November article

Chapter 11: Still Waiting for the Judge … (November)

Welcome to the eleventh monthly posting: 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. Real Change’s exceptional associate editor Rosette Royale did a fine follow-up column about the case, discussing my own desire to get to trial. 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 eight weeks – 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 for an update. If you haven’t yet, please look at earlier postings and follow other pages at this website.

This morning I opened up the weekly email from my favorite Israeli journalist and activist Uri Avnery. The peace organization he co-founded, Gush Shalom, posted his most recent article. Here are key excerpts:

LAST WEDNESDAY was the 16th anniversary of [Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s] assassination, according to the Hebrew calendar. The event was marked in Israeli schools by speeches and special lessons. What these citizens of tomorrow learned was that it is very bad to murder a prime minister. And that, more or less, was that. Not a word about why he was killed. Certainly nothing about the community the assassin belonged to, or what campaign of hatred and incitement led to the murder.

[One could equally well write about the killing of another peacemaker, Martin Luther King, Jr. – about his “Beyond Vietnam” speech where he called the U.S. “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world” – the vicious attacks on him in our mainstream media (Time magazine called him a spokesman for Hanoi) – and the U.S. federal jury which found that MLK was assassinated by a conspiracy involving government agencies.]

[This is all essentially unspeakable in the mainstream of our United States of Amnesia.]

[Before Rabin’s assassination, in Tel Aviv I’d seen posters portraying him in the uniform of an SS officer. More recently in Washington, DC, I saw posters portraying Obama with a Hitler mustache painted in. I spoke of this earlier incident to the man with the poster, but sadly he remained indifferent.]

Uri Avnery continues:

A FEW weeks after Yitzhak Rabin was elected Prime Minister (for the second time) in 1992, I met Yasser Arafat in Tunis.
He was, of course, curious about the personality of the newly elected Israeli leader. Knowing that I was meeting him from time to time, he asked what I thought of him.
“He is an honest man,” I replied, and then added: “as much as a politician can be.”
Arafat burst out laughing, and so did everybody in the room, including Mahmoud Abbas and Yasser Abed Rabbo. …
Rabin was basically an honest man. He hated lying and avoided it as much as he could. Basically he remained a military man and never became a real politician. (my emphasis)

The starting point of the article was this:

After being treated to dozens of cordial encounters between Netanyahu and Nicholas Sarkozy, Israeli TV viewers got a glimpse of reality. It came in the form of an exchange of views between the presidents of the US and of France.
Sarkozy: “I cannot stand him (Netanyahu). He is a liar!”
Obama: “YOU are fed up with him? I have to deal with him every day!”
That came after it was leaked that Angela Merkel, the German prime
minister, told her cabinet that “every word that leaves Netanyahu’s mouth is a lie.”
Which makes it more or less unanimous.

I wanted to include these excerpts because of the perceptive lines I highlighted above (as fascinating as the unintended news leak is in its own right – plus the explanation in the article as to why the leak came from a blogger and not from the journalists present).

Today is Veteran’s Day in the U.S. I wish to mark the day by quoting from USAF Colonel John Warden III, the man called the architect of the 1991 Gulf War air war.

Colonel Warden is a military man, not a politician, and so he writes with unusual candor describing the strategy of the 1991 air war against Iraq. His article The Enemy as a System was published in 1995 in an 8,000-word paper in USAF Airpower Journal.

Here are quotes from Colonel Warden as they appear in the article (my emphasis):

[I]t is imperative to understand that strategic war may have nothing to do with the enemy’s military forces. Strategic war is war to force the enemy state or organization to do what you want it to do. … It is, however, the whole system that is our target, not its military forces. (last emphasis in original)

Without electric power, production of civil and military goods, distribution of food and other essentials, civil and military communication, and life in general become difficult to impossible. Note that destruction of the power system may have little short-term effect at the front if there is a front.

The next most critical ring contains the organic essentials. Organic essentials are those facilities or processes without which the state or organization cannot maintain itself. It is not necessarily directly related to combat ….

If a state’s organic essentials-whether generated internally or imported are destroyed, life itself becomes difficult ….

The fourth most critical ring is the population. Moral objections aside, it is difficult to attack the population directly. … As part of an overall effort to alter the enemy system, an indirect approach to the population is probably worthwhile ….

Again, let us reiterate that we hold direct attacks on civilians to be morally reprehensible and militarily difficult. …

[A] commander may, however, be forced to deal with the enemy’s fielded military forces because … his political masters will not permit him to attack strategic centers. [Dick Cheney and George H.W. Bush were Col. Warden’s “political masters” who obviously did not object to his attacking “strategic centers.”]

These targets [electrical-generating plants called “organic essentials] tend to be small, very expensive, have few backups, and are hard to repair. If a significant percentage is struck in parallel, the damage becomes insuperable.

Fighting is not the essence of war, nor even a desirable part of it. The real essence is doing what is necessary to make the enemy accept our objectives as his objectives.

It should be clear that the objective Colonel Warden speaks of was not just to get Iraq to leave Kuwait, but what James Baker testified to: the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Colonel Warden’s words speak for themselves, but I’ll add a few comments. He writes “we hold direct attacks on civilians to be morally reprehensible” however the point of his strategy is that indirect attacks on civilians are morally acceptable. Gandhi once said that he didn’t see any difference between killing someone with a bullet or by starvation. Or by killing them with water-borne diseases because electrical pumps are shut down.

If you have forgotten what the policy of destroying the “organic essentials” of electrical-generation did to Iraq, please re-read the reports from our military, NEJM and UNICEF.

U.S. attorney Kate Pflaumer, criticizing this military strategy, writes: “Article 54 of the Geneva Convention states: ‘It is prohibited to attack, destroy or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population’ and includes foodstuffs, livestock and ‘drinking water supplies and irrigation works.’” (See the last page of Declaration)

I recently had the privilege of being with Palden Kyatso, a Tibetan monk who was imprisoned and tortured for 33 years in a Chinese prison for refusing to change his view that Tibet should belong to Tibetans. I got to ask him how he maintained his kindness through all this when so many fellow monks died of hunger, torture, or even suicide.

His answer stopped me: he said that he remembered those prison guards were “just doing their job” (a phrase we almost always use disparagingly). But if they didn’t do their job, Palden pointed out, they would themselves be tortured, jailed and/or without means to support their families. Colonel Warden is unlikely to be in any such category.

Still, it is helpful to consider the group and career pressure he must have felt to design a policy he believed would lead to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein – put ‘our guy’ in power – and manage all of this at the cost of very few American casualties and money.

I personally doubt that Colonel Warden made concrete to himself what the tactics he designed would mean for the human beings who lived in Iraq and who would soon be without safe water. Or the moral and legal implications of the deaths this would cause.

I see two principles of nonviolence that are relevant here. One is always to strive to remember the humanity of the persons whose actions you are vigorously working to influence. The second is that in the long run only right means will lead to right ends.

Instead, the wrong means of using civilian suffering and death to overthrow a leader has led to100,000s of Iraqi children’s deaths – a terrible blow to U.S. moral stature in the world – and an angry and despairing Iraqi population which Dick Cheney and fellow neocons incredibly believed would welcome our invasion with open arms and flowers.

This is a lesson that empathy is practical, even in making military and foreign policies.

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