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Wednesday, 30 December 2015 11:03

Challenging US overseas military bases

Challenging US overseas military bases

Though the U.S. government denies that it runs an empire, it maintains a bristling global network of military bases unprecedented in world history, including some where the population strenuously protests the presence, as retired Colonel Ann Wright noted in a speech on Dec. 15 in Okinawa.

Ann Wright served in the U.S. Army/Army Reserves for 29 years and retired as a Colonel. She was a U.S. diplomat for 16 years and resigned in 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq.  She is the co-author of Dissent: Voices of Conscience. What follows are parts of her speech in Japan’s Okinawa. Just remind you that whenever you here “I”, it refers to the retired colonel.

I am Ann Wright and honored to speak at this symposium in Okinawa about the need to abolish United States military bases around the world, and particularly here in Okinawa where you have been subjected to these bases for over 70 years following World War II. From the beginning, let me state that I apologize for the continuing presence of some many U.S. bases on Okinawa and the trauma they have caused to the people of Okinawa, Japan.

I worked for nearly 40 years in the United States government. I served 29 years in the U.S. Army/Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel.  I was also a U.S. diplomat for 16 years and served in U.S. Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia.
However, in March 2003, I was one of three U.S. government employees who resigned in opposition to President Bush’s war on Iraq.  Since then, I, as well as everyone on our Veterans for Peace delegation, have been publicly challenging policies of the Bush and Obama administrations on a variety of international and domestic issues including extraordinary rendition, unlawful imprisonment, torture, assassin drones, police brutality, and mass incarceration. And, of course, the veterans for Peace, challenge the U.S. military bases around the world, including of course, the U.S. military bases here on Okinawa, Japan.
I was last here on Okinawa in 2007 with a delegation from the Japan chapter of CODEPINK: Women for Peace, a delegation that went first to Guam to witness the U.S. military build-up on that island and then here to Okinawa to join with the citizen protest against the U.S. proposal to build the runway of the U.S. Marine Base into the South China Sea. Today, I want to speak about the need to abolish foreign military bases around the world.
The retired Colonel Ann Wright went on to say in her speech on Dec. 15 in Okinawa, Japan: I returned two weeks ago from an international conference called “Abolition of Foreign Military Bases” in Guantanamo, Cuba.  As you may know, the oldest foreign military base in the world is the U. S. Naval Base in Guantanamo, Cuba.  The U.S. has maintained control of this military base for 112 years.  The U.S. sends a check for $4,085 per year for this lease, checks that the Cuban government has never cashed.
U.S. Military bases on soil other than the United States, provides the U.S. the cover to conduct illegal and criminal actions on those bases that violate U.S. law using the excuse that U.S. law does not apply.
The sordid history of the past 14 years of the United States imprisoning 779 persons from 48 countries on a U.S. military base in Cuba as a part of its “global war on terror” reflects the mentality of those who govern the United States. The mentality included: Global intervention for political or economic reasons, invasion, occupation of other countries and leaving its military bases in those countries for decades.

The infamous U.S. prison on the U.S. Naval Base has imprisoned detainees beginning in January 2002.  After nearly 14 years of imprisonment in Guantanamo prison, 107 prisoners remain, 47 of them were cleared for release years ago and are still held, and incomprehensibly. This is while the U.S. maintains that another 46 will be imprisoned indefinitely without charge or trial. Only 8 have been convicted of any crime.

Let me assure you, we in the United States continue our struggle demanding a trial for all prisoners, the closing of the prison in Guantanamo and the return of the land to the people of Cuba. The U.S. military base is of no strategic importance to the United States, but instead is used as the symbol of U.S. imperialism to the revolution of Cuba and the U.S. attempts over the past 60 years to overthrow the revolution.
Over the past 100 years, Cuba, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Grenada, Haiti, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Somalia, Djibouti, Diego Garcia have had the presence of U.S. military in their countries. The United States has 95 percent of the world’s foreign bases. Although few Americans realize it, but certainly people outside the U.S. do, the United States likely has more bases in foreign lands than any other people, nation or empire in history. Currently, the United States has about half as many bases as it had in 1989, but the number of countries with U.S. bases has roughly doubled from 40 to 80.

When the Cold War temporarily ended with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, there were 300,000 U.S. military personnel in Europe alone, and about 1,600 U.S. bases worldwide. In the 1990s, the U.S. military closed about 60 percent of its overseas bases in the 1990s, yet the overall base infrastructure stayed relatively intact. Despite additional base closures in Europe and to a lesser extent in East Asia over the last decade and despite the absence of a superpower adversary, nearly 250,000 military personnel are still deployed on installations worldwide.

Other countries have a combined total of about 30 foreign bases. Britain has seven bases and France five bases in their former colonies. Russia has eight military bases in the former Soviet republics and one in Syria.
According to U.S. Department of Defense records, 70 years after World War II and 62 years after the Korean War, there are still 174 U.S. “base sites” in Germany, 113 in Japan, and 83 in South Korea.  The U.S. has hundreds of smaller military installations in over 80 countries including Aruba and Australia, Bahrain and Bulgaria, Colombia, Kenya, and Qatar, among many other places.
The United States has built permanent base infrastructure in every Persian Gulf country except one – the Islamic Republic of Iran. Ann Wright, who served in the U.S. Army/Army Reserves for 29 years and retired as a Colonel, in his speck in Japan’s Okinawa said that the U.S. government gets agreements with undemocratic and often despotic states like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain to build bases and in return remains silent to their human rights violations.

The U.S. military bases in Iraq, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia have contributed greatly to increases in the radicalization of youth in those countries. The smaller bases are known as “lily pads”, or more formally as “cooperative security locations”, now found in Africa and Eastern Europe and which may provide a base for drones, surveillance aircraft, or pre-positioned weaponry and supplies.

U.S. military ports and airfields, repair complexes, training areas, nuclear weapons installations, missile testing sites, arsenals, warehouses, barracks, military schools, listening and communications posts, and drone bases, military hospitals and prisons, rehabilitation facilities, CIA paramilitary bases, and intelligence facilities including former CIA “black site” prisons are key parts of the U.S. government presence in other countries.

There are U.S. military personnel in about 160 countries, including Marines who guard U.S. embassies and deployments of so-called trainers and advisors in many countries each year, including 10,000 U.S. trainers still in Afghanistan and 3,500 in Iraq. Additionally, the U.S. Navy’s 11 aircraft carriers are a floating military base of 5,000 personnel, dozens of aircraft, helicopters and landing craft.
Meanwhile, President Obama’s “Pacific pivot” has included convincing the South Korean government, which already has 83 U.S. military bases, to construct a naval base in the pristine waters off Jeju Island, South Korea, to homeport destroyers carrying the U.S. Aegis missile system — despite huge continuous citizens’ protests. The people in Okinawa which has 7 percent of the 113 U.S. military bases in Japan struggled to stop the U.S. construction of a runway at Henoko into coral heads in the waters off Okinawa, a struggle joined Veterans for Peace organization joins.
On the other side of the spectrum, the cost to the U.S. taxpayer for installations and military personnel overseas in 2014 was at least $85 billion which is more than the discretionary budget of every government agency except the Defense Department itself. Adding the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. spends over $156 billion in overseas programs.
Unfortunately, in Japan, you the taxpayers pay for the majority of U.S. forces stationed in the country. As you know so well after 70 years of U.S. military bases, these bases bring into a community of weapons of killing and destruction. With that mentality comes increased rates of domestic violence; that violence is seen in the numbers of victims of sexual assault in the community as well as on the military base. On Okinawa, the incidence of rape of Okinawan girls and women has brought tens of thousands of citizens out to protest the U.S. military presence. 
Besides violence toward humans, military bases contribute strongly to violence toward our planet. Military weapons and vehicles are the most environmentally dangerous systems in the world with their toxic leaks, accidents, and deliberate dumping of hazardous materials and dependence on fossil fuels.
To conclude her speech in Okinawa, Ann Wright, who served in the U.S. Army/Army Reserves for 29 years and retired as a Colonel, said that Veterans for Peace delegation are deeply concerned about U.S. military bases in Japan, among them in Okinawa, and pledge continued efforts to stop the U.S. construction of the runway at Henoko into the South China Sea — and to abolish U.S. military bases around the world; inviting strenuous efforts by peace activists around the world to curb the US’s rolling war machines.

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