Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bush-Ordered Wiretaps Illegal, Judge Says

Published on Wednesday, March 31, 2010 by the San Francisco Chronicle

Bush-Ordered Wiretaps Illegal, Judge Says

by Bob Egelko

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Bush administration wiretapped a U.S.-based Islamic charity under an illegal surveillance program that was not authorized by Congress or the courts, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled today.

The ruling by Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker marked the first time that a court has found that the government illegally wiretapped an individual or organization since President George W. Bush authorized warrantless wiretapping of suspected foreign terrorists in 2001.

The government inadvertently sent a classified document in 2004 to the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, reportedly showing that two of its lawyers had been wiretapped. Several months after the surveillance began, the government classified Al-Haramain as a terrorist organization, a description its leaders called false.

The now-defunct charity, which was headquartered in Oregon, returned the document at the government's request and could not use it as evidence in a lawsuit it filed over the wiretapping. But Walker said today that Al-Haramain had established, through public statements by officials and nonclassified evidence, that the government had intercepted its calls without obtaining the court warrant required by a 1978 law.

Bush acknowledged in December 2005 that he had ordered the National Security Agency, after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to intercept phone calls and e-mails between Americans and suspected foreign terrorists without a warrant. He claimed the power to override the 1978 law's requirement of advance court approval for all such surveillance.

Today, Walker said Bush had lacked that authority.

Under the argument advanced by the Bush administration, "executive branch officials may treat as optional ... a statute (the 1978 law) enacted specifically to rein in and create a judicial check for executive-branch abuses of surveillance authority," the judge said.

That "theory of unfettered executive-branch discretion" holds an "obvious potential for governmental abuse and overreaching," Walker said.

Walker's ruling dealt only with the Al-Haramain wiretapping, and not any other surveillance the government may have conducted under Bush's program. But Al-Haramain's lawyer, Jon Eisenberg, said the decision amounts to a finding that the entire program was illegal.

"Inherent in what Walker has done in this case is a determination that President Bush's program of warrantless surveillance was unlawful," Eisenberg said. "Everybody has to follow the law, including the president."

He said his clients, Al-Haramain and the two lawyers, would ask for the damages the law allows - $20,200 each, or $100 for each day of illegal surveillance - plus punitive damages and attorneys' fees.

The ruling was also a rebuff to President Obama. Although Obama had criticized Bush's surveillance program while running for president, Obama's Justice Department argued that courts lacked the power to decide whether the program was legal because any evidence of actual wiretapping was a secret that could not be disclosed without damaging national security.

Walker described the Justice Department's arguments as "nit-picking" and "acrobatics." He said the government had spurned every offer to justify its conduct in closed-door proceedings that could have protected any state secrets.

Walker's finding of illegal wiretapping could lead to the first ruling by an appellate court on the legality of the surveillance program. A federal judge in Michigan said in 2006 that Bush had exceeded the president's constitutional powers in putting the warrantless wiretapping program in place, but an appeals court overturned the ruling - without deciding the legality of the surveillance effort - because none of the plaintiffs could show that their calls had been intercepted.

The Justice Department declined to say whether it would appeal today's ruling and instead issued a statement focusing on Attorney General Eric Holder's recent restrictions on government claims of secrecy. The new rules require a high-level Justice Department committee to review all such claims, with the attorney general having the last word.

The new policy strikes "an appropriate balance between rebuilding the public's trust in the government's use of this (secrecy) privilege while recognizing the imperative need to protect national security," the department said.

© 2010 Hearst Communications Inc.


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Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]


"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


Israel lobby presses Congress to soften Obama's tough stance on Netanyahu

Israel lobby presses Congress to soften Obama's tough stance on Netanyahu

American Israel Public Affairs Committee circulates letter urging White House to 'reinforce' relationship with Israel

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·                                 Chris McGreal in Washington

·                       , Tuesday 30 March 2010 19.24 BST

Barack Obama

Aipac has persuaded more than three-quarters of the members of the US House of Representatives to sign a letter calling for an end to public criticism of Israel. Photograph: Pete Souza/AP

America's main pro-Israel lobby group is mobilising members of Congress to pressure the White House over its bitter public confrontation with Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister.

The move, by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), appears aimed at exploiting differences in the Obama administration as it decides how to use the crisis around settlement building in Jerusalem to press Israel towards concessions to kickstart peace negotiations.

Aipac has persuaded more than three-quarters of the members of the US House of Representatives to sign a letter calling for an end to public criticism of Israel and urging the US to "reinforce" its relationship with the Jewish state.

The open letter, which has been circulating among members of Congress for the last week, says that while it is recognised that there will be differences between the two countries, they should be kept behind closed doors. "Our view is that such differences are best resolved quietly, in trust and confidence," it says.

The public differences, and revelations of Obama's private snubs of Netanyahu at the White House last week, have proved embarrassing to the Israeli leader at home, where he has been accused of undermining Israel's most important relationship.

Signatories to Aipac's letter include Steny Hoyer, the Democrat majority leader, and Eric Cantor, the Republican whip. The wording is similar to an email Aipac sent out during Netanyahu's visit, describing Obama's criticisms of the Israeli government as "a matter of serious concern" and calling on the US administration "to take immediate steps to defuse the tension with the Jewish state".

But while Aipac has for years influenced US policy on Israel, by targeting members of Congress who criticise the Jewish state, it may no longer have the same impact.

Robert Malley, a former special assistant to President Bill Clinton for Arab-Israeli affairs, said the administration's decision to take a once routine disagreement over settlement construction in East Jerusalem and turn it in to a confrontation is a reflection of the determination in the White House.

"This episode tells us more about the past and the future than the present. It's a reflection of the accumulated frustration and mistrust of the Netanyahu government by the White House. For the future, they're headed for a collision on the pace and nature of peace negotiations," he said. "We're seeing determination."

A source, who is consulted by administration officials on Israel policy but did not wish to be named, said that having chosen to take Netanyahu on, Obama cannot afford to back away. "The administration's credibility is at stake – in Israel and the Arab world. Netanyahu thought he had the better of it last year after he humiliated the president by rejecting his demand for a settlement freeze. If the administration does not follow through on this, or reaches some compromise that takes the heat off the Israelis, I suspect it will be almost impossible for us to get anything off the ground," he said.

Netanyahu appears to have been caught off guard by Obama's stand, perhaps because he was overconfident of being able to bypass the administration by relying on strong support for Israel in Congress. But while Aipac has been able to mobilise support for its letter, Congressional leaders have remained largely silent on the substance of the dispute.

That is, in part, because there is little enthusiasm for Jewish settlements. In addition, the White House has played an unusual card in suggesting that Netanyahu's intransigence is endangering US interests in the Middle East, and the lives of US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"So far, I've been surprised by how muted congressional reaction has been," said Malley. "It may come, but if the administration manages to portray this as an issue of US national interest, it may be able to sustain a level of criticism."

However, there are reports of divisions within the administration on how to proceed. The US special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, and the national security adviser, James Jones, believe Israeli governments respond to pressure. Last year an Israeli diplomatic memorandum described Jones as having told European officials that the US administration would take a hard line with the government in Jerusalem. Some officials favour mapping out a blueprint for peace and pressing both sides to adopt it.

But other officials argue against forcing Netanyahu to make compromises that will bring down his rightwing coalition. There has been criticism from Dennis Ross, who served as Bill Clinton's Middle East envoy. Now a Middle East strategist for the Obama administration, he is reported to be arguing for the White House to ease up on Netanyahu. However, Ross is regarded by some sceptics as too close to Israel. He has publicly argued that Jerusalem must remain undivided and is regarded with suspicion by the Palestinians, who saw him as effectively negotiating on Israel's behalf, rather than as a neutral mediator.

Malley says that whatever the Obama administration does it is almost certain to lead to further confrontation with the Israeli government. "The next crisis is more or less inevitable, given the diverging views of the Israeli and US governments on the pace and direction of the emerging talks," he said.

War of words

"We must not be trapped by an illogical and unreasonable demand."

Binyamin Netanyahu, below, on Obama's demand for an end to settlement construction in East Jerusalem.

"I think at one point the [Israeli] prime minister added that he did not see a distinction necessarily between building in Jerusalem and building in Tel Aviv. We disagree with that."

White House spokesman on Netanyahu's reaction to the demand for an end to settlement construction.

"We recognise that, despite the extraordinary closeness between our country and Israel, there will be differences over issues, both large and small. Our view is that such differences are best resolved quietly, in trust and confidence, as befits long-standing strategic allies."

This article was published on at 19.24 BST on Tuesday 30 March 2010. A version appeared on p16 of the Main section section of the Guardian on Wednesday 31 March 2010. It was last modified at 23.42 BST on Tuesday 30 March 2010. © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]


"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


Despite Doubt, Karzai Brother Retains Power

The New York Times

March 30, 2010

Despite Doubt, Karzai Brother Retains Power


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Ahmed Wali Karzai, the most powerful man in southern Afghanistan, may maintain links with drug dealers and insurgents, as some American officials and Afghans believe. And he might have played a central role in last summer’s fraudulent presidential election, as Western diplomats charged.

But Mr. Karzai is also the brother of the Afghan president, Hamid. And after debating Ahmed Wali’s future for months — and with a huge military operation in the area looming — Afghan and American officials have decided that the president’s brother will be allowed to stay in place.

Over the last several months, President Karzai has turned down repeated requests by both the American ambassador and the top American commander to move Ahmed Wali Karzai out of Kandahar, American officials here said. Many Western and Afghan officials say he stands in the way of building a just and efficient Afghan government, which they see as essential to dislodging the Taliban and eventually allowing American troops to withdraw.

Senior American officials spent months weighing the allegations against Ahmed Wali Karzai: that he pays off Taliban insurgents, that he launders money, that he seizes land, that he reaps enormous profits by facilitating the shipment of opium through the area. And the officials concluded that the evidence, some compelling, some circumstantial, was not clear enough to persuade the president to move his brother out of town, two NATO officials said.

“My recommendation was, remove him,” a senior NATO officer said this week, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “But for President Karzai, he’s looking at his brother, an elected official, and nobody has come to him with pictures of his brother loading heroin into a truck.”

Instead, American and Afghan officials say they intend to use him to help persuade Taliban fighters to give up. Mr. Karzai has sometimes helped the American government communicate with Taliban insurgents. Recently, he has told American officials that he can help peel Taliban fighters away from the insurgency.

“I absolutely think he can help us with reintegration,” the NATO officer said, referring to the American-backed program to coax fighters away from the insurgency.

The tug of war over President Karzai’s brother offers a vivid example of President Obama’s constraints in prosecuting the war here: While he and other American officials publicly goad Mr. Karzai into cleaning up his government, widely regarded as one of the most corrupt in the world, they appear to have quite limited power in doing much about it.

Any decision about Ahmed Wali Karzai is complicated by his relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency, which maintains a large presence in Kandahar. Current and former American officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, say the agency has paid Ahmed Wali Karzai regularly for many years for performing a variety of services.

In previous interviews, Ahmed Wali Karzai acknowledged that he had helped the American government battle the insurgency. But he has denied ever taking money from the C.I.A. He declined to be interviewed for this article. In previous interviews, he has also steadfastly denied engaging in any illegal activity.

Some have regarded the case as a test of American will to confront President Karzai. “Watch what the Americans do,” said a diplomat in Kabul. “If they let Ahmed Wali stay in power, it means they are not serious about governance.”

The decision to leave Mr. Karzai in place comes as American commanders are preparing a huge military operation in and around the city of Kandahar, the Taliban’s spiritual home. The operation is seen as the fulcrum of the entire Afghan campaign, whose aim is to break the Taliban’s hold across its heartland of Kandahar and Helmand Provinces.

At the heart of Kandahar sits Ahmed Wali Karzai, who has been a prominent public figure in southern Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001.

There is little doubt here that few important matters are settled without him. The question debated by some American officials is whether he can also be of use to them.

American officials say he has provided extensive help in battling the insurgency. He helps the C.I.A. operate a paramilitary group, the Kandahar Strike Force, which is used for raids against suspected insurgents.

Ahmed Wali Karzai is also paid for allowing the C.I.A. and American Special Operations troops to rent a large compound outside the city, several American officials said.

He is also one of the area’s biggest entrepreneurs, with business and real estate ventures across southern Afghanistan. “One thing, he is a successful businessman,” the senior NATO official said. “He can create jobs.”

But Western and Afghan officials say the president’s brother is engaged in many activities that buoy the insurgency and undermine the Afghan state. These military and political officials say the evidence, though largely circumstantial, strongly suggests that he enriches himself by helping the illegal trade in poppy and opium.

“If you don’t cooperate, then you don’t do business,” said a Western official in Kabul who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Mr. Karzai pays off insurgents not to attack his properties, the Western official said. And he has been busily engaged in seizing land in Kandahar, particularly land that might be rented to the newly arriving American troops.

“What he is doing is, he finds out where the Americans want to go, then he strong-arms the land department to register the land in companies that he controls,” the official said.

The official said that Ahmed Wali Karzai also laundered ill-gotten money for a host of figures in southern Afghanistan. “For a lot of people, including drug runners,” the Western official said.

Perhaps the most vivid example of Ahmed Wali Karzai’s reach came last August, when his brother sought re-election. According to Western diplomats in Kabul, he cut deals with insurgent groups to refrain from attacking polling stations, and then helped orchestrate a large-scale campaign of forging ballots on his brother’s behalf.

At the time, Ahmed Wali Karzai denied carrying out any electoral fraud.

Finally, he appears to be overseeing several armed groups in the Kandahar area. The gunmen exist outside the government, often posted at checkpoints and in escort convoys. They can be seen roaming the streets of Kandahar — usually toting guns.

Many of the armed groups are led by former commanders in the war against the Soviet Union. “They are all Ahmed Wali’s commanders,” said an Afghan official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

In a recent interview, Hanif Atmar, the Afghan interior minister, said that gunmen for as many as 18 “unlicensed private security companies” were roaming the streets of Kandahar, and that Ahmed Wali was helping to bring them under control.

“He has helped us bring these companies together,” Mr. Atmar said.

The Western official said he was worried that deciding to keep Ahmed Wali Karzai might work as a short-term fix in securing Kandahar, but that the Americans might ultimately undermine their own efforts to build a stable government here.

“You’ve seen the polls,” the Western official said. “What’s the number one thing everyone is angry about? It’s not the insurgency, it’s not the drug trade.

“It’s the government,” he said.

Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]


"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


Bring open government to the Maryland legislative


One more call-out as we near the Annapolis finish line. Another of the progressive community’s signature pieces of legislation, the Maryland Open Government Act, is stalled in committee.

As you know, Annapolis works by committee structure. The powerful committee chairs can easily kill legislation just by putting it in the drawer. This bill is supported by the Speaker and President, by all those who have trekked to Annapolis to have their voices heard, and by the professional lobbyists who will also benefit. It will more than pay for itself once the technological infrastructure is installed, and will allow us to follow from home the inner workings of our legislature.


A call or email from a constituent is a very powerful message, particularly when it is personalized. Please take the time to write to your legislator. I’ve appended the missive from my colleague on the Transparency Work Group which got this ball rolling, Luis Zapata, which includes the contact info.


Thank you,


Dana Beyer


To all concerned citizens,


As you may know, this year MD Delegate Heather Mizeur introduced a far reaching open government bill in the MD House of Delegates, and it appeared to have wide-ranging support, with over half of the Delegates signing on as cosponsors.  An identical bill was introduced in parallel by State Senator, Nancy King, and it appeared to have similar support.  They also appeared to be supported by the Speaker of the House, and the President of the Senate.  Both bills were sent to their respective chamber’s Rules Committee committees for hearings where both received overwhelming support and testimony from the public.  (In the House it is called the Rules and Executive Nominations Committee.) 


But, as you’ve probably guessed by now, there has been a glitch.  This pair of bills gives the public more access to the workings in Annapolis and makes the process more open.  In doing that, the all-powerful Committee Chairs in those chambers will have their power somewhat diminished because it will diminish their ability wield their power without the spotlight of public scrutiny. 


The Rules Committees in both of the chambers are made up in part by the Chairpersons of the Standing Committees in that chamber, and these Chairs seem to be dragging their feet about getting these Bills out of committee. 


According to Ms. Mizeur, all is not lost, either the House or Senate committee will have to move the bill out and send it to the other chamber or the bill will die.  That should have happened already, but it has not.  She is doing her part as a legislator, but citizens must get behind these bills and demand that their representatives take action.  As Committee Chairs those Delegates and Senators represent us, even if they are not elected from our districts. 


I urge each of you to individually write to EACH of the Standing Committee Chairs in each of the Chambers.  Ask your fiends all over Maryland to do the same.  Tell each elected official that you (and your organization if possible) support open government, and that you want them to pass House Bill HB 344 (if he/she is a Delegate) or Senate Bill SB 407 (if he/she is a Senator).  A list of Standing Committee Chairs and their Email addresses is below.  (If you want a draft letter, Email me and I can provide that, but it would be more influential if each letter were different.) 


Please do this for good government.  It is an important issue for all of us. 



            Luis Zapata

            Chair, MD TEAG (Transparency and Equal Access in Government) 


MD Senate Standing Committees


Budget and Taxation Committee

            Ulysses Currie (301) 858-3127



Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee

            Joan Carter Conway  (410) 841-3145



Finance Committee

            Thomas M. Middleton (410) 841-3616



Judicial Proceedings Committee

            Brian E. Frosh (410) 841-3124



Executive Nominations Committee

            Delores G. Kelley (410) 841-3606



Rules Committee

            Katherine Klausmeier (410) 841-3620




MD House of Delegates Standing Committees


Appropriations Committee

            Norman H. Conway (410) 841-3407



Economic Matters Committee

            Dereck E. Davis (410) 841-3519



Environmental Matters Committee

            Maggie McIntosh  (410) 841-3990



Health and Government Operations Committee

            Peter A. Hammen  (410) 841-3772



Judiciary Committee

            Joseph F. Vallario, Jr.  (410) 841-3488



Ways and Means Committee

            Sheila E. Hixson  (410) 841-3469



Rules and Executive Nominations Committee

            Hattie N. Harrison (410) 841-3486




Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]


"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hitler and the challenge of non-violence

Published on openDemocracy (

Hitler and the challenge of non-violence


Jorgen Johansen


What was done to counter the ’rise and rise’ of Adolf Hitler, fascist German leader, in the 1930’s? What could have been done?

”What effect could nonviolence have had against Hitler?” This is one of the most frequent questions I get when I lecture on nonviolence. And it is a good one. To answer we need to look at different phases of the conflict and recognise the complexity of a world war. I see no good arguments why the answer should focus solely on the early phase of WWII, when the Nazi army was at its strongest. Neither will I avoid what could have been done, and was done, during those years.

I have often wondered what Europe would have looked like in the first half of the twentieth century if Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Vienna had admitted the young Adolf, who twice tried to be accepted as a student! We will never know. More seriously we need to study some of the reasons for his popularity in the '30s. There is no doubt that the enforced ”Surrender Diktat” from Versailles - not a peace agreement by any decent standards - had a terrible impact on the German people. To humiliate the losers and dictate their future policy from abroad invited backfire and revenge. None of my students in Peace Studies would have passed if they had delivered such a proposal for an agreement after a world war!

Paving the way for war

But it was not only that humiliation that made it possible for the Nazi regime to come to power. Three other important factors were the economic crises in the '20s and '30s, the racist ideology, and the culture of ”Prussian Obedience” that flourished in the same period.

For Hitler, arms production was a way to reduce unemployment and poverty. Everyone saw what was going on, but no steps were taken to change that policy. What if, twenty years earlier than 1948, the US and other countries had delivered a package of economic support similar to the European Recovery Program (named the Marshall Plan after the then US Secretary of State, George Marshall)? What would the impact have been if that scale of economic stimulus and not armaments had been an option? But the willingness to help was not present. It took another twenty years until the help arrived.

The racist ideology that certain peoples are worth more than others cannot be defeated by military means. That must be done by education, public debate, and bringing up new generations in a spirit of enlightenment. Anti-semitism, of course, was by no means confined to Germany. And German fascism successfully targeted many others as outcasts from society, including leftists, Roma, the disabled, and homosexuals. One has to wonder whether Hitler’s rise would have been possible if such discrimination had been strongly contested in the international community. Yet as we know, Establishment sentiment in the rest of Europe and other parts of the world acquiesced in or even sympathised with much of this targeting, some turning a blind eye to the methods ultimately used.  Why didn’t ordinary people object to these lethal prejudices? One reason is that they had far less information than we do now. But another was the lack of pluralism and independent thinking in society: people were led, like sheep.

It is clear that without overwhelming military and civil obedience Hitler would never have been able to mobilise the masses and lead many of them to commit one atrocity after another. Any school system and authoritarian culture that encourages blind obedience and punishes the questioning of authority will lead to fascism and dictatorship. Too few voices within Germany opposed this, and little or no help and support came from abroad.

When the actual war started and the ”German War Machine” rolled across Europe, neither the armies in neighbouring countries nor any other means of opposition was adequately prepared. Those few who argued against military means had no convincing alternatives for how to defend their countries. And even the relatively low budgets for military defence were gigantic compared to the microscopic initiatives for nonviolent options. There is no reason to believe that nonviolent defence any more than armed defence could stand against a well-prepared military force without serious preparation.

When the first shocks and military defeats were over, we saw the first attempts of resistance in occupied countries. Sabotage, underground newspapers, and use of oppositional symbols were early examples of resistance movements. Resistance took place in most countries under German rule as well as inside Germany itself. All of that was unprepared and badly organised. Later in the war we saw a wider spectrum of actions of nonviolent resistance and the movements improved their organising and co-ordination.

The German army was well prepared to meet armed resistance, but less able to cope with strikes, civil disobedience, boycotts and other forms of nonviolent action. A famous example is when the Norwegian teachers were told to join the Nazi party and teach Nazism in schools or face the consequences. When 12,000 teachers signed a declaration against the new law, 1000 were arrested and sent to prison camps. But the strike continued and after some months the order was cancelled and they were allowed to continue their work. In a speech, Quisling summarised: ”You teachers have destroyed everything for me!”  We can just imagine what would have been the consequences if many professions had followed in the footsteps of these teachers. Or if they had prepared such actions well in advance and even had exercises prior to the invasion.

Independent news is crucial for any opposition movement. That is why censorship is enforced when a regime wants to control the masses. Despite threats of brutal punishment, illegal newspapers were published by many clandestine groups in occupied territories during WWII. In France the first leaflet was published as early as September 1940. In Munich, the ”White Rose” students initiated a leaflet campaign from June 1942 to February the following year calling for active opposition to Hitler’s regime. The original group was arrested and executed but later their manifesto was distributed in Scandinavia and the UK and even dropped over Germany from Allied planes. What would have been the result of such actions if they had been well planned and executed in most cities suffering under German atrocities?

Extermination and war

The most horrific atrocities committed by the Nazi regime were the industrial murder of millions of Jews, homosexuals, people with disabilities, Roma, and other religious, ethnic, and political groups. The idea of a pure ”master race ” of Aryan-Nordic people was central to the policy of exterminating others. Like a gigantic machine the Nazi regime organised the arrests and killing of millions.

Despite massive propaganda and brutal punishment for those who refused to take part, many opposed this genocide. In Denmark almost all Jews survived because they were helped by the resistance movement to escape to Sweden and avoid the gas chambers.

In Bulgaria most of the country’s 48,000 Jews were saved when leaders of the Orthodox Church and farmers in the northern stretches of the country threatened to lie across railroad tracks to prevent Jews from being deported. This pressure encouraged the Bulgarian parliament to resist the Nazis, who eventually rescinded the deportation order, saving almost all of the country's 48,000 Jews.

Even in Germany itself people opposed the arrests. In one famous example 6000 ”Aryan” German women took part in a nonviolent protest in February and March 1943, outside the prison in Rosenstrasse in Berlin, to get their Jewish husbands and friends released. Thanks to these brave women 1700 prisoners were indeed released. These examples illustrate that some groups have more impact than others. It was difficult for the Nazis to attack German women.

While the Allies were busy bombing civilians in Hamburg and Dresden, the nonviolent resistance movement saved thousands of people from concentration-camps. Although military strategists were aware of the existence of gas chambers, they destroyed neither the camps nor the infrastructure for transporting prisoners.

The German occupation differed from country to country and the resistance movements varied as well. Nonviolent resistance in WWII was based on two strategies: non-cooperation and building alternatives.

Both of these forms of struggle focus on the fabric of social life rather than the territory of a society. Refusal to take part in sporting events if Germans or collaborators participated was a typical form of non-cooperation. The strike among Norwegian teachers and deliberate go-slows in industry are other examples. Behind such action was an understanding that all political power is dependent on support from below. Those in power could punish but consistent refusal to follow orders created serious problems.

The illegal distribution of reliable news, organisation of clandestine sporting events, celebration of independence days, carrying symbols of resistance and organisation of secret trade unions are typical examples of building alternatives. By replacing parts of the society run by the occupation forces with alternative activities, the nonviolent resistance kept their spirits up and proved that they could function without the German troops. It was both a part of the struggle and important preparation for the day when the Germans left.

But what more could have been expected from strategies that had no recognition prior to the war, no training or preparation whatsoever, and absolutely no budget? Ask yourself, what would military means have been able to achieve under such conditions? For nonviolent resistance to be really effective, it needs the same level of preparation and training as a military army. Is it ever too early to begin?



'Read On' Sidebox: 

Lennart Bergfeldt (1993) Experiences of Civilian Resistance: The Case of Denmark 1940-45, PhD Dissertation Uppsala University

Frank McDonough (2001) Opposition and Resistance in Nazi Germany, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

Annette Dumbach & Jud Newborn (1986) Sophie Scholl and the White Rose, One World, Oxford

Peter Hoffman (1996) The History of the German Resistance 1933-1945 (3rd Edition), McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal

Barbara Koehn (2003) Der deutche Wiederstand gegen Hitler, Eine Würdigung, Duncker & Humbolt, Berlin

Marion Schreiber (2000) Stille Rebellen - Der Überfall auf den 20. Deportationszug nach Auschwitz, Verlag GmbH, Berlin

Jacques Semelin (1993) Unarmed Against Hitler, Civilian Resistance in Europe , 1939-43, Praeger, Westport

Nathan Stoltzfus (1996) Resistance of the Heart, Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Germany, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick

Source URL:

Created 03/26/2010 - 10:12


Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]


"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs