The American Machine: Police Torture to Drone Assassinations

Civil rights lawyer Flint Taylor, the ACLU’s Hina Shamsi, and artist Eli Valley are this week’s guests.

Photo illustration: Elise Swain/The Intercept, Getty Images

Subscribe to the Intercepted podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcherRadio Public, and other platforms. New to podcasting? Click here.



In 1969, Black Panther leader Fred Hampton was gunned down by Chicago Police in his bedroom. This week on Intercepted: Famed civil rights lawyer Flint Taylor discusses his 13 year struggle for justice for Hampton, his work in exposing the torture program in Chicago that was unleashed on black men, and his career fighting against violent corrupt cops, the city of Chicago, and J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. Taylor’s new memoir is called “The Torture Machine: Racism and Police Violence in Chicago.” As Donald Trump ramps up drone strikes, he has officially wiped out the already minimal accountability guidelines implemented by Barack Obama. Hina Shamsi of the American Civil Liberties Union talks about the expansion of drone strikes under Trump, how Obama paved the way for his successor, and what we might expect from Attorney General William Barr. Meghan McCain is not Jewish, but she is accusing a Jewish comic artist of creating “one of the most anti-Semitic things” she has ever seen: a cartoon about her hypocrisy in attacking Ilhan Omar and appropriating Jewish suffering. Artist Eli Valley talks about why he drew it and why he believes McCain’s attacks on his cartoon prove the very point he was making.


Andrew Lelling: We’re here today to announce charges in the largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice.

Announcer: On the campus of one of America’s leading universities —

Donald J. Trump: I understand things. I comprehend very well.

Announcer: The most gifted mind to ever enter its classrooms.

DJT: Better than I think almost anybody, OK?

Stellan Skarsgård as Gerald Lambeau: This boy’s genius is unparalleled. I need someone who can get through to them.

DJT: So, I mean I was born with a certain intellect that is good for this. You know I have very high aptitude. I’m like a smart person.

Announcer: Some people can never believe in themselves until someone believes in them.

DJT: You wouldn’t believe it but I was a very good student. I was a good student. I was a good student. You know, I was a good student. I was always a good student. And I was a good student.

Robin Williams as Sean Maguire: You can do anything you want. You are bound by nothing.

DJT: I was a very smart guy, good student, all that stuff, OK? I was a great student, went to the best schools, all that stuff. Look, I was a good student, went to the best schools, and all that stuff. I mean, I was a good student at the best school and all of that. You know, I was a good student, went to a great school, and all that stuff. I was a great student. I went to the best schools. So I was a very good student at the best schools. I was a great student. Went to the best school.

Announcer: And some, never know how much they can have until they discover how much they can give.

Michael Cohen: I’m talking about a man who declares himself brilliant but directed me to threaten his high school, his colleges, and the college board to never release his grades or SAT scores.

[Music interlude.]

Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.

JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from the offices of The Intercept in New York City. And this is episode 86 of Intercepted.

Walter Mondale: That the FBI possessed the ability to enter into this field and to investigate and to intimidate and seek to neutralize and indeed replace a civil rights leader that they thought to be politically unacceptable. Is that correct?

Frederick Schwarz: Yes.

JS: The history of the United States is rife with stories, programs, laws that have at their center a dedication to crushing and ending black lives. This nation was built on slavery. It was built on a white supremacist ideology. It was intended to be a white man’s paradise served and serviced by its non-white, disenfranchised residents — millions of whom were kidnapped from their homes in Africa and brought in chains by ship to the United States.

Slavery was ultimately ended. But the ideology behind it persisted. The white power structure in this country fought militantly against giving rights to black people. It fought against allowing them to use the same bathrooms as white people, or to it eat in restaurants alongside white people. It fought against their right to vote or to seek office.

Newscaster: As in many places in the south, voter registration was designed to keep Negro voting to a minimum. Difficult literacy tests were administered by white officials and Negroes who attempted to register were often harassed.

JS: And all of this was what played out in public, in full view. But it hardly stopped there. In the mid-1950s, the notorious FBI director for life J. Edgar Hoover created a program that was aimed at secretly destroying political and social movements, including black liberation movements. That program was known as COINTELPRO, short for Counterintelligence program.

Edgar Hoover: Today, you have in charge of the communist party a hardcore fanatical group of members who are dedicated to the overthrow of our government by force and violence.

JS: Originally, COINTELPRO was aimed at infiltrating and destroying the Communist Party in the U.S., but J. Edgar Hoover also directed that all covert operations aimed at destroying black liberation movements that they should be placed under the program as well. So under COINTELPRO, you had black leaders such as Martin Luther King being surveilled, Malcolm X, Black Panther leaders, non-violent activists like Bayard Rustin, the fighter Muhammad Ali all of them were monitored around the clock. Smear campaigns were waged against them in the media. Hoover actually tried to blackmail Martin Luther King into committing suicide.

WM: And the tactics they used apparently had no end… They involved even plans to replace him with someone else the FBI was to select as a national civil rights leader.

JS: Agent provocateurs were sent to infiltrate Black groups, Native American groups, antiwar organizations, socialist parties. Their purpose was to sow division, to provoke violence, to destroy the movements from within. It was not until 1971 when the COINTELPRO program broke out into the public light.

Carl Stern: The documents prove for the first time that the FBI undertook a program in 1968 to harass and destroy new left political organizations whose views the federal police agency disagreed with. Wrote FBI director Hoover, the purpose of the program would be to expose and disrupt the new left. We must frustrate every effort of these groups and individuals to consolidate their forces or to recruit new or youthful adherence. In every instance, consideration should be given to disrupt the organized activity of these groups. Director Hoover detailed the set up of the program, saying anarchists and revolutionists had to be neutralized if law and order and a civilized society were to survive.

JS: And it must be noted that several targets of COINTELPRO operations were assassinated during this secret reign of the COINTELPRO program. We still do not have the full story of whether the FBI was directly involved in many of those political assassinations that took place in this country.

And even after COINTELPRO was publicly exposed, the tactics and aims of the program have not died, including to this day. We know that these tactics are still used against Black Lives Matter activists, against Muslim groups, activists in the U.S., anti-war organizations, environmental groups, and most recently journalists reporting on the border in this country.

Mari Payton: Individuals on the list include journalists, an attorney and dozens of others labeled by the U.S. government as an organizer or instigator. They all have a connection to the migrant caravan at the San Diego-Mexico border. Customs and Border Protection did not deny the database exists and defended its use.

JS: As COINTELPRO was in full swing, the U.S. intensified its war in Vietnam. In that war, the U.S. ran assassination operations, including under the CIA’s so-called Phoenix Program. They used torture. They killed massive numbers of civilians. And a good number of the people who participated in these crimes abroad returned home to the United States and became police officers. Among these there was a man named Jon Burge. He was a military police officer in Vietnam and then joined the Chicago Police Department, rising to become a prominent detective.

During his time in the Chicago Police, Jon Burge married the worlds of the murderous war in Vietnam with the most extreme crimes of the COINTELPRO program. He ran what can only be called a torture program in the city of Chicago that was aimed at getting confessions from black men to crimes that many of them had nothing to do with. Burge used many of the very tactics that he learned and implemented in Vietnam as a prison guard on the black men he encountered when he became a police officer in the city of Chicago. This torture included a makeshift torture machine that was used to electrically shock suspects, including by attaching alligator clips to the genitals of men and jolting their bodies with painful electric shocks.

At the same time, the Chicago police — in concert with the FBI — murdered the most prominent Black Panther leader in Illinois in his bedroom in the middle of the night. That leader was Fred Hampton, the chair of the Illinois Black Panthers and a national leader of the party. And our next guest was in that house soon after Fred Hampton and his fellow Black Panther Mark Clark were killed. He recalls standing in a pool of blood on December 4, 1969.

Civil Rights Lawyer Flint Taylor on His New Book “The Torture Machine: Racism and Police Violence in Chicago”

I am talking about the now-legendary lawyer, Flint Taylor. He’s a founding partner of the People’s Law Office in Chicago, an office which has been dedicated to litigating civil rights, police violence, government misconduct, and death penalty cases for over 45 years. He spent 13 years fighting for justice for Hampton and Clark. He was also one of the main people responsible for exposing Jon Burge and his torturing of black men. And Flint Taylor has won tens of millions of dollars in lawsuits brought on behalf of some of Burge’s torture victims. Flint Taylor has an incredible and devastating new book out. It’s called “The Torture Machine: Racism and Police Violence in Chicago.” And Flint Taylor joins me now. Flint, welcome to Intercepted.

Flint Taylor: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be with you.

JS: I want to start where you start in your book with the murder of Fred Hampton. First, explain who Fred Hampton was.

FT: Well, Fred Hampton was a 21-year-old, very charismatic young leader of the Black Panther Party here in Chicago.

Fred Hampton: We’ll work with anybody, form coalitions with anybody that has revolution on their mind. We’re not a racist organization because we understand that racism is an excuse used for capitalism and we know that racism is a by-product of capitalism. Everything would be all right if everything was put back into the hands of the people and we’re going to have to put it back into the hands of the people.

FT: He was very much an up-and-coming star in the Panther Party in 1969.

FH: And why they want to get rid of me because I’m saying something that might wake up some other exploited people, some other oppressed people and if all these people ever get together then these pigs who are exploiting us, we’ll [inaudible]. That’s why they want to get rid of us.

FT: And he was targeted not only by the Chicago police and the district attorney known as a state’s attorney here in Chicago, Edwin Hanrahan.

FH: We don’t think to fight fire with fire, we’re getting ready to fight fire with water. We’re going to fight racism not with racism, but we’re going to fight with solidarity. We say we’re not going to fight capitalism with black capitalism but we’re going to fight it with socialism. We’re still in the city. We’re not going to fight reactionary pigs, and reactionary state’s attorneys like this and reactionary state’s attorneys like Hanrahan with any other reactions on our parts. We’re going to fight their reactions with all those people getting together and have an international proletariat revolution.

Crowd: Right on!

FH: And let’s say all power to all people.

FT: And it turns out the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, and the counterintelligence program of the FBI —

JS: COINTELPRO, you’re referring to?

FT: Exactly.

FH: You can jail the revolutionary but you can’t jail revolution. You can run a freedom fight around the country but you can’t run freedom fighting around the country. You can shoot a liberator but you can’t shoot liberation. If you do, you come up with answers that don’t answer, relations that don’t explain, solutions that don’t solve, and conclusions that don’t conclude. If you’re there to struggle, you better win. If you don’t struggle, then you don’t deserve to win. You don’t deserve to win. We’ve said simply, you’ve got to get out here and you’ve got to involve yourself in the struggle. You’ve got to come out here and put yourself on the line. You’ve got to come out here and support the Vanguard party of international proletariat and revolutionary struggles. That’s the Black Panther Party.

Newscaster: This is the NBC News noon report. The latest news with Jorie Lueloff.

Jorie Lueloff: Good afternoon. The 20-year-old chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, Fred Hampton was shot and killed in a predawn shootout with state’s attorney’s police in his West Side apartment.

JS: What happened the night that Fred Hampton was killed?

FT: I think it’s pretty clear it was an assassination. It happened at 4:30 in the morning on December 4th, 1969. He was asleep along with many other young Black Panthers, many of whom were like 17, 18 years old when the police came on a raid, 14 police officers with machine guns shotguns and they burst into the front and the back of this little apartment and they fired over 90 shots into the bedrooms. Fred Hampton never awoke and they shot him through the head twice and dragged his body off of the bed that he was sleeping on as a trophy and lay it on the floor outside of the bedroom.

JS: How did you Flint end up going to the house that night?

FT: We, the People’s Law Office, which had been founded only months before by young lawyers and law students — I was one of the law students. We represented the Panthers in Chicago and we represented Fred Hampton. The Panthers who survived reached out and we got a call, come to the chairman’s crib. He’s been murdered and the police had left it open. They hadn’t closed it off like made it a crime scene like you would expect they would with the yellow tape. So, we were able to enter the apartment and for the next ten days myself and many others spent that time taking evidence, taking video, and taking pictures and the Panthers very politically astute as they were they had daily guide-tours of the apartment showing people in the community what had happened, showing the walls where the bullets had gone in, and showing where the machine guns had riddled the plasterboard walls.

Archive: This here is the room where first brother Mark Clark was murdered at.

A: Don’t touch nothing. Don’t move nothing. We want to keep all the things just the way it is.

A: Don’t touch no walls. Please don’t.

TK: This here’s the door that they said that sister fired through with a shotgun but if a sister had fired through this door with a shotgun, you could look at the wall out there, and see something hole where the pellets left out there. You can see no signs of a shotgun blast being fired through this door here.

FT: The reaction of one older African American woman that while I was taking evidence kind of stopped and looked at the walls and she shook her head and she said, “Ain’t nothing but a northern lynching.” Literally thousands of Chicagoans, African American and concerned white people went through that apartment for the 10 days or so till the police decided that they had to close it.

JS: When you say that it’s clear now that this was an assassination, explain what you’re basing that on.

FT: Well, I’m basing it on 13 years of fighting to uncover the truth of the case. The dominant narrative was that it was a shootout, that the vicious and racist Black Panthers had fired 100 shots at the police and the police and only answered back.

Keith Klein: As soon as Sergeant Daniel Groth and Officer James Davis who were leading our men, announced their office, occupants of the apartment attacked them with shotgun fire. The officers immediately took cover. The occupants continued firing at our policemen from several rooms within the apartment. Thereafter, three times, Sergeant Groth ordered all his men to cease firing, and told the occupants to come out with their hands up. Each time, one of the occupants replied, ‘Shoot it out,’ and continued firing at police officers.

FT: Of course, we were able to show by the apartment itself that was a bold-faced lie. They had charged the Panthers who had survived with attempted murder. We were able to show that the ballistics reports that they were trying to base the fact that the Panthers fired shots were fabricated and in fact, those shots were fired by police weapons rather than Panther weapons. Those cases were dismissed and then we went to a civil suit during which we were able to uncover the fact that not only was there a COINTELPRO program designed to target and destroy the Black Panther Party, but that specifically the FBI had drafted a floor plan of the apartment shown where Fred Hampton would be sleeping and in fact, the bed where he was murdered. And the FBI in their racial matters COINTELPRO unit had passed that on to the state’s attorney’s police and the Chicago police and that they had used that as the kind of bedrock of that 4:30 in the morning raid. Nonetheless, given that, they found there was no probable cause to charge any of the officers or Hanrahan or anyone with any kind of violations of law.

FH: We always said the Black Panther Party, that they can do whatever they want to to us. We might not be back. I might be in jail. I might be anywhere, but when I leave, you can remember I said with the last words on my lips, that I am a revolutionary. And you’re going to have to keep on saying that. You’re going to have to say that I am a proletariat. I am the people. I’m not the pig. You’ve got to make a distinction and the people are going to have to attack the pig. The people are going to have to stand up against the pig. That’s what the Panthers are doing. That’s what the Panthers are doing all over the world.

JS: You fought this, then legal, battle and then you have the rise of a now notorious figure within the Chicago Police Department Lieutenant Jon Burge. And he ends up being put in charge of a search for those responsible for a series of shootings that had occurred in broad daylight in Chicago. And Burge then goes on a rampage throughout the city. First describe who Jon Burge was.

FT: Jon Burge grew up on the Southeast Side of Chicago in a changing neighborhood. He flunked out of college and became a military police officer, a sergeant in Vietnam on a POW camp where it was later demonstrated that they were doing wholesale torture during interrogations and that they were using such tactics as electric shock. After he left Vietnam, he came back to Chicago, became a police officer, and quickly became a detective. He brought those dehumanization and racist attitudes and tactics back to Chicago and quickly rose in the ranks to lieutenant in charge of the entire detective division on the far South Side of Chicago, a predominantly African American part of the city. And he used those tactics to interrogate people who were suspected of committing serious crimes.

JS: What is the earliest evidence that you have of Burge torturing African American men in police custody?

FT:1972 and 1973, Burge got to area two, as it was known, and shortly thereafter there was a serious case where a young white boy had been seriously brutalized by some African American attackers. And Burge was involved in that investigation and the four people that they focused on were all brutally beaten in one form or another. The first time that we hear of actual use of electric shock with what my book refers to as the torture machine was in early 1973. A man named Anthony Holmes who was suspected of a murder, who was also a reputed gang leader, he was brought to area two and had electric shock administered to him as well as suffocation what they call “dry submarino” with a bag over his head in order to attempt to get a confession from him to a series of crimes that they thought he had knowledge of.

Anthony Holmes: I was laying flat on the floor. He lifted me up off the floor. I was on my back and he lifted me up and pulled the bag off my head. I know that I woke up, opened my eyes, the bag was off of my head. And I felt like I said, the last time, this is it. It felt like a thousand needles going through my body. Each time they shocked me and then I got the burning sensation. It was just too much. So when you lifted me off the floor the last time, I said, this is it. Whatever they want me to say or do, I did it, whatever it is, I killed the president, yeah I did that too. I didn’t care. I just wanted out of there.

JS: You use the phrase the torture machine and while people aren’t able to see it, maybe you could describe that machine.

FT: It turns out that Burge and his people used several machines to torture. Also, using plastic typewriter covers to do the dry submarino and suffocation and of course, using various weapons from mock executions. But the major torture machine that was described to us by Andrew Wilson, one of the two people who was picked up during this manhunt that you referred to earlier in 1982 —

Newscaster: Good evening, Chicago police at this moment are scouring the city, trying to hunt down three suspects who are believed to be responsible for shooting two Chicago policeman this afternoon. One of the policemen is dead. The other is now —

Newscaster: Police detectives swarmed the scene at 81st and Morgan. An all-points bulletin was issued for two black gunmen driving a late model Brown Chevrolet Impala.

Newscaster: Here’s what’s new tonight: Both Chicago policemen are dead. Three young men are being questioned as suspects.

Newscaster: ChicagoPolice tonight are stepping up what is already one of the most massive manhunts —

FT: The torture machine was a black box with a field generator in it and by field generator — again, this goes back to Vietnam. In Vietnam, they had foam generators and they had a crank on them and they generated sufficient electricity so that you could talk over the wires in the battlefields, in the bogs and whatever in Vietnam. So, if you took this and you put it in a box, which is what Burge did, you then attach wires and you put alligator clips on the end of those wires and then you have a torture device. And what you can do is then attach those alligator clips to the nose, to the fingers, to the genitals, and then, you crank the box.


FT: And when you crank the box, you get enough electricity to shock the person who has the wires attached to them. Burge who had a boat — named the Vigilante, we later uncovered — had thrown this box into Lake Michigan or into the Chicago River sometime subsequent to the torture of Andrew Wilson.

Andrew Wilson: He put the wire on my fingers my baby finger, one on one finger and one on the other finger. And then he kept cranking it and kept cranking and kept cranking it. And I was hollering and screaming. I was calling for help and stuff. My teeth was grinding. Flickering in my head, pain and all that stuff. He kept cranking and cranking and cranking it, kept on doing it over and over and over. It hurts but it stays in your head. OK. It stays in your head and it grinds your teeth. It grinds constantly. It grinds constantly. The pain just stays in your head. Burge asked me, “was I going to make a statement? Or was he going to torture me some more?” And I told him I would make a statement. I’d sign anything they gave me because I didn’t want to be tortured anymore. Burge said we’re going to fry your black ass now because of the statement I gave him.

FT: So we never were able to obtain the actual box. But through the description of Andrew Wilson we constructed a facsimile of the box right down to the fact that it would give a shock and in fact, that torture was the culmination of a five-day manhunt that was just a terror regime led by Jon Burge and countenanced and encouraged by the mayor at that time, Jane Byrne and the State’s Attorney of Cook County Richard M. Daley. At that point, in 1987, 1988, we then became Andrew Wilson’s lawyers. That’s when I started to become intimately aware of the details of not only the torture of Andrew Wilson. There were some other names that Berge had used bragging about having tortured them and that started us out on this crusade, so to speak, evidentiary and investigative crusade to find the men who had been tortured. And that’s led over the last 30 years as is chronicled in the book to documenting over 125 cases of police torture during that 20-year period from 1972 to 1991.

And the title of my book is the “Torture Machine” partly because of that and partly because the machine, the Chicago machine, the Daley machine, the Democratic machine, whatever you want to call it, was so responsible for part and parcel of this happening, this 20 years of police torture as well as, covering it up and refusing to prosecute Burge or any of the people that worked for him. But rather promoting him and using the illicit and unconstitutional evidence that they would get from men who were tortured thinking that they were actually on the brink of death. Prosecutors taking those confessions, being in those station rooms, knowing that this was happening using that evidence in court, judges knowing it was happening, not throwing out the confessions but rather refusing to credit the stories that were being told again and again by tortured suspects and people who ultimately would end up convicted, many of whom actually ended up on Illinois death row.

Darrell Cannon: You know I was just “a nigga” to them. That’s it. They kept using that word like that was my name, you know. So, no ma’am, they had no respect for me being a human being. I never expected “police officers” to do anything that barbaric, you know, but because the fact that I’m Afro-American, you know, who’s going to believe me in court? Nobody.

FT: One of the most moving stories in the book is the story of Darrell Cannon. Two of Burge’s henchmen, his most trusted lieutenants, picked up Darrell in 1983 as a suspect in a murder case, took him to an abandoned area near some factories where there was a body of water and some old railroad tracks and they tortured him. First, they attempted to hang him up by his handcuffs. But that didn’t work. So, they then took a shotgun out of their trunk and they took the shotgun and they forced it into his mouth. They then pulled the trigger on the shotgun that was in Darrell’s mouth. He thought it was going to go off. It didn’t. They did it three times and the third time, Darrell described it as he pictured that the back of his head had been blown off. They threw him in the back of the detective car, pulled his pants down, and they had a handy little cattle prod and they used a cattle prod on his genitals and ultimately they got him to sign a confession back at the station that he was accountable, that he had driven the car in which the murder had taken place, and Darrell’s case went on for decades.

JS: In fact, I remember, Flint, I believe it was the first time that I was with you in person in Chicago was years ago when Darrell had finally gotten out of prison. And I have never been able to shake from my mind Darrell struggling through the emotion, the tears, the pain to tell publicly his story but explain how he eventually got out, when he got out, and what the resolution of that case was.

FT: He was sentenced to life and they put him in the supermax prison in Tamms which is at the very, very southern tip of stay in clan country. During that time, we were developing all this evidence of a pattern and practice of police torture. We were able to get Darrell a new hearing in his case armed with evidence that not only was he tortured by these henchmen for Burge but there was a whole litany of different cases that Burge and his men had tortured people. And in 2007, which was 24 years after he was first tortured, he got out of prison.

JS: Talk about who else knew or was aware that Burge was running these torture operations. How high up did it go in the government, in the city of Chicago or state of Illinois?

FT: State’s attorney Daley knew that torture took place at police headquarters as well as that area two. The police superintendent knew that the mayor of the city of Chicago Jane Byrne knew and encouraged it. She met with Burge on at least two or three occasions, we learned decades later, and she said whatever is necessary. And of course, at that point, Burge was a lieutenant who was the head of an entire police area. So, we’re talking about people very high up. Daley himself was presented with medical evidence that Andrew Wilson had been tortured. He was the prosecutor and he decided not to prosecute Burge because he knew that if he did that the case against Andrew and Jackie Wilson would be jeopardized so he instead commended Burge as did the superintendent of police. And because of that in 1982, we have another 10 years of torture that goes on before the evidence that we uncovered was taken to the police department and a reinvestigation was done and ultimately Burge was fired in 1993.

JS: And what happened after Burge was fired? Was he ultimately charged with any crimes?

FT: Yes, 15 years later.

Interrogator: Mr. Burge, would you state your full name and spell it for the record, please?

Jon Burge: John, J-O-N, middle initial G, as in George, Burge, B-U-R-G-E.

Interrogator: Now, during that 25 years, 20 years of working with the Chicago Police Department, did you come across instances of police torture?

JB: I will adopt my prior answer to the first question as my answer to that question.

Interrogator: Are you taking your Fifth Amendment rights?

JB: Yes, that is correct. I’ll adapt my initial responses to answer that question.

Interrogator: You take the Fifth Amendment?

JB: Yes, that’s correct.

Interrogator: Were you interrogating a suspect in area two —

JS: It seems as though that regularly there’s sort of this sense that oh, Chicago now has to face up to the actions of its police department and there has to be accountability and this has to be stopped. And yet, we keep having these kinds of cases in Chicago where there is extra-judicial killings or questionable killings by the police, where dirty tricks are used against suspects and where black neighborhoods are laid siege to. What about that legacy and the fact that the Chicago Police Department, it never, never really seems to fundamentally change?

FT: I wouldn’t argue with you. There have been significant victories that the community has accomplished over the years, not the least of which was Burge actually being convicted and being sent to the penitentiary. Of course, it wasn’t for torture it was for perjury and obstruction of justice. And of course, reparations. I mean, this is the first city to have reparations for survivors of police torture, almost exclusively African American men. An apology from the mayor and the City Council directly to those men. And most significantly, a counseling center for victims of torture and brutality. And the fact that the history of police torture will be taught and is already being taught to 8th and 10th graders in the Chicago Public Schools. But you’re correct. When you look at the Laquan McDonald case and the cover-up of that case and the judge who walked those three officers who covered up in the face of the videotape, you look at the power of the Fraternal Order of Police here who basically are more powerful than the police department itself.

Now, all police officers black and white belong to it or are supposed to belong to it. And yet, when it comes time to decide whether to defend Burge and to spend the dues to pay for private lawyers to defend Burge in his firing case and later in his criminal case, that’s unanimously passed. When it comes time to pay the lawyers for Van Dyke, the officer who murdered Laquan McDonald on videotape, the FOP does that. When it’s time to picket in a courtroom where we’re fighting for the release, 36 years later, of a man who was tortured, the FOP is there. And there seems to be, regardless of the fact that there [are] 10 or 15 percent officers of color, that still happens.

And not only does that still happen but even though we have an African American police superintendent who was put in place by Rahm Emanuel after the Laquan McDonald tape became public, he came from within the department. He knows where all the bones are buried. He, in fact, was part of the culture of the code of silence and of racism even though he is African American, over all these years. And in fact he, as have several of the prior African American superintendents, basically been connected to that machine and also been in fact, frontmen for the politics of racism and brutality that comes from the Democratic machine on down.

JS: Well, Flint Taylor, I want to thank you, first and foremost, for the tireless work that you’ve done over these decades and the work that you’ve done to free people against the odds who were tortured by agents of the state or unjustly imprisoned by agents of the state. Thank you so much, Flint Taylor, for writing the book and for the work that you have done for so long.

FT: Thank you as well. I’m pleased and honored to be on your show and right back at you for all the wonderful work that you do.

JS: Flint Taylor is a founding partner of the People’s Law Office in Chicago. He’s spent his life fighting against the torture and extrajudicial killings of black people targeted by the Chicago police. His new book is called “The Torture Machine: Racism and Police Violence in Chicago.” It’s published by Haymarket Books.

[Music interlude.]

JS: Just a head’s up, I am going to be a guest this week on Deconstructed, the podcast hosted by my colleague Mehdi Hasan. We’re going to be talking about his incredible hour-long interview of Blackwater founder Erik Prince. Among other topics, we’re going to talk about what Prince was doing at a secret meeting with Don Jr., an Israeli, and representatives of some repressive Arab governments.

Mehdi Hasan: You were asked were there any former communications or contact with the campaign, you said apart from writing papers, putting up yard signs, no. That’s what you said. I’ve got the transcript of the conversation here.

Erik Prince: Sure, I think I was at Trump headquarters, or their campaign headquarters —

MH: Trump Tower, August 3rd, 2016. You, an Israeli dude, a back channel to the Emirates and the Saudis, Don Jr., Steven Miller.

EP: We were there to talk about Iran policy.

MH: You were there to talk about Iran policy?

EP: Mhmm.

MH: Don’t you think that’s something important to disclose to the House Intelligence Committee while you’re under oath?

EP: I did.

MH: You didn’t. We just went through the testimony. There’s no mention of the Trump Tower meeting in August 2016. Why not?

EP: I don’t know if they got the transcript wrong.

JS: That’s coming up on Thursday on Deconstructed. Make sure to tune in!

[Music interlude.]

Hina Shamsi of the ACLU on the Expansion of Drone Strikes Under Trump

JS: When Barack Obama became commander in chief in January of 2009, he embraced a strategy proposed to him by the CIA and the U.S. military’s elite Special Operations Command. While scaling back some troop deployments, such as in Iraq, Obama began to radically increase the number of U.S. drone strikes, both those conducted by the CIA and the military and he also focused more on assassinating people that his administration designated as terrorists or suspected militants. And this resulted in the creation of what amounted to a secret parallel justice system where the president and his advisers served as prosecutors, the judge, the jury and, ultimately, the executioner. At one point, they discussed the so-called nominees for death by drone strike at weekly meetings known as Terror Tuesdays. They killed U.S. citizens and foreigners and the entire process was shrouded in secrecy.

And Obama effectively sold liberals on the idea that he was waging a smarter war than Bush. And he sold them on the idea that they should trust his secret process to make sure the so-called bad guys were being targeted and that every precaution was being taken to spare civilian life. To this day, we do not know how many people have been killed in U.S. drone strikes and we do not know the identity of the overwhelming majority of the people killed. After nearly 8 years in office, in 2016, the Obama administration scrambled to put in place rules for these assassination operations. Obama also signed an Executive Order committing his administration to providing the public with estimates on the number of civilians killed.

Barack Obama: As president and as commander in chief, I take full responsibility for all our counterterrorism operations including the one that inadvertently took the lives of Warren and Giovanni. I profoundly regret what happened. On behalf of the United States government, I offer our deepest apologies to the families.

JS: Despite Obama’s claims to regret the killing of civilians, his administration never explained why it killed a 16-year-old U.S. citizen, Abdulrahman al Awlaki, in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011. The American Civil Liberties Union has been legally challenging drone strikes since they began, and when they ramped up under Obama. Donald Trump then comes into office in 2017 after having pledged to kill more people, possibly kill the families of suspected terrorists, his pledge to bring back torture and to fill Guantanamo back up. As soon as Trump took office, a botched Yemen raid killed another of al Awlaki’s children. This time, it was the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki. But Trump’s murderous expansion of raids and drones strikes has only gotten worse as time has gone on.

DJT: They never got hit like this. We took off the gloves. In one year, we did more damage to ISIS than other administrations, a certain other administration, did in many years.

[Crowd cheers.]

JS: Donald Trump’s current CIA director Gina Haspel was a key figure in the Bush-era torture and black site program. And in 2017, Trump did not disclose estimates of civilians killed as called for under Obama’s executive order. And then, earlier this year, Trump made it all official and he rescinded that order. The Pentagon is still required to report how many civilians have been killed in their strikes, but that requirement only covers Department of Defense. So, the covert drone strikes conducted by the CIA are completely off the books. Also, there is the fact that the identities of many of the people killed in these strikes are unknown and they are preemptively labeled Enemies Killed in Action unless they are posthumously proven to have been civilians.

But it’s not just the clawing back of the incredibly minimal standards that Obama put in place. Trump has loosened rules for striking when civilians may be killed, he’s authorized an unprecedented drone assassination campaign aimed at so-called foot soldiers of the al Qaeda affiliate, al Shabab in Somalia. In just two years in office, Donald Trump is shattering Obama’s bloody record on the number of drone strikes and the numbers of people killed in those strikes.

To discuss all of this, I am joined by one of the top lawyers who was fighting the Bush administration, the Obama administration, and now, the Trump administration on these policies. Hina Shamsi is the director of the ACLU National Security Project and she joins me now. Hina, welcome back to Intercepted.

Hina Shamsi: Thanks very much for having me again.

JS: So earlier this month Trump signed this executive order on the revocation of reporting requirement regarding U.S. drone strikes overseas. Before we talk about that revocation, the day before Trump comes into office what was the policy on this that had been set by Barack Obama?

HS: So there are a couple of things, one the policy on transparency and one the policy on the underlying program. So, with respect to transparency, Obama had put in place an executive order in 2016 requiring disclosure of civilian and what they called combatant casualties, right? And also requiring the government, committing the government to explain discrepancies between the government’s count which has always been low and that by independent media and human rights groups. And that’s what Trump revoked. There are other parts of the executive order though which still remain which include that the government is still committed to, you know, taking into account reporting about civilian casualties from outside groups. It’s just now that everything becomes less open, far more secret.

JS: The fact that you say that Obama did this in 2016. He was elected in 2008. He spent eight years expanding drone operations around the world. Why did it take him until 2016 to put in any kind of rules and why did they do it at the very end of the Obama administration?

HS: Well, I think one of the things that was going on is that the Obama administration never let go of, really, the most underlying expansive and dangerous legal arguments about the authority that the president had to carry out and authorize strikes in countries where we were not at war. And that’s the underlying program that I mentioned earlier and that was what really concerned us which is that you know throughout the administration, they vastly expanded this lethal program of strikes. And they did so by cherry picking from a mishmash of legal frameworks that essentially exist to limit when the government kills including especially outside the context of armed conflict. And they took the most permissive aspects of those legal frameworks but not the aspects that were safeguards. And I think genuinely, people in the Obama administration were troubled by what they were doing even as they were unable to let it go. And so, what they did was put a gloss of policy safeguards that sought to limit harm to civilians.

BO: But there have to be some guardrails. And what we’ve had to do on things like drones or the NSA or a number of the tools that we use to penetrate terrorist networks, what we’ve got to do is to build the guardrails internally. Essentially set up a whole series of processes to guard against government overreach to reform some practices that I thought over time would threaten civil liberties.

HS: And that’s where we were by the end of 2016 and then, Trump gets elected. And I think there’s a real sense of what’s going to happen? But an unwillingness to let go of where they had arrived which is the underlying, very dangerous expansive program in the first place.

JS: If I’m not mistaken, Trump has already conducted more drone strikes in his two years or so in office than Obama did during eight years in office. We’ve seen this radical uptick in strikes in Somalia where hundreds of people have been killed in Somalia. We don’t know who they are. But describe how on this issue, things have changed from Obama to Trump, in your view as someone — not just on a legal perspective — but as someone who has just intimately followed the evolution of the assassination programs in the United States. What is the change or difference from Obama to Trump that you’ve seen?

HS: So a couple of things, one is secrecy really, really gone up and higher and back up. So, far more strikes being carried out exactly as you said, Jeremy, and a real unwillingness — and the revocation that we just talked about is part of that — a real unwillingness to say where they’re happening, why. So, that’s a significant change between the end of the Obama administration [and] the Trump administration. There’s also a level of lifting of safeguards, lifting of constraints, right? And I think one of the striking things about the Trump era is that it makes very clear to everyone how fragile policy and norms are and how important legal arguments are, right, and legal claims. So, there’s been continuity in the United States with respect to this really illegal and immoral program. But now the policy constraints have been lifted and Somalia is a clear example of that.

So, part of what we’ve seen happening in Somalia is it started out as strikes ostensibly against al Qaeda. Then, it expanded to — al Shabab is an affiliate of al Qaeda — and then it expanded to strikes against al Shabab in support of local partner forces. So what you have is getting further and further away from any kind of strikes that are against what the program said it was about which was exceptional originally to high-level people. And now, there are strikes taking place against people who are essentially what are low-level, who don’t pose a threat to the United States and it’s ever-expanding.

JS: As you and I both know, Hina, based on documents that were provided to The Intercept by a whistleblower who had worked as part of the assassination program in these drone operations, that at least when it comes to strikes directed and run by the Pentagon that the policy under Obama of the military was that if you kill 30 people in a strike and you know the identity of one of them because they were the objective, they were your target and you’ve killed that individual, the other 29 people that are killed there are preemptively categorized as “enemies killed in action” until or unless someone later proves that, in fact, they were a woman or a child or an innocent civilian. Is that still the policy as far as you know under Trump? Do you know what the policy is?

HS: It isn’t known. And you know, here’s where the secrecy is on the rise, right? We were second to no one in criticizing Obama and his policies. And I still think that we have to focus not just on the transparency but what’s also important which is the underlying illegal and immoral policy itself. With respect to what was happening by the end of the Obama administration, at least you had some better sense, some level of commitment to providing the kind of transparency that would enable some level of public accountability and debate, right? But Trump is really seeking to prevent that. Here’s the thing, so in the order that Trump just issued, changing the secrecy provisions, he says they’re essentially duplicative of provisions that exist in law.

But here’s what the law says: that law applies to the military not the CIA. Critically, the CIA also carries out strikes including drone strikes and it does so in far greater secrecy than the military does and with far less oversight than even the imperfect oversight there exists over the military. Now, in 2018 and 2019, in legislation to Congress’s credit, it imposed some rigorous reporting requirements on the military with respect to the strikes that it carries out. We’ll see how those pan out. We’ll see what becomes made public because that’s critically important. What the Trump revocation does is increase the secrecy with respect to the CIA, even as Trump agreed with Pompeo and agreed to get the CIA back into or more involved in the business of being a paramilitary killing organization.

JS: What’s the significance of Gina Haspel ascending to the position of director of the CIA regarding these issues we’re talking about?

HS: I think it should not escape anyone’s attention that Gina Haspel played a key role in the Bush administration’s torture program and plays a key role in deciding what will and will not be made public about that and about strikes. At this point, now we are at a point where there’s more killing, less oversight, more secrecy, less public accountability — and the American public, I think, really need to finally have a debate, a reckoning, about what this program is in our names and the harm it is causing.

JS: On this issue of war and killing civilians and drone strikes and whether the U.S. has a right to be engaged militarily in countries that Congress hasn’t declared war on, what does it mean that you have William Barr as the attorney general? I mean, you fought for years against Obama’s attorneys general. But what does that mean on these issues?

HS: William Barr has, like many people in the Trump administration do, a very extreme set of views about the ability of the executive branch to engage in national security decision making. And I would expect that those extreme views would be reflected in any court cases that are brought.

But here’s the thing, as I hope we’re starting to see — I feel like sometimes you know, when we have these conversations, Jeremy, it can feel very pessimistic but I want to sort of talk about a couple of more if not entirely optimistic but things that are encouraging. One is that, look how much Congress pushed back against Trump’s emergency declaration with respect to the border wall. And that’s actually one of the lawsuits that we currently have ongoing. But also just returning to this killing program, this lethal strike program overseas. I find it somewhat encouraging that at least some former officials from the Obama administration are beginning to grapple with what is a really morally and legally fraught position that they have taken and are recognizing the consequences of what happens when you think “OK, we just need to maintain the option. We just need to maintain this exceptional thing.” But you find that the exception becomes the rule and exceptional killing becomes a policy of killing.

JS: Well in fact,  the former killer in chief of JSOC, Stanley McChrystal has been one of those voices that he has spoken publicly and said —

Stanley McChrystal: And it’s the perception of, we can step back and hurl thunderbolts like Thor without any risk to ourselves that’s viewed as arrogance. Now, whether that’s right or wrong, perceptions matter in the world.

JS: Their argument on it is typically based on what’s best for “American interests” and the safety of American troops. But yes, there is a growing chorus of voices, of former military people, in particular, who are saying, “Yeah, it’s not good when we do this.” They may not have the same reasoning as you or I do but it lands at the same place. Killing civilians is bad.

HS: It does. And I think that’s because more and more people are coming to recognize that this policy of killings outside of war zones of recognized armed conflict is part of the forever war approach, right? America’s deadly addiction to war-based responses to real and perceived threats without taking into account alternatives. Whether those alternatives are feasibility of capture, right, which is one of the things that need to be taken into account, or diplomacy or longer standing outcomes that people on the ground in these countries have said. If you want to help us, if you want to reduce the regional and domestic conflicts that you are now purporting to engage yourself in, then there are other things that you can do that are better than and alternatives to killing.

And I think more and more people are beginning to recognize that, some policymakers are beginning to recognize that. There is more of a commitment to ending the American forever war approach. And those are some of the things that I think we need to hang onto with a word of caution which is that virtually all the policy proposals that we’ve started to see with respect to ending the forever wars carve out the ability to engage in counterterrorism strikes against purported terrorist and terrorist groups and that’s exactly the program that you and I are talking about now. So, when we see these policy proposals, I think folks have to be really looking at what they do and don’t do because the U.S. has a long history of criticizing other countries for rights violations while excusing its own.

JS: I wanted to ask you to respond to Ned Price who was one of those former Obama-era officials. He was at the CIA also was the spokesperson for Obama’s National Security Council. And this week on The Takeaway he said that —

Ned Price: For the first time, it allowed the administration to rebut with actual facts and figures the misinformation and even disinformation that terrorist groups and other adversaries around the globe put out in an attempt to undermine public confidence in and perception of the effectiveness and the accuracy and the results of American drone strikes, of our counterterrorism operations around the world.

JS: What’s your response to that?

HS: Well, one way to take away propaganda value is not to engage in unlawful killings in the first place. And I don’t mean to be glib about this at all. What you’ve got to realize is also happening is a justification and entrenchment of the entire underlying program itself. And what a perspective that focuses on the propaganda value of the purported enemy or the real enemy does is it really minimizes the viewpoints of people in the countries in which we’re carrying out these strikes. It doesn’t take into account the longer term strategic costs and consequences. And it doesn’t take into account the harm to the rule of law because these are the things that we are also going to be living with for a very long time until we rein this back in and end it.

JS: How much responsibility should we put on Obama and his administration for what Trump is now doing? Because they pushed the envelope so far and Trump just has broken it wide open. But as we look at this issue of Trump killing people, expanding wars, taking away what minimal accountability there was in these kinds of strikes, how should we view that administration in the context of these Trump policies?

HS: The arguments that have been made with respect to this lethal policy started out under the Bush administration, started out in various more or less transparent ways, mostly less transparent ways, in the Bush administration, entrenched and expanded by the Obama administration with all safeguards or critical safeguards lifted by the Trump administration. And exactly as you’re saying, Jeremy, what it comes down to is the fact that the U.S. has a policy in which the executive branch, the president claims the unilateral authority to kill suspects far from any battlefield without any due process at all. And that has been, is, continues to be a very, very dangerous thing with respect to rights rule of law, outcome, strategy, whichever perspective you want to look at it from.

JS: Well, Hina Shamsi, I want to thank you for all the work that you do and for staying as optimistic as you do given how dark and depressing so many of the issues you take on are. I really, I admire you for having the spine that you have and the heart that you have. So thank you for being with us.

HS: There’s really no choice except to keep going. That’s what my team and I do. Thank you very much for having me.

JS: Hina Shamsi is director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Security Project. You can find her on Twitter at @HinaShamsi.

[Music interlude.]

Artist Eli Valley Talks About His Cartoon of Meghan McCain

JS: Last month, Rep. Ilhan Omar apologized after mounting bipartisan allegations that she engaged in anti-Semitic speech. This particular point of attack on Rep. Omar began after my colleague, Glenn Greenwald called out House minority leader Kevin McCarthy for threatening to punish Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib for criticizing Israel. In response, Omar tweeted, “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby.”

After a day of swift outrage from Democrats and Republicans, Ilhan Omar apologized saying, “Anti-Semitism is real and I’m grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes. My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole.” Ilhan Omar went on to say, “At the same time, I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry.”

But Omar’s criticism of Israel’s policies and the powerful influence of lobbyists on U.S. politics continues to be intentionally muddled with charges of anti-Semitism.

Meghan McCain: I take this very personally. I would go so far as to say I probably verge on being a Zionist, as well. But I will say that I don’t have family that is Jewish, but Joe Lieberman and Hadassah Lieberman are my family. And I take the hate crimes rising in this country incredibly seriously and I think what’s happening in Europe is really scary. And I’m sorry, I’m getting emotional but the idea that this is politicized — I was very nervous to talk about this on the show because I thought it would be politicized and it really shouldn’t be.

JS: Last week Meghan McCain, the daughter of the late John McCain and a co-host of The View, used her platform to equate Ilhan Omar’s criticism of the Israeli government to anti-semitic dog whistling — the tactic of using coded racist language. You know, like what Trump actually does, all the time.

DJT [on Fox & Friends]: Protesters, paid protesters —

Steve Doocy: The Democrats would send them?

DJT: The Democrats and Soros and they came from all over.

DJT [at Missoula rally]: Do you ever see when the fake news interviews them? And then they try and cut it, but they, they’ll go to a person holding a sign who gets paid by Soros or somebody, right? That’s what happens.

[Crows Boos.]

DJT [at Houston rally]: Power-hungry globalists. You know what a globalist is, right? You know what a globalist is?

JS: Back to Meghan McCain. Her emotional plea — conflating criticism of the Israeli government with anti-Semitism — inspired my next guest to give McCain the credibility she was, perhaps, seeking.

The artist, Eli Valley, in his known style of depicting subjects in a grotesque manner with folds of flesh, drew Meghan McCain sitting at a table, crying, surrounded by what he calls, Jewish kitsch.

Once Valley tweeted it, the image went viral. McCain — who is not Jewish — cried anti-Semitism and denounced it, calling the cartoon itself “one of the most anti-semitic things” that she’d ever seen. Joining me now to discuss the now infamous McCain comic is Eli Valley. He is a writer and artist whose work has been featured in The Nation, The New Republic, The Nib, and elsewhere.  He is also the author of “Diaspora Boy: Comics on Crisis in American and Israel.” Eli Valley, welcome to Intercepted.

EV: Thank you, Jeremy. Good to be here.

JS: Last week you tweeted a cartoon that featured Meghan McCain. And Meghan McCain now famously went off on you. She said “This is one of the most anti-Semitic things I’ve ever seen. Also, this reveals much more about you, Eli, than it does about me.” First, what inspired this cartoon that you drew of Meghan McCain?

EV: Her tears, you know, her publicized and televised tears on The View the preceding day talking about how she was basically terrified and beyond concerned about the potential hazard to the Jewish people by Ilhan Omar.

MM: And just because I don’t technically have Jewish family that are blood related to me doesn’t mean I don’t take this as seriously. And it is very dangerous, very dangerous. And I think we all collectively as Americans on both sides and what Ilhan Omar is saying is very scary to me. And it’s very scary to a lot of people and I don’t think you have to be Jewish to recognize that.

EV: First of all, many on the Jewish left were appalled in general by the show trials of Ilan Omar, appalled in particular that a woman who is not Jewish, claiming Jewish trauma in order to vilify a Muslim refugee woman of color in Congress. It’s clear what the stakes are here and what the sides are, you know, in terms of power and less power. Obviously, Ilhan has power. I’m not trying to pretend she is currently a refugee but you know, Meghan McCain I think, has more power in terms of public perception of what is good and what is evil in American society. Then, when, you know, the tears. It was such a clear appropriation of Jewish identity and Jewish trauma.

And I remember I was coming back from visiting some friends. I was on the subway and I see like everyone is like tweeting — I don’t remember what it was particularly, if it was the tears himself or something that happened after that. You know, I just jokingly tweeted “Don’t make me draw Meghan McCain,” you know. And then all of a sudden like everyone’s like — I got this deluge of people who are adding me saying “Oh my God, this has to be you. You have to. It’s like, it’s natural.” And it was like I didn’t even have a choice, not because of peer pressure but because it was like one of those things where the comic wrote itself. I didn’t even need to think of like a huge scenario. I mean, I was basically drawing reality with the single tweak was that I was giving her Jewish identity instead of her saying “Oh, I feel so much for the Jewish people.” It was like “I am a Jew.” That was the twist.

JS: Describe for people what the Meghan McCain cartoon looked like and what the concept was that you were playing with as you created it.

EV: So she’s saying basically, “the things she said about the Holy Land,” specifically Holy Land which is you know like the Christian description of Israel, Palestine, etcetera, “that refugee girl wants to exterminate us Jews.” You know, and so she’s pinning a Judah Star on her chest. She’s pouring an unmixed matzo ball soup mix into a bowl. It’s overflowing. There’s a dreidel. There’s Yentl. There’s “Christian Guide to Seder,” to Passover Seder. I wanted to show her appropriating Jewish kitsch. I was trying to imagine what someone who is fetishizing Jews from outside the Jewish community would think is Jewish, you know. But I could not leave out entirely trauma because she had tears because she was implying that Ilan Omar is of the same level as like Nazis. You know she was claiming Ilan Omar was demonizing the Jews. And so, I wanted some symbol of that. So, I included that Jewish Judah Star, Star of David from Germany. And I think that might have been what pissed off the Jewish right and her the most. But I was trying not to do like the obvious Seinfeld references. I was trying to go for a little bit more sort of intra-Jewish jokes. But also, you know, like making fun of what a clearly Gentile person would consider to be Jewish and Yentl was the core of it and also matzo ball soup without actually being mixed with water.

JS: Just so people understand this fact of it: Meghan McCain who is not Jewish was attacking you saying that it was the most anti-Semitic thing she’s ever seen. And she’s saying that she, the non-Jew, has been subjected to an anti-Semitic attack by you, the Jewish comic artist.

EV: Yeah, I mean first of all, everyone immediately on Twitter, that’s what they were — or in, you know, the public discourse, that’s what they were like leaping onto how absurd it was. But I do need to say that I am so accustomed and acclimated to being called a self-hating Jew, an anti-Semite because I believe Palestinians have human rights, essentially, for the past 10 years that when a Gentile woman says to me that — when she raises my Jewishness, that’s nothing new to me. It didn’t even like click as like, something odd because the leadership of the Jewish community has been saying this not only to me, I’m not like some special person in that regard, to the entire Jewish left for decades now.

JS: You did this cartoon of Meghan McCain. You put it online. It goes pretty viral quickly on Twitter. What was it like to be you in the immediate aftermath of that?

EV: Well, I mean honestly, I was up all night doing it because, you know, often when I have like an idea like this, I’ll go to sleep at like four in the morning, wake up at like 10-ish and then I’ll be drawing it all day. I’m like no, I have a feeling she’s going to be going on The View, talking about her, you know, affiliation to the Jews again. And I want to get ahead of that. So, I was like, got to stay up all night, just do it, get it up by like nine-ish. And I was glad for that.

But what changed everything was when she claimed sometime in the morning that it was the most anti-Semitic things she’d ever seen. Because the absurdity of the comic, the way it stretched away from reality, essentially, was instead of her just appropriating Jewish culture, she was Jewish. She was a Jew. She said us Jews. So, when she claimed that it was anti-Semitic and obviously, I’m Jewish and she’s not Jewish but by claiming it’s anti-Semitic — this mockery of a Gentile woman for appropriating Jewish culture — she’s actually making the comic true which is like something that’s beautiful that can happen with satire, that it actually becomes real. It becomes more real once it’s out in the world. And there’s this reaction to it which I didn’t intend. I actually I had no idea that she was going to — I wasn’t like baiting her. But it was like, you know, I’m not going to stop her from saying it’s anti-Semitic because it’s just so ridiculous.

JS: And what about from people who aren’t Meghan McCain? I mean, I know there were a lot of people who were who really felt like your analysis was spot on. There were a lot of people sharing it because they felt like it was a really great searing, revelatory commentary and analysis. But what did that kick off when then Meghan McCain accused you of this grand act of anti-Semitism?

EV: Well, basically the bad faith sleaze-bags, the same people who have been demonizing Ilhan Omar as a terrorist for saying that America’s relationship with Israel is monolithic and we need to question it, they actually happen to be the same people who have called me anti-Semitic for saying Jewish left is authentic or that Palestinians have rights. And so, they immediately leapt to her side. They leapt to the side of the Gentile woman calling a Jew anti-Semitic because that’s just part of their whole narrative.

JS: As recently as Monday, Sarah Sanders, when she finally agreed to do some brief speaking to reporters, she was responding to questions regarding Trump saying Democrats hate Jews.

Sarah Sanders: When Steve King made terrible comments, we called it out by name. We stripped him of his committee memberships and we’d like to see Democrats follow suit.

Jon Karl: First of all, you mentioned Steve King, the president, correct me if I’m wrong has not condemned Steve King.

SS: I — uh, uh.

JK: For what he said praising white supremacy. Has the president publicly come out and said anything to criticize and condemn —

SS: I speak on behalf of the president on a number of topics and I’ve talked about that a number of times. And I’d refer you back to those comments where I used words like abhorrent and unacceptable.

EV: Honestly, the Steve King thing is just absurd because it’s one out of maybe 10,000 examples that they could be using against him, you know. That’s part of the whole, you know, gaslighting phenomenon and the sort of over-saturation with scandal. It’s like Ilhan Omar says one word, allegiance, and we stop everything we talk about it for three days. Trump has been doing this like nonstop. One of the problems is like when we’re trying to focus on one thing, he’ll be doing three other things. And it’s not just with this. It’s with, I mean, everything criminal about his administration essentially.

JS: Let’s start at the beginning of the immediate controversy that’s been ginned up around Ilhan Omar. Do you have any problem at all with any of the comments that are being cited based on what she said about AIPAC? And originally this happened in a retreat of my colleague Glenn Greenwald and that was how this started she said: “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby.” And then, the way that she responded when there was this uproar within the Democratic Party, was there anything that Ilhan Omar said that you have a problem with thus far?

EV: I mean, in my view, she has not been as delicate as she can be when dealing with these kind of thorny vernacular issues. And that’s not to say she at all said anything anti-Semitic. It’s to say that within certain contexts and you know, removed from the full paragraph of what she said and when approached via, through the lens of bad faith assholes then she’s going to get shit for it. So, it’s not so much that I have a problem with what she said. I have a little problem with her maybe lack of sort of sensitivity to these issues so that she’s not going to get into these unnecessary show trials but like distractions, you know.

JS: In 2017, when launching your book “Diaspora Boy: Comics on Crisis in America and Israel” you said the following: “We have to stop allowing people who side with Nazis to define Jewish authenticity for us.” Explain what you meant there.

EV: You know, in terms of authenticity, the Jewish world for the past several decades has created this veneer of authenticity saying that real Jewishness is Zionist, real Jewishness is ultimately Orthodox and everything else is sort of like falling down from there. Under that rationale, they could say that I am a self-hater because I am not a Zionist and I’m not Orthodox and that the mass majority of American Jews have problems with their Jewishness because they have not accepted Israel as their homeland etcetera, you know, or that they don’t agree with Netanyahu. That kind of thing. And it just turns out that in the aggregate, the same people who have been pushing this, you know, like the right-wing Jews who happen to be in the leadership of the American Jewish community, you know, saying such horrible, horrible things and never getting censored, never getting thrown out for it, have in the aggregate supported Donald Trump’s rise and supported the GOP Nazi party and they are currently in bed with the people seeking to destroy the Jewish people. And we have not come to terms with this yet. We haven’t taken action against this. In my view, there should be excommunications. If you side with Nazis, you’re not part of the Jewish people, you know. That’s pretty basic fucking standard, you know.

JS: Eli Valley, thank you very much for joining us.

EV: Thank you for having me. It was nice.

JS: Eli Valley is a writer, artist, and author of “Diaspora Boy: Comics on Crisis in America and Israel.” You can find him on Twitter @elivalley. Eli is spelled E-L-I.

And that does it for this week’s show. If you are not yet a sustaining member of Intercepted, log onto and get together with the more than 3,000 other people who are already sustaining members of this program. Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Jack D’Isidoro and our executive producer is Leital Molad. Laura Flynn is associate producer. Elise Swain is our assistant producer and graphic designer. Rick Kwan mixed the show. Transcription is done by Nuria Marquez Martinez. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky. Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.

Join The Conversation