Stop Militarizing the Police

August 15, 2014

The tragic death of Michael Brown at the hands of the Ferguson police is a reminder that the upsurge in violence is not restricted to the Middle East or any one place.  It’s right here in our own communities.

Like the Trayvon Martin killing two years ago, the problems of racism, easy access to firearms, and the assault on our civil rights are all, once again, in the spotlight. I suspect I don’t have to explain why peace activists are taking action, mostly in support of activists of color who are leading the organized response to this latest perversion of justice.  Anti-violence is at the very heart of our struggle.

In this case however there is another element that directly connects to our ongoing work to build a more peaceful and just future – that is – militarism.  It’s time to demilitarize our police.

As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq ‘wind down’ (though clearly not all the way down) the Pentagon has been offering surplus weapons to local police forces for free.  Tens of thousands of M-16’s, as well as mine-resistant trucks and other battlefield hardware have already been transferred to jurisdictions around the country – but the Pentagon still has lots and lots of free stuff to give away.

A bipartisan chorus has already begun to speak out in Congress against this practice.  Even Tea Party and right wing extremist Ted Cruz is raising alarm.

Tell your Member of Congress where you stand.

How much military hardware has been transferred to local jurisdictions?  It’s not easy to know as the Pentagon makes the trail difficult to track.  Most of the data available comes from local and state officials – like the State of Missouri which CNN reports has received some $17 million worth in transfers from the Pentagon.

I find, and I’m confident you do as well, the images of police in full military gear aiming assault rifles at unarmed protesters upsetting.  We can expect to see more and more of this in the future too, if we don’t do something about the economic terrorism visited upon the poor in our society at the hands of the 1 percent.

We know, for example, the Pentagon has in place plans for dealing with civil disorder brought about by economic or environmental disaster threatening the stablity of the government.  Arming local jurisdictions is a step in the wrong direction.

Since the 1980’s the US government has enabled the militarization of the police force as part of its so-called War on Drugs.  Post 9/11 politics opened the flood gates with grants from the federal government to prepare for the imminent terrorist threat.  Now, as combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan have ended, the Pentagon is literally giving battlefield hardware away.

The militarism of policing – both in terms of weaponry and tactics – is a threat to our freedom as great as any coming from outside our borders.  It’s time to put it to a stop.

Write you Member of Congress today!

Please forward this message to your friends.


Sen. Tammy Baldwin on Syria (video of Senate floor speech)

September 11, 2013

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin’s Senate Floor Speech Opposing Military Involvement in Syria

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

 

M. President:

I have come to the floor today to stand up and speak to the important debate we are having about the most sobering issue I face, as a Senator, as a Wisconsinite, as an American- the issue of military action by the United States.

Let me start by saying the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people is morally reprehensible and a serious violation of long standing international law.

The various treaties and conventions addressing these issues have been ratified by most of the world’s nations. There is a reason why almost the entire world has gathered under the Chemical Weapons Convention to ban these weapons. It is because chemical weapons are truly barbaric in nature. They are a global threat, and they therefore require a global response.

The President made the right choice to seek Congressional authorization for any potential military action in Syria.

The gravity of the issues before us are significant, and they deserve a full debate. President Obama should be praised for understanding and appreciating that fact.

We must demand that all Presidents—not just this President—come to Congress to get approval before taking military action in another country in instances where we are not facing an imminent threat.  I have made that case with both Democratic and Republican Presidents.

But, I strongly believe that our response to this situation must not be a unilateral military action. This is not America’s responsibility alone. And it is not in our interest to set the precedent that is our responsibility alone. Syria violated international laws and should be held accountable by the international community.

America must not act alone.

The use of chemical weapons is a global atrocity and it demands a global response.  That is why I oppose going to war in Syria.

That is why I oppose authorizing military involvement in Syria’s civil war.

Not for one day, not for 60 days. Not for a decade.

I do not believe in engaging and involving ourselves militarily in the middle of a brutal, years-long civil war. That will not strengthen America’s national security.

But the answer is not to do nothing. The answer, rather, is to create a situation where these crimes against humanity can be dealt with effectively by the UN and other international institutions.

So we must continue to focus on building a global coalition to support the encouraging developments in the past few days to resolve this crisis without the use of unilateral military engagement in Syria.

By working through the United Nations and institutions, we strengthen international frameworks that can help resolve the conflict in Syria, and build a safer and stronger international community going forward.

I firmly believe that the recent potential for progress, in today’s UN discussions, is a testament to American democracy.  By President Obama fulfilling his Constitutional duties to come to Congress, and by our serious, deliberate debate here on Capitol Hill, I believe America has helped drive a more constructive international debate and engagement on the Assad regime’s atrocities.

We must now give the opportunity of a path forward without military involvement in Syria a chance to succeed.

###


Wouldn’t it just be easier to change our foreign policy? (We could leave our shoes on at the airport!)

July 18, 2013

Published on Thursday, July 18, 2013 by Common Dreams

Wouldn’t It Just Be Easier to Change Our Foreign Policy?

by Kevin Martin

A passenger removes their shoes before passing through the passenger security checkpoint at John F. Kennedy International Airport’s Terminal 8 on Oct. 22, 2010 in New York City. (Michael Nagle/Getty)

I hate having to take off my shoes to go through airport security, don’t you? It’s really annoying, time-consuming and embarrassing (if you are like me and have holes in a large percentage of your socks).

Then there’s the National Security Agency (NSA), doing its typical skullduggery, spying on everyone’s phone calls, emails, FaceBook posts and other online activity. Our tax dollars pay them to do this to us, supposedly to make us safer, but I don’t feel safer, I feel violated and disgusted, how about you? And the alleged trade-off between privacy and security was concocted by forces that want us to have less of both.

Wouldn’t it just be easier to change our foreign policy?

Think about it. We take off our shoes at the airport as part of the mostly palliative exercise in making our commercial aviation system safer from individuals and organizations that want to do us harm (you know, the “terrorists”). I mean no slight to the good folks at TSA, who are certainly sincere in trying to do their jobs to make flying safer.

Like you, I’m sure, I don’t think anything justifies trying to blow up an airplane, with a shoe bomb or any other device, nor do I in any way support violent political acts against civilians (“terrorism”).

However, recent U.S. wars and other controversial military and foreign policies have undoubtedly earned us enmity from people all over the world, especially in Middle Eastern and predominantly Muslim countries.

Blank check support for Israel’s illegal, endless occupation of Palestinian land and oppression of its people. Political, diplomatic, military and financial support for despotic governments when it’s perceived to be in U.S. “strategic interests.” Over 1,000 military bases around the globe. Our invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps these and other manifestations of our imperial foreign policy don’t endear us to the rest of the world?

Our tax dollars fund all of this, as well as our massive nuclear weapons arsenal, aircraft carrier battle groups, tank squadrons, countless exorbitant war planes, pilotless drone aircraft that rain death from the skies (often on innocent, unsuspecting civilians), spy and command and control satellites and other weapons systems and methods of unparalleled global power projection, to the tune of well over $1 trillion per year for the entire “national security” budget. (Last year, the Pentagon budget was equal to the total military spending of the next 11 countries combined, down from 15 countries in 2011, so I guess that’s progress!)

Adopting more modest, peaceful and just foreign and military policies, based on a real commitment (not the usual lip service) to widely held values — human rights, democracy, justice, international cooperation and sustainability — would serve the interests of the American people, and would make us safer. It would also save a lot of money, which could be invested in more life-affirming priorities like education, affordable housing and rebuilding the economy (as military spending creates fewer jobs and stimulates less economic activity than investments in any other sector of the economy). Also, we could help fund multi-lateral efforts to address global problems which cannot be addressed by one country alone…the climate crisis, access to clean water and nutritious, sustainably produced food, quality education and universal health care for all.

And it would lessen the supposed need to spy on Americans, which is unacceptable under any circumstances, but can only be sold with endless fear mongering about terrorism. So it’s a win-win-win, except for the corporations that profit from weapons, war and global violence.

Here’s an added benefit – people around the world would hate and fear us less, though it might take awhile for them to love us more.

And we could leave our shoes on at the airport, while making calls and sending texts not being monitored by the NSA. Doesn’t that sound good?

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
Kevin Martin

Kevin Martin is Executive Director of Peace Action, the country’s largest peace and disarmament organization with 100,000 members and over 70,000 on-line supporters.


Egyptian coup should trigger broad re-examination of U.S. militarization of the Middle East

July 17, 2013

Op-ed published today by The Hill, an influential, widely read Capitol Hill publication

by Kevin Martin and Josh Ruebner

The Obama administration has engaged in astounding linguistic jiu-jitsu to avoid calling the Egyptian military’s ouster of President Mohamed Morsi what it most obviously is: a coup. The president refuses to dub Morsi’s overthrow a coup because doing so would automatically trigger a suspension of all U.S. foreign aid to Egypt, according to the Foreign Assistance Act. Cutting off weapons transfers to Egypt, which, at $1.3 billion per year is the second largest recipient of U.S. military aid behind Israel, would, in turn, crimp U.S. efforts to further inundate the Middle East with weapons. To underscore the Obama’s administration’s contempt for this law, the Pentagon delivered four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt just days after its military placed Morsi under house arrest. After the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, President Lyndon Johnson wisely warned that “this last conflict has demonstrated the danger of the Middle Eastern arms race of the last 12 years. Here the responsibility must rest not only on those in the area – but upon the larger states outside the area…We have always opposed this arms race, and our own military shipments to the area have consequently been severely limited.” Yet, both he and his successors threw this caution to the wind, giving Israel and Egypt alone more than $100 billion in military grants and loans since then. While most of this money has been appropriated ostensibly to undergird the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, in fact it has directly impeded democracy in Egypt and especially freedom, justice and equality for the Palestinians.

Not only is the Obama administration clearly ignoring the law by keeping open the spigot of weapons to Egypt in the aftermath of the military’s coup; it also turns a blind eye to the law by providing Israel $3.1 billion in military aid per year, despite the fact that Israel clearly violates the Arms Export Control Act by using U.S. weapons not for “internal security” or “legitimate self-defense,” but to perpetuate its 46-year military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip and to commit gross and systematic human rights abuses against Palestinians, such as the injuring and killing of civilians, the demolition of Palestinian homes, and the illegal colonization of Palestinian land.

The problems, of course, go beyond U.S. military aid and weapons transfers to Israel and Egypt. The Middle East is one of the most heavily armed parts of the planet, which exacerbates the region’s conflicts. The United States is the top arms peddler to the world, and to the region, and thus is in the best position to exert leadership to reduce, or perhaps even establish a moratorium on, weapons transfers to the Middle East as did President Harry Truman in the 1950 Tripartite Declaration.

Instead, the Obama Administration, advancing what it perceives to be U.S. strategic interests (but in reality are the interests of the weapons corporations which pour tens of millions of dollars into lobbying and campaign contributions each year) has sharply increased U.S. weapons transfers the last two years. In 2011 the United States set a record with over $66 billion in arms deals (over three-quarters of the global total), according to the Congressional Research Service, with huge sales of sophisticated armaments to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman driving a tripling of U.S. weapons transfers from 2010 figures.

There are other urgent reasons and opportunities to work to de-militarize the region. Concerns over possible chemical weapons use in Syria, Israel’s nuclear arsenal estimated at between 75 and 400 warheads, and possible future Iranian development of nuclear weapons underscore the need to establish a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction-Free Zone (first proposed by Iran and Egypt in the late 1960s and reaffirmed by the UN resolution officially ending the first Iraq war in 1991, and by the 2005 and 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conferences).

Finland agreed to host a conference last year on such a zone, but the conference was postponed, hopefully to be convened this year. The United States has a key role to play in the success of such a conference, as one of the official conveners and as Israel’s benefactor, as surely it will have to lean on Israel to get it to participate in good faith. Ridding the region of unconventional weapons won’t be easy, but could hardly be more urgent, as the use of nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction could devastate not only the peoples of the region, but possibly the global economy and environment.

While the current situation in Egypt justifiably holds the world’s attention, we should not miss the opportunity to ease tensions and act in the broader interests of peace for all the peoples of the region. Stopping the torrential flood of weapons into the Middle East would be a great place to start.

 

Martin is executive director of Peace Action and Peace Action Education Fund. Ruebner is National Advocacy Director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and author of Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace.

Read more: http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/foreign-policy/311451-egyptian-coup-should-trigger-broad-re-examination-of-us-militarization-of-middle-east#ixzz2ZKmiwCYp
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Excellent letter to the editor on Syria by Peace Action Education Fund board president Mike Keller in 6/20 Washington Post

June 26, 2013

The Post argued that U.S. security interests require a “more robust . . . intervention” in the Syrian civil war [“No time

for half-measures,” editorial, June 15]. A better case can be made for avoiding the fray altogether.

 

Sending medium-size and heavy weapons into Syria, with or without the establishment of a no-fly zone, could prolong the violence

and destabilize the country for years even if the Assad regime collapses. There is no way to guarantee that sophisticated

armaments will not fall into the hands of the most radical elements in the rebel camp. The United States’ experience in Afghanistan

suggests caution: The CIA helped give birth to al-Qaeda by supplying weaponry to the mujahideen to fight the Soviet Union.

Plus, in order to control the airspace over Syria, the United States would have to become a belligerent by bombing anti-aircraft

batteries, radar sites and other installations. Employing such force in the absence of a U.N. Security Council resolution

would violate international law and further strain relations with Russia and China.

 

Iraq, Afghanistan and even Libya demonstrated that U.S. military engagement in the Middle East can produce unexpected and

undesirable outcomes. What confidence can Americans have that that entanglement in the sectarian fratricide in Syria would

be different?

 

Michael J. Keller, Silver Spring

The writer is president of the Peace Action Education Fund.


“On the Morning, April 4, Shots Ring Out in the Memphis Sky…” MLK Jr. on this date in 1967 and 1968

April 4, 2013

martinlutherkingpublicdomain1

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A sad anniversary for sure, but also an occasion to recall and be inspired anew by one of the most ardent champions of nonviolence, social justice and peace this profoundly violent, warmongering, unjust country has ever known.

Exactly one year before his death, at Riverside Church in New York City, King delivered one of his greatest speeches, “Beyond Vietnam: A time to Break the Silence,” which remains for me one of the strongest clarion calls against war I’ve ever encountered. You can read the speech or listen to the audio here.

There are so many highlights of the speech for me, but two always stick in my mind, King’s accurate depiction of the U.S. government as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” (still true) and his assertion that the Vietnamese must view Americans as “strange liberators.” Were he alive today he would surely say the same of the Iraqi and Afghan people, no?

And perhaps the most enduring message for me is King’s denunciation of the “giant triplets” – racism, extreme materialism and militarism – which continue, 46 years hence, to plague on our society.

King’s impact is immeasurable, and touches so many people in so many fields, including not just politics or organizing but culture and especially music, which has a unique ability to stir peoples’ emotions (as King himself knew as a preacher!) Here are some moving musical tributes to King:

Nina Simone’s “Why (The King of Love is Dead)” (from a King tribute concert)

Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Motel in Memphis”

Patty Griffin’s “Up to the Mountain”

U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love)”

If you want to stoke your anger or righteous indignation at King’s murder, here are two articles in the independent media today on the subject of the conspiracy to kill King:

How the Government Killed Martin Luther King, Jr. by Carl Gibson

The Conspiracy to Kill to Kill MLK: Not a Theory but a Fact by Ira Chernus


On the 10th Anniversary of the Disastrous War on Iraq, We Must Learn from and Not Repeat Our Mistakes

March 18, 2013

At a recent meeting in Washington to discuss overall peace movement strategy moving forward (more on that soon!), our colleague and friend Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies agreed to write a brief statement on the tenth anniversary of the U.S. war of aggression on Iraq. We signed on as did a number of esteemed colleagues, and The Nation published it a few hours ago. I urge you to read and circulate the whole piece, it’s not long. It begins thusly:

“It didn’t take long for the world to recognize that the US invasion and occupation of Iraq constituted a dumb war, as then Senator Barack Obama put it. But “dumb” wasn’t the half of it.

The US war against Iraq was illegal and illegitimate. It violated the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions and a whole host of international laws and treaties. It violated US laws and our Constitution with impunity. And it was all based on lies: about nonexistent links between Iraq and Al Qaeda, about never-were ties between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, about Iraq’s invisible weapons of mass destruction and about Baghdad’s supposed nuclear program, with derivative lies about uranium yellowcake from Niger and aluminum rods from China. There were lies about US troops being welcomed in the streets with sweets and flowers, and lies about thousands of jubilant Iraqis spontaneously tearing down the statue of a hated dictator.

And then there was the lie that the US could send hundreds of thousands of soldiers and billions of dollars worth of weapons across the world to wage war on the cheap. We didn’t have to raise taxes to pay the almost one trillion dollars the Iraq war has cost so far, we could go shopping instead.

But behind these myths the costs were huge—human, economic and more. More than a million US troops were deployed to Iraq; 4,483 were killed; 33,183 were wounded and more than 200,000 came home with PTSD. The number of Iraqi civilians killed is still unknown; at least 121,754 are known to have been killed directly during the US war, but hundreds of thousands more died from crippling sanctions, diseases caused by dirty water when the US destroyed the water treatment system and the inability to get medical help because of exploding violence.”

Also writing on this anniversary for Time magazine, former Sane/Freeze Executive Director and Peace Action Education Fund board member David Cortright, now with the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for Peace, warns against the possibility of another disastrous military attack, this time on Iran, as many misguided warmongers currently advocate. Unfortunately, 63 U.S. senators already are co-sponsors of a resolution pledging U.S. support for Israel should it attack Iran. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York has gone so far as to send letters to constituents with the erroneous information that Iran has a nuclear weapons capability. Apparently he thinks he knows something the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is carrying out ongoing inspections in Iran, and the U.S. intelligence community, which not only says Iran lacks such capacity but also has not made a decision to pursue nuclear weapons capability, don’t know.

The facts are this – Iran has no nuclear weapons, while Israel has at least a few hundred.

Negotiations with Iran are currently somewhat promising, so President Obama would do well to ignore this unsolicited “advice” from the Senate.

Lastly, David’s colleague at Notre Dame, Mary Ellen O’Connell, succinctly outlines the case that an Israeli attack on Iran over concerns about its nuclear program would be illegal, published on the Syracuse University Law School’s website. 

On this sad anniversary we must acknowledge the huge debt we owe the people of Iraq, while foreswearing making the same mistake again.


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