Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Inquiry or action: Will anything happen?

Our sons were all killed in the Iraq war. Together with many other bereaved families we have campaigned for nearly five years for a full independent inquiry into the reasons why we went into Iraq. We believe our country was taken to war on the basis of lies and that our sons gave their lives to support a corrupt relationship between our prime minister and George Bush. There needs to be a proper accounting for this to cleanse our political system. Today there is a parliamentary debate calling for a real inquiry into the war. We will be in the chamber of the Commons to watch our democracy in action and we will be going to Downing Street to urge Gordon Brown to do the right thing. It is time.
Rose Gentle
Mother of Fusilier Gordon Gentle
Reg Keys
Father of Lance Corporal Thomas Keys
Peter Brierley
Father of Lance Corporal Shaun Brierley
Military Families Against the War

The above is one of three letters the Guardian runs on the issue ("Why did our sons die? An inquiry into the Iraq war is essential") of a British inquiry into the Iraq War. Gordon Brown has long played kick the can stating that no inquiry could take place while British troops were on the ground in Iraq (because they'd be so outraged they'd walk off the battlefield?) and his whisperers have repeated that to the press in recent days. We'll note a paragraph of MP David Baker's letter (which will also include a link to the Guardian article the letters are commenting on):

It is welcome that Carne Ross reminds us (Report, March 20) that intelligence available to the government before the invasion of Iraq made it "very clear" that Saddam was not a threat, but it's hardly a revelation. The confidential Downing Street minute from 23 July 2002 records Jack Straw, then foreign secretary, telling the meeting of senior ministers and officials that the case for war against Iraq was "thin" and that "Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran". Straw went on: "We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force."

Brian Wheeler (BBC News) reported on Baker in May of 2006:

Lib Dem Norman Baker said the 2003 Hutton inquiry had "blatantly failed to get to the bottom of matters".
And he vowed to quiz ministers and unearth new facts to establish the "truth" of the case.
Dr Kelly was found dead after being named as the possible source of a BBC story on the government's Iraq dossier.
Mr Baker, who is known for his forensic use of parliamentary questions, said he had quit his front bench role partly to concentrate on investigating the scientist's death.
"It struck me as extremely odd at the time that Dr Kelly was thought to have committed suicide in the way he did, at the time he did," Mr Baker told the BBC News website.
"The more I look into it the less convinced I am by the explanation and the more unanswered questions appear which ought to have been addressed properly by the Hutton inquiry or by the coroner."

So that's the request/pressure for an inquiry. Let's turn to action. ("Will anything happen?" is a nod to the Blondie song which appears on the classic Parallel Lines album.) Yesterday afternoon Joe Garofoli posted "It's not Bush's war anymore, now it's Obama's" (San Francisco Chronicle):

Perhaps because of the horrible cop shooting last weekend in Oakland, there was relatively little mention of the weekend's antiwar demonstrations locally to mark the sixth year since the U.S. invasion of Iraq. What the cameras missed: A "first" for President Obama that he probably didn't want to celebrate --- the first street protest of him as president. And it came from The Left.
Comrade Heather Knight talked to someone who was part of the group that made the above creation:
"It's really important for people around the world to see Americans standing up against this war," said Noel Juan, 52, of the Mission District, as he stood near a 10-foot cardboard figure of Uncle Sam wearing President Obama's likeness.

Also posting yesterday afternoon on the protests was Regina Gail Purcell. From her "Remember? Americans fighting overseas" (Albuquerque Liberal Examiner):

Over the weekend, thousands of people protested from Coast to Coast marking the six-year anniversary of the Iraq War. More than 10,000 marched in Washington, D.C., and on "60 Minutes" television program U.S. president Barack Obama was interviewed, and he made a comment that a year ago, the Iraq War would have likely been the most important topic on his leader-of-the-free-nation plate. (Hello! Economy has taken the top spot, so far.)
While Obama said he plans to keep campaign promises and end the U.S. occupation in the (illegal) war, he obviously has bigger fish to fry.
Being a veteran of the U.S. Navy, I am admittedly a bit more proactive than most of my friends in speaking about the war. Most people have "bigger fish to fry," too, in their daily lives.
But the troops fighting for our country overseas are giving more than their fair share.

And Luke Savage explores "Iraq's Prolonged Occupation" (The Varsity):

First, Article 27 of the Status of Forces Agreement negotiated by the Bush Administration in 2008 gives the United States leave to "take appropriate measures, in the event of any external or internal threat or aggression against Iraq." The ambiguity of this rhetoric is worrisome. After all, Iraq’s Shiite majority is likely to form closer ties with Iran, a nation hostile to U.S. interests in the region. The government of Nouri Al-Maliki could easily be replaced by a less pro-Western administration that would formalize these ties. What constitutes "aggression" may thus be a point of contention, and the text of the SOF Agreement is distinctly vague about the nature of any American response. It might, for example, take the same form as the "appropriate measures" carried out in 2003 to protect the American people from the "imminent threat" of Iraq's non-existent stockpile of destructive weapons.
Second, there does not appear to be any plan to scrap the $700 million monstrosity jokingly called an "embassy." The 104-acre complex in downtown Baghdad is about the size of Vatican City and heavily fortified even by the standards of the so-called "Green Zone." Its construction is permanent, and the United States will maintain a staff of more than 1,000 in addition to marine and security contingents. The price of sustaining such a large facility will cost the U.S. taxpayer a projected $1.2 billion a year, with funds paying for staff and maintenance as well as a cinema, swimming pool, and recreational centre. Construction contracts for the facility were awarded to "First Kuwaiti Trading and Contracting," a company notable for its unethical labour practices. In July 2007, a congressional sub-committee heard testimony from a medical technician working on the embassy. He claimed that the company had illegally employed foreign workers who had their passports confiscated while believing they were bound for Dubai to work on hotels. He described the working conditions at the construction site as "absurd," noting that many of the workers were "without shoes, gloves, or safety harnesses." Thus, Baghdad’s costly fortress will remain indefinitely in a location central to Iraqi governance and infrastructure.
But perhaps the biggest hole in the Obama withdrawal plan is that it makes no mention of the more than 100,000 private security guards working under State Department contracts in Iraq, a number likely to increase if troop withdrawal occurs on schedule. These personnel are not the benevolent, smiling security guards one sees at a shopping mall, but a vast mercenary army consisting of multiple firms, and completely immune to Iraqi law according to a report by the Congressional Research Service of the U.S. Congress.

Finally, Amanda notes this from the Party for Socialism and Liberation:

Thousands March Nationwide: End the Wars!

Reports from the March on the Pentagon and simultaneous marches in San Francisco and Los Angeles

On March 21, the anti-war movement returned to the streets in a big way. After an initial rally at the State Department in Washington, D.C., thousands marched on the Pentagon, the crowd swelling as it crossed the Memorial Bridge into Virginia. What followed was a dramatic direct action at Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and KBR, corporations that demonstrators labeled "merchants of death." The predominantly young crowd continued to grow as the day proceeded. The march, stretched out as far as the eye could see, went through the Pentagon north Parking Lot and then into downtown Crystal City, where the leading war profiteers’ headquarters are located.

March 21 2009, Washington D.C., 03-21-09
Washington, D.C.

The march was led by a contingent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. James Circello, an Iraq war veteran and member of the Veterans and Service Members Task Force of the ANSWER Coalition, said, “We refuse to accept the new administration’s attempts to rewrite the history of the occupation of Iraq into that of a humanitarian mission.”

There was a significant delegation from members of the Arab and Muslim communities and many students participated. Jai Hurdle, a student at York College in New York City, came on a bus from the Bronx. Jai explained to Liberation why he decided to protest for the first time: "I am a poor student, and this governent is taking money from CUNY [City University of New York]. That is my education at risk. My grandmother was forced to retire early and she is the only worker in my household. At this very moment I have a dollar in my pocket, but I am here. ... Today is just one step."

The Arlington County Police mobilized in full riot gear in an attempt to block the demonstrators from delivering symbolic coffins--draped with the Iraqi, Palestinian and Afghani flags--at the doorsteps of the war corporations. The police brought tear gas, snarling dogs and guns loaded with rubber bullets pointed directly at demonstrators. A tense face-off ensued, but demonstrators held their ground and proceeded to deliver the coffins. It was fitting imagery with the coffins laying at the feet of the "robocops" dressed in full black, standing guard for their fellow merchants of death.

The Arlington County Police also put out an absurdly low count of the demonstration, which was more than 10,000 people.

"This is the launch of the anti-war movement in the post-Bush era. Bush is gone, but the occupation of Iraq continues, the war in Afghanistan is escalating and the people of Palestine are living under a state of siege," stated Brian Becker, national coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition.

San Francisco

The San Francisco protest drew 4,000 people in opposition to the continuing occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. A spirited march proceeded from the Embarcadero along Market Street to Civic Center. The crowd, with a large proportion of youth, stopped at banks in the Financial District where the marchers chanted "Stop the war against the poor," "Occupation is a crime: Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine!" and "Money for jobs and education, not for war and occupation!"

March 21, San Francisco, 03-21-09
San Francisco, Calif.

Among the speakers at the rally were San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar; Sharon Cornu, Alameda County Labor Council; Malik Rahim, New Orleans’ Common Grounds Collective; Jess Ghannam, National Council of Arab Americans; Tony Gonzalez, American Indian Movement; and Gloria La Riva, the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five.

During the rally at Civic Center, police provoked the demonstrators by wading into the peaceful crowd, pushing, shoving and then arresting and clubbing demonstrators--some as young as 11 and 13--who had been engaged in a militant verbal exchange with a few dozen Zionists from S.F. Voice for Israel, who had been holding a racist counter-protest against the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation. The police threatened the youth using anti-Arab racist slurs. During the encounter, ANSWER Coalition emcees and others called on the police to leave the plaza while the rally chanted "Hands off the people," and "SF cops out of Civic Center." Later in the day, six more arrests of Palestinian youth were made in a nearby transit station, bringing the total of the number of arrests to 10. More than half of those arrested face bails exceeding $50,000.

A significant contribution to the rally was made by three members of Iraq Veterans Against the War. The veterans, who are living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, spoke out powerfully against the U.S. occupation of Iraq. One of the young men also spoke about his experience of racism within the U.S. military.

Interviewed for this article, Preeti Shekar of Berkeley said she had come to the event to "protest the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to make the connections between those occupations and Palestine." She opposed President Obama's plan to expand the occupation of Afghanistan and called for the people to make him accountable for his actions.

Mona Farooq and her husband Sharar heard about the protest from their mosque in San Jose, Calif. "I don't think people should ever give up marching, there is value in every action collectively and power in numbers." She spoke of the difficulty of finding work in the recent economic crisis and struggling with the high cost of living in the Bay Area.

Greg Miller of Health Care for All said it was "important to keep going because the war continues." Others chimed in that the troops are still not home, and he pointed out single-payer health care for all would be the best stimulus for the population.

While the bus from South Bay ANSWER was boarding to return to San Jose, several youth engaged with the reporters. "Even though Bush is out, the war continues. They didn't bring troops back from Iraq, but sent more to Afghanistan." They complained that due to the economic crisis and skyrocketing military expenditures, they have suffered cutbacks in course offerings at school and a reduction in bus service for students.

Los Angeles

"The Obama administration has continued the Bush plan on Iraq. But I've got something to say to the President: he must end the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan immediately. And the government must begin taking care of veterans and all people right here in the United States. There are too many homeless; there are too many unemployed. Being in the streets today is the most important place to be."
Ron Kovic

March 21, Los Angeles, 03-21-09
Los Angeles, Calif.

Kovic, Vietnam veteran and author of "Born on the Fourth of July" delivered a rousing, yet solemn speech to 4,000 protesters in Los Angeles on the sixth anniversary of the war. Kovic spoke at the end of the day as veterans and students delivered 40 coffins draped with Iraqi, Afghani, Palestinian and U.S. flags to the doorstep of the Hollywood military recruitment center.

March 21 was a historic protest for Los Angeles because it was a militant, veteran- and youth-led action that culminated in a series of dramatic actions targeting the U.S. war machine. The surging energy of the crowd was palpable throughout the day.

A rally with community leaders, anti-war, union and student activists kicked off the action. "Today is a new beginning for the anti-war movement," said Michael Prysner, Iraq war veteran and member of the Veterans and Service Members Task Force of the ANSWER Coalition. We are initiating a new period of struggle against the racist policies of the U.S. war machine."

Shakeel Syed of the Islamic Shura Council denounced the U.S. government’s continued attacks on the Muslim community. He called for an end to U.S. wars, the occupation of Palestine, and for a revolution in the United States.

Other speakers included Hamid Khan, South Asian Network; Jollene Levid, GABRIELA Network; Christine Araquel, Alliance for Just and Lasting Peace in the Philippines; Blase Bonpane, Office of the Americas; David Clennon, Screen Actors Guild; Chloe Osmer, National Assembly to End the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; Muna Coobtee, ANSWER Coalition and Free Palestine Alliance; Mahmud Ahmad, Al-Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition; Ryan Endicott, IVAW; Tina Richards, Veterans for Peace; Marylou Cabral, Cal State Long Beach student and leader of Youth and Student ANSWER; Carlos Alvarez, Party for Socialism and Liberation; Jim Lafferty, National Lawyers Guild; and others. Rebels to the Grain performed political hip-hop. The rally was chaired by Tamara Khoury, a Palestinian student and ANSWER organizer at Cal State Fullerton, and Peta Lindsay of ANSWER.

After the rally, protesters marched behind a procession of coffins through Hollywood to the intersection of Hollywood and Highland, the busiest area in Los Angeles. The march stopped in front of the famous Kodak Theatre where organizers led a symbolic "die-in" to dramatize the effect of imperialist wars on innocent people. Thousands lay down in the middle of the street as the sound of bombs and air raid sirens blared over loudspeakers. Scores of bystanders watched the action with rapt attention on the sidewalks nearby.

The end of the protest was the successful delivery of mock coffins to the recruitment station, where veterans and organizers faced off with a line of police.

"I'm a student who can barely afford to stay in school, and I'm so mad about the war and tuition hikes. This was the most powerful action I have ever been a part of. It makes me want to do more--everything I can, to stop this system," said Yasmin Abdullah, a Lebanese American student at Los Angeles Valley College.

Another protester, Miguel Herrera, a retail worker from East Los Angeles, told Liberation that he did not think people would protest after Obama got elected, but "now that we are out here together in the thousands, I'm so glad to be here. It really shows me that people can make a difference by coming together in common struggle."

The people, united, can stop the wars!

Kerbie Joseph, Keith Pavlik, Michelle Schudel and Ian Thompson contributed to this report.

--Articles can be reprinted with credit to the Party for Socialism and Liberation--

The following community sites updated last night:

Wally and Cedric focused on Barry's Big Talk (see next entry this morning) and the others focused on poetry.

The e-mail address for this site is

thomas friedman is a great man

oh boy it never ends