Torture is wrong, illegal and ineffective – do we really need to debate this?

December 16, 2014

–Kevin Martin, Executive Director

Apparently we do. Last week’s release of the Senate report on CIA torture, er “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques,” provoked a quite a media storm, including Dick Cheney and other Bush-league torture apologists and enablers defending not just their actions in the past, but the possible use of torture in the future.

While more information will presumably be forthcoming (it was only the executive summary that was released), a key issue for the peace and human rights advocacy community, and presumably for our country, is what steps should be taken now.

There are two main approaches being floated, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on which Peace Action ought to emphasize, or tell us your own ideas using the comments section below this post.

-Legislative clarification/remedy – while torture is already illegal under U.S. and international law (and the U.S. is bound by the United Nations Convention Against Torture), some members of Congress think further clarification or specification on what constitutes torture and what is and isn’t allowable in “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” could be beneficial.

-Call for Accountability/Prosecution – the only official in jail as a consequence of the CIA torture program is whistleblower John Kiriakou. Briefly stated, they got the wrong guy. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, Rice, Brennan, Yoo and company are the ones who should have to face the music, or at least prosecution. While I didn’t agree with President Obama’s 2009 decision not to pursue prosecutions, I understood the political calculation he made at the time.

But he certainly could reverse that decision now. While it’s extremely unlikely he will, it would be a righteous act in the final two years of his presidency, and it’s really not optional, under the Convention Against Torture the U.S. has a duty to prosecute torturers, as several UN officials noted last week.

Personally, I favor the option of calling for accountability and prosecution over a legislative approach as I fear opening up the issue of torture to becoming even more of a political football, but I could support legislation if congressional leaders made a strong case for it, and if there is a likelihood it would pass in the new Congress, which is no sure thing. A bill that failed to pass might be worse than not trying at all. On a conference call last Friday of some key Peace Action affiliate and chapter leaders, there was a consensus on the demand for prosecution rather than legislative approach.

I’d love to hear what you think, so again feel free to use the comments box below.


The legacy of WMDs in Iraq – the real ones, courtesy of Uncle Sam

October 20, 2014

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Below is a letter to the editor sent to the New York Times (they didn’t publish it, happens to the best of us) prompted by an article last week on the actual weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq — no, not the nukes Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld lied to us about in order to invade Iraq, the chemical weapons supplied by the United States to Saddam Hussein and company in the late 70s and early 80s, sacrebleu! The article by C. J. Chivers is tough reading, but highly recommended.

Apart from the awful possibility that ISIS has gotten or could get its hands on these horrific weapons, this should be a lesson in how short-sighted our government’s weapons proliferating practices are and how they nearly always come back to hurt us — our troops, our allies and the security of the American people.

October 16, 2014

To the editor,

Revelations by the Times of the recent discovery of forgotten – or worse, covered up — chemical weapons stashes in Iraq and negligence in the treatment of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers and police exposed to sarin and mustard agents would be shocking, but they are unfortunately all too predictable. Similarly, if ISIS has gotten hold of and perhaps used some of these horrific weapons, no one should be surprised.

The effects of decades of the United State and other western powers pouring conventional and unconventional weapons into the Middle East are wide-ranging and unpredictable, except that they will likely prove disastrous, as they have time and again. From Gaza to Syria to Iraq to Egypt to Libya to Afghanistan, U.S. and western military intervention and/or an always open spigot of weaponry (with American taxpayers usually footing the bill) amount to attempting to put out the region’s near-constant fires with gasoline.

In the near term, working with the new Iraqi government and international agencies to secure and destroy the remaining chemical weapons, as is underway in Syria, and delivering fair and just treatment to those exposed to these weapons need to be urgent priorities.

More broadly, it’s time for a fundamental re-orientation of our policies away from failed militaristic, weapons-based stratagems that make the region and the United States less safe. Instead, we need a more sustainable commitment to diplomacy (such as restarting negotiations to end the Syrian civil war), strict arms control (beginning with establishing a Weapons of Mass Destruction-Free Zone in the Middle East and serious curbs on conventional weapons transfers) and international cooperation instead of bombing or invading as the way to address the threats of violent extremism.

Sincerely,

Kevin Martin, Executive Director

Peace Action


A Decade Ago, The World Said No to “Pre-emptive” War and Yes to Peace

February 15, 2013

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Ten years ago, in the largest demonstration in history, over 15 million people worldwide hit the streets to call for peace instead of George Bush’s “pre-emptive” war of aggression against Iraq. While we didn’t stop the war, that day remains an inspiration for many who marched. The New York Times called us “the other world superpower,” and veteran columnist Jimmy Breslin wrote a moving article calling the demonstrators the nicest people he’d ever met.

I was in New York City, freezing my tuchus off with our Japanese friends and colleagues from our sister peace group Gensuikin, who arranged to come all the way from Japan to stand in solidarity with the U.S. peace movement. The heavy handed, menacing (near snarling, to be truthful) police presence in Manhattan that day was overwhelmed by the power of hundreds of thousands of nonviolent peacemongers!

Were you there in New York, or in another city in the United States or another country? Have any stories, photos or videos to share?

Soon, a documentary film We Are Many about that beautiful day will be released (see the website and a teaser for the film). We’ll keep you posted as to the premiere and ways to promote and distribute the film as we get the details.


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.

Excellent Op-Ed on the Military and Climate Change by Tim Rinne of Nebraskans for Peace

January 23, 2012

Not only is the U.S. military the largest consumer of fossil fuels and the largest polluter in the world, it knows the climate crisis is real and can drive future military conflict. Tim Rinne, State Coordinator of Nebraskans for Peace (a Peace Action affiliate) nails the issue in his op-ed in Saturday’s Lincoln Journal Star. For a terrific resource on this issue, see the website for the film Scarred Lands and Wounded Lives: The Environmental Footprint of War, which Peace Action helps promote as an educational and organizing tool linking peace and environmental concerns. You can view the film online and order DVD’s for home or public viewing.

BY TIM RINNE | Posted: Saturday, January 21, 2012 11:57 pm | (5) Comments

Skeptics of human-caused climate change unremittingly contend that the science is inconclusive and the debate still is unsettled. The U.S. military, on the other hand, entertains no such doubts.

As far back as 2003, during the first term of the Bush/Cheney Administration, a specially commissioned Pentagon report titled “An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and the Implications for United States Security” warned that rapid climate change could “potentially de-stabilize the geo-political environment, leading to skirmishes, battles and even war” over scarce food, water and energy supplies. The threat of climate change, the report went on to state, needed to “be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a U.S. national security concern.”

By the time the Defense Department’s Center for Naval Analyses released its landmark 2007 report, “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change,” the Bush/Cheney Administration had officially acknowledged the reality of global warming — although it continued to question whether humans were the cause. The 11-member Military Advisory Board of retired three-star and four-star admirals and generals who headed up the Center’s study, however, unanimously accepted the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change, concluding that “the evidence is sufficiently compelling and the consequences sufficiently grave” to warrant the military’s urgent attention.

The MAB asserted that climate change acts as a “threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world.” In response, the MAB proposed a number of recommendations, including that

· The national security consequences of climate change should be fully integrated into national security and national defense strategies;

· The United States should commit to a stronger national and international role to help stabilize climate changes at levels that will avoid significant disruption to global security and stability;

· The United States should commit to global partnerships that help less-developed nations build the capacity and resiliency to better manage climate impacts.

The report also called upon the Pentagon to adopt its own energy efficiency measures.

Every four years, the Department of Defense issues a congressionally mandated “Quadrennial Defense Review” framing the Pentagon’s strategic choices and establishing priorities to determine appropriate resource investments. In February 2010, for the first time, climate change was formally designated in the QDR as a “National Security Threat.”

Climate-related changes, from increases in heavy downpours and rises in temperature and sea levels to rapidly retreating glaciers, thawing permafrost and earlier snowmelt “are already being observed in every region of the world, including the United States and its coastal waters,” the QDR notes. It warns that “climate change will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease, and may spur or exacerbate mass migration. While climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability and conflict …”

The 2010 QDR also addresses the fact the Defense Department is itself the world’s largest consumer of fossil fuels and, correspondingly, the greatest emitter of greenhouse gases. In the review, the Pentagon pledges to dramatically reduce its own carbon footprint through increased energy efficiency and major investments in renewable energy.

The Republican Party for decades has styled itself as the party of national defense and military strength. Yet debunking the international scientific consensus on climate change has become a veritable article of faith among Republican candidates and officeholders. That position puts the GOP squarely at odds with the military establishment, which has unequivocally accepted the scientific conclusions of the 97 percent of the world’s climatologists who actually conduct research on climate and publish in journals reviewed by their peers.

This past November, the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board released its own study, “Trends and Implications of Climate Change for National and International Security.” The study asserts that “climate impacts are observable, measurable, real, and having near and long-term consequences.” Failure to anticipate and mitigate these changes, the report argues, “increases the threat of more failed states with the instabilities and potential for conflict inherent in such failures.”

Climate change, the Defense Science Board warns bluntly, already is occurring and is destined only to grow as a security concern for the United States. And the longer we (and the GOP’s skeptics and deniers) delay acting, the worse it will be for all of us, everywhere.

Tim Rinne is the State Coordinator of Nebraskans for Peace and a member of 350.org — Nebraska.


From our archives – Peace Action statement from September 12, 2001

September 9, 2011
With Sunday’s 10th anniversary of the tragedy of 9/11, many colleagues have written trenchant essays about that awful day and its aftermath, and the era of endless war that has ensued. I had intended to compile some of them, until I read our statement from September 12, 2001. I must say I’m proud of what we said, and did, back then, and all that we’ve done since to try to bring about a more peaceful world.

Peace Action Statement on the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks

 

 

September 12, 2001

 

 

Peace Action, an organization that promotes peaceful, non-violent solutions to conflict, abhors the horrible attacks committed yesterday, and mourns the tragic loss of so many lives. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families.

 

President Bush has said that the United States “will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbored them.” However, such indiscriminate attacks by the U.S. military against ill-defined targets will make ordinary Americans less secure, rather than more, by spilling the innocent blood that feeds already existing fanaticism. Such violence will produce the fear and hate in the terrorists’ homelands that they need to prosper – it enables them to bring ever more violence against those they see as their enemies.

 

We must bring the perpetrators of this heinous act to justice, but we must do so through international and national legal systems. A great nation does not punish the innocent in order to assuage its anguish.

 

Further, as a nation, it is in our absolute interest to ensure that no terrorist ever gain a nuclear capability. We must take the lead in building international cooperation for the safeguarding of all nuclear materials, and then for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

 

Lastly, we must not allow these horrifying acts of violence to curtail the civil liberties which are at the heart of democracy. Of particular concern is the protection of all Americans who are Muslim or are of Arab or Middle Eastern descent from racist attacks.

 

Now, in the face of this lawless act, we must act to end the cycle of violence. We must use restraint, prudence and the rule of law, as we—as a nation—seek justice for the crimes committed on September 11th.

 


Peace Action on C-SPAN

August 17, 2011

Thanks to the hard work of national Peace Action board member (and University of Hawai’i Human Rights Law Center founder) Joshua Cooper, Peace Action got some serious airtime (an hour and a quarter) on C-SPAN. Joshua has organized Human Rights on the Hill conferences in DC for law students and the public for a decade now, and he and I were filmed at this year’s event at the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke Law School.


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