Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Human Rights, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Religion, Saudi Arabia.
Tags: abby zimit, human rights, islam, medea benjamin, raif badawi, religion, saudi arabia
Roger’s note: Where is the outcry? Where are the headlines? Where is the righteous indignation? Oh, I forgot. Saudi Arabia is an American ally, its barbarism doesn’t count.
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
The same day the Saudi Arabian Ambassador marched in Paris against the attack on Charlie Hebdo and free speech, his country – the one that regularly persecutes and jails writers, artists, activists and intellectuals for expressing their views, that seeks to try women drivers as terrorists, and that just declared a fatwa against snowmen – dragged blogger Raif Badawi shackled from his jail cell and flogged him 50 times in the public square at Jeddah’s al-Jafali mosque for “insulting Islam” through his website, Saudi Arabian Liberals, which offered social and political debate. It was the first of 20 such scheduled “severe” floggings, to total 1,000 lashes over 20 weeks. Badawi’s sentence last May also called for ten years in prison, a ten-year travel ban, a hefty fine and a lifetime ban from media outlets. His lawyer was also sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The sentence and lashings have prompted international outrage, a sustained campaign by Amnesty International, #FreeRaif and #RaifBadawi campaigns online, a tepid response from a U.S. State Department that is “greatly concerned” and a likewise mild response from Canada – where Badawi’s wife and children have settled in Montreal after receiving political asylum – which says it has “raised his case…as part of an ongoing, respectful dialogue” with the Saudis. Today, supporters held a vigil in Montreal, where they and Badawi’s family demanded he be freed. Yesterday, he marked his 31st birthday in jail. On Friday, presumably, he will once more be dragged from his cell and publicly, severely whipped 50 times. His wife worries he will not survive many more. In one of his last blog posts, insisting that “as part of humanity” we all have the same duties and the same rights, he urged, “Let us all live under the roof of human civilization.” Help him to live, period, here.
Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar
Thursday, January 15, 2015
“Flogging for Blogging” Official Saudi Policy
On January 9, two days after the massive Paris march condemning the brutal attack on freedom of the press, a young Saudi prisoner named Raif Badawi was removed from his cell in shackles and taken to a public square in Jeddah. There he was flogged 50 times before hundreds of spectators who had just finished midday prayers. The 50 lashes—labeled by Amnesty International a “vicious act of cruelty”—was the first installment on his sentence of 1,000 floggings, as well as ten years in prison and a fine of $266,000. Badawi’s crime? Blogging.
The father of three young children, Badawi hosted the website known as Free Saudi Liberals, a forum intended to promote a lively exchange of ideas among Saudis. Badawi wrote about the advantages of separating religion and state, asserting that secularism was “the practical solution to lift countries (including ours) out of the third world and into the first world.” He accused Saudi clerics and the government of distorting Islam to promote authoritarianism. Unlike the Saudi rulers, Badawi cheered the Egyptian uprising against Hosni Mubarak, calling it a decisive turning point not only for Egypt but “everywhere that is governed by the Arab mentality of dictatorship.”
In mid-2012, Badawi was arrested for his blogs, including an article in which he was accused of ridiculing the kingdom’s religious police, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. He was also charged for failing to remove “offensive posts” written by others. The prosecution originally called for him to be tried for “apostasy”, or abandoning his religion, which carries the death penalty.
If nothing changes, Raif Badawi will be flogged every Friday for the next 19 weeks. And he will not see his wife or children for ten years, who were forced to flee to Canada to avoid public harassment at home.
Badawi’s case is not unique. In 2014, Reporters Without Borders describes the government as “relentless in its censorship of the Saudi media and the Internet”, and ranked Saudi Arabia 164th out of 180 countries for freedom of the press.
Last year, four members of the group Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, an organization documenting human rights abuses and calling for democratic reform, were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 4 to 10 years. The fourth member sentenced was Omar al-Saeed, who was handed four years in prison and 300 lashes because he called for a constitutional monarchy.
Or look at the case of another human rights lawyer, Walid Abu al-Khair, in prison since 2012. Just this week, on January 13, a Saudi court increased his prison term from 10 to 15 years after he refused to show remorse or recognize the court that handed down his original 10-year term for sedition. Al-Khair, founder of Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHRSA) and legal counsel for blogger Badawi, was convicted on charges of disrespecting King Abdullah and the Saudi authorities.
Saudi Arabia also remains the only country in the world to maintain a ban on women drivers. According to this law, women are strictly restricted to the passenger seat of vehicles. This ban is so harshly imposed that two women, 25-year-old Loujain al-Hathloul and 33-year-old Maysa al-Amoudi, were not only arrested for driving to the United Arab Emirates, but they were also referred to be tried by a terrorism court. In the past, punishments for women drivers have included loss of jobs, passport revocation, and even floggings.
The US government’s response to these egregious and inhumane punishments from its ally usually takes the form of a US State Department spokesperson expressing “concern.” But there is no major public condemnation. No threats of cutting arms sales. No sanctions against government officials. The US government basically turns a blind eye to the medieval forms of torture the Saudis still mete out.
One major reason is oil. Since before World War II, the United States has viewed Saudi Arabia as a strategic source of petroleum. In 1933, the Arab American Company (ARAMCO) was established as a joint venture by both countries. Currently, Saudi Arabia is the second largest supplier of petroleum to the United States.
With the money it receives from oil, the Saudi government purchases vast amounts of weaponry from the United States. In 2010, the US government announced it has concluded a deal to sell $60 billion of military aircraft to Saudi Arabia—the largest US arms sale deal in history. One use of US tanks was seen in Bahrain, where the Saudis intervened to crush a democratic uprising against the Bahraini monarchy.
There’s now Congressional legislation being introduced to declassify a 28-page section of the 9/11 Senate report which allegedly exposes the direct role of the Saudi government in the Twin Tower attacks on 9/11. After all, Saudi Arabia supplied 15 out of the 19 9/11 hijackers and was the home of Osama bin Laden. Saudi Arabia exports the radical version of Islam, Wahhabism, that fuels extremism throughout the Middle East. Saudi Arabia treats its women as second-class citizens. Saudi Arabia is the capital of beheadings, with the government carrying out 87 public beheadings in 2013 and nine already this year.
Being the world’s top oil provider does not give a country the right to dehumanize its own people. The US is certainly no model for respecting freedom of expression – as we saw in the streets of Ferguson where peaceful protesters were teargassed and beaten – but it shouldn’t overlook the human rights abuses carried out by a country that imprisons, tortures and executes its citizens simply for speaking their minds. This Friday, when Raif will once again be subjected to 50 lashes, take a moment to call the Saudi Embassy in Washington DC (202-342-3800, then press “3” for the Public Affairs office and tell them: “Free speech is not, and should never be, a punishable crime. Je suis Raif!”
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Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: humanitarian aid, Iraq, Iraq war, isis, islamic state, jon queally, medea benjamin, phillis bennis, roger hollander
Roger’s note: In an effort to assure us that going to war is not really going to war, Obama’s speech writer has him saying idiotically that the strikes against ISIS will be “targeted.” Well now, isn’t that nice to now that Obama’s bombs will have targets and that he is not tossing them just any old where? Also note that the ISIS army, as with any force that the U.S. opposes, is referred to as “terrorist” (this coming from the president who destroys wedding parties with his drone missiles and funds Israel’s massacre of Gaza children). If this were thirty years ago they would be referred to as “communist.” Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty.
“Whatever else we may have learned from the president’s ‘dumb war,’ it should be eminently clear that we cannot bomb Islamist extremists into submission or disappearance. Every bomb recruits more supporters.”—Phyllis Bennis, Institute for Policy Studies
The president said the bombings may be necessary to stop the advance of a Sunni militant group, called the Islamic State (previously the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS), if they approach the recently increased U.S. forces stationed at a fortified consulate and a military base in the northern city of Erbil.
“To stop the advance on Erbil,” Obama stated, “I’ve directed our military to take targeted strikes against ISIL terrorist convoys should they move toward the city. We intend to stay vigilant, and take action if these terrorist forces threaten our personnel or facilities anywhere in Iraq, including our consulate in Erbil and our embassy in Baghdad.”
ISIS has been warring with the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in recent months, seizing large sections of the country, taking control of key infrastructure, and helping to fuel a humanitarian crisis for hundreds of thousands who have fled their homes to escape fighting.
Coupled with airdrops of food and water to stranded Iraqis, Obama justified the use of possible airstrikes as part of a “humanitarian” campaign even as he repeated his mantra that “there is no military solution” to the crisis in Iraq.
“When we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye,” Obama said. It was unclear how many observers would note that the president’s administration was repeatedly accused of “turning a blind eye” in recent weeks as it offered its diplomatic, military, and financial support to the Israeli military as it bombed the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.
Obama notably came to office in 2008 as the candidate who most strongly voiced his opposition to the Bush administration’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. He is frequently quoted as having called the Iraq War a “dumb war.” However, Obama has also defended the war in Iraq. Despite trying to extend the U.S. military presence, once that effort failed, Obama ultimately oversaw the withdrawal of active combat troops there in 2011.
Opponents of new airstrikes were quick to criticize the president for his decision to re-engage militarily.
“This is a slippery slope if I ever saw one,” Phyllis Bennis, a scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, told the New York Times in response to Obama’s announcement. “Whatever else we may have learned from the president’s ‘dumb war,’ it should be eminently clear that we cannot bomb Islamist extremists into submission or disappearance. Every bomb recruits more supporters.”
Paul Kawika Martin, political director for the national anti-war group Peace Action,tweeted: “Drop Humanitarian Aid NOT Bombs!”
Bennis was among those who predicted earlier this year—as the ISIS threat emerged in Iraq and Obama responded by sending new troops and “advisers” to the country—that increased U.S. military involvement could feed off itself and lead to further escalations.
Obama’s decision to add military forces in Iraq must be challenged, Bennis wrote in June, “before the first Special Forces guy gets captured and suddenly there are boots on the ground to find him. Before the first surveillance plane gets shot down and suddenly there are helicopter crews and more boots on the ground to rescue the pilot. Before the first missile hits a wedding party that some faulty intel guy thought looked like a truckload of terrorists—we seem to be good at that. And before we’re fully back at war.”
Writing at Common Dreams, peace activist Medea Benjamin said that just because people oppose more wars and military intervention does mean the U.S. must be ” complete isolationists” in Iraq. She wrote:
What is does mean is we should stop spending hundreds of billions of taxdollars on wars that don’t work, harming and killing innocent civilians. If we truly want to help people around the world, there are myriad better ways to do so. The U.S. should put its energy and influence toward a comprehensive ban on the transfer of weapons from outside powers. Rather than attempting additional unilateral moves, the U.S. should be collaborating with regional and international actors to address the root cause of the violence in Iraq. And we should more to help the millions of displaced Iraqis. The US is one of the least refugee-friendly countriesin the industrialized world. Given we live in a time with the highest level of refugees since World War II, assisting refugees—often forced out of their homes because of wars we have engaged in or dictators we have supported—could be just one easy way to help others.
Instead of sending more troops, or selling the Iraqis more weapons, or actively bombing targets—Bennis urged the Obama administration and the U.S. lawmakers to instead pursue these five actions that would help alleviate the conflict in Iraq, rather than enflame it:
First, do no harm. There is no military solution in Iraq—so end the threats of airstrikes, bring home the evac troops and Special Forces, and turn the aircraft carrier around.
Second, call for and support an immediate arms embargo on all sides. That means pressuring U.S. regional allies to stop providing weapons and money to various militias.
Third, engage immediately with Iran to bring pressure to bear on the Iraqi government to end its sectarian discrimination, its violence against civilians, and its violations of human rights.
Fourth, engage with Russia and other powers to get the United Nations to take the lead in organizing international negotiations for a political solution to the crisis now enveloping Iraq as well as Syria. Those talks must include all sides, including non-violent Syrian and Iraqi activists, civil society organizations, women, and representatives of refugees and displaced people forced from their homes. All relevant outside parties, including Iran, must be included. Building on the success of the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran, Washington should continue to broaden its engagement with Tehran with the goal of helping to bring the Syrian and Iraqi wars to an immediate end.
Fifth, get help to the people who need it. The Iraq war is creating an enormous new refugee and humanitarian crisis, escalating the crisis of the Syrian war, and spreading across the entire region. The United States has pledged one of the largest grants of humanitarian aid for refugees from Syria, but it is still too small, and much of it has not been paid out. Simultaneously with the announcement of an immediate arms embargo, Washington should announce a major increase in humanitarian assistance for all refugees in the region to be made immediately available to UN agencies, and call on other countries to do the same.
Steps like these, not new rounds of airstrikes, is “how wars get stopped,” Bennis concluded.
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Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Egypt, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Torture, Women.
Tags: civilian casualties, codepink, egypt, egypt coup, egypt dictatorship, egypt massacres, egyptian junta, human rights, kate chandley, kerry, medea benjamin, morsi, muslim brotherhood, roger hollander
Roger’s note: just to document one more time that the United States doesn’t give a shit about democracy as long as a government is in alliance with its geopolitical objectives. Emperor Obama declared the Egyptian coup not to be a coup, and that is that. Egypt’s military government, led by a US trained general, probably as much or more brutal than the overthrown Mubarak regime, continues to support Israel and the isolation of Gaza in accord with US wishes. And “we wonder why they hate us.”
April 21, 2014
| By Medea Benjamin, Kate Chandle
After a recent CODEPINK delegation to Egypt ended up in deportations and assault, we have become acutely aware of some of the horrors Egyptians are facing in the aftermath of the July 3 coup that toppled Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi. Over 2,500 civilians have been killed in protests and clashes. Over 16,000 are in prison for their political beliefs and allegations of torture are widespread. Millions of people who voted for Morsi in elections that foreign monitors declared free and fair are now living in terror, as are secular opponents of the military regime, and the level of violence is unprecedented in Egypt’s modern history. With former Defense Minister Abdel Fatah al-Sisi set to become the next president in sham elections scheduled for May 26-27, the Egyptian military is trampling on the last vestiges of the grassroots uprising that won the hearts of the world community during the Arab Spring.
The most publicized case is the trial of the three Al Jazeera journalists and their co-defendants, charged with falsifying news and working with the Muslim Brotherhood. On April 10, there was a ludicrous update in the trial, when the prosecution came to courtpresenting a video that was supposed to be the basis of their case but consisted of family photos, trotting horses, and Somali refugees in Kenya. The judge dismissed the “evidence” but not the charges.
The high-profile case is just a taste of wide-ranging assault on free expression. The government has closed down numerous TV and print media affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist currents. The Committee to Protect Journalists named Egypt the third deadliest countries for journalists in 2013, just behind Syria and Iraq.
An incident that shows how the judicial branch is now working hand-in-glove with the military is the horrific March 24 sentencing of 529 Morsi supporters to death in one mass trial. The entire group was charged with killing one police officer. The trial consisted of two sessions, each one lasting less than one hour. Secretary of State Kerry said that the sentence “defies logic” and Amnesty International called the ruling “grotesque.”
And if you think that a US passport entitles a prisoner to due process, look at the tragic case of 26-year-old Ohio State University graduate Mohamed Soltan. Soltan served as a citizen journalist, assisting English-speaking media in their coverage of the anti-coup sit-in at Rabaa Square that was violently raided by police and resulted in the death of over 1,000 people. In jail for over 7 months, Soltan has been on a hunger strike since January 26 and is now so weak he can’t walk. His situation in prison has been horrifying. When he was arrested, he had a wound from being shot that had not yet healed. Prison officials refused to treat him, so a fellow prisoner who was a doctor performed surgery with pliers on a dirty prison floor, with no anesthesia. His trial has been postponed several times, and there is no update on when it might actually take place. (Activists in the US are mobilizing on his behalf.)
Female activists also face dehumanizing experiences. In February, four women who were arrested for taking part in anti-military protests say they were subjected to virginity testswhile in custody–a practice that coup leader Abdel al-Sisi has supported. In addition to the horror of virginity tests, Amnesty International has also reported that women in prison in Egypt face harsh conditions, including being forced to sleep on the floor and not being allowed to use the bathroom for 10 hours from 10pm to 8am every day. Egyptian Women Against the Coup and the Arab Organisation for Human Rights has reported beatings and sexual harassment of female prisoners.
The internal crackdown may be getting worse, not better. New counter-terrorism legislationset to be approved by Egypt’s president would give the government increased powers to muzzle freedom of expression and imprison opponents. Two new draft laws violate the right to free expression, including penalties of up to three years’ imprisonment for verbally insulting a public employee or member of the security forces. They broaden the existing definition of terrorism to include actions aimed at damaging national unity, natural resources, monuments, communication systems, the national economy, or hindering the work of judicial bodies and diplomatic missions in Egypt. “The problem with these vaguely worded ‘terrorist offenses’ is that they potentially allow the authorities to bring a terrorism case against virtually any peaceful activist,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui of Amnesty International.
The draft legislation also widens the scope for use of the death penalty to include “managing or administering a terrorist group.” The Muslim Brotherhood was labelled a terrorist group by the Egyptian authorities in December (though no factual evidence was provided that it is engaged in terrorist attacks).
The US government refuses to call Morsi’s overthrow a coup, and has continued to give Egypt $250 million in economic support, as well as funds for narcotics controls, law enforcement and military training. But the bulk of the foreign military funding of $1.3 billion has been suspended.
On March 12, Secretary of State Kerry indicated that he wanted to resume the aid and would decide “in the days ahead.” Egypt has long been one of the top recipients of US aid because of its peace treaty with Israel, its control over the Suez Canal and the close ties between the US and Egyptian militaries. To renew the funding, Kerry must certify that Egypt is meeting its commitment to a democratic transition and taking steps to govern democratically. The constitutional referendum was held January 14-15, but opponents werearrested for campaigning for a “no” vote. The May presidential election, taking place under such repressive conditions with the main opposition group banned, will certainly not be free and fair. The same can be said for the parliamentary elections that are expected to occur before the end of July.
“The question is no longer whether Egypt is on the road to democratic transition, but how much of its brute repression the US will paper over,” said Human Rights Watch Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson. “An accurate appraisal of Egypt’s record since the military-backed overthrow of President Morsi would conclude that, far from developing basic freedoms, the Egyptian authorities are doing the opposite.”
The Obama Administration should insist that political dissidents be released, laws restricting public assembly be lifted, the Muslim Brotherhood be declassified as a terrorist organization and allowed to participate in all aspects of public life, and criminal investigations be launched into the unlawful use of lethal force and abuse of detainees by security officials. Only when the Egyptian junta lifts its iron curtain should the US consider resuming military aid.
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: al-Maliki, charles davis, Iraq, iraq bases, Iraq oil, Iraq war, Iraq withdrawal, lockheed martin, maliki, medea benjamin, Moqtada al-Sadr, Nouri al-Maliki, obama promise, roger hollander, SOFA, troop withdrawal
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.