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Friday, June 27, 2008

Recap of Last Night's AAPG Event: ""The Detention of Japanese Americans During WWII at Manzanar"

Last evening, the Arab American Press Guild in Los Angeles hosted an event "The Detention of Japanese Americans During WWII at Manzanar". The purpose of this event was to inform other Arab media attending last night about the Pilgrimage to Manzanar which took place April 26th. As an invited speaker, I was honored to speak with Samir Twair, president of the Arab American Press Guild, Kathy Masaoka, co-chair of NCRR (Nikkei Civil Rights and Redress) and Hussam Ayloush, Director of CAIR Southern California, all of whom attended Pilgrimage this year in solidarity.

Samir, who invited us all to speak last night, opened with his remembrance of the job he had stepped in to as the director of the SoCal chapter of the ADC immediately following Alex Odeh's murder. In that capacity, he also had to immediately respond to the arrest of the LA 8, going in to action to raise the funds to get them out of jail, which he was able to do after 24 days. (it took another 20 years for the government to finally drop all proceedings against the last two of the LA 8, Michel Shehadeh and Khadir Hamide) He spoke of how Michel Shehedah of the LA 8 had been invited by NCRR as the keynote speaker at the 2002 Day of Remembrance in Little Tokyo. He also went back further in remembering the Japanese community's outreach to the Arab/Muslim community which began during Gulf War 1.

Kathy spoke of her own family's experience of internment. How her grandparents who were farmers in the Central Valley, had been given only a short amount of time to dispose of their belongings prior to internment. That while the government did give Japanese Americans the offer to relocate out of the Western military zone which included California, Oregon, Washington and parts of Arizona, very few Japanese Americans were able to do this before the deadline. Her grandfather was one of the first rounded up and taken away. They did not hear from him for months and when they did, it was by censored letters. While no Japanese Americans were ever convicted of espionage for Japan, more than 120,000 of them were placed in concentration camps after Executive Order 9066 was signed by Roosevelt. She also spoke of NCRR's grassroot efforts which took more than ten years to gain reparations for those who had been interred and an official apology to Japanese Americans from our government.

Hussam spoke of how he had gone with his family and a smaller group of activists the year before to Pilgrimage and had been so overwhelmed he felt the urge to take a larger contingency of activists back this year. Indeed, CAIR took over 100 activists and six imams to Pilgrimage this year in solidarity with the Japanese community. He informed the audience that NCRR, the Manzanar Committee and JACL had helped to put on talks at the five southland mosques prior to Pilgrimage and about the audiences overwhelming positive response to learning something from the Japanese community itself in much greater depth than they knew before. He spoke of how he felt it important to build solidarity with other ethnic minorities in their struggles and to not be isolated by fear, especially that which has grown to such extreme following 911. He informed the audience of something else they had not known: that during WWII, the US government was able to convince several governments in Latin America to round up their own citizens of Japanese descent, who were kidnapped and sent to the US to be used as hostages to be exchanged for our own POW's. After the war, these Latin American Japanese were not accepted back to their own countries. Many of them had no choice but to go to Japan even though they were not citizens there either. He referred to the current campaign to gain full redress for Japanese Latin Americans who as they age, have not been granted their full rights which were violated by our country.

Audience member attorney Pat Barry (a dynamic civil rights attorney who won the first case against sexual harassment at the Supreme Court level) was asked to speak about Wednesday's visit by over twenty activists from Women in Black Los Angeles and Los Angeles Jews for peace to the LA City Council meeting to protest Mayor Villaragosa's recent opportunistic trip to Israel in the run up to his anticipated run for the govenorship of California (hear Marci Winnograd speak on this) His signing of two security deals for the city of Los Angeles, one which contracted an Israeli firm to enforce security at LAX, the other at the port of Los Angeles, in addition to the public funding of this trip, was topic of their protest at City Hall. Also, another contract has been signed concerning "green technology" concerning water for the city. ALL of these contracts were signed without the bidding process which is required by the city charter of Los Angeles. Per the city charter, ALL contracts for services over $1000 must be put out for competitive bidding. This was NOT done!

Three short youtubes were presented to the audience, THIS one is part 1 of Manzanar at Dusk where several hundred people met at Lone Pine High School for 3 1/2 hours after attending the earlier program at Manzanar. THIS one is of Amina singing the beautiful names of Allah while George played his flute which fittingly closed out the program for this year's Pilgrimage.
The one below is the trailer for the mini-doc CAIR is doing on Pilgrimage

My Presentation for Manzanar Panel: June 26, 2008

Good evening every one, I’ve been invited to speak here tonight as an activist who attended pilgrimage and as someone who works with NCRR as a core support team member supporting First Lieutenant Ehren Watada, the only officer to refuse deployment to the war in Iraq on grounds the war is illegal who is still being held by the military as his case languishes in the court system.

The first time I visited Manzanar was in August 2003 with my family. My daughter’s summer reading that year was “Farewell to Manzanar”. Since we were traveling up Hwy. 395 on our way to Mammoth, I thought we should go to the very place she was reading about. It was a very hot windy day as we drove in and stopped at the gate to get a pamphlet for a self guided tour. It was difficult for us all to envision what was no longer there except as markers. I wanted to go to the monument where there is a small grave yard because this was proof, there HAD been people there, some of them remained. My husband and daughter both said, “I can’t believe that’s all there is I this huge place. I wonder what happened to them when they got out.”

Three years after that trip, there was a tiny article in the LA Times in June 2006 about a young Japanese lieutenant who was refusing to deploy to Iraq because he believed the war is illegal. FINALLY I thought, someone in the military actually has a conscience and is going to stand up and say, “No, I won’t do this”. By attending a rally in San Diego to support Ehren, I was put in touch with NCRR here in LA who would be handling a speaking tour by Ehren’s father, Bob Watada.

As the months went by working with NCRR supporting Ehren I realized, these are the very people who won reparations for those who had been interred. Remembering my visit to Manzanar……..what had happened to all those people? I knew they received reparations and an apology, but not much further.

When Ehren enlisted in the military, it was for purely patriotic reasons. An Eagle Scout, he was raised with the true values of honesty and integrity. Never in a million years did Ehren think our government would lie to us to take us to war. However, while in officer’s training his commanding officer told him, “Learn all you can about Iraq, the people, the country, and why we are there so that you can lead your men with full knowledge”.

Ehren took his advice and started reading, but what he learned as the news was trickling out, is that our government led us to war against a nation which had committed no crimes against us. Our government had lied to us, therefore, according to the Nuremberg Principles which applies to all nations, he as an officer who had taken his oath to uphold the Constitution, had the duty to follow that oath consistently and refuse the illegal order to deploy.

On the day his Stryker unit out of Fort Lewis, Washington was set to deploy, Ehren instead turned himself in. Knowing that he would face court martial for his decision, he did not stop at simply turning himself in to the military, he went public with his case, appearing at several functions and giving interviews to the press. When the military finally filed charges against him, he was facing eight years, which was dropped down to six with his cooperation, for refusal to deploy as well as several counts of conduct unbecoming of an officer.

Ehren’s court martial was in February of last year at Fort Lewis. Kathy, June Hibino, Kimi Maru-all from NCRR and myself traveled up to Tacoma to attend and support Ehren. For three days we sat in the court room observing. The first day was spent selecting the jury, the second day the prosecution put on their case. For all of us sitting there that day, we observed a trial that was for all intents and purposes a kangaroo court. Every witness that Ehren had subpoenaed as to the illegality of the war had been dismissed by the judge who also took it upon himself to rule the order to deploy was legal. The prosecution barely put up a case at all, only three witnesses who were better witnesses for the defense than the prosecution. Their assumption as they stated, “He thinks he has a case, we do not”.

On Wednesday, the third day of the trial, as Ehren was set to testify on his own behalf, the judge suddenly requested a mistrial, saying Ehren didn’t understand he had admitted guilt by signing the stipulation that he willingly refused deployment. Ehren, DID sign the stipulation, but he NEVER plead guilty, because to him, the order was illegal. The judge at the time stated that the military intended to try him again.

That day Ehren’s attorney, Eric Seitz spoke at the press conference afterwards saying that it was his firm belief that Ehren could not be tried again on firm double jeopardy grounds. As the military proceeded to pursue a retrial, Ehren appealed all the way up to the highest military court in Virginia which refused to hear his case. . His new attorneys he had hired decided to appeal through the Federal Court (in Tacoma) as last resort which granted Ehren’s request partially in early November, a temporary injunction barring a retrial based on double jeopardy with the added statement that the military was unlikely to prevail. A little over a month ago, papers were filed and a date set in early fall for all papers by both parties to be submitted. A final decision by Judge Settles is expected shortly thereafter, which AGAIN the military can appeal if the judgement goes in Ehren’s favor.All this time, since the military is still insisting on pursuing this, while there is any case pending or filed against Ehren, the military can still hold him in the military. In fact, this is what is being done. Ehren reports to his desk job at Fort Lewis every day, stripped of his security clearance, pushing papers, unable to travel more than a 200 mile radius.

Ehren Watada is being held hostage by our government for saying NO,

Spending the last two years working with NCRR has been not only a supreme pleasure beyond words, but also a learning experience beyond any imagination. I learned early on that they were the ones who had fought for reparations for the grievous wrong done against them in WWII, but I didn’t learn for a while that when 911 occurred, they and other Japanese Americans had taken it upon themselves to reach out to the Arab/Muslim community which was being brought under attack simply through guilt by association, race and religion. This hit a strong cord with me, because my eldest daughter in Arab American. She too was facing her own battle which increased exponentially after 911. Like many others I have spoken to for their own reasons, I had the spiritual desire and NEED to go to Pilgrimage.”.

Some have asked me, what struck me most about Manzanar. As I’ve told everyone who has asked me, I can’t tell you that, you would have to go, you would have to be there with the survivors and others to experience it yourself. There is no way to describe it.

However, there was something that stood out at the Manzanar because it took me off guard.

Although I didn’t know just what to expect, I knew one thing, I did NOT expect to sing along to an old Bing Crosby cowboy movie song, “Don’t Fence Me In”. As the song began and I looked around I was dumbstruck. It wasn’t til after I came back and looked up the words again, after being there, that it hit me.

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies,
Don't fence me in.
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love,
Don't fence me in.
Let me be by myself in the evenin' breeze
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please,
Don't fence me in.

There are more ways than one to fence a person in. It can be done literally like it was to Japanese Americans in WWII, putting a stain on our nation which even reparations and apology can never remove. It can be done by passing laws such as the Patriot Act, suggested mapping, and suspicion being thrown on a people through an ill-informed mass media which has been done to Arabs and Muslims. It can also be done by our own military, who has fenced themselves in, following illegal orders to pursue an illegal war against an innocent people because their allegiance to the military has blinded them to international and humanitarian law .

What Manzanar was to me, as I remember being taken off guard with the singing of that song, was voices raised against all fences. Fences of the past as Japanese Americans and others go there for pilgrimage; fences of the present that brave individuals such as Ehren Watada attempt to break down, and the battle against fences sought to be built by those seeking power over others due to blind racism that NCRR and CAIR and other civil rights organizations seek to tear down.

We all have a choice in our lives to travel our different paths, and often times they become one. The message of Manzanar and pilgrimage was just that, we all can CHOOSE to learn from the past so that we may travel this road of life together, seeking and living solidarity so that what happened there NEVER occurs again.

Thank you NCRR, CAIR and the Manzanar committee, thank you Lieutenant Watada. In speaking up for your own civil rights and in coming together in solidarity to speak out for the civil rights of others, in tearing down fences, you are an inspiration to all.

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