Hammering for Peace
by Kathy Kelly
May 25, 2016
Last winter, at the Voices home/office in Chicago, we welcomed two friends who were in town for a Mennonite church gathering focused on the symbol of beating swords into plowshares. Their project embraces a vision from the biblical “Book of Isaiah” which longs for the day when “they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they study war anymore.” Our friends quite literally enact this vision. They use saws to cut guns and rifles in half and then hammer on the broken weapons, turning them into useful tools for gardening and light construction.
Throughout the service, one of the men could be seen, on a screen, standing outside the Mennonite church hall, fashioning, with hammer and anvil, a rifle into a garden tool. Sparks flew with his hammer, but no-one was inflamed into anger. The fire our friends wanted to ignite was inside us. With what work can we replace war? If we are no longer training for war, what else could we be doing?”
That winter night, at the Mennonite church, I couldn’t help but think of another activist who had swung a tool last December, in this case, a sledgehammer, because she was inspired to confront weapon makers and encourage alternatives to war. Jessica Reznicek, age 34, didn’t own the weapon system she wanted to transform. But she felt responsible to help the general public own up to its complicity with weapon systems funded by U.S. taxpayers. She took a sledgehammer to the doors of a major weapon producing company, Northrop Grumman, outside Offut Air Force base. In a written statement explaining why she swung her tool at the plate glass, Jessica asks people to understand that Northrop Grumman’s weapon systems shatter and destroy the lives of people the world over.
As one of the manufacturers with the largest share of the global Unmanned Aerial Systems market, (18.9%), Northrop Grumman profits immensely from peddling complex weapon systems often designed to be eyes in the skies monitoring targets for assassination. This kind of surveillance and extrajudicial execution generates intense anger and backlashes in other lands. It also promotes proliferation of robotic weapons. But the U.S. military and acquiescent institutions encourage us to feel that we’ve been made safer by complex weapons of destruction, and we should instead be frightened of a young woman wielding a sledgehammer to break a plate glass window.
On May 24, Jessica Reznicek went go to a trial in Nebraska, expected to last two days, for her action. She has chosen to go “pro se,” – to defend herself. Courts in the U.S. seldom allow the necessity defense. If the judge in Jessica’s case does so, Jessica could try to defend herself saying she acted to prevent a greater harm. She could establish that the U.S. government consistently provides Northrop Grumman with lavish funding, devoting immense resources of materials and scientific ingenuity to the study of war, all desperately needed elsewhere. Northrop Grumman steadily experiments in perfecting the high-tech advantage of an empire bent on endlessly dominating the world through endless war.
I wish that the testimony of my friends who literally beat guns into garden tools could be part of the courtroom proceeding. They urge us to make guns and other weapons unnecessary, using raw tools of compassion and service to heal the conflicts in which weapons are used. I wish my young Afghan friends here in Kabul, who live under constant surveillance of Unmanned Aerial Systems, could testify about their desire to refine tools of peace making and constructive service.
They could assure the court that it’s far more worthwhile to develop raw tools for producing needed goods and services than to develop weapon systems of mass destruction.
Jessica’s action makes me wonder if the “norm” in our society is the opposite of the biblical plowshares exhortation. Our major institutions study the ways of war comprehensively and our “top crop” in the U.S. has become weapons. Jessica encourages, one might even say provokes, discussion of the role militarism plays in our world.
I hope the words of a legendary barrister in Ireland, Mr. Nix, who defended “The Pitstop Plowshares,” can be recalled as Jessica’s trial nears conclusion. Shortly before the U.S. led coalition began bombing Iraq in 2003, five activists invoked the swords to plowhsares saying from the Book of Isaiah and hammered on a U.S. warplane parked on the tarmac of Shannon airport. Ireland is a neutral country, and they believed that the U.S. Navy warplanes making “pitstops” en route to a war zone violated that neutrality. They undertook the action shortly after attending a retreat during which the Sisters of St. Brigid, in Kildare, Ireland had asked me to speak about Iraqis who suffered under 13 years of U.S. led UN economic sanctions. Before returning to Baghdad, I gave them enlarged, laminated photos of Iraqi children who were among the half million who died, according to the U.N., as a direct result of economic sanctions along with photos of children killed by an earlier U.S. aerial attack on the city of Basra. They used these photos to set up a memorial shrine next to the warplane they had damaged. Mr. Nix, preparing for trial, asked that I come to Dublin as a witness to help establish the defendants’ motivations. I will never forget his closing statement in which he delivered a fiery indictment of war makers and described the hideous punishment wars inflict on innocent people, especially children. He ended his remarks by addressing everyone assembled in Dublin’s Four Courts, saying: “The question isn’t ‘Did these five have a lawful excuse to do what they did?’ The question is ‘What’s your excuse not to do more? What will rise ye?!’ The Irish jury acquitted the defendants on all charges.
No matter what the outcome of Jessica’s trial, Mr. Nix’s question, “What will rise ye?” abides. How can we, each of us, help lift the hammer of justice, cultivating a world at peace.
Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence. (www.vcnv.org)She is writing from Kabul where she is a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers. (ourjourneytosmile.com)
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This week we feature an interview with Mark Karlin during which we will discuss some of his recent articles and the importance of independent media.
More about this week’s guest:
Mark Karlin is the editor of BuzzFlash at Truthout. He served as editor and publisher of BuzzFlash for 10 years before joining Truthout in 2010. BuzzFlash has won four Project Censored Awards. Karlin writes a commentary five days a week for BuzzFlash, as well as articles (ranging from the failed “war on drugs” to reviews relating to political art) for Truthout. He also interviews authors and filmmakers whose works are featured in Truthout’s Progressive Picks of the Week. Before linking with Truthout, Karlin conducted interviews with cultural figures, political progressives and innovative advocates on a weekly basis for 10 years. He authored many columns about the lies propagated to launch the Iraq War.
Some of his recent articles:
Thank you gifts!
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On The Monitor this week:
- Can a Single Injection Save Soldiers Suffering from PTSD? An interview with Matt Farwell
- Educational effort to save whales, oceans, and people. An interview with Maris Sidenstecker II
More about this week’s guests:
Matt Farwell was a soldier in the United States Army from 2005 to 2010. After infantry and airborne training at Fort Benning, Ga., he was assigned to the Tenth Mountain Division’s Second Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment and deployed to Afghanistan for 16 months. Before enlisting, he studied government and history at the University of Virginia as an Echols Scholar and graduated from the United World College of the American West as a Davis Scholar. He recently wrote in Playboy of a revolutionary treatment for veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The treatment is an anesthetic injection into nerves located in the side of the neck which, in lay terms, resets the veteran’s survival instinct, reducing the brain and body chemicals that lead to many of the emotional, mental and behavioral issues, including suicidality, that veterans endure upon returning home from war. The doctor performing this procedure reports a 70-80% success rate in the nearly 300 patients he has treated. What this treatment is helping to demonstrate, and as many of us with PTSD have seemed to understand for quite some time now, is that there is a biological, chemical or neurological element to PTSD that is resistant to standard psychological or psychiatric treatment.You can read a selection of Matt’s work in Vanity Fair, Maxim, The New York Times, Rolling Stone (w/ Michael Hastings) “America’s Last Prisoner of War”, Rolling Stone (w/ Michael Hastings) “The Spy Who Cracked up in the Cold”, PBS Media Shift. You can follow Matt on twitter here:@
Maris Sidenstecker II is co-founder of Save The Whales, founded in 1977. She designed a T-shirt at the age of 14 to save the whales after reading how they were slaughtered and has carried the passion of protecting marine life throughout her life. She developed and implemented hands-on interactive classroom programs for school children and has educated over 280,000 students about protecting the fragile oceans and the life within it. As a student, she assisted with field research on orca pods in Washington State and British Columbia. Maris is also an accomplished artist and followed up her original T-shirt with other designs. B.A. double major in Marine Biology/Zoology from Humboldt State University, California. Awards: Educator of the Year award in 2007 from The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments (AMBAG), 2009 Member of The Year by Madison Who’s Who. The Save The Whales campaign is global in scope and dedicated to conservation. Based in Seaside CA, Save The Whales marine biologists’ travel throughout Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties to educate students to help protect the oceans. Each year they educate 6,000-7,000 students with hands-on, science based programs about whales, otters, sea turtles, and endangered species. Saving 10,000 marine animals from death from US Navy Ship Shock tests in 1994 was a ground breaking victory for Save The Whales. They reach an international audience through their website, E-newsletters and Facebook site. Since 1977, Save The Whales has educated over 305,000 school children with hands-on educational programs.
“Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite” Abandoned for Forced Asylum – “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite” Abandoned for Forced Asylum – by Maya Evans, writing from Calais
“Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite” Abandoned for Forced Asylum
by Maya Evans, a coordinator for Voices for Creative Non-Violence UK, writing from Calais
This month, French authorities (supported and funded by the UK government to the current balance of £62 million)  have been demolishing the ‘Jungle,’ a toxic wasteland on the edge of Calais. Formerly a landfill site, 4 km² it is now populated by approximately 5,000 refugees who have been pushed there over the past year. A remarkable community of 15 nationalities adhering to various faiths comprises the Jungle. Residents have formed a network of shops and restaurants which, along with hamams and barber shops contribute to a micro-economy within the encampment. Community infrastructure now includes schools, mosques, churches and clinics.
Afghans, numbering approximately 1,000, constitute the largest national group. Among this group are people from each of the main ethnicities in Afghanistan: Pashtoons, Hazaras, Uzbeks and Tajiks. The Jungle is an impressive example of how people from different nationalities and ethnicities can live together in relative harmony, despite oppressive hardship and infringement of universal rights and civil liberties. Arguments and scuffles sometimes break out, but they’re normally catalysed by French authorities or traffickers.
Earlier this month Teresa May won a significant battle to restart flights deporting Afghans back to Kabul, on the grounds that it is now safe to return to the capital city. 
Just 3 months ago I sat in the Kabul office of ‘Stop Deportation to Afghanistan.’  Sunlight poured through the window like golden syrup on a top floor apartment, the city of Kabul shrouded in dust splayed out like a postcard. The organisation is a support group run by Abdul Ghafoor, a Pakistan-born Afghan who spent 5 years in Norway, only to be deported to Afghanistan, a country he had previously never visited. Ghafoor told me about a meeting he had recently attended with Afghan government ministers and NGOs – he laughed as he described how the non-Afghan NGO workers arrived at the armed compound wearing bullet proof vests and helmets, and yet Kabul has been deemed a safe space for returning refugees. The hypocrisy and double standards would be a joke if the upshot was not so unfair. On one hand you have foreign embassy staff being airlifted (for security reasons)  by helicopter within the city of Kabul, and on the other you have various European governments saying it’s safe for thousands of refugees to return to Kabul.
In 2015, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan documented 11,002 civilian casualties (3,545 deaths and, 7,457 injured) exceeding the previous record in 2014 .
Having visited Kabul 8 times in the last 5 years, I’ve been acutely aware that security within the city has drastically declined. As a foreigner I no longer take walks longer than 5 minutes, day trips to the beautiful Panjshir Valley or the Qarga lake are now considered too risky. Word on the Kabul streets is that the Taliban are strong enough to take the city but can’t be bothered with the hassle of running it; meanwhile independent ISIS cells have established a foothold . I regularly hear that Afghan life today is less secure than it was under the Taliban, 14 years of US/NATO-backed war has been a disaster.
Back in the Jungle, north France, 21 miles from the British isles, around 1,000 Afghans dream of a safe life in Britain. Some have previously lived in Britain, others have family in the UK, many have worked with the British military or NGOs. Emotions are manipulated by traffickers who describe the streets of Britain as paved with gold. Many refugees are discouraged by the treatment they’ve received in France where they’ve been subjected to police brutality and attacks by far-right thugs. For various reasons they feel the best chance of a peaceful life is in Britain. Deliberate exclusion from the UK just makes the prospect even more desirable. Certainly the fact that Britain has agreed to take only 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next 5 years , and overall the UK is taking 60 refugees per 1,000 of the local population who claimed asylum in 2015, compared to Germany which is taking 587 , has played into the dream that Britain is the land of exclusive opportunity.
I spoke with Afghan community leader Sohail, who said: “I love my country, I want to go back and live there, but it’s just not safe and we have no opportunity to live. Look at all the businesses in the Jungle, we have talents, we just need the opportunity to use them”. This conversation happened in the Kabul Café, one of the social hotspots in the Jungle, just one day before the area was set ablaze, the whole south high street of shops and restaurants razed to the ground. After the fire, I spoke with the same Afghan community leader. We stood amid the demolished ruins where we had drunk tea in the Kabul café. He feels deeply saddened by the destruction. “Why did the authorities put us here, let us build a life and then destroy it?”
Two weeks ago the south part of the Jungle was demolished: hundreds of shelters were burnt or bulldozed leaving some 3,500 refugees with nowhere to go . The French authorise now want to move onto the north part of the camp with the aim of rehousing most refugees within white fishing crate containers, many of which are already set up in the Jungle, and currently accommodate 1,900 refugees. Each container houses 12 people, there’s little privacy, and sleeping times are determined by your ‘crate mates’ and their mobile phone habits. More alarmingly, a refugee is required to register with French authorities. This includes having your finger prints digitally recorded; in effect, it’s the first step into forced French asylum.
The British government has consistently used the Dublin Regulations  as legal grounds for not taking its equal quota of refugees. These regulations prescribe that refugees should seek asylum in the first safe country they land in. However, that regulation is now simply impractical. If it was properly enforced, Turkey, Italy and Greece would be left to accommodate the millions of refugees.
Many refugees are requesting for a UK asylum centre within the Jungle, giving them the ability to start the process for asylum in Britain. The reality of the situation is that refugee camps like the Jungle are not stopping people from actually entering the UK. In fact these blights on human rights are reinforcing illegal and harmful industries such as trafficking, prostitution and drug smuggling. European refugee camps are playing into the hands of human traffickers; one Afghan told me that , the current going rate to be smuggled into the UK is now around €10,000 , the price having doubled over the last few months. Setting up a UK asylum centre would also remove the violence which often occurs between truck drivers and refugees, as well as tragic and fatal accidents which come about during transit into the UK. It’s perfectly possible to have the same number of refugees entering the UK via legal means as there are by the ones which exist today.
The south part of the camp now stands desolate, burnt to the ground other than for a few social amenities. An icy wind whips across the expanse of littered wasteland. Debris flaps in the breeze, a sad combination of rubbish and charred personal belongings. French riot police used tear gas, water canons and rubber bullets to aid the demolition. Currently there’s a stalemate situation wherein some NGOs and volunteers are reluctant to rebuild homes and constructions which might quickly be demolished by French authorities.
The Jungle represents incredible human ingenuity and entrepreneurial energy exhibited by refugees and the volunteers who have poured their lives into making a community to be proud of; simultaneously it’s a shocking and shameful reflection of the decline in European human rights and infrastructure, where people who flee for their lives are forced to inhabit communal crate containers, a form of indefinite detention. Unofficial comments made by a representative of the French authorities indicates a possible future policy whereby refugees who choose to remain outside of the system, opting either to be homeless or not to register, could potentially face imprisonment for up to 2 years.
France and Britain are currently shaping their immigration policy. It is especially disastrous for France, with a constitution founded on “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite”, to base that policy on demolishing temporary homes, excluding and incarcerating refugees, and forcing refugees into unwanted asylum. By giving people the right to choose their country of asylum, assisting with basic needs such as accommodation and food, responding with humanity rather than suppression, the State will be enabling the best possible practical solution, as well as complying with international human rights, laws set down to protect the safety and rights of everyone in the world today.
On The Monitor this week:
We discuss the topic of torture for the whole hour with two guests to try to answer some of the most important questions, including: Has the U.S. ended the use of torture? Does torture produce “actionable intelligence”? What was the real purpose of the torture policy? Is there a need for an investigation of Guantanamo? Our guests are Jeffrey Kaye and Mark Fallon.
More about this week’s guests:
Jeffrey Kaye is a clinical psychologist in private practice in San Francisco and an independent journalist investigating human rights issues. He has worked professionally with torture victims and asylum applicants. Active in the anti-torture movement since 2006, he has his own blog, Invictus, and writes regularly for Firedoglake’s The Dissenter. He has published previously at Truthout, Alternet, and The Public Record. Follow him on Twitter.
Quote: “While the politicians play political football with the lives of prisoners at Guantanamo, the abuses and crimes that took place there — indeed may still be taking place — go unremarked and unexamined. For instance, former prisoners claim they were forcefully drugged at the facility. We need an independent investigation of all that has really taken place at DoD detention sites in the ‘war on terror,’ from Guantanamo to Bagram, from Diego Garcia to the Navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina.”
Jeffrey’s pieces on torture include, “More Charges of Forced Drugging at Guantanamo” and “Contrary to Obama’s promises, the U.S. military still permits torture.”
Jeffrey has also written extensively about torture being used for “exploitation” — that is, as a method of deriving false but useful information that the government can use as pretext for policy, like torturing detainees into “confessing” that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, or that Iraq was working with Al Qaeda. See his pieces: “CIA Psychologist’s Notes Reveal True Purpose Behind Bush’s Torture Program” and “‘Guidebook to False Confessions’: Key Document John Yoo Used to Draft Torture Memo Released.”
Mark Fallon served for more than 30 years in the federal law enforcement and counterintelligence community. He served as Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) Special Agent, and as Assistant Director for Training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center within the Department of Homeland Security. Mr. Fallon has been involved in many prominent cases, including the prosecution of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, and as serving as Commander of the USS Cole Task Force. He is the Director of ClubFed, LLC and specializes in providing strategic consulting services to clients in the public and private sector on developing knowledge and enhancing performance in alignment with mission objectives. Mark is the author of the upcoming book We Tortured Some Folks – Terrorizing The American Way.
Mark has been involved in some of the most significant terrorism investigations and operations in recent history, including the prosecution of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman (known as “the Blind Sheik”) and the attack on the USS Cole (DDG-67).
Following the attacks of 9/11, Mark was appointed the Deputy Commander and Special Agent in Charge of the Department of Defense (DOD) Criminal Investigation Task Force (CITF), responsible for the investigation of terrorists possible trials before Military Commission and assessing the potential risks associated with the release or transfer of detained terrorist suspects. He led forward deployed elements in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. You can watch a video of a talk by Mark Fallon on YouTube and you can follow him on Twitter.
On The Monitor this week:
- Reporting from Syria and not just on Syria – an interview with Eva Bartlett
- The difference between a tactic and a strategy for dealing with ISIS – an interview with Ambassador Edward Djerejian
More about this week’s guests:
Eva Bartlett is a Canadian freelance journalist and activist who has lived in and written from the Gaza Strip, Syria, and Lebanon. She has visited Syria four times in the last 2 years (April and June 2014, February and December 2015). You can read other articles by Eva, or visit Eva’s website. She has a lengthy article published on DissdentVoice titled Deconstructing the NATO Narrative on Syria
You can follow here on twitter here and read her articles about Syria here. The interview attempts to dissect the divergent narratives presented about Syria in the media and to get an eyewitness account from somebody who has actually been there. It is sure to cause some controversy.
Edward Djerejian is a former United States diplomat who served in eight administrations from John F. Kennedy to Bill Clinton (1962–94.) He served as the United States Ambassador to Syria (1988–91) and Israel (1993–94), Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan and Deputy Press Secretary of Foreign Affairs (1985-1986), and was Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs (1991-1993.) He is the director of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University and is the author of the book Danger and Opportunity: An American Ambassador’s Journey Through the Middle East. You can read his full bio here and follow him on twitter here
The main focus of the interview is Ambassador Djerejian’s policy brief on ISIS titled A STRATEGY TOWARD DEFEATING ISIS in which he argued that recent attacks were an opportunity for a U.S.-led coalition to come together to defeat a common enemy. Full text available online in English (CME-ISIS-111915) and Arabic (CME-ISIS-Arabic-122115).
During the interview I asked Ambassador Djerejian for his response to the speech President Obama gave in which he outlined the U.S. response to the terror threat posed by ISIS: Full text of President Obama’s speech in reaction to the shootings in San Bernardino, CA You can also read Ambassador Djerejian’s June 2, 1992 speech mentioned towards the end of the interview: Meridian House Speech.
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This week we have Marjorie Cohn on the show to talk about her latest article “Want Endless War? Love the U.S. Empire? Well, Hillary Clinton’s Your Choice” and a volume she edited called Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral and Geopolitical Issues which you can get during this week’s show for a pledge of $120.
”This book provides much-needed analysis of why America’s targeted killing program is illegal, immoral and unwise.” —from the foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu
“Very important book… In a few months we will commemorate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, which, despite the limits of the day, established the founding principle of modern law: presumption of innocence. Today that principle has been rescinded. Guilty verdicts are no longer to be rendered by a jury of peers, but by a White House session deciding who we are going to kill today along with whatever unfortunates happen to be in the vicinity of the drone attack. As these valuable essays show, Obama s global terror campaign is a menace to the world, and Americans are not likely to escape unscathed.”
You can also get a copy of Censored 2016: The Top Censored Stories and Media Analysis of 2014-15 for a pledge of $90.
More about this week’s guest: Marjorie Cohn has been a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law since 1991. In summer 2016, she will become Professor Emeritus, and will continue to lecture, write, and provide media commentary. A former news consultant for CBS News and a legal analyst for Court TV, Professor Cohn has been a legal and political commentator on BBC, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, NPR, and Pacifica Radio.
Professor Cohn is the author of Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law and co-author of Cameras in the Courtroom: Television and the Pursuit of Justice (with David Dow), and Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent (with Kathleen Gilberd). She is editor and contributor to The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration and Abuse, and Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues.