June 29, 2010

My most excellent daughter, Harvest, with her new, incredible son, Jackson

-thanks to Carole Weber for the photo

Violence against people vs. violence against property.

not all crimes are equal: humans and our rights are more valuable than windows

I see many posts in the blogosphere and on Facebook, and clips in old media, assigning blame for the G20 breakdown in equal parts on so-called Black Bloc protesters, government and police.

In an attempt to appear even-handed, fair and non-biased, observers decry all the violence as if it is all equally wrong.

This is wrong - and dangerous.

First of all, vandals broke windows and burned a car. The police fired rubber bullets into humans. The police hit human beings with bicycles, batons and fists. The police trapped and held human beings for hours without shelter, food or water. The police threatened human beings with rape. The police stripped-searched (and worse) human beings.

Even given our society's obsession with property rights, most people agree that human beings are more important than property. Supposed Black Bloc protesters destroyed property. The police assaulted human beings.

Second, the vandals were a one-time occurrence. We are in little danger of their actions recurring on a regular basis. The Toronto police, on the other hand, work among us every day. Our taxes pay their salaries. They are supposed to be accountable to government, and to the people. They are supposed to be trained to keep the peace and to protect us from harm. They are not supposed to be a uniformed gang loaded with weapons unleashed on an unarmed citizenry.

Third, and most importantly, the abuse of policing powers and the suspension of civil liberties by far a greater danger to society than broken windows and a burned car. We have the right to peaceful protest. We have the right to express our anger at these undemocratic and unjust meetings that affect millions of lives and the very survival of our planet. We have the right to walk in our own cities - my god, to sleep in our own beds! - without fear of being dragged off and detained.

There is no moral equivalence between the abuse of police power and the suspension of civil rights and a bunch of marauding vandals. In terms of our daily lives, and our rights as Canadians and as humans, vandalism is dwarfed by the comparison.

We must not allow our desire for order, and our fear of disorder, to blind us to the very real dangers of an overly powerful authority over our daily lives. A free society is a process. So is the chipping away of that freedom.

In addition, I am wholly unconvinced that the vandals were actually free agents. Many people don't understand that agents provocateurs and paid rioters have been employed to discredit peaceful protests for time immemorial. The tactic was used in the 1960s and 1970s against civil rights and anti-war protesters. It was used in the 1920s against union activists. It was used in the 1900s against socialists. It is mentioned in Shakespeare. I bet the ancient Romans used it to discredit the Christians.

More recently, we have proof and official admissions that provocateurs were used in protests against the 2004 and 2008 Democratic and Republican National Conventions, and in Montebello in 2007. Just because proof hasn't come out yet - and may never - doesn't mean it didn't happen again last weekend.

When so many people express outrage over the (at least) $1,300,000,000 spending of our own money on security, what better way to prove that expense was necessary? When so many are protesting, what better way to discredit them? And what better way to change the subject from what actually happens in these summits?

Consider that the people who torched the cop cars and broke windows were allowed to do so. Here is one of many similar eyewitness accounts, this one from Ian Welsh, writing at Crooks and Liars.

As best I can tell, what happened is that for about an hour, the Black Bloc protesters clearly and visibly prepared for action, with both the police and other, non-violent protesters able to see they were doing so. The number of Black Bloc vandals seems to have been between 50 to 100, certainly not more than 200. (The police had 20,000 men.)

The police actually withdrew, leaving behind police cars for the Black Block to torch. Which they then did. The Black Bloc then proceeded up Yonge street (the main north/south street in downtown Toronto), vandalizing as they went, and eventually many headed over to Queen's Park, the Provincial capital. Two hours after the first violence, the police finally take action, ensuring that there are plenty of videos of police cars burning and vandalism that would not have occurred if they had taken action earlier.

According to the police, rather than confront a maximum of 200 protesters, they withdrew behind the barrier around the G20 meetings and let them vandalize downtown Toronto for 2 hours.

Ian goes on to call this a "deliberate decision to allow downtown to be vandalized," and I cannot see it any other way.

If a young man wearing a t-shirt is committing acts of vandalism, and a fully armed (batons, rubber bullets, tear gas, sound cannons) and armored (face shield, bullet-proof vest) officer of the law sees, withdraws and does not intervene, who is the greater problem?

Lee Zaslofsky:

I'm annoyed by the Mayor's outrage about broken windows. The Black Bloc were more measured in some ways than the cops, who lashed out at humans, not just property. They fed on the revulsion felt by many at the police state they imposed on us, the Darth Vader costumes, the threats, the gangs of bike cops. Never again!.

Sherry Good via Antonia Zervisias:

Young women detainees sexually harassed and assaulted by G20 police

Laura at We Move To Canada:
Women who were part of the round-up of peaceful G20 protesters were threatened with rape. Other young women were strip-searched by male officers and, in at least one instance that we know of so far, manually penetrated.

Listen as journalist Amy Miller recounts what she experienced and observed.

Please. Stay outraged.

Amy Miller - Alternative Media Centre, Independent Journalist from Darren Puscas on Vimeo.

-Thanks to Laura at We Move To Canada

June 28, 2010

G20 police terrorize peaceful protesters

I have been reading all these blogs, viewing YouTube videos, etc. trying to understand what was happening in Toronto. I wasn't there but I still feel some of the outrage these people must have experienced. As much as we would hope to see the police acting as safety officers, it seldom comes down that way. The "EXPOSED..." video shows them terrorizing and attempting to intimidate peaceful demonstrators singing the Canadian anthem. But they go one step further. It's like watching a science fiction movie. The cops link together in this impenetrable wall of boots, shields and helmets. They show no sense of humanity. Then the wall opens quickly to squirt 2 or 3 of its seedy innards into the innocent sea of soft humans. These gross demons snatch up the unsuspecting victims and disappear through a temporary opening into the G20 monster. Who were these people with the helmets? Did they ever have kids or family? It's hard to imagine.

Thankfully there didn't seem to be any orders from above for the police to shoot people like at Kent State or Palestine, Iraq or Afghanistan.

The irony is that this same machine never intervened with the black bloc burning police cars or smashing windows in the storefronts. No cops, no arrests. Several bloggers and videographers insist that the reason for this is that they were police provocateurs. They show photos and videos of them wearing the same clothing as the police, being protected behind police lines, etc. The assumption is that these violent actions against property were done so there would be some video for the media that they could use to justify the $1.2 Billion dollar totalitarian response that included unjusyified violence against human beings. This means the police did the property and the people.

June 24, 2010

Whistleblower, pfc Bradley Manning, arrested for exposing hideous war crimes

BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR, Member of the Icelandic Parliament and co-producer of the Wikileaks video Collateral Murder:
If he, in fact, has leaked this, he should be considered a hero, because he is reporting on war crimes that the rest of the world, and in particular the countries that are participating in this war, this illegal war, should know what is happening on the ground there.
When the video, Collateral Murder, first appeared I experienced two powerful reactions. The first was revulsion. Forty years after we did this routinely in Vietnam we were still slaughtering innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan. The other feeling was a strong sense of satisfaction. Here was the military committing their typical war crimes and the audio and video was captured by their own equipment. All these years the soldiers and veterans have been telling people about this and nothing had been done about it. Either Americans didn't understand that it was as bad as the soldiers were saying or they just didn't care enought to demand change. Now we had a very graphic picture out there for the world to see. Surely Obama's White House and the Congress would be forced to do something about it.

Once again the eternal optimist, me, had expected too much since the video was so powerful. The military tried to make it look like it was an abnormal incident. Soldiers and veterans knew it wasn't.

Former Marine and Conscientious Objector,Josh Stieber, went to the media. He pointed out that he would have been with the ground troops in the video, but he wasn't permitted to go because he had refused to commit an unjust act days before. He seemed to be suggesting that this was normal operating procedure.

Instead of our government looking into the policies that produce these hideous, inhumane crimes, they go after the soldier who leaked the film. He's been held for three weeks without any charges in a prison in Kuwait. The military is not allowing him to communicate his side of the story.

According to Wired magazine,
"...Manning isolated a key turning point in his regard for the military; he said it was when he was ordered to look the other way in the face of an injustice.

Manning had been tasked with evaluating the arrest of 15 Iraqis rounded up by the Iraqi Federal Police for printing “anti Iraq” literature. “The Iraqi federal police wouldn’t cooperate with U.S. forces, so I was instructed to investigate the matter, find out who the ‘bad guys’ were, and how significant this was for the FPs,” he wrote.

But when Manning had the literature translated, he discovered it was a scholarly critique of Iraq Prime Minister Al-Maliki titled Where Did the Money Go?, he wrote. The document was nothing more than a “benign political critique … following the corruption trail within the PM’s cabinet.

“I immediately took that information and ran to the [U.S. Army] officer to explain what was going on. He didn’t want to hear any of it. He told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs in finding MORE detainees.”

He continued. “Everything started slipping after that. I saw things differently. I had always questioned the [way] things worked, and investigated to find the truth. But that was a point where I was a part of something. I was actively involved in something that I was completely against.”

And now they're looking for the Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange. The military is concerned about what other material might be released, further exposing the fruits of US policy.

According to the Guardian,
The elusive founder of WikiLeaks, who is at the centre of a potential US national security sensation, has surfaced from almost a month in hiding to tell the Guardian he does not fear for his safety but is on permanent alert.

Julian Assange, a renowned Australian hacker who founded the electronic whistleblowers' platform WikiLeaks, vanished when a young US intelligence analyst in Baghdad was arrested.

The analyst, Bradley Manning, had bragged he had sent 260,000 incendiary US state department cables on the wars in Iraq andAfghanistan to WikiLeaks.

The prospect of the cache of classified intelligence on the US conduct of the two wars being put online is a nightmare for Washington. The sensitivity of the information has generated media reports that Assange is the target of a US manhunt.

"[US] public statements have all been reasonable. But some statements made in private are a bit more questionable," Assange told the Guardian in Brussels. "Politically it would be a great error for them to act. I feel perfectly safe … but I have been advised by my lawyers not to travel to the US during this period."

Assange appeared in public in Brussels for the first time in almost a month to speak at a seminar on freedom of information at the European parliament.

He said: "We need support and protection. We have that. More is always helpful. But we believe that the situation is stable and under control. There's no need to be worried. There's a need always to be on the alert."

-Also see video coverage in Democracy Now!

June 23, 2010

18 year old Israeli Conscientious Objector (CO), Diane Kogan, is sentenced to prison for the 2nd time

CO Diane Kogan, 18, of the Tel-Aviv suburb of Bat Yam, was sentenced yesterday (13 June) to 25 days of imprisonment for her refusal to enlist, and was transfered today (14 June) to Military Prison No. 400 in Tzrifin.

This is in fact the second time Diane is being sent to prison and the sixth time she is being sentenced for her conscientious objection. She was first sentenced to 20 days in prison on her designated enlistment date, 15 April. However, she was then told that the military prison for women was full, and was told to report every day at the Induction Base in Tel Hashomer. Diane decided she is not willing to perform military duties de facto as a substitute for imprisonment and returned home. Diane returned to the Induction Base on 25 April and was this time sentenced to 10 days in prison and actually imprisoned. Upon her release, on 4 May, she was again sentenced for her refusal to enlist, this time to 20 days of confinement to base. She decided to go home again, for the same reasons as before, and returned when the confinement term was over, on 24 May. She was then sentenced for the fourth time – this time a conditional sentence of 7 days in prison, plus a continuation of her term of confinement to base (again – an instruction that Diane decided not to obey). On 7 Jun she returned to the Induction Base and was sentenced to 10 more days of confinement to base, and finally, yesterday, after spending more time at home, she was sent to prison for the second time. It seems the military has recently been taking some pains to avoid publicity in conscientious objection cases.
In a statement explaining her refusal to enlist, Diane Kogan says:
I refuse to enlist to the Army because I strongly believe that a military system will never help to achieve peace.

The Military is a violent force because it teaches how to solve conflict by using offensive means, such as weapons and brute force. It makes no sense that one side will use violence as a way towards peace in hope that the other side will just accept it.

Violence leads to violence and eventually to war, which then leads to more wars. Bloodshed is not the way and should be avoided at all cost.

Therefore I wholeheartedly decline to cooperate with the military system (and its ideals), which I think is rotten from the core, and is far away from ever achieving peace among people.

Diane Kogan is due to be released from prison on 7 July. Her address in prison is:
Diane Kogan
Military ID 5776284
Military Prison No. 400
Military Postal Code 02447, IDF
Fax: ++972-3-9579389
Since the prison authorities often block mail from reaching imprisoned objectors, we also recommend you to send them your letters of support and encouragement via e-mail to: messages2prison@newprofile.org, and they will be printed out and delivered during visits.

Find suggested actions and addresses HERE.

-thanks to the Center on Conscience & War and

June 18, 2010

War Resisters Jeremy and Ashley Brockway surviving in Port Colborne

Kaesha Forand, Staff Photo, Welland Tribune

Ashley Brockway: "If we could know that we could stay in Canada, if we didn't live with the fear of deportation and court martial and prison, if we knew that we could settle here and just live our lives, I hold out hope that then Jeremy could begin to release his pain, and begin to heal.
We were up in Port Colborne, Canada last night. A nice little town at the Lake Erie end of the Welland Canal. War Resisters, Jeremy and Ashlea Brockway have been living here for a while with their two children. For Jeremy, a marine veteran, living is what he is barely able to do. He never leaves his apartment, weighed down with severe depression, anxiety and PTSD. His wife struggles to help him keep going. The horrible things he saw in Iraq haunt him. His attempts to get help while still in the service, were answered with, not only useless, but destructive and mean-spirited acts.

"I knew I was going to kill myself and I told that to my wife and she brought me to the hospital. And I checked myself in."
When he told Navy doctors what was happening they said it was a normal reaction and it would just go away.

He was prescribed heavy doses of drugs that left him feeling "pretty much like a zombie for a while". Nobody monitored him. When he applied for a medical discharge they assigned him to a desk job with no duties. He just sat there all day and was laughed at by his fellow marines. The purpose of the desk job with no duties was so his commanding officer could write in his non-medical assessment that he was dutiful performing all of his duties. Consequently his medical discharge was denied. He brought the paperwork for conscientious objector status to first sargeant who put it right in the shredder.

He was ordered to re-deploy.

The Brockways put in a call to the War Resister Support Campaign before they came to Canada. Arrangements were made for them to stay with people in London until they got on their feet (It was no accident that the man who took the first call in Toronto and the woman who took the first call in London was in the audience last night; the 'campaigners' are dedicated men and women looking after our war resisters year in and year out. Thankfully, they're all here for the long haul).

Then the family dropped out of sight and the campaigners worried about them for years. Ashlea called again for help and the meeting was set up in their Canadian home-town of Port Colborne. Ashlea was concerned about his growing PTSD problems.

Reverend Robert Hurkmans of St. James and St. Brendans Anglican Church went to Jeremy's home where he was allowed to film a 10 minute interview. After showing the movie, "Let Them Stay", they showed the interview piece. The Reverend Hurkmans apologized for the poor filming, editing and background noise. We watched the interview and there was hardly a dry eye in the place. (I photographed the film with my hand held digital camera, so unfortunately I've compounded the filming defects by leaps and bounds. My hands kept moving. I got so immersed in the interview that I kept letting the camera run out. But I thought it was worth seeing some clips so you get an idea who Jeremy is. Alex Lisman and another filmmaker were filming so we will have better coverage in the future.) See some VIDEO CLIPS HERE.

The event has torn me apart. I met this veteran, only through the video and his wife. On the one hand he is so unique, sweet and devastated, while on the other hand he represents the classic veteran who has refused to kill and fight any more in these illegal wars. When he is pushed aside by a military that is unwilling to admit that their 'warriors' are human or that the wars are wrong, he is forced to go AWOL. (After being gone for 30 days a soldier is considered a deserter and more likely than not will no longer be eligible for medical and psychological treatment for problems stemming from his service.) Jeremy is unable to use the PTSD services available to Canadian serviceman and veterans.

Ashlea mentioned the Marine slogan, "Semper Fidelis", which is Latin for "always faithful". It meant a lot to Jeremy, but it seemed to mean little to the Marine Corps when it came time for them to practice it with Jeremy in his time of need, they turned on him instead.

Read Laura's blog, We Move To Canada, below. She is a perceptive and brilliant plogger constantly pointing us toward justice and the issues surrounding it. She was there last night with the other campaigners and wrote the following:

Last night, a few carloads of members of the War Resisters Support Campaign traveled to Port Colborne to support Jeremy and Ashlea Brockway, a war-resister family who lives in that small town on Lake Erie. (I posted two local stories about the Brockways last week.) Our supporters from Buffalo were there - we've gone from never having met in person to seeing each other every month! - as well as a meeting-house full of local supporters. It was an emotionally intense evening. I imagine every person in that room was deeply affected by what they saw and heard.

Reverend Robert Hurkmans of St. James and St. Brendans Anglican Church welcomed us, then showed the Campaign's original movie, "Let Them Stay". I hadn't seen it in a long time, and it's as moving and inspiring as ever. Many of the people attending this event were hearing about the war resisters movement for the first time, and the movie is an excellent introduction.

After that, I was called upon to say a few words about the campaign. I was under the impression that the topic might be controversial - that the audience might not be fully supportive - so I tried to give a personal perspective. I talked about military resistance as the heart of the peace movement, and the moral courage it takes to put so much on the line to say no to war.

I mentioned I have just become a Canadian citizen (much applause, so sweet), and that my earliest memory of Canada is from during the Vietnam War. Canada was the place that accepted the brave young men who chose not to go to Vietnam. Canada was the place of peace, in contrast to the country of war that I lived in. I said I want to believe that somewhere that Canada still exists - I do believe that for the
people of Canada, it does still exist - and I dream of making that Canada visible again.

I mentioned the motions that passed in Parliament, and the deportations, and Bill C-440. Hopefully it made sense and wasn't just a big blur.

Then we got to the heart of why we were there.

Jeremy Brockway cannot appear in public at this time. He suffers from very serious depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress, and public speaking is out of the question. He did, however, sit down with Rev. Rob Hurkmans and a video camera. We watched a short video of their interview.

First we saw a photo of Jeremy Brockway in his marine uniform - a good-looking young man beaming with patriotism and pride. Then we saw him today. He is broken. By using that word, I don't imply that Jeremy - or anyone else who struggles with the same issues - is beyond repair. On the contrary, I know that healing is possible. But for Jeremy, right now, every day is a struggle to survive. He has lost interest in life. It's everything he can do to hang on.

Jeremy was forced to participate in some terrible things in Iraq, and he witnessed many more brutal war crimes and other horrors. When his anxiety started to surface, he was told it would pass. As his condition worsened, he was given drugs that put him in a zombie-like state. Naturally that didn't help. It can't. His application for medical leave was denied. His application for Conscientious Objector status was shredded in front of him. Jeremy was in a terrible emotional and mental condition.

And he was ordered to redeploy.

After the video of Jeremy, Ashlea Brockway took the podium. She was crying. She said, "I had all these things I was going to say, but after seeing Jeremy... I don't know if I can do this." But she did. Ashlea spoke eloquently and movingly, sometimes through her tears, about their family's struggle.

Jeremy was a United States Marine. The Marines' motto, Ashlea reminded us, is
semper fidelis, Latin for Always Faithful. Jeremy took this very seriously. He had great loyalty and great faith in the Marines. And gradually he learned the loyalty was a one-way street.

Ashlea said she knows that Jeremy has not told her all of what he saw in Iraq, but what she does know is chilling and gruesome. Jeremy was sent to a roof to install an antenna - not because the antenna was needed, but because his command knew there was a sniper in the area and wanted to draw the sniper out. In other words, Jeremy was used as human bait.

Buildings blown up, the bodies of children found in the rubble. An Iraqi officer left to bleed to death because it's cheaper to pay the life insurance than send a helicopter. And on and on.

Ashlea told us how Jeremy was treated when his PTSD and depression began to surface - how he was mocked, and ridiculed, and abused. How he was kept quiet with drugs. How he wanted to die.

She said, "Some people think we took an easy way out by coming to Canada. But for us, there is no easy way out."

She said, "People say, go back and take your punishment, and get on with your life." I wish everyone labouring under that delusion could have been there last night. First, could Jeremy Brockway survive in prison? If he could survive, incarcerating a man with combat-induced PTSD is tantamount to torture. No, it
is torture.

And if he did survive, then what? With a dishonourable discharge, a felony offense, on his record, Jeremy won't be able to find work or go to school. He won't be eligible for any veterans' benefits. How will the family survive?

Ashlea told us how Jeremy returned from Iraq a changed man, and the strain that has put on them and their marriage. (They were married for one month before Jeremy deployed.) Ashlea struggles to stand by Jeremy - because splitting up would solve nothing, none of their problems would go away, but they would have lost their main support person in the bargain. She mentioned that Jeremy's grandfather came back from the Korean War a changed man, and that the grandparents' marriage failed, and she believes that was why. With this, she widened the picture to include all former soldiers who struggle with PTSD.

Here Ashlea soared. She said, "Just because I stand here under the banner of the war resisters, doesn't mean I don't stand with all soldiers, everywhere. There are good men and women all over the US, and probably Canadians, too, who served their countries honourably, and now suffer in silence, because the stigma of post-traumatic stress is so great." Some of them, she said, don't even realize that what they have is called PTSD; they are just "different" and can't get on with their lives.

Ashlea said there is a unit in the Canadian veterans' system where therapists are specially trained to deal with combat-related mental health issues. But deserters and AWOL soldiers are ineligible for treatment. Even if they can pay for treatment out-of-pocket with their own money, they will not be seen.

"Jeremy has already sacrificed for his country," she said. "He has already served loyally. He can't ever take that back." And now that that sacrifice has been made, she said, the Marines have turned their backs on Jeremy.

This is so often forgotten about war resisters. Many of the resisters are veterans, men and women who followed orders and served honourably. But because the military denies them the right to follow their conscience, their status as veterans is denied, too.

Ashlea's desire to raise awareness of post-traumatic stress and all combat-induced mental health issues really moved me. She is taking the ultimate step of being a survivor: she is using her own experience to try to help others.

Ashlea said that people are always telling her how strong she is, and she knows that everyone in the room has problems and challenges in their lives, and we all need strength, too. So she wrote down some of the words and thoughts that give her strength, and printed that up, and brought copies for everyone.

I was deeply touched by Ashlea's desire to share the source of her strength. From her hand-out, I learned that she is a religious Christian. It doesn't matter to me that my own inspiration derives from a different source. I'm grateful that Ashlea's faith helps to sustain her, and moved that she wanted to share it with us.

After Ashlea's talk, Reverend Rob read a letter from the Member of Parliament for Colborne,
Malcolm Allen, supporting Jeremy and Ashlea, reaffirming the NDP's support for war resisters, and calling on the government to Let Them Stay.

Campaigner Lee Zaslofsky reaffirmed the Campaign's support for the Brockways, and recapped the political situation on Bill C-440. A woman from the local legal-aid clinic told us she is helping Ashlea with her Humanitarian and Compassionate application, and had a petition for us to sign for that.

People signed petitions and postcards, and quietly donated money to help the Brockways, and thanked us for doing this work. I have to say, I was a little overwhelmed at the emotional intensity of the evening - and very glad to be there.

For Jeremy and Ashlea Brockway, there is no easy answer. A man struggling with such turmoil cannot flip a switch and return to his former self. But, Ashlea said, "If we could know that we could stay in Canada, if we didn't live with the fear of deportation and court martial and prison, if we knew that we could settle here and just live our lives, I hold out hope that then Jeremy could begin to release his pain, and begin to heal."

Hopefully some of those people driving around with the "Support the troops" ribbons on their cars will figure out how to help veterans like Jeremy.

June 15, 2010


Voices from war-torn lands join their call for peace
Two Iraq War vets and an Iraqi refugee began "The People’s Journey" on June 2, 2010 from San Francisco. They are speaking to groups about their experiences each day as they travel across the US and will be joined by three women from Palestine two weeks later in Washington DC. The group of six then travel to all speak in New York City, then in Detroit at the US Social Forum, reaching the Pacific Northwest by the fourth of July. Their messages is positive about the possibility of peace, and does not point a finger at a set of “wrong-doers.”

Josh Stieber and Conor Curran (Iraq War veterans and VFP Members), and Salam Talib (Iraqi refugee friend) have joined forces to spread a message of peace. For them "The People’s Journey," forms a continuation of a trek Stieber completed last year which he called the "Contagious Love Experiment." Stieber and Curran, who joined Josh in the middle of that first cross-country trip, met Talib during their final stop, in the San Francisco Bay area where they became friends.

"The People’s Journey" was conceived by an inspiring group of youth from Afghanistan as a result of their conversations with Josh and other young people in Afghanistan, the US, Israel/Palestine and Iraq. It became very clear that when people truly listen to one another that they want to hear more and soon get to know each other. This direct communication – hearing each others voices, their stories of life during war, and everyone’s yearning for peace – led to a level of caring, or love, that will no longer allow for harm. "The People’s Journey" to a Peace Beyond Dismissal is posted here and is available to all who attend the tour presentations.
Tour Route and Dates

-thanks to Veterans For Peace

June 14, 2010

Afghanistan's Mineral Riches: A Conveniently Timed Zombie Story (Updated)

Last night Vicki sent us this email:


I'd be willing to bet that we've known of this "discovery" since well
before 2001, and that's why we're there.


I wouldn't be surprised, either, if now we say, "We'll end the fighting
(and help you rebuild) in exchange for the mineral rights." What a den of
murdering thieves....."

Today she sent a follow-up showing us just how insightful she was. Thanks for linking me to this article at that site. It's a bit of reading if you follow all the links, but it's interesting:

By Steve Hynd

Last night, the New York Times' James Risen "broke" what the mainstream media are insisting is a blockbuster story about Afghanistan's untapped mineral wealth - not just iron and copper but strategically significant minerals like lithium and all told valued at around $1 trillion.


Only...not wow. When the NYT published Risen's story to the web last night, I tweeted "What a convenient time to find $1 trillion, eh?" and "Just as McChrystal's in big trouble, liberal thinktanks starting to shift anti-war, Pentagon publicizes $1 trillion Afghan treasure trove," because this is a zombie story, resurrected yet again for political purposes.

Afghanistan's mineral riches were well known to the Soviets in 1985 and a US government Country Study in 2002 went into detail about their knowledge. By 2005 the US Geological Service was being publicly exuberant in its assessment of Afghanistan's mineral resources (PDF). It published other public reports about the "Significant Potential for Undiscovered Resources in Afghanistan" in 2007, one of which focussed on non-fuel minerals. In 2008, it was Afghan reserves of oil and gas that was making the news and in 2009, as Reuters was reportingon Afghanistan's vast mineral wealth and McLatchy was noting China's interest, rights to the vast iron deposits were already up for tender.

Blake Hounshell is just as sceptical as I am, writing last night:

the findings on which the story was based are online and have been since 2007, courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey. More information is available on the Afghan mining ministry's website, including a report by the British Geological Survey (and there's more here). You can also take a look at the USGS's documentation of the airborne part of the survey here, including the full set of aerial photographs.

Nowhere have I found that $1 trillion figure mentioned, which Risen suggests was generated by a Pentagon task force seeking to help the Afghan government develop its resources (looking at the chart accompanying the article, though, it appears to be a straightforward tabulation of the total reserve figures for each mineral times current the current market price). According to Risen, that task force has begun prepping the mining ministry to start soliciting bids for mineral rights in the fall.

Don't get me wrong. This could be a great thing for Afghanistan, which certainly deserves a lucky break after the hell it's been through over the last three decades.

But I'm (a) skeptical of that $1 trillion figure; (b) skeptical of the timing of this story, given the bad news cycle, and (c) skeptical that Afghanistan can really figure out a way to develop these resources in a useful way. It's also worth noting, as Risen does, that it will take years to get any of this stuff out of the ground, not to mention enormous capital investment.

Exactly. These reserves are very real but they don't help Afghanistan right now one bit and they're unlikely to really help Afghanistan down the line since the evidence says that corrupt societies that suddenly find themselves in possession of mineral wealth only get more corrupt. So, unless you're willing to encompass the conspiracy theory that the US invaded Afghanistan, at a cost of $1 trillion and rising fast, so that one day some corporations might make a few billions (and some will) we have to ask what was the point of resurrecting this zombie and painting it up so fine for Mardi Gras?

Well, although Risen's lede says the news came from "senior American government officials" it's easy to see which agency wants us reading about massive strategic reserves in Afghanistan right now. The story came from the Pentagon. Risen quotes extensively from Paul A. Brinkley, "deputy undersecretary of defense for business and leader of the Pentagon team that discovered the deposits" and has General Petraeus saying that “There is stunning potential here...I think potentially it is hugely significant.”

The timing is significant. In the last week, I've had several liberal think-tankers tell me privately that General McChrystal and the Pentagon's beloved COIN ideology are about to have what Gareth Porter terms a "2006 moment". With a slew of bad news about delays, unsuccessful offensives, unreliable local allies and offensives that cannot be called offensives in the past few weeks, those think-tankers expect President Obama to hold McChrystal, Petraeus and Mullen to their promise, as described by Jonathan Alter recently:

Inside the Oval Office, Obama asked Petraeus, “David, tell me now. I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in 18 months?”

“Sir, I’m confident we can train and hand over to the ANA [Afghan National Army] in that time frame,” Petraeus replied.

“Good. No problem,” the president said. “If you can’t do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest we stay, right?”

“Yes, sir, in agreement,” Petraeus said.

“Yes, sir,” Mullen said.

The president was crisp but informal. “Bob, you have any problems?” he asked Gates, who said he was fine with it.

The president then encapsulated the new policy: in quickly, out quickly, focus on Al Qaeda, and build the Afghan Army. “I’m not asking you to change what you believe, but if you don’t agree with me that we can execute this, say so now,” he said. No one said anything.

“Tell me now,” Obama repeated.

“Fully support, sir,” Mullen said.

“Ditto,” Petraeus said.

Obama was trying to turn the tables on the military, to box them in after they had spent most of the year boxing him in. If, after 18 months, the situation in Afghanistan had stabilized as he expected, then troops could begin to come home. If conditions didn’t stabilize enough to begin an orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces (or if they deteriorated further), that would undermine the Pentagon’s belief in the effectiveness of more troops. The commanders couldn’t say they didn’t have enough time to make the escalation work because they had specifically said, under explicit questioning, that they did.

There are careers on the line, not to mention the credibility of the whole counterinsurgency doctrine in which the Pentagon and its supporters have invested so much. As Marc Ambinderwrites:

The general perception about the war here and overseas is that the counterinsurgency strategy has failed to prop up Hamid Karzai's government in critical areas, and is destined to ultimately fail. This is not how the war was supposed to be going, according to the theorists and policy planners in the Pentagon's policy shop.

What better way to remind people about the country's potential bright future -- and by people I mean the Chinese, the Russians, the Pakistanis, and the Americans -- than by publicizing or re-publicizing valid (but already public) information about the region's potential wealth?

The Obama administration and the military know that a page-one, throat-clearing New York Times story will get instant worldwide attention. The story is accurate, but the news is not that new; let's think a bit harder about the context.

But I think Michael Cohen is partly wrong about the intended audience for this NYT zombie story. Michael writes:

exactly how clueless are the leakers at DoD? Did they somehow think that this "blockbuster" story would change attitudes about Afghanistan after every day last week there was another article about precisely how bad the mission there is going? ...

There is nothing in this story that changes the fundamental incoherence of the current mission in Afghanistan. There is nothing here that will change the dynamics on the ground in Afghanistan and the reality of a corrupt, illegitimate Afghan government, an adaptable insurgent force and a June 2011 deadline for the commencement of US troop withdrawals.

The only thing this story shows is the desperation of the Pentagon in planting pie-in-the-sky news stories about Afghanistan and trying to salvage the lost cause that is our current mission there.

He is right as far as most of us unwashed peons are concerned. However, guaranteed U.S. access to "strategic reserves" of "strategic minerals", where possession is nine tenths of the game and the resources are just as valuable still in the ground as mined and processed for market, is a heady brew to mostly-hawkish senior policymakers and Very Serious think-tankers, especially if the end of the sentence goes 'and China doesn't get them". Risen's stenography isn't aimed at us, but at them and will be used to add some geopolitical weight to the arguements McChrystal and others are already beginning to make as to why they should be allowed to break their promise to Obama and the U.S. should stay in Afghanistan a few years longer.

Update: Katie Drummond at Danger Room puts it bluntly: "No, The U.S. Didn’t Just ‘Discover’ a $1T Afghan Motherlode":

One retired senior U.S official is calling the government’s mineral announcement “pretty silly,” Politico is reporting. “When I was living in Kabul in the early 1970’s the [U.S. government], the Russians, the World Bank, the UN and others were all highly focused on the wide range of Afghan mineral deposits. Cheap ways of moving the ore to ocean ports has always been the limiting factor.”

At least two American geologists have been advising the Pentagon on Afghanistan’s wealth of mineral resources for years. Bonita Chamberlin, a geologist who spent 25 years working in Afghanistan, “identified 91 minerals, metals and gems at 1,407 potential mining sites,” the Los Angeles Times reported in 2001. She even wrote a book, “Gemstones in Afghanistan,” on the topic. And Chamberlin worked directly with the Pentagon, after they commissioned her to report on sandstone and limestone caves mere weeks after 9/11.

“I am quite surprised that the military is announcing this as some ‘new’ and ’surprising” discovery,’ she told Danger Room in an email. “This is NOT new. Perhaps this also hints at the real reason why we would be so intent on this war…”.

And James Joyner at the New Atlanticist has a good roundup of reaction as he warns "Beware the hype".

Update 2: readers will have noticed I originally day-dreamed my way to mentioning the wrong country in my post headline, mentioning Iraq instead of Afghanistan. A friend emails: "Man, I didn't even realize it, I just subconsciously blurred it all together. 'Oh, Iraq, Afghanistan, OK.' Somewhere Karl Rove just got a boner."

Just goes to show how pernicious that bit of framing was. And on that note, Dave earlier notedthe similarity between this current story and past tales of massive oil reserves in Anbar that we were told would even out the factional inequalities in Iraq and make that nation a happy-happy-joy-joy land. And we've seen how all that oil out of Anbar has done that. Ummm....

Update 3: Josh Mull agrees with me about the target audience.

This story is aimed at the elites who make the wars. The Pentagon has handed the hawks in Washington a powerful factoid to be used and re-used endlessly in pursuit of their war.

How do we know this? Well, there are some very obvious clues. The article is loaded with crunchy, fact-y bits that appear substantive, but in reality have nothing to do with what’s actually at stake. Does it matter that they have rare-earth minerals and lithium for laptops and so on? No, it doesn’t matter if they struck the mother lode of chocolate ice cream. As Blake Hounsel writes, they don’t even have concrete, much less a sophisticated, multi-billion dollar mining industry capable of extracting, processing, and marketing these minerals to international companies. They want it to look like a lot of information ("Wow, lookit all the minerals!") but not actually answer any real questions ("Wait, can they even get it?").

Think-tankers love this kind of crap. They’d like nothing better than to somehow fit COIN and iPads (like most in the media, they’re commercial shills for both) into the same article. If you like your Macbook and your Prius and that application that makes your telephone fart, well, you’d better support our batshit crazy idea of invading and bombing Afghan into a peaceful democracy. Otherwise the Chinese will steal all of that copper, and they don’t give us anything (except everything).

And the Pentagon has now said that the specific figure is $908 billion. Because when you're working with zombies on such a large scale, a precise figure helps make the idea that it's all just lying around waiting for us (or China) to pick up a bit more believable, you see.

Update 4: I told you the VSPs would buy the narrative behind the story.

"Obama's war just became more important and more complicated at the same time," said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who helped advise the administration last year when it was rethinking its Afghanistan strategy.

Riedel said that if the U.S. can provide the Afghans security and logistics to build up its mining capacity, Afghanistan's international stock will suddenly become more valuable. But there are a host of complications — competing industries and countries, corruption and war.

"If this was Pennsylvania, it'd turn out one way," he said. "But this is Afghanistan."

In other words, "we gotta stay now, or China wins!"

-thanks to NewsHoggers