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Here Comes the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, Dragging a Broken Moral Compass

1:01 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

The announcement of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, set for October 11, is sure to make big news. The prize remains the most prestigious in the world. But the award has fallen into an evasive pattern, ignoring the USA’s continuous “war on terror” and even giving it tacit support.

In his 1895 will, the dynamite inventor and ammunition magnate Alfred Nobel specified that Norway’s parliament should elect a five-member committee for awarding the prize to “champions of peace.” Yet the list of recent Nobel peace laureates is notably short on such champions. Instead, the erstwhile politicians on the Norwegian Nobel Committee have largely bypassed the original purpose of the prize.

Despite all its claims of independence, the Oslo-based Nobel Committee is enmeshed in Norwegian politics. The global prestige of the Nobel Peace Prize has obscured the reality that its selection committee is chosen by leaders of Norway’s main political parties — and, as a member of NATO, Norway is deeply entangled in the military alliance.

When the Nobel Peace Prize went to President Obama in 2009, he was in the midst of drastically escalating the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, in tandem with the rest of NATO. The same prize went to the European Union in 2012, a year after many of its member states intervened with military force in Libya. On both occasions, in effect, the Nobel Committee bestowed a “good war-making seal of approval.”

Since 2001, the Nobel Peace Prize has been on a prolonged detour around the U.S. government’s far-flung warfare, declining to honor anyone who had challenged any of it anywhere in the world. But the Nobel Committee has done more than just ignore peace activism seeking to stop U.S.-led war efforts. By giving the Peace Prize to Obama and the E.U., the committee has implicitly endorsed those military efforts as part of a rhetorical process that conflates war-making with peace-making. Orwell’s 1984 specter of “War Is Peace” looms uncomfortably large.

At times, the Peace Prize has earned goodwill in NGO circles by honoring humanitarian work that is laudable but not directly related to peace. And so far in this century, when the Nobel Committee has focused the prize on human rights, it has danced around Uncle Sam’s global shadow. The Peace Prize has gone only to dissidents in countries where governments are in conflict with Washington — such as Shirin Ebadi of Iran in 2003 and Liu Xiaobo of China in 2010 — while failing to honor any of the profuse activism against severe abuses by U.S.-backed governments.

It was not always this way. During previous decades, the annual announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize might alternately please or enrage the top leaders in the capital of a world power. In 1983, the awarding of the prize to Poland’s Solidarity leader Lech Walesa infuriated the Kremlin. When the 1992 prize went to Rigoberta Menchu, an indigenous foe of U.S.-supported tyrants killing Guatemalan civilians in large numbers, it was a much-needed rebuke to Washington.

Yes, some Peace Prize choices were dubious or worse. After an Orwellian one, the caustic songwriter Tom Lehrer commented: “Political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.” In an exercise of absurd equivalency, the Nobel Committee had given the 1973 prize to Kissinger and North Vietnam’s negotiator Le Duc Tho.

The 1980s brought the Peace Prize to brave activists like Adolfo Perez Esquivel of Argentina and Desmond Tutu of South Africa, as well as International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. In 1996, longtime opponents of Indonesia’s U.S.-backed genocidal occupation of East Timor had reason to cheer when the Nobel Peace Prize went to East Timorese heroes Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo and Jose Ramos-Horta. The next year also brought good news when the prize went to Jody Williams and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

But in the “war on terror” world of this century, the Nobel Committee — far from an independent, evenhanded course — has steered the Peace Prize away from terrain where the U.S. government and its allies might appear to be anything other than noble peace-seekers. Relying on such a broken moral compass, the mission to assist “champions of peace” with the Nobel Peace Prize has lost its way.

Norman Solomon is author of  War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. Read the rest of this entry →

Oiling the War Machinery, From Oslo to Heathrow to Washington

8:25 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

In Oslo, the world’s most important peace prize has been hijacked for war.

In London, government authority has just fired a new shot at freedom of the press.

Bradey Manning Hero

The Nobel Peace Prize should be awarded to Bradley Manning.

And in Washington, the Obama administration continues to escalate its attacks on whistleblowers, journalism and civil liberties.

As a nation at peace becomes a fading memory, so does privacy. Commitments to idealism — seeking real alternatives to war and upholding democratic values — are under constant assault from the peaks of power.

Normalizing endless war and shameless surveillance, Uncle Sam and Big Brother are no longer just close. They’re the same, with a vast global reach.

Last week, I met with the Research Director of the Nobel Committee at its headquarters in Oslo. We sat at one end of a long polished conference table, next to boxes of petitions signed by 100,000 people urging that the Nobel Peace Prize go to Bradley Manning.

The Nobel official, Asle Toje, remained polite but frosty when I urged — as I had two hours earlier at a news conference – that the Nobel Committee show independence from the U.S. government by awarding the Peace Prize to Manning. Four years after the prize went to President Obama, his leadership for perpetual war is incontrovertible — while Manning’s brave whistleblowing for peace is inspiring.

In recent times, I pointed out, the Nobel Peace Prize has gone to some dissenters who were anathema to their governments’ leaders — but not to any recipient who profoundly displeased the U.S. government. Toje responded by mentioning Martin Luther King Jr., a rejoinder that struck me as odd; King received the prize 49 years ago, and more than two years passed after then until, in April 1967, he angered the White House with his first full-throated denunciation of the Vietnam War.

I motioned to the stacks of the petition, which has included personal comments from tens of thousands of signers — reflecting deep distrust of the present-day Nobel Peace Prize, especially after Obama won it in 2009 while massively escalating the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan.

We were in the grand and ornate building that has housed the Nobel Committee for more than a hundred years. Outside, a bust of Alfred Nobel graces the front entrance, and just across a small traffic circle is the U.S. Embassy, an imposing dark gray presence with several stories, hundreds of windows on each of its three sides and plenty of electronic gear on its roof. (That intersection is widely understood to be a base for American surveillance operations.) More than ever in recent years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee building’s physical proximity to the U.S. Embassy is an apt metaphor for its political alignment.

Over the weekend, the British government showed more toxic aspects of its “special relationship” with the U.S. government. As the Guardian reported, “The partner of the Guardian journalist who has written a series of stories revealing mass surveillance programs by the U.S. National Security Agency was held for almost nine hours on Sunday by UK authorities as he passed through London’s Heathrow Airport on his way home to Rio de Janeiro.” David Miranda, who lives with Glenn Greenwald, “was held for nine hours, the maximum the law allows before officers must release or formally arrest the individual. … Miranda was released, but officials confiscated electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and game consoles.”

Assaulting press freedom is part of a comprehensive agenda that President Obama is now pursuing more flagrantly than ever. From seizing phone records of AP reporters to spying on a Fox News reporter to successfully fighting for a federal court decision to compel reporter James Risen to reveal his source for a New York Times story, Obama’s war on journalism is serving executive impunity — for surveillance that fundamentally violates the Fourth Amendment and for perpetual war that, by force of arms and force of example, pushes the world into further bloody chaos.

The destructive effects of these policies are countless. And along the way, for the Nobel Committee, more than ever, war is peace. Across the globe, aligned with and/or intimidated by official Washington, many governments are enablers of an American warfare/surveillance multinational state. And in Washington, at the top of the government, when it comes to civil liberties and war and so much more, the moral compass has gone due south.

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The Moral Verdict on Bradley Manning: A Conviction of Love in Action

9:56 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

The sun rose with a moral verdict on Bradley Manning well before the military judge could proclaim his guilt. The human verdict would necessarily clash with the proclamation from the judicial bench.

Painting of "Hero Bradley Manning"

“The sun rose with a moral verdict on Bradley Manning.”

In lockstep with administrators of the nation’s war services, judgment day arrived on Tuesday to exact official retribution. After unforgivable actions, the defendant’s culpability weighed heavy.

“Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house,” another defendant, Fr. Daniel Berrigan, wrote about another action that resulted in a federal trial, 45 years earlier, scarcely a dozen miles from the Fort Meade courtroom where Bradley Manning faced prosecution for his own fracture of good order.

“We could not, so help us God, do otherwise,” wrote Berrigan, one of the nine people who, one day in May 1968 while the Vietnam War raged on, removed several hundred files from a U.S. draft board in Catonsville, Maryland, and burned them with napalm in the parking lot. “For we are sick at heart…”

On the surface, many differences protrude between those nine draft-files-burning radical Catholics and Bradley Manning. But I wonder. Ten souls saw cruelties of war and could no longer just watch.

“I prefer a painful truth over any blissful fantasy,” Manning wrote in an online chat. Minutes later he added: “I think I’ve been traumatized too much by reality, to care about consequences of shattering the fantasy.” And he also wrote: “I want people to see the truth … regardless of who they are … because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”

Those words came seven weeks after the world was able to watch the “Collateral Murder” video that Manning had provided to WikiLeaks. And those words came just days before military police arrived to arrest him on May 29, 2010.

Since then, huge numbers of people around the world have come to see Bradley Manning as personification of moral courage. During the last several months I’ve read thousands of moving comments online at ManningNobel.org, posted by signers of the petition urging that he receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The comments are often stunning with heartfelt intensity of wounded idealism, anger and hope.

No verdict handed down by the military judge can change the moral verdict that has emerged from people all over the world, reciprocating what Bradley Manning expressed online a few days before his arrest: “I can’t separate myself from others.” And: “I feel connected to everybody … like they were distant family.”

The problem for the U.S. government was not that Bradley Manning felt that way. The problem came when he acted that way. Caring was one thing. Acting on the caring, with empathy propelling solidarity, was another.

Days ago, in closing argument, the prosecutor at Fort Meade thundered: “He was not a whistleblower, he was a traitor.”

But a “traitor” to what? To the United States … only if the United States is to be a warfare state, where we “cannot make informed decisions as a public.” Only if we obey orders to separate ourselves from the humanity of others. Only if authoritative, numbing myths are to trump empathy and hide painful truth.

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Bradley Manning Is Guilty of “Aiding the Enemy” — If the Enemy Is Democracy

3:38 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

Of all the charges against Bradley Manning, the most pernicious — and revealing — is “aiding the enemy.”

South Korea Manning

South Koreans support Bradley Manning.

A blogger at The New Yorker, Amy Davidson, raised a pair of big questions that now loom over the courtroom at Fort Meade and over the entire country:

* “Would it aid the enemy, for example, to expose war crimes committed by American forces or lies told by the American government?”

* “In that case, who is aiding the enemy — the whistleblower or the perpetrators themselves?”

When the deceptive operation of the warfare state can’t stand the light of day, truth-tellers are a constant hazard. And culpability must stay turned on its head.

That’s why accountability was upside-down when the U.S. Army prosecutor laid out the government’s case against Bradley Manning in an opening statement: “This is a case about a soldier who systematically harvested hundreds of thousands of classified documents and dumped them onto the Internet, into the hands of the enemy — material he knew, based on his training, would put the lives of fellow soldiers at risk.”

If so, those fellow soldiers have all been notably lucky; the Pentagon has admitted that none died as a result of Manning’s leaks in 2010. But many of his fellow soldiers lost their limbs or their lives in U.S. warfare made possible by the kind of lies that the U.S. government is now prosecuting Bradley Manning for exposing.

In the real world, as Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, prosecution for leaks is extremely slanted. “Let’s apply the government’s theory in the Manning case to one of the most revered journalists in Washington: Bob Woodward, who has become one of America’s richest reporters, if not the richest, by obtaining and publishing classified information far more sensitive than anything WikiLeaks has ever published,” Greenwald wrote in January.

He noted that “one of Woodward’s most enthusiastic readers was Osama bin Laden,” as a 2011 video from al-Qaeda made clear. And Greenwald added that “the same Bob Woodward book [Obama’s Wars] that Osama bin Laden obviously read and urged everyone else to read disclosed numerous vital national security secrets far more sensitive than anything Bradley Manning is accused of leaking. Doesn’t that necessarily mean that top-level government officials who served as Woodward’s sources, and the author himself, aided and abetted al-Qaida?”

But the prosecution of Manning is about carefully limiting the information that reaches the governed. Officials who run U.S. foreign policy choose exactly what classified info to dole out to the public. They leak like self-serving sieves to mainline journalists such as Woodward, who has divulged plenty of “Top Secret” information — a category of classification higher than anything Bradley Manning is accused of leaking.

While pick-and-choose secrecy is serving Washington’s top war-makers, the treatment of U.S. citizens is akin to the classic description of how to propagate mushrooms: keeping them in the dark and feeding them bullshit.

In effect, for top managers of the warfare state, “the enemy” is democracy.

Let’s pursue the inquiry put forward by columnist Amy Davidson early this year. If it is aiding the enemy “to expose war crimes committed by American forces or lies told by the American government,” then in reality “who is aiding the enemy — the whistleblower or the perpetrators themselves?”

Candid answers to such questions are not only inadmissible in the military courtroom where Bradley Manning is on trial. Candor is also excluded from the national venues where the warfare state preens itself as virtue’s paragon.

Yet ongoing actions of the U.S. government have hugely boosted the propaganda impact and recruiting momentum of forces that Washington publicly describes as “the enemy.” Policies under the Bush and Obama administrations — in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and beyond, with hovering drones, missile strikes and night raids, at prisons such as Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Guantanamo and secret rendition torture sites — have “aided the enemy” on a scale so enormous that it makes the alleged (and fictitious) aid to named enemies from Manning’s leaks infinitesimal in comparison.

Blaming the humanist PFC messenger for “aiding the enemy” is an exercise in self-exculpation by an administration that cannot face up to its own vast war crimes.

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King: I Have a Dream. Obama: I Have a Drone.

5:25 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

A simple twist of fate has set President Obama’s second Inaugural Address for January 21, the same day as the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday.

Obama made no mention of King during the Inauguration four years ago — but since then, in word and deed, the president has done much to distinguish himself from the man who said “I have a dream.”

After his speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963, King went on to take great risks as a passionate advocate for peace.

After his Inaugural speech in January 2009, Obama has pursued policies that epitomize King’s grim warning in 1967: “When scientific power outruns moral power, we end up with guided missiles and misguided men.”

But Obama has not ignored King’s anti-war legacy. On the contrary, the president has gone out of his way to distort and belittle it.

In his eleventh month as president — while escalating the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, a process that tripled the American troop levels there — Obama traveled to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. In his speech, he cast aspersions on the peace advocacy of another Nobel Peace laureate: Martin Luther King Jr.

The president struck a respectful tone as he whetted the rhetorical knife before twisting. “I know there’s nothing weak — nothing passive — nothing naive — in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King,” he said, just before swiftly implying that those two advocates of nonviolent direct action were, in fact, passive and naive. “I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people,” Obama added.

Moments later, he was straining to justify American warfare: past, present, future. “To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason,” Obama said. “I raise this point, I begin with this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter what the cause. And at times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world’s sole military superpower.”

Then came the jingo pitch: “Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms.”

Crowing about the moral virtues of making war while accepting a peace prize might seem a bit odd, but Obama’s rhetoric was in sync with a key dictum from Orwell: “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”

Laboring to denigrate King’s anti-war past while boasting about Uncle Sam’s past (albeit acknowledging “mistakes,” a classic retrospective euphemism for carnage from the vantage point of perpetrators), Obama marshaled his oratory to foreshadow and justify the killing yet to come under his authority.

Two weeks before the start of Obama’s second term, the British daily The Guardian noted that “U.S. use of drones has soared during Obama’s time in office, with the White House authorizing attacks in at least four countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. It is estimated that the CIA and the U.S. military have undertaken more than 300 drone strikes and killed about 2,500 people.”

The newspaper reported that a former member of Obama’s “counter-terrorism group” during the 2008 campaign, Michael Boyle, says the White House is now understating the number of civilian deaths due to the drone strikes, with loosened standards for when and where to attack: “The consequences can be seen in the targeting of mosques or funeral processions that kill non-combatants and tear at the social fabric of the regions where they occur. No one really knows the number of deaths caused by drones in these distant, sometimes ungoverned, lands.”

Although Obama criticized the Bush-era “war on terror” several years ago, Boyle points out, President Obama “has been just as ruthless and indifferent to the rule of law as his predecessor.”

Boyle’s assessment — consistent with the conclusions of many other policy analysts — found the Obama administration’s use of drones is “encouraging a new arms race that will empower current and future rivals and lay the foundations for an international system that is increasingly violent.”

In recent weeks, more than 50,000 Americans have signed a petition to Ban Weaponized Drones from the World. The petition says that “weaponized drones are no more acceptable than land mines, cluster bombs or chemical weapons.” It calls for President Obama “to abandon the use of weaponized drones, and to abandon his ‘kill list’ program regardless of the technology employed.”

Count on lofty rhetoric from the Inaugural podium. The spirit of Dr. King will be elsewhere.