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Voices for Creative Nonviolence

Salt and Terror in Afghanistan

 
By Kathy Kelly

February 5, 2014

Two weeks ago in a room in Kabul, Afghanistan, I joined several dozen people, working seamstresses, some college students, socially engaged teenagers and a few visiting internationals like myself, to discuss world hunger. Our emphasis was not exclusively on their own country’s worsening hunger problems. The Afghan Peace Volunteers, in whose home we were meeting, draw strength from looking beyond their own very real struggles.

APV's learn about world hunger. Photo by Abdulhai Safarali
APV’s learn about world hunger. Photo by Abdulhai Safarali

With us was Hakim, a medical doctor who spent six years working as a public health specialist in the central highlands of Afghanistan and, prior to that, among refugees in Quetta, Pakistan. He helped us understand conditions that lead to food shortages and taught us about diseases, such as kwashiorkor and marasmus, which are caused by insufficient protein or general malnutrition.

We looked at UN figures about hunger in Afghanistan which show malnutrition rates rising by 50% or more compared with 2012. The malnutrition ward at Helmand Province’s Bost Hospital has been admitting 200 children a month for severe, acute malnutrition — four times more than in January 2012.

A recent New York Times article about the worsening hunger crisis described an encounter with a mother and child in an Afghan hospital: “In another bed is Fatima, less than a year old, who is so severely malnourished that her heart is failing, and the doctors expect that she will soon die unless her father is able to find money to take her to Kabul for surgery. The girl’s face bears a perpetual look of utter terror, and she rarely stops crying.”

Photos of Fatima and other children in the ward accompanied the article. In our room in Kabul, Hakim projected the photos on the wall. They were painful to see and so were the nods of comprehension from Afghans all too familiar with the agonies of poverty in a time of war.

As children grow, they need iodine to enable proper brain development. According to a UNICEF/GAIN report, “iodine deficiency is the most prevalent cause of brain damage worldwide. It is easily preventable, and through ongoing targeted interventions, can be eliminated.” As recently as 2009 we learned that 70% of Afghan children faced an iodine deficiency.

Universal Salt Iodization (USI) is recognized as a simple, safe and cost-effective measure in addressing iodine deficiency. The World Bank reports that it costs $.05 per child, per year.

In 2012, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) announced a four-year project which aimed to reach nearly half of Afghanistan’s population - 15 million Afghans - with fortified foods. Their strategy was to add vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc, folic acid, Vitamin B-12 and Vitamin A to wheat flour, vegetable oil and ghee, and also to fortify salt with iodine. The project costs 6.4 million dollars.

The sums of money required to fund delivery of iodine and fortified foods to malnourished Afghan children should be compared, I believe, to the sums of money that the Pentagon’s insatiable appetite for war-making has required of U.S. people.

The price tag for supplying iodized salt to one child for one year is 5 cents.

The cost of maintaining one U.S. soldier has recently risen to 2.1. million dollars per year. The amount of money spent to keep three U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan in 2014 could almost cover the cost of a four year program to deliver fortified foods to 15 million Afghan people.

Maj. Gen. Kurt J. Stein, who is overseeing the draw-down of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, has referred to the operation as “the largest retrograde mission in history.” The mission will cost as much as $6 billion.

Over the past decade, spin doctors for U.S. military spending have suggested that Afghanistan needs the U.S. troop presence and U.S. non-military spending to protect the interests of women and children.

It’s true that non-military aid to Afghanistan, sent by the U.S. since 2002, now approaches 100 billion dollars.

Several articles on Afghanistan’s worsening hunger crisis, appearing in the Western press, prompt readers to ask how Afghanistan could be receiving vast sums of non-military aid and yet still struggle with severe acute malnourishment among children under age five.

However, a 2013 quarterly report to Congress submitted by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan shows that, of the nearly $100 billion spent on wartime reconstruction, 97 billion has been spent on counter-narcotics, security, “governance/development” and “oversight and operations.” No more than $3 billion, a hundred dollars per Afghan person, were used for “humanitarian” projects - to help keep thirty million Afghans alive through twelve years of U.S. war and occupation.

Source: Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction Oct. 30, 2013, Quarterly Report to Congress
Source: Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction Oct. 30, 2013, Quarterly Report to Congress

Funds have been available for tanks, guns, bullets, helicopters, missiles, weaponized drones, drone surveillance, Joint Special Operations task forces, bases, airstrips, prisons, and truck delivered supplies for tens of thousands of troops. But funds are in short supply for children too weak to cry who are battling for their lives while wasting away.

A whole generation of Afghans and other people around the developing world see the true results of Westerners’ self-righteous claim for the need to keep civilians “safe” through war. They see the terror, entirely justified, filling Fatima’s eyes in her hospital bed.

In that room in Kabul, as my friends learned about the stark realities of hunger — and among them, I know, were some who worry about hunger in their own families — I could see a rejection both of panic and of revenge in the eyes of the people around me. Their steady thoughtfulness was an inspiration.

Panic and revenge among far more prosperous people in the U.S. helped to drive the U.S. into a war waged against one of the poorest countries in the world. Yet, my Afghan friends, who’ve borne the brunt of war, long to rise above vengeance and narrow self-interest. They wish to pursue a peace that includes ending hunger.

Refugees in their own country

 
By Cathy Breen

Karbala, Iraq

Feb. 5, 2014

“We are refugees in our own country!” a soft spoken Sunni gentleman said this morning at the site where Fallujans are being housed in Karbala. But he was quick to add, “It is better than being refugees outside our country,” referring to Syria. I had read in the U.S. alternative media that Karbala, a Shia area, was taking in families fleeing the military attacks on their Sunni city, Fallujah. Karbala, a Shia city, is only 90 miles from Fallujah.

Karbala has three large compounds called “Visitors’ Cities,” each with a capacity to house thousands of pilgrims who come to visit the holy shrine of Imam Hussein and the shrine of his brother, Abbas. I was able to visit one of the compounds this morning which has been home to Fallujans since Iraqi forces began their assault in early January on “terrorists.”

At the Visitor City they are doing everything possible to provide for all the needs of those coming: clothes, food, schools for the children, financial aid, soccer games, medical care, and buses into town. The chief official of the site explained, “We don’t want them to feel like refugees. We want them to feel that this is their home. We are all one family. We want to send a message to all the world that there is no difference between Shia and Sunni. …We are preparing to receive many more people because we believe the fighting will continue.”

“They began coming on Jan. 5th in very small numbers…because they were fearful. When they saw that they were safe and treated like brothers, they sent word to their families. On Jan. 7th they began to arrive in greater numbers.” Now, less than a month later, there are between 1,000 and 2,000 in this compound, and they are still coming. We saw a man who had arrived with his family yesterday.

It has been said that the way we learn history shapes how we think about the present and the future. I was very mindful today speaking with one of the refugees from Fallujah of the destruction my country wrought on theirs, especially the two massive attacks we carried out on Fallujah in April and November of 2004. Before leaving, I felt the need to at least acknowledge these shameful acts.

Ross Caputi, a Marine veteran of the 2nd siege of Fallujah recently produced a documentary about the human consequences of U.S. foreign policy on the city of Fallujah. The media, says Caputi, framed the operation as a historic and heroic battle against terrorism. But he maintains that the important thing to focus on is the tremendous suffering it caused. In a December 2011 article for The Guardian, Caputi writes: “It has been seven years since the end of the second siege of Fallujah—the U.S. assault that left the city in ruins, killed thousands of civilians, and displaced hundreds of thousands more; the assault that poisoned a generation, plaguing the people who live there with cancers and their children with birth defects. It has been seven years and the lies that justified the assault still perpetuate false beliefs about what we did. The U.S. veterans who fought there still do not understand who they fought against, or what they were fighting for.”

The refugee from Fallujah has strong words for us this morning. “The American forces destroyed our country and the relationships between us… I have a son who is 32 years old. He has only known war.” The TV news is on as I write you. Live footage from bombs in Baghdad today at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as an area where a dear friend of ours lives.

The family from Baghdad who visited me yesterday in Karbala was able to take two packages to friends in Baghdad. One was for the friend living near the bombing. I just got an email from him that he was able to retrieve the package today and deliver the other package. The last part of the email leaves me shaken to my core. I have made a few minor adjustments for easier reading and I have also changed the names.

“Everybody happy with the lovely contents of the envelope. You don’t know how Zayneb [5yr daughter] felt happy to get photo of Sofia [also 5yr from states] and her family. She will soon draw picture, and as we cannot send it to them, so I will take picture and attach it to email. I went to Ali with the 2nd envelope. He was very happy to get your letter, and he appreciate your effort, he invite me to have tea but i apologize to him because situation wasn’t stable in Baghdad today. Just two hours ago two car bombs were bombed in [area where he lives], around 24 person were killed and injured. We don’t know what the reaction of this bomb will be. These car bombs were bombs in front of Sunna houses, victims mainly were kids who were playing in front of their houses. anyway Cathy keep in touch and take care.”

Here, joy and suffering exist side by side. Inseparable.

Closing Statement

By Ed Kinane

In The Trial of
the “Hancock 17”

Judge David S. Gideon presiding

De Witt, NY Town Court

31 January 2014

Good evening Judge Gideon, prosecutor Mc Namara, court staff, our many supporters here, and my fellow defendants.

I want to thank you, Judge, for your attentiveness throughout this trial and for assuring that each pro se defendant has had ample opportunity to speak and adequate time to do so.

I would also like to thank both you and Mr. McNamara for your patience with our frequently fumbling ways as we amateurs seek to navigate court protocol.

Likewise I must acknowledge your patience as, over several days, we’ve sought to mesh the efforts of the 15 or 16 of us who, coming from all over the map, often couldn’t consult together much before coming to court.

As pro se defendants, we are probably naive about how the U.S. “justice” system works.

We understood from our charges that any alleged trespass must occur on private property.

We further understood that any alleged annoyance, any alleged disturbance, any alleged recklessness, construed as disorderly conduct, must occur on public property.

Squaring that circle, we’ve been thinking, would surely result in at least one of those charges being dropped. But that has yet to happen.

In my opening remarks on December 3, eight weeks ago, I noted that our defense would take two paths: that of conscience and that of legalism.

Our hope remains that this court will move along those two paths, paths bound for justice.

For as Clare Grady in her January 3rd Opening suggested, the law is meant to serve humans and not humans sacrificed to law.

Each of our testifiers spoke out of their consciences, some suggesting that their consciences were shaped by their own personal faith tradition.

Others cited personal experience as impelling them to gather outside the Hancock drone base on October 25, 2012.

I myself in my Opening alluded to having survived the murderous 2003 bombardment of Baghdad, Iraq — an ancient city of several million non-combatants widely viewed as a cradle of civilization.

It was that bombardment which the Pentagon boastingly and terrifyingly called “shock and awe.” It would be impossible to count the number of “shock and awe” casualties – the Pentagon expressing supreme indifference to such numbers.

So I speak from analogous firsthand experience when I say that airborne killing and destruction typified by the weaponized drone – whether in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan or Afghanistan — are terrifying. And I speak first hand when I say that the Trespass and Disordered Conduct of those drones are not a defense against terrorism, but rather embody terrorism and may well generate retaliatory terrorism – an endless cycle of violence.

Others defendants – James Ricks, Patricia Weiland and Judith Bello — spoke of participating in a risky October 2012 human rights fact-finding delegation to Pakistan – a nation, supposedly a U.S. ally, terrorized by the robotic, lethal drones.

On this delegation they met drone survivors, non-combatant human beings who were maimed or had neighbors and close relatives killed. Judith Bello shared with the court a short video interview with one of those survivors she met – a young man named Raz Mohammed.

Hopefully that video helped personalize the horror of those cowardly drone attacks.

James, Patricia and Judith testified that such encounters helped shape their state of mind on October 25, 2012 as they stood outside the gates of the Hancock drone base.

Their vivid reports on their Pakistan experience also helped shape the state of mind of other Hancock co-defendants on October 25th.

Many of my co-defendants who testified spoke to the layers of law we sought to uphold that morning. These included the Nuremburg mandate for citizens of all nations to expose the war crime of her or his government.

Those layers also included aspects of international and U.S. Constitutional law, with the latter’s First Amendment right to assemble, to speak out, and to petition our government for a redress of grievance.

That Constitutional law cited also included Article Six, the Supremacy clause, specifying that treaties the U.S. Government enters into become the highest law of the land. Such law governs the judiciary at all levels — national, state and local. Sadly, it appears that some U.S. courts unilaterally pick and choose the international treaties they’ll recognize.

For example, as we stand here on stolen Onondaga Nation land, it’s clear that New York State courts fail to honor the U.S./Onondaga Nation treaty.

By contrast international trade treaties like NAFTA – i.e. commercial international law so kind to corporations – tend to be treated as legitimate in U.S. courts. It’s a curious inconsistency.

Several of our testifiers referred to the grievance about which we were petitioning and for which we sought redress – that grievance being the protracted war crime committed or being prepared for 24/7 at Hancock by those piloting weaponized Reapers in Afghanistan and who knows where else.

Our petition at Hancock on October 25th against such war crime took the form of a people’s indictment co-authored with us by former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark. As you ponder a just outcome for this trial, Judge Gideon, we urge you to carefully weigh that indictment. That document, entered into evidence here, specified the layers of law we sought to uphold on that October 25th.

On that date we were not defying law, we were seeking to uphold law.

Some testifiers noted that no one from the base inquired as to what our business was there and none spoke to us claiming we were trespassing. Certainly no base personnel ordered us to leave. Nor did any base personnel, including military police, tell us that the area near the base entrance from which we were petitioning the government was somehow exempt from the First Amendment.

Under questioning, both prosecution and each of our own witnesses noted that there was no NO TRESPASSING signage visible or in place between the Hancock main entrance gate and East Molloy Road in the town of DeWitt. As each prosecution witness acknowledged, there was no line demarcating any trespass zone. The prosecution’s own witnesses couldn’t seem to agree on where base property began. In fact, the prosecution provided no documentation regarding base boundaries.

Curiously, while the prosecution initially sought to put into evidence a map of the base, when the defense asked for a copy of that map, the prosecution withdrew its request. It does seem like the base command, for reasons of its own, prefers to keep base boundaries ambiguous.

No testifier for the defense indicated we knew where, besides at that fortified gate or at the barbed-wire fence surrounding the base, base property could properly be said to have begun.

Obviously, not only the authorities, but the defendants were in the dark regarding the whereabouts of the base property line – so much for our knowingly trespassing.

Pledge of Nonviolence

As each defense witness testified, all of us read aloud together a Pledge of Nonviolence on the morning of October 25, 2012 before embarking for the Hancock Reaper base. Each defense witness testified that that Pledge faithfully reflected her or his frame of mind on October 25th. Each also testified that their own behavior was consistent with that Pledge. Further, neither our witnesses nor any of the arresting officers testified that they saw any of the defendants engage in behavior inconsistent with the Pledge. In fact some of the arresting officers told of the congenial interactions between themselves and those they arrested.

Having been entered into evidence, and having referred to the Pledge numerous times while questioning our witnesses, I would like to read aloud the Pledge here. It consists of seven short sentences.

But first let me quickly put the Pledge into context.

Since 2009, appalled citizens have been seeking to educate the public, the media, law enforcement, and base personnel about the ongoing war crimes originating at Hancock. This campaign, coordinated by our grassroots group Upstate Drone Action, involves a range of tactics – including some that have led to arrest, trial and incarceration. Our entire campaign has been scrupulously nonviolent in the spirit and tradition of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. – both victims of assassination.

Thus before each civil resistance action participants commit ourselves to the following Pledge:

We are committed in the campaign to nonviolence in all of our words, symbols and actions. Our purpose is to publicize and hopefully deter the war crimes perpetrated from Hancock AFB by hunter/killer Reaper drones piloted by Hancock personnel over Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Accordingly, at today’s event at Hancock our attitude will be one of respect toward all – including police, military personnel, the public, and each other.

We will not resist or evade arrest and if prosecuted, we will use the judicial process to continue our anti-drone campaign. Where possible we will put the Pentagon’s and CIA’s use of hunter/killer drones itself on trial.

Today’s Action is part of an ongoing, protracted campaign. We will return to our communities and continue our work to end Reaper assassination, civilian killing and other such acts of state terrorism.

Thank you.

Making Iowa into a War Zone

By Brian Terrell
Feb. 4, 2014

The F-16 jets of the Iowa Air National Guard that formerly buzzed the city of Des Moines have disappeared and we are told that their base at the Des Moines International Airport is in the process of refitting into a command center for unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs, commonly called drones. The MQ-9 Reaper drones themselves will not be coming to Iowa but will be based in and launched overseas. When airborne, these unmanned planes will be flown by remote control via satellite link from Des Moines. Classified by the military as a “Hunter-Killer platform,” the MQ-9 Reaper is armed with Hellfire missiles and 500 pound bombs that according to plan will be launched by airmen sitting at computer terminals in Des Moines.

 

President Obama, in an address from the National Defense University last May, described this new technology as more precise and by implication more humane than other weaponry: “By narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us and not the people they hide among, we are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss of innocent life.” There is an understandable appeal to the idea of a weapon that can discriminate between the good and the bad people and limit regrettable “collateral damage.” It is understandable too, that a nation weary of sending its sons and daughters to fight on battlefields far away, risking injury, death or the debilitating effects of post-traumatic stress, might look to embrace a new method of war whereby the warriors fights battles from the safe distances. Thousands of miles beyond the reach of the enemy, drone combatants often do not even have to leave their hometowns and are able to return to homes and families at the end of a shift.

All the promises of a new era of better war through technology, however, are proving false. Rather than limiting the scope of war, drones are expanding and proliferating it, killing more civilians both on battlefields and far from them, endangering our soldiers and the safety of our communities. Instead of keeping the horrors of war at a safe distance, drones bring the war home in unprecedented ways. The plan to fly drones out of the Iowa Air Guard Base in Des Moines threatens to make a literal war zone in Central Iowa.

In his National Defense University speech, the president contended that “conventional airpower and missiles are far less precise than drones, and likely to cause more civilian casualties and local outrage.” A few weeks later a study published by the same National Defense University refuted his claim. Drone strikes in Afghanistan, the study found, were “an order of magnitude more likely to result in civilian casualties per engagement.” Despite the president’s assurances to the contrary, drone strikes cause immense “local outrage” in the countries where they happen, turning America’s allies into enemies. “What scares me about drone strikes is how they are perceived around the world,” said former commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal. “The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes … is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who’ve never seen one or seen the effects of one.”

Former defense secretary Robert M. Gates also warns of the seductive power and precision of armed drones that leads many to perceive war as a “bloodless, painless and odorless” affair. “Remarkable advances in precision munitions, sensors, information and satellite technology and more can make us overly enamored with the ability of technology to transform the traditional laws and limits of war. A button is pushed in Nevada and seconds later a pickup truck explodes in Kandahar.” Defense experts and policy makers, Gates warns, have come to view drone warfare as a “kind of video game or action movie. . . . In reality, war is inevitably tragic, inefficient and uncertain.” General Mike Hostage, chief of the US Air Combat Command, claims that while weaponized drones are useful in assassinations of terror suspects, they are impractical in combat. “Predators and Reapers are useless in a contested environment,” Hostage said.

Some enlisted personnel are also questioning the use of drones. Heather Linebaugh, a drone operator for the US Air Force for three years says: “Whenever I read comments by politicians defending the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Predator and Reaper program – aka drones – I wish I could ask them a few questions. I’d start with: ‘How many women and children have you seen incinerated by a Hellfire missile?’ And: ‘How many men have you seen crawl across a field, trying to make it to the nearest compound for help while bleeding out from severed legs?’ Or even more pointedly: ‘How many soldiers have you seen die on the side of a road in Afghanistan because our ever-so-accurate UAVs were unable to detect an IED [improvised explosive device] that awaited their convoy?’”

The transformation from fighter planes to drones will be marked by changing the name of the Air Guard unit in Des Moines from the “132nd Fighter Wing” to the “132nd Attack Wing.” This change is more than symbolic- a “fight” by definition has two sides. There is such a thing as a fair fight and a fight has some kind of resolution. An attack, however, is by nature one-sided, something that a perpetrator inflicts on a victim. A fighter might sometimes be justified, an attacker, never. Drone strikes rarely catch a “terrorist” in an act of aggression against the US and often occur in counties where the US is not at war. Their victims are targeted on the basis of questionable intelligence or “patterns of behavior” that look suspicious from a computer screen thousands of miles way. More than once, drone victims have been US citizens living abroad, executed without charges or trial.

Distance from the battlefield does not isolate soldiers from posttraumatic stress or the moral injury of war. Heather Linebaugh speaks of two friends and colleagues who committed suicide and another former drone operator, Brandon Bryant, said that his work had made him into a “heartless sociopath.” While drone pilots are at a greater distance from their victims than other soldiers, he says, the video feed they watch brings them closer: “Artillery doesn’t see the results of their actions. It’s really more intimate for us, because we see everything.”

When the 132nd Attack Wing is up and running, Iowa’s “citizen soldiers” will be engaged in combat in real time from the Des Moines International Airport. “In an F-16, your whole mission was to train to go to war,” said a pilot of an Ohio Air Guard wing that made a similar conversion from fighters to drones. “In this mission, we go to war every day.” Previous foreign postings of the 132nd were always made public, but where in the world the wing will be fighting from now on will be shrouded in secrecy. Reason and the rules of war both suggest that assassinations and acts of war on sovereign nations carried on by the 132nd from its base in Des Moines will make the airport there a military target, putting Iowans at peril.

Drone warfare is based on the lie that war can be made more exact, limited and humane through technology. Our civilian and military authorities, by bringing drones to Des Moines, are acting recklessly and in defiance of domestic and international law. They are acting without regard for the safety and wellbeing of our troops, of the people of Iowa or of people in faraway places who otherwise would mean us no harm. Rather than being an answer, drones perpetuate and multiply the horrors of war and bring them home into our communities.

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