Friday, August 14, 2009

Camp Ashraf and Danny Fitzsimons

July 28th, Nouri al-Maliki broke his word to the United States (big surprise) and ordered an assault on Camp Ashraf -- home to various members of the MEK and their families. The MEK is made up of Iranian dissidents. For years, they were considered a terrorist group by many countries and unions. The European Union and England took them off their terrorist list and there were efforts in the US Congress to call for the same. Nouri promised not only that he would not deport the residents to Iran (where there would be serious human rights concerns for the dissidents' safety) but also that he would not attack them. Prior to early 2009, the MEK had been protected by the US military throughout the Iraq War. Yesterday at the US State Dept, reporters pressed spokesperson Philip J. Crowley. The Los Angeles Times (no individual journalist is credited) notes:

U.S. officials said little about the raid before Wednesday, when the State Department called it "an avoidable tragedy." Elaborating on Thursday, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the Iraqi attempt to establish control of the camp "was not executed well."
"We understand what happened was a mistake," Crowley said. "Iraq was trying to extend its sovereignty to Camp Ashraf. We understood what they were trying to do. They did not do it well."

Jake Tapper and Kirit Radia (ABC News) add:

Last September, Gen. David Petraeus told reporters
that the Iraqi government had assured the US that Camp Ashraf's protected status would remain.
But as the Iraqi government has taken control over its country and formed closer ties with the Iranian government, Iraqi government officials have in recent months stated that Camp Ashraf residents need to leave the country.
On July 28, Iraqi forces -- using U.S. weaponry and vehicles -- stormed into the camp and killed nine residents. Brandishing batons, tear gas, and water cannons, the Iraqi forces beat residents, apparently driving purposefully into crowds. Hundreds were injured and 36 were detained and, according to Amnesty International have been "subjected to beatings and torture" in a nearby police station.
"Some are in need of medical treatment due to injuries, including as a result of torture and gunshot wounds," says the human-rights group. "The detainees are reported to have been told to sign documents in Arabic but to have refused. They have been denied access to lawyers of their choice and have launched a hunger strike in protest against their detention and ill-treatment."

We noted Fatemeh Kherzie in yesterday's snapshot. She's among the protestors in London who are on a hunger strike as they call for action from the United States. Emma Rowley (This Is London) reports today on Kehrzie and notes she has not been able to contact her sister Farzaneh at Camp Ashraf in weeks. She's quoted stating, "I'm dizzy but I don't want anything until I have some news from Ashraf." Fatemeh Kherzie was hospitalized earlier in her hunger strike and she's now refusing treatment and fluids. Also in England, Soudabeh Heidari is on a hunger strike. Tomasz Johnson (Mill Hill Times) reports the 19-year-old was also hospitalized but, like Fatemeh, has refused medical advice and is continuing her hunger strike. A spokesperson for the strikers, Laila Jazeyeri, tells Johnson, "At any moment she could slip into coma. None of them are responding to us at the moment. They don't want to go to hospital. We're worried sick about them. People are dying in central London and no one knows about it."

British citizen Danny Fitzsimons is facing a trial in Iraq and could be sentenced to death. He served in the British military for eight years and was stationed in Afghanistan and Kosovo. He is accused of being the shooter in a Sunday Green Zone incident in which 1 British contractor, Paul McGuigan, and 1 Australian contractor, Darren Hoare, died and one Iraqi, Arkhan Madhi, was injured. Eric and Liz Fitzsimons spoke to the BBC (link has video) and noted that they are not asking for Danny to 'walk.' They stated that he has to take responsibility. But they want a fair trial and do not believe that is possible in Iraq. His legal defense team doesn't believe he can get a fair trial either stating today that the British military's presence in Iraq during the war means that Fitzsimons will be used as scapegoat.

Haroon Siddique (Guardian) spoke with the family and reports on Danny's PTSD:

The walls of his flat were covered with poems about death and destruction and Fitzsimons would pace the floor at night, they said.
"We feel deeply for the two men who were shot and their families but there is a third victim in this," his stepmother, Liz, a teacher, told the Independent. "He is very, very poorly. He should not have got a paid post working for a private security firm."
His brother Michael said Fitzsimons would cry as he told of finding a child's head in Kosovo, picking up bits of his friend's brain in Iraq, and the faces of enemies he had killed in combat. Michael Fitzsimons said his brother told him: "I won't make it past 30, I will either get shot out there or kill myself."
In 2004, a psychiatric report said that he had combat stress after he drunkenly punched an officer and was held back when his battalion was sent to Iraq.

Also speaking with the family is Terri Judd (Independent of London):

In the interview Mr Fitzsimons's father, Eric, and stepmother, Liz, said their son had been diagnosed with a form of stress disorder when he was discharged from the army five years ago. But this had been exacerbated by repeated tours with security companies in Iraq in which he had been injured and lost countless friends to bombs. A recent assessment had found his condition had worsened.
Mr Fitzsimons said his son should be recognised as another victim of the shooting. "We do feel very, very sorry for these two men and their families. But Daniel is also a victim."
The couple explained the family were terrified that he would be made an example of for a multi-billion dollar industry, whose employees recently lost immunity following a shootout involving US security firm Backwater in which 17 civilians were killed.
"We are worried the trial will be rushed through and he will be made a scapegoat. We can't let that happen."
The family said that Mr Fitzsimons was discharged from the 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment after tours in Bosnia, Kosovo, Northern Ireland and Afghanistan. But they insisted it was the dangerous work that he carried out for private security companies in Iraq that had sent him on a dramatic spiral downwards exacerbated by drink and prescription medication.

Amnesty International has issued the following statement:

Responding to reports that a British employee of a security company working in Iraq may face a death sentence, Amnesty International UK Media Director Mike Blakemore said:
'It's right that private military and security company employees like Danny Fitzsimons are not placed above the law when they're working in places like Iraq and it's right that the Iraqi authorities are set to investigate this very serious incident.
'However, as with all capital cases, Amnesty would strenuously oppose the application of the death penalty if applied to Mr Fitzsimons in this case.
'Iraq has a dreadful record of unfair capital trials and at least 34 people were hanged in the country last year alone.
'The important thing now is that if Danny Fitzsimons is put on trial he is allowed a fair trial process without resort to the cruelty of a death sentence.'

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oh boy it never ends