Monday, November 06, 2006

They’d rather die: brief lives of the Afghan slave wives

The Sunday Times November 05, 2006

They’d rather die: brief lives of the Afghan slave wives

Christina Lamb

THE first thing one notices about 16-year-old Gul Zam is her eyes, pretty and dark yet as watchful as a hunted animal’s. But then the scarf covering her head shifts slightly, exposing a livid red scar on her neck. The hands that play nervously in her lap are ridged with pink burns that reach up her arms, across her chest and down her legs.

Three months ago Gul Zam poured petrol over her body and set herself alight. To her it was the only way out of a marriage so abusive that her husband Abdul had beaten her until her clothes were soaked in blood.

“I felt all other ways were blocked,” she whispered. “My husband and his family treated me like a slave. But I could not go back to my family because of the shame that would bring. So I crawled into the yard, poured a can of petrol over me and lit a match.”

Five years after the Taliban were ousted from Kabul, the number of Afghan women setting fire to themselves because they cannot bear their lives has risen dramatically.

Gul Zam’s husband and in-laws watched her burning and did nothing. She was saved by a neighbour who poured a bucket of water over her, wrapped her in a sheet and rushed her to hospital. After the doctors removed the sheet, tearing the blisters, she spent 10 days in a coma. Her head had been fused to her chest by the burns. She has endured several operations and will need at least six more before she can move her arms.

“This is a society where being born a woman is not a gift,” said Alberto Cairo, an Italian doctor who runs the Red Cross clinic in Kabul where Gul Zam is being treated. His room is full of fairy lights and a laughing Christmas tree that he has kept up all year because “there didn’t seem to be much happiness”.

A report last week by the UK-based charity Womankind Worldwide said cases like Gul Zam’s were becoming more common because between 60% and 80% of all marriages in Afghanistan were forced. More than half of all girls are married off before the age of 16, some as young as six. Many of these marriages are to settle debts or feuds between tribes. The women are regarded as commodities rather than wives and are often treated like slave workers by their new families.

Those who try to escape often end up in prison like 13-year-old Shabano, jailed in Kandahar for running away from the 50-year-old man to whom her father had sold her. “We don’t have democracy in this country if someone wants a love marriage,” she said, nibbling at grimy nails in the dark, dirty cell. “My father exchanged me for a teenage bride for himself.”

Gul Zam was lucky. Not only was she saved, but unusually her family have decided to support her and her father demanded a divorce. But her story is an indictment of the international community’s failure to improve the lives of Afghan women.

In 2001 the West’s most-cited criticism of the Taliban regime was its oppression of women. Not only did the Taliban forbid women from working and girls from being educated, they also beat them for wearing lipstick or shoes that clicked on the ground. The all-encompassing burqa, with its ugly shape and cage-like grille over the eyes, became a symbol for a heartless regime.

Laura Bush, America’s first lady, took over her husband’s weekly radio address to highlight the plight of Afghan women. Cherie Blair made an impassioned speech at 10 Downing Street, saying: “Women could have their nails torn out for wearing nail polish.”

“The recovery of Afghanistan must entail the restoration of rights of Afghan women,” insisted Colin Powell, then the US secretary of state.

Five years on there is just one woman in government — the minister for women’s affairs. Symbolic photographs of women throwing off their burqas after the Taliban had fled were no more than that. Apart from a small educated elite in Kabul, the overwhelming majority of women are still forced to cover their entire bodies and faces. The United Nations recently circulated a memo to all staff in Afghanistan, advising women to cover their heads even in Kabul.

Watching boys flying kites over the Bala Hissar fort or chattering girls streaming to school, white scarves over heads and rucksacks on backs, to say there have been no improvements since November 13, 2001, when the Taliban fled the capital, would be wrong. Millions of Afghans voted for a new president in 2004 and a parliament in 2005 in which 25% of the MPs are women. Five million children, of whom 1.5m are girls, are enrolled in school.

But there is a huge gap between the reality on the ground and the “remarkable progress” claimed by western diplomats who sit in fortified compounds behind guards and concrete blocks and who never leave Kabul. The only area in which the country could really be said to have made remarkable progress is in growing the poppy. Under British supervision, Afghanistan has become the world’s biggest opium producer. Last year it produced 6,100 tons — 92% of world supply.

Afghanistan is engulfed in its bloodiest violence for 10 years. At least 3,000 people have been killed this year — more than twice last year’s total.

For all the talk of girls’ education, only 5% of those of secondary school age are enrolled. More than 300 schools have been burnt down this year or shut after threats from militants, leaving 200,000 pupils with nowhere to go.

There have been no significant water or power projects and two highways built with western aid have become almost no-go areas. The Kabul to Kandahar road is plagued by Taliban militants setting up fake checkpoints, killing Afghans accused of collaborating.

Two weeks ago I drove on the other new road from Jalalabad to Kabul, wearing a burqa because of warnings of foreigners being kidnapped. I was stopped at three checkpoints set up by police to extract bribes. As for the much-heralded parliament, it has more warlords and people charged with human rights abuses than women MPs. It has yet to create any legislation, though it has voted in pay rises for its members.

“Parliament is just a showpiece for the West,” complains Malalai Joya, one of the female MPs. “Women do not have liberation at all. People in power, whether in government, parliament or governors, are warlords and jihadis who are no different in their outlook from Taliban.”

The 27-year-old MP has received so many death threats for her outspokenness that she has to sleep in a different place every night. To meet her involves going to a spot, then following an old man on a motorbike. She will not give out her address. The house is surrounded by sandbags and guards who search visitors before they can enter.

Inside Joya sits in a room that is bare of decoration apart from a black and white photograph of King Amanullah, under whose reign in the 1920s women were given equal rights and strict dress codes were abolished. She tells me she has just returned from visiting a five-year-old girl who had been kidnapped and raped in Kabul by a local commander. “The killing of women is like killing a bird for these men,” she said. “We have no value.” When she tries to speak in parliament, she is physically attacked by fellow MPs. “When I speak, they pelt me with water bottles,” she said. “One shouted, ‘Take and rape her!’ “The West talks of Afghan women having freedom and going outside without a burqa but I tell you the burqa was not the main problem for women. Look at the high rate of suicide among our women. The real problem is security and more and more are returning to the burqa.”

In the south, Nato forces seem hell-bent on proving the alliance can fight at least as well as the Americans. What was supposed to be a reconstruction mission has morphed into combat producing high casualties.

But the violence is no longer confined to the southern and eastern provinces. Somehow the Taliban, who were driven out of Afghanistan by US-led forces and B-52 bombers in just 60 days, are creeping nearer the capital. According to a US military official, nine of the 21 districts in Ghazni, which is less than 60 miles south of Kabul, now have “significant Taliban influence”.

Even Kabul, which was an oasis of calm, has become a jumpy place where people live behind high walls and sandbags after suicide bombs rocked the capital.

Although the number of foreign troops has risen to 37,000, it is generally accepted that it was too little too late and the distraction of the war in Iraq allowed the Taliban to regroup. Neighbouring Pakistan, from where the Taliban emerged, has proved an ideal haven and training ground.

“The desire for a quick, cheap war followed by a quick, cheap peace is what has brought Afghanistan to the present, increasingly dangerous situation,” says the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

David Richards, the British general who commands the Nato forces, admits he was shocked by the lack of basic development when he arrived in Afghanistan in April.

He has created a Policy Action Group, a kind of war cabinet chaired by President Hamid Karzai, bringing together ministers and international donors to “bump-start” development. “If we don’t act soon, we risk more and more people turning to the Taliban,” he warns.

Aside from such grievances and the worsening security, the other main problem is corruption. Public institutions are weak or nonexistent. Where institutions do exist, they are so corrupt that people wish they were not there.

In the ante-room to Karzai’s office, it is common to see people offering bribes to get relatives lucrative posts or arrange for them to be let off crimes. Karzai has refused to act against senior government officials or his own relatives, whom the international community says are involved in the narcotics trade.

“I am very unhappy,” complained Younus Qanuni, speaker of the parliament. “The past five years we’ve had a golden opportunity in Afghanistan. Instead I feel once again terrorism is returning: narcotics, increasing daily corruption while in people’s lives there are no changes. Things are moving in the wrong direction.”

For girls like Gul Zam facing years of operations and stigma as a divorcee, the end of the Taliban was never meant to be like this.


Discovered this article by reading

Friday, November 03, 2006

"Raytheon Six² Defendants Get Community Service; Four of Five Charges Dismissed.

"Raytheon Six² Defendants Get Community Service; Four of Five
Charges Dismissed.

by Jack and Felice Cohen-Joppa

Four Tucson residents were each sentenced November 2 to eight
hours of community service for their part in a nonviolent protest at
the Raytheon Missile Systems Plant south of Tucson last March 20, the
third anniversary of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. Pima
County Justice Court judge Maria Felix accepted their pleas of no
contest to a charge of obstructing a highway, a class 3 misdemeanor.
Two co-defendants who could not be in court today will be sentenced
at a later date.
The sentences came as a result of a plea agreement that
included dismissal of four of the five original charges laid against
each the anti-war activists: unlawful assembly, disorderly conduct,
being a public nuisance and being a pedestrian on a roadway.
Before the formal hearing, the court invited Tucson¹s Raging
Grannies to sing. The Grannies were among nearly two dozen
supporters who had rallied outside the court house prior to the
hearing, and now filled the small courtroom. They obliged with one
of their trademark anti-war parodies, ³God Help America.²
The four sentenced today were Gretchen Nielson, age 73,
Bill Moeller, age 52, Pat Birnie, age 76, and Jack McPherson, age 61.
Before pronouncing sentence, Judge Felix invited the defendants to
address the court. The statements of Pat Birnie and Jack McPherson
follow, along with a poem by Gretchen Nielsen that concluded her own
brief statement. Bill Moeller chose not to address the court.

Poem read as part of sentencing statement of Gretchen Nielsen

to be lit with missiles
built by robots
programmed with misconceptions
(while ridiculed into silence
the wise watch wordless)
bombs are bought and sold
by parents
still not knowing what they're doing
'til the children they have nurtured
scream in fiery beds

Hell's getting ready
to be lit by leaders
proud and vengeful
still not knowing what they're doing
'til they're judged as they've been judging
watch their children's children burn
(while the merciful moan in madness
anguished with compassion)
wealthy preachers mock the truth
the pope parades in a funny hat:
prophecy fulfilled

(wise and ridiculed
merciful and mad)
Where is the leader of the meek?

Gretchen Nielsen (1980)

Sentencing statement of Pat Birnie

I strongly oppose the U.S. invasion and continuing violent occupation
of Iraq, a sovereign country that threatened no provocation to our
Because I consider the U.S. military actions in Iraq to be immoral
and illegal by U.S. law as well as International law, I am ashamed
and distraught that a local business, Raytheon Missiles Systems, is
participating in and profiting from the human suffering their
products cause in Iraq.

I have tried to communicate my angst via direct correspondence with
Raytheon management, letters and phone calls to our elected
officials, letters to the editor (unpublished!) of our local
newspapers, and regular legal protests at Raytheon Missiles Systems
Because these efforts have failed, I had to resort to my least
-favored form of free-speech, to put my body on the line.
I will not willingly allow, by my silence, these atrocities to continue.

Sentencing statement of Jack McPherson

My participation in the blockade of the Raytheon munitions plant was
done to express solidarity with the tens of thousand innocent
civilian victims in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I do believe it is my moral obligation:
To speak out against - war crimes
To speak out against - war profiteering
And to speak out against - weapon contracts emanating from huge
political contributions.
Raytheon is not as they would have you believe a defender of freedom
and democracy, but rather are in the business of killing for profit.

U.S. DU Death Toll Tops 11,000

U.S. DU Death Toll Tops 11,000

Nationwide Media Blackout Keeps U.S. Public Ignorant About This Important Story

By James P. Tucker Jr.
The death toll from the highly toxic weapons component known as depleted uranium (DU) has reached 11,000 US soldiers and the growing scandal may be the reason behind Anthony Principi’s departure as secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department.

This view was expressed by Arthur Bernklau, executive director of Veterans for Constitutional Law in New York, writing in Preventive Psychiatry E-Newsletter.

“The real reason for Mr. Principi’s departure was really never given,” Bernklau said. “However, a special report published by eminent scientist Leuren Moret naming depleted uranium as the definitive cause of ‘Gulf War Syndrome’ has fed a growing scandal about the continued use of uranium munitions by the U.S. military.”

The “malady [from DU] that thousands of our military have suffered and died from has finally been identified as the cause of this sickness, eliminating the guessing. . . . The terrible truth is now being revealed,” Bernklau said.

Of the 580,400 soldiers who served in Gulf War I, 11,000 are now dead, he said. By the year 2000, there were 325,000 on permanent medical disability. More than a decade later, more than half (56 percent) who served in Gulf War I have permanent medical problems. The disability rate for veterans of the world wars of the last century was 5 percent, rising to 10 percent in Vietnam.

“The VA secretary was aware of this fact as far back as 2000,” Bernklau said. “He and the Bush administration have been hiding these facts, but now, thanks to Moret’s report, it is far too big to hide or to cover up.”

Terry Johnson, public affairs specialist at the VA, recently reported that veterans of both Persian Gulf wars now on disability total 518,739, Bernklau said.

“The long-term effect of DU is a virtual death sentence,” Bernklau said. “Marion Fulk, a nuclear chemist, who retired from the Lawrence Livermore Nuclear Weapons Lab, and was also involved in the Manhattan Project, interprets the new and rapid malignancies in the soldiers [from the second war] as ‘spectacular’—and a matter of concern.’ ”

While this important story appeared in a Washington newspaper and the wire services, it did not receive national exposure—a compelling sign that the American public is being kept in the dark about the terrible effects of this toxic weapon. (Veterans for Constitutional Law can be reached at (516) 474-4261.)

Not Copyrighted. Readers can reprint and are free to redistribute - as long as full credit is given to American Free Press - 645 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, Suite 100 Washington, D.C. 20003

Thursday, November 02, 2006

So What Happens The Day After The Election?

I haven’t blogged in a while. I had to take a break so I could turn on the old wisdom crock pot and attend to healing after a year of ill health, personal loss, family upheaval, and near constant political action. So I ruminated and allowed myself the utter luxury of doing whatever the hell I felt like for a few months so I could have the energy and inspiration to face whatever situation presented itself the after the election.

This is basically the same thing I did before the 2004 election. I just started gearing up for the long haul of what would be needed AFTER the 2004 election so I could jump in with whatever was needed when most folks were burned out from putting all their energy into the election.

Here I am again.

So what are we going to do if votes actually cast next Tuesday have no relationship with who “wins” in these U.S. elections?

What are we going to do if token Democrats win but no Progressive voice travels with them to D.C.?

So what are we going to do if U.S. people start being “disappeared?”

We must not lose high-level, integrated focus and descend into a mire of liberal bickering over petty details.

Last week’s approval of the use of military force against our own citizens just before the most critical elections in our country for almost a century is a very dark cloud on the horizon. We have to work together.

The following is from an email I received this morning from The People’s Email Network:

If there were ever a more urgent reason to replace each and every member of Congress virtually without exception, one need only look at the breathtaking new martial law powers granted to the Bush administration this month. It has always been a sacred tenet of our Democracy that the U.S. military should not be deployed AGAINST American citizens. But literally in the dead of night and almost without comment, an amendment to the Insurrection Act was slipped into the just passed Defense Authorization bill stating, and get this:

"the President may employ the armed forces, including the National Guard in Federal service, to restore public order and enforce the laws of the United States when . . . the President determines that domestic violence has occurred"

So let's just say for example that the electronic election results in 8 days are so far out of line with pre-election and exit polling data so as to defy credulity. And let's just say that people organized massive peaceful protests of the theft of their elections. And let's just say that the Bush administration provoked "police" riots, or even had their own provocateurs commit violent acts so as to justify a military crackdown. Voila . . . now you have American soldiers shooting at otherwise peaceful political protesters. And you thought Kent State was a party!

And if you don't think that could ever happen, then why the hell have they pushed for such changes, which are now the law of the land?

The whole concept of the president as an unaccountable determiner, or "decider", insulated from any kind of oversight by Congress or the Courts has been the hallmark of the Cheney/Bush executive coup, which just keeps steamrollering along while our presumptive protectors in Congress are asleep at the switch, or cowering in their cloakrooms.

Some of you will who know me personally will remember when I spent several years on a project in which I attempted to salt our cultural milleau with real information about the various cohorts that comprised the boom in births that occurred after WWII. (Yes, I’m digressing, but stay with me…) I coined and forwarded the term Late Boomers to describe the last half of the Baby Boom Generation. Another person, Jonathan Pontel (sp?) forwarded the term Generation Jones to describe this same group. I felt that Jonathan (a child-roofing safety latch tycoon) was doing this, I felt, for some sort of financial gain or personal aggrandizement. This morning I became certain of it when I saw him on FOX. He was spouting about how a surprise win by the Republicans next week will show the power and conservatism of Generation Jones. My disgust meter went haywire. I suspect he is making these statements so that he will be credited with foresight if the elections are stolen again. But it reminded me of how important the Late Boomers, who have really never shown their strength, will be in the next few months.

How history remembers the various cohorts within the Baby Boomers will probably hinge around this election. That much is true. My take on this is totally different from Jonathan’s. I happen to believe that THE test of the moral fiber (not to be confused with religious faith) of the Woodstock Generation, the Late Blooming Late Boomers, and Generation X sll will be tested in these next few months. How history remembers us will be determined by next summer. In these next few months I need to be writing on my blog about how to undermine the DLC death grip on the Democratic Party but I fear I will be writing about the manifestation of fascistic Bushist doctrine into military coercion and the use of military force against our own people.

The activist community has been abuzz about detention centers being built by KBR for almost a year now. It is quite likely that if force is used against our own people those forced and fired upon by our own military in our own streets will be sent to detention centers that have supposedly been built to house “illegal aliens.”

That is right, the“Detention Centers” are ready. (Built by KBR.)

This of course can only be achieved if the People of the United States allow and enable it. But
collaborators are already proudly wearing their brown shirts and acting as though they were military police. Remember when folks in a taxpayer funded event in Denver last year were removed from the gathering because of some printed slogans? They were removed by some political hacks masquerading as secret service agents under the direction of event organizers (The White House).
“Leslie Weise and Alex Young, two of the three people removed from the taxpayer-funded event, are suing two Denver men for actually ousting them. But they believe a White House official gave the order.”
These are the type of cases that must be pursued. Only by establishing locally grown and based enclaves of sanity and justice will democratic principles survive when and if elections are stolen again. These enclaves must be able to stand up to being labeled as "Fifth Columnists."

Just a reminder. I’m not a Marxist. I’m not a Communist. I’m not a Terrorist. I’m a life-long registered Democrat whose ancestors met the Puritans (who comprise another part of my ancestral tree) as they arrived in this land almost 400 years ago. I oppose not only this goon squad of a Republican Congress, but also the DLC’s usurping the guidance of Democratic Party and the lame response by the DNC. The Republican Party that is largely composed of honest, albeit misguided, folks. Same can be said of most Democrats.

My own take on why this is happening (which I like to think of as network theory, not conspiracy theory) is that Al Gore wasn’t the only politician aware of global warming and the dramatic changes our human culture will experience in the next few decades. Policy makers, scientists and social theorists have known about the degradation of Earth’s current biosphere for decades. We discussed, diagramed and debated aspects of it in my university classes in the late 1970s. The powers that be have been incorporating it into planning strategies for decades. Remember when Jimmy Carter promoted the use of solar energy and energy conservation? That was right before Papa Bush negotiated with terrorists in Paris (arms for hostages) and thus insured the hostages would not be released during the Carter term of office.

Those with the money and position to shape society (real political power) who understood this coming time of global change seem to have a couple different strategies dependent upon whether they are good or evil. (Sorry, but it does boil down to that.) Gore represents one group, and Bush represents another. (Remember --- Grandaddy Bush traded with the Nazis during WWII -- a treasonous offense.) We can work with each other to create the best response we can to environmental degradation and political instability in our vastly over-populated and divisive world (Gore’s strategy); or, those with power and global network access can consolidate their power and wealth within their very small clan before the “apocalypse” (the Bush Cheney Rumsfeld Rove response.)

I have come to classify this dichotomy as Gaia versus God. Friends tell me not to use the word Gaia as it is a parochial concept. I vehemently disagree with many of the assumptions required to make that statement. Gaia is a semiotic concept of the process that is reality, life, and the World as we know it. The time for preoccupation with things is coming to an end. Being and Becoming as it was called by one great mind (Dr. Earl Count) by which I was fortunate enough to be given undergraduate instruction, is what we do. Focus on “what we are” is based in illusion as “are” implies orientation from a static point in time that does not and never has existed. We can accept our growing understanding of interconnection and simultaneity or we can focus on “things” which are no more than deathly slices of being.

Acceptance of Gaia is acceptance of the Earth, our Mater Terra, as a living system. It says nothing of worship, or omniscience, benevolent or otherwise. It also alludes to a feminine wisdom. In my mind we could use a little bit more of that… no matter what the outcome of next week’s U.S. election.

So what do I suggest we do with all this? I have to Laugh Out Loud, as this is what we always face in planning for any future. We can be Luke and Leahs, or we can align with their father. (Sorry but I had to put in some popular culture reference and it was either Star Wars or a John Water’s reference, so I chose Star Wars.) We can be pie eyed optimists backed by fierce, righteous knowledge, or we can submit to evil. Doesn’t really matter how you do it, the thing is that you do it. It is much better if we don’t all do the same thing.

So I will keep on doing my more or less independent, silly little metaphoric actions and writing. That is what I’ve always done and I doubt I will change at this point.

I’ve endowed Pederson with the balls to stand up against the Iraq War (Pink Balls of Courage) – and I’ve told Gabby Giffords, in person, on more than one occasion that we need her to stand up against the war and gett our troops out of Iraq now even if that means withdrawing all funding for the war. All I’ve gotten are mushy canned responses in return. I’ve given Pink Balls to Gabby’s staff too.

I’m just an iconoclast. I’m also an intelligent woman and a fairly good researcher who is well-trained in social theory as well as several methodologies for evaluating (not measuring—I really don’t give a rat’s ass about quantification) patterns of behavior. I’m relatively harmless… just like the man in the following story:

Steve Howards says he used to fantasize about what he’d say to President Bush or Vice President Cheney if he ever got the chance. That opportunity arrived on June 16, the same day he says he read about U.S. fatalities in Iraq reaching 2,500......... “I didn’t even know he was in town,” Howards says. “He was walking through the area shaking hands. Initially, I walked past him. Then I said to myself, ‘I can’t in good conscience let this opportunity pass by.’ So I approached him, I got about two feet away, and I said in a very calm tone of voice, ‘Your policies in Iraq are reprehensible.’ And then I walked away. Howards says he knew the Administration has a_ “history of making problems” for people who protest its policies, so he wanted to leave off at that. But the Secret Service did not take kindly to his comment. “About ten minutes later, I came back through the mall with my eight-year-old son in tow,” Howards recalls, “and this Secret Service man came out of the shadows, and his exact words were, ‘Did you assault the Vice President?’ ” Here’s how Howards says he responded: “No, but I did tell Mr. Cheney the way I felt about the war in Iraq, and if Mr. Cheney wants to be shielded from public criticism, he should avoid public places. If exercising my constitutional rights to free speech is against the law, then you should arrest me.” Which is just what the agent, Virgil D. “Gus” Reichle Jr, proceeded to do.

I guess we should keep on exercising our rights to free speech after the election next week. Loudly. Publicly. That is the best and most important thing we can do. (But you may want to wear your best running sneakers and have a vinegar dampened cloth to put over your face when the pepper spray comes out.

Peace my friends, I bid you peace.