Friday, March 2, 2007. Chaos and violence continue in Iraq; the non-issue of rape (to follow the US coverage) turns out to be not such a non-issue (surprising only to big media); Walter Reed continues to be a problem for the Bully Bully (similar to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the incompetence of management); Amnesty International issues a statement about a US war resister; and the targeting of minorities in Iraq continues to be a minor story in the mainstream media (domestic).
Starting with war resisters, Agustin Aguayo faces a court martial in Germany Tuesday, March 6th. Amenesty International has released a statement:
Amnesty International is closely monitoring the case of Agustin Aguayo, a US army medic who is scheduled to face a US court-martial on 6 and 7 March in Wurzburg, Germany, for his refusal to deploy to Iraq.
In February 2004, Agustin Aguayo applied for conscientious objector status. He says that he began developing doubts about war shortly after enlisting in the army and that he now feels that he cannot participate in any war based on his moral objections to hurting, killing or injuring another person. Whilst his application was being considered, Agustin Aguayo was order to deploy to Iraq where he received formal notification in July 2004 that his application had been turned down. The army's Conscientious Objector Review Board had found that he did not present clear and convincing evidence of his beliefs.
Agustin Aguayo served a year in Iraq where he says he refused to carry a loaded gun. He says that "I witnessed how soldiers dehumanize the Iraqi people with words and actions. I saw countless lives which were shortened due to the war. I still struggle with the senselessness of it all . . ."
When Agustin Aguayo's unit was ordered to redeploy to Iraq in September 2006, he did not report to duty and went absent without leave (AWOL). He has been charged with desertion and missing movement and is currently held in pre-trial detention at a US military base in Mannheim, Germany. If convicted on both these charges he could be sentenced to up to 7 years in prison.
Lawyers for Agustin Aguayo filed a write of habeas corpus in US federal court in August 2005, asking for his honourable discharge from the army as a conscientious objector. This request was denied and a subsequent appeal turned down. The judge wrote that "Though Aguayo stated that his Army training caused him anguish and guilt, we find little indication that his beliefs were accompanied by study or contemplation, whether before or after he joined the Army."
Amnesty International is sending a delegate to observe the court-martial proceedings in Germany next week to learn further details about the case and assess whether Agustin Aguayo would be a prisoner of conscience if convicted and imprisoned.
Speaking with Gillian Russom (Socialist Worker), Helga Aguayo, Agustin's wife, stated the following on war resisters: "They're important because they're taking a stand that all the Americans who are against the war can't really take. They're making it difficult for the Army to continue their mission. My husband's a paramedic, and medics are needed desperately in Iraq. I think that these soldiers who stand up and say, "I won't do it," are frustrating the plans of these particular units. It's important for the antiwar movement to adopt these soldiers and say that this guy has taken a remarkable step. We need to support him because he's doing what we would do if we were in his position."
Meanwhile, US war resister Kyle Snyder was arrested last Friday at the request of the US military who have no jurisidiction in Canada. Snyder served in Iraq, then self-checked out of the US military and went to Canada. In October of 2006, he returned to the United States to and on October 31st, he turned himself in at Fort Knox only to self-check out again the same day (no, AP, he did not turn himself in during the month of November -- AP seems to have confused Snyder with Ivan Brobeck who turned himself in November 7, 2006 -- election day). Snyder was arrested the day before his planned wedding ceremony (the wedding has been rescheduled for this month). The British Columbia police, at the US military's request, at the residence he shares with Maleah Friesen (the woman he'll be marrying this month) and US war resister Ryan Johnson and Johnson's wife Jenna. As Sara Newman (Canada's Globe & Mail) reported, the police showed up at the door, asked for Kyle and when he came to the door in his boxer shorts and robe, they grabbed him and refused to let him either change into some clothes or bring any along with him. Snyder told Vancouver News: "I couldn't believe it could happen that way. The only thought that was going through my head was I thought Canada was a completely separate country, thought it was a sovereign nation. I didn't know they took orders from the United States." ForLawyers Against the War's statement click here. Snyder tells Newman: "Basically the next step is to keep doing what I'm doing, go on with my life. I'm planning on getting married to a very wonderful woman, and I am planning on trying to find the best way to move on with my life." Before he decided to return to the US, Kyle enjoyed working with disabled children.
Another US war resister in Canada is Joshua Key (as his wife Brandi and their children) and he's put his story down on paper in The Deserter's Tale. Reviewing the book, Martin Rubin (Los Angeles Times) quotes Key: "I never thought I would lose my country, and I never dreamed that it would lose me. I was raised as a patriotic American, taught to respect my government and to believe in my president. Just a decade ago, I was playing high school football, living in a trailer with my mom and step dad, working at Kentucky Fried Chicken, and hoping to raise a family one day in the only town I knew. . . . Back then, I would have laughed out loud if somebody had predicted that I would become a wanted criminal, live as a fugitive in my own country, and turn my wife and children into refugees as I fled with them across the border." Rubin observes, "One of the book's great pleasures is in seeing the author's personal development, the journey he has taken, turning away from violence and destruction to become more humane. 'One's first obligation, Key says, 'is to the moral truth buried deep inside our own souls.' He understands a soldier's obligations under the Geneva Conventions and the Nuremberg doctrine not to participate in atrocities. He has pad a stiff price for his desertion: exiled in Canada (where he may not be able to remain) and shunned by much of his family. Near the end of his tale, Key insists that he is 'neither a coward or a traitor.' He is believable, as he has been from the outset, and through his words and the actions he describes, he conveys hard-earned honesty and integrity. In this testament of his experience in military service in Iraq he is making a substantial contribution to history."
Aguayo, Snyder and Key are part of a movement of resistance with the military that includes others such as Ehren Watada, Mark Wilkerson, Camilo Mejia, Patrick Hart, Ivan Brobeck, Darrell Anderson, Ricky Clousing, Aidan Delgado, Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Jeremy Hinzman, Stephen Funk, David Sanders, Dan Felushko, Brandon Hughey, Corey Glass, Clifford Cornell, Joshua Despain, Katherine Jashinski, Chris Teske, Matt Lowell, Jimmy Massey, Tim Richard, Hart Viges, 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.
Turning to Iraq, Brian Murphy (AP) notes that Iraq's health ministry says 1,646 Iraqi civilians died in Iraq in the month of February while the AP count is 1,698 and the UN "and other groups often place the civilian death count far higher." (For good reason including the mainstream rarely notes deaths of Iraqis who do not fall into one of three groups: Shia, Sunni or Kurd.) On this week's CounterSpin, Peter Hart addressed last week's hula-hoop -- bad Americans don't care about the deaths of Iraqis as witnessed by a poll that found most estimated 9,000 Iraqis had died in the illegal war. Hart noted that people get information from their media so the finger pointing might need to point at the media. Equally true is the fact that attempts to count the number of Iraqis who have died are met with the right-wing screaming "Foul!", muddying the waters and the mainstream media playing dumb as though there's no way to sort out the truth. (Most recently, this was seen when The Lancet's study found that over 655,000 Iraqis had died. Instead of noting that the sampling method used was a standard method used by the US to estimate deaths, the media played dumb.) Without any sort of standard number used in the press (and note, AP runs their monthly toll but rarely notes a running total), it bears noting that the US military keeps a running tally.
Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers) broke that story last summer. The US military refuses to release that number to the American people. Presumably, they utilize the numbers when evaluating how their 'mission' is performing. Since a democracy is built upon the foundation of the will of the people and since Congress is currently debating whether to do anything, the American people would benefit from knowing that number (an undercount to be sure and the US military only admits to keep a count since June of 2005).
The American people would also benefit from reality in the reporting. While rape has been a topic in foreign press and on the ground in Iraq, the US press (mainstream) has dropped the issue -- or thought they had. It pops back up today. Alexandra Zavis (Los Angeles Times) reports that a claim by a group in Iraq that they had "kidnapped 18 interior Ministry employees in Dyiyala province in response to claims that Shiite-led security forces had raped a Sunni Arab woman" was followed by police discovering the corpses of 14 police officers in Baqubah. AFP quotes Uday al-Khadran ("mayor of Khalis, the slain officers' hometown in Diyala province") stating: "They were found in the streets of Baquba. Their throats had been cut and their hands were bound." Al Jazeera quotes their reporter Hoda Abdel Hamid: "Sabrin al-Janabi did come and say that she was raped by three Iraqi security forces. The government at first reacted by saying that it will conduct an investigation. . . . Hours later, the government came back and said the three men were cleared of that accusation, that Sabrin al-Janabi had come out with false accusations, and that the three men would each be given a medal of honour. That has caused a big uproar among the Sunni groups." AFP observes: "The alleged rape of Janabi -- who appeared in a video broadcast on Arab news networks to complain of being raped by interior ministry officers -- has triggered a bitter row at the highest levels of the Iraqi state."
If that sounds at all familiar, you probably heard Dahr Jamail and Nora Barrows-Friedman discussing that on KPFA's Flashpoints Tuesday. Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily (IPS) report today on Wassan Talib, Zaineb Fadhil and Liqa Omar Muhammad -- "[t]hree young women accused of joining the Iraqi insurgency movement . . . [who] have been sentence to death, provoking protest from rights organisations fearing that this could be the start of more executions of women in post-Saddam Hussein's Iraq." The fairness of the trials are in question as is the women's guilt.
Fairness is nowhere to be found in the puppet government. Minority Rights Group International's (PDF format) report "Assimilation, Exodus, Eradication: Iraq's minority communities since 2003" drives that home. While the mainstream continues to speak in terms of Shia and Sunni with the occasional Kurd tossed in, minority groups in Iraq are regularly targeted for violence, death, and theft. As the report notes: "The Armenian Church of Iraq said it was working with government officials to obtain the return of property that the former regime had forced it to sale. Although the church was paid fair market values for six properties in Mosul, Basra, Kirkuk, Baghdad and Dohuk, it was coerced. Church officials said discussions with the transitional government yielded no results in 2005." Let's hope they don't take a check for payment or they may find themselves in the same situation as the Mandaens in Baghdad whose property was taken by the post-invasion installed government and was given a check for 160 million dinar ($100,000 in US dollars) but, when they attempted to deposit the check, they "were told that the signature was not legitmate, and payment was refused." Let's also hope the Armenian Church also has some form of documents -- also not easy in the post-invasion. From the report: "According to Zaynab Murad of the Cultural Association of Faili Kurds, during the Anfal campaign Faili merchants and traders were summoned to an emergency meeting and told to bring all their documents. When they complied, they were arrested. Their documents were confiscated and they were sent to the Iraq/Iran border without their families. To reclaim property today, those documents must be presented. 'The question is -- who owns [sic] the documents that prove that they are true owners of the property?' he said."
Brian Murphy (AP) notes that "4 million Iraqis are displaced within the country or are refugees abroad, mostly Sunnis who fled to neighboring Syria or Jordan, international agencies estimate." Alexandra Zavis (Los Angeles Times) reports that, in Baghdad, "Maliki has taken a tough line, labeling as terrorists everyone living in homes that were taken by force and informing parliament they would be arrested." That, of course, doesn't apply to the minority groups whom al-Maliki has been more than fine with seeing stripped of property.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Philippe Douste-Blazy (France's Foreign Minister) is sounding the alarm that Iraq could be partitioned at any point as the chaose continues and that he stated: "We think that the only solution, we have already said so, is to have a withdrawal by 2008 of the international forces which are in Iraq today and at the same time the restoration of the rule of law."
As Iraq crumbles further, the US Congress dithers and dallies. AP reports: "House Democratic leaders have coalesced around legislation that would require troops to come home from Iraq within six months if that country's leaders failed to meet promises to help reduce violence there, party officials siad Thursday. The plan would retain a Democratic proposal prohibiting the deployment to Iraq of troops with insufficient rest or training or who already have served there for more than a year. Under the plan, such troops could only be sent to Iraq if President Bush waives those standards and reports to Congress each time. . . . The Senate, meanwhile could begin floor debate on Iraq as early as next week." Ned Parker (Times of London) notes that prior to "the US November midterm elections four out of five voters siad that if the Democrats won Congress US troop levels in Iraq would fall." Those four out of five aren't idiots, that's how it was sold by a number of outlets. It's just not what's happening currently.
Yesterday Military Families Speak Out's Nancy Lessing spoke with Dennis Bernstein on KPFA's Flashpoints and noted: "There is no military solution, there is no good outcome from the US military occupation continuing, it's only going to make more deaths. So we're at that moment where we're at that moment again where, I think, the majority of people at all levels of this country understand that there is no military solution and yet we have Congress not doing what it needs to do -- which is to cut the funds for continuing the war and bring the troops home. So we as military families and together with Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace and Vietnam Veterans Against the War will continue to be building the movement. And I've said it before on this program and I'll say it again, we do understand that it's never been a politician that's ended a war it's always been a social movement and so our goal is to build our movement as strong as it needs to be to get Congress to do what it needs to do."
They have released an open letter to Congress (PDF format) here:
We are asking that, as leaders in Congress, you exercise leadership. Your voice is needed now more than ever. Tell the American people the truth about President Bush's funding request. President Bush is not asking for more funds for the troops. He is asking for more funds to continue a war that should never have happened, a war that is killing so many U.S. service members and leaving even more physically and psychologically damaged on a daily basis. This is a war that has killed untold numbers of Iraqis, is draining our national treasure and cultivating a growing hatred against our nation. Hope, a rare commodity for us these days, is even harder to find within the current morass of non-binding resolutions and rhetorical statements in Congress about preventing "surges" and changing strategies. Hope is hard to find when we see so many in Congress adopting the morally indefensible stand of opposing escalation of this war, while poised to support its continuation.It is not too late for you to do the right thing. We ask you to exercise your leadership, stand up and call for the de-funding of the Iraq War. Stand strong when you explain that de-funding the war is not de-funding or abandoning our troops. Let the American people know what we as military families and Veterans know -- that de-funding the war will not leave our trooops without equipment or supplies. Stand strong when you explain that there are sufficient funds available to bring our troop shome quickly and safely, and that if more funds are ever needed, Congress has the ability to re-program monies from the Department of Defense budget to use for this purpose. Stand strong and fight to bring our troops home.Stop telling us that you don't have the votes and work to secure them. That is what leaders do.Right now, it seems that you cannot see the political upside of doing what we and the majority of people in this country are calling on you to do. It is important that you understand the political downside of allowing this war to continue. If you provide further funding for the war in Iraq, it will no longer be President Bush's war. You will be co-owners. You will share responsibility for the continued chaos and loss of life in Iraq. You will have lost the opportunity to provide leadership when it is sorely needed. You will have given license to more years of a failed policy and countless deaths.
John Walsh (CounterPunch) places blame both on elected Democrats and on "the 'mainstream' peace movement" which he argues should be demanding actions such as filibusters but instead plays 'nice': "Whenever a UFPJ group goes to 'lobby' the Congressmen or Senators, the unwritten rule (violated by the present writer on many occasions) is to 'make nice'. Do not risk weakening the 'relationships' with legislators and staff is the mantra. It is all carrot and no stick. And what are the results? No filibuster. Continued war. And from first hand experience, when one threatens the legislator with supporting another candidate in the coming election, a pained look comes over the UFPJ 'facilitator,' and one can rely on being tut-tutted into silence."
In Iraq today . . .
CNN notes 10 dead and 17 wounded from a car bombing "at a popular used-car lot in Baghdad's Sadr City" and a car bomb "near an Iraqi National Police patrol in the Saydiya neighborhood in southwestern Baghdad" that killed one police officer and left two more wounded. Alexandra Zavis (Los Angeles Times) reports that it was three police officers wounded in that bombing (with one dead). Robert H. Reid (AP) reports a roadside bomb "southeast of Baghdad" killed one Iraqi soldier. Reuters notes a mortar attack in Iskandariya that either killed 4 and left 20 wounded (US military) or killed eight people (Iraqi police) that is provided "the reports were referring to the same incident."
BBC reports: "Two players from the Ramadi football club are shot dead by gunmen as they take part in a training session". Reuters notes that the two men were Mohammed Hamid (27-years-old) and Mahommed Mishaan (23-years-old).
Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 5 corpses discovered in Baghdad
Reuters reports 6 corpses were discovered in Balad.
On CounterSpin today, Peter Hart interviewed Mark Benjamin about the Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal. Why now is it getting attention? (As opposed to 2004 when Diane Sawyer reported on the medical scandals in April 2004 -- not mentioned on the program.) Benjamin felt there was more interest/acceptance in something other than happy talk on both the part of the public and the press. Another reason it's getting more attention now is because Dana Priest and Anne Hull didn't file a one day story that they picked up on weeks later. It was a series of articles (Washington Post) and Bob Woodruff's return to ABC News (Tuesday) with a hard hitting look at what he (he was injured while reporting in Iraq) went through and what service members go through helped focus attention. As noted in yesterday's snapshot, Major General George Wieghtman was fired as the head of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center yesterday. Today, Steve Holland (Reuters) reports Bully Boy is "[s]crambling to answer an outcry over shoddy health care for U.S. soldiers wounded in Iraq" and has made the announcement that "a bipartisan commission" will be created "to review health care for military veterans." And Holland and Kristin Roberts (Reuters) report that "U.S. Army Secretary Francis Harvey has resigned after reports that troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan were being poorly treated at the Army's top hospital". CBS and AP note that Harvey has been in charge "since November 2004."
nora barrows friedman