The Case Against Re-Banning Torture Yet Again, Again

Senator McCain and friends have a new push on to once again ban torture (except for exceptions in the Army Field Manual) that is being presented as an effort to preempt future Republican presidents' torturing. This reinforces two false beliefs. One is that torture is not ongoing today under President Peace Prize. The other is that torture wasn't banned before George W. Bush was ever selected by the Supreme Court.

Last December, Senator Ron Wyden had a petition up at MoveOn.org that read "Right now, torture is banned because of President Obama's executive order. It's time for Congress to pass a law banning torture, by all agencies, so that a future president can never revoke the ban." This is the same mythology being pushed by McCain yet again. Wyden went on to explain:

"We live in a dangerous world. But when CIA operatives and contractors torture terrorist suspects, it doesn't make us safer -- and it doesn't work. The recent CIA torture report made that abundantly clear. Right now, the federal law that bans torture only applies to the U.S. military -- not our intelligence agencies. President Obama's executive order barring all agencies from using torture could be reversed, even in secret, by a future president. That's why it's critical that Congress act swiftly to pass a law barring all agencies of the U.S. government, and contractors acting on our behalf, from engaging in torture. Without legislation, the door on torture is still open. It's time for Congress to slam that door shut once and for all."

Why in the world would anybody object to this unless they supported torture? Well, let me explain.

Torture and complicity in torture were felonies under U.S. law before George W. Bush moved into the White House, under both the torture statute and the war crimes statute. Nothing has fundamentally changed about that, other than the blatant lack of enforcement for several years running. Nothing in those two sections of the U.S. code limits the law to members of the U.S. military or excludes employees or contractors or subcontractors of so-called intelligence agencies. I emailed a dozen legal experts about that claim in the above petition. Michael Ratner replied "I don’t see where they get that from." Kevin Zeese said simply "They're wrong." If anyone replies to me with any explanation, I'll post it as an update at the top of this article on davidswanson.org -- where I can be contacted if you have an explanation.

For the past several years, the U.S. Congress, White House, Justice Department, and media have gone out of their way to ignore the existence of U.S. laws banning torture. When silence hasn't worked, the primary technique has been proposing over and over and over again to ban torture, as if it were not already banned. In fact, Congress has followed through and banned it a number of times, and done so with new exceptions that by some interpretations have in fact weakened the war crimes statute. This is my best guess where the nonsense about applying only to "intelligence agencies" comes from: laws like the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that claimed to pick and choose which types of torture to ban for whom.

When President Obama took President Bush's place he produced an executive order purporting to ban torture (again), even while publicly telling the Justice Department not to enforce any existing laws. But an executive order, as Wyden seems to recognize, is not a law. Neither can it ban torture, nor can it give legal weight to the pretense that torture wasn't already banned. In fact the order itself states: "Nothing in this order shall be construed to affect the obligations of officers, employees, and other agents of the United States Government to comply with all pertinent laws and treaties of the United States governing detention and interrogation, including but not limited to: the Fifth and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution; the Federal torture statute, 18 U.S.C. 2340 2340A; the War Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. 2441 . . . ."

Senator Wyden said he would introduce yet another bill to "ban torture." Here's how the Washington Post was spinning, and explaining, that:

"Torture is already illegal, but Wyden notes that protections can be strengthened. To oversimplify, the U.S. is a signatory to the U.N. Convention Against Torture, in which participating states agreed to outlaw intentionally inflicting severe pain for specific purposes. The Bush administration obviously found a (supposedly) legal route around that."

In other words, because it was done by a president, it was legal -- the worldview of the Post's old buddy Richard Nixon.

"After the Abu Graib revelations, John McCain helped pass a 2005 amendment that would restrict the military from using specific brutal interrogation tactics — those not in the Army Field Manual. (This didn’t preclude intel services from using these techniques, which might explain why CIA director John Brennan felt free to say the other day that future policymakers might revert to using them). In 2008, Congress passed a measure specifically applying those restrictions to intelligence services, too, but then-President Bush vetoed it. Senator Wyden would revive a version of that 2008 bill as a starting point, with the goal of codifying in law President Obama's executive order banning the use of those specific techniques for all government employees, those in intelligence services included."

But let's back up a minute. When a president violates a law, that president -- at least once out of office -- should be prosecuted for violating the law. The law can't be declared void because it was violated. Loopholes can't be created for the CIA. Reliance on the Army Field Manual can't sneak into law the loopholes built into that document. Presidents can't order and un-order things illegal. Here's how the United Nations Special Rapporteur on counter terrorism and human rights, Ben Emmerson responded to the release of the Senate's report summary:

"The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today’s report must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes. The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorised at a high level within the U.S. Government provides no excuse whatsoever. Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability. International law prohibits the granting of immunities to public officials who have engaged in acts of torture. This applies not only to the actual perpetrators but also to those senior officials within the U.S. Government who devised, planned and authorised these crimes. As a matter of international law, the U.S. is legally obliged to bring those responsible to justice. The UN Convention Against Torture and the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances require States to prosecute acts of torture and enforced disappearance where there is sufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction. States are not free to maintain or permit impunity for these grave crimes."

Now, one could try to spin the endless re-banning of torture as part of the process of enforcing an international treaty that under Article VI of the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land. But banning a practice going forward, even when you ban it better, or ban it more emphatically for the 8th time, does absolutely nothing to fulfill the legal obligation to prosecute those crimes already committed. And here we are dealing with crimes openly confessed to by past officials who assert that they would "do it again" -- crimes that resulted in deaths, thus eliminating any attempt at an argument that statutes of limitations have run out.

Here's a different sort of petition that we've set up at RootsAction.org along with Witness Against Torture and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee: " We call on President Obama to allow the U.S. Department of Justice to enforce our laws, and to immediately appoint a special prosecutor. As torture is a crime of universal jurisdiction, we call on any willing court system in the world to enforce our laws if our own courts will not do so."

The purpose of such a petition is not vengeance or partisanship or a fetish with history. The purpose is to end torture, which is not done by looking forward or even by pardoning the crimes, as the ACLU has proposed -- to its credit recognizing that the crimes exist. That should be a first step for anyone confused by the endless drumbeat to "ban torture."

Voting in Charlottesville

In the years I've been voting at Key Recreation Center on Market Street the procedure has changed as a result of popular mythology. Despite no known problem of people voting under false identity, one must now display an ID and tell the polling place attendant the name and address on it. This fixes a nonexistent problem called voter fraud.

Talk Nation Radio: Kayaks and Soap vs. Big Oil and Trash

https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/talk-nation-radio-kayaks-and-soap-vs-big-oil-and-trash

Bill Moyer is cofounder and executive director of the Backbone Campaign. He discussed the kayaktivists who have taken to the water in Seattle to oppose Shell's planned artic drilling. See http://backbonecampaign.org

Diane Wittner is the Baltimore-based owner of a new zero waste, all natural, locally-based cleaning powder business Echotopia LLC. She also discusses the campaign to stop the largest trash incinerator in the U.S. from being built in Baltimore. See http://www.echotopia.org and http://chesapeakecitizens.org And Joseph Brodsky's poem "New Life" is here: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1993/04/26/new-life

Total run time: 29:00

Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.

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A View From the Other 96%

Exposing Lies of Empire by Andre Vltchek is an 800-page tour of the world between 2012 and 2015 without a Western tour guide. It ought to make you spitting-mad furious, then grateful for the enlightenment, and then ready to get to work.

The 4% of us humans who have grown up in the United States are taught that our government means well and does good. As we begin to grasp that this isn't always so, we're duly admonished that all governments do evil -- as if we were being simplistic and self-centered to blame Washington for too much.

But take this tour of the world with out nationless friend Andre. We see U.S. medical troops operating on Haitian civilians in the most unsafe conditions, while proper facilities nearby sit unused; these troops are practicing for battlefield surgeries. We see millions slaughtered in the Democratic Republic of the Congo at U.S. instigation and with U.S. support. We see U.S. militarism inflicting immeasurable suffering in Somalia. We witness the U.S. training and arming in Turkey of troops from around the Middle East to be sent into Syria to attempt to overthrow another government. We follow the horrors that U.S.-driven militarism, capitalism, and racism have brought to Indonesia, as well as Colombia, the Philippines, and locations around the globe. We investigate the ongoing state of disaster in Iraq and Libya, even the everlasting crisis created by the long-forgotten U.S. war on Panama, and for that matter the ongoing injustice of the century-old German genocide in today's Namibia. We meet the people of occupied Okinawa, and the people of the rest of Asia who view theirs as an evil island hosting threatening U.S. troops. We examine the crushing of popular movements in Egypt, the corruption of four "anchor nations" in four U.S.-created regions of Africa, and the imposition of violent coups in Central America and Ukraine.

Some of us occasionally hear about polls such as Gallup's at the end of 2013 which found that most nations surveyed believed the United States to be the greatest threat to peace on earth. But many Americans must believe such results are mistakes, and must not find any cause for concern when Gallup chooses never again to ask that question.

Do other nations do evil as well, including nations not put up to it by the United States? Of course, but the blaming of other governments for their human rights abuses is both odd for Americans and beside the point. It's odd because the United States imprisons more people than any other country. Its police kill more people. It tortures. It executes. And it funds, arms, trains, and legally supports numerous dictators who engage in every outrage yet conceived. It's beside the point because the greatest evil underway is U.S. imperialism, as imposed by the U.S. military, State Department, banks, corporations, bribes, spies, propaganda, movies, and television shows. It kills directly and indirectly, it impoverishes, disempowers, humiliates, and impedes inconceivable potential for progress.

We can stand with the resisters and victims of injustice in any nation. But that shouldn't stop us from appreciating the handful of nations that resist U.S. domination. And it certainly can't justify accepting as enemies those nations that are resisting the greatest evil on earth. Nor should it excuse inaction. We live in a society of selfish inaction, of self-indulgence, of self-centeredness, of criminally negligent cruelty toward the majority of people on earth. Many Americans don't think so, of course, don't mean so, don't wish it so. Wars are imagined as philanthropy for their victims. But their victims don't see it that way. Only a small number of collaborators adapt that perspective. When I give speeches in person or through media in the U.S., I'm not asked "How can we support resisters in South Korea?" or for that matter North Korea, nearly so often as I'm asked "How did you become an activist?" as if it were a bizarre decision, or "How do you keep optimistic?" as if I have time for giving a fuck whether I ought to be optimistic or not, as if there weren't a crisis calling for all hands on deck.

What has been done to our minds?

"If in thousands of brainless Hollywood films," Vltchek writes, "millions of people continuously vanish, victims of mutants, robots, terrorists, giant insects or microorganisms invading the earth, then the public becomes hardened, and 'well prepared for the worst.' Compared to those horrors of pseudo-reality, the real agony of millions of men, women, and children in places like Iraq, Libya, or Afghanistan appear to be quite insignificant."

". . . No other system has spilled more blood; no other system plundered more resources and enslaved more people, than the one we are told to describe in lofty and benign terms like 'Western parliamentary democracy.'"

It's a system that has built in acceptance of whatever it produces. "'Politics is boring' is one of the main messages we are encouraged to spread around. Because people are not expected to mingle in 'what is not their business'. Ruling the world is reserved for corporations and a few gangsters with excellent PR. The voters are there only to give legitimacy to the entire charade."

At one point, Vltchek remarks that at best Westerners demand higher wages for themselves. Are we to understand the labor movement and liberalism to be selfish? Wouldn't a better distribution of wealth mean a better distribution of power and consequently perhaps a less evil foreign policy? Is the politics of Bernie Sanders who wants the wealthy taxed but hardly acknowledges the existence of the Pentagon just incomplete, or is it viciously self-indulgent? And when Americans do notice wars and make noise about how many schools or roads they could have had in their town instead of a particular war, is that enlightened or blinkered?

Well, the main thing the United States does as a society, its largest public project, is the mass killing of foreigners, the preparation for more of it, and the manufacture and sale of weapons with which they can kill each other. Millions of lives could be spared by ending this project, and tens of millions saved by redirecting even a bit of the money into useful areas. Permitting others to proceed on their own could work further miracles. We can't continue to survive U.S. militarism economically, governmentally, morally, environmentally, or in terms of the growing risk of widespread and nuclear war. We are, most of us, well off compared with much of the world, even as the concentration of wealth in the hands of our billionaires disgusts us. And a lot of our wealth is stripped out of the natural and human resources of the other 96%. How dare we talk about solidarity and justice while confining our morality and our politics within arbitrary political and militarized borders!

Europe comes in for criticism as severe as that Vltchek bestows on the United States. And he faults U.S. Europhiles for misplacing their affections: "That famed 'social system' is built on the enslavement of colonized peoples; it is built on the unimaginable horrors visited on those hundreds of millions of men, women, and children who were slaughtered mercilessly by colonial European powers. . . . To admire it is like admiring some brutish thuggish oligarch who has amassed huge wealth by extortion and open plunder, built a gigantic palace and provided his family or his village with free medical care, education, some theaters, libraries, and parks. . . . How many Asian and African families have to starve, in order to have some early-retired, still strong, German man or woman farting deep holes into his or her sofa, immobilized in front of the television set?"

Now it is possible to admire Europe's healthcare system over the U.S. sickcare system, as the former provides more for less by cutting out the corrupt for-profit insurance companies. But the larger point remains: much of the world lacks good healthcare and could easily have it for what the West spends on inventing new ways to murder.

One element of Western culture that comes in for particular blame is Christianity: "Were Christianity to be a political party or a movement, it would be condemned, banned and declared to be the most brutal creation of humanity." Does that mean that someone who actively resists imperialism does harm in being Christian? Not in a simple way, I think. But it does mean that they are supporting a religion that has managed over the centuries to align itself with racism and militarism with incredible consistency, as Vltchek documents.

On this global voyage we encounter Western writers who claim to have nothing to write about, and artists who paint abstract frivolity for lack of any political inspiration. Vltchek points us in several directions for where inspiration ought to be found and whom we ought to be joining with and supporting. He finds resistance alive and well in Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay, China, Russia, Eritrea, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, and Iran -- as well as in the BRICS alignment of nations (Brazil, Russia, China, South Africa, and less-so: India; Vltchek hopes that Indonesia and Turkey can be kept out of BRICS). He finds a burst of possibility in the development of Russia's RT, Venezuela's TeleSur, and Iran's Press TV. He doesn't discuss how well these new media outlets cover their own nations, but that's not the point. They cover U.S. politics without bowing down before it.

"Entire modern and ecological neighborhoods are growing up all over China; entire cities are being built, with enormous parks and public exercise grounds, with childcare centers and all the modern sanitation facilities, as well as wide sidewalks and incredibly cheap and super modern public transportation. In Latin America, former slums are being converted into cultural centers." This and nothing else makes China, like Venezuela, a "threat" to U.S. "national security."

Does that begin to sound insane?

Vltchek translates a statement from U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, as an example of how insane U.S. propaganda is: "Bashar al-Assad, we helped to create ISIS in order to overthrow you . . . . Now we hold you responsible for not managing to destroy our offspring . . . . Therefore we are going to bomb your country, kill thousands of your people, and possibly overthrow you in the process."

Vltchek quite reasonably traces the creation of violent Islam to British support for Wahhabis and U.S. support for what would become Al Qaeda in the 1980s, followed up by U.S.-led wars and the arming and training of fighters to attack Syria. Of course, U.S. wars against U.S. creations are nothing new (Saddam Hussein and Muamar Gadaffi being recent examples from a long list of pet dictators fallen from grace).

One complaint with Vltchek (other than the need for a native-English editor for the book's preface) is his lack of explicit advocacy for the powerful tools of nonviolence that Erica Chenoweth's study found more likely to succeed than violence. Vltchek throws in a few vague romanticized references to "force" as what's needed: "Fascism will be fought. Humanity will be defended! By reason or by force. . . ." And: "Let us do it by reason and by force!" And: "The West is increasingly acting as a Nazi entity, and one does not do 'peaceful protests' in front of the Reichstag, when flames are consuming the world, when millions are being murdered!" Actually 1933 would have been an excellent time for nonviolent noncompliance with Nazism, which would have displayed its then-little-known powers even more powerfully than did the women in Rosenstrasse 10 years later.

Vltchek also urges us to be less "fussy" about picking our allies in resistance to U.S. empire. I think that's good advice when not combined with the previous references to "force," as the combination would seem to support the idiocy of running off and joining ISIS. That's not a way to resist the war machine, which created the conditions for ISIS, armed and trained fighters knowing something like ISIS was likely to emerge, and attacked knowing what its attacks would do for ISIS recruitment. The war machine is hell-bent on World War III, thriving on a culture in absolute love with World War II.

As decent Israelis should support boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against their horrible government, decent Americans should support the same against theirs, and join the nonviolent and creative global resistance from within the brain of the beast.

An Election Worth Voting In

An election that won't happen for a year and a half and is likely to pit two disastrously bad presidential candidates against each other dominates the news, but here in Charlottesville there's a local election on June 9th worth bothering with. It's a Democratic Primary, but you don't have to take a loyalty oath to that party and can proceed to vote against it in the general election -- but based on past experience this really is the election and if you skip it you don't get a vote.

Three of five city council seats are up for grabs, and there are five candidates. Wes Bellamy lost a previous election by a single vote, which gives you an idea of how valuable your vote can be. He's been leading Black Lives Matter actions in Cville. While his website seems to lack any substantive policy proposals, he has come up with some good ones that are absent there, including on policing and housing and schools.

Here's the Daily Progress:

"With a renewed vision of how he would like to govern, Bellamy said he wants City Hall to keep the housing market affordable while encouraging economic development. As an African-American male and a school teacher, he said he also wants to address issues of public safety and education. Bellamy supports a policing model that will embed officers in specific neighborhoods they would regularly patrol on foot and encourage them to build relationships with residents. Expanding pre-K education and improving the infrastructure of aging school buildings are two of Bellamy's priorities for city schools."

Bellamy stresses his dedication to following popular will.

Incumbent Kathy Galvin has a different attitude. Typical of my experience with her was an occasion three years ago when the city council passed, despite her opposition, a resolution opposing any U.S. war on Iran. "The council was scheduled to vote at its January 17th [2012] meeting," I noted at the time, "and on the morning of the 17th made public a proposal from Galvin to radically revise the resolution, omitting any reference to war on Iran or to the existence of both ground and drone wars, claiming the military is protecting our rights despite the erosion of our rights facilitated by war, inaccurately describing the powers the Constitution gives the President, expressing support for the office of the President less than a month after the power to imprison people without trial was made a part of that office, asking the President and Congress to 'continue' working to redirect military spending to domestic priorities which falsely implied that such work was already underway, eliminating a paragraph pointing to the tradeoffs our wealthy nation makes in comparison with other countries by funding the military so heavily, and claiming that reducing military spending might endanger the safety of troops."

Mike Signer knocked on my door yesterday asking for my vote. He has professional brochures and website. But his proposals are pretty vague and noncommittal.  And he stresses above all his experience working for such corrupt figures as Mark Warner, Tom Perriello, Tim Kaine, and Jim Webb. If city council is a stepping stone to one of their jobs, one can assume he intends to behave roughly like them. He described Perriello to me as "brave" -- yes, this Perriello.

Lena Seville strikes me as a far more interesting candidate than Galvin or Signer. Her website describes her work on police racism, bridge replacement, and getting pesticides out of parks.

Then again, incumbent Dede Smith has proven herself far above average on the city council already. If anyone deserves to continue there it's she.

I think I'll vote for Bellamy, Seville, and Smith.

You decide! And let me know what you think! I'm open to being persuaded.

Film: Costa Rica Abolished its Military, Never Regretted it

The forthcoming film, A Bold Peace: Costa Rica's Path of Demilitarization, should be given every possible means of support and promotion. After all, it documents the blatant violation of laws of physics, human nature, and economics, as understood in the United States -- and the violators seem positively gleeful about it.

In 1948 Costa Rica abolished its military, something widely deemed impossible in the United States. This film documents how that was done and what the results have been. I don't want to give away the ending but let me just say this: there has not been a hostile Muslim takeover of Costa Rica, the Costa Rican economy has not collapsed, and Costa Rican women still seem to find a certain attraction in Costa Rican men.

How is this possible? Wait, it gets stranger.

Costa Rica provides free, high-quality education, including free college, as well as free healthcare, and social security. Costa Ricans are better educated than Americans, live longer, are reported as happier (in fact, happiest in the world in various studies), and lead the world in the use of renewable energy (100% renewable energy lately in Costa Rica). Costa Rica even has a stable, functioning democracy with far greater (required) participation, ballot access, diversity of platforms, and popular support than the gerrymandered, Citizen-United, Diebolded, home of widely tuned-out Bush v. Clinton reruns.

How is it that U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders only ever mentions Scandinavia as a place to learn from, and usually not military-free Iceland either? Could it be that military abolition is just not an acceptable topic in U.S. politics?

Costa Rica has developed a culture of peace, including an educational system that teaches children nonviolent conflict resolution. As someone who grew up being told that we should not use violence, while simultaneously noticing that my society's biggest public project was the U.S. military, I can only imagine the power of consistency found in an educational curriculum that walks its own talk. Costa Rica has built up a society of low violence and of, as one speaker in the film describes it, "an attitude of non-aggression toward the poor." The Ticos describe support for the welfare state and for cooperative businesses as "solidarity" and "love."

How did this come to be? The film provides more context than I was previously aware of. Rafael Calderón Guardia, president from 1940 to 1944, began the welfare state in a major way through a unique pre-Cold War coalition of support that included the Catholic church and the communist party. In 1948 Calderón ran for president again, lost, and refused to recognize the results. A remarkable man named José Figueres Ferrer, also known as "Don Pepe," who had educated himself at Boston Public Library and returned to Costa Rica to start a collective farm, led a violent revolution and won.

Figueres made a pact with the communists to protect the welfare state, and they disbanded their army. And after his own troops threatened a rightwing coup, he disbanded his own army, that of the nation of Costa Rica, saying:

"Los hombres que ensangrentamos recientemente a un país de paz, comprendemos la gravedad que pueden asumir estas heridas en la América Latina, y la urgencia de que dejen de sangrar. No esgrimimos el puñal del asesino sino el bisturí del cirujano. Como cirujanos nos interesa ahora, mas que la operación practicada, la futura salud de la Nación, que exige que esa herida cierre pronto, y que sobre ella se forme cicatriz más sana y más fuerte que el tejido original.

"Somos sostenedores definidos del ideal de un nuevo mundo en América. A esa patria de Washington, Lincoln, Bolívar y Martí, queremos hoy decirle: ¡Oh, América! Otros pueblos, hijos tuyos también, te ofrendan sus grandezas. La pequeña Costa Rica desea ofrecerte siempre, como ahora, junto con su corazón, su amor a la civilidad, a la democracia."

Of course Costa Rica could abolish its army only because it had no enemies!

So you might think, if such a mental process can be called thinking. In reality, Costa Rica was surrounded by enemies, hostile dictatorships all around, not to mention the longstanding Monroe Doctrine U.S. dominance of any Latin American nation that stepped out of line. On top of which Calderón and friends plotted a counter-revolution from Nicaragua and attempted it in 1949 and again in 1955, with the support of U.S.-backed Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio "Tacho" Somoza García.

What did Costa Rica do? On the model that Jefferson and Madison envisioned for the United States, Figueres maintained the ban on any standing army but called up a temporary citizens' militia to fight off the invasion successfully twice.

But what if a more powerful invasion had come? I think there are two answers to that. First, Costa Rica is not occupying nations all over the globe, blowing up families with drones, torturing people in secret prisons, arming dictatorships, defending Israel's acts of genocide, etc. -- that is to say, Costa Rica is not creating enemies. Secondly, if the United States were to attack Costa Rica, no military might on the Costa Rican side could possibly prevail. The best defense against such an attack is, in fact, to possess no military that might be blamed for some incident as grounds for war.

Figueres used a citizens militia and then disbanded it. He expanded the welfare state, extended the right to vote to women and Afro-Caribbeans, and nationalized banks and electricity. Then he retired peacefully, later to be elected president twice more, in 1953 and 1970. He lived until 1990, the victorious general who did what Eisenhower never dared: abolished the military industrial complex.

The U.S. government, under President Reagan, tried to force Costa Rica into military conflict, but Costa Rica proclaimed neutrality. It did not maintain this neutrality as absolutely as one might like, but it never became home to a big U.S. military base as did Honduras.

In 1985, Oscar Arias was elected president on a peace platform, defeating Calderón's son campaigning on a platform of militarization. Although the U.S. was threatening sanctions, and although 80% of the Costa Rican people opposed the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, over 80% in Costa Rica opposed any militarization. Reagan scared Americans of communists in Nicaragua, but seems not to have scared the Ticos at all. On the contrary, Arias met repeatedly with Reagan, turned him down on at least all the main points, and gathered nations together to negotiate peace in Central America -- for which he was given a Nobel Peace Prize that may have actually served an appropriate purpose.

What withstood Reagan's pressure was not an individual or a political party, but Costa Rica's culture of peace. A new threat came in 2003, when Costa Rica joined the Coalition of the Willing (to attack Iraq). Costa Rica provided only its name, no actual participation. But a law student named Luis Roberto Zamora Bolanos successfully sued his own government in Costa Rican courts and forced Costa Rica out of the coalition.

While the film doesn't go into it much, the same lawyer sued Arias and others repeatedly to keep weapons companies and U.S. ships out of Costa Rican territory. In 2010 the U.S. helped overthrow the president of Honduras and flew him to Costa Rica. The U.S. uses its drug war as an excuse to put military ships in Costa Rican waters.

In 2010 Nicaragua took over a Costa Rican island, at least in the view of Costa Rica. Had Costa Rica possessed a military, a war would likely have begun. While Costa Rica did send its "police" to the area, not one bullet was fired. Rather the dispute was resolved in international courts, as all such disputes should be.

Costa Rica has now gone for 66 and a half years without the problems that militaries have brought to other Latin American nations. Militaries in small nations have been used for U.S.-backed coups, but not for anything more beneficial. The film cites statistics: the United States has directly overthrown 41 Latin American governments, and indirectly another 24, between 1898 and 1994.

The idea that Costa Rica needs no military because it is protected under a U.S. military umbrella would be laughable if there weren't people who believe it. Costa Rica has opposed U.S. militarism and promoted demilitarization around the world, running up against powerful U.S. lobbying on behalf of U.S. weapons dealers. When Arias obtained a U.N. vote on a treaty to ban arms sales to any nation spending more on weapons than on its people, the only No vote was from the U.S.

Costa Rica is also facing the destructive effects of corporate trade pacts, rising inequality, and crushing poverty. Yet it is still far from as unequal as the U.S.

The film presents a fair portrait, flaws included. I watched it with my 9-year-old son who now wants to move there. The film includes video of past and current presidents, activists, professors, and journalists. It even includes extensive commentary from Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera as a long-shot presidential candidate seeking to uphold Costa Rica's pacifist traditions in a manner that Japan's president is of course not attempting. Then we see Solís surge ahead and win. He is now president.

Costa Rica is an inspiration to those of us seeking to abolish war.