Revolution #214, October 24, 2010

Interview with Debra Sweet, Director of World Can’t Wait:

Crimes Are Crimes

Revolution: World Can’t Wait has been involved in the "Crimes Are Crimes No Matter Who Does Them" statement which was recently published in the New York Times. Tell us about that.

Debra Sweet: In April we learned that Barack Obama had given an order for the targeted killing of Anwar al-Aulaqi, a man with U.S. citizenship reported to be in Yemen. This was an extremely ominous instance of an order made public prior to a killing, without charges or legal process. This was the moment to call attention to the terrible direction the Obama administration is going, including the increase in drone strikes in Pakistan; the refusal to investigate the civilian killings in Iraq and Afghanistan by the U.S. military with the surge of troops, leaked by Wikileaks.

Quite quickly, World Can’t Wait, with the help of others, put together "Crimes are Crimes—No Matter Who Does Them." Cornel West and Cindy Sheehan signed immediately, joined by actors Mark Ruffalo and James Cromwell, writer Chris Hedges, and Noam Chomsky. We knew there were many people who supported Obama, but were beginning to seriously question or speak out against the expansion of the wars, and people needed to hear people they admire speak out, together.

This was a big and bold step. The ad was designed with mugshots of Bush and Obama, with the implication that war crimes are being continued. We very much wanted to go into the New York Times at that time, but wanted to get it in front of more signers and donors, so we published in The New York Review of Books and The Nation in May. Revolution picked it up, as did The Humanist. In June, Rolling Stone published a piece on General Stanley McChrystal, who was then running Obama’s war in Afghanistan. Obama fired him, and as quickly as we could, we put the "Crimes are Crimes" statement in Rolling Stone online, where thousands of active-duty military were going online to see the story. We heard from hundreds of people who were moved by the statement, including because they saw the names of people who they deeply respect, together, "uniting to challenge these terrible crimes by a new president," as a donor wrote.

Two thousand people signed the statement online, and donated enough to pay for all these ads when Wikileaks released a trove of U.S. military reports, leaked from the inside, on their standard operating procedures occupying Afghanistan. We began looking at the ninth anniversary of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, and the great need to see an ANTI-war statement in the New York Times, and took a further leap in printing the ad on the exact anniversary of the war, October 7.

Revolution: What kind of responses have you gotten off of the publication of the statement in the New York Times? You were saying that you ran up against people being immobilized politically because of the upcoming election?

Debra Sweet: As much joy as it gave many of the signers to see it in the Times—people called me saying they screamed out loud when they saw it—we didn’t get nearly the response to this one that we got to the same statement in May and June. I think we ran straight up against the dynamic that many people who may have agreed with the content of the statement are also influenced by stern appeals from the Democratic Party and Obama himself—people have told us, "You can’t say that" about Obama, because the right wing is already too strong.

Revolution: How do you respond to that?

Debra Sweet: We must end the complicity of silence. Calling crimes out as crimes is the responsibility of anyone who sees, or has the basis to see, what they are.

And we won’t stop. Ethan McCord—a courageous veteran of the unit involved in the incident captured in the Wikileaks video footage from 2007 showing a U.S. helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed 12 Iraqi civilians—is speaking out against the Army’s killing of civilians. World Can’t Wait is webcasting a major event Wednesday, October 20, called "Stop the Crimes of Your Government: Collateral Murder & Targeted Assassination." Ethan McCord will speak on resisting the standard operating procedure of the U.S. military in occupying Iraq, from his experience as a resister who was told to "get the sand out of your vagina" when he complained about the Collateral Murder incident. Pardiss Kebriaei, a lawyer suing the Obama administration over the targeted assassination order, will go into the background of that case, and the need to stop the precedent the government is attempting to set.

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