Wednesday, June 18, 2008. Chaos and violence continue, the refugee crisis continues, Nader confronts myths, and more.
Starting with war resistance. Courage to Resist reports the latest on James Burmeister:
James Burmeister was serving in Baghdad, Iraq when his humvee was caught in an IED explosion and he was hit in the face with shrapnel. Suffering from the physical wounds, as well as emotional ones resulting from his injury and working with the military "bait and kill" teams, James went to Canada and was AWOL until earlier this year when he decided to turn himself in.
At this point, his fate is undecided. Because of his PTSD, James and his family are requesting that the Army gives him an "Other Than Honorable Discharge" in leiu of a special court martial which could send James to a military prison for up to a year. You can help!
1. Please contact the Post Commander General Campbell to request a speedy discharge for James. Contact the Fort Knox Public Affairs Office at 502-624-7451 or firstname.lastname@example.org and demand better treatment for our soldiers. Ask that they discharge PFC James Burmeister now so that he can get the help that he needs.
2. Attend a Press Conference at Fort Knox, KY on Thursday, June 19, at 11am.
3. Write James and give him words of support and encouragement.
Meanwhile on Firday, war resisters in Canada will share their stories. Stathroy Age Dispatch reports that war resisters Josh Randall, Tim Richard and Rich Droste will share their experiences and answer questions and Michele Mason's Breaking Ranks documentary will be shown. The event will take place at the Quaker Meeting House, 359 Quaker Lane Coldstream in Ontario. What time? No time's given in the report at the Quaker Meeting House. You can use both links to continue checking for when a time is posted.
What is known is that Canada's House of Commons passed a motion to grant war resisters safe harbor and you can keep pressure on the Harper government right now. Gerry Condon, War Resisters Support Campaign and Courage to Resist all encourage contacting the Diane Finley (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration -- 613.996.4974, phone; 613.996.9749, fax; e-mail email@example.com -- that's "finley.d" at "parl.gc.ca") and Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, 613.992.4211, phone; 613.941.6900, fax; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org -- that's "pm" at "pm.gc.ca").
Matthis Chiroux announced May 15th that he would not deploy to Iraq. The day he was due to report was June 15th and he did not deploy and explained why in a public statement. Leo Shane III (Stars & Stripes) quotes him explaining, "I don't feel like I'm doing illegal at all. We basically have no cause for military presence in Iraq. I'm making this decision because I believe my first loyalty is to the higher ideals of this country, which are being blatantly violated by our leaders. . . . It's not about what job I'd do. Any order to deploy there is unlawful."
Courage to Resist interviewed Matthis ahead of June 15th and in one section he explains how he came to learn about his rights and how he enjoys getting that information out to others:
I went to a peace event in Brooklyn where I met up with a number of Iraq Veterans Against the War and this is an organization that that I completely agree with all their basic points of unity. I basically felt like 'wow this is maybe the most intelligent and well spoken and in touch group of soldiers that I have ever seen in my life and they are all speaking out freedom and justice and peace in the wake of having their rights so violated and having violated the rights of others so badly." And one soldier in particular really, really did it for me. And her name is Selena Coppa and she's actually an active duty soldier who is stationed in Germany and she was on leave speaking out against the war in Iraq. And she started off with a disclaimer where she said you know 'the opinions expressed here are my own and not of the US military' and went on to talk about her feelings about the Iraq War and I looked at that and said, 'Oh my goodness. Here is an active duty soldier with the courage to speak up and speak out and, then you know return from leave to uniform and face her command afterwards.' And I looked at that and I said if she can do it then there's absolutely no reason I can't do it. And furthermore, I've been wasting my time with silence these last five years because somehow I've been convinced that I didn't have a right to participate in speaking for peace and justice at all because I had signed away those rights when I listed. And so many people believe this is true. And I have such a good time actually informing soldiers of what their actual rights are and then pointing them out in the regulations because a lot of it is jaw dropping when they realize 'Oh, you mean even as an active duty soldier you mean I can participate in peace protests as long as they're non-partisan and I'm not in uniform and I'm not speaking for the army? I had no idea that was possible.' And so I started there and I started going to IVAW meetings and I started planning an IVAW beneift at my college which finally came to fruition May 13th and I started speaking on the radio about my feelings concerning the Iraq occupation and why it broke my heart that I would have to deploy there June 13th.
There is a growing movement of resistance within the US military which includes Megan Bean, Chris Bean, Matthis Chiroux, Richard Droste, Michael Barnes, Matt Mishler, Josh Randall, Robby Keller, Justiniano Rodrigues, Chuck Wiley, James Stepp, Rodney Watson, 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, Jose Vasquez, Eli Israel, Joshua Key, Ehren Watada, Terri Johnson, Clara 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, Logan Laituri, Jason Marek, 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. In addition, VETWOW is an organization that assists those suffering from MST (Military Sexual Trauma).
Yesterday's snapshot noted the Baghdad bombing. NPR's Corey Flintoff (All Things Considered) reported, "Judging by the length of time it took for police and rescue teams to sort through the remains to arrive at a casualty count it was also extraordinarily destructive." Ned Parker and Usama Redha (Los Angeles Times) highlight "A 14-year-old girl, dressed in a black headdress and robe, towed a boy by hand and searched for her father. 'Where are they going to take the injured?' the weeping girl asked other distraught pedestrians." Hannah Allem (McClatchy Newspapers) quotess eye witness Muhannad Mahmoud: "People were screaming. A taxi driver pulled over and got out, with his face covered with black smoke. He asked me to check whether he was injured or not. One of the people told me he was hit by something really hard. He looked to see what had hit him and it was a man's arm." Richard A. Oppel Jr., Mudhafer al-Husainia and Ali Hameed (New York Times) quote survivor Ali Mustafa, "My shop collapsed on my head. There was a huge hole and a lake of blood [in the street] and burnt flesh of men and women and kids." Ali Mustafa also maintains the US military was present and caught off guard by the bombing: "They went crazy, but they tried to help people."
In some of today's reported violence . . .
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing left four people injured, a Mosul car bombing injured 14 people and a car bomb in a suburb of Mosul resulted in four people being wounded, a Kirkuk roadside bombing left three police officers wounded and another resulted in the death of 1 police officer and another being wounded.
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 2 corpses discovered in Baghdad.
Monday Amnesy International issued reports on the Iraqi refugee crisis (text, photos, videos) and noted: "Iraq remains one of the most dangerous places in the world. Its refugee crisis is worsening. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), since the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, an estimated 4.7 million have been displaced both within and outside Iraq and for many the situation is desperate."
The first report is entitled Iraq: Rhetoric and Reality: The Iraqi Refugee Crisis (here for HTML and here for PDF). It notes how very "little or nothing" governments around the world have done to assist the refugee crisis (externally and internally displaced) that has reulted in at least 4.7 million people displaced. Those attempting to leave the country encounter numerous blockades and those who leave their homes and have not been able to leave the country are estimated to be 2.77 million. The blockades and obstacles in other countries mean many Iraqi refugees have to consider returning to Iraq which is still not a safe place but food and financial assistance is in short supply in the limited number of host countries an Iraqi refugee can enter. Amnesty observes:
Resettlement is a small but essential part of the response needed. Despite repeated calls for this option to be taken seriously, most states have ignored the calls and some of the most able to help have agreed only to minimal quotas. The UK, for example, a key player in the invasion that sparked the current refugee crisis, has an overall resettlement quota of 750, which includes places for Iraqis. The authorities in Chile and Brazil, however, have made positive moves in their approach to resettlement that deserve to be commended.
Iraqi widow Zahra and her family moved to Syria and she told Amnesty, "I will never return to Iraq where they killed my husband and took our house away." Amnesty notes that for all the talk of a decline in violence, the first portion of 2008 has already seen an increase from the Operation Happy Talk Wave of "violence is down!" only mere months ago. Along with violence, there is a lack of potable water in Iraq and there is lack of food (and remember that the rations program is being chipped away bit by bit by the puppet government to please the White House). Of countries taking in Iraqi refugees, Syria has "the largest Iraqi refugee population" with an estimated 1.5 million. Due to the large flow into Syria and due to al-Maliki insisting that Syria alter their visa program (remember The Myth of the Great Return?), many who previously could have gained asylum and entry to Syria are now rejected.
Today, some categories of people can obtain a visa. These include academics and their immediate families; Iraqi students enrolled in Syrian universities and other higher education institutions; children attending schools; truck and passenger drivers operating on the Baghdad-Damascus route; Iraqis who need medical treatment in Syrian hospitals, provided they have relevant official documentation; members of cultural and sporting delegations visiting or passing through Syria; and traders and business people with commercial interests needing to travel to Syria.
Families with children attending schools in Syria or with family members in need of medical treatment can apply for temporary residence permits, which must be renewed monthly and only for up to a year. Such permits allow Iraqis to obtain permission from the Syrian authorities to travel to Iraq with an option of returning to Syria within three months. With the school year nearing an end, concern is growing in the refugee community about the future of visas obtained this way.
After Syria, Jordan hosts the largest number of Iraqi refugees (450,000 to 500,000). The report notes Jordan's new restrictions. (These are also restrictions imposed by al-Maliki at the White House's insistence. All parentheticals are me and not the report.) Now for an Iraqi to be allowed to enter Jordan, they need to apply for a vise before leaving Iraq. (That would be done at Jordan's embassy. And that's outside the Green Zone in a very violent section of Baghdad.) The report notes that one plus to life in Jordan is universal education for all children. However, Iraqis in Jordan are like other refugees in that the economic opportunties are highly limited and they must live off savings.
Lebanon has the third largest number of Iraqi refugees (50,000) where they "suffered from a lack of legal status, detention and deportation, particularly in 2007. Until February 2008, Iraqi refugees in Lebanon were not given a secure legal status nor recognized as refugees by the state." Egypt has 10,000 -150,000 Iraqi refugees. Those living there do so without employment because they are not able to legally be employed, their children are not allowed to attend schools, they have no "official status" and cannot receive any social services. From the report, debunking The Great Return, we'll note:
The international community has failed to respond adequately to the Iraqi refugee crisis. Rather, governments have tended to ignore the crisis or distort reality for political reasons – for example, to try and back up claims of military "successes" or to distance themselves from the issue.
In this respect, examples of Iraqi refugees returning home have received substantial media coverage, particularly since October 2007, while little attention has been given to the limited choices available to the refugees or the dangers they might face back in Iraq.
The Iraqi authorities too have an interest in promoting an overly positive and optimistic picture of Iraq's security situation and expectations. The Syrian government's introduction of strict visa regulations in October 2007 followed a visit to Damascus by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who requested closure of the border. The request appeared to be aimed at limiting the negative press coverage spurred by the continuing mass exodus from Iraq – the most visible indicator of the continuing high level of danger and insecurity in Iraq.
Following this, the focus shifted to highlighting what were portrayed as widespread "voluntary" returns of refugees to Iraq as a sign of improved security. Amnesty International was informed by the Iraqi Embassy in Damascus that three private coaches were being used to take hundreds of people back to Iraq. The Iraqi government has strongly encouraged "voluntary" returns, particularly since the end of 2007. Such encouragement has taken the form of advertisements on state-owned television channels, asking people to tell friends and relatives to return because of the perceived decrease in violence, and an organized return convoy. There have also been official statements at the highest level, including Prime Minister al-Maliki's April 2008 speech to the European Parliament in Brussels, which called for Iraqis to return home. Figures given by the Iraqi authorities of the numbers returning continue to be much higher than those provided by other sources, including UNHCR and the Iraqi Red Crescent.
We'll return to the reports throughout this week and next.
Turning to the US presidential race, Ralph Nader notes:
Here is a counter-intuitive story for you. Why don't organized corporate interests challenge damage or risks to their clear economic interests?
Think about oil prices for big consumers, not just your pocketbook. Airlines are groaning, limiting flights, and laying off employees because of the skyrocketing price for aviation fuel. Executives in that industry say that fuel costs are close to 40 percent of the cost of flying you to your destination.
The powerful chemical industry is under pressure from the prices they're paying for petroleum-probably their main raw material.
The powerful trucking industry is beside itself with diesel fuel going to $5 per gallon.
You can add your own examples-cab companies, tourist industry, auto companies, etc.
Why aren't these very influential lobbies throwing their weight around Washington to get something done about the speculators on Wall Street determining what is paid for gasoline and related petroleum products? It is in their own economic interests.
Nader is running for president as an independent. Matt Gonzalez is his running mate. Today Amy Goodman interviewed him for approximately a half-hour on Democracy Now!. Earlier this week she asked someone who had not served in Iraq to tell her about his service in Iraq. This morning Goody got off another groaner:
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, you said in 2000 it doesn't really matter whether Gore or Bush is president. Do you feel that way today?
RALPH NADER: I didn't say that. I said the similarities between Bush and Gore tower over the dwindling real differences that they're willing to argue over. And, of course, my focus is not on some of the single issues. Obviously, Gore is better on Social Security, better on Medicare, better on gay, lesbian rights. Obviously in those areas, the Democrats have a much clearer position, better position, than the corporate Republicans. But in the gross area of corporate power and domination of every agency and department in our government, from the Department of Defense and Department of Labor, the Democrats are moving in the direction of the Republicans. It's quite clear in terms of their voting record. There are exceptions, like Henry Waxman and Ted Kennedy, Ed Markey. But for the most part, these parties have moved very heavily into the grip, the iron grip of corporate power, corporate money, corporate ultimatums on globalization, for example, and above all, the distortion of the federal budget in the direction of corporate contracts, subsidies, handouts, giveaways, and the swelling of this enormous, corrupt, wasteful military budget that's draining money.
We're going to repeat this reality: Candidates get the votes they win. The ones they lose go to another candidate. Goodman repeatedly used the angle that Nader's taking votes from Barack Obama. Well, if Barack would drop out of the race right now, think of all the votes Ralph could get! It's nonsense. Candidates earn your vote or they don't. They are responsible (and the media). Ava and I will address the interview Sunday at Third. Here is Nader responding to the issue of Iraq:
Six-month corporate and military withdrawal from Iraq, during which we negotiate with the Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis for modest autonomy, which they worked out in the 1950s before the dictators took over. Under a unified Iraq, continue humanitarian aid, some peacekeepers from nearby Islamic countries, and UN-sponsored elections. That's the way you knock the bottom out of the insurgency. That's the way you get the authority figures, the tribal leaders and the religious leaders and others, who still have authority over millions of Iraqis, to get together, because the alternative is constant bloodshed and civil strife. So you give them a stake by using the only chip we have, which is to give back Iraq to the Iraqis, including their oil. Now that--otherwise, it's constant, constant strife.
You saw that huge explosion in Iraq, in Baghdad, yesterday. The Pentagon doesn't count Iraqi civilian tolls. They don't even count officially US injuries unless they occur right in the middle of combat. So US injuries are triple what their official figure is. And all the press, including the liberal press and the indie press, still uses that figure of some 32,000 injured soldiers, when it's triple that. I don't understand why they follow that kind of Pentagon line. So that's the way to deal with it.