Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, April 24, 2007. Chaos and violence continue in Iraq, a new documentary on war resisters is making the rounds of the film festivals, Dems and Bully Boy seek out applause lines and more.

Starting with war resisters. The AP reported on Kevin Benderman's appearance at the Atlanta Film Festival Sunday "for the world premiere of the documentary Soldiers of Conscience. The film, which later will be presented in film festivals in Seattle and Massachusetts, is about Benderman and other U.S. soldiers whose experiences in Iraq prompted them to seek out conscientious objector status." The documentary is directed by Catherine Ryan and Gary Weimberg of Luna Productions in Berkeley. Peter Coyote narrates the documentary which features, among others Camilo Mejia, Aidan Delgado, and Joshua Casteel. Benderman tells AP, "If there's anything I can get across to soldiers, it's that I'm not against them. But I am against the war." AP reports that Kevin and Monica Benderman are focusing "on 'Benderman's Bridge, Inc.,' a project to help troops returning from Iraq adjust to civilian life through job training and peer counseling."

Another war resister is Joshua Key who tells his story in the new book The Deserter's Tale which has gotten a lot of attention. Al Cardwell, in a letter to the Sonoma Index-Tribune, writes:

It was reported in the news that President Bush was horrified when he learned of the shooting on the Virginia Tech campus that took 32 lives. Why the horror, George?
Under you "democracy at the end of a gun" - guidance, massacres like that have been occuring daily for the past five years in Iraq.
I just started reading a new book, The Deserter's Tale by Joshua Key, the story of an American soldier who walked away from the war in Iraq. Key enlisted in the Army in 2002 and went to Iraq with the 3rd Armed Calvary Regiment. In the book, Key relates that the war he found himself participating in was not the campaign against terrorists he had expected.
Instead, he saw Iraqi citizens beaten, shot and killed or maimed for little or no provocation. Nearly every other night, he participated in destructive raids on homes he was told were harboring terrorists and never finding evidence of terrorist activity. When he returned home on leave, Key knew he coud never return to Iraq, so he went into hiding and eventually sought asylum in Canada. (A total of 3,196 active-duty soldiers deserted from the United States Army in 2006.)
Support our troops - bring them home now. And impeach the pompous, irresponsible, fascist-minded simpleton in the White House!

Kevin Benderman and Joshua Key are part of a movement of war resistance within the military that also includes Ehren Watada, Dean Walcott, Camilo Mejia, Linjamin Mull, Augstin Aguayo, Justin Colby, Marc Train, Camilo Mejia, Robert Zabala, Darrell Anderson, Kyle Snyder , Corey Glass, Jeremy Hinzman, Joshua Key, Mark Wilkerson, Camilo Mejia, Patrick Hart, Ricky Clousing, Ivan Brobeck, Aidan Delgado, Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Jeremy Hinzman, Stephen Funk, David Sanders, Dan Felushko, Brandon Hughey, Clifford Cornell, Joshua Despain, Joshua Casteel, 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.

While Benderman and others are war resisters, Natalie Storey (The New Mexican) reports on Steve Martinez who is self-checked out of the US army five months ago following the birth of his newborn daughter. Despite attempts by Paul von Zeilbauer (New York Times) to sell the myth that those self-checking out all suffer from PTSD and are not opposed to the illegal war, Martinez doesn't suffer from PTSD. Storey reports, "Tod Ensign, the director of Citizen Soldier, a New York-based group that works for the rights of soldiers and veterans, said Martinez faces three possibilities. His unit might allow him to rejoin if he goes through retraining or agrees to be deployed. He could face administrative punishment like loss of pay or rank. Or, in the worst-case scenario, Martinez could face a court-martial and, after a trial, be sentenced to time in a military prison. What happens to Martinez is largely up to his commander, Ensign said."

And what happens to Iraqis? It happens largely out of the media eye. John Stauber (Center for Media and Democracy) appeared today on KPFA's The Morning Show where he spoke with Andrea Lewis on a variety of topics. One of which was coverage of deaths. Stauber states, "And the best study on how many people have been killed in the Iraq war since the US, uh, unecessarily, uh, you know, illegally, immorally launched it four years ago if over a half a million Iraqis have died, over 500,000 Iraqis have died. You don't hear the media mentioning that either except, if they do, they'll say, of course, the Pentagon and uh the president of the United States dispute that figure.' But that's the best figure we've got."

The count Stauber's referring to was published in the British medical journal, The Lancet, and it found that over 655,000 Iraqis had died since the start of the illegal war. Celeste Biever (New Scientist) spoke with Gilbert Burnham who headed the team conducting the study and Burnham states: "Our intentions were not political. Our centre is for refugee and disaster studies and this is simply the kind of thing we do. Other counts, such as the Iraq Body Count, which consists of volunteer academics and activists based in the UK and the US, rely on reports of deaths in the English-language press, but the press is in the business of producing news, not statistics. The IBS uses news reports mainly written in English, by people who can't leave a very narrow area of Baghdad, while violence is worse in the Al Anbar and Diyala provinces. Mortuaries provide figures but a lot of bodies don't make it there. Also press accounts and mortuary numbers record violent deaths, but people die in a war from many cases."

As Stauber noted, big media either ignores the study or it presents qualifiers. Peter Hart (CounterSpin) rightly noted that a poll that found few Americans knew the number of Iraqis who had died was a reflection on the media and what they cover, not on Americans. Of course, for every Peter Hart or CounterSpin, you can count on those 'helpful' types to take to the airwaves to piss on the peace movement (and "piss on" is the only term for it) via a program that once a year decides to make Iraq the topic and declare that it's the fault of the "anti-war" movement that Americans do not know how many Iraqis have died. [Note: The unnamed guest is not John Stauber, nor is the program The Morning Show.]

Most of us were unaware that the peace movement, or anti-war (men just need that "war" in there apparently) owned one of the big three networks! They must since most Americans continue to get the bulk of their news from television airwaves and since the guest pinned the public's lack of knowledge of how many Iraqis had died not on the media but on the "anti-war" movement.

Possibly, it's time to step away from the public stage when you say (as the guest did) of US troop fatalities, "This is known so well that actually people don't need to be told how many American soldiers have died. Right now it is 3280-something." Actually, the day that aired (the assumption being that is live), the 3,300 benchmark had been passed the day before. Pompous guests don't always know what they're talking about, do they?

But let's be really clear, when you say people don't need to be told how many ___ have died -- Americans, Iraqis, whatever -- you need to consider if Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling and it's time to take your ass off the stage.

The program that made time for it's yearly check in on Iraq -- a program which airs over 100 hours each year? Book better guests. And when one wants to piss on the peace movement and the American people, possibly he shouldn't cite a study (The Lancet) and note that it found "was 650,000 people" when it found over 655,000. An attentive host could have corrected the guest. But a (male) host who wants to discuss the illegal war and do so with two guests might be asked why both guests are male to begin with? Are there no female math professors to book? I mean when math professor is the credential, it's seems really strange that the gates were yet again closed on women.

While the math professor didn't think it was important to note or talk about the US service members who had died, Mary Pitt (ICH) wonders: "Who grieves for them? While we have lost a hundred children in that conflagration for every student who fell prey to the mad gunner, the nation mourns only those who were presumably safe from harm while those who fell in service to our country are hidden from our sight and rarely mentioned by name unless they qualify as 'heroes.' They fly home under cover of night and then are treated as baggage on commecrial flights until they are taken to their home town. Their family, friends, and neighbors turn out for their funeral with none taking notice except, perhaps, Rev. Fred Phelps and his little band of ghouls. The funeral over, the families go home to deal with their own desolation as they reflect on the life that was lost and the hopes and dreams that will never come to fruition. They will forever wonder why." And find the deaths of their loved ones dismissed by a pompous "anti-war" math professor (whose field should require he know numbers but -- as witnessed by his bungling of The Lancet study numbers -- apparently doesn't).

Monday on WBAI's Law and Disorder, co-host Michael Smith asked co-host Michael Ratner what it was like to be returning to the United States right now from Germany and France and Ratner responded, "First thing you read, 157 people were killed in Iraq. This is after the so-called escalation -- 'surge' as they call it. Things certainly don't seem to be getting better and, in fact, I think what we may see happening in Iraq is something like the Tet Offensive at some point that will eventually drive the United States out militarily and that just the American people will finally say 'We've had it.' We see the Democrats screwing around a timetable in their legislation but not linking that really to any funding, just putting it in Bush claiming to veto it and realize that people are being slaughtered every day in Iraq."

Democrats screwing around? Yesterday on KPFA's Flashpoints Radio, Robert Knight's "The Knight Report" summed it up as follows:

A Congressional conference committee debated today the best way to not require President Bush to bring an end to the war in Iraq. Throughout the afternoon, legislators quibbled over the non-binding bills enacted earlier this month by both houses. Neither bill would eliminate the US military presence in Iraq nor eliminate the 14 permanent military bases now under construction outside Baghdad and along the Syrian and Iranian borders. Both the House and Senate bills refer only to so-called combat troops which comprise less than a third of the total US presence of more than 150,000 American soldiers, sailors and marines. And even if those provisions were enacted and signed, President George W. Bush would still be allowed to exempt himself from meven their partial withdrawal provisions by citing imaginary benchmarks or invoking national security rendering the legislation moot even if it did survive the veto that is promised by the White House.

Following the report, Dennis Bernstein noted, "It is crystal clear now that the Democrats have no intention of taking the president on regarding the cut off of aid for the occupation and continuing bloody and expanding war in Iraq." Bernstein gave Carl Levin as an example and then interviewed Ray McGovern about McGovern's recent article ("Levin Gives Cheney Reason To Smirk"). Staying on the topic of what Congress is doing, John Stauber, speaking with Andrea Lewis on KPFA's The Morning Show, also noted that:

We see now the war drifiting into the political election of 2008 and now we see the Democrats, who came to power in the House and Senate on the revulsion that the American public feels towards Bush and the war, rather than stepping it up and showing the backbone necessary to really do what I think the public wants -- is force an end to this war -- posing and posturing and trying to have it both ways. So they're about to send a bill to the president. The president says he'll definitely veto it. And we hear you know the bill referred to as, uh, legislation to end the war but in fact There's nothing binding at all in the legislation and so you know I think you've got Democrats going, "Hey, you know the war would well for us last time around, it's going to work well for us next time around." And here I am being cynical but I think this is an accrate assesment, the politically safe thing for the Democrats is to make sure they don't get pegged as the party that lost Iraq and one year and 6 months from now use the ongoing war to bloody and beat the Republicans if you will politically and seize the White House and elect more Democrats.

CBS and AP report that Bully Boy, no surprise, is maintaining he will veto and that US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is comparing Bully Boy to LBJ. While they both search for applause lines, violence continues in Iraq.


AP reports that yesterday's attack on the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad was followed with another attack today where two car bombings left at least six wounded.

Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing that wounded two civilians in the Mansour district, a student killed by a locker bomb at the Denistry College, 2 dead from a mini-bus bomb (9 wounded), a mortar attack that killed 4 and left 10 wounded and, outside Baghdad, a Hilla car bombing that killed 3. Reuters reports a truck bombing in Ramadi that took 25 lives (44 wounded), a Numaniya roadside bombing that killed one "police officer and two of his family members, including a child" and three Iraqi soldiers "near Kerbala" from a roadside bomb.


AP reports, "Police . . . said gunmen disguised as Iraqi soldiers killed six Iraqis and burned five homes Tuesday . . . South of the capital, a family of seven was shot to death in their beds at dawn by masked gunmen, neighbors and police said."


Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 19 corpses discovered in Baghdad. Reuters notes two corpses discovered in Numaniya and five coprses in Mosul. Today, the US military announced that 9 US service members had died in a bombing on Monday. AFP notes that the deaths brought their count to 3330. Reuters notes that three wounded Australian soldiers from a bombing in Nasiriya.

Staying with Australia and turning to the topic of Jake Kovco. April 21, 2006, Jake Kovco died in Baghdad. This summer we repeatedly noted the whitewash that was the military inquiry into his death. At the end of last month, new developments came out. Judy Kovco, rightly, feels she has not gotten answers to her son's death. Briefly, Kovco died in his room. The gun that allegedly killed him had another soldier's DNA on it (and a laughable defense was offered for that -- and run with -- but the coroner's office shot holes through that nonsense). Both of Kovco's roommates were present in the room, they admit to that. They also deny knowing what happened. No one knows anything. And the military inquiry decided the thing to do was to pin the blame on Jake Kovco and say he must have been playing around with his gun when it discharged (even though he wasn't holding it by the evidence presented). Eleanor Hall (The World Today), "Back home again, and the finding that Private Jake Kovco shot himself while skylarking in his Baghdad barracks was always controversial. Now a report commissioned by New South Wales Police, and leaked to The Australian newspaper, has cast fresh doubt on that version of events. A military board inquiry last year ruled the soldier shot himself, but the new report says there is insufficient evidence to determine whether the trigger was pulled accidentally. And the Australian Defense Association says a coronial inquest is now inevitable." We'll note this more tomorrow.