Vigils are planned today in Toronto and Vancouver for four Christian peace activists -- including two Canadians -- held hostage in Iraq.
James Loney and Harmeet Sooden, along with an American and a Briton, were kidnapped in Baghdad on November 26th.
After seven weeks of silence, their alleged kidnappers yesterday released a videotape tape of the four haggard-looking captives.
The kidnappers claim to belong to a group called the Swords of Righteousness Brigades.
And they're repeating their threat to kill the four unless all Iraqi prisoners are released from American and Iraqi jails.
That's from "More prayers for Canadian hostages" (Canada's Star Phoenix) and Vince sent it in. Vince noted another article too, Mike Oliveira's "Kidnappers issue 'last chance' warning" (Star Phoenix):
Al-Jazeera TV aired the tape, dated Jan. 21, showing Canadians James Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden, along with an American and a British co-worker.
The four members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams disappeared in Baghdad on Nov. 26.
The video - which is grey and apparently shot using the camera's night-vision function - shows the four men standing near a wall, before cutting to another shot in which they are seated and talking, but their voices are not heard.
At one point, Loney is seen close-up, wearing a tuque and speaking into the camera, and he looked relatively fine, said the CPT's William Payne, a friend of Loney's.
''My immediate reaction was he looked well considering the circumstances and I was really happy,'' Payne said at a Toronto news conference Saturday afternoon. ''He seemed himself from ... his facial expressions.''
The Loney family awoke to the news Saturday morning and said they were encouraged to see James is still alive.
Loney's brother, Matt Loney, first heard about the video sometime around 6 a.m. in Vancouver and said that while it was good to see his brother, it's still not the best of news.
''It's a good and bad scenario. We know that he's alive and the others are alive as well, and we take great solace in that fact,'' he said.
''But the fact remains that this is still a delicate situation.''
Ty and Jess here, by the by, we're doing tonight's entries on reporting from outside the US mainstream because C.I.'s got a business related thing to do tonight. This is the entry that focuses on Iraq. There are a number of topics that will never be covered here because everything can't be covered. This is just one site and it's usually C.I. writing up the entries. Like most members, we don't care for the paper of record's coverage of Iraq (or of the coverage of how it resonates at home). So that left a hole. What to do to make sure Iraq wasn't ignored? (As the domestic press frequently does from time to time.) Make sure that it has its own entry on Sundays and on Thursdays. It's noted elsewhere at this site throughout the week but you can count on Sundays and Thursdays to focus on it and we're all spared the daily misreporting from the Times. So let's note the US military fatalities for the month which stands at 62 and the US military fatalities since the invasion stands at 2242. There is no reliable count for the Iraqi fatalities. Or none released. We applaud Iraqi Body Count's efforst but we think that even their high end underestimates the count. (They base their count on reporting.) We also don't see the point in noting the wounded because the wounded, as the US counts, can include fatalities? How is that? If you're breathing when you leave Iraq because you're injured but end up dying from your wounds, you're supposedly not included in the official fatality count by the Defense Department. We think the official fatality count leaves out a large number but we'll note that because you need to note a figure that conveys what the press spin doesn't. We're not thrilled with the reliability of the count, but we'll go with that because of, the figures available, it strikes us as the most concrete. So we've got some interesting topics on Iraq and we've included an arts article because we think you'll enjoy hearing of two singer-songwriters who sing their truth.
First up, more news of the World Social Forum, but this focuses on Iraq (and Cuba). End Zone noted this, Humberto Márquez "WORLD SOCIAL FORUM:Participants Declare Bush 'Guilty'" (IPS):
An informal International Women's Tribunal, meeting at the sixth World Social Forum in the Venezuelan capital, found "imperialism" and U.S. President George W. Bush guilty of violating the human rights of people in countries like Iraq and Cuba.
Another panel made up of 10 religious leaders, human rights lawyers and activists held a trial and condemned "state terrorism" committed by Washington in Iraq.
Meanwhile, the Parliamentary Forum, which brought together the legislators taking part in the annual WSF global civil society gathering, roundly criticised a U.S. bill that would tighten immigration laws. Host President Hugo Chávez, addressing some 15,000 WSF participants, called the Bush administration "the most perverse, murderous, genocidal and immoral empire" in history. The Venezuelan leader said Bush, who he calls "Mr. Danger", in reference to a character in a Venezuelan novel, is "the world's biggest terrorist".
"Mr. Danger talks about human rights, but there are people in Guantanamo (Cuba) who are tortured, and people who disappear in the CIA jails in Europe and elsewhere in the world," Chávez told a cheering crowd.
In every street demonstration held at the Jan. 24-29 WSF in Caracas, signs can be seen proclaiming "No to Bush!" or "Get Out Bush!", while the protesters frequently chant anti-Bush slogans.
The International Women's Tribunal heard testimony from Irma González, the daughter of one of the "Cuban Five" - the five Cuban men in prison in the United States on espionage charges - and from Ramia Masi, an activist with the Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq. González said her father had spent seven years in prison without being able to receive visits, "because among other things, it has gotten more and more complicated to obtain a visa to the United States, which is a routine human rights violation."
For her part, the Iraqi activist presented a documentary that contains personal accounts and testimony on atrocities committed in the U.S.-led war and occupation of Iraq. "Fundamentalism is a new thing in Iraq," said Masi. "The occupation drew out the greatest enemy of my country, the fundamentalists, who have destroyed our identity." She called for the construction of a secular alternative, in which women can be free.
Olive noted "US journalist, cameraman hurt in Iraq blast" (Australia's ABC):
ABC America news anchor Bob Woodruff and camera operator Doug Vogt have been seriously injured in a roadside bombing in Iraq, the US television network said.
The network said the pair was travelling with an Iraqi Army unit in an Iraqi vehicle outside Taji, near Baghdad, at the time of the blast.
After the blast, the vehicle came under small arms fire, ABC news reported.
"Bob and Doug are in serious condition and are being treated at a US military hospital in Iraq," the network said in a statement.
Both men have head injuries, the network reported.
Lynda notes a planned event in Egypt, "Activists plan mock Bush, Blair trial" (Al Jazeera):
International activists and lawyers involved in the defence of Saddam Hussein say they will hold a mock trial of George Bush, the US president, and the British and Israeli prime ministers for alleged war crimes committed in Iraq and the Palestinian territories.
The prosecution will be headed by General Ramsey Clark, the former US attorney-general, who sits on Saddam's defence team, according to one of the organisers.
The two-day event, set to open on Friday in the Egyptian capital, will be sponsored by the Cairo-based Federation of Arab Lawyers. It will bring together international lawyers and human rights activists including Ahmed Ben Bella, the former Algerian president, and ex-Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad.
[. . .]
The witnesses include Hans Blix, the former UN chief weapons inspector who monitored Iraq's weapons programme under Saddam, and Giuliana Sgrena, the Italian journalist who was kidnapped in Iraq in February 2005 and released a month later.
Charges against Bush, Tony Blair, the British prime minister, and Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, include "crimes committed against civilians in Palestine and Iraq," Khasawna said. He said details would be unveiled at the event.
Kyle had two highlights and we're going to do them one right after the other. First up, "US Troops Detained Iraqi Wives to Get Husbands: Memo" (IslamOnline.net):
A declassified military memo shows that US occupation forces in Iraq had detained wives of men believed to be resistance fighters to pressure the suspects into giving themselves up.
The document, written on June 10, 2004, by a civilian Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) officer, said Task Force 6-26 personnel, cited in other documents in connection with prisoner abuse, detained the wife of "a suspected terrorist" in the Tarmiya district, reported Reuters.
"The 28-year-old woman had three young children at the house, one being as young as six months and still nursing," read the memo, part of documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) under court order through the Freedom of Information Act.
"Her husband was the primary target of the raid, with other suspect personnel subject to detainment as well," it added.
"During the pre-operational brief, it was recommended by TF (task force) personnel that if the wife were present, she be detained and held in order to leverage the primary target's surrender."
The memo's author documented his objection to the detainment of the young mother to the raid team leader and officially reported the incident within the chain of command.
"During my initial screening of the occupants at the target house, I determined that the wife could provide no actionable intelligence leading to the arrest of her husband," he said.
"Despite my protest, the raid team leader detained her anyway," wrote the intelligence officer. "I believed it was a dead issue."
Now for Kyle's second highlight, "Grinding Poverty, Insecurity Plague Iraqis: Report" (IslamOnline.net):
Nearly three years after the US-led invasion-turned-occupation of Iraq, more Iraqis are falling prey to grinding poverty and countless others are terrified in the insecurity-marred country.
Recent estimates indicated that one fifth of the onetime rich Iraqis are living below the poverty line since the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003, while indiscriminate attacks using car bombs and resistance operations against US forces have jumped by 30% in 2005.
"A study conducted by the ministry in coordination with the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations Development Program shows that 20 percent of the population is affected by poverty," Leila Kazem, director general of the department of social affairs at the labor ministry, told Agence France Presse (AFP) Wednesday, January 25.
"Some two million Iraqi families live under the poverty line, as defined by international criteria, which is fixed at one dollar per day per person."
A recent study by Iraq's health ministry in tandem with Norway's Institute for Applied International Studies and the UN Development Program (UNDP) said children are paying the silent cost of the US-led occupation with malnutrition rates exceeding by far those in the world’s poorest and disease-plagued countries.
The report added that acute malnutrition among Iraqi children has nearly doubled since the US-invasion-turned-occupation in March 2003.
So things aren't better? Are you surprised? Maybe if you count on the paper of record to tell you what's what in Iraq. We're winding down and first we have an editorial. This is actually a three part editorial, but Pru noted the section dealing with Iraq, "A new politics in the rebellions to come" (Great Britain's Socialist Worker):
No easy way out for the US from Iraq
Bush and Blair can draw little comfort from the final results of the Iraqi elections.
The pro-Iranian United Iraqi Alliance holds a majority in the new parliament while the US backed parties have sunk into obscurity.
Military might has also failed to bring stability.
Last year the resistance launched over 34,000 attacks on occupation troops, a massive rise on 2004.
One city symbolises this US failure above all others -- Fallujah. In November 2004 the city was devastated by a massive assault, an attack hailed as a turning point in the occupiers’ battle against the resistance.
Yet during the elections in December Fallujah staged a series of strikes and the city is, after Baghdad, the most dangerous place for US troops to be.
Neither the elections nor military power have delivered respite for the occupation. The only solution is an immediate end to the occupation.
© Copyright Socialist Worker (unless otherwise stated). You may republish if you include an active link to the original and leave this notice in place.
Now for the arts note, also noted by Pru, Jimmy Ross' "Refreshingly hard hitting songs for hard hitting times" (Great Britain's Socialist Worker):
In the world of what is known as folk or roots music, performers often seem to be more concerned with being part of the heritage industry than relating to contemporary political movements.
Rory McLeod and Alistair Hulett are two singer-songwriters on the folk circuit who have no doubts about which side they are on.
Both have new CDs out which are not only musically exciting but also fiercely politically committed.
If you've been put off folk music by the folk playing it, listening to these might change your mind.
In his newly released Brave Faces, McLeod's musical styles range from calypso/steel band to voice-percussion accompanied yodelling. It works, honest. He tackles the Iraq war in No More Blood for Oil:
"No more blood for oil,
No more killing for those rich corporations and laws,
It's you not us,
We're not disturbing the peace,
But we are disturbing the war."
And in the Ballad of the Burston School Strike he celebrates the events of 1914 in the village of Burston where pupils responded to the sackings of their socialist teachers by boycotting the school in protest.
Climate change and domestic violence are also featured in songs that are challenging but never worthy or dull.
Hulett, in Riches and Rags, points out the contemporary resonances of older songs by dedicating the 19th century ballad The Recruited Collier to Rose Gentle and Cindy Sheehan -- "mothers of soldiers who are now in the forefront of the struggle for justice in the Middle East".
With its mixture of sensitively presented traditional material, blues, jug band music and his own hard hitting political songs like Criminal Justice and Militant Red, Riches and Rags is a refreshing reminder that the spirit of resistance and revolt pioneered by singers like Woody Guthrie and Phil Ochs is still with us.
Albums available from www.rorymcleod.com and www.footstompin.com/music/scottish_song/riches_and_rags
© Copyright Socialist Worker (unless otherwise stated). You may republish if you include an active link to the original and leave this notice in place.
Around the world, there is music speaking truth to power and that includes here in the United States. We hope you seek out those people who have something to say. All opinions in this entry, unless otherwise noted, and the last one are our own (Ty and Jess) but we'll add that we're stunned by how many refuse to sing about anything that matters. Yeah, you've got the Disney Kids wasting everyone's time. But for someone who waved the flag (and not his own country's flag) so much following 9/11, we're suprised Paul McCartney hasn't been the target of criticism. And speaking of silly love songs, what about Sheryl Crow wasting everyone's time with her I-Love-Lance! CD and promotion push? Hey, Sheryl, you're over forty! If that's news to you, sorry to shock you. But don't you think you're too old to be churning out that simplistic crap? That was shameful. We're not sure what's going on with Alanis. We like her and maybe at some point, the woman who sang of "clarity" will find enough of her own to write a song about the world today? This year we got two repackagings from Alanis, a re-recorded Jagged Little Pill that was acoustic this time and a greatest hits collection. Does she have nothing to say? Her last album of new songs was in 2004 and, on it, she wondered "Doth I Protest Too Much"? No, Alanis, you don't protest enough. Come on, we know you've got something to say, so sing it already.
In this country, it's not just the Ani DiFranco and Bright Eyes types (favorite artists of both of ours), you've got Green Day and the Rolling Stones and Joan Baez and the Cowboy Junkies and a few more. But we keep wondering what happened to the days we grew up hearing about? Those much talked about "good old days" our parents would talk about. When Marvin Gaye and the Temptations would comment on the world around them? When songs had something to say? Way it stands today, if we want to hear about what's going on in the world, we're better off checking out the oldies section instead of most of the new CDs. Marvin Gaye wasn't afraid to make an artistic statement, so what excuse do to today's crop have? People want to act like it was Bob Dylan leading the sixties. It wasn't. He was part of a decade's worth of music and it and the early seventies included contributions from Joan Baez, from Richie Havens, from Phil Ochs, from Melanie, from Laura Nyro, from Tim Buckley, from Marvin, from Judy Collins, from the Temptations, from John Lennon, from Jefferson Airplane, from the Rolling Stones, from Buffy Sainte Marie and much, much more.
In March, it'll be three years since we invaded Iraq. Are you still trying to figure out where you stand on this? Are you still worried about "airplay"? Get it together and stop boring us with songs about your love life and your contract disputes already. Open your eyes and open your mouths.
Donovan did when he sang (among other songs) Mick Softly's "And The War Drags On:"
They're just there to try and make the people free,
But the way that they're doing it, it don't seem like that to me.
Just more blood-letting and misery and tears
That this poor country's known for the last twenty years,
And the war drags on.
That's where we are today but you'd have a hard time knowing it listening to most of the songs being released currently.
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and the war drags on