Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, October 12, 2007.  Chaos and violence continue in Iraq, tensions continue to simmer between Iraq and Turkey,  war resisters make the news, Yoko Ono discusses peace, art & more . . .
Starting with war resistance.  Another member of the US military who went to Canada has gone public.  Ariel Troster (Capital Xtra) reports on Bethany "Skyler" James, a 19-years-old and out lesbian, who drove to Canada with "her friend Jeremy Daniel (also a soldier)".  Troster reports James didn't plan to hide who she was but hoped to keep low key until "I was ridiculded daily by the other soldiers and even received hate letters," leading James to be out -- "even hanging a rainbow flag in her room at the military base, despite a rule which prohibits anyone who 'demonstrate(s) a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts' from serving in the US army."  Troster observes, "You would think that by disclosing her identity, Skyler would have received a 'get out of the army free' card.  By outing herself, she was clearing contravening regulations in a way that should have earned her a discharge.  But according to Skyler, it isn't that easy.  The US military is so desperate to enlist more troops to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, that they are willing to turn a blind eye to even the most blatant homosexual conduct -- leaving people like Skyler to endure the double injustice of fighting in wars they don't agree with, while also being subjected to harassment and intimidation from their fellow soldiers."  James was to be deployed to Afghanistan which may provide a different set of complications for her than other war resisters in Canada since Canada sends troops to Afghanistan (it doesn't send troops to Iraq). When she and her friend decided to make the trip, they went online for information, to the War Resisters' Support Campaign. 
On Sunday, columnist Janice Kennedy (The Ottawa Citizen) addressed Canada's refusal to honor their history of peace:
 Remember when Canada was a haven for peace lovers? That was during yesterday's Vietnam debacle, as opposed to today's Iraq debacle. Our more conservative citizenry might prefer not to be reminded of such heady times (weirdo hippie freaks, and all), but Canada actually distinguished itself by welcoming Americans who could not support, much less fight in, a war they knew was immoral.
In Lyndon Johnson's America, to be a "draft dodger" or "peacenik" could be both unpopular and dangerous. In Canada, the same person was mostly (if not universally) recognized as a person of principle and conviction.
The Americans sent 8.7 million troops to Vietnam over the course of a pointless war that ended for them in total defeat in 1975. Fifty thousand young Americans died needlessly, as did 1.3 million Vietnamese, north and south. The deep scar across the American psyche remains angry and livid to this day.
It was Pierre Trudeau who made the tough decision to risk U.S. governmental wrath and welcome Vietnam war resisters. (Yes, yes, I hear you: Of course it was Trudeau, the coward who refused to fight the Nazis, et cetera, et cetera. Whatever. You can choose to keep your viewpoint fixed in 1940, or else you can see a man who learned, grew and became a leader with vision, conviction and moral courage.)
There was an unanticipated reward for our acceptance of the estimated 30,000-40,000 American war resisters who came to Canada. Many of those who ended up staying and making their homes here -- a disproportionately bright and educated lot -- also ended up enriching Canadian society immeasurably. Untold contributions over the past four decades in science, business, journalism, the arts and the academic world have been made by those very people.
On the 25th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam war, Montreal Gazette journalist Jack Todd -- who made that profound border-crossing himself -- spoke with the CBC. "That decision to come to Canada in 1970," he said, "is the bravest thing I ever did, and I'm damn proud of it ... I think we were right, and what we did was an important thing."
The refusal to support today's war resisters effects James and many others including Joshua Key, Brandon Hughey, Jeremy Hinzman, Corey Glass, Ryan Johnson, Ross Spears, Phil McDowell, Kimberly Rivera, Patrick Hart, Robin Long, Dean Walcott and many others.
Meanwhile war resister Camilo Mejia, chair of Iraq Veterans Against the War, will be in New York City participating in the latest readings of  Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove's Voices of a People's History of the United States presented by the Culture Project (55 Mercer St., NY, NY, 10013).  Adam Hetrick (Playbill News) reports that this adaptation will be Rebel Voices and quotes a press release that states the adaptation provide "an important testimony to the strength of the individual voice, as told through first-hand accounts from people who have shaped the course of U.S. history, often struggling against seemingly insurmountable odds.  The Rebel Voices include Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X as well as lesser-known figures like Maria Stewart, a pioneer Black abolitionist from the early 1800s; Stella Nowicki, a union organizer in the 1930s; and such contempary voices as Iraq war resister Camilo Mejia and Patricia Thompson, a survivor of Hurricane Katrina."  Other participants will include Lili Taylor, Ally Sheedy, Staceyann Chin, Allison Moorer, Wallace Shawn and David Strathairn. Preview performances start November 10th.  The official opening is Sunday November 18th and Zinn will be present for that performance.  Currently, the production is scheduled to run from November 10th through December 16th.  For more information (times, ticket pricing, etc.) visit Culture Project.  Last week, IVAW's Amadee Braxton was among thirty people ("30 for 30 Tribute to Change: Building Paths to Social Justice") honored by Bread & Roses.  Also among the thirty honored was Military Families Speak Out and Gold Star Families Speak Out Celeste Zappala -- the latter of which she is a co-founder of.  A full list of those honored can be found here.
In June 2006, Ehren Watada became the first officer to publicly refuse to deploy to Iraq.  Watada could not serve in the Iraq War because it is an illegal war.  Sherwood Ross (OpEdNews) reviews the the illegality of the war and and notes international law expert Francis Boyle who testified at Watada's Article 32 hearing (the mockery of justice that was the Feburary court-martial of Watada refused to allow the defense to mount a defense which is why Boyle and others weren't allowed to testify).  Watada's second court-martial was halted by Judge Benjamin Settle who issued a stay through at least October 26th and will hear arugments on October 19th.  Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith (reposted at David Swanson's AfterDowningStreet) explain, "The double jeopardy clause of the US Constitution ensures that no American can be tried twice for the same offense.  But at a time when our civil liberties are rapidly eroding, a drama is unfolding in Washington State over whether that constitutional protection applies to a US soldier. . . .  Watada has consistently maintained that the Iraq War is illegal under international law and the US Constitution, and that to participate in it would make him guilty of a war crime. . . .  The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution states that no person shall be 'subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.'  As the Supreme Court explained in a seminal 1978 double jeopardy case, United States v. Scott, 'The underlying idea, one that is deeply ingrained in at least the Anglo-American system of jurisprudence, is that the State with all its resources and power should not be allowed to make repeated attempts to convict an individual for an alleged offence." 
In other war resisters news, Reuters reports Peter Brown ("who served in Iraq for more than a year and was a graduate of the elite U.S. military accademy West Point") has been granted conscientious objector status.  NYCLU (the NY chapter of the ACLU) handled Brown's case and have a press release on it quoting Brown stating, "I'm relieved the Army recognized that my religious beliefs made it impossible for me to serve as a soldier.  In following Jesus' example, I could not have fired my weapon at another human being, even if he were shooting at me." and quoting NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman declaring, "The NYCLU and ACLU have long championed the cause of religious freedom, including the religious freedom of Christian and other conscientious objectors in the military.  Peter Brown's discharge is an important moment in that history, and more importantly, it is a victory for religious freedom in America."
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, Peter Brown, Bethany "Skylar" James, 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.
The National Lawyers Guild's convention begins shortly: 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." 
Turning to the continued tensions between Turkey and Iraq.  Juan Gonzalez (Democracy Now!) notes, "The Turkish government has formally sought authorization from the Turkish parliament to invade Northern Iraq and attack Kurdish rebel groups.  The Turkish parliament is widely expected to approve the authorization later this week" and quotes Cemil Cicek, Turkish spokesperson, "A permission request from government to have a over border operation has been sent to Turkish parliament with the signatures of prime minister and all ministers today. . . .  Our wish is not to use this motion.  I hope we will not need this.  But as all you know, the most painful reality of our country, our region is the reality of terror."  Alissa J. Rubin (New York Times) notes, "Kurds in northern Iraq have been sympathetic to the separatist aspirations of the rebels and unmoved by pleas from the central government to restrain them.  The Turkish Parliament is expected to vote Wednesday and approve the motion, which would authorize the Turkish military to make as many entries across the Iraqi border as necessary for one year.  The raids would be aimed solely at the P.K.K., said a government spokesman, Cemil Cicek, in a televised news conference."  The PKK is designated as a terrorist group by the US (the PKK would argue they are fighting for their own survival) and, strangely, for all the US military and White House talk of "terrorists" in Iraq, they never note the PKK.  Not only have they not addressed this issue seriously, they've looked the other way while Iraq has allowed the PKK to gain a strong foothold in the north.  Despite this, the US lists the PKK as a terrorist organization.  So the fact that they are now "providing a headache for the US," as Australia's ABC's Simon Lauder observes, really is no one's fault but the US government. 
Not suffering is the oil industry.  Mark Shenk (Bloomberg News) reports that the potential clash between the two nations resulted in crude oil jumping to $86.12 a barrel and "Oil reached $86.22, the highest since the contract was introduced in 1983.  This is the fifth straight rise.  Prices are 47 percent higher than a year ago."  Sam Fletcher (Oil & Gas Journal) ties the huge profits into the potential "for military action" between Turkey and Iraq and Fletcher quotes Olivier Jakob ("managing director of Petromatrix GMBH") declaring, "World suppy and demand is not tight enough to justify a price of crude oil above $90/bbl."  Jakob sounds a little disappointed.  Others are less optimistic. Michael Omondi and Zeddy Sambu (Business Daily Africa) note that oil "is edging towards the $100 mark that analysts, led by investment firm Goldman Sachs, had earlier predicted it would hit before year-end." and that "Oil prices have more than quadrupled since 2002 and climbed 79 per cent since the start of 2007."  This has been the pattern since Friday when Javier Blas and Daniel Dombey (Financial Times of London) noted that crude oil had hit "a fresh high of $84 a barrel on concerns that Turkey might soon launch an invasion of northern Iraq in an attempt to hit Kurdish militants it accuses of attacking Turkish targets."  As Juan Gonzalez noted on Democracy Now! today, "Former CENTCOM Commander General John Abizaid told an audience at Standford University 'Of course it's about oil, we can't really deny that."  (Some other statements attributed to Abizaid, as DemocracyRising notes, were later corrected by The Stanford Daily.)  Al Jazeera notes that Iraq's Sunni vice president Tareq al-Hashemi "arrived in Ankara on Tuesday for talks with Turkish leaders."  The Times of London and AFP observe that this is "a one-day visit" and that puppet of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki "called an emergency meeting of his cabinet today and gave warning that Iraq 'will not accept military solutions . . . even though we realise and understand the worries of our Turkish friends."  AFP notes that al-Hashemi arrived "ahead of a Turkish parliament vote on a motion allowing for cross-border raids" and that "Turkey on Tuesday told Iraq to crack down on Kurdish rebels but an Iraqi leader warned that any Turkish incursion could spill over into a wider conflict."  Meanwhile Iraq's deputy prime minister Barham Saleh declared to BBC [link has video as well as text] that there would be "very grave consequences" and that "Any unilateral action by the Turkish military in violation of Iraqi border will be a terrible precedent for everybody. If Turkey as a neighbour of Iraq allows itself the right to intervene militarily in Iraq, what is there to prevent other neighbours from intervening?"  As Molly Moore (Washington Post) explains what the Turkish parliament is being asked to approve is "a one-year authorization to conduct military operations in northern Iraq to attack Kurdish separatist guerrillas".  This one not be a one-time incursion into Iraq but a decision to do so repeatedly over a year.  CBS and AP refer to al-Hashemi's visit as an attempt "to try to persuade Turkey not to stage a cross-border offensive to fight separatist Kurdish rebels based in the mountainous frontier region".  Were that truly the case than possibly Jalal Talabani, Iraq's president, should be weighing (either via a visit or public statements) since he is not only the president of Iraq, he's also a Kurd.  (al-Maliki is a Shi'ite.)  The fact that Talabani continues to refuse so is read by some as his approval of or support for PKK.  Yesim Borg (Los Angeles Times) labels the potential Turkish parliamentary measure "a bargaining chip".
As potential violence from a conflict between Turkey and Iraq continues to simmer, actual violence continues daily in Iraq.
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a downtown Baghdad car bombing claimed 4 lives (twenty more wounded), a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed 1 life (two more wounded) and a Mosul truck bombing claimed the lives of 4 police officers (thirty more people injured).  Reuters notes the number wounded from the Mosul truck bombing has risen to eighty and a Baghdad mortar attack claimed 1 life and left thirteen people injured.  CBS and AP note a Balad car bombing that "targeted a Sunni Arab group that has joined forces with the U.S. against al Qaeda" which claimed the lives of 6 police officers (eight more people injured).
Reuters notes that Sheikh Saleh Fezea Shneitar and the sheikh's son and nephew, were all shot dead outside Falluja.  This continues the pattern of targeting officials and the sheikh is another member of the "Anbar Awakenings Council" to be assassinated. In another filing Reuters explains the three were killed in a home invasion.  Reuters also notes that 3 police officers were shot dead in Baghdad and two more injured.
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 4 corpses were discovered in Baghdad,  the corpse of Awat Ali ("21 years old") was found in Kirkuk and the corpse of Aram Abo Bakir ("a taxi driver") was discovered in Sulaimaniyah.  Reuters notes that "a decapitated body" was discovered in Abbasi.
Following the Sunday murder of the Washington Post's Salih Saif Aldin, Amit R. Paley (Washington Post) reports that "Eyad Tariq, an editor of al-Watan, a weekly newspaper in Tikrit, was killed along with two security guards for the news organization after dropping off a colleague at the airport" and notes the Committee to Protect Journalists had listed the number of journalists killed in the Iraq War as 119 before the latest news.  Reporters Without Borders notes the deaths of Salih Saif Aldin and Eyad Tariq Al-Takriti and places the death toll at 205 "journalists and media assistants killed in the course of their work in Iraq since the start of the US-led invasion in March 2003" with 54 of those deaths having taken place "since the start of the year."
Turning to the topic of the mercenaries of Blackwater USA.  On September 16th, at least 17 Iraqis were slaughtered in Baghdad.  Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) reports on Haythem whose oldest son, a medical student, and his wife, a doctor, were among the slaughtered noting that Haythem said "Only part of her neck and jaw remained" of his wife of over 20 years while even less was left of his son, "Killing them was not enough, blowing up their skulls, they burned them and disfigured them."  Haythem is identified as a 46-year-old doctor living in Baghdad with his two surviving children and his mother who "sat in a corner of the room, moaning and sobbing, rocking back and forth on a couch.  She wore all black."  Haythem declares, "They destroyed my family and they killed my beloved wife, my better half.  They deprived me of my eldest son who I have raised into a strong, young man.  They deprived him of fulfilling his dream to be a doctor and a surgeon.  They planted pain and misrey in the hearts of my two younger kids" while his eighteen-year-old daughter declares, "My friends would always tell me how much they noticed my mom's love for me.  She used to always talk to me about my future and her dreams for me.  I hope I live up to her expectations."
Peace was among the topics today when Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez (Democracy Now!) interviewed Yoko Ono in a broadcast exclusive that explored the Imagine Peace Tower, her past and present activism and, of course, her collaborations with and marriage to John Lennon: 
AMY GOODMAN: As we were playing that song ["Imagine"] for our TV viewers, Yoko Ono, we were showing images. One of them was a poster that said, "The war is over!" Explain.
YOKO ONO: Well, one day I thought, well, it's great to say "War is over" and have all these people -- well, this was the first idea, that I would have many famous people partying in Ascot House, and then somebody would just come in and say, "War is over." And they all say, "Oh, my god, the war is over, if you want it." But the thing is, then, you know, we decided to do it as a poster, and then John decided to do it on a billboard. And it just became "War is over! If you want it." It was much better than having a party and then having some TV camera crew to come and film it and all that, because it was a much better idea, so we just did it that way.
On John Lennon . . .
AMY GOODMAN: What you think he would be doing today?
YOKO ONO: Well, I think that we'll be doing exactly what we've been doing then. I think this time it's not the bed-in; we can't repeat the act. But probably he will be in Iceland with me, standing at the Imagine Peace Tower. And I really felt that he was standing with me. And Ringo was there, and I thought it was very nice that he came, but he even gave me a little sort of rubber bracelet. And it's a white rubber bracelet. I said, "What is this for?" "Oh, it's for peace, and I'm sort of giving it to people." And that was very nice of him. And also Olivia, Olivia Harrison, she's an incredibly intelligent woman, and somehow she was kind of overshadowed by George Harrison, of course, but they were doing things together. And I just know that now, because she's been so helpful with the awful situation in many ways.
On the currents today:
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me ask you about how you feel, having really dealt with the Nixon administration in a very personal way, from the surveillance to the attempted deportation to the war, to the Vietnam War, how do think the Bush administration compares to the Nixon administration?
YOKO ONO: Well, I'm not that concerned about professional politicians, because I always believe that we can only change the world by grassroots movements, because in grassroots there are so many people, really, you know? And it's a very important thing to do through grassroots. And so, I think that, you know, we're doing alright. I think it's very -- a wasteful thing to focus our attention too much on other people's -- what other people are doing and being critical of it.
And when I am asked the same question in the world, in Europe or in Iceland, wherever, Asia, I always say that this is the first time that I realized that I respect Americans so much, because there are so many Americans standing up for peace and trying to change the world and trying to shift the axis of the world to peace, despite the fact that it's rather dangerous to do that maybe, or -- and they are very courageous, and it's a very courageous thing to do.
[. . .]
JUAN GONZALEZ: And -- but when you say that there are so many standing up for peace, certainly in terms of the numbers that are -- when it comes to war, coming out into the streets to try to stop this war, it's certainly not at the level that it was in the period during Vietnam.
YOKO ONO: Wait a second, wait a second. In the Vietnam War, there were things that we did that were sort of effective maybe, marching and all that. And, you know, marching is not bad either. But I think that we're learning other ways of really trying to affect the world. And, you know, like they say that people, all people in China, would just jump up and down at once, then they can shift the axis of the globe. Now, there are many, many people, all of us, are visualizing world peace and to survive, to want to survive, and, you know, by doing that together, like billions of us, we are going to shift the axis of the world to peace. And I believe that.
Throughout the interview, the documentary The U.S. vs. John Lennon was utilized.  Remember the interview is watch, read or listen.  And Democracy Now! also sales the copies of the programs on DVD (they may also still sell audio copies on CD).  Paul Krugman on tomorrow's broadcast, by the way.

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