Monday, August 17, 2009

Targeting Iraq's LGBT community and Iraq's press

In Iraq, who's not under assault? The 'freedom' and 'democracy' overseen by puppet Nouri al-Maliki never drifts over to the religious minorities or the LGBT community or the Iraqi press. Two of those groups are in the new cyle this morning: the LGBT community and the press.

Picking up from last night, a new report from Human Rights Watch will be released today (click here for Ernesto Londono's Washington Post report). This morning the BBC adds of the report, "The report says members of the Mehdi Army militia group is spearheading the campaign, but police are also accused even though homosexuality is legal. Witnesses say vigilante groups break into homes and pick people up in the street, interrogating them to extract the names of other potential victims, before murdering them." CNN notes, "Interviews with doctors indicate hundreds of men had been killed, but the exact number was unclear because of the stigma associated with homosexuality in Iraq, the New York-based watchdog group said in its report." BBC correspondent Natalia Antelava interviewed gay men in Baghdad who report that no attempts are made by security forces to stop the assaults against them.

The Human Rights Watch report is entitled "'They Want Us Exterminated': Murder, Torture, Sexual Orientation and Gender in Iraq." For the 67-page report [PDF format warning] click here.

The report opens with Hamid relating how his partner was murdered:

It was late one night in early April, and they came to take my partner at his parents' home. Four armed men barged into the house, masked and wearing black. They asked for him by name; they insulted him and took him in front of his parents. All that, I heard about later from his family.
He was found in the neighborhood the day after. They had thrown his corpse in the garbage. His genitals were cut off and a piece of his throat was ripped out.
Since then, I've been unable to speak properly. I feel as if my life is pointless now. I don't have friends other than those you see; for years it has just been my boyfriend and myself in that little bubble, by ourselves. I have no family now -- I cannot go back to them. I have a death warrant on me. I feel the best thing to do is just to kill myself. In Iraq, murderers and thieves are respected more than gay people.
Their measuring rod to judge people is who they have sex with. It is not by their conscience, it is not by their conduct or their values, it is who they have sex with. The cheapest thing in Iraq is a human being, a human life. It is cheaper than an animal, than a pair of used-up batteries you buy on the street. Especially people like us.

His partner of ten years is murdered and he has to live in fear, hide his own grief and hide who he is. And this is the country the US 'liberated'. Human Rights Watch's report notes that most of the Iraqis interviewed self-label as "gay" but the murderers would "describe the victims and excuse the killings with a potpourri of words and justifications, identifying those they abominate in shifting ways -- suggesting how concerns about an Iraq where men are no longer masculine drive the death squads, as much as fears of sexual 'sin.' 'Puppies,' a vilifying slang term of apparently recent vintage, implies that the men are immature as well as inhuman. Both the media and sermons in mosques warn of a wave of effeminacy among Iraqi men, and execrate the 'third sex'.'' The report also notes that while "gay" may be a new term in Iraq, homosexuals and lesbians are not new to Iraq ("always existed in Iraqi society, as in all societies"). HRW also notes that the hatred towards "'feminized' men reveals only hatred of women."

Tariq shares with HRW:

At the end of March, I started to hear from friends that the Mahdi Army was killing gays. The newspapers also reported there was an increase in the "third sex" in Iraq, also known as "puppies" [jarawi]. Then on April 4, I found out that two of my gay friends, Mohammed and Mazen, had been killed. I think those were their names; within a gay group, gays rarely give out their real names. We were friends, we met in cafes or chatted on the Internet, and
one day they just disappeared.
A few days later, I met the brother of one of them and he told me they were killed. They were kidnapped on the street and then their bodies were found near a mosque, with signs of torture. One was 18, one was 19.
A couple of days after that, on April 6 or 7, I was in my parents' house, and someone threw a letter at the door. I didn’t see who. Inside the envelope was a bullet. It had brown blood on it, and the letter said, "What are you still here for? Are you ready to die?"
I think those two were tortured into giving my name, because two days after I learned they were killed I got this threat. ... I spoke by phone to a friend of mine yesterday night: he is also gay but he's very masculine and no one knows about him. He said, "Get out if you can and save yourself. They are killing gays left and right."
I said, "Who is doing it?" He said, "Everyone knows. Who do you think? The Mahdi Army."

The report traces how militias originated from the security vacuum created by the US invasion. The Madhi 'Army' billed itself as the protector of society and "an agent of social cleansing." An unnamed journalist floats the idea that the Mahdi militia is now targeting LGBTs because "[g]etting rid of the Sunnis and the Americans is less important". Mashal was kidnapped by the Mahdi militia and he's quoted explaining:

It was about 4 p.m. and four men came inside the shop. They lingered and when I tried to get them to leave, they pulled out guns. They had three cars -- one a black Daewoo -- and they put me in one and covered my eyes.
It was the Mahdi Army -- they are the ones who operate in the area. The place they took me to wasn’t far away: it was very close to a mosque or actually in the courtyard, because I could hear the call to prayer very clearly. When they hauled me out of the car they beat me until I fell unconscious.
Late the next day, they came to me and said, "We know you are gay, we know you're farakhji" [a derogatory term used in Iraq for men who have sex with men]. They pulled out a list of names and started reading them: you know these perverts, you know X and Y and Z. They gave the first name and the neighborhood where he lived. I knew four who were still alive. One they had already killed. They had killed my friend Waleed in February, before I was kidnapped. He was walking down a big street between Hayy Ur and al Shaab [in northeast Baghdad near Sadr City] at dusk. I asked Waleed's brother about it later, and he told me, "Waleed was slaughtered in the street. Don’t ask more." I am sure he was killed because he was gay. He was walking with a bunch of straight friends, and he was killed, not them: he was the one they targeted.
He was the first name on the list they read me.
There were many more names I didn't know. I admitted knowing those four, but I said it was only because they were customers in my shop.
They interrogated me for three hours that night. They kept me blindfolded and gagged, and when they wanted me to speak, they took out the gag. They demanded I give them names of other gays. At night they got a broomstick, and they used it to rape me.
After that, they negotiated a ransom. They asked my family for $50,000 USD.
My brothers sold my shop, my car, everything I had to put together half that. When they let me go they said, "We have our sources, and we know exactly what you do. If you step outside your house, you are dead." I never left the house for more than a month, until I fled Baghdad. One of the people whose names they read to me ran away from Baghdad, with his parents. Two others I know are just hiding in their houses. A few don’t answer their phones and I don't know what has happened to them.

This is targeting of a population and it goes on while US service members are on the ground in Iraq but the US White House, State Dept and Embassy in Baghdad do nothing -- despite requests from US House Reps Jared Polis, Tammy Baldwin and Barney Frank, among others. And the problem includes Iraqi forces (and, I say, Nouri). The report explains:

Iraqi police and security forces have done little to investigate or halt the killings. Authorities have announced no arrests or prosecutions; it is unlikely that any have occurred. While the government has made well-publicized attempts since 2006 to purge key ministries of officials with militia ties, including the Ministry of Interior, many Iraqis doubt both its sincerity and its success. Most disturbingly, Human Rights Watch heard accounts of police complicity in abuse—ranging from harassing "effeminate" men at checkpoints, to possible abduction and extrajudicial killing.

As the targeting has taken place, the Iraqi government has refused to call it out. The report points out, "Iraq's leaders must be defenders of all its people. The Iraqi state must desist from silence, and fully and immediately investigate the murder and torture of people targeted because they do not correspond to norms of 'masculinity,' or are suspected of homosexual conduct." Following the murders, the police look the other way. The murders are not punished, the killings are not investigated: "The brutality of the killings, the proliferation of mutilated corpses discarded in the trash, not only conveys the power of the killers and dispensability of the victims, but makes the dead a savage example. Bodies castrated, broken, tortured -- becomes billboards, on which punishment is less imposed than inscribed." The report makes recommendations for many bodies but here are the recommendations for the Iraqi government:

• Investigate all reports of militia or other violence against people targeted because they do not correspond to norms of "masculinity," or are suspected of homosexual conduct, and appropriately punish those found responsible;
• Publicly and expressly condemn all such violence;
• Investigate whether ties continue between the Ministry of Interior and militias that have operated in the past as quasi-independent security forces under the Ministry's protection, including the Mahdi Army;
• Investigate all claims of abuse by police or security forces, including abuses against people because they do not correspond to norms of "masculinity," or are suspected of homosexual conduct, and appropriately punish those found responsible;
• Investigate and prosecute all Ministry of Interior officials involved in death squad killings or other unlawful acts, including torture, assault, and extortion;
• Properly vet and train all police, security forces, and criminal justice officials, ensuring that this entails training in human rights inclusive of issues of sexual orientation and gender expression and identity, and establish effective monitoring and accountability mechanisms;
• Take all appropriate measures to end torture, disappearances, summary killings, and other abuses, including abuses based on sexual orientation and gender expression and identity;
• Repeal article 128 of the Criminal Code, which identifies "The commission of an offence with honorable motives" as a "mitigating excuse";
• Examine vague articles of the Criminal Code, including paragraphs 401, 402, 501, 502, and 200(2), that could justify arbitrary arrest or harassment of people due to their sexual orientation or gender expression and identity, or could be used to prevent civil society from addressing unpopular or stigmatized issues; repeal or modify them if necessary, or otherwise ensure that they are not applied in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner contrary to international human rights law;
• Create and support an independent National Human Rights Commission;
• Support the development of domestic independent human rights non-governmentalorganizations with the capacity to monitor the full range of human rights violations, and ensure that they can operate without state harassment or interference;
• Train all criminal-justice authorities in effective responses to gender-based violence against women and men;
• Promote gender equality by embodying in legislation explicit guarantees for women's equal rights to marriage, within marriage, at the dissolution of marriage, and in inheritance.

A large number of the LGBT community is fleeing or has fled Iraq and HRW calls on foreign governments to assist with this segment of the Iraqi refugee population. They note Jordan, Turkey and Syria -- three countries that house the majority of Iraq's external refugees -- are not countries where LGBTs are likely to feel welcomed.

Turning to the targeting of the press, though the New York Times does a poor job (to put it mildly) on attempts by Nouri al-Maliki to impose censorship in Iraq, NPR's Deborah Amos (All Things Considered) manages to address the topic:

Deborah Amos: The demonstrators chose a place in central Baghdad that sends an unmistakable message: Al-Mutanabi Street -- a literary center for generations is lined with book shops as well as an outdoor market that does a lively trade in racy romance novels and political magazines. Here book sellers joined journalists and authors for a rousing protest. Over the past few months, the government has been quietly proceeding on laws to register websites and ban certain books. But opponents say it's a first step to limit freedom of expression.

Emad al-Khafaji: I am afraid of the return of the censorship.

Deborah Amos: Iraqi journalist, Emad al-Khafaji

Emad al-Khafaji: It's not enough to say "for national security, I cannot accept this book or that book." No, this thing will remind us of Saddam era.

Deborah Amos: When Saddam's era was swept away after the US-led invasion, new media outlets came rushing in. Even the poorest neighborhoods sprouted rooftop satellite dishes. For the first time, Iraqis could feast on Lebanese music videos and Turkish soap operas. They soon discovered website porn and online gambling but in this media revolution more dangerous ideas appeared promoting hatred and sectarian violence. The prime minister's proposed law would prohibit websites that deal with terrorism but also drugs, gambling, negative comments about Islam and pornography. Hanna Edward, a human rights actvist, says these vague categories are aimed at stifling Iraq's diversity.

Hanna Edward: This really hinders our democracy, diversity of expression, diversity of opinions. Without it, I fear that we are going again to some dictatorship.

Deborah Amos: Iraq's National Library and Archives has already been a target for government censors. Saad Eskander, the executive director, tells the story in his office filled with books. He's rescued old texts, hidden in basements and personal libraries, written in Hebrew from the day when Iraq had the largest Jewish community in the region. He's also rescued books written by Saddam Hussein. The new censors wanted those books gone.

Saad Eskander: They say we have no right even they are written in a way that not acceptable to us but they are an Iraqi [no idea on the word].

Deborah Amos: A part of Iraq's heritage's Eskander says, he won that fight for now.

Saad Eskander: It reflect old mentality its part of our historical memory and should be read and studied and analyzed in order to prevent the emergence of such dictatorship and brutality in our society.

Deborah Amos: Which is why he says he will stand against the prime minister's proposed censorship law.

Ava and I noted a Ralph column in a piece at Third and Jalisa asked that we could excerpt a portion here. From Ralph Nader's "'Now Make Me Do It'" (

Never much of a fighter against abusive corporate power, Barack Obama is making it increasingly clear that right from his start as President, he wanted health insurance reform that received the approval of the giant drug and health insurance industries.
Earlier this year he started inviting top bosses of these companies for intimate confabs in the White House. Business Week magazine, which proclaimed recently that "The Health Insurers Have Already Won" reported that the CEO of UnitedHealth, Stephen J. Hemsley, met with the President half a dozen times.
These are the vendors. They and their campaign slush funds cannot be ignored in the power struggle over the legislation percolating in the Congress. One public result of these meetings was that the drug industry promised $80 billion in savings over ten years and the health insurance moguls promised $150 billion over the same decade. Mr. Obama trumpeted these declarations without indicating how these savings would be guaranteed, how the drug companies could navigate the antitrust laws and what was given to the health care industry by the White House in return.
We have now learned that one Obama promise was to continue the prohibition on Uncle Sam from bargaining for volume discounts on drugs that you the taxpayer have been paying for in the drug benefit program enacted in 2003.

Jalisa points out that this community endorsed Ralph Nader for president last year and wants this section of a Third editorial quoted, "Before the next Barack Booster comes along and tries to lecture those of us on the left who had the Courage to Vote Our Convictions, he or she might first try taking accountability for all the whoring they did in 2008." Note, Ava and I did not endorse and we voted for either Ralph or Cynthia but are not saying which. We believe votes are private but also believe that third party and independent runs need to be supported so we have no problem making that known -- also true, we'd made clear as early as 2005 that we wouldn't vote for McCain and we stated throughout 2007 that Barack needed to get honest which he enver did. So it was pretty clear we weren't voting for the Dem or Republican presidential nominee. Oklahoma community members endorsed Ralph only to discover he wasn't on their ballot. Their only choice was Barack or John and they went with John because Barack was a War Hawk lying that he would end the Iraq War by pulling out a brigade each month starting with January when he was sworn in. Oklahoma community members were correct that the War Hawk was lying.

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