Thursday, Januray 4, 2006. Chaos and violence continue in Iraq, US war resister Ehren Watada's pretrial hearing begins, hide it behind 'surge' or 'bump' but it's still an escalation, and activists in DC interrupt a standard issue press conference to press for answers on Iraq,
Starting with Ehren Watada. In June, Watada became the first officer to publicly refuse to deploy to Iraq. In August, the US military held an Article 32 hearing. Now the court-martial is set for February 5th and the pre-trial hearing began today at Fort Lewis is Washington. The pre-trial hearing will determine the framework in which arguments can be made. As noted yesterday, Eric Seitz, Watada's attorney, has stated that the military is attempting to prevent Watada from making his case for why he refused to deploy.
During the Article 32 hearing, Watada's defense called three witnesses, Francis A. Boyle of the University of Illinois' College of Law, Champagne; Denis Halliday, the former Assistant Secretary General of the UN; and retired Colonel Ann Wright. These three witnesses addressed the issue of the war, it's legality, and the responsibilities of a service member to disobey any order that they believed was unlawful. The testimony was necessary because Watada's refusing to participate in the illegal war due to the fact that he feels it is (a) illegal and (b) immoral.
What the military would like to do in today's pre-trial hearing is reduce everything to whether or not Watada deployed with his unit? The answer, of course, is that he did not. The military does not want the issue of the legality of the war addressed. By closing off this discussion, they not only would destroy Watada's right to defend himself, they would be able, as the Bully Boy long has been able to, set the terms of the discussion and control what is and is not discussed.
Robbing Watada of his ability to present a full defense is a very serious issue and much more serious than fretting over whether a journalist might have to decide "Do I testify or not?" (No journalists will be testifying at the pre-trial.) But the most serious issue today is whether or not Watada will be allowed to present the best defense or if he will only be allowed to say "yes" and "no" in answer to the prosecution's questions or if, as Aileen Alfandary noted on KPFA. this morning ( The Morning Show), he will be able to argue that
the war is illegal? This stance, putting the war on trial, is one that worries the US military.
On the December 9th RadioNation with Laura Flanders, Carolyn Ho (Ehren Watada's mother) noted that her son felt the decision was "the best thing he could do for his men .. . remain behind and speak truth" and that he feels his duty is to the Constitution which is the supreme law of the land in the United States.
Mark Tran (Guardian of London) reports: "Peace activists, international law experts and war resisters past and present are girding themselves for events designed to drum up support for Lt Watada, recently described by Rolling Stone as 'one of this year's greatest mavericks'. Mike Barber (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) reports that both sides "are expected to file several motions in preparation for his court-martial. Depending upon the motions, the judge could rule immediately or take several days to decide". Hal Bernton (Seattle Times) observes that this "opening round . . . could be key to defense hopes of putting the Iraq war on trial". As Sir! No Sir! noted in an e-mailing yesterday (click here), "The military's intention IS to SILENCE VOICES OF RESISTANCE and make an example out of Lt. Watada."
While much has been made of the press being asked to testify, Jeff Paterson, reporting for Courage to Resist, notes that activists have also received military subpoenas including Phan Nguyen (Olympian Movement for Justice and Peace) and Gerri Haynes (Veterans for Peace). If found guilty of all charges, Watada could be sentenced to six years.
A Citizens' Hearings is being convened January 20-22 at Evergreen State College will take place in Tacoma, Washington later this month.
Ehren Watada is part of a growing resistance within the military that includes Kyle Snyder, Darrell Anderson, Ricky Clousing, Aidan Delgado, Mark Wilkerson, Agustin Aguayo, Joshua Key, Ivan Brobeck, Camilo Meija, Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Stephen Funk, David Sanders, Dan Felushko, Brandon Hughey, Jeremy Hinzman, Corey Glass, Patrick Hart, Clifford Cornell, Joshua Despain, Katherine Jashinski, and Kevin Benderman. In total, thirty-eight US war resisters in Canada have applied for asylum.
Information on war resistance within the military can be found at Center on Conscience & War, The Objector, The G.I. Rights Hotline, and the War Resisters Support Campaign. Courage to Resist offers information on all public war resisters. Appeal for Redress is collecting signatures of active duty service members calling on Congress to bring the troops home -- the petition will be delivered to Congress this month.
Yesterday, in Washington, DC, House Rep. Yawn Emanuel (Democrat, Illionis) was among those Democrats attempting to stage a blah press conference when approximately sixty peace activists began chanting. Leigh Ann Caldwell reported on The KPFA Evening News yesterday that Cindy Sheehan stated there were no 'free passes' and featured the activists chanting "De-escalate, investigate, troops out now!"
As David Swason noted today on KPFA's The Morning Show, the Democrats should be saying thank you because it gave the press conference meat that it wouldn't otherwise have in today's press (Iraq was added as a topic in today's reports), he also noted that Yawn "scurried off and left" allowing Cindy Sheehan to take over the press conference and she "did a better press conference, for about 45 minutes, than the Democrats could" have.
[Swanson writes about how poorly the press conference had been going and offers video links here.]
On Nancy Pelosi, the new Speaker of the House in Congress (and the first woman to hold that post), Swanson stated that she was ignoring "what put her into power" which "was public opposition to this war and to the criminal nature of this administration."
Swanson feels that "people seem to understand we have to do a lot more than hope and cross our fingers" and that it's a "very different situation from when Clinton took office  and everyone went home and assumed it would go well".
Though activists grasp the importance of ending the war, it's not that clear that elected officials do. One exception is US Rep. Lynn Woolsey who told Leigh Ann Caldwell, "If the Democrats don't end this war by 2008, we'll have lost our standing with the American public"
(yesterday's The KPFA Evening News). Another is US Rep. John Murtha who writes at The Huffington Post that he "will be recommending to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense that we begin extensive hearings starting on January 17, 2007 that will address accountability, military readiness, intelligence oversight and the activities of private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan." A third is US Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick who states, "We won in November because the people said bring the troops home" (KPFA's The Morning Show today).
Meanwhile, in DC, White House anonymice try to sell escalation as a "bump" and not a "surge" since the escalation numbers are expected to be lower than originally hinted at. CBS and AP report that "military commanders" have told the Bully Boy's they can handle an escalation of "about 9,000 soldiers and Marines into Iraq with another 11,000 on alert outside the country". Early reports have noted that the Bully Boy would prefer to send 20,000 to 30,000 to Iraq. 20,000 isn't 'splitting the difference' or a 'bump.' It is an escalation. As Molly Ivins (Truthdig) observes: "This war is being prosecuted in our names, with our money, with our blood, against our will. Polls consistently show that less than 30 percent of the people want to maintain current troop levels. It is obscene and wrong for the president to go against the people in this fashion. And it's doubly wrong for him to send 20,000 more soldiers into this hellhole, as he reportedly will announce next week. . . . We need to cut through all the smoke and mirrors and come up with an exit strategy, forthwith."
And in Iraq today?
Steven R. Hurst (AP) reports two car bombs in Baghdad took 13 lives and left 25 wounded, resulted in "six smoldering cars," set a fuel station ablaze, and that "[a] woman in a black Muslim veil sat weeping on a curb outside Yarmouk hospital". The Latin American News Agency notes that the "two car bombs exploded at the same time" as "hundreds of people were in line at" the fuel station. Al Jazeera notes that Iraq's Interior Ministry states it was two car bombs but reports the first was a roadside bomb and the second was a car bomb. Reuters notes that a roadside bombing in Iskandariya killed one Iraq soldier and left four more wounded.
Reuters notes that a "police colonel" was shot dead in Mosul while, in Kerbala, city council member Akrem al-Zubaidi and three of his body guards were shot dead. DPA notes that the murders took place at a fake checkpoint and that "Al-Zobaydi was a close follower of the Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Muhammad al-Sistani."
AFP notes that five corpses were found in Baghdad ("two of them headless"). Reuters notes that four corpses were discovered in Hilla.
Meanwhile, as the show execution has led to a feeding frenzy in all media, big and small, besides giving little attention to the tragic fact that the 3,000 mark for number of US troops who have died in Iraq was passed on Sunday, it's also allowed the Giddiest Gabor in the Green Zone, Willie Caldwell, to make laughable statements (which the press has run with) that things have gotten peaceful in Iraq. Peace doesn't include the murders that took place when the US military attacked the Iraqi National Dialogue Front (see Tuesday's snapshot).
Tom Hayden (Huffington Post) noted the attack and that Saleh al-Mutlaq, head of the NDF, advocates that all foreign troops (including US troops) leave Iraq. Today, Raed Jarrar (CounterPunch) notes that the "attack against the National Dialogue Front (NDF) led by Al-Mutlaq does not seem to be accidental. The Bush administration's attempts to create a pro-occupation coalition in the Iraqi government failed last week after Al-Sistani, the grand Shia Ayatollah, refused to support the U.S. plan. The bush administration's plan seems to have changed from simply excluding anti-occupation political parties (like Sadrists, Al-Fadila party, NDF, and others) from the Iraqi government to actively bombing them. The attack on NDF's headquarters in Baghdad is nothing more than the first step in the administration's plan B. The Al-Sadr movement and its militia, Al-Mahdi Army, seem to be next, and others will follow."
The feeding frenzy on the show execution silences many stories such as Watada, war resisters, the slaughter at NDF headquarters, the daily violence and chaos. The "silences" aren't that dissimilar from the ones that Tillie Olsen wrote about in her groundbreaking book Silences. Olsen passed away Monday. Today, Dahr Jamail will be addressing Iraq tonight on KPFA's Flashpoints.
Finally, as Sandra Lupien noted on yesterday's The KPFA Evening News, Suzanne Swift left the military brig yesterday after serving 30 days for going AWOL. Swift will now complete the five years remaining on her Army contract.
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