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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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Amnesty International: Tasers kill

An Amnesty International study of deaths in U.S. from police use of Tasers — which reviewed the autopsy of one of the four Chicagoans who have died after being shocked by police — says the weapon should not be classified as “non-lethal,” and its use should be suspended or limited to life-threatening situations (pdf).

The study found that 90 percent of Taser victims studied — including Chicagoan Roland Hasse, killed in February 2005 — were unarmed and posed no serious threat. It says 334 people have died after being shocked by police since the weapon was introduced in the U.S. in 2000.

“Tasers are not the ‘non-lethal’ weapons they are portrayed to be,” said Angela Wright, a researcher at AI and author of the report, in a release. “They can kill and should only be used as a last resort.

“The problem with Tasers is that they are inherently open to abuse, as they are easy to carry and easy to use and can inflict severe pain at the push of a button, without leaving substantial marks,” she said.

Chicago police announced they are acquiring 2,500 Tasers earlier this year (see previous post). Four people have died after being shocked by Tasers while in the custody of Chicago police; a fifth Chicagoan died this April after being shocked by police in Oxford, Ohio.

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Chicago Senegalese to protest president

Members of Chicago’s Senegalese community, joined by compatriots from across the country and Canada, will protest the appearance of President Abdoulaye Wade at the Unity Journalists of Color Conference at McCormick Place on Friday at 10 a.m.

The U.S. journalists are hosting Wade in the same week that newspapers and radio stations in Senegal held a one-day “news blackout” to protest violence against journalists.

A Unity press release hails Wade as “a leading spokesperson for democracy and development.” The organization includes the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the Native American Journalists Association. The conference is taking place July 23 to 27.

Wade is “breaking all the rules of democracy” — in particular by “brutalizing journalists” — and “degrading the economy with corruption,” said protest leader Badara Diakhate. “Senegal’s democracy was once the example for all of Africa, but now it is dying.”

Wade is trying to amend the constitution to allow his son to succeed him in office, Diakhate said.

Another issue is “total mismanagement of funds and resources,” Diakhate said — and President Wade’s penchant for “spending all his time traveling, while the people back home are suffering.”

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