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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 12/9/15

Opposing Tyranny From Both the Left and the Right

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John Kiriakou in the documentary Silenced.
John Kiriakou in the documentary Silenced.
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I am a lifelong progressive. I'm proud to say it. My parents were progressives. And while my paternal grandparents, immigrants from Greece, weren't sophisticated enough politically to classify or categorize themselves, it didn't keep them from displaying a photo of Franklin Roosevelt on top of the television. Nor did it keep my grandfather from attending a Sacco and Vanzetti rally in Pittsburgh in 1921. For my parents and grandparents, one of the hallmarks of progressive politics was concern for the downtrodden. That has always been important to me.

Another thing important to me, and passed down from my grandparents, is a deep respect for human rights. The Ottoman Turks kept much of Greece enslaved for some 400 years. Indeed, my grandparents were born Turkish citizens because the Turks occupied our ancestral island of Rhodes from 1522 until liberation in 1917. Over those centuries, the Ottomans had sold many thousands of Greeks into slavery in North Africa and the Middle East and sent Greek children back to Turkey to be raised as Turks. So that respect for human rights was learned and developed first-hand.

When I was assigned to the American Embassy in Manama, Bahrain, from 1994 to 1996, on a rotation from the CIA, I volunteered to serve as the human rights officer, in addition to my duties as the economic officer. For the two years I was there, I wrote the human rights report, mandated by Congress, and I pulled no punches. The Bahraini government was killing demonstrators in custody, holding people indefinitely without charge, and denying people who had been arrested access to an attorney. My writing did not endear me to the Bahrainis, although I liked many of the government officials with whom I worked, but that's not why I was there. I was there to tell the truth and to report the facts.

I returned to the CIA in the fall of 1996 and went back to work on Iraq. I recalled reading a lot about the British politician George Galloway, a leftist and peace activist who had initially opposed Saddam Hussein, but who came out in support of him when the U.S.-led coalition pushed the Iraqi army out of Kuwait and the United Nations imposed sanctions on Iraq. Galloway even visited the dictator in 1994 to express his solidarity.

I simply could not understand this. Galloway was a well-known peacenik. He was a longtime supporter of human rights. Why would he ally himself with one of the most brutal dictators of the second half of the 20th century? Could he hate U.S. policy enough to flip-flop on his own core beliefs? Apparently, yes.

Similarly, in 1996, then-senator Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.) made a private trip to Nigeria to meet with dictator Sani Abacha. The U.S. and the United Nations had imposed sanctions on Nigeria because of Abacha's dismal human rights record. Moseley Braun did not notify the State Department or the Senate Ethics Committee of her trip, and, upon her return, she spoke out in favor of Abacha's human rights record. (Moseley Braun's fiance at the time was a registered lobbyist for the Nigerian government.) Was Moseley Braun's own commitment to human rights worth less than a personal relationship? Did she, too, hate U.S. policy more than she loved human rights?

The same thing is happening today. Many of my own friends and associates openly support the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro. Maduro took control of the country upon the death of its previous leader, Hugo Chavez. Chavez and Maduro styled themselves as populists and liberals. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Maduro has consistently blamed everybody but himself -- the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, and wealthy Venezuelans -- for his country's economic and political problems. Democracy has become a meaningless word in the Bolivarian Republic. Anytime an opposition politician begins to gain traction with the populace, he or she is jailed on charges of conspiracy, treason, and other trumped-up crimes. Even politicians who are able to successfully evade arrest end up participating in fake elections that result in improbable majorities for Maduro.

Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, a Venezuelan opposition leader and democrat, is currently in solitary confinement and serving 13 years on charges of conspiracy, arson, inciting violence, and damaging public property. His real crime? He was polling even with Maduro. He had the misfortune of appearing in court before a judge who was no more than a puppet of Maduro.

Pete Seeger once said that a true liberal opposes tyranny from both the left and the right. He was correct. Progressives need to stand up to dictators, murderers, crooks, and corrupt politicians on the left and the right. Otherwise, we wouldn't be progressives at all.

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John Kiriakou spent 14 years at the CIA and two years in a federal prison for blowing the whistle on the agency's use of torture. He served on John Kerry's Senate Foreign Relations Committee for two years as senior investigator into the Middle (more...)

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