Tuesday, 19 March 2013


I see little value in recording events from the past unless it leads to some reflection , and from that a modicum of new knowledge about life.  Good biographies provide us with material that can enhance our perception of what it is to be human.  Warnings too, of what can follow when a life is devoted to a false god.

The Nineteen Twenties and Thirties are a dim memory now.  We have to rely on those who recounted what happened then, as they experienced it.  So I add some of my memories of life in a North Auckland rural setting, then and later, in the hope that some may find it leads to new thinking as they face similar problems in a new context.  I value what has come to me by that route.  I hope that others may be encouraged to explore new pathways. Good hunting!

The cost of war must be measured by human tragedy, not artefacts

What does heritage matter in the face of such tragic desolation?
Robert Fisk                   Independent/UK                18 March 2013
What is a child’s life worth against all the antiquities of Syria?  Any reflection of Syria’s architectural disasters must include this question. The pragmatist must announce that both the child and the heritage should be saved.  Alas, both are being destroyed in Syria. Emma Cunliffe of Durham University sums up the dilemma: “If there are 60,000 – 70,000 – dead, with winter snow burying refugee tent communities, with gas and power shortages in shattered cities, “what does heritage matter in the face of such tragic desolation”?
Cunliffe, who is developing ways to monitor damage to Middle East archeological sites has produced a remarkably even-handed report which lays blame on both the regime and the rebels for the damage to Syria’s heritage.  While still not on the post-2003 Iraqi scale, “there now appear to be established networks (on the opposition side) that circumvent official inspection…Seizures of several thousand unmarked artifacts on the Syrian border, including pottery, coins, mosaics, statues, sculptures, writings and glassworks suggest the extent of looting could be vast.”  Perhaps, Cunliffe says, the trade in stolen Syrian antiquities now stands at more than Pounds Sterling 1.25 billion. 
In Palmyra, however, it appears to be government army bullets that have scarred the Roman pillars and government army tracks that have used the Roman roads – not unlike the American Humvees which blithely crushed the highways of Babylon in 2003 – while in Homs (and Cunliffe does not apportion blame here), the Cathedral of Um al-Zennar, one of the city’s oldest churches “now lies in ruins, its worshippers, dead and scattered, its ancient Aramaic liturgy silenced.”  It was one of the world’s oldest churches, its site dating back to AD59, containing a belt said to belong to the Virgin Mary.  If you want to search for responsibility, I suppose, then you must ask:  who was the first to use firearms in this Syrian bloodbath?
Ever since the Independent on Sunday first gave large-scale publicity to the destruction of Syria’s heritage, both sides in the war have used the damage in their own cause.  Free Syrian Army officers have vouchsafed to prevent all looting – a dubious claim since the Jordanian markets are now flooded with Syrian gold, mosaics and statues – and have even used Roman Palmyra in a propaganda U-tube.  Produced by the ‘Media Centre for the city of Tadmor (Palmyra)’, a horseman gallops across the screen bearing the FSA’s green, white and black flag in front of the Roman columns of the city’s Via Maxima.
The Syrian government’s own minister for antiquities, Professor Maamoun Abdul-Karim, has appealed to all Syrians – whatever their attitude to the Assad regime – to protect the country’s architectural treasures because “it is everyone’s responsibility (to) work together to protect those antiquities.”  While acknowledging severe damage to some Roman heritage sites in the north, he praises local villagers for driving away looters and diggers.  The locals realise that a town without antiquities is a town that will never earn tourist money in post-war Syria.
There are a few intriguing notes in Abdul-Karim’s appeal.  Government forces, he claims, have confiscated 400 items, beads, coins, statues and mosaic panels.  The minister also assures us that the vast bulk of treasures have been secured in “safe places”.  But where are all these ‘safe places’?  And if they are so safe, why do the internally-placed refugees not flock to them?
Deir ez-Zour, now a deserted city in largely rebel hands, seems to have suffered disproportionately as looters assaulted the Acropolis, excavated sectors of the Temple of the Rock – from Bronze Age Ebla (middle of the 3 millennium BC) – and bored down through the rock for earlier artifacts.  One prominent Lebanese archeologist in the region tells me that the smugglers are now working for the same networks created by the Iraqi looters.  A taste for treasures has now been acquired internationally – and buyers are now asking Iraqi gangs to use the same methods in Syria.                [Abridged]

Monday, 18 March 2013

'Unmitigated Disaster': Iraq's Pain

 by Sami Ramadani               Guardian/UK                        March 14, 2013
It has always been painful for me to write about Iraq and Baghdad, the land of my birth and the city of my childhood. Ten years on from the shock and awe of the 2003 Bush and Blair war my tormented land, once a cradle of civilisation, is staring into the abyss. Wanton imperialist intervention and dictatorial rule have together been responsible for the deaths of more than a million people since 1991. And yet, according to both Tony Blair and the former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright, the "price is worth it". It enrages us to see Blair build a business empire, capitalising on his role in piling up more Iraqi skulls than even Saddam managed.
As an exile, I was painfully aware of Saddam's crimes, which for me started with the disappearance from Baghdad's medical college of my dearest school friend, Hazim. The Iraqi people are fully aware, too, that Saddam committed all his major crimes while an ally of western powers. On the eve of the 2003 invasion I wrote this for the Guardian: "In Iraq, the US record speaks for itself: it backed Saddam's party, the Ba'ath, to capture power in 1963, murdering thousands of socialists, communists and democrats; it backed the Ba'ath party in 1968 when Saddam was installed as vice-president; it helped him and the Shah of Iran in 1975 to crush the Kurdish nationalist movement; it increased its support for Saddam in 1979…helping him launch his war of aggression against Iran in 1980; it backed him throughout the horrific eight years of war (1980 to 1988), in which a million Iranians and Iraqis were slaughtered, in the full knowledge that he was using chemical weapons and gassing Kurds and Marsh Arabs; it encouraged him in 1990 to invade Kuwait…”
But when it was no longer in their interests to back him, the US and UK drowned Iraq in blood. We haven't even counted the dead yet, let alone the injured, displaced and traumatised. Thousands are still missing. Of the more than 4 million refugees, at least a million are yet to go back to their homeland, and there still about a million internal refugees. On an almost daily basis, explosions and shootings continue to kill the innocent.”
The US and UK still refuse to accept the harmful consequences of radioactive depleted uranium munitions, and the US denies that it used chemical weapons in Falluja – but Iraqis see the evidence: the poisoned environment, the cancer and deformities. Lack of electricity, clean water and other essential services continues to hit millions of impoverished and unemployed people, in one of the richest countries on the planet. Women and children pay the highest price. Women's rights, and human rights in general, are daily suppressed.
And what of democracy, supposedly the point of it all? Having failed to crush the resistance to direct occupation, they resorted to divide-and-rule to keep their foothold in Iraq. Using torture, sectarian death squads and billions of dollars, the occupation has succeeded in weakening the social fabric and elevating a corrupt ruling class that gets richer by the day, salivating at the prospect of acquiring a bigger share of Iraq's natural resources, which are mostly mortgaged to foreign oil companies and construction firms.
Political ironies abound. We have a so-called Shia-controlled government, yet most of Iraq's Shia population remain the poorest of all. And we have an Iraqi Kurdistan that is a separate state in all but name. The Kurdistan regional government is in alliance with the US and Turkey, a ruthless oppressor of the Kurdish people. Meanwhile, conflict over oil and territory is aggravating relations between the centre and the Kurdistan government. Popular anger against corruption and human rights violations is growing; for weeks now, we have had large-scale protests in the west of the country.          
There was once a strong democratic unifying force in Iraq, but this was crushed by the CIA-backed Ba'athist coup of 1963, and Saddam's regime. The re-emergence of such a force is now the Iraqi people's only hope. Without that, how will we count and mourn the millions of innocent victims, heal those wounds, and then, finally, build a better, more peaceful tomorrow?        [Abridged]

© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited 
 Sami Ramadani is a senior lecturer in sociology at London Metropolitan University.

Desmond Tutu Meets Victims and Perpetrators of Violence

Posted on June 2, 2010 by 'simon', blogger.
At The Forgiveness Project’s inaugural annual lecture last Wednesday, it was easy to see why everyone wants a little piece of Desmond Tutu. His immense humanity and irrepressible good humour are infectious. As he spoke of the uniquely African concept of ‘ubuntu’, the process of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the transformative nature of forgiveness, there was a real sense that people were witnessing something immensely special. It was intriguing to see how he responded to the other speakers on the stage — Mary Blewitt who had lost 50 members of her family in the Rwandan genocide; Jo Berry whose father was killed in the 1984 Brighton bombing; and Patrick Magee, the former IRA activist who planted the bomb. Desmond Tutu indicated he felt honoured to be in the presence of these three remarkable people.
My guess is that not everyone in the audience felt as accepting as the Archbishop when Magee held firmly to his political position that the violence meted out by the IRA during the Troubles was justified because the besieged Catholic community had no other form of defence. Jo Berry, a pacifist, may not agree with the man who killed her father but she understands his position, claiming that had she lived his life, perhaps she would have made his choices. For her, healing has taken place because she’s chosen to dialogue with Magee across their irreconcilable differences.
I have seen them speak together on many occasions and the tension is always palpable, and yet the very fact that for a decade they have kept talking says much about the process of reconciliation. Archbishop Tutu who has witnessed similar meetings between victim and perpetrator and is a strong advocate of Restorative Justice – provided a supportive presence for the three speakers as they demonstrated the discomfort and pain of loss, not least when a loan heckler in the audience retaliated with ‘rubbish’ at Patrick Magee’s claims that he had only embraced violence because there was no other choice.
Mary Blewitt’s attitude towards forgiveness appeared polar opposite to that of Archbishop Tutu. The founder of a Rwandan survivors’ organization, Surf, described how she had witnessed only pain, disillusion, and the re-traumatizing of survivors who were now forced to live next-door to the people who had once tried to kill them. For her, the world is awash with forgiveness; “Forgiveness without justice is nothing more than delayed atrocity”, she says.
Standing on the stage, speaking of all the many atrocities she had born witness to, Blewitt’s story was deeply painful, but it was extraordinary to see Desmond Tutu edging towards her, respecting her pain. No one should be forced to forgive, he told her.
He shared his vision of ubuntu with the audience, explaining that in essence this was a philosophy of: ‘I am me because you are you…I speak, only because you speak’. He pronounced the word in a slow, considered way, as if savouring every morsel of meaning from a deeply humane concept that has helped repair his country. At the heart of ubuntu lies the belief that healing only comes through understanding and the radical realization that my humanity is inextricably caught up in yours.
This was copied from Google’s large archival record of speeches by Desmond Tutu, some in video form.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

How the US Exported Its 'Dirty War' Policy to Iraq

by Murtaza Hussain                     Guardian/UK                         March 9, 2013

In one of the fiery oratories the late Hugo Chávez once stated his belief that "the American empire is the greatest menace to our planet." While his detractors have often sought to paint his rhetorical flourishes as unpopular extremism, to his death Chávez remained extremely popular with most Venezuelan people.
Indeed, his beliefs and worldview regarding US interventionism fitted well within the spectrum of both Central and Latin American popular opinion were reflected in other leaders throughout the region. From overthrowing democratically elected leaders, operating death squads, and torturing civilians, the history of US involvement in the region has understandably helped create a widespread popular backlash that persists to this day.
The primary theatre of war has since switched from Latin America to the Middle East, but many of the same tactics of that period seem to have been redeployed on the other side of the world. Recent investigations have suggested that Pentagon officials at the highest levels oversaw torture facilities during the war in Iraq. Most chillingly, a veteran of the United States' "dirty war" in El Salvador was reported to have been brought in to personally oversee the interrogation facilities. As described by Iraqi officials this program was condoned at the highest levels of the US military and utilized "all means of torture to make the detainee confess …
At the now infamous School of the Americas, thousands of Latin American "special forces" were explicitly trained in torture techniques by US handlers. Many of those SOA graduates took their new training home to El Salvador, where they waged a war that killed an estimated 80,000 Salvadoran civilians. Similar "trainees" were sent out in the thousands to kill and maim on behalf of US interests in wars from Honduras to Guatemala. In the latter alone, US-supported death squads murdered over 50,000 civilians suspected of holding sympathies with leftist rebels
The policy of proxy warfare against civilian populations in Latin America over time provoked sufficient revulsion among the US political establishment to outlaw it. Prompted by revelations of US covert support for Columbian military atrocities in the 1990s, a bill sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy (Democrat, Vermont) was passed to prohibit the patronage of militant groups known to violate human rights. Though imperfect and unevenly applied, the Leahy Law in itself represents a commendable effort to prevent the abuses and the consequent rise in anti-American sentiment witnessed in places like Latin America.
This week, however, US Admiral William McRaven undertook an effort to roll back the earnest accomplishments of Senator Leahy and others. The Leahy Law was passed before the onset of the "war on terror", and it would appear that whatever lessons had been learned in Latin America are now slipping from memory. Today, public opinion in the continent is aligned firmly against US interests. The legacy of the "dirty wars" are reflected in the popularity of leaders such as Chávez, whose denunciations of alleged US imperialism made him a heroic figure far beyond the borders of his own country.
Yet, the same discredited US policies of that era are now being repeated within the Middle East and the wider Muslim world. The use of torture, the patronage of sectarian proxy forces, and the facilitation of widespread human rights abuses all characterize US policy in the "war on terror". Indeed, many of the same actors complicit in past crimes have returned to help develop and implement present US policy.
Today, Latin America and the Middle East are bound in blood by the experiences of American military intervention and covert warfare. The "dirty wars" of the recent past are playing out once again; time will tell what type of political alignment they will give rise to in response.     © 2013 The Guardian      [Abridged]  

NOTE:  This abridged version omits the more gruesome reports of torture, and also some history of events. The full unabridged article can be read on my blog, Arthurspeace.blogspot.co.nz.

Country Churches

by Ian Harris         Otago Daily Times        March 8, 2013

THE humanist did not pull her punches: “Religion means absolutely nothing to so many people today – nothing. My daughter just can’t fathom how all those churches could be dotted around the countryside. As far as she is concerned, they’re just so many monuments to superstition.”

No doubt this reflects the view of those who either have never known what religion at its best can contribute to human experience, or have rejected one or other version of it. Religion covers such a wide spectrum that even those who value it for its positive qualities are bound to feel embarrassed by its weirder distortions. Shocking things done in the name of religion and outmoded doctrines can and should be rejected. But the contemptuous dismissal of all religion strikes me as rather sad, and in no way superior to blind belief. There has to be an intelligent middle ground; and that is where the future of religion will lie.

Even an out-and-out atheist like the humanist’s daughter could reasonably be invited to substitute curiosity for contempt. She might ask herself, for example, what was operating in our culture and history to move settlers to build all those churches in the first place. Why does faith persist in this secular era? Has it nothing at all to offer? How is it changing? Its downside is clear to her – but what are its upsides?

There are many. Religion puts people today in touch with where our society has come from – not just the previous generation or two, but over centuries past. It offers an over-arching and integrating world view, and our own place within it. It provides a framework of meaning and values. It affirms not only our personal worth and dignity, but also the responsibilities we owe to others. It does this within a continuing, evolving faith tradition that holds it all together. Its institutions, though imperfect, serve as the vehicles to carry that forward from one generation to the next.

Those churches sprinkled around the rural landscape could be seen as symbols of all that. They were not built out of ignorance about the way the world works or superstition, though no doubt there was an element of that, but because what went on in them was important for the lives of those who met and worshipped in them, married in them, brought their children to them, and were buried from them. They were a focal point for their community. For many, they still are.

In an age when people are more aware of the fragmentation of society than in what binds it together (the word “religion” is believed to come from the Latin ligare, meaning to bind), even the sceptics must wonder whether the widespread spurning of that heritage is all gain. For one thing, its rejection can lead to a kind of cultural double-think, where people may admire the magnificent paintings, sculptures, architecture, music, literature, values and lives inspired by our Judaeo-Christian past, but dismiss the religion from which they sprang as not worth the time of day.

For another, as the years pass it is not quite so obvious as secularists assume that release from the claims of religion automatically produces a superior species. Religion may have messed up all over the place, but nothing comparable has yet emerged to take its place – least of all political messianism. Communism waxed and waned in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, but the churches it despised weathered and outlived it.

Whatever shape religion has taken, it has shown a remarkable ability to sustain that network of symbols, meanings and relationships that turn a collection of individuals into a cohesive society. Even in decline, it still provides for its followers in church, synagogue, mosque, or temple a valued community within the wider society. In a memorable phrase faith, in the sense of a trusting orientation to life and its possibilities, provides “habits of the heart”. And throughout history those have proved most enduring when they are rooted and nurtured in religious understandings that integrate them within a total world view.

For me, the secular world is the environment to which contemporary religion must acclimatise if it is to flourish. It is the world of space and time. It is neutral towards religion. It becomes hostile only when secularists – those who make an “ism” of it – make it so.

So while the churches have some rethinking to do on religion’s place in the modern world (Pope John XXIII’s word was aggiornamento, or updating), so do the secularists.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Dissident Nun Sister Joan Chittister

by LifeSiteNews.com                 Feb 15, 2010            Excerpts only, from a long interview.
 LSN: It's been reported that you hold positions that are divergent from Catholic magisterial teaching.
JC: Well, yes, I guess it is correct.  It's not an opposition position.  It is a position of query, of theological and scriptural commitment and search.  I'm asking the question, for instance, how do we understand God if God made women inferior to men, incapable of functioning as full adults, full moral agents, in a society.  What makes God a sexist?  And if God is not a sexist, when are we going to discuss this question as a Church?  The way we treat women is a result of our theology.  What we keep them out of, what we allow them to do, what we respect in them.  It emerged out of making a statement some years ago that I felt that the question of the role and place of women in the Church was a necessary discussion, and that it stood on strong theological concerns.
LSN: How do you see the Church being sexist, as you said.  In what particular ways do you see that happening?
JC:  Well, I think it's pretty obvious.  For instance, we have always had marital instructions for women that their role was submission to the husband.  Now when we see that on television, and we see it in China, or Japan, or Islam, we think it's terrible.  But it was our operational theology for years and years.  And even now we claim that there's very strong separate roles for women.  We argue that they are not – not only are they not fit matter to be ordained, as if Jesus came to earth to be male instead of flesh, but we don't even see women as fit matter to have their feet washed in a church on Holy Thursday.  Now, we have a double standard, and we have had it for a long long time.  It needs to be reviewed.  We have a Church that is based, like the rest of society, admittedly, on a patriarchal system – men are at the top, men are the last word, men are the first authority in everything.  The problem is - it seems to me, as a follower of Jesus, when I look at Jesus and the way Jesus dealt with men and women in his society and I look at the way the Church excludes women from the heart of the system, both in the Vatican, and in chanceries, and in dioceses, and in seminaries everywhere, that I have to wonder how it is that secular institutions are leading the development of women in society,
LSN: Okay.  Where do you stand on something like the woman's right to choose?
JC:  Let's put it this way.  I'm opposed to abortion.  I have no problem with that whatsoever.  I would never see abortion as a birth control method of choice.  But having said that, I would never condemn a woman who finds herself in the position where she believes that, or her doctor believes that, abortion is the only answer for her at that moment.  My problem lies in the fact that we make it an absolute.  We say that we can never, under any circumstances whatsoever allow abortion, and yet we allow death – men, men can kill for a number of reasons.  Men can kill to defend themselves, men can kill to defend the country, men can kill to punish the people that they believe should be killed.  And we never call those deaths absolute.  We allow men to sit down at a table and plan the destruction of the globe and we never ever say that that is totally, absolutely, gravely immoral and sinful.  But in abortion, we allow no discussion whatsoever of possible times when it would not be a matter.  That just seems to me to be anti-Catholic.  In every other dimension of moral, of the moral life, we recognize grades and degrees of innocence and guilt.  This is the one place where we say there are no grades or degrees of innocence.  There's only total absolute evil and sin.  I don't understand that. 
LSN:  Okay.  So are you questioning whether there shouldn't be grey areas in terms of other kinds of deaths, or are you saying there should be grey areas in terms of abortion?
JC:  I'm saying we should be theologically consistent.  I'm just simply saying that these are questions.  They're obviously questions, and I think they need to be treated by the Church as if they were questions.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Reconciliation in Iraq is impossible without US truth about its dirty war

America's claim to have helped Iraq to democracy is hollow until the US makes Bush era officials accountable for torture
Ben Emmerson                      Guardian/UK               7 March 2013
The investigation by the Guardian and the BBC into direct Pentagon involvement in the systematic torture of Sunni insurgents in Iraq is a bloody reminder of the catastrophe that the 2003 invasion wreaked on the people of Iraq. It also a key reason behind the decade of sectarian violence the war has left in its wake.
After a decade of the most extreme bloodshed on both sides, the Sunni minority is now asserting its collective muscle in an organised fashion. The rebellion in neighbouring Syria, which began as essentially secular resistance movement, has attracted Sunni extremist groups from across the globe in support of the effort to bring down President Assad. Armed by regional troika of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, they are now about to be provided with military support by the west, including Britain, in an echo of the strategy under which western countries provided firepower to support the Islamist rebel forces in Libya.
This, in turn, has emboldened the Sunni minority, comprising a fifth of Iraq's population, which has been holding large-scale public demonstrations. Their attempt to mount a cross-sectarian challenge to the government in Baghdad has also attracted the support of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The essentially pluralist administration in Baghdad is committed to the re-integration of the Sunni minorities into positions of responsibility in Iraq. My UN mandate is to work closely with the government and civil society in Iraq, aiming to delivering cross-sectarian initiatives that will stem the flow of violence. The government is in no doubt that the causes of the deep-seated sectarian violence in the country lie in the excessive and extreme policy of de-Ba'athification pursued by the US administration under the now discredited Paul Bremmer.
During the Saddam era, membership of the Ba'ath party was effectively a prerequisite for public employment in positions of any responsibility. Expelling all Sunni members of the Ba'ath party from the administration was ill-judged. Individuals who had no connection whatsoever with the crimes of the former regime were ignominiously put out of their jobs and often their homes. Almost overnight, a privileged Sunni ruling class was turned into a marginalised minority, with access to weapons, and nothing to do except hate.
Into this tinderbox, the Bush-era Pentagon, the CIA, and their proxies among the brutal Shia militias, threw the lighted match of systematic torture. Suspected Sunni insurgents were rounded up and subjected the most brutal forms of torture under the eyes of American agents. The Guardian/BBC investigation advances our knowledge of this criminal conspiracy, taking it right to the heart of the Bush administration.
This week, I presented a report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva calling on the US and other states, including the UK, to secure accountability for the crimes committed by the Bush-era CIA and its allies in the counterproductive campaign of rendition, secret detention and torture. To the list of international crimes committed by that administration must now be added the evidence uncovered by the Guardian and the BBC.
This latest investigations presents an image of lawlessness and hypocrisy that is antithetical to building international co-operation with the Islamic peoples of the Middle East and North Africa. The urgent and imperative need to develop an international consensus in favour of ethical counter-terrorism was underlined by William Hague in a recent speech. He said that where allegations of this kind are made, they must be fully investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. One can only hope that he will be impressing upon the US Department of Justice the need for an investigation into the allegations against David Petraeus and others.
Iraq is in desperate need of reconciliation initiatives. There may well be a case for an effective truth and reconciliation commission. But before reconciliation, there must be reckoning with the past. Justice for the perpetrators of these crimes is an essential prerequisite to peace and stability in the region.        [Abridged]

Abu Ghraib Revisited

by Robert C. Koehler    Common Dreams     March 7, 2013
Philip Zimbardo’s TED Talk on Abu Ghraib and “The Psychology of Evil” is up to 2,374,000 hits. Apparently people are hungry to know about the deep psychology of American foreign policy. And perhaps they’re hungry to look, again . . . again . . . at the Abu Ghraib torture photos that first surfaced in 2004. Cruelty and evil inspire a twisted awe; they pull us into the black hole of our own heart, where we see ourselves in hideous distortion.
“Nothing is easier,” said Dostoevsky (quoted by Zimbardo in his presentation), “than denouncing an evildoer. Nothing is more difficult than understanding him.”  Zimbardo, the psychologist who conducted the famous, or infamous, Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971, and subsequently wrote a book called The Lucifer Effect, has devoted his career to studying the systemic nature of human violence and the corrupting effect of power, especially anonymous power, over others. The experiment, in which some college-student volunteers acted as guards in a simulated prison environment and others acted as prisoners, had to be called off after five days, well ahead of its planned duration, because the abuse of power had gotten seriously out of hand. Some of the “prisoners” had emotional breakdowns, the situation had deteriorated so badly.
All of which has a certain relevance to real life, you might say. When the Abu Ghraib scandal hit the fan nearly a decade ago, the Bush administration higher-ups immediately singled out and prosecuted a few low-ranking guards for committing such garishly photogenic, PR-damaging abuses against their Muslim prisoners. No matter that their orders were to “soften up” the prisoners for interrogation. No matter that they had been encouraged and praised by their superiors until the photos were leaked to the public. The situation was suddenly messy. Uh oh, scapegoats needed. And slowly the horror of the scandal dissipated. The issue became the prosecution and punishment of the isolated, low-ranking evildoers and, for some, fury at the hypocrisy of the military and the Bush administration.
But what about the torture itself? The photographs showed hell on earth, evidence of a social and spiritual cancer that had dangerously metastasized. And we were the agents. This was all happening in the middle of our war on terror . . . our war on evil itself, and here were American soldiers, acting, excuse me, as though they were the evil ones. The dehumanized Muslim prisoners tore open our hearts with their fragile humanity, and the American guards, laughing at their pain, seemed completely devoid of humanity.
We haven’t absorbed the shock of this, much less pondered the implications, much less adjusted national policy. We’ve just suppressed it, normalized it (that’s war for you) and moved on. Except, of course, we haven’t — any more than we’ve moved on from much else in our national past.  As Zimbardo notes, the proper question to ask about Abu Ghraib isn’t who but what is responsible? This is the question we haven’t asked at anywhere close to the level of national decision-making — because, of course, we can’t. The implications are too large. Foreign policy isn’t supposed to be rational; the Department of Defense is a medieval priesthood, pursuing its ends in ritual and secrecy.
Why are we waging this war? Why are we continuing to terrorize parts of Central Asia with our drone strikes? Why did we kill five children last month, along with five adults, with a drone strike in eastern Afghanistan, within hours of President Obama’s State of the Union address?  “The NATO-led coalition declined to confirm whether there had been an air strike in the area overnight, saying only that it was looking into allegations of civilian casualties,” the Guardian reported the next day. And this is all we’ll ever hear of the incident.
If the bodies are too public, we’ll get an official expression of “deep regret,” such as NATO’s International Security Assistance Force gave us several days ago, after Australian soldiers killed two Afghan children during a firefight. For good measure, they added assurances that ISAF remains “committed to minimizing civilian casualties,” according to Agence France-Presse.  Somewhere in the collective psyche there is unchecked internal bleeding over the killing and the indifference and the lies. We’re trapped in a nation that can’t stop wielding its lethal power. And this, I think, begins to explain the consuming and continuing curiosity about Zimbardo’s TED Talk and Abu Ghraib. At a level beyond geopolitics and beyond nationalism itself, we can’t let go of the question, who are we?
Pain and death should deepen us. To remain shallow and banal in the face of death is perhaps the greatest sin of all. When I look at the Abu Ghraib photos I think of a book called Without Sanctuary — a compilation of lynching postcards and photos from the early 20th century, which came out in 2000. The same insanity is present in the photos, the same happy smiles, as corpses dangle from trees and light poles. This is what we’re capable of when we go to war and choose to live in hate. We know it because, when we look at the photos, we recognize ourselves.
© 2013 Tribune Media Services Inc.    http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/03/07-2
Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer.

Depleted Uranium Continues to Devastate Iraq

US persistent refusal to release data hampering efforts to eradicate contamination

- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer                 Common Dreams             
A radioactive heavy metal found in weapons used by the U.S. military and other forces in the war on Iraq continues to plague the country as hundreds of sites are still contaminated and causing the spread of the radioactive substance, according to a new report by Netherlands peace group IKV Pax Christi.  Ten years after the invasion, the U.S. has done almost nothing to clean up the toxic legacy of the war and continues to deny the well-documented harms caused by the radioactive residue that remains.
The particular danger posed by depleted uranium (DU)—used in munitions to penetrate hard surfaces such as armored vehicles—was well know prior to the 2003 start of the war. Despite this and ignoring warnings against the continued use of DU munitions, the findings of the report show that both the U.S. and the U.K. used such weapons far more expansively in Iraq—targeting ordinary vehicles and buildings in highly populated civilian areas.
According to the report, In a State of Uncertainty: Impact and implications of the use of depleted uranium in Iraq, the US expended over 400 tonnes of DU ammunition in Iraq, both during the first Gulf War in the early 1990's and the subsequent invasion in 2003. British forces, reportedly, used three tonnes.
Both the U.S. and the U.K. have failed to admit the widely reported adverse health effects of exposure to DU. However, as the report points out: New and alarming reports of increased cancer rates and birth malformations emerged in the years after the official ending of the hostilities in Iraq, as well as amongst veterans of Coalition forces who were present during and after the fighting; which again pointed to the use of DU as the cause of these health problems.
In response to the report, a UK government spokeswoman told the Guardian, "While UK armed forces have not needed to use DU since 2003, it would be wrong to deny them the potential future use of a legitimate and effective capability."
The US government has consistently denied confirmation of where it had fired DU weapons. The report, however, shows that between 300 and 365 contaminated sites have been reported by 2006, with likely many more.
"It is unclear exactly how many locations may still be contaminated, or the extent of the risks that civilians face," said the report's author, Wim Zwijnenburg.
The report states:
The exposure risks to civilians from the use of DU in populated areas have been compounded by the US’s persistent refusal to release the data that could have helped facilitate effective assessment and clearance work, providing that the Iraqi government had the capacity and finances to undertake it. Taken as a whole, these issues cast serious doubts over the legitimacy of the use of DU.
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/03/06-5                                    {unabridged]

Nuclear Weapons Must Be Eradicated

No nation should own nuclear arms – not Iran, not North Korea, and not their critics who take the moral high ground
by Desmond Tutu                Guardian/UK                  March 4, 2013

We cannot intimidate others into behaving well when we ourselves are misbehaving. Yet that is precisely what nations armed with nuclear weapons hope to do by censuring North Korea for its nuclear tests and sounding alarm bells over Iran's pursuit of enriched uranium. According to their logic, a select few nations can ensure the security of all by having the capacity to destroy all. As an Oslo conference on nuclear weapons starts, we should not accept that a 'select few nations can ensure the security of all by having the capacity to destroy all.' Until we overcome this double standard – until we accept that nuclear weapons are abhorrent and a grave danger no matter who possesses them, that threatening a city with radioactive incineration is intolerable no matter the nationality or religion of its inhabitants – we are unlikely to make meaningful progress in halting the spread of these monstrous devices, let alone banishing them from national arsenals.
Why, for instance, would a proliferating state pay heed to the exhortations of the US and Russia, which retain thousands of their nuclear warheads on high alert? How can Britain, France and China expect a hearing on non-proliferation while they squander billions modernising their nuclear forces? What standing has Israel to urge Iran not to acquire the bomb when it harbours its own atomic arsenal? Any nuclear-armed state, big or small, whatever its stripes, ought to be condemned in the strongest terms for possessing these indiscriminate, immoral weapons.
Nuclear weapons do not discriminate; nor should our leaders. The nuclear powers must apply the same standard to themselves as to others: zero nuclear weapons. Whereas the international community has imposed blanket bans on other weapons with horrendous effects – from biological and chemical agents to landmines and cluster munitions – it has not yet done so for the very worst weapons of all. Nuclear weapons are still seen as legitimate in the hands of some. This must change.
Around 130 governments, various UN agencies, the Red Cross and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons are gathering in Oslo this week to examine the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons and the inability of relief agencies to provide an effective response in the event of a nuclear attack. For too long, debates about nuclear arms have been divorced from such realities, focusing instead on geopolitics and narrow concepts of national security.
With enough public pressure, I believe that governments can move beyond the hypocrisy that has stymied multilateral disarmament discussions for decades, and be inspired and persuaded to embark on negotiations for a treaty to outlaw and eradicate these ultimate weapons of terror. Achieving such a ban would require somewhat of a revolution in our thinking, but it is not out of the question. Entrenched systems can be turned on their head almost overnight if there's the will. Let us not forget that it was only a few years ago when those who spoke about green energy and climate change were considered peculiar. Now it is widely accepted that an environmental disaster is upon us. There was once a time when people bought and sold other human beings as if they were mere chattels, things. But people eventually came to their senses. So it will be the case for nuclear arms, sooner or later.
Indeed, 184 nations have already made a legal undertaking never to obtain nuclear weapons, and three in four support a universal ban. In the early 1990s, with the collapse of apartheid nigh, South Africa voluntarily dismantled its nuclear stockpile, becoming the first nation to do so. This was an essential part of its transition from a pariah state to an accepted member of the family of nations. Around the same time, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Ukraine also relinquished their Soviet-era atomic arsenals.
But today nine nations still consider it their prerogative to possess these ghastly bombs, each capable of obliterating many thousands of innocent civilians, including children, in a flash. They appear to think that nuclear weapons afford them prestige in the international arena. But nothing could be further from the truth. Any nuclear-armed state, big or small, whatever its stripes, ought to be condemned in the strongest terms for possessing these indiscriminate, immoral weapons.
© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited

Shadow Lives

How the War on Terror in England Became a War on Women and Children
by Victoria Brittain               Published on March 5, 2013 by TomDispatch.com

Once, as a reporter, I covered wars, conflicts, civil wars, and even a genocide in places like Vietnam, Angola, Eritrea, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, keeping away from official briefings and listening to the people who were living the war.  In the years since the Bush administration launched its Global War on Terror, I’ve done the same thing without ever leaving home.
In the last decade, I didn’t travel to distant refugee camps in Pakistan or destroyed villages in Afghanistan.  I stayed in Great Britain.  There, my government, in close conjunction with Washington, was pursuing its own version of what was essentially a war against Islam.  Somehow, by a series of chance events, I found myself inside it, spending time with families transformed into enemies.
I stumbled into a world of Muslim women in London, Manchester, and Birmingham whose husbands or sons had been swept up in Washington’s war. Some were in Guantanamo, some were among the dozen Muslim foreigners who did not know each other, and who were surprised to find themselves imprisoned together in Britain on suspicion of links to al-Qaeda. Later, some of these families would find themselves under house arrest.
In the process, I came to know women and children who were living in almost complete isolation and with the stigma of a supposed link to terrorism. They had few friends, and were cut off from the wider world. Those with a husband under house arrest were allowed no visitors who had not been vetted for security,” nor could they have computers, even for their children to do their homework.  Others had husbands or sons who had spent a decade or more in prison without charges in the United Kingdom, and were fighting deportation or extradition. Gradually, they came to accept me into their isolated lives and talked to me about their children, their mothers, their childhoods -- but seldom, at first, about the grim situations of their husbands.
It was a steep learning curve for me, spending time in homes where faith was the primary reality, Allah was constantly invoked, English was a second language, and privacy and reticence were givens. The reticence faded over the years, in the face of the kind of desolation that came from a failed court appeal to lift the restrictions on their lives, an unexpected police raid on the house, or the coming of a new torture report from Washington.
I met some of their husbands and sons as well.  The first was a British man from Birmingham, Moazzam Begg. He had been held for three years in Guantanamo, Cuba, only to be released without charges.  When he came home he asked me to help write his memoir, the first to come out of Guantanamo.  We worked long months on Enemy Combatant. It was hard for him to relive his nightmare days and nights in American custody in Kandahar and at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, and then those limbo years in Cuba. It was even harder for him to visit the women whose absent husbands he had known in prison and who were still there.
Through Moazzam, I met other men who had been swept up in the post-9/11 dragnet for Muslims in Great Britain, refugees who sought him out as an Arabic speaker and a British citizen to help them negotiate Britain’s newly hostile atmosphere in the post-9/11 years.  Soon, I began to visit some of their wives, too.
In time, I found myself deep inside a world of civilian women who were being warred upon (after a fashion) in my own country, which was how I came upon a locked-down hospital ward with a man determined to starve himself to death unless he was given refugee documents to leave Britain, children who cried in terror in response to a knock on the door, wives faced with a husband changed beyond words by prison. I found myself deep inside a world of civilian women who were being warred upon (after a fashion) in my own country, which was how I came upon a locked-down hospital ward with a man determined to starve himself to death, children who cried in terror in response to a knock on the door, wives faced with a husband changed beyond words by prison.
© 2013         Victoria Brittain, journalist and former editor at the Guardian.  Her latest book, Shadow Lives: The Forgotten Women of the War on Terror (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2013) has just been published.
This is an edited except from  a very long article.      http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/03/05-5