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There Is No Future in War: Youth Rise Up, a Manifesto

By: codepink Monday September 15, 2014 2:10 pm

By Ben Norton, Tyra Walker, Anastasia Taylor, Alli McCracken, Colleen Moore, Jes Grobman, Ashley Lopez, Sara Al Harbi, Sophia Arman

A smiling young woman places flowers in the riot shields of police

“We, the youth of the United States of America, oppose war.”

Once again, US politicians and pundits are beating the drums of war, trying to get our nation involved in yet another conflict. A few years ago it was Iran, with “all options on the table.” Last year it was a red line that threatened to drag us into the conflict in Syria. This time it’s Iraq and Syria.

We, the youth of America, have grown up in war, war war. War has become the new norm for our generation. But these conflicts–declared by older people but fought and paid for by young people–are robbing us of our future and we’re tired of it.

There is no future in war.

We, the youth of America, are taking a stand against war and reclaiming our future.

War does not work. Period.

War does not work from an economic perspective.

In 2003 US politicians orchestrated the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq based on blatant lies—lies that have cost the American people over $3 trillion.

Imagine what we could have done with this money:

With $3 trillion dollars, we could have guaranteed free higher education for all interested Americans. Instead, we are wallowing in over $1 trillion in outstanding college loan debt.

With $3 trillion, we could have created a system of universal health care. Instead, affordable health care is still out of reach for many Americans and we have no idea if there will even be a Medicare system when we are old enough to retire.

With $3 trillion we could have renovated our decrepit public schools and crumbling public infrastructure, giving us the kind of foundation we need for a thriving nation in the decades to come.

With $3 trillion we could have created a national energy grid based not upon environmentally destructive fossil fuels, but upon renewable energy sources–something that our generation cares passionately about.

Our true foes–– those endlessly gunning for war–– have been waging an economic war against us. Our foes are the ones who say we must increase Pentagon spending while we cut food stamps, unemployment assistance, public transportation, and low-income housing. They are the ones who want to destroy the social safety net that past generations have worked so hard to build. They are the ones who underfund our public schools – which are more segregated today than they were under Jim Crow – and then privatize them. They are the ones who throw hundreds of thousands of young people in prison, thanks to the racist and classist war on drugs, and then privatize the prisons to exploit and profit off of incarcerated citizens who make close-to-zero wages.

Throwing money at war does nothing to address the real issues we face. We, the youth of our country, are the ones who will feel this pain. The cost of war is sucking us dry; it is burdening us with debts we will never be able to pay back.

And war doesn’t even work to create jobs. Politicians say they can’t cut the Pentagon budget because the weapons manufacturers create much-needed jobs. Yes, our generation need jobs. But if members of Congress really wants to use federal spending to help us find employment, the military is the worst investment. A $1 billion investment in military spending nets 11,600 jobs. The same investment in education reaps 29,100 jobs. Whether it’s education, healthcare or clean energy, investments in those sectors create many more job opportunities than the military. The military-industrial complex does a great job lining the pockets of politicians; it does a lousy job creating an economy that works for all.

War does not work from a national security and defense perspective.

The war apologists claim war makes our future “safer” and “freer.” But since the tragic 9/11 attack, the US military response has made the world a more dangerous place. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the NATO bombing of Libya, the use of predator drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, and countless other examples of military operations have only increased violence and hatred. Iraqis and Afghans are certainly no safer and freer; we are certainly no safer and freer.

We refuse to let our brothers and sisters, both here and abroad, die for access to cheap Persian Gulf oil. The Iraqis, the Afghans, the Iranians, the Libyans, the Somalis, and the people of any other country our military circles like vultures, are not our enemies. We must oppose US intervention not because we don’t care about them, but because we do.

War does not work from an environmental perspective.

War is not environmentally friendly. It never has been, and it never will be. Bombing destroys the environment. It damages forests and agricultural land. It ravages ecosystems, endangering species, even forcing some into extinction.

 

Ukraine Conflict: Red Meat for Anemic NATO Alliance

By: codepink Monday September 8, 2014 10:54 am

By Medea Benjamin

NATO Protest in UK, protesters holding assorted antiwar, Free Palestine signs

UK’s anti-war protesters have “much more constructive proposals” for the future than NATO warmongers.

The footage of President Obama strolling through the ancient ruins at Stonehenge was an apt bookend to the meeting of NATO, a Cold War relic that should have been abolished after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. But while hundreds of protesters marched through the streets calling for NATO to be dissolved—“From Iraq to Ukraine, NATO only causes pain,” they chanted—NATO leaders saw the crisis in Ukraine as an opportunity to breathe new life into the moribund military alliance.

The recent NATO meeting in Wales was supposed to be about how to wind down NATO’s 12-year military adventure in Afghanistan—without admitting the monumental failure of leaving behind a fractured, impoverished nation that can’t even figure out who won the last election. Afghanistan, however, was barely mentioned. Nor was the disastrous NATO intervention in Libya that has resulted in a failed state rife with violence. And while there was some handwringing about how to deal with ISIS, it was clear most NATO countries did not want to join Obama in a new military quagmire. The meeting’s main focus was the conflict in Ukraine, a conflict that NATO played a key role in creating.

A creature of the Cold War created in 1949 to defend Europe from Soviet expansion, NATO did not dissolve when the Soviet Union collapsed peacefully. But it did assure Russia that it would not expand eastwards beyond the reunified Germany, and it would not station significant numbers of troops in Eastern Europe.

NATO broke the pledge. In 1999, it admitted three former Warsaw Pact countries: the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. In 2004, it admitted the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Today the NATO security alliance covers 28 member states. It does not include Ukraine, but Ukraine is pushing for NATO membership.

One does not have to sympathize with Putin’s oligarchic authoritarianism or its annexation of Crimea to recognize the West’s intimidation. When Ukraine’s corrupt but elected president was overthrown in a US-backed coup, it was scarcely paranoid for Russia to see the takeover of the neighboring state as a threat to its core interests.

For the past six months, fighting between the Moscow-backed eastern Ukrainian resistance and the NATO-backed nationalists has led to thousands dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.

Instead of seeking to reduce tensions, British Prime Minister David Cameron used the Summit to announce the creation of a new rapid-reaction force of 4,000 troops. The force, to be made up of troops provided by member states on a rotating basis, would be capable of deploying on 48 hours’ notice to protect any NATO member from external aggression, which under the current circumstances means the Baltic States.

While NATO insists that is has no plans for new permanent bases in Eastern Europe, it announced that troops will be rotated to the region every four months, creating what it calls a “persistent” presence. The force will be supported with logistics and equipment, including weapons and fuel pre-positioned in Eastern European countries closer to Russia. This will be enhanced by more military exercises and air patrols, as well as exercises in Ukraine. And the US government has already have committed some $60 million to provide the Ukraine military with items like night vision goggles, body armor, and communications equipment.

Adding to Russia’s sense of encirclement, NATO is also building missile interceptor shields. NATO insists this will be purely defensive and is intended to thwart any future missile attack by a rogue state such as Iran or North Korea. But Russia views NATO deployment of interceptor missiles and radars in Romania, the Czech Republic and Poland as another form of intimidation.

NATO’s encroachment in Russia’s backyard and its backing of the Ukraine government’s bombardment of the eastern part of the country threatens not only a new Cold War, but an armed conflict between Russia and NATO-aligned countries. With Russia possessing thousands of nuclear weapons, the conflict could well spiral out of control.

The protesters outside the Summit were well aware of the danger. Russian activist and scholar Boris Kagarlitsky told the protesters said that while Putin’s government is no model of democracy, the stationing of NATO troops next to its border violates Russia’s security and stokes the conflict. He also said that the Ukrainian government’s bombing of rebel areas has led to a severe humanitarian crisis, with hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding into Russia—a humanitarian crisis that the West has ignored.

During the NATO meeting, while Western leaders were calling for more troops in the region and more sanctions against Russia, the government of Ukraine and the pro-Russia separatists were actually talking peace. In fact on the last day of the Summit, NATO leaders were surprised when Ukraine’s president announced a ceasefire. But instead of being greeted with cheers, NATO leaders treated the announcement as a distraction and vowed to push ahead with new sanctions. “I don’t think we want to be distracted from our determination to impose further sanctions in response to Russia’s major military adventure into Ukraine by these noises off about a possible ceasefire,” said UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond.

Why be distracted by a ceasefire, or put energy into promoting a non-violent solution to the conflict in Ukraine? NATO, after all, is a military alliance and, as the saying goes, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

The protesters, by contrast, had much more constructive proposals. Use the United Nations to reinforce the peace process. Scrap the missile defense shield. No Western troops in the Baltic states. And dismantle the NATO war machine.

Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of the peace group CODEPINK and the human rights organization Global Exchange. She is the author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.

Beware of Exploding Gifts from Uncle Sam

By: codepink Friday August 22, 2014 11:07 am

In a brilliant August 17 segment of Last Week Tonight, HBO host John Oliver ripped into small towns that have equipped their police with war-like military equipment. One town was Keene, New Hampshire, where their military-grade armored personnel truck was acquired to protect critical targets –– like the annual Pumpkin Festival. Another was Doraville, Georgia. Oliver showed a wild video clip from the Doraville Police Department’s website, with a Ninja-dressed SWAT team going for a joyride in a souped-up armored personnel carrier, all set to a heavy metal song called “Die MotherF***er Die.”

In a visit to Doraville last week, I asked Officer Gene Callaway why his sleepy town of 8,000, which hasn’t had a murder since 2009, needed an armored personnel carrier (APC). “The vehicle provides Doraville with a scalable response and ensures the safety of police officers,” he answered. Scalable response? Safety of police officers? Doraville has never been a crime-ridden town. “We at Doraville are proud to be ranked 39th in safest cities in Georgia,” Callaway himself bragged. It seems the most useful task the APC performed was pulling 18-wheelers back onto the salted lanes of Route 285 during snowstorms. Oh, and let’s not forget that “the kids love playing on it” when it rolls up to the county fair, Callaway told me.

Doraville’s armored vehicle is a gift from Uncle Sam, as part of the billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment now flowing from the federal government to state and local police departments. Not only is it an incredible waste of taxpayer money, but it gets people–including children–accustomed to seeing military vehicles on their streets. Worst of all, it is causing police to act like soldiers, especially since one of the stipulations of getting this equipment is that it must be used within one year of receipt.

The Doraville Police, embarrassed by the negative publicity from their video, took it down (they insist that the theme music was unauthorized). Now on their website you can see much more benevolent images, such as three smiling police officers, one dressed as Santa Claus, with two young girls who are the recipients of the “Santa Pop Program” that pairs police with “less-fortunate children.”

But let’s face it. Military toys, constantly dangled before the police at law enforcement exhibits and fairs, are hard to resist. And with the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security giving out this stuff for free, why not get some hand-me-downs? Doraville and Keene are just two of thousands of cities and towns throughout the nation that have successfully applied for surplus equipment from a federal government agency.

This Weekend Be a Patriot: Stop Another US Military Intervention in Iraq

By: codepink Thursday July 3, 2014 11:58 am

By Medea Benjamin

Medea Benjamin speaks at a microphone

For Independence Day, CODEPINK’s Medea Benjamin speaks out against sending more American forces to Iraq.

This July 4, the fireworks won’t just be in celebration of Independence Day. There will undoubtedly be fireworks in cities throughout the Middle East, as the region, engulfed in violence, further explodes. The US military and US taxdollars are already deeply entangled in Middle Easterners’ lives (and deaths), and President Obama is under pressure to get further involved in the wars in Iraq and Syria. But what advice would our nation’s founders give the 44th president this July 4?

The Founding Fathers, who revolted against a foreign power, were vehemently opposed to getting involved in military adventures overseas. George Washington cautioned our new nation against the “mischiefs of foreign intrigue.” James Madison said the US should steer clear of unnecessary wars. Thomas Jefferson said, “If there be one principle more deeply written than any other in the mind of every American, it is that we should have nothing to do with conquest.” Secretary of State John Quincy Adams warned in 1821 that America should not go abroad in search of “monsters to destroy”—for such folly would destroy “her own spirit.”

But this Independence Day marks yet another year of seemingly endless US involvement in wars. Despite promising the American public that US troops would leave Afghanistan by the end of this year, President Obama is poised to negotiate a continued US troop presence with the next Afghan president (if the Afghans can figure out who that is!). Current president Karzai has explicitly rejected this decision. Karzai has insisted that the US-led invasion has made his country even worse than it was under the repressive Taliban, and lamented that “Afghans died in a war that’s not ours.”

Obama’s drone wars have gotten the US militarily entangled in the internal affairs of Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. The President recently called for an alarming expansion of the US role in Syria’s civil war, requesting $500 million to aid the Syrian opposition. US funds continue to fuel Israel’s 47-year-long military occupation of Palestine, an occupation that has escalated recently with the tragic murders of both Israeli and Palestinian children. And in Egypt, where a brutal military coup has been murdering and jailing thousands upon thousands of nonviolent, pro-democracy protesters, the US government is intervening on the side of the coup leader, draconian dictator Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, in the magnitude of $1.5 billion of our taxdollars per year.

In Iraq, President Obama is sliding down the slippery slope of another disastrous intervention. Armed drones are now patrolling the Iraqi skies, ready to unleash their Hellfire missiles at any moment and sink us deeper into this quagmire. And President Obama just authorized sending 750 troops, less than three years after our troops withdrew from a disastrous nine-year war. Those familiar with the history of the Vietnam War might recognize that this is exactly how that 20-year-long conflict was started. The US sent in military “advisers,” and then sent in troops to protect them, and then troops to protect them, and then troops to protect them—ad infinitum.

As President Obama contemplates even further engagement in Iraq, 70 congresspeople have signed a letter, initiated by Representatives Scott Rigell (R-VA) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), calling on the President to respect the Constitutional requirement to go to Congress for authorization before using military force. Indeed, the Founding Fathers made it clear that no individual president should have the authority to drag our nation into war, that a decision of such magnitude had to be debated and decided on by the people’s representatives in Congress.

Though just because we oppose war and military intervention doesn’t mean we have to be complete isolationists, by any means. 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 countries in 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.

Poll after poll shows that the American people agree with our Founding Fathers’ insistence that our nation should disengage from overseas military misadventures.  Indeed, President Obama himself, in his May 23, 2013  foreign policy speech, quoted James Madison’s dire warning that “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

So this July 4th, be a true patriot. Take some action to stop the US military intervention in Iraq. Educate your friends and neighbors, write a letter to the editor, sign a petition. Take signs and banners out into the streets and tell everyone you want to end these pointless wars. Call your elected officials (202-224-3121) and the White House (202-456-1111). Do something to move us towards a foreign policy that uses diplomatic prowess, not military power, as the way to relate to, not violently dominate, the global community.

Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of the peace group CODEPINK and the human rights group Global Exchange. She is the author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.

Children’s Lives in the Balance: Is One Worth More Than Another?

By: codepink Tuesday July 1, 2014 10:18 am

By Pam Bailey and Medea Benjamin

Israeli settlement in Palestine, surrounded by a wall

Israel is engaging in violent, indiscriminate retribution after the death of 3 teens from an illegal settlement.

With the news that the bodies of three missing Israeli teens had been found in a field not far from the stretch of road where they disappeared June 12, people everywhere reacted rightly with sorrow and anger.

Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, also 16, were students who lived with their families in a Jewish-only settlement near the Palestinian city of Hebron in the West Bank. The settlement and others like it have been declared illegal by the International Court of Justice because they are located in occupied territory and impede Palestinians’ liberty of movement and right to employment, health and education. However, they were youth just starting out on life, sons and brothers whose families will forever grieve their horrific deaths. We must all condemn such violence.

We must also condemn the collective punishment and violence unleashed by the government of Israel in response. To date, the Israeli police and military have broken into and ransacked 1,500 homes, businesses and schools in its rampage, arresting more than 550 residents.  More than half of the abducted individuals are being held without charge or trial, more than 100 have been injured and at least six have died – including a 14-year-old boy who was shot in the chest at point-blank range and a 78-year-old woman who suffered a heart attack during a house raid. As this article was written, the 680,000 residents of greater Hebron had been surrounded by angry troops and settlers, with ominous reports trickling out of death and mayhem.

Imagine if similar homicides occurred in your town. Despite the tragedy of the crimes and the desperate desire to find the perpetrators, would civilized society countenance the widespread ransacking of property, imprisonment of hundreds and the death of innocents? No, of course not. So why should it be considered an acceptable response among a population pushed to desperation by decades of military occupation?

To fully understand just what happened and why, an analysis must begin before the June 12 disappearance of the three teenagers, residents of a Jewish-only settlement near the Palestinian city of Hebron in the West Bank. Rather, it should start with April 23, when the two main Palestinian political factions, Fatah (which had governed the West Bank) and Hamas (which filled the same role for the Gaza Strip) announced formation of a unity government. While the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority has long cooperated with Israeli security forces, Hamas continues to actively resist Israel’s control over the Palestinian territory. The announcement of the reconciliation was condemned by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was enraged when the U.S. and other governments instead took a wait-and-see approach.

When the three Israeli teens disappeared, Netanyahu immediately blamed Hamas, although it has reportedly denied responsibility, and launched a campaign to punish any person associated with the party, as well as those it wanted to target for other reasons (such as previously released prisoners). An informed observer cannot help but conclude that he seized on the personal tragedy of the families involved to pursue a broader political goal. Israel’s intention to “perform a root canal to uproot everything green [Hamas-related] in the West Bank” was announced on the national Army Radio, while Economy Minister Naftali Bennett promised to “turn membership of Hamas into an entry ticket to hell.” A high-ranking Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officer told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz  that the mass arrests are “a kind of thorough cleaning.” Israel, he said, had decided “to use the upcoming days to arrest anyone ‘infected’ with Hamas.” In one Israeli news source, an IDF officer even admitted that the operation had been planned ahead of time, and that its goal was not to find the boys, but to provoke unrest.

With the discovery of the Israeli teens’ bodies, Israeli military and the settlers intensified the attack on Hebron and other towns, with a 17-year-old boy shot in the Jenin refugee camp. Renewing his vow that “Hamas will pay,” Netanyahu ordered an escalation of airstrikes on the Gaza Strip – more than 40 in just the first night, terrorizing the entire population of 1.8 million. Although the strikes in part are in retaliation for rockets shot into Israel by a faction that is not affiliated with Hamas, Netanyahu’s own words make the connection clear.

According to the prisoner advocacy group Addameer, about a quarter of the hundreds of arrested Palestinians are being placed in “administrative detention,” a procedure that allows the Israeli military to hold individuals indefinitely based on secret information without charging them or allowing them to stand trial.  Israel routinely uses administrative detention in violation of the strict parameters established by international law, claiming to be in a continuous state of emergency since its inception in 1948. In addition, says Addameer, administrative detention is frequently used – in direct contravention to international law – for collective and criminal punishment rather than for the prevention of future threat.

10 Good Things about the Year 2013

By: codepink Thursday December 26, 2013 5:53 pm

Medea Benjamin, February 2013

By Medea Benjamin

It would be easy to make a list of 10 bad things—wars, government shut-down, drone attacks, lack of progress on immigrant rights, lousy health-care reform.  But it’s also been a year of extraordinary activism: whistleblowers, DREAMers, Walmart workers, peacemakers, gay rights advocates, garment workers. As the year ends, let’s pay tribute to the good things their efforts have wrought.

1. A spontaneous uprising by the American people kept President Obama from invading Syria. This Fall’s “peaceful insurrection” was by far my favorite moment of 2013. It was one of those all-too-rare occasions when folks came together across ideological divisions, flooding their congressional reps with calls. Yes, after 12 years, Americans have become “war-wise”, understanding that US intervention is no solution. So instead, chemical weapons are being destroyed thanks to successful negotiations. But the war in Syria rages on, with casualties mounting daily. Peace talks are scheduled for January 22 in Switzerland, and women’s groups—including CODEPINK—are mobilizing to surround the meetings with a desperate plea to all the guys with guns: Ceasefire NOW!

2. Talks with Iran are progressing, despite Israel and AIPAC’s objections. The P5+1 group of Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany has made great headway in finding a solution to diffuse the crisis around Iran’s nuclear program. Negotiators are anxious to take advantage of the opening represented by the election of a moderate Iranian leader, President Hassan Rouhani. Sadly, a group of both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, along with the AIPAC lobby, threaten to derail the talks by pushing for greater sanctions against Iran. If we can move ahead with talks, 2014 could be the year we finally ditch the Bush-era “axis of evil” treatment and build friendly relations with Iran.

3. Edward Snowden has rocked the world of NSA spying. When Edward Snowden first blew the whistle on the NSA’s sweeping surveillance, he said his greatest fear was not what the government would do to him, but that nothing would change. A mere six months later, the cascading effects have, according to the Washington Post, made themselves felt in Congress, the courts, popular culture, Silicon Valley and world capitals.” There is now a vibrant global dialogue about privacy rights. In December, a federal court judge declared the secret collection of domestic phone records unconstitutional and President Obama’s own review panel called a major overhaul of NSA’s activities. President Obama claims he will consider the review board’s suggestions, indicating that reforms are necessary to restore public confidence. While Snowden is under indictment for criminal acts here in the US, thanks to this whistleblower, the days of the NSA doing whatever it wants—in secret and free from public criticism—are coming to an end. Thanks, Edward, for your service!

4. Killer drones are taking a beating. The international community is finally standing up to the use of killer drones and the proliferation of this technology around the globe. With reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, investigations by the United Nation’s Special Rapporteurs, and two briefings in Congress with testimony by drone strike survivors, the dialogue and the outrage around the drone program has increased. This year saw a ban on drone strikes by both the Pakistani National Assembly and the Yemeni Parliament (if only the US would listen!), more protests inside the US and the creation of a global anti-drones network.

5. Yes, the Pope, who beat Snowden for Time’s Person of the Year, is astonishing. I must admit that even as a secular Jew, this pope fills me with awe. He sneaks out at night to feed the homeless; invites homeless people to celebrate his birthday in the Vatican; washes the feet of young prisoners; says he is not one to judge gay people; calls on the church to get beyond its fixation on reproduction and sexual morality; debunks trickle-down economics and questions the morality of capitalism; lives simply and loves to take public transportation. What a cool guy! Unfortunately he doesn’t support abortion rights or the ordination of women, but he is certainly injecting new spirit into the moribund, scandal-ridden Catholic church.

Drones have come out of the shadows

By: codepink Monday November 4, 2013 11:10 am

At each of the over 200 cities I’ve traveled to this past year with my book Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control, I ask the audience an easy question: Have they ever seen or heard from drone strike victims in the mainstream US press? Not one hand has ever gone up. This is an obvious indication that the media has failed to do its job of humanizing the civilian casualties that accompany President Obama’s deadly drone program.

Drone Warfare

Medea Benjamin’s latest book.

This has started to change, with new films, reports and media coverage finally giving the American public a taste of the personal tragedies involved.

On October 29, the Rehman family—a father with his two children—came all the way from the Pakistani tribal territory of North Waziristan to the US Capitol to tell the heart-wrenching story of the death of the children’s beloved 67-year-old grandmother. And while the briefing, organized by Congressman Alan Grayson, was only attended by four other congresspeople, it was packed with media.

Watching the beautiful 9-year-old Nabila relate how her grandmother was blown to bits while outside picking okra softened the hearts of even the most hardened DC politicos. From the Congressmen to the translator to the media, tears flowed. Even the satirical journalist Dana Milbank, who normally pokes fun at everything and everyone in his Washington Post column, covered the family’s tragedy with genuine sympathy.

The visit by the Rehman family was timed for the release of the groundbreaking new documentary Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars by Robert Greenwald of Brave New Foundation. The emotion-packed film is filled with victims’ stories, including that of 16-year-old Tariq Aziz, a peace-loving, soccer-playing teenager obliterated three days after attending an anti-drone conference in Islamabad. Lawyers in the firm pose the critical question: If Tariq was a threat, why didn’t they capture him at the meeting and give him the right to a fair trial? Another just released documentary is Wounds of Waziristan, a well-crafted, 20-minute piece by Pakistani filmmaker Madiha Tahir that explains how drone attacks rip apart communities and terrorize entire populations.

Just as the visit and the films have put real faces on drone victims, a plethora of new reports by prestigious institutions—five in total—have exposed new dimensions of the drone wars.

On October 22, Human Rights Watch issued a report on drone strikes in Yemen and Amnesty International issued another on drone strikes in Pakistan. While not calling for an end to all drone strikes, the reports detail cases of civilian casualties and criticize the US government for considering itself above the rule of law and accountability. A third report, License to Kill, released by the Geneva-based group Al Karama, is much more damning of US policy. While Amnesty and Human Rights Watch say drones are lawful under certain circumstances and mainly push for transparency, Al Karama asserts that the US drone war is a clear violation of international law. It calls for an end to extrajudicial executions and targeted killings; complete reparations to victims; and a resolution by the UN Human Rights Council opposing the US practice of extrajudicial executions.

Adding to these well-researched reports by non-governmental organizations are two documents commissioned by the United Nations. One is by Christof Heyns, the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. The other is by Ben Emmerson, the special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism.  Heyns warns that while drones may be more targeted than other weapons, they are easier to use and may “lower social barriers against the use of lethal force.” He said that a “drones only” approach risks ignoring peaceful approaches such as individual arrests and trial, negotiations and building alliances.

Emmerson said states have the obligation to capture terrorist suspects, when feasible, and should only use force as a last resort. He blasted the US lack of transparency, calling it the single greatest obstacle to an evaluation of the civilian impact of drone strikes. He said states must be transparent about the acquisition and use of drones, the legal basis and criteria for targeting, and their impact. “National security does not justify keeping secret the statistical and methodological data about the use of drones,” he claimed.

Yemenis Have Moms Too

By: codepink Friday May 10, 2013 9:05 pm

By Jodie Evans and Charles Davis

He disappeared more than a decade ago, just 18-years-old and teaching abroad, separated from  his family for the first time in life. His mother and father, sick with worry, heard nothing. For all they knew he was dead. Then, one day they opened a newspaper and learned their son was being held in a military prison run by the US of A, accused of – but never charged with – being an enemy of the state.

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Yes We Can End War CODEPINK Banner Drop

Were Abdurahman al-Shubati a US citizen, his case would be featured on CNN, his face plastered on television screens next to a graphic listing his days in prison without trial. Some go-getting entrepreneur would be selling yellow wristbands with his name and “#solidarity” printed on them. The president, affecting the right level of empathy for the family and strong but stately anger toward his captors, would be telling us: “Never forget” and “There will be justice.”

But Abdurahman was born in Yemen. Which means he’s not entitled to all those rights said to be endowed to us by our creator, at least in the eyes of the US government. And that means, despite being detained since 2001 and formally cleared of any wrongdoing in 2008, he remains trapped in a prison cell at Guantanamo Bay, slowly starving to death. A combination of racism, Islamophobia and simple guilt by association, have caused the U.S. government to keep him locked up.

Since Barack Obama became US president after pledging to close Guantanamo, which his administration is now seeking to expand, conditions at the military prison have only gotten worse, prisoners there who were once promised their freedom complaining of physical and mental torture. Though he has unilaterally waged war, Obama has decided that he can’t – nay, won’t – unilaterally free them. In fact, the opposite: heissued an executive order creating “a formal system of indefinite detention for those held at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay.” The Obama administration has unilaterally decided that dozens of men will never be tried so much as in a military tribunal because the evidence against them was obtained through torture, but that they can never be freed because they are nonetheless deemed “too dangerous.”

Not that the US government is too keen on freeing anyone else, either. A US military committee has already determinedthat Abdurahman, like 57 other Yemenis imprisoned at Guantanamo, should be returned home; that he spent his 20s in prison for a crime he didn’t commit and with which he wasn’t even charged, much less convicted. Obama, however, refuses to release the men, ostensibly out of fear they may seek revenge against their former captors once they return to Yemen.

Understandably, this has created a sense of hopelessness among the 166 people still imprisoned at Guantanamo. More than 100 of them are now on a hunger strike. What other option is left them at this point? Because of their symbolic act of defiance, however, they are being tortured even more – “how dare you embarrass us by dying” – with US personnel force-feeding them to avoid another public relations problem (the United Nations says the practice is simply “unjustifiable”).

“Can you imagine what this is like for a mother?” asks Abdurahman’s own mom in an appeal for his freedom. “To imagine my son in such a loveless place, refusing nourishment to protest his detention; to think of him being painfully force fed – it breaks my heart every second of every day.  Don’t they realize we are human beings, not stones?”

As Mothers’ Day is celebrated this year in the US, a holidaywith roots in the fight for peace and justice, Abdurahman and more than a hundred others never charged with crimes will be sitting in prison cells, alone. George W. Bush will get to hug his mom. Michelle Obama will get to hug her children, but the mothers of Guantanamo prisoners don’t get to hug theirs- ever. The best they can hope for is a phone call every two months.

In an 1870 appeal to women of the world, writer and activist Julia Ward Howe – the originator of the Mother’s Day we celebrate – implored her readers to not let their children become complicit in the machinery of war and injustice; to not let them unlearn the lessons they were taught “of charity, mercy and patience”; to not let them “be trained to injure others.”

Here in the 21st century, we need to relearn those lessons and focus on training our children to be instruments of peace, not oppression. Right now, too many kids of American mothers are making mothers in other countries cry. We need to teach them that the practice of compassion and mercy shouldn’t stop at one’s mailbox or a country’s borders. Mothers overseas are in anguish over the kidnapping and loss of their children too.

Join us in calling on Michelle Obama to open her heart to the cries of Abdurahman’s mother and ask Barack to send those cleared home and to expedite the closing of Guantanamo. Join Diane Wilson on her 11th day outside the White House and over 1000 others in a fast of solidarity with the prisoners.

Jodie Evans is the co-founder of CODEPINK @heartofj
Charles Davis is a writer living in Los Angeles @charliearchy