Retired Colonel Ann Wright

Breaking Ranks

On March 19, 2003, Colonel Ann Wright quit her job. After decades in the U.S. Army and Army Reserves and sixteen years as a State Department ambassador—during which time she served in Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Somalia and won an Award for Heroism—Wright reached her breaking point on the eve of the Iraq invasion.

Since then, she’s gone on hunger strikes, participated in protests and, along with Susan Dixon, co-authored a book, Dissent: Voices of Conscience, which features testimonials from intelligence agents, government lawyers, diplomats and active members of the military.

This week, Wright, who lives on Oahu, will make two appearances on Maui. We asked her to discuss the Bush and Obama Administrations, the threat of terrorism and the complex nature of anti-war activism.

You resigned your post because of the invasion of Iraq. What do you think of President Obama’s withdrawal plan?
President Obama is using the Bush Administration’s withdrawal plan, which in my opinion was too slow under Bush and is definitely too slow under Obama.

How about the escalation in Afghanistan? If that isn’t the right strategy, what is?
I was on the small team that reopened the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan in December 2001. The Bush Administration lost the window of opportunity to consolidate the security environment in Afghanistan when it shifted its attention in January, February and March 2002 to the invasion of Iraq. The Downing Street memos provide the historical record of senior Bush Administration contacts with the British government concerning their decision to invade and occupy Iraq. Now [here] we are eight years later. As we saw [this week], the Taliban have the ability to come into the capital city of Kabul and attack three major locations. The addition of 30,000 more military—making over 100,000 military and over 75,000 contractors—will not prevent Afghans from conducting operations against the presence of foreign forces. The ultimate solution will be an Afghan-to-Afghan political solution, not a foreign military-imposed solution. The United States should support an Afghan reconciliation and rehabilitation program.

In your resignation letter to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, you wrote that “Much of the world considers our statements about Iraq as arrogant, untruthful and masking a hidden agenda.” Do you believe there was a hidden agenda behind the Iraq war?
The “hidden agenda” was nabbing Iraqi oil at sweetheart prices for U.S. oil interests, many of whom are friends of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Some of their friends were sent to Iraq immediately after the March 2003 invasion to write the new oil law under the Coalition Provisional Authority, which would have given U.S. oil companies incredibly great deals for Iraqi oil. To the credit of the Iraqi Parliament, six years later, the Iraqis have refused to go along with the Bush Administration and refused to pass the U.S. oil baron law.

Do you believe any Bush Administration officials should be tried for war crimes?
Yes, I do believe President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and CIA chief George Tenet should be tried for war crimes. I believe they knowingly and purposefully lied to the American people about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and attacked and occupied Iraq in violation of international and domestic law. If the Bush Administration is not held accountable for creating a war of choice, not for the defense of our country, then future administrations may be tempted to put our nation at war for equally illegal purposes. The British government is currently officially investigating how British government officials decided to go along with the Bush administration’s decision to attack Iraq. Just this week, the Dutch government’s independent inquiry into Dutch participation in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 found that it was a violation of international law. In a damning series of findings on the decision of the Dutch government to support Tony Blair and George Bush in the strategy of regime change in Iraq, the inquiry found the action had “no basis in international law.”

Former Vice President Cheney, among others, has criticized President Obama for treating terrorism more like a “law enforcement” issue and less like a war. Do you believe we should be fighting a “war on terror”? What tactics would you like to see adopted to combat the threat of terrorist attacks, domestically and overseas?
More al Qaeda personnel have been arrested and convicted by law enforcement authorities than have been imprisoned and convicted by the U.S. military through military commissions. Over 600 [people] were imprisoned in Guantanamo for over seven years and ultimately released because there was no evidence they had committed any crimes. After eight years, the military commissions have convicted three people. The military purchased detainees though a bounty program and was ill-equipped to determine if there was evidence against [them]. Terrible treatment of prisoners—extended stress positions, sexual humiliation, subjected to loud noises, extreme temperatures, isolation, all that I consider torture—[was] conducted by our own military and CIA. I do believe that we must pursue those who commit criminal acts against the United States, but using the U.S. military is not the way. Since so many military functions have been privatized, sending the U.S. military to war is certainly the way to line the pockets of the huge military-industrial complex of private contractors who now perform so much of military duties, such as Vice President Cheney’s Halliburton corporation. These companies are making a killing out of the killing and I believe [they] have had great influence [over] administrations’ decisions to go to war or to continue wars.

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, there are still people who believe Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks. Why do you think that is, and what more can be done to educate people?
President Bush and Vice President Cheney connected 9/11 and Iraq while they were in office and former Vice President Cheney continues to do it out of office. It is incredible that the [people] elected to run our country have so little respect for the citizens of our country that they tell untruths, or lie. Much damage has been done and recovery from these lies is difficult, but hopefully the youth of our country will be more critical in their thinking than many of their elders have been. An honest inquiry into the decision-making process of the Bush Administration [leading up to] the war on Iraq, similar to the inquiries the British and Dutch governments are doing, would be very useful.

What, for you, would have been a just and appropriate response to the 9/11 attacks?
I believe that the best tactic to combat terrorist attacks against the United States is to look honestly at the reasons those the administrations calls terrorists give for why they chose to conduct violent acts against the United States. I think we as citizens need to challenge the notion that the Bush administration endlessly stated that “they hate us and our way of life.” What is more accurate in my opinion is that many people around the world are willing to challenge U.S. policies, particularly the blind acceptance of anything that Israel does to Palestinians. If the U.S. would have balanced policies on the Israeli-Palestinian issues, I think attacks on U.S. interests would reduce dramatically. According to the 9/11 Commission Report, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, one of the masterminds of 9/11, said his anger and hatred of the United States stemmed “from his violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel.” Two of the latest al Qaeda operatives that have made, or attempted, violent attacks against the United States each said their animus toward the United States was based on U.S. support for Israel in the attacks on Gaza. Nigerian Abdulmutallab said that he was sympathetic toward Palestinians and he was “angry over Israel’s attack on Gaza.” Likewise, Jordanian physician Human Khalil abu Mulal al-Balawi, who killed seven American CIA and Blackwater contract operatives with a suicide bomb, “changed” during the 22-day Israeli attack on Gaza, according to his widow, when he volunteered with a medical organization to treat injured Palestinians in Gaza and was arrested by Jordanian authorities. He was coerced by Jordanian operatives into becoming a spy to penetrate al Qaeda’s organization and obtain intelligence for the CIA. Instead he became a double agent and blew up seven people at a CIA base in Afghanistan. We need to heed the September 23, 2004 study by the U.S. Defense Science Board that stated: “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and the Gulf States.”

As a former member of the military, how do you respond to people who say that to question–and express dissent against–the wars is to undermine and insult the troops and their families?
Military personnel and their families do not make the decisions to go to war. Elected politicians make those decisions. Dissent against the decisions is toward the politicians, not toward the military. Most military pray they are never ordered into war unless it is to defend the United States, not for wars for the resources of other nations. In fact, the military depends on us, the citizens, to do our jobs in controlling the war propensity of politicians, something that we have failed [to do] in the case of Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam and many others.

As long as we’re dependent on Middle Eastern oil, will we always have a military presence in the region?
As long as we have administrations that believe that the oil under the sands of Arab nations is our oil, that it is the right of the United States to “defend its way of life,” which is based on oil, and we protect oil companies and penalize efforts at renewable energy resources, then administrations will probably have a military presence in the Middle East. It is up to us as citizens to break the stranglehold oil companies have on the foreign policies of the United States. In my opinion, electing politicians with direct ties to oil companies, such as George Bush and Dick Cheney, ensures endless wars over oil.

Being as physically isolated as we are on Maui—and in Hawaii—what advice would you give people who want to get involved in anti-war activism or in reshaping American foreign policy, but feel disconnected?
Hawaii is not isolated at all from U.S. foreign policy. In fact, Hawaii is where this past week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chose to give her speech on the U.S. vision for Asia and the Pacific. Hawaii is the location for the U.S. military’s Pacific Command headquarters. Oahu alone has one of the largest, most dense military populations in the world, with four major military installations on the island. Additionally, Pohakuloa Training Area (PTA), the huge training and exercise area, is on the Big Island and the Pacific Missile Range Facility is located at Barking Sands on Kauai. Hawaii is at the heart of U.S. foreign policy toward Asia and the Pacific. We do have ways to influence or let our concerns be known to our elected Congressional delegation that seems concerned [with] getting as many military contracts as possible instead of diversifying Hawaii’s economic base. At Clinton’s speech at the East West Center, concerned citizens greeted Clinton with signs on a variety of issues including stopping militarization of the Pacific, bringing U.S. military troops home to the Mainland, not from Okinawa to Guam or to Hawaii, and the issues of Israel and Palestine. There are many ways to make our voices heard in Hawaii and in Washington. As a retired U.S. Army Reserve Colonel, I am definitely not anti-military, but I am against the use of our military to resolve issues that do not involve our national defense. I am against the United States initiating wars that have nothing to do with the security of our country, but are to increase the wealth of the economic elite. I hope our fellow citizens will treat our military members with respect for the choice they have made to serve our country. That said, I hope we are able to find other ways of national service so that a young person who needs a job will have more options than just the military to serve their country.

Do you believe the United States still has the ability to be a force for good?
Yes, the United States has the ability to be a force for good, but it must stop invading and occupying other countries and using the U.S. military for reasons other than national defense. To the rest of the world, America is not a peaceful country, but instead is a war-mongering country. We must change this by our actions, not just words. I am very concerned about President Obama’s speech when he accepted a very premature Nobel Peace Prize. Obama acknowledged the moral force of nonviolence that Martin Luther King represents, but said that as a head of state sworn to defend his country, he had to be a realist, to face the world “as it is.” “We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes,” Obama said. “There will be times when nations will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.” In 2006, when Senator Obama spoke at the King memorial groundbreaking ceremony on the Mall in Washington, D.C., he said that King never held public office but he led the nation by his vision, determination and “most of all, faith in the redeeming power of love.” Obama said that King “pointed the way for us towards a land no longer torn asunder with racial hatred and ethnic strife, a land that measured itself by how it treats the least of these, a land in which strength is defined not simply by the capacity to wage war but by the determination to forge peace.” I think the world was looking toward our new President for the determination to forge peace, not war, but is feeling misled by another U.S. politician. I hope President Obama will change course on the issues of war and peace. – MauiTime, Jacob Shafer

Ann Wright will make two Maui appearances this week:

Friday, January 22, 7pm at Maui Community College in Kahului to discuss “The Plight of Gaza: How U.S. Policies are Causing Harm”

Saturday, January 23, 5pm at Barnes & Noble in Lahaina to sign copies of Dissent: Voices of Conscience