“Without Okinawa, we cannot carry on the Vietnam war.” – Admiral Ulysses Sharp, Commander of U.S. Pacific Forces, December 1965
During the 1960s and ‘70s, the United States military transformed Okinawa into a forward operating base for its war in Vietnam. From mainland American ports, it transported supplies to the island it dubbed its “Keystone of the Pacific” before transferring them into smaller ships for the passage to South East Asia. But there is one vital ingredient of its war machine that the Pentagon denies ever passed through Okinawa – the defoliant, Agent Orange.
Given the fact that the military transported everything else through the island – from tanks and toilet paper to guard dogs and hundreds of thousands of GI’s – such a claim is implausible. Yet as recently as 2004, the US government has asserted that its records “contain no information linking use or storage of Agent Orange or other herbicides in Okinawa.”
Over the past few years, though, the cracks in that denial have started to show. In 2007, it came to light that the Department of Veterans Affairs – the US government body responsible for caring for sick soldiers – awarded compensation to a marine who had developed prostate cancer as a result of his exposure to Agent Orange in the northern jungles of the island. Then in 2009, the same department admitted that “herbicide agents were stored and later disposed in Okinawa” during Operation Red Hat – the 1971 US military project to remove its stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons from Okinawa to Johnston Island.
Bolstering these official comments are the firsthand accounts of over twenty US veterans who have come forward to describe their experiences with Agent Orange on Okinawa. Longshoremen, forklift drivers, medics and marines, these former service members paint an alarming picture of the widespread use of the herbicide on ten American military installations stretching from the Yambaru jungles in the north to Naha Port in the south. Not only did these veterans help to unload and store the defoliant, they also sprayed it as a localized herbicide to keep down the vegetation around their bases’ runways and fences. “None of us gave Agent Orange the respect we should have,” says one supply yard worker who regularly used it without masks or gloves. “We didn’t know anything about its risks like we do today.”
Now, many of the US veterans who came into contact with Agent Orange on Okinawa are suffering from serious illnesses that the US government recognizes as the result of exposure to dioxins. In some cases, their sons and daughters were born with deformities consistent with Agent Orange poisoning. Despite this, none of these veterans exposed on Okinawa has been able to receive compensation – due solely to the fact that the Pentagon continues to deny that the defoliant was present on the island.
All of these veterans are painfully aware of the harm that Agent Orange may have caused Okinawan civilians at the time. Some of them express their concern at having bartered the defoliant with local farmers in exchange for food and beer, while others talk of seeing groups of school children walking close to base perimeters soon after spraying. “I wonder whether those kids are alive today,” one of the veterans told me. “Or whether the chemicals I was spraying damaged their health as much as it has mine.”
Agent Orange is far from a historical problem. Today in Vietnam, 50 years after the defoliant was first brought to the country, there are over twenty potential dioxin hotspots on the sites of former US bases where Agent Orange had been stored. Yet the people of Vietnam are better informed than those on Okinawa – the last American forces left Saigon in 1975 so Vietnam has been able to conduct extensive environmental testing on the land where the bases once stood. However, in modern day Okinawa, the US military continues to occupy approximately 20% of the island – and it has repeatedly refused requests to test the levels of pollution within its bases. Such a stance is particularly worrying given the military’s environmental track record on Okinawa which includes the irradiation of the entire Torishima Island through the use on depleted uranium ordnance in the 1990s and the discovery of lethal concentrations of arsenic and asbestos on land returned to civilian use in 2003.
Any discussion of American bases on Okinawa quickly becomes entangled with wider issues of imperialism, global security and legitimacy. But the question of whether Agent Orange was used on the island ought to transcend partisan maneuvering. The Pentagon’s increasingly unconvincing denials not only prevent veterans from receiving the medical care that they so desperately need, but they also endanger the health of both local Okinawans and American service members currently stationed on the island.
With the potential environmental and human impact so enormous, any delay by the US and Japanese governments to launch a comprehensive investigation into the issue is criminally negligent. It is time to reveal the full extent to which Okinawa has been suffering its own dioxin poisoning over the past 50 years.
JON MITCHELL lives in Japan. He can reahed at: firstname.lastname@example.org
This essay first appeared in Japanese to coincide with the release of “Living The Silent Spring” – a new documentary detailing the damage military defoliants have caused to the children of both Vietnamese and American soldiers. A trailer for the film can be viewed here: http://cine.co.jp/chinmoku_haru/trailer.html
The Myanmar government has suspended a $3.6 billion Chinese-led hydropower project in an apparent concession to public opinion.
President Thein Sein said on Friday that his government had to act “according to the desire of the people,” Reuters reported.
Sein made the remarks after weeks of rare public outrage against the Myitsone dam, which is the largest hydropower project in the country.
Officials said the construction of the Myitsone dam has been shelved for the entire five-year term of the president.
Meanwhile, Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) opposition movement, welcomed the government’s decision, saying, “It’s very good of them to listen to the voice of the people.”
She had previously warned that the project would require 12,000 people from 63 villages to be moved to make way for the dam, which would also threaten the flow of the powerful Irrawaddy River.
Aung Zaw, the editor of Irrawaddy magazine, said, “It is a bold decision with the underlying message that we cannot kowtow to whatever China wants.”
“This could be another turning point for which direction Burma (Myanmar) goes in the next decade,” he added.
The military junta in Myanmar made the proposal for the Myitsone dam project in 2006 and signed a contract in 2009 with the Myanmar military-backed Asia World Company and China Power Investment Corp to build it.
The dam would have been built where the Mali and Nmai rivers form to become the Irrawaddy, which flows from northern Kachin state through half of the length of the country to the Andaman Sea and is a national symbol and lifeline for millions of people.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has recently been elevated to near godlike status by the political Left in the United States. Some of his fans have even suggested that he should challenge Barack Obama in the Democratic Presidential Primary. The more often he is accused of being a socialist by his political enemies on the Right, the more convinced the Left becomes that he surely walks on water.
Although Sanders may have once been a socialist back in the 80s when he was Mayor of Burlington, today, a socialist he is not. Rather he behaves more like a technofascist disguised as a liberal, who backs all of President Obama’s nasty little wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. Since he always “supports the troops,” Sanders never opposes any defense spending bill. He stands behind all military contractors who bring much-needed jobs to Vermont.
Senator Sanders rarely misses a photo opportunity with Vermont National Guard troops when they are being deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq. He’s always at the Burlington International Airport when they return. If Sanders truly supported the Vermont troops, he would vote to end all of the wars posthaste.
Senator Patrick Leahy, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Congressman Peter Welch could hardly contain their enthusiasm over the news that Burlington International Airport had been named as a possible site to house the Air Force’s new F-35 fighter jet scheduled to replace the Vermont Air National Guard’s aging fleet of F-16s. The new high-tech instruments of death will cost $115 million a pop in sharp contrast to the F-16s which cost a mere $20 million each.
From whom might these F-35s protect Vermont? Possibly, Canada, separatist-minded Quebec, upstate New York, the New Hampshire Free State, or the Commonwealth of Massachusetts? Why on earth would anyone want to invade Vermont? Vermont has no military bases, no large cities, no important government installations, and no strategic resources unless you count an aging nuclear power plant. What if Canada, China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, or even the U.S. Marines were to invade the Green Mountain state? Just what would they do with it? Would all of the black-and-white Holsteins be confiscated, or perhaps the entire sugar maple crop be burned? Imagine trying to enslave freedom-loving Vermonters. Good luck!
Vermont is too small, too rural, and too independent to be invaded by anyone. It is a threat to no one. Furthermore, Vermonters, not unlike the Swiss, tend to stick to their own knitting rather than intruding into the affairs of their neighbors. Vermont has always been that way and probably always will be.
Major General Michael Dubie, head of the Vermont National Guard, has expressed the hope that the Vermont Guard might be morphed into a center for unmanned drone aircraft. Sanders, not unlike President Obama, thinks drones are cool.
Sanders is the darling of the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee and the right-wing Likud government of Israel. He has done everything within his power to keep the myth of Islamic terrorism alive. He never questions the U.S. government’s unconditional support of Israeli acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians. It is as though these are nonevents.
Last, but by no means least, is the U.S. government-owned Sandia National Laboratories. For over two years Sanders and former University of Vermont President Daniel Fogel have been encouraging Sandia to open a satellite laboratory in Vermont. Sandia, whose historical origins can be traced back to the Manhattan Project in World War II, designs, builds, and tests weapons of mass destruction. The Vermont laboratory envisaged by Sanders would not be involved with nuclear weapons but rather would be engaged in projects related to energy efficiency, renewable energy, and electric grids. Sandia, interestingly enough, is operated under contract by Lockheed Martin, the largest defense contractor in the world. Lockheed Martin produces F-35s and drones. General Dubie, who has close ties to Lockheed Martin, recently received an honorary doctorate from UVM. No one at UVM seems to care whether or not the University gets in bed with a manufacturer of atomic bombs.
Bernie Sanders loves to rail against Corporate America, Wall Street, and the super-rich, but has nothing to show for it. He’s done little to constrain their power and influence. But everybody on the Left loves Bernie.
Renowned Palestinian activist and religious leader Sheikh Raed Salah was at the UK’s Sheldon immigration court in Birmingham this week. His appeal against the government’s decision in June to ban him from the country is now being heard in earnest, with testimonies from Salah and several expert witnesses on Monday and Tuesday. In a related development, the High Court in London today ruled that part of Salah’s dention in June was unlawful.
For the first time, the government named as a “principle source” in its case against Salah the Community Security Trust (CST), a registered British charity with a record of smearing critics of Israel as anti-Semitic, and the only non-government source named in court. A day-one promise to check on further sources was not fulfilled on the second day.
Leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Salah entered the UK legally on 25 June for a speaking tour that included the Houses of Parliament. While Home Secretary Theresa May later said she banned him on 23 June, the Home Office now admits it had not told anyone about the exclusion order — least of all Salah or his tour organizers.
Salah was arrested on 28 June and detained for almost three weeks until released by a High Court judge on restrictive bail conditions. The Home Office is seeking to deport him, but were initially blocked from doing so when Salah launched an appeal.
The Electronic Intifada was in Birmingham, closely following the two-day proceedings. A panel consisting of Senior Immigration Judge N.W. Renton and Immigration Judge C.J. Lloyd listened quietly as witnesses were called by the legal teams of Salah and the Home Office.
Day one: Government witness cross-examined at length
Acting for the government, barrister Neil Sheldon called a single witness: Jonathan Rosenorn-Lanng, a senior case worker with the UK Border Agency (or UKBA, a part of the Home Office). Acting for Salah, Raza Husain then spent almost the entire day Monday cross-examining Rosenorn-Lanng.
Rosenorn-Lanng was the case worker from the UKBA’s Special Cases Directorate who prepared the secret document presented to the Home Secretary used as the basis for the exclusion order against Salah. Although he repeatedly emphasized under cross-examination that he was just a case worker and “would not pretend to be an expert at all” on Israel and the Palestinians, he said evidence he presents to the Home Secretary in such cases is always checked by experts in the relevant country or by “community experts.”
Husain pressed him to reveal precisely who had first asked for Salah to be banned from the UK, and who were the sources. Rosenorn-Lanng said he didn’t know how the case first came to the attention of the Home Secretary, but he claimed “the Jewish community” had felt threatened by Salah’s presence. Husain asked who exactly he meant by “the Jewish community,” pointing to several passages from the document. Rosenorn-Lanng confirmed four specific portions were obtained either directly from the CST, or from the CST via the government’s Department for Communities and Local Government.
Husain then questioned the credibility of the CST, citing the testimony of their witness Dr. Robert Lambert, retired head of the Metropolitan Police’s Muslim Contact Unit. Dr. Lambert testified that the CST “often tends to be biased” when it comes to Muslim criticisms of Israel, regularly conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Rosenorn-Lanng said the UK government considers the group to be “fair and balanced.” At one point he commented that “we haven’t used every single thing the CST sent to us” and also pointed to a “small [UKBA] research team that has access to a number of websites.”
Salah’s attorney pressed Rosenorn-Lanng on places the CST (and hence also the UKBA) had misquoted, misrepresented and taken out of context Salah’s words to make it appear as if he was an anti-Semite. The UKBA document even has quotes from Salah in which the word “Jews” is inserted, it was said in court. Husain asked if the witnesses considered it misleading that in one version of a quote he had rendered the words “you Jews” outside of quote marks whereas in another version it was inside quote marks. Rosenorn-Lanng said it wasn’t misleading, characterizing it as a different presentation based on updated evidence.
Husain said the actual target of Salah’s condemnation was not Jews in general but the Israeli state, saying he was clearly not referring to notable Jewish critics of Israel such as Noam Chomsky, Ilan Pappe or Geoffrey Bindman (a British lawyer who put up some bail money for Salah).
Rosenorn-Lanng attempted to defend the credibility of the CST, at one point making the Freudian slip of describing it as a “eminent Israeli organization” before correcting himself that he meant to say “eminent Jewish organization.”
Salah accuses his critics of deliberately misquoting him
On Tuesday, proceedings accelerated as Salah’s team squeezed three DVDs of video evidence and all four of its witnesses in before the end of the two-day slot allocated by the court system. Dr. Stefan Sperl, an expert in Arabic poetry from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, gave an analysis of the original text of a poem by Salah called “A Message to the Oppressors” saying it was addressed to all “perpetrators of injustice,” whether Jews or not. He said a Jerusalem Post article characterizing it as anti-Semitic was deliberately misleading. A version with the words “you Jews” inserted into the poem seems to have been used in the UKBA document.
Dr. Lambert, the retired head of the Metropolitan Police’s Muslim Contact Unit, testified in person that while the CST had a good record in the realm of public safety in terms of its role in providing security for Jewish communities, it was difficult for it to understand that legitimate political grievances with Israel and anti-Zionism were quite distinct from anti-Semitism.
David Miller, a sociology professor from the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, submitted his report on the CST as part of the evidence, and provided a copy of that report to The Electronic Intifada. It gives a short history of the CST and its “controversial monitoring of pro-Palestinian activists,” summarizing that it has a “tendency to treat denunciation of Israel or Zionism as evidence of anti-Semitism.”
Although perhaps most famous for its role in recording anti-Semitic incidents, and providing security for the UK Jewish community, the CST has been accused by some in that community of having a deeply pro-Israel agenda. Tony Greenstein, an anti-Zionist activist and blogger with a strong record of criticizing anti-Semites, has written about occasions when CST security have removed or barred Jewish anti-Zionists from public meetings. Greenstein also says the CST refused to record an anti-Semitic attack left on his blog because the commenter was a Zionist (see “CST Thugs Violently Eject 2 Jewish People from Zionist ‘Environmental’ Meeting”, “Community Security Thugs Bar Jewish Opponents of Gaza War from Liberal Judaism Meeting” and “When is an anti-semitic attack not anti-semitic? When it’s a Zionist who is being anti-Jewish,” Tony Greenstein’s blog).
But the centerpiece of the second day was the testimony of Raed Salah himself. Confidently speaking through a court translator, Salah assertively challenged Sheldon’s cross-examination and the government evidence for misrepresenting his words. On several occasions, he challenged Sheldon to quote him more fully and in context, questioning why he stopped some quotations short.
For example, the words “you Jews” had been inserted into the original text of Salah’s poem (without even square brackets), seemingly by the Israeli press (“Civil liberties, The Jerusalem Post,” 20 June 2009).
That Jerusalem Post article was cited by UK bloggers who campaigned against Salah, such as Michael Weiss, to misleadingly portray him as an anti-Semite. Rosenorn-Lanng had earlier admitted that the UKBA had not sought the original text of the poem, relying instead on Internet sources (“PSC comes to Parliament …,” The Telegraph politics blog, 29 June 2011).
But Salah was clear that the poem was addressed to all perpetrators of injustice, regardless of religion, race or group. He pointed out that his poem also addressed Arab oppressors with certain references to the Quran, and also addresses Pharaoh as an oppressor. Salah said according to a certain historical interpretation of the Biblical and Quranic stories, Pharaoh was an Arab. And that he had oppressed the followers of Moses. “God is not a racist,” Salah said.
Aside from the mangled version of his poem, the other main citation the government gave was a speech Salah gave in Jerusalem in 2007, in which he had talked about Israeli soldiers shedding the blood of Palestinians. The citation had reportedly included the line: “Whoever wants a more thorough explanation, let him ask what used to happen to some children in Europe, whose blood was mixed in with the dough of the holy bread.”
Hostile press coverage in Israel inserted the word “Jewish” in square brackets before the words “holy bread” (“Islamic Movement head charged with incitement to racism, violence,” Haaretz, 29 January 2008).
But Salah’s legal team argued that he was actually referring to the Spanish Inquisition.
When Sheldon accused Salah of invoking the classically anti-Semitic blood libel, Salah countered: “this interpretation is out of bounds, and has no origin in fact.” He then went into some detail, saying that his purpose had been to liken the Israeli occupation forces to the inquisitions in Europe that used to shed the blood of children, and which used religion to perpetuate injustice.
Another government accusation against Salah was that he had encouraged Palestinians to become “shahids” (martyrs) in defense of the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Rosenorn-Lanng had repeatedly used the Arabic word instead of the obvious translation. Salah again patiently went into some detail to explain the meaning of the word martyr. He clearly stated that, should the Israelis ever demolish al-Aqsa Mosque, he and other Muslims would refuse to leave the mosque, even if it meant their martyrdom at the hands of the Israelis.
There was a similar government attempt to misrepresent the word “intifada,” which Sheldon classified as dangerous language. Salah explained he was referring to a civic uprising against injustice, and as proof of this pointed to his call in the relevant speech to lawyers, heads of state, scholars and political parties to join the intifada.
At the end of the second day, the hearing was adjourned until Monday, October 3, when the two attorneys will sum up their cases. After that, a judgment is expected within ten days.
Meanwhile, Sheikh Raed Salah is still living in London on bail, and must regularly report to the authorities, wear an electronic tag, refrain from addressing the public and observe a night-time curfew. Salah could return to Palestine if he chooses, but is staying in order to clear his name, and challenge the government ban.
Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. He edited the book “Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation”, out in October. His website is www.winstanleys.org.
To the Avaaz team,
I too am concerned by the violence of the Bolivian police in this incident and the lack of consultation of local indigenous peoples. I support the call for dialogue, consultation and debate within Bolivia to resolve this situation, and hope that such a resolution will respect the local ecology and indigenous rights.
However, I feel your petition call-out is irresponsible for failing to mention the long-standing and ongoing pressure, interference and threats against Bolivia’s government and process of social change by the governments of the United States, Canada and Europe — the very countries to whose citizens you are appealing to sign this petition.
Your call-out also elides important context and complexities; most importantly the fact that other mass social movement organizations (which include other indigenous peoples) have pushed for the highway’s construction and were planning to block the march before police intervened. The tensions between so-called ‘development’ and the preservation of forests and indigenous rights are more challenging given hundreds of years of colonial and neo-colonial domination of this small, poor and landlocked country.
Failing to provide this context leaves your members and supporters without any motivation to pursue their most important political task: challenging their own government’s policies that unequivocally back their multi-national corporations and pursue alliances with the most anti-democratic, anti-environment political elements in Bolivia.
Finally, I must say that I have noted in the past that your group — for its many laudable efforts — does have a tendency to promote rather soft or easy causes. I have written you in the past encouraging you to organize a campaign against the NATO occupation of Afghanistan and its corrupt, puppet government, but I never heard a response. With the upcoming 10th anniversary of this brutal, disastrous war, this would be a perfect time for Avaaz to launch an appeal to oppose the US, Canadian and other NATO governments’ policy of endless war.
Bolivia Rising notes:
Avaaz is a member of The Climate Group.
The Climate Group is pushing REDD: http://www.theclimategroup.org/_assets/files/Reducing-Emissions-from-Deforestation.pdf
The Rockefeller Brothers Fund also acts as an incubator for in-house projects that later evolve into free-standing institutions – a case in point being The Climate Group, launched in London in 2004. The Climate Group coalition includes more than 50 of the world’s largest corporations and sub-national governments, including big polluters such as energy giants BP and Duke Energy, as well as several partner organizations, such as NGO Avaaz. The Climate Group are advocates of unproven carbon capture and storage technology (CCS), nuclear power and biomass as crucial technologies for a low-carbon economy. The Climate Group works closely with other business lobby groups, including the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), which works consistently to sabotage climate action. The Climate Group also works on other initiatives, such as the Voluntary Carbon Standard, a new global standard for voluntary offset projects. One marketing strategist company labeled the Climate Group’s campaign “Together” as “the best inoculation against greenwash.” The Climate Group has operations in Australia, China, Europe, India, and North America. It was a partner to the Copenhagen Climate Council.
The U.S. backed Avaaz NGO (Soros funding) has never endorsed the People’s Agreement of Cochabamba. Neither has any other corporate green group.
The environmental movement? It’s a movement, all right. A movement to protect the world’s wealthiest families and corporations who fund the movement via tax-exempt foundations.
Low-flying Israeli jet fighters “harassed” a Turkish seismic research ship exploring for natural gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean near Cyprus on Thursday night, according to Turkish media reports, in what seemed to be a further escalation in the already fraying ties between the once longtime allies.
Today’s Zaman, citing accounts in Turkish daily Vatan and Greek Cypriot daily Phileleftheros, reported that two F-15 jets took off from Tel Aviv and flew through the airspace of both Greek Cyprus and Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus. The jets reportedly ignored warnings from officials of Turkish Cyprus.
According to the report, Turkey sent two F-16 jets to track the Israeli F-15s, which subsequently returned to occupied Palestine.
Turkey said on Tuesday it was exploring for gas in an offshore zone where Cyprus started drilling last week.