CHICAGO – “The U.S. bombing campaign in Afghanistan and the Bush administration’s ‘war on terrorism’ have made us less safe and secure, not more,” said Medea Benjamin, the keynote speaker at a recent Conference on Justice and Global Security here.

Benjamin’s keynote was delivered to an appreciative and spirited audience of 350 people at the three-day conference cosponsored by the American Friends Service Committee and the Chicago Peace Response Coalition, a coaltion of about 25 groups in the Chicago area that is actively mobilizing for the April 20 march for peace and justice in Washington, DC.

Benjamin, the founding director of San Francisco-based human rights group Global Exchange, recently led a ten-member humanitarian and fact-finding delegation to Afghanistan. The delegation included four U.S. citizens whose family members were victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, family members who traveled there in a spirit “embracing our common humanity and sharing our sorrow,” in the words of one of its members, and hoping by their actions to promote peace.

“On the first day of our trip we met a 12-year-old Afghan girl whose mother and brother had been killed when a bomb intended for a Taliban target hit their home instead,” said Benjamin. “The girl’s father, upon returning home and seeing his dead wife and son, became mentally ill – he went crazy – and now this 12-year-old girl has to find food each day for her father and her surviving brothers.”

Such stories are common, said Benjamin. Women and children, especially, have sustained shrapnel wounds and other injuries, serious illness and mental trauma, with little or no access to medical care.

Unexploded cluster “bomblets” still litter the landscape, and will result in still more Afghan deaths, she said. “Food aid has been blocked by the U.S. bombing, and incalculable numbers of Afghans have been made jobless and homeless as a result of the bombings and are now crying out desperately for assistance,” she said.

“The bombing has also resulted in massive civilian casualties in Afghanistan and in the killing of many innocents,” Benjamin said, despite claims to the contrary by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush.

“The U.S. government has put terrific pressure on the media to downplay civilian casualties,” Benjamin said, “and to a large extent the corporate media has gone along with this, despite efforts by some honest journalists to report on what’s actually happening on the ground.” Were more people in the U.S. aware of the extent of the civilian casualties, she said, they would oppose the Bush war policy.

By way of charting an alternative path to current U.S. policies, Benjamin suggested such things as stopping the bombing and instead handling the Sept. 11 events as a crime against humanity to be pursued by police action and tried before an International Court of law; stopping U.S. support for the Israeli occupation, and giving support to the Palestinian people’s right to statehood; pulling U.S. troops out of Saudi Arabia; and ending U.S.-imposed economic sanctions against Iraq, sanctions that have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.

Benjamin cited the resurgence of the anti-corporate globalization movement, as evidenced in the big demonstrations at the World Economic Forum in New York, as a source of optimism. She urged the building of a multi-racial, democratic peace movement that reaches out to allies, rejects racism, and that “makes connections with people around the world.”

The Rev. Calvin Morris, executive director of the Community Renewal Society, delivered a passionate appeal on the closing day of the conference for greater commitment and involvement on the part of those present in the struggle against the Bush administration’s war policies and against its attacks on civil liberties, labor rights, and social equality.