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A Base Camp, an Authoritarian Regime, and the Future of U.S. Blowback in Africa
By Nick Turse, TomDispatch
Admit it. You don’t know where Chad is. You know it’s in Africa, of course. But beyond that? Maybe with a map of the continent and by some process of elimination you could come close. But you’d probably pick Sudan or maybe the Central African Republic. Here’s a tip. In the future, choose that vast, arid swath of land just below Libya.
Who does know where Chad is? That answer is simpler: the U.S. military. Recent contracting documents indicate that it’s building something there. Not a huge facility, not a mini-American town, but a small camp.
That the U.S. military is expanding its efforts in Africa shouldn’t be a shock anymore. For years now, the Pentagon has been increasing its missions there and promoting a mini-basing boom that has left it with a growing collection of outposts sprouting across the northern tier of the continent. This string of camps is meant to do what more than a decade of counterterrorism efforts, including the training and equipping of local military forces and a variety of humanitarian hearts-and-minds missions, has failed to accomplish: transform the Trans-Sahara region in the northern and western parts of the continent into a bulwark of stability.
That the U.S. is doing more in Chad specifically isn’t particularly astonishing either. Earlier this year, TomDispatch and the Washington Post both reported on separate recent deployments of U.S. troops to that north-central African nation. Nor is it shocking that the new American compound is to be located near the capital, N’Djamena. The U.S. has previously employed N’Djamena as a hub for its air operations. What’s striking is the terminology used in the official documents. After years of adamant claims that the U.S. military has just one lonely base in all of Africa -- Camp Lemonnier in the tiny Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti -- Army documents state that it will now have “base camp facilities” in Chad.
U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) still insists that there is no Chadian base, that the camp serves only as temporary lodgings to support a Special Operations training exercise to be held next year. It also refused to comment about another troop deployment to Chad uncovered by TomDispatch. When it comes to American military activities in Africa, much remains murky.
Nonetheless, one fact is crystal clear: the U.S. is ever more tied to Chad. This remains true despite a decade-long effort to train its military forces only to see them bolt from one mission in the face of casualties, leave another in a huff after gunning down unarmed civilians, and engage in human rights abuses at home with utter impunity. All of this suggests yet another potential source of blowback from America’s efforts in Africa which have backfired, gone bust, and sown strife from Libya to South Sudan, the Gulf Guinea to Mali, and beyond.
A Checkered History with Chad
Following 9/11, the U.S. launched a counterterrorism program, known as the Pan-Sahel Initiative, to bolster the militaries of Mali, Niger, Mauritania, and Chad. Three years later, in 2005, the program expanded to include Nigeria, Senegal, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia and was renamed the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP). The idea was to turn a huge swath of Africa into a terror-resistant bulwark of stability. Twelve years and hundreds of millions of dollars later, the region is anything but stable, which means that it fits perfectly, like a missing puzzle piece, with the rest of the under-the-radar U.S. “pivot” to that continent.
Coups by the U.S.-backed militaries of Mauritania in 2005 and again in 2008, Niger in 2010, and Mali in 2012, as well as a 2011 revolution that overthrew Tunisia’s U.S.-backed government (after the U.S.-supported army stood aside); the establishment of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in 2006; and the rise of Boko Haram from an obscure radical sect to a raging insurgent movement in northern Nigeria are only some of the most notable recent failures in TSCTP nations. Chad came close to making the list, too, but attempted military coups in 2006 and 2013 were thwarted, and in 2008, the government, which had itself come to power in a 1990 coup, managed to hold off against a rebel assault on the capital.
Through it all, the U.S. has continued to mentor Chad’s military, and in return, that nation has lent its muscle to support Washington’s interests in the region. Chad, for instance, joined the 2013 U.S.-backed French military intervention to retake Mali after Islamists began routing the forces of the American-trained officer who had launched a coup that overthrew that country’s democratically elected government. According to military briefing slides obtained by TomDispatch, an Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) liaison team was deployed to Chad to aid operations in Mali and the U.S. also conducted pre-deployment training for its Chadian proxies. After initial success, the French effort became bogged down and has now become a seemingly interminable, smoldering counterinsurgency campaign. Chad, for its part, quickly withdrew its forces from the fight after sustaining modest casualties. “Chad's army has no ability to face the kind of guerrilla fighting that is emerging in northern Mali. Our soldiers are going to return to Chad,” said that country’s president, Idriss Deby.
Still, U.S. support continued.
In September of 2013, the U.S. military organized meetings with Chad’s senior-most military leaders, including Army chief General Brahim Seid Mahamat, Minister of Defense General Bénaïndo Tatola, and counterterror tsar Brigadier General Abderaman Youssouf Merry, to build solid relationships and support efforts at “countering violent extremist operations objectives and theater security cooperation programs.” This comes from a separate set of documents concerning “IO,” or Information Operations, obtained from the military through the Freedom of Information Act. French officials also attended these meetings and the agenda included the former colonial power’s support of “security cooperation with Chad in the areas of basic and officer training and staff procedures” as well as “French support [for] U.S. security cooperation efforts with the Chadian military.” Official briefing slides also mention ongoing “train and equip” activities with Chadian troops.
All of this followed on the heels of a murky coup plot by elements of the armed forces last May to which the Chadian military reacted with a crescendo of violence. According to a State Department report, Chad’s “security forces shot and killed unarmed civilians and arrested and detained members of parliament, military officers, former rebels, and others.”
After Chad reportedly helped overthrow the Central African Republic’s president in early 2013 and later aided in the 2014 ouster of the rebel leader who deposed him, it sent its forces into that civil-war-torn land as part of an African Union mission bolstered by U.S.-backed French troops. Soon, Chad’s peacekeeping forces were accused of stoking sectarian strife by supporting Muslim militias against Christian fighters. Then, on March 29th, a Chadian military convoy arrived in a crowded marketplace in the capital, Bangui. There, according to a United Nations report, the troops “reportedly opened fire on the population without any provocation. At the time, the market was full of people, including many girls and women buying and selling produce. As panic-stricken people fled in all directions, the soldiers allegedly continued firing indiscriminately.”
In all, 30 civilians were reportedly killed and more than 300 were wounded. Amid criticism, Chad angrily announced it was withdrawing its troops. “Despite the sacrifices we have made, Chad and Chadians have been targeted in a gratuitous and malicious campaign that blamed them for all the suffering” in the Central African Republic, declared Chad's foreign ministry.
In May, despite this, the U.S. sent 80 military personnel to Chad to operate drones and conduct surveillance in an effort to locate hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in neighboring Nigeria. “These personnel will support the operation of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over northern Nigeria and the surrounding area,” President Obama told Congress. The force, he said, will remain in Chad “until its support in resolving the kidnapping situation is no longer required.”
In July, AFRICOM admitted that it had reduced surveillance flights searching for the girls to focus on other missions. Now AFRICOM tells TomDispatch that, while “the U.S. continues to help Nigeria address the threat posed by Boko Haram, the previously announced ISR support deployment to Chad has departed.” Yet more than seven months after their abduction, the girls still have not been located, let alone rescued.
In June, according to the State Department, the deputy commander of U.S. Army Africa (USARAF), Brigadier General Kenneth H. Moore, Jr., visited Chad to “celebrat[e] the successful conclusion of a partnership between USARAF and the Chadian Armed Forces.” Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus arrived in that landlocked country at the same time to meet with “top Chadian officials.” His visit, according to an embassy press release, “underscore[d] the importance of bilateral relations between the two countries, as well as military cooperation.” And that cooperation has been ample.
Earlier this year, Chadian troops joined those of the United States, Burkina Faso, Canada, France, Mauritania, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Senegal, the United Kingdom, and host nation Niger for three weeks of military drills as part of Flintlock 2014, an annual Special Ops counterterrorism exercise for TSCTP nations. At about the time Flintlock was concluding, soldiers from Chad, Cameroon, Burundi, Gabon, Nigeria, the Republic of Congo, the Netherlands, and the United States took part in another annual training exercise, Central Accord 2014. The Army also sent medical personnel to mentor Chadian counterparts in “tactical combat casualty care,” while Marines and Navy personnel traveled to Chad to train that country’s militarized anti-poaching park rangers in small unit tactics and patrolling.
A separate contingent of Marines conducted military intelligence training with Chadian officers and non-commissioned officers. The scenario for the final exercise, also involving personnel from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mauritania, Senegal, and Tunisia, had a ripped-from-the-headlines quality: “preparing for an unconventional war against an insurgent threat in Mali.”
As for U.S. Army Africa, it sent trainers as part of a separate effort to provide Chadian troops with instruction on patrolling and fixed-site defense as well as live-fire training. “We are ready to begin training in Chad for about 1,300 soldiers -- an 850 man battalion, plus another 450 man battalion,” said Colonel John Ruffing, the Security Cooperation director of U.S. Army Africa, noting that the U.S. was working in tandem with a French private security firm.
In September, AFRICOM reaffirmed its close ties with Chad by renewing an Acquisition Cross Servicing Agreement, which allows both militaries to purchase from each other or trade for basic supplies. The open-ended pact, said Brigadier General James Vechery, AFRICOM’s director for logistics, “will continue to strengthen our bilateral cooperation on international security issues... as well as the interoperability of the armed forces of both nations.”
The Base That Wasn’t and the Deployment That Might Be
In the months since the Chadian armed forces’ massacre in Bangui, various U.S. military contract solicitations and related documents have pointed toward an even more substantive American presence in Chad. In late September, the Army put out a call for bids to sustain American personnel for six months at those “base camp facilities” located near N'Djamena. Supporting documents specifically mention 35 U.S. personnel and detail the services necessary to run an austere outpost: field sanitation, bulk water supply, sewage services, and trash removal. The materials indicate that “local security policy and procedures” are to be provided by the Chadian armed forces and allude to the use of more than one location, saying “none of the sites in Chad are considered U.S.-federally controlled facilities.” The documents state that such support for those facilities is to run until July 2015.
After AFRICOM failed to respond to repeated email requests for further information, I called up Chief of Media Operations Benjamin Benson and asked about the base camp. He was even more tight-lipped than usual. “I personally don’t know anything,” he told me. “That’s not saying AFRICOM doesn’t have any information on that.”
In follow-up emails, Benson eventually told me that the “base camp” is strictly a temporary facility to be used by U.S. forces only for the duration of the upcoming Flintlock 2015 exercise. He stated in no uncertain terms: “We are not establishing a base/forward presence/contingency location, building a U.S. facility, or stationing troops in Chad.”
Benson would not, however, let me speak with an expert on U.S. military activities in Chad. Nor would he confirm or deny the continued presence of the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance liaison team deployed to Chad in 2013 to support the French mission in Mali, first reported on by TomDispatch this March. “[W]e cannot discuss ISR activities or the locations and durations of operational deployments,” he wrote. If an ISR team is still present in Chad, this would represent a substantive long-term deployment despite the lack of a formal U.S. base.
The N’Djamena “base camp” is just one of a series of Chadian projects mentioned in recent contracting documents. An Army solicitation from September sought “building materials for use in Chad,” while supporting documents specifically mention an “operations center/multi-use facility.” That same month, the Army awarded a contract for the transport of equipment from Niamey, Niger, the home of another of the growing network of U.S. outposts in Africa, to N’Djamena. The Army also began seeking out contractors capable of supplying close to 600 bunk beds that could support an American-sized weight of 200 to 225 pounds for a facility “in and around the N'Djamena region.” And just last month, the military put out a call for a contractor to supply construction equipment -- a bulldozer, dump truck, excavator, and the like -- for a project in, you guessed it, N'Djamena.
This increased U.S. interest in Chad follows on the heels of a push by France, the nation’s former colonial overlord and America’s current premier proxy in Africa, to beef up its military footprint on the continent. In July, following U.S.-backed French military interventions in Mali and the Central African Republic, French President François Hollande announced a new mission, Operation Barkhane (a term for a crescent-shaped sand dune found in the Sahara). Its purpose: a long-term counterterrorism operation involving 3,000 French troops deployed to a special forces outpost in Burkina Faso and forward operating bases in Mali, Niger, and not surprisingly, Chad.
“There are plenty of threats in all directions,” Hollande told French soldiers in Chad, citing militants in Mali and Libya as well as Boko Haram in Nigeria. “Rather than having large bases that are difficult to manage in moments of crisis, we prefer installations that can be used quickly and efficiently.” Shortly afterward, President Obama approved millions in emergency military aid for French operations in Mali, Niger, and Chad, while the United Kingdom, another former colonial power in the region, dispatched combat aircraft to the French base in N'Djamena to contribute to the battle against Boko Haram.
From Setback to Blowback?
In recent years, the U.S. military has been involved in a continual process of expanding its presence in Africa. Out of public earshot, officials have talked about setting up a string of small bases across the northern tier of the continent. Indeed, over the last years, U.S. staging areas, mini-bases, and outposts have popped up in the contiguous nations of Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and, skipping Chad, in the Central African Republic, followed by South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti. A staunch American ally with a frequent and perhaps enduring American troop presence, Chad seems like the natural spot for still another military compound -- the only missing link in a long chain of countries stretching from west to east, from one edge of the continent to the other -- even if AFRICOM continues to insist that there’s no American “base” in the works.
Even without a base, the United States has for more than a decade poured copious amounts of money, time, and effort into making Chad a stable regional counterterrorism partner, sending troops there, training and equipping its army, counseling its military leaders, providing tens of millions of dollars in aid, funding its military expeditions, supplying its army with equipment ranging from tents to trucks, donating additional equipment for its domestic security forces, providing a surveillance and security system for its border security agents, and looking the other way when its military employed child soldiers.
The results? A flight from the fight in Mali, a massacre in the Central African Republic, hundreds of schoolgirls still in the clutches of Boko Haram, and a U.S. alliance with a regime whose “most significant human rights problems,” according to the most recent country report by the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, “were security force abuse, including torture; harsh prison conditions; and discrimination and violence against women and children,” not to mention the restriction of freedom of speech, press, assembly, and movement, as well as arbitrary arrest and detention, denial of fair public trial, executive influence on the judiciary, property seizures, child labor and forced labor (that also includes children), among other abuses. Amnesty International further found that human rights violations “are committed with almost total impunity by members of the Chadian military, the Presidential Guard, and the state intelligence bureau, the Agence Nationale de Securité.”
With Chad, the United States finds itself more deeply involved with yet another authoritarian government and another atrocity-prone proxy force. In this, it continues a long series of mistakes, missteps, and mishaps across Africa. These include an intervention in Libya that transformed the country from an autocracy into a near-failed state, training efforts that produced coup leaders in Mali and Burkina Faso, American nation-building that led to a failed state in South Sudan, anti-piracy measures that flopped in the Gulf of Guinea, the many fiascos of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, the training of an elite Congolese unit that committed mass rapes and other atrocities, problem-plagued humanitarian efforts in Djibouti and Ethiopia, and the steady rise of terror groups in U.S.-backed countries like Nigeria and Tunisia.
Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch.com and a fellow at the Nation Institute. A 2014 Izzy Award winner, he has reported from the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Africa and his pieces have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. His New York Times bestseller Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam recently received an American Book Award.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt's latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.
Copyright 2014 Nick Turse
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
DeSmogBlog's Steve Horn and Republic Report's Lee Fang have co-written an in-depth report on the influence the government-industry revolving door has had on Big Oil's ability to obtain four liquefied natural gas (LNG) export permits since 2012 from the Obama Administration.
Photo Credit: DeSmogBlog
Titled "Natural Gas Exports: Washington's Revolving Door Fuels Climate Threat," the report published here on DeSmogBlog and on Republic Report serves as the launching pad of an ongoing investigation. It will act as the prelude of an extensive series of articles by both websites uncovering the LNG exports influence peddling machine.
The report not only exposes the lobbying apparatus that has successfully opened the door for LNG exports, but also the PR professionals paid to sell them to the U.S. public. It also exposes those who have gone through the "reverse revolving door," moving from industry back to government and sometimes back again.
It reveals that many former Obama Administration officials now work as lobbyists or PR professionals on behalf of the LNG exports industry, as do many former Bush Administration officials. So too do those with ties to potential 2016 Democratic Party presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.
Michigan's First Congressional District is cold enough to freeze spit. Half of it is disconnected from the rest of Michigan and tacked onto the top of Wisconsin. A bit of it is further north than that, but rumored to be inhabited nonetheless.
In the recent Congressional elections, incumbent Republican Congressman Dan Benishek was reelected to his third term with 52 percent of the votes. Benishek is a climate-change denier and committed to limiting himself to three terms, a pair of positions that may end up working well together.
Benishek's predecessor in Congress was a Democrat, and a Democrat took 45 percent of the vote this year. Will that Democrat run again in 2016? Some would argue that if he does it should be from prison. Before he ran for office, Jerry Cannon ran the U.S. death camp at Guantanamo and, according to a witness, was personally responsible for ordering torture.
Green Party candidate Ellis Boal took 1 percent of the vote in Michigan's First, after apparently failing to interest corporate media outlets in his campaign, and by his own account failing utterly to interest them in what he managed to learn about Cannon, who also "served" in the war in Iraq.
Now, Congress is jam-packed with members of both major parties who have effectively condoned and covered up torture for years. Both parties have elected numerous veterans of recent wars who have participated in killing in wars that they themselves, in some cases, denounce as misguided. And we've read about the Bush White House overseeing torture in real time from afar. But it still breaks new ground for the party of the President who has claimed to be trying to close Guantanamo for six years to put up as a candidate a man who ran the place, and a man whose role in torture was not entirely from his air-conditioned office.
I would also venture to say that it breaks new media ground for the news outlets covering the recent election nationally and locally in Michigan's First District to not only miss this story but actively refuse to cover it when Boal held it in their faces and screamed. "Despite many attempts," Boal says, "I have been unable to interest any media in it, save for a small newspaper in Traverse City (near me) which gave it cursory attention."
Boal sent out an offer to any reporter willing to take an interest: "I located a witness, a former detainee now cleared and back home in Bosnia, who can testify of an instance of torture visited on him in early 2004, ordered and supervised by Cannon. I can put you in touch with him through his attorney. The details of the incident are here. . . . Without success I tried to make it a campaign issue."
Jerry Cannon, according to both Wikipedia and his own website, first "served" in the war that killed three to four million Vietnamese. He was commander of the Joint Detention Operations Group Joint Task Force Guantanamo from 2003 to 2004. He was Deputy Commanding General responsible for developing Iraqi police forces in Iraq from 2008 to 2009, and U.S. Forces-Iraq Provost Marshal General and Deputy Commanding General for Detention Operations in Iraq from 2010 to 2011. Boy, everything this guy touches turns out golden!
Boal has collected evidence of torture during Cannon's time at Guantanamo, from the Red Cross, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the U.S. Senate, and public reports including in the New York Times, here.
Boal focuses on Mustafa Ait Idir, a former prisoner of Guantanamo who, like most, has been widely written about, and who, like most, has been found innocent of any wrong-doing and been released (in November 2008 after years of wrongful imprisonment).
Mustafa Ait Idir says that soldiers at Guantanamo threw him down on rocks and jumped on him, causing injuries including a broken finger, dislocated knuckles, and half his face paralyzed; they sprayed chemicals in his face, squeezed his testicles, and slammed his head on the floor and jumped on him. They bent his fingers back to cause pain, and broke one of them in the process. They stuck his head in a toilet and flushed it. They stuck a hose in his mouth and forced water down his throat. They refused him medical attention.
Boal communicated with Idir through Idir's lawyer, and Idir identified Cannon from photos and a video as the man who had threatened him with punishment if he did not hand over his pants. (Prisoners who believed they needed pants in order to pray were being stripped of their pants as a means of humiliation and abuse.) Idir refused to give up his pants unless he could have them back to wear for praying. Consequently, he was "enhanced interrogated."
Torture and complicity in torture are felonies under U.S. law, a fact that the entire U.S. political establishment has gone to great lengths to obscure.
I shared the information above with Rebecca Gordon, author of Mainstreaming Torture, and she replied:
"Torture is a 'non-partisan' practice in this country. It's beyond disgraceful that the Democratic Party would run Jerry Cannon for Congress. Sadly, while most (but clearly not all!) Dems have repudiated torture in words, their deeds have been more ambiguous. Five years after President Obama took office, the prison at Guantánamo remains open, and torture continues there. The Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture has yet to be released. (Perhaps lame duck senator Mark Udall will be persuaded to read the whole thing into the Congressional Record, as some of us are hoping.) We have yet to get a full accounting, not only of the CIA's activities, but of all U.S. torture in the 'war on terror.' Equally important, President Obama made it clear at the beginning of his first term that no one would be held accountable for torture. 'Nothing will be gained,' he said 'by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.' But we know this is not true. When high government officials know that they can torture with impunity, torture will continue."
Noting Cannon's resume post-Guantanamo, Gordon said, "Under the al-Maliki government, the Iraqi police force, and in particular the detention centers operated by the Iraqi Special Police Commandos, routinely abused members of Iraq's Sunni communities, thereby further inflaming the political and social enmity between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq. When the so-called Islamic State began operating in Iraq, they found willing collaborators in Sunni communities whose members had been tortured by the al-Maliki government's police. When Jerry Cannon went to Guantánamo, he went as an Army reservist. In civilian life he was Sheriff of Kalkaska County in Michigan. Cannon's abusive practices and contemptuous attitudes towards detainees did not originate in Guantánamo. He brought them with him from the United States. Similarly, in civilian life, the members of the reservist unit responsible for the famous outrages at Abu Ghraib were prison guards from West Virginia. Their ringleader, Specialist Charles Graner, famously wrote home to friends about his activities at Abu Ghraib, 'The Christian in me says it's wrong, but the corrections officer in me says, "I love to make a grown man piss himself."' In fact, if you want to find torture hidden in plain sight, look no farther than the jails and prisons of this country."
The mystery of where torture came from turns out to be no mystery at all. It came from the prison industrial complex. And it's now been so mainstreamed that it's no bar to running for public office. But here's another mystery: Why is President Obama going to such lengths to cover up his predecessor's torture, including insisting on redactions in the Senate report on CIA torture that even Senator Dianne Feinstein claims not to want censored? Surely it's not because of all the gratitude Obama's receiving from former President Bush or his supporters! Actually, it's no mystery at all. As Gordon points out: the torture is ongoing.
President Elect Obama made very clear in January 2009 that he would not allow torturers to be prosecuted and would be "looking forward" instead of (what all law enforcement outside of science fiction requires) backward. By February 2009, reports were coming in that torture at Guantanamo was worsening rather than ceasing, and included: "beatings, the dislocation of limbs, spraying of pepper spray into closed cells, applying pepper spray to toilet paper and over-force-feeding detainees who are on hunger strike." In April 2009 a Guantanamo prisoner phoned a media outlet to report being tortured. As time went by the reports kept coming, as the military's written policy would lead one to expect.
In May 2009, former vice president Dick Cheney forced into the news the fact that, even though Obama had "banned torture" by executive order (torture being a felony and a treaty violation before and after the "banning") Obama maintained the power to use torture as needed. Cheney said that Obama's continued claim of the power to torture vindicated his own (Cheney's) authorization of torture. David Axelrod, White House Senior Advisor, refused repeatedly, to dispute Cheney's assertion -- also supported by Leon Panetta's confirmation hearing for CIA director, at which he said the president had the power to torture and noted that rendition would continue. In fact, it did. The New York Times quickly reported that the U.S. was now outsourcing more torture to other countries. The Obama administration announced a new policy on renditions that kept them in place, and a new policy on lawless permanent imprisonment that kept it in place but formalized it, mainstreamed it. Before long Obama-era rendition victims were alleging torture.
As the Obama White House continued and sought to extend the occupation of Iraq, torture continued to be an Iraqi policy, as it has post-occupation and during occupation 3.0. It has also remained a U.S. and Afghan policy in Afghanistan, with no end in sight. The U.S. military has continued to use the same personnel as part of its torture infrastructure. And secret CIA torture prisons have continued to pop into the news even though the CIA was falsely said to have abandoned that practice. While the Obama administration has claimed unprecedented powers to block civil suits against torturers, it has also used, in court, testimony produced by torture, something that used to be illegal (and still is if you go by written laws).
"Look at the current situation," Obama said in 2013, "where we are force-feeding detainees who are being held on a hunger strike . . . Is this who we are?" Well, it is certainly who some of us have become, including Obama, the senior authority in charge of the soldiers doing the force-feeding, and a human chameleon able to express outrage at his own policies, a trick that is perhaps more central to the mainstreaming of vicious and sadistic practices than we always care to acknowledge.
Those retaining some sense of decency are currently urging the Obama administration to go easy in its punishment of a nurse who refused to participate in the force-feeding, who in fact insisted on being "who we are."
By Robert C. Koehler
As the grand jury’s decision on whether nor not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson loomed, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon told a TV reporter “he’s preparing for peace and war.”
What the governor did, in the tense uncertainty preceding the decision, was pre-declare a state of emergency and activate the Missouri National Guard to help contain the possibility of violent, anti-police protests. He also appointed 16 people, including several of the protesters, to a newly created “Ferguson Commission” to recommend solutions to the racial problems plaguing that community, which the killing of Michael Brown last August made unavoidably apparent.
Meanwhile, gun sales at local shops are through the roof and the local Klan is stirring, distributing fliers warning protesters that they’ve awakened a sleeping giant.
America, America . . .
Before we proceed further, let’s stir in a little Einstein: “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”
That level of thinking — the political, governmental and media consensus of who we are — is blind and deaf to history and locked into us-vs.-them thinking. Security, whether domestic or international, is a game played against presumed and, often enough, imagined enemies. Thus, prior to the governor’s decision to call out the Guard, the FBI had issued an intelligence bulletin warning local officials that “the announcement of the grand jury’s decision … will likely be exploited by some individuals to justify threats and attacks against law enforcement and critical infrastructure,” according to the Washington Post.
If nothing else, this sort of consciousness remains utterly unaware of its own contribution to the trouble. As law enforcement ups its level of militarized authoritarianism, it agitates the elements predisposed to regard it as the enemy and seek its humiliation and defeat. This is a small segment of the protesters, but no matter. Preparing for war requires, first of all, an oversimplification of the social context in which the preparers operate. Once this is accomplished, the warnings become self-fulfilling prophecies.
In other words, what matters is that there’s an “enemy” out there. The preparation essentially creates the enemy, especially when the power imbalance is enormous, e.g.: federal, state and local government, plus maybe half the general population, vs. distraught, impoverished community residents.
What doesn’t matter is that the protesters want profound, nonviolent change, not an excuse to trash local convenience stores. For instance, the Don’t Shoot Coalition, which formed in the wake of Michael Brown’s shooting and has coordinated protest efforts since then, recently issued 19 “rules of engagement” in anticipation of the grand jury verdict. Rule no. 1: “The first priority shall be preservation of human life.”
Other rules include: “Every attempt should be made to communicate with protesters to reach ‘common sense’ agreements based on these protocols, both ahead of time and at the scene of protests.”
And: “Police rank and file will be instructed to provide every latitude to allow for free assembly and expression, treating protesters as citizens and not ‘enemy combatants.’”
At the very least, what we do not need, in the wake of the terrible wrong of an 18-year-old’s killing, is a dismissive oversimplification of the community’s reaction to it. On the other side of the issue, we need infinitely more than an indictment and, ultimately, conviction and punishment of the police officer who did it. That is to say, what matters here is not the fixing of personal blame (or lack thereof), but the acknowledgment of systemic and historic wrong of monumental proportions and — at long, long last — a momentum of social healing that doesn’t end prematurely.
The United States of America is a nation founded on slavery and the conquest and slaughter of the indigenous peoples in its way. It’s also a democracy, sort of — originally for white, male property owners — which, over two-plus centuries, has expanded its recognition of who qualifies as a human being and who, thus, can be a full participant in the political process. The country’s sense of exceptionalism exceeds, by a wide margin, the good it has brought into the world.
Oh well. That’s no excuse to quit trying. The possibility of who we can become — a healed, connected people, an invaluable force for global salvation — is worth our endless effort to realize. And maybe the Ferguson Commission has more than a perfunctory contribution to make to such an achievement.
What I know is that we cannot define our social brokenness in terms of good guys and bad guys, which is always so tempting. Alexis Madrigal, writing last August in The Atlantic about UCLA’s Center of Policing Equity, which has investigated police behavior and racial disparity in dozens of police departments in the U.S., made an interesting observation to that end:
“When staffers from the Center of Policing Equity go into a police department, they talk with community advocates, police officers, and the people of the city—all of whom provide important information about law enforcement behaviors. What they find is communities who have for generations felt like they’re not being policed but occupied. And yet, at the same time, they find the ‘vast majority’ of police officers and executives trying to do the right thing.”
The “level of thinking” that has caused immeasurable harm within and beyond our national borders — that killed Michael Brown — begins with a conviction that the enemy is out there, waiting to get us. If we had the courage to look beyond this fear, what we would see, perhaps, is not an enemy but someone almost indistinguishable from ourselves.
Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at commonwonders.com.
© 2014 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, INC.
By Kathy Kelly
On November 7, 2014, while visiting Kabul, The Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, noted that NATO will soon launch a new chapter, a new non-combat mission in Afghanistan. But it’s difficult to spot new methods as NATO commits itself to sustaining combat on the part of Afghan forces.
Stoltenberg commended NATO Allies and partner nations from across the world, in an October 29th speech, in Brussels, declaring that for over a decade, they “stood shoulder to shoulder with Afghanistan.” According to Stoltenberg, “this international effort has contributed to a better future for Afghan men, women and children.” Rhetoric from NATO and the Pentagon regularly claims that Afghans have benefited from the past 13 years of U.S./NATO warfare, but reports from other agencies complicatethese claims.
UNAMA, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, found that in the first six months of 2014, combat among the warring parties surpassed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as the leading cause of conflict-related death and injury to Afghan civilians.
This "disturbing upward spiral" has meant the number of children and other vulnerable Afghans killed and wounded since the beginning of the year rose dramatically and "is proving to be devastating."
Stoltenberg’s assurance of NATO’s positive contribution to civilian welfare in Afghanistan is also undermined by a recently issued Amnesty International report examining NATO/ISAF operations. These operations include air strikes, drone attacks and night raids, all ofwhich have caused civilian deaths and also involved torture, disappearances, and cover-ups. The report, entitled “Left in the Dark,” gives ten chilling and horrific case studies occurring between 2009- 2013. Amnesty International states that two of the case studies “involve abundant and compelling evidence of war crimes.”
I wish that NATO’s commander could have joined Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs) that same week in Afghanistan as they visited an extraordinarily sustainable project, called “Emergency.” This Italy--based network of hospitals and clinics has been particularly remarkable for effectively saving and improving the lives of many Afghan people, over the past 13 years, while at the same time rejecting any form of war or use of weapons within its facilities.
At the entrance to any one of Emergency’s clinics or hospitals, a sign at the door says “No Weapons Allowed.” A logo banning guns is next to the Emergency logo. Although they work in one of the most intense war zones in the world, Emergency staff, including security guards, reject any use of weapons inside their facilities.
At the gate of Emergency Hospital, Kabul
Yusof Hakimi, the nurse in charge of Emergency’s ICU in the Kabul hospital, assured us that the ban is strictly upheld. A child isn’t allowed to carry a plastic toy gun inside the hospital premises. No one can wear camouflage clothing. “Even the president of Afghanistan cannot carry a gun inside our hospitals!” says Luca Radaelli, the medical coordinator of Emergency’s hospital in Kabul. He added that it’s not easy to maintain a facility where wars are banned. “But,” he adds, “everyone understands the purposes and respects the rules.”
Yusof and Luca in Emergency Hospital, Kabul
They’ve learned ways of providing security without the use of weapons. One such way involves an absolute commitment to neutrality.
They never take sides in the various conflicts that plague Afghanistan.
In fact, they don’t even ask if a patient belongs to one side or another.
Most NGOs in Afghanistan arrange for their staff to travel in heavily armed vehicles. But unarmed Emergency ambulances travel through war zones, in multiple directions, across the country. “We don’t have armed guards,” says Luca. “We don’t have bullet proof cars. We don’t change our routes because,” he explains in his clear, matter-of-fact style, “we have never been targeted.”
Luca says they acquire, and maintain, security through their reputation. Since they never charge any patient for health care, they could not be accused of trying to make a profit.
They also pursue strong diplomatic conversations with each group affected by their work, such as new workers, contractors, local government officials, and religious leaders. They explain their policy of maintaining neutral independence towardeveryone involved. “If you provide something good, something skilled, and it is free of charge,” he adds, “there is no need to protect yourself. People won’t get angry.”
If NATO and U.S. commanders took a fraction of what they have spent securing this region by violence- (the Pentagon has requested 58.5 billion dollars for Fiscal Year 2015 in Afghanistan)- and spent that instead to help people harmed by the ravages of war, could non-combat projects, such as Emergency’s, start to work? There are numerous, obvious solutions to problems in Afghanistan which NATO countries could actually consider,oreven attempt, if the alliance was actually there to help improve the quality of life for Afghan people.
One solution is to establish health care programs similar to what Emergency has created.
However, Emergency isn’t in Afghanistan to point out a sane path through disaster to all the actors, here and abroad, who seem unlikely to discard paths of suicidal hatred and ignorance.
In Luca’s view, Emergency is simply what a healthcare institution ought to be.
“It grows from a very simple idea. Provide high quality service for everyone, not thinking about profit, but just about patients' health.”
“What is so complicated?” he asks.
We might address a similar question to NATO Sec. Gen. Jens Stoltenberg: A new, non-combat mission, in Afghanistan, one that rejects weapons and war. What would be so complicated?
This article first appeared on the Telesur English website.
Kathy Kelly (email@example.com) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org) While in Afghanistan, she is a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (ourjourneytosmile.org)
By William Blum
“Russia reinforced what Western and Ukrainian officials described as a stealth invasion on Wednesday [August 27], sending armored troops across the border as it expanded the conflict to a new section of Ukrainian territory. The latest incursion, which Ukraine’s military said included five armored personnel carriers, was at least the third movement of troops and weapons from Russia across the southeast part of the border this week.”
None of the photos accompanying this New York Times story online showed any of these Russian troops or armored vehicles.
By Bruce K. Gagnon, Coordinator, Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space
The American revolution was supposed to have happened because of the revulsion our 'founding fathers' had with the institution of 'divine right of kings' or monarchy. Supposedly the new American nation went to war with England because a revolutionary 'democracy' was the preferred way of organizing our new nation. (Of course the truth was that the American 'founding fathers' had their own dreams of empire which is just what has sadly turned out for this country. But the mythology of America is all about our rejection of monarchy.)
Fast forward to today and we see the headlines on November 20 in the Portland Press Herald newspaper: Bath Iron Works may get Saudi ship contract worth billions.
The article reads in part:
Saudi Arabian officials say they are preparing to move forward with an upgrade to the country’s navy that could include a multibillion-dollar contract for Bath Iron Works, the Reuters news service reported Wednesday.
BIW’s DDG-51 destroyer is one of at least two ship designs being considered for the long-discussed Saudi Naval Expansion Program II, or SNEP, which has an estimated value of roughly $20 billion, Reuters said.
Patrick Dewar, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin, told the news service that Saudi officials were planning to release new information over the next several months about how the country plans to proceed with SNEP.
Dewar told Reuters that the Saudis are considering whether to buy up to a dozen of Lockheed’s steel monohull Littoral Combat Ship or the larger DDG-51 destroyer built by BIW, a subsidiary of General Dynamics Corp.
“We are aware of the ongoing discussions between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia concerning modernization of the Saudi fleet,” said BIW spokesman Jim DeMartini.
“We are in the business of building naval surface combatants and should the two governments reach an agreement on a program, we would be highly interested in pursuing that opportunity.”
Looking at a map we see the close proximity of Iran to Saudi Arabia. We know that the Saudi monarchy wants to take down Iran (as does Israel and the US). We know that the DDG-51 destroyer built by BIW is outfitted with so-called 'missile defense' systems that are key elements in US first-strike attack planning. We know that these warships are heavily reliant on US military satellites to direct the on-board weapons systems to their targets. Saudi Arabia does not have the military satellites nor the ground-based command and control systems to guide these weapons systems to their targets. Thus any Saudi high-tech ships and weapons would be run through the Pentagon's warfighting satellite system. In other words the Saudi monarchy would be paying for the ships that would essentially augment existing US military forces now surrounding Iran in places like Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq and other locations in the region.
Most interesting of all is that US shipyard workers would be building warships for a brutal and unforgiving monarchy that is known for making ISIS look like amateurs. Saudi Arabia is one of the last places on earth where capital punishment is a public spectacle - carried out in what is called Chop Chop Square in Riyadh.
Capital and physical punishments imposed by Saudi courts, such as beheading, stoning (to death), amputation and lashing, as well as the sheer number of executions have been strongly criticized. The death penalty can be imposed for a wide range of offences including murder, rape, armed robbery, repeated drug use, apostasy, adultery, witchcraft and sorcery and can be carried out by beheading with a sword, stoning or firing squad, followed by crucifixion. The 345 reported executions between 2007 and 2010 were all carried out by public beheading. The last reported execution for sorcery took place in September 2014.
Interfaith Unity Against Terrorism reports:
Saudi Arabia has been the official sponsor of Wahabbism – the extremist thought from which all jihadist militancy now pours forth. Saudi Arabia and its Wahabbism’s militant Islamic doctrines constitute a clear and present danger to the Middle East and to the entire world. The house of Saud derives its legitimacy from religious credentials underwritten by Wahabbi clerics. Wahabbism is the creed that has fuelled all jihads –many with West’s blessings- in world’s recent memory.
You'd think that official circles in Washington would be up-in-arms about selling high-tech weapons of war to the brutal monarchy of Saudi Arabia. But this likely $20 billion weapons sale indicates just how corrupt and immoral the US 'experiment' in democracy has become. The #1 industrial export product of the US today is weapons. The US wants to take down Iran and has made a pact with the Saudi's to do just that.
There can be no doubt that the American dream of freedom, justice and democracy is now no more than a hollow phrase.
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
The U.S. Senate failed to get the necessary 60 votes to approve the northern leg of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline, but incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) already promised it will get another vote when the GOP-dominated Senate begins its new session in 2015.
Though the bill failed, one of the key narratives that arose during the congressional debate was the topic of whether or not the tar sands product that may flow through it will ultimately be exported to the global market. President Barack Obama, when queried by the press about the latest Keystone congressional action, suggested tar sands exports are the KXL line's raison d'etre.
Houston Ship Channel; Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Obama's comments struck a nerve. Bill sponsor U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and supporter U.S. Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) both stood on the Senate floor and said Keystone XL is not an export pipeline in the minutes leading up to the bill's failure.
"Contrary to the ranting of some people that this is for export...Keystone is not for export," said Landrieu, with Hoeven making similar remarks.
But a DeSmog probe into a recent merger of two major oil and gas industry logistics and marketing companies, Oiltanking Partners and Enterprise Products Partners, has demonstrated key pieces of the puzzle are already being put together by Big Oil to make tar sands exports a reality.
To contact Bartolo email peaceloversingle[at]yahoo[dot]com (replacing [at] with @, [dot] with .)
By Dave Lindorff
Just as a police officer in a heightened state of panic surrounded by the comfort of impunity will shoot an innocent person, the Governor of Missouri has declared a state of emergency preemptively, thus justifying violence in response to something that hasn't happened. Bombing Iraq in response to nonexistent weapons and Libya in response to nonexistent threats worked out so well, we may as well try it domestically, the Governor is perhaps thinking. "There Is No Way That This Ends Well" is a headline I actually just read about Ferguson.
Well, why not? Who says it can't end well? The police may want continued impunity. The justice system may be rigged against any sort of reconciliation. The government may want -- or believe it rationally expects -- violence. But all of those parties are capable of changing their behavior, and the people of Ferguson are capable of determining their own actions rather than following a script placed before them.
We should understand that the violence in Ferguson is not new and is not limited to Ferguson. It did not begin with a particular shooting. It did not begin with any shooting. It began with a system of oppression that keeps people in misery amidst great wealth. Just as that injustice is inexcusable, so is any violence in response to it. But the outrage at an angry man knocking over a trashcan conspicuously exhibited by people who cheer for mass-murder in Iraq isn't well thought-through or helpful. And the disproportionate focus on such small-scale violence misses more than the larger picture. It also misses the courageous, disciplined, principled, and truly loving actions of those resisting injustice creatively and constructively. Such actions are not always successful and not always well-planned to the satisfaction of scholars. But they have long been far more common than is acknowledged on the television or in the history books.
Back in 1919 in Lawrence, Massachusetts, some 30,000 textile workers went on strike for decent pay. The mill owners and the police sought to provoke them, infiltrate them, intimidate them, and brutalize them. The workers held strong. The police set up machine guns along the streets, toying with the model of domestic war now exhibited in Ferguson. Organizer A.J. Muste spoke to the workers on the morning that the machine guns appeared:
"When I began my talk by saying that the machine guns were an insult and a provocation and that we could not take this attack lying down, the cheers shook the frame building. Then I told them, in line with the strike committee's decision, that to permit ourselves to be provoked into violence would mean defeating ourselves; that our real power was in our solidarity and in our capacity to endure suffering rather than give up the fight for the right to organize; that no one could 'weave wool with machine guns'; that cheerfulness was better for morale than bitterness and that therefore we would smile as we passed the machine guns and the police on the way from the hall to the picket lines around the mills. I told the spies, who were sure to be in the audience, to go and tell the police and the mill management that this was our policy. At this point the cheers broke out again, louder and longer, and the crowds left, laughing and singing."
And, they won. The powers that owned the mill and put the weapons of war on the streets of that town conceded defeat, and conceded it without the bitterness that would have come had the workers and their supporters somehow been able to defeat the machine guns with violence.
That type of incident is as common as water, but little recounted. It's what organizers in Ferguson are calling for right now, and they are being preemptively ignored by the media. But it doesn't come easy. And it doesn't come without solidarity. If the people of the United States and the world chip in to support the people of Ferguson in their struggle for full justice, if we nonviolently and smilingly take on the forces of militarism and racism everywhere at once, and in Missouri in particular, we need not defeat the police or the Governor. We need only defeat cruelty, bigotry, and brutality. And that we can do. And that would be ending well.
Here's FAIR's excellent report on pro-war bias in the corporate media, and here's Peter Hart describing it well on Democracy Now:
I'd love to see a complete report of all the corporate media coverage for the whole lead-up to Iraq War III: This Time as Farce. Here I am getting a few minutes to oppose war on MSNBC two days after the period FAIR covered, on a program other than the ones FAIR covered:
I suspect there were lots of other exceptions. Did they come late? Were they evenly scattered across the programs so that each program could claim to have been "balanced," or did any actually devote more than a few minutes to peace? Which ones never ever admitted peace into the discussion?
I don't want to lose FAIR's focus on the central point that pro-war pseudo-debate voices were so dominant and repetitive as to drill into people's brains the idea that a mad idea was inevitable common sense. But I think the whole picture could be shown without doing that.
Whether the brighter spots, if any, could or should be encouraged, I don't know. And I have no interest in singling out the worst of the worst in a way that implies the other media outlets are doing all right. But I'd like to see the whole picture and then decide what it means.
Therefore: Send FAIR money to use on longer reports!
It's becoming slightly more common in the Western industrialized world to propose radical cultural change away from consumerism and environmental destruction. It's not hard to find people making the case that in fact nothing else can save us.
But we should have one eye on what our governments and billionaires are doing to educate the rest of the world with the way of thinking that we are beginning to question.
What if the United States were to radically reform and abandon its role as leading destroyer of the environment and leading maker of war in the world, and we were to discover that U.S.- and Western-funded institutions had in the mean time created billions of teenagers around the globe intent on each becoming Bill Gates?
The remarkable film Schooling the World brings this warning. It is not an overly simplistic or dreamy argument. It is not a rejection of the accomplishments of Western medicine or a pitch for adopting polytheistic beliefs. But the film documents that the same practice that "educated" thousands of young Native Americans into second-class U.S. citizens through forced boarding schools is running its course in India and around the world.
Young people are being educated out of kindness and cooperation, and into greed and consumerism, out of connections to family and culture and history, and into a deep sense of inferiority of the sort created in the U.S. by the separate-but-equal educational system of Jim Crow. People whose families lived happily and sustainably are being taken away from their villages to struggle in cities, the majority of them labeled as failures by the schools created to "help" them -- many of them cruelly introduced to a modern invention called poverty.
Eliminated in the process are languages -- referred to in the film as ecosystems of the mind -- and all the wealth of knowledge they contain. Also eliminated: actual ecosystems, those that once included humans, and those simply damaged by heightened consumption rampaging around the globe. Young people are not taught to care for local resources as their parents and grandparents and great grandparents were.
And much of this is done with the best of intentions. Well-meaning Westerners, from philanthropic tourists to World Bank executives, believe that their culture -- that of industrial extraction, competition, and consumption -- is good and inevitable. Therefore they believe it helpful to impose an education in it on everyone on earth, most easily accomplished on young people.
But is a young person's removal from a sustainable healthy life rich in community and tradition, and their arrival in a sweatshop in a crowded slum, as good for them as it looks in the economic statistics that quantify it as an increase in wealth?
And can we see our way out of this trap while screaming hysterically about the glories of "American exceptionalism"? Will we have to lose that stupid arrogance first? And by the time we've done that, will every African nation have its own Fox News?
Sign up here:
Thursday, December 4, at 6:30 p.m.
Southern Hospitality, 1815 Adams Mill Road NW, Washington, DC 20009
Join us to celebrate the release of Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better! by Maya Schenwar.
Maya will read from her book and discuss the impacts of prison on families and communities -- and how people around the country are taking action to create a world beyond prison.
Event is cosponsored by Truthout and the Friends Committee on National Legislation.
What people are saying about Locked Down, Locked Out:
"This book has the power to transform hearts and minds, opening us to new ways of imagining what justice can mean for individuals, families, communities, and our nation as a whole. I turned the last page feeling nothing less than inspired."
--Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow
"Maya Schenwar's stories about prisoners, their families (including her own), and the thoroughly broken punishment system are rescued from any pessimism such narratives might inspire by the author's brilliant juxtaposition of abolitionist imaginaries and radical political practices."
--Angela Davis, author of Are Prisons Obsolete?
By Alfredo Lopez
The week before last, our President made a pronouncement on Net Neutrality that pleasantly surprised activists and won him favorable coverage in the newspapers: both rare outcomes these days.
Maya Schenwar is the author of Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better. She discusses the book, what to do about prison, and her own family's experience. She is also the editor-in-chief of Truthout. She mentions this article during the show: http://davidswanson.org/node/4583
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.
Syndicated by Pacifica Network.
Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!
Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!
Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
To contact Bartolo email peaceloversingle[at]yahoo[dot]com (replacing [at] with @, [dot] with .)
Editor Note: As the United States slides back into war in the Middle East, the specter of Vietnam hovers over the endeavor with some observers wondering if wishful thinking will again replace hardheaded analysis about the risks and the costs.
By Ray McGovern
Why was I reminded of Vietnam on Saturday when Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Iraq to “get a firsthand look at the situation in Iraq, receive briefings, and get better sense of how the campaign is progressing” against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL?
By John Grant
Some news of more resistance in Okinawa from Hiroshi Taka:
"I am writing this email to all the friends who have sent warm messages of solidarity to the people of Okinawa, who fought for a military base-free, peaceful Okinawa in the last weekend through the simultaneous elections at four levels: Governor of Okinawa, Mayor of Naha, three Prefectural Assembly members from Naha, Nago, and Okinawa City, and a member of Naha City assembly. They won the governor election, the mayoral election, the prefectural assembly elections in Naha and Nago. The result demonstrates that the Okinawans are undaunted, that the close-down of the Futemma Base and non-construction of a new base in Nago are an actual consensus of the whole prefecture.
"On Thursday last week, with your messages and Japanese translation, I went to Okinawa, held a press conference, visited the election campaign headquarters of Takeshi Onaga, the then candidate for the governor, and the election campaign headquarters of Ms. Shiroma, the then candidate for the mayor of Naha. I handed over your messages to Takeshi Onaga personally, at the midst of campaign when all those candidates were preparing to make speeches in the center of Naha City.
"Your messages were taken up by a major local paper Okinawa Times on Friday, Nov. 14 issue, and a number of other media. At the campaign headquarters of Onaga, the top leaders of the campaign kindly took time to listen to my presentation of the messages. At the campaign office of Shiroma, all campaign staff there stood up and with big applause, listened to my presentation. And at the speech rally of Onaga, Shiroma, and the other candidates standing against the Bases, most speakers, including Susumu Inamine, the mayor of Nago, referred to your messages, saying that the whole world was with them.
"Through these visits, I felt first-hand how powerfully and greatly your messages encouraged those who deserved your encouragement.
"Great though their successes are, the struggle for a bases-free Okinawa and peace in the region and the world continues. I hope you will continue to support their struggle, as we living in the mainland Japan will.
Data: (* = elected)
For the Governor
* ONAGA Takeshi (Anti-base) 360,820
NAKAIMA Hirokazu (former Governor) 261,076
For the Mayor of Naha, prefectural capital
* SHIROMA Mikiko (Anti-base) 101,052
YONEDA Kanetosh (supported by LDP-Komeito) 57,768
For the Prefectural Assembly member from Naha
* HIGA Mizuki (Anti-base) 74,427
YAMAKAWA Noriji (LDP) 61,940
For the Prefectural Assembly member from Nago
*GUSHIKEN Toru (Anti-base) 15,374
SIEMATSI Bunshinmatsu Bunshin (LDP) 14,281"
I should note that the Mayor of Okinawa is already anti-base and recently came to Washington, D.C. with that message. I wrote this prior to his visit:
Imagine if China were stationing large numbers of troops in the United States. Imagine that most of them were based in a small rural county in Mississippi. Imagine -- this shouldn't be hard -- that their presence was problematic, that nations they threatened in Latin America resented the United States' hospitality, and that the communities around the bases resented the noise and pollution and drinking and raping of local girls.
Now imagine a proposal by the Chinese government, with support from the federal government in Washington, to build another big new base in that same corner of Mississippi. Imagine the governor of Mississippi supported the base, but just before his reelection pretended to oppose it, and after being reelected went back to supporting it. Imagine that the mayor of the town where the base would be built made opposition to it the entire focus of his reelection campaign and won, with exit polls showing that voters overwhelmingly agreed with him. And imagine that the mayor meant it.
Where would your sympathies lie? Would you want anyone in China to hear what that mayor had to say?
Sometimes in the United States we forget that there are heavily armed employees of our government permanently stationed in most nations on earth. Sometimes when we remember, we imagine that the other nations must appreciate it. We turn away from the public uproar in the Philippines as the U.S. military tries to return troops to those islands from which they were driven by public pressure. We avoid knowing what anti-U.S. terrorists say motivates them, as if by merely knowing what they say we would be approving of their violence. We manage not to know of the heroic nonviolent struggle underway on Jeju Island, South Korea, as residents try to stop the construction of a new base for the U.S. Navy. We live on oblivious to the massive nonviolent resistance of the people of Vicenza, Italy, who for years voted and demonstrated and lobbied and protested a huge new U.S. Army base that has gone right ahead regardless.
Mayor Susumu Inamine of Nago City, Okinawa, (population 61,000) is headed to the United States, where he may have to do a bit of afflicting the comfortable as he tries to comfort the afflicted back home. Okinawa Prefecture has hosted major U.S. military bases for 68 years. Over 73% of the U.S. troop presence in Japan is concentrated in Okinawa, which makes up a mere 0.6% of the Japanese land area. As a result of public protest, one base is being closed -- the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. The U.S. government wants a new Marine base in Nago City. The people of Nago City do not.
Inamine was first elected as mayor of Nago City in January 2010 promising to block the new base. He was reelected this past January 19th still promising to block the base. The Japanese government had worked hard to defeat him, but exit polls showed 68% of voters opposing the base, and 27% in favor of it. In February U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy visited Okinawa, where she met with the Governor but declined to meet with the mayor.
That's all right. The Mayor can meet with the State Department, the White House, the Pentagon, and the Congress. He'll be in Washington, D.C. in mid-May, where he hopes to appeal directly to the U.S. government and the U.S. public. He'll speak at an open, public event at Busboys and Poets restaurant at 14th and V Streets at 6:00 p.m. on May 20th.
A great summary of the situation in Okinawa can be found in this statement: "International Scholars, Peace Advocates and Artists Condemn Agreement To Build New U.S. Marine Base in Okinawa." An excerpt:
"Not unlike the 20th century U.S. Civil Rights struggle, Okinawans have non-violently pressed for the end to their military colonization. They tried to stop live-fire military drills that threatened their lives by entering the exercise zone in protest; they formed human chains around military bases to express their opposition; and about a hundred thousand people, one tenth of the population have turned out periodically for massive demonstrations. Octogenarians initiated the campaign to prevent the construction of the Henoko base with a sit-in that has been continuing for years. The prefectural assembly passed resolutions to oppose the Henoko base plan. In January 2013, leaders of all the 41 municipalities of Okinawa signed the petition to the government to remove the newly deployed MV-22 Osprey from Futenma base and to give up the plan to build a replacement base in Okinawa."
Here's an organization working to support the will of the public of Okinawa on this issue.
And here's a video worth watching:
And here's a video of the Mayor's visit to DC:
U.S. politicians and pundits are fond of saying that America’s wars have defended America’s freedom. But the historical record doesn’t bear out this contention. In fact, over the past century, U.S. wars have triggered major encroachments upon civil liberties.
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
A controversial government contractor once again finds itself in hot water, or in this case, melting glacier water.
TransCanada chose Environmental Resources Management Group (ERM) as one of its contractors to conduct the environmental impact statement for Keystone XL on behalf of the U.S. State Department. ERM Group also happens to have green-lighted a gold mining project in central Asia that is now melting glaciers.
ERM Group has a penchant for rubber-stamping projects that have had tragic environmental and public health legacies. For example, ERM formerly worked on behalf of the tobacco industry to pitch the safety of its deadly product.
A January 2014 study about Keystone XL's climate change impacts published in the journal Nature Climate Change paints a drastically different picture than ERM Group's Keystone XL tar sands study.
The Kumtor Gold Mine, owned by Centerra Gold/Cameco Corporation, was provided a stamp of approval from ERM Group in October 2012. Similar to the TransCanada arrangement with the State Department on Keystone XL, Centerra served as the funder of the report evaluating its own project.
"The mine sits at an altitude of 4,000 meters above sea level, in the Tien Shan mountain range and among some of Kyrgyzstan's - and the region's - most important glaciers," explained an October 28 story published in Asia Times.
"Centerra Gold has consistently dismissed as untrue that operations at Kumtor have had negative implications for the glaciers, which are reportedly melting with observable speed due to years of dumping rock tailings onto the ice sheet. The Canadian company has backed its position with expert evaluations from consultancies such as Environmental Resources Management."
How the U.S. Department of Justice Makes Murder Respectable, Kills the Innocent and Jails their Defenders
Political language can be used, George Orwell said in 1946, “to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” In order to justify its global assassination program, the Obama administration has had to stretch words beyond their natural breaking points. For instance, any male 14 years or older found dead in a drone strike zone is a “combatant” unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving him innocent. We are also informed that the constitutional guarantee of “due process” does not imply that the government must precede an execution with a trial. I think the one word most degraded and twisted these days, to the goriest ends, is the word “imminent.”
Just what constitutes an “imminent” threat? Our government has long taken bold advantage of the American public’s willingness to support lavish spending on armaments and to accept civilian casualties in military adventures abroad and depletion of domestic programs at home, when told these are necessary responses to deflect precisely such threats. The government has vastly expanded the meaning of the word “imminent.” This new definition is crucial to the U.S. drone program, designed for projecting lethal force throughout the world. It provides a legal and moral pretext for the annihilation of people far away who pose no real threat to us at all.
The use of armed remotely controlled drones as the United States’ favored weapon in its “war on terror” is increasing exponentially in recent years, raising many disturbing questions. Wielding 500 pound bombs and Hellfire missiles, Predator and Reaper drones are not the precise and surgical instruments of war so effusively praised by President Obama for “narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us and not the people they hide among.” It is widely acknowledged that the majority of those killed in drone attacks are unintended, collateral victims. The deaths of the drones’ intended targets and how they are chosen should be no less troubling.
Those deliberately targeted by drones are often far from conflict zones, often they are in countries with whom the U.S. is not at war and on some occasions have been U.S. citizens. They are rarely “taken out” in the heat of battle or while engaged in hostile actions and are more likely to be killed (with anyone in their vicinity) at a wedding, at a funeral, at work, hoeing in the garden, driving down the highway or enjoying a meal with family and friends. These deaths are counted as something other than murder only for the curious insistence by the government’s lawyers that each of these victims represent an “imminent” threat to our lives and safety here at home in the U.S.
In February 2013, a U.S. Department of Justice White Paper, “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen Who Is a Senior Operational Leader of Al-Qa’ida or an Associated Force,” was leaked by NBC News. This paper sheds some light on the legal justification for drone assassinations and explains the new and more flexible definition of the word “imminent.” “First,” it declares, “the condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”
Before the Department of Justice lawyers got a hold of it, the meaning of the word “imminent” was unmistakably clear. Various dictionaries of the English language are all in agreement that that the word “imminent” explicitly denotes something definite and immediate, “likely to occur at any moment,” “impending,” “ready to take place,” “looming,” “pending,” “threatening,” “around the corner.” Nor has the legal definition of the word left room for ambiguity. After World War II, the Nuremberg Tribunal reaffirmed a 19th-century formulation of customary international law written by Daniel Webster, which said that the necessity for preemptive use of force in self-defense must be “instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” That was in the past. Now, any possible future threat – and any person on earth arguably might pose one – however remote, can satisfy the new definition. As far as the Justice Department is concerned, an “imminent” threat is now whomever an “informed high-level U.S. government official” determines to be such, based on evidence known to that official alone, never to be made public or reviewed by any court.
The breadth of the government’s definition of “imminent” is murderous in its enormity. It is all the more ironic that the same Department of Justice will also regularly define the word so narrowly as to convict and imprison law abiding and responsible citizens who act to defend the innocent from genuinely imminent harm by the actions of the U.S. government. On example especially relevant to the issue of killing by drone is the case of the “Creech 14.”
After the first act of nonviolent resistance to the lethal use of unmanned and remotely controlled drones in the United States took place at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada back in April, 2009, it took more than a year before the 14 of us accused of criminal trespass had our day in court. As this was the first opportunity for activists to “put drones on trial” at a time when few Americans were aware they even existed, we were especially diligent in preparing our case, to argue clearly and cogently, not in order to keep ourselves out of jail but for the sake of those who have died and those who live in fear of the drones. With coaching by some fine trial lawyers, our intention was to represent ourselves and drawing on humanitarian international law, to offer a strong defense of necessity, even while we were aware that there was little chance that the court would hear our arguments.
The defense of necessity, that one has not committed a crime if an act that is otherwise illegal was done to prevent a greater harm or crime from being perpetrated, is recognized by the Supreme Court as a part of the common law. It is not an exotic or even a particularly unusual defense. “The rationale behind the necessity defense is that sometimes, in a particular situation, a technical breach of the law is more advantageous to society than the consequence of strict adherence to the law,” says West’s Encyclopedia of American Law “The defense is often used successfully in cases that involve a Trespass on property to save a person’s life or property.” It might appear, then, that this defense is a natural one for minor infractions such as our alleged trespass, intended to stop the use of drones in a war of aggression, the crime against peace that the Nuremburg Tribunal named “the supreme international crime.”
In reality, though, courts in the U.S. almost never allow the necessity defense to be raised in cases like ours. Most of us were experienced enough not to be surprised when we finally got to the Justice Court in Las Vegas in September, 2010, and Judge Jensen ruled in lockstep with his judicial colleagues. He insisted at the onset of our case that he was having none of it. “Go ahead,” he said, allowing us to call our expert witnesses but sternly forbidding us from asking them any questions that matter. “Understand, it is only going to be limited to trespass, what knowledge he or she has, if any, whether you were or were not out at the base. We’re not getting into international laws; that’s not the issue. That’s not the issue. What the government is doing wrong, that’s not the issue. The issue is trespass.”
Our co-defendant Steve Kelly followed the judge’s instructions and questioned our first witness, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, about his firsthand knowledge of trespass laws from working at the Department of Justice during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Steve specifically guided the witness to speak of “the cases of trespass … of lunch counter activities where laws stated you were not to sit at certain lunch counters” in the struggle for civil rights. Ramsey Clark acknowledged that those arrested for violating these laws had not committed crimes. Steve pushed his luck with the judge and offered the classic illustration of the necessity defense: “A situation where there is a ‘no trespassing’ sign and there is smoke coming out of a door or a window and a person is up on the upper floor in need of help. To enter that building, in a real narrow technical sense, would be trespass. Is there a possibility, in the long run, it wouldn’t be trespass to help the person upstairs?” Ramsey replied, “We would hope so, wouldn’t we? To have a baby burn to death or something, because of a ‘no trespass’ sign would be poor public policy to put it mildly. Criminal.”
Judge Jensen by this time was obviously intrigued. His ruling to limit the testimony to trespass held, but as his fascination grew, so his interpretation of his own order grew more elastic. Over the repeated objections of the prosecution team, the judge allowed limited but powerful testimony from Ramsey and our other witnesses, retired US Army Colonel and former diplomat Ann Wright and Loyola Law School Professor Bill Quigley that put our alleged trespass into its context as an act to stop a heinous crime.
I had the honor of making the closing statement for the accused, which I ended with, “We 14 are the ones who are seeing the smoke from the burning house and we are not going to be stopped by a ‘no trespassing’ sign from going to the burning children.”
Our appreciation for a judge’s extraordinary attention to the facts of the case aside, we still expected nothing but an immediate conviction and sentencing. Judge Jensen surprised us: “I consider it more than just a plain trespass trial. A lot of serious issues are at stake here. So I’m going to take it under advisement and I will render a written decision. And it may take me two to three months to do so, because I want to make sure that I’m right on whatever I rule on.”
When we returned to Las Vegas in January, 2011, Judge Jensen read his decision that it was just a plain trespass trial, after all and we were guilty. Among several justifications for convicting us, the judge rejected what he called “the Defendants’ claim of necessity” because “first, the Defendants failed to show that their protest was designed to prevent ‘imminent’ harm.” He faulted our case for not presenting the court with “evidence that any military activities involving drones were being conducted or about to be conducted on the day of the Defendants’ arrest,” seeming to forget that he had ordered us not to submit any such evidence, even if we had it.
Judge Jensen’s verdict was amply supported by the precedents he cited, including a 1991 appellate court ruling, U.S. v Schoon, that concerned a protest aimed to “keep US tax dollars out of El Salvador” at an IRS office in Tucson. In this protest, the Ninth Circuit ruled, “the requisite imminence was lacking.” In other words, because the harm protested was taking place in El Salvador, a trespass in Tucson cannot be justified. So, Judge Jensen reasoned, burning children in a house in Afghanistan cannot excuse a trespass in Nevada.
The NBC leak of that Department of Justice White Paper wouldn’t happen for two more years (call it suppression of evidence?) and as far as Judge Jensen knew, the dictionary definition of “imminent” was still operant. Even so, had we been allowed to testify beyond the narrow confines set at trial, we would have shown that with new satellite technology, the lethal threat we were addressing there is always imminent by any reasonable definition of the word. Although the victims of drone violence on the day of our arrest were indeed far away in Afghanistan and Iraq, those crimes were actually being committed by combatants sitting at computer screens, engaged in real-time hostilities in trailers on the base, not so far at all from where we were apprehended by Air Force police.
The government does not believe that it needs to have “clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future” to establish an imminent threat and so carry out extrajudicial executions of human beings anywhere on the planet. Citizens who act to stop killing by drones, on the other hand, are required to have specific “evidence that any military activities involving drones were being conducted or about to be conducted,” in order to justify nonviolently entering into government property. The government’s position on this lacks coherence, at best. Even after the publication of its White Paper, the Department of Justice continues to block defendants accused of trespass from even mentioning the fact that they were arrested while responding to an imminent threat to innocent life, and the courts obligingly accept this contradiction.
The defense of necessity does not simply justify actions that technically violate the law. “Necessity,” says West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, is “a defense asserted by a criminal or civil defendant that he or she had no choice but to break the law.” As Ramsey Clark testified in a Las Vegas courtroom five years ago, “to have a baby burn to death because of a ‘no trespass sign’ would be poor public policy to put it mildly.” In a time of burning children, the “no trespassing” signs attached to the fences that protect the crimes executed with drones and other instruments of terror hold no potency and they do not command our obedience. The courts that do not recognize this reality allow themselves to be used as instruments of governmental malfeasance.
There have been many more trials since the Creech 14 and in the meanwhile, many more children have been incinerated by missiles fired from drones. On December 10, International Human Rights Day, Georgia Walker and Kathy Kelly will go to trial in U.S. District Court in Jefferson City, Missouri, after they peacefully brought their grievance and a loaf of bread onto Whiteman Air Force Base, another in the growing number of stateside remote control killer drone centers.
Two years ago in that same court in a similar case, Judge Whitworth rejected the necessity defense offered by Ron Faust and me, subsequently sentencing Ron to five years of probation and sending me to prison for six months. It is to be hoped that Judge Whitworth will take advantage of this second chance that Kathy and Georgia courageously offer and exonerate himself and his profession.
The United States is a society incapable of producing a major documentary film opposing the institution of war and explicitly advocating its abolition. If it did so, the major corporate media outlets would not sing such a film's praises.
Yet Watchers of the Sky is beloved by the U.S. corporate media because it opposes genocide, not war. I'm not aware of any opponents of war who don't also oppose genocide. In fact, many oppose the two as a single evil without the stark distinction between them. But the anti-genocide academic nonprofit industrial complex has become dominated by leading advocates for war.
As we watch people lament Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur while supporting mass killing in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, we seem to be witnessing a sort of extended victors' justice running 70 years from the hypocritical "justice" that followed World War II right through the establishment of the International Criminal Court (for Africans).
Right-wing war supporters oppose "terrorism" which means small-scale killing my government disapproves of. Liberal war supporters oppose "genocide" which means killing my government disapproves of and which is motivated by backward drives like race or religion rather than enlightened projects like control of fossil fuels, profiteering off weapons, or maintaining global hegemony.
Selective outrage over killing within a country has become a common justification for killing across borders (and oceans).
Ben Ferencz, featured in Watchers of the Sky, was recently on my radio show pushing his idea of criminalizing war while refusing to consider recent U.S. wars to fit the category of wars worth criminalizing.
Samantha Power, star of Watchers of the Sky, supports mass killing. I don't think she's pretending to be outraged by genocide any more than Madeline Albright who said killing a half million children had been a good policy is pretending when she claims to be outraged by genocide. I think such people are outraged by evils they have permitted themselves to see as evil, while blinding themselves to horrors they prefer not to recognize.
I recently gave a talk at a college and happened to mention Hillary Clinton's comment about obliterating Iran. A professor interrupted me to state that such a thing never happened. A student pulled up the video of Clinton on several websites on a phone, but the professor still denied it stating that it made no sense. That is to say, it didn't fit into his worldview. I later happened to criticize Israel's treatment of Gaza, and the same professor got up and stormed out of the room. He could only deny what was done to Gaza by avoiding hearing it altogether. I have no doubt that he would have expressed sincere outrage over Rwanda if asked.
The problem with the focus on Yugoslavia and Rwanda is the pretense that there is something worse than, discrete from, and preventable by war. The myths about the origins and outcomes of those horrors play down the role that Western militarism had in creating them while playing up the role it had or could have had in preventing them. War is depicted as an under-utilized tool, while the effects of both war and genocide (such as refugee crises) are blamed entirely on genocide.
The odd thing is that people being slaughtered from the sky are almost always being slaughtered by the U.S. military and its allies. Those who can only see killing when it's done by people resisting U.S. domination can usually keep their eyes comfortably downward.
To contact Bartolo email peaceloversingle[at]yahoo[dot]com (replacing [at] with @, [dot] with .)
Having been on the road, I have two brilliant insights to report.
1. No matter what sort of fascist state were ever established in this part of the world, Amtrak would never get the trains to run on time.
2. Respecting people and giving them credit for being smarter than the television depicts them is vastly easier when you stay home.
The well-known line is that people get the governments they deserve. Of course nobody should be abused the way the U.S. and many other governments abuse them, no matter what their intellectual deficiencies. If anything, stupid people should have better, kinder governments. But my common response to that well-known line is to point out the bribery and gerrymandering and limited choices and relentless propaganda. Surely the clown show in Washington is not the people's fault. Some of my best friends are people and they often display signs of intelligence.
But the primary thing the U.S. government does is wage wars, and it wages them against other people who had no say in the matter. Of course I don't want wars waged against Americans either, but the general impression one gets from traveling around and speaking and answering questions at public events in the United States is not so much that people are indifferent to the destruction of the globe as long as they don't miss their favorite television show, as that people are unclear on what destruction means and can't identify a globe when it's placed in a lineup with six watermelons.
War and peace are concepts people have heard of, but ask them which they favor and you'll get blank stares. "Do you support all wars, some wars, or no wars?" I ask to get a sense of the crowd, but a fourth answer takes the majority: "Uhhh, I dunno."
A few people want to end war by having a bunch of anti-war wars, but they all work in the State Department and I haven't been invited to speak there.
A few elderly people believe we simply must have wars, and every last one of them has the identical reason: Pearl Harbor. You can explain to them the stupid vindictive conclusion of World War I, the decades of militarization, of antagonization of Japan (protested for many years by U.S. peace activists), of Wall Street funding the Nazis. You can point out the madness of a rogue nation waging hundreds of disastrous wars all over the world for 70 years and getting people to support this project by finding a single example of a supposedly justifiable war 70 years ago. You can challenge them to find any other major public project that has to go back that far to justify itself. You can quote them the wisdom of peace activists from the 1920s and 1930s and 1940s. They'll simply say that Pearl Harbor justified saving the Jews. You can show them how Pearl Harbor was intentionally provoked, how actions that might have saved the Jews were avoided, how the Jews became a justification for the war only long after it was over, and they'll just grunt at you. You can recount successful nonviolent resistance to the Nazis and the growth and development of nonviolent resistance in the decades since, and they'll drool, scratch their heads, or ask if you're going to vote for Hillary.
A few young people believe we simply must have wars, and every last one of them has the identical reason: ISIS. Because ISIS is something evil, there must be war. "Should we attack ISIS or do nothing?" they all ask.
I imagine I'd laugh if I weren't trembling for our future. Iraq III: The Return of the Decider is becoming the worst parody of a humanitarian war in history. First George W. Obama gave himself a waiver from his own dumb rules against killing unlimited civilians. Then he asked for a special waiver in order to arm lots of really good people who happen to torture some folks and murder some folks and rape some folks and genocide some folks. This after he asked the CIA if arming rebels has ever worked out, and the CIA said "No, but we do it as a matter of principle," and he said "Let's roll!"
Just as nobody supposes World War II the Just and Noble could have arisen without World War I the Futile and Pointless, no serious analysis of ISIS can explain its birth without Iraq II: The Liberation. ISIS is made up of people tortured in U.S. prison camps and thrown out of the Iraqi Army by U.S. occupiers and driven into desperation by the hell the U.S. and its allies created. ISIS brutally murders just like, but on a smaller scale than, the U.S. and its new allies in fighting ISIS. The helpless-people-on-a-mountaintop story remains permanently present outside of time for Americans, even though the U.S. is now killing so many civilians that it needs laws changed (or simply ignored; anyone remember the UN Charter?), even though the story was a gross distortion at the time, and even though the bombing protected the oil contractors in Erbil, not the mountain.
People nod their heads and ask, "So, should we attack ISIS or do nothing?"
You can explain to them that ISIS explicitly said it wanted to be attacked. You can show them how ISIS is growing as a result. You can explain to them how hated the United States is now in that region. You can read them a RAND Corporation report showing that most terrorist organizations are ended through negotiations, virtually none through war. You can fill them in on how 80 percent of the weapons shipped into the Middle-East, not counting U.S. weapons or weapons the U.S. gives to groups like ISIS and its allies, come from the United States. You can describe how the region could be demilitarized rather than further armed. You can discuss diplomatic possibilities, local cease-fires, aid and restitution. You can graphically make clear how a fraction of what's spent on bombing Iraq to fix the disaster created by bombing Iraq could pay for transforming the whole region into a healthier happier place to live with food, water, agriculture, clean energy, etc. You can detail emergency measures that are available, including peaceworkers, aid workers, doctors, journalists -- measures that risk fewer lives than war.
And they'll blink their eyes and ask "So, should we attack ISIS or do nothing?"
Do you recall, you can say, that last year the White House wanted you to support attacking Syria, and wanted to attack the opposite side in that war? And people said no, remember? And now they want to attack the opposite side, while arming it, and this makes sense to you? They have no goal in mind, no plan, no estimated end-date or price-tag or body-count, and this makes sense to you?
Well, they'll say, it's that or do nothing.
But do you recall the year 2006 in which everybody said they'd elected Democrats in order to end the war, and the Democrats said they'd keep it going in order to run against it again in 2008? At that time, in 2006, as the big marches were just ending, having begun with the biggest marches ever on February 15, 2003, if you'd told anyone that in 2014 the war would be over and a new president would propose starting it up again, and nobody would protest, you'd have been laughed at. The America of 2006 would never have stood for this for a minute, at least not if the President were a Republican.
"Oh," they'll say, "I've heard of Republicans. They're the ones who like war, right? Do you think the military is letting women participate enough?"
It happened that while I was touring and talking, NATO claimed for something like the 89th time this year that Russia had invaded Ukraine. If it were ever true, I asked, would anyone believe it? The answer I got: Nobody cares.
Nobody with the easy ability to do something about it cares. The people under the bombs care. The world gets the wars Americans deserve.