Saturday, February 28, 2009

No More Lip Service on Darfur!

Last week, Oscar award winning actor George Clooney was granted a private meeting with President Barack Obama to discuss the crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Clooney, a United Nations messenger of peace, asked the President to help end a long and bloody conflict that has killed or displaced millions of innocent refugees.

The actor, recently toured the African nation of Chad and said: "We want him (Obama) to appoint a high-level, full-time diplomat to negotiate and work hard every day for a peace treaty," noting that the situation in Darfur has not improved since he first visited the region in 2006.

As admirable as Clooney’s intent and demand for action may be, is it equally if not more naive and unrealistic?

A few years back, Clooney told an audience at the National Press Club that "It is the first genocide of the 21st century," and what the people in Darfur "need now is the American people and the world's population to help them." However, the reality is, that wasn’t exactly true.

Long before the international community focused on Darfur, in another part of the world there were atrocities were being committed against millions of people who were killed or displaced by a sick and demented dictator, much like the Janjaweed leadership in Darfur. The United States, the UN Security Counsel, and the international community thought diplomacy was the solution but Saddam Hussein laughed in their face.

In the aftermath of 9/11, we finally did what should have been done years before, yet have been criticized ever since. Intelligence failures and our failure to find weapons of mass destruction have over shadowed the fact that Saddam Hussein and his murderous regime were removed and today there is a free and liberated Iraq.

They should have been removed years before and yet the UN, the United States and the international community did nothing – exactly what their doing in Darfur today and it’s wrong.

"What we cannot do is turn our heads and look away and hope that this will somehow disappear," Clooney said, and I agree. However, the United Nations doesn't want to step on the toes of the African Union, our political leadership here in the United States doesn’t have the courage to do what has to be done and Americans for the most part, don’t understand the problem, can’t afford the cost and definitely don’t have the patience to fight this battle.

Clooney’s trips to Darfur, lip service by politicians and protests at the UN are not helping the people in the Sudan. President Obama appointing a “full time diplomat to negotiate and work hard everyday for a peace treaty” will not work. A peace treaty with who, the terrorists like the Janjaweed who continually attack ethnic black Africans, raping women, pillaging villages and committing widespread atrocities with the support of the government? That’s like saying we want a peace treaty with Osama Bin Laden or Al-Qaeda. It’s a joke.

Terrorist groups and governments that sponsor them must be stopped and stopped by force if necessary.Until we as a world leader are willing to do what it takes to hold them accountable without worrying about world opinion or being politically correct, the people in the Sudan will continue to suffer.

If George Clooney wants the genocide and atrocities in Darfur to end, then he has to say it and mean it. He has to understand it will come at a cost, it will take time and it will not be easy. He must understand that although the international community voices their condemnation for what is happening there, they themselves don’t have the courage and perhaps the money to do the dirty work. Is Mr. Clooney, his friends in Hollywood and the political leaders standing on the Darfur soap box, prepared for that? Do they really want to do what it takes to stop the atrocities and genocide?

I feel we must. I strongly believe that as a world power we are obligated to save an entire generation of people from extinction, which is exactly what will happen without our intervention. Unfortunately, it will probably lie solely on the shoulders of The United States of America – leader of the free world.

Is Mr. Clooney and Hollywood prepared for that and would they support it to the end? I surely hope so.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Over the past several years, many people have asked about the photo below and the story behind the American flag sitting on my desk. In order to answer those questions, the following is the journey of that flag - from the devastation of the World Trade Center site, to the heavenly skies on the Space Shuttle Endeavor and back to the people of the City of New York.

At 5:30AM on the morning of September 12, 2001, New York City Police Sergeant Gerald Kane and Detective Peter Friscia from my office, were assisting rescue teams at the heart of the World Trade Center site, at “Ground Zero.”

Sergeant Kane noticed a group of flagpoles on Church Street near Chamber Street, amidst the devastation that were still standing. The flags from the states of New Jersey and New York were still affixed to the poles, but one pole was bare. He then noticed an American flag had been blown off of the flagpole and was tangled upside down on a streetlight several yards away. Noting that the upside down position of the American flag was the universal sign for distress, Sergeant Kane was concerned that if the press or media published a photograph of the flag in that condition, it would be seen as an added victory memento for terrorists around the world.

The two men recruited a number of soldiers and firefighters in the area who hoisted a ladder to the top of the streetlight. Detective Friscia climbed the rungs of the ladder to the top, untangled and retrieved the flag and brought it down to the ground.

Four of the soldiers and their Lieutenant folded the torn, tattered and ash covered flag.

Not wanting to leave the flag in their vehicle which was parked several blocks away, they decided to bring it back to my office. Upon their arrival, they told my personal assistant, Janet Fitzpatrick, that they wanted to secure the flag in my personal office and she recommended that they write a note and leave it with the flag so I would know where it came from upon my return - and they did just that.

That day, I had spent that morning with Mayor Rudy Giuliani at the temporary command center in the New York City Police Academy. We then visited various hospitals and went on to Ground Zero, after which I returned to my office.

As I walked into the room, there was an extremely strong stench of smoke, like that of a burning building. I saw the flag sitting on the corner of my desk and as I got closer to look at it, I realized that the overwhelming smell was coming from the ash covered flag. There was a hand written note sticking out of one of the creases of the flag.

As I read the note, I stood at my desk and cried.

This is the flag that flew in front of the WTC at Church Street. It was blown off the pole and was tangled on a streetlight. We as well as some firefighters and soldiers recovered it. The soldiers folded it. In Israel you said that we can’t back down to terrorism. You are right. You lead and we will follow.”

Just as I finished reading the note and was looking at the flag, Tom Antenen, my Deputy Commissioner for Public Information walked into the office and without saying a word, leaned over and smelled the flag I held in my hands. I handed him the note.

That flag remained in my office for the next several weeks and with the help and assistance of Mr. Richard Cooper, the Program Manager of NASA's “Flags for Heroes and Families Program,” on October 10, 2001, me and Mayor Giuliani met with NASA Administrator Dan Goldin, at which time it was agreed that the flag would be transported onboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor (STS-108) as part of its December 5-17, 2001 mission to the International Space Station.

Accompanying the WTC flag on the Shuttle flight were:
  • A USMC flag recovered from the Pentagon attacks;
  • An American flag that flew over the State Capital in Harrisburg, PA on the day of Sept. 11th;
  • The shields of the fallen NYPD officers
  • Patches, posters and an emblem from the FDNY
  • Patches from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
  • 6,000 small American flags to honor those lost and those that served in the response and recovery efforts for 9/11.
In November 2001, I asked Detective Michael Jermyn from my personal security detail to represent me and deliver the flag and the 23 shields (police badges) of the New York City Police Officers that made the supreme sacrifice on 9/11 to NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Upon his arrival at his hotel, he requested that no hotel staff have access to his room, including the cleaning staff, during his two day stay. Upon hearing his request, a hotel manager and security officer appraoched him and asked if there was a problem and if they could be of assistance. Detective Jermyn informed the two men that he had custody of the United States flag that flew at the World Trade Center on 9/11 and for security purposes, he would feel better if no one was allowed access to his room during his stay.

Overwhelmed with emotion upon seeing the flag, the hotel manager upgraded the Detective's room to a two room suite and escorted him to the room where the flag was placed in the center of the bed in the second bedroom, almost as if the flag was "lying in state," pending delivery to NASA Headquarters.
In a moving ceremony the next day, the flag was turned over to NASA, from where it was later transported to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida where Detective Michael Jermyn represented me and the NYPD to witness the launch and this historic event - from Ground Zero, to heaven.

On Flag Day, June 14, 2002, the American flag that once flew at the World Trade Center and the other items of memorabilia were returned to the people of the City of New York by Mr. O’Keefe and Commander Dom Gorie and the crew members of the Space Shuttle Endeavor (STS-108), in a ceremony at the Rose Center at the American Museum of Natural History.

Today, this flag is secured and maintained by Mr. Brian Andersson, New York City Commissioner of Records and is used during the annual 9/11 ceremony at Ground Zero. He is seen here with David Webb, and actor Gary Sinise, a staunch supporter of our military, and 9/11 heroes.