Oslo Journal, Part I

Tutu Alicante


One participant in this press conference is Asma Jahangir, a Pakistani lawyer. A friend tells me she is a great lady. I believe him. On this occasion, she accuses the United States of undermining human rights in the world. She says that the U.S. has “sanctified” human-rights violations.

I remember a conversation I had with a high official of the U.S. government — a man of rectitude, of excellent moral sense. We were talking about the waterboarding of those terrorists — the three of them. Mass murderers, who belonged to a network that was threatening yet more mass murder, and more mass murder.

I said, “I must confess, I don’t lose any sleep over that waterboarding.” He said, “Me neither.”

When the U.S. “tortures” mass murderers, they go back to their three delicious meals a day. Their top-quality medical care. Their blue-chip lawyers. Their due process. When other governments torture innocent people — well, they tend to die or be maimed for life.

Funny old world.

Allow me to quote from a column I wrote two years ago:

Michael Mukasey was attorney general from November 2007 to January 2009. He remembers visiting Guantanamo Bay in February 2008. He looked at many of the high-value detainees on video monitors. But he did not see Khalid Sheikh Mohammed; Mohammed wasn’t in his cell. He was off having a Red Cross visit.

Mukasey did see the exercise room, adjacent to Mohammed’s cell. And he noticed something interesting: Mohammed had the same elliptical machine that he, the attorney general, had back home in his Washington apartment building. Only there was this difference: Mukasey had to share his, with other residents; there was a mad scramble in the morning to get to it. Mohammed had his machine all to himself.

Bear in mind that he was the “mastermind” of the 9/11 attacks, which killed almost 3,000 people. That he was the beheader of Daniel Pearl. And so on. I wonder how much more tenderly America’s critics expect us to treat such people.

At the press conference, a Kosovar journalist, Jeta Xharra, speaks. She, too, has criticisms of the U.S. Well and good. All God’s chillen got criticisms. And, about the U.S., there is plenty to criticize. I do it more or less every day.

But I can’t help thinking, “That’s a tiny bit rich, coming from a Kosovar journalist.” Does that make me damnable? Okay, then.

Someone asks, “What are we going to do about the fact that business interests are always trumping human-rights interests?” Bless Irwin Cotler, the Canadian politician and lawyer, for giving the answer he gives. He says — and I paraphrase — “Business interests and human-rights interests are in harmony. Think of the rule of law, for example.”

I know you get his drift.

A Saudi Arabian heroine is here: Manal al-Sharif. She’s the one who had the audacity to drive a car, and to post a video of herself doing so. The government arrested and imprisoned her. After nine days, and an international outcry, she was released.

She says she had to give up her job in order to accept the Freedom Forum’s invitation. Thor Halvorssen points out that others, too, have had to give up their jobs. And more. Some have had to give up their very freedom — going into hiding, for example, just because they accepted an invitation from him.

People are willing to risk a lot to attend this forum and make their voices heard.

One of the benefits of the forum is that dissidents get to know other dissidents: They compare notes, draw comfort from one another, feel less alone. Sharif says, “Last night, six of us from the Arab Spring got together — they are heroes of mine. We were just talking, trading stories.”

She seemed happy, inspired, and validated. Thus the wonderment of solidarity.

A Syrian, Ausama Monajed, speaks of the Assad dictatorship. It has decided, he says, to be “as aggressive as possible.” The only way to survive, it thinks, is to kill without let-up. Monajed drops a stunning statistic, in a completely matter-of-fact way: There are between 70 and 100 Syrian dead a day.

An Ethiopian journalist expresses his sorrow at the deportation of Ethiopian asylum-seekers from Norway. “It is like returning those who have escaped from hell.”

The return of asylum-seekers: always a sore, horrible subject. Some of the most painful reporting I have done has been on this subject. No country can keep everyone, I suppose. But to return an innocent person to certain torture . . .

Another journalist identifies herself as a Cuban working for a democratic magazine in Sweden. Wouldn’t it be sweet, one day, to work for a democratic magazine in Cuba?

She worries about the trend of leftism in Latin America — a very sick trend in a world of sick trends.

Taking questions are two women who worked as slaves — one from Cambodia, one from Nepal. The Cambodian is Somaly Mam, sold into sexual slavery, the inmate of a brothel. “The traffickers are very well organized,” she says. “The anti-traffickers are very badly organized.” The Nepalese is Urmila Chaudhary, who is dressed like a beautiful princess — a fairy-book princess. At age six, she was sold into slavery by her parents for 70 dollars.

I am always remarking at these Freedom Forums: Some people endure absolute hell, then rise to combat evil in the world. And they do so with cheerful spirits. How is this possible? Somehow, it is.

This journal will continue tomorrow. To get Jay Nordlinger’s new book, Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, go here.


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