Friday, August 21, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, a new round of scapegoating follows Wednesday's Baghdad bombings, the US announces charges against 4 of their own members, the DoD announced a death yesterday, Cindy Sheehan gears up for the demonstrations on Martha's Vineyard next week, and more.
Today on NPR's The Diane Rehm Show, Susan Page filled in for Diane who had a spill and will be off for a brief period. The second hour found Susan discussing international news with Thom Shanker, Nancy A. Youssef and Brian Winter. This morning the Chicago Tribune noted the death toll from Wednesday's bombings in Baghdad had risen to 101 and Wednesday's bombings were discussed early in the program.
Susan Page: You know, Brian, we also had a lot of violence this week in Iraq. What happened there?
Brian Winter: Well you saw two coordinated bombings and then a wave of minor attacks elsewhere in Baghdad on the same day. I think the latest death toll on that is at least 100. The reaction by the Iraqi government has been interesting, though. I think in some respects, they're acting almost like a young state should in these situations because you hear talk from the politicians about accountability from the security forces and apparently they've arrested some people for negligence. Um, there's been a lot of a kind of rush to judgment saying 'Well maybe Iraqis aren't able to provide security on their own.' But the fact is this all happened six weeks after the handover of control by US troops and then you see this-this really the first major attack in Baghdad during that time so I-I think that -- I think it'll be interesting over the next couple of weeks whether you see similar attacks like this or whether they manage to clamp down and bring things under control a little bit.
Susan Page: Thom, your paper this morning, the New York Times, there was a front page story that said the Iraqi government actually had asked for the help of US troops although they waited a couple of hours after the attacks and then tried to minimize or avoid acknowledging that they had done that
Thom Shanker: Well so much of it is about the optics. The administration of Prime Minister Maliki has said that they're ready to take on security, they are a sovereign state. But within three hours of these horrific attacks that Brian's just described, they did have to reach out to the American military that, as we all recall, has withdrawn outside the major cities. They needed the support. I think there are some really important tactical decisions facing Maliki right now. He has embarked on a program to pull down these giant concrete walls. All of us on this panel spent lots of time in Baghdad and they are ugly and they divide the city and yet they are very important to security. That is one step that he could change, he could stop the removal of those walls and that could increase security dramatically.
Susan Page: Why do the walls these concrete walls, barriers, increase security?
Thom Shanker: Because they allow you to seperate nieghborhoods, they allow you to have rather impregnable checkpoints so that you can see what vehicles are coming and going. At the same time, it is an overt and ugly sign that Maliki is really not in control of his country and he wants to remove those visual reminders of the occupation.
Susan Page: But Nancy are we seeing growing tensions, rifts, between the Sunnis and the Shi'ites there?
Nancy A. Youssef: Well I think what we're seeing is an-an insurgency that's evolving in part because of those walls coming down. The Foreign Ministry which was attacked, the bomb went off at a place where there was a checkpoint a few weeks ago. And it's hard for me to answer that question only in so much as you know when the walls were up the attacks were a lot more indiscriminate. The attacker would go to crowded markets where there were Shia because they couldn't get anywhere else and now with so many walls coming down so quickly, this time they went after a political headquarters so I'm not sure if it's an evolution of the Sunni-Shia rift or if it's an anti-government versus pro-insurgency rift. I don't know how -- how sectarian it is because the-the dismantling of those walls gives the insurgency a lot more opportunity to have more precise attacks.
Susan Page: Our phone lines are open You can give us a call at 1-800-433-8850. Bryan?
Brian Winter: Yeah but we knew this would happen though, right? Both Iraqi commanders and American commanders have been warning about this kind of attack, really since the beginning of June when the pullout of the troops from US cities started to happen. And as far as your question, Susan, about Sunni-Shi'ite rift, I'm not really sure that it's any worse than it was a couple of months ago. There are apparently some political tensions right now as they try to uh you know undergo this exercise of democracy, getting their coalitions together prior to the elections in January. But things overall seem certainly much better than they were a year, a year and a half ago.
Susan Page: Nancy?
Nancy A. Youssef: I think it might also speak to an Iraqi security force that is not capable yet of taking over the city as much as people thought when this began. Is this a test of what they can handle is this a sign that the Iraqi troops aren't ready? I mean how such huge explosives could penetrate so many checkpoints is a problem. And-and as Brian points out, with everything that happens in Iraq right now, is always politically motivated -- as were the taking down of those blast walls -- and I think one of the reasons that government was so hesitant to ask for US troops it's the one sign, the ultimate sign, the ultimate sign, that Iraqis are not in control, that they have to ask US forces to come back into the cities.
Susan Page: Thom, does this violence imperil the schedule that was set up for the withdrawal of most US combat troops?
Thom Shanker: Well, I mean the schedule can be altered at the request of the Iraqi administration but it is a treaty, I mean it is a bilateral agreement so it can't be changed on its own I think one very interesting point for those who are grasping for glimmers of optimism is that the Shia have thus far not really responded with the kind of violence we saw back in '06 that truly drove the country towards civil war. So I think that the Shi'ite leadership is looking at their numbers, looking at the future and thus far according to American intelligence and our colleagues on the ground in Iraq, they're being very restrained. If that restraint holds, then they may actually sort of get through this with a level of violence unacceptable to us but somehow manageable there.
Susan Page: Thom Shanker is Pentagon correspondent for the New York Times and we're also joined this hour by Nancy Youssef, Pentagon correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers and Brian Winter, the foreign editor for USA Today.
Adam Ashton (The Hive, Modesto Bee) reports on covering the bombing for McClatchy:
I notice we're driving toward the Green Zone entrance. If we can't drive to the bombings, we'll walk there.
The plan works, even in the noontime heat that makes your heart beat a little faster and the sweat roll down.
We approach the site of a buckled 12-story building and police and firefighters start hassling us about taking pictures.
"Right, I'll fix it by not taking a picture," Hammad barks at someone in a blue uniform.
(It's irritating when this happens in the states. There's something that feels especially wrong about that pressure when you're talking about a truck bomb that kills 60 people. People need to know that this happens, and they need to see how bad it is.)
I snap a couple pictures of the damaged Foreign Ministry before we decide that I'm risking having my camera confiscated. I slink back and take pictures of rows and rows of cars with shattered windows in a parking lot opposite the ministry.
We saw an elderly woman shopkeeper sorting out debris in her street-level store. The bomb knocked her to the ground and buried her underneath her shelves and goods. A taxi driver helped her out. His car was smashed and totaled by the bomb. We ask her a couple questions and she rails on the government that she says let this happen.
"Our house is destroyed. Where are we going to sleep tonight? It would be better if I had died," she says.
Last night Ashton and Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reported on the bombings in southern Iraq whose death toll had climbed to 30 with almost 200 wounded. As pointed out last night, that moved the number of dead reported yesterday to 40 and the injured to 71. Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) reports the latest news on Wednesday's bombing is Iraqi Maj Gen Qassim Atta is stating the attacks were carried out by "a cell" and -- yes, it's coming -- it's a cell connected to "the ousted Baath regime of Saddam Hussein". Translation, they still don't know who's responsible but they will milk the blame to their own benefit for as long as they think they can. (Karadsheh words it more kindly, "The Iraqi government in the past has made claims of arrests that did not hold up. In April, it said it had captured Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the head of al Qaeda in Iraq's umbrella group, the Islamic State of Iraq. The Islamic State of Iraq denied it, and the capture was never confirmed by the U.S. military." And remember what outlet reported that arrest without skepticism? And remember how we don't bother that with that report as a result?) Gilbert Mercier (News Junkie Post) tracks the charges and counter-charges from various political parties in Iraq. Meanwhile Adam Ashton reports that the bombings may mean a shake up in the layers of "security" in Baghdad with members of Parliament demanding resignations: "About 50 lawmakers grilled the heads of Iraq's security departments Friday, seeking answers for how insurgents managed to place trucks loaded with thousands of pounds of explosives next to the ministries Wednesday, killing 95 people and wounding more than 1,200." And for the citizens? Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) reports, "A day after Baghdad's worst bombings since February 2008, shops that normally would have been packed with Iraqis buying food for the frenzy of Ramadan cooking that many engage in after breaking the day's fast had only scattered buyers. Residents who ventured out had conflicting views about whether the government should pursue plans to take down the remaining blast walls around the capital." Rod Nordland wrote the New York Times front page story Susan Page referred to on The Diane Rehm Show. His article included: "The Iraqis also kept quiet about a decision by the prime minister late Wednesday to suspend his earlier order that all blast walls and similar fortifications be removed from the city by mid-September. An Iraqi government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss security matters, said the suspension took immediate effect. There was no official announcement, but blast-wall removal that had been under way in the Salhiya area of Baghdad did not resume Thursday."
On The Diane Rehm Show, no one mentioned the report that came out earlier this week -- even though it refutes the notion of Shi'ite spiritual leaders 'healing' their own communities. Then again, no one on the show was from an outlet that bothered to offer an article on the report. USA Today did a brief blog post. Monday Human Rights Watch released a report entitled "'They Want Us Exterminated': Murder, Torture, Sexual Orientation and Gender in Iraq." For the 67-page report [PDF format warning] click here. Today Joshua Lynsen (Southern Voice Atlanta) notes the report and notes US Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill insists, "We have requested that the Ministry of Interior investigate any and all allegations that Iraqi security forces were in any way involved in these attaks." Lynsen points out, "But the report says such words have translated into few actions, nothing that 'armed groups still are free to persecute and kill based on prejudice and hatred' and 'the state still greets their depredations with impunity'." Kevin Lynch (Gay & Lesbian Issues Examiner) adds, "Gay activists said militiamen loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr had target lists containing the names of men suspected of being gay. Some were killed and some were tortured. " At the end of July, Paul Wiseman and Nadeem Majeed (USA Today) wrote a lenghty article on the targeting of Iraq's LGBT community noting people like Hassan who "says he sometimes stays at home with his brothers -- their parents are dead -- but he's afraid even of them, afraid they will kill him because he has brought shame to the family."
In some of the violence reported today . . .
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad sticky bombing which resulted in 2 deaths and twenty people injured, a Tal Afar bombing which claimed 1 life and left three peopel wounded, a Mosul roadside bombing which claimed the lives of 4 Iraqi soldiers and left one more injured and, dropping back to Thursday night, a Falluja bombing which wounded "two guards of Captain Jamal al Jumaili".
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a drive-by attack on Sheikh Abdul Rahman Thahir Al-dhari in Falluja that left two of his guards wounded and a Kirkuk shooting incident where a husband and wife and their son were injured by unknown assailants.
Reuters notes 1 corpse (peshmerga) discovered in Mosul (he was kidnapped the day prior).
The Defense Dept issued a statement yesterday:
The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. Spc. Matthew D. Hastings, 23, of Claremore, Okla., died Aug. 17 in Baghdad, Iraq, of injuries sustained from a non-combat related incident. He was assigned to the 582nd Medical Logistics Company, 1st Medical Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command, Fort Hood, Texas. The circumstances surrounding the incident are under investigation. For more information media may contact the Fort Hood public affairs office at (254) 287-9993; after hours (254) 287-2520; or via the internet at Fort Hood's news center online at http://www.hood.army.mil/news.paos.aspx .
The announcement -- which never came from M-NF, brings the number of US service members who died in Iraq since the start of the illegal war to 4333.
July 28th, Nouri al-Maliki ordered an assault on Camp Ashraf -- a camp in Baghdad where dissident Iranians (labeled terrorists by the US government) live. The assault has been called out by Amnesty International and the ICRC (among others). It's also received little attention from 'alternative' media. Last week Tanya Snyder (Free Speech Radio News) reported on Camp Ashraf and among those she interviewed for the report were the International Committee of the Red Cross' Bernard Barrett who explained, "In particular concern is the whole principle of nonrefulment which basically means that a person cannot be forced to go back to a country where they have grounded or serious fears of persecution or ill treatment because of the ethnicity or political beliefs or religion or whatever." Ron Jacobs (at CounterPunch) notes the silence and explains the support in the US on the part of neocons before adding:
This attack and its aftermath is not about the PMOI's all too apparent coziness with elements of the neoconservative establishment in the United States. It is about a human rights violation by Washington's client government in Iraq. This is also not the recent elections in Iran and whether or not they were fair. It is about a group of dissidents who appear to be somewhat isolated from their natural constituency while also being surrounded by well-armed US and Iraqi military with instructions to keep them penned where they are.
It is wrong that the members of the PMOI were attacked by forces of the Maliki government in Baghdad on July 28 and 29, 2009 while US forces looked on. It is the right thing to expose this action and to ask that it not be repeated. The attack exists as a human rights violation in a country that is a vast ocean of human rights violations, many of them the result of the US invasion. It should be condemned. Yet, for some reason, the PMOI is asking one of the greatest human rights violators in Iraq and elsewhere around the world--the US government--to protect them.
As Ron knows but doesn't say (it's a brief article), the ties that bind many neocons is their Socialist roots. They were the Scoop Jackson Socialists, the ones who, in 1972, refused to endorse George McGovern because they believed in continuing the war on Vietnam ('we can't pull out!' they said sounding like socialists at a think tank today that's in the 'center'). (And that's when they split with the group that went on to become Democratic Socialists for America -- Gloria Steinem, Robin Morgan, Carl Davidson, etc. who were the left wing and non-neocon Socialists.) The Scoop Jackson Socialists moved over to the State Dept under Ronald Reagan and Reagan really was their complete embrace of the Republican Party. The residents of Camp Ashraf have Marxist roots and if support from neocons is noted, it should be noted that they not only share contempt for the current leadership in Iran, but also because they hail from similar political pasts.
Today the US military announced that Staff Sgt Enoch Chatman, Staff Sgt Bob Clements, Sgt Jarrett Taylor and Spc Daniel Weber are all "charged with cruelty and maltreatment of subordinates . . . The four Soliders are alleged to have treated Soldiers within their platoon inappropriately." CNN states they are accused of "cruelty and maltreatment of four subordinates in Iraq after a suicide investigation brought to light alleged wrongdoing, the military said Friday." Michelle Tan (Army Times via USA Today) reports, "The alleged mistreatment consisted of verbal abuse, physical punishment and ridicule of the subordinate soldiers, Lt. Col. Kevin Olson, spokesman for Multi-National Division-South wrote in an e-mail to Army Times."
"They gave me a gun" he said
"They gave me a mission
For the power and the glory --
Propaganda -- piss on 'em
There's a war zone inside me --
I can feel things exploding --
I can't even hear the f**king music playing
For the beat of -- the beat of black wings."
[. . .]
"They want you -- they need you --
They train you to kill --
To be a pin on some map --
Some vicarious thrill --
The old hate the young
That's the whole heartless thing
The old pick the wars
We die in 'em
To the beat of -- the beat of black wings"
-- "The Beat of Black Wings," words and music by Joni Mitchell, first appears on her Chalk Mark In A Rainstorm.
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 Green Zone incident this month 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. Martin Chulov (Guardian) provides an interview with Danny Fitzsimons where the contractor explains he is blurry on the details of the night of the shooting and states, "I have sat here trying to think through the whys and the wherefores. I see Paul and Darren's faces every night before I sleep and every morning when I wake up. The only two people who can tell me what happened that night are both dead. All I know is that it went really, really bad, really quickly." Oliver August (Times of London) report that attorneys John Tipple and Nick Wrack believe they have found grounds (in Iraqi law -- dating back to 1930) for allowing Danny to be tried in England -- the dead are not Iraqis (one is British, one is Australian) so a transfer to country of origin is possible.
Turning to the United States, next week a demonstration against the illegal and ongoing wars:
Next week, Cindy Sheehan will join other like-minded peace activists to have a presence near the expensive resort on Martha's Vineyard where President Obama will be vacationing the week of August 23-30.
From her home in California, Ms. Sheehan released this statement:
"There are several things that we wish to accomplish with this protest on Martha's Vineyard.
Secondly, we as a movement need to continue calling for an immediate end to the occupations even when there is a Democrat in the Oval Office. There is still no Noble Cause no matter how we examine the policies.
Thirdly, the body bags aren't taking a vacation and as the US led violence surges in Afghanistan and Pakistan, so are the needless deaths on every side.
And, finally, if the right-wing can force the government to drop any kind of public option or government supported health care, then we need to exert the same kind of pressure to force a speedy end to the occupations."
Cindy Sheehan will arrive on the Vineyard on Tuesday, August 25th.
Related, Charlie Gibson has embarrassed himself again. No, he didn't fall asleep on live TV. No, he didn't get caught lying to Gore Vidal (in the midst of an interview on Timothy McVeigh when Charlie didn't like what Gore was saying) that the satellite signal was going out. No, he didn't step into a job held by a man who'd been injured reporting in Iraq and by a woman who was being 'eased out' for the 'crime' of pregnancy. He didn't walk around an eatery with toilet paper on his shoe either (that happened at the start of the month). No, this time he just shot off his big, uninformed mouth.
Conservative Byron York (Washington Examiner) reports that Morning Chat Charlie went on the radio yesterday and declared "Enough already" about Cindy's planned protest at Martha's Vineyard. I'm not aware of Charlie owning property there (I do) so I'm really not aware of why he feels the need to weigh in? It's not as if he's the voice of the Vineyard and from calls I've had, most are at worst curious. I'm referring to the people who own. Not the hangers on who rush out this time of year to play "Look at me!" Possibly including Charlie and surely including Barack and Michelle. As someone who owns property there and wouldn't be caught dead there at this time of year due to the influx of outside posers, I'd say the "Enough already" needs to go to them and not to Cindy Sheehan who's neither posing or pretending but utilizing her First Amendment political free speech.
York notes Cindy Sheehan's "Enough Already" (Cindy Sheehan's Soapbox):
"Enough already?" Hmmm…I don't know Charlie Gibson and I don't pay any attention to his career, but I seem to agree with him on this one: "Enough already."
Enough with the killing, torturing, wounding and profiting off of the backs of our troops and off of the lives of the people of Iraq-Af-Pak: as our brothers and sisters in Latin America say: "Basta!"
Somehow, I don't think that this is what Charlie Gibson meant, though. I am sure that he just wants me to go away like most of the rest of the anti-war movement has done under the Obama presidency.
One of the things I hear quite often from people from all over the political spectrum is: "Why don't you just go away, you've had your 15 minutes of fame."
Yes, that's exactly what I thought as soon as I heard that my son was killed in the US's illegal and immoral war in Iraq: "this is a perfect opportunity to get my 15 minutes of fame." Actually, after I slowly recovered from the shock and horror, the pain always remains, I thought that I had to do everything I can to end this nightmare so other mothers/families wouldn't have to go through what I was going through and what I am going through.
Katie Couric (Katie Couric's Notebook, CBS Evening News with Katie Couric -- link is text and video) notes the efforts to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell in the US -- the Clinton era compromise to allow gays and lesbians to serve in the military if they didn't "tell" (which never worked out the way intended and never stopped investigations into 'character'). Couic offers, "Whatever Congress decides, one thing will not change. Gays and lesbians will still serve in uniform, fighting for our freedom, whether or not they have the freedom to acknowledge who they really are." Matthew Hansen (Omaha World-Herald) reports on Iraq War veteran Austin Bailey attending a Voices Of Honor presentation and quotes Bailey stating, "Toward the end of my career, I just didn't want to lie anymore. I thought, 'I'm putting my life on the line here. I don't have anything to be ashamed of'." Voices of Honor is a group of veterans -- straight and gay -- who are doing speak-outs throughout the country to raise awareness on the issue in the hopes of moving Congress to overturn the ban. Raising awareness is the concrete accomplishment the group will have, Congress has no plans to overturn Don't Ask, Don't Tell. It's smoke and mirrors. From the July 15ht snapshot:
The myth is that Barry O wants to repeal it. And that he's tasked Congress with getting a bill on his desk so he can repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The reality is that House and Senate leadership (Democratic control of both houses) would be putting it to a vote immediately if that's what Barack really wanted. He doesn't want it and the leadership is attempting to bury it. The bill's written, it's called the Military Readiness Enahncement Act of 2009. Ellen Tauscher introduced it March 3, 2009. It's July 15th. There has been no vote despite the fact that there are 161 sponsors. Now that's the House. In the Senate? Allegedly the issue will be steered by Ted Kennedy. Other than Senator Roland Burris, no one in the Senate has spoken publicly in support of changing it in the last few weeks when it's been a major topic in the press. As for Kennedy leading on it? He has other issues including his own health and promoting his upcoming book. So you have a bill that, if the House leadership was serious, they'd be voting on tomorrow. They're not. The White House doesn't want it and leadership in the House is blocking a vote. (In the Senate there is no action at all.)
Ted's offering leadership? He's attempting to alter the process for his replacement being selected because he fears he won't be able to vote on ObamaInsuranceCare. Note that the alleged Senate leader on repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell isn't concerned about it. And, truth be told, Ted never has been. But let's all lie and pretend like it's going to be repealed this year. And, at the end of this year, we can lie and pretend like next year -- an election year -- it will be repealed. Or we can get honest.
Iraq Veterans Against the War's Adam Kokesh is running for the US Congress out of New Mexico's third district and he announced last month he was going to be on the Republican ticket (link has video and text). He weighs in on ObamaInsuranceCare here and notes:
The White House announced today that its two-week old program to collect tips on people spreading "disinformation about health insurance reform" has been scrapped. While Macon Phillips, the White House new media director, described the turn of events "ironic," the real irony was the program itself. Can you fathom what kind of arrogance would lead this propaganda spewing White House to think it could convince us that they were just trying to help Americans get the truth? And that turning Americans to spy on Americans was the way to do it?
TV notes, NOW on PBS re-airs their program from April on rape kits:
A terrible statistic: one in six women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. But an even more shocking reality: A backlog in processing rape kits—crucial evidence in arresting violent predators—is delaying and sometimes denying justice for tens of thousands of American women.
This week, NOW travels to Los Angeles County to investigate why it has the country's largest known rape kit backlog. An internal audit found that more than 50 of their cases have already exceeded the 10-year statute of limitations on rape.
That begins airing tonight on most PBS stations as does Washington Week, where Gwen sits around the table with Peter Baker (New York Times), Naftali Bendavid (Wall St. Journal), Jeanne Cummings (Politico) and Ceci Connolly (Washington Post). In addition, we're asked to note that tomorrow at the Washington Week website there will be a an "Extra!" you can stream which will be an extended version of the roundtable.
If you don't know, Washington Week has been offering basically an hour's worth of programming for some time. They claim it's a web bonus for their audience but the show really wants to expand and if any PBS friend is upset with me for stating that, let me suggest you look up the "extra" from earlier in the year when Gwen herself spoke of that in replying to a question a viewer e-mailed. An additional thirty minutes wouldn't be a bad thing if they'd be serious. If you've ever watched the extra each week, you know that doesn't always happen. It will be posted online tomorrow. If you watch the extra each week, you most likely grab the podcast and maybe thinking, "Huh?" That's because you can download the podcast (with extra) shortly after the show goes off. The difference this week is that instead of waiting until Monday afternoon for the extra to go up at the website, it will be up tomorrow. (And streaming from the website is easier for some computer users than podcasting. Catching a video podcast requires certain system requirements and certain types of connections unless someone wishes to spend hours downloading.)
Meanwhile Bonnie Erbe and her guests Karen Czarnecki, Cari Dominguez, Irene Natividad and Patricia Sosa the week's news on this week's edition of PBS' To The Contrary. Check local listings, on many stations, it begins airing tonight. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers: