Commentary

Sen. Merkley Introduces Bipartisan Amendment to Speed Withdrawal from Afghanistan

Today Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) announced he is introducing an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act calling for an accelerated drawdown in Afghanistan.

The bi-partisan amendment is currently supported by:

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)

Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM)

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Resolution on Afghanistan

To be offered to National Defense Authorization Act

Whereas, after al Qaeda attacked the United States on September 11, 2001, the United States rightly sought to bring to justice those who attacked us, to eliminate al Qaeda’s safe havens and training camps in Afghanistan, and to remove the terrorist-allied Taliban government;

Whereas, the Afghanistan War is now the longest in American history;

Whereas, United States’ troops, intelligence personnel and diplomatic corps have skillfully achieved these objectives, culminating in the death of Osama bin Laden;

Whereas, national security experts, including Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, have noted that al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan has been greatly diminished;

Whereas, over the past ten years the United States' mission has evolved to include a prolonged nation-building effort, including the creation of a strong central government, a national police force and army, and effective civic institutions;

Whereas, such nation-building efforts in Afghanistan are undermined by corruption, high illiteracy, and a historic aversion to a strong central government;

Whereas, members of the United States military have served in Afghanistan valiantly and with honor, and many have sacrificed their lives and health in service to their country;

Whereas, the United States is now spending nearly $10 billion a month in Afghanistan at a time when at home there is high unemployment, a flood of foreclosures, a record deficit, and a debt that is over $15 trillion and growing;

Dear NYTimes: It's Called 'Diplomacy'

Today's New York Times print edition features an editorial concerning the findings of the most recent IAEA report on Iran's nuclear program. The piece begins with a standard, preemptive condemnation of Iran for pursuing nuclear weapons, followed by a prescription for harsher sanctions. Yet, in the very next paragraph succeeding this prescription, the editorial board expresses doubt that sanctions will do any good in deterring Iran from developing a nuclear weapon:

We’re not sure any mix of sanctions and inducements can wean Tehran of its nuclear ambitions. We are sure that a military attack would be a disaster — and the current saber-rattling from Israel should make everyone nervous. A military strike would not set back Iran’s program for very long. It would rally Iranians around their illegitimate government. And it would produce a huge anti-Israeli and anti-American backlash around the world — whether or not Washington had tried to stop it.

It seems that the Times editorial board is dancing around something as if it's lost for words. Or perhaps it simply refuses to acknowledge the obvious. It recognizes that sanctions may not work in resolving this issue. It recognizes that a military attack would be disastrous. But in prescribing additional, tougher sanctions, the Times establishes a false dichotomy. The options are not sanctions or war. These are not the only instruments at our disposal.

The word you're looking for, New York Times editorial board, is 'diplomacy.'

Perhaps you lump diplomacy in with sanctions, or with inducements, but diplomacy is neither of those things. It is not a reward for good behavior--it is how one comes to understand the position of an opposing party, and how two parties come to resolve their conflict.

US Activist Kit Kittredge Deported From Israel; Statuses of Many Activists, Members of Press Remain Unknown

Just Foreign Policy has received confirmation that activist Kit Kittredge, the US delegate to the Freedom Waves flotilla, is presently on a plane back to New York after being detained for 72 hours in the Israeli jail of Givon. The other US citizen that was detained, Democracy Now! correspondent Jihan Hafiz, was deported last night to New York.

On Friday, the IDF commandeered the two vessels that comprised the flotilla and forcibly brought its passengers to the Israeli port of Ashdod, where Kittredge and Hafiz received very little in the way of aid or useful information from the US embassy, according to Hafiz. While other embassy's officials, such as the Irish ambassador, visited their nationals three times, a representative from the US embassy came only twice to visit Hafiz and Kittredge, both times late in the day. As recounted by Hafiz, the representative claimed that the US embassy was "powerless" in a foreign country, that the Israelis were "giving them the run-around," and that the prisoners requests for free association and reading and writing materials, standard for political prisoners, was "too much" to ask for. The most advice the US embassy could supply was to sign a deportation agreement that admitted that Kittredge and Hafiz had entered Israel illegally and that they wouldn't attempt to break the blockade of Gaza again. Both refused to sign this document and were released only after the time limit on detention was reached.

VIDEO: Democracy Now! Correspondent Jihan Hafiz Deported from Israel; Describes Freedom Waves Interception, Detention

Earlier this morning, it was learned that Jihan Hafiz, US citizen and Democracy Now! correspondent aboard the Tahrir, had been deported from Israel after being detained at Givon prison for 72 hours. Soon after arriving in New York, she sat down with Amy Goodman to talk about the flotilla interception and her subsequent detention in Israel. She described the aggressive fashion in which the IDF commandeered the flotilla ships, the dehumanizing processing that took place once they arrived at Ashdod, and the ineffectiveness of US embassy officials in advocating for her and the other US citizen aboard the Tahrir, Kit Kittredge's, release.

Hafiz recounted guns being shoved into all of the ship's passengers' faces; thinking that Michael Coleman, an Australian delegate, was going to be shot if they didn't cooperate; being subjected to two strip searches (one of which was filmed); being classified as an activist and not as a member of the press by the whim of Israeli authorities; being allowed a call to a relative after 42 hours of detention when she should have been allowed to do so within 24 hours; being told 'don't say anything negative, don't say anything political' on the phone; being told by the US embassy to sign a deportation agreement that would have admitted that she entered Israel illegally and that would ban her from visiting Gaza for ten years. Meanwhile, $20,000 worth of Hafiz's equipment remains captive in Israel.

Watch the interview here:

VIDEO: IDF Uses Armed Soldiers, Water Cannon to Board Freedom Waves Vessels

Earlier today, the two ships that compose the Freedom Waves flotilla to Gaza--the Saoirse and the Tahrir--were commandeered by the Israeli Defense Forces. The IDF has since released two videos.

One video portrays the boarding of both vessels and is heavily edited. Still, we can clearly see the use of a water cannon on the Tahrir, and armed soldiers boarding the Saoirse, with a water cannon close by. At the very end of this video, all the way to the right, you can see an IDF soldier raising his hand gun as he advances into the passenger section of the boat. At least one soldier looks to be carrying an automatic rifle. If this is the edited version released by the IDF themselves, what could be in the unedited version?

The second video is also heavily edited. It presents us with a view of the radio communication between the IDF and the Tahrir. Pay attention to the cuts--especially the audio cuts:

Here's a transcript:

IDF Soldier 1: Motor Vessel Tahrir, this is the Israeli navy. The Gaza area and coastal region is closed to all maritime traffic as part of a maritime blockade imposed for security purposes on the Gaza strip. Your attempt to enter the Gaza strip by sea is a violation of international law. We remind you that humanitarian supply may be delivered to the Gaza strip by land. You are therefore welcome to enter Ashdod port and deliver the supplied to the recognized land crossings."

[CUT]

IDF Soldier 2 (I believe this is one is different than the first): What is your destination?

[VIDEO CUT, POSSIBLE AUDIO CUT]

UPDATED: URGENT ACTION: Israeli Warships Seize Gaza Flotilla, Towing to Ashdod, Handing Activists to Police

UPDATE 11:30AM: The IDF is reporting that it has boarded the two ships that compose the Freedom Waves flotila--the Saoirse and the Tahrir-- and are now towing to Ashdod. Once there, the peace activists on board will be handed over to the Israel police. The boats were seized in international waters. One American, Kit Kittredge, is on board the Tahrir.

Now is the time to act. If you can, please call the State Department and the White House. If you can't call, please email President Obama and your representatives and tell them to press the Israelis to ensure the safety of those aboard the two ships!


November 4, 2011, 8:17AM: We have received word from the two ships en route to Gaza, the Saoirse and the Tahrir, that Israeli warships are approaching both ships. The Tahrir has received radio contact from the Israeli authorities, asking about their final destination. They replied, ‘the conscience of humanity’. When asked again, they said ‘The betterment of mankind’. Boarding and commandeering are imminent. On board the Tahrir is one American, Kit Kittredge.

The boats are presently 48 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza. The first flotilla to break the siege was intercepted about 35 nautical miles off shore.

Now is the time to act. Call the State Department and the White House and tell them to press the Israelis to ensure the safety of those aboard the two ships!

Call the State Department:

BREAKING: BOATS EN ROUTE TO GAZA SURROUNDED BY ISRAELI WARSHIPS

Contacts:
Jane Hirschmann 917-679-8343, 212-222-6721
Felice Gelman 917-912-2597
Medea Benjamin (in Turkey with ground crew) 90 531 888 8927

BOATS EN ROUTE TO GAZA SURROUNDED BY ISRAELI WARSHIPS

New York – November 4, 2011

At 7:43 am ground support crew lost contact with two ships, the Saoirse of Ireland and the Tahrir of Canada, carrying 27 civilian passengers, medical supplies and letters of support for the people of Gaza.

At 7:30 am the Tahrir was interrogated, via radio, by the Israeli Navy. The ships were approximately 48 nautical miles off the coastline, well into international waters. Asked by the Israeli Navy for their destination, Canadian activist Ehab Lotayef replied, “The conscience of humanity.” When they repeated the question, asking for final destination, Lotayef said, “The betterment of mankind.”

Israel has maintained a naval blockade of Gaza since June 2006. Numerous international organizations, including committees of the United Nations, have concluded the blockade is in violation of international law.

Press Release on US Boat to Gaza website.

Get the latest position of the Canadian boat to Gaza, Tahrir

This map was made by Benjamin Doherty at the Electronic Intifada. Get the embed code at the link and post the map on your website or blog.

You can also track the Tahrir here.

BREAKING NEWS: TWO BOATS WITH PASSENGERS FROM 5 COUNTRIES HAVE SET SAIL TO GAZA

BREAKING NEWS

For immediate release, November 2, 2011

Contact: In New York: Felice Gelman, 917-912-2597, 917 679 8343
At sea: phone numbers will be released when you call the above press contact

TWO BOATS WITH PASSENGERS FROM 5 COUNTRIES (INCLUDING THE U.S.) HAVE SET SAIL TO GAZA

Organizers say: “It is time to lift the siege of Gaza which deprives 1.6 million civilians of their rights to travel, work, study, develop their economy and be free.”

The Canadian ship Tahrir and the Irish ship Saoirse have successfully reached international waters, initiating the “Freedom Wave to Gaza.” The boats have embarked from Turkey and are on the Mediterranean Sea. In all, the 2 boats carry 27 passengers from Canada, Ireland, U.S., Palestine, and Australia.

Kit Kittredge on board the Tahrir was previously a passenger on the American ship, The Audacity of Hope, which attempted passage to Gaza last July. Kittredge says, “ The only obstacles in our way are Israel’s military and the complicity of the Obama administration but in our sails is the wind of worldwide public opinion which has turned against the illegal blockade.”

Ann Wright retired US army Colonel and former US Diplomat says, “We carry inspiration from the Arab Spring and the worldwide “Occupy” movements that are demanding freedom and justice. Where governments fail, civil society must act. As Americans we are fed up with our government’s unquestioning support of Israel no matter how violent, illegal and oppressive its actions. We will not stand by and watch $30 billion of our tax money committed to buying Israel weaponry used to carry out this illegal occupation of Palestine including the blockade of Gaza.”

Call the State Department, White House in Support of Freedom Waves Flotilla to Gaza

Call Secretary Hillary Clinton at the State Department: 202-647-5291

Call the White House: 202-456-1414

Talking Points:

- Gaza has been under siege since mid-2006, depriving 1.6 million people of their liberty and basic human rights.

- Although the siege has been condemned by the United Nations, the Red Cross, and many national governments as in violation with the Fourth Geneva Convention, nothing has been done to ease the plight of these civilians. Civil society has had to act where governments would not.

- Two ships with 27 passengers from 5 countries, including one American, are sailing to Gaza to confront the Israeli naval blockade, and to bring medical supplies and letters of support.

- As Americans we insist that our government (which sends Israel $3 billion in military aid every year) demands that Israel insures the ships’ safe passage and ends its illegal blockade of Gaza. There is absolutely no excuse to subject 1.6 million people to collective punishment.

When you're done ...

Email President Obama and Congress

Follow the status of the flotilla

Just go to our Facebook, Twitter, ustogaza.org, tahrir.ca, irishshiptogaza.org, and on DemocracyNOW.