Saturday, June 25, 2016

A Story of Courage in War Resistance: Justin Colby

He was just two weeks shy of turning 23 years old when US Army Specialist Justin Colby deserted his infantry unit on July 4, 2006 and went to Toronto rather than deploy a second time to Iraq, in a war he knew by then was wrong; a war that was being fought against a people who were defending their homes against an invading army. That was almost 10 years ago. For much of that time, Justin lived in Canada. He returned to the US to face charges against him. 

On March 22nd, 2013, after having returned to the US to face charges against him in a military court-martial, SPC Justin Colby was found guilty of desertion, given a bad conduct discharge, busted to E-1, and sentenced to serve 9 months to a military prison. He was being held in the county jail in Colorado Springs awaiting transport to a military correctional facility, when I wrote letters to the commanding general of Fort Carson in support of Justin's clemency plea, in which he requested an early release so that he could take care of his family. 

On April 25, 2014, his lawyer told me that Justin Colby had served his sentence, and was a free man and living with his family in the United States. 

Justin Colby was not an activist, certainly not a pacifist, no coward. He wanted only the freedom to live his life, raise his family (he fathered two children while living as a refugee in Canada), and to live up to a personally held standard that didn't permit him to go kill someone else who had done nothing to him. 

He has that that now; but he paid dearly for it. In my opinion, he's a richer man than most for having paid full price for those things he values. I don't feel sorry for him; I envy him that.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Ammar al-Baluchi should be brought to trial

On February 11, 2008, the United States Department of Defense, under the auspices of the military commission system, as established under the Military Commissions Act of 2006, officially charged Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the alleged "mastermind" of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, with war crimes and murder in planning those attacks.  

Easy conviction, right?  Easy-peasy.  I mean, they'd tortured a confession out of him, what more is needed in the USA of today to secure a guilty verdict?    Yet, eight years later, even after three attempted trials, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is is still years away from a verdict.  As a matter-of-fact, in a fair trial, conducted under established legal precepts of American principles of justice, it is unlikely he can be convicted.

So, he's being held indefinitely; without ever having been convicted of any crime.

That's fine, I really don't care what happens to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He's a dead man walking.

Another Guantanamo detainee, Ammar al-Baluchi, has not even been brought to trial; he hasn't been formally charged with any crime; charges against which he could defend himself before a judge, and before which evidence of his guilt would have to be be presented  He is being denied any legal recourse for challenging his imprisonment.

Al-Baluchi is one of those detainees that has been given a “high-value detainee" status.  Woohoo.  Incidentally, he was played by actor Reda Kateb in the 2012 film Zero Dark Thirty; his character's torture (at a CIA "Black Site" or secret torture camp) in the movie is based on real events.  In fact, his lawyers have argued that the US government provided the film-makers more evidence about their client than they, themselves, have been given.

Is Ammar al-Baluchi guilty?  Then produce the evidence of that guilt and charge him formally.  Is there no evidence of his guilt?  Then do the American thing.  Release him.

That's fine, I really don't care what happens to Ammar al-Baluchi.  He's a dead man walking.

But at least hold a freaking trial.  By not doing so, they are announcing that their real contempt is reserved for the standards of justice of "civilized" nations, and the basic foundations of American (and international) law.

Americans need to accept the fact that the worst violations of American principles have not been of any prisoners' legal or human rights (indeed, the US has declared they essentially have no such rights) ... the worst abuses have been of American principles of justice, morality, and of the standards that define "civilized behaviour."

And here's why it matters to me:  The worst abuses have always been of my principles and (I hope) your own.  My principles were spat on and shat on.

I'm offended by what was done to me.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

An Example of Moral Courage: John Kiriakou

John Kiriakou

On 25 January, 2013, John Kiriakou was sentenced to 30 months in prison for exposing torture in Guantanamo Bay. He served every day of that sentence, from February 28, 2013 until February 3, 2015, at the Federal Correctional Institution in Loretto (Pennsylvania). 

His crime was an interview given to ABC News on December 10, 2007 in which he described the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah, which he did not witness. He said at the time that he was told by CIA associates that it had required only a single brief instance (less than, he said, 35 seconds) of waterboarding to extract answers to an interrogator's questions from Abu Zubaydah. 

Eventually it was learned that Abu Zubaydah had been waterboarded at least 83 times, and that little or no useful extra information was ever obtained by those "harsh methods" of interrogation. 

In June 2013, Kiriakou published an open letter to Edward Snowden warning him to anticipate FBI officials, wearing clandestine listening devices, might attempt to betray him and entrap him into making comments that, heard out of context, would seem incriminating. In his letter, Kiriakou expressed his support for Snowden, and gave him "the most important advice that I can offer, DO NOT, under any circumstances, cooperate with the FBI." 

Along with William Binney, Kiriakou won the 2012 Joe A. Callaway Award for Civic Courage, which is awarded to "national security whistleblowers who stood up for constitutional rights and American values, at great risk to their personal and professional lives." (Remember, that is the definition of moral courage

General David Petraeus, then CIA director, stated, "This case marks an important victory for our Agency, for our Intelligence Community, and for our country. Oaths do matter, and there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws."

Do our oaths to authority and institutions outweigh our moral obligation to do what we know is right? Every time? 

What about "constitutional rights and American values"? Worth sacrificing for? John Kiriakou certainly thought so. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

An Example of Moral Courage: Mary Anne Grady-Flores

Mary Anne Grady-Flores, a woman who is no younger than I am, has been an inspiration to me by her example of indefatigable resistance to US military aggression.

Peace all!

Mary Anne Grady Flores of Ithaca, N.Y., wears tape over her mouth during a rally in the War Room at the state Capitol on Wednesday, June 15, 2016, in Albany, N.Y. Critics of Israel's treatment of Palestinians protested Governor Andrew Cuomo's executive order prohibiting state investments in any company that supports a boycott of Israel.

On July 10, 2014, a 58-year-old grandmother of three, Mary Anne Grady-Flores, was sentenced to one year in prison for being found guilty of violating an order of protection.  Her appeal was rejected, and she began serving a reduced six-month sentence on January 19th, 2016.  She is 60 years old now, and in jail.  For what?

Mary Anne Grady-Flores had been part of an ongoing protest at the Hancock Field Air National Guard Base near Syracuse, New York.  That base is used to control Reaper drones over Afghanistan, and to train drone pilots, and other technical support personnel.

The order of protection that Flores violated (by standing peacefully by the side of the road) was actually issued to "protect" one man, Colonel Earl Evans, Hancock NG base mission support commander, who claimed he wanted to keep protesters "out of his driveway." (There's a "real man" for ya!).

This 6-and-a-half minute video tells the whole story:

Mary Anne Grady-Flores's story isn't remarkable in itself.  The evidence of courage I find comes, not from what she did, but from the choices she made, individually, and at an advanced age, when most people have already given up making sacrifices for higher goals or values.  At 58, she could very easily have chosen to stay at home, comfortable, secure.  She chose not to.

And she could have, very realistically, reasoned that her actions, her visible protest, will accomplish nothing.  But that didn't matter to her.  Even if her protest proves futile (and I believe it will), she chose to make it anyway. Perhaps because none of us can ever know how effective we’re ever going to be,  and people want to measure that all the time.  Sometimes, though, I think each one of us has to live with our consciences.  Our choices have to be individual, and based on what we know is right; not on what we can hope to achieve.

People confront me, often, with the question, "What have you ever changed, really?"  I can answer that in a word:  "me."  I changed me.  And that's all that matters.  You think you can change yourself?  Try it.  I challenge you to try.

And, finally, I'd like to point out the two absolutely opposing attitudes displayed in the video above. Grady-Flores is standing there, taking personal responsibility for the actions of her government; the military officer who confronts her with abusive profane language is the polar opposite.  Listen to what he tells her.  In effect, that man denied the same responsibility that she takes to heart.  He yells that he's not to blame for his own actions; the government is.  He's just a tool, an instrument, of the State and its power.  Not responsible for himself and his own actions.

She takes personal responsibility for the actions of her government; he refuses to take responsibility for his own actions.  Which of the two viewpoints best represents your own?  Which better reflects the traditional principles of Americans?  What are those principles; do you remember?  Here's a hint: blind loyalty to the State is not among them.

None of us has to spend our days picketing outside a military to base to stand up to the military/police/surveillance state.  If you have voiced your concerns to others who know and trust you, quietly, privately, but resolutely, expressing your opposition to the systematic reduction of liberty in America (the foundation on which the nation claims to stand), I believe you've done all that any of us can do.   And there's never going to be any way to measure the effectiveness of your dissent.  Never.  Do it anyway.  

Mary Anne Grady Flores's arrest (February 13, 2013)

Is it worth it? I don’t know.  We don’t know how effective we’re ever going to be, and people want to measure that all the time. But I think each one of us has to live with our consciences.

How do you live in America right now and sleep at night if you don’t say something?

– Mary Anne Grady Flores

Saturday, June 11, 2016

An Example of Moral Courage: Joan Airoldi

Do you recognize the name "Joan Airoldi"? In June 2004, Joan (a career librarian, then 58 years old) was Director of the Whatcom County [Washington state] Rural Library District. Under her direction, the branch library in the tiny community of Deming refused to provide information requested (under the auspices of the despicable "USA PATRIOT Act") by a visiting FBI agent.  The library system informed the FBI that no information would be released without a subpoena or court order (that is, without "due process" ... the equivalent of a search warrant).  Airoldi also led the library board to vote to fight any subpoena in court. When the grand jury subpoena was eventually issued, the library was prepared to challenge it in court, and the subpoena was quickly withdrawn. 

In light of the US government's extreme efforts to prevent WikiLeaks and individuals like Edward Snowden from divulging embarrassing information about its activities and its lies, Joan Airoldi's stand takes on even more significance than it had in the summer of 2004. Just for the record, if the news media in the United States was doing its job; these whistleblowers wouldn't be making headline news. As for the claim that WikiLeaks is not a "legitimate" news organization, let me ask you this: how "legitimate" were the mainstream media outlets doing when they sold a war to the public with lies? They were carrying water for the neoconservatives. They were not doing their jobs. 

We need WikiLeaks. We need courageous whistleblowers like Edward Snowden. And we need public access to the truth. Joan Airoldi was not defending the rights of libraries; she was defending our right to seek out information; to know the truth that our government would prefer to conceal from us. She was defending one of the most basic rights of citizens in every democratic society everywhere. And she was defending a core American principle against a very serious assault. 

At that time, Airoldi made this statement: "Libraries are a haven where people should be able to seek whatever information they want to pursue without any threat of government intervention." That explains, in a nutshell, why she did it ... because she's a librarian who believes in what she's doing for the public, because she believes in intellectual freedom (freedom of thought, and freedom of expression) ... she's not an anarchist, a socialist or even an activist. 

She's a patriot. 

Sometimes American heroes are those who simply say, "No." 

Sometimes the involvement of the ordinary typical American citizen is required in the fight to preserve our liberties and our nation. 

Sometimes there is a limit to the price that should be paid for comfort and security. 

And a librarian named Joan Airoldi is my hero. 

More about Joan Airoldi:

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Deming's defender of words

By Nicole Brodeur Seattle Times staff columnist

The biggest battles, the ones that Really Count, always seem to start in the smallest places. And so it was that the fight for the rights of library patrons to read what they wish, free of government scrutiny, started here, along a two-lane road just past the north fork of the Nooksack River and a stone's throw from Everybody's Store. Last June, an FBI agent found his way to the tiny Deming branch of the Whatcom County Rural Library District and demanded the names of every patron who had borrowed the book "Bin Laden: The Man who Declared War on America."

The FBI had been contacted by a library patron who spotted a handwritten note in the margin of the book: "If the things I'm doing is considered a crime, then let history be a witness that I am criminal. Hostility toward America is a religious duty and we hope to be rewarded by God."

It was a nearly direct quote of a statement Osama bin Laden made in a 1998 interview.

The agent first approached a library page shelving books in the nonfiction aisle. She directed him to the on-site librarian, who, in keeping with district policy, notified library director Joan Airoldi the FBI wanted to search patron records.

Airoldi refused. "And the attorneys," she told me, "took it from there."

Last night, Airoldi, 59, received the PEN/Newman's Own First Amendment Award at a gala at the American Museum of Natural History in New York -- a long way from the Nooksack River, but in a free America just the same.

The award was established by actor Paul Newman and author A.E. Hotchner "to honor a U.S. resident who has fought courageously, despite adversity, to safeguard the First Amendment right to freedom of expression as it applies to the written word."

On the phone from New York, Airoldi said she was "completely overwhelmed" but grateful for the timing, since Congress is debating the USA Patriot Act and its reach into libraries and bookstores.

"The award shows the importance of freedom of speech," she said, "and that people really care about intellectual freedom in a significant way."

Had the FBI agent come in with a Patriot Act order, instead of a grand-jury subpoena, the library would have been unable to challenge the demand in court. The library board, with Airoldi's guidance, fought the subpoena, which the FBI eventually withdrew.

I wanted to see the battleground, so I drove 100 miles to Deming the other morning.

Librarian Ellen Thompson was just opening up, emptying the drop-off box on the porch.

The first Deming Library was in a church closet; the next was in the corner of an elementary-school cafeteria.

This branch was opened in 1992 after patrons raised half the money, and builders and painters donated the rest. They're trying to raise money to expand this space.

"We've always had a strong sense of community and support for the library," Thompson said.

And yet, she said, the records fight "shows that we're a part of the larger world. A homeland-security concern can touch even Deming."

But there seemed no such concerns the other morning.

Just after 10, the Head Start van pulled up, and children spilled into the library like an overturned box of puppies, ready for storytime.

In the stacks, Thom Chambers, 58, peered over his glasses. He has lived in Deming for 32 years and was the original architect on the current library building.

"I think it's great that someone was not cowed by the FBI," he said of Airoldi. "You would not find that in other small communities."

Deming is different, he said, in that "we have a better sense of our rights. We're not necessarily politically active, but we have a sense of what we stand for as a community."

Airoldi plans to use the $25,000 prize money to establish a foundation that will fund forums and workshops, "where people will talk about intellectual freedom for many years to come."

And they will no doubt tell the story of Joan Airoldi and The Little Library that Wouldn't.
from the Seattle Times:

Saturday, June 4, 2016

An Example of Moral Courage: Ehren Watada

1st Lieutenant Ehren Watada, US Army

In June, 2006, US Army 1st Lieutenant Ehren Watada became the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse a combat deployment to Iraq. In August of that same year, Lt. Watada, in a speech to the National Convention of Veterans for Peace in Seattle, Washington, gave these reasons for his principled stand:

The oath we take swears allegiance not to one man but to a document of principles and laws designed to protect the people. Enlisting in the military does not relinquish one's right to seek the truth – neither does it excuse one from rational thought nor the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. "I was only following orders" is never an excuse.

The Nuremberg Trials showed America and the World that citizenry as well as soldiers have the unrelinquishable obligation to refuse complicity in war crimes perpetrated by their government. Widespread torture and inhumane treatment of detainees is a war crime. A war of aggression born through an unofficial policy of prevention is a crime against the peace. An occupation violating the very essence of international humanitarian law and sovereignty is a crime against humanity. These crimes are funded by our tax dollars. Should citizens choose to remain silent through self-imposed ignorance or choice, it makes them as culpable as the Soldier in these crimes.

Aside from the reality of indentured servitude, the American Soldier in theory is much nobler. Soldier or officer – when we swear our oath – it is first and foremost to the Constitution and its protectorate, the people. If soldiers realized this war is contrary to what the Constitution extols – if they stood up and threw their weapons down – no president could ever initiate a war of choice again. When we say, "Against all enemies foreign and domestic" – what if elected leaders became the enemy? Whose orders do we follow? The answer is the conscience that lies in each soldier, each American, and each human being. Our duty to the Constitution is an obligation, not a choice.

For his decision not to deploy to Iraq, Lieutenant Watada was court-martialed in February 2007. When his court-martial ended in a mistrial, in November 2008, the U.S. Department of the Army appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. And on May 7th 2009, in a complete victory for Lieutenant Watada, the Justice Department decided to drop any further attempts to retry the officer for his refusal to deploy to Iraq, and his case was dismissed. Lt. Watada did not spend a single day in jail. In October 2009, Lt. Watada was granted an administrative discharge on "other than honorable conditions." 

Watada's lawyers described him (and I agree with them) as "a hero and a patriot ... [who] took a lonely stand as a matter of conscience, never attempted to spread discord within the ranks, and never sought to evangelize about his ethical convictions. It is our belief," they said, "that history will treat Lt. Watada far more favorably than the United States Army sees fit to regard him now." 

One of the things that complicated Lieutenant Watada's case was that, by the definition that the U.S. military uses, he was not a true conscientious objector because he was not opposed to war. In fact, he joined the US Army after the Iraq war had started, out of (in his words) "a desire to protect our country." He was no pacifist. He joined the Army with the intention of fighting for his country in a war he felt was just. When he discovered the truth about Iraq; he attempted to resign his commission. The Army refused his request. He offered to deploy to Afghanistan instead, believing that the occupation there was a just war. The Army refused. Only then did Lt. Watada make the conscientious decision to refuse deployment to Iraq. 

Here's why Lt. Watada's principled stand is significant: He stood firm in defense of his moral obligation and his legal right to refuse participation in something he knew, absolutely, was wrong. 

One of the most fundamental moral issues we all have to deal with is the limit of our allegiance to authority. Is "I was just following orders" an acceptable excuse for wrong-doing? Can we excuse our actions by claiming that, "if I had not done it; someone else would have"? 

The companies we work for are not responsible for our choices or our actions. Neither is the military or the government. They can't be. We are, each of us, individually, responsible for our own actions.. Accepting personal responsibility and accountability takes courage. Sometimes, it takes a lot of courage. 

The German soldiers who gassed millions of Jews in the holocaust? Just following orders. Just doing what someone else would have done, if they had refused. Of course, refusing meant death. In other words, the job paid well. Did it take more courage to commit murder, or to refuse to commit murder? Whether you do it with a canister of Xyklon B, or with an unmanned aerial drone using a joystick from 7,000 miles away, when you kill a defenseless person, and you justify that action by claiming you're only doing your duty; or you only committed an act that someone else would have done if you did not, you are guilty of despicable cowardice. 

Just following orders. That was the defense of the Nazis at Nuremberg. And, by the way, what they did was 100% legal. They had the full support of the state; and it was their duty as soldiers to do what they were ordered; not to question the morality of those orders or to resist them in any way. They were only doing their patriotic duty as soldiers. 

They hanged 'em anyway. Because no soldier is required to commit acts they know are morally indefensible (Nuremberg Principle IV). Just like you and I were not required to support the wrong-doing of those who tortured helpless prisoners. We were morally obligated to express outrage. 

Patriotism is the ultimate defense of a coward for the commission of evil deeds. All fundamental moral issues are individual, not decided by the government or the military. 

"Just following orders." "My country, right or wrong." Those are the words Lieutenant Watada refused to say. Because he is no coward. 

War is when the government tells you who the bad guy is. Revolution is when you decide that for yourself.