Wednesday, April 8, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, Falluja goes under crackdown, Barack returns to the US, the attacks on Iraq's LGBT community gets some serious attention, and more.
The devil went down to Georgia, or you might have thought something similar must have happened as all three commercial broadcast networks suddenly rediscovered Iraq last night. Not much of value despite the Big Three basically over approximately sixteen minutes when you combine all their reports. CBS Evening News with Katie Couric (here for video of the episode) offered a report by Bill Plante which folded in Chip Reid's audio report (noted in yesterday's snapshot) which was the breaking news on the trip. Reid's biggest contribution (post flooded zone with everyone covering the topic) is probably his noting the number of US troops Barack spoke to (five hundred to seven hundred) -- a basic fact and one that the White House didn't try to keep secret but, amazingly?, some print outlets attempted to triple the number. NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams (here for video page) offered a report from Richard Engel which folded in NBC's Chuck Todd and also offered an exchange between Engel and anchor Brian Williams. Value in the report? Only this from Engel: "Tonight Air Force One took off with its lights turned off apparently out of security concerns as President Obama began the twelve hour trips back to Washington." ABC World News Tonight with Charlie Gibson offered a report from Jake Tapper. There were a few bits of value in Tapper's report. Sadly this is one: "The visit was kept secret for security reasons." Sadly? Despite the fact that the visit was kept secret some outlets (New York Times) had to pretend that wasn't the case. Pretend? Let's call it what it was: LYING. Helene Cooper can take the fall for that. Tapper, Sulen Miller and Karen Travers wrote up the vists and link includes video. No network posted a transcript of their report and their online streaming does not offer closed captioning. Those needing transcripts can click here (consider those rush transcripts). PBS' The NewsHour covered the stop-over and, as usual, they have the option of transcript, audio or video. Accessible to all, as PBS programs should be -- should all be. But apparently commercial networks feel no such obligation?
They felt no obliation for real much -- including no obligation for reality. Barack landed at the airport surrounded by Camp Victory, quickly hightailed it in an armed motorcade to a palace on Camp Victory and received people there. He could not venture out. The excuse the White House tried to float was "dust". Golly, dust didn't prevent Nouri or Iraqi President Jalal Talabani from meeting with him on the safety of the US military base. And who knew "dust" grounded flights in Iraq? For those who can remember, March 2003 did see a dust storm that grounded some helicopter flights. The dust storm knocked over a fuel tanker. So it was, in fact, more than dust. It was a sandstorm. There was no sandstorm in Iraq yesterday. As every reporter on that trip (and I've spoken to three) damn well knows, there was no "dust" excuse, let alone a sandstorm. You can read Andrew C. Revkin (New York Times) reporting in 2003 on that impending sandstorm because that was actual news. Did you see any reports Monday predicting a sandstorm? No. Did you read any reports of a sandstorm yesterday or today? No. You were played for a fool if you bought into the lie. Barack couldn't travel to Baghdad. He could only land in and stay on the US military base. And they want to pretend that things are safe in Iraq? And they want to pretend that Barack represents change? The US media continues to LIE and play like this is normal. It's not normal. It was never normal. Foreign leaders go to Iraq all the time. They actually visit Iraq.
Those who pay attention will remember this issue coming up in April of last year. April 8, 2008, Ryan Crocker, US Ambassador to Iraq, and General David Petraeus were doing their days of testimony and that afternoon popped in on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Barbara Boxer had some questions and observations:
She then focused on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad noting, "The Bush administration told the American people more than five years ago that we would be greeted as liberators in Iraq and supporters of the war said that they would be dancing in the street with American flags." That didn't happen and not only did that not happen but when Ahmadinejad goes to Iraq, he's greeted warmly while Bully Boy has to sneak "in, in the dead of the night." She wondered, "Do you agree that after all we have done, after all the sacrifices, and God bless all of our troops . . ., that Iran is stronger and more influential than ever before?"
Crocker wanted to debate that reality. He stated it was just militias. Boxer pulled out reports that demonstrated it wasn't, where Ahmadinejad was greeted warmly even by children who gave him flowers, kissed him on both cheeks. "I'm saying that after all we have done," Boxer declared, "the Iraqi government kissing the Iranian leader and our president has to sneak into the country -- I don't understand it." Crocker still wanted to argue leading Boxer to respond, "I give up. It is what it is. They kissed him on the cheek. . . . He had a red carpet treatment and we are losing our sons and daughters every day for the Iraqi people to be free. . . . It is disturbing."
Last year, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could walk (with his guards) throughout Baghdad and be greeted warmly. Barack can't even be Humvee-ed into Baghdad. And Ahmadinejad didn't keep his visit a secret. It was known well ahead of time.
Like a coward, the US president had to slink into Iraq and had to remain hidden away on the US military base. That's disgusting. All the more so when you grasp how other leaders move freely. And Tony Blair did. Bush's poodle moved freely. Yesterday, Adam Kokesh spoke with Dennis Bernstein on KPFA's Flashpoints.
Dennis Bernstein: Well President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to Iraq today talking about withdrawals but his policy appears to be widening the war, privatizing it and expanding in Afghanistan. We want to continue to get the views of those who strongly oppose this war, those who opposed it first inside and now outside. Adam Kokesh is joining us. He is an Iraq veteran and a member of the board of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Kokesh said, "Today Obama's plan is to continue the indefinite presence of 50,000 troops in Iraq, have an increased reliance on private contractors." Adam Kokesh, welcome back to Flashpoints. It's good to have you back. You did serve in Iraq. Your initial response to Obama's visit and what he's saying?
Adam Kokesh: Well I appreciate what you said about -- by way of people that truly oppose the war as opposed to Kool-Aid drinkers who drank the Obama Kool-Aid and are still on their various stages of hangover at this point, realizing that he really didn't mean to change anything. But there are still those of us out here who truly believe in non-interventionism, who truly believe in respecting the people of the rest of the world and that our foreign policy should only represent the truly benevolent will of the American people and not the interest of the American empire or the military-industrial-complex. The thing about this trip though that Obama just made to Iraq is what's so interesting is how much it stands in stark contrast to his trip of last July when he was still at least broadly seen as an anti-war candidate. Now, I mean, I read the fine print from the beginning. And really didn't believe him when he said "I would like to end the war" because I read the fine print. And the fine print said twelve months, forty to sixty-thousand troops and, you know, an increased reliance on private contractors. So I knew he wasn't about ending the war from the beginning but at least when he was able to fool enough people into believing that that's what he wanted to do, when he went to Iraq as a senator, and as an anti-war candidate, he didn't need anymore security than the troops on the ground or the generals at least, generals on the ground, as they're called, who really run our foreign policy. But now, as president, when people know what he really stands for and what he's actually planning on doing there, he's got to go in in secret and with super intense security. Now I understand there's some increased security necessary when you're the president as opposed to a candidate but by stark contrast, Ahmadinejad walks around the streets of Iraq like it's cool because they respect him there. They're not going to respect the next imperialist American president no matter what his skin color is.
Dennis Bernstein: Well let's talk just a little bit more about what he's saying here. He's really talking about private contractors. He's talking about the continuing expanding privatization of US foreign policy. How does that play into this for you?
Adam: Well it's really scary. I mean the idea of what is government and what is it that we give the government the power to do and that is, you know government is an idea, it is a group of people that have a socially granted monopoly on the use of force. What we are doing now is allowing the government to use force to tax and exploit the American people and then give that money specifically to other people to do violence on other people. And that's a whole other separate move from the what is socially acceptable to what is the appropriate role of government. And this is, of course, nothing new. But a lot of this centers around Blackwater and of course Blackwater 'ah they changed their name so they're not a threat anymore!' right? Well the contract that Blackwater had in Iraq went to other companies. Blackwater, by the way, was never the biggest one. One of the bigger ones was Triple Canopy and Triple Canopy just got some of the contracts that Blackwater had. So what Blackwater had to do because they damaged their brand so much, they lost a lot of contracts, they had to lay a lot of people off -- but when those contracts go to another corporation that's doing the exact same thing, they're hiring the exact same people that Blackwater laid off with the exact same mentality of "We're the American Big Guns, no laws apply to us here, we can run roughshod over this country and do whatever we want." And the fundamental responsibility for that is still with us the American people and we are falling down on the job. We fell down on the job when we elected Barack Obama president and we continue to do so by failing to hold him accountable and bring about the appropriate pressure to really change our foreign policy.
Dennis Bernstein: We're speaking with Adam Kokesh. He is an Iraq War veteran. He is on the board of Iraq Veterans Against the War. He has been among the most outspoken veterans standing against this war. Now, and I don't want to play around with hyperbole, but let me ask you the question this way, Adam: When does this illegal war -- obviously we all remember we were lied into a war, nothing was ever founded in terms of the claims, so in terms of this illegal war and occupation, when does it become a crime also of the Obama administration?
Adam Kokesh: Oh, I would say it became a crime the day that he took office and didn't demand that it stop. If you want to say -- and that's not hyperbole. You know, I said that Obama is as much a War Criminal as Bush ever was. Now if you want to debate the scale of those war crimes for initiating a war versus perpetuating it, okay, I can give you a little slack there. Bush was a bigger War Criminal than Obama perhaps but they are still squarely in the same category. They're both War Criminals. And what Obama is doing in terms of allowing the occupation to continue, you know, you might say is not criminal if it doesn't involve a deliberate act but I think being president you take on a greater responsibility in that role. More specifically though, as putting Obama squarely in that category his plan, or his current escalation, in Afghanistan and the attacks he's order by unmanned drones into Pakistan. You know the specific violation of the sovereignty of Pakistan. That in and of itself constitutes a War Crime. By all the international law standards, that's a War Crime. Every attack into Pakistan is a violation of their sovereignty. Those are War Crimes. You know, let's not pull punches here just because he's an African-American or because he's a Democrat. People are dying. And in Pakistan, when they were protesting a few months ago, before Obama even was elected, when he was just vocally supporting the attacks that Bush had going into Pakistan, they were burning effigies of Obama right next to the American flag and the people that are suffering at the hands of our imperialist foreign policy, they don't care about the skin color of our president. And in terms of Iraq, the criminality there is that it's not about how many troops are there or what you call them because we know the idea of re-designating troops "non combat" isn't going to change anything about how the Iraqis resent our presence or the fundamental fact that this an occupation. And there were a number of presidential candidates that pointed out, that pointed this out. And I'm going to single out John Edwards here who I've met and talked about this and thanked him for taking a stand because one thing that he said very specifically was that he would immediately end all combat operations. That is really the crux of what is this occupation. It is the forceful interference with the sovereignty of the Iraqi people. And that is something that Obama could change at the snap of his fingers, with an executive order. And that he has not done that, maybe it's less technically, is he being less of War Criminal by not ending it immediately? I don't know. The way that he is deliberately perpetuating it, the way that he is escalating Afghanistan and the violation of the sovereignty of Pakistan? Those are War Crimes. Those are very distinctly, technically War Crimes. And that is not hyperbole.
Dennis Bernstein: Alright, Adam. I want to ask you two more questions and they really focus in on your active resistance to the war and the different stands that you've taken. First of all, let me take you back to Iraq. When you talk about War Crimes, do they include that which you witnessed yourself?
Adam Kokesh: Yeah. Our presence there, when we are not welcome, is in and of itself a War Crime. So let's make that clear, first of all, our presence there by force, against the will of the Iraqi people although it might have been less harder when I was there in 2004 in Falluja to quantify what was the will of the Iraqi people but at this point it is -- there is no doubt to the fact that they would rather have us not in their country. During the siege of Falluja there were definitely the indiscriminate use of artillery and air fire power into the city of Falluja that was by its nature bound to lead to civilian casualties. And I believe that that constituted a War Crime as well.
Dennis Bernstein: Alright and finally, sort of looking back at your last day in Iraq and your life now that includes a whole bunch of resistance, arrests, being tracked by various levels of the National Security State, has anything changed at the core of you since then, since you left? And what is it that's driving you now?
Adam Kokesh: Well I've always been a libertarian and the core of that philosophy -- and at first, at least, before I went to Iraq -- and for the record I was against the war before the war as someone who believes in the foreign policy of non-interventionism. But before I went to Iraq, being a libertarian was more of an intellectual thing than an emotional thing or a spiritual thing. And having come back from Iraq and joined Iraq Veterans Against the War and gone through the ensuing process of personal exploration and discovery and all the ways that I've grown and been challenged by taking on these huge issues and doing my best to be an effective organizer, I've come to realize in a very visceral way that the issues that we debate are not just a matter of academics or debate or interpretation or anything like that -- they really are a matter of life and death. It really is a matter of what is morally right and wrong. And at the corp of my political philosophy is the principle of self-ownership. That you, as a human being, own yourself, and any violation of that by force is fundamentally immoral. And for me, it is based on a choice you know the difference between state-ism or liberty is a matter of choosing to really love humanity or not. And I fully make that choice to express as much as I can in my life a full, complete, courageous love for humanity. And out of that love is a natural faith that the better nature of humanity will triumph in the long run, that humanity progresses, that things will get better, that we are able as a species to live lives based on a greater love. And from that faith inherently leads me to a lifestyle of respecting the people I come into contact with, an innate respect for fellow human beings. And that respect that we all seek, that we all want and desire as basic human beings, to not have our lives forcefully interfered with by anybody, I think the way that we talk about liberty and freedom in society are mere measurements of that respect because obviously our government does not respect us. Our gov -- the people that make up our government think that they have some divine right to claim ownership over our bodies, you know, with the drug war, with our system of taxation, with our system of foreign policy, they demonstrate that they feel they have some claim to the lives of people in the rest of the world, that they have some divine right as the American government to do that. And so, that's what I want to do with my life and that's how I've changed, deciding that I want to apply my life to taking on the greatest injustices to those core values of faith and respect. And I see them all sourced out of Washington, DC. The United States Federal Government is the greatest source of injustice in the world today. And so, you know, that's how I've changed, that's how I've brought in and how I've really got in touch with the truly philosophical spiritual basis of my politics, if you will. And that's what motivates me, my love for humanity.
Dennis Bernstein: Alright well, Adam Kokesh, I hope that we can continue this dialog and maybe talk more maybe about a transformation that we see happen somewhere but I'm going to keep just some hope alive there but we thank you for laying it down and giving us a perspective that we really need to be thinking about as we face so much war, expanded military budgets, so on and so forth, we're going to leave it --
Adam Kokesh: Well I take it you're smart enough to not be hoping for any more 'change' from Obama or have any more hope in him but my hope, and I believe yours too, comes from the people first.
Dennis Bernstein: Adam Kokesh is an Iraq War veteran and a member of the board of Iraq Veterans Against the War and I think you can tell he's against these wars. Thanks for being with us.
Adam Kokesh: Hey, man, thank you.
The hour long, Monday through Friday program is archived at KPFA and at Flashpoints. Yesterday's NewsHour found Judy Woodruff interviewing US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and she asked him about Barack's trip, specifically, "What is his message to the Iraqis?" Despite being asked that, Gates instead went to the troops and then came to Iraqis. Apparently, they are bad children and certainly Barack's scolding of them yesterday, from one of their palaces which the US occupies, about their need to be responsible and take control, lecturing from one of Iraq's palaces which the US occupies, was all about saying Iraqis are the second-class citizens of the world. That was Barack's patronizing message. Gates told Woodruff, "I think his message to the Iraqis is, almost certainly, keep on doing what you're doing; keep on resolving problems politically; keep on working at reconciliation; get ready for your elections. We are going to keep our side of the bargain in terms of the agreement, in terms of draw-downs of troops and you have to step up to your responsibilities now, too." A question Gates should be asked, in light of the footage, is whether the for-show troops at Barack's political rally yesterday should have behaved the way they did. Their behavior was shameful, however, I will offer a semi-apology on calling that out. They were ordered, as various e-mails have explained (and I confirmed it with a friend at M-NF and two friends at the White House) to, quote, "whoop it up" for the cameras. The US military was ORDERED to behave in that embarrassing fashion. You've never seen anything like that before and you never should again. Gates might need to be questioned about that and certainly Barack should be questioned as to why his meeting with the troops required that they be instructed to "whoop it up" for the cameras? The troops came off embarrassing and, since they were ordered to behave that way, someone up the chain needs to take accountability.
Woodruff did note that violence was on the rise in Iraq and asked what this meant regarding Barack's "pledge to get most of the troops out -- 19 months, most of them will be out by next year. But if this violence were to step up considerably, is there a contingency plan?" Gates replied, "I think the president always has the authority to, as commander-in-chief, to change his plans." As always with the US officials, he went on to blame al Qaeda in Mesopotamia for any violence. He did not however use that term. He just tossed out al Qaeda. He did not notice this was a homegrown group and that it did not exist until after the start of the Iraq War.
While Gates blamed al Qaeda, Rod Nordland (New York Times) reports in this morning's paper on an audio message released by Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, former deupty chair of Saddam Hussein's Revolutionary Command Council: "Mr. Douri called Mr. Maliki's government and Iraqi elections illegitimate because they were a result of the American military occupation. Americans were withdrawing, he said, because they failed in Iraq but hoped to leave a puppet government in place." Nordland reports that the statemetn (released on Tuesday) made no mention of Monday's Baghdad bombings or yesterday's. Meaning if any "Baathist elements" led by al-Douri was responsible for the bombings, they most likely would have claimed creidt. Nordland reports, "Mr. Douri's statement rejected any possibility of negotiations unless the Iraqi government met a series of conditions, which included allowing armed Baathists to take over the government and disbanding all institutions created after the American invasion." No, it has nothing to do with religious factions. Yes, Barack did present the sects as the only thing blocking progress in Iraq in his speech yesterday.
The Secretary-General strongly condemns the string of bombings that struck a marketplace and other locations in Baghdad today, killing a large number of civilians and injuring many others. The Secretary-General extends his condolences to the families of the deceased.
The Secretary-General is confident that the people of Iraq will reject these reprehensible attempts to provoke sectarian violence in the country. He urges them to continue undeterred in their efforts to achieve lasting peace and national reconciliation. The United Nations remains committed to supporting the Iraqi people toward these ends.
While those statements are very common, the Secretary-General has been silent on the non-stop attacks on the LGBT community in Iraq. Also silent is the White House and the US State Dept and, apparently, the topic is so 'icky' to those reporters who attend press breifings, that no one ever bothers to ask about it under the current administration. Timothy Williams and Tareq Maher give serious attention to the issue as does their paper, the New York Times, which front paged the issue this morning. The reporters explore the ongoing attacks on Iraq's LGBT community and point out that the last two months have seen at least 25 allegedly gay males turn up dead in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad: "Most have been shot, some multiple times. Several have been found with the word 'pervert' in Arabic on notes attached to their bodies, the police said." They speak with 23-year-old Basima who explains he's lost three friends who were killed en route to a cafe. Iraqi police say the ones doing the killings are family members -- the same police who go on the record, by name, stating that gay males are "disgusting." Not much protection they're going to get from that police department. The police department is now in the midst of another crackdown on the LGBT community, which is also bragged about by them in the article. Prior to the start of the illegal war, Iraq had a thriving LGBT community. The reporters note Naomi Klein's BFF Ali al-Sistani issuing his fatawa on gay people ("The people should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing.") Naturally, Naomi never said a peep. Even though this fatawa was issued long after she'd begun praising al-Sistani in public. Some people believe 'democracy' starts and ends with them and screw everyone else. It's a major story and one that deserves serious attention. UPI offers a summary of Williams and Maher's report. David Warner (Creative Loafing) observes, "Openly gay Iraqis are being murdered with the tacit and sometimes overt approval of police and families."
Violence continues today. Laith Hammoudi and Corinne Reilly (McClatchy Newspapers) report the Kadhemiyah neighborhood of Baghdad was bombed again today (bombed yesterday as well) with 7 people dead and twenty-three injured and speculation flying as to who is responsible. Mohammed Madhi states it's Baathists while Mohammed Salman blames the government. Jomana Karadheh (CNN) adds today's bombing, like yesterday's, took place "near a Shiite holy shrine". Fadhel al-Badrani (Reuters) reports Falluja is under 'crackdown' as automobile and foot traffic is banned, schools and shops are ordered closed and the city is placed under curfew. By? Nouri and his goons. 35 people have been arrested: "Most of those arrested had recently been freed by the U.S. military from its detention centres or were suspected in the past of being al Qaeda sympathisers, said Lieutenant-Colonel Aziz Faisal of Falluja police." Hussien Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports an armed clash "took place between gunmen and an Armeican military unit in the New Mosul neighborhood" and that there have been no reports (thus far) of casualties.
Claudia Parsons (Reuters) has a review of the Iraq War and how it's currently seen. We'll note this section:
But Alissa Rubin, New York Times bureau chief in Baghdad, said Iraq was in a dynamic and critical phase leading up to the drawdown of U.S. troops. "It's only as they pull out you see just how bad the violence might be," she said. "If you're sitting in New York or Washington or small-town Kansas, you look at Iraq and think 'OK, well, that war is kind of over...,' and you move on," Rubin said. "That's clearly the way most Americans see it, it's not on the front burner. But the reality is different," she said. The New York Times keeps at least three international reporters and a photographer in Baghdad in addition to locally hired personnel. But most U.S. media outlets, facing pressure to cut costs, have trimmed overseas staff, relying on agencies such as Reuters and the Associated Press.
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