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51 countries line up to sign UN treaty outlawing nuclear weapons

In Democracy, Drones, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on September 22, 2017 at 6:02 am

Channel News Asia, September 21, 2017

UNITED NATIONS: With the North Korean nuclear crisis looming large, 51 countries on Wednesday (Sep 20) lined up to sign a new treaty outlawing nuclear weapons that has been fiercely opposed by the United States and other nuclear powers.

The treaty was adopted by 122 countries at the United Nations in July following negotiations led by Austria, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and New Zealand.

None of the nine countries that possess nuclear weapons – the United States, Russia, Britain, China, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel – took part in the negotiations.

NATO condemned the treaty, saying that it may in fact be counter-productive by creating divisions.

As leaders formally signed on the sidelines of the annual UN General Assembly, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hailed as historic the first multilateral disarmament treaty in more than two decades.

But Guterres acknowledged that much work was needed to rid the world of its stockpile of 15,000 atomic warheads.

“Today we rightfully celebrate a milestone. Now we must continue along the hard road towards the elimination of nuclear arsenals,” said Guterres.

The treaty will enter into force when 50 countries have signed and ratified it, a process that could take months or years.

“At a time when the world needs to remain united in the face of growing threats, in particular the grave threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear programme, the treaty fails to take into account these urgent security challenges,” the 29-nation Western alliance said.

It added: “Seeking to ban nuclear weapons through a treaty that will not engage any state actually possessing nuclear weapons will not be effective, will not reduce nuclear arsenals, and will neither enhance any country’s security, nor international peace and stability.

REJECTING NEED FOR NUCLEAR WEAPONS

Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz of Austria, one of the few Western European nations that is not in NATO, rejected the idea that nuclear weapons were indispensable for security.

“If you look at the world’s current challenges, this narrative is not only false, it is dangerous,” he told AFP.

“The new treaty on the prohibition on nuclear weapons provides a real alternative for security: a world without any nuclear weapons, where everyone is safer, where no one needs to possess these weapons,” he said.

Brazilian President Michel Temer was the first to sign the treaty. Others included South African President Jacob Zuma and representatives from Indonesia, Ireland and Malaysia as well as the Palestinian Authority and the Vatican.

But even Japan, the only nation to have suffered atomic attack and a longstanding advocate of abolishing nuclear weapons, boycotted the treaty negotiations.

Japan is a top target of North Korea, which has triggered global alarm over its rapidly progressing drive to develop nuclear weapons, following its sixth and most powerful nuclear test and the firing of two intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The signing ceremony came a day after President Donald Trump threatened to “totally destroy North Korea” if the United States is forced to defend itself or its allies Japan and South Korea.

Nuclear powers argue their arsenals serve as a deterrent against a nuclear attack and say they remain committed to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

That decades-old treaty seeks to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. It recognises the right of five nations – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States – to maintain them, while encouraging them to reduce their stockpiles.

Read more at http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/world/51-countries-line-up-to-sign-un-treaty-outlawing-nuclear-weapons-9234648

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John Pilger: On the Beach 2017

In Drones, Environment, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on August 8, 2017 at 9:40 am

By John Pilger, Z Communications Daily Commentary
The US submarine captain says, “We’ve all got to die one day, some sooner and some later. The trouble always has been that you’re never ready, because you don’t know when it’s coming. Well, now we do know and there’s nothing to be done about it.”

He says he will be dead by September. It will take about a week to die, though no one can be sure. Animals live the longest.

The war was over in a month. The United States, Russia and China were the protagonists. It is not clear if it was started by accident or mistake. There was no victor. The northern hemisphere is contaminated and lifeless now.

A curtain of radioactivity is moving south towards Australia and New Zealand, southern Africa and South America. By September, the last cities, towns and villages will succumb. As in the north, most buildings will remain untouched, some illuminated by the last flickers of electric light.

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper

These lines from T.S. Eliot’s poem The Hollow Men appear at the beginning of Nevil Shute’s novel On the Beach, which left me close to tears. The endorsements on the cover said the same.

Published in 1957 at the height of the Cold War when too many writers were silent or cowed, it is a masterpiece. At first the language suggests a genteel relic; yet nothing I have read on nuclear war is as unyielding in its warning. No book is more urgent.

Some readers will remember the black and white Hollywood film starring Gregory Peck as the US Navy commander who takes his submarine to Australia to await the silent, formless spectre descending on the last of the living world.

I read On the Beach for the first time the other day, finishing it as the US Congress passed a law to wage economic war on Russia, the world’s second most lethal nuclear power. There was no justification for this insane vote, except the promise of plunder.

The “sanctions” are aimed at Europe, too, mainly Germany, which depends on Russian natural gas and on European companies that do legitimate business with Russia. In what passed for debate on Capitol Hill, the more garrulous senators left no doubt that the embargo was designed to force Europe to import expensive American gas.

Their main aim seems to be war – real war. No provocation as extreme can suggest anything else. They seem to crave it, even though Americans have little idea what war is. The Civil War of 1861-5 was the last on their mainland. War is what the United States does to others.

The only nation to have used nuclear weapons against human beings, they have since destroyed scores of governments, many of them democracies, and laid to waste whole societies – the million deaths in Iraq were a fraction of the carnage in Indo-China, which President Reagan called “a noble cause” and President Obama revised as the tragedy of an “exceptional people”He was not referring to the Vietnamese.

Filming last year at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, I overheard a National Parks Service guide lecturing a school party of young teenagers. “Listen up,” he said. “We lost 58,000 young soldiers in Vietnam, and they died defending your freedom.”

At a stroke, the truth was inverted. No freedom was defended. Freedom was destroyed. A peasant country was invaded and millions of its people were killed, maimed, dispossessed, poisoned; 60,000 of the invaders took their own lives. Listen up, indeed.

A lobotomy is performed on each generation. Facts are removed. History is excised and replaced by what Time magazine calls “an eternal present”. Harold Pinter described this as “manipulation of power worldwide, while masquerading as a force for universal good, a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis [which meant] that it never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.”

Those who call themselves liberals or tendentiously “the left” are eager participants in this manipulation, and its brainwashing, which today revert to one name: Trump.

Trump is mad, a fascist, a dupe of Russia. He is also a gift for “liberal brains pickled in the formaldehyde of identity politics”, wrote Luciana Bohne memorably. The obsession with Trump the man — not Trump as a symptom and caricature of an enduring system – beckons great danger for all of us.

While they pursue their fossilised anti-Russia agendas, narcissistic media such as the Washington Post, the BBC and the Guardian suppress the essence of the most important political story of our time as they warmonger on a scale I cannot remember in my lifetime.

On 3 August, in contrast to the acreage the Guardian has given to drivel that the Russians conspired with Trump (reminiscent of the far-right smearing of John Kennedy as a “Soviet agent”), the paper buried, on page 16, news that the President of the United States was forced to sign a Congressional bill declaring economic war on Russia.

Unlike every other Trump signing, this was conducted in virtual secrecy and attached with a caveat from Trump himself that it was “clearly unconstitutional”.

A coup against the man in the White House is under way. This is not because he is an odious human being, but because he has consistently made clear he does not want war with Russia.

This glimpse of sanity, or simple pragmatism, is anathema to the “national security” managers who guard a system based on war, surveillance, armaments, threats and extreme capitalism. Martin Luther King called them “the greatest purveyors of violence in the world today”.

They have encircled Russia and China with missiles and a nuclear arsenal. They have used neo-Nazis to instal an unstable, aggressive regime on Russia’s “borderland” – the way through which Hitler invaded, causing the deaths of 27 million people. Their goal is to dismember the modern Russian Federation.

In response, “partnership” is a word used incessantly by Vladimir Putin — anything, it seems, that might halt an evangelical drive to war in the United States. Incredulity in Russia may have now turned to fear and perhaps a certain resolution. The Russians almost certainly have war-gamed nuclear counter strikes. Air-raid drills are not uncommon. Their history tells them to get ready.

The threat is simultaneous. Russia is first, China is next. The US has just completed a huge military exercise with Australia known as Talisman Sabre. They rehearsed a blockade of the Malacca Straits and the South China Sea, through which pass China’s economic lifelines.

The admiral commanding the US Pacific fleet said that, “if required”, he would nuke China. That he would say such a thing publicly in the current perfidious atmosphere begins to make fact of Nevil Shute’s fiction.

None of this is considered news. No connection is made as the bloodfest of Passchendaele a century ago is remembered. Honest reporting is no longer welcome in much of the media. Windbags, known as pundits, dominate: editors are infotainment or party line managers. Where there was once sub-editing, there is the liberation of axe-grinding clichés. Those journalists who do not comply are defenestrated.

The urgency has plenty of precedents. In my film, The Coming War on China, John Bordne, a member of a US Air Force missile combat crew based in Okinawa, Japan, describes how in 1962 – during the Cuban missile crisis – he and his colleagues were “told to launch all the missiles” from their silos.

Nuclear armed, the missiles were aimed at both China and Russia. A junior officer questioned this, and the order was eventually rescinded – but only after they were issued with service revolvers and ordered to shoot at others in a missile crew if they did not “stand down”.

At the height of the Cold War, the anti-communist hysteria in the United States was such that US officials who were on official business in China were accused of treason and sacked. In 1957 – the year Shute wrote On the Beach – no official in the State Department could speak the language of the world’s most populous nation. Mandarin speakers were purged under strictures now echoed in the Congressional bill that has just passed, aimed at Russia.

The bill was bipartisan. There is no fundamental difference between Democrats and Republicans. The terms “left” and “right” are meaningless. Most of America’s modern wars were started not by conservatives, but by liberal Democrats.

When Obama left office, he presided over a record seven wars, including America’s longest war and an unprecedented campaign of extrajudicial killings – murder – by drones.

In his last year, according to a Council on Foreign Relations study, Obama, the “reluctant liberal warrior”, dropped 26,171 bombs – three bombs every hour, 24 hours a day. Having pledged to help “rid the world” of nuclear weapons, the Nobel Peace Laureate built more nuclear warheads than any president since the Cold War.

Trump is a wimp by comparison. It was Obama – with his secretary of state Hillary Clinton at his side – who destroyed Libya as a modern state and launched the human stampede to Europe. At home, immigration groups knew him as the “deporter-in-chief”.

One of Obama’s last acts as president was to sign a bill that handed a record $618billion to the Pentagon, reflecting the soaring ascendancy of fascist militarism in the governance of the United States. Trump has endorsed this.

Buried in the detail was the establishment of a “Center for Information Analysis and Response”. This is a ministry of truth. It is tasked with providing an “official narrative of facts” that will prepare us for the real possibility of nuclear war – if we allow it.

Nuclear-armed drones? They may be closer than you think

In Drones, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on October 13, 2016 at 9:47 am

Asia Times, 10-9-16

http://www.atimes.com/nuclear-armed-drones-not-just-yet-but-the-outlook-is-scary/

The US military increasingly relies on drones to carry out a multitude of tasks, usually those deemed too “dull, dirty, or dangerous” for manned missions. Most unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) carry out routine reconnaissance. They also act as decoys, serve as communication relays, and even deliver light cargoes. But a growing number of drones are armed, such as the US Predator and MQ-9 Reaper, which are used mostly in tactical situations, such as targeting terrorists or insurgents.

Now military strategists are considering acquiring longer-range drones, especially those capable of carrying out nuclear missions. In 2015 there were reports that Russia was attempting to build nuclear-armed drone submarines.

It is a controversial strategy, given that it takes all the usual qualms there are about the increasing use of autonomous systems for war-fighting- the ethics of devolving too much authority to what are basically robots, susceptibility to hacking, etc.- but with much greater destructive power, given these systems’ range and payload. Nevertheless, it is at least worth considering.

In fact, such a strategic drone may already be in the offing. When the US decided to go ahead with a next-generation strategic bomber, the Long-Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B), the program included both manned and unmanned systems. The LRS-B, which replaces both B-52 and B-1 bombers, is intended to carry out a broad range of missions: nuclear attack, strategic and tactical conventional strike, surveillance, intelligence, and reconnaissance (ISR), and electronic attack. Initially, the US military plans to acquire 80 to 100 LRS-Bs, but the number could eventually rise to 200 bombers.

Some of these missions probably do not require a manned system, and thus a drone version of the LRS-B could perform many of the more mundane tasks, such as ISR or electronic attack, without putting unnecessary stress on crews.

Conventional strike missions with precision-guided air-to-ground munitions is also something that could be considered for an unmanned system, as it would provide the US with the means for long-range, large-payload ground attacks. These types of missions can presently be carried out only by B-52 and B-1 bombers, which are becoming increasingly obsolete; shorter-range systems such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, area very limited in their capacities for ground attack.

In such a role, an unmanned LRS-B could probably pack quite a lethal load and avoid putting a manned crew in harm’s way.

More controversial, perhaps, is the idea of an unmanned version of the LRS-B delivering nuclear weapons. Of course, the US military already operates a number of unmanned nuclear-delivery systems; they are called ballistic missiles (think of them as a single-mission, one-way drone).

Nevertheless, nuclear-armed drones still raise considerable hackles. What if such a drone could be hacked and forced to crash or be redirected to another target? How does the drone’s remote operator ensure near-total control of such a lethal weapons platform?

And nuclear drones could come in smaller packages, too. Thus far there have been limitations on the transportability by air of nuclear bombs with relatively high yields.

One of the goals of a nuclear weapons designer is to achieve the optimum yield-to-weight ratio- that is, the amount of bang per mass, usually expressed in terms of kilotons per kilogram (kt/kg). And thus far, we have needed powerful airplanes and missiles to deliver such explosive capability (compared to conventional warheads) in such relatively small amounts of weight compared to the amount of conventional warheads we would need to achieve the same destructive power.

But the technology of additive manufacturing may diminish this problem. At least in theory. Additive manufacturing- where 3-D printing machines can build objects of any shape and size by laying down successive layers of material- brings new opportunities for building much more lightweight structures.

A structure can be built with the needed strength but can be considerably lighter than a conventionally-built counterpart. One approach, for instance, is to build a lattice structure of different chemical components- either for the delivery system or the bomb casing itself, since the mass of plutonium or uranium itself cannot be modified.

More lightweight nuclear weapons present new deployment and delivery opportunities. They could be much more furtive and more difficult to detect; they could be carried by small drones and therefore be much harder to detect by enemy air defenses, since an adversary would normally be expecting a ballistic or cruise missile, or a bomber.

Longer-range drones make a lot of sense for the US military, when it comes to projecting power into the far Western Pacific. It still suffers from the centuries-old challenge of the “tyranny of distance.” It can take up to three weeks for US naval forces to steam from ports on the west coast to the South China Sea. Forces based in Hawaii could take up to 16 days to reach this area, and even Guam is a 3- to 5-day journey away. Considering this strategic straight jacket, drones make a lot of sense.

A nuclear-armed UAV may not be on the horizon any time soon, but it is a certainty that longer-range armed drones are coming, and perhaps sooner than we think. The promise of such a system, and the strike options it offers, are going to be just too irresistible to pass up.

Especially for the US military, which is seeking so-called “third offsets” capabilities in order to redress its growing vulnerability to long-range strike by such potential adversaries like China, a strategic drone would probably be quite appealing.

Marjorie Cohn: Perpetual ‘War on Terror’

In Democracy, Drones, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Peace, War on September 15, 2016 at 9:44 am

https://zcomm.org/sendpress/eyJpZCI6OTkwMTU1LCJ2aWV3IjoiZW1haWwifQ/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=sendpress&utm_campaign

Fifteen years ago, 19 men committed suicide and took more than 3,000 people with them. The 9/11 attacks constituted crimes against humanity and should have been treated as such, with investigations and prosecutions of those who helped plan and finance the horrific crimes.

If they had been armed attacks by another country, George W. Bush could have lawfully used military force in self-defense under the United Nations Charter. But they were not. Neither Afghanistan nor Iraq had attacked the United States or any other UN member country. In fact, Iraq had not invaded any country for 11 years, since it went into Kuwait. Neither Afghanistan nor Iraq posed an imminent threat to any nation.

None of the hijackers hailed from Afghanistan or Iraq. In fact, 15 came from Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, the Bush administration invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq and changed their regimes, killing and injuring untold numbers of people. The resulting vacuum in Iraq has been filled by Islamic State, which formed and became powerful after the US invaded that country.

Bush declared a “war on terror.” Terrorism is a tactic, not an enemy and you don’t declare war on a tactic. Yet Bush invoked the 9/11 attacks to shred the Constitution. And although he avoids using the phrase “war on terror,” Barack Obama is continuing Bush’s perpetual war.

Bush’s War on Civil Liberties

Bush did not confine his war on terror to other countries. He mounted a wholesale assault on civil liberties here in the United States.

He rammed the USA PATRIOT Act through a shell-shocked Congress that had rejected its provisions prior to 9/11. The act enhanced the government’s ability to conduct surveillance and created a crime of “domestic terrorism,” which was used to target political activists who protest government policies. It is defined so broadly that it has been used to go after environmental and animal rights groups.

Bush inaugurated a new program of COINTELPRO-style surveillance, in which the government used wiretapping without judicial authorization. A similar policy was banned by a Republican-controlled Congress with the passage of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) after the FBI used it to target civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr.

In violation of FISA and the Fourth Amendment, Bush signed an executive order establishing the Terrorist Surveillance Program. It authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to wiretap people within the United States with no judicial review. The NSA has eavesdropped on untold numbers of private conversations. It has combed through large volumes of telephone and internet communications flowing into and out of the United States, collecting a vast amount of personal information that has nothing to do with national security.

Bush ordered federal agencies to refuse to honor requests under the Freedom of Information Act, an important vehicle for citizens to hold the government accountable by requesting, receiving and publicizing public records.

In particular, three developments on Bush’s watch have had a chilling effect on protected First Amendment activity: the shift from reactive to preemptive law enforcement; the enactment of domestic antiterrorism laws; and the relaxation of FBI guidelines on the surveillance of Americans.

Bush also indefinitely detained hundreds of men and boys of Arab, Muslim and South Asian descent in the United States and Guantánamo, Cuba, without charges or suspicion of terrorist ties.

Bush & Co.’s Illegal Torture Program

Nearly 800 individuals have been held indefinitely at Guantánamo, most without charge, in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which the US has ratified.

Prisoners released from Guantánamo report having been tortured and subjected to cruel treatment. They describe assaults, prolonged shackling in uncomfortable positions and sexual abuse. There are accounts of prisoners being pepper-sprayed in the face until they vomited, fingers being poked into their eyes, and their heads being forced into the toilet pan and flushed.

Those who engaged in hunger strikes were brutally force-fed, a practice that the United Nations Human Rights Commission called torture. Thirty-two attempted suicides took place in an 18-month period.

As evidence of torture leaked out of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, a Guantánamo-Iraq torture connection was revealed. General Geoffrey Miller, implicated in setting torture policies in Iraq, had been transferred from Guantánamo to Abu Ghraib specifically to institute the same harsh interrogation procedures he had put in place at Guantánamo.

In late 2014, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a 499-page executive summary of its torture report. It said the CIA used “rectal feeding” without medical necessity on prisoners. A mixture of pureed hummus, pasta and sauce, nuts and raisins was forced into the rectum of one detainee. “Rectal rehydration” was also utilized to establish the interrogator’s “total control over the detainee.”

The interrogation policy that permitted torture and abuse came from the top. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and John Yoo admitted they participated in decisions to subject prisoners to waterboarding. This involves pouring water into the nose and mouth to make victims feel like they’re drowning. Waterboarding has long been considered torture, which is a war crime. Indeed, the United States hung Japanese military leaders for the war crime of torture after World War II.

The CIA engaged in extraordinary rendition, sending men to other countries where they were viciously tortured, in violation of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. That treaty, which the US has ratified, is unequivocal. It says, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

Yet the Bush administration’s legal mercenaries, including John Yoo and Jay Bybee, wrote memos with twisted reasoning that purported to justify torture, and advised high government officials how to avoid criminal liability under the US War Crimes Act.

Obama Continues the War on Terror

When the US ratified the Torture Convention and the Geneva Conventions, it agreed to punish those who commit torture and war crimes.

And the Constitution mandates that the president “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” But Obama has refused to prosecute the Bush administration war criminals, saying, “We need to look forward, as opposed to looking backward.”

Like his predecessor, Obama uses the “state secrets” privilege to block judicial inquiry into the US’s extraordinary rendition and surveillance programs.

Obama continues to wage the war on terror, although he doesn’t use that moniker.

Declaring the whole world a battlefield, the Obama administration has vastly expanded the use of armed drones that began during the Bush administration. Deadly missiles are killing and maiming people in seven countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. And Obama continues to fight the war in Afghanistan, leaving 8,400 US troops and special operations forces there.

Like Bush’s fateful regime change in Iraq, Obama’s invasion of and regime change in Libya created space for Islamic State to proliferate.

Under the Obama administration, the US military continues to force-feed hunger-striking prisoners at Guantánamo.

Terror as Blowback Against US Foreign Policy

Both the Bush and Obama administrations have conducted the war on terror by combating the symptoms of terrorism rather than grappling with its root causes. They have succeeded in maintaining an atmosphere of fear, shifting the national discourse away from the reasons why the US is hated.

That hatred dates back to the stationing of US troops at the holy sites of Islam in Saudi Arabia, the killing of one million Iraqis — half of them children — with punishing sanctions during the 1990s, and the United States’ uncritical support of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands. The hatred is exacerbated by the perpetual war the US is waging in Afghanistan and much of the Middle East.

Contrary to his periodic proclamations about transparency, Obama has continued his wars in obscurity, except in cases where he has been forced to reveal information through the Freedom of Information Act.

We owe a debt of gratitude to courageous whistleblowers like Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, John Kiriakou and others, who have stripped the veil of secrecy from the US torture, drone and surveillance programs. Obama has responded to their truth-telling with prosecutions under the Espionage Act, rivaling all prior presidents combined in his aggressive pursuit of whistleblowers.

Meanwhile, with some 800 US military bases abroad, the tentacles of American Empire are reaching further and tightening their grasp.

In the words of Andrew Bacevich, “There is no strategy [for the war on terror]. None. Zilch. We’re on a multitrillion dollar bridge to nowhere, with members of the national security establishment more or less content to see where it leads.”

But there is a strategy for the American people to stand up to endless war. As Phyllis Bennis has suggested, we must call for “a massive reduction of the military budget,” slated at $619 billion this year. We must also “demand to replace the so-called global War on Terror with nonmilitary solutions,” since “killing people simply creates more terrorists.” And finally, we must “broaden efforts to end the US support — military, economic and diplomatic — for Israeli occupation and apartheid.”

There is little doubt that the permanent war on terror will continue in a Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump administration, stealing precious resources that could be used to fight climate change, enhance our educational and healthcare systems, and rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.

It is up to all of us to speak out, write and protest against endless war. That means pressuring Congress and the White House, holding demonstrations and inserting our opposition into the media and public debate. Our very survival depends on it.

__________________________________

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild and on the advisory board of Veterans for Peace. Her books include Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law; The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse and Drones; and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. Visit her website: MarjorieCohn.com. Follow her on Twitter: @MarjorieCohn.

U.S. Army minister leaves “imperial” military to protest drone “unacceptable killing” and nuclear “policy of terror”

In Democracy, Drones, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy on June 9, 2016 at 7:07 am

SALON, June 8, 2016

By Ben Norton

A U.S. Army minister is resigning from what he calls the “imperial” military in protest of its drone program, which he refers to as a “policy of unaccountable killing,” and its nuclear weapons program, which he calls a “policy of terror.”

U.S. Army Reserve chaplain Chris Antal wrote an open letter to President Obama in April announcing his resignation. In the letter, which is embedded in full below, he excoriated the Executive Branch for giving itself “the right to kill anyone, anywhere on earth, at any time, for secret reasons, based on secret evidence, in a secret process, undertaken by unidentified officials.”

He also blasted the Executive Branch for continuing “to invest billions of dollars into nuclear weapons, which threaten the existence of humankind and the earth.”

“I resign because I refuse to support U.S. policy of preventive war, permanent military supremacy and global power projection,” Antal wrote, accusing the Executive Branch of expecting “extra-constitutional authority and impunity from international law.”

“I refuse to support this policy of imperial overstretch,” the U.S. Army minister concluded. “I resign because I refuse to serve as an empire chaplain.”

“A Veteran’s Day Confession for America”
Antal served for eight years in the Army Reserve, five of those years as a chaplain. He spent two years on active duty, including roughly six months in Afghanistan. His second thoughts about the U.S. military began four years ago, on the other side of the ocean.

On Veterans Day in 2012, about six weeks into his deployment in Afghanistan, Antal, who is a Unitarian Universalist minister, delivered a fiery sermon at Kandahar Airfield.

“Most Merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you,” he declared. “We have made war entertainment enjoying box seats in the carnival of death consuming violence, turning tragedy into games raising our children to kill without remorse.”

“We have morally disengaged, outsourcing our killing to the 1 percent, forgetting they follow our orders the blood they shed is on our hands too,” Antal said in the sermon, titled “A Veteran’s Day Confession for America.”

“We have sanitized killing and condoned extrajudicial assassinations: death by remote control, war made easy without due process, protecting ourselves from the human cost of war,” he continued, in heated condemnation of the drone program.

“We have deceived ourselves, saying, ‘Americans do not kill civilians, terrorists do,’ denying the colossal misery our wars inflict on the innocent. The national closet bursts with skeletons,” Antal proclaimed.

He subsequently posted the text of his sermon on a Unitarian Universalist website. “Because I think the issues I raise are of concern for a larger audience, for the whole nation, I made that available through a church website,” Antal told Democracy Now in an interview on June 3.

Two days after posting the sermon on the website, Antal was contacted by an Army lawyer who had read the post. He was summoned to his commander’s office, who “told me that my message doesn’t support the mission,” Antal recalled. “He told me that I make us look like the bad guys.”

Antal’s commander asked him to take the post down. He did so, yet subsequently faced a two-month investigation that ended with an official reprimand. It accused him of making politically inflammatory statements and released him from active duty in Afghanistan.

Explaining why he wrote the sermon, Antal recollected, “When I had witnessed drones, I had learned about practices that violate my sense of what is right. And I decided it was my prerogative as a religious leader to address that in the context of a religious service, a form of lamentation, a confession. And that is what I did in my sermon.”

Unholy trinity
After the reprimand, in mid-April, Antal decided to voluntarily resign from the U.S. military in an act of protest.

I “eventually began to feel a role conflict between my role as a military officer and my role as an ordained minister,” he told Democracy Now. “I couldn’t reconcile that role conflict, so I decided to resign.”

Rev. Antal has not yet received a response to his letter to President Obama.

By resigning, Antal is sacrificing any benefits that he earned through his eight years of service in the military. Yet he believes taking a political and moral stand is more important than any benefits he may lose.

“Democracy is about checks and balances. Democracy is about due process. These drone wars have blown due process up in smoke. They’ve blown checks and balances up in smoke,” he insisted in the interview.

Antal stressed that the cornerstone of democracy is no establishment of an official religion. Yet, in the U.S., “we have in our nation an established religion.”

“It’s not Christianity,” Antal said. It “consists of the unholy trinity of governmental theism, military supremacy and an understanding of capitalism as freedom.”

“As a religious leader, I feel it’s my prerogative to differentiate myself from this state-sanctioned religion and speak from my authentic tradition in a way that resists these national policies,” he continued.

“That’s what I’ve done in offering my resignation and stating quite clearly that I will not serve as an empire chaplain. I will not lend religious legitimacy to this state-sanctioned violence.”

Military-industrial-congressional complex
Rev. Antal still serves as a minister. He presently leads the Unitarian Universalist congregation of Rock Tavern, New York.

Antal is also now politically active and outspoken about his experience. He is a founder of the Hudson Valley, New York chapter of the anti-war group Veterans for Peace, and has even taken his activism into the corporate sphere.

“What we are facing in our country is not just a military-industrial complex, that Eisenhower wrote about; it’s a military-industrial-congressional complex,” Antal said on Democracy Now.

He called for “confronting some of the corporations that are profiting and that are lobbying our elected officials in order to influence the militarization of U.S. foreign policy.” And he practices what he practices.

Antal bought one share of the military corporation Honeywell in order to attend its shareholder meetings and raise concerns to its executives. At a shareholder meeting in 2015, he interrogated CEO David Cote about the company’s profiting from predator drones.

In the subsequent shareholder meeting, Antal asked about Honeywell’s profiting from nuclear weapons. “I asked Mr. Cote if he’d ever been to Hiroshima, because I’ve been there twice, and whether he had faced the horror that this technology produces,” he said.

The former Army chaplain reiterated his criticisms of President Obama for his hypocrisy on nuclear proliferation.

As Salon has previously highlighted, President Obama visited Hiroshima, Japan in late May and pledged to work toward a nuclear-free world. Yet, at the same moment, the U.S.’s $1 trillion nuclear escalation with Russia and China threatens “to revive a Cold War-era arms race,” as The New York Times put it.

The Obama administration has made plans to spend $1 trillion dollars over the next three decades to revitalize the U.S. nuclear program, in a plan that “has been widely panned by critics as ‘wasteful,’ ‘unsustainable,’ ‘unaffordable,’ and ‘a fantasy,’” The Intercept reported.

“I was glad and proud of our president for visiting Hiroshima,” Antal said. “However, I am disappointed that although he talks the talk of nuclear abolition, the actions of his administration are not consistent with what he’s saying.”

Open letter to Obama
Dear Mr. President,

I hereby resign my commission as an Officer in the United States Army.

I resign because I refuse to support U.S. armed drone policy. The Executive Branch continues to claim the right to kill anyone, anywhere on earth, at any time, for secret reasons, based on secret evidence, in a secret process, undertaken by unidentified officials. I refuse to support this policy of unaccountable killing.

I resign because I refuse to support U.S. nuclear weapon policy. The Executive Branch continues to invest billions of dollars into nuclear weapons, which threaten the existence of humankind and the earth. I refuse to support this policy of terror and mutually assured destruction.

I resign because I refuse to support U.S. policy of preventive war, permanent military supremacy and global power projection. The Executive branch continues to claim extra-constitutional authority and impunity from international law. I refuse to support this policy of imperial overstretch.

I resign because I refuse to serve as an empire chaplain. I cannot reconcile these policies with wither my sworn duty to protect and defend America and our constitutional democracy or my covenantal commitment to the core principles of my religion faith. These principles include: justice, equity and compassion in human relations, a free and responsible search for truth, and the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

Respectfully submitted,

Christopher John Antal

 

Ben Norton is a politics staff writer at Salon. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.