Tuesday, May 5, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the defense rest in Steven D. Green's War Crimes trial, the UNHCR does NOT recommend Iraqi refugees return to Iraq, Sahwa remains under attack, and more.
Starting with the War Crimes trial. March 12, 2006, Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi's parents and five-year-old sister were murdered in their Iraqi home while Abeer was gang-raped in another room. Following the gang-rape, Abeer was murdered. These were War Crimes committed by US soldiers and four have already faced a court and been sentenced. Steven D. Green's trial is ongoing. Friday night, Heart (Women's Space) posted some of her 2006 coverage of the War Crimes and among the comments, we'll note this by Khazeema:
Nobody how much we talk about this case, my littlesister Abeer wont come back. The american troops raped, tortured and killed her, and they could do it just because they were AMERICANS. Bu believe me.. Steven D Green and his buddies who raped and killed Abeer Hamza Qassim Al-Janabi they will get their punishment.. If they wont in this life, they will defenatly in the next life…. Some day they will die either, and then they will realise what they have done… and what they did is beyond doubt something which wont be forgive..
And to my dear sister Abeer Qassim Hamza Al-Janabi.. You will always be in my heart, I have wept for you scince your death, but at least - ya habibti - Allah is big, and he will take revenge for you.. Inshallah you are a shaheed, and your murders will suffer in hell for what they did to you.. WE WILL NEVER FORGET YOU SISTER… Lailaha il Allah..
Last week, Steven D. Green's trial began in a Kentucky federal court. Of the first day, Australia's ABC reported: "The girl's brother then testified about how he came home from school to find his house on fire and his family dead. Mohammed al-Janabi, now 15, stood outside crying with his younger brother but did not go in until after the bodies were removed. 'I saw blood on walls,' he said through an interpreter, 'I saw flesh and my father's brain was scattered there'." Yesterday the prosecution rested. Evan Bright reported that Noah Galloway was the last witness for the prosecution which rested their case before noon. At 1:30, the defense began presenting its side and Lt Col Karen Marrs took the stand to offer testimony as the psychiatric nurse practioner familiar with Green. She described him as "On edge and angry." Bright notes, "The defense MAY have one witness tomorrow before resting and moving on to closing statements. Expect a guilty/not guilty verdict by Wednesday, before moving to opening statements." Today the defense rested. Brett Barrouquere (AP) reports that a deposition of James Gregory was shown to the jury for an hour because Gregory couldn't show up at the court due to . . . getting married. How that played to the jury is anyone's guess but when the defendant is potentially facing the death penalty and someone chooses to blow off testifying in person, that does send a message. Christopher Barnes actually showed up and took the witness stand. Barnes made comments about "they" and "them" and how awful they were. US Attorney Marisa J. Ford cut through that nonsense by asking, "You didn't rape any 14-year-old girls? You didn't kill any Iraqi civilians, did you?" (No and no.) Justin Watt testified and his remarks should receive attention and examination. (We'll see if they do.) Tomorrow the jury hears closing arguments.
Meanwhile, Spencer Ackerman (Washington Independent), still a hack and reality challenged, laps up the statement from Nouri al-Maliki's flack about 'no extensions' for US troops to remain in Iraqi cities past June 30th deadline, he forgets/doesn't know (idiot) that the extension already took place in Baghdad. Poor tiny hack. From the April 27th snapshot: "Rod Nordland (New York Times) broke that story in today's paper and noted that Iraq and the US are going to focus on Mosul in talks about US troops remaining in some Iraqi cities. Nordland reveals they will remain in Baghdad (he says 'parts of Baghdad' -- that means they will be in Baghdad and Baghdad is a city) and that Camp Victory ['Camps Victory, Liberty, Striker and Slayer, plus the prison known as Camp Cropper'] and 'Camp Prosperity' will not be closed or turned over to Iraq according to Iraqi Maj Gen Muhammad al-Askari. The SOFA 'requires' that they be closed or turned over but al-Askari says they're making exceptions even though the SOFA 'requires' otherwise. For the mammoth Camp Victory, it is in Baghdad and out of Baghdad, for example, so al-Askari says they consider it out of Baghdad." There's your reality Spensy, accept it or plan to grab an adjoining padded room with Patrick Cockburn. Fortunately there's so much stupidity going around, Spensy may be able to sneak by.
Take the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees which made a stupid move that they should have known would be immediately misunderstood. Let's start with the misunderstanding. Mark Leon Goldberg (UN Dispatch) goes for the gold in the Stupidity Olympics as he pants, "I think you can file this one under 'good news' in the sense that the UNCHR believes the situation in certain Iraqi regions is stable enough for the return of refugees." No, that's not what it was stating. The UNHCR was stupid enough with what they said but Goldberg had to go even further. And, to really go for the gold, he then quoted "the Washington Post" -- or thought he did. It was Reuters, Goldberg. Your clue was the byline "By Laura MacInnis[,] Reuters." It wasn't the Post. When someone can't even grasp what publication they're reading, maybe it's not at all surprising that they can't grasp the meaning of the words they read? Mark Leon Goldberg is a stupid, stupid man.
The UNHCR did not recommend the return of external refugees to Iraq. That would be more idiotic than Mark Leon Goldberg. Violence is again on the rise in Iraq. The UNHCR made a stupid decision to say that external refugees "from Al-Anbar, ecompassing much of the country's western territory, and the south should be assessed on individual merit." What does that mean? It's the strongest the UNHCR was allowed to issue at the risk of two other UN agencies publicly calling UNHCR and it's 'tight' relationship' with Nouri al-Maliki out. (Today's statement has been argued about within the UN for over two weeks.) The statement specifically states, "The agency stressed that improvement in the situation in Iraq is not yet sufficient enough to promote or encourage massive returns and it recommended that refugees already benefiting from international protection should retain their status." How much clearer does it have to be for Mark Leon Goldberg? Someone needs to explain to him that his stupidity is deadly. You DO NOT tell refugees to return when it's not safe to do so. And if the UN doesn't say it's safe to return (and they didn't say it was safe to return), you do not say that they did.
The UNHCR statement never should have been issued but Nouri and his government have been pressuring and, let's all be honest, the United Nations has never had any independent standing in Iraq. NEVER. That's why their idiotic doctor didn't just take part in the Baghdad's government's press conference last fall but actively blamed Iraqi women for the yearly cholera outbreak.
They are not encouraging any groups to return. They are encouraging that some be judged on appeals by 'individual merit' and not the blanket category of refugees. Apparently the UNHCR suffers from some delusion that the blanket category was somehow assisting Iraqis in garnering asylum. Not in the US, not in the European Union, not in Australia. Those countries have done as little as possible. But even with this cateogry of people, the UNHCR stresses that there is a split and that those who are "religious and ethnic minorities; Iraqis perceived as opposing armed groups or political factions; UN and non-governmental organization (NGO) workers; human rights activists; and homosexuals" should be given "favourable consideration" regardless of whether or nto they are fron Anbar. And if you didn't grasp just how weak the UNHCR is, note that the "at risk" grouping included UN workers.
We'll stay with those categories for a bit. "Abu Muslim likens his work to that of a surgeon, cutting out diseased parts of a body to save it from cancer." What? That's from Nizar Latif (The National) reporting on the excutioner of gays and lesbians in Iraq. The executionor explains, "We see this [homosexuality] as a serious illness in the community that has been spreading rapidly among the yough after it was brought in from the outside by American soldiers. These are not the habits of Iraq or our community and we must eliminate them." Doesn't he sound like some crazed Nazi inventing excuses for slaughtering the Jews? Yes, he does. And like the Nazis, he uses an ahistorical 'background' because actual history doesn't back him up. Real history does not allow him to persecute and murder. So he lies and goes along with his government's lies. He brags to Latif about the "ermission from key community leaders" he has stating, "We had approval from the main Iraqi tribes here to liquidate those [men] copying the ways of women. Our aim is not to destabilize the security situation. Our aim is to help stabilise society." Again, this is the Nazis. (And, yes, the Nazis also targeted gays and lesbians.) And why the hell should the US remain in Iraq at this point?
Truly. These are the people the US government installed and the ones the US forces on the ground keep in place. And these people are killing and slaughtering. Not only that, but then they try to blame human behavior (that they see as 'wicked') on US soldiers. Iraq's never going to be a free country until the US leaves and these thugs are forced out by the Iraqi people. Iraq was a tolerant society before the US wanted to 'whip' the population 'into shape' quickly in order to purse the tag sale on Iraqi assets.
Friday the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom issued their latest report, the 2009 Annual Report on religious freedom violations around the world. Commission Chair Felice Gaer explained of the "countries of particular concern" Friday, "Iraq and Nigeria are new to that list. Iraq was added last December and Nigeria today. Nina Shea explained this:
is a crucial year in Iraq, with provincial councils changing hands, national elections expected before year's end, and the US military beginning its drawdown. In December, an extensive report on religious freedoms in Iraq, based on travel, interviews, briefings, meetings and other activities was released by the commission and we recommended then that, for the first time since 2003, that the State Department designate Iraq as a country of particular concern.
This CPC recommendation was based on the ongoing severe abuses of religious freedom in the country and the government's toleration of these abuses, particularly against Iraq's smallest and most vulnerable religious minorities, including Chaldo-Assyrians and other Christians, Sabean-Mandeans and Yazidis. As described in this year's annual report, the concerns outlined by the commission in December persist as these vulnerable minorities have, in recent years, experienced targeted intimidation and violence, including killings, beatings, abductions and rapes, forced conversions, forced marriages, forced displacement from their homes and businesses and violent attacks on their houses of worship and religious leaders. Despite the overall drop in violence in the country, these incidents continued in 2008 and 2009 including in this month. The cumulative effect of this has created a serious threat to these ancient communities' very existence in Iraq. And the statistics are staggering. About half the Christian populations have left the country or been killed -- and that's starting from a total of 1.4 million. About ninety percent of the Mandean community report that they have left or been killed. This jeopardizes Iraq's future as a pluralistic, diverse and free society. In addition, the commission is concerned about the continued attacks and tense relations between Shia and Sunni Iraqis, as well as other continued, egregious, religiously motivated report on page 54 where we have extensive recommendations on Iraq. The commission urges the US government to take a number of specific steps to ensure, inter alia, the prevention of abuses against religious minorities is a top priority. We call for the training and deployment of police for these vulnerable minorities, that the KRG uphold minority rights in their area and that the situation of internally displaced persons and refugees is effectively addressed.
Shea took two questions on Iraq and noted that the USCIRF had long critiqued the constitution:
We are very concerned by the contradiction within the Iraqi Constitution. On the one hand, religious freedom for everyone is stated -- and for minority groups -- and on the other hand, there can be no law that contradicts Islam. So there is a possibility that there isn't a right to have individual choice in religious freedom or to manifest your beliefs publicly. It's very questionable. So we wanted to know what the -- I think there's some language about the consensus on the agreed upon tenets of Islam -- that no law can contradict the agreed upon tenets of islam. But there really, in fact, is no consensus on Islam. There is two main branches of Islam in Iraq -- Sunnis and Shiites. There are different schools. There are different commentaries on those schools. So there's many different points of view, so the constitution is ont clear and it leaves in doubt the extent of religious freedom particularly for minorities. The main problem we're seeing, though, is the extremists. Not government violence, but extremist violence. And the failure of the government to protect or allow these minorities to develop and flourish and remain in Iraq. So many of them -- half of them -- have left. And many of them continue to be in the region. The United States has been very dilatory in addressing this problem. It appears no, that they're not going back in great numbers. And I think the United States has a responsibility to -- and we make recommendations for this -- that the United States has a responsibility to support these people and to help them find refuge either in the United States or elsewhere.
The 269 page report is entitled [PDF format warning] Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom and Iraq is pages 43 through 60. We'll note the recommendations on human rights (and wonder why the administration requires someone else suggesting them):
* appoint and immediately dispatch a Special Envoy for Human Rights in Iraq to Embassy Baghdad, reporting directly to the Secretary of State, to serve as the United States' lead human rights official in Iraq; to lead an Embassy human rights working group, including the senior coordinators on ARticle 140 issues, on corruption, and on the rule of law, as well as other relevant officials including those focusing on minority issues; and to coordinate U.S. efforts to promote and protect human rights in Iraq; and
* appoint immediately one or more U.S. advisors under the Department of State's Iraq Reconstruction Management Office to serve as liaisons to the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights.
To address past and current reports of human rights violations in Iraq, the U.S. government should urge the Iraqi government at the highest levels to:
* undertake transparent and effective investigations of human rights abuses, including those stemming from sectarian, religiously-motivated, or other violence by Iraqi security forces, political factions, militias or any other para-state actors affiliated with or otherwise linked to the Iraqi government or regional or local governments, and bring the perpetrators to justice;
* cooperate with international investigations of such abuses; and
* create and fully fund the independent national Human Rights Commission provided for in the Iraqi Constitution and ensure that this Commission is non-sectarian, that is has a mandate to investigate and individual complaints, and that its functions and operations are based on the UN's Paris Principles.
Multiple links can be found at this page of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. The above alone goes to why the UNHCR had no business issuing any statement (not even to appease al-Maliki and his desire to interest foreign investment). Equally true is that this 'downturn' was one month (January) and each month since has seen an increase in violence with last month reaching 2008 levels. Equally important, things are always highly fluid in Iraq. Indpedent journalist Dahr Jamail (via Countercurrents) observes:
Indicative of the rapidly deteriorating situation in Iraq, on May 1 the US military reported the death of a Naval petty officer who was killed "on April 30 while conducting combat operations in Fallujah, Iraq." The Department of Defense report went on to explain that the sailor "was deployed with an East Coast based Navy SEAL team." That same day, the military announced the deaths of two marines "killed while conducting combat operations against enemy forces here April 30." The dateline for the latter press release is "AL ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq." Apparently, all is not well in Fallujah and al-Anbar province. The US military, having met the fiercest resistance throughout their occupation of Iraq in these areas, is once again conducting combat operations there.
The fact that the US military has largely hung the Sahwa out to dry, exposing the 100,000 strong Sunni militia to the ire of the Maliki government for ongoing assassinations and detentions, has taken the lid off the volcano that the Sahwa were keeping from erupting. Let us remember - it was the Sahwa who kept al-Qaeda in Iraq in check, not the US military or the Iraqi military. As members of the Sahwa continue to leave their security posts due to lack of pay and being targeted by the Iraqi government, they are returning to the resistance from which most of them had emerged to join the militia.
Let us also be clear about the fact that the Sahwa allied themselves with the US military so as to protect themselves from the Shia-dominated sectarian government of Prime Minister Maliki.
I asked a good friend of mine in Baghdad to interview a Sahwa leader in the Adhamiya district of Baghdad a few days ago. The leader asked to be identified as Abu Ahmed. He is 40 years old, married, has four children, and had this to say, "I would like to say that the Iraqi Government, and especially Mr. Maliki, are continuing to target us. They have been doing this from the beginning, and they continue to do this against the Sahwa. The reason is because we are Sunni and the Iraqi government are a sectarian government."
Abu Ahmed said he and his fellow Sahwa members support the immediate withdrawal of all occupation forces "and then we can change our government by ourselves and build a nationalist government to replace this current sectarian government."
He then added, succinctly, "Our purpose is to end the occupation, end al-Qaeda, and make a new Iraq that is safe."
Which goes to why the US needs and it also goes to all the hogwash about al-Maliki winning in the provincial elections (held in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces January 31st). al-Maliki won nothing, he wasn't a candidate. And the way to read those results wasn't "Yea! Nouri!" it was that Iraq's rejecting sectarianism and, pay attention, that's a huge danger for Nouri. Nouri was only installed by the US because he was on the 'right' side of the sectarian divide. The results of the election have been spun repeatedly and in Nouri's favor when reality has never indicated any such thing.
Sahwa was again targeted today in Baghdad.
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing which left three people wounded and 3 Mosul roadside bombings which left three people wounded.
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 police officer shot dead in Mosul. Reuters notes 1 "civilian" shot dead in Mosul and 1 "official from the oil police" wounded in a Kirkuk shooting and, in Baghdad, 1 Sahwa ("Awakening," "Sons Of Iraq") shot dead and his brother arrested.
Reuters notes 1 corpse discovered in Kirkuk.
April 23rd, as twin bombings rocked Baghdad, Nouri's mouthpieces announced they'd arrested the mythical Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. Corinne Reilly (McClatchy Newspapers) notes that despite repeated claims since, no one really knows all this time later, "Iraqi officials have claimed to have captured or killed Baghdadi several times before, and they've been wrong every time. U.S. military officials have said in the past that they think that Baghdadi may be a fictional character meant to give a local face to a foreign-led terrorist organization. So far this time, the Iraqis haven't backtracked. But they also have yet to provide any proof they have him, except for one grainy headshot broadcast on state television this week. It's anyone's guess as to how officials might prove Baghdadi is who they say he is, however."
Turning to corruption news [James Glanz, Eric Schmitt and Choe Sang-hun's "3 Koreans Convicted Of Bribery In Iraq"], in a shocking development, billions of US tax dollars have vanished in Iraq and the latest scandal involves $70 million that a foreign government was allowed to 'oversee.' This 'oversight' was in a direct violation of the program as it was repeatedly explained to the US Congress and the American people.
Appearing before the The Commission on Wartime Contracting February 2nd, the Department of Defense's Inspector General Thomas F. Gimble explained CERP (Commander's Emergency Response Program) funds, "CERP funds are appropriated through the DoD and allocted through each major command's sector of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Up to $500,000 can be allocated to individual CERP projects, and CERP beneficiaries often receive payments in cash. We have also identified occasions where soldiers with limited contracting experience were responsible for administering CERP funds. In some instances, there appeared to be scant, if any, oversight of the manner in which funds were expended. Complicating matters further is the fact that payment of bribes and gratuities to government officials is a common business practice in some Southwest Asia nations. Taken in combination, these factors result in an environment conducive to bribery and corruption."
Gimble identified the CERP funds as being under the control of the US command. This was the repeated pattern when officials appeared before the Congress. In reality, South Korea was allowed to administer CERP funds with no US oversight and their military now stands accused of running a scam which utilized more than $70,000,000 US tax payer dollars. In April, a Seoul military court found three officers of the country's military guilty of running a bribery and extortion scam utilizing the CERP funds.
The CERP funds have been repeatedly addressed by witnesses appearing before the US Congress and yet the Congress was repeatedly informed the process was the US tax payer pays the money and the US military officials use the funds for various Iraqi projects. Never once did anyone reveal that foreign states were being given US tax payer monies. The September 10, 2008 House Armed Services Committee hearing found Chair Ike Skelton pursuing the issue of the CERP funds with DoD's Under Secreatry of Defense for Policy Eric S. Edelman and explaining the process as Congress intended it.
Ike Skelton: The department's understanding of the allowed usage of CERP funds seems to have undergone a rather dramatic change since Congress first authorized it. The intent of the program was originally to meet urgent humanitarian needs in Iraq through small projects undertaken under the initative of brigade and battalion commanders. Am I correct?
Edelman: Yes, sir.
Ike Skelton: Thank you. The answer was "yes." Last year the Department of Defense has used millions of CERP dollars to build hotels for foreign visitors, spent $900,000 on a mural at the Baghdad International Airport and, as I understand this second piece of art, that CERP funds were used for. I'm not sure that the American tax payer would appreciate that knowing full well that Iraq has a lot of money in the bank from oil revenues and it is my understanding that Iraq has announced that they're going to build the world's largest ferris wheel. And if they have money to build the world's largest ferris wheel why are we funding murals and hotels with money that should be used by the local battallion commander. This falls in the purview of plans and policy ambassador.
Edelman: No, no, it's absolutely right and I'll shae the stage here -- I'll share the stage quite willing with uh, with Admiral Winnefeld with whom I've actually been involved in discussions with for some weeks about how we provide some additional guidance to the field and some additional requirements to make sure that CERP is appropriately spent.
Edelman then tries to stall and Skelton cuts him off with, "Remember you're talking to the American taxpayer." Edelman then replies that it is a fair question. He says CERP is important because it's flexible. It's important because they're just throwing around, if you ask me. They're playing big spender on our dime.
Skelton: The issue raises two serious questions of course. Number one is they have a lot of money of their own. And number two the choice of the type of projects that are being paid for. I would like to ask Mr. Secretary if our committee could receive a list of expenditures of $100,000 or more within the last year. Could you do that for us at your convience please?
Edelman: We'll work with our colleagues in the controller's office and - and . . . to try and get you --
Skelton: That would be very helpful.
October 30, 2008, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction released a report on Iraqi spending. The 232 page report [PDF format warning] was posted online and received attention for being the product of, Inspector General Stuart W. Bowen Jr. words, "seven audit reports and three inspections". The report noted many things such as, "The recent Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2009 imposed a ceiling of $2 million on the amount of CERP money that DoD could allocate to a single project. The new NDAA futher requires the Secretary of Defense to approve CERP projects costing over $1 million, certifying thereby that the project will meet Iraq's urgent humanitarian relief or reconstruction needs." South Korea was not mentioned in the entire 232 page despite the new revelations that, "The Americans gave the [South Korean] Zaytun unit wide latitude within its northern area of operation [in Iraq]. The unit largely controlled the disbursement of $74 million of American reconstruciton money through the Commanders' Emregency Response Program, or CERP."
In addition, while US outlets worked overtime to sneer at the notion that the Iraq War was about, or had anything to do with, oil, "Korean leaders explicitly told their people that the deployment [to Iraq] would help their country gain oil contracts." Attempts to insist that no American money was stolen is insane (though South Korea's government has attempted to do just that). If I use $350 of your money without your permission -- for even two seconds and return every bit of it -- I have stolen from you. It's basic. If a citizen did what the Korean military officials did, they'd be prosecuted for theft (and they should be). Meanwhile, in Iraq, AFP reports that the Kurdistan Regional Government has announced they will hold their parliamentary elections July 25th.
In the US, Carolyn Lochhead (San Francisco Chronicle) sees stirrings in Congress over the 'emerency' war supplemental Barack's requestion. Lochhead notes US House Rep David Obey, chair of the Appropriations Committee, states that at the end of the year there will be some serious questions. In addition:
Echoing fights with former President Bush over Iraq, Obey included language requiring the Obama administration to issue a progress report on five benchmarks to Congress before its next budget request in February 2010. Funding is not conditioned on meeting the benchmarks:
1. The level of political consensus and unity of purpose to confront the political and security challenges facing the region; 2. The level of government corruption and actions taken to eliminate it; 3. The performance of security forces with respect to counterinsurgency operations; 4. The performance of intelligence agencies in cooperating fully with the U.S. and not undermining the security of our troops and our objectives in the region; and 5. The ability of the government to control the territory within their borders."
The previous benchmarks were never met and Congress never cut off funding. All this time later, they still haven't been met. Even provincial elections have still not been held (14 of Iraq's 18 provinces is not "provincial elections" any more that a national election in the US would be 42 states voting and eight being excluded).
As noted yesterday, Marilyn French has passed away. Last night Elaine called out the nonsense of the obits acting as if The Women's Room was the beginning and end of Marilyn. Elaine rightly noted that it was akin to an obit on Julie Christie focusing non-stop on Darling and ignoring her finest performance thus far (Afterglow). More to the point, it's the equivalent of an obit on Sally Field that can't shut up about Gidget or The Flying Nun. Those were popular hits. They're nothing to be ashamed of. But Field's best work includes Norma Rae, Places Of The Heart and much more. More people saw her play The Flying Nun than anything else. (And more people saw her in Smokey & the Bandit than saw her in Norma Rae.) If that's the only measure for how we judge than, by all means, keep pimping a popular book that may be as 'lasting' as any of Mary McCarthy's novels. French's work didn't end in 1977. It's appalling that standards and taste (or the lack of both) dictate that certain people pimp a page turner as opposed to Marilyn's well researched, analytical writing. Heart (Women's Space) finds a way to note the popular novel and yet not to reduce Marilyn to Judith Krantz. Heart observes, "Her work has been central to my own feminism and is, in my opinion, brilliant. She was one of only a very few feminists who really had a grasp of the broad picture; she consistently wrote of women's liberation as a struggle against all forms of coercion and abusive power, all dominance hierarchies, and as central and key to the liberation, ultimately, of all human beings, animals, the earth itself."