As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave her speech at George Washington University yesterday condemning governments that arrest protesters and do not allow free expression, I was grabbed from the audience in plain view of her by police and an unidentified official in plain clothes, brutalized, and left bleeding in jail. She never paused speaking. When Secretary Clinton began her speech, I remained standing silently in the audience and turned my back. I am a veteran Army officer who also worked as a CIA analyst for 27 years and I was wearing a Veterans for Peace T-shirt. I now work for Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
Blind-sided by security officers who pounced upon me, I remarked, as I was hauled out the door, "So this is America?" I am now covered with bruises, lacerations, and contusions inflicted in the assault.
I wonder if this show of brutality may be a signpost on a path to even wider and more brutal repression. I have been comparing what happened during Clinton's speech Tuesday with my four-minute mini-debate with Donald Rumsfeld on May 4, 2006 in Atlanta (and YouTube is a good help to memory). Halfway through, Rumsfeld gives the nod to a black-hatted security fellow to elbow me away from the microphone. I shout, "So this is America?" Rumsfeld takes one look at the TV cameras streaming live, makes a snap decision, and tells the security fellow to let me stay. During that same speech in Atlanta, one fearless witness stands dead-center in the audience with his back to Rumsfeld for the entire speech and is not bothered, much less beaten, arrested, and jailed.
Maybe the contrast between the experience of May 2006 and February 2011 should be viewed through the prism of the proverbial "boiling frog." There does seem to be a subtle, but successful, campaign to get people gradually accustomed to increasingly repressive measures; and many, perhaps most, Americans seem oblivious.
After 9/11 Norman Mailer saw a "pre-fascist climate" reigning in America. If we don't stand up for our rights, it may not be very long before we shall have to drop the "pre."
Ray McGovern, a 27-year veteran of the CIA's analysis division, is on the steering group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).