Tuesday, April 28, 2009
One of Band-e-Amir's pristine lakes.
Credit: Alex Dehgan/WCS
- Advertisement -
Afghanistan has established its first national park, Band-e-Amir, in celebration of last week's International Earth Day.
The official designation affords legal protection to the lakes and surrounding landscape of Band-e-Amir, a series of six lakes in the central Bamyan Province, and will ensure continued, sustainable environmental management for the area.
Since 2006, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has been working with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and local communities surrounding Band-e-Amir to establish the national park, which covers 56,000 hectares of land.
The lakes of the park - clear, azure-blue in colour - are set against red-rock cliffs and dry grasslands. They are held back by natural travertine dams, created by calcium deposits. The combination of desert, water, and rock make for landscapes that rival those of national parks anywhere in the world, USAID said.
To ensure the park's long-term sustainability, USAID, through its implementing partner the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), founded a local institution to manage the proposed park and helped to prepare a park management plan.It also advised the government on the development of the legal framework for establishing protected areas.
The official declaration enhances Afghanistan's ability to manage its natural resources, and will help bring international recognition to the area, USAID said. It will also encourage economic development in the fifteen villages surrounding Band-e-Amir.
Before the years of war and Taliban rule, Band-e-Amir was a popular tourist destination. It is hoped the national park declaration will see tourist numbers increase; already local entrepreneurs are building small shops, restaurants, and hotels, in accordance with the park's environmental management plan, to serve the growing number of visitors, and a campground is also planned.
It is also envisaged that the initiative will be the start of further sustainable development in the country.
“At its core, Band-e-Amir is an Afghan initiative supported by the international community. It is a park created for Afghans, by Afghans, for the new Afghanistan. Band-e-Amir... sets the precedent for a future national park system,” said Steven Sanderson, President and CEO of the WCS.
Two kids were died instantly after eating the mushrooms, a doctor said, adding other five passed away after receiving first aid in the hospital and traveling to Pakistan seeking better health service.
“Four women, two kids and a man, all from one family who had eaten mushrooms due to poverty, passed away,” Sayed Naeem Alimi, head of Herat Hospital said.
Herat governor, Mohammad Yousuf Nuristani, expressing his grief said ‘extreme poverty’ has even drawn people to eating poisonous foods.
Governor Nooristani said the survivors of the family will receive support.
Some residents of Herat province have turned to digest self-grown shrubs found in the mountains due to the increasing poverty provoked by unemployment.
And Jeff Corbett had this to say in the Herald Sun: http://www.theherald.com.au/blogs/jeff-corbett/questions-of-asylum/1498489.aspx?page=1
Another story, in the Australian, shows that the Aussie left has lots to say on the issue as well:
What can I say? Oz is a special place.
“Opium War” Kicks Off Afghanistan Film Festival
By Gary Moskowitz
The Great Game: Afghanistan Film Festival A scene from “The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan.”
LONDON The rationale behind an upcoming Afghanistan film festival in London came about during a trip to Afghanistan in November of 2006. Zahra Qadir and her friend Dan Gorman were there working on a short film called “Circus for Life,” about a therapeutic circus for children in Kabul.
While making their documentary, the two filmmakers noticed that Afghans liked talking with them about movies. Images of the outside world – of other people’s ideas and ways of life – were exciting.
Ms. Qadir and Mr. Gorman’s experiences laid the groundwork for “The Great Game: Afghanistan Film Festival,” which runs from May 1-10 at London’s Tricycle Theatre (269 Kilburn High Road; 011-44-20-7328-1000, nearest tube: Kilburn, on the Jubilee line). The film screenings are part of a larger festival of plays, exhibitions and discussions about Afghanistan that began April 17 and run through June 14. The first incarnation of festival, called Reel Afghanistan, screened in Edinburgh in February and March of 2008.
The festival opens on May 1 with “Opium War,” directed by Siddiq Barmak, a dark comedy about two American soldiers who wind up stranded in an Afghan opium field after a helicopter crash. The British director Lucy Gordon’s documentary, “This is My Destiny,” reports on opium from the perspective of mothers using the drug to calm their crying babies, as well as long-term addicts in Kabul.
The festival continues with screenings of such films as “Rabia Balkhi,” Afghanistan’s first feature film made in 1965, about the first and only queen of Afghanistan; “Voice of the Moon” (opens May 3, with a Q. & A. with the filmmakers), made by two filmmakers who were embedded with the Mujahedin for two months; “The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan” (opens May 6), about the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan; “Beauty Academy of Kabul” (opens May 5), about a group of American hairdressers who travel to Kabul; and “Afghan Star” (May 2, with a Q&A with the filmmaker), a documentary on Afghanistan’s version of American Idol.
The complete film festival schedule is here, the complete low-down on the entire festival is here, and more information on the Tricycle Theatre is here
Stakes high as Obama shifts from Iraq to Afghan war
WASHINGTON (AFP) — President Barack Obama has moved quickly to shift the US military's focus to the Afghan war instead of Iraq, but the success of his new strategy could hinge on events beyond his control in volatile Pakistan.
In his first 100 days in office, Obama has announced plans to withdraw most US combat troops from Iraq before 2011 while ordering an escalation of the US commitment in Afghanistan, approving the deployment of 21,000 reinforcements.
His new strategy for the Afghan war places Pakistan at the center of efforts to turn the tide against emboldened Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants, whose advances on both sides of the Afghan border have raised global alarm.
Citing the spreading threat of Taliban militancy, Obama has called the region "the most dangerous place in the world."
Pakistan already looked fragile before Obama took office but a ceasefire deal with the Taliban in the Swat Valley took Washington by surprise and raised grave questions about the strength of Islamic militancy in the nuclear-armed state.
Through diplomacy and offers of generous military and economic aid, Obama hopes to push Pakistan to confront Taliban hardliners who are challenging both the Kabul government and Islamabad's authority.
But Obama's top advisers acknowledge Washington holds only limited leverage over Pakistan, which has yet to carry out a decisive crackdown on the militants despite repeated pleas from US officials.
"Even if we get everything right in Afghanistan -- if we have a corruption-free government, if we get counter-insurgency just right -- we will not succeed if we do not fix Pakistan," Obama's special envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke, said earlier this month.
Pakistan's military and political leaders have proved reluctant to shift their focus away from the country's arch-foe, India, while the powerful intelligence service has been widely accused of collaborating with the Taliban.
Although sending US ground forces over the Afghan border has been ruled out, Obama has kept up air strikes against Al-Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistan using unmanned Predator drones.
Intelligence officials say the bombing campaign has damaged Al-Qaeda, but it has sparked public outrage in Pakistan and become a source of tension between the two countries.
In justifying his "Af-Pak" strategy, Obama made no mention of forging democracy and said he was targeting the threat posed by Al-Qaeda.
But the blueprint requires costly nation-building efforts in Afghanistan and counter-insurgency warfare on a large scale, over an indefinite time period.
The gap between how the strategy has been sold to the public and what it will entail could cause Obama problems later on among American voters as well as US allies, said Daniel Markey, a senior fellow at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations.
"That confusion is likely to make a costly commitment to the region harder to justify and sustain over the long run," Markey recently wrote.
A vocal opponent of the war in Iraq who was criticized for being slow to recognize the success of the US military "surge" in Iraq, Obama has adopted a plan for Afghanistan that draws heavily on lessons learned from fighting Iraqi insurgents.
The strategy envisages clearing insurgents in the south from main roads and villages, ferrying in aid, wooing moderate "foot soldiers" among the Taliban and training Afghan security forces who will one day take over from the Americans.
A recent rise in sectarian violence in Iraq also poses a threat to Obama's Afghan mission.
His strategy assumes that forces can be drawn down in Iraq to free up manpower for the Afghan front. If gains in Iraq begin to unravel, however, Baghdad might ask Washington for help, and Obama would be faced with a difficult dilemma.
As he weighed reducing American forces in Iraq, the president heeded the advice of his defense secretary and top military officers, deciding to back off his initial plans for an earlier exit to give commanders more flexibility.
Obama was credited with taking a similarly pragmatic approach on deliberations over Afghanistan.
He reportedly struck a middle ground between commanders urging more boots on the ground and his vice president, Joseph Biden, who cautioned against committing too many troops to a possible quagmire.
By the fall, there will be about 68,000 US troops in Afghanistan. At that point, Obama will have to decide whether to send another 10,000 as requested by the US commander there, General David McKiernan.
The general has said a large US force will be needed for at least another four years to allow time to train Afghan security forces.
April 30 at 10:00am
Two hundred-fifty prisoners remain detained in Guantanamo, including many already cleared for release, Bagram prison is expanding. Indefinite detention is continuing. We invite you to join us in Washington DC for the 100th Day, April 30 for a procession in orange jump suits and a nonviolent direct action at the White House. We are asking folks to arrive early on April 29, and we will provide housing and meals for your time in DC.
The Obama administration needs to know that situation at Guantanamo today remains as unacceptable as it was on Jan. 20th.
Witness Against Torture is looking for people who are willing to risk arrest in DC on April 30th in an action to call attention to the plight of the 60 men at Guantanamo who have been cleared for release but still languish there.
The proposed scenario goes something like this:
- 10am: Gathering @ Capital Reflecting Pool (3rd & Constitution)
- 10:15am: Speaker from Amnesty International & Witness Against Torture
- 10:30am: Procession to the White House
- 11:15am: Procession arrives in Lafayette Park
- 11:30am: Rally in Lafayette Park with Amnesty International, Witness Against Torture, TASSC and others
- 12:00pm - 1:00pm Procession to WH Sidewalk and reading of prisoner accounts.
We will provide food, housing, and other support. Plan to arrive in DC on Wednesday, April 29th by 2pm for action planning, dinner, and a Wednesday Night event that includes Dan Berrigan & Liz McAlister!
Please rsvp and let us know when you will come, and if you are able to risk arrest.
Housing for people attending the April 30th action will be available at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Church, located at 1525 Newton St. NW (on corner of 16th and Newton St. NW). Overnight housing will be available April 29 and 30. People need to bring sleeping bags to St. Stephen's. There are no beds or bedding, just floor space. If you have special needs and require a bed please call Matt Vogel and Tanya Theriault at (718)419-7619 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A meal will be served in the evening on April 29 at St. Stephen's. A light breakfast will be served on April 30 from 7:00-8:00 a.m. People will be on their own for other meals.
St. Stephens info
Metro Info to St. Stephen's: Closest Metro Stop is Columbia Rd. (Green Line). 10 minute walk to church. From Metro Walk north on 14th St. to Newton St. Turn left on Newton St. Church is at end of block on right.
Parking: Street parking near church is available but during day you have to move your car every two hours due to residential parking restrictions.
Those willing to risk arrest on April 30th should be prepared for arrest, temporary incarceration and court proceedings. Sentences for convictions can involve community service, or jail for periods of up to 6 months, and/or fines up to $1000. These are maximum sentences, but our experience is that convicted nonviolent protesters receive a fine and/or community service.
The 100 Days Campaign will provide overall coordination of the post-arrest process, and work with all support persons as needed. We will have a support team of activists and lawyers on hand through the weekend to help with this process.
As nonviolent activists, we recognize that there are citizens, soldiers, civilians and prisoners on all sides who risk their lives on a daily basis, and endure great suffering on a daily basis, and it is these people that we should keep in our minds and hearts during the action. By taking nonviolent action, we hope to join in solidarity with those who suffer most as a result of our government’s policy.
Whatever risk or suffering we endure in the course of this action, it is nothing compared to what the men of Guantanamo have faced since January 11th, 2002.
Those willing to risk arrest on April 30th should be prepared for arrest, temporary incarceration and court proceedings. Sentences for convictions can involve community service, or jail for periods of up to 6 months, and/or fines up to $1000. These are maximum sentences, but our experience is that convicted nonviolent protesters receive a fine and/or community service.
It is important to emphasize that all risking arrest in nonviolent action must have a support person who has your personal information and will track you through the process following arrest until you are released, as well as help you to your destination post-release – even if that release happens at 5 o'clock in the morning.
The 100 Days Campaign will provide overall coordination of the post-arrest process, and work with all support persons as needed. We will have a support team of activists and lawyers on hand through the weekend to help with this process.
Preferably you should be part of an affinity group that has support persons. Affinity groups can be formed the night before for those who do not have one already.
If you are taking medications that are vitally necessary (i.e. for HIV, high blood pressure medicine, etc.), it is very important that (1) you tell the processing officers that you need these medications to live; (2) you have the medications in their original containers (as it is a crime to carry prescription medications outside of their original containers); and (3) you have a copy of the prescription from your doctor.
If you are booked into jail, most prescription medications are confiscated and placed into your "property" which is inaccessible to you while in jail, and (possibly) returned to you upon release. For a variety of reasons (security, lawsuits), the jail has a policy of using their own medications for prisoners. The exception to this policy is if the medications are rare and expensive, in which case they will use your prescription.
All of the above presumes that you maintain nonviolent discipline during the action, and do not destroy property, harm or attack the police or bystanders, etc.
It would be most unusual for bail to be required.
After you are arrested
In the situation that you are arrested by the DC Park Police or Secret Sercive--there are several different police jurisdictions on and around federal property--you could still be released with a citation at a local substation. However, you could be incarcerated overnight and brought before a magistrate in Superior Court. You would then probably be released on personal recognizance and scheduled for a hearing. At that court hearing you will be asked if you want to plead guilty or not guilty. If you want to plead not guilty, you will be given a date to return for trial. If you plead guilty to a minor charge, you may be sentenced right then. It is very unlikely that a nonviolent action will result in jail time. More likely scenarios would be community service, a fine and/or probation.
Washington, D.C. sometimes offers the option of "post and forfeit," where you pay ("post") a set amount of money (usually around $50) and forfeit the right to ever get the money back. It is not the same as a guilty plea, and does not become part of your record as it is not a criminal conviction. It is considered an administrative adjudication of your arrest, and is akin to receiving and paying a traffic ticket. The post and forfeit option officially ends the legal process after arrest, and those who choose it do not have to return for trial. You may consider this option up to and including on your trial date.
Misc. Legal Information
- Incommoding. This is blocking vehicle or pedestrian traffic on the streets, sidewalks, and other walkways. Maximum penalty is a $250 fine and/or 90 days in jail--DC Code § 22-1107. The charge of disorderly conduct is essentially the same--DC Code § 22-1121.
- Failure to obey a Police Officer. Often called "failure to disperse," this charge is possible when the police order you to depart and you refuse. The order must be "lawful," which means that if the police issue an unconstitutional order, there is no offense in ignoring it. But police authority is very broad. At trial, if the order is ruled lawful, you can be fined $100-$1,000. DC Muni. Reg. §§ 18-2000.2 & 2000.10.
- Unlawful entry on property (trespassing). Remaining on government property after being told to leave is punishable by a fine up to $100 and/or up to 6 months in jail. For government buildings and the surrounding land, there must be some reason that you have been asked to leave, such as to prevent disruption or to maintain security. DC Code § 22-3102.
The 100 Days Campaign wants to emphasize that these are guidelines. In risk arrest situations, there are many contingencies and too many variables to ascertain today what the police may do on April 30th. It is possible, for example, the police may decline to arrest. Nevertheless, lawyers familiar with criminal law will be available to provide advice during the entire process.
Please respond to email@example.com with any legal questions.
Thursday, April 30 in DC
The photos, first ordered released by a federal judge in June 2006, will be made public no later than May 28, a Justice Department lawyer said in a letter to the judge Thursday. They include "a substantial number" of images not previously identified as part of the case, the government said.
The letter to U.S. District Court Judge Alvin Hellerstein in New York is part of an Obama administration effort to end losing legal battles that the Bush administration had waged to keep the images under wraps.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups filed the original case in 2003, seeking the release of photographs depicting alleged prisoner abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan.
They include 21 pictures taken "in at least seven different locations in Afghanistan and Iraq," according to court records. The pictures were taken at facilities other than Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, where photos of naked detainees touched off fierce criticism of the U.S. in 2004. An appeals-court panel has said the 21 images depict detainees who "were clothed and generally not forced to pose."
Defense officials will release 23 more pictures they say depict alleged abuse, in addition to an unspecified number culled from the case files that have now been closed by U.S. Army criminal investigators, the government said.
The photos will emerge from the same litigation that led to last week's release of a series of memos from the Bush administration authorizing harsh interrogation techniques.
Write to Cam Simpson at firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, April 27, 2009
Harry is an aid worker in Afghanistan; he's been there for the last two years.
Pakistan Crisis and Social Statistics
Readers have written me asking what I think of the rash of almost apocalyptic pronouncements on the security situation in Pakistan issuing from the New York Times, The Telegraph, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in recent days.And Stephen Walt also is asking why there are such varying assessments of Pakistan's security prospects. He suggests that one problem is the difficulty of predicting a revolutionary situation. But Pakistan just had a revolution against the military dictatorship! The polling, the behavior in the voting booth, the history of political geography, aren't these data relevant to the issue? Why does no one instance them?As I have said before, although the rise of the Pakistani Taliban in the Pushtun areas and in some districts of Punjab is worrisome, the cosmic level of concern being expressed makes no sense to me. Some 55 percent of Pakistanis are Punjabi, and with the exception of some northern hardscrabble areas, I can't see any evidence that the vast majority of them has the slightest interest in Talibanism. Most are religious traditionalists, Sufis, Shiites, Sufi-Shiites, or urban modernists. At the federal level, they mainly voted in February 2008 for the Pakistan People's Party or the Muslim League, neither of them fundamentalist. The issue that excercised them most powerfully recently was the need to reinstate the civilian Supreme Court justices dismissed by a military dictatorship, who preside over a largely secular legal system.Another major province is Sindh, with nearly 50 mn. of Pakistan's 165 mn. population. It is divided between Urdu-speakers and the largely rural Sindhis who are religious traditionalists, many of the anti-Taliban Barelvi school. They voted overwhelmingly for the centrist, mostly secular Pakistan People's Party in the recent parliamentary elections. Then there are the Urdu-speakers originally from India who mostly live in Karachi and a few other cities. In the past couple of decades the Urdu-speakers have tended to vote for the secular MQM party.Residents of Sindh and Punjab constitute some 85% of Pakistan's population, and while these provinces have some Muslim extremists, they are a small fringe there.Pakistan has a professional bureaucracy. It has doubled its literacy rate in the past three decades. Rural electrification has increased enormously. The urban middle class has doubled since 2000. Economic growth in recent years has been 6 and 7 percent a year, which is very impressive. The country has many, many problems, but it is hardly the Somalia some observers seem to imagine.Opinion polling shows that even before the rounds of violence of the past two years, most Pakistanis rejected Muslim radicalism and violence. The stock of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda plummeted after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.The Pakistani Taliban are largely a phenomenon of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas west of the North-West Frontier Province, and of a few districts within the NWFP itself. These are largely Pushtun ethnically. The NYT's breathless observation that there are Taliban a hundred miles from Islamabad doesn't actually tell us very much, since Islamabad is geographically close to the Pushtun regions without that implying that Pushtuns dominate or could dominate it. It is like saying that Lynchburg, Va., is close to Washington DC and thereby implying that Jerry Falwell's movement is about to take over the latter.The Pakistani Taliban amount to a few thousand fighters who lack tanks, armored vehicles, and an air force.The Pakistani military is the world's sixth largest, with 550,000 active duty troops and is well equipped and well-trained. It in the past has acquitted itself well against India, a country ten times Pakistan's size population-wise. It is the backbone of the country, and has excellent command and control, never having suffered an internal mutiny of any significance.So what is being alleged? That some rural Pushtun tribesmen turned Taliban are about to sweep into Islamabad and overthrow the government of Pakistan? Frankly ridiculous. Wouldn't the government bring some tank formations up from the Indian border and stop them?Or is it being alleged that the Pakistani army won't fight the Taliban? But then explain the long and destructive Bajaur campaign.Or is the fear that some junior officers in the army are more or less Taliban and that they might make a coup? But the Pakistani military has typically sought a US alliance after every coup it has made. Who would support Talibanized officers? Not China, not the US, the major patrons of Islamabad.If that is the fear, in any case, then the US should strengthen the civilian, elected government, which was installed against US wishes by a popular movement during the past two years. The officers should be strictly instructed that they are to stay in their barracks.What I see is a Washington that is uncomfortable with anything like democracy and civilian rule in Pakistan; which seems not to realize that the Pakistani Taliban are a small, poorly armed fringe of Pushtuns, who are a minority; and I suspect US policy-makers of secretly desiring to find some pretext for removing Pakistan's nuclear capacity.All the talk about the Pakistani government falling within 6 months, or of a Taliban takeover, flies in the face of everything we know about the character of Pakistani politics and institutions during the past two years.My guess is that the alarmism is also being promoted from within Pakistan by Pervez Musharraf, who wants to make another military coup; and by civilian politicians in Islamabad, who want to extract more money from the US to fight the Taliban that they are secretly also bribing to attack Afghanistan.Advice to Obama: Pakistan is being configured for you in ways that benefit some narrow sectional interests. Caveat emptor.---Update: In answer to some comments below. First of all, the Pakistani military is not "unable" to stop the Taliban in the North-West Frontier Province. The Zardari government is just not desirous of alienating the Pushtuns by being heavy-handed. They only sent in 250 special ops troops to deal with Buner, which is a very light touch for an army with lots of artillery, tanks and fighter jets. Pakistan now is not like Russia in 1917. Its two main political parties are of old standing, have contested many elections, have millions of supporters and canvassers. The main threat to the PPP government is parliamentary-- that it will be unseated by the Muslim League if it fails a vote of no contest and there are new elections.All the military coups in Pakistan have been made from the top by the army chief of staff. Therefore Gen. Ashfaq Kayani is the man to watch. He was Benazir Bhutto's army secretary and has ties to the Pakistan People's Party. Not a Talib.The hype about Pakistan is very sinister and mysterious and makes no sense to someone who actually knows the country.
Interview recorded April 22, 2009. Click here to listen to the interview.
Scott Horton: For Antiwar.com, I’m Scott Horton. This is Antiwar Radio. And introducing our first guest today, it’s Dr. Ron Paul. He’s a congressman representing District 14 on Texas’ Gulf coast in the House of Representatives and, of course, you all know he ran for president last time. And also he’s the author of the excellent libertarian primer The Revolution: A Manifesto, which I highly recommend you go out and get and share with everybody you care about.
Welcome back to the show, Ron. How are you, sir?
Ron Paul: Thank you, Scott. I’m good, thank you.
Horton: It’s very good to have you here on the show today. Let’s talk about warfare. What’s going on in Afghanistan? Looks like they went from… I forget how many troops were there in the first place… they said they were going to add 17,000 more, and then they made that 20,000, and I think they added another 10,000 troops on top of that. Is America kind of starting that war all over again, and how long do you think we’re going to stay in Afghanistan?
Paul: Well, it’s a continuation, I guess there is nothing brand new. The expansion of the war into Pakistan had already started with the last administration, which proves our point that foreign policy stays the same. Interestingly enough, recently within the last hour or two, I came from the Foreign Affairs Committee, where Hillary Clinton was testifying about foreign policy.
Horton: Oh, yeah?
Paul: And I got my five minutes in and brought up the subject and actually told her that I was pleased because I heard the rhetoric and tone of the foreign policy was changing, and they were reaching out a little bit, but I said "words are one thing, but actions are even more important." So I tried to get her to tell me where have we seen any significant changes. Have we brought any troops home? Have we done anything to emphasize the fact that Obama immediately increased the military budget by 9 percent and expanded the number of troops in Afghanistan?
And I asked her, "Is there is any place where you can give me a little encouragement that we’ve actually had a change in policy?" And the only thing that she could offer was not that they brought any troops home or they cut back in any way, because they haven’t. She was saying, "Yes, we will be out of Iraq," but I think that’s a pipe dream, quite frankly. I think there is chaos there, and I think it’s stirring, and I think if it gets a little worse there is no way they’re going to walk away from Iraq, and the troops will stay there.
And, of course, they are expanding in Afghanistan, and she testified of the importance of not dealing with Pakista,n because you know it was a rogue nation and they had nuclear power. And I mentioned that in my statement to her that the Soviets had tens of thousands of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles. And we talked to Khrushchev, we talked to the Chinese, and we didn’t have to fight the Russians and the Soviets. So I urged her to maybe be a little cautious. You don’t have to get too excited about the fact that the Pakistanis have nuclear weapons. It is serious, but there might be other ways of handling this rather than going back in there and say we have to engage in "nation building." But I am afraid, as you are well aware, foreign policy doesn’t seem to change, no matter what they tell us.
Horton: Well, it even seems from the point of view of a pragmatic imperialist that messing around in Pakistan is really dangerous because they have nuclear weapons. It is a country that, it is basically a country because they have one military. But other than that, it’s sort of a pseudo-state drawn by the British, and here we are messing around, bombing in there, and this is how the Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia. We disrupted the society so much by bombing the country during the previous government.
Paul: I think that’s a good point, because they don’t have intercontinental ballistic missiles, they are not a threat to the United States, per se. But locally we have large bases or troops marching in or getting involved inside of Pakistan. We have more than just drones there. They might just want to test one of their weapons and cause chaos there. So, you’re right, the disruption is the most important problem, and just think about how things finally got settled in Vietnam once the French and the Americans left.
Horton: Well, now, Dr. Paul, I think some people might be surprised to hear you say that you don’t think anything really is going to change in Iraq, even though they’re escalating in Afghanistan. They have promised that by the end of 2011 they’re going to have all the combat forces, in fact I think they even say all forces, out as per the status of forces agreement. What indications do you see that lead you to believe that that’s so much smoke and mirrors?
Paul: Well, because they never said they would close down the bases. They never said they would back away from a billion-dollar embassy, and they have never changed their policy of maintaining stability. They’re just hoping that they can do it without American troops. They want to rename them. They won’t be combat troops, but they will keep them there. And they’re expecting the puppet government and the local forces that we trained to maintain stability.
The tragedy is that the instability exists because we trained both sides, we trained Sunnis and Shi’ites. And I don’t think the Sunnis who’ve been kicked out of power all of a sudden will love the Shi’ites, who are more likely to be allied with the Iranians. So I think it’s unstable and, therefore, with the weapons that we have provided, that violence is going to break out. And if we do back away and happen to bring our troops home, if they are sincere in what they tell us, by the time they remove 50 percent, what if the violence has multiplied three times? No way. There’s no way they’re going to leave.
And then there is the possibility that one of our bases would be hit. What I fear most is something like that, some big weapon getting in and some problem comes when some bomb goes off that literally kills hundreds of Americans, as it did in Beirut when the Marines were killed. Fortunately, I think for us and our country, although Reagan made a mistake by putting these troops there, he at least said, "I’m coming out of there, I didn’t realize how dangerous and how irrational these people were."
So he left and admitted that he made a mistake by going in. That’s not going to happen today. You know, if a ship is sunk or an American plane goes down and they want to blame Pakistanis or the Iranians or something, I’m afraid that the American people would overwhelmingly support massive escalation and even make it a bigger deal than the Gulf of Tonkin resolution or going into Iraq. That’s what we have to really worry about.
Horton: Yeah, in fact, looking back on that it’s almost like, "Only Nixon can go to China." It sort of took somebody with Ronald Reagan’s cold warrior stature to be tough enough to withdraw troops and still stand up tall – and then, I guess, go take it out on the people of Grenada or whatever later. But if it had been Jimmy Carter or something, he would not have been able to get the troops out of there. The pressure would have been much tougher on him to stay longer, don’t you think?
Paul: Oh, yeah, I think so, and it seems like when a Democrat gets in power they have to prove that they’re appealing to conservative militants. So they go overboard in trying to emulate Republicans.
But what the Republicans do when they get in is they want to neutralize the Democrats’ expenditure on welfare. So we as Republicans then come in, like the Bush administration did, and expand with the welfare domestic spending, and since both sides are supportive, that’s why in the midst of a financial crisis. The deficit explodes.
The significant figure that I’ve looked at just recently is that 12 months ago our national debt was $2 trillion less than what it is now. It went up $2 trillion in the 12 months. That’s the rate of indebtedness that we’re incurring. So that’s very dangerous. And I even pointed this out to Hillary today, that great nations end not because they get defeated militarily; we didn’t have to defeat the Soviets, they ended for economic reasons. And I think that’s what’s going to happen here… and I even brought up the subject of the American empire.
But she, of course, was very, very friendly and actually even made some very positive comments about the Paul supporters, which really was shocking. It was really pleasant. She went out of her way to be friendly towards us and complimented our supporters on how energetic they were and how determined.
Horton: Well, I’m trying to find reasons to like her better than Condoleezza Rice, but I haven’t come up with any yet.
Paul: [laughs] Well…
Horton: I’ll let you know if I find something.
Paul: Well, yeah, it’s hard to make those choices.
Horton: Now, on the Iraq thing… basically what you are saying, if I can boil it down, is that the difference between Barack Obama’s Iraq withdrawal policy and the policy that you would have had, had you been the president, is that he’s basically accepted the Bush premise that we have to "win." We can’t leave if there is a problem left behind. We have to be able to say "the surge worked" all the way up until the last troop leaves from Kuwait, and maybe for a few months after that. Whereas your position is, "We’re leaving, and if the Sunnis and the Shi’ites go back to war, we need to recognize that as a consequence of our invasion in the first place and we’ve just got to go." But I guess you’re saying the way it is in the Obama administration is that as long as there is violence there, we’re never leaving.
Paul: Yeah, and I think his definition of "leaving" is different from my definition. My definition is "leaving," and that is not having military personnel there, turning the bases over to whatever government is there. Matter of fact, I would even… because symbolically it’s so bad… I would not get involved in that embassy, because I think that is a real affront. We could have a small office over there. That embassy ought to be turned over to Red Cross or something like that.
But I would start leaving. I don’t know why, physically, we couldn’t accomplish that in six months. And who knows, maybe it could be very violent, and that wouldn’t surprise anybody. But who knows, it might be a lot less violence than we’ve seen in the last five years. A lot of people have been killed, a lot of people displaced. I think there would be a struggle for the balance of power, but you know, maybe there would be a continuation of the northern part with Kurdistan where that would be maintained, and who knows what would happen in the south. All I know is that this is not going to last. There are just too many reasons for these people to get fighting and killing each other again.
Horton: And, on the larger issue of the cost of empire, as you were discussing with Hillary Clinton (And, of course, I’m madly refreshing Lew Rockwell’s blog, here looking for the YouTube.) But as far as the cost of all that goes, you mentioned the kind of outrage over the so-called… I don’t know if you mentioned outrage. You mentioned the increase in the budget. I’m going to mention the outrage that [occurred] when they called this a cut, when they increased the defense budget by 9 percent, they said, a few weeks ago. And on the right-wing this was denounced as a cut, as apparently they’re shuffling some budget items around inside the Pentagon. But, I guess I just ought to give you an opportunity to really drive home to the people the cost of maintaining a world empire and maybe show us where on the balance sheet we are, in the sense of how much money we make off of the empire, and how much better off we might be without one.
Paul: Well, the special interests are still in charge, whether it’s Republicans or Democrats, and the bottom line is the increase in the amount. And then, of course, he was severely criticized for going back with the supplementals. He did put 130 in the budget, which is different because that’s for next year. But this year he is continuing the policy although his argument there is, "Well, this year is still Bush’s year, so we have to continue to maintain it."
Even though he won the votes of those who wanted to end the war and bring the troops home and have a different foreign policy, out of fairness to Obama, he was pretty truthful about Afghanistan. Remember during the campaign he actually came across sometimes more hawkish than even McCain did. McCain had to say, "Yeah, me too. I’m for that." But Obama was the first one to start talking about expanding the war in Afghanistan, which makes no sense whatsoever.
But no, they shift things around, they will cut one program and save a couple of million dollars, but then they’ll give billions more to something else. So I’ll bet you most people in this country believe he has cut military spending, which is not true. And this is one advantage I have on the committee as being a Republican, which is that I can criticize the administration for foreign policy where they haven’t done what they have said. But even the Democrats don’t want to criticize her [Hillary Clinton] for a couple of reasons. First is Israel, and the second reason is that they don’t want to offend their president; they want to be unified, just like so many Republicans didn’t want to offend Bush.
They figured, "Well you know, he used to be conservative, but we don’t want to take him on, we don’t want to fight him." So they even voted with him all the time. The Democrats are doing a bit of that too.
Horton: Well, and now as they spend us into bankruptcy it seems like everybody forgets all the stimulus and all the war spending from the last eight years. And now stimulus and war spending, apparently, are the solution to our crisis. And, honestly, as I guess you know, I spend most of my time paying attention to all this foreign policy stuff, and I can’t really keep up with you Austrian economists or about all the developments in the financial crisis. But at least a few times in reading and watching the coverage of the financial crisis on TV, I’m reminded of Garet Garrett’s book, The People’s Pottage, where he talked about the 1930s and what he called the "revolution within the form," where they didn’t really throw the Constitution out, they still kept it there in the window or what have you. But basically they changed the entire nature of the way the Federal government interacts with the society. The revolutionaries weren’t on the outside of the gates, he said, they were on the inside.
And I just wonder whether you think that really compares with what is happening now with the power grabs by the Treasury Department, the executive branch. It’s almost like after 9/11 where it seems like they just sort of get carte blanche. And I wonder whether you think that to call what is happening now something akin to a "revolution within the form" is going too far or if that is what you think is going on. Can you kind of give us a basic outline of what are the major changes that we’re dealing with here that are going to bear consequences for us in the future?
Paul: I think it is a continuation of that revolution that Garrett talked about, and even though it wasn’t a steady progress, you know, what they were doing in the 1930s was they backed off a little bit, especially after the war. But they never changed total policy, it just meant that they slowed it up a little bit. Right now I think we’re much further along. I think what he talked about is absolutely coming to bear, and it’s a form of fascism, and there’s less respect than ever for the law. There’s no hint that they’re ever going to return to sound money unless we do have some philosophic revolution to, you know, offer our solutions to the problems.
So, hopefully we can do this, but I think their side is still winning. Like you say, we got into this mess by spending and borrowing and printing money, and they think we can get out of this problem by just doing more of the same thing. It doesn’t make any sense at all.
Horton: What changes have really happened? I mean we already had a Federal Reserve and an SEC and Treasury and Commerce Departments and all these things. What’s really changed other than the raw numbers of dollars that they’ve taken from us for all their various bailouts and so forth? Is the structure of the government really different now?
Paul: I think there have been some major changes, because they’re getting much closer to control. You know, there’s ownership in banks and insurance companies, they own stock. It’s much closer to a fascist system, where there are a lot of benefits to big business and there is a military-industrial complex and all these things. Now it’s much, much closer. They’re deeply embedded together, so I think we made a big step moving in the wrong direction.
But I also think it’s unstable and will come to an end. The big question is what we’re going to replace it with.
Horton: I know you are aware of the Red Cross report, the Office of Legal Counsel memos, and now this new report from the Armed Services Committee about the torture regime that ruled during the Bush-Cheney years, and I wonder if you have called for an independent investigation, a special prosecutor, or congressional hearings or anything along those lines? What do you think should be done, sir?
Paul: I haven’t been that specific, and I may well get that far, because it’s just in the last couple of days that I’ve been asked about this and whether or not I would support further investigation and prosecution of those who are guilty of those crimes. And I say absolutely, yes. You know, we impeached a president not too long ago for infractions that were less serious than some of these charges that have been levied against our leaders of the last administration.
I think Obama is, you know, very much involved in protecting state powers and state secrecy, and his first announcements sounded pretty bland that he wasn’t going to pursue it. Now he is saying at last he is going to look at those people who wrote up the legal documents. But the people who participated ought to be looked at. I mean, if you were an honest American trying to do your job in the CIA and you were asked to waterboard somebody a couple of hundred times… you’d think, "Well maybe this is torture. Maybe we shouldn’t be doing this." I think everybody has responsibility, and I think they should be investigated and prosecuted if the evidence is there.
Horton: All right, everybody, that’s Dr. Ron Paul, congressman representing District 14 on Texas’ Gulf coast, author of a great many books, including The Revolution: A Manifesto. Thank you very much for your time on the show today, sir.
Paul: Thank you very much.
Transcript courtesy of RonPaul.com.
I came across this while searching for other things. Apparently, it was only just released this month on DVD. Wonderfully pertinent.
I thought I would post this comment from a benighted poster at the CBC just to illustrate how many misconceptions are out there about Afghan society. And of course, as always with current media, there are MANY. Afghans historically have gotten married in the "marriage market", where boys and girls go together to pick out mutually agreed upon mates. They stroll the aisles of the market, talk and date. Marriages that are arranged between families have frequently been influenced by relatives acting on behalf of the girl- like in one book that I read in which the girl had a "love match" because she had liked this boy since she was in her early teens- so she instructed her female relatives to help her set it up and intervene with her father. It worked, and the boy had secretly been in love with her, too. He sent her this beautiful love note the night before their final wedding. It was so, so sweet. He called her "gulabi dil", which means "pink desire" in Dari. I will always remember how much he cherished his bride.
This poster wasn't harsh, and I didn't mean to criticize him/her overmuch. After all, he allowed how his own family was similar. What the person didn't account for is that human beings don't change that much from generation to generation. Inside, we are all the same tender people that we have always been. Its just that its sometimes structured differently :)
The debate over the release of the torture memos sent by various Bush aides has brought back images stuck in my mind ever since viewing the documentary "Taxi to the Dark Side" by Oscar nominee and director Alex Gibney.
His award-winning film investigates the last torturous days of a young Afghan man in Bagram prison. The 22-year-old taxi driver had been caught up in the dragnet of the post 9/11 frenzy to "get the bad guys" and had died after five days in detention.
It turned out that American military guards had kept him shackled to a grid in the ceiling of his cell for five days straight with a daily mega-dose of torturous beatings, especially kicking him in the shackled legs. The guards had been told by those in charge to "rough him up good" because, "Afghans were just like dogs."
Those among your readers who are still skeptical of what was done need to watch the documentary. Check out the trailer on U-tube.
These horrendous things were done in our name. Those who put the policy in place to allow torture must all be held accountable.
Published: Sunday, April 26, 2009
Updated: Monday, April 27, 2009
In the last couple of weeks we have learned quite a bit more about the U.S.’s use of waterboarding — that relic of the Spanish Inquisition that has reappeared in the new millennium. As things turn out, agents of the U.S. government have been doing a lot of waterboarding over the past several years. In fact, they have been doing it on levels that ought to be unimaginable. Two prisoners in U.S. custody were each waterboarded 266 times in one month. Imagine that! Being brought to the brink of drowning eight times a day on average. That’s what we learn from reading formerly secret memos on these “enhanced interrogation techniques” that were released in the middle of April.No sooner did the government release those memos than the commander in chief himself, Barack Obama, scurried over to CIA headquarters to reassuringly tell the agency, “Don’t be discouraged that we have to acknowledge we’ve made some mistakes. That’s how we learn.” Mistakes? One can imagine Professor Obama’s punishment. Maybe it would be writing, “I will not waterboard excessively” 100 times on the blackboard. Or maybe “I will not beat someone so badly that their legs become pulpified and they die” like they did in Bagram, Afghanistan. Or, “I will not run someone’s head into a wall without having a towel wrapped around their neck to ensure the impact is not fatal” like the torture memos describe. All of this was done. People were hurt, people were damaged, people were killed. That some of those tortured were Islamic fundamentalists with a twisted view of what constitutes fair rules of war is beside the point. The problem with torture is what it says about the state of civilization at any given time. What it says right now is something sickening. After WWI, a lot of people wanted to try the German kaiser as a war criminal. For reasons of political expediency it never happened. Instead, as Margaret MacMillan notes in her book “Paris 1919,” “The kaiser lived on until 1941, writing his memoir, reading P. G. Woodehouse, drinking English tea, walking his dog, and fulminating against the international Jewish conspiracy which he had discovered had brought Germany and himself low.”Apparently Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush are negotiating lucrative contracts toward writing their memoirs. I wonder what they’re going to say? Dick Cheney, for his part, is already talking a lot. He’s going around claiming that torture worked and prevented attacks on America. So far there’s no evidence this is true or that torture has ever stopped “a ticking time bomb,” but even if it were, so what? Even if this did prevent something awful from happening, it’s disgraceful that those were the depths this government has descended to. It has and will do nothing but cultivate an atmosphere in which more awful things happen. So once again — despite the mass of evidence of how deliberate and depraved this was — we see the executive branch of the U.S. empire feverishly pushing to turn the page on this legacy of torture. Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel put out the official position on ABC’s “This Week": “It’s not the time to use our energy and our time in looking back [in] any sense of anger and retribution.”This torture was done in the name of our safety. We were not asked if this was OK. We were not asked to allow our humanity to be degraded by such actions. This was done, and now it stands. If that doesn’t anger Emanuel or Obama, well too bad for them. These are still crimes that need to be accounted for. Aaron Leonard is a columnist. E-mail responses to email@example.com.
Mon Apr 27 2009 16:13
FINALLY!!! SOMEONE WHO GETS IT!
DURING MY LAST unembedded tour in Afghanistan, I teamed up with Australian war correspondent Sasha Uzunov. Like me, Uzunov is a former soldier, and when necessary we would carry weapons for self-defence.
When operating in the volatile Kandahar region, the two of us "horajees" (foreigners), even armed with Kalashnikovs, would have been easy prey for the Taliban or criminal hostage-takers. As such, we employed a small group of Afghan security guards.
The leader of this contingent was a huge, fiercely bearded Pashtun whom we jokingly dubbed Chew Bacca due to his uncanny resemblance to the Star Wars wookie. In his workmanlike English, "Chewy" also acted as our tour guide for the Kandahar district. He would proudly point to a muddy canal and proclaim with a toothy grin, "This is the Arghandab River."
To Uzunov and me, it appeared to be a virtually dried-up irrigation ditch, but to Chewy, it was on par with the mighty Nile.
Dropping his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, Chewy advised us that he knew why the world has come to Kandahar.
"It is because this region is so fertile," he said. Sweeping his arm to indicate a smattering of freshly planted fields, he asked, "Have you ever seen such a fertile place?"
We didn’t have the heart to tell him that his homeland is one of the most desolate and arid regions on the planet that is still considered habitable. Anyone in Canada who has seen the images in the newspaper or watched the videos on the nightly newscasts would be hard pressed to call the Afghan landscape "lush."
We realized that Chewy was illiterate and had no access to the Internet, and the only world he knew was the infertile area around Kandahar and the even more desolate desert that surrounds it.
Chewy had no idea that inside the NATO airfield, the assembled foreign soldiers have access to three massive mess halls serving four meals a day, and fast-food outlets that include Burger King, Pizza Hut and Tim Hortons — complete with Timbits and iced cappuccinos.
In Chewy’s opinion, all these troops and all their technology had descended on his home province to secure the dried apricot harvest of Kandahar.
From the Christian Science Monitor:
Alasay, Afghanistan - Deep in a mountain valley north of Kabul, Gulab Shah and his fellow insurgents were under siege. It was mid-March, and a French-led military offensive had been pounding their village night after night. A few of his comrades managed to escape into the surrounding mountains, but most were killed.
In the midst of these battles, a progovernment tribal leader met with Mr. Shah's men and made them an appealing offer: Stop fighting, and we will give you amnesty and a job. The men cautiously accepted.
They joined a program aimed at reconciling rank-and-file insurgents with the government, an initiative that figures to be a central component in the Obama administration's strategy to stabilize this country. Local tribal elders credit this reconciliation process, together with the French-led military offensive, for a stark turnaround in the security situation here.
Across the country, violence has soared this year by 79 percent compared with a similar period last year, according to statistics provided by Sami Kovanen of the firm Tundra Security. But Kapisa Province is one of the few where violence has decreased. Insurgent presence has markedly diminished since the offensive and reconciliation efforts, which took place last month.
President Hamid Karzai, who officially confirmed he will run for reelection in August, on Monday hosted British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to discuss strategy. Mr. Brown said the West's security "depends on stability in the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan," which he called "the crucible of terrorism." Washington, which believes that the majority of insurgents are not primarily motivated by an extremist ideology, hopes it may be able to lure such fighters to the government side.
"There may be some who could be considered extremists," says Shah, speaking of his fellow fighters, "but most of us are just ordinary people wanting the same things that all human beings want, such as jobs and well-being for our families."
Cash and jobs instead of guns
The Afghan government, through an agency called the Peace and Reconciliation Commission, has mediated with hundreds of insurgents. Since its founding in 2005, the commission has even enticed some insurgent commanders to switch sides. In addition, a parallel effort is under way with the US-funded Afghan Social Outreach Program, an agency associated with the office of the president.
Both programs aim to win over insurgents with cash and promises of jobs and land. In Logar Province, for example, nearly three dozen fighters defected in March, and those without land were promised plots.
Here in Alasay Valley, a restive district a two-hour trip north of Kabul, government-backed mediation efforts had floundered for months. The presence of insurgent group Hizb-i-Islami and the Taliban had grown tremendously here, in Kapisa Province, over the past couple of years. By last year, most of the Alasay Valley was under militant control.
But in a series of offensives this year Western forces were able to dislodge the guerrillas and reassert control in parts of the valley. Normally, when this happens, the insurgents regroup and attempt to reclaim territory,
In this case, however, tribal elders offered an olive branch to the besieged fighters. Muhammad Ismail, a tribe leader and former insurgent during the Soviet days, approached a local guerrilla commander, Ghafor Khan. "I told him that we will create job opportunities and bring education. I told him I spent time in prison for fighting jihad, so I know his feelings."
At first, the commander was hesitant, but Mr. Ismail persisted. "I told him that none of us want the Americans here," he continued, "but fighting isn't a solution, because the war will just go on forever."
The meeting, with 18 tribesmen from the government side, continued for some time. Finally, another elder pointed his finger at the commander and said, "If you keep fighting, the Americans will keep attacking our village and our civilians will suffer. We will hold you responsible."
The combination of intense military pressure from the international forces, the prospect of a job, and the discontent of his tribal peers finally pushed commander Ghafor to defect, his men say. He brought nearly 60 fighters over to the government side.
Breakthrough remains tenuous
Many of the fighters who broke with the insurgency say that disillusionment with the government, treatment at the hands of the international forces, and poor economic prospects were the main reasons they joined the insurgency.
Mawlawi Fazlullah, one of the defectors, says, "Most of us are locals who, due to some problem or another, headed to the mountains to fight." Mr. Fazlullah says he joined the insurgency after disappointment at a venal government and the lack of economic progress in his area.
His comrade, Rahman, who like many other Afghans goes by only one name, joined the insurgency after repeated house-to-house searches by the Americans. "I called government officials and asked them to make the Americans stop, but nothing happened," he recalls. "I realized that I can't support the foreigners or the government as long as this continues."
Elders warn that the fighters' grievances must be met. Mullah Muhammad, governor of Alasay District, says resentment with the government and foreign troops is high, and if they don't deliver a better existence, the dissidents might rejoin the rebellion. "Most people here are not happy with the foreign troops," he says. "Others are fed up with the joblessness. Some want to protect their religion from foreign corruption."
Reconciliation or ruse?
As tribal leaders and government officials gather in a room in the district center of Alasay to discuss the reconciliation process, they quickly start pointing fingers.
"The Americans kill our women and children. They enter our houses. They violate our privacy!" shouts Hajji Arif, head of the Peace and Reconciliation Commission here. "How can you expect our people to not fight?" The other elders clamor in agreement.
"The central government doesn't care about this mountainous district, and it never has!" shouts another.
Others say agencies such as the Peace and Reconciliation Commission are part of the problem. Since 2005, the commission claims to have reconciled with nearly 4,000 fighters. It has lost track of most of these, however. Some critics charge that many of the surrendered were never with the insurgency or lied about surrendering to get a payment.
"The commission only beefs up the Taliban," says Fazel Sancharaki, spokesman of National Front, a leading political opposition group. "They give out money so people come and denounce the Taliban, get payments, and then go and rejoin the Taliban."
Kabul-based political analyst Waheed Muzdja adds, "They get an immunity letter from the government and once they have it, they go back to their old business of fighting."
In many cases, the commission is unable to provide the jobs it promised to those fighters who genuinely want to reconcile, analysts say. Mr. Muzdja believes the government and the Americans must revamp the reconciliation program by making it more transparent and accountable.
Meanwhile, the former insurgents of Alasay have more immediate concerns.
"Before, I was only afraid of the Americans and the government," says Fazlullah. "But now I am afraid of the Taliban and the Americans. If anything happens to the American soldiers, they will know where to find me, and they will come and take me for interrogation. And if the insurgents find me, they will call me a traitor and behead me."
This one is from today:
How Safe Do You Actually Want to Be?
April 27, 2009 By Tom Engelhardt Source: TomDispatch Tom Engelhardt's ZSpace Page Join ZSpace
Almost like clockwork, the reports float up to us from thousands of miles away, as if from another universe. Every couple of days they seem to arrive from Afghan villages that few Americans will ever see without weapon in hand. Every few days, they appear from a world almost beyond our imagining, and always they concern death -- so many lives snuffed out so regularly for more than seven years now. Unfortunately, those news stories are so unimportant in our world that they seldom make it onto, no less off of, the inside pages of our papers. They're so repetitive that, once you've started reading them, you could write them in your sleep from thousands of miles away. Like obituaries, they follow a simple pattern. Often the news initially arrives buried in summary war reports based on U.S. military (or NATO) announcements of small triumphs -- so many "insurgents," or "terrorists," or "foreign militants," or "anti-Afghan forces" killed in an air strike or a raid on a house or a village. And these days, often remarkably quickly, even in the same piece, come the challenges. Some local official or provincial governor or police chief in the area hit insists that those dead "terrorists" or "militants" were actually so many women, children, old men, innocent civilians, members of a wedding party or a funeral. In response -- no less part of this formula -- have been the denials issued by American military officials or coalition spokespeople that those killed were anything but insurgents, and the assurances of the accuracy of the intelligence information on which the strike or raid was based. In these years, American spokespeople have generally retreated from their initial claims only step by begrudging step, while doggedly waiting for any hubbub over the killings to die down. If that didn't happen, an "investigation" would be launched (the investigators being, of course, members of the same military that had done the killing) and then prolonged, clearly in hopes that the investigation would outlast coverage of the "incident" and both would be forgotten in a flood of other events. Forgotten? It's true that we forget these killings easily -- often we don't notice them in the first place -- since they don't seem to impinge on our lives. Perhaps that's one of the benefits of fighting a war on the periphery of empire, halfway across the planet in the backlands of some impoverished country. One problem, though: the forgetting doesn't work so well in those backlands. When your child, wife or husband, mother or father is killed, you don't forget. Only this week, our media was filled with ceremonies and remembrances centered around the tenth anniversary of the slaughter at Columbine High School. Twelve kids and a teacher blown away in a mad rampage. Who has forgotten? On the other side of the planet, there are weekly Columbines. Similarly, every December 7th, we Americans still remember the dead of Pearl Harbor, almost seven decades in the past. We still have ceremonies for, and mourn, the dead of September 11, 2001. We haven't forgotten. We're not likely to forget. Why, when death rains down on our distant battlefields, should they? Admittedly, there's been a change in the assertion/repeated denial/investigation pattern instituted by American forces. Now, assertion and denial are sometimes followed relatively quickly by acknowledgement, apology, and payment. Now, when the irrefutable meets the unchallengeable, American spokespeople tend to own up to it. Yep, we killed them. Yep, they were women and kids. Nope, they had, as far as we know, nothing to do with terrorism. Yep, it was our fault and we'll pony up for our mistake. This new tactic is a response to rising Afghan outrage over the repeated killing of civilians in U.S. raids and air strikes. But like the denials and the investigations, this, too, is intended to make everything go away, while our war itself -- those missiles loosed, those doors kicked down in the middle of the night -- just goes on. Once again, evidently, everyone is supposed to forget (or perhaps simply forgive). It's war, after all. People die. Mistakes are made. As for those dead civilians, New York Times reporter Jane Perlez recently quoted a former Pakistani general on the hundreds of tribespeople killed in the Pakistani borderlands in air strikes by CIA-run drones: they are, he said, "likely hosting Qaeda militants and cannot be deemed entirely innocent." Exactly. Who in our world is "entirely innocent" anyway? Apologies Not Accepted A UN survey tallied up 2,118 civilians killed in Afghanistan in 2008, a significant rise over the previous year's figure, of which 828 were ascribed to American, NATO, and Afghan Army actions rather than to suicide bombers or Taliban guerrillas. (Given the difficulty of counting the dead in wartime, any figures like these are likely to be undercounts.) There are, in other words, constant "incidents" to choose from. Recently, for instance, there was an attack by a CIA drone in the Pakistani borderlands that Pakistani sources claim may have killed up to eight civilians; or there were the six civilians, including a three-year-old girl and a ten-year-old boy, killed by an American air strike that leveled three houses in Afghanistan's Kunar Province. Sixteen more Afghans, including children as young as one, were wounded in that air attack, based on "multiple intelligence sources" in which, the U.S. military initially claimed, only "enemy fighters" died. (As a recent study of the death-dealing weapons of the Iraq War, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, indicates, air strikes are notoriously good at taking out civilians. Eighty-five percent of the deaths from air strikes in Iraq were, the study estimated, women and children and, of all methods, including suicide and car bombs, air power "killed the most civilians per event.") But let's consider here just one recent incident that went almost uncovered in the U.S. media. According to an Agence France Presse account, in a raid in the eastern Afghan province of Khost, the U.S. military first reported a small success: four "armed militants" killed. It took next to no time, however, for those four militants to morph into the family of an Afghan National Army artillery commander named Awal Khan. As it happened, Khan himself was on duty in another province at the time. According to the report, the tally of the slain, some of whom may have gone to the roof of their house to defend themselves against armed men they evidently believed to be robbers or bandits, included: Awal Khan's "schoolteacher wife, a 17-year-old daughter named Nadia, a 15-year-old son, Aimal, and his brother, who worked for a government department. Another daughter was wounded. After the shooting, the pregnant wife of Khan's cousin, who lived next door, went outside her home and was shot five times in the abdomen..." She survived, but her fetus, "hit by bullets," didn't. Khan's wife worked at a school supported by the international aid organization CARE, which issued a statement strongly condemning the raid and demanding "that international military forces operating in Afghanistan [be] held accountable for their actions and avoid all attacks on innocent civilians in the country." In accordance with its new policy, the U.S. issued an apology: "Further inquiries into the Coalition and ANSF operation in Khost earlier today suggest that the people killed and wounded were not enemy combatants as previously reported... Coalition and Afghan forces do not believe that this family was involved with militant activities and that they were defending their home against an unknown threat... 'We deeply regret the tragic loss of life in this precious family. Words alone cannot begin to express our regret and sympathy and we will ensure the surviving family members are properly cared for,' said Brig. Gen. Michael A. Ryan, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan."A U.S. military spokesman added, "There will undoubtedly be some financial assistance and other types of assistance [to the survivors]." The grieving husband, father, and brother said, "I want the coalition leaders to expose those behind this and punish them." He added that "the Afghan government should resign if it could not protect its people." (Don't hold your breath on either count.) And Afghan President Hamid Karzai, as he has done many times during past incidents, repeatedly demanded an explanation for the deaths and asked that such raids and air strikes be drastically curtailed. What Your Safety Is Worth All of this was little more than a shadow play against which the ongoing war continues to be relentlessly prosecuted. In Afghanistan (and increasingly in Pakistan), civilian deaths are inseparable from this war. Though they may be referred to as "collateral damage," increasingly in all wars, and certainly in counterinsurgency campaigns involving air power, the killing of civilians lies at the heart of the matter, while the killing of soldiers might be thought of as the collateral activity. Pretending that these "mistakes" will cease or be ameliorated as long as the war is being prosecuted is little short of folly. After all, "mistake" after "mistake" continues to be made. That first Afghan wedding party was obliterated in late December 2001 when an American air strike killed up to 110 Afghan revelers with only two survivors. The fifth one on record was blown away last year. And count on it, there will be a sixth. By now, we've filled up endless "towers" with dead Afghan civilians. And that's clearly not going to change, apologies or not, especially when U.S. forces are planning to "surge" into the southern and eastern parts of the country later this year, while the CIA's drone war on the Pakistani border expands. And how exactly do we explain this ever rising pile of civilian dead to ourselves? It's being done, so we've been told, for our safety and security here in the U.S. The previous president regularly claimed that we were fighting over there, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan, to keep Americans safe here; the former vice president has made clear that among the great achievements of the Bush administration was the prevention of a second 9/11; and when, on March 27th, President Obama announced his latest Afghan bailout plan, he, too, played the 9/11 card heavily. As he was reported to have put it recently, "he is not 'naive about how dangerous this world is' and [he] said he wakes up every day and goes to bed every night thinking and worrying 'about how to keep the American people safe.'" Personally, I always thought that we could have locked our plane doors and gone home long ago. We were never in mortal danger from al-Qaeda in the backlands of Afghanistan, despite the perfervid imagination of the previous administration and the riotous fears of so many Americans. The rag-tag group that attacked us in September 2001 was then capable of committing acts of terror on a spectacular scale (two U.S. embassy buildings in Africa, a destroyer in a Yemeni harbor, and of course those two towers in New York and the Pentagon), but only every couple of years. In other words, al-Qaeda was capable of stunning this country and of killing Americans, but was never a threat to the nation itself. All this, of course, was compounded by the fact that the Bush administration couldn't have cared less about al-Qaeda at the time. The "Defense Department" imagined its job to be "power projection" abroad, not protecting American shores (or air space), and our 16 intelligence agencies were in chaos. So those towers came down apocalyptically and it was horrible -- and we couldn't live with it. In response, we invaded a country ("no safe havens for terrorists"), rather than simply going after the group that had acted against us. In the process, the Bush administration went to extreme efforts to fetishize our own safety and security (and while they were at it, in part through the new Department of Homeland Security, they turned "security" into a lucrative endeavor). Of course, elsewhere people have lived through remarkable paroxysms of violence and terror without the sort of fuss and fear this nation exhibited -- or the money-grubbing and money-making that went with it. If you want to be reminded of just how fetishistic our focus on our own safety was, consider a 2005 news article written for a Florida newspaper, "Weeki Wachee mermaids in terrorists' cross hairs?" It began:
"Who on earth would ever want to harm the Weeki Wachee mermaids? It staggers the imagination. Still, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has named Weeki Wachee Springs as the potential terror target of Hernando County, according to a theme park official. "The Weeki Wachee staff is teaming up with the Hernando County Sheriff's Office to 'harden the target' by keeping the mermaid theater and the rest of the park safe from a potential terror attack, said marketing and promotion manager John Athanason... Terror-prevention plans for Weeki Wachee may include adding surveillance cameras, installing lights in the parking lot and securing areas in the roadside attraction where there may be 'security breaches,' he said. But Athanason is also realistic. He said Walt Disney World is a bigger attraction and is likely to receive more counterterrorism funds."
This was how, in deepest Florida, distant Utah, or on the Texas border, all places about as likely to be hit by an al-Qaeda attack as by a meteor, Americans were obsessing about keeping everything near and dear to them safe and secure. At the same time, of course, the Bush administration was breaking the bank at the Pentagon and in its Global War on Terror, while preparing the way for an America that would be plunged into startling insecurity. Let's for a moment assume, however, that our safety really was, and remains, at stake in a war halfway across the planet. If so, let me ask you a question: What's your "safety" really worth? Are you truly willing to trade the lives of Awal Khan's family for a blanket guarantee of your safety -- and not just his family, but all those Afghan one-year olds, all those wedding parties that are -- yes, they really are -- going to be blown away in the years to come for you? If, in 1979 as the Carter presidency was ending and our Afghan wars were beginning, you had told any group of Americans that we would be ever more disastrously involved in Afghanistan for 30 years, that, even then, no end would be in sight, and that we would twice declare victory (in 1989 after the Soviets withdrew, and again in 2001 when the Afghan capital Kabul was taken from the Taliban) only to discover that disaster followed, they undoubtedly would have thought you mad. Afghanistan? Please. You might as well have said Mars. Now, three decades later, it's possible to see that every step taken from the earliest support for Afghan jihadis in their anti-Soviet war has only made things worse for us, and ever so much worse for the Afghans. Unless somehow we can think our way out of a strategy guaranteed to kill yet more civilians in expanding areas of South Asia, it will only get worse still. Maybe it's time to suck it up and put less value on the idea of absolute American safety, since in many ways the Bush administration definition of our safety and security, which did not go into retirement with George and Dick, is now in the process of breaking us. Looked at reasonably, even if Dick Cheney and his minions prevented another 9/11 (and there's no evidence he did), in doing so look what he brought down around our ears. What a bad bargain it's been -- and all in the name of our safety, and ours alone. Ask yourself these questions in the dead of night: Do we really want stories like Awal Khan's to float up out of the villages of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and who knows where else for the next seven years? Or the next 30 for that matter? Does that seem reasonable? Does that seem right? Is your supposed safety worth that?
[Note of thanks: Jason Ditz of the invaluable website Antiwar.com has, in almost daily reports, been covering the issue of civilian casualties in the Af-Pak War, among other matters, like a blanket. I've leaned on his work heavily and thank him for it. I also continue to rely, as ever, on that eagle-eyed newshound and analyst Juan Cole at his Informed Comment website.]
[Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com, where this article first appeared, is the co-founder of the American Empire Project, author of The End of Victory Culture (University of Massachusetts Press), thoroughly updated in a newly issued edition covering Iraq, and editor and contributor to the first best of Tomdispatch book, The World According to Tomdispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso). To catch a recent audio interview in which he discusses the CIA's drone war over Pakistan, click here.]
I fully recommend this report, by Meredith Aby and Katrina Plotz. Its called, Don't Enlist, Resist: http://www.fightbacknews.org/2009/04/minnesota-dont-enlist-resist.htm
I found their description of the few Republicans with pro-torture signs frightening. It must have taken a lot of courage to stand up to them, and it seems there were some really robust groups that did!
Sunday, April 26, 2009
To all those who have written, demonstrated, given of the breath from your lungs, and opened up your veins, god fearing or godless, my heart brims for all of you. I love you all. Salt of the earth, blood of our common blood, unveilers of mysterious, the great and the humble, the silent knights of a game in which only shadows flit at opposite sides of the board.
I love you, and have no other way to repay you with anything but my humbled humility.
I kneel at your feet.
Other than that, its really good and I'm really enjoying scoping it, and other things, out.
The Afghan government thanks Australia for its care of the injured Afghans on the refuge boat (the boat mysteriously blew up) that was in Australian waters. Many of the people were severely wounded and are being treated in Australian hospitals.