Be a Patriot, Uphold the Constitution: Save Obama From His Tortured Justifications For Drone Strikes, Kill Lists and Targeted Assassinations

February 8, 2013
–Kevin Martin, Executive Director
My cousin David has a cool used record and bookstore in downtown Lancaster, PA (my hometown) called BohoZone, check it out if you visit Lancaster. Bought my son Max a paperback copy of Fahrenheit 451 for Xmas, which he of course forgot and left in the car. So I read it, for the first time since high school (and will now give it back to Max for him to read). Really dug it, forgot that Ray Bradbury knew how to write for popular audiences. Want to see the movie again too (directed by one of the all-time greats, Francois Truffaut, starring Oskar Werner and the inimitable Julie Christie). Gotta admit I dig the future dystopia genre, especially the ones where there is some hope or at least fightback by the people (I also like the “we’re screwed and destined to succumb to the fascist police state and there’s no hope” ones too as I hope they’ll serve as a cautionary tale and wake people up.)
I especially like the one where the supposedly liberal or even “socialist” president decides who he can kill with impunity, using robots to deliver bombs, even if he doesn’t even know the person’s name, in countries with whom we are not at war, with no congressional or judicial oversight, justified by lawyers accountable only to him, with hundreds (at least) of civilians being killed.
Oh wait that’s not some future dystopia, that’s called the Obama Administration.
While many peace activists and human rights researchers have been protesting and educating and agitating about drone strikes and the president’s “kill list” for quite some time, this week seems to have brought something of a breakthrough, at least in media coverage and perhaps in Congressional scrutiny of these morally and legally dubious (and that’s being kind, many folks would just say “illegal”) practices by our Nobel Peace Laureate president. CIA Director-designate John Brennan took much of the heat on this in the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Wednesday (with some justification, as he has been the president’s counterterrorism chief and was in the CIA under Bush/Cheney), but the president is the one accountable for these policies, and the one who could, and should, end them.
Brevity prevents a full listing of all the problematic aspects of drone strikes (our colleague and former Peace Action staffer and board member Duane Shank of Sojourners had a nice rundown on his Drone Watch blog post the other day, with links to many articles), but the civilian death toll and paper-thin legal “justification” for drone strikes being authorized by the Congressional resolution right after 9/11 are enough to call this whole shebang to a halt. (Certainly Constitutional Law Professor Barack Obama would have understood this.)
Those two concerns are the main reasons cited for the announcement late last month that the UN will open an investigation into drone strikes and targeted killings. Unites States’ UN Ambassador Susan Rice said the administration “has not ruled out full cooperation” with the investigation, as if we can pick and choose, as a UN member state. when to cooperate.
Momentum against drones (and I haven’t even gone into the frightening spectre of the proliferation of domestic surveillance drones just on the horizon that even Bradbury couldn’t have imagined) is building fast. Nationally coordinated grassroots actions on drones are planned for April. I had a suggestion the other day that we ought to start a call-in campaign to the White House every Tuesday. Why? That is supposedly the day the president looks at the kill list and approves targets for murder.
I know many liberals and progressives are loathe to criticize the president, and/or feel it’s their job to protect him from the right-wing. But it’s our Constitution that needs protecting, from this or any president who would declare himself judge, jury and executioner. Do him a favor and demand he end this madness.

It’s Not About Obama, It’s About Us!

November 26, 2012

–Kevin Martin

I was asked by our colleagues at the French Peace Movement (Mouvement de la Paix) to write an article a couple of weeks ago for their excellent magazine Planete Paix on the outcome of the presidential election and what it will mean for our work in the next few years. Here it is, and it may appear in longer form somewhere else soon. I’d be interested in your comments!

Relief, rather than elation, was the emotion most U.S. peace activists felt November 6 when President Obama won re-election. While President Obama has been very disappointing on most peace issues (and right now most peace activists are furious at him for drone strikes killing civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and maybe other countries), Mitt Romney would have been awful as president. So what now to expect from a second Obama term?

Most likely, more of the same policies of the first term. Anyone expecting Obama to be decidedly more pro-peace than in his first term is likely to be sorely dispirited. However, there is a diverse, growing peoples’ movement in the U.S. linking human and environmental needs with a demand to end our wars and liberate the vast resources they consume. This, combined with difficult budgetary pressures (which should dictate at least modest cuts in the gargantuan Pentagon budget) could lead to serious restraints on possible militaristic policies such as an attack on Iran, “modernization” of the entire U.S. nuclear weapons enterprise at a cost of over $200 billion, a permanent U.S. force of 25,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014 and an absurd military “pivot” toward the Asia-Pacific aimed at isolating Russia and especially China.

We in the peace movement need to be able to think, and act, with both a short- and long-term perspective. In the near term, swiftly ending the war in Afghanistan and ensuring no long-term U.S./NATO troop presence, ending drone strikes, preventing a war with Iran and building support for a WMD Free Zone in the Middle East, pushing for serious cuts to the Pentagon and advocating progress toward nuclear disarmament (including building new boycott/divestment campaigns utilizing the excellent International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons  “Don’t Bank on the Bomb” report) will consume most of our energies. Also, peace activists will build alliances with and lend solidarity to efforts to those working to save social programs and address climate chaos.

In the longer term (and looking through a broader lens), the U.S. is hopefully heading toward, in the analysis of Johann Galtung, “The Decline of the U.S. Empire and the Flowering of the U.S. Republic.” We need to understand and hasten that process as much as we can. We have an opportunity in opposing the outrageous “Asia-Pacific Pivot” (which the military-industrial complex has concocted, without asking the American people if we support or want to pay for it, as an obvious attempt the justify its continuing rasion d’etre), building solidarity with the peoples of Okinawa, Jeju Island, Guam, Hawaii and other nations in the region opposing the spread of U.S. militarism there and advocating peaceful relations with China and all in the region. Surely that is a better idea than trying to isolate China militarily, politically, economically and geo-strategically.

Contrary to the hopes many around the world invested in him (which he didn’t deserve and frankly he never asked for), it’s never been about Obama. It’s about the entrenched power of the U.S. war machine, and about how we the peoples of this country and around the world can work together to demand and create more peaceful and just policies.

 


Stop the Israel/Gaza Violence

November 20, 2012

Once again, our tax dollars are at work as Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza escalates, including a potential ground invasion. The violence on both sides must end, including the rocket launches from Gaza aimed at Israeli civilians. We mourn the dead on both sides (MSNBC reports this morning 95 dead in Gaza, including 24 children, with three Israelis also dead.)

As U.S. taxpayers, we must speak out against the asymmetrical attack by Israel enabled by the annual $4 billion in U.S. military aid. As is the norm in these situations, U.S. weaponry is almost surely being used illegally by Israel (in violation of the Arms Export Control Act as well as international humanitarian law) against civilians living under a de facto blockade in Gaza.

Please take action:

Call the White House at 202-456-1111 and the State Department at 202-647-6575.

·     Demand that the U.S. exert immediate pressure on Israel to end its violent aggression;

·     Demand that Israel immediately lift its illegal blockade and siege of Gaza

·     Demand the U.S. exert diplomatic pressure on Israel for an immediate cease-fire and initiate an investigation into Israel’s misuse of U.S. weapons to commit human rights abuses of Palestinians.

If you voted for President Obama, I don’t think it would hurt to note that in your call.

Sen. John McCain has called for former President Bill Clinton to be appointed as a peace envoy to help end this conflict, which is not a bad idea in terms of bringing someone with prestige into the picture (former President Jimmy Carter might even be better but we won’t quibble).

This is surely a terrible humanitarian crisis, but also perhaps an opportunity to seek not just a cease fire, but an end to the blockade of Gaza and a way forward toward a just and lasting peace for both the Palestinian and Israeli peoples.

Other resources from colleagues of Peace Action:

Statement by American Friends Service Committee (Quakers)http://afsc.org/story/afsc-calls-immediate-end-violence-gaza-and-israel

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Commiteehttp://www.adc.org/media/press-releases/2012/november-2012/take-action-help-gaza/

U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupationhttp://www.endtheoccupation.org/article.php?id=2948

Jewish Voice for Peacehttp://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/campaigns/take-action-for-gaza

Humbly for Peace,

Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action


More on Drones, Pakistan and Afghanistan

October 3, 2012

Last week, we shared (on the Peace Action FaceBook page, not here on the Peace Blog) the devastating Living Under Drones report on U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, written by researchers from Stanford and New York University. If you didn’t read it or watch the accompanying video by Brave New Foundation (available at the same link as above and also on our FB page), you ought to. It is a clear indictment of a policy that is earning our government (deserved, I believe) enmity in Pakistan and around the world for the wanton use of armed drones to kill from afar.

CIVIC and the Columbia Law School also have a report posing hard questions for Congress and the Obama Administration titled The Civilian Impact of Drones: Unexamined Costs, Unanswered Questions. The recommendations to policymakers are worth a read.

Colleagues from many U.S. peace groups are in Pakistan right now on a nonviolent solidarity mission to call attention to and demand an end to U.S. drone strikes, which are killing many civilians in the Waziristan region. Follow the delegation at http://droneswatch.org/

Bob Naiman of Just Foreign Policy is on the delegation, and he explains why, as well as analyzes U.S. drone policy, with an article on Huffington Post.

Last but far from least, our good friend Phyllis Bennis was on Democracy Now! yesterday talking about Afghanistan, our country’s longest war (October 7th will mark eleven years since the start of our war there).

I’m guessing this new aspect of U.S. war-making (drone strikes) will not come up in the Presidential debate tonight, especially as the focus will be on domestic issues, but we will need to raise our concerns about U.S. drone policy in every conceivable way going forward.

 


Kev’s Summer Reading List

July 9, 2012

Here are four books on Peace Action related issues I’ve read recently, all written by colleagues (okay maybe I need to balance these now with some non-political books!). What are you reading this summer? Please share your favorites, whether political or peace-related or not.

–Kevin Martin, Executive Director

Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control by Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink: Women for Peace and Global Exchange

Medea Benjamin, an indefatigable drum major for peace and justice, provides a real eye opener to how U.S. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) or “drones” are not only killing innocent civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and other countries (most of whom the U.S. is not at war against), but how drones are lowering the bar for warmaking and spying on Americans. Clear, concise, well-argued and passionate, featuring interviews with drone victims and activists working to limit the proliferation of drones and other robotic warfare technology, this book is a must-read for peace activists wanting to learn more about this pernicious threat to peace and our civil liberties and how to stop it.

Working for Peace and Justice: Memoirs of an Activist Intellectual by Lawrence Wittner, Professor Emeritus at the State University of New York at Albany and a member of the Peace Action national board of directors

Perhaps because I admire and like Larry Wittner so much,  I really enjoyed this coming of age story of a shy, intellectual boy from Brooklyn who went on to become a civil rights, labor and peace activist, and the authoritative scholar of the global nuclear disarmament movement. While I enjoyed that “political” part of the book, Larry’s personal journey is very compelling too, as he overcame numerous serious personal and professional obstacles to become a much-respected and well-liked stalwart in the fields of academia and activism.

Here is the blurb I wrote for the book:

Larry Wittner’s life and work are inspiring on their own, but he recounts them in such a frank, open manner that he has crafted a real page-turner. Working for Peace and Justice takes you along on a joyful ride of discovery through the life of a model citizen/scholar/activist.”

The Peacekeeping Economy:  Using Economic Relationships to Build a More Peaceful, Prosperous, and Secure World by Lloyd “Jeff” Dumas, Professor at the University of Texas at Dallas

If you are looking for a Marxist screed about war and capitalism, Jeff Dumas’s latest work is not the one for you. But if you like practical ideas on how a more just U.S. and global economy could work better for everyone, and how a more peaceful world is possible with more equitable economic policies, then you will dig into this book, part of “an unintended trilogy” by Dumas. For good measure, he throws in a fascinating chapter on nonviolence. It’s a bit of a serious, somewhat academic read, but very rewarding, even to someone who was not very strong on Economics in my academic career! Dumas’s aim is true, and he aims to make a difference, not wow you with economics wizardry.

 Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military Industrial Complex by William Hartung

Okay I only got to read part of this book, but it was great, as everything Bill Hartung writes always is. It’s a fascinating history of how Lockheed began as a small airplane company and then metastasized into the largest merchant of death on the planet. As anti-corporate organizing grows, we need to sharpen the focus on some of the worst corporations, those who profit from and lobby for endless wars, bottomless weapons contracts and gargantuan military budgets. This book is an invaluable resource for doing just that!


Scenes from an Empire in Decline, from Afghanistan, Yemen and the U.S.

June 1, 2012

–Kevin Martin, Executive Director

Norwegian philosopher and peace studies pioneer Johan Galtung has a very useful analytic framework for peace and justice activists in our current times, “the Decline of the U.S. Empire and the flowering of the U.S. Republic.” While Professor Galtung writes very convincingly about the nature of U.S. empire and how it can be transformed into a republic truly worthy of our national mythology and wonderful people, it’s a fairly self-explanatory concept, namely that as the U.S. Empire inexorably declines, as all empires have, there should be space and resources freed up to help the U.S. Republic really blossom. (And Peace Action’s “Move the Money” campaign to slash military spending in order to invest in human needs and environmental restoration embodies this concept in a concrete way.)

I’ll return to this theme often in the future, but for now I won’t attempt a comprehensive description of the U.S. Empire, nor the signs of its decline (which won’t necessarily be quick, or pretty). Instead, here are a few snapshots.

Reuters has an article today by Peter Apps that lays out the complexities of the political and military situation in Yemen, and what appears to be an inevitable slide into further entanglement by the U.S. and its allies, which raises serious war powers concerns. Peace movement veteran Tom Hayden’s article in The Nation puts the conflict in Yemen, including U.S. drone strikes, into the context of “The Long War” that many military analysts say could be measured in decades.

Turning to Afghanistan, the country in which the U.S. is waging its longest war (eleven years and counting, and President Obama’s agreement with President Hamid Karzai might keep U.S. troops there for another dozen years), Ian Pounds, a volunteer teacher of orphans in Afghanistan, has one of the most comprehensive, damning condemnations of the failure of U.S. policy in that country I have ever read, published by CounterPunch. It’s long-ish, but worth a read. Here’s an excerpt from near the end of the piece:

“The U.S. government pays no attention to law anymore. It murders American citizens without trial (yes, the President signed into his powers the ability to have an American citizen assassinated if he or any future president deems that person a threat to security). America tortures, still. It invades privacy without a warrant. It invades countries illegally and under false pretenses. And America doggedly refuses to take responsibility for any of its multiple failures in this war, or any war.”

So where is the “Flowering of the U.S. Republic” in this blog post, you may well ask?

People in this country and around the world working for peace and justice  are contributing to the turn from Empire to Republic, but many U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are doing more than their share in this regard. Read Iraq War vet Zach LaPorte’s moving account of returning his war medals at the terrific NATO protest in Chicago two weeks ago, published on Michael Moore’s website, and view the terrific slideshow and video of the protest on the Iraq Veterans Against the War website.

We all have a role to play in determining how the Empire ends and what comes after, and I hope we build a country worthy of the example of these vets who have sacrificed so much, and who now testify so eloquently that war is not the answer.


Stephen Colbert Skewers President Obama Over Drone Strikes and Kill List (and he richly deserves it); Do Not Kill List Urged on White House Website!

June 1, 2012

Whatever one thinks of President Obama, his foreign and military policy, and how much worse a Romney presidency might be, the president is in very bad territory with his actions regarding “signature” drone strikes and kill lists. If there aren’t laws against presidents being judge, jury and executioner, there ought to be (I’m no constitutional law professor, like, oh, the president, but I’m pretty sure there are such laws). Congress needs to step in here and do its job. Thanks to Erik Sperling for this.

The Colbert Report did two consecutive segments focusing on the Obama administration’s drone policy last night (a frequent topic for him).

They are definitely worth watching and sharing. The links are below, along with a few quotes. -Erik

Thursday May 31, 2012

Segment (2:02):

Barack Obama’s Righteous Drone Strikes

The government takes out Al Qaeda’s “number two,” and Barack Obama finds an alternative to shutting down Guantanamo Bay.

http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/414703/may-31-2012/barack-obama-s-righteous-drone-strikes

Segment (3:32):

The Word – Two Birds With One Drone

The Obama administration reasons that anyone in a strike zone is likely Al Qaeda, so no one has to feel guilty about civilian casualties. (03:32) http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/414704/may-31-2012/the-word—two-birds-with-one-drone

Quotes:

“Obama has carried out more than five times as many covert drone strike as George Bush. So what’s behind the president’s righteous kill spree? Could it be that he’s just gunning for another Nobel Peace Prize?”

“Rather than sending prisoners to Gitmo, he is taking the high road by sending them to their maker. As the New York Times put it, Mr. Obama has avoided the complications of detention by deciding to take no prisoners alive. It’s brilliant — he doesn’t have to worry about habeas corpus because after a drone strike, sometimes you can’t even find the corpus.”

“The administration has developed a brilliant system of ensuring that those building engulfing explosions don’t kill non-combatants: they just count all military age males in a strike zone as combatants.”

“This isn’t just the president executing innocent people around the world by fiat, there is an appeals process. The men are considered terrorists unless ‘there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent,’ in which case, I assume, there is a legal process that un-kills them.”

Meanwhile, progressive talk show host David Sirota has created a “Do Not Kill List” petition drive on the White House website! Also brilliant! Hopefully Colbert will help publicize it too!


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