January 30, 2009

Army suicides at record high, passing civilians

"The military's numbers don't include deaths after people have left the services."

Submitted by Alex 

Stressed by war and long overseas tours, U.S. soldiers killed themselves last year at the highest rate on record, the toll rising for a fourth straight year and even surpassing the suicide rate among comparable civilians.

Army leaders said they were doing everything they could think of to curb the deaths and appealed for more mental health professionals to join and help out.

At least 128 soldiers committed suicide in 2008, the Army said Thursday. And the final count is likely to be even higher because 15 more suspicious deaths are still being investigated.

"Why do the numbers keep going up? We cannot tell you," said Army Secretary Pete Geren. "We can tell you that across the Army we're committed to doing everything we can to address the problem."

It's all about pressure and the military approach, said Kim Ruocco, 45, whose Marine husband was an officer and Cobra helicopter pilot who hanged himself in a California hotel room in 2005. That was one month before he was to return to Iraq a second time.

She said her husband, John, had completed 75 missions in Iraq and was struggling with anxiety and depression but felt he'd be letting others down if he sought help and couldn't return.

"He could be any Marine because he was highly decorated, stable, the guy everyone went to for help," Ruocco said in a telephone interview. "But the thing is ... the culture of the military is to be strong no matter what and not show any weakness."

Ruocco, of Newbury, Mass., was recently hired to be suicide support coordinator for the nonprofit Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. She said she feels that the military has finally started to reach out to suicide survivors and seek solutions.

"Things move slowly, but I think they're really trying," Ruocco said.

At the Pentagon on Thursday, Col. Elspeth Ritchie, a psychiatric consultant to the Army surgeon general, made a plea for more professionals to sign on to work for the military.

"We are hiring and we need your help," she said.

Military leaders promised fresh prevention efforts will start next week.

The new suicide figure compares with 115 in 2007 and 102 in 2006 and is the highest since current record-keeping began in 1980. Officials expect the deaths to amount to a rate of 20.2 per 100,000 soldiers, which is higher than the civilian rate — when adjusted to reflect the Army's younger and male-heavy demographics — for the first time in the same period of record-keeping.

Officials have said that troops are under unprecedented stress because of repeated and long tours of duty due to the simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yearly increases in suicides have been recorded since 2004, when there were 64 — only about half the number now. Officials said they found that the most common factors were soldiers suffering problems with their personal relationships, legal or financial issues and problems on the job.

But the magnitude of what the troops are facing in combat shouldn't be forgotten, said Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., a former Navy vice admiral, who noted he spoke with a mother this week whose son was preparing for his fifth combat tour.

"This is a tough battle that the individuals are in over there," Sestak said. "It's unremitting every day."

Said Dr. Paul Ragan, an associate professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University and a former Navy psychiatrist: "Occasional or sporadic visits by military mental health workers are like a Band-Aid for a gushing wound."

The statistics released Thursday cover soldiers who killed themselves while they were on active duty — including National Guard and Reserve troops who had been activated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the suicide rate for U.S. society overall was about 11 per 100,000 in 2004, the latest year for which the agency has figures. But the Army says the civilian rate is more like 19.5 per 100,000 when adjusted.

An earlier report showed the Marine Corps recorded 41 possible or confirmed suicides in 2008 — about 19 per 100,000 troops.

The military's numbers don't include deaths after people have left the services. The Department of Veterans Affairs tracks those numbers and says there were 144 suicides among the nearly 500,000 service members who left the military from 2002-2005 after fighting in at least one of the two ongoing wars.

Thanks to G.I. Voice for this post.

January 29, 2009

Iraq to deny license to US Blackwater guards

MOYOCK, N.C. (AP) — Blackwater Worldwide, which guards American diplomats in Iraq, said Thursday it would be prepared to leave that country within 72 hours after Iraqi officials denied the North Carolina-based company an operating license because of a deadly shooting spree in Baghdad.

But Blackwater founder Erik Prince told The Associated Press that while losing the State Department contract would hurt the company, the move would cause more harm to the diplomats it has protected since soon after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

"Our abrupt departure would far more hurt the reconstruction team and the diplomats trying to rebuild the country than it would hurt us as a business," Prince said Thursday in an exclusive interview with the AP.

Iraqi officials said the lingering outrage over a September 2007 shooting in Baghdad's Nisoor Square that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead led to its decision.

The shooting strained relations between Washington and Baghdad and fueled the anti-American insurgency in Iraq, where many Iraqis saw the bloodshed as a demonstration of American brutality and arrogance. Five former Blackwater guards have pleaded not guilty to federal charges in the United States that include 14 counts of manslaughter and 20 counts of attempted manslaughter.

Blackwater maintains the guards opened fire after coming under attack, an argument supported by transcripts of Blackwater radio logs obtained by the AP. They describe a hectic eight minutes in which the guards repeatedly reported incoming gunfire from insurgents and Iraqi police.

The Iraqi decision to deny Blackwater an operating license was made public Thursday. A U.S.-Iraqi security agreement, which took effect Jan. 1, gives the Iraqis the authority to determine which Western contractors operate in their country.

"We sent our decision to the U.S. Embassy last Friday," Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf told the AP. "They have to find a new security company."

State Department spokesman Robert A. Wood said the department has yet to determine its next step.

"We have to study and see what we're going to do next," said Wood. "We haven't made a decision on how we're going to move forward yet."

Prince said his company had yet to receive orders from the State Department to evacuate.

Neither Khalaf nor a U.S. Embassy official speaking on condition of anonymity gave a date for Blackwater personnel to leave Iraq, and neither said whether they would be allowed to continue guarding U.S. diplomats in the meantime.

Blackwater president Gary Jackson told the AP the company has plans to remove its nearly two dozen aircraft and 1,000 security contractors from Iraq within 72 hours of receiving such an order. "If they tell us to leave, we'll pack it up and go," Jackson said.

Two other U.S.-based security contractors working for the State Department — DynCorp and Triple Canopy — have licenses to operate in Iraq. But Prince played down the possibility that Blackwater contractors would simply move to another employer.

"It is a big assumption for someone to say, 'Fire Blackwater (and) all those guys will migrate over to one of the other competitors.'" Prince said. "It's not that easy."

Blackwater has been operating in Iraq without a formal license since it arrived in the country. The State Department extended Blackwater's contract for a year last spring, despite widespread calls for it to be expelled because of the shootings.

Blackwater's work in Iraq, which includes a reputation for aggressive operations and excessive force it disputes as unfair and inaccurate, turned the company into a catchall brand name for private security contractors. Executives said last year that the unwanted attention had them shifting their focus away from private security.

If banned from protecting diplomats in Iraq, Blackwater executives said Thursday the company remains on track to reach a goal of $1 billion in annual revenues in the next year or two. The State Department contract comprises about one-third of the company's overall revenues, though the work of providing actual boots-on-ground security is only part of the deal.

The private security firm, which trained some 25,000 civilians, law enforcement and military personnel last year, continues to expand even as its future in Iraq becomes less promising. Blackwater has a fleet of 76 aircraft, and almost all of them are deployed in hot spots in places like Afghanistan and West Africa.

On Thursday, three international teams were at the company's compound in North Carolina going through classes: Authorities from Yemen flipped through four-inch binders as they learned how to identify the components of an explosive by looking at X-rays. A group from the country of Georgia was practicing SWAT techniques in a makeshift building, taking instructions through a translator from a Blackwater official.

A Canadian team was also on site, along with a number of other law enforcement, Coast Guard and civilians who kicked up burning rubber on a driving track and rattled off rounds on shooting ranges. Members of the Army and Navy were practicing their driving skills in Blackwater's mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles.

"When you first hear Blackwater, you automatically, instantly think about the overseas stuff," said Jim Sierawski, Blackwater's vice president for training. "That overshadows the training center. Here, we've been on a steady incline every year."


-Thanks to Brian Casler - Rochester IVAW

January 27, 2009

Even through the biting wind, you can hear them say: let them stay

It was too cold in Ottawa yesterday for the traditional 21-gun salute to mark the Opening of Parliament. But that didn't stop Iraq War resisters and their supporters from bringing their message to Stephen Harper and all the returning Members of Parliament.

=thanks to L-girl at We Move To Canada

War resisters Dean Walcott and Kimberly Rivera granted Stays of Removal

The Federal Court has granted stays of removal in the cases of Kimberly Rivera (and her family) and Dean Walcott. More details will follow as they become available. In the mean time, these are very important victories for Dean, Kim, and all of the U.S. Iraq war resisters in Canada. The court rulings are in keeping with the desire of Canadians to allow war resisters to stay in Canada.

But we urgently need to stop the imminent deportation of CLIFF CORNELL.

Cliff was ordered to leave Canada January 22nd, but has won a brief reprieve. We urgently need to keep pressure of the Conservative Government to do the right thing and implement the Parliamentary motion from June 2008 by stopping all deportation proceedings against war resisters and granting them permanent resident status in Canada.

Liberal MP Gerard Kennedy speaks in support of US Iraq War resisters

-thanks to War Resisters Support Campaign

January 25, 2009

Resisters of a 'dumb' war

Today's Toronto Star Editorial

To U.S. President Barack Obama, the invasion of Iraq was "a dumb war" and "a rash war." Despite George Bush's claim, Saddam Hussein didn't have weapons of mass destruction. And now that he is president, Obama plans to get most American troops out, as fast as he can.

This recalibration of U.S. policy offers Prime Minister Stephen Harper a chance to adopt a more humane approach to the 200 or so American war resisters who have sought refuge in Canada. Now they face deportation and prison.

One resister, Robin Long, already has been deported, and got a 15-month jail term. The U.S. military regards resisters as deserters because they voluntarily signed up to serve but then fled. A handful more have been ordered out of Canada, including Chris Teske, who planned to leave Friday, Cliff Cornell and Kimberly Rivera, a mother of three.

Others still have their cases pending before the immigration and refugee board. But Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has seriously prejudiced those hearings by calling the resisters "bogus" refugees. "The position of the government is that they don't face genuine persecution," says a spokesperson for Kenney. Apparently 15 months in jail don't count.

In light of the shift in Washington, Ottawa's inflexible stance is hard to justify. The House of Commons in 2008 passed a resolution calling on Harper to stop deporting resisters. And an Angus Reid survey last year found that 64 per cent of Canadians feel the resisters should be allowed to take up permanent residence here.

Canada took in 50,000 American draft dodgers and deserters during the Vietnam War, another dubious conflict tainted by war crimes. We should be able to find room today for 200 more people who share their new president's view that targeting Iraq was a huge mistake.

Rivera family's final appeal to stephen harper

thanks again to Laura and her We Move to Canada blog.

January 24, 2009

sad update on war resister cliff cornell

Vancouver Sun:
A U.S. army deserter living on Gabriola Island has abandoned his fight to stay in Canada.

Cliff Cornell lost his bid to quash a deportation order in federal court in Vancouver last week, and friends says he is now packing his belongings and preparing to return to the U.S., where he could face imprisonment.

Cornell is said to be too distraught to talk to the media about his ordeal.

"He told me he doesn't want to do any more interviews at this point," said Steve Watters, a former draft dodger and Canadian resident since the 1960s. He is acting as a spokesman for Cornell.

"He's in a more sombre mood, I guess you would say."

Watters said the Arkansas man plans to turn himself in to the U.S. government.

"He doesn't want to seek refugee status, he doesn't want to run, he doesn't want to hide."

Cornell grew up in Mountain Home, Ark.. In 2002, after leaving high school and with few employment prospects in sight, he accepted a $5,000 signing bonus for a career in the U.S. Army.

A few months later, the U.S. went to war against Iraq.

Cornell deserted and came to Canada in 2005 to avoid combat. He spent a few months in Toronto before moving to Gabriola Island. He has spent the past two years stocking shelves at an island market. The community of some 4,500 people has made him feel welcome.

"A lot of people are taking it pretty hard indeed," Watters said. "They're anywhere from crestfallen to extremely angry at their government."

A glum mood hangs over the Village Food Market, where Cornell worked until Monday.

"I'm having a hard time talking about it," said cashier Angela Burnett. "I guess we hoped it wouldn't happen, but it's very disappointing.

"Canada accepts a lot of people who are less worthy than him."

Watters said Cornell's plan is to return to Fort Stewart, Ga. and to turn himself in "in a matter of days or weeks."

New Democrat Nanaimo-Cowichan MP Jean Crowder said she was disappointed with the news. She wrote a letter to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney in December asking for Cornell to be allowed to stay in Canada.

"I think it's a sad comment on Canada's approach to allowing war resisters to stay on humanitarian and compassionate grounds," Crowder said.

-thanks to We Move To Canada blog for this post.

January 23, 2009

National Save The Guard Launch

On Wednesday, January 21, 2009, the day after the inauguration of President Obama, the “Bring the Guard Home” campaign officially launched its nationwide effort to stop the future federalization of any national guard troops to Iraq. A press conference held at the National Press Club with representatives from all the supporting organizations, as well as 2 state representatives, were on hand to explain why the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force, which is the basis for guard deployments to Iraq, has expired. (see www.bringtheguardhome.org)

See videos below:

Ben Manski, Executive Director Liberty Tree

Elaine Brower, of Military Families Speak Out

Now that the authorized Iraq mission of the National Guard is complete . . .

"It is clear that the mission that Congress authorized no longer exists. The President has no current or permanent legal authority to keep Guard members in Iraq."
~ Rep. Michael Fisher, Vermont State House

Call Prime Minister Stephen Harper Today!
Phone: (613) 992-4211
E-mail: pm@pm.gc.ca

Every phone call and email is vital. Kim Rivera faces the prospect of being separated from her infant because Harper has so far refused to heed the will of the majority of Canadians and the majority of Parliament. This is a travesty.

Contact your Representative, Senator and President Obama to demand
Amnesty for the War Resisters
Let them know that we support our War Resisters

From the Principles of International Law Recognized in the Charter of the Nüremberg Tribunal:

Principle IV

The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.

The resisters acted morally and legally according to international law. What does it say about us if we are willing to allow the military to throw them in jail and separate them from their families and friends. 

January 22, 2009

Urgent!    Call Canada today to let U.S. war resisters stay
Resisters Cliff Cornell and Chris Teske ordered
to leave Canada by Friday, January 23

The Conservative government of Canada moving swiftly to deport five U.S. war resisters and their families by the end of next week!

Courage to Resist, January 22, 2009

Phone Canadian officials Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Prime Minister Stephen Harper to tell them you support war resisters. Please ask them to stop the deportation proceedings against all U.S. Iraq War Resisters; and implement the June 2008 Parliamentary motion to allow war resisters to apply for Permanent Resident status in Canada.

The War Resister Support Campaign (Canada) is currently in the midst of a week of action. Please join the North American “phone-in” today and tomorrow. The idea is to keep those phones ringing!

Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney
Phone 613-954-1064 (Ministry office) and/or 613-992-2235 (Parliamentary Office)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Phone 613-992-4211

Resisters facing deportation this week

Cliff Cornell has been ordered to leave Canada today. An Arkansas native, Cliff left for Toronto, Canada in January 2005 to resist deployment to Iraq.

"In my heart I felt it's wrong," Cliff has said of his decision to resist deployment. "I've been hearing a lot of people talking about all the innocent people who are being killed and the prisons over there where they've been torturing people. I just didn't want to be a part of it."

A local Canadian supporter noted that, "Many supporters on Gabriola Island (in British Columbia) are planning a send-off, and it's our job to raise hell on the phone lines today!”

Cliff is expected to return to his last duty station at Fort Stewart, Georgia to face a military court martial.

Chris Teske has been ordered to leave Canada tomorrow (Friday). After two tours in Afghanistan and an honorable discharge, Chris was recalled to the Army to train machine gunners in Iraq. At the time he refused citing "the racism against the Muslim culture in the army there."

Chris is expected to return to his last duty station at Fort Drum in upstate New York to face a military courts martial.

Kimberly Rivera, her husband Mario and three children have been ordered to leave Canada by Tuesday, January 27. Kimberly grew up in Mesquite, Texas, a suburb east of Dallas.

If forced to leave Canada, she is expected to be returned to Fort Carson, Colorado for military courts martial.

Read and listen to Kimberly's interview with Courage to Resist
Patrick Hart, his wife Jill and their son have been ordered to leave a week from today, Thursday, January 29.

Army Sgt. Hart is a New York native from a military family. He served nine years in the Army prior to turning against the war in Iraq while stationed in Kuwait during 2004. While on leave in 2005, went AWOL rather than be deployed to Iraq. Patrick declared, “If you want to support the troops, bring them home” after arriving in Canada.

If forced to leave Canada, he is expected to return to Fort Campbell, Kentucky for military courts martial.

The following day, Friday, January 30, Dean Walcott has been ordered out as well. A Marine MP from Connecticut, Dean went AWOL (actually, "UA" for unauthorized absence in Marine lingo) in 2007 following an Iraq deployment and has lived in Canada since. "As far as I know there's an FBI warrant out for my arrest," Dean told a TV crew recently. "I reenlisted before I knew anything was wrong. (I) was with the military police and all we ever did was run convoys around a very little part of Iraq."

Next steps in supporting U.S. war resisters in Canada

These “removal orders” mark a turning point for war resisters in Canada. Prior to today, Robin Long has been the only war resister to be deported from Canada since the Vietnam War. Robin was convicted by an Army court martial upon his forced return and sentenced to 15 months confinement. He is currently being held at the Naval Consolidated Brig at Miramar, just north of San Diego.

Courage to Resist will be working with these resisters and our allies nationwide in order to create communities of support for these courageous individuals, and to make U.S.-based civilian legal defense available.

Gerry Condon of Project Safe Haven notes,
“We must prepare to defend war resisters who are deported and court-martialed. We need to build communities of sanctuary in the U.S. And we need to demand that President Obama grant amnesty to all war resisters.”

After making the two phone calls, send an email

Follow up your phone message with a brief email to Minister Kenney (minister@cic.gc.ca ) and Prime Minister Harper (pm@pm.gc.ca).

Please CC your email to Canadian opposition party leaders:
Liberal party immigration critic Borys Wrzesnewskyj (wrzesnewskyj.b@parl.gc.ca)
NDP immigration critic Olivia Chow (chow.o@parl.gc.ca)
Bloc Québécois immigration critic Thierry St-Cyr (st-cyr.t@parl.gc.ca)
And finally, War Resisters Support Campaign (resisters@sympatico.ca)

Canada Responds

This is one of the responses to the letter writing. It's probably the same one all of you received, but I thought I'd print it for those who didn't get to write letters. Not all the officials support Harper and Kinney - most of them don't. 

Here is the answer to your e-mail on behalf of Thierry St-Cyr, deputy of the Bloc Québécois in Jeanne-LeBer:

Thank you for your email concerning US resisters to the war in Iraq living in Canada.

The Bloc Québécois endorses the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration’s report on the issue of conscientious objectors. The motion that was adopted reads as follows:
“The Committee recommends that the government immediately implement a program to allow conscientious objectors and their immediate family members (partners and dependents), who have refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations and do not have a criminal record, to apply for permanent resident status and remain in Canada; and that the government should immediately cease any removal or deportation actions that may have already commenced against such individuals.”

In the past three years, US resisters to the war in Iraq living in Canada have generated considerable debate. About 50 people are seeking refuge here. In their opinion, the war in Iraq is illegal and immoral. Some came to that conclusion after their experience on the ground in Iraq, while others came to that same conclusion based on what they read, namely accounts by other soldiers who have returned from Iraq.

We commend them on having the courage to uphold principles of international law, principles of solidarity and humanitarian principles. These are great values that I share.

Many points were brought up at the committee hearings to justify our position. First, in March 2003, the Canadian government decided not to take part in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Second, Canada’s support for conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War created a historical precedent.

Since its creation, the Bloc Québécois has been defending Quebec’s values, which include respect for the rights of individuals and peoples, freedom, solidarity and peaceful resolution of conflicts. These values are deeply entrenched in Quebec and have been passionately expressed, for instance, during the debate surrounding the war in Iraq. We need only recall the 250,000 people who braved the cold to demonstrate in Montreal against the war in Iraq, and the polls that showed major opposition to the war.

We trust that this email will address your concerns.

Yours sincerely,

Thierry St-Cyr
Member for Jeanne–Le Ber
Bloc Québécois Citizenship and Immigration Critic

January 20, 2009

Bush is Over . . .

. . . if you want it

January 19, 2009

Pete Seeger and half a million people sing together at concert in Washington, DC.

by: Tommy Stevenson, Tuscaloosa News 

Bee Branch - At the conclusion of today's concert for president-elect Barack Obama 89-year-old Pete Seeger joined Bruce Springsteen for a sing-along with perhaps half a million people of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land," which I dare say practically everyone in the country knows from childhood.

But sly old Pete, who actually hoboed with Woody during the Depression and Dust Bowl, had the crowd sing the song as it was actually written, as not only a celebration of this great land, but as a demand for workers' and people's rights. That is, he restored the verses that have been censored from the song over the years to make it less political:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn't say nothing;
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.
The "relief office," of course, refers to the ad hoc soup bowls and such set up during the Depression before the New Deal began to get the social security net we have all depended upon since the 1930s in place.

Seeger, like Guthrie, has been a controversial figure at times during his life, questioned by the witch hunting committees of Congress in the 1950s, black listed, and even banded from television as late as the late 1960s.

But while he hasn't got much of a voice left anymore and did not attempt to play his banjo today, it was wonderful to see the gleam in his subversive eye as he did his call and response with the throngs in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

Somewhere Woody - and Leadbelly, and Sonny and Cisco and the rest of the great balladeers of that bygone era - are smiling tonight.


Full Lyrics

This Land Is Your Land
Words and Music by Woody Guthrie

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, to the New York Island
From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me

As I was walking a ribbon of highway
I saw above me an endless skyway
I saw below me a golden valley
This land was made for you and me


I've roamed and rambled and I've followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
And all around me a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me


The sun comes shining as I was strolling
The wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
The fog was lifting a voice come chanting
This land was made for you and me


As I was walkin' - I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no tress passin'
But on the other side .... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!


In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office - I see my people
And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me.

Chorus (2x)

thanks to truthout.org


Fast for Justice Day 7: Carmen Trotta at the White House

(Photo Credit: Adam Levine/CNN)

Will Public Education Be Militarized?

2 + 2 = 4 . . . . . Sir!

President-elect Barack Obama with Arne Duncan, the nominee
 for secretary of education. (Photo: Ralf-finn Hestoft / Pool)

The Duncan Doctrine
The Military-Corporate Legacy of the New Secretary of Education

By Andy Kroll
~listen to interview at TomDispatch Audio and Video

On December 16th, a friendship forged nearly two decades ago on the hardwood of the basketball court culminated in a press conference at the Dodge Renaissance Academy, an elementary school located on the west side of Chicago. In a glowing introduction to the media, President-elect Barack Obama named Arne Duncan, the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools system (CPS), as his nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education. "When it comes to school reform," the President-elect said, "Arne is the most hands-on of hands-on practitioners. For Arne, school reform isn't just a theory in a book -- it's the cause of his life. And the results aren't just about test scores or statistics, but about whether our children are developing the skills they need to compete with any worker in the world for any job."

Though the announcement came amidst a deluge of other Obama nominations -- he had unveiled key members of his energy and environment teams the day before and would add his picks for the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior the next day -- Duncan's selection was eagerly anticipated, and garnered mostly favorable reactions in education circles and in the media. He was described as the compromise candidate between powerful teachers' unions and the advocates of charter schools and merit pay. He was also regularly hailed as a "reformer," fearless when it came to challenging the educational status quo and more than willing to shake up hidebound, moribund public school systems.

Yet a closer investigation of Duncan's record in Chicago casts doubt on that label. As he packs up for Washington, Duncan leaves behind a Windy City legacy that's hardly cause for optimism, emphasizing as it does a business-minded, market-driven model for education. If he is a "reformer," his style of management is distinctly top-down, corporate, and privatizing. It views teachers as expendable, unions as unnecessary, and students as customers.

Disturbing as well is the prominence of Duncan's belief in offering a key role in public education to the military. Chicago's school system is currently themost militarized in the country, boasting five military academies, nearly three dozen smaller Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps programs within existing high schools, and numerous middle school Junior ROTC programs. More troubling yet, the military academies he's started are nearly all located in low-income, minority neighborhoods. This merging of military training and education naturally raises concerns about whether such academies will be not just education centers, but recruitment centers as well.   READ MORE >>

January 13, 2009

Shields: I Accuse! An Open Letter to Congress

Informed Comment
Thoughts on the Middle East, History, and Religion

Juan Cole is President of the Global Americana Institute
Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sarah Shields writes in a guest op-ed for IC:

I accuse you, the US Congress, of having voted for US House Resolution 34 by an overwhelming margin, 390-5. In the name of protecting Israel’s security, this Resolution instead protects Israel’s “right” to hold a whole population accountable for the violations of a few. By condoning Israel’s behavior over the past two weeks as self-defense, HR 34 condemns one and a half million Gazans to capital punishment without trial for crimes they have not committed. By publicly acknowledging and approving Israel’s behavior, you now share responsibility for the outcomes.

I accuse you of having the blood of hundreds of innocent children on your hands. I accuse you of the death of Shahd Abu Halemeh, an infant of 18 months, whose corpse was found badly burned in the wreckage of Gaza. I accuse you of the deaths of the four Salha children, Rola (1), Baha (4), Rana (12), and Dyia (14), who died when the Israelis dropped a missile on their house. I accuse you of the deaths of those killed while seeking refuge from constant bombardment, people who sought protection at a school run by the United Nations. Despite the clear UN markings and flags, Israelis attacked the sanctuary, killing 30 and wounding 50. And I hold you responsible for the lives of the 252 other children killed in the first sixteen days of Israel’s attack on Gaza, and the deaths of those who will be killed as a result of your encouragement.

I accuse you of violating the laws made by the Congress of the United States, laws like the Arms Export Control Act of 1976, which insist that American-made weapons may not be used against civilian populations.

I accuse you of supporting flagrant violations of human rights. The combatants you voted to support are required by international law to care for civilian victims of war. Yet the Israeli government denied the International Committee of the Red Cross access to the sites they bombed for four days. The nightmares that resulted are too horrific to be imagined. Perhaps you could contemplate what the ICRC found when it was finally allowed to provide relief for the victims of Israeli bombing: four children, so starved that they could not stand up, huddled by their dead mothers. Food and water have become hard to find, and medicine is vanishing as the need for medical care explodes as more and more missiles land in Gaza. Israel has, nonetheless, targeted not only a UN school, but also a UN convoy bringing desperately needed supplies. The result, according to the ICRC’s director of operations, is catastrophic. "There is no doubt in my mind,” he stated, “that we are dealing with a full blown and major crisis in humanitarian terms. The situation for the people in Gaza is extreme and traumatic as a result of ten days of uninterrupted fighting. In that sense, their situation has clearly become intolerable."

I accuse you of transgressing international law. The United States, as one of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, is required to protect civilians in war, and to call to account anyone who targets them. You have instead voted to support behavior considered criminal according to international law.

I accuse you of making our ally, Israel, less secure than ever before, as the orphans of today seek vengeance in the future. Instead of seeking a real peace, a peace of mutual security and prosperity, you have chosen to support only one side in this ongoing struggle, condemning the others to enormous suffering.

I accuse you of putting politics before humanity, of condoning the slaughter of innocents, of supporting war crimes instead of standing up for the most basic human right: the right to live without the terrifying fear of immediate death.

I hold you responsible, each of these 390 members of America’s 111th Congress. I accuse you of complicity in the most serious transgressions that humans can commit.

from Bill Moyers Journal / PBS

 January 09, 2009

The Daily Show - Strip Maul

January 5, 2009

Although we should not lose sight of the fact that Jon Stewart is a satirist and a comedian, he is "the main source of news for a generation of Americans". He may get a lot of flak for this show. Jewish Voice for Peace asks that people send him a note of support.

Thousands of Israelis protest against the war in Gaza

January 10, 2009

Facts of involuntary activation from the IRR

By Benji Lewis. 
January 1, 2009

I am Benji Lewis. I deployed to Iraq twice in 2004 and 2005 and was discharged honorably in 2007. Recently I have been involuntarily activated from the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) by the U.S. Marine Corps in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, an activation that I have been publicly refusing.

The IRR is an inactive group of service members who still have time remaining on their signing agreements and are eligible to call up in states of emergency. The current state of emergency is the open-ended Global War on Terror that includes the occupation of both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Because of falling reenlistment levels, the United States is finding it difficult to procure sufficient manpower in its efforts overseas. Thus the U.S. government is finding it necessary to reactivate members from the IRR to stave off its shortage of personnel. Thousands of individuals are now being faced with the decision to reactivate and forgo the lives they have built since their discharge. I am ignoring my orders and encouraging others in the IRR to make an informed decision on whether or not they should do the same.

The most important fact about this decision is that members of the IRR do not fall under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) until they report to the evaluation for activation. After being discharged from the military, veterans are bound only by civilian laws, and there exists no civilian mandate that states they must report for their evaluation. This means that the military has no formal judiciary measure for bringing criminal charges against an individual that ignores orders and fails to report.

Of course the military has certain forms of coercion and harassment that it utilizes to ‘prompt’ persons into reactivation, but these threats have no legal grounds. For example, if the military sends a veteran a letter that says to report for a court martial or a separations hearing, the military cannot actually hold a court martial or separations hearing unless that person reports for it. This means that a vet would have to volunteer to be court marshaled under the UCMJ. In the case of a separations hearing, a vet would have to agree to voluntarily participate, as in the well-known case of IRR resister and fellow IVAW member, Matthis Chiroux.

If members of the IRR ignore all attempts by the military to contact them, through not signing certified letters, or answering their phone calls, then the most probable situation is either a general separation from the IRR citing ‘a failure to contact,’ or, at worst, an other-than-honorable discharge from the IRR. What is important to understand is that a discharge from the IRR, in whatever capacity, does not affect a vet’s discharge from active duty. That means that at this time no one has incurred any loss of benefits or standing from an original active duty discharge. An other-than-honorable discharge from the IRR could, however, affect those that apply for a federal job requiring a national security background check, such as a position in the FBI or NSA.

Of the facts surrounding the IRR, it is important to know that about thirty to forty percent of personnel fail to report. Unfortunately many of them do comply after the military uses scare tactics to get them to reactivate. About fifty percent file for medical or hardship exemption and about fifty percent of those get approved. Individuals with more than thirty percent disability are most likely to succeed. The reality is that most service members in the IRR do not even have to file for exemption if they simply fail to report.

Why I am refusing to reactivate

The U.S. claimed that it invaded Iraq in order to liberate the Iraqi people from Saddam. The ‘war’ ended for America the day Saddam fled into hiding and the Iraqi people were ready to reestablish their futures free from bondage. The ‘war’ especially ended when the Kurds found and turned over Saddam to American forces, and the ‘war’ really should have been over by the time many Iraqis were beginning to discover that though they hated him, their lives were better under Saddam. Naturally this notion was contrary to stated goals, but exemplifies the fact that the U.S. did not ever really care about the people of Iraq, and was more interested in profiteering and geostrategic positioning.

The Iraq resistance to American presence will not cease until it accomplishes its objectives: U.S. withdrawal of its political and economic influence, and troop presence.

The U.S. has been instrumental in creating the strife in Iraq: from the Reagan administration taking Iraq off the state sponsored terrorism list in 1982 in order to sell it weaponry during the eight year war with Iran (in which Iraq openly used chemical weapons, utilizing raw chemicals sold by U.S. corporations and approved by the U.S. Department of Commerce), to the baiting of Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, to the Gulf War, to the resulting sanctions, and finally to the U.S. invasion and occupation. Yet, it is still safe to say that during the last three decades of U.S. involvement in Iraq, the country has never been worse off than it has been under the U.S. occupation. Still, it surprises many people, mostly Americans who get their information from mainstream media outlets, that the Iraqis would be resisting the occupation.

I am resisting activation because the occupation of Iraq has done nothing but proliferate international terrorism, because the results from Afghanistan have been and will continue to do the same, and because the occupation of Iraq has been nothing but detrimental to the Iraqi people, American troops and their loved ones. It is time for the American public to understand that just because our government and our military state specific goals and visions, it does not mean that those statements reflect their real intentions.

The question for IRR members is whether or not they should leave their new civilian lives behind so soon after being discharged to fight in illegal aggressions and occupation. The benefit is certainly not for veterans who, if they have not already been so, stand only to get wounded, killed or sustain psychological trauma in the form of PTSD.

I encourage all IRR service members to start questioning what they are being told by a military system that will tell them anything to fill its quotas. Active duty troops in Iraq are discovering that by disobeying orders they are actually saving lives. They are doing this by refusing orders to patrol hot streets where the only mission that can be accomplished is to be wounded or killed by an IED or pre-set ambush with no stated goal but ‘a presence.’ We owe it to active duty service members and vets to question our orders as IRR members. Together we can deplete the manpower available for this war and force the U.S. to rotate its service members home where they belong. We must allow the Iraqis to rebuild their nation without interference from biased U.S. policy makers and corporations. It is impossible to honor those fallen in an unjustifiable aggression by continuing to fill body bags.

We can say no.

Benji Lewis was a Corporal in the U.S. Marine Corp who served in Fallujah and Hadita in 2004 & 2005. He is an IRR resister and community activist in Corvallis, Oregon. He encourages all fellow IRR service members to contact the GI Rights Hotline (1-877-447-4487) with further questions about the IRR and reference www.couragetoresist.org.

Thanks to Benji and Courage to Resist for this post.

January 9, 2009

Write letters right now

This morning I posted some information about Kimberly Rivera and her family facing deportation by the Canadian government. I wondered what we could do to support them. I contacted the War Resisters Support Campaign in Toronto which had suggested we call or write the Minister of Immigration and Citizenship, Jason Kenney. However it was noted that this recently appointed immigration minister has adopted a harsh and bullying attitude toward American resisters.

This attitude seems to be that if you signed up, you take what comes; don't try to pull on my heartstrings. What he is unwilling to accept is that the very experience of being a young warrior occupying another country can open a soldier's eyes to the inhumane situation and the reality of killing innocent people. People can change and do.

I was 19 when I joined the Marines back in 1965. I never thought about what I would be doing; my friend and I just wanted get our service time over with. What I experienced changed everthing. It changed my religious beliefs, as well as my social and political views. I wish I had been aware before I went; the last 40 years of my life would have been very different. These soldiers have crossed that line of understanding and have chosen to take a courageous stand.

Many of them joined the Guard thinking they might be called up for disasters such as earthquakes,  hurricanes and floods. Instead they were sent overseas - over and over and over again - to fight an illegal and immoral war. The Harper government has chosen to honor these men and women who stood up to the most powerful military organization in the world by deporting them to an uncertain future.

The good people of Canada have given them refuge and they are rebuilding their lives and building their families. Unfortunately the Prime Minister is a cold man with a nasty agenda. Harper has decided to deport them to the states in spite of a Parliamentary motion supporting the war resisters last summer. 

Five of our resisters are scheduled to be deported by the end of January. This includes Kimberly Rivera, Patrick Hart, Chris Teske, Clifford Cornell, and Dean Walcott. You can read some of their stories online.

What we need to do right now is write letters to the Canadian newspapers showing them that there are many Americans who would like to see our resisters and their families safe with our Canadian friends.  We can also write our local papers.

We also need to help the organizations that are helping our resisters. Organizations like War Resister Support Campaign in Toronto and Courage to Resist in Oakland work hard to help these resisters get work permits and find jobs to support their families and secure housing. They need to pay the lawyers and the costs of assisting the soldiers. Some of the soldiers manage to stay permanently or delay deportation because of successful court decisions. 

The ones that are deported will have their futures determined by the same US Military Justice System that gave us Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. Some will face prison terms; all will be taken away from the peaceful lives they have established.

January 8, 2009

War Resister Kimberley Rivera & Family ordered to leave Canada

Kimberley Rivera, along with her husband and three young children, have been told that they must leave Canada by January 27 or face removal to the United States.

Kimberley served in Iraq in 2006. In 2007 she refused redeployment and became the first female U.S. Iraq war resister to come to Canada. She lives now in Toronto with her husband Mario, son Christian (6 years), daughter Rebecca (4 years), and newborn Canadian daughter Katie (6 weeks). 

Her experience in Iraq was a huge awakening and convinced Kimberley that the war was immoral and that she could not participate in it.

"Coming to Canada began a new chapter filled with opportunities and hope for my family. I am just glad I get to be a mom again," said Rivera.

Despite a June 2008 Parliamentary motion supporting war resisters, the Harper government continues its policy of deporting them. In July 2008, war resister Robin Long was deported from British Columbia and punished with 15 months in jail, separating him from his wife and infant son, and a felony conviction that will cause him lifelong hardship.

URGENT ACTION - please take a few minutes to show your support for Kimberly and the other war resisters threatened with deportation. Call or email Minister of Immigration and Citizenship Jason Kenney today and ask him to:

STOP deportation proceedings against U.S. Iraq war resister Kimberley Rivera and her family; and
IMPLEMENT the motion adopted by Canada's Parliament to allow U.S. Iraq war resisters to apply for permanent resident status.

Here are the numbers to call:
Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney
Call 613.954.1064

MP Jason Kenney's Parliamentary office:

Or email him at:

Please cc the opposition party critics if you email Jason Kenney:
Liberal party immigration critic Borys Wrzesnewskyj: wrzesnewskyj.b@parl.gc.ca
NDP immigration critic Olivia Chow: chow.o@parl.gc.ca
Bloc Québécois immigration critic Thierry St-Cyr: st-cyr.t@parl.gc.ca

Thanks to War Resisters Support Campaign in Toronto for this information and especially for helping the Rivera family. 

Share this with your friends. Encourage them to write or call. Families like Kimberly's have made a courageous commitment against participating in an illegal and immoral war. What kind of commitment can we make to support them?

"March of the Dead" Demonstration on Capitol Hill

Day 1 of the New Congress (Tuesday, Jan 6, 2009)

Unlawful Assembly
by David Swanson

Wed Jan 07, 2009 at 02:41:45 PM PST

As the 111th Congress was being sworn in on Tuesday, a seemingly endless line of figures dressed all in black with stark white masks slowly marched single-file around Capitol Hill. Each wore a placard bearing the name of someone who had died in the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine, their age, and the date of their death. This March of the Dead (video) was intended to remind yet another Congress that we elected it to end aggressive wars, and to announce that the peace movement will be a presence on Capitol Hill until the wars are ended.

About an hour after the march ended, a group of the dead in masks and black clothes gathered in the indoor atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building. A few of us began reading aloud lists of those who have died in the wars, including U.S. soldiers. Five floors up, on the east side of the atrium, three large banners were dropped reading "Afghanistan" and "Iraq" and "Palestine." Then on the west side an enormous banner unfurled reading "The Audacity of War Crimes." That banner was quickly taken down by police. As we continued reading the names, another huge banner appeared on the south side of the atrium reading "We Will Not Be Silent."

David Swanson's diary :: ::
(I can't help noting in passing that Tuesday's activities and the "we will not be silent" shirts seen at peace rallies in recent years were both designed by Laurie Arbeiter, and as we were engaged in Tuesday's actions we learned that our friend Raed Jarrar had been awarded $240,000 for having been thrown off an airplane for wearing one of the shirts with the message in Arabic.)

A half dozen of us continued reading the names of the dead aloud with a dozen figures in masks around us, and dozens of onlookers and members of the media around them. (The corporate media was very well represented at this event, so if it does not appear on your television you can blame a producer's editorial decision.) While we read the names, some of those who had skillfully unfurled and tied the banners were escorted out of the building by the Capitol Police -- and thanked by spontaneous applause. Eventually, the police gave our group three warnings, encircled us, and began handcuffing us as we continued to read the names of the dead. While they were warning us, the police ordered us to "cease our criminal activity." We were, of course, protesting the criminal activity of aggressive war, but what -- I wondered -- was OUR crime?

In the end we were charged with something called "unlawful assembly." Assemble is, of course, a word that appears in our Constitution's first amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

One doesn't hear a lot about unlawful religion, unlawful speech, unlawful press, or unlawful petitioning. Such things could be construed as existing, of course, but seem marginal; the crimes involved are based in other offenses, not in the act of worshiping or speaking itself. Why is freedom of assembly different? Presumably because our right is only to "peaceably" assemble, not to assemble violently. And, in fact, "unlawful assembly" is deemed a type of "disturbance of the peace." But can the peace be disturbed even though we behave peaceably, without violence? That's not at all clear.

We were not loud enough on Tuesday to disturb any senators in their offices. We were less noisy, I'm sure, than typical groups of tourists. Is it possible that assemblies are deemed unlawful because of their political content, even though that would itself be blatantly illegal? Several sources I've checked define unlawful assembly as assembling with the intent to commit a crime. Thus assembling is termed a rout, and actually initiating the crime is termed a riot. Standing and reading a list of names aloud is not, at least, the typical definition of a riot. And we were not charged with any other crime apart from "unlawful assembly."

The Encyclopedia Britannica defines unlawful assembly as the "gathering of persons for the purpose of committing either a crime involving force or a noncriminal act in a manner likely to terrify the public." How much force should we suppose that Eve Tetaz, a 77-year-old woman reading a list of dead names, was planning to employ? Observers of our action looked solemn or amused, but in no cases that I saw terrified.

That doesn't mean that I don't think any crime was committed on Tuesday. The fourth amendment to our Constitution reads "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." Nonetheless, the Capitol Police knew in advance of our action in the Hart Building what we had planned, and they could only have known it by violating our rights.

When you go to jail, the police take all of your possessions and catalogue them. Laurie had a copy of the U.S. Constitution in her pocket. The police recorded it as "1 address book."

January 7, 2009

Young Palestinian confronts Israeli troops

Korean television video clip on Juan Cole's blog, "Informed Comment".

She is being identified by Juan Cole's facebook friends as Huwaida Arraf, a Detroiter married to Adam Shapiro, a University of Michigan Poli Sci graduate, and a founder of International Solidarity Movement, a nonviolent activist organization.

January 5, 2009


This clip was very moving to me. The need for families and loved ones to be together. To do the right thing even in the face of tremendous adversity. 

January 4, 2009

Veterans For Peace: Ban Torture Campaign

Voices of Torture
Perspectives From a Witness and a Survivor

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Ethical Society in St. Louis, MO

Join us for an evening that will awaken your conscience.
Hear firsthand accounts of what torture is, how it affects the lives of its victims, and learn why torture is never the answer.

James "Yusof" Yee & Demissie Abebe

James “Yusuf” Yee was a former U.S. Army chaplain who ministered to Muslim detainees at Guantanamo Bay and witnessed firsthand the cruel and abusive treatment of detainees. He was detained and charged by the US government for several serious crimes, including aiding the enemy, spying, and espionage. During this time he was subject to the same kind of interrogation techniques he witnessed at Guantanamo Bay. The case fell apart due to a lack of evidence, and all of these charges were eventually dropped. Yee wrote a book, “For God and Country: Faith and Patriotism Under Fire,” in which he describes his experiences and is critical of the government’s abusive treatment of detainees.
Read his full bio at www.justiceforyee.com
Demissie Abebe currently serves as the executive director of the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International and is the survival of torture in Ethiopia. He was severely tortured after he tried to expose corruption in an agency responsible for development and assistance to the poor.

We are also inviting a legal expert on torture issues for the final portion of our event. He will participate with James Yee and Demissie Abebe in an informal dissussion about torture. The expert will provide an additional opinion to round out the discussion. After some brief introductory thoughts by the legal expert, we will move into a Q&A session that will be a mix of audience and moderator questions. The event will be moderated by Michael McPhearson, the Executive Director of Veterans For Peace.

Also Sponsored by:
Amnesty International USA
Amnesty International-St. Louis
The Center for Theology and Social Analysis
Military Families Speak Out-Midwest Chapter 
The Ethical Action Committee of the Ethical Society
The Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International