Monday, April 30, 2007

Iraq snapshot

Monday, April 30, 2007.  Chaos and violence continue, The Progressive shames big and small print media,  the Bully Boy's escalation sets new records -- in fatalities, and more.
Starting with news of war resisters, Sean Cockerham (The News Tribune) reports that the Washington Democratic Party "voted overwhelmingly Saturday to support Lt. Ehren Watada, the Fort Lewis officer who refused orders to serve in Iraq" and notes that the resolution reads: "We support and commend Lt. Ehren Watada for his courage, moral leadership, and commitment to duty demonstrated by his act of resistance to the continued costly, destructive and immoral U.S. military occupation of Iraq."  In June of last year, Watada became the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse to deploy to Iraq citing the fact that it was an illegal war and to take part in it would leave not only himself but those serving under him open to charges of War Crimes.  In February, Watada became the first commissioned officer to be court-martialed for refusing to deploy to Iraq.  The first day of the court-martial (Monday, Feb. 5th) was basics.  On Tuesday, the prosecution presented their case.  Wednesday, the defense was supposed to mount their limited defense.  Limited?  Judge Toilet (aka John Head) had already ruled that the defense could not address the legality of the war, had been happy to pay for prosecution witnesses but would not do the same for the defense (and wouldn't allow witnesses).  Wednesday the case would depend on Watada's testimony.  The judge called a mistrial (over defense objection) before Watada could testify -- most likely because the prosecution's witnesses on Tuesday had, in different ways, backed up Watada's stand.  Currently, the pre-trial motions are scheduled for May 20-21 with the court-martial set to begin July 16th.  As many legal commentators have pointed out (including Marjorie Cohn, president of the National Lawyers Guild), Judge Toilet's decision to call a mistrial after the case began, over the objection of the defense, a second court-martial would violate the Constitution's ban on double-jeopardy. 
Whether the court-martial goes forward or not, Ehren Watada has a story to tell.  Another war resister has told his story in book form, Joshua Key.  With Lawrence Hill, Key's written
The Deserter's Tale which has received strong reviews from across the political spectrum.  However, for months now, it has appeared that someone stole independent media's library card.  One independent magazine has stepped out.  In the May issue of The Progressive (on sale now or shortly), Kirk Nielsen reviews Key's book (as well as Trish Wood's What Was Asked of Us: An Oral History of the Iraq War by the Soldiers Who Fought It) and concludes:
I buy Key's awakening.  The best evidence is his good decision to cite a passage from the Geneva Conventions in his book's epilogue: "Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants . . . and direct their operations only against military objectives."
Iraq War veterans are telling us they haven't and can't.  Maybe that account for the more than 9,000 desertions by members of the U.S. armed forces since Operation Iraqi Freedom began.
If Key has any friends left in Iraq, they might want to follow his lead the next time they're home.  I'd grant them amnesty, if I were king.  Haven't they all done more than should have been asked of them?
The Deserter's Tale will soon be joined on bookshelves with another book by a war resister.  Camilo Mejia tells his story in  Road from Ar Ramaid: The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Mejia -- which The New Press will release tomorrow.
It needs to be noted that The Progressive publishes once a month.  The Nation publishes 'weekly' (excluding double issues) and have yet to review Key's book (part of their continued pattern of silence on the subject of war resisters).  Possibly, running shockingly sexist slams on Sarah Chayes and Ann Jones doesn't allow much space to actually address books?
Mejia, as Courage to Resist reports, will join with war resisters Pablo Paredes, Agustin Aguayo and Robert Zabala for a speaking tour from May 9th through 17th in the San Francisco Bay Area.  This will be Aguayo's first publicly speaking appearances since being released from the brig earlier this month (April 18th).  The announced dates include:
Wednesday May 9 - Marin           
7pm at College of Marin, Student Services Center, 835 College Ave, Kentfield. Featuring Agustin Aguayo, Pablo Paredes and David Solnit. Sponsored by Courage to Resist and Students for Social Responsibility.

Thursday May 10 - Sacramento        
Details TBA

Friday May 11 - Stockton    
6pm at the Mexican Community Center, 609 S Lincoln St, Stockton. Featuring Agustin Aguayo.

Saturday May 12 - Monterey      
7pm at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 490 Aguajito Rd, Carmel. Featuring Agustin Aguayo and Camilo Mejia. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace Chp. 69, Hartnell Students for Peace, Salinas Action League, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and Courage to Resist. More info: Kurt Brux 831-424-6447

Sunday May 13 - San Francisco 
7pm at the Veterans War Memorial Bldg. (Room 223) , 401 Van Ness St, San Francisco. Featuring Agustin Aguayo, Camilo Mejia and Pablo Paredes. Sponsored by Courage to Resist, Veteran's for Peace Chp. 69 and SF Codepink.

Monday May 14 - Watsonville           
7pm at the United Presbyterian Church, 112 E. Beach, Watsonville. Featuring Agustin Aguayo, Camilo Mejia, Pablo Paredes and Robert Zabala. Sponsored by the GI Rights Hotline & Draft Alternatives program of the Resource Center for Nonviolence (RCNV), Santa Cruz Peace Coalition, Watsonville Women's International League for Peace & Freedom (WILPF), Watsonville Brown Berets, Courage to Resist and Santa Cruz Veterans for Peace Chp. 11. More info: Bob Fitch 831-722-3311

Tuesday May 15 - Palo Alto          
7 PM at the First Presbyterian Church (Fellowship Hall), 1140 Cowper, Palo Alto. Featuring Camilo Mejia. Sponsored by Pennisula Peace and Justice Center. More info: Paul George 650-326-8837

Wednesday May 16 - Eureka  
7pm at the Eureka Labor Temple, 840 E St. (@9th), Eureka. Featuring Camilo Mejia. More info: Becky Luening 707-826-9197

Thursday May 17 - Oakland    
4pm youth event and 7pm program at the Humanist Hall, 411 28th St, Oakland. Featuring Camilo Mejia, Pablo Paredes and the Alternatives to War through Education (A.W.E.) Youth Action Team. Sponsored by Veteran's for Peace Chp. 69, Courage to Resist, Central Committee for Conscientious Objector's (CCCO) and AWE Youth Action Team.
The are all part of a growing movement of war resistance within the military: Camilo Mejia,
Ehren Watada, Terri Johnson, Dean Walcott, Camilo Mejia, Linjamin Mull, Joshua Key, 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.  In addition, the documentary Sir! No Sir! traces the war resistance within the military during Vietnam and it will air at 9:00 pm (EST) on The Sundance Channel followed at 10:30 p.m. by The Ground Truth which examines the Iraq war and features Jimmy Massey and Iraq Veterans Against the War's Kelly Dougherty among others.
Staying on the topic of resistance, Rone Tempest (Los Angeles Times) reports on Sean O'Neill, Ronn Cantu, Mike Ergo, Jabbar Magruder and other California veterans speaking out against the illegal war who "are gaining a voice in opposition to American's continued military presence in Iraq.  Recent antiwar demonstrations in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities have seen the first sizable contingents of veterans from the conflict."  They are among the many members of Iraq Veterans Against the War which, Tempest notes, calls for: "the immediate withdrawal of all troops, improved treatment for soldiers upon their return and a national contribution to the reconstruction of postwar Iraq."
Meanwhile the fatalities continue to mount.  CNN reports, "Fourteen U.S. soldiers and Marines were killed in Iraq during the past 72 hours, making April the sixth deadliest month of the Iraq war, according to the U.S. military."  And the deadliest month for US service members this year with 104 fatalities (Jan: 83, Feb: 80; March: 81).  Kim Gamel (AP) observes, "The killings of the Americans came as U.S. troops have been increasingly deployed on the streets of Baghdad and housed with Iraqi troops in joint security operations away from their heavily fortified bases, raising their vulnerability to attacks."  Missy Comley Beattie (writing at CounterPunch) notes that the first 27 days of this month have seen the reported deaths of almost 1,400 Iraqis.
On Sunday, the British military announced: "It is with deep regret that the Ministry of Defence must confirm that a soldier from 2nd Battalion The Rifles (2 RIFLES) has been killed in a small arms fire attack whilst on a routine patrol in the Al Ashar district, east of central Basra at about 0930hrs this morning, Sunday 29 April 2007."  This brought the total number of UK soldiers killed in the Iraq war since it began to 146.  Michael Evans (Times of London) reports that 12 service members of the British Armed Forces have died this month which "makes this month the worst for fatalities since the campaign started." 
Staying with England, Steven Morris (Guardian of London) reports that Corporal Donald Payne has become England's first "soldier ever to be convicted of a war crime [and] was jailed for a year and dismissed from the army."  BBC notes that Payne pleaded guilty of abusing Iraqis in 2003.  Peter Graff (Reuters) reports that the sentence is one year in jail (light for War Crimes) and that Payne is "the only British soldier punished in the case of Baha Musa, an Iraqi hotel receptionist who died after suffering 93 separate injuries from beatings while in British custody in 2003."  In other legal news, CNN reports that "Lt. Col. William H. Steele, former commander of the U.S. Army's Camp Cropper, a detention facility for 'high-value' detainees, will face an Article 32 hearing Monday after being accused of 'aiding the enemy' by providing cell phones to Iraqi detainees."  Monday is over in Baghdad (time difference).  Karin Brulliard (Washington Post) reports: "Only the barest outlines of the case against Steele emerged in Monday's hearing, much of which was closed to reporters because it dealt with classified information.  Steele, dark-haired and square-jawed, sat next to his two appointed attorneys with his hands clasped, listening attentively."  Brulliard notes that the Article 32 hearing is expected to last two to three days.  (The Article 32 hearing will determine whether or not the evidence is strong enough to warrant a court-martial.)  Finally, AP reported yesterday on Sean J. Maxwell, who was sented Saturday to 10 months and will receive a bad conduct discharage for returing "some two weeks late from a scheduled break" and for punching "his first sergeant in the face and head with a closed fist after returning to Kuwait on Feb. 7".
Turning to today's violence in Iraq . . .
Dean Yates (Reuters) reports a Baghdad funeral today was the site of a bombing as a man blew himself and at least 32 other people up via "a vest packed with explosives"  CBS and AP report: "Police said the bomber detonated his explosives about 6:30 p.m. inside a tent where people were mourning a 60-year-old man from a Shiite family in Khalis, a flashpoint Shiite enclave in Diyala province, where U.S.-Iraqi forces have seen fierce fighting with Sunni and Shiite militants."  That appears to be the highest toll from a single bombing today; however, there were many other bombings in Iraq.
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 2 dead and 15 injured from a Baghdad car bombing when a "bomber drove his car inside a subway near Nisour square," a Baghdad roadside bombing ("near Talbiya bridge") that killed 1 person and left 4 wounded, a Baghdad car bombing (Al Baia neighborhood) killed 2 and left 8 wounded, and Baghdad mortar attacks that killed at least 6 and left over 20 wounded (four attacks plus one that set a house on fire with no known deaths or people injured).  Reuters notes a tanker exploded in Ramadi that contained chlorine gas and 6 people died (10 wounded), a Mosul car bombing that killed 1 police officer (left two more wounded) and "At least five people were killed and 16 wounded by an accidental detonation whilst explosives and weapons were being moved on Sunday night in the southern city of Basra, British forces and Iraqi police said."
That comes to at least 50 dead in explosions today (50 reported -- check my math).
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports LC Alaa Mahmoud Mohamed (interior ministry officer) was shot dead in Baghdad as well as a car crash near Bald Rouz that took the lives of "two female students" as they were returning from Diyala university. Noted in this section because?  They were being chased and fired on by unknown assailants.  Reuters reports that two people were shot dead in Yusufiya.
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports that 27 corpses were discovered in Baghdad and 2 in Al Khalis. Reuters notes that six corpses were discovered in Suwayra.
Turning to US political news, in the new issue of The Progressive (page 41, May 2007), Kate Clinton observes, re: energy crisis, "Perhaps we could harness the hot air blown from the Democrats on the topic of withdrawal.  I'm told that under the proper pressure per square foot, chickensh*t makes a lovely high-octane reduction."  Tom Englehardt ( outlines how the appropriations bill awaiting Bully Boy's signature or veto does not mean troops out of Iraq and the 'plan' would "remove only U.S. 'combat brigades,' adding up to perhaps half of all U.S. forces, with a giant al-Qaeda loophole for their return.  None of this would deal with the heavily armed and fortified U.S. permanent bases in Iraq or the air war that would almost certainly escalate if only part of the American expeditionary forces were withdrawn (and the rest potentially left more vulnerable)."  It should be noted that the non-binding, toothless measures also allows 'combat brigades' to remain, provided Bully Boy reclassifies them either (as Englehardt notes) as al-Qaeda fighters or as military police.  Englehardt's introducing Jeremy Scahill's report.  From Scahill's report:
The Democratic leadership in Congress is once again gearing up for a great sell-out on the Iraq war.  While the wrangling over the $124 billion Iraq supplemental spending bill is being headlined in the media as a "show down" or "war" with the White House, it is hardly that.  In plain terms, despite the impassioned sentiments of the anti-war electorate that brought the Democrats to power last November, the Congressional leadership has made clear its intentions to keep funding the Iraq occupation, even though Sen. Harry Reid has declared that "this war is lost."
[. . .]
Even if the President didn't veto their legislation, the Democrats' plan does almost nothing to address the second largest force in Iraq -- and it's not the British military.  It's the estimated 126,000 private military "contractors" who will stay put there as long as Congress continues funding the war. 
The 145,000 active duty U.S. forces are nearly matched by occupation personnel that currently come from companies like Blackwater USA and the former Halliburton subsidiary KBR, which enjoy close personal and political ties with the Bush administration.  Until Congress reins in these massive corporate forces and the whopping federal funding that goes into their coffers, partially withdrawing U.S. troops may only set the stage for the increased use of private military companies (and their rent-a-guns) which stand to profit from any kind of privatized future "surge" in Iraq. 
More on the topic of mercenaries in Iraq can be found in Scahill's new book Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army.  Meanwhile, Kevin Zeese (CounterPunch) offers, "Thus far the Democrats are not doing enough to please their anti-war base.  By failing to fulfill the mandate of voters who clearly want an end to the war, they risk losing their majority status in 2008.  Why should they be trusted with more power if they do not use the power they have?" 
AFP reports that US House Rep Jack Murtha has stated that if Bully Boy vetoes the bill, among the alternatives are funding the illegal war for only 2 months and not the year that Bully Boy has requested, and that Murtha stated, "If he vetoes this bill, he's cut off the money. . . . Obviously, we're going to pass another bill . . . it's going to have some stringent requirements."  Erik Leaver (Foreign Policy in Focus) notes that while this goes on, "The reality is that the ongoing escalation causes massive bloodshed every day in Iraq.  The construction of a walled city in Baghdad is meeting with considerable resistance among locals."  Simon Assaf (Great Britain's Socialist Worker) addresses the reality of the walls, "US and Iraqi troops will only allow residents in and out of their neighborhoods through heavily guarded checkpoints.  A military spokesman described the maze of walls planned for the Iraqi capital as 'gated communities.  The US claims the walls are 'temporary' and are being built to end the cycle of sectarian violence that has plagued Iraq since the occupation began in 2003.  Yet most of the sectarian death squads operating in the capital are members of the Iraqi army or ministry of interior troops controlled by the US-backed Badr Brigades militia."
And who is being backed by the US government?  What are the tax dollars funding?  Tom Hayden (Huffington Post via Common Dreams) continues to address these issues:
If there is a coming battle over "benchmarks," Democrats should focus attention on whether the U.S.-supported Baghdad regime is capable of progress on ending sectarian killings, torture, mass detentions and ethnic cleansing, or whether it an un-reformable American-assisted sectarian police state. It appears that the Democratic position is to continue funding thousands of American trainers after the withdrawal of most combat troops, a path that will integrate our government with a sectarian regime harboring torture, killing of civilians and ethnic cleansing in Iraq.
While it is true that all sides are committing human rights violations in Iraq, the U.S. government is funding and backing only one side, the side that is in power and responsible for policing, prisons, the judicial system, and the armed forces. There is no question that the U.S. is backing a sectarian state dominated by Shi'a and Kurdish parties. Perhaps 90 percent of the army is Shi'a, and the 7,700 members of the paramilitary "public order brigades" are all Shi'a. [The New York Times, Mar. 7, 2006]. In response to the CIA installing a Sunni as director of the Iraqi intelligence services, the Shi'a parties have established a massive, parallel and shadowy sectarian intelligence agency serving the state on their own.
Turning to media news.  On Sunday, The Portland Press Herald editorialized that, "It is time to bring our troops home from Iraq.  This stand represents a shift in the newspaper's editorial position."  As Editor & Publisher rightly notes, despite the fact that the public overwhelming supports withdrawal, "few" newspapers "have actually come out and called for a U.S. withdrawal, slow or speedy, despite public support for such a position."  Staying with media news, the May issue of The Progressive contains, as noted at the top, of review of war resister Joshua Key's book.  In addition, Anne-Marie Cusac interviews Iraqi-Canadian Farah Nosh who, while still studying photography, traveled to Baghdad before the illegal war began and in the early months of the war.  Cusac writes:
She repeatedly warns abou the turn toward fundamentalism in the formerly secular Iraq.  Recently her mother visited the country for the first time in twenty-seven years.  "She couldn't believe it when she got there -- just the depth of religious discipline," says Nosh, who then proceeds to describe the photos of her mother's late-1960s Iraqi wedding: an up-do, a push-up bra, and a short skirt.
Two of the article's four pages feature Farah Nosh's photos -- her relatives staring out the window at a checkpoint, Muaad Ibnayan Hadi who lost both his legs in an explosion, Duyar Sai Fehan who lost a leg and arm when his car was hit by a US military vehicle, Saif Yusif who lost a leg and "was injured by U.S. gunfire when he was twelve," and former Iraqi soldier Ali Yusif Karim who lost both legs from a bombing that took place while he was on patrol.
Finally, Wednesday, May 2nd at 6:30 pm in The Great Hall, Cooper Union (NYC), Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove will be presenting readings from their  Voices of a People's History of the United States featuring music performed by Allison Moorer and Steve Earle and readings and vocal performances by Ally Sheedy, Brian Jones, Danny Glover, Deepa Fernandes, Erin Cherry, Harris Yulin, Kathleen Chalfant, Kerry Washington, Opal Alladin, Staceyann Chin and Stanley Tucci.  Zinn and Arnove will provide both the introduction and the narration.

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