Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Tale of Two Campaigns


I was on a Declaration of Peace Conference Call last night. It was exciting to begin to hear the peace and justice movement getting ready to launch into its next phase following the midterm elections. The main thrust of the call was the campaign to defund the illegal and immoral war and occupation of Iraq.

As part of this campaign, and probably the most intense, will be what Voices for Creative Nonviolence and the National Campaign of Nonviolence Resistance will undertake beginning February 5th and lasting through March -- visiting and probably sitting in at many congress people's offices. The Declaration of Peace Coalition has decided to join this effort. It is expected that during the month of February and into early March Congress will likely pass record-large supplemental budgets paying for the continued war and occupation. It is expected that the military requests will amount to somewhere between $100 Billion to $120 Billion.

This intense phase will be called The Occupation Project. I am excited about it, and I (NCNR) along with Jeff Leys (VCNV) will begin to organize this phase this week along with regional organizers across the country. This is something I believe the peace and justice movement must undertake.

For the cost of the war and occupation of Iraq to date, we could have instead spent it on:
+ One year of comprehensive health insurance for more than 207 million children
+ About 6 million additional teachers
+ More than 3.1 additional housing units

The figures above are presented by the National Priorities Project.

This number is based on an analysis of the legislation in which Congress has allocated money for war so far and research by the Congressional Research Service. An article offered by the Strauss Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information offers greater insight into the problems of truly knowing how much has been spent on the Iraq War or other military operations. Other NPP information on the cost of the Iraq War includes the NPP Database Trade-offs Page; and the Local Costs of the Iraq War which includes the total cost allocated to date for numerous towns and counties across the country. This list is also more regularly updated with new locations than the list of the cost of Iraq War calculator. See also the NPP Charts page which offers comparative cost and casualty information on wars.

The other campaign which I will work on and participate fully in is the January 11th Witness Against Torture action. More than 450 detainees are being held in Guantanamo Bay and awaiting a military trial which has not even begun. Some have been there for five years. A few are as young as 14 years old.

On January 11th it will be exactly five years since people began to be illegally and immorally detained at Guantanamo. Many have been tortured by the U.S. government. This campaign to have all of the detainees brought immediately to civilian court -- not military -- and shut down Guantanamo has mostly been organized by the wonderful Catholic Workers. They are a true source of inspiration. A few of them have travelled to Cuba and held a 10-day vigil at the edge of Guantanamo Bay. All the trials have not begun, I understand they can face up to 10 years in jail for this truly peaceful and compassionate act.

More can be found about this campaign and the remarkable January 11th action at: Witness Against Torture. We do need people willing to participate! We should all feel compelled to do right when our government is doing so much wrong.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Call it exactly what it is...

It appears the mainstream media will now begin to call the deep sectarian violence in Iraq exactly what it is -- a civil war. The conflict has been increasing in its bloodshed for several months now. Just a couple days ago I saw General Odom say it was time to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from this disaster immediately.

I truly hope this is the beginning of the end. Here is The Boston Globe article:

Bucking White House, NBC says Iraq in 'civil war'
Usage increasing in news media
By Bryan Bender, Globe Staff | November 28, 2006

WASHINGTON -- NBC's "Today Show" host Matt Lauer yesterday told millions of American television viewers, many sitting at their breakfast tables, that the network would buck the White House and from now on describe the Iraq war as a "civil war."

The new policy, which NBC News said would cover all its news shows, could become a benchmark in public opinion about the war, according to media specialists.

Some media analysts compared it to CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite's declaration in 1968 that the United States was losing the Vietnam War -- a pronouncement now considered a turning point in public opinion -- and Ted Koppel's ABC updates on the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979 and 1980 that infuriated Jimmy Carter's White House.

"How you frame a problem frames what the public thinks is the right thing to do," said James Steinberg , dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. "If Iraq is a democracy struggling against insurgents and you describe it that way, people might still support you. If it is a civil war, it is indisputably the case that Americans will say, 'What are we doing in the middle of a civil war?' "

Steinberg, who was deputy national security adviser under President Clinton, added: "The more they hear 'civil war,' the harder it is going to be to support a strategy that keeps a lot of American troops there in large numbers."

A few other media outlets with reporters in Baghdad have slowly begun to refer to the conflict as a civil war and still more said yesterday they were debating the issue after the NBC announcement. Lauer, whose announcement was termed "a bombshell" by the industry magazine Editor & Publisher, explained that NBC did not come to the decision lightly.

" For months now the White House has rejected claims that the situation in Iraq has deteriorated into civil war. And for the most part, news organizations, like NBC, have hesitated to characterize it as such," Lauer said. "But after careful consideration, NBC News has decided the change in terminology is warranted -- that the situation in Iraq, with armed militarized factions fighting for their own political agendas, can now be characterized as civil war.

"We didn't just wake up on a Monday morning and say, 'Let's call this a civil war,' " Lauer added.

The White House, for its part, continued to maintain that the expanding cycle of sectarian warfare in Iraq -- on full and painful display over the weekend with the deadliest round of revenge killings between Iraq's Shi'ite majority and Sunni minority -- does not yet amount to a civil war.

"While the situation on the ground is very serious, neither Prime Minister [Nouri] Maliki nor we believe that Iraq is in a civil war," the White House said in a statement. It noted that "the violence is largely centered around Baghdad, and Baghdad security and the increased training of Iraqi security forces is at the top of the agenda when President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki meet later this week in Jordan."

However, the government's position is increasingly being called into question. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, asked by reporters yesterday whether Iraq was a civil war, remarked: "We are almost there." And several leading military analysts have begun using the term in recent weeks.

The Los Angeles Times, dropping the usual qualifiers, flatly referred to the conflict as a civil war yesterday. So, in published stories, have The Christian Science Monitor and McClatchy newspapers.

"We began using it when that was clear that was going on, which was a number of months ago," said John Walcott , Washington bureau chief for the McClatchy chain. "When the Shi'a population is at war with the Sunni population and members of the Interior Ministry kidnap people from the Education Ministry, that sounds like a civil war."

Some other news organizations said that they, too, will permit the use of the term "civil war" where appropriate, though they prefer not to have a blanket policy.

"We talk about it every day," said Sandy Genelius , a CBS News spokeswoman. "But there is no edict here. Each producer and correspondent tries to put on the air what seems accurate and appropriate in the context of each story."

Bill Keller , executive editor of The New York Times, said in a statement yesterday that "after consulting with our reporters in the field and the editors who directly oversee this coverage," the paper has decided that the term "civil war" is now appropriate.

Yet Keller cautioned against using the description too much. "We expect to use the phrase sparingly and carefully, not to the exclusion of other formulations, not for dramatic effect," he said.

Before deciding its policy on the term, the Globe is weighing the judgments of the news organizations that have reporters regularly in Iraq.

Observers said the media's willingness to reject the White House's depiction of events was reminiscent of 1968, when Cronkite filmed a Vietnam documentary and offered his belief that the United States was losing the war.

"To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion," Cronkite said at the time. "The only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy and did the best they could."

President Johnson, after hearing Cronkite's broadcast, reportedly remarked, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America."

"There is a clear parallel," Edward C. Pease , a journalism professor at the University of Utah, said of yesterday's NBC broadcast during a morning time-slot that is now far more popular than the evening news. "The way the media frames things helps lead the public perception."

Globe correspondent Bryan McGonigle contributed to this report.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Agustin Aguayo's case


I attended the appeals hearing today of conscientious objector Spc. Agustin Aguayo, 34, at the D.C. Circuit Federal Court downtown. It was interesting, and there was some hope that Agustin will in fact prevail in his quest to be declared an official war objector and be released from the Army.

When Agustin first signed up for the Army as a medic, recruiters told him he would not have to carry a gun. This was latter proved to be false. On occasion he did carry a gun in Iraq, but refused to load it.

Elsa Rassbach, an American peace activist residing in Germany, was there and she has become a dear close friend to Agustin and his wife Helga. Attorney Peter Goldberger presented some persuasive arguments to the three judges hearing the appeal. Other peace activists J.E. McNeil, Gael Murphy, Kevin McCarron and myself were also on hand this morning to hear the oral arguments. Goldberger said it will likely take the judges 5-10 days to come to a decision and present a written decision.

Helga and Agustin's two young children do not have much money to travel and were not at the trial. For more info and opportunities to help this family: http://www.aguayodefense.org/

Here is the AP Story:

War Objector Fate May Rely on Old Cases
By MATT APUZZO
The Associated Press
Tuesday, November 21, 2006; 12:40 PM

WASHINGTON -- A federal appeals court is rereading cases from the Vietnam era as it considers whether to allow an honorable discharge for an Army medic who announced his objections to war on the eve of his deployment to Iraq.

Appeals courts heard several cases on "conscientious objectors" during the Vietnam War draft but such appeals are much more rare in an all-volunteer military.

Agustin Aguayo, who enlisted in 2002 during the lead-up to the Iraq war, is asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to release him from a military prison. It is believed to be the first federal appeal in a conscientious objector case during the Iraq war.

Aguayo, who is being held in a U.S. prison in Germany after going absent without leave, said he enlisted as a way to earn money for his education. Though military operations in Afghanistan were under way and discussions about Iraq were ongoing, he said he never considered that he'd have to fight.

Judge A. Raymond Randolph, one of three judges on the case, said he'd been reading up on the Vietnam appeals and asked how the case differs from those filed decades ago by people who realized their opposition to war only after receiving a draft card.

Attorney Peter Goldberger said the Aguayo's beliefs evolved over time and "crystalized" to the point that he could no longer take a life.

Government attorneys say that's not enough. To receive conscientious-objector status, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin K. Robitaille said, a soldier must show a deeply rooted objection to war in any form.

In a statement submitted to the court and released on a Web site dedicated to his cause, Aguayo said he is being guided by his principles.

"My beliefs and morals come from a transformation as a direct result of my combined religious/family upbringing, military experience, and new experiences I've created and sought," he said.

The government argued _ and a federal judge in August agreed _ that Aguayo's religious beliefs existed when he enlisted. A soldier may not hide his beliefs to obtain military benefits, then use them as a way to get out of service, the court said.

Attorneys also noted that Aguayo applied as a conscientious objector only after receiving his orders to Iraq and did so at the same time as his best friend.

Supporters said Aguayo's actions are not uncommon. They said beliefs frequently evolve over time.

"People change their hearts and the law allows for it," said J.E. McNeil, executive director of the Center on Conscience & War.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Pelosi and a Mandate for Peace

Hello my bloging readers! I write this essay today, having completed a protest jury trial and preparing myself to organize for a late January anti-war mobilization being lead by coalition leaders I'm not very enthusiastic about to say the least.



At this point, the Dems have won a solid majority in the House and a slim majority in the Senate. It remains my sincere belief that the only way to end the war and occupation in Iraq (and probably stop an attack on Iran) is to utilize the power of the purse. This would be to cut off funding of continued war and occupation of Iraq, to call for all groups to continue and intensify their negotiating process and begin with paying repair expenses to that nation's infrastructure. Military funding in this theater should be solely used for an orderly phasing out of U.S. troops from Iraq, and I believe this could be completed by April 2007.


In Congress' last session Jim McGovern of Mass. introduced HR4232. This bill essentially called for all that I specify above. He is expected to reintroduce this, and so the resolution number will change. There will also be a few other very similar bills introduced. This is an area where the Progressive Democrats of America and I agree.


United for Peace and Justice is calling for a major national mobilization in D.C. on January 27th. Although, this gives us on the ground very little time to organize, I think the timing does make sense politically. This mobilization is now being called Mandate for Peace. The objective is obvious. At the end of the Dem's first week in office, peace activists are to descend on the capitol to make it clear what the number one issue in the election was.


Nancy Pelosi, House Speaker elect, has said on CNN and elsewhere that she doesn't think Dems will use the power of the purse. Well, then it is indeed our responsibility to convince her and her colleagues otherwise. This truly is about life and death, about justice and oppression. About asking "Where the hell are the government's priorities?" For the amount we have now spent on war and occupation ($342 Billion) in Iraq, we could have given 204.9 million kids health insurance for one year.


UFPJ has its problems, believe me. Among the top concerns I have with them is a lack of financial transparency and a national coordinator who seems to be in this position for a life time and is a remnant of the Vietnam Era. Hopefully the coalition will change its structure and current leadership, but I am not holding my breath. They are not bad folks, but they are a bit authoritarian and organize differently than most of the local folks here in D.C. With that said, I think we should make a strident effort to make January 27th a huge success. It is our responsibility, as the peace movement, to do so.


While many in the movement appear to be clamoring for impeachment, I see it as a distraction and actually more of a pipe dream than de-funding the war and occupation. With an increasingly unpopular and bloody war we have a chance of beginning to make this effort a bipartisan one. Impeachment proceedings will never be bipartisan, and therefore you have Pelosi saying it's not even on the table. She's smart, and she sees the potential of energizing the Republican base and probably losing power in two years if impeachment was thoroughly pursued.


So to those in the peace and justice movement: Come to D.C. January 27th! The D.C. Anti-War Network will be holding teach-ins and various protests leading up to this significant day of action. All those distrustful of authoritarianism, don't have to march under the banner of UFPJ, but you must turn out in D.C. on that cold winter day!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Mistrial declared in our Rumsfeld case

Rumsfeld has been replaced by Robert Gates, former CIA director. The timing could not be better! Below is the press release I wrote late Thursday afternoon.

Defendants Receive Mistrial in Rumsfeld Protest

WASHINGTON – Three peace and justice protestors tasted victory yesterday when a District of Columbia jury of 12 men and women failed to reach a verdict in their trial stemming from a nonviolent action on May 18 th at the residence of Donald Rumsfeld, the former secretary of defense.
The defendants were surprised by the deadlocked jury. After more than four hours of deliberation the six men, six women jury informed Associate Judge Harold Cushenberry Jr. of the D.C. Superior Court that they held strong opinions and could not reach a unanimous verdict. The charge leveled against David Barrows, Pete Perry and Mari Blome is a misdemeanor which carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a $100 fine.
The nonviolent protestors were arrested in the front yard of Rumsfeld's Northwest Washington , D.C. mansion by the Secret Service. Perry and Barrows, affiliated with the D.C. Anti-War Network (DAWN), defended themselves. Blome, affiliated with Code Pink, was represented by Washington attorney Ann Wilcox.
The defendants won a stunning Thursday afternoon victory against prosecution, reinforcing the importance of First Amendment rights to freedom of expression and the right to petition a redress of grievances to the government.
"When the very courts of our nation, our Department of Justice, the president, and our own Congress lack the courage, ethics and principles to support the basic human rights for which this country was founded," Barrows said. "Then the responsibility falls on us, the people, to defend the Bill of Rights, and the Geneva Convention."
Blome, a peace and anti-torture activist from California, came to Washington in May, July and September to participate in many anti-war protests and nonviolent actions. Among these actions was a personal 19-day hunger strike done in conjunction with Code Pink's Troops Home Fast.
"We live in very serious times when there are no longer traditional avenues to redress our grievances, because of an unresponsive government," Blome said. "This includes a Congress who last month passed a law allowing the practice of torture."
The three activists are scheduled to appear at a status hearing on December 13th to determine if the government wishes to refile the charges against them.
The resignation of Rumsfeld is being recognized as an acknowledgement of failed international policies.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Rumsfeld Trial Continues

Today the trial of the remaining Rumsfeld three continues today. We have what I think is a diverse and fair jury. Maximum sentence is six months in prison for nonviolently delivering an anti-war and anti-torture message to Donald Rumsfeld's residence at 2206 Kalorama Road in May.

I wish I could write more, but I can't right now. No media coverage yet, as this is obviously a tough time with the elections going on.

Please note, a couple days ago the Army Times, Navy Times and Marine Times published an editorial calling for Rumsfeld to step down as secretary of defense.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Rumsfeld 4 Jury Trial to Begin Monday

WASHINGTON – Four peace and anti-torture activists will appear in court Monday, November 6 th in a jury trial stemming from a protest against a war with Iran, at Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's home in May.
The four nonviolent protestors were arrested on May 18th by the Secret Service when they entered the front yard of Rumsfeld's mansion in the Kalorama neighborhood of northwest Washington. They are charged with unlawful entry and face a maximum sentence of six months in prison, and $100 in fines.
Pete Perry and David Barrows of the D.C. Anti-War Network (DAWN) will defend themselves, with Washington attorney Mark Goldstone serving as attorney advisor. Mari Blome and Katie Heald, affiliated with Code Pink are represented by Washington attorney Ann Wilcox.

"We were not breaking a law," Perry said. "We were peacefully delivering an anti-war and anti-torture message to a public official we hold responsible for the unlawful entry of Iraq and the sanctioning of torture of detainees held by our government."

In September, three of the four defendants were acquitted in a bench trial of disorderly conduct. One entered a plea agreement with the government and is performing community service at the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition.

This time the four activists will face a jury of their peers.

"We look forward to arguing our case," Blome said. "We want people to know that we find Rumsfeld's actions intolerable, and that we will defend our first amendment right to petition for a redress of grievances to our government."

The trial will begin at 9:30 a.m. at the Moultrie Courthouse (Superior Court of the District of Columbia) at 500 Indiana Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C.

The arrests occurred following a peaceful march from the White House to Rumsfeld's house, which was attended by Cindy Sheehan, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern and comedian and activist Dick Gregory.