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Activist calls for U.S. to end its involvement in Afghanistan

By Hank Sims Daily Planet staff
Thursday November 22, 2001

Ann Fagan Ginger, executive director of the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute and former member of the city’s Peace and Justice Commission, issued an activist’s impassioned call to arms Tuesday night. 

Stop the bombing, she said. Dismantle the FBI. Have the United Nations undertake military operations in Afghanistan. Try suspected terrorists at the International Court of Justice. Inform elected officials that bombs are illegal. 

Ginger’s speech was the latest in a series of “InfoSessions on World Crisis Issues” held at the South Branch of the Berkeley Public Library, 1901 Russell St.  

A crowd of about 60 appreciative listeners was there to hear Ginger make her case. 

“If someone shoots you, you don’t shoot them back,” Ginger said. “That would be uncivilized. 

“You take them to court!” 

Ginger began her talk, “Civil Liberties, the War and the Constitution,” by urging all those present to make an end to the bombing in Afghanistan their first priority in political activity.  

She said she realized that the work she had previously done – for conscientious objectors and promotion of the United Nations – now came “after the semicolon.”  

Ending the war, she said, was now her first priority, and she hoped that everyone listening would somehow incorporate that message in their political work. 

“We have to find a way – across the generations and through our lives – to stop the bombing,” she said. 

With that, Ginger unfolded her argument. She made the case that civil liberties are derived not only from the U.S. Constitution, but from the charter of the United Nations and various other international treaties which the United States and most other countries have signed. 

These humanitarian treaties, she said, are part of the “supreme law of the land,” no less so than NAFTA and other free-trade agreements. 

For instance, she said, international law has long deemed illegal, weapons such as cluster bombs, that are not precise enough to hit military targets rather than civilian populations. This clause is incorporated in numerous international weapons’ treaties, and has been upheld by the International Court of Justice, Ginger said. 

“So each bomb we drop – every one – is illegal,” she said. 

Ginger argued that all U.S. policy directed against the government of Afghanistan and terrorist organizations should be approved, and, if possible, carried out by the United Nations. 

She said that the U.S. government had no business being in Afghanistan. A more prudent course of action, she believes, would be to take the matter to the United Nations Security Council. There, she said, the military chiefs of staff of each of the five members of the council could hash out a common strategy and share the burdens of the operation. 

To illustrate her point, Ginger asked if any member of the audience knew how to solve the homeless problem in Oakland. No hands went up. So, she asked, how can any one nation expect to solve the much more difficult problems in Afghanistan? 

Ginger also delivered a defense of the International Court of Justice, where she believes members of al-Qaida should be tried. 

She said that the goals of what she hoped would become a new movement against war and for civil liberties would be difficult, but not impossible, to attain. 

“In the 30s, we won the right to organize, strike and picket,” she said. “We won Social Security, equal pay for women and unemployment benefits. We changed the economy of this country.” 

“If we could do this in the 30s, we can do it in the year 2001.” 

One member of the audience asked a critical question. A woman said that while she agreed with almost everything Ginger said, she believed that having a federal crime agency was a good idea. How can citizens work to reform the FBI? 

Ginger pointed out that there was not always an FBI, and that before 1908, the country did just fine without one. She said that she didn’t see why the country needed one now. 

But, the woman inquired, who would investigate the recent anthrax attacks in New York, Washington, D.C. and Florida? 

“The best defense is to build a society in which no one wants to bomb us,” Ginger replied. 

After the presentation, Ginger asked the crowd to form a circle, hold hands and sing “We Shall Overcome.”