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The president’s last con: Obama Falsely Claims He ‘Can’t Pardon’ Snowden Unless the Whistleblower Returns to US to Face Trial
By Dave Lindorff
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
TigerSwan is one of several security firms under investigation for its work guarding the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota while potentially without a permit. Besides this recent work on the Standing Rock Sioux protests in North Dakota, this company has offices in Iraq and Afghanistan and is run by a special forces Army veteran.
Fifteen years ago, on October 19th 2001, Donald Rumsfeld addressed B-2 bomber crews at Whiteman AFB in Missouri, as they prepared to fly halfway across the world to wreak misdirected vengeance on the people of Afghanistan and begin the longest war in U.S. history. Rumsfeld told the bomber crews, “We have two choices. Either we change the way we live, or we must change the way they live. We choose the latter. And you are the ones who will help achieve that goal.”
By Dave Lindorff
Barack Obama came into the White House on a wave of passionate new voters, many of them black or young and white, becoming the nation's first black president and promising a new era of "hope and change."
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
G4S, a company hiring security staff to guard the hotly contested Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), also works to guard oil and gas industry assets in war-torn Iraq, and has come under fire by the United Nations for human rights abuses allegedly committed while overseeing a BP pipeline in Colombia and elsewhere while on other assignments.
Misusing a quote about peace: Obama Calls for Peace and Comity at Home, But Favors Wars and Killer Drones Abroad
By Dave Lindorff
President Barack Obama made an eloquent plea for sanity and peace following the latest deadly assault on police officers -- this time a gunman with an assault rifle shooting and killing three cops in Baton Rouge and wounding another three, one critically injured.
By John Grant
Kill one person, it’s called murder.
Kill 100,000, it’s called foreign policy.
- A popular bumper sticker
Dan Ireland's The Ultimate Arena: The Sacrifice of an American Gladiator is a fictionalized account, speculative in some of the details, but true in all the major facts, to the story of Pat Tillman. Any Good American who "supports the troops" has a duty to read this book, as it recounts the life and death of just about the only troop in recent years to be given a face and a name, if not a voice, by the U.S. media.
The most disturbing question raised for me by this story, as by news reports of the actual events, is unrelated to the killing of Tillman or the lying about it. My question is this: How could this larger-than-life, super-inquisitive, amateur ethicist and philosopher, raised in a uniquely intellectually stimulating and morally instructive family have come to the conclusion that it was a good idea to sign up for participation in mass murder? And secondarily: How, after concluding that he'd been duped and was engaged in purely destructive mass killing, could the same independent rebel have decided it was his moral duty to continue with it, even though he had the ability to easily stop?
This is not a question wholly unique to the case of Tillman. Many of the best veteran advocates for ending war were once among the most passionate believers in the goodness of what they'd signed up to do. But at least in some cases they had grown up in rightwing households. Tillman apparently had not.
Of course, I don't know in detail what Tillman's real childhood and adolescence were. In Ireland's account Tillman had a veteran uncle whose story ought to have turned Tillman against war but in fact -- as is very often the case -- did not completely do so. In Ireland's account Tillman was taught to use violence in personal relations and did so almost routinely.
What we can accept as established fact, however, is that one can grow up in the United States, succeed in school all the way through college, participate in a well-rounded range of activities, and never once encounter a history of war resistance, an argument for war abolition, an ethics class addressing the question of war, a consideration of the illegality of war, or the existence of a peace movement. Tillman, like many veterans I've met, very likely discovered all of these things only after joining the military. For him, in a unique way, but as for many others, that was too late.
In Ireland's account, the financial corruption and opportunism of U.S. wars turned Tillman against them. There's no similar account in the book of the human suffering of mass murder turning him against what he was doing. We are supposed to understand, and as far as we know this is true, that Tillman was prepared to speak against the wars, that he did speak to his fellow troops against the wars, but that he never threatened to set down his weapon or even considered the possibility of doing so.
This fits with the normalization of war that allows people to admire a man for giving up a big football contract to participate in war, and to accept that he became -- like a congressman who votes over and over to fund a war while criticizing it -- an opponent of a war he was participating in.
The most intriguing question raised by Ireland's book is: What could have been? Would Tillman have campaigned for public office, winning votes from war supporters while laying out an antiwar platform? Or would it have been more of an "antiwar" platform, tweaking the imperial machine around the edges?
The power of such an account lies not in these questions, however, but in the fact that hits you like a pro defensive back: each of the millions of deaths brought about by recent wars has been an immense loss, a tragedy, a horror that no words could ever justify.
By John Grant
If our wars were to make killers of all combat soldiers, rather than men who have killed, civilian life would be endangered for generations or, in fact, made impossible.
By Kathy Kelly
Here in Kabul, I read a recent BBC op-ed by Ahmed Rashid, urging a “diplomatic offensive” to build or repair relationships with the varied groups representing armed extremism in Afghanistan. Rashid has insisted, for years, that severe mistrust makes it almost impossible for such groups to negotiate an end to Afghanistan’s nightmare of war.
Glancing upward at one of the six U.S. manufactured aerostat blimps performing constant surveillance over Kabul, I wonder if the expensively high-tech giant’s-eye view encourages a primitive notion that the best way to solve a problem here is to target a “bad guy” and then kill him. If the bad guys appear to be scurrying dots on the ground below, stomp them out.
Crushing only the right dots has proven very difficult for a U.S. drone warfare program documented to have killed many civilians. News sources speculate that the recent drone assassination of Taliban leader Akthar Mansour makes an end to this war far less likely. A commentator for the highly respected Afghan Analyst Network has written that “with the U.S. killing Akhtar Mansur, it is unlikely the Taleban will be set on anything but revenge for now, as can be understood from the movement’s political psychology… There is no reason to believe the fighting will de-escalate with the new leadership.”
Was that simple prediction available to the U.S.' giant's-eye view?
My young friends among the Afghan Peace Volunteers have shown me a vastly different approach toward problem solving. In a sense, they’ve been launching a diplomatic outreach, refining their approach through trial and error over the course of several years, taking careful steps toward building trust between different ethnic groups, and also relying on their own personal stories to help them understand the cares and concerns of others. Throughout their efforts they’ve tried to be guided by Gandhi’s advice about considering the poorest person’s needs before making a decision.
What has brought a non-violent future closer to Afghanistan – giant sized military and surveillance systems or the accomplishments of young volunteers working to develop inter-ethnic projects?
20 teams are working at the Borderfree Center organizing practical activities within communities coping with multiple economic woes, including food insecurity, unemployment, and inadequate income for meeting basic needs.
Young people travel to and from the Center along unpaved roads lined on both sides with sewage filled drainage ditches. Traffic is chaotic, and the air is so polluted that many wear protective face masks. Day laborers congregate at intersections waiting in desperation for the opportunity to perform hard labor for $2.00 a day or less.
Even those fortunate enough to receive an education will likely face extreme difficulty in finding a job. Unemployment is at an all-time high of 40% and many jobs are attained only through ‘connections.’
Throughout Kabul, refugees crowd into squalid, sprawling camps where people live without adequate protection from harsh weather. According to The U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, between Jan. 1 and April 30 this year, “117,976 people fled their homes due to conflict.” And, the U.N. says it has only received 16 percent of funds needed for humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan this year.
Nisar, one of the students at the Borderfree Center’s Street Kids School, understands destitution all too well. He has been earning an income for his family since he was a small child, working as a shoeshine boy on Kabul streets and also in a butcher shop. Now, at age 17, he will soon graduate from three years of classes with the Street Kids School. In the past year, he has been a steady volunteer, taking on responsibilities with the duvet project and the organic gardening team. Nisar says that when he first came to the Center, three years ago, he felt astonished to see people from different ethnic backgrounds sitting together. Nisar’s family comes from the Wardak province, and relatives of his are among those who recently fled the Taleban. He clearly understands the terrible risks that armed struggle could bring, even here in “Ka-bubble” as Kabul is sometimes called because of the relative calm that still prevails here. In spite of tensions, Nisar feels sure that when people learn to overcome their fears and start talking with one another, they can set aside hatreds taught to them at young ages.
U.S. planners, heads lost in the sky, seemingly pay little heed to developing ways of building trust. Resources are gobbled up by gigantic multinational “defense” companies dedicated to the task of further, trampling warfare, while withholding anything like the quantity of resources needed for the task of repairing the wreckage they themselves have caused.
U.S. think tanks cleverly promote cartoonized versions of foreign policy wherein the mighty giant strikes a fist and eliminates the “bad guy” whom we are told has caused our problems. But I believe U.S. people would be better off if we could see the often-suffering communities that show admirable qualities as they try to survive. We could learn from their efforts to build mutual trust and solidarity, and their courage to reject war. We could insist that the massively well-endowed US and NATO powers finally acknowledge that the best hopes for a lasting peace come when communities experience a measure of stability and prosperity. The giant powers could help alleviate the desperate need faced by people enduring hunger, disease and homelessness.
U.S. people should earnestly ask how the U.S. could help build trust here in Afghanistan, and, as a first step, begin transferring funds from the coffers of weapon companies to the UN accounts trying to meet humanitarian needs. The “giant” could be seen stooping, humbly, to help plant seeds, hoping for a humane harvest.
By Bill Distler
"Privatization of Afghanistan's state-owned companies, which controlled many of the country's mineral resources, was ongoing but not complete." (From the 2011 edition of the U.S. Geological Survey's Minerals Yearbook)
We have been at war in Afghanistan for over 14 years. This answers the first four journalistic questions of who, what, where, and when, but it doesn’t answer the most important question. Why?
To understand U.S. involvement in Afghanistan today it might help if we re-learn a common term from the Old West. The term is “claim-jumping”. In the history of the Old West, as taught to us by Hollywood movies of the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, claim-jumpers were right up there with the bushwackers, dry-gulchers, cattle rustlers, and horse thieves who played the necessary villains of the story. Some of our greatest Hollywood heroes, including Audie Murphy (a World War II hero in real life), the Lone Ranger, Gabby Hayes, and John Wayne, had run-ins with these varmints.
The Borderfree Cycling Solidarity ride, 9th March 2016
Speak with the Afghan Peace Volunteers
Monday, March 21, 2016
Beginning at 4 pm Kabul, Afghanistan time; 7:30 am Eastern time (US)
Feeling the warmth of Spring : Nowruz is here, now!
Growing peace from a good relationship with our friends in war-torn places.
Listen to the conversation live: GlobalDaysofListening.
4 – 7pm : Kabul, Afghanistan
1:30 – 4:30 pm : Gaza, Palestine; Israel
12:30 – 3:30 pm : UK
7:30 – 10:30 am : Eastern time US
JOIN THE CALL see the schedule
By Phillip Butler, PhD, CDR, USN (ret.)
Robert Bowdrie “Bowe” Bergdahl was held as a POW by the Taliban for 5 years and now for over a year by the U.S. Army at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. He has received constant treatment from an Army psychiatrist but he has not been returned to his family and home in Hailey, Idaho. Thus in my opinion his recovery and reintegration process has probably done more harm than good by continuing his isolation from the world. But his treatment after repatriation is more about politics than his service or U.S. Army procedures. Consequently, after what he has gone through and endured, he should be freed with an honorable discharge and all of his pay and benefits. Anything less would be an injustice.
Bowe was born in 1986, to Robert and Jani Bergdahl. He and his sister Skye were home-schooled by Jani in Hailey, Idaho. He received a GED certificate through the College of Southern Idaho when he was in his early 20s. He studied and practiced fencing, martial arts and ballet, but has never owned a car, and has ridden his bicycle everywhere. Bowe also spent time in a Buddhist monastery. In 2006 he entered basic training in the United States Coast Guard but was discharged after 26 days for psychological reasons and received an "uncharacterized discharge." In 2008 he enlisted in the United States Army and graduated from the infantry school at Fort Benning, Georgia. He was then assigned to the 4th Brigade Combat Team, based at Fort Richardson, Alaska. So why was he enlisted in the Army and assigned to combat after being released from the Coast Guard for psychological reasons?
Bowe was known to be a quiet loner but not a troublemaker. He studied maps of Afghanistan and was learning to speak Pashto according to other soldiers with him. His unit was sent to an outpost named Mest-Malak in Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. On June 30, 2009, only a year after his enlistment, Private First Class Bergdahl went missing from his unit. The exact circumstances of his disappearance and subsequent capture are not clearly known. But what is clearly known is that Bowe Bergdahl was a prisoner of war of the Afghanistan Taliban for the next 5 years.
There are subsequent claims that soldiers were killed as a result of Bowe’s disappearance and capture. But a review of media reports shows that Sergeant Bergdahl’s critics appear to be blaming him for every American soldier killed in Paktika Province in the four-month period that followed his disappearance. Thus began the politicization of Bowe’s life, during the 5 years of his captivity, during the prisoner exchange that freed Bowe by President Obama, and now with decisions relating to punishment by the Army.
Bowe has related that he was tortured, beaten, and held in a cage by his Taliban captors in Afghanistan after an escape attempt. He also told medical officials that he was locked in a metal cage in total darkness for weeks at a time as punishment for trying to escape. He was aPOW for 5 years by himself with no other Americans, and no prior training on how to conduct himself or to resist as a POW.
A personal note here: I was held for 8 years as a POW in Vietnam, along with hundreds of other American airmen as time went along after my capture. I was trained prior in a Navy survival school. And I was a Navy Lieutenant, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. So unlike Bowe, not only did I have training for the possible eventuality of being captured but I was also with fellow Americans. We were able to support each other and resist as an organized, military, team. What a difference from the circumstances of PFC Bowe Bergdahl. What a difference we experienced upon repatriation, welcomed as returning heroes. Bowe is being court martialed.
At first when the recommendation for Non Judicial Punishment was made public, Senator John McCain, let it be known that if there were no more severe punishment for Sergeant Bergdahl, the Senate Armed Services Committee of which Senator McCain is chair, would hold its own hearing. He said “I am not prejudging, OK, but it is well-known that in the searches for Bergdahl, after-we know now-he deserted, there are allegations that some American soldiers were killed or wounded, or at the very least put their lives in danger, searching for what is clearly a deserter. We need to have a hearing on that.” Senator McCain thus ignored the fact that no soldiers had been killed or wounded while searching for Sergeant Bergdahl.
Senator McCain’s Senate Armed Services Committee also decides on promotions and assignments for high-ranking military officers - like General Robert Abrams. And now General Abrams is the general who has decided to disregard the recommendation of NJP for Sgt. Bergdahl. On December 14th, 2015, General Abrams announced his decision that Sergeant Bergdahl will face a general court-martial and the possibility of life in prison.
So here we are, and here Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is. A one-year experienced Private First Class soldier, now facing a possible life-in-prison penalty in an Army Court Martial. But this is what always happens when very junior military people are made to suffer for much greater transgressions. The greater questions are of course being ignored: Why and how did our military come to be so politicized? Why are we fighting in Afghanistan in the first place? What President and Administration got us in illegally and immorally, from the beginning? Why aren’t they being punished?
We all need to examine what is really going on here. The upcoming court martial of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is just a signpost of a much deeper, cancerous infection. And punishing this low-ranking man who never should have been in the Army in the first place is anathema to any kind of justice.Free Bowe Bergdahl!
Phillip Butler, PhD CDR, USN, (ret.)
Veterans For Peace, Chapter 46
DNC defection: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s Surprise Endorsement Gives Sanders a Chance to Change the Whole Primary Game
By Dave Lindorff
Just as the media, in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s landslide win in South Carolina’s Democratic primary Saturday, are predictably writing the obituary for Bernie Sanders’ upstart and uphill campaign for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) has handed him an opportunity to jolt the American people awake.
In October 2001, the U.S. launched its invasion of Afghanistan largely through proxy Afghan fighters with the help of Special Operations forces, American air power, and CIA dollars. The results were swift and stunning. The Taliban was whipped, a new government headed by Hamid Karzai soon installed in Kabul, and the country declared "liberated."
Conversation with activist Alfredo Lopez: The Left Needs to ‘Own’ Bernie Sanders to Ensure He Delivers on Campaign Promises
By Dave Lindorff
Rethinking Bernie Sanders: Attacking Wall Street and the Corrupt US Political System Makes Sanders a Genuine Revolutionary
By Dave Lindorff
I admit I’ve been slow to warm up to the idea of supporting Bernie Sanders. Maybe it’s because I publicly backed Barack Obama in 2008 and quickly came to rue that decision after he took office.
Speak with the Afghan Peace Volunteers
Beginning at 5 pm Kabul, Afghanistan time; 7:30 am Eastern time (US)
Listen to Gemma Bulos, Director of Global Women's Water Initiative
on-line live (time being arranged, stay-tuned)
Listen to the conversation live: GlobalDaysofListening.
5 – 8 pm : Kabul, Afghanistan
2:30 – 5:30 pm : Gaza, Palestine; Israel
12:30 – 3:30 pm : UK
7:30 – 10:30 am : Eastern time US
JOIN THE CALL see the schedule
By Kathy Kelly
In Kabul, where the Afghan Peace Volunteers have hosted me in their community, the U.S. military maintains a huge blimp equipped with cameras and computers to supply 24 hour surveillance of the city. Remotely piloted drones, operated by Air Force and Air National Guard personnel in U.S. bases, also fly over Afghanistan, feeding U.S. military analysts miles of camera footage, every day. Billions of dollars have been invested in a variety of blimps which various vendors, such as Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, and Aeros have shipped to Afghanistan. All of this surveillance purportedly helps establish “patterns of life” in Afghanistan and bring security to people living here. But this sort of “intelligence” discloses very little about experiences of poverty, chaos, hunger, child labor, homelessness, and unemployment which afflict families across Afghanistan.
This morning, Zarghuna listed for me the survey questions that she and her young colleagues ask when they visit families in Kabul. The family visits help them choose participants in the Borderfree Street Kids School and the Duvet Project. The survey teams also help with plans for a “Food Bank” that the Afghan Peace Volunteers hope to open sometime in the coming year.
The questions Zarghuna and the survey team use may seem simple.
How many times a week does your family have a serving of beans? Do you rent your home? Can anyone in your family read and write? Child laborers are asked to tell about what type of work they do in the streets, how many hours they work each day and how much money they earn.
But the answers open up excruciatingly painful situations as many family members explain that they never have adequate food, that the only person earning an income is one of the children, that once they pay rent for the mud home in which they live, they have no remaining funds for food, blankets, fuel or clean water.
I’ve watched the young volunteers work hard to develop useful survey questions and discuss ways to be sensitive as they visit families and try to build trust. Sometimes very difficult arguments erupt over which families are most needy.
As the Pentagon decides about investments in aerial, remotely controlled surveillance capacities, disagreements over which proposals to support have arisen within the various military forces. Defense companies pay handsome salaries to former military leaders who will advocate for one or another program. Afghanistan has become a “proving ground” where different “protective” systems have been tested, including successive generations of Predator and Reaper drones and the aerostat “blimps.”
In Afghanistan, an October 11, 2015 accident involving a U.S. military blimp cost the lives of five people. The Intercept reported that “a British military helicopter was coming in for a landing at NATO headquarters, where the blimp is moored. According to an eyewitness who spoke to the BBC, the helicopter hit the tether, which then wrapped itself around the rotors. The helicopter crashed, killing five people --two U.S. service members, two British service members, and a French contract civilian—and injuring five more.”
Among opponents of continued funding for blimp surveillance, blimp accidents are but one of many criticisms raised. Some Army leaders argue that even a fully functioning blimp borne air defense system would be irrelevant in terms of the kinds of attacks that threaten U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Los Angeles Times notes that “the weapons that were killing and maiming U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan were crude rockets, artillery and improvised explosive devices.”
Other real and life threatening threats afflict many Afghan people, especially the 40% of the population who live beneath the poverty level. These threats are invisible to surveillance carried on by blimps or drones.
A UN Human Development Report recently revealed that Afghanistan has slipped to 171st of 173 countries in terms of development.
The UN report says that an Afghan person can, on average, expect to live 60 years. According to the CIA World Fact Book, the average life span here is 50 years.
In 2015, 1.2 million Afghans were internally displaced and about 160,000 people fled to Europe.
The U.S. military continues to invest billions of dollars in the “surveys” accomplished by blimps and drones. Certainly poverty and desperation cause people to fight against foreigners who have invaded and occupied their country.
If U.S. resources spent on unproductive military surveillance of Afghans were dedicated to assessments of both U.S. and Afghan people burdened by poverty, unemployment, hunger, disease and climate change, today’s U.S. generations would be less willing to feed their tax money to the insatiable appetite of the “defense” corporations and their illusions of omniscient security.
Talk Nation Radio: Cian Westmoreland, former U.S. Air Force technician in Afghanistan, speaks against war
Cian Westmoreland is a former Air Force technician who served in Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan at the 73rd Expeditionary Air Control Squadron. He assisted in building a signal relay station that was used for transmitting and receiving data, radio, and radar picture for unmanned and manned missions for approximately 250,000 square miles over Afghanistan. In a report provided to him after his tour, he was credited with assisting in 2,400 close air support missions and 200+ kills of supposed enemies. The UNAMA report for that year, 2009, claimed however that this number also included 359 civilians killed in airstrikes. Westmoreland discusses his experience.
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Veterans For Peace is dismayed by the Army’s decision to charge Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl with desertion and endangering troops, for which, if convicted, he could potentially face life in prison. We believe that Sgt. Bergdahl should be freed from the Army with an Honorable Discharge.
Bowe Bergdahl is a prisoner of war, three times over. First the U.S. government sent him on Mission Impossible, to salvage its illegal, immoral and unwinnable war in Afghanistan. Then he was captured by the Taliban, who held him prisoner under brutal conditions for five years. Now Sgt. Bergdahl is prisoner to an orgy of militaristic politics in the most fear-mongering election year in memory. Republican front runner Donald Trump has publicly called Bergdahl a “dirty, rotten traitor” and suggested he should be executed.
Did Sgt. Bergdahl walk away from his post in Afghanistan? Yes, by his own account he did so, in order to bring attention to poor leadership which he believed was endangering his fellow soldiers. Resistance to Mission Impossible takes many forms. Bowe Bergdahl may not have been explicitly protesting against the war in Afghanistan, but by taking drastic action he sent a distress signal.
Bergdahl is charged with Desertion to Avoid Hazardous Duty, and Misbehavior Before the Enemy, which respectively, carry maximum sentences of five years and life in prison. Charging him with serious crimes in a General Court Martial appears to be a political decision. It overrides the recommendation of the Army’s own investigating officer, who said that Bergdahl’s actions did not warrant either jail time or a punitive discharge. The investigating officer recommended, at most, a Special Court Martial which can mete out a maximum sentence of one year in prison.
Bowe Bergdahl is clearly not guilty of desertion. It cannot be proven that he was attempting to avoid hazardous duty or to remain away from his unit indefinitely. The Misbehavior Before the Enemy Charge asserts that Bowe Bergdahl’s actions put his fellow soldiers at risk. It has even been said that soldiers died looking for him. However, no evidence has been provided to back up this claim.
It was the U.S. government that put our soldiers at risk by sending them to invade Afghanistan and to occupy it for going on 15 years. Nearly 2,200 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, including six who were killed just this week by a suicide bomber at Bagram Air Force Base. None of these soldiers died as a result of Sgt. Bergdahl’s actions.
Bowe Bergdahl is being made the scapegoat for the failed policies for the disastrous U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, which has caused the deaths of tens of thousands of Afghan men, women and children.
Bowe Bergdahl remains a Prisoner of War. Veterans For Peace demands that Sgt. Bergdahl be freed immediately with an Honorable Discharge.
Veterans For Peace is also concerned about the 9,800 U.S. troops who remain in Afghanistan, hostages to a failed policy, with targets on their backs. The U.S. government should withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan immediately and finally bring that long U.S. war to an end.
FREE BOWE BERGDAHL! U.S. OUT OF AFGHANISTAN!
By Dr Hakim
Former MSF Kunduz Hospital pharmacist, Khalid Ahmad, recuperating at Emergency Hospital in Kabul
“I feel very angry, but I don’t want anything from the U.S. military,” said Khalid Ahmad, a 20 year old pharmacist who survived the U.S. bombing of the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) / Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Kunduz on the 3rd of October, “God will hold them accountable.”
The actions of the U.S. military elicit the same contempt from Khalid and many ordinary Afghans as the actions of the Taliban or the ISIS.
Khalid was a little wary when Zuhal, Hoor and I were introduced to him in a ward of Emergency Hospital in Kabul, where he has been recuperating from a U.S. shrapnel injury to his spine that nearly killed him.
But, immediately, I saw his care for others. “Please bring a chair for him,” Khalid told his brother, not wanting me to be uncomfortable in squatting next to him, as we began our conversation in the corridor space outside the ward.
Having just recovered strength in his legs, he had walked tentatively to the corridor, making sure his urinary catheter bag wasn’t in the way as he sat down.
The autumn sun revealed tired lines on his face, as if even ‘skin’ can get permanently traumatized by the shock of bomb blasts.
“The Taliban had already taken control of all areas in Kunduz except the MSF Hospital and the airport. I felt I could still serve the patients safely because neither the Afghan /U.S. military forces nor the Taliban would bother us. At least, they’re not supposed to.” Khalid paused imperceptibly.
“As a neutral humanitarian service,” Khalid continued, “we treat everyone alike, as patients needing help. We recognize everyone as a human being.”
“I wasn’t scheduled to be on duty the night of the incident, but my supervisor asked me to help because the hospital was swarmed with larger numbers of patients that week.”
“I was sleeping when the bombing began at about 2 a.m. I went to see what was happening, and to my horror, I saw that the ICU was on fire, the flames appearing to shoot 10 meters up into the night sky. Some patients were burning in their beds.”
“I was petrified.”
“It was so frightening. The bombing and firing continued, and following after the bombs were showers of ‘laser-like flashes’ which were flammable, catching and spreading the fire.”
What were those laser-like flashes?
“With two other colleagues, I rushed to the guard house, which was about five metres from the hospital’s main gate. In the guard house were four security guards. We all decided to make a run for the hospital gate, to escape the bombing.”
Khalid’s eyes cringed a little, disappointment soaking his voice. Such shock can be too much for a human being to bear; irreparable disappointment at the U.S. military for attacking a humanitarian, medical facility, and an unfair guilty disappointment with self for having escaped death while colleagues were killed.
“The first person ran. Then another. It was my turn.”
“I took off and just as I reached the gate, with one foot outside the gate and one foot inside the hospital compound, a shrapnel hit me on my back.”
“I lost power in both legs, and fell. Dazed, I dragged myself to a nearby ditch and threw myself in.”
“I was bleeding quickly from my back, the blood pooling at my sides. Feeling that my end was near, I was desperate to call my family. My colleagues and I had taken out the batteries from our cell phones because the U.S. military has a way of tracking and target-killing people by picking up their cell phone signals. With one good arm, somehow, I pulled out my phone and inserted its battery.”
“Mom, I’m injured, and don’t have time. Could you pass the phone to dad?”
“What happened, my son?”
“Please pass the phone to dad!”
“What happened, my son?”
I could almost hear his distraught mother wondering what could have happened to her son who should have been safe in the hospital environment.
“Mom, there’s no time left. Pass the phone to dad.”
“I then asked my dad for forgiveness for any wrong I had done. I was feeling faint, and dropped the phone.”
“In my half-consciousness, the phone rang and it was my cousin. He asked me what had happened, and instructed me to use my clothes to stop the bleeding. I yanked a vest off myself, threw it behind my back and laid on it.”
“I must have passed out, as my next memory was of hearing my cousin’s voice and other voices, and being taken to the kitchen of the hospital where some basic first aid was being given to many injured persons.”
“I saw people with amputated limbs. Some of my colleagues, some of my colleagues….what wrong had we done? Is this what we get for serving people? ”
As I struggled emotionally to register Khalid’s story in my mind, I remembered my own training and practice as a doctor in hospitals, and I wished there was a global conversation about the failure of the Geneva Conventions to protect civilians, and health facilities. The European Council in Brussels in 2003 estimated that since 1990, almost 4 million people have died in wars, 90% of whom were civilians.
I also wished that more individuals could respond to UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres who declared in a June 2015 press releasethat “We are witnessing a paradigm change….It is terrifying that on the one hand there is more and more impunity for those starting conflicts, and on the other there is seeming utter inability of the international community to work together to stop wars and build and preserve peace.”
A positive way to respond would be to join MSF, as well as ICRC President Peter Maurer and UN Head Ban Ki Moon in saying, “Enough! Even war has rules!”, that is, we can sign MSF’s petition for an #independent investigationof the Kunduz MSF Hospital bombing.
Passively accepting the Pentagon’s confessional report of ‘human error’resulting in the killing of 31 staff and patients in the Kunduz Hospital bombing would allow the U.S. and other militaries to continue breaching laws and conventions with impunity, like in Yemen right now.
The International Committee of the Red Cross reported in October that nearly 100 hospitals in Yemen had been attacked since March 2015. Just as recently as 2nd December, Khalid’s haunting story repeated itself in Taiz, Yemen, where an MSF clinic was attacked by the Saudi coalition forces, prompting Karline Kleijer, MSF operational manager for Yemen, to say that every nation backing the Yemen war, including the U.S., must answer for the Yemen MSF clinic bombing.
Khalid’s story was already haunting me, “To transport me, they used body bags meant for the dead. Feeble as I was, I panicked and made sure they heard me protesting, ‘I’m not dead!’ I heard someone say, “We know, don’t worry, we have no choice but to make do.”
“My cousin brought me to a hospital in Baghlan Province which had unfortunately been abandoned because of fighting in the area. So, I was taken to Pul-e-Khumri, and on the way, because I had slightly long hair, I heard shouting directed at us, ‘Hey, what are you doing with a Talib?’. My cousin had to assure them that I was not a Talib.”
So many possible fatal ‘human errors’ and mistakes….
“There was no available help in Pul-e-Khumri too, so I was finally brought to this hospital in Kabul. I’ve had five surgical operations so far,” Khalid said, his voice fading off a little, “and I needed two litres of blood in all.”
It struck me from Khalid’s account that the U.S. military could bomb a health facility by what Kate Clark of the Afghan Analysts Network suggested as ‘ripping up the rule book’, and then, not take any measures whatsoever after the bombing to treat casualties like Khalid and many others. If you are a civilian bombed by the U.S. military, you’ll have to fend for yourself!
Khalid sighed, “I’m grateful that I’ve been given a second life. Some of my colleagues…they weren’t so lucky.”
Khalid was exhausted. I understood from working in Afghanistan over the past years of a worsening war that his exhaustion wasn’t just physical. “I’m angry. The U.S. military is killing us just because they want to be the Empire of the world.”
Khalid asked why we wanted to take his photograph. His question reminded me of what we as individuals can do: taking and seeing his photo in this article isn’t going to be enough.
He steadied himself in the chair, placed his urine bag out of the camera’s view and said with full dignity, “I want my story to be heard.”
Hakim, ( Dr. Teck Young, Wee ) is a medical doctor from Singapore who has done humanitarian and social enterprise work in Afghanistan for the past 10 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.
A half century of US hospital bombings: Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
By Dave Lindorff
“US forces would never intentionally strike a hospital.”
-- US Commander of NATO Forces in Afghanistan Gen. John Campbell
Let’s begin with the $12 billion in shrink-wrapped $100 bills, Iraqi oil money held in the U.S. The Bush administration began flying it into Baghdad on C-130s soon after U.S. troops entered that city in April 2003. Essentially dumped into the void that had once been the Iraqi state, at least $1.2 to $1.6 billion of it was stolen and ended up years later in a mysterious bunker in Lebanon. And that’s just what happened as the starting gun went off.
No more veterans!: November 11 or Armistice Day Began as a Time to Contemplate Peace, Not to Celebrate War and Warriors
By Dave Lindorff
By Brian Terrell
When I arrived at the Kabul International Airport on November 4, I was unaware that the same day the New York Times published an article, “Life Pulls Back in Afghan Capital, as Danger Rises and Troops Recede.” My friends Abdulhai and Ali, 17 years old, young men I have known since my first visit five years ago, greeted me with smiles and hugs and took my bags. Disregarded by soldiers and police armed with automatic weapons, we caught up on old times as we walked past concrete blast walls, sand bag fortifications, check points and razor wire to the public road and hailed a cab.
The sun was just burning through the clouds after an early morning rain and I had never seen Kabul look so bright and clean. Once past the airport, the high way into the city was bustling with rush hour traffic and commerce. I was unaware until I read the New York Times on line a few days later, that this time I was one of only a few US citizens likely to be on that road. “The American Embassy’s not allowed to move by road anymore,” a senior Western official told the Times, which reported further that “after 14 years of war, of training the Afghan Army and the police, it has become too dangerous to drive the mile and a half from the airport to the embassy.”
Helicopters now ferry employees working with the United States and the international military coalition to and from offices in Kabul we are told. The United States Embassy in Kabul is one of the largest in the world and already a largely self-contained community, its personnel are now even more isolated from Afghan people and institutions than before. “No one else,” other than US and coalition facilities, the Times reports, “has a compound with a landing pad.” While proclaiming its mission there “Operation Resolute Support” for Afghanistan, US officials no longer travel on Afghan streets.
We have no helicopters or landing pads, but the security situation in Kabul is also a concern for Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a grass roots peace and human rights organization that I work with and for our friends in the Kabul-based Afghan Peace Volunteers that I came to visit. I am fortunate with my grey beard and darker complexion to more easily pass for a local and so I can move about a bit more freely on the streets than some other internationals who visit here. Even then, my young friends have me wear a turban when we leave the house.
The security in Kabul does not look so grim to everyone, though. According to an October 29 Newsweek report, the German government will soon deport most of the Afghan asylum seekers who have entered that country. German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere insists that Afghans should “stay in their country” and that those refugees coming from Kabul especially have no claim for asylum, because Kabul is “considered to be a safe area.” The streets of Kabul that are too dangerous for US Embassy workers to travel in their convoys of Humvees and armored cars escorted by heavily armed private contractors are safe for Afghans to live, work and raise their families, in Herr de Maiziere’s estimation. “Afghans made up more than 20 percent of the 560,000-plus people who have arrived in Europe by sea in 2015, according to the UN Refugee Agency, something de Maziere described as ‘unacceptable.’”
Afghans, especially of the educated middle class, de Maiziere says, “should remain and help build the country up.” Quoted in the New York Times, Hasina Safi, the executive director of the Afghan Women’s Network, a group that works on human rights and gender issues, seems to agree: “It will be very difficult if all the educated people leave,” she said. “These are the people we need in this country; otherwise, who will help the ordinary people?” The same sentiment spoken with stunning courage and moral credibility by a human rights worker in Afghanistan, comes off as a disgraceful and craven obfuscation of responsibility when expressed from a government ministry in Berlin, especially when that government has for 14 years participated in the coalition responsible for much of Afghanistan’s plight.
On the day after my arrival I was privileged to sit in at a meeting of teachers in the Afghan Peace Volunteers’ Street Kids’ School when this subject was discussed. These young women and men, high school and university students themselves, teach the basics of a primary education to children who must work in the streets of Kabul to help support their families. The parents do not pay tuition, but with the support of Voices, are instead allotted a sack of rice and jug of cooking oil each month to compensate for the hours their children are studying.
While the New York Times proclaims that “Life Pulls Back in Afghan Capital,” these volunteer teachers are a sign that life goes on, sometimes with startling joy and abundance as I have experienced in recent days, even in this place ravaged by war and want. It was heart breaking, then, to hear these brilliant, resourceful and creative young people who clearly represent Afghanistan’s best hope for the future, discuss frankly whether they have a future there at all and whether they should join so many other Afghans seeking sanctuary elsewhere.
The reasons that any of these young people might leave are many and impelling. There is great fear of suicide bombings in Kabul, air raids in the provinces where anyone might be targeted as a combatant by a US drone, fear of getting caught between various combatant forces fighting battles that are not theirs. All have suffered greatly in the wars that began here before they were born. The institutions charged with the reconstruction of their country are riddled with corruption, from Washington, DC, to Afghan government ministries and NGOs, billions of dollars gone to graft with little to show on the ground. The prospects even for the brightest and most resourceful to pursue an education and then be able to find work in their chosen professions in Afghanistan are not good.
Most of the volunteers admitted that they had given thought to leaving, but even so they expressed a strong sense of responsibility to stay in their county. Some had come to a firm resolution not to leave, others seemed unsure if future developments would allow them to stay. Like young people everywhere, they would love to travel and see the world but in the end their deepest wish is to “remain and help build the country up” if only they are able.
The vast majority of Afghans, Iraqis, Syrians, Libyans and others risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean Sea in flimsy crafts or by land through hostile territory in hopes to find asylum in Europe would stay home if they could. While these asylum seekers should be given the hospitality and shelter that they have a right to, clearly the answer is not the absorption of millions of refugees into Europe and North America. In the longer term, there is no solution except a restructuring of the global political and economic order to allow all people to live and flourish at home or to freely move if that is their choice. In the shorter term, nothing will stem the massive tide of immigrants short of stopping all military intervention in these countries by the United States and its allies and by Russia.
The November 4 New York Times story ends with a cautionary tale, a warning that “even efforts to avoid the dangers in Kabul come at a terrible cost.” Three weeks before, one of the many helicopters that now fill the skies moving embassy personnel around had a tragic accident. “Trying to land, the pilot clipped the tether anchoring the surveillance blimp that scans for infiltrators in central Kabul as it hovers over the Resolute Support base.” Five coalition members died in the crash, including two Americans. The blimp drifted off with more than a million dollars’ worth of surveillance equipment, ultimately crashing into, and presumably destroying, an Afghan house.
The efforts of the US, UK and Germany “to avoid the dangers in Kabul” and other places we have destroyed will inevitably “come at a terrible cost.” It cannot be otherwise. We cannot forever keep ourselves safe from the bloody mess we have made of the world by hopping over it from fortified helipad to fortified helipad in helicopter gunships. Millions of refugees flooding our borders might be the smallest price we will have to pay if we continue to try.
Brian Terrell lives in Maloy, Iowa, and is a co-coordinator with Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org)