5,000 U.S. Soldiers Killed in Iraq and Afghanistan Wars

Last week, the total number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan reached 5,000. Despite this grim milestone, few media outlets took note–including progressive/left media outlets. At this point, there really isn’t much to say about the two occupations that hasn’t been said on this website and others countless times before. There needs to a policy shift towards an immediate withdrawal–Obama’s timeline simply won’t cut it.

Below is a graphic produced by the American Friends Service Committee’s (AFSC) Countdown to Withdrawal website that really says all that needs to be said about the wars:

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Only 41 Votes Needed to Defeat Supplemental War Funding Bill — Will the Democrats Step Up?

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Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives approved additional funding for the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill contained no restrictions on continued military operations in Afghanistan and was generally quite disappointing–although not unsurprising–given that it came out of a House controlled by supposedly anti-war Democrats.

Now, after going to the Senate, the supplemental funding request is back before the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill includes many of the same provisions, but also adds two new ones–money for the IMF and a measure that allows the government the ability to block the release of torture photos even if required by the Freedom of Information Act. Republicans are threatening to vote against the bill as a block over the inclusion of the IMF funds, which means that only 41 Democrats would be needed to defeat the bill and send a message that the occupations need to end. Restricting funding is a great way to do this and it is a logical way of pursuing an end to the war, especially given that all other legislative attempts have failed.

While this might seem unlikely, it’s more of a possibility than it has been in previous years given that 51 Democrats opposed the bill when it came up last month.

The liberal blog FireDogLake.com has a tool for calling Democratic Representatives who opposed the supplemental when it last came up. Hopefully with continued pressure from this effort and anti-war groups, the supplemental will be defeated.

Headlines: Report: Global Military Spending Rose to $1.46 Trillion in 2008; Nation’s Unemployment Rate Surges to 9.4%

Democracy Now Headlines: Report: Global Military Spending Rose to $1.46 Trillion in 2008; Nation's Unemployment Rate Surges to 9.4%

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Two U.S. Journalists Sentenced to 12 Years in North Korea

A North Korean court has sentenced two U.S. journalists to 12 years of hard labor after they were convicted of “committing hostilities against the Korean nation and illegal entry.” Euna Lee and Laura Ling were detained along the Chinese border in March. Both work for Al Gore’s Current TV. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the charges “baseless.”

Hillary Clinton: “We are incredibly concerned on both a diplomatic and, on my behalf, a personal basis. I have met with their families and I share the grave anxiety that they feel about the safety and security of these two young women. We call again on the North Korean government to release them and enable them to come home as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile the Obama administration has announced it is considering adding North Korea back to a list of state sponsors of terrorism and to seek a way to interdict North Korean sea and air shipments suspected of carrying weapons or nuclear technology.

U.S.-Backed Coalition Wins in Lebanon

A U.S.-backed coalition led by Saad al-Hariri appears to have won Lebanon’s parliamentary elections defeating Hezbollah. The outcome is seen as a blow to Syria and Iran and welcome news for the United States, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which backs the so-called “March 14” coalition led by Saad al-Hariri, the son of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005.

Center-Right Parties Retain Control Of European Parliament

In another closely watched election, center-right parties retained control of the European Parliament in an election that ended on Sunday with a record low turnout.

Nation’s Unemployment Rate Surges to 9.4%

The nation’s unemployment rate has surged to 9.4 percent – the highest it has been since 1983. 345,000 jobs were lost during the month of May. The current unemployment rate would jump to 16.8 percent if it included laid-off workers who have given up looking for new jobs or have had to settle for part-time work. The latest government statistics also reveal the nation’s long-term unemployment rate is at the highest its been since the government began keeping records in 1948. 4.5 percent of the work force has been out of work for 15 weeks or more.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis: “I would say to you the number, in terms of the unemployment rate, is still very, very high, not acceptable. We know that we have to do much, much more to put American workers back to work. We have seen some leveling off in comparison to the last few months. We do see jobs that are not being lost as quickly, but I think that’s going to happen between now and the next few months.”

Anti-Abortion Activist Warns of More Violent Acts

The anti-abortion activist accused of killing Dr. George Tilller has warned that more violent acts are planned against abortion providers. In a phone interview from jail, Scott Roeder told the Associated Press “I know there are many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal.” Roeder called the AP on Sunday, one day after one thousand people gathered in Wichita, Kansas for the funeral of Doctor Tiller. On Friday the Justice Department announced it had launched a federal investigation into Tiller’s death.

Dozens Killed in Clashes Between Peruvian Police and Indigenous Groups

In Peru dozens of people are believed to have been killed in clashes between police and indigenous activists in the northern Peruvian Amazonian province of Bagua. Peruvian authorities have declared a military curfew and troops are patrolling towns in the Amazon jungle. For weeks indigenous activists in Peru have been protesting a series of presidential decrees that open up natural resource sectors like gas, lumber and oil to private investors. We’ll have more on Peru after headlines.

More Than 100 Killed in Somalia; Radio Journalist Assassinated

In Somalia, more than 100 people have been killed in clashes between rival armed groups in some of the heaviest fighting this year. Meanwhile the director of a prominent Somalia radio station was assassinated on Sunday. Mukhtar Mohammad Hirabe died after being shot in the head five times. Hirabe is the fifth journalist killed in Somalia this year.

Panel Finds Lax Oversight of Wartime Contracting

An independent commission investigating waste and fraud in wartime spending, has found the Pentagon has failed to provide adequate oversight over tens of billions of dollars in contracts to support military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Wartime Contracting Commission found U.S. reliance on private sector employees has grown to “unprecedented proportions,” yet the government has no central database of who all these contractors are, what they do or how much they’re paid.

Iraqi Government Arrests Five U.S. Contractors

This comes as the Iraqi government has arrested five U.S. contractors in connection with the killing of another U.S. contractor. If the case proceeds to an Iraqi court, the five men will be the first Americans to be tried under Iraqi law. The men are accused of murdering 60-year-old James Owen Kitterman, president of Peregrine, a contracting company based in Kuwait. Four of the five detained contractors work for North Carolina-based Corporate Training Unlimited–a security firm headed by Donald Feeney, who, along with his son, Donald Feeney III, has been detained.

Report: Global Military Spending Rose to $1.46 Trillion in 2008

A new study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has found global military spending rose four percent last year to a record $1.46 trillion dollars despite the global financial crisis. Overall military spending has increased by 45 percent since 1999. The US remains the biggest spender, accounting for 58% of the total global spending increase during the past decade.

Obama Visits Site of Buchenwald Concentration Camp

On Friday President Barack Obama paid tribute to the six million victims of the Holocaust during a somber visit to the site of the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany.

He laid a white rose on the “living memorial” on the site where survivors erected a temporary monument for Buchenwald’s liberation in April 1945.

President Obama: “To this day we know there are those who insist the Holocaust never happened, a denial of a fact or truth that is baseless, ignorant and hateful. This place is the ultimate rebuke to such thoughts, a reminder of our duty to confront those who would tell lies about our history. Also to this day there are those who perpetuate every form of intolerance, racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism and more. Hatred that degrades its victims and diminishes us all.”

Couple Accused of Spying for Cuba

A former State Department analyst and his wife have been arrested on accusations they spied for the Cuban government for nearly 30 years. Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro called the charges ridiculous and questioned the timing of the arrests. Walter Kendall Myers, and his wife Gwendolyn were arrested just days after the Organization of American States lifted its forty-seven-year suspension of Cuba.

Nominee Linked to CIA Torture Declines Position

The Obama administration’s pick for a top Homeland Security position has withdrawn from consideration amid questions about his links to CIA torture. Philip Mudd had been nominated to become secretary of intelligence and analysis at Homeland Security. Under the Bush administration, Mudd helped spearhead an FBI program that sifted through customer data collected by San Francisco-area grocery stores, hoping that sales records of Middle Eastern food would lead to Iranian secret agents.

Palestinian Protester Shot Dead by Israeli Troops

In the West Bank, Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian man Friday in the village of Nilin during the weekly protest against the construction of Israel’s separation wall through the West Bank. Medics said the 35-year-old Aqel Srour was hit in the chest by a live bullet and another protester was wounded when soldiers fired at the protesters. On Saturday close to 200 Israelis and Palestinians gathered near the West Bank city of Hebon to show their objection to the ongoing building of illegal Jewish settlements. An attempt to erect their own outpost named ‘Obama 2’ near the Jewish settlement of Sussiya was foiled by Israeli security forces, who tore the makeshift construction down. Meanwhile in Gaza, Israeli troops killed four Palestinians along the Gaza border earlier today. Israel claimed the men were militants trying to cross into Israel.

Gay Rights Activist Cleve Jones Calls For March On Washington

Prominent gay rights activist Cleve Jones has called for a national march on Washington in October to demand that Congress establish equal rights for the lesbian, gay and transgender community. Jones conceived NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt and is the co-founder of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

Civil Rights and AIDS Activist Dr. Alan Berkman Dies

And the longtime civil rights and AIDS activist Dr. Alan Berkman has died. Berkman was a founder of Health GAP which campaigns to eliminate barriers to global access to affordable life-sustaining medicines for people living with HIV/AIDS. During the 1970s Berkman provided medical care to Native American activists at Wounded Knee as well as inmates injured during the Attica prison uprising. In the 1980s Dr. Berkman was sentenced to eight years in jail for treating activists tied to the Black Liberation Army and Weather Underground following a shoot-out with police in Nyack, New York.

Use of Security Contractors Increasing Dramatically in Iraq

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For the past several years, MediaMouse.org has repeatedly criticized any Iraq “withdrawal” plan that does not include a provision to remove U.S. contractors are entirely inadequate. Without addressing that issue, the U.S. could easily remove a substantial number of troops–as President Obama is intending to do–but maintain the occupation with contracts.

Journalist Jeremy Scahill is reporting that the number of contractors in Iraq is rising:

According to new statistics released by the Pentagon, with Barack Obama as commander in chief, there has been a 23% increase in the number of “Private Security Contractors” working for the Department of Defense in Iraq in the second quarter of 2009 and a 29% increase in Afghanistan, which “correlates to the build up of forces” in the country. These numbers relate explicitly to DoD security contractors. Companies like Blackwater and its successor Triple Canopy work on State Department contracts and it is unclear if these contractors are included in the over-all statistics. This means, the number of individual “security” contractors could be quite higher, as could the scope of their expansion.

Overall, contractors (armed and unarmed) now make up approximately 50% of the “total force in Centcom AOR [Area of Responsibility].” This means there are a whopping 242,657 contractors working on these two U.S. wars. These statistics come from two reports just released by Gary J. Motsek, the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Program Support): “Contractor Support of U.S. Operations in USCENTCOM AOR, IRAQ, and Afghanistan and “Operational Contract Support, ‘State of the Union.'”

Perhaps that this is a good indication that the U.S. is intending to make up any troop withdrawals with private security contractors. After all, it has been pretty clear that the U.S. does not intend to leave Iraq–no matter what the hype was during the last election.

Servants of War: Private Military Corporations and the Profit of Conflict

Click on the image to purchase this book through Amazon.com. Purchases help support MediaMouse.org.

Over the years, I’ve read a number of books on the private mercenary industry and the use of military contractors in the so-called “War on Terror.” Most often, these books have focused on one or two companies–for example Blackwater–and used them to draw conclusions about the industry as a whole.

Rolf Uesseler’s Servants of War: Private Military Corporations and the Profit of Conflict takes a different approach and focuses on the industry as a whole and uses short case studies of specific companies in order to illustrate broader points. Instead of focusing solely on the “War on Terror” and the most recent wars of the United States, Uesseler takes a much broader view and looks at private military companies around the world. This may owe to the fact that the book was translated from German, but whatever the reason, it offers a welcome break from the typically U.S.-centered literature on the topic.

Uesseler examines how governments, intelligence agencies, private companies, warlords, drug cartels, and rebel groups have come to rely on private military companies to support a wide variety of activities. Private corporations use them to support resource extraction and to police sweatshops, states use them to prop up weak governments and enforce their rule, and intelligence agencies use them to facilitate illegal arms trades. States also use private military corporations to circumvent national laws. For example, a state can hire a private military contractor to fight a war or support one side in a war without needing to officially enter the conflict.

Through all of these activities, private military companies often operate in a legal gray area. The pursuit of profit is their main goal and all other concerns–including law–are often superseded by this goal. That is why in countries like Iraq we see mercenaries run amok–all the companies really care about is the constant flow of lucrative contracts. In many cases, there are no local laws that govern the conduct of mercenaries–as was initially the case in Iraq when they were granted immunity from prosecution–and the countries that send contractors often have little legal oversight of their activities. Moreover, in many cases private military companies subvert democratic notions and are able to conduct their activities with limited oversight and transparency.

In addition his examination of the contemporary activities of private military corporations, Uesseler also includes a brief overview of the historical evolution of mercenaries. He looks at their origins in Ancient Greece through the French Revolution when they largely went out of favor. However, with the end of the Cold War, they have experienced a resurgence. This resurgence is owed to many factors, among those Uesseler highlights a security vacuum with the collapse of the Cold War, conflicts in the Third World, a national energy policy in the United States that demands access to oil regardless of the cost, the increasingly technological orientation of warfare and militaries’ inability to keep up with the technological advances of the private sector, and similar technological gains in the intelligence sector.

Overall, Servants of War is one of the most comprehensive books on private military corporations. It’s very thorough and well-researched, and while that is good, it does make for reading that is a bit on the dry side of things. You will certainly walk away having learned a lot, but there are sure to be times when you wished the author wrote in a more engaging style. Nevertheless, it’s an important book that deserves to be read, especially by those who consider themselves anti-war.

Rolf Uesseler, Servants of War: Private Military Corporations and the Profit of Conflict, (Soft Skull Press, 2008).

Headlines: Afghan Peace Talks Call For U.S. Withdrawal; 17 Arrested At Anti-Coal Protests in West Virginia

Democracy Now Headlines: Afghan Peace Talks Call For U.S. Withdrawal; 17 Arrested At Anti-Coal Protests in West Virginia

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

UN Security Council Condemns North Korean Nuclear Test

The United Nations Security Council has unanimously condemned North Korea for carrying out an underground nuclear test Monday. It was North Korea’s second nuclear test in three years. Susan Rice, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, said it is too early to tell if the Security Council will approve a new round of sanctions against North Korea.

Susan Rice: “What we heard today was swift, clear, unequivocal condemnation in opposition to what occurred. The meeting was brief and everybody spoke and everybody essentially took the same view. We are now resolved to work on a resolution. We believe it ought to be a strong resolution with appropriately strong contents, but obviously unless and until we have completed the process of negotiating that resolution, it would be premature to suggest what its contents would be.”

In a statement Monday, North Korea said the nuclear test was intended to “bolster up its nuclear deterrent for self-defense in every way.” Hours after the Security Council vote, North Korea fired two more short-range missiles. In response to the nuclear test, South Korea announced it would immediately join a US-led initiative to intercept ships suspected of carrying nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, component parts or missiles to deliver them. Pyongyang has warned it would consider South Korea’s membership in the Proliferation Security Initiative to be an act of war. At the White House, President Barack Obama denounced North Korea’s actions.

President Obama: “North Korea’s actions endanger the people of Northeast Asia, they are a blatant violation of international law, and they contradict North Korea’s own prior commitments. Now, the United States and the international community must take action in response.”

Afghan Peace Talks Call For U.S. Withdrawal

In Afghanistan, leaders of the Taliban and other armed groups are reportedly talking to intermediaries about a potential peace agreement, with initial demands focused on a timetable for a withdrawal of American troops. This according to the New York Times. The discussions have so far produced no agreements, since the militants appear to be insisting that any deal include an American promise to withdraw.

Three U.S. Soldiers Killed in Suicide Bombing

Meanwhile a suicide car bomber plowed into a NATO convoy earlier today, killing three American soldiers and a civilian passer-by on a main road north of Kabul.

Pakistani Civilians Stuck in Swat Valley Facing Humanitarian Catastrophe

In Pakistan, Human Rights Watch is calling on the military to lift its curfew in the Swat Valley where the Pakistani military is battling the Taliban. Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch said: “The government cannot allow the local population to remain trapped without food, clean water, and medicine as a tactic to defeat the Taliban.” More than 2.4 million people have fled the region this month but up to 200,000 civilians remain trapped inside the conflict zone.

U.S. Relies on Foreign Nations To Hold Prisoners

The New York Times is reporting the United States is now relying heavily on foreign intelligence services to capture, interrogate and detain prisoners seized outside of Iraq and Afghanistan. The current approach began two years ago and has gained momentum under President Obama. Detainees who once would have been taken to secret CIA prisons or Guantanamo are now being handed over to other governments. At least four Middle Eastern countries as well as Pakistan are currently holding men captured based on information provided by the United States.

Sen. Feingold Warns Obama About Preventive Detention Plan

Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin has criticized President Obama’s plan to hold some prisoners indefinitely inside the United States without trial. In a letter to the president, Feingold said any system that permits the government to indefinitely detain individuals without charge violates basic American values and is likely unconstitutional. Feingold said, “Indeed, such detention is a hallmark of abusive systems that we have historically criticized around the world.”

Proposed Israel Laws Call for Loyalty Oath and Ban on Nabka Protests

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party plans to propose a law requiring residents to swear loyalty to the Jewish state. The party has also proposed legislation to ban the commemoration of the “Nakba” or “disaster,” which many Arab Israelis and Palestinians mark while the Jewish state marks its Independence Day. Under the proposed legislation, those publicly commemorating the Nakba could be jailed. The proposed laws have been denounced by Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship.

Khalaili, Arab Israeli Resident: “First, we as Arabs, and as the remaining Palestinians, refuse this discourse. We consider the Nakba a part of the Palestinian history and culture. Just like we don’t ask the Jews to cancel the Holocaust. Using the same measurements, and the same meanings, it is impossible to cancel the Nakba day because it is an element that can’t be excluded from the Palestinians existence.”

Netanyahu: Israel Will Continue Building Settlements

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel will continue to build homes in existing West Bank settlements, defying U.S. calls to halt settlement growth.

400 LA Students Walk Out of Classes to Protest Teacher Cuts

In Los Angeles, about 400 students walked out of classes on Friday to protest possible teacher layoffs. The Los Angeles Unified School District faces up to $131 million in new cuts this year and could lay off up to 2,500 teachers.

17 Arrested At Anti-Coal Protests in West Virginia

In West Virginia, 17 people were arrested Saturday during a series of protests against the coal industry. The protesters marked a new phase of Operation Appalachian Spring, a campaign to end mountaintop removal mining. The first two arrests occurred when two activists wearing hazmat suits and respirators boated onto an 8-billion-gallon toxic coal slurry lake to unfurl a 60-foot floating banner reading, “No more toxic sludge!” They were charged with trespass and littering. Later in the day eight more protesters were arrested on trespassing and conspiracy charges after they walked onto the Kayford Mountain mine and locked themselves to a giant dump truck. Seven others were arrested at Massey Energy’s Marfork Coal facility. Former West Virginia Congressman Ken Hechler took part in the protest but police refused to arrest the 94-year-old former lawmaker.

Six of the anti-coal protesters remain in jail.

Medical Group Calls For Ban on Genetically Modified Foods

The American Academy of Environmental Medicine has called for a moratorium on genetically modified foods. The medical organization warned that genetically modified foods pose a serious health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health, and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health. Dr. Amy Dean said “Multiple animal studies have shown that GM foods cause damage to various organ systems in the body. With this mounting evidence, it is imperative to have a moratorium on GM foods for the safety of our patients’ and the public’s health.”

Indian Human Rights Activist Dr. Binayak Sen Released on Bail

In India, human rights activist Dr. Binayak Sen has been released on bail after being held for two years. Sen is the National Vice President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties. He was arrested in May 2007, for allegedly helping the Maoist insurgency in the state of Chhattisgarh.

California Supreme Court To Rule on Gay Marriage Law Today

In California the state Supreme Court will issue its ruling today on whether the state’s gay-marriage ban will stand. In addition the court is expected to address the legal status of some 18,000 same-sex couples who were married in California before voters approved Proposition 8, banning same sex marriage.

State Department To Extend Benefits to Partners of Gay Diplomats

Meanwhile Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to soon announce that the partners of gay and lesbian U.S. diplomats will be eligible for many benefits currently denied them and allowed to spouses of heterosexual diplomats.

Liberty University Bans College Democrats Club

And in education news, Liberty University has banned the College Democrats Club from campus. In a letter to the group, a school administrator wrote: “We are unable to lend support to a club whose parent organization stands against the moral principles held by Liberty University.” Liberty University is a Christian College founded by the late Jerry Falwell.

FBI Infiltrated Iowa Anti-War Group in Advance of RNC Protests

Republican National Convention (RNC) Protests

The legal fallout from the protests surrounding the Republican National Convention (RNC) last year has been intense. Eight activists from the Twin Cities have been charged as being a part of a criminal conspiracy, while at the same, extensive infiltration of protest groups by local and federal law enforcement has been documented. This attention didn’t just focus on activists in the Twin Cities as activists in Texas who were planning to participate in the protests were monitored for months beforehand by an undercover FBI informant.

Now news has come out of still more infiltration, this time of a protest group in Iowa City. According to the Des Moines Register, an FBI informant was used to spy on a group of anarchists from Iowa City. The local police department was not familiar with the FBI surveillance, but they have indicated that they were aware of an undercover officer being sent to the city by Ramsey County (where St. Paul is located) to spy on activists.

According to the newspaper, the FBI agent collected detailed information regarding Iowa City activists planning to attend the RNC:

The FBI documents provide in-depth descriptions of more than a dozen Iowa political activists. This includes personal information such as names, height, weight, place of employment, cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses. The documents also include individuals’ plans for the convention demonstrations.

Some of the surveillance occurred when the activists met last year at the Iowa City Public Library.

The FBI documents show the investigative reports were written in August 2008 by Special Agent Thomas Reinwart, who is assigned to Cedar Rapids, based on reports from a “confidential human source” in Iowa City.

Individual names of protesters were blacked out of the copy of the FBI documents obtained by the Register, but the dossiers included personal facts.

For example, one woman was described as white, 5 feet 10 inches, 140 pounds, with blond hair and glasses. The report said she lived in Cedar Rapids, and it provided her cell phone number. She was characterized as a member of a specific subgroup who had interests in medic training and as a legal observer.

“She drives a little, dark green four door hatchback,” the report said.

A white man in his 20s who had recently moved to Iowa from Mississippi was also profiled by the FBI informant. “He is planning on attending the RNC and participating with the ‘Queer Block’ and ‘Bash Back,’ which are groups affiliated with the lesbian, bi-sexual, gay and transgender movement. Several hundred people associated with these two groups plan on doing their own thing and blocking an unknown (intersection),” the document said.

According to law enforcement officials, it was a fear of possible “crime” at the RNC that motivated the spying. And just what was the crime? Non-violent civil disobedience. Activists from Iowa City planned to organize a non-violent street blockade to disrupt access to the convention in order to have their political grievances heard. It’s a time-honored tradition that dates back centuries and something that has a rich history in the United States. The Civil Rights movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, the labor movement, and many other movements in United States’ have all used civil disobedience.

National Media Day of Action on Afghanistan

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United for Peace and Justice has announced a new action that they are hoping will increase opposition to the Afghanistan War and raise awareness about the realities of the war. The group is facilitating a “National Media Day of Action on Afghanistan” on Thursday, May 21. The goal of the action is simple: change public opinion about the war by getting anti-war editorials, articles, and opinion pieces published in news outlets across the United States.

The group has put together a helpful series of guides to using the media. These include tips on how make the most of newspapers, radio, and online media as well as factsheets and other resources (including pre-written letters) that can help activists work with the media. The group is placing a special focus on online media, with ideas on how to use Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace–all of which are simple and effective ways for spreading your message.

This is certainly something that readers of MediaMouse.org should consider participating in. The local media outlets in Grand Rapids–The Grand Rapids Press, WOOD TV, WZZM 13, and WXMI 17–run relatively little coverage of the Afghanistan War. Almost completely absent from what coverage they do run is opposition to the war. It doesn’t take that long to write a letter to the editor or to email the media outlets asking them to improve their coverage–and it’s a necessary step if we’re going to build opposition to the war.

United for Peace and Justice would like to know what people do on the 21st, so if you contact a media outlet, be sure to let them know.

Afghanistan and Pakistan: Myths and Facts

Peace Action

The national anti-war group Peace Action has released a new briefing paper titled “Afghanistan and Pakistan: Myths and Facts” that looks at some of the commonly cited arguments in support of the Afghanistan War.

Unfortunately, after seven years of war, we’re still at the stage where a lot of educational work is needed on Afghanistan before there will likely be a successful push to curtail the war and end the U.S. occupation (after all, we’re still in Iraq and there was much more significant opposition to that war), to that end, we are reprinting Peace Action’s factsheet below:

1. MYTH: Expanded US military activity furthers national security and upholds our national values.

FACT: Widening the war will be counterproductive both to our national security objectives and to our national values. As is already evident, it will de-stabilize the region, including Pakistan. Americans will also be increasingly causing the deaths of many women, children, elderly and other innocent civilians and disrupting the efforts of thousands of Afghan villagers to flee their villages in order to escape the spreading violence.

2. MYTH: Winning the war in Afghanistan requires a military victory for US forces.

FACT: Secretary of Defense Gates, Secretary of State Clinton, National Security Advisor Jones, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mullen, and even President Obama, himself, each have acknowledged that the internal conflict in Afghanistan cannot finally be won by military means. They have publicly agreed that it will have to be won, if it can, by dramatic improvements in the economy, the political system, government services, and the courts.

3. MYTH: The additional US troops will primarily be training the Pakistani Army and police, and are not being sent for combat operations.

FACT: Thousands of additional troops are being sent to Afghanistan, largely from the 82 Airborne Division, the premier regular combat unit of the Army. Such soldiers are not being sent as “trainers,” to lecture in classrooms. Instead, they will accompany Afghan soldiers on patrols and attempted ambushes to monitor and instruct their Afghan counterparts They will inevitably engage in combat alongside their “students” and suffer casualties — just as GI’s did while on “training missions” in Iraq and Vietnam. More Americans will die and, at the same time, their fighting role will alienate the Afghan people.

4. MYTH: The U.S. military will help defeat the Taliban and prevent them from providing a refuge and base to Al Qaeda.

FACT: US military activity in Afghanistan strengthens the Taliban. It inflames Afghans’ hostility to the U.S. and wins new supporters for the Taliban. Even now, Coalition forces are having difficulty distinguishing Afghan Taliban forces, from tribal militants against the national government and ordinary Afghans. That problem will only worsen as our military involvement expands.

5. MYTH: The U.S. military in Afghanistan is not targeting civilians. Any civilian deaths are purely accidental.

FACT: The killing of Afghan civilians is the inevitable and foreseeable result of American missile attacks, bombing, and night ground patrols. This euphemistically termed “collateral damage” not only take civilian lives, but inevitably turns the population against us.

6. MYTH: The Administration strategy is that US military commitment will be limited in size and duration.

FACT: As US soldiers suffer more casualties, there will be growing political pressure to avoid an “American defeat” by increasing our commitment. Now is the time to reverse direction in Afghanistan, before we become mired in another protracted guerilla war like Vietnam

7. MYTH: Defeating the Afghan Taliban will help stabilize the situation in Pakistan.

FACT: Afghan Taliban are not a significant factor in violent or political activity against the Pakistan Government. Indigenous radicals, including Pakistan Taliban, as well as deep discontent from a much broader spectrum of citizens, pose the threat to stability in Pakistan. As shown in a recent poll, a large majority of Pakistanis were angered by the US activity in the region and our perceived effort to control it. That rebounds against our efforts to help stabilize Pakistan, which is seen as our close ally.

Please pass this along to your friends, send it to your legislators, or put it up on telephone poles and in coffee shops–we need to do keep working to get the word out about the devastating reality of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan.

House Approves War Funding Bill

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The United States House of Representatives approved a war funding bill yesterday that contains no restrictions on the rapidly escalating Afghanistan War. The bill was passed by a vote 368-60. Only 51 Democrats voted against the bill, despite their frequent rhetorical opposition to the wars.

According to an analysis by the Associated Press, $84.5 billion of the $96.7 billion goes directly to military efforts. Only a paltry $10 billion is allotted for foreign aid. Instead, the bill focuses on the flawed military approach to fighting terrorism.

No amendments to the bill were allowed by the Democratic leadership in the House. This meant that Jim McGovern’s amendment requiring the Obama administration to develop an “exit strategy” for Afghanistan was not considered. In response, McGovern has introduced the measure as a standalone bill. It already has 74 cosponsors.

Before the vote, the measure was opposed by anti-war groups such as Code Pink, who said:

The supplemental, without an exit strategy, clearly recycles failed Bush administration policies. It will continue to fuel the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, increasing their numbers (as outlined by many military strategists and think tanks). It will also lead to more civilian deaths — a United Nations report released earlier this year found the Afghan civilian death toll nearly doubled in 2008 under U.S. presence, with the U.S. responsible for almost half the deaths. In addition, increased American troop presence to 68,000 by year’s end will further alienate Afghans who increasingly view the U.S. as an occupying force. The number of Afghan people who believe the U.S. has performed well dropped this year to 32 percent from 68 percent in 2005, military scholar Anthony Cordesman told a Congressional hearing.

Unfortunately, more liberal groups such as MoveOn.org that had for years opposed the Iraq War to varying degrees, said nothing about the supplemental–instead choosing to ignore the vote. While critiques are to be made about MoveOn and related groups when it comes to anti-war organizing, their unwillingness to challenge the Obama administration is contributing to the sense that the fight against the wars is over, despite the fact that daily events in Iraq and Afghanistan make it clear that anti-war organizing is very much needed.