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DRONE WATCH: Activists Turned Away from Drone Convention

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International is holding a convention this week in Las Vegas, with an expected 8,000 attendees, 500 exhibitors, and representatives from 40 countries. The Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith writes this morning that on Sunday, Franciscan Father Louis Vitale and CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin were informed their attendance was not desired as they were attempting to secure convention credentials. Smith explains:

“For Vitale, who served in the Air Force before joining the Franciscans, the advanced technology hasn't translated into cleaner combat. The much-touted precision of the drone aircraft has kept American military out of harm's way, but it hasn't eliminated the high price of civilian casualties in the war zones.

To many, this is part of the price paid to defeat a treacherous enemy and maintain our national security. To Vitale, Benjamin and their colleagues, it's too great a price. And then he asks, "What is the impact on the people, what is the impact on our own people?"

The priest believes the incidents of predator operators suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder will be epidemic. His own experiences are anecdotal, he admits, but his conversations with British and U.S. military drone operators have been deeply troubling. Those onboard cameras not only spot suspected enemy targets, he notes, but they also reveal the damage wrought in unprecedented detail.”

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Syria: Medical Supplies Critically Low

From The Los Angeles Times:

Escalating violence in Syria has shut down pharmaceutical plants, piling another worry onto the woes facing the Syrian people: Severe shortages of medicine.

The World Health Organization warned Tuesday that growing clashes between forces loyal to President Bashar Assad and opposition fighters around the cities of Damascus, the capital, and Aleppo have damaged and closed many of the local plants that make the vast majority of medicines. The country produces most of its own pharmaceuticals.

Drugs to treat tuberculosis, hepatitis, diabetes and other maladies are urgently needed, along with chemical reagents to screen blood before it can be used for infusions for trauma and surgery patients, according to reports received by the United Nations agency.

Learn more here

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The Uncomfortable Questions Around Terrorism and Race

Conor Friedersdorf writes for The Atlantic:

Since 9/11, many Americans have conflated terrorism with Muslims; and having done so, they've tolerated or supported counterterrorism policies safe in the presumption that people unlike them would bear their brunt. (If Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD sent officers beyond the boundaries of New York City to secretly spy on evangelical Christian students or Israeli students or students who own handguns the national backlash would be swift, brutal, and decisive. The revelation of secret spying on Muslim American students was mostly defended or ignored.)     

In the name of counterterrorism, many Americans have given their assent to indefinite detention, the criminalization of gifts to certain charities, the extrajudicial assassination of American citizens, and a sprawling, opaque homeland security bureaucracy; many have also advocated policies like torture or racial profiling that are not presently part of official anti-terror policy.

What if white Americans were as likely as Muslims to be victimized by those policies? What if the sprawling national security bureaucracy we've created starts directing attention not just to Muslims and their schools and charities, but to right-wing militias and left-wing environmental groups (or folks falsely accused of being in those groups because they seem like the sort who would be)?

Read more here

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Drone Strike Kills 5 in Yemen

The Long War Journal, citing AFP, reports that the first known U.S. drone strike in Yemen in more than a month took place Saturday:

“The U.S. killed five al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters in a drone airstrike in eastern Yemen. The strike is the first in Yemen in more than a month.

The unmanned Predators or Reapers fired a pair of missiles at a vehicle in Al Qotn in Hadramout province earlier today, AFP reported. Five AQAP fighters were killed in the strike.

No senior AQAP leaders or operatives are reported to have been killed in the strike. The identities of those killed have not been disclosed.”

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On Africa Visit, Clinton Focuses On Tackling AIDS

From The Washington Post:

If this small nation, with a per capita income of less than $3 a day and a life expectancy of 53, offers a hopeful model for fighting the scourge of AIDS in Africa, then large and relatively prosperous Uganda shows how quickly progress can run off track.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton saw Malawi’s more promising example Sunday as part of an eight-nation African visit. Last week in Uganda, she highlighted an alarming rise in infection rates there after years when the country was a leader in preventing the spread of HIV and AIDS. About 23 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are believed infected, and the United Nations has estimated that the region had 1.2 million AIDS-related deaths in 2010.

Read more here

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DRONE WATCH: An Emerging Drone Culture

Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post takes a look at an emerging “drone culture.”

“There has been far too little discussion of the moral calculus involved in using flying robots as tools of assassination. At the very least, the whole thing should leave us uneasy. Collateral damage — the killing of innocents — can be minimized but not eliminated. And even if only “bad” people are killed, this isn’t war as we’ve traditionally understood it. Drone attacks are more like state-sponsored homicide.”

After also looking at proposals for the domestic use of surveillance drones, and urging a “much-needed debate,” he concludes,

“The idea of robots acting as guardians of public order has become a staple of dystopian fantasy — “Terminator,” “Minority Report,” “The Matrix.” It is our duty to keep that stuff in the movies, where it belongs.”

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DRONE WATCH: Mapping Drone Strikes.

Using data from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the Guardian has created an interactive map of drone strikes in Pakistan, showing the location of known strikes. Each is marked with a red dot, clicking on it shows the date and number of casualties. According to the data, there have been more than 330 strikes, with estimates of up to 3,247 casualties — including up to 852 civilians. The map is a useful and educational tool.

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DRONE WATCH: Drone Update for July

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has released its update for July of drone strikes and other US military and paramilitary actions in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. The major conclusions:

Pakistan: CIA drones kill more people in July than any month so far this year after Pakistan reopens its border to Nato supply convoys.

Yemen: The US restarts Yemen’s $112m military aid programme as al Qaeda appears to return to more familiar terror tactics.

Somalia: Three al Shabaab militants are executed for ‘spying’ for western agencies, as the UN claims that more than 60 unknown air sorties took place over Somalia in the past year.

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What It’s Like to Go to War

On the PBS Moyers & Company, Bill Moyers recently interviewed Karl Marlantes, a highly-decorated Vietnam veteran, Rhodes Scholar, author, and PTSD survivor. Their deeply moving discussion focused on what happens to young soldiers in combat, the eventual trauma of having killed fellow human beings, and the assistance they need upon returning home.

"'Thou shalt not kill' is a tenet you just do not violate, and so all your young life, that's drilled into your head. And then suddenly, you're 18 or 19 and they're saying, ‘Go get ‘em and kill for your country.' And then you come back and it's like, ‘Well, thou shalt not kill' again. Believe me, that's a difficult thing to deal with," Marlantes tells Bill. "You take a young man and put him in the role of God, where he is asked to take a life - that's something no 19-year-old is able to handle." …

“The people that fight it are going to be fighting these battles, these spiritual, psychological battles most of their lives. And they need help. And I think that we have to be prepared as a nation that if we're going to commit a 19 year old to war, we're going to have to give him some help. And we're going to have to give his family some help. I mean, for every soldier with post-traumatic stress, there's a wife that is sitting there wondering what in the hell is happening to her husband. And why is this- what's going on here? She needs help and the kids need help.”

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When 'Extremism' is Normalized

An interesting article from Glenn Greenwald examines how previously radical legislation has become accepted as normal in the U.S.:

Remember when, in the wake of the 9/11 attack, the Patriot Act was controversial, held up as the symbolic face of Bush/Cheney radicalism and widely lamented as a threat to core American liberties and restraints on federal surveillance and detention powers? Yet now, the Patriot Act is quietly renewed every four years by overwhelming majorities in both parties (despite substantial evidence of serious abuse), and almost nobody is bothered by it any longer. That’s how extremist powers become normalized: they just become such a fixture in our political culture that we are trained to take them for granted, to view the warped as normal.

Read more here

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DRONE WATCH: Drone Attack Kills Seven.

A U.S. drone attack on Sunday killed at least seven suspected militants in Pakistan. The Pakistani newspaper DAWN reported that the seven were Uzbek nationals living in the compound that was hit by six missiles.

This latest attack comes just before Pakistan’s head of intelligence is to visit Washington.  CBS News reported drones will be a topic of the discussions:

“Pakistan will press the U.S. at a top-level intelligence summit this week to end unilateral drone strikes aimed at suspected militants along the Afghan-Pakistan border. Though the Thursday meeting in Washington between Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam, head of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, and CIA chief Gen. David Petraeus is meant to ease the tension between the two allies, Pakistani and Western officials warn the issue of drone strikes may yield little common ground.”

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DRONE WATCH: This Week in Drones

In drone news this week:

The British Ministry of Defense acknowledged that Royal Air Force pilots flew U.S. Predator drones in Libya last year. According to The Guardian, “It is not known how many missions were flown by the British, or how many targets were destroyed by them.”

The Washington Post reported: “The skies over Somalia have become so congested with drones that the unmanned aircraft pose a danger to air traffic and potentially violate a long-standing arms embargo against the war-torn country, according to United Nations officials. In a recently completed report, U.N. officials describe several narrowly averted disasters in which drones crashed into a refu­gee camp, flew dangerously close to a fuel dump and almost collided with a large passenger plane over Mogadishu, the capital.”

Concern over the privacy implications of domestic drone use is growing, reports the Washington Times. From the report: “This week, Rep. Ted Poe, a Texas Republican and former judge, will introduce the Preserving American Privacy Act, which sets strict limits on when, and for what purpose, law enforcement agencies and other entities can use unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs.”

As many as six missiles were fired from drones on a “militant hideout” in northwestern Pakistan on Monday, killing at least 12 “suspected militants.” Read stories in DAWN, CNN, Reuters, AFP.

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Colombian Indigenous Elders Try Alleged Guerrillas

More about the efforts of the Nasa people in Cauca, Colombia to free their territory of armed actors:

"Indigenous leaders in Colombia's conflict-scarred southwest say they will put on trial before tribal elders four alleged leftist rebels they accuse of attacks on civilians."

"Nasa Indian leader Marcos Yule tells The Associated Press the four could face such punishment as floggings or exile if convicted in this weekend's trials."

"The 115,000-strong Nasa say they are fed up with being in the crossfire of Colombia's long-running conflict. They have been trying since last week to force government troops and leftist rebels to leave their territory."

The rest of the short news item is here.

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Billy Graham's Team Prays with Colorado Shooting Victims, Families

According to Cathy Lynn Grossman in USAToday:

Five chaplains from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Rapid Response Team, already in Colorado and New Mexico ministering to victims of the ravaging wildfires, redeployed to Aurora by 8 a.m. mountain time,

Dealing with mass trauma isn't something taught in seminary, says Jack Munday, director of the team.

The BGEA is now headed by Graham's son, Franklin, who also leads Samaritan's Purse, which rushes in aid in natual disasters.

Munday says the chaplains went directly to Gateway High School in Aurora where the survivors and victims friends and family are gathered. They're also on call with local authories to go to other locations such as area hospitals.

Munday described how the team -- sent to mass shootings, natural disasters and other major tragic events -- approaches people who may be angry, grieving, in shock or simply in need of help reaching their own family or clergy.

Read the entire report HERE.

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Obama, Romney on Colorado Massacre

Both President Obama and Mitt Romney cancelled campaign events Friday in the wake of the unfolding tragedy in Aurora, Colo., where a gunman opened fire in a crowded movie theater early today, killing at least a dozen people (members of the military among them, according to news reports), and wounding dozens of others. Both men made statements reacting to the massacre.

In a statement released early Friday morning, Romney said and his wife were "deeply saddened" by news of the shooting."We are praying for the families and loved ones of the victims during this time of deep shock and immense grief. We expect that the person responsible for this terrible crime will be quickly brought to justice," Romney wrote.

Speaking at an event in Florida, Obama said in part:

Now, even as we learn how this happened and who's responsible, we may never understand what leads anybody to terrorize their fellow human beings like this. Such violence, such evil is senseless. It's beyond reason. But while we will never know fully what causes somebody to take the life of another, we do know what makes life worth living. The people we lost in Aurora loved and they were loved. They were mothers and fathers; they were husbands and wives; sisters and brothers; sons and daughters, friends and neighbors. They had hopes for the future and they had dreams that were not yet fulfilled. 

And if there’s anything to take away from this tragedy it’s the reminder that life is very fragile. Our time here is limited and it is precious. And what matters at the end of the day is not the small things, it’s not the trivial things, which so often consume us and our daily lives. Ultimately, it’s how we choose to treat one another and how we love one another.

It’s what we do on a daily basis to give our lives meaning and to give our lives purpose. That’s what matters.  At the end of the day, what we’ll remember will be those we loved and what we did for others. That’s why we’re here.

I’m sure that many of you who are parents here had the same reaction that I did when I heard this news. My daughters go to the movies. What if Malia and Sasha had been at the theater, as so many of our kids do every day? Michelle and I will be fortunate enough to hug our girls a little tighter tonight, and I’m sure you will do the same with your children. But for those parents who may not be so lucky, we have to embrace them and let them know we will be there for them as a nation.

So, again, I am so grateful that all of you are here. I am so moved by your support. But there are going to be other days for politics. This, I think, is a day for prayer and reflection.

So what I’d ask everybody to do, I’d like us to pause in a moment of silence for the victims of this terrible tragedy, for the people who knew them and loved them, for those who are still struggling to recover, and for all the victims of less publicized acts of violence that plague our communities every single day. So if everybody can just take a moment.

(Moment of silence.)

Thank you, everybody. I hope all of you will keep the people of Aurora in your hearts and minds today. May the Lord bring them comfort and healing in hard days to come.

I am grateful to all of you, and I hope that as a consequence of today’s events, as you leave here, you spend a little time thinking about the incredible blessings that God has given us.

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