“They Will Never Tell Us Every Day We Succeeded”

By Mike Hersh, PDA
Reposted from warisacrime.org

Monday, January 10, author/filmmaker Andy Worthington and World Can’t Wait National Coordinator Debra Sweet joined David Swanson for a “War Is A Lie” book event at the Barnes and Noble bookstore near Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. The event was cosponsored by Progressive Democrats of America and several other peace and justice organizations. A crowd of 60 or more crammed into a narrow space between bookshelves to hear Swanson, a member of PDA’s National Advisory Board, and his special guests. Before the talk began, event organizer Diane Wittner—director of Chesapeake Citizens—led the speakers and other area activists in honoring independent media hero Bill Hughes, who has chronicled, video recorded and photographed countless events, including this one. With characteristic modesty, Hughes reluctantly accepted an award, then he took his usual place behind the camera.

After the Charm City Labor Chorus led the audience singing peace songs, PDA National Advisory Board member Swanson opened the panel with a quip about how the singing helped make up for Baltimore’s most famous musical legacy, the Star Spangled Banner. He then explained, “I wrote this book because so many smart people told me they were outraged by the Iraq War because a president lied about a war.” Swanson listed famous lies about wars and pointed out that every war is based on lies, including: propaganda falsely claiming Iraqis threw Kuwaiti babies from incubators (Gulf War); the Tonkin Gulf Resolution’s claim that the North Vietnamese attacked a U.S. ship (Vietnam War); similarly false claims that Spain attacked the U.S.S. Maine (Spanish American War); that Mexicans were attacking Americans (Mexican American War); and even that Americans would be welcomed as liberators by Canadians and would win in a cakewalk, leading up to the War of 1812.”

Rather than list lies by war, Swanson said he “organized the book by themes,” such as lies “depicting some enemy as evil beyond measure,” and lies in which “a religion, race or cultural group is depicted as evil.” These lies cast targets as so evil that “you can’t talk to these people, you can’t reason with them.” Swanson explained that his co-panelists working to free Guantanamo detainees must overcome claims that “it’s a threat to our nation to put [detainees] on trial.” Swanson recounted how descriptions foreign governments mistreating their people can quickly turn into pretexts for war: “Highlighting the domestic evils as in Iran turns into claims [that those who oppress their own people] can attack us, so it’s a defensive war. Every war is always a defense war.”

Swanson pointed out how lies used to start a war morph into a rationale against ending a war. He explained that claims that a war is really a “humanitarian” effort to rescue people from their own leaders turn into claims that “we can’t abandon the people of Iraq or Afghanistan.” We see “conflicting sales pitches” used to start a war, “new lies to keep the war going,” and then lies “after the fact” depicting wars as noble causes or necessary to preserve freedom help justify and used to sell the next war.

Swanson noted that, according to George W. Bush’s recent book, Senate Leader McConnell was privately demanding withdrawal of troops from Iraq. The Republican Senate Leader was warning that their party would lose the Congress unless that happened. Meanwhile, McConnell and other top Republicans were publicly mocking peace activists and Democratic war critics as favoring “cut and run.” Swanson noted that while we think “they’re not listening to us,” that’s only because “they never let on” how much they’re listening to us.” He added, “They’ll never credit us for every day our activism keeps preventing an invasion of Iran.” So, while “they will never tell us every day we succeeded,” we are making a real difference.

“We don’t say there is good or bad rape,” Swanson concluded. “Or justified slavery.” Therefore “we have to get to that full understanding that there couldn’t be a good war.” Once we do that, he says, we can “dismantle the war machine” that is “destroying our economy and political system” and “costing half of every income-tax dollar.” This “would change our society.” We “fetishize free speech for corporate media propaganda” but cannot afford healthcare or infrastructure while we’re spending so much on war. “If we don’t change the course on war-making, we will die,” Swanson added, “If we do, we will live much better.”

Andy Worthington is a British historian, journalist, and film director. He developed the most definitive annotated list of all Guantanamo detainees and the first annotated list of Bagram detainees. His most recent book is The Guantanamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison. “The war on terror,” he explained, has a “novel twist” in that it has “involved an off-shore prison on a piece of Cuba stolen over a century ago,” where detainees are “not treated as POWs [and allegedly have] no rights under the Geneva Conventions.”

Worthington argues that because the 9/11 attacks “were criminal acts,” the detainees at Guantanamo captured in the aftermath “should have been tried in federal courts.” Even if officials considered the 9/11 events acts of war, detainees should be deemed “prisoners of war.” Instead, “the policy is to declare them the ‘worst of the worst’” and treat them as non-humans. On the event of the ninth anniversary of the prison opening, the record is: “599 released, 6 died, 1 put on trial, and 173 remain” in the prison which “didn’t close after a year as [Obama] promised.” U.S. officials have designated 48 of the 173 “too dangerous to release” even though there is no evidence to charge them, according to Worthington. President Obama is close to issuing an Executive Order to hold them indefinitely with “some sort of review process.” Worthington noted there already is “a review process: it’s called Habeas Corpus, and detainees have had their Habeas Corpus rights denied.”

Worthington said that “without concerted action by people such as those gathered at the event in Baltimore, these 173 people aren’t going anywhere in the foreseeable future.” The government task force Obama charged with advising him on Guantanamo says 89 shouldn’t be held. Progress toward releasing these detainees was halted when intelligence agencies traced terror plots and attacks—including the underwear bomber—to Yemen. In response, “Obama imposed a moratorium on release of Yemeni detainees.” Worthington called this “guilt by nationality,” which has made the detainees who’d been previously cleared for release “political prisoners.” The task force has found that 51 other detainees cannot return to their own countries safely. For these and other reasons, Congress, the Justice Department, Federal Courts in D.C. and Obama himself have “blocked the release” of cleared prisoners. In response, a group called “No More Guantanamos,” based in Amherst, Maine, passed a resolution offering to welcome cleared detainees to their town.

Debra Sweet announced several events in D.C. marking the anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo, including a week-long fast by Witness for Torture activists. She praised efforts “getting people like David [Swanson], Andy [Worthington], and Iraqi and Afghan War vets into schools” to counter recruitment efforts. Sweet said students brought into the military have an “85% chance they will be in a war zone.” She criticized the use of video games and dishonest, deceptive military recruitment tactics, saying it’s “extremely important that we demolish these lies.” Unless we counter recruiters’ efforts, Sweet cautioned, students “will be trained to commit war crimes.” She explained that the current situation pits “the strongest military in the world, the biggest economy” against “Islamic militants who also offer no future.” She praised her co-panelists and the audience at the event for “showing up, being visible, thinking and confronting people with the truth.”

All the panelists referred to ongoing actions and organizations, many of which can be found at WasIsACrime.org. Several audience members asked questions and engaged the panel in analysis of factors leading to war, the unsustainable costs of war, and what we can do about it. Many bought copies of War Is A Lie and lined up for David Swanson’s signature.

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  1. #1 by Trisha C. Castillo on January 18, 2011 - 1:52 pm

    It will consist of 1 or 2 representatives from each local regional or national organization not coalitions that wishes to actively work to carry out the NCNR campaign of facilitating and organizing nonviolent resistance to the war in Iraq. The magazine series launches with the latest from Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter Dana Priest who investigates the sprawling terrorism-industrial complex that has grown up in the wake of 9 11. The problem Priest finds is that nine years after 9 11 Maryland like so many states has yet to use its vast anti-terror apparatus to capture any terrorists.

(will not be published)