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A Fateful Day: 9/11 Also Marks Important Anniversaries in India, Guatemala, Haiti and Attica, NY

StorySeptember 08, 2011
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On the anniversary of the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, we look back at several national and international events linked to that day. This year on September 11, India will mark the 105th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi launching the modern nonviolent resistance movement. We play part of a 2003 interview with Gandhi’s grandson, Arun. On September 11, 1990, renowned Guatemalan anthropologist Myrna Mack was assassinated in Guatemala City. She had been stalked for two weeks prior to her death by a U.S.-backed military death squad in retaliation for her work to expose and document the destruction of rural indigenous communities by U.S.-backed state forces and allied paramilitary groups. We play part of a 2003 interview with Myrna’s sister Helen Mack, who has fought tirelessly to bring justice to people killed by high-ranking Guatemalan officials in the armed forces. On September 11, 1993, in the midst of the U.S.-backed coup in Haiti, Antoine Izméry was dragged out of a church by coup forces and murdered in broad daylight. He had been commemorating a massacre of parishioners at the Saint-Jean Bosco Church that had occurred five years earlier on September 11, 1988. Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide narrowly escaped death in that attack, and later became president of Haiti. We play an excerpt from a 2004 Democracy Now! interview with Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide about the attack. We also play a portion of the film “Ghosts of Attica,” about Frank “Big Black” Smith, a prisoner who played a prominent role in the September 9, 1971, Attica prison rebellion and who was tortured by the troops who crushed the uprising days later. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Our guest at Duke University, in studio there, Ariel Dorfman, bestselling author, playwright, poet, survived September 11th, 1973, in Santiago, Chile, as we talk about other September 11ths, as well, in our continued series this week on this 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks. We’re going to go back in time.

On September 11th this year, India marks the 105th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi launching the modern nonviolent resistance movement. Back on the centennial anniversary in 2006, we spoke with Gandhi’s grandson Arun about Satyagraha. I asked him to explain what exactly his grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi, did on September 11th, 1906.

ARUN GANDHI: He met in the theater with more than 3,000 Indian people, because they were victims of prejudices in South Africa and all kinds of unjust laws were enacted to oppress them and suppress them. And he realized that this was not right and that we should not submit to these things and should not live with this. And so he got the people together and explained to them that we have to resist this kind of injustice, and we have to do something about it. We should not just submit to it and live with it.

And people were wondering, how can we resist with the state so powerful, and we don’t have any weapons, you know, because every time, even today, when somebody talks about resistance, everybody thinks in terms of weapons and war and fighting. And that’s when grandfather explained to them that we don’t need any weapons of mass destruction. We have the ability to respond to this nonviolently and with self-suffering. And that’s what he encouraged the people to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, describing September 11th, 1906.

JUAN GONZALEZ: On September 11, 1990, renowned Guatemalan anthropologist Myrna Mack was assassinated in Guatemala City. She had been stalked for two weeks prior to her death by a U.S.-backed military death squad. Myrna had been targeted in retaliation for her pioneering field work, which had begun to expose and document the destruction of rural indigenous communities in Guatemala. Guatemala’s U.S.-backed state forces and allied paramilitary groups were responsible for tens of thousands of human rights violations, including attacks against indigenous populations. Myrna’s sister Helen Mack has fought tirelessly to bring justice to people who were killed by high-ranking Guatemalan officials in the armed forces. In 2003, Democracy Now! spoke to Helen Mack in Guatemala City.

HELEN MACK: Thirteen years ago, my sister was stabbed 27 times by the death squad from the Presidential High Command. And we’ve been trying to throw out the impunity, but on May 7th, the tribunal, even we had direct evidence of their responsibility, they were acquitted on May 7th of this year.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We asked Helen Mack about General Rios Montt coming back to political prominence in Guatemala, even after the peace accords were signed. Here’s what she had to say.

HELEN MACK: Well, it’s very terrible, because my sister was killed in the framework of the peace negotiations, and the army didn’t—never—never have accepted the peace agreements. And even the civilian government was wondering to humanize the conflict, the militaries didn’t. So she was killed in that framework. And now, they still don’t accept the peace agreements. Even her research and her studies were very useful for the resettlement agreement and other kind of agreements for the displaced people, they still rejected, and that’s why the peace agenda in Guatemala after eight years, it has been coming down.

AMY GOODMAN: Helen Mack, talking about her sister Myrna Mack, who died September 11th, 1990.

Then there was Steve Biko in South Africa. Steve Biko was being beaten to death in the back of a van, September 11th, 1977, by apartheid forces—unfortunately, U.S.-backed apartheid forces. He died in the early morning hours of September 12th, 1977.

And there was September 11th, 1993. In the midst of the U.S.-backed coup in Haiti, Antoine Izméry, a Haitian businessman who had thrown in his lot with Lavalas, was dragged out of a church by coup forces. He was murdered in broad daylight. He had been commemorating a massacre of parishioners at the Saint-Jean Bosco Church that had occurred five years before, on September 11th, 1988. At the time, Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide narrowly escaped death in that attack. He later became president of Haiti.

In 2004, I spoke with Haitian President Aristide aboard the flight back from the Central African Republic, when he was the victim of yet another U.S.-backed coup. I asked him to describe what happened to him and his parish on that day, September 11th, 1988, at the Saint-Jean Bosco Church.

PRESIDENT JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: We were praying. We were celebrating our faith in God. And for us, God means love, peace, justice, freedom, solidarity. Getting together to pray means empowering all those who share the same faith. If you stand up for justice, then you cannot close the eyes to not see poor people waiting to have jobs, to eat with dignity. Once you stand up for that, then you may have people not only rejecting you but also putting fire in a church, burning people. This is what happened that day, September 11, 1988.

When we had it elsewhere, not in a church, but in a country, like Chile and President Allende willing to stand up for human beings, for the rights to eat, the rights to go to school, the rights to have healthcare, and so and so, people who don’t care about human beings rejected that through coup d’état. When, on September 11, 2001, something tragical happened in the United States called terrorism, we saw the world rejecting terrorism, as if—when, for instance, we have Guy Philippe, Chamblain, well known as terrorists, drug dealers, convicted people, armed by those who pretend helping Haiti, to kill Haitians, it’s like if—it’s not anymore terrorism. So, racism somehow is linked to that cynical game.

AMY GOODMAN: That was former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide describing September 11, 1988, at the Saint-Jean Bosco Church. He survived that massacre. Five years later, Antoine Izméry was killed in the midst of a U.S.-backed coup in Haiti as he remembered that massacre. And I was speaking to President Aristide on his attempt to come back to Haiti more than seven years ago, when he was ousted in a coup, March of 2004. President Aristide has returned in the last months to Haiti after seven-and-a-half years in exile in South Africa.

Ariel Dorfman, you often remember these different September 11ths. Talk about their significance in understanding this 10th anniversary of another September 11th, of course, the one that the world does know about, September 11, 2001, when 3,000 people were killed in an instant in New York and in Washington in the September 11th attacks.

ARIEL DORFMAN: Yes, I have several thoughts about this. The first is that we have September 11ths happening every day, everywhere. In other words, there are constantly acts of terror against the people, against the innocent people. And we have to understand that we need to get out of the September 11th sort of syndrome. And I’m using this as a metaphor, right? It turns out that that day is very significant, because it brings together these two events in Chile and the United States, which are similar—the Tuesdays, the bombs from the air, the terror, etc. But as Aristide just pointed out and as Helen Mack pointed out and as Arun Gandhi pointed out, there are other September 11ths, as well. So that’s the first thing I would say is, let’s remember that.

A second issue has to do with the—something that comes out of Chile is—and it’s something good that comes out of the terrible tragedy we had—is that, eventually, we arrested the—in fact, the British government, at the petition of the Spanish authorities, arrested General Pinochet in London in 1998 for crimes against humanity and torture. And it set an incredible precedent, which is that former heads of state—and, in fact, heads of state—can be judged anywhere in the world where humanity exists—in other words, anywhere—for crimes against humanity. It’s not crimes against the Chilean people. When Pinochet ordered torture, he was torturing one person, he was torturing the whole world. And those crimes do not prescribe.

The reason I’m mentioning this at this moment is because a few days ago on ABC, Lawrence Wilkerson, the chief of staff of Colin Powell, said that one of the things that Cheney, Richard Cheney, Dick Cheney, was afraid of was of being “Pinocheted” — in other words, being made Pinochet. Now, I had never heard the word “Pinochet,” which is a dread word for me, you know, a man who was responsible for so much death and suffering and destruction in my country, including my own life, I mean, which had been really exploded by him. That this man should not only become a noun, like saying, “We want a Pinochet,” which people say when they say basically they want law and order and destroying the trade unions and breaking the social security network and privatizing the social security, when they say that. But I had never heard it made into a verb, in other words, to Pinochet somebody. Now, to Pinochet somebody is not to do a coup now; to Pinochet somebody, in the case of Dick Cheney, is to be put on trial for crimes against humanity, for war crimes, which, of course, both Cheney and Bush should be. I doubt that they will be, but he certainly should worry about going to Spain or going to France or going to England, because he might end up in jail, or in the possibility that that should happen to him. So he obviously is trying to not be Pinocheted. And I like the fact that Cheney is now scared of Pinochet, of the ghost of Pinochet, having brought in a world where Pinochet would be proud and where Pinochet was very, very happy. You know, in 2001, he said, “That proves how right we were,” you know? So, that was one thing I just wanted to comment on.

And the last thing has to do with Gandhi. You know, I gave the Mandela lecture last year in South Africa and met up with the great hero and the great icon of our times, you know, Nelson Mandela. And it was wonderful to see how peaceful he was, even at 92 years old then, and how, though there was a military strategy on the part of the ANC, it was basically a nonviolent resistance which managed to topple the apartheid regime, which one never would have thought possible, and to have a transition, which was a very complicated transition, to democracy of that country. I find it very interesting to see how, in 1906, on September 11th again, there is this shining example of Gandhi, who decides to question what are pre-apartheid discriminatory practices. In other words, if you look at what was being applied to the Indian population, the migrant Indian population, right, in South Africa, it was basically a rehearsal for the apartheid regime and laws that were going to be put into place, where Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo and all the rest of the ANC were going to then confront that, in the sense of saying, the fundamental resistance—and I think Arun Gandhi says it well—but I would add to that, the fundamental resistance, the real weapon of resistance, are the bodies and the consciousness of human beings, day after day. Those are the ones. Now, you pay a big price for that. [no audio]

AMY GOODMAN: It looks like we just lost Ariel Dorfman, the bestselling author, playwright, poet and activist, who teaches at Duke University. We were speaking to him in a studio there in North Carolina.

And as we attempt to bring him back, Ben Jealous has been caught in rain, the president of the NAACP, as he tried to head to the Washington studios to speak about Troy Davis, but we’ll certainly talk about Troy Davis in the coming days. A death warrant has been issued for him. He’s on death row in Georgia.

We wanted to go back to another September 11th. It was September 11th, 1971. We’re going to turn now to an excerpt from the film Ghosts of Attica, a Lumiere production, which was made for Court TV. The story is told by Frank “Big Black” Smith, a prisoner who played a prominent role in the rebellion, who was tortured by troops, and Liz Fink, who served as the lead counsel for the former Attica prisoners. On September 9th, 1971, Attica prisoners rose up, Attica in upstate New York. On September 13th, then-New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller called out the state troopers. They opened fire, killing 39 men. This is an excerpt of Ghosts of Attica.

ATTICA PRISONER 1: I heard the helicopter, and the helicopter says, “Lay down. Put your hands on your head. You will not be harmed.” And I complied.

ATTICA PRISONER 2: They had us boxed in. And they was shooting down at us. I couldn’t crawl. I literally couldn’t crawl.

STATE TROOPER: I will repeat: Do not harm the hostages. Surrender peacefully. You will not be harmed.

ATTICA PRISONER 2: I remember an inmate said, “This guy is bleeding, is bleeding and bleeding.” And I didn’t know that he was referring to me.

ELIZABETH FINK: Uh-huh, all right. Well, you’ve got to tell him that.

STATE TROOPER: Slowly retreat with your hands on top of your head as you move.

ATTICA PRISONER 3: Well, just, you know, everywhere you looked around, all you’re seeing was killing and shooting everything they came across.

FRANKBIG BLACKSMITH: People laying all over, and they’re all bleeding and bloody and stuff. You know, so everybody know now that it’s real, that this is it. You know, they’re here now. They’re in the yard now. They got control.

ELIZABETH FINK: State troopers just took their clubs and beat them down the stairs, broke people’s legs, hit them on the tibia and broke tibias. On their back, on their head, in their genitals, on their front, you know, wherever they could hit them, that’s where they beat them.

FRANKBIG BLACKSMITH: I’m telling you, my name is being called: “Where is Big Black? Where is Big Black? Get up, Black! Get up!” And he’s busting me with a [N-word] stick, pickaxe, and got a .38 in his hand. And I gets up. And he—bam! In my side, in my back. And made me run with my hand on my head over to the side. And before I got over there, two, three more correction officers with him now, and everybody’s hitting me. And now they made me spread eagle on the table. Here I am, laying down, looking up the catwalk. And cigarettes and spit and shells, after they shoot their gun, they’re dropping them down on me. And I’m there with the football up under my chin. “That football better stay there, 'cause if it falls, you're going to die sooner than you expect to die.” I’m not in charge now. You know, I’m back to their reality.

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of Ghosts of Attica, a Lumiere production, for Court TV, made by Brad Lichtenstein and David Van Taylor.

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