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A few thoughts on this.
Bergdahl had a legal responsibility to walk away from an illegal war. It's not completely confirmed that he did so, but he's blamed for it, when he should be praised for it.
His father read my book War Is A Lie and had it on his desk for interviews earlier this year. Bergdahl wrote a last note to his father before disappearing, which he began: "The future is too good to waste on lies." He went on to describe the murderous assault of an arrogant, ignorant occupation in which soldiers chatted about running over children and openly insluted Afghans to their faces and treated them as dirt.
Did attempts to rescue Bergdahl result in U.S. deaths? Probably Afghan deaths to. The whole war has resulted and will continue to result in many thousands of innocent deaths and deaths of occupying troops. Amont the latter, the top killer is suicide. How do you pick a low-ranking scapegoat to blame for the suicides? You have to blame the war chiefly on those in Washington and other capitals waging it, and secondarily on those taking part, not on someone who chose to cease being part of something criminal and evil.
Payments to kidnappers -- and to drone victims' and other war victims' families -- are often hushed up. Are they made incompetently in a nation the occupiers do not know? Undoubtedly. But the CIA paid an American con-man in recenty years who claimed to see secret messages in Al Jazeera. The root of the incompetence may be arrogant unacountability.
But should such payments be made? Yes. And I would radically enlarge them by paying 10% of war costs to transform regions of the globe for the better, cancel the wars, and use the other 90 percent for something useful.
By Kathy Kelly
News agencies reported Saturday morning that weeks ago President Obama signed an order, kept secret until now, to authorize continuation of the Afghan war for at least another year. The order authorizes U.S. airstrikes “to support Afghan military operations in the country” and U.S. ground troops to continue normal operations, which is to say, to “occasionally accompany Afghan troops” on operations against the Taliban.
The administration, in its leak to the New York Times, affirmed that there had been “heated debate” between Pentagon advisers and others in Obama’s cabinet chiefly concerned not to lose soldiers in combat. Oil strategy isn't mentioned as having been debated and neither is further encirclement of China, but the most notable absence in the reporting was any mention of cabinet members’ concern for Afghan civilians affected by air strikes and ground troop operations, in a country already afflicted by nightmares of poverty and social breakdown.
Here are just three events, excerpted from an August 2014 Amnesty International report, which President Obama and his advisors should have considered (and allowed into a public debate) before once more expanding the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan:
1) In September, 2012 a group of women from an impoverished village in mountainous Laghman province were collecting firewood when a U.S. plane dropped at least two bombs on them, killing seven and injuring seven others, four of them seriously. One villager, Mullah Bashir, told Amnesty, “…I started searching for my daughter. Finally I found her. Her face was covered with blood and her body was shattered.”
2) A U.S. Special Operations Forces unit was responsible for extrajudicial killing, torture and enforced disappearances during the period of December, 2012 to February, 2013. Included among those tortured was 51 year old Qandi Agha, “a petty employee of the Ministry of Culture,” who described in detail the various torture techniques he suffered. He was told that he would be tortured using “14 different types of torture”. These included: Beatings with cables, electric shock, prolonged, painful stress positions, repeated head first dunking in a barrel of water, and burial in a hole full of cold water for entire nights. He said that both US Special Forces and Afghans participated in the torture and often smoked hashish while doing so.
3) On March 26, 2013 the village of Sajawand was attacked by joint Afghan—ISAF (International Special Assistance Forces). Between 20-30 people were killed including children. After the attack, a cousin of one of the villagers visited the scene and stated, ”The first thing I saw as I entered the compound was a little child of maybe three years old whose chest was torn apart; you could see inside her body. The house was turned into a pile of mud and poles and there was nothing left. When we were taking out the bodies we didn’t see any Taliban among the dead, and we didn’t know why they were hit or killed.”
NYT coverage of the leaked debate mentions Obama's promise, made earlier this year and now broken, to withdraw troops. The article doesn’t make any other mention of U.S. public opposition to a continuation of the war.
Attempts to remake Afghanistan by military force have resulted in warlordism, ever more widespread and desperate poverty, and bereavement for hundreds of thousands whose loved ones are among the tens of thousands of casualties. Area hospitals report seeing fewer IED injuries and many more bullet wounds from pitched battles between rival armed militias whose allegiances, Taliban, government, or other, are hard to determine. With 40% of U.S. weapon supplies to Afghan security forces now unaccounted for, many of the weapons employed on all sides may have been supplied by the U.S.
Meanwhile the implications for U.S. democracy aren’t reassuring. Was this decision really made weeks ago but only announced now that congressional elections are safely over? Was a Friday night cabinet leak, buried between official Administration announcements on immigration and Iran sanctions, really the President’s solution to the unpopularity of a decision affecting the lives of so many? With concern for the wishes of U.S. citizens given so little weight, it is doubtful that much thought was given to the terrible costs of these military interventions for ordinary people trying to live, raise families and survive in Afghanistan.
But for those whose “heated debates” focus solely on what is best for U.S. national interests, here are a few suggestions:
1) The U.S. should end its current provocative drive toward military alliances and encirclement of Russia and China with missiles. It should accept pluralism of economic and political power in the contemporary world. Present U.S. policies are provoking a return to Cold War with Russia and possibly beginning one with China. This is a lose/lose proposition for all countries involved.
2) By a resetting of policy focused on cooperation with Russia, China and other influential countries within the framework of the United Nations, the United States could foster international mediation.
3) The U.S. should offer generous medical and economic aid and technical expertise wherever it may be helpful in other countries and thus build a reservoir of international goodwill and positive influence.
That’s something that nobody would have to keep secret.
By Kathy Kelly
On November 7, 2014, while visiting Kabul, The Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, noted that NATO will soon launch a new chapter, a new non-combat mission in Afghanistan. But it’s difficult to spot new methods as NATO commits itself to sustaining combat on the part of Afghan forces.
Stoltenberg commended NATO Allies and partner nations from across the world, in an October 29th speech, in Brussels, declaring that for over a decade, they “stood shoulder to shoulder with Afghanistan.” According to Stoltenberg, “this international effort has contributed to a better future for Afghan men, women and children.” Rhetoric from NATO and the Pentagon regularly claims that Afghans have benefited from the past 13 years of U.S./NATO warfare, but reports from other agencies complicatethese claims.
UNAMA, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, found that in the first six months of 2014, combat among the warring parties surpassed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as the leading cause of conflict-related death and injury to Afghan civilians.
This "disturbing upward spiral" has meant the number of children and other vulnerable Afghans killed and wounded since the beginning of the year rose dramatically and "is proving to be devastating."
Stoltenberg’s assurance of NATO’s positive contribution to civilian welfare in Afghanistan is also undermined by a recently issued Amnesty International report examining NATO/ISAF operations. These operations include air strikes, drone attacks and night raids, all ofwhich have caused civilian deaths and also involved torture, disappearances, and cover-ups. The report, entitled “Left in the Dark,” gives ten chilling and horrific case studies occurring between 2009- 2013. Amnesty International states that two of the case studies “involve abundant and compelling evidence of war crimes.”
I wish that NATO’s commander could have joined Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs) that same week in Afghanistan as they visited an extraordinarily sustainable project, called “Emergency.” This Italy--based network of hospitals and clinics has been particularly remarkable for effectively saving and improving the lives of many Afghan people, over the past 13 years, while at the same time rejecting any form of war or use of weapons within its facilities.
At the entrance to any one of Emergency’s clinics or hospitals, a sign at the door says “No Weapons Allowed.” A logo banning guns is next to the Emergency logo. Although they work in one of the most intense war zones in the world, Emergency staff, including security guards, reject any use of weapons inside their facilities.
At the gate of Emergency Hospital, Kabul
Yusof Hakimi, the nurse in charge of Emergency’s ICU in the Kabul hospital, assured us that the ban is strictly upheld. A child isn’t allowed to carry a plastic toy gun inside the hospital premises. No one can wear camouflage clothing. “Even the president of Afghanistan cannot carry a gun inside our hospitals!” says Luca Radaelli, the medical coordinator of Emergency’s hospital in Kabul. He added that it’s not easy to maintain a facility where wars are banned. “But,” he adds, “everyone understands the purposes and respects the rules.”
Yusof and Luca in Emergency Hospital, Kabul
They’ve learned ways of providing security without the use of weapons. One such way involves an absolute commitment to neutrality.
They never take sides in the various conflicts that plague Afghanistan.
In fact, they don’t even ask if a patient belongs to one side or another.
Most NGOs in Afghanistan arrange for their staff to travel in heavily armed vehicles. But unarmed Emergency ambulances travel through war zones, in multiple directions, across the country. “We don’t have armed guards,” says Luca. “We don’t have bullet proof cars. We don’t change our routes because,” he explains in his clear, matter-of-fact style, “we have never been targeted.”
Luca says they acquire, and maintain, security through their reputation. Since they never charge any patient for health care, they could not be accused of trying to make a profit.
They also pursue strong diplomatic conversations with each group affected by their work, such as new workers, contractors, local government officials, and religious leaders. They explain their policy of maintaining neutral independence towardeveryone involved. “If you provide something good, something skilled, and it is free of charge,” he adds, “there is no need to protect yourself. People won’t get angry.”
If NATO and U.S. commanders took a fraction of what they have spent securing this region by violence- (the Pentagon has requested 58.5 billion dollars for Fiscal Year 2015 in Afghanistan)- and spent that instead to help people harmed by the ravages of war, could non-combat projects, such as Emergency’s, start to work? There are numerous, obvious solutions to problems in Afghanistan which NATO countries could actually consider,oreven attempt, if the alliance was actually there to help improve the quality of life for Afghan people.
One solution is to establish health care programs similar to what Emergency has created.
However, Emergency isn’t in Afghanistan to point out a sane path through disaster to all the actors, here and abroad, who seem unlikely to discard paths of suicidal hatred and ignorance.
In Luca’s view, Emergency is simply what a healthcare institution ought to be.
“It grows from a very simple idea. Provide high quality service for everyone, not thinking about profit, but just about patients' health.”
“What is so complicated?” he asks.
We might address a similar question to NATO Sec. Gen. Jens Stoltenberg: A new, non-combat mission, in Afghanistan, one that rejects weapons and war. What would be so complicated?
This article first appeared on the Telesur English website.
Kathy Kelly (firstname.lastname@example.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org) While in Afghanistan, she is a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (ourjourneytosmile.org)
By John Grant
When you tuck your children in at night
Don’t tell ‘em it’s for freedom that we fight
- Emily Yates
Dr Hakim / Dr Teck Young, Wee
“You didn’t know about the decision of the Singapore government to join the fight against ISIS?” she asked.
I was catching up with another Singaporean, Lynette ( a pseudonym to respect her privacy ), who had previously worked in Kabul and who was back in Afghanistan to do a month-long community-based survey with a U.S. university, looking at the impact of disability on Afghan communities.
“Military force is necessary to blunt IS on the ground but missiles and rockets alone cannot and will not bring peace,” said Singapore Foreign Affairs Minister Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam at a recent Singapore Parliamentary session. “…the true fight has to be in the arena of ideas.” At the same Parliamentary meeting, Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen, to explain why Singapore had decided to join in the U.S.-led coalition fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, said that Singapore Armed Forces participation in Afghanistan “was found to be effective.”
Writing from Kabul where the U.S./NATO coalition has fought a war over the past 13 years, a coalition which at one point included Singapore in its rank and file of 50 countries, I wish Mr Shanmugam and Dr Ng would re-examine the ‘idea’ of the military strategy in Afghanistan being ‘effective’, especially in the light of the United Nations reporting an increasing number of Afghan civilian casualties in the past year, the majority of whom are Afghan children.
Imal, whose father was a civilian casualty of a U.S./NATO drone attack in 2008,
wearing the blue scarf at the Borderfree Nonviolence Community Centre in Kabul
I wish Dr Ng and Shanmugan could live with me and ordinary Afghans in Kabul for a while, to hear the occasional bomb blasts greeting us in the mornings, to see the worry etched on the faces of Afghan mothers looking out for the return of their children from school, to know that while the U.S./NATO/Afghan coalition conducts attacks, night raids, drone bombings, and targeted killings, the Taliban have taken control of quite a few places in the provinces neighbouring Kabul.
An online report, dated 5th November, stated that ‘The SAF's deployment ( to join the U.S. led coalition fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq ) will include liaison and planning officers, a KC-135R air-to-air refuelling aircraft, and an imagery analysis team.’
If Dr Ng and Shanmugan could sense the anger, hatred, hunger and discontent on the faces of the ‘Taliban’ or other fighters in Afghanistan, they would know that we cannot ‘fight an ideology’ with KC-135R air-to-air refuelling aircraft or imagery analysis teams.
They would understand why the war against ‘terrorism’ has increased ‘terrorism’. The more Singaporean and other coalition forces support military operations to identify and kill fighters in Afghanistan and elsewhere, the angrier these fighters will become. Bombing the IS ideology from skies far away from Singapore makes its followers more intensely vengeful. Everyone becomes more endangered.
If an ideology is inhumane, like the one ISIS is promoting, we can trust Iraqis, Syrians, Afghans and Singaporeans to reject it, or we could present the huge variety of happier alternative ideas that will crowd it out. We should shift our focus to non-military ideas in the arena.
Underlying this lack of alternative ideas is another crisis: education systems all over the world are test-based, elitist and militarized. Our human ideas, imagination, thinking and empathy are increasingly limited by the narrow narratives of profit and force.
I was really happy to receive some Thai curry spices from kind Lynette, and to hear her updates from Singapore.
As we talked about the impact of disability on Afghan communities, I mentioned to Lynette that, second to Israel, Singapore is the most militarized nation in the world. Lynette acknowledged having recently learned that Singapore hasn’t signed the UN Mine Ban Treaty. “In fact,” she told me, “Singapore is probably still manufacturing land mines!”
Afghanistan has about 10 million land mines and Kabul is the most heavily land-mined capital in the world. Between 1999 and 2008 Afghanistan had the highest number of landmine casualties (12,069) in the world, according to the Landmine Monitor Report 2009. Though official statistics on disability in Afghanistan are non-existent, there are an estimated 400,000 to 655,930 disabled people, according to World Bank and Handicap International reports, many with wounds sustained during three decades of conflict.
We were sitting in the Borderfree Nonviolence Community Centre. The room has comfortable cushions and blue décor, matching the blue scarves which the Afghan Peace Volunteers at the Centre use to symbolize their working belief that ‘all human beings live under the same blue sky.’
A team of four Afghan girls and four Afghan boys had gathered in the next room to discuss plans to abolish war which they have realized is an outmoded human method of resolving conflict. They have experienced this method of war in Afghanistan over the past four decades, resulting in the loss of at least 2 million Afghan loved ones. They are tired of war and know how ineffective it is.
I thought, “We need more of such pacifist-leaning, nonviolent ideas. These eight Afghan Muslim youth are engaging in the arena of ideas and have a lot to share with us who live in sheltered comfort away from the arena of war.”
Three weeks ago, Siavash and Christoffer from the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society held a three-day Disarmament Workshop at the Centre.
Another idea: Christoffer asked, “Can you tell me, as people who have grown up experiencing the daily effects of war, whether you would feel more secure if I walked into this room with a weapon or without?”
My mind drifted back to the disability survey Lynette had helped to conduct.
Sometimes, ideas are one-track, and they are delivered with the closed-end, unscientific finality of officialdom. I told Lynette about a time when I was helping some Singaporean tetraplegic patients to set up a support group, many years ago. The Head of Land Transport Authority, at the time, was a former Chief of Army named Han Eng Juan. He had said that ‘providing public transport facilities for the disabled was not a black and white issue -- to make it accessible or not accessible. It is a question of how far to go -- it can be limitless and we can make it so elaborate but unaffordable’”
My tetraplegic friends and I felt devalued by Han’s calculations.
I was reminded that some ideas may at one point seem to be the only idea, or the best idea. But….
We should be willing to converse about and embrace diverse ideas, to learn, to educate one another from life’s school, and to wonder, for example, why Afghanistan is in worse straits after the most powerful militaries in the world have kept up the same coalition strategy of killing.
Faced with a serious crisis of state and non-state ‘terrorism’, we can address the root causes of ‘terrorism’, like power-grabbing, profiteering, inequality, poverty, corruption, extreme ideologies etc. We can lessen the anger and despair that fuels terrorism by seeking ways to share resources fairly, by upholding egalitarian livelihoods and pedagogies, by promoting use of non-fossil fuels. We can strengthen abilities to use dialogue, mediation, reconciliation, restorative justice, compassion and critical pedagogies in resolving conflicts. Theater, music, arts and culture can bring us together. The potential non-military solutions in the arena of ideas are limitless, and kinder.
Also, the unsustainable politics of concentrated wealth and power in the hands of a few can be replaced by genuinely democratic, non-corporatized governance where the people, and not the ‘central governments’ of today, decide how they can resolve all human conflicts without war.
As an advocate of nonviolence, I disagree with the use of force. I don’t believe in killing. But even Lee Kuan Yew recognized the limitations of military force when he said in a Newsweek interview in 2003 that “In killing terrorists, you will only kill the worker bees ……Americans, however, make the mistake of seeking a largely military solution.”
Singapore, in joining the U.S. led coalition against ISIS, is making the same mistake.
Dr Hakim is a medical doctor from Singapore who has done humanitarian and social enterprise work in Afghanistan for the past 10 years, including being a friend and mentor to the Afghan Peace Volunteers, 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.
Hot tub poll shows Republicans don’t like their politicians: Election Night Wasn’t a GOP Victory, It was a Democratic Rout
By Dave Lindorff
The sclerotic Democratic Party was trounced yet again yesterday, as Republicans outdid projections and appear to have taken at least seven Senate seats away from the Democrats, giving them control of the both houses of Congress.
By Harvey Wasserman
The GOP/corporate coup d’etat is nearly complete.
The Republicans now control the major media, the Supreme Court, the Congress and soon the presidency.
Think Jeb Bush in 2016.
All throughout America, right down to the local level, buried in a tsunami of cash and corruption, our public servants are being morphed into corporate operatives.
Our electoral apparatus is thoroughly compromised by oceans of dirty money, Jim Crow registration traps, rigged electronic voting machines, gerrymandering, corrupt secretaries of state.
The internet may be next. Above all, if there is one thing that could save us a shred of democracy, it’s preserving net neutrality. This fight could in fact outweigh all the others, and may be decided soon. Whatever depression you may now feel, shake it off to wage this battle. If we now lose the ability to freely communicate, we are in the deepest hole of all.
The roots of this corporate coup reach where they always do when empires collapse---useless, cancerous, debilitating, endless imperial war.
Lyndon Johnson lit the fuse in March, 1965. He had a chance to get us out of Vietnam. For many complex reasons---none of them sane---he escalated. He never recovered, and neither has our nation.
In 1967-8, an aroused generation marched for peace at the Pentagon, Chicago and elsewhere. We were accused of shattering the Democratic Party. But in fact we forced Johnson to negotiate a pre-election truce that might have saved the presidency for Hubert Humphrey.
As we all now know, that truce was treasonously sabotaged by Richard Nixon, in league with Henry Kissinger. LBJ knew what had been done, but said nothing. Had he trusted the American public with that knowledge, Nixon would have been gone long before Watergate, the war might have ended far sooner, the Democratic Party might still have meant something.
Instead, the party and the rest of us became prisoners of imperial war, captives of the corporations that profit from it.
From Watergate all we got was a punchless, corporate Jimmy Carter.
And from a dozen hellish years of Reagan-Bush, we got a showy, corporate Bill Clinton...and not a single substantial social reform. But the corporations got NAFTA, gutted social welfare, soaring college tuitions, abolition of New Deal safeguards against Wall Street greed, and much more.
They also got the death of the Fairness Doctrine from Reagan, and then a 1996 telecommunications act from Clinton that gave them full control of the major media. The age of Fox “News” was born in double-think.
Meanwhile Al Gore and John Kerry allowed the corporations to gut our electoral system. Gore won in 2000, saw the election stolen in Florida, and---like LBJ with Nixon’s treason---said not a word. It was absurdly easier to blame Ralph Nader for Gore’s blithe discard than to buckle down and fight for an election protection apparatus to preserve the vote so many had fought and died to win.
Kerry won in 2004, saw the election stolen in Ohio, and repeated Gore’s meek, mute skulk to oblivion. The Democrats let a corporate Jim Crow gut the registration process, deny millions of Americans their vote, install a national network of easily flippable electronic voting machines...and they said nothing.
Along the way the Supreme Court was handed to the corporations. Soon enough, they would open the floodgates.
But from the ashes of the Iraq war and the horrors of Bush 2, enough public power remained in 2008 to finally put an African-American in the White House. With his apparent opposition to the Iraq War, and loads of rhetoric about hope and change, Barak Obama won a mandate to heal the wounds inflicted by yet another Bush corporate presidency.
Obama expanded national medical coverage, and talked the talk of the global ecology and public good.
Then he sank us in the quicksand of Southwest Asia.
In analyzing this latest electoral debacle, our Orwellian corporate bloviators avoid like the plague any mention of corporate money or imperial war.
But like LBJ in Vietnam...Afghanistan and Obama’s other wars have gutted his presidency and all he might have been. They’ve drained our shrunken moral and financial resources. They’ve turned yet another Democratic harbinger of hope into feeble corporate cannon fodder. They’ve battered and alienated yet another generation of the progressive core.
Thus the GOP has been enthroned by a half-century of Democrats who’ve helped drag us into endless war, ignored our electoral rights and sold their souls---and the nation’s---to a zombie army of corporate operatives.
The money power has ruled this nation before. This time it means a whole new level of all-out war against social justice, our basic rights, our ability to live in harmony with our Mother Earth.
Beset by a whole new level of global disaster, we have no choice but to find some completely new answers. Our survival depends on it.
It will take all our creative and activist juices. Nothing is clear except that it won’t be easy.
And that no matter which corporate party tries to lead us there, the path to the promised land does not go through the deadly quicksand of imperial war, empty rhetoric or corrupted elections.
HARVEY WASSERMAN’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES is at www.solartopia.org, as is his SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH.
By Kathy Kelly
Kabul—Yesterday, in the Afghan Peace Volunteers' (APVs') “Borderfree Center”here in Kabul, I heard someone banging on the front gate and hurried downstairs to open it. As it happened, I was the only one at the Center that morning. Outside the gate stood two women with their burkas pushed back.
They had come a long way on foot. Reza Gul, the younger of the two, told me, as they stepped into our front yard, that they had walked for an hour and a half through Kabul to reach us. Zahro, the older woman, smiled and asked that I please put both of them on “the list.” Both women were desperate for the APVs to include them in “The Duvet Project,”which would allow them, for a few months, to provide for their families by making heavy blankets, called duvets.
These heavy quilts, stuffed with wool, can make the difference between life and death during Kabul’s extremely harsh winters. For the past two winters, the APVs have relied on women in their local area to manufacture thousands of duvets which are then distributed free of charge. The women are paid a living wage for their labor.
Last winter, 60 women, 20 from each of Afghanistan's three main ethnic groups, made, between them, 3,000 duvets for Kabul's poorest, all in the name of practicing nonviolent solutions for Afghanistan.
It’s a good project. Along with bringing needed warmth to destitute families, it invites people from different walks of life to work together. And, in a society where women have few if any economic opportunities, the women’s earnings help put food on the table and shoes on their children’s feet.
But each year, many women have not been included in the project. As in years past, it’s likely that Zahro and Reza Gul will be part of a steady stream of women who come to the door, refuse to leave, and insistently beg us to understand their desperation. Some will shout, many will break down in tears. Very few will go away without having sat in the courtyard or stood helplessly outside the gate for several hours.
Zahro and Reza Gul patiently listened to my fumbling attempts, in their Dari language, to explain that I was useless in this situation. Zahro then pointed to her arms and legs, telling me she had pains. She tilted her head back and listed the other troubles she faced, but occasionally she’d stop and flash me a lovely, kind smile. She knew I understood very little of what she was saying. Beneath her scarf wisps of grey were showing. It was surely hard for her to contemplate walking back to Barchi without succeeding in her appeal to be placed on the list. Eventually, she sat down on the ground, in a corner just inside the gate, covered her eyes with her scarf, and began to cry.
She told me her family has no food.
Sonia and Marzia, the young women assembling the list, had hiked earlier that morning up a nearby mountainside to visit families, mainly widows and orphans, as part of a survey
to assure that the women who are paid to make the duvets are among those in most acute need.
Finally, our young friend Sonia returned from her surveying trip. I excused myself, knowing that a Westerner’s presence can confuse things.
Later that afternoon, when I returned from running an errand, two more women wearing burkas were sitting downstairs; several more were upstairs. They will come, constantly, persistently, desperately.
I wish they could knock on the gates of the Pentagon, and refuse to go away.
Actually, they have something in common with U.S. military generals who won’t go away either. The Pentagon has requested $58.6 billion, for Fiscal Year 2015, to fund U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
When I shared this statistic with young friends here, their eyes widened. How does any group ever spend so much money? What has the U.S. accomplished since it first began bombing, invading and occupying Afghanistan in 2001? The Taliban controls over 70% of the country. Kabul is surrounded by hostile forces. And although the U.S. spent 7.6 billion over 13 years trying to eradicate poppy farming, opiumpoppy cultivation in Afghanistan hit record levels in 2013.
The International Business Times notes that profits from the trade help fund corruptionwithin the country, maintain criminal networks and support the Taliban.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., one of the world’s wealthiest nations, desperate poverty continues to afflict multitudes, especially children. “A 2013 report by the United Nations Children’s Fund noted that, of the 35 economically advanced countries that had been studied, only Romania had a higher percentage of children living in povertythan did the United States.”
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the basic human rights document which the world's nations agreed upon in the wake of World War II, doesn't only establish the right to work for a fair wage in a safe environment (Article 23), a right that Reza Gul and Zahro try so hard to claim; it doesn't only establish the right to a decent standard of living with food and even healthcare (Article 26); it also establishes the right “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media” (Article 19) – not merely the right to freedom of the press, but the right to receive information necessary to participation in the life of the society.
U.S. people have a right to learn about people bearing the consequences of U.S. war, but there is scant incentive to exercise this right in a society where militarism is glorified and military spokespeople continually assure the U.S. public that U.S. militarism has improved the lives of women and children in Afghanistan.
If people in the U.S. could become knowledgeable and well-educated about the world being shaped in their name, about the lives and hopes being disfigured by U.S. wars and weapons, they might resist pouring crucially needed resources down the rat hole of military spending.
We have a chance to help at least some women here in Kabul. Some of these women won't have to go away. Some will gain the chance to support their families and make a meaningful contribution to meeting the needs of others.
Although the promises held forth by the UDHR are seldom kept, although no nation observes all of the rights listed, nevertheless, everyone is on the list. Every Afghan women is “born free and equal in dignity and rights,” according to the UDHR, and deserves every listed right.
For now, the Duvet Project will help those few women the APVs can bring in, and Sonia tells me there is a good chance that Zahro and Reza Gul can be included. If so, they will each earn $2.70 for each duvet they make.
U.S. generals are angling to add an extra 6 billion to the 2015 U.S. “defense” budget.
I welcome a small opportunity to help secure the rights of the women who won’t go away.
Originally posted at AcroynmTV
Episode Breakdown |
Spoken word from Immortal Technique and Erica Violet Lee of Idle No More, plus:
3 interviews looking at the climate crisis from 3 angles:
Medea Benjamin of Code Pink talks about the links between the peace movement and the climate justice movement – and how Code Pink started as an Environmental group-
Then Howie Hawkins, as his momentum in the New York gubernatorial race is ramping up, talks about Green justice in the electoral arena.
Also, Occupy Sandy organizer Nastaran Mohit talks about our need to face down white privilege within the movement, and step out of our comfort zones.
Finally, Jill Stein points out that we have critical mass and critical momentum to win the day.
During chilly Kabul mornings, last winter, the yard outside the Afghan Peace Volunteer (APV) home became a hub of colorful and bustling activity as mothers, children, and young APVs participated in “the duvet project.” Thank you to the many people from afar who offered encouragement and contributed funds. We hope you’ll continue to support this vital project during the coming months.
Duvets are heavy blankets, stuffed with wool, which can make the difference between life and death during Kabul’s extremely harsh winters. The Afghan Peace Volunteers coordinated manufacture and distribution of three thousand duvets, at no cost to recipients, during the winter of 2013-14. Along with bringing needed warmth to destitute families, the project invited people from different walks of life to work together.
60 women in all, 20 from each of three different ethnic groups- Hazara, Pashto and Tajik, -earned a living wage by making the duvets. In a society where women have few if any economic opportunities, this money helped women put food on the table and shoes on their children’s feet. The women would arrive, often accompanied by a young son, to pick up coverlet material, wool and thread. Days later each woman would return with two completed duvets. The duvets were then delivered to people living in refugee camps, widows and orphans with no breadwinner in the home, families of children who’ve become part of an APV “street kids” program, needy families of students who are visually impaired, and disabled people living in Kabul.
The generosity of numerous supporters enabled the APVs to purchase supplies, rent space for storage and distribution, and pay wages plus transportation expenses for the women who manufactured the duvets.
The project has been well documented over the past two years. Photos and videos are available at: http://ourjourneytosmile.com/
Any support you could offer to the duvet project this year will be most welcome. Checks can be made payable to Voices for Creative Nonviolence, (VCNV), and mailed to VCNV at 1249 W. Argyle Street, Chicago, IL 60640. Please write “duvet project” in the memo section. If you’re sending funds via Pay Pal as below, please make sure that you inform Douglas Mackey at email@example.com To donate to the Duvet Project via PayPal, sign into your PayPal account and submit the funds to email identity “firstname.lastname@example.org”. One-hundred percent of the funds go directly to the Duvet Project of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, with no administrative expenses. Please let us know if there is any way that we could assist with outreach, in your community, on behalf of the duvet project. Sincerely, Kathy Kelly, Co-coordinator Voices for Creative Nonviolence Dr. Hakim Afghan Peace Volunteers
Any support you could offer to the duvet project this year will be most welcome. Checks can be made payable to Voices for Creative Nonviolence, (VCNV), and mailed to VCNV at 1249 W. Argyle Street, Chicago, IL 60640. Please write “duvet project” in the memo section.
If you’re sending funds via Pay Pal as below, please make sure that you inform Douglas Mackey at email@example.com
To donate to the Duvet Project via PayPal, sign into your PayPal account and submit the funds to email identity “firstname.lastname@example.org”. One-hundred percent of the funds go directly to the Duvet Project of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, with no administrative expenses.
Please let us know if there is any way that we could assist with outreach, in your community, on behalf of the duvet project.
Kathy Kelly, Co-coordinator Voices for Creative Nonviolence
Dr. Hakim Afghan Peace Volunteers
By John Grant
I’m a leftist, but I have a weakness for my brothers and sisters on the right. For some reason, I’m compelled to see what troglodytes like Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Megyn Kelly are thinking. They’re all quite entertaining as they do their best to un-man Barack Obama and advocate day-in, day-out for a war with Islam. They are masters of malicious fog.
Then there’s a writer like New York Times columnist David Brooks, a man who must sit around observing current events until he figures out a safe, center-right position he can express in the most reasonable, muddled language possible. Reading David Brooks is like trying to get a grip on jello.
October 7, 2001, Air War Begins Over Afghanistan
October 7, 2014, Drone Protesters in Court in Missouri
By Brian Terrell
October 6, 2014
On October 7, thirteen years to the day from the beginning of “Operation Enduring Freedom,” Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence and Georgia Walker, an activist in Kansas City, will be arraigned in US District Court in Jefferson City, Missouri. They have been summoned to answer charges that they trespassed at Whiteman Air Force Base during a protest against war crimes and assassinations carried out from that base using remotely controlled drone aircraft.
This is the same court that in 2012 sentenced me to six months in prison, Mark Kenney to four months and Ron Faust to five years probation. Judge Whitworth explained our convictions and the severity of these sentences telling us that he was responsible for the security of the B-2 “Spirit” stealth bomber, also based at Whiteman. Until after we were found guilty, the B-2 was never mentioned during our trial and the airmen of the Air Force police brought to witness against us testified that we had posed no danger to the security of the base or to the weapons housed there. As a US Magistrate, Judge Whitworth is sworn to rule by law regardless of his personal devotion to any particular weapons system, but this, he explained, was a deciding factor ruling against us.
From the Wikipedia entry for Whiteman Air Force Base: "Whiteman AFB is the only permanent base for the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber. Whiteman can launch combat sorties directly from Missouri to any part of the globe, engaging adversaries with nuclear or conventional weapon payloads. The 509th Bomb Wing first flew the B-2 in combat against Serbia in March 1999. Later, Whiteman B-2s led the way for America's military response to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington D.C. in September 2001. B-2 bombers were the first U.S. aircraft to enter Afghanistan airspace in October 2001, paving the way for other coalition aircraft to engage Taliban and Al Queda forces. During these operations, the aircraft flew round-trip from Missouri, logging combat missions in excess of 40 hours – the longest on record."
The first bombs exploded over Kabul on October 7, 2001, so Kathy and Georgia have a significant date to be in court! The B-2 needs inflight refueling every six hours and it costs $55,000 an hour just to keep it in the air, not to mention the cost of munitions. The flyers who took the first bombs to Afghanistan were in the air for more than 40 hours straight! Today flying drones at computer terminals, airmen from Whiteman can bomb Afghanistan without missing a coffee break; they can sleep in their own beds. The killing in Afghanistan continues from Whiteman on the cheap for the government, but the costs to people on the ground, here as in Afghanistan and in the ever broadening war of terror, is still exorbitant and dire.
Georgia and Kathy are expected to go to trial at a later date set by the court.
Brian Terrell co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence www.vcnv.org
By Dr Hakim
Kabul–“I woke up with the blast of another bomb explosion this morning,” Imadullah told me. “I wonder how many people were killed.” Imadullah, an 18 year old Afghan Peace Volunteer, (APV), from Badakhshan, had joined me at the APVs’ Borderfree Community Centre of Nonviolence.
The news reported that at least three Afghan National Army soldiers were killed in the suicide bomb attack, in the area of Darulaman. Coincidentally, the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs) had planned to be at the Darulaman Palace that same morning. To commemorate Gandhi’s birthday and the International Day of Nonviolence, we wanted to form a human circle of peace at the Palace, which is a war ruin. But the police, citing general security concerns, had denied us permission.
Imadullah and Rauff, another APV member, continued discussing the attack. Rauff believes that the latest string of suicide bombings in Kabul have been in response to actions of the newly formed government. “Three days ago, they signed the U.S. /Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA),” Rauff explained. “The Taliban condemned the new government, now led by former World Bank official President Ashraf Ghani and ex-warlord Vice President General Dostum, for signing the agreement.”
Listening to Imadullah’s and Rauff’s concerns over the latest string of attacks, I wondered if I myself had become inured to this sober Afghan reality of perpetual war.
We were soon joined by Zekerullah and Abdulhai who had gathered local street children at Borderfree Community Centre, so we could supervise their walk to a nearby park, the alternative place for our event.
“I’m taking music lessons and if I’m good enough, the teachers say I may be able to participate in Afghan Star ( like the American Idol show ) in the future!” said Nur Rahman, after belting out a sweet Afghan love song for me.
“We wish for a life without wars,” Mehdi, a boot polisher in our street kid program, said emphatically as we set off towards the park. “He’s telling the truth!” echoed another street kid walking just behind him.
I’ve often met precocious Afghan children who express cynicism and feel angry that they must wise up so quickly in a country whee the Taliban’s or the U.S./NATO’s bombs might kill them.
Most people outside Afghanistan are too far away to preoccupy themselves over what the former British envoy to Afghanistan called an ‘eye wateringly expensive exercise in military futility’.
Whereas seemingly everyone understands that wars are futile, U.S./NATO and Afghan politicians have nevertheless wired their media and general public to believe that this war, in Afghanistan, is necessary. Through the BSA, they have agreed to keep long term U.S./NATO military bases in Afghanistan. The decision will assuredly prolong war and violence.
Governments involved in Afghanistan spend a vast bulk of their borrowed or tax-payer money not on food, water, shelter, education, health and other basic human needs, but on the machine of war.
Most of us assume that our leaders must know what to do, even if they have failed to bring genuine security after 13 years.
I feel a deep frustration.
On our way to the park, street vendors and shopkeepers asked us, “What’s the occasion? Why the blue scarves?” Ordinary Afghans, trying to eke out a meager living in a country with at least 36% unemployment, seem eager for some action, some change.
The blue scarves looked strikingly beautiful along the pot-holed road.
“We’re a group of drug addicts!” Mirwais replied playfully. “No, we’re a group for nonviolence!” Mirwais is another street kid who has seen numerous people addicted to opium living under bridges in Kabul. Unable to find work in Afghanistan, many Afghan men go to Iran where they work illegally as labourers. There, they get addicted to drugs.
The APVs couldn’t help but feel weighed down by the serious irony of promoting nonviolence in a country where the world’s most powerful nations have gathered to wage war.
After Mohammad Qawa and Zebiullah had lifted our spirits with their guitar-accompanied singing, I took the loud-hailer to offer a word of encouragement.
“When I am abroad, I hear that you are the generation of war.” I sensed uneasiness in the air. Some of the youth responded in what I’ve noticed is a common Afghan way of coping with their harsh lives – they laughed.
“But well done to all of you for coming today to show that no, you are not a generation of war. You are a generation of love!” I didn’t expect the rapturous, supportive applause!
The new Afghan generation says no to all wars!
“On the International Day of Nonviolence,” I added, “we remember a quote from Gandhi, that ‘where there is love, there is life.’” I thought of how my Afghan friends among the Peace Volunteers have demonstrated love and affirmed life, and felt grateful.
The energetic little ones together with the sober youth and adults joined hands as they formed a circle, Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras and other Afghan ethnicities, each wearing the Borderfree blue scarf signifying our belief that we’re all human beings living under the same blue sky!
“When I see this circle of children and youth,” Abdulhai told the group, “I feel excited about the possibility of change.”
We need this excitement to generate more and more circles of friendship, along with many more relationships that can help us understand that our governments have unfortunately disguised perpetual war as peace.
The Presidents, Prime Ministers ,CEOs and extremists like the Taliban will fight on and on, drop and lay bombs to kill mostly civilians, escalate hate, anger, hunger and thirst, rape our earth of its minerals, gases and oil, and warm our globe to extinction.
They are increasing violence in Afghanistan, Gaza, Iraq and Syria, in the drug war in Mexico, on Wall Street against the 99%, through the tar sands in Canada, in student debt loans everywhere….
We need to work hard, cheerfully and patiently, to reach the human family with a simple message that we the people no longer like authoritarian, weapon-wielding profiteers. Too many of us are dying.
Our leaders inhabit an unequal system that is driven by the same corrupt power and egos that gripped ancient kings and queens.
To hoard money and power for themselves, they are repeating the violent acts of history, and we can no longer satisfactorily explain to our children why they need to suffer for the elite.
We cannot wait. Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world!” So, I readily join the APVs’ mission: to abolish war.
We understand that ‘we are the ones we’ve been waiting for’.
“Wake up! We are not the war generation. We are the generation of love!”
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.
Here comes another October 7th, time once again for celebrating the International Day of Wars-Start-Easy-But-They’re-a-Bitch-to-End. That is, if we can spare a few moments away from celebrating the new wars we’re starting.
On this date 13 years ago, the United States attacked Afghanistan, which the U.S. President saw primarily as a step toward attacking Iraq, although — in fairness — God had told him to attack both countries. I asked God about that recently and he said, “You want to see regrets. Oh my God, you should talk to the Nobel Committee about that peace laureate.” I didn’t have to ask which one, and I didn’t ask who his God was, fearing an endless discussion loop.
Way back yonder in 2001 before presidents openly spied on everything, launched wars without a pretense of legality, imprisoned without charge, assassinated at will, and kept enough secrets to have outraged Richard Nixon, the general public wasn’t given quite all the information by its beloved televisions. We weren’t told the Taliban was willing to turn bin Laden over to a neutral nation to stand trial. We weren’t told the Taliban was a reluctant tolerator of al Qaeda, and a completely distinct group. We weren’t told the 911 attacks had also been planned in Germany and Maryland and various other places not marked for bombing. We weren’t told that most of the people who would die in Afghanistan, many more than died on 911, not only didn’t support 911 but never heard of it. We weren’t told our government would kill large numbers of civilians, imprison people without trial, hang people by their feet and whip them until they were dead.
We weren’t told how this illegal war would advance the acceptability of illegal wars or how it would make the United States hated in much of the world. We weren’t given the background of how the U.S. interfered in Afghanistan and provoked a Soviet invasion and armed resistance to the Soviets and left the people to the tender mercies of that armed resistance once the Soviets left. We weren’t told that Tony Blair wanted Afghanistan first before he’d get the UK to help destroy Iraq. We certainly weren’t told that bin Laden had been an ally of the U.S. government, that the 911 hijackers were mostly Saudi, or that there might be anything at all amiss with the government of Saudi Arabia. And nobody mentioned the trillions of dollars we’d waste or the civil liberties we’d have to lose at home or the severe damage that would be inflicted on the natural environment. Even birds don’t go to Afghanistan anymore.
The Taliban was very swiftly destroyed in 2001 through a combination of overwhelming killing power and desertion. The U.S. then began hunting for anyone who had once been a member of the Taliban. But these included many of the people now leading the support of the U.S. regime — and many such allied leaders were killed and captured despite not having been Taliban as well, through sheer stupidity and corruption. Dangling $5,000 rewards in front of poor people produced false-accusations that landed their rivals in Bagram or Guantanamo, and the removal of these often key figures devastated communities, and turned communities against the United States that had previously been inclined to support it. Add to this the vicious and insulting abuse of whole families, including women and children captured and harassed by U.S. troops, and the revival of the Taliban under the U.S. occupation begins to become clear. The lie we’ve been told to explain it is that the U.S. became distracted by Iraq, but the Taliban revived precisely where U.S. troops were imposing a rule of violence and not where other internationals were negotiating compromises using, you know, words.
This has been a bumbling oblivious and uncomprehending foreign occupation (as they always are) torturing and murdering a lot of its own strongest allies, shipping some of them off to Gitmo — even shipping to Gitmo young boys whose only offense had been being the sexual assault victims of U.S. allies
When Barack Obama became president, there were 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He escalated to over 100,000 troops, plus contractors, and has been celebrated for ending the war ever since. Five years have been spent discussing the “drawdown.” The U.S. public has been telling pollsters we want all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan “as soon as possible” for years and years. Endless speeches have bragged about ending wars that Obama supposedly “inherited.” And yet, there are now 33,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, more than when Obama became president. Several NATO allies have wisely departed, but that’s the extent of the “drawdown.” Measured death and destruction or financial cost, Afghanistan is much more President Obama’s war than President Bush’s.
Now, Obama has managed to get a new Afghan president to agree to U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan with immunity from any criminal prosecution, until “2024 and beyond.” Obama claims he’ll reduce troop levels to 9,800 this year, 6,000 next year, and 1,000 the following year — at which point he’ll still be guarding Afghanistan’s new president better than he guards the White House.
This has been Obama’s plan from Day 1. He’s never actually said he would ever end the war; he’s just been given endless credit for doing so. But there’s a bit of rightwing nonsense in the air these days that, combined with the sheer number of U.S. wars, distracts people from the outrageousness of keeping the war on Afghanistan going for another decade “and beyond.” The bit of nonsense is the idea that Iraq has gone to hell because U.S. troops left. In fact, Iraq was a worse hell when U.S. troops were there, and it was the hard work of the U.S. troops and their allies over several years that put Iraq on the path to the hell it now is. Even Obama, who tried desperately to get criminal immunity for U.S. troops in order to leave them in Iraq three years ago, admits that having left them there would have done no good. But surely this bit of counterfactual lunacy — the idea that the troops leaving broke Iraq — helps to stifle our protests and outrage at the latest news from Vietghanistan.
Obama used to be a proud member of the Let’s Stop Killing Iraqis and Kill More Afghans Club. Now he’s back in Iraq plus Syria killing so many civilians that he’s announced that rules for minimizing civilian deaths don’t apply. I’ve got a scheme to help him bamboozle his antiwar supporters back into adoring him. It’s easy. It’s cheap. It’s an unexpected reversal. And at least half the country already thinks he’s done it anyway: Get the U.S. Military Out of Afghanistan. Now. Entirely. No Strings Attached.
By John Grant
Ain’t no time to wonder why.
Whoopee, we’re all gonna die.
- Country Joe MacDonald
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By John Grant
All we are saying is give peace a chance
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
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.
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.