May 14, 2013

Chris Hedges Resigns From Human Rights Organization PEN over Appointment of Suzanne Nossell

Chris Hedges Resigns From Human Rights Organization PEN over Appointment of Suzanne Nossell

Chris Hedges Resigns From Human Rights Organization PEN over Appointment of Suzanne Nossell

by William Pfaff | Chris Hedges Resigns From Human Rights Organization PEN Over Appointment of Executive Director, Suzanne Nossel. The Truthdig columnist was scheduled to speak at events sponsored by PEN American Center next month, but he has resigned his membership in the writers’ organization over its executive director, Suzanne Nossel, a former aide to Hillary Clinton who may have coined the term “soft power.”

In addition to working for the State Department under Hillary Clinton as deputy assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, Nossel has worked as executive director of Amnesty International USA, and for Human Rights Watch and The Wall Street Journal.

Chris Hedges emailed the following statement to PEN and it is reprinted here with his permission:
I will not be participating as a speaker in the PEN World Voices Festival in May. I will not participate because of your decision to select Suzanne Nossel as Executive Director of the PEN American Center. This appointment makes a mockery of PEN as a human rights organization and belittles the values PEN purports to defend. I spent seven years in the Middle East, most of them as the Middle East Bureau Chief of The New York Times. The suffering of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation and the plight of those caught up in our imperial wars in countries such as Iraq are not abstractions to me. Nossel’s relentless championing of preemptive war—which under international law is illegal—as a State Department official along with her callous disregard for Israeli mistreatment of the Palestinians and her refusal as a government official to denounce the use of torture and use of extra-judicial killings, makes her utterly unfit to lead any human rights organization, especially one that has global concerns. PEN American Center, by appointing Nossel, has unwittingly highlighted its own failure to defend and speak out for our dissidents, especially Bradley Manning. I hereby resign from PEN. I will wait until the organization returns to its original mandate to defend those who are persecuted, including those within the United States, before returning to the organization. 

Sincerely,
Chris Hedges

More about PEN: It is a global organization made up of writer members that advocates for free expression and other human rights causes. The chapter representing the eastern United States is called PEN American Center and was founded in 1922. Its membership has included Robert Frost, Tony Kushner, Langston Hughes, Thomas Mann, Arthur Miller, Susan Sontag, Salman Rushdie and John Steinbeck.

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U.S. Cooption of the Human Rights Movement Continues

An Appeal to “PEN: Exec. Director Suzanne Nossel Must Go” by John V. Walsh and Coleen Rowley 

The Subversion of Human Rights Organizations 
For many decades the rhetoric of human rights has been used by the West to justify its aggressive actions around the world. James Peck in his superb and much neglected work, Ideal Illusions: How the U.S. Government Co-Opted Human Rights, painstakingly and meticulously documents such subversion over the past 50 years. But the subversion goes farther than the selective attention often paid to official enemies and the relative neglect of human rights violations by U.S. allies. He also points out that the concept of human rights that has prevailed in the West over this period is a shriveled one, basically confined to civil rights. Although the mainstream human rights movement in the West claims to take its inspiration from the UN Declaration of Human Rights, it rarely mentions Articles 25 and 26, among others, which affirm health care and education as rights. Thus the fact that Gaddafi’s Libya had the highest literacy rate or highest score in all of Africa on the UN’s Human Development Index counted for nothing in assessments of Gaddafi. Nor is faintest praise to be found for the many hundreds of millions lifted from poverty and made literate in New China.

Similarly, Jean Bricmont in his insightful, Humanitarian Imperialism, another book studiously avoided by “progressives” in the West, details the use of human rights rhetoric to gain the support of European intellectuals for the Clintons’ assault on the Balkans. This in fact marked a turning point in the view of intellectuals toward the wars of present day imperial powers on weaker nations, a view that set the stage for assaults on Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya and now Syria. It marked a sharp break with the opposition of intellectuals to the U.S. war on Vietnam. The important principle of sovereignty enshrined in international law to protect weak nations from falling prey to powerful ones was rudely tossed aside, with much talk of human rights as the justification.

PEN Shows No Concern for Julian Assange or Bradley Manning 
The principle at work here is not new. Julien Benda raised it long ago in The Treason of the Intellectuals. As Benda said, “There are two sets of principles. They are the principles of power and privilege and the principles of truth and justice. If you pursue truth and justice it will always mean a diminution of power and privilege. If you pursue power and privilege it will always be at the expense of truth and justice.” In our time we may identify Noam Chomsky and the late Alexander Cockburn among those who follow in the tradition of Benda. They represent the best in the tradition of PEN.

The question is which way will PEN go – the way of Benda or continue along the way of Nossel. Today a search on the PEN, America, web site readily yields entries for Pussy Riot, Ai Weiwei, and Liu Xiaobo, but nothing is to be found for “Bradley Manning” or “Julian Assange”! That in itself speaks volumes about Nossel’s PEN. As Chomsky and others have often pointed out, the primary duty of intellectuals is to critique their own ruling elite. After all, we can most affect our own rulers and it is their actions we are most responsible for. And that is what requires genuine courage. Criticizing elites in countries that are America’s official enemies is an easy and secure career path.

PEN members should take action 
For those who are appalled by what is happening at PEN, here are links to a list of current and newly elected officers and Trustees. They bear ultimate responsibility for the path that PEN is taking and for Suzanne Nossel’s employ. The issue can also be raised at the upcoming PEN World Voices events in NYC. It is clear that many speakers at these events, perhaps the overwhelming majority, hold views quite the opposite of Nossel’s, as well they should. Nossel should resign. Speaking out in cases like this is the only way to prevent the Empire from corrupting all it touches, including the human rights movement.

John V. Walsh and Coleen Rowley | April 1st, 2013 

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