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Your electronic vote in the 2010 election has just been bought
by Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman
September 24, 2009
Unless US Attorney General Eric Holder intervenes, your electronic vote in 2010 will probably be owned by the Republican-connected ES&S Corporation. With 80% ownership of America's electronic voting machines, ES&S could have the power to shape America's future with a few proprietary keystrokes.
Critics of the merger hope Holder will rescind the purchase on anti-trust grounds.
But only a transparent system totally based on hand-counted paper ballots, with universal automatic voter registration, can get us even remotely close to a reliable vote count in the future.
For even if Holder does void this purchase, ES&S and Diebold will still control four of every five votes cast on touchscreen machines. As the US Supreme Court seems poised to open the floodgates on corporate campaign spending, the only difference could be that those who would buy our elections will have to write two checks instead of one.
And in fact, it's even worse than that. ES&S, Diebold and a tiny handful of sibling Republican voting equipment and computing companies control not only the touchscreen machines, but also the electronic tabulators that count millions of scantron ballots, AND the electronic polling books that decide who gets to vote and who doesn't.
2) As votes will be increasingly cast on optiscans, touchscreens or computer voting machines in the United States in 2010, what scant few so-called paper trail mechanisms that are in place will offer little security against electronic vote theft;
3) The source code on all US touchscreen machines now used for the casting and counting of ballots is proprietary, meaning the companies that own and operate the machines---including ES&S---are not required to share with the public the details of how those machines actually work;
4) Although there are official mechanisms for monitoring and recounts, none carry any real weight in the face of the public's inability to gain control or even access to this electronic source code, whose proprietary standing has been upheld by the courts;
5) With the newly merged ES&S/Diebold now apparently controlling 80% of the national vote through hardware and software, this GOP-connected corporation will have the power to alter virtually every election in the US with a few keystrokes. Unless there is a massive, successful grassroots campaign between now and 2012, the same will hold true for the next US presidential election;
6) Aside from its control of touchscreen machines, the merged Diebold/ES&S also controls a significant percent of the electronic optiscan tabulators used in this country with which voters use pencils to fill in circles indicating their vote. Accounts of fraud, rigging, theft and abuse of these optiscan systems are well-documented and innumerable. Any corporation that prints these ballots and runs the machines designated to count them can control yet another major piece of the US vote count (http://freepress.org/departments/display/19/2006/2209);
7) The merged ES&S/Diebold now also controls the electronic voter registration systems in many counties and states. With that control comes the ability to remove registered voters without significant public accountability. In the 2004 election, nearly 25% of all the registered voters in the Democratic-rich city of Cleveland were purged, including 10,000 voters erased "accidentally" by a Diebold electronic pollbook system. So in addition to controlling the vote counts on touchscreen and optiscan voting machines, the merged Diebold/ES&S and sympathetic hardware and software companies that service computerized voting equipment will control who actually gets to cast a vote in the first place.
Lest we forget: in 2000, long before this ES&S/Diebold purchase was proposed, Choicepoint, a GOP-controlled data management firm, hired by Florida’s Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris, removed up to 150,000 Florida citizens from voter rolls on the pretense that they were ex-felons. The vast majority of them were not. Computer software "disappeared" 16,000 votes from Al Gore's column at a critical moment on election night, allowing George W. Bush’s first cousin John Ellis, a Fox News analyst, to proclaim him the winner. The election was officially decided by less than 700 votes and a 5-4 Supreme Court vote preventing a full recount. An independent audit later showed Gore was the rightful winner.
In 2004, more than 300,000 Ohio citizens were removed from voter rolls by GOP-controlled county election boards (more than one million have been removed since).
Various dirty tricks prevented still tens of thousands more Ohioans from voting. The vote count was marred by a wide range of official manipulations coordinated by then-Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell. Diebold was a major player in the 2004 Ohio elections, but was joined by numerous other computer voting firms and their technicians in "recounting the vote" which confirmed the Bush "victory," despite exit poll results and other evidence to the contrary. In defiance of a federal court order, 56 of 88 Ohio counties destroyed some or all of their ballots or election records. No one has been prosecuted.
In short, the ES&S purchase of Diebold's voting machine operation is merely the tip of a toxic iceberg. Voiding the merger will do nothing to solve the REAL problem, which is an electronic-based system of voter registration and ballot counting that is potentially controlled by private corporations and contractors whose agenda is to make large profits and protect the system that guarantees them.
Although elections based on universal automatic registration and hand-counted paper ballots are not foolproof, they constitute a start. Stealing an election by stuffing paper ballot boxes at the "retail" level is far more difficult than stealing votes at the "wholesale" level with an electronic flip of a switch.
As it's done in in numerous other countries throughout the world, the only realistic means by which the US can establish a democratic system of ballot casting and counting is to do it the old-fashioned way. With human-scale checks and balances we might even be secure in the knowledge that our elections and vote counts will truly reflect the will of the people. What a concept!
Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman have co-authored four books on election protection, available at http://freepress.org, where this article was first published, and where Bob's FITRAKIS FILES are also available. HARVEY WASSERMAN'S HISTORY OF THE U.S. is at http://harveywasserman.com.
Although so-called non-lethal weapons (NLWs) have been around for decades and range from CS gas to pepper spray and from the low-tech water cannon to the Taser, their use by military and police agencies world-wide are designed to ensure compliance from hostile "natives."
And with ever-more devilish torture tools being dreamed up by the likes of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program (JNLWP), it's a safe bet that migration from the military to civilian law enforcement agencies will continue at its current break-neck pace.
In this context, San Diego's East County Magazine and progressive Liberty One Radioreported, ironically enough on September 11, that the San Diego Sheriff's Department stationed a Long-Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) during recent town hall forums.
Manufactured by American Technology Corporation (ATC), the firm's LRAD 500-x is a dual-purpose device: a powerful hailer and a non-lethal weapon capable of producing ear-shattering sounds highly-damaging to their human targets.
ATC's technology has been deployed in Iraq as an "anti-insurgent weapon" and off the coast of Somalia to fight off desperate "pirates," that is, former Somali fishermen whose livelihood has been destroyed by over-fishing by foreign factory fleets and toxic dumping, including nuclear waste, by Western polluters.
No matter, time to break out the sonic blasters!
Developed for the U.S. Navy in the wake of the 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole, cruise ship Captain Michael Groves "successfully repelled pirates off the Somali coast using non-lethal weapons including an LRAD. Groves has since filed suit against Carnival Cruise Line, claiming he suffered permanent hearing loss as a result," East County Magazine reports.
The BBC noted in 2005 that the "shrill sound of an LRAD at its loudest sounds something like a domestic smoke alarm, ATC says, but at 150 decibels, it is the aural equivalent to standing 30m away from a roaring jet engine and can cause major hearing damage if misused."
According to ATC's web site, "LRAD resolves uncertain situations and potentially saves lives on both sides of the device by combining powerful voice commands and deterrent tones with focused acoustic output to clearly transmit highly intelligible instructions and warnings well beyond 500 meters."
While the defense establishment and their civilian counterparts dismiss concerns that acoustic weapons pose a danger to their targets, the Bradford Non-Lethal Weapons Research Project noted in 2006:
Juergen Altmann, who is conducting an independent scientific assessment of acoustic weapons, has warned that there is risk of hearing damage to people exposed to the beam at ranges of up to 100m. ... An added difficulty with ensuring no permanent damage is that some people are more susceptible to noise-induced hearing loss than others and hearing damage can occur at levels below the threshold for ear pain. A report from the US Army's 361st Psychological Operations Company gives an idea of the powerful effects of the LRAD: 'During distance tests at 100 meters, the sound was painful to listeners, even with hands held over the ears and ear plugs in'." (Neil Davison, Nick Lewer, Bradford Non-Lethal Weapons Research Project, Research Report No. 8, March 2006, pp. 33-34)
Far from being employed as a means to "reduce casualties," its actual use lends itself to the opposite effect. In Iraq, for example the U.S. Army's 361st Psychological Operations Company noted that "The LRAD has proven useful for clearing streets and rooftops during cordon and search, for disseminating command information, and for drawing out enemy snipers who are subsequently destroyed by our own snipers."
In a civilian setting, one can easily envisage groups of "rioters" being sonically blasted prior to street clearing operations by heavily-armed SWAT teams. Kevin Keenan, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union told East County Magazine:
"It's very concerning. It is fine for the Sheriff's Department to have new less-than-lethal weapons, but for their interactions with individuals these still-dangerous weapons need to be used only as substitutes for firearms. They can't be used as just another tool on the tool belt. As we've seen with tasers and pepper spray, these types of weapons are being used to subdue people even though they pose the risk of serious physical harm."
He added, "Even more concerning is having these weapons for public order policing. I can imagine no situation, or am not aware of any situation that's ever happened in San Diego County or is likely to happen that would justify using these weapons for public order policing to control a crowd. The main effect of having those weapons at public events is to chill people and chill free speech and free association." (Miriam Raftery, "Sonic Weapons Used in Iraq Positioned at Congressional Town Hall Meetings in San Diego County," East County Magazine, September 11, 2009)
I would add however, the purpose of these weapons is precisely to "chill free speech and free association," thus ensuring compliance to the whims of our capitalist masters.
Research into more "effective" low-cost acoustic NLWs are gathering steam. Wiredreported September 1 that a "Tennessee lab primarily responsible for building components for nuclear weapons is branching off into the nonlethal weapons business."
Called the Banshee II, the weapon emits a piercing 144-decibel sound that is designed to be more than just annoying. "It also has a frequency-switching system that pumps your ear drums, so it sounds like there's a drum beating there," the inventor tells Knoxnews.com. "You physically feel it in your ear drum." (Sharon Weinberger, "Nuke Lab Builds 'Beating Drum' Sonic Blaster, Wired, September 1, 2009)
While such devices never caught on with the military its inventor, so-called nuke "gadget guru" Fariborz Bzorgi who works at the Y-12 nuclear plant in Tennessee "hopes the Banshee II could have broader applications for law enforcement."
No doubt they will. As Neil Davison, the author of the recently published "Non-Lethal" Weaponspoints out, military and police moves towards "effects-based" NLWs are consistent with requirements "for weapons with greater range, more precise delivery, and rheostatic effects from 'non-lethal' to 'lethal'."
Davison cites the LRAD and other acoustic devices as "the only new technologies that have emerged" in the last several years and pointedly notes that "all these weapons have emerged from the private sector."
That they have should hardly come as a surprise.
After all as Homeland Security Weeklyreported in 2007, "homeland security spending is a massive and highly lucrative new market." With an expected growth rate between "eight and ten percent annually over the next five years" the publication claims that "the addressable U.S. market over the next five years will be in the range of approximately $140 billion, a 21 percent increase over our five-year estimate made in 2004."
As the Center for Investigative Reporting revealed, heimat grifting and massive waste go hand in hand:
• Cities and agencies bought things with grant money that would not make California a safer place. One county tried to use anti-terrorism funds for a lawnmower but it was blocked at the last minute. Another county succeeded in buying a big-screen television.
• Dozens of cities and agencies failed to keep adequate records on how they spent the money. In some cases, the poor record keeping resulted in thousands of dollars worth of overpayments to local agencies. In other cases, agencies were unable to find where they stored their own equipment.
• Communities repeatedly bought large and small-ticket items without seeking competitive bids. Federal procurement rules designed to protect the taxpayer weren't used on millions of dollars in new communications systems, night-vision goggles and bomb-disposal robots. (G.W. Schulz, "Homeland Security Marked by Waste, Lack of Oversight," Center for Investigative Reporting, September 11, 2009)
While schools go unfunded, infrastructure collapses and affordable health care for all is an unattainable pipe dream, police and intelligence agencies are having a field day--at our expense. Call it part of the "counterterrorism stimulus" package that our corporate security masters are hell-bent on shoving down our throats.
However you slice it, there's a lot of boodle to be had by enterprising defense and security grifters. Alongside current multibillion dollar outlays for "biodefense" and counterterrorism initiatives by a multitude of state and federal agencies, the development of ever more dubious "non-lethal" weapons, implements for compliance and control during the capitalist meltdown, will enjoy a steady growth curve long into the future.
Tom Burghardt is a researcher and activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to publishing in Covert Action Quarterly and Global Research, an independent research and media group of writers, scholars, journalists and activists based in Montreal, his articles can be read on Dissident Voice, The Intelligence Daily, Pacific Free Press and the whistleblowing website Wikileaks. He is the editor of Police State America: U.S. Military "Civil Disturbance" Planning, distributed by AK Press
G20 protest - martial law, police use sound cannons and tear gas Pittsburgh 9/24
G20 - Confronted by LRAD Accoustic Weapons
G20 Advances New World Order, Media Admit Written by Alex Newman
Saturday, 26 September 2009
Almost as if a global memo had been sent out, headlines of major media outlets across the planet announced the unfolding of the coming “New World Order” — with a smaller role for the United States and freedom. A correspondingly larger role will be reserved for tyrannical governments like China and global economic management by international institutions, the news reports explained.
Even U.S. government-funded media outlets like Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty used the term in an article headlined, “‘New World Order’ Emerging At G-20 Summit.” The article began: “A new world order is emerging at the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh with a decision by the group to become the premier coordinating body on economic issues.” The story also noted that countries like China would be given “more of a voice in how the global economy is run.”
A separate article in the U.K.’s Telegraph, entitled “G20 to police new world economic order,” explained that the Communist nation and other developing countries would be given more voting power in the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a sort of planetary central bank regime that has played a large role in ushering in the new world order.
“Global leaders took their biggest steps yet toward a new world order that’s less U.S.-centric with a more heavily regulated financial industry and a greater role for international institutions and emerging markets,” explained a Bloomberg News report headlined “G-20 Shapes New World Order With Lesser Role for U.S., Markets.” Regarding the IMF, the article noted: “The G-20 also agreed to an allocation of $250 billion in Special Drawing Rights, the artificial currency that the IMF uses to settle accounts among its member nations. The move is akin to a central bank such as the Federal Reserve effectively creating money out of thin air, except it’s on a global scale.” A Reuters article, entitled “New world economic order takes shape at G20,” underscored the points. Hundreds of billions more will be provided to the IMF by governments.
The group also agreed to regulate some salaries in the private sector and crack down on tax havens. Additionally, it will continue “stimulating” the economy by throwing taxpayer money at government programs. It all sounds suspiciously similar to the old world order, only even more totalitarian.
And the assembled leaders invoked similar concepts throughout the week, even if they didn't necessarily use the phrase "new world order." British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced: "The old system of international economic cooperation is over. The new system, as of today, has begun." He also explained that the G-20 would become the "premier economic organization for dealing with economic management around the world."
President Barack Obama advanced the tired excuse for world government (without calling it that) in his September 23 speech to the United Nations General Assembly, prior to attending the G-20 summit later in the week. “We have sought — in word and deed — a new era of engagement with the world,” he told the UN General Assembly. “Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.” The "engagement" and "global response" Obama envisions would not be without teeth. He acknowledged that the United Nations "struggles to enforce its will, and to live up to the ideals of its founding." But he added, "I believe that those imperfections are not a reason to walk away from this institution." Indeed, later in his speech he effused that "we can be a generation that chooses to see the shoreline beyond the rough waters ahead; that comes together to serve the common interests of human beings, and finally gives meaning to the promise embedded in the name given to this institution: the United Nations."
And Luiz Inacio, the radical leftist President of Brazil, called for a "world economic order" in his own speech to the UN General Assembly. "Because the global economy is interdependent, we are obliged to intervene across national borders and must therefore re-found the world economic order," he was quoted as saying by AFP.
The world suffers global recession, enormous inequity, hunger, deforestation, pollution, climate change, nuclear weapons, terrorism, etc. To those who say we’re not really making progress, many might point to the fact that at least we’ve eliminated slavery.
But sadly that is not the truth.
One hundred forty-three years after passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and 60 years after Article 4 of the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights banned slavery and the slave trade worldwide, there are more slaves than at any time in human history -- 27 million.
Today’s slavery focuses on big profits and cheap lives. It is not about owning people like before, but about using them as completely disposable tools for making money.
During the four years that Benjamin Skinner researched modern-day slavery, he posed as a buyer at illegal brothels on several continents, interviewed convicted human traffickers in a Romanian prison and endured giardia, malaria, dengue and a bad motorcycle accident.
But Skinner is most haunted by his experience in a brothel in Bucharest, Romania, where he was offered a young woman with Down syndrome in exchange for a used car.
Currently a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and previously a special assistant to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, Skinner has written for Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, Foreign Policy and others. He was named one of National Geographic’s Adventurers of the Year 2008. His first book, now in paperback, is A Crime So Monstrous: Face to Face with Modern-Day Slavery.
Terrence McNally: What first got you interested in slavery?
Benjamin Skinner: The fuel began before I was born. The abolitionism in my blood began at least as early as the 18th century, when my Quaker ancestors stood on soapboxes in Connecticut and railed against slavery. I had other relatives that weren’t Quaker, but had the same beliefs. My great-great-great-grandfather fought with the Connecticut artillery, believing that slavery was an abomination that could only be overturned through bloodshed.
Yet today, after the deaths of 360,000 Union soldiers, after over a dozen conventions and 300 international treaties, there are more slaves than at any point in human history.
TM: Is that raw numbers or as a percentage of the population?
BS: I want to be very clear what I mean when I say the word slavery. If you look it up in Webster's dictionary, the first definition is "drudgery or toil." It's become a metaphor for undue hardship, because we assume that once you legally abolish something, it no longer exists. But as a matter of reality for up to 27 million people in the world, slaves are those forced to work, held through fraud, under threat of violence, for no pay beyond subsistence. It's a very spare definition.
TM: Whose definition is that?
BS: Kevin Bales's. [His Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy was nominated for the 1999 Pulitzer Prize, and he is the president of Free the Slaves ] I'm glad you asked because he's not given enough credit. He originally came up with the number 27 million, and it's subsequently been buttressed by international labor organization studies. Governments will acknowledge estimates of some 12.3 million slaves in the world, but NGOs in those same countries say the numbers are more than twice as high.
Kevin did a lot of the academic work that underpinned my work. I wanted to go out and get beyond the numbers, to show what one person's slavery meant. In the process of doing that, I met hundreds of slaves and survivors.
TM: As an investigative reporter rather than an academic, you take us where the trades are made, the suffering takes place and the survivors eke out their existences.
BS: In an underground brothel in Bucharest, I was offered a young woman with the visible effect of Down syndrome. One of her arms was covered in slashes, where I can only assume she was trying to escape daily rape the only way she knew how. That young woman was offered to me in trade for a used car.
TM: This was a Romanian used car?
BS: Yes, and I knew that I could get that car for about 1,500 euros. While that may sound like a very low price for human life, consider that five hours from where I live in New York -- a three-hour flight down to Port au Prince, Haiti, and an hour from the airport -- I was able to negotiate for a 10-year-old girl for cleaning and cooking, permanent possession and sexual favors. What do you think the asking price was?
TM: I don't know ... $7,500?
BS: They asked for $100, and I talked them down to $50. Now to put that in context: Going back to the time when my abolitionist ancestors were on their soapbox, in 1850, you could buy a healthy grown male for the equivalent of about $40,000.
TM: When I first read such big numbers, I was shocked.
BS: This is not to diminish the horrors that those workers would face, nor to diminish their dehumanization one bit. It was an abomination then as it is today. But in the mid-19th century, masters viewed their slaves as an investment.
But here's the thing: When a slave costs $50 on the street in broad daylight in Port au Prince -- by the way, this was in a decent neighborhood, everybody knew where these men were and what they did -- such people are, to go back to Kevin's term, eminently disposable in the eyes of their masters.
TM: If my reading is correct, the biggest concentrations of the slave trade are in Southeast Asia and portions of Latin America?
BS: If you were to plot slaves on the map, you'd stick the biggest number of pins in India, followed by Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan. There are arguably more slaves In India than the rest of the world combined.
And yet, if you look at international efforts or American pressure, India is largely let off the hook because Indian federal officials claim, "We have no slaves. These are just poor people. And these exploitive labor practices," -- if you're lucky enough to get that term out of them -- "are a byproduct of poverty."
Let me be clear, the end of slavery cannot wait for the end of poverty. Slavery in India is primarily generational debt bondage, people whose grandparents took a debt.
TM: To go back to the definition: Forced to work against their will with no escape.
BS: Held through fraud under threat of violence for no pay beyond subsistence. These are people that cannot walk away.
I stumbled upon a fellow in a quarry in Northern India who'd been enslaved his entire life. He had assumed that slavery at birth. His grandfather had taken a debt of 62 cents, and three generations and three slave masters later, the principal had not been paid off one bit. The family was illiterate and innumerate. This fellow, who I call Gonoo -- he asked me to protect his identity -- was still forced to work, held through fraud under threat of violence for no pay beyond subsistence.
Since he was a child, he and his family and his children, along with the rest of the enslaved villagers, took huge rocks out of the earth. They pummeled those rocks into gravel for the subgrade of India's infrastructure, which is the gleaming pride of the Indian elites.
They further pulverized that gravel into silica sand for glass. There's only one way that you turn a profit off handmade sand, and that's through slavery.
TM: Another method you describe: Someone shows up in a poverty-stricken village saying they need workers for the mines hundreds of miles away.
BS: It's a massive problem in the north of Brazil. What's tricky about this, in many cases these workers want to work. But they don't want to be forced to work under threat of violence, beaten regularly, having the women in their lives raped as a means of humiliating them, and then not being paid anything.
TM: They are transported to the mines, and when they arrive, they have a debt for that transportation, which is greater than anything they will ever be able to repay.
BS: And if they try to leave, there are men with guns. That's slavery. In the Western Hemisphere, child slavery, as we spoke of before, is most rampant in Haiti. According to UNICEF, there are 300,000 child slaves in Haiti.
TM: Does that mean in Haiti or originating in Haiti?
BS: That means within Haitian borders.
TM: So with all the poverty in Haiti, there are still people who can afford 300,000 slaves?
BS: Well if they're paying $50 ...
I went back last summer with Dan Harris of ABC Nightline. He was pretty incredulous of my claim. In fact, it ended up taking him 10 hours from ABC's offices in Manhattan, but by the end of those 10 hours, he'd negotiated with not one, but three traffickers who'd offered him three separate girls.
As he put it, the remarkable thing is not that you can get a child for $50, but that you can get a child for free. When you go up into these villages, you see such desperation on the parts of the parents.
I want to make clear, I never paid for human life; I never would pay for human life. I talked to too many individuals who run trafficking shelters and help slaves become survivors. They implored me, "Do not pay for human life. You will be giving rise to a trade in human misery, and as a journalist, you'll be projecting to the world that this is the way that you own the problem." If you were to buy all 300,000 child slaves in Haiti, next year, you'd have 600,000.
TM: If you were to buy the 300,000 slaves in Haiti in one fell swoop, you would be telling traders, "Hey, business is good," and so they'd grab more slaves.
BS: You're talking about introducing hard currency into a transaction that in many cases hasn't involved hard currency in the past. You're massively incentivizing a trade in human lives.
TM: These are those who practice what they call redemptions, buying slaves their freedom. Who's doing it, and what's your analysis of it?
BS: On the basis of three months spent in southern and northern Sudan, two months in southern Sudan in particular. ... There was one particular evangelical group based in Switzerland, organized and run by an American who raised cash around the States. They'd go to a Sunday School or a second-grade class in Colorado, talk about slavery, and say, "Bring us your lunch money. If you can get us $50, we will buy a slave's freedom."
It was a very effective sales pitch. They managed to raise over $3 million dollars by my calculations over the course of the 1990s.
In theory, they were giving money to "retrievers" who would go into northern Sudan, and through whatever means necessary, secure the slaves' freedom and bring them back down into the south.
In the context of the Sudanese civil war, slavery is used as a weapon of war by the north. Northern militias raid southern villages, and in many cases, kill the men and take the women and children as slaves and as a weapon of genocide. That much is not questioned. There is no question that these slave raids were going on.
I found that redemption on the ground was enormously problematic. There was scant oversight. They were literally giving duffel bags full of cash to factions within the rebels that were at that point resisting an ongoing peace process.
What they risked doing, whether through recklessness or through intent, was to become essentially angels of destruction at a time when a negotiated peace was just beginning to take hold. Thankfully, at this point they've scaled back the redemptions.
TM: So they were collecting money in the States to free slaves, and then funding a rebel movement in a war, and ...
BS: Potentially prolonging the war.
Thankfully, in the end, the death of rebel leader John Gurang meant that a different faction came to be more powerful. From my perspective, however, what was going on there was largely fraudulent.
I went back and asked the rebel officials, "What do you do with this money?" and they said, "We use it for the benefit of the people." Which begs the question, "But I thought this was being used to buy back slaves. I don't get it."
And they said, "Well you know, there's clothes, uniforms ..." They didn't actually say arms, but they said all sorts of things that they needed hard currency for, and this was their way of getting the cash.
I don't blame the rebels. If I were in a similar situation, I'd probably do the same thing. The most important point is this: By the merest estimates there are still some 12,000 slaves held in brutal bondage in the north of Sudan, and the government has not arrested or prosecuted one slave raider, one slave trader, one slave master. And as long as that continues to be the situation, the government of Sudan is in gross violation of international law.
TM: How does the distinction between sexual slavery and other sorts of labor show up, and how does it matter?
BS: When we're defining slavery, fundamentally at its core it's the same in each and every circumstance. We're talking about people forced to work held through fraud, under threat of violence, for no pay beyond subsistence. If we're talking about forced commercial sexual slavery, forced prostitution, there's an added element of humiliation or shame, because we're talking about rape.
In many parts of the world and in many traditional societies, if a woman is raped it's her fault. If a woman is liberated and tries to go back to the village she comes from, she will never again lead a normal life.
I think it's safe to say even in the United States, which we assume is a much more welcoming, tolerant society, women who've been in prostitution, regardless if it's forced or not, have a difficult time leading a normal life afterward.
There is a school of thought that sexual slavery is somehow worse than other forms of slavery. I actually don't buy that. I think that all slavery is monstrous, and no one slave's emancipation should wait for that of another. At the same time, if some people are moved to fight sexual slavery and sexual trafficking at the exclusion of other forms of slavery, God bless them, as long as they're fighting slavery at the end of the day.
TM: Briefly, what is the situation in America?
BS: On average, in the past half-hour, one more person will have been trafficked to the United States into slavery. About 14,000-17,000 are trafficked into the U.S. each year and forced to work within U.S. borders under threat of violence for no pay beyond subsistence.
TM: What can people do?
BS: On a personal basis, they can support CAST (Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking) in Los Angeles. CAST has the oldest shelter in the country for trafficked women and has terrific programs that help victims of all forms of trafficking. It's a solid, mature organization.
They can also get involved with Free the Slaves. And they can talk about the issue more. Barack Obama is still setting his foreign policy agenda. He needs to hear from all of us that the true abolition of slavery needs to be a part of his legacy.
A quarter of Skinner's publishing royalties go to Free the Slaves.