Academic Speaks Out against Charlie Wilson Chair

The Statesman, Peshawar

September 13 , 2008

Charlie Wilson’s war: The academic blowback

Dr. Mohammad Taqi

Just when we thought that Charlie Wilson would fade away into the
dustbin of history, he staged a come-back last year, via a Mike Nichols
movie “Charlie Wilson’s War”ˇ based on a 2003 book by George Crile with
the same title.

Both the book and the movie represent an American view of the Afghan
conflict of the 1980s, presented in a post-Soviet era, when very few
people are willing to or care about analyzing these works objectively.
The author, director and their US audiences do have a right to gloat
over a glossed-up version of the history.

So far so good, but now there is group of Pakistani-Americans who
have started a campaign to name a soon-to-be-founded Pakistan
Studies Chair at the University of Texas, after Rep. Charlie Wilson.
An Iftar dinner has been arranged in Washington, D.C. on September
24, 2008 to help plan, support and possibly raise money for this
venture. Dr. Randy Diehl, the Dean of College of Liberal Arts at the
University of Texas at Austin, TX, will be the featured speaker at
the event.

Whereas we don’t doubt the sincerity of the efforts by this group, among
which are some leading lights of the Pakistani Americans Public Affairs
Committee (PAKPAC), it is unfortunate that these fine men and women have
chosen one of the most controversial figures of the Afghan imbroglio,
ostensibly to promote, in the USA, the study of Pakistan-related matters.

Unlike Charlie Wilson, few – if any – of these do-gooders have ever
set foot on the Pashtun-Afghan lands and are completely oblivious of
the fact that Afghans and Pashtuns continue to reap – till this day-
what Wilson and Ziaul Haq sowed in the killing fields of Afghanistan.

Charlie Wilson might be a hero to a few Americans, who wanted to give
the Soviets a bloody nose in Afghanistan, to avenge their own humiliation
in Vietnam. However, it is an established fact that Wilson is also the
grand-daddy of the present-day Taliban and is one of the few people
directly responsible for Talibanisation of Pakistani and Afghan societies.

Warlords like Jalaluddin Haqqani – Wilson’s favorite commander – and
Gulbudin Hikmatyar were direct beneficiaries of the arms and largesse pumped
in by Wilson. It is not a surprise that Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin remain
active Taliban till today, fighting both the US and Pakistan and that the US
had to bomb their hideout on September 7, 2008. Hikmatyar too, is not far
behind OBL on America’s wanted list.

Wilson and his coterie’s stated strategy of mixing religion with politics and
more importantly, a covert war continue to give us a blowback in the form of
battle-hardened religious zealots, now marauding the tribal and settled areas
of Pakistan. He remained a part and parcel of an unholy war, which in the words
of a CIA operative “was fought with Saudi money, American arms and the Afghan
bloodˇ.” All the players in this war, including Wilson, remained committed to
fight “till the last Afghanˇ.”

This is not the only concern about Wilson’s methods, for some would
argue that anything and everything was necessary to defeat the “Evil
Empire.” What is of more concern to the democratic forces in Pakistan
and their supporters in the US and the West is that Wilson, along with
George Schultz, Richard Armitage and Michael Armacost produced a post-Zia
policy, thus sidelining the nascent democratic government of Benazir Bhutto.
According to Steve Coll, the author of “Ghost Warsˇ.” Wilson and Co. drafted
this policy literally on the fly, while en route to attend Zia’s funeral.

The fallout from this relationship, where money and weapons were handed
over to an intelligence agency, without civilian oversight would come back
to haunt all of us. Twenty years later Senator Joe Biden, along with Senator
Dick Lugar, had to undertake the herculean task of rectifying this anomaly.
The VP aspirant is trying to undo the damage done to both the US-Pak
relations as well the Pakistani people, through the “Biden-Lugar”ˇ bill.

The issue at hand is fairly straight-forward: is there a need for a
Pakistan Studies Chair at the University of Texas or for that matter
at any other US academic institution? The answer is a resounding yes.
The next question we have to ask is if such Chair should be named after
someone like Charlie Wilson, whose personal and political scruples are
very dubious to say the least. What kind of role model would he make for
the students enrolling at the proposed center?

If Rep. Wilson and the Temple Foundation – the other potential donor –
want to do something substantial for Pakistan Studies, a reasonable way
to proceed would be by making an unmarked and unrestricted donation to
establish a Chair in Pakistan studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

I call upon the academics and pro-democracy friends in Pakistan and
around the world to write directly to Dr. Randy Diehl, the Dean of
College of Liberal Arts, University of Texas at Austin, TX asking
him to revisit the idea of naming a wonderful venture after a
divisive character from the cold-war era. The blowback from Charlie
Wilson’s war must stop – at least in the academia.

(The author teaches and practices Medicine at the University of
Florida and can be reached at


NCA Executive Director engages in union-bashing

A UNITE-HERE! organizer has been sending award-winning and other distinguished scholars in the NCA letters asking them to honor the boycott, not only because of the involvement of Manchester in funding an anti-gay ballot initiative, but also because the union has established relationships with the hyper-exploited workers at the hotel. Bringing the two causes together is a principled act and one that is fairly unprecedented in the US labor scene.

However, according to a credible source, NCA Executive Director Roger Smitter has been writing these same distinguished scholars, using the following language:

“We regret that you have been targeted by Unite Here! to receive its appeal to boycott the Manchester Grand Hyatt, the site of the NCA convention and the 2008 Awards ceremony. Unite Here! has been sending essentially the same message to persons who names have appeared on our website. This includes the not only you but also publishers who will be exhibiting at the 2008 convention and leaders in our governance.

In brief, Unite Here! is using a California ballot initiative to ban gay marriage as a wedge to advance its own agenda with the Hyatt Hotel. Doug Manchester, one of the owners of the hotel, contributed money to the ballot initiative. “

It is very strange that contacting NCA members, leaders, and affiliated publishers seems in this passage to be somehow inappropriate or malign. We are communication scholars. Really.

The main thing, though, is that this passage is an ugly bit of union-busting rhetoric. It represents UNITE-HERE’s efforts as “targeting” scholars (and not in the good way that we rhetoricians sometimes refer to as “the target audience”). On this analysis, any attempt to persuade distinguished scholars in the field would be aggressive and inappropriate. The main charge, that UNITE-HERE is “using” the gay rights issue to promote its agenda, is typical of anti-union discourse in the history of the US labor movement: Portray the labor movement as opportunistic outsiders taking advantage of workers, their allies, and the public at large.

One could just as easily say that the workers are using the lgbtq issue to establish ties to the union, or that the gay rights coalition is using the union to advance its agenda—the point being, these are causes in solidarity, not a matter of various interests using each other.

I urge my colleagues not to dismiss the joint glbtq/labor coalition’s boycott based on Mr. Smitter’s opportunistic, anti-union discourse. He is using UNITE-HERE as a scapegoat—much as effective movement organizers throughout history have been targeted for abuse–to deflect attention to the real issue at hand: whether to stand against bigotry and exploitation, or not.

From a colleague on the blogora

I’ve never posted to this blog before, but I truly am surprised at the discussion here so far.

Smitter’s letter is so problematic, it makes me sad. What’s the “wedge” and what’s the “agenda”? The ambiguity here is vital to his allegations. In addition, how can anyone claim that labor has nothing to do with the ballot initiative? As activists, we need only listen to the grassroots movement in San Diego that has build a coalition to include workers resisting exploitation, GLBT activists standing up against the funding of hate, and women fighting sexual discrimination. As academics, we need only read Judith Butler’s classic essay, “Merely Cultural” or dust off our Engels for anything he wrote about the family/gender.

As someone who was on food stamps in elementary school for a period of time because my father was on a strike, I’ve never crossed a picket line in my life. Saying “the show must go on” is not enough. There are a lot of actions people seem to be leaving out of this discussion:
* there is no excuse for a department to host a party that requires anyone to cross a picket line.
* there is no excuse for potential employers not to do interviews elsewhere.
* the grad student open house should be canceled or moved.
* the awards ceremony can and should be moved.
* people can stay elsewhere.
* asking for answers for vague union-baiting claims about “wedge” issues is the least rhetoric/communication scholars can do.
* NCA, Inc., needs to publicly affirm that it will make space to discuss how NCA members can have more of a voice about future venue choices.
* and I’m sure others have more ideas…

Phaedra Pezzullo, Associate Professor, Indiana University, Bloomington

National Communication Association in line with bigotry and exploitation at the Manchester Hyatt


1.  NCA: follow the lead of other associations and move the conference.
2.  Failing that, sympathetic individuals should book alternative lodging. The Holiday Inn Express is nearby and offers lodging at affordable rates. The Westin San Diego still had rooms the last I checked.
3.  Sympathetic faculty should ask their department heads or chairs to move their department parties and other events.
4.  Panel, workshop, preconference, and seminar participants and chairs can arrange in advance to hold the panels elsewhere. (If anyone has any ideas as to alternative spaces nearby, let me know)
5.  Interviewers and interviewees should be in contact with one another in advance to arrange convenient alternative meeting places for job interviews. (Interviewers, I hope you will respect job candidates’ choices in this regard.)
6.  Legislative Assembly sessions should be moved since numbers of delegates are likely to participate in the boycott, with negative impact on the democratic process.
7.  Sympathetic leaders of divisions and caucuses should send an email to members urging their members to honor the boycott.
8.  If you want to make a difference, call  or email NCA Executive Director Roger Smitter:, Phone: 202-464-4622.
9.  Help to organize and attend any collective demonstrations or pickets at the Manchester Hyatt. (It might be interesting for people to hold their panels out of doors near the hotel.)
10. Get and wear t-shirts in support of UNITE-HERE and the glbtq community of San Diego. (Volunteers to organize this?)
11. If you are sympathetic, please forward to others (in your department, community, friendship network, caucus, division, and community) who may share this concern and to members of divisions and caucuses as you see fit.
12. Individuals, divisions, panel chairs, and other groups need to take care of most of this groundwork. I would appreciate it if members planning location shifts and protests would be in touch with me ( regarding these plans so that we may coordinate them and announce them to others.

We are getting word from members all over that they plan to honor the boycott. A number of departments have moved or cancelled their parties. Several divisions are considering moving their sessions. Individuals are organizing t-shirt campaigns and local protests. Standing for justice often takes sacrifice, but in this case there are adequate alternatives that protect panelists and job candidates while honoring the boycott. I know that many of my colleagues eschew confrontation and are often squeamish about confronting power in deed or word when it is on our own doorsteps, and NCA is our home. But if you agree with the goals of the boycott, please be courageous, take part in a living lesson in social movement organizing, and stand with us.

NEW UNITE-HERE letter to Betsy Bach:

Dear Betsy,
Thanks so much for your e-mail of August 10.  We’ve been in and out of town since then, and have waited in order to respond as fully as possible.

We appreciate the efforts of NCA to address a broad range of LGBT issues at the conference.  We also realize that it must be difficult at this distance to have a sense of how the boycott of Manchester Hyatt is playing out in San Diego.

We are concerned that the letter from Prof. Eadie should be given such weight.  As an individual he is entitled to his opinion, but he is not an LGBT spokesperson, and he appears to be entirely unaware of the labor issues that are so important in the boycott.
On Labor Day, not a day when it is easy to get people to stay home from the beach, we attended a large demonstration outside of the Manchester Hyatt, led by the hotel workers union (HERE/UNITE), attended by women’s rights and immigrant rights groups and  numerous supportive unions among others, with speakers who included highly respected state and local politicians as well as members of the clergy.  We are attaching one of many articles in the San Diego Union Tribune that can indicate the degree of attention this boycott is receiving locally.

We have been made aware that a number of professors and even a member of your executive board, James Darsey, have said that they will not enter the Hyatt, and will only attend events at the Marriot next door.  We are sure that many other members of NCA will want to honor the boycott when they have become aware of it and that the issue will create contention disruptive to the goals of the conference.

We have looked forward to our own participation, as scheduled presenters, in the convention.  We cannot, however, patronize the Manchester Grand Hyatt.  It would be absurd for us to offer a film and workshop on women’s activism in a venue that is being boycotted because women workers are being denied the most basic human treatment.  If you wish us to speak and to run our workshop, it needs to be at another venue.

We strongly advise that the executive board move all activities out of Manchester Hyatt.

We hope this letter is helpful, and we send you best wishes for a successful conference,

Mannie Garza

Cynthia Rich
NEW Letter from a longstanding NCA member:

Greetings! I am forwarding my pledge to boycott Manchester Hyatt to urge you to consider alternatives for NCA.

NCA has been consistently siding with profit against social justice and we need to call an end to this (Proposition 187 boycott in San Diego, and its history in setting up strong barriers to members’ political action as the result of NCA’s boycott of the ERA in the 1970s and early 1980s).

Perhaps we can get together in San Diego to join in an action group to pressure NCA to reform its hotel contracts.  We also should move all of our Manchester events to alternative locations.  We can start with our own sessions. We may also try to influence division by division throughout the entire NCA infrastructure.

WHY? The unprecedented coalition between labor and glbtq activists around the boycott of the Manchester Hyatt has resulted from the hotel’s hyper-exploitative labor practices that afflict a non-unionized workforce. These workers are behind the boycott: They can’t be hurt by it because they are already hurting. The lgbtq community is boycotting to raise awareness about Manchester’s significant financial support for a ballot proposition banning gay marriage. California has been on the leading edge of progressive reform on this issue and a ban there would seriously set the movement back. Together these groups have demonstrated at the hotel and are sustaining their boycott even after the election is over.

Action alert: What you can do for RNC protesters


National Call for Action to Stop Police Brutality at the Republian National Convention!
Support 300 people arrested in Saint Paul! Demand an end to illegal detention and brutality in Ramsey County Jail!

9/3/08, St. Paul – Approximately 300 people have been arrested for participating in demonstrations since the beginning of the Republican National Convention.  The majority of arrestees remain in custody and are being held in inhumane conditions.  Of the 300 arrested, approximately 120 have been accused of trumped-up felony charges by police; many of them are being held  illegally beyond Minnesota’s 36-hour limit on detentions without formal charges.

All people who value democracy and fear for the erosion of our constitution, regardless of political affiliation, are called upon to demand an end to this egregious denial of constitutional and human rights.  Prisoners have reported being denied medical treatment and essential medications, and many are engaged in a hunger strike to pressure the sheriffs to give them critical care. Many are being held in 23 hours/day lockdown and/or have not been allowed to meet with lawyers or make phone calls – especially trans prisoners.  Several prisoners have been able to reach legal support to report brutal physical assaults by multiple corrections officers.  The constitutional and legal rights of all prisoners are being denied across the board, with no apparent end to this outrageous treatment.

Please call the following offices and continue calling until all arrestees have been released:

St. Paul Mayor –  Chris Coleman (651.266.8510)
Head of Ramsey County Jail – Capt. Ryan O’Neil (651.266-9350 ext 1)
Ramsey County Sheriff –  Bob Fletcher (651.266.9333)
County Chief Judge Gearin (651.266.8266)

Demand the following:

Immediate medical attention as needed for ALL arrestees;
That the prisoners who haven’t given their names (Jane & John Does and Jesse Sparkles) have access to group meetings with a lawyer in jail;
Dismissal of all charges;
Release of all minors; and
Ensure trans prisoners have access to phone and attorneys, and are held in gender group of their choice.


Money is needed to help cover legal costs and get people out of jail.  Any amount you can give is greatly appreciated.  To donate by Pay Pal visit and click on the donate button.

For more details and up-to-date information about jail conditions and prisoner status, please see: <; <;

RNC activists charged as “terrorists” for exercising democratic rights

BREAKING: RNC 8 Charged with “Conspiracy to Riot in
Furtherance of Terrorism”

In what appears to be the first use of criminal charges
under the 2002 Minnesota version of the Federal Patriot Act,
Ramsey County Prosecutors have formally charged 8 alleged
leaders of the RNC Welcoming Committee with Conspiracy to
Riot in Furtherance of Terrorism. Monica Bicking, Eryn
Trimmer, Luce Guillen Givins, Erik Oseland, Nathanael Secor,
Robert Czernik, Garrett Fitzgerald, and Max Spector, face up
to 7 1/2 years in prison under the terrorism enhancement
charge which allows for a 50% increase in the maximum

Affidavits released by law enforcement which were filed in
support of the search warrants used in raids over the
weekend, and used to support probable cause for the arrest
warrants, are based on paid, confidential informants who
infiltrated the RNCWC on behalf of law enforcement. They
allege that members of the group sought to kidnap delegates
to the RNC, assault police officers with firebombs and
explosives, and sabotage airports in St. Paul. Evidence
released to date does not corroborate these allegations with
physical evidence or provide any other evidence for these
allegations than the claims of the informants. Based on past
abuses of such informants by law enforcement, the National
Lawyers Guild is concerned that such police informants have
incentives to lie and exaggerate threats of violence and to
also act as provacateurs in raising and urging support for
acts of violence.

“These charges are an effort to equate publicly stated
plans to blockade traffic and disrupt the RNC as being the
same as acts of terrorism. This both trivializes real
violence and attempts to place the stated political views of
the Defendants on trial,” said Bruce Nestor, President
of the Minnesota Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.
“The charges represent an abuse of the criminal justice
system and seek to intimidate any person organizing large
scale public demonstrations potentially involving civil
disobedience, he said.”

The criminal complaints filed by the Ramsey County Attorney
do not allege that any of the defendants personally have
engaged in any act of violence or damage to property. The
complaints list all of alleged violations of law during the
last few days of the RNC — other than violations of human
rights carried out by law enforcement — and seeks to hold
the 8 defendants responsible for acts committed by other
individuals. None of the defendants have any prior criminal
history involving acts of violence. Searches conducted in
connection with the raids failed to turn up any physical
evidence to support the allegations of organized attacks on
law enforcement. Although claiming probable cause to believe
that gunpowder, acids, and assembled incendiary devices
would be found, no such items were seized by police. As a
result, police sought to claim that the seizure of common
household items such as glass bottles, charcoal lighter,
nails, a rusty machete, and two hatchets, supported the
allegations of the confidential informants. “Police
found what they claim was a single plastic shield, a rusty
machete, and two hatchets used in Minnesota to split wood.
This doesn’t amount to evidence of an organized
insurrection, particularly when over 3,500 police are
present in the Twin Cities, armed with assault rifles,
concussion grenades, chemical weapons and full riot
gear,” said Nestor. In addition, the National Lawyers
Guild has previously pointed out how law enforcement has
fabricated evidence such as the claims that urine was seized
which demonstrators intended to throw at police.

The last time such charges were brought under Minnesota law
was in 1918, when Matt Moilen and others organizing labor
unions for the Industrial Workers of the World [ed.
correction-TCIMC] on the Iron Range were charged with
“criminal syndicalism.” The convictions, based on
allegations that workers had advocated or taught acts of
violence, including acts only damaging to property, were
upheld by the Minnesota Supreme Court. In the light of
history, these convictions are widely seen as unjust and a
product of political trials. The National Lawyers Guild
condemns the charges filed in this case against the above 8
defendants and urges the Ramsey County Attorney to drop all
charges of conspiracy in this matter.

Bruce Nestor, President
Minnesota Chapter of National Lawyers Guild

Al-Arian released!


Press Release
September 2, 2008

After five-and-a-half years of harsh and gratutious detention, former
Florida professor and civil rights activist Dr. Sami Al-Arian was
released on bond, reuniting with his family for the first time since
his ordeal began in 2003.

Earlier today (Tuesday), a federal judge ordered the Immigration and
Customs Enforcement (ICE) to release Dr. Al-Arian from their custody.
Judge Brinkema had granted Dr. Al-Arian bail last month, but the ICE
had been holding him until today on the pretext that they were
completing deportation procedures.

Dr. Al-Arian’s family was overjoyed upon hearing the news. Four of
his five children along with his attorney met him at an ICE facility
in Fairfax, Virginia earlier this afternoon. “We couldn’t believe our
eyes,” Leena, Dr. Al-Arian’s second oldest daughter, said. “We were
so relieved. It’s been 2,020 days since he’s last been with us.”

His eldest daughter Laila added that “We are overjoyed that our
father is finally back with us after what felt like an eternity. I
hope that this is just the beginning, that he’ll be finally released
for good, and this horrific nightmare will be over. We’d like to
thank all the people who’ve supported my father throughout the past
several years. Their consistent dedication and hard work in the cause
of justice has been invaluable.” Dr. Al-Arian – who is unable to make
any direct statements to the press because of his legal situation –
echoed these sentiments, expressing his heartfelt appreciation for
the countless thousands who have shown their support for his case.

“We owe so much to our lawyers, Prof. Jonathan Turley, Will Olson,
and P.J. Meitl,” Abdullah Al-Arian told the TBCJP. “Their incredible
work for justice has allowed our family to finally be reunited after
so long. On behalf of my father and my family, we thank you from the
bottom of our hearts.”

Dr. Al-Arian will remain under house arrest until he is brought to
trial for the current contempt charges against him or until Judge
Brinkema resolves the matter in some other manner. On August 8th,
Judge Brinkema had postponed his trial pending his appeal before the
Supreme Court concerning the prosecution’s violation of the 2006 plea