United States

This Week in Conflict in the Americas… March 8th-15th, 2012.

  • A key player in the 2011 Conservative party campaign for Guelph is refusing to answer more questions, on the advice of his lawyer, from Elections Canada investigators probing fraudulent robo-calls in the riding during the last election that allegedly misled voters. In an extremely rare move, the Conservative government publicly backtracked on Tuesday on their plans to buy 65 state-of-the-art F-35 fighter planes, after many questioned the fact that the government didn’t bother soliciting bids from other manufactures.
  • New York’s Wall Street group warned it could run out of money by the end of the month, raising questions about the future of the movement that sparked nationwide protests against economic injustice last year. Thousands of people marched across the state of Alabama in the United States on Saturday, to protest against new electoral laws that would require voters to show strict forms of photo ID that they say is unfair to millions of African-American and Latino voters. On Monday, the UN special rapporteur on torture accused the US government of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of Bradley Manning, accused of passing confidential documents to WikiLeaks, at times forcing the soldier to strip naked and endure freezing temperatures. On Tuesday, the Pentagon released plans for a “heat ray” weapon to be used for crowd control that would direct electromagnet waves at people that would deliver sudden, unbearable heat to targets up to a kilometre away.
  • The bodies of four youths were found cut to pieces and left in plastic bags in the central Mexico city of Cuernavaca on Thursday along with a threatening note from a drug gang. On Wednesday, Al Jazeera reported that police departments in Nuevo Leon state will begin giving a series of lie detector tests and psychological exams in an effort to stop corruption on the force.
  • The left-wing party of the ousted President of Honduras Manuel Zelaya named his wife as its Presidential candidate in elections next year on Tuesday. The former first lady is a relative novice in politics.
  • Polls opened in El Salvador on Sunday, in a big test for the first leftist government since the end of the civil war 20 years ago. By Monday, the Nationalist Republican Alliance was ahead with slightly more than 40% of the vote with 50% of precincts reporting.
  • A former Special Forces soldier, Pedro Pimentel Rios, in Guatemala was sentenced to a largely symbolic 6,060 years in prison for his role in the killings of 201 people in a 1982 massacre.
  • With the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics fast approaching, authorities in Brazil’s Rio are racing to build new hotels to cope with the influx of thousands of tourist, leaving many behind in the wake of soaring prices and some 7 million shortfall of available homes. On Tuesday, prosecutors announced they would file charges against a retired colonel over the disappearance of five guerrillas during the 1964-85 military dictatorship, the first such case to be brought against any military officers from that era.
  • Two Pakistani UN peacekeepers in Haiti were sentenced on Wednesday to a year in prison with hard labour after a trial found them guilty of sexual abuses and exploitation.
  • At least three protesters were killed and some 32 people wounded on Wednesday as police in southeastern Peru reportedly clashed with illegal miners opposed to a government crackdown on unauthorized gold mining.
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This Week in Conflict in the Americas… March 1st-8th, 2012.

  • President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina sought negotiations with the UK to establish several weekly flights from Buenos Aires to the Falkland Islands on Thursday, a move the Islands’ legislative chairman says is “about as likely as the Falklands Air Service landing flights on the moon”.
  • The independent federal elections agency in Canada announced on Friday that it is now investigating more than 31,000 complaints of voting irregularities related to automated telephone calls during the last election that allegedly sent voters to false voting stations. The irregularities have been linked to the ruling Conservative Party, though the party and the PM thoroughly deny any wrongdoing. On Monday, the Conservative parliamentary secretary refused to release its call records in the wake of the growing robo-call scandal, while at the same time calling upon the Liberal party to release their records and shifting blame to Election Canada, the independent election body. On Tuesday, PM Harper refused to explain why Conservative MPs rejected a request by Elections Canada for more power to verify campaign financial returns; while the Conservatives reportedly repaid taxpayers $230,198 for their previous “in-and-out” scandal from the 2006 elections. On Wednesday, the Vancouver Observer ran a report detailed a Conservative adjunct professor’s experience attending the Conservative-aligned Manning Centre for Democracy Campaign School where voter suppression tactics were allegedly discussed.
  • President Chavez of Venezuela announced that he will need radiation treatment for cancer in the run-up to the October Presidential elections; though he insisted there was no metastasis after the removal of another tumor. On Saturday, Al Jazeera ran a report on the country’s struggles to stop violent crimes. On Monday, the government and opposition traded blame with each other after a violent melee at a Presidential campaign stop where several people were injured by bullets in Caracas.
  • President Martelly of Haiti nominated his foreign minister and close advisor, Laurent Lamothe, as PM on Thursday, raising hopes of a swift end to the country’s political vacuum. On Sunday, the President asked government officials to find ways to clear several sites around the country being occupied by ex-members of the armed forces.  On Wednesday, a banker whose son is cooperating with authorities in a major US bribery investigation involving former government officials was shot and killed.
  • United States Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to outline the legal framework for the use of lethal force in targeted killings of Americans overseas in a major speech at Northwestern University law school on Sunday, suggesting that lethal force is legal under a September 18, 2001 resolution. On Monday, a bill reportedly passed in the House of Representatives (passing in the Senate on Thursday) that would expand existing anti-protest laws that make it a felony to “enter or remain in” an area designated as “restricted”, which is defined in extremely vague and broad terms and could include a building or grounds where the President or other persons protected by Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting. Tuesday was dubbed “Super Tuesday” as 10 states opened their primary and caucus contests for the Republican Party’s Presidential nomination.  On Thursday, two people were killed and seven wounded in a shooting at a psychiatric institute at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre; while a new report by the Southern Poverty Law Centre suggested that the number of hate and anti-government groups continued to rise in the previous year, fueled by racial tensions, conspiracy theories and anger over economic inequality. Reports suggested that a state senator in Wisconsin introduced a bill aimed at penalizing single mothers by calling their unmarried status a contributing factor in child abuse and neglect.
  • Police in Peru announced that they arrested a suspected leader of a Maoist faction of the Shining Path rebel movement on Saturday who was the apparent successor to “Comrade Artemio” who was captured last month.
  • Following the rebel group FARC in Colombia’s announcement that it intends to release the last of its captives and stop kidnapping for ransom, families of 10 people currently in FARC custody were provided with new hope. On Tuesday, the ELN guerrillas reportedly freed 11 oil workers who were kidnapped in late February.
  • President Correa of Ecuador rallied supporters on Thursday in a show of force against street protests by opponents who he said were trying to destabilize his government ahead of the 2013 election.

This Week in Conflict in the Americas… February 23rd-March 1st, 2012.

  • The Atlantic ran an interesting article discussing whether Central America should legalize drugs or not, in an effort to reduce the drug related violence in the region. Al Jazeera also took a look at rising drug related violence in Central America in the wake of a recent UN report.
  • A bill aimed at outlawing abortion by granting individual rights to an embryo died on Thursday in the Virginia state Senate in the United States when lawmakers returned the bill to committee. On Friday, Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of leaking classified information to WikiLeaks was formally charged with 22 counts, including “aiding the enemy”, after declining to enter a plea in a military trial; while gay marriage was set to be legalized in Maryland after the state Senate gave its final approval to a bill that will now be sent to the Governor. The Pentagon notified lawmakers of plans to boost American strength in the Persian Gulf in response to alleged Iranian threats close to the Straits of Hormuz on Saturday. On Monday, it was reported that millions of dollars of White House money helped to pay for a New York Police Department program that put entire American Muslim neighbourhoods under surveillance since 9/11; while a student in a high school in Ohio opened fire in the cafeteria with a handgun, killing one student and wounding four others before giving himself up to authorities (the death toll rose to 3 the following day). WikiLeaks published more than five million emails stolen from an Austin, Texas-based intelligence firm Stratfor that is now being called the Enron of private intelligence. On Wednesday, a Pakistani national in Guantanamo Bay plead guilty to five charges related to terrorism, murder, conspiracy and spying, reaching a plea deal that he provide “full and truthful cooperation” with the US government that limits his prison sentence.
  • The Prime Minister of Haiti offered his resignation to the President on Saturday after days of political tension between the premier and government ministers over issues of dual nationality. On Wednesday, several thousands of supporters of former President Aristide filled the streets of Port-au-Prince on the eighth anniversary of his toppling, demanding that President Martelly prove he does not hold dual citizenship and that the UN peacekeeping mission leave the country.
  • On Friday, five disabled protesters began a hunger strike in Bolivia in their campaign demanding that the government pay an annual subsidy to disabled people; while scores of disabled people fought police in La Paz after ending their 1,000 mile, 100-day trek through the country.
  • Police in Puerto Rico were alerted to a 6-foot-long military torpedo at a metal recycling centre along the north coast on Friday.
  • An American immigration judge ruled on Thursday that there are sufficient grounds to begin deportation proceedings against a former defense minister of El Salvador for his alleged involvement in torture and extrajudicial killings in the 1980s.
  • Protesters in Bahrain are angered at riot weaponry from Brazil that has reportedly been used on them in recent months, killing some 35 people and injuring hundreds of others. Protesters allege that the Brazilian tear gas has more chemical substances that has made people foam at the mouth and caused other symptoms, even causing the death of babies.
  • The PM of Canada announced he was unaware of allegations that his Conservative party had used dirty tricks to suppress votes to help them win by a narrow margin in last year’s federal election, after an Elections Canada investigation revealed that voters in several constituencies had received automated phone calls designed to prevent them from casting their ballots. On Monday, it was revealed that all the calls weren’t robo, automated pre-recorded voice messages, but rather real-time calls made into ridings across the country; a move that Liberal leader Bob Rae said definitely affected the election results, specifically in 27 ridings that were hotly contested.
  • Two British cruise liners were reportedly turned away from a port in Argentina as tensions mounted over the future of the Falkland Islands. On Wednesday, the British government accused Argentina of pursuing a policy of confrontation over the Falklands, after reports suggested they were calling on companies to stop importing goods from the UK.
  • FARC rebels in Colombia vowed to free 10 remaining police and military hostages and end its practice of kidnapping civilians on Sunday, calling the practice “nothing but a disaster”. The government greeted the announced with caution, as an “important and necessary step” for peace and that they would like to see an end to armed attacks, not merely a ceasefire. On Wednesday, at least 11 Colombian oil workers were reportedly seized by an unidentified armed group as they worked on a pipeline near the Venezuelan border.

This Week in Conflict in the Americas… February 9th-16th, 2012.

  • The Pentagon in the United States announced their plans on Thursday to change rules in the armed forces to open up more than 14,000 positions for women to serve as frontline medics, helicopter pilots and intelligence analysts, bringing them closer to frontline combat roles. On Saturday, Republican Presidential front-runner Mitt Romney narrowly won Maine’s caucuses with 39% support; while the hacker group Anonymous claimed responsibility for disabling the CIA website, making it inaccessible for several hours. On Monday, lawmakers in New Jersey passed a bill through the state Senate to legalize gay marriage for the first time, but Governor Chris Christie announced he would veto the bill. On Tuesday, Texas announced that they may be incapable of carrying out further death sentences beyond June because they are running out of supplies of lethal drugs; more than 1.8 million dead Americans reportedly remain listed as active voters, as the voter registration system is “plagued with errors and inefficiencies”; the US Defense Secretary told members of Congress that President Obama’s proposed smaller defense budget won’t compromise US “military superiority” around the world; while the US Department of Defense is apparently asking the federal government for almost $3 billion for “activities” in Iraq, even though they have supposedly withdrawn from the country.
  • Argentina accused Britain of sending a nuclear submarine to the disputed Falkland Islands on Friday, in an ongoing feud between the two nations. MPs from a parliamentary committee that oversees defence matters are set to visit the Falklands next month, in a move that is likely to heighten tensions even more between Britain and Argentina.
  • The Guardian reported on Sunday on defenders of the Amazon in Brazil who inform on illegal loggers often face death or exile; while the police strike in the north-east reportedly ended, though a similar action in Rio de Janeiro is still continuing.
  • Venezuela ran its first-ever opposition Presidential primary on Sunday, where it chose a single challenger to run against incumbent Hugo Chavez. Henrique Capriles, a state governor, won the primaries with around 62 percent of the vote. By Wednesday, allies of Chavez had allegedly begun a smear campaign against Capriles, casting doubt on the legitimacy of the vote, questioning his sexuality and disparaging his Jewish roots.
  • The top leader of the Shining Path in Peru has reportedly been found alive, but is badly wounded, after the military had earlier reported him dead. On Sunday, reports were suggesting that the leader was badly wounded after being shot and captured by security forces in a remote jungle.
  • Authorities in central Mexico say a mob of around 300 took three suspected kidnappers out of town’s police station and beat them to death, setting two of the men on fire during an attack on Friday. On Saturday, authorities for the first time appointed a female to the role of head of the federal police. On Wednesday, police reportedly found the mutilated bodies of six men inside plastic bags dumped on a road near the city of Cuernavaca with a threatening message inside.
  • A fire allegedly started by an inmate in a prison in Honduras killed some 356 prisoners, who were locked in their cells. Outraged relatives of the dead inmates tried to storm the gates of the prison on Wednesday morning to recover the remains of their loved ones, but were driven back by police officers firing tear gas.  Reports suggest that most of the inmates in the prison had never been charged, let alone convicted of any crime.
  • The UN Security Council finished a four-day visit to Haiti and called for police reform and improvement in living conditions for those displaced in the January 2010 earthquake.

This Week in Conflict in the Americas… February 2nd-9th, 2012.

  • A Pentagon legal official refused to extend an important deadline to file motions for defense lawyers of the five Guantanamo Bay prisoners charged in the September 11th attack on Friday. Dozens of riot police cleared the last remaining Occupy encampments in the United States on Saturday, saying they were banned under park rules; while members of the hacker group Anonymous made a statement on the website of the law firm Puckett and Faraj claiming to have published three GB of private email messages of the attorneys who defended the US Marine who faced charges in the 2005 killing of 24 Iraqi civilians in the Haditha massacre and recently had his charges dropped. On Tuesday, a federal appeals court struck down a California law that strips gay couples of the right to marry, stating it violated principles of due process and equal protection under the law. On Wednesday, lawmakers in Washington State voted to approve gay marriage; while the authorities agreed with Japan to proceed with plans to transfer thousands of American troops out of the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, leaving behind a stalled discussion about closing a major US Marine base there. On Thursday, the Pentagon unveiled a new policy that intends to expand job opportunities for women in the military, but will shift them closer to combat fighting, in an effort to begin eliminating some of the gender-based discrimination in the military. Al Jazeera ran an interesting article asking whether democracy in the US is being bought and sold by corporations, unions and political action committees.
  • An article in the SF Chronicle discussed the recent mass evictions in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in preparation of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, with some 170,000 people reportedly facing threats to their housing or already removed. The army reportedly clashed with striking police officers in the city of Salvador over the weekend. The police officers are striking over pay and poor benefits amid rising crime rates, with some 78 people murdered in only 5 days. On Thursday, the striking police officers agreed to leave the state assembly house they had occupied for several days, but have not yet indicated that the strike was over.
  • An ageing peace activist in Ecuador has built a haven for young local gang members called the Barrio de Paz or the “Neighbourhood of Peace”, becoming a grandmotherly figure to the gang members and helping to guide them into a life of non-violence. The activist believes that gang organizations can be transformed to be used for good, as a support system for other members and has had some great successes in her process.
  • The ruling centre-right political party in Mexico announced that they had chosen a woman to run for the Presidency. Josefina Vazquez Mota, a former writer of self-help books, economist and former education minister, is currently around 20 percentage points behind Enrique Pena Nieto, the Institutional Revolutionary party candidate. A drug cartel in Ciudad Juarez threatened to kill an officer a day until the city’s police chief steps down, forcing officers into hiding around the city. On Wednesday, a suspected Zeta drug gang member led authorities to a mass grave site at two ranches in the state of Veracruz.
  • The United Kingdom dismissed Argentina’s new threat to complain to the UN over what Argentina called the “militarization” of the disputed Falkland Islands, although as a permanent member of the Security Council, they could veto any potential resolution. The British Foreign Office said that the people of the island are British citizens “out of choice”. On Wednesday, Britain ruled out the possibility of talks with Argentina.
  • President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela celebrated the 20th anniversary of the failed coup that helped launch his political career with a lavish military parade, angering opposition leaders who see the coup attempt as a blemish on the country’s democracy. Two brothers believed to be the leaders of a rightwing paramilitary group were arrested on Tuesday on crimes including murder, kidnapping, and drug trafficking. On Thursday, the Guardian ran an article about the opposition candidates joining together in coalition to oust Hugo Chavez in the upcoming Presidential elections.
  • The federal government of Canada is defending its recent decision to direct CSIS, the Canadian spy agency, to use information that may have been extracted through torture in cases where public safety is at stake.
  • The most important leader of the Shining Path insurgency has reportedly been wounded in a clash in Peru. President Humala has vowed to step up efforts to catch the group.

This Week in Conflict in the Americas… December 15th-22nd, 2011.

  • The trial of Breanna (nee Bradley) Manning, the soldier allegedly responsible for leaking hundreds of thousands of secret state documents to WikiLeaks began this week in the United States. Manning is charged with 23 counts, including knowingly passing on intelligence to the enemy, through indirect means, though evidence linking Manning to WikiLeaks is disputed. Manning’s trial wrapped up on Thursday, with a final decision due in January. Transcripts of military interviews from the investigation of the 2005 Haditha massacre by US Marines of Iraqi citizens were found in a trailer in a junkyard in Baghdad this week, shedding some light on the dehumanizing nature of the war for the US Marines, who saw the massacre as routine. On Friday, President Obama announced that his administration has done more than any other to support Israel’s security and described his commitment to Israel as “unshakable”.  On Monday, Secretary of State Clinton announced the country’s hopes to prevent and diffuse conflicts by getting more women seated at negotiating tables around the world; while Human Rights Watch called upon the country to transfer the CIA command of aerial drone strikes to the armed forces clarify the legal rationale for targeted killings, and reduce the use of CIA drone strikes. On Wednesday, Amnesty International called upon President Obama to live up to his pledge to end detentions at the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison, which they call a systemic attack on human rights.
  • On Friday, it was reported that the government of Honduras had deployed the military across the country in an effort to tackle violence by organized crime and drug traffickers. The country has the highest murder rate in the world. A group of women journalists calling for justice for slain reporters were reportedly violently suppressed by police with batons and tear gas in the capital last week.
  • The major port city of Veracruz in Mexico disbanded its entire police force in an effort to stem corruption on Wednesday. Some 800 officers and 300 administrative employees were laid off and replaced by the military. They will have a chance to reapply if they can meet stricter standards.
  • Talks at the Conga Gold mine project in Peru broke down on Monday, after the PM excluded environmental activists from the mediation efforts. Residents are concerned that their water supply will be affected by the mining activities, and have been protesting since early November.
  • Banks in Cuba began offering loans to individual citizens this week, in the latest free-market reform to hit the island. The loans are aimed at growing small businesses and self-employed, as well as farmers and those building their own homes.
  • Police in Argentina raided the offices of a cable television company on Tuesday, in what the company claims is a political battle following a falling out with the President in 2008. The President says their goal is to break up monopolies as a way to ensure freedom of expression, though they denied ordering the current intervention. Also on Tuesday, an Argentine minister was found hanged in his hotel room in Uruguay during a summit meeting of Mercosur, with police trying to determine if it was a crime, a suicide or an accident. The South American trading bloc banned ships from their ports that fly the Falkland Islands flag, with the Argentine President accusing Britain of taking the country’s resources and ignoring UN resolutions and asking for fresh talks on the status of the islands.

This Week in Conflict in the Americas… December 9th-15th, 2011.

Hello all! Hope all is well!

I would like to appeal to readers to direct me to any English news sites from Latin America to help make this section better. If you know of any good news sites, blogs or organizations that profile human rights, conflict or peace issues from South or Central America, please write to me at apeaceofconflict@gmail.com or leave me the details in the comments below.

Thanks in advance,

Rebecca

 

  • Occupy Wall Street protesters in the United States have issued a call for thousands of protesters across the country to reoccupy public spaces to mark the movement’s three-month anniversary on December 17th. On Friday morning, the Occupy Boston camp remained in place, despite the deadline to move passing; Defense Secretary Panetta announced he would begin to talk publicly about the results of a strategic review to guide the Pentagon as it cuts hundreds of billions in military spending some time next month; a gunman opened fire on motorists in the heart of Hollywood; and the identity of the Virginia Tech gunman was revealed—though no motivation for the shooting was yet revealed. On Saturday, police evicted the Occupy Boston protesters from Dewey Square and arrested around 40 people. A new report on rape in the military demonstrates the difficulty victims face in trying to seek justice, amid claims that it is estimated that a female soldier in Iraq is more likely to be attacked by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire and that 37% of sexual trauma cases reported in the last year happened to men. On Monday, Occupy Wall Street protesters began a new “waterfront” campaign that aims to shut down ports up and down the west coast. On Tuesday, a federal judge temporarily blocked a part of a tough new immigration law in Alabama that would require residents to show proof of citizenship when registering mobile homes with the state; while a military drone used to monitor piracy off the East African coast crashed at an airport on the island nation of Seychelles. On Wednesday, the US House of Representatives voted in favour of a controversial legislation that would deny terror suspects, including US citizens, the right to trial and that could permit authorities to detain them indefinitely; while the US officially ended its war in Iraq with a ceremony at the Baghdad airport nearly nine years after it started; and the CDC issued a report that claimed that nearly 20% of all women in the US has been raped at least once.
  • On Wednesday, the body of a campaigner for indigenous rights was found the day after he was kidnapped in Mexico. On Sunday, one man was killed and nine others wounded after assailants tossed a bomb into a building where a cockfight was being held. On Monday, Mexican marines captured a founding member of the Zetas drug cartel, Raul Lucio Hernandez Lechuga in Cordoba, while a shootout just south of the Texas border killed 11 alleged gunmen and injured one soldier.
  • Cristina Kirchner was sworn in for a second four-year term as the President of Argentina on Saturday. Kirchner announced that she is intent on bolstering the country’s economy by promoting industry and consumer spending.
  • Bolivia is set to pass the Law of Mother Earth which will grant nature the same rights and protections as humans intended to encourage a radical shift in conservation attitudes and actions and reduce environmental destruction. The law redefines natural resources as blessings and confers the same rights to nature as to human beings.
  • On Saturday President Humala of Peru replaced his PM with a former army officer who was his instructor in the military amid fears that this could signal more authoritarian governing in the country. Some are concerned about the changes in the President’s political style, saying he went from a Chavista to a moderate leftist to a pro-business President and now a pro-military President.
  • Noriega has been returned to Panama following his extradition from France on Sunday. His critics have called upon the population to take to the streets to show their condemnation.
  • On Tuesday, Canada formally pulled out of the Kyoto protocol on climate change, only one day after an update was agreed upon amid international condemnation; while the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has decided to conduct an inquiry into the murders and disappearances of hundreds of Aboriginal women and girls across the country over the past two decades that have faced a continued failure to take action by the Canadian government. A member of the opposition also expressed concern on Tuesday with the Conservative government’s agenda, warning that Canadians should worry that their rights will be trampled along with parliamentary democracy. On Wednesday, an MP in the House of Commons called the Environment Minister a “piece of sh*&” while he was responding to questions about the country’s withdraw from Kyoto– a sentiment I couldn’t agree more with at the moment—though he later apologized for his disrupting and unprofessional comment. A new report suggests that the dumping of sewage into a pumping station by De Beers helped to cause the recent housing crisis in the First Nations Attawapiskat community.
  • Brazil’s justice ministry submitted plans for a new disarmament drive to coincide with the 2014 World Cup football tournament. The government suggests swapping official footballs and shirts signed by World Cup teams, as well as free or discounted tickets for weapons handed into authorities, as well as possibly turning destroyed guns into goalposts. Many are less than satisfied, however, with FIFA’s entrance into the country, saying that their rights are being robbed by FIFA’s demands and massive public works projects that are tearing up their cities.
  • The President of Guatemala has reportedly apologized to the relatives of victims of the 1982 massacre committed during the civil conflict on Wednesday, in which Guatemalan soldiers killed more than 200 people.

A Look at the My Lai Massacre

Written by Heather Wilhelm

Being a Global Studies and History major has allowed me an interesting perspective on the history of war.  One war that I have studied quite a bit was the Vietnam War and more specifically the My Lai massacre that occurred in March of 1968.  I had heard a few years ago that Oliver Stone was planning to bring the horrors of this historical event to the big screen in another one of his epic political films, but recently learned that the production of “Pinkville” (what the My Lai massacre is more commonly referred to) had been halted.  Now whether or not there is any political posturing behind this production delay, I felt that I would bring the story of My Lai to you in writing and allow you to understand not only what happened on that fateful March 16, but also how the American government and their treatment of soldiers led to this horrific event.

The My Lai massacre was one of the greatest war tragedies of all time.  Hundreds of lives were lost in that small village in March of 1968, and along with them, the souls of countless soldiers went missing that day.  While the American public struggled to figure out why and how this could happen, the soldiers who were involved were asking themselves the same question.  It was a question that would never be answered.  There were many theories as to how such a catastrophic event could occur under American leadership.  Racism was a reoccurring speculation, as many of the soldiers had been trained since day one to hate the Vietnamese.  “The many hours the men spent during combat training listening to their instructors referring to the Vietnamese as ‘gooks’ and ‘slants’.[1] Another explanation explored was the language barrier.  The army felt that because their soldiers and the Vietnamese could not communicate, there had been a misunderstanding at My Lai.[2] This theory was quickly quashed by the testimony of the soldiers who had been present that day in the village.  Drugs and alcohol were another possible “reason” for the massacre.  The troops had been drinking the night before the massacre[3], but again the testimony of Charlie Company proved that theory wrong.  It is still hard to say exactly what caused all those soldiers to react the way they did in Vietnam that day, and throughout the rest of the war, but it is safe to say that there are some factors that contributed more than others.  Through conscription and a lack of training of soldiers, as well as jungle warfare involving an invisible enemy, and the need for revenge by the soldiers fighting the war, the My Lai massacre was able to occur, and it became a direct reflection of the Vietnam War in general.

The Vietnam War was America’s longest and most unresolved military conflict.[4] As a result, hundreds of thousands of young American men were forced to join the army through conscription, and were provided very little training as soldiers with regard to the Law of Land Warfare and the Geneva Conventions.[5] While American involvement in the Vietnam War was getting deeper and deeper, the government began to rush to find men to fight the war overseas.  They used conscription as a means to accomplish this feat, and were consequently left with thousands of men who were well below military standards.  “…what came to be called McNamara’s 100,000, the Project 100,000 men well below the Army average in terms of aptitude and intelligence and deemed unlikely to met peacetime entry qualifications.”[6] The standards for acceptable soldiers in Vietnam were so low, that it was not unimaginable that the My Lai massacre could happen.  Many of these men did not have the capacity to differentiate between right and wrong, and were therefore unable to protest what was ordered at My Lai.  Another problem with conscription was that many young men were forced into fighting the war.  “‘I was scared.  I didn’t want to go, but I had to,’ remembers Bergthold.  ‘Because if I didn’t I’d probably get court-martialed.’”[7] Unwilling young men across America were drafted into the army, and they could not protest without being put in jail.  When given these two bleak options, most men chose to fight the war, although they never truly accepted that they had to.  They felt trapped and in most cases, did not care about the war at all.[8] They wanted to go home, and this meant providing the government with high body counts.  “In a war that did not offer territory as a reward, body count became the index of success and failure in the whole war.  Officers who did not achieve satisfactory body counts were replaced; units who performed well were rewarded with leave.  The body count was the key statistic after each firefight and the pressure to produce high figures was enormous.”[9] These soldiers knew that if high body counts were provided they could go home, and they soon stopped caring about who they were killing.  The Vietnam War had an astronomical amount of civilian casualties and this was due, in large part to soldiers who did not care about or understand the war they were fighting.

This lack of regard for noncombatants in Vietnam was a direct result of the lack of training that was provided to soldiers before deployment.[10] While rushing to deploy young soldiers, the armed forces relaxed their training methods with regard to the rules of engagement.  This meant that most soldiers received less than one hour of training on the proper treatment of noncombatants in foreign countries.  “On paper, all soldiers received at least one hour’s instruction on the Law of Land Warfare and the Geneva Conventions.  In practice, it made little, if any, impression on men who were spending hundreds of hours being trained to follow orders and learning how to kill.”[11] So few hours were spent teaching these men how to deal with the Vietnamese civilians that there is no wonder they showed them no regard in My Lai.  They were not taught to communicate with them, or to understand their culture, and as a result they saw them as less than human.[12] The soldiers did not have any remorse for killing noncombatants in My Lai, and throughout Vietnam because they were not taught how to treat them as human beings.  “Rules of engagement were designed to limit the risk of civilian casualties.  In theory, they were issued to every serviceman; in practice, they might as well have been written on water.”[13] Rules of engagement was a term that was rarely heard amongst these soldiers.  Such a miniscule amount of time was spent teaching these men how to behave in a war, that they invented their own rules.  In doing so, they forgot to see humans, and instead saw animals when dealing with the Vietnamese.  In My Lai, they did not see innocent civilians, they saw human scum, something to kill, something to desecrate[14].  This was the case all over Vietnam, where blameless peasants were being killed every day due, in part, to a growing frustration within the army companies.  This frustration stemmed from the massive number of American soldiers the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army were killing[15].  They were fighting a war that the United States was unaccustomed to, and therefore soldiers were losing their friends and fellow fighters on a daily basis.

Jungle warfare was a foreign method of war for the Americans, and they were losing many soldiers as a result[16].  After years of fighting against the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army, they were still unable to identify friendly civilians from enemy soldiers.  “In a conventional war, it is clear who are civilians and who are soldiers, but guerillas wear no uniforms or insignia to differentiate themselves from noncombatants.”[17] These silent forces were killing soldiers each day, and there was no way to stop it from happening.  They simply could not tell who was good and who was bad.  “‘How can you distinguish the enemy?  How can you distinguish between the good and the bad?  All of them looked the same.  And that’s why the war was so different.  You know it wasn’t like the Germans over here or the Japanese over there.  They all looked alike, North and the South.  So how can you tell?’”[18] This statement sums up the soldiers’ attitudes towards the Vietnamese.  Their confusion was at an all time high, as they tirelessly plowed through the rice paddies searching for enemies.  They saw old men in fields and young children playing in the villages, and everyone was a threat to their safety.[19] The more unhinged they became, the more dangerous they became.  Being unable to see their enemy led them to fire their weapons haphazardly, to attack without provocation, and to injure the innocent.[20] These seemingly normal young men were becoming killers and this was never more apparent then when they entered My Lai village.

Meanwhile, as the American soldiers grew increasingly frustrated, the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army grew only in power.  “The Viet Cong meanwhile grew in numbers and confidence and learned how to deal with the tactical innovations of the American advisors.  In spite of millions of dollars of US military aid, and the presence of thousands of military advisors, the Viet Cong had grown steadily stronger.”[21] The increase in power and number of the Viet Cong only added to the desperation of the American soldiers.  They grew to hate the Vietnamese more vehemently then ever and displayed this hatred through the destruction of their villages, and the rape of their women.  “‘the VC/NVA apparently lose only one sixth as many weapons as people, suggesting that possibly many of the killed are unarmed porters or by-standers.’”[22] Never was this more apparent than in My Lai village, where hundreds of unarmed women, children and elderly men were murdered.[23] Being unable to distinguish between the enemy and noncombatants led the soldiers to see everyone as a threat, so therefore, everyone in My Lai village had to die.

As the assault on My Lai grew closer there was another change in the American soldiers.  More than just not being able to differentiate between the Viet Cong and the civilians, the soldiers sought revenge against all Vietnamese to avenge the deaths of their fellow soldiers.  “There then took shape a terrible psychological sequence in which there were real deaths in one’s unit, as there had been in C Company before My Lai.  There were two central deaths – one of a much-beloved sergeant who was a kind of father-figure.  There was a fierce sense of anger and grief in the men…”[24] Here lays one of the central reasons for the My Lai massacre.  The soldiers felt such guilt and shame for the deaths of their fellow officers and friends that they began to seek revenge against anyone they could.[25] The Vietnamese were all to blame for the tragedies that befell their troops, and as such, they would all pay.  In My Lai, the soldiers entered a village of noncombatants, but all they saw were enemies, because they had long ago forgotten that there was any good in Vietnam.  These enemies who were killing off their friends one by one with booby traps in the woods, and snipers in the trees had all become a single enemy:  the Vietnamese[26].  Everyone was to blame, so everyone must pay for the deaths within their troops.

Revenge was a key factor throughout the entire Vietnam War; it was not exclusive to the My Lai massacre.  The rape of numerous women in villages throughout Vietnam quickly became a silent problem for the American military.[27] Michael Berhardt was a soldier in C Company and he noticed that the soldiers in his troop had adopted a new code of conduct that permitted the brutal rape of civilians.  When he was questioned about whether rape was a prevalent problem by investigators he stated, “I thought it was, sir.  It was predictable.  In other words, if I saw a woman, I’d say, ‘Well, it won’t be too long.’  That’s how widespread it was.”[28] The soldiers had taken on a new attitude about war.  Instead of protecting the weak and powerless they were exploiting them on a daily basis.  Lieutenant William L. Calley recalled witnessing one of his soldiers raping a civilian and telling him “to get his pants back up and get over to where he was supposed to be.”[29] Instead of reprimanding his subordinate for committing a crime of war, the Lieutenant casually tells him to stop and does not instill any type of punishment.  The soldiers in Vietnam were not being punished for their crimes, and as a result started to believe that their behavior was acceptable.  These blasé attitudes towards civilians were another contributing factor in the massacre.  When the soldiers stopped behaving like civilized humans, the people who paid the ultimate price were the women, children, and elders of My Lai village.

There are few people who would argue that the My Lai massacre was a tragedy of unbelievable proportions, although there are not too many people who know that this tragedy occurred.  There was a large effort made by the American government to minimize what actually happened that day and eventually the ‘massacre’ became an ‘incident’ that was quickly swept under the carpet and forgotten about.[30] The government’s attitude towards the massacre was similar to most of the soldiers of ‘C’ Company who thought they were simply following orders that day.  The lives that were taken that day were not human to them; they were something lower, something inhuman.  This mind frame allowed the soldiers to murder hundreds of souls without a second thought.  Again, this occurred for several reasons.  Racism, language barriers, and drugs and alcohol could all have played a role in the mindset of some of the soldiers, although there are several reasons that play a stronger role.  Conscription and a lack of training of soldiers left the American troops weaker then they had ever been.[31] The young soldiers did not have the mentality or the courage to stand up and refuse to take part in My Lai because they were scared and inexperienced.  The guerilla war that the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army were fighting was something that the American military was not accustomed to.  This resulted in numerous American casualties, which produced vengeful soldiers on a mission to avenge the deaths of their friends and fellow soldiers.[32] That being said, through conscription and a lack of training of soldiers, as well as jungle warfare involving an invisible enemy, and the need for revenge by the soldiers fighting the war, the My Lai massacre was able to occur, and it became a direct reflection of the Vietnam War in general.  Thankfully, since that fateful day in March of 1968 many of the soldiers who fought in My Lai have had the opportunity to reflect on the wrongs that they committed against the human race.  Unfortunately, there are others still who do not understand the consequences of the murders they were a part of, because they were never punished for them.  Hopefully, some lessons were learnt from these past mistakes, and the world will never have to witness another My Lai massacre.

[1] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[2] Gershen, M. (1971). Destroy or die: the true story of mylai. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House.

[3] Olson, J., & Roberts, R. (1998). My lai: a brief history with documents. Boston: Bedford Books.

[4] Gershen, M. (1971). Destroy or die: the true story of mylai. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House.

[5] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[6] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[7] Gershen, M. (1971). Destroy or die: the true story of mylai. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House.

[8] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[9] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[10] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[11] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[12] Anderson, D. (1998). Facing my lai: moving beyond the massacre. Lawrence, KA: University Press of Kansas.

[13] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[14] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[15] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[16] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[17] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[18] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[19] Anderson, D. (1998). Facing my lai: moving beyond the massacre. Lawrence, KA: University Press of Kansas

[20] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[21] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[22] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[23] Olson, J., & Roberts, R. (1998). My lai: a brief history with documents. Boston: Bedford Books.

[24] Anderson, D. (1998). Facing my lai: moving beyond the massacre. Lawrence, KA: University Press of Kansas.

[25] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[26] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

[27] Olson, J., & Roberts, R. (1998). My lai: a brief history with documents. Boston: Bedford Books

[28] Olson, J., & Roberts, R. (1998). My lai: a brief history with documents. Boston: Bedford Books.

[29] Olson, J., & Roberts, R. (1998). My lai: a brief history with documents. Boston: Bedford Books.

[31] Olson, J., & Roberts, R. (1998). My lai: a brief history with documents. Boston: Bedford Books.

[32] Bilton, M., & Sim, K. (1992). Four hours in my lai. New York: Penguin Group.

The United States-led War in Afghanistan and the Implications of the Polarization of the Burqa as a Symbol of the Oppression of Afghani Women

Written by Heather Wilhelm

The United States (US) led war in Afghanistan is one of the most controversial current events in today’s world. After the September 11th attacks on US soil, the government of George W. Bush declared war against the Taliban, the acting government of Afghanistan. It was their belief that the al-Qa’eda terrorist network and its leader Osama bin Laden were responsible for these attacks, and that the Afghan government was in support of and harbouring bin Laden. In an effort to justify the mass bombings of Afghanistan in the weeks (and subsequently years) to follow, the Bush administration created a publicity campaign in which they would claim to be declaring a ‘War on Terror’ against the Taliban in an effort to liberate the women of Afghanistan. They claimed that years of physical and structural abuse against women in this country finally needed to come to an end. This campaign centred around the burqa, a restrictive, all-encompassing religious dress that the Taliban forced women to wear every time they left their homes. The US media began bombarding the American public with visions of women trapped underneath these burqas, in an effort to gain support for the continuing war in Afghanistan. This US government campaign would polarize the issue of women’s rights in Afghanistan into an object: the burqa, and would leave the public unaware of the true history of women’s oppression under both the Taliban and US-backed regimes. It would also effectively hurt the progress that could have been made by women after the fall of the Taliban, as little attention was paid to solving the real issues in Afghanistan: gender inequalities and structural and physical violence against women that continue to oppress Afghani women to this day.

In 1964, Mohammed Zahir Shah, the King of Afghanistan created a new constitution for his people that would modernize his country’s political and economic spheres, as well as usher in new democratic legislature that would thrust Afghani women’s rights into the 20th century . The Basic Rights and Duties of the People as listed in articles 25-40 of the 1964 Constitution gave all citizens of Afghanistan equal rights to education, healthcare, and employment. Women were even allowed to enrol with the Armed Forces if they so desired . It was a time for great change and acceptance in the country, and more specifically a time of freedom for women who had been horribly oppressed for hundreds of years. This freedom would not last. In 1973, while Zahir Shah was out of the country for medical treatment, his cousin Daoud executed a well planned out coup d’etat, which would lead to the end of the monarchy that had been established in Afghanistan in 1747 . The end of Zahir Shah’s rein would have terrible consequences for the people of Afghanistan, as only six years after he was ousted from his throne, the Soviet Union would invade the country and the effect of this on the rights and freedoms of the citizens of Afghanistan (especially women) would be disastrous.
It would be during this Soviet occupation of Afghanistan that the United States would become heavily involved with Afghani extremists who were anti-Communist and core fundamentalists . The United States provided these groups with “$30 million in 1980 and increased to over $1 billion per year in 1986-89.” By contrast, opposition groups such as the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), whose aim was “to unite and fight for the independence of our beloved country” were not provided with any funding. While their aim was to bring about a union of the people to create a lasting democracy, the US was more focused on making the Soviet Union pay a price. To accomplish this, they continued to support exceedingly violent parties who were not above imprisoning, torturing, and murdering innocent civilians in the name of their cause . Even after the Soviets retreated in 1989, the US continued to fund the Mujahideen, which was a group of seven Pakistan-based parties who were equated with Afghani resistance . Interestingly enough, these seven parties denounced the return of King Zahir Shah even though many citizens of Afghanistan felt he was the only hope for their country . After the US-backed Mujahideen government took power, the women of Afghanistan were the first to feel the changes after the ‘Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice’ was created. Although often attributed to the Taliban’s reign, this Ministry was in fact created under the Mujahideen and called for women in Afghanistan to immediately begin covering practices . In August of 1993, they took it a step further by imposing the following legislation:
Women do not need to leave their homes at all, unless absolutely necessary, in which case they are to cover themselves completely; are not to wear attractive clothing and decorative accessories; do not wear perfume; their jewelry must not make any noise; they are not walk gracefully or with pride and in the middle of the sidewalk; are not to talk to strangers; are not to speak loudly or laugh in public; and they must always ask their husbands’ permission to leave home.

These decrees were almost identical to those that would be practiced by the Taliban after they came into power, however they are solely attributed to their regime by the US government. In fact, between the years of 1992-1996 before the Taliban took power, Afghanistan was embroiled in a bitter internal civil war in which brutal atrocities were carried out against innocent civilians. Thousands were murdered senselessly, and women were often used as rewards to soldiers who had done a good job for the government .
When the Taliban did take power in 1996, Washington was pleased to finally have a chance to end the anarchy in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, where the Mujahideen had basically reduced the city to rubble . The Afghan citizens were also relieved to have a new government in power, and they prayed that the Taliban regime would finally lend the way for change in Afghanistan. All parties were quickly proven wrong as the Taliban immediately began imposing laws that some considered even more strict than those of the previous regime. Women were immediately dismissed from work, and forced to remain virtual prisoners in their homes. Girls were no longer able to attend school . While the Majuhideen had placed severe restrictions on women, they had still been allowed to work, attend school and leave home occasionally as long as they were covered in a traditional Islamic covering. The Taliban would not tolerate such offences, and the punishment for women offenders was often public stoning and/or death. Even these egregious human rights violations did not bring reprimands from the United States . It was not until the Taliban began actively attacking US soil that they finally acknowledged the terrorist tendencies of the regime and their support of the al-Qa’eda network of terrorists who had claimed responsibility for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Tower complex in Saudi Arabia, the 1998 bombings of US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the 1999 attack on the USS Cole. These attacks finally culminated in the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centers in New York City and on the Pentagon in Washington D.C. Not since Pearl Harbour had the US felt the pain of an attack on their own soil, let alone in two of the hearts of their great nation. It was time for revenge, and the administration of George W. Bush decided that war was the only way to make the Taliban pay for their attack.

For years prior to the attacks of 9/11 the US had been unsuccessfully attempting to strong arm the Taliban into turning over Osama bin Laden, the leader of the al-Qa’eda network . Their tactics were no different after September 11th, and the Taliban’s response was unfaltering: they would not hand over bin Laden. A war on Afghanistan was almost immediately declared, with the first bombs being dropped October 7, 2001 . Just over a month later, on November 17, 2001, Laura Bush gave the president’s ‘Weekly Radio Address’, and for the first time, the address was given in its entirety by a First Lady . On this night, Mrs. Bush essentially became the US government’s voice against the oppression of women in Afghanistan, and vowed to end the suffering and subjugation of women under the Taliban government . This fight for the liberation of Afghani women was centred around the burqa, an enveloping outer garment that is worn by women of some Islamic faiths when they are outside their own homes . A brief look at the history of the burqa will help to contextualize the arguments put forth in the remainder of this paper.
The Qur’an is the religious text of the Muslim faith, just as the New Testament is the religious text of Christianity. The Qur’an requires that both Muslim men and women dress modestly while in public, however men are only required to cover from their naval to the floor whereas women are required to cover all but their hands and face . This inequality was mutated even further with the Taliban’s requirement of all women to be burqa-clad while in public . The burqa is the most intense form of covering in the Muslim faith. While some women simply wear a hajib, which is also known as a head scarf, others wear the all-encompassing burqa. A full-length dress fabricated with metres of fabric, the burqa completely covers the wearer leaving only a small hole in front of the eyes covered with mesh to see through. It is a very constrictive garment, and the vast amount of fabric makes it very difficult to walk in, let alone communicate through .
The idea of these personal prisons is a completely shocking thought and vision for the population of the Western world, especially for women who feel they have had the privilege to grow up with equality and independence. The Bush administration used its knowledge of this shock to capitalize on the oppression of women in Afghanistan, and created a publicity campaign that centred on the liberation of Afghani women and girls . They hammered the idea of the Taliban’s mistreatment of women into the psyches of the American public, without a mention of the atrocities women had suffered at the hands of US-backed Afghani regimes in the past . In 2002, the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council (UAWC) was formed in what would be the culmination of the publicity campaign. Although this group looks good on paper, it has still done nothing of any major consequence to help liberate the women of Afghanistan. Instead it has focused so narrowly on the burqa and the ‘unveiling’ of Afghani women that the real and still existing problems of social inequality and gender repression are ignored . The US government and the UAWC have chosen a route of educating the general public by selectively placing all of the emphasis on an object: the burqa, rather than examining the deeper, underlying problems that continue to exist in Aghanistan.
While for some women the practice of covering in a burqa may be a demeaning historical practice, for many others the burqa is a religious symbol or a symbol of how hard women in Afghanistan have fought for the freedom that still eludes them . In the religious sense, Muslim people are thoroughly faithful to the Qur’an and that does not end with Muslim men. Muslim women have been raised with the scripture of the Qur’an and just as Westerners have a strong belief in the teachings of the religion they choose to follow, so to do Muslim women. The idea of modesty in clothing and behaviour is what these women believe, and their choice to wear a hajib or a burqa, is just that: a choice. While many Westerners argue that they only make this choice because they ‘don’t know any better’, it is dangerous ground to tread on to assume that one’s culture or religion is superior to another one. There are American Muslim women who choose to cover themselves even after being exposed to a multitude of different cultures, so one should not assume that the women of Afghanistan would choose to change their religious beliefs simply because of a change in government. Alternatively, there were also women who chose to use their confinement in the burqa to further the efforts of organizations attempting to achieve democracy in Afghanistan. Women took to hiding important documents under their burqas, which could easily conceal books, newspapers, and other items due to their masses of fabric . This contraband could then be delivered to others who were part of the resistance to the Taliban. For these women, the burqa became a form of strength, power and resistance, rather than a government imposed personal prison. Many female Afghani activists still believe the burqa is a powerful symbol and are therefore less concerned with the garments they are forced to wear, and more concerned with the democratization of their country, and the hope of equal rights for all . These women do not need to be saved from their oppressors, they need to be given the tools to create a better future for themselves and their families.
It is hard to believe that after six years of US occupation in Afghanistan there have still been very few changes in the social conditions for women and girls in the country . The new puppet government the US imposed upon Afghanistan is still practicing Sharia law, which has an extremely detrimental effect women. Afghan prisons are now full of women who have been convicted of crimes that range from refusing to marry the man their family has chosen, to simply running away from home . There have also been cases of sexual abuse and torture in these prisons. In 2005, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) collected statistics on Afghanistan for the first time, and the results were less than favourable. The country was ranked 173rd of 178 countries in the UNDP human development index, and statistics provided on health, literacy, employment, and lifespan showed that little has changed in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban . The maternal mortality rate is the highest in the world with 1,700 deaths in every 100,000, and if a woman is lucky enough to survive childbirth she will likely not live past the age of forty-five. An average Afghan woman cannot read or write, and even after the fall of the Taliban only 1% of children in school are girls . The question we must ask ourselves however, is not why have there been no changes, but how can we ensure that there will be changes in the future.

The best possible chance for change in the future, is to first open a dialogue about the real history of Afghanistan. This will certainly not be favourable to the United States, but at some point people need to be told the truth about their government’s actions and how those actions have affected other nations negatively. Also, relying on women in the US to run an effective campaign to save Afghani women is not a realistic expectation. There are many capable, experienced Afghani women who have spent their lives dedicated to improving the lives of their fellow female citizens . This is an extremely risky venture to undertake, and many women have been murdered for their involvement in the Afghani women’s liberation movement. Meena, the founder of RAWA, has been touted as a martyr for her work in starting the movement, and she was the first of many assassinated by both the Taliban and US-backed governments . These women have worked on the front lines for decades, and have lived through the constant fear of retribution for speaking out against the government, so who better to ask than them? The difficulty in asking them rests in their total knowledge of the United States’ history in their country. They know of the atrocities carried out by US-supported groups dating back four decades, just as well as they know about the current warlord government of today. The chance of this information getting out is too much for the US to risk, but this truth could truly set the women of Afghanistan free.
Individual activists are also becoming more prevalent in Afghanistan. One of the most famed Afghani women to speak out in recent years is Malalai Joya, who has chosen to tell the true story of the US ‘libertation’ of Afghanistan. She points out that the only success the US has had in their occupation of her country has been to replace one brutal, misogynist regime with another. Joya raised the unspoken topic of the post-9/11 warlord regime and their ruthless abuses of the Afghani people, but was silenced immediately. To date there have been four attempts on her life, as the US-imposed Afghani puppet government continues to try and silence those who speak out for democracy .
A complete attitude shift is required here on the part of the American public. People need to believe that these horrible crimes against humanity are occurring every day. They need to understand that not everyone wants to be an American or live the life of a Westerner, and that we need respect the cultures of others in order to evoke change. It is time for the American public to realize that their government keeps them under a dark cloud of lies and deception, and to start asking the questions that will finally bring truth and democracy to Afghanistan.
-HW


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An End to Foreign Rule and Other Ideologies of the Taliban Movement

“I start in the name of God, the most merciful, the most compassionate…” –voice of an anonymous Taliban fighter (Smith, 2008).
This quote seemed the most fitting way to start understanding the mind of a Taliban fighter since it was echoed at the start of almost every filmed Taliban interview and video. The image of the Taliban as a hard-line, ultra-fanatical religious movement has often cast individual Taliban fighters as uneducated, brainwashed religious nuts who are innately violent and destructive. Although the Taliban have an extremely strict and anti-modern ideology based on Islamic Shariah law, many of the fighters are not strict religious adherents and believe indiscriminate violence is wrong.
These Taliban fighters do strive for Islamic rule for the nearly ninety-nine percent majority Muslim population of Afghanistan, but they also strive to stop the occupation and invasion of their country, to restore the security situation of their land, regain economic security for themselves and their families, and to reclaim the territory lost to the Durand Line on the Pakistani border, among other things. The people that make up the Taliban live in an area that has been almost continuously occupied and invaded by several different factions for centuries (amidst incredible local resistance), and which has recently been devastated by almost thirty years of war. The individual reasons for Taliban fighters to join and support a so-called “terrorist” or human-rights violating organization are complex, but are most often rooted in socio-economic, political, historical and cultural reasons and not solely in blind religious fanaticism.
Afghanistan has experienced almost constant restrictive occupation for the last thirty years; first by the Soviets, then by the Taliban, and currently by the Americans since 2001. The Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, a conflict which has often been referred to as one of the proxy wars of the Cold war. This war lasted until the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989, after the Soviet Union had begun to crumble and were no longer able or willing to support the effort. The US government, through the CIA and with the help of Pakistan’s secret police (ISI), channeled money to groups of mujahid warriors in Afghanistan (who included Osama bin Laden) to fight off the communist threat of the Soviets and gain an important strategic foothold in the Central Asian region. The extremist mujahid warriors (along with ethnic separatists) were seen as the best option to oppose the Soviets, not because they could form a stable government, but because it was hoped that they in fact, could not (Kakar, 1995: 147-9; 156).
The lack of local government along with the plethora of scattered, ‘tribal’ leaders left religious scholars with an important role in Afghanistan against foreign invasion and dominance. During the Soviet invasion a decree stating “Now is the time to free your country and wage your holy war against the Russian invader!” (The Final Call, 2001) was declared by many religious scholars, prompting the masses to take up arms and enjoy martyrdom if killed in battle. After defeating the Russians, these religious scholars went back into religious schools and mosques while some of the mujahid warriors began to fight each other for control of Kabul and other resources. For four years the scholars saw fighting, chaos and anarchy with traditional society and culture effectively uprooted, and thousands of refugees fleeing to neighboring Pakistan. In the communist controlled areas, the traditional “feudal” culture had been completely disrupted and replaced with “productive” urbanization, with Kabul swelling to over three million people (Kakar, 1995: 279).
It was in this climate that the Taliban really began to emerge. The term ‘Taliban’ comes from the Pashtu (and Arabic) word for ‘student’, and is used to describe a militant student movement group that grew out of hard-line religious schools in Pakistan in the early 1990s (Reuters AlertNet, Afghan Turmoil: 2008). In the late 1970s and 80s, Wahhabis from Saudi Arabia (a strict religious sect) began joining the mujahid warriors and heavily funding these religious schools (madrassas) to support the many “Afghani Jihad” orphans. These students, most of who were Afghani refugees living in camps on the Pakistani border, were offered free schooling and often even given a meal if they attended classes (Khan, 2003). They were schooled in the evils of non-Muslims, how to resist the Russians and any other occupation, and taught strict Islamic guidelines based upon Qur’anic verses. The Taliban brought possibilities to these students of education, work, much needed money, solidarity with others, and an actual role to play in society to make them feel useful again. It also brought hope for a future (even if only in heaven), something that is very hard for many refugees living in camps to imagine.
The Taliban shifted from these humble beginnings to rule most of the Afghan region from 1996 until their overthrow by US and NATO forces in 2001. They ruled with tremendous religious rigidity, and were condemned by human rights organizations who claimed they implemented the most brutal and strict interpretation of Shariah law ever seen in the Islamic world, which saw the closure of all girls’ schools, the ban of women from leaving their house without male familial accompaniment, as well as the ban of every conceivable kind of entertainment (Rashid, 2000: 2-3). This interpretation is informed by Shariah law combined with ancient Pashtu tribal codes (the Pashtunwali) that stress the right to revenge and to avenge injustice in equal proportion, as well as ideals of hospitality towards guests, asylum, honor and the protecting of Pashtu culture (Mardsen, 1998: 85).
Incessant fighting of competing Mujahidin warlords during the late 80s and early 90s, paved the way for the Taliban to overthrow the government in 1996, a move that was welcomed by many in the Pashtu majority who were happy to again see Pashtu political power in the country and an end to indiscriminate roving violence (Khan, 2003). In fact, Afghanistan’s former Ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, was reported as saying in 2000 that the Taliban had developed “out of public demand” to put an end to the anarchy and chaos and to disarm the unscrupulous militias of mujahidin struggling to fill the power vacuum created by the departure of the Soviets (Global Security, 2000). Under this auspice, many Afghanis joined the cause.
The Taliban ruled until US and Coalition forces invaded in 2001, supposedly in search of Osama bin Laden. The Taliban, using Pashtunwali codes of asylum and hospitality towards guests as their guide, refused to hand over bin Laden without evidence proving his guilt. They actually agreed on several occasions, if evidence was submitted, to capture bin Laden and bring him to justice along with three other alternative options for justice. The US would not accept this offer. Many argue that in fact the US only turned against the Taliban after they refused to sign an oil pipeline deal through Afghanistan, instead offering the deal to an Argentine consortium (Margolis, 2008). The truth lies under much propaganda, and is incredibly difficult to ascertain. The Taliban and much of the Afghani public viewed this new infidel invasion much as they had the previous invasions, believing all Afghanistan’s problems would be solved if foreign interference were to stop immediately. Development projects were seen as a controlling mechanism of the non-Muslims, and were criticized for their wasteful spending. The Taliban also suggested that some UN and international projects were not sincere in their goals of helping the Afghani people, and were exaggerating the situation to continue their financial support and missions (Global Security, 2000).
The Taliban’s original goal, according to Zaeef and Ambassador Abdul Hakeem Mujahid (a Taliban representative to the UN in 2001), was to ensure peace and security in the country. They claim to have tried to solve all issues and disputes “through understanding and peaceful means”, even extending ‘”to the opposition an invitation for peace in an effort to stop further bloodshed in Afghanistan” (Global Security, 2000; and The Final Call, 2001). The main goals after restoring order were national unity for Afghanistan (which included restoring territory lost to Pakistan with the Durand Line in the 1920s); to disarm all the warlords and build a strong central government built on Islamic values. The Taliban claimed they would return to the mosques and schools once this had been attained (The Final Call, 2001).
To the Taliban, western “extremist” visions of their rule as human-rights abusing were unjustified. As repeated in mantra-like form, the Taliban has restored security and justice, along with the idea that education is not a right, but an obligation. Within Islamic-Pushtun principles this obligation means no-coeducation, with females separately educated for their own modesty and to prevent impure thoughts among the males. For the leaders of the Taliban, questions regarding the education of women were defended by showing the hypocrisy of the world for not criticizing the UN and Soviets who did not offer non-coeducational schools, limiting much of the Afghani population from attending. It was seen as offensive by the Taliban to force women into coeducational experiences that would dishonor their culture, and they claim many women who were able to enjoy education under Taliban rule missed out on education under the Soviet and UN systems (The Final Call, 2001).
The Taliban also take offence to the claim of indiscriminate killings and arbitrary violence. Taliban leaders, along with fighters stressed the fact that they were to avoid civilian deaths as much as possible. Certain statistics would seem to back this up. Taliban suicide bombers in Afghanistan are more prone to hit “hard” military targets than civilians with nearly half (43%) of all bombings causing no civilian fatalities. This “low accuracy” rate was attributed to the “amateur” abilities of the Taliban by Coalition troops. The Taliban affirms that this is a calculated decision to avoid killing innocents and inciting anti-Taliban sentiment in the country, a tactic that has proven effective in demonizing the Coalition among the locals for their indiscriminate bombings that have killed scores of innocent civilians (Williams,2007).
Controversy over the makeup of the Taliban is clouded by mass propaganda (American, Russian and local), conflicting accounts and faked reports. The Taliban’s strict ban on entertainment makes video, radio, or local newspaper accounts and debate almost non-existent. Interviews of the Taliban were highly tense situations, evidenced in the fact that every single Taliban member being interviewed other than top officials giving declarations hid their face from the camera with part of their turbans, perhaps in fear of revealing their identities and being punished. The responses were formulaic and expected. Mantras were common among the interviews of Taliban leaders, spokesmen, and fighters, suggesting some level of “brain-washing” or at least preparation and indoctrination before interviews. There seemed to be standard answers for standard questions. Phrases such as “puppets of the Americans” or “slaves of the non-Muslims” were repeated ad naseum (Smith, 2008. Also see list of Taliban interviews in the Bibliography). The difficulty in assessing the validity and motives of the speakers from these accounts is compounded by the fact that most were dubbed into English, and not subtitled, leaving little room for objectivity and verification of translation.
So who is the Taliban really? One side, namely that of Marc Sageman describes the Taliban as conscious actors, who are politically and religiously motivated and do not need brainwashing to take up the Taliban cause (Sageman, 2004: 99-137). He also suggests that they are not uneducated or lower-class individuals, but in fact are represented by many educational and class levels. These types of reports have been contrasted with the more common perception of Taliban fighters as lower-class people who have been seduced, bribed, tricked, manipulated or coerced into blowing themselves up as “weapons of God”. The National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghanis intelligence service, has reported apprehending bombers who were deranged, mentally and physically retarded, unstable or on drugs. Several of the bombers caught by the NDS were supposedly carrying mind altering hallucinogens or sedatives to calm their nerves before death. Media and think-tank reports also mention cases of physically disabled suicide bombers, including a blind man, an amputee, and a disabled man whose only motive was to make money for his family (Williams, 2007). Although there are clearly some educated and upper-class Taliban members, the evidence and choice of interviewees seems to corroborate the latter view for the majority of its fighters. All of the interviews of former Taliban members described their motivations to be mostly economic or through coercion (sometimes by force).
Most of the fighters interviewed were former blue collar workers, who took up arms in solidarity with the Taliban against the non-Muslim infidels and their servants (the current Afghani government). High levels of unemployment (as high as 60% country-wide); lead many young men to join the Taliban for pocket money, a mobile phone, or other financial incentives. Where the government is failing to provide basic services for its citizens, the Taliban seems to be jumping in to fill the gap with radical alternatives (IATT, 2008).
Many of those interviewed were former farmers who had been kicked off their land in poppy raids by the current government. They had family and friends who had been killed by invaders, had lost their homes and livelihood to violence and were unable to leave the country. A definite link between the eradication of poppy and the growth of the Taliban in rural areas can be determined (Smith, 2008). The Taliban offered these often lonely, marginalized men a chance to bring security, money, and medical care to their families. It also offered them a chance to belong, and feel like productive members and agents in their own future.
The poppy-Taliban connection is an interesting one, especially when one considers that the cultivation of the poppy for narcotics purposes is strictly prohibited by the Qur’an. All of the Taliban respondents interviewed about poppy cultivation openly admitted this fact, but stated they had been in cultivation for financial reasons. The Taliban seemed to help these former farmers finance their basic human needs after they were stripped of their livelihood. This suggests that Sageman’s proposal that Taliban fighters are mostly religiously motivated is flawed, since so many informants clearly disobey Islamic rules in full knowledge of their own wrong-doings.
Whatever the motivations of individual Taliban members to join, it seems that local sympathies and recruitment for the Taliban are in fact increasing and spreading across the Islamic world. The continued presence of foreign invaders who disrespect local cultures and values jeopardizes the possibilities for peace in the future. Almost all of the Taliban interviewed say they will continue their fight to the last man standing, as long as any infidels reside in and control their territory. A newly signed pipeline deal brokered by the Americans solidifies the “need” for continued American “pipe-line protection troops” in the region for many years to come (Foster, 2008). This means that this war will inevitably continue, and perhaps even intensify in the future.
The Taliban’s negative image has been widely broadcast in North American media. Clearly, the Taliban is guilty of many human rights abuses and atrocities, but theirs are not the only hands with blood on them. Many of the individual Taliban fighters are victims of massive cultural, structural and direct violence that shapes their worldview and in a sense, “legitimizes” their continual struggle against repressive foreign invasion. They are “justified” in continuing their struggle because they see injustice in their lives brought about by foreign powers. More objective research into the mind of the Taliban fighters, their individual backgrounds, daily lives and mindsets would be the first step towards achieving peace in the region, since the root causes of the fight have yet to even truly begin to be addressed. Any justice in the region must be all-encompassing, and include solutions to local structural injustices, as well as the injustices created and continued by American invasion. The foreigners must be reigned in, basic structures rebuilt, local cultures revitalized and reconciliation processes enacted. The Taliban strive for recognition of their values, and until they receive this recognition, they will continue their fight to the death, in the name of Allah.

Bibliography
Foster, John. (June 19, 2008). A pipeline through a troubled land: Afghanistan, Canada, and the new great energy game. Foreign Policy Series. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Vol. 3, No. 1.

Global Security. (November 8, 2000). IRIN interview with Taliban Ambassador. Globalsecurity.org. Retrieved October 4, 2008, from http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/news/2000/11/war-001109-saafg.htm.

Internet Anthropologist Think Tank (IATT). (February 28, 2008). Afghan youth join Taliban to escape poverty. War Intel Blog Spot. Retrieved October 4, 2008, from http://warintel.blogspot.com/2008/02/join-taliban-to-escape-poverty.html.

Kakar, M. Hassan. (1995). The Soviet invasion and the Afghan response, 1979-1982. University of California Press.

Khan, Feroz Hassan. (January 10, 2003). Strategic insight. Rough neighbors: Afghanistan and Pakistan. Center for Contemporary Conflict. Retrieved October 4, 2008, from http://www.ccc.nps.navy.mil/rsepResources/si/jan03/southAsia.asp#references.

Mardsen, Peter. (1998).Taliban: war, religion, and the new order in Afghanistan. Zed Publishers, New York.

Margolis, Eric. (July 30, 2008). Let’s speak the truth about Afghanistan. Huffington Post. Retrieved October 4, 2008, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-margolis/lets-speak-the-truth-abou_b_115591.html.

Rashid, Ahmed. (2002). Taliban: Islam, oil and the new great game in Central Asia. I.B. Tarius Publishers, New York.

Reuters AlertNet. (January 8, 2008). Afghan turmoil. Reuters Foundation. Retrieved October 2, 2008, from http://www.alertnet.org/db/crisisprofiles/AF_REC.htm?v=in_detail.

Sageman, Marc. (2004). Understanding terror networks. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.

Smith, Graeme. (March 22, 2008). Talking to the Taliban. Globe and Mail, CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc., Canada. Retrieved October 4, 2008, from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/talkingtothetaliban.

The Final Call. (January 1, 2001). Who are the Taliban? The Final Call On-line Edition. Retrieved October 2, 2008, from http://www.finalcall.com/perspectives/interviews/taliban01-09-2001.htm.

Williams, Brian Glyn. (July 19, 2007). The Taliban Fedayeen: The world’s worst suicide bombers? Global Terrorism Analysis: Terrorism Monitor. Vol. 5, No. 14. Retrieved October 4, 2008, from http://www.jamestown.org/terrorism/news/article.php?issue_id=4183.

SELECTED YOU TUBE TALIBAN INTERVIEWS:









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Iran’s beef with the US.

In most of the news I read or see about Iranian-US relations, it negatively portrays Iran and almost chides it for its hosility towards the States. Anyone who has read about or lived in Iran, knows that there is a complicated history here of betrayal, hostility and distrust. There is definitely little reason for the Iranians to trust the Americans and many reasons for them to be angry. The rise of religious fundamentalism in Iran spawned out of a series of political intervention in the Iranian system by outside forces. Democracy at one time, was developing here, but this was stifled by American and British parties who were striving to keep full control of their colonial resources.

In the 1950s Mohammed Mossadeq, the Iranian Prime Minister, began seeking independence (from Britain) and democracy for Iran. He was loved by the people, and seen as a great hope for the development of Iran. He was overthrown in a coup carried out by the CIA (Operation Ajax) and the British after he cut off their oil profits, seeking to better his population with some of the oil money. After intense hostility, and wanting to receive better shares in their country’s own resources (at least a 50-50 split), Mossadegh decided to nationalise Iranian oil supplies and take full control. Britain put an immediate worldwide embargo on the purchase of Iranian oil and pressured all of its allies to do the same. Only Japan and Italy continued to purchase Iranian oil, and the economy began to go into serious decline.

Assassination attempts on Mossadegh’s life, led him to call a referendum to decide the fate of the government in a democratic way. Overwhelming support in his favor resulted, so he dissolved the house and took control.

The Shah (the monarch of Iran), with British prodding, signed a royal decree dismissing Mossadegh and his cabinet and appointed a new Prime Minister. The legality of this was questionable since a Prime Minister could only be appointed or dismissed by the House and not the Shah according to the consitution. After intense public demonstration in favor of Mossadegh, the Shah fled the country, only to return after the CIA coup that removed Mossedegh from power. Mossadegh was charged, tried and sentenced to 3 years of solitary confinement, after which he would remain under house arrest until his death in 1967. Any opposition to the coup were arrested, with many sentenced to death.

The Shah was placed in charge, and subsequently restored the oil concession with Britain. Under his rule opposition parties were banned, suppressed and closely controlled. Freedom of speech was silenced and the constitution became questionable. The secret police (SAVAK- Sazman-e Ettelaat va Amniyat-e Keshvar) grew, as did massive corruption and Shia fundamentalism, rebelling against the growing oppression. The Shah’s regime allowed for US military personnel serving in Iran, their staffs and families to receive full diplomatic immunity; basically allowing them free reign within the country.

Despite the government’s incredible human rights abuses, the Shah was allowed to purchase unlimited quantities of military hardware from the US, in return for two listening posts in Iran to monitor Soviet ballistic missile launches and other military activity in the early 1970s. The government was accused of suppressing the population to such an extent that they actually fired on peaceful antigovernment marches killing at least 87 people in the streets in one attack.

Cleric Ayatollah Khomeini rose up against the increasing American and British presence and control in the country with bitter fundamentalism, pushing towards Islamic rule. He took over the country in a swift revolution and installed himself as supreme leader. The Shah fled for his life, and a brutal regime took hold for many years.

In 1979, the Americans allowed the exiled Shah into the US for cancer treatment, to the great anger of the Iranian people who wished to try him for his crimes against the Iranian people in their own country. They demanded his return to Iran, which was ignored by the US. A hostage situation ensued at the American Embassy in Tehran, where a group of Islamist students held 52 embassy staff hostage for 444 days.

A peaceful, democratic regime overthrown by the US and British, only so they can install their loyal, human rights abusing Shah so that they can keep stealing resources out of the country? If any other country attempted to overthrow a democratic American President or the British PM, only to install a brutal dictator; there would be serious consequences of those actions. Would there not be tremendous backlash and political uprising in the US if this were attempted? Would there not be attempts to overthrow the new dictator? Would there not be hatred towards those who helped to install the dictator? Why would we expect any different in Iran?

These type of practices continue. The plundering hands still reach the world, only now they are better disguised and hidden behind intensive propaganda. These powers still disrupt the democracy of many countries, while attempting to install it elsewhere, severely undermining the sincerity of their attempts.

This should not be permitted to continue. The UN and its Security Council need to be restructured so that this sort of crime will actually be discouraged and punished in the future.

Human rights abuses committed by the Iranian government should not be tolerated, and should be punished; but so should those who would disrupt democracy for profit.

I urge anyone interested in this topic to read “All the Shah’s Men” by Stephen Kinzer. It gives a great view into the roots of Middle Eastern terror and is a great introduction into the region.


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