Statement: Vern Ehlers – A War Criminal?

The People’s Alliance for Justice and Change has issued the following statement on Representative Vern Ehlers and the protest yesterday at his office:

We are here today to hold Representative Vern Ehlers accountable for crimes violating both international and constitutional law. By supporting the Bush administration in their unrelenting drive to war, Congressman Vern Ehlers, as well as any other Representative or Senator that support this impeding war, will be complicit in crimes against humanity.

Articles 41 and 42 of the U.N. Charter declare that no member state has the right to enforce any resolution with armed force unless the Security Council decides there has been a material breach of its resolution, and determines that all nonmilitary means of enforcement have been exhausted. Then, the Council must specifically authorize the use of military force. The Security Council has not authorized any use of force for subsequent violations involving Iraq, and at this point appears very unlikely to do so. Despite this, the Bush administration has repeatedly claimed that they will go to war with Iraq regardless of what the Security Council decides. This would be a violation of International Law.

The U.N. charter is a treaty and part of the supreme law of the United States under Article 6, clause 2 of the Constitution. . It requires the United States to settle all disputes by peaceful means and not use military force in the absence of an armed attack. The U.N. Charter empowers only the Security Council to authorize the use of force, unless a member state is acting in individual or collective self-defense. Iraq has not attacked this country, or any other country in the past 11 years. None of Iraq’s neighbors have appealed to the Security Council to protect them from an imminent attack by Iraq. Any war against Iraq without the approval of the U.N. Security Council is therefore not only a violation of the U.N. Charter, but also a violation of the U.S. Constitution as well.

Article I, section 8 of the Constitution empowers Congress, not the president, to debate and decide to declare war on another country. The War Powers Resolution provides that the “constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories, or possessions or its armed forces.” Congress has not declared war on Iraq, no statute authorizes an invasion and Iraq has not attacked the United States, its territories, possessions or armed forces. In supporting the Bush administration in waging war on Iraq, Congressman Ehlers is remiss in his own duties as an elected member of congress by abdicating the authority to wage war to the executive branch.

For twelve years Iraq has suffered under an extreme sanction regime that has prevented it from purchasing necessary foodstuffs, medicine, and materials essential to rebuilding destroyed infrastructure. The result of these sanctions has been the death of 5000 Iraqi children a month from what would otherwise be preventable disease and malnutrition and standard of living conditions that are the worst in the region. According to the Geneva Conventions – 1977 Part IV, Section 1, Chapter III, Article 54:”Starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is prohibited. It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove, or render useless objects indispensable to the agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies, and irrigation works, for the specific purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian population or to the adverse Party, whatever the motive”. These sanctions violate international law and are contrary to the letter and spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age, or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” Despite both the dubious legality and horrendous moral ramifications of the Iraqi sanctions, Representative Ehlers has continued to support them.

According to the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal, which was accepted by the U.N. as International law, “any person who commits an act which constitutes a crime under international law is responsible therefore and liable to punishment” (article I). Furthermore, “The fact that a person who committed an act which constitutes a crime under international law acted as Head of State or responsible Government official does not relieve him from responsibility under international law”(article III). We are here today to say that any member of congress that supports a preemptive war in Iraq or the continuation of the sanctions is, by the standards set by the Allied forces at the end of WWII, a war criminal.

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Antiwar sit-in at Grand Rapids Federal Building leads to at least five arrests

4pm today, a group of around 20 people gathered around the U.S. Federal Goverment Building in Grand Rapids, MI (or – as named by the Odawa peoples – Owashtinong Aajigaaning) and part of the group entered to speak to U.S. Representative Vern Ehlers about his crimes against international law as it related to an impending invasion of Iraq. The community members who entered the building never made it past the lobby since an aide came out to try to address the needs of the group.

Although Vern Ehlers was not present, his aide was informed of his crimes and was handed the list of violations – current and potential – to forward to him. The aide attempted to frame the confrontation as a matter of different opinions. Community members responded that opinions were not the focus but that it was the actions of government representatives and whether they supported or committed crimes against international law that was the focus.

A list of varous charges and violations cited the U.S. Constitution, Geneva Convention, Nuremberg Principles and other international resolutions and laws that the U.S. government has broken or violated in the past, presently and in the future if an invasion of Iraq starts. The list explained that such violation affected the peoples of Iraq, indigenous peoples around the world, and involved such crimes of genocide as found in Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina. [please see related handout text below]

The aide left after promising to forward the information. Members of the direct action explained that the Nuremberg Principles legally compelled citizens of countries to confront violators of international humanitarian law and refused to leave the lobby until a significant and appropriate response came from the U.S. Representative. The federal building closed at 5pm. Around 5:30pm the Grand Rapids Police Department arrested at least five community members. The remaining group of observers and media contacts observed the five being driven to Kent County Jail.

Hand Out Distributed by the Protestors:

CRIMES AND MALFEASANCE IN U.S. IRAQ POLICY: INTERNATIONAL LAW AND PRE-EMPTIVE STRIKES

U.S. government abuse and violation of international law & domestic and global order

Establishing background and history

-the U.S. and Israeli governments have consistently blocked or stopped multiple U.N. resolutions to end Israel’s illegal, ongoing invasion and occupation of Palestine since 1967;

-the U.S. government ignored atrocities and genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990s;

-the U.S. government continues to seek to undermine the self-determination or liberation of the world’s indigenous peoples by actively undermining the U.N. Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;

-During the Gulf War of 1992 with Iraq, the U.S. government violated international humanitarian agreement and law – including the 4th Geneva Convention and Protocol II of the Geneva Convention – by indiscriminant bombing of civilians, targeting of civilian infrastructure with the intention of creating civilian misery, and killing surrendering Iraqi soldiers in retreat;

– U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 of November 2002 does not authorize armed force, invasion or bombing for a “material breach”;

-U.N. members are threatened by withholding of U.S. aid; for example, the African Growth and Opportunity Act requires that as a recipient of US assistance, a country “does not engage in activities contrary to U.S. national security or foreign policy interests”; in autumn of 2002, Mauritius recalled an ambassador because he failed to clearly support the U.S. position;

-the U.S. government continues its history of bribery and coercion of other nations by trying to get troops stationed where they want them and in purchasing, pressuring or cajoling of votes on the U.N. security council.

It is an outright crime for the U.S., Britain, Spain, Bulgaria and others to invade Iraq because:

-Article 2(4) and Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations prohibit a country from attacking another unless in response to an armed attack, or unless approved by the United Nations. Any other attacks are illegal, and crimes of aggression, for which U.S. civilian and military leaders and their teams may be held accountable in international courts;

-Armed aggression will destabilize and break down international law. Israel and Russia will be fortified in arguments already made that they too are utilizing pre-emptive war policies against Chechnya and Palestine; Nelson Mandela has stated, “the attitude of the United States of America is a threat to world peace. Because what [America] is saying is that if you are afraid of a veto in the Security Council, you can go outside and take action and violate the sovereignty of other countries.”

-the U.S. policy of an “all options” pre-emptive strike includes nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, in complete violation of Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaties;

-according to U.N. resolution 687, sanctions were to end with completion of disarmament, so if no weapons of mass destruction are ever found, the U.S. government’s past, current and ongoing implementation of sanctions could be criminally liable under international law;

– Article VI of the Nuremburg Charter defines Crimes Against Peace as “planning, preparation, initiation or waging of war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties . . . or participation in a common plan or conspiracy . . . to wage an aggressive war.”

-And, it is a violation of centuries of common and written international law to dictate the governance of Iraqi Shi’ia, Sunni and Kurds and call it democracy while threatening more such invasions and redrawings of boundaries around the Middle East.

————-

Sources:

Anderson, Sarah, Phyllis Bennis and John Cavanagh, “Coalition of the Willing or Coalition of the Coerced? -How the Bush Administration Influences Allies in its War on Iraq,” Institute for Policy Studies, Feb. 2003.

Bennis, Phyllis, “Understanding the U.S.-Iraq Crisis,” Institute for Policy Studies, January 2003

Center for Constitutional Rights [www.ccr-ny.org], NY, NY; Letter to Pres. Bush and Sec’y Rumsfeld, Re: Consequences of Future Use of Force Against Iraq, January 2003;

Fourth World Bulletin, “Stop Making Sense: State’s Distortion of U.S. Indigenous Policy,” Summer 1998, University of Colorado, Denver.

Fitrakis, Bob and Wasserman, Harvey, “Bush and America’s willing executioners would be guilty at Nuremburg,” March 2, 2003, The Free Press, Columbus, OH

Herold, Marc, “A Dossier on Civilian Victims of United States’ Aerial Bombing of Afghanistan: A Comprehensive Accounting”, 12/01, pubpages.unh.edu/~mwherold/

Jaimes, M. Annette, ed., “The State of Native America: Genocide, Colonization, and Resistance.”

Krugman, Paul, “Let Them Hate As Long As They Fear,” New York Times, March 7, 2003.

Power, Samantha, “A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide”

Students Against Sweatshops GVSU Escalates Campaign Aimed at Taco Bell

Beginning on Monday, March 10th, Students Against Sweatshops GVSU will be undertaking an intensive campaign designed to remove Taco Bell from the Grand Valley State University campus in response to Taco Bell’s support of sweatshop labor. For the past year and a half the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) have been working together on a campaign designed to achieve improved working conditions and wages for workers who pick tomatoes for Six L’s Packing Inc., who sells tomatoes to Taco Bell. However, Taco Bell has refused to meet with workers to discuss wage increases and improvements in working conditions.

On March 5th, in front of Taco Bell’s corporate headquarters in Irvine, CA, fifty tomato pickers and activists ended a ten-day hunger strike protesting Taco Bell’s support for exploitive wages and working conditions. The hunger strike was part of an ongoing effort designed to force Taco Bell to meet with Six L’s and the workers that pick tomatoes for them. This was only the most recent event in the campaign, which has used a variety of tactics including meetings with university administrators, protests, forums, and many other events designed to get Taco Bell to use their power and influence to improve working conditions for tomato pickers both at Six L’s and across Florida.

The CIW represents tomato pickers who pick tomatoes for Six L’s Packing Inc., a company based in Immokalee, FL whose customers include Taco Bell. Tomato pickers across Florida earn between 40 to 50 cents for every 32lb. bucket of tomatoes they pick, while Six L’s pays only 40 cents–the same rate paid since 1978. At this rate, workers must pick and haul two tons of tomatoes in order to make $50 per day. Department of Labor statistics confirm the dire circumstances facing tomato workers–the median annual income of tomato pickers in Florida is only $7,500 per year. Moreover, tomato pickers do not receive health insurance, sick leave, paid holidays, and overtime pay; while they are not allowed to organize to improve their conditions. As a result, the CIW has called on Taco Bell, as the largest buyer of tomatoes grown in Florida, to use their power and influence to convene talks between Taco Bell, Six L’s, and the CIW; to immediately increase wages by raising the per pound rate paid for tomatoes; and to draft strict wage and working standards for all tomato suppliers used by Taco Bell.

SAS-GVSU is joining with hundreds of activists across the country who are responding to the workers’ calls for boycotts by working to “Boot the Bell”–forcing universities to cut their contracts with Taco Bell. Taco Bell has refused to meet with workers, ignoring letter a variety of different protests, petition drives, and letter writing campaigns. Consequently, activists are working to hurt Taco Bell economically, with activists and human rights supporters organizing campaigns to show that there will be no support for companies that purchase products made under abusive conditions. SAS-GVSU is working to join fourteen schools, including the University of Chicago, Duke University, and the University of San Francisco, who have already cut their contracts with Taco Bell.

Students Against Sweatshops GVSU was founded in the fall of 2000 and is active in the struggle against economic exploitation both in the United States and around the world. It regularly networks with community groups and labor unions in the West Michigan area working for economic and social justice.

Continue reading “Students Against Sweatshops GVSU Escalates Campaign Aimed at Taco Bell”

An Account of the Unpermitted March at the Bush Protest in Grand Rapids

An anonymous account of the Bush protest in Grand Rapids on January 29, 2003. The account begins with the initial march down Ottawa, continues to the confrontation on Lyon, and the covers later march through downtown Grand Rapids that involved 150-200 antiwar protestors and was erroneously labeled a “riot” by the police and the corporate press.

Protestors against the war in Iraq were penned into a small area by the police, kept far from Spectrum Health, the hospital at which President Bush was having a private meeting, for the majority of the morning. After the President’s motorcade passed by the protestors on its way Devos Center, protestors continued to be confined to the designated protest area for ten to fifteen minutes after the motorcade passed.

Once given permission to march towards the Devos Center, a small number of protestors took to the road and encouraged others to follow them south down Ottawa to Lyon, getting them closer to the Devos Center than the originally planned route, which was to go west on Michigan and south on Monroe. The police were likely expecting people to march on the sidewalk down Michigan as there was police tape lining the sidewalk on Michigan and it was unclear whether the police would let people cross at any point. Despite the fact that no legal permission was given to enter the streets, many of the protestors joined the initial group and flooded into all four lanes of Ottawa Avenue, amidst chants of “We won’t die for Texaco” and “No blood for oil.”

The march proceeded down Ottawa without incident until the corner of Ottawa and Lyon, at which point police cars were parked to try to stop the protestors from going any further. The protestors walked right past the police cars, seemingly undeterred by the police presence. Most of them filed onto the sidewalk, where police had hastily strung yellow “police tape” from the trees in an attempt to prevent people from advancing any further, despite the fact that there were Bush supporters who were allowed behind the police line.

A few people challenged the police line by running through the tape and into the street, although nobody followed them and thus they had to run back onto the sidewalk with police officers pursuing them (presumably state police of some sort, they were wearing brown uniforms). One protestor ended up on the ground with two police officers standing over her, while two other protestors were each grabbed by the police. For unknown reasons, the police quickly let the three rejoin the protest.

At the same time the aforementioned group tried to go through police lines, a police car sped west on Lyon and drove onto the sidewalk, cutting off access to the Devos Center. More police appeared in the streets and they strung more yellow tape and brought out a single metal barricade to reinforce a gap between the police car on the sidewalk and the wall of the Fifth Third Bank. One police officer was overheard yelling something about how if people are going to be violent, they would not be allowed to protest, a statement which is interesting given that absolutely no violence had occurred.

There was a rather lengthy stand-off at this spot, as protestors yelled at the police about the fact that Bush supporters were allowed to be closer to the Devos Center, yet protestors were being kept back and threatened to be arrested if they moved any closer, either on the road or on the sidewalk.

After standing here for several minutes, protestors moved (on the sidewalk) through the plaza that looks over the Devos Center, and descended onto Monroe Avenue, which had been completely closed for the event. On Monroe there were concrete and chainlink fences to prevent protestors from getting any closer to the convention center, thus keeping the protestors nearly a quarter of a mile away from the media vans that were lined up outside and a shorter distance from the doors of the Devos Center. As people milled around, more police officers were deployed behind the barricades, creating a strong line of police, apparently to prevent people from rushing the barricade.

There were several hundred protestors both on the Plaza that looked over Monroe, with many more on the street. Despite the large numbers of protesters, they were not very visible, as they had been kept away from the media that was further south on the street, the people that were attending the speech, and any type of interaction with pedestrians as the street had been closed off. The protestors rallied for approximately fifteen to twenty minutes at this location.

As people began to disperse, a spontaneous march began. Protestors marched north on Monroe and then right onto Michigan Street, occupying the two eastbound lanes, as well as the turn lane. An unmarked police car followed behind the march, but no attempt was made to stop people. The march then turned south onto Ottawa, once again occupying all four lanes. While it is hard to stay for sure, the crowd consisted of approximately two-hundred people, the majority of whom were marching in the road and participating in chants of “Whose Streets? Our Streets!” The crowd was very vocal and animated, enthusiastically carrying signs and banners demonstrating their opposition to any war in Iraq.

The police setup a roadblock in front of the courthouse, approximately twenty-five feet before the intersection of Ottawa and Lyon. The roadblock was created by parking three cars across the street and stationing officers on the sidewalks, sealing off the protestors ability to move forward. After several minutes, the police gave people permission to continue on as long as they turned left at Lyon and headed east, which was away from the Devos Center. It is uncertain why the police allowed people to move, but presumably they wanted to allow the traffic that had been backed up behind the protestors to pass.

The march turned left onto Lyon and headed east to the intersection of Division and Lyon, where several protestors halted traffic in order to allow the march to move south on Division St., the main road through downtown Grand Rapids. Protestors marched slowly, disrupting the flow of traffic in both the northbound and southbound lanes. The march proceeded without incident to the intersection of Division and Fountain, where the march turned left onto Fountain and stopped at Fountain Street Church, where people were going to have a post-action meeting and refreshments.

However, the majority of the marchers decided to return to Division St. and once again proceeded south, bringing traffic to a near standstill. Two blocks later, at the intersection of Division and Fulton, a major intersection in downtown Grand Rapids, protestors decided to block the intersection, disrupting the flow of east-west and north-south traffic.

After occupying the intersection for a few minutes, the police moved in, driving into the intersection and ordering people to leave the streets or be arrested. About half of the protestors moved onto the sidewalk, as the remaining group in the street moved west on Fulton. More police cars showed up and warnings were once again given that people would be arrested if they did not move off the streets. Many people continued to ignore the police orders, proceeding past the intersection of Fulton and Commerce, at which point at least one police car drove into the crowd, nearly trapping one protestor’s leg between the curb and the front wheel of the car. After this incident, the majority of people returned to the sidewalk at the intersection of Fulton and Ionia. Some arrests were made at or near this time, but I did not witness anything other than one person being led away in handcuffs.

Some protestors continued west on Fulton on the sidewalk, while another section moved onto Ionia Street. At this point, the people that were moving west on Fulton ran back and joined people in the street at Ionia. Several police officers then got out of their cars and pointed at a group of three protestors near the intersection of Ionia and Lewis. The three protestors had their arms linked and one female officer ran up and tried to arrest a person on the end of the link, which she eventually succeeded in doing—however, the others were not arrested

After the arrests, all of the protestors returned to the sidewalk, and about ten seconds later several, probably in the neighborhood of twenty to thirty, police officers occupied the street creating a row three deep to prevent people from entering the street again.

At this point, the march moved a block further north on the sidewalk and then dispersed. There were ten arrests that have been independently confirmed, while media reports today (January 31st) have stated that there were thirteen arrests. The arrests vary from felony counts of “inciting a riot” to “trespassing.” Moreover, the corporate media has blatantly misrepresented the facts. No protestors tried to overturn cars as has been claimed in the media, nor was it a “riot” or a “melee,”—people were simply taking their opposition to war into the streets—hardly a riot.

Critical Mass Takes the Streets of Grand Rapids

On September 27th, a boisterous crowd of forty cyclists took to the streets of downtown Grand Rapids. As they rode through town they enthusiastically shouted slogans such as “no blood for oil,” “we want bike lanes,” and “consider the earth, ride a bike.”

On September 27th, a boisterous crowd of forty cyclists took to the streets of downtown Grand Rapids. As they rode through town they enthusiastically shouted slogans such as “no blood for oil,” “we want bike lanes,” and “consider the earth, ride a bike.” The monthly bike ride celebrates pollution-free transportation, advocates cycle awareness, and draws attention to the fact that bicycles are viable modes of transportation in the city. Critical Mass rides have been organized in Grand Rapids on the last Friday of each month for the past three years, as part of a decentralized movement in which simultaneous rides occur in over three hundred cities worldwide.

September’s ride was particularly noteworthy as it was the tenth anniversary of the first Critical Mass in San Francisco. In celebration of the ten-year anniversary, a book titled Critical Mass: Bicycling’s Defiant Celebration was released featuring articles, essays, fliers, and photos from dozens of contributors from around the world documenting the movement’s history. Critical Mass was born out of a multiplicity of issues, among them concern for the environment, the need for bicycle lanes, the orientation of American society toward an impersonal “car culture,” and for simple celebration. Many Critical Mass participants ride bicycles as their primary mode of transportation and view the monthly mass bike rides as a way of showing that they exist and promoting driver awareness of bicycles. In major US cities such as San Francisco and Chicago, it is not unusual for Critical Mass rides to have over a thousand participants.

Realizing that mass bike rides are not going to bring about change, a coordinated effort has emerged out of the Grand Rapids’ Critical Mass to make the city’s transportation policy more inclusive of cyclists’ needs. In the summer of 2001, work began on a bicycle advocacy video designed to share cyclists’ experiences biking in the Grand Rapids area. The video features voices from dozens of cyclists explaining the need for bike lanes and bicycle friendly transportation policies. Recently local activists attended a city council meeting and spoke about the need for bike lanes in Grand Rapids. They cited the fact that many cities of comparable size have bike lanes and that bike lanes increase the number of cyclists thereby reducing traffic congestion in the city.

In a continuation of this campaign there will be a public screening of the bicycle advocacy video on Tuesday November 12th. The screening will be held at 6pm at 207 E. Fulton St. After the video screening cyclists will be attending the City Commissioners meeting to advocate for bike lanes and other cycling issues.

The next Critical Mass ride will be on October 25th at 5:30pm. Cyclists will meet at Veteran’s Park at the corner of Fulton and Sheldon in downtown Grand Rapids. In response to the increasingly likely war in Iraq this ride will be based around the theme “No Blood for Oil!,” highlighting the role oil plays in current US foreign policy and the how individual transportation decisions create demand for oil. It is also the annual Halloween ride and participants are encouraged to wear costumes. If you would like more information about Grand Rapids’ Critical Mass, you can visit http://www.mediamouse.org/cm/.