Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, September 5, 2006. Chaos and violence continue in Iraq, Bully Boy spouts hot air, the so-not-successful 'crackdown' in Baghdad is extended for another month, Ehren Watada and others rally in Seattle, Washington and, in Australia, the family of Jake Kovco delivers a blistering evaluation of the hearing into the death of Kovco.

As already noted, 29 US troops have died in the last ten days (that's counting today). The figure has already risen. Centcom reports that: "Two Marines and one Sailor assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5 died Monday due to enemy action while operating in Al Anbar Province." 32 in ten days -- and where is the coverage? The total number of US troops who have died in Iraq since the beginning of the illegal war now stands at 2656 (three up since this morning as a result of Centcom's announcement of three more deaths on Monday). (117 is the number of British troops killed thus far, including the two who died on Monday Retuers reports a British soldier has been shot north of Basra and is "seriously wounded.".)


China's People's Daily reports that three are dead and five wounded from a roadside bomb and a car bomb in Samarra. AP reports that "a house explosion" in Mosul left two wounded.


CNN reports that a drive-by shooting left three dead in Baghdad while four drive-bys resulted in seven deaths in Baquba. Tthe sevend dead includes three police officers. Reuters reports that they were killed by "a rocket-propelled grenade" aimed at their car and that, near Latifiya, a Shi'ite pilgrim was shot dead and three others wounded.


Reuters reports five corpses ("blindfolded . . . gunshot wounds . . . signs of torture) were discovered near Suwayra and seven corpses discovered in Baghdad.

And the BBC reports the kidnapping, on Friday, of Ghanim Khudayer, 22-year-old football player/star who had been planning to sign with a team in Syria to escape the violence in Iraq. Khudayer was kidnapped in Baghdad.

Baghdad, city of the fabled 'crackdown' that began on June 14th and has been so 'successful.' Baghdad is also where the Iraqi parliament is meeting for the first time in a month (a month's vacation when your country is falling apart seems more than a bit indulgent -- to put it mildly). AP reports that their first act was to renew the so-called crackdown for another month. Al Jazeera reports that "a possible federal break up of the country [is] at the top of its agenda." AFP reports that discussion times was also devoted to the issue of a new flag, this on the day when at least twenty Iraqis have been killed. No word as to whether or not Nouri al-Maliki should sport mutten chops is also on the agenda.

Meanwhile Alastair MacDonald (Reuters) reports that Iraqi president Jalal Talabani has stated that all British forces in Iraq could leave by the end of 2007; however, like the last guest who won't take a hint no matter how you yawn to indicate the hour is late, Margaret Beckett, England's Foreign Secretary pooh-paed the notion and termed progress on the ground in Iraq "very slow." Yes, but you were all but ordered to leave.

In the United States, AP reports that Bully Boy has declared the nation to be "safer but not safe" which is either an attempt to, yet again, personally profit from fear or he's got a self-destruct wish and continues to feel the need to feed fuel to the impeachment efforts.

In peace news, Jennifer Sullivan (Seattle Times) reports that a march and demonstration for immigrant rights, reproductive rights, an end to the war and more led to a thousand participating including Ehren Watada and eleven members of The Raging Grannies Action League who sang, as Raging Granny Carolyn Hale put it, "for peace and justice for all. We have a lot to sing about."

Ehren Watada's Article 32 hearing, heard testiomony Thursday August 17th and has since recommended a court-martial for Watada. As the recommendation works through the chain of command, more information on Watada can be found at Courage to Resist and ThankYouLt.org.

In Washington, DC, Camp Democracy is up and running and "free and open to the public" though they caution you should bring your own chair if possible. Among today's scheduled activities was a march and tomorrow Congress members Barbara Lee, Lynn Woolsey, Maxine Waters, Jim McGovern and Bob Filner are among those scheduled to be participating in events. A complete schedule can be found here.

One person who is not at Camp Democracy is Cindy Sheehan. Speaking to Bill Whitaker (Waco Tribune-Herald), Cindy Sheehan explained that due to her surgery and (intense) activity over this summer, she's going to be taking some time to heal and rest in the immediate future. Sheehan noted that Camp Casey is a permanent presence and, on the subject of the Bully Boy's avoidance of Crawford this year, stated: "I don't see it as so much a victory as just proof that our presence is very effective. I would rather he was here because then he would see us and we would still be out at the (ranch) checkpoint all the time protesting and things like that. I believe they (the White House) changed their schedule constantly when we changed our schedule." Reflecting on the differences between last summer's Camp Casey and this summer's Camp Casey III, Sheehan noted: " Well, if you look at the past year, so many things have happened. When I came to Crawford last year, 51 percent (of the American public) disapproved of the war. Now I've seen some as high as 67 percent. I'm seeing so much grass-roots activism all over the country. Just this past week there were thousands of people protesting in Salt Lake City."

Sheehan is the subject of a song on David Rovic's new CD out today. "Song for Cindy Sheehan" is among the tracks appearing on Halliburton Boardroom Massacre.

In legal news, Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi (usually reduced to "14-year-old girl") was raped and murdered in Iraq on March 12, 2006. Also murdered were her parents Qassim Hamza Raheem and Fakhriya Taha Muhasen and her five-year-old sister Hadeel Qassim Hamza. On June 30th, Steven D. Green was arrested in the United States and will be tried in federal courts for his alleged role in the rape and murders. Green had been discharged from the military. On August 17th, an Article 32 hearing was held in Baghdad for five soldiers still serving in the military. One of the five, Anthony W. Yribe, was charged with failure to report the alleged crimes (dereliction of duty). The other four were charged with rape, murder and arson and the Article 32 hearing was to determine whether the evidence merited moving forward with the charges.

Rebecca Santana (AP) reports that Col. Dwight Warren has recommended that the other four (James P. Barker, Jesse V. Spielman, Paul E. Cortez, and Bryan L. Howard) face a court-martial because, his report states, "reasonable grounds exist to believe that each of the accused committed the offense for which he is charged." During the Article 32 hearing, the defense argued stress, fatigue, etc. (And, in fact, the New York Times, with Robert F. Worth and Carolyn Marshall's "G.I. Crime Photos May Be Evidence," manged to argue that defense before the hearing could even commence.) As CNN reported, Captain Alex Pickands' counter argument to those claims was, "Murder, not war. Rape, not war. That's what we're here talking about today. Not all that business about cold food, checkpoints, personnel assignments. Cold food didn't kill that family. Personnel assignments didn't rape and murder that 14-year-old little girl." Santana reports that David Sheldon, attorney for James P. Barker, intends to arguein a court-martial that, in the field and in the Article 32 hearing, his client didn't get the support he needed.

Turning to Australia, the inquiry into the April 21st Baghdad death of Jake Kovco continues. Yesterday, Sydney's ABC reports, military psychologist Col. Peter Murphy testified that Jake Kovco "was not behaving in a way that would suggest he was likely to commit suicide" and that he did not display any of the known indicators of sucide.

Jake Kovco was killed by a bullet to the head, the gun used was his own and that's about all, after all this time, that anyone's been able to establish. A variety of contradicatory testimony has been given throughout the hearing. Last week, Soldier 14 admitted that he and Kovco's roommates, Soldiers 17 and 19, "had discussions on a numerous occassions trying to work out what happened." Unlike Soldier 17's claim that Kovco was a 'cowboy' with his pistol, this statement wasn't amplified (or headlined). For any who have fogotten, though Soldier 17 admitted he never saw any such behavior himself (and remember that Jake Kovco was well versed in guns long before he joined the military), he stated he'd 'heard' about it from people that he couldn't name -- and he got away with that. (And his charge, about something he'd never seen, was amplified and headlined.)

If all the numbers leave you confused, you're not the only one. Last week, Australia's Nine Networks aired footage of Soldier 14 (whose DNA was found on Kovco's pistol) and they were the first to break the policy not to identify (by name) anyone testifying or to show them. (Those wishing to see the video, this page has a link.) The Australian reports that Australia's Defence Minister Brendan Nelson is making noises of how such actions (showing the footage or revealing names) could destroy morale and therefore security and blah, blah, blah. They're witnesses in a public hearing. No one's argued that they need any sort of witness relocation program after the hearing. And Nelson was far from worried about morale when he made (obviously false) claims to the media (for which he had to issue a retraction). Were a screen capture possible from the footage, we would have posted Soldier 14's face here last week.

Soldier 14 was on duty with Kovco the day he died. He was "two-seconds away" from the room Kovco died in. His DNA is on the gun. His 'excuse' for why it was on the gun was deemed ridiculous by the DNA expert. (He stated he must have touched a bullhorn, radio, or something that Kovco did while they were both on duty. Then Kovco must have touched it and then Kovco must have transferred it to the gun. The DNA expert, Michelle Franco, stated that was unlikely to have occurred and noted that Soldier 14's DNA on the pistol's slide was greater than Kovco's which, even if a transfer had been likely, means that it did not get on the gun via a transfer of the sort Soldier 14 describes. For it to have been on the slide in the concentration it was, she stated, he would have had to have touched the gun.) But he and all other soldiers testifying are numbered and not named. National security? Morale?

On the latter, since it seems very likely (best explanation for the bungles) that the early investigation and Jake Kovco's body were rushed so he could arrive home by Aznac Day (only he didn't, the body of Bosnian carpenter Juso Sinanovic was mistakenly sent to Australia instead) to score a p.r. coup (even Juso Sinanovic didn't arrive then, he arrived the day after), morale is a laughable resort at this late date. Morale probably also went out the window when Nelson claimed on national TV that Kovco had killed himself while cleaning his gun (he had to retract that false claim).

Australia's ABC, which has followed the strange guidelines to the letter, reports that "director-general of the Defence Community Organisation, Janet Stodulka, says it is a common sense decision, appreciated by soldiers and their families" -- it being the decision not to identify witnesses in the PUBLIC hearing. Australia's ABC was where Nelson made his (false) claim about how Jake Kovco had died -- back when "morale" and "national security" weren't apparently a big concern and "common sense" was in short supply.

Meanwhile, Amanda Dynes (who for some strange reason, can be identified with no risk to national security or morale) has testified. ABC reports that Group Captain Dynes, a military doctor, testified that she doesn't understand how the mix up of Juso Sinanovic and Jake Kovco occurred -- noting that there was a twenty year age difference between the two (Sinanovic was twenty years older), that she observed an identification tag on Juso Sinanovic's arm properly identifying him, and that Juso Sinanovic had a "thick moustache and a hairy body, while there was little hair on the body of Private Kovco" -- leading her to wonder if anyone had even bothered to open the body bags before sending what was thought to be Jake Kovco's body to Australia?

Belinda Tasker (NewsCom) reports that Dynes also testified to an identification tag on the body bag containing Juso Sinanovic, the fact that he had intravenous tubes, while Kovco had a tatoo and "badly bruised eyes." But supposedly, the body was checked -- that's what previous testimony has noted. If Dynes is being truthful (not doubting her), the question remains as to how anyone could have done their assigned duty (and it was an assigned duty, not a favor, they were ordered -- that includes not just Soldier 2) and Juso Sinanovic's body could have been shipped to Australia by mistake.

Judy Kovco, mother of Jake Kovco, previously referred to the "Keystone Cop" mentality at play and had to leave the hearing because she was so upset by the bungles and what she saw (which this community agrees with) as ineptitude continuing throughout the hearing. What's being called a family statement (and apparently represents the parents of Jake Kovco, Judy and Martin, Shelly Kovco, Jake's widow, as well as Jake Kovco's siblings) was read by Jake Kovco's step-brother Ben to the inquiry Monday.

Tracy Ong and Dan Box (The Australian) provide the background to the statement noting the stripping of Jake Kovco's room (where he died -- before forensic tests could be conducted, and the clothes he was wearing were also destroyed before testing) and note that the Kovco family has termed this a "face-saving exercise" on the part of senior officers of the Australian Defence Force and that the actions indicate "negligence that defies belief." Belinda Tasker (The Age) reports the statement included: "Though we would like to believe otherwise, it is very difficult to move beyond the undesirable idea that the ADF and its representatives have gone out of their way to destroy as much evidence as possible in an attempt to protect the organisation and its personnel from any implication of wrongdoing." Malcolm Brown (Syndey Morning Herald) reports: "Mr [Ben] Kovco said he believed there had been a conspiracy to cover up, collusion between soldiers, that the room had been contaminated as a crime scene and the Defence Force had waited for nine days before interviewing witnesses."

ABC reports the response of the Australian Defense Association disputes the statement and that the head, Neil James (and remember these are his words), stated of the integrity issue, "We don't have too much of a concern about it, remembering that of the three-man board of inquiry, one of them is an outsider, is an independent member, a retired New South Wales coroner and one of the other two members, whilst he is in the military as a reservist, is a respected New South Wales judge in civilian life," Well, they certainly haven't conducted themselves as if they ever had "too much concern".

Via The Australian (which provides extracts of the Kovco's family statement), we'll close with (some of) their words read to the inquiry by Ben Kovco:

"Given the current evidence of Jake's roommates, at the time officers in Iraq would have very soon after the incident been aware that neither could, or was willing to say, how Jake was killed. Under these circumstances, even the most ill-informed, indeed an individual who had never before investigated a potential crime scene, would know better than to allow the only potential witnesses to wash their clothes and themselves, return to their daily duties and then allow the clothing of the deceased to be destroyed.

"Trained military officers and MPs have no excuse. They are not new to this environment. It is hard to imagine what the NSW Police officers must have thought, arriving to a fully stripped, effectively sterilised room with a couple of blood stains on the carpet and a hole in the ceiling.

"Hearing the testimony of the soldiers directly involved with Jake on April 21st was frustrating in the extreme. To touch on the absurdity of their evidence, we have Jake killed by a gunshot wound while in very confined quarters with two other individuals, soldiers 17 and 19. Soldier 19 claims to be looking away from Jake when he heard the gun shot yet says he reacted and turned quickly enough to see Jake falling to the floor. Soldier 17 openly admits to have been facing Jake, sitting so close that he was almost in bodily contact, yet saw nothing. In fact, the claim is that he heard the gun shot and was completely unaware of an imposing six-foot tall man falling to the floor practically on top of him. Difficult to stomach from professional soldiers, whose training equips them better than most to observe and report.

"Soldier 14 is then unable or unwilling to adequately explain the presence of his DNA in larger quantities than Jake's own DNA on the weapon that killed Jake ... He also offers an account of Jake supposedly mishandling his pistol the week before his death, accounting in detail an event that has been demonstrated in the inquiry to be physically impossible. Furthermore, Soldier 14, via his legal representative refuses to co-operate with the NSW Police.

"Soldiers 14, 17 and 19 have provided all this to the board as their sworn testimony, but as conscious individuals, it is absolutely insulting to have this evidence put to us as the full and honest truth. Perhaps these soldiers can live with the decisions they have made and the effect it may have on finding the truth about Jake's death. Likely, it will play on their minds for the rest of their lives. I hope they can live with that because we cannot. Not knowing exactly what happened to our son and brother will haunt us for the rest of our lives.

"Though we would like to believe otherwise, it is very difficult to move beyond the undesirable idea that the ADF and its representatives have gone out of their way to destroy as much evidence as possible in an attempt to protect the organisation and its personnel from any implication of wrongdoing. The actions described above (among many others) coupled with the disturbing inability of the witnesses to the event to provide any credible account of what happened, makes it very nearly impossible to reach the truth of what occurred in room 8 and in this the ADF is solely responsible and their actions have almost ensured that the truth may never be found.''