Photo credit: Reuters

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Eye Level In Iraq

Dear Mr. President,
There’s an exhibit in town called “Eye Level in Iraq,” photographs by 4 unembedded journalists before and during the American invasion and occupation. It’s not the version of war shown the American public. There are images of dead and wounded, 90% of them civilians, an inconvenient fact we weren’t told. Hospitals were overwhelmed by civilian casualties during the invasion, drugs and equipment that might have saved lives unavailable due to our years-long embargo. The initial Shock and Awe—500 Cruise missiles and 1.200 air strikes—was designed to take out High Value Targets like Saddam Hussein but missed every one, killing only civilians. (High Value Targets, a term still used with roughly the same results.) One comes away from the exhibit with a heightened awareness of the savagery and violence of war. Images of dead and wounded children line the gallery walls. A boy sits on the floor next to his dying mother, blood spattered and pooling, his legs bandaged, his sister and brother already dead from one of those shock and awe missiles that hit their home instead of the intended target. (There is no such thing as a surgical strike or a precision missile—bombs and missiles do not distinguish civilians from combatants.) An 11-year old girl killed by an American bomb, her mother washes her naked body in preparation for burial. A boy, 8, lies on a hospital table dead, killed by an American missile. An old man lies dead in an intersection, killed by American artillery. These are the faces of war we never see, the carnage caused by politicians’ decisions made in ignorance, greed or delusions of justice and promoted by jingoistic patriotism, deceit and suppression of truth—the pattern of all wars. Your war in Afghanistan no different than Bush’s in Iraq. Your secrecy, lies and distortions no different than any other warmonger’s. An image near the beginning of the exhibit captures the nature of the American invasion—an American MP patrols a long line of disbanded Iraqi soldiers waiting for their severance pay; he is walking along the line in camo, helmet and combat boots carrying a large baseball bat. We will bludgeon them into democracy! You changed that. Our soldiers no longer carry baseball bats, no longer beat the enemy into submission. Instead, we kill them long distance with drones or close up with teams of CIA or JSOC assassins. Less messy. No prisoners to deal with and no accountability. The new American way of war. Part of the Obama legacy.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Presidential Libraries and Guantanamo

Dear Mr. President,
Do those 166 men you abandoned in Guantanamo ever bother your conscience? No charges, no trials, no threat to America, cleared for release years ago but still in cages with no hope of ever getting out. Guantanamo is part of the Bush legacy but there was no mention of it Thursday in the dedication of the new $250 million Bush presidential library. No mention either of Iraq or Afghanistan, no mention of WMDs or Operation Enduring Freedom, a disaster that left millions displaced, hundreds of thousands dead or maimed and much of the world in chaos. Clinton spoke truth Thursday when he pointed to that new library and joked that it was “the latest, grandest example of the eternal struggle of former presidents to rewrite history.” You, Carter, Clinton, all rewriting history. Did it bother you to stand with a war criminal and call him “a good man”? Did you cringe when you lauded his leadership by paying tribute to “the incredible strength and resolve… as he stood amid the rubble and the ruins of Ground Zero, promising to deliver justice to those who had sought to destroy our way of life” knowing he delivered not justice but injustice to people who were no threat and had nothing to do with the rubble on which he stood? Did it cross your mind that this man being honored should be standing in the dock at the Hague answering for his crimes against humanity instead of standing on stage in the bright Texas sun soaking up the adulation and accolades of fellow presidents and admirers—many of whom should have been in the dock with him? Did you remember his lies and concocted evidence of WMDs in Iraq? The bloodshed and destruction that his ignorance, hubris and greed caused? Bush is proud of his tough decisions he says, comfortable with his legacy, but it is a legacy of lies, deceit and bad decisions, and you covered for him as you hope your successor will cover for you—“to look forward not backward”— to make sure he is not held accountable and Bush’s legacy of shame is now part of your legacy, Mr. President—Afghanistan, drone wars, targeted assassinations, kill lists, indefinite detention, Guantanamo. One day you will open the Obama presidential library and share the stage with former presidents who will praise you and never mention the misery and heartache you leave behind. There will be no mention of those 166 men you left in Guantanamo; by then many will be dead, the rest forgotten. But they will be one of the indelible stains on your shameful legacy.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Loving Drones With Senator Feinstein

Dear Senator Feinstein,
The only statement in your e-mailed letter of April 25 that I agree with is this: “Unfortunately, your view and my view differ on this subject. I have strongly supported the use of unmanned aerial vehicles for counterterrorism purposes.” While I do not dispute that you Chair the Senate Intelligence Committee or that you have devoted “significant time and attention to the use of drones,” I vehemently disagree that your committee “ensure[s] that [drones] are used with care and precision, and that every effort is taken to prevent the loss of life of noncombatants.” There is no such thing as a “surgical strike” by a Hellfire missile. The blast kills everything within a 60 foot radius; it incinerates its victims and causes horrific injuries to those in the path of flying shrapnel and debris and, in some cases, collapsing buildings. Hundreds of civilians have been killed, thousands injured. There is nothing clean or neat or precise in the use of drones; they are ugly weapons of terror that we inflict long distance on others. Imagine the sound of a drone—“like an aerial lawnmower”—circling your house or community 24/7, never knowing when a missile will strike or who will be its victim. Imagine living in constant fear, helpless to protect either yourself or your loved ones from an unseen enemy. Imagine the terror felt by your children. The use of the drones which you champion are not without implications, Senator. Perhaps you missed the testimony of Farea al-Muslimi on Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights who told how a single unnecessary drone strike in his village in Yemen last week instantly turned the entire village anti-American, something militants failed to do in years of preaching jihad. This same scene has been repeated over and over and many witnesses and experts have said drones create enemies. Why is it there are more militants in Yemen, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, than ever before? And finally, Senator, this from your letter: “Please know that the Committee takes seriously its duty to ensure that our counterterrorism operations are legal, effective, and consistent with our national values.” Really? When the CIA won’t even give you the names of the countries they’re killing people in? And the White House won’t show you their secret memos justifying extrajudicial assassination of American citizens? Senator, there are none so blind as those who refuse to see. 
cc: Representative Nancy Pelosi 
      Senator Barbara Boxer 
      President Barack Obama 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Brothers Tsarnaev

Dear Mr. President,
The media is having a field day with the Tsarnaev brothers, poring over their online activity, their Facebook and Twitter posts sifted for significant dots to connect, their travel records scanned, the history of Chechnyan violence reviewed. Speculation about their self-taught radicalization is at a fever pitch, how it led to the Boston Marathon bombing. Sen. Marco Rubio, after a briefing by the FBI and intelligence officials said, “This is a new element of terrorism that we have to face in our country. We need to be prepared for Boston-type attacks, not just 9/11-type attacks.” But the most interesting and revealing hearing on Capitol Hill yesterday was one by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. Today’s NYT captures it in an article on p. A9, titled “Drone Strikes Turn Allies Into Enemies, Yemeni Says.” Farea al-Muslimi, who attended high school in the U.S., said “his friends and neighbors used to know of the United States primarily through ‘my stories of the wonderful experiences I had’ here. ‘Now, however, when they think of America, they think of the fear they feel at the drones over their heads. What the violent militants had failed to achieve, one drone strike accomplished in an instant.’” He also asserted that the man killed in the strike could easily have been arrested. And there’s the key to the question no one wants to ask—What drove the brothers Tsarnaev to do this? The same question no one asked about the 19 hijackers who flew airliners into the Pentagon and World Trade Center on 9/11. As long as we don’t ask that question—and understand the answer—we will continue our blind misguided war of terror that begets only more militants and more violence. Until we end our own terrorist acts against others we will never end others’ against us and Sen. Rubio will be right—we must prepare for more Bostons. Every drone strike, every night raid, every act of brutality creates new militants and makes the world less safe. You could change that, Mr. President, but it’s unlikely. You’ve already chosen a path of violence rather than a path of peace and so, we’'ll continue to stumble blindly into a dystopian future because it’s easier to kill than understand, easier to be part of the the power structure rather than resist it, easier to be violent than merciful, easier to be the War President than the Nobel Peace Prize winner. And so, we’ll expect more Bostons and more violence in the future.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Human Rights Hypocrisy

Dear Mr. President,
The State Department report on Global Human Rights for 2012 sees little progress (NYT, April 20, p. A3). It decries the crackdown on activists by Russia and Iran, is troubled by China’s enforced disappearances, and found the number of journalists in prison had more than quadrupled since 2011. But no mention of the top 5 executioners in the world—Iraq, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia and… the U.S. That’s buried in another story on page A4. We rarely hear of our own violations of human rights—the Abu Ghraibs, the extraordinary renditions, the torture of prisoners. Silence too, on the CIA’s “double-tapping”—secondary strikes against first responders to a drone attack. We have the highest incarceration rate in the world and that also seems a violation of human rights—or at least human decency. We can no longer distinguish our police from our soldiers—they look and act alike in camo, full battle gear, flak jackets, helmets, assault rifles, trained and ready to kill. Police tactics are military tactics, demonstrated in the crackdown on Occupy movements—especially in New York and Oakland—and protests like UC Davis (the pepper spray video) and UC Berkeley (the indiscriminate beating of protesters including a 70 year old former U.S. poet laureate and his wife). No mention either, Mr. President, of the Yemeni reporter, Abdulelah Hider Shaea, who revealed the CIA’s secret drone war in Yemen and was thrown in prison, accused of ties to Al Qaeda, but after pressure by journalists, then-dictator Saleh agreed to release him until you personally intervened; 2 years later Shaea remains in prison. At the State Department’s briefing last week, reporters asked Usra Zeya, an undersecretary, about treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo. She replied, “We hold ourselves to the same standards by which we assess others.” Really? Where in the report does it mention forced feeding of prisoners on a hunger strike—the UN calls that torture. Or their indefinite detention without charges? Where in the report is Bradley Manning’s name? Imprisoned 3 years without trial, a year under conditions of torture. Our willingness to trample human rights is reflected in Sen. Lindsey Graham’s call for the 19 year old suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing—shot in the head, neck, arms and hand by police—to be treated as an enemy combatant with all legal rights suspended. We have a long and sordid history of human rights violations and an equally long history of willful ignorance and denial.
WATERTOWN, MA - APRIL 19: SWAT teams searched homes along Winsor Avenue in Watertown while searching for one of the two suspects in the terrorist bombing of the 117th Boston Marathon earlier this week. (Photo by Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe via Getty Images) / Aram Boghosian/Boston Globe/ Getty

Friday, April 19, 2013

A Nobel Peace Prize Drenched in Blood

Dear Mr. President,
You shed a tear for the first graders gunned down in Newtown. In Boston you sympathized with the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. But what about the 17 civilians—12 of them children—killed on April 7 in an American air strike in Kunar Province? No tears shed for them, no outpouring of sympathy, no offer of aid or justice. Are Afghan children of less value than American children? You’ve never expressed sorrow, sympathy or remorse for any of the innocents killed by our wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Yemen. The military and the CIA regularly deny responsibility or claim everyone killed was a combatant. Denial of responsibility was the tactic used for the April 7 incident, even suggesting the Taliban was responsible. But today’s NYT (“After Airstrike, Afghan Points To C.I.A. and Secret Militias” p. A4) reports that an Afghan investigation found it was a CIA-led operation gone bad. 75 members of an Afghan militia known as the 0-4 Unit, trained and equipped by American Special Forces and under the command of the CIA, marched into the mountains to capture local Taliban commanders suspected of ties to Al Qaeda. But when they arrived at the home of one of them, they found only a mentally ill man and two dozen women and children all of whom they herded into one room of the house. Shortly after arriving, they came under heavy fire from all sides and had to be rescued by a second force from the 0-4 Unit. While escaping, the CIA leader was killed and his 3 CIA cohorts were wounded. An air strike was called in and drones, jets and helicopter gunships fired missiles and rockets at the insurgents to cover the escape and evacuate the wounded. The house was not hit but the concussions from the explosions caused the 2nd floor to collapse killing all but a few of the women. Collateral damage. No tears, no sympathy, no aid. The CIA and the Pentagon have no comment but the 0-4 Unit has been terrorizing the countryside for more than a year. A member of Parliament from Kunar Province said his home had been raided by the 0-4 Unit twice. “They shot out the TV and the water cooler. America will leave behind their types of forces in 2014 and it will further destabilize Afghanistan.” The war in Afghanistan will not end when we leave. There will be no victory and nothing to celebrate. The deaths of those 12 children in Kunar and all the others killed by you wars, are your legacy, Mr. President. Your Nobel Peace prize is drenched in the blood of the innocent.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Boston, Baghdad, Kabul, Random Acts of Terror

Dear Mr. President,
The Boston Marathon bombing was unquestionably an evil act of terror. So were the shootings at Newtown, Aurora, Columbine, Portland, Phoenix and every other place a shooting occurs. So is the violence done to men, women and children every day everywhere—the rapes, assaults and murders. But unless a violent act is particularly egregious, it mostly goes unnoticed. Boston, however, was right in our face and as a nation we feel both violated and outraged; we want the perpetrator brought to justice. Boston should be a lesson we learn from but we won’t; already the politicians are spinning it to suit their own ends, the media suggests dark links to al Qaeda—with no evidence—and extremists are spewing their message of hate—“Kill all Muslims.” Boston should give us an inkling of what it’s like to have bombs go off in a crowded public space, of what it’s like to live in a war zone, of what it’s like to live in constant fear. Iraq, a country we left shattered and broken, suffers multiple Bostons every day. So do Afghanistan and Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and every other country we’ve brought violence to, to people we do not understand, to places where everyone is a potential enemy. Our government commits acts of terror—essentially Boston bombings—every day with drones and night raids and helicopter gunships bringing death, destruction and fresh hatred for America. The carnage in Boston is not a lot different than the carnage caused by a Hellfire missile or the strafing fire from a .50 caliber machine gun. Everywhere we go—always under false pretenses—violence follows. Force and aggression are the hallmark of U.S. foreign policy. We commit these random acts of terror around the world and no one lifts a finger to stop it. Not you, not anyone in Congress and that too, is an act of terror, the refusal to stop terror. Moreover, you have institutionalized terror with your targeted assassinations, kill lists and drone strikes, indefinite detentions and secret interpretations of law. Violence and terror are now embedded in our national DNA and that is the real tragedy, that war and violence becomes a way of life, accepted, and we go from one disaster to the next not learning a thing, not changing our failed policies, not even asking the right questions. You were the great Hope to lead us out of this darkness but you were a fraud, a false prophet and led us to even deeper depths of depravity. And still we follow in a national stupor of denial and ignorance.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Samir Naji Al Hasan Moqbel: A Cry For Humanity

Dear Mr. President,
Samir Naji Al Hasan Moqbel has been in Guantanamo for 11 years. He, along with more than half of his fellow 165 prisoners, was cleared for release years ago but because of politics and politicians, still languishes in America’s version of the notorious French penal colony, Devil’s Island. That the NYT published an op-ed piece by him today is a miracle. That he was allowed to dictate it through an interpreter to his lawyer over the phone, another miracle. He claims to be innocent, not a terrorist or militant, simply looking for work in Afghanistan when the U.S. invaded, fled to Pakistan and, in a Kafkaesque nightmare, turned over to Americans and flown to Guantanamo. We’ll never know if he’s innocent or guilty since no charges were ever made, no proof of guilt provided and no trial will ever be held. He’s an “enemy combatant,” a classification invented by politicians to do away with all rights, both human and legal. This is the new rule of law instituted by Bush and institutionalized by you—that a person is guilty until proven innocent and subject to indefinite detention without legal recourse. It is the mark of petty tyrants who make up arbitrary and secret rules to retain power and feed fantasies of immortality and omniscience. Mr. Moqbel’s op-ed piece is a visceral experience of the brutality of this hellhole and what it feels like to be force-fed, to be tied hand and foot to a chair by guards in full riot gear, to have your head strapped down, a plastic tube threaded through your nose, down your throat and into your stomach. You want to vomit, he says, but you can’t. The pain is intense, unremitting. It is, as the UN declared, torture. Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, the CIA gulag of torture chambers, there is little difference. They are all the byproducts of war, ugly, brutal and senseless. War is the triumph of evil over morality, of cruelty over compassion, of ignorance over wisdom. It is reflected in the online comments to Mr. Moqbel’s plight. America has suffered from the one-two punch of Bush and Obama. The two of you have launched a reign of terror and unending war and Mr. Moqbel is one of its many victims. You vowed to close Guantanamo but you didn’t. You abandoned Samir Naji Al Hasan Moqbel to die there even though he should have been released years ago. We have indeed gone to the Dark Side as Cheney called it, a world where there is no justice and no hope, only cruelty and unending violence and no Nobel Peace Prize will change that.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The War of Lists: U.S. vs. Russia

Dear Mr. President,
My mother always said that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Who the heck decided to make public a list of 18 Russian human rights violators while turning a blind eye to America’s? What self-righteous hypocrisy! What about the perpetrators of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Or the drone attacks, extra-judicial assassinations and indefinite detentions? Of course Russia came right back with a list of their own. Among the violators on their list are Addington and Yoo, architects of torture, and Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller and Rear Admiral Jeffrey Harbeson, commanders of Guantanamo. I was disappointed though, that the Russians didn’t include top dog perps like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld or Wolfowitz, but people at the top are rarely held accountable (“looking forward, not backward”) unless they’re from a country that can’t defend itself—like chickens in a barnyard picking on the weakest one. You don’t have to look far for an example of an American human rights violation: Guantanamo is an ongoing atrocity and in the news today. Remember your vow to close it? You campaigned on that in 2008 but after resistance from the warhawks in Congress you threw in the towel, shut down the office tasked with closing it and left 166 men, more than half of them cleared for release years ago, in a purgatory of indefinite detention without legal recourse. That’s a violation of human rights, Mr. President, and between your abandonment of them and the recent reign of terror instituted by the new guy in charge of the Marine guard, Maj. Geoffrey Cameron, at least 130 of the 166 prisoners have resorted to the only recourse they have left, a hunger strike. Some have been force-fed, a painful procedure the UN classifies as torture, and in spite of the military’s efforts to hide what’s going on, reports have trickled out that the thermostats have been turned down to intense cold, that prisoners are put on dog leashes when moved from place to place, that photographs and personal items have been confiscated, and yesterday, guards used modified shotgun shells with rubber pellets and bean bag projectiles against prisoners with broom and mop handles resisting their being moved to isolated cells, all in an effort to break the strike. These are all violations of human rights and you have done nothing to stop it. You have abandoned and betrayed these 166 men, you have abandoned and betrayed justice. One more blot on your long list of human rights violations.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Understanding Waziristan With Akbar Ahmed*

Dear Mr. President,
The Tribal Areas of Pakistan are invariably described as lawless, ungoverned, volatile and havens for Al Qaeda and the Taliban. In a speech on March 27, 2009, “A New Strategy For Afghanistan And Pakistan,” you called it “the most dangerous place in the world.” You mentioned Al Qaeda 24 times, the Taliban 7 times and “safe haven” 5 times. What you didn’t mention was that until we pressured Musharraf to go into the region and capture Al Qaeda and Taliban militants fleeing Afghanistan, the region had been peaceful for more than 50 years. You also didn’t mention that contrary to press reports, the tribal regions had been governed by ancient traditions and law and had been left to follow their tribal ways, first by the British and then by the new Pakistani government under its George Washington, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Jinnah pulled all military troops out of the region, gave them the respect and freedom to rule themselves and they lived at peace with the central government until our invasion of Afghanistan. Musharraf finally yielded to American demands, sent troops into the region and all hell broke loose. But instead of seeing it for what it was, a battle for continued autonomy, respect and dignity by the Wazirs and Mehsuds, Washington saw it as a battle against Al Qaeda and your escalation of illegal and immoral drone attacks made it worse. In the roughly 400 attacks—all but 18 in Waziristan—more than 3,400 people have been killed, less than 2% of them High Value Targets. Once again, American foreign policy based on hubris and ignorance destabilized a formerly peaceful country resulting in the slaughter of thousands of innocents and the misery of millions (more than a million people, half the population of the region, are now displaced). You probably know that 79% of Pakistanis hate the US drone policy but did your foreign policy wizards tell you that 68% also dislike Al Qaeda? Akbar Ahmed, former Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK and currently a professor at American University in Washington says: “The government, instead of funding military operations in Waziristan, should be funding education, medical facilities, stable electricity lines and other development projects.” ( Why don’t you have a talk with Mr.Ahmed, someone who understands the history, culture and people of Pakistan instead of war hawks like Brennan, Clapper and Kerry? It would make for a better world.
 * Akbar Ahmed  is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, DC, the former Pakistani High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, and served as Political Agent in South Waziristan Agency. His most recent book is The Thistle and the Drone: How America's War on Terror Became a War on Tribal Islam, (Brookings Institution Press, March 2013).

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Obama's Budget: A Declaration of War on We the People

Dear Mr. President,
“…to Mr. Obama, cost-saving changes in the nation’s fastest-growing domestic programs are more progressive than simply allowing the entitlement programs for older Americans to overwhelm the rest of the budget in future years.” (Today’s NYT, p. A1.) A few lines later: “The president’s views put him at the head of a small but growing faction of liberals and moderate Democrats who [argue] that unless the party agrees to changes in the entitlement benefit programs—which are growing unsustainably as baby boomers age and medical prices rise—the programs’ costs will overwhelm all other domestic spending to help the poor, the working class and children.” Sen. Mark Warner (D-WV) and Robert Greenstein, head of the “liberal” Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, argue that unless entitlements are cut, antipoverty programs, infrastructure and education are bye-bye baby. You folks are seriously twisted. First off, you lump Social Security into the pot as though it’s contributing to the budget deficit when it’s not; it’s not in the general budget and it’s solvent for at least another 20 years without changes, but cut you will. Then you accept the conservatives’ demonization of “entitlement” and finally, you focus only on cuts to social programs that benefit We the People and leave the bloated Pentagon budget basically untouched. What’s in your proposed budget? Cut EPA 3.5%; cut funds for clean drinking water 20%; cut Medicaid by $19 billion; raise Medicare co-pays, raise premiums on home health care… the list is long and ugly. Even more ugly is your base budget for the Pentagon: cut Army 4%, increase Air Force 3%, leave Navy and Marines untouched, a total “cut” of 0.7% Once again, screwed up priorities by the wizards in Washington. A recent Gallup poll shows 58% of Americans want the Pentagon budget cut by 18%, 67% want corporations and the wealthy to pay more taxes, and 90% want Medicare and Social Security (not to mention other social programs) preserved. Easy to do and yet the so-called “pragmatic liberals” do just the opposite. Instead of cutting the squandering of our treasure on obscene, illegal, immoral and unjustified wars, cutting weapons systems that don’t work—like the F-35, the Navy’s new laser cannon and the Littoral ships that are unseaworthy—and stopping the purchase of unwanted C-130s, the arms merchants and warmongers win the battle of the budget again this year. Your budget, Mr. President, is a declaration of war on We the People.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Obama, Public Enemy #1

Dear Mr. President,
Every year October is Fleet Week in San Francisco. It’s always a big deal. The politicians and merchants love it for the money it brings in—a million people come to town over that weekend. There are also lots of folks here who hate all things military, especially the roar of the Blue Angels overhead, and want an end to Fleet Week. I respect that; I too hate war, the military-industrial complex and the jingoistic mindset that permeates our society, but my secret vice is that I have always loved airplanes and the Blue Angels. (I rationalize it by the thought that they‘re over here entertaining us and not over there bombing and strafing.) Today however, the Fleet Week organizers announced that because of sequestration, the Navy has cancelled all Blue Angels appearance for the rest of 2013 and, since the Blue Angels are the main draw for Fleet Week, the whole event may be canceled. (Call it collateral damage from the sequester.) Today’s paper went on to say that the annual cost to maintain the Blue Angels is about $35 million, which is the cost of the Navy’s new laser cannon that doesn’t work around water vapor, needs clear weather and line of sight, and isn’t powerful enough to down a missile or fighter plane, (see yesterday’s letter). Talk about screwed up priorities! Even more puzzling is this: “Blue Angels pilots will continue to ‘maintain flying proficiency’ at the team's home base in Pensacola, Fla., said Navy spokesman Lt. Aaron Kakiel.” (SF Chronicle, April 10) So if they’re still maintaining proficiency and flying around the skies of Pensacola, how much extra does it cost to fly around the country at air shows? Did the Pentagon kill the Blue Angels just to upset people who they think will clamor to restore the Pentagon’s budget cuts? Why not stop the wars instead? Or kill that laser cannon gizmo and move the $34 million into the Blue Angels budget? I’m really torn on this one, Mr. President. I want to see the military budget cut as much as anyone but the cuts are in the wrong places—things like Veteran’s benefits and the Blue Angels when we should be cutting senseless immoral wars of aggression and senseless weapons that don’t work and airplanes that don’t fly. You’re willing to cut Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and social programs but not the funding for war or the weapons of war. Bush thought he was the War President, but he was just a pretender. You’re the real War President, defender of war profiteers, and public enemy #1.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Laser Cannons, F-35s and Head Start

Dear Mr. President,
The latest waste of taxpayer dollars by the Pentagon comes right out of Star Wars—a laser cannon. The Congressional Research Service calls it a potential ‘game changer’ for the Navy, comparable to arming surface ships with missiles in the 1950s. Tests successfully burned through patrol boats and disabled surveillance drones. According to today’s NYT, a prototype costing $32 million is being deployed on a converted amphibious ship in the Persian Gulf, the intent apparently to warn Iran to stop their nuclear program and back off with those pesky high speed patrol boats buzzing around our warships or we’ll pull a Darth Vader on them. Of course, if the Iranians read the Times, they’ll get a laugh out of this bluster since the article also says “Among the limitations… is that lasers are not effective in bad weather because the beam can be disturbed or scattered by water vapor, as well as by smoke, sand and dust. It is also a ‘line of sight’ weapon, meaning that the target has to be visible, so it cannot handle threats over the horizon. And enemies can take countermeasures like coating vessels and drones with reflective surfaces. Navy officials acknowledge that the first prototype weapon to be deployed is not powerful enough to take on jet fighters or missiles on their approach. That capability is a goal of researchers.” Excuse me? The Navy builds a weapon that’s useless around water vapor? Really? This is the Navy’s version of the F-35, the plane that can fly only in clear weather during daylight and is incapable of its stated mission. But even if it doesn’t work, it’s cheap—a buck a pulse vs. $1.4 million per missile. Mr. President, this is nuts. We’re in sequester mode, the Pentagon is cutting benefits for veterans—no more education benefit—the VA is in shambles with a huge backlog of claims, we’re cutting school lunch programs, Head Start and child health care so we can give the merchants of death tens of billions of dollars to build death rays that don’t work and planes that don’t fly? And why is it that it’s okay for Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea, to have nuclear weapons but only Iran gets threatened with war IF they develop one? Who gave us the mandate to choose who does and who doesn’t? Do you see any hypocrisy in this? Do you see the insanity of spending hundreds of billions to kill and nothing to promote peace? You’re the guy with the Nobel Peace Prize, Mr. President. If it’s obvious to me, it should be obvious to you, too.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Keep Guantanamo Open!

Dear Mr. President,
Two months ago the U.S. military “strongly rejected reports cited by a United Nations committee indicating that American forces had killed hundreds of children in Afghanistan over the last four years. The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child said it was alarmed by reports that hundreds of children had died in U.S. attacks and airstrikes due to a ‘reported lack of precautionary measures and indiscriminate use of force.’ The U.S. military called the reports ‘categorically unfounded.'” (LA Times, February 8) And yet, over the past 8 days alone, there have been 3 air strikes in Afghanistan that killed at least 20 civilians—13 of them children—and wounded dozens more. In the latest atrocity on Saturday, 11 children, ages 1 to 8 were killed when an airstrike fired a missile into a Taliban commander’s home in the village of Damdara near the Pakistan border after a long drawn-out gun battle between Taliban “insurgents” and Afghan forces. After an all-day gun battle and no casualties, American Special Forces (who may or may not have been involved) ended the battle by calling in an airstrike that killed the Taliban commander and also all those children. According to today’s NYT, the villagers in the past have resisted the government’s attempts to turn them against the Taliban. After Saturday’s slaughter of their children how many more will join the ranks of the Taliban fighters, Mr. President? Who do you think they’ll support in the future? How would you feel if a foreign invader killed 11 of your children? This was clearly an “indiscriminate use of force.” This was also a war crime. What purpose does your zombie war in Afghanistan serve? The enemies of America are not in the mountains of Afghanistan and Waziristan or the tribal areas of Yemen and Somalia, the enemies of America are right here in Washington D.C. and the executive suites and boardrooms of the arms merchants and lobbyists, those who spread fear and misinformation for their own gain, those who support tyranny at home and abroad, who support those who oppress people yearning for no more than dignity and justice and a chance to live their lives in peace. I have always thought that Guantanamo was a symbol of injustice and should be closed but I’ve changed my mind. Allocate the $200 million requested by the military to refurbish it, keep it open and ready for the indefinite detention of America’s war criminals—you, Brennan, Bush, Cheney, Rummsfeld, Rice, Wolfowitz…it’s a long list.
April 7, 2012: A NATO airstrike killed 10 children and 8 other people in eastern Kunar province of Afghanistan. (Photo: Reuters)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Obama's New Front On The War Against Children

Dear Mr. President,
Unlike perceived wisdom that excuses your cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other social programs as yet another attempt to “demonstrate his willingness to compromise with Republicans” (NYT “Social Programs Facing a Cutback In Obama Budget”, April 5), I believe this latest betrayal of the American people stems from your core beliefs. Social Security is a pay-as-you-go program, funded through separate payroll taxes, not through the general fund; it has nothing to do with the budget deficit and you know it. Moreover, in an article in Thursday’s Times, (“Misperceptions of Benefits Make Trimming Harder”), a graph shows that the average person today will pay more into Social Security than he or she will get out of it. So why does this off-the-budget program that does not contribute to the deficit need fixing? It doesn’t. And who gets hurt the most through austerity and Grand Bargain Deficit Reduction budgets? The old, the young, the poor, the disabled, the powerless. Your embrace of the Republicans’ chained CPI won’t have much effect on current benefits but will have a tremendous impact on future benefits and it’s one more front in the insidious and relentless war on our children. War comes home in many ways, most of them unnoticed and not perceived as directly linked to war but they are, nevertheless. The ripple effects spread and keep spreading for generations and no one pays attention. The politicians trumpet the necessity and justness of wars but there is no necessity or honor or justness in war. Warmongers spread fear and demonize perceived enemies when the enemies are of our own making. If you spent as much time promoting peace as you do on war—your Kill Lists and targeted assassinations—we might actually make progress toward peace. But following the war path is much easier and more popular than following the path of peace and war is where the money is, where power lies and you’ve learned to play the game and you’re not giving up the heady rush of power for the drudgery and difficulty of peace, let alone buck the 1%, who you know will turn on you in a heartbeat if you abandon them for what’s right. And so, you continue to chip away at democracy and justice and rattle those sabers and rockets and drones but what of the children you betray, Mr. President? Does that ever bother you? Does it ever occur to you that the wars you wage are wars against children? Does it ever occur to you that the wars against children may include your own?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Feeding off the Carcass of Hope

Dear Mr. President,
Yesterday you came to town to pick the pockets of the super-rich. From 2 events, first a cocktail reception hosted by hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer, then a dinner hosted by billionaire Gordon Getty (heir to the Getty oil fortune), you drove away in your armored SUV with about $4 million. I was at one of those events, not inside but outside, standing in the fog and wind of a late San Francisco afternoon with 1,500 other people who want you to kill the Keystone XL pipeline (which you appear ready to approve). I didn’t have the $32,400 required for admission to the Getty mansion and a chance to break bread with you and other one percenters and I never saw you or your entourage and I’m sure you never saw any protesters either since we couldn’t get anywhere near where you were—the police had the entire street blocked off—but that’s the way it is today. To the 1% the 99% are invisible and inconsequential—as long as the police state can keep us far enough away—and without the price of admission, you never hear our voices or see our protests. I was encouraged when I first arrived, cresting the hill at Pacific Heights to see the size of the protest but it soon became apparent that this was a docile compliant crowd of establishment liberals who obeyed orders, kept the streets clear and never challenged authority. There were chants over bullhorns and a lively brass band that beat out a catchy tune but for the most part everyone was well-behaved and I soon realized they were pleading, not demanding that you reject the pipeline. It became clear that most of them were Obama supporters and apologists feeding off the dead carcass of Hope, in denial of reality, their brains scrubbed clean by the mainstream media. I met 2 friends at the rally and we seemed to be the most radical people there. Whenever one of us made a disparaging comment about you, people would turn and give us dirty looks, one elderly gent had never heard of Bradley Manning and others were clueless about Kill Lists, drone strikes, indefinite detentions and extra-judicial assassinations. One protester sighed with great satisfaction, “This is the face of democracy” to which one of my friends, pointing to the motorcycle cops lining both sides of the street replied, “No, this is the face of fascism.” I walked away discouraged, knowing that neither this protest nor a hundred others would change a thing, that change was not imminent and that the time to take back democracy has not yet arrived.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Japan, Victim of Obama's Pivot to Asia?

Dear Mr. President,
An article in today’s NYT (“Japan Shifting Further Away From Pacifism”) describes the shift from a country that held its military in check for 65 years to one expanding its power and role. In February, 280 Japanese troops participated in war games with U.S. Marines on San Clemente Island, This is a radical change since their Constitution—in effect since 1947—renounces the right to wage war and restricts the military to act only in self-defense. By law it is illegal for Japan to come to the aid of an ally—e.g., they can’t shoot down a North Korean missile headed for the U.S. But their new conservative Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, wants to change that. He wants to rewrite the Constitution and eliminate restrictions on the military, unthinkable a few years ago but with China claiming those uninhabited islands offshore and North Korea rattling their nuclear warheads, people are afraid and want security. Adding to the shift in attitude, after the Fukushima earthquake, the military rescued survivors and were the heroes of that disaster. Abe has already increased Japan’s 2013 military budget by $1.4 billion, the first increase in 11 years. The Defense Ministry plans to buy F-35 jet fighters (hooray Lockheed! if they can just get them to fly), Boeing V-22 Ospreys (Hooray Boeing!), some Global Hawk drones (Hooray Northrop Grumman!), new patrol planes, amphibious landing craft, an attack submarine and other weapons of destruction. A January 7 Times article, “Japan Is Weighing Raising Military Spending” said that as of last year Japan had the world’s 6th-largest military budget ($53.3 billion) and one of the largest militaries in Asia. That was a surprise. How did a nation so anti-military and pro-peace end up with the 6th largest military budget in the world? Was it just the threats of China and North Korea and the new perception of their military as heroes? Did your pivot to Asia and some behind-the-scenes deal have anything to with it? Or has Japan lost the lessons learned by previous generations—that all wars are dumb and leave only misery and death in their wake. For 68 years they lived with the scars of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with their land decimated and 3 million dead in senseless slaughter promoted by politicians and warmongers. But even if memory dims and hard-learned lessons are lost, the brutal facts of war remain—it is the most vile act of humanity; there is no such thing as a just or smart or necessary war. In spite of what you think.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Sgt. Cable and Khalid: Collateral Damage

Dear Mr. President,
Sgt. Michael Cable, 26, is another casualty of your senseless war in Afghanistan. The Pentagon first announced his death last week as a casualty of injuries sustained when his unit was attacked by enemy forces, but CBS News and Stars and Stripes reveal a different story: he was killed by a 16-year-old boy named Khalid who came up behind him as he was playing with children and stabbed him in the neck with a knife. Sgt. Cable was guarding a building where Afghan and U.S. officials were meeting. Other guards were in the area but didn’t realize what happened because there was no gunshot. Khalid escaped across the border into Pakistan and joined the Taliban there. What drives a 16-year-old boy to do such a thing? 16-year-olds don’t just walk up to soldiers in full battle gear and stab them. What put that hatred in him? Was it revenge? Had he witnessed atrocities by Americans? Family members killed by drone or helicopter gunship? Raids at 3 AM by Special Forces or Marines who kicked down doors and cursed them in a foreign language, pushed them around, took away a brother, father, uncle, cousin? Tore apart his home searching for weapons and explosives? Hatred is not inborn; we learn it and we create our enemies. With every civilian killed there is an enemy born, maybe 10, maybe 100. The Arab code, the need for honor, respect and dignity, the need for revenge. After 8 years in Iraq and 12+ years in Afghanistan, we have learned nothing. I watched Empire on Al Jazeera this morning, a panel of 4 Middle East scholars and journalists, and what struck me most was Robert Fisk’s statement that what the people want is dignity and justice and they realize that America will give them neither. We dehumanize and objectify them, then invade their countries, imprison them, torture them, kill them with impunity. We send drones and teams of assassins wherever we please to kill those we deem insurgents, we ignore sovereignty and international law (and our own), we ignore the Geneva Conventions and basic human rights. We do not understand their language, their culture, their history; we do not even recognize them as human. In Iraq we destroyed their country and their society in our lust for oil; in the 1980s we used the Afghans as proxies in our war with Russia, then abandoned them to civil war and the Taliban and now we’re back, kicking down doors, raining bombs and bullets on them and Khalid and Sgt. Cable are the collateral damage of the war you refuse to end.
Sgt. Michael Cable in Afghanistan, Undated (Photo: U.S. Army)