Jessica_IraqSignThe recent escalation of sectarian civil-conflict in Iraq is driving a humanitarian catastrophe. Untold thousands are fleeing fighting in northern Iraq. Graphic reports of “cold-blooded executions” of Iraqi army soldiers by victorious rebel forces have been reported in the international media and verified by UN observers.

But renewed U.S. intervention is not the answer.

Global Exchange has long been concerned about the well being of the Iraqi people. In 2002, five months before George W. Bush launched the illegal war in Iraq, we warned in theSan Francisco Chronicle that, “pre-emptive wars … set the United States on a course of permanent war.”

After the invasion, we called for swift U.S. withdrawal noting that “the Bush dream for the Middle East has become the region’s nightmare.”

It is worth remembering these things because the same neo-con forces that led us to war in Iraq are attempting to generate a new “Fog Machine of War” as described by imprisoned war resister and Global Exchange “People’s Choice” award winner Chelsea Manning in a blistering New York Times op-ed this week.

As veteran anti-war organizer Tom Hayden says: “Obama has been forced by events to send some 275 U.S. troops for embassy protection, while a decision on bombing is being mulled. The confused Congress needs to be called upon to be a counterweight against the hawks who want nothing more than to blame Obama instead of themselves for ‘losing’ Iraq.”

Please contact Congress and President Obama today. Encourage your friends and family to do the same. Please join us, the Friend Committee on National Legislation, and all peace-loving allies.

Look up your elected officials and tell them to:

  • Reject another U.S. military intervention;
  • Halt unconditional military aid to Iraq;
  • Convene a conference to establish a comprehensive arms embargo to Iraq and Syria;
  • Publicly support a political settlement between key parties in the conflict;
  • Increase and better allocate humanitarian funds to address the humanitarian crisis.

Take action now.

The following is a Global Exchange exclusive guest blog post written by Inder Comar, Esq. Inder Comar is principal at Comar Law and practices law in San Francisco, California.

Inder Comar (l) with Iraqi refugee plaintiff Sundus Shaker Saleh (r) in her apartment in Amman

Inder Comar (l) with Iraqi refugee plaintiff Sundus Shaker Saleh (r) in her apartment in Amman

Help Me Hold Bush-Era Leaders Accountable For The Iraq War

As Americans, we are fortunate to have a functioning judiciary: we are heirs to an 800 year tradition extending back to Magna Carta that says when someone is injured, he may seek civil redress in a court of law against the people who injured him.

On March 13, 2013, I did just that over the Iraq War. I filed two lawsuits in a California federal court on behalf of an Iraqi refugee now living in Jordan, and on behalf of myself as a US citizen, against six former Bush-era officials: Richard Cheney, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, and George W. Bush himself.

The lawsuits seek damages under our civil system. They seek to hold these six people accountable for the illegal planning and waging of the Iraq War.

I am handling these cases because I believe in them. The evidence is terrible as it is plain: members of the Bush Administration, particularly Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld, publicly planned and advocated for war against Iraq in 1998; upon coming to power, they and other Administration officials used 9/11 as an excuse to scare and mislead the public into supporting a war that had no basis in international law.

Plaintiff Sundus Saleh with her four children

Plaintiff Sundus Saleh with her four children

My Iraqi client, Ms. Sundus Saleh, alleges that the Iraq War was a “war of aggression,” a term that was defined at the Nuremberg Trials in 1946. She has exercised the jurisdiction of the court through the Alien Tort Statute, a law passed by the first Congress in 1789. 

My case seeks to set new precedent regarding the obligations of government leaders. I am asking the court to acknowledge that I have a common law and/or constitutional right (premised in the First Amendment) to receive honest and candid information from government officials with respect to war and peace. I have also alleged that the defendants violated California’s false advertising law in planning and waging the Iraq War.

All six defendants have been notified by letter of these lawsuits and I am currently waiting for their counsel to contact me to discuss service of the complaints and other preliminary matters.

I am handling these cases completely pro bono. I have litigated numerous cases in the federal courts, including civil and human rights cases, both as an associate for a major law firm and now with my own practice. I want to win these cases, both for my client and for myself.

But these lawsuits won’t go anywhere without the help of people like you.

First, the more people who care, the more likely the courts will care. We are now building a broad movement of people who want to see a trial for the Iraq War. And what better way to build a broad movement then to seek a simple pledge of one dollar from anyone who wants to see such a trial? We are asking people to donate a dollar to show support for the suits, and to tell a friend to do the same.

Second, I need the support of passionate, intelligent and thoughtful people to secure the court orders that I want for my client and for myself. American leaders no longer feel the pressure of accountability; only the force of a public movement, composed of caring Americans, will force a change in behavior such that leaders recognize that their first duty is always to the public, and that they cannot go to war for unjust and illegal reasons.

Please join me to make this trial a reality. You can help by supporting our fundraising campaign at indiegogo, by spreading the word about the lawsuits, and by reaching out to me if you want to get involved.

Please help me hold our leaders accountable. Please help to prevent another Iraq War.

Inder Comar

Inder Comar Esq.

Inder Comar, Esq. is principal at Comar Law ( and practices law in San Francisco, California. Comar Law provides legal strategy to innovators. He can be contacted at

Take-ActionTAKE ACTION! Watch these new videos with Inder Comar who is in Jordan right now taking interviews with Iraqi refugees including:



The following was written by Charles Davis and Medea Benjamin. Charles Davis has as covered Capitol Hill for public radio and the international news wire Inter Press Service. Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK: Women for Peace and Global Exchange.

In an age when U.S. power can be projected through private mercenary armies and unmanned Predator drones, the U.S. military need no longer rely on massive, conventional ground forces to pursue its imperial agenda, a fact President Barack Obama is now acknowledging. But make no mistake: while the tactics may be changing, the U.S. taxpayer – and poor foreigners abroad – will still be saddled with overblown military budgets and militaristic policies.

Speaking January 5 alongside his Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the president announced a shift in strategy for the American military, one that emphasizes aerial campaigns and proxy wars as opposed to “long-term nation-building with large military footprints.” This, to some pundits and politicians, is considered a tectonic shift.

Indeed, the way some on the left tell it, the strategy marks a radical departure from the imperial status quo. “Obama just repudiated the past decade of forever war policy,” gushed Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings, calling the new strategy a “[s]lap in the face to the generals.”

Conservative hawks, meanwhile, predictably declared that the sky is falling. “This is a lead from behind strategy for a left-behind America,” cried hyperventilating California Republican Buck McKeon, chairman the House Armed Services Committee. “This strategy ensures American decline in exchange for more failed domestic programs.” In McKeon’s world, feeding the war machine is preferable to feeding poor people.

Unfortunately, though, rather than renouncing empire and endless war, Obama’s stated strategy for the military going forward just reaffirms the U.S. commitment to both. Rather than renouncing the last decade of war, it states that the bloody and disastrous occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan – gently termed “extended operations” – were pursued “to bring stability to those countries.”

And Leon Panetta assured the American public that even with the changes, the U.S. would still be able to fight two major wars at the same time—and win. And Obama assured America’s military contractors and coffin makers that their lifeline – U.S. taxpayers’ money – would still be funneled their way in obscene bucket loads.

“Over the next 10 years, the growth in the defense budget will slow,” the president told reporters, “but the fact of the matter is this: It will still grow.” In fact, he added with a touch of pride, it “will still be larger than it was toward the end of the Bush administration,” totaling more than $700 billion a year and accounting for about half of the average American’s incometax. So much for the Pentagon’s budget being slashed – like we were promised – the way lawmakers are trying to cut those “failed domestic programs.”

The U.S. could cut its military spending in half tomorrow and still spend more than three times as much as its next nearest rival, China. That’s because China, instead of waging wars of choice around the world, prefers projecting its might by investing in its own country. On the other hand, the U.S. under the leadership of Obama is beefing up its military presence in China’s backyard, more interested in projecting its dwindling power than rebuilding its economy.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower once noted that every dollar going to the military is a dollar that can’t be used to provide food and shelter for those in need. Today’s obscene amount of military spending isn’t necessary if the administration wished to pursue the quaint goal of simply defending the country from invasion. Maintaining “the best-trained, best-equipped military in history,” as Obama says is his goal? That’s a different story – for a different purpose. Indeed, as Madeline Albright observed, possessing that kind of military might is no fun if you don’t get to use it, as Obama has with gusto in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Uganda.

The truth is that the Obama administration’s “new” strategy is more of the same—a reaffirmation of the U.S. government’s commitment to militarism for the all the usual reasons: to promote American hegemony and, by extension, the interests of politically connected capital. And U.S. officials aren’t shy about that.

Indeed, throughout the strategy document the ostensible purpose for having a military — to provide national security — repeatedly takes a backseat to promoting the economic interests of the U.S. elite that profits from empire. Repositioning U.S. forces “toward the Asia-Pacific region,” for instance – including the stationing of American soldiers in that hotbed of violent extremism, Australia – is cast not just as a means of ensuring peace and stability, but guaranteeing “the free flow of commerce.” Maintaining a global empire of bases from Europe to Okinawa isn’t necessary for self-defense, but according to Obama, ensuring – with guns – “the prosperity that flows from an open and free international economic system.”

Of course, that economic considerations shape U.S. foreign policy is nothing new. More than 25 years ago, President Jimmy Carter – that Jimmy Carter – declared in a State of the Union address that U.S. military force would be employed in the Persian Gulf, not for the cause of peace, freedom and apple pie, but to ensure “the free movement of Middle East oil.” And so it goes.

Far from affecting change, Obama is ensuring continuity. “U.S. policy will emphasize Gulf security,” states his new military strategy, in order to “prevent Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon capability and counter its destabilizing policies” — as if it’s Iran that has been destabilizing the region. And as Obama publicly proclaims his support for “political and economic reform” in the Middle East, just like every other U.S. president he not-so-privately backs their oppressors from Bahrain to Yemen and signs off on the biggest weapons deal in history to that bastion of democracy, Saudi Arabia.

Obama can talk all he wants about turning the page on a decade of war and occupation, but so long as he continues to fight wars and military occupy countries on the other side of the globe, talk is all it is. The facts, sadly, are this: since taking office Obama doubled the number of troops in Afghanistan; he fought to extend the U.S. occupation in Iraq– and partially succeeded; he dramatically expanded the use of killer drones from Pakistan to Somalia; and he requested military budgets that would make George W. Bush blush. If you want to see what his military strategy really is, forget what’s said at press conferences and in turgidly written Pentagon press releases. Just look at the record.

See below for an update to this post added on 10/24/11:

This morning when, Wanda, long time Global Exchange board member, called after President Obama announced a date for the return of all US troops from Iraq my reaction was the same as almost everyone else in our office. “Is this for real? What is he not telling us?” But you can listen to it over and over again:

“After nearly nine years, the long war in Iraq will come to an end……and all the troops will home for the holidays this year.”

Why aren’t we aren’t dancing in the streets the same way we did when he was elected with the promise to end the war in his first term?

Obama announced that he and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki agreed that the troop withdrawal marks a beginning for a “new and enduring partnership”  based on a “normal relationship between sovereign nations, an equal partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect.”  He said that “We’ll build new ties of trade and of commerce, culture and education, that unleash the potential of the Iraqi people. “

In fact, the two of them have been meeting to hash out the Strategic Framework for the Status of Forces since 2008 and are actually complying with a treaty that Maliki and Presisdent Bush made three years ago, which the Prime Minister is refusing to modify in order to accommodate the US’s desire to maintain a military presence beyond this year. The Status of Forces agreement eliminates immunity for military actions, making it impossible to keep US forces there since they would actually be held accountable in Iraqi courts for civilian deaths and destruction.

So yes, this Friday’s announcement is good news, and somewhere enduring peace activists should be dancing in the streets. In Iraq, I’m sure people are feeling proud of the fact that they have stood up to the most powerful nation in the world and insisted on their own sovereignty and their right to an equal partnership. Obama would not have been forced to make this announcement today, which will definitely mean less death and destruction, had it not been for the strength of the peace movement at the end of the Bush era and without the steadfast Iraqi resistance to US occupation.

The price has been high  — over 4400 US deaths, and an untold number of Iraqi deaths (over 112 000, according to Iraq Body Count), destruction of infrastructure for water, health and electricity and irreplaceable cultural and historical treasures. There are millions of refugees who have fled to all parts of the world who now have to contemplate uprooting their lives again and joining the massive rebuild effort, or remain exiles.

Questions still remain because of the murky status of “contractors” paid for by US tax payers. Thousand of these contractors will remain in Iraq to train Iraqi police. The US will continue to operate the world’s largest embassy in Baghdad. It’s not clear if these 4000-5000 trainers will have immunity from the Status Agreement.

And now 40,000 US soldiers are coming home to a country where no jobs await them. Global Exchange’s co-founder, Medea Benjamin, who has traveled to Iraq 5 times since 2003, has organized with a campaign with CodePink to “Bring the War Dollars Home” in order to draw attention to how the economic crisis in the US is inextricably tied to excessive military spending. She says,

“January 1st will be a historic moment to disentangle us from the quagmire in Iraq, but we are still left with the one in Afghanistan that is now scheduled to drag on for years to come in a statement regarding the troop withdrawal, “We call on President Obama to recognize how the unwinnable Afghan war is contributing to the economic crisis and to put a quick end the US involvement in that tragedy as well.”

I wish our response to the announcement were more unqualified – that instead of questioning the meaning of “bringing the troops home”, we knew it would happen and that we would begin the process of making it right.  Iraqis deserve reparations — we should support the Iraqi economy from afar, bring our troops home from every other foreign nation as well, and use the “savings” ($3 billion a week) to begin converting our own economy to nonviolent, clean industries which create jobs for our people and stability for the region.

UPDATE ADDED 10/24/2011:

To read more on the topic, check out this article co-written by Global Exchange Co-founder Medea Benjamin and Charles Davis: “Only ‘Success’ in Iraq Is That US Troops are Leaving.”

The following also appears on Huffington Post:

This week marks the beginning of what is supposed to be the final 100 days of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. But if U.S. troops are to leave Iraq at the end of this year as promised – repeatedly – it will take grassroots pressure to counter the growing “occupy-Iraq-forever” chorus in Washington.

Despite the fact that there is a Bush-era agreement with the Iraqi government to leave, despite the fact that the majority of Iraqis and Americans don’t support a continued U.S. presence, and despite the fact that Congress is supposedly in an all-out austerity mode, strong forces – including generals, war profiteers and hawks in both parties – are pushing President Obama to violate the agreement negotiated by his predecessor and keep a significant number of troops in Iraq past the December 31, 2011 deadline.

It’s true there has already been a major withdrawal of U.S. troops, from a high of 170,000 in 2007 to about 45,000 troops today (with most of the troops being sent over to occupy Afghanistan instead). That number, however, doesn’t tell the whole picture. As the New York Times notes, “Even as the military reduces its troop strength in Iraq, the C.I.A. will continue to have a major presence in the country, as will security contractors working for the State Department,” the latter to defend a U.S. embassy that’s bigger than the Vatican.

Back in 2007, candidate Obama pledged that the first thing he’d do as president would be to withdraw our troops from Iraq. “I will get our troops home. We will bring an end to this war. You can take that to the bank,” the future president declared. So far, the only thing many Americans can take to the bank, however, is evidence their home was fraudulently foreclosed upon.

In spite of President Obama’s oft-repeated promises, his administration appears unwilling to withdrawal all U.S. troops, much less private contractors. Obama’s hand-picked Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, has already endorsed a plan that would see 3,000 to 4,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq indefinitely, ostensibly to “continue training security forces there.” The senior commander in Iraq, meanwhile, is pushing to keep as many as 18,000 troops there. And U.S. lawmakers, both Republican and Democratic, are echoing the call to stay.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham recently predicted leaving only 3,000 troops behind would be a “formula for disaster.” Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, meanwhile, warned it would be a mistake because Iraq was not yet fully secure. And in a FOX interview, Republican Sen. John McCain said, “I have talked to many military leaders who have specifically said around 13,000 troops would be a minimum. . . .I have never talked to a military leader that said that leaving only 3,000 is a good idea. I don’t know who came up with this idea.”

Somebody ought to tell McCain who came up with the idea – not of leaving 3,000 troops, but leaving none: the Iraqis. Removing all U.S. troops by the end of this year was agreed to by the very government that the U.S. helped install. And it came as the result of popular pressure – the way democracy is supposed to work. The agreement was codified in a 2008 Security Agreement signed between Washington and Baghdad. And any change in that agreed-upon deadline is supposed to come only at the request of the Iraqi government. So far, with less than 100 days left, no such request has been made.

Iraqi leaders, even those who owe their positions to the U.S. occupiers, know it would be political suicide to come out publicly in favor of keeping U.S. troops. Most Iraqis hate the American invaders who launched an illegal war of aggression that has killed well over 100,000 Iraqis. They blame the U.S. for setting off a civil war that forced more than 4.7 million Iraqis to flee their homes, the majority to never return, and which resulted in the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad. A proud people, they feel humiliated by the presence of foreign troops and they will not forget the treatment that many of their fellow citizens received in American-run prisons. Indeed, tens of thousands of Iraqis have taken to the streets of Baghdad to demand that the foreign invaders leave.

After inflicting so much suffering on the Iraqi people, the least we can do here at home is support their call for our troops to leave. While some members of Congress are pressing Obama to keep the occupation going, others, spearheaded by Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee, are calling for an end to this shameful episode in our history. A coalition of peace groups ranging from Peace Action to Military Families Speak Out is also adding their “out now” voice.

“We are deeply troubled by recent reports that indicate your Administration is making plans to leave thousands of U.S. troops deployed in Iraq indefinitely,” the groups say in a letter to the president. “We are also troubled by the extraordinary buildup of private military contractors and untold numbers of intelligence operatives in Iraq. Mr. President the future of Iraq depends upon the Iraqi people, not the U.S. military. Now is the time to bring all of our brave men and women in uniform home, as promised.” They have asked all peace-loving Americans to flood the White House with messages. Call 202-456-1111.

Others are taking to the streets. On October 6, anti-war activists from around the nation will be gathering in Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC, to call for an end to both the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The protest will not be just for one day, but an on-going “people’s occupation” of the plaza to call for an end to U.S. military occupations. Come if you can, or just help spread the word if you can’t.

Instead of passively accepting our government’s plans to extend the Iraq occupation indefinitely, let those who claim to represent your wishes in Washington know you’ll stand for nothing less than a real, no-gimmicks end to a war and occupation that has wrecked all too many lives. And that’s a pledge they can take to the bank.

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of Global Exchange and the peace group CODEPINK.

The following originally appeared on our sister organization CODEPINK’s website and was written by CODEPINK/Global Exchange Co-founder Medea Benjamin:

The death of Osama Bin Laden should be a time of profound reflection. With his death, we remember and mourn all the lives lost on September 11. We remember and mourn all the lives lost in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan. We remember and mourn the death of our soldiers. And we say, “Enough.”

There was never any justification for invading Iraq. Our troops must come home now—all of them.

With Al-Qaeda driven out of Afghanistan and Osama Bin Laden dead, there is no justification for continuing the war in Afghanistan. Our soldiers—and contractors—must leave, now, opening the path for Afghan government and the Taliban to negotiate a ceasefire.

Our drone attacks in Pakistan are only fueling the violence and creating more Osama Bin Ladens. We must stop these barbaric attacks, now!

You can read more about my take on the death of Osama Bin Laden in the Huffington Post article Osama Bin Laden Is Dead; Let the Peace Begin.

Our military, and our federal budget, must focus on rebuilding at home, not making new enemies abroad. Let us give meaning to the death of Osama Bin Laden by calling on President Obama to put an end to the violence.


Make your voice heard. Visit the CODEPINK website to send a letter or make a phone call to President Obama asking him to “Let the Peace Begin.”

By Medea Benjamin and Charles Davis

Death and taxes are the only certainties in life. And these days, they go hand in hand.

While our fiscal woes have led Congress to slash food aid this year to the world’s poor — rest assured, fellow Americans — the U.S. government will keep using your tax dollars to kill them. For while John Boehner and Barack Obama might disagree on some things, there’s one area they can agree on: War. And the need for more of it.

“Money for bombs, not bread,” might be a good bipartisan slogan.

And when it comes to dropping its citizens’ tax dollars on flying killer robots and foreign military occupations, no country comes close to the United States. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — more than $150 billion in direct spending this year alone — exceeds what China, the U.S.’s closest military rival, spends altogether on its armed forces. Overall, the Obama administration will spend more than $700 billion next year on the military.

That’s more than George W. Bush ever spent. And figures released this week by SIPRI show that since Obama took office, the U.S. has been almost entirely responsible for the global rise in military spending: $19.6 billion of $20.6 billion since 2008. What a difference a Nobel laureate makes.

And the actual figure spent on war – the fighting of it, the preparation for it and the consequences of it – is substantially higher than acknowledged, with spending on military programs often buried in places like the Department of Energy, which oversees the U.S.’s massive stash of nuclear weapons. Counting those hidden costs, including veterans benefits, aid to foreign militaries and interest payments on defense-related debt, economist Robert Higgs estimates the U.S. government spends more than $1 trillion a year on empire.

But you wouldn’t grasp the enormity of the U.S.’s commitment to militarism if you listened to its politicians. Remarking last week on the deal he struck that slashes $38.5 billion in federal spending, President Obama said the agreement “between Democrats and Republicans, on behalf of all Americans, is on a budget that invests in our future while making the largest annual spending cut in our history.”

Sounds lovely. But the reality, not the rhetoric, is that Obama and his allies in Congress aren’t cutting Pentagon waste and investing in rainbows and unicorns – unless, perhaps, there’s some way to harness their power for weapons. Rather, they’re investing in war at the cost of community health centers, local development projects and Medicare. In Washington, you see, money for killing people is safe from the cutting board; it’s the money that actually helps them that’s not.

“We will all need to make sacrifices,” Obama reiterated in his speech on the national debt this week — just not the Pentagon, which is guaranteed more money every year under this president’s watch. “I will never accept cuts that compromise our ability to defend our homeland or America’s interests around the world,” Obama said. As for cuts to domestic spending, including to “programs that I care deeply about”? Well, that’s a different story.

credit: war resisters league

And if you’re a U.S. taxpayer, forget welfare programs: bombing and occupying countries that pose no credible threat to America — Obama has so far authorized attacks in at least six countries since taking office, including Yemen, Somalia and the latest and greatest $8.3-million-a-day war for peace, Libya — is your single greatest expense as a citizen. Indeed, over half of federal discretionary spending — what Americans will pay for with their incomes taxes on April 18 — goes to the armed forces and their legion of private contractors.

Now imagine what that money could do if it went to something more productive. Imagine if, instead of paying for bombs to be dropped around the world, those tax dollars went toward fulfilling actual human needs — toward creating friends, not enemies.

For the cost of just one minute of war we could build 16 new schools in Afghanistan. For 60 seconds of peace, we could fund 36 elementary school teachers here at home. This year’s funding for the endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — $172.4 billion — could provide health care for 88.4 million poor American children.

The obvious wastefulness of war has even some politicians beginning to talk of investing in America instead of arms manufacturers. Congressmen Barney Frank and Ron Paul recently convened a task force that produced a detailed report with specific recommendations for cutting Pentagon spending by approximately $1 trillion over the next decade.

But lawmakers — all of whom have military contractors in their districts — rarely do anything good of their own volition. Rather, they have to be forced into action by those they purport to represent. At the local level, communities are doing just that by pressuring mayors to sign a resolution calling on Congress to redirect military spending to domestic priorities. A similar resolution, spearheaded by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, will be considered at the June meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Pressuring politicians is not the only route to affect change, of course. The War Resisters League, for instance, suggests principled civil disobedience: refusing to pay taxes to fund unjust wars. That route is fraught with risk, including the prospect of jail time, but it’s one that would have made great Americans like Martin Luther King and Henry David Thoreau proud.

Not everyone can accept those risks, especially for those with families to worry about. But another option, living simply and reducing one’s taxable income, has the added benefit of not just starving the warfare state, but curbing one’s contribution to mindless consumerism and global climate change. And forgoing a new iPhone is a small price to pay to save a life.

Be it refusing to pay for war or speaking out against the injustice of bombing and killing poor people on the other side of the globe, the important thing is to recognize one’s role in the war machine and commit to doing something about it — to quit complacently accepting the world as it is and to work toward making it what it should be. The greatest enabler of the military-industrial complex isn’t really taxes: it’s apathy.
Medea Benjamin ( is cofounder of Global Exchange ( and CODEPINK: Women for Peace (

Charles Davis ( is an independent journalist who has covered Congress for public radio and Inter Press Service.

This article also appears on The Huffington Post.

By Medea Benjamin and Charles Davis

March 19 marks the eighth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, a nation that had no weapons of mass destruction and was not involved in the 9/11 attacks. It was sold to the American public as a war to defend our nation and free the Iraqi people. U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said our soldiers would be greeted as liberators and that Iraqi oil money would pay for the reconstruction. Vice President Dick Cheney said the military effort would take “weeks rather than months.” And Defense Secretary Assistant Ken Adelman predicted that “liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk.”

Eight years on, it’s time to look back at that “cakewalk.”

1. 4,400 U.S. Soldiers Lost for a Lie
More than 4,400 Americans have died as a result of the invasion and occupation of Iraq — more than were killed on 9/11. Over 32,000 U.S. soldiers have been seriously wounded, many kept alive only thanks to the miracle of modern medicine.

But those numbers don’t tell the half of it. Stanford University and Naval Postgraduate School researchers who examined the delayed onset of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) found that, by 2023, the rate of PTSD among Iraq war veterans could rise as high as 35 percent. And for the second year in row, more soldiers committed suicide in 2010 than died in combat, a tragic but predictable human reaction to being asked to kill — and watch your friends be killed — for a war based on lies.

2. Bankrupting Our Nation
In 2008, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard University’s Linda Blimes put the cost of the Iraq War at roughly $3 trillion, or about 60 times what the Bush administration first said the invasion would cost. But while a staggering figure, Stiglitz and Blimes now say that their estimate “was, if anything, too low.” In an update published last fall in the Washington Post, they note that the war not only drove up the federal debt, but helped drive the skyrocketing oil prices that contributed to the crashing of the global economy.

According to the National Priorities Project, the money the U.S. government spent destroying Iraq could have provided yearly salaries for 12.5 million teachers or paid the annual healthcare costs for 167 million Americans. When elected officials tell us our nation is bankrupt, we should tell them to bring our war dollars home.

3. Hundreds of Thousands of Iraqi Dead
The ones who have suffered the most from the Iraq “cakewalk,” of course, are the Iraqis themselves. For an invasion sold as an act of liberation and “profound morality” by propagandists like Jeffrey Goldberg, the U.S. and its allies sure managed to kill a staggering number of those they were liberating. The group Iraq Body Count (IBC) has documented at least 99,900 violent civilian deaths as a direct result of the U.S.-led invasion. But that’s an extremely conservative estimate based largely off deaths reported in Western media, an approach bound to undercount the massive death toll from the invasion. Indeed, as WikiLeaks revealed last October, the U.S. government covered up the violent killings of more than 15,000 Iraqi civilians — killings that weren’t reported by any Western paper — or roughly 20 percent of IBC’s official count at the time.

Unfortunately, the number of Iraqi souls liberated from their bodies is likely a lot higher than IBC’s count. A 2006 study by researchers at John Hopkins University published in the Lancet medical journal found that in just over three years there had been 654,965 “excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war,” with Iraq’s death rate more than doubling due to gunfire — the leading cause of mortality — and a lack of medicine and clean water. A January 2008 analysis by British polling firm Opinion Research Business, meanwhile, estimated “that over 1,000,000 Iraqi citizens have died as a result of the conflict which started in 2003.”

4. Lights Still Out
Thirteen years of bombings and sanctions crippled the infrastructure and basic services of what was once a wealthy country. Then came the 2003 invasion, which destroyed electrical plants, sewage systems, water treatment facilities, hospitals and more. Eight years later, the living conditions of Iraqis are worse than under Saddam Hussein, with the country plagued by a continued lack of electricity, clean water, medical care and security. Iraqis wonder how it is, after the most powerful country in the world occupied it and ostensibly spent billions on reconstruction, they are still living in the dark.

5. Millions Flee Their Homes

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, since 2003 “more than 4.7 million Iraqis have fled their homes, many in dire need of humanitarian care” — hardly an endorsement of life in the “liberated” nation. Many Iraqis fled their homes to seek asylum in Iran, Jordan and Syria, while roughly 1.5 million fled to other parts of Iraq, the majority of which “have found no solutions to their plight,” according to the UN. In the aftermath of ethnic cleansing, millions will never be able to return.

6. Women and Girls Forced into Prostitution
Women in Iraq have been particularly hit by the invasion and occupation. The Iraqi government estimates there are up to 3 million widows in Iraq today. Meanwhile, violence against women — including honor killings, rape and kidnapping — has soared , forcing many women to remain at home and limiting employment and educational opportunities, according to a new Freedom House report. “A deep feeling of injustice and powerlessness sometimes leads women to believe that the only escape is suicide,” the report notes.

Many Iraqi women who fled to neighboring countries have found themselves unable to feed their children. Just to make ends meet, tens of thousands of them — including girls 13 and under — have been forced into lives of prostitution, particularly in Syria.

“From what I’ve seen, 70 percent to 80 percent of the girls working this business in Damascus today are Iraqis,” one refugee told the New York Times. “If they go back to Iraq they’ll be slaughtered, and this is the only work available.”

7. Poisoning Iraqi Society
The U.S. military dropped thousands of bombs across Iraq laced with depleted uranium, the radioactive waste produced from manufacturing nuclear fuel. Valued by the military for its density and ability to ignite upon impact, depleted uranium bombs continue to kill years after they’ve been dropped. In Fallujah, which was bombarded more than anywhere else in Iraq, British researchers uncovered a massive increase in infant mortality and rates of cancer, with the latter exceeding “those reported by survivors of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” according to the Independent.

And it’s not just Fallujah facing a cancer epidemic. Al Jazeera reports that in the central Iraq province of Babil, reported cancer cases rose from 500 in 2004 to 7,000 in 2008. And in Basrah, the last 15 years have seen the childhood leukemia rate more than double, according to a study published last year in the American Journal of Public Health.

8. Trading One Strongman for Another

Saddam Hussein was a bad guy. Yet his worst crimes, including the 1980 invasion of Iran, came when he was backed by the U.S. government, which was well aware of his penchant for torture and extrajudicial killings — talents American officials were fine with so long as he was slaughtering Iranians. Now his U.S.-backed successor, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, is torturing and killing those who speak out against his rule — all he hasn’t done is invade that other, not-yet-liberated member of the “axis of evil.”

Inspired by the mass actions that took down U.S.-backed strongmen in Egypt and Tunisia, thousands of Iraqis have taken to the streets to protest the al-Maliki government — only to be greeted with live ammunition. On February 27, UPI reports that more than 29 protesters, including a 14-year-old boy, were gunned down by the Maliki-run security forces in Iraq. Meanwhile, four journalists in Baghdad report that they, along with hundreds of protesters, were “blindfolded, handcuffed, beaten and threatened with execution” for being insufficiently pro-regime.

The charges of abuse come after WikiLeaks revealed further evidence that Maliki has been using the power of the state — and Shia death squads — to torture and murder his political opponents. Sadly, life in the “new” Iraq isn’t a whole lot different than life under Saddam. Given the protests sweeping North Africa and the Middle East, it seems invasions and foreign military occupations just aren’t as effective at promoting reform as nonviolent protest.

9. A Recruitment Ad for al Qaeda
When it wasn’t being sold as a humanitarian mission, the Bush administration cast the war on Iraq as a response to the 9/11 terror attacks, scaring the American public into submission with vials of faux-anthrax and concocted tales about Iraq’s ties to al Qaeda. Yet as even U.S. intelligence agencies recognized after the invasion,” the Iraq War has made the overall terrorism problem worse,” in the words of one American official. Indeed, there was no better recruitment ad for terrorists than the images the Bush administration and its allies provided of foreign troops destroying Iraqi society. And there’s no better way to create a committed enemy than to kill their family; or in the case of Abu Ghraib, to humiliate and torture – sometimes to death – an innocent loved one.

10. Legitimizing Violence, Rewarding War Criminals
Once you get past all the fanciful lies, rhetoric and rationalizations, the invasion of Iraq was just like any other war: it was about killing — and teaching young men and women to believe that it’s morally acceptable to take the life of another human being, that the supposed ends justify the homicidal means. And a 2007 Army investigation spurred by the massacre of two dozen Iraqi civilians in Haditha said as much.

“Statements made by the chain of command during interviews for this investigation, taken as a whole, suggest that Iraqi civilian lives are not as important as U.S. lives, their deaths are just the cost of doing business, and that the Marines need to get ‘the job done’ no matter what it takes,” wrote Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell in the report.

People typically don’t want to kill other human beings. They must be taught to do so; taught to dehumanize the enemy and believe that murdering another is not just okay, but just. That’s what basic training is about: destroying a person’s ability to empathize with the “other” for the good of the nation (or rather, its rulers). But that ability doesn’t just suddenly reemerge when the war is over. And unfortunately, that’s evidenced by the alarming incidents of domestic violence committed by returning veterans.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq will continue to affect lives decades after veterans of the war rejoin civilian life as police officers and husbands, as foremen and fathers. The lesson that violence is an acceptable means to achieve one’s ends is not one soon forgotten.

But violence isn’t just legitimized at base camp: it’s legitimized by the Obama administration’s failure to hold accountable those who took the country into an illegal war of aggression. Those war criminals — the likes of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice and Karl Rove — are all enjoying successful book tours and hefty speaking fees, while the man who allegedly exposed war crimes, Bradley Manning, is behind bars being tortured. There’s a lesson there — one that doesn’t speak well for our system of government. And it suggests that our political establishment will continue to drag us into wars of choice in the future. After all, they won’t be fighting it. Or paying the consequences for it.

On this shameful anniversary, let’s not forget that despite President Obama’s promise to leave Iraq, the U.S. still has 50,000 troops there, thousands of private mercenaries and dozens of military bases, with generals not-so-subtly hinting at a permanent presence. We should demand the president close those bases and bring the troops home — all of them. We should prosecute those responsible for sending them there. And we should apologize to the Iraqi people for the misery the U.S. government has wrought.

The damage of war has been done. But the U.S. can — and must — begin making amends to Iraq. And it can start by leaving.

Medea Benjamin ( is cofounder of CODEPINK: Women for Peace ( and Global Exchange ( Charles Davis has covered Congress for NPR and Pacifica stations, and freelanced for the international news wire Inter Press Service.

Join in protest against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at the ANSWER Coalition’s National Day of Action Against the US War Machine. Information for the San Francisco event.
For rallies in your area, see CODEPINK‘s action calendar.

The following article by Global Exchange and Code Pink Co-founder Medea Benjamin also appeared on

As long as people keep organizing and mobilizing, there will be victories to celebrate.

This year was marked by turmoil at home and abroad, including a deepening financial crisis that continues to leave millions jobless and homeless, as well as ongoing and expanding wars. But despite the setbacks and disappointments, here is a list of victories to be thankful for, starting with three inspirational women.

1. On November 13, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest. In 1990 her party, the National League for Democracy, won the elections but the military junta refused to let them take power. Instead, Suu Kyi was kept under house arrest for almost 15 of the last 21 years. Her release brings great joy and hope to millions of people in Burma and supporters of democracy worldwide.

2. Dilma Rousseff was elected president of Brazil and takes power on January 1. Dubbed by the media “the most powerful woman in the world,” Rousseff was tortured and jailed for three years for opposing Brazil’s military dictatorship. She later became Chief of Staff for the popular outgoing president and former metalworker, Lula da Silva, whose policies of growth with equity have helped pull millions of Brazilians out of poverty. While some worry about Rousseff’s commitment to the environment (she was also Lula’s Energy Minister), the fact that a progressive woman from the Labor Party will rule a powerhouse like Brazil is cause for celebration.

3. Elizabeth Warren became “consumer czar.” After the financial meltdown in 2008, Warren was appointed Chairwoman of the five-member Congressional Oversight Panel created to investigate the banking bailout and oversee TARP. She won tremendous public support by sharply criticizing the banks and calling for greater transparency and accountability. Warren advocated for a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to protect borrowers from abuses in mortgages, credit cards and other consumer loans. On September 17 President Obama named her special adviser by to oversee the development of this new bureau.

4. The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Chinese literary critic and professor Liu Xiaobo. Liu, a critic of China’s one party state, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for drafting a petition calling for free speech and open elections. The Chinese government usually escapes rebuke for its oppressive practices because the country is such an economic superpower. However, according to Amnesty International, some 500,000 Chinese prisoners are in detention without charge or trial. Harassment, surveillance, house arrest, and imprisonment of human rights defenders are on the rise, as is Internet and media censorship, and repression continues for Falun Gong practitioners and minority groups, including Tibetans, Uighurs and Mongolians. The Nobel Prize for Liu Xiaobo has helped expose China’s dirty secrets.

5. Speaking of exposing secrets, WikiLeaks has sent shock waves around the world by exposing the inner machinations of U.S. foreign policy. After a decade of illegal wars, lack of accountability, government secrecy and embedded journalists, WikiLeaks has given the public a much-needed look at the way the U.S. government continues–under President Obama–to cajole, bribe and strong arm other nations into supporting U.S. policies. We look forward to more revelations in 2011 and we hope more people will step forward to defend WikiLeaks and suspected whistleblower Bradley Manning!

6. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed. The LGBT community has been fighting to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell since it was first introduced as a compromise measure by President Clinton in 1993. In an historic Senate vote on December 18 the policy was repealed and then signed by President Obama on December 22. While some find it hard to celebrate the ability of more people to now fight in U.S. wars, let’s remember that this victory will help the gay community win upcoming, more important struggles for marriage rights and equality in the workplace.

7. U.S. troop levels in Iraq declined dramatically.
While President Obama has presided over a disastrous surge of troops in Afghanistan, he does seem to be holding to his promise of ending the U.S. military presence in Iraq. The number of U.S. troops has declined from some 144,000 in January 2009 to roughly 50,000 today. The remaining troops are supposed to leave the country by the end of 2011, and many worry they will be replaced by private contractors. The U.S. invasion of Iraq, based on lies and resulting in the death and displacement of millions of Iraqis, is one of the most shameful episodes in our history. The sooner it ends, the better.

8. The health care bill passed. No, it was not a single payer bill and it didn’t even have a public option, disappointing many of its original supporters. But the bill does extend health coverage to over 30 million Americans who would have otherwise been uninsured; it stops private insurance companies from rejecting people for preexisting conditions; and it allows children to remain covered by their parents’ insurance until the age of 26. Taken as a whole, it represents a progressive shift in U.S. social policy, which is why it is being so viciously attacked by the right. And from the left, the fight for a single payer system, especially on the state level, is far from over!

9. The Senate ratified the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between the U.S. and Russia. The New START provides modest reductions in the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons, and includes monitoring and verification procedures. Unfortunately, to get Republican support the U.S. commitment to disarmament is countered by a new commitment to spend $180 billion over 10 years to “modernize” U.S. weapons and delivery systems. But not passing the treaty would have been disastrous. The new treaty will undoubtedly improve U.S.-Russia relations and will hopefully move us closer to the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons.

10. In a little noticed automobile obituary, the last Hummer rolled off the production line on May 24–a casualty of higher gas prices, the economic crunch and a shift in consumer preferences. The cool cars of today are no longer monstrous gas guzzlers but hybrid and electric cars. There are 28 hybrid models already on the market today. At least 12 plug-in electric cars are planned for 2011, kicking off a wave of new green vehicles.

And a few extras for good cheer:

11. At the White House Tribal Nations Conference on December 15, President Obama announced that the United States would support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The statement is significant because the United States was one of only four countries that voted against the declaration when the UN General Assembly adopted it in 2007, and the last of those four to have reversed its former opposition.

12. In a policy reversal after the BP oil disaster, the Obama administration announced that it will not allow offshore oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico or off the Atlantic coast for at least seven more years. Meanwhile, offshore wind power is taking off from Maine to Georgia.

13. Foreign private security contractors were banned by the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, and Blackwater founder Eric Prince–hounded by lawsuits and bad press–felt compelled to sell the company and move out of the country.

14. Thanks to California’s Proposition 19, also known as the Regulate, Control & Tax Cannabis Act, the debate on failed Marijuana Prohibition has arrived!
Despite not passing, 4 million people voted to control and tax marijuana, with endorsements coming from new allies from the SEIU to the NAACP to law enforcement groups.

15. The government-supported student loan program was dramatically restructured, eliminating private banks and thereby ensuring that more money goes directly into the hands of low-income students.

I could keep the list going. It’s an important reminder, as we go into what will be a very difficult new year, that people on all continents continue to struggle for a more peaceful, just, sustainable world. And as long as people keep organizing and mobilizing, there will be victories to celebrate.

Last Monday, President Obama gave a speech before the Disabled American Veterans national convention in Atlanta, Georgia stating that the US military is on target and will withdraw all its combat troops from Iraq by the end of August.

Global Exchange and CODEPINK join in on a statement in hopes to get out the truth that the Iraq war was based on lies, left Iraq in tatters, drained our resources and MUST NOT be repeated for years to come in Afghanistan.

Read the ‘Iraq Debacle’ statement as we evaluate the legacy of seven years of war and urge the Administration and Congress on actions to take.

The Iraq Debacle

We Demand:

  • Full withdrawl and closure of military bases.
  • Reparations to Iraqis.
  • Full support for returning troops needs.
  • Prosecution of officials who led Iraq War.
  • Transfer of war funds to rebuild USA.
  • Taking lesson from this war to: End Afghan War.

Follow our sisters at CODEPINK as they organize actions during the week of August 24-31 — the week that most US troops are set to return from Iraq.