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Peace groups react to Syria crisis

Peace groups are launching a petition drive — calling on members of Congress to vote against authorizing military action against Syria — with a rally at Representative Jan Schakowsky’s office, 5533 N. Broadway, on Wednesday, September 4, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“U.S. military intervention is far more likely to make matters worse, not better,” argues an online petition from the Illinois Coalition for Justice, Peace and the Environment.

Schakowsky joined local representatives Danny Davis and Bobby Rush last week in signing a letter initiated by Rep. Barbara Lee of California calling on President Obama to seek congressional approval for any action, which he has since decided to do.  But yesterday Schakowsky’s husband, political consultant Robert Creamer, posted a “progressive case” for authorizing military action on Huffington Post.

Those responsible for chemical attacks should be prosecuted in the International Criminal Court, and the U.S. should maintain humanitarian aid for refugees and step up diplomatic pressure for a negotiated settlement to the two-year conflict in Syria, said Marcia Bernsten of Chicago Area Peace Action, one of the groups organizing the Wednesday rally.

“Using chemical weapons is completely atrocious, but we don’t have the facts, and even when we do, it’s not the job of the U.S. to punish the perpetrators, it’s the international courts,” she said.  Not only has there been no attack on the U.S., she argued, but the risk of attacks on the U.S. increases “if we go around bombing people.”

She cited a statement from former president Jimmy Carter pointing out that “a punitive military response without a U.N. Security Council mandate…would be illegal under international law” and “will only harden existing positions and postpone a sorely-needed political process to put an end to the catastrophic violence.”

An attack would also risk extensive civilian casualities, would further destablize the region and potentially provoke retaliation by Syria or its allies, Bernsten said.

The American Friends Service Committee is also urging people to contact Congress and ask for a “no” vote on military authorization, said Mary Zerkel.

“While we unequivocally condemn any use of chemical weapons along with continued indiscriminate killing of civilians and other violations of international humanitarian law, military strikes are not the answer,” the group said in a letter to President Obama signed by 26 national organizations.

“Rather than bringing an end to the violence that has already cost more than 100,000 lives, they threaten to widen the vicious civil war in Syria and undermine prospects to de-escalate the conflict and eventually reach a negotiated settlement.”

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NATO round-up

Stop NATO has a roundup of national and international coverage of the Chicago summit.

Favorite trivia:  Georgia President Shaakashvili calls NATO “more relevant now than ever” and Occupy protestors “relics of the past.”  Is it possible he could have that backwards?

Not NATO’s kind of town

Mayor Emanuel is congratulating himself for a successful NATO summit – successful mainly because no disasters occurred, though the only real threats seem to have been those manufactured by police.

No doubt the black bloc is also congratulating itself that day-after front pages carried pictures of scuffles with police, rather than veterans returning their medals with members of Afghans For Peace looking on, certainly the most moving and meaningful drama of the weekend.

What would a real accounting of the summit’s costs and benefits look like?

“Obama projects desired image,” the Sun-Times titles one story, but the summit itself had some signal failures.  Two major goals – getting commitments from member states to fund the next phase of the war in Afghanistan, and reopening supply routes through Pakistan – did not pan out.

The protests cast a long shadow over Obama’s attempt to play the summit as a withdrawal from Afghanistan for the domestic audience (while lining up support from other countries for continuing operations).

Unfortunately for Emanuel’s legacy, the “Chicago Accord” that he was boasting last week would be signed at the summit – an agreement on how to proceed on Afghanistan – wasn’t to be, Rick Rozoff of Stop NATO points out.

Even the summit’s biggest actual accomplishment – the announcement that NATO’s missile defense system is going online – comes with no noticeable benefit and at great cost: major tensions with Russia, whose cooperation is needed for the alternative supply route to Afghanistan, Rozoff says.

He points out that the announcement included new plans for satellite technology, which he calls a fulfillment of Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars dreams, and a dangerous and costly step toward the militarization of space.

Largest anti-NATO protest ever

Meanwhile, NATO was subject to a great deal of negative attention – and Chicago hosted the largest anti-NATO demonstration in the entire history of the alliance, Rozoff said.

(Four city blocks – a half mile – of marchers filling four lanes of State Street probably amounts to two or three times the police/media estimate of 3,000 protestors.)

And there’s renewed attention to the obscene amounts the U.S. and NATO nations spend on armaments.  This at a time when suffering from a lingering economic crisis continues to grow, when cities and states are mired in crisis and slashing public services – and while Obama’s defense secretary is opposing relatively minor spending cuts agreed to in last year’s budget deal.

The media tends to see the protestors as bearing a confusing mish-mash of causes.  But listen to them and you see that they are all connected on a fundamental level. At the Grant Park rally on Sunday, speaker after speaker tied issue after issue to the question of war and militarization.

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Rick Rozoff chronicles NATO’s ‘endless wars’

By hosting a self-proclaimed “nuclear alliance” like NATO, Chicago is violating the spirit if not the letter of the city’s status as a nuclear free zone, passed unanimously by the City Council in 1986 and signed by Mayor Harold Washington, says Rick Rozoff.

It’s one of dozens of points that came up in several wide-ranging talks with Rozoff, a Chicagoan who for 13 years has edited the Stop NATO blog, almost certainly the most comprehensive source for news and critical analysis of the alliance in the world.

On Thursday, Rozoff and a representative of Iraq Veterans Against the War will take the anti-NATO position in a debate with former Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns and NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary James Appathurai at the Pritzker Military Library.

Making war around the world

Stop NATO started in 1999, a watershed year according to Rozoff, when NATO launched its first war, a 78-day bombing campaign against Yugoslavia.  That’s the point at which NATO moved beyond its posture as a strictly defensive organization protecting its members’ territories to become “an active war-making organization” – and when promises of post-Cold War demilitarization and a “peace dividend” were betrayed, he says.

Since then NATO has conducted wars in Asia and Africa – a brutal ten-year slog with heavy civilian casulaties in Afghanistan, NATO’s first ground war, and a six-month bombing campaign in Libya.

Despite the unprecedented presence of 150,000 troops from 50 nations (including NATO members and partners) waging war in a single, relatively small country, Afghanistan is widely viewed as a defeat for the alliance. NATO claims Libya as a victory, though the nation is now dominated by fundamentalists and riven by clan wars, with instability spreading to other African nations, Rozoff points out.

Global expeditionary force

A major function of these wars, he argues, is to integrate the  militaries of NATO members and scores of partner nations into a “global expeditionary force,” with small countries enlisted in efforts to ensure Western access to resources and hem in nations with independent foreign policies –notably Russia, China, and Iran.

NATO’s expanded military alliance “puts smaller countries in the position of having to respond when the major powers call for assistance,” obliges them to accept U.S. and NATO bases on their territory, and requires them to purchase advanced weaponry – which they don’t need and can’t afford – from Western nations, Rozoff says.

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NATO summit: drone warfare challenged

Drone warfare will be an issue at the NATO summit, though it’s a far more urgent one for many of NATO’s critics.

NATO will review the strategic agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan, which will allow drone attacks to continue, despite Afghanistan’s attempt to negotiate an end to them. NATO will also review a deal reached earlier this year for members to kick in $1.4 billion to start building its own drone force.

Drone war is also behind the decision not to invite Pakistan to the Chicago summit, although the nation is one of dozens of NATO “partners,” and an important one. The U.S. reportedly pressed for its exclusion because Pakistan refused to reopen NATO supply routes closed after a U.S. drone attack killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last November.

Pakistan, previously in tacit support of the drone war, has now demanded it be ended, to no avail.

Farce

Pakistan’s exclusion from the summit “makes the whole thing a farce,” said Pakistani-American human rights activist Rafia Zakaria. “You’re supposed to be figuring out the future of the Afghanistan mission and the negotiations with the Taliban, and you don’t have the country that’s integral to all of that.”

Zakaria will be speaking along with Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, author of the new book, “Drone Wars,” at the Heartland Cafe, 7000 N. Glenwood, on Monday, May 14 at 7 p.m.

The book is an attempt “to make the American people aware of how counterproductive drone warfare is, how many innocent civilians it kills, how it creates blowback and anti-U.S. sentiment – and to get more people involved in calling for an end to it,” Benjamin said.

Code Pink has protested at drone bases, as has the locally-based group Voices for Creative Nonviolence. Last month VCNV and grassroots peace groups in Missouri, upstate New York, and Wisconsin held protests and committed civil disobedience at air bases where drones are maintained and deployed.

Killing civilians

They delivered a war crimes indictment charging the U.S. chain of command, from the president on down, with violations of U.S. and international law including “extrajudicial killings, violation of due process, wars of aggression, violation of national sovereignty, and the killing of innocent civilians.”

Kathy Kelly of VCNV said she and colleagues “have been in Pakistan and Afghanistan and become aware of how much fear and mistrust the drone attacks have caused. We’ve talked to people who’ve lost loved ones” in drone attacks. One young girl she met in an Afghan refugee camp lost an arm in a drone attack; her brother was seriously injured; her uncle lost his wife and five daughters.

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Women against NATO

One feature of anti-NATO activities planned here is the presence of several women leaders who have notable records of directly confronting war-makers, of “speaking truth to power,” sometimes at significant personal risk.

In addition to their own stories, they offer valuable perspectives on the crucial issue of women’s rights in Afghanistan.  That’s also the subject of a Shadow Summit for Afghan Women’s Rights being held by Amnesty International at the Swissotel, 325 E. Wacker, on Sunday, May 20, the opening day of the NATO summit – where, Amnesty notes, Afghan women won’t be represented, though their interests will be seriously impacted.

Kathy Kelly, Malalai Joya, and Medea Benjamin are each speaking at the People’s Summit, Saturday and Sunday, May 12 and 13, at 500 W. Cermak (schedule here) and at the No to NATO rally Sunday, May 20 at noon in Grant Park.

Kathy Kelly

Born and raised on Chicago’s Southwest Side, Kathy Kelly became an anti-war activist through the Uptown Catholic Worker House in the late 1970s.  She’s been arrested in peace actions over 60 times and been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times, once by Nobel laureate Mairead Maguire.  She co-founded Voices in the Wilderness in 1995, which sent medical supplies to Iraq in defiance of the U.S. embargo.

With VITW and its successor, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, founded in 2005, Kelly has travelled countless times to war zones; she was in Baghdad for the U.S. invasion in 2003, Lebanon during the 2006 invasion, and Gaza during the Israeli attack in 2008; she and her colleagues have visited Iraq and Afghanistan extensively.

“We try to live in poor neighborhoods, alongside people who can’t escape the war zones, and listen to ordinary people whose voices are never heard,” she said.  She frequently reports on the experiences and views of the people she lives among.  She talks about the 250 Afghan children dying of starvation every day, while the U.S. spends $2 billion a week on the war.

“She’s an inspirational leader,” said Rev. Bob Bossie, who co-founded VITW and is now retired. “She’s radically committed to nonviolence.”  VCVN “is known across the country as an organization that’s not sitting on its heels, that’s taking risks in a nonviolent way to say we won’t be compliant, we will speak out again and again and stand with the people who are being oppressed,” he said.

The group “challenges us all to see what we more can do – what next step can I take,” he said.  “We can’t all go to war zones, but we can all do more.”

The announcement that the U.S. is withdrawing from Afghanistan is “very misleading,” Kellly said.  “It’s simply not true.  The Joint Special Operations forces, the most intimidating and fearsome warriors on the planet, will remain till 2024 and beyond.

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Chicago Spring

A May Day march and rally by Occupy Chicago on Tuesday launches the final weeks of the Chicago Spring, culminating with protests at the NATO summit later this month.

With the theme of immigrant, labor, and youth solidarity, an array of community groups and unions will rally at noon (Tuesday, May 1) at Union Park, 1501 W. Randolph, and march to the Federal Plaza, Adams and Dearborn.

Though it continues a recent Chicago tradition of immigrant rights marches on May Day going back to 2006, it was initiated by Occupy Chicago, and in particular the group’s labor committee, said Orlando Sepulvida of Occupy the Barrio.  Strong union involvement in the march is the result of interest on the part of rank-and-file union members participating in Occupy, he said.

“After six years, [the issue of immigration reform] is not resolved, and in some ways it is worse now for undocumented families,” said Sepulvida, who has been involved in the marches going back to 2006.

Questions about whether Occupy Chicago would last out its first winter were answered when an estimated 1,000 people participated in an April 7 “Freedom Festival” in Grant Park, with teach-ins on topics including non-violent direct action, the “black bloc,” NATO, and “Mayor 1 Percent’s Budget of Austerity.”

Moving to indoor quarters allowed the group to hold a steady series of educational events and strengthen a network of working committees, according to Mark Cassello at Indignant Left.  Chicago Spring and the NATO protest are making Chicago “the national hub of the Occupy movement this spring,” Costello writes.

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Protestors offered Daley Plaza permit

A California activist who holds a city permit for a rally at Daley Plaza on May 20 has offered to step aside for a local anti-war coalition, organizers say.

The city rejected a permit application from the Coalition Against NATO/G8 to move their rally and march from May 19 – when the G8 summit was originally scheduled to meet – to May 20, when NATO will be convening at McCormick Place, saying someone else has a permit for the Daley Plaza that day.

But CANG8 has heard from the individual holding the permit that she would step aside to accommodate the coalition’s plan, Joe Iosbaker said.  He said the city has been informed of this development.

The city rejected CANG8’s plan for a march from the Daley Plaza to McCormick Place, offering an alternative route that Iosbaker said was unacceptable because  it’s far less visible.  He said city’s argument that it lacks manpower to police the original route is “absurd.”



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