An Appeal to PEN: Exec. Director Suzanne Nossel Must Go

U.S. Cooption of the Human Rights Movement Continues.

"When political people have finished with repression and violence PEN can indeed be forgotten. Until then, with all its flounderings and failings and mistaken acts, it is still, I think, a fellowship moved by the hope that one day the work it tries and often manages to do will no longer be necessary."  —Arthur Miller who once led PEN.

"To advance from a nuanced dissent to a compelling vision, progressive policymakers should turn to the great mainstay of twentieth-century U.S. foreign policy: liberal internationalism…(which) should offer assertive leadership — diplomatic, economic, and not least, military — to advance a broad array of goals…–"Suzanne Nossel, new Executive Director of PEN American Center in Smart Power, Foreign Affairs (Emphases, j.w and c.r.)

Suzanne Nossel is a disturbing choice as the new executive director of PEN, American Center (PEN), an American branch of the worldwide association of writers and related professions devoted to free expression and "the ideal of one humanity living in peace in the world." The stark contrast between the statements of Arthur Miller and Suzanne Nossel above is enough to sound an alarm. But Nossel’s career path, the masters she has served, the stances she has taken and the activities she has sponsored demonstrate profound differences with PEN. PEN cannot remain true to the ideals articulated by Arthur Miller with Nossel at the helm. She is an embodiment of the ongoing, and all too successful, cooption of the Human Rights movement by the U.S. government.

Nossel’s AI Backs NATO Assault on Afghanistan – Bombing Women to Free Them.

"Amesty’s Shilling for U.S. Wars."

Nossel came to PEN after a year’s stint as Executive Director of Amnesty International, USA (AI), in 2012. Before that she served in Hillary Clinton’s State Department as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs. Let’s consider her time at AI first.

Nossel assumed her post as Executive Director of AI, in January, 2012. Then in May when NATO held its "Summit Meeting" in Chicago, AI sponsored a "Shadow Summit" there. As part of this effort AI mounted a campaign which employed bus stop billboards supporting the NATO invasion in the words, "NATO, Keep the Progress Going. Human Rights for Women and Girls in Afghanistan." The poster can be seen here. "Bombing the women to save them" might well have been the slogan.

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AI’s "Shadow Summit" featured a number of panels at a Chicago Hotel with the main speaker at the first panel former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who famously observed to Leslie Stahl that the deaths of many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, including an estimated 500,000 children, on her watch during the Clinton administration was a price "worth it" to weaken former U.S. ally, Saddam Hussein. What was such a person doing at an AI event? The same panel featured other female luminaries from the U.S. foreign policy establishment, including Melanne Verveer, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, who was also a main speaker with Albright; U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois; and Afifa Azim, General Director and Co-Founder, Afghan Women’s Network; along with Moderator Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Deputy Director of AI.

One of us (C.R.) and Anne Wright, who resigned from the State Department in 2003 to protest the war on Iraq, along with a handful of fellow antiwar activists attempted to attend the panel but were refused entrance until some in the group pointed out that they were members of AI. AI then allowed the group to enter, but in an apparent lapse of concern for free speech, only if signs opposing NATO’s war on Afghanistan were left outside. Such is the forgetfulness that proximity to power breeds. In a written account of the panel entitled "Amnesty’s Shilling for U.S. Wars," Rowley and Wright noted that the CIA’s, "Red Cell" in a report disclosed by Wikileaks, had recommended a strategy of using "women’s rights" to sell the war in Afghanistan. Rowley and Wright continued in their piece: "When we saw that audience participation was going to be limited to questions selected from the small note cards being collected, we departed. We noted, even in that short time, however, how easy it was for these U.S. government officials to use the "good and necessary cause" of women’s rights to get the audience into the palm of their collective hand — just as the CIA’s "strategic communication" expert predicted!" One has to ask what is afoot when a former State Dept. official takes over an organization like AI, which then neatly fits its approach into that of the U.S. government.

A few months after the appearance of the Rowley/Wright piece and complaints by other members and donors of AI, Nossel resigned unceremoniously. A call to AI’s national office unearthed the reply from a staff member that the "staff had been told" that Nossel had resigned "for personal reasons." The promise of a return call by someone more knowledgeable did not materialize. Who was responsible, on or off the board, for hiring Nossel in the first place remains a mystery.

The Revolving Door, A Formula for Cooption.

Nossel had previously worked at the State Department under Hillary Clinton. Nossel is often credited with coining the phrase "Smart Power" (1), which Clinton repeated interminably in her Senate confirmation hearings to characterize how she would run State and which Nossel defined in a 2004 article in Foreign Affairs as "assertive leadership — diplomatic, economic, and not least, military." What was this smartly powered State Department like into which Nossel was hired? Perhaps Ralph Nader has taken the measure of it most perceptively, in a CounterPunch essay entitled, "Hillary’s Bloody Legacy: Militarizing the State Department":

"Behind the public relations sheen, the photo-opportunities with groups of poor people in the developing world, an ever more militarized State Department operated under Clinton’s leadership.

"A militarized State Department is more than a repudiation of the Department’s basic charter of 1789, for the then-named Department of Foreign Affairs, which envisioned diplomacy as its mission. Secretary Clinton reveled in tough, belligerent talk and action on her many trips to more than a hundred countries. She would warn or threaten "consequences" on a regular basis. She supported soldiers in Afghanistan, the use of secret Special Forces in other places and "force projection" in East Asia to contain China. She aggressively supported or attacked resistance movements in dictatorships, depending on whether a regime played to Washington’s tune.

"Because Defense Secretary Robert Gates was openly cool to the drum beats for war on Libya, Clinton took over and choreographed the NATO ouster of the dictator, Muammar al-Gaddafi, long after he had given up his mass destruction weaponry and was working to re-kindle relations with the U.S. government and global energy corporations. Libya is now in a disastrous warlord state-of-chaos. Many fleeing fighters have moved into Mali, making that vast country into another battlefield drawing U.S. involvement. Blowback!"

Thus did Nossel’s strategy of "Smart Power" play out as she worked at the side of Clinton.

Before working at State, Nossel worked at Human Rights Watch, which has come under increasing criticism for its distorted accounts of the Chavez government in Venezuela and other official enemies of the US. And before that she worked at the UN under Richard Holbrooke as the Clintons masterminded the bombing of Yugoslavia and pushed NATO eastward in violation of assurances given by Reagan to Gorbachev.

Here we behold a revolving door between government and human rights NGOs, much like the one connecting the Pentagon and defense contractors or between regulatory agencies and the corporate entities they are to regulate. Nossel is clearly aware of the use that the U.S. government can make of organizations like PEN, writing in her 2004 "Smart Power" essay that "that the United States' own hand is not always its best tool: U.S. interests are furthered by enlisting others on behalf of U.S. goals." In what sense can PEN claim to be a "non-governmental organization" with Nossel in charge? In what sense can PEN claim to protect writers from the state with someone in charge who has been a frequent and unapologetic presence in the corridors of power?

The Subversion of Human Rights Organizations.

For many decades the rhetoric of human rights has been used by the West to justify its aggressive actions around the world. James Peck in his superb and much neglected work, Ideal Illusions: How the U.S. Government Co-opted Human Rights, painstakingly and meticulously documents such subversion over the past 50 years. But the subversion goes farther than the selective attention often paid to official enemies and the relative neglect of human rights violations by U.S. allies. He also points out that the concept of human rights that has prevailed in the West over this period is a shriveled one, basically confined to civil rights. Although the mainstream human rights movement in the West claims to take its inspiration from the UN Declaration of Human Rights, it rarely mentions Articles 25 and 26, among others, which affirm health care and education as rights. Thus the fact that Gaddafi’s Libya had the highest literacy rate or highest score in all of Africa on the UN’s Human Development Index counted for nothing in assessments of Gaddafi. Nor is faintest praise to be found for the many hundreds of millions lifted from poverty and made literate in New China.

Similarly, Jean Bricmont in his insightful, Humanitarian Imperialism, another book studiously avoided by "progressives" in the West, details the use of human rights rhetoric to gain the support of European intellectuals for the Clintons’ assault on the Balkans. This in fact marked a turning point in the view of intellectuals toward the wars of present day imperial powers on weaker nations, a view that set the stage for assaults on Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya and now Syria. It marked a sharp break with the opposition of intellectuals to the U.S. war on Vietnam. The important principle of sovereignty enshrined in international law to protect weak nations from falling prey to powerful ones was rudely tossed aside, with much talk of human rights as the justification.

PEN Shows No Concern for Julian Assange or Bradley Manning.

The principle at work here is not new. Julien Benda raised it long ago in La Trahison des Clercs. As Benda said, "There are two sets of principles. They are the principles of power and privilege and the principles of truth and justice. If you pursue truth and justice it will always mean a diminution of power and privilege. If you pursue power and privilege it will always be at the expense of truth and justice." In our time we may identify Noam Chomsky and the late Alexander Cockburn among those who follow in the tradition of Benda. They represent the best in the tradition of PEN.

The question is which way will PEN go – the way of Benda or continue along the way of Nossel. Today a search on the PEN, America, web site readily yields entries for Pussy Riot, Ai Weiwei and Liu Xiaobo, but nothing is to be found for "Bradley Manning "or "Julian Assange"! That in itself speaks volumes about Nossel’s PEN. As Chomsky and others have often pointed out, the primary duty of intellectuals is to critique their own ruling elite. After all, we can most affect our own rulers and it is their actions we are most responsible for. And that is what requires genuine courage. Criticizing elites in countries that are America’s official enemies is an easy and secure career path.

PEN members should take action.

For those who are appalled by what is happening at PEN, here are links to a list of current and newly elected officers and Trustees. They bear ultimate responsibility for the path that PEN is taking and for Suzanne Nossel’s employ. The issue can also be raised at the upcoming PEN World Voices events in NYC. It is clear that many speakers at these events, perhaps the overwhelming majority, hold views quite the opposite of Nossel’s, as well they should. Nossel should resign. Speaking out in cases like this is the only way to prevent the Empire from corrupting all it touches, including the human rights movement.

The authors can be reached at . We are interested in hearing from members of PEN and others who are interested in taking action.

John V. Walsh, lately become an associate member of PEN, is a biophysicist/neuroscientist living in the Boston and area and a contributor to, and

Coleen Rowley, now an antiwar activist in the Twin Cities area, is a former FBI special agent and legal counsel in the Minneapolis field office, who wrote a "whistleblower" memo in May 2002 and testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee about some of the FBI’s pre-9?/?11 failures.

1. Although Nossel is often credited with the term "Smart Power," from the title of her article in Foreign Affairs in 2004, Joseph Nye, Dean emeritus of Harvard’s Kennedy School of government and another Pentagon and State Department functionary over the decades when not slaving in the fields of academe, published a book in 2003 with the title, Smart Power.

25 thoughts on “An Appeal to PEN: Exec. Director Suzanne Nossel Must Go”

  1. Termagant Neocon shrew…… You know what her priorities are……. No guesswork required….. Her embrace of Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright…. the transgender Adolph Eichman of U.S. extermination policy is enough to tell. That PEN has been subverted is only one more piece of evidence that the takeover here is broad and not in remission… When will Kissenger be hobbling to their podium to tout his vision of smart (B-52) power..?? Why was Afghanistan invaded, bombed and contaminated with depleted uranium? Is it the Vietnam think, that we had to destroy it and their women to save it, and them?

  2. She sells the Bush-Cheney snake oil………. "which posits that a global system of stable liberal democracies would be less prone to war". But the realities are that the economic predator "democracy" nations are lately the foremost warmakers as their economies implode and larceny becomes their new policy. How many wars is the U.S. fighting today??

    "To advance from a nuanced dissent to a compelling vision, progressive policymakers should turn to the great mainstay of twentieth-century U.S. foreign policy: liberal internationalism, which posits that a global system of stable liberal democracies would be less prone to war. Washington, the theory goes, should thus offer assertive leadership — diplomatic, economic, and not least, military — to advance a broad array of goals: self-determination, human rights, free trade, the rule of law, economic development, and the quarantine and elimination of dictators and weapons of mass destruction (WMD)" | Smart Power|Foreign Affairs}}

    It's pretty rich they should tout "Rule of law" as one of their "array of goals:"…….. when in actuality, rule of law has become the principle victim of the liberal interventionalism…….

    1. Absolutely! International law professor at Yale (former Dean of the Yale Law School) was a strident critic of Bush's wars and war crimes. Then Obama brought Koh into the power fold as General Counsel for Hillary's State Dept. where Koh swung 180 degrees into being a top legal architect of Obama's drone assassination and pre-emptive war on Libya. Koh's legal sophistry was that the illegal bombing of Libya was not a real war but only "hostilities". Power corrupts! Recently Koh gave a speech at Macalester College in Minnesota entitled, "International Law as Smart Power"—the title totally encapsulate your point about how they are corrupting the prior law for their own "power" purposes.

      1. Thanks coleenrowley……… ""International Law as Smart Power"" should have been titled ""International Law as Lawfare Power"

        I really was impressed reading your comment stream… Keep up your keen observations and reporting….. Thank You………. TS

    2. You all overlook the origins of PEN in britain before a US branch was opened.

      It was set up and intended to cover dubious foreign policy initialives and promote foreign policy, and was not the innocent association of writers it claimed to be.

      1. PS.

        The saome applies to Amnesty International in Britain before the US branch was set up, and I have witnesses some heated arguments between its staff and people expressing concern.

  3. So Nossel is not the only one although her "revolving door" comes close to challenging Harold Koh's. The Nossel-Koh revolving doors is multiplied many, many times between these power elite who flit from "think tanks" and academia to government power serving "national interests" to leading US-based human rights groups.

    Guess what? Chris Hedges, to his credit, would have none of this corruption. He pulled out of speaking at the upcoming PEN event and resigned in protest of Nossel's being made director:

  4. It's pretty rich they should tout "Rule of law" as one of their "array of goals:"…….. when in actuality, rule of law has become the principle victim of the liberal interventionalism…….

  5. Here in foggy old Tower Hamlets, London Town, Amnesty International has a bright and sparkling corporate styled building which hosts the occasional worthwhile event. Amnesty International also regularly campaigns on the streets to drum up subscriptions, and so there is always an opportunity to question its workers about policy.
    It is clear that Suzanne Nossel has left a deeply divided organisation in her wake.
    To avoid the same catastrophe that has befallen AI, PEN needs to ditch Nossel immediately and to begin campaigning on behalf of US and UK political prisoners.
    Call it the real White Man's Burden.

    1. Nice comment mickperry……… but you need to realize that the empire's power is seamless where Europe and USA interests intersect when there is any challenge to their power especially and their plans too.. Why should NATO draw the Serb, Kosovo border line and treat it as etched in stone, not subject to real-politic adjustment where the needs of the people who live there demand…….. It's the usual grinding, implacable raw power that is their god, not the best interests of those upon whom their policy affects and controls, I.E.: Their clients, many of them sadly, their victims…

      We need your reports on the info you gleaned from your intercourse with A.I. "workers about policy." Such stuff is what makes the comments section so valuable… We will be waiting……

      As far as A.I. is concerned… The Trojan Horse has gotten in and done it's werk….. What you see is what it got…. Now those same (W)horses are in Pen…… Expect the same there…..

      1. I have already posted commentary about this situation, possibly before your arrival TS. It is as you might expect: the people who are aware of what's going on seem to be those lower in the hierarchy, and they are mostly gratified to meet members of the public who are also paying attention.
        It is tragic to see such a fine organisation become corrupted by the King's shilling, and I get the impression that it is the subject of intense debate in the staff canteen, and also that those higher up the pecking order are sadly reluctant to engage their skills of critical thinking. The fact that Nossel has been ousted though suggests that my assessment might not be entirely accurate.
        Amnesty has probably seen it's subscriptions adversely affected since it aligned itself with the empire's 'kinetic military operations', but I would imagine that any shortfall has been amply compensated by its new masters. Very sad.

  6. The old E.D. gave many months notice before she left. PEN already had four finalists for the position of Executive Director. Then, at the last minute, Trustee member Jacob Weisberg <a href="http://(” target=”_blank”>( when on a zealous mission to try and get Suzanne Nossel hired. He was leaving the board anyways (transitioning to emeritus board) and called in all his favors and was a relentless jerk arguing for her. The top three PEN Amnesty officers hired her quickly, the rest of the staff never saw it coming. It is weird if you google "jacob weisberg" and "suzanne nossel" as they only seemed to work together once–on the opposite sides in the Professor Ramadan case. Any Washington Post folks know there relationship there? They are both Jewish, Zionist and Wash, DC folks–anyone know how they know each other? Same employer, temple or block? As much money as Suzanne Nossel must have lost Amnesty, that is really incorrect to allow an outgoing Trustee to hire a new, poorly qualified ED. The Trustees are supposed to be fiduciary caretakers of an organization–not to sink it financially. How could Jacob Weisberg, knowing full well what Suzanne Nossel cost AI, advocate for her? How could he put his personal relationship with her above his Trustee mandated fiduciary responsibillities to PEN??

    1. your innuendos remind me of Der Sturmer. Aren't you embarrassed to point out they are both Jewish? (BTW so was Arthur Miller, and many other PEN leaders.) You ask If Nossel and Weisberg have the same employer, temple or block – but you know very well that they do not. Would you suggest that a Christian trustee should not be allowed to hire a Christian E.D. ?

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