No. 149, Nov. 21-28, 2001

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10,000 attend annual School of Americas protests


Protesters at the gates of Fort Benning. Photo by Nicholas Holt.

By Nicholas Holt

Columbus, Georgia, Nov. 20— Thousands of protesters gathered outside Ft. Benning on Sunday as they have each year since 1995, to protest the military’s school for Latin American officers.

The protests resulted in 110 arrests, including two Asheville women.

The annual protests against the School of the Americas (SOA), now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (often referred to as WHISC, but called WHINSEC by Army officials), are led by SOA Watch, based just outside Ft. Benning’s gates.

SOA Watch puts the number of protesters gathered this year near 10,000.

Founded in 1990, SOA Watch has linked SOA graduates to numerous incidents of repression and atrocities committed against farmers, villagers, human rights activists, union members, religious workers and others in Latin America. Opponents of the SOA say that WHINSEC is simply a renamed version of the same program.

The Army denies any inappropriate subjects were included in its counter-insurgency program at the SOA.

The Department of Defense, which runs WHINSEC, concedes no wrong-doing at the SOA, but is also emphatic in its insistence that the new school has no ties to the old. The SOA, they say, was a product of the Cold War, whereas WHINSEC is designed to help Latin American governments maintain and develop their democracies and to fight drug trafficking and meet other challenges of the post-Soviet world.

The annual protests were different this year in a number of ways. With the radically different political and emotional climate following the attacks of Sept. 11 and the war in Afghanistan, SOA-Watch organizers were unsure as to whether it was appropriate to have the protests at all.

“We are here, of course, mindful (of) and mourning with, the thousands in our country who mourn their loved ones because of acts of terrorism,” said SOA Watch founder Father Roy Bourgeois at a press conference on Saturday.

The destruction of the World Trade Center and the attacks on the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania as well as the subsequent US war in Afghanistan were among the acts repeatedly condemned as terrorism during the weekend gathering.

“We called many of our people all over the country who have been coming here for eleven years to address [the] issue of violence,” said Fr. Bourgeois. “And overwhelmingly, everyone said ‘No, no, more than ever, it’s important for us to be here this year.’”

Having decided to carry on, SOA Watch then faced a legal challenge from the City of Columbus, which sought an injunction preventing Bourgeois and other SOA Watch leaders from participating in the activities at Ft. Benning this year. The city also planned to limit how close protesters could be to the gates of Fort Benning.

Judge G. Mallon Faircloth, who earlier this year sentenced 26 anti-SOA protesters to prison, ruled that both sets of restrictions would violate the First Amendment.

Although Bourgeois said he was very pleased with the ruling, he added “With or without the permit, we were marching.”

Saturday’s gathering, which included speeches, musical performances and a giant puppet show, was held in a softball field located miles away from Ft. Benning. In previous years, this event had been held on the road leading into the base. Some attendees seemed satisfied that the city had permitted the gathering at all, while others felt they had been hidden away by the city government in a deliberate attempt to keep them out of the public eye.


Puppets advance on Ft. Benning. Photo by Nicholas Holt.

Traditionally, the November protesters at Ft. Benning have held a symbolic funeral procession to honor those killed by SOA students.

In previous years, thousands of marchers would then carry their protest further with acts of civil disobedience by stepping across the property line onto Ft. Benning, where they would then be arrested.

This year however, the Army constructed a barbed wire-topped fence across the entrance.

The funeral procession proceeded, but the marchers adapted to the new circumstances by attaching their crosses and other items to the barrier. Eventually, the crosses, banners and photographs of the dead completely obscured the view through the wire fence.

Small groups of protesters walked around or climbed under the fence onto Ft. Benning where they were then arrested. Some refused compliance when asked to move and were then handcuffed and carried or dragged on their knees to buses and driven away for processing.

Officials at Ft. Benning reported 70 arrests. As in the past, those first time offenders will be issued orders banning them from the base for five years. Any who had already received such orders from previous actions could face more serious Federal charges.

Following the funeral procession, a number of protesters, some wearing masks characteristic of militant groups receiving much media attention at recent anti-global capitalism protests, spread out around the gates to Ft. Benning and, while banging on makeshift drums and an old washing machine, began loud chants calling for the closing of the SOA and announcing “That [Ft. Benning] is what a police state looks like! This is what democracy looks like!”

Atlanta Indymedia reported that Jeff Winder, National Director of the SOA, spoke to the group, reminding them of SOA Watch’s commitment to nonviolence, but praising their high energy and spirit, and then declaring the area in front of the gate an “autonomous zone.”

A number of protesters remained in the area into the evening, refusing to move even when ordered to by law enforcement. Chief Deputy Griffin of the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Department told AGR that 33 individuals were arrested and charged with unlawful assembly. Asheville activists Lola LaFey and Carter Draves were among those arrested. Griffin also confirmed that this is the first occasion that non-military law enforcement have made any arrests during the annual November SOA Watch protests.

When asked about differences between the highly organized protest style of SOA Watch and the acts of the individuals who gathered later in the evening, SOA Watch spokesperson Ed Kinane was quick to state “I wouldn’t put that much distance between us.”

As of Monday evening, the 33 individuals who were arrested by the Sheriff’s Department were on hunger strike and practicing jail solidarity, a resistance technique in which those arrested refuse to give their names and demand that each member of the group receive the same charges. By Tuesday, the activists had reached an agreement with Muscogee County Municipal Judge Haywood Turner. The activists were found guilty of “obstructing a roadway” and pleaded no contest to “obstruction of an officer,” with the judge noting that the offense was nonviolent. The protesters were to be released Tuesday evening.

“We are supportive of them,” said Kinane.

Afghanistan cities change hands as Northern Alliance advances

Compiled by Sean Marquis

Nov. 20— The US “war on terrorism” in Afghanistan has gone into fast forward as city after city fell from Taliban hands into US-allied Northern Alliance hands, all within the past few days.

The Taliban, meanwhile, confirmed the death of Osama bin Laden’s military chief, Mohammed Atef, in a US bombing raid last week.

The Taliban’s founder Mullah Muhammad Omar has exhorted his followers to regroup and battle on, but the troops in Konduz want to give up the fight. They tried to negotiate a safe passage to the south in return for the surrender of the province, but the Northern Alliance insisted that they must give themselves up. Now they are trying to surrender to the United Nations (UN) as a neutral power rather than throw themselves on the mercy of the enemy.

Though extremely pleased with the stunning rout of the Taliban, policy planners in the US are utterly confused where to go next. Washington is not yet certain whether the Taliban are running for their lives or if they abandoned city after city with a design. Most of the Taliban’s 60,000-strong fighting force and its weaponry in Afghanistan is believed to have escaped with low casualties from the heavy US bombing strikes and the Northern Alliance offensives.

Confusion on the part of the US and its allies extended beyond the battlefield to the political field.

The Northern Alliance has finally agreed to talk about a coalition government for Afghanistan, after stymieing UN efforts for several days.

Abdullah Abdullah, the alliance’s acting foreign minister, agreed after talks with an American envoy to take part in a meeting in Europe — Germany, Switzerland or Austria — as early as this week. The alliance had wanted to hold the meeting in Kabul, which would have given it a clear advantage over other Afghan factions. But Washington and the UN insisted on a venue where all parties could meet on an equal footing.

Washington has shown increasing signs of exasperation at the alliance’s foot-dragging over this conference. The alliance has clearly been hoping that it will gain control of the whole country and be in an unassailable position to dictate the composition of the next government.

Analysts say building a coherent government from factions that have mistrusted, fought and double-crossed each other for centuries is far easier in theory than in practice.

Factions in the Northern Alliance have already split the Afghan capitol city of Kabul along ethnic lines. Shi’ite groups with uneasy relations with the Tajiks and Uzbeks moved into territory in southwest Kabul where the factions fought bitter battles in the 1990s.

And in a move that raised the specter of factional fighting, former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani arrived on Saturday in the Afghan capital for the first time since he was driven from power by the Taliban in 1996, declaring himself the legitimate head of state.

Rabbani, the head of the Northern Alliance, has never relinquished his claim to the presidency, though he has acknowledged the international calls for a broad-based government that would include all of Afghanistan’s ethnic groups.

However, if Rabbani or any other leader tries to claim power, it could unleash the kind of internecine conflict that destroyed much of the capital during Rabbani’s tenure, from 1992 to 1996.

The return of the Northern Alliance Muhajadeen to power is not a much better prospect to many Afghanis.

Far from the underdog militia trying to overthrow the despotic Taliban regime, Northern Alliance troops are reviled across much of Afghanistan for their brutality.

They are also despised because they are primarily Uzbeks, Hazaras and Tajiks. Pashtuns comprise the main Afghan ethnic group in a country whose ethnic stew never stops boiling.

“We have lived under them before and they were not good rulers,” said Sayed Noor, an Afghan farmer who arrived last week at Killi Faizo refugee camp along Pakistan’s border. “They cannot rule Afghanistan…They are vicious.”

Many of the Muhajadeen, or holy warriors, now fighting for the Northern Alliance are war veterans who served in the decade-long battle against the Soviets.

“Listen to me carefully,” warned Haji Abdul Ghani. “Those opposed to the Northern Alliance are not on the side of the Taliban or al-Qaida. We just want our children’s survival, our women’s survival. If the Northern Alliance comes, we will all be killed.”

There are already reports of looting, and passing journalists’ vehicles have been fired on. Four journalists (three European, one Afghani) were killed in an apparent robbery when their car was ambushed. Their bodies were left on the roadside, stripped of belongings.

On Thursday the city of Jalalabad was taken over by Northern Alliance troops.

The Muhajadeen are determined to make the most of their opportunity. “When there is a big victory it is right that everybody should share in it,” said Haziullah, a 28-year-old manning one of the roadblocks on the outskirts of the city. “We have been waiting a long time for this.”

“Thank you Britain and America for allowing these men to come back and rob and beat us again,” one refugee shouted at a British journalist as he drove slowly back into Jalalabad on Friday.

Even those who might rejoice at the ending of Taliban rule are worried. Fatima, a 36-year-old teacher, said she was too scared to celebrate. “How can we be happy when things are so uncertain. Does this look like peace? We have not seen so many soldiers in Jalalabad for five years.”

The only signs of change are the overt playing of music and the return of televisions to restaurants. There is no sign of women forsaking the burqa — the traditional all-encompassing veil that the Taliban imposed.

“I am not going to walk unveiled through a city full of soldiers where there is no police force,” Fatima said.

Massacres

UN officials and aid agencies have expressed concern that hundreds of civilians and captured soldiers have been massacred by both the Taliban and the Northern Alliance.

Reports from Mazar-i-Sharif say several hundred Taliban supporters —including Arabs, Chechens, and Pakistanis — were shot dead in a massacre after that city fell to the alliance. A UN spokesperson said officials had received reports of hundreds of children being massacred by Northern Alliance forces at one school.

More than 100 Alliance fighters were massacred on Tuesday after being captured by Taliban forces, and a number of civic officials in Konduz, are said to have been murdered by the Taliban after announcing that they wanted to surrender to the Alliance. There have been further reports of dozens of Afghan Taliban troops being mown down by their Chechen comrades while trying to surrender to Alliance forces.

“There is now an urgent need to ensure that these crimes are promptly and independently investigated,” said Asma Jahangir, a specialist on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions for the UN.

She said, “There can be no impunity for these widespread and systematic killings, which may amount to crimes against humanity.”

Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International said, “The Afghan population is at the mercy of armed political groups with an appalling human rights record.”

Kahn also expressed concern about the summary execution of soldiers adding, “Human rights abuses committed by the Taliban cannot be used to justify new abuses by the Northern Alliance; these killings must stop.”

Highlighting in particular the responsibility of the US, England and Russia, Khan added, “Those countries which supplied arms to and supported the Northern Alliance are responsible for ensuring that the Alliance conducts itself within international humanitarian law and does not use its arms to commit further abuses. If there is bloodshed, the blood is also on their hands.”

British halt Army move into Kabul

The Northern Alliance provided a foretaste of trouble by insisting last week that it would take care of security in Afghanistan and that an international peacekeeping force was unnecessary.

The planned deployment of about 2,000 British troops to Afghanistan, due to start Monday, has been delayed after the Northern Alliance said they would not be welcome.

The decision was made after Alliance commanders made clear that they did not want the lead elements of Britain’s 16 Air Assault Brigade to arrive at Bagram air base outside Kabul, as had been planned. Younis Qanouni, the Alliance’s acting interior minister, said, “We do not expect any more foreign troops. We see no need for that.” Senior Alliance leaders have been angered by the statements by British officials, including Geoff Hoon, the Defense Secretary, that the troops would be used to stabilise the situation in Kabul amid fears of revenge killings. Qanouni said that British forces already on the ground would be restricted to humanitarian work, de-mining and providing security for the British embassy, which is expected to reopen soon.

Weary of ‘with us or against us’

Faultlines deepened in the international coalition against terrorism last week when President Bush informed the UN General Assembly that he intends to take the anti-terror campaign beyond Afghanistan.

In comments before the assembly of more than 1,000 delegates, the Bush warned that some states, “while pledging to uphold the principles of the UN, have cast their lot with the terrorists,” alluding to Iraq. There will be “a price to be paid,” Bush said.

European public support for the Afghan war is dwindling, so a move on Iraq may cause coalition defections on the Continent.

Meanwhile, a growing number of UN members are signaling a waning appetite for Bush’s “with-us-or-against-us” campaign.

To some, the with-us-or-against-us smacks of Stalinism. They say it muzzles domestic critics and squelches dissent from those abroad who fear repercussions from the world’s economic and military superpower.

Mr. Bush’s good-versus-evil rhetoric also denies shades of gray, says Richard Falk, professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University. Such language “implies too much clarity in a world that’s much messier than that,” he says. “It shows a lack of respect for the sovereignty of other countries and may place them between contradictory pressures.”

“If you ask whether we condemn the Sept. 11 attack, we’re with you,” says one South American diplomat. “But is more violence the best answer? The Americans don’t leave room for alternative opinions. When will countries speak out: after 1,000, 100,000, or 1 million more are killed?”

A quick test of coalition support came two weeks ago when Lebanon refused to freeze the assets of Hizbullah, which is supported by both Syria and Iran. Syria is expected to follow Lebanon’s example.

Sources: Amnesty International, AnaNova.com, The Times (UK),Village Voice, The Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Associated Press, International News, Reuters, The Guardian, Telegraph (UK), The Christian Science Monitor

Clashes color weekend of protests against the IMF and World Bank


Pro-democracy activists march against the G-20 in Ottawa.

Compiled by Eamon Martin

Nov. 20— Police used tear gas, bean bags, concussion grenades, pepper spray and water to push back activists gathered to protest outside meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and “Group of 20” (G-20) nations this weekend.

The G-20 represents a mix of big and small countries that together make up 88 per cent of the world’s economic output and includes 60 per cent of the world’s poor. Members range from Canada, the US and Britain to Saudi Arabia, China, and Brazil. The IMF-World Bank meetings, were originally to have been held in September in their usual host city, Washington, DC, but were canceled over security concerns after the terror attacks on September 11.

Police said 50 people were arrested during clashes that saw officers fire rubber bullets at crowds that peaked Saturday at about 2-3,000. Over the weekend, demonstrators, waving flags, banging drums and hollering slogans, gathered in Ottawa to urge the finance ministers and central bank chiefs to stop having their meetings. More than 7,000 police officers were deployed to contain them.

On Friday, riot police lobbed a concussion grenade at protesters and arrested several during a series of confrontations near the G-20 meeting site. About 300 protesters, who oppose a range of capitalist policies, played a game of cat and mouse with police throughout the afternoon. Police fired the grenade during a gathering at a human rights monument as demonstrators listened to various speakers.

“We were trying to decide how to get out of here,” said one demonstrator, “…and then they (police) attacked.”

A slogan spray-painted in black on the nearby Bank of Canada building read: “It has to start somewhere; it has to start sometime; what better place than here; what better time than NOW?”

On Saturday, marchers shouted their opposition but remained peaceful, chanting, “Shut it down,” as police looked on. By early evening, after two separate confrontations with police, protesters had retreated from the metal barricades protecting the G-20 meeting at the Government Conference Center. But smaller groups faced off with police who had locked down the perimeter around the building.

In one instance, officers used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse a crowd of about 300 just east of the site. At least two people were arrested, including one young woman who was dragged away screaming.

Earlier Saturday, as international finance officials met, police fired at least one canister of tear gas when protesters tried to breach the barricades protecting the meeting site. They also fired bean bags from rifles and used water hoses and pepper spray to stop the crowd from advancing. Using two water cannon trucks, police doused protesters with hoses — a chilly prospect on a day with temperatures around freezing.

About a dozen protesters, bandannas over their faces, pushed down part of the first line of barricades as police on rooftops watched and officers on the ground videotaped the action.

Demonstrators chanted, “Whose streets? Our streets!”

At one stage the protests took on a carnival atmosphere as demonstrators, jumped up and down as they chanted to rap music, ‘’I want to see some dancing cops.’’

Police appeared to be targeting anarchists. Some of Saturday’s arrests occurred when special police units swooped in among the crowd and plucked out black-clad protesters wearing balaclavas, the kind of headgear worn by demonstrators who smashed the windows of a McDonald’s restaurant on Friday.

“No cops, no state, no war, no hate,” chanted a group of anarchists as they wound their way through the diverse crowd.

A few demonstrators set an American flag on fire as others cheered.

Another carried a large American flag with corporate logos in place of the stars. They included Coca Cola, Shell, McDonald’s, NBC, ABC, CBS, Warner Brothers, Intel and IBM.

“Most demonstrators acted in a peaceful way,” police spokesman Leo Javeau told reporters, summing up Saturday’s march to the downtown area.

But many accused the police of brutality during the protest.

“The police moved very quickly, very swiftly, viciously with their dogs,” said Paul Smith of Global Democracy Ottawa. “They took people down in the street; they held people off with riot sticks and they threatened them with guns. I don’t know whether they were plastic bullets, but basically it was an unprovoked attack.”

Protester Jamie Kneen added: ‘They (were) trying to provoke a confrontation.”

Why the protests?

The protesters, including students, labor activists, church groups and others, have a range of concerns.

“The IMF and World Bank hurt poor countries and undermine democracy,” says Mobilization for Global Justice organizer Robert Weissman.

For more than 20 years, people from Argentina to Zambia have conducted mass protests against the policies of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank.

Activists are calling on the two financial institutions to open all of their meetings to the public and media. So long as the decision-making meetings of the two institutions remain secret, they point out, there is no way for citizens to know what their government representatives are doing.

Others are also demanding that the IMF and World Bank cancel the debts owed them by impoverished countries. Poor countries, including those that have passed through the institutions’ debt relief program, routinely spend more money servicing foreign debt than they do on health care or education.

Many activists also want the IMF and World Bank to end policies they say have hindered people’s access to food, clean water, shelter, health care, education and the right to organize. These conditions, they say, have resulted from ideologically driven economic austerity or “structural adjustment” programs that have included charges known as user fees for basic health care, privatization and prioritizing exports over production for local needs.

In addition, many are demanding the World Bank end all support for socially and environmentally destructive projects, such as oil, mining and gas activities, and large dams.

“Another world is possible,” says Weissman. “If the IMF and World Bank operated transparently, if poor countries were relieved from the straitjacket of debt, if the institutions did not impose user fees for health care and other harmful policies, then countries would be much freer to pursue different economic strategies in accordance with the democratic determinations of their people.”

“We share these modest democratic aspirations with people across the globe,” he added.

Inside

Inside, crises loomed large over the weekend talks. Dominating the sessions were Afghanistan’s reconstruction, debt relief and aid for poor countries badly affected by the unraveling world global economy, and measures to starve terrorists of financing.

The IMF and World Bank wrapped up with fresh calls for increasing aid to developing countries, but resistance to the idea by the United States raised doubts about how much new assistance would be forthcoming. World Bank president James Wolfensohn acknowledged that the most powerful member of the committee, US Treasury Secretary Paul H. O’Neill, was by far the least enthusiastic about that proposition.

The IMF and World Bank pledged their support for increasing financing for a network of “counter-terrorist” operations and intelligence facilities in the developing world.

Sources: Agence France Presse, Canadian Press, Inter Press Service, Multinational Monitor, Reuters, Washington Post

 

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