US Airstrikes In Yemen Increasing

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Katie Aguilera

According to Navy Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, the US has conducted some 50 airstrikes in Yemen from February 28 through last week.  And last weekend, after numerous strikes in eastern Yemen targeting Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, the total now stands at 70, according to Captain Davis.

Bill Roggio wrote in his April 4, 2017 Long War Journal post that the total number of US airstrikes in Yemen since the beginning of the year is more than 75, which he notes is “already nearly double the yearly total since the drone program against al Qaeda in Yemen began in 2009.”  He adds that “the previous record number of airstrikes conducted by the US in Yemen in any one year was 41 in 2009.”

(Just a reminder, the United States is not at war with Yemen.  For more on how the US justifies such strikes outside of areas it is actively at war, read what I wrote here.)

Yemen has been in the midst of a brutal war with Saudi Arabia for nearly two years.  Adam Johnson writes in a February 27, 2017 FAIR article that the war has “left over 10,000 dead, 40,000 wounded, 2.5 million internally displaced, 2.2 million children suffering from malnutrition and over 90 percent of civilians in need of humanitarian aid.”

His article goes on to discuss the threat of famine Yemen faces as a result of the war that has received media attention lately.  Johnson rightfully points out that the major media outlets ignore the role of the US in the crisis.  He concludes his article with this:

A first step to putting political pressure on Trump to mitigate the suffering in Yemen is for the US public to speak out about their government’s role—a condition unlikely to be met if corporate media never bother to mention it.

Another question the media rarely raises is what these airstrikes ultimately accomplish.  Captain Davis stated that “we continue to target AQAP in Yemen, and this is done in the interest of disrupting a terror organization that presents a very significant threat to the United States.”

That vague explanation does not address the threat of increasing the ranks of the very terrorist organization we are attacking.  In a September 2, 2014 report for Yemen Times, Ali Abulohoom discusses the PTSD experienced by Yemeni citizens as a result of drone strikes, as well as the continuous fear of future strikes that they live with.  He also writes of another effect of airstrikes.

The article states, “it is well-known that animosity against the United States is mounting as the attacks have intensified in recent years,” and concludes with the following quote:

“As long as the United States continues to strike areas in Yemen with drones which are claiming the lives of innocents in addition to their targets, support for Al-Qaeda is going to increase.”

Al-Mohammed Al-Ahmadi

This statement has been echoed by four former drone operators who wrote an open letter to the Obama administration arguing against drone strikes.  In the letter, they state that the killing of innocent civilians by drone strikes served to fuel “the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like ISIS, while also serving as a fundamental recruitment tool similar to Guantanamo Bay.  This administration and its predecessors have built a drone program that is one of the most devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilization around the world.”

As many feared, the new administration shows no indication of slowing the use of targeted killing through drone strikes.  Instead, it appears the strikes will increase, leading to more innocent lives lost, and more anger and hatred towards the United States.  And the drive for revenge.

Image courtesy of pixabay

 

Fiction Frenzy

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Recently, I spent about a month turning this:

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into this:

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An 80,000 word draft that is nearing completion.  Along the way, I have immersed myself in fiction, taking a break from the usual nonfiction books I read most, in order to re-inspire the story teller in me. It has been a welcome, and effective, change.  And with today, April 1st, marking the beginning of Camp NanoWrimo, I’m planning to continue with my fiction frenzy, for a while, anyway.  My goal is to finish the novel!

I haven’t written a whole lot here about my endeavors in the world of fiction, partly because I haven’t wanted to give too many details before the story is finished.  But also because it isn’t the primary focus of this blog.  However, since I haven’t posted for a while, and fiction has been consuming most of my writing time, I thought I’d do a quick post with some of the things I’ve shared on Twitter about my novel.

There are so many writers and artists supporting and encouraging each other on Twitter with hundreds of different hashtag games and I’ve been enjoying connecting with some of them.  I recommend some of the one-line prompt hashtags for a way to discover some incredibly talented writers.  There are a lot of these, I haven’t discovered them all, but the two I sometimes participate in are #1linewed and #2bittues.  A search of either will bring up loads of great lines.

Another hashtag game I’ve really enjoyed is #authorconfession, hosted by author JM Sullivan.  This game is a series of questions about one’s work in progress (WIP) or just general questions about writers and writing.   Since I’ve enjoyed the game, I thought I’d share some of the answers I gave for the months of January and March.  So, here is a little sneak peak at my own work of fiction.

January #authorconfession

Day 1:  Who is your favorite character in your WIP?  Answer: This guy:

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Day 5:  Describe your main character in three words.  A:  Full of rage.

Day 6:  What word do you use too much?  A:  Hmm, probably some four-letter words…just, that, the f-bomb.

Day 12:  Describe your villain in three words.  A:  I have many villains.  The worst one described in three words: psychopathic, corrupt, ruthless.

Day 15:  Tell a secret about your WIP.  A:  It is about a really big secret.

Day 16:  Who is your least favorite character in your WIP?  A:  Paul Douglas.  You’ll have to read the book to find out why.

Day 21:  What do you want to accomplish with writing?  A:  I want to get people to think about the reality of never-ending war, among other things.

Day 22:  What is your favorite scene in your WIP?  A:  My favorite scene is a confrontation between MC (main character) and antagonist that takes place in a bombed Afghan farmhouse.

Day 30:  Claim your hashtag!  Explain your choice.  A:  I’ll claim #compasscode, I’ll explain later.

Day 31:  Pitch your WIP.  A:  A young US soldier finds himself targeted for his father’s secrets.

March #authorconfession

Day 1:  What is the first line of your WIP?  A:  It was a powerful sense of impending doom that awoke James North with a start.

Day 3:  Describe your WIP in three words.  A:  War, corruption, secrets.

Day 4:  What is your MC willing to die for?  A:  Revenge.

Day 5:  Do your protagonist/antagonist have anything in common?  A:  Yes, they are all guilty of something.

Day 8:  How would your antagonist describe your MC?  A:  One antagonist would describe my MC as a dangerously impulsive smart ass, but a potentially useful idiot.

Day 12:  Is your MC superstitious?  A:  Although others have described him as a walking good luck charm, my MC is not superstitious.

Day 18:  Do any of your characters ‘get lucky’?  A:  Of course my characters get lucky, but you’ll have to read it to find out which ones.

Day 25:  What is your character’s worst memory?

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Day 28:  When is your main character’s birthday?  A:  My MC’s birthday is September 12th, something he prefers to keep to himself so he doesn’t have to celebrate it.

So, there you have it, just some little hints about my story, I hope you enjoyed them.  I’ll be sharing more details as it gets closer to completion.  Which will hopefully be soon, so I can move on to other writing projects!  Like part two.

 

Verdicts are in for second Malheur Refuge occupation trial

After two and a half days of deliberation, the jury in the second trial involving occupiers of the Malheur Refuge, has delivered verdicts.  Unlike in the first trial, where the jury acquitted seven other defendants involved in the refuge occupation, this jury has delivered split verdicts.

Jason Patrick has been found guilty of conspiracy to impede federal workers, and not guilty of possessing a firearm in a federal facility.

Duane Ehmer has been found not guilty of conspiracy to impede federal workers, and guilty of depredation of government property.

Jake Ryan has been found not guilty of conspiracy to impede federal workers, not guilty of possession of a firearm in a federal facility, and guilty of depredation of government property.

Darryl Thorn has been found guilty of conspiracy to impede federal workers, and guilty of possession of a firearm in a federal facility.

All four defendants still face misdemeanor charges and are awaiting verdicts on those in a bench trial.

There Is No Fear In Love

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Hatred never ceases by hatred; by love alone is it healed.  This is the ancient and eternal law.

-Buddha’s Little Instruction Book by Jack Kornfield (find it here).

It’s Valentine’s Day again.  Sure, it’s become a day of splurging on greeting cards, flowers, chocolates, etc, to show our romantic love for our partners.  But, I hope on this day of celebrating love we can remember to show some love for all of humanity too.  There seems to be a shortage of love lately.

In this increasingly divisive climate of fear, anger, and hatred, let’s all pause and remember to treat each other with compassion.  Let’s treat each other like the humans we all are.  Let’s honor our differences rather than attacking each other for them.  Let’s stop fearing each other, for we are all people who love, and are loved.  And there is no fear in love.

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Unexploded: The Deadly Legacy of Cluster Bombs and Other Explosive Remnants of War

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Katie Aguilera, February 7, 2017

This month, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released a report for 2016 that details civilian casualties in Afghanistan for that year.  They reported a 3% increase in civilian casualties since 2015, as much as a 24% increase among children.  The majority of these casualties are the result of on-the-ground fighting, airstrikes, and attacks, but there is an increasing number of civilians falling casualty to what is often called unexploded ordnance, or UXO.

The report states, “between January 1, 2016 and December 31, 2016, UNAMA documented 326 incidents of explosive remnants of war detonation resulting in 724 civilian casualties (217 deaths and 507 injured), an increase of 66% compared to 2015.”  84% of those casualties were children, 183 killed and 426 injured.

Unexploded ordnance are explosive weapons that fail to detonate when employed.  They can be various types of bombs and shells, grenades, land mines, cluster munitions, etc.  Cluster munitions, or cluster bombs, are particularly heinous bombs that separate in mid-air and scatter hundreds of smaller “bomblets” over a wide area.  Not all of those bomblets explode, however, with failure rates estimated between 1% to as high as 30%.  These can be, and often are, detonated accidentally by civilians.  The UNAMA report documented the following personal account from a 13-year-old girl:

“Yesterday, I was playing with other children on the streets near our house in the village.  I saw our neighbor, a boy who later died, holding something made of metal.  I knew it was something explosive.  He told all of us, ‘I’m going to detonate it.’

I slapped him on the face and told him, ‘don’t do it!’ and then I moved farther away from him.  He began hitting the object with a stone.  It exploded.  I fell unconscious and I don’t know what happened next.”

According to the report, that explosion killed four children and injured three more, including the 13-year-old girl.

The report states, “children living in conflict-affected areas are less likely to have received mine-risk education, and motivated by natural curiosity, frequently pick up familiar and shiny objects near their homes while playing outside.  Children also use metal-detectors to find scrap metal to sell, often searching former battlefields or farmland where stray dud ordnance can be found.”  Many people collect scrap metal in spite of the known risks, and farmers are also heavily affected by unexploded ordnance as they work the land.

Afghanistan is far from alone in dealing with this horrible legacy of ongoing war.  According to the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor 2016 report on cluster munitions, the estimated number of global, all-time casualties for 33 countries is 55,000.  Many of those casualties have occurred in Southeast Asia, where people are still being killed today by bombs dropped by the United States over four decades ago.

By far the hardest hit country is Laos, where the United States dropped 414,000 cluster munitions, containing an estimated 260 million submunitions during it’s so-called  ‘secret war’ in that country between 1965 and 1973.  In neighboring Vietnam, where the US was fighting overtly, 296,000 cluster munitions containing nearly 97 million submunitions were dropped.  Even at the lowest estimated failure rate, that is a lot of live bombs left lying around.  It is no wonder that an estimated 40,000 Vietnamese have been killed by UXO since 1975, according to George Black in his May 2016 New Yorker article.

The cluster munitions monitor report goes on to document that in the US invasion of Afghanistan, in the years 2001 and 2002, 1,228 cluster bombs were dropped, containing 248,056 submunitions.  It adds, “in 2003 in Iraq, the US and the UK used nearly 13,000 cluster munitions, containing an estimated 1.8 to 2 million submunitions in the 3 weeks of major conflict.”

In May of 2008, more than 100 nations signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions agreeing to prohibit the use of cluster munition weapons.  The United States is not one of them.   According to this Congressional research report, the US policy on cluster munitions is defended because “using cluster munitions reduces the number of aircraft and artillery systems needed to support military operations, and that if cluster munitions were eliminated, significantly more money would need to be spent on new weapons systems, ammunition, and logistical resources. Officials further suggest that if cluster munitions were eliminated, most militaries would increase their use of massed artillery and rocket barrages, which would likely increase destruction of key infrastructure.”

The State Department has claimed the US stopped using cluster munitions in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003, but the US continues to profit from them by selling them to other countries, most noticeably to Saudi Arabia who employs the weapons in Yemen.

It is yet another tragedy of war that goes largely unnoticed in countries not affected by unexploded ordnance.  According to the cluster munition monitor report, the degree of contamination from UXO is still unknown for Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and  Ukraine.  Civilians made up the vast majority, 94%, of cluster munition casualties from 2010 to 2015, with children under the age of 18 accounting for 40% of those.  Even if the United States were to end it’s ongoing wars of aggression around the globe, it is unlikely the casualties caused by the unexploded ordnance left behind will end any time soon.

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Children account for 40% of casualties caused by cluster munitions

Images are credited to pixabay.

Former California firefighter enters federal prison to serve second sentence for arson committed nine years ago.

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Katie Aguilera

On October 31, 2016, Benjamin Cunha surrendered himself to a minimum security federal prison camp in California to serve a five-year sentence for arson on federal land.  It will be the second time he will serve a prison sentence for fires he started during the summers of 2005 through 2007.

Cunha, then a fire fighter, started numerous fires in grassy road side areas and hill side stands of oak trees in Amador and El Dorado counties over the course of those summers.  He was arrested in September 2007, and in March, 2008, after reaching an agreement with state prosecutors, Cunha pleaded guilty to two counts of arson.  As part of his plea deal, he agreed to give details to the Cal Fire investigators about the fires he started in exchange for transactional immunity from further prosecution.  He was given a six-year sentence by the state court for those fires in 2008.  Most of his sentence was suspended, and he served a full year in the El Dorado County jail and then five years on probation.  (Read here for more detail about Cunha’s story.)

After serving his sentence in state prison, Cunha returned to his community and set out to successfully fulfill his probation.  He moved on with his life, believing he had served his time and his past mistakes were behind him.  However, in the summer of 2013, after two suspicious fires started in the Amador/El Dorado area, Cunha became the prime suspect, and was arrested in August 2013.  No evidence has been put forward to connect Cunha with the two 2013 fires, and in the end, he was not charged for those.  Instead, federal prosecutors charged him with two counts of felony arson for fires he had started in 2006/2007 that had burned onto federal land.

In spite of the transactional immunity he had received from the state prosecutors in 2008, Cunha now faced federal charges for fires he had started six years before. The federal prosecutors argued that “the uncompelled grant of transactional immunity by the state prosecutors does not bind federal authorities.”

In February 2016, after agreeing to another deal with prosecutors to receive a shorter sentence, Cunha was sentenced to five years in federal prison, the federal mandatory minimum sentence for one count of arson.

US District Judge John A. Mendez, who presided over Cunha’s 2016 case, had the following to say about Cunha’s sentencing, according to court transcripts.

“My question for the government is, why did it take five years to indict this defendant?  I don’t understand this case in a lot of ways…

…neither the state court lawyers nor the judges anticipated any possible federal involvement in this [in 2008].  They let him talk, and for that you’re paying a price, Mr. Cunha.  But I didn’t see any explanation, when you already had a confession–and now we’re nine years almost, eight and a half years since he was arrested.

And he’s an individual that clearly has turned his life around, has become a productive member.  While you continually refer to him as a serial arsonist, he was eight years ago, and for that, the state prosecuted him.

But I saw no explanation…as to why it took five years for the United States to decide let’s indict this guy now.  It just seems out of the ordinary to me.  I know that there were two federal properties involved, but you knew that back in 2007.  You had a confession.  I don’t know how this got lost in the shuffle or why, after all those years, you decided he needed to be indicted.”

At a follow-up sentencing hearing, Judge Mendez said to Cunha, “I think this is an excessive penalty.  You do have a price to pay for what you did, and I completely understand that.  I think the state handled that, but the Federal Government disagreed.  And as a federal judge, I’m required to apply the law as it sits…You don’t deserve a five-year sentence.”

The sixth amendment to the US Constitution states that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial…”  Not a trial that takes place nearly nine years after the crime was committed, and admitted to, by the defendant.  Not a trial that takes place after the defendant has already served a sentence for and moved on from his crime, maintaining a productive and crime-free life ever since.

Judge Mendez said at Cunha’s sentencing, “I’m not saying you [federal prosecutors] didn’t have a right to bring the case, but to bring it nine years, or eight and a half years, after the fact concerns me.”

Cunha now faces five years in a minimum security prison camp where he spends his weekdays at an E waste recycling facility dismantling and sorting electronics.  He describes the camp as an old air force base that has no fences and the door is never locked.  He says he is free to go outside whenever he pleases, and that he leaves the camp and walks to the E waste recycling facility along a public road to work Monday through Friday.  Cunha points out that he could be doing the same thing on house arrest, actually working, paying taxes, and supporting his family.

This is an interesting point to consider.  The California Legislature’s non-partisan fiscal and policy advisor, the Legislative Analyst’s Office, estimates it costs an average of $71,000.00 a year to incarcerate an inmate in California.  Of course that figure would vary based on the security level and location of prisons, health and age of an inmate, etc, but that is no small sum.  How many inmates are serving a sentence due to indiscriminate mandatory minimum sentences in facilities like the one Cunha is in at the expense of taxpayers, and at the expense of the families that are pulled apart by such incarceration?  At what cost does this apparent need for what is perceived to be suitable, one-size-fits-all punishment come to our society?

2017 Is Here

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It’s hard to believe it.  The new year is upon us and my wish is that it will bring peace and healing for all of us.

The past year has been a crazy one.  There were so many stories around the world to follow, but the stories that really left the strongest impressions on me happened closer to home.

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a story I followed obsessively beginning around 10pm on January 2nd, 2016.  I’m still obsessively following the ongoing outcomes of that event, and maybe one of these days I’ll write down some of my reflections on it all.

Of course, the Malheur occupation brought the story of the Hammond family to my attention.  Their treatment by the justice system is upsetting, and the family faces numerous hardships as a result.

Two more stories that crossed my radar as a result of the Malheur occupation are still unfolding.  One is the proposed national monument to protect the Owyhee Canyonlands.  President Obama just declared two new monuments, Gold Butte in Nevada and Bears Ears in Utah.  The other story is the implementation of Oregon’s greater sage-grouse management plan, and the decision by some Oregon ranchers to file a lawsuit challenging aspects of the plan.

One more story that I have written about is another example of the justice system gone wrong.  Benjamin Cunha was given a six-year sentence, most of which was suspended, for arson.  He served a year in prison and five years on probation, then moved on with his life, only to be sentenced again, this time by the federal government, to a five-year sentence, eight years later.  I’ll be posting an update on his story soon.

While following these stories and writing about them, I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of great people.  I am grateful for all my new friends, and thankful for all the help they have given me.  In spite of all the negativity in the world around us, these people have given me hope.  I welcome 2017, and will keep doing whatever I can to make this world a better place.  So here’s to a happy New Year, for everyone!

I have just one resolution for 2017…I will finish my novel!

 

Photo courtesy of pixabay.com