Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Democracy.
Tags: democracy, dissent, first amendment, medea benjamin, michelle obama, political protest, roger hollander
Roger’s note: Here we see the courage and grace of Medea Benjamin versus the arrogance of the First Lady.
In the past week, both President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have been interrupted by what some call hecklers, but I prefer to call protesters. I was the one who interrupted President Obama’s speech at the National Defense University with my impassioned questions about drone strikes and Guantánamo.
Anti-war activist Medea Benjamin is led away after heckling Barack Obama during his counter-terrorism speech at the National Defense University in Washington. (Photo: Win Mcnamee/Getty Images)
After my interventions, the president graciously replied, “That woman’s voice is worth listening to.” But when the First Lady was confronted by a lesbian woman speaking up about President Obama’s failure to protect gay people in the workplace, as he had promised, she reacted angrily.
As some who has witnessed (and participated in) many interruptions, here are some examples of what I consider good responses.
Several years ago, I was once at a large conference when Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was speaking. Suddenly, a group of black and Latina women interrupted him, shouting out about the need for more buses in their communities, instead of the city plan to spend many millions expanding the metro. The mayor first tried to talk over them, then the audience tried to drown them out, but the women kept shouting. Villaraigosa quieted the audience and then said:
“Look, it takes a lot of courage for these people to get up in a big audience and promote a cause they believe in. Let’s give them a round of applause.”
It was a brilliant way to recognize the passion of the protesters, but turn around the dynamic so he could continue his talk.
Speaking out to express our political beliefs or show disapproval of those in power is part of the venerable practice of nonviolent civil disobedience.At an event in 2007, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner gave a speech in Washington, DC on the heels of remarks that the US and France should prepare for a possible war with Iran. US peace activists, who had been trying hard to prevent war, were appalled. A group of us spoke out at the event and unfurled a banner in French reading: “Va-t-en-guerre san frontieres” (warmonger without borders) – playing off the fact that Kouchner was one of the founders of Doctors Without Borders. Security guards pulled us out of room, but Kouchner asked them to let us back in so he could address our concerns directly, which he did.
When the talk was over, he came over to shake our hands, and even asked if he could have the banner as a souvenir, since he thought it was very clever. “We are used to rowdy audiences in France,” he laughed, “so you made me feel right at home.”
Most protests are coming from frustrated citizens confronting the powerful and are part of a much larger strategy for change. In 1964, civil rights activists, including Bayard Ruskin and James Farmer, shouted down President Lyndon Johnson during his speech at the World’s Fair, calling for passage of the Civil Rights Act. They were arrested, but their intervention was celebrated as part of a much larger nonviolent strategy of the civil rights movement.
Sometimes, it’s not the powerful who are interrupted, but simply someone with a different viewpoint. Speaking at a university, I was once interrupted by a group of students who disagreed with my views on Israel/Palestine. My response was to invite them on stage to use the mic so they could be heard by all. They did, and when they were finished, I thanked them, addressed their issues according to my – very different – perspective; I said I hoped they’d stick around for the Q&A, so we could keep the conversation going.
Speaking out to express our political beliefs or show disapproval of those in power is part of the venerable practice of nonviolent civil disobedience. The tactic might be considered impolite and it disrupts business as usual, but hopefully, it helps push forward a larger debate on issues of great importance to society.
At a campaign event when Obama was first running for president, someone asked him what he would do about the Middle East. Obama repeated the legendary story about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt meeting with labor leader A Philip Randolph about workers’ rights. Reportedly, FDR listened intently, then replied:
I agree with everything you have said. Now, make me do it.
Speaking out on the rare occasions we have to interact with the powerful is just that: pushing those in power to do the right thing.
© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited
Posted by rogerhollander in Pakistan, War, War on Terror.
Tags: cia director, collateral damage, drone casualties, drone missile, drone strikes, hellfire missile, International law, john brennan, kill list, medea benjamin, obama kill list, pakistan, roger hollander, rule of law, tariq aziz, yemen
In October 2011, 16-year-old Tariq Aziz attended a gathering in Islamabad where he was taught how to use a video camera so he could document the drones that were constantly circling over his Pakistani village, terrorizing and killing his family and neighbors. Two days later, when Aziz was driving with his 12-year-old cousin to a village near his home in Waziristan to pick up his aunt, his car was struck by a Hellfire missile. With the push of a button by a pilot at a US base thousands of miles away, both boys were instantly vaporized—only a few chunks of flesh remained.Tariq Aziz (circled) at the Grand Jirga in Islamabad just days before he was killed by a US drone hellfire missile.
Afterwards, the US government refused to acknowledge the boys’ deaths or explain why they were targeted. Why should they? This is a covert program where no one is held accountable for their actions.
The main architect of this drone policy that has killed hundreds, if not thousands, of innocents, including 176 children in Pakistan alone, is President Obama’s counterterrorism chief and his pick for the next director of the CIA: John Brennan.
On my recent trip to Pakistan, I met with people whose loved ones had been blown to bits by drone attacks, people who have been maimed for life, young victims with no hope for the future and aching for revenge. For all of them, there has been no apology, no compensation, not even an acknowledgement of their losses. Nothing.
That’s why when John Brennan spoke at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington DC last April and described our policies as ethical, wise and in compliance with international law, I felt compelled to stand up and speak out on behalf of Tariq Aziz and so many others. As they dragged me out of the room, my parting words were: “I love the rule of law and I love my country. You are making us less safe by killing so many innocent people. Shame on you, John Brennan.”
Rather than expressing remorse for any civilian deaths, John Brennan made the extraordinary statement in 2011 that during the preceding year, there hadn’t been a single collateral death “because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we’ve been able to develop.” Brennan later adjusted his statement somewhat, saying, “Fortunately, for more than a year, due to our discretion and precision, the U.S. government has not found credible evidence of collateral deaths resulting from U.S. counterterrorism operations outside of Afghanistan or Iraq.” We later learned why Brennan’s count was so low: the administration had come up with a semantic solution of simply counting all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants.
The UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism has documented over 350 drones strikes in Pakistan that have killed 2,600-3,400 people since 2004. Drone strikes in Yemen have been on the rise, with at least 42 strikes carried out in 2012, including one just hours after President Obama’s reelection. The first strike in 2013 took place just four days into the new year.
A May 29, 2011 New York Times exposé showed John Brennan as President Obama’s top advisor in formulating a “kill list” for drone strikes. The people Brennan recommends for the hit list are given no chance to surrender, and certainly no chance to be tried in a court of law. The kind of intelligence Brennan uses to put people on drone hit lists is the same kind of intelligence that put people in Guantanamo. Remember how the American public was assured that the prisoners locked up in Guantanamo were the “worst of the worst,” only to find out that hundreds were innocent people who had been sold to the US military by bounty hunters?
In addition to kill lists, Brennan pushed for the CIA to have the authority to kill with even greater ease using “signature strikes,” also known as “crowd killing,” which are strikes based solely on suspicious behavior.
When President Obama announced his nomination of John Brennan, he talked about Brennan’s integrity and commitment to the values that define us as Americans. He said Brennan has worked to “embed our efforts in a strong legal framework” and that he “understands we are a nation of laws.”
A nation of laws? Really? Going around the world killing anyone we want, whenever we want, based on secret information? Just think of the precedent John Brennan is setting for a world of lawlessness and chaos, now that 76 countries have drones—mostly surveillance drones but many in the process of weaponizing them. Why shouldn’t China declare an ethnic Uighur activist living in New York City as an “enemy combatant” and send a missile into Manhattan, or Russia launch a drone attack against a Chechen living in London? Or why shouldn’t a relative of a drone victim retaliate against us here at home? It’s not so far-fetched. In 2011, 26-year-old Rezwan Ferdaus, a Massachusetts-based graduate with a degree in physics, was recently sentenced to 17 years in prison for plotting to attack the Pentagon and US Capitol with small drones filled with explosives.
In his search for a new CIA chief, Obama said he looked at who is going to do the best job in securing America. Yet the blowback from Brennan’s drone attacks is creating enemies far faster than we can kill them. Three out of four Pakistanis now see the US as their enemy—that’s about 133 million people, which certainly can’t be good for US security. When Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar was asked the source of US enmity, she had a one word answer: drones.
In Yemen, escalating U.S. drones strikes are radicalizing the local population and stirring increasing sympathy for al-Qaeda-linked militants. Since the January 4, 2013 attack in Yemen, militants in the tribal areas have gained more recruits and supporters in their war against the Yemeni government and its key backer, the United States. According to Abduh Rahman Berman, executive director of a Yemeni National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms, the drone war is failing. “If the Americans kill 10, al-Qaeda will recruit 100,” he said.
Around the world, the drone program constructed by John Brennan has become a provocative symbol of American hubris, showing contempt for national sovereignty and innocent lives.
If Obama thinks John Brennan is a good choice to head the CIA and secure America, he should contemplate the tragic deaths of victims like 16-year-old Tariq Aziz, and think again.
Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: roger hollander, Iraq war, Iraq, Iraq withdrawal, Iraq oil, SOFA, Nouri al-Maliki, troop withdrawal, al-Maliki, maliki, medea benjamin, obama promise, iraq bases, lockheed martin, charles davis, Moqtada al-Sadr
Since coming to Washington, Barack Obama has won a Nobel Prize for Peace, but he hasn’t been much of a peacemaker. Instead, he has doubled down on his predecessor’s wars while launching blatantly illegal ones of his own. But, as his supporters would be quick to point out, at least he’s standing by his pledge to bring the troops home from Iraq.
That’s certainly what America’s latest war president has been saying. Speaking to supporters this month, he was unequivocal . “If somebody asks about the war [in Iraq] . . . you have a pretty simple answer, which is all our folks are going to be out of there by the end of the year.”
Obama’s statement was a welcome reaffirmation of what he promised on the campaign trail. “If we have not gotten our troops out by the time I am President, it is the first thing I will do,” he thundered in the fall of 2007. “I will get our troops home. We will bring an end to this war. You can take that to the bank.”
But don’t count on cashing that check. The Washington Post brings the unsurprising news that Iraqi leaders have agreed to begin talks with the U.S. on allowing the foreign military occupation of their country to continue beyond this year — re-branded, naturally, as a mission of “training” and “support.” The move comes after an increasingly public campaign by top White House and military officials to pressure Iraqi leaders into tearing up the Status of Forces Agreement they signed with the Bush administration, which mandates the removal of all foreign troops by the end of 2011.
As with any relationship, saying goodbye is always the hardest part for an empire. The U.S. political establishment has long desired a foothold in the Middle East from which it could exert influence over the trade of the region’s natural resources. Remember, Iraq has lots of oil, as those who launched the invasion of the country in 2003 were all too aware . They aren’t too keen on giving that up.
And as is to be expected when one maintains the most powerful — and expensive — military in world history, there are strong institutional pressures within the Pentagon for maintaining the status quo. Peace may be good for children and other living things, but it’s boring for generals — especially politically ambitious ones — and bad for bomb manufacturers.
The longer U.S. troops stay in Iraq and ensure that country’s fidelity to U.S. policy, the more weapons the Iraqi government will buy from American companies. Indeed, Prime Minister Maliki just announced that Iraq would buy 38 F-16 fighters, taking billions of dollars away from food and shelter for poor Iraqis while boosting Lockheed Martin’s war chest. Add in the fact that Iraq is situated right next to Iran, the one oil-rich country in the region opposed to U.S. hegemony, and you’ve got a good recipe for indefinite occupation.
Of course, if Obama was as committed to withdrawing “all troops from Iraq” as he claims, all he would need to do is stick by the Bush-era agreement for troops to leave by December 31. Doing so would not only provide him cover from claims he is surrendering to the terrorists — hey, a Republican negotiated the deal — but it would fulfill a key campaign pledge and help soothe liberal anger over his escalation of Afghanistan and his illegal war in Libya.
Obama has no plans for a full withdrawal, though, as his hand-picked appointees make clear. You can almost hear him thinking: What are liberals going to do, vote Republican?
Echoing the top military brass, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates first noted earlier this year supposed Iraqi “interest in having a continuing presence” in Iraq. His successor, Leon Panetta, then told senators during his June confirmation hearing that he had “every confidence” the Iraqi government would ask for such a U.S. presence beyond 2011.
Like clockwork, Iraqi leaders are set to ask for just that, with The Washington Post reporting that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his allies have decided any request to extend the U.S. occupation will “not require signing a new accord.” That means no messy parliamentary battles or referendums, where the popular anti-American sentiment would surface.
The Obama administration is prepared to keep about 10,000 troops in Iraq, and their “non-combat” tasks could include training, air defense, intelligence, reconnaissance and joint counter-terrorism missions. These are the same sort of operations that have left at least 56 U.S. soldiers dead since Obama announced the end of U.S. combat operations last August.
One thing is certain: U.S. officials who once claimed to be bringing democracy to Iraq couldn’t be more thrilled at the subversion of it. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, alluded to that in a comment remarking on the Iraqis’ recent decision to open talks with the U.S. on an extended, rebranded occupation. “There are some very difficult political challenges, internal challenges associated with reaching this decision,” he noted, said “challenges” being the fact that the people the occupation is ostensibly being extended to protect don’t actually want the “protection” the U.S. government is offering.
Mullen added that a final agreement must include “guarantees of legal immunity for American forces.” Obviously, we wouldn’t want any ungrateful Iraqis to prosecute U.S. soldiers if they kill civilians while engaging in “non-combat” duties.
Here at home, opinion polls have for years shown that two-thirds of Americans oppose the war in Iraq. Opposition to a continued presence has also been building in Congress, always the most lagging indicator. On July 22, Congresswoman Barbara Lee and 94 other representatives sent a letter to President Obama urging him to bring all U.S. troops and military contractors home by the end of this year and she is introducing a bill that would cut off funding.
As for the Iraqi opinion, anti-U.S. cleric and politician Moqtada al-Sadr put out a statement on August 3 saying that any foreign solider remaining in his country after 2011 would “be treated as an unjust invader and should be opposed with military resistance.” We’ll mark him down as a “no thanks.” According to Al-Iraqiya TV, meanwhile, 2.5 million of al-Sadr’s compatriot s have signed a petition calling for U.S. troops to get out.
“We want them to leave, even before the end of this year,” Youseff Ahmad, a tribal sheik from the Iraqi town of Al Rufait, recently told one reporter . “They’ve destroyed us. They’ve only brought killing and disaster.” Ahmad spoke after having just witnessed U.S. troops’ “training” and “support” mission in action, the consequence of which was “a shootout involving bullets, grenades and American Apache helicopters that left the tribal Sheik and two others dead, and several wounded, including two young girls.”
Even top members of the Iraqi government are saying no thanks, even if their more powerful colleagues are toeing the U.S. line. On Sunday, Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi said that a continued American military presence in Iraq would be “a problem, not a solution,” adding that training could be done by other countries at a cheaper price.
American officials acknowledge that al-Hashemi is speaking for the bulk of his fellow countrymen, with U.S. diplomats telling The New York Times that their own polling shows a “majority of Iraqis have a negative view of the American role in Iraq.”
No wonder Nouri al-Maliki and his thuggish cronies, fearful their power to torture and suppress political opponents will evaporate without U.S. support, aren’t willing to let average Iraqis have a say in their country’s future. The question is: will Americans, who support a complete withdrawal and want to bring the war dollars home , ever get a say in the future of their country? Tell President Obama to stick to his promises and bring the troops home.
Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: audacity of hope, collective punishment, dr. king, gaza, gaza blockade, gaza flotilla, gaza freedom, gaza strip, geneva convention, hamas, israel, israeli military, mavi marmara, medea benjamin, mlk, Palestine, palestinian refugees, Palestinians, roger hollander
“Instead of demanding safe passage for unarmed U.S. citizens participating in what passenger and writer Alice Walker calls the Freedom Ride of our era,” the State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner has labeled our actions “irresponsible and provocative” and the U.S. government has joined Israel in strong-arming countries in the Mediterranean to prevent us from sailing.”
“I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him,” said Dr. Martin Luther King as he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. These words will guide me and other passengers aboard the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, a fleet of nine boats scheduled to set sail for Gaza on June 25 from various Mediterranean ports. While the Israelis try to label us provocateurs, terrorists and Hamas supporters, we are simply nonviolent advocates following the teachings of Dr. King. We refuse to sit at the docks of history and watch the people of Gaza suffer.
The U.S. boat, which will carry 50 Americans, is called The Audacity of Hope. It is named after Obama’s bestselling political autobiography in which he lauds our collective audacity of striving to become a better nation. But I prefer to think of our boat as part of Dr. King’s legacy. He, too, talked about audacity, about his audacious faith in the future. “I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness’ of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him,” Dr. King said.
Our intrepid group has its moral compass aimed at the way things ought to be. Our cargo is not humanitarian aid, as some of the other ships are carrying, but thousands of letters from the U.S. people, letters of compassion, solidarity and hope written to people living in the Gaza Strip. We travel with what Dr. King called “unarmed truth and unconditional love.”
We focus on Gaza because since 2007 the Israeli government has enforced a crippling blockade on its 1.5 million residents. Inflicting collective punishment on civilians is morally wrong and is a gross violation of international humanitarian law under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Yet the world’s democracies do nothing to stop Israel’s extraordinarily cruel behavior, and in fact did nothing for 22 days in 2009 while the Israel military unleashed a tidal wave of carnage that left 1,400 Palestinians dead. They continue to sit by while the people of Gaza remain isolated and unable to secure access to building materials and basic living supplies, and while Israeli soldiers shoot at Gaza’s farmers trying to till their land along the border and attack fisherman trying to make a living in waters off their shore. And in the case of the United States, our government is not simply sitting by, but supporting the Israeli military with $3 billion in military aid a year.
The Palestinians’ plea for help has been ignored by world governments, but it has pricked the conscience of civil society. Caravans have crisscrossed Europe and Africa, carrying tons of aid. Boats have braved Israeli war ships and tried to dock in Gaza’s ports. Over 1,000 people joined the Gaza Freedom March, an attempt to break the siege that was brutally stopped by Egyptian police during the rule of Hosni Mubarak.
In May, 2010, seven ships and nearly 700 passengers carrying humanitarian aid tried to breach Israel’s naval blockade. The Israeli military violently intercepted the ships, killing nine passengers aboard the Turkish boat, including a 19-year-old American citizen. The rest of passengers were roughed up, arrested, thrown in Israeli prisons, and deported.
For a brief moment, this tragedy in international waters focused the world spotlight on Gaza. Israel said it would ease the draconian siege, allowing more goods to enter the beleaguered strip. But just this month, the health authorities in Gaza proclaimed a state of emergency due to an acute shortage of vital medicines and also this month, a report from the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees, UNRWA, found unemployment in Gaza at a staggering 45.2 percent, among the highest in the world. UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said the number of abject poor living on just over one dollar a day has tripled to 300,000 since the blockade was imposed in 2007. “It is hard to understand the logic of a man-made policy which deliberately impoverishes so many and condemns hundreds of thousands of potentially productive people to a life of destitution,” Gunness said.
Hopes inside Gaza were buoyed by the Egyptian revolution. A groundswell of grassroots solidarity by Egyptians pushed the new government to announce that it would open its border with Gaza. But that promise remains elusive, asthousands are still blocked from crossing, and all imports and exports must still pass through the Israeli side. Israel remains the warden for the world’s largest open-air prison. It continues to decide what goods can enter, what exports can come out, and which people can get exit visas. It continues to control Gaza’s electricity, water supply, airspace and access to the Mediterranean.
Although the Israelis know that our boats will not carry arms and we, the passengers, are committed to nonviolence, they have nonetheless vowed to stop us with a dizzying array of force—water cannons, commandos, border police, snipers, and attack dogs from the military’s canine unit.
Equally astonishing is the U.S. government’s reaction. Instead of demanding safe passage for unarmed U.S. citizens participating in what passenger and writer Alice Walker calls the Freedom Ride of our era,” the State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner has labeled our actions “irresponsible and provocative” and the U.S. government has joined Israel in strong-arming countries in the Mediterranean to prevent us from sailing.
This pressure is having an impact. At the urging of the Turkish government, our flagship, the Mavi Marmara, the same ship that was so violently attacked last year, recently announced that it will not be joining the flotilla. The Mavi Marmara was going to carry 500 people; its absence cuts our numbers in half. And there may be more ships forced to drop out.
All this bullying, however, only strengthens our resolve. We may be fewer boats, we may have fewer passengers, we may be threatened with violence, but we will sail. And if the Israelis intercept our boats, we call on people around the world to gather at Israeli embassies and consulates to express their outrage.
Like the inexorable rhythm of the ocean, the Palestinians will continue to lap at the shores of injustice. They will keep coming back, wave after wave, demanding the right to rebuild their tattered communities, the right to live in dignity. Shoring them up will be the international community, including activists like us who join their nonviolent resistance. The real question is: How long will the Israelis, with U.S. backing, continue to swim against the tide?
Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Barack Obama, Libya, War.
Tags: charles davis, gaddafi, libya, medea benjamin, Obama, roger hollander, war
by Medea Benjamin and Charles Davis
His lines may be better delivered, but Barack Obama is sounding – and acting – more like the heir to George W. Bush than the change-maker sold to the public in his award-winning ad campaign. Indeed, when not sending billions of dollars to repressive governments across the globe, the great liberal hope is authorizing deadly drone strikes and military campaigns in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and now, in his most morally righteous war yet, Libya.
Strutting out to a podium before an audience of uniformed military personnel – wonder where he got that idea from – a confident, some would say cocky, American president offered a fierce albeit belated speech justifying another preemptive war against a country that posed no threat to the United States. And if you closed your eyes, you could almost hear that faux-Texas drawl.
“As Commander-in-Chief, I have no greater responsibility than keeping this country safe,” the president declared, adopting his predecessor’s favorite title for himself. “I’ve made it clear that I will never hesitate to use our military swiftly, decisively, and unilaterally when necessary to defend our people, our homeland, our allies and our core interests.”
Put another way, President Obama says he will only start a war – without consulting Congress, much less the public – when it is absolutely necessary for defending the “homeland” or for, you know, whatever he deems an “interest.”
Enter Muammar Gaddafi, a caricature of a tyrant who the Obama administration just a matter of weeks ago was looking to sell $77 million in weapons, including more than 50 armored troop carriers. Back then – mid-April – Gaddafi was a thuggish but reliable client in his old age. And he happened to rule over a country that has the largest oil reserves in Africa.
Funny how friendship works.
But a few short weeks ago, Gaddafi became unreliable – a public relations nightmare – when he started using the weapons he purchased from his erstwhile allies against his own people. Like Saddam Hussein before him, he became a liability.
So now Obama believes Gaddafi to be a “tyrant” who has lost his “legitimacy” – as if there was anything “legitimate” about his previous 42 years of dictatorial rule. On Monday, the president argued war was necessary to prevent Gaddafi from massacring rebel forces and their supporters in Benghazi. Such a massacre “would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world,” said the war president. “I refused to let that happen.”
I – me – the imperial president. Cue the commander-in-chief landing on an aircraft carrier.
But if the threat of a massacre is what spurs President Obama to action, what are we to make of his reaction to Israel’s massacre of more than 1,400 Palestinians during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, or what Amnesty International calls “22 days of death and destruction? Giving Israel an additional $30 billion in American weapons is a rather curious response, no?
And what about the hundreds of civilians killed by drone attacks in Pakistan since Obama took office – as many as 1,850 according to the New America Foundation? In early March, the very administration cloaking its new war in moralizing rhetoric carried out a massacre of 40 Pakistani civilians – a massacre the president who authorized the attack couldn’t even be bothered to comment on.
Right now, the Obama administration is actively supporting brutal regimes in Yemen, Iraq and Bahrain – to name a few – where protest movements are being violently suppressed on the American taxpayers’ dime. And the Obama administration is selling $60 billion in weapons to the Saudis, who not only oppress their own dissidents but recently occupied neighboring Bahrain and violently cracked down on peaceful protesters there with the U.S.’s stamp of approval.
So if one thing’s clear, it’s that the U.S. government is fine with tyranny – when it’s “pro-American” (business). Fancy rhetoric aside, there is no “freedom agenda.”
Speaking to reporters this week, Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough conceded as much, saying that the White House doesn’t “make decisions about questions like intervention based on consistency or precedent.” Rather, “We make them based on how we can best advance our interests in the region.”
And as history professor and war supporter Juan Cole helpfully notes, the rebels control significant swaths of oil-rich territory and have taken “key oil towns” thanks to the U.S.-led bombing campaign – of 200 cruise missiles fired so far, 193 have been fired from American warships. They are also on the verge of taking 80 percent of the Buraiqa Basin, writes Cole, which “contains much of Libya’s oil wealth.”
Bingo: We just found “our interests.” And unsurprisingly, they don’t involve protecting innocent people from being killed so much as they do protecting the natural resource on top of which they’re dying – and then having the freshly liberated locals pick up the tab for American contractors to rebuild everything American missiles destroyed.
Major General Smedley Butler had it right: war is a racket.
But even assuming Obama has the best of intentions – with which the road to hell is paved, mind you – U.S. intervention in Libya is more likely to do harm than good. Besides the inevitable “collateral damage,” meaning widowed mothers and orphaned children, war sets off an unpredictable chain reaction of evil – evil that no side has a monopoly over.
Indeed, The Los Angeles Times reports that while the intervention is sold as in defense of human rights, the Libyan rebels on whose behalf the U.S. is intervening are actively rounding up hundreds of their perceived political opponents and imprisoning them without charge in Gaddafi’s former torture chambers. Those being rounded up are primarily black immigrants, with rebel spokesman Abdelhafed Ghoga telling the paper that suspected Gaddafi mercenaries who don’t voluntarily turn themselves in will be subjected to extra-judicial “justice” (read: murder) for being “enemies of the revolution.” If they seize the country, who will stop roundups – and massacres – in Tripoli and elsewhere of those deemed to be supporters of the Gaddafi regime, perhaps for no reason other than the color of their skin?
U.S. official have publicly acknowledged an al-Qaeda presence among the rebels, bringing to mind U.S. support for the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s. And with the self-proclaimed leadership consisting of former top-level Gaddafi cronies who had no problem with the regime’s human rights abuses four weeks ago, those lionizing the rebels – and suggesting the U.S. illegally arm them — should take a closer look at who the U.S. and its allies are preparing to put in power when Gaddafi’s gone.
The Obama administration and supporters of the war — who a month ago couldn’t tell the difference between Benghazi and Baghdad — portray the intervention in Libya as a simple morality tale, with evil on one side and good on the other. But the reality is more nuanced than the applause lines the president laid out in his speech. In the real world, peace is rarely achieved by dropping bombs and installing the most avowedly “pro-American” locals you can find in power. Just look at Afghanistan and Iraq, where George Bush started wars that Barack Obama has only continued – and in the case of the former, escalated.
“Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries,” Obama said this week. “The United States of America is different.” And credit where credit’s due, he’s right: From Gaza to the Arabian peninsula, Obama doesn’t stand idly by while others carry out atrocities – he funds and arms those carrying them out.
And just like Bush, he doesn’t let his hypocrisy get in the way of a good war.
Medea Benjamin (firstname.lastname@example.org) is cofounder of Global Exchange (www.globalexchange.org) and CODEPINK: Women for Peace (www.codepinkalert.org).
Charles Davis (http://charliedavis.blogspot.com) is an independent journalist who has covered Congress for NPR and Pacifica stations across the country, and freelanced for the international news wire Inter Press Service.
Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
Tags: cairo, codepink, collective bargaining, egypt, labor, labor unions, labour, medea benjamin, right to strike, roger hollander, solidarity, tahrir square, unions, wisconsin, workers rights
Co-founder, CODEPINK: Women for Peace
Posted: February 21, 2011 03:58 PM
Here in Madison, Wisconsin, where protesters have occupied the State Capitol Building to stop the pending bill that would eliminate workers’ right to collective bargaining, echoes of Cairo are everywhere. Protesters here were elated by the photo of an Egyptian engineer named Muhammad Saladin Nusair holding a sign in Tahrir Square saying “Egypt Supports Wisconsin Workers — One World, One Pain.” The signs by protesters in Madison include “Welcome to Wiscairo,” “From Egypt to Wisconsin: We Rise Up,” and “Government Walker: Our Mubarak.” The banner I brought directly from Tahrir Square saying “Solidarity with Egyptian Workers” has been hanging from the balcony of the Capitol alongside solidarity messages from around the country.
My travels from Cairo to Madison seem like one seamless web. After camping out with the students and workers in the Capitol Building, I gave an early morning seminar on what it was like to be an eyewitness to the Egyptian revolution, and the struggles that are taking place right now in places like Libya, Bahrain and Yemen. Folks told me all day how inspiring it was to hear about the uprisings in the Arab world.
Some took the lessons from Cairo literally. Looking around at the Capitol Building that was starting to show the wear and tear from housing thousands of protesters, I had mentioned that in Cairo the activists were constantly scrubbing the square, determined to show how much they loved the space they had liberated. A few hours later, in Madison’s rotunda, people were on their hands and knees scrubbing the marble floor. “We’re quick learners,” one of the high school students told me, smiling as she picked at the remains of Oreo cookies sticking to the floor.
I heard echoes of Cairo in the Capitol hearing room where a nonstop line of people had gathered all week to give testimonies. The Democratic assemblymembers have been giving folks a chance to voice their concerns about the governor’s pending bill. In this endless stream of heartfelt testimonies, people talk about the impact this bill will have on their own families — their take-home pay, their health care, their pensions. They talk about the governor manufacturing the budget crisis to break the unions. They talk about the history of workers’ struggles to earn living wages and have decent benefits. And time and again, I heard people say, “I saw how the Egyptian people were able to rise up and overthrow a 30-year dictatorship, and that inspired me to rise up and fight this bill.”
Solidarity is, indeed, a beautiful thing. It is a way we show our oneness with all of humanity; it is a way to reaffirm our own humanity. CODEPINK sent flowers to the people in Tahrir Square — a gesture that was received with kisses, hugs and tears from the Egyptians. The campers in Madison erupted in cheer when they heard that an Egyptian had called the local pizza place Ians Pizza and placed a huge order to feed the protesters. “Pizza never tasted so good,” a Wisconsin fireman commented when he was told that the garlic pizza he was eating had come from supporters in Cairo.
Egyptian engineer Muhammad Saladin Nusair, the one whose photo supporting Wisconsin workers went viral, now has thousands of new American Facebook friends. He wrote in his blog that many of his new friends were surprised by his gesture of solidarity, but he was taught that “we live in ONE world and under the same sky.”
“If a human being doesn’t feel the pain of his fellow human beings, then everything we’ve created and established since the very beginning of existence is in great danger,” Muhammad wrote. “We shouldn’t let borders and differences separate us. We were made different to complete each other, to integrate and live together. One world, one pain, one humanity, one hope.”
From the trenches of Madison’s State Capitol Building, hope — and solidarity — are alive and well.
Medea Benjamin is co-founder of CODEPINK (www.codepink.org) and Global Exchange (www.globalexchange.org).
Follow Medea Benjamin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/medeabenjamin
Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: atrocity, Iraq, iraq casualties, Iraq invasion, Iraq war, medea benjamin, rendition, roger hollander, saddam hussein, torture, war
With the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq, the administration, the military and the media are trying to put a positive spin on this grim chapter of U.S. history. It would certainly give some comfort to the grieving families of the over 4,400 soldiers killed in Iraq if their sacrifices had left Iraq a better place or made America safer. But the bitter truth is that the U.S. intervention has been an utter disaster for both Iraq and the United States.
First let’s acknowledge that we should have never attacked Iraq to begin with. Iraq had no connection with our 9/11 attackers, had no weapons of mass destruction and represented no threat to the United States. We were pushed into this war on the basis of lies and no one–not George Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld-has been held accountable. The “think tanks,” journalists and pundits who perpetuated the lies have not been fired. Most of them can be found today cheerleading for the war in Afghanistan.
It’s true that Iraqis suffered under the brutal rule of Saddam Hussein but his overthrow did not lead to a better life for Iraqis. “I am not a political person, but I know that under Saddam Hussein, we had electricity, clean drinking water, a healthcare system that was the envy of the Arab world and free education through college,” Iraqi pharmacist Dr. Entisar Al-Arabi told me. “I have five children and every time I had a baby, I was entitled to a year of paid maternity leave. I owned a pharmacy and I could close up shop as late as I chose because the streets were safe. Today there is no security and Iraqis have terrible shortages of everything–electricity, food, water, medicines, even gasoline. Most of the educated people have fled the country, and those who remain look back longingly to the days of Saddam Hussein.”
Dr. Al-Arabi has joined the ranks of the nearly four million Iraqi refugees, many of whom are now living in increasingly desperate circumstances in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and around the world. Undocumented, most are not allowed to work and are forced to take extremely low paying, illegal jobs or rely on the UN and charities to survive. The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has reported a disturbing spike in the sex trafficking of Iraqi women.
The Iraq war has left a terrible toll on our troops. Over 4,400 have been killed and tens of thousands severely injured. More than one in four U.S. troops have come home from the Iraq war with health problems that require medical or mental health treatment. “PTSD rates have skyrocketed and in 2009, a record number of 245 soldiers committed suicide,” said Geoff Millard, chair of the board of Iraq Veterans Against the War. “If vets coming home from Iraq don’t get treated, we will see a rise in homelessness, drug abuse, alcoholism and domestic violence.”
It has also drained our treasury and contributed to the present financial crisis. As of August 2010, U.S. taxpayers have spent over $750 billion on the Iraq war. Counting the cost of lifetime care for wounded vets and the interest payments on the money we borrowed to pay for this war, the real cost will be in the trillions. This money could have been used to invest in clean, green jobs, or to rebuild our nation’s schools, healthcare and infrastructure-ensuring real security for Americans.
In addition to harming our troops and economy, the war has deeply tarnished our reputation. The US policy of torture, extraordinary rendition, indefinite detention, violent and deadly raids on civilian homes, gunning down innocent civilians in the streets and absence of habeas corpus has fueled the fires of hatred and extremism toward Americans. The very presence of our troops in Iraq and other Muslim nations has become a recruiting tool.
And let’s not forget that our presence in Iraq is far from over. There will still be 50,000 troops left behind, some 75,000 private contractors, five huge “enduring bases” and an embassy the size of Vatican City. As Major General Stephen Lanza, the US military spokesman in Iraq, told the New York Times: “In practical terms, nothing will change”.
So let us mark this moment with a deep sense of shame for the suffering we have brought to Iraqis and American military families, and a deep sense of shame that our democracy has been unable to hold accountable those responsible for this debacle.
The lessons of this disastrous intervention should serve as an impetus for Congress and the administration to end the quagmire in Afghanistan. It’s time to end these unwinnable, unjustifiable wars and bring our war dollars home to tackle the most strategic task for our national security, i.e. rebuilding America.
You can join the coalition calling for accountability by signing up here.
Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, civilian deaths, drone missiles, jonas brothers, medea benjamin, nancy moncias, Obama, pakistan, pakistani civilians, predator missiles, war
(Roger’s Note: Obama joking about unmanned missiles that kill innocent civilians. This is the man who only two short years ago was the symbol of hope for those who called themselves liberal or progressive, who were desperate for change one “could believe in.” Those who continue to support Obama have their heads in the sand.)
Obama’s ‘joke’ at the White House correspondents’ dinner was no laughing matter to the relatives of the hundreds of people killed in Pakistan by drones.
May 5, 2010 |
At the 2004 Radio and Television Correspondents’ Dinner, President Bush joked about searching for WMDs under Oval Office furniture. The joke backfired when parents who had lost their children fighting in Iraq said they found the joke offensive and tasteless. Senator John Kerry said Bush displayed a “stunningly cavalier” attitude toward the war and those serving in Iraq.
So it’s odd that President Obama would make a crude joke about deaths that he is responsible for. But that’s just what he did at the May 1 White House Correspondents Dinner. “Jonas Brothers are here, they’re out there somewhere,” President Obama quipped as he looked out at the packed room. Then he furrowed his brow, pretending to send a stern message to the pop band. “Sasha and Malia are huge fans, but boys, don’t get any ideas. Two words for you: predator drones. You’ll never see it coming.”
For people in Pakistan, where most of the drones are being used, the joke lost something in translation. According to Pakistani journalist Khawar Rizvi, few Pakistanis have ever heard of the Jonas Brothers or understood the reference to the President’s daughters. “But one thing we do know: There’s nothing funny about predator drones,” said Rizvi. “They’ve killed hundreds of civilians and caused so much suffering in Pakistan. And that’s no laughing matter.”
The point of using attack drones, which are piloted from 6,000 miles away in the Nevada desert, is to guarantee no U.S. casualties. But the increased use of unmanned aerial vehicles has led to an increase in the killing and maiming of innocents, often while they are sleeping in their beds.
You won’t get much of a chuckle by reading The New America Foundation’s 2009 report “Revenge of the Drones.” It shows that Obama, far from curtailing the drone program he inherited from President Bush, dramatically increased the number of U.S. drone strikes.
The report says that roughly 252 to 315 Pakistani civilians were killed by Predator and Reaper drone strikes between 2006 and 2009. Other reports place the figure much higher. Pakistani authorities released statistics indicating that over 700 civilians were killed by drones in 2009 alone, the year Obama took office. The running tally on the website PakistanBodyCount.Org is even more shocking: 1,226 civilians killed and 427 injured as of March 2010!
Equally shocking is the ratio of civilians to militants killed, which Middle East scholar Daniel Byman estimates at ten to one. It is a cruel joke indeed for the people of Pakistan that the U.S. military finds it acceptable to murder 10 innocent people for every Al Qaeda or Taliban operative killed.
The use of the drones has also expanded in Afghanistan. Every day, the Air Force now flies at least 20 Predator drones — twice as many as a year ago. They are mostly used for surveillance, but have also carried out more than 200 strikes over the last year. “Since the start of 2009, the Predators and their larger cousins, the Reapers, have fired at least 184 missiles and 66 laser-guided bombs at militant suspects in Afghanistan,” reported Christopher Drew of the New York Times.
Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Peace, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, afghanistan congress, afghanistan diplomacy, Afghanistan escalation, Afghanistan War, al-Qaeda, anti-war, codepink, medea benjamin, pakistan, peace, president obama, roger hollander, Taliban
Calls for reallocation of war funds in American needs, rapid withdrawal, diplomacy
WASHINGTON — At a time of sky-high unemployment, rising cost of living and lower wages, and outrageous corporate bail-outs and bonuses, CODEPINK Women for Peace condemns President Obama’s announced plan today on Afghanistan, which will continue to drain billions from on our economy, further destabilize the Middle East and Central Asia, and threaten worldwide security. CODEPINK calls for a reallocation of war funds into the needs of the American people: health care, education and infrastructure, a rapid withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the closing of bases, and tireless diplomatic engagement with Afghan and Pakistan governments.
The strategy, which calls for an increase of 4,000 combat troops and spending 60 percent more than current levels of $2 billion per month, will fuel the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, increasing their numbers. It will also lead to more civilian deaths — in 2008, amid U.S. military operations, civilian casualties climbed 40 percent. In addition, the planned American civilian official and corporate private contractor “surge” of more than 900 will further alienate Afghans, who increasingly view the U.S. as an occupying force, lead to greater insurgent activity and decrease security, while boosting American corporate profits.
“Sending more Americans to kill and die in a quagmire in Afghanistan is a tragic mistake,” said Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK. “Obama needs to live up to his promise of change by reversing course — focusing on negotiations and bringing our troops home.”
Americans do no want, nor can they afford, another war without end. A USA Today/Gallup Poll earlier this month found 42 percent of Americans felt the Afghanistan war was “a mistake,” an increase of 30 percent earlier this year and 34 percent in August 2008. The six-year Iraq War has cost the U.S. $600 billion.
Anger and resistance to escalated occupation in Afghanistan has begun to brew in Congress, as last week, 14 House Republicans and Democrats sent Obama a letter urging him to “reconsider” his order deploying 17,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan, and that “any perceived military success in Afghanistan might create pressure to increase military activity in Pakistan. This could very well lead to dangerous destabilization in the region and would increase hostility toward the United States.”
For interviews and more information, please call Jean Stevens, national media coordinator, at 508-769-2138 or Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK co-founder, at 415-235-6517.
Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: alice walker, Amnesty International, Ann Wright, antonia zerbisias, caged rat syndrome, Canada, canadian protest, code pink, egypt tunnels, gaza, george galloway, hamas, human rights, human rights activists, kim elliott, medea benjamin, Middle East, Palestinians, rabble.ca, red crescent, roger hollander, sandra ruch, Stephen Harper
Published on Wednesday, March 25, 2009 by The Toronto Star
Kim Elliott speaks in tones so soft that it’s sometimes tough to hear her.
But she uses her voice effectively, making her more courageous than many other Canadians who shout a good game about human rights and freedom of expression, but who slink away when it comes to talking the talk about Israel’s invasion of Gaza.
That despite the awful allegations about Israeli army actions that started to dribble out last week: children being used as human shields, civilians being shot for not instantly obeying commands, units buying T-shirts depicting pregnant Palestinian women with targets on their bellies.
Elliott not only speaks out but, as the publisher of the online magazine Rabble.ca, walks the walk.
This month, she went all the way to and around Gaza where she, along with 59 other (mostly women) peace and human rights activists, entered at the invitation of the United Nations.
“There was this doctor we met who told us of `caged rats syndrome,’” she tells me. “It’s like putting a bunch of rats in a cage and seeing what happens. It’s limiting their movement and packing them in really densely so they turn on each other. They want to get out but can’t. Anger just boils over.”
Among her fellow sojourners are five Canadians, including Sandra Ruch, one of the Jewish women who occupied Toronto’s Israeli consulate in January in protest of the invasion, as well as American author Alice Walker (The Color Purple) and Code Pink leaders Medea Benjamin and (former colonel and diplomat) Ann Wright, whose peace activism in the U.S. led to their being barred from entering Canada in 2007.
(On a side note: never in my life had I been ashamed of my country until the Stephen Harper government began to transform it into NeoConada. Last week’s banning of British MP George Galloway for unspecified security reasons was just the last straw.)
The group had freedom to tour at will, Elliott insists. “We didn’t have anything to do with Hamas other than that they stamped our passports. We wandered around by ourselves all night. We were safe because, as we’d heard, Hamas had so cracked down on the gangs that had started to take over.”
Elliott, whose interest in the Palestinians began long ago and who has visited the Middle East many times, went to Gaza so she could bear witness to the effect of the attack and Israel’s long-running siege, which strangles the movement of food, medical supplies and other necessities into Gaza.
Which is why there are tunnels from Egypt.
The media emphasize that the tunnels are used to smuggle rockets and weapons into Gaza – true – but everything from zoo animals to seedlings also move underground. Just this week, Egypt seized 560 sheep that were being herded through.
“The inhumanity of the border is, oddly enough, what left the most striking impression – more than the incredible destruction of homes,” Elliott explains. “The Red Crescent Society said they need at least about 1,000 trucks a day to go through every day to properly sustain the people. On average since the siege, it’s about 100 trucks. Some days, there are none. Most of what is feeding the people is going through the tunnels.”
So, with all the injustices around the world, why focus on Palestinians?
“I got my human rights background at Amnesty International and, up until very recently, they wouldn’t touch this issue, in Canada especially. People felt so threatened!” she says.
“So, not only were the Palestinians suffering enormous human rights abuses…but the focus of the media in disenfranchising them and the way people are attacked for working this issue motivated me.”
© 2009 The Toronto Star