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As Barack Obama becomes the first sitting U.S. president to visit Laos, The Real News brings you an interview with Fred Branfman, the man who first exposed America’s secret bombing campaign there

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JAISAL NOOR, TRNN: As Barack Obama, the first sitting U.S. president to visit Laos, we replay a report that looks at the legacy of the US bombing in Laos. We bring you an interview with the man that exposed the massive secret US bombing of Laos. FRED BRANFMAN: From the Deputy Chief of Mission to Laos testifying to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee–this is an exact quote–when he was asked why they quadrupled the bombing of northern Laos, he said, quote, “Well, we had all those planes sitting around and couldn’t just let them sit there with nothing to do.” unquote. BARACK OBAMA: For the people of Laos, obviously this war was no secret. Over the course of roughly a decade the United States dropped more bombs on Laos than Germany and Japan during World War II NOOR: President Obama visited the Cope Center that works with victims of explosives left from the Vietnam War era, providing them with prosthetic limbs and takes part in unexploded ordnance clearing efforts. OBAMA: 270 million cluster bomblets were dropped on this country. For the people of Laos, the war did not end when the bombs stopped falling. 80 million cluster munitions did not explode. NOOR: Despite Obama’s visit the United States remains one of the handful of countries that continue to manufacture and sell cluster bombs, to its allies such as Saudi Arabia which is currently using them in Yemen. This report is from 2008. PETER HERBY: A cluster munition is a canister which is fired from an aircraft or an artillery position which contains many small sub munitions, the small munitions, which then explode. And some of these canisters can contain as many as 650 of these small sub munitions. REKHA VISWANATHAN: Seventy-eight million unexploded cluster bombs are scattered across Laos to this day, active reminders of the Vietnam War. From 1964 to 1973, the US illegally bombed the country as part of a secret war to disrupt Vietcong supply routes into Vietnam. HERBY: In Laos, they have been everywhere at the time of the war, in the 1960s and ’70s, in villages. And the place was basically uninhabitable because of the degree of weapons contamination and, mainly, cluster munition contamination. VISWANATHAN: The Laos National Unexploded Ordinance Program, or UXO, says Laos has the distinction of being per capita the most heavily bombed nation in the world. MENG JUNLAMANEE: I went to the paddy field to work. I started ploughing the field, not knowing there was a bomb there. I ploughed the soil, hit the bomb and it exploded. I didn’t know there was a bomb underneath. JA-LOR: I was pulling the weeds in the paddy field. The hoe hit the bomb, and it exploded. EDWIN FAIGMANE: People know about the dangers about this UXO, about these cluster munitions on the ground. But it’s either they leave it on the ground and they will not be able to farm, or they take the risk just to be able to do some farming and plant rice. HERBY: Our belief is it will be necessary and it’s possible to prohibit perhaps more than 95 percent of existing cluster munitions, which means billions of sub munitions that are sitting in stocks around the world. NOOR: We also interviewed the man that brought the US bombing of Laos to world attention in 1969, Fred Branfman. He passed away in 2014. This is part of our 2013 interview with Fred. BRANFMAN: When I interviewed over 1,000 refugees from northern Laos who had had their homes and villages destroyed, tens of thousands of people murdered by U.S. bombing, the one thing I couldn’t figure out was why the bombing had so increased after November 1968, when the U.S. had halted bombing over North Vietnam. All the peasants were telling me that the bombing had suddenly become four or five times greater. And I knew there was no military reason for it. It was only a few months later that I read–and this is a very important quote from the Deputy Chief of Mission to Laos testifying to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee–this is an exact quote–when he was asked why they quadrupled the bombing of northern Laos, he said, quote, “Well, we had all those planes sitting around and couldn’t just let them sit there with nothing to do.” unquote. Now the situation we have today is very similar. The Bush and Obama administrations have created the first US force of American assassins in our history. They’ve also created automated machines of war called drones. They have to come up with new missions. For example, President Obama stated as recently as last month that the drone strikes are only aimed at people whose names we know who are plotting to kill us back in America and who we can’t get any other way. This is an absolutely falsehood. The evidence is overwhelming that most of the drone strikes in Pakistan, in Yemen, in Somalia, are what they call signature strikes. These are strikes against people whose names they don’t know. They have no idea what their names are. They’re drone striking them on the basis of there’s a crowd of people who they decide might be hiding a militant. Now you might ask yourself why did they go from striking named people to striking unnamed people. Why did they go? They’ve only been able to name 77 senior Al-Qaeda leaders and Taliban leaders by name and they’ve killed 3-5,000 other people. Well the reason is obvious. They’re all these drones sitting around out there. They don’t know the names of that many “Senior Al-Qaeda leaders”. They ran out of targets so they then decided to start killing nameless people that both General McChrystal and the former Director of National Intelligence now tell us is infuriating the Muslim world. NOOR: From Baltimore, this is Jaisal Noor.


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Jaisal is currently the Democracy Initiative Manager at the Solutions Journalism Network and is a former TRNN host, producer, and reporter. He mainly grew up in the Baltimore area and studied modern history at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining TRNN, he contributed print, radio, and TV reports to Free Speech Radio News, Democracy Now! and The Indypendent. Jaisal's mother has taught in the Baltimore City Public School system for the past 25 years. Follow him on Twitter @jaisalnoor.

Fred Branfman (1942-2014) was an American anti-war activist and author of a number of books about the Vietnam War. He brought the secret U.S. bombing of Laos to world attention in 1969. He has published a dozen articles on present U.S. secret war-making in the Muslim world. And his book, Voices from the Plain of Jars, is the only book on the Indochina War written from the perspective of the peasants who suffered. Fred passed away in 2014 at the age of 72