Thursday, July 16, 2009

US negotiated and no one has anything to show for it

An ex-Foreign Office minister has said he doubts Britain negotiated with the right people in its attempts to free five men kidnapped in Iraq.
In a BBC interview, Kim Howells also said he had become "very frustrated" with the Iraqi government.

The above is from BBC News' "Iraq hostage policy is questioned" (link has text and audio). Howells states, "I'm not convinced we were ever negotating with the right people. I mean, that's doubtful. The only real proof of life that I saw were the video. And there were stories circulating that a suicide had taken place, there were deadlines that came and went." That's a snippet from the interview and the BBC notes: "Find out more from The Report on BBC RAdio 4, Thursday 16 July at 2000 BST. You can also listen via the BBC iPlayer after broadcast or download the podcast."

What's he talking about?

A trade of prisoners in US custody, two brothers who were supposed to have orchestrated the worst attack on a US base in Iraq during the last six years, an attack that resulted in five US service members being killed. The two brothers' organization had attacked British civilians and kidnapped five of them -- IT contractors and security. Prior to the release of the brothers' last month, the 5 British hostages had been held for over two years. And what does anyone have to show for it?

Two of the five British hostages have since been 'released.' Two corpses. (Jason Creswell and Jason Swindlehurst.)

Danny Chism is the father of Jonathan Bryan Chism who was one of the five killed on January 23, 2007. From ICCC, let's note the five:

US 1st Lieutenant Jacob N. Fritz Karbala Hostile - hostile fire - small arms fire, grenades
US Private 1st Class Jonathan Millican Karbala Hostile - hostile fire - small arms fire, grenades
US Captain Brian Scott Freeman Karbala Hostile - hostile fire - mortar, small arms fire
US Specialist Johnathan Bryan Chism Karbala Hostile - hostile fire - small arms fire, grenades
US Private Shawn Patrick Falter Karbala Hostile - hostile fire - small arms fire, grenades

June 9th, Danny Chism learned the two brothers were released and he declared to Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Robert H. Reid (AP), "They freed them? The American military did? Somebody needs to answer for it." The US government failed to inform the families who lost loved ones in that attack that they were releasing the two men they believed were responsible for the deaths.

On June 9th, the negotiating with 'terrorists' or terrorists got a little play. From that day's snapshot:

This morning the New York Times' Alissa J. Rubin and Michael Gordon offered "U.S. Frees Suspect in Killing of 5 G.I.'s." Martin Chulov (Guardian) covered the same story, Kim Gamel (AP) reported on it, BBC offered "Kidnap hope after Shia's handover" and Deborah Haynes contributed "Hope for British hostages in Iraq after release of Shia militant" (Times of London). The basics of the story are this. 5 British citizens have been hostages since May 29, 2007. The US military had in their custody Laith al-Khazali. He is a member of Asa'ib al-Haq. He is also accused of murdering five US troops. The US military released him and allegedly did so because his organization was not going to release any of the five British hostages until he was released. This is a big story and the US military is attempting to state this is just diplomacy, has nothing to do with the British hostages and, besides, they just released him to Iraq. Sami al-askari told the New York Times, "This is a very sensitive topic because you know the position that the Iraqi government, the U.S. and British governments, and all the governments do not accept the idea of exchanging hostages for prisoners. So we put it in another format, and we told them that if they want to participate in the political process they cannot do so while they are holding hostages. And we mentioned to the American side that they cannot join the political process and release their hostages while their leaders are behind bars or imprisoned." In other words, a prisoner was traded for hostages and they attempted to not only make the trade but to lie to people about it. At the US State Dept, the tired and bored reporters were unable to even broach the subject. Poor declawed tabbies. Pentagon reporters did press the issue and got the standard line from the department's spokesperson, Bryan Whitman, that the US handed the prisoner to Iraq, the US didn't hand him over to any organization -- terrorist or otherwise. What Iraq did, Whitman wanted the press to know, was what Iraq did. A complete lie that really insults the intelligence of the American people. CNN reminds the five US soldiers killed "were: Capt. Brian S. Freeman, 31, of Temecula, California; 1st Lt. Jacob N. Fritz, 25, of Verdon, Nebraska; Spc. Johnathan B. Chism, 22, of Gonzales, Louisiana; Pfc. Shawn P. Falter, 25, of Cortland, New York; and Pfc. Johnathon M. Millican, 20, of Trafford, Alabama." Those are the five from January 2007 that al-Khazali and his brother Qais al-Khazali are supposed to be responsible for the deaths of.

The US repeatedly denied that it had negotiated but it was clear that it had. The British wanted it to free their five citizens and Nouri al-Maliki said the brothers had to be release for political reconciliation to go through. That would be the same Nouri who opposed any reconciliation with the Kurds over the issue of Kirkuk or any reconciliation with former Ba'athists -- including the meeting that is supposed to take place in DC with them, the one Vice President Joe Biden pitched to al-Maliki on his recent trip to Iraq and that al-Maliki shot down as soon as Biden had left Iraq.

Unlike most US outlets, the Christian Science Monitor did not do a one day story and then forget it. From Jane Arraf's June 11th report:

Marking a gradual but dramatic shift in policy, the US appears prepared to release a major figure it accuses of masterminding the killing of five American soldiers in one of the most carefully planned insurgent attacks of this war, according to Iraqi and US officials.
Sheikh Laith al-Khazali, a senior member of a Shiite extremist group that the Iraqi government is trying to bring into the political process, was released from US custody over the weekend in what the Iraqi government called a wider reconciliation effort with extremist groups.
The release of his brother Qais al-Khazali, who heads the Iranian-backed militant group Asa'ib al-Haq and is directly linked to a lethal attack in Karbala in 2007, is expected to follow as talks progress, according to US and Iraqi officials. The officials asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.
Freeing the two men, along with a Lebanese Hezbollah operative arrested by US forces at the same time in Basra two years ago, is also linked to the release of British hostages who have been held by Shiite extremists for the past two years.

The release has not proven to be successful thus far. Was it ever worth it? That's a discussion the US should be having publicly and openly. But in terms of the British? At this point, it doesn't appear to be. Two prisoners got their release and two corpses were handed over. Where are the other three people? Are they alive? Are they dead? It doesn't appear to have been a success for the US and, thus far, it is not a success for the British. For the US government, it appears to be one of the stupidest things they've done in 2009 and it's amazing how little attention it has received in the US.

For two years, those brothers were held because they were believed to be the ones who orchestrated the attack. Should they have been held without evidence and trial? No. But maybe the US never wanted to put it to trial because they were planning a trade? I don't know. No one does because the government's not being pressed to tell the citizens what happened. All this time later, the only truth emerges unofficially. This is not a minor thing and it will be one of the incidents that haunts Barack's legacy as president.

As the Iraq War haunts the country despite all the best efforts to pretend the illegal war is over. Paul Purpura (The Times-Picayune) reports:

About 3,000 Louisiana Army National Guard soldiers and their families, including several hundred in the New Orleans area, have received confirmation they are going back to Iraq.
The 256th Brigade Combat Team received orders this past weekend to mobilize in January for predeployment training at Camp Shelby, Miss.
The brigade will spend one year in Iraq.

The following community sites updated last night:

As noted yesterday and the day before, those who don't need second-by-second, minute-by-minute coverage of the Sotomayor Circus can click here for BBC Radio. If any actual news is made in the hearing, you'll hear it there. Otherwise, you'll be informed of life beyond the circus, around the world. You won't find that on Pacifica which all about "Baby cried the day the circus came to town" passed off as news. And if you're following the circus or trying to, Betty continues to offer level headed coverage.

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