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Beware of Exploding Gifts from Uncle Sam

11:07 am in Uncategorized by codepink

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. Read the rest of this entry →

Drones have come out of the shadows

11:10 am in Uncategorized by codepink

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.

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Bush’s Legacy Ought to Be on Trial – Instead, It’s Put on Display

7:21 pm in Uncategorized by codepink

By Jodie Evans, Charles Davis

Giant war crimes puppets

What is Bush's true legacy to the world?

George W. Bush presided over an international network of torture chambers and, with the help of a compliant Congress and press, launched a war of aggression that killed hundreds of thousands of men, women and children. However, instead of the bloody details of his time in office being recounted at a war crimes tribunal, the former president has been able to bank on his imperial privilege – and a network of rich corporate donors that he made richer while in office – to tell his version of history at a library in Texas being opened in his name.

Kill a few, they call you a murderer. Kill tens of thousands, they give you $500 million for a granite vanity project and a glossy 30-page supplement in the local paper.

Before getting into that, some facts. According to the US government, more than 100,000 people died following the 2003 invasion of Iraq; of that number, 4,486 were members of the US military. So far, the wars started by Bush and continued by his heir, Barack Obama, have cost upwards of $3.1 trillion. That’s money that could have been spent saving lives and building things, not ending and destroying them.

But that’s not going to be the narrative at the George W. Bush Presidential Library, opening this week in Dallas, Texas. No, that’s going to be: 9/11, 9/11, 9/11 (see also: 9/11).

Called the “Day of Fire,” a main attraction at the new library will be a display on the events of September 11, 2001, where “video images from the attacks flash around a twisted metal beam recovered from the wreckage of the World Trade Center,” according to the Associated Press.

“It’s very emotional and very profound,” Bush explained in an interview. “One of the reasons it has to be is because memories are fading rapidly and the profound impact of that attack is becoming dim with time.” That is to say, the former president has a keen interest in fanning the embers of outrage over the killing of nearly 3,000 Americans more than a decade ago lest the world view him poorly for the dozens of 9/11s he perpetrated not just on Iraq, but Afghanistan. Never forget the harm done to us or you just might remember the harm we inflicted on others.

The corporate media doesn’t want you to remember those depressing and damning details either. In a supplement that reads as a paid advertisement, The Dallas Morning News calls Bush’s new library, “A place to learn,” featuring a silky soft interview with the former first lady, Laura Bush, and an editorial that states that her husband “stands out as a leader whose convictions guided him.”

The latter piece, penned by columnist William McKenzie, recounts the author’s dreamy encounter with a young George W. Bush on the campaign trail.  “When I met him, I certainly didn’t think I would one day walk up to his presidential library,” McKenzie tells us. “But the day I did, I felt a sense of pride for him.” (“Maybe journalists shouldn’t feel that way,” he sheepishly adds.)

Unfortunately, when CODEPINK tried to place an ad informing the paper’s readers of Bush’s real legacy – rivers of blood flooded by a war based on lies – The Dallas Morning News rejected it. Pressed as to why, the paper cited vague “advertising guidelines,” asking us to remove a graphic of a blood splotch and to include “sourced facts and how they prove the ‘lie’” of the Bush-approved official history. One wishes corporate advertisers were subject to such scrutiny.

Bush’s legacy is reflected not in his library, but in the regular bombings that rock Baghdad, killing dozens at a time. The Connecticut blue blood turned straight talkin’ Texan is of course welcome to tell his side of the story. That’s only fair. But let him do it at the Hague.

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At Drone Convention, Zero Tolerance for Peace

5:30 pm in Uncategorized by codepink

By Medea Benjamin

When are we, as a nation, going to have a frank discussion about drones and remote-controlled killing? One might think that such a dialogue could take place when thousands of people come together, once a year, at the gathering of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI). Wrong.

But AUVSI, the lobby group for the drone industry, brooked no dissent at its August 6-9 Las Vegas Convention. When I, as author of a new book Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control, tried to rent a room at the Convention Center to give a presentation on my book, AUVSI vetoed my request. When I tried to register as a journalist, I was told that I did not meet their criteria, but they refused to say what that criteria was. And after registering online as a normal participant and paying the $200 fee, when I appeared to get my badge I was yanked off the line, surrounded by police, and told I would be arrested if I set foot in the Convention Center during the duration of the gathering.

The same thing happened to Father Louie Vitale, an 80-year-old Franciscan priest who had registered and pre-paid for the conference. Father Vitale is known for his dignified, faith-driven stance against war, including drone killing. “There’s something from my Air Force days that fascinates me about drones, which is one of the reasons I wanted to get in to see the exhibits,” said Father Vitale, “but I also wanted to have conversations with some of the drone manufacturers and operators.” That was not to be. Unprovoked, Father Vitale found himself surrounded by Convention Security and Las Vegas police, who threatened him with arrest.

CODEPINK supporter and writer Tighe Barry flew all the way from Washington DC to attend the conference. Pre-registration confirmation in hand, he was given his badge, only to find it snatched away from him 20 minutes later. “I was sitting quietly in a session on the integration of drones into US airspace when I was grabbed by security agents and pulled out of the room. How sick is that?” said Barry. “These people are crazy!”

A few peace activists did not get immediately stopped by AUVSI’s thuggish security, but two of them were banned when they dared to simply ask a few probing questions to the exhibitors at the booth of General Atomics, the company making the lethal Predator and Reaper drones. “I was merely asking if the company feels any responsibility when its products are used to kill innocent people in places like Pakistan and Yemen,” said Jim Haber of Nevada Desert Experience, a group that has been peacefully protesting nuclear weapons for decades.

Janis Sevre-Duszynska, a writer for National Catholic Reporter, was allowed inside but was overwhelmed by the experience. “Walking through the exhibit hall was surreal. It is all about performance, speed, targets and sales—nothing about consequences,” said Sevre-Duszynska.  “It felt like a war zone, and I felt like an alien. There didn’t seem to be others who were questioning the deadly uses of this technology.”

CODEPINK cofounder Jodie Evans, who managed to get in for a few hours, had the same alien feeling—especially from a women’s perspective. “There were so few women it was spooky,” said Evans. “I would say the ratio of men to women was about 500 to one—and some of the women were girlfriends of the guys. Let’s just say the Ladies Room was empty.”

Lockheed Martin used the occasion to announce that it had completed flight tests for a new drone that can be repowered in the air by laser. “You know what they named their drone? The Stalker,” said Evans, who is a longtime advocate for women’s rights. “Misogynistic, macho and violent messages were everywhere—stalking, neutralizing, eliminating the enemy—and of course the phallic symbols start with the drones themselves.”

Mary Lou Anderson, Council Member of Nevada Desert Experience, who was also ejected from the trade show floor, noted that there was a huge discrepancy between the keynote addresses that focused on the potential civilian uses and benefits of drones versus the overwhelming presence of the military in the exhibit hall. “I would say over 85% of the vendor and manufacturer exhibitors were either entirely military based, or partnered with the military and police.”

The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps had their exhibits. So did weapons manufactures such as General Atomics (maker of the Reaper and Predator drones), Northrop Grumman (maker of the Gray Eagle, known for its “lethal persistence”) and Boeing (maker of the Phantom Eye).

Other exhibitors were military bases like Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona and Edward Air Force Base in California that are trying to rent space out to private companies to test and develop drones, and universities like the University of North Dakota touting their training programs for drone operators.

“Some of us are worried about the unregulated proliferation of drones, and the innocent people who are being killed in our remote-controlled wars” said Jim Haber, who lives in Las Vegas and often vigils outside the nearby Creech Air Force Base where drones killing people in Afghanistan are being piloted. “But AUVSI is worried about peace—and people who profess pro-peace views. I suppose they see us as bad for business.” Indeed, some of the sessions addressed the dronemakers’ concern about finding new markets with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down.

Outside the Convention Center, protesters staged a die-in to commemorate the innocent people killed by lethal drones. And the next morning at 6 am, a handful of peace activists headed out to Creech Air Force Base 40 miles away to greet military personnel driving into the base, some of whom are drone operators.

The group included Father Vitale and 75-year-old Father Zawada, who sat on his walker in the blazing sun. Vitale and Zawada held a banner that read “Ground the Drones, Lest You Reap What You Sow.” Another vigiler held a sign with a friendly-looking bee saying “Make Honey, Not Drones.”

“Peace be with you, brother,” the priests called to the military personnel in their cars. Overhead, a menacing Reaper pierced the desert sky.

Twenty minutes later, alerted to the ragtag pro-peace group, several large police SUVs came careening down Route 95 towards the base. AUVSI is not the only group threatened by devout peacemakers.

 

Medea Benjamin, author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control, is cofounder of CODEPINK and Global Exchange.

CODEPINK Protester Victorious Over AIPAC Assailant

11:33 am in Uncategorized by codepink

It is not every day that the voices for justice triumph over the actions of the rich and powerful, especially when it comes to the Israel-Palestine debate. That’s why it is so important to acknowledge and celebrate the settlement just negotiated by CODEPINK activist Rae Abileah and her lawyers after suing American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)volunteer lobbyist Stanley Shulster.

Medea Benjamin in a pink shirt & helmet with a Make Out Not War badge.

Code Pink's Medea Benjamin at NoNATO Rally (Photo: Chicagosee / Flickr)

It all started on May 24, 2011, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Washington, DC speaking before a joint session of Congress. Abileah, a 29-year-old Jewish woman who has traveled to the West Bank, Israel and Gaza, was in the audience. She became more and more appalled as she listened to Netanyahu’s speech and watched our congress people giving him a stream of standing ovations. “I couldn’t watch this hero’s welcome for a man who supports the continued building of illegal settlements, won’t lift the siege of Gaza, and refuses to negotiate with the Palestinian unity government,” said Abileah.

So Abileah did what most people would never have the courage to do. She got up and shouted: “No more occupation! Stop Israeli war crimes! Equal rights for Palestinians!” And she unfurled a banner thatread: “Occupying land is Indefensible!”

She was immediately grabbed, violently pulled toward the floor, and gagged—not by the Capitol Police but by a member of the audience, Stanley Shulster, a retired attorney from Ashland, Oregon, who had traveled to Washington DC to attend the yearly conference of the Israel lobby group AIPAC. An online bio for Shulster revealed that he was an unpaid lobbyist, a volunteer in the Israeli Defense Forces, and a Navyveteran. In his bio Shulster bragged that he “grabbed the woman who heckled the Prime Minister while he was speaking.”

Abileah was rushed to the hospital, where she was treated for neck and shoulder injuries. She subsequently had to undergo months of physical therapy, chiropractic care and other treatments to heal from these injuries.

But Abileah was also determined to pursue her attacker.She pressed charges and got a warrant for his arrest, and she filed a civil suit for damages. Thanks to the tenacity and generosity of her attorneys, they just reached a settlement in which Shulster was forced to pay her medical fees  and issue an apology. In the joint statement issued by Shulster and Abileah, Shulster acknowledges that he “respects the right of Ms. Abileah to hold a different view on the Israel-Palestine conflict and believes she holds this view in good faith,” and Abileah does the same. Both Abileah and Shulster recognize “the right, as Americans, to agree to disagree peacefully.” This might sound like a common sense statement but coming from a man who works with the IDF and AIPAC, which routinely categorizes any critique of Israel as anti-Semitic, this is extraordinary.

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Colin Powell: Another War Criminal Cashes In

2:43 pm in Uncategorized by codepink

By Charles Davis and Medea Benjamin

One could be forgiven for thinking there’s anything honorable or honest about Colin Powell. For more than two decades now the Washington media has portrayed the former Secretary of State as something of a real life action hero, a reluctant warrior whose greatest fault – should they deign to mention any – was just being too darn loyal to a guy named George and his buddy Dick. What you might have missed is that Powell is a war criminal in his own right, one who in more than four decades of “public service” helped kill people from Vietnam to Panama to Iraq who never posed a threat to America. But don’t just take some anti-war activists’ word for it: Powell will proudly tell you as much, so long as he can make a buck from doing it in a book.

Powell’s latest $27.99 account of his legendary life is billed as a “powerful portrait of a leader who is reflective, self-effacing, and grateful for the contributions of everyone he works with.” But the title, It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership, could very well refer to Powell’s own careerist ambitions: saying and doing whatever served the interests of power – as a young officer in Vietnam, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the illegal invasion of Panama, as Secretary of State under George W. Bush  – has worked out tremendously well for the man, if not so much for those unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of his public service.

Though billed as a self-effacing, humble leader prepared to admit mistakes, the real Colin Powell is not the one advertised by the P.R. department at HarperCollins. His book makes that clear enough when he discusses his now infamous 2003 presentation before the United Nations on Iraq’s alleged stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction. Nearly every line in that speech has since proven to be false – indeed, much of his presentation was known to be false at the time – but you won’t find Powell owning up to that.

“There is nothing worse than a leader believing he has accurate information when folks who know he doesn’t don’t tell him that he doesn’t,” Powell writes. “I found myself in trouble on more than one occasion because people kept silent when they should have spoken up. My infamous speech at the U.N. in 2003 about Iraqi WMD programs was not based on facts, though I thought it was.”

In other words, according to Powell, the fact that he lied to the American public as well as the international community on the eve of a disastrous war is not his fault – heavens no – but the fault of his anonymous underlings, the allegedly timid State Department staffers who lacked the courage to speak truth to their courageous boss. Like much of Powell’s anecdotes, it’s a tidy little story about leadership that’s about as truthful as his U.N. speech.

The reality is Powell, like most powerful men in Washington, is a well-documented liar. In fact, those State Department employees Powell blames for his repeating thinly sourced lies before the international community did in fact speak up. Powell just ignored them since what they had to say wasn’t convenient to the task at hand: selling an unjust war against a third-rate military power.

As writer Jonathan Schwarz notes, State Department staff actually went through all the claims Powell was to make in his U.N. speech – and they found most of them wanting. But Powell ignored them, boasting that “every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.”

Let’s look at a few of those definitely-not-just-assertions. In an effort to dismiss the value of the U.N. weapons inspectors who were on the ground – and not finding anything – Powell declared that the Iraqis had in fact replaced actual scientists in at least one facility with “Iraqi intelligence agents who were to deceive inspectors about the work that was being done there.” However, in a memo prepared by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), that assertion was characterized as “weak” and “not credible.”

But that didn’t stop Honest Powell, who went on to make what INR termed a “[h]ighly questionable” claim about the Iraqi government placing its WMD experts “under house arrest . . .  at one of Saddam Hussein’s guest houses.” Likewise, veteran journalist Bob Woodward noted in his book Plan of Attack, that Powell took a transcript of a benign conversation between Iraqi soldiers talking about complying with U.N. weapons inspectors and portrayed it “in the most negative light” possible” as an effort to deceive the inspectors, even adding dialogue that wasn’t in the original.

But in terms of Powell’s own credibility, the most damning part of his U.N. presentation came when he cited documents smuggled out of Iraq by the Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law as evidence of ongoing Iraqi perfidy. Powell insisted that Iraq only came clean about its possession of “the deadly nerve agent, VX,” after “inspectors came across documentation as a result of the defection of Hussein Kamal.” What he left out: that Kamal was categorical that all WMDs Iraq may have ever had in the past were destroyed well before the 2003 invasion. “All weapons,” Kamal told inspectors, “biological, chemical, missile, nuclear, were destroyed.” Asked about this in 2006 by journalist Sam Husseini, Powell claimed ignorance and angrily shut the door to his chauffeured vehicle. He has never taken responsibility for his own role in a war that killed well over 115,000 Iraqis and more than 4,400 U.S. soldiers.

When it comes to admitting his own role in war crimes, though, Powell wasn’t always so tight-lipped. In an earlier book, My American Journey, Powell was upfront about the collective punishment he inflicted against the people of Vietnam when he led a contingent of South Vietnamese soldiers in an attack on a village full of noncombatants. “The people had fled at our approach, except for an old woman too feeble to move,” he wrote. “We burned down the thatched huts, starting the blaze with Ronson and Zippo cigarette lighters.” That’s because “Ho Chi Minh had said the people were like the sea in which his guerrillas swam,” Powell explained. “We tried to solve the problem by making the whole sea uninhabitable.”

If Powell’s sorry about violating the Geneva Conventions and killing innocent people, he’s never said so. But he has tried to explain his thinking. “I had been conditioned to believe in the wisdom of my superiors, and to obey,” Powell wrote. “I had no qualms about what we were doing.”

Blinding obeying authority – always for personal gain – has been a hallmark of Powell’s career. As the top deputy to Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger during the Reagan administration, Powell was a party to the transfer of thousands of missiles to Iran as part of an illegal arms-for-hostages swap, with proceeds from the sales used in defiance of Congress and the World Court in support of the right-wing Contra insurgency in Nicaragua, later known as the Iran-Contra scandal. And as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under the first George Bush, Powell led a brutal invasion of Panama in which hundreds of civilians died, an illegal act that was widely condemned by Latin American governments.

Powell’s career culminated with the illegal and disastrous invasion of Iraq. Rather than apologize to the victims of that war, however, he has decided to cash in, hawking his latest volume of apologia at a Costco or Sam’s Club near you. Since President Barack Obama had decided to let Bush administration war criminals go free – a “look forward, not backward” privilege allowed powerful men in Washington but denied America’s 2.3 million mostly non-violent prisoners – it’s up to us to remind Powell that while his subservience to deadly state power may have worked for him, it didn’t work out so well for the hundreds of thousands of victims that lay in his wake. And not all of us are willing to forget.

 

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK: Women for Peace and Global Exchange. She is author of the new book Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.

Charles Davis is a writer who has covered politics for public radio and outlets including Al Jazeera and Inter Press Service. More of his work may be found on his website.

‘Shame on You’: Why I Interrupted Obama Counter-Terrorism Adviser John Brennan

7:48 pm in Uncategorized by codepink

John Brennan (photo: CSIS: Center for Strategic & International Studies/flickr)

By Medea Benjamin

Counterterrorism adviser John Brennan spoke at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington DC on April 30 to mark the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden. It was the first time a high level member of the Obama Administration spoke at length about the U.S. drone strikes that the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command have been carrying out in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

“President Obama has instructed us to be more open with the American people about these efforts,” Brennan explained.

I had just co-organized a Drone Summit over the weekend, where Pakistani lawyer Shahzad Akbar told us heart-wrenching stories about the hundreds of innocent victims of our drone attacks. We saw horrific photos of people whose bodies were blown apart by Hellfire missiles, with only a hand or a slab of flesh remaining. We saw poor children on the receiving end of our attacks—maimed for life, with no legs, no eyes, no future. And for all these innocents, there was no apology, no compensation, not even an acknowledgement of their losses. Nothing.

The U.S. government refuses to disclose who has been killed, for what reason, and with what collateral consequences. It deems the entire world a war zone, where it can operate at will, beyond the confines of international law.

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Why I’m Striking

7:45 pm in Uncategorized by codepink

By Janet Weil

My husband works in information technology for a large corporation. After a little encouragement from me when I mentioned the upcoming General Strike on May Day, he decided to take a “comp day” and join the action with me on May Day. Here’s why in his own words:  “I’m striking because I refuse to be part of a chastened and fearful American workforce and I am fed up with injustice … and I knew it would make you happy.”

His statement, and the “why I strike” tumblr (http://whyistrike.tumblr.com), inspired me to write my own reasons for striking:

  • Because war criminals go on book tours while their victims’ corpses rot, and the families grieve.
  • Because women bear the brunt of economic injustice.
  • Because 22-yr-olds leave college with heavy loads of debt and few job prospects.
  • Because men and women (and yes, even children) roll themselves in blankets and sleep in doorways, night after night.
  • Because my friend – a professor – got a police baton in the chest when she tried to protect UC students from violent cops at Occupy Cal.
  • Because “there aren’t enough funds” for childcare or shelters, but there are always enough funds for the Pentagon and the increasingly militarized police forces.
  • Because financial crooks hedge their funds and shield their income from taxes and play games with the global economy.
  • Because poor people have to pay large fees to cash their small paychecks.
  • Because women do so much emotional labor, mostly unpaid and unthanked.
  • Because 22-yr-olds leave college with heavy loads of debt and few job prospects.
  • Because my friend the professor got a police baton in the chest when she tried to protect UC students from violent cops.
  • Because November 2’s General Strike in Oakland was one of the most free and joyous days of my life.
  • Because December 12’s West Coast Port Shutdown was filled wtih solidarity and love. Because people are counting on me to show up and speak out with them.
  • Because I know I’ll have a good time. Because I know we’ll make a difference. Because I want to.
  • Because I am part of the 99%. Because I’m not waiting any longer for someone else to do something to “save” us. Because the 1% need to see us in action, and I am part of that.
  • Because of Mary “Mother” Jones the widowed, childless, brilliant labor organizer. Because of Malallai Joya, the Afghan woman leader. Because of women everywhere who risk their lives to go on strike, to support their men on strike, to refuse sex to men in their own form of strikes that aren’t in history books (yet).
  • Because of my son. Because of my young friends and colleagues. Because of children. Because of the grandchild I hope someday to hold in my arms.
  • Because I’m sick of the way things are, and because I know we can make another way, many other ways forward.

Thousands of people are taking today off work, leaving early or at least posting a sign in their window or cubicle wall showing solidarity.  I was inspired to see a May Pole go up in Union Square today.

May Day started as a struggle for the 8-hour work day in Chicago in 1886. Many people have suffered and died over the past decade of economic injustice and wars. Let’s remember the words of labor organizer Mary “Mother” Jones, who lived in Chicago in 1886: “Pray for the dead, and work like hell for the living!”

Janet Weil is the national grassroots coordinator at CODEPINK Women for Peace (www.codepink.org), and is an activist with Occupy Oakland and Women Occupy (www.womenoccupy.org).  She lives in the Bay Area, CA and can be reached at info[at]codepink.org.

 

Enlisting Michelle Obama—and the American public—to Stop War on Iran

12:23 pm in Uncategorized by codepink

By Rae Abileah and Medea Benjamin

On Friday, March 30, First Lady Michelle Obama received an unusual request at her San Francisco fundraiser. Instead of “Can I have a picture with you?,” one major donor asked, “Will you use your leadership to prevent an attack on Iran?”  Kristin Hull hand delivered to Ms. Obama a petition against war on Iran that was signed by prominent women including Gloria Steinem, Alice Walker, and Eve Ensler, and over 20,000 American women and allies. Hull implored the First Lady to think of the military families and veterans who have paid the price of war.  Ms. Obama has championed veterans’ issues while in office and for this reason, in addition to her obvious proximity to the President, women’s groups have made her a focus of their peace efforts.

Ms. Obama thanked Hull for her advocacy and said, “Keep up the great work.”  As Hull was walking away after her photo with the First Lady, Michelle Obama grabbed her hand, squeezed it and said, “We really need you.”

The petition implores three powerful American female politicians—Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Ambassador Susan Rice and First Lady Michelle Obama—to use their influence to push for diplomacy, not bombing, in US relations with Iran.  The next step will be to hand-deliver the petition to Clinton.  CODEPINK launched this petition online on March 20th, the 9th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq (coincidentally also on the Iranian New Year, Norooz), with a call from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker. “Nine years ago, I joined CODEPINK in front of the White House in an act of civil disobedience to try to stop our government from bombing Iraq,” said Alice Walker. “None of us could live with ourselves if we sat by idly while a country filled with children was blown to bits using money we needed in the United States to build hospitals, housing and schools. We must not let another tragic war begin.”

Indeed, the writing on the wall looks eerily similar to the lead up to the Iraq invasion in 2003, with the government using crippling sanctions and the media stirring up fear among the public. The millions who marched against war in 2003 did not succeed in preventing an attack on Iraq, but the American public is now war weary and more interested in fixing our tattered economy than getting involved in another draining military adventure overseas. While one recent poll showed that if Israel attacks Iran, 47 percent thought the United States should support Israel vs. 42 percent who said we should not get involved, another poll found that the public overwhelmingly favors a diplomatic solution—69 percent preferred negotiations while 24 percent wanted an Israeli strike.

The CODEPINK petition is designed to increase the visibility of that anti-war sentiment. It was created at the request of an Israeli group, the Coalition of Women for Peace, who modeled their own petition after a call to action from a group of women inside Iran. “I thought it was so beautiful that women from Iran, Israel and the United States were coming together across borders to stop war,” said Alice Walker.

“This petition reminds us that governments don’t always represent their people,” said Dr. Dalit Baum, a founding member of the Israeli Coalition of Women for Peace. “With all the war mongering between the leaders of Israel, the US and Iran, it is the voice of women that reminds us that people will try to avoid war and seek out humanity.”

U.S. feminist author Gloria Steinem has also lent her voice to this effort to stop a new war. “Before the U.S. military attacked Iraq, I joined many activists, writers and artists in signing a call opposing a preemptive military invasion of Iraq,” said Steinem. “We feared such a war would increase human suffering, arouse animosity toward our country, damage the economy and undermine our moral standing in the world.  Our fears turned out to be right. Once again we are calling on people to stop another devastating war, and we’re especially calling on women—as we’ve seen from Ireland to Libya, women often have a peacemaking advantage. Let’s hope this time our government listens.” Read the rest of this entry →

Ten Good Things About a (Not So) Bad Year

12:06 pm in Uncategorized by codepink

I had the privilege of starting out the year witnessing, firsthand, the unfolding of the Egyptian revolution in Tahrir Square. I saw people who had been muzzled their entire lives, especially women, suddenly discovering their collective voice. Singing, chanting, demanding, creating. And that became the hallmark of entire year–people the world over becoming empowered and emboldened simply by watching each other. Courage, we learned in 2011, is contagious!

1. The Arab Spring protests were so astounding that even Time magazine recognized “The Protester” as Person of the Year. Sparked by Tunisian vendor Mohamed Bouazizi‘sself-immolation to cry out against police corruption in December 2010, the protests swept across the Middle East and North Africa—including Egypt,Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, Algeria, Iraq, and Jordan. So far, uprisings have toppled Tunesian President Ben Ali, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi–with more shake-ups sure to come. And women have been on the front lines of these protests, highlighted recently by the incredibly brave, unprecedented demo of 10,000 Egyptian women protesting military abuse.

2. Wisconsin caught the Spring Fever, with Madison becoming home to some 100,000 protesters opposing Governor Walker’s threat to destroy collective bargaining and blame the state’s economic woes on public workers. Irate Wisconsinites took over the Capitol, turning it into a festival of democracy, while protests spread throughout the state. The workers managed to loosen the Republican stranglehold on Wisconsin state government and send a message to right-wing extremists across the country. This includes Ohio, where voters overwhelmingly rejected Governor Kasich’s SB 5, a measure designed to restrict collective bargaining rights for more than 360,000 public employees. A humbled Kasich held a press conference shortly after the vote, saying: “The people have spoken clearly. You don’t ignore the public.”

3. On September 17 Occupy Wall Street was born in the heart of Manhattan’s Financial District. Protesters railed against the banksters and corporate thieves responsible for the economic collapse. The movement against the greed of the richest 1% spread to over 1,400 cities in the United States and globally, with newly minted activists embracing–with gusto–people’s assemblies, consensus decision-making, the people’s mic, and upsparkles. Speaking in the name of the 99%, the occupiers changed the national debate from deficits to inequality and corporate abuse.  Even after facing heightened police brutality, tent city evictions, and extreme winter weather, protesters are undeterred and continue to create bold actions–from port shut-downs to moving money out of big banks.  As Occupy Wall Street said, “You can’t evict an idea whose time has come.” Stay tuned for lots more occupation news in 2012.

4. After 8 long years, U.S. troops were finally withdrawn from Iraq. Credit the Iraqis with forcing Obama to stick to an agreement signed under President Bush, and the peace movement here at home for 8 years of opposition to a war our government should never have started. The US invasion and occupation left the country devastated, and Obama’s administration is keeping many thousands of State Department staff, spies and military contractors in the world’s biggest “embassy” in Baghdad. But the withdrawal marks the end of a long, tragic war and for that we should give thanks. Now let’s hold the war criminals accountable!

5. The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize was presented to three terrific women: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia; Leymah Gbowee, the Liberian peace activist; and Yemeni pro-democracy campaigner Tawakkol Karman. A total of only 15 women have received the Nobel Peace Prize since it was first awarded in 1901.These three women were recognized for their non-violent struggle for women’s safety and for women’s rights to participate in peace-building work. Never before in history have three women been awarded the prize simultaneously. How inspiring!

6. The bloated Pentagon budget is no longer immune from budget cuts. The failure of the super-committee means the Pentagon budget could be cut by a total of $1 trillion over the next decade — which would amount to a 23 percent reduction in the defense budget. The hawks are trying to stop the cuts, but most people are more interested in rebuilding America than fattening the Pentagon. That’s why the U.S. Conference of Mayors, for the first time since the Vietnam war, passed a resolution calling for the end to the hostilities and instead investing at home to create jobs, rebuild infrastructure and develop sustainable energy. 2011 pried open the Pentagon’s lock box. Let’s make the cuts in 2012!

7. Elizabeth Warren is running for Senate and Rep. Barbara Lee continues to inspire. After the financial meltdown in 2008, Warren was appointed chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel to investigate the bank bailout and oversee TARP–and investigate she did. She dressed down the banks and set up a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to protect borrowers. Warren became so popular that tens of thousands of people urged her to run for the Senate in Massachusetts, which she is doing. And let’s give a shout out to Rep. Barbara Lee, who worked valiantly all year to push other issues with massive grassroots support: a bill to “only fund the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan” and a bill to repeal the 2001 Authorization of the Use of Force bill that continues to justify U.S. interventions anywhere in the world.

8. Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi  is running for Parliament! Released last year from nearly 15 years of house arrest, this year Suu Kyi held discussions with the Burmese junta. These talks led to a number of government concessions, including the release of many of Burma’s political prisoners and the legalization of trade unions. In November 2011, Suu Kyi’s party, the NLD, announced its intention to re-register as a political party in order run candidates in 48 by-elections. This puts Suu Kyi in the running and marks a major democratic opening after decades of abuse by the military regime.

9. Opposition to Keystone pipeline inspired thousands of new activists, together with a rockin’ coalition of environment groups across the U.S. and Canada. They brought the issue of the climate-killing pipeline right to President Obama’s door, with over 1,200 arrested in front of the White House. The administration heard them and ordered a new review of the project, but the Republican global warming deniers are trying to force Obama’s hand. Whatever way this struggle ends, it has educated millions about the tar sands threat and trained a new generation of environmentalists in more effective, direct action tactics that will surely result in future “wins” for the planet.

10. Following the tragic meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, the growing appetite for nuclear energy has been reversed. Women in Japan are spearheading protests to shut down Japan’s remaining plants and focus on green energy. Braving a cold winter, they have set up tents in front of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and pledged to continue their demonstration for 10 months and 10 days, traditionally considered in Japan as a full term that covers a pregnancy. “Our protests are aimed at achieving a rebirth in Japanese society,” said Chieko Shina, a grandmother from Fukushima. Meanwhile Germany, which has been getting almost one quarter of its electricity from nuclear power, has pledged to shut down all 17 nuclear power plants by 2022. Chancellor Angela Merkel said she hopes Germany’s transformation to more solar, wind and hydroelectric power will serve as a roadmap for other countries. Power (wind and solar, that is) to the people!

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The common thread in the good news this year is the power of ordinary people to counter the abuse of privileged elites, whether corrupt politicians, banksters or greedy CEOs. People all over the globe are insisting that social inequality and environmental devastation are not inevitable features of our global landscape, but policy choices that can be–and must be–reversed. That certainly gives us a full plate for 2012!

 

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of the human rights group Global Exchange and the peace group CODEPINK.