By David Swanson
United for Peace and Justice held a workshop at the US Social Forum in Atlanta on Thursday, at which several speakers made some pretty amazing statements.
Adrienne Kenney of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) described her work serving stateside with the NSA of listening in on foreigners. Prior to 9-11, she said, they never listened to Americans. Post 9-11 she says, they were given a waiver to listen to Americans, and not Americans with ties to terrorism, but American journalists. She said she listened to journalists whose locations then ended up on lists of targets and were attacked by the U.S. military. She now works for Veterans Administration hospitals. She has spoken with a man there who has seen the US military torture prisoners in Europe. At the VA Hospital in Richmond, Virginia, which is often the second stop after Walter Reed, workers are prioritizing veterans based on what war they have fought in, with priority going to Iraq and Afghanistan. So, other veterans go lower down the list. She said IVAW has a tour underway of 23 bases on the East Coast, and the bus will be here in Atlanta on Friday. She said that IVAW has opened a fast-growing chapter of active duty soldiers at Fort Drum in New York. The Appeal for Redress is gaining signatures, she said – now at over 2,200 active-duty members. Fort Meade NSA also has an IVAW chapter of active-duty soldiers. And, of course, a soldier in Iraq recently refused to serve any longer. And because his story was spread across the internet so quickly he felt much less likely to be disappeared.
Faleh Abood Umara, General Secretary, Iraq Federation of Oil Workers, described the history of US-Iraqi relations, the US creation of Saddam Hussein, the US betrayal of the rebellion after the first gulf war, etc. He spoke in opposition to the draft oil law in Iraq. Condoleezza Rice and James Baker and experts from the IMF, Chevron, Halliburton oversaw the drafting of the oil law. In 2003, he said, the workers were able to kick Halliburton out of southern Iraq. That was when we began to feel strong. We thank George Bush for ridding us of Saddam Hussein, and we ask him to get out of our country and let us run it ourselves. The Washington Post, when we kicked out Halliburton, wrote: “Iraqi Oil Workers Say to KBR: Get Out.” We felt a sense of power and opportunity. We strongly oppose the oil law. The first article of the law, the most dangerous, gives foreign companies the profits from Iraqi oil and also the right to use foreign labor, while we have 65% unemployment in Iraq. Foreign companies should work with Iraqi workers and scientists for a finite period of time, receive a financial reward, and get the hell out. The other important and dangerous article is one that grants licenses to foreign companies, which says that any foreign company contract is submitted to foreign experts. We refuse this. Contracts should be drafted in Iraq and submitted to Iraqi experts. There is no need for Dick Cheney or James Baker to approve contracts in our country. We met with Maliki and members of parliament and were able to postpone discussion of this law until October. This will give us time to negotiate and achieve better results. We are under extreme pressure from the US government. Another dangerous article is on how oil revenue will be distributed among Iraqis. Foreign companies take 50% and the United Nations 30% which they call the payment of debts. These monies were presented to the UN by Ronald Reagan as gifts to Iraq. When Saddam Hussein fell, the debt was imposed on the Iraqi people. The Iraqi people are good at construction. We are here to tell Mr. Bush that he needs to get his troops out of Iraq. The occupation creates the violence. Cities that have been turned over to Iraqi police are the most secure and safe. The most dangerous parts of Iraq are those controlled by the United States. Basra is secured by the Iraqi police. Fallujah, Armadi, and other cities are not safe – the US forces are fighting with al Qaeda.
Umara said he expects nothing from Democrats and that they are only posturing to win elections. Bill Clinton, he pointed out, was a Democrat who bombed Iraq with cluster bombs.
Raed Jarrar said the major conflict in Iraq is between the Iraqis and the occupiers. Three percent of the attacks in Iraq are the sectarian civil war – but it is not actually a sectarian civil war. It is a political conflict. The majority of Iraqis (from all sects and ethnicities) are nationalists. A minority are separatists who want to break Iraq into three states, with the help of the occupation. This minority also, according to Jarrar, favors privatizing the oil as a reward to the occupiers for dividing the nation. Kurdistan is the main base of separatists. Shia separatists want an independent state in the south as well. The Bush Administration uses the supposed sectarian civil war to justify the ongoing occupation. The roots of the Sunni-Shia conflict date back only to 2003 when Paul Bremer, and the current ambassador, set up the Governing Council. Some claim there are five sectarian conflicts: shia-sunni, sunni-sunni, shia-shia, kurdish, etc., but this clearly means it is NOT a sectarian conflict but another sort of conflict.
Medea Benjamin put the most positive possible spin on presidential candidates moving toward opposition to the occupation (or “the war”) and said that public pressure and bird-dogging was to thank for this, with Congress dragging further behind because most members are feeling less heat than the presidential candidates. Medea pointed out the Congress’s plummeting approval ratings since the last vote for $ for the occupation. She said that when they’re feeling vulnerable is the time for us to be louder and insist that they not vote yet another $145 billion in September. So, on the week of September 17th we should flood the halls of Congress – the week when Congress plans to vote for the money and General Petraeus plans to announce that the “surge” needs more time. A woman is now in her 15th day of fasting in protest of Lieberman’s Iranian warmongering. Medea encouraged everyone to phone Lieberman’s office and urge him to back off. And, she said, we should push the prez candidates to take nuking iran off the table.
Medea supports promoting primary challengers to Democrats, and she supports pushing the presidential candidates to stand for a COMPLETE end to the occupation. She said she thinks Kucinich has moved Edwards to a better position already, and Edwards has moved Obama, and Obama has moved Clinton. Medea was answering two questions I asked. A third was why we call it a war rather than an occupation. Medea said she was happy with either name. My concern is that a war is something that can be won or lost and is fought against a nation’s military.
Fernando Suarez Del Solar spoke of the death of his son in the immoral war in Iraq. He advocated working against military recruitment. Many courageous Iraq vets against the war are testifying in schools about what being in the military means. Some parents, like myself, who have lost children in the war are also going to schools. But it is not enough. We need the efforts of every organization, national and local. Suarez Del Solar said he could not understand organizations working for social justice and putting other priorities ahead of stopping the sending of young people to Iraq to die.
Army Col. (retired) Ann Wright called war state-sanctioned murder. She said most people join the military for other reasons. She joined it to escape the state of Arkansas. She advocated reminding members of the military of the obligations of international law. She praised the occasional speaking out by judge advocates. She said she could not trust Bush when he says the secret prisons have been closed. Lt. Commander Charles Swift, Wright said, has been key in defending a prisoner. Others have taken time to defend the defenseless. Wright praised efforts to close Guantanamo and School of the Americas. She urged caring for veterans and a campaign to eliminate sexual harassment and assault in the military, where it is much higher than elsewhere. One of three women who joins the military will be assaulted or raped.
Wright advocated moving the presidential candidates to support the impeachment of Bush and Cheney.
Geoff Millard of IVAW urged asking Congress to fund the VA instead of the occupation. He said $120 billion is needed to fully fund the VA and care for vets rather than killing them.