Monday, April 28, 2014

"Military Advisers" - The Third Rail of US Engagement in SE Asia

Hail the conquering hero! Barack Obama returns to the U.S. following the final leg of his Asia tour, to headlines announcing:


This probably "smells like victory" to an administration that seemed to stumble around the Pacific rim this past week, rather than enjoy a victory lap.

For alert Americans, the announcement is worrying. "As part of the deal with Manila, the U.S. is promising to step up military assistance and training with the Philippine military . . . . " The first question to ask is this: how many "military advisers" is the U.S. putting in the Philippines, and what is it leading to?

For me and for many in my generation, it is impossible to hear those words without pulling in the full specter of the Vietnam War.

February, 2010: "U.S., Philippine Troops Fight Insurgent Bomb Threat"
(American Forces Press Service)

March, 1964: "Vietnamese Colonel Cao Hao Hon with U.S. military advisor"
(Healery Library, UMass Boston)

The Philippines is engaged in a long-running effort to construct a polity built on equity and democratic participation. Until now, efforts at peacemaking and community building have been hindered by human rights abuses and crackdowns on dissent, conducted by the Philippines army. (See "Needed: Less Military Force, More Human Rights in the Philippines")

Moreover, the sea to the west of the Philippines is becoming highly-contested space. The potential for the escalation of U.S. involvement in any dispute there is extremely high.

Our first response to the "large-scale return of U.S. military forces" to the Philippines should be to get a full, public accounting of how U.S. military advisers are being used, and will be used in the future.

Related posts

Advocates for human rights in the Philippines, including the Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines, are asking us to speak out publicly on the need for the U.S. government to "own" its responsibility for human rights violations in the Philippines, and to take affirmative action to halt them. As President Obama begins his trip to Asia -- underlining the much-touted "pivot to Asia" -- it is an especially important time to draw attention to what is really happening in the Philippines.

(See Needed: Less Military Force, More Human Rights in the Philippines )












Strategic analysts are pointing out that the South China Sea is an area through which a vast amount of the world's trade passes.  And some of them have made the modest suggestion that it would be a good idea for the U.S. to dominate it now, in much the same it dominated the Caribbean at the turn of the 19th century.

(See SOUTH CHINA SEA: No End of American Grand Designs)




The problem: the U.S. "pivot to Asia."

The opportunity: asking ourselves, "What would we do differently if we revised our myths of Asia?"

(See U.S. Militarism in Asia: THINK DIFFERENT!)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

SOUTH CHINA SEA: No End of American Grand Designs


The third stop on Obama's Asia tour is Kuala Lumpur.  What could he possibly doing in Kuala Lumpur?

By now, most people have gotten wind of the fact that what Obama is up to in Asia is justifying U.S. involvement in every aspect of Asian affairs, particularly in the governance of the sea lanes that connect China, Japan, and their neighbors.

Up north, Obama weighed in on the decades-old standoff between Japan and China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands (north of Taiwan).

Down south, Obama could be expected to do something similar vis-a-vis a China-Philippines standoff over some islands (or "rocks") in the middle of the South China Sea.

However, it seems that the U.S. has grander plans, and it is tipping its hands.


Strategic analysts are pointing out that the South China Sea is an area through which a vast amount of the world's trade passes.  And some of them have made the modest suggestion that it would be a good idea for the U.S. to dominate it now, in much the same it dominated the Caribbean at the turn of the 19th century. (Cue images of Teddy Roosevelt and quotes from Admiral Mahan.) (See "The Sea at the Center" and "Straits of Malacca: Obama to Pursue Naval Base Demand")

Herein lies a peculiarly American tendency, for it is one thing to hatch grandiose visions; it is another to actually expect that you are somehow entitled to carry them out; and it is yet another thing entirely to think that you are ever and always the only one entitled to do so.

Related posts

The problem: the U.S. "pivot to Asia."

The opportunity: asking ourselves, "What would we do differently if we revised our myths of Asia?"

(See U.S. Militarism in Asia: THINK DIFFERENT!)





Advocates for human rights in the Philippines, including the Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines, are asking us to speak out publicly on the need for the U.S. government to "own" its responsibility for human rights violations in the Philippines, and to take affirmative action to halt them. As President Obama begins his trip to Asia -- underlining the much-touted "pivot to Asia" -- it is an especially important time to draw attention to what is really happening in the Philippines.

(See Needed: Less Military Force, More Human Rights in the Philippines )












Many people will argue that it was only because the U.S. made a threat of force that Syria offered to enter into an agreement on chemical weapons. The sequence of events certainly suggests some relationship between the two.

(See "OR ELSE!" (What the U.S. threat of force against Syria teaches us) )










Related links

before ...
... and after
August, 2, 2015 - Interesting story on Chinese projects on rocks and islands in the South China Sea: "What China Has Been Building in the South China Sea" in The New York Times.  Of course, if the US were doing this, everyone would say, "Look how industrious we are!"


CHICAGO COPS: "Many, many, many, many times" they lied

The Chicago Tribune editorial page today featured the words of Cook County Circuit Judge Catherine Haberkorn in a case of police lying on the witness stand:

"Obviously, this is very outrageous conduct. All officers lied on the stand today. ... Many, many, many, many times they all lied."

(See "Keeping Cops Honest," Chicago Tribune editorial, Saturday, April 26, 2014)

"So, officer, is it your testimony . . . ."
Notably, the case involved police dash cam evidence that caught the actual police behavior for all to see.  (Reminiscent of another case that saw the light of day in Chicago after the Chicago Tribune was motivated by dash cam evidence to prominently feature the story: the murder of Flint Farmer.)

In an unpublished letter to the Tribune, local advocates for justice for victims of police crimes wrote:

To the Editor:

The Tribune coverage of the lying by police officers testifying during a hearing in a Skokie courtroom (Chicago Tribune, "Judge: 5 cops lied on stand," April 15, 2014) comes as little surprise to many people throughout Chicago, or, for that matter, across the country. As your reporter discovered, when he asked four people if it is common for the police to lie, he was told in four different ways that it comes as no surprise. (The exception was the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) representative.) What is new, however, is that police are being caught in the act; credit new technology like dash cams, whose footage can be subpoenaed by alert defense counsel. But the biggest news of all will come when police officers are actually indicted for perjury and other criminal acts -- that's a piece of news that we see all too seldom in Chicago, in Cook County, or, for that matter, elsewhere in the country.

Frank Chapman
Ted Pearson
Co-Chairs, National Forum on Police Crimes
(May 16-17, 2014, Chicago)

Today's Tribune editorial echoed the point about dash cams:

"That's why video cameras mounted on squad car dashboards or carried in officers' lapels are so valuable and deserve wider use. ... The only police hurt by video cameras are the ones who have something to hide. The good ones, when wrongly accused of misconduct, are vindicated by this type of evidence. And the ones on the fence get a nudge from knowing that someone will be watching."

Also notable about this case was that it turned on a police stop predicated on non-compliance with traffic law (in this case failure to signal a turn).  This is a police tactic that is being called out more and more by civil liberties advocates -- notably by David Shipler (Rights at Risk: The Limits of Liberty in Modern America) and Michelle Alexander (The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness). This Chicago case lays bare what has become a textbook element of the government's principal modus operandi in eroding all of our liberties and carrying out a program of mass incarceration.

A national movement to return power over the police to the community and prosecute police crimes is under way.  As the Tribune said today, "No one entrusted to serve as a police officer should ignore the law on permissible stops or searches, and any cop who does so and lies about it under oath should never again wear a badge." People who want to get involved in this movement for change first-hand are encouraged to register today for the National Forum on Police Crimes, taking place in Chicago May 16-17.

Related posts

The State's Attorney for the Chicago area finally got around to bringing a charge against a police officer who shot and killed a citizen. Why, I wondered, didn't Anita Alvarez charge him with murder? Then I remembered my Chicago vocabulary lesson.
(See Chicago Vocabulary Lesson: "Overcharging" and "Undercharging" )






In the city where I live, "normal" or "right" or "acceptable" has been given a brutal construction by the power structure:

Police encounter black man on street
Police shoot black man
Black man dies
(Business as usual in Chicago.)

 (See We need to get the police off the streets of Chicago. QED.)



All the cameras and microphones and reporters were out in force that day -- and their appearance suggested to me that it does make a difference to take a stand for justice. And maybe the fact that some of us thought this was important enough to come out, hold signs, chant, and march, helped back up that message.

(See Chicago Justice: Connecting the Dots )

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Cynical American Scapegoating of Korea as a Cover for Nuclear Terror

And they began to implore Him to leave their region.

- from Mark 5:17 (the Gerasene demoniac)

Barack Obama is in South Korea, as part of his Asia tour, and probably more than any part of his trip, it is this stop that most Americans understand to be relevant to "national security" and the alleged need for ever greater amounts of U.S. firepower in Asia.

That's because Americans are fed a fairly constant diet of scare news about those "unhinged" North Koreans -- "just crazy enough" to start the next nuclear war.




Several weeks ago I attended a presentation that, for me at least, turned this interpretation of events on its head. Professor Jae-Jung Suh gave a presentation entitled, "War or Peace in Korea? The 20 Years' and the 70 Years' Crisis" during the Ending the Korean War: Prospects for a Just, Durable and Lasting Peace session at the Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2014.

As I watched Prof. Suh's presentation, which documented the uninterrupted string of American interventions and threats of intervention on the Korean peninsula since 1950, the vast majority of which contained a nuclear component, the wheels in my brain slowly started to turn. Finally, I realized, "Korea has been designated by the U.S. as a place to demonstrate the constant threat of nuclear catastrophe. Somehow, the U.S. manages the trick of being the one doing the threatening, but making it seem as if it is somehow some inherent characteristic of Korea itself that calls forth these terrifying threats."

Nuclear threats? Oh, it's a "Korea thing" . . . 

So there are these terrible things called nuclear weapons, and it just turns out that they hover around the Korean peninsula, as if "Korea" and "crazy nuclear terror" belonged together. And I thought to myself, "Where have I heard this before?"

And this being a conference of faith-based organizations, and me being in a Gospel state of mind, it came to me. I remembered the story of the Gerasene demoniac:

5 They came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes. 2 When He got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him, 3 and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; 4 because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones. 6 Seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him; 7 and shouting with a loud voice, he said, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!” 8 For He had been saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9 And He was asking him, “What is your name?” And he said to Him, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10 And he began to implore Him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now there was a large herd of swine feeding nearby on the mountain. 12 The demons implored Him, saying, “Send us into the swine so that we may enter them.” 13 Jesus gave them permission. And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about two thousand of them; and they were drowned in the sea.





14 Their herdsmen ran away and reported it in the city and in the country. And the people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 They came to Jesus and observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the “legion”; and they became frightened. 16 Those who had seen it described to them how it had happened to the demon-possessed man, and all about the swine. 17 And they began to implore Him to leave their region. 18 As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was imploring Him that he might accompany Him. 19 And He did not let him, but He said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.

(Mark 5:1-20 (New American Standard Bible) on Bible Gateway)

Rev. Erik Christensen explains "[A]s the story comes to its conclusion, the Gerasenes, the people who had chained this demon-possessed man up in their graveyard have asked Jesus to leave them. Jesus, by casting out their demons, has disrupted their social order. They’d had a system for handling their demons, namely by scapegoating a man they kept chained up like a slave. Now that he’d been set free, they were afraid."

In other words, the status quo liked having a scapegoat just fine.  It distracted attention from the culpability of the "upstanding" citizens. The moral of the story: don't expect anyone to thank you for calling out this arrangement, and freeing the scapegoat from that thankless role. (You can read a longer treatment of the scapegoating in the Gerasene demoniac story in the article "Jesus and the Demoniac" by Jim Warren.)

It is in the context of the story of the Gerasene demoniac that I have come to see how cynical and mean the behavior of the U.S. is towards Korea.  Under the guise of "security," it has subjected the Korean peninsula to the role of being the poor, addled, trouble spot for the past 70 years -- all in the name of demonstrating to the rest of the world the real ability of the U.S. to bring nuclear annihilation to anyone who thwarts it.

And it is in this context that I have come to understand the importance of the call for a nuclear-free zone on the Korean Peninsula.  This is a call for nothing less than the U.S. to stop scapegoating others and to accept its own responsibility for fostering nuclear terror.


Learn more

"A Possible Approach for Establishing a Northeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone," by Hiromichi Umebayashi, Director, Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition, Nagasaki University (RECNA) -- January 30, 2013


Related posts


We have had a window of opportunity -- nearly 70 years in which the constitution of Japan has explicitly renounced war, pointing the way for the rest of us. What have we imagined we were supposed to do?

(See Renouncing War: An Opportunity Not To Be Missed )





With the New York Times publishing "analysis" like this, is it any wonder that Americans can say things like . . . "It won't be a war. We're just going to drop a few well placed bombs on them" . . . "the object of fighting a war is to 'cause devastation'" . . . "my finger is on the button. Run back to your mud hut or I am going to press it!" . . . "when war is devastating, then people will do everything possible not to get into it!" . . . as some of my high school classmates wrote on Facebook today?

(See The Bankruptcy of U.S. Nuclear Doctrine )


Advocates for human rights in the Philippines, including the Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines, are asking us to speak out publicly on the need for the U.S. government to "own" its responsibility for human rights violations in the Philippines, and to take affirmative action to halt them. As President Obama begins his trip to Asia -- underlining the much-touted "pivot to Asia" -- it is an especially important time to draw attention to what is really happening in the Philippines.

(See Needed: Less Military Force, More Human Rights in the Philippines )













Years later, in the days when I traveled frequently to China and brought home picture books for my children depicting the adventures of Monkey battling all manner of demons, I began to take seriously the importance of demons and demon-quelling as a metaphor. (And that includes here and now in our own culture.)

(See Channeling Zhong Kui (the Demon Queller))








More related links

Read about the Korean folk exorcism dance ceremony: Hahoe Mask Dance Drama Performance

Now HERE'S an "Asia Pivot" I Can Believe In! (Marshall Islands Sues Nuclear "Haves")

Smack dab in the middle of a Barack Obama's suavely jingoistic Asia tour, and on the eve of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Preparatory Conference in New York, there has been in new development:

Breaking News: Nuclear Zero Lawsuits Filed

Today, a small country filed a historic lawsuit against the 9 nuclear weapon states. Join them to demand #NuclearZero.

Big news today out of The Hague and San Francisco. The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) has filed unprecedented lawsuits against all nine nuclear-armed nations for their failure to negotiate in good faith for nuclear disarmament, as required under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The suits were filed against all nine nations at the International Court of Justice, with an additional complaint against the United States filed in U.S. Federal District Court.

The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation applauds the courage of the RMI’s leaders in bringing lawsuits against the nuclear-armed nations. The people of the RMI continue to suffer today from U.S. nuclear weapon tests that took place on their territory in the 1940s and 1950s, and they want to ensure that such devastation – or worse – is never brought on anyone ever again.

NAPF is playing a key role in the Nuclear Zero Lawsuits campaign, which just launched this morning. Please go to www.nuclearzero.org, where you can learn more about the specifics of the lawsuits and show your support by signing a petition supporting the RMI’s bold, non-violent action.

We’ll be bringing you much more news about these lawsuits in the coming days and weeks. But right now, there are two things I’d like for you to do:

1. Go to nuclearzero.org and sign the petition, and then share it with your friends.

2. Share / re-tweet announcements about the lawsuits from our Facebook and Twitter pages.

These lawsuits could be the thing that finally breaks the nuclear weapon states’ shameful decades of inaction on nuclear disarmament. Please take a moment to add your voice to the campaign today.

Sincerely,

Rick Wayman
NAPF Peace Ops Director



Related posts



One way in which the patterns of the past are being turned on their head is through social media. Even if you are "just a 'dot' in the middle of the ocean," you can still have a global voice.

(See MARSHALL ISLANDS HIBAKUSHA: Can social media trump empire and entertainment?)











I don't think Alanna and I ever talked about what it must be like to be trying to escape a shower of sparks and hot ash. But she seemed to know that the sparks and hot ash are too important a part of the picture to be left out.

(See The Children Are Waiting )










The problem: the U.S. "pivot to Asia."

The opportunity: asking ourselves, "What would we do differently if we revised our myths of Asia?"

(See U.S. Militarism in Asia: THINK DIFFERENT!)





Sixty-seven years ago tonight, morning in Japan, a single B-29 dropped the first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. This incredible blast destroyed most of the city and killed over 60,000 people almost immediately. Another 80,000 more died in subsequent months and years from the deadly radiation.

(See Our Dark Beacon: Prayer Vigil for Hiroshima and Nagasaki (August 5, 2012)





More related links

You are strongly encouraged to spend 6 minutes to watch the trailer of NUCLEAR SAVAGE: The Islands of Secret Project 4.1, produced, written and directed by Adam Jonas Horowitz. "A shocking political exposé and heartbreaking, intimate ethnographic portrait of Pacific Islanders struggling for dignity and survival after decades of intentional radiation poisoning at the hands of the American government. This untold and true detective story unfolds in the remote Marshall Islands, where during the cold war the United States exploded 67 nuclear bombs, vaporizing islands and contaminating entire populations. Most incredible is the central story of the film, which reveals how U.S. scientists used the local islanders as human guinea pigs for decades to study the effects of nuclear fallout on human beings."


March 15, 2014 - "Times of Change in the Marshall Islands" (posted by B.F. Johnson) on the blog Cold War Warrior: A Legacy of Technology, Economics, and Strategy provides one personal account of the kind of cavalier treatment that the U.S. atomic weapons complex has dished out to the Marshall Islands.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Obama in Japan: How About a Pivot Toward Peacemaking?

Hito ni au: zeitaku
- Japanese liquor ad

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
- Matthew 5:9

H A R V A R D
(William James Hall is the white tower visible in the mid-distance at the right.)

Over the summer of 1982, I studied Introductory Japanese at Harvard.

It was my great good fortune to make the acquaintance of another student there, a man from Japan who was a Ph.D. candidate at Yale, and who was working on his French over the summer.  Kazashi's special interest was William James, and so Cambridge, MA, was full of attractions for him.

Kazashi was very generous in listening to me talk about my progress with Japanese -- and he was tireless in explaining facets of Japanese culture and language to me.  And I would try to reciprocate by drawing his attention to aspects of American culture he might not be aware of.

We had many conversations over dinner at the old Student Union on those summer evenings.  I remember Kazashi pointing out an ad in a Japanese newspaper. "This is a really Japanese kind of sentiment, exactly what we would think of as a sophisticated advertisement," he said. There was a picture of the product -- a bottle of some kind of liquor, I think -- and a handful of words, Hito ni au: zeitaku. "You know this part, right?" he said. "Hito ni au - 'to meet or be together with people.' Followed by this one character -zeitaku - it means 'luxury.' So simple, but it sums up the feeling . . . "

I remember another evening when we were departing the Union, and I said, "Hey, I seem to remember there's a concert tonight -- this cellist I've heard about -- he's supposed to be quite good." So we walked down to Memorial Hall, only to encounter a line snaking up around the law school, perhaps about a quarter of a mile. Apparently some other people had also heard that Yo-yo Ma was supposed to be "quite good."

*   *   *   *   *

After that summer, Kazashi and I stayed in touch as much as we could. But I was in the U.S., and he was in Japan, and before I knew it many years had gone by without either of us hearing from the other.

It wasn't until about 2005 or so, when I was fooling around with Google one day, that I said, "Gee, I bet you could even track down someone like Kazashi with this thing!"

Kazashi and colleague on site in Iraq,
investigating depleted uranium contamination.
What I discovered was that Kazashi was now a philosphy professor -- specializing in William James, naturally -- and that he was also involved in the work of organizations in Japan and elsewhere to stop the spread of weapons made with uranium.

Soon, Kazashi was able to visit the U.S. again, and we had the opportunity to renew our friendship. He told me about his work: "When I obtained a position at a university, it turned out to be in Hiroshima," I remember Kazashi telling me. "So it was very natural that I became connected with the peace movement.  I became a peace worker."

Those words -- "I became a peace worker" -- stuck with me. What might it mean for someone to become "a peace worker"? At the time I was not involved in activism at all. Could it really be that people were called to this work the way Kazashi described? It was quite clear to me that he had devoted himself -- heart, mind, body, and soul -- to this work.

Kazashi and I have done some things together since then -- I've taken him for meetings here in the U.S. and helped with proofreading English; he's helped share information from me in Japan -- but the biggest impact of our renewed friendship has certainly been those five words: "I became a peace worker"

*   *   *   *   *

I often wonder about the words of the Sermon on the Mount -- such as "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God" -- and I wonder how one could be expected to have taken them when they were first uttered. Is it possible for me to hear those words with fresh ears?

Sadao Watanabe, Sermon on the Mount

Do we need to hear those words in a somewhat more idiomatic or contextual way? Is it possible that "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God" sounded to those listeners back then something like ". . . it turns out . . .  very natural . . . one becomes . . . a peace worker" ?


*   *   *   *   *

As Barack Obama meets with Japanese leaders today on the first stop of his Asia tour, and works to advance the American strategic "pivot" to Asia, I wonder if there is a way to turn from what sometimes feels like an irresistible American attraction to military power.

Will the story of the decades ahead be told in terms of the U.S. Pacific fleet and command of the seas?

Will it be all about lining up allies and facing down China?

I am thinking of Kazashi and asking, "How about a pivot toward peacemaking?"




Related posts

Hundreds of thousands of pounds of "depleted uranium" (DU) have been aerosolized and dispersed by being used in armor piercing munitions by U.S. forces in Iraq. DU emits alpha radiation and does not decay for hundreds of thousands of years, and in its aerosolized form is subject to uptake by many parts of the human body. It will be years, decades, or more, before the health consequences can be fully understood.)

(See DU: Will we ever be able to say "We're done here" ? )







We have had a window of opportunity -- nearly 70 years in which the constitution of Japan has explicitly renounced war, pointing the way for the rest of us. What have we imagined we were supposed to do?

(See Renouncing War: An Opportunity Not To Be Missed )





Sixty-seven years ago tonight, morning in Japan, a single B-29 dropped the first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. This incredible blast destroyed most of the city and killed over 60,000 people almost immediately. Another 80,000 more died in subsequent months and years from the deadly radiation.

(See Our Dark Beacon: Prayer Vigil for Hiroshima and Nagasaki (August 5, 2012)


 


When Kazashi invited me to attend the World Nuclear Victims Forum in Hiroshima in November, 2015, it helped take my advocacy and activism to a whole new level.

(See Nov 21-23, 2015 in Hiroshima: World Nuclear Victims Forum -- I'll Be There )


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

April 19 in Yemen: Another Day, Another Drone Killing

The press announced a flurry of drone killings in Yemen over the April 19/20 weekend -- that is, while the rest of us were observing Easter -- and just as with U.S. drone killings in Pakistan and Somalia, the U.S. modus operandi was on full display. (See "U.S. Drones and Yemeni Forces Kill Qaeda-Linked Fighters, Officials Say")

Numerous unnamed U.S. officials are alluded to in press coverage, but all official U.S. sources (the CIA, the Pentagon) decline comment. Reports are full of red herrings - references to Al Qaeda leaders in Yemen (who were not the targets of these particular attacks, however); mention of past attacks against the U.S. Embassy in Yemen (which the U.S. does not connect with the events of the weekend, however); Barack Obama's May, 2013, speech on national security (but what relevance could that have to the past weekend's anonymous strikes?); etc.

Nonetheless, the New York Times account can assert that the strikes hit "militants" linked to Al Qaeda -- or rather, "linked to Al Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen."

"Ask them!"
The White House referred questions to the government of Yemen, with whom the U.S. has "a strong collaborative relationship" -- which is not to say the U.S. government will openly endorse, affirm, or share responsibility for any of the acts the Yemen government claims to have carried out.

What is new is that one government -- the Yemeni one -- did state affirmatively that they killed people:  "55 militants" -- "militants whowereplanningto attack civilian and military facilities."

The U.S. government's scarecrow act -- pointing the finger at the Yemeni government -- is completely unconvincing, and the Yemeni government's statements are completely unsatisfying.

Luckily, a drumbeat is growing in U.S. courts and in the U.S. Congress to force the U.S. Executive branch to come clean on its drone killings.

Related posts


The U.S. has a modus operandi for conducting military strikes while slipping past any genuine public accountability. It's worth a look at the Tuesday, October 29, 2013, New York Times account of a drone strike in Somalia the previous day: "Pentagon Says Shabab Bomb Specialist Is Killed in Missile Strike in Somalia." It's a case study in what's wrong with the U.S. drone wars.

(See October 28 in Somalia: Another Day, Another Drone Killing)



The argument made by the U.S.government has been that the political, social, and ideological environment in Yemen is so volatile that it is the kind of place where ex-Guantanamo detainees may seek to obtain redress of their mistreatment by joining anti-U.S. groups.
(See What if a Yemeni Sued the U.S. Government? (What if 56 of them did?) )












A September 5, 2013, U.S. drone strike in Pakistan killed six people - including Sangeen Zadran -- a "senior militant commander" who was "implicated in a long-running kidnapping drama involving an American soldier."

(See September 5 in Pakistan: Another Day, Another Drone Killing)






Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Walter Jones (R-NC) have now submitted a bill calling for drone transparency -- the "Targeted Lethal Force Transparency Act" (otherwise known as the "come clean on drone killing" bill). Many groups are calling for its passage, including Amnesty International, Arab American Institute, Center for Civilians in Conflict, Center for Constitutional Rights, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Global Justice Clinic, NYU School of Law, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, National Security Network, Open Society Policy Center, Peace Action West, Reprieve, and Win Without War.

(See REAL Progressives Demand that the U.S. Come Clean on Drone Killings )

Needed: Less Military Force, More Human Rights in the Philippines

For several years now, I have been intensively involved in working to end the extrajudicial killings (EJK) carried out by the U.S., specifically those involving drones. My attention has been very focused on what the U.S. is doing in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.

Just a few weeks ago I attended the Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Washington, D.C. One of the things that I learned was the extent of human rights problems in the Philippines -- particularly the way the U.S. enables extrajudicial killings by the Philippine government through its material support for and political backing of the army and the administration.

Here is what other sources are saying about the Philippines:

"The Philippine government failed to match its rhetoric in support of human rights in 2013 with meaningful action to end impunity for extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances." (Human Rights Watch, January 21, 2014, "Philippines: Surge of Journalist Killings, Justice Failures")

"The Committee is concerned at the continued perpetration of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in the State party. It is particularly concerned at the proliferation of private armies and vigilante groups that are partly responsible for these crimes as well as at the large number of illegal firearms. The Committee is also concerned at the arming and use of “force multipliers” for counter-insurgency and other purposes pursuant to Presidential Executive Order No. 546 (arts. 6, 7 and 9)."(UN Human Rights Committee, "Concluding observations on the fourth periodic report of the Philippines, adopted by the Committee at its 106th session (15 October - 2 November 2012)")

"The most significant human rights problems continued to be extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances undertaken by security forces; a dysfunctional criminal justice system notable for poor cooperation between police and investigators, few prosecutions, and lengthy procedural delays; and widespread official corruption and abuse of power." (U.S. State Department, "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013: Philippines")

Now, advocates for human rights in the Philippines, including the Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines, are asking us to speak out publicly on the need for the U.S. government to "own" its responsibility for human rights violations in the Philippines, and to take affirmative action to halt them.

As President Obama begins his trip to Asia -- underlining the much-touted "pivot to Asia" -- it is an especially important time to draw attention to what is really happening in the Philippines.

Here is my letter to Senators Durbin and Kirk (Illinois).  (Please contact your senators.)


April 22, 2014

The Honorable Richard Durbin
The Honorable Richard Kirk
Hart Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator Durbin and Senator Kirk,

I am concerned about the State Department Foreign Military Financing (FMF) aid to the Philippines for fiscal year 2014 and FY 2015. On January 17, 2014 the President signed the first appropriations bill since FY2008 that does not have human rights restrictions on FMF for the Philippines specified in the appropriations law. For FY 2014 restrictions are not in the bill language but instead in the conference committee report, stating that the Appropriations Committees will decide on how much to release to the Philippine army after getting a report from the State Department. We are asking for messages from our Senators to Sen. Leahy, Chair of the State Department Foreign Operations Subcommittee, supporting continued human conditions on FMF funding for the Philippines.

Since the human rights conditions were put in place FY2008 the Government of the Philippines (GPH) has expressed concern about being designated as a human rights violator, and although there has been some decrease in the rate of killings and the government has setup a high level interagency committee to investigate the problem, progress has not been sufficient for the State Department to release all of the appropriated FMF in any year since 2008. According to the US State Department 2013 Human Rights Report few of the perpetrators have been arrested and there have been no convictions of high-ranking police or military officials and a culture of impunity persists.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the paramilitary units under their control continue to be involved in extrajudicial killings (EJK), enforced disappearances, and illegal arrests and in the last 12 months killings have increased. According to KARAPATAN, Philippine human rights NGO, in the first 3 months of this year 19 EJKs have been reported, and all can reasonably be attributed to the AFP and Philippine National Police.

The human rights abuses by security forces can generally be linked to the unresolved 45-year insurgency by the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (CPP-NPA). The victims are typically worker, peasant and environmental activists who have been accused of being communists and or members of the NPA and have failed to stop their activism in the face of the threats. A resolution of the conflict could go a long way to improve the human rights situation. The National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP) has called for “...principled negotiations to thresh out the issues, unearth and address the root causes of the conflict. The peace negotiation is a way to just and lasting peace.” A framework for peace talks hosted by Norway is well established, however, in 2013 peace talks broke down.

The recent spate of killings and highly publicized arrests of CPP peace consultants (Benito and Wilma Austria Tiamzon and several others) signals the GPH is essentially closing the door on the peace process and is prefering a military solution to ending the conflict. We think the US could play a role in urging the GPH to re engage in the peace process.

Another impediment to peace is the State Department listing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-National Democratic Front as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. The listing was a very political act negotiated by the former president of the Philippines.

With the “Pivot to Asia” the US military will be soon be sending military personnel to AFP bases in the Philippines. Negotiations with the GPH are ongoing on the “Agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation (AEDC)” and there has been speculation that it may be ready by the time President Obama arrives in Manila next week. It is important that members of Congress be aware of the situation in the Philippines with respect to human rights and take action where appropriate.

Please communicate to Senator Leahy’s staff of the State Department Foreign Operations Subcommittee expressing your concern that the subcommittee:

1) Carefully consider the State Department report on the human rights performance of the Philippine army and not release FMF funds for the army unless there is clear evidence of a substantial decrease in killings, vigorous prosecution of perpetrators and an end to impunity

2) To return human rights conditions to FMF in the bill for 2015

Please also communicate with Secretary of State John Kerry your concern about the breakdown in the peace process to end the ongoing insurgency and request that the CPP-NPA be removed from the list of Foreign Terrorist Organization as signal that the US would like to see progress on peace negotiations.

Sincerely,

Joe Scarry
Chicago, IL

Related posts

The problem: the U.S. "pivot to Asia."

The opportunity: asking ourselves, "What would we do differently if we revised our myths of Asia?"

(See U.S. Militarism in Asia: THINK DIFFERENT!)






We have had a window of opportunity -- nearly 70 years in which the constitution of Japan has explicitly renounced war, pointing the way for the rest of us. What have we imagined we were supposed to do?

(See Renouncing War: An Opportunity Not To Be Missed )






The crime of Extrajudicial Execution is described on the website for Mike Haas' book, George W. Bush, War Criminal? The Bush Administration’s Liability for 269 War Crimes. Here, we will look at the specific legal basis for charging perpetrators as war criminals for Extrajudicial Executions, and list sources reporting relevant U.S. actions in Afghanistan.

(See VAU Afgh 101: Extrajudicial Executions )

Monday, April 21, 2014

Holy Week 2014 in Chicago - Making a Spectacle of Ourselves

I'm grateful to Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass for his column yesterday, in which he talked about Easter lamb and the meaning of Lent to him. (For those of you who don't live in Chicago or don't regularly read the Chicago Tribune, it's important to understand that Kass is the very model of a hard-nosed city columnist -- the kind that doesn't pull any punches. Our previous mayor, Richard M. Daley, will forever be remembered by the Kass-conferred sobriquet "Richard Shortshanks.") Kass writes, "I've been wondering whether it's possible to make that [Lenten] journey while doing the work I love. Lent for many Christians involves prayer and fasting and concentrating on the spirit. But a journalist by definition is in the world, and going over a list of my columns of these past 40 days is like studying a road map, leading expressly away from where I'd been hoping to go." (See A roasted lamb celebrates end of a hard journey)

Palm Sunday at St. Luke's Logan Square.
(Tough guys wear crosses from Nicaragua
that have been resurrected from melted-
down aluminum engine blocks!)
What I'm grateful to Kass for is the way this hard-nosed guy is really trying to get the words out.  He doesn't want anyone to think he's gone soft, but lurking just beneath the surface of this column are the words we proclaimed yesterday at the church I attend in Logan Square:

Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Allelulia!

[CORRECTION from John Kass: "Thanks, but the words "Christos Anesti" weren't "lurking beneath the surface" of my column. They were WRITTEN in the column." Oops! So much for my Greek!]

"So, in gratitude to John Kass, and in keeping with what I perceive to be our shared desire to place our faith "in the world" and share the good news (while at the same time not turning people off with too much Jesus talk) -- in short, keeping my tough guy cred intact -- I herewith share some scenes from my Holy Week 2014.


Palm Sunday: "Hey! Save us!"

On Palm Sunday (April 13, 2014) the Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance (LSEA) hosted its 3rd annual public witness at the Logan Square monument from 12pm—1pm. As in previous years, we gathered to celebrate the very public and political nature of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and his call to people of faith to resist the values of empire and seek instead “the kingdom of heaven.” LSEA congregations processed from their respective houses of worship carrying palm branches, for an opportunity to stand together to listen to our neighbors and dream together about God’s preferred future for our community.



Building on the success of our December 2013 “Posada for Public Housing,” we focused on issues of housing in Logan Square as we heard testimony from people experiencing eviction and foreclosure and campaigning for quality, affordable public housing. We considered faithful responses to our neighbors' needs, and provided opportunities to get directly involved. (See What do we want? SALVATION! When do we want it? NOW! )

My favorite is the vignette in the center of the picture above. How about a close-up?



Maundy Thursday at St. Luke's

Services at St. Luke's extended across the three days leading up to Easter, plus Easter itself.

On Maundy Thursday, we remembered Jesus' last supper with his disciples.

Some of us washed feet.  Some of us had our feet washed. (Some of us played the guitar.)

It got us focused on the fact that what we do, we do in community.


Good Friday: "We who believe in freedom cannot rest!"

On Good Friday 2014 (April 18), I joined with members of ELCA congregations from throughout the Chicago area, together with others, to participate in the 34th annual 8th Day Center Good Friday Justice Walk. The theme for the walk was "We who believe in freedom cannot rest!" and this certainly resonated with the work of the Metro Chicago Synod's Working Group on the Middle East. (See Palestine: The Women Weep (34th Annual 8th Day Good Friday Justice Walk)

In preparation for the day, Rev. Carla Powell prepared a special devotion, and worked with a large team to create boards reproducing protest art from the separation wall that surrounds the West Bank.



Check out also the witness of the Chicago Coalition to Shut Down Guantanamo.

Easter Vigil

We held a full Easter Vigil at St. Luke's on Saturday.  The vigil on Saturday is fast becoming the center of our Easter observance, even more important than the Sunday morning Easter service.

This year, my "portion" was the reading of the story of Ezekiel and the Valley of Dry Bones -- complete with sound effects by percussionist (and seminarian) Chris Michaelis, and followed by the full choir (and congregation) singing "Dry Bones."

I wish that I had pictures to capture the feeling of that event -- especially Noel Spain's evocation of the life and trials of Pete Seeger, in connection with the Fiery Furnace story; and the full community gathering around the table for communion.

For background on the Easter vigil tradition, see the Wikipedia article on Easter Vigil.


Easter: "I'm happy! ALLELULIA!"

Check out Pastor Erik Christensen's sermon from Sunday at St. Luke's . . . AND . . .

. . . this video footage of the joyful music yesterday at St. Luke's.

(As I heard one person in the pews say, "This is a place where you can really have some fun!")


Easter 2


In light of the fact that there is a community that gathers at St. Luke's on every Wednesday for Community Dinner, and recognizing how much everybody enjoyed our Lenten "Prayers Around the Cross" on Wednesday nights this year, Easter will happen again all over again on Wednesday, April 23, at St. Luke's.  JOIN US!



Related posts


Last year at this time, on Good Friday morning, I was not only getting ready to participate in the annual 8th Day Good Friday Justice Walk -- a venerable Chicago institution -- but also getting ready to put on a play. The playwright Jack Gilroy was in town to make a special appearance together with a small group of us who were staging a reading of his play, The Predator. The Predator is a play that many communities have used to stir conversation about the nature of drone warfare. Jack is much on my mind today, in part because of the anniversary of that performance, but also because of news he recently shared with me about an upcoming court appearance.

(See You're Gonna Put This Guy in Prison? Really??)




Martin Luther said, "In this way we are all priests, as many of us as are Christians. There are indeed priests whom we call ministers. They are chosen from among us, and who do everything in our name. That is a priesthood which is nothing else than the Ministry." See Wikipedia: universal priesthood.) All of us? Really? How about all the many, many, many people pursuing all kinds of walks of life in a big city like Chicago?

(See Get Outside Your Comfort Zone and Have A Conversation Today (Welcome to the Ministry))


 An important part of spreading the good news, I believe, lies in suggesting how it might be possible that this universal, un-grasp-able power that we call "God" may actually find its expression in the midst of our lives through plumb lines, flies, and prophets like Ron and Occupy Chicago.


(See Flies in the Ointment and Plumb Lines for Israel)











We busted out of our big Neo-Gothic church building on Sunday and gathered for worship on the Boulevard. (Or, to be more precise, beneath the trees on the median alongside Logan Boulevard in Chicago, during the weekend-long "Boulevard Fest" sponsored by our congregation.) I've decided to embrace this new feeling of exposure and try to learn some lessons. I put them under the rubric "Congregations that worship in glass houses . . . (complete the sentence) . . . . "

(See Congregations That Worship in Glass Houses . . . )