The U.S. “Shock and Awe” bombing campaign in Iraq

“…As individual citizens, we all have rights and responsibilities. It is the responsibility of all citizens to resist any government, anywhere, anytime, when that government is slaughtering civilians…”

March 20 is a day of historical importance. On March 20, 2003 there were world-wide protests against US military aggression. Millions of activists around the world participated. Some of the protests were inspired by US plans for “Shock and Awe”. “Shock and Awe” was promised by the US government to be one of the most destructive military campaigns in history. In addition, the US was at the same time threatening the use of nuclear weapons.

Historical perspective is needed. It has to be remembered that the US had been bombing Iraq since 1991. The bombing was a prelude to 9/11. 9/11 was Blowback—a predictable response to the many years of bombing. Two other reasons for the 9/11 attack were the US policy against the Palestinians, and the location of US bases in Saudi Arabia. It is also important to remember the 500,000 Iraqi children who died as a result of US imposed sanctions.

Pro-government propaganda from the media is a big part of the problem. The failure of the educational system is also part of the problem. Think of how much different things would be if Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States was the required text book in every classroom. That is a taxpayer friendly change that would cost nothing and could change the world.

Some peace activists have been protesting since 1991. Many stopped opposing war when a Democratic president won the election. By what kind of convoluted moral code would the killing by a Democratic Commander-in-chief be less offensive than killing by a Republican.

How effective have the protests been? Since 1991, the killing has continued. Civilians continue to die. The US killing machine has become even more deadly. The Pentagon killing machine continues to have access to unlimited funding. Private contractors and advancing technology add to the problem.

The war is often engineered and managed from military bases within the US. Drones controlled from bases close to home provide an added level of comfort for the troops who can now go home for supper with the wife and kids. Killing has become as easy as going to the office—just another 9 to 5 job.  Heard at the supper table: “Hey Daddy, how many kids did you kill today?”

There is a dedicated group of protesters near Syracuse, NY. They have participated in peaceful protests at the Hancock Drone Base.  Recently, they were arrested in a pre-emptive arrest. A pre-emptive arrest is like being arrested for a thought crime.  Thinking about ‘peace’ has now been criminalized in the USA.

It is time to re-think the peace movement. Meantime, most protesters have not changed their tactics. Old school protesting does not work. Singing songs, lighting candles, and holding peace vigils have not saved one human life. Innocent children and other civilians continue to die.  The time for more creative opposition is now… right now.

Why does the way to achieve peace elude all of us? Do we lack the courage needed for powerful resistance?  Boycotts would be effective if enough people participated. That is not likely.  Many in the US feel an exaggerated sense of entitlement and exceptionalism.  They believe that it is our right to kill innocent civilians anywhere in the world.  Many of those we have killed are children—kids just walking to school or attending a family wedding.

Voting is not an effective anti-war tactic because more than 90% of US voters feel compelled to vote for Democrats and Republicans. There are always better candidates. Most voters ignore these candidates who could make a real difference. Why do voters continue to repeat the same mistake over and over again—voting D/R and expecting change?

For years, voters have been making a plea of Innocent by Reason of Ignorance. Voters blame the media – that is a cop-out. Sure the media lies. Since everyone knows that, it should not be an issue for thoughtful voters. Accurate information about USA Foreign Policy is readily available—as easy to access as one click on Google. There are many thousands of accurate articles up on sites designed to spread the truth. There are some excellent investigative journalists still at work— Jeremy Scahill, Robert Fisk, Greg Palast, Glen Greenwald, and many others. We have Bradley Manning and Julian Assange and other whistleblowers. There are dedicated activists in the OCCUPY movement. Lack of access to reliable information is not an excuse.

But, on the other hand, we are living in a Perfect Storm of ignorance—a culture that worships celebrity, a failing educational system, and extreme voter apathy. And there is one more thing. Too many writers and journalists, even the good ones, are reluctant to criticize the voter. They know that there are risks for anyone who does that.  It is easy to criticize the government. Blaming the Pentagon is fun, but too few are willing to call it like it is and place the blame where it is deserved. The simple fact is that voters have the ultimate responsibility. Voters are the root of the problem. Voters have enabled the war machine. Some voters do this consciously, believing that war provides jobs. Some voters do it out of ignorance. But the bottom line is that voters are responsible for the deaths of millions of innocent civilians. Somebody needs to say that out loud.

A few have put forth the argument that voting is meaningless. Even if a peace candidate was elected—a non-Democrat, non-Republican, it would not change things. The Pentagon and CIA would just continue to wage war.  The Commander-in-chief would be irrelevant and the Congress would be powerless. There is some validity to that argument.  But, if that did happen, it would be time for another American Revolution.  Before we start killing each other in violent Revolution, maybe we should give informed voting a try. Let’s try ballots first…. ballots before bullets.  When that plan fails, it will be time for armed rebellion.

In the meantime, there is no light at the end of the war tunnel.  Peace will not come until the people want it.  Maybe US citizens need to have it explained in simpler terms—maybe in pictures drawn with crayons.  Maybe set to music with scantily clad women dancing in the background. Maybe we are waiting for the next ‘Blowback’, and then we will ask: “Why do they hate us?”   In the words of comedian Ron White: “You just can’t fix stupid”.

On March 20, 2003, I was one of the millions who participated in a peaceful protest against the war. I was one of 12 in Bennington, Vermont who was arrested, incarcerated, handcuffed, booked, fingerprinted, and photographed. I alone was tried and convicted. Courtroom procedure allows the condemned the Right of Allocution at the time of Sentencing. This was the first time that I was allowed to speak freely and openly to the court. My Courtroom speech was delivered with passion. The passion remains today—but all hope has been abandoned.

Below are my words, as I spoke them at my Sentencing, to Judge David Suntag, in Vermont District Court, in Bennington, Vt., on October 7, 2004.

A Courtroom Speech

Your Honor, I would like to express my gratitude to you, the Prosecutor Mr. McManus, the members of the Bennington Police Department, to my family, especially Christine, to all those who support me, and especially to Mr. Saltonstall.

It is my profound respect for the Rule of Law that brought me to the 4 corners on March 20, 2003. At the precise moment of my arrest, the federal government of the United States was bombing civilians. The bombing of civilians is a violation of international law, a violation of U.S. treaties, a crime against humanity, and a war crime. Now that same government is sitting in judgment of many who have protested the war. Last week, in a court in Philadelphia, Lillian Willoughby, an 89-year-old deaf woman, in a wheelchair, was sentenced to prison. She had participated in a peaceful protest. Also in Philadelphia, Andrea Ferich, a 22 year old, was sentenced and she has just spent a week in solitary confinement. She also had participated in a peaceful protest. I have just been told that Michael Berg, father of Nick Berg, was arrested in a peaceful protest on Saturday, in Washington. All over this country, hundreds of those who have peacefully protested the war are now condemned by the government. The way that this country is headed, eventually, all people of peace will be behind bars. I am in solidarity with them and all others who have resisted the government in the past, or will do so in the future.

Your Honor, it is with deep respect that I voice some concerns. How can it be that a nation that is itself in violation of the law can then hope to impose the rule of law on its citizens? I believe that either the rule of law applies to everyone, or else it applies to no one. Even a nation as powerful as the United States, can not have it both ways. The fact that the government of the U.S. is in violation of the law is a fact that has been documented by many around the world. William Blum, one of the world’s leading historians, and also former member of the US State Department, has authored several books on the topic—even naming one of his books about US foreign policy, Rogue State.

I have here a copy of the Indictment of 19 charges against members of the government as compiled by former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark. [I held the documents up for all to see.] Also, here is a statement from a group of US law professors. The statement is entitled “US Lawyers Warn Bush on War Crimes.” Also, here is a report from an international human rights organization that is accredited by the United Nations. This report documents extensive US war crimes in Iraq. This is just a small sample of information that is easily available. Can all of these experts be wrong? Also, I have here an Associated Press report that was released shortly before my arrest, stating that the US was threatening to use nuclear weapons. That, too, is a war crime.

Your Honor, I believe that our government will not regain its legal and moral authority until it gives up its life of International Crime, and in the words of William Blum, is no longer a rogue state. It is important to say here, that the war in Iraq is not the first violation of human rights and International Law by the US. The abuse of people, people just like you and me, started back in 1492 and has been a consistent pattern ever since. Talk to some Native Americans, especially now that Columbus Day is upon us. Talk to our black brothers and sisters. Talk to the people of Diego Garcia or Panama or Hiroshima or Cuba…the list is endless.

As individual citizens, we all have rights and responsibilities. I believe that it is the responsibility of all citizens to resist any government, anywhere, anytime, when that government is slaughtering civilians. I, and many other protesters that I know, would gladly spend the rest of our lives in prison, if only the US would stop bombing civilians.

I have always been opposed to any form of violence. Seeing the photographs of the bombed Iraqi children has changed my life and strengthened my commitment to working for justice for those children. I do not understand how anyone can stand by silently, while knowing that civilians are being bombed. If what I and the many thousands of others who protested the war did was wrong, what then would be the right thing to do? If you saw a child being beaten up and murdered on Main Street by a gang of thugs, should you write a letter to the editor or call your congressman or write a book on how adults should interact with children? Of course not. When children are being killed, immediate, direct, and powerful intervention is called for. What the other protesters and I did should be criticized in only one area. We all did too little. To all of the people of Iraq, I would like to say, “I am sorry. I will try to do better in the future.”

I pray for the day when factory workers join with farmers, and police officers join with poets, and judges join with veterans in protesting the illegal acts of our government. Now is a time in history when silence is the greatest of all crimes.

What happens to me here today is not important. Since the day of my arrest, more than 13,000 Iraqi civilians, many of them children, have been killed. That IS important.