U.S. Representative (D-CA)
founder and president of Brave New Films. He is director of the 2009 documentary, Rethink Afghanistan, a critique of the U.S.-led occupation. In the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death, Brave New Films has launched a new petition calling for an immediate U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
In September 2001, Rep. Barbara Lee was the only lawmaker in either chamber of Congress to vote against the 2001 resolution authorizing the use of force in Afghanistan. Today she is a leading advocate for the immediate withdrawal of troops and for repealing the authorization that grants a president the authority to use force without a formal declaration of war issued by Congress. “While the head of al-Qaeda is no longer around, we have to really address the root causes of terrorism and understand that we have to refocus our resources and our strategy in a way that begins to get us out of Afghanistan,” Lee says. We also speak to filmmaker Robert Greenwald about his Rethink Afghanistan campaign and journalist Anand Gopal, reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to our ongoing coverage of the death of Osama bin Laden and the future of the so-called "war on terror." On Monday, the Obama administration released new details of the operation that killed bin Laden at a compound in Pakistan. The White House says bin Laden was shot in the head and chest but that he himself did not return fire. Four others were killed in the raid: three men and one woman. One of bin Laden’s wives was wounded. U.S. officials told the Reuters news agency that while bin Laden would have been taken alive had he surrendered, the Special Forces that carried out the mission were instructed they were on a, quote, "kill operation."
The raid has further strained ties between the U.S. and Pakistan. Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers are calling for a review of billions in aid to Pakistan in light of the revelation bin Laden was living inside a heavily fortified compound in a wealthy Pakistani suburb. Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf criticized the U.S. for attacking the compound without Pakistan’s knowledge, calling it a violation of Pakistani sovereignty.
Republicans meanwhile have begun to seize on the news intelligence for the raid was partially gathered at U.S. secret prisons in Eastern Europe. In a sarcastic post referring to Obama’s ban on Bush-era torture methods, Congressmember Steve King of Iowa tweeted, quote, "Wonder what President Obama thinks of water boarding now?"
Here in New York, celebrations continued Monday with crowds of people gathering at Gound Zero, the site of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. At the White House, President Obama said bin Laden’s killing had united the nation.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: That unity that we felt on 9/11 has frayed a little bit over the years, and I have no illusions about the difficulties of the debates that we’ll have to be engaged in in the weeks and months to come. But I also know there have been several moments like this during the course of this year that have brought us together as an American family, whether it was the tragedy in Tucson or, most recently, our unified response to the terrible storms that have taken place in the South. Last night was one of those moments.
AMY GOODMAN: While many have celebrated bin Laden’s death as a turning point in the so-called war on terror, the U.S.-led occupation of Afghanistan continues in full force. Over 100,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan nearly 10 years after the war began, more than that number contractors. On Monday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for a speedier U.S. withdrawal, saying, quote, "We said that the fight against terrorism is not in bombing women and children of Afghanistan. The fight against terrorism is in its sanctuaries, in its training bases and in its financing centers, not in Afghanistan, and now it’s proved that we were right," he said.
Well, we turn now to Democratic Congressmember Barbara Lee. In 2001, four days after the September 11th attacks, Congressmember Lee was the only lawmaker in either chamber of Congress to vote against the 2001 resolution authorizing the use of force in Afghanistan. This is what she said on the floor of the House, September 14th, three days before the 9/11 — after the 9/11 attacks.
REP. BARBARA LEE: Mr. Speaker, members, I rise today really with a very heavy heart, one that is filled with sorrow for the families and the loved ones who were killed and injured this week. Only the most foolish and the most callous would not understand the grief that has really gripped our people and millions across the world. This unspeakable act on the United States has really forced me, however, to rely on my moral compass, my conscience and my God for direction.
September 11th changed the world. Our deepest fears now haunt us. Yet I am convinced that military action will not prevent further acts of international terrorism against the United States. This is a very complex and complicated matter.
Now this resolution will pass, although we all know that the President can wage a war even without it. However difficult this vote may be, some of us must urge the use of restraint. Our country is in a state of mourning. Some of us must say, let’s step back for a moment. Let’s just pause, just for a minute, and think through the implications of our actions today, so that this does not spiral out of control.
Now I have agonized over this vote. But I came to grips with it today, and I came to grips with opposing this resolution during the very painful, yet very beautiful, memorial service. As a member of the clergy so eloquently said, "As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore."
Thank you, and I yield the balance of my time.
AMY GOODMAN: Democratic Congressmember Barbara Lee, speaking three days after the 9/11 attacks. Congressmember Lee joins us now from Washington, D.C.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Congressmember Lee. Your response to the death of Osama bin Laden and what this means for the future of the war in Afghanistan and the so-called war on terror?
REP. BARBARA LEE: Thank you for a chance to be with you today.
Let me first say that I think the world really has breathed a sigh of relief, and I think everyone has to see President Obama as a bold leader who is committed to hopefully begin now to look at how we begin to end the war in Afghanistan. It’s very important that we take this moment, I believe, to reflect upon the fact that the President did commit to begin a significant withdrawal in July, and in fact that, you know, the families and the victims of 9/11 and others throughout the world who have endured such pain, while this is not going to, you know, really completely take care of the — ease — or at least ease the pain that they’ve endured, it hopefully will bring some comfort to them.
But it does also give us an opportunity to look at how we begin to enact a smart security strategy. Amy, I’m telling you, and I think we all recognize that al-Qaeda is not only, you know, in Pakistan, but, I mean, we’re talking about plotting terrorist attacks, for example, from the tribal regions of Yemen, of course, from a hotel room in Germany. So, while the head of al-Qaeda is no longer around, we have to really address the root causes of terrorism and understand that we have to refocus our resources and our strategy in a way that begins to get us out of Afghanistan. And as I said on — right after the horrific attacks, we can’t give a blank check to any president to wage war in perpetuity. And I think this gives us a chance to really refocus our strategy now.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you agree with your California colleague, with Senator Feinstein, who’s calling for ending U.S. aid to Pakistan, given that it looks like Osama bin Laden may have been living in Abbottabad for something like five years in this, what, some number of feet from the premier military academy there, like their West Point, a military town, that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t known by Pakistan, which receives something like well over $3 billion a year from the United States?
REP. BARBARA LEE: Yeah, it’s hard to believe that it wasn’t known. However, I think it’s too early to really understand what took place, and I believe we must have an investigation, and we must understand the dynamics and the history and what has taken place over the last five years. I must say, though, that we can’t ignore Pakistan. You know, it’s a nuclear power. And I’ve always believed that foreign assistance can play a stabilizing role throughout the world. I think it’s what type of foreign assistance, how is that foreign assistance distributed, and for what purposes. But I don’t think that we can become isolationists. But I also know that the American people are going to insist on some answers, and we can’t continue to spend trillions of dollars on open-ended wars, such as we have in Afghanistan, and on wars such as Iraq, now Libya. And we can’t continue to send money to countries that, you know, we have some question about. But I do believe in foreign assistance and that we must take a moment to investigate and understand what happened in Pakistan and not rush to judgment on this.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Barbara Lee, you were the only lawmaker in either chamber of Congress to vote against the 2001 resolution authorizing military action for the attacks on 9/11. You faced death threats then. You were under enormous pressure — the resolution that authorized the use of force in Afghanistan. How do you feel today? Do you think what we’re seeing today has justified your action then?
REP. BARBARA LEE: Absolutely. That resolution was a blank check, Amy, and if you read the resolution, it was not targeted toward al-Qaeda or any country. All it said was — and it said the president is authorized to use force against any nation, organization or individual he or she deems responsible or, you know, connected to 9/11. That was a blank check that gave the authority — it wasn’t a declaration of war, yet we’ve been in the longest war in American history now, 10 years, and it’s open-ended. I want to repeal that authorization, because that authorization gives any president the authorization to go to force — to use force, to use military action, when in fact Congress must declare war if we’re going to do this. And so, that was absolutely the correct vote. It was open-ended. It was a blank check. And we need to go back to the drawing board and repeal this. And when, in fact, the president, any president, deems it necessary to use force, military force, the Constitution requires the president to come to Congress for a declaration of war.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined by Robert Greenwald, the founder and president of Brave New Films, director of the 2009 documentary Rethink Afghanistan, a critique of the U.S.-led occupation. In the wake of bin Laden’s death, Brave New Films has launched this new petition calling for an immediate U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Robert Greenwald, joining us now from Los Angeles. And I want to get a response from Congressmember Barbara Lee, but Robert Greenwald, explain what this petition is.
ROBERT GREENWALD: What the petition is, Amy, it’s a response to the reality and the opportunity that Osama bin Laden’s death has created. It’s an extraordinary opportunity to look at our policy, to evaluate what we’re doing, and as Congressman Lee has said, to bring an open-ended war to an end, to say to people, for those who believed in this war and many who didn’t, but for those who believed in it, the primary motivating factor often was, well, this is where Osama bin Laden was, therefore we have to go to war. Osama bin Laden is no longer there. He was found by the use of a political action, smart intelligence, thorough research and patience, not by a military occupation of a country that is making us less safe and is costing, Amy, $2 billion every week.
AMY GOODMAN: How many people have signed this petition?
ROBERT GREENWALD: We’ve had — in less than 24 hours, we’ve had about 20,000-25,000 people already sign it, and it’s being passed around. You know, we track all this stuff. It’s on our Facebook Rethink Afghanistan page. It’s on the website. I’ve been tweeting it on my Twitter account. And you can see that there’s a passionate response to it, because people — as Congressman Lee again was saying, people fundamentally now understand this war has not made us safer. It has resulted in the horrible loss of Afghani lives, of American lives.
And when I visited Afghanistan, Amy, you know, one is struck by the poverty that really cries out at you. And all you see is military solution and billions of dollars being spent. People are starving. People need jobs. People need education. People need healthcare. And what we’re doing is supplying military, military, military. It’s not working. It’s not going to make us safer. And this is an extraordinary moment and a real opportunity to change policy.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Lee, do you support this petition?
REP. BARBARA LEE: I think it’s very important, what is being done with this petition. And I have to tell you, in March, we had a bipartisan group — I led this effort — of 80 members of Congress to call on the President to commit to a significant and sizable reduction of our forces in Afghanistan. Now, that was in March. I also have an effort that I’ve mounted to say no more funding for combat operations in Afghanistan. The only funding that we should appropriate is to protect our young men and women and contractors and to bring them home. And so, this petition, I think, really does give us the wind beneath our wings that we need here in Congress to begin to exercise our leadership responsibilities and to say no more combat operation in Afghanistan. And so, I really want to commend Robert and all those who have begun this.
It’s very important to use this defining moment, I think, to rally the American people and to remind the American people that we are spending trillions of dollars, billions every week, on this open-ended longest war in American history and that we have economic priorities, economic recovery, job creation priorities here in our own country that this money can be used for. But that doesn’t mean, though, that we have to put our heads in the sand, Amy. And I think, as progressives and as Democrats, you know, I want to say, we must understand we have to develop a smart security strategy. And that’s why Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey’s legislation on smart security is so important, because there is a road map and a plan on how you refocus our resources and security assets, protect our civil liberties, and ensure our national security. We can do it in a smarter way.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to get reaction directly from Afghanistan right now. We’re joined by independent reporter Anand Gopal, who reported in the past for the Wall Street Journal. He is in Kabul, Afghanistan. Anand, describe the reaction to the death of Osama bin Laden and what is happening now in the continued U.S. war in Afghanistan.
ANAND GOPAL: Well, Amy, the reaction is extraordinarily muted here. And the reason is because most Afghans don’t see bin Laden’s death as having anything to do with what’s happening in Afghanistan. The U.S. is facing an indigenous, nationalist insurgency that’s fueled by rapacious commanders and government officials, fueled by the behavior of foreign forces. It has almost nothing to do with al-Qaeda. And so, most people that I’ve talked to in the last few days had very little reaction one way or the other.
AMY GOODMAN: The conditions on the ground, Anand, can you describe the situation? We get very little coverage of the war. But how bad it has gotten?
ANAND GOPAL: This is the most violent spring since 2001. It was also the most violent winter since 2001, and I suspect the same will be said for this summer. Despite the surge and a number of offensives over the last year, the coalition forces really haven’t been able to dislodge the Taliban’s political hold over large parts of the south and east in the country. The number of civilian casualties caused by both side, we had a record high this year. And at this point it’s looking like a war of attrition. The Taliban is not really gaining any more territory, but at the same time coalition forces aren’t being more central either.
AMY GOODMAN: You said it is the most violent spring since 2000, since the beginning of the war?
ANAND GOPAL: That’s right. And every year has been more violent than the year before that, so it’s just continuing that trend. And I suspect the same to be said for the summer. It will likely be the most violent summer since 2001.
AMY GOODMAN: And what does the U.S. presence there mean?
ANAND GOPAL: Well, the U.S. is really a fundamental force for instability in Afghanistan, and that’s in two ways. One, U.S. and its allies are allying with local actors — warlords, commanders, government officials — who’ve really been creating a nightmare for Afghans, especially in the countryside. On the other hand, military actions, the night raids, breaking into people’s homes, air strikes, just the daily life under occupation, roadblocks — you know, going from one city to the next in the south may take six hours or eight hours, even if it’s an hour away, just because there’s convoys blocking the way — all of this together has really set the insurgency and created a degree of support among some factions of the rural population for the Taliban.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Lee, as you hear this description, that the U.S. is the greatest cause for security on the ground, that it’s allying with these notorious drug lords, that it is the most violent spring so far, that actually each year is more violent than the year before — you mentioned the legislation of Congressmember Woolsey. Is the Progressive Caucus, or individually, Congress members, going to introduce immediate legislation to withdraw from Afghanistan? And have you spoken to President Obama?
REP. BARBARA LEE: I have not spoken to President Obama recently, with regard to this latest action and where we are, but let me — in terms of this overall war in Afghanistan. But I must say that many members of Congress are looking at a variety of bills and resolutions to really begin a clearer focus, I think, in the House to send the message to the administration that it’s time to end this war. I mentioned earlier the fact that 80 members — this was in March, again — joined me in writing to the President, bipartisan, a letter, also many resolutions that I’ve introduced, calling for fencing in the funding, no more combat operations, you know. And I’m a member of the Appropriations Committee, and we have, you know, not been able to build enough — the critical mass has not been built yet, but I think that’s why this petition drive is so important, because once that critical mass is there, then I think you’ll see more members signing on. But I think we have at least 100, 110 members who are willing and who are where I am on this, progressives and others. Also, I must remind you that at the most recent Democratic National Committee meeting — I’m a member of the DNC — the DNC unanimously endorsed my resolution calling — and it was a very strong resolution — calling for a significant reduction beginning in July, as a beginning of the end of our military engagement.
And so, this is not going to happen tomorrow, Amy. It’s a very difficult and lengthy process. But the drumbeat is being heard, I believe, here in Congress. And again, the petition drive and what you are doing to get the word out so people understand the impact and implications of this moment, I can’t overstate how important this is for our democracy, because the people in this country — every poll has shown that, what, over 65, 70 percent now of the public is war-weary. And they understand that we need to bring our young men and women out of harm’s way. They’ve performed valiantly and well. They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do, and now it’s time to bring them home.
AMY GOODMAN: And the justification that people like Steve King of Iowa tweeting, you know, "What does President Obama have to say about waterboarding now?" suggesting that that’s how information was gotten to find Osama bin Laden?
REP. BARBARA LEE: Well, Steve King’s perspective is what it is. You know, what can I say? Then that’s what he believes. But if you, you know, look at what has taken place —
AMY GOODMAN: Although what’s interesting — what’s interesting is, in information that’s coming out now about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed providing information, it was only after the waterboarding was exposed — he was waterboarded well over a hundred times, and they stopped waterboarding him — months later, that apparently, according to official sources, he revealed the information, after the more than hundred times that he was waterboarded, many months later.
REP. BARBARA LEE: Clearly, waterboarding and all of these tactics — and we all know that those are tactics that generally don’t work, and I think you just stated the case and made the case for why that doesn’t make any sense. I think the President and Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, you know, they, fortunately, did, I think, in some respects, change some of these tactics, after they were elected, from the Bush administration. And so, it’s important to recognize that and to recognize how this action was achieved. But I have to say also that we have to — we can’t forget that Osama bin Laden was the head of al-Qaeda and that we can’t forget that we have to address the root causes of terrorism and really begin to enact a smarter security strategy. And bottom line is, we’ve got to remove our young men and women out of harm’s way, and we’ve got to really make sure that our presence in countries throughout the world do not create more danger and more anger toward the United States, which, you know, diminishes our national security.
AMY GOODMAN: Thank you very much, Congressmember Barbara Lee, speaking to us from Washington, D.C. I wanted to end with Robert Greenwald responding to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said yesterday that the U.S. will continue to take the fight to the Taliban and their allies in Afghanistan.
SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: Even as we mark this milestone, we should not forget that the battle to stop al-Qaeda and its syndicate of terror will not end with the death of bin Laden. Indeed, we must take this opportunity to renew our resolve and redouble our efforts. In Afghanistan, we will continue taking the fight to al-Qaeda and their Taliban allies while working to support the Afghan people as they build a stronger government and begin to take responsibility for their own security.
AMY GOODMAN: We have 30 seconds, Robert Greenwald. Your response?
ROBERT GREENWALD: I think it’s a horrible statement in every way. The notion of tying the Taliban to al-Qaeda has been disproved over and over again. They’re separate forces. The Taliban is — it’s a civil war that we’re engaged in. And if you could impeach Secretary Clinton for that statement, I think we should impeach her. It’s unconscionable, after what has gone on, the loss of lives and the loss of money, and for her to continue to try to escalate this misguided war.
AMY GOODMAN: Robert Greenwald, I want to thank you for being with us, founder and president of Brave New Films, producer, director — his recent films include Rethink Afghanistan and Sick for Profit — leading this petition effort to end the war in Afghanistan.