Category Archives: Critiquing US Foreign Policy

MLTF signs statement of solidarity with Okinawan people to stop construction of US military base

 

Solidarity Statement: Respect the Will of the Okinawan People

The people of Okinawa are calling on the international community for help to stop the desecration of a sacred ocean site, Oura Bay in Henoko, for a new US Marines base. Oura Bay is the home of the dugong (the Okinawan manatee) and other endangered species, including extensive coral reefs.

The latest poll shows that 80.2% of Okinawans oppose this construction on environmental, ethical, and economic grounds. They are blockading the construction site from land and sea, and holding prefecture-wide rallies comprising all segments of the population.

We, the undersigned US organizations, support the demands of Okinawan people that this construction be stopped.

We call on our members of Congress to sponsor briefings on Capitol Hill to hear about the highly undemocratic process of deciding on this location, which has been forced on the people of Okinawa by the US and Japanese governments; and to hear about the serious, long-term environmental and social impacts of US bases that Okinawans have been burdened with since 1945.

The US already has 1,000 bases worldwide.

We demand the clean up not build up of overseas bases, and that our money be moved from military spending to human and environmental needs.

Signed

Women for Genuine Security
December 2014

 

US Government Sanitizes Vietnam War History

VVAW Veterans Day march – New York City 1975

 

News Analysis
By MLTF member Marjorie Cohn
Reprinted with permission from Truthout.org

For many years after the Vietnam War, we enjoyed the “Vietnam syndrome,” in which US presidents hesitated to launch substantial military attacks on other countries. They feared intense opposition akin to the powerful movement that helped bring an end to the war in Vietnam. But in 1991, at the end of the Gulf War, George H.W. Bush declared, “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all!”

With George W. Bush’s wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and Barack Obama’s drone wars in seven Muslim-majority countries and his escalating wars in Iraq and Syria, we have apparently moved beyond the Vietnam syndrome. By planting disinformation in the public realm, the government has built support for its recent wars, as it did with Vietnam.

Now the Pentagon is planning to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War by launching a $30 million program to rewrite and sanitize its history. Replete with a fancy interactive website, the effort is aimed at teaching schoolchildren a revisionist history of the war. The program is focused on honoring our service members who fought in Vietnam. But conspicuously absent from the website is a description of the antiwar movement, at the heart of which was the GI movement.

Vieques: 10 years after U.S. bombing ends, struggle for justice in Puerto Rico continues

By Helen Jaccard and David Swanson
Originally published in the September 2013 issue of On Watch, the MLTF quarterly newsletter.

Ten years ago May 1, the people of Vieques, Puerto Rico, and their supporters defeated the most powerful military machine ever, through mass civil disobedience and without firing a single shot. On May 1, 2003, the U.S. military put a stop to six decades of nonstop bombing, munitions dumping, war games, and poisoning the small island seven miles from the coast of Puerto Rico, activity that involved depleted uranium, Agent Orange, napalm and heavy metals. Vieques, and the bases were officially closed.  People from all over the world supported the struggle on Vieques, and the activists and residents have an incredible victory to celebrate.

There were decades of resistance, civil disobedience and arrests, while the U.S. military “rained down” a trillion tons of ordnance over the course of six decades on an island scarcely the size of Santa Catalina in California or Nantucket in Massachusetts. But those hoping and laying the groundwork for greater resistance were given an opportunity on April 19, 1999, when a U.S. Marines pilot missed his target and killed civilian security guard David Sanes Rodriguez. That spark lit a fire of nonviolent resistance that brought together Viequenses, Puerto Ricans, and supporters from the United States and around the world. A campaign of non-violent civil resistance that began in 1999 lasted four years, including a year-long occupation of the bombing range, and saw over 1,500 people arrested. The Navy was forced to close the bombing range on May 1, 2003. Peace-loving people had won the first of their demands for the island: demilitarization.

A huge commemoration occurred in Vieques for the anniversary from May 1 – 4, 2013.

Island beauty belies environmental catastrophe

Beautiful Vieques Island is only 21 miles across, five miles wide, and home to about 9,300 people, as well as endangered turtle species, rare Caribbean plants and animals, bio-luminescent bays, and miles of what look like unspoiled beaches. But crabs with three claws, grossly deformed fish laden with heavy metals, once-beautiful coral reefs, and beaches and seas that have been decimated by military activity tell a story of environmental disaster with huge health impacts on people, plants, and animals.

An incredible three-quarters of the island was appropriated in the 1940s and used by the U.S. Navy for bombing practice, war games, and dumping or burning old munitions.  This was a terrible attack on an island municipality, one the United States was not at war with.

Now, Vieques Island, a paradise in trouble, is one of the largest Superfund sites in the United States, together with its little sister island of Culebra, which took the brunt of the bombing until 1973, when the Culebra bombing range closed (also due to protests) and the bombing practice was transferred to Vieques.

U.S. Has Yet to Relinquish Control

In 2003, the Navy did not return the land to the people, but transferred its Vieques land to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which operates beaches that were never used for military activities.

Viequenses fear that keeping the U.S. Government in control of their lands could result in future re-militarization of the island.  Residents are unhappy that their land has not been returned to them and that they are fined for staying on their land past sunset or collecting crabs — a mainstay of their historic diet.  There are also two military occupations of lands — a ROTHR radar system and a communications area, and the people want these closed as well.  You can add your name to Viequenses’ demand for peace here.

For over 2,000 years people known as Taino inhabited Vieques, which they called Bieque.  The Taino found and left behind them a paradise of fertile soil, fresh water, and trees. In 1493, the conquistadors arrived, and by1524, the Spanish had killed every remaining resident. Vieques was then left uninhabited by humanity for 300 years, interrupted by a few British, French, and Spanish attempts to set up forts or destroy each other’s efforts.

The Spanish and French used Vieques to grow sugar from 1823 into the 1900s. English-speaking people of African origin from nearby islands were kept in slavery conditions, or the nearest thing to it, and forced to grow sugar cane. They revolted in 1864 and 1874, and in 1915 via the Sugar Strike. The United States took Puerto Rico from the Spanish in 1898 and made its residents U.S. citizens in 1917(Editor’s note: neatly timed to allow them to be conscripted to fight WWI). The Great Depression of the 1930s, together with two hurricanes in 1932, brought on harder times than ever.

In 1939 the United States bought 26,000 of the 30,000 acres of land on Vieques from big sugar plantation owners.  Living on that land were 10,000 to 12,000 workers who also raised crops to feed themselves. The U.S. Navy gave families $30 and one day’s notice before bulldozing houses. Most people were left without means of subsistence, but many stubbornly refused to leave the island.

Carlos Prieta Ventura, a 51-year-old Viequense fisherman, says his father was 8 years old in 1941 when the Navy told his family their house would be bulldozed whether or not they accepted the $30. Ventura says he has always resisted the Navy’s efforts to force people off the island.

100,000 unexploded bombs litter land and sea

From 1941 to 2003, the U.S. military flew planes from aircraft carriers based on the main island of Puerto Rico and dropped bombs over Vieques. Explosives “rained down,” and personnel could feel the ground shake within the base, as one U.S. veteran told CNN.  Bombs fell at all hours, all day, all week, all year, totaling approximately a trillion tons of ordnance, much of which (some 100,000 items) lies unexploded on land and in the sea.

Moreover, Vieques was systematically poisoned by heavy metals, napalm, Agent Orange, depleted uranium, and who knows what all else that the Navy has not announced publicly – having falsely denied using depleted uranium before finally admitting to it, and having dumped barrels of unknown toxic substances into the clear blue Caribbean.

The arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, and aluminum in the bombs are also found in hair samples of 80% of the people living on Vieques, who suffer at far higher rates than on the main island (and possibly anywhere else on earth) from cancer (30% higher than Puerto Rico), cirrhosis of the liver, kidney failure, hypertension (381%), diabetes (41%), birth defects, stillbirths, and miscarriages.

A dozen people were killed over the years directly by the U.S. weapons testing.  And the Navy banned fishermen from various areas, advising them to try food stamps instead.

Impact and resistance

According to Ventura, the Viequense fisherman, a more direct and immediate impact of the U.S. occupation was felt as some 15,000 troops were routinely set loose on Vieques looking for booze and women. Women were dragged out of their homes and gang raped. A boy was reportedly killed by gang rape.

Lydia Ortiz, a Viequense who grew up in the small town of Esperanza, recalls the bombing:  “A lot of houses had their roofs falling in and everything as a result of the vibrations from the bombs for many years. It was pretty nerve-wracking because you never knew what was going to crash down in your house.  We lived quite close to where the bombing was happening. When I was a child they were dropping bombs near me. In the school, you could hear the bombing.  You couldn’t even hear the teacher because of the noise. People were afraid to go anywhere near the base or the beach so it was very difficult for many years. It seems like just yesterday or only five or six years ago that the bombing stopped, even though it is really almost 10 years ago.”

Throughout the later years of the occupation, fishermen attempted civil resistance actions, and many were arrested during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s.

A celebration of the 10-year anniversary was indeed in order.  We must remember victories, as they have remarkable power to motivate others around the world.

Continuing effects of Navy occupation

But the Navy’s presence and the environmental disaster it created continue to afflict Vieques today. The U.S. government has not cleaned up the poisons and bombs and continues to use practices that further endanger the people. There is no bomb explosion chamber on the island.  The United States has disposed of what unexploded bombs it has by blowing them up, further spreading the contaminants that are killing the people of the island.

There is also no hospital on the island, few ferries to Puerto Rico, few and expensive flights, a handful of taxis and public vans, and very limited tourist facilities. There is no college or university, and very few jobs of any kind. Business licenses are issued in San Juan and require bribes. Viequenses’ families are ravaged by cancer, but also by illiteracy, unemployment, violent crime, and teen pregnancy. All of the water – like all electricity – comes in a pipe from the main island.

Two of the residents said that the one resort on Vieques sometimes uses all the water. Myrna Pagan, a long-time resident of Vieques, said, “If we had a real hospital people would just go to the hospital and you would have some preventive treatment. The abominable ferry service and the number of people that go over to the big island for medical treatment are all things that can be done here if the center were adequate.”

Courts refuse to hear islanders’ case

Seven thousand Viequenses sued the U.S. government over their health problems, but the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case. The class action lawsuit was filed against the Navy by over 7000 of the island’s 9500 residents in 2005 by the law firm of John Arthur Eaves, Jr., a prominent Mississippi attorney. The plaintiffs asserted that the Navy failed to warn residents of any potential danger from the government’s military activities.

In 2010, the case was dismissed by a federal district court in Puerto Rico, and the dismissal was upheld in a 2-1 vote of the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in 2012. Both of the courts said that the Navy had sovereign immunity, which gives the federal government discretion to carry out its activities without being sued, except where approved by Congress. The courts declined to judge the case on its merits.

The dissenting judge, Juan Torruella of Puerto Rico, wrote that the government should not have been shielded because it knew how toxic the bombings were but decided not to warn the people of Vieques. Torruella wrote, “Nowhere does the medieval concept of ‘the King can do no wrong’ underlying the doctrine of sovereign immunity sound more hollow and abusive than when an imperial power applies it to a group of helpless subjects. This cannot be a proper role for the United States of America.” The three judges agreed that Congress would be the proper venue for redress of the legitimate and serious concerns about health on the island.

Eaves said, referring to violations of the Clean Water Act of 1972, “The problem here is that the Navy was acting within its discretion when it was bombing the island. Yes, the Navy was doing what it was designed to do. But it violated the law, which is not within their discretion.”

Court excludes relevant evidence

The Environmental Protection Agency cited the Navy for violating the Clean Water Act by dropping too many bombs off the shores of Vieques. One year, the EPA cited the Navy 102 times. This evidence was not allowed to be presented to the court and Eaves said that the harm done by this bombing is just collateral damage under the doctrine of sovereign immunity.

Supporters of the Vieques residents have already turned to Congress as well as the courts.

The Vieques Recovery and Development Act of 2011,” introduced by New Jersey Rep. Steve Rothman and Puerto Rico’s non-voting representative, resident commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, would have provided funding for a hospital and toxins research center for the island.

“The federal government was responsible for the military activities there, the least they should be doing is coming up with a plan so that all the agencies involved would do whatever testing needs to be done at the federal government’s expense,” said Pierluisi. “It’s the least they owe to the people of Vieques.”

The bill languished and died in committee and has not been re-introduced.

With very little land available for farming, Vieques, like all of Puerto Rico, imports almost all of its food. Some people have become so desperate that they gather old munitions to sell for a little money to someone who will melt the metal for aluminum cans. But heavy metals and depleted uranium endanger the metal gatherers and whoever later drinks from the cans.

Obama’s unfulfilled promise

Presidential candidate Obama wrote to the Governor of Puerto Rico in 2008: “We will closely monitor the health of the people of Vieques and promote appropriate remedies to health conditions caused by military activities conducted by the U.S. Navy on Vieques.”  But that promise remains unfulfilled.

In a letter to the President, Robert Rabin Siegal of the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques writes:

Although I cannot claim the Navy and military toxics caused my cancer, you don’t have to be a quantum physicist to understand how decades of exposure to heavy metals in the food chain, air, water and land, combined with the socio-economic pressures from the loss of two thirds of the island’s lands, would clearly contribute to high cancer rates. The Navy dropped radioactive uranium projectiles here, we believe, in large quantities, in preparation for military actions in the Balkans and the Middle East. The list of dangerous chemical components from munitions dropped on Vieques is extensive, as is the number of illnesses they cause.

Mr. President: you received the Nobel Peace Prize; we demand peace for Vieques. An island and people used to protect U.S. interests since WWII, forced to sacrifice its land, economic prosperity, tranquility and health, deserves at least the hope of peace for this and future generations. . . .

A handful of powerful U.S.-based corporations have pocketed most of the more than $200 million spent on clean-up over the past decade. We urge you to order technology transference to promote the creation of Puerto Rican and Viequense companies to carry out the clean-up of Vieques, thereby transforming that process into part of the economic reconstruction of the island as well as assuring community confidence in this crucial element in the healing of Vieques.

People anywhere in the world can take one minute to sign a petition to the Pentagon, Congress, and the White House in support of justice, at long last, for Vieques:

I join the people of Vieques in demanding:

Health Care – Provide a modern hospital with cancer treatment facilities, early screening and timely treatment for all diseases.  Create a research facility to determine the relationship between military toxins and health.  Provide just compensation to people suffering poor health as a result of the Navy’s activities.

Cleanup – Fund a complete, rapid cleanup of the land and surrounding waters, still littered by thousands of bombs, grenades, napalm, Agent Orange, depleted uranium and other explosives left by the Navy. Cease the ongoing open detonation of unexploded ordnance. Guarantee community participation in the cleanup; train Viequenses as managers, administrators, and scientists, and foster Viequense companies to do the work.

Sustainable Development – Support the Master Plan for Sustainable Development of Vieques which promotes agriculture, fishing, eco-tourism, small guest houses, housing, collective transportation, archaeology, and historic and environmental research, among other things.

Demilitarization and Return of the Land – Close the remaining military installations still occupying 200 acres of Vieques. Return to the people of Vieques all land still under the control of the U.S. Navy and the federal government.

For extensive documentation, see the attachments posted at warisacrime.org/vieques and other files hosted at this Dropbox public folder.

 

Addendum by MLTF Editors:

▪ Supreme Court rejects Vieques pollution case against U.S.: Sanchez et al. v. United States, 671 F.3d 86 (1st Cir. Feb. 14, 2012).

▪ Press Release: U.S. Supreme Court Ruling Indemnifies The Navy For Damages To The Puerto Rican Island of Vieques (Committee for the Rescue & Development of Vieques)

▪ March 2013 Report by Federal Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease

Helen Jaccard is Chair of the Veterans for Peace Environmental Cost of War and Militarism Working Group.  She spent October 2012 in Vieques doing research about the environmental and health effects of the military activities.  Her

previous article about Sardinia, Italy, can be found at

warisacrime.org/sardinia.

David Swanson’s books include “War Is A Lie.” He blogs at davidswanson.org and warisacrime.org and works for Roots Action. He hosts Talk Nation Radio.

 

 

National Lawyers Guild Opposes Military Action Against Syria

On September 5, the national office of the National Lawyers Guild distributed the following news release, written with input from members of MLTF:
     

NEW YORK – The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) calls on Congress to vote against the illegal strike on Syria being planned by the administration. NLG president Azadeh Shahshahani said, “The military intervention in Syria is undeniably illegal, and any supposed framework the Obama administration constructs to defend it is based, not upon legality, but upon impunity.” The United States is once again poised to violate international and domestic law to impose its will.

President Obama’s threats to take military action against Syria are predicated on hypocrisy and obfuscation, as Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel have vocalized, respectively. While Kerry said that the United States must “assure that there is accountability for the use of chemical weapons,” the U.S. has historically used chemical weapons against other nations – Agent Orange in Vietnam, white phosphorous in Iraq, and depleted uranium, napalm, and other toxic chemicals and metals (including TNT and mercury) in Vieques, Puerto Rico.

Hagel carefully avoided the assertion that military intervention would be legal, and instead vaguely promised that “any action taken [would be] within the framework of legal justification.” According to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, the U.S. and other NATO countries are only legally entitled to intervene militarily when their own states have been attacked or threatened with chemical weapons.

The use of chemical weapons in Syria cannot be ignored. But military force, especially by the U.S., has never been a viable or effective response to international human rights abuses. Furthermore, the mandates of the UN Charter prohibit the use of military force without Security Council authorization except when a country is attacked and must defend itself pending Security Council action. While the Obama administration is lobbying Congress to support a “limited” strike on Syria, the National Lawyers Guild strongly opposes any U.S. threats of military intervention – irrespective of congressional approval. Instead, the NLG calls for renewed diplomatic initiatives with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Russia.

In addition, MLTF along with the NLG’s International Committee, published a short briefing paper on Syria. A longer version will be available in the near future. Read: Short Briefing Paper on Syria  (PDF)

Verdict in Manning Case Slow Death for Democracy

Op-Ed for MLTF

[Update]: In a public statement issued on 8/22/13, Pvt. Manning disclosed that her name is now Chelsea Manning, and that she is a female. Going forward, we will honor her request to use her new name and appropriate pronouns, in support of her transition.

Today, although he was acquitted of aiding the enemy, Bradley Manning was found guilty of five counts of violating the Espionage Act. It has long been said that military justice is to justice what military music is to music, but Manning’s prosecution has failed to clear that low bar. Since his arrest in 2010 and the long road to his court martial, the government has perverted the values it claims to represent, and made a mockery of its military justice system. The case has been a travesty since it began. Manning was tortured, held for years before trial, and overcharged. While the process of “justice” for Bradley Manning will proceed through the sentencing phase and appeals process—along with continued advocacy for a full pardon and release—it’s a good time to reflect on the most egregious of the government’s sins thus far.

On July 21, the New York Times reported that accused sexual predators in military service are claiming unlawful command influence because President Obama declared that anyone who committed a sexual assault should be punished and “dishonorably discharged” from military service. He did not name names. He accused no individual of a being guilty of any crime yet, the Times says, his statement will complicate prosecutions and render convictions more difficult.

When it came to Bradley Manning, however, Obama declared him guilty before he was even charged, at a time he was in “detention,” solitary confinement with no clothes, little contact with other human beings, no intellectual stimuli and presumably presumed innocent.

So the first question to be asked in the wake of Manning’s conviction is why he should not be accorded the same rights as rapists. Why did the Times not question potential command influence when the commander in chief declared Bradley Manning—not some nameless future defendant—guilty? Was it possible for any subordinate to ignore that presidential proclamation when rendering a verdict? Some credit must be accorded the judge who acquitted him of at least some charges, but that only demonstrates just how extreme the charges were.

That is not all that is questionable about the case. Recently, Eric Holder had to promise Russia that if Edward Snowden is returned to the United States, he will not face execution or torture. Snowden’s fear is well-founded, not just because of Abu Ghraib, but because of Bradley Manning, who suffered months of torture, defended by Obama. There was a time in the not too distant past when the treatment Manning suffered through would have led to dismissal of the charges against him and condemnation of the prosecution by the courts and media. Now, it appears, the United States no longer has any shame and is more than willing to sacrifice what it proclaims to be our fundamental principles at the altar of security.

Obama came to office promising the most transparent administration ever. He claims that we need an open and frank discussion of what the government should be able to do to protect ourselves from threats, but did so only after its secret operations were exposed. And he aggressively prosecutes those whose actions give rise to the questions he claims should be answered through a national debate.

Hypocrisy and criminality are rife in the United States government and, in its eyes, the worst criminals are those who expose such evils. Among the many documents Manning released, for example, was the notorious “collateral murder” video, showing U.S. pilots killing a Reuters journalist, his driver and several others. Some have argued that, although unfortunate, the killing was justified in the heat of battle but the U.S. denied any knowledge of how the reporter, Namir Noor-Eldeen, died until the video was released. Reuters had simply asked how such events could be avoided in the future and was stonewalled. It is only thanks to Manning that the world knows exactly what happened.

There are two ways in which any government can seek to control security leaks. The first is by honesty and transparency, by allowing the public to know enough to make democratic decisions about how far is too far. That is the path that the United States, and this president, claims to follow. The second is by threatening draconian consequences to anyone who exposes questionable policies and practices to the light of day. That is the path the United States, and this administration, has chosen with the prosecution of Bradley Manning and others. No amount of sophistry can hide that truth, try as the administration might. The result, for Bradley Manning, is many years in prison. The result for democracy is a slow death.