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Monday, March 31, 2008

War Resisters head to Canada

Next month, the Canadian House of Commons is slated to debate a resolution that would allow conscientious objectors “who have refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations” to apply for residency in Canada. The phrasing is vague but the intent is not. The war in question is the Iraq war, and the resolution represents the culmination of a four-year debate about what to do with the small but steady stream of American soldiers who have fled across our northern border to avoid fighting in Iraq.


It all began in Jan. 2004, when a young American with a long, serious face walked into the Toronto law office of Jeffry House to ask for help with what was at the time a highly unusual immigration case. The American turned out to be a soldier named Jeremy Hinzman, an infantryman in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. He told House that his petition for conscientious-objector status was denied while he was stationed in Afghanistan. He crossed the border into Canada just days before his unit was to be deployed to Iraq. Of the more than 25,000 American soldiers who, according to the United States Department of Defense, have deserted since 2003, the Toronto-based War Resisters Support Campaign estimates that 225 have fled to Canada. (The D.O.D defines a deserter as anyone who has been AWOL for 30 consecutive days or who seeks asylum in a foreign country; desertion carries a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment.)

The majority of the deserters in Canada have chosen not to make the authorities aware of their presence. Like any other illegal immigrants, they have settled for invisibility. A few dozen, though, followed Hinzman’s lead. Most found their way to Jeffry House. One young Army medic named Justin Colby read an AOL news posting about Hinzman’s case while stationed in Iraq. He telephoned House from Ramadi and showed up in his office a few months later.

House would eventually represent between 30 and 35 American deserters. Most of them, like Colby, say they joined the military in part out of patriotism. “I thought Iraq had something to do with 9/11,” Colby says, “that they were the bad guys that attacked our country.” But unlike Hinzman, most did not apply for conscientious-objector status. They tend to say they aren’t opposed to all wars in principle — just to the one they were ordered to fight. It wasn’t until Colby arrived in Iraq that he started to see the conflict as “a war of aggression, totally unprovoked,” he says. “I was, like, ‘This is what my buddies are dying for?’ ” Midway through his tour, he decided: “I’m never going to do this again.” He went AWOL the day before his unit left to train for a second deployment. House says that more than two-thirds of his clients have been deployed to Iraq at least once. “One is resisting a third deployment.”

Tens of thousands of American draft dodgers and deserters took refuge in Canada in the late 1960s and early ’70s. House was one of them. He packed up his car and left his home in Wisconsin 38 years ago to start a new life in Canada. The process was simple. “I came to the border and said: ‘I would like to immigrate to Canada. I’m refusing to serve in Vietnam,’ ” he recalls. Border officials had him type up an application for residency on the spot. “Four weeks later, I got my permanent-resident status.” But times have changed since Pierre Trudeau, then the prime minister, declared Canada “a refuge from militarism.” While Canada is still a relative haven for asylum-seekers, its immigration laws have tightened sharply, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been a faithful ally of the Bush administration. (Harper has kept 2,500 Canadian troops in Afghanistan, whose deployment the House of Commons recently extended until 2011.) As a result, the new generation of war resisters find themselves in an uncomfortable squeeze. In today’s Canada, deserters like Hinzman really have only one legal option: to apply for residency as refugees.

“There’s a very clear Canadian precedent for the idea that no soldier has to participate in an illegal war,” House says. That precedent, interestingly enough, is a case in which an Iraqi Army soldier was granted asylum in Canada after fleeing to avoid taking part in the 1990 invasion of Kuwait. But House’s first task was to prove that the Iraq war is illegal. His argument relied largely on his reading of international law. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees lays out a slender possibility for relief. Mere disagreement with the “political justification for a particular military action” is not sufficient. The action must be “condemned by the international community as contrary to basic rules of human conduct.” Only in that case can punishment for desertion or draft evasion “be regarded as persecution.”

Juridically, at least, House saw the case as straightforward. A British court had awarded asylum to a Russian deserter of the Chechen war on the same basis. (British case law often influences Canadian jurisprudence.) And there was the precedent of the Iraqi deserter. But convincing the Canadian courts to equate George W. Bush’s occupation of Iraq with Saddam Hussein’s attack on Kuwait was a politically daunting task.

In the end, House never got the chance. He showed up at Hinzman’s first hearing armed with evidence arguing for the illegality of the Iraq war: 13 four-inch-thick binders containing everything from former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s memos on the treatment of detainees to Human Rights Watch reports to the British Army’s documentation of civilian deaths at American military checkpoints. In March 2005, the immigration board ruled against Hinzman, insisting that its “authority does not include making judgments about United States foreign policy.”

A Canadian federal court upheld that decision in 2006, interpreting the relevant international law to apply only to high-level policy makers. “The ordinary foot soldier,” the court ruled, “is not expected to make his or her personal assessment as to the legality of a conflict.” All the documents in House’s 13 binders were thus irrelevant. House objected that policy makers are rarely asked to take up arms. But an appeals court ruled against him last April on other grounds.

“The present position is basically Pontius Pilate,” House told me last fall, not long before he hit the end of the legal road. In mid-November, the Supreme Court dismissed his request for an appeal. “It’s a huge loss,” House said at the time. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s the court deciding not to be involved in the controversy.”

The deserters’ fight has since passed out of the courts and into the hazy realm of politics. On Dec. 6, the Parliament’s immigration committee passed the resolution that would give American deserters a chance at residency. The vote broke down along party lines: the four members of the Conservative Party (which is currently in power but lacks a parliamentary majority) voted against it, but they were outnumbered by the seven representatives of the three major opposition parties.

Whether such unity will survive the full House of Commons debate next month remains to be seen. The Iraq war has been immensely unpopular in Canada, and the leaders of the Bloc Quebecois and the left-leaning New Democratic Party have both come out in support of the resolution. But Canadian M.P.’s tend to vote with far more party discipline than their American counterparts, and St├ęphane Dion, the head of the Liberal Party, has not yet taken a public stance on the bill. Without his support, its fate is uncertain.

In the meantime, the deserters have little to do but wait. Though the United States Army does issue arrest warrants for deserters, it does not actively track them down; even at home, deserters are most likely to be apprehended if they are picked up for an unrelated offense. According to a State Department spokeswoman, the United States has made no diplomatic efforts to bring deserters home from Canada. And despite the Canadian Supreme Court decision in November, none have yet been deported. But, as House puts it, “the machinery is grinding along.” At least eight deserters, including Hinzman, have received Preremoval Risk Assessment notices, the bureaucratic preludes to actual deportation orders. It’s very unlikely, though, that the government will make any move before the parliamentary vote in April. Even then, the deserters’ supporters say they hope, the government might prefer that this issue disappear. Given the unpopularity of the Iraq war and the Harper administration’s narrow hold on power, “the Conservatives have nothing to gain if this issue becomes very public,” says Michelle Robidoux of the War Resisters Support Campaign.

Undeterred by the Supreme Court ruling, new arrivals are still showing up. Robidoux’s group has added five to its roster in just the last three weeks. For Colby, Hinzman and others, uncertainty in Canada apparently looks better than combat in Iraq. “Every day that I’m here,” Colby says, “I’m glad I’m not in Baghdad.”



Thursday, March 27, 2008

Winter Soldier Iraq/Afghanistan New Videos

Kristofer Goldsmith saw the World Trade Center towers collapse on September 11, 2001. He enlisted in the Army and went to Iraq in 2005. In Sadr City, he witnessed abuse of Iraqi civilians. He was assigned to take pictures of Iraqis found in a shallow grave, ostensibly for intelligence purposes, but they were only used as trophies by those who received them. After repeated commendations, he was expecting to return to civilian life and college when President Bush announced the “surge,” and the military adopted its stop-loss policy, essentially making Goldsmith a prisoner of war. He tried to kill himself rather than return to Iraq, but survived. He was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and PTSD, but then was discharged for misconduct as a malingerer. He now delivers pizzas and struggles to overcome his persisting symptoms with treatment through the VA.


Please listen to what they have to say.

http://ivaw.org/wintersoldier/testimony/video


Take the time to listen. They need to be heard.

Online classified hoax ad ends in grief for absent homeowner

Online classified hoax ad ends in grief for absent homeowner

Craigslist a favourite with opportunistic fraudsters

Vito Pilieci, The Ottawa Citizen

Published: Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Jacksonville, Oregon, man was shocked to find people rummaging through his personal belongings on the weekend as the result of a fake advertisement that someone had placed on the popular Internet classified ad site, Craigslist.

The ad stated that a homeowner, Robert Salisbury, was forced to immediately vacate his house and move out of the country. As a result, the ad went on to say, the sheriffs department had declared the contents of the home, as well as Mr. Salisbury's horse, abandoned. It urged anyone who was interested in the home's contents to drive to the house and take whatever they wanted. The ads appeared on the website on Saturday afternoon.

Mr. Salisbury, who was away for the day, found out about the ad when he was contacted by a woman who had turned up to check on the horse.

Michelle Easley said she saw the ad on Craigslist and raced over to make sure the horse was in good health. She found the horse in perfect health, but was surprised by the people ransacking Mr. Salisbury's home.

She decided to call the homeowner to make sure the ad was real.

Mr. Salisbury raced home to find cars and trucks full of his belongings leaving the property. Rummagers had taken everything, including his appliances, electronics, gardening equipment and even the swing on his front porch. When he tried to confront some of them, they showed him the Craigslist ad drove off.

"I informed them I was the owner, but they refused to give the stuff back," Mr. Salisbury told the Associated Press on the weekend. "They showed me the Craigslist printout and told me they had the right to do what they did."

He entered his home and found another 30 people ransacking his belongings.

The police were called and managed to control the situation, but numerous trucks and cars jammed with Mr. Salisbury's belongings had already left.

Police said anyone caught with his property in their possession would be charged with theft.

By Tuesday afternoon, some of those involved returned what they had taken, as piles of Mr. Salisbury's stuff began to appear on his driveway.

Police have also contacted Craigslist and asked for information that may help identify the person that posted the fake ads.

This isn't the first time something like this has happened on Craigslist. The popular online classified site has become a favourite stalking place for fraudsters. In April, a Tacoma, Washington woman placed a similar hoax ad on Craigslist as a way of getting back at her aunt's landlord. The ad read, "Moving out ... House being demolished. Come and take whatever you want, nothing is off limits."

Mobs turned up and stripped the landlord's house, taking everything including the stainless steel sinks.

The woman was caught and charged with second-degree burglary and criminal impersonation in May.

In an e-mail statement sent by Craigslist spokeswoman Susan MacTavish Best yesterday, the company claims it is doing everything it can to find out who is behind the incident.

"Misuse of craigslist for illegal purposes is absolutely unacceptable to us, and we will work together with law enforcement until the perpetrator of this outrage has been brought to justice," read the statement. "Craigslist is an extremely unwise choice for committing crime, since criminals inevitably leave an electronic trail to themselves that law enforcement officers will follow."

According to the Ottawa Police Service, nothing like this has been reported in Ottawa.

Khadr's Lawyers in Court

Khadr's Lawyers in Court
Lawyers for the only Canadian suspect held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay will take their fight for freedom to the highest court in Canada.

Omar Khadr's lawyers will appear before the Supreme Court of Canada to argue that both the Canadian and American governments have violated his rights and international law.

They say the Canadian government infringed on the Charter of Rights when they interviewed Khadr at Guantanamo and then passed the results of those interviews to U.S. authorities. They also claim the United States is in violation of international law because they plan to try him before a special military tribunal that doesn't meet accepted legal standards.

Khadr is demanding his lawyers have access to documents held by the federal government so he can use them during his trial in the U.S. He is accused of killing an American soldier during combat in Afghanistan in 2002. He was just 15 at the time and has been held in Guantanamo ever since.

The government says Khadr's demands are a fishing expedition that could potentially compromise sensitive intelligence information. They also argue that a Canadian court is no place to pass judgment on American trial practices.

Meanwhile the man who spent weeks interrogating Khadr in Afghanistan is denying accusations he treated the Canadian badly.

The former U.S. soldier says he has been unfairly portrayed as a torturer who allegedly beat suspects. In 2005, Joshua Claus pleaded guilty to the maltreatment and assault of another Afghan prisoner, a taxi driver who was sentenced to five months in jail.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Free Trade Causes Suffering

All costs, no benefits: How TRIPS-plus intellectual property rules in the US-Jordan FTA affect access to medicines

The USA continues to impose TRIPS-plus rules on developing countries, thus preventing poor people from accessing inexpensive, generic medicines. Jordan was required under the terms of its WTO accession package and its free trade agreement (FTA) with the USA to introduce TRIPS-plus rules. Medicine prices have increased drastically, and TRIPS-plus rules were partly responsible for this increase. Furthermore, stricter levels of intellectual property protection have conferred few benefits with respect to foreign direct investment, domestic research and development, or accelerating introduction of new, effective medicines. Medicine prices will continue to rise in Jordan, but the country will be unable to use TRIPS safeguards to reduce their cost. Other developing countries implementing or considering FTAs with TRIPS-plus rules should consider the consequences for public health.

All costs, no benefits: How TRIPS-plus intellectual property rules in the US-Jordan FTA affect access to medicinesAll costs, no benefits: How TRIPS-plus intellectual property rules in the US-Jordan FTA affect access to medicines (pdf 340.8 kb)

Summary

Since enactment of the TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Agreement in 1995, the USA has imposed progressively higher levels of intellectual property protection (TRIPS-plus rules) on developing countries, which undermines access to affordable medicines. The US-Jordan free trade agreement (FTA) introduced a rigid framework of TRIPS-plus rules that the USA continues to impose on developing countries, although subsequent FTAs have even stricter levels of intellectual property (IP) protection. Jordan was also required to increase the level of IP protection under the terms of its accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Medicine prices in Jordan have increased 20 per cent since 2001. Higher medicine prices are now threatening the financial sustainability of government public health programmes. TRIPS-plus rules contributed to the increase in medicine prices, and will delay or prevent use of public health safeguards to reduce the price of new medicines in the future. In particular, data exclusivity has delayed generic competition for 79 per cent of medicines newly launched by 21 multinational pharmaceutical companies between 2002 and mid-2006, that otherwise would have been available in an inexpensive, generic form. Data exclusivity is a TRIPS-plus rule that creates a new system of monopoly power, separate from patents, by blocking the registration and marketing approval of generic medicines for five or more years, even when no patent exists.

Additional expenditures for medicines with no generic competitor, as a result of enforcement of data exclusivity by multinational drug companies, were between $6.3m and $22.04m. These expenditures have required that both public health system and individuals pay higher prices for many new medicines that are needed to treat serious non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as hypertension, asthma, diabetes, and mental illness. For example, new medicines to treat diabetes and heart disease cost anywhere from two to six times more in Jordan than in Egypt, where there are no TRIPS-plus barriers.

Furthermore, there have been no benefits from introducing strict IP rules in Jordan, despite positive assertions made by the United States Trade Representative (USTR) and other USJordan since 2001 to synthesise or manufacture medicines in partnership with local generics companies, which also has serious implications for public health. Patients in Jordan pay from two to ten times more for some new medicines compared with patients in Egypt, where new medicines are manufactured locally through licensing agreements and partnerships. The only FDI into Jordan by multinational drug companies has been to expand scientific offices, which use aggressive sales tactics to ensure that expensive patented medicines are used instead of inexpensive generics.

Furthermore, stricter intellectual property rules have not encouraged Jordanian generic companies to engage in research and development (R&D) for medicines since passage of the FTA; these companies have not developed any new medicines. Finally, new product launches in Jordan are only a fraction of total product launches in the USA and the EU; many new medicines launched in Jordan are exorbitantly priced and unaffordable for ordinary people, and few or no units of these recently launched medicines have actually been purchased on the local market, due to their cost.
government officials ever since the agreement was enforced. In particular, there has been nearly no foreign direct investment (FDI) by drug companies into

In the future, an increasing burden of non-communicable diseases will require even greater expenditure on health care and medicines. Higher medicine prices will put a strain on the public health system, and for those Jordanians without health insurance, the higher prices will require significant out-of-pocket expenditure that disproportionately harms the poorest. Yet Jordan has fewer options now that TRIPS-plus rules are in place, and the government will be unable to mitigate higher medicine prices through the use of public health safeguards.

To reduce the burden of the US TRIPS-plus agenda and its effects on access to medicines, Oxfam recommends:

Jordan

  • Resist entry into the Patent Co-operation Treaty (PCT);
  • Introduce exceptions to data exclusivity that reduce its impact on generic competition;
  • Severely restrict scope of patentability in its IP law, and in particular, consider replicating India’s definition of scope of patentability;
  • Repeal its stringent restrictions on parallel importation

USA

  • Stop coercing developing countries into adopting TRIPS-plus IP protections through bilateral and regional trade agreements and through other forms of pressure and inducement.

Other developing countries

  • Prevent introduction of TRIPS-plus rules in national legislation, and fully implement TRIPS safeguards to ensure production of generic medicines for domestic consumption and for export to other developing countries.

A Matter of Political Will: How the European Union can maintain market access for African, Caribbean and Pacific countries in the absence of Economic Partnership Agreements

The European Commission has threatened 76 of the world’s poorest countries with lower access to the EU market – if they fail to sign new trade deals known as Economic Partnerhip Agreements (EPAs) by the end of 2007, when their current market access preferences expire. But the threats are not justified: in the event that African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) nations are not ready to sign by the end of the year, the European Union could still continue to provide them with a high level of market access, using the GSP-plus scheme, without breaching World Trade Organization rules. This level of market access would also be compatible with their developmental needs.

A Matter of Political Will: How the European Union can maintain market access for African, Caribbean and Pacific countries in the absence of Economic Partnership AgreementsA Matter of Political Will: How the European Union can maintain market access for African, Caribbean and Pacific countries in the absence of Economic Partnership Agreements (pdf 249.9 kb)

GSP+ would take the pressure off

The 76 African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) countries currently negotiating Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the European Union (EU) are under tremendous pressure. The current system of Cotonou Preferences, which provides ACP exporters with preferential access to the EU market, expires at the end of 2007.

The Cotonou Agreement legally requires the EU to leave no ACP country worse off after the expiry of Cotonou Preferences, in ways that are compatible with World Trade Organisation rules. But the European Commission (EC) does not appear to be taking the necessary steps to realise these legal assurances. The EC maintains that there is only one means to fulfil its obligation: a free trade agreement or EPA.

If the six negotiating regions do not sign EPAs by the end of December 2007, the EC has declared that it will not continue Cotonou Preferences. Instead, from 1 January 2008 least-developed countries will have to rely on the Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme which provides duty-free, quota-free access. All others would have to rely on the standard Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), which the EU provides to all developing countries. This is not a viable option. The standard GSP provides far lower preferences than Cotonou and could be devastating for export sectors in ACP countries.

But the EC’s current EPAs proposals pose a serious threat to ACP economies. The stakes are very high. The EU is the largest trading partner for most ACP countries. As an advanced industrialised economy, it is also one of the most powerful competitors in the world. While it is possible to design an economic relationship that benefits ACP countries, the EC’s current proposals threaten to do the opposite.

As the deadline draws close, exporters are becoming alarmed at the prospects of facing high tariffs into the EU market. The EU appears to be ‘watching the clock’, hoping that as pressure mounts, ACP countries will have no option but to accept their proposals. The EC has refused to accept many constructive offers placed on the table by ACP countries, and has failed to, or delayed in, responding to other requests.

The pressure to conclude EPAs in December, which is likely to be on the EU’s terms, would mean the abandonment by the ACP of their development proposals. An EPA signed under such circumstances would be an injustice to the millions of people whose futures depend on these negotiations. ACP and EU leaders have a legal and moral obligation to negotiate an agreement that supports development.

The choice that the EC is offering between an EPA and the standard GSP is a false one. The EC can at the very minimum offer a GSP+ system of preferences. This would provide all ACP countries with a high level of market access for their exports beyond the expiry of Cotonou Preferences, and that ACP countries could well meet the eligibility criteria for GSP+. This would be compatible with World Trade Organisation rules. With sufficient political will the EU could allow all ACP countries to join GSP+ in 2007. The EC and member states should immediately open up such avenues to ACP countries, so that negotiators can rest assured that current trade would not be disrupted after the end of 2007.


Footnotes

(1) The GSP+ or ‘Special Incentive Arrangement For Sustainable Development And Good Governance’ scheme provides preferential access that is substantially higher than GSP for countries implementing certain international standards in human and labour rights, environmental protection, the fight against drugs, and good governance. Currently, 15 developing countries, mainly in Latin America, are granted preferential access to the EU under this scheme.

40% of aid to Afghanistan goes to consultants: report

40% of aid to Afghanistan goes to consultants: report

Pledges fall short amid staggering inefficiency, waste

Tom Coghlan, The Daily Telegraph; with files from Agence France-Presse

Published: Tuesday, March 25, 2008

KABUL - Nearly half the $15 billion in foreign aid given by Britain, the U.S. and other countries to rebuild Afghanistan since 2001 has been spent on consultants and contractors, according to a report by aid agencies released yesterday.

The report by the Agency Co-ordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR), which represents 94 aid agencies, reveals staggering levels of inefficiency and waste within both the international aid effort and the Afghan government.

The report's author, Matt Waldman, from Oxfam, estimates that $6 billion, approximately 40 per cent of the total given, has been spent on consultants, mostly private security contractors. The same sum would fund the entire Afghan education budget for the next 20 years.

The report also warns of the danger of corruption, claiming that Afghan officials have no records of how $5.3 billion was spent.

Many of the nations that pledged money after the fall of the Taliban, have failed to deliver, with the report finding a $10-billion shortfall in the money pledged.

Some nations such as the U.S., Britain, Japan, Germany and Canada have made major donations. But other wealthy western nations are accused of having made "scant" financial contributions. France ($80 million) and Spain ($26 million) are highlighted as having been notably miserly.

The U.S. is the biggest donor to Afghanistan, but it also has one of the biggest shortfalls, with the Afghan government saying it delivered only half of its $ 10.4-billion commitment between 2002 and 2008, ACBAR says.

British officials say that country has spent $990 million specifically on reconstruction, with a further $220 million in the coming year.

The British government also insists that 80 per cent of its aid goes through the Afghan government so that it will be capable of managing its own affairs in the future.

However, a prominent Afghan MP, Shukria Barakzai, claimed: "This report is wrong, the situation is worse than this. In every dollar, only 11 cents is going to Afghans. The rest is returning to the West."

"Increasing insecurity and criminality is jeopardizing progress in Afghanistan," the report says.

"With low government revenues, international assistance constitutes around 90 per cent of all public expenditure in the country," it says.

"Thus how it is spent has an enormous impact on the lives of almost all Afghans and will determine the success of reconstruction and development."

Among thousands of refugees displaced by fighting in Helmand and camped on the edge of the capital Lashkargar, this week, the Telegraph found deep pessimism.

"Some NGOs are working really hard, but they are only helping a few people," said one man, named Rahmatullah.

"Don't mention President (Hamid) Karzai. We hate him. Every Afghan should be a millionaire, but where is the money?"

Report: Afghan aid money spent on high salaries, living costs

March 25, 2008 9:52 AM

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Too much money meant for Afghanistan aid is wasted, with a vast amount spent on foreign workers' high salaries, security and living arrangements, according to a report from humanitarian groups published Tuesday.

The prospects for peace in Afghanistan are being undermined because Western countries are failing to deliver on aid promises - and because much of the aid money they do send is going to expatriate workers, according to the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief, an alliance of 94 international aid agencies.

Since 2001, the international community has pledged $25 billion in help but has delivered only $15 billion, the alliance said. Of that $15 billion, some 40 percent of it - or $6 billion - goes back to donor countries in corporate profits and consultant salaries, the report found.

''A vast amount of aid is absorbed by high salaries, living, security, transport and accommodation costs for expatriates working for consulting firms or contractors,'' the report said. The costs are increasing with a recent deterioration in security, it said.

The cost of a full-time expatriate consultant working in Afghanistan is around $250,000, according to the group.

This is some 200 times the average annual salary of an Afghan civil servant, who is paid less than $1,000'' per year, the report said.

Amy Frumin, an international affairs fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations who spent a year in Afghanistan as an officer on a U.S. Agency for International Development reconstruction team, said blaming high expat salaries is unfair.

''You have to pay them good money to do that. They're still having trouble finding people to fill these positions. It's a dangerous place. Not many people are willing to risk their limbs,'' she said.

The report said that Afghanistan's biggest donor, USAID, the U.S. government's aid arm, allocates close to half of its funds to five large U.S. contractors and that ''it is clear that substantial amounts of aid continue to be absorbed in corporate profits.''

The five companies are KBR, the Louis Berger Group, Chemonics International, Bearing Point and Dyncorp International, the report said.

Donors, especially the United States, should ensure the primary objective of aid programs is poverty reduction and that they address genuine Afghan needs and build Afghan capacity, it said.

The report also said the United States has not delivered $5 billion worth of aid it pledged to help rebuild Afghanistan, and other donors have fallen short by about that same amount.

Jim Kunder, acting deputy administrator of USAID, said he recognized there are always concerns about the speed in which aid is delivered but he said the envisioned work is being done.

''The U.S. government is on track to provide the aid to Afghanistan that it pledged,'' Kunder said in a telephone interview from Washington.

He said the report didn't recognize that often much of the cash earmarked for projects isn't spent until the work is completed. Roads and schools are being built and the Afghans are being helped to create democratic institutions even though the final bills haven't come in, he said.

USAID said it had pledged $25.8 billion, and of that $17.4 billion has been spent or is in the pipeline. Kunder said the money has gone to a broad variety of projects, including ''supporting the national elections, constructing roads, reducing infant mortality by 22 percent, putting more than four million Afghan children in schools.''

Previous reports by aid groups have said the international community is spending far less aid money in Afghanistan per capita - and putting far fewer soldiers on the ground - than it has in previous conflicts.

In the two years following the U.S.-led invasion, Afghanistan received $57 per capita in aid, while Bosnia and East Timor received $679 and $233 per capita respectively, the ACBAR report said.

---

Associated Press writers Lindsay Holmwood and Kent Kilpatrick in New York contributed to this report.

AP-WS-03-25-08 1232EDT

Major donors failing Afghanistan due to $10bn aid shortfall


Forty per cent of aid spending returns to rich countries in corporate profits and consultant costs

The prospects for peace in Afghanistan are being undermined because Western countries are failing to deliver on their promises of aid to the tune of $10bn and because aid going to the country is used ineffectively, according to a new report written by ACBAR, an alliance international aid agencies working in Afghanistan.

The international community has pledged $25bn to Afghanistan since 2001 but has only delivered $15bn. The US is the biggest donor to Afghanistan but also has one of the biggest shortfalls - according to the Afghan governmentbetween 2002 and 2008 the US only delivered half of its $10.4bn commitment.

The same sources show that over this period the EC and Germany distributed less than two-thirds of their respective $1.7bn and $1.2bn commitments, and the World Bank has distributed just over half of its $1.6bn commitment. The UK pledged $1.45bn and distributed $1.3bn.

An estimated 40% of the money spent has returned to rich donor countries such as the USKabul and the international airport cost the US over $2.3m per kilometer, at least four times the average cost of building a road in Afghanistan.

Around 90% of all public spending in Afghanistan comes from international aid so the massive shortfall hinders efforts to rebuild infrastructure damaged by over two decades of war, and to ensure the widespread delivery of essential services such as education and health.

The report’s author Matt Waldman, Afghanistan policy adviser at international aid agency Oxfam, said: “The reconstruction of Afghanistan requires a sustained and substantial commitment of aid - but donors have failed to meet their aid pledges to Afghanistan. Too much aid from rich countries is wasted, ineffective or uncoordinated.

“Given the slow pace of progress in Afghanistan, and the links between poverty and conflict, the international community must urgently get its act together.

“Spending on tackling poverty is a fraction of what is spent on military operations.

“While the US military is currently spending $100m a day in Afghanistan, aid spent by all donors since 2001 is on average less than a tenth of that- just $7m a day.”

The report says a level of donor under-spending can be expected because of the lack of government capacity, large-scale corruption and challenging security conditions. But the size of the shortfall highlights theimportance of donors making concerted efforts to address these issues.

The report also shows that a disproportionate amount of aid follows the conflict and is being used for political and military objectives rather than reducing poverty.

Mr. Waldman said: “This is a short-sighted policy. There must be strong support for development in the south but if other provinces are neglected then insecurity could spread.”

Looking to the future of aid to Afghanistan, Mr. Waldman said: “The priority now is to increase the volume of aid and ensure it makes a sustainable difference for the poorest Afghans, especially in rural areas. Aid must address Afghan needs, build local capacities and help Afghans help themselves.”

ACBAR’s main recommendations are: through corporate profits, consultant salaries and other costs, vastly pushing up expenditure. For example, a road between the center of

  • Increased volume of aid, particularly to rural areas.
  • Transparency by donors and improved information flows to the Afghan government.
  • Better measurement of the impact, efficiency and relevance of aid.
  • An independent commission on aid effectiveness to monitor donor performance.
  • Effective coordination between donors and with the Afghan government.

Falling short: Aid effectiveness in Afghanistan


Report by ACBAR (Agencies Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief)

Increasing insecurity and criminality is jeopardizing progress in Afghanistan. With low government revenues, international assistance constitutes around 90% of all public expenditure in the country, thus how it is spent has an enormous impact on the lives of almost all Afghans and will determine the success of reconstruction and development. Given the links between development and security, the effectiveness of aid also has a major impact on peace and stability in the country. Yet thus far aid has been insufficient and in many cases wasteful or ineffective. There is therefore no time to lose: donors must take urgent steps to increase and improve their assistance to Afghanistan.

Falling short: Aid effectiveness in AfghanistanFalling short: Aid effectiveness in Afghanistan (pdf 1.6 mb)

Executive summary

Increasing insecurity and criminality is jeopardizing progress in Afghanistan. With low government revenues, international assistance constitutes around 90% of all public expenditure in the country, thus how it is spent has an enormous impact on the lives of almost all Afghans and will determine the success of reconstruction and development. Given the links between development and security, the effectiveness of aid also has a major impact on peace and stability in the country. Yet thus far aid has been insufficient and in many cases wasteful or ineffective. There is therefore no time to lose: donors must take urgent steps to increase and improve their assistance to Afghanistan.

Conclusions and recommendations

The impact of assistance to Afghanistan is heavily affected by the wider social, economic, legal, security and political environment; thus, reforms are required in many spheres in order to maximise aid effectiveness. Aid has made a significant difference to Afghan lives, but major weaknesses have severely constrained its capacity to reduce poverty. Thus, donors and the Afghan government should urgently adopt
the following recommendations.

Volume of aid In conjunction with steps to enhance its effectiveness, donors should increase the volume of development and humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, which is a fraction of military assistance.

Donors should seek to allocate more funds to the Afghan government (covered below) and to effective NGOs, fulfil aid promises, and provide more multi-year aid commitments. To avoid aid dependency, the government must strengthen efforts to increase domestic revenue.

Distribution of aid There needs to be a comprehensive and objective assessment of the reconstruction, development and humanitarian needs of Afghanistan’s provinces, and a corresponding reconfiguration of government and donor spending. Whilst insecurity undoubtedly increases the costs of delivering assistance, there needs to be a more equitable distribution of resources and a high level of support for areas with greater development and humanitarian needs.

Quality of aid Donors should ensure their aid programmes have the primary or ultimate objective of reducing poverty, and that they are demand-driven, address needs as identified by Afghans, build local capacity, and are accountable to Afghan citizens and government. More aid must be directed to projects that benefit people living in rural areas, and gender equality objectives should be a primary consideration in the design and implementation of all development activities. Each donor should institute an annual aid review to measure its performance in each of these respects, and to assess consistency with the Afghan National Development Strategy (ANDS). The revised ANDS and other donor–Afghan government development plans should incorporate prioritisation and sequencing, according to the comparative importance and magnitude of poverty reduction objectives.

Indicators of aid effectiveness Donors and the Afghan government should collectively agree on indicators of aid effectiveness, with correlative targets, measuring the impact, efficiency, relevance, sustainability, accountability, and Afghan ownership of aid, as well as the use of Afghan human and material resources.

Monitoring and accountability A national, independent commission for aid effectiveness should be established to monitor aid practices, identify deficiencies and make recommendations. The commission could issue an annual ‘report card’ for each donor, highlighting levels of achievement in respect of the proposed targets. Measures should be taken to strengthen downward accountability to citizens. Donors should provide funding for civil society organisations to carry out monitoring of aid flows and budget processes, which helps to ensure sustainable scrutiny of aid effectiveness.

Transparency Donors should publicly provide full information on aid flows; the Afghanistan Donor Assistance Database should be overhauled, updated and allow full public access to aid information.

Ownership and governance To maximize Afghan ownership of the development process, donors should seek to increase incrementally the level of aid provided to the government sector and to increase the volume of funds channelled to the core budget, especially the development budget component. To justify this, the Afghan government should take steps to:

• Improve budget execution capabilities, particularly implementing capacities of line ministries;
• Strengthen financial management and fiscal controls;
• Expedite public administration reform, especially in the civil service;
• Ensure rigorous implementation of the government’s anti-corruption strategy; enhance transparency; improve monitoring, oversight and audit; and streamline government processes and procedures; and
• Reform sub-national governance, de-concentrate centralised line ministries; build institutional and systems capacities at local level; and expand the participation of communities and civil society in designing, implementing, directing and monitoring development activities.

Coordination and alignment Donors should use existing mechanisms to improve donor-government coordination; the human and financial resources of both the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board (JCMB) and UN should be strengthened for this purpose. Donors should provide the government with timely, comprehensive and accurate information on all aid flows, and ensure they are consistent with national and local development priorities, above all, the ANDS.

Donors should substantially increase support for sectoral programs, through mechanisms such as the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, and thereby exceed the Paris Declaration target of 66% of aid delivered through such programmes. Donors should also increase the proportion of joint analytical work from one-third to two-thirds and ensure that at least half of donor missions are undertaken jointly. Procedures Donors should simplify and harmonize bureaucratic processes and procedures for project management; they should establish a working group for this purpose, with Afghan government and NGO
representation.

Technical assistance Donors should ensure that technical assistance (TA) is cost-effective, demanddriven, coordinated, aligned with national priorities, and focused on capacity building national staff. Pooled funds should be established by donors to oversee the provision of TA to specific ministries.

Contractors Donors should only use contractors who have a record of efficiency, and avoid multiple layers of sub-contracting. They should agree common rules or principles for contracting and tendering.

Provincial Reconstruction Teams PRTs must enhance the quality and impact of their assistance, ensure it is aligned with official national or local priorities and coordinate fully with state institutions. They should adhere to their mandate to facilitate the development of a stable and secure environment, and, in line with their interim status, they should be downscaled, with closure plans for those in comparatively secure areas. Donor funds should be re-routed from PRTs to local and national government, such as through the NSP.

Date of original publication: March 2008

Torture in Our Own Backyards

Torture in Our Own Backyards

The Fight Against Supermax Prisons

By Jessica Pupovac

In supermax prisons, 23 hours a day of solitary confinement is the norm. How did our prison system become so cruel?

25/03/08 "AlterNet" -- -Imagine living in an 8-by-12 prison cell, in solitary confinement, for eight years straight. Your entire world consists of a dank, cinder block room with a narrow window only three inches high, opening up to an outdoor cement cage, cynically dubbed, "the yard." If you're lucky, you spend one hour five days a week in that outdoor cage, where you gaze up through a wire mesh roof and hope for a glimpse of the sun. If you talk back to the guards or act out in any way, you might only venture outside one precious hour per week.

You go eight years without shaking a hand or experiencing any physical human contact. The prison guards bark orders and touch you only while wearing leather gloves, and then it's only to put you in full cuffs and shackles before escorting you to the cold showers, where they watch your every move.

You cannot make phone calls to your friends or family and must "earn" two visits per month, which inevitably take place through a Plexiglass wall. You are kept in full shackles the entire time you visit with your wife and children, and have to strain to hear their voices through speakers that record your every word. With no religious or educational programs to break up the time or elevate your thoughts, it's a daily struggle to keep your mind from unraveling.

This is how Reginald Akeem Berry describes his time in Tamms Correctional Facility, a "Supermax" state prison in southern Illinois, where he was held from March 1998 until July 2006. He now works to draw attention to conditions inside Tamms, where 261 inmates continue to be held in extreme isolation.

Once exclusively employed as a short-term punishment for particularly violent jailhouse infractions, "supermax" facilities, or "control units," are today designed specifically to hold large numbers of inmates in long-term solitary confinement. A concept that spread like wildfire in the 1990s, today an estimated 20,000 prisoners in 44 states live in these modern-day dungeons, judged to be "unmanageable" by prison officials and moved from other penitentiaries to the nearest supermax.

Life in supermax institutions is grueling. Inmates stay in their cells for at least 23 hours per day, and never so much as lay eyes on another prisoner. While many live under these conditions for five years, others continue, uncertain of how to earn their way out, for 10, 15 or even 20 years.

The effects of such extended periods of isolation on prisoners' physical and mental health, their chances of meaningful rehabilitation, and, ultimately, on the communities to which they will eventually return are coming under increasing fire, from lawyers, human rights advocates and the medical professionals who have treated them. Bolstered by growing concern over the United States' sanctioning of torture, and the effect it's had on the country's international standing, their calls to action are gaining ground. In 2000, and again in 2006, the United Nations Committee Against Torture condemned the kind of isolation imposed by the U.S. government in federal, state and county-run supermax prisons, calling it "extremely harsh." "The committee is concerned about the prolonged isolation periods detainees are subjected to," they stated, "the effect such treatment has on their mental health, and that its purpose may be retribution, in which case it would constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

"Sending someone to a supermax is punishment"

Defense attorney Jean Maclean Snyder, who has represented several Tamms prisoners, says the U.N. declaration is dead-on. "It is suspected that many [Tamms] prisoners have been sent there in retaliation for filing lawsuits about prison policies; because serious mental illnesses cause them to be disruptive; or simply because wardens at other prisons do not like them," she wrote in 2000, shortly after the original declaration was issued. Allan Mills of the Uptown People's Law Office in Chicago, Ill., thinks that the ambiguity surrounding how and why inmates are sent to supermax facilities constitutes a violation of due process. "Sending someone to a supermax is punishment," Mills told AlterNet, "and before someone gets punished, they have a right to a fair hearing." "Just like if you were to get a traffic ticket, you have a right to say 'I didn't do it' and bring witnesses, and the police would have to come and testify against you," he said. "The same should go for prisoners who are being subjected to this horrendous long-term confinement." Mills claims he has "tracked a pattern of prisoners being sent to Tamms because of them filing grievances or lawsuits and being jailhouse lawyers."

Assistant Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) Director Sergio Molina told AlterNet that, "Their behavior is their input," and although he claims the decision to transfer an inmate to Tamms is made on a "case-by-case basis," he wasn't able to expand further on the process.

Reginald Berry says he believes he was sent there for being "influential" among the general prison population. A former five-star leader of Chicago's infamous Vice Lords gang, he says he had the opportunity to turn in the "pistol" in a murder case, in return for a five-year sentence. However, he says, cooperating with the police against a fellow Vice Lord would have been "against the code," so instead he fought a first-degree murder charge in court and wound up with a 33-year jail sentence.

At first, life in Illinois state penitentiaries -- he was transferred to several over the years -- was manageable, since, in his words, "the animals were running the zoo." Through what he describes as a vast web of corruption and incompetence, "the guys who was the beast of the place were being rewarded by the warden" and were granted preferential job placements and access to coveted programs. "Might made right."

Following a series of prison riots and attacks on staff in the early 1990s (neither of which Berry had ever witnessed or been involved in) the Illinois General Assembly decided to construct the Tamms Closed Maximum Security Facility, or "CMAX." With a price tag of $72 million, Tamms CMAX opened its doors on March 10, 1998. The prison is capable of housing up to 500 of the department's "most disruptive, violent and problematic inmates," according to an IDOC brochure. IDOC also claims it costs approximately $60,000 per inmate per year to keep the facility running, a figure over three times higher than the per-inmate annual cost at other IDOC facilities.

Berry says that, although he heard supermax rumors swirling throughout the jailhouse, he never imagined that he would end up in one. As he tells it, he hadn't been involved in a violent altercation for years. Nonetheless, "they came back and punished all the guys they had given fringe benefits to, and I had been one of those brothers." Days after the Tamms facility opened, ten police officers in full riot gear came to his cell and escorted him out. One of those guards offered him what would be his last cigarette for the next eight years, before putting him on an IDOC van and sending him off to Tamms.

"Many of these inmates have become psychotic"

The moment he arrived at Tamms, Berry says, he knew "it was a different world." All his belongings were immediately confiscated, right down to his underwear. He was then cavity searched before being escorted, in full shackles and leg irons, to his cell. "Imagine if you've been smoking 20 years," he says. "Overnight you can't smoke no more, overnight you can't talk to your kids no more." The coffee was gone. Work and educational programs were gone. Human interaction was out of reach. Guards barked orders and harassed him.

After about a month of sitting in his cell, he began to hear other inmates' mental health slipping. "You get these guys and they don't know how to acclimate, so they start cutting themselves up," he recalled, adding that some would go so far as "taking a pen and sticking it all the way up into their penis," or even worse, attempting suicide.

One expert on the effects of solitary confinement, Dr. Terry Kupers, who consults prison agencies on mental health services, says it is not uncommon for "psychiatric symptoms [to] emerge in previously healthy prisoners … in this context of near-total isolation and idleness." Psychiatrist and Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Stuart Grassian concurs. In 2005 he told the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons that he had evaluated "scores of inmates" who "psychiatrically deteriorated during the course of their confinement in solitary." "Many of these inmates," he said. "have become psychotic, and many have engaged in self-injurious and self-mutilatory behavior."

Annibal Santiago, who has been incarcerated at Tamms since 1998, describes how it feels from the inside: "The mentally ill prisoners drive the normal prisoners crazy by screaming, crying, yelling into the pod at all hours of the day and night for days nonstop, by banging on toilets, doors, walls, and/or by shaking or kicking the doors so hard that it sounds like rumbling thunder, flooding the wing with toilet water, and by throwing feces at other prisoners or inserting feces into the air vents so that the whole wing receives a dose of the smell for months." "The constant bombardment of unrelenting stress takes its toll like a flurry of well-placed punches on a tired boxer's head," he wrote in a survey compiled by Tamms Year Ten Campaign, an activist group working to shut down the facility.

The innocent victims

Berry says that when he was first sentenced, he told his wife, Denise, that he would understand if he had to let her go. "I told her, you didn't commit this crime, you had no part of it, and I love you enough not to punish you with the hardships that's to come," he recounted. But she didn't. When he was transferred to Tamms, six hours south of Chicago, she moved the family to nearby Springfield so that they could visit as often as possible. Since the Illinois General Assembly approved funding for Tamms with IDOC's claim that it would serve as nothing more than a temporary, one-year-long "shock treatment" for problem inmates, Mrs. Berry thought it would be a temporary move. However, two years later, when it became clear that IDOC had no intention of transferring Berry in the foreseeable future, the family moved back to Chicago. Denise says she wasn't prepared for how difficult it would be to see her husband deteriorate so rapidly at Tamms, after having spent ten years in the general prison population. It was particularly hard for his teenage son, who watched as his father grew emaciated from a meager diet and lack of exercise, and saw dark circles form under his eyes from lack of sunlight. "What I had a problem with, being an inmate's wife," Denise says, "was how they degraded the inmates." She described her husband being shackled and forced to sit on a small cement stool for the duration of their visits. When officers would deny him a trip to the restroom, encouraging him to instead prematurely end their visit, she says it made her feel like an accomplice to his suffering.

Berry says one thing that kept him going was keeping his family at the forefront of his mind. It bothered him that Tamms prisoners were allowed to keep only 15 pictures in their cells. "Every time my wife sent me pictures, she'd send me sets of 24, and I'd say, 'OK, I got to decide right here which ones I want,' because if you get caught with more than that, they can give you a ticket and send you back down to seg [disciplinary segregation, a unit in which inmates have only one shower and one yard visit per week]." Inmates remain in "seg" for a minimum of 90 days and are not allowed visits for the duration. Once, says Berry, in what would be a devastating error, he tried to mail a picture to his son rather than throw it away. Because in the photo his son's hat was tilted to one side, the officers gave Berry a disciplinary ticket, allegedly for participating in gang-related activity. "My heart dropped to my knees," he says. "I told them, 'ya'll let this picture in here!'"

The violation earned him a ticket to "seg" for six months -- months that were tacked onto his sentence, which had been reduced for "good time." The decision meant that Berry's sentence would effectively be extended, forcing him to miss his youngest son's college graduation. "I was thinking, 'You missed the eighth-grade graduation, you missed the high school graduation, you've got to make this college graduation," Berry recalls. According to Denise, prison officials told her that if she could get proof that the people in the picture -- Berry's brother, Michael, his oldest son, Reggie Jr, and Willie Ware Jr., his nephew -- were not affiliated with gangs, they would reconsider his punishment. "I had to obtain their birth certificates," she says. Denise went to 28th Ward Representative Anazette Collins' office, as did the three men with their IDs. Their efforts proved futile. In the end, she says, "all this was compiled and sent to Tamms, and they did nothing."

Berry's son, Joe, graduated in May of 2006. Berry got home four months later. "I missed my son's graduation," he said, "and it crushed me."

Long-term effects

A 2007 Federal Bureau of Prisons (BoP) report lists family ties as integral to rehabilitation and successful re-entry into the general community. However, for many Tamms inmates, the lack of phone access, a prohibitive visitation process, and the distance from Chicago, where two-thirds of Tamms inmates are from, makes it nearly impossible to maintain those ties. The scheduling and approval process at Tamms requires weeks of planning and multiple rounds of paperwork. If visitors arrive late for their appointment, they are forced to begin the process all over again. With no public transportation near the site, the process become more than some people can handle -- or realistically afford.

The BoP also cites access to educational and vocational programs -- especially for minority populations -- as another key element in prisoner rehabilitation. Yet no such opportunities exist in supermax prisons, other than upper-level, self-guided study for the few inmates who have "earned" it.

According to a March 2008 study published in Prisons Journal, "the rapid expansion of the supermax has occurred despite no empirical evidence substantiating its effectiveness or value." Yet Tamms is just one portion of the billions of dollars that have been invested in supermax prisons. IDOC officials confirmed that they do not collect separate recidivism [or return] statistics for Tamms prisoners -- an alarming admission for prisoners, their families, and the broader community that many critics say points to a massive cover-up surrounding the human cost of supermax facilities.

As Paul Beachamp, a Tamms prisoner since 2002, puts it, "What happens when you lock up a dog in a cage for years at a time and constantly harass the dog and treat it bad while it's in the cage? Do you actually think that dog will act right once you let it out?" Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Corrections and Rehabilitation, issued a similar warning before a Senate hearing in 2006. "The experiences inmates have in prison -- whether violent or redemptive -- do not stay within prison walls, but spill over into the rest of society," he said. "Federal, state and local governments must address the problems faced by their respective institutions and develop tangible and attainable solutions."

Meanwhile, a range of alternative responses has yet to be explored. A 2006 national survey of 601 prison wardens, funded by the U.S. Department of Justice and administered by the Urban League, showed 62.5 percent of wardens agreeing or strongly agreeing that "staff training" would be an "effective alternative to supermax prisons." It was the No. 1 choice selected in the survey. Other popular alternatives, in order of preference, were to "use segregation cells in each prison facility," "provide targeted rehabilitative services" and "provide opportunities for spiritual development."

Prison activists across the country are working to shed light on this. Enlisting the support of lawmakers and lawyers who share their concern over the treatment of supermax prisoners -- and the rationale behind it -- they are fighting for legal precedents that would bring more services to supermax prisons, grant prisoners more mobility and opportunity and, ultimately, shut the facilities down. The Tamms Year Ten Campaign is one such coalition; it recently persuaded the Illinois House of Representatives to hold a hearing, scheduled for April 28, to consider arguments for and against the effectiveness and legality of Tamms.

Reginald Berry is part of that movement in Chicago, organized under the banner of the Tamms Ten Year campaign, which works to draw attention to the 88 prisoners who have been at Tamms since the day it opened its doors. Today, in addition to raising awareness of conditions inside supermax prisons, he's also working to cut off the "school-to-prisons pipeline" in his community by sharing his experiences in Tamms with Chicago teenagers through an organization he founded, "Saving Our Sons."

Berry's work is one of the reasons he counts himself among the lucky ones. After spending eight years in a facility where he was told he would have to "relinquish everything, even your personality," Berry has done more than survive; he has thrived, and he is fighting back. Within the current debate over state-sanctioned torture abroad, his voice is an important reminder of the cruel, unusual, and too-often ignored contradictions of our own criminal justice system.

Jessica Pupovac is an adult educator and independent journalist living in Chicago

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Saudi king rejects Cheney's belligerency


Saudi king rejects Cheney's belligerency

Fri, 21 Mar 2008
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah in a meeting with visiting US Vice President Dick Cheney has rejected any US military strike against Iran.

King Abdullah is against any US military strike against Iran, Saudi official sources said.

Cheney who arrived in Saudi Arabia on Friday discussed Iran's nuclear program and its increasing influence in the Middle East with senior Saudi officials, DPA reported.

Saudi Arabia, along with other Persian Gulf Arab countries, sees negotiations as the best way to resolve the standoff between the US and Iran.

The king also told Cheney that the Middle East should be free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, the sources added.

The Saudis say any nuclear non-proliferation efforts should include Israel, which is widely believed to be the only nuclear power in the Middle East with around 200 nuclear warheads.

The US vice president's efforts to drum up support for Washington's war mongering policies against Iran comes as a recent NIE report declared that Tehran is not pursuing any nuclear weapons program.

The Islamic Republic says, as a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty (NPT), the country is entitled to use the nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

DT/MMN

Seems to me the Americans should be cleaning up their own act.

Considering the Damage they have done to the planet and the Nuclear Weapons they have around the world. If anyone should be cleaning up their own back yard, it would be them.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Costs of Freedom

The Costs of Freedom

Five years of this war, and no end in sight.

By Monica Benderman

20/03/08 "
ICH" -- -- I received an email from a friend in Iraq. She was asking me to sign a petition and distribute it as widely as possible. Young Iraqi refugee girls were being forced into prostitution in Syria. She was working to draw attention to their situation and hoped for a global response of help for them.

What can be said about this? I signed the petition and passed it along. I’ll talk about it with those who will listen. The young girls hope things change – I would not want to give them a false sense of hope. Are you willing to pay the cost of their freedom?

I received a phone call from a man representing a publicity organization preparing a press release for the anniversary of the war. He was looking for a quote from us about the war.

What is left to be said? When things have been repeated over and over; when the subject has been broached in as many different ways as possible in the hope that different voices might finally reach the people – what is left to be said?

My quote – “These past five years have been nothing but wasted – wasted lives, wasted money, wasted breath, and wasted time.” Emptiness took over where I had tried to put feeling, and as I thought about the war and what this man was asking, the emptiness became very dark, frustrating, and cold. I have hope for my life – I make my choices and live knowing I will deal with the consequences of my choices – therein lies my freedom. I know well what freedom costs, and I am willing to pay.

In the years before the war I lived a different life – not a military life, but one in which I learned just how little the veterans who served this country really did receive in the way of valid support for what they had given in the name of justice and civic responsibility. People criticized them for having served and others praised them. But few people ever seemed to make the real effort to support the sacrifice the veterans had made to help move us all closer to peace; a peace the veterans stood on the frontlines for, so that those behind the scenes might be able to do the work needed to see that the roots of that peace took hold. I worked to facilitate the care of veterans, World War II, Korea, even those from Viet Nam – I listened to their stories and those of their families. I saw war from the outside looking in.

In the last five years, I have come to see the real cost of freedom up close and personal. I have lived it every single day of my life, oftentimes twenty four hours of each day. I lived the days while my husband was stationed in a combat zone and I received no word from him for months on end. I lived the days when he returned and I saw someone home who seemed far removed from the man who left. I lived the days when the anger inside him grew – at times becoming a fearsome rage emanating from a man I seemed to have never known. I lived the days when that anger grew so quiet even the breathing was hard to hear and the silence became a darkness no light was strong enough to pervade.

I lived as my husband struggled against a corrupt command, an abusive leadership who refused to do what was right to ensure the soldiers who had entrusted their lives to this command were given the care and respect they needed for their service. I lived through his anger as he reached out to do what he could to call attention to what was needed to bring about the change he and those he served with knew was needed. The soldiers were doing all they could. They volunteered to defend their constitution, a leadership abused the commitment the soldiers made and the laws of this country bound our soldiers, trapping them into a service that no longer represented the duty for which they had enlisted.

For some, conscience stepped in. I lived as my husband made the most difficult decision he has ever had to make – and all I could do was tell him I would do what I could to be there for him, to help him with the choice he made – I said I would not leave. I didn’t want him to return to war, I could see what the effect of war was doing to him – not the combat tour, but the lack of responsibility anyone in a leadership role felt they had to the oath of service they had taken. In the end, my husband made his choice, and spent the past three years in a different war; a war for his conscience. The first year of this battle was spent in jail.

The cost of freedom is the price real people pay to stand by their word even when corrupt individuals abuse the very laws they have taken a sworn oath to follow.

The cost of freedom is the price real people pay when these corrupt individuals are placed in leadership positions with no intention of leading with any sense of honesty or commitment to truth; and yet people continue to stand with integrity and dignity for the principles in which they believe.

The cost of freedom is the price real people pay when men and women forget their humanity, believing their power lies in their ability to amass material wealth: when their success is defined by how much they have, not how well they live; and yet people continue to face their adversaries with respect for their own lives and purpose.

The cost of freedom is the price real people pay when their strength is held in servitude to those who have little strength of their own – and in their role as cowardly leaders seek to control the strength of those who serve with a sense of obligation that becomes so overwhelming there seems to be no way out other than to bow to the false authority; and yet people continue to stand strong knowing someday the tables will turn.

I know the cost of freedom. I know the price that must be paid. I know the power of the evil domination that threatens to overwhelm the hope that is left in this country.

I know how much this false power has to lose when people finally see the light and stand against it. I know with that much to lose, the corrupt leadership of this false power will do anything they must to maintain control over the illusion they have come to love. They will destroy life, claiming it to be a sacrifice in defense of life. They will destroy the financial base of a country, claiming the money is needed to keep that country free. They will destroy the unity of the people which makes the country strong; keeping us divided with talk of racial disharmony, sexist abuse, class inferiority, all the while insisting on the power of unity.

The cost of freedom is the strength it takes to stand against a current of adversity and stay committed to principle – the strength to keep one’s word.

The cost of freedom is what happens to a man when he faces the anger and the rage of a machine he has dared to speak against – one man, one human being – relying on the strength of his heart against a mechanized adversary with no conscience. The price is that man’s conscience in a victory for the machine if he has nothing to hold on to giving him hope that his struggle will one day result in something more than mere survival.

I have lived while wars have been fought. I have lived when the anger and regret for giving up the illusion of success granted by servitude to the machine has become uncontrollable in a man trained to keep his emotions in check, as he struggles to survive in a place society promised would be better than the illusion if he would only leave it. Promises shouldn’t be given if there is no intention that they will be kept.

I have lived full of reassurances – offering the hope desperately needed – insisting that the machine can be beaten if we just stand together facing it without giving in. The difference, the machine doesn’t breathe, or eat, or sleep – the machine doesn’t know doubt, the fear of failure, or the sense of worthlessness at taking one’s family to the brink of disaster for a stand on principle that seems to have so little meaning in a society where illusion has the power.

What we, as a nation of citizens of conscience, have allowed to happen is incomprehensible in terms of the costs to humanity. Five years and counting, and the conscience of this nation has gone into hiding as we hear those in our leadership positions seeking to reassure us that their deplorable actions as human beings actually have any real value in moving us all closer to peace and justice in the world.

There is nothing our leadership has done that has value to anyone but themselves and there is nothing left to say to a nation of citizens who can’t seem to figure out that the freedom they demand takes diligent responsibility, real effort and a sacrifice of life few seem willing to pay.

It’s not about dying on the battlefield – freedom demands something far more difficult. It’s about living with conviction – the courage to stand on principle knowing the consequences will be stiff, and at times quite painful.

Death for freedom is a cowardly concept, and to believe in our leadership when they tell us of the noble honor in dying to defend our freedom is to live as cowards believing in an illusion destined to destroy our humanity.

Freedom takes strength; strength those in our leadership positions fear – for it is a strength they can only borrow from others. They lack the understanding of reality needed to acquire such strength for themselves. The kind of strength freedom demands is not found in lies, manipulations, secrecy and deception; the lifestyle an illusion of power must have to continue. The strength of freedom comes from living what we know to be true and doing so against all odds.

Those who claim to lead us now are nothing more than cowards hoping the people of this nation do not wake up and realize the strength they have – in conscience. Conscience requires a hard look into the eyes of reality - it’s not an easy road, but freedom is worth the effort.

I know the cost of freedom and I am willing to pay. Are you?

Monica, and her husband, Sgt. Kevin Benderman, a ten-year Army veteran who served a combat tour in Iraq and a year in prison for his public protest of war, continue to work within their community for peace. They may be reached at mdawnb@coastalnow.net . Their book “Letters From Ft. Lewis Brig” is now available at bookstores and through Lyons Press. Please visit their website, www.BendermanDefense.org to learn more.