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Archive for July, 2011

Posted by Peace Action West on July 11th, 2011

From our partners at Peace Action West

Last week, the House of Representatives passed the Pentagon’s gargantuan $649 billion budget, at a time when other departments are facing draconian cuts.

Many representatives used the bill as an opportunity to offer amendments cutting the military budget and ending the wars in Afghanistan and Libya. Thanks to all of you who took the time to call your representative in support of these important amendments.

Some highlights with links to see how your representative voted:

Military spending 

  • Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) offered an amendment to limit the number of US troops permanently stationed in Europe to 30,000. Failed, 113-307.
  • Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) led a group supporting an amendment to cut the Pentagon’s increase in half, by $8.5 billion. Failed, 181-244.
  • Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) offered an amendment to freeze the Pentagon budget at 2011 levels, cutting $17 billion. Failed, 135-290.
  • Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) offered an amendment to cut a $5 billion Pentagon “slush fund.” Failed, 114-314.
  • Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) offered an amendment to cut $297 million in funds for a new nuclear bomber. Failed, 98-322.



  • Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) offered an amendment that would have cut funding for the war by $33 billion, leaving enough money for the safe and responsible withdrawal of US troops. Failed, 97-322.
  • Rep. John Garamendi’s (D-CA) amendment would have cut $20 billion from war funding, mandating that there be no more than 25,000 troops on the ground in Afghanistan by the end of 2012. Failed, 133-295.


  • There were several amendments offered to cut funding for operations in Libya. The one that received the most yea votes was offered by Reps. Kucinich (D-OH) and Amash (R-MI). Failed, 199-229.
  • The House passed an amendment offered by Rep. Cole (R-OK) prohibiting military assistance to the rebel forces in Libya. Passed, 225-201.



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Posted by alexthurston on July 11th, 2011

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.

Last week, William Wan and Peter Finn of the Washington Post reported that at least 50 countries have now purchased or developed pilotless military drones.  Recently, the Chinese had more than two dozen models in some stage of development on display at the Zhuhai Air Show, some of which they are evidently eager to sell to other countries.

So three cheers for a thoroughly drone-ified world.  In my lifetime, I’ve repeatedly seen advanced weapons systems or mind-boggling technologies of war hailed as near-utopian paths to victory and future peace (just as the atomic bomb was soon after my birth). Include in that the Vietnam-era, “electronic battlefield,” President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (aka “Star Wars”), the “smart bombs” and smart missiles of the first Gulf War, and in the twenty-first century,“netcentric warfare,” that Rumsfeldian high-tech favorite.

You know the results of this sort of magical thinking about wonder weapons (or technologies) just as well as I do. The atomic bomb led to an almost half-century-long nuclear superpower standoff/nightmare, to nuclear proliferation, and so to the possibility that someday even terrorists might possess such weapons. The electronic battlefield was incapable of staving off defeat in Vietnam. Reagan’s “impermeable” anti-missile shield in space never came even faintly close to making it into the heavens. Those “smart bombs” of the Gulf War proved remarkably dumb, while the 50 “decapitation” strikes the Bush administration launched against Saddam Hussein’s regime on the first day of the 2003 invasion of Iraq took out not a single Iraqi leader, but dozens of civilians. And the history of the netcentric military in Iraq is well known. Its “success” sent Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld into retirement and ignominy.

In the same way, robot drones as assassination weapons will prove to be just another weapons system rather than a panacea for American warriors. None of these much-advertised wonder technologies ever turns out to perform as promised, but that fact never stops them, as with drones today, from embedding themselves in our world. From the atomic bomb came a whole nuclear landscape that included the Strategic Air Command, weapons labs, production plants, missile silos, corporate interests, and an enormous world-destroying arsenal (as well as proliferating versions of the same, large and small, across the planet). Nor did the electronic battlefield go away. Quite the opposite — it came home and entered our everyday world in the form of sensors, cameras, surveillance equipment, and the like, now implanted from our borders to our cities.

Rarely do wonder weapons or wonder technologies disappoint enough to disappear.  And those latest wonders, missile- and bomb-armed drones, are now multiplying like so many electronic rabbits.  And yet there is always hope.  Back in 1997, Barbara Ehrenreich went after the human attraction to violence in her book Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War. In it, among other brilliant insights, she traced the beginnings of our modern blood rites not to Man, the Aggressor, but to human beings, the prey (in a dangerous early world of predators).  Now, in an updated, adapted version of an afterword she did for the British edition of that book, she turns from the origins of war to its end point, suggesting in her usual provocative way that drones and other warrior robotics may, in the end, do us one strange favor: they may finally bring home to us that war is not a human possession, that it is not what we are and must be. (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Ehrenreich discusses the nature of war and how to fight against it, click here, or download it to your iPod here.) Tom

War Without Humans
Modern Blood Rites Revisited

By Barbara Ehrenreich

For a book about the all-too-human “passions of war,” my 1997 work Blood Rites ended on a strangely inhuman note: I suggested that, whatever distinctly human qualities war calls upon — honor, courage, solidarity, cruelty, and so forth — it might be useful to stop thinking of war in exclusively human terms.  After all, certain species of ants wage war and computers can simulate “wars” that play themselves out on-screen without any human involvement.

More generally, then, we should define war as a self-replicating pattern of activity that may or may not require human participation. In the human case, we know it is capable of spreading geographically and evolving rapidly over time — qualities that, as I suggested somewhat fancifully, make war a metaphorical successor to the predatory animals that shaped humans into fighters in the first place.

A decade and a half later, these musings do not seem quite so airy and abstract anymore. The trend, at the close of the twentieth century, still seemed to be one of ever more massive human involvement in war — from armies containing tens of thousands in the sixteenth century, to hundreds of thousands in the nineteenth, and eventually millions in the twentieth century world wars.

It was the ascending scale of war that originally called forth the existence of the nation-state as an administrative unit capable of maintaining mass armies and the infrastructure — for taxation, weapons manufacture, transport, etc. — that they require. War has been, and we still expect it to be, the most massive collective project human beings undertake. But it has been evolving quickly in a very different direction, one in which human beings have a much smaller role to play.

One factor driving this change has been the emergence of a new kind of enemy, so-called “non-state actors,” meaning popular insurgencies and loose transnational networks of fighters, none of which are likely to field large numbers of troops or maintain expensive arsenals of their own. In the face of these new enemies, typified by al-Qaeda, the mass armies of nation-states are highly ineffective, cumbersome to deploy, difficult to maneuver, and from a domestic point of view, overly dependent on a citizenry that is both willing and able to fight, or at least to have their children fight for them.

Yet just as U.S. military cadets continue, in defiance of military reality, to sport swords on their dress uniforms, our leaders, both military and political, tend to cling to an idea of war as a vast, labor-intensive effort on the order of World War II. Only slowly, and with a reluctance bordering on the phobic, have the leaders of major states begun to grasp the fact that this approach to warfare may soon be obsolete.

Consider the most recent U.S. war with Iraq. According to then-president George W. Bush, the casus belli was the 9/11 terror attacks.  The causal link between that event and our chosen enemy, Iraq, was, however, imperceptible to all but the most dedicated inside-the-Beltway intellectuals. Nineteen men had hijacked airplanes and flown them into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center — 15 of them Saudi Arabians, none of them Iraqis — and we went to war against… Iraq?

Military history offers no ready precedents for such wildly misaimed retaliation. The closest analogies come from anthropology, which provides plenty of cases of small-scale societies in which the death of any member, for any reason, needs to be “avenged” by an attack on a more or less randomly chosen other tribe or hamlet.

Why Iraq? Neoconservative imperial ambitions have been invoked in explanation, as well as the American thirst for oil, or even an Oedipal contest between George W. Bush and his father. There is no doubt some truth to all of these explanations, but the targeting of Iraq also represented a desperate and irrational response to what was, for Washington, an utterly confounding military situation.

We faced a state-less enemy — geographically diffuse, lacking uniforms and flags, invulnerable to invading infantries and saturation bombing, and apparently capable of regenerating itself at minimal expense. From the perspective of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his White House cronies, this would not do.

Since the U.S. was accustomed to fighting other nation-states — geopolitical entities containing such identifiable targets as capital cities, airports, military bases, and munitions plants — we would have to find a nation-state to fight, or as Rumsfeld put it, a “target-rich environment.” Iraq, pumped up by alleged stockpiles of “weapons of mass destruction,” became the designated surrogate for an enemy that refused to play our game.

The effects of this atavistic war are still being tallied: in Iraq, we would have to include civilian deaths estimated at possibly hundreds of thousands, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, and devastating outbreaks of sectarian violence of a kind that, as we should have learned from the dissolution of Yugoslavia, can readily follow the death or removal of a nationalist dictator.

But the effects of war on the U.S. and its allies may end up being almost as tragic. Instead of punishing the terrorists who had attacked the U.S., the war seems to have succeeded in recruiting more such irregular fighters, young men (and sometimes women) willing to die and ready to commit further acts of terror or revenge. By insisting on fighting a more or less randomly selected nation-state, the U.S. may only have multiplied the non-state threats it faces.

Unwieldy Armies

Whatever they may think of what the U.S. and its allies did in Iraq, many national leaders are beginning to acknowledge that conventional militaries are becoming, in a strictly military sense, almost ludicrously anachronistic. Not only are they unsuited to crushing counterinsurgencies and small bands of terrorists or irregular fighters, but mass armies are simply too cumbersome to deploy on short notice.

In military lingo, they are weighed down by their “tooth to tail” ratio — a measure of the number of actual fighters in comparison to the support personnel and equipment the fighters require. Both hawks and liberal interventionists may hanker to airlift tens of thousands of soldiers to distant places virtually overnight, but those soldiers will need to be preceded or accompanied by tents, canteens, trucks, medical equipment, and so forth. “Flyover” rights will have to be granted by neighboring countries; air strips and eventually bases will have to be constructed; supply lines will have be created and defended — all of which can take months to accomplish.

The sluggishness of the mass, labor-intensive military has become a constant source of frustration to civilian leaders. Irritated by the Pentagon’s hesitation to put “boots on the ground” in Bosnia, then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright famously demanded of Secretary of Defense Colin Powell, “What good is this marvelous military force if we can never use it?” In 2009, the Obama administration unthinkingly proposed a troop surge in Afghanistan, followed by a withdrawal within a year and a half that would have required some of the troops to start packing up almost as soon as they arrived. It took the U.S. military a full month to organize the transport of 20,000 soldiers to Haiti in the wake of the 2010 earthquake — and they were only traveling 700 miles to engage in a humanitarian relief mission, not a war.

Another thing hobbling mass militaries is the increasing unwillingness of nations, especially the more democratic ones, to risk large numbers of casualties. It is no longer acceptable to drive men into battle at gunpoint or to demand that they fend for themselves on foreign soil. Once thousands of soldiers have been plunked down in a “theater,” they must be defended from potentially hostile locals, a project that can easily come to supersede the original mission.

We may not be able clearly to articulate what American troops were supposed to accomplish in Iraq or Afghanistan, but without question one part of their job has been “force protection.” In what could be considered the inverse of “mission creep,” instead of expanding, the mission now has a tendency to contract to the task of self-defense.

Ultimately, the mass militaries of the modern era, augmented by ever-more expensive weapons systems, place an unacceptable economic burden on the nation-states that support them — a burden that eventually may undermine the militaries themselves. Consider what has been happening to the world’s sole military superpower, the United States. The latest estimate for the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is, at this moment, at least $3.2 trillion, while total U.S. military spending equals that of the next 15 countries combined, and adds up to approximately 47% of all global military spending.

To this must be added the cost of caring for wounded and otherwise damaged veterans, which has been mounting precipitously as medical advances allow more of the injured to survive.  The U.S. military has been sheltered from the consequences of its own profligacy by a level of bipartisan political support that has kept it almost magically immune to budget cuts, even as the national debt balloons to levels widely judged to be unsustainable.

The hard right, in particular, has campaigned relentlessly against “big government,” apparently not noticing that the military is a sizable chunk of this behemoth.  In December 2010, for example, a Republican senator from Oklahoma railed against the national debt with this statement: “We’re really at war. We’re on three fronts now: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the financial tsunami  [arising from the debt] that is facing us.” Only in recent months have some Tea Party-affiliated legislators broken with tradition by declaring their willingness to cut military spending.

How the Warfare State Became the Welfare State

If military spending is still for the most part sacrosanct, ever more spending cuts are required to shrink “big government.”  Then what remains is the cutting of domestic spending, especially social programs for the poor, who lack the means to finance politicians, and all too often the incentive to vote as well. From the Reagan years on, the U.S. government has chipped away at dozens of programs that had helped sustain people who are underpaid or unemployed, including housing subsidies, state-supplied health insurance, public transportation, welfare for single parents, college tuition aid, and inner-city economic development projects.

Even the physical infrastructure — bridges, airports, roads, and tunnels — used by people of all classes has been left at dangerous levels of disrepair. Antiwar protestors wistfully point out, year after year, what the cost of our high-tech weapon systems, our global network of more than 1,000 military bases, and our various “interventions” could buy if applied to meeting domestic human needs. But to no effect.

This ongoing sacrifice of domestic welfare for military “readiness” represents the reversal of a historic trend. Ever since the introduction of mass armies in Europe in the seventeenth century, governments have generally understood that to underpay and underfeed one’s troops — and the class of people that supplies them — is to risk having the guns pointed in the opposite direction from that which the officers recommend.

In fact, modern welfare states, inadequate as they may be, are in no small part the product of war — that is, of governments’ attempts to appease soldiers and their families. In the U.S., for example, the Civil War led to the institution of widows’ benefits, which were the predecessor of welfare in its Aid to Families with Dependent Children form. It was the bellicose German leader Otto von Bismarck who first instituted national health insurance.

World War II spawned educational benefits and income support for American veterans and led, in the United Kingdom, to a comparatively generous welfare state, including free health care for all. Notions of social justice and fairness, or at least the fear of working class insurrections, certainly played a part in the development of twentieth century welfare states, but there was a pragmatic military motivation as well: if young people are to grow up to be effective troops, they need to be healthy, well-nourished, and reasonably well-educated.

In the U.S., the steady withering of social programs that might nurture future troops even serves, ironically, to justify increased military spending. In the absence of a federal jobs program, Congressional representatives become fierce advocates for weapons systems that the Pentagon itself has no use for, as long as the manufacture of those weapons can provide employment for some of their constituents.

With diminishing funds for higher education, military service becomes a less dismal alternative for young working-class people than the low-paid jobs that otherwise await them. The U.S. still has a civilian welfare state consisting largely of programs for the elderly (Medicare and Social Security). For many younger Americans, however, as well as for older combat veterans, the U.S. military is the welfare state — and a source, however temporarily, of jobs, housing, health care and education.

Eventually, however, the failure to invest in America’s human resources — through spending on health, education, and so forth — undercuts the military itself. In World War I, public health experts were shocked to find that one-third of conscripts were rejected as physically unfit for service; they were too weak and flabby or too damaged by work-related accidents.

Several generations later, in 2010, the U.S. Secretary of Education reported that “75 percent of young Americans, between the ages of 17 to 24, are unable to enlist in the military today because they have failed to graduate from high school, have a criminal record, or are physically unfit.” When a nation can no longer generate enough young people who are fit for military service, that nation has two choices: it can, as a number of prominent retired generals are currently advocating, reinvest in its “human capital,” especially the health and education of the poor, or it can seriously reevaluate its approach to war.

The Fog of (Robot) War

Since the rightward, anti-“big government” tilt of American politics more or less precludes the former, the U.S. has been scrambling to develop less labor-intensive forms of waging war. In fact, this may prove to be the ultimate military utility of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: if they have gained the U.S. no geopolitical advantage, they have certainly served as laboratories and testing grounds for forms of future warfare that involve less human, or at least less governmental, commitment.

One step in that direction has been the large-scale use of military contract workers supplied by private companies, which can be seen as a revival of the age-old use of mercenaries.  Although most of the functions that have been outsourced to private companies — including food services, laundry, truck driving, and construction — do not involve combat, they are dangerous, and some contract workers have even been assigned to the guarding of convoys and military bases.

Contractors are still men and women, capable of bleeding and dying — and surprising numbers of them have indeed died.  In the initial six months of 2010, corporate deaths exceeded military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan for the first time. But the Pentagon has little or no responsibility for the training, feeding, or care of private contractors.  If wounded or psychologically damaged, American contract workers must turn, like any other injured civilian employees, to the Workers’ Compensation system, hence their sense of themselves as a “disposable army.”  By 2009, the trend toward privatization had gone so far that the number of private contractors in Afghanistan exceeded the number of American troops there.

An alternative approach is to eliminate or drastically reduce the military’s dependence on human beings of any kind.  This would have been an almost unthinkable proposition a few decades ago, but technologies employed in Iraq and Afghanistan have steadily stripped away the human role in war. Drones, directed from sites up to 7,500 miles away in the western United States, are replacing manned aircraft.

Video cameras, borne by drones, substitute for human scouts or information gathered by pilots. Robots disarm roadside bombs. When American forces invaded Iraq in 2003, no robots accompanied them; by 2008, there were 12,000 participating in the war.  Only a handful of drones were used in the initial invasion; today, the U.S. military has an inventory of more than 7,000, ranging from the familiar Predator to tiny Ravens and Wasps used to transmit video images of events on the ground.  Far stranger fighting machines are in the works, like swarms of lethal “cyborg insects” that could potentially replace human infantry.

These developments are by no means limited to the U.S. The global market for military robotics and unmanned military vehicles is growing fast, and includes Israel,a major pioneer in the field, Russia, the United Kingdom, Iran, South Korea, and China. Turkey is reportedly readying a robot force for strikes against Kurdish insurgents; Israel hopes to eventually patrol the Gaza border with “see-shoot” robots that will destroy people perceived as transgressors as soon as they are detected.

It is hard to predict how far the automation of war and the substitution of autonomous robots for human fighters will go. On the one hand, humans still have the advantage of superior visual discrimination.  Despite decades of research in artificial intelligence, computers cannot make the kind of simple distinctions — as in determining whether a cow standing in front of a barn is a separate entity or a part of the barn — that humans can make in a fraction of a second.

Thus, as long as there is any premium on avoiding civilian deaths, humans have to be involved in processing the visual information that leads, for example, to the selection of targets for drone attacks. If only as the equivalent of seeing-eye dogs, humans will continue to have a role in war, at least until computer vision improves.

On the other hand, the human brain lacks the bandwidth to process all the data flowing into it, especially as new technologies multiply that data. In the clash of traditional mass armies, under a hail of arrows or artillery shells, human warriors often found themselves confused and overwhelmed, a condition attributed to “the fog of war.” Well, that fog is growing a lot thicker. U.S. military officials, for instance, put the blame on “information overload” for the killing of 23 Afghan civilians in February 2010, and the New York Times reported that:

“Across the military, the data flow has surged; since the attacks of 9/11, the amount of intelligence gathered by remotely piloted drones and other surveillance technologies has risen 1,600 percent. On the ground, troops increasingly use hand-held devices to communicate, get directions and set bombing coordinates. And the screens in jets can be so packed with data that some pilots call them “drool buckets” because, they say, they can get lost staring into them.”

When the sensory data coming at a soldier is augmented by a flood of instantaneously transmitted data from distant cameras and computer search engines, there may be no choice but to replace the sloppy “wet-ware” of the human brain with a robotic system for instant response.

War Without Humans

Once set in place, the cyber-automation of war is hard to stop.  Humans will cling to their place “in the loop” as long as they can, no doubt insisting that the highest level of decision-making — whether to go to war and with whom — be reserved for human leaders. But it is precisely at the highest levels that decision-making may most need automating. A head of state faces a blizzard of factors to consider, everything from historical analogies and satellite-derived intelligence to assessments of the readiness of potential allies. Furthermore, as the enemy automates its military, or in the case of a non-state actor, simply adapts to our level of automation, the window of time for effective responses will grow steadily narrower. Why not turn to a high-speed computer? It is certainly hard to imagine a piece of intelligent hardware deciding to respond to the 9/11 attacks by invading Iraq.

So, after at least 10,000 years of intra-species fighting — of scorched earth, burned villages, razed cities, and piled up corpses, as well, of course, as all the great epics of human literature — we have to face the possibility that the institution of war might no longer need us for its perpetuation. Human desires, especially for the Earth’s diminishing supply of resources, will still instigate wars for some time to come, but neither human courage nor human bloodlust will carry the day on the battlefield.

Computers will assess threats and calibrate responses; drones will pinpoint enemies; robots might roll into the streets of hostile cities. Beyond the individual battle or smaller-scale encounter, decisions as to whether to match attack with counterattack, or one lethal technological innovation with another, may also be eventually ceded to alien minds.

This should not come as a complete surprise. Just as war has shaped human social institutions for millennia, so has it discarded them as the evolving technology of war rendered them useless. When war was fought with blades by men on horseback, it favored the rule of aristocratic warrior elites. When the mode of fighting shifted to action-at-a-distance weapons like bows and guns, the old elites had to bow to the central authority of kings, who, in turn, were undone by the democratizing forces unleashed by new mass armies.

Even patriarchy cannot depend on war for its long-term survival, since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have, at least within U.S. forces, established women’s worth as warriors. Over the centuries, human qualities once deemed indispensable to war fighting — muscular power, manliness, intelligence, judgment — have one by one become obsolete or been ceded to machines.

What will happen then to the “passions of war”? Except for individual acts of martyrdom, war is likely to lose its glory and luster. Military analyst P.W. Singer quotes an Air Force captain musing about whether the new technologies will “mean that brave men and women will no longer face death in combat,” only to reassure himself that “there will always be a need for intrepid souls to fling their bodies across the sky.”

Perhaps, but in a 2010 address to Air Force Academy cadets, an under secretary of defense delivered the “bad news” that most of them would not be flying airplanes, which are increasingly unmanned. War will continue to be used against insurgencies as well as to “take out” the weapons facilities, command centers, and cities of designated rogue states. It may even continue to fascinate its aficionados, in the manner of computer games. But there will be no triumphal parades for killer nano-bugs, no epics about unmanned fighter planes, no monuments to fallen bots.

And in that may lie our last hope. With the decline of mass militaries and their possible replacement by machines, we may finally see that war is not just an extension of our needs and passions, however base or noble. Nor is it likely to be even a useful test of our courage, fitness, or national unity. War has its own dynamic or — in case that sounds too anthropomorphic — its own grim algorithms to work out. As it comes to need us less, maybe we will finally see that we don’t need it either. We can leave it to the ants.

Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of a number of books including Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America and Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. This essay is a revised and updated version of the afterword to the British edition of Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War (Granta, 2011).  To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Ehrenreich discusses the nature of war and how to fight against it, click here, or download it to your iPod here.

Copyright 2011 Barbara Ehrenreich

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Posted by The Agonist on July 9th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

July 8

AFP – An Afghan spy agency bodyguard shot dead an American soldier and development worker in a gunfight triggered by a roadside argument Saturday before being killed by return fire.

The shootout in the northern province of Panjsher, one of the most peaceful parts of Afghanistan, is the latest in a series of incidents of Afghan forces turning on foreign troops over recent months.

Panjsher police chief Qaseem Jangalbagh said the Americans were working for the provincial reconstruction team (PRT), which operates alongside military forces on development projects.

“They got into a row with an NDS employee on the road, over what we don’t yet know, and during the argument the NDS employee opened fire using his pistol and killed two American PRT workers and another was wounded,” said Jangalbagh.

NDS is the National Directorate for Security, Afghanistan’s spy agency.

“The NDS employee was also killed in the return of fire,” said Jangalbagh, adding that the foreigners were all Americans.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said one of the ISAF employees killed was a soldier and the other a civilian, adding that the incident was under investigation.

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Posted by on July 9th, 2011

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

The New York Times headline says "Night Raids Curbing Taliban, but Afghans Cite Civilian Toll". What the paper seems to have missed is that the Taliban aren't foreigners. The U.S. military can cite its own secret figures and secret investigations all it wants to "show" that night raids are an effective counter-terrorism tool but – since the Taliban are not a threat to the United States and the Afghan government wants the raids to stop – it is obvious that Afghan sovereignty and the rule of law are being treated as a joke.

The method of the raids, especially the forced entry of houses and invasion of women’s quarters, let alone killing of women, is deeply offensive culturally to Afghans. Although coalition forces say most raids are conducted using a “soft knock” — calling by loudspeaker for people to come out — there are still numerous accounts of forced entry and cases of men being shot in their beds next to their wives.

The raids and attendant sweeping arrests have become the primary complaint of rural communities, human rights officials say. When Lt. Col. Aziz Ahmad took up a new job as police chief of Shah Joy District in the southeastern province of Zabul, townspeople asked immediately what he could do to stop the night raids.

Reports of innocents arrested and beaten, of wives killed, even of pregnant woman butchered to remove the evidence, abound. Even if only one in five raids is mistargeted then the understandable outrage generated has knock-on effects that soon outweigh any possible military benefits. Effects like this today:

An Afghan guard opened fire and shot dead two NATO troops accompanying a reconstruction convoy traveling in a northern province today.  The shooting took place in the Darah district of Panjshir province, about 62 miles north of the capital, Kabul, according to provincial police chief Gen. Mohammad Qasim Jangalbagh.  The police chief said the guard, who goes by the name Amanullah, was standing outside his home when the convoy passed by. He stopped the convoy, started arguing with the NATO troops and then opened fire, Jangalbagh said. A third coalition service member was wounded in the shooting.  Jangalbagh said another NATO service member fired back and killed Amanullah.

…More than 70 people have been killed incidents involving Afghan security forces, or attackers disguised as security personnel, who have turned their weapons against Afghan or NATO troops since September 2007.  Such incidents have become more common over time. Out of about 25 attacks, nearly half took place in 2011.

Or like this:

According to United Nations and Afghan government estimates, night raids caused more than half of the nearly 600 civilian deaths attributable to coalition forces in 2009.

Those raids, which also violate the sanctity of the Afghan home, have become the primary Afghan grievance against the U.S. military. As long ago as May 2007, Carlotta Gall and David Sanger described in the New York Times how night raids had provoked an entire village in Herat province to become so angry with the U.S. military that men began carrying out military operations against it.

Or like this:

A quiet city in the north of Afghanistan ignited today after yet another NATO night raid reportedly tore another family apart. Thousands of people took to the streets, again chanting, "Death to America!" as they pelted Karzai's billboards with mud and stones. They attacked police. They attacked the local NATO outpost. At least a dozen people were killed in the clash, which showed local rage directed at every level of the U.S.-led counterinsurgency strategy, from the local security forces, to our corrupt and feckless local "partners" in the Karzai government, to the U.S. itself.

As experts like Matt Aikins, Giles Dorronsoro, Antonio Giustozzi, Anatol Lieven, Nir Rosen and Alex Strick van Linschoten put it, in their open letter to Obama last December:

What was supposed to be a population-centred strategy is now a full-scale military campaign causing civilian casualties and destruction of property. Night raids have become the main weapon to eliminate suspected Taliban, but much of the Afghan population sees these methods as illegitimate. Due to the violence of the military operations, we are losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Pashtun countryside, with a direct effect on the sustainability of the war. These measures, beyond their debatable military results, foster grievance. … The losses of the insurgency are compensated by new recruits who are often more radical than their predecessors.

The military campaign is suppressing, locally and temporarily, the symptoms of the disease, but fails to offer a cure.

In fact, the end result of all these night raids, as opposed to negotiating a peace settlement, seems to be to perpetuate a war that is not in Afghanistan's interest and no longer, by a long chalk, in anyone's interests in the U.S. other than careerist generals and DoD budgeteers. 

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on July 8th, 2011

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy


Rep. Conyers’ amendment to prohibit funds for ground troops in Libya, “unless the purpose of such deployment is solely to rescue members of the United States Armed Forces”, was approved by voice vote!

Rep. Lee’s amendment to cut funds for the war in Afghanistan failed by 97-322. Find out how your member voted here.

Rep. Kucinich-Amash amendment to cut all funds for the war in Libya failed by 199-229. Find out how your member voted here.

The Defense Appropriations bill as a whole was passed 336-87.

Below is a list of votes on other amendments to the Defense Appropriations bill relevant to the wars and Pentagon spending, provided by Council for a Livable World.


Rep. Cole (R-OK) amdt: “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used by the Department of Defense to furnish military equipment, military training or advice, or other support for military activities, to any group or individual, not part of a country’s armed forces, for the purpose of assisting that group or individual in carrying out military activities in or against Libya.”
Approved 225-201

Rep. Gohmert (R-TX) amdt: Limits spending on Libya operations. None of the funds made available by this Act may be obligated, expended, or used in any manner to support military operations, including NATO or United Nations operations in Libya or in Libya’s airspace.
Defeated 162-265

Libya and War Powers: Offered by Sherman (D-CA): bars spending that violates the War Powers Act, which, according to Sherman, would limit the Administration from spending on any military activities not currently underway. On June 13, the House voted 248-163 for a similar Sherman (D-CA) amendment to the Military Construction appropriations bill.
Approved 316-111

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Posted by The Agonist on July 7th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

The Nation, By Robert Dreyfuss, July 6

Maybe Afghanistan’s politics is so dysfunctional and broken by war that it’s too much to expect any of it to make sense. But it seems to me that then United Nations is on the wrong side of the current fight to the death between President Karzai and Afghanistan’s parliament.

In case you haven’t been following the news: last year’s parliamentary election was so chaotic and flawed that it resulted in the near-total disenfranchisement of Afghanistan’s Pashtun ethnic minority, which makes up a healthy 40 percent of the population. Many Pashtuns either didn’t vote, because of sympathy or support for the Taliban and dislike of the Afghan government, or couldn’t vote, because of Taliban threats and violence. As a result, in some provinces in the south and east where Pashtuns dominate, not a single Pashtun was elected to parliament. For Karzai, that was a disaster, especially since he’s trying to reach out to his Pashtun base as part of his search for a deal with the Taliban and its allies. Earlier this year, a special court appointed by Karzai ruled that sixty-two members of parliament, mostly non-Pashtuns, were elected fraudulently, a step toward installing Pashtun members in their place. Not surprisingly, Karzai’s opponents in parliament, especially Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras who oppose Karzai’s outreach to the Taliban, cried foul, challenged the constitutionality of the court, and demanded the impeachment of Karzai.

If the war in Afghanistan ever made any sense at all, this stuff makes it clear that it’s close to hopeless. It also underscores the urgent importance of US efforts to find a political settlement that brings both Pashtuns and the Taliban into a deal and which mollifies the non-Pashtun groups that make up the old Northern Alliance, and who are rearming in the north to fight the Taliban if and when a deal begins to emerge.

Yesterday, the two sides actually came to blows in parliament! The government has all but ceased functioning, a constitutional crisis looms, and there are worries about armed factions relaunching the civil war that plagued the country in the early 1990s. It’s that bad. Members of parliament have started carrying guns.

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Posted by alexthurston on July 7th, 2011

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.

Dick Cheney got one (as secretary of defense), so did Donald Rumsfeld (back in 1977), not to speak of Henry Kissinger, Robert McNamara, Walt Rostow, and General H. Norman Schwartzkopf (for Gulf War I).  Of course, so did Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, and (posthumously) César Chávez, not to speak of Estée Lauder.  President George W. Bush hit the trifecta in a single ceremony, awarding one to General Tommy Franks (who commanded U.S. forces in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and who, the president said, “led the forces that fought and won two wars in the defense of the world’s security and helped liberate more than 50 million people from two of the worst tyrannies in the world”), another to George Tenet (who oversaw the CIA through the torture and black-sites era), and a third to L. Paul Bremer III (the American proconsul in Baghdad during our ill-fated occupation of Iraq, whom the president praised for “work[ing] day and night in difficult and dangerous conditions to stabilize the country, to help its people rebuild and to establish a political process that would lead to justice and liberty”).  More recently, Barack Obama bestowed one on former British Prime Minister (and Iraq War enthusiast) Tony Blair and, in a surprise move barely a week ago, to “one of the nation’s finest public servants,” retiring Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

I’m talking, of course, about America’s highest civilian honor (even if it can be awarded to generals), the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  The Gates award was bestowed unexpectedly at a Pentagon retirement ceremony for the Secretary of Defense who, visibly moved, ad libbed, “It is a big surprise. But we should have known a couple of months ago that you’re getting pretty good at this covert ops stuff.”  It was the same week that unnamed “American officials” leaked the latest covert ops news to the New York Times — that “the clandestine American military campaign to combat al-Qaeda’s franchise in Yemen is expanding to fight the Islamist militancy in Somalia” and that a U.S. drone aircraft had attacked militants there for the first time since 2009.  Consider this the seventh war the Obama administration is now pursuing in the Greater Middle East.

Of course, some American “warriors” just naturally deserve medals, just as some have carte blanche to leak information about secret or “clandestine” U.S. operations without fear of penalty; others get nothing but trouble for their patriotic leaking activities.  Such is the case of Army Private Bradley Manning whose sad saga Chase Madar continues to cover for (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Madar discusses the Manning case, click here, or download it to your iPod here.) Tom

Bradley Manning, American Hero
Four Reasons Why Pfc. Bradley Manning Deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Not a Prison Cell
By Chase Madar

We still don’t know if he did it or not, but if Bradley Manning, the 24-year-old Army private from Oklahoma, actually supplied WikiLeaks with its choicest material — the Iraq War logs, the Afghan War logs, and the State Department cables — which startled and riveted the world, then he deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom instead of a jail cell at Fort Leavenworth.

President Obama recently gave one of those medals to retiring Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who managed the two bloody, disastrous wars about which the WikiLeaks-released documents revealed so much.  Is he really more deserving than the young private who, after almost ten years of mayhem and catastrophe, gave Americans — and the world — a far fuller sense of what our government is actually doing abroad?

Bradley Manning, awaiting a court martial in December, faces the prospect of long years in prison.  He is charged with violating the Espionage Act of 1917.  He has put his sanity and his freedom on the line so that Americans might know what our government has done — and is still doing — globally.  He has blown the whistle on criminal violations of American military law.  He has exposed our secretive government’s pathological over-classification of important public documents.

Here are four compelling reasons why, if he did what the government accuses him of doing, he deserves that medal, not jail time.

1: At great personal cost, Bradley Manning has given our foreign policy elite the public supervision it so badly needs.

In the past 10 years, American statecraft has moved from calamity to catastrophe, laying waste to other nations while never failing to damage our own national interests.  Do we even need to be reminded that our self-defeating response to 9/11 in Iraq and Afghanistan (and Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia) has killed roughly 225,000 civilians and 6,000 American soldiers, while costing our country more than $3.2 trillion?  We are hemorrhaging blood and money.  Few outside Washington would argue that any of this is making America safer.

An employee who screwed up this badly would either be fired on the spot or put under heavy supervision.  Downsizing our entire foreign policy establishment is not an option.  However, the website WikiLeaks has at least tried to make public scrutiny of our self-destructive statesmen and -women a reality by exposing their work to ordinary citizens.

Consider our invasion of Iraq, a war based on distortions, government secrecy, and the complaisant failure of our major media to ask the important questions.  But what if someone like Bradley Manning had provided the press with the necessary government documents, which would have made so much self-evident in the months before the war began?  Might this not have prevented disaster?  We’ll never know, of course, but could additional public scrutiny have been salutary under the circumstances?

Thanks to Bradley Manning’s alleged disclosures, we do have a sense of what did happen afterwards in Iraq and Afghanistan, and just how the U.S. operates in the world.  Thanks to those disclosures, we now know just how Washington leaned on the Vatican to quell opposition to the Iraq War and just how it pressured the Germans to prevent them from prosecuting CIA agents who kidnapped an innocent man and shipped him off to be tortured abroad.

As our foreign policy threatens to careen into yet more disasters in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, and Libya, we can only hope that more whistleblowers will follow the alleged example of Bradley Manning and release vital public documents before it’s too late.  A foreign policy based on secrets and spin has manifestly failed us.  In a democracy, the workings of our government should not be shrouded in an opaque cloud of secrecy.  For bringing us the truth, for breaking the seal on that self-protective policy of secrecy, Bradley Manning deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

2: Knowledge is powerful.  The WikiLeaks disclosures have helped spark democratic revolutions and reforms across the Middle East, accomplishing what Operation Iraqi Freedom never could.

Wasn’t it American policy to spread democracy in the Middle East, to extend our freedom to others, as both recent American presidents have insisted?

No single American has done more to help further this goal than Pfc. Bradley Manning.  The chain reaction of democratic protests and uprisings that has swept Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, and even in a modest way Iraq, all began in Tunisia, where leaked U.S. State Department cables about the staggering corruption of the ruling Ben Ali dynasty helped trigger the rebellion.  In all cases, these societies were smoldering with longstanding grievances against oppressive, incompetent governments and economies stifled by cronyism.  The revelations from the WikiLeaks State Department documents played a widely acknowledged role in sparking these pro-democracy uprisings.

In Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, and Yemen, the people’s revolts under way have occurred despite U.S. support for their autocratic rulers.  In each of these nations, in fact, we bankrolled the dictators, while helping to arm and train their militaries. The alliance with Mubarak’s autocratic state cost the U.S. more than $60 billion and did nothing for American security — other than inspire terrorist blowback from radicalized Egyptians like Mohammad Atta and Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Even if U.S. policy was firmly on the wrong side of things, we should be proud that at least one American — Bradley Manning — was on the right side.  If indeed he gave those documents to WikiLeaks, then he played a catalytic role in bringing about the Arab Spring, something neither Barack Obama nor former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (that recent surprise recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom) could claim.  Perhaps once the Egyptians consolidate their democracy, they, too, will award Manning their equivalent of such a medal.

3: Bradley Manning has exposed the pathological over-classification of America’s public documents.

“Secrecy is for losers,” as the late Senator and United Nations Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to say.  If this is indeed the case, it would be hard to find a bigger loser than the U.S. government.

How pathological is our government’s addiction to secrecy?  In June, the National Security Agency declassified documents from 1809, while the Department of Defense only last month declassified the Pentagon Papers, publicly available in book form these last four decades.  Our government is only just now finishing its declassification of documents relating to World War I.

This would be ridiculous if it weren’t tragic.  Ask the historians.  Barton J. Bernstein, professor emeritus of history at Stanford University and a founder of its international relations program, describes the government’s classification of foreign-policy documents as “bizarre, arbitrary, and nonsensical.”  George Herring, professor emeritus at the University of Kentucky and author of the encyclopedic From Colony to Superpower: A History of U.S. Foreign Policy, has chronicled how his delight at being appointed to a CIA advisory panel on declassification turned to disgust once he realized that he was being used as window dressing by an agency with no intention of opening its records, no matter how important or how old, to public scrutiny.

Any historian worth his salt would warn us that such over-classification is a leading cause of national amnesia and repetitive war disorder.  If a society like ours doesn’t know its own history, it becomes the great power equivalent of a itinerant amnesiac, not knowing what it did yesterday or where it will end up tomorrow.  Right now, classification is the disease of Washington, secrecy its mania, and dementia its end point.  As an ostensibly democratic nation, we, its citizens, risk such ignorance at our national peril.

President Obama came into office promising a “sunshine” policy for his administration while singing the praises of whistleblowers.  He has since launched the fiercest campaign against whistleblowers the republic has ever seen, and further plunged our foreign policy into the shadows.  Challenging the classification of each tightly guarded document is, however, impossible.  No organization has the resources to fight this fight, nor would they be likely to win right now.  Absent a radical change in our government’s diplomatic and military bureaucracies, massive over-classification will only continue.

If we hope to know what our government is actually doing in our name globally, we need massive leaks from insider whistleblowers to journalists who can then sort out what we need to know, given that the government won’t.  This, in fact, has been the modus operandi of WikiLeaks.  Our whistleblower protection laws urgently need to catch up to this state of affairs, and though we are hardly there yet, Bradley Manning helped take us part of the way.  He did what Barack Obama swore he would do on coming into office.  For striking a blow against our government’s fanatical insistence on covering its mistakes and errors with blanket secrecy, Bradley Manning deserves not punishment, but the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

4. At immense personal cost, Bradley Manning has upheld a great American tradition of transparency in statecraft and for that he should be an American hero, not an American felon.

Bradley Manning is only the latest in a long line of whistleblowers in and out of uniform who have risked everything to put our country back on the right path.

Take Daniel Ellsberg, leaker of the Pentagon Papers, a Pentagon-commissioned secret history of the Vietnam War and the official lies and distortions that the government used to sell it.  Many of the documents it included were classed at a much higher security clearance than anything Bradley Manning is accused of releasing — and yet Ellsberg was not convicted of a single crime and became a national hero.

Given the era when all this went down, it’s forgivable to assume that Ellsberg must have been a hippie who somehow sneaked into the Pentagon archives, beads and patchouli trailing behind him.  What many no longer realize is that Ellsberg had been a model U.S. Marine.  First in his class at officer training school at Quantico, he deferred graduate school at Harvard to remain on active duty in the Marine Corps.  Ellsberg saw his high-risk exposure of the disastrous and deceitful nature of the Vietnam War as fully consonant with his long career of patriotic service in and out of uniform.

And Ellsberg is hardly alone.  Ask Lt. Colonel (ret.) Darrel Vandeveld.  Or Tom Drake, formerly of the National Security Agency.

Transparency in statecraft was not invented last week by WikiLeaks creator Julian Assange.  It is a longstanding American tradition.  James Madison put the matter succinctly: “A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps both.”

A 1960 Congressional Committee on Government Operations report caught the same spirit: “Secrecy — the first refuge of incompetents — must be at a bare minimum in a democratic society… Those elected or appointed to positions of executive authority must recognize that government, in a democracy, cannot be wiser than the people.”  John F. Kennedy made the same point in 1961: “The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society.”  Hugo Black, great Alabaman justice of the twentieth-century Supreme Court had this to say: “The guarding of military and diplomatic secrets at the expense of informed representative government provides no real security for our Republic.”  And the first of World-War-I-era president Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Points couldn’t have been more explicit: “Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.”

We need to know what our government’s commitments are, as our foreign policy elites have clearly demonstrated they cannot be left to their own devices.  Based on the last decade of carnage and folly, without public debate — and aggressive media investigations — we have every reason to expect more of the same.

If there’s anything to learn from that decade, it’s that government secrecy and lies come at a very high price in blood and money.  Thanks to the whistleblowing revelations attributed to Bradley Manning, we at least have a far clearer picture of the problems we face in trying to supervise our own government.  If he was the one responsible for the WikiLeaks revelations, then for his gift to the republic, purchased at great price, he deserves not prison, but a Presidential Medal of Freedom and the heartfelt gratitude of his country.

Chase Madar is a lawyer in New York and a frequent contributor to the London Review of Books, the American Conservative magazine,, and Le Monde Diplomatique.  His next book, The Passion of Bradley Manning, will be published by O/R Books this fall.  He is covering the Bradley Manning case and trial for TomDispatch.comTo listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Madar discusses the Manning case, click here, or download it to your iPod here.

Copyright 2011 Chase Madar

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Posted by Peace Action West on July 6th, 2011

From our partners at Peace Action West

Our pressure on Congress is working. And because people like you are making their voice heard, this week we have a shot at letting the president know that opposition to the war isn’t going away.

Last week, when President Obama announced his disappointing plan to continue the war in Afghanistan indefinitely, members of Congress from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin criticized the plan and vowed to push for a better one.

Now with the House preparing to vote on the $649 billion Pentagon budget, several of our congressional allies are lining up amendments aimed at blocking or cutting funding for the war in Afghanistan. Click here to tell your representative to support those amendments.

The Pentagon’s 2012 budget includes nearly $119 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) plans to offer an amendment to cut all funding for the war in Afghanistan except the money needed to fund a responsible withdrawal by the end of 2012. Other representatives will offer amendments to cut military spending.

Click here now to let Congress know that they must keep working to end the war.

A new report by a group of economists and political scientists put the cost of the war since 9/11 at 225,000 lives and $4 trillion. If we want to turn this around, we can’t stop working now, and neither can our representatives in Congress.

Thank you for taking action.

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Posted by on July 5th, 2011

From our partners at

By Dave Anderson:

Just two notes about all the happy talk in Afghanistan.

The first is from the Globe and Mail:

While foreign forces have come under few attacks in recent weeks in Panjwai, the traditional hot-weather fighting season this year is more violent than last year’s when combined Afghan and NATO troop levels were just reaching their peak.

As in previous years, Afghan civilians are the primary victims and Afghan government officials the Taliban’s avowed prime targets.

In the first five months of the year, the number of violent incidents in the province increased by 34 percent compared to the same period last year, according to an analysis by the security company, Indicium Consulting. Incidents, in its analysis, include shootings, suicide bombings and attempted and successful roadside bombs.

Another group that tracks insurgent violence, the Afghan NGO Safety office, reported this week that attacks by insurgents this summer across Afghanistan have already surpassed the 2010 peak.

So higher levels of violence and attacks are occurring despite Peak Foreign Forces being reached to "clear" while the ANA and ANP are supposed to "build" themselves up to "hold" newly "liberated" territory from local miltias and Taliban insurgent groups.

And now from Danger Room:

The air war is back, according to U.S. military statistics, and in a major way. During Petraeus’ year on the job, coalition warplanes fired their weapons and dropped their bombs on 5,831 sorties. It’s a 65 percent increase from the 3,510 attack runs flown in the previous 12 months. And there’s no sign of a let-up. There were 554 lethal flights in June, compared to about 450 each in June of 2009 and 2008.

It’s yet another sign that the “population-centric” counterinsurgency strategy, popularized by Petraeus and executed almost too faithfully by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is being phased out in Afghanistan. Instead, the focus is on taking individual militants off the battlefield; “counterterrorism,” in military parlance.

And we are doing this, on the whole, to settle local disputes and political score-settling. Why not get the hell out and let the Afghans settle the score as the US funds something that resembles localized reconstruction instead of the Karzai syndicate's retirement villas on the Riveria.

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on July 5th, 2011

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

Call Script

1. Call your Representative at 1-888-231-9276.
2. Ask for your Representative by name. If you don’t know who your Representative is, you can find out here.
2. When you reach your Representative’s office, ask to speak to the staff person who handles foreign policy, or ask for the foreign policy staff person by name, if you know it. If this person is not available, leave your message with the person who answered the phone.
3. Tell them: “I urge you to support the Lee amendment to end the war in Afghanistan, the Kucinich-Amash amendment to end the war in Libya, and the Conyers amendment to ban ground troops in Libya.”
4. After you make your call, take a moment to tell us how your call went by leaving a comment on this blog post. You can also report back on Twitter by tweeting us @justfp.

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