Edited by Sam Thielman
REMEMBER LAST MONTH WHEN I wrote "I can't do a phoned-in edition… and I'm confident that if you go through this newsletter's archive, you won't find one"?
Tone: set. We understand each other?
ANNIVERSARY JOURNALISM—journalism performed because it's pegged to a holiday or the anniversary of a historical event—absolutely sucks. It's a contrivance, a stretch, an inanity, an editor's lazy idea. Reporters assigned to such lame pieces tend to do the minimum—I certainly did. Editors tend to get irritated when reading through filed drafts of anniversary journalism because rarely does the draft match the editor's inchoate and typically uncommunicated expectations [Yes, thank you, I think they understand—Sam.]. Readers learn the minimum, if they're not preoccupied by rejecting the tendentiousness they correctly perceive. Ultimately, there's no difference between success and failure, because the point is just that the thing is published on the relevant day.
I say that to say this: Congratulations to us, the FOREVER WARS team, and you, the FOREVER WARS readership, for reaching 100 editions in a single calendar year. We kept a professional schedule and, due to unhealthy habits accommodated by a concerted plan, we stuck to it! We published never-before-published intelligence-community documents liberated by Edward Snowden. We published never-before-published torture documents and were almost first to publish never-before-heard testimony of torture survivors. We published the caliber of anniversary journalism I wanted to pull off when I worked in newsrooms: a three-part reported series about a Brooklyn Muslim community enduring 20 years of post-9/11 persecution. We published a year's worth of what you might call Anti-National Security journalism, delving pitilessly into the continuing legacy of the War on Terror, and a lot of you let me know you found it to be a valuable corrective. Thanks for reading, subscribing, sharing and engaging with our work. Special thanks goes out to friends like Laura Poitras, Saladin Ahmed, Molly Crabapple, Erica Waldorf, Matt Bors and Suzanne Schneider.
Most importantly, we got through the lifespan of my Substack grant. The money has dried up, the experiment has expired, and now we have to make some changes. Look for announcements about such things—as well as a long-awaited plan for merchandise—in FOREVER WARS #101, coming tomorrow! Year Two, the X-Force/Team Titans/Authority era, is nigh! Worlds will live, worlds will die, and nothing will ever be the same!
BUT NOW LET'S WRITE A CAVEAT. I've come across an exception to a line of mine that I wrote a few weeks ago. I wrote: "There are places of worship in this country that have been violated, for an entire generation, by police and their informants; and there are places of worship that never will be." That bugs me. Let's revise that never and replace it with something more textured.
Last week, for a soon-to-be-solicited DC comic book miniseries, I needed to research what room the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) met in for classified sessions during the time period of the book. (Spoiler: still Hart 219.) In the course of doing so, I came across an old committee inquiry that I hadn't read. In 1989, the committee found that the FBI placed under investigation more than 2,300 American leftists and others associated, however tenuously, with the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES). The CISPES stuff caught my eye because I attended a red-diaper-baby summer camp in the late 1980s and early 1990s and instantly remembered a CISPES poster hanging in one of the activity buildings. Chances are someone there was caught in this Cold War-renaissance bullshit.
Bullshit is the SSCI's assessment. Its bottom line is a classic:
The Committee and the FBI Director reached the same basic conclusions: the FBI international terrorism investigation of CISPES was initiated primarily on the basis of allegations that should not have been considered credible; it was broadened beyond the scope justified even by those allegations; and it continued after the available information had clearly fallen below the standards required by the applicable guidelines.
But outside of that, good work.
Tim Weiner, a friend and an OG punk rocker, referenced the CISPES investigation during a subchapter on the bureau's Reagan-era reversion to Cold War form in his book Enemies: A History of The FBI. Tim summarizes the basis for the investigation as useful lies ("allegations that should not have been considered credible") provided by Frank Varelli, whose father previously ran El Salvador's vicious national police. Varelli was an FBI informant peddling a story about CISPES, in Tim's words, "forg[ing] a terrorist alliance with the leftist guerillas of the FMLN, in concert with the Soviet Union, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Libya." At page 23, the SSCI report relates that the bureau's Dallas field office, juiced on Varelli's stuff, cabled to FBI Headquarters: "Source stressed the fact that the greatest threat posed to the United States in regards to Central America is in the form of the CISPES groups throughout the United States."
Anyway, back to that line I wrote that's bugging me. Per the SSCI, the FBI would eagerly violate the sanctity of Christian churches in pursuit of its counterterrorism prerogatives. CISPES operated through networks that had strong religious components—or, in the FBI's telling, CISPES "closely aligns itself with church groups." The FBI at one point acknowledged that "most" CISPES offices were located in American Catholic churches. Pause for a moment to acknowledge that in Varelli's telling, CISPES was created on the order of Fidel Castro!
In 1983, FBI headquarters included the following guidance to 11 field offices conducting the CISPES investigation: "Due to the involvement of individuals of high-public visibility, church organizations, etc., it is incumbent that this investigation be closely coordinated with FBIHQ."
When they say "church organizations," they mean the following, contained in a 32-page memo issued by the Dallas office in April 1984:
Investigation has determined that CISPES is very closely connected with the United States Catholic Church. The Church, who [sic] agrees with most CISPES philosophy, have [sic] set aside various sanctuaries to be used to house illegal Salvadorans in the United States. There are some who will take only Salvadorans, no other type of refugee is allowed. [There is a] possibility these sanctuaries house . . . guerrillas and possibly is [sic] a storage place for weapons.
Investigation has determined that Catholic churches in the U.S. say they're taking in refugees fleeing the violence and economic devastation fueled materially by U.S. foreign policy, but they might also be secret militant staging grounds, complete with weapons caches! And this investigation continued, placing an unstated number of churches under surveillance.
The CISPES inquiry's obscurity says something about the routinization of Security State violations of Americans' constitutional rights. [It also says something about who GOP loyalist conservative Christians consider their brothers and sisters in Christ—Sam.] Freedom of religion, like all other American freedoms, is contingent on Security State prerogatives, as Muslims would learn less than a generation later. Anticommunism showed how the Security State's prerogatives were capital's prerogatives, an institutional perspective established during the Cold War, accelerated during the War on Terror and now hurtling beyond, toward the void.
KHALID QASIM, a painter whom the U.S. military has detained at Guantanamo Bay since May 2002, has finally been cleared for release by the (bullshit) Periodic Review Board. Qasim, a 45-year old Yemeni man, wrote in the Guardian last year that he was kept in solitary confinement—a torture technique that is both routine in U.S. prisons, and institutionally unacknowledged as torture—for nine entire years.
In Guantánamo, the torture we are exposed to is not isolated to the interrogation rooms; it exists in our daily lives. This intentional psychological torture is what makes Guantánamo different. There is interference in every aspect of my existence—my sleep, my food, my walking.
Qasim's attorney with the human-rights group Reprieve, Mark Maher, commented in a statement: "We’re thrilled that after two decades imprisoned without charge or trial, Khalid has finally been cleared for release and can start to focus on his life after release. Khalid was a young man when he was detained, and has developed into a talented artist and writer. He has a lot to offer the world, and we look forward to the day when he is finally free."
As that last clause indicates, it's unclear when Qasim will actually get to leave Guantanamo. Nor do I know if Hassan bin Attash, also cleared for release, has departed yet. Once they go, 34 men will remain locked inside Guantanamo.
ABOUT TV'S THE GOLDEN GIRLS: So are Sophia and Dorothy actually Brooklyn Italians? Or are they Brooklyn "Italians," which is to say the producers or the network or whoever decided they couldn't be Brooklyn Jews, despite how Jewish those characters are? (Watch that whole show and notice how often they have a cameo character, often a Southerner, say BROOKLYN EYE-TALIAN about our bubbes of blessed televised memory.) Do Brooklyn Italians retire to Miami? Because Brooklyn Jews—and, in my bubbe’s case, Queens Jews—certainly do. Did they Peter-Parker (a neurotic hyper-cerebral and uncomfortably physical outerborough New Yorker who is canonically gentile, hmmmmmmmmm) half the Golden Girls? Did they deny Sophia and Dorothy's Jewish heritage like they expected us to believe in the 1990s that George "Costanza," Elaine Benes and Cosmo Kramer weren't Jews?
Picture it. Lvov, 1925. Picture it. Pitkin Avenue, 1938. Picture it. Avenue J, 1985.
TOMORROW: FOREVER WARS #101! Merchandise! And a surprise announcement!