Thursday, July 26, 2007

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, July 26, 2007.  Chaos and violence continue, jock boys in the press treat a soccer match (not even a title win) as bigger news than 50 dead, the White House is all a titter over Bully Boy's upcoming meeting with Gordon Brown, the US military announces multiple deaths in Iraq (announces seven deaths, not the five many press outlets are reporting), the refugee crisis continues, and more.
Starting with war resisters. The San Francisco Chapter of Veterans for Peace (Chapter 69) and Asian Pacific Islanders Resist have penned an op-ed (San Francisco Bay Guardian) noting that responsibilities don't fly out the window during an illegal war.  In this section, they address the kanagroo courts that those who speak out face in the alleged name of military 'justice': "Many soldiers of conscience who dared to speak openly about the immorality and illegality of the war have been court-martialed and imprisoned. Their cases, dating back to 2004, raise serious doubts about the capacity of our soldiers to receive justice in our military courts. Five months prior to the Abu Ghraib scandal, a soft-spoken Army soldier named Camilo Mejía was visibly upset by the atrocities he observed during his tour of duty in Iraq. Repulsed by the slaughter of civilians and the needless deaths of American GIs -- all reported in his riveting combat memoir, Road from Ar Ramadi (New Press, 2007) -- Mejía gathered his courage and made formal complaints to his superiors. Commanders refused to listen and questioned his patriotism. Eventually Mejía was sentenced to a year in prison for speaking out, for telling the truth.  His trial, like subsequent trials of war resisters, was a travesty of justice. The judge, Col. Gary Smith, ruled that evidence of the illegality of the war was inadmissible in court, that international law is irrelevant, and that a soldier's only duty is to follow orders, regardless of their legality. In essence, Mejía spent months in prison for upholding the rule of law in wartime. Had commanders listened to Mejía, had judges respected due process and the rule of law, the Abu Ghraib scandal that humiliated our troops might never have occurred."
Road from Ar Ramaid: The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Mejia  is Mejia's story of becmoing the first Iraq veteran to publicly become a war resisters (Stephen Funk is the first known war resisters in this illegal war and his resistance began when he refused to take part in an illegal war). Along with detailing the court-martial, Mejia also explains how, as that was about to get underweigh, the US military suddenly needed him to refile his CO application.  Why?  Well he'd outlined abuses and the military had ignored them so refiling it would make it appear that he was just then, as the court-martial approached, for the first time, noting the abuses he'd witnessed.  Another point in the Mejia case that is often overlooked is that the US military was in violation of their own rules.  Non-US citizen Mejia's eight-year contract was coming to an end.  From Iraq, he and superiors made a call during which Mejia learned that his mother had contacted their senator (US Senator Bill Nelson) who had already made an issue of this -- as a noncitizen, Mejia could not be extended.  That was the rule and Mejia was informed of that on the phone, when he repeated that and handed the phone to his superior, the superior "lost" the call.  The same military that refused to grant Mejia CO status was also in violation of their own rules and this was all before Mejia self-checked out.  That's why mainstream (or alternative) media dubbing Mejia a "deserter" without ever exploring those facts is more than a little simplistic.
Mejia's book came out in May and is one of two books published by war resisters this year.
Joshua Key's The Deserter's Tale is the other one and, in it, Key outlines his own experiences in Iraq and how he came to the decision to self-check out.  Joshua and Brandi Key and their children went underground and then moved to Canada.  The Deserter's Tale  has repeatedly won positive reviews since its release including an unwritten 'rave' from the US military which so enjoyed it, they sent two members to Canada to pose as Canadian police officers and badger Winnie Ng as to Key's whereabouts.  Though far less fanatical, Phil Shannon (Autralia's Green Left Weekly) recently reviewed the book and found it to be
"told with unadorned but compelling simplicity, follows the life-altering path of a US citizen who turned from super-patriot to war-resister."
Currently, war resister Agustin Aguayo is on a speaking tour telling his story and The Acorn reports that Aguayo will speak this Thursday from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm at Grant Brimhall, Thousand Oaks Library, 1401 E. James Rd., that the event is "free and open to the public" and more information is available by calling (805) 375-9939. War resister Pablo Paredes will also be at the event.
This comes as Terry Lee Goodrich (Fort Worth Star-Telegram) reports on yesterday's meeting of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) General Assembly during which they passed a resolution "opposing the war in Iraq as contrary to Jesus' teachings" and
supporting war resisters who refuse to serve in the illegal war based upon church teachings.
There is a growing movement of resistance within the US military which includes Robert Weiss, Phil McDowell, Steve Yoczik, Ross Spears, Jared Hood and James Burmeister, Eli Israel, Joshua Key, Ehren Watada, Terri Johnson, Luke Kamunen, Leif Kamunen, Leo Kamunen, Camilo Mejia, Kimberly Rivera, Dean Walcott, Linjamin Mull, Agustin Aguayo, Justin Colby, Marc Train, Robert Zabala, Darrell Anderson, Kyle Snyder, Corey Glass, Jeremy Hinzman, Kevin Lee, Joshua Key, Mark Wilkerson, Patrick Hart, Ricky Clousing, Ivan Brobeck, Aidan Delgado, Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Jeremy Hinzman, Stephen Funk, Clifton Hicks, David Sanders, Dan Felushko, Brandon Hughey, Clifford Cornell, Joshua Despain, Joshua Casteel, Katherine Jashinski, Chris Teske, Matt Lowell, Jimmy Massey, Chris Capps, Tim Richard, Hart Viges, Michael Blake, Christopher Mogwai, Christian Care, Kyle Huwer, Vincent La Volpa, DeShawn Reed and Kevin Benderman. In total, forty-one US war resisters in Canada have applied for asylum.

Information on war resistance within the military can be found at The Objector, The G.I. Rights Hotline, Iraq Veterans Against the War and the War Resisters Support Campaign. Courage to Resist offers information on all public war resisters. Tom Joad maintains a list of known war resisters.
Meanwhile, the White House has to deal with not one but two reports in September.  On September 15th, General David Petraeus will present his report detailing the 'progress' resulting from Bully Boy's escalation of US troops in Iraq (approximately 160,000 are now on the ground).  Robin Wright (Washington Post) reveals the General Accounting Office will also be presenting a report on September 1st: "The GAO's international affairs team has had far more experience in Iraq than the study group led by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former congressman Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) or any of the other independent panels that have weighed in on Iraq. Indeed, the study group consulted the GAO team in preparing its report. Over the past four years, the GAO has issued 91 reports on Iraq, on topics including the mismanagement of Iraq's oil industry and problems in its new army.
The GAO team is back in Iraq this week doing research to make its own assessment of the 18 benchmarks covered by the administration's reports."  The 'benchmarks' were pushed by the White House and Congress mandated them.  These are the same 'benchmarks' that the White House and the US military now attempts to play down as part of the push-back on the September deadline.
They aren't pushing back against the US Congress which still has no real desire to end the illegal war, instead they are pushing back against public opinion domestically which repeatedly finds approximately 70% of Americans are opposed to Bully Boy's illegal war of choice with 61% now wanting any futher funding of the illegal war to come with a timeline for withdrawal. 
As Norman Solomon observes (at Common Dreams), "Despite all the talk about how members of Congress have been turning against the war, few are clearly advocating a genuine end to U.S. military intervention in Iraq" and that the media joins in prolonging the illegal war, "Media outlets will keep telling us that the U.S. government is developing serious plans to 'leave' Iraq. But we would be foolish to believe those tall tales. The antiwar movement has an enormous amount of grassroots work to do -- changing the political terrain of the United States from the bottom up -- before the calculus of political opportunism in Washington determines that it would be more expedient to end the U.S. occupation of Iraq than to keep it going under one guise or another."  Solomon details the efforts by PBS' NewsHour and Time magazine to mitigate public outrage, " The game involves dangling illusionary references to 'withdrawal' in front of the public" while no real withdrawal is being proposed and Solomon cites IPS' Phylis Bennis on yesterday's House amendment regarding permanent bases in Iraq, "The bill states an important principle opposing the 'establishment' of new bases in Iraq and 'not to exercise United States control of the oil resources of Iraq.' But it is limited in several ways. It prohibits only those bases which are acknowledged to be for the purpose of permanently stationing U.S. troops in Iraq; therefore any base constructed for temporarily stationing troops, or rotating troops, or anything less than an officially permanent deployment, would still be accepted. Further, the bill says nothing about the need to decommission the existing U.S. bases already built in Iraq; it only prohibits 'establishing' military installations, implying only new ones would be prohibited."
Meanwhile the press corps are in a frenzy over a gaggle where White House flack Tony Snow confirmed that, grab the tissues, Bully Boy will host new UK prime minister Gordon Brown at Camp David.  A two day meeting -- Sunday and Monday!  And "they'll have a dinner" after Brown arrives Sunday.  They'll take meeting "the following day."  Of course, it's really not news since it's been in the British papers for days but let's all pretend and pretend that Tony Snow wasn't short on specifics, "This will be their first meeting" . . . well "at least here in the States" . . . "since Mr. Brown has become Prime Minister."  Snow was probably closer to reality when he noted that the two would cover "sort of the predictable topics".
In other "feel good" news, Richard A. Oppel Jr and Qais Mizher (New York Times) gush excitedly over a soccer game (one that is apparently so important, the paper front pages an AFP photo by Ali Yussef of boys and men running around in a frenzy) including two paragraphs on the fact that at least 50 Iraqis DIED while offering 17 paragraphs about the games and 'reactions' which the reporters didn't actually observe.  But why should at least 50 dead interfere with selling 'good news' and letting alleged reporters grab their moment to play "Boys will be boys"?
Left out of their mouth breathing coverage are any women and why bother there?  Why bother intruding on a jock moment with some actual reality?  As IRIN has noted, women activists in Iraq are under attack and receiving no support from the US and WFO's Haifaa Nour explains, "I know my life is under threat and I might be killed at any time especially for refusing to wear a veil or other traditional clothes, but if I do so, I will just be abetting the extremists."  But the jock boys are too busy tearing off their shirts, beating their sunken chests and pounding away on the keyboards to note any of that reality.  The jock boys also miss out on what some see as a telling bit of information.  Angeel Hussein (Telegraph of London) observes, "American attempts to co-opt Iraqi insurgents in Baghdad have suffered a set back after Sunni and Shia Muslim militants in a key district of the city forged an alliance against United States forces. . . . the al-Girtani tribe reached across Iraq's sectarian divide, in what is believed to be the first partnership of its kind. 'We fought the Shia because of pressure from al-Qa'eda,' said Turki al-Girtani, the tribe leader. 'Now after they were beaten we have to refocus on the real enemy, which is the US army'."  Rah, rah, boys of the New York Times, rah, rah!
The BBC reports on the conference in Jordan to explore the Iraqi refugee crisis (4 million refugees when internally and externally displaced are counted) and notes the UN estimates 50,000 Iraqi refugees are being created each month.  The CBC notes that Jordan has an estimated 750,000 Iraqi refugees and that they are asking for help.  Voices in the Wilderness Kathy Kelly (CounterPunch) observes, "The U.S. could direct the amount of money spent on just six hours of the war in Iraq and fully meet the UNHCR request to assist millions of people who have barely survived this U.S. 'war of choice'."  In other news of money spent or not spent, James Glanz (New York Times) continues to report on the contract waste in Iraq, noting today, "One of the largest American contractors working in Iraq, Bechtel National, met its original objectives on fewer than half of the projects it received as part of a $1.8 billion reconstruction contract, while most of the rest were canceled, reduced in scope or never completed as designed, federal investigators have found in a report released yesterday."  [Glanz' article appears on A6 within the paper and has no 'cheery' photo illustrating the paper's front page.]
Despite the rah-rah over a sports match, violence continued in Iraq today including in the land of the 'crackdown' Baghdad.  CBS and AP report on a Baghdad car bombing that claimed the lives of at least 21 (at least sixty wounded) and left smoke billowing "into the sky after the thunderous explosion" while "nine cars burned" as well as a three story building.  Paul Tait (Reuters) reports the death toll has climbed to at least 25 with at least 115 wounded and that the death toll is expected to climb while describing the scene, "Bodies lay strewn around the street after the blast, which smashed three buildings into piles of masonry and concrete. It was at least the fourth to hit the predominantly Shi'ite district of Karrada this week."
In other violence . . .
Laith Hammoudi  (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad bombing that claimed 4 lives in the south, one in the west that claimed 6 lives (including an Iraqi soldier), a Hilla bombing that claimed 7 lives (five of which were police officer),  Reuters notes mortar attacks in Mosul that claimed 1 life and left seven wounded.
Laith Hammoudi  (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 5 police officers were killed in Tikrit "while chasing gunmen" and the Karrada shooting death of Abdul Satar Abdul Jabar who had been "a general manager in the ministry of housing and rebuilding."  Reuters notes three police officers shot dead in Yarubiya.
Laith Hammoudi  (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 20 corpses discovered in Baghdad. Reuters notes two corpses discovered in Latifiya ("blindfolded, handcuffed and riddled with bullets").
Today the US military announced: "One MNC-I Soldier was killed when an improvised explosive device detonated during clearing operations in Baghdad July 24." That death took place two days ago and was announced today. And they announced: "A Marine assigned to Multi National Force-West died July 22 in a non-combat related incident in Al Anbar Province."  That death took place four days ago and was announced today.  And they announced: "A Multi-National Division-Baghdad Soldier was killed during a small arms fire engagement in a southern section of the Iraqi capital July 25."  That death took place one day ago.  And they announced: "Three Marines and one Sailor assigned to Multi National Force-West died July 24 while conducting combat operations in Diyala Province."  Those deaths took place two days ago and were announced today.  Before someone wants to harp on "time differences" all announcements are coming out of Baghdad.  Also note that this is seven deaths and not, as so many in the press are reporting, five deaths.  It's easy to be confused with the MNF's new pattern of delaying death announcements -- but the press isn't commenting on that either.  The totals currently at ICCC are 3645 US service members killed in the illegal war since it started with 66 for the month thus far.
Meanwhile Svea Herbst-Bayliss (Reuters) reports that the parents of Jeffrey Lucey have filed a federal lawsuit against the US government over the suicide of their son "in his parents' Massachusetts basement less than a year after returning home from fighting during the invasion of Iraq in 2003" with the father, Kevin Lucey, maintaining, "The government is guilty of not taking care of the troops after they come home."
Today, Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez (Democracy Now!) interviewed Iraqi Nesreen (last name withheld) and Brooklyn teacher Bruce Wallace about their project to dispell "the other" and bridge the physical distance between Iraqi and US students.  From the broadcast:
AMY GOODMAN: Nesreen, let's begin with you. Talk about the situation in Baghdad, what it's like for you to teach, for your kids to go to school.
NESREEN: Well, everything is difficult in Baghdad. Me, as a teacher, when I go to school, it is hard to get to my school, simply because the American troops are there in the streets, and they sometimes close all the streets or sometimes they are stuck or stop in the streets to -- you know, it's a kind of delay there will be for going to school, and looking for landmines or trying to attack some people, some Iraqi people, looking for insurgents.
And on my way to school, I saw many, many bad things, such as dead bodies or sometimes the random shooting all of a sudden started. And when I go to a school, sometimes I find students and sometimes very few students and sometimes no students.
JUAN GONZALEZ: In terms of the -- the images that we see here, obviously, in the United States, when they are presented, are of constant bombings that occur on an almost daily basis. On a day-to-day level for your students, what is life like? Does that violence -- is it there constantly or is it once in a while?
NESREEN: Constantly. Yeah, because, you know, the situation is very, very difficult right there in the school. Some of my students stopped coming to school, because their parents were threatened or family is threatened, some of them afraid to come to school because of the bad situation in the streets or afraid of kidnapping, things like that.
[. . .]
AMY GOODMAN: How about your kids in the Brooklyn school? We asked Nesreen about her girls. What about the effect of this email exchange with your kids? How old are they?
BRUCE WALLACE: They're high school students in Brooklyn, so they are between twelve and eighteen years old. For them, it was partly an awakening of knowledge, and for myself also. I have a few college degrees. I went up to the Master's level. I knew nothing about Iraq. I had to look for it on the map. I knew nothing about the culture, nothing about the people. For me, it was an awakening, and for my students also. I remember one email that said, "Oh, you hear Jay-Z in Baghdad?" We just had no idea of who these people were, and little by little learned to understand them as people very much like ourselves. And that was a very powerful thing for the students.
No front page photo on the New York Times of that.
Finally, in political news, CBS and AP report, "Iraq's Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi's office said the moderate Sunni leader had met with U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker on Wednesday to discuss his political bloc's objections to the leadership of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The meeting occurred on the same day al-Hashemi's Iraqi Accordance Front suspended membership in the government, a bid that appeared timed to deepen disenchantment in Washington with the Shiite prime minister's faltering leadership."  Things get worse for the puppet of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki but, by all means, let's all focus on a soccer game. 

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