Category Archives: Nonviolence

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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The other “Afghanistan Report”

Whose stories are we telling about the war in Afghanistan?
 

On the day following the White House report on the war in Afghanistan that names the war as a qualified success and calls for the U.S. to “stay the course,” we must lift up the alternative stories and reports of this near-decade of occupation, including yesterday’s Veterans for Peace action at the White House.

The other “Afghanistan Report”:

The U.S.-led occupation has done nothing to improve the conditions for people in Afghanistan. Lives also continue to be lost in Pakistan largely as a result of unmanned aerial drone attacks in the undeclared U.S. war in the country.

Hundreds of Afghan civilians continue to be killed by coalition forces each year under the occupation: According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, the 2009 civilian death toll, close to 2,412 civilian deaths, was the highest of any year since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, and an increase of 24% from 2008. There has been a general increase in violence and civilian deaths because of occupation.

The current Afghan government is implicated in widespread human rights abuses: A Human Rights Watch Press Alert in 2005 stated that up to 60% of law makers in the lower house of Afghanistan’s newly elected parliament are directly or indirectly connected to human rights abuses.

The air-war in Afghanistan has more than tripled since General David Petraeus assumed command over U.S. and NATO troops last summer.

Drones strikes in Pakistan have doubled since 2009, with over 100 this year, and lists of drone targets in Pakistan have been expanded. These strikes have killed close to 500 civilians since the rules identifying targets were loosened in 2008.

Through the end of November 2010, 455 US troops have died in Afghanistan.

The US is spending $120 billion per year on the war, money that is urgently needed at home in our communities and only being used to undermine Afghan democracy and usurp resources that belong to the people of Afghanistan.

From the South Asia Solidarity Initiative: “The Afghan people are capable of creating their own democratic future. Progressive groups and democratic parties in Afghanistan are fighting to reconstruct the peace and safety of their country, and more often than not, are forced underground for fear of their safety…It is from these forces that a larger progressive movement will emerge that could play a role in bringing real democracy to Afghanistan. If the United States continues the occupation, the space for progressive forces becomes increasingly limited.”

Veterans’ Action for Peace:

At the same time that President Obama was announcing the qualified “success” of the war in Afghanistan, hundreds rallied with Veterans For Peace (VFP) at the White House calling on the  administration to “Stop These Wars.”

135 people were arrested, including five Board members from VFP, Daniel Ellsberg, Ray McGovern, Collen Rowley, and Chris Hedges.

Check out stopthesewars.org and the VFP website for more information.

“We have killed over a million innocent people in these wars and made millions more homeless,” said the former Navy hospital corpsman and VFP President Mike Ferner, adding “Millions of Americans are out of work and literally out in the cold. Clearly, our war economy values empire and death over jobs and real security. We are taking a stand for peace. The troops, mercenaries and drones must come home now!”

To find out more about organizing with WRL, contact WRL Organizing Coordinator Kimber Heinz at kimber@warresisters.org.

One Year after Fort Hood: The Missing Story of Muslim Peacemaking

Today, November 5, 2010, marks the one-year anniversary of the Fort Hood shooting, in which former Army psychiatrist Major Nadal Halik Hasan shot and killed 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, wounding 42 others. As U.S. servicemembers and the families of the victims of this shooting grieved for those who were killed and Americans mourned the loss of life, reports on these crimes riveted the mainstream media. The shootings were certainly newsworthy. The problem is that almost the only time Muslims are featured in the U.S. news media is when a Muslim engages in an act of violence. A one-sided focus on violence committed by some Muslims fuels the racist narrative that “Islam is a religion of violence”—which underwrites the so-called “Global War on Terror.”

In spite of ongoing efforts by many in the Muslim religious community and Muslim-American organizations, the long and vital history of Muslim peacemaking has been lost in the avalanche of reports on Muslims where the mainstream media connects them only with violent extremism. The lack of acknowledgment and recognition in the U.S. of Muslim peacemakers continues to have grave effects on Muslims all over the world as well as those at home in the U.S. In addition, the ongoing hyper-focus by the U.S. state and mainstream media on Islamic militants to the exclusion of those Muslims whose peacemaking efforts oppose militarism of all kinds continues to prop up and justify ongoing U.S.-backed military occupations, including those of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine.

Private First Class Naser Abdo, a 20-year-old Muslim servicemember currently serving in the U.S. Army and seeking Conscientious Objector (C.O.) status on the grounds of Islam, is a Muslim peacemaker. He states, “As I studied Islam and Islam’s commitment to peace, I developed an entirely new perspective on war and conscience… That’s when I realized my conscience would not allow me to deploy.” Pfc. Abdo’s C.O. case still awaits an Army recommendation of discharge from the military based on moral, ethical, and religious objection to all wars. Abdo is facing possible deployment to Afghanistan in spite of his C.O. claim, though Army commanders decided to delay his deployment after he went public with his case. Speaking out as a Muslim, Abdo is against war and has been working with nonviolent antiwar organizations including the War Resisters League and Quaker House in Fayetteville, NC on building public support for his objection to war on the grounds of Islam.

Several Muslim-American organizations in the U.S., such as the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, have been key supporters of Pfc. Abdo’s claim for Conscientious Objector status based on the principles of Islam. In a statement released by this organization in support of Pfc. Abdo, long-time Muslim peacemaker and antimilitarist Ibrahim Ramey states, “We believe that his position is not a product of personal cowardice or disloyalty to his nation, but rather, a coherent expression of his faith and his personal belief in the tenets and laws of the religion of Islam.” In a separate statement, Ramey further underscores the U.S. government and mainstream media blackout of Muslim opposition to militarism: “Major Muslim efforts for peace-making in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other conflict spots are virtually unknown to U.S. news consumers, and even to policy makers. In my opinion, this phenomenon plays into the hands of institutions that seek to permanently militarize the U.S. economy by creating the illusion that Muslims are ‘the enemy’ and must therefore be controlled or eliminated for the sake of ‘democracy.’”

Many other Muslim organizations also attest to the importance of U.S. recognition of Muslim peacemaking efforts. In “An Open Letter to President Obama” sent on the eve of his visit to Egypt to address the Muslim World in May 2009, 1,600 American-Muslim and non-Muslim scholars on the Middle East called on the U.S. government to recognize nonviolent Muslim leaders: “For too long, American policy in the Middle East has been paralyzed by fear of Islamist parties coming to power…However, most mainstream Islamist groups in the region are nonviolent and respect the democratic process.” This letter further urges the U.S. to discontinue its support for violent political regimes in Central Asia and support democracy through peaceful policies: “The United States, for half a century, has frequently supported repressive regimes that routinely violate human rights, and that torture and imprison those who dare criticize them and prevent their citizens from participation in peaceful civic and political activities…There is no doubt that the people of the Middle East long for greater freedom and democracy…What they need from your administration is a commitment to encourage political reform not through wars, threats, or imposition, but through peaceful policies that reward governments that take active and measurable steps towards genuine democratic reforms.”

Despite the ongoing work of Muslim peacemakers and antimilitarists, Muslims living both inside and outside of the U.S. continue to feel the deeply negative effects of the dominant culture’s association of Muslims with terrorism and violence, often referred to as “Islamophobia.” In the U.S. military, Pfc. Abdo experienced a great deal of harassment and discrimination from his fellow servicemembers: “Early in basic training… one soldier repeatedly insulted me and Islam saying, ‘Go pray to your god that doesn’t exist or your pedophile prophet.’…During the training cycle I persistently reassured my comrades that my religion did not make me an enemy of theirs or an enemy of the state. The climax of this harassment occurred when my comrades all made a concerted effort to get me an unwanted discharge because I was not welcome in their ranks.”

These acts mirror the broader U.S. climate of discrimination against Muslims, as evidenced in the media craze surrounding the “Ground Zero Mosque,” otherwise known as the proposed construction of the Park 51 Muslim Community Center in Lower Manhattan. The association of Islam with terror also served to spark the “International Burn-a-Quran Day” controversy out of Gainesville, Florida, which made national headlines on the ninth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Just a few short weeks ago, a white New York City passenger named Michael Enright shouted, “Asalamualaykum, consider this a checkpoint!” prior to slashing the throat of Ahmad Sharif, the Muslim cab driver.

Furthermore, U.S.-backed war and occupation has been disastrous for Muslims living all over the world. The Iraq War Logs, which include close to 400,000 classified U.S. Army intelligence documents, were recently released by Wikileaks and include accounts of the violent deaths of 66,081 Iraqi civilians, along with reports by the military that confirm widespread killing and abuse of Iraqi civilians by U.S. military forces and U.S. contractors. The documents also reveal U.S. military instructions from high up the chain of command to ignore detainee abuse by Iraqi authorities. In the U.S.-led counter-insurgency war in Afghanistan, there has been 31% increase in Afghan civilian deaths and a staggering 55% increase in child casualties so far this year as a result of the war, according to the latest statistics from the United Nations. The U.S. is also conducting air strikes and Special Forces operations in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia and is slated to send $3 billion in military aid to Israel for FY2011 in support of its military occupation of Palestine.

The abuse and killing of Muslims isn’t an accidental byproduct of the U.S. military pursuit of a select group of Muslim extremists. It is the direct result and the intended effect of the U.S. government decision to go to war in pursuit of military-backed power in Central and South Asia. When the mainstream media in the US focuses solely on Muslims as violent extremists, it acts to provide a justification for these wars. The direct link made between Islam and terror also provides cover for waging war against a people, not simply targeting a few individuals, because according to this narrative, any Muslim could be a terrorist.

It is for this reason that we as people living in the U.S. must work to undo the deeply harmful effects of this narrative on the lives of Muslims living both in the U.S. and abroad and construct new narratives not premised on the logic of war and imperialism. We must lift up the stories and ongoing work of Muslim peacemakers like Naser Abdo. We must continue to make the connections between the over-amplification of violent acts committed by small groups of Islamic militants and the ongoing need for the U.S. government to attempt to justify unjust war and occupation. In a statement in a press conference earlier last month, Pfc. Abdo was clear in making this connection:

“In reference to ‘Islamophobia’ as it pertains to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan there is much that I have come to understand as a Muslim Conscientious Objector. As a Conscientious Objector, I am morally disinclined to associate terror with Islam as is often the case during routine training exercises…To a soldier, the association of terror and Islam serves the purpose of falsely justifying ones actions in combat by stripping Muslims of their humanity. The association of terror and Islam is what we now refer to as ‘Islamophobia.’…It is as if the U.S. public is just recently following a trend that has been rampant in the military for years. Only when the military and America can disassociate Muslims from terror can we move onto a brighter future of religious collaboration and dialogue that defines America and makes me proud to be an American.”

For more information on Naser Abdo’s case, go to www.freenasserabdo.org.

Also, check out this article that will appear in the Fall issue of Fellowship magazine by Ibrahim Ramey:
For more info on Muslim peacemaking, see also Rabia Harris’s piece “On Islamic Nonviolence” in Fellowship:

Gara’s “A Few Small Candles” published in Japan

Larry Gara a historian, teacher, activist, and WRL contact, is the author of the important memoir, A Few Small Candles, a collection of stories from ten World War II conscientious objectors. This book, highly influential in the  peace movement, was translated to Japanese and published in Japan this summer! To learn more about conscientious objectors, check out the new issue of WIN Magazine on Counter-Recruitment.

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Antiwar Feeder March on June 22nd!

Local Detroit and national antiwar groups are planning a feeder march
and actions that will begin at the DTE Energy Plaza, move to the Federal
Building (where the office of Sen. Carl Levin, head of the Senate Armed
Services Committee, is stationed), and then join the main USSF marchers
prior to assembling at Cobo Hall for the opening ceremonies. Length of
march is not long and proximity to main march is nearby.

The tentative schedule for this march is: 3 pm. – Campaign against utility
shutoffs assembly at DTE Energy Plaza – One Energy Plaza, between Bagley and
Third Avenue in downtown Detroit – circling building – theme being “Shut Off
the Pentagon, Not People!” – “Power to the People!”

After fifteen minute DTE demonstration, folks march 1/4 mile south and to
the east along Michigan Avenue to demonstrate in front of the Federal
Building – 477 Michigan Avenue (corner of Michigan and Cass).

At 3:30, those who have already assembled at the Federal Building with
picketing will be joined by larger feeder march from DTE Energy Plaza:
Theme: “Money for Jobs, Not for War!” “Stop the Trillion Dollar Wars!”
“Redirect Funding to Human Needs!”

4:00 action/guerrilla theatre/die-in at Federal Building Plaza and picket
around Federal

4:15 march 1/4 mile east on Michigan to Washington, turn right heading south
for 1/2 mile to meet up with main march outside Cobo Hall where opening
ceremony
is scheduled to take place inside at 5 pm.

For more information contact Fran Shor at franshor@yahoo.com, ph:
248-398-5284

Albuquerque Stands Up for Immigrants

Check out this article written by WRL organizer, Gloria Walker:

“Responding to community outrage, members of the Albuquerque City Council unanimously withdrew proposed anti-immigration Resolution 10-90.

The controversial resolution stated that “Illegal immigration negatively impacts the City of Albuquerque in many different ways.” Calling for the federal government to increase border security, it stated, “the citizens of the City of Albuquerque have been victimized by crime due to illegal immigration.”

Albuquerque citizens, however, disagreed and organized to let their representatives on the city council know that they support immigrants rights.”

Peace Protests at Vandenberg Air Force Base Tomorrow!

Vandenberg Space Command will fire a test ICBM Minuteman to Kwajalein on in June 5, 2010.

A peace protest will be held at the front gate of Vandenberg AFB in Santa Barbara County, CA on June 5 at 1pm during World Nuclear Weapons Abolition Day.

For more information, go to www.vandenbergwitness.org