Cheering the dictatorship

28 09 2015

Shawn Crispin has long been based in Bangkok as a journalist. Most of his writing in recent years has been for the Asia Times Online. Much of it has been conspiratorial revelations based on anonymous sources.

In a recent article at The Diplomat, he turns his hand to Thai-U.S. relations. His basic point is the relationship needs some fixing as they have been strained by recent coups and the persistence of the military dictatorship. He says the new ambassador Glyn Davies, who has just arrived in Bangkok has a chance to be the fixer. The ambassador’s position has been vacant for almost a year.

From that basic point, Crispin proceeds to reproduce a milder version of the vitriol that infects rightist and royalist social media when spitting at the U.S. for not sticking by the warped royalist vision of Thailand, something the U.S. has done since the 1950s.

Crispin sates that “[o]utgoing U.S. ambassador Kristie Kenney staked out a hard line against the coup, a position the State Department has maintained on democratic principle to the detriment of the wider strategic relationship.”

That might seem reasonable when Thailand is the world’s only country currently ruled by a military junta. But this is not Crispin’s view. He alleges that “Kenney’s stance has so far outweighed the views of Thailand specialists in Washington who have called for a more nuanced approach to guard the United States’ considerable economic and strategic interests in the country.”

Frankly, we do not know which “Thailand specialists” Crispin speaks with. As usual, he does not name any. In fact, some of the old guard in Washington are confused by State’s position. These conservatives have long had palace connections and hobnobbed with the elite. Others have maintained close relations with the military from the days when the U.S. rented the Thai military. Many academic specialists and the younger, more broadly connected State officials know more about contemporary Thailand than the old duffers and are thus more critical of military and royalist fascism.

Crispin refers to the U.S. having had “a series of less distinguished and sometimes disinterested envoys” in Thailand. He adds that “[m]any officials and analysts in Bangkok argue that former U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Ralph ‘Skip’ Boyce, a fluent Thai speaker with top connections across the political spectrum, was the last top American diplomat to see clearly through the country’s complex, personality-driven politics.”

He’s factually wrong and ideologically-driven in these claims. Again, no one is named. Kenney is a career diplomat who has been Ambassador in Ecuador, the Philippines and Thailand. She is currently a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State. PPT didn’t always like what she did, but she was anything but disinterested and could not be considered “less distinguished” than Boyce, who only ever held one ambassadorship.

Boyce was replaced as Ambassador to Thailand by Eric John, whose CV looks very similar to that of Boyce.

What marked John and Kenney as different from Boyce was that they did not lodge themselves exclusively on the rabid yellow side of politics. Wikileaks cables clearly show Boyce’s remarkable royalist bias and John’s questioning of the old elite, refusing to accept the usual positions. Like John, Kenney had far wider contacts than Boyce. It was this difference that marked them for attack by the rabid yellow right.

What is useful in Crispin’s report is the revelation of the efforts by the royalist elite to re-capture the U.S. Ambassador, a la Boyce:

Prior to his arrival in Bangkok, Davies received personal calls from Privy Councilors, royal advisors to King Bhumibol Adulyadej, welcoming his appointment, according to a source familiar with the communications. (In one of his first moves as ambassador, Davies on Friday visited the Grand Palace to pay respects and wish good health to the king.)

Obviously, the palace meddlers are keen to re-establish the U.S. relationship as theirs. Crispin goes on:

That royal treatment contrasts with Kenney’s initial reception in 2010, where she was scolded by Privy Council President and long-time U.S. ally Prem Tinsulonanda for the leak of confidential U.S. cables, including one that detailed a meeting he and other royal advisors held with Boyce to discuss sensitivities around the royal succession. It’s unclear if that meeting, which Kenney later described to confidantes as among the toughest of her career, colored her diplomacy in favor of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her family clan’s affiliated ‘Red Shirt’ pressure group.

Notice Crispin’s accusation of bias against Kenney but his silence on the captured Boyce. The notion that Kenney was biased in favor of red shirts is little more than a repetition of yellow-shirt social media vitriol. The bias of Boyce is in the record and in his own words.

Crispin then makes the case for military rule: “While the United States has publicly pushed for a rapid restoration of democracy, it has no doubt by now dawned on American policymakers that [The Dictator] Prayut intends to stay in power until the [royal] succession is secure.”

BreadThe point seems to be that the U.S. should accept this succession repression and royalist hegemony until the king dies. This sounds like Crispin as spokesman for the military and royalist elite. His bread seems buttered.

The problem with such advocacy is that the junta may decide to stay on for years after that, to manage the succession and long period of mourning. Still, that’s what some of these advocates seem to prefer.

Achara interviews Joe Gordon

10 11 2012

Achara Ashayagachat at the Bangkok Post has joined those interviewing lese majeste victim Joe Gordon as he returns home to the United States. This level of critical comment by one who has been convicted and released is unusual, and PPT hopes Joe eventually writes up his experience.

Joe again talks about The King Never Smiles. (It seems that the Post is unable to mention the book’s title.) He says he “did buy the book from a bookstore. It was published by Yale University Press and was written in an academic style.” He adds that reading it and posting links to it and unauthorized translations was his right and that he was a “victim of polarised Thai politics. I was in Thailand for health reasons but was dragged into dirty politics.”

A Bangkok Post photo

On prison, he states: “Prison conditions were far beyond being acceptable.”

On repeated refusals of bail for lese majeste inmates: “Without bail, the accused are never able to defend themselves well.”

On the lese majeste law: “It’s a shame that this government doesn’t dare to touch on the controversial aspects. I truly support the Nitirat group in its push for for the amendment [of the law], although I think what we really need is its abolition…. The law is used by conservatives to destroy the progressives.”

On the U.S., lese majeste and his case: “I was dismayed that the US issued a mild statement when I was convicted in December…”. PPT agrees that the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Embassy and Ambassador Kristie Kenney should be ashamed; they were spineless.

Finally, Joe notes that the “lese majeste law has shown its effect in sabotaging the institution of the monarchy rather than fostering and protecting it.” PPT understands this point but also views lese majeste as a part of the foundation of the repressive royalist state.

The betrayal of Joe Gordon

1 05 2012

Joe Gordon is not forgotten.

Joe, an American citizen, was arrested on 26 May 2011 by the Department of Special Investigation on lese majeste, security and related computer crimes infringements. On 7 October 2011, frustrated by the continual refusal of bail and facing the prospect of a long and drawn out trial and a long period in jail (almost no one is found not guilty), Joe decided to plead guilty.

On 8 December 2011, following his guilty plea, Joe was sentenced to a two and a half year prison sentence, reduced from five for the guilty plea. When he is alleged to have insulted the monarchy, he was engaging in legal activity in the United States.

Joe reportedly stood calmly with his ankles shackled as the sentence was read out. He has remained in prison for almost 5 months since that guilty plea.

The United States Embassy and the Department of State have failed this American citizen. The latter’s human rights policies and practices are bizarre, as this post makes very clear.

Why is Joe still incarcerated? Why is the State Department publicly silent? We suspect it has something to do with the gutless advice provided some years ago by the Ambassador to the palace, PAD and privy council, Ralph “Skip” Boyce. He said: “If an AmCit were to be charged with lese majeste, it is likely that a low key approach outside the public eye would stand the best chance of success in getting him or her out of custody and out of Thailand.”

What he means is that one doesn’t rock the monarchy’s boat in a Thailand that is a trusted ally. It seems that “Skip” means skipping the duty to speak out on human rights. In our view, this poor advice is part of the reason why Joe Gordon remains incarcerated.

Joe apparently followed the advice of pleading guilty and waiting for the royal pardon that Boyce reckoned was the best way to deal with this for an “AmCit.” That the Embassy and State Department appear to be neglecting Joe adds insult to his now almost one year in jail.

PPT can’t wait to read the next State Department report in human rights to see how they deal with their abject failure on Joe’s case.

Anyone heard anything at all from Ambassador Kenney in recent months? She seemed to buckle at the first hint of controversy.

Updated: US ambassador loves the king

7 01 2012

Is U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney serious or is she misquoted? At The Nation, she is reported to have told a small group of newspaper editors meeting her at her residence: “We love your king…”.

Let’s assume she is quoted accurately.

Kenney and another royalist

We can’t think of a similar example of silliness and nonsense from someone with the exalted position of ambassador.

And who is the collective “we”? Count us out!

For us, it is quite outrageous that a foreign ambassador should behave in the manner of a maniacal royalist. For Thais reading this bizarre bleat, she is making a statement that affirms “loyalty” to a foreign head of state. In our memory, not even the remarkably compromised, coup-supporting envoy Ralph Boyce made a claim of love for the king.

Kenny seemed to want the meeting where she made this ludicrous statement to reiterate that the “United States would never interfere in Thailand’s political affairs, and that controversial Article 112 is a legal matter to be sorted out by Thais only.”

But by making the absurd claim of “love,” she is intervening in domestic politics in support of fascist royalists. Is she ignorant, driven by Facebook and Twitter, or is she simply out of her depth? Perhaps all of these.

Related, her claims continue to demonstrate the embassy’s flawed position on lese majeste victim and U.S. citizen Joe Gordon. Joe is in prison for a crime in Thailand that was allegedly committed in Colorado, a state in the country the ambassador is meant to represent.

While the embassy did precious little for Joe, apparently the ambassador has been flummoxed by the ultra-royalist backlash on the embassy’s exceptionally mild comments about Joe’s conviction. How weak-kneed can an ambassador be?

In case the ambassador hadn’t noticed while she decked her halls and went to society events, Joe’s still in jail!

Update: For more on solidarity with Joe, PPT suggests a visit to this website.

Royalist racist Vasit at it again

22 12 2011

Prachatai has a revealing article that confirms the old royalist police general Vasit Dejkunjorn remains a right-wing racist. In the past, Vasit has opposed Thaksin Shinawatra, opposed elections, and more.

As background on Vasit, we quote some material we posted many months ago: He is a long-time palace favorite and once the Chief of the Royal Court Police for the Thai royal family, Under the military junta’s government he was assigned to break Thaksin’s alleged political hold over the police force. He was also a favorite of the Democrat Party. Michael Montesano says this of Vasit: “Briefer of CIA director Allen Dulles during the latter’s late-1950s visit to Thailand, veteran of anti-Soviet espionage in Bangkok, long the Thai Special Branch’s leading trainer in anti-Communist operations, and palace insider at the time of his country’s most intensive counter-insurgency efforts, Police General Vasit Dejkunjorn ranked among Thailand’s most important Cold Warriors.” His own background in the shadows of the Cold War did not prevent him from being of an office holder at Transparency International in Thailand. Vasit remains a warrior for the palace in his columns in Matichon and as a royalist speaker. For a very short time Vasit was deputy interior minister for Chatichai Choonhavan being raised from his position as deputy police chief. Vasit has been “retired” for years, but keeps popping up in strategic locations. His political views reflect the position of the palace. For examples of his royalism and extreme views, see here and here.

This political outing by the aged Vasit is in Matichon where he attacks the US Ambassador and the United Nations Office of Human Rights for daring to make comments on Thailand’s lese majeste law. Vasit attacks Ambassador Kristie Kenney. While PPT has also attacked her on her pathetic weakness on Article 112 and specifically the Joe Gordon case, Vasit’s attack is of quite a different order as he stoops low in a racist attack.

He claims Kenney can only “know and understand other peoples and countries … superficially…”. He cites “Kenney’s degrees from various universities, [and says] … that he doubted whether those universities’ curricula had provided her with enough understanding about foreign countries including, in particular, Southeast Asian countries, and made her sufficiently aware that ‘the Thais’ feelings toward their King are completely different from those of Americans toward the President of the United States of America’.”

It seems that no American can possibly understand the “feelings” Vasit thinks Thais have for the king. Perhaps someone should ask Vasit how he knows anything about what Thais really think. After all, he has led a cloistered life in the service of the palace and with spooks and the elite.

What Vasit means is that he can’t understand how an ambassador, and especially an American ambassador could possibly oppose lese majeste when the US played a large role in creating the modern monarchy and has supported the military elites that are twinned with the monarchy. Kenney cannot be forgiven for even the mildest break with the authoritarian royalists.

On the UN’s Ravina Shamdasani, Vasit dismisses her as “seeming quite young and looking Indonesian or Malay.” Vasit seems not just racist but suffering from the senility that comes with age when he feels the need to observe that “both Kenney and Shamdasani may not know that the Thai King has been enthroned by succession in the dynasty, not by election for a four-year term like the American president…”. We imagine he means such a statement to be taken seriously and can only think that he is either senile or attacking them as women who can’t possibly understand the most obvious of things.

He then parrots the usual royalist nonsense about the monarchy as an “institution which unifies the whole Thai nation and guarantees the continuity of the rule which has lasted for over 700 hundred years…” and that lese majeste is about “national security.” Such royalist malarkey is presumably believed by some. But the real meaning of this junk is simply to manage the interests of the royalist elite that refuses to share power.

What is clear is his warning to Thais: “Especially in Thailand where the King is ultimately loved, respected and worshipped by the Thai people, such acts [lese majeste] are deemed the ultimate offence which is not forgivable by the Thai people…”. Of course, no one elected Vasit to a position where he is entitled to speak for any Thai people, but that doesn’t stop this dangerous royalist. He adds: “A certain number of ungrateful Thai people are trying to destroy democracy [sic.] with the King as Head of State. If the US or the UN are of this opinion or support this, they should know that the Thai people who worship and want to protect the King are ready to be their enemy and will fight both the US and the UN…”.

This is a serious royalist position. He may be in his dotage, but Vasit’s declaration of war against Thais and foreigners who think differently from him is a reiteration of the civil war theme that royalists engaged in in early 2010. All notions of liberal royalism are ditched and the fight soon becomes vicious. Every royalist faction is now mobilized behind lese majeste as if amending a dangerous and draconian law was an attach on the whole edifice of the monarchy. It wasn’t that at all, but it is now.

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Joe Gordon

13 11 2011

Prachatai has another article by Lisa Gardner on the continuing lese majeste torture of U.S. citizen Joe Gordon, accused of translating works and posting links to Paul Handley’s widely available The King Never Smiles that almost anyone in Thailand who wants to has seen. Joe is was arrested in Thailand and accused of such “crimes” allegedly committed while he was living in the United States.

The report states that Joe is: “A political prisoner, no question; and a U.S. citizen, no less. A used car salesman from Boulder, Colorado. By international standards, the charges are conspicuously political as they are innocuous.”

Gardner refers to someone who goes by the apparently lightly worn moniker of “human rights advocate.” This person claims that his organization “can’t take up his case without knowing if he’s as pure as the driven snow…”.

That line and similar ones have been mouthed by several allegedly human rights advocates in Thailand, not least by the ever quiet Benjamin Zawacki at Amnesty International. As a major human rights organization, AI embarrasses itself and it supporters by its public silence on lese majeste. It has done nothing for the hundreds of victims of lese majeste repression and torture in Thailand.

Given that Joe has been forced through incarceration and multiple refusals bail – this is the torture in lese majeste repression – to plead guilty, he must now rely “solely on a royal pardon to ensure his release.

A correspondent to Prachatai states that he wrote to the U.S. Embassy and Ambassador Kristie Kenney on Joe’s case and received the following reply:

“Thank you for your letter to Ambassador Kenney of 3 October regarding Mr. Joe W. Gordon. While overseas, all private foreign nationals are subject to the laws of the country where they are located. Many of these laws are vastly different from U.S. laws. As you know, the Thai Department of Special Investigations accused Mr. Gordon, a private U.S. citizen, of lèse-majesté, specifically violating Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code and Section 14(3)(5) of the Thai Computer Crimes Act.

Since Mr Gordon’s arrest in May, Ambassador Kenney and other Embassy officials have raised Mr. Gordon’s situation with the Thai government officials many times, urging fair treatment and respect for his rights to freedom of expression. Embassy officials visit Mr. Gordon in jail regularly and attended his court hearings, most recently on October 10. We remain committed to providing Mr. Gordon all possible assistance allowed a private citizen under international convention.


Chief of American Citizen Services Unit”

The essential element of this is that the embassy and ambassador are doing nothing for Joe. They are meant to visit all U.S. citizens in prison, showing up in their air-conditioned cars and neatly pressed clothes to provide faux sympathy for a citizen in leg irons and prison garb accused of a crime in the United States. Big deal that they claim to take the case up with Thai government officials several times, “urging fair treatment and respect for his rights to freedom of expression.”

That is, frankly, diplomatic speak for doing nothing. Where is the expression of a U.S. citizen’s right to free speech in the United States? All this lot are doing is following previous ambassadorial advice: keeping a quiet public front, urging a guilty plea from the defendant (whether they are guilty or not), and then hoping for a pardon. Despite the fact that its own Human Rights report complains of a generalized pressure to sign confessions, U.S. diplomats play the palace’s game with them and do nothing to confront a dangerous abuse of basic civil rights.

Now here’s a thought or perhaps a wild dream. U.S. President Barack Obama is about to visit the Southeast Asia region. In that visit he will, according to the State Department, amongst other things, “stand up for democratic values.” The State Department has commented, just in the past few days, on human rights abuses in Vietnam, Burma, Uganda, Syria and Afghanistan, just to name a few. Secretary of State Clinton, who is about to visit Thailand, has recently made several statements on human rights and democracy, praising the U.S. ambassador in Syria as one of our diplomats of courage, who “was mobbed, assaulted, and threatened, just for meeting with peaceful protestors, he put his personal safety on the line to let the Syrian people know that America stands with them.”

What about letting an American citizen know that America stands with him? Why not have Obama raise Joe’s case and the human rights abuse that is lese majeste? What about having Clinton do the same. What about having Ambassador Kenney be a diplomat of courage and visit Joe and other lese majeste victims? Maybe Clinton can specifically mention lese majste in a public way. Maybe the State Department can even list the victims of lese majeste repression as political prisoners in its annual human rights report, where its most recent 2011 report continues to state the ludicrously erroneous (and palpably stupid) single line: “There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.”

While we doubt such acts of diplomatic “courage” will be seen, it would be a welcome change to see the United States act in a way that at least appeared to be something other than a supporter of the royalist status quo in Thailand.

Getting the story straight on the U.S. navy

27 10 2011

Following the AFP report based on U.S. sources and citing Navy spokesman Lieutenant Commander John Perkins, the Thai government made a remarkably garbled response. This has led to the U.S. Department of Defense getting its story better tuned, and they now say:

When the flooding started,* U.S. Pacific Command ordered the George Washington Carrier Strike Group, which was conducting a port visit to Singapore, to get underway earlier than scheduled to pre-position in case assistance was required. The command sent a 10-Marine humanitarian assistance survey team from Okinawa, Japan, to Bangkok, Thailand, to assess the situation in the country.

After meeting with Thai officials, the team determined that U.S. military assistance was not needed.

“The Thai government and military have led a tremendous effort to protect and help its citizens during the recent flooding,” Pentagon officials said.

The Navy ships have been released to participate in a previously scheduled annual exercise with the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force, Pentagon officials said. The destroyer USS Mustin now plans a previously unscheduled port visit to Laem Chabang, Thailand, to conduct community service events and military-to-military engagements.

*This is incorrect. The floods started long ago. It seems that for the U.S., the start of the flooding here means the threat to Bangkok.

To reinforce the point, U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney went on Thai television to deliver the Department of Defense line.

Kenney’s first statement is misleading. She is asked: “Can you clarify for us whether … the U.S. has withdrawn ships from relief operations in Thailand…”. She says: “No, that’s not true.” All reports, including the one cited above make it clear that the George Washington Carrier Strike Group, was pre-positioned and that it was then sent off to Japan. It is not clear how long the group was pre-positioned. Most of the remaining comment Kenney makes is clear.

PPT is still wondering which “Thai officials” the U.S. “team” met with and which of these officials were providing which mixed messages. At least the U.S. officials appear to have sorted out their message.

We can’t resist comparing Kenney’s highly public statements on this and her total silence on Joe Gordon’s lese majeste case. We wonder if the ambassador couldn’t make a clarification on the embassy’s weak position on a U.S. citizen rotting in a jail on political charges.

No Wikileaks but (too) much twittering

15 07 2011

Is the U.S. ambassador to Thailand Kristie Kenney serious about her work? AFP suggests that she craves publicity and sees her stunts and twittering as a new form of diplomacy. Kenney justifies her stunts with an argument that diplomacy “is about relationships. Between two governments, of course, but also between two peoples.”

The issue for PPT is that Kenney appears to be experiencing a relationship with herself, conveyed to others via (misnamed) social networking sites, which actually remove the ambassador from traditional diplomacy and keep people as “fans” with no real relationship. She might have 20,000 fans via Twitter but she never has to deal with a single one of them.

She’s right when she explains that her twittering “allows people to feel that they can reach out to the ambassador.” The trouble is that feelings aren’t the same as actual action. As one foreign diplomat commented, “It’s Alice in Wonderland…”. And, it is about making herself a celebrity.

When Kenney takes human rights seriously, when she gets down to Klong Prem prison and meets lese majeste victim Joe Gordon, one of her own citizens, then maybe she can be taken seriously and perhaps shed the sophomoric image.


C.J. Hinke letter on Joe Gordon

6 06 2011

Freedom Against Censorship Thailand


3rd June 2011

H.E. Kristie A. Kenney

US Ambassador to Thailand

Your Excellency:

It is incumbent that the US government support US citizen Joe W. Gordon who has recently been arrested on multiple charges in Thailand, the country of his birth.

Mr. Gordon has been charged with the following crimes:

1) lèse majesté 3-15 years, Criminal Code article 112

2)‘inciting unrest and disobedience of the law in public’, unknown penalty and legislation

3) ‘disseminating computer data which threatens national security’, 3-5 years, Computer Crimes Act 2007

4)‘national security’ charge, presumably using the Internal security Act 2007, unknown penalty.

The accused is in poor health but is being held without bail which prevents mounting an effective legal defence. Past experience with the Thai judicial process has shown that an accused is most often held for several years awaiting trial.

According to legal experts, there is a 98% conviction rate for this kind of offence. I estimate that single counts on these charges would amount to a sentence of 60 to 80 years in prison. Past strategy for Thai prosecutions of this nature have shown multiple counts added to each charge, increasing prison sentences exponentially.

In addition to Mr. Gordon’s accused lèse majesté for allegedly linking to portions of the banned biography of King Bhumibol, The King Never Smiles in Thai translation, he stands accused of being webmaster for Thai political Redshirts at the NorPorChor USA website.

This accusation is most interesting because Tantawut Taweewarodomkul was convicted and sentenced to 13 years in prison March 15 for precisely the same crime. Of course, he had the temerity to plead not guilty which doubled his sentence.

Will the real NorPorChor USA webmaster please stand up! Both these men were easy targets simply because they were in Thailand rather than overseas.

The US government has been vocal about global Internet freedom during the current administration. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton gave forceful speeches against Internet censorship in January 2010 and again in January 2011.

The US government has made six million dollars available in 2008 and thirty million dollars in 2011 to circumvent Internet blocking around the globe.

If the United States does not support Joe Gordon against Thai censorship, all these efforts have been empty lies to make itself look free in the eyes of the world.

I am well aware that the US cannot intervene in the legal processes of any other country, even to protect its citizens.

However, that certainly does not mean that the US government cannot speak out—and loudly—against a grave injustice and the censorship which has made Joe Gordon a prisoner of conscience.

One of the first steps the US government should offer is to guarantee Mr. Gordon’s bail. It is unlikely any court would then refuse to grant it.

As an American living in Thailand, I wish this message to be conveyed to the State Department in Washington and the highest levels of government.

I welcome consulting with you over Joe Gordon’s case.

Thank you.

for freedom,

CJ Hinke

Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT)

%d bloggers like this: