You are hereAfghanistan
By Kathy Kelly
Each year, throughout the Muslim world, believers participate in the month-long Ramadan fast. Here in Kabul, where I'm a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, our household awakens at 2:15 a.m. to prepare a simple meal before the fast begins at about 3:00 a.m. I like the easy companionship we feel, seated on the floor, sharing our food. Friday, the day off, is household clean-up day, and it seemed a bit odd, to be sweeping and washing floors in the pre-dawn hours, but we tended to various tasks and then caught a nap before heading over to meet the early bird students at the Street Kids School, a project my hosts are running for child laborers who otherwise couldn't go to school.
I didn't nap - I was fitful and couldn't, my mind filled with images from a memoir, Guantanamo Diary, which I've been reading since arriving here. Mohamedou Ould Slahi's story of being imprisoned in Guantanamo since 2002 rightly disturbs me. In all his years of captivity, he has never been charged with a crime. He has suffered grotesque torture, humiliation and mistreatment, and yet his memoir includes many humane, tender accounts, including remembrances of past Ramadan fasts spent with his family.
Describing his early time in a Jordanian prison, he writes:
By Jack Balkwill
How many days has it been
Since I was born?
How many days
'Til I die?
Do I know any ways
I can make you laugh?
Or do I only know how
To make you cry?
― Leon Russell, Stranger in a Strange Land
There has been much talk of late about the courage of Caitlyn Jenner. A recent Vanity Fair cover showed the transformation of former 65-year-old Olympic gold medal winner Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn, an attractive woman who appears to be in her thirties.
But let us look for a moment at the definition of courage. Merriam-Webster defines it thusly: “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty”
By John Grant
We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.
- George Orwell
By Kathy Kelly
“Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world… Shall we say the odds are too great? … the struggle is too hard? … and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message -- of longing, of hope, of solidarity… The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.”
- Dr. Martin Luther King, “Beyond Vietnam”
Kabul—I’ve spent a wonderfully calm morning here in Kabul, listening to bird songs and to the call and response between mothers and their children in neighboring homes as families awaken and prepare their children for school. Maya Evans and I arrived here yesterday, and are just settling into the community quarters of our young hosts, The Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs). Last night, they told us about the jarring and frightening events that marked the past few months of their lives in Kabul.
They described how they felt when bomb explosions, nearby, awakened them on several mornings. Some said they'd felt almost shell-shocked themselves discovering one recent day that thieves had ransacked their home. They shared their intense feelings of alarm at a notorious warlord's statement condemning a human rights demonstration in which several community members had participated. And their horror when a few weeks later, in Kabul, a young woman, an Islamic scholar named Farkhunda, was falsely accused in a street argument of desecrating the Koran, after which, to the roared approval of a frenzied mob of perhaps two thousand men, members of the crowd, with apparent police collusion, beat her to death. Our young friends quietly sort through their emotions in the face of inescapable and often overwhelming violence.
By Dr Hakim
Inam polishes leather shoes and Adilah sells flour pancakes.
They make a living on the dangerous streets of fortified Kabul, two of an estimated 60,000 working street kids in the capital.
10 years old, that’s how small they are.
Imagine ourselves at the same eye-level as Inam and Adilah, in the dusty alleys, swarmed by smelly drains, threatened by desperate crimes.
Like them, you often hear helicopters hovering so close overhead that the windows in your rented mud rooms rattle. You see the polished, bullet-proof cars of the corrupt Afghan ‘elite’, mostly men, dressed in suits and ties.
Adilah with her leek pancakes ( ‘bolonis’ ), waiting for customers
Some American friends smile when they hear that the pancakes, filled with delicious mashed potatoes or salted leek, are called ‘bolonis’ in Dari.
“Nowadays, I don’t often let Adilah sell ‘bolonis’ in the streets. What if she’s near a suicide bomb attack?” Adilah’s aunt said about the worsening security, despite 14 years of U.S. / NATO’s ambitions.
Adilah’s aunt frying the leek ‘bolonis’ in their rented single room
Adilah leaves her rented room to go out into the streets, carrying the ‘bolonis’ in a tray
Adilah walking past a gas canister shop
Adilah squats in front of a provision shop, hoping for her first customers for the day.
She makes about 5 Afghanis ( less than one U.S. cent ) for each ‘boloni’ she sells.
Adilah’s thoughts are ‘all over the place’ when she works in the streets of Kabul
A young passerby asks, “How much is it for a ‘boloni’?”
Adilah’s voice can hardly be heard.
She appears lost in her world of uncertainties.
Earlier, her aunt had served Zarghuna and I two sizzling ‘bolonis’.
We had eaten one of them, so Adilah had gestured to the other,
“Put that on the tray too. I can sell it.”
She whispered to the customer, “Ten Afghanis.”
That’s how the world economy works today.
Even war-weary, impoverished Afghans sympathize with her,
as the young man took out a typically crumpled 20-Afghani note,
handed it to Adilah,
and waved deferringly, as if in protest,
no, please, keep the ‘bolonis’….
The young Afghan man must have been contemplating
what he could do in the face of 60% unemployment.
He must have been thinking,
“Why is a small girl doing what we adults ought to be doing?”
Inam, standing in a newly-constructed shop space, with his blue plastic jerry-can
of boot-polishing tools and a pair of sandals for his customers to wear while he polishes their boots
“I don’t enjoy polishing boots but I have no choice,” replied Inam, describing his breadwinning role in a family of six persons. His father can’t support the family as he is one of Afghanistan’s 1.6 million drug addicts, and lives in another province. “We haven’t heard from our father for about 5 years.”
Inam, describing how some students in school are punished if they don’t do their homework,
“They stand like this for half an hour!”
Inam, along the street where he usually polishes boots. A few days ago, he had left his boot-polishing tools at a bakery while he played street soccer. “Someone stole my tools!” Inam understands why he has to work, but is determined to study hard too, so he can fulfil his dream of becoming a doctor.
What does Inam wake up to every day?
His mannerisms are beyond his 10 war-years,
with a spirit of acceptance
akin to ‘innocence’,
though he is far from naïve to be able to
evade the drug dealers,
huge speeding cars with snarling armed guards
and angry, hungry Afghans looking for cash.
“The drug business is violent,
as the addicts can’t do anything
except smoke under the bridges,” Inam tells the class,
which is a story about his own estranged father.
The least the American elite could do for Inam, their fellow human being,
is not to lie that their military strategy has been a ‘success’.
The elite need to know
that Inam, like billions of the awakening 99%,
understand what’s going on.
We understand the realities in our flesh and blood.
Inam was hoping to hear his name being called out in the enrollment of street kids into the Borderfree Street Kids School,
where he learns Dari and Math, and nonviolence, and gets a monthly assistance of rice and oil.
The mission of the Borderfree Afghan Street Kids School for 2015 is to ‘share learning skills with 100 Afghan street kids ( including Adilah and Inam ) on understanding language, nature, humanity, and life, and to be students and practitioners of nonviolence. ‘
About 92% of the required budget for the school is spent on providing the street kids and their families with a needed monthly gift of a sack of rice and a bottle of oil.
It costs $534 to put one street kid through the street kids school for one year.
Those interested to support the project can browse http://ourjourneytosmile.com/blog/borderfree-afghan-street-kids-school/ for more info and write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations will be directed to Voices for Creative Nonviolence U.S. and UK, who are partners in this project.
NB : New video clips will be on this post soon, showing Adilah and Inam on the streets of Kabul
By John Grant
Soon after 9/11, Ann Jones went to Afghanistan to help in whatever way she could, “embedding” with civilians who had been battered by the rigors of that war-torn land.
Child Soldier released from jail by Canadian court: US Still Seeks Jail for ‘Fighter’ Captured at 15 in Afghanistan
By Dave Lindorff
The good news is that an appellate judge in Canada has had the courage and good sense to uphold the release from jail on bail of Omar Khadr, a native of Canada who was captured as a child soldier at the age of 15 in Afghanistan by US forces back in 2002 and shipped off to Guantanamo, where he became one of the children held in captivity.
Kathy Kelly co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence ( http://vcnv.org ) a campaign to end U.S. military and economic warfare. During each of fourteen trips to Afghanistan, since 2010, Kathy Kelly, has lived alongside ordinary Afghan people in a working class neighborhood in Kabul. She is just out of prison for having protested drone murders at Whiteman Airforce Base in Missouri. Kelly discusses the state of peace and war.
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40 years after Vietnam: Celebrating the End of One War, and Witnessing the Start of a New One Here at Home
By Dave Lindorff
It was 40 years ago today that the last troops from America’s criminal war against the people of Vietnam scurried ignominiously onto a helicopter on the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) and fled the country where US forces had killed some 3-4 million people in the name of “fighting Communism.”
Credit where credit's due...but only where it's due: How Can Obama Claim the Alternative to a Nuclear Deal with Iran is War?
By Dave Lindorff
A kudo to President Obama. But just one.
If he manages to pull off an agreement with Iran on limiting that country's nuclear fuel enrichment program in the fact of determined resistance from Republicans, Neocons, the Israel Lobby and the warmongers in both the GOP and his own Democratic Party, he will have finally earned at least some small portion of the gold in his Nobel Peace medallion.
By Matthew Hoh
Last week charges of Desertion and Misbehavior Before the Enemy were recommended against Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. Tragically, Sergeant Bergdahl was once again crucified, without evidence or trial, throughout mainstream, alternative and social media. That same day Sergeant Bergdahl was offered as a sacrifice to primarily Republican politicians, bloggers, pundits, chicken hawks and jingoists, while Democrats mostly kept silent as Sergeant Bergdahl was paraded electronically and digitally in the latest Triumph of the Global War on Terror, President Ashraf Ghani was applauded, in person, by the American Congress. Such coincidences, whether they are arranged or accidental, often appear in literary or cinematic tales, but they do, occasionally, manifest themselves in real life, often appearing to juxtapose the virtues and vices of a society for the sake and advancement of political narratives.
The problem with this specific coincidence for those on the Right, indulging in the fantasy of American military success abroad, as well as for those on the Left, desperate to prove that Democrats can be as tough as Republicans, is that reality may intrude. To the chagrin and consternation of many in DC, Sergeant Bergdahl may prove to be the selfless hero, while President Ghani may play the thief, and Sergeant Bergdahl's departure from his unit in Afghanistan may come to be understood as just and his time as a prisoner of war principled, while President Obama's continued propping up and bankrolling of the government in Kabul, at the expense of American servicemembers and taxpayers, comes to be fully acknowledged as immoral and profligate.
Making enemies by droning on and on: It’s Guilt that has US Military and Embassy Staff Fleeing Yemen Like Scared Rats
By Dave Lindorff
I’m the first to admit that I don’t know all that much about Yemen, or about the Houthi rebels who have taken control of Sana’a, the ancient Arab country’s capital, leading to the hasty evacuation of all US military forces (some 250 Special Forces personnel and the staff of the US embassy) from that country located at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.
No more AUMFs! No more ‘unitary executives’!: We’re Already Losing Our Democracy and All Our Freedoms to the 2001 AUMF
By Dave Lindorff
Critics of President Obama’s proposed Authorization for Use of Military Force AUMF) against ISIS have been focused upon its deliberately obfuscatory and ambiguous language, which they rightly note would make it essentially a carte blanche from Congress allowing the president to go to war almost anywhere some would-be terrorist or terrorist copycat could be found who claims affinity with ISIS.
By Dave Lindorff
The Nobel Peace Laureate President Barack Obama, the guy who once campaigned claiming one US war -- the one against Iraq -- was a “bad” one, and the other -- against Afghanistan -- was a “good” one, turns out to be a man who, once anointed commander-in-chief, can’t seem to find a war he doesn’t consider to be a “good” idea.
It is rare for someone of this writer’s acquaintance to enlist in the military, although it has happened. When someone does so, his or her family usually speaks of how proud they are of them, as if the enlistee has done something to which great honor is attached. This attitude is also reflected in public opinion polls, in which much of the populace generally seems to agree that military service is good preparation for elected office.
Let us look at these two myths in a little more detail.
By Dave Lindorff
There were two times Republicans broke into fervent applause during this lame duck president's seventh State of the Union speech: the first was when he called for passage of "fast track" authority to negotiate and send to the Senate a Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact -- basically a NAAFTA for the Pacific region; the second was when he noted that he "won't be running for president again."
By Martin Luther Obama Jr., as dictated to David Swanson
Text of "Beyond Vietghanistan: A Time To Break Treaties"
By Rev. Martin Luther Obama Jr. - January 19, 2015
Speech delivered at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City.
I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because the Republican Congress leaves me no other choice. I join you in this meeting because I am in partial yet profound agreement with the aims and work of the organization which has brought us together: Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietghanistan. The recent statement of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart, if not my brain, and I found myself in sympathy with your desires when I read its opening lines: "A time comes when silence is betrayal." That time has not come for us in relation to Vietghanistan. The solemn duty of our brave troops in that troubled nation is to carry out the orders sent by their commanders, and the solemn duty of those in Washington making critical decisions is silence.
Let me be clear, the beauty of the words I've quoted is beyond doubt but the mission to which they call us is an impossibly difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men and women do not have the right to assume the task of opposing their government's policy, especially in time of war. Nor should the human spirit move without great difficulty, if at all, against all the apathy of conformist thought within one's own bosom and in the surrounding Democratic Party. Moreover when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must cherish that uncertainty, wallow in it, treasure it, shed tears over it, and then do what the military and its profiteers want done.
Some, like Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Jeffrey Sterling, and dozens more have already begun to break the silence of the night. They have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must intensify their suffering as a lesson to others. We must crush them with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must crush them. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation's history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of peace and justice to the high ground of humanitarian war and liberal imperialism with a permanent footing unlimited in time or space. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movement well and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around during the never-to-be-looked-back-upon era of those great Americans, George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney.
Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the last promises of my campaigns and the last pretenses of legislative or legal checks on warmaking, as I have called for routine normalization and renaming of the destruction of Vietghanistan, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking for more war, Dr. Obama? Why are you joining the voices of those who have never been given a Nobel Peace Prize? War and civil rights don't mix, they say. Aren't you hurting the cause of your people, they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live, a world in which evil foreigners must be confronted by the most profitable racket ever devised, or we must abandon all future elections to the domination of the Republican Party which will do exactly these same things without my eloquence.
In the light of such tragic misunderstandings, I deem it of signal importance to try to state clearly, and I trust concisely, why I believe that the path from Chicago, Illinois, -- the place where I began my political career -- leads clearly to this sanctuary tonight.
I come to this platform tonight to make a passionate plea to my beloved nation. This speech is not addressed to Kabul or to the Taliban. It is not addressed to Syria or to Russia.
Nor is it an attempt to overlook the ambiguity of the total situation and the need for a collective solution to the tragedy of Vietghanistan. Neither is it an attempt to make the new government of Vietghanistan a paragon of virtue, nor to overlook the role it can play in a successful resolution of the problem. While the Vietghanistanese may have justifiable reason to be suspicious of the good faith of the United States, life and history give eloquent testimony to the fact that conflicts are never resolved without massive and relentless force beyond anyone's estimation of the limits of sanity.
Tonight, however, I wish not to speak with Kabul, but rather to my fellow Americans, who, with me, bear the greatest responsibility in extending a conflict that has exacted a heavy price on both continents, especially our own. Let me tell you how we have suffered from these wars of President Bush's and how we must continue to suffer for decades to come.
For in the words of that old agency spiritual, this war will last, this war will last, thank god almighty, this war will last.
The U.S.-led NATO war on Afghanistan has lasted so long they've decided to rename it, declare the old war over, and announce a brand new war they're just sure you're going to love.
The war thus far has lasted as long as U.S. participation in World War II plus U.S. participation in World War I, plus the Korean War, plus the Spanish American War, plus the full length of the U.S. war on the Philippines, combined with the whole duration of the Mexican American War.
Now, some of those other wars accomplished things, I will admit -- such as stealing half of Mexico. What has Operation Freedom's Sentinel, formerly known as Operation Enduring Freedom, accomplished, other than enduring and enduring and enduring to the point where we're numb enough to completely overlook a new name as Orwellian as Freedom's Sentinel (what -- was "Liberty's Enslaver" already taken)?
Well, according to President Obama, over 13 years of bombing and occupying Afghanistan has made us safer. That seems like a claim someone should request some evidence for. The U.S. government has spent nearly a trillion dollars on this war, plus roughly 13 trillion dollars in standard military spending over 13 years, a rate of spending radically increased by using this war and related wars as the justification. Tens of billions of dollars could end starvation on earth, provide the globe with clean water, etc. We could have saved millions of lives and chose to kill thousands instead. The war has been a leading destroyer of the natural environment. We've tossed our civil liberties out the window in the name of "freedom." We've produced so many weapons they've had to be shuffled off to local police departments, with predictable results. A claim that something good has come and is coming and will continue to come for many future years from this war is worth looking into.
Don't look too closely. The CIA finds that a key component of the war (targeted drone murders -- "murders" is their word) is counterproductive. Before the great opponent of war Fred Branfman died this year he collected a long list of statements by members of the U.S. government and military stating the same thing. That murdering people with drones tends to enrage their friends and families, producing more enemies than you eliminate, may become easier to understand after reading a study that recently found that when the U.S. targets a person for murder, it kills 27 additional people along the way. General Stanley McChrystal said that when you kill an innocent person you create 10 enemies. I'm not a mathematician, but I think that comes to about 270 enemies created each time someone is put on the kill list, or 280 if the person is or is widely believed to be innocent (of what it's not exactly clear).
This war is counterproductive on its own terms. But what are those terms? Usually they are a declaration of vicious revenge and a condemnation of the rule of law -- albeit dressed up to sound like something more respectable. It's worth recalling here how this all began. The United States, for three years prior to September 11, 2001, had been asking the Taliban to turn over Osama bin Laden. The Taliban had asked for evidence of his guilt of any crimes and a commitment to try him in a neutral third country without the death penalty. This continued right into October, 2001. (See, for example "Bush Rejects Taliban Offer to Hand Bin Laden Over" in the Guardian, October 14, 2001.) The Taliban also warned the United States that bin Laden was planning an attack on U.S. soil (this according to the BBC). Former Pakistani Foreign Secretary Niaz Naik told the BBC that senior U.S. officials told him at a U.N.-sponsored summit in Berlin in July 2001 that the United States would take action against the Taliban in mid-October. He said it was doubtful that surrendering bin Laden would change those plans. When the United States attacked Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, the Taliban asked again to negotiate handing over bin Laden to a third country to be tried. The United States rejected the offer and continued a war on Afghanistan for many years, not halting it when bin Laden was believed to have left that country, and not even halting it after announcing bin Laden's death.
So, in opposition to the rule of law, the United States and its accomplices have conducted a record-long killing spree that could have been avoided with a trial in 2001 or by never having armed and trained bin Laden and his associates in the 1980s or by never having provoked the Soviet Union into invading or by never having launched the Cold War, etc.
If this war has not accomplished safety -- with polling around the globe finding the United States now viewed as the greatest threat to world peace -- has it accomplished something else? Maybe. Or maybe it still can -- especially if it is ended and prosecuted as a crime. What this war could still accomplish is the full removal of the distinction between war and what the CIA and the White House call what they're doing in their own reports and legal memos: murder.
A German newspaper has just published a NATO kill list -- a list similar to President Obama's -- of people targeted for murder. On the list are low-level fighters, and even non-fighting drug dealers. We really have replaced incarceration and the accompanying torture and law suits and moral crises and editorial hand-wringing with murder.
Why should murder be more acceptable than imprisonment and torture? Largely I think we're leaning on the vestiges of a long-dead tradition still alive as mythology. War -- which we absurdly imagine has always been and will always be -- didn't used to look like it does today. It did not used to be the case that 90 percent of the dead were non-combatants. We still talk about "battlefields," but they're used to actually be such things. Wars were arranged and planned for like sports matches. Ancient Greek armies could camp next to an enemy without fear of a surprise attack. Spaniards and Moors negotiated the dates for battles. California Indians used accurate arrows for hunting but arrows without feathers for ritual war. War's history is one of ritual and of respect for the "worthy opponent." George Washington could sneak up on the British, or Hessians, and kill them on Christmas night not because nobody had ever thought of crossing the Delaware before, but because that just wasn't what one did.
Well, now it is. Wars are fought in people's towns and villages and cities. Wars are murder on a massive scale. And the particular approach developed in Afghanistan and Pakistan by the U.S. military and CIA has the potential advantage of looking like murder to most people. May that motivate us to end it. May we resolve not to let this go on another decade or another year or another month. May we not engage in the pretense of talking about a mass murder as having ended just because the mass murderer has given the crime a new name. Thus far it is only the dead who have seen an end to the war on Afghanistan.
By Patrick Kennelly
2014 marks the deadliest year in Afghanistan for civilians, fighters, and foreigners. The situation has reached a new low as the myth of the Afghan state continues. Thirteen years into America’s longest war, the international community argues that Afghanistan is growing stronger, despite nearly all indicators suggesting otherwise. Most recently, the central government failed (again) to conduct fair and organized elections or demonstrate their sovereignty. Instead, John Kerry flew into the country and arranged new national leadership. The cameras rolled and a unity government was declared. Foreign leaders meeting in London decided on new aid packages and financing for the nascent 'unity government.' Within days, the United Nations helped broker a deal to keep foreign forces in the country, while simultaneously President Obama declared the war was ending—even as he increased the number of troops on the ground. In Afghanistan, President Ghani dissolved the cabinet and many people are speculating the 2015 parliamentary elections will be postponed.
The Taliban and other insurgent groups continue to gain traction and have pulled increasing parts of the country under their control. Throughout the provinces, and even in some of the major cities, the Taliban have begun collecting taxes and are working to secure key roadways. Kabul—a city that has been called the most fortified city on earth—has been on edge due to multiple suicide bombings. The attacks on various targets, ranging from high schools to houses for foreign workers, the military, and even the office of Kabul’s police chief have clearly communicated the ability of anti-government forces to strike at will. In response to the growing crisis, the Emergency Hospital in Kabul has been forced to stop treating non-trauma patients in order continue to treat the growing number of people harmed by guns, bombs, suicide explosions, and mines.
After four years of traveling to Afghanistan to conduct interviews, I have heard ordinary Afghans whisper about Afghanistan as a failing state, even as the media has touted growth, development, and democracy. Using dark humor to comment on current conditions Afghans joke that everything is working as it should; they acknowledge an unspeakable reality. They point out that more than 101,000 foreign forces trained to fight and use violence who have used their training well—by using violence; that arms merchants have ensured that all parties can continue fighting for years to come by supplying weapons to all sides; that foreign funders backing resistance groups and mercenaries can complete their missions—resulting in both increased violence and an absence of accountability; that the international NGO community implements programs and has profited from over $100 billion in aid; and that the majority of those investments ended up deposited in foreign bank accounts, primarily benefiting foreigners and a few elite Afghans. Further, many of the supposedly “impartial” international bodies, as well as some of the major NGOs, have aligned themselves with various fighting forces. Thus even basic humanitarian aid has become militarized and politicized. For the ordinary Afghan the reality is clear. Thirteen years of investing in militarization and liberalization has left the country in the hands of foreign powers, ineffective NGOs, and infighting between many of the same warlords and Taliban. The result is the current unstable, deteriorating situation rather than a sovereign state.
Yet, during my trips to Afghanistan, I have also heard another unspeakable whispered, in contrast to the narrative told by mainstream media. That is, that there is another possibility, that the old way has not worked, and it is time for change; that nonviolence may resolve some of the challenges facing the country. In Kabul, the Border Free Center—a community center in which young people can explore their role in improving society,--is exploring the use of nonviolence to engage in serious attempts at peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding. These young adults are engaging in demonstration projects to show how different ethnic groups can work and live together. They are creating alternative economies that do not rely on violence in order to provide livelihoods for all Afghans, especially vulnerable widows and children. They are educating street children and developing plans to decrease weapons in the country. They are working to preserve the environment and to create model organic farms to show how to heal the land. Their work is demonstrating the unspeakable in Afghanistan—that when people engage in the work of peace, real progress can be achieved.
Perhaps if the last 13 years had been less focused on foreign political motives and military aid and more focused on initiatives like the Border Free Center, the situation in Afghanistan might be different. If energies were focused on peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding, perhaps people could acknowledge the reality of the situation and create a true transformation of the Afghan state.
Pat Kennelly is the Director of the Marquette University Center for Peacemaking and works with Voices for Creative Nonviolence. He writes from Kabul, Afghanistan and can be contacted at email@example.com
By John Grant
CAUTION! To paraphrase Bill O’Reilly, you are now entering a no-censor zone that discusses obscene activity.
The Christmas movie from Sony Pictures I want to see is Seth Rogan and James Franco rectally feeding Dick Cheney at the climax of a movie sequel called The Enhanced Interview: Saving the Homeland One Dick At a Time.
Making a joke of the Supreme Court: Justice Antonin Scalia is a Publicity-Seeking Intellectual Midget
By Dave Lindorff
Sometimes you really don't need to write much to do an article on something. Writing about the inanity of Justice Antonin Scalia, the ethics-challenged, lard-bottomed, right-wing anchor of the Supreme Court, is one of those times.
By Dave Lindorff
In all the media debate about the Senate Intelligence Committee’s release, finally, of a heavily redacted report on officially sanctioned torture by the CIA and the US military during the Bush/Cheney administration and the so-called War on Terror, there has been little said about the reality that torture, as clearly defined in the Geneva Convention against Torture which went into effect in 1987, is flat-out illegal in the US as a signatory of that Convention.
by Debra Sweet Today Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was sacked. News analysts on MSNBC explained that the Obama administration feels they need a more “war-prepared” secretary to lead the mission, which has changed from a draw-down in Iraq & Afghanistan to a new expansion of bombing and increased troop deployments. What has been secret and operational at least since summer 2014, is no longer secret.
By Dr Hakim
President Obama has authorized ‘a more expansive mission for the military in Afghanistan in 2015 than originally planned’.
Imagine that, like the late U.S. war veteran Jacob George, you’re sent on this ‘more expansive mission’. Your military helicopter is landing on farmland amidst mud-house villages, like a futuristic war machine inserted into an agricultural community in the Middle Ages.
There are no women to be seen.
They are in their kitchens or rooms, pleading for you, as well as the Taliban, not to come.
“The things that I participated in over there surely brought the farmers terror when we landed in their fields, crashing their crop. I remember running off a helicopter and looking into a man’s eyes, and terror was what was looking back at me. It was as if a ‘devil’ had just stumbled into his life. Actually, most of us are poor farmers killing poor farmers while people in our nations starve,” Jacob had shared.
Like most people, my Afghan and American friends also wish for the Afghan conflict to be resolved, but not in this way:
Not through a ‘more expansive mission’ to kill.
In 2011, Jacob George flew into Kabul, this time on Safi Airways.
“Please forgive me for my participation in the war,” Jacob had asked of Ali and Abdulhai, two of the Afghan Peace Volunteers Jacob had met. He had pledged to ride his bicycle across the States, singing with his banjo, reaching out to people to end the war. It was going to be “A Ride to the End”, with his songs put together in an album called “Soldier’s Heart.”
Three years later, on 19th of September 2014, Jacob George committed suicide.
Not again, only one option
An American official was quoted as saying that “the military pretty much got what it wanted”, the ‘more expansive mission’.
Obama is repeating the same mistake he made in 2009, when he ordered a troop surge for Afghanistan. Since the troop surge, the United Nations and the people of Afghanistan have experienced worsening security in Afghanistan. The number of civilian casualties, mainly children, has increased.
In Bob Woodward’s book, "Obama's Wars", Obama had asked his war cabinet in 2009, "So what's my option?... You have essentially given me one option.... It's unacceptable."
For 13 years in Afghanistan, literally only one option, an unacceptable option, has been exercised.
Imagine that you have heavy equipment strapped on your body and your adrenaline mixed with tender thoughts of loved ones back home.
You dare not ask whether there are any other options to the longest U.S. war in history.
You approach the impoverished homes of the ‘enemies’.
Not again, ignoring public opinion
In 2009, 60 percent of Americans in an ABC News-Washington Post poll said that the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting. Hillary Clinton had explained the troop surge then, “I'm well aware of the popular concern, and I understand it. But I don't think leaders -- and certainly this president will not -- make decisions that are matters of life and death and the future security of our nation based on polling.”
In a CNN poll in December 2013, 82% of Americans opposed the Afghan War , making it even less popular than the disastrous Vietnam War!
Imagine soldiers in your own squadron gun down several Afghan ‘Fighting Age Males’, and you briefly see little children dashing bare-footed across their paths, looking as if they have just seen ghosts.
You’re aware that your own people no longer support the mission you’re engaged in. You think, for just a moment: What is the Afghan public opinion about my military mission?
You don’t know. No one has ever asked Afghans.
Not again, continuing the failed ‘war against terrorism’
Despite spending more than US$4,000,000,000 in the ‘war against terror’, a Global Terrorism Database maintained by the U.S. government and the University of Maryland showed that the number of terror attacks in Afghanistan had been increasing over recent years.
The war against terror has failed!
In the book ‘Why We Lost: A General's Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars’, Lieutenant-General Daniel Bolger said, "I am a United States Army general, and I lost the Global War on Terrorism. It's like Alcoholics Anonymous; step one is admitting you have a problem. Well, I have a problem. So do my peers. And thanks to our problem, now all of America has a problem, to wit: two lost campaigns and a war gone awry."
You crouch low against a crumbling wall of a village house compound. You let your bullets fly, as bullets also fly at you.
You steel your nerves amidst bated breath and the unintelligible screams of Afghan women, wondering in another lucid moment if your actions will make Afghans less ‘terrorist-like’, less angry?
Not again, failing to see the suffering of Afghans, and American soldiers
You don’t have time to digest the dire statistics.
Why is it that after 13 years of Operation Enduring Freedom, more than 4000 Afghans have set themselves on fire in 2014, and another 4000 have tried to poison themselves?
You recall some principles drilled into your training, that if necessary, you ought to ‘shoot everything that moves’.
You get irritated because a few boisterous-looking teenage boys appear too defiant, standing in front of women in burqas and girls who are crying quietly.
You hear some shuffles in the next room, and you instinctively pull the trigger.
Back in the military camp, you’re aware of the crisis of up to 22 U.S. veterans committing suicide every day.
Your heart, like the “Soldier’s Heart” Jacob George describes in his music album, begins to suffer.
At a memorial service for Jacob in Arkansas, last October, a friend delivered this message from the Afghan Peace Volunteers:
“When Jacob came to visit us in Kabul, he sang his heart out for us, just like he did across the States for you. We may not remember the song, but his voice and spirit is what each of us wants, a spirit seizing peace within and without.
Jacob, thank you! Jacob, thank you for your kindness in asking forgiveness from the people of Afghanistan. Jacob, thank you for throwing your war medals back to NATO because you understood that those medals opposed the meaning of life! To Jacob’s family, thank you for raising your child as a man who would not pretend that our world is okay.
Our world is not okay. That’s why we in Afghanistan will try our best to continue Jacob’s tune and ride so that our next generation can see an end not only to war in Afghanistan, but to war as a human method in the world.”
In 2011, Jacob gave this video message to Ali, Abdulhai , Afghans and Americans, “To be perfectly honest, I feel that the U.S. government might not have the best interest s of the people of Afghanistan in mind, although the soldiers are human, and there are charitable acts that come from being human. The ultimate goal does not look like peace. It resembles perpetual war.”
Dr Hakim is a medical doctor from Singapore who has done humanitarian and social enterprise work in Afghanistan for the past 10 years, including being a friend and mentor to the Afghan Peace Volunteers (http://ourjourneytosmile.com ), an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building non-violent alternatives to war. He is the 2012 recipient of the International Pfeffer Peace Prize
A few thoughts on this.
Bergdahl had a legal responsibility to walk away from an illegal war. It's not completely confirmed that he did so, but he's blamed for it, when he should be praised for it.
His father read my book War Is A Lie and had it on his desk for interviews earlier this year. Bergdahl wrote a last note to his father before disappearing, which he began: "The future is too good to waste on lies." He went on to describe the murderous assault of an arrogant, ignorant occupation in which soldiers chatted about running over children and openly insluted Afghans to their faces and treated them as dirt.
Did attempts to rescue Bergdahl result in U.S. deaths? Probably Afghan deaths to. The whole war has resulted and will continue to result in many thousands of innocent deaths and deaths of occupying troops. Amont the latter, the top killer is suicide. How do you pick a low-ranking scapegoat to blame for the suicides? You have to blame the war chiefly on those in Washington and other capitals waging it, and secondarily on those taking part, not on someone who chose to cease being part of something criminal and evil.
Payments to kidnappers -- and to drone victims' and other war victims' families -- are often hushed up. Are they made incompetently in a nation the occupiers do not know? Undoubtedly. But the CIA paid an American con-man in recenty years who claimed to see secret messages in Al Jazeera. The root of the incompetence may be arrogant unacountability.
But should such payments be made? Yes. And I would radically enlarge them by paying 10% of war costs to transform regions of the globe for the better, cancel the wars, and use the other 90 percent for something useful.
By Kathy Kelly
News agencies reported Saturday morning that weeks ago President Obama signed an order, kept secret until now, to authorize continuation of the Afghan war for at least another year. The order authorizes U.S. airstrikes “to support Afghan military operations in the country” and U.S. ground troops to continue normal operations, which is to say, to “occasionally accompany Afghan troops” on operations against the Taliban.
The administration, in its leak to the New York Times, affirmed that there had been “heated debate” between Pentagon advisers and others in Obama’s cabinet chiefly concerned not to lose soldiers in combat. Oil strategy isn't mentioned as having been debated and neither is further encirclement of China, but the most notable absence in the reporting was any mention of cabinet members’ concern for Afghan civilians affected by air strikes and ground troop operations, in a country already afflicted by nightmares of poverty and social breakdown.
Here are just three events, excerpted from an August 2014 Amnesty International report, which President Obama and his advisors should have considered (and allowed into a public debate) before once more expanding the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan:
1) In September, 2012 a group of women from an impoverished village in mountainous Laghman province were collecting firewood when a U.S. plane dropped at least two bombs on them, killing seven and injuring seven others, four of them seriously. One villager, Mullah Bashir, told Amnesty, “…I started searching for my daughter. Finally I found her. Her face was covered with blood and her body was shattered.”
2) A U.S. Special Operations Forces unit was responsible for extrajudicial killing, torture and enforced disappearances during the period of December, 2012 to February, 2013. Included among those tortured was 51 year old Qandi Agha, “a petty employee of the Ministry of Culture,” who described in detail the various torture techniques he suffered. He was told that he would be tortured using “14 different types of torture”. These included: Beatings with cables, electric shock, prolonged, painful stress positions, repeated head first dunking in a barrel of water, and burial in a hole full of cold water for entire nights. He said that both US Special Forces and Afghans participated in the torture and often smoked hashish while doing so.
3) On March 26, 2013 the village of Sajawand was attacked by joint Afghan—ISAF (International Special Assistance Forces). Between 20-30 people were killed including children. After the attack, a cousin of one of the villagers visited the scene and stated, ”The first thing I saw as I entered the compound was a little child of maybe three years old whose chest was torn apart; you could see inside her body. The house was turned into a pile of mud and poles and there was nothing left. When we were taking out the bodies we didn’t see any Taliban among the dead, and we didn’t know why they were hit or killed.”
NYT coverage of the leaked debate mentions Obama's promise, made earlier this year and now broken, to withdraw troops. The article doesn’t make any other mention of U.S. public opposition to a continuation of the war.
Attempts to remake Afghanistan by military force have resulted in warlordism, ever more widespread and desperate poverty, and bereavement for hundreds of thousands whose loved ones are among the tens of thousands of casualties. Area hospitals report seeing fewer IED injuries and many more bullet wounds from pitched battles between rival armed militias whose allegiances, Taliban, government, or other, are hard to determine. With 40% of U.S. weapon supplies to Afghan security forces now unaccounted for, many of the weapons employed on all sides may have been supplied by the U.S.
Meanwhile the implications for U.S. democracy aren’t reassuring. Was this decision really made weeks ago but only announced now that congressional elections are safely over? Was a Friday night cabinet leak, buried between official Administration announcements on immigration and Iran sanctions, really the President’s solution to the unpopularity of a decision affecting the lives of so many? With concern for the wishes of U.S. citizens given so little weight, it is doubtful that much thought was given to the terrible costs of these military interventions for ordinary people trying to live, raise families and survive in Afghanistan.
But for those whose “heated debates” focus solely on what is best for U.S. national interests, here are a few suggestions:
1) The U.S. should end its current provocative drive toward military alliances and encirclement of Russia and China with missiles. It should accept pluralism of economic and political power in the contemporary world. Present U.S. policies are provoking a return to Cold War with Russia and possibly beginning one with China. This is a lose/lose proposition for all countries involved.
2) By a resetting of policy focused on cooperation with Russia, China and other influential countries within the framework of the United Nations, the United States could foster international mediation.
3) The U.S. should offer generous medical and economic aid and technical expertise wherever it may be helpful in other countries and thus build a reservoir of international goodwill and positive influence.
That’s something that nobody would have to keep secret.
By Kathy Kelly
On November 7, 2014, while visiting Kabul, The Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, noted that NATO will soon launch a new chapter, a new non-combat mission in Afghanistan. But it’s difficult to spot new methods as NATO commits itself to sustaining combat on the part of Afghan forces.
Stoltenberg commended NATO Allies and partner nations from across the world, in an October 29th speech, in Brussels, declaring that for over a decade, they “stood shoulder to shoulder with Afghanistan.” According to Stoltenberg, “this international effort has contributed to a better future for Afghan men, women and children.” Rhetoric from NATO and the Pentagon regularly claims that Afghans have benefited from the past 13 years of U.S./NATO warfare, but reports from other agencies complicatethese claims.
UNAMA, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, found that in the first six months of 2014, combat among the warring parties surpassed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as the leading cause of conflict-related death and injury to Afghan civilians.
This "disturbing upward spiral" has meant the number of children and other vulnerable Afghans killed and wounded since the beginning of the year rose dramatically and "is proving to be devastating."
Stoltenberg’s assurance of NATO’s positive contribution to civilian welfare in Afghanistan is also undermined by a recently issued Amnesty International report examining NATO/ISAF operations. These operations include air strikes, drone attacks and night raids, all ofwhich have caused civilian deaths and also involved torture, disappearances, and cover-ups. The report, entitled “Left in the Dark,” gives ten chilling and horrific case studies occurring between 2009- 2013. Amnesty International states that two of the case studies “involve abundant and compelling evidence of war crimes.”
I wish that NATO’s commander could have joined Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs) that same week in Afghanistan as they visited an extraordinarily sustainable project, called “Emergency.” This Italy--based network of hospitals and clinics has been particularly remarkable for effectively saving and improving the lives of many Afghan people, over the past 13 years, while at the same time rejecting any form of war or use of weapons within its facilities.
At the entrance to any one of Emergency’s clinics or hospitals, a sign at the door says “No Weapons Allowed.” A logo banning guns is next to the Emergency logo. Although they work in one of the most intense war zones in the world, Emergency staff, including security guards, reject any use of weapons inside their facilities.
At the gate of Emergency Hospital, Kabul
Yusof Hakimi, the nurse in charge of Emergency’s ICU in the Kabul hospital, assured us that the ban is strictly upheld. A child isn’t allowed to carry a plastic toy gun inside the hospital premises. No one can wear camouflage clothing. “Even the president of Afghanistan cannot carry a gun inside our hospitals!” says Luca Radaelli, the medical coordinator of Emergency’s hospital in Kabul. He added that it’s not easy to maintain a facility where wars are banned. “But,” he adds, “everyone understands the purposes and respects the rules.”
Yusof and Luca in Emergency Hospital, Kabul
They’ve learned ways of providing security without the use of weapons. One such way involves an absolute commitment to neutrality.
They never take sides in the various conflicts that plague Afghanistan.
In fact, they don’t even ask if a patient belongs to one side or another.
Most NGOs in Afghanistan arrange for their staff to travel in heavily armed vehicles. But unarmed Emergency ambulances travel through war zones, in multiple directions, across the country. “We don’t have armed guards,” says Luca. “We don’t have bullet proof cars. We don’t change our routes because,” he explains in his clear, matter-of-fact style, “we have never been targeted.”
Luca says they acquire, and maintain, security through their reputation. Since they never charge any patient for health care, they could not be accused of trying to make a profit.
They also pursue strong diplomatic conversations with each group affected by their work, such as new workers, contractors, local government officials, and religious leaders. They explain their policy of maintaining neutral independence towardeveryone involved. “If you provide something good, something skilled, and it is free of charge,” he adds, “there is no need to protect yourself. People won’t get angry.”
If NATO and U.S. commanders took a fraction of what they have spent securing this region by violence- (the Pentagon has requested 58.5 billion dollars for Fiscal Year 2015 in Afghanistan)- and spent that instead to help people harmed by the ravages of war, could non-combat projects, such as Emergency’s, start to work? There are numerous, obvious solutions to problems in Afghanistan which NATO countries could actually consider,oreven attempt, if the alliance was actually there to help improve the quality of life for Afghan people.
One solution is to establish health care programs similar to what Emergency has created.
However, Emergency isn’t in Afghanistan to point out a sane path through disaster to all the actors, here and abroad, who seem unlikely to discard paths of suicidal hatred and ignorance.
In Luca’s view, Emergency is simply what a healthcare institution ought to be.
“It grows from a very simple idea. Provide high quality service for everyone, not thinking about profit, but just about patients' health.”
“What is so complicated?” he asks.
We might address a similar question to NATO Sec. Gen. Jens Stoltenberg: A new, non-combat mission, in Afghanistan, one that rejects weapons and war. What would be so complicated?
This article first appeared on the Telesur English website.
Kathy Kelly (firstname.lastname@example.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org) While in Afghanistan, she is a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (ourjourneytosmile.org)