Truthout Stories Fri, 21 Oct 2016 10:54:11 -0400 en-gb His Horror Show Hides Clinton's Rotten Agenda

Donald Trump proved once again in the final presidential debate that he's the secret weapon...of the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton.

The nominee of what was once the leading party of American capitalism again went out of his way to piss off even Republicans who haven't retracted their endorsement of him.

His own running mate repudiated his unhinged nonsense about the election being rigged against him -- so Trump insisted Wednesday night that he couldn't promise to abide by the results of the election. The audiotape of him bragging about sexually assaulting women has repulsed women voters especially, so Trump sneered about every allegation -- and nonchalantly acknowledged that as president, he would pack the US Supreme Court with right-wing justices who would overturn legal abortion.

We're in uncharted territory -- it's entirely possible that Donald Trump will do worse on November 8 than any major-party candidate in modern political history.

But maybe even more incredible is the fact that the other major-party candidate on the ballot in three weeks' time could be setting records herself if her opponent wasn't Donald Trump.

As repellant as he is, lots of people seem ready to choose interstellar catastrophe over voting for Hillary Clinton. A recent poll of 18- to 35-year-olds inspired by the Twitter hashtag #GiantMeteor2016 found that one in four young respondents would rather a giant meteor destroy the Earth than see either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in the White House.

The public demonstrations of hatred toward Trump are heartening -- anti-sexist protesters in New York City and Chicago chanting "Pussy grabs back!" outside Trump skyscrapers, and culinary workers building their own "wall" of taco trucks at a Trump hotel near the debate site in Las Vegas.

But at the same time, every new outrage involving Trump means people pay less attention to the outrages of a Democratic presidential nominee whose top staff responded to the critique of a Black Lives Matter activist with the single word "Yuck," as we know thanks to WikiLeaks.

The Democrats have happily stood silent while Trump's gross behavior sets the terms of the debate. Clinton could easily take over the spotlight from Trump and challenge his reactionary bluster. But she's infinitely more confortable with a campaign centered on how much she's not like her opponent, rather than what she stands for.

You've probably heard from any number of Clinton supporters -- your friends, your family, fellow unionists, members of the feminist organization you support -- that this election isn't about voting for what you believe in, but against what you definitely don't believe in.

But each time the Trump campaign lurches and careens to the right, it takes the heat off the Clinton campaign to defend its candidate's agenda.

So let's take a break from the regularly scheduled Trump train wreck and talk about what Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party ought to be held accountable for. You heard about some of it in the debate Wednesday night, but if the Clinton campaign has its way, you won't hear much more before November 8 -- as long as Trump cooperates with his ongoing horror show.

A Friend of Immigrants in the White House?

Immigration came up in the debate Wednesday night, but for anyone who cares about the issue, it wasn't much of a discussion -- especially after Hillary Clinton avoided a question about free trade and borders by blaming the Russkies for hacking her e-mails again.

Clinton could have called out Trump's deplorable racism. He began his campaign by calling Mexicans immigrants "rapists" and vowing to build a border wall. His latest xenophobia includes a promise to institute "extreme vetting" on Muslims who want to enter the US. 

But let's stick to our theme today: What about Clinton?

On enforcement, Clinton joins Republican and Democratic politicians alike in calling for tougher border controls. In 2013, she supported legislation that included a path to citizenship, as she said in the debate -- but on the condition that billions of dollars be devoted to new surveillance equipment and fencing (otherwise known as a wall) along the Mexican border, along with 20,000 more border agents.

The consequences of these policies are deadly. Since January, officials say that fewer people attempted to illegally cross the border between the US and Mexico, but more have died trying to make the journey. According to the Pima County medical examiner in Arizona, 117 bodies have been recovered along migration routes in southern Arizona so far this year, an increase over last year.

This is the true face of Clinton's promise to "protect our borders" -- death and misery for people fleeing persecution and poverty.

Clinton supporters focus on the nightmare of a Trump presidency for immigrants. But the nightmare is already happening. Trump may have blustered about the actual number, but it's true that Barack Obama has presided over the deportation of well over 2 million people, more than all the presidents of the 20th century combined.

And forfeiting immigrant lives in the name of border security is hardly unique to the latest Democrat in the White House. It was Bill Clinton who imposed "Operation Gatekeeper" in 1994, pandering to the right wing by pouring more millions into border enforcement and, yes, wall-building.

With friends like these...well, you know the rest.

What Clinton Told Goldman Sachs

Okay, okay, the real news story is how WikiLeaks got hold of e-mails from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta and transcripts of Clinton's paid speeches, not what was in them. Clinton herself said the most important question of the final debate was whether Trump would condemn Russian espionage to hack her e-mails.

But hey, bear with us.

It's not news that Clinton has deep ties to Corporate America going back decades. But with Clinton touring the country and telling her supporters that America is "already great," it's worth remembering who America is really great for.

In a speech at Goldman Sachs three years ago, Clinton did everything but apologize for the weak banking regulations imposed in the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform bill. "More thought has to be given to the process and transactions and regulations so that we don't kill or maim what works, but we concentrate on the most effective way of moving forward with the brainpower and the financial power that exists here," Clinton pandered to an audience of banksters.

Explaining that Dodd-Frank bill was passed for "political" reasons, Clinton assured the investment bank aptly referred to in 2010 as "a giant vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity" that she believes the best overseers of Wall Street are...wait for it...Wall Street itself.

"There's nothing magic about regulations -- too much is bad, too little is bad," Clinton said, and one assumes that she emphasized the "too much is bad" part.

For all the working-class families who bore the burden of underwater mortgages during the housing crisis, Clinton has signaled, if anyone was still wondering, whose side she's on -- the parasites on Wall Street.

The Return of Roe

Remember reproductive rights? It was pretty shocking to hear the words "abortion" or "Roe" and "Wade" uttered in Wednesday night's debate. So far this election, we've heard precious little about this essential health care question for women.

It's not for a lack of things to talk about -- Texas shuttering its clinics becaue of punitive legislative restrictions, an Indiana woman facing murder charges for having a miscarriage, congressional Republicans smearing Planned Parenthood with fabricated video.

But you wouldn't know about any of that from the two presidential candidates, including the Democrat who says she supports a woman's right to choose.

Wednesday night, Trump admitted that he would nominate Supreme Court justices who would, without doubt, overturn legal abortion. By comparison, Clinton seemed, well, actually human. But as a result, the limitations of her defense of the right to legal abortion, now and in the past, were overshadowed.

Clinton helped perfect the modern-day Democratic strategy of searching for "common ground" with conservatives on the issue of abortion -- an issue on which any sincere defender of women's rights shouldn't find common anything with the right. She helped coin the slogan of "safe, legal and rare" as the goal of pro-choice Democrats.

The "common ground" arguments haven't saved reproductive rights -- instead, they've given up ideological ground to the right and made the pro-choice side weaker.

If you want to know how important reproductive rights are to Hillary Clinton, look at her vice presidential choice Tim Kaine. In 2005, he ran for Virginia governor promising to lower the number of abortions in the state by promoting abstinence-only education. The state's chapter of NARAL withheld their endorsement because he "embraces many of the restrictions on a woman's right to choose."

But of course, nothing is getting in the way of the mainstream women's organizations backing the Clinton-Kaine ticket to the hilt this year. They don't care if reproductive rights are part of the debate. But a lot of women out there do -- and many of them are fed up with the way the Democrats take them for granted at election time, and don't lift a finger to stem the attacks when they come.

Remember the $15 Minimum Wage and All That Socialist Stuff?

It's almost obliterated from our memory, thanks to the monstrosity that is Donald Trump, but during the Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton had to talk about some of the issues that supporters of the Democratic Party care about

The socialist message of the Bernie Sanders campaign put these questions in the spotlight and forced the most corporate of Democrats to address them -- and also answer for her own terrible record on a number of things that didn't come up at the debate. For a time, the brewing anger at corporate greed and the corrupt political status quo -- given expression in grassroots movements like the Fight for 15 and Black Lives Matter -- found a voice in the political mainstream.

With a few weeks to go before the election, that seems like a long time ago.

Part of the reason is Hillary Clinton, but another part is Bernie Sanders. He's stopped his sharp criticisms of Clinton and tells his supporters that now is the time to stop Trump, not make demands on Clinton. In the debate, when Trump repeated one of his routine sound bites about Sanders saying Clinton had "bad judgment," Clinton smiled smugly and pointed out that Sanders was campaigning and urging a vote for her.

There were many issues that Clinton had to address this year only because people mobilized to make sure they couldn't be ignored -- like anti-racist activists who made sure she was reminded of her support for Bill Clinton's crime bills, or Palestinian rights supporters who confronted her support for Israeli apartheid.

Those issues were invisible at the October 19 debate, but so were many others that people care about. They don't come up within the narrow confines of mainstream politics in the US -- where the politics of fear of what's worse forces voters to settle for what's hopefully less bad.

The two-party duopoly is organized to squash political debate and dissent outside the mainstream -- which is why it's up to us to raise both, before the election between Clinton and Trump is decided, and especially after.

Opinion Fri, 21 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
One Year Since Pelican Bay Settlement, Long-Term Solitary Drops 99 Percent

Last Friday, October 14, marked one year since reforms began under the historic settlement agreement in CCR's case Ashker v. Brown, which effectively ended long-term solitary confinement throughout California state prisons. We are thrilled to report that new data shows that the settlement succeeded in moving virtually all prisoners out of indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement.

The speed with which the settlement brought an end to California's use of long-term solitary is even more meaningful when we think about what, exactly, it ended. For decades, California isolated more people, for longer periods, than any other state. In the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison and in other California SHUs, prisoners were isolated in near-total solitude for 23 to 24 hours a day, denied telephone calls, contact visits, and vocational, recreational, or educational programs. When CCR filed Ashker, more than 500 prisoners had been isolated in the Pelican Bay SHU for over 10 years. Seventy-eight had been there for more than 20 years. And six had been there for more than 30.

In the words of Ashker plaintiff Gabriel Reyes, "Unless you have lived it, you cannot imagine what it feels like to be by yourself, between four cold walls, with little concept of time, no one to confide in, and only a pillow for comfort -- for years on end. It is a living tomb."

What's more, these men were held indefinitely, without any certain date when they would be returned to general population, and predominantly on the basis of alleged "gang affiliation" -- like reading about Black history, creating or possessing cultural artwork, or writing in Swahili -- not any infractions of prison rules. The system was barbaric.

Now, after just one year, decades of this treatment are over. The number of prisoners in solitary confinement has dropped dramatically, bringing an end to the kind of torture Reyes described. Among other important provisions that limit California's future use of solitary -- such as isolating prisoners only as punishment for rule infractions and, then, only for a definite period of time -- the settlement mandated that the state review all "gang-validated" SHU prisoners within one year to determine whether they should be released from solitary under the settlement terms.

The number of prisoners held in the Pelican Bay SHU for more than 10 years has dropped by 99 percent. Today, only five SHU prisoners have been there for over 10 years, and they are expected to be released from solitary shortly, or at least given a release date. Throughout the rest of the state, 1,557 prisoners have been reviewed, 1,532 of them have been designated for transfer out of solitary, and at least 1,512 of them have already left, bringing down California's indefinite solitary population a whopping 97 percent.

But the numbers tell only part of the story. The most meaningful reports of the impact of this settlement come from prisoners themselves and their families, who have shared their experiences seeing the skylinerunning (through a snow storm)encountering birds, or having a contact visit with a family member for the first time in decades. In the words of Ashker plaintiff Richard Wembe Johnson, sometimes the biggest things are "[s]mall things such as getting up to walk to a dining hall for breakfast and dinner, things like going to a classroom…or having physical contact with visitors, an being able to purchase edible items from the vending machines, not to mention taking photos with love[d] ones."

The dramatic changes that followed the settlement agreement are the result of an effort that was started years ago -- by prisoners themselves -- and that began succeeding even before the court-ordered reforms. Ashker was originally filed in 2009 by plaintiffs Todd Ashker and Danny Troxell, representing themselves. Eight months later, prisoners at Pelican Bay began a historic hunger strike, which resumed again the following September. Together, pressure from the lawsuit, the hunger strikes, and the mass mobilization of prisoners, their family members, and supporters prompted California to begin reducing its solitary population shortly after CCR joined the lawsuit in May of 2012.

Ashker v. Brown is a prime example of how the law can be used to aid, rather than depoliticize, social struggles. And the good news about the dramatic reductions in California's prison population show just how transformative those partnerships between lawyers and activists can be. 

Read more about the numbers on this resource page, California solitary confinement statistics: Year One after landmark settlement.

News Fri, 21 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Economic Update: The Economics of Tax Avoidance

This week's episode discusses cutting funds for public higher education, Princeton avoiding taxes, multinational corporations getting tax breaks and a billionaire's yacht. The show also talks about lessons from the strike at Jim Beam.

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News Fri, 21 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The Pillaging of Nicaragua's Bosawás Biosphere Reserve

Pillaging of Nicaragua's Bosawás Biosphere Reserve -- the largest tropical rainforest in the western hemisphere after the Amazon -- persists at rates around 200-280 acres per day, according to an estimate published in Time Magazine. With encroaching destruction driven by a sinister triad of corporate, colonial, and government interests, most progress that has been made -- largely through indigenous stewardship of community forests -- has been the result of indigenous resistance.

Under reestablished Sandinista rule, which has brought only small-scale efforts at reforestation, Nicaragua's biodiverse forest cover continues to disappear at a quickening pace, further threatening species such as rare jaguars, spider monkeys and the few remaining Baird's tapirs. Miskitu and Mayanga Indigenous Peoples in the region called on President Barack Obama in 2013 to support their fight for preservation.

Indigenous Miskitu and Mayangna have been battling the nationalization of their traditional territories against the Sandinistas in one form or another since at least the 1970s. While attempts at compromises and concessions were made by both sides along the way, the human rights and environmental crises central to this struggle have once again come to a head. Recent escalations have generated unthinkable violence and humanitarian disasters as illegal armed settlers known as 'Colonos' progressively encroach upon indigenous territories, terrorizing the legal inhabitants under a violent siege.

The Miskitu Council of Elders -- via a statement submitted by Ottis Lam Hoppington, Chief of the Elders, and Carlos Rivas Thomas, who represented the Elders at the UN -- explained that the territory under grave threat by Colonos consists of sacred sites; they described how the real material value the land holds for its Indigenous Peoples is in maintaining a link between the physical and the spiritual, "and life itself."

In this official statement issued on August 22, 2016 the Elders proclaimed:

"Since ancient times we've [cared for] our forests, because apart from being our only means of sustenance, we understand that any alteration to [them] attracts risks; alters our form of life; puts existence itself at risk; causes drastic changes [to] the climate; alters the ecosystem; and breaks our link with our ancestors.

[For] little more than five years, [we] have experienced the largest internal colonization [of] our history. The presence of 'Colonos' has drastically altered our form of life. In such a short time [the invasion] has destroyed tens of thousands of hectares of our forests, which has led to [the drying of] our rivers, [causing] the animals [to] migrate and the climate to alter, and us to emigrate. Our large forests are now deserts, occupied for the livestock, and [we] can do nothing to curb the advance of the settlers as they have the support of the Government of Nicaragua and [we] are alone.

Since June of 2015, our communities have [been] experiencing [increased] violence, persecution and [other crime] from [the settlers] and part of the Government. With the support of no one, we have survived on our own."

Former Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, Dr Jaime Incer Barquero, told the IPS news agency that by March 2016 the country had lost 60% of its surface water sources, and almost half of its underground sources, due to climate change-driven drought and industrial pollution. To date, at least 100 rivers and their tributaries have dried up.

Local scientist, Jadder Lewis noted area lobster populations -- a crucial subsistence food and chief export -- presenting at unprecedentedly low volumes; he also cited increasing endangerment of area coral reefs rooted in regional deforestation and other unsustainable resource exploitation. Lewis projects the current deforestation rate to actually be as high as 40,000 hectares per year.

If the notoriously controversial Chinese-backed Nicaragua Trans-Oceanic Canal indeed comes to fruition, related infrastructure and construction will destroy another 1 million acres of Nicaragua's climate change mitigating rainforests and wetlands. According to the Environmental Resources Management consultancy, the Indio Maiz Biological Reserve, as well as the Cerro Silva and Punta Gorda reserves, experienced a higher rate of environmental deterioration between 2009 and 2011 -- under Sandinista rule -- than in the previous 26 years.

Academics, nonprofits, and activists expressing moral and scientific objections to canal plans have found their rights systematically violated as Ortega, who is set to run virtually unopposed in the upcoming November election (with his wife as vice-president) has become increasingly reactive to the slightest of criticisms. On September 13th, addressing an audience at The Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia, Jimmy Carter expressed, "The Sandinistas have established...not a democracy...but a way to maintain power." On September 21st, the US House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill known as the 'Nica Act' which mandates US opposition on any loans to Nicaragua from allied organizations.

One Costa Rican analyst posited Nicaragua's recent acquisition of 80 million dollars' worth of Russian war tanks as defensive posturing in anticipation of widespread civil unrest from canal protest movements and resistance to colonial occupation in the north.

Interestingly, Sandinista activity concerning the autonomous nation of Muskitia increasingly mirrors Chinese policy on Tibet -- evident in the way the FSLN attacks and discredits Miskitu leadership; their refusal to respect Muskitia sovereignty; and the covert yet violent invasion of their territory as colonizers aligned with the FSLN and its populist base invade Miskitu lands while Sandinista soldiers intimidate and threaten anyone who gets in their way. Indigenous leadership or outside observers who dare criticize the FSLN in this regard are branded puppets of 'US imperialism.'

It's a set of moves straight out of the China vs. Tibetan independence movement playbook. Yet Ortega's new brand of 'Christian Socialist Solidarity' also suggests a concurrent shift towards a more theocratic model of governance, in some ways analogous to the government of Iran -- another country who, along with Russia and China, is hoping to get a stake in the proposed canal.

Propaganda rolled out by state-sponsored and crony media outlets of the Bolivarian left portray Nicaragua as a leader in 'consensus-based' decision-making with respect to indigenous rights. This would likely come as news to Nicaragua's indigenous communities, such as the Miskitu, who feel increasingly alienated from the centralized government as health and education services on the frontier collapse amid escalating violence. Surrounding cities forced to absorb the internally displaced receive no government subsidies; and, newly displaced Indigenous Miskitu are often forced to live as virtual beggars among their own, more urban, extended communities.

Statements collected from indigenous leader, Brooklyn Rivera, contextualize recent escalations in violence and the role of the Sandinista regime.

"The Sandinistas are the mestizos on the Pacific side, they had [no rights to] Muskitia land; they encroached on the territory until the war occurred in 1979 and tried to control everything, but they did not understand or respect the customs of the Indigenous Peoples. They felt they were gods and wanted to fulfill all their desires. Then, the people rebelled because [we] had a different way of living -- from the ancient times -- with very different customs than the mestizos. So, the conflict started, the war started,
the Sandinistas led us to the war that lasted 10 years. [We fought] for our lives, to protect our land, to protect our communities; we had many difficulties but we managed to overcome that."

After the Sandinistas lost the elections and were out of power for fifteen years, they came and talked to the people and asked to be forgiven for their faults of the past, because they caused a lot of damage to people -- murdered, burned them -- they then made many promises to the people to rebuild the communities again, especially in the Coco River, and also, to respect the rights of the communities. That is why we signed an agreement that lasted 11 years where it is said that we would support the opportunity for them to return to power, and that was the agreement that was signed. We supported the Sandinistas twice, led by Daniel Ortega, for the elections of 2006 and 2011 by giving them our votes. But we are now in a different situation, because now Daniel and the Sandinistas feel that [the] indigenous are like a stone in their shoe, so they are looking to eradicate the Indigenous Peoples and introduce mestizos settlers in the Rio Coco and also in coastal areas, eradicating the indigenous Miskitos and Mayangnas, to no longer have more conflicts with us.

The Sandinistas are advised by the people of Cuba to not give any opportunity for minority populations, because they think that Indigenous Peoples are their enemies and we, along with the (Gringos) American people, will rebel against them. That's why it is better for them to destroy the Miskitus, so that in Nicaragua there will not be any minority populations and everyone will be equal and there will only be mestizos. So they want to impose the Colonos; and not only that, but they are also imposing leaders in the communities from their political party.

The inhabitants of the communities have the right to choose their sindicos, their judges, but [the Sandinistas] do not respect that and only choose people from their own political party -- people who will obey them, people who follow them. And these leaders are against the population, so they will continue destroying the communities and in that way eradicate them; and, that is one method of how they try to do it. The other method is the destruction of our natural resources, our forests and our marine resources. It is a great pressure on the resources, [and as they] become extinct, they are destroying our way of life. So we try to go against that, we are fighting so our lifestyles do not disappear, so that everything remains the same as our ancestors left us. So, that is the current struggle we have.

Behind the settlers, there are companies with millions of dollars, and the government. The Sandinista government supports the Colonos who come to take our natural resources, our forests, our lands, introduce livestock, and destroy our resources. These people invade our coastal areas to the Coco River. That's why the population is getting organized. Indigenous Peoples are organizing together to defend their rights, to defend their territory, to prevent the Colonos from continuing to invade our lands.

Now, they are also attacking the leaders of the [YATAMA] organization; that is another strategy that helps them to eradicate us: killing the leaders; creating persecution of leaders so the population does not have their support; because if the population needs to rise up and their leaders are not leading them, that's impossible. So they are attacking the leaders, that's how they are trying to break us: destroy the leaders, destroy the organization, and destroy YATAMA. Those are their methods: destroying our land; destroying our natural resources; destroying the people in the organization, killing them, [terrorizing] them. These methods are what they call 'strategy' to eradicate Miskitus and the [YATAMA] organization."

Nicaragua is a country full of paradoxes. Prostitution is legal, yet abortion is completely banned. The ruling party takes political cues from communist Cuba, yet Ortega embraces neoliberal economics and development models with unabashed enthusiasm. Sandinista government enthusiasts wax about indigenous rights and environmental responsibility...all the while, fleeing Indigenous refugees, and their ancestral land considered the 'lungs of Mesoamerica', struggle to catch their breath.

(Special thanks to Dr. Laura Hobson Herlihy for administrating the interview with Brooklyn Rivera, and Mark Rivas for coordinating the statement from the Elders.)

News Fri, 21 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The Threat of a Right-Wing Supreme Court: Analyzing Trump's Prospective Justices

Donald Trump arrives for a campaign event at the regional airport in Grand Junction, Colorado, on October 18, 2016. Trump vows to select SupremeCourt justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia, an extreme conservative with a history of voting against the interests of women, people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. (Photo: Damon Winter / The New York Times)Donald Trump arrives for a campaign event at the regional airport in Grand Junction, Colorado, on October 18, 2016. Trump vows to select SupremeCourt justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia, an extreme conservative with a history of voting against the interests of women, people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. (Photo: Damon Winter / The New York Times)

The judges Trump has suggested as possible Supreme Court nominees reveal a right-wing extremist approach. His choices would change the Supreme Court's ideological makeup for four decades and affect reproductive rights, workers' rights,  voting rights, environmental rights and more.

Donald Trump arrives for a campaign event at the regional airport in Grand Junction, Colorado, on October 18, 2016. Trump vows to select SupremeCourt justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia, an extreme conservative with a history of voting against the interests of women, people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. (Photo: Damon Winter / The New York Times)Donald Trump arrives for a campaign event at the regional airport in Grand Junction, Colorado, on October 18, 2016. Trump vows to select SupremeCourt justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia, an extreme conservative with a history of voting against the interests of women, people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. (Photo: Damon Winter / The New York Times)

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As the media focuses on Donald Trump's sexually predatory behavior and Hillary Clinton's Wall Street speeches, the future of the Supreme Court has received only an occasional mention. During the final presidential debate, the topic was finally given some attention.

When asked about late-term abortion, Clinton said Roe v. Wade "very clearly sets out that there can be regulations on abortion so long as the life and the health of the mother is taken into account." Trump responded with the incendiary retort, "If you go with what Hillary is saying, in the 9th month, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby."

What Trump was actually describing was a C-section, which would result in the birth of a live baby.

An examination of how the two candidates' judicial nominees would likely vote on critical issues the high court will face reveals the enormous stakes in the upcoming presidential election.

Trump and Clinton's choices for Supreme Court justices could not be more philosophically dissimilar.

While Clinton has not provided names, she has stated that she will nominate justices who will uphold abortion rights, women's rights, workers' rights, voting rights, marriage equality and affordable health care; provide relief for DREAMers and the parents of US citizens and lawful permanent residents; and overturn Citizens United.

Trump has vowed to nominate justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia. The late justice favored unlimited corporate election spending. He opposed reproductive rights, universal health care, same-sex marriage, affirmative action, voting rights, immigrants' rights, labor rights, LGBT rights and environmental protection. Scalia wrote the decision that concluded, for the first time, that the Second Amendment grants each individual (rather than "a well-regulated militia") the right to bear arms.

Trump indicated his intent to change the law through his judicial appointments, to overturn Roe v. Wade and "allow the states to protect the unborn."

After consulting with the right-wing Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation, Trump released lists of names from which he intends to select his judicial nominees. Their writings and judicial decisions demonstrate open hostility toward reproductive rights, affordable health care, consumer protections, criminal defendants, voting rights, workplace safety and LGBTQ rights.

The Future of the Supreme Court Hangs in the Balance

The Court is evenly divided, 4-4, between liberals and conservatives. Scalia's vacant seat will be filled by the next president. Three of the current justices are 78 or older. That means, if the new president serves two terms, he or she will likely nominate three or four justices to the Court.

If Clinton is elected, she would restore a liberal majority to the Court for the first time since 1969. "For the first time in decades, there is now a realistic chance that the Supreme Court will become an engine of progressive change rather than an obstacle to it," Jeffrey Toobin wrote in the New Yorker.

Many white evangelicals, whose primary goals are outlawing abortion and same-sex marriage, understand this well. That is why, in an effort to keep a conservative Supreme Court, most of them will still vote for Trump, notwithstanding the almost daily groping allegations emerging against him. If progressives refuse to vote for Clinton and Trump wins, the negative fallout will affect the lives of people in this country for decades.

Trump's Judges

"Collectively, these individuals reflect a radical-right ideology that threatens fundamental rights and legal protections, and that favors the powerful and privileged over everyday Americans, especially those from historically marginalized communities," according to the Alliance for Justice. "The list has very little diversity, with only three women, no people of color, and no one who has worked as a public defender or civil rights attorney."

Here is a sampling of Trump's prospective judges' records on reproductive rights, workers' rights, discrimination and voting rights, guns, criminal procedure, environmental rights and the death penalty:

Reproductive Rights

William H. Pryor, Jr., a judge on the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, called Roe v. Wade one of "the worst examples of judicial activism," saying that "seven members of [the Supreme Court] swept aside the laws of the fifty states and created -- out of thin air -- a constitutional right to murder an unborn child."

Steven Colloton, a judge on the Eighth Circuit, joined the only circuit court opinion to rule that the Affordable Care Act's birth control accommodation for religious non-profit organizations (religious colleges and hospitals) creates a substantial burden on religious practices.

Raymond Gruender, also of the Eighth Circuit, wrote that employers who deny contraception coverage (except for purposes like hormone regulation) don't violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Gruender also authored two opinions holding that a state can pass a law requiring a woman to sign a statement that says "the abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being" and "the pregnant woman has an existing relationship with that unborn human being."

Thomas Lee, of the Utah Supreme Court, wrote that a fetus is a "child" under Utah's wrongful death statute.

Diane Sykes, of the Seventh Circuit, wrote that the Affordable Care Act's mandate to provide contraceptive coverage "substantially burdens" the religious practice of for-profit corporations (later endorsed by a divided Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby).

Neil M. Gorsuch and Timothy M. Tymkovich, of the Tenth Circuit, agreed in the circuit court decision in Hobby Lobby that corporations are persons exercising religion for purposes of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Tymkovich also argued that Colorado could deny Medicaid funding to poor women who seek abortions resulting from rape or incest.

Charles Canady, of the Florida Supreme Court, popularized the term "partial-birth abortion." When he was a congressman, Canady wrote a bill, later vetoed by President Bill Clinton, severely limiting a woman's right to abortion.

Workers' Rights

Steven Colloton wrote two decisions that, together, reversed $24 million in awards to workers for unrecorded time putting on and taking off work equipment, in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Raymond Kethledge, of the Sixth Circuit, upheld an anti-union Michigan law that targeted public school employees for retaliation if they opposed anti-union legislation.

Discrimination and Voting Rights

William H. Pryor, Jr. signed an opinion stating that a supervisor's use of the word "boy" directed at an African American employee was just "conversational" and one of some "ambiguous stray remarks" unrelated to employment decisions. Pryor often dissents from decisions upholding relief for plaintiffs who allege discrimination, including a case in which a woman alleged retaliatory firing for claiming sexual harassment after being fired by the manager she accused of misconduct. He has also upheld discriminatory voter ID laws that disenfranchise minority voters, and protected large corporations from paying punitive damages.

Diane Sykes reinstated Wisconsin's voter ID law even after a trial court found it "results in the denial or abridgment of the right to vote on account of race or color." She also defended the right of anti-gay groups to receive government subsidies, and forced Southern Illinois University to recognize the Christian Legal Society as a student organization even though it prohibited gay students from being voting members or serving in leadership positions.

Timothy M. Tymkovich said that local ordinances prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation gave "special rights" to LGBTQ people.

Robert Young, of the Michigan Supreme Court, upheld Michigan's voter ID law, saying it was "nondiscriminatory."

Charles Canady, as a congressman, voted for the Defense of Marriage Act (banning same-sex marriage for federal law purposes).


Diane Sykes wrote an opinion overturning a ban on firing ranges within city limits.

Timothy M. Tymkovich opposed Denver's efforts to restrict assault weapons.

Thomas Hardiman, of the Third Circuit, wrote that New Jersey could not require people to demonstrate a "justifiable need" for a gun before being issued a license to carry a handgun in public.

Criminal Procedure

William H. Pryor, Jr. said that Miranda v. Arizona, which held that police must advise suspects in custodial interrogation of their rights to remain silent and to an attorney, was one of the "worst examples of judicial activism."

Thomas Hardiman wrote two opinions allowing correctional officers to conduct strip searches of inmates accused of minor offenses.

Environmental Rights

Timothy M. Tymkovich limited the ability of environmental groups to stop corporations from inflicting environmental harm.

William H. Pryor, Jr. took anti-environmental positions during his tenure as Alabama Attorney General.

The Death Penalty 

Steven Colloton wrote an opinion prohibiting prisoners from learning the identities of the physician, laboratory and pharmacy involved in carrying out Missouri's execution protocol.

Charles Canady voted to uphold a death sentence, later overturned by the Supreme Court, with even Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia and Thomas concluding that Florida's sentencing law was unconstitutional.

The Stakes Could Not Be Higher

This election will not simply determine the Supreme Court's resolution of important issues for the next four years. The new president will change the Court's ideological makeup for the next four decades. Its decisions will affect workers, consumers, immigrants, voters, people of color, LGBTQ rights, taxpayers, reproductive rights, affirmative action, health care, criminal defendants, guns and the environment. That includes all of us. Progressives should ponder this reality as they decide if and how to cast their votes.

Opinion Fri, 21 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
In Warmest Year Ever, Climate Change Ignored Again at Debate

The presidential and vice-presidential debates have concluded without a single question about climate change, even though 2016 is on pace to be the warmest year on record. We speak to May Boeve, executive director of 350 Action.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: During Wednesday's debate, the phrase "climate change" only came up one time.

HILLARY CLINTON: I want us to have the biggest jobs program since World War II, jobs in infrastructure and advanced manufacturing. I think we can compete with high-wage countries, and I believe we should. New jobs in clean energy, not only to fight climate change, which is a serious problem, but to create new opportunities and new businesses.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday night, I got response from May Boeve, executive director of 350 Action, about the failure of the candidates and debate moderators to address the issue of climate change in the debates.

MAY BOEVE: Right, and we all deserve so much better than the political conversation that has been had in this debate and in all of the debates. And the debates are obscuring serious issues, like climate change and like so many other problems that we're facing in this country and around the world. And it's true, the question was not asked. It was brought up in the context of a question about jobs.

But there's something important in the answer, which is that Clinton is speaking to progressives. She's speaking to the progressive movement. The way that we've been trying to build a much bigger movement that's focused on the economy, the climate crisis, injustices of all kinds, and weaving those movements together, that was what that answer was trying to speak to. She tied it to debt-free college. She tied it to Bernie Sanders. She tied it to having the wealthy pay for these things. So, those are clues. And she's going to need progressives to win, and she's going to need us to govern. And so, that's important, and we're going to keep pushing. And as many of the guests have said tonight, it is all about the movements.

But one thing that was, I think, shocking and scary here is that we know that to get the climate policy that we need, we need a functional democracy. And questioning the very idea that that can work is as big of a threat to climate change as any number of other issues. So, that was shocking, and we're paying extra close attention to that. And I think Donald Trump's disastrousness just reached another level tonight.

AMY GOODMAN: That's May Boeve. She's head of 350 Action, a climate justice group.

News Thu, 20 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
From Palestine to Black Lives Matter: Alicia Garza and Phyllis Bennis on Issues Ignored at the Debates

In our special broadcast of the final 2016 U.S. presidential debate, we asked Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza what the major-party candidates should have addressed in their exchange: "I want to see more conversation about what it is going to take to preserve the quality of life of black people in this country, who are being systematically murdered, incarcerated, and otherwise marginalized and disenfranchised."


NERMEEN SHAIKH: Let's go back to last night's showdown in Las Vegas. This is debate moderator Chris Wallace.

CHRIS WALLACE: What I'm asking you, sir, is: Do you want to see the court overturned? You've just said you want to see the court protect the Second Amendment. Do you want to see the court overturn Roe v. Wade?

DONALD TRUMP: Well, if we put another two or perhaps three justices on, that's really what's going to be -- that will happen. And that'll happen automatically, in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life justices on the court. I will say this: It will go back to the states, and the states will then make a determination.

HILLARY CLINTON: I do not think the United States government should be stepping in and making those most personal of decisions. So, you can regulate, if you are doing so with the life and the health of the mother taken into account.

CHRIS WALLACE: Mr. Trump, your reaction, and particularly on this issue of late-term, partial birth abortion?

DONALD TRUMP: Well, I think it's terrible. If you go with what Hillary is saying, in the ninth month, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: After this last presidential debate before the election, we asked Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, about Donald Trump's comments.

ALICIA GARZA: You know, it's hard for me to take him seriously, to be honest with you. He essentially says that he single-handedly is going to change the course of this country's future. He continues to use really egregious, less than factual stories that stoke fear, that stoke anxiety, and that defy logic and reason. And so, whether it was, you know, the conversation around abortion, or whether it's the conversation around immigration reform, or even if it's this conversation that he continues to bring up around law and order but then says that he's going to be the best friend to African Americans that we've ever had, I mean, honestly, it's hard to take him seriously.

The thing that just strikes me is that he is speaking to a set of audiences that are scared. They're terrified about the future of this country. They feel disenfranchised. They feel left out. They feel like they're being left out of decision making. And that's not going to go away after Trump. Thank goodness Trump will go away, but, unfortunately, that level of anxiety, that level of fear, that level of distrust will not go away.

AMY GOODMAN: Wait, you said that Donald Trump --

ALICIA GARZA: And so, we've got to really pay attention to that.

AMY GOODMAN: You said Donald Trump will go away? Are you sure? We just heard this discussion about he will leave the country in suspense as to what he will do, if he lost the election.

ALICIA GARZA: You know, he keeps saying he's got these surprises, that somehow never materialize. Donald Trump, in my estimation, is not going to win the presidency. And if he does, then we've got a lot of reckoning to do. But the thing that I'm more concerned about, quite frankly, again, is the millions of people that he has galvanized, who feel like they're on the outside. And that is something that both parties are going to have to address. And quite frankly, it's something that all of us are going to have to pay attention to.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what would you have liked, Alicia, for the candidates to be asked, I mean, including Donald Trump with, as you described, some of his more outrageous positions and postures? What should he have been asked? What should they both have been asked to address?

ALICIA GARZA: I mean, I think they addressed many of the major issues that are facing our country, but, quite frankly, over these last three debates, I have still been wanting to see more conversation around criminal justice reform. I want to see more conversation about what it's going to take to preserve the quality of life of black people in this country, who are being systematically murdered, incarcerated, and otherwise marginalized and disenfranchised. I wanted to hear more from each of the candidates about how these movements that have emerged over the last few years have influenced their thinking around how they want to bring America into its future.

And quite frankly, just talking about gun control doesn't cut it. We have an epidemic in this country of police murders and police violence, and neither candidate is addressing it, because, clearly, it's not politically expedient to address it. But what's at stake here is the lives of our families. What's at stake are mothers who are losing their children at astronomical rates. And also what's at stake are the attacks that are coming in more form recently against folks who have disabilities or other illnesses. These are things that we need to pay attention to. It's not just a crisis of whether a toddler gets a hold of a loaded gun. Quite frankly, every 28 hours in this country, a black person is murdered by police, vigilantes or security guards. And if it's not by police, then it's by policies that strip black people of our right to dignity, to respect and to living a full and good life.

We have black people throughout the South that are being denied medical care and being denied insurance. Donald Trump talked about how ineffective Obamacare was. And, in fact, we should stop calling it that, right? It's he Affordable Care Act. He talked about how ineffective it is, but, quite frankly, he didn't address the fact that thousands of black people lack access to that very healthcare because Republican governors and Republican senators refuse -- refuse -- to take funding to expand Medicaid programs.

Things like that are things that black folks across the country are looking to hear, and we're not hearing it. And I'm hoping that in this last 20 days both candidates get a little less tone deaf, stop using us as bait, and instead address the issues that we care about.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: During our debate night special, we took questions via social media from our audience.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the questions came into us from Twitter just now: "Do you support the ongoing MSM [mainstream media] self-imposed blackout on reporting on apartheid and Israel's inhumane treatment of Palestinians?" I want to ask this to Phyllis Bennis, but first to Alicia Garza, because in the Black Lives Matter movement's many-point plan, you address the issue of Palestinians.

ALICIA GARZA: Yeah. I mean, I think what's important for folks to understand here is that there is lots of common cause between African Americans and Palestinians, and that is not a new relationship. That's a relationship that has been forged over decades as a result of very similar feeling conditions that folks are existing in. And so, I think that it's important that we open up these conversations to really address the concerns and the issues that are important to all of us. I think that what's happening in Palestine and I think what we've seen through the Movement for Black Lives policy platform, certainly, is that there is a desire for social movements to connect to movements around the world and to support movements who are struggling and fighting for self-determination, as many of the movements here are, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Phyllis Bennis, you're a longtime observer and activist around the issue of Israel-Palestine. I don't think there's been a time recently where it's been talked about less than in these last few months. Talk about the situation on the ground and what you think has to happen right now. We actually just recently had Ann Wright onDemocracy Now!, the colonel, the former American diplomat, who attempted to get to Gaza to challenge the naval blockade there with a group of women from around the world. They were taken into custody at Ashdod, the Israeli Navy, and she was sent back to this country.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: You know, I think it's very important to keep in mind both the situation on the ground and the situation of the discourse here in the United States. What Alicia was just talking about is crucially important, the rising focus of the Movement for Black Lives on this connection, as Alicia said, a long-standing connection, but one that is getting new attention with the black community in the United States looking at the question of Palestine and the links of solidarity with Palestinians, something that emerged so sharply and so powerfully at the time of the uprising in Ferguson, when Palestinian activists were tweeting instructions for the -- for their comrades and colleagues in Ferguson about how to deal with tear gas, because the tear gas used by the Israeli military against Palestinians is made in the United States. It's the same tear gas. So they had a lot of experience with it. And that kind of immediacy made it rise to a new level.

But what we're seeing is a scenario where we have an extraordinary shift in the public discourse on this question in the last five years, 10 years, really 15 years, where things that had never made it before to public discourse is now talked about quite normally. The question of Israeli apartheid was anathema a decade ago. Now it's even talked about by top Israeli officials, who say -- they differ on the timing: We say it's already there; they say that if we don't do something different, we're going to face apartheid. So we have this massive shift in the discourse; a significant shift, not quite there, but a significant shift in the media coverage; only a tiny shift in some political discourse. The decision of 60 members of Congress to skip the speech of the Israeli prime minister this past year would never have happened before. But on the ground, the situation gets worse. So, it's this dichotomy, the new challenge that we face to transform that discourse shift into a real policy shift, where we don't see -- instead of ending U.S. military aid to the 23rd wealthiest country to use for its consistent violations of international law and human rights, we see the Obama administration escalating the annual amount of aid, so that Israel will now start each year with almost $4 billion, with $3.8 billion a year of military aid coming from our tax money to support its military, without any restrictions on how it makes -- how it uses that money, what weapons in the U.S. it's able to buy.

So, we're having a moment when, as we saw in all of these debates, the question of Israel, the relationship of Israel and the United States, did not come up. It didn't come up again tonight. But we do see that there has been this extraordinary shift in the public discourse. The fact that it was addressed as, for Bernie Sanders' campaign, the main foreign policy issue that he took up, that was then reflected in the debate over the Democratic Party platform. It didn't end up well; the platform was as bad or perhaps worse than in 2012. But the fact that it was made an item that had to be fought for was very, very different. So I think there's something to recognize the power of social movements here, but also recognize how far we still have to go, similar to the situation that we're facing with -- with refugees.

We heard tonight this claim from Donald Trump that Hillary Clinton had let in, as he said, tens of thousands of refugees from Syria who were all tied to ISIS. Wrong on all fronts. The fact that the U.S. government was proud of allowing in only 10,000 Syrian refugees in an entire year, in a period where for months Germany was taking in 20,000 a day during the height of the refugee crisis, was one more example. We don't have a refugee crisis here; we have a racism crisis here. And the kind of Islamophobia, the ISIS bashing that we were hearing from Trump about these refugees, what that says about how far we have to go, the kinds of movements that we need to build, linking the antiwar work with the refugee support work in this country to transform how refugees are treated, so that they are welcomed, not grudgingly accepted -- "Well, OK, if we have to take just 10,000 in a whole year, I guess we can" -- but to say we welcome people. Young people should be demanding the right to go to school with Syrians. You know, we weren't hearing any challenge to this sort of mainstream assumption that the refugees are inevitably dangerous, possibly violent, need to be vetted more than any other country in the world even imagines vetting. We heard no challenge to that tonight, and I don't think we can assume that we will hear leadership from the candidates. It's going to have to come from our movements.

AMY GOODMAN: Phyllis Bennis is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. She's written several books, including, most recently, Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror. Thanks also to Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter. To watch our full three-and-a-half-hour debate night special, that includes the full Trump-Clinton showdown uninterrupted, go to Also, today we did a special two-hour extended broadcast. Just go to our website, as well. Mark your calendars for November 8th, for our five-hour election night special broadcast. You can follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Snapchat.

News Thu, 20 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
More Than Two Dozen Alaskan Native Villages Face Relocation

As climate disruption-fueled storms increase in power and sea levels continue to rise, more than 24 Native Alaskan coastal villages are facing the existential questions of when, where and how to move their communities. The phenomenon has become common enough to have a name -- climigration.

An industrial area of Kotzebue, Alaska, an Inuit village being overtaken by the sea because of eroding soil brought on by the melting permafrost and stronger storms that come with higher temperatures, on August 5, 2015. (Photo: Ruth Fremson / The New York Times)An industrial area of Kotzebue, Alaska, an Inuit village being overtaken by the sea because of eroding soil brought on by the melting permafrost and stronger storms that come with higher temperatures, on August 5, 2015. (Photo: Ruth Fremson / The New York Times)

When President Barack Obama visited the tiny northern Alaskan coastal village of Kotzebue in 2015, it brought international attention to the fact that this Native community was directly threatened by anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD).

The ground around the village is being eroded by intensifying storms, melting ice and rising sea levels. "What's happening here is America's wake-up call," Obama said during his visit. "It should be the world's wake-up call."

Twelve years prior to that, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) had released a report explaining that 6,600 miles of Alaska's coastline were already subject to severe flooding and erosion, with 86 percent of Alaska Native villages already being impacted by flooding and erosion at that time.

"Of the nine villages we were directed to review, four -- Kivalina, Koyukuk, Newtok and Shishmaref -- are in imminent danger from flooding and erosion and are planning to relocate," stated the GAO report from 2003. "While the remaining five are in various stages of responding to these problems."

Now, 12 years later, the problem has grown worse, and the attention and funding necessary to move villages away from the coast has grown all the more urgent.

A Growing Number

The tiny village of Kivalina, located on a thin barrier island in the Chuckchi Sea and located 83 miles north of the Arctic Circle is populated by 400 Iñupiat. It has garnered, perhaps, more media attention than any other Alaskan village on the front lines of ACD, as exampled by a Washington Post article from 2015, among numerous others.

In 2008 the village sued 24 fossil fuel companies for the destruction of its homeland, but lost the case in federal court and has opted, thus far, not to re-file the case in state court. Meanwhile, the village people are well aware that they have less than a decade left before they must relocate, becoming the latest of the US's first wave of climate refugees.

In 2003, the US Army Corps of Engineers identified 12 communities where partial or complete relocation should be considered, and estimated costs for doing so that would run into the hundreds of millions of dollars for each individual village.

In 2015 President Obama asked Congress for $400 million for Alaskan village relocation, an amount of money that is obviously far from approaching what will be required.

Other villages that are facing the reality of relocation include Shaktoolik, where, for now, the locals are trying to stay put while aiming to protect themselves from floods and storms with coastal barriers; and Newtok, where the ACD-caused disintegration has been extensively documented (see images of the impacts here). There's also Sarichef Island, a four-mile stretch of land off the Alaskan coast, which contains Shishmaref, a village that already voted to relocate its ancestral home to safer ground -- but has not yet managed to do so due to lack of funding and the absence of a replacement location. These are just a few of the many communities currently considering relocation.

A recent study coined the term "climigration" to identify the phenomenon facing these Alaskan villages. In particular, the Alaskan regions of the North Slope, the Northwestern Arctic and the Bering Strait have all received media attention due to the obvious ACD impacts that are causing villages in those regions to start looking seriously at relocating.

Yet it's not just the far north that's impacted: The Yukon/Kuskokwim Delta, a vast lowland area of southwestern Alaska that encompasses 75,000 square miles and contains just over 24,000 people, is becoming increasingly vulnerable to flooding due to sea level rise, erosion, flooding from rivers and storms. It, too, is on the proverbial chopping block as ACD impacts continue to increase and "climigration" likely becomes commonplace across that region as well. Of course, in the coming years and decades, "climigration" will become a reality for an increasing number of us -- even those who do not live in the far north.

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News Fri, 21 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The Worst Place on Earth: Death and Life in the Lost Town of Leer

Leer, South Sudan -- There it is again. That sickening smell. I'm standing on the threshold of a ghost of a home. Its footprint is all that's left. In the ruins sits a bulbous little silver teakettle -- metal, softly rounded, charred but otherwise perfect, save for two punctures. Something tore through it and ruined it, just as something tore through this home and ruined it, just as something tore through this town and left it a dusty, wasted ruin. 

This, truth be told, is no longer a town, not even a razed one. It's a killing field, a place where human remains lie unburied, whose residents have long since fled, while its few remaining inhabitants are mostly refugees from similarly ravaged villages.

The world is awash in killing fields, sites of slaughter where armed men have laid waste to the innocent, the defenseless, the unlucky; locales where women and children, old and young men have been suffocated, had their skulls shattered, been left gut-shot and gasping.  Or sometimes they're just the unhallowed grounds where the battered and broken bodies of such unfortunates are dumped without ceremony or prayer or even a moment of solemn reflection.  Over the last century, these blood-soaked sites have sprouted across the globe: Cambodia, the Philippines, the Koreas, South Africa, Mexico, Lebanon, Rwanda, Bosnia, Guatemala, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria -- on and on, year after year, country after country. 

Chances are, you once heard something about the 1994 Rwandan genocide that saw up to one million men, women, and children murdered in just 100 days.  You may remember the 1968 massacre of Vietnamese civilians by U.S. troops at My Lai.  And maybe you recall the images of Saddam Hussein's 1988 chemical weapons attack on Kurds in Halabja.  For years, Sudan contributed to this terrible tally.  You might, for instance, remember the attention paid to the slaughter of civilians in Darfur during the 2000s.  The killings there actually never ended, only the public outcry did.  In the 1980s and 1990s, there were also massacres farther south in or around towns you've probably never heard of like Malakal, Bor, and Leer. 

A 2005 peace deal between U.S.-supported rebels in the south of Sudan and the government in the north was supposed to put a stop to such slaughter, but it never quite did.  And in some quarters, worse was predicted for the future.  "Looking ahead over the next five years, a number of countries in Africa and Asia are at significant risk for a new outbreak of mass killing," said U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair in 2010.  "Among these countries, a new mass killing or genocide is most likely to occur in Southern Sudan."

In late 2013 and 2014, Malakal, Bor, Leer, and other towns in the world's newest nation, South Sudan, were indeed littered with bodies.  And the killing in this country -- the result of the third civil war since the 1950s -- has only continued. 

In 2014, I traveled to Malakal to learn what I could about the destruction of that town and the civilians who perished there.  In 2015, I walked among the mass graves of Bor where, a year earlier, a bulldozer had dug huge trenches for hundreds of bodies, some so badly decomposed or mutilated that it was impossible to identify whether they had been men, women, or children.  This spring, I find myself in Leer, another battered enclave, as aid groups struggled to reestablish their presence, as armed men still stalked the night, as human skulls gleamed beneath the blazing midday sun.

The nose-curling odor here told me that somewhere, something was burning.  The scent had been in my nostrils all day.  Sometimes, it was just a faint, if harsh, note carried on the hot breeze, but when the wind shifted it became an acrid, all-encompassing stench -- not the comforting smell of a cooking fire, but something far more malign.  I looked to the sky, searching for a plume of smoke, but there was only the same opaque glare, blinding and ashen.  Wiping my eyes, I muttered a quick curse for this place and moved on to the next ruined shell of a home, and the next, and the next.  The devastated wattle-and-daub tukuls and wrecked animal pens stretched on as far as I could see. 

This is Leer -- or at least what's left of it.     

The ruins of Leer, South Sudan. The town was repeatedly attacked by militias allied to the national government during 2015.The ruins of Leer, South Sudan. The town was repeatedly attacked by militias allied to the national government during 2015.

The Fire Last Time

If you want to learn more about this town, about what happened to it, Leer isn't the best place to start.  You'd be better served by traveling down the road several miles to Thonyor, another town in southern Unity State where so much of Leer's population fled. It was there that I found Mary Nyalony, a 31-year-old mother of five who, only days before, had given birth to a son.

Leer was her hometown and life there had never been easy.  War arrived shortly after fighting broke out in the capital, Juba, in December 2013, a rupture that most here call "the crisis."  With civil war came men with guns and, in early 2014, Nyalony was forced to run for her life.  For three months, she and her family lived in the bush, before eventually returning to Leer.  The International Committee of the Red Cross was airdropping food there, she tells me.  In her mind, those were the halcyon days.  "There was enough to eat," she explains.  "Now, we have nothing."        

The road to nothing, like the road to Thonyor, began for her in the early morning hours of a day in May 2015.  Single gunshots and staccato bursts of gunfire began echoing across Leer, followed by screams and panic.  This has been the story of South Sudan's civil war: few pitched battles between armies, many attacks on civilians by armed men.  Often, it's unclear just who is attacking.  Civilians hear gunfire and they begin to run.  If they're lucky they get away with their lives, and often little else. 

The war here has regularly been portrayed as a contest between the president, Salva Kiir, a member of the country's largest tribe, the Dinka, and Riek Machar, a member of the second largest ethnic group, the Nuer.  Kiir and Machar do indeed have a long history as both allies and enemies and as president and vice president of their new nation.  Kiir went on to sack Machar.  Months later, the country plunged into civil war.  Kiir claimed the violence stemmed from an abortive coup by Machar, but an investigation by an African Union commission found no evidence of that. It did, however, find that "Dinka soldiers, members of Presidential Guard, and other security forces conducted house-to-house searches, killing Nuer soldiers and civilians in and near their homes" and that it was carried out "in furtherance of a State policy."  The civil war that ensued "ended" with an August 2015 peace agreement that saw Machar rejoin the government.  But the violence never actually stopped and after a fresh round of killings in the capital in July, he fled the country and has since issued a new call for rebellion. 

In truth, though, the war in South Sudan is far more than a battle between two men, two tribes, two armies -- Kiir's Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and Machar's SPLA-In Opposition (SPLA-IO).  It's a conflict of shifting alliances involving a plethora of armed actors and ad hoc militias led by a corrupt cast of characters fighting wars within wars.  The complexities are mind-boggling: longstanding bad blood, grievances, and feuds intertwined with ethnic enmities tangled, in turn, with internecine tribal and clan animosities, all aided and abetted by the power of modern weaponry and the way the ancient cultural practice of cattle-raiding has morphed into paramilitary raiding.  Add in a nation in financial free-fall; the accumulation of wealth and power in the hands of a tiny, riven elite; the mass availability of weaponry; and so many actors pursuing so many aims that it's impossible to keep them all straight. 

Whatever the complexities of this war, however, the playbooks of its actors remain remarkably uniform. Men armed with AK-47s fall upon undefended communities.  They kill, pillage, loot.  Younger women and girls are singled-out for exceptional forms of violence: gang rapes and sexual slavery.  Some have been forced into so-called rape camps, where they become the "wives" of soldiers; others are sexually assaulted and killed in especially sadistic ways.  Along with women, the soldiers often take cattle -- the traditional rural currency, source of wealth, and means of sustenance in the region.  

In Leer and the surrounding villages of Unity State, last year's government offensive to take back rebel territory followed exactly this pattern, but with a ferocity that was striking even for this war.  More than one expert told me that, at least for a time in 2015, Leer and its surroundings were one of the worst places in the entire world.

Little remains of the town of Leer, South Sudan, after repeated raids by armed men who burned homes, raped women, and drove the population into exile.Little remains of the town of Leer, South Sudan, after repeated raids by armed men who burned homes, raped women, and drove the population into exile.

Armed youth from Nuer clans allied to the government offered no mercy.  Fighting alongside troops from the SPLA and forces loyal to local officials, they carried out a scorched-earth campaign against other ethnic Nuers from spring 2015 though the late fall.  Their pay was whatever they could steal and whomever they could rape. 

"People in southern Unity State have suffered through some of the most harrowing violence that Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has seen in South Sudan -- or in almost any other context where we work," says Pete Buth, Deputy Director of Operations for the aid group.  "Over the course of the last two years, and particularly from May to November of 2015, women, men and children have been indiscriminately targeted with extreme and brutal violence. We've received reports and testimonies of rape, killings, abductions of women and children and the wholesale destruction of villages. The levels of violence have been absolutely staggering." 

By late last year, almost 600,000 people like Nyalony had been displaced in Unity State alone.

"They came to raid the cattle.  They seemed to be allied to the government," she tells me.  Given all she's been through, given the newborn she's gently palpitating, her eyes are surprisingly bright, her voice strong.  Her recollections, however, are exceptionally grim. Two younger male relatives of hers were shot but survived.  Her father-in-law wasn't so fortunate.  He was killed in the attack, she tells me, his body consumed in the same flames that destroyed his home.

The Fire This Time

On the road from Leer to Thonyor I discovered the source of the harsh odor that had been assaulting my senses all day.  A large agricultural fire was raging along the winding dirt road between the two towns, the former now in the hands of Kiir's SPLA, the latter still controlled by Machar's rebels.  A plume of smoke poured skyward from orange flames that leapt maybe 15 feet high as they consumed palm trees, brush, and swampland. 

I watched the same inferno on my way back to Leer, thinking about the charred corpse of Nyalony's father-in-law, about all the others who never made it out of homes that were now nothing but ankle-high rectangles of mud and wood or piles of shattered concrete.  On another day, in Leer's triple digit heat, I walk through some of the charred remains with a young woman from the area.  Tall, with close-cropped hair and a relaxed, easy demeanor, she guides me through the ruins.  "This one was a very good building," she says of one of the largest piles of rubble, a home whose exterior walls were a striking and atypical mint green.  "They killed the father at this house.  He had two wives.  One wife had, maybe, six babies."  (I find out later that when she says "babies" she means children.)  Pointing to the wrecked shell next to it, what's left of a more traditional decorated mud wall, she says, "The other wife had five babies."

We thread our way through the ravaged tukuls, past support beams for thatched roofs that easily went up in flames.  In her honeyed voice, my guide narrates the contents of the wreckage.  "It's a bed," she explains of a scorched metal frame.  "Now, it's no bed," she adds with a laugh.

She points out another tukul, its mud walls mostly still standing, though its roof is gone and the interior walls scorched.  "I know the man who lived here," she tells me.  His large family is gone now.  She doesn't know where.  "Maybe Juba.  Maybe wherever."

"They were shooting.  They destroyed the house.  If the people were inside the house, they shoot them.  Then they burn it," she says.  Pointing toward another heavy metal bed frame, she explains the obvious just in case I don't understand why the ruins are awash in these orphaned pieces of furniture.  "If they're shooting, you don't care about beds.  You run."  She pauses and I watch as her face slackens and her demeanor goes dark. "You might even leave a baby.  You don't want to, but there's shooting.  They'll shoot you.  You're afraid and you run away."  Then she falls silent.

The Survivors

"What civilians experienced in Leer County was terrible.  When the population was forced to flee from their homes, they had to flee with nothing into these swamps in the middle of the night," says Jonathan Loeb, a human rights investigator who served as a consultant with Amnesty International's crisis response team in Leer.  "And so you had these nightmarish scenarios where parents are abandoning their children, husbands are abandoning their wives, babies are drowning in swamps in the middle of the night.  And this is happening repeatedly."

Nataba, whom I meet in Leer, faces away from me, her legs folded beneath her on the concrete porch.  She carefully removes the straps of her dark blue dress from her left shoulder and then her right, letting it fall from the top half of her body so that she can work unimpeded.  "I came to Leer some weeks ago.  There was lots of shooting in Juong," she says of her home village.  From there she fled with her children to Mayendit, then on to Leer, to this very compound, once evidently a church or religious center.  Nataba leans forward, using a rock to grind maize into meal.  I watch her back muscles shudder and ripple as she folds her body toward the ground like a supplicant, then pulls back, repeating the motion endlessly.  Though hard at work, her voice betrays no hint of exertion.  She just faces forward, nude to the waist, her voice clear and matter-of-fact.  Five people from her village, including her 15-year-old daughter, she tells me, were shot and killed by armed men from nearby Koch County.  "A lot of women were raped," she adds. 

Deborah sits close by with Nataba's four surviving children draped all over her.  I mistake her for a grandmother to the brood, but she's no relation. She was driven out of Dok village last December, also by militia from Koch who -- by her count -- killed eight men and two women.  She fled into the forest where she had neither food nor protection from the elements.  At least here in Leer she's sharing what meager provisions Nataba has, hoping that aid organizations will soon begin bringing in rations. 

Her face is a sun-weathered web of lines etched by adversity, hardship, and want.  Her wiry frame is all muscle and bone.  In the West, you'd have to live at the gym and be 30 years younger to have arms as defined as hers.  She hopes for peace, she tells me, and mentions that she's a Catholic.  "There's nothing here to eat" is, however, the line that she keeps repeating.  As I get up to leave, she grasps my hand.  "Shukran.  Thank you," I tell her, not for the first time, and at that she melts to the ground, kneeling at my feet.  Taken aback, I freeze, then watch -- and feel -- as she takes her thumb and makes a sign of the cross on the toe of each of my shoes.  "God bless you," she says.

It's still early morning, but when I meet Theresa Nyayang Machok she already looks exhausted.  It could be that this widow is responsible for 10 children, six girls and four boys; or that she has no other family here; or that her home in the village of Loam was destroyed; or that, as she says, "there's no work, there's no food"; or all of it combined.  She turns away from time to time to try to persuade several of her children to stop tormenting a tiny puppy with an open wound on one ear. 

The youngest child, a boy with a distended belly, won't leave the puppy alone and breaks into a wail when it snaps at him.  To quiet the toddler, an older brother hands him a torn foil package of Plumpy'Sup, a peanut-based nutrition supplement given out by international aid agencies.  The toddler licks up the last daubs of the high-protein, high-fat paste. 

Men from Koch attacked her village late last year, Machok tells me, taking all the cattle and killing six civilians.  When they came to her home, they demanded money that she didn't have.  She gave them clothes instead, then ran with her children in tow.  Stranded here in Leer on the outskirts of the government camp, she brews up alcohol when she can get the ingredients and sells it to SPLA soldiers. If peace comes, she wants to go home.  Until then, she'll be here.  "There's nobody in my village.  It's empty," she explains. 

Sarah, a withered woman, lives in Giel, a devastated little hamlet on Leer's outskirts. Her home, a wattle hovel, looks like it might collapse on her family at any moment. "There was fighting here," she says.  "Whenever there's fighting we run to the river."  For months last year, she lived with her children in a nearby waterlogged swamp, hiding in the tall grass, hoping the armed men she refers to as SPLM -- the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, Kiir's party -- wouldn't find them.  At least five people in Giel were killed, she says, including her sister's adult son. 

She returned home only to be confronted by more armed men who took most of what little she had left.  "They said 'give us clothes or we'll shoot you,'" she tells me.  Sarah's children, mostly naked, crowd around.  A few wear scraps that are little more than rags.  Her own black dress is so threadbare that it leaves little to the imagination.  Worse yet are her stores of food.  She hid some sorghum, but that's all gone. 

I ask what they're eating.  She gets up, walks over to a spot where a battered sheet of metal leans against an empty animal pen, and comes back with two small handfuls of dried water lily bulbs, which she places at my feet.  It's far too little to feed this family.  I ask if food is their greatest need.  No, she says, gesturing toward her roof -- more gaps than thatch.  She needs plastic tarps to provide some protection for her children.  "The rainy season," she says, "is coming."

Nyanet is an elderly man, though he has no idea just how old.  His eyes are cloudy and haunted, his hearing poor, so my interpreter shouts my questions at him.  "The soldiers come at night," he responds.  "They have guns.  They take clothes; they take food; they take cows," he says.  All the young men of the village are gone.  "They killed them."  The armed men, he tells me, also took girls and young women away. 

Not far from Nyanet's tiny home, I meet Nyango.  She's also unsure of her age.  "If the SPLM comes, they take cattle.  They kill people," she explains.  She also ran to the river and lived there for months.  Like the others in this tumbledown village, her family wears rags.  Her children fell ill living in the mud and muck and water for so long, and still haven't recovered. 

"People have been hiding in the bush and swamps, terrified for their lives with little or no access to humanitarian assistance for months at a time. That's been the status quo for much of the last year," explains MSF's Pete Buth.  "Now, as people gradually leave from their hiding places, we are seeing the aftermath. Children are suffering from fungal infections on their hands and feet, their skin painful and broken as they leave the swamps and then the dirt and heat dry out the wounds."

I look down at the toddler clinging to Nyango's leg.  The child's eyes are covered in milky white mucus and flies are lining up to dine on it. Nyango keeps talking, my interpreter keeps translating, but I'm fixated on this tiny boy.  A sound escapes his lips and Nyango reaches down, pulls him up, and settles him on her hip.

I force my attention back to her as she explains that the men who devastated this place killed six people she knows of.  Another woman in Giel suggests that 50 people died in this small village.  The truth is that no one may ever know how many men, women, and children from Giel, Leer, and surrounding areas were slaughtered in the endless rounds of fighting since this war began. 

Where the Bodies Are Buried

Nobody seems to want to talk about where all the bodies went either.  It's an awkward question to ask and all I get are noncommittal answers or sometimes blank stares.  People are much more willing to talk about killing than to comment on corpses.  But there is plenty of tangible proof of atrocities in Leer if you're willing to look.

In the midday heat, I set out toward the edge of town following simple directions that turn out to be anything but.  I walk down a dirt path that quickly fades into an open expanse, while two new paths begin on either side.  No one said anything about this.  Up ahead, a group of boys are clustered near a broken-down structure.  I don't want to attract attention so I take the path on the right, putting the building between them and me.

I'm in Leer with only quasi-approval from the representative of a government that openly threatens reporters with death, in a nation where the term "press freedom" is often a cruel joke, where journalists are arrested, disappeared, tortured, or even killed, and no one is held accountable.  As a white American, I'm probably immune to the treatment meted out to South Sudanese reporters, but I'm not eager to test the proposition.  At the very least, I can be detained, my reporting cut short. 

I try to maintain a low profile, but as a Caucasian in foreign clothes and a ridiculous boonie hat, it's impossible for me to blend in here.  "Khawaja! [White man!]," the boys yell.  It's what children often say on seeing me.  I offer up an embarrassed half wave and keep moving.  If they follow, I know this expedition's over.  But they stay put.             

I'm worried now that I've gone too far, that I should have taken the other path.  I'm in an open expanse under the relentless midday sun.  In the distance, I see a group of women and decide to move toward a nearby stand of trees.  Suddenly, I think I see it, the area I've been looking for, the area that some around here have taken to calling "the killing field."

Killing Fields: Then

The world is awash in "killing fields" and I've visited my fair share of them.  The term originally comes from the terrible autogenocide of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and was coined by Dith Pran, whose story was chronicled by his New York Times colleague Sydney Schanberg in a magazine article, a book, and finally an Academy-Award-winning film aptly titled The Killing Fields.

"I saw with my eyes that there are many, many killing fields... there's all the skulls and the bones piled up, some in the wells," Pran explained after traveling from town to town across Cambodia during his escape to Thailand in 1979.  Near Siem Reap, now a popular tourist haunt, Pran visited two sites littered with remains -- each holding around four to five thousand bodies covered with a thin layer of dirt.  Fertilized by death, the grass grew far taller and greener where the bodies were buried.

There's a monument to the killing fields at Choeung Ek, a site of mass graves just outside of Phnom Penh, the country's capital.  Although the Cambodian slaughter ended with the Vietnamese invasion of 1979, when I visited decades later, there were still bones jutting up from the bottom of a pit and shards of a long bone, maybe a femur, embedded in a path I took. 

Then there are the skulls.  A Buddhist stupa on the site is filled with thousands of them, piled high, attesting to the sheer scale of the slaughter.  Millions of Cambodians -- two million, three million, no one knows how many -- died at the hands of the murderous Khmer Rouge.  Similarly, no one knows how many South Sudanese have been slaughtered in the current round of fighting, let alone in the civil wars that preceded it.  The war between southern rebels and the Sudanese government, which raged from 1955 to 1972, reportedly cost more than 500,000 lives.  Reignited in 1983, it churned on for another 20-plus years, leaving around two million dead from violence, starvation, and disease.

A rigorous survey by the U.N.'s Office of the Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, released earlier this year, estimated that last year in just one area of Unity State -- 24 communities, including Leer -- 7,165 persons were killed in violence and another 829 drowned while fleeing.  Add to those nearly 8,000 deaths another 1,243 people "lost" -- generally thought to have been killed but without confirmation -- while fleeing and 890 persons who were abducted, and you have a toll of suffering that exceeds 10,000. 

To put the figures in perspective, those 8,000 dead in and around Leer are more than double the number of civilians -- men, women, children -- killed in the war in Afghanistan in 2015, and more than double the number of all civilians killed in the conflict in Yemen last year.  Even a low-end estimate -- 50,000 South Sudanese civilian deaths in roughly two years of civil war from December 2013 through December 2015 -- exceeds the numbers of civiliansestimated killed in Syria over the same span.  Some experts say the number of South Sudanese dead is closer to 300,000.

Killing Fields: Now

Leer's "killing field" is an expanse of sun-desiccated dirt covered in a carpet of crunchy golden leaves and dried grasses.  Even the weeds have been scorched and strangled by the sun, though the area is also dotted with sturdy neem trees casting welcome shade.  From the branches above me, bird calls ring out, filling the air with chaotic, incongruous melodies.  

Riek Machar was born and bred in Leer.  This very spot was his family compound.  The big trees once cast shade on tukuls and fences.  It was a garden spot.  People used to picnic here.  But that was a long, long time ago. 

Today, a stripped and battered white four-wheel-drive SUV sits in the field.  Not so far away, without tires, seats, or a windshield is one of those three-wheeled vehicles known around the world as a Lambretta or a tuck-tuck.  And then there's the clothes.  I find a desert camouflage shirt, its pattern typically called "chocolate chip."  A short way off, there's a rumpled pair of gray pants, beyond it a soiled blue tee-shirt sporting the words "Bird Game" and graphics resembling those of the video game "Angry Birds."

And then there's a spinal column. 

A human one.

And a pelvis.  And a rib cage.  A femur and another piece of a spinal column.  To my left, a gleaming white skull.  I turn slightly and glimpse another one.  A few paces on and there's another.  And then another.

Human remains are scattered across this area.

A skull lies in the “killing field” in Leer, South Sudan.  This area at the edge of town is littered with unburied human remains.A skull lies in the “killing field” in Leer, South Sudan. This area at the edge of town is littered with unburied human remains.

Leer is, in fact, littered with bones.  I see them everywhere.  Most of the time, they're the sun-bleached skeletal remains of animals.  A few times I stop to scrutinize an orphaned bone lying amid the wreckage.  But I'm no expert, so I chalk up those I can't identify to cattle or goats.  But here, in this killing field, there's no question.  The skulls, undoubtedly picked clean by vultures and hyenas, tell the story.  Or rather, these white orbs, staring blankly in the midday glare, tell part of it.

There's a folk tale from South Sudan's Murle tribe about a young man, tending cattle in a pasture, who comes across a strikingly handsome skull.  "Oh my god, but why are you killing such beautiful people?" he asks.  The next day he asks again and this time the skull responds. "Oh my dear," it says, "I died because of lies!"  Frightened, he returns to his village and later tells the chief and his soldiers about what happened.  None of them believes him.  He implores them to witness it firsthand.  If you're lying, the chief asks, what shall we do with you?  And the young man promptly replies, "You have to kill me." 

He then leads the soldiers to the skull and poses his question.  This time, the skull stays silent.  For his lies, the soldiers insist, they must kill him and they do just that.  As they are about to return to the village, a voice calls out, "This is what I told you, young man, and now you have also died as I died."  The soldiers agree not to tell the king about the exchange.  Returning to the village, they say only that the man had lied and so they killed him as ordered.

In South Sudan, soldiers murder and they get away with it, while skulls tell truths that the living are afraid to utter.

"There Might Be Some Mistakes"

No one knows for certain whose mortal remains litter Leer's killing field.  The best guess: some of the more than 60 men and boys suspected of rebel sympathies who were locked in an unventilated shipping container by government forces last October and left to wither in Leer's relentless heat.  According to a March report by Amnesty International, when the door was opened the next day, only one survivor, a 12-year-old boy, staggered out alive.  At least some of the crumpled corpses were dumped on the edge of town in two pits where animals began devouring them.  Government forces may eventually have burned some of the bodies to conceal evidence of the crime.

After visiting Leer, I took the findings of the report and my own observations to President Salva Kiir's press secretary, Ateny Wek Ateny.  "They always copy and paste," he said, implying that human rights organizations often just reproduced each other's generally erroneous allegations.  It was, I respond, an exceptionally rigorous investigation, relying on more than 40 interviews, including 23 eyewitnesses, that left no doubt an atrocity had taken place.

Those witness statements, he assures me, are the fatal flaw of the Amnesty report.  South Sudanese can't be trusted, since they will invariably lie to cast a pall over rival tribes.  In the case of Leer, the witnesses offered up a "concocted sequence of events" to disparage Kiir and his government.  "Americans and Europeans," he protests, "don't understand this."

It's impossible, he adds, that the government could be responsible for violence in Leer blamed in part on militias, because, as he put it, "We have no militia.  Militias are not part of the government."  What about alleged involvement by uniformed SPLA?  Lots of armed men, he claims, wear SPLA uniforms without being part of the army.  "It is not a government policy to kill civilians," he insists, then concedes: "There might be some mistakes."

No one knows for certain whose remains lie strewn across the “killing field” of Leer, South Sudan.  Some may belong to men and boys suffocated to death in a shipping container in October 2015.No one knows for certain whose remains lie strewn across the "killing field" of Leer, South Sudan. Some may belong to men and boys suffocated to death in a shipping container in October 2015.

 "Bullets Aren't Enough.  We'll Use Rape" 

"They come at any time... They even take children and throw them into the burning homes," says Sarah Nyanang.  Her house in Leer was destroyed last year and, more recently, armed men came in the night and took what little her family had left.  "We have no blanket, no mosquito net, no fishing hook, and even now they steal from us." 

Michael lives close by.  His neighbors push him forward.  His eyes seem to swim with fear.  His voice is like wet gravel.  The armed men came one night earlier this year and beat him.  He shows me a nasty looking wound fast becoming a scar on his scalp, then turns his head to reveal another extending down his jaw line.  They took almost all his possessions and something far more precious, his wife.  Sarah Nyanang interjects that women abducted here may be raped by as many as 10 men.  She saw a neighbor being raped in the midst of an attack.  The implication is that this is what happened to Michael's wife. 

She's still alive, he says, and is living in Thonyor, but he hasn't seen her since the night she was taken away.  He doesn't tell me why.

When a team from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights investigated late last year, they found that rape and sexual slavery were one way members of youth militias who carried out attacks alongside the SPLA were paid.  Among others, they interviewed a mother of four who encountered a group of soldiers and armed civilians.  "The men," the report recounts, "proceeded to strip her naked and five soldiers raped her at the roadside in front of her children. She was then dragged into the bush by two other soldiers who raped her and left her there.  When she eventually returned to the roadside, her children, aged between two and seven, were missing.

A woman from a nearby village in Koch County told the investigators that, in October 2015, "after killing her husband, the SPLA soldiers tied her to a tree and forced her to watch as her fifteen year old daughter was raped by at least ten soldiers. The soldiers told her, 'You are a rebel wife so we can kill you.'"  Another mother reported "that she witnessed her 11-year old daughter and the daughter's 9-year old friend being gang-raped by three soldiers during an attack in Koch in May 2015."

"The magnitude of the sexual violence was pretty startling even given the extraordinarily high level throughout the conflict in South Sudan," Jonathan Loeb of Amnesty International's crisis response team tells me.  "Many women were raped repeatedly often by multiple men, many of them were used as sex slaves, and in some cases are still missing."

According to Edmund Yakani, the executive director of the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization that promotes human rights in South Sudan, "rape has gone beyond a weapon of war."  He tells me that it's become part of military culture.  "Sexual violence has been used as a strategy to wipe out populations from areas where they may have given support to their opponents.  I think it's the first time in the history of Africa that high-level directives have been put forth to use rape as a way to wipe out populations, the first time leaders said 'bullets aren't enough, we'll use rape.'" 

Apocalypse Then, Now, Always

In the 1979 film Apocalypse Now, Captain Benjamin Willard is sent on a mission that takes him deep into the heart of darkness, a compound in Cambodia from which a rogue American general is waging a private war.  "I was going to the worst place in the world and I didn't even know it yet," says Willard who finds his own killing field there.

The remains of one of the many victims of violence in Leer, South Sudan.  The town has been repeatedly razed over the years and civilians have been mercilessly attacked.  No one has ever been held accountable for the atrocities.The remains of one of the many victims of violence in Leer, South Sudan. The town has been repeatedly razed over the years and civilians have been mercilessly attacked. No one has ever been held accountable for the atrocities.

I thought about that line as I flew into Leer, looking down on the marshes and malarial swamps where so many hid from killers and rapists.  Multiple people told me that Leer was one of the worst places in the world -- and that's nothing new.    

In 1990, during the Sudanese civil war, Leer was bombed by the northern government's Soviet-made Antonov aircraft.  Nobody may know exactly how many died.  Eight years later, Nuer militias opposed to Riek Machar raided Leer three times, looting and burning homes, destroying crops, slaughtering and stealing tens of thousands of cattle.  "Over the past months thousands of people have fled without food or belongings. They've been forced to hide for days in the surrounding swamps and outlying villages, living in constant fear and surviving on just water lilies and fish. Their own villages have been burned down and their grain stores have been looted," said a representative of the World Food Program at the time.  Leer was completely razed. 

In 2003, attacks on civilians by Sudanese forces and allied militia emptied Leer again.  In January 2014, during the opening weeks of the current civil war, the SPLA and partner militias attacked Leer and surrounding towns. Civilians were killed, survivors ran for the swamps, and the attackers burned to the ground some 1,556 residential structures according to satellite imagery.  And then, of course, came last year's raids.

Since American soldiers departed Vietnam in the 1970s, there have been no further massacres at My Lai.  Nor have there been mass killings near Oradour-sur-Glane, France, where the Nazis slaughtered 642 civilians in June 1944.  Both ruined villages have, in fact, been preserved as memorials to the dead.  And although Iraq was turned into a charnel house following the 2003 U.S. invasion and neighboring Syria has seen chemical weapons attacks in recent years, there have been no new victims of poison gas in Halabja since Saddam Hussein's 1988 attack.

Cambodia, too, has seen none of the wholesale bloodletting of the 1970s since the Khmer Rouge was driven from power.  And while periodic fears of impending genocide have lurked in the neighborhood, and Rwanda has experienced arbitrary arrests, torture, and killings of government opponents and critics, it has had nothing like a repeat of 1994. 

In Leer, however, those killed in the bombing of 1990, in the razing of the town of 1998, in the attacks of 2003, in the sack of the town in 2014, and in the waves of attacks of 2015, have been joined by still others unfortunate enough to call this town home.  Those in the area have been trapped by geography and circumstances beyond their control in what can only be called an inter-generational killing field.

The violence of 2015 never actually ended.  It's just continued at a somewhat reduced level.  A couple of weeks before I arrived in Leer, an attack by armed men led locals to shelter at the Médecins Sans Frontières compound.  On the day I arrived in town, armed youths from the rebel-held territory surrounding Leer carried out a series of attacks on government forces, killing nine. 

In July, violence again flared in South Sudan's capital, Juba.  With it came reports of renewed attacks around Leer.  In late August, an SPLA-IO spokesman reported a raid by government forces on a town 25 kilometers from Leer that ended with two killed, 15 women raped, and 50 cows stolen.  In September, around 700 families from Leer County fled to a U.N. camp due to fighting between the SPLA and the IO.  Earlier this October, civilians were killed and families again fled to the swamps around Leer due to gun battles and artillery fire between the two forces.

No one has ever been held accountable for any of this violence, any of the atrocities, any of the deaths.  And there's little reason to believe they ever will -- or even that the violence will end.  Unlike My Lai or Oradour-sur-Glane, Leer seems destined to be a perpetually active killing field, a place where bodies pile up, massacre after massacre, generation after generation -- a town trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of violence.

Almost a year after fleeing Leer, Mary Nyalony is still living out in the open on water lilies and in a state of limbo.  "I'm worried because the government is still there," she says of her ravaged hometown.  When I ask about the future, she tells me that she fears "the same thing is going to happen again."

Peace pacts and the optimism they generate come and go, but decades of history suggest that Mary Nyalony will eventually be proved right.  Peace deals aren't the same as peace.  Southern Sudan has seen plenty of the former, but little of the latter.  "We need peace," she says more than once.  "If there's no peace, all of this is just going to continue."

News Thu, 20 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
William Rivers Pitt | Debate #3: Our Long National Nightmare Is Far From Over

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton speak during the presidential debate at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, on October 19, 2016. (Photo: Damon Winter / The New York Times)Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton speak during the presidential debate at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, on October 19, 2016. (Photo: Damon Winter / The New York Times)

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Just before noon on Wednesday, my excellent friend and co-worker Dahr Jamail sent me a kind note of encouragement. "Enjoy the last debate, Will!" he wrote. "Sleep with one eye open tonight, Jamail," I replied. "I'm coming for you." He meant well, I know, but I was in a mood. The third presidential debate of 2016 was hanging over me like some foul fog bank, and was still hours away.

As I waited for the starting bell to toll, a number of interesting things had already come to pass. For starters, the day opened with a "wall" of taco trucks that began surrounding Trump's Las Vegas hotel. I can think of worse ways to greet the dawn. Malik Obama, the Kenyan half-brother of the president, had accepted an invitation from Donald Trump to attend the event. The question of "Why" lumbered ponderously through my mind. Was Trump using this man as some sort of racist dog-whistle to fire up his base? A number of other individuals were tapped by Trump to come and enjoy the show, including the last-minute addition of none other than Sarah Palin to the guest list.

I can only guess Trump surmised such a random goulash of attendees would so unnerve Hillary Clinton that she would run screaming into the desert night. However, Clinton stood her ground and their presence proved pointless. As the 90-minute debate ground to its conclusion, Trump's eclectic assortment of attendees barely garnered a mention from the stage.

For more original Truthout election coverage, check out our election section, "Beyond the Sound Bites: Election 2016."

The debate itself was a slow devolution into garbled nonsense. It started well enough; hell, it actually resembled a debate for the first 25 minutes or so, with policy discussions and everything. It was almost disorienting for a minute there until reality reasserted itself. Trump is Trump, forever and ever amen, so there were of course moments where he reached maximum Trumpossity in his answers.

When questioned about how his Supreme Court nominees would interpret the constitution, he said right off the bat, "Something happened recently where Justice Ginsburg made some very, very inappropriate statements toward me and toward a tremendous number of people, many, many millions of people that I represent. And she was forced to apologize. And apologize she did. But these were statements that should never, ever have been made." He wrapped it up with, "I don't think we should have justices appointed that decide what they want to hear. It's all about the Constitution of -- of -- and so important, the Constitution the way it was meant to be."

Translation: I don't know what "strict constitutionalist" or "living document" means. Please let me go home to my building filled with Chinese steel so I can stare at my portraits of myself. If Trump ever actually mastered two facts and rubbed them together, he'd accidentally discover fire and blow himself up.

I made a bet with a friend on exactly how long it would take for Trump to flip out. I said half an hour. I was wrong; Trump's cork popped at 9:35pm Eastern Time when Clinton blasted him with one of the best verbal haymakers you'll ever see in a debate. Trump was stem-winding about Putin having no respect for her, and she laid him out like he'd been trash-talking her mom: "That's because he'd rather have a puppet as president of the United States."

Wham and splatter. The only reason Trump's hair didn't do that twirling Shemp-from-the-Stooges thing is because his people had dogged it down like a spare sail before he went onstage. "No puppet, no puppet!" he frothed. "You're the puppet! No, you're the puppet!" Snot-encrusted pre-school playrooms don't see the kind of tantrum he pitched, and from there the devolution was on. For the remainder of the night, Trump's responses on foreign policy, his sexual assaults, abortion, guns, economics and everything else sounded like they could have come from a Magic 8-Ball. "Answer unclear, ask again later."

According to the sad metrics of the age, Hillary Clinton "won" the debate simply by dint of having command of more facts than her opponent, and by retaining her poise in the face of a man who sounded like a bassoon being played by a vacuum cleaner, all noise and sucking.

In the end, however, this third debate served only to demonstrate just how far to the right the political dialogue in this country has tacked. The "Grand Bargain," austerity's two favorite words, made a star turn regarding Social Security and Medicare, with nary a word spoken on defense spending. Nothing, however, made our rightward swing clearer than the candidates' martial colloquy on Iraq, Iran, Syria and Aleppo. We'll fight them on the ground and in the air, we'll go in and go in and go in. Were he with us, George Orwell might say we have always been at war in the Middle East. One of these days, that's actually going to be true.

As we're on the topic, let's take a moment to focus on Hillary Clinton's greatest failure on Wednesday night. I don't expect Donald Trump to have a grasp on foreign policy any more than I'd expect him to be able to explain superstring theory (no, Donald, it's not about your shoelaces), but Clinton knows better, and should at least be able to articulate black-letter history. Trump blamed her for the rise of ISIS several times, claiming "Iran won," and she essentially let that stand.

False across the board: Iran "won" the moment we invaded Iraq in 2003 on a raft of lies she voted for, tore down the Sunni government and scattered the Ba'athist Army into the wind. ISIS became a foregone conclusion the day George W. Bush was born … oh, and by the diddly bye, US forces left Iraq in large part because Bush cut a deal to do so in 2008, a deal Obama honored. You might remember the day they announced it; a guy threw his shoes at Bush during that press conference.

The region is in chaos? Twenty-five years of war and sanctions and more war has a way of doing that.

Yet you can't say any of that out loud, it seems, and certainly not on television. Killing is business, you see, and business is good.

This was all before Trump hissed, "Such a nasty woman" at Clinton, and before he refused to unequivocally accept the outcome of the election when pressed on all his "rigged" talk. "I'll keep you in suspense," he said to audible gasps from the audience. "OK?"

No, Donald, not OK. The first comment will certainly get a lot of attention from the media, but the second was the ballgame, and undoubtedly made Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and Reince Priebus all want to run up a tree and start a whole new society where nothing like Donald Trump has ever existed.

We all have our bad days, and some are demonstrably worse than others. So it goes for Mitch, Pauly and The Priebester. You bought him, boys. Trump is your animal, and on Wednesday night he took a dump in our yard on national television. Enjoy the next 19 days of everyone calling that a disqualifying remark.  There is no joy in Mudville, because Mighty Casey is a clown.

I laid awake long into the wee hours of Wednesday night and Thursday morning trying to encompass the phenomenon that was this now-completed trio of presidential debates. I kept taking sips of water while resisting the urge to spit. I have dealt with nine national elections on a professional level, many more on a personal level, and nothing I have seen or even heard of compares to this sick and sorry display. To misquote the Bard, it was a debate full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Poor players, indeed. We are all in a great deal of trouble.

Keep that eye open, Jamail. Nineteen days to go.

Opinion Thu, 20 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400