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Western Asia ("Middle East")
Earlier this month, I spoke at a panel in Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond. During the talk, I showed a photo of a young Yemeni boy in the province of Mareb (which was hit by five drone strikes this month), demonstrating how he ducked in his school as soon as he heard the sound of a plane. He was not sure whether it was a drone or a fighter jet, but he has become used to ducking this way ever since his village was hit and his friend hit with a shrapnel.
The next day, I received an e-mail from David Swanson who was on the same panel. He pointed out that the photo of the Yemeni boy reminded him of the photo below, of children in the US in the 1950s ducking in schools for fear of a nuclear explosion.
|photo on left via David Swanson from http://airminded.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/brighton-tech-1942.jpeg, photo on right by Atiaf Alwazir, taken in Mareb on Feb 28, 2013|
The two photos are strikingly similar, both children ducking to save themselves from bombs that kill, wound, and displace people. From the early 1950s until the end of the Cold War, the US government taught "duck and cover" to generations of school children and adults as a method of personal protection in the event of a nuclear war.
In 1951, the American Civil Defense film, "Duck and Covered" geared towards children, portrayed the act of ducking and covering by Bert The Turtle. Wouldn't it be ironic, if we use the lyrics of this American film to teach children in Yemen today how to "duck and cover" from American planes?!
|A Duck and Cover movie poster, http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/52/Bert2.png|
Yemeni children living in areas of conflict have the same feeling of fear that has engulfed millions of children around the world. However, unlike their brothers and sisters around the globe, their own government has also abandoned them. No films are being made to teach methods of self protection, no warnings given before US and Yemeni planes strike, and when wounded or when their houses are demolished, no apology or compensation is given.
It shouldn't matter where the person is from, where he/she is living, what religion they follow or don't; human lives are equal, and they all deserve a chance to live in peace and with freedom to move and enjoy this earth that we call home.
I still want Dirty Wars to win the Oscar, but The Square is a documentary worth serious discussion as we hit the three-year point since the famous occupation of Tahrir Square in Cairo that overthrew Mubarak -- in particular because a lot of people seem to get a lot of the lessons wrong.
I suppose some people will leave Dirty Wars imagining that we need clean wars, whatever those would be. But too many people seem to be drawing from The Square lessons they brought with them to it, including these: Thou shalt have a leader; thou shalt work within a major political party; thou shalt have an identifiable group of individuals ready to take power. I don't think following these commandments would have easily changed the past three years in Egypt; I don't think they're where Egyptians should be heading; and I'm even more confident they're blind alleys in the United States -- where they serve as supposed remedies for the supposed failings of Occupy.
Many lessons that might be drawn from The Square seem right to me. Did the people leave the square too early? Hell yes. Was the movement divided when the Muslim Brotherhood sought to claim victory exclusively for itself and not for all of the people of Egypt? Of course it was. Let that be a lesson to us indeed. We agree, virtually all of us in the U.S., on a lot of needed reforms. We're all getting collectively screwed. But we divide ourselves over stupid petty stuff, irrelevant stuff, secondary stuff -- cultural issues, ideologies, superficial identities, and -- yes -- big-name leaders (think how many opponents of militarism and Big Brother you could agree with if they weren't "Ron Paulers"). Preferring one tyrant to another because of their religion or race is not a flaw the Egyptians have a monopoly on (think of all the Christian support for Bush and African-American support for Obama).
Was trusting the military a horrible idea? No. It wasn't a horrible idea. It was the most catastrophically stupendously stupid notion ever to enter a human skull. Militaries don't support people. People support militaries through their useful and exploited labor. Costa Rica had to disband its military to stop having coups. When a military exists, appealing to the humanity of its individual members is wise indeed. But expecting the military as a whole to be democratic to the point of handing over power before it's compelled to do so is decidedly foolish. None of which is to say the Egyptians have had much choice or that their project is yet completed. Between them and us the question of which group is learning faster is no contest at all.
Do the people of Egypt need a Constitution rather than a pharaoh? Yes, absolutely. Does the Occupy movement need demands? Yes, of course it does. Must we all create an ongoing culture of nonviolent action? Yes, sir-ee. While The Square doesn't explicitly make the point, would better nonviolent discipline help? Undoubtedly. Is the key lesson to never give up? Indeed. All of these lessons should soak in deep.
But other points are less clear, in both The Square and common discussions of Egyptian revolution. Tahrir Square didn't begin in 2011, and neither did the Muslim Brotherhood. The foundations for the popular movement and for the religious party were laid over a period of years. Foundations are being laid for nonviolent revolution in other places now.
Did the Egyptians fail? And did they fail because they are great protesters but bad democrats who should be condescended to by enlightened Americans? No. First, it isn't over. Second, the United States has a failed system of government itself, as 80-90 percent of the people here have been telling pollsters for years. Third, although I caught only one very quick little hint at it in The Square, the major financial and military backer of the brutal, corrupt regimes in Egypt -- before Tahrir and since -- is the United States government. To the extent that Egyptians have failed they've failed with our help. And whether we're unaware of the billions of dollars of our grandchildren's unearned wages that we give to Egyptian thugs to assault the Egyptian people every year, or aware and unable to do anything about it -- either way, our democracy hardly shines out as a model for the world.
A leader would have divided the Tahrir movement or the Occupy movement. That we don't think of ourselves as having leaders is a function of the corporate media giving no microphones to people who favor major improvements to the world. Ironically, just like coverage of New York Police Department brutality, this helps us to build a stronger movement. That is to say, it helps us in so far as it allows a movement not focused on a leader. Yes, we'd be much stronger with major media coverage, but the possible development of leaders recognized and named as such would be a downside. And a successful movement behind a leader would only be able to put that leader into power if it succeeded far beyond where Egypt arrived in 2011 -- and it would only be able to get that leader back out of power again if it succeeded even further.
Is the lesson of Tahrir that Occupiers should back candidates in the Democratic Party? Is an organized party that can challenge the Muslim Brotherhood or the Democrats the answer? Not within a corrupt system it isn't. When our goal is not a better regime but something approaching democracy, then what's needed is the nonviolent imposition of democracy on whatever individuals are in power, and the development of a culture of eternal vigilance to maintain it. You can't elect your way out of a system of corrupt elections. You can't impose a group of populist leaders on a government by coup d'etat and then write a democratic constitution afterwards.
No, that is not what happened in the United States, and not just because the old government got on ships and sailed away, but because the Constitution was fundamentally anti-democratic. The United States has gained democracy through nonviolent movements of public pressure, imposed reforms, amendments, court rulings, and the changing of the culture. Reforms are needed more badly than ever now, and whether they're imposed at the federal level or through the states or through secession, they must come through popular nonviolent pressure, as bullets and ballots are virtually helpless here.
The lesson I take away from The Square is that we must prevent the operation of business as usual until the institution itself, not its face, is fixed. We can put up giant posters of a black man followed by a white woman followed by some other demographic symbol, but the posters will still be on the walls of prisons, barracks, and homeless shelters, unless we fix the structure of things. That means:
- Rights for people, and for the natural environment, not for corporations.
- Spending money on elections is not a human right of free speech.
- Elections entirely publicly financed.
- The right to vote, to have time off work to vote, and to vote on a paper ballot publicly counted at the polling place.
- Free air time, ballot access, and debate participation to all candidates who have collected sufficient signatures of potential constituents.
- A citizens branch and public initiative power by signature collection.
- The application of criminal laws to authorities who commit crimes or abuse their office.
- Mandatory impeachment and recall votes for officials facing prosecution.
- The right to a decent income, housing, healthcare, education, peace, a healthy environment, and freedom from debt.
- The rights of the natural environment to continue and thrive.
- The institution of minimum and maximum wages and a ban on extreme wealth.
- Dismantling of the prison industry.
Give me all of that or give me death. Take your bullshit rhetoric about "liberty" and name a square after it.
Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference (NDC), the body appointed to chart a post-revolutionary course for the country, has recommended that the new Yemeni constitution make a criminal offence of extra-judicial killing. The recommendations, issued today by the National Issues and Transitional Justice Working Group, would outlaw the US drone strikes that have killed and injured hundreds of people in Yemen, including the December targeting of a wedding party that killed 12 and injured 14.
The news comes amid an apparent ramping up of US drone strikes in Yemen; there have been eight strikes in the last two months alone. Last week, a Yemeni delegation to the United Nations admitted that the Government has had to establish a counselling centre for children because the level of trauma caused by drone attacks in the country is so high.
Meanwhile, a growing clamour of voices is urging the US government to reconsider the controversial policy. This week, former US commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal told the BBC that drone strikes risked creating “a tremendous amount of resentment” in places like Yemen.
The NDC was established in 2012 as part of an internationally-sponsored initiative that led to President Ali Abdullah Saleh stepping down in February 2012, following the 2011 uprising. It was designed to be representative of all Yemeni society, and met throughout 2013 to agree a way forward for a new constitution for Yemen.
Baraa Shiban, a Reprieve Associate based in Yemen and a leading member of the group, said:
“To date, there has been little to no accountability in Yemen for the suffering caused by drone strikes, which have terrorised local populations.
“We welcome this move to take real steps towards protecting the rights and security of Yemen’s citizens, and urge the Yemeni Government to ensure that these recommendations are included in the country’s new constitution.
“It’s disheartening, however, to see the US intensifying drone strikes in Yemen at the very moment the Yemeni people are working to criminalise them. The US has supported the NDC process, but persists in ignoring its outcomes when inconvenient.”
A Yemeni delegation to the UN yesterday admitted that it has had to establish a counselling centre for children because the level of traumatisation caused by US drone attacks in the country is so high.
At a periodic review of Yemen by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child yesterday, the Yemeni delegation was asked by the Committee about the psychological impact of drone strikes on children. The Yemeni official said that following a drone attack on a residential area, they had found it necessary to set up a counselling centre.
The delegation also stressed that the country's Parliament has voted to stop US drone strikes, saying:
“The Yemeni Parliament one month ago adopted a prohibition of American drones carrying out attacks in Yemen and we will continue to review and discuss this issue.”
When asked by a member of the committee how Yemen is trying to prevent drone strikes, the delegation said:
“We have signed an agreement with the US and other countries to fight terrorism…We will fight terrorism wherever it occurs in conformity with our agreement with the US.” The delegation then went on to admit that, “Of course mistakes have been made.”
These statements follow on from a report from UN Secretary General, Ban-ki Moon to the Security Council last year by stating that drones were violating a range of children’s rights from their right to life to their right to education.
CIA drone strikes in Yemen have killed an estimated 42 children. In March last year Dr Peter Schaapveld, an expert in psychological trauma assessment and treatment told British MPs, following a trip assessing victims and communities in Yemen, that US drones in the country were “causing a psychological emergency.”
Reprieve Legal Director Kat Craig said: “In places like Yemen, the US drone programme is terrorising entire civilian populations, nearly half of which are children. President Hadi's agreements with the US are trumping Yemen's responsibility to protect its children. Instead of allowing the US to bomb his country to pieces and then setting up a recovery centre, President Hadi should listen to his Parliament and stop the drone strikes.”
Baraa Shiban, an investigator in Yemen for human rights charity Reprieve, received an anonymous death threat yesterday (Thursday) relating to his investigation of a US drone strike which killed 12 wedding guests and injured 14 others in al-Baydah province, on December 12, 2013.
The anonymous caller demanded that Mr. Shiban abandon his investigation of the drone strike and then threatened his life.
The investigation to which the caller referred exposed that the drone strike had hit a wedding procession, rather than Al-Qaeda militants as the US and Yemeni governments had initially claimed. The findings of Reprieve’s investigation, which were broadcast on the US network NBC on Tuesday, have sparked the US administration to launch an internal investigation.
Reprieve has written to governmental officials calling on them to investigate the threat and take any steps required by Yemeni law. Reprieve Legal Director Kat Craig said: “Our primary concern is, of course, for the safety of our colleague. We have asked President Hadi to take a stand to protect Baraa and other human rights advocates who are so vital to Yemen’s democratic transition. But the nature of the threat, and the proximity of it to the high profile coverage of this recent strike procured by Baraa, only makes us more determined to continue our work to expose the unlawfulness of drones in Yemen, how they are killing civilians and terrorising entire communities. We hope that the Yemeni and international community will continue to assist our colleague in his brave work.”
A Yemeni man who lost two members of his family to a US drone strike one year ago has asked President Obama to meet with him when he visits Washington DC this week.
Faisal bin Ali Jaber lost his brother in law, a preacher who publicly opposed al Qaeda, and nephew, a local policeman, in a strike that took place in the Hadhramout region on August 29, 2012.
Just days before he was killed, Salim bin Ali Jaber had preached at the local mosque against al Qaeda. He was killed, along with police officer Waleed bin Ali Jaber, in a strike which may have been targeted at three strangers who visited the village demanding to speak to Salem following his sermon.
Mr Jaber is visiting Washington DC from Thursday November 14 to Wednesday November 20 in order to hold meetings with members of Congress and address conferences of academics and activists regarding his experiences. His visa has been sponsored by peace group Code Pink, at whose conference he is speaking on Saturday.
Writing to President Obama on behalf of Mr Jaber, his legal representative, Cori Crider, an attorney at human rights charity Reprieve said:
“As well as killing innocent Yemenis, Faisal believes the drone strikes are counter-productive. His village is peaceful. They bore the US no ill-will, quite the contrary as can be seen from Salim’s brave stand five days before he died. Yet today the villagers associate the US with the brutal murder of two of their own.
“Faisal is visiting the US as a representative of the victims’ families to bring attention to the true cost of the drone war, not only in terms of Yemeni lives and but in terms of America’s reputation in the region. I know that you are very busy, but I hope that you might make time to meet him, in order to understand the cost of the US’ drone programme for those on the ground in Yemen.”
Faisal bin ali Jaber, a Yemeni man whose relatives were killed in a US drone strike, is traveling to the United States this week to tell his story to Congress and human rights activists at this weekend’s Drone Summit (which I’m covering for Truthout, FYI).
Jaber’s brother-in-law, 49-year-old Sheik Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber, was killed in a covert drone strike on Hadhramout in August 2012. Salem was a Yemeni cleric and father of seven who preached loudly against the extremism exhibited by Al Qaeda, which his family feared would invite violent retribution from Al Qaeda linked militants. But in the end, it was US violence that ended Salem’s life as well as that of Waleed bin ali Jaber, a local policeman who was with Salem at the time of strike.
Civil society organizations from 13 Arab countries call upon the U.S. Congress and the French Parliament not to approve the aggression against Syria that violates international law, and invite all to listen to the call of His Holiness Pope Francis II and statement of Sheikh of Al-Azhar
What democracy? What rule of law?: Americans Oppose Criminal US Syrian Attack, But Obama is Set to Launch It
By Dave Lindorff
Berkeley, United States - President Barack Obama recently stated the United States was not taking sides as Egypt's crisis came to a head with the military overthrow of the democratically elected president.
But a review of dozens of US federal government documents shows Washington has quietly funded senior Egyptian opposition figures who called for toppling of the country's now-deposed president Mohamed Morsi.
Documents obtained by the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley show the US channeled funding through a State Department programme to promote democracy in the Middle East region. This programme vigorously supported activists and politicians who have fomented unrest in Egypt, after autocratic president Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising in February 2011.
The State Department's programme, dubbed by US officials as a "democracy assistance" initiative, is part of a wider Obama administration effort to try to stop the retreat of pro-Washington secularists, and to win back influence in Arab Spring countries that saw the rise of Islamists, who largely oppose US interests in the Middle East.
Rooj Alwazir is a Yemeni American peace activist and an organizer and cofounder of the Support Yemen Media Collective: http://supportyemen.org She describes the horror and the disaster that is the U.S. drone war on Yemen.
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By Pam Bailey and Medea Benjamin
It unfortunately has become a truism that when Egypt sneezes, Gaza catches a cold. Fearful of the "terrorist elements" automatically associated with Hamas, the governing party in Gaza, neighbouring Egypt is quick to shut what amounts to "prison gates" at the first sign of turmoil either inside or outside the densely populated strip. Israel keeps its own crossings into Gaza on permanent lock-down, with permitted traffic a bare trickle, while also prohibiting travel by air and sea.
The current unrest in Egypt is no exception. As the world sits on the edge of its seat, polarised in its debate about whether the ouster of Mohammed Morsi was really a coup and what will happen next, the 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza are paying the price.
Protesters loyal to the Shi'ite al-Houthi rebel group burn an effigy of a U.S. aircraft during a demonstration to protest against what they say is U.S. interference in Yemen, including drone strikes, after their weekly Friday prayers in the Old Sanaa city April 12, 2013 (Reuters / Khaled Abdullah)
Extensive interviews with families of drone victims and human rights organizations in Yemen indicate that the governments of the United States and Yemen are choosing to kill rather than attempting to capture suspected al Qaeda members in Yemen. Civilians who have no connection with Al Qaeda are killed when the U.S. uses drones to target Al Qaeda members who travel freely throughout the country. High unemployment and feelings of injustice for the killing of people in their area by drones and Yemeni air strikes provide a fertile recruiting ground for al Qaeda in Yemen. Yemen prisons in which young people have been detained and imprisoned for months and years without trial by the Government of Yemen is a key place where radicalization for armed groups, including al Qaeda, occurs.
A Cure for War – With Limitations.
by Erin Niemela
Earlier this week I wrote an editorial proposing a 28th constitutional amendment to abolish war. The NSA scandal, I argue, is tied to the more pervasive problem of violent foreign (and domestic) policy, and we’ll continue to see government abuses so long as war and inter-state military violence are the acceptable choices for conflict management. David Swanson, author of the brilliant history, “When the World Outlawed War,” thoughtfully responded to my plea by urging us to recall and reignite the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, an existing international pact renouncing war signed and ratified by the US president and Senate.
I agree with Mr. Swanson that any efforts to end war should point to existing law, and we agree that abolishing war is possible and necessary. However, the Kellogg-Briand Pact is not without its limitations, and a fresh, people-driven constitutional amendment could both address those limitations and offer current, culturally relevant and legally dispositive reinforcement.
By Terry Rockefeller
I am in Yemen with the Codepink delegation. Here are some reactions:
A 9/11 Family Member Meets the Families of Yemeni Guantanamo Detainees
“You don’t solve mistakes, with more mistakes! As a government, the U.S. must follow the law. Be legal!” pleads the brother-in-law of Hayeel Aziz Al-Mithali.
Hayeel went from Yemen to Pakistan when he was 17 to study the Qu’ran. Captured following the 9/11 attacks, Hayeel has spent the last 12 years in Guantanamo. The U.S. had made no charges against him, yet Hayeel still faces indefinite detention. And so he has joined the hunger strike.
How Many Years Will It Be?
By Andrew J. Bacevich, TomDispatch
For well over a decade now the United States has been “a nation at war.” Does that war have a name?
It did at the outset. After 9/11, George W. Bush's administration wasted no time in announcing that the U.S. was engaged in a Global War on Terrorism, or GWOT. With few dissenters, the media quickly embraced the term. The GWOT promised to be a gargantuan, transformative enterprise. The conflict begun on 9/11 would define the age. In neoconservative circles, it was known as World War IV.
By Dave Lindorff
The US government doesn't like Iran. I get that. It claims, on pretty dubious grounds, that Iran might be planning, at some point down the road, to take some of the uranium it is processing into nuclear fuel to a higher level of purity and make it into an atomic bomb.
As the preparations for the 2nd anniversary of the 14th February Revolution get underway, the field activities have warmed up extensively. At the same time supportive actions by the friends of Bahrain have risen sharply and are expected to become more widespread. In several cities around the world the pro-democracy activists have line up programmes of actions to express support to the Revolution that the Anglo-American alliance continues to target with various political and security means. The enmity of this alliance to the aspirations of Bahrain has been laid open especially the British Government dispatched several teams and personnel to help the Alkhalifa hereditary dictatorship repress the people. Despite the claims by some British officials to the contrary, Bahrainis continue to suffer repression in the form of torture, and collective punishment.
By Dave Lindorff
If the Constitution is to have any relevance, and if America is to remain a free society, then there is really no alternative: there must be a bill of impeachment drawn up and submitted in the House, and there must at least be a hearing on that bill in the House Judiciary Committee.
New Evidence Suggests Gamma Sold FinSpy to Bahrain
[Manama] In July 2012, Bahrain Watch reported that the Government of Bahrain was targeting activists with the FinSpy/FinFisher "lawful interception" computer spyware, programmed by UK company Gamma International. An analysis revealed that the spyware steals passwords and can record screen shots, Skype calls, and audio from a computer's microphone. The spyware sends the data it captures back to a server in Bahrain. The Bahrain Watch report cited a technical analysis by Morgan Marquis-Boire and Bahrain Watch member Bill Marczak published through CitizenLab, and a report by Bloomberg. In response to these reports, Gamma International issued several statements to the press claiming that:
Monday evening I went early to my local City Council meeting in Charlottesville, Va., where the council passed a resolution I supported against drones.
Going early in order to line up to speak means conversing with a Fox News viewer or two who always go super early in order to speak first. One nice and beautifully unapathetic, but deeply misinformed woman, has on more than one such occasion let me know what a threat to our safety the evil Iranians are and how tyranical the Iranian government.
At the January meeting, as she seemed to be outraged about 1979 as if it were yesterday, I asked if she remembered 1953. She was old enough to remember that year, as I am not, and she proudly said so. But she had no idea what had happened then, so I tried to tell her.
A mass protest marched the western district in Bahrain on Sunday following the opposition's call for a two week program of daily protests as the 2ndanniversary of the start of the revolution that erupted two years ago on 14 February approaches.
People of different factions and different ages participated in Sunday's protest titled, "Change is Coming". The protesters chanted slogans demanding the government to resign and insisting that their democratic demands must be responded to by making the people the source of all powers through fair and transparent elections.
The masses also chanted slogans expressing anger towards the regime's ongoing violations and crimes against dissident citizens through arbitrary arrests, killings, dismissals and pursuits, while at the same time, calling for dialogue.
Streets leading to the protest were blocked by the regime forces' military roadblocks and checkpoints in order to prevent the citizens from reaching the area. However, a large number of citizens insisted on attending the protest to express their opinions peacefully.
Another mass protest is planned to march from Dair in Muharraq island today, within the two week escalation of peaceful pro-democracy protests.