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by Harry Belafonte

On January 20-22, 2006, the International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration (www.bushcommission.org) held an unprecedented citizen’s tribunal at Riverside Church in New York City to examine, with rigor and substance, whether the Bush Administration is guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Internationally-known expert witnesses and whistle blowers, including former commander of Abu Ghraib prison Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray, and former UN arms inspector Scott Ritter, testified in the areas of war, torture, global environment, global health, and Katrina. The Commission’s summary findings will be released on February 2, 2006 at the National Press Club in Washington DC at 9:30am.

The following remarks by Harry Belafonte opened this historic session.

Thank you very much. I would to first express my great sense of privilege, and opportunity to be part of this evening’s tribunal and what we will be seeing and hearing. I would like to also extend my respects to the panel and to the tasks you have before you, and what we will be hearing.

It is most gratuitous that this should be taking place at the end of a week of celebration of the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This nation has never, ever produced a greater citizen, who stood and still stands for the principles for why we are all gathered here: the pursuit of justice, the pursuit of human rights, the pursuit of human dignity.

Theodore Roosevelt once said that when the powers of state, that having been mandated to reach out and to protect the interest of the people, begin to usurp the Constitution and undermine our laws, that it is the responsibility of the citizens to rise up and to speak against this process. And to in fact insist upon the changing of the guard, the changing of regime. (Applause) And those, those citizens who fail to hear that call, in fact should be charged with patriotic treason. (Applause) I think none gathered here this evening can be so charged.

It is important when all the instruments of government collapse, we go in the final hour, to the most important line of battle: the people themselves. The people of this nation, I think, and I know it, are awake, and are being more awakened every day. They are hearing and sensing the danger that sits on the horizon. Looking at the international oppressions that we are a part of, looking at how we have violated international humanity and law, one day this tribunal I hope, will reach out, and in its investigation look at the oppression and illegal experiences people in this nation are experiencing themselves.

On 9/11, we were all stunned by the tragic events that took place when the Twin Towers collapsed, and this terrorism was put upon our people. Two thousand lost their lives. Two thousand who were innocent, two thousand who did not cause war. And we said they were terrorists and we should hunt them down and bring them to justice. Tell me, where for you does the line blur?

When a nation as powerful as this, the most powerful in the history of human existence, and those who have dubiously come to power and who are reigning over the will of this nation, when they lie and mislead the citizens of this country, when they put before us fear and then govern by terrorism — where does the line blur for you? When our sons and daughters are sent to die in foreign battlefields, each day we claim the lives of tens and thousands of innocent men, women, and children, in other places — where for you does terrorism end and where does it begin, and who are the terrorists? (Applause).

Those who would choose to detract [from] the real meaning of this tribunal, the real meaning of this people’s moment, would suggest to you that we are somehow perhaps irrelevant. Well, I guess Paul Revere was considered at one point irrelevant, when he called for the alarm against the red coats.

I know very well that at the beginning, Dr. Martin Luther King was considered irrelevant. I know that there are so many that have called for the awakening of our citizens to look at what is happening to us and to seize our rights to put us back into democratic governance. Always in the beginning, we are minimalized, marginalized and relegated to the dustbins of history. We have prevailed before and we will prevail again.

I am honored to be a part of this process, and anything I can do to help broaden its base, to help broaden its inquiry, and to help save the soul of our nation, I welcome the opportunity and I will so serve. Thank you.

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