Pentagon Review: Less Troops on the Ground

5 January 2012 Last updated at 10:43 ET, BBC News

Pentagon military review ‘will axe US troops’

The US is to axe thousands of troops as part of a far-reaching defence review aimed at coping with huge budget cuts over the next decade, officials say.

The changes – to be unveiled on Thursday – are likely to end a decades-old policy of maintaining the strength to fight two wars at once.

President Barack Obama will announce the plans with Defence Secretary Leon Panetta at the Pentagon on Thursday.

The Pentagon faces more than $450bn (£288bn) in cuts in the next 10 years.

Another $500bn in cuts could be looming at the beginning of 2013, after a congressional committee failed to act on finding budget savings last year.

Despite this Mr Obama, wary of the upcoming presidential election, is expected to emphasise that the US military budget is continuing to grow, albeit at a slower pace.

US officials have sought to portray the president as taking a deliberate approach to defence spending, insisting any troop reductions will be informed by a review of strategy by commanders.

White House spokesman Jay Carney described the planned cuts as “surgical”. The president is also reported to have been closely involved in the decision-making process.

No specific cuts or troop reduction figures will be announced on Thursday, reports say, but the White House said the review “will guide our budget priorities and decisions going forward”.

Reuters news agency says officials are considering a 10-15% reduction in the US Army and Marine Corps over 10 years – equivalent to tens of thousands of troops.

Future in Asia

The US is expected to make several large long-term strategic changes as a result of budget pressures, including reducing the overall number of ground troops and strengthening air and naval power in Asia.

BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus says more US troops are likely to be brought home from Europe.

Our correspondent says the focus for the future looks to be on what the Pentagon calls “the Air-Sea Battle” – the creation of forces capable of containing a rising military player in the Asia-Pacific region. He says it is clearly China that the US officials are thinking of.

Defence Secretary Leon Panetta made clear last autumn that Asia would be central to US security strategy, including countering China’s influence in the region, describing the Pacific as a “key priority”.

Backing away from a potential two-war footing has been debated in the Pentagon for years.

In June 2001, then-Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Congress the two-war strategy was “not working”.

And when the US was in fact fighting two wars – in Iraq and Afghanistan – the military suffered a shortage of manpower.

The expected change in strategy would prepare the US to fight one war while waging a holding operation elsewhere to “spoil” a second threat.

Officials say they are using recent examples to guide their decisions.

“As Libya showed, you don’t necessarily have to have boots on the ground all the time,” an unnamed official told Reuters. “We are refining our strategy to something that is more realistic.”

Yet many of the Nato allies in Libya are facing similarly tight defence budgets, and Mr Obama is likely to face criticism from defence hawks in Congress, including Republicans and those seeking to challenge him for the presidency in November.

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“The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya were the top concern of a mere 5% of Americans…”

Libya: Is Gadhafi’s loss Obama’s gain?

By Alan Silverleib, CNN
August 22, 2011 2:41 p.m. EDT
Moammar Gadhafi's fall may be a victory for President Obama, but it may not mean much to voters amid a sour economy.
Moammar Gadhafi’s fall may be a victory for President Obama, but it may not mean much to voters amid a sour economy.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Analysts generally see little domestic political gain for Obama in Gadhafi’s fall from power
  • Most voters are far more concerned with economic than foreign policy issues
  • To extent foreign policy is an issue in 2012 election, Libya could help Obama’s chances
  • Analysts also don’t see much gain for Obama in terms of international stature

Tune in to “AC360º” at 8 ET for live reports from CNN reporters on the ground in Libya, as rebels battle Moammar Gadhafi loyalists for control of Tripoli.

Washington (CNN) — Roughly six months after President Barack Obama called on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to step down from power, it appears change has come to Tripoli. Four decades of iron-fisted rule are coming to an end.

So does this make you more or less likely to vote for Obama next year?

As the U.S. presidential campaign begins in earnest, that question is not far from the minds of top Democrats and Republicans. But for now it is questionable whether success in North Africa — assuming the NATO-led mission is ultimately viewed as a success — will matter much in economically stressed middle America, many analysts say.

Analysts are also unsure what, if any, impact Gadhafi’s fall will have on Obama’s stature and reputation overseas.

U.S. voters so far appear to have given little thought to the war in Libya. Sixty percent of Americans cited the economy as their No. 1 concern in an August 5-7 CNN/ORC International Poll. The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya were the top concern of a mere 5% of Americans — a figure barely outside the poll’s 3% margin of error.

Translation: Who’s up or who’s down in Tripoli may not matter to someone who can’t find a job in Dayton, Ohio.

To the extent that war-weary Americans have been paying attention, they haven’t been terribly supportive of the U.S. role in NATO’s air campaign. Only 35% of Americans supported U.S. military action in Libya in a July 18-20 CNN/ORC survey, while 60% opposed any American military intervention there.

There’s also little evidence that other recent foreign policy successes worked to Obama’s advantage.

“After Osama bin Laden’s death (in May), Obama’s approval rating didn’t rise at all in some polls,” said Keating Holland, CNN polling director. “In others, it rose and then dropped back down the previous levels.”

“We can’t predict whether events in Libya will boost Obama’s poll numbers,” Holland said. “But if bin Laden’s death did not lead to a permanent gain, it seems unlikely that removing Gadhafi from power will have a long-term effect on Obama’s approval rating.”

Politically speaking, is there any upside for the president?

“At the least, the situation in Libya should soften criticism last week by Republicans for the president being on vacation,” said Paul Steinhauser, CNN deputy political director. “Obama’s handling of the fighting in Tripoli is more ammunition for the White House that the president’s stay in Martha’s Vineyard is truly a ‘working vacation.’ And Gadhafi’s ouster will also make it harder for the GOP presidential candidates to criticize Obama over his foreign policy.”

Analysts also note that while the economy appears to be foremost on voters’ minds today, 15 months is a lifetime in politics. It’s not easy to predict where the country will be in November 2012.

Next year, “Obama will likely have two big achievements to brag about,” Holland said, referring to bin Laden’s death and Gadhafi’s ouster. “That may not be of much help if the economy is still the No. 1 issue, but even if that is still the case, it’s likely that at least one presidential debate will focus on foreign policy. And who knows if events between now and next November might make foreign affairs into a big worry for a significant number of voters.”

Holland argued that “in the long run, (success in Libya) may not make voters feel better about Obama on the issues, but it may make them feel better about Obama personally.”

“Americans seem to like Obama himself more than they like his stands on the issues,” Holland said. “That helped him in 2008 and it may be his ace in the hole in 2012.”

Adam Sheingate, a Johns Hopkins University political scientist, told CNN there is a “limited upside” at best for Obama in Libya. There are, however, potential risks to the president’s popularity if a post-Gadhafi Libya becomes unstable, he said.

In terms of governance, however, Obama’s ability to help NATO prosecute the air war in Libya is a clear victory for the executive branch in its post-Vietnam struggle with Congress for control of U.S. foreign policy, Sheingate said. Despite the war’s relative unpopularity in the United States, a sharply divided Congress proved unable to speak with one voice on the conflict, much less impose any sort of constraint on the president’s power.

Ultimately, Obama was largely constrained only by his own pledge not to commit any U.S. ground troops to the conflict.

“As far as the institutional question, there are very few limits on presidential war powers,” Sheingate said. “Presidents can deploy forces pretty much at will … and (generally only) seek congressional backing for the use of force for political reasons, not constitutional ones.”

Outside the United States, it is unclear whether the developments in Libya will do much to bolster’s Obama reputation.

“Obama should get credit for making the call” and backing a NATO intervention, said Michael Rubin, a Middle East analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank.

But “I don’t think it’s going to make much difference” in terms of the president’s or America’s standing in other parts of the world, Rubin predicted. “Europeans are going to look differently on Libya a month from now once migrants start flooding across the Mediterranean.”

“Also, if you thought Iraq’s reconstruction was hard, at least Iraq had a structure on which to build a new government,” Rubin said. “Gadhafi got rid of Libya’s structure 38 years ago.”

It’s “ironic that Obama the Nobel peace laureate now attaches his legacy to war,” Rubin said. But his stature “for better or for worse is defined by the global economy.”

Middle East expert Shadi Hamid argued that to the extent leaders in Britain and France took the lead in NATO’s air campaign, they are more likely to reap the political benefit of any successful outcome.

In many ways, Gadhafi’s fall is “a vindication of Obama’s decision to take military action. He can say the mission was a success,” said Hamid, research director at the Brookings Institute’s Doha Center, which focuses on Middle East politics. The Brookings Institute is a nonpartisan Washington think tank.

But “I don’t think it’s a very big boost” for Obama, Hamid told CNN. The United States “took a back seat and preferred to let others lead,” he said, highlighting Europe’s role in providing military training for the rebels.

A perception has taken hold, particularly in the Middle East, that Obama is an “overly cautious, weak leader who wants to split the middle (and) never takes it all the way,” Hamid said. “Libya fits into that narrative of weak leadership.”

“Whether that’s fair is a different issue,” Hamid said. “But you can certainly argue that those sentiments have taken hold.”

Perry to Restore Military Respect for POTUS

MONDAY, AUG 15, 2011 10:44 ET

Perry: The military doesn’t respect Obama

“I want to make sure that every [soldier] respects highly the president of the United States,” he says

BY JUSTIN ELLIOTT, Salon
perry

In Iowa last night, newly anointed GOP primary heavyweight Rick Perry offered a novel reason he is running for president (in addition to God calling him to do so):

 

Rick Perry strayed from a tribute to military service to tell an audience in Waterloo, Iowa, that he’s running in part to restore the respect of the military to its civilian leaders.

“One of the reasons that I’m running for president is I want to make sure that every young man and woman who puts on the uniform of the United States respects highly the president of the United States,” he said.

 

What is Perry talking about here? For one thing, this is not the type of sentence a candidate delivers off the cuff. It seems pretty clearly to be a deliberate, premeditated shot at President Obama as somehow lacking or illegitimate in his role as commander in  chief of the military.

Sure, it all sounds very 2007, given that Obama has been president for nearly three years and has presided over, among other military matters, the massive escalation of the war in Afghanistan. But Perry’s line should serve as a corrective to those who thought the killing of Osama bin Laden would neutralize attacks on Obama as weak or lacking the mettle to lead the military. Then again, the attack seems more plausible in the context of a GOP primary than it does, say, face-to-face against the president of the United States on a debate stage.

A couple of other interesting takes: Ben Smith, who reported the quote from Iowa, observes that the military is pretty much required to respect the president, so in some sense Perry’s line is insulting to soldiers. It’s even odder given that Perry himself is an Air Force vet. And Adam Weinstein at Mother Jones notes that there’s a crucial difference between respect and approval ratings, an area in which Obama is hurting among soldiers — much like George W. Bush was back in 2007.

White House Sticking to Iraq Troop Timetable

White House sticks to Iraq troop timetable after day on which 70 are killed

By Ian Swanson – 08/15/11 02:55 PM ET, The Hill

The White House said Monday there are no changes in the timetable for U.S. forces to leave Iraq on a day in which attacks killed more than 70 people in the country.

U.S. troops are scheduled to leave Iraq in December under the status of forces agreement between the two countries, though it is possible some forces could remain in Iraq if that country’s government requests them.

“Obviously there have been attacks and we strongly condemn them,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday on Air Force One.Carney noted that the general trend in Iraq is decreasing violence, but signaled the Obama administration would consider keeping some forces in Iraq if that country’s government wanted U.S. soldiers to remain.

“It doesn’t change where we are in the process of drawing down our troops or change the fact that we are, as we have said, in discussions with the Iraqis,” Carney said of the latest violence. “And if they make some kind of request, we would consider it.”

While President Obama is focused on the economy during a three-day barnstorming trip through the Midwest on a presidential bus, foreign policy worries, mostly centered on the Middle East, are taking up his time.

The White House is reportedly considering asking Syrian President Assad to resign amid growing violence in that country, and U.S. forces continue to back-up NATO assaults on Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s regime in Libya.

Meanwhile, U.S. forces are slowly departing from both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Next year’s presidential election is expected to focus on the economy, but Monday’s violence in Iraq is a reminder of the unpredictability of the conflicts the U.S. is involved in across the region.

On Syria, Obama had phone conversations over the last several days with the leaders of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom. He has also spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Carney said the White House is looking “together with a broad array of international partners” to increase pressure on Assad.

He added that it is “becoming increasingly clear” that Gadhafi’s days are numbered as his “isolation … grows more extreme.”

The violence in Iraq took place after the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which had ushered in a period of relative calm in the country in the past.

Deadliest Single Incident for American Forces in the Afghanistan War

31 American Troops Killed In NATO Helicopter Crash In Afghanistan

By SOLOMON MOORE   08/ 6/11 09:18 AM ET   AP

KABUL, Afghanistan — A military helicopter crashed in eastern Afghanistan, killing 31 U.S. special operation troops and seven Afghan commandos, the country’s president said Saturday. An American official said it was apparently shot down, in the deadliest single incident for American forces in the decade-long war.

The Taliban claimed they downed the helicopter with rocket fire while it was taking part in a raid on a house where insurgents were gathered in the province of Wardak late Friday. It said wreckage of the craft was strewn at the scene.

NATO confirmed the overnight crash took place and that there “was enemy activity in the area.” But it said it was still investigating the cause and conducting a recovery operation at the site. It did not release details or casualty figures.

“We are in the process of accessing the facts,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Justin Brockhoff, a NATO spokesman.

But a senior U.S. administration official in Washington said it was apparently shot down by insurgents. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the crash is still being investigated.

The toll would surpass the worst single day loss of life for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001 – the June 28, 2005 downing of a military helicopter in eastern Kunar province. In that incident, 16 Navy SEALs and Army special operations troops were killed when their craft was shot down while on a mission to rescue four SEALs under attack by the Taliban. Three of the SEALs being rescued were also killed and the fourth wounded. It was the highest one-day death toll for the Navy Special Warfare personnel since World War II.

With its steep mountain ranges, providing shelter for militants armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers, eastern Afghanistan is hazardous terrain for military aircraft. Large, slow-moving air transport carriers like the CH-47 Chinook are particularly vulnerable, often forced to ease their way through sheer valleys where insurgents can achieve more level lines of fire from mountainsides.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday gave the first public word of the new crash, saying in a statement that “a NATO helicopter crashed last night in Wardak province” and that 31 American special operations troops were killed. He expressed his condolences to President Barack Obama.

The helicopter was a twin-rotor Chinook, said an official at NATO headquarters in Brussels. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he was receiving his information from an Afghan officer in Kabul.

The crash took place in the Sayd Abad district of Wardak province, said a provincial government spokesman, Shahidullah Shahid. The volatile region borders the province of Kabul where the Afghan capital is located and is known for its strong Taliban presence.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement that Taliban fighters downed the helicopter during a “heavy raid” in Sayd Abad. He said NATO attacked a house in Sayd Abad where insurgent fighters were gathering Friday night. During the battle, the fighters shot down the helicopter, killing 31 Americans and seven Afghans, he said, adding that eight insurgents were killed in the fight.

There have been at least 17 coalition and Afghan aircraft crashes in Afghanistan this year.

Most of the crashes were attributed to pilot errors, weather conditions or mechanical failures. However, the coalition has confirmed that at least one CH-47F Chinook helicopter was hit by a rocket propelled grenade on July 25. Two coalition crew members were injured in that attack.

Meanwhile, in the southern Helmand province, an Afghan government official said Saturday that NATO troops attacked a house and inadvertently killed eight members of a family, including women and children.

NATO said that Taliban fighters fired rocket propelled grenades and small arms fire at coalition troops during a patrol Friday in the Nad Ali district.

“Coalition forces responded with small arms fire and as the incident continued, an air strike was employed against the insurgent position,” said Brockhoff. He added that NATO sent a delegation to meet with local leaders and investigate the incident.

Nad Ali district police chief Shadi Khan said civilians died in the bombardment but that it was unknown how many insurgents were killed.

Helmand, a Taliban stronghold, is the deadliest province in Afghanistan for international troops.

NATO has come under harsh criticism in the past for accidentally killing civilians during operations against suspected insurgents. However, civilian death tallies by the United Nations show the insurgency is responsible for most war casualties involving noncombatants.

In south Afghanistan, NATO said two coalition service member were killed, one on Friday and another on Saturday. The international alliance did not release further details.

With the casualties from the helicopter crash, the deaths bring to 365 the number of coalition troops killed this year in Afghanistan and 42 this month.

US Judge OKs Torture Suit Against Rumsfeld

Rumsfeld Iraq ‘torture’ suit given go-ahead

3 August 2011 Last updated at 21:31 ET, BBC

A US judge has ruled that a former American military contractor who claims he was tortured in Iraq can sue former Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The man’s lawyers say he was abducted by the US military and abused at a US military detention centre near Baghdad.

The government says he was suspected of helping pass information to the enemy, although he was never charged.

It is the second time that a federal judge has allowed a US citizen to sue Mr Rumsfeld over torture claims.

The man who brought the suit approved by US District Judge James Gwin is an army veteran in his 50s.

He was released from Camp Cropper detention centre in Iraq in 2006.

In 2008, he filed a suit at the US District Court in Washington claiming that Mr Rumsfeld had personally approved interrogation techniques involving torture on a case-by-case basis, the Associated Press news agency reports.

Mike Kanovitz, a lawyer for the former contractor, said it appeared his client had been held to prevent him speaking about a contact he had made with a sheikh while gathering intelligence in Iraq.

Mr Rumsfeld has been represented by the Obama administration, through the justice department.

It argues that Mr Rumsfeld cannot be sued personally for official conduct, that wartime decisions are the constitutional responsibility of Congress and the president and cannot be reviewed by a judge, and that the case risks creating a threat of liability that could hamper future military decisions.

Mr Rumsfeld is appealing against a 2010 ruling by an Illinois judge who said two other former contractors held at Camp Cropper could pursue claims that they were tortured using methods approved by the former defence secretary.

“This time around lack of homefront coverage may be helping keep military involvement continue on and on.”

At least 1,400 arrests for antiwar dissent, but who’s counting? Not the press.
COMMENTARY | July 22, 2011

By John Hanrahan

Antiwar activists repeatedly stage dramatic acts of civil disobedience in the United States but are almost entirely ignored by mainstream print and broadcast news organizations. During the Vietnam era, press coverage of the fighting and opposition to it at home helped turn public opinion against the war. This time around lack of homefront coverage may be helping keep military involvement continue on and on.

In the past two years, protests of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, killer drones, torture, nuclear weapons and other war-related issues have been carried out at nuclear weapons silos and production facilities, military bases, unmanned drone facilities, major defense contractors’ headquarters and offices, the Nevada Nuclear Test site, nuclear weapons design laboratories, military recruiting centers, the U.S. Capitol, the White House, federal buildings in various states, the U.S. Strategic Air Command, and numerous other war-oriented sites across the country.

The protests don’t begin to approach the level of those during the Vietnam war or in the early years of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars – but that’s not a reason to ignore them. The fact is, protest is much more widespread than citizens might gauge from coverage in newspapers and television, which seldom report antiwar actions regardless of how significant or newsworthy they may be. As we briefly observed in a previous article: By ignoring antiwar protests almost totally, editors are treating opposition to the ongoing war in Afghanistan much as they handled the run-up to the war in Iraq: They are missing an important story and contributing to the perception that there is no visible opposition to the U.S. wars and ever-growing military budgets, even as polls show overwhelming support for early U.S. military withdrawal.

Although arrests are indicative of only a small portion of antiwar activity, a case-by-case compilation by prominent civil liberties attorney Bill Quigley shows more than 2,600 arrests nationwide for various protests on progressive issues from 2009 until late May of this year, with nearly 1,400 of them coming in antiwar-related actions‚ almost all of which stem from protests involving nonviolent civil disobedience. Quigley derived most of his information from the newsletter The Nuclear Resister , which for several years has tracked arrests of anti-war and anti-nuclear weapons activists nationwide as much as it can, given the lack of press coverage.

In the last seven months alone, there have been more than 550 documented arrests of antiwar protesters and some important court trials which, while often receiving local coverage, seldom find their way into major news organizations’ reports.

“Although we haven’t recently had the gigantic demonstrations of those Vietnam War years,” Quigley told Nieman Watchdog, “in my experience, what you have today is a lot of smaller, passionate and persistent activities going on all over the country. A lot of peaceful protests and civil disobedience. The mainstream press doesn’t cover that.” Quigley is a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans and associate legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Regarding the arrest figures he compiled, Quigley said they “certainly underestimate the number actually arrested” because so many of them go unreported in the press. This, he said, is in contrast to the media standard for covering overseas dissent, which is to “focus so intently on arrests of protestors in other countries.”

Some of the more noteworthy protests in the last two years have been carried out by activists from the religious-based Disarm Now Plowsharesmovement, which began in 1980 when antiwar priests Daniel and Philip Berrigan and six others were convicted on an array of state felony and misdemeanor charges after they hammered on nuclear warhead nose cones and poured blood onto documents and files at the General Electric Nuclear Missile Re-entry Division facility in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.

The pattern of the national media is to ignore courtroom trials also, regardless of their drama, leaving them to local news reports or websites.

One example: In a Tacoma, Washington federal courtroom in March, an 84-year-old Society of the Sacred Heart nun, Anne Montgomery, 82-year-old Jesuit priest Bill Bichsel, and three other activists over the age of 60 – another Jesuit priest and two women – were sentenced to jail terms. Montgomery, it should be noted, was one of the Plowshares Eight some 30 years earlier. Their sentences ranged from six to fifteen months, plus one-year supervised release. Their crime: attempting to “symbolically disarm” the Trident II missiles stored in the Strategic Weapons Facility-Pacific (SWFPAC) at the U.S. Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, 20 miles from Seattle.

According to their own account, the five defendants, all affiliated with Disarm Now Plowshares, at 2 A.M. on All-Souls Day in November 2009 “used bolt cutters to break through a [perimeter] chain-link fence in an area where Trident submarine nuclear warheads are stored.” They then walked almost four miles into the base and cut through one double-layered chain link fence and then another barbed wire fence and alarm wires, “ignoring a sign warning that deadly force was authorized against intruders.” They had entered a bunker area that protesters said housed “the largest nuclear weapon stockpile in the United States” – reportedly more than 2,300 warheads, or almost one-fourth of the entire U.S. arsenal. They said their action was designed “to call attention to the illegality and immorality of the existence of the first-strike Trident weapons system.” After putting up banners and scattering blood and sunflower seeds, and hammering symbolically on a road and fences, “they prayed until they were arrested,” thrown to the ground, handcuffed and hooded. They said they were then questioned by base security, the FBI and the NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service).

In a joint statement after their arrests, they further explained their motivation: “As U.S. citizens we are responsible under the Nuremberg Principles for this threat of first-strike terrorism hanging over the community of nations, rich and poor.” Before their sentencing on trespassing and property destruction charges, each of the defendants spoke and‚ “focused on the personal responsibility they feel to disarm nuclear weapons, and their desire to prevent pain, suffering, and death‚” for “those deprived by our wars and military budget of a human way of life.” The judge, noting the defendants’ “lack of remorse,” called their protest “a form of anarchy” that could lead to a “breakdown in the social order.” Some 250 supporters of the group had turned out for a pre-sentencing rally featuring song and prayer.

You would think this story‚ with its angle of a nun, priests and lay people of an advanced age penetrating a high-security nuclear weapons installation, is what we used to call news. It is as least as newsworthy for the national media as, say, a congressman texting sexually suggestive pictures of himself to women, Sarah Palin’s latest gaffe, or the Canadian and U.S. travels of the newly-married duke and duchess of Cambridge. But while there were articles about the arrests in the Bremerton and Longview, Washington, newspapers, we have found no national news media coverage of this and similar significant incidents of civil disobedience or of the subsequent trial.

Here is another recent example:

This past April in a Las Vegas, Nevada, courtroom, 13 defendants from across the country – two Jesuit priests, two Franciscan priests, a nun from the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, two Catholic Worker members and six other activists – were convicted on state charges of trespassing at nearby Creech Air Force Base two years earlier. Creech is the headquarters of U.S. drone operations from which Predator and Reaper drone surveillance and attacks on Afghanistan and Pakistan are remotely “piloted.” The defendants, in their own words, were arrested while kneeling in prayer and begging for an end to the drone attacks. The judge rejected their “defense of necessity” – that is, as the defendants argued, “when an inherent danger is present…immediate action must be taken, such as breaking a no-trespassing law to uphold a higher law and save life.”

Judge William Jansen, after delaying a verdict in this non-jury trial for almost eight months to take what he said was time to think about the case, ruled that no inherent danger was present, found them guilty and sentenced them to time already served. One of the defendants was much-arrested, long-time Chicago activist Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

In remarks to the court before sentencing, Kelly told about a recent three-week trip she had taken to Afghanistan where she met with victims of U.S. drone attacks. She spoke in dramatic, graphic details about what she had seen and heard and victims she had met – including a nine-year-old girl “whose arm was amputated” by a drone attack and a man whose wife and five children had been killed by the same attack and “who showed me the photos of his children’s bloodied corpses.” She added: “It’s criminal for the U.S. to spend $2 billion per week for war in Afghanistan that maims, kills and displaces innocent civilians who’ve meant us no harm.”

In what the Las Vegas Sun called “a somewhat unusual trial,” Jansen had allowed the defense to present testimony relating to their “necessity” defense from former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark; Ann Wright, a retired Army colonel and former State Department diplomat; and the aforementioned civil liberties attorney Bill Quigley. In the end, the judge rejected their line of testimony. (In addition to the Las Vegas Sun, Kelly told Nieman Watchdog that local Nevada Public Radio had broadcast stories on the trial but there was no national coverage.) After sentencing the defendants to time served, the judge told them to “go in peace.” Jansen also urged them to use diplomacy, rather than trespassing, in their attempts to get U.S. drone warfare policy changed.

Again, here was a story with several newsworthy elements, including answers to the question of why people such as Kathy Kelly time and again take actions that will surely result in their arrests, that will surely go unpublicized in the national media, that will likely result in jail terms, and yet will not cut one dollar from the Pentagon budgets or stop even one of our country’s growing number of wars and military actions. Publicity is not what motivates these folks, yet the news media’s failure to cover their protests essentially means the press is shielding its readers and viewers from uncomfortable news that raises disturbing and profound questions about our nation’s war-making activities. While the airwaves and print press are full of jingoistic war-makers’ pronouncements, the voices of the peacemakers are shut out.

As Daniel Berrigan, now 90 and living in a Jesuit friary in New York City, observed in the summer of 2010 in an interview with author Deena Guzder for her recently-published book, Divine Rebels“There’s resistance all the time today, but there’s no media. The media is a total sellout. You’re not going to know the earth is shaking if nobody reports it, but there are still plenty of people who are trying to read the Gospel and act as if it were true.”

Berrigan, who is also a noted poet, has repeatedly spoken out and protested against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and nuclear weapons. He was arrested – without publicity – for the several-dozenth time on Good Friday 2010. (He told Guzder that he had been arrested more times than he could count but “fewer than I should have been.”) He and a dozen or so other activists were arrested as they were reading out the names of civilians killed in the current U.S. wars as a way of dissuading tourists from going on the aircraft carrier Intrepid, now a floating military museum moored in the Hudson River. Berrigan and his fellow protesters view it as “a symbol of war’s destructiveness.” A Jesuit housemate of Berrigan wrote that the judge hearing the case noted that he himself had opposed the Vietnam War and had been a Berrigan supporter back then – and went on to dismiss charges against all the defendants. A good little story in and of itself.

DADT Could Be Gone, But Some Commanding Officers Will Continue Making Gay Slurs

Military leaders to certify end of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ Friday

Posted at 06:33 PM ET, 07/21/2011
By Ed O’Keefe and Craig Whitlock

Top Pentagon leaders will say Friday that the military is ready to permit gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military, allowing President Obama to formally end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, according to a U.S. official and others familiar with the plans.

In accordance with a law passed in December that set in motion the process of ending the ban, Obama first must receive notice from Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and top uniformed brass that the military is prepared to end the policy before the government stops enforcing it. The policy will end 60 days after Obama formally certifies the repeal in writing to Congress.

If Obama signs the certification in the coming days, the ban would end in late September.

Obama met Wednesday at the White House with Panetta, who will be formally sworn in to his new job by Vice President Biden on Friday at the Pentagon. The White House isn’t planning to formally mark the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell” with any type of public event until the end of the 60-day period, sources said.

Once the almost 18-year ban ends, gays and lesbians serving in military uniform will be able to publicly reveal their sexual identity without fear of dismissal or official rebuke, openly gay men and women will be able to enlist in the military, and gay couples may be allowed to wed at military chapels or live together on military bases in states that recognize same-sex marriages.

But several unresolved issues remain regarding military spousal benefits for gay couples, including potential housing options and survivor benefits. Complicating any resolution is that the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages, will keep same-sex military couples from enjoying full spousal benefits.

Obama announced support this week for legislation to repeal DOMA, which gay activists has said would be necessary to fully end any and all official discrimination against gays in the military.

Gay activists and top military officials also have cautioned that it may take years for gays to feel completely comfortable revealing their sexual orientation to colleagues.

On the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, gay service members contacted in recent weeks said they don’t anticipate publicly disclosing their sexual orientation right away. Soldiers stationed in Afghanistan reported that despite the completion of mandatory training programs in recent months, colleagues and commanding officers have been using gay slurs or making gay jokes.

In Iraq, training courses ended weeks ago, and troops said they don’t anticipate that the policy change would adversely affect operations.

“I don’t think there’s any issue with it whatsoever,” Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, the chief spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq, said in a recent interview. “And if there are individual issues, then people will have to either conform or make a decision to leave when they can.”

As part of a bipartisan agreement that ended the policy, the military required every active-duty and reserve service member to attend training courses outlining how a repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” would change military personnel policy and benefits. Though most service members have completed their training, military officials have said courses for the Army — the largest military service — wouldn’t be completed until early August.

The decision to certify the ban follows months of criticism by gay activists that Obama should have acted sooner to end the policy. Since December, federal courts have ordered the government to stop enforcing the policy, then allowed it to continue as the Justice Department appealed the decision.

House Republicans, most of whom voted against ending the ban on grounds that it would disrupt battlefield operations, successfully amended the House version of the annual defense authorization bill with language restricting gay weddings on military bases and other similar provisions. It is unclear whether such provisions would be included in the final version of the bill, which isn’t likely to be passed by the House and Senate until after late September.