Sunday, March 20, 2011

US Army 'kill team' in Afghanistan posed with photos of murdered civilians

US Army 'kill team' in Afghanistan posed with photos of murdered civilians
by Jon Boone, from The Guardian, March 21, 2011.

Commanders in Afghanistan are bracing themselves for possible riots and public fury triggered by the publication of "trophy" photographs of US soldiers posing with the dead bodies of defenceless Afghan civilians they killed.

Senior officials at Nato's International Security Assistance Force in Kabul have compared the pictures published by the German news weekly Der Spiegel to the images of US soldiers abusing prisoners in Abu Ghraib in Iraq which sparked waves of anti-US protests around the world.

They fear that the pictures could be even more damaging as they show the aftermath of the deliberate murders of Afghan civilians by a rogue US Stryker tank unit that operated in the southern province of Kandahar last year.

Some of the activities of the self-styled "kill team" are already public, with 12 men currently on trial in Seattle for their role in the killing of three civilians.

Five of the soldiers are on trial for pre-meditated murder, after they staged killings to make it look like they were defending themselves from Taliban attacks.

Other charges include the mutilation of corpses, the possession of images of human casualties and drug abuse.

All of the soldiers have denied the charges. They face the death penalty or life in prison if convicted.

The case has already created shock around the world, particularly with the revelations that the men cut "trophies" from the bodies of the people they killed.

An investigation by Der Spiegel has unearthed approximately 4,000 photos and videos taken by the men.

The magazine, which is planning to publish only three images, said that in addition to the crimes the men were on trial for there are "also entire collections of pictures of other victims that some of the defendants were keeping".

The US military has strived to keep the pictures out of the public domain fearing it could inflame feelings at a time when anti-Americanism in Afghanistan is already running high.

In a statement, the army said it apologised for the distress caused by photographs "depicting actions repugnant to us as human beings and contrary to the standards and values of the United States".

The lengthy Spiegel article that accompanies the photographs contains new details about the sadistic behaviour of the men.

In one incident in May last year, the article says, during a patrol, the team apprehended a mullah who was standing by the road and took him into a ditch where they made him kneel down.

The group's leader, Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs, then allegedly threw a grenade at the man while an order was given for him to be shot.

Afterwards, Gibbs is described cutting off one of the man's little fingers and removing a tooth.

The patrol team later claimed to their superiors that the mullah had tried to threaten them with a grenade and that they had no choice but to shoot.

Last night many organisations employing foreign staff, including the United Nations, ordered their staff into a "lockdown", banning all movements around Kabul and requiring people to remain in their compounds.

In addition to the threat from the publication of the photographs, security has been heightened amid fears the Taliban may try to attack Persian new year celebrations.

Tomorrow could also attract attacks because Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, is due to make a speech declaring which areas of the country should be transferred from international to Afghan control in the coming months.

One security manager for the US company DynCorp sent an email to clients warning that publication of the photos was likely "to incite the local population" as the "severity of the incidents to be revealed are graphic and extreme".

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Women Lead Latin America’s Growing Anti-Militarization Movements

Women Lead Latin America’s Growing Anti-Militarization Movements
by Laura Carlsen, form Z-Net, January 26, 2011.

When George W. Bush left the White House, the rest of the world breathed a sigh of relief. The National Security Doctrine of unilateral attacks, the invasion of Iraq under the false pretext of weapons of mass destruction, and the abandonment of multilateral forums had opened up a new phase of U.S. aggression. Despite the focus on the Middle East, the increased threat of U.S. military intervention cast a long shadow over many parts of the world.

Two years later, that sense of relief has given way to deep concern. After hopes of a something closer to FDR’s Good Neighbor Policy of (relative) non-intervention, we find ourselves facing a new wave of militarization in Latin America–supported and promoted by the Obama administration.

In some countries, militarization already characterizes everyday life; soldiers with assault rifles patrol neighborhood streets and armed convoys rule the highways. For Haiti, Honduras, Mexico and Colombia hopes of returning to civilian peaceful coexistence have been dashed in the wake of this wave.

In other countries, like Costa Rica, new policies forged between conservative governments and the U.S. State and Defense Departments are cracking civilian and constitutional restraints on military involvement. Fear, chaos and secrecy are the preferred tools for breaking downs the barriers to militarization.

The Cost of Militarization

An examination of this new reality reveals deteriorating living standards, increased violence, forced displacement, the diversion of budgetary priorities from the basic needs of the population to weapons and espionage, and violations of civil and human rights. In our region, the Bush counterterrorism paradigm has been converted—with very few tweaks—into a counternarcotics war.

This rhetorical shift seeks to distance the no-less interventionist polices from the discredited national security doctrine of the Bush administration. The latter was wildly unpopular in Latin America, a region that does not face international terrorist threats. The promoters of the war on drugs, on the other hand, can at least point to a real threat and a classic villain. The macho mindset once again trots out the old story of good and evil fighting it out on the social battlefield, the only possible outcome being the victor and the vanquished.

As citizens we are merely on-lookers, called on to ignore the way massive corruption blurs the lines and accept the fact that the battle never ends.

In Latin America, the new drug war is accompanied by a subtext of counterinsurgency. The drug war’s inclusion of counterinsurgency is well-established in countries like Peru and Colombia, and implicit in the war on the hybrid “narco-insurgency” announced by Sec. of State Hillary Clinton recently in Mexico and Central America. Once armies have been assigned to fight their own citizens on national soil, the shift from a focus on drug cartels to a wider objective of all perceived challenges to the state historically has proved to be a minor step. It’s a step that places all dissidents, even and especially non-violent ones, in the crosshairs of a repressive state apparatus.

What we see now in Latin America is that behind the stated goals, lie longterm objectives to control and guarantee access to natural resources–through the use of force if necessary.

Women in the Call for Non-Violent Resistance

Throughout Latin America women—among the most vulnerable and formally least powerful sectors—have organizing against violence. Their fundamental role in peace and anti-war movements has nothing to do with fundamentalist arguments that women have a stronger biological link to life that causes them to oppose war. We’ve seen enough examples of women in politics and society who have promoted war and militarization to belie the claim, and numerous examples of men who refuse to support wars.

The commitment of women who organize against militarization arises from their particular consciences, experiences and roles in society. From Feminists in Resistance who joined to fight the coup in Honduras, to the mothers of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, it’s the terrible violence sown by strategies of confrontation and militarism that has motivated women to mobilize on behalf of peace and democracy. Their own experiences compel them to act.

Another reason that explains the widespread activism of women in anti-militarization movements is that they face particular risks under military occupation. They are, or can be, victims of sexual violence and gender-based crimes, including the systematic use of rape as a weapon of war and sexual abuse as punishment for insubordination.

For some time we have known that rape and sexual abuse aren’t merely acts of indiviudal soldiers or “war booty.” They are tactics of domination that employ women’s bodies as a means of achieving military and political goals. Nevertheless, it was only relatively recently that the United Nations recognized sexual violence as a war crime and a matter of international security. Despite the adoption of Resolution 1325 ten years ago this past October, impunity in these cases continues in the wake of public indifference, the weakness of judicial systems and the power of the very military forces responsible for the abuses.

Women’s Organizing in Nations Under Siege

Haiti today is a tragic example of sexual violence in a militarized environment. Despite the presence of 12,000 troops of the MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission], after the January 12 earthquake hundreds of cases of rape have been reported in refugee camps; one NGO reported 230 rapes between January and March 2010 in 15 camps alone–a statistic that unfortunately appears to be just the tip of the iceberg. Although it seems that most rapes are not attributable to the security forces, the concentration of international aid in security and the deployment of troops have not served to protect Haitian women. In their testimonies, Haitian women who have been raped in the camps point out that soldiers don’t respond to their complaints. Through their weeping, they note that the country’s militarization strategy has diverted enormous amounts of resources to troops and that if those resources were channeled into food and housing, women wouldn’t be in such high-risk conditions.

The case of Haiti highlights the importance of developing gender-based analysis from the beginning of peace efforts, to achieve a comprehensive vision of the violence and a broad and inclusive definition of security. The contribution of women to anti-militarization movements in their countries is not just a matter of lending support to popular organizations or ensuring that more women are represented in these movements, although those are both important motives. They also have their own demands for their rights as women and gender equality. That agenda must be a pillar in the construction of social justice and lasting peace.

Despite the urgency struggles against militarization in many places, women haven’t set aside the feminist agenda or left it “for later” the feminist agenda. As Adelay Carias of Feministas en Resistance explains:

“At first, the urgent and immediate need to fight the military, to stop repression and demand a return to the constitutional order was what motivated us and guided us in joining this struggle. But also, from the beginning we understood that it was time to position our demands, to broaden the boundaries of our feminist project … Our chants– “No to the coup d’etat, No to blows against women” [Ni golpes de Esatado, ni golpes a las mujeres] “Stop femicide,” “Neither the soldier’s boot nor the priest’s cassock against lesbians,” “Get your rosaries out of my ovaries,”–could be heard as we marched in towns all over Honduras demanding peace, freedom, equality, democracy, justice.”

Yolanda Becerra, of the Popular Women’s Organization of Colombia (OFP, by its Spanish initials), emphasizes that in her country the women’s movement against militarization and for peace with justice is fighting “for all rights—the right to a life with dignity, the right to choose, the right to speak, the right to eat in the midst of poverty….”

In August, Colombian women held the International Encounter of Women and Peoples of America against Militarization to build networks, discuss armed conflict from a gender perspective and “look for ways to disarticulate the logic of war.” Women from all over the world participated in the event, which was tied to protests against the agreement to allow U.S. military presence in at least seven Colombian military bases.

Women pay a high price for their resistance. Members of Feminists in Resistance–the alliance of women’s organizations formed after the Honduran coup— presented a report to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission on Nov. 2, 2010 The report documents hundreds of cases of rape, sexual abuse, violations of rights, and the assassination of women in the resistance at the hands of the coup regime.

After receiving multiple threats, Becerra of the OFP was granted precautionary measures (protective orders) from the Commission.

Senator Piedad Córdoba, a well-known opponent of the militarization of her country and an advocate for a negotiated end to the conflict, described the situation in Colombia at the anti-militarization conference. She spoke of the four million internal refuges that are the result of the Colombia’s militarization and “the transfer of more than five million hectares of land belonging to campesinos to big business interests that finance paramilitaries….”

She concluded: “That’s why we women have decided: No more sons for war, it’s impossible to use war to stop the war here. … Peace is not just a pretty word. Peace is the need to talk about how to distribute the benefits of development, about who ends up with the wealth… We confront a state that militarizes thought, that even militarizes desire, love, friendship—whatever happens, we have to use our voices to speak up against war.”

The government’s response to Córdoba’s bold words was swift. Less than a month after her participation in the women’s meeting against militarization, the Colombian Attorney General announced his decision to remove her from her Senate seat and prevent her from holding public office for 18 years. The government of “democratic security,” the latest form of militarization, alleged ties to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Indeed, Córdoba has participated in official negotiations with the FARC–another expression of patriarchal military structures–and achieved the release of several hostages. She says that she will not be silenced by the government measure and continues to play a role in the peace movement.

Now Mexican women are beginning to suffer what their Colombian colleagues have known for decades. Despite the admittedly dismal results of Plan Colombia in reducing drug trafficking and creating stability, several weeks ago Hillary Clinton announced that Mexico and Central America need “the equivalent” of a Plan Colombia. The militarization of Mexico has advanced to a shocking extent under the pretext of Calderón’s war on drugs and the U.S. Mérida Initiative. So have the number of drug-war related deaths. Under Clinton’s proposal, this violence would be intensified.

In Mexico, as in Colombia, women are at the forefront of new organizations against militarization. It was a woman—the mother of a young man who was assassinated—who interrupted Calderón’s speech in Ciudad Juárez in February of 2010, shouting in protest against the failed security strategy that has turned the city into occupied territory and increased more than tenfold the number of killings. It was women who stood up and turned their backs on a president who promised security and delivered death. It continues to be women–within women’s organizations or in mixed citizens’ organizations–who reject the claim the government makes ad nauseum that the death of their sons is a reasonable price to pay in the confrontation with organized crime.

On Mexico’s northern border, human rights defenders have been executed and exiled. Their cases are different from those of the young women who were victims of femicide—they are targeted not because of their vulnerability, but precisely because of their courage and activism. Nevertheless, the impunity that reigns in the cases of sex crimes against women and the murder of activists is the same.

The militarization of countries like Mexico, Colombia and Honduras has a direct impact on the lives of women and on their forms of resistance. Daysi Flores of Feminists in Resistance explains their experience: “In just a year, we’ve had to learn to live with sadness, with a sense of impotence, anger, fear and despair. They try to put a pretty face on the dictatorship, but just walking through the streets you see that it’s a country taken over by the military.

“So we’ve had to be creative–to learn how to face threats, to not be killed, detained, raped or kidnapped. Despite the threats, we refuse to give up the idea of democracy, the real democracy, the one they robbed us of with their rifles, tear gas, beatings and killings. That’s why we continue to go out and protest, even when we put our lives at risk.”

The solidarity networks between women at an international level have been piecemeal or ephemeral. Women who confront militarization in conflict situations are exposed to risks that range from threats to themselves and their families, to assassination, sexual abuse, physical and psychological violence.

We have to build rapid response networks so that no woman who has been threatened or put in danger for having raised her voice against militarization has to go through this alone. National women’s organizations against militarization and for peace are just beginning their organizational development in most countries; meanwhile they face the accelerating pace of militarization. Yolanda Beccera notes that the women’s anti-war movement in Colombia has been developing for more than ten years to arrive at the point of organizing the recent international meeting. What is certain is that for Mexico and Central America the process has to be speeded up, before militarization becomes a structural aspect of everyday life and destroys the social fabric that is the basis for lasting peace. This is the great challenge for all of us.

Laura Carlsen is director of the Americas Program of the Center for International Policy in Mexico City

Friday, January 14, 2011

Jail harms aboriginal men, hearing told
by Alexandra Paul, from Winnipeg Free Press, January 14, 2011.

WHEN War Lake First Nation Chief Betsy Kennedy was a slip of a girl in The Pas, a First Nation man would watch over her wherever she went.

It was a troubled time.

Helen Betty Osborne had been murdered a year earlier. Racial tension was high, there were fist fights every weekend in the streets and aboriginal girls were vulnerable to white men.

First Nations men became the first line of defence in a hostile society.

"I was protected all the time," Kennedy said with a sad smile outside a federal hearing on violence against aboriginal women. "That doesn't happen anymore."

Today, many First Nations men are in jail or damaged by their experiences behind bars.

The House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women stopped in Winnipeg for hearings Thursday as part of seven-city tour over 10 days this month. The committee will report to the Harper government this spring on ways to reduce the violence, St. Boniface Conservative MP Shelly Glover said.

Kennedy was among 11 witnesses listed to make five-minute presentations. She appeared with fellow First Nation Chief Francine Meeches from Swan Lake to deliver a brief from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, the province's largest political organization for First Nations.

A joint RCMP and the Winnipeg Police Service task force is examining 84 unsolved cases of Manitoba aboriginal women who've vanished or been killed in the last 20 years. Kennedy left the hearings with a sense of unease. She doesn't feel aboriginal women are getting any added protection from the current federal crackdown on crime.

Some aboriginal women said handing out stiffer sentences to men convicted of family violence charges only escalates the cycle of abuse.

"It's aboriginal men who are put in jail. And they come out worse," Winnipegger Karen Chevillard said. She was among a group of 25 women wearing bright yellow T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan 'Decolonize yourself. Break the racist pattern.'

"They want to build more jails and if they build more jails, it will be genocide for our families," Chevillard said.

Solange Garson talked about the impact when aboriginal men are vastly over-represented in prison populations. "Jails are a breeding ground for gangs and criminal activity."

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Afghan Reality

The Tentacles of American Power: Afghan Reality
By Vijay Prashad, from CounterPunch, January 12, 2011.

Slowly, but surely, the leakage of the U. S. State Department cables continues. Media interest in the United States has died down. One reason for this is that the prosecution of Wikileaks leader Julian Assange became the story, and that spiked interest in the cables themselves. The New York Times has since reported on Assange, in the manner of a celebrity scandal, and failed to take any further interest in the cables. Crises in the cables are now academic; the scandals are on the front page. It tells us something about the state of journalism that this is so: few journalists at the major newspapers continue to scour the cables. That would require effort and time. They have moved on to other stories. The revelations are left to be uncovered at leisure. The danger to the U. S. has passed.

The sheer size of the leak tells us something about the nature of the U. S. footprint. Embassies across the world are not involved alone in the humdrum work of diplomatic niceties. Down the street from most of these embassies are U. S. military bases, where the Generals are in occupation as equal partners in the country to the Ambassador. Both the Ambassador and the General collect information to pass on through their various channels toward the State Department headquarters (Foggy Bottom) and the military headquarters (the Pentagon). This massive amount of information is siphoned by those in power, who must make sense of it as they formulate policy. The larger the footprint, the harder it is to digest the intelligence and make sensible policy.

Across 130 countries (of 192), the United States armed forces maintain over 700 military bases. During the Bush years, Andrew Hoehn was tasked by the White House to study the need for a robust U. S. response to the “arc of instability” that apparently stretches from Colombia to Indonesia. “When you overlay our [base] footprint onto that,” he said, “we don’t look particularly well-positioned to deal with the problems we’re now going to confront.” To take the teeth out of these military outposts, Bush’s Secretary of State Colin Powell called them “our family of bases.” Chalmers Johnson, the academic and former CIA analyst who died in December, wrote a series of books excoriating this tendency to make U. S. expansion into something normal, to deny that “our garrisons encircle the planet.” The bases give the Ambassadors the kind of heft that allows them to interfere with the minutiae of policy in far-flung countries.

The cables from Kabul show a policy in fiasco. On the ground, the State Department officials bemoan the lack of clarity. Their partners, the government led by Hamid Karzai, appears to dither, with sections in the government given over to various forms of corruption. In a cable from November 2009 (leaked last year), U. S. Ambassador to Kabul Karl Eikenberry called Karzai “not an adequate strategic partner.” Even Karzai tells the U. S. officials that Afghanistan “lacks capable administrators on almost every level. The brain drain of the war years was enormous, Karzai said, and claimed that luring back expatriates would not succeed since now they were ‘too costly’ to keep” (10KABUL170, January 19, 2010). The “security situation,” which is to say the violence in the country, makes it hard to encourage the middle class to return from its exile. The rot is quite deep, and the disagreements rife.

Even the facts are in dispute: plain speaking from the intelligence services is discounted. In his first review of the U. S. war in Afghanistan, President Obama designated July 2011 as the date at which withdrawal would begin. Even then the promise was hedged, with a clause (“whether conditions might allow”) that permitted a change in plans. In late 2010, Obama’s team conducted its second major review of the war. The Wikileaks cable dump confirmed the chaos on the ground, with U. S. officials frustrated with the Afghan government and floundering in their meetings with those on the penumbra of the Taliban (including one amusing cable that describes a meeting with former Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, 10KABUL503, February 9, 2010). More than 700 soldiers died in 2010, with the year bringing in the largest civilian and military casualties for the conflict thus far. Reports show that the insurgency has not been countered; indeed it might even be in an expansive mood (this is so in Anand Gopal’s informative study for the New America Foundation, “The Battle for Afghanistan: Militancy and Conflict in Kandahar,” November 2010).

A poll in the U. S. (conducted in mid-December 2010) showed the public’s weariness with a war few understand and many despair over: 56% of the public felt that “things are going badly for the U. S. in Afghanistan” (CNN/Opinion Research Corporation). 70% of those who make under $50,000 opposed the war, while of those who made more money, only 54% opposed the war. Even 45% of the Tea Party members and 44% of Republicans are against the war; 74% of Democrats agree with them. There is a straightforward political mandate for Obama to stick to his July 2011 withdrawal date.

Tricky Leaks

In mid-December 2010, the Senate Intelligence Committee held hearings on the Afghan war. To help them out, the sixteen intelligence agencies in the U. S. prepared their National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). Not long after, the NIE was leaked to the major newspapers. Luckily for the Obama administration, both the NIE leak and the White House review were announced during the Christmas break; most people were too busy with their families to notice the discrepancy. The NIE documents point out that Afghanistan remains vulnerable to the insurgency, and that Pakistan’s government is unwilling to stop its covert support to the Afghan Taliban. The latter point amplifies U. S. Ambassador Anne Patterson’s cable that “there is no chance that Pakistan will view enhanced assistance as sufficient compensation for abandoning support to these groups” (091ISLAMABAD2295, September 23, 2009).

Already in November, at the NATO summit, Obama had begun to talk about a withdrawal date of 2014, three years after his original date. In early December, his defense secretary Robert Gates told the press in Kabul, “There is no doubt the security climate is improving.” The senior general, David Petraeus (who missed his father’s funeral to remain at his post), said, “We’ve made important progress in recent months.” That was the word of the moment, “progress.” It was in all Obama’s comments on the war. On December 16, Obama announced that the results of the review, saying that the U. S.-NATO alliance had made “significant progress” in the country. To the journalist Bob Woodward, Obama had said he didn’t want Afghanistan to be his political graveyard (Obama’s War, 2010). His choices were not clear. A mandate from the public was not enough. During an earlier review, CIA director Leon Panetta told the cabinet that “no Democratic president can go against military advice, especially if he asked for it.” This is what scuttled the first review, and it has certainly defined the most recent one. The NIE assessment is absent. God spat into the mouth of Cassandra.

In Kabul, Ambassador Eikenberry remains forlorn. One would like to read his current cables, but these are under wraps. At a speech on December 7 at the newly opened office of the American Chamber of Commerce in Kabul, Eikenberry stumbled. According to David Smith-Ferri, Eikenberry said the following, “Afghanistan still is a country that…. Although great improvements have been made in the last seven or eight years in building the infrastructure that can facilitate commerce: roads, power, access to water – it is a country that still remains challenging.” Eikenberry’s hesitancy about the military solution continues to plague him, but it makes little impact on U. S. policy.

Obama’s top counterterrorism advisor John Brennan believes that “Afghanistan is a small piece of real estate.” It is not the base camp of terror. Brennan saw these in Yemen and Somalia, where the U. S. has a much more modest footprint. Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti manages the Somali sector. In January 2010, Yemen’s foreign minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi said that a base on Yemeni soil was “inconceivable.” The veracity of the statements of Yemen’s officials is in doubt after the Wikileaks disclosures (Yemen’s President Ali Abdulla Saleh told Brennan in 2009, “I have given you an open door on terrorism”; 09SANAA1669, September 15, 2009). A joint operations center opened in Yemen early last year. This is what Chalmers Johnson called “America’s empire of bases.” Wars continue. Withdrawals take place, but bases remain. The tentacles of American power are hard to disentangle.

Vijay Prashad is the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and Director of International Studies at Trinity College, Hartford, CT His most recent book, The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World, won the Muzaffar Ahmad Book Prize for 2009. The Swedish and French editions are just out. He can be reached at:

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Obama’s Afghanistan Review

Obama’s Afghanistan Review: A Whitewash of a Disastrous Occupation
by Phyllis Bennis and Kevin Martin, from Z-Net, December 28, 2010.

Apparently nothing can happen in the U.S. war in Afghanistan that doesn’t mean good news. If violence rises, it’s because “we’re taking the fight to the enemy.” The Pentagon must be taking a lot of fighting to whoever they’re calling the enemy – this year alone the war has killed over 2500 Afghan civilians, and almost 500 U.S. troops and more than 200 other NATO forces have died too. Of course in those isolated areas where violence may have dropped, it’s because “our strategy is winning.”

President Obama’s most recent Afghanistan review process resulted – surprise! – in the announcement that the U.S./NATO occupation will continue at least until 2014. Another four years of war, death, and devastation for the people of Afghanistan, as well as for the young U.S. soldiers drafted by poverty and lack of opportunity and sent to kill and die there in escalating numbers.

That earlier promise of July 2011 as the pull-out date? That one was always at least partially a sham – designed to pacify Obama’s powerfully anti-war base. The language even when first announced was a carefully ambiguous version that sounded like “July 2011 will start a process to determine whether conditions might allow preparation for beginning consideration of when the partial transfer of some control to Afghan forces might allow for a partial withdrawal of a few U.S. troops…”

As is recognized by the 60% of people in the U.S. who understand that the war in Afghanistan is “not worth fighting,” this is a war we cannot win and cannot afford. There is no military solution – we’ve heard that for years now, from the very leaders orchestrating the war, in the Pentagon, in Congress, in the White House. And yet, the military battle goes on, despite its inevitable failure.

And the cost continues to rise, exacting a huge price from U.S. taxpayers. The 2010 military budget plus the costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq totaled over one TRILLION dollars – an amount so huge we can’t even comprehend it. Here’s one slightly smaller, that maybe we can grasp. Just the cost of President Obama’s escalation this last year, those additional 30,000 troops, was over $33 billion. That money could instead have been used to create 600,000 new green middle-class jobs here at home – and still had $3 billion left over to help with the rebuilding of post-occupation Afghanistan. Wouldn’t those 60% of Americans who think the war is not worth fighting have preferred to use the money for jobs instead of war?

President Obama told us the military is succeeding in its mission to “disrupt and dismantle, defeat and destroy” al Qaeda. And yet the CIA and other intelligence agencies acknowledge there are somewhere between 50 and 100 al Qaeda operatives even in Afghanistan. So we’ve sent 100,000 troops to wage war against the insurgents in Afghanistan who aren’t al Qaeda. Do they really believe that al Qaeda-style terrorism really requires large swathes of territory? They’re not training up battalions of soldiers who need to practice. All they really need are a few garage-sized labs and an Internet café with a fast connection.

As is true in any guerrilla war, the insurgents will fade before massed conventional forces, only to reappear when those forces move on. “Clearing” an area of the Taliban or other Afghan opposition forces is relatively easy; “holding” the area, not so much. And “building” – that’s pretty much off the agenda altogether. Why? It has a lot to do with the Afghan government, as well as the Afghan National Army and National Police. We hear a lot about how we’re making improvements in their recruitment and training, how they’re gaining skills and capacity every day. That’s probably all true. (Recruitment is fairly easy in a country with such pervasive unemployment.)

But it’s mostly irrelevant too. The problem isn’t training, it isn’t even the widespread lack of literacy. Many Taliban, Haqqani, and other fighters are largely illiterate also, and have no access to sophisticated training. It’s not about training, it’s about loyalty. And there’s no reason in the world to believe that a majority of Afghans, even those temporarily accepting pay in military or civil service, are going to develop real loyalty to a U.S.-imposed, western-style “strong central government” when there is nothing anywhere in Afghan culture that has created strong central governments or primarily national identity. That would be the case even with a legitimate, relatively honest administration in Kabul – let alone Hamid Karzai’s government that remains so thoroughly mired in fraud and corruption linked to the billions of U.S. tax dollars funneling in and out of Afghanistan.

Ironically, while President Obama’s review was all about the positive, the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Afghanistan was leaked just the day before. And boy, did they see things differently. The NIE is important – it reflects the consensus view of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies – the CIA, the DIA, the NSA and all the rest. And what they said was profoundly different from the rosy-eyed assessment of the White House and the Pentagon. Officials briefed on the NIE said it acknowledged that large swaths of Afghanistan are still at risk of falling to the Taliban. And that there is no chance for anything resembling success in Afghanistan without the kind of massive shift in Pakistan that would eliminate the Afghan Taliban’s current access to safe havens across the border.

And as of now, since the government in Pakistan we’re propping up with billions of dollars in military and economic aid has made quite clear that it – especially its powerful ISI intelligence agency – has no intention of ending support for the Afghan Taliban, the possibility of “success” seems to be just about zero.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. The Pakistani government is perfectly happy to accept U.S. aid and weapons and use them to go after the Pakistani Taliban – who could indeed threaten the stability, maybe even the survival of the current government in Islamabad. But they are just as clear that the Afghan Taliban, currently taking advantage of Pakistan’s welcome and support, is pretty much the opposite of a threat to the government in Islamabad. To the contrary, the Afghan Taliban are understood to represent Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan – especially against those of Pakistan’s arch-rival India. And, like every regional government surrounding Afghanistan, Pakistan is looking out for its own interests, making sure it has a reliable surrogate in Kabul, especially whenever the U.S. troops begin to leave.

The ultimate military goal, we are told, is to make sure the Taliban doesn’t come back to power, because supposedly that will prevent al Qaeda from launching another 9/11. Let’s just take a “worst case scenario.” The U.S. invasion, war and occupation have devastated Afghanistan, and in a post-occupation scenario the Taliban will certainly be one of the forces contending for political power. Could they win?

Maybe – they did once before, in 1996, when a huge proportion of Afghans welcomed them because the Taliban promised to end the five years of bloody inter-warlord fighting that had devastated the country and nearly destroyed Kabul.

What if they did? The Taliban leadership are no fools – they know they lost their hold on power only because of their protection (for a while) of al Qaeda and its leaders. Chances are pretty good they might not want to risk that again.

And if they did? We know that war doesn’t work against terrorism – what does work, what has worked in every example where the U.S. has managed to find and capture top al Qaeda officials or information, has not been bombing but good intelligence, good police work, good cooperation with other governments and international institutions. That hasn’t changed. That’s why we need – and shouldn’t fear – negotiations with everybody at the table. Including the Taliban.

The U.S. war and occupation has not made Afghans safer, more secure, more prosperous – they still have one of the lowest life expectancies on earth. The war has not protected women – Afghan women still die in childbirth at rates second highest in the world. And children are not better off – UNICEF reports that Afghan babies are more likely to die before their first or fifth birthdays than any other children in the world.

War isn’t working. Sixty percent of Americans know it. The U.S. intelligence agencies know it too. And we’re thinking even President Obama knows it.

The president was quoted in Bob Woodward’s recent book Obama’s Wars as saying he would not lose his political base over Afghanistan, yet he is risking exactly that. Despite some significant political victories on gay rights and disarmament in the lame duck session of Congress that have him looking much better than after the mid-term election “shellacking” just seven weeks ago, Obama and his political advisers must know his chances of re-election will be very poor if the economy is still in the doldrums and we remain mired in a seemingly endless war in Afghanistan. His base, both on the war and peace side, and the economic justice side, simply won’t hustle for him as it did in 2008 (and without said hustle he’d still be the junior senator from Illinois).

Our main concern is not for the president’s re-election prospects, it’s to end this disastrous war as soon as possible. But it’s conceivable the two could be strategically linked. The president’s anti-war base must connect the urgency of getting out of Afghanistan and making serious cuts in the military budget, with the immediate need to reinvest in the working economy, job creation, and environmental restoration. That means building powerful alliances with the key movements rising in response to the economic crisis, and fighting now for immigrant, labor, community and civil rights.

If the president and his political team are as savvy as everyone thinks they are (or at least were in the 2008 campaign), they’d do well to get in front of that wave and run on a genuine peace and green prosperity platform. Imagine if that happened, and President Obama really did start paying attention to his anti-war base, and began carrying out the dramatic shift in policy necessary to insure a real withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, a genuine move to close Guantanamo, a final withdrawal of all remaining troops in Iraq, a serious level of pressure on Israel to end its occupation, as well as to launch a serious New New Deal to create green jobs and rebuild the economy… Then not only would the president likely coast to re-election, but the Afghan and U.S. people would be the real beneficiaries – instead of banks, war profiteers and Wall Street – and THAT election would really be one for the history books.

Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies ( and co-author of Ending the U.S. War in Afghanistan: A Primer. Kevin Martin is Executive Director of Peace Action (, the country's largest grassroots peace and disarmament organization with 100,000 members.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rape rampant in US military

Rape rampant in US military: Statistics and soldiers' testimonies reveal a harrowing epidemic of sexual assault in the US military.
by Dahr Jamail, from Al Jazeera, December 21, 2010.

Sexual assault within the ranks of the military is not a new problem. It is a systemic problem that has necessitated that the military conduct its own annual reporting on the crisis.

A 2003 Air Force Academy sexual assault scandal prompted the department of defense to include a provision in the 2004 National Defense Authorization Act that required investigations and reports of sexual harassment and assaults within US military academies to be filed. The personal toll is, nevertheless, devastating.

Military sexual trauma (MST) survivor Susan Avila-Smith is director of the veteran’s advocacy group Women Organizing Women. She has been serving female and scores of male clients in various stages of recovery from MST for 15 years and knows of its devastating effects up close.

“People cannot conceive how badly wounded these people are,” she told Al Jazeera, “Of the 3,000 I’ve worked with, only one is employed. Combat trauma is bad enough, but with MST it’s not the enemy, it’s our guys who are doing it. You’re fighting your friends, your peers, people you’ve been told have your back. That betrayal, then the betrayal from the command is, they say, worse than the sexual assault itself.”

On December 13, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other groups filed a federal lawsuit seeking Pentagon records in order to get the real facts about the incidence of sexual assault in the ranks.

The Pentagon has consistently refused to release records that fully document the problem and how it is handled. Sexual assaults on women in the US military have claimed some degree of visibility, but about male victims there is absolute silence.

Pack Parachute, a non-profit in Seattle, assists veterans who are sexual assault survivors. Its founder Kira Mountjoy-Pepka, was raped as a cadet at the Air Force Academy. In July 2003 she was member of a team of female cadets handpicked by Donald Rumsfeld, at the time the secretary of defense, to tell their stories of having been sexually assaulted. The ensuing media coverage and a Pentagon investigation forced the academy to make the aforementioned major policy changes.

Report reveals alarming statistics

Mountjoy-Pepka often works with male survivors of MST. She stated in a telephone interview that four per cent of men in the military experience MST. “Most choose not to talk about it until after their discharge from the military, largely because the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in over 60 percent of MST cases is too overwhelming,” she informed Al Jazeera.

Last week the Pentagon released its “annual report on sexual harassment and violence at the military service academies”. At its three academies, the number of reports of sexual assault and harassment has risen a staggering 64 percent from last year.

The report attributes the huge increase to better reporting of incidents due to increased training and education about sexual assault and harassment. Veteran’s Administration (VA) statistics show that more than 50 percent of the veterans who screen positive for MST are men.

According to the US Census Bureau, there are roughly 22 million male veterans compared to less than two million female vets.

In Congressional testimony in the summer of 2008, Lt. Gen. Rochelle, the army chief of personnel, reported the little known statistic that 12 percent (approximately 260) of the 2,200 reported rapes in the military in 2007 were reported by military male victims.

Due to their sheer numbers in the military, more men (at a rough estimate one in twenty), have experienced MST than women.

Shamed into silence

Billy Capshaw was 17 when he joined the Army in 1977. After being trained as a medic he was transferred to Baumholder, Germany. His roommate, Jeffrey Dahmer, by virtue of his seniority ensured that Capshaw had no formal assignment, no mail, and no pay. Having completely isolated the young medic, Dahmer regularly sexually assaulted, raped, and tortured him.

Dahmer went on to become the infamous serial killer and sex offender who murdered 17 boys and men before being beaten to death by an inmate at Columbia Correction Institution in 1994.

Capshaw reflects back, “At that young age I didn’t know how to deal with it. My commander did not believe me. Nobody helped me, even though I begged and begged and begged.”

The debilitating lifelong struggle Capshaw has had to face is common among survivors of military sexual assault.

Later during therapy he needed to go public. Since then he says, “I’ve talked to a lot of men, many of them soldiers, who are raped but who won’t go public with their story. The shame alone is overwhelming.”

In 1985 Michael Warren enlisted in the navy and for three years worked as a submarine machinist mate on a nuclear submarine. One day he awoke to find another soldier performing fellatio on him.

He recollects with horror, “I was paralyzed with fear. I was in disbelief... shame. When I reported it to the commander he said it was better for me to deal with it after being discharged. Nobody helped me, not even the chaplain. The commander at the processing centre wouldn’t look me in the face. When I filled out my claim later they didn’t believe me. It’s so frustrating.”

Armando Javier was an active duty Marine from 1990 to 1994. He was a Lance Corporal at Camp Lejeune in 1993 when he was raped.

Five Marines jumped Javier and beat him until he was nearly unconscious, before taking turns raping him. His sexual victimization narrative reads, “One of them, a corporal, pulled down my shorts and instructed the others to ‘Get the grease’. Another corporal instructed someone to bring the stick. They began to insert the stick inside my anus. The people present during this sadistic and ritual-like ceremony started to cajole, cheer, and laugh, saying “stick em’ – stick-em’.”

Extreme shame and trauma compelled him not to disclose the crime to anyone except a friend in his unit. He wrote in his account, “My experience left me torn apart physically, mentally, and spiritually. I was dehumanized and treated with ultimate cruelty, by my perpetrators… I was embarrassed and ashamed and didn’t know what to do. I was young at that time. And being part of an elite organization that values brotherhood, integrity and faithfulness made it hard to come forward and reveal what happened.”

The reality of being less equal

Women in America were first allowed into the military during the Revolutionary War in 1775 and their travails are as old. Drill instructors indoctrinate new recruits into it at the outset by routinely referring to them as “girl,” “pussy,” “bitch,” and “dyke.”

A Command Sergeant Major told Catherine Jayne West of the Mississippi National Guard, “There aren’t but two places for women - in the kitchen or in the bedroom. Women have no place in the military.”

She was raped by fellow soldier Private First Class Kevin Lemeiux, at the sprawling Camp Anaconda, north of Baghdad. The defense lawyer in court merely wanted to know why, as a member of the army, she had not fought back.

The morning after the rape, an army doctor gave her a thorough examination. The army’s criminal investigation team concluded her story was true. Moreover, Lemeiux had bragged about the incident to his buddies and they had turned him in. It seemed like a closed case, but in court the defense claimed that the fact that West had not fought back during the rape was what incriminated her. In addition, her commanding officer and 1st Sergeant declared, in court, that she was a “promiscuous female.”

In contrast, Lemeiux, after the third court hearing of the trial, was promoted to a Specialist. Meanwhile his lawyer entered a plea of insanity.

He was later found guilty of kidnapping but not rape, despite his own admission of the crime. He was given three years for kidnapping, half of which was knocked off.

The long term affects of MST

Jasmine Black, a human resources specialist in the Army National Guard from June 2006 to September 2008 was raped by another soldier in her battalion when she was stationed in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. She reported it to her Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC) and the Military Police, but the culprit was not brought to book.

After an early discharge due to MST and treatment at a PTSD Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program (PRRTP) facility, she was raped again by a higher-ranking member of the air force in February 2009.

Administrator for a combat engineering instruction unit in Knoxville, Tennessee, Tracey Harmon has no illusions. “For women in the military, you are either a bitch, a dyke, or a whore. If you sleep with one person in your unit you are a whore. If you are a lesbian you are a dyke, and if you don’t sleep with other soldiers you are a bitch.”

Maricela Guzman served in the navy from 1998 to 2002 as a computer technician on the island of Diego Garcia. She was raped while in boot camp, but fear of consequences kept her from talking about it for the rest of her time in the military. “I survived by becoming a workaholic and was much awarded as a soldier for my work ethic.”

On witnessing the way it treated the native population in Diego Garcia, she chose to dissociate from the military. Post discharge, her life became unmanageable. She underwent a divorce, survived a failed suicide attempt and became homeless before deciding to move in with her parents. A chance encounter with a female veteran at a political event in Los Angeles prompted her to contact the VA for help. Her therapist there diagnosed her with PTSD from her rape.

The VA denied her claim nevertheless, “Because they said I couldn’t prove it … since I had not brought it up when it happened and also because I had not shown any deviant behavior while in the service. I was outraged and felt compelled to talk about what happened.”

While it will go to any length to maintain public silence over the issue, the military machine has no such qualms within its own corridors. Guzman discloses, “Through the gossip mill we would hear of women who had reported being raped. No confidentiality was maintained nor any protection given to victims. The boys’ club culture is strong and the competition exclusive. That forces many not to report rape, because it is a blemish and can ruin your career.”

The department of defence reported that in fiscal year 2009, there were 3,230 reports of sexual assault, an increase of 11 percent over the prior year.

However, as high as the military’s own figures are of rape and sexual assault, victims and advocates Al Jazeera spoke with believe the real figures are sure to be higher.

Veteran April Fitzsimmons, another victim of sexual assault, knows what an uphill battle it is for women to take on the military system. “When victims come forward, they are ostracized and isolated from their communities. Many of the perpetrators are officers who use their ranks to coerce women to sleep with them. It’s a closely interwoven community, so they are safe and move fearlessly amongst their victims.”

Her advice to women considering joining the US military?

“The crisis is so severe that I’m telling women to simply not join the military because it’s completely unsafe and puts them at risk. Until something changes at the top, no woman should join the military.”

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Israeli Government Documents Show Deliberate Policy To Keep Gazans At Near-starvation Levels

Israeli Government Documents Show Deliberate Policy To Keep Gazans At Near-starvation Levels
by Saed Bannoura, from International Middle East Media Center, November 6, 2010.

Documents, whose existence were denied by the Israeli government for over a year, have been released after a legal battle led by Israeli human rights group, Gisha. The documents reveal a deliberate policy by the Israeli government in which the dietary needs for the population of Gaza are chillingly calculated, and the amounts of food let in by the Israeli government measured to remain just enough to keep the population alive at a near-starvation level. This documents the statement made by a number of Israeli officials that they are "putting the people of Gaza on a diet".

In 2007, when Israel began its full siege on Gaza, Dov Weisglass, adviser to then Prime-Minister Ehud Olmert, stated clearly, “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” The documents now released contain equations used by the Israeli government to calculate the exact amounts of food, fuel and other necessities needed to do exactly that.

The documents are even more disturbing, say human rights activists, when one considers the fact that close to half of the people of Gaza are children under the age of eighteen. This means that Israel has deliberately forced the undernourishment of hundreds of thousands of children in direct violation of international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention.

This release of documents also severely undermines Israel's oft-made claim that the siege is "for security reasons", as it documents a deliberate and systematic policy of collective punishment of the entire population of Gaza.

Gisha's director, in relation to the release of documents, said, "Israel banned glucose for biscuits and the fuel needed for regular supply of electricity – paralyzing normal life in Gaza and impairing the moral character of the State of Israel. I am sorry to say that major elements of this policy are still in place."

In its statement accompanying the release of the documents, Gisha wrote:

The documents reveal that the state approved "a policy of deliberate reduction" for basic goods in the Gaza Strip (section h.4, page 5*). Thus, for example, Israel restricted the supply of fuel needed for the power plant, disrupting the supply of electricity and water. The state set a "lower warning line" (section g.2, page 5) to give advance warning of expected shortages in a particular item, but at the same time approved ignoring that warning, if the good in question was subject to a policy of "deliberate reduction". Moreover, the state set an "upper red line" above which even basic humanitarian items could be blocked, even if they were in demand (section g.1, page 5). The state claimed in a cover letter to Gisha that in practice, it had not authorized reduction of "basic goods" below the "lower warning line", but it did not define what these "basic goods" were.

Commentator Richard Silverstein wrote: "In reviewing the list of permitted items for import, you come to realize that these are the only items allowed. In other words, if an item is not on the list, it’s prohibited. So, for example, here is the list of permitted spices: Black pepper, soup powder, hyssop, sesame. cinnamon, anise, babuna (chamomile), sage. Sorry, cumin, basil, bay leaf, allspice, carraway, cardamon, chiles, chives, cilantro, cloves, garlic, sesame, tamarind, thyme, oregano, cayenne. Not on the list. You're not a spice Palestinians need according to some IDF dunderhead. And tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, toys, glassware, paint, and shoes? You can forget about them too. Luxuries all, or else security threats."

Despite the disturbing nature of the documents, which show a calculated policy of deliberate undernourishment of an entire population, no major media organizations have reported the story.

The full text of the released documents, and the original Freedom of Information Act request filed by Gisha, can be found on Gisha's website at the link below: