Category Archives: Military

Dahr Jamail interviewed by Derrick Jensen about US Navy’s Northern Edge

This interview was conducted by Derrick Jensen for his Resistance Radio series. Listen to the audio on Youtube or at prn.fm.

Dahr Jamail is an award winning journalist and author who is a full-time staff reporter for Truthout.org. His work is currently focusing on Anthropogenic Climate Disruption. We discuss the harm caused by massive military maneuvers off of Alaska.

Derrick Jensen: Something terrible is happening off the coast of Alaska. Can you tell me about that?

Dahr Jamail: The Navy is poised to begin what they call Northern Edge, a huge, joint exercise they’re doing in conjunction with the Air Force, Marines and Army. The Navy’s aspect is going to focus in a huge area – over 8,000 square nautical miles, off the coast of Alaska, between Cordova and Kodiak. In this giant rectangle they’re permitted to conduct active and passive sonar, weapons testing, and live-fire exercises, including bombs, missiles, bullets and torpedoes. It starts June 15th and continues for at least two weeks. They’re permitted to continue doing this year after year. Plans are in the works for them to request permits up to 2030.

What’s really troubling about this, aside from the obvious, is that the area in question is critical habitat for all five Alaska salmon species, as well as almost a dozen whale species, including the highly endangered North Pacific Right Whale, of which there are only about 30 left. It also includes dolphins and sea lions and hundreds of other marine species in the area. There are a dozen native tribes living along coastal Alaska who are going to be directly impacted by their subsistence living being damaged and poisoned: destroyed. Some of those tribes include the Eskimo, the Eyak, the Athabaskans, Tlingit, and the Shungnak and Aleut tribes,

There have been and continue to be uprisings in the communities in coastal Alaska against this. For example, the cities of both Kodiak and Cordova have passed resolutions opposing the Navy’s plans, but the Navy has basically thumbed their noses at these voices of protest and are loading up their bombs.

D.J.: How is this going to harm the creatures who live there?

Dahr J.: The Navy is permitted to release as much as 352,000 pounds of what they call ‘expended material’ every year. That includes the live munitions that I mentioned ― missiles, bombs, torpedoes, etc. ― but also other types of things that will be released into the marine environment. Just by way of example, one of the propellants in one of the missiles and torpedoes they want to use contains cyanide. The EPA’s ‘allowable’ limit of cyanide is one part per billion, and the type of cyanide in the Navy torpedo is going to be introducing cyanide into the waters of Alaska in the range of 140 to 150 parts per billion.

Other impacts include ‘takes’, which are basically a military bureaucratic way of covering over a death. The Navy’s own Environmental Impact Statement estimates that over the five-year period that their war games are going to be conducted, there will be over 182,000 takes.

There are two ways they’ll be killing marine mammals. First is direct impact of them literally being exploded by bombs or shot by bullets or internally hemorrhaged by massive sonar. Secondarily, essential behaviors will be disrupted like surfacing or having babies or nursing.

Over a dozen large ships will be roaming the area, preventing fisherfolks from using it. Natives relying on that area for subsistence fishing and living will not be able to carry that out.

D.J.: You mentioned sonar. Can you talk more about that?

Dahr J.: It’s not your average sonar that a transport vessel or a fisherperson might use to navigate or to track the depth of the water. We’re talking about weapons grade sonar. The Navy regularly conducts underwater sonar weapons testing. They’re developing different types of sonar that they’ve weaponized to use to knock out communications and electronics, and I think they’re aiming towards killing humans in Navy vessels from other countries.

The NRDC won a lawsuit against the Navy down off Southern California for using this type of sonar. They showed the Navy was knowingly, deleteriously impacting over nine million different marine biota ― fish, whales, etc. ― by the use of this sonar. There are well-documented cases around the globe of pods of whales, dolphins, etc., that get hit by this sonar, and then these mammals wash up on the shore. A lot of times you’ll see their ear drums are exploded and it causes internal hemorrhaging. There have been cases of dolphins washing up, literally with blood coming out of their heads because they happened to have been where the Navy is using this type of weapons grade sonar.

To be clear, this sonar is powerful enough to literally explode the eardrums of whales and dolphins. That is how these mammals communicate; that is how they navigate; having that ability destroyed or compromised in any way basically means these mammals are going to die. And when the Navy is using it in a way that literally explodes their internal organs to the point where blood is coming out of their head that gives you an idea of how powerful it is.

D.J.: Here is something I wrote in Endgame about a National Science Foundation ship that was using air guns to fire sonic blasts of up to 260 dB, to use for mapping the ocean floor: “Damage to human hearing begins at 85 dB, a police siren at 30 meters is 100 dB. And decibels are logarithmic, meaning that every 10 dB increase translates to ten times more intensity. And sounds ― because human perception is also logarithmic ― twice as loud.

So what that means is that the blast from those research vessels was ten quadrillion times more intense than a siren at 30 meters, and would sound to humans 16,384 times as loud. The sound of a jet taking off at 600 meters is 110 dB, a rock concert is 120 dB, and whales and other creatures are subjected to sounds 100 trillion times more intense than that. The threshold at which humans die from sound is 160dB.”

Dahr J.: That gives people an idea of what we’re talking about: the military developing sound to use it as a weapon. As though the oceans aren’t already suffering enough, from the extreme amount of plastic pollution you’ve written and talked about for decades that’s now insidious around all the oceans on the planet, to acidification from rising temperatures.

And now on top of that, the military decides to go and use bombs and use sound weapons up in some of the most pristine waters on the planet outside of Antarctica. Bear in mind, these waters are at the end of an undersea current that is an upwelling, and this water is a thousand years old. This is why Alaska salmon are so prized, because they are a clean fish, they’re pure, and the Alaska salmon brand relies on it. Not to commercialize this, but it’s important to think about in regards to the people in Alaska relying so heavily on the salmon for both subsistence and to earn a living up there. All of that is being compromised.

The Navy’s action is creating some interesting collaborations between people across the political spectrum that normally wouldn’t mix.

D.J.: Leaving aside this culture’s death urge, why is the military doing this? What is their rationale?

Dahr J.: I mentioned in my article, Destroying What Remains: How the US Navy Plans to War Game the Arctic, that the Navy is increasingly focused on possible climate change wars up in the melting waters of the Arctic. In that context, it has no intentions of caretaking the environment when conducting its military exercises.

This connection was made amazingly clear to me in the course of writing this piece. I was in Alaska getting the ground data for this story, doing interviews. I went to Cordova, went over to Kodiak, passed through Anchorage, talking to people all along the way, and then I came back home to Washington State to write.

I live on Puget Sound, right on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I’m writing this story about the impending Naval exercise up in the Gulf of Alaska, the largest of its kind in the more than 30 years the Navy has been doing them in that area. Meanwhile, about two miles from my house, out on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Shell is bringing their giant drilling rig over to the port of Seattle where it’s going to tie up. So we have the military exercises at the same time they’re positioning these rigs in Seattle, getting them ready to take up to Alaska to start drilling.

It doesn’t take a genius to see the writing on the wall as to the timings of these. It’s not a coincidence. The Navy is getting ready to protect so-called US interests to go up into the Arctic. They’re racing Russia; they’re racing Scandinavian countries. Basically anyone who has any kind of border with the Arctic is in full preparation to go up there, in a race for what’s left, to try to tap into the oil that’s been inaccessible under the ice.

Over a year ago I wrote about the Navy conducting their own study and estimating we would see ice-free periods in the summer in the Arctic starting by 2016. A couple of weeks ago, the current satellite data mapping Arctic ice, both in extent and volume, showed Arctic ice at its lowest volume on record. So it’s certainly possible that by late summer of 2016, meaning late August, early September, we’ll see ice-free periods.

So that’s the context in which all of this is happening. The military is getting ready. That’s why there’s this massive uptick in war-gaming across the entire country ― not just the Navy, but on land, the Air Force is doing things, the Marines are doing things ― because the military is positioning itself for potential war against Russia and China, but also, the race for the Arctic resources is clearly very high on their agenda.

D.J.: This is a great example of something I’ve long thought: that this culture will not have a voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of living. Instead of being horrified that the Arctic will soon be ice-free, they are looking at it with what can only be deemed ‘lust’ for the resources that will be made available. I find it impossible to express through words the disgust, contempt, and hatred that that makes me feel.

Dahr J.: One reason I wanted to do this article was that I lived up in Anchorage for ten years. That’s where I was living when the Iraq war broke out, and my work as a journalist is ultimately what brought me to move out of Alaska. But I love the state, meaning I love the nature there, and I loved going into the mountains and camping and climbing, and going out on boats with people into the waters. I reveled in the powerful natural beauty of the state. And of course, that includes the oceans and the marine mammals. When I learned of the Navy’s plans, I wanted to go up there and report on it, kind of out of a protective urge for this place that is so close to my heart. And when I was up there working on this story and talking to all these people who were going to be impacted by these Navy exercises, I felt that same kind of anger.

Or maybe first I just felt mystified: not only are we going off the cliff as a species, because of the industrial growth society and what it’s done to the planet and what it’s doing and continues to do, but we’re accelerating! The planet is showing us every distress signal it possibly can; we’re watching huge parts of the ecosystem die, increasingly vast numbers of species go extinct, even more and more public awareness of the possibility of our own species rendering itself extinct; but instead of taking a precautionary approach, slowing down, pausing a minute to think that maybe what we’re doing isn’t the best thing, it’s ‘let’s accelerate as fast as possible’ into this dark, death-giving future of ‘we’re going to war game, we’re going to drop more ordinance, we’re going to get ready to go into one of the most pristine areas left on the planet, pollute it like it’s never been polluted before, all for the sake of drilling it, sucking out more oil that shouldn’t even be burned in the first place, because it’s only going to further accelerate what we’re already doing to the planet!’ It really is stupefying; it’s almost beyond imagination. It’s something out of a really bad sci-fi novel, but, unfortunately, it’s the reality.

D.J.: Can we talk now about some of those surprising alliances you mentioned?

Dahr J.: There have been many. For example, the commercial fishing community in Alaska aren’t known for being ‘lefty/greeny’ environmentalists. They’re there to catch the maximum amount of fish allowed by law every season, and make as much money as they can. But when this news of the Navy’s plans started to spread around coastal Alaska, people from these very, very politically conservative fisherfolk across two different unions in the state started to band together, and literally everyone I spoke with about the Navy exercise ― every fisherperson, every person in the fishermen’s union across the state ― was opposed to the Navy’s plans.

And when the Navy played the national security card, saying they’re doing this to protect the state and the waters, the people in Alaska called B.S. Not just environmentalists, but people from all these other groups from the Alaska Marine Conservation Council to the Alaskans First! Coalition to fishermen’s unions to everyone banding together and saying look, we’re absolutely opposed to this.

It’s hard to find a silver lining to this story, but if there is one, that might be it: we’re starting to witness a coalescing of groups across the political spectrum who are seeing the madness perpetrated by the industrial growth society and who are starting to stand up against it together.

D.J.: Are people making that connection between these destructive activities and the industrial growth society? And were they making the connections that you were making, about how we’re going over a cliff and just accelerating?

Dahr J.: Not so much, unfortunately.. One of the most important voices in the story, however, does. Emily Stolarcyk works for the Eyak Preservation Council out of Cordova. It’s an environmental and social justice non-profit with a primary aim to protect wild salmon habitat, period.

Emily sees the bigger picture. She’s gone out of her way to sound the alarm bell on this and has therefore, of course, been targeted by the government of Alaska and the Navy itself. People are really coming after her now.

Unfortunately, the average person I spoke with tended not to see beyond the immediate economic impact. For a lot of folks, their prime motivation was not losing the Alaska salmon brand, in that they can’t have news come out that the salmon are contaminated in any way, because if that market tanks, they’re in big trouble.

D.J.: How is she being targeted?

Dahr J.: For example, the Navy has tried to discredit her, even though she has gone out of her way to quote directly from the Navy’s own Environmental Impact Statement. It’s online, people can look it up themselves, and she literally is using quotes. The Navy tells people she is not giving accurate information, that she’s inflating figures, and so on. The military is deified by mainstream America and by the corporate media as a benevolent force that is only there to protect us. Of course that’s absolute nonsense, but because of that misperception, most people still tend to believe the military.

Emily has also been targeted by Senator Lisa Murkowski, a hardcore right-wing, anti-environment, pro-corporate profit, pro-fossil fuel industry, pro-military senator up there in Alaska. She sent the state fisheries person down to meet with Emily. The fisheries person called Emily on her personal cell phone at night to cuss her out and threaten her. It was bad enough he later emailed her an apology for it. So there have been bellicose threats, bellicose language used against her from this person, and from the Navy itself.

The Navy has found anyone in these communities who could potentially be on their side and actively worked to turn them against Emily Stolarcyk and the Eyak Preservation Council. They’ve demonized them, putting out false statements, trying to make it seem the Eyak Preservation Council isn’t actually working for their stated purpose of preserving critical salmon habitat. Basically negative propaganda campaigns run against her and the organization she works for.

D.J.: How can people support her?

Dahr J: Other people need to take up the fight against the Navy. They need to get up on the facts of the story, understand what the Navy is planning on doing, and join in the fight. They don’t necessarily need to come work alongside Emily Stolarcyk, but to understand the relevance of her work and the importance of it. These types of Navy war games are happening off the coast of Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California, and have been for a long time. So, anyone in proximity to those coasts, this is our fight, too. And all of us need to be talking about this, all of us need to be getting this into the media and getting as many activists involved as possible, people who might have other ideas about how they can help.

D.J.: You mentioned Lisa Murkowski. Is the problem there individual politicians, that if she were replaced these atrocities might not occur? Or is the problem more institutional, and widespread?

Dahr J.: Lisa Murkowski is of course terrible, as is Congressman Don Young. No matter what, those two are always full steam ahead with anything the military and the fossil fuel industry want. They are villains in this story: they are actively working against the interest of nature and the planet in every possible, conceivable way. But the problem really is institutional.

Let’s use Washington state as a case study. Governor Jay Inslee paints himself as the ‘green’ governor, and when I first moved here I thought, ‘yeah, this guy is doing a lot of good stuff. He’s taking the climate change issue head on, he’s saying a lot of the right things and sometimes doing some of the right things.’

But because of how deeply embedded the military is in this state and how much money the state gets from their presence, this is a governor who knowingly accepts what the Navy is doing here. He refuses to take a stance directly against the wargaming that’s already going on here or against future wargame plans for the state of Washington, and is basically in their back pocket. The same for Derek Kilmer, one of the representatives here. And the same is true for numerous other political so-called representatives.

I’m sure the same can be said for California. I think many people hear about these military exercises, and think, “The Democrats are in charge, and they wouldn’t do this.” But political party is irrelevant in this story with the military. The military is so embedded in these states and there’s so much money being brought into the states by their presence that you’d be hard-pressed to find a political so-called representative who is not on the take. That gives you an idea why there isn’t any real political pushback against these exercises.

D.J.: We all know that the military is a form for massive corporate welfare. It’s a giant Keynesian stimulus. And we all know capitalism relies on subsidies. But that always leads to the question: why can’t they just subsidize nice things instead of bad things?

During the 1970s, liberal George McGovern asked somebody at one of the military contractors, “Since all you care about is making money, could we just subsidize your corporation to make school buses instead of bombers? Would you do that?”

The military contractor said, “Sure!” and then they both burst out laughing because they knew that Congress would never allow that in the budget.

Dahr J.: At this point the US military is in the final stage of empire. When we look through history, empires use numerous ways to maintain control and power. There’s the economy, there’s propaganda, there are appeals to people’s morality, etc. The final stage – and the weakest and the shortest – is using military might, pushing the military frontiers out as far as possible and putting all their resources into maintaining and growing the military. Then they collapse relatively shortly thereafter. That’s exactly what the US is doing.

Today, while we do this interview, we have news of them setting up yet another new US base in Iraq and sending more troops over there. Domestic military exercises are pushing new bounds of what’s ever been done before, looking at expanding up into the Arctic, and preparing for war gaming against Russia and China in the future.

Over 50% of all US taxpayer money is going directly to the Pentagon in one way or another. I think that underscores what you just said, Derrick, about the preposterous idea that something could be done differently. I don’t think anyone in the government could really take seriously any attempts to significantly defund the military. At this stage of the game everyone understands the military is the final weapon the US government is using geopolitically at this point. I think anyone who challenges that and thinks they’re going to change how the government and economy function at this stage of the game is not living in reality.

D.J.: Apart from the environmental degradation, do we know the numbers on how much this military exercise is going to cost?

Dahr J.: No. The military is very careful not to release total figures of these types of exercises. You always have to try to puzzle figures out from hints. For example, the Navy is trying to push through electromagnetic warfare training out on the Olympic Peninsula, planning on starting early next year. They want to use these jet aircraft called Growlers, maybe because they’re the loudest aircraft ever built. Extremely loud – ear-splittingly loud.

To fly one of those costs over $12,000 an hour. That’s just one jet. That’s not a war ship. It’s difficult to get the numbers, but I think it’s safe to say that a two-week joint military exercise involving a dozen ships, however many aircraft are going to be on those ships, all the personnel, all the weapons that are going to be used, all the fuel burned, will very easily cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

D.J.: What can people do if they are in Alaska or elsewhere, to prevent this from happening again?

Dahr J.: People need to recognize this is happening not just in and around Alaska, but all over. There’s a massive domestic military expansion happening everywhere. People need to become aware of this and make others aware of it. They need to get this information out there. And then they need to start raising hell. They need to start fighting it.

We’re starting to see people standing up, and we’re starting to see them work together.

This whole struggle dovetails with what’s happening in the battles against the pipelines and against fracking that we’re seeing down in Texas now, and across the Midwest, where really interesting alliances are being formed between some pretty right-wing political groups as well as some pretty hard-core left-leaning groups of environmentalists and other activists.

Just like those movements draw these alliances, people who are opposed to this military expansion—and that should be all of us—need to work together to stop this. People need to get involved. The sooner the better.

“Bring Down the Culture”: An Interview with Kourtney Mitchell

By Vincent Emanuele for Counterpunch

Kourtney Mitchell is a writer and activist currently living in northeast Georgia, United States. He sits on the steering committee for Deep Green Resistance and the national board of directors for Veterans for Peace. Co-author of The Enemy in Blue: The Renatta Frazier Story, he has been involved in social justice activism for eight years. Kourtney is currently AWOL from the Georgia Army National Guard.

***

Vincent Emanuele: Let’s talk a little bit about your background. I know you were born in Illinois and now live in Georgia. What was your childhood like? Was your family politically active?

Kourtney Mitchell: Yes, I was born and spent the first part of my childhood on Chicago’s west side, right in the heart of the inner city. I remember huge gang fights and gun shots carrying on while I was trying to sleep as a kid, and always worrying about getting into fights with neighborhood kids while playing outside with my family. In Chicago, I lived in a three story home where each floor was like its own apartment. I lived with not just my parents and siblings, but also cousins, aunts, uncles, their spouses and my great grandmother, who to this day continues to keep the family together as the virtual matriarch. This is why my family always has and forever will have strong family bonds. Loyalty is natural for us.

We would cross the street to get Chicago-style polish sausages and Italian beef sandwiches, and fries smothered in mild sauce. This was back in the day of corner stores—real corner stores that weren’t attached to gas stations and pharmacies. Up the street the other way was a city park with a basketball court and jungle gym. Even though there was a lot of gang violence in my neighborhood, my family was well-established in the community and for the most part we got along just fine.

In Chicago, we were bussed out of the inner city to a magnet school instead of attending the schools closer to home. Of course I realized the problems with this, but I loved that school as a kid. I can still remember some of my friends, including the sweet little girl who wanted to be my girlfriend after I roughed up a bully who hit her during recess.

As a matter of fact, my grandfather is a former Black Panther in the Chicago chapter. That’s the only thing I know of the political activity of my family. We’ve visited him several times while I was a kid. However, he’s currently in prison in Illinois for charges dating back to his time with the Panthers.

When my mom moved us to Springfield, IL to finish her undergraduate degree, it was a different world. There in the state capitol, we attended mostly white schools where we surprisingly got along just fine and made a whole lot of friends. Schools with enough computers and television screens in the classroom, and decent textbooks. It was in those schools that I was able to write a full romance novel manuscript started when I was ten years old, almost get it published, and appear on Black Entertainment Television for an interview about it. Our middle and high schools were a bit more integrated, and those were the most formative years of my life.

It was in high school that my mother joined the Springfield, IL police department and experienced a lot of racism and sexism, for which she filed a civil suit against the city and settled out-of-court. That whole fiasco was extremely traumatic for my family—we had to move out of the state, and then back to Illinois within a single year. Constant media coverage and negative publicity for my mother and family until it was all settled. Continued harassment from the police department, including an eviction where cops threw all of our belongings out onto the street on my brother and I’s birthday. But we made the most of it. My mother and I wrote and self-published a creative nonfiction book about her experiences.

Vincent Emanuele: The last time we spoke, you were AWOL from the U.S. Army. I remember wanting to escape my unit, but being reluctant because I didn’t have politicized friends or comrades in the military or outside the military. Why did you join the military? And what’s your current status?

Kourtney Mitchell: Technically my status is still AWOL, though I’m working closely with my unit leadership to get the discharge once and for all. The unit was very good to me actually, so I believe them when they say they won’t pursue legal recourse. Answering why I joined the military is tricky. I want to admit right away that I knew better, but… I never should have enlisted.

Okay, so I had returned to Georgia from living and going to school in Missouri, which I still to this day view as a mistake because I had a great community in Missouri and it was hard leaving them. I didn’t like living at home, and I was having a very hard time finding decent work. My family urged me to enlist, so originally I was going to enlist with the Marines, even signed the contract and received a ship date for boot camp. But then I backed out, and went with the National Guard instead. The 68W MOS (combat medic) had a ship date that was too far in the future for my liking, so I decided to join as infantry so I could ship-off ASAP. That was an even bigger mistake than enlisting. Basically, I did it so I could get out on my own again and develop some job skills that may lead to career opportunities. I attended OSUT infantry training at Fort Benning, where WHINSEC (formerly the School of the Americas) trains death squads to squash the resistance in South America.

Vincent Emanuele: Let’s backtrack. At what point did you become radicalized? And who were some of your initial influences?

Kourtney Mitchell: My radicalization started when I was in college. It’s a long but interesting story. I’ll try to keep it somewhat short. My first experience with any kind of radical thought was when I decided to take a writing-intensive course in college that was focused on black female writers. We read Patricia Hill Collins, Toni Morrison, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston, etc. I didn’t take the course because I thought it was something I should learn about. Honestly, I took it because I needed the writing credit, and the class was available. It turned out to be a very good decision, and it contributed to real change in my life. It helped me establish the basics of feminism as it relates to the experiences of black women.

The instructor offered extra credit for attending a campus community discussion at the Black Culture Center on the representation and exploitation of black women in mainstream media. I shared my thoughts at the event based on what I was learning as a journalism student (later changed my major to sociology), and there was a woman there who really liked what I had to say. She was from the campus Women’s Center, and invited me to join the male ally program. I really don’t know why I agreed to do it; I guess there was something about the course I was taking that got me interested in pro-feminist men’s work, even though I wasn’t articulating it at the time.

I began attending the meetings and actions, and from there I joined the campus peer education program that was focused on anti-violence and anti-sexual assault on campus. That was my training ground—a formal, for-credit course that taught the fundamentals of sexual assault, relationship violence, patriarchy and ending male violence on campus. We were trained in how to help a friend in crisis, as well as how to give presentations to our peers.

That program changed my life forever. The course was extremely intense, at least for a starry-eyed undergrad like me. I remember many nights going home crying because I couldn’t understand how men could be so violent and create such a violent world. I struggled with what I could do as an individual, but I knew that I had no choice but to make pro-feminism my life’s work. I got so many good opportunities—giving presentations to fraternities, football teams, teenagers, college kids, so many different communities. We hosted spoken work events and open-mic nights. It was a fantastic program.

Once I switched my major to sociology, I began learning a bit about Marxist theory, which lead me to anarchism eventually, and then I began reading Derrick Jensen, John Zerzan and Layla Abdel Rahim. Anti-civilization thought revolutionized my thinking of social justice. Now it all made sense. All of the converging crises of racism, patriarchy, and human supremacism now became the overall problem I was trying to name—civilization, namely industrial civilization.

Not long after I returned to Georgia, the Deep Green Resistance book was published, and I began reading voraciously and watching all of the DGR videos online. I attended a workshop that early DGR members gave at a community spot in Atlanta, and I knew that I needed to find a way to join the group after that. I was invited to do so, and from then on my understanding of radical feminism and anti-civ thought has grown by leaps and bounds.

While in college, I got to kick it with Fred Hampton Jr (who pointed me out during his speech because he recognized me, and knew my mom and grandfather), and have dinner with Angela Davis. I saw Maya Angelou, Michael Eric Dyson, Jackson Katz and many others speak on campus. A few friends and I traveled to Jena, Louisiana for the huge Jena 6 protest, and I attended and helped organize several protests and marches on campus, including Take Back The Night marches, as well as a march and occupation of the student commons when legislators were threatening to repeal affirmative action programs. There was also well-attended community forum events for different incidents, such as when some white students thought it was funny to dump cotton balls on the lawn of the Black Culture Center.

Vincent Emanuele: In the past year, the intersection of race and policing has become one of the most galvanizing issues of our time. As a black man living in a nation built on the genocide of indigenous peoples, African slavery and white supremacy, how do you understand, process and resist within this culture?

Kourtney Mitchell: Understanding and processing what is happening in this culture is an ongoing process for me. I’m still fairly new to activism; most of my time was spent as an educator, with only a handful of real on-the-ground actions under my belt. But I guess I understand and process by being an avid reader, listening to pretty much every interview, speech and lecture I can find and/or attend in person, and constant conversations with other activists. As far as racism and white supremacy go, well that’s just a daily grind. My family has experienced both overt and covert racism. My family’s living conditions in Chicago were a direct result of racist housing practices. I mentioned the craziness with my mom at the police department in Illinois. And being followed and stopped all the time for just walking here in Georgia is so normal for me that sometimes I forget it’s not how it should be.

The processing part is the hardest, though, even harder than resisting. Processing is an internalization of what is happening, and it affects my very soul. Truthfully, I sometimes sit in my home, contemplating all of the police murders of unarmed people of color, their rape of women and all of the other craziness happening with policing and I just cry. That coupled with the destruction of the natural world, and it’s all just too much sometimes. But it’s a process—eventually I come out of despair even stronger and more determined. I am extremely privileged to be connected to several very large activist communities. I have a lot of allies, so I have it easier than someone who’s trying to navigate this culture alone.

Some people may not know this, but my family is military and police officer heavy. So I get a heavy dose of both perspectives every day, both against and for this culture. Again, I consider it a privilege, because I get to really hone my analysis on a real-world level.

Resisting this culture has become a calling for me, a purpose for living. I’ve attempted to set out on my own, drop all of my responsibilities and live a nomadic anarchist lifestyle, but that didn’t go well, and just thoroughly upset all of my loved ones. I began realizing that collective action, joining together as an oppressed group of people, is how we effectively resist the empire. So joining DGR and Veterans For Peace has become how I am able to leverage my skills, knowledge and passion for more effective actions. I also don’t mind using all of the tools at our disposal, even though many may say we’re hypocrites for using technology or finding ways to work within the system. I think Derrick Jensen is right when he said that we need it all, whatever skills people can bring in whatever capacity. We need it all to resist.

Vincent Emanuele: Right now, I know you’re a member of two organizations: Deep Green Resistance and Veterans for Peace. Can you talk about these organizations? What are you currently working on?

Kourtney Mitchell: DGR is the first activist organization I joined once I left Missouri and joined my family in Georgia. I was feeling isolated as an activist, partly because I wasn’t able to get to Atlanta consistently, which is where the majority of the activism in Georgia happens. So joining DGR was really a saving grace for me.

So DGR is a grassroots, volunteer-run social justice organization with chapters all over the world. Our analysis is that industrial civilization is currently killing the planet and oppressing living communities. Unless we bring down this culture—that is, unless we stop all extractive processes and dismantle all oppressive institutions, then the culture will keep going until it has literally killed every living being on the planet. So our strategy is Decisive Ecological Warfare, in which we advocate for the formation of a hypothetical underground militant movement that can attack industrial infrastructure and thus lead to the collapse of industrial civilization. We are not a part of, and do not ever wish to be a part of any kind of underground that may form to this effect. But we loudly and vocally speak in favor of such actions, because we believe it’s the only hope our planet has for survival. Our members engage in nonviolent civil disobedience, as well as widespread educational and activist campaigns around the world. Those killing the planet will not ever stop by asking them nicely. They will only stop when we force them to do so.

Veterans For Peace is a 501c3 non-profit activist organization composed of hundreds of chapters around the world. We are a military veterans-led organization with non-veteran associate members, and one of just a few veterans-led organizations that loudly and vocally opposes all wars and foreign interventions around the world. Our mission is to expose the true cost of war and militarism, and to advocate for reparations to both civilian communities affected by war and for veterans who carry the scars and moral injuries of war.

With DGR, I currently sit on the Steering Committee, the People of Color Caucus and I am the anti-racist editor for our News Service online. I’m involved with several projects as well, including art and music, pro-radical feminism, and I help direct security for the organization.

I currently sit on the National Board of Directors for Veterans For Peace, and I’ve joined the Nominations Committee to help recruit young veterans to the organization and encourage Post-911 veterans to take leadership positions. I also am hoping to do work with our G.I. Resistance working group to encourage young veterans to consider Conscientious Objection or other forms of resistance to military service, and to offer assistance to those who already have. Being AWOL myself, I understand the importance of having a close, loving community to assist in this struggle.

Vincent Emanuele: How has a “deep green” vision and understanding of patriarchy/male violence influenced your approach to strategies, tactics, and so on?

Kourtney Mitchell: As I mentioned earlier, the anti-civilization perspective revolutionized my understanding of social justice. It brought together all of the social problems that were important to me and put them under a big umbrella of civilization as the cause. The “deep green” perspective is really the foundation of this approach.

So it’s easiest to understand what the deep green perspective is when you contrast it with what we like to call “bright green” environmentalism. Bright green is what you get when capitalism attempts to paint what it is doing to the planet with the brush of consumer choices. So corporations and governments want us to think that it’s our fault that the planet is warming and the oceans are dying, and the top soil is blowing away in the wind. They want us to think that it’s because we aren’t buying the right products—our light bulbs, toilet paper, plastic shopping bags, our vehicle emissions, etc. They want us to believe that if we just buy and use the right products, then we can stop the destruction of the natural world, purely by consumer product choices alone.

To go along with this, so-called environmentalists have completely bought into this elaborate and well-funded lie. Even huge organizations like Greenpeace, The Sierra Club, etc, have touted the good of making better consumer choices. Capitalism has completely co-opted the environmental movement, which used to be about actually protecting the natural and is nowadays more about perpetuating industrial economies.

The bright green perspective has a fatal, fundamental flaw: it’s not the products of industrial civilization that are the problem, it’s the industrial economy itself. As a matter of fact, only as high as 20% of all energy and resource use comes from municipalities, and usually that number is much lower. The other 80-90% of all resource depletion and pollution comes from militaries, governments and corporations. The United States military is the world’s largest polluter, dumping more toxic waste into the environment than the top five corporations combined. Someone please tell me how my buying florescent light bulbs and recycled toilet paper is going to stop the military from committing this atrocity?

The deep green perspective takes this radical approach: Earth is a living, breathing being, which sustains homeostasis and provides the very foundation of life. All extractive processes, regardless of what products result, are detrimental to the health of the planet. The industrial economy is completely at odds with life on the planet, and since this is the case without a doubt, then it is the industrial economy that has to be dismantled. Green technology, such as wind turbines and hydroelectric power and solar power, all require industrial extraction, and thus cannot be considered sustainable.

The deep green analysis recognizes that for 99% of our existence on this planet as human beings, we lived in harmony with the land. We had a close physical and spiritual relationship with the web of life on earth, and our communities were set up to directly provide for real human and animal needs, not the needs of cities and empires. Our only hope for survival on this planet is to bring down the culture that’s killing it and return to our humble, close relationship to the land.

Vincent Emanuele: Since being involved, what are some of the pitfalls you’ve seen within the movement? In other words, how could groups and individuals better organize communities?

Kourtney Mitchell: The most obvious thing to me, at least for the environmental movement, is to give up the idea that so-called green technology will save us from certain destruction.

Other pitfalls include the failure of privileged activists to join in a material way the movements that oppressed people have created. There is too much sidelining by men who call themselves pro-feminist, or by whites who call themselves anti-racist. Oppressed groups need your material solidarity, not just your words. Oppressed groups need folks to join the front-lines of resistance, to put our bodies in between the oppressors and the communities they intend to oppress. In the DGR strategy, we recognize that only very few resistors will do the dirty work of materially dismantling the culture using militant means. The rest of us need to do radical actions including nonviolent civil disobedience and loud, vocal, and public advocation of radical strategy, normalizing resistance in the culture and attempting to counter the hegemonic messages of the empire.

I think there’s a lot of good organizing going on, but I just wish there was more cohesion, more collaboration across movements. This is hard when men in various movements refuse to check their male privilege, and refuse to call out male activists who are sexist or have a history of violence against women. And it’s hard when whites in various movements refuse to undergo the hard transformational process of admitting to and dismantling their own racism. That silence needs to stop right now. We don’t have time for half-assed activism. We need effective actions that can actually challenge power, dismantle capital and overthrow the power structure.

I think we should start adopting a process-oriented approach. What I like so much about the DGR strategy is that it recognizes that each action has a place in the movement, and that each action has to be evaluated on its ability to reach intended goals.

So growing community gardens alone cannot stop pipeline construction, nor can it stop Monsanto. But it can help feed activists. Such an action can sustain the movement. Actions such as hypothetically attacking oil infrastructure can actually lead to the collapse of the system, so that’s considered a decisive action. We have to analyze actions in this way, otherwise we’ll always be fighting a losing battle against an enemy who has vastly more resources and has a monopoly on violence.

Finally, I think activists overall need to understand that our goal should be to dismantle the culture entirely, not simply just to feel good about our actions. Feeling good is not the point when people of color (POC) are still being murdered in the streets; men are still killing and raping women; and indigenous communities are still being wiped off the planet. We need to get over our reliance on nonviolence as an end goal, and speak honestly about what it will actually take to win this war.

Vincent Emanuele: What is your vision for the future? Here, if you would go into some detail, that would be great, as I think people are interested in alternatives.

Kourtney Mitchell: Well, I can’t say that I personally have a vision for what the entire world needs to look like in the future. Personally, I want to possibly raise kids, grow food, tend to animals and live in a loving, supportive community away from industrial infrastructure. I want a sustainable off-the-grid lifestyle for my loved ones. But the way this culture is going, that may not ever be possible.

I can say that since civilization is a monoculture—that is, it is a culture characterized by the growth of cities, and that cities are proliferating all over the world, demolishing other forms of living such as tribes, clans, bands, etc—and that civilization behaves in a way that says only it can exist in the world, I think what could be of value is the proliferation of a diversity of cultures. A diversity of living arrangements tailored to the specific land-base that people find themselves living on. Our social structures, our communities, must be intimately tied to the specifics of the land we live on, so that we can live in such a way that actually contributes to the land, that actually benefits the land, instead of destroying it. Whatever that looks like for different communities, I welcome that future.

I think that inevitably means we must give up on all extractive processes, including agriculture. Many people do not understand just how harmful agriculture is to the land. This method of growing food has been characterized as the worst mistake humans have made in our history. Agriculture relies on annual mono-crops that actually destroy the land. What we need to rediscover is the perennial polycultures that give back to the land, and that cultivate the other lifeforms on the land. Agriculture has lead directly to our skyrocketing human population that is set to crash pretty much any decade now. Agriculture has to grow more food to feed more people, which in turn leads to more people and thus requires more food. It’s a never-ending cycle, and it’s really the most horrific consideration of our future. We need to be smart about how to address the population problem, starting with emancipating women around the world towards autonomy over their bodies and families.

Vincent Emanuele: Who are some of your personal influences? 

Kourtney Mitchell: Oh goodness, too many to name them all. Really, my activism has consisted mostly of repeating what a lot of good people have said and done before me.

Some of my most influential comrades are dear close friends of mine, such as the seasoned activists in DGR and VFP. Saba Malik, Derrick Jensen and Lierre Keith have had the most influential impact on my activism. My mother continues to be my biggest inspiration for overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds to become successful and instill her family with a sense of pride and purpose. The work of Gail Dines has been absolutely huge for my understanding of the evils of the sexual exploitation industry. Michael McPherson of VFP is a prime role model of mine, and I greatly admire his work both within the organization as well as his longtime work with some of the nation’s biggest anti-police violence movements. Doug Zachary, who’s a member of both VFP and DGR, is an incredible pro-feminist man and war resistor. He had the biggest impact on my decision to get involved in the anti-war movement.

Vincent Emanuele: What are you currently reading?

Kourtney Mitchell: The Culture of Make Believe by Derrick Jensen, who pulls no punches in his analysis of the dominant culture, and that makes his reading pretty tough to get through. It took me over two years to read both volumes of Endgame, but I’m glad I did. Derrick is a talented writer who has the ability to grab the attention of even his most ardent detractors. If you don’t feel like resisting with all of your might after reading his work, then you really don’t have a pulse.

Also, I’m reading Radical Acceptance by Dr. Tara Brach. I’ve been into Buddhist meditation and spirituality since 2006 and it gives me a good balanced perspective on the human condition and the nature of suffering in this world. I like how Dr. Brach weaves her personal narrative into a transformative program for overcoming our self-loathing. Probably the most practical Buddhist book I’ve ever read, which is saying a lot because I’ve often felt my spirituality and my activism weren’t meshing as well as I would like.

Vincent Emanuele: Any closing remarks or suggestions? 

Kourtney Mitchell: In the words of Andrea Dworkin: Resist! Do not comply!

Vincent Emanuele is a writer, activist and radio journalist who writes a weekly column for TeleSUR English. He lives in the Rust Belt and can be reached at vince.emanuele@ivaw.org

From Counterpunch: http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/02/27/a-feminist-radical-environmentalist-and-awol/

 

Munduruku people prepare to go to war with Brazil over dam projects

By Jonathan Watts / The Guardian

An Amazonian community has threatened to “go to war” with the Brazilian government after what they say is a military incursion into their land by dam builders.

The Munduruku indigenous group in Para state say they have been betrayed by the authorities, who are pushing ahead with plans to build a cascade of hydropower plants on the Tapajós river without their permission.

Public prosecutors, human rights groups, environmental organisations and Christian missionaries have condemned what they call the government’s strong-arm tactics.

According to witnesses in the area, helicopters, soldiers and armed police have been involved in Operation Tapajós, which aims to conduct an environmental impact assessment needed for the proposed construction of the 6,133MW São Luiz do Tapajós dam.

The facility, to be built by the Norte Energia consortium, is the biggest of two planned dams on the Tapajós, the fifth-largest river in the Amazon basin. The government’s 10-year plan includes the construction of four larger hydroelectric plants on its tributary, the Jamanxim.

Under Brazilian law, major infrastructure projects require prior consultation with indigenous communities. Federal prosecutors say this has not happened and urge the courts to block the scheme which, they fear, could lead to bloodshed.

“The Munduruku have already stated on several occasions that they do not support studies for hydroelectric plants on their land unless there is full prior consultation,” the prosecutors noted in a statement.

However, a court ruling last week gave the go-ahead for the survey. Government officials say that neither researchers nor logistical and support teams will enter indigenous villages. The closest they will get is about 30 miles from the nearest village, Sawré Maybu.

The ministry of mines and energy noted on its website that 80 researchers, including biologists and foresters, would undertake a study of flora and fauna. The army escort was made possible by President Dilma Rousseff, who decreed this year that military personnel could be used for survey operations. Officials say the security is for the safety of the scientists and the local population.

Missionaries said the presence of armed troops near Sawré Maybu village, Itaituba, was intimidating, degrading and an unacceptable violation of the rights of the residents.

“In this operation, the federal government has been threatening the lives of the people,” the Indigenous Missionary Council said. “It is unacceptable and illegitimate for the government to impose dialogue at the tip of a bayonet.”

The group added that Munduruku leaders ended a phone call with representatives of the president with a declaration of war. They have also issued open letters calling for an end to the military operation. “We are not bandits. We feel betrayed, humiliated and disrespected by all this,” a letter states.

One of the community’s leaders, Valdenir Munduruku, has warned that locals will take action if the government does not withdraw its taskforce by 10 April, when the two sides are set to talk. He has called for support from other indigenous groups, such as the Xingu, facing similar threats from hydroelectric dams.

Environmental groups have expressed concern. The 1,200-mile waterway is home to more than 300 fish species and provides sustenance to some of the most biodiverse forest habitats on Earth. Ten indigenous groups inhabit the basin, along with several tribes in voluntary isolation.

With similar conflicts over other proposed dams in the Amazon, such as those at Belo Monte, Teles Pires, Santo Antônio and Jirau, some compare the use of force to the last great expansion of hydropower during the military dictatorship.

“The Brazilian government is making political decisions about the dams before the environmental impact assessment is done,” said Brent Millikan of the International Rivers environmental group.

“The recent military operations illustrate that the federal government is willing to disregard existing legal instruments intended to foster dialogue between government and civil society.”

From The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/apr/03/brazil-dam-activists-war-military

Ethiopian military killing, repressing indigenous people threatened by megadam

By John Vidal / The Guardian

Human rights abuses in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo valley are said to be rampant, with tribal leaders imprisoned, dozens of people killed and troops cracking down on dissent ahead of the building of a massive dam, which is forcing the relocation of some of the most remote tribes in Africa.

The valley, a Unesco world heritage site renowned for its isolated cultures and ethnic groups, is home to 200,000 pastoralist farmers including the Kwegu, Bodi, Mutsi and Nyangatom tribes. These groups all depend on the Omo river, which flows through their traditional land on its way to Lake Turkana in Kenya.

But their way of life, which has remained largely unchanged in thousands of years, is now being devastated by the Ethiopian government’s plans to turn the Omo valley into a powerhouse of large commercial farming. Malaysian, Indian and other foreign companies have been allocated vast areas of land and water resources to grow palm oils, cereals and other crops.

So far, says US-based Oakland Institute in a new report, 445,000 hectares (1.1m acres) have been earmarked for plantations, which will be irrigated by the $2bn (about £1.3bn) Gibe dam. This is expected to eventually double the energy capacity of Ethiopia, storing water in a large lake that will feed irrigation projects.

More than 2,000 soldiers are said to have been drafted into the area downstream of the dam and most of the Omo valley is now off limits to foreigners. But evidence collected in the last few months by an Oakland researcher, suggests that relocations, killings and repression are now common.

“I was walking peacefully in my field when soldiers began shooting me for no good reason. I was shot with a bullet in my knee. That day 11 people were killed and the soldiers threw four bodies off Dima village bridge. They were eaten by hyenas,” one man said.

“Here in Koka, the roads that we the Suri people have built were destroyed by the plantation’s trucks. Nothing is done to help us,” said another. “They diverted the water to their fields and there is nothing left for us to drink. We have no choice but to go to the mountains. It is dangerous now.”

The report is impossible to verify, but it reinforces other accounts of human rights violations in the area.

The government, which denies human rights abuses, claims that 150,000 jobs will be created by the plantations, but the Oakland researcher could find little evidence of people employed.

“In Suri, the government is said to have cleared much of the grass and trees to allow the Malaysian investors to establish their plantations. Water has been diverted leaving the Suri with nothing for their cattle,” says the report.

“Entire families had to leave their land. The elderly could often not walk any more, they were suffering so badly. We are threatened by famine, we have less milk, less maize. Without good pastures we are nothing. The military hunts us so we flee into the forest,” one tribesman said.

According to Kenyan NGO Friends of Lake Turkana, more than 60 Suri people were killed last May. “Following the violation of their rights, the Suri took arms an engaged the government forces. The government killed 54 Suri in the marketplace in Maji; it is estimated that 65 people died in the massacre. Suri people are being arrested randomly and sentenced to 18, 20 and 25 years in prison for obscure crimes.

According to the report, every bulldozer operated by a Malaysian plantation company is now guarded by several soldiers. This follows the alleged killing of 17 people near the plantation in October 2012.

“Four Suri chiefs were thrown into prison in August. Visits are forbidden,” one Suri tribesman told the researcher, who has asked to remain anonymous. “We fear the worst.”

From The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2013/feb/07/ethiopian-dam-project-devastating-remote-tribes

Armed indigenous community forces Petroamazonas to abandon oil project in Ecuador

By Jonathan Watts / The Guardian

An indigenous community in the Ecuadorian Amazon has won a reprieve after building up an arsenal of spears, blowpipes, machetes and guns to fend off an expected intrusion by the army and a state-run oil company.

The residents of Sani Isla expressed relief that a confrontation with Petroamazonas did not take place on Tuesday as anticipated, but said the firm is still trying to secure exploration rights in their area of pristine rainforest.

“We have won a victory in our community. We’re united,” said the community president, Leonardo Tapuy. “But the government and the oil company won’t leave us alone. ”

The Kichwa tribe on Sani Isla, had said they were ready to fight to the death to protect their territory, which covers 70,000 hectares. More than a quarter of their land is in Yasuni national park, the most biodiverse place on earth.

Petroamazonas had earlier told them it would begin prospecting on their land on 15 January, backed by public security forces.

Before the expected confrontation,the shaman, Patricio Jipa said people were making blowpipes and spears, trying to borrow guns and preparing to use sticks stones and any other weapons they could lay their hands on.

“Our intention was not to hurt or kill anyone, but to stop them from entering our land,” he said.

It is unclear why Petroamazonas hesitated. The company has yet to respond to the Guardian’s request for a comment.

Locals speculated that it was due to a reaffirmation of opposition to the oil company at a marathon community meeting on Sunday.

“They’ve heard that we are united against the exploration so they have backed off,” said Fredy Gualinga, manager of the Sani Lodge. “We’re happy they haven’t come. Life is going on as normal.”

The relief may not last for long given the huge fossil fuel resources that are thought to lie below the forest.

“It was a close thing, but we’re not out of the water. The oil company has not given up. They will continue to hound us and to try to divide the community. But at least we have a few days respite,” said Mari Muench, a British woman who is married to the village shaman.

The elected leaders of Sani Isla have pledged to resist offers from Petroamazonas for the duration of their term.

“This policy will remain in place during our period in office. We’re committed to that and we will do what we can to make it more permanent,” said Abdon Grefa, the speaker of the community.

The battle has now moved to the judicial system and the court of public opinion. Their appeal for an injunction went before a judge on Wednesday and they are calling on supporters to help them build a long-term economic alternative to fossil fuels.

“We hope people will write protest letters to Petroamazonas, come and visit our lodge, promote Sani, donate money to our school and projects, volunteer as teachers or provide funds to students to travel overseas so they can learn what we need to survive in the future,” said the community secretary, Klider Gualinga.

From The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/jan/17/indigenous-ecuadorian-tribe-oil-intrusion

Campaign of terror escalating against human rights defenders in the Americas

By Amnesty International

Human rights defenders across the Americas are facing escalating levels of intimidation, harassment and attacks at the hands of state security forces, paramilitary groups and organized crime, Amnesty International said in a new report today.

The report Transforming pain into hope: Human rights defenders in the Americas, is based on around 300 cases of intimidation, harassment, attacks and killings of human rights defenders in more than a dozen countries primarily between January 2010 and September 2012.

“Human rights defenders are systematically harassed, attacked and subjected to unfounded criminal charges in almost every country in the Americas to prevent them from speaking out for the rights of the most marginalized,” said Nancy Tapias-Torrado, Americas Researcher on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders at Amnesty International.

Throughout the Americas, human rights defenders have been publicly condemned as “illegal”, “illegitimate”, “unscrupulous” or even “immoral”. They have been accused of being criminals, corrupt, liars, troublemakers or subversives; of defending criminals; and of supporting guerrilla groups. Such public criticisms have been voiced by government officials as well as non-state actors.

“Men and women who work to protect human rights are also targeted as they are seen by powerful political and economic interests as an obstacle to major development projects,” said Tapias-Torrado.

Those particularly targeted include people working on issues related to land and natural resources; the rights of women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, abuses against migrants as well as those working to ensure justice for human rights abuses, plus journalists, bloggers and trade unionists.

Of the almost 300 cases analyzed by Amnesty International, those directly responsible were convicted in only four cases.

Almost half of the cases documented by Amnesty International took place in the context of disputes over land, in countries including Brazil, Colombia and Honduras. Several were related to large-scale development projects led by private companies.

In countries including Cuba and Mexico, human rights defenders have suffered judicial harassment, have been detained on the basis of flawed evidence or have had spurious charges hanging over them for years because arrest warrants are issued then not acted on.

Indigenous human rights defenders José Ramón Aniceto Gómez and Pascual Agustín Cruz, from Puebla, Mexico, were released from prison on 28 November 2012, after the country’s Supreme Court of Justice overturned their unfair conviction.

They were sentenced, in 12 July 2010, to seven years in prison, accused of stealing a car.

The case was brought by a member of a powerful local cacique group that had for many years restricted access to water and charged connection fees that represented four monthly wages for many community members. The two defenders had fought to establish free mains water connections to people’s houses.

The Court’s decision on this case confirms Amnesty International’s conclusion that the case against these defenders was a total injustice.

In several countries of the Americas, women human rights defenders who have campaigned on issues including violence against women, have faced rape, threats of rape, intimidation and their relatives have been threatened.

On 9 November 2011, an armed man and a woman entered the home of human rights defender Jackeline Rojas Castañeda in Barrancabermeja, Colombia. The man and woman held her and her 15-year-old daughter at gunpoint in separate rooms. They told Jackeline they would kill her daughter if she tried to call for help.

Jackeline was tied up and gagged, and red paint was sprayed on her body and clothes. The attackers repeatedly demanded information on the whereabouts of her son and her husband, a trade union leader. In addition to the attack, two laptops, USB sticks, mobiles and documents were taken from her house.

On 10 November, Jackeline – a prominent member of the Popular Women’s Organization (Organización Femenina Popular) — went to report the attack at the Attorney General’s Office. Her complaint was initially not accepted by staff who claimed she had invented the attack.

“When authorities fail to protect those who work to defend everyone’s human rights and fail to investigate attacks against them, they send a signal that those attacks are tolerated,” said Tapias-Torrado.

”Governments must guarantee that human rights defenders enjoy comprehensive protection, which includes as a minimum recognizing the importance and legitimacy of their work, the full investigation of abuses they face and the provision of effective protection measures.”

From Upside Down World: http://upsidedownworld.org/main/international-archives-60/4026-americas-human-rights-defenders-increasingly-targeted-and-attacked-

Guatemalan soldiers massacre seven indigenous protestors

By Moises Castillo and Romina Ruiz-Goiriena / Associated Press

Thousands of indigenous Guatemalans shouted in anger Friday and some threw themselves at the coffins of six local people who were shot to death during a protest over electricity prices and educational reform in a poor rural area.

A seventh victim died later at a hospital in the western city of Quezaltenango.

President Otto Perez Molina acknowledged that government forces had opened fire during the protest Thursday, after saying earlier that police and troops on the scene had been unarmed and the protesters had provoked the clash.

Human rights groups condemned the government’s actions and charged they were part of a pattern of excessive use of force against protesters.

The protesters were blockading a highway near the town of Totonicapan, about 90 miles west of Guatemala City, when two vehicles carrying soldiers arrived to help police who had been ordered to evict the demonstrators. Gunfire erupted after the troops came. Bullets killed seven people and wounded 34, officials said.

“We were protesting right next to them when they opened fire on us,” said Rolando Carrillo, a 25-year-old protester with a bandaged arm and lacerated face that he said resulted from being hit during the clash.

The president told reporters Friday afternoon that armed security guards had driven the soldiers to the protest. One of the guards apparently was the first to start shooting and then an unspecified number of others fired at the crowd, Molina said.

He said seven soldiers injured in the confrontation had said they only fired into the air to protect themselves from what they considered to be a threatening crowd.

Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla said the president had suspended the order to evict the protesters from the highway.

Some 20 human rights organizations called an emergency meeting in the capital to discuss the incident and called for a protest in front of the presidential palace.

“We’ve been saying for a long time that the army’s use of force brings with it the risk that something like this could happen,” said Francisco Soto, a representative of the Center for Legal Action and Human Rights.

Six of the dead were buried Friday afternoon in Totonicapan, where thousands gathered to watch their coffins pass through the town’s central square. Hundreds shouted “Justice! Justice!” while dozens of mourners hurled themselves toward the coffins in grief.

Read more from The Washington Post:

Study suggests U.S. Army tested radioactive chemicals on poor black neighborhoods

By David Edwards / The Raw Story

A college professor from St. Louis, Missouri has released research claiming that the U.S. Army conducted secret Cold War tests by spraying toxic radioactive chemicals on cities like St. Louis and Corpus Christi.

St. Louis Community College-Meramec sociology professor Lisa Martino-Taylor told The Associated Press that her research showed that the Army may have sprayed radioactive particles with zinc cadmium sulfide while claiming that it was testing a smoke screen that could prevent Russians from observing St. Louis from the air.

Those tests were concentrated in predominately-black areas of the city, which Army documents called “a densely populated slum district.”

In 1994, the Army confirmed to Congress that St. Louis was chosen because it resembled Russian cities that the U.S. might have to attack with biological weapons.

“The study was secretive for reason,” Martino-Taylor explained to KDSK last month. “They didn’t have volunteers stepping up and saying yeah, I’ll breathe zinc cadmium sulfide with radioactive particles.”

Documents showed that the Army used airplanes to drop the chemicals in Corpus Christi, but sprayers were mounted on station wagons and buildings in St. Louis.

“It was pretty shocking. The level of duplicity and secrecy. Clearly they went to great lengths to deceive people,” Martino-Taylor observed. “This was a violation of all medical ethics, all international codes, and the military’s own policy at that time.”

“There is a lot of evidence that shows people in St. Louis and the city, in particular minority communities, were subjected to military testing that was connected to a larger radiological weapons testing project.”

Doris Spates lived in one of those impoverished St. Louis neighborhoods as a child and has survived cervical cancer. But four of her siblings and her father weren’t as lucky. All five have died of cancer.

“I’m wondering if it got into our system,” Spates told the AP. “When I heard about the testing, I thought, ‘Oh my God. If they did that, there’s no telling what else they’re hiding.’”

Last month, both Missouri Sens. Claire McCaskill (D) and Roy Blunt (R) demanded that Army Secretary John McHugh come clean about the testing. For its part, the Army refused to comment on the matter until it had responded to the senators, the AP reported.

From The Raw Story: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/10/04/u-s-militarys-secret-experiment-sprayed-radiation-on-low-income-housing/

CIA drone strikes subjecting citizens of Pakistan to “almost constant trauma”

By Chris Woods / The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

The near constant presence of CIA drones ‘terrorises’ much of the civilian population of Pakistan’s tribal areas according to a new report.

Men, women and children are subjected to almost constant trauma – including fear of attack, severe anxiety, powerlessness, insomnia and high levels of stress – says a nine month investigation into CIA drone strikes in Pakistan by two top US university law schools. More than 130 ‘victims, witnesses and experts’ were interviewed in Pakistan for the study.

A number of those eyewitnesses corroborated the Bureau’s own recent findings – that rescuers have been deliberately targeted by the CIA in the tribal areas.

The new study heavily challenges US government claims that few civilians have died in CIA drone strikes, saying that there is ‘significant evidence’ to the contrary.

As the report notes in its executive summary: ‘In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling “targeted killing” of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts. This narrative is false.’

Impact on civilians

The joint report, Living Under Drones , is by Stanford University’s International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic, and New York University School of Law’s Global Justice Clinic. The 165-page study looks at key aspects of the CIA’s drone programme – its legal basis, how strikes are reported, their strategic implications – and how civilians are affected.

Psychiatrists and doctors report a deeply stressed population in parts of the tribal areas. In their ninth year of bombing, US drones now fly almost constantly over towns such as Mir Ali and Miranshah.

One psychiatrist told researchers that many of his patients experience ‘anticipatory anxiety,’ a constant fear that they might come under attack. The report goes on to note that:

Interviewees described emotional breakdowns, running indoors or hiding when drones appear above, fainting, nightmares and other intrusive thoughts, hyper startled reactions to loud noises, outbursts of anger or irritability, and loss of appetite and other physical symptoms. Interviewees also reported suffering from insomnia and other sleep disturbances, which medical health professionals in Pakistan stated were prevalent.’

Pakistani MP Akhunzada Chitan reported that when he visits Waziristan to see his family, people ‘often complain that they wake up in the middle of the night screaming’ because of the drones.

The Stanford/ NYU report also examines in detail three Obama administration drone strikes. Multiple eye-witness reports of civilian deaths are accompanied by ‘corroborating evidence from other independent investigations, media accounts, and submissions to the United Nations, and courts in the UK and Pakistan.’

In total, more than 50 civilians are likely to have died in these three strikes alone, the report concludes. Anonymous US officials were still claiming recently that civilian deaths have only been in ‘single digits’ during Obama’s entire four years in office.

Attacks on rescuers corroborated

The NYU/ Stanford report also independently corroborates a major Bureau investigation with the Sunday Times, which found that multiple CIA strikes between 2009 and summer 2011 had deliberately targeted rescuers and funeral-goers . Citing a number of eyewitness accounts, the study notes:

Secondary strikes have discouraged average civilians from coming to one another’s rescue, and even inhibited the provision of emergency medical assistance from humanitarian workers.’

Hayatullah Ayoub Khan was driving in North Waziristan when the car ahead of him was damaged in a drone strike. The report says that as Khan approached on foot to see if he could help ‘someone inside yelled that he should leave immediately because another missile would likely strike.’ As he returned to his car, a second missile killed whoever had been inside.

A second anonymised man told researchers of an attack on the home of his in-laws: ‘Other people came to check what had happened, they were looking for the children in the beds and then a second drone strike hit those people.’

People now avoid assisting victims of drone strikes, researchers were told. One ‘leading humanitarian organization’ said that it insists on a six-hour mandatory delay before its workers are allowed to assist, meaning it is ‘only the locals, the poor, [who] will pick up the bodies of loved ones.’

When seven of Faheem Qureshi’s family and friends died in Obama’s first ever drone strike , he believes he only survived because he was able to walk out of the smoking rubble of the house unaided.

‘Usually, when a drone strikes and people die, nobody comes near the bodies for half an hour because they fear another missile will strike,’ Qureshi told researchers.

Funeral practices have also changed in the tribal areas because of fears of CIA attack, according to a number of witnesses. Firoz Ali Khan told researchers:

Not many people go to funerals because funerals have been struck by drones. Many people are scared. They don’t go to funerals because of their fear.’

The UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Professor Christof Heyns, recently described the deliberate targeting of civilian rescuers as ‘a war crime.’

‘No response’

The joint report by two of the US’s biggest university law schools  came after legal campaigning group Reprieve suggested a study into the impact of drones on civilians. It also assisted in putting researchers in touch with some of those affected in Pakistan – although Reprieve has had no editorial input, according to the report.

Professor Sarah Knuckey of NYU’s Global Justice Clinic co-authored the study with Professor James Cavallaro at Stanford. The pair visited Pakistan twice with a team of young lawyers, interviewing more than 130 people in connection with the CIA’s bombing programme.

Knuckey, who has previously investigated killings by the Taliban in Afghanistan, told the Bureau she had been surprised at the high levels of civilian trauma described by health professionals in the tribal areas. Incidence levels more closely resembled those found in higher intensity conflicts, she said.

Asked what she thought the study would achieve, Knuckey said that she hoped that those responsible in the US for covert drone strikes ‘look at this and say there are extremely well documented and serious concerns, both about the impact of our policies on Pakistani civilians, and also on the US’s own interests, and we need to consider this very seriously.’

The Obama administration has so far not engaged with the authors. A July 18 request for a meeting with the US National Security Council has yet to be answered.

From The Center for Investigative Journalism: http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2012/09/25/drones-causing-mass-trauma-among-civilians-major-study-finds/

Brazil opens indigenous lands to dams, mining, and military bases in “national interest”

By Rhett Butler / Mongabay

A directive signed Monday by Brazil’s Solicitor-General could hamper the efforts of indigenous tribes to win government recognition of their traditional lands, reports Survival International, a human rights group focused on native peoples.

The directive “opens up all indigenous areas to mineral, dams, roads, military bases and other developments of ‘national interest’ without the need to consult with or address concerns of indigenous peoples”, according to an expert familiar with the directive who asked to remain anonymous. It also restricts demarcation of new indigenous territories.

Survival International called the move “disastrous” citing the plight of the Guarani tribe, some members of which are waiting “in roadside camps or overcrowded reserves” for their ancestral lands to be mapped and allocated.

“This directive puts our survival in extreme danger,” Survival International quoted a Guarani spokesman as saying. “We are being ignored as human beings, as the first occupants of this land. It is the start of the extermination of indigenous people.”

According to the indigenous lands expert reached by mongabay.com, the directive was originally intended to overcome issues in implementing the Raposa/Serra do Sol indigenous area in the northern Brazilian state of Roraima, but the powerful ruralista bloc in Congress pushed to apply the directive to all indigenous areas. The ruralistas also successfully pushed for a weakening of the country’s Forest Code, which mandates how much forest landowners are required to protect, earlier this year. (The final version of the Forest Code is pending).However outcry over the directive on Wednesday led Brazil’s Public Prosecutors’ Office to suspend the measure pending a court ruling on the issue. Survival International and several Brazilian indigenous organizations have called for the directive to be revoked entirely.

The directive was passed only a month after an association of more than 1,200 tropical scientists convening at the annual meeting of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation sounded the alarm on the potential development.

Indigenous territories cover roughly 22 percent of the legal Brazilian Amazon. Areas managed by indigenous groups have lower deforestation rates than unprotected forests.