Friday, November 02, 2007

Iraq snapshot

Friday, November 2, 2007. Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces more deaths, Barack Obama sits down with the New York Times and flashes his War Hawk, and more.

Starting with war resistance. War resister Joshua Key told his story in The Deserter's Tale and now Key's book is among those optioned to tell the story of the illegal war on the big screen. Eric Jordan has optioned Key's story. Jordan and partner Paul Stephens began their producing careers with documentaries made for television at The Film Works, their Toronto based production company. Their latest release is Beowulf and Grendel in 2005 featuring Sarah Polley and many others. Josh Getlin (Los Angeles Times) quotes Jordan, "I didn't set out to make a pro-Iraq war movie or an anti-Iraq war movie. I wanted to make a movie about people under pressure, real people, and the fact that this is complex world. Just imagine what this kid went through, never dreaming he'd desert the U.S. Army. That's a great book -- and a great movie." And a story that needs to be told. Time and again, war resisters who go public cite the internet overwhelming. Helga and Agustin Aguayo have also cited David Zeiger's documentary of resistance within the military during Vietnam, Sir! No Sir! If Jordan is able to bring Key's story to the screen, it will have an impact.

There is a growing movement of resistance within the US military which includes James Stepp, Michael Espinal, 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, at least fifty 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 US politics. Margaret Kimberley (Black Agenda Report) summarizes the state of Senator Barack Obama's Democratic presidential primary campaign, "For months Obama was the political flavor of the month, wooed by fawning celebrities, and promoted by the corporate media. The stamp of approval from the right people had him sitting firmly atop an enormous pile of campaign cash. Now his deep pocketed contributors are showing signs of buyers' remorse, miffed because he is only neck and neck with Hillary Clinton in Iowa and trailing behind her in New Hampshire. Obama has been hoisted on his own petard. He assured Democrats that he was 'safe.' He openly scorned movement politics, and made the appeal of color blindness his calling card. He chose neo-con Bush suck-up Joe Lieberman as his Senate mentor. His criticisms of the evil occupation of Iraq focused not on murder and theft committed by Uncle Sam, but by the traumatized Iraqs' efforts to deal with an American-created hellish existence. Leaving 'all options on the table' is part of the Obama stump speech on Iran." On the subject of Iran, Barack Obama appears on the front page of this morning's New York Times. War pornographer Michael Gordon and Jeff Zeleny who lied in print (click here, here and here -- the paper finally retracted Zeleny's falsehood that should have never appeared) present a view of Barack Obama that's hardly pleasing. Among the many problems with the article is Obama as portrayed in the article -- and his campaign has issued no statement clarifying. The Times has the transcript online and from it, Barack Obama does mildly push the unproven claim that the Iranian government is supporting resistance in Iraq. Gordo's pushed that unproven claim repeatedly for over a year now. But Obama's remarks appear more of a reply and partial points in lengthy sentences -- not the sort of thing a functioning hard news reporter would lead with in an opening paragraph, touch on again in the third paragraph, in the fourth paragraph, in . . . But though this isn't the main emphasis of Obama's statements (at any time -- to be clear, when it pops up, it is a fleeting statement in an overly long, multi-sentenced paragraphs), it does go to the fact that Obama is once again reinforcing unproven claims of the right wing. In the transcript, he comes off as obsessed with Hillary Clinton. After her, he attempts to get a few jabs in at John Edwards and one in at Bill Richardson. Here is what real reporters should have made the lede of the front page: "Presidential candidate and US Senator Barack Obama who is perceived as an 'anti-war' candidate by some announced that he would not commit to a withdrawal, declared that he was comfortable sending US troops back into Iraq after a withdrawal started and lacked clarity on exactly what a withdrawal under a President Obama would mean." That is what the transcript reveals. Gordo really needs to let go of his blood lust for war with Iran.

Writing up a report, Gordo and Zeleny are useless but, surprisingly, they do a strong job with some of their questions. The paper should have printed up the transcript. If they had, people might be wondering about the 'anti-war' candidate. He maintains Bill Richardson is incorrect on how quickly US troops could be withdrawan from Iraq. Obama states that it would take at least 16 months which makes one wonder how long, if elected, it would take him to move into the White House? If you can grab a strainer or wade through Obama's Chicken Sop For The Soul, you grasp quickly why he refused to pledge (in September's MSNBC 'debate') that, if elected president, he would have all US troops out of Iraq by 2013: He's not talking all troops home. He tries to fudge it, he tries to hide it but it's there in the transcript. He doesn't want permanent military bases in Iraq -- he appears to want them outside of Iraq -- such as Kuwait. But he doesn't see the US embassy in Iraq -- the largest US embassy in the world as a base. However, he does feel that even after the illegal war was ended, US troops would need to remain behind in order guard the embassy and the staff. In addition, it becomes clear that he will keep US troops in Iraq to train the Iraqi police. Because?

The reporters don't think to ask. Here's a slice of reality, the US military is not trained to train police officers. Here's another to drop on the plate, Jordan was training them. Jordan got pushed aside around the half-way mark of 2006. If Obama wanted to pull US troops out of Iraq, the most obvious solution is to turn over the duty of training police officers to a non-military force. Along with needing those for trainers, he needs some to protect the trainers. Gordo gets to the point asking, "So how will you protect the trainers without forces in Iraq?" His answer is an embarrassment, he could keep the trainers out of potentially difficult situations. And in Iraq, that would be where? In addition, he would keep troops in Iraq for counter-terrorism (but not, he insists, counter-insurgency). If this doesn't all sound familiar, you slept through this spring and summer when Congressional Dems tried repeatedly to convince the American people that "all troops out of Iraq" could also mean that US troops stay to train, as military police, to fight terrorism, etc. While he's off talking al Qaeda in Iraq (a small number and one most observers state will be forced out by Iraqis when US troops leave) and working in more attacks on Senator Clinton, it's noted that he has "a more expansive approach to Iraq than she does in that you identify in your plan the possiblity of going back into Iraq to protect the populartion if there's an all-out civil war. . . . And providing monitors to help the population relocate and go after war criminals. Those are three elements -- those are new missions for Americans after Iraq that she doesn't postulate." What follows is a comical exchange:

Obama: But they aren't necessarily military missions.

NYT: But how do you go back into Iraq without military forces?

Obama: No, no, no, no, no. You conflated three things. The latter two that you are talked about are not military missions. Let's just be clear about that.

NYT: An armed escort is not a military mission?

Though Obama says he wants "to be clear," he refuses to answer that yes or no question and the interview is over.

So let's be clear that the 'anti-war' Obama told the paper he would send troops back into Iraq. Furthermore, when asked if he would be willing to do that unilaterally, he attempts to beg off with, "We're talking too speculatively right now for me to answer." But this is his heavily pimped September (non)plan, dusted off again, with a shiny new binder. The story is that Barack Obama will NOT bring all US troops home. Even if the illegal war ended, Obama would still keep troops stationed in Iraq (although he'd really, really love it US forces could be stationed in Kuwait exclusively), he would still use them to train (the police0 and still use them to protect the US fortress/embassy and still use them to conduct counter-terrorism actions. Margaret Kimberley (cited at the opening of this section on politics) called it correctly. Meanwhile Ruth Conniff (The Progressive) weighs in on the alleged Democratic 'debate' this week, dubbing it "pile-on-Hillary night," and wondering what the point of it really was: "But hanging over all this is the specter of the $90 million Hillary had raised by the middle of October. That huge amount of cash so outstrips the other candidates, it seems like a silly game of make-believe to pretend that a clever quip during a debate, or even the extremely important and legistimate points the candidates made last night, could change the dynamic of the race. It doesn't matter how trenchant your comments are if you are drowned out by the amplified voice of a frontrunner who can buy all the airtime that's left in this extremely short primary season." Also noting the heavy donations from big business is Bruce Dixon (Black Agenda Report), "For Democratic and Republican wings of America's permanent ruling party, the all-important selection which precedes the election isn't about poll numbers, votes or the citizens that cast them. It's about winning the favor of military contractors, the banking and financial sectors and Big Oil. It's about reassuring insurance and pharmaceutical companies, cozying up to agribusiness, the cable and telecom monopolies, allaying the fears of chambers of commerce, and wooing Hollywood." Dixon goes on to note the industries pouring big money in Obama and Clinton's campaigns, notes PEJ's tracking of the first six months of mainstream press coverage of the candidates this year -- Obama received more positive coverage from the mainstream than any other candidate for president -- almost 20% more than Hillary Clinton and approximately 19% more than Rudy Giuliani -- and concludes that the Dem presidential ticket will be Clinton-Obama (Clinton for president).

Meanwhile US House Rep and Democratic presidential nominee contender Dennis Kucinich announced that he is calling for House vote next week. On? Impeachment of Cheney. Kucinich: "The momentum is building for impeachment. Millions of citizens across the nation are demanding Congress rein in the Vice President's abuse of power. Despite this groundswell of opposition to the unconstitutional conduct of office, Vice President Cheney continues to violate the U.S. Constitution by insisting the power of the executive branch is supreme. Congress must hold the Vice President accountable. The American people need to let Members of Congress know how they feel about this. The Vice President continues to use his office to advocate for a continued occupation of Iraq and prod our nation into a belligerent stance against Iran. If the Vice President is successful, his actions will ensure decades of disastrous consequences." His office notes, "The privileged resolution has priority status for consideration on the House floor. Once introduced, the resolution has to be brought to the floor within two legislative days, although the House could act on it immediately. Kucinich is expected to bring it to the House floor on Tuesday, November 6."

Kucinich was among those participating in a bi-partisan forum for candidates (Republican John McCain participated by phone, all others were Democrats). Holly Ramer (AP) reports that the forum, geared to address concerns of the disabled community, resulted in participation from Dem presidential candidates Chris Dodd, Hillary Clinton, Dennis Kucinich, Joe Biden and Mike Gravel. John Edwards sent a flack to address the group.

Turning to the Green Party. Kimberly Wilder (On the Wilder Side) has posted Cynthia McKinney's declaration of candidacy. The form shows McKinney's signature with a date of October 16th next to it and the FEC (US Federal Elections Commission) lists October 22nd as the filing date. The Green Party of the United States notes, "Always a lightning rod for those who believe a woman's place is in the kitchen, Congressomwan Cynthia McKinney was the first Black woman elected to Georgia's state legislature. With rules that required she wear a dress ont he state house floor, she chose instead to wear a smart pants suit, letting them know that the days of the 'Good Ole Boy' system were a thing of the past. Now, she may be carrying that same message about the two-party system. Controversial not only for her choice of clothing, McKinney has spoken out against the war on Iraq from the beginning, and anti-war mom Cindy Sheehan calls her 'My friend who's running for President.' McKinney is being actively pursued by the Green Party as their nominee in 2008. Local Green Party chair Gregg Jocoy has already endorsed her possible run, saying, 'We had Ralph Nader on our ballot line in 2000, and that brought us recruits and supporters who are with us to this day. I know Cynthia McKinney will bring an entirely new and energized group of people to our side. Then it's our job to show them that we mean business." At All Things Cynthia McKinney, McKinney has posted an audio clip where she explains why she has declared herself a member of the Green Party "and when I vote Green I will vote my values." McKinney was elected to Congress six times as a member of the Democratic Party (1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2004). Is McKinney running for president? She concludes her audio message with, "I promise to announce my decision in November." Along with being a leading voice against the war in Congress, the Green Party also notes, "McKinney, who served a dozen years in Congress, filed impeachment papers on President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Sec. of State Rice as her last official act."

As noted Wednesday, Ralph Nader also intends to announce his decision of whether to run for president or not by the end of the year. On Wednesday, Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!) spoke with attorney Carl Mayer about the lawsuit being filed regarding attempts in 2004 to deny Nader ballot access. Over the summer, Ian Wilder filmed Nader discussing the ballot access issue and Ian and Kimberly Wilder have posted the video at their site On the Wilder Side. They have also made it available at YouTube.

Turning to some of today's reported violence in Iraq . . .


Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a bridge bombing Thursday night in the Diyala. Reuters notes three injured in a Ramadi bombing and a Diwaniya roadside bombing that claimed the life of 1 Polish soldiers with three more wounded. Counting today's death -- Andrzej Filipek, Poland has lost 23 troops in the illegal war. BBC reports, "The three injured soldiers are being treated in a hospital near the scene of the blast. The incident follows the attempted assassination in October of the Polish Ambassador to Iraq, Edward Pietrzyk."


Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports, "Gunmen opened fire on two pupils on Thursday afternoon near Tuz Khurmatu (south of Kirkuk) during their return from school in (Beer Ahmed) village killing one and injuring the other."


Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 3 corpses discovered in Baghdad.

Also today, the US military announced: "Three Airmen were killed Nov. 1 while performing combat operations in the vicinity of Balad Air Base, Iraq. All three were assigned to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations at Balad AB."

Staying with violence:

Apparently there is one set of rights for Blackwater mercenaries and another for the rest of us. Normally when a group of people alleged to have gunned down 17 civilians in a lawless shooting spree are questioned, investigators will tell them something along the lines of: "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law." But that is not what the Blackwater operatives involved in the September 16 Nisour Square shooting in Iraq were told. Most of the Blackwater shooters were questioned by State Department Diplomatic Security investigators with the understanding that their statements and information gleaned from them could not be used to bring criminal charges against them, nor could they be introduced as evidence. In other words: "Anything you say can't and won't be used against you in a court of law."
ABC News obtained copies of sworn statements given by Blackwater guards in the immediate aftermath of the shootings, all of which begin, "I understand this statement is being given in furtherance of an official administrative inquiry," and that, "I further understand that neither my statements nor any information or evidence gained by reason of my statements can be used against me in a criminal proceeding." Constitutional law expert Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, says the offering of so-called "use immunity" agreements by the State Department is "very irregular," adding he could not recall a precedent for it. In normal circumstances, Ratner said, such immunity is only granted after a Grand Jury or Congressional committee has been conveyed and the party has invoked their 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination. It would then be authorized by either a judge or the committee.

That's Jeremy Scahill (Huffington Post via Common Dreams) on this week's big development with regards to the mercneary company -- the US State Department's own investigators offered Blackwater 'guards' immunity (limited-immunity, they insist) for their 'cooperation' in the investigation into the slaughter. On Wednesday Aram Roston (NBC News) reported, "Federal agents are investigating allegations that the Blackwater USA security firm illegally exported dozens of firearms sound suppressors -- commonly known as silencers -- to
Iraq and other countries for use by company operatives, sources close to the investigation tell NBC News. . . . The sources said the investigation is part of a broader examination of potential firearms and export violations." Meanwhile, the only US governmental entity to hold Blackwater accountable is the IRS. To avoid paying taxes, FICA, et al, Blackwater was categorizing its employees as contract labor. The IRS overruled that. Yesterday, US Senator John Kerry notified Steven C. Preston, head of the U.S. Small Business Adminstration by letter that he needs answers regarding a Blackwater affilate, Presidential Airways, Inc, and requesting "A thorough analysis of the size determination made regarding Blackwater; The information that was relied on in making the size determination; The number of employees and independent contractors Blackwater and each of its affiliates or related companies listed in Size Determination Memorandum File Number 3-2007-3-4-5 were ddetermined to have through the SBA's analysis; The number (and location) of site visits that were done to confirm any information Blackwater or its affiliates provided; How the SBA used the Twenty Factor Common Law Test in making the size determination; Any additional materials related to other size determinations involving Blackwater USA or any of its affiliates." And on oversight . . . Jeremy Scahill addressed Blackwater on PBS' Bill Moyers Journal October 19th. He also answered questions the following week. One viewer asked about North Carolina's oversight responsibilities. Scahill replied, "I think this would be an important development. One of the interesting -- some might say distrubing -- aspects of Blackwater's presence in the US national security apparatus is its facilites. The main Blackwater headquarters in Moyock, North Carolina is a sprawling 7,000 acre private military base -- the largest of its kind in the world. The company has also been building a parallel network to the structure of the offical government apparatus. The Prince empire now includes an aviation division, a maritime division, an intelligence company and Blackwater manufactures both surveillance blimps and armored vehicles. It recently opened a new Blackwater facility in Illinois called 'Blackwater North' and is fighting back fierce local opposition to a planned 800+ acre facility in Poterero, California, just miles from the US-Mexico border. The Congressman who represents that district, Democrat Bob Filner, recently inroduced legislation seeking to block the creation of what he terms 'mercenary training centers' anywhere in the U.S. outside of military bases. While that is obviously at the federal level, it would be interesting to get basic questions answered about the legal framework for such facilities in the states in which they operate."

Turning to the continued tensions and conflict between Turkey and northern Iraq. Today Warren P. Strobel (McClatchy Newspapers) quotes Air Force Gen. retired Joseph Ralston (whom Bully Boy appointed as his envoy to address the PKK) declaring, "The U.S. government should make good on the commitments they have made to the Turks." US Secretary State and Anger Condi Rice went to Turkey for a diplomatic meeting today. CBS and AP report that Rice declared, following the meeting, the US government's "committed to redoubling its efforts" in assisting Turkey in combating the PKK -- a group the US has labeled a "terrorist" organization. Rice's words ring as hollow as Hoshyar Zebari's, noted by Glen Carey (Bloomberg News), Iraq's Foreign Minister and Kurd -- that, yet again, Iraq's central government is serious about doing something. Rice says more talks will come tomorrow in Istanbul and Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan , meets with Bully Boy in DC on Monday. Translation, nothing has been accomplished.

From do-nothing to actual action, Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!) explored the latest with CODEPINK today:

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to the bigger issue of CODEPINK. Actually, yesterday President Bush invoked CODEPINK's name. Let's hear what he had to say.
    PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Congress needs to put the needs of those who put on the uniform ahead of their desire to spend more money. When it comes to funding our troops, some in Washington should spend more time responding to the warnings of terrorists like Osama bin Laden and the requests of our commanders on the ground, and less time responding to the demands of bloggers and CODEPINK protesters.
AMY GOODMAN: That's President Bush speaking yesterday. Medea Benjamin, your response?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, we think it's great that Bush mentioned us. We only wish he would have listened to us back in 2002, when we formed CODEPINK and said that invading Iraq would be a disaster. And, of course, we wish that he and Congress would listen to us now, when we say bring the troops home and don't invade Iran.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the strategy that you've employed and what it means to be banned from the Capitol. In fact, it wasn't just Desiree who was banned when she approached Condoleezza Rice; you, too, were banned that day, weren't you?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Yes. There were five of us that were pulled out of the hearing room. I was pulled out for going like this.
AMY GOODMAN: Meaning holding up a peace sign.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Holding up my hands in a peace sign, that's right. And I face a jury trial for that unlawful conduct. And they are cracking down harder on us. We have about a dozen CODEPINK men and women right now who are banned from the Capitol, which is something we would like to get some lawyers to contest the legality of that. In the meantime, we really need more people to come forward and join us in the CODEPINK house in D.C., because we're absolutely determined that we have people in every one of these hearings where they're talking about the war. And right now, there's going to be another big moment when Bush is asking for more money for the war, and Congress is going to have to decide whether they're going to give it to him. We need to be there in their faces every single day. So our appeal to all the listeners of Democracy Now! is: come to D.C. Stay at the CODEPINK house. It's a fabulous experience. But we need you to be there when we can't.

As Ruth notes, PBS' Bill Moyers Journal, tonight in most markets Moyers examines how FCC chair Kevin Martin's push to deregulate the communications industry will threaten minority ownership and that Moyers will also provide a commentary regarding press coverage of peace rallies. PBS' NOW with David Brancaccio (also Friday night in most markets, check local listings) looks at farming and asks, "Can local farmers change course and crops and still survive in a shifting economy?" Brancaccio interviews Bill McKibben and Steven L. Hopp is also interviewed on the program while online Hopp and Barbara Kingsolver offer an excerpt of their new book. And Sunday, CBS' 60 Minutes airs Bob Simon's report on 'Curveball' -- the Iraqi exile who invented stories the administration swallowed (despite warnings) because it fit with the other lies they were using to launch an illegal war.

Kat: Book corrected per C.I. and "you'd" fixed to "you."