December article

Chapter 12: Still Waiting for the Judge … … (December)

Welcome to the twelfth monthly posting: As I reported last month, the date of the government trial against me has been vacated and we have to wait for the judge to rule if there will be a trial at all. The U.S. is suing me to collect a $10,000 fine because I was unwilling to ask the U.S. for a license for a 1997 trip I took to bring medicine to Iraqi children. I’ve consistently refused to pay the fine – and did not request a license – to challenge the legality and legitimacy of U.S. policy on Iraq.

On August 9th, the judge issued an Order; in part it says: “[T]he court ORDERS the Government to SHOW CAUSE why the court should not dismiss this action.” We have received the brief the judge ordered the Government to provide and we have replied. After reviewing the briefs – it’s now been almost three months – the judge will decide whether to have a trial or not. As soon as I know his decision I will post more information. You can still follow by adding your address at IraqiKids.org for an update. If you haven’t yet, please look at earlier postings and follow other pages at this website.

As some of you will have noted, I am an enthusiastic follower of the work of the Metta Center (based in Northern California). I personally find their work in understanding and teaching Gandhian nonviolence exceptionally valuable.

Several weeks ago, Michael Nagler (founder of the Center) wrote an article titled “Militarization in academe.” He goes back a half century to the civil rights movement to connect the violence of Southern racists with the violence of police at UC Berkeley and Davis towards peaceful protesters of the Occupy Movement. The article begins:

The day after Mothers’ Day, May 14, 1961, the front-page picture of a Greyhound bus engulfed in flames galvanized the American public. It was Anniston, Alabama, and Klansmen had fully intended to burn the freedom riders alive. For the first time many Americans realized the full depth of hatred faced by black southerners—and those who came to help them.

Right now two videos may be having a similar effect. They show shockingly savage attacks on students by the police; at Berkeley, we see protesting students with linked arms being jabbed and beaten by police “batons” (as poet laureate Robert Hass pointed out, this is not an orchestra and those are not batons—they’re clubs). At Davis it’s a line of seated, peaceful students being casually doused with pepper spray by an apparently impassive police officer.

After discussing what Americans could learn from these events the article ends this way:

So far, the students say they are using nonviolence (or at least that’s what’s reported in the press) because it gives them “the moral high ground.” In other words, it’s a winning strategy. If—no, when—they take the next step and realize that nonviolence is the only force that rehumanizes as it works, that can permanently reverse militarism and not just give it another form, I believe nothing will be able to stop them.

The freedom riders delegitimated racism; perhaps this generation, with their creativity and their courage, will delegitimate violence itself.

I have heard the Occupy Movement described as a moment of global spiritual awakening. What a spiritual awakening it would prove to be if “this generation, with their creativity and their courage, will delegitimate violence itself”!

Professor Nagler (UC Berkeley) draws insights from lessons about the violence from 50 years ago – an awareness which awakened Americans and led to the civil rights efforts.

Another professor Don Holsinger (Seattle Pacific University) points to the violence of a time exactly 500 years ago – in Hispaniola (the island now Haiti and the Dominican Republic). The Spanish empire of the time was beginning to create its global new world order. And in 1511, an obscure Dominican Friar had the courage to deliver a sermon against the brutality, enslavement and death being visited on the indigenous people.

Historical records show that Friar Anton Montesino delivered a sermon using the Biblical theme of “a voice calling in the desert.” Even though the abuse wrought upon the peoples of the island was “legal” – in terms given by the King of Spain to Christopher Columbus’ son – this brave friar eventually got to speak to King Ferdinand and lessened, to some degree at least, the tyranny of Spain’s colonial oppression. This fascinating story of Anton Montesino was chronicled by Bartolomé de las Casas, who continued advocating on behalf of Indian rights for the following half a century.

If the Biblical voices of Isaiah and John the Baptist were voices crying in the wilderness, the organization I often journeyed to Iraq with was named exactly that: “Voices in the Wilderness.” We went to call attention to the suffering and death being visited on Iraqis. Exactly 499 years after Christopher Columbus brought the Spanish empire to our hemisphere, the United States embarked on the Gulf War as its first major foreign policy adventure after the fall of the Soviet Union: to demonstrate the military might of the American empire (“What we say goes!”).

Last month I wrote in part about an article by USAF Colonel John Warden III, the man credited with being “the architect of the air war” against Iraq in 1991. I thought his description of the U.S. bombing strategy in the Gulf War was honest – and also self-incriminating in terms of war crimes.

Kenneth Rizer, another USAF Colonel, took some notice of our efforts as Voices in the Wilderness (and the growing number of anti-sanctions organizations world wide). Colonel Rizer argues – I believe incorrectly – that the suffering and death wrought upon the Iraqi people was “legal” – in terms given by the U.S. Congress and President.

In his article (also in an official USAF journal) he raises the “legal, ethical, and doctinal” issue of bombing what he calls “dual-use targets.” He begins this way:

A key example of such dual-use targeting was the destruction of Iraqi electrical power facilities in Desert Storm. While crippling Iraq’s military command and control capability, destruction of these facilities shut down water purification and sewage treatment plants. As a result, epidemics of gastroenteritis, cholera, and typhoid broke out, leading to perhaps as many as 100,000 civilian deaths and a doubling of the infant mortality rate. Given such effects on non-combatants, are electrical power facilities legitimate military targets? Does airpower doctrine acknowledge, support, or condemn such indirect effects? Must air campaign planners weigh these indirect effects in their target selection process?

His concluding sentences obviously address our group, Voices in the Wilderness, but could equally well be directed towards Isaiah and John the Baptist:

The JWE’s treatment of dual-use targets is more encouraging as several commentators have begun to question the wisdom of ignoring the long-term unintended effects obviously caused in part by such dual-use attacks. Yet proponents of the JWE have no leverage over international opinion … [u]ntil they develop both relative consensus as well as workable solutions to applicability questions, they will merely be voices crying out in the wilderness.

Finally, the US Air Force has a vested interest in attacking dual-use targets so long as dual-use target destruction serves the double role of destroying legitimate military capabilities and indirectly targeting civilian morale. So long as this remains within the letter if not the spirit of the law and the JWE [Christian Just-War Ethic], the Air Force will cling to the status quo. (emphasis added)

I have highlighted the words “unintended” and “indirectly targeting civilian morale.” It seems to me hardly conceivable that Colonel Rizer could be unaware of Colonel Warden’s lengthy article describing U.S. Gulf War bombing strategy. The article by Colonel Warden makes entirely clear and explicit that the consequences of bombing Iraq’s electrical-generating plants were not unintended – but what were desired.

And it is also clear that killing indirectly 100,000 Iraqi civilians according to Colonel Rizer is a desirable consequence in which the USAF has a “vested interest.” (Of course the number of excess deaths is likely ten times higher than Colonel Rizer cites, the majority being children under five. But what would we say about 100,000 Iraqi adult deaths – caused indirectly but knowingly via “an attack on the public health” [NEJM]?!)

There are other issues which I will not take up here in detail, of the requirements of proportionality and discrimination under the international rules of war. Except to point out that as a country we are moving further and further away from the rule of law – even away from our own U.S. Constitution. Michael Nagler reminds us of this (concerning the N.D.A.A. which the Senate has now passed):

As I write, the U.S. Senate is getting ready to debate, and hopefully reject, S. 1867, the National Defense Authorization Act, which would give all future Presidents the right to do what President Obama has already done: to assassinate American citizens without trial, anywhere—including on American soil. This bill, which was drafted in secret by Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) and passed in a closed-door committee meeting, without even a single hearing, is only the latest step in the noose of militarization that has been tightening around our freedoms (or our very lives) since 9/11.

There is a logic to violence: once accepted as legitimate, there is no logical way to draw a line and stop its spread into other “unintended” areas.

It is equally true that there is a logic of nonviolence: once the deep root of ahimsa is understood and accepted it too can spread into the whole of life.

This makes it urgent that the Occupy Movement understand and model nonviolence. And for all of us who can, to help the Occupy Movement fulfill its promise.

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