Today, Brave New Foundation released a short video documenting religious leaders coming out against the use of Just War Theory to defend President Obama’s drone policy.

Franciscan Friar Joe Nangle said it well:

“How can we hold our heads high when remote-controlled, killer aircraft like drones are raining death and destruction on populations half a world away from our borders, on women, men and children who pose no threat to our safety and well-being.”

Rev. Dr. Paul F.M. Zahl said “The use of remote-controlled drones to assassinate targeted persons without charge, trial, or even at least the chance to surrender is about as un-Christian a maneuver as I can imagine."

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Rev. Graylan, Bishop Gumbleton, Franciscan Friar Joe Nangle, Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, and Rev. Dr. Paul F. M. Zahl come together to explain that Just War Theory cannot be used to justify the use of drones.   

 

Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, Professor of Theology at the Chicago Theological Seminary said:

“There are too many questions concerning the continuing authority for a ‘War on Terror,’ to the protection of civilians, to the lack of transparency about the program, to call this Just War.  Drones are particularly dangerous as they tempt us, as well as other nations, to consider war ‘easy' and ‘cheap.’ The age of drones, unless checked, will be an age of permanent war.”

During this time of rebirth and renewal, these religious leaders remind us that we must strongly consider how our government conducts itself on behalf of our nation at home and abroad.

"I want to make sure that people understand actually drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties…. For the most part, they have been very precise, precision strikes against al- Qaeda and their affiliates. And we are very careful in terms of how it's been applied."

President Obama, January 2012

I have interviewed many people over the years of doing documentaries.  Currently in Pakistan filming with victims of drone attacks (ahead of the film, follow my trip at warcosts.comFacebook and Twitter), I have never had a more haunting and harrowing experience than looking into the eyes of person after person, children and adults, and hearing them talk about their homes, villages and families destroyed by drone attacks. The pain is palpable, their fear still radiates. And even a question about the CIA sets off terror alerts in peoples' eyes.

"[A] hallmark of our counterterrorism efforts has been our ability to be exceptionally precise, exceptionally surgical and exceptionally targeted." 

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, January 2012

A father, with his daughters and son, holds up a picture of his own mother, grandmother to his children.  She wasworkin in a field one day late in October of this year- As he was coming home from teaching school, he saw someone preparing a grave. It was to be the grave for his mother, killed by a U.S. drone strike. News reports say three militants were killed. Days later, the full story of her death came out. To be denied by the "official sources" who are never named, and therefore never held responsible, for constant distortions is gut-wrenching for him. He brought a picture of his mother's identity card. He held it up to me and the camera to show this gray -haired 65-year-old woman was no terrorist. He asked that the CIA and Americans come to his village and see the damage and who was hurt and killed.

"With the unprecedented ability of remotely piloted aircraft to precisely target a military objective while minimizing collateral damage, one could argue that never before has there been a weapon that allows us to distinguish more effectively between an al-Qa'ida terrorist and innocent civilians."

- Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John O. Brennan, April 2012

A young boy tries to talk to me. Working through a translator, he can't remember my question from a few seconds ago. He talks of the stomach pain that makes it impossible for him to play cricket. He shows me his scars. His eyes have gone dead from the pain.  He stills of the  terrible shock from the drone hitting him and his friends. He starts to tear up when talking of his love of cricket and never being able to play again. The damage from drones does not end with the strike.

"[T]here is still a very firm emphasis on being surgical and targeting only those who have a direct interest in attacking the United States."

Senior Obama administration official, April 2012

Another young boy tells of a drone strike that killed and injured his relatives. He was held back from running to help those injured, for fear of a second strike, or "double tap.".He broke away. He insisted, it was his family and friends who need help. Then he was hit by a drone.

"Crucially, the threat of the “double tap” reportedly deters not only the spontaneous humanitarian instinct of neighbors and bystanders in the immediate vicinity of strikes, but also professional humanitarian workers providing emergency medical relief to the wounded."

Living Under Drones report

Then there is the rage and fury. The cries of revenge. The talk of honor and family.The fury over the war on muslims. As the day goes on, the stories go on. It's hard not to become numb as a response to the grieving and the grief. 

America’s drone war "radicalises foot soldiers, tribes and entire villages in our region.”

- Pakistan Ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman, July 2012

So, yes, a candidate for president talks about drones in detail, with great awareness about how they are counterproductive to United States security concerns. Problem is, the candidate is running for president of Pakistan.

I spent an informative and detailed session with Imran Khan, former cricket star, chairman of the political party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and now high-profile candidate for prime minister in his home country. (Follow my updates in Pakistan on TwitterFacebook and at WarCosts.com.)

Mr. Khan agreed to the interview for War Costs' DRONES EXPOSED film. The difference between Khan's awareness and perspective of U.S. drone policy and that of major U.S. politicians, including the two U.S. presidential candidates, is stunning to stay the least.

He has an extensive awareness of the tribal areas' culture, code of honor and respect, and, yes, revenge. He spoke of an absolute necessity in Pakistani tribal culture to honor your family members killed by drones and see that justice is served.

Mr. Khan followed that point by posing a question: Why are there more militants than ever since the U.S.  began the drone campaign? He explains that drone strikes have only fueled animosity. That said, he has a practical awareness of the limited capabilities of the mostly illiterate, ill-trained, poverty-stricken Taliban militants in the tribal areas — that while they can inflict fear into local communities, they have little chance of threatening U.S. security.

The number of innocent people being killed and maimed by drone strikes grows each year, and Khan and his significant following in the tribal areas of Pakistan are very aware of this. He confirms that drone attacks are often based on bribes and bounties to local tribesmen. So while the drone may be "accurate," the intel is often deeply flawed. We see the results in those hundreds of innocent victims. 

He kept coming back to the effects of drone strikes on the people. He talked at length about the necessity for the United States to end the attacks, and to reach out to Pakistan and the tribal areas in new ways, free of the old thinking and strategies that have only led to death, despair and anger.

In March 2009, I went to Kabul as part of my work on Brave New Foundation’s documentary Rethink Afghanistan. My trip was an effort to understand the realities of life in an unrelenting warzone, and to find voices that weren’t yet heard eight years after U.S. forces invaded the country. In the same spirit, I am going to Pakistan to investigate what life is like for those living under drones.

In addition to drone-strike victims, I will interview Pakistani government and military officials, public health workers, legal experts and journalists, among others, with the aim of understanding Pakistani perspective of America’s drone war. It was invaluable to go to Afghanistan and speak with the people bearing witness to the harsh truths of war; my aim is to get a similar sense of reality in Pakistan.

Critical and fundamental questions must be asked. Do these drone strikes make the United States any safer, as the government claims is the ultimate goal, or are they a prime recruitment tool that results in more militancy? Though controversy exists over whether Pakistan consents to the strikes, does that matter when the US is reportedly killing civilians and Pakistan’s national sovereignty is undermined? What happens when the legal and ethical precedents set by US drone strikes are followed by other countries, especially those the US claims to be at odds with? Is this a short-sighted policy that will have dire, far-reaching effects in the longer term? These are questions Americans, Pakistanis and, really, people the world over deserved to hear discussed during the presidential election. Instead, we got basically a “we both agree” moment in the final debate, as Mitt Romney said he would continue to use drones as president, and President Obama wasn’t even pressed by moderator Bob Schieffer to explain his administration’s covert policy. So here we sit, a new, yet-to-be understood era of warfare steeped in secrecy.

While I am in Pakistan, I will periodically report my observations and experiences. Those updates can be found at Huffington Post as well as here at warcosts.com/drone_exposed, Facebook and Twitter. Check back soon for more!

Co-authored by Jesse Lava

Sean Dunagan went to Monterrey, Mexico, to crack down on drugs. As an intelligence analyst for the Drug Enforcement Administration, he wanted to bring down the cartels and other trafficking organizations. He brought his family with him because Monterrey seemed like a peaceful, vibrant place to live. But things changed.

Sean saw that the drug war he was fighting was actually fueling more and more violence, creating the same kind of nasty black market that existed under Prohibition. Monterrey  got overrun. Beheadings, extortion, kidnappings—they became part of daily life due to drugs being illegal instead of regulated and controlled. Today, Sean knows that the solution to the violence lies in ending, not escalating, the War on Drugs.

Co-authored by Jesse Lava In the wake of Mitt Romney's griping that 47% of the country is mooching off rich folks like him, Charles and David Koch are now suggesting that they, too, are victims. The billionaire Koch brothers and their aptly-named political strategist Rich Fink spoke publicly about the family's agenda in the The Wichita Eagle this weekend. They insist that they're the ones under attack in America. Sure, the Kochs have $62 billion and seven homes. And yes, their combined wealth has just about doubled under Obama. And there are now reports of intimidation at Koch Industries for employees who dare speak out against the brothers' politics. No matter: the world is lined up against these unfortunate souls. The corruption and machinations detailed in our film Koch Brothers Exposed are, apparently, child's play compared to the nerve-wracking obstacles these guys face. What obstacles? Here's Charles Koch, lamenting that Obama consultant David Axelrod called out the brothers' massive investment in policies that promote themselves:
When you have Axelrod, one of [Obama's] top campaign officials, saying we are contract killers—I mean, I don't know how somebody in the administration can say that about a private citizen. It's frightening because you don't know what they're going to do. They have tremendous power. They can destroy just about anybody, whether you are totally innocent or not.
And here's David Koch:
[Obama's] criticism can stimulate a lot of anger and dislike toward us. So there’s a huge security concern.
And Fink:
We're just besieged day and night with attacks and the more visible we are, and the more we've done, the more attacks we get.
Not that he expected anything less; he had warned the brothers from the outset that if they became major political players, "You guys will possibly risk the businesses that you have built and your family legacy, and there's going to be a lot of fallback [sic] from this." Yes, the Kochs have so risked their livelihoods that their wealth has ballooned by tens of billions of dollars in the last couple of years. Indeed, Fink goes so far as to say the the brothers are "just like the...American revolutionaries" in that they believe they need to "stand up and fight to save the country." "Otherwise," he says, "we have lost it." Not that America should be the Kochs' to lose. Although they have thrown around truly massive sums to influence this election, the power in a democracy is supposed to reside in organized people, not organized money. The fact that the Kochs are able to wield such outsized influence is itself a reflection of how far this nation has strayed from its founding ideal of equal opportunity. The case we make in Koch Brothers Exposed is that Americans need to organize, organize, and organize some more to bring that ideal back. Even if it hurts the Koch brothers' feelings. Correction: Originally, this post incorrectly attributed the Koch and Fink quotations to the Kansas City Star. The story actually appeared in The Wichita Eagle. This post has been updated accordingly.

Co-authored by John Amick Sunday, October 7, marks the 11th anniversary of the Afghanistan war, now the longest war in U.S. history. This date provides an opportunity to take stock of what a tragic calamity this war is over a decade after its start, and to examine, once again, why military solutions are not effective in solving deep, systemic complexities of a country like Afghanistan. 

Most immediately, the conditions look more dire than ever. The failed troop surge that started in 2009 is over. America officials are giving up hope for reconciliation with the Taliban. More Americans and NATO soldiers are dying from rising insider attacks at the hands of Afghan soldiers, leading to talk of a possible early NATO withdrawal. The arbitrary exit date from Afghanistan is still set for the end of 2014, though no one in Washington can explain the plan for a gradual drawdown or really any strategy for ending the war at this point. 

Long term, the numbers of dead, wounded and dollars allocated as a result of this war are staggering:

- An estimated 20,000-plus dead Afghan civilians

- 2,000 dead American troops, and over 1,000 more coalition troop fatalities

- 18,000 wounded NATO troops

- 1,600 American amputees (from Afghanistan and Iraq wars)

- Hundreds of thousands of vets dealing post-traumatic stress disorder

- $1.2 trillion -- $2 billion per week – spent

- At least $55 billion in estimated veteran health care costs ahead, as thousands of vets continue to wait for benefits to materialize

President Obama, members of Congress and Pentagon officials can posture about the sacrifices of troops in this war and how we all must support them now more than ever. Such declarations are an insult to anyone who was sent to this quagmire and now must deal with what is too often the shattered wreckage that is post-war life. What do veterans get when they come back from war? The backend of a 800,000-plus backlog of other veterans waiting for disability benefits; the average wait for a response to a disability claim is about 260 days. In addition, the rates of military suicides, homelessness and unemployment are all at or near record highs. It’s tragic what many veterans face upon return. If government officials put as much effort into caring for troops' well-being after returning from wars as they do for exploiting them before and during combat, these problems may not be so monumental. 

As Americans, now is the time to drive home the point with our elected and military officials that throwing troops and cash at historically complicated, troubled areas of the world, like Afghanistan, is not the answer. It has failed time and again.

This goes without mentioning the trillions spent in the last decade on this war and another failed military adventure, the Iraq war. As America’s economy, infrastructure and general welfare of its citizens rapidly declines, how can we not point to flippant war making and profligate Pentagon spending as primary culprits? What about needs at home? Instead of more overseas exploits, officials need to realize our own country is in desperate need of the attention and resources they have squandered this past decade. 

Poll after poll signals a complete loss of appetite among the American public for much more of this war. Long ago, American officials decided they need not heed the will of the electorate when it comes to sustained, reckless use of military force.

So what now as we wait for 2014? Those in the halls of power who desperately seek a camera and microphone to offer more empty platitudes will get their way. Afghan civilians will go about their lives, as they’ve seen invading empires come and go, unable to control the region, for centuries. Troops will continue to follow aimless orders. More anger and frustration in Afghanistan will build, meaning more civilians and troops will die.

We as the American public have a choice beyond voicing our disapproval to pollsters. We can elect candidates who have learned lessons from the last decade and are not so quick to try and solve complex international problems with invasions, occupations and drone strikes. We can realize that if we want to bring this thing to an end, we have speak up and mobilize. This is unacceptable, for the Afghan people, for all troops asked to die so a few can control the world, to the families of those who won’t come home, to all Americans that feel the effects of a country more dedicated to war than its people.

The Koch brothers have surprised many of us with a newfound penchant for the public spotlight, yet one can’t help but wonder whether it’s all just a public relations effort to soften the perception of their political machinations. Perhaps in an ongoing effort to appear less…evil?...the Koch brothers have just given us two statements of staggering hypocrisy.

Charles Koch, a poster boy for crony capitalism, published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Monday entitled "Corporate Cronyism Harms America." The piece contains the following sentence, among many other doozies: "To end cronyism we must end government’s ability to dole out favors and rig the market." Um, a Koch brother is saying government needs to stop rigging the rules of the game for powerful corporations? A billionaire industrialist whose network is spending $400 million in this election and who has used his influence to weaken environmental regulations, Social Security, and voting rights? If you don't already get the absurdity, my film Koch Brothers Exposed has the goods.

David Koch, however, has a hypocrisy that needs some unpacking. For his part, he is the latest to pretend to be for gay marriage. I say "pretend" because even though he has told a reporter that he disagrees with Republicans on the issue, he is, in practice, doing what he’s always done: supporting politicians and groups that have worked to stymie gay rights at every turn.

Take, for instance, the donations that David and Charles have given to anti-gay politicians. In 2006 and 2012, they donated nearly $20,000 to Rick Santorum, the archetypal culture warrior of the Right. Recently they’ve given large amounts to Mitch McConnell, Eric Cantor, John Boehner, George Allen, Orrin Hatch, Jim DeMint, and even Michelle Bachmann — a who’s who in the pantheon of anti-gay officials. In bankrolling the Right, the Kochs are supporting politicians fighting to prevent gay equality from being reflected in the law.

Such support extends to anti-gay organizations. The Koch brothers gave $4.5 million to the anti-gay Heritage Foundation between 1997 and 2010. This is a group that once backed out of participating in the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in part because LGBT Republicans were co-sponsoring it. Heritage has also opposed minimal legal protections for LGBT individuals from discrimination or violence on the grounds that these are just slippery slopes toward marriage equality. One Distinguished Fellow at Heritage wrote that conservatives who would "appease" gays and lesbians by allowing them the freedom to enter into contracts such as civil unions and domestic partnerships are the "Neville Chamberlains of the cultural wars."

Why would David Koch support such politicians and organizations if he’s for gay rights? Because what he and his brother really want out of political giving are personal enrichment and power in the long run. In a Politico interview, Koch responded to a question about money in politics by saying, "Well, it’s a free society. And people can invest what they want."

Yes, to the Kochs, political donations are an investment. They can try to pinkwash their record by claiming to be for gay rights or (wow) all about eliminating crony capitalism. But the reality is that they’re perfectly fine with propping up those who are stepping on the LGBT community and bending politicians to their will. The Kochs just need to know they’ll get a good return on their investment down the road.

Co-authored by Jesse Lava

When will the United States start thinking beyond bars?

This nation is now spending over $200 billion a year on a justice system that locks up more people than any country on earth. We have more prisoners than China. More than Russia. More than anyone. This colossal system is hitting our communities with staggering financial and human costs — gobbling resources that should be going to strengthening communities.

That’s why we’re teaming up with a slew of great organizations and launching a major new campaign at Brave New Foundation. The campaign is called Beyond Bars. It aims to change Americans’ thinking and inspire action through short videos and shareable graphics exposing the U.S. system of mass incarceration.

Our new video shows the prison system as the giant beast that it is. Watch it here:

 

This video was done in partnership with a host of groups, showing the widespread hunger to create a sense of public urgency around mass incarceration:

 

•         ACLU

•         United Methodist Church

•         NAACP

•         Justice Fellowship

•         Drug Policy Alliance

•         Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

•         Families Against Mandatory Minimums

•         Equal Justice Initiative

•         Justice Policy Institute

•         National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

•         All of Us or None

•         A New Way of Life

•         Partnership for Safety & Justice

What these groups know is that rising incarceration has had devastating consequences. Not only has it left millions of children without fathers and burdened mostly nonviolent Americans with lifelong obstacles to employment and social integration — it has also busted state budgets with increasing costs while doing little to improve public safety. And that’s not even to mention the racial bias inherent in a system that ensnares people of color at a rate that’s vastly disproportionate to the number of crimes committed, with African American males bearing the brunt of the crackdown.

In short, the United States is paying top dollar for an incarceration system that’s unfair and doesn’t work.

Fortunately, there are alternative approaches to public safety. Policies involving crime prevention, rehabilitation, and job opportunity would let the United States save untoldbillions of dollars every year while making communities safer.

Take, for instance, the Fortune Society in New York, which gives people services like drug treatment, housing, and job training as an alternative to incarceration. Or Project HOPE in Hawaii, which gives people days in jail when they might otherwise be sentenced to years — and gets far better results. Or look across the Atlantic Ocean to the Portugal, which has had tremendous success decriminalizing drugs altogether.

No matter what paths are taken, something has to give in a nation that has 5% of the world’s population but about 25% of the world’s prisoners. The stale rhetoric of “tough on crime” rings hollow when study after study confirms that incarceration shouldn’t be the first resort to every problem. And now that budget crunches at the state and federal level are forcing difficult cuts, there’s a real opportunity for reforms that reduce the cost of the justice system.

The Beyond Bars campaign will be looking to seize this opportunity. Check out our content in the coming months and years as we make the case that another way is possible.

Co-authored by John Amick

Recent commentators have rightly called out Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan's obvious hypocrisy on cuts to Pentagon spending. This strikes us as a good time to step back and take a broader look at Pentagon spending, and deconstruct the spin coming from the Washington elites.

Historically, the United States has made cuts to the Pentagon budget once its major wars come to an end. It happened after the Korean War, Vietnam and the Cold War. And after a decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, now is the time to seriously consider significant cuts to a bloated, wasteful Pentagon spending machine. Yet those within the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex have been working hard to convince the American public that their perceived right to profit off of Pentagon spending is sacrosanct.

To fight the war profiteers, Brave New Foundation's War Costs campaign is producing several investigative films that will expose the financial and human costs of an ongoing war mentality in the U.S. Currently, we are pleased to release a series of short videos that examine key players in the lobbying effort to keep Pentagon spending high. Our first two videos include Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

The rhetoric about cuts to the Pentagon's budget -- which is five times larger than the next biggest defense spender, China, and about $100 billion more than then next ten nations combined -- has been excessive and hardly anything but fearmongering. Panetta, defense industry darling Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), chair of the House Armed Services Committee, and others call it "doomsday," "catastrophic," a hollowing of the force, akin to a "brigade without bullets." Mitt Romney said these level of cuts "is like putting a gun to our head."

What about fiscal responsibility, Mr. Romney? What about all the waste, like marching bands or NASCAR sponsorships or the $50 billion in cancelled weapons programs – caused by industry business practices – that contractors get to keep? The Romney-Ryan proposed budget adds more money to an already-massive Pentagon reserve. Worries of more recessionary pressure on the American economy are mounting -- Pew now reports one in five Americans go without enough food in a time of record food stamp enrollment. Yet, the Romney ticket pledged this week to "retroactively" reverse any sequestration cuts to the Pentagon –- and push for the House budget that slashed funding for social programs, like food stamps -– all in an effort to protect profits for their war-profiteering friends.

And is sequestration a doomsday mechanism, as Panetta has claimed? Hardly.

In reality, sequestration cuts -- $55 billion reduction in defense spending in FY 2013 -- would return defense spending to 2006 levels, by all measures a healthy time for the Pentagon budget. This reduction in spending would mean the U.S. would still outspend the next ten top defense-spending nations combined by $45 billion.

Now is the time to urge your member of Congress, your friends, family and neighbors to call for substantial cuts to the Pentagon budget. The profiteering and waste must stop. Cuts have widespead support, regardless of party politics. It's our money, and we have the power to demand accountability in how it's used. These videos are the first in a series to explore these hysterical statements made by officials that want to keep the status quo. It’s time to expose the unnecessary items the Pentagon acquires that hardly make us safer or go to servicemembers. It's wasteful, it’s harmful, and we must speak up.

Let us know what you want to see War Costs examine in our effort to stop out-of-control war spending. Go to WarCosts.com or visit us on Facebook for more.