Sunday, August 15, 2010

'What Happens if We Stay in Afghanistan': A Response to TIME Magazine

by South Asia Solidarity Initiative
The August 9, 2010 issue of TIME magazine featured a striking cover photograph of an 18-year-old Afghan woman, Aisha, who was disfigured by the Taliban last year.  The cover title read, "What happens if we leave Afghanistan."  While Aisha's story and the stories of many other women like her may depict some part of the reality of women's lives under the Taliban, TIME's conclusion that continuing the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan is necessary, is highly misleading and troubling.

Afghan women, like women around the world, have lived under very oppressive conditions for decades.  Many women remain indoors, without education or health care, or economic security, have early marriages, and are unprotected from domestic violence.  Today, after a decade of the U.S.-led occupation, the lives of Afghan women have become worse, not better: in addition to facing continued oppression under the Taliban and the equally oppressive Northern Alliance, they also live in a war zone.
TIME's statement echoes and resurrects the same justification for the war given during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan: if U.S. forces withdraw from Afghanistan, any rights gained for Afghan women will be reversed by fundamentalist forces.  However, this false logic grossly ignores the history of the U.S. imperialist relationship and presence in the region and its effect on women's rights.  During the Soviet occupation in the 1980's, the U.S. armed the anti-Soviet Mujahideen forces, who were at one point led by Osama Bin Laden. In subsequent years the Taliban rose to power, with the Unitd States as its ally. In 2001, when the Bush administration sought to topple the Taliban regime, the United States armed and enlisted the help of the Northern Alliance, a coalition of warlords with its own track record of human rights abuses. Indeed, the United States has consistently chosen the side of fundamentalist allies at the expense of Afghan women, and has always sought its own gains in the region.
In its nine long years, the U.S.-led occupation of Afghanistan has done nothing to improve the conditions for people in Afghanistan, especially for women. As the classified documents recently leaked by corroborate, the coalition forces have been killing hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents.  According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, the 2009 civilian death toll, close to 2,412 civilian deaths, was the highest of any year since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, and an increase of 24% from 2008. There has been a general increase in violence and civilian deaths because of occupation.  A Human Rights Watch Press Alert in 2005, stated that up to 60% of law makers in the lower house of Afghanistan's newly elected parliament are directly or indirectly connected to human rights abuses. By 2009, the U.N. human development index ranked Afghanistan 181 out of 182 countries. The maternal mortality rate in Afghanistan reveals the highest ever documented. Over the past decade, the immensely corrupt, U.S.-backed Afghan regime led by Hamid Karzai has passed and maintained numerous misogynist laws, including the one that put Aisha in jail after she fled from her in-laws.

For the last decade, the occupying forces of the U.S. and its NATO allies have nourished warlords and supported a corrupt government, leading many to join the Taliban and increasing their influence across Afghanistan. Increased civilian deaths, a fundamentalist resurgence, and deadly bombing raids have led to a devastated country and a Taliban stronger than ever before. TIME's claim to "illuminate what is actually happening on the ground" falsely equates the last decade of occupation with progress. The occupation has not and will not bring democracy to Afghanistan, nor will it bring liberation to Afghan women. Instead, it has exacerbated deep-seated corruption in the government, the widespread abuse of women's rights and human rights by fundamentalists, including Karzai's allies, and stymied critical infrastructure development in the country. The question should not be "what happens if we leave Afghanistan," the question should be "what happened when we invaded Afghanistan" and "what happens if we stay in Afghanistan."

The Afghan people are capable of creating their own democratic future.  Progressive groups and democratic parties in Afghanistan are fighting to reconstruct the peace and safety of their country, and more often than not, are forced underground for fear of their safety.  Despite the repression from the U.S.-backed Karzai government, thousands of brave students and women have come out on to the streets of Kabul to protest the bombings and the continued war.  It is from these forces that a larger progressive movement will emerge that could play a role in bringing real democracy to Afghanistan.  If the United States continues the occupation, the space for progressive forces becomes increasingly limited.

We must know and remember, that liberation never comes from occupation. We must know and remember, that there will always be resistance to occupation. Occupations, no matter where they take place, from Iraq to Palestine to Turtle Island, are unjust. The American people must come out in support and solidarity with the resilient peoples of Afghanistan and elsewhere who are fighting for their own liberation, and must call for the end of all U.S. wars and occupations.
South Asia Solidarity Initiative
Iraq Veterans Against the War
Derrick O'Keefe co-writer of the autobiography Malalai Joya -- A Woman Among Warlords
Veterans For Peace
Courage to Resist
Anjali Kamat, Producer, Democracy Now!
Robert Jensen, University of Texas, Austin, TX

The South Asia Solidarity Initiative (SASI) is an organization based the United States that is in solidarity with progressive social movements and democratic politics in South Asia.  We believe in the shared history and common struggles of South Asia and break from the confines of nation-states to carry forward an alternative vision for South Asia and its peoples.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Report: Military Assistance and Human Rights: Colombia, U.S. Accountability, and Global Implications

U.S. military aid flowing to Colombia is having a direct, negative effect on the human rights of Colombians. Though the “Leahy Law” prohibits aid to military units that have committed gross violations, the United States continues to support such units in Colombia. Worse, areas where Colombian army units received the largest increases in U.S. assistance reported increased extrajudicial killings on average.
You can read the executive summary below or download the full 51 page report (PDF, 1.4 MB).
The scale of U.S. training and equipping of other nations’ militaries has grown exponentially since 2001, but there are major concerns about the extent to which the U.S. government is implementing the laws and monitoring the impact its military aid is having on human rights. This report by the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and U.S. Office on Colombia examines these issues through a detailed case study of U.S.military aid, human rights abuses, and implementation of human rights law in Colombia.
U.S. Military Assistance to the Colombian Army
The experience of US military funding to Colombia shows alarming links between Colombian military units that receive U.S. assistance and civilian killings committed by the army. To prevent similar errors in Afghanistan and Pakistan, relevant Congressional committees and the State Department Office of the Inspector General must thoroughly study the Colombia case and implementation of U.S. law designed to keep security assistance from going to security force units committing gross human rights violations.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

5 Passages from the WikiLeaks "Afghan Diary" That Bring the Bizarre, Tragic Reality of War to Life

By Alexander Zaitchik, AlterNet
Posted on August 7, 2010, Printed on August 12, 2010
Much has been made of the unfolding scandal surrounding the WikiLeaks Afghanistan war cache. Surprisingly less attention has been paid to the vast amount of material itself -- beyond, that is, what the New York Times and Guardian have deemed important enough to publish. Much of the public, including many people who consider themselves engaged in the war debate, seems (understandably) intimidated by the size of the mega-dump and content to let others explain its significance. This is strange, given that perhaps the loudest message of the leakers is that we should never rely only on officials, embeds, and editors.
Putting to the side the political debates swirling around the leak, the material is rich on its own terms, rich in a way that second-hand round-ups and editorializing syntheses simply cannot capture. The mass of 91,000 raw files is perhaps best read (or heavily skimmed) as a very long work of experimental combat non-fiction, with each chapter a narrative bark of unedited, acronym-packed military speak. Over the course of hours, the sheer redundancy of the material -- a drumbeat of tribal skirmishes, dead civilians, and firefights among Afghan cops, soldiers, and militias -- powerfully conveys with incredible compression the daily grind of chaos and violence that is Afghanistan. The WikiLeaks memos make even the shortest wire dispatch read like an Op-Ed. They are bullets by bullet-point.
Below are five memos that gave this reader pause, each for different reasons. They don't represent the most shocking or important details buried in the cache, but are representative of the tiny rough gems you might find perusing the leaks. They are highly compressed true war stories that will lead different people to different conclusions, including none at all.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Blackwater: Can't Stop, Won't Stop

Published on Friday, August 6, 2010 by Foreign Policy in Focus

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Colombian Mass Grave Of More Than 2000 May Be Civilian Trade Unionists, Not Military Casualties

Colombia is currently the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists, and the U.S. is likely implicated in the murders.
By Conn Hallinan, Foreign Policy in Focus
Posted on August 5, 2010, Printed on August 12, 2010
If you want to understand what’s behind the recent tension between Colombia and Venezuela, think “smokescreen,” and then go back several months to some sick children in the Department of Meta, just south of Bogota. The children fell ill after drinking from a local stream, a stream contaminated by the bodies of more than 2,000 people, secretly buried by the Colombian military.
According to the Colombian high command, the mass grave just outside the army base at La Macarena contains the bodies of guerilla fighters killed between 2002 and 2009 in that country’s long-running civil war. But given the army’s involvement in the so-called “false positive” scandal, human rights groups are highly skeptical that the dead are members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the National Liberation Army, the two insurgent groups fighting the central government.
“False positive” is the name given to the Colombian armed forces operation that murdered civilians and then dressed them up in insurgent uniforms in order to demonstrate the success of the army’s counterinsurgency strategy, thus winning more aid from the U.S. According to the human rights organizations Comision de Derechos Homanos del Bajo Ariari and Colectivo Orlando Fals Borda, some 2,000 civilians have been murdered under the program.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Obama's Neo-Liberal Agenda for Education

WRITING IN March 2008, the editors of a Rethinking Schools book on charter schools held out hope that the end of the Bush administration would mean new possibilities for a progressive education agenda:

This country is on the cusp of a new political dialogue. The conservative stranglehold on political debate is ending, opening up new opportunities for progressives to regain the initiative. How this opening will affect public education in general and charter schools in particular is not yet clear, but it ushers in new possibilities not imaginable a decade ago.1
Two years later, the direction of education policy under the Obama administration is indeed clear. The biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression has called into question whether our public schools will be funded at even the most basic level required for their functioning. Last year, budget cuts cost 40,000 teacher jobs. This year, 66 percent of school districts across the country have cut more jobs, while 83 percent of districts project cuts for the 2010–2011 academic year.2 Kansas City’s school board has voted to shut down twenty-eight of the city’s sixty-one schools. In California, more than 23,000 teachers received pink slips in March, and students hoping to attend college are facing tuition increases of 20 percent at the California State University and 32 percent at the University of California.These devastating cuts are being applied to a public school system that is already in horrible shape. Many schools are overcrowded and crumbling, lacking essential technology and materials; learning is often dull because teachers are exhausted or focused on preparing for standardized tests; and students rarely get experiences that connect what they are learning to the real world. These abysmal conditions have led to a high school dropout rate of nearly 30 percent nationwide, and more than 50 percent in many major cities.3
Education should be at the center of a national debate on social priorities, led by a president who promised “change.” Instead, the economic crisis is being used by the White House to dramatically accelerate a neoliberal agenda for education, going far beyond what George W. Bush’s administration was able to do with its No Child Left Behind (NCLB) policy. With Arne Duncan, a political operative with no formal training in the field, as education secretary, the administration has aggressively promoted an education program with three principal elements: using test score data to evaluate teachers, shutting down and “reconstituting” schools deemed to be failing, and expanding privately-run, mostly non-union charter schools. Other elements include the standardization of curriculum and the lengthening of the school day. This agenda is supported by a nearly unified front of the powerful—Wall Street, Democrats and Republicans at all levels, and many non-profit organizations.Obama recently signaled the lengths to which he’s willing to go to implement this agenda. Speaking before an audience of business executives at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on March 1, the president supported a Rhode Island school board’s decision to fire all seventy-four teachers and nineteen other school employees at Central Falls High School. “If a school continues to fail year after year after year and doesn’t show sign of improvements then there has got to be a sense of accountability,” he remarked.4 As the only high school in the poorest community in Rhode Island, Central Falls has been chronically underfunded. Yet it seems that the only people being held accountable are the teachers who have dedicated their lives to working with Central Falls students.5