtani has been subjected to torture and other harsh treatment during his detention, according to his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR).
CCR filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to force the administration to release photos and videos depicting its client’s abuse at the U.S. prison in Cuba.
There are reportedly 58 videos in the possession of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Kevin Gosztola wrote at Fire Dog Lake, which show Qahtani’s “activities in his cell and his interactions” with U.S. military personnel. Two videos allegedly depict “forced cell extractions” involving Qahtani that resulted in abusive or aggressive behavior on the part of his jailers.
But those recordings will not see the light of day anytime soon. The government successfully argued “with adequate specificity” that the footage and images “could logically and plausibly harm national security because these images are uniquely susceptible to use by anti-American extremists as propaganda to incite violence against United States interests domestically and abroad,” Judge José Cabranes wrote in the court’s opinion.
To Learn More:
Court: Releasing Images of Guantanamo Prisoner Would Incite Violence, Especially Since He Was Tortured (by Kevin Gosztola, Fire Dog Lake)
No Daylight for US Govt Photos, Video That May Show Gitmo Torture (by Nadia Prupis, Common Dreams)
Circuit Keeps Lid Closed on al-Qahtani Footage (by Adam Klasfeld, Courthouse News Service)
Center for Constitutional Rights v. Central Intelligence Agency (Second Circuit Court of Appeals)
Group Sues U.S. Government to Force Release of Only Known Remaining Torture Video (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
“Our faiths are inextricably linked on any number of things that we must confront and deal with in policy concepts today. Our faiths are inextricably linked on the environment. For many of us, respect for God’s creation also translates into a duty to protect and sustain his first creation, Earth, the planet,”
“Confronting climate change is, in the long run, one of the greatest challenges that we face, and you can see this duty or responsibility laid out in Scriptures clearly, beginning in Genesis. And Muslim-majority countries are among the most vulnerable. Our response to this challenge ought to be rooted in a sense of stewardship of Earth, and for me and for many of us here today, that responsibility comes from God.”
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Ukraine’s civil war has grounded in stalemate and the economy is crashing. This has created an opening for dialogue. Will all parties seize the moment or will Moscow continue to be blamed?
CrossTalking with Karel van Wolferen, Neil Clark and Gilbert Doctorow.
The Permanent Representative of Syria to the United Nations Bashar Al-Jaafari says the recent developments in the Middle East, particularly the unrest in Syria and Iraq are part of a project to divide the Middle East.
There’s something profoundly depressing about the start of this little video clip filmed, by the sound of it, by two young boys, possibly from their bedroom window. As they chatter away, on the other side of an East Jerusalem valley an Israeli “skunk” truck fires high-powered jets of intensely foul-smelling liquid at older youths protesting Israel’s mass arrests policy, carried out under cover of its attack on Gaza.
The truck indiscriminately sprays a wide arc of liquid at homes and cars, a kind of petty collective punishment meant to pollute the Palestinian neighbourhood with the disgusting odour for days.
All of this is just another day in these boys’ experience of occupation. They film the truck like other children might video a cat chasing a ball of wool. Interesting to them, but nothing out of the ordinary.
And then, suddenly, something exceptional happens. The truck falls off the edge of the road, into a ravine. The screams of delight from the boys, and the whoops that seem to echo from the other side of the valley, they are so loud, register a small triumph – a momentary loss of control from the seemingly all-powerful machine that is the occupation.
It is easy, when the headlines have been filled with death and destruction in Gaza, to forget that the occupation is far more relentless and insidious than such spasms of Israeli death-wreaking. It is the monotonous drone of a mechanical, faceless monster seeking to sap all hope from young minds. In that brief interruption, before normal service was resumed, another world was revealed to these boys.
The war against us all
This war in Iraq isn’t the end; it’s the beginning of Wars to come
all around the world at the whim of the Neo-Cons in the White House
This is the Bush Doctrine come to life; War, war and more war!
War brought to you by the big corporate-masters who run the show
This isn’t just a War on Iraqis or Afghanis or Arabs, or even Muslims
It is ultimately a War on us all!
That’s because the billions and billions that are being spent on this War
the cost of tanks, rocketry, bullets and yes even salaries
for the 125,000 plus troops, is money that will never be spent on;
education, on healthcare, on the reconstruction of crumbling public housing
or to train and place the millions of workers
who have lost manufacturing jobs in the past three years alone
The War in Iraq is in reality; a war against the nations’ workers and the poor
who are getting less and less
while the big Defense industries and making a killing – literally!
What’s next Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela?
We’ve already seen the corporate media
play megaphone to the White House, to build and promote a War based on lies
War is utilized by the imperialists first and foremost, to crush internal enemies
We’re seeing the truth of its insight
when we see the sad state of American education
the rush of seniors to buy affordable medications from the Canadians
because American drugs are just too expensive
the threat of privatization of Social Security
and the wave of repression that comes with an increasing Militarized Police;
this is a War on all of us
And the struggle against War is really a struggle for a better life
for the millions of folks who are in need here in this country!
The fight against the War is really to fight for your own interest
not the false interests of the Defense Industry
or the corporate media or the White House
Down with the Wars for empire!
From Death row this is Mumia Abu Jamal…
The words of Jim Page’s song “I’d rather be dancing” are based on the letters Rachel Corrie wrote home to her parents before the Israeli army crushed her to death in Gaza on 16 March 2003. She was murdered, crushed by an Israeli army bulldozer, when attempting to prevent the demolition of a house in Rafah, Gaza, owned by a Palestinian doctor and his family. Rachel was 23-years-old. See rachelcorriefoundation.org
you know I was always the one
I could never stand idly by
and watch while the bullies beat up on the weaker ones
I had to do something to try
and I never gave up on people
that we could be better somehow
morality’s compass, you gave it to me
I still follow it now
well, I couldn’t stop thinking about it
I couldn’t get it out of my mind
the pictures, the stories, the plight of the people
in occupied Palestine
how my government makes me complicit
with the political aid that they send
so I packed up my bags and I headed to Rafa
to work with the ISM
and I’d rather be dancing, dancing and falling in love
but if I just can just watch from a distance then what am I made of
mama these people are so good to me
they treat me like one of their own
they feed me and see to my needs
and let me sleep in their home
papa their lives are so hard
the gun shots night
the road blocks, the strip searches, the humiliations
papa it just isn’t right
I can feel my privilege around me
it’s there in my American face
I could wave my passport around like a flag
and I would be safe in this place
for these child soldiers of Israel
they look like the boys back home
and if it wasn’t for American money
they’d have to leave these people alone
and I’d rather be dancing, dancing to Pat Benatar
but somebody has to do somethin’ about it and here we are
the tractors are coming today
they’re like tanks with bulldozer blades
the name on the side says Caterpillar
that means they’re American made
well, I am American too
and I’ll be where everybody can see
so if they want to run over these houses today
they’re gonna have to run over me
it’s dangerous takin’ a stand
but it’s dangerous running away
sometimes you have to face up to the danger
there is just no other way
for there are such beautiful dreams
I have seen the eyes of a child
and if I can just make one little difference
then I think my life is worth while
and I’d rather be dancing, but instead I’m saying goodbye
but we’ll meet again when it’s over, don’t cry
and I’d rather be dancing, and surely we’d all rather be
and one day we’ll dance in a world that’s peaceful and free
It’s time for Tony to face charges;
It’s time for a Citizen’s Arrest.
There’s an empty dock in the Hague
Dying to have him as its guest.
There’s a million bodies buried in Iraq
Whose ghosts cry out in despair;
‘There were no weapons of mass destruction
So where’s ‘The People versus Tony Blair?’
There were no weapons about to hit London
Within the space of three quarters of an hour.
Tony was lying to Parliament and his country –
For Iraq never toppled the twin towers.
He and Campbell were conned by the neo-cons.
They were impressed by American power
Into letting themselves be drawn into war crimes
With Iraq being bombed for hour after hour.
A million were bombed to smithereens
Killed by shells tipped with uranium –
Causing birth defects to pregnant women
Lasting from generation to generation.
As a lawyer you’re aware that aggressive warfare,
Under the Nuremburg Protocols,
Constitutes the ultimate crime in international law –
Your avoiding justice makes people emotional.
To add insult to injury you’ve profited, Tony,
And you swan about in a private jet.
It’s made you popular amongst the corrupt;
You’re part of the International Set.
But the International Criminal Court
Is keeping your seat in the dock warm,
And anyone carrying out a successful arrest
Promises to go down a storm.
They’ll be rewarded with worldwide cheers
They’ll be greeted by great sighs of relief,
For at last the rule of law and of human rights
Won’t be undermined by a grinning thief.