Letter From Paris: Torture, Murder and May Day

President Barack Obama again validated the return of American democracy by publicly admitting that the United States had been torturing prisoners under the direction of the Bush administration. As we all know, George W. and his gang of outlaws sanctioned the shameful practice of waterboarding against foreign terrorism suspects, which destroyed our international reputation and lowered our standards to a country of thugs.

Obama chose to lay this on the world at a prime-time press conference on the anniversary of his first 100 days. Let me just weigh in with this right here and now: Evaluating Obama's performance in a media generated "report card" was a false construct to begin with. The media manipulates us all by whipping up a scandal, a test, a catastrophic faux pas, or some other cutting angle to make us feel one of the three A's -- afraid, angry, or appalled.

Each day the blogosphere has its rant of the day, and hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of people go to town with it. He or she who casts away this already "conventional Internet standard" is cast out of the ranting fold. A click on a link or a page or a site is the new gold standard. God help those who write something actually thoughtful or choose a topic that doesn't fit the Internet's daily bread.

Speaking of Him/Her, nobody short of God could have solved all our country's problems, (which we also exported to the rest of the world) in 100 days unless Moses had come down from the mount carrying God's Universal Credit Card, which somehow restored right, good, and abundance on the planet. But Obama's chipping away at it, while the Bush Gang continues their path of destruction:

Former Vice President Dick Cheney and several former Central Intelligence Agency chiefs have sharply criticized President Obama for banning the aggressive interrogation methods, saying he is making the country less secure. 



President Obama cited the restraint used by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill when his country was under attack by the Nazis during the Second World War, saying Churchill realized that torture "corrodes the character of a country."


While this news was the weekly reader for U.S. citizens, France had its own torture and murder case to deal with. On Wednesday, the trial to prosecute 27 defendants for"kidnapping a young Jewish man in a Paris suburb, torturing him for 24 days and killing him" began.

The death of Ilan Halimi, 23, in 2006 horrified France and came to symbolize a rise in anti-Semitic violence in its poor, multi-ethnic suburbs.

The leader of the "barbarians," Youssouf Fofana, smirked at Halimi's relatives and shouted "Allahu akbar!" ("God is Greatest!" in Arabic) at them as he entered the courtroom.

Bearded and wearing a white tracksuit, Fofana gave his identity during formal questioning by the judge as "Arabs African revolt barbarian salafist army."

The 28-year-old said he was born on February 13, 2006, in Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois, the date and place of Halimi's death.

God help the poor young man who died, and God give the perpetrators the wisdom to see that this path didn't help at all. It didn't solve their problems. If they feel that they're victims, let them somehow know that all they've done is made everything worse for everyone involved and, for that matter, the world at large. Let there be some lesson learned.

Today is the May 1st workers' holiday in France, throughout Europe, and a good part of the world. The U.S. doesn't participate even though:

The idea for a "workers holiday" began in Australia in 1856. With the idea having spread around the world, the choice of May 1st became a commemoration by the Second International for the people involved in the 1886 Haymarket affair.[8]

The Haymarket affair occurred during the course of a three-day general strike in Chicago, Illinois that involved common laborers, artisans, merchants, and immigrants.[9] Following an incident in which police opened fire and killed four strikers at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Co. plant, a rally was called for the following day at Haymarket Square. The event remained peaceful, yet towards the end of the rally, as police moved in to disperse the event, an unknown assailant threw a bomb into the crowd of police. The bomb and resulting police riot left at least a dozen people dead, including seven policemen.[10] A sensational show trial ensued in which eight defendants were openly tried for their political beliefs, and not necessarily for any involvement in the bombing.[11] The trial lead to the eventual public hanging of seven anarchists.[12] The Haymarket incident was a source of outrage from people around the globe. In the following years, memory of the "Haymarket martyrs" was remembered with various May Day job actions and demonstrations.[13]

On this May Day morning, my husband and I had gone out for a walk, and we found a portion of the rue de Rivioli blocked by police. We made our way down the middle of the usually busy avenue to a large gathering at the Place des Pyramides, where a golden statue of Joan of Arc bravely rides her golden horse. There were people as far as I could see, but I have no idea how many. A bank of journalists were aiming their cameras at a stage by the golden statue, where, a few minutes later, the leader of France's extreme right wing, Jean-Marie Le Pen, walked onto the stage with the assembled crowd wildly cheering him.

With the current trial going on, this was particularly chilling considering Le Pen's history, both long-term and recent. Some have called him an obsessive madman and Holocaust denier who gorges himself on anti-Semitism. In February, 2008:

French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen was handed a three-month suspended jail sentence on Friday for describing the Nazi occupation of France as "not especially inhumane." Le Pen, 79, was found guilty of denying a crime against humanity and complicity in condoning war crimes, over the remarks made in an interview with a far-right magazine in 2005.

While just at the end of March 2009:

Jean-Marie Le Pen, MEP and leader of France's far-right Front National, outraged assembled members of the European Parliament by repeating his assertion that the Nazi gas chambers were "a mere detail" in the history of the Second World War.

I took both photos and video of this French leader orating before the statue of Joan of Arc, calling this heroine "little sister." Somehow, I didn't think so.

Maybe the naysayers themselves need to try those things they deny. George W., Dick Cheney, and let's add Rush Limbaugh to that list, could join Sean Hannity's circus to see how they feel about waterboarding after they've nearly been drowned themselves. Jean-Marie Le Pen could be put into a camp, worked like a dog, and starved. Then put him into a gas chamber and gassed, although we'll give him the chance that those murdered in the Holocaust didn't have. We'll pull him out before he's dead.

And whoever tortured and killed the French young man could be forced to become Buddhist monks saving every ant they come across. Maybe they should be brainwashed into believing that it's hard and wrong to harm any living thing.

Would that be enough?

Beth Arnold lives and writes in Paris. To see more of her work, go to her Letter From Paris at www.betharnold.com.