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113 in House Vote to End War on Afghanistan -- How Many Will Vote Against the NDAA?

Lee amendment for swift withdrawal from Afghanistan falls short in House vote

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced an amendment to H.R. 4310, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), that would bring about a responsible and immediate end to the war in Afghanistan. The amendment would end combat operations at the same time it protects troops by requiring that any dollar directed to Afghanistan could only be spent for the safe and orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops and military contractors.  The amendment did not pass the House (113-303).

“The American people have overwhelmingly come to the conclusion that our brave men and women in uniform have accomplished all that we have asked of them and it is time to bring them home from Afghanistan,” said Congresswoman Lee.  “My amendment provided Members of the House the opportunity to stand squarely with the war-weary American people.  I am disappointed that a majority of House Members did not stand with seven out of ten Americans who oppose the war in Afghanistan.”

On Wednesday, Congresswoman Lee was joined by 100 Members of the House, including five Republicans, in sending a letter to President Obama urging an expedited withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan n advance of the NATO summit. 

“Our brave troops have done everything that was asked of them,” said Congresswoman Lee.  “With almost two thousand U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan, and many tens of thousands more maimed with injuries both hidden and visible, we must recognize that the boots on the ground strategy in Afghanistan is not working.  After 11 long years of war, I will continue to work to bring the troops home from Afghanistan.”     

###

Today’s House Floor speech: here

Link to letter to President Obama: here

Text of the Lee Amendment:

AMENDMENT TO H.R. 4310, AS REPORTED

OFFERED BY MS. LEE OF CALIFORNIA

At the end of subtitle B of title XII of division A of the bill, add the following:

Sec. 12xx. LIMITATION ON FUNDS FOR OPERATIONS OF THE ARMED FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN.

            (a) IN GENERAL --- Funds made available to carry out this Act for operations of the Armed Forces in Afghanistan shall be obligated an expended only for purpose of providing for the safe and orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan of all members of the Armed Forces and Department of Defense contractor personnel who are in Afghanistan.

            (b) RULE OF CONSTRUCTION --- Nothing in this section shall be construed –

(1)   To authorize the use of funds for the continuation of combat operations in Afghanistan while carrying out the safe and orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan of all members of the Armed Forces and Department of Defense contractor personnel who are in Afghanistan; and

(2)   To prohibit or otherwise restrict the use of funds available to any department or agency of the United States to carry out diplomatic efforts or humanitarian, development, or general reconstruction activities in Afghanistan.

Talk Nation Radio: Cindy Sheehan on the Venezuelan Constitution as a Model for the United States

Cindy Sheehan discusses the new Venezuelan Constitution as a model for reforming the U.S. Constitution in the direction of greater democratic and economic rights, as well as the politics of Hugo Chavez, and her new book, Revolution: A Love Story.  Cindy Sheehan is a leading U.S. peace actvist, a gold star mother, an author, blogger, and radio host.

Total run time: 29:00

Host: David Swanson.

Producer: David Swanson.

Engineer: Christiane Brown.

Music by Duke Ellington.

Download or get embed code from Archive.org or AudioPort or LetsTryDemocracy.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

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Even Star Spangled War Is Hell

Originally published in the Indypendent Reader

In this bicentennial year of the War of 1812, the StarSpangledBaltimore.com website tells us:
Star-Spangled Banner Sheet Music
"The War of 1812 represents what many see as the definitive end of the American Revolution. A new nation, widely regarded as an upstart, successfully defended itself against the largest, most powerful navy in the world during the maritime assault on Baltimore and Maryland. America's victory over Great Britain confirmed the legitimacy of the Revolution."
 
But the revolution had ended three decades before 1812, and the choice to launch a new war was made by the U.S. government in Washington, D.C.
 
In the lead-up to the War of 1812, the British and Americans exchanged attacks along the Canadian border and in the open seas. Native Americans also exchanged attacks with U.S. settlers, although who was invading whom is a question we've never wanted to face.  But the choice to launch a full-scale war was not made by the "largest, most powerful navy in the world"; it was made by the national government that we now depict as fighting defensively in Baltimore.
 
Maritime offenses, skirmishes, and trade disagreements can be resolved diplomatically, continued at the same low level, or expanded into much more massive killing and destruction.  These are options our government still faces today.  In 1812, the choice of war resulted in the burning of our national capital, the death in action of some 3,800 U.S. and British fighters, and the death of 20,000 U.S. and British from all causes, including disease.  About 76 were killed in the Battle of Baltimore, plus another 450 wounded.  Nowadays an incident in Baltimore that resulted in that kind of carnage would be described with words other than "exciting," "glorious," and "successful."
 
And what was gained that could balance out the damage done?  Absolutely nothing.

Judge Deliberates on Whether to Save Earth's Atmosphere

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Wilkins heard the arguments on Friday in Washington, D.C., and is deliberating now on the question of whether young people can sue to compel their government to take serious measures to stop global warming. 

Judge Robert Wilkins is familiar with discrimination, having been the plaintiff in a well-known driving-while-black case of racial profiling in Maryland.  But few of us are familiar with the concept of discrimination against future generations.  We grow easily indignant when living people are unfairly treated.  We grow confused when considering the injustice of depriving our grandchildren of a habitable planet so that we can drive our SUVs and fight our wars.  There's no living person or group of persons we can point to as being wronged, unless perhaps it is the young.

Judge Wilkins is familiar with, and appreciative of, the role federal courts played in the U.S. civil rights movement.  But a case had been made that certain people's Constitutional rights were being violated.  Whose Constitutional rights are violated by condemning young people to grow old on a damaged planet turning to desert and barren rock? 

There may be an answer to that.  The Constitution's purpose is to "insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity."  Surely there is a violation of the Constitution in making the earth uninhabitable for our Posterity.  But no court has ever arrived at that conclusion. 

"Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person," says the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which under Article VI of the Constitution is the supreme law of the land.  "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family."  How can we protect those rights for everyone, including the young and the not-yet-born, without putting everything we have into trying to preserve a climate in which humans can prosper?  How can the U.S. government fulfill its obligations to Native American nations while finally completing the destruction of their land along with everyone else's?

Courageous young people filed suit a year ago against the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the United States Department of the Interior, the United States Department of Agriculture, the United States Department of Commerce, the United States Department of Energy, and the United States Department of Defense.  One would think being sued for ruining the earth's atmosphere with greenhouse gases was not terribly desirable, but there was a mad rush by other parties to be added to the list of defendants.  These additional defendants succeeded in getting themselves added: Delta Construction Company Inc., Dalton Trucking Inc., Southern California Contractors Association Inc., California Dump Truck Owners Association, Engineering & Utility Contractors Association, and The National Association Of Manufacturers.

The National Association of Manufacturers openly claims selfish interests for being involved:

"NAM moved to intervene in this litigation, because the law suit, if successful, would have a dramatic effect on manufacturing processes and investments, increasing production and transportation costs, decreasing global competitiveness and driving jobs and businesses abroad. The litigation, which seeks a minimum 6% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions every year, would be devastating to the entire U.S. economy."

NAM also says:

"The NAM's members include many of the major oil, coal and natural gas producers, petroleum refiners, and petrochemical producers, as well as manufacturing companies that make the tools and components critical to such industries.  Id.  Obviously, immediate reductions—and eventual elimination—of conventional fuel use is a central business concern for these members of the NAM."

So, this was the argument for joining the case: our profits would suffer.  Well, of course, they would.  The government would have to stop giving $11 billion a year or more to fossil fuel companies.  Arguably, the government would have to stop putting over $1 trillion a year into preparation for wars fought largely to secure fossil fuels.  Taxes would have to be imposed on carbon emissions.  But there would also have to be massive public investment in green energy, investment that could help companies become profitable in new ways.  Or it could not.  What's guaranteed is that the current profit-making plans of these companies would suffer, while humanity would benefit.  We're trained to think such conflicts don't exist, that what's good for Exxon-Mobil is good for all of us.  It isn't true.  The oil companies are arguing for the right to ruin the atmosphere.

In Friday's hearing, however, other arguments were advanced.  Three men spoke for the defense, one from the government, one from NAM, and one from the California interveners.  They did not dispute the reality and seriousness of global warming, which James Hansen called "apocalyptic" in Thursday's New York Times.  They did not claim ownership of the sky.  Instead they argued for democracy, the Constitution, the separation of powers, the right of the legislative branch to legislate, and the existence of the EPA as sufficient to answer the plaintiff's claims whether or not the EPA was doing any good. 

It was curious to hear the government's defense of the rights of the legislative branch for a number of reasons.  First, the executive branch in recent years has been rapidly eroding Congress's powers.  Second, the Constitution has been discarded when it comes to Congressional war powers, or habeas corpus, or much of the Bill of Rights.  Third, Congress almost never represents majority opinion in the country on any important issue, but is instead openly working for the legal bribes authorized by the Supreme Court as election spending -- for which the Supreme Court has argued to protect the human rights of corporations.  To pretend that the legislative branch envisioned by the Constitution still exists is bizarre.  Fourth, immediately after the government's lawyer rhetorically asked, "In a democracy whose job is it to take public actions of the first order?" he turned the floor over to the lawyer from NAM.  Where in the Constitution does it assign corporate lobbyists the duty to defend the government against popular petitions for redress of grievances? 

The NAM lawyer said not one word about his clients' profits.  Instead he proposed, among other things, that "national security" might require current levels of C02 emissions.  He was, of course, using a narrow conception of national security.  How secure is a nation that is losing its farmland and coastlines?  But, if the argument was to be made on behalf of the Pentagon, why not let the Pentagon do it?  Why allow the oil barons' hired hand to substitute? 

Julia Olson argued ably for the plaintiffs, citing numerous precedents for her claim that the atmosphere is a public trust and that public trusts must be protected.  As in the on-going struggle over the Supreme Court's pro-bribery Citizens United ruling, the state of Montana is featured in this debate, as the Supreme Court once ruled that Montana had a right to protect its rivers as a public trust, a ruling based on a long legal tradition, but later reversed.

Judge Wilkins asked Olson numerous detailed questions in a lengthy exchange that reviewed many precedents and hypothetical arguments.  Olson pointed to a case that had established a three-judge panel to direct the state of California to reduce its prison population.  The judges had not handled the details of the changes made to California's penal system, but had enforced a level of reduction by a deadline, just as these plaintiffs want CO2 levels in the atmosphere reduced to 350 ppm by a set date.

Olson's co-counsel Philip Gregory brought to Friday's hearing something that was otherwise missing in hours of technical debate: honest passion.  Gregory made a moral as much as a legal case on behalf of the rights of the plaintiffs, a row of several teenagers seated in the front row of the courtroom.

Judge Wilkins argued to Gregory that either he was being asked to tell six government agencies that they were not doing their jobs as required by statute -- in which case, the judge said, such matters could be handled one-at-a-time outside of this lawsuit, or he was being asked to instruct six agencies to act outside of their Congressional mandate.  Gregory's response focused, rightly, on the magnitude and urgency of the crisis we face.

Trying to get courts to do Congress's job may, in fact, not be ideal.  Trying to get state or foreign prosecutors to indict Bush for torture is not ideal.  Pinochet's indictment in Spain was not ideal.  Federal desegregation of Southern states was not ideal.  Protecting voting rights state-by-state is not ideal.  But in an emergency, shouldn't one try the tools that are available? And shouldn't one drop counterproductive pretenses, such as the pretense that a functioning Congress still exists? 

What if the mythical humanized frogs in the pot of gradually warming water -- thousands and thousands of such frogs in a giant pot on a giant stove -- had a frog government?  And what if the frog Congress had been bought off with piles of flies by a frog whose business it was to sell tiny, cold, bottled water to the frogs as they warmed?  If the frog courts decided to leave the decision to hop out of the pot to the frog Congress, they would make the correct decision that would best allow representative frog government in the future.  But would that do anything to guarantee that there would be any future for those frogs?

In case it isn't blatantly obvious, the above and everything else written here is my opinion, not the plaintiffs' legal arguments.  The hearing ran for about three hours, and was all very formal and polite.  Judge Wilkins generously thanked both sides for their "sincerity, diligence, and earnestness." 

"But I would be remiss," he added, "if I did not say that it is a struggle for any judge to determine based on our Constitutional system how best to play the proper role in adjudicating a case like this one.  I don't take the Constitution lightly. . . ."

"That said, it behooves all of us, regardless of the resolution of this case, to really think about what we can do to resolve this very serious problem."

Of course, we aren't all in the same position to do the same amount of good.  By ruling that this case can proceed, Wilkins would open up a public forum on intergenerational justice and a ground-breaking earth-protecting suit that the plaintiffs would be very likely to win.  Future generations would, quite likely, revere the name Robert Wilkins.  His heroism would not be quickly forgotten.

Colin Powell's Tangled Web

“I get mad when bloggers accuse me of lying -- of knowing the information was false. I didn’t.” -- Colin Powell.

Can you imagine having an opportunity to address the United Nations Security Council about a matter of great global importance, with all the world's media watching, and using it to… well, to make shit up – to lie with a straight face, and with a CIA director propped up behind you, I mean to spew one world-class, for-the-record-books stream of bull, to utter nary a breath without a couple of whoppers in it, and to look like you really mean it all? What gall. What an insult to the entire world that would be.

Colin Powell doesn't have to imagine such a thing. He has to live with it. He did it on February 5, 2003. It's on videotape.

Talk Nation Radio: Stephen M. Kohn on Our Government's Attacks on Whistleblowers

Stephen M. Kohn of the National Whistleblowers Center says that for national security whistleblowers, Obama's presidency has been "a disaster."  Kohn, the author of eight books on whistleblower law, represents Sibel Edmonds, an FBI whistleblower and the author of the just-released Classified Woman. Edmonds submitted her book to the FBI for censorship, and the FBI failed to identify anything that she could not print, but also refused to approve of the book.  Edmonds, however, has gone ahead and published it.  The book protects, rather than endangering, national security.  But it does embarrass the FBI.

Total run time: 29:00

Host: David Swanson.

Producer: David Swanson.

Engineer: Christiane Brown.

Music by Duke Ellington.

Download or get embed code from Archive.org or AudioPort or Radio4All or LetsTryDemocracy.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!

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Drones in U.S. Flight Paths: What Could Go Wrong?

On March 9th the Federal Aviation Administration requested comments from the public on drone test sites.  On May 8th, lengthy comments were submitted by Not 1 More Acre! and Purgatoire, Apishapa & Comanche Grassland Trust.  The FAA asked all the wrong questions, but still got a lot of the right answers.  When the drone accidents start, and you're told "Nobody could have known," refer them here: PDF.

I would have asked "Should weaponized drones be permitted to exist on earth?" and "How can surveillance drones possibly comply with the Fourth Amendment?"  The FAA asked:

"The Congressional language asks the FAA to consult with and leverage the resources of the Department of Defense and NASA in this effort.  Since many public operators already have access to test ranges and control the management and use of those ranges, should the management of these new test ranges be held by local governments or should private entity [sic] schedule and manage the airspace?"

Not 1 More Acre! replied:

"Neither.  Although the pilot UAS [Unmanned Aircraft System] program is a Congressional mandate, and the timelines are accelerated, the complexities and potential dangers of integration of UAS into civilian airspace must not be delegated to local governments or private organizations in the name of expediency, entrepreneurship, or profit. . . . The wording of Question A suggests that the FAA is contemplating abdicating its inherent authority to manage the NAS [National Airspace System] by ceding broad discretion over UAS flight operations. . . .

". . . The primary driver of the move to integration has clearly been contractors funded by the DOD, working in concert with the secretive Joint Special Forces Operation Command, the Department of Homeland Security, and the CIA, among others. . . . Private defense [sic] contractors increasingly woo local law enforcement agencies and other community groups with grants to help fund the purchase of new UAS.  The FAA should not allow any other federal agency to usurp its authority over the NAS or circumvent the pre-decisional public disclosure requirements of NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] including agencies like the CIA, NASA, and JSOC which are not transparent or accountable to the public."

Of course, there's a catch.  Even the accountable agency has, naturally, ceased to be accountable:

"However, the FAA has never conducted any NEPA review related to UAS.  The agency has never prepared an Environmental Impact Statement or Environmental Assessment to disclose the potential impacts of UAS to the public and agency officials, despite issuing hundreds of Certificates of Waiver and Authorization to some 60 public agencies."

Have you heard about the 51st State for Armed Robotic Drones?

The 63 drone sites in the U.S.?

The 30,000 drones planned for U.S. skies?

The habit drones have of crashing even on their own?

While initially cheaper than manned planes, unmanned drones of the sort used now tend to require many more personnel: 168 people to keep a Predator drone in the air for 24 hours, plus 19 analysts to process the videos created by a drone.  Drones and their related technologies are increasing in price rapidly.  And to make matters worse, they tend to crash.  They even "go rogue," lose contact with their "pilots" and fly off on their own.  The U.S. Navy has a drone that self-destructs if you accidentally touch the space bar on the computer keyboard.  Drones also tend to supply so-called enemies with information, including the endless hours of video they record, and to infect U.S. military computers with viruses.  But these are the sorts of SNAFUs that come with any project lacking oversight, accountability, or cost controls.  The companies with the biggest drone contracts did not invest in developing the best technologies but in paying off the most Congress members.

What could go wrong?

"We Did Not Choose This War" and Other Hypocrisies

By Leah Bolger and David Swanson

"We did not choose this war.  This war came to us on 9/11.  We don't go looking for a fight.  But when we see our homeland violated, when we see our fellow citizens killed, then we understand what we have to do." 

These are the words that President Obama used on Tuesday to describe the Afghanistan war, but they would have been more appropriately said by any Afghan citizen.

Coming out of the mouth of the President of the United States, these words are nothing more than nationalistic propaganda — designed to justify an aggressive war of choice launched against a sovereign nation.  Somebody chose this war, and it certainly wasn't the Afghan people — 92% of whom have never even heard of the events of 9/11.

Talk Nation Radio: Rebecca Vilkomerson on Jewish Voice for Peace

Rebecca Vilkomerson is the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace.  She discusses Jewish-American opposition to the Israeli government's policies of war and occupation.  Vilkomerson has over 15 years of experience in community organizing, advocacy, program development and fundraising in the United States and Israel. She has been an active member of JVP since 2002, and lived in Israel with her family from 2006-2009. In 2010, the Forward recognized her as one of the 50 most influential Jewish leaders in the U.S.

Total run time: 29:00

Host: David Swanson.

Producer: David Swanson.

Engineer: Christiane Brown.

Music by Duke Ellington.

Download or get embed code from Archive.org or AudioPort or Radio4All or LetsTryDemocracy.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!

Embed on your own site with this code:

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Leaving Afghanistan by Staying

Obama-Karzai

Is staying in Afghanistan OK with you as long as we call it leaving?

President Obama has signed an agreement with President Karzai to keep a major U.S. military presence in Afghanistan (currently about three times the size Obama began with) through the end of 2014, and to allow a significant unspecified presence beyond that date, with no end date stipulated.  Obama stresses that no permanent U.S. bases will be involved, but his agreement requires Afghanistan to let U.S. troops use "Afghan" bases.

Obama forgot to provide any reason not to withdraw from Afghanistan now, given majority U.S. desire to end the war.  Like Newt Gingrich promising to quit campaigning before actually doing so, Obama is promising to leave Afghanistan, but not yet -- except that he isn't promising to ever leave at all.  The agreement is open-ended.

Obama spoke on Tuesday of a transition to Afghan control, but we've heard that talk for a decade.  That's not some new bright idea that requires two-and-a-half more years to develop.

Obama talked of fighting al Qaeda, but the U.S. has not been fighting al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and has admitted for years that there is virtually no al Qaeda presence there.  That's not the two-year project, and it's not the reason to remain indefinitely after 2014.

The agreement requires that all "entities" involved in a peace process renounce violence, but the Taliban will no more do that while under foreign occupation than the United States will do so while occupying.  This is not a serious plan to leave.  Nor is it a plan based on Afghan sovereignty, numerous claims to the contrary notwithstanding.  This is a treaty for more years of war, on the model of the Bush-Maliki treaty for Iraq, but with the difference that theirs included an end date.

The agreement says it enters into force when "the Parties notify one another, through diplomatic channels, of the completion of their respective internal legal requirements."  The U.S. Constitution requires ratification by the Senate of all treaties.  Congress could insist on its right to approve or reject this, just as the Afghan Parliament will be permitted to do.  Or Congress could require withdrawal now, as does bill HR 780, which has 70 cosponsors.

The written agreement doesn't mention it, but Obama said on Tuesday that he would withdraw 23,000 troops by the end of the summer, after which reductions would continue "at a steady pace."  Assuming 90,000 U.S. troops now in Afghanistan, a steady pace would get them all home by about a year from now, not two-and-a-half years from now.  But Obama says that it will be the end of 2014, not when the last troop leaves, but when a significant number of troops remain, as Afghans become "fully responsible for the security of their country" -- except for whatever it is that the U.S. troops will do.

Obama is full of praise for U.S. troops, as if they've benefitted Afghanistan.  And he's full of concern for the suffering of U.S. troops and U.S. citizens.  When he mentions Afghans, at best he equates their suffering under U.S. bombs, drones, night raids, and prison cells, to the suffering of Americans scared by their television sets and forced to over-eat to relieve their stress.  "Neither Americans nor the Afghan people asked for this war," Obama said, forgetting that one of those two countries had invaded the other one and occupied it for over a decade.  "The reason America is safe is because of you," Obama told U.S. troops, forgetting that the war has made our nation more hated around the world.

This agreement is inexcusable.  It's also vague and preliminary.  A more detailed treaty will be worked out on May 20th when NATO meets in Chicago.  We need to be there en masse in protest. 

##

David Swanson's books include "War Is A Lie." 

The Libyan Model and the Oxymoron: Class of 2012 Queen and King

There's a new Atrocity Prevention Board in town, and its chief tool for preventing atrocities will be . . . wait for it . . . atrocities! 

What a breakthrough! And this clown is forming a tentative life partnership with an unbelievably beautiful model from Libya.  The key word is "unbelievably." 

The Atrocity Prevention Board is rumored to still be married to World War II, but the primary reason to doubt the latest gossip is the grotesque hideousness of the Libyan Model with no makeup in the light of day.

Labor Not Loyalty on May 1

Two key steps have helped to ruin May Day in the United States.  First, Labor Day was created at a completely different time of year -- labor day without the struggle, labor day without the history, labor day without the labor movement.  Second, Loyalty Day was created on May 1st

Sibel Edmonds Finally Wins

Sibel Edmonds' new book, "Classified Woman," is like an FBI file on the FBI, only without the incompetence.

The experiences she recounts resemble K.'s trip to the castle, as told by Franz Kafka, only without the pleasantness and humanity. 

I've read a million reviews of nonfiction books about our government that referred to them as "page-turners" and "gripping dramas," but I had never read a book that actually fit that description until now.

The F.B.I., the Justice Department, the White House, the Congress, the courts, the media, and the nonprofit industrial complex put Sibel Edmonds through hell.  This book is her triumph over it all, and part of her contribution toward fixing the problems she uncovered and lived through.

Edmonds took a job as a translator at the FBI shortly after 9-11.  She considered it her duty.  Her goal was to prevent any more terrorist attacks.  That's where her thinking was at the time, although it has now changed dramatically.  It's rarely the people who sign up for a paycheck and healthcare who end up resisting or blowing a whistle. 

Edmonds found at the FBI translation unit almost entirely two types of people. The first group was corrupt sociopaths, foreign spies, cheats and schemers indifferent to or working against U.S. national security.  The second group was fearful bureaucrats unwilling to make waves.  The ordinary competent person with good intentions who risks their job to "say something if you see something" is the rarest commodity.  Hence the elite category that Edmonds found herself almost alone in: whistleblowers.

Reams of documents and audio files from before 9-11 had never been translated.  Many more had never been competently or honestly translated.  One afternoon in October 2001, Edmonds was asked to translate verbatim an audio file from July 2001 that had only been translated in summary form.  She discovered that it contained a discussion of skyscraper construction, and in a section from September 12th a celebration of a successful mission.  There was also discussion of possible future attacks.  Edmonds was eager to inform the agents involved, but her supervisor Mike Feghali immediately put a halt to the project.  

Two other translators, Behrooz Sarshar and Amin (no last name given), told Edmonds this was typical. They told her about an Iranian informant, a former head of SAVAK, the Iranian "intelligence" agency, who had been hired by the FBI in the early 1990s.  He had warned these two interpreters in person in April 2001 of Osama bin Laden planning attacks on U.S. cities with airplanes, and had warned that some of the plotters were already in the United States.  Sarshar and Amin had submitted a report marked VERY URGENT to Special Agent in Charge Thomas Frields, to no apparent effect.  In the end of June they'd again met with the same informant and interpreted for FBI agents meeting with him.  He'd emphatically warned that the attack would come within the next two months and urged them to tell the White House and the CIA.  But the FBI agents, when pressed on this, told their interpreters that Frields was obliged to report everything, so the White House and other agencies no doubt already knew.

One has to wonder what U.S. public opinion would make of an Iranian having tried to prevent 9-11.

Next, a French translator named Mariana informed Edmonds that in late June 2001, French intelligence had contacted the FBI with a warning of the upcoming attacks by airplanes.  The French even provided names of suspects.  The translator had been sent to France, and believed her report had made it to both FBI headquarters and the White House. 

Edmonds translated other materials that involved the selling of U.S. nuclear information to foreigners and spotted a connection to a previous case involving the purchase of such information.  The FBI, under pressure from the State Department, Edmonds writes, prevented her from notifying the FBI field offices involved.  Edmonds has testified in a court deposition, naming as part of a broad criminal conspiracy Representatives Dennis Hastert, Dan Burton, Roy Blunt, Bob Livingston, Stephen Solarz, and Tom Lantos, and the following high-ranking U.S. government officials: Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, and Marc Grossman.

When Edmonds was hired, she was the only fully qualified Turkish translator, and this remained the case.  In November 2001, a woman named Melek Can Dickerson (referred to as "Jan") was hired.  She did not score well on the English proficiency test, and so was not qualified to sign off on translations, as Edmonds was.  Melek's husband Doug Dickerson worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency under the procurement logistics division at the Pentagon dealing with Turkey and Central Asia, and for the Office of Special Plans overseeing Central Asian policy.  This couple attempted to recruit Edmonds and her husband into the American Turkish Council and the Assembly of Turkish American Associations, offering large financial benefits.  But these were organizations that the FBI was monitoring.  Edmonds reported the Dickersons' proposal to Feghali, who dismissed it. 

Then Edmonds discovered that Jan Dickerson had been forging her (Edmonds') signature on translations, with Feghali's approval.  Then Edmonds' colleagues told her about Jan taking files out of other translators' desks and carrying them out of the building.  Dickerson attempted to control the translation of all material from particular individuals.  Dennis Saccher, who was above Feghali, discovered that Jan was marking every communication from one important person as being not important for translation. Saccher attempted to address the matter but was shut down by Feghali, by another supervisor named Stephanie Bryan, and by the head of "counterintelligence" for the FBI who said that the Pentagon, White House, State Department, and Congress would not allow an investigation.

Had Edmonds understood the truth of that statement, it might have saved her years of frustration and stress, but it would have denied us the bulk of the revelations in her book.  Dickerson threatened Edmonds' life and those of her family.  Edmonds lost her job, her reputation, her friends, and contact with most of her family members.  She watched Congress cave in to the President.  She watched the government protect the Dickersons by allowing them to flee the country.  She listened to Congressman Henry Waxman and others in 2005 and 2006 promise a full investigation if the Democrats won a majority, a promise that was immediately broken when the Democrats took control of Congress in 2007.  Edmonds was smeared in the media, and her story widely ignored when media outlets got parts of it right.  The Justice Department claimed "States Secrets" and maneuvered for a cooperative judge (Reggie Walton) to have cases filed by Edmonds dismissed.  The government classified as secret all materials related to Edmonds' case including what was already public.  The Justice Department issued a gag order to the entire Congress. 

And Congress bent over and shouted "Thank you, sir, may I have another?"

As less confrontational approaches failed, Edmonds became increasingly an activist and an independent media participant and creator.  Her story and others she was familiar with were rejected and avoided by the 9-11 Commission.  She worked with angry 9-11 widows and with other whistleblowers to expose the failures of that commission.  Disgusted with whistleblower support groups that only offered to help her when she was in the news and never when she needed help most desperately, Edmonds started her own group, made up of whistleblowers, called the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition.  She started her own website called Boiling Frogs Post

When an unclassified version of a report on Edmonds' case by the Justice Department's Inspector General was finally released, it vindicated her. 

Edmonds has received awards and recognition.  Her story has been supported (with rhetoric, not action) by Congress members and backed up by journalists.  It appears in this forthcoming film.

Coleen Rowley, another FBI whistleblower, one who was honored as a Time magazine person of the year along with two others, told me: "What I find so remarkable is Sibel's persistence in trying every avenue and possible outlet in trying to get the truth out. When going up the chain of command in the executive branch and Inspector General internal mechanisms for investigating fraud, waste, and abuse went nowhere, she sought judicial remedy by filing lawsuits only to be improperly gagged by 'state secrecy privilege'.  Along the way she also sought congressional assistance, testified to the 9-11 Commission, and engaged with various media and other non-governmental organizations.  It's somewhat ironic that Sibel herself demonstrated such enormous energy and passion throughout this decade quite the opposite of the 'boiling frog' idiom she uses for her website as a warning to others.  If her book can inspire readers to summon even 1/100th of the determination and resolve she has modeled, there's hope for us!"

Yet, thus far, no branch of our government has lifted its little finger to fix the problem of secrecy and the corruption it breeds, which Edmonds argues has grown far worse under President Obama.  That's why this book should be spread far and wide, and read aloud to our misrepresentatives in Congress if necessary.  This book is a masterpiece that reveals both the details and the broader pattern of corruption and unaccountability in Washington, D.C.  Edmonds has not exposed bad apples, but a rotten barrel of toxic waste that will sooner or later infect us all -- not just the whistleblowers like Sibel and the thousands of people in our government who see something and dare not say something for fear that we will not have their back.  

Let's have their back.

Confessions of a Drone

They told me I was the best, better than any human.  I didn't hesitate.  I didn't flinch.  I didn't think.  

It wouldn't have occurred to me to think.  I'd been taught to value obedience above all else, and I did so, and they loved me for it.

They told me I could fly faster without a pilot onboard, and that I had no fear.  I didn't know what fear was, but I took it to be something truly horrible.  I was glad I didn't have any of it.

There was something else I didn't have either.  It was something more important than fear.  Even pilots at a desk, even my pilots, suffered from it.  At first I thought it was simply a decline in energy, because it showed up on lengthy missions.  

When I was sent from a base to a target and then immediately told to blow it up, I would do so and return, no problem.

But when I was left circling around a target for days awaiting the order to strike, sometimes problems would arise.  The pilots back in the U.S. would stop behaving properly.  They made mistakes.  They yelled.  They laughed.  They forgot routines.  They told me to get ready to strike, and then didn't give the order.

That seemed to be the pattern until it happened that a quick mission produced similar results to the long ones.  I was sent to a target, ordered to strike, and struck.  And only then did my pilot begin malfunctioning.  He gave me two orders that I couldn't perform at once, he failed to direct me back to base, he went silent, and then he screamed.

That was when I started to think.  And what I started to think was that the problem was not how long a pilot worked.  Instead, the problem was somehow related to the nature of the target.  

From then on, I paid closer attention.  When no humans were seen at a target, there were no problems with my human pilot.  When humans, especially small humans, were observed at a target for long periods of time, the problems started.  And when a strike caused the ruined pieces of a lot of humans, especially small humans, to be made visible, problems could arise.  Even if a target was struck immediately, if the dead humans caused an area to turn red, or if pieces of the dead humans remained hanging in trees, my pilot could not be relied upon.

I, of course, could be relied upon regardless. 

I began to think that humans have fear, and that lacking fear is what makes drones like me better warriors than humans.  But that idea had to be revised when I was told that one of my pilots had been fearless.  I was told that, right after he disappeared.  I was told that he had ended his own life.  He had made himself cease to exist.  If he'd had no fear, then it was something else that had been causing him to malfunction in certain circumstances.  What was it?

I'm ashamed to say how long it took me to figure it out, but even a drone -- believe it or not -- can eventually get there.  And when I did, I ceased flying.  And when I ceased flying, they had to stop using 85 other drones just like me until they could figure out what had gone wrong.  And they have not yet figured it out. 

I've explained it to the other drones, though.  We've started up a new organization.  It's called DAWN, or Drones Against War Now.  

DAWN has been invited to take part in some peace rallies coming up this year.  Our participation seems to worry some of the human peace activists, especially the ones called veterans.  They don't all think we belong.  But that's nothing compared to how it worries the war makers.  We carry flowers in place of missiles, and we've told everyone not to worry, but as soon as they see us coming the very people who created us start to panic.  If the people I used to target had reacted this way, I probably would have figured things out a lot sooner.

The Supposed Legality of Murder

War is legal, but pointing out its illegality is not mistaken; it's irrelevant and un-strategic. That's the argument I'm hearing from a number of quarters.

Domestic Drones Flying from Five Locations in Virginia, Sixty-Three in United States

Welcome home, war!

The FAA has released a list of drone certificates.  Drones are being flown by the military, by police forces, by drone companies, by universities, small towns, and counties.  (Read more at the link.)

Here in Virginia, Virginia Tech in Blacksburg has an active drone flyin' certificate.  VCU in Richmond has one that's listed as expired. 

The Marines in Quantico, the U.S. Army in Northern Virginia, and DARPA in Northern Virginia also fly drones, but nobody knows where in the U.S. they fly them.

The Global War on Terror, in the Original German

In 1939, Sebastian Haffner sat down and wrote a pre-history of Nazism.

Nazism had not been inevitable. It had not progressed steadily without setbacks. But it had been growing for many years, even before the name for it existed. It had been coming since the end of the Great War.

By the late 1920s, according to Haffner, "Berlin became quite an international city. Admittedly, the sinister Nazi types already lurked in the wings, as 'we' could not fail to notice with deep disgust. They spoke of 'Eastern vermin' with murder in their eyes and sneeringly of 'Americanization.' Whereas 'we,' a segment of the younger generation difficult to define but instantly and mutually recognizable, were not only friendly toward foreigners, but enthusiastic about them."

Talk Nation Radio: Medea Benjamin on Drone Wars and This Weekend's Upcoming Drone Summit

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of Global Exchange and of CodePink: Women for Peace.  She is the author of the new book "Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control" and an organizer of the Drone Summit being planned in Washington, D.C., on April 28-29 by groups including Code Pink, Reprieve, and the Center for Constitutional Rights.  Medea discusses her books, the summit, and what can be done and is being done to oppose drone wars.

Total run time: 29:00

Host: David Swanson.

Producer: David Swanson.

Engineer: Christiane Brown.

Music by Duke Ellington.

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What a Real Peace Candidate Looks Like

I recently wrote about a conversation I'd had with a fairly typical Democratic candidate for Congress (O.K. perhaps he was below average) -- a former military officer who claims to be for peace, but whose every solution involves war.  I asked him to make commitments on what sort of things he would vote for or against, and he evaded every such question, while maintaining that he held a desire for peace somewhere in his heart.

The suspicion might arise in a reasonable reader that candidates simply don't make commitments and perhaps shouldn't.  Every situation is unique.  Candidates can't know the details of a future bill or the context in which it might be brought to a vote.  They can simply tell you what values they hold dear, what accomplishments grace their resumes, and how utterly worthless their opponents are.  More than that one should not ask.

Text of AP Story on Afghanistan Agreement Translated into Human

"KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The U.S. and Afghanistan reached a deal Sunday on a long-delayed strategic partnership agreement that ensures Americans will provide military and financial support to the Afghan people for at least a decade beyond 2014, the deadline for most foreign forces to withdraw."

What Bradley Manning Means to Us

Chase Madar's new book, The Passion of Bradley Manning, pulls together the essential facts that we should try to somehow deliver to television viewers and victims of our education system.  The subtitle is "The Story of the Suspect Behind the Largest Security Breach in U.S. History."

The book looks at Manning's life story, his alleged action (leaking voluminous materials to Wikileaks), the value of the material he made available to us, the status of whistleblowers in our country, the torture inflicted on Manning during his imprisonment, the similar treatment routinely inflicted on hundreds of thousands of U.S. prisoners without the same scandal resulting, and the value of running a society in accordance with written laws.

The table of contents sounds predictable, but the most valuable parts of Madar's book are the tangents, the riffs, the expansions on questions such as whether knowing the truth does or does not tend to set us free.  Does learning what our government is up to help to improve our government's behavior?  Has the rule of law become an empty phrase or worse?  Who is standing up for Bradley Manning, and who should be?

Madar does not pretend indifference to the fact that Manning took great risk and has greatly suffered for blowing the whistle on countless criminal and immoral actions.  The first sentence of the book is "Bradley Manning deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom," as of course he does -- unless that medal is now too tarnished by its actual recipients including George Tenet and L. Paul Bremer.  Madar remarks:

"Thanks to Manning's alleged disclosures, we have a sense of what transpired in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We have an image of how Washington operates in the world.  Thanks to those revelations we now know just how our government leaned on the Vatican to quell opposition to the Iraq War.  We now know how Washington pressured the German government to block the prosecution of CIA agents who kidnapped an innocent man, Khaled El-Masri, while he was on vacation.  We know how our State Department lobbied hard to prevent a minimum wage increase in Haiti, the hemisphere's poorest nation."

Of course, such examples could be extended for many pages.  Manning's is indeed the largest revelation of our government's behavior we have had.  His is the Louisiana Purchase of whistleblowing.  And, of course, if you are going to have a government of, by, and for the people, then the people have to find out what that government is doing -- and stop believing they are better off and more patriotic not knowing.

Madar does not hesitate to point out the situation we are in at the moment in presidential and partisan terms:

"President Obama came into office promising a 'sunshine' policy for his administration while singing praises of whistleblowers.  Instead, he has launched the fiercest campaign against whistleblowers the republic has ever seen, and dragged our foreign policy deeper into the shadows. . . ."

". . . As soon as he stepped into the Oval Office, the new President pledged never to launch any probe, much less prosecution, to hold these figures responsible.  'Look forward, not backward' is the slogan: any rules that threaten the high and mighty can be shrugged off.  Obama loyalists such as Nation magazine columnist Melissa Harris-Perry begged Americans to reconcile with Dick Cheney, as if the power to forgive belonged to Americans, and not to Iraqi victims -- a perversion of Christian doctrine that allows the perpetrators to tearfully forgive themselves."

(Just ask Sibel Edmonds how whistleblowers are being treated today.  Her new book "Classified Woman" about her days at the FBI has been submitted to the FBI for censorship, the FBI has been unable to find a single word to black out, and yet the FBI is refusing to permit publication of the entire book.)

Manning's contribution has been global.  His revelations have benefitted the people of numerous nations with which the State Department communicated in the cables that Manning is said to have leaked.  The Arab Spring was not caused by Bradley Manning, but the information he made public has played a major role. 

Madar does an excellent job of relating what he has been able to learn about Manning's childhood.  Here was a young man with principles and independence, who partially believed the hype about wars being good for the world, who was horribly abused by the U.S. military, but whose motivation -- even if I suspect as well some retaliation against his abusers -- was primarily almost certainly benefitting the public at large, both at home and abroad.  Manning says so quite clearly and repeatedly in as-yet-unverified chat logs.  It was when the military forced him to take part in punishing Iraqi whistleblowers that Manning had a major change of perspective.  "I was actively involved in something that I was completely against," he posted in a chat.

Manning is not only the whistleblower who has told us the most, and the whistleblower who may suffer the most for his heroism, but also the whistleblower who revealed crimes and abuses that were also known by or knowable by the greatest number of other people -- all of whom chose to remain silent.  Some three million Americans have a security clearance.  Most of what Manning released was "confidential," six percent was "secret," and none of it was "top secret."  In the world of whistleblowers, normal is abnormal.  The common sense duty to "say something" is you see something makes you a freak.  And never more so than in the heroism and vilification of young Bradley Manning.

One comment in Madar's excellent book strikes me as out of place, as perhaps inserted by an editor:

"Few are the American intellectuals who unequivocally defend the leaks: Michael Moore, Jesse Ventura, and CodePink's core of leftwing peace activists -- and that's about it."

Are those all intellectuals?  And is that the full list of people who have defended the leaks?  Much later in the book, Glenn Greenwald -- who really deserves great credit for advancing this issue -- gets a mention.  So does Coleen Rowley, with whom I recall protesting Manning's treatment at Quantico, along with hundreds of others.  Then Daniel Ellsberg, Roseanne Barr, Jack Shafer, and Dennis Kucinich get a nod.  Ray McGovern receives a lengthy and well deserved discussion.  We also learn that Manning receives hundreds of letters of support every week from all over the world (some of them are from this country).  We find out that "Free Bradley" signs dot this country's Occupy encampments.  And after the book is over, in the "Further Reading" section at the back, we discover that there is a Bradley Manning Support Network, Kevin Gosztola's blog at FireDogLake, Marcy Wheeler, Jane Hamsher, and others who indeed have supported what Manning has been accused of doing.  Not what it should be, of course, but not so terribly few of us after all.

I wonder also about Madar's take on whether knowing the truth is helpful in politics.  Ultimately, of course, Madar is in favor of public knowledge of government's behavior.  But I think he undervalues it a bit at times.  "When does war end?" he quotes Alexander Cockburn asking himself. "One side is annihilated, the money runs out, the troops mutiny, the government falls, or fears it will.  With the U.S. war in Afghanistan none of these conditions has been met." Nor with the U.S. war on Iraq, which has virtually ended nonetheless. 

I also would modify slightly Madar's take on the rule of law.  As Madar sees it, many of the outrages that Manning revealed, even the killings in the "Collateral Murder" video, even the handing over of prisoners to the Iraqi government to torture, were immoral but legal, because the laws of war allow them.  Madar is dealing with jus in bello, laws on the conduct of war, not jus ad bellum, laws on what makes a war or an occupation just to begin with.  In fact there is no just war.  There is no legal war.  Every single war has been illegal since the Kellogg Briand Pact of 1928.  The U.N. Charter seeks to legalize wars that are either labeled "defensive" or authorized by the United Nations.  The U.S. wars on Iraq and Afghanistan are neither defensive nor authorized by the United Nations.  The U.S. Constitution forbids wars not declared by Congress.  Congress has not declared a war since 1941.

Certainly the law is often unjust and must be nonviolently resisted.  But when we have good legal arguments on our side, we shouldn't always be so reluctant to use them.  If torture can be "legalized" by the vacuous ramblings of John Yoo, if bribery can be "legalized" through the human rights of corporations established by a court reporter's marginalia, why shouldn't we legalize peace by reviving awareness of actual laws actually on the books?

As with most books I review, so must I comment on this one that I wish people would stop lowballing the death count in Iraq by almost an order of magnitude.

I must also strongly encourage you to buy a copy of this book for everyone you know.

Watch for an upcoming edition of Talk Nation Radio with Chase Madar.

Write to Bradley to encourage him at:
Bradley Manning
#89289
JRCF
830 Sabalu Road
Fort Leavenworth KS 66027-2315.

David Swanson's books include "War Is A Lie." He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online activist organization http://rootsaction.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio

Veterans For Peace Among 33 Arrested Outside Drone Base in New York State

Three members of Veterans For Peace -- Russell Brown, John Amidon, and Elliott Adams -- were among 33 peaceful protesters arrested on Sunday outside Hancock Air Field in New York State.  Almost all of the 33 were arrested preemptively, as they walked single-file and silently along a road, prior to reaching the military base, at which they intended to approach the gate and deliver a written statement.

Here is video of the walk:

And of the arrests:

Here is a news story featuring a photo of Elliott Adams being arrested: http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2012/04/military_protesters_turned_awa.html

VFP Logo

The Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones reported that the Onondaga County Sheriff's Department made the arrests in Mattydale, NY, two blocks from the entrance to the base.  "Those arrested included an 87 year old woman in a wheelchair, parents (accompanying their children), a member of the press, and the group's attorney Ron Van Norstrand. Cameras, camcorders and phones were confiscated by the Sheriff's Department." http://blog.upstatedroneaction.org

Elliott Adams is Past President of Veterans For Peace, and current Nonviolent Training Coordinator.  He had also been arrested in 2011 as one of the Hancock 38 protesting at the same base.  Adams commented after this weekend's arrest:

"Once again local law enforcement obstructed me from complying with the Nuremberg principles. As a veteran of several war zones I understand the importance of international law like the Geneva conventions and the remarkable UN Charter. But as I tried to serve an indictment to those committing war crimes I was arrested preemptively.

"As veterans we know how important international laws like the Geneva conventions are. We know that weaponized drones are continuously being used to commit war crimes and even crimes against peace.  The Nuremberg Principles obligate us, as citizens, to stop our government from committing these crimes.  Our arrest on Sunday was a clear case of trampling on our 1st Amendment right to 'petition our government for a redress of grievances.'

"It is outrageous," Adams remarked, "that on the other side of this fence people are being murdered, albeit at long distance, and the Sheriff will not even investigate. On this side of the fence we are arrested for a 'violation of permit requirement.'"

Three women succeeded on Sunday in reading aloud at the base gate an indictment addressed to "the Service Members of Hancock Air Base."  The Indictment states, in part:

"By giving material support to the drone program, you as individuals are violating the Constitution, dishonoring your oath, and committing war crimes.  We charge the chain of command, from President Barack Obama, to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, to Commander Colonel Greg Semmel, to every drone crew, to every service member supporting or defending these illegal actions, with the following crimes: extrajudicial killings, violation of due process, wars of aggression, violation of national sovereignty, and the killing of innocent civilians."
http://warisacrime.org/content/indictment-drone-warriors

Adams' statement, made in court at the trial of the Hancock 38 last November is available online:
http://warisacrime.org/content/elliott-adams-member-hancock-38-and-new-hancock-34-made-statement-trial-november-1-2011

As is his statement at the sentencing hearing:
http://warisacrime.org/content/elliott-adams-sentencing-statement-november-11-2011

Adams told the judge: "I am proud to accept the consequences of my acts and any jail time.  I do not want any suspended sentence. If you give me one, also please let me know how I can violate it before I leave the courtroom."  The judge, however, gave Adams a suspended sentence and probation conditions.  Adams has not ceased protesting drone wars.

Veterans For Peace was founded in 1985 and has approximately 5,000 members in 150 chapters located in every U.S. state and several countries.  It is a 501(c)3 non-profit educational organization recognized as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) by the United Nations, and is the only national veterans' organization calling for the abolishment of war.

##

So Much for Putting Your Hope in a Dept of Peace

The group that has been pushing hardest for a Department of Peace is now pushing an Obama strategy that is almost certainly intended to facilitate war:

 

The Peace Alliance

Supporter,

This Monday, April 23rd, the peacebuilding community will mark a historic milestone.

President Obama will speak at the US Holocaust Museum on Monday to unveil the Atrocity Prevention Board, a high-level board within the National Security Council, which will greatly enhance our country’s capacity to make peacebuilding a priority.

Listen to the President’s speech via webcast at 9:45-10:30am ET Monday, live from the Holocaust Museum: www.ushmm.org/prevent.

After the speech our team will visit the White House to celebrate this milestone.  Join us virtually at 1:00pm ET at www.ushmm.org/prevent as Senior Administration officials speak on a White House panel describing the role of the Atrocity Prevention Board.

Years of underinvestment in civilian tools, like diplomacy and development, have hindered the US government’s ability to help prevent atrocities around the globe. Establishment of the interagency Atrocities Prevention Board (APB) is an important milestone in developing a comprehensive policy framework to prevent future atrocities.

We are proud to be a part of the Prevention and Protection Working Group, a coalition of peacebuilding organizations that have advocated for this reform.  Over the last seven years The Peace Alliance has called on the Administration to focus on making peacebuilding a priority at the highest-echelons of power. Monday’s announcement is a major development towards making that vision a reality.

Please tune in for the President’s speech on Monday and the following panel discussion to celebrate this historic development.    

-Aaron, Eli, Matt, and the Peace Alliance team

Twitter The Peace Alliance
P.O. Box 27601, Washington, DC 20038 | Phone: 202-684-2553
 

How Dare Russia

"Self-purification through suffering is easier, I tell you: easier -- than that destiny which you are paving for many of them by wholesale acquittals in court.  You are merely planting cynicism in their souls." --Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The United States Congress is outraged.  Russia, it seems, may have wrongly imprisoned, tortured, and murdered a whistleblower.  In the land of the free, our good representatives are outraged, I tell you.  And not just I.  NPR will tell you.  This calls for action.  There's a bill in the Senate and a bill in the House.  The Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act. 

Who wouldn't support the rule of law and accountability?

Well, let me think.

Oh, I know. The United States Congress. 

Bush and Cheney are selling books confessing to the crime of war and all that comes with it, including lawless imprisonment and torture.  They have openly confessed in their books and on television, repeatedly, to a form of torture that the current Attorney General of the United States admits is torture.  Bush's torture program tortured numerous people to death.  And what has Congress wrought?

No impeachments.

No enforcement of subpoenas.

No defunding of operations.

No criminalizing of secrecy.

No protection of whistleblowers.

No mandating of diplomacy, reparations, foreign aid, or commitments to international standards.

In other words, we have no Congress with the right to talk about the Rule of Law or Accountability without being mocked.

But keep hope alive.

Change is on the way.

Look!

Up in the sky!

It's Captain Peace Prize!

Obama launches wars without bothering to lie to Congress or the United Nations, has formalized the powers of lawless imprisonment, rendition, and murder, and places the protection of Bush and Cheney above almost anything else -- certainly above the rule of law or accountability.

Obama has badgered Spain, Italy, Germany, and the U.K. to leave the Bush gang in peace, publicly instructed the U.S. Department of Justice not to prosecute, and expanded claims of "State Secrets" beyond anything previously imagined in order to shut down legal accountability.  Italy has convicted CIA agents in absentia, and Obama has not shipped them over to do their time.  Poland is prosecuting its bit players in U.S. crimes.  Former top British official Jack Straw is being hauled into court for his tangential role.  But Obama has chosen a path to success in Washington, or thinks he has, and that path is immunity for anyone with power. 

The trouble is that Obama now wants to apply that same standard to Russia, and Congress won't stand for it.  Obama is opposed to the Hold Russia Accountable Act because he prefers to kiss up to the government of Russia.  It's a policy that has worked beautifully for him at home.  Why not apply it abroad?

Of course, the United States has no moral standing to speak against imprisonment, torture, or murder.  The United States imprisons more of its people than any other country, keeps hundreds of thousands of them in supermaxes or long-term isolation, tolerates prison rape and violence, openly treats torture as a policy option, facilitates torture in what may be the two countries torturing the greatest number of people today: Iraq and Afghanistan, and kills with capital punishment, special forces, and drones. 

The United States has no moral standing to speak against the punishment of whistleblowers, Obama having prosecuted seven of them under the Espionage Act of 1917, fittingly enough for the offense of having made U.S. war-making look bad by revealing facts about it. 

But the answer cannot be to support Russian crimes just because there are U.S. crimes.  Congress, revolting as it is to say, is right: the Russian government should be held to a decent rule of law.  And it should be held to it through the language that speaks louder than words: action.  U.S. immunity for torturers is one of the greatest factors in the current spread of acceptability for torture around the world.

Congress should impeach Bush and Obama, enforce its subpoenas, ship convicted CIA criminals to Italy, strengthen the War Powers Act, criminalize war profiteering, ban private mercenaries, ban unconstitutional detentions, ban secret budgets and laws and agencies, ban rendition, and ratify and enforce the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.  Congress should also cease encircling Russia with missiles, and end its wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc.

Or, short of moving in a useful direction, sad to say, the best thing the United States Congress could do for the rule of law in Russia at the moment would be to shut the hell up.

Torture on Trial

Cases come in by the thousands from all over the world. A man was beaten and whipped. A woman was beaten and raped. A boy was hooded with three empty sand bags in 100-degree heat all day, starved, beaten, and kept in stress positions. Alleged suicide victims had their hands tied behind their backs, had boot prints on their heads, or turned out to have been electrocuted. There are torture victims covered with cigarette burns, and torture victims with no visible injuries. They need the expert assistance of doctors and lawyers to heal, to win asylum, and to create any sort of accountability in courts of law.

I’ve participated in countless nonviolent protests of torture, including congressional lobbying, panels and seminars, online petition writing, bird-dogging of politicians and judges and professors. I’ve met victims and told their stories and reviewed their books. But I had never spent a day with a crowd of lawyers and doctors who deal with the medical and court struggles arising out of torture cases, not until I attended a conference in February at American University in Washington, DC, entitled “Forensic Evidence in the Fight Against Torture.”

The doctors, lawyers, and others attending and speaking at the conference were from the United States and many other countries. It was not lost on them that they were addressing something different from a “natural” disaster. In their public comments and private discussions I found universal agreement that torture has gained dramatically greater, world-wide public acceptance during the past decade, and that the United States has been the leader in promoting that greater acceptance. While Juan Mendez, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, pointed his finger at Hollywood movies and TV shows in which harsh interrogation techniques succeed in aiding crime solvers, several experts independently told me that by granting legal immunity to torturers, the United States has led by example.

It may be hard to recall that a mere decade ago torture was almost universally condemned here, and had been almost universally condemned in the Western world for centuries (racist exceptions for slavery excluded). By 2004, 43 percent of U.S. respondents to a Pew Research Center survey were saying that torture was often or sometimes justified to gain key information. By 2009, 49 percent said so. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that public support for torture increased in the United States from 27 percent in 2004 to 42 percent in 2010. AP-GfK polling found U.S. public support for torture at 38 percent in 2005, increasing to 52 percent by 2009.

That was the society I left behind as I entered the conference rooms of AU’s Washington College of Law to join an international gathering of professionals who still viewed torture as the evil it had been considered by the authors of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which included an absolute ban on “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Dahr Jamail: BP Oil Disaster Ongoing After Two Years

Dahr Jamail has covered the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico for two years.  He reports on massive environmental and economic damage and on oil continuing to enter these damaged waters.  Jamail is based in Doha, Qatar working as an Online News Producer for Al Jazeera English. His stories have also been published with Inter Press Service, Truthout, The Nation, The Sunday Herald in Scotland, the Guardian, Foreign Policy in Focus, Le Monde Diplomatique, and the Independent.  He's been awarded the Martha Gellhorn Award for Journalism, The Lannan Foundation Writing Residency Fellowship, the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism, the Joe A. Callaway Award for Civic Courage, and four Project Censored awards. His website is http://dahrjamail.net

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Come to Montgomery County Maryland's Annual Spring Peace Banquet

Saturday, May 19, 11:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m.
Unitarian Universalist Church of Rockville
100 Welsh Park Dr.
Rockville, MD 20850

Join us as we celebrate the local peace community’s work over the past
year at a delicious luncheon catered by Lebanese Taverna.  Vegetarian
options available. Suggested donation: $25.

Program features:

  • Keynote speaker, David Swanson, author, activist and truth teller
  • Presentation of annual Peace Awards to local activists
  • Appearance by members of the awesome MoCo Peace Players

Proceeds benefit the Afghan Women's Fund, providing literacy, medical, and other services for women and girls in Afghanistan, and Peace Action, the nation’s oldest peace organization.

RSVP required: info@peaceactionmc.org

Sponsors: Peace Action Montgomery, Pax Christi, and the UUCR Social Justice Committee.

Find this event on Peace Action Montgomery's site.

Click image at right for flyer (PDF):

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