Friday, August 03, 2007

Iraq snapshot

Friday, August 3, 2007.  Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces more deaths, the puppet tries not to notice the government collapsing around him, the National Lawyers Guild issues a report by Heidi Boghosian on the state of rights in the United States, and more.

Starting with war resistance.  Cindy Chan (Epoch Times) reports on the creation of the War Resisters Support Campaign "launched shortly after an American deserter from the Iraq War named Jeremy Hinzman arrived in Canada seeking asylum that January" in 2004 and how it was quickly realized that both a legal and a political effort would be needed and that's certainly true with both war resisters Hinzman and Brandon Hughey's case now being appealed to Canada's Supreme Court following the Federal Court of Appeal's decision that "rights of conscience" could be applied to "a refugee claimant [who] is a high-level policy-maker or planner of the military conflict" but not "a mere foot soldier".  So apparently Henry Kissinger, for instance, could get refugee status for his war crimes in Canada but Canada will not give asylum to war resisters.  As Chan notes, that was not always the case.  During Vietnam, the Canadian government stood up but that's when they had a prime minister who wasn't a lackey of the United States.  Chan notes that Hughey and  Hinzman are expected to hear this month or next whether the Supreme Court will hear their case.

Just as during Vietnam, war resistance is on the rise.  "I think something similar is beginning to happen now because those same unities coming together to oppose the war say, 'No, we're not going to continue fighting in this war.'  We have the organization I belong to, Iraq Veterans Against the War, we have up to  500 members, the majority of whom have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and who are saying, 'No, we're not going to continue to fighting this war.' And you know by the Pentagon's own estimates we have since the war started  8 to 10,000 troops who have decided not to go back to  the war. To put it in perspective, that's a division size element that's been wiped by desertion and AWOL," explains war resister and CO Camilo Mejia on this week's Progressive Radio, Matthew Rothschild interviewed  Mejia who has told his story in the recently released Road from Ar Ramaid: The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Mejia (The New Press).

Matthew Rothschild: Did you get a lot of negative feedback from either people who saw you on the media or from soldiers or former soldiers?

Camilo Mejia: Definitely there was some negative feedback but by and large the feedback was very positive partiicularly when it came from the members of the military.  People in the army, or in the armed services, don't really feel that they have the right to go public with their views and opinions . . . but secretly in a more private way a lot of people came up to me and said they agreed with me although they didn't feel they could do so publicy.  The feedback was very positive.

Mejia described the things he saw at the POW camps for Iraqis and Rothschild asked if he realized then that the Geneva Conventions were being violated?  Mejia replied that he didn't realize it at that point, "It just felt wrong."  Mejia explained that the events "on a daily basis" in Iraq didn't allow him much time for reflection but he had that time while he was on leave back in the US.  He and Rothschild discussed the bond (socialization) within the military and how that can effect choices made.  Mejia stated the people need to "realize that there's a greater tragedy in Iraq . . . The people of Iraq, 90% of the people who are dying are civilians, you know children, unarmed men, women, the elderly, the entire life being destroyed, the infrastructure is being destroyed so we have got to step outside our own fears and our own interests and our own feelings to look at the bigger picture and realize that saying that we're fighting for one another is no reason enough for participating in this criminal war."

There is a growing movement of resistance within the US military which includes Robert Weiss, Phil McDowell, Steve Yoczik, Ross Spears, Zamesha Dominique, Jared Hood, 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 Kjar, 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. IVAW and others will be joining Veterans For Peace's conference in St. Louis, Missouri August 15th to 19th.

Mejia was interviewed on Monday on WBAI's Law and Disorder as was  Adam Kokesh spoke with hosts Dalia Hashad, Michael Ratner and Michael Smith (Heidi Boghosian, the fourth host was not part of this broadcast, but we'll cover Boghosian in a moment).  Kokesh is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and he discussed the military brass' efforts to suppress his freedom of his speech.  Kokesh wore his fatigues (without markings or name tags) in Operation First Casualty in DC (and elsewhere but DC was the one that led to retaliation) which is street theater meant to convey for Americans what life is like for Iraqis during the illegal war. 

"The media stories that  we've read haven't captured this accurately," Dalia Hashad noted.  Kokesh explained that, after the DC action, he got an e-mail which he didn't know what to make of -- was it for real? -- and he discussed it with Tina Richards (Grassroots of America) who explained that her son Cloy Richards had received similar e-mails from people in (or claiming to be) the military and out of it.  So Kokesh replied to the e-mail and the brass response was "which is completely unprecedented" because he had already been honorably discharged by the military and placed in the IRR Kokesh described it as a kick in the stomach and a surprise, "They can't do this, legally there's no grounds for this.  You know it says Article II of the UCMJ  it doesn't apply to the IRR it says in my enlistment contract".  Dalia Hashad asked to explain about the IRR and Kokesh offered that "when you're in the IRR you're only responsibilites are to maintain  a valid address and to show up if called back to active duty."

Michael Smith asked about wearing "a uniform" in street theater?  Kokesh explained that a JAG attorney was activated from the reserves, Jeremy Sibert, for the prosecution team.  Sibert is the Criminal Division Assistant US Attorney in the Del Rio Office [Texas} for the Department of Justice.  Attorney Mike Lebowitz spoke on the program as well and (as requested by Eddie) we'll one more time go over that what Adam Kokesh and others do in street theater is not an issue the military has any say in.  Daniel Jay Schacht took part in street theater during Vietnam.  He and others staged it outside a military recruitment center.  At that point in time, the military thought they had rights that they didn't.  Schacht was arrested for wearing a military uniform in the production.  The military's reasoning was that it gave the armed forces a bad name -- the play, the performance, whatever.  At that point, the military would allow or disallow theater productions the 'right' to utilize uniforms or not.  In 1970, Schacht v. United States was heard by the Supreme Court.  The Court found in Schacht's favor noting that the military had been granting permission to some.  By denying permission to others, this was now a free speech issue.  The US military, the Court determined, had no say in theater productions -- if some could use the uniforms, all could.  The military had no say over what Schacht or anyone said in a theater production when they wore a uniform and they had no say over whether the uniform could be worn.   This was true of all productions, including street theater.  Justice Hugo Black wrote:

Certainly theatrical productions need not always be performed in buildings or even on a defined area such as a conventional stage. Nor need they be performed by professional actors or be heavily financed or elaborately produced. Since time immemorial, outdoor theatrical performances, often performed by amateurs, have played an important part in the entertainment and the education of the people of the world.

Kokesh is appealing and, due to the Supreme Court's 1970 verdict, it should be an easy win; however, Schacht v. United States should have ensured that the matter never went as far as did.

"The idea that citizens are free to dissent is ingrained in the American mythos, a concept even older than the Declaration of Independence itself.  Equally important in this value system is the conviction that no nation state can survive as a democracy unless it safeguards political expression and activity," so writes Heidi Boghosian in Punishing Protest.  And yet, Kevin Egler has a pre-trial date August 9th in the Portage County Municipal Court in Kent, Ohio.  His crime, as David O'Brien (The Record Courier via Common Dreams) explains, placing an "IMPEACH" sign on public party.  And yet, Matthew Rothschild (The Progressive) reported last month on the White House's policy of keeping people out of tax payer events -- something clearly taking place throughout the 2004 campaign but the White House put it in writing.  In the United States, the Los Angeles Times reports a record $1 million settlement by the District of Columbia due to the police round ups of demonstrators against the illegal war in 2002.  Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!)  notes that the monies will go "to more than one hundred demonstrators" and that "D.C. previously agreed to pay more than $640,000 to fourteen other demonstrators.  A larger class-action suit covering more than four hundred people awaits trial."  The money involved in the DC payout may seem great but does it really cover the cost of violating people's First Amendment rights?   And many other attacks on free speech and the right to assembly go under the radar.  The National Lawyers Guild has just released Punishing Protest written by Heidi Boghosian (available online in PDF format for free and avaible in book format for $3 at the National Lawyers Guild website).

We're going to zoom in on one section (from page six) and just to provide background (by me, take it up with me, not Boghosian) 2004 was a presidential election.  Though some voices, such as Naomi Klein, sounded alarms about the peace movement allowing itself to be subverted into a get-out-the-vote drive for a candidate who was not calling for an end to the illegal war (Democratic nominee John Kerry), most went along with it.  One of the biggest peace demonstrations took place in NYC during the GOP convention.  In the lead up to the rally and march, the Bloomberg administration denied (wrongly) Central Park access and along with attempting to fight that ban, the peace movement also had to deal with the middle age panice so many (such as Toad) were in the grip of -- alleged lefties who were saying that protesters shouldn't come to NYC or swearing they were leaving NYC for the entire convention.  With that background in mind, on page six Boghosian addresses the importance of the media in providing a light and in demonizing and silencing:

For example, the New York print media engaged in hyperbolic coverage months before the 2004 Republican National Convention.  The cover of the May 17, 2004 issue of New York magazine promoted companion articles, accompanied by a photograph of a protester wrapped in a U.S. flag.  One headline taunted: "Cops to Protesters: Bring It On."  The other read: "The Circus is Coming to Town: A Bush-hating nation of freaks, flash-mobbers, and civil-disobedients is gathering to spoil the GOP's party."  Nearly the entire front page of the July 12, 2004 edition of the New York Daily News contained an exaggerated proclamation: "ANARCHY THREAT TO CITY Cops fear hard-core lunatics plotting convention chaos."  Inside the paper, a two-page headline announced: "FURY AT ANARCHIST CONVENTION THREAT. 'These hard-core groups are looking to take us on.  They have increased their level of violence.' -- Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly."  The Daily News reported how "Kelly and company have to combat a shadowy, loose-knit band of traveling troublemakers who spread their guides to disruption ovre the Internet."
Although the New York Daily News is a tabloid, and prone to sensational headlines, it has the largest circulation and readership in the New York market.

Boghosian then quotes Mara Verheyden-Hillard (NLG's co-chair of Mass Defense Committee) explaining, "Such misleading news coverage is part of an effort to get the activists and the legal community to buy into the police line that there are 'good protestors' and 'bad protestors' and therefore agree that there is a real threat that then necessitates police response to protest.  Take action against the
fictional bad protestors but don't trample on the rights of the 'good' kind of response, which diverts from those who are the real violent actors over and over -- the police."  Also on the press coverage, Boghosian notes a study that found "college newspapers are generally doing a better job reporting on local antiwar events than other local newspapers" while the corporate (alleged grown up) press "fail to research accurate attendance numbers, or fail to mention estimates entirely".  Boghosian covers the varying fees applied to some groups but not to others, police pre-demonstration raids on the premises where activists are staying  (that harrassment also takes place in Canada, as Naomi Klein explains in Fences & Windows) and may 'find' or invent "a housing violation as a pretext to close down the premises."  On page 27, Boghosian addresses the appalling "free speech zones"  in Boston during the DNC convention, the containment pens endorsed by the Bloomberg administration which are a saftey hazard for demonstrators as well as a violation of free speech, the issues of bail, illegal spying, infiltration, court room shenanigans and more.  The report, to be clear, is not focused on the peace movement.  The report is about the erosion of rights in a democracy (or possibly, in an alleged democracy the way things are currently going) and also addresses the war on environmentalists, on Critical Mass and other cyclists.  Among the points Boghosian sums up in her conclusion is this:

Decades ago, government spying, infiltration and disruption tactics of the FBI and CIA against domestic political groups (Counter Intelligence Program, or COINTELPRO) led to the establishment of guidelines limited federal investigative power.  Under the Bush Administration many of those guidelines are being loosened or abandoned altogether as the government engages in the same surveillance and infiltration activities through advancing a policy of preemptive "warfare."  And once again, the executive office, working in close coordination with all levels of federal and local law enforcement, is engaging in what Justice Powell called "dragnet techniques" to both intimidate and silence its critics, the very practice that led to the Fourth Amendment and its protections against overreaching government searches and seizures.
By characterizing those who speak out as 'enemies' or 'terrorists,' as the government is increasingly doing, those charged with upholding the constitution are defying it in a cowardly fashion.

Again, the PDF format of the report is available online -- 89 pages -- and it can be purchased for $3.00 at the National Lawyers Guild.

In Iraq realities are captured at Inside Iraq where an Iraqi journalist working for McClatchy Newspapers offers a post that really needs to be read in full but will excerpt from the end:

All these good-doers, thousands of them, in four years, what have they presented to the poor Iraqi Man that they all wish to serve?
Thousands of reconstruction contracts have been awarded -- and the projects said to be implemented.
What are they?
Where are they?  Where are they?
Wouldn't a sinking government jump at the chance to show such accomplishments -- had there been any?
Wouldn't an accused occupier jump at the chance to show some
succesful, truly fundamental infrastructure developments and shout them from the roof tops?
Do we have sanitary drinking water?
Do we have electricity?
Do we have medical services or basic neighbourhood services?
Thank you, but no thank you.
But you see . . . no one asked me.

Great Britain's Socialist Worker notes Oxfam's report and judges it "a daming report on the state of Iraq four years into the occupation" while also noting that Iraqi children "are the biggest losers in the occupation, with 28 percent malnourished, compared to 19 percent before the invasion, while nine out of ten children suffer learning difficulties."  The Oxfam report also found that 70% of Iraqis do not have "access to adequate water supplies."  This as CBS and AP report: "Much of the Iraqi capital was without running water and had been for at least 24 hours, compounding the urban misery in a war zone and the blistering heat at the height of the Baghdad summer. Residents and city officials said Thursday large sections in the west of the capital had been virtually dry for six days because the already strained electricity grid cannot provide sufficient power to run water purification and pumping stations. Baghdad routinely suffers from periodic water outages, but this one is described by residents as one of the most extended and widespread in recent memory. The problem highlights the larger difficulties in a capital beset by violence, crumbling infrastructure, rampant crime and too little electricity to keep cool in the sweltering weather more than four years after the U.S.-led invasion."  They note 52-year-old Jamil Hussein who has two children with "severe diarrhea" due to the water and that he and they will have to continue drinking it.  That's criminal, the potable water is still a longed for dream all this time after the illegal war began is criminal.

In some of the rare reporting on today's violence (the soccer team returned -- or parts of it -- so it's time for everyone in the press to don a jock strap and go into fluff mode) . . .

KUNA reports 3 prisoners killed in "Badoush detention camp" by "the Multi-National Force" (US forces) who used "tear gas, live ammunition and rubber bullets to put down the riots."  Molly Hennessy-Fiske (Los Angeles Times) reports: "A spokesman for Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's leading Shiite cleric, said an aide to the cleric was shot and killed Thursday by gunmen in Najaf.  Less than two weeks before, another Sistani aide was stabbed and killed near the cleric's office in Najaf, and another aide was killed a month before in a drive-by shooting."
Jenan Hussein (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 13 corpses discovered in Baghdad today.
Today the US military announced: "Three Multi-National Division - Baghdad Soldiers were killed and 11 others wounded when an improvised explosive device detonated near their patrol during combat operations in an eastern section of the Iraqi capital August 2. Four of the injured were treated for minor injuries and were returned to duty." This brings the August total to 5 US service members killed in Iraq and the total since the start of the illegal war to 3665.

In news of the attempts by the US administration (and elements in the US Congress) to steal Iraqi oil for the benefit of corporations, Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!) reported today, "Support is growing in the U.S. for Iraqi oil workers striking against the U.S.-backed oil law under debate in Iraq.  The main union representing American oil workers is calling on Congress to stop pressuring Iraq to pass the law and to shift support to the Iraqi oil workers' demands.  In a letter to House and Senate leaders, United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard says: 'The oil privatization law now under consideration by Iraq's government is designed to benefit the multinational oil companies; not the Iraqi people'."  And the Iraqi parliament, like the US Congress, is now off on a month long vacation.  Jonathan Steel (Guardian of London) observes, "Glad tidings from Baghdad at last.  The Iraqi parliament has gone into summer recess without passing the oil law that Washington was pressing it to adopt.  For the Bush administration this is irritating, since passage of the law was billed as a 'benchmark' in its battle to get Congress not to set a timetable for US troop withdrawal. . . .  Just as General David Petraues, the current US commander, is due to give his report on military progress next month, George Bush is supposed to tell Congress in mid-September how the Maliki government is moving forward on reform."

Earlier this week the Iraqi Accordance Front withdrew from the puppet government.  Sudarsan Raghavan (Washington Post) reports that "Iraqi and Western observers say Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his inner circle appear increasingly unable to pull the government out of its paralysis.  At times consumed by conspiracy theories, Maliki and his Dawa party elite operate much as they did when they plotted to overthrow Saddam Hussein -- covertly and concerned more about their community's survival than with building consensus among Iraq's warring groups, say Iraqi politicians and analysts and Western diplomats."   Ali al-Fadhily (IPS) reports, "Withdrawals from the government by individual ministers and by political groups was the first sign of the end of al-Maliki's political life, but the U.S. government has remained insistent on keeping al-Maliki at the top of Iraq's leadership" and notes, "Security, basic services, and all measurable levels of Iraq's infrastructure are worse now than under the rule of Saddam Hussein. Nevertheless, the U.S., Britain and Iran all continue to support this government."

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