Thursday, October 15, 2009

Freedom of Speech in Vietnam and at Home

After reading in today's NY Times that the US embassy in Hanoi condemned the arrest and conviction of non-violent peace activists, i thought i would write the ambassador to intervene on my behalf here in the United States.

Oct 15th, 2009

Dear Ambassador Michael W. Michalak,

It was with great interest that i read in today’s New York Times that the United States, through your embassy in Hanoi, condemned the arrests and convictions of nine non-violent democracy activists, as well as the violent expulsion of Buddhist monks from the Bat Nha monastery.

As a practitioner of Zen Buddhism and a follower of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on peace and non-violent activism i was encouraged to see this principled denunciation of human rights violations by the government of Vietnam. Here in the United States, freedom of speech and the ability to gather non-violently to express our views and to ask for redress of grievances is not only a cornerstone of our democracy, but is protected by our Constitution. i agree with you completely and unconditionally, that “no individual should be arrested or jailed for exercising the right of free speech”, although i was unaware that the “right of free speech” was considered a human right and even communist governments were expected to allow their citizens to peaceably assemble and that their speech was protected by international human rights commitments and the rule of law. This is fantastic news.

Of course, i was not in least surprised by the statement released by Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry, saying in effect, that the U.S. was “interfering in the internal affairs of Vietnam”. This seems to be the common response of Communist regimes worldwide. Nonetheless, i applaud your efforts.

While it may be an uphill battle to convince a Communist regime of the right to free speech, i have a request that may bear fruit much more quickly. As a non-violent peace activist here in the United States, i have been arrested and convicted of various false charges at least 6 times since early 2002, as i peaceably assembled in protest of the occupation of Iraq and the torture of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. As i faced charges in various D.C. courts, prosecutors and judges summarily dismissed my claims of “the protected right of free speech”. You may be unaware of this, but our own government is doing everything possible to suppress my rights as well as the rights of other non-violent peace activists here at home. As you stated in your condemnation to the Vietnamese authorities, “The activists were simply expressing their views peacefully and posed no threat to Vietnam’s national security.” The same could be said of us. As you are obviously aware, a democracy without free speech and the right to peacefully assemble begins to resemble any one of the many unsavory governments around the world.

i implore you to send a letter to the White House and any and all jurisdictions that may benefit from your words, which are a strong reminder to United States authorities of our commitment to human rights, the rule of law, and democracy.


Johnny Barber

(Original press release from the embassy in Hanoi: )

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Make War, Win a Peace Prize

President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Oct 9th, 2009 "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples". Perhaps the committee men and women should have spent some time in Waziristan to see how the lofty rhetoric of peace and cooperation is actually playing out on the ground. Perhaps being one of the victims of the dozens of drone attacks perpetrated by the United States on the sovereign territory of another nation would give them pause. Below is a brief sample of attacks in Pakistan authorized by the newest Nobel laureate.

Jan 23, 2009 Three days after his inauguration, on January 23, 2009, President Barack Obama ordered US predator drones to attack sites inside of Pakistan, reportedly killing 15 people. It was the first documented attack ordered by the new US Commander in Chief inside of Pakistan. Since that first Obama-authorized attack, the US has regularly bombed Pakistan, killing scores of civilians. The New York Times reported that the attacks were clear evidence Obama “is continuing, and in some cases extending, Bush administration policy.”

Feb 14, 2009 More than 30 killed when two missiles are launched by drones near town of Makeen in South Waziristan.

Feb 16, 2009 Strike in Kurram Valley kills 30, reportedly at a Taliban training camp for fighters preparing to combat coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Mar 26, 2009 At least four militants were killed in a suspected US missile strike in Pakistan’s north-western tribal region near Afghanistan. Two missiles believed to have been fired from a US pilotless aircraft hit a house in Mir Ali area of the North Waziristan tribal district, destroying the structure.

The house belonged to a pro-Taliban tribal elder identified as Malik Gulab Khan, local television channels reported. It was not immediately known whether Khan was killed in the strike.

It was the second suspected US attack in as many days. An airstrike killed at least seven Al Qaeda-linked militants in adjoining South Waziristan Wednesday.

Jun 24, 2009 At least 45 people have been killed and dozens wounded in a series of missile raids by US drones in northwest Pakistan, Pakistani intelligence officials have said.

The first missile attack early on Tuesday hit what authorities said was a "Taliban training centre" in the South Waziristan tribal region that borders Afghanistan.

Several hours later a second attack was carried out during a funeral procession for those killed in the first raid.

Asked by Al Jazeera to comment on Tuesday's reported attacks, the Pentagon denied any US involvement.

Jul 9, 2009 The United States fired multiple missiles from pilotless drones in two separate attacks on insurgents in Pakistan’s South Waziristan district, killing up to 60 people. The attacks followed a US missile strike in South Waziristan on Tuesday that reportedly killed 16 people.

On Jul 21, 2009 A report released by the Brookings Institution claimed that for every militant killed in drone attacks, at least 10 civilians also die.

The Washington-based US think-tank acknowledged that it is difficult to confirm sourcing on civilian deaths in drone attacks, ‘but more than 600 civilians are likely to have died from the attacks. That number suggests that for every militant killed, 10 or so civilians also died.’

The report quotes counter-terrorism expert David Kilcullen as saying that: ‘When we intervene in people’s countries to chase small cells of bad guys, we end up alienating the whole country and turning them against us.’

The attacks have not stopped, in fact, they have increased and the CIA is calling for even more.

Aug 27, 2009 Pakistani intelligence officials say a suspected U.S. drone attack in the South Waziristan tribal region in the northwest has killed at least six people and wounded another nine.

Sep 25, 2009 At least 12 people have been killed and five injured in a suspected US drone attack in north-west Pakistan, district officials say.

Hundreds of militants and civilians have been killed in dozens of drone attacks in the past year. (A dozen or so militants, the remaining deaths were innocent civilians.)

Pakistan has been protesting US drone attacks inside its territory, saying these were proving counter-productive to the fight against terrorism by giving rise to anti-American public sentiment.

At a meeting in New York of major supporters of Pakistan on Thursday, Sept 24, 2009 US President Barack Obama said the US was "firmly committed to the future that the Pakistani people deserve".

God help them if the past 9 months is any indication of how the US plans to deliver that future.

Beyond Pakistan, the United States is still occupying Iraq and considering sending more troops to Afghanistan. President Obama refuses to hold those responsible for torture in this country to account, saying he would prefer to look ahead, not back. Perhaps a man of peace would consider the preferences of those who were tortured, recognizing that peace is not possible without atonement, reconciliation, and reparations. Guantanamo remains open, and Bagram continues business as usual. President Obama refuses to consider Israel’s actual nuclear holdings as important as Iran’s nuclear aspirations and continues to threaten Iran over their nuclear program. The US government is the largest purveyor of weapons in the world- we sell more weapons than the rest of the world combined, making the world more dangerous to everyone. Finally, the United States and Israel acted in collusion to bury the Goldstone report that accuses Israel of war crimes in Gaza, war crimes perpetrated with American weapons.

It seems that the Norwegian Nobel Committee, like many in the US and around the world, have been inspired by Obama’s words of hope and promises of change. Aspirations for peace are simply not enough in a war torn world, wars of America’s making, wars fueled by American arms sales. For me, actions speak louder than words.

A beaming President Barack Obama said he was both honored and humbled to win the Nobel Peace Prize and would accept it as a "call to action to work with other nations to solve the world's most pressing problems”. May the call be loud and clear, and may peace prevail.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Just Maybe

i wrote this note to a friend 2 years ago, and that friend continues to work for justice in dc and is facing arrest today for actions calling for the end to war and occupation. Many blessings to her and everyone who participated!

So maybe crossing the police line, though no one was in congress, though no one was home, may just be necessary- just for the fact that the struggle must confront the force opposing us and say no more, we will no longer be compliant while our "leaders" our "democracy" continues down this immoral path. Just maybe.

Those who pushed back and got sprayed with chemicals- was that act of pushing against the barricades "violence"? Obviously, some of the people participating were expressing their anger and even their words seemed violent to me, but what form should this resistance take- questions we ask over again, and must continue to ask. i just realized i have been arrested five times since that 1st White House protest in 2005. In each instance, i have maintained a non-violent presence in the midst of conflict- not the least i could do, but perhaps the best i could do; no, in fact forget least and best- it was ALL i could do.

On Sept 12th i watched "Cry Freedom", a movie made in '87 about Apartheid and Steve Biko (It was the anniversary of his murder in a S African jail)- and at one point he is defending confrontation in a court, and he speaks in defense of confrontation and the prosecutor interchanges the words "Confrontation" and "Violence" as if they are the same- but Biko, insisting on confrontation, responds "We are having a confrontation here, but I do not see violence."

My mind swirls around these issues and how to move forward, yet i heard another quote just recently about the Zen "attitude"- you settle the mind, and then you don't "Take action" but you "Let action take you." i cry out, Here i am, take me!

So now that i am home and perusing the "help wanteds" again, i am missing DC already and the feeling that somehow, in any small way my presence there means something and has value and the unity of 200 hundred people in jail means something. Though the numbers of people on the street are getting smaller, the attitudes of the vast majority of people in this country are shifting. Somehow, this shift in momentum is stirring change. On the surface it may seem to be meaningless, but what stirs below the surface may cause the tide to turn. Of course, finding tactics that work is vital, but the resistance itself is meaningful- no matter the form (Though for me, non-violence must always be the container).

Though it is getting late, and is too late for multitudes (reports today speak of the death toll in Iraq surpassing that in Rwanda!!!), we must move forward, naked, armed only with our faith and our trust.

Many blessings to you and thanks for your support. If no work opportunities present themselves i may return to dc later this week....(i know, i know, i went on about futility and not returning to dc, but my heart cries out, and my mind steps aside).