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Lessons Learned in the Bucca Camp

By Kathy Kelly

In January of 2004 I visited “Bucca Camp,” a U.S.-run POW camp named for a firefighter lost in the 2001 collapse of  New York’s World Trade Center.  Located near the isolated port city of Umm Qasr,  in southern Iraq, the network of tent prisons had been constructed by U.S. Coalition authorities. Friends of five young men thought to be imprisoned there had begged our three-person Voices delegation to try and visit the camp and find out what had happened to their loved ones.   

This was a year before the capture of Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai, who, starting in 2005, would spend four years in the camp under the name Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, on his way to becoming the head of the recently founded Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Our friends with the Christian Peacemaker Teams had developed a database of people thought to be held by the U.S. military.   They assembled their list of 6,000 prisoners as much through contact with terrified loved ones as through tireless and persistent correspondence with U.S. authorities. 

They were able to find the “Capture Tag” numbers for two of the prisoners.  These two people, at least, were still alive and at the camp.   

With a translator, our small Voices delegation headed from Baghdad to Basra and then on to Umm Qasr, assuredly one of the bleakest spots on the planet.  It was Saturday afternoon. At the outskirts of the prison, a U.S. soldier politely told us that we were too late.  Saturday visiting hours were over, and the next visiting day would be the following Thursday. Reluctant to leave, we explained that we’d come a long way, along a dangerous road, and that we wouldn’t be able to come back a second time.  An hour later, jostling on the benches of an army jeep, we were taken over bumpy desert terrain to the prison visitor’s tent.  

There we met with four of the five young men, all in their early twenties, and listened as they shared stories of humiliation, discomfort, monotony, loneliness and great fear born of the uncertainty prisoners face held on zero credible evidence by a hostile power with no evident plans to release them. They seemed immeasurably relieved that we could at least tell their relatives they were still alive.  

Upon leaving, we asked to speak with an officer in charge of the Bucca Camp.  She said that the outlook for the young men being released wasn’t very positive, but she thought it would be worthwhile to try approaching the International Commission of the Red Cross.  “Be glad they’re here with us and not in Baghdad,” she said, giving us a knowing look.  “We give them food, clothes, and shelter here.  Be glad that they’re not in Baghdad.”  I was surprised.  At least in Baghdad it wouldn’t be so difficult to visit them.  She repeated herself, “I’m just telling you, be glad they’re not in Baghdad.”

Later, in May of 2004, I began to understand what she meant.  On May 1, CNN released pictures from the Abu Ghraib prison: The hooded man.  The man on a leash.  The pyramid.  These pictures are now burned into people’s minds. Suddenly there were very few places that seemed as horrible as that prison.  Yes, we were very glad the young men we visited were not in Baghdad.  

To be very clear, these men at Bucca had been marched naked in front of women soldiers.  They’d been told to say “I love George Bush” before they could receive their food rations.  They’d slept on the open ground in punishingly cold weather with no mat beneath them and only one blanket.   The guards had taunted them and they had had no way of telling their friends they were still alive.  But worse humiliation and torture were inflicted on detainees in other U.S. prison centers throughout Iraq.

The November 3, 2005 issue of the New York Review of Books quoted three officers, two of them non-commissioned, stationed with the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Mercury in Iraq.

“Speaking on condition of anonymity, they described in multiple interviews with Human Rights Watch how their battalion in 2003-2004 routinely used physical and mental torture as a means of intelligence gathering and for stress relief… Detainees in Iraq were consistently referred to as PUCs.  The torture of detainees reportedly was so widespread and accepted that it became a means of stress relief, where soldiers would go to the PUC tent on their off-hours to "fuck a PUC" or "smoke a PUC." "Fucking a PUC" referred to beating a detainee, while "smoking a PUC" referred to forced physical exertion sometimes to the point of unconsciousness.

"Smoking" was not limited to stress relief but was central to the interrogation system employed by the 82nd Airborne Division at FOB Mercury. Officers and NCOs from the Military Intelligence unit would direct guards to "smoke" the detainees prior to an interrogation, and would direct that certain detainees were not to receive sleep, water, or food beyond crackers. Directed "smoking" would last for the twelve to twenty-four hours prior to an interrogation. As one soldier put it: "[The military intelligence officer] said he wanted the PUCs so fatigued, so smoked, so demoralized that they want to cooperate.

Maybe half of the detainees at Camp Mercury, released because they were clearly uninvolved in the insurgency, were nonetheless bearing memories and scars of torture.  As one sergeant told Human Rights Watch, "If he's a good guy, you know, now he's a bad guy because of the way we treated him."  

When U.S. politicians want to sell a war, their marketing is top notch: they can count on the U.S. public to buy that war at least long enough to become irretrievably committed to it, as long as the advertising for that war leaves them feeling threatened.  And no brand, in quite a long time, has been as frightening as the Islamic State.

The violence that brought the Islamic State into being, and which now promises to extend its legacy into ever wider regional violence and polarization, has a long history.

In between the first two Iraq wars, in numerous trips to Iraq from 1996 to 2003, our Voices delegation members grew to understand the unbearable weariness and suffering of Iraqi families eking out an uncertain existence under punishing economic sanctions.

 
Between the wars, the death toll in children's lives alone, from externally imposed economic collapse and from the blockade of food, medicine, water purification supplies and other essentials of survival, was estimated by the U.N. at 5,000 children a month, an estimate accepted without question by U.S. officials.


The most shocking death figures from our 2003 invasion, estimating the eventual toll from war and social breakdown at credibly more than one million, were underestimates as they inevitably took as baseline the inhuman conditions under our years of economic warfare in Iraq.

 

On September 16, 2014, the New York Times reported on a newly released UN report which notes that in Iraq, “the share of hungry people has soared: Nearly one in four Iraqis are undernourished, according to the report, up from 7.9 percent of the population in the 1990-92 period.”
 

And now, the U.S. government says that U.S. intervention is once again needed to improve and civilize the nation of Iraq,

It’s widely acknowledged that the 2003 invasion of Iraq radicalized Al-Baghdadi, with his humiliation at Camp Bucca further hardening him. Then the haphazard flood of weapons and easy cash into both Iraq and Syria fueled potential for further war.

This will not be our third Iraq invasion. U.S. assaults, achieved through munitions, through children's forced starvation, through white phosphorous, through bullet fire, through blockaded medicines, emptied reservoirs and downed power lines, through disbanded police forces and abandoned state industries and cities left to dissolve in paroxysms of ethnic cleansing – it is all one continuous war, beginning long before we finally turned on our former client Saddam in 1991,  the longest war in U.S. history, continued now, extending into the future until it has no end that we can plausibly foresee. 

One year to the day before his death, Dr. Martin Luther King urged a turn away from the war in Vietnam and a desperately needed rebirth, a “revolution of values” that was all that could free America from future such commitments.  It would be so much better for the world if, instead of hearing President Obama’s September 10 speech justifying renewed U.S. military offensives in the region, we could have heard the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech.  In it, he begs us to see ourselves as we are seen by our so-called enemies.  It’s not easy to look in that mirror, but understanding the history of previous U.S. wars and policies, against Iraq, would help us look for alternatives.   

We need not choose blindness, or the hatred that lets us be herded in fear. We can reach out with truth, with compassion, with the activist courage that leaps from heart to heart, rebuilding sanity, civility, community, humanity, resistance. We can find hope in our own active work to prove that humanity persists, that history can yearn toward justice and that a love which is in no way comfortable, sentimental bosh remains vigorously at work in a world with such need of it.

This article first appeared on Telesur English.

Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org)

What can Afghan youth do amidst global violence?

Dear Friends of Peace,

From one of the persistent foci of wars, the Afghan Peace Volunteers launched the Borderfree Community Centre of Nonviolence on 7th August, 2014, in wishing to work nonviolently with the human family across all borders to abolish the socioeconomic, environmental, educational and military wars that are being waged in Afghanistan and the world today.

At the Borderfree Community Centre of Nonviolence, two Afghan street kids, Mehdi and Gulsom, describe their dreams to be a doctor and a lawyer.

Six Afghan Peace Volunteers will set off tomorrow to participate in an International Program on Gandhi and Nonviolence in India, organized by Ekta Parishad ( India ), from the 10th of September, 2014 to the 26th of September, 2014.

Please follow a photo journal of their journey, which will be updated at: Afghan youth’s Wish to “Stop fighting!”

Warmest wishes from Afghanistan,

Hakim with the Afghan Peace Volunteers

What Russian invasion?: In-Place Cease-Fire Reached between Government and Rebel Forces in Ukraine

By Dave Lindorff


The separatist rebels of eastern Ukraine and the government in Kiev that controls the Ukrainian army have reached a cease-fire in place that leaves the separatists largely in control of the Russian-majority regions of the eastern part of that country.

Good & Surprising News from Bagram Prison

August 26, 2014, New York, NY.  The International Justice Network (IJN) is delighted to announce that two of its clients, Fadi al-Maqaleh and Amin al-Bakri, have been released from Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, were they had been imprisoned without charge for over a decade. On the evening of August 25, 2014, the U.S. government transferred the two Yemeni nationals to the custody and control of the Yemeni government.  The transfer is the first time that a detainee has been transferred from U.S. military custody to Yemen since 2010. 

A Teacher in Kabul

By Kathy Kelly

Here in Kabul, one of my finest friends is Zekerullah, who has gone back to school in the 8th grade although he is an18-year old young man who has already had to learn far too many of life’s harsh lessons.

Years ago and miles from here, when he was a child in the province of Bamiyan, and before he ran away from school, Zekerullah led a double life, earning income for his family each night as a construction crew laborer, and then attempting to attend school in the daytime.  In between these tasks the need to provide his family with fuel would sometimes drive him on six-hour treks up the mountainside, leading a donkey on which to load bags of scrub brush and twigs for the trip back down. His greatest childhood fear was of that donkey taking one disastrous wrong step with its load on the difficult mountainside.  

Zekerullah going to school in Bamiyan

And then, after reaching home weary and sleep deprived and with no chance of doing homework, he would, at times, go to school without having done his homework, knowing that he would certainly be beaten.  When he was in seventh grade, his teacher punished him by adding ten more blows each day he came to school without his homework, so that eventually he was hit sixty times in one day.   Dreading the next day when the number would rise to seventy, he ran away from that school and never returned.

Now Zekerullah is enrolled in another school, this time in Kabul, where teachers still beat the students.  But Zekerullah can now claim to have learned much more, in some cases, than his teachers.

Much to the surprise of his environmental studies teacher, Zekerullah has a strong grasp of issues related to the environment.  For the past two years, living with the Afghan Peace Volunteers, he has occupied himself with presentations and conversations about global warming, climate change, and environmental degradation.  He cares deeply about the issue.  Last winter, I was with him as he watched the entire BBC Blue Planet series of videos, and realized that he hungers for more information and deepened understanding about issues hitting far beyond his own beleaguered country.  

When his new teacher, a teacher accustomed to beating pupils, asked the class elementary questions about the environment, Zekerullah had definitely done his homework.  But among his other recent studies were the history of nonviolent movements, led by people like Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, to resist oppressive forces. So without calling any attention to his plans, Zekerullah decided to join the line of students singled out for punishment, in his environmental studies class, even though he wasn’t at fault and didn’t deserve to be punished.  The teacher was befuddled.  Zekerullah so clearly knew the answers. 

Zekerullah calmly explained to the teacher that he also knew, from experience, that beating students doesn’t help them learn, that he himself had lost four years of studies because he could no longer bear the beatings.  He respectfully asked the teacher to beat him instead of the next seven students in the row.  

The teacher obliged, administering blows to Zekerullah while his fellow students began to wonder about and admire Zekerullah’s unusual stance.  Perhaps for the first time in a long while, everyone in that class was learning something. 

For several weeks, the teacher was confronted with Zekerullah’s quiet insistence that he be allowed to take the blows in place of students who hadn’t studied.  The teacher tried to ignore him and belittle him. Once, the teacher punished him and a few others with the escalated punishment of using a rattan cane to inflict the blows.  Adding salt to the wound, the teacher even failed Zekerullah in the mid-year exams, though Zekerullah said he knew the answers and had no trouble finishing the exam.  

I asked him what other students thought about his choices. He said that some of them wanted to spare him from being punished, and so they began to study more and complete their homework. He isn’t sure what impact his actions have had. Zekerullah isn’t inclined to brag. But he surely has affected me. 

He is also affecting other vulnerable young Afghans.  Over the past two years, Zekerullah has worked hard to improve his studies, and with the literacy he has acquired, he now volunteers to teach a literacy class at the APVs Borderfree Center for about 20 street kids who have not had the opportunity to go to school regularly.  He and several companions have organized other aspects of the “Street Kids” program, visiting children in their homes and helping distribute oil and rice to each family so that the children can stop working on the streets.

Zekerullah tells me that the current education system in Afghanistan is not a good learning environment. His story alerts educators, officials and the international community to understand that the relatively small funds spent on badly-constructed new school buildings won’t suffice to provide a good education for the young Afghan population. Moreover, the predominantly militarized approach of aid and development, even in the field of education, reinforces the prevalent methods of teaching by force and punishment.

Zekerullah yearns for knowledge as well as justice, and he’s willing to sacrifice for both.  I want to learn from him.

Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence www.vcnv.org

Community or Warzone: Warrior Cops Lose a Round in Missouri

By John Grant

 

On Monday, I decided to spend my evenings flipping back-and-forth between Fox News and MSNBC as the two cable channels dealt with the dueling stories of the United States tiptoeing into a third war in Iraq and the sudden appearance of what appeared to be a police state in a little town outside St Louis. From Monday to Friday, the Ferguson, Missouri story has gone from that of a bizarre and dangerous war zone to one of a relief-filled carnival in the streets.

Borderfree

By Kathy Kelly

Here in Kabul, Sherri Maurin and I are guests of the Afghan Peace Volunteers’ recently formed live-in community for young women.  Hollyhocks in the garden reach as high as the second floor of our living space.  Rose bushes, morning glories and four-o-clocks have bloomed, and each day we eat tomatoes, mint and green onions plucked from the well-cared for garden. The water source is a hose and tank outside, (there’s no indoor plumbing) so dishes and clothes are cleaned outside. The latrine is also outside, --and unfortunately we’re sharing it with playful kitties, but otherwise  Zarghuna, Zahidi and Zahro have managed to efficiently manage almost every detail of housekeeping, each day, by 7:00 a.m.

A group of local seamstresses also have two rooms here, but lately they have been with their families as Ramadan came to a close followed by Eid celebrations.

The men's community, separate now from the newly launched “Borderfree Community Center of Nonviolence,” where projects and programs take place, also has a fine garden and similar room arrangements.  An added plus, - their yard has four trees!

Going and coming from our communities to "the center" is a 35 minute walk through village-like streets if you take the back ways.  The Borderfree Community Center, when it was first rented, needed considerable rehab and repairs. Hakim, Faiz, Zekerullah and Abdulhai worked very hard to shape it up.  Now, guests enter an attractive space, neatly painted, with plenty of classroom and meeting space.  Plants, curtains, photo exhibits, and choices for rugs and carpets have all been carefully chosen.  Sadaf, one of the APV women who has been very active Borderfree scarf production, organized art students from local Universities to paint images on the walls of a children’s classroom as well as the reception area.  Painted on a wall inside the center’s gate is a playful graffiti with lots of floating bubbles. Letters floating in some of the bubbles spell out “We love Peace,” although certain bubbles have wafted up and down, making it a challenge for linear thinkers.  Another artist, a well-known cartoonist, painted an image on the outside wall of the Borderfree Community Center, (a wall that can be seen by anyone passing by), of a figure shooting a slingshot at a drone, but instead of a rock, a red heart breaks the drone in half. 

 

The graffiti, ‘We Love Peace’, on the wall of Borderfree Community Centre of Nonviolence

 

Classes and programs keep the center lively.  Earlier this week, the center invited a small group of people to the first session of a four week course orienting people to better understand nonviolence and the APV history and goals.  We also gathered for the weekly Global Awareness sessions which focus on a wide range of topics related to militarism, environmental concerns, and socioeconomic inequalities.  Hamidullah Natiq, a seasoned practitioner of conflict resolution in Afghanistan, meets with the group once a week. Local children who are part of a “street kids” project come once a week for Dari and math classes, guided by Hadisa and Farzana, two capable young volunteer teachers.  And, once a month, the “street kids” receive, for their families, large sacks of rice and containers of cooking oil. These donations allow them to attend school rather than work as vendors on the streets of Kabul.

Rent for the center costs $500 per month. The APVs hope that by selling the borderfree sky blue scarves they can help cover this cost. Sherri, I and other internationals will encourage people in our home locales to assist with the center’s expenses. 

During a recent visit to the Emergency Surgical Center for Victims of War, here in Kabul, the staff shared with us news that they get about what's happening around the country.  They rely on reports from staff working at several dozen clinics and the two main hospitals they run in two additional provinces.  Much of our conversation pointed to the reality that Kabul is "a bubble."  Full scale wars are being fought by heavily armed sides in eastern and southern Afghanistan, but generally the only news coverage that goes beyond Afghanistan pertains to Kabul.  The groups fighting the Afghan government include various warlords, the Taliban, drug kingpins, and foreign fighters, some of whom may be strategizing ways to cut off the roads to Kabul. Clearly, the Kabul “bubble” can be quite vulnerable. 

I asked Faiz what he most appreciates about the center.  He immediately spoke of the graffiti outside, saying that it gives him hope and suggests a sense of freedom.  The heart of love that breaks apart the drone, propelled by a slingshot converted into a peace-making tool, points all of us in a direction, sorely needed, that aims to abolish war. I hope the Bordefree Centre, like the live-in community’s gardens, will flourish.

We’re human fodder caught in the crossfire of armed groups and armed governments: "No to wars!"

By Dr Hakim

“Her father was killed in Helmand amidst fighting between the Taliban and the Afghan/U.S.-NATO forces,” said a relative about Gul Jumma, who looked down, shy and full of angst, sensing a future that’s not promising.

Gul Jumma, together with the Afghan Peace Volunteers, expressed their opposition to wars in this video. Gul Jumma holds up the sign for ‘Ukraine’, indicating ‘No to wars in Ukraine’. She understands what it is like to be caught in the crossfire, as happened to her father when he was killed in battle.

Gul Jumma on the right

She and her surviving family members were displaced from her own village home in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan and now live in a squalid Internally Displaced Person’s ( IDP ) camp in Kabul. She is one of an estimated 600,000 IDPs in Afghanistan, whose flight is described as being ‘on the run without aid’.

So, at 10 years of age, Gul Jumma can already identify with the 100,000 Ukrainians who have been internally displaced in Ukraine,  the 730,000 Ukrainians who have fled to Russia and over 1,300 Ukrainians who have died since fighting began in April 2014.

Her hard experience has taught her to protect herself. She gets upset when the other street kids mistreat her in the literacy class. Sometimes, she snaps back at them.

When she was asked to draw a picture of her work in the streets, collecting scrap paper and plastic for her mother to use as fuel, she ignored her unpleasant work and drew herself wearing a colourful dress.

“I like wearing colorful dresses when I go to weddings or when my family and I are guests at the houses of our relatives and friends. My favorite fruit is the pomegranate.”

In a child-like way wiser than the complicated confusion of adults, Gul Jumma and the Afghan street kids see past the false differentiation between the ‘right and wrong and the good and evil’ sides of war.

They challenge us to be honest in giving an account to them, “Which warring side is good? Which killer is better?”

Like the Ukrainian child pictured below, they would say to any side or killer, whether the U.S.-backed Ukranian army or the Russian-backed rebels, or the U.S./NATO coalition-backed Afghan army or the Taliban/Afghan militia groups, “Don’t kill us!”

When Afghan youth, including little girls like Gul Jumma, hear people say that war is not the answer, like the anti-war Ukranian protesters are saying, they can empathize.  The Afghan Peace Volunteers swiftly agreed to express their solidarity with the ordinary people of Ukraine.

The United Nations reported in June this year that a record number of 50 million human beings worldwide have become refugees.

50 million persons, for the self-interests of fighting groups and governments, have become human beings seeking refuge from fellow human beings.

Whether they are Iraqi Christians, Iraqi Yazidis, Iraqi Muslims, Ukrainian free thinkers, Ukrainian Orthodox Christians and Catholics, Ukrainian Muslims, Palestinian Muslims, Israeli Jews, Syrian Muslims, Syrian Christians, Guatemalan Catholics etc., they are all refugees, and share the risks and crises all refugees face.

Some Palestinians, including children, who took refuge in UN schools in Gaza, were bombed and killed by the Israeli military nonetheless. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon called one such attack ‘a moral outrage and a criminal act.’

But, Mr Ban and the UN have been unable to do what the UN charter set out to do, to ‘remove the scourge of war from future generations’.

Waziri was an Afghan refugee in South Waziristan for 17 years. He and his family returned to live in Kabul in 2006. He told me the story of Pakistani Pashtun refugees who recently fled North Waziristan for relative safety in Khost Province of Afghanistan. “My friends and I mobilized a few community groups to provide oil, rice and sugar for about 610 refugee families in Khost,” Waziri shared.

Who did the Pakistani refugees flee from?  The Pakistani refugees fled from the Pakistan Army!

A Pakistani army commander had told the BBC that ‘the Taliban had already left North Waziristan before the offensive by the Pakistani army started.   

So, the Pakistani army, backed by the U.S., stormed through North Waziristan, finding few if any Taliban, and forced fellow Pakistanis to flee from their own homes!

Waziri considers the military operation ‘a really big show’ at the expense of ordinary people. “I think the ISI and the Pakistani government themselves had informed the Taliban to leave! “said Waziri.

“The refugees I met in Khost lamented that they can’t go back to Waziristan now because they could be mistakenly killed by the Pakistani soldiers in the offensive. And, if the Taliban returned to the area after the offensive, the Taliban may kill them.”

Waziri ended off with this horrid story of our terrible human condition, “One of the refugees I met in Khost told me that as they were fleeing, his new-born baby was so weak from thirst that the baby died in his arms. Angry, disappointed and profoundly sad, the man carried the dead baby in his arms, and crying, he shouted at a Pakistani soldier, saying, ‘You might as well take the corpse of my baby and eat it. This is what you’re doing to us!”

These refugee stories show that the current leaders of the world, whether leaders of democratic or socialist governments or leaders of ‘extremist’ groups, have the same simplistic responses to wars, to the global refugee crises, and even to antiwar protesters : spying and surveillance, imprisonment, shoot and bombard, or Hillary Clinton’s slogan in Afghanistan to ‘fight, talk, build’!

The elite 1% of armed groups and armed governments are waging economic, environmental and military wars against the people! They, and perhaps we ourselves too, have lost our imagination and empathy.

But not Gul Jumma, not Waziri, not Ukrainian mothers who went on foot to a bridge carrying placards reading "Save our boys!"and not Israeli reservists who refuse to fight in Gaza. Certainly, not activists who go to jail for protesting elaborate secret government programs of targeted killings, drone murders, detentions without trial, torture and other clearly brutal acts.

Each of us should emulate them to protest against all wars, in solidarity with all refugees.

If there are 50 million refugees, there ought to at least be 50 million of us working together to divest and boycott, to stop military mobilization and conscription, to take the guilty elite to court, to participate in non-violent direct actions and protests and to provide all kinds of humanitarian assistance.

There ought to be at least 50 million of us working together to restore human dignity and freedom, including the building of small, self-governing, non-violent egalitarian communities, as practical alternatives to the status quo of a large, 1%-dominated, violent, unequal world.

‘No to Afghanistan in Ukraine. No to Ukraine in Afghanistan. No to wars in the world!’

We wish to live differently.

We no longer want anyone anywhere to be human fodder caught in the crossfire of armed groups and armed governments.

Dr Hakim, ( Dr. Teck Young, Wee ) is a medical doctor from Singapore who has done humanitarian and social enterprise work in Afghanistan for the past 9 years, including being a friend and mentor to the Afghan Peace Volunteers, 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 Meditation on Peacemaking: Americans Need to Break the Cycle of War

By John Grant


All we are saying is give peace a chance
             -John Lennon


Jobless Kabul and the Works of War

By Kathy Kelly

Kabul—Last week, here in Kabul, the Afghan Peace Volunteers welcomed activist Carmen Trotta, from New York, who has lived in close community with impoverished people in his city for the past 25 years, serving meals, sharing housing, and offering hospitality to the best of his ability.  Put simply and in its own words, his community, founded by Dorothy Day, exists to practice “the works of mercy” and to “end the works of war.” We wanted to hear Carmen’s first impressions of traveling the streets of Kabul on his way from the airport to the working class neighborhood where he’ll be staying as the APVs’ welcome guest.

He said it was the first time he’d seen the streets of any city so crowded with people who have no work.

Carmen had noticed men sitting in wheelbarrows, on curb sides, and along sidewalks, unemployed, some of them waiting for a day labor opportunity that might or might not come. Dr. Hakim, the APV’s mentor, quoted Carmen the relevant statistics: the CIA World Fact Book uses research from 2008 to put Afghanistan’s unemployment rate at 35% - just under the figure of 36% of Afghans living beneath the poverty level.  That’s the CIA’s unemployment figure - Catherine James, writing in The Asian Reviewthis past March, noted that “the Afghan Chamber of Commerce puts it at 40%, the World Bank measures it at 56% and Afghanistan’s labor leaders put it at a shocking 86%.”

Overall statistics for Afghanistan are grim. A recent article in the UK’s Independent reported that one million children under five are acutely malnourished, 54 per cent of girls do not go to school and war has displaced 630,000 Afghans within their own country. Relentlessly, the fighting continues. Now, on average, 40 children are maimed or killed in fighting every week. 

Rustom Ali, a cobbler – a shoemaker, born here in Kabul – visited with me the day after Carmen’s arrival, and explained more about employment in his city, and the prospects for Afghans surviving this latest decade out of a near-half-century of near-constant foreign invasion.  He had to find time out of a 12 hour workday to meet with me.

Rustom mends shoes, or waits for shoes to mend, 7 days a week, from 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m., at the roadside. His “shop” consists of a box containing equipment and a primitive, portable overhead shelter. He sits on a ledge, under the blazing sun, (or in freezing cold during Afghanistan’s harsh winter).  

Each day he earns about 250 Afghanis, equivalent to roughly four and a half dollars in U.S. money.  Dependent on him for food and shelter are his wife Fatima, his daughter Narghis (age 7), and five-year-old Mehdi, his son; Rustom’s father also lives with them and has no work. Each day, the price of bread to feed the family is 100 Afghanis ($1.76).  Beyond supplying bread, rice, beans and oil, he must also pay for rent and gas. He will never be able to save money at this rate, despite his fierce yearning for a better future for his two children.

Twenty years ago, Rustom had hoped for a far different life for himself.  He had travelled to Iran and, although Iranians generally discriminated against Afghans, he was able to go to school, where he was an excellent student, always working part time as a cobbler. He enjoyed sports, and also liked learning English in his spare time. He showed me two notebooks he had begun then, filled with details about his family history and reflections about his life.

One day, when he was 18 years old and still living in Iran, a car carrying flowers to a wedding hit him as he crossed an intersection, catapulting him into the air.  He landed on his head.  After 48 days in hospital and then three more months spent recovering at home, he was finally able to walk and speak again.  His speech and memory are still affected by the accident.   

Rustom hired a lawyer, hoping a judge would compel the driver who caused the accident to pay some reparations.  But the driver was a native to Iran and Rustom was an Afghan.  “I endured great pain and permanent brain damage because of the accident,” he said, “But being treated as though I wasn’t a human being,” – the reaction of the Iranian court – “it was more painful.  Every day I could see this kind of discrimination against Afghans in Iran.”  And so he took his chances and returned to Kabul. 

When I asked Rustom about his greatest hopes for his own children, he said that he and his wife teach them, every day, never to discriminate against others the way he was discriminated against in Iran.  He had been sorely hurt when the courts there refused to see him, a foreigner, as a human being.

Abdulhai, an Afghan Peace Volunteer, translated between me and Rustom, having developed a friendship with Rustom since they first sat and talked several months ago. Abdulhai had confessed to Rustom that he was struggling with loneliness and sadness.  Rustom offered comfort and encouragement. He has great hopes for Abdulhai, who has, in his view, a future much brighter than so many here, given his enrolment in school and his interest in learning new skills.  Rustom said that after four years sitting daily in the same place waiting to repair shoes, Abdulhai was the first person to engage him in a genuine conversation.  

Dehumanization is central to war. Rustom Ali’s and Abdulhai’s friendship defies dehumanizing forces in their impoverished society, so battered by war makers ‘predatory ventures.

This morning, Carmen and Faiz, another APV member, took a long, early morning walk through a main street in the neighbourhood where we live.  By now, Carmen is recognizing faces and names.  He knows the bakers who’ve stopped their work to share a cup of tea with him.  Sayyaf, who lost both legs during civil war in Kabul and survives by selling glasses and mousetraps from a somewhat ramshackle cart, waved to Carmen with a broad smile and offered him a cup of tea.

As the U.S. cobbles together justifications for its ongoing, foolhardy war in Afghanistan, glimmers of hope persist in small communities like Carmen’s in New York and the APVs in Kabul.  They agitate against war.  They believe that doing the works of mercy helps us set aside the works of war.  And, they’re renewed, consistently, by solidarity with others longing to form humane relations and, as Carmen’s community puts it, “build a new world within the shell of the old.” 

Photo credit:  Abdulhai Safarali

Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org)

Worth Fighting For?

I was not sure I would like a book called Worth Fighting For by a former soldier who walked across the United States to raise money for the Pat Tillman Foundation.  The website of that foundation celebrates military "service" and the "higher calling" for which Tillman left professional football, namely participation in the U.S. war on the people of Afghanistan and Iraq.  Rather than funding efforts to put an end to war, as Tillman actually might have wished by the end of his life, the foundation hypes war participation, funds veterans, and to this day presents Tillman's death thusly:

"On the evening of April 22, 2004, Pat's unit was ambushed as it traveled through the rugged, canyon terrain of eastern Afghanistan. His heroic efforts to provide cover for fellow soldiers as they escaped from the canyon led to his untimely and tragic death via fratricide."

Those heroic efforts happened, if they happened, in the context of an illegal and immoral operation that had Tillman defending foreign invaders from Afghans defending their homes.  And the last two words above ("via fratricide") tell a different story from the rest of the paragraph, page, and entire website of the Pat Tillman Foundation.  Tillman was shot by U.S. troops.  And he may not have died a thorough-going supporter of what he was engaged in.  On September 25, 2005, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Tillman had become critical of the Iraq war and had scheduled a meeting with the prominent war critic Noam Chomsky to take place when he returned from Afghanistan, all information that Tillman's mother and Chomsky later confirmed. Tillman couldn't confirm it because he had died in Afghanistan in 2004 from three bullets to the forehead.

Rory Fanning's book -- Worth Fighting For -- relates, however, that Tillman looked forward to getting out of the military and sympathized with the actions of Fanning, a member of his battalion who became a conscientious objector and refused to fight.  According to Fanning, Tillman "knew his very public circumstances forced him to stick it out." 

That's obviously a different use of the word "forced" from "gravity forced the weight to drop" or "the missile striking the house forced the people inside to split apart into fragments of flesh and gore." Imagine the benefits to the cause of peace if the one troop who had a name, face, and voice had shattered the bullshit choruses of "Support the Troops!" by doing what Fanning did, and thus living to tell the tale?  Instead Tillman stuck it out and left many believing that military propagandists had either become quite fortunate or something worse, when Tillman did not live to quite possibly oppose -- better late than never -- what he had been doing.

When I worked with a number of talented people to draft articles of impeachment for George W. Bush that were introduced by Congressman Dennis Kucinich, they included this:

"The White House and the Department of Defense (DOD) in 2004 promoted a false account of the death of Specialist Pat Tillman, reporting that he had died in a hostile exchange, delaying release of the information that he had died from friendly fire, shot in the forehead three times in a manner that led investigating doctors to believe he had been shot at close range.

"A 2005 report by Brig. Gen. Gary M. Jones reported that in the days immediately following Specialist Tillman's death, U.S. Army investigators were aware that Specialist Tillman was killed by friendly fire, shot three times to the head, and that senior Army commanders, including Gen. John Abizaid, knew of this fact within days of the shooting but nevertheless approved the awarding of the Silver Star, Purple Heart, and a posthumous promotion.

"On April 24, 2007, Spc. Bryan O'Neal, the last soldier to see Specialist Pat Tillman alive, testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that he was warned by superiors not to divulge information that a fellow soldier killed Specialist Tillman, especially to the Tillman family. The White House refused to provide requested documents to the committee, citing 'executive branch confidentiality interests.'"

What made Pat Tillman a particular hero to many in the United States was that he had given up huge amounts of money to go to war.  That he had passed up the evil of hoarding wealth in order to engage in something even more evil does not register with supporters of war.  And had the U.S. Army not killed him, and had he not subsequently killed himself (the leading cause of U.S. military deaths now being suicide), Tillman might have lengthened his life by leaving the NFL, which abandons its players to an average lifespan in their 50s and in some cases dementia in their 40s -- an issue that arises in Fanning's book as he meets with former NFL greats to raise money for the Pat Tillman Foundation.

Tillman was, by all accounts, kind, humble, intelligent, courageous, and well-intentioned.  He clearly inspired many, many people whom he met, and whom he never met, to be better people.  Fanning would, I think, include himself in that list.  But when Fanning decided to walk across the country raising funds, and finding support and shelter for himself along the way, in the name of Pat Tillman, he was playing on the beliefs of a propagandized public, beliefs that he himself had ceased to fully share.  A sheriff, in a typical example, takes Fanning's empty water bottles, drives 12 miles to refill them, and hands them back to Fanning with tears in his eyes, saying, "What Pat did for our country is one of the bravest, most admirable things I can remember anyone doing. Take this for your cause." And he handed Fanning $100. 

Was generating hatred and resentment in Afghanistan by killing helpless people a service to the United States? Was the environmental destruction and economic cost and eroded civil liberties a benefit to us all?  In the minds of the people whom the Pat Tillman Foundation is still trying to milk for funding, perhaps so.  Such a foundation not only saves the government from providing for veterans (or anyone else) while investing more in weaponry, but it also generates public support for and identification with supposed military heroism.  It's a double-victory for the makers of war in Washington, most of whom are far more misguided than Pat Tillman ever was, but most of whom are more remarkable for cowardice than bravery.

As I say, I wasn't 100% sure I would like Fanning's book. I believe things are worth working for, struggling for, suffering for, and dying for, but not fighting for.  What could he mean?  I was very pleasantly surprised, and recommend the book enthusiastically.  It recounts an adventure worth having that contained no fighting at all.  It's a tale told with wisdom, erudition, kindness, humor, humility, and generosity of which I think Tillman might have been proud. 

Like the guy in that Craig's List movie, Fanning finds people going out of their way to help him as he very publicly walks across the country, doing interviews along the way, speaking at events, and chronicling his progress on a website (now gone).  This does not, of course, prove that anyone without a public cause or celebrity label, or anyone of any race or sex or appearance, could safely and successfully find the same sort of selfless support from so many Americans.  It is heartening and encouraging, nonetheless, to read.  And these accounts come interspersed with descriptions and historical background on the places Fanning walks through that suggest he has a future as a travel writer if he wants it. Intermingled as well quite seamlessly is an account of how Fanning himself moved from being "a devout Christian to an atheist and from a conservative Republican to a socialist." He later adds that he ceased opposing environmentalists and became one.  As this world needs such transformations on a large scale, a smart account by someone who's been through one has great value.

One aspect of Fanning's own drama that sheds light on the notion that Tillman was "forced" to "support the troops" even while being one (that is, support a war he may have disagreed with), is the description of how hard it was for Fanning to turn against the military (a process that may perhaps remain incomplete for him even now).  Fanning had joined after 9-11 for similar reasons to Tillman, believing it his duty.  He then found he "did not have it in him" to kill.  And he saw the injustice and absurdity of capturing people falsely ratted out by rivals to an ignorant foreign occupier eager to punish (and torture) anyone it could.  He came to see himself as an imperialist pawn rather than a rescuer on a mission for humanity.  When he refused to go along to get along, he was ostracized and abused by everyone around him except Pat Tillman and his brother Kevin Tillman.  Despite his refusal to fight, Fanning was sent to Afghanistan again, made to do chores, labeled "bitch" by his commander, and forced to sleep outside alone in the snow.  And Fanning supported his own abuse, attempting to make himself ill, afraid of the shame of his own behavior rather than wishing to expose the shame of the evil behavior of those around him.

Fanning recounts a conversation with a military chaplain.  Fanning made the case that the whole war was unjust.  The chaplain made the case that God wanted him to do it anyway.  The loser in that contest was apparently Fanning's use for the concept of "God." 

But Fanning's struggle continued within himself even after getting home and getting out.  "After I left the military," he writes, "the hardest thing I had to do was look someone in the eyes. I was afraid I would be exposed for breaking my oath."  Not for having been part of an operation of mass-murder, but for having abandoned it.  That's how Fanning thought even after getting out, so one can imagine how Tillman thought while still in -- and while in with a world telling him he was a god himself for being there.  Fanning sees the contradiction. "I knew U.S. imperialism was destroying the planet," he writes, "but I still felt guilty for leaving."

Through Fanning's walk he gives talks that avoid mentioning what he (and perhaps Tillman) actually thought, until -- three-quarters of the way along -- a boy asks him which branch of the military to join, and he answers "I don't think you should join any of them."  He then gives the $100 from the sheriff to a homeless man under an overpass.

The Kill Team Movie: Show It in Schools

Kill Team is not just a video game anymore, not just the inevitable pairing of two of the most popular words in American English.  "Kill Team" is now a movie, and against the odds it's not a celebration of killing, but a particular take on an actual series of events made widely known by Rolling Stone.


U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan developed the practice of killing civilians for sport, placing weapons beside the bodies or otherwise pretending to have been attacked, keeping body parts as trophies, and celebrating their "kills" in photographs with the corpses.

For months, according to Rolling Stone, the whole platoon knew what was going on.  Officers dismissed complaints from the relatives of victims, accepted completely implausible accounts, and failed to help victims who might still be alive (instead ordering a soldier to "Make sure he's dead.")

A key instigator, Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, arrived in Afghanistan recounting a successful murder of a family in Iraq and bearing tattoos recording his kills.  "Get me a kill" soldiers asked who wanted to participate in the kill team.  Killers were treated as heroes, and the widespread understanding that they were killing civilians who'd never threatened them didn't seem to damage that treatment.

"Drop-weapon" has been a common term among vets returning to the United States from Afghanistan and Iraq for over a decade, referring to a weapon used to frame a victim.  "We're just the ones who got caught," says Pfc. Justin Stoner in the film.  He also raises an important question that the film does not seriously pursue, remarking: "We're training you from the day you join to the day you're out to kill. Your job is to kill. You're infantry. Your job is to kill everything that gets in your way. Well, then why the hell are you pissed off when we do it?"

Eleven soldiers have been convicted of crimes as part of the kill team, including Gibbs who has been sentenced to life in prison.  Why were these kills crimes and others not, wonders Stoner.  It's a question worthy of consideration.  The cover stories for the kills, including claims that people made some threatening movement, don't seem enough to justify these murders even if they had been true.  What were the soldiers doing in these people's villages to begin with?

That's the question the movie opens with the soldiers asking themselves.  They'd been trained for exciting combat and then sent to Afghanistan to be bored, hungry for action, eager to test out their training.  This is a point often missed by those who advocate turning the U.S. military into a force for good, an emergency rescue squad for natural disasters, or a humanitarian aid operation.  You would have to train and equip people for those jobs first.  These young men were trained to kill, armed to kill, prepped to kill, and left to kick sand around.

They began premeditating the worst sort of premeditated murder.  They openly recount their conversations in the film.  They had weapons to drop, grenades that weren't "tracked," they'd pretend someone had a grenade and kill him. Who? Anyone. They saw everyone as fair game. 

And they did as planned.  And they were welcomed back to the "FOB" as heroes.  And they did it again.  And again.

The film does not tell the whole story. It focuses on Spc. Adam Winfield, his parents, and his court proceedings back in the United States.  Winfield told his father on a Facebook chat, early on, what was happening.  Winfield was afraid to talk to anyone in his chain of command, and in fact the mere possibility that he might resulted in death threats to him.  His father, however, tried every way he could to get anyone in the U.S. Army to listen.  No one would.

And then Winfield was present for another set-up and murder.  He says he fired his gun away from the victim.  He says that if he had shot the two U.S. soldiers, Gibbs and Cpl. Jeremy Morlock, the Army would have shown him "no mercy." 

Then Stoner (was it his name that tipped the balance?) turned in Gibbs and others for smoking hash in his room. So they beat him and threatened to kill him.  Then he told about the body parts being passed around.  The Army locked up Gibbs and Morlock.  Stoner was labeled a whistleblower, which he says is worse than a murderer.  If he had the chance again, he says, he would say nothing.

Winfield found he could breathe, after months of fearing murder from his own "side." 

And then Winfield was, himself, charged with first-degree murder.  We see his horror.  We see his parents' heartbreak.  We go back to see his childhood.  He read history books about American war heroes, his dad says.  The possibility of changing those books is not explicitly raised. He ends up with a plea bargain and a sentence of three years in prison, for supposedly having done nothing to stop a murder.  At one point he's offered the option of pleading guilty to "cowardice," despite every other member of his unit and chain of command right up to the President having outdone him in that regard.

"War is dirty," says Winfield. "It's not how they portray it in movies." It is, however, more or less, from a certain angle, how they've portrayed it in this movie, which ought to be shown in U.S. schools as a warning. 

But not by itself.  This movie does not give us the stories of the murder victims and their families.  Imagine the power of a movie that included what this one does plus that!  The opportunity is repeatedly and intentionally lost by Western film makers over and over again.  Nor does the film give us the stories of the victims and families of supposedly legitimate murders.  Imagine the drama of trying to distinguish the suffering of those killed fighting a foreign occupation from the suffering of those killed not fighting a foreign occupation, and the power of the inevitable failure of that effort!  Imagine a movie that accurately conveyed the immense scale of the killing in these one-sided slaughters of the poor by the most technologically advanced killing machine ever devised!

From the angle that this film takes, however, critical questions are thrust upon us, including: Why imprison the killers?  Will it deter others?  Will atrocity-free-war finally be created before we've destroyed the earth as a habitable place?  Would it not be easier to shut down the military and end the wars?  The deterrence I'm most interested in is that of people like Winfield's parents who allowed him to join the military before he was 18, to demonstrate their confidence in him.  I think this movie might deter some parents from making that same choice.

No to War in Gaza and Afghanistan


 

On the 8th of July 2014, during the fasting month of Ramadan, the Israeli government began yet another military offensive on the people of Gaza. By the 4th day, they had already killed 105 Palestinians, including at least 23 children.

The Afghan Peace Volunteers went out onto the streets of Kabul just before it was time to break their fast. They shared dates with the people in the streets, in solidarity with the Palestinians and the Israelis being killed by the bombs and rockets dropped and fired by their governments.

By sharing food, we resist war

.

No to War in Gaza and Afghanistan!

Share food, resist war.

We’re not only disgusted

by man-made bombs,

we’re angry at the governments

that drop them.

We’re terrified

not of their physical destructiveness,

but of their depravity,

and acceptability.

We’ve lost our children

& loved ones

to ruthlessness.

Amidst the explosions

of our souls,

our mothers still

keep the wits around

our crying homes,

just so to feed us

after the fast.

That’s it!

That’s our resistance to their

profiteering wars,

that while they kill,

they can never stop us

from sharing our food.

They are the ones

already dead,

the emperors

with no clothes,

only futile weapons

that adorn

their ceremonial crowns,

oblivious to the awakening giant

of love.

They are blind to the better world

in which their Power

and ‘haram’ money

are being frowned upon

in the streets,

and in our bread.

Share food, resist war

No! to war in Gaza and Afghanistan.

Amerikistan, not Afghanistan, Warocracy, not Democracy

By Dr Hakim

Afghanistan Analysts Network reported on 9th July that “he ( Abdullah Abdullah ) told the crowd that he had received phone calls from both US President Barack Obama and State Secretary John Kerry and had been told that Kerry would make a stop-over in Kabul on Friday. It was clear he wanted see what could come of that.”

Abdullah Abdullah’s phone call with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry who arrived in Kabul today, shows that it is the U.S. government, and not Afghans, who run this country.

This is Amerikistan, not Afghanistan.

Even U.S. Senator Carl Levin has chipped in with his suggestion for this land which is about 10,864 kilometres away from America’s eastern shores.

I’m academically puzzled at why both Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, who will speak with John Kerry today, have such confidence in promising to promptly sign the U.S. Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement should they win the Afghan Presidential elections when the Obama administration’s policies in the Middle East and in this part of the world are far from effective, and largely war-like.

As they make their deals with the White House in Kabul, President Obama has been ordering U.S. military advisors and troops into fragmenting Iraq and has okayed Israel’s new and continued offensive in Gaza, not policies that are entirely friendly to Muslims who are keeping their fast in those war-torn places.

If anything, Gandhi’s non-violent call to ‘Quit India’ needs to be made --- let John Kerry be warmly welcomed according to genuine Afghan hospitality, but also be respectfully asked to ‘Quit Afghanistan’!

U.S taxpayer money should be used to address the basic human needs of more than 40 million Americans living below the poverty line in the wealthiest country in the world, and not to finance what Abdullah Abdullah himself calls ‘industrial-scale’ fraud in the Afghan elections, and what former British Afghan envoy to Afghanistan, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles called ‘the utter, unanswerable folly of Britain’s military intervention’ in Afghanistan.

Outgoing President Karzai’s cynicism about U.S. foreign policy is not inappropriate at this time of escalating militarism. Such doubtful questioning is human, healthy, and perhaps even critical.

It could be an important peaceful demand for fresh participatory democracy, and not tiring warocracy.

Dr Hakim is a medical doctor who has done humanitarian and social enterprise work in Afghanistan for the past 9 years. He is the 2012 recipient of the International Pfeffer Peace Prize.

Audio on Afghanistan and Iraq on the Coy Barefoot Show

GUEST: David Swanson, author, activist, and blogger. His books includes Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union and War is a Lie and When the World Outlawed War. Follow him on Twitter.

TOPIC: David reacts to the news that Bowe Bergdahl has been released— and that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue.

ORIGINAL BROADCAST DATE: Friday, June 6, 2014.

Listen.

How is Harlem Like Afghanistan?

by Debra Sweet        Anand Gopal has written a fascinating book after learning Pashto and living in Afghanistan for 5 years. No Good Men Among the Living, through the stories of 3 Afghans, tells the tale of how the US quickly defeated the Taliban in 2001, and then so oppressed, alienated, and night-raided the population, that they revived the Taliban, and created thousands of indidigenous operators becoming enriched by US contracts.

War Stories: Bad Wars and the Voice of Disillusion

By John Grant

 

      When lo! An angel called him out of heaven,

      Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad, . . .

Global Days of Listening

GDoL Photo 6.21.14 2
SEE THE SCHEDULE HERE

Summer Solstice Global Days of Listening

The Afghan Peace Volunteers have been rethinking . . . recommitting.

Talk & listen with them on Saturday June 21 - Request a time, here.
Kabul: 5:30 - 10 pm / England: 2:00 - 6:30 pm
US - Eastern 9 am - 1:30 pm, Pacific 6 - 10:30 am


They hope borders are not seen as a line to separate people,
but a place where we find our neighbors, our friends. 

LISTEN TO THE LIVE CONVERSATION

Follow the Afghan Peace Volunteers at their website:

Our Journey to Smile


See and promote the Blue Scarf Campaign

love is how we will ask for peace,
 
the Afghan Peace Volunteers                                         

for more information: globaldaysoflistening@gmail.com                           
 

On ThisCantBeHappening! radio: Dave Lindorff and Vietnam Vet and Long-Time Peace Activist John Grant Discuss the Bowe Bergdahl

By Dave Lindorff

 

Bowe Bergdahl, the POW held for five years by the Taliban in Afghanistan who was recently traded for the release of five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay, has been convicted in the halls of Congress and in most of the media as a deserter -- even a traitor or a Taliban convert -- all without any trial or even any evidence. John Grant, a veteran of the Vietmam War, where desertions were common, says it's an old story: As America's losing wars wind down, those who advocated the in the first place and pushed for their continuation try to create a "stabbed in the back" narrative to explain the humiliating defeat of US military forces.

War, Profits and the U.S. Government

                In 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan. The invasion was purported to be a response to the Taliban’s refusal to surrender Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks on the United States, but probably had a lot more to do with enabling the construction of an oil pipeline through Afghanistan. Today, thirteen years later, U.S. soldiers continue to fight there.


Two years later, the U.S, the most powerful country in the world, unleashed its terrorism on Iraq, due, it was said, to the dubious then and later unproven charge that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was moments away from using them to destroy the American way of life (whatever that is). It wasn’t until 2011 that something that President Barack Obama and his minions decided to call ‘victory’ was sufficient to withdraw U.S. troops.

From Egypt to Afghanistan : Electing our own slavery

Sherif Samir, writing from Egypt

Thoughts behind the voting curtain…

Democracy is not the aim. The aim is justice, dignity, and development. Democracy is the way to it, and it's not the perfect way, but it's the best way so far. According to Rousseau, representative democracy is not a democracy at all, and even that democracy is so hard for us to reach to in Egypt. 

As in Afghanistan and other parts of the third world, people must cross many obstacles before experiencing democracy.  First, they must  believe that politics controls the food on their tables, the education for their children, clothes, traffic, and everything else.  Second, people must know that democracy is not infidelity, and that we can't go back in time and practice to the Muslim medieval regime (Khalifa), as fanatical Muslims always urge. Third, people have to know that democracy is not just an election, not just voting papers and transparent boxes. It is that and everything before and after it. It should be a free choice of a freely educated generation. It should be a choice of peace, not war, a choice of enlightenment, not ignorance, of progress, not poverty, of science, not myth, a choice of a people's representative, and not just of the lesser of two evils.

But this is not what we are having now in our countries. So, when I make my mark on the voting paper, place it in the box, put my finger in the phosphoric ink, smile at the camera and share the photo on Facebook, I won't be expecting any good change out of it, because it's a fake fruit of a fake tree.

“My dear voter, the multiple choice question you are answering now was written by me,” said the imperialist.

Dr Hakim, writing from Afghanistan

“In our history school text books, we are taught that ruthless conquerors were heroes,” offered 17 year old Najibullah, as a reason for the personification of warriors as strong leaders.

It is worrying that Afghans, like supporters of the National Rifle Association in the U.S., have unknowingly normalized the possession and use of weapons. Many Afghan parents are getting toy guns as gifts for their children, even for their daughters, on the Afghan New Year.

Children with toy guns at graveyard on Afghan New Year

“For this uncertain situation in Afghanistan, we need a good dictator,” says Murtaza, a law student at Kabul University.

Another young Afghan, Baqiatullah, says that people have to be pragmatic, so he has volunteered to campaign for one of the two Afghan Presidential candidates competing in the run-off elections on June 14th.  “It’s the candidate that has more money, resources and connections that will win. Money buys votes. By the way, if you can get together some youth to form a soccer team, I’ll get you free T-shirts of Dr Abdullah Abdullah!”

In 2009, some youth and I had organized a half-day Peace Conference at Bamiyan University, and we were directed to a civil society group which turned out to be a vehicle for General Dostum’s outreach.

General Dostum is the vice-presidential candidate on Mr Ashraf Ghani’s team in this year’s election. After he had submitted his candidacy in October 2013, he had given a public apology, saying, “I would like to be the first person to say that we apologize to all who have suffered on both sides of the wars….”

I had arrived at the civil society group’s office on time, and was asked to wait for the ‘boss’ to come.

He came, a young upstart dressed in a suit and tie, appearing hurried and important. He sat behind a big mahogany desk, like a CEO of sorts, and began spouting the praises of General Dostum, who he claimed had ‘hundreds of thousands of supporters as far as Turkey’.

Then, a few young Hazaras came submissively into the office, and like indentured servants, they kneeled in front of the desk, none of them in shirt or tie, and all of them looking miserable but obedient.

I told the ‘boss’ about our Peace Conference, to which he replied crisply, “We’re very supportive of such wonderful peace efforts. If I’m too tied up with work, I will certainly send one of these members to the meeting.”  With a wag of his chin, he gestured to the row of four subjects before his table.

I remember that while the ‘boss’ was boasting, one of the four Hazaras had quietly slipped out of the room, and later, came back with a pot of tea, which he poured for his ‘boss’.

His eyes had an unwilling glaze, his mind appeared to be elsewhere, but he was subserviently ‘loyal’. Did he choose to work like a slave?

No one from the group came to our Peace Conference.

While people know that perpetuating the unequal status quo dominated by a greedy and militarized elite is enslaving for the human spirit, a helpless feeling prevails that we can’t do much but vote once every four of five years.

*****

Sherif Samir is an Egyptian writer and an Arabic teacher. He was the 2012 winner of the International Contest of Microfiction, awarded by Museo de la Palabra in Spain

Dr Hakim, ( Dr. Teck Young, Wee ) is a medical doctor from Singapore who has done humanitarian and social enterprise work in Afghanistan for the past 9 years, including being a mentor to the Afghan Peace Volunteers, 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.

Coalition Of Groups Welcome Home Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl

By Popular Resistance

Emails: ND Ethics Law Potentially Broken on Petraeus Fracking Trip

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

DeSmogBlog has obtained emails via North Dakota's Open Records Statute revealing facts that could be interpreted as indicating that North Dakota Treasurer Kelly Schmidt broke State Investment Board ethics laws.

Photo Credit: Office of North Dakota State Treasurer; Obtained via ND Open Records Statute

Bergdahl, Desertion and Heroics

                A lead article on CNN today reads as follows: ‘Fellow soldiers call Bowe Bergdahl a deserter, not a hero.’


                It seems that one is defining the term ‘hero’ in a rather odd way, if one can’t consider a deserter a hero. Let’s look first at what desertion from the U.S. military means, in terms of actions and possible consequences, and then more specifically at Mr. Bergdahl’s particular situation, or at least what is currently known of it.

Who Are the Real Traitors on Afghanistan?

The Real Villains of the Bergdahl Tale

June 3, 2014

Editor Note:  The right-wing media is denouncing Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl as a “deserter” who wasn’t worth ransoming from the Taliban, but the real villains are the architects of the disastrous Iraq and Afghan wars who frivolously put the many Bergdahls in harm’s way.

By Ray McGovern

For me, the Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl affair brings back angry memories of how, in 2009, President Barack Obama caved in to be-medaled and be-ribboned generals like David Petraeus and ordered a modified-limited-hangout-type “surge” of 33,000 troops into Afghanistan. Consequential cowardice at work – trading lives for political advantage – as bad as it gets.

ND Treasurer: Red Carpet Rollout for Gen. Petraeus Fracking Field Trip "Not Unusual"

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

North Dakota Treasurer Kelly Schmidt has responded to DeSmogBlog's investigation of the Bakken Shale basin fracking field trip her office facilitated for former CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus, who now works at the Manhattan-based private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR)

David Petraeus Kelly Schmidt

Afghan Elections: Pick Your Poison

No human being wants to be ruled by their people's murderers. Forgiveness through restorative justice may be possible, but being ruled by murderers is asking for too much.

Yet, that seems to be the Hobson's choice behind the Afghan presidential election, which is into its run-off between Dr. Abdullah / Mohaqiq's team and Dr. Ashraf Ghani / General Dostum's team, neither team having won more than 50% of balloted votes in the first round.

Both teams have members who are warlords accused of human rights abuses, as reported by the New York Times, including Dr. Abdullah Abdullah's running mate, Mohammed Mohaqiq, and General Dostum, who is Dr. Ashraf Ghani's vice-presidential candidate.  

General Dostum, allegedly on the CIA's payroll in the past, apologized for his past war crimes when he registered as Dr. Ashraf Ghani's vice-presidential candidate. One of those crimes is the Dasht-e-Leili massacre which occurred in the fall of 2001. New York Times and Newsweek investigations alleged that hundreds or even thousands of surrendering pro-Taliban prisoners died of thirst, hunger and gunshots when they were stuffed into shipping containers for transport to an Afghan prison.

Both presidential hopefuls in the run-off elections on June 14th have already vowed to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, which President Obama mentioned in his surprise visit to Bagram Air Base in Kabul, not even bothering to visit President Karzai who declined to visit him at Bagram.

Article 7 of the Bilateral Security Agreement, states that, "Afghanistan hereby authorizes United States forces to control entry to agreed facilities and areas that have been provided for United States forces' exclusive use…" and also that "Afghanistan shall provide all agreed facilities and areas without charge to United States forces."

Article 13 includes this: "Afghanistan ... agrees that the United States shall have the exclusive right to exercise jurisdiction over such persons in respect of any criminal or civil offenses committed in the territory of Afghanistan."

It is understandable that President Karzai isn't willing to sign the agreement. It may leave a disastrous legacy.

I asked an activist who has been working in Afghanistan for ten years what he thought about the run-off in Afghanistan's elections. "Many Afghans, and people all over the world, are getting more and more cynical about elections," he told me. "And they should be, because how did our psyche become conditioned to accept that by electing corrupt, selfish, proud, wealthy and violent elites every four or five years, our ordinary lives will be changed? Our planet is exasperatingly unequal and militarized. To place in power the ones who continue this status quo is bizarre."

Bizarre, yet disturbingly familiar.

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