Volume 21, Number 3
Tiffany Ten eyck
Worst Places To Be Black
Mass Destruction U.
Global Recession I
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Three by war Resisters
The Sutras of Abu Ghraib
Notes from a Conscientious Objector in Iraq
By Aidan Delgado
2007, Boston, Beacon Press, 228 pp.
Road from ar Ramadi
The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejía
By Camilo Mejía
2007, NYC, New Press, 320 pp.
The Deserter’s Tale
The Story of an Ordinary Soldier Who Walked Away from the War in Iraq
By Joshua Key, as told to Lawrence Hill
2007, NYC, Grove/Atlantic, 256 pp.
A climbing wall had been erected in the parking lot of Aidan Del- gado’s college in Sarasota, Florida. Army recruiters invited students to give it a shot. It was 2001, Delgado had been kicked out of his Buddhist class and his situation, both socially and scholastically, felt impossible. Suddenly he imagined a solution: “Maybe I should join the Army Reserve, you know, get away from school for a while, get some discipline, get my life in order. Become an Army of one.”
An Army of one—that’s a good way to describe Delgado’s fight against the U.S. military, as well as Camilo Mejía and Joshua Key’s stories of becoming war resisters. All three were in Iraq during the first year of the war, but none of them have returned to the battlefield. Instead, they have taken their message to publishers, illuminating how their experiences in Iraq made it impossible for them to continue. They give compelling accounts of moral struggles, but also a close-to-the-ground perspective of a war against Iraqi civilians.
Delgado signed up in the morning of September 11, 2001. Minutes later the first plane hit, sparking pride in the 19-year-old: now he was going to prove to his doubting parents they were wrong, now he was truly going to serve his country. “Stupid fucking kid,” Delgado says of himself six years later in The Sutras of Abu Ghraib. Delgado picks up his lost Buddhism before basic training, but it’s still unseasoned when he takes off for Iraq in March 2003. His beliefs have been more of an intellectual endeavor; it’s for real now. Delgado, even though he is a mechanic, is part of a war machine that occupies a country. “I know what I believe. What am I going to do about it?”
When Delgado grasped the conflict between his involvement in warfare and his innermost beliefs, he stood at an important crossroads. To suppress the moral compass, he would have to play the game and justify his involvement in “the mission,” for himself and for others. Delgado chose another option: he filed for CO (Conscientious Objector) status early in his deployment—a decision that cost him harassment from fellow soldiers and commanders, who labeled him a traitor and coward. Today those words don’t bother Delgado. What still gets to him is the guilt of having been part of an occupation that he thinks serves no other purpose than to cause suffering. Delgado handed in his weapon, but still served his tour in Iraq. He got his CO application granted when he was back home, nine months after he filed it.
Joshua Key and Camilo Mejía’s path to resistance was less deliberate. They didn’t get on flights back to Iraq after their two-week leaves about six months into their respective deployments. They had had enough, but still didn’t dare to resist—the sense of duty and responsibility towards fellow soldiers was too strong. “I had to go back to Iraq, brutalize the people, rape the land, and possibly die there,” Mejía writes in Road from ar Ramadi, “I had to swallow my guilt and my values and my conscience.” In the end, though, he couldn’t muster the energy to get out of bed on the day of departure. That struggle was his own, but the decision would give him new allies. With the help of soldiers’ rights activists he went underground for almost five months until he held a press conference and turned himself in to the Army in March 2004. Mejía, who was part of the Florida National Guard, became the first combat veteran to publicly resist and criticize the war. He was convicted of desertion, got discharged with a bad conduct sentence, spent nearly nine months in prison, and lost all of his GI benefits after eight years of duty. But when Mejía was escorted to prison he felt “that there is no greater freedom than the freedom to follow one’s conscience. That day I was free, in a way I had never been before.” Like Delgado and Key, Mejía keeps fighting to put an end to the war and today he is the chair of IVAW, Iraq Veterans Against the War, the largest organization for anti-war soldiers and veterans of the global war on terror.
Popular explanations for the failure in Iraq range from blaming failed strategies to wondering at a fraught domestic situation in which Iraqis kill each other. Listening to resisters of the Iraq war adds a different perspective. They give a story of two wars, one against U.S. troops, the other perpetrated by them—terrorizing and killing Iraqi civilians. The war we imagine taking place in Iraq, between insurgents and U.S. soldiers, is close to non-existent.
Joshua Key, in The Deserter’s Tale, explains. “It was a strange way to fight a war. We never saw the people who shot at us, never spotted the mortar launchers, and never located the people who used rockets to propel grenades at us. Because our enemy remained invisible, our fears and frustrations mounted, but we could always take those frustrations out on the civilians.”
The standard operating procedure was retaliation. After firing in the direction of an attack, houses in the area would be raided. Key estimates that his squad raided at least 200 homes during his time in Iraq. He describes the raids as violent: blowing up the front door, shouting, screaming, and hitting the inhabitants; then rounding up and sending all men over five feet tall to interrogation, breaking furniture, stealing money and jewelry, finding nothing. Orders were also given to raid houses that were said to harbor terrorist elements. On his first night in Iraq, Key was woken up at 3:00 AM to raid a house in Ramadi. They found only a compact disc with speeches by Saddam Hussein. “It was one of the most exciting things I had ever done,” Key says about his first raid. “I wanted to catch those fucking terrorists and I figured it was only bad luck that had prevented us from nabbing them the first time.”
Key’s account is packed with brutalities and killings of civilians. One day, Key says, a sergeant in another platoon gets badly injured by a roadside bomb. “Tonight it’s retaliation time against the city of Ramadi,” one of Key’s sergeants said. During that night Key witnessed two soldiers laughing and kicking around heads of decapitated Iraqis. The event went unmentioned by the commanders.
It was a hopeful and proud 23-year-old that joined the Army’s 43rd Combat Engineer Company in 2002. Already starting a new family, he was desperate for money and stability. He fled the Army the following year, feeling remorsful, bitter, and guilty; but at least he wouldn’t continue to terrorize Iraq. He went underground with his wife and 3 kids for 15 months, hiding in cars and hotels until he got in contact with the War Resister’s Support Campaign in Canada. He is among dozens of ex- soldiers fighting for the right to stay in Canada.
These resisters give two main reasons why Iraqi civilians are terrorized, killed, and dishonored after their death. The first is a mix of fear and racism bred by being attacked by people you never see, the constant repetition that Iraqi equals Muslim equals terrorist, and a shoot-first-ask- later policy. Add the overwhelming amount of weapons at hand—such as the 50 caliber machine guns being used with such force that they cut Iraqi heads from their bodies—and we can better understand occurrences like the frequent killings at roadblocks when Iraqis “come too close.”
But, as Delgado says, there is “a deeper and more disturbing failure: a failure of policy.” He was stationed at the Abu Ghraib prison during his last six months in Iraq. As a radio operator, he got a unique insight into the situation for the prison’s 4,000 inmates. The Abu Ghraib that Delgado describes is understaffed and there is a deep mistrust between Iraqi police and U.S. troops. It is overcrowded, the vast majority of prisoners guilty only of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Confusion reigns over which prisoners are at Abu and which are not there anymore, creating a mass of “phantom prisoners.” The inmates are packed together in tents of 60 and sickness spreads fast. They die and scream and protest.
It’s against this tense backdrop we have to understand the incident at on November 24, 2003, when 12 prisoners were gunned down by U.S. soldiers and 4 of them died. Delgado, analyzing accounts from soldiers, as well as reports of the incident, explains what happened. Prisoners protested their living conditions. They were angry and started throwing stones. Soldiers used non-lethal ammunition, but then reportedly ran out and opened fire using lethal rounds. The soldiers were afraid and didn’t understand what the Iraqis were saying or what they might do next. Many were trigger-happy and some of them later expressed pride over having taken down an Iraqi.
Within this mess, Mejía, the only resister who ranked as high as a staff sergeant, describes a Soviet-like corruption and opportunism among his commanders. The Combat Infantry Badge was a priceless trophy for Mejía’s senior officers, as they “knew that the award was essential to their further progress up the officer ranks.”
Because of stupid orders from combat-seeking commanders, Mejía argues, his squad got ambushed several times. Like the time when a shoebox bomb exploded near Mejía’s Humvee and bullets were raining down from blown-out buildings beside the road. Mejía thought that this was going to be the end, but they managed to make it back to the base. Mejía’s captain didn’t share their joy of escaping unscratched. “You sent the wrong message to the enemy,” he said. Mejía left the command post, “wondering who the real enemy was in Iraq, and just how close we were sleeping from it.”
Chris Holmbäck is a Swedish journalist and researcher who for the last year has been writing about veterans and resisters of the Iraq war for Swedish and Spanish media and for UC Davis.
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AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
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ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
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MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
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BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; firstname.lastname@example.org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
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LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
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WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
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WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.