Monday, April 20, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Monday, April 20, 2009.  Chaos and violence continue, Iraq's LGBT community remains under assault, finally the Parliament has a Speaker, Talabani has an announcement, Nouri has a Miracle Gro for police squads, and more.
US war resister Andre Shepherd is seeking asylum in Germany.  We last noted him in the February 6th snapshot (when  Andy Eckardt (NBC News) offered a strong report on Andre ).  Friday night, BBC World Service offered a report on him (link has text and audio):
Andre Shepherd: First of all the war on terror, I believe, was based on a fraud.  We aren't going after Osama bin Laden.  The evidence is leaning towards that we are only there to strategically position ourselves around the national resources that are there. The [German] asylum laws are set up that they should not deport a person that refuses to take part in an illegal conflict.  The UN Charter, Article 51, specifically states that armed conflict is necessary only as a means of last resort and if there is a real threat.  It's been proven that Saddam Hussein's regime was no threat to the United States -- that would mean that America is in violation of the UN Charter.
Damien McGuinness: You signed up as a soldier and signed to say that you would obey the orders given by your superior in military command.  Surely there's a responsibility there to carry out the duties which military command asks you to do.
Andre Shepherd: That is true but there's also a section in the same oath that says I have to defend the Constitution of the United States and when the United States willingly violates their own Constitution to pursue these wars, I am acting in accordance with the oath by refusing to take part in these wars because I refuse to watch the Constitution get destroyed just for the needs of a few people.  There was a conversation I had with an Iraqi that was completely irate as to what was going on in Iraq.  A lot of things that I wasn't even aware of, rendition program, the detentions of different places, Abu Ghraib, things like this. And I was completely dumbfounded as to what was going on out there because this was totally against everything that I believed in in the military.  So that's when I started doing research and that's how I got to this position today.
Damien McGuinness: Andre Shepherd has come here, to Freiburg, to take part in a podium discussion of Iraq veterans who have deserted the army because they oppose the war.  Now Germany has no troops stationed in Iraq and the majority of Germans are against the US-led invasion so he's found a lot of support here for his cause. Some worry that granting him asylum could create tensions between Germany and the US and encourage some of the other sixty-thousand [US] soldiers stationed here to desert and apply for refugee status.  According to Rudi Friedrich who runs a support group for deserters [Connection e.V] only a minority of soldiers generally opt to stay abroad.
Rudi Friedrich: In practice, most deserters decide to go back to the US and that's where their families are and they feel at home and they know the language.  But that means they either have to be punished or become conscientious objectors against war in general.   The decision to stay in another country and never return home is something which many refugees have to do it's not necessarily the case that all deserters would take this step.
Damien McGuinness: German immigration officials heard the case at the end of February and are currently examining Shepherd's eligibility for asylum.  He says the consequences of being sent back to the US would be severe.
Andre Shepherd: If I went back to America, I would definitely be court-martialed on the charges of desertion during a time of war. That is one of the most serious charges you can get in the military. Upon conviction, I would get a few months to several years in prison and I would get a dishonorable discharge.  On top of that, there's a debate  whether or not I would get a felony conviction which is the highest criminal category in the United States.  Having a tag like that would bar you from having a decent life -- you wouldn't be able to vote, you wouldn't be able to hold a high office, it's difficult to get credit, you can't do a lot of things, you would pretty much be harassed and you would have to live with the stigma of being an enemy of the state.  Especially in the age of Homeland Security, that's not something you'd really want.
Damien McGuinness:  A decision could come through any day now.  In the meantime, Shepherd is allowed to stay here in Germany but he admits the move wasn't an easy one.
Andre Shepherd:  Well desertion is not an easy thing because your home country will always think that you're a traitor.  It doesn't matter what the reason is, whether it's justified or not. Not saying everyone, because there's a lot of support in the United States for what I've done.  In terms of family life? My family is supporting me but they wish I'd took a different step because the potential of me not returning there cause a lot of emotional stress and I have to apologize to my parents for that.  As far as my colleagues?  That one is difficult because a lot of the people in the military understand the situation; however, they also deal with unit loyalty where you have to be there if not for yourself  but for the other guys in your unit.  So a lot of the guys feel let down and hurt by what I've done; however, if they understand why I did it, then I can accept that.  It's the same thing with me accepting them knowing what's going on but still going back to Iraq anyway. Because you don't know what they're facing -- if they have a family to take care of, if they desert, they just lost their meal ticket for their family.  That doesn't help them.  So there are a lot of complicated things that I deal with on a daily basis.
Staying with resistance,  Matthis Chiroux faces a military body tomorrow. 
This is  "Resistance to an Abhorrent Occupation: Press Release of Matthis Chiroux"  (World Can't Wait):

(ST. LOUIS, MO) The U.S. Army will hear the case of Sgt. Matthis Chiroux, an Individual Ready Reservist who last summer publicly refused activation and deployment orders to Iraq, on April 21 at 1 Reserve Way in Overland, St. Louis, MO, at 9 a.m.   
Chiroux, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, refused to participate in what he described as "an illegal and immoral occupation" May 15th, 2008, in Washington D.C., after nine other veterans testified to Members of the U.S. Congress about atrocities they experienced during deployments to Iraq. Chiroux also vowed to remain public in the U.S. to defend himself from any charges brought against him by the military. (see for a record of that speech and others by Chiroux)              
"My resistance as a noncommissioned officer to this abhorrent occupation is just as legitimate now as it was last year," said Chiroux, adding, "Soldiers have a duty to adhere to the international laws of war described as supreme in Art. 6 Para. 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which we swear to abide by before the orders of any superior, including our former or current president."              
Following Chiroux's refusal to deploy, the military did not contact him until after he and 10 other IVAW members marched on the final presidential debate Oct. 15, 2008, in Hempstead, N.Y. demanding to question then Senators Obama and McCain regarding their war policies and plans to care for returning veterans. After the veterans were brutalized and arrested by police, (one suffered a fractured skull and is currently suing the police for damages) the Army charged Chiroux with "misconduct" for refusing to deploy, announcing their intentions to discharge him from the reserves as a result.            
"I go now to St. Louis to honor my promises and convictions," said Chiroux. "Obama or No-Bama, the military must cease prosecuting Soldiers of conscience, and we will demonstrate to them why."              
Following the hearing, Chiroux and other IVAW members will testify about their military experiences which led them all to resist in different capacities the U.S.'s Overseas Contingency Operation (formerly the Global War on Terror).          
For more information, see and           
On Tuesday April 21st an Army administrative discharge board will hear the case of Sgt. Matthis Chiroux, an Individual Ready Reservist (IRR) who last summer publicly refused activation orders in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The board will convene at 9am at the Army Human Resources Command, 1 Reserve Way in Overland, Missouri, just outside of St. Louis. IVAW members and supporters will rally outside the hearing starting at 8:30am.           
Although Chiroux is voluntary attending this hearing, all other IRR members who have refused activation have not had any disciplinary actions taken against them by the military other then receiving a General or Other Than Honorable discharge from the IRR. This discharge has no effect on benefits like the GI Bill that IRR members earned through their service while on active duty. Service members who have questions about the IRR can click here or contact the GI Rights Hotline at 877-447-4487.
We noted that Friday and Matthis faces the board tomorrow in St. Louis.  A third resister was in the news over the weekend, Kristoffer Walker.  The 28-year-old Wisconsin native made the news in February when, while home on leave, he announced he would not return to Iraq to fight what he termed and illegal and immoral war (see the Feb. 23rd snapshot for more on that and the March 16th snapshot).  With no support and facing threats from the military face-to-face, in the mail, over the phone, in e-mails and in the media, Kristoffer agreed to return to Iraq.  He has refused to recant his judgment of the illegal war.  Friday WLUK (Fox 11 -- link has text and video) provided the latest news on Kristoffer Walker:
Moica Landeros: Well, Laura [Smith], a spokesperson with the U.S. Army tells me Kristoffer Walker has been demoted several ranks from Specialist to Private, but that's just part of his punishment. The Army also said Walker will be fined in the form of docked pay. For two months he will get half of his usual paycheck. In addition, he will also be fined for a -- confined to an Army base for 45 days. That means he can't leave the base and might even have additional duties during that time. Though Army officials do not know when that confinement will actually start. That's because right now, Walker is on medical leave from Iraq though officials won't give details on his medical condition. Once he is healthy, Army officials said he will begin the base confinement. Now we were unable to speak to Kristoffer Walker today though his mother tells us her son was aware of the severity of his absence and that he was ready for any consequences handed down.
Tony Walter (Green Bay Press Gazette) addeds that Sierra Walker states the doctors are pushing for Kristoffer to be released on a medical discharge and, of the medical condition, it was "bad enough that he was sent out of Iraq in the first place.  He was dealing with doctors who said he needed to be out."
Iraq's Parliament has been without a Speaker for months and, what do you know, they finally got around to electing one Sunday.  December 23rd, the Speaker was ousted. By Parliament. Mahmoud Mashadani had been the speaker. The Iraqi Parliament remains without a speaker all this time later. Alsumaria reported Saturday on the possibility that Sunday's Parliamentary session will resolve the issue. There were six candidates Mostapha Al Laithi, Taha Al Luhaibi and Mohammed Tamim (all with the National Dialogue Front) and Iyad Al Samirrai, Hajem Al Husni and Adnan Al Bajaji (Accordance Front). The Accordance Front favors Iyad Al Samirrai (back in March, they sued to ensure that he could be a candidate). Alsumaria explained the process for voting rounds: "During the first stage, candidates compete among each others. The candidate to win should rally 138 votes out of 275 lawmakers plus one. The statement added if these votes were not reached, a second round will be carried out with the participation of candidates who got most votes in the first round. Yet, if during the second stage, candidates fail to rally 138 votes, a third round is carried out during which the candidate who obtains the majority of votes wins." 138 votes were needed.  BBC reported the winner had 153 of the 232 votes cast -- 17 more than required.  The winner?  Who do you think?   Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) reported Sunday that the winner was Iyad Al Samirrai. Sly glossed over the ouster. Mashadani was ousted. Even the US State Dept admits that. See their report released last week [PDF format warning] "Iraq Status Report." It doesn't get much clearer than, "The COR has yet to reach a consensus on appointing a new Speaker since Mahmoud Mashadani was ousted on December 23, 2008." His political party had to sue to prove he was eligible to run. Why? Liz Sly mentions the rumors that the Parliament has been planning a no-confidence vote in al-Maliki for months. (Ahmed Chalabi has spoken publicly of that and noted that such a vote, if taken, would be procedural and Constitutional and not, as al-Maliki has insisted, a "coup.")  Timothy Williams (New York Times) also glosses over reality of the ouster -- surprising for the Times until you grasp they've long loathed Mashadani and started a smear campaign (portraying him as weak, fallen, unable to leave his father's home back in the summer of 2006 when, in fact, the man was using the Parliamentary break to do business in Jordan).  Williams does note some of what puppet of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki was doing:
Even as Parliament was voting, Mr. Maliki appeared before hundreds of uniformed commanders at the Interior Ministry and warned that factions within Iraq threatened national unity. As he has in recent days, he suggested that opponents -- whom he did not identify -- were seeking to undermine his government.  
"Today we face a new war of subversion, sedition and suspicion," he said. "We have to warn ourselves, myself and all you, of the sedition that was defeated in the battle and is being provoked in a certain problem here and another problem there."
Some.  al-Maliki had another 'accomplishment' yesterday and it was so swift that some in the press are now attempting to create new dates for it.  Let's start with what happened. Sunday McClatchy NewspapersHussein Kadhim and Sahar Issa reported three people were wounded in a shooting assault on Baghdad jewelry shops.  Reuters updated that to   7 people shot dead in Baghdad in an attack "using silencers at a gold shop". Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) reported that the murders of the 7 "gangland style" has already led al-Maliki to create his own "gangland style" police unit. No word was provided on whether the creation came so easy (less than 24 hours!) because so many "gangland style" -- possibly even the robbers-murders -- already work for al-Maliki.  In some reports today -- they know who they are -- there is a move to back the robberies to Saturday.  Why?  Well it's amazing that on the same day the "gangland style" robberies take place, al-Maliki's able to respond with a "gangland style" police unit -- amazing and unbelievable.  From fairy tales back to reality, one would think al-Maliki would be doing cartwheels over al-Samirrai's election.  After all, they're both cowards who fled Iraq because they loathed their government.  They didn't want to fight to change it but were happy to Little Bunny Fu Fu it back to Iraq just as soon as the US toppled Saddam.  Liz Sly notes al-Samarrai "spent nearly a decade in exile in Britian" and Timothy Williams explains he "fled Iraq in the 1980s during Saddam Hussein's rule".  For all the talk of Iraq 'learning' 'democracy,' they sure seem unable to find 'democratic' leaders among their own.  Or maybe it's the US that's so fond of installing the exiles?  
Apparently so stunned by the fact that Iraq finally elected a Speaker, the press was unable to report the other shocker this weekend.  Alsumaria broke the news that Jalal Talabani, the current president of Iraq, has decided he will run for the office again when his term expires in December.  Saturday March 14th, Talabani was telling the world he wouldn't run and apparently sealing that decision by declaring the following Monday, to Sabah, that, "The ideal of a united Kurdistan is just a dream written in poetry.  I do not deny that they are poems devoted to the notion of a united Kurdistan.  But we can not continue to dream."  His change of heart is a surprise and how much Kurdish support he can depend upon after that statement is in doubt.
Then again, maybe it got ignored because people are so shocked by how 'quickly' Nouri moved on Sunday creating those 'gangland style' police squads?  He certainly hasn't done a thing to call out the assaults on Iraq's LGBT community.  The International Gay and lesiban Human Rights Campaign has called out the assaults:

April 17, 2009

Her Excellency Wijdan Mikhail Salim          
Minister of Human Rights          
Unios (Naqabat) St. Mansour               
Baghdad, Iraq           
Fax: +964-1-5372017            

Your Excellency:           

On behalf of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), I am writing to express deep concern about an alarming increase in violence based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity in Iraq over the past few weeks. Iraqi officials have recently confirmed the murder of six men whose bodies were found in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad. The Iraqi authorities unearthed the bodies of 4 men killed by gunshots on March 25, 2009. On April 2, Iraqi police found the bodies of two additional men who were reportedly killed by members of their tribe to restore their family honor. Media reports suggest that vigilantes killed these men because of their perceived sexual orientation.              

This wave of violence coincides with an arson attack against a Sadr City coffee house that was popular among gay men. IGLHRC has also received reports of official persecution--abduction, torture, trial without due process, and execution--of Iraqis who the government believes to have been part of a gay organization. In addition, IGLHRC learned today that an Iraqi group known as "Fazilat" (Virtue) has circulated flyers around Sadr City threatening gay men with death and listing the names of their potential targets.            

As a signatory to international treaties that assure the right to privacy, liberty and security of the person and the right to non-discrimination, it is Iraq's obligation to protect its citizens and ensure that human rights violations are fully investigated and that perpetrators are brought to justice.           

The new Iraqi Constitution protects the equality of all citizens before the law (Article 14), guarantees everyone's right to enjoy "life, freedom, and security" (Article 15) and reiterates the right of all Iraqis to live "in freedom and with dignity" (Article 35). The mob murder of men perceived to be gay also violates the Iraqi Constitution, since the law protects the private lives of all citizens (Article 17), makes any kind of violence against family members a crime (Article 29) and prohibits extra-judicial punishment (Article 19, Section 2). Despite the legal obligations of the Iraqi government to protect all citizens, crimes committed against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Iraqis and those believed to be homosexual are not properly investigated or prosecuted.            

In accordance with Article 2 of the Charter of the Ministry of Human Rights (CMHR), which was passed by the Iraqi parliament as law number 60 in 2006, it is the responsibility of your ministry to "promote …and secure the implementation of…. the culture of human rights and personal freedom in accordance with international treaties that Iraq has entered... and prevent its violation."           

To fulfill this mandate, we request that your ministry take the following steps:             

* Actively and thoroughly document cases of human rights abuses against LGBT people and include this information in your annual report on the status of human rights in Iraq for submission to parliament and the cabinet. (Article 3, Section 2, CMHR)           

* Prepare a comprehensive report on state, community and family violence based on sexual orientation with concrete recommendations on how to stop such human rights violations. (Article 3, Section 3, CMHR)              

* Launch an investigation into the Iraqi legal system -- including police, judiciary, and penal systems--to assure the full enjoyment of human rights principles by all people, regardless of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
* Promote a culture of tolerance and respect for the rights of LGBT people at the tribal level and within the larger Iraqi society. (Article 3, Section 11, CMHR)     

IGLHRC is ready to support the efforts of the Iraqi government to secure the rights of its same-sex practicing citizens through training, consultation and information exchange.           

We trust that you will give this matter due attention.            

Yours sincerely,        

Cary Alan Johnson                                     
Executive Director                                     
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission                     
UK Gay News explains that the letter was "written to coincide with Ms. Salim's visit to Washington D.C.".  Rod Nordland and the New York Times embarrassed themselves Sunday (among other things, by declaring same-sex attraction a sin, this from the paper that was the first in the US to print same-sex civil union and wedding announcements).  That was in a report, by the way, not a column, a report.  Apparently one of Rod's anonymous sources was the Lord Jesus Christ.  Possibly He also assisted Judith Miller with Plamegate?  While the world awaits more of these Joan of Arc type messages from the Times, Jim Muir and BBC News (link has text and video) dealt with reality:
Jim Muir: A terrified young Iraqi boy, threatened and forced to strip.  He's been caught wearing women's underwear.  "Why are you dressed like a girl!" they shout.  He tries to explain, his family forced him to do it because they have no other way of making money.  At a police checkpoint, a hermaphrodite has his breasts taken out and molested.  These scenes are filmed on mobile phones and widely circulated.  Fear of harassment like this or worse haunts Iraqi gays every time they venture into the streets. For gays like Suour that's not his real name  life has become a nightmare
Suour: The campaign starts since 2004 until now Now it's worse very much.  They kill the gays, they beat them up.  I have a lot of friends that have been killed, 15 or 16, something like that.  Too much. 
Jim Muir: Gay activists say that more than 60 have been killed in different parts of Iraq since December.  They blame more than one source for their plight.
Suour: The Ministry of the Interior, the police because they have power and they have everything.  And also the militia
Jim Muir: Iraqi police officials deny they've got anything to do with the anti-gay campaign.
Brig Diah Hussein Sahi: "We have no policy of arresting gays just for being gay.  There's no law to justify that unless they commit indecent acts in public." Some Shi'ite clerics have issued statements which have been seen as an incitement to kill gays but others say that's wrong.
[Sheik Sadiq Al Zaeer is shown speaking.]
Jim Muir: "It's a phenomenon which has to be combated," he [Sheik Sadiq Al Zaeer] says, "but by treatment.  If these people are sick they should be given therapy but violence is rejected by all religions especially Islam."   As much as with the police or militias or clerics, Iraqi gays have a problem with their own society.  It's in transition.  The forces of conservatism still running very deep indeed. Some of those who have died have been killed by their own kinsman for the sake of 'family honor'. Behind closed doors, some Iraqi gays still manage to have a good time but their way of life is fraught with danger.  The Iraqi government hasn't even commented on the killings. And wider Iraqi society is still a long way from accepting scenes like this [Iraqi males dancing].  Jim Muir, BBC News, Baghdad.
For the record, we don't use the f-word here, we have never used it.  It's hate speech.  We wouldn't use the n-word either for the same reason regardless of how 'cool' some idiots might think the term is.  I grasp that other website have loose ethics and that old men -- especially  ones who are already lying about the conferences they attend ('radical' is a many splendored term, Socialist is more to the point) -- desperately need to appear 'cool.'  Stan will take on this topic at his site tonight.  We are all aware of it and I'm already pushing back Iraqi refugees (again!) today due to space limits (while, admittedly, I am plugging friends at the end of the snapshot on non-Iraq topics  -- oh well).  Thanks to Stan for grabbing the topic.
As James Cogan (World Socialist Web Site) observes today, Iraq has overtaken Afghanistan as "the forgotten war."  That allows people to delude themselves that Barack's conditional promises mean an end to the illegal war.  Friday on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, Katie Couric spoke to the top US commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno.  She asked him about whether or not US forces would be out of all Iraqi cities by the end of June as the Status Of Forces Agreement 'mandates'.  Odierno replied, "I believe we'll make that timeline in every city probably except for, probably, Mosul. There'll be a decision that will be made. We'll provide a joint assessment between Iraqis and the U.S. We'll provide that assessment to the Prime Minister Maliki who will make a final decision."  That is consistent with his other comments on this topic.  It is not, however, consistent with the pipe dreamers who honestly believe that the SOFA is somehow 'binding.' 
Like the war, the violence never ends.  Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) reports a bomber killed himself in Baqubah this morning and also took the lives of 3 Iraqi police officers while leaving eight US service members wounded. Londono states that bomber was "wearing an Iraqi military uniform". Last Thursday, a bomber took their own life at Tamouz Air Base and he was also wearing an Iraqi military uniform. The death toll on that was never 'official' with al-Maliki's government insisting no one had died -- no one, apparently not even the bomber.
In other reported violence . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Sunday Baghdad mortar attack which wounded two people and destroyed "a private power generator".  
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports "the driver of a director general in the Ministry of Planning" was assassinated, 2 Iraqi soldiers were injured in a Baquba shooting and, dropping back to Sunday night, 1 Iraqi soldier and 2 Iraqi police officers were shot dead in separate incidents.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports an attempted kidnapping of nine-year-old Elias Yaqub in Erbil.  
Reuters notes a corpse was discovered in Mussayab.
Winding down, Bob Somerby has a very important Howler today.  We'll cover Cindy Sheehan tomorrow (no space today) but she is on and  we really need to note these dates listed for her Seat of Our Pants tour:

April 20th: Taos              
Bareiss Gallery       
Contact in Taos: Catherine Hart,  

April 21: Albuquerque          
Smith Brasher Hall (CNM Campus, corner of University and Coal)          
7-9 pm and then book signing.     

April 23: Eureka Springs Arkansas    
Sweet Spring Antiques Mart
2 Pine Street (across from P.O.)        
7-9 pm        
Eureka Springs Contact: Gerry Fonseca,
Lastly,  I know Quinn Bradlee and his parents (Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee) and Quinn was on CBS' Washington Week (link has text and video) with Slate's John Dickerson last Friday to discuss his new book A Different Life about growing up with Velo-Cardio-Facial Syndrome.
Quinn Bradlee: When people think of LD they think of dyslexia, they think of one thing.  But what they don't understand is LD is a tree of learning disabilities.  It's not just one thing.  There's dysgraphia, dyscalculia, you know, it just goes on and on and on. And VCFS, what's different about VCFS and dyslexia is that it is -- it causes a medical problems as well as learning disabilities. 
John Dickerson:  And so, when you were younger, and kids can be cruel and brutal, and how tough did it get going through all of this?
Quinn Bradlee:  It can get pretty tough because you start to wonder -- you think everything you do is normal because you don't know any better and then you go to a special school for kids who have learning disabilities and yet you see other kids teasing other kids with learning disabilities -- and you're at a special school.  And you just go, "Wait a minute, you know, what's going on here?" And I think the reason why kids tease other kids is because they will see if they tease kids then people will say "He's teasing me, so he doesn't have it."  So they do it to hide their learning disabilities.
You can read an excerpt of Quinn Bradlee's A Different Life at ABC News.comWashington Unplugged is CBS News weekly (airs each Friday) web program.  And on Friday's broadcast, you can also see a debate on Cuba featuring US House Rep Bobby Rush (whom I also know -- and a friend at CBS News asked for the plug, wading through Disclosureville).