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Pretending Bush is Not a Tyrant, Chicago Museum Closes Contentious Exhibit

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  • Ed Pearl
    http://www.alternet.org/rights/89834/?page=1 Pretending That Bush is Not a Tyrant By Robert Parry, Consortium News. Posted June 30, 2008. If you listen to
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 1, 2008

      Pretending That Bush is Not a Tyrant

      By Robert Parry,
      Consortium News. Posted June 30, 2008.

      If you listen to Bush's legal advisors, questions about the limits of his
      authority might not be hypothetical anymore.

      All over the world down through history, political leaders who have engaged
      in torture and other grotesque crimes of state have justified their actions
      as necessary to protect their governments or their people or themselves.

      It was true when England's King Edward I had William Wallace -
      "Braveheart" - drawn and quartered in 1305 for resisting the crown's rule in
      Scotland, and a gruesome death was what King George III foresaw for
      America's Founding Fathers in 1776 when they stood up to his abuses in
      the Colonies.

      Kings and tyrants often inflicted special pain on people they viewed as
      challenging their authority and - at such times - they wiped away the rules
      of justice. But the United States was supposed to be different.

      Indeed, reaction to tyrannical monarchs was what compelled the Founders to
      establish a government of laws, not men, based on "unalienable rights" for
      all mankind, including protection against arbitrary detention and
      prohibition of "cruel and unusual punishment."

      Which is why it was stunning to watch the June 26 hearing before the House
      Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution as two representatives of George
      W. Bush's presidency responded with disdain when pressed on the
      administration's extraordinary vision of an all-powerful Executive operating
      without legal limits.

      While Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff David Addington treated
      the committee Democrats with haughty contempt, former State Department
      lawyer John Yoo expressed the ultimate arrogance of power with his muddled
      responses and evasions of direct questions.

      The soft-spoken Yoo, who authored some of the key legal opinions justifying
      the abuse of detainees, wouldn't even give a clear answer to the simple
      question of what atrocity might be beyond President Bush's power to inflict.

      Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, cited a news report quoting an ambiguous
      response from Yoo, who is now a law professor at the University of
      California at Berkeley, about whether the President could torture the child
      of a "war on terror" suspect to induce the suspect to talk.

      The Judiciary Committee chairman asked: "Is there anything, Professor Yoo,
      the President cannot order to be done to a suspect if he believes it's
      necessary for national defense?"

      When Yoo dissembled, Conyers posed the question more pointedly: "Could the
      President order a suspect buried alive?"

      Yoo continued to fence with the congressman, avoiding a direct answer.

      "I don't think I ever gave advice that the President could bury somebody
      alive," Yoo said, adding he believed that "no American President would ever
      have to order that or feel it necessary to order that."

      Pointedly, however, Yoo avoided a direct response to the question of whether
      he believed the President had the authority to do it.

      Pulling Fingernails

      Later in the hearing, Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tennessee, returned to the
      administration's legal theories that Bush holds "plenary" - or unlimited -
      power at a time of war and that the President's motivation, i.e. protecting
      the country, justifies taking extreme actions.

      "So, if I want to take somebody's fingernails out if I think it's for the
      good of the country, that's not torture?" Cohen asked. "If I want to cut
      someone's appendage off, it's okay as long as I think it's important for the
      country? .

      "Is there anything you think the President cannot order in terms of
      interrogation of these prisoners in a state of war?"

      Again, dodging a direct answer, Yoo responded that those examples "are not
      addressed in these memos. . I would say there are things I don't think any
      American President would order in order to protect the national security and
      one of those things is the torture of detainees."

      At this point, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, subcommittee chairman,

      "This is the second time today . that you've said that you don't believe an
      American President would order certain heinous acts. Would you answer the
      question, not would he order it, but could he order it under the law in your

      Yoo responded, "It's not fair to ask that question without any kind of
      facts," prompting Nadler to rephrase the question again:

      "There's nothing conceivable to which you could answer 'no' that an American
      President could not order this without knowing facts and context?"

      Yoo: "I can't agree with that because you are trying to put words in my
      mouth attempting to get me to answer some broad question covering all
      circumstances and I can't do that."

      Though refusing to answer, Yoo reaffirmed - through his circumlocution -
      what has been a central tenet of Bush's view of presidential power, that
      there are no limits to his power for the duration of the "war on terror,"
      even though it is a vague conflict that has no definable end and that is
      fought on a global battlefield including U.S. territory.

      In other words, it is the opinion of the right-wing lawyers who have
      constructed this legal theory that Bush truly can do whatever he wants to
      whomever he wants anywhere in the world as long as he couches his actions
      under his Commander-in-Chief authority.

      And when it comes to torture, other word games come into play, such as
      categorizing "waterboarding," a form of simulated drowning that has been
      regarded as torture for centuries, as something other than torture. Reality
      is all in the eye of the all-powerful President.

      Though this right-wing concept of unlimited presidential power appeals to
      some Americans who consider their personal safety more important than the
      Constitution and the Bill of Rights, it is so radical a break with American
      traditions that even its chief advocates, such as Yoo and Addington, duck
      and weave when the questions are presented directly.

      Election 2008

      This theory of an all-powerful President now is at stake in Election 2008,
      as was made clear after the Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, on June 12 that the
      administration couldn't deny habeas corpus rights to detainees at the U.S.
      Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, some of whom have been held as long as
      six years.

      In his dissent, right-wing Justice Antonin Scalia not only challenged the
      majority's legal arguments but pushed the emotional hot button that by
      recognizing this ancient right for challenging a government's power to
      imprison someone, the Supreme Court was putting Americans in danger.

      The ruling, Scalia said, "will almost certainly cause more Americans to be
      killed." Three other right-wing justices - Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and
      Samuel Alito - concurred in Scalia's dissent.

      Reacting to the Supreme Court, Republican presidential candidate John McCain
      backed the right-wing minority and called the majority's ruling "one of the
      worst decisions in the history of this country."

      By contrast, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama sided with the
      majority, calling habeas rights for detainees "an important step toward
      reestablishing our credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law."

      If elected, McCain has vowed to appoint more justices like Roberts and
      Alito - George W. Bush's choices - meaning that if a President McCain gets
      to replace one of the five majority justices, the new court might well
      reinterpret the Constitution to legalize an all-powerful President who can
      act much like ancient kings once did.

      Then, if a President thinks that it might be a good idea to torture
      someone's child or bury somebody alive, the questions about t
      he limits of his authority might not be hypothetical anymore.


      From: "Romi Elnagar" <bluesapphire48@...>
      Sent: Monday, June 30, 2008 2:12 PM


      Chicago Museum Closes Contentious Exhibit

      "One video piece that raised eyebrows featured a woman asking Israelis in
      Jerusalem for directions to Ramallah. The Israelis all give her different
      directions and think that Ramallah is far away, despite its close proximity
      to Jerusalem.

      "The Israelis come across as unfeeling," said Michael Kotzin, executive vice
      president of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan
      Chicago. "It was seen by some as part of a pattern of sympathetic treatment
      of Palestinians and a less sympathetic treatment of Israelis."

      By Rebecca Spence
      Forward: Thu. Jun 26, 2008

      MAPS: "Landslide," by the artist Shirley Shor, was one of the art works in a
      controversial exhibit at the Spertus Museum in Chicago.

      In the wake of an outcry from Chicago-area Jews, the Windy City's only
      Jewish museum closed down a high-profile maps exhibition that parsed the
      issue of Israel's borders and boundaries.

      The Spertus Museum, part of the 84-year-old Spertus Institute of Jewish
      Studies, located on Chicago's South Loop, announced June 20 that it was
      shutting down Imaginary Coordinates, which was originally scheduled to close
      in the fall. The institute's board of trustees came to the decision after
      nearly two months of vocal opposition from constituents.
      "When it came down to the bottom line, there were large numbers of people
      who were deeply pained by the exhibition," said the institute's president,
      Howard Sulkin. "Every exhibition should have some disagreement or it's not
      good art, but this went beyond that."

      The controversy generated by the Chicago exhibit is raising questions about
      the broader role of Jewish museums around the country. As Jewish museums
      come of age and seek to define themselves in the contemporary landscape,
      they are taking more risks.

      Indeed, according to trustee Marc Wilkow, who has served on the Spertus
      board for a decade, the museum - which only six months ago unveiled its new
      home, a $50 million architecturally cutting-edge building - is seeking to
      serve as a platform for discussion of timely issues.

      "Our mission goes well beyond looking back at our heritage. We also want to
      talk about current issues, and serious issues, but we don't want to offend
      people," Wilkow said. "That line can be hard to identify, unfortunately, and
      sometimes you don't know that you've crossed it until you've unwittingly
      crossed it."

      The recently closed exhibition opened on May 2 and featured the institute's
      collection of historic "Holy Land" maps, which date back to the 16th
      century, as well contemporary Israeli and Palestinian women artists' works
      that take up the question of regional borders.

      One video piece that raised eyebrows featured a woman asking Israelis in
      Jerusalem for directions to Ramallah. The Israelis all give her different
      directions and think that Ramallah is far away, despite its close proximity
      to Jerusalem.

      "The Israelis come across as unfeeling," said Michael Kotzin, executive vice
      president of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan
      Chicago. "It was seen by some as part of a pattern of sympathetic treatment
      of Palestinians and a less sympathetic treatment of Israelis."

      Indeed, many Jewish viewers complained that the multimedia show -which was
      part of a larger citywide celebration of maps - expressed an anti-Israel

      The timing of the provocative exhibition, which opened during the same month
      that Israel celebrated its 60th anniversary, was also viewed as particularly
      jarring for Jewish museum goers who had anticipated that the show would
      celebrate the Jewish state rather than raise tough questions about its
      borders and its treatment of Palestinians.

      In addition to a number of complaints coming in from individual Jews,
      Chicago's Jewish federation also brought concerns to the museum's leadership
      within days of the exhibition's opening. The federation funds the institute
      to the tune of $700,000 a year, or about 10% of its overall $8 million
      operating budget.

      The museum tried conciliatory measures, such as having docents give tours of
      the show to provide context for the work. When that failed to assuage
      critics, the 37-member board voted to shutter the exhibition. Over the
      course of a painstaking four-hour meeting to decide the show's fate, some
      trustees worried that a decision to close the exhibit could be perceived as
      caving to pressure and that it might be seen as censorship. At least one
      board member, whom Sulkin declined to identify, threatened to resign if the
      exhibition closed.

      In a Chicago Tribune article, Lynn Pollack of the Chicago chapter of the
      advocacy organization Jewish Voice for Peace said that she was disappointed
      by the decision.

      "These were mainstream artists who are able to display in their own
      country," Pollack told the Tribune. "Why can't this art be seen by American
      Jews? It's really a shame."

      Jewish museums are straying from more traditional corners nationwide. San
      Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Museum, which was designed by Daniel
      Libeskind and opened to great fanfare in early June, has no collection, and
      instead of looking at Jewish history, it in part explores how Judaism in
      America has affected the broader culture.

      Kotzin said that the Spertus board's decision to close the exhibition
      reflected the fact that Spertus was first and foremost a Jewish communal
      institution. Still, some critics contend that Jewish museums should function
      no differently than other museums, even as they tackle thornier subject

      Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, a museum expert who is currently leading the
      core exhibition development team at Warsaw's Museum of the History of Polish
      Jews, said that the role of museums is to spark discussion and engage with
      controversial issues. And Jewish museums, she said, are not exempt from that

      "Museums should open a wider conversation, and there was an opportunity here
      to do just that," Kirshenblatt-Gimblett said. "I don't think museums should
      be about consensus. They should be a catalyst, and then they should be
      prepared to deal with the repercussions."
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