Protesters in Chicago Say “No to NATO”

CHICAGO — Formed in 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has acted as a worldwide security force consisting of 28 independent member countries. Critics of the organization claim its noble sounding ideals of “establishing peace” and constant “humanitarian intervention” during times of conflict are really euphemisms for a strategy of Western powered and financed imperialist expansion.

Organizations covering a wide ideological spectrum representing a myriad of issues protested the NATO Summit May 20 and 21, decrying a behemoth military industrial complex that has grown with NATO’s transformation into the world’s police.

“We want to bring an end to the war machine,” said John Beacham coordinator of the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) Coalition in Chicago, “It’s causing so much destruction around the world,” he added.

NATO is being used to protect the same financial interests of many nations involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade who used profits from slavery to become members of the powerful global elite. A swarm of activist groups came to protest, believing those global financial interests, and determination of military targets to be related.

“NATO is a colonial operation. I think it’s very directly related and the U.S. is the most powerful colonial or neo-colonial country to ever exist,” Mr. Beacham told The Final Call. “The European powers of NATO really can’t do anything without the U.S. All the strings are being pulled here, all the decisions are being made here about which country to attack next, and whether it is possible.”

With their own countries facing severe economic woes and still reeling from the effects of costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, The United States and the United Kingdom rank first and second in terms of NATO financing. There are nearly 40 other nations—though not actually a part of the Alliance—that work with NATO, on a variety of issues of common interest, such as the development of more lethal military weapons systems, and Western Europe’s relationship with East Asia, the South Pacific and North Africa.

British Prime Minister David Cameron having just left Camp David after attending the G8 Summit was among those in town for the NATO summit. Newly-elected French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian PM Mario Monti were also with Pres. Obama at the G8 Summit and joined him for the NATO Summit. Although Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was present at the G8 Summit, a tense relationship exists between NATO and Russia, therefore no Russian representatives attended the NATO Summit.

Robert G. Bell, Senior Civilian Representative of the Secretary of Defense in Europe and the Defense Advisor to the U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder, was very clear regarding what he thought was most important during the weekend summit. “When we talk about capabilities in a military alliance like NATO, we are talking about the hardware that make up a military: the fighter jets, helicopters, ships, and other systems,” wrote Mr. Bell on the U.S. State Department’s official blog. “The United States and our 27 NATO Allies make up the most effective alliance in human history,” he continued, adding summit topics included “discussion of the Alliance Ground Surveillance system, an Alliance Missile Defense capability.”

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen addressed the Chicago Young Atlanticist Summit May 19, which ran parallel with the NATO Summit. Organized by the United States Atlantic Council and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the “Atlanticists Summit” included students from NATO member nations, high-level NATO officials, scholars and think-tank analysts.

“We face a wide range of security challenges,” Mr. Fogh Rasmussen told the students. “And we will take the necessary decisions to ensure that our alliance can meet those challenges.”

Then, sounding a paranoid alarm that could have been spoken verbatim by any Israeli right-winger or American neo-con, the NATO Secretary General said, “In today’s world, threats know no borders and respect no country’s sovereignty.”

Mr. Fogh Rasmussen’s words ignore NATO’s continued global military actions, which impinge upon the sovereignty of other nations. It is precisely the type of rhetoric causing NATO’s critics to label them “warmongers.”

A May 14 Human Rights Watch report titled “Unacknowledged Deaths: Civilian Casualties in NATO’s Air Campaign in Libya,” was highly critical of NATO’s air strikes in Libya which were responsible for dozens of civilian deaths, including women, children and other non-combatants in the externally instigated civil conflict. HRW charges NATO with failure to investigate unlawful attacks, and ignoring those civilian deaths.

In a June 2011 press conference, Minister Louis Farrakhan sharply condemned the NATO-led “coalition of demons” as they unleashed brutal bombing raids during their regime change operation in Libya. NATO’s punishing air assault decimated the Libyan cities of Tripoli, Sirte, and ultimately led to the assassination of long-time Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gadhafi.

Many observers believe had it not been for the American government’s outside interference and NATO acting as the de facto Air Force for the Libyan opposition, Col. Gadhafi and Libya’s Bedouin tribal leaders could have resolved amongst themselves whatever disagreements existed prior.

Numerous anti-war groups have ramped up calls for NATO leaders to be charged with sponsoring and carrying out war crimes. In his writings, Gerald Perreira, who served as an executive member of the World Mathaba based in Tripoli, refers to NATO as the “North Atlantic Terrorist Organization” describing them as neo-colonial enforcers on a global crusade.

“Originally created to check the spread of Soviet Communism into Western Europe, this European organization has now reinvented itself as an enforcer and defender of White supremacy,” writes Mr. Perreira. “Since the onset of colonialism, hundreds of years ago, West Europeans have carried out a policy of genocide and plunder throughout the world. NATO comprises these same old tribes of Europe organized under a modern day umbrella.”

Rev. Jesse Jackson echoed the concerns of many protesters regarding NATO’s growing reach.

“NATO is going to be challenged to change its policies,” said Rev. Jackson. “Bombing Libya was just wrong, and they are going to other African countries and they shouldn’t,” he added.

Brock Macintosh, 23, and a veteran of the Afghanistan War is a vocal opponent of the growing military actions of NATO and the war profiteers.

“It’s a shame that because 3,000 civilians died in New York City, the response was to go to war in Afghanistan where now 33,000 civilians have died,” he said. Afghanistan exit?

Also present in Chicago at the NATO Summit for high-level talks was embattled Afghan President Hamid Karzai. U.S. President Barack Obama said by 2014, Afghans would largely be in charge of their own security. American troop withdrawal has already begun.

“Our mission will change from combat to support,” the president said in a recent speech dealing with Afghanistan’s future. “By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.”

Mr. Fogh Rasmussen echoed his sentiments stating, “By the end of 2014, Afghans will be fully in charge of their own security. That is when our ISAF mission will come to an end. This does not mean the end of our commitment,” he said. NATO’s only goal is aiding in the establishment of “freedom, democracy and the rule of law,” he added.

President Obama came to Chicago for the NATO summit after hosting the Group of Eight (G8) Summit at Camp David May 18, and 19. Originally, the G8 Summit was also scheduled for Chicago, however, in a surprise move, the president announced in March his decision to change its location. Talks surrounding the financial crisis gripping the eurozone dominated G8 discussions, along with the continued pressure apparently designed to instigate military aggression directed at the Islamic Republic of Iran.

While the president maintains his decision to change locations was not based on security concerns, the switch caused considerable embarrassment for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy.

Supt. McCarthy, who leads the country’s second largest police force, is also the city’s highest paid employee with an annual salary of $260,000. He was seen throughout the weekend walking amongst the protesters, freely accessible, and directly delivering commands to the officers on post throughout the downtown area.

“This is an international city people came here to protest,” Supt. McCarthy told reporters. “I expect that the organizers are going to be true to their word and I expect that other people are going to engage in spontaneous protests and that’s okay. We’ve prepared for it, we’ve drilled for it, we’ve paid for it, we’re ready for it, we just have to go and execute it.”

Several days before and during the NATO Summit, heavy parking and traffic flow restrictions were put in place. Chicago residents experienced numerous traffic problems and disruptions in the public transportation system, which carries on an average weekday 1.64 million riders to various destinations in the Chicago metropolitan area. Bomb-squad units were also called upon to detonate a suspicious package on one of the rail lines.

Angered by NATO’s continued involvement in Afghanistan and subsequent destabilization of Libya, organizers with the ANSWER Coalition maintain the movement towards war with Iran and military intervention in Syria should be vociferously and vehemently opposed. For months, anti-war organizers stated they planned to “hit the streets to protest the warmongers at the NATO summit in Chicago” and they backed up their words with actions.

Numerous protests broke out on the days leading up to the NATO Summit, the largest taking place May 20, the day of the official beginning of the summit. Several smaller protests were also held in front of the home of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Snipers were perched on rooftops around the site of the NATO Summit to secure that area, as well as Soldier Field, the location where the NATO leaders posed for their group photograph.

When asked if he would continue working to facilitate the protests, specifically the planned veteran’s protest in which they sought to return their medals to NATO leaders, he said the CPD would continue to assist the law-abiding protesters to the best of their ability.

“I have incredible respect for anybody who served this country on that level and I think we have an obligation to do that for John Q. Citizen and certainly in the case of veterans, we owe them probably a little bit more,” said Supt. McCarthy.

In a particularly moving demonstration, over 40 veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq returned their “War on Terror” medals and other commendations as they denounced NATO, the United States government, and the military industrial complex that sent them to fight war. Many protesters could be seen crying as one by one, the soldiers told their stories then hurled their medals into the street.

All remained spirited and generally peaceful until a group of protesters described by other protesters as Anarchists began to surge towards police in an attempt to gain access to the main area surrounding McCormick Place, where the high-level government officials were meeting.

A tense hour-long standoff began. Waves of riot police in full armor with helmets, batons and shields moved towards the crowd. Additionally, two sonic weapons called “sound cannons” were moved into position, as the protesters were surrounded. According to CPD officials, they are capable of emitting pain-inducing sonic output of up to 150 decibels, protesters and journalists quickly scrambled to grab earplugs, however, the sound cannons were not used.

At one point, officers removed their helmets and briefly placed their gas masks on, presumably in preparation for chemical dispersants to be released in efforts to disperse the crowd. None were used however, the stalemate did end in violence with several protesters being beaten bloody, arrested, and carried off. After about two hours, the crowd had largely dissipated.

Although they would not reveal their identities, masked members of the so-called Black Bloc told The Final Call they believed that it was time to “take the next step” since in their view, the protest were not getting the results they desired. When asked what results were sought, they were unclear, repeating criticism of capitalism and the “NATO-led war machine.”

Later that evening, another protest was held on Michigan Avenue in front of the Art Institute of Chicago where First Lady Michelle Obama held an exclusive dinner and tour for NATO officials. More arrests occurred with officers reportedly being doused with urine and feces by protesters. Four police officers were wounded in various melees.

Mr. Beacham told The Final Call that by having NATO in Chicago, President Obama and U.S. officials were solidifying the relationship with the European “junior partners” in global gangsterdom, and the heavily armed police units brought in to maintain order are supporting them.

“These are the real gangsters there’s no doubt about that,” said Mr. Beacham pointing in the direction of the NATO Summit’s meeting place. “The real gangsters are meeting right there—NATO—and they are protected by tens of thousands of gangsters in blue.”

Ashahed M. Muhammad’s blog “Take Another Look” and column by the same name are widely read. He can be contacted via Twitter @AshahedM.

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