WNPJ Newsletter: May-June 2011

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In This Issue

Our celebration of 20 years of peace and justice work in Wisconsin, on February 19 and 23, was held with the backdrop of the dramatic events around the state. Our grassroots lobbying took place in a Capitol filled with - and surrounded by - Wisconsin citizens demanding the defeat of union-busting legislation, and in the absence of several Senators we had planned to meet with.

One month later, on the fifth consecutive Saturday of protests and the eighth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, member group Iraq Veterans Against the War led a protest march from the UW-Madison campus to the Capitol. The relationship of the Capitol protests and the overseas wars could not be more clear. Meanwhile, the WNPJ Anti-Militarism Work Group has been organizing to halt the involvement of Wisconsin in drone aircraft warfare.

In this newsletter, we cover the human cost of drone attacks, their widespread use at home and abroad, and the work group’s activities. We’re also including a petition, so you can get involved! Also, an antidote to our fears is provided in an article reviewed here, which suggests that wars are on the decrease, despite our perceptions to the contrary. Also keeping spirits up and enthusiasm alive, WNPJ’s Steve Burns has led daily pro-labor sing-alongs in the Rotunda. May hope triumph over fear.

 


 

The grainy cameras on the flying drones, and reconnaissance from the ground, and all the engines of surveillance available to the U.S. military were not enough, on Tuesday, March 1, to tell U.S. pilots that the “insurgents” they were killing on an Afghan mountainside were nine small children. This was in Afghanistan’s Kumar province. Four of the boys were seven years old; three were eight, one was nine and the oldest was twelve. “The children were gathering wood under a tree in the mountains near a village in the district,” said Noorullah Noori, a member of the local development council in Manogai district. “I myself was involved in the burial,” Noori said. “Yesterday we buried them.” (AP, March 2, 2011) General Petraeus has acknowledged and apologized for the tragedy.

 

This is the second recent tragedy of its kind just in Kunar province. Last August 26, in the Manogi District, Afghan authorities accused international forces of killing six children during an air assault on Taliban positions. Provincial police chief Khalilullah Ziayee said a group of children were collecting scrap metal on the mountain when NATO aircraft dropped bombs to disperse Taliban fighters attacking a nearby base. “In the bombardment six children, aged six to 12, were killed,” the police commander said. “Another child was injured.”

 

In the Bamiyan province of Afghanistan, Zekirullah, a young Afghan friend of mine, age 15, rises at 2:00 a.m. several mornings each week and rides his donkey for six hours through the pre-dawn to reach a mountainside where he can collect scrub brush and twigs which he loads on the donkey in baskets. Then he heads home and stacks the wood - on top of his family’s home – to be taken down later and burned for heat. They don’t have electrical appliances to heat the home, and even if they did the villagers only get electricity for two hours a day, generally between 1:00 a.m. – 3:00 a.m. Families rely on their children to collect fuel for heat during the harsh winters and for cooking year round. Young laborers, wanting to help their families survive, mean no harm to the United States. They’re not surging at us, or anywhere: they’re not insurgents. They’re not doing anything to threaten us. They are children, and children anywhere are like children everywhere: they’re children like our own.

 

But in Kunar, on March 1, child laborers collecting fuel were slaughtered.  Their bodies were casually dismembered and strewn by planes already lost in the horizon as they stopped moving. They lay in pools of blood until family members realized, one by one, that their children weren’t late in returning home, but instead were never going to return. Drone surveillance will never help us understand sudden impoverishment, bereavement, terror and pain experienced by Afghan villagers bearing the brunt of our wars.

 


A drone is a small unmanned airplane-type vehicle that is flown by remote control. “Shadow drones” carry cameras and are used for surveillance. “Predator drones” carry bombs that are currently being dropped on the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan by the U.S. government. Drones are also being used in Yemen, and to track immigrants along the Mexican border. The drones are controlled by U.S. Air Force pilots in Creech Air Force Base, Nevada and CIA civilians in Langley, Virginia. Though operators of the drones are dropping bombs that kill people, they are far removed from the drones and the destruction they are causing.

 

Wisconsin has plans to build an $8.2 million drone training facility at Camp Williams to be used for military personnel learning to control drones. About 95% of the money will come from the federal government, with the rest coming from our state.
 
The number of drone attacks have increased significantly since President Obama took office. President Bush conducted a total of 43 drone missions in his eight years in office. Under Obama there were 53 drone strikes in 2009 and there were more than 80 in 2010. Drone strikes have not abated in 2011.
 
The use of drones costs the taxpayer a lot of money, and enriches the biggest corporate names that profit from war, such as Boeing, Lockheed-Martin and Northrop Grumman. With so many residents of Wisconsin not able to meet basic needs of food, housing, and health care, it is ludicrous to consider spending $8 million on a training facility in Wisconsin.
 
Drone attacks are illegal and constitute extra-judicial killings.The use of drones goes against the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions, the Hague Conventions, and the principles of the Nuremburg Tribunal. They are also against U.S., and other international human rights laws, the laws of war, and the law applicable to the use of inter-state force.
 
In a report to the UN Human Rights Council, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Philip Alston stated that the use of drones by the CIA amounts to “a license to kill without accountability,” sharply criticizing the legal arguments invoked to justify drone bombings. He has called for transparency and accountability around the drones’ targeted killings, demanding that the U.S. specify the legal justification for “decisions to kill rather than capture” and what measures it is taking to prevent civilian casualties. Our leaders have not done so. 
 
We derive no security benefits from drone strikes, and in fact, the opposite is likely true – that drone attacks make us less safe. The Pentagon claims that drone attacks are an ideal strategy for eliminating Al Qaeda. Yet in the name of bolstering security for U.S. residents, the government is institutionalizing assassination as a valid policy. More and more young men in Afghanistan and Pakistan are joining groups that will retaliate against the United States for the murder of their loved ones.
 
Vincent Warren, Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, has said, “If our government is not telling us who they are going to kill, and if they are not telling the courts who they are going to kill, and if they are not giving anybody an opportunity to defend themselves, and if they’re not putting forth any evidence whatsoever, our democracy is dead.”
 
The most important reason that we must end the drone attacks is because of the unbelievable suffering that drone attacks cause to our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other places around the globe. A report published by the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict says that the drone strikes are made based on faulty evidence and many innocent civilians are killed. There is grave concern about the moral issues involved in the use of drones as we reflect on the suffering and death of innocent children, women, and men. It is estimated that 2,000 people have been killed by drone bombs, with only 66 identified as members of al Qaeda.
 
The people of the U.S. become even further removed from the tragedy and consequences of war, as U.S. armed forces and CIA agents assassinate targets without ever leaving a U.S. base. Even so, drone operators have extremely high rates of post-traumatic stress, even though they do not physically get anywhere close to the battleground.
 
A decision on whether or not to build the drone training facility at Camp Williams is currently being studied by the state Building Commission. If the Building Commission approves the facility, it will be voted on by the state legislature this spring. However, if federal funding is not approved – or state policymakers object – the project will not go ahead.
 
We must call on members of the state Building Commission, members of the state legislature, the governor and members of the U.S. Congress to refuse to provide approval and money for this facility. Please join the WNPJ anti-militarism workgroup as we work to stop this facility from being built.

 


U.S. Marines met in February with Colombian counter intelligence to provide information on “a mobile, lightweight but tough, user-friendly observation information system” known as the Raven RQ11, typically used for reconnaissance missions. The U.S. has also supplied the Honduran Government (installed in a 2009 coup) with drones, according to one of the Wikileaks cables. The drones will operate out of the joint U.S./Honduras air force base at Palmerola. Unarmed drones have also been sent by U.S. forces over Mexico since February to gather intelligence on major drug cartels. Mexico confirmed the missions had been taking place after they were revealed by the New York Times in March. Most of the drone flights have been over northern border areas, the scene of much of the drug-related violence that has left more than 34,000 dead since late 2006. The missions had been kept secret because of Mexican legal restraints and sensitivities over sovereignty.

 

In Pakistan, the government has said that U.S. drone strikes in the north-west have “neither justification nor understanding.” “We believe that they are counter-productive and also a violation of our sovereignty,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit told reporters, adding, “We hope that the U.S. will revisit its policy.” Basit said that the drone war was “not serving the larger strategic interests, especially in the context of our efforts to win hearts and minds, which is part and parcel of our strategy against militants and terrorists.” (October 7, 2010, Agence France-Presse) And a sense of the fear aroused by drone aircraft was seen two installations in an art exhibition which opened recently in Karachi, Pakistan. The installations, by Abdullah Syed, are both shaped like U.S. drones and arranged in carpet-like patterns. One, made of U.S. $1 bills, creates ominous shadows falling on nearby walls. The other piece was made entirely of box cutters.

 

In the U.S., federal, state and local law enforcement agencies are using drones for domestic surveillance, as well as to patrol the border and track forest fires. The Predator B (General Atomics) is used by the Department of Homeland Security to patrol the U.S. border. Honeywell’s T-Hawk is used by the Miami-Dade County, Fla., Police Department. The Wasp (AeroVironment) is used by the Texas Department of Public Safety. The Mesa County, Colo., Sheriff’s Office is using the Draganflyer X6. To see them in use, search the Washington Post website, for drones. They are incredibly and increasingly tiny – the most recent is called “the hummingbird.”

 

And the Department of Defense recently confirmed that it does not compile statistics about the total number of civilians killed by the unmanned drone aircraft. In a response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union the DOD disclosed that the military’s estimates of civilian casualties do not distinguish between deaths caused by remote-controlled drones and those caused by other aircraft, and that there is no total number of casualties compiled. Moreover, information contained in the individual assessments is classified – making it impossible for the public to learn how many civilians have been killed overall.

 


 

On the Terrorist Watch List

Michael Komba, Casa Maria

Did you know that the FBI classified you as being a possible terrorist? This was the last thing I expected to hear when I picked up the phone. Yet my friend was correct.

According to a report by the Department of Justice (justice.gov/oig/special/s1009r.pdf), I was one of many people involved in progressive activism who were investigated as being a possible domestic terrorist and a threat to national security. The document states that I was investigated back in 2003 when I was a member of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Student Peace Action Network. I was accused of breaking the window of an Army recruiting center near the university for political reasons, which, in the government’s eyes, classified me as being a potential terrorist. Of course, I have never destroyed property as part of any protest or political action. In fact, for the past 12 years I have worked at Casa Maria Catholic Worker, a pacifist community dedicated to housing homeless women and families. I am obviously not a terrorist!

I remember back in 2003 when this whole mess started. A pair of FBI agents visited me at Casa Maria twice and both times they claimed a witness had positively identified me as being the window-destroying vandal. I found out later, via the Justice Department report that came out last year, that a witness had said that it MAY have been me; this only happened after the FBI agents showed the witness a video they had of me protesting at the Federal Building in downtown Milwaukee.

I am quite grateful to the Department of Justice for reviewing the FBI investigations. However, they only looked into the FBI investigations of six groups and found many cases of improper activity. We deserve better. Everyone must be held accountable to basic standards.

 


 

The Creech 14 - Anti-Drone Activists Convicted 

In January, 14 antiwar activists were found guilty of trespassing for a 2009 protest against U.S. military drone attacks deployed from the Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. The base is one of several homes for the American military’s aerial drone program in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The activists were charged with criminal trespassing for entering the base with a letter describing their opposition to the drone program. All 14 were sentenced to time already served. In a statement, the “Creech 14” vowed to continue opposing the drones through nonviolent protest.

 


 

 

Reviews

 

“War Has Almost Ceased to Exist: An Assessment,” Political Science Quarterly, Summer 2009

Reviewed by David L Nordstrom, dlnordstrom@gmail.com

In a provocative new article, Ohio State University political scientist John Mueller has written that “there has been a most notable decline in the frequency of wars over the last years.” After analyzing data from recent decades, Mueller suggests that the institution of war “may be in prominent decline, as attitudes toward it have changed.” For historical comparison, he offers the example of how state-sponsored slavery became discredited and then obsolete.

Several reactions to Mueller’s thesis may come from the antiwar movement. One is indifference: activists will not read the article or will not believe it is worth their response. Another is rejection: activists will fault Mueller’s methods, results, or conclusions. A third is acceptance: activists will find the paper to be valid and may even credit the antiwar movement for war’s decline.

If I am correct, the person who said “war is hell” was a general. While some voices in the antiwar movement charge President Obama with betrayal, he is not beholden to the movement. In the long run, it is not only the current wars that are tragic—it is the instrument of war itself. I therefore hope that many members of WNPJ will read the Mueller article and will share their reactions.

{We will be happy to publish any and all such responses. - Editor}

 


 

Wartime Dissent in America: A History and Anthology

By Robert Mann, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, ISBN 978-0-230-10483-9

Reviewed by James P. Spychalla, Antigo, WI, Antigo People for Peace  potatoes@kohm-spychalla.com

From the American Revolution in which the British loyalists were the dissenters, to today’s “War on Terror,” Robert Mann’s Wartime Dissent in America documents the tenuous nature of free speech in our country, especially during wartime. Mann gives us a brief background to each of our country’s twelve major conflicts, followed by the anti-war logic of several prominent voices. Not only is the reader left with a dramatic non-textbook view of the conflict, but with a profound admiration of the brilliance and courage of those speaking out against war.

Mann asks: “Does our society really encourage a diversity of opinion? Or is dissent acceptable in the media only in the narrowest of ranges?” While answering these questions, it becomes apparent that one person’s noble patriotic dissent is another person’s crime of sedition or treason. All in all, this is a very worthwhile read.

 


 

Video Game:  “People Power”: Great Theory, Lackluster Practice

By Eric S. Piotrowski, East Timor Action Network - Madison eric@etan.org 

Many of the bestselling and most exciting video games focus on war, with the player as a soldier, killing hundreds and hundreds of “bad guys.” But the media group York-Zimmerman is trying to combine the fun of virtual entertainment with the realities of nonviolent action in a new strategy game called “People Power.” Instead of the usual hardscrabble mercenary taking on a faceless horde of enemy soldiers, the player is a community organizer, using the tools of social action to bring about a change in the  community.

 

The game is presented with Adobe’s AIR system, which was a first for me. It’s not the most nimble multimedia platform ever created, but it works fine for a turn-based strategy game. The graphics are good, even if they feel a bit like something made with PowerPoint and a public-domain art program. There’s not much sound, but a nice music loop sits comfortably in the background. The controls are all button-based, and they’re mostly straightforward.

 

I love the idea of this game. It leads the player through the actual actions used by community organizers worldwide: recruiting new members, raising funds, pressuring public officials, media work, training individuals, and so forth. The possibilities are plentiful, and a variety of scenarios are already available for the game. Maps can be small (a single village) or huge (a country, or several). Goals can range from getting a recycling bill passed (as in the tutorial) or overthrowing a dictatorship.

 

Unfortunately, the experience of playing “People Power” is mostly frustrating. At first I was thrilled to see my actions yielding positive results. As we moved to popularize the recycling program, I made connections with people in the community and cheered when each new individual agreed to come on board. The green “movement momentum” score crept up, and the red “regime power” score dwindled. But then everything fell apart. The tactics I had been using yielded no results. I expected some setbacks, but I had no idea why my efforts were now unsuccessful.

 

Beyond anything else – beyond graphics, audio, political message, or even story – a video game must be fun. If it’s not fun or rewarding to play, users will not stick with it. Unfortunately, “People Power” isn’t fun once the initial thrill wears off, and from what I can tell, it’s not necessarily supposed to be. It seems rather that the programmers see this as more of a simulation than a traditional game. It would seem that the goal of “People Power” is less about fun and more about experimenting with virtual action strategies.

 

This is fine, but it’s not for me. I have enough frustrations trying fruitlessly to pressure real-world forces like Scott Walker and the U.S. Congress, without also spending my free time bumping heads with an illogically intransigent virtual public. Like most gamers, I want a fun experience based on a logical and easily-comprehensible (if not quickly-mastered) system of actions and reactions. Nonviolent games can provide such experiences – “MYST” and “Kingdom for Keflings” are two legendary examples. But if the fun is hard to find, then the players will be too.

 

See: www.peoplepowergame.com

 


  

An orchid to...

To WNPJ Board member Cecilia Zarate, for an article, “Gold v. Water,” about mining giant Greystar Corporation’s ecologically destructive plans for Colombia. This was published by the on-line journal Counterpunch on January 20, 2011; see counterpunch.org to read the article.

To the people of Colombia, who have succeeded in blocking plans by Greystar corporation, a Canadian mining firm, to construct an open-pit mine in the Santurban mountains region of Colombia, a region that is critical to the ecology of the natural water systems of Colombia. Success required Colombian activists to overcome their own government, which had supported the Greystar project. Although Greystar is now attempting to recast the project as a smaller below-surface mining project, Cecilia Zarate-Laun of Colombia Support Network considers the shift a significant victory and says that this example of successful nonviolent resistance could be an inspiration to all Colombians, who have only seen examples of violent resistance over the past 60 years.

To the people of Tunisia, who inspired people around the world, and especially in the Middle East, with a powerful nonviolent uprising that succeeded in forcing Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia, ending 23 years of his repressive rule.

To the people of Egypt, who built their own nonviolent mass uprising, successfully resisting more than two weeks of armed attacks from police and plainclothes security forces to end the 30-year reign of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Millions of Egyptians participated in the uprising, setting up aid stations and food stations to maintain their occupation of Tharir Square in central Cairo and forming neighborhood watch committees to protect their homes from looting and violence by out-of-uniform security forces. 

To the people of Wisconsin, for drawing on the inspiring examples from Tunisia and Egypt to organize their own steadfast defense of the rights of workers. In just the past month, Wisconsinites have built the largest mass protests ever seen in our state’s history and maintained a weeks-long peaceful occupation of our state’s Capitol to keep the building open to the public. They have organized grassroots protests in support of public workers in all corners of our state, and are now building a unified movement in opposition to all aspects of the Governor’s budget, “connecting the dots” in a way that could strengthen efforts for social justice in our state for many years to come.

 


 

End the War Against the Earth 

“When we think of wars in our times, our minds turn to Iraq and Afghanistan. But the bigger war is the war against the planet. This war has its roots in an economy that fails to respect ecological and ethical limits - limits to inequality, limits to injustice, limits to greed and economic concentration. A handful of corporations and of powerful countries seeks to control the earth’s resources and transform the planet into a supermarket in which everything is for sale. They want to sell our water, genes, cells, organs, knowledge, cultures and future. The continuing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and onwards are not only about ‘blood for oil’. As they unfold, we will see that they are about blood for food, blood for genes and biodiversity and blood for water.”

Vandana Shiva: Time to End the War Against the Earth, The Age, November 4, 2010

 


 

Report from the WNPJ Office

From Diane Farsetta, WNPJ Executive Director

We’ve had a wonderful, whirlwind start to 2011!

First, there were preparations for the celebration and day of action marking WNPJ’s twentieth anniversary. Some 200 people joined us for the February 19 reception, which featured CODEPINK’s Medea Benjamin and WNPJ co-founder Frank Boyle as inspiring speakers; wonderful live music from Will and Dot Williams and the Raging Grannies; and the world premiere of John Quinlan’s video documentary about WNPJ (which can be viewed online, at http://vimeo.com/20179710). Our sincere thanks to those who donated many hours over several months to help plan the reception: Mary Beth Schlagheck, Bonnie Block, Jim Draeger, Bill Christofferson, Sheila Spear and Steve Carlson. Other volunteers helping the night of the event were Fei Ma, Melinda Helmer, Barb Boehme, Stefania Sani, John Marhoefer, Karin Sandvik, Vicki Berenson, Lance Green, Dave Nordstrom and Eric Piotrowski. A special thank you to those who brought potluck dishes, donated silent auction items, sponsored the event and shared the evening with us!

The Badger Revolution had begun earlier that week, in support of labor rights and the many Wisconsin values threatened by the proposed budget “repair” and biennial budget bills. The mounting protests lent a special energy and urgency to WNPJ’s anniversary events and work in general. We redoubled efforts to help our members get out the word and learn about events, with frequent website and email updates. Along with Mary Beth Schlagheck and Judy Miner, WNPJ’s Program Director Steve Burns designed a poster connecting the cost of war to Wisconsin’s budget woes (available at wnpj.org), and also organized Capitol solidarity sing-alongs of labor and civil rights songs.

The security over-reaction to the Capitol protests made the logistics of WNPJ’s grassroots lobby day challenging. Around 30 people participated, adding a pro-collective bargaining message to a day of advocacy on the priorities of WNPJ’s work groups: supporting earned release prison programs, maintaining cost and radioactive waste safeguards on new nuclear reactors, and keeping the complaint process for race-based “Indian” school logos; and opposing anti-immigrant measures, and the proposed drone aircraft facility at Camp Williams. The highlight of the day was WNPJ co-founder Senator Fred Risser, calling in from an undisclosed location in Illinois to welcome grassroots lobbyists and mark WNPJ’s actual anniversary. WNPJ grassroots lobbyists joined in the Capitol protests and a picket and rally outside the annual meeting of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, organized by Wisconsin Wave.  A special “thank you” to the volunteers who helped us to develop lobby day issues and information: Joy First, Bonnie Block, Mary Beth Schlagheck, Barb Munson, Karma Chavez and Stefania Sani.  Thanks also to Shahla Werner of the Sierra Club for presenting the nuclear issue to our grassroots lobbyists.

We had an incredible peace solidarity day in Madison on March 19th, the eighth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), including WNPJ Board member Todd Dennis. They were supported by Veterans for Peace Chapter #25, and representatives from AFSCME. Thousands marched up State Street, including teachers,  firefighters, local officials and WNPJ peacemakers from across the state. People along the route chanted “thank you” to the veterans for peace.

WNPJ Program Coordinator Steve Burns emceed the rally before the march at Library Mall, leading us in peace and labor songs, along with an accordian player!  At the rally on the Square, IVAW representatives spoke about their part in the war in Iraq and why they came to the conclusion that this war must end now. WNPJ Peacemaker award winner Will and Dot Williams sang a song of solidarity, as did the Madison Raging Grannies. All in all, the day made clear why it is vital to “Bring Our War $$ Home!”

Looking ahead – though it will have happened by the time you receive this newsletter – WNPJ is holding its spring steering committee meeting in Mauston. The program, featuring international human rights activist Kathy Kelly, will highlight the drone aircraft training facility proposed for nearby Camp Williams. Special thanks to John McGinley and the WNPJ member group Juneau County Peace Committee for hosting the meeting!

 


 

WNPJ receives grant award

WNPJ is happy to announce that RESIST, a national progressive foundation based in Massachusetts, awarded the Network a general support grant of $4,000 in February. The funding is especially welcome, as WNPJ seeks to strengthen its efforts at this critical time for Wisconsin and the country.

 

WNPJ’s mission of facilitating activities, cooperation and communication among Wisconsin organizations and individuals working toward the creation of a sustainable world, free from violence and injustice, is a natural fit for RESIST. RESIST began in 1967, in support of draft resistance and opposition to the Vietnam War. It makes grants to organizations engaged in activist organizing and educational work, with a focus on groups too small, local or radical for mainstream foundations.

 

If you think RESIST may be a good fit for your organization, visit their website at www.resistinc.org. The next grant application deadline is June 3.

 


Volunteers Needed for Pancakes for Peace!

If you’re reading this, you support peace. How do you feel about pancakes? What about renewable energy?

Please consider helping WNPJ at our annual “Pancakes for Peace” fundraiser on Friday, June 17 at the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair in Custer (near Stevens Point). 

If you can volunteer, please let us know by emailing outreach@wnpj.org or calling (608) 250-9240. For more about the Energy Fair, see www.midwestrenew.org.

Join us at the all-you-can-eat Pancakes for Peace breakfast ($8 adults / $5 children) and/or stop by the WNPJ info table!