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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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‘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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Iraq Withdrawal? Don’t Take it to the Bank

11:49 am in Uncategorized by codepink

"Leaving Iraq: Literally"

"Leaving Iraq: Literally" by outtacontext on flickr

By Medea Benjamin and Charles Davis

Since coming to Washington, Barack Obama has won a Nobel Prize for Peace, but he hasn’t been much of a peacemaker. Instead, he has doubled down on his predecessor’s wars while launching blatantly illegal ones of his own. But, as his supporters would be quick to point out, at least he’s standing by his pledge to bring the troops home from Iraq.

Right?

That’s certainly what America’s latest war president has been saying. Speaking to supporters this month, he was unequivocal. “If somebody asks about the war [in Iraq] . . . you have a pretty simple answer, which is all our folks are going to be out of there by the end of the year.”

Obama’s statement was a welcome reaffirmation of what he promised on the campaign trail. “If we have not gotten our troops out by the time I am President, it is the first thing I will do,” he thundered in the fall of 2007.  “I will get our troops home. We will bring an end to this war. You can take that to the bank.”

But don’t count on cashing that check. Read the rest of this entry →

Enormous Cuts in Military Spending? Read the Fine Print

5:37 pm in Uncategorized by codepink

U.S. Chamber of Corruption

U.S. Chamber of Corruption by DonkeyHotey

By Medea Benjamin and Charles Davis

 

In this age of austerity, all the politicians are talking about the need for spending cuts. But when it comes to shared burdens and slashed budgets, don’t expect the Pentagon to start holding bake sales, despite what you may have heard about reductions to its obscenely bloated funding.

 

Citing the U.S. government’s $14.3 trillion debt, lawmakers from both parties have seized the moment to try and attain long hoped-for cuts to Social Security and Medicare. But the recent deal does seem to include some good news for lovers of peace: the push for reductions would encompass the war-making part of the state. Indeed, according to a “fact sheet” released by the White House on the bipartisan compromise, the recent deal to raise the national debt ceiling “puts us on track to cut $350 billion from the defense budget over 10 years.”

 

Popular liberal pundits, such as The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson and Ezra Klein, reacted by calling the supposed defense cuts “gigantic” and “unprecedented.” The White House says they’re the first spending reductions since the 1990s.

 

But don’t start cheering yet. As with any other major bipartisan initiative in Washington – the Iraq war and the Wall Street bailouts come time mind – there’s ample reason to be skeptical.

 

First, the cuts for 2012 are virtually nil. Security spending—which includes the Pentagon, State Department, Homeland Security, part of Veterans Affairs and intelligence spending—will be capped at $684 billion in 2012, a decline of merely $5 billion (less than 1 percent) from this year.

Yes, there are potentially far more drastic cuts down the road. In addition to the first $1 trillion in cuts over the next decade, a bipartisan Congressional committee must come up with an additional $1.5 trillion cuts by November — or trigger an automatic across-the-board reduction of $1.2 trillion starting in 2013, half of which would be expected to come from military spending.

 

However, expect this threat of deep military cuts – if cutting defense by 3 percent a year can be called “deep” when it has grown at a rate of 9 percent over the last decade – to be used as a bargaining chip by Democrats to extract concessions on tax increases from Republicans; don’t hold your breath expecting them to actually materialize. And with House Republicans already pledging to “fight on behalf of our Armed Forces,” by which they mean the military-industrial complex, don’t expect Democrats to put up much of a fight. Even were Obama so inclined, the idea that he will expend political capital on cutting military spending even as he expands the war on terror in Libya, Yemen and Somalia is doubtful, especially with an election looming.

 

But let’s put aside cynicism and accept the Obama administration at its word. Let’s assume the White House and Congress agree to cut military spending by $350 billion a year over 10 years. While the numbers may sound impressive out of context, that’s like draining an Olympic-sized pool with a glass from your kitchen: you’re going to be at it for awhile. The military budget has ballooned so much over the last decade that even if it was cut in half tomorrow the U.S. would still spend more than it did in 2001.

 

Indeed, the Obama administration’s proposed military budget for 2012 – the baseline from which future cuts are projected – is at its “highest level since World War II,” according to the non-partisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, “surpassing the Cold War peak” set by Ronald Reagan and a Democratic House of Representatives in 1985. Even if, instead of over a decade, the whole, entirely-subject-to-change $350 billion was cut from the defense budget in one fiscal year alone, the U.S. would still lead the globe in military spending, devoting twice as much to guns and bombs as its closest and much more populous rival, China. And that’s without factoring in the cost of any new wars.

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Moving Chess Pieces: The Illusion of Withdrawal in Iraq

11:35 am in Uncategorized by codepink

by Janet Weil

Moving Chess Pieces in IraqToday, all U.S. troops must be withdrawn from Iraqi cities, including U.S. bases in Baghdad, according to the Status Of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the U.S. and Iraq. The Iraqi government will also take legal responsibility for the actions of U.S. troops and have legal jurisdiction over American soldiers who commit crimes off-base and off-duty, and the SOFA will grant permission to U.S. troops for military operations, as well as ban the U.S. from staging attacks on other countries from Iraq.

While it may seem like a step forward toward ending the six-year occupation of Iraq, the Pentagon is doing what it can to dodge or play down these SOFA stipulations. In recent weeks, it has been re-classifying bases and troops, hiring “corporate security” mercenaries, and preventing Iraq from having jurisdiction over those actions. It’ll get away with it too, as Congress never ratified the SOFA, and because many are justifying further occupation under the banner of keeping Iraq secure.

Leading up to the June 30th deadline, the Pentagon has been playing shell games with bases and with soldiers. City limits have been modified to exempt bases from the agreement and soldiers who have moved out of cities Read the rest of this entry →