Monday, March 05, 2007

Iraq snapshot

Monday, March 5, 2007.  Chaos and violence continue in Iraq (in the midst of the 'crackdown'), US war resister Agustin Aguayo is one day away from his court-martial, the care crisis of  Walter Reed Medical Center gets noticed in Congress, and Iraqi children continue to face health risks as the illegal war continues.
Starting with war resistance.  Tomorrow Agustin Aguayo's court-martial begins in Germany.  He is charged with missing movement and desertion which, if convicted of both charges, could mean being senteced to seven years in military prison.  President of the National Lawyers Guild Marjorie Cohn (writing at CounterPunch) reviews the basics of Aguayo's case noting that what was happening to Aguayo during training was a phase he couldn't name until he and his wife Helga learned of US war resister Stephen Funk and realized the term for those opposed to war is conscientious objector.  Cohn also notes, "Agustin Aguayo is represented by National Lawyers Guild lawyers James Klimaski, Peter Goldberger, and James Feldman."  Amnesty International announced last week that they would have "a delegate to observe the court-martial proceeedings . . . and asses whether Agustin Aguayo would be a prisoner of conscience if convicted and imprisoned."  In addition, as El Universal reported previously, Aguayo, who holds dual citizenship (Mexico and United States), will receive some form of consular assistance as a result of Susana Aguayo's request.  (Susana is Agustin's mother.)  Bertrand Benoit (Financial Times of London) notes that the court-martial "will cast some light on what non-governmental ogranisations claim is a serious drop in troop spirits in Germany" and notes Michael Sharp (Military Counseling Network) stating: "We normally get an average of eight calls a month.  In January alone, we got 30 calls."
Courage to Resist has posted video (by Jeff Paterson)  of Agustin Aguayo and others speaking in Los Angeles at his press conference on September 26th  La Placita Olivera including Father Steve Niskanen, Father Richard Estrada and Fernando Suarez del Solar (whose son Jesus A. Suarez Del Solar died in Iraq on March 27, 2003).
Agustin Aguayo notes, in the video, that he is both an Iraq war veteran and a
Conscientious Objector and "I believe it is one of the greatest tragedies of our lifetime that we use war in an attempt to solve problems."  His wife Helga noted that their twin daughters prepared a letter for their father: "They wrote him a letter and at the bottom of the letter they wrote: 'We are strong, we will get through this.  Never forget that.' and they're only eleven" years-old. Helga also noted her pride in her husband "because he has been fighting" for c.o. status non-stop, for two years, within the military and within the US civilian courts.
The Center on Conscience & War notes that the civilian courts have not provided the oversight or recourse that they are supposed to and quotes attorney Peter Golberg stating, "The decision, in the wake of [Ehren] Watada outcome, makes the court martial of Aguayo all the more urgent as a focus of support."  CCW further notes: "Had Aguayo gone AWOL 3 years ago, he may have been out of the Army two and a half years ago -- as happened to someone else in his unit.  As a person of conscience, he played by the rules, trusting that the law would work as it should.  It is unconsioable that Aguayo is still in the Army and facing court-martial 3 years after he first applied for conscientious objector discharge."
Turning to US war resister Ehren Watada who, in June 2006, became the first officer to publicly refuse to deploy to Iraq, Jim Borg (Honolulu Star-Bulletin) profiled Eric Seitz, Watada's civilian attorney who noted several things.  On the issue of the legality of Watada's stand: "Treaties, when they are properly adopted by this country, become part and parcel of American law.  The president cannot select which treaties he is going to implement and ingore others.  And his selective enforcement of the provisions of the law . . . frankly, in my view, should subject him to a war crimes trial -- and, in fact, to the ultimate punishment which the statute requires, which is death.  And if you want to quote me, you can say that.  I am more than happy to see President Bush and Vice President Cheney and Secretary Rumsfeld tried for war crimes.  And I would be the first one to stand up and clap if they were punished as a consequence."  A court-martial for Watada has been scheduled for July.  This would be the second court-martial.  The first of last month saw three days of a court-martial that ended in a mistrial when Judge Toilet (aka John Head) repeatedly prompted the prosecution to ask for a mistrial which they finally did.  Judge Toilet granted a mistrial over the defense's objection.  Seitz tells Borg: "If it's going badly for the prosecutor, the prosecution can't abort the case and then start over.  Nor can a judge abort the case for the prosecutor because the judge thinks it's going badly.  When you have a mistrial in a criminal case, you always have a double jeopardy issue because jeopardy has attached as soon as the jury has been sworn in or the first witness testifies.  And then you try and figure out whether by conduct or by some statement the defendant has caused the mistrial. . . .  I'm thinking to myself, 'My God, this is a defense's lawyer's dream!' We didn't create this mistrial, we didn't agree to it, we didn't approve it.  Jeopardy is attached.  And I don't think either the judge or the military lawyers had any inkling that that was going to be the bottom line."
Aguayo and Watada are part of a movement of resistance with the military that includes others such as Kyle Snyder, Mark Wilkerson, Camilo Mejia, Patrick Hart, Joshua Key, 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, Michael Blake 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 and the so-called crackdown which, in one form or another, has been going on since June of 2006 when resistance fighters came close to breaching the Green Zone.  The official talking point from the latest wave of Operation Happy Talk is that over 1,000 Iraqi and American forces entered the Sadr City section of Baghdad on Sunday and this was proof that the 'crackdown' was working.  Kirk Semple (New York Times) reports that the effort "lacked any element of surprise.  It followed protracted negotiations -- between representatives of Mr. [Moqtada al-] Sadr, neighborhood leaders, Iraqi government officials and American and British military commanders . . .  The cleric has privately ordered his militia fighters not to resist the military sweeps regardless of the level of provocation.  Many militia leaders, in turn, have left Sadr City and sought sanctuary in Shiite-dominated southern Iraq and Iran, possibly figuring that they can wait out the offensive and return to the capital later."  Tina Susman (Los Angeles Times) noted that the Sunday effort was "termed a 'soft-knock' operation, clearly aware that one wrong move could stoke anger among supporters of Sadr."
Sunday's broadcast of The KPFA Evening News explored the military effort in Sadr City. 
Rahul Mahajan offered,"It's a tremendous non-event. We have known for weeks now that the Sadrist . . . Army has decided to lay low and not to confront the American troops during this so-called security crackdown. This is completely consistent with their behavior before now and not a surprise at all. The Mahdi army has basically clashed with American forces on only two occassions -- in April and August of 2004."  Edward Peck, who served in Baghdad from 1877-1980 as the US mission chief, in the US State Department, etc., observed, "The Sadr City thing is just one more little piece of something that's gone past or is going past or will go past. You know it doesn't do anything for anybody who is really concerned about what it is that's supposed to happen there because the basic problems will continue when the troops whatever troops they are, when they leave, you go right back to where you were. And they have to leave at some point. They're not going to stay there forever. Two days, three days, a week, less, more? My outlook is I'm afraid grimly realistic . . . We have taught the rest of the world and we have relearned ourselves the meaning of that terrible word 'quagmire'."
As the 'crackdown' continues (three months shy of a year) Karen DeYoung and Thomas E. Ricks (Washington Post) report that the US White House has no "Plan B" -- accepting the 'crackdown' as a plan, the US administration hasn't bothered to make preparations for what to do when it fails: "Eager to appear resolute and reluctant to provide fodder for skeptics, they have responded with a mix of optimism and evasion."
Reality does have a way of intruding.  In the midst of the latest Crackdown Verson 6.0, a bombing took place in Baghdad, on Mutanabi Street, today claiming multiple lives. As AFP observes: "The blast came despite a massive Iraqi-US security operation involving more than 90,000 troops, launched just over two weeks ago and aimed at quelling sectarian violence that has ravaged Baghdad for more than a year."  CBS and AP call it "the largest bombing in the capital in three days".  Al Jazeera notes it was at least one car bomb and the explosion "set alight" shops and cars.  AFP notes that the historic area targeted was "crammed with bookshops and frequented by writers, poets and artists, [seen] as one of the most important centres in the literay world.  It was opened in 1932 by King Faisal II, and is named after Arab poet Abu Taib-alMutanabi."  CBS and AP note the dark fumes of smoke drifting overhead and quote eye witness Naeem al-Daraji: "Papers from the book market were floating through the air like leaflets dropped from a plance.  Pieces of flesh and the remains of book were scattered everywhere."  The BBC puts the toll (which has risen throughout the day) at 30 with "at least 65" wounded.  Video of the aftermath (when the flames were largely put out) showed Iraqis standing, many with hands on hip, staring in disbelief.
In other violence today . . .
Reuters notes a car bombing in Baghdad took the life of one police officer and wounded another, while a roadside bomb in Baghdad took two lives and left 10 wounded. Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports notes a bombing in the Dakhiliya neighborhood of Baghdad the wounded two "servicement."
Reuters notes the shooting death of one person in Diwaniya, of a police officer in Kirkuk, of five police officers in Ishaqi, and of five pilgrims in Baghdad (17 were also wounded). Lauren Frayer (AP) reports seven piligrims died from and notes: "The Shiites were apparently heading to shrines and holy sites in southern Iraq for the annual commemoration of a 40-day mourning period for the death of a revered 7th-century warrior, Hussein."  Christian Berthelsen (Los Angeles Times) notes of the attack, "gunmen in a car and on a motorcycle shot at groups of pilgrims as they walked along roads in Baghdad".  Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports that the pilgrims shot dead were "headed for Karbala for the 'Fortieth day of mourning' ceremony for the Imam Al-Hussein, Grandson of the Prophet Mohammed" and that the gunfire came "from the orchards of Qadisiya"; in addition, Issa notes the shooting deaths of one man and the kidnapping of two in Diyala, the shooting deaths of 2 Iraqi soldiers in Diyala, and the shooting deaths of four police officers in "Al Nai town (north of Al Khalis city)."
Reuters notes four coprses were discovered in Sulaiman Bek while six corpses were discovered in Baghdad. Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports the number of corpses discovered in Baghdad climbed to 15 and that a "chopped head in a box" was discovered in Baqouba.
Also today, the US military announced: "One 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Soldier was killed and one was wounded in an improvised explosive device attack on their M-1117 Armored Security Vehicle while traveling in a convoy south of Tikrit at approximately 9 p.m. Mar 4."
Meanwhile, as Aaron Glantz noted today on KPFA's The Morning Show, children are at risk in Iraq of being underweight and under height.  IRIN reports that UNICEF puts the figure of undernourished at 4.5 million, that "[p]overty and insecurity" are the chief causes (from the chaos and violence), that breast feeing would be healthier for the children than formula (formula can contibute to the rates of pneumonia and diarrhoea), and that one and ten Iraqi children are underweight.
Turning to the United States, Anne Hull and Dana Priest (Washington Post) continue to explore the care injustice (injustice -- not misfortune, using Judith N. Shklar's definition) for US service members seeking care and speak with others including Ray Oliva of Kelseyville, CA who tells them, "It is just not Watler Reed.  The VA hospitals are not good either except for the staff who work so hard.  It brings tears to my eeyes when I see my brothers and sisters having to deal with these conditions.  I am 70 years old, some say older than dirt, but when I am with my brothers and sisters we become one and are made whole again."  Hull and Priest note: "Olivia is but one quaking voice in a vast outpouring of accounts filled with emotion and anger about the mistreatment of wounded outpatients at Wlater Reed Army Medical Center.  Stories of neglect and substandard care have flooded in from soldiers, their family members, veterans, doctors and nurses working inside the system.  They describe depressing living conditions for outpatients at other military bases around the country, from Fort Lewis in Washington state to Fort Dix in New Jersey."  The Washington Post has gathered their reporting on this crisis into one folder, click here. Attention has brought to the crisis thanks to the reporting of Priest and Hull and ABC News's Bob Woodruff (click here for Woodruff).  So much so that the US Congress that appears to be unable to address Iraq, addressed this crisis today.
William Branigin (Washington Post) reports that "Senior Army commanders today apologized for failures that forces some wounded outpatients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to live in substandard conditions and wage lengthy bureaucratic battles over their treatment" -- apologized to the the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee.  CNN reports that also testifying were two Iraq vets and "the wife of a third," Annette McLeod ("wife of Cpl. Wendell McLeod") who stated: "I'm glad that you care about what happened to my husband after he was injured in the line of duty.  Because for a long time, it seemed like I was the only one who cared.  Certainly, the Army didn't care.  I didn't even find out that he was injured until he called me himself from a hospital in New Jersey" -- her husband was wounded in Iraq -- "This is how we treat our soldiers -- we give them nothing.  They're good enough to go and sacrifice their life, and we give them nothing.  You need to fix the system."
CBS and AP note: "Staff Sgt. Daniel Shannon, who took a bullet to the head in Iraq and lost an eye, told the panel [that] patients are sometimes just left in their barracks, reports CBS News correspondent Bob Fuss.  He said he 'sat in my room for a couple of weeks wondering when someone would contact' him about continuing treatment.  'The truly sad thing is that surviving veterans from every war we've ever fought can tell the same basic story -- a story about neglect, lack of advocacy and frustration with the military bureaucracy."  Branigin notes that the chair of the subcomitte, US Rep John F. Tierney, stated: "More and more evidence is appearing to indicate that senior officials were aware for several years of the types of problems . . .  These are not new or sudden problems.  Rats and cockroaches don't burrow and infest overnight.  Mold and holes in ceilings don't occur in a week.  And complaints of bureaucratic indifference have been reported for years."  Susan Cornwell (Reuters) reports that Tierney also wondered: "Is this just another horrific consequence of the terrible planning that went into our invasion of Iraq?"
Monday evening on WBAI (which you can listen to over the airwaves in the NYC area and beyond and which can be streamed online as well):

Monday, March 5, 9-11pm [EST]
World Can't Wait/Drive Out the Bush Regime Director Debra Sweet hosts this panel with Daniel Ellsberg; activist professor Father Luis Barrios; Hip Hop Caucus leader Rev. Lennox Yearwood; recent college grad Anastasia Gomes and others. With listener call-ins.

So that's a two hour live special (9 to 11 pm EST) on WBAI Monday.

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