Saturday, May 06, 2006

Over 200 Attend Demo to Stop Attack on Iran

Copyright © 2006 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • Used by permission

Despite the short notice — the e-mails promoting the action went out only two days before it took place — over 200 San Diegans turned out to the Federal Building downtown to demand that the U.S. government abandon its plans for a military attack and/or economic sanctions against Iran. Sponsored by a new coalition called the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran (CASMI) in association with the Peace Resource Center, the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice and the San Diego chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the action drew a mixed crowd, about half peace demonstration “regulars” and half Iranian and Arab Americans disenchanted with the current Iranian regime but also determined to see that the U.S. doesn’t turn Iran into the chaotic mess neighboring Iraq has become since the U.S. attacked it and overthrew its government in 2003.

“Three years ago, the Bush administration used the same lies to get us into war with Iraq,” said Ali Goldstein, who MC’d the rally. “The First Amendment is the only right we have left — the Bush administration has systematically taken away all the others, including the Fourth Amendment right against unwarranted searches and seizures — and if we don’t use it, we’ll lose it. We saw the fantastic exercise of it on May 1 by the documented and undocumented telling the establishment they have to listen to us. Many members of the immigrant community have been recruited into the U.S. military and have given their lives.”

Goldstein, like some of the speakers that followed, targeted not only the specific plans of the Bush administration to attack Iran and their consideration of using so-called “tactical” or “bunker-buster” nuclear weapons but the overall attempt of the U.S. military and the Bush administration to blur the lines between conventional and nuclear warfare. “The danger of the new nuclear-weapons policy that the U.S. has adopted is that we are now willing to use nuclear weapons against countries that don’t have them,” Goldstein said.

The agenda of the rally was not just to oppose a military attack on Iran but also to forestall any attempt to impose economic sanctions on Iran similar to those the United Nations, under U.S. pressure, put on Iraq in 1990 and didn’t lift until the U.S. defeated Saddam Hussein’s regime militarily in 2003. “Five hundred thousand children died in Iraq as a result of the sanctions,” said Goldstein, “and now they want to impose them on Iran, which has three times the population of Iraq.”

“We all love this country and want it to do the right thing,” said Will Rummell, who co-MC’d with Goldstein. “In the war against Iraq 594 Camp Pendleton Marines have died. What could happen in Iran, with the innocent civilians that would be targeted in any attack, is devastating.”

“I celebrate the fact that you are people who care about peace and what happens in the world, because the U.S. government doesn’t,” said Carol Jahnkow of the Peace Resource Center and the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice. “What brings us here is a human issue. The U.S. threatens Iran with the same devastation as Afghanistan and Iraq. We know this will harm innocent people immediately, and more innocent people as time goes on. We have to speak out against any attack on Iran, whether with nuclear or conventional weapons. “

Pointing out that the Bush administration is plotting a new war in Iran while their old one in Iraq “grows more unpopular every day,” Jahnkow said, “Our immediate task is to counter the Bush administration’s rationales for the war. They say they favor diplomatic solutions as they lobby for sanctions and plan nuclear attacks. There’s the hypocrisy of nuclear-armed nations saying to other countries that they can’t have nuclear weapons. No one should have nuclear weapons. There’s also the hypocrisy of America doing nothing about Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons.”

“I am here as an individual concerned about the rhetoric of the Bush administration,” said Madiaf al-Rahimi, professor of religion at UCSD. He accused the administration of deliberately setting up false attempts at diplomacy that are designed to fail and provide the rationale for an attack on Iran — just as the administration did with Iraq. According to al-Rahimi, the Bush administration’s demand that Iran stop enriching uranium for nuclear fuel is one such, because under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty — which both the U.S. and Iran have signed — Iran or any other non-nuclear signatory is allowed to enrich uranium to the 3.5 percent level needed for civilian nuclear power.

“Sanctions against Iran will not stop them from developing nuclear technology,” al-Rahimi warned. “The sanctions will not hurt the Iranian government, only the Iranian people. If the U.S. government attacks Iran, especially with nuclear weapons, you will have the unleashing of a new nuclear age that will have devastating consequences.” Al-Rahimi called on the U.S. government to negotiate directly with Iran on the nuclear power issue — something it has refused to do — and “get rid of those ‘diplomats’ who are really warriors, including [U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John] Bolton. You can’t call for diplomacy while being absent from the negotiating tables.”

Al-Rahimi was followed by another UCSD professor, physicist Jorge Hirsch, who stressed the special responsibility physicists feel towards the use of nuclear weapons since it was members of their profession that invented them in the first place. “We have been very concerned in the last few years over the chances in U.S. nuclear-weapons policies and the development of new nuclear weapons,” Hirsch said. “We have a special responsibility to tell you and our government not to use nuclear weapons because it will be crossing a line. It will tell the rest of the world’s countries that they are fair game for a U.S. nuclear attack, and the 182 countries who signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will abandon it and develop nuclear weapons themselves.”

Hirsch pointed out that under current U.S. law, the responsibility of deciding whether and when the U.S. uses nuclear weapons lies with the President alone — and while that may have made sense during the Cold War, when there was at least one other nuclear-armed superpower capable of mounting a surprise attack on the U.S., “today the U.S. is threatening non-nuclear powers with attack — and that should not be solely the President’s decision. Congress should pass a law making it illegal for the U.S. to use nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear country. If we are going to use nuclear weapons, it should be a decision of all Americans, not just Bush, [vice-president Dick] Cheney or [defense secretary Donald] Rumsfeld.”

At this point Hirsch chilled the crowd — and provided the most dramatic moment of the rally — when he played a tape of President Bush at a recent news conference repeating three times that “all options are on the table” with regard to Iran and specifically refusing to rule out the use of nuclear weapons. Hirsch accused Congress of “not facing up to its responsibilities” and said that keeping open the option of a nuclear attack on Iran “does not put any pressure on Iran. It only damages the U.S. and our reputation in the world. This is not the right approach for the U.S.” Like Goldstein, he pointed out that under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Iran has the legal right to enrich uranium to the 3.5 percent concentration of fissionable material needed to run a nuclear power plant and criticized the U.S. for “telling the world that they have no right to have nuclear weapons, while we reserve our right to have them and use them against anyone we choose.”

Civil-rights attorney Randall Hamud said the problem was with the ingrained lawlessness of the Bush administration. “It came into office ignoring the rule of law,” he said. “It has a system of kidnapping people and maintaining secret prisons around the world. It brutalizes people in ‘interrogatioins’ and it has surrendered the moral high ground the U.S. used to enjoy. I believe this administration came into office with the intent to discredit the moderates in Iran as a pretext for war. It is a government of neo-conservatives, neo-Trotskyites and, I would say, neo-fascists. I don’t want Rumsfeld to resign; I want Bush to resign — or be impeached.”

Hamud pointed out that the main charge against the Nazi leaders in the 1946 war crimes trials at Nuremberg was “waging aggressive war” — and that the U.S. itself is similarly guilty of waging an aggressive war against Iraq and would only compound its guilt by starting another one against Iran. “Perhaps we could negotiate directly with Iran and bring about a nuclear-free Middle East, including Israel,” Hamud said. “But we won’t have President Bush impeached until we have a Democratic-controlled Congress” — a remark that, along with Hamud’s subsequent call for people to go out and campaign for Francine Busby and other local Democratic Congressional candidates, got a lukewarm reaction from the crowd. Many people there obviously considered the Democrats in Congress, many of whom voted to authorize the Iraq war and virtually all of whom have consistently voted to support it financially, just as culpable in Bush’s aggressions as the Republicans.

“Now that the mission hasn’t been accomplished in Iraq, Bush is setting up for an even bigger disaster in Iran,” said attorney and Thomas Jefferson College of Law professor Marjorie Cohn, a familiar speaker at peace rallies in San Diego over the last five years. “Bush’s plan is grounded in the idea that a sustained bombing campaign against Iran will lead to the fall of the religious regime.” Cohn argued that, if anything, the opposite is true: a U.S. attack will allow the Iranian politicians and the Islamic clerics who have the ultimate power in the country to rally their people behind the government to defend against a foreign attacker.

Citing a number of sources — including veteran investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, whose article in The New Yorker first broke the extent of Bush’s war plans against Iran and his administration’s determination to maintain the option of using nuclear weapons against Iran and other non-nuclear states — Cohn said, “U.S. Air Force groups are already drawing up lists of targets in Iran. U.S. troops have been ordered into Iran for reconnaissance and also to make contact with anti-government Iranians.” She said that, contrary to the administration — which has portrayed the so-called “bunker-buster” nukes as benign weapons which would explode underground — they would produce “mushroom clouds and contamination for years.” According to Cohn, the U.S. attack plans against Iran involve hundreds of proposed targets, “85 to 90 percent of which have nothing to do with nuclear proliferation.”

Like a number of other rally speakers, Cohn noted that the Bush administration is using many of the same strategies to prepare the public to support an attack on Iran that it used successfully in the run-up to the war on Iraq, including “using the media to work the American public into a frenzy.” She also drew on her previous analysis of the U.S. attack on Iraq as a violation of international law — under which United Nations members can use force only in direct self-defense or under authorization from the U.N. Security Council — and said that a draft resolution to the Security Council, officially offered by Britain but, she said, actually written by the Bush administration, is part of the smokescreen with which the administration is surrounding its actions and plans.

According to Cohn, the resolution would be based on Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter — but that chapter “requires a finding that Iran poses an immediate threat to world security” before the Security Council can authorize an attack, and that’s an almost impossible case to make. She pointed out that the recent report on Iran from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had found some technical violations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty but also “said there is no evidence that Iran has diverted nuclear resources into a weapons program.”

Cohn called on the U.S. to negotiate directly with Iran — “The Iranians are willing to compromise on enrichment in exchange for security guarantees against attack,” she said — and added that a U.S. attack on Iran “would strengthen Iran’s resolve to develop nuclear weapons. There is no military solution to the Iran problem. We cannot allow Bush to prosecute another illegal and unnecessary war in our names. We need to continue to rally and not only elect a Democratic Congress but keep the pressure on them to do the right thing. Our peace depends on it.”