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Peace and War
Reading Nick Turse's new book, Tomorrow's Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, raises the question of whether black lives in Africa matter to the U.S. military any more than black lives in the United States matter to the police lately trained and armed by that military.
Turse scouts out the still little told tale of U.S. military expansion into Africa over the past 14 years, and primarily over the past 6 years. Five to eight thousand U.S. troops plus mercenaries are training, arming, and fighting alongside and against African militaries and rebel groups in nearly every nation in Africa. Major land and water routes to bring in the U.S. armaments, and all the accouterments of bases housing U.S. troops, have been established to avoid the local suspicions created by building and improving airports. And yet, the U.S. military has proceeded to acquire local agreements to make use of 29 international airports and gotten to work building and improving runways at a number of them.
The U.S. militarization of Africa includes airstrikes and commando raids in Libya; "black ops" missions and drone murders in Somalia; a proxy war in Mali; secretive actions in Chad; anti-piracy operations that result in increased piracy in the Gulf of Guinea; wide-ranging drone operations out of bases in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Niger, and the Seychelles; "special" operations out of bases in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo; CIA bungling in Somalia; over a dozen joint training exercises a year; arming and training of soldiers in places like Uganda, Burundi, and Kenya; a "joint special operations" operation in Burkina Faso; base construction aimed at accommodating future "surges" of troops; legions of mercenary spies; the expansion of a former French foreign legion base in Djibouti and joint war-making with France in Mali (Turse must be reminded of that other wonderfully successful U.S. takeover of French colonialism known as the war on Vietnam).
AFRICOM (Africa Command) is in fact headquartered in Germany with plans to be based at the giant new U.S. base built in Vicenza, Italy, against the will of the Vicentini. Important parts of AFRICOM's structure are in Sigonella, Sicily; Rota, Spain; Aruba; and Souda Bay, Greece -- all U.S. military outposts.
Recent U.S. military actions in Africa are mostly quiet interventions that stand a good chance of leading to enough chaos to be used as justifications for future public "interventions" in the form of larger wars that will be marketed without mention of their causation. Future famous evil forces that may one day be threatening U.S. homes with vague but scary Islamic and demonic threats in U.S. "news" reports are discussed in Turse's book now and are arising now in response to militarism rarely discussed in corporate U.S. news media.
AFRICOM is advancing with as much secrecy as it can, trying to maintain the pretense of self-governance by local government "partners," as well as to avoid the scrutiny of the world. So, it hasn't been invited by public demand. It isn't riding in to prevent some horror. There has been no public debate or decision by the U.S. public. Why, then, is the United States moving U.S. war making into Africa?
AFRICOM Commander General Carter Ham explains the U.S. militarization of Africa as a response to the problems it may in the future manage to create: "The absolute imperative for the United States military is to protect America, Americans, and American interests [clearly something other than Americans]; in our case, in my case, to protect us from threats that may emerge from the African continent." Asked to identify such a threat in current existence, AFRICOM cannot do so, struggling instead to pretend that African rebels are part of al Qaeda because Osama bin Laden once praised them. During the course of AFRICOM's operations, violence has been expanding, insurgent groups proliferating, terrorism rising, and failed states multiplying -- and not by coincidence.
The reference to "American interests" may be a clue to real motivations. The word "profit" may have been accidentally omitted. In any case, the stated purposes are not working out very well.
The 2011 war on Libya led to war in Mali and anarchy in Libya. And less public operations have been no less disastrous. U.S.-backed war in Mali led to attacks in Algeria, Niger, and Libya. The U.S. response to greater violence in Libya has been still more violence. The U.S. embassy in Tunisia was attacked and burned. Congolese soldiers trained by the United States have mass raped women and girls, matching the atrocities committed by U.S.-trained Ethiopian soldiers. In Nigeria, Boko Haram has arisen. The Central African Republic has had a coup. The Great Lakes region has seen violence rise. South Sudan, which the United States helped to create, has fallen into civil war and humanitarian disaster. Et cetera. This is not entirely new. U.S. roles in instigating long wars in Congo, Sudan, and elsewhere predate the current Africa "pivot." African nations, like nations in the rest of the world, tend to believe the United States is the greatest threat to peace on earth.
Turse reports that AFRICOM's spokesman Benjamin Benson used to claim the Gulf of Guinea as the sole supposed success story, until doing so became so untenable that he began claiming he'd never done so. Turse also reports that the Benghazi disaster, contrary to what common sense might suggest, became a basis for further expansion of U.S. militarism in Africa. When something's not working, try more of it! Says Greg Wilderman, the Military Construction Program manager for Naval Facilities Engineering Command, "We will be in Africa for some time to come. There's lots more to do there."
Someone recently told me that China had threatened to cut of U.S. billionaire Sheldon Adelson's profits from casinos in China if he continued to fund Congress members who insisted on going to war with Iran. The alleged motivation for this was that China can better buy oil from Iran if Iran is not at war. True or not, this fits Turse's description of China's approach to Africa. The U.S. relies heavily on war making. China relies more on aid and funding. The U.S. creates a nation doomed to collapse (South Sudan) and China buys its oil. This of course raises an interesting question: Why can't the United States leave the world in peace and still, like China, make itself welcome through aid and assistance, and still, like China, buy up the fossil fuels with which to destroy life on earth by means other than warfare?
The other pressing question raised by the Obama government's militarization of Africa, of course, is: Can you imagine the ear-splitting everlasting biblical proportions of the outrage had a white Republican done this?
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Remarks at Houston Peace and Justice Center Conference on April 25, 2015.
I hope to be brief enough to leave lots of time for questions after I talk.
I know that most of you are probably exceptions to what I'm about to say, because I suspect that most of you came here voluntarily. If you're here on duty for the FBI, raise your hand.
You may all be the exceptions, but most people in the United States have no idea of the suffering that war brings.
War brings suffering first through the wasting of some $2 trillion every year, roughly half of it by the U.S. government alone, but much of the weaponry purchased with the other $1 trillion, spent by other governments, is U.S.-made weaponry. Never mind what the money is spent on. It could be dumped in a hole and burned and we'd all be better off, but the most suffering is caused by what it's not spent on.
For tens of billions of dollars the world could end starvation, unclean drinking water, and various health problems; it could invest in green energy and sustainable agriculture and education in massive, undreamed of ways. Yet $2 trillion is wasted every year on a criminal enterprise without redeeming merit of any sort. To get a sense of the scale of the funding, all the accumulated student debt of former and current students in the United States is $1.3 trillion. The United States spends $1.3 trillion on militarism in a single year, and the same amount again the next year, and the next year. For tens of billions, college could be free. Whether the students who emerged would have learned to love the bomb would depend on how the funding was handled and other factors, but a tiny fraction of military spending would do it -- I'm referring to military spending across numerous departments of the government, and it has doubled or close to it during the Bush-Obama wars. Military spending is over half the money Congress spends each year. The recently proposed Congressional Progressive Caucus budget proposed to cut military spending by 1%, which gives you an idea of the extreme limits of debate in U.S. politics, which I think Robert Jensen will be telling us more about. In fact, no statement from the Progressive Caucus even mentioned the existence of military spending; you had to hunt through the numbers to find the 1% cut.
Now, it's hard to separate deaths due to disease and starvation, from the direct effects of warfare, with warfare creating refugee crises and destroying farms and so forth. It's also true that the financial resources to address human needs could be found in another place other than war, namely in the pockets of the greediest 400 people in the United States. Their hoarding of wealth, even those of them not principally funded by the war machine, can certainly be blamed as well when a child starves to death anywhere on earth. But blame is not a finite quantity. You can blame plutocracy or militarism, and niether one exculpates the other. Military spending could end starvation for the price of a small rounding error and is therefore culpable.
Most people, I think, also fail to understand that the suffering created by military spending is mostly created by routine war preparations by an empire ever planning for more wars, and much less by the wars themselves. We need to stop announcing how many schools we could have had instead of a particular war, because we could have had 10 times as many instead of the routine so-called non-war military spending during the same period. Or, better, we could have provided 10 times as many to the world rather than to one particular little country that is far from the worst off.
Most people also fail to understand that there is no up side to military spending, that it doesn't balance the slaughter of human beings with the creation of jobs. The same money, if spent on peaceful enterprises, would create more jobs and better paying jobs. Military spending is a drain on the economy of the aggressor.
The U.S. weapons industry is the leading arms dealer to the world, and it arms and props up dictatorships on a permanent basis. Who can calculate the suffering that causes? A former president of Egypt was just sentenced to prison for killing protesters, while the current president tortures them to death and gets a personal phone call from President Obama promising him more free weaponry -- billions of dollars worth for free every year, just as for Israel. And when Israel engages in one of its genocidal fits of bombing, the U.S. rushes more weaponry over to fill the armories. The Saudi war on Yemen is a proxy war, not between Iran and anyone but between the United States and the United States. U.S. weapons provided to support a brutal dictator in Yemen are blown up by U.S. weapons sold to a brutal dictator in Saudi Arabia who also uses them to prop up the U.S.-armed brutal dictator in Bahrain.
Wars and arms races around the world are fueled by the United States, but the United States is also the leading direct user of war. And, again, I think most people do not understand the suffering inflicted. U.S. newspapers refer to the U.S. Civil War as the deadliest U.S. war. It killed some 750,000 people, or 2% of the population. Compare that to a million and a half killed out of a population of 6 or 7 million in the Philippines, or 2 million killed in Korea, or 4 million killed in Vietnam, or 3 million killed by war and sanctions in Iraq since 1991 -- 11% of the Iraqi population. Nobody knows these numbers, but even if they did, the lack of understanding would be intense because the United States still thinks of wars in the terms of the last war fought here, other than the wars of Native American genocide, namely the U.S. Civil War. Everyone still talks about so-called battlefields, while the wars are fought in people's cities, towns, and farms. Most people killed are on one side; most are civilian; as many are women and children and elderly as men. More are injured than killed. More are traumatized than injured. Huge areas are depopulated. Permanent refugee camps are created. Poisons unknown during the U.S. Civil War create permanent health crises and birth defect epidemics. Children unborn during wars die later when picking up cluster bombs. And urban societal structures of energy, health, transportation, and education, unknown in the 1860s, are devastated by war's destruction.
On January 26 of this year, Mohammed Tuaiman, age 13, of Marib, Yemen, became the third member of his family to be killed by a U.S. drone strike. The drone struck a car carrying Mohammed, his brother in law, Abdullah al-Zindani, and another man. Mohammed's older brother Maqded told the Guardian newspaper, "I saw all the bodies completely burned, like charcoal. When we arrived we couldn't do anything. We couldn't move the bodies so we just buried them there, near the car."
During the 20th century, not counting the lives that could have been saved with the same money, 190 million deaths could be directly and indirectly related to war -- more than in the previous four centuries. The 21st century is in the running to dwarf that record, or indeed to shatter it through nuclear or environmental catastrophe.
Is there any imaginable way in which the most recent 200 million war deaths could have each been just? If 200 million men, women, and children are guilty of something deserving murder, then must we not all be? If even 10 percent of them are, then must we not all be?
On May 15, 2012, Ahmed Abdullah Awadh of Ja'ar, Yemen, was killed. "It was 9 am in the morning," said his neighbor. "I was at home with my son, Majed. Suddenly we heard a loud noise and we all ran out to see what happened. Everyone in the neighborhood came out. To our surprise, we find our sweet neighbor, Ahmed, a taxi driver, burned and in pieces. About 15 minutes later a second strike struck the same place. I survived but my 25 year old son, Majed was hit pretty hard. 50% of his body was burned. When we went to the only clinic we have here in Ja'ar, they said he was too seriously injured to be treated there. The nearest hospital is in Aden, and the main road was closed. It took four hours to get there. I held him in my arms while we were driving, and he kept bleeding. On the third day in the hospital, at 2:30 a.m., Majed's heart stopped and he died."
According to former U.S. general Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. military creates 10 new enemies for every innocent person it kills. But most of the people being killed are innocent, in the drone strikes, in the bombing campaigns, in the ground wars. Could that help explain why the U.S. loses every war? Why ISIS begs the U.S. to attack it and then watches its recruitment soar after the U.S. obliges? Why 65 nations polled at the end of 2013 almost all said the United States was the greatest threat to peace on earth? Imagine if Canada decides to continue down its current militarist path how many years it will have to work to generate anti-Canadian terrorist groups to match those the United States has germinated? Canada will have to shut down its schools and hospitals to invest in creating animosity abroad if it hopes to catch up at all.
If I weren't speaking to you exceptional people but to a typical group of Americans, I would be asked at the end how the U.S. might defend itself if it reduced its war preparations. Well, how do other nations do it? I don't mean who does France call on when it thinks Libya needs to be destroyed, the region thrown into chaos, thousands of desperate people left to risk their lives on rafts in the Mediterranean trying to escape post-liberation Libya. I mean, how does France defend itself from being conquered by evil foreign hordes? How does Costa Rica or Iceland or Japan or India? To match average military spending by all other nations, the United States would have to cut 95% of its military spending. And what does that extra 95% buy? It buys less safety, not more.
On January 23, 2012, an eight-year-old girl named Seena in Sanhan, Yemen, lost her father to a drone strike. "I want to play outside," she says. "But I can't dream of that ever happening anymore." Numerically, most victims of drone wars in Yemen and Pakistan are not those killed or injured, but those afraid to go outdoors. Families teach children at home rather than send them to school. But how do they teach them to live with the ongoing sense of horror created by the buzzing noise in the sky, the buzzing of an evil god that can obliterate their world at any moment and for no apparent reason? And how does forcing children to live that way "defend" the United States?
Exceptional as you all are, I doubt you can understand -- I certainly cannot understand -- what the weight of 190 million stories like Seena's feels like. Multiply that times 10 according to Stanley McChrystal. What does that feel like? During the war on Iraq of the last decade, U.S. commanders could plan operations that they expected to kill up to 30 innocent Iraqis. If they expected 31, then they had to get Donald Rumsfeld's approval -- which I dare suggest was something of a known known. U.S. deaths in that war amounted to about 0.3% of the death toll, and fittingly Iraqi deaths were valued by the U.S. government at 0.3% the dollar value of U.S. deaths. That is to say, the U.S. typically paid $0 to $5,000 dollars as compensation for an Iraqi life, while the State Department and Blackwater arrived at the figure of $15,000, but the lowest government value for a U.S. life was $5 million assigned by the Food and Drug Administration.
In Pakistan, the people terrorized by U.S. drones heard about the phrase that drone pilots in the United States use to refer to their murders. They call them "bug splat," because to them, on their video monitors, it looks like they are squishing bugs. So an artist created a giant image on a Pakistani farm, visible to drones above, of a young girl for a project called Not A Bug Splat.
Are we idiots? Do we not know that a girl thousands of miles away is a girl? Do we have to be told? Apparently we do. Our entire culture is permeated with the idea that humans must be "humanized" in order to be recognized as humans. When we see photos or hear personal stories with detail about a person or a group of people, when we learn someone's name and daily habits and little quirks and weaknesses, we declare, "Wow, that really humanizes them." Well, I'm sorry, but what the hell were they before they were humanized?
We have liberal law professors who believe that a drone murder that has been observed in close detail can remain in a state of legal limbo: if it's not part of a war then it's murder, but if it's part of a war then it's perfectly fine -- and whether it's part of a war is unknowable because President Obama claims his legal reasoning is officially secret even though we've already seen it. Even thought it blatantly makes no sense, we maintain the formal pretense that secretly it might.
Have any of you seen a movie called My Cousin Vinny? In it a woman screams at her boyfriend for worrying about what pair of pants to wear when he goes deer hunting. Her concern is for the life of the deer, not the pants of, if you can excuse the language, the SOB who shoots the deer. Here's a modified version of that little speech:
Imagine you're an Iraqi. You're walking along, you get thirsty, you stop for a drink of cool clear water... BAM! A fuckin missile rips you to shreds. Your brains are hanging on a tree in little bloody pieces! Now I ask ya. Would you give a fuck whether the son of a bitch who shot you was part of a war or not?
I can't even say UN-authorized war because the U.S. no longer bothers with that.
I can't even say Congressionally authorized war because the president no longer bothers with that.
The latest stage in the U.S. war on Iraq is called Operation Inherent Resolve. Eager to maintain some pretense of relevance, Congress is constantly debating whether to debate whether to "authorize" this ongoing war, which Obama says will go on just the same with or without their feckless chattering. And somehow we're supposed to hear the name "Operation Inherent Resolve" and not burst out laughing at the sort of idiots who would think we were the sort of idiots who would like that name.
Unless of course we are.
But but but but what would you do about ISIS? That's the question, right? A group of rebels created by the previous U.S. war on Iraq kills some people in the style used on a much grander scale by U.S.-backed governments in places like Saudi Arabia, and suddenly it's my job to explain how to destroy ISIS using the same tools that created it? I wouldn't have created it in the first place. Like you, I protested the war that destroyed Iraq before it even began, and before it even began the first time in 1990. And now I have to choose yet more war or nothing, because the range of debate has been limited to another knowingly hopeless U.S. ground war or a knowingly hopeless U.S. air war with ground troops momentarily assigned as enemies of an enemy, albeit not of other enemies?
The Middle East is armed by the United States. The region explodes in death and destruction using weapons 80-90 percent of which come from the United States. The first step is to stop arming the Middle East. The second is to negotiate an arms embargo. The third is to stop propping up brutal dictators. The fourth is to provide humanitarian aid and diplomacy, peaceworkers, human shields, journalists, video cameras, green energy, doctors, agriculture. All of those steps could be launched on Monday. The urgency of the crisis demands it, in Iraq, in Syria, in Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
We need a shift from war to peace. This is why preventing the bombing of Syria in 2013 was a short-lived victory. Instead of taking an approach of peace, the CIA sent in arms and trainers and bided its time until better propaganda could be found.
Now, there are lots of things we can do. We can work on transition to peaceful industries at the local, state, and federal levels. We can build up democratic institutions, workplaces, and credit unions that divest from war and offer jobs to those considering the military or mercenary company careers. We can educate, protect, encourage peaceful alternatives, engage in cultural and educational and economic exchanges.
We can build a movement for the abolition of war like the one we are building at WorldBeyondWar.org where people in 112 countries have signed a statement supporting the ending of all war, and I hope you will too.
But one thing in particular that we can do, and related to my current topic, is that we can convey the reality of the human suffering created by war.
Until a video surfaced recently of South Carolina policeman Michael Slager murdering a man named Walter Scott, the media was reporting a package of lies manufactured by the police: a fight that never occurred, witnesses who didn't exist, the victim taking the policeman's taser, etc. The lies collapsed because the video appeared.
I find myself asking why videos of missiles blowing children into little bits and pieces can't dissolve the stories churned out by the Pentagon. With several qualifications, I think part of the answer is that there are not enough videos. The struggle for the right to videotape the police at home in the United States should be accompanied by a campaign to provide video cameras to populations targeted for wars. Of course the struggle to videotape people dying under a bombing campaign is at least as great a challenge as videotaping a murderous policeman, but enough cameras would produce some footage.
We can also search for stories and photographs and promote awareness of them to new audiences. The stories I've mentioned today, and more, are found at SupportYemen.org
We can find stories closer to home as well. The suffering of U.S. troops and mercenaries and their families is more than enough to shatter any heart with even the faintest beat in it. But there's an educational shortcoming. When we only tell the stories of U.S. troops, people imagine that they make up some significant portion of the victims, even half, even a majority. And people imagine that the other victims are also mostly troops and mercenaries. These are dangerous misconceptions that leave the U.S. population offering some significant degree of support for wars that the rest of the world sees as one-sided slaughters.
And, of course, encouraging Americans to think that they should only care about American lives is the root of the problem. It also merges subtly into cheerleading for the military, which merges imperceptibly into cheerleading for the wars.
We need a culture that opposes war and celebrates nonviolent action, peace, the rule of law, and sustainable practices that resist militarism, racism, and extreme materialism.
Yes, yes, yes, of course the presidents and congress members and generals get more blame than the rank and file. Yes, of course, everyone is redeemable, everyone remains human, every troop is a potential resister, whistleblower, and peace activist. But there is nothing accomplished by internalizing "support the troops" propaganda. Nobody says they oppose the death penalty but "support" the guy who flips the switch. Nobody says they oppose mass incarceration but "support" the prison guards. Why should they have to? What would that mean? Our failure to "support the prison guards" is not interpreted as some sort of treasonous plan to harm the prison guards. Why would it be? And, by the way, please go to RootsAction.org to email your state legislators to try to protect prisoners in Texas from dying of extreme heat and other inhumane conditions. You won't be failing to support the prison guards.
I live in Virginia, which probably does more for war than any other U.S. state. But on Thursday I got an email from Francis Boyle who wrote the Biological Weapons Act and who tends to notice when it's being violated. He was alerting people to a notice that the National Biocontainment Laboratories at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, as well as at Boston University, is, in his words, "aerosolizing BSL4 Biowarfare Agents—a telltale sign of offensive biowarfare work for delivery as a weapon by air to human beings." Now, I know that every corner of the United States is packed full of places to protest the military, but Galveston suddenly seems like an especially important one to me.
Another might be Ellington Airport from which I understand drone pilots have been killing people in Afghanistan. If there aren't protests of that yet, there are people in New York, Nevada, California, Virginia, etc., who can help. KnowDrones has been running TV ads in some of these places asking pilots to refuse to fly.
Another thing we can do is to stop celebrating war holidays and instead celebrate peace ones. We have a calendar of peace holidays at WorldBeyondWar.org. Today, for example, is the day on which, in 1974, the Carnation Revolution ended military rule in Portugal. Almost no shots were fired, and crowds of people stuck carnations into the muzzles of rifles and onto the uniforms of soldiers. There are in fact suitable holidays for peace every day of the year, just as there are for war. It's up to us which we choose to mark.
Four years ago Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee created a new holiday that I'm pleased to say I've never heard of anyone celebrating. This is the law as passed:
"The President shall designate a day entitled a National Day of Honor to celebrate members of the Armed Forces who are returning from deployment in support of Iraq, Afghanistan, and other combat areas."
Catchy, isn't it?
Did the president designate such a day? Just once or annually? I have no idea. But this is part of what the Congresswoman said in proposing it:
"Today I rise . . . to ask support for an amendment that can bring all of us together, the designation of a national day of honor to celebrate the members of the Armed Services who will be returning from deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan and other combat areas. This national day of honor would recognize the enormous sacrifice and invaluable service that those phenomenal men and women have undertaken to protect our freedom and share the gift of democracy in other parts of the world. How many of us have stopped to say 'thank you' to a soldier walking alone in an airport. . . . "
Now, the alternative to this is not the apocryphal spitting on troops. The alternative to this is to grow out of a barbaric culture that continues to recruit and train and send off more troops, albeit in such insufficient numbers for the Pentagon that mercenaries and robots are coming to dominate. The alternative is to honestly recognize that even if you say "freedom" and "troops" in the same breath the fact remains unaltered that we lose our freedoms with every passing year of war. The alternative is to join the rest of the earth in recognizing the grotesqueness of pretending that the U.S. military has brought democracy to Iraq or Afghanistan or to the unnamed "other combat areas" that our great democracy does not always afford us the right to even know the names of.
Do not thank a soldier in an airport. If you're able to sit down and speak with a soldier, tell them that you know of veterans who suffer horribly, that you'd like to help, that if they ever want to consider a different career there may be a way to make that change. Give them your number or one for a GI Rights Hotline. And you can say more or less the same thing to the TSA agents in the airport as well of course.
Much more importantly is for us to figure out how we can say to the people of the many places the U.S. military makes war: we are sorry, we are with you, we are working to end it.
PAINTING BY FARIBA ABEDIN.
Chris Woods' excellent new book is called Sudden Justice: America's Secret Drone Wars. The title comes from a claim that then-President George W. Bush made for drone wars. The book actually tells a story of gradual injustice. The path from a U.S. government that condemned as criminal the type of murder that drones are used for to one that treats such killings as perfectly legal and routine has been a very gradual and completely extra-legal process.
Drone murders started in October 2001 and, typically enough, the first strike murdered the wrong people. The blame game involved a struggle for control among the Air Force, CENTCOM, and the CIA. The absurdity of the struggle might be brought out by modifying the "Imagine you're a deer" speech in the movie My Cousin Vinny: Imagine you're an Iraqi. You're walking along, you get thirsty, you stop for a drink of cool clear water... BAM! A fuckin missile rips you to shreds. Your brains are hanging on a tree in little bloody pieces! Now I ask ya. Would you give a fuck which agency the son of a bitch who shot you was working for?
Yet much more attention has gone into which agency does what than into how best to pretend it's all legal. CIA team leaders began getting orders to kill rather than capture, and so they did. As of course did the Air Force and the Army. This was novel when it came to the murder of specific, named individuals as opposed to large numbers of unnamed enemies. According to Paul Pillar, deputy chief of the CIA's Counter Terrorism Center in the late 1990s, "There was a sense that the White House did not want to put clearly on paper anything that would be seen as authorization to assassinate, but instead preferred more of a wink-and-nod to killing bin Laden."
In the early months of Bush-Cheney, the Air Force and CIA were each struggling to impose the drone murder program on the other. Neither wanted to end up in a heap of trouble for something so illegal. After September 11, Bush told Tenet the CIA could go ahead and murder people without asking for his permission each time. One model for this was Israel's targeted murder program, which the U.S. government denounced as illegal up until 9-11-2001. Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell was the lead author of an April 2001 U.S. government report that said Israel should cease and desist, and criticized its operation as failing to distinguish protests from terrorism.
How did the U.S. government get from there to a "Homeland Security Department" that trains local police to consider protesters to be terrorists? The answer is: gradually and fundamentally through a change in behavior and culture rather than through legislation or court ruling. By late 2002, the U.S. State Department was being questioned in a press conference as to why it condemned Israeli murders but not similar U.S. murders. Why the double standard? The State Department had no answer whatsoever, and simply stopped criticizing Israel. The U.S. government kept quiet for years, however, about the fact that some of the people it was murdering were U.S. citizens. The groundwork had not yet been prepared sufficiently for the public to swallow that.
Some three-quarters of U.S. drone strikes have been in supposed battlefields. As one weapon among many in an existing war, armed drones have been deemed legal by lawyers and human rights groups across the full spectrum of the tiny percentage of humanity whose governments are engaged in the drone murders -- plus the "United Nations" that serves those governments. What makes the wars legal is never explained, but this sleight of hand was a foot in the door for the acceptance of drone murders. It was only when the drones killed people in other countries where there was no war underway, that any lawyers -- including some of the 750 who've recently signed a petition in support of allowing Harold Koh (who justified drone murders for the State Department) to teach so-called human rights law at New York University -- saw any need to concoct justifications. The UN never authorized the wars on Afghanistan or Iraq or Libya, not that it actually could do so under the Kellogg Briand Pact, and yet the illegal wars were taken as legalizing the bulk of the drone murders. From there, just a little liberal sophistry could "legalize" the rest.
The United Nations Human Rights Council's Asma Jahangir declared non-war drone murders to be murder at the end of 2002. UN investigator (and law partner of Tony Blair's wife) Ben Emmerson noted that in the U.S. view, war could now travel around the world to wherever bad guys went, thus making drone murders anywhere only as illegal as other wars, the legality of which nobody gave a damn about. In fact, the CIA's view, as explained to Congress by CIA General Counsel Caroline Krass in 2013, was that treaties and customary international law could be violated at will, while only domestic U.S. law need be complied with. (And, of course, domestic U.S. laws against murder in the United States might resemble domestic Pakistani or Yemeni laws against murder in Pakistan or Yemen, but resemblance is not identity, and only the U.S. laws matter.)
The growing acceptance of drone murders among Western imperialist lawyers led to all the usual attempts to tweak the crime around the edges: proportionality, careful targeting, etc. But "proportionality" is always in the eye of the killer. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed, along with various innocent people, when Stanley McChrystal declared it "proportionate" to blow up a whole house to murder one man. Was it? Was it not? There is no actual answer. Declaring murders "proportionate" is just rhetoric that lawyers have told politicians and generals to apply to human slaughter. In one drone strike in 2006, the CIA killed some 80 innocent people, most of them children. Ben Emmerson expressed mild displeasure. But the question of "proportionality" wasn't raised, because it wasn't helpful rhetoric in that case. During the occupation of Iraq, U.S. commanders could plan operations in which they expected to kill up to 30 innocent people, but if they expected 31 they needed to get Donald Rumsfeld to sign off on it. That's the sort of legal standard that drone murders fit into just fine, especially once any "military aged male" was redefined as an enemy. The CIA even counts innocent women and children as enemies, according to the New York Times.
As drone murders rapidly spread during the Bush-Cheney years (later to absolutely explode during the Obama years) the rank and file enjoyed sharing the videos around. Commanders tried to halt the practice. Then they began releasing select videos while keeping all the others strictly hidden.
As the practice of murdering people with drones in nations where mass-murder hadn't been somehow sanctioned by the banner of "war" became routine, human rights groups like Amnesty International began stating clearly that the United States was violating the law. But over the years, that clear language faded, replaced by doubt and uncertainty. Nowadays, human rights groups document numerous cases of drone murders of innocents and then declare them possibly illegal depending on whether or not they are part of a war, with the question of whether murders in a given country are part of a war having been opened up as a possibility, and with the answer resting at the discretion of the government launching the drones.
By the end of the Bush-Cheney years, the CIA's rules were supposedly changed from launching murderous drone strikes whenever they had a 90% chance of "success" to whenever they had a 50% chance. And how was this measured? It was in fact eliminated by the practice of "signature strikes" in which people are murdered without actually knowing who they are at all. Britain, for its part, cleared the way for murdering its citizens by stripping them of their citizenship as needed.
All of this went on in official secrecy, meaning it was known to anyone who cared to know, but it wasn't supposed to be talked about. The longest serving member of Germany's oversight committee admitted that Western governments were depending largely on the media to find out what their spies and militaries were doing.
The arrival of Captain Peace Prize in the White House took drone murders to a whole new level, destabilizing nations like Yemen, and targeting innocents in new ways, including by targeting the rescuers just arrived at the bloody scene of an earlier strike. Blow back against the U.S. picked up, as well as blow back against local populations by groups claiming to be acting in retaliation for U.S. drone murders. The damage drones did in places like Libya during the 2011 U.S.-NATO overthrow was not seen as a reason to step back, but as grounds for yet more drone killing. Growing chaos in Yemen, predicted by observers pointing to the counterproductive effects of the drones strikes, was claimed as a success by Obama. Drone pilots were now committing suicide and suffering moral stress in large numbers, but there was no turning back. A 90% majority in Yemen's National Dialogue wanted armed drones criminalized, but the U.S. State Department wanted the world's nations to buy drones too.
Rather than ending or scaling back the drone-murder program, the Obama White House began publicly defending it and advertising the President's role in authorizing the murders. Or at least that was the course after Harold Koh and gang figured out how exactly they wanted to pretend to "legalize" murder. Even Ben Emmerson says it took them so long because they hadn't yet figured out what excuses to use. Will the dozens of nations now acquiring armed drones need any excuse at all?
Remarks at Physicians for Social Responsibility annual event in Baltimore, Md., April 18, 2015.
It is an honor to be asked to speak to a group of people doing as much strategic and principled good as you, not to mention the good that those of you who are doctors do as doctors and health advocates in your day jobs. The closest I ever came to a respectable profession was when I studied architecture prior to dropping out. I later got a master's degree in philosophy which, combined with a couple of dollars, will get you a bus ride. Anyway, architecture students always read this novel by Ayn Rand called The Fountainhead because the protagonist is an architect. But architecture doesn't really come into it, as the book focuses more on the fact that the guy is also something of a sociopath. But around the time I read that book I also read The Plague by Albert Camus in which the protagonist dedicated himself to cheerfully making the world a better place against overwhelming odds, without any real concern for the likelihood of success, and without any particular mythologizing of the good supposedly accomplished by being a superior bastard. Camus' protagonist has stuck with me, though I haven't reread the book. He's always somewhere in the back of my head. And of course he was a doctor.
I've rather given up on every other profession in our society. NYU has hired Harold Koh, legal architect of the drone wars and legal defender of the 2011 war on Libya and of presidential war powers, to teach human rights law. After students circulated a petition protesting, liberal law professors this week created a counter petition defending Koh's record. Our hope right now does not seem to lie with lawyers. I know there are exceptions, thank goodness.
Teaching in U.S. academia now are John Yoo, David Petraeus, and all variety of killers and torturers. Erik Prince, the creator of the mercenary company Blackwater came on a book tour to the University of Virginia this week and was treated like any good academic. After all, the people his company kills aren't usually Americans or Christians or English speakers. A couple of years back professors at the University of Virginia organized a teach-in in favor of war on Syria. The students have not organized an event for, against, or indifferent to war. I don't turn to academia for inspiration at the moment. I know there are rare exceptions.
Do I even have to mention the shortcomings of the hacks we used to call statesmen and women? The Congressional Progressive Caucus produced its progressive budget this month. It stood no chance of passing. It was a rhetorical statement. Yet it made no mention of an item that takes up a majority of the budget, namely militarism. If you hunted through the numbers you could find that they were proposing to cut military spending, which has doubled during the so-called war on terror -- they were proposing to cut it by 1%. I don't look to politicians for salvation. I would say, in this case as well, that I know there are rare exceptions, except that there really aren't, not in the federal government. There are, at best, people who try to mitigate the damage a bit or who plagiarize that parental (or is it medical?) attitude of "This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you" as they sorrowfully destroy the planet.
So I don't really mean to put the weight of humanity on your shoulders, but maybe physicians, or at least some significant number of physicians are a group we can look to with respect and appreciation rather than contempt or sadness.
When I was in philosophy school at the University of Virginia near the home of the guy who wrote that we were endowed by a creator with certain inalienable rights, I came across the idea of how ludicrous that might sound to a doctor. You have to picture the scene of a doctor cutting open a human body and trying to locate the right to free speech, for example. Do people really believe political rights are somehow inherent in us anymore, as opposed to being things we create and struggle to defend? I don't know. But I'll tell you what a lot of people believe. They believe that war is inherent in the human body. Now I ask you, as doctors, have you ever looked into a human brain or any other organ and discovered there a massive cultural institution that requires huge organization, planning, preparations, and investment, and has been completely unknown to most humans who have ever lived? Of course you haven't. If there's anything meant by calling a behavior "natural," war is the furthest thing from it. Raise your hand if you've encountered any epidemics of post traumatic stress from war deprivation. The United States would have to cut its military spending by 95% to match the average of the other 95% of humanity, if the spending is taken per-capita, 99.5% if taken per nation. So if you could find war in a human body, would you find it prominent in U.S. bodies? And in U.S. infants? Of course not. That seems pretty easy to figure out even without medical school, but I'm not sure most Americans would go along with it. War, they believe, is built into us somehow.
OK. Here's an even easier question. War has been evolving technologically and in other ways. Who can tell me the number one way in which war kills people today? Just shout it out.
You know, war used to kill more people than it injured, and it used to kill them first and foremost by spreading deadly diseases. Deadly diseases remain the top cause of death in the poor countries of the earth, but the way war contributes to them is primarily through the diversion of resources into war. While tens of billions of dollars per year could provide the earth with clean drinking water and all sorts of hygienic and medical aid, not to mention ending starvation, two TRILLION dollars every year, half of it from the United States alone, is dumped into war. If military spending were redirected into a global marshall plan and a domestic marshall plan and a massive crash investment in green energy aimed at protecting the planet's climate, imagine the lives that could be saved. As already noted, this very idea is basically absent from discussions of the U.S. government's budget.
Of course, war advances disease and starvation through its active destruction, its generation of refugee crises, and the injuries and trauma it inflicts, so drawing a line between deaths caused by war and those caused by other sicknesses seems difficult. Wars have rendered large areas of the earth uninhabitable and generated tens of millions of refugees. War has slowed the eradication of polio, and may have spread HIV/AIDS. Land mines make farmland unusable. Et cetera. War "rivals infectious disease as a global cause of morbidity and mortality," according to Jennifer Leaning of Harvard Medical School. Leaning divides war's environmental impact into four areas: "production and testing of nuclear weapons, aerial and naval bombardment of terrain, dispersal and persistence of land mines and buried ordnance, and use or storage of military despoliants, toxins, and waste."
According to the World Health Organization, "between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress." Of course that prediction could be wildly off in either direction, possibly depending on what we do in the next 15 years. War is not only our top producer of superfund sites and destroyer of islands used as bombing ranges, but it's our top consumer of petroleum. The U.S. military burns more oil and gas than does each of the majority of nations on earth. The military obsession with oil began as a way to fuel the British Navy. The British Navy wasn't created to fight over the oil. The idea that keeping the wars far away, where they only kill people who don't look like us, the idea that that will keep us safe -- well that idea falls apart if you even glance at it from all different angles, but one story that might stick with people and make the point is the story of John Wayne's death. Raise your hand if you know how John Wayne died.
He died filming pro-war movies and avoiding war himself. He filmed a movie down-wind from a nuclear test site, and an unusually high percentage of the cast and crew died of cancer, including him. You can run but you cannot hide. The Koch brothers' beach houses will go underwater. There's only one little planet and no planet B.
Here's another question. Does the United States spend more money fighting wars or preparing to fight wars?
That's right. We hear loud lamentations over war spending. We read comparisons of war spending and what we could have purchased instead. But war preparations spending, normalized routine "base" military spending is ten times greater. It would stun President Eisenhower in its size, in its profitability, in its privatized nature, and in the degree to which chunks of it are recycled back into the system through bribes we call campaign contributions, just as the people involved spin through a revolving door between public and private sector employment. Opposing a war in order to save money and keep the military prepared for supposedly better wars is a self-defeating argument. It is the preparation for wars that spends most of the money, and that generates the wars.
So, militarism by the greatest purveyor of violence kills first by sucking up all the money, and most of it is for maintaining the military. Actually using the military becomes an excuse for extra funding. But there's another major problem with militarism before even arriving at actual U.S. wars, and that is weapons sales. The United States is far and away the leading seller and donor of military weaponry to the rest of the earth. A good patriotic weapons factory job is a job producing weapons for dictatorships and so-called democracies around the globe. We're trained to think of Western Asia, the Middle East, as inherently violent. But the vast majority of the weapons are from the United States. The U.S. backed dictatorship in Saudi Arabia uses U.S. weapons to support the U.S. backed dictatorships in Bahrain and Yemen, and is currently bombing U.S. weapons in Yemen using other U.S. weapons, which the U.S. is rushing to replenish.
Imagine a prison experiment like the famous one at Stanford where you give some students power over others and wait for cruelty to begin. Only imagine that whenever you use Muslim students you provide each guard and prisoner with tasers, grenades, and automatic assault rifles. A conclusion that Muslims are more violent would be ridiculous. But if you watch a political talk show tomorrow morning, that's what they'll tell you.
Coming finally to war itself, an article in the June 2014 issue of the American Journal of Public Health said, "Since the end of World War II, there have been 248 armed conflicts in 153 locations around the world. The United States launched 201 overseas military operations between the end of World War II and 2001, and since then, others, including Afghanistan and Iraq. During the 20th century, 190 million deaths could be directly and indirectly related to war -- more than in the previous 4 centuries."
Despite population growth, this sounds like it might be at odds with the Western academic pretense that war is going away. In fact, that pretense is based largely on the fact that some other forms of violence have declined, combined with a Western view of war that miscounts the dead, attributes many of the dead to other causes, and weighs the dead in places wars occur against the population of the globe or of the distant war power that attacked a poorer country.
The same article goes on to say that "civilian war deaths constitute 85% to 90% of casualties caused by war," including delayed casualties. For example, "seventy percent to 90% of the victims of the 110 million landmines planted since 1960 in 70 countries were civilians." Of course these numbers also indicate something else about war victims: most of them are on one side. When the U.S. attacks Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan and most of the deaths are civilian, those include very few if any U.S. civilians. The civilians killed are all in the place where the war is. And to them can be added most of the non-civilians, as also being residents of the country under attack. When we hear about U.S. war dead, and the suffering of U.S. military families, the suffering can be absolutely heartbreaking. But it is hardly a drop in the bucket of all the damage done. And when U.S. newspapers tell us that the deadliest U.S. war was . . . What? What do they say was the deadliest U.S. war?
Right, the U.S. Civil War, which killed perhaps 750,000 people, compared to a million and a half out of a population of 6 or 7 million in the Philippines, or perhaps 2 million in Korea, 4 million in Vietnam, or something over a million in Iraq. When the U.S. media says that the U.S. Civil War was the deadliest U.S. war without specifying that it is only considering U.S. lives, it keeps the U.S. public misinformed about its largest public investment.
Some of the worst wars in recent years have been in places like the Congo and Sudan that we hear less about, but that our government plays a part in. The United States backed an invasion of Rwanda on October 1, 1990, by a Ugandan army led by U.S.-trained killers, and supported their attack on Rwanda for three-and-a-half years. People fled the invaders, creating a huge refugee crisis, ruined agriculture, wrecked economy, and shattered society. The United States and the West armed the warmakers and applied additional pressure through the World Bank, IMF, and USAID. And among the results of the war was increased hostility between Hutus and Tutsis. Eventually the government would topple. First would come the mass slaughter known as the Rwandan Genocide. And before that would come the murder of two presidents. At that point, in April 1994, Rwanda was in chaos almost on the level of post-liberation Iraq or Libya. The assassination of the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was likely done by the U.S.-backed and U.S.-trained war-maker Paul Kagame, now president of Rwanda. The West did not send in peaceworkers or negotiators, but allowed the crisis to develop. The killing of civilians in Rwanda has continued ever since, although the killing has been much more heavy in neighboring Congo, where Kagame's government took the war -- with U.S. aid and weapons and troops -- and bombed refugee camps killing some million people. The excuse for going into the Congo has been the hunt for Rwandan war criminals. A real motivation has been Western control and profits from resources, including materials used in the NSA tracking devices we call smart phones. War in the Congo has continued to this day, leaving as many as 6 million dead.
But the worst major war led by U.S. troops in recent years has of course been Iraq, a true sociocide, the killing of a society. I've seen polling suggesting that Americans believe their nation suffered and Iraq benefitted from that war, with a plurality in the U.S. believing Iraqis are grateful. It is on these sorts of lies that arguments for future humanitarian wars rest. In March, Physicians for Social Responsibility co-authored a report called "Body Count" that looks at deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan over a 12-year period, finding 1.3 million people killed by U.S.-led warmaking, of whom 1 million were Iraqi. Some have placed the figures much higher, especially in the case of Afghanistan. Others have looked at Iraq from 1991 forward and found a total of 3 million Iraqis killed by U.S.-led wars and sanctions over that longer period. The deaths in recent U.S. wars in Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and elsewhere add to the total, as do the death and suffering of refugees abroad following wars of so-called liberation. One estimate finds 4 million people in Muslim countries killed by U.S.-led wars since 1990.
How does the war on Iraq compare to historical horrors? Well, let's see. The worst single, relatively short event in world history, the worst thing we've done to ourselves, was World War II. One can ignore the decades of decisions that led up to it, from the Treaty of Versailles to the Wall Street funding of Nazis to the rejection of Jewish refugees to the antagonization of Japan. One can ignore the vicious brutality of its conduct including the completely unjustifiable development and use of nuclear weapons. One can claim it was a good war, but one can hardly dispute the vast extent of the death and misery.
The impact of World War II on particular nations varied dramatically, ranging from 16% of the population of Poland killed, all the way down to 0.01% of the population of Iraq killed. That compares to 5% of Iraq's population killed by Operation Iraqi Liberation (the original name in 2003 with the acronym OIL). (That's 1.4 million killed out of 27 million.) Or 11% of the Iraqi population killed by U.S. militarism since 1991. (That's 3 million killed out of 27 million.) In World War II, Poland, Lithuania, and the Soviet Union suffered a higher percentage of deaths than Iraq has from its recent U.S.-led wars. Most nations did not. Japan lost 3% to 4%. France and Italy lost 1% each. The U.K. lost less than 1%. The United States lost 0.3%. Nine nations in World War II lost a million or more lives. Five or six lost over 3 million. Of course the Soviet Union and China lost a LOT more. But among those that did not lose a million were France, Italy, the U.K., and the United States.
So the United States imposed a level of killing on Iraq that it has not experienced, not even in the U.S. Civil War in which it may have lost 2% of its population. And the damage continues to spread. A group like ISIS has a long ways to go to reach total U.S. murders, or even total Saudi beheadings, but ISIS would not exist without the U.S. attack of 2003. A comprehensive calculation of U.S. killing in Iraq might include some share of ISIS's killings. Of course in saying that, I am aware of the necessity to add the obvious disclaimer that contrary to popular conception blame is not a finite quantity. When you blame someone for something you don't unblame anybody else. ISIS remains 100% guilty of its killings even though it would not have come into existence without the U.S. war machine that is now trying to fix the problem with yet more war.
The second-strangest thing about war is that, unlike other evils that hardly compare to it in evilness, we aren't by and large trying to get rid of it. Instead rules are constantly being devised to distinguish good wars from the bad small wars known as terrorism. The strangest thing about war is that the efforts to devise good wars are making it much easier to start more wars. Drones are still only killing half as many people as U.S. police officers kill, but they are serving to stir up much greater violence. A report by the United Nations special rapporteur, also known as Tony Blair's wife's law partner (remember what I said about lawyers, with apologies to the good ones), maintains that drones have now made war the norm. This is an institution, the U.N., supposedly established to abolish war, albeit by using war to abolish war, that is now declaring war the normal state of affairs. How is such a development, directly related to our biggest public program, not news? A law professor named Rosa Brooks, whose mother I consider something of a genius and a hero who speaks at War Resisters League and other peace events, has herself now advocated for legally establishing permanent war time, doing away with any distinction between peace and war, in order to apply the same laws everywhere all the time.
In her defense there was something unsustainable about the U.S. liberal lawyerly notion that murdering someone with a drone is either murder if not part of a war, or just fine if part of a war, with the determination as to whether or not its part of a war being left up to the people firing the missile, and the answer as to what makes the war legal being left unanswered. But the solution is not to throw in the towel on civilization and declare war eternal and limitless. The solution is to ban weaponized drones, which even by the standards of the civilizers of war, should be no more acceptable, because no more targeted and discriminate, than poison gas. Of the thousands of men, women, and children murdered by drones (and "murder" is the charge brought against the CIA station chief by courts in Pakistan, "murder" is in fact the term used by the U.S. government in its own memo justifying drone murders) -- of the thousands killed, most have been so-called collateral damage, and most of the rest have been profiled, with living-while-Muslim serving as the equivalent of driving-while-black. Many of those actually targeted could easily have been arrested if charged with any crime. And the vast majority of the drone victims are not the dead, and not the wounded, but the traumatized -- the children who dare not go out of doors and who spend days and weeks wondering at what moment everything will be pulverized. Banning fully automated drones but keeping other armed drones legal -- and selling them to dozens of nations -- grossly overestimates the distinction between a drone pilot and a machine. By the accounts of a former drone pilot, there is very little thought involved in the following of illegal orders that constitutes the job of piloting drones.
Unless we end drone wars, the next president will walk into the power to murder at whim, as well as greater war powers and secrecy powers and spying powers than ever before held by anyone on earth. The idea that it matters which individual walks into those powers, choosing between two war mongers, is ridiculous. But let me come back to that.
The damage of all types of war has to include the injuries and the trauma as well as the deaths. It also has to include war's status as top cause of homelessness. Forty-three million people have been driven out of their homes and remain in a precarious state as internally displaced persons (24 million), refugees (12 million), and those struggling to return to their homes. The U.N.'s figures for the end of 2013 list Syria as the origin of 9 million such exiles. Colombia comes in second place following years of war, Congo third, Afghanistan fourth. Also in the top of the list: Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, and Palestine. Humanitarian wars have a homelessness problem. Honduran children aren't bringing Ebola-infected Korans. They're fleeing a U.S.-backed coup and Fort Benning-trained torturers.
The case that we're trying to make at World Beyond War for the ending of all war is that war has no upside. It makes us less safe. It robs us of resources. It kills, injures, and harms like nothing else. It drains an economy. It erodes civil liberties. It perverts morality. It damages the natural environment. And it increasingly risks nuclear holocaust. Increasingly -- because of the proliferation of nuclear weaponry and nuclear energy, and because of the lack of interest in preventing disaster.
The Soviet and U.S. occupations of Afghanistan have destroyed or damaged thousands of villages and sources of water. The Taliban has illegally traded timber to Pakistan, resulting in significant deforestation. U.S. bombs and refugees in need of firewood have added to the damage. Afghanistan's forests are almost gone. Most of the migratory birds that used to pass through Afghanistan no longer do so. Its air and water have been poisoned with explosives and rocket propellants.
The movements resisting U.S. base construction and presence in South Korea, Okinawa, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Sicily, Sardinia, Italy, England, the Marianas, and even in the United States are focused on preventing environmental damage as well as on preventing war.
Despite the huge catalog of health impacts from war and militarism, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health provide zero grants for work on war prevention. And war prevention is not taught in most schools of public health. The NRA is trying to stop doctors from advising kids on the dangers of guns. What about the dangers of enlistment? I've never seen a good argument that we can survive continuing to make war like this, and yet there is just a universal assumption that we will continue it -- just as there was the assumption that plantation slavery would always continue up until just before it ended.
On fossil fuel consumption there is a growing assumption that we will end it, with most people assuming that we will end it at a pace that is probably too slow. And yet somehow this seems to cheer them up.
This week on TomDispatch.com, Michael Klare wrote that a shift to renewable energy is underway and that "perhaps the most impressive indication of this shift can be found in the carbon-reduction plans major nations are now submitting to U.N. authorities in preparation for a global climate summit to be held this December in Paris. . . . These plans, for the most part, have proven to be impressively tough and ambitious. More important yet, the numbers being offered when it comes to carbon reduction would have been inconceivable only a few years ago. The U.S. plan, for example, promises that national carbon emissions will drop 26%-28% below 2005 levels by 2025, which represents a substantial reduction. . . . No one can predict the outcome of the December climate summit, but few observers expect the measures it may endorse to be tough enough to keep future increases in global temperatures below two degrees Celsius, the maximum amount most scientists believe the planet can absorb without incurring climate disasters far beyond anything seen to date. Nevertheless, implementation of the [plans], or even a significant portion of them, would at least produce a significant reduction in fossil fuel consumption and point the way to a different future."
Think about that a minute. The author is predicting a future of disasters far beyond what we've known, and yet a somehow encouraging future because we will have slowed the pace at which we are worsening those disasters for the still more distant future -- even though the new low U.S. consumption in 2025 will still be much higher than current European (or anywhere else) consumption in 2015. This is something like how many Americans think of war. It's become the norm, it's become the main thing we do, we have an economy built around it, we've empowered the president and secret agencies to engage in it no questions asked, polls of the world find the United States overwhelmingly seen as the greatest threat to peace on earth, and yet Steven Pinker and some other imperialist professors say war is going away, so it must be. And that's nice, because we're all for peace, especially the Pentagon. Erik Prince said he was in favor of peace when he spoke at UVA this week.
Today is a day of action everywhere against the Terrible Plutocratic Plan, also known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership or the TPP, also known as NAFTA on steroids, and as the bestowing of nationhood on corporations. That they've packed everything bad on every issue into a single law and are trying to pass it in secret -- even though we know from leaks much of what's in it, ought to be taken as an opportunity to launch a massive popular movement for change, for shifting our priorities from war profiteers and other oligarchs to human needs. That the next presidential election, already underway, is going to put up one incredibly corrupt corporate warmonger against another, both of them possibly from presidential dynasties, ought to be taken as an opportunity. What if we were to withhold a bit of the resources, the money and time, that we usually invest in an election and invest it instead in policy-based activism for peace, the environment, and election reform that would allow us to elect and unelect who we want? The results could be dramatic.
I'm not against elections. I think we should start having elections. In 2016 we will not have a legitimate election with any chance of doing anyone any good in its choice of president. Here's what I think we need:
- No private election spending.
- Free media air time on our air waves for candidates qualified by signature gathering.
- Public financing, ballot access, and debate access for candidates qualified by signature gathering.
- No gerrymandering.
- Hand-counted paper ballots publicly counted in every polling place.
- Election day holiday.
- Limited campaign season.
- Automatic voter registration.
- Full representation for Washington, D.C., and all of the U.S. colonies in the Caribbean and Pacific.
- Voting rights regardless of criminal conviction.
- National popular vote with no electoral college.
- Mandatory voting with an option for "none of the above."
- Abolition of the Senate.
- A larger House of Representatives.
- Direct public vote on important matters (national initiative).
- Ban on war profiteering.
- Ban on secret budgets and agencies.
- Ban on executive power use by vice presidents.
Here's how we could get it: Declare the current system so broken that you will invest not a minute and not a dime in trying to elect anyone president of the United States. Instead, put all that effort and money into a policy-driven nonviolent activist campaign for these reforms and other urgent policy changes (peace, the environment, etc.) at the local, state, and federal levels.
It's a well kept secret that the primary propaganda goal of the government is not to sell us on wars or convince us they care but to persuade us that we are powerless. Why did the government invest such enormous resources in opposing Occupy? Why is the Pentagon working with Facebook to study how emotions can be manipulated and movements stifled? Not because we are powerless! In 2013 the war mongers wanted to bomb Syria. But you had members of Congress reportedly expressing concern that they not become seen as the guy who voted for "another Iraq." Why is Hillary Clinton not already president? Because unlike President Obama she was in the Senate in time to vote for and advocate for and propagandize for the 2003 Iraq invasion. Who made that a badge of shame rather than honor? In large part the peace movement (or I should say the anti-Republican-war movement, which is different from a peace movement).
There are some startling signs that people are ready for actions that require sacrifice. There's a great media outlet here in Baltimore called The Real News Dot Com, and one of their reporters pointed out to me that in the past week, a man has landed his little bicycle-helicopter on the U.S. Capitol Grounds in an attempt to deliver 535 demands to clean the money out of politics, and a man has apparently shot himself to death at the U.S. Capitol after holding up a sign that reportedly said "Tax the 1%." Does that sound like people not ready to organize for action?
We are held back primarily by our accepting and repeating of the propaganda that we have no power. And of course we have a moral duty to try even if there's only the slimmest chance that we have any power. And of course doing so is enjoyable and fulfilling. Read The Plague by Albert Camus. This comes at the end of it:
"It was in the midst of shouts rolling against the terrace wall in massive waves that waxed in volume and duration, while cataracts of fire fell thicker through the darkness, that Dr. Rieux resolved to compile this chronicle, so that he should not be one of those who hold their peace but should bear witness in favor of those plague-stricken people; so that some memorial of the injustice and outrage done them might endure; and to state quite simply what we learn in time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise."
"It's bad enough to be creating more profit incentive for war," I told former head of Blackwater Erik Prince, "but you recycle part of the profits as bribes for more war in the form of so-called campaign contributions. You yourself have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to political parties and candidates. The three of you," I said, referring to Prince, another guest, and the host of a television show that had just finished filming and was taking questions from the audience, "you seem to agree that we need either mercenaries or a draft, ignoring the option of not having these wars, which kill so many people, make us less safe, drain the economy, destroy the natural environment, and erode our civil liberties, with no upside. But this systemic pressure has been created for more war. Will you, Erik Prince, commit to not spending war profits on elections?"
Prince had hardly been asked a serious question during the past hour of filming, but that of course did not mean he would answer one. The point was to raise the topic and put it in the minds of the people sitting and applauding him. Prince tried to answer by talking about how much the F-35 fighter jet costs, continuing the hour-long pretense that if you oppose mercenaries you favor the rest of the military. I cut him off and told him to answer the question. So he said that he was no longer working with the U.S. government but with other governments around the world. Does that mean he'll stop bribing the U.S. government? Does that mean he doesn't bribe other governments? He didn't say.
The event was held at the University of Virginia's Miller Center, which has a long, long tradition of inviting war makers and war advocates, but has never that I know of asked an opponent of the institution of war to speak. The show, minus the question and answer portion, will air on television on May 3rd. The host, Doug Blackmon, asked challenging questions like, "Do you think contractors should receive medals like other soldiers?" The day before the event he'd emailed me this comment:
"We've featured a lot of people over the past two years, with a lot of objections to the war-making of the United States—as well as a lot of objections to mass incarceration, police violence, and other terrible manifestations of our society. We also have heard from people who would disagree with you—but had nothing to do with making war. In any case, this will be a vigorous dialogue tomorrow. It may not cover everything you would cover if you were organizing the same program, but it's a completely appropriate way for us to explore these hugely important and controversial issues, and to hear two sides in a meaningful way."
At the end of the event I asked him whether Prince would have been invited to speak had most of the people Blackwater killed been Americans. Blackmon refused to answer.
The other guest was Ann Hagedorn, author of The Invisible Soldiers: How America Outsourced Our Security. Her book is not bad, but from the first moments of the event it became crystal clear why Prince had agreed to take part. The subject of drones wasn't broached, but there was a lot of droning, and ummming, and slow and deliberate prefacing of . . . nothing. I could have clicked the audio on my little electronic device to have it read sections of Hagedorn's book and made a better debate than she made in person. This was frustrating, of course, because the well-spoken Erik Prince needed somebody to reply to the outrages he was uttering. In an attempt to figure out where, if anywhere, Hagedorn was coming from, or perhaps to expose her as a commie peacenik, a member of the audience asked after the show whether, if mercenaries were eliminated, Hagedorn would move on to opposing the standard military. This was actually a good question, because most of Hagedorn's critique of mercenaries, even more so at the event than in the book, was of their differences from other soldiers. But she didn't answer the question. She said that she was a reporter who had no opinions or positions. Inspiring!
Hagedorn's book is not a bad primer for people just discovering that the U.S. military hires mercenary companies. In Iraq and Afghanistan from 2009 to 2011, she writes, the use of mercenaries and other contractors climbed -- under Obama/Clinton direction -- to the point where there were 10 for every 1 troop, 18 for every 1 state department personnel, and 100 for every 1 USAID worker. She criticizes the lack of accountability for what this huge number of people do. She admits that the majority of deaths in these wars are civilians. I say "admits" because at the show taping she claimed that if Americans knew about the deaths of U.S. mercenaries they would then have a good sense of the deaths in the wars. She points out the fear mongering done by mercenary companies as well as governments to gin up business. She writes that of 195 Blackwater shootings between 2005 and 2007 in 84% Blackwater shot first and left the scene. She even quotes someone proposing we have fewer wars and cites the example of South Africa banning mercenaries.
Hagedorn notes Obama and Clinton's flip to support mercenaries beginning in 2009, and their use of them to extend the occupation of Iraq in 2011 while "ending" it. Hillary Clinton, she writes, also pushed shipping companies to hire mercenaries to fend off pirates. The United Nations, too, is using mercenaries. The U.S. border with Mexico is being armed with mercenaries. Immigrants are being handled by mercenaries. U.S. police are being trained by mercenaries (with horrible results).
But Hagedorn is big on patriotism and the supposed democratic public institution of war (which would never survive a Ludlow Amendment creating a public vote on wars). When she called war an inherently public operation on Wednesday, Prince ignored any hint that private war creates more wars and simply pointed to the long history of mercenaries and to examples of other operations that have been privatized.
Blackmon began Wednesday's show by asking Prince about the sentencing of four of his former employees to prison on Monday. Part of Prince's defense was that "We've asked for cameras. . . . The State Department denied them." This is bizarre because he never asserted that anything other than the intentional murder of civilians would have been filmed had there been cameras. He also claimed that his killers could not get a jury of their peers among civilians 7,000 miles away. So, does he want crimes committed in Iraq to be prosecuted in Iraq then?
Hagedorn explicitly refused to discuss the details of the Nissour Square Massacre but did point out that it was the sort of thing that boosted recruitment of forces against the U.S. military/mercenaries.
Blackmon asked if mercenaries had been scapegoated for an overall disaster, but Hagedorn said no, that that made no sense if you considered the scale of the mercenary involvement. Prince said that during the war on Vietnam peace activists went after troops and now they go after mercenaries. "Nature hates a vacuum," he argued, suggesting apparently that Congressional contracts are produced by "nature." Prince also pointed to the murder of Miriam Carey by the U.S. Capitol Police as if one inexcusable killing justifies others. "There was no hue and cry," over that killing he lied, but imagine the uproar if it had been poor little old mercenaries who had done it. Of course, most killings of civilians by mercenaries in distant U.S. wars produce in fact no hue or cry at all back home.
I should note that Prince claims his mercenaries are (were) not mercenaries because they were U.S. military veterans. What that changes he never explained. Instead he calls them "volunteers" despite paying them. Asked about financial interests in keeping wars going, he said what was needed was oversight, but not from Washington, from empowering the people at the front. Whatever that meant. Prince advocated a smaller military budget, and Hagedorn said that smaller overall budgets always mean more for mercenaries.
Repeatedly Prince claimed to be fighting evil people "who want to destroy the Western world, you know, our way of life." He claimed that mercenaries could be hired to destroy ISIS, no problem! He also claimed that what's going on in the Middle East is an age-old Sunni-Shia conflict that the United States can only tweak around the edges (through such steps, I suppose, as destroying ISIS). That each war creates more problems to be addressed with more wars, that ISIS would never have existed without the 2003 invasion, didn't come up (except through my comments during the Q&A).
One questioner suggested that "if war were the path to peace we'd sure have peace by now," and Prince claimed to be for peace. So Hagedorn asked him, a-t l-e-n-g-t-h, to fund the peace movement (even though she has no opinions as a Journalist), and he declined, suggesting that the mercenary industry association should do it. That's an association, by the way, that changed its name from the International Peace Operations Association to the International Stability Operations Association in response to criticism of being "too Orwellian" -- as if war brings stability any more than it brings peace.
Prince said that rather than funding peace he would focus on "protecting Christians who are being driven out of the Holy Land." He said this during the Q&A section with the filming of the show already stopped. Someone might have asked why people of a particular religion were of more value. But then we were at an event that never would have happened if the people whom Prince's company killed had belonged to that religion.
Sheila Carapico is a Professor of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Richmond in Richmond, Va. She discusses the state of affairs in Yemen.
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Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater, visited Charlottesville 8 years ago and explained some of what's wrong with private mercenaries.
He said that the Pentagon is useless to politicians because it doesn't make campaign "contributions". But when you take a big chunk of that enormous military budget and give it to private companies, you free it up to come back (some portion of it) to politicians every campaign season.
Thus you trade higher costs and less oversight for a built-in generator of systemic pressure for more wars. It's win-win-win.
Scahill described the then recent "Bloody Sunday" incident in Baghdad in which Blackwater mercenaries shot and killed approximately 28 Iraqi civilians, including women and children, in a square. The Iraqi government claims to have video proving the shooting was unprovoked. Witnesses corroborated that story.
Within hours of the incident, Condoleezza Rice phoned Iraqi President and Bush puppet Nouri al Maliki. Within 5 days Blackwater was back on the streets. Five days. Prison sentences took 8 years.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman asked Prince to testify before Congress, but Prince had previously chosen not to. The State Department told Waxman that any information it provided Congress on occupation contractors would be classified.
Scahill described the size of the problem. There were at the time 181 "security" companies in Iraq and 180,000 private contractors, tens of thousands of whom were mercenaries. And they were basically unaccountable. When a Blackwater mercenary shot and killed the Iraqi Vice President's body guard, Blackwater snuck the shooter out of the country. In February of 2007 year, Waxman held hearings and invited Prince to testify. Prince did not show up, but sent his lawyer instead. Rep. Dennis Kucinich noted at the hearing that Blackwater appeared to be complicit in the flight of a murder suspect.
Blackwater has frequently found itself in gun battles with Iraqis, as recounted by Scahill. The U.S. Embassy, Scahill said, lied when it said it had never had complaints about Blackwater. The Iraqis had complained frequently. But the U.S. wants shock troops, Scahill said. "They want Iraqis to have the fear of god in them if they try to approach Ryan Crocker or Condoleezza Rice."
A US soldier can be court martialed. There had by 2007 been 64 courts martial for murder charges in Iraq, which Scahill found stunningly low, given that in his estimate there had been 750,000 Iraqis killed. Mercenaries are generally not prosecuted under Iraqi or U.S. law or courts martial.
Scahill said that when he recently testified before Congress, the whole issue seemed to be brand new to Congress members. After four years of slaughter and wild west tactics in Iraq, Scahill said, two freshman senators had finally proposed establishing a system of justice for mercenaries.
Scahill seemed to be of two minds about this proposal. He recognized that mercenaries, aggressive wars, and foreign occupations were illegal to begin with, making their regulation a dubious endeavor. He recognized that the mercenary companies were themselves supporting the proposal, and that this was a good indication of how worthless it was. Yet, he found something encouraging about the fact that there was a proposal and a discussion underway.
Scahill had recently given a talk in Eric Prince's home town in Michigan (a town described well in Scahill's book). Prince published an op-ed in the local paper claiming that Blackwater was not a mercenary company. But, Scahill explains, Blackwater has hired soldiers from countries like Chile whose democratically elected governments opposed the occupation, and sent those soldiers to fight in Iraq. Employing soldiers to fight for a foreign power, such as Chileans for the United States, is the very definition of mercenary used by Prince himself.
The Democrats in Congress were asleep on this issue, said Scahill, and he blamed the financial "contributions" they received from the war industry.
Is anyone awake yet?
Prince is still very much active. Possibly due to concern over criminal investigations and civil suits, Prince has set up residents in the United Arab Emirates.
But from there he oversees the same corrupt murderous activities for the U.S. and other governments.
Why exactly does the University of Virginia see fit to invite him to speak?
Andreas Schüller is an attorney on the staff of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. He is the lead attorney on a suit being brought by ECCHR and Reprieve against the German government on behalf of three Yemeni survivors of a U.S. drone strike. The case will be heard May 27th in Cologne.
Their suit argues that it is illegal under German law for the German government to allow the U.S. air base at Ramstein to be used for drone murders abroad. The suit comes after the passage of a resolution in the European Parliament in February 2014 urging European nations to "oppose and ban the practice of extrajudicial targeted killings" and to "ensure that the Member States, in conformity with their legal obligations, do not perpetrate unlawful targeted killings or facilitate such killings by other states."
I've always thought of drone murders as illegal under the laws of the countries where the murders happen, as well as under the UN Charter and the Kellogg Briand Pact. I asked Schüller: Is your suit seeking prosecution for murder where (or in one of the places where) the act is committed from a distance?
"The suit," he replied, "is based on constitutional rights in Germany and thus not seeking prosecution, but measures by the German administration to stop the use of German territory for illegal actions by the U.S. in Yemen." The central claim, he said, is that the U.S. air base at Ramstein is involved in drone operations, by transmitting data from and to drones through a satellite relay station as well as transatlantic fiber cables. The suit seeks to stop use of the air base's air operations center for analysis of surveillance images sent by drones as part of combat drone missions.
How, I asked, does this differ from the recent indictment of a former CIA station chief in Pakistan?
"The Pakistani case," Schüller said, "deals with drone strikes in the country where they take place in massive numbers and with high numbers of killed civilians. It's about prosecuting individuals responsible for the strikes set up. Our suit concerns the preemptive protection of our clients that are living in an area with continuing drone operations as well as technical and targeting aspects in drone operations and state collaboration."
In the United States it's common for lawyers to claim that murder is legal if it's part of a war, and to defer to the warmakers to tell them if something is part of a war or not; does it matter in your case whether the act was part of a war?
"It is important to prove that the U.S. practice in conducting drone strikes is illegal in several aspects. On the one hand, strikes in Yemen are conducted outside an armed conflict and thus infringe the right to life without any justification. In line with a legal opinion by the German Federal Prosecutor's Office we don't consider the U.S. to be in a global armed conflict against Al-Qaida and associate forces. Even if there would be the case of an armed conflict, the targeting practice by the U.S. is too broad and includes a large number of targets that do not fall under the category of legitimate military targets in an armed conflict. Attacks against those targets are thus illegal, even in armed conflict."
Is Germany obliged by the European Parliament to end drone murders from its soil? (And does this apply to every EU member country?) And by the German Constitution?
"Politically, the European Parliament made a strong statement against the illegal and expanded use of drone strikes. All EU member states are also bound by laws, such as the European Convention of Human Rights, to respect and protect the right to life. A similar provision is part of the German constitution."
Briefly what is the story of the victims in your case?
"On August 29, 2012, five rockets fired by U.S. drones struck the village of Khashamir in eastern Yemen. The extended family of our clients had gathered in the village to celebrate a wedding. Two members of the family were killed in the strike. Other family members were left with ongoing trauma. The family members killed were outspoken critics of AQAP and active in countering their influence in the region through speeches and social activities."
What do you hope to prove?
"It's about the use of German territory for illegal drone operations and the need for European governments to take a stronger legal and political position against the continuing US practice."
What is the timing?
"The lawsuit has been filed in October 2014 with the administrative court in Cologne. In the end of May 2015 an oral hearing will take place. Further court session as well as rendering of a judgment are not foreseeable, as well as appeals procedures."
What could result if you succeed?
"The result could be that the German government must take a stronger position towards the U.S. government to stop the use of the U.S. airbase in Ramstein for drone operations, including activities to rebuild the relay station or the air operations center."
Any benefit for this movement that I just wrote about?
"In Europe, we need to form a transborder activists network addressing and opposing the use of European allies' soil for drone operations. So the German case will definitely be of interest for Italy and other countries in Europe."
What can people do to help?
"The ultimate political goal is to change the U.S. practice of drone strikes and to conduct them according to human rights standards. People must continue to put pressure on governments worldwide to take a clear position on the legal boundaries of drone strikes as well as the long-term consequences in international relations if such an illegal practice continues in many different places worldwide."
Well let's hope the ultimate goal is not murders by flying robots that meet "human rights standards" whatever in the world those might be! But let's help advance this effort to hold the German government to a higher standard than the abysmal one modeled by the United States.
A key witness in court will be former U.S. drone pilot Brandon Bryant. If you know of any other drone pilots willing to speak about what they've done, please let me know.
© ECCHR / Photo: Nihad Nino Pušija