Marcy Winograd

Here's how to force Biden to cut the Pentagon's budget

Imagine this scenario:

A month before the vote on the federal budget, progressives in Congress declared, "We've studied President Biden's proposed $753 billion military budget, an increase of $13 billion from Trump's already inflated budget, and we can't, in good conscience, support this."

Now that would be a show stopper, particularly if they added, "So we have decided to stand united, arm in arm, as a block of NO votes on any federal budget resolution that fails to reduce military spending by 10-30 percent. We stand united against a federal budget resolution that includes upwards of $30 billion for new nuclear weapons slated to ultimately cost nearly $2 trillion. We stand united in demanding the $50 billion earmarked to maintain all 800 overseas bases, including the new one under construction in Henoko, Okinawa, be reduced by a third because it's time we scaled back on plans for global domination."

"Ditto," they say, "for the billions the President wants for the arms-escalating US Space Force, one of Trump's worst ideas, right up there with hydroxychloroquine to cure COVID-19, and, no, we don't want to escalate our troop deployments for a military confrontation with China in the South China Sea. It's time to 'right-size' the military budget and demilitarize our foreign policy."

Progressives uniting as a block to resist out-of-control military spending would be a no-nonsense exercise of raw power reminiscent of how the right-wing Freedom Caucus challenged the traditional Republicans in the House in 2015. Without progressives on board, President Biden may not be able to secure enough votes to pass a federal budget that would then green light the reconciliation process needed for his broad domestic agenda.

For years, progressives in Congress have complained about the bloated military budget. In 2020, 93 members in the House and 23 in the Senate voted to cut the Pentagon budget by 10% and invest those funds instead in critical human needs. A House Spending Reduction Caucus, co-chaired by Representatives Barbara Lee and Mark Pocan, emerged with 22 members on board.

Meet the members of the House Defense Spending Reduction Caucus:

Barbara Lee (CA-13); Mark Pocan (WI-2); Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12); Ilhan Omar (MN-5); Raùl Grijalva (AZ-3); Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11); Jan Schakowsky(IL-9); Pramila Jayapal (WA-7); Jared Huffman (CA-2); Alan Lowenthal (CA-47); James P. McGovern (MA-2); Peter Welch (VT-at large); Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14); Frank Pallone, Jr (NJ-6).; Rashida Tlaib (MI-13); Ro Khanna (CA-17); Lori Trahan (MA-3); Steve Cohen (TN-9); Ayanna Pressley (MA-7), Anna Eshoo (CA-18).

We also have the Progressive Caucus, the largest Caucus in Congress with almost 100 members in the House and Senate. Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal is all for cutting military spending. "We're in the midst of a crisis that has left millions of families unable to afford food, rent, and bills. But at the same time, we're dumping billions of dollars into a bloated Pentagon budget," she said. "Don't increase defense spending. Cut it—and invest that money into our communities."

Now is the time for these congresspeople to turn their talk into action.

Consider the context. President Biden urgently wants to move forward on his American Families Plan rolled out in his recent State of the Union address. The plan would tax the rich to invest $1.8 trillion over the next ten years in universal preschool, two years of tuition-free community college, expanded healthcare coverage and paid family medical leave.

President Biden, in the spirit of FDR, also wants to put America back to work in a $2-trillion infrastructure program that will begin to fix our decades-old broken bridges, crumbling sewer systems and rusting water pipes. This could be his legacy, a light Green New Deal to transition workers out of the dying fossil fuel industry.

But Biden won't get his infrastructure program and American Families Plan with higher taxes on the rich, almost 40% on income for corporations and those earning $400,000 or more a year, without Congress first passing a budget resolution that includes a top line for military and non-military spending. Both the budget resolution and reconciliation bill that would follow are filibuster proof and only require a simple majority in the House and Senate to pass.

Easy.

Maybe not.

To flex their muscles, Republicans may refuse to vote for a budget resolution crafted by the Democratic Party that would open the door to big spending on public goods, such as pre-kindergarten and expanded health care coverage. That means Biden would need every Democrat in the House and Senate on board to approve his budget resolution for military and non-military spending.

So how's it looking?

In the Senate, Democrat Joe Manchin from West VA, a state that went for Trump over Biden more than two-to-one, wants to scale back Biden's infrastructure proposal, but hasn't sworn to vote down a budget resolution. As for Senator Bernie Sanders, the much-loved progressive, ordinarily he might balk at a record high military budget, but if the budget resolution ushers in a reconciliation bill that lowers the age of Medicare eligibility to 60 or 55, the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee may hold his fire.

That leaves anti-war activists wondering if Senator Elizabeth Warren, a critic of the Pentagon budget and "nuclear modernization," would consider stepping up as the lone holdout in the Senate, refusing to vote for a budget that includes billions for new nuclear weapons. Perhaps with a push from outraged constituents in Massachusetts, Warren could be convinced to take this bold stand. Another potential hold out could be California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who co-chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, the committee that oversees the budgeting for nuclear weapons. In 2014, Feinstein described the US nuclear arsenal program as "unnecessarily and unsustainably large."

Over in the House, Biden needs at least 218 of the 222 Democrats to vote for the budget resolution expected to hit the floor in June or July, but what if he couldn't get to 218? What if at least five members of the House voted no—or even just threatened to vote no—because the top line for military spending was too high and the budget included new "money pit" nuclear land-based missiles to replace 450 Minute Man missiles.

The polls show most Democrats oppose "nuclear modernization"—a euphemism for a plan that is anything but modern given that 50 countries have signed on to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons making nuclear weapons illegal and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) requires the US pursue nuclear disarmament to avoid a catastrophic accident or intentional atomic holocaust.

Now is the time for progressive congressional luminaries such as the Squad's AOC, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Presley to unite with Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, as well as Barbara Lee, Mark Pocan and others in the House Spending Reduction Caucus to put their feet down and stand as a block against a bloated military budget.

Will they have the courage to unite behind such a cause? Would they be willing to play hardball and gum up the works on the way to Biden's progressive domestic agenda?

Odds improve if constituents barrage them with phone calls, emails, and visible protests. Tell them that in the time of a pandemic, it makes no sense to approve a military budget that is 90 times the budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Tell them that the billions saved from "right sizing" the Pentagon could provide critical funds for addressing the climate crisis. Tell them that just as we support putting an end to our endless wars, so, too, we support putting an end to our endless cycle of exponential military spending.

Call your representative, especially If you live in a congressional district represented by one of the members of the Progressive Caucus or the House Spending Reduction Caucus. Don't wait for marching orders from someone else. No time to wait. In the quiet of the COVID hour, our Congress toils away on appropriations bills and a budget resolution. The showdown is coming soon.

Get organized. Ask for meetings with your representatives or their foreign policy staffers. Be fierce; be relentless. Channel the grit of a Pentagon lobbyist.

This is the moment to demand a substantial cut in military spending that defunds new nuclear weapons.

##

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran. @MedeaBenjamin

Marcy Winograd, Coordinator, CODEPINK Congress, also co-chairs the foreign policy team for Progressive Democrats of America. In 2020, she was a DNC delegate for Bernie Sanders.

@MarcyWinograd Marcy@CodePink.org

Biden's pick to lead the intelligence community is a wolf in sheep's clothing

Even before President-Elect Joe Biden sets foot in the White House, the Senate Intelligence Committee may start hearings on his nomination of Avril Haines as Director of National Intelligence.

Barack Obama's top lawyer on the National Security Council from 2010 to 2013 followed by CIA Deputy Director from 2013 to 2015, Haines is the proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing. She is the affable assassin who, according to Newsweek, would be summoned in the middle of the night to decide if a citizen of any country, including our own, should be incinerated in a U.S. drone strike in a distant land in the greater Middle East. Haines also played a key role in covering up the U.S. torture program, known euphemistically as "enhanced interrogation techniques," which included repeated water boarding, sexual humiliation, sleep deprivation, dousing naked prisoners with ice cold water, and rectal rehydration.

For these reasons, among others, the activist groups CODEPINK, Progressive Democrats of America, World Beyond War and Roots Action have launched a campaign calling on the Senate to reject her confirmation.

These same groups ran successful campaigns to dissuade Biden from choosing two other warmongering candidates for critical foreign policy positions: China-hawk Michele Flournoy for Secretary of Defense and torture apologist Mike Morell for CIA Director. By hosting calling parties to Senators, launching petitions and publishing Open Letters from DNC delegates, feminists—including Alice Walker, Jane Fonda, and Gloria Steinem—and Guantanamo torture survivors, activists helped derail candidates who were once considered shoo-ins for Biden's cabinet.

Now activists are challenging Avril Haines.

In 2015, when Haines was CIA Deputy Director, CIA agents illegally hackedthe computers of the Senate Intelligence Committee to thwart the Committee's investigation into the spy agency's detention and interrogation program. Haines overruled the CIA's own Inspector General in failing to discipline the CIA agents who violated the U.S. Constitution's separation of powers. According to former CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou, she not only shielded the hackers from accountability but even awarded them the Career Intelligence Medal.

And there's more. When the exhaustive 6,000-page Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture was finally complete, after five years of investigation and research, Haines took charge of redacting it to deny the public's right to know its full details, reducing the document to a 500-page, black-ink-smeared summary.

Page 45 of the redacted Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture.

This censorship went beyond merely "protecting sources and methods"; it avoided CIA embarrassment, while ensuring her own career advancement.

Moreover, Haines supported torture apologist Gina Haspel as Trump's CIA Director. Haspel ran a secret black site prison in Thailand where torture was regularly inflicted. Haspel also drafted the memo ordering the destruction of almost 100 videotapes documenting CIA torture.

As David Segal of Demand Progress told CNN, "Haines has an unfortunate record of repeatedly covering up for torture and torturers. Her push for maximalist redactions of the torture report, her refusal to discipline the CIA personnel who hacked the Senate and her vociferous support for Gina Haspel -- which was even touted by the Trump White House as Democrats stood in nearly unanimous opposition to the then-nominee to lead the CIA -- should be interrogated during the confirmation process."

This sentiment was echoed by Mark Udall, a Democratic senator on the intelligence committee when it finished the torture report. "If our country is going to turn the page on the dark chapter of our history that was the CIA's torture program, we need to stop nominating and confirming individuals who led this terrible program and helped cover it up."

Another reason Haines's nomination should be rejected is her support for the proliferation of killer drones. There has been a concerted effort by former Obama colleagues to paint Haines as a voice of restraint that tried to pro­tect­ civil­ians. But according to former CIA whistleblower Kiarikou, Haines regularly approved the drone bombings that killed not only suspected terrorists, but entire families, including children, who died as collateral damage."It was Avril that decided whether it was legal to incinerate someone from the sky," said Kiriakou.

When human rights groups denounced Obama's rash use of extrajudicial killings, including the assumption that all military-age males in the strike zone were "enemy combatants" and therefore legitimate targets, Haines was enlisted to co-author a new "pres­i­den­tial pol­i­cy guid­ance" to tighten the regulations. But this new "guidance," issued on May 22, 2013, continued to blur the line between civilians and combatants, nor­mal­izing tar­get­ed assas­si­na­tions and effectively repudiating the "presumption of innocence" that has been the bedrock principle of civilian law for over 800 years.

The drone playbook, "PROCEDURES FOR APPROVING DIRECT ACTION AGAINST TERRORIST TARGETS LOCATED OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES AND AREAS OF ACTIVE HOSTILITIES," says on page 1 that any "direct action must be conducted lawfully and taken against lawful targets," yet the guidelines never reference international or domestic laws that define when extrajudicial killings outside of an active war zone are permitted.

On page 4, the guidelines for drone strikes allow for lethal action against those who are not "high value targets," without explaining the criteria the CIA would use to identify someone as an imminent threat to the security of the United States. On page 12, the co-authors, Haines among them, redacted the minimum profile requirements for an individual "nominated" for lethal action. The very term "nominated" suggests an effort to sugarcoat targeted assassination, as though the bombing target is recomended for a U.S. presidential cabinet position.

Page 12 of Haines's guidelines for extrajudicial killings. Required generic profile entries for individuals "nominated" for lethal action are redacted.

Moreover, the guidelines themselves were often totally disregarded. The policy states, for example, that the U.S. "prioritizes, as a matter of policy, the capture of terrorist suspects as a preferred option over lethal action" and that lethal action should be taken "only when capture of an individual is not feasible." But the Obama administration did nothing of the sort. Under George Bush, at least 780 terrorist suspects were captured and thrown into the U.S.-run gulag in Guantanamo. Haines's guidelines prohibit transfer to Guantanamo so, instead, suspects were simply incinerated.

The guidelines required "near certainty that non-combatants will not be killed or injured," but this requirement was routinely violated, as documented by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Haines's policy guidance also states that the U.S. would respect other states' sovereignty, only undertaking lethal action when other governments "cannot or will not" address a threat to the U.S. This, too, became simply empty words on paper. The U.S. barely even consulted with the governments in whose territory it was dropping bombs and, in the case of Pakistan, openly defied the government. In December 2013, the National Assembly of Pakistan unanimously approved a resolution against U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, calling them a violation of "the charter of the United Nations, international laws and humanitarian norms" and Pakistan's former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif stated: "The use of drones is not only a continual violation of our territorial integrity but also detrimental to our resolve and efforts at eliminating terrorism from our country." But the U.S. ignored the pleas of Pakistan's elected government.

The proliferation of drone killings under Obama, from Yemen to Somalia, also violated U.S. law, which gives Congress the sole authority to authorize military conflict. But Obama's legal team, which included Haines, circumvented the law by insisting that these military interventions fell under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), the law Congress passed to target Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. This specious argument provided fodder for the out-of-control misuse of that 2001 AUMF which, according to the Congressional Research Service, has been relied on to justify U.S. military action at least 41 times in 19 countries.

In addition, the guidelines don't even require the CIA and other agencies participating in the drone program to notify the President, the Commander-in-Chief, as to who is to be killed in a drone strike, except when a targeted individual is a U.S. citizen or when the agencies in charge cannot agree on the target.

There are many other reasons to reject Haines. She advocates intensifying crippling economic sanctions on North Korea that undermine a negotiated peace, and "regime change"--hypothetically engineered by a U.S. ally--that could leave a collapsed North Korea vulnerable to terrorist theft of its nuclear material; she was a consultant at WestExec Advisors, a firm that exploits insider government connections to help companies secure plum Pentagon contracts; and she was a consultant with Palantir, a data-mining company that facilitated Trump's mass deportations of immigrants.

But Haines's record on torture and drones, alone, should be enough for Senators to reject her nomination. The unassuming spy—who got her start at the White House as a legal adviser in the Bush State Department in 2003, the year the U.S. invaded Iraq—might look and sound more like your favorite college professor than someone who enabled murder by remote control or wielded a thick black pen to cover up CIA torture, but a clear examination of her past should convince the Senate that Haines is unfit for high office in an administration that promises to restore transparency, integrity, and respect for international law.

Tell your Senator: Vote NO on Haines.

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, including Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control. In 2013 she directly confronted President Obama about his drone killings.

Marcy Winograd of Progressive Democrats of America served as a 2020 DNC Delegate for Bernie Sanders and co-founded the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party. Coordinator of CODEPINKCONGRESS, Marcy spearheads Capitol Hill calling parties to mobilize co-sponsors and votes for progressive foreign policy legislation.

Why Democrats must make a firm break from the CIA's horrifying record on torture

It was painful enough to live through the U.S invasion of Iraq that caused untold devastation and human misery for no justifiable reason.

Now we are again reminded of the grim Bush legacy with President-elect Biden's nomination of Avril Haines for Director of National Intelligence. Haines, who has an inside-the-beltway reputation for being nice and soft spoken, was a little too nice to CIA agents who hacked the computers of Senate Intelligence Committee investigators looking into the CIA use of torture--waterboarding, sleep deprivation, hypothermia, rectal feeding, whippings, sexual humiliation--at prisons in Guatanamo and Afghanistan during the Bush War on Terror.

As Deputy Director of the CIA in the Obama administration, Haines chose not to discipline those CIA hackers who violated the separation of powers, crossing the boundary line and beaching the firewall between the executive and legislative branches. To add insult to injury, Haines led the team that redacted an exhaustive 5-year, 6,000-page Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture until it was reduced to a censored, 500-page summary smeared with black ink to cover up the screaming horrors and shield those responsible.

That's why torture survivors and their advocates have just released a damning Open Letter urging Senators to vote NO on Haines when her nomination lands in their laps in mid-January or February after the cyber pomp and circumstance of a virtual Presidential inauguration. The letter, signed by several decade-long detainee/survivors of torture at Guantanamo, also objects to the possible nomination of Mike Morell, a CIA analyst under Bush, for CIA Director.

"Elevating torture apologists to a leadership position within the Biden administration will damage the USA's standing and give the world's dictators succor and comfort," said

Djamel Ameziane, a Guantanamo detainee from Algeria who was tortured and held without charge from 2002-2013, until he was finally released from prison.

Morell's traction may be on the wane with the Biden administration, however, after progressives launched a campaign against Morell, the former Deputy and Acting CIA Director under Obama, and Senator Ron Wyden—a powerful Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee—called him a "torture apologist" and said his appointment to head the CIA was a "non starter."

Objections to Morell include his defense of the Agency's "enhanced interrogation" practices: mock drownings, "walling" -- repeatedly slamming prisoners against a wall, whipping detainees with electrical cords, dumping freezing cold water on detainees naked except for diapers.

Morell refused to call these practices torture. "I don't like calling it torture for one simple reason: to call it torture says my guys were torturers," Morell admitted to Vice reporters in 2015. "I'm gonna defend my guys till my last breath," said Morell, who put his CIA buddies above truth, the law and basic decency.

Morell doesn't call it torture, but Guantanamo survivor Moazzam Begg knows exactly what torture is. Begg, who signed a false confession while tortured, is Outreach Director for CAGE, a UK-based organization serving communities hard hit by the War on Terror. Begg recollects his days in US custody. "They tied me up with my hands behind my back to my legs, kicked me in the head, kicked me in the back, threatened to take me to Egypt to be tortured, to be raped, to be electrocuted. They had a woman screaming in the next room whom I believed at that time was my wife. They bought pictures of my children and told me I would never see them again."

Contrary to the Senate report and the CIA's own internal review, Morell justified the torture by insisting that it was effective in thwarting future plots against Americans. Senate staffers said Morell got names, dates and facts all mixed up, and was dead wrong on the effectiveness of torture.

Torture Survivor and award-winning writer Mansoor Adayfi, sold to US forces in Afghanistan for bounty money and imprisoned without charge at Guantanamo for 14 years, knows firsthand that torture doesn't work. "In Guantanamo, when they put you under very bad circumstances—like 72 hours under very cold air conditioning, and you are tied to the ground and someone comes and pours cold water on you—you are going to tell them whatever they want you to say. I will sign anything, I will admit anything!"

In addition to soft-pedaling the use of torture, Morell helped shield the abusers from accountability by defending the CIA's 2005 destruction of nearly 90 videotapes of the brutal interrogation of Abu Zubaydah and other detainees in CIA black sites.

Progressives should know soon whether Morell's cozy relationship with Bush-era CIA agents buries his nomination for good.

Biden is expected to nominate his candidate for CIA director any day now. For Jeffrey Kaye, author of Cover-Up at Guantanamo and a signatory to the Open Letter, the President-Elect must pass on Morell and the Senate must reject Haines. "Morell and Haines have put loyalty to CIA torturers above adherence to US treaties and domestic law, as well as basic morality. To allow them to serve in government would send a message to all that accountability for torture is passé, and that war crimes will always be dismissed with a wink from those in high office."

Other signatories to the letter objecting to Morell and Haines include:

  • Mohamedou Ould Salahi, Guantanamo prisoner held without charge for 14 years; beaten, force fed, deprived of sleep; released in 2016, author, Guantánamo Diary;
  • Major Todd Pierce (U.S. Army, Retired), Judge Advocate General attorney on the defense teams for Guantánamo military commissions defendants;
  • Sister Dianna Ortiz, a US missionary, teacher of Mayan children, who was tortured by members of the CIA-funded Guatemalan army;
  • Carlos Mauricio, College professor kidnapped and tortured by US-backed right-wing death squads in El Salvador; Executive Director: Stop Impunity Project;
  • Roy Bourgeois, Roman Catholic priest who founded School of the Americas Watch to protest US training Latin American military officers in torture techniques;
  • Colonel Larry Wilkerson, Whistleblower and Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell;
  • John Kiriakou, former CIA officer imprisoned after exposing classified information about CIA waterboarding;
  • Roger Waters, musician formerly with Pink Floyd, whose song "Each Small Candle" is a tribute to a torture victim.

Progressives have been lobbying against the inclusion of torture apologists in the Biden administration since the August Democratic National Convention, when 450 delegates delivered a letter to Biden urging him to hire new foreign policy advisors and reject Haines. CODEPINK later launched a petition signed by over 4,000, and organized Capitol Hill calling parties with Muslim Delegates and Allies to leave "No on Haines, No on Morell," messages at the offices of Senate Intelligence Committee members slated to question Haines during confirmation hearings.

For months, Morell was considered the frontrunner for CIA director, but opposition to his disgraceful defense of torture has cast a pall on his nomination. Now anti-war activists say they want to make sure his nomination is off the table, and that Biden and the Senate also understand Avril Haines must be rejected for her complicity in suppressing evidence of CIA torture.

There's more, too.

Both Morell and Haines supported Trump's nomination of Gina Haspel to CIA Director — a nomination that then-Senator Kamala Harris, other prominent Democrats, and Senator John McCain vigorously opposed. Haspel supervised a black site prison in Thailand and drafted the memo authorizing the destruction of CIA videotapes documenting torture.

In the words of Colonel Wilkerson, Chief of Staff for Bush's Secretary of State Colin Powell , "Kidnapping, torture and assassination have no place in a democracy and turn the CIA into a secret police … Abuses of the kind documented in the Senate's report could happen again."

And they could--if Biden and the Senate elevate torture apologists and whitewashers to the White House.

We need intelligence leaders who acknowledge that torture is illegal under international law; that is inhumane; that it is ineffective; that it puts at risk U.S. military personnel captured by adversaries. The American people must send a clear message to President-elect Biden that we will not accept torture enablers in his administration.

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, including Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control. She has participated in anti-torture protests outside the Guantanamo Prison in Cuba, at the White House and in Congressional hearings.

Marcy Winograd of Progressive Democrats of America served as a 2020 DNC Delegate for Bernie Sanders and co-founded the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party. Coordinator of CODEPINKCONGRESS, Marcy spearheads Capitol Hill calling parties to mobilize co-sponsors and votes for peace and foreign policy legislation.

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