Tear gas is NOT nonlethal: ways to resist US tear gas shipments

Five years ago today, Tristan Anderson, from Oakland, California was critically wounded in the Palestinian village of Ni’lin after Israeli forces shot him in the head with a high-powered tear-gas canister as Israeli forces attacked a demonstration against the construction of the annexation wall through the village of Ni’lin’s land. 

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Berkin Elvan

Since Tuesday, Turkey has once again been filled with popular protest against government repression following the death and funeral of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan, who suffered a blow to the head from a tear gas canister during last summer’s Gezi Park uprising while he was buying bread in Istanbul. He had been in a coma since last June. People in the streets yesterday in protests that erupted in 32 towns were met yet again with a massive amount of tear gas and pepper spray.

The Facing Tear Gas campaign stands in solidarity with the people of Palestine and Turkey in their struggle against repression and militarization and the friends and family of activists who have been killed or injured while supporting these struggles. We wonder how many people will be hurt and killed before we stop calling tear gas a “nonlethal” weapon? In the way of offering something concrete, though small, to these movements, we send a reminder about US government support to repressive regimes globally and ways to resist tear gas and other weapons shipments from inside the US, since US tear gas has been used against people around the world, including in Palestine and Turkey.

Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly in 2013, President Obama said, “The United States will at times work with governments that do not meet, at least in our view, the highest international expectations but who work with us on our core interests.” The US government gives military aid to governments and regimes, regardless of their human rights record, if it’s in the best interests of the state. No surprise there.

What you might not know is the link between the US weapons manufacturers and the US government and how tear gas and other weapons get from the US into the hands of other repressive governments throughout the world.

We compiled some of the trusted research that has been done about US tear gas shipments for a quick guide to US tear gas shipments and possible ways to resist. Thanks goes to our friends with Adalah-NY and the Global Justice Working Group of Occupy Wall Street and to journalists Anjali Kamat and Nicole Salazar for the bulk of this information. The “how to resist” section comes out of our 2 years of work on this issue through the Facing Tear Gas campaign.

How does tear gas get from American manufacturers to various governments overseas?

You could see it as a sort of triangular relationship between the U.S. government, U.S. corporations, and other governments. These three points are always involved. One thing to emphasize here is the complicity between state and corporate interests: government policies actively work in war profiteers’ favor.

Here are some of the ways by which tear gas moves from manufacturers to clients in different countries. The U.S. government’s role usually consists of one or more of the following: authorizing a sale, arranging a sale, subsidizing it, or funding it directly with taxpayer money:

First, some tear gas is transferred between governments through Foreign Military Sales, overseen by the Pentagon. The State Dept. can approve, reject, or halt any purchase. In 2012, the fiscal year racked up $69.1 billion in foreign military sales, including massive sales to the Israeli and Egyptian governments. The amount of military hardware shipped to Egypt actually increased in 2013.

Second, through Foreign Military Financing, another form of US military aid, The U.S. government does more than just approve sales. American taxpayers directly finance foreign governments’ purchases of U.S. military products via “military aid”—essentially grants and loans to foreign governments for arms purchases. In most cases, financing is available only for the sale of U.S.-made products. So, in effect, these are taxpayer-financed subsidies of private weapons manufacturers and defense contractors. In some exceptions, a recipient country can use the a limited portion of the aid to fund purchases of its own domestic products–this is the case with Israel. In 2007, the Bush Administration and the Israeli government agreed to a 10-year, $30 billion military aid package spanning from Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 to Fiscal Year 2018. During his March 2013 visit to Israel, President Obama pledged that the United States would continue to provide Israel with multi-year commitments of military aid subject to the approval of Congress Israel currently receives $3.1 billion annually in Foreign Military Financing.

Finally, there are purchases negotiated directly between the client country and the manufacturer, though Direct Commercial Sales (DCS). The U.S. State Department approves each and every one of these. Compared to Foreign Military Sales (FMS), this route is usually quicker, sometimes cheaper and always entails less government oversight. In addition, the State Department is much less transparent about DCS than the Pentagon is about FMS. Minimal information about price and quantity is classified as “confidential business information” and kept from the public. This secrecy undermines the ability of Congress and the interested press and public to exercise proper oversight on industry-direct arms transfers. The existence of these two separate programs also makes gaining an accurate count of arms exports in a given year exceedingly difficult. This is the best information we have: The top DCS totals for fiscal 2009: Egypt ($458,000 for tear gas and other riot control agents, $101 million total); Israel ($1.05 million for tear gas and other riot control agents, $602.6 million total); and Kuwait ($1.24 million for tear gas and other riot control agents, $923 million total).

Even when it’s a commercial sale, tear gas (like any other weapon) is subject to export controls, so U.S.-made tear gas cannot be shipped abroad without government approval.

What are the US companies behind the tear gas industry?

Combined Systems Inc. (CSI):
Combined Systems Inc. (CSI) calls Jamestown, Pennsylvania home. Often marketed and produced under the brand name Combined Tactical Systems (CTS), they provide tear gas to the governments of Argentina, East Timor, Cameroon, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Netherlands, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Sierra Leone and most prominently Israel and Egypt. They say that their “OC Vapor System is ideal for forcing subjects from small rooms, attics, crawl spaces, prison cells.”

AMTEC Less-Lethal Systems Inc. (ALS):
AMTEC Less-Lethal Systems Inc. (ALS) (Formerly ALS Technologies Inc.) is based in Bull Shoals, Arkansas (to be moving to Taylor County, Florida in early 2014.) It is a subsidiary of National Presto Industries, which produces kitchen appliances and is especially known for its pressure cooker. Evidence of tear gas canisters it makes has been found in Puduraya, Malaysia.

Defense Technology/Safariland/Federal Laboratories:
Defense Technology and Federal Laboratories merged in 2001. They are owned by the umbrella company Safariland. Safariland was owned by UK weapons conglomerate BAE systems, which owns some 400 other companies, before it was bought by war profiteer Warren B. Kanders (though the sale was held up by the sentencing of a former Safariland executive for bribing government officials in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East in order to secure business). Safariland-made tear gas has been used against people in Egypt, United States, Bahrain, Palestine, Canada, Tunisia, Yemen, Mexico, Turkey, Venezuela among other places.

Nonlethal Technologies:
Nonlethal Technologies is based in Homer City, Pennsylvania. Its tear gas canisters were a regularly used weapon against the uprising in Bahrain until they were forced to stop direct sales or export by an international campaign. Nonlethal Technologies tear gas has been used in Bahrain, Greece and Turkey.

Sage Ordnance Systems Group:
Sage Ordnance Systems Group (Sage International, Ltd. and Sage Control Ordnance) is headquartered in Oscoda, Michigan. Their weapons are used in the United States, among other places.

What are ways to resist US tear gas shipments?

  • Organize targeted actions against the people and companies invested in tear gas production. Kona brand bicycles, for example, is one small US consumer-based company that has chosen to continue to partner with Safariland.
  • Pressure potentially sympathetic members of Congress to call for the implementation of the Leahy Law, which halts military aid to police units that fail to live up to human rights standards.
  • Stop the shipments, either through campaigning for export controls through putting pressure on Congress and/or working with port workers to organize a blockade and/or picket line at the ports where tear gas is shipped abroad. In terms of recent tear gas shipments, the shipping ports have been those of Wilmington, NC and New York & New Jersey.
  • Research the Port of Oakland to see if they ship tear gas and get in touch with Facing Tear Gas with what you find out! Email us at facingteargas@warresisters.org with any questions or go to facingteargas.org.

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Historic Protest Settlement from 2004 RNC: WRL Speaks

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Ruth Benn of the WRL NYC – Local at the settlement press conference January, 15th, 2014. Photo by New York Civil Liberties Union.

Yesterday’s historic settlement awarded to protesters at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City was the largest in U.S. history – and many a WRL’er was in the mix! At the press conference, Ed Hedemann of the WRL – NYC local said: “The government can place FBI agents behind every mailbox and cops behind every potted plant but we will not be intimidated by their efforts to crush dissent and muzzle opposition to its policies.” The New York Civil Liberties Union and National Lawyers Guild – NYC had doggedly pursued this case, representing more than 1,600 individuals.

Another arrestee – among hundreds and hundreds detained by the NYPD that day – was Francesca Fiorentini, who was documenting the WRL contingent. Her reaction to the settlement? “It’s a victory but it came far too late. The damage to the rights of free speech and assembly are done, and the city has not admitted any legal wrongdoing. The settlement money shouldn’t come from the city, it should come from Bloomberg and police commissioner Ray Kelly’s personal wealth. As activists we have to make sure that these critical first amendment rights are never again taken away.” Well said!

The War at Home and Abroad: Police Militarization and Anti-War Movement

 

On Wednesday, December 4th, 2013, Ali Issa, national field organizer with War Resisters League, spoke at an event called “The War Here and Abroad: CUNY and U.S. Empire” at CUNY’s Graduate Center in NYC. The City University of New York – one of the largest public university systems in the U.S. – has been witness to increasing anti-war organizing, sparked partly by the return of military recruiting at some CUNY schools, the hiring of David Petraeus – key General in the U.S.’ Iraq and Afghanistan occupations – as a guest lecturer, and harsh crackdown of protesters mobilizing against this and more. Here Ali discusses the skyrocketing militarization of the police in the US, how it relates to uprisings around the world, and what WRL’s Facing Tear Gas campaign [facingteargas.org] is doing to support a broad alliance of groups to stop this process in its tracks.

On the Ground in Turkey: Repression Gets Personal

Anakara, Tukey - The Old City (Image ©RM)

Ankara, Turkey – The Old City (Image ©RM)

(Originally posted on the Facing Tear Gas website November 28th, 2013.)

After the mass escalation of anti-government protest this past late May in Turkey, events there have fallen out of the headlines. But mobilization and repression continue. This past November 23rd for example, the Turkish police cracked-down hard on a teacher’s demonstration in Ankara called for by the progressive union Eğitim-Sen against the privatization of schools. This violence led to a teacher, Asli Akdemir, suffering cerebral trauma from the impact of a tear gas canister.

To better get an idea of what’s happening on the ground in Turkey, the Facing Tear Gas campaign recently spoke with two Turkish activists – one in Istanbul and the other in New York City. They both talked about the government’s recent move to break up organizing before it even gets to the street, by monitoring and raiding the homes of youth and students. They have used mixed-gender housing as a justification, portraying the lifestyles of youth as immoral. This is echoed when Interior Minister Guler takes it further saying that student housing is “home to terrorist or illegal organizations.” Below is what Cihan Tekay, a PhD Candidate in Cultural Anthropology at CUNY Graduate Center, had to say.

Facing Tear Gas (FTG): After the intense police crackdown of protests around Gezi park and beyond this past summer, how is repression evolving in Turkey?

Cihan Tekay (CT): It is expanding into the private sphere. One way the Turkish government is doing this is to push for policy changes in terms of student housing – couched in language that it wants to provide more. In Turkey most Universities are public, tuition costs are minimal and housing is free. But many cannot make it in so students get into groups and rent together from very predatory landlords.

Now the Prime Minister is saying that this is a housing problem, but it’s also a moral issue. Young men and women are living together because we can’t provide them with housing and we need to control these places. So they started cracking down on student housing in private apartments and telling people to report on students who are living in a mixed gendered situation.

These are the houses in which people live and organize. For example, in Istanbul – near Taksim Square – there are some poor, increasingly gentrified neighborhoods, where students have lived traditionally. During the Gezi protests, that’s where a lot of the confrontations with the police and students happened. Protesters would buzz the apartments so they could flee from the police. And that’s where they would stay when they weren’t camping out. My friend’s flat is where a lot of organizing happened.

They also know that these are places where people build solidarity – the student culture – where people live as a community. The rhetoric of morality is what they are using to attack this culture. For weeks now they have been targeting individual apartments even though they have no legal right to do so.

FTG: How is this connected to the way youth in Turkey are treated in general?

CT: That’s an important question because Turkey has a history of seeing students and young people as basically criminal. If you think of “Stop and Frisk” here in NYC, it is similar. If you are young and dress like a student, and are anything from middle class to poor – you will get stopped. Here you have to be Black or Latino, but there you just have to be young. So what’s outrageous here is normal to us. Because that’s our everyday. We already have a culture where being young and looking a certain way – jeans, a long hair, an earring – means that you are a leftist.

It happens to people all the time. But now it is shifting, the constant surveillance and criminalization of students and young people is now in the private sphere. Where people live. They are attacking the roots of where they think this dissent culture comes from.

FTG: How have young people responded to this wave of attacks?

CT: Well, the majority of street battles are now in Ankara, around various issues, and the movement elsewhere, such as in Istanbul has focused its energies on releasing key organizers from detention and raising money for medical care of the injured.

One key connection though has been a return of humor. Satirical graphics, videos and tweets that take on the moral claim of Erdogan’s apartment surveillance and raids. Like when @burakozorus tweeted: “I saw some people at the wedding. I swear they were boys and girls sitting together. I called and told on them”. The hashtag #WeAreGirlsAndBoysStayingInTheSameHouse reminded us of the massive creative outpouring this past Summer.

War Resisters League: Drop the Charges Against Rasmea Odeh

ImageOn the morning of October 22nd, 2013 agents of the Department of Homeland Security – acting on on behalf of federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Michigan – arrested Rasmea Yousef Odeh, associate director of the Arab American Action Network and founder of the its Arab Women’s Committee. Based in Chicago, Odeh (who has lived in the US for 20 years and is a US citizen), was charged with “immigration fraud” which authorities claim occurred when she neglected to mention her 1968 arrest in Palestine on her 1994 US immigration application. If convicted, she faces up to 10 years in prison and the possibility of deportation.

War Resisters League condemns in the strongest terms the indictment of Odeh, a long-time Palestinian and Arab American community leader. In addition to the ways that her and many others’ right to freedom have been generally targeted by the criminalization of immigrants in the US, Odeh’s arrest poses other serious questions – such as why the US government feels the need to open a nearly 20-year immigration file at this particular moment. Also problematic is the fact that her original arrest in Palestine was made by a notoriously unjust Israeli criminal court system – which then oversaw her brutal torture while she was in detention. War Resisters International, an international secular nonviolence network affiliated with sections on six continents, will continue to closely monitor this situation. 

Our belief in supporting organizing within communities under attack – such as the crucial work for Arab empowerment and women’s rights Odeh was undertaking in Chicago – compels us to place this case in a broader context. Part of that context understands that our enormous prison industrial complex, complete with over 100 political prisoners and prisoners of conscience behind bars, is becoming more and more integrated with the military industrial complex to spread violence across our society. This is not only part of the continuing campaign to monitor and harass Arabs, Muslims and Palestinians in the US, but is also a targeted attack against organizers and progressive leaders in those communities.  We understand the targeting of these community leaders as part of a larger system of state repression aimed at policing protest and dissent to the status quo–one of the key forces behind mass incarceration.

We demand that all charges be dropped immediately and unconditionally! Free all political prisoners!

War Resisters League

What you can do:

What happens when 100 SWAT teams come together?

On Friday, October 25th, more than 100 police and military agencies from California and across the US were joined by their counterparts from Israel, Guam, Bahrain, and Brazil for a massive SWAT team training and weapons expo called Urban Shield. The Facing Urban Shield Action Network, with more than 30 endorsers in the Bay Area, showed up to challenge this convergence and the militarization of police.

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A press conference on Friday included family members of people who have been killed by police, including Dionne Smith-Downs, the mother of James Rivera Jr., who was 16-years-old when he was killed by police in Stockton, CA in 2010 with an assault rifle. Smith-Downs said, “They used an AR-15 assault rifle to kill my son. That’s a military weapon right there. And that has got to stop.” Rivera’s father, Carey Downs, added, “They shot at my son 38 times, 18 into his body. They are using military weapons on our kids in our community—we need to take a lot more action. We are not just fighting for our son but for all of our kids.”

While in Oakland, WRL’s Facing Tear Gas campaign organizers confronted our campaign target, Safariland, whose subsidiary – Defense Technology – has shipped tear gas and other “crowd control” weapons to the governments of Israel, Turkey, Canada, Bahrain, and Mexico, as well as to police forces around the US. Safariland tear gas was used to violently disperse activists at the Occupy Oakland encampment two years ago.

Our rally in front of the Marriott Hotel, host to Urban Shield in downtown Oakland, was followed by a march to Oscar Grant Plaza where Facing Urban Shield supporters joined with Occupy Oakland to mark the second anniversary of the Oakland Police Department crackdown and raid of their encampment.

Press coverage:

Al Jazeera America

Common Dreams

Waging Nonviolence

Salon

Real News Network

KPFA Hard Knock Radio

KPFA News

Daily Kos

Disarmament Activist

Oakland Local

East Bay Express

Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner

Dispatches from the Underclass

Sandhya Jha

RT

Aboriginal Press

Occupy Oakland

Opposing Views

IndyBay

Twitchy

Mercury News Photos

CBS Local

Contra Costa Times

ABC KGO Channel 7

CBS

Oakland Tribune/InsideBayArea

KTVU Channel 2

NBC Bay Area

KTXL Fox 40

Against intervention in Syria by a friend in Lebanon

by Zayd Sifri

Temple of Jupiter in Baalbek

Temple of Jupiter in Baalbek

I visited Lebanon for the first time more than ten years ago. The wounds of the civil war were much more visible to a visitor than they are today. In Beirut, bullet holes of varying sizes and shapes arranged randomly on the exterior of countless buildings told the story of a city that was half-pummeled into the earth during vicious battles. Now Lebanon’s neighbor Syria has fallen to a similar fate. Looking at the situation from Beirut, the hope is that new strikes do not cause Syria to fall even harder and pull Lebanon to its knees in the process.

Most of those bullet-holes in the central parts of Beirut have been cosmetically removed for the sake of promoting tourism but, if you look carefully, you can still see buildings that are covered by them. Decades of instability have been chiseled into the concrete by various factions and militias, each one backed by an external power. Lebanon is the land of proxy war. Its internal politics and conditions are heavily influenced by regional and global trends. The current war in its biggest neighbor, Syria, has not been an exception to the rule. If there is an American military strike, it will not only exacerbate violence in Syria but will also have negative consequences on the health and safety of Lebanon.

While speculation has circled around whether or not a strike will result in a wider regional conflict, there is near certainty that a strike will be harmful in Lebanon. The Syrian humanitarian and refugee crisis will undoubtedly worsen after a military strike. The fallout in Lebanon has been tremendous thus far with tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Syrians seeking refuge across the border. Lebanon’s infrastructure is ill-equipped for dealing with this human catastrophe. The Palestinian refugee camps and pre-existing informal settlements (shanty towns), which are already the most delicate and impoverished parts of the country, are now housing much of the population that has come across the border from Syria. In the past week, thousands more have already began fleeing Damascus in fear of a new military strike. Unlike in Jordan and Turkey, there are no refugee camps for Syrians in Lebanon because of decisions taken by political factions. Civil society, NGOs, and others have been doing their best to respond to the crisis, but frequently those who do not have the private means for dealing with the conditions suffer the most.

Before any news of a chemical weapons attack in Syria, August was a precarious month for Lebanon that saw an escalation in violence and tension between the main rival factions. In Beirut, a neighborhood controlled by Shia party Hezbollah was hit by a car bomb. The next week, in the northern capital Tripoli, a car bomb ripped through two Sunni mosques on a Friday. The Sunni-Shia rivalry has been defining the political landscape in Lebanon for some time. Tensions are increasing even further as both groups have allies that are fighting on opposite sides in Syria. Most Lebanese Sunni groups back some form of the opposition to the Assad regime and Shia Hezbollah supports its ally the Syrian state and Bashar Assad. In the case of a military strike, people in Lebanon will brace themselves for the possibility of fighting between Shia and Sunni groups that could evolve into an all-out war engulfing the country.

It is certain that Lebanon’s political situation will further destabilize as a result of strikes on Syria. The only question is how much it will destabilize. Will car bombings periodically occur or will all-out war flood the streets again, as it did during the brutal Lebanese civil war?

Speaking recently on the possibility of striking Syria, Susan Rice has said that the current administration does not “assess that limited military strikes will unleash a spiral of unintended escalatory reactions in the region.” In a region that’s been plagued by war for decades, this “assessment” is at best a crap-shot, but no one on this side of the Mediterranean is surprised to see politicians gambling with the lives of millions of people. Decades of unending foreign interference and the consequences of violence have hardened people’s hearts when it comes to understanding day-to-day harshness. In spite of these circumstances, optimists continue to exist and opt for the long-term perspective. Bullet-riddled buildings are made of concrete and with time they crumble. Eventually they become ruins–like the Roman temples in Baalbek today–and will mark a period among many in a long history.

American voices against war in Syria are being heard in the mainstream and people in Lebanon and elsewhere have not given up hope that there will not be military action. The recent Russian proposal to disarm Syria of its chemical weapons has been met with some acceptance in both Washington and Damascus. This diplomatic maneuver should viewed with critical eyes, but at the moment this surprise move augurs well for those who want to generate momentum against military intervention in Syria.

Zayd Sifri is a WRL supporter based in Beirut, Lebanon. In New York City, he has been involved in the Occupy Wall Street Global Justice Working Group, Turath: Arab Students Organization at Columbia University and Students for Justice in Palestine.