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Activists Report on Afghanistan, Iraq

by April Ingram Thursday, Jun. 03, 2004 at 3:03 PM

Global Exchange's Medea Benjamin questioned the ongoing war in Iraq, and KPFK's Sonali Kolhatkar spoke of the how commercial news media neglects to report on the suffering of the people of Afghanistan in a May 27th forum.

Global Exchange founding director Medea Benjamin questioned what the ongoing war in Iraq is about in a forum sponsored by Global Exchange and the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), May 27, at the Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles.

Is it really about the oil? Medea suggests that Bush’s invasion of Iraq is more insidious than that. No weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. However, now that the infrastructure of Iraq has been destroyed, Iraq is an opportunity for mass construction--mass construction projects not for the average Iraqi corporation or citizen, but for American corporate giants such as Halliburton and Bechtel.

Now this once in a lifetime opportunity to destroy a country that was not an immediate threat to the United States could only come at the right time and with the right reason. Post 9-11 proved to be the perfect climate for Bush and Co. to convince the shaken American public that weapons of mass destruction and links to Al-Qaeda existed in Iraq. However, when the WMD were not found, “freeing the Iraqi people” was the new message, and for the most part, the American public bought it.

The overwhelming public support of the time allowed Bush and Co. the power to spend as much as they wanted for defense. Medea points out that the cost of “the war on terrorism” is triple the U.S. budget for education. The U.S. budget deficit directly impacts the states because they receive less federal funding for state educational programs and other social services. Many states had no alternative than to increase tuition for higher education, often leaving college out of reach for low income and even some middle class college-age adults. Many have joined the military with either the lure of a free education or the lure of obtaining U.S. citizenship, not only for them, but for their families as well.

Medea also brought to attention the irony of two servicemen who both received the maximum penalty of one year in prison, and a bad conduct discharge. One of these soldiers was military policeman Jeremy Sivits, the first to be court-martialed over the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib detention center. (Only one year in prison for torture? And that is the maximum sentence—he could be out sooner!)

The other soldier to receive prison time was Sergeant Camilo Mejia, who filed a conscientious objector claim, citing abuses of Iraqi prisoners. Mejia was the first US soldier in Iraq to publicly challenge the morality of the war and refuse to fight. As he sits in prison right now, Medea urges the public to send a letter of support to Camilo Mejia through her e-mail at medea@globalexchange.org

Sonali Kolhatkar, host of KPFK's "Uprising" morning show, spoke of the how commercial news media neglect to report on the pain and suffering of the people of Afghanistan. After the U.S. bombed their way into Afghanistan looking for Osama bin Laden, the soldiers left a wake of destruction and misery for many civilians. The U.S. did not reconstruct what they have destroyed and many livelihoods and many lives were lost or ruined in the process. But the average American reading the newspaper or watching the news on television does not know what the people of Afghanistan are experiencing. This is not because Americans are inherently ignorant, but rather because of lack of news coverage--most reporters are assigned to cover events that affect the political elites of the nation, meaning the status of the average Afghan citizen is not high on the agenda for a commercial news enterprise.

Sonali also explained that the Taliban regime came into power with the help of the United States. The U.S first intervened in a war on Afghan soil against Russian troops during Jimmy Carter's administration in 1979. The U.S.-backed Afghan guerrillas continued fighting the Russians during the Reagan administration (1981-1989) and in the first year of George H W Bush (1989). When the Russians pulled out of Afghanistan, so did the United States. However, the U.S. also left behind a sizable stash of weapons and cash, which fell into the hands of the Taliban. The Taliban became a notoriously cruel regime, punishing those who did not obey their whims by flogging, public amputations, and public executions. After 9-11, the Americans went back into Afghan terrain, not only to find Osama Bin Laden, but to “bring freedom and democracy.” However, the Northern Alliance that replaced the Taliban did not improve the lot of the Afghan people very much. In other words, the Afghans got pretty much the same crap, but with another despot in charge. Photos by Anne Brodsky, which were presented in conjunction with Sonali’s speech show images of Afghans living in squalor amid the ruins of bombed-out buildings and neighborhoods reduced to rubble. Among Brodsky’s photos are haunting images of a public execution and images of school children sitting on dirt floors, because they lack chairs and desks.

Political folk singer Ross Altman’s lyrics demonstrate the irony of the American self-deception of being a peaceful nation, even in the face of war. The first two stanzas of his first song were a direct quote from the president: “We’re a peace-loving nation; I’m a peace-loving guy.” However, this illusion of peace is shattered as Altman’s song continues: “Kill a camel for peace--bomb’em back into the Stone Age—you’re just collateral damage.” The powerful lyrics of his next song mentions the atrocities of Wounded Knee, the Koreans massacred at No Gun Ri and of Vietnam. Shifting his focus to current events, Altman sings “Torturing Iraqi Prisoners is as American as apple pie,” in reference to the infamous events at the Abu Ghraib prison.

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