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Blundering U.S. Should Spare the World Any More Nation Building December 16, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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Posted on Dec 16, 2008

By William Pfaff

Early in December, the press reported from the Barack Obama transition team that the president-elect has signed onto a foreign policy program continuing the “war against terror” on new, expanded and fundamentally changed terms. The United States will attack the sources of the problem of terrorism. It will start from scratch in “rogue,” “failed” and other distressed Middle Eastern, South Asian and African states, to build them up into modern democracies.

The Washington foreign policy community has been working on this idea. Condoleezza Rice announced last summer that new, multi-agency teams were being formed to move into countries to build democratic institutions and practices there, in addition to providing traditional aid. “Democratic state-building,” she said, was the “new American wisdom.” Robert Gates, who will continue as Defense Secretary in the Obama administration, has already endorsed the substance of this program. Washington will—in Secretary Rice’s words—“change the world in America’s image.”

Let me change the subject for a moment. Recent days have brought information on a 513-page federal report on the American-led reconstruction of American-destroyed Iraq, which has proven to be a $100 billion disaster, incorporating ignorant assumptions, waste, organizational chaos, bureaucratic and personal rivalries, lies and incompetence.

According to the document, during the past five years little more has been accomplished than restoration of the basic services and productive capacity that was destroyed by the American invasion and the looting that followed.

This is after killing or wounding—how many, a half million?—Iraqi civilians in order to liberate them. No wonder the Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at George W. Bush at the president’s farewell Baghdad news conference, and shouted “you dog!”—the worst insults possible in Arabic culture. This happened because no one in responsibility knew what they were doing, beyond the military objectives. The neoconservatives assured the president that America built democracies in Germany and Japan after the war. Surely Iraq would be easier yet. No one in power asked anyone who was there in Germany or Japan, or bothered to consult the records, which are ample.

Japan was “democratized” because the emperor, having been informed that such was the wish of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, ordered his people to become democrats. Japan had a parliament and constitutional monarchy before the war, then became a military dictatorship, and by fiat became a constitutional democracy again after the war.

The British and American occupation authorities in Germany in 1945 began “denazification” but soon found that, as most official positions in the country had required Nazi party membership, if they denazified Germany there would be no one to run it. They settled for prosecuting actual war criminals. As the Cold War then began, they let the Germans get on with installing a democratic system as ordered (Germany had been a parliamentary democracy before Hitler and his party were democratically elected). The first thing the Bush administration did in its crusade to democratize Iraq was to fire all the people who knew how to run it.

Something else has happened recently that bears on the issue of American official competence. This was the confession by one of the most respected men on Wall Street, former chairman of the NASDAQ exchange, that he had for years been running a simple Ponzi pyramid swindle (paying high returns to established customers out of the funds newcomers invest). With this, on his own account, he stole $50 billion from individuals, including sophisticated investors, as well as banks in the United States and abroad.

Bernard Madoff seems to have done this over a 40-year period (he started his investment firm in 1960), despite three Securities and Exchange Commission investigations, formal complaints to the SEC from competitors, conspicuous secrecy about his clients and methods, published accounts going unquestioned despite being prepared by an obscure two-man auditing firm, and persistent Wall Street rumors and suspicions. It may be the biggest financial swindle ever committed.

It comes at an unfortunate moment for American-style capitalism, which it has been the U.S. aim to install worldwide. The capitalist world suffers a liquidity crisis and impending catastrophe that may prove worse than the Great Depression of the 1930s. It has been caused by American financial fraud and incompetence. Following this evidence of American fiasco in running its own affairs, let me return to the subject of a foreign policy devoted to remaking other countries “in the American image.”

The conclusions of the report on American reconstruction of Iraq included the following statement: “Five years after embarking on its largest foreign reconstruction project since the Marshall Plan in Europe after World War II, the U.S. government has in place neither the policies and technical capacity nor the organizational structure that would be needed to undertake such a program.” I would think this should be written in fiery letters over the portal of the future president Barack Obama’s National Security Council.

Visit William Pfaff’s Web site at www.williampfaff.com.

© 2008 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Senate Report Finds Rumsfeld Directly Responsible for US Torture of Prisoners December 12, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in George W. Bush, Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan.
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December 12, 2008

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, “Mack the Knife.” I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting from Berlin, from East Berlin, that is. In fact, right around the corner is the theater where this is performed, the Bertolt Brecht Theatre.

We’re joined right now by a longtime German attorney to talk about a bipartisan Senate report that was released on Thursday that accused former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other top Bush administration officials of being directly responsible for the abuse and torture of prisoners at Guantanamo and other US prisons.

The report stated, “The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.”

The report was released by Democratic Senator Carl Levin and Republican John McCain of the Senate Armed Forces Committee. It was based on a nearly two year Senate investigation. The report was issued as speculation is running high in Washington over whether President Bush will issue blanket pardons of officials involved in some of the administration’s more controversial counterterrorism programs.

I’m joined here in Berlin by human rights attorney Wolfgang Kaleck. He is the General Secretary of the European Center of Constitutional and Human Rights. He has twice filed war crimes suits against Donald Rumsfeld in Germany.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Wolfgang.


AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Let’s start off by talking about the significance of this US Senate report. It’s interesting that it’s not only the Democrat Carl Levin but the former Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

WOLFGANG KALECK: Well, the report is fine, as many other reports which have been released during the last four years, but, one has to say, it only confirms the information which was already on the table. We had a lot of revelations by colleagues of yours, by Jane Mayer, by other investigative journalists. We had the book of Philippe Sands. And it’s the last report in a row. So what we are interested in is the consequences of all this. You know, where does it lead to? When does the new administration take the necessary measure to deal with these crimes? And they were crimes.

AMY GOODMAN: Do we see any move in that direction with the Barack Obama—just what is being put out now, his selections for his cabinet? Of course, he’s not in power yet.

WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah, we follow a vivid discussion right now in the US. Some people demand at least—and this is the minimum—some kind of truth commission with subpoena powers. But this is the absolute minimum. Yeah, and others, like Michael Ratner from the Center for Constitutional Rights, demand strongly prosecution in the US. And we from Europe follow this process very carefully, because if nothing happens in the US or if Bush files preemptive pardon, we know it’s our turn again here in Europe.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about these lawsuits that you have filed against Donald Rumsfeld and also what most surprised you in the, I mean, US Senate report. You’ve been researching this for a long time, but it’s different when a body like the Senate says things like you have been saying.

WOLFGANG KALECK: No, actually, I’m very happy with the report. It’s another confirmation. And also, you know, it’s not only about dealing with these persons who are—some of them already left the administration. I’m not really interested in these persons, as such. I’m interested in a change of the attitude of the US military’s and the US Secret Service’s, and, of course, I’m interested in a restoration of the rule of law, and that requires investigation and prosecution. And we are very reluctant to have any firm opinion yet on that, because we have to wait for the 20th of January. But we will very carefully follow the first steps of the Obama administration.

AMY GOODMAN: And what most—what you think is most significant in the Senate report?

WOLFGANG KALECK: Well, there are strong conclusions, you know, like saying what we always were saying, that the US military and the CIA were using the methods of the old enemies in the Cold War, like waterboarding, which was used by North Korea, by North Vietnam and by China and the Soviet Union. So, this was already on the table. This is like ridiculous. But it’s good that it’s now being said by a congressional report, of course.

AMY GOODMAN: Your lawsuits that you’ve brought against Donald Rumsfeld—


AMY GOODMAN: —together with the Center for Constitutional Rights—


AMY GOODMAN: —explain what they are and where they’ve gone and why you, as a German attorney, are involved with this at all.

WOLFGANG KALECK: The Center approached us in Germany four years ago, when there was nearly total impunity in the US and no attempts at all to be seen that any other than the “rotten apples,” the twelve persons from the night shift in Abu Ghraib, should be sued for what happened in Abu Ghraib. And so, in 2004, we filed the first lawsuit here in Germany. Actually, it was linked with what you have been discussing right now, because many of the mother units of the acting persons in Abu Ghraib were stationed in Germany, so there was even a territorial connection. Four of the twelve persons—other than Rumsfeld, four of the twelve persons were stationed in Germany. So Germany—in our opinion, Germany had the obligation to pursue this. And against Rumsfeld, our complaint was based on the universal jurisdiction laws in Germany. So that was 2004.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain universal jurisdiction.

WOLFGANG KALECK: Universal jurisdiction is when there is, yeah, no territorial link or no person, no citizen from the country, neither as an actor nor as a victim, as someone involved in the crime. So when there is no connection at all to the country, many countries in the world now have so-called universal jurisdiction laws, which allow them to investigate and prosecute if the state where the crime occurred and if the International Criminal Court won’t take the case. So—but this is only one side of the game.

The other side is what we always said. Yeah, we tried to blame Rumsfeld for—and others, of course, especially the lawyers—for what they’ve done in conducting the torture program, but we don’t have to forget that—and this is not about universal jurisdiction. This is about territorial jurisdiction and about personal jurisdiction. We have many, many European countries right now with pending lawsuits because of their involvement in the US torture program. So we have ongoing trials in Italy, in Spain. We have—even now in Bosnia, in Poland, we have brave prosecutors who are investigating against their own officials. We have parliamentary inquiries. We have criminal investigations in Denmark, in Holland, in many other countries.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain a few of these?


AMY GOODMAN: Because I think there’s very little sense in the United States of what goes on outside of the United States.

WOLFGANG KALECK: You know that the CIA rendition program was called by one investigator of the Council of Europe a “spider’s web.” So, this is to demonstrate the power of the CIA, like covering the whole world with their stations and using air bases all over the world to kidnap people, to torture them and to bring them anywhere.

AMY GOODMAN: By rendition. You’re referring to extraordinary rendition.

WOLFGANG KALECK: By rendition, yeah. I’m referring to the CIA extraordinary rendition program. So, on one hand, this really seems like a very powerful demonstration. On the other hand, they leave traces. Everywhere they act, there is jurisdiction on their actions. So they acted in Italy, for example. They kidnapped a Muslim cleric, Abu Omar, and brought him to Egypt, where he was really brutally tortured. And a brave prosecutor in Italy investigated the case and now is standing on trial against not only CIA agents, but also against the heads of the Italian secret service who helped the CIA.

AMY GOODMAN: But the CIA agents, of course, are not there. They’re being tried in absentia.


AMY GOODMAN: So, what does it mean? It means they can never return to Italy?

WOLFGANG KALECK: They can never return. There are arrest warrants, like there are arrest warrants in Germany against twelve CIA agents. So—

AMY GOODMAN: What happened here in Germany?

WOLFGANG KALECK: In Germany, it’s all because of the case of Khalid El-Masri, a German citizen who was kidnapped in Macedonia and then brought to Afghanistan and then returned to Germany. You know what? But what this means is, four years ago, everybody said suing—a lawsuit against US CIA agents, against US militarists, never brings you anywhere. And four years later, we find ourself in a situation where we have to say, this is, of course, not enough, but this is more than nothing. A lot has been happening. So, many, many lawyers, many prosecutors, many judges in several European countries took action, and I think there is more to come up. And it depends very much—there is much hope on the Obama administration, but it will depend very much if there is really something going on in the US. If not, I guess there will be more and more lawsuits here in Europe.

AMY GOODMAN: Wolfgang Kaleck, your first lawsuit against Rumsfeld in 2004, that was thrown out by the German government.

WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah, that was a nice one, because we filed the lawsuit in late 2004, and they were somehow revising our complaint, because it was a very strong, long complaint. And Rumsfeld announced at a certain point that he wouldn’t come to Germany because of that pending lawsuit. And he wanted to come to the Munich Security Conference on 11th of February in 2005, and so the German prosecutor filed the dismissal on the 10th of February, 2005, one day before, so that Rumsfeld could attend the Munich Security Conference, which he did. So, that was—

AMY GOODMAN: Was the US bringing a lot of pressure to throw this out?

WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah, it seems so. It seems so, because there were also upcoming visits of Condoleezza Rice and re-elected President George Bush by that time.

This attitude of the Germans, which was obviously politically motivated, gave us a fair chance to file a new lawsuit in 2006, where actually not only the Center for Constitutional Rights and we, the Germans, filed the case, but fifty organizations all over the world backed the case. And so, yeah, you know that the case gained a lot of public attention and also initiated a discussion that international justice has to be more than special justice for fallen dictators from Southern countries or special tribunals for Africa. If international justice wants to be taken serious in the future, it has to go after the powerful perpetrators also of the West and the North.

AMY GOODMAN: Wolfgang Kaleck, we’re sitting here in a studio in Berlin, East Berlin, to be exact. For those who are listening on radio, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. You’ll see the backdrop of this broadcast, significant buildings and monuments in Berlin. Can you talk about your concern—against the backdrop of this history, give us a quick one-minute tour of Berlin and its significant places. Even in the break, we were playing Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, “Mack the Knife.” The significance of Bertolt Brecht here, a theater right around the corner.

WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah. You know, we’re facing the Victory Column, where Barack Obama gave his speech in July. And this was actually a demonstration of war, because Germany was leading many wars in the past.

AMY GOODMAN: And we’re showing that backdrop right now.


AMY GOODMAN: This was where—the significance of that place, where Barack Obama spoke?

WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah, yeah. Berlin is full of monuments of war. And the Brandenburg Gate was the place, just where we’re sitting here—that was the first demonstration of Adolf Hitler when he was elected as a chancellor. So we have dealt a lot with impunity. And actually, you know, the Nazi—the whole chapter of the Nazi crimes was never, never really challenged by German justice. So, maybe we the Germans are not the best persons to tell others how to tackle impunity, but some of us learned a lot during the last years.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of the wall coming down that divides where we are in East Berlin from West Berlin, that many people don’t even refer to east and west anymore, thinking of it as one united city now, the government back here at the Reichstag?

WOLFGANG KALECK: Now, that’s—the interesting thing for us with the fall of the wall is that it showed that history is open, and sometimes things may happen that you haven’t expected in years before. And that’s, you know, what we are also experiencing with our work against impunity in Southern America, because we deal with cases against Chilean and Argentinean military officers, where, thirty years after the crimes during the dictatorships in the ’70s, these people now find themselves on trial. And so, this is our hope, that the continuous work of human rights organizations, of lawyers and organizations all over the world will at some point result in investigation and prosecution against US torturers.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us today. Wolfgang Kaleck is the General Secretary of the European Center of Constitutional and Human Rights, as we wrap up our trip through Sweden and Germany. We’ll be back in New York on Monday, and we’ll be dealing with the issue of extraordinary rendition there, as well.

AWOL US Soldier Seeks Asylum in Germany Over Returning to “Illegal” War in Iraq December 12, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan.
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December 12, 2008

EXCLUSIVE…AWOL US Soldier Seeks Asylum in Germany Over Returning to “Illegal” War in Iraq


A US soldier who went absent without leave a year and a half ago to avoid returning to Iraq has applied for asylum in Germany. Specialist Andre Shepherd served in Iraq between September 2004 and February 2005 as an Apache helicopter mechanic. When his unit was called up to return to Iraq in early 2007, he went AWOL to avoid redeployment, calling the war “illegal.” He lived underground in Germany for a year and a half before applying for asylum two weeks ago. We speak with Shepherd in his first international broadcast interview.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road in Berlin, East Berlin, to be exact, East Berlin, Germany. Soldier underground. Today, a Democracy Now! international broadcast exclusive. A US soldier who went absent without leave a year and a half ago to avoid returning to Iraq has applied for asylum in Germany.

Specialist Andre Shepherd served in Iraq between September 2004 and February 2005 as an Apache helicopter mechanic. After his tour of duty, he returned to Germany, where he’s based. When his unit was called up to return to Iraq in early 2007, he went AWOL to avoid redeployment, calling the war “illegal.” He lived underground in Germany for a year and a half before applying for asylum two weeks ago. Andre Shepherd may become the first American soldier to test German laws that could grant asylum to war resisters.


Andre Shepherd joins us now on the phone now from southern Germany in his first national broadcast interview.


Andre Shepherd, we welcome you to Democracy Now! Can you tell us why you’re applying for asylum in Germany?

ANDRE SHEPHERD: Hi, Amy. It’s great to be here.

It’s for several reasons, actually, as to why. First of all, since I went AWOL, you know, in early 2007, there was no other recourse, you know, in order to return back to the United States or travel to another country. So, I was here in Germany and everything, so this would be the most logical place to be.

The second reason is because of the stand of, you know, the German government and the German people against the war. There is overwhelming support for the antiwar movement that has been going on since the beginning of the Iraq war. So it would also be, you know, a logical reason for that.

And third of all, because of the—you know, the Nuremberg trials were based here in Germany in 1948, about sixty years ago, where they say that everybody, including soldiers, would—you know, must take responsibility for all of their actions. So, that would mean that if you’re in an illegal war, that means the soldier also is doing something illegal. So I think that it would be best for me to apply for asylum in Germany, as well, because of the actual stance and the historical precedents that have been set, you know, in this land.

AMY GOODMAN: Andre, talk about why you joined the military, where you were born, where you grew up.

ANDRE SHEPHERD: OK. I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. I lived in that [inaudible] my entire life. I went to—graduated from Lakewood High School in 1995, and then I attended Kent State University, about twenty, twenty-five miles south of Cleveland, until about spring of 2000.

After I left college, I ended up working several jobs to try to make ends meet, because I couldn’t get, you know, a job in the field of study that I was in, which was computer science, because at that time the dotcom bubble had burst. So I was—end up working the line of low-paying jobs, you know, like being a courier, vacuum cleaner salesman, even working for, you know, work-today-pay-today kind of jobs. And it was not really an easy existence. I ended up being homeless twice, and things like that.

And what happened was, was that in the summer of 2003, you know, right after the invasion and everything, I was walking past the recruiter’s office, and he spoke to me about, you know, wanting to help people and everything, so I went in. You know, we had a cup of coffee and everything, and he was explaining to me about, you know, what the military—what the military’s role in the world, you know, as of this time was, you know, speaking about basically all the dictators in the world, like Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong-il, you know, the usual suspects from the Axis of Evil. And he was mentioning about September 11th and about the war on terror and everything and talking about how America stands for freedom and democracy and how we should—you know, they needed people like me to be part of the frontline in this war against, you know, tyranny and oppression and everything. So that sounded pretty good to me. I was a little taken aback by it, because it’s not every day someone, you know, asks you to help save the world or anything like that. But at the same time, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to join the military right away because of, you know, being in a military structure and giving your life over for a number of years and everything, because I’m a very independent-minded person.

But then he started talking about the benefits, you know, about the steady pay, the free housing, the free medical care, the paid tuition for school, you know, everything like that. And for me, being down on my luck and everything and being homeless twice and everything, that actually sounded like a really good idea, because I, you know, wanted to put my life on the right path, where I could actually get my life straight, you know, finish my degree and, you know, going about my life, reaching the goals in my life.

But I still wasn’t really convinced, because I didn’t want to sign my life away for eight years, you know, like as I have said before. But that’s when they told me about, you didn’t have to sign up for eight years, because they had a new program at that time about signing up for the Army for a few months—in my case, it was fifteen months—where you could try out the Army and then you could leave. At that time, I didn’t know about, you know, the stop-loss or about the Individual Ready Reserve, where even after you leave the military service for up to eight years, you are subject to be called back from the military for additional deployments or whatever they need you for.

So—and then he also mentioned about the $5,000 bonus. And that really caught my eye, because I thought, you know, having at least a little nest egg to begin with, I can actually build my life up, you know, from there. So after a few months of thinking about it and everything, I decided to join the military in January of 2004.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you joined, and you trained to be an Apache helicopter mechanic?

ANDRE SHEPHERD: That’s correct.

AMY GOODMAN: And where, then, did you originally go in Iraq? How did you end up joining your unit?

ANDRE SHEPHERD: What happened was, was after I graduated from the Advanced Individual Training in Fort Eustis, I was sent to Katterbach, Germany to join the 601st Aviation Support Battalion. At the time, when I joined basic training in February, that was when the unit had deployed to Iraq, so they were already six months in theater. So when I arrived there, I was sent on to join the unit in Camp Speicher, which is outside of Tikrit in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about your days in Iraq, what exactly you did. Did you meet Iraqis? Did you kill Iraqis?

ANDRE SHEPHERD: OK, I have to explain this, because my experiences weren’t like it was with the infantry, where the infantry was out every single day going on patrols, you know, kicking down doors and everything like that, because as an Apache mechanic, our primary job was to make sure that the helicopters stay in the air. All the time, we were always mission-ready. So we work twelve-hour days, six days a week, you know, every single week, because we had to keep the Apaches in the air. We had to do, you know, phases, where we would do like complete maintenance on the helicopters and everything like that.

Sometimes there would be duties where you would go for guard duty, you know, to watch a group of Iraqis who were coming onto the base so they could, you know, build the fences, like, sand the fences or, you know, painting or different things like that. So we would actually give them money, where they could, you know, actually feed their families or take care of themselves and things like that. So the extent of my interactions with the Iraqis were very minimal. It was either by, you know, passing by them while they’re working or, you know, when they’re waiting for the trucks and everything, saying hello and things like that, but not out on the streets or anything like that. It was a completely different experience than what it would have been had I been working for the infantry or any of the, you know, the tank commanders or the cavalry or anything like that.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about fixing the Apache helicopters. What about the air war in Iraq?

ANDRE SHEPHERD: Now, this one is a serious point of contention, because in the research that I have done over several years, the extent of damage that has happened in Iraq—you know, with the infrastructure being totally destroyed, you know, their not having enough power, there’s no water, some photos of bullet holes from 30mm chain guns going through buildings and everything—all of this cannot have been done by the infantry. This is true.

To get concrete evidence on the air war, it’s very, very, very difficult. There are several articles that I have read, where journalists are very—you know, even journalists are frustrated as to trying to get accurate numbers, you know, how much munitions that were done, how many sorties were flown, what kind of ammunition was used. So, you know, they keep getting stonewalled by the military. I asked the pilots about their missions and everything, and I was told that their missions are—you know, for operational security, they’re not allowed to talk about them. So what I would have to rely on was basically what was being reported, you know, with what little information the journalists can dig up.

But I’m sure it was quite extensive, because many units are flying like, you know, several thousand missions a year, you know, doing patrols in Iraq, used in support for the infantry, just doing patrols throughout the cities and everything. And, you know, with the constant refueling and rearming, you know they’re using the ammunition for something. They’re just not just using them only for test fire. So we know that they’re being done. But like I was saying in the beginning, the extent of the damage, you know, with what is going on is the masses of civilians that have been killed as a result of, you know, of the air war, which is too big to just pin onto the infantry. I know that, you know, especially the Apache has played a significant part in the Iraq war, especially in the last five years.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Andre Shepherd, how did you do this research? You say you got more and more information as you were researching while you were in Iraq, what led you to believe you couldn’t be a part of this any longer. How did you do research in Iraq?

ANDRE SHEPHERD: OK, now, in Iraq, there was actually a limited opportunity to do so. It was more so once I redeployed back to Germany. What we had for our breaks and everything, they had a little place where you could go and use the internet, you know, mainly to chat with families or check email and things like that. So that’s where I would spend one hour a day, starting to look up the causes for the Iraq war, as to, you know, what exactly are we doing there, and what kind of impact that I had being an Apache mechanic, you know, and keeping the Apaches in the air, figuring out how my contribution to the war affects the daily life of the Iraqi people.

What I had been finding out from there, you know, looking at several sources and everything, is that—you know, about the lies that the Bush administration has told, that they have continued to perpetuate, especially in the last ABC interview that Mr. Bush has given, talking about the—none of the WMDs have been found in Iraq or anything, about the widespread damage that has been going on, about the sentiments of the Iraqi people, the sentiments of different soldiers, depending on which site you would go to, and things like this. And I’ve pretty much been building a massive database on things that I have been collecting over the years, including the laws, you know, of the United States, international law, things like that referring to the legality of the war, and especially with the public opposition that’s been going on, you know, particularly in Germany. You know, there’s huge sections of the United States that were opposing it. Pretty much all over the world.

So, this began in Iraq, you know, like I said, for one hour a day, but once I came back to Germany, when I bought a computer and actually had a constant internet connection, I could actually do intensive research, you know, for like two, maybe three, four hours a day, you know, after work, just seeing what was going on.

AMY GOODMAN: Andre, we’re going to break, and then we’re going to come back to this conversation. And we’ll also be joined by Elsa Rassbach, and we’re going to talk about US military bases in Germany. There are more bases here than anywhere in the world. Finally, we’re going to be joined by a German lawyer who has sued Donald Rumsfeld, and we’re going to talk about the Senate report that just came out on the former Secretary of Defense.

This is Democracy Now! We’re broadcasting from Berlin. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Berlin, actually from East Berlin, here in Germany, as Democracy Now! goes on the road and wraps up our European trip. We’re joined on the telephone from another part of Germany by Andre Shepherd. He could be the first US soldier to apply for political asylum here in Germany, refusing to return to Iraq. He’s gone underground. He’s gone AWOL.

We’re also joined here in Berlin by Elsa Rassbach. She is a US citizen and activist who’s lived in Germany for the past eighteen years. She’s a member of American Voices Abroad Military Project and of the German affiliate of the War Resisters’ International.

Before we go to Elsa, I wanted to go back to Andre and ask—so, you came back here to Germany. Where were you? And what does it mean to go AWOL? What did you do? You left the base?

ANDRE SHEPHERD: Yes, that is correct. I left the military base in Katterbach in April 2007 and never returned. This is AWOL. It’s slightly different than desertions, because with AWOL you always have the intent to return, you know, back to your post after a certain amount of time, and with desertion, that means you permanently quit the military. And as of right now, I’m still currently considered as AWOL, but, you know, given the circumstances [inaudible], I’m quite sure that that status has changed to desertion.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, how did you actually apply? Have you applied in any way to the US government?


AMY GOODMAN: No, to apply for asylum in Germany.

ANDRE SHEPHERD: Oh, OK, OK. Now I understand. OK, well, basically what you had to do was go through the reception center, which I went to in Giessen a few weeks ago, and formally declare myself as an asylum seeker. And then, you know, they take care of the paperwork and everything. And then you are designated as an asylum seeker, upon which you are enjoyed limited rights, you know, for living in Germany until such time as the hearing comes and they make a decision on whether or not they will grant you full rights to asylum.

AMY GOODMAN: Why didn’t you apply, Andre Shepherd, for conscientious objector status?

ANDRE SHEPHERD: It’s for several reasons, but the main overall reason is because in the US, conscientious objector only pertains to individuals that are against every single war of every form. It doesn’t matter if it’s offensive, defensive, limited action. It doesn’t matter. The problem is, for me to actually go and apply for conscientious objection, I would actually have had to lie, because my belief is that the armed forces are there for defense of the nation, like let’s say an example like someone decides to invade California, you know, and the military is called up to go and repel whatever forces invaded the land. Of course I would take up arms and go and defend my land, because they breached our borders. This is OK. But as soon as I would use that as an argument in my conscientious objector application, it would be automatically rejected, because it goes against the first tenet of the rules of objection.

The second thing on there is that you have to, you know, live the lifestyle. From what I’m reading, you know, in AR600-43, you have to live the lifestyle that supports your beliefs. I’m still trying to figure out exactly how that would work, because the way it’s written, I’m assuming that even if you, like, do things like, you know, play videogames or watch war movies, you know, anything that advocates war, that wouldn’t support your lifestyle, you know, of your beliefs. And it’s up to the soldier to prove that these beliefs are sincere. So it’s like next to impossible.

The other and most compelling reason is the case of Augustin Aguayo. At the same time that my unit was scheduled for the second deployment, Augustin Aguayo’s case was big in the media, particularly in the Stars and Stripes magazine. This guy was the most pacifist soldier I have ever seen, you know, and he applied for conscientious objector status. I mean, the guy had never even loaded his weapon in a war zone. And the way the military treated him and, you know, summarily rejected his application and saying that he wasn’t sincere about his beliefs and everything, and they wanted to put him in handcuffs to send him back to Iraq. And he ended up, you know, serving time, because he finally went AWOL, because normal channels of conscientious objection were closed to him, and there’s like no other alternative to not going to combat duty. So this told me right away that this was not the way to go in terms of solving this problem, because I knew that, one, the CO would be rejected, and two, that it would cause too many problems, not for myself, but also for the unit, as well, especially if word got out that this was going on.

AMY GOODMAN: We will link on our website, democracynow.org, to our interviews with Augustin Aguayo, who joined us right before he turned himself in in the US military in Los Angeles and then went back to Germany—well, had been back in Germany, where he had gone AWOL and ultimately was freed, after being imprisoned. And we’ve talked to him extensively about his reasons for applying for CO status.

I wanted to turn from Andre Shepherd, who—I hope you’ll stay on the line with us—to Elsa Rassbach, who has been here in Germany for some eighteen years, moved from the United States. Elsa, can you give us the lay of the land? You’ve been a longtime antiwar activist here in Germany, Germany having more US military bases outside the United States than any place in the world.

ELSA RASSBACH: Yes. Actually, I’ve been here in two stints. One was during the Vietnam War, and one has been since 1996. And in the Vietnam War, when there were a lot of GI newspapers in Europe and Germany and many soldiers deserting to Sweden and so forth, the German peace movement was critical in that effort reaching soldiers.

And now what has happened is that, you know, Germany is still occupied, really, more than sixty years. Germans are very grateful for the liberation of Germany by the US, but on the whole, the majority do not approve of how the US are using the bases here for these wars. And there are more bases here than any other country outside the US. There’s 68,000 soldiers stationed here. The US is consolidating in Europe to sort of six mega-bases. Five of them are to be in Germany, and one is in Vicenza. Ansbach area, where Andre was stationed, is supposed to be one of them, is supposed to be the big fighter-helicopter base. In addition to that, there are two Central Commands in Germany. Germany is the only country with the Central Commands, you know, reporting directly to the Pentagon, like we know CENTCOM is in the US, and so forth, but the EUCOM, which covers all of Europe, Soviet Union, Turkey, that’s in Stuttgart, used to include Africa, but now they’ve created AFRICOM. That’s also in Stuttgart.

AMY GOODMAN: Because no African country would accept them.

ELSA RASSBACH: Exactly. But why—and the Germans—you know, it’s a difficult situation for them. They do not want to be ungrateful. They also are—but they have—for years now, there has been a strong opposition building also to the use of the bases here. You haven’t seen demonstrations like you have in Vicenza, where they were trying to enlarge that base in a middle-class area. You do see in Ansbach, where Andre was, one of the liveliest movements also against the base there, because US wanted to expand that base, and they had a petition in which they said—it was sent throughout Germany—that German soil should not be used for aggressive war. And many Germans feel that that should apply to the US also.

AMY GOODMAN: We went to Ireland and to Britain and learned—met the Shannon antiwar activists, because most soldiers went through Shannon airport before going to Iraq. But that’s changed?

ELSA RASSBACH: Well, yes. I understand there’s still some going there, but I believe, partly as a result of protest in Ireland, they shifted that. That’s mainly going through a commercial airport in Germany, in Leipzig, in the former East Germany. And that also is becoming the focus, the Leipzig airport, of activity here in Germany. And there are activists who go and watch how many soldiers go off through there.

But in addition to the soldiers routed through Germany to Iraq and Afghanistan via Ramstein Air Base or Leipzig or also the commercial airport Hahn near Frankfurt, there are soldiers, you know, as you know, permanently based here. It’s considered their home, within US military law. In Schweinfurt, for example, where Augustin was, that was considered his permanent base. They have had the—Schweinfurt had the largest death rate of any soldiers. They have—also, they’re creating—all of these bases create environmental damage in the German community. The Germans are paying also for a portion of the costs of the bases. And the citizens’ action against the expansion of the Ansbach base, where Andre was—

AMY GOODMAN: Explain where that is in Germany for viewers and listeners who don’t know.

ELSA RASSBACH: OK. That is in Bavaria. It’s about—it’s a bit north of Nuremberg. And one of the things they’ve done, actually, is they’ve made these huge bases in very outlying areas. I don’t know if it’s deliberate. It’s harder for activists to get to them. Grafenwohr is the biggest training base. It’s about an hour and a half from Ansbach also, and it has, you know, less—you know, just about a thousand Germans in the area.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of Nuremberg, the German constitution says Germany cannot engage in any offensive war.

ELSA RASSBACH: It doesn’t just say Germany. It says there shall be no preparation of aggressive war from German soil. And there have been several citizen petitions also with related to Ramstein Air Base, that it doesn’t say that only the Germans may not do it. It says there shall be no preparation of aggressive war from German soil.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you travel to US bases?

ELSA RASSBACH: Oh, yes. I go to US bases often, and we have a whole—both the American Voices Military Project and also the War Resisters’ International, and in Germany we have the networks of people near all the bases, and there’s also other anti-base networks. We’re all working together on this.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you do there?

ELSA RASSBACH: Well, among other things, we are organizing—and we’ve had for some time—that information be distributed to soldiers. We have these GI Rights Hotline cards. They’re just the same, really, as they are in the States. They have a hotline phone number on here, where soldiers can get information. This is the number here. I don’t know if you can see it. But this is—anyway, but many people in the States will have seen—oh, excuse me. Many people in the States will have seen these cards. Here we have also links to different organizations, like Iraq Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out. But basically, most people, if they would call the US, they would also be routed to Military Counseling Network in Germany, which is the Mennonite counseling organization that is part of the GI Rights Hotline Network. And so, that’s one thing we do, among other things.

We do demonstrations in front. We’ve invited Iraq veterans right to Ansbach in May. There were four US Iraq Veterans Against the War who did a week-long campaign there, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Coming up is the sixtieth anniversary of NATO, and I know there are major antiwar plans. Barack Obama will then be the official president. I expect that he would be going there. Where is all this taking place?

ELSA RASSBACH: Yes, this is taking place on the border between France and Germany, in Strasbourg on the French side and Kehl on the German side, and the whole province of Baden-Baden. And Strasbourg is where the European Parliament is. In fact, Strasbourg is where we even had a resolution for asylum in 2006 heard by—the Green and the left parties helped organize that. We were involved, and all of the organizations we’ve mentioned here were involved in that.

And there is a plan—this is the whole focus, really, of the German peace movement, to a large extent, as far as they know, to the European peace movement this spring, which is to say that no—the slogan is “no war, no NATO.” There is no reason for NATO to continue. NATO was an alliance against the Soviet bloc and the Warsaw Pact. It’s in the NATO statutes that they are—NATO is only defensive. It’s not supposed to be going elsewhere. And since the end of the Cold War, it has been used now to justify the Afghanistan war, the aggressive stance, the missile defense shield in East Europe and the kind of aggressiveness developing to the Soviet Union—or the former Soviet Union, to Russia and so forth. And it’s also used to justify—it’s the only justification why Germany allows these bases to be used for the Iraq war. Germany didn’t agree with the Iraq war. It’s because of the NATO alliance. So this is being challenged now.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to end with Andre Shepherd.


AMY GOODMAN: Andre, how much contact did you have with the antiwar movement, both German and US? Is this a support to you now? Were you able to get access to their information? Or, as you said, did most of your information come from your own research on US military bases in Germany?

ANDRE SHEPHERD: Well, I got into extensive contact with the antiwar movement through the Military Counseling Network, who I’ve been in contact with for the last year and half, actually the entire time I’ve been AWOL. As of right now, I am a proud member of Iraq Veterans Against the War for the last month or so. I have connections with—you know, connections with Connection e.V. I’ve spoken with Courage to Resist. And there’s a whole myriad of other peace organizations, like the Tübingen Progressive Americans for Peace and, you know, many others such as that. So there’s a really huge support network that we’re working together with to try to—

AMY GOODMAN: Are you afraid of being picked up, as Augustin Aguayo was? Now, of course, he was on a US military base in Germany, but ultimately, well, you know, picked up by US military when he was first taken. Then he went AWOL. Are you concerned about this?

ANDRE SHEPHERD: As of right now, there’s a little bit of concern, but I am hoping that the Americans will respect the Geneva Conventions and will not, you know, create a possible international incident by trying to pick me up and bring them under their jurisdiction while this process is ongoing.

AMY GOODMAN: And the next step in your application process for asylum here in Germany?

ANDRE SHEPHERD: Currently, I am waiting for a hearing so I can argue my case with my lawyer, Dr. Reinhard Marx. And we will present our case in the most comprehensive fashion that we can. And then we will see what the initial decision will be.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. Andre Shepherd, speaking out for the first time internationally about his application for political asylum here in Germany. And thank you to Elsa Rassbach. Your website, if people want to get in touch with it.

ELSA RASSBACH: We don’t actually have a website, but you could go to the Munich American Peace Committee, that’s part of the American Voices Abroad Military website. Sorry.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you both for being with us. The US Senate has come out with a report on the former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Next segment, we’ll be joined by a German attorney who’s sued Donald Rumsfeld for torture.

“Remember Pearl Harbor!” December 7, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in George W. Bush, Iraq and Afghanistan, Political Commentary.
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Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. (Photo: National Archive and Records Administration)
Sunday 07 December 2008

by: John Lamperti, t r u t h o u t | Perspective, www.truthout.org

“Pre-emptive” war, then and now.

    The name Pearl Harbor resonates in American history; it is synonymous with the U.S. entry into World War II. It stands for tragedy – and for treachery. On December 7, 1941, Japanese carrier-based aircraft attacked United States naval and air forces in the Hawaiian Islands, and scored a major victory. Over 2,300 U.S. military personnel lost their lives – almost half of them when the battleship Arizona was blown up and sunk by bombs and torpedoes. The U. S. Pacific fleet was devastated.[1] The next day President Franklin Roosevelt called for a declaration of war, and described December 7, 1941, and the Japanese attack as “a date which will live in infamy.”

    But why, exactly, was the Pearl Harbor attack “infamous”? The Japanese planes attacked strictly military targets and there were relatively few civilian casualties.[2] The battle was a terrible blow for the American forces, which were taken completely by surprise. But a surprise attack is not infamous in wartime; every military commander would like to attack by surprise if possible. Nor did the bitter facts of U.S. defeat and heavy losses make the raid criminal. President Roosevelt used the word “infamy” because the raid was an act of military aggression. Until that moment Japan and the United States were not at war, although their conflicting interests had been threatening to boil over. The attack turned a dispute into a war; Pearl Harbor was a crime because the Japanese struck first.

    Sixty years after Pearl Harbor, the administration of G. W. Bush has made “preemption” an official part of U.S. policy. According to this so-called “Bush Doctrine,” the United States claims the right to use military force whenever it determines that its security or economic interests may be threatened by another nation in the future. The Bush National Security Strategy of 2002 states that “The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction – and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.”[3] In other words, if it is to our advantage, we will strike first – begin a war – when we see a potential threat.

    That is exactly what the Japanese did in 1941, when the United States posed a huge threat to their leaders’ conception of Japan’s national interests. With bases reaching across the Pacific, the U.S. Navy, in particular, was potentially a major obstacle to Japanese expansion in China and Southeast Asia. Moreover, the United States had imposed an embargo on oil and steel shipments to Japan, a nation that depended on imports and had oil reserves sufficient for only about two years. By November 1941, negotiations to resolve or defuse these issues had stalled. Japanese military planners, by then in control of their country’s government, saw armed conflict with the United States as inevitable, and disabling U.S. naval power in the Pacific seemed essential for achieving their goals. They judged that a high-risk, high-gain surprise attack would give Japan its best chance for success. That is, they chose preemption.

    After the war, the United States and its allies did not accept Japanese or German claims that their preemptive acts had been legitimate. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson was the chief allied prosecutor of major Axis war criminals. In August 1945 Jackson wrote: “We must make it clear to the Germans that the wrong for which their fallen leaders are on trial is not that they lost the war, but that they started it… Our position is that no grievances or policies will justify resort to aggressive war. It is utterly renounced and condemned as an instrument of policy.”[4] During the next few years, officials and military officers of both Germany and Japan were tried and convicted for planning and carrying out aggression by their countries’ armed forces. There was no exception for “preemptive war,” although some of the accused tried to use that concept in their defense.[5] The Bush administration’s doctrine thus represents a reversal of long-standing principles of international law, principles that the United States has championed in the past.

    In the years since 2002, far from reconsidering its doctrine of preemption, the Bush administration has reaffirmed and extended it. The invasion of Iraq in 2003, for example, was supposed to preempt the use by that nation of “weapons of mass destruction,”[6] weapons which did not exist and could not in any case have threatened U.S. security. Moreover, the administration’s policy now specifically includes the possible use of nuclear weapons. The new (2005) nuclear doctrine identifies four conditions in which preemptive use of nuclear weapons could occur, including “An adversary intending to use weapons of mass destruction against U.S., multinational, or allies’ forces or civilian populations.”[7] The preamble states: “The US does not make positive statements defining the circumstances under which it would use nuclear weapons.” This “calculated ambiguity” is said to “reinforce deterrence”; it is a sort of “mad dog” strategy meant to induce fear of our dangerous unpredictability. Such threats are both dangerous and immoral. Instead, there should be absolute clarity that this country will never attack another with nuclear weapons; starting a nuclear war would be an act that would truly “live in infamy.” A declared U.S. “no first use” policy is long overdue, as part of a genuine campaign for world-wide abolition.

    The Bush administration has also broadened the scope of non-nuclear preemption, calling its policy an “expansive new definition of self-defense.” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and other officials recently cited this doctrine to justify attacks such as the October 26 raid inside Syria and others inside Pakistan. The policy, they said, permits strikes on “militant targets” in a sovereign nation without its consent when that nation does not act on its own as the U.S. wishes.[8]

    If these standards are applied to the Japan of 1941, the Pearl Harbor attack can no longer be seen as criminal; certainly George W. Bush and his associates are in no position to condemn it. For the rest of us, December 7, 1941 will remain a “day of infamy” as the war crimes tribunals concluded and as virtually all Americans have believed ever since. And if Japan’s attack on that day was infamous, the policy of preemption must be condemned as well. Preemptive war was not legitimate for the Japanese in 1941, and it is not legitimate for the United States today.

    Any policy that plans for “preemptive” or “preventive” war to promote national interests must be considered criminal, for the same reasons as was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It is an urgent challenge for incoming U.S. President Barack Obama to repudiate the Bush Doctrine and correct this dangerous situation. The United States must once again “renounce and condemn” any policy of preemptive war.

    – – – – –


    [1] In addition to the Arizona, the battleship Oklahoma was lost, three others were sunk or beached but later salvaged, and three more were damaged. In all, 18 ships were sunk or seriously damaged, 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed, and 158 other planes were damaged. The Japanese lost 29 planes in the raid. (From Walter Lord, Day of Infamy, first edition 1957.)

    [2] 68 civilians were killed and 35 others wounded. There were some 40 explosions in the city of Honolulu, but all except one were caused by U.S. antiaircraft fire. (Lord, page 212.)

    [3] The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, White House document, September 17, 2002, page. 19. Available on the web.

    [4] Department of State Bulletin, June 10, 1945.

    [5] Nazi leaders claimed, for example, that the 1940 German invasion of neutral Denmark and Norway was preemption, needed to “protect” them from an imminent British attack and occupation.

    [6] The introduction of this terminology may have been intended to blur the distinction between chemical and biological weapons, which Iraq could conceivably have possessed in 2003 (although it in fact did not), and true weapons of mass destruction, i.e. nuclear weapons, which it could not have possessed.

    [7] JP 3-12: Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations. Cited by Hans M. Kristensen in Arms Control Today, September 2005.

    [8] Thom Shanker, “Gates Gives Rationale for Expanded Deterrence,” New York Times, October 28, 2008.


     John Lamperti is a Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at Dartmouth College. He is the author of several books on the theory of probability and on random processes. Since 1985 one of his main interests has been Central America and what the United States has been doing there. He is the author of “Enrique Alvarez Cordova: Life of a Salvadoran Revolutionary and Gentleman“(MacFarland, 2006).