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December 2014 -- New Book!
And why not? Wittner focuses on general backward stupidness: the treaty would "override" the Constitution or the importance of families or the rights of parents. He points out the treaty's support for parents and families and the impossibility of overriding the Constitution -- which we might note in any case says nothing on the subject.
Then Wittner mentions some more substantive reasons for opposition:
"... in fairness to the critics, it must be acknowledged that some current American laws do clash with the Convention’s child protection features. For example, in the United States, children under the age of 18 can be jailed for life, with no possibility of parole. Also, as Human Rights Watch notes, “exemptions in U.S. child labor laws allow children as young as 12 to be put to work in agriculture for long hours and under dangerous conditions.” Moreover, the treaty prohibits cruel and degrading punishment of children―a possible source of challenge to the one-third of U.S. states that still allow corporal punishment in their schools."
That's actually a pretty major in-fairness-to-the-critics point. The United States wants to maintain the ability to lock children in cages for the rest of their lives or to work them in the fields or to physically abuse them in school. In fact, the child prison industry is a major presence in the United States.
And let's not forget that there are children on the drone kill list and children who have been killed with drone strikes.
There are other nations that engage in some of these same abuses. Is it better to ratify a basic human rights treaty and violate it or to refuse to ratify it because you intend to act against it as a matter of principle?
I'm inclined to think the latter suggests the further remove from decent tendencies.
Wars may be how Americans learn geography, but do they always learn the history of how the geography was shaped by wars? I've just read Syria: A History of the Last Hundred Years by John McHugo. It's very heavy on the wars, which is always a problem with how we tell history, since it convinces people that war is normal. But it also makes clear that war wasn't always normal in Syria.
Syria was shaped by and remains to this day outraged by the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement (in which Britain and France divided up things that didn't belong to either of them), the 1917 Balfour Declaration (in which Britain promised Zionists land it didn't own known as Palestine or Southern Syria), and the 1920 San Remo Conference at which Britain, France, Italy, and Japan used rather arbitrary lines to create the French Mandate of Syria and Lebanon, the British Mandate of Palestine (including Jordan), and the British Mandate of Iraq.
Between 1918 and 1920, Syria attempted to set up a constitutional monarchy; and McHugo considers that effort to be the closest Syria has come to self-determination. Of course, that was ended by the San Remo Conference at which a bunch of foreigners sat in a villa in Italy and decided that France must save Syria from the Syrians.
So 1920 to 1946 was a period of French misrule and oppression and brutal violence. The French strategy of divide and rule resulted in the separation of Lebanon. The French interests, as McHugo tells it, seem to have been profits and special benefits for Christians. The French legal obligation for the "mandate" was to help Syria reach the point of being able to rule itself. But, of course, the French had very little interest in letting the Syrians rule themselves, the Syrians could hardly have ruled themselves worse than the French did, and the entire pretense was without any legal controls on or supervision of the French. So, the Syrian protests appealed to the Rights of Man but were met with violence. The protests included Muslims and Christians and Jews, but the French remained to protect minorities or at least to pretend to protect them while encouraging sectarian division.
On April 8, 1925, Lord Balfour visited Damascus where 10,000 protesters greeted him shouting "Down with the Balfour agreement!" The French had to escort him out of town. In the mid 1920s the French killed 6,000 rebel fighters and destroyed the homes of 100,000 people. In the 1930s the Syrians created protests, strikes, and boycotts of French-owned businesses. In 1936 four protesters were killed, and 20,000 people attended their funeral before launching a general strike. And still the French, like the British in India and the rest of their empire, remained.
Toward the end of World War II, France proposed to "end" their occupation of Syria without ending it, something like the current U.S. occupation of Afghanistan that has "ended" while it continues. In Lebanon, the French arrested the president and prime minister but were forced to free them after strikes and demonstrations in both Lebanon and Syria. The protests in Syria grew. France shelled Damascus killing possibly 400. The British came in. But in 1946 the French and the British left Syria, a nation where the people refused to cooperate with foreign rule.
Bad times, rather than good, lay ahead. The British and the future-Israelis stole Palestine, and a flood of refugees headed for Syria and Lebanon in 1947-1949, from which they have yet to return. And the (first?) Cold War began. In 1949, with Syria the only nation not to have signed an armistice with Israel and refusing to allow a Saudi oil pipeline to cross its land, a military coup was executed in Syria with CIA involvement -- predating 1953 Iran and 1954 Guatemala.
But the United States and Syria could not form an alliance because the United States was allied with Israel and opposed to rights for Palestinians. Syria got its first Soviet weapons in 1955. And the U.S. and Britain began a long-term and ongoing project of drawing up and revising plans to attack Syria. In 1967 Israel attacked and stole the Golan Heights which it has occupied illegally ever since. In 1973 Syria and Egypt attacked Israel but failed to take back the Golan Heights. Syria's interests in negotiations for many years to come would focus on the return of Palestinians to their land and the return of the Golan Heights to Syria. U.S. interests in peace negotiations during the Cold War were not in peace and stability but in winning nations to its side against the Soviet Union. The mid-1970s civil war in Lebanon added to Syria's problems. Peace talks for Syria effectively ended with the 1996 election of Netanyahu as prime minister of Israel.
From 1970 to 2000 Syria was ruled by Hafez al-Assad, from 2000 to the present by his son Bashar al-Assad. Syria supported the U.S. in Gulf War I. But in 2003 the U.S. proposed to attack Iraq and declared that all nations must be "with us or against us?" Syria could not declare itself "with the United States" while the suffering of Palestinians was on TV every night in Syria and the United States was not with Syria. In fact, the Pentagon in 2001 had Syria on a list of seven countries it planned to "take out."
The chaos, violence, destitution, sectarian division, rage, and weaponry that flooded the region with the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 impacted Syria and of course led to the creation of groups like ISIS. The Arab Spring in Syria turned violent. Sectarian rivalries, the growing demand for water and resources, the arms and fighters supplied by regional and global rivalries brought Syria into a living hell. Over 200,000 have died, over 3 million have left the country, six and a half million are internally displaced, 4.6 million are living where fighting is ongoing. If this were a natural disaster, a focus on humanitarian aid would gain some interest, and at the very least the U.S. government would not be focused on adding more wind or waves. But this is not a natural disaster. It is, among other things, a proxy war in a region heavily armed by the United States, with Russia on the side of the Syrian government.
In 2013 public pressure helped prevent a massive U.S. bombing campaign on Syria, but the weapons and trainers kept flowing and no real alternative was pursued. In 2013 Israel gave a company a license to explore for gas and oil on the Golan Heights. By 2014 Western "experts" were talking about the war needing to "run its course," while the U.S. attacked certain Syrian rebels while arming others who sometimes surrendered the weapons to those the U.S. was attacking and who were also being funded by wealthy Gulf U.S. allies and fueled by fighters created out of the infernos the United States had brought to Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, etc., and who were also being attacked by Iran which the United States also opposes. By 2015, "experts" were talking about "partitioning" Syria, which brings us full circle.
Drawing lines on a map can teach you geography. It cannot cause people to lose attachments to people and places they love and live with. Arming and attacking regions of the globe can sell weapons and candidates. It cannot bring peace or stability. Blaming ancient hatreds and religions can win applause and provide a sense of superiority. It cannot explain the mass slaughter, the division, and the devastation that are in large part imported to a region cursed with natural resources desired by and vicinity to crusaders whose new holy grail is the so-called responsibility to protect but who'd rather not mention who they actually feel responsible to and what they're actually protecting.
This advertisement does a number of things in 15 seconds that U.S. television has not done before. It presents a moral case against drone murders (the U.S. government's terminology, and strictly accurate). It opposes drone murders as illegal. It shows victims. It provides the name and website of an organization opposing drone murders. And it directly asks drone "pilots" to refuse to continue. It also makes the Nuremberg argument that an illegal order need not (in fact must not) be obeyed.
This is, as far as I know, and as far as its producers know, the first anti-drone-war commercial on U.S. television, as well as -- I believe -- the first content of any sort on U.S. corporate television to do the things listed above.
This ad is airing from February 28 to March 6 on CNN, MSNBC and other networks in the Las Vegas area, just a few miles from Creech Air Force Base, a major drone operating and training facility where a major protest is underway. It will begin airing in other cities soon.
"We produced this spot to make the point as powerfully as possible that drone killing is horrifying, illegal and immoral," said Nick Mottern, coordinator of KnowDrones.com which sponsored the ad.
In case the pilots viewing the ad fail to grasp the sincerety of its producers, they might consider reading this letter:
To: James Cluff, Commander, Creech AFB
Dear Commander Cluff,
It is our intention to reach out to you and appeal to your humanity to stop the drone killing. Your first responsibility is to uphold laws, regardless of your orders. Aerial bombardment of innocent civilians is in violation of the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions, the Hague Conventions and the principles of the Nuremberg Tribunal. Drones are not making us any safer. More and more young men in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia are joining groups that are retaliating against the US for the murder of their loved ones.
I'm sure you can see at the base that there is low morale among the drone pilots, because it is impossible to sustain any level of enthusiasm for intelligence, surveillance and reconaissance. Although the Airforce throws incentive dollars to your pilots they are still resigning in great numbers, and those that stay turn to drugs and alcohol to numb and detach emotionally to perform this dehumanizing work. While sitting in a cockpit, gazing at their screens, don't your pilots see mothers and fathers with children, kids playing soccer? Consider the effect of drone strikes on these mothers and children. Children suffer intense trauma when they witness the death of their parents or are themselves victims of airstrikes. How can you justify fighting a telewar? Do the pilots really reap joy with their joysticks from killing unarmed civilians?
Do you really believe that you're protecting Americans from terrorists? You can see that dropping missiles on suspected terrorists isn't working, isn't reducing the number of terrorist cells, instead it is taking precious resources and diverting them from the very programs that could truly keep Americans safe. Can't you see that you are caught up in a system of domination that maintains that our survival depends on our threat and domination of others? And that it is this system that objectifies and separates you from people of other nations.
Commander Cluff, you have sadly forgotten who you are and are living in denial of your humanity. You can try but never succeed at legitimizing the violence of drone airstrikes. This job has dehumanized you and caused your indifference to the suffering of the people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
It is still possible to stop the killing, to change and take the risk of another way of life.
STOP THE KILLING, END DRONE WARFARE!
Women for Peace
This show is a call to action to become part of Spring Rising: An Antiwar Intervention in Washington, D.C., March 18-21, 2015, with the big rally and march on Saturday March 21. See http://SpringRising.org
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
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To: Keifer Sutherland and Kathryn Bigelow
Here's Time Magazine's David von Drehle: "The greatest threat that ISIS poses -- even to the poor souls living under ISIS rule -- is the unintended damage that might follow from the effort to eradicate the group. . . . As dangerous as it is to have a terrorist kingdom in the middle of the world's geopolitical tinderbox, ousting ISIS will be every bit as dangerous."
Drehle goes from there immediately into the debate over whether U.S. troops or local troops should do the job. His article is followed by Max Boot arguing for U.S. ground troops and Karl Vick arguing for U.S. bombing with local ground troops. All three writers seem to be aware that ISIS wanted U.S. bombing and wants U.S. ground troops even more, that ISIS recruitment climbs in response to U.S. military action. All three can't help but be aware that terrorist kingdoms like Saudi Arabia already exist in the region with the blessing of the U.S. government (and of magazine writers who seek to please the U.S. government). All three are fairly condescending toward local troops, eager to (somehow) get Sunnis to attack Sunnis, and wary of allowing Iranian "death squads" to get involved in the, you know, mass killing they are proposing.
None of the three have one word to say about the great many innocents already killed in the latest U.S. bombings, but all three seem to grasp that the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 was necessary for the creation of ISIS, all three seem to understand that fighting ISIS is counterproductive, and yet all three strive to place the need to attack ISIS beyond the range of any debate. The question is not whether to make the disaster worse, but exactly how to do it.
What, after all, makes the region a global tinderbox? Israel's nukes? Certainly not, those are not supposed to be mentioned or even thought about. Well then, all the other weapons? But over 80% of those are supplied by the United States, so that can't be it. Perhaps the violent overthrows and devastation of so many governments and countries? But it was the U.S. and friends who destroyed Iraq and made Libya what it is and who have done what they're still doing to Afghanistan. It is the U.S. that has ruined Yemen. It is the U.S. that arms and supports Israel's wars. It is the U.S. that props up the terrorist states in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and Egypt. Surely what makes the region a tinderbox (rather than a region rich in oil about which greedy earth-destroying interests might be concerned) is something unthinkable or nonsensical or inscrutable, something ethnic or religious or unworthy of consideration.
Because otherwise we might have to consider cease fires and arms embargoes and diplomacy and humanitarian aid as possible alternatives to the usual choices of (1) do nothing, or (2) make it all worse with more of what caused much of the problem in the first place. We might have to consider that it isn't ISIS that's posing the greatest threat in the form of "the effort to eradicate the group."
Don't get me wrong, I'm glad to hear that Congress members will skip Netanyahu's speech no matter what reason they offer. Here are some of them:
It's too close to Netanyahu's election. (That doesn't persuade me. If we had fair, open, publicly funded, un-gerrymandered, verifiably counted elections, then "politics" wouldn't be a dirty word and we would want politicians to show themselves doing things to try to please us before, during, and after elections. I want them acting that way now, even with our broken system. I don't want the U.S. interfering in Israeli elections, but allowing a speech is hardly the same as backing coups in Ukraine and Venezuela or giving Israel billions of dollars worth of weapons every year.)
The Speaker didn't ask the President. (This is likely the big reason that Democrats are promising to skip the speech. I'm actually amazed more of them haven't made that promise. Netanyahu seemed to me to miss the extent to which the United States has become a term-limited monarchy. Congress typically wants to pass the buck on wars to the President. The President typically controls one of the two parties quite tightly. But do I actually care that Congress didn't consult the President? Hell no! Imagine if, during the run-up to the 2003 attack on Iraq, Congress had offered a joint-session microphone to El Baradei or Sarkozy or Putin or, indeed, Hussein to denounce all the bogus claims about WMDs in Iraq? Would you have been outraged by the impoliteness toward President Bush or delighted that a million people might not get killed for no damn reason?)
These kinds of reasons do have a practical weakness: they lead to calls for postponing the speech, rather than canceling it. Some other reasons have more serious flaws.
The speech damages bipartisan U.S. support for Israel. (Really? A slim minority of the President's party skips the speech for a laundry list of lame excuses and suddenly the United States is going to stop providing all the free weapons and vetoing every attempt at legal accountability for the crimes of the Israeli government? And that would be a bad thing if it actually happened?)
The speech hurts the critical effort of negotiations to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. (This is the worst of the bad reasons. It pushes the false idea that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon and threatening to use it. It plays right into Netanyahu's fantasies of poor helpless nuclear Israel the victim of Iranian aggression. In reality, Iran has not attacked another nation in modern history. If only Israel or the United States could say as much!)
As I said, I'm glad anyone's skipping the speech for any reason. But I find it deeply disturbing that an enormously important and deeply moral reason to skip the speech is obvious and known to every member of Congress, and while most are acting against it, those acting in accordance with it refuse to articulate it. The reason is this: Netanyahu is coming to spread war propaganda. He told Congress lies about Iraq in 2002 and pushed for a U.S. war. He has been lying, according to leaks this week of his own spies' information and according to the understanding of the U.S. "intelligence" services, about Iran. It is illegal to spread war propaganda under the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, to which Israel is a party. Congress is struggling to keep up with the wars President Obama is continuing, launching, and risking. Here's one war Obama seems not to want, and Congress is bringing in a foreign leader with a record of war lies to give them their marching orders. Meanwhile, an agency of that same foreign government, AIPAC, is holding its big lobby meeting in Washington.
Now, it is true that nuclear energy facilities create dangerous targets. Those drones flying around French nuclear plants scare the hell out of me. And it is true that nuclear energy places its possessor a short step away from nuclear weaponry. Which is why the U.S. should stop spreading nuclear energy to countries that have no need of it, and why the U.S. should never have given nuclear bomb plans to Iran or sentenced Jeffrey Sterling to prison for allegedly revealing that act. But you can't accomplish good by using horrific mass murder to avoid horrific mass murder -- and that's what Israeli-U.S. aggression toward Iran means. Stirring up a new cold war with Russia in Syria and Ukraine is dangerous enough without throwing Iran into the mix. But even a war that confined itself to Iran would be horrifying.
Imagine if we had one Congress member who would say, "I'm skipping the speech because I'm opposed to killing Iranians." I know we have lots of constituents who like to think that their progressive Congress member secretly thinks that. But I'll believe it when I hear it said.