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


Two Local Events in the DC area featuring Jeremy Scahill and Bill Hartung

June 5, 2013

We hope you can attend both these upcoming events

“Dirty Wars” Opens in D.C. Weekend of June 7-9

“Dirty Wars”, the new film featuring Jeremy Scahill, is playing every day at 12 noon, 2:30pm, 5:00pm, 7:30pm, and 9:55pm at Landmark’s E Street Cinema, 555 11th St NW, Washington, DC

You can buy tickets now at E St Cinema

Following the 12:00, 2:30, and 5:00 showings on June 7th, Amnesty International’s Jiva Manske will lead a discussion of the film and of activism that can address some of what the film covers.
Following the 7:30 showing on June 7th, *Code Pink* will lead a discussion of issues surrounding the film.
Following the 2:30 screening on June 8th, RootsAction’s David Swanson and Yemeni-American activist Rooj Alwazir will lead a discussion of the film and, in particular, of an imprisoned journalist whose story is told.
Following the 5:00 and 7:30 screenings on June 8th, Jeremy Scahill will take questions.
Following the 2:30 and 5:00 showings on June 9th, Afghan War whistleblower Matthew Hoh will lead a discussion of the film and whistleblowing.

For a more in-depth discussion, the following free and public event has been planned:
WHAT: Discussion of Jeremy Scahill’s new film and book Dirty Wars
WHO:
– Jeremy Scahill, author of *Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield* and
star of the film by the same name.
– Rooj Alwazir, Yemeni-American activist and co-founder of SupportYemen media collective.
– A former operative with the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command
(name to be revealed at the event).
WHEN: 5-7 p.m., Saturday, June 8, 2013
WHERE: Busboys and Poets restaurant at 5th and K Streets NW, Washington, DC
SPONSORS: Amnesty International, Code Pink, Peace Action, Iraq Veterans Against the War, RootsAction, Veterans for Peace.
Busboys is a restaurant, and you can order dinner during the event.
Books will be sold and signed.
Sign up on Facebook for Busboys event
and for opening weekend in general
To learn more about the film

Please join us in Silver Spring on June 11 to hear a terrific speaker and engage in a dialogue.
William Hartung, noted journalist and military analyst, will discuss his powerful book Prophets of War, a trenchant historical expose of
the world’s largest military contractor, Lockheed Martin, whose world headquarters is located in Bethesda.
We won’t just listen (to a fabulous speaker)–we’ll also talk about how we can move the money, to invest in institutions for social justice in the U.S. and around the world, instead of in new weapons systems.

Bring your family and friends:
Prophets of War
William Hartung
Tues., June 11th, 7 p.m.
Silver Spring Civic Building
One Veterans Plaza


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.

Defense Budget Not ‘Sacrosanct’ – Superb op-ed by NJ Peace Action’s Madelyn Hoffman in the Bloomfield Life

November 29, 2012

Thursday, November 29, 2012

BY MADELYN HOFFMAN
GUEST COLUMNIST
Bloomfield Life

As the calendar propels us toward the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013, there is no issue the U.S. Congress and President Obama will address more important for our states and our communities than the federal budget. If our elected officials can’t agree on a restructured budget before the end of 2012, an agreement reached under the Budget Control Act of 2011 will kick in:

* tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans initiated under George W. Bush will expire,

* tax rates on virtually everyone will increase, and

* automatic budget cuts will occur to hundreds of programs, including the military and Medicare

While some Congressional leaders fear this “fiscal cliff,” New Jersey Peace Action and our allies in Congress demand a fiscal showdown. We agree with retired Gen. Colin Powell. There is no rational reason why we can’t deal with the deficit if we cut the Pentagon budget saying “I don’t think the defense budget should be made sacrosanct.”

On a recent CNN State of the Union, Powell noted that when he was the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Dick Cheney was the Secretary of Defense, they presided over a 25 percent cut in the Pentagon budget. And still, today, the United States spends as much on war and weapons as the rest of the world combined.

We call on our elected officials to reject the agenda of “austerity” whose proponents consider the Pentagon budget and the taxes of the top 1 percent untouchable. Implementing this agenda will force most of us to pay the cost for an economic meltdown caused by Wall Street and the banks and by nearly $1.4 trillion in runaway military spending, including the expense of two lengthy wars. More jobs are created per dollar spent in almost any other sector except the military, so redirecting our spending from the military will put the country on a road to creating jobs while protecting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. None of these programs contributed a dime toward the deficit. Many low-to-moderate Americans paid into these programs and depend upon them for survival.

In addition, at a time when our need for fiscal responsibility has never been greater, we can also cut our nuclear weapons budget.

In mid-November, U.S. Rep. Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter to Congressional leadership on the issue of nuclear weapons and the fiscal cliff. He writes:

…Unchecked spending on nuclear weapons threatens to push us over the fiscal cliff.  It imperils both our national and economic security. It makes us less safe by preventing investment in the systems that our soldiers need most. It jeopardizes our future by forcing cuts to programs that fund life-saving medical research, train teachers, and ensure seniors and the most vulnerable receive essential healthcare.

The Ploughshares Fund estimates that the U.S. is projected to spend more than $640 billion on nuclear weapons and related programs over the next 10 years…

Cuts to nuclear weapons programs upwards of $100 billion over the next ten years are possible…Cut Minuteman missiles. Do not cut Medicare and Medicaid. Cut nuclear-armed B-52 and B-2 bombers. Do not cut Social Security. Invest in the research and education that will drive our future prosperity, not in weapons for a war [Cold War] we already won.

Congress must ensure that corporations and the super-rich pay their fair share of taxes. Congress can and must end the war and occupation of Afghanistan. Ending the war in Afghanistan and cutting funding for weapons even the military says it no longer needs would release enough money to eliminate all the states’ budget deficits, thus protecting the jobs of teachers, firefighters, police and other public employees.

Our elected officials need to restructure our economy so it is no longer dependent on wars and weapons and, instead, supports prosperous communities. Why not invest in renewable energy programs that both conserve resources and help slow down global warming? If we divert at least 25 percent of the military budget to community programs we can meet the growing demand for quality health care, housing and transportation as well as address the need for adequate supplies of food and clean water.

Join New Jersey Peace Action in contacting our U.S. senators and U.S. representatives about our priorities. It is important to raise our voices now as budget negotiations during this lame duck session continue. Congress last approved a budget in 1997. Every year since, our elected representatives have avoided confrontation around differing budget priorities by passing continuing resolutions and approving debt ceiling increases.

This year, let’s tell Congress to negotiate a fair deal that truly protects our communities without sending us over the fiscal cliff. The re-election of President Obama indicates that many Americans would support our approach and priorities.

Call U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg at 973-639-8700, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez at 973-645-3030, U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell at 973-523-5152 and incoming U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr. at 973-645-3213.

The writer is executive director of New Jersey Peace Action, based in Bloomfield.


Mitt Romney sounded like Gandhi last night, and Au Revoir to a true man of peace

October 23, 2012

Mitt Romney sure mentioned the word “peace” an awful lot in the last presidential debate Monday night. While my take is that he did so in a pretty cynical way, trying to make folks think he is less of a dangerous guy than he really is, it was interesting, and I think good sign, perhaps counterintutively.

Now I don’t for a moment want Mitt Romney to be president. His proposals to amp up Pentagon spending, his hawkish views regarding Iran, his desire to build up U.S. nuclear forces instead of reducing them, his kowtowing to Bibi Netanyahu and conservative Jews in the U.S., to name just a few policies that are out of whack with the interests of the American people, speak much more loudly than his kumbaya-ing last night.

However, it’s clear that Romney and his campaign handlers want to at least appear to be breaking with some of the policies of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney (and with some of his own previous bellicose positions), to appear kinder and gentler, more acceptable as a possible commander in chief. And even if it was cynical, the fact that he thought he had to appear to be more of a peacenik is a good sign. “Peace” shouldn’t be a dirty word in presidential campaigns, especially in a country nearly always at war (and where the current Nobel Peace Prize-winning president presides over drone strikes to get folks on a “kill list,” yet who is also talking like he wants his second term to be more peaceful, many contradictions with his current policies notwithstanding).

I guess for me it comes down to being somewhat surprised, but glad, that the two main presidential candidates are talking about peace, even when we know their policies don’t live up to their words. Peace is one of the values that human beings hold dearest, but it shouldn’t be used cynically. And of course our job is to hold them accountable to actually carrying out more peaceful policies after the election.

How did you react to Romney’s peace prose last night? Please share your thoughts and feelings.

Remember the last true peace candidate for president (of the “major” parties that is)? Senator George McGovern passed away at the age of 90 over the weekend. I couldn’t add anything to this moving tribute by William Greider at The Nation, so I won’t try, except to say he was the first candidate I can remember. My mom volunteered for him, and in the straw poll in my 5th grade class (I think it was 5th grade), I may have been the only McGovern “supporter.” Rest in peace, good man, and thanks for all your peace-and-justice-mongering and truth-telling. Would that we had some leaders like you today.


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