Friday, October 12, 2007

Iraq snapshot

Friday, October 12, 2007.  Chaos and violence continue, a new possible outbreak in Iraq, Democrats in Congress no longer just cave -- now they whine too, torture continues and women remain under attack.
As Denise Winebrenner Edwards (People's Weekly World) notes, this was to be the week of the second court-martial of Ehren Watada until US District Court Judge Benjamin Settle granted a stay through at least October 26th.  Ben Hamamoto (Nichi Bei Times) reports on an October 8th San Francisco press conference held by Pacific Islanders Resist and the Watada Support Committee where Luke Hiken (of the National Lawyers Guild Military Task Force) explained, "Under our constitution, the military is under the judiciary of the United States.  In other words, all federal court systems, up to the United States Supreme Court, have authority over the conduct of military personnel when appropriate.  Accordingly, federal district courts, all the way up to the courts of appeal and U.S. Supreme Court, intervene when there are violations of U.S. military regulations or laws that contravene the U.S. Constitution.  The trial council indicated that there was no jeopardy attached to the case, because the defense had not completed its entire presentation, which is nonsense.  In (such a case) jeopardy is attached the second the first witness is called by the prosecution."  Hiken is referring to the double-jeopardy issue.  In February, Watada was court-martialed.  Judge Toilet (John Head) presided.  Opening arguments were presented.  The prosecution called their witnesses.  And their witnesses did a pretty good job of making the defense's case.  That was day two.  Day three was when Watada was supposed to testify.  Instead, Judge Toilet was suddenly shocked by a stipulation he had read, he had agreed to, and he had explained to the jury.  Despite his own involvement at all steps of the stipulation, suddenly Judge Toilet wanted to say Watada didn't understand it.  This was the excuse Judge Toilet created to call a mistrial.  He did so over defense objection.  Because the trial had started, double-jeopardy had attached -- as National Lawyers Guild president Marjorie Cohn has pointed out since the start. 
Through Thursday, November 1st, we'll be including, in the snapshots, this National Lawyers Guild Military Law Task Force announcement: The Military Law Task Force and the Center on Conscience & War are sponsoring a Continuing Legal Education seminar -- Representing Conscientious Objectors in Habeas Corpus Proceedings -- as part of the National Lawyers Guild National Convention in Washington, D.C.  The half-day seminar will be held on Thursday, November 1st, from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at the convention site, the Holiday Inn on the Hill in D.C.  This is a must-attend seminar, with excelent speakers and a wealth of information.  The seminar will be moderated by the Military Law Task Force's co-chair Kathleen Gilberd and scheduled speakers are NYC Bar Association's Committee on Military Affairs and Justice's Deborah Karpatkin, the Center on Conscience & War's J.E. McNeil, the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee's Peter Goldberger, Louis Font who has represented Camilo Mejia, Dr. Mary Hanna and others, and the Central Committee for Conscientious Objector's James Feldman.  The fee is $60 for attorneys; $25 for non-profit attorneys, students and legal workers; and you can also enquire about scholarships or reduced fees.  The convention itself will run from October 31st through November 4th and it's full circle on the 70th anniversary of NLG since they "began in Washington, D.C." where "the founding convention took place in the District at the height of the New Deal in 1937,  Activist, progressive lawyers, tired of butting heads with the reactionary white male lawyers then comprising the American Bar Association, formed the nucleus of the Guild." 
Watada is only one Iraq War resister.  Courage to Resist reports on James Circello Jr. who self-checked out in April of 2007 and writes about his experience in the poem "I saw kids turn into animals:"
I saw kids turn into animals.
Members of my own unit, who I will never speak negatively about,
doing things that one day I know
will haunt them.
I saw soldiers mistreating detained Iraqis.
Detained on nothing more than pure suspicion in some cases.
But why not, it was the Old West, anything goes and anything did go.
Questionable shootings.
Questionable decisions by superior commanders.
Nothing ever questioned by your superiors.
You as the Soldier were always in the right.
Courage to Resist also has an interview (transcript and audio) with war resister Mark Wilkerson conducted by The War Comes Home's Aaron Glantz.  At one point, Wilkerson explains, "I discussed many of these issues with a lot of other soldiers there [in Iraq]; a lot of them just didn't want to think about it at all.  And then when I got back, to see the way the media portrayed the war and the way many people thought the war was going on, and then finally, after a few months, seeing some resisters coming on television -- I remember seeing Camilo Mejia in an interview and thinking, 'Wow, there are people out there like me, who are confused and angry and upset.'  This 'conscientious objector' that I applied for, it was a very rough patch for me.  It was a period of -- I ended up applying for conscientious objector in June.  I took the rules fo conscientious objector home, and in the course of one night, I answered all the questions.  I filled out my form.  It was mostly seething.  I was very angry, so I put all the emotion into what should be a very proper, very well thought-out document and application.  I turned it in.  I was told that I had a week to fill it out.  And then over the next several months, I sometimes got in many arguments and heated debates with my chain of command -- my first sergeant, my platoon sergeant, some military chaplains, military investigators, military psychologists . . ."  November 2005, he was denied CO status -- as most who apply are -- and decided to self-check out.  He announced he was turning himself in August 2006 at Camp Casey and was eventually sentenced to imprisonment in Fort Still, OK.
Sunday in Corvallis, Oregon (a college town not far from Portland) Gerry Condon will speak at the Odd Fellows Hall, 223 S.W. Second St. at 7:00 pmGerry Condon is a war resister from the Vietnam era and he's very active in war resistance today.  He can speak about war resisters in Canada -- not just Kyle Snyder, but he knows Snyder's case front to back -- and about the legal process in Canada which has thus far refused to grant any war resisters of this era refugee status.  Along with a can't-miss-speech, those attending will also be able to see Michelle Mason's Breaking Ranks -- a documentary about war resisters in Canada today.  Paul Fattig (Mail Tribune) reports that Condon will also "give a talk about his work at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Medford Congregational United Church of Christ."
There is a growing movement of resistance within the US military which includes James Stepp, Matthew Lowell, Derek Hess, Diedra Cobb, Brad McCall, Justin Cliburn, Timothy Richard, Robert Weiss, Phil McDowell, Steve Yoczik, Ross Spears, Zamesha Dominique, Chrisopther Scott Magaoay, Jared Hood, James Burmeister, Eli Israel, Joshua Key, Ehren Watada, Terri Johnson, Carla Gomez, Luke Kamunen, Leif Kamunen, Leo Kamunen, Camilo Mejia, Kimberly Rivera, Dean Walcott, Linjamin Mull, Agustin Aguayo, Justin Colby, Marc Train, Abdullah Webster, Robert Zabala, Darrell Anderson, Kyle Snyder, Corey Glass, Jeremy Hinzman, Kevin Lee, Mark Wilkerson, Patrick Hart, Ricky Clousing, Ivan Brobeck, Aidan Delgado, Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Stephen Funk, Blake LeMoine, Clifton Hicks, David Sanders, Dan Felushko, Brandon Hughey, Clifford Cornell, Joshua Despain, Joshua Casteel, Katherine Jashinski, Dale Bartell, Chris Teske, Matt Lowell, Jimmy Massey, Chris Capps, Tim Richard, Hart Viges, Michael Blake, Christopher Mogwai, Christian Kjar, Kyle Huwer, Wilfredo Torres, Michael Sudbury, Ghanim Khalil, 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 [(877) 447-4487], 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.
Earlier this week,  National Lawyers Guild president Marjorie Cohn (at Truthout) addressed the issue of torture noting that the administration continues to deny it tortures when the reality is the White House has okayed torture for some time, "Torture is a war crime. Those who commit or order torture can be convicted under the U.S. War Crimes Statute. Techniques that don't rise to the level of torture but constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment also violate U.S. law. Congress should provide for the appointment of a special independent counsel to fully investigate and prosecute all who are complicit in the torture of prisoners in U.S. custody."  AP quoted former president Jimmy Carter declaring this week on CNN, "Our country for the first time in my life time has abandoned the basic principle of human rights. We've said that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to those people in Abu Ghraib prison and Guantanamo, and we've said we can torture prisoners and deprive them of an accusation of a crime."  Yesterday the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq released  (PDF format warning) "Human Rights Report 1 April  -- 30 June 2007" which found many human rights abuses but let's zoom in on the issues having to do with imprisonment.  Those being held went from 17,565 in March to 21,112 by the end of June leading to overcrowding in holding facilities across Iraq, prolonged periods of waiting for something resembling justice to arrive, denial of "access to legal counsel and to family visits," and "reports of the widespread and routine torture or ill-treatment of detainees, particularly those being held in pre-trial detention facitilities under Ministry of Interior facilities, including police stations.  Several such cases were document during the reporting period, where UNAMI was able to interview and examine victims of physical abuse shortly following their release or following their conviction and transfer to a Ministry of Justice prison."  So torture and abuse is alive and well in Iraq.  For all the Bully Boy's grand words of creating a torture free Iraq, Abu Ghraib (and other earlier, less well known events) demonstrated that the US will torture so it's no surprise that the Iraqis placed in charge (by the US and its puppets) will as well.   Dropping back to the snapshot on September 6th:
Turning to retired generals,  Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!) reported today, "A panel of retired US generals is urging the United States to disband and reorganize the Iraqi police force because of infiltration by sectarian militias.  The generals also report Iraq's security forces will be unable to fulfill their essential security responsibilities independently for at least another twelve to 18 months."  Karen DeYoung (Washington Post) explains that the national police force as well as the Iraq Interior Ministry are "riddled with sectarianism and corruption" by the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq headed by James Jones (Marine general) in there 150-plus page report which also finds the Iraqi army at least  a year to 18 months away from being able to handle "internal security". 
The US is as aware of what's going on as is the United Nations -- in fact the US is aware of their own tactics and, if the United Nations knows about the US tactics, it's doubtful they would report them.  Joshua Partlow and Column Lynch (Washington Post) report today that the UN report was ready months ago (August) "but release of the final version was delayed for more than a month following a request by the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan C. Crocker, according to a confidential account by a senior U.N. official."  Of course, the delay was really to make sure nothing flashed a little reality while Crocker and David Petraeus were in the midst of Operation Happy Talk on Congress.  But the reality is that, forget what the US itself does, torture being conducted by Iraqis placed in charge -- known torture -- reflects back to the US and turning a blind eye does not make it any less culpable of War Crimes charges for the torture.
Sticking with war crimes, yesterday Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit against the mercenary company Blackwater USA.  More information can be found here at CCR and in Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez'  "EXCLUSIVE - Family Members of Slain Iraqis Sue Blackwater USA for Deadly Baghdad Shooting" (Democracy Now!) from yesterday.  The lawsuit is over the September 16th Baghdad slaughter where Blackwater employees killed as many as 17 Iraqi civilians.  Anne Penketh (Independent of London) quotes Ivana Vuco ("the most senior UN human rights officer in Iraq") declaring, "For us, it's a human rights issue.  We will monitor the allegations of killings by security contractors and look into whether or not crimes against humanity and war crimes have been committed" and -- pay attention because this applies to torture as well -- there is a "responbility to investigate, supervise and prosecute those accused of wrongdoing."  "I don't recall" and "To the best of my memory" may have allowed the Reagan administration to avoid convictions but possibly Bully Boy should just stick with the classic "I am not a crook"?
Stayin with the UN report and human rights issues, one of the key areas to emerge in the report is Kurdistan which -- despite the p.r. hype -- has never been 'safe.'  Human rights organizations have long been documenting the problems in the northern region. The new UN report (PDF warning) notes the 'peaceful region':

The human rights situation in the Kurdistan region remains of concern in a number of areas, including continuing incidents involving violence against women, the abuse of detainees and the prolonged detention without charge or trial of hundreds of detainees held on suspicion of terror-related offences. UNAMI is encouraged, however, by sveral measures adopted by the KRG authorities in recent months in an effort to address some of these concerns, including the review of long-standing detention practices followed by the regional authorities' security forces. UNAMI hopes that such measures, if seriously followed up, would pave the way for greater accountability for government officials suspected or known to have abused their authority.

Along with the targeting of journalists (and the Kurdish response that 646 licenses have been given to news outlets -- and how that has nothing to do with the targeting -- arrests and detentions -- of journalists) and the persecution of Assyrians and Turkoman, the region has an 18% increase in violence against women ("15 deaths caused by blunt objects, 87 deaths by burning and 15 deaths by shooting for the first quarter of 2007; for the second quarter, there were 8 deaths caused by blunt objects, 108 deaths by burning and 21 deaths by shooting"), a serious lack of punishments for these deaths (both in arrests and -- when the rare arrest is made -- in sentencing).  The situation for women throughout Iraq is awful.  Earlier this week, Tina Susman (Los Angeles Times) reported on Article 41 in the still unfinalized constitution which "women's rights activists and legal scholars" argue "opens the door to rule by draconian interpretations of Islamic law that could sanction the stoning of adulterous women, allow underage girls to be forced into marriage and permit men to abandon their wives by declaring, 'I divorce you,' three times" while Basra is demonstrating "signs of religious extremism being used to rein in women.  Police say gangs enforcing their idea of Islamic law have killed 15 women in the last month" -- over "what the women wear or because they are using makeup."  It smells like 'freedom' to Bully Boy and Laura Bush.  To the rest of the world, it smells like something else. 
Turning to some of today's violence . . .
AFP reports, "Iraqi civilians bore the brunt Friday of a bloody start to Eid al-Fitr, as a US air raid killed 15 women and children, and a sinister suicide attack on a playground shocked a northern town."  This is the attack noted in yesterday's snapshotDeborah Haynes (Times of London) notes this is "one of the highest civilian death tolls acknowledged by the military since the March 2003 invasion" and also notes the playground attack which claimed the lives of 2 children with seveteen wounded. Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad car bombing that claimed 4 lives (Iraqi police officers) and left fifteen more injured and a Salahuddin bombing ("inside a bag of flour on a handcart") in which "[a] woman was killed and 16 people most of them children".
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a police officer shot dead in an attack in Qadisiyah.  Reuters notes a police officer shot dead and his wife injured in a home invasion in Kut.
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 4 corpses were discovered in Baghdad.  Reuters notes a corpse was discovered in Mahaweel.
Torture, bombings, lack of potable water, cholera, what else?  Reuters reports the latest issue, "The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Friday it had asked Iraqi authorities to probe media reports of several cases of Rift Valley Fever in animals.  The viral disease primarily affects animals but can infect humans through handling of blood or ogans of infected animals, leading to high rates of disease and death, according to the United Nations health agency."
Turning to US politics.  As Cedric and Wally noted yesterday  US Senator Barack Obama who would like to be the 2008 Democratic nominee for president has a new "trust me" campaign.  Having repeatedly run on the fact that he was against the illegal war in 2002 but unable to vote because he wasn't in the Congress, he's now taking Senator Hillary Clinton -- who would also like to be the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee -- to task for voting for what some see as an authorization for war on Iraqn.  Obama is highly offended by Clinton's recent vote in the Senate.  So offended that some might wonder how he voted?  Answer: He didn't vote.  He's taking her to task for what is a bad vote but he didn't care enough about the issue to be present to vote.  That's leadership?
Leadership?  Let's turn to other non-leaders.  US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  On Wednesday, David Swanson (AfterDowningSt) noted Pelosi's latest bits of insanity including her despair that people would protest outside her mansion ("If they were poor and they were sleeping on my sidewalk, they would be arrested for loitering!" hissed our modern day Marie) and how people like her weren't "advocates.  We are leaders."  Rebecca noted in her post to Pelosi, "poor nancy. oh the horror! in her botox mansion with americans outside! she might have been so troubled by the sight that her frozen face almost registered emotion. the horror!  'they are advocates,' sputters the cowardly trash, 'we are leaders!' well where the hell are you leading the country, princess crap?"  Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan notes (at CounterPunch) that Pelosi's attitude "is truly the problem with what was once a Representative Republic and now is a country run by 'elected' officials who believe that they, indvidually and collectively, are above any accountability and are not answerable to their constituents.  Our public servants erroneously believe that they are leaders!  . . .  No, Ms. Pelosi, you are not a leader.  You have proven time and again in what you laughably believe is a 'mistake' free run as Speaker of a Democratic House that you will do anything to protect an Imperial Presidency to the detriment of this Nation and the world, particularly the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.  This Democratic Congress supported BushCo's disastrous and deadly surge; handed him over billions of their constituent's tax dollars to wage this murder; have by their silence and votes countenanced an invasion of another country; approved more restrictions on the rights of the citizenry to be protected against unreasonable search and seizure; Ms. Pelosi does not even know if 'torture' (which violates international law and the 8th Amendment in our Bill of Rights) is an impeachable offense; and worst of all the impeachment clauses were taken 'off the table' in an ongoing partnership with BushCo to make the office of the presidency a Congressionally protected crime conglomerate that is rapidly sending this Nation down a crap-hold of fascism."
Meanwhile the Dems in leadership are crying.  David M. Herszenhorn (New York Times) notes that there is "tension between Democratic lawmakers and their base" and provides the opportunity for Dems to once again blame the voters as opposed to taking a look at their own actions.  The Republican base gets frustrated with their leadership all the time. And Republicans generally respond to that. They don't blame the base, they don't whine about the base, they don't publicly insult the base.  But, taking the lead from Pelosi, Democrats in Congress have no problem hectoring and trashing the voters who put them in power.  When you have to make non-stop excuses for your actions, then the problem is probably you and not the base. When you're so ineffectual that you continue to cite the minimum wage nonsense as your point of pride (blood money because Dems snuck it into an Iraq bill), you've got nothing to be proud of. Instead of whining at and blaming the base, Democrats in Congress need to grow up real damn quick and grasp that the 2008 elections that they feel are the end-all-be-all are not going to benefit from the repeated trashing of Democratic voters. Leadership needs to take some accountability and Pelosi especially needs to stop trashing Democratic voters publicly.
And for those who don't get how weak Congressional Dems have been, note this from Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez' interview with the Boston Globe's Charlie Savage (Democracy Now!):
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about wiretapping, the controversy now, the frustration that people have with the Democrats, supposedly the opposition party, going along with the Republicans.
CHARLIE SAVAGE: Well, the background is that after 9/11, as we all know now, Bush gave the military the authority to wiretap phone calls without warrants, in defiance of a 1978 law that required warrants for that situation. And he used a very aggressive legal theory about the President's powers as commander-in-chief to bypass laws at his own discretion. Because that program was only legal if that theory were true, that meant that the fact that they did this set a precedent that says that theory is true, and future presidents will be able to cite that precedent when they want to evade any other law that restricts their own authority.
So now, going forward, one of the ways this agenda has been able to be so successfully implemented was that there was no resistance from Congress. At the very moment there was this stronger push coming out of the Vice President's office to expand the presidential power as an end to itself in any way possible, because of one-party rule for six years and because of the atmosphere of crisis after 9/11, there was no push back. And that's how the ball was moved so far down the field.
And one of the things that's been very interesting about the last year is now we have split control of government again, and so the question was, how is that going to change things? And what we've seen from the Protect America Act in August and the dynamic going forward is that even with split control of government, the dynamic is still there. Congress is just as it was for the first twenty or thirty years of the Cold War, when the original imperial presidency was growing under presidents of both parties, by the way. Congress is again unwilling to push back against the White House's assertion that it needs ever more authority, and checks and balances will result in bloodshed. And so, I think, going forward, that you can see that this dynamic is going to be with us. And, of course, two years from now, we may have one-party control of government again, the other party, but that will just sort of hurl us further down this path, I think.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And this issue of the President seeking to protect those in the corporate world who go along with his policies -- well, first of all, obviously, there was the retroactive immunity to the airline companies after 9/11 for their failure to act to provide a kind of security on their planes, giving them immunity from any possible lawsuits, and now this effort by the administration to try to provide retroactive immunity to the telecom companies that went along with his surveillance program.
CHARLIE SAVAGE: Well, and what this is, is because Congress has demonstrated that it's really not going to do anything about the basic fact that the President asserted he could bypass a law and then he acted on that assertion, and, you know, that established he can do that, or whoever else is president at any given moment from now on can do that, that the one sort of last place where critics of this sort of extraordinary development could still have some traction was the lawsuit against the companies, which had also evidently broken privacy laws by going along with this. So, by seeking retroactive immunity, it's sort of the last place closing off the possibility of accountability.
Meanwhile the Illinois Green Party holds a fall membership meeting Crystal Lake, IL October 13th and 14th at the McHenry County College.
Candidates in attendance will hold a press conference Saturday from 1 to 2 pm at McHenry County College and they include:

Kent Mesplay (Presidential)
Jerome Pohlen (U.S. Congress, 3rd District)
Moe Shanfield (U.S. Congress, 9th District)
Dave Kalbfleisch (U.S. Congress, 10th District)
Rodger Jennings ( U.S. Congress, 12th District)
Steve Alesch (U.S. Congress, 13th District)
Tony Cox (State Representative, 9th District)
Kevin O'Connor (State Representative, 41st District)
Sandy Lezon (State Representative, 50th District)
Charlie Howe (State Representative, 115th District)
James Geocaris (McHenry County Board, 3rd District)
On PBS this weekend, Friday October 12th in most markets, NOW with David Brancaccio will air a one hour program, "Child Brides: Stolen Lives" documenting "the heartbreaking global phenomenon of forced child marriage, and the hope behind breaking the cycle of poverty and despair it causes." They've created an e-Card you can send to friends and family or to yourself to provide a heads up to the broadcast (and there is no cost to send the e-Card). Maria Hinojosa will report from Niger, Guatemala, India, etc.

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