Thursday, December 17, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the Iraq Inquiry decides it's all about them, the US House prepares to give even more money to the Pentagon,
Starting with War Hawk Tony Blair, former prime minister of England and lapdog to George W. Bush. Neil Clark (First Post via Information Clearing House) notes that the Blair War Crimes Foundation has "an online petition addressed to the President of the UN General Assembly and the UK Attorney General, which lists 14 specific complaints relating to the Iraq war, including 'deceit and conspiracy for war, and providing false news to incite passions for war' and violations of the Geneva Conventions by the occupying powers." Tony Blair is set to testify next year to the Iraq Inquiry in London. Today at the Iraq Inquiry, Chair John Chilcot declared will be in public. At the end of the hearing, he declared:
Evidence will only be heard in private in the narrow circumstances we have set out in the published protocols on our website. But I would like to be absolutely clear about this: eveidence sessions with key decision makers, including the former Prime Minister, will be in public. They will be openly questioned about the big issues that they were involved in.
Will come back to today's hearing in a minute. Of the remarks made by Tony Blair over the weekend that he would have found another rationale for the Iraq War if WMD hadn't been handy, Mick Hume (Spiked) offers the opinion that people are missing the point:
Today the obsession with the tired arguments about Iraq's imaginary nuclear arsenal is also distracting attention from the bigger political questions about the war. Yes, we all know now there were no WMD, it seems the authorities knew it before they invaded Iraq, and many of us had firm suspicions about all that for years beforehand. So, why did Blair and New Labour take Britain to war?
There are two bigger issues here that should be examined, which have little or nothing to do with WMD, or indeed with events in Iraq. The first is about old-fashioned great power realpolitik -- the importance of the US-UK alliance to the British state. The second concerns a more contemporary problem: the domestic crisis of authority facing the British elite.
The role that Britain's relationship with America played in drawing the UK into the invasion has been raised around the Iraq inquiry, but only in terms of what one former official described as Blair's 'sycophancy' towards President George W Bush's administration. The New Labour leader may well have loved the limelight on the White House lawn. But the fact is that any UK prime minister from any establishment party would have found it hard not to sign up for the Iraq War.
Standing alongside America in such conflicts is about more than being Washington's 'poodle'. It is the one chance Whitehall still has of looking like a British bulldog on the world stage. Being a nuclear power with the military force to play a part in great power politics is what still gives the British government a place at the top table of world affairs. That is why, for all the talk of how Gordon Brown would pursue a very different policy towards America from the 'sycophant' Blair, Brown is now the main European cheerleader and lieutenant for President Obama's Afghan adventure. It will take a more courageous political class than this to face up to the truth about Britain's place in the world.
Another opinion is expressed by Aijaz Zaka Syed (Arab News): "Blair and Bush told us this war had been absolutely critical to the security and stability of the "civilized world." Just like the morally bankrupt politicians before them did, they told us the war was necessary for peace! Even when the whole world stood up against the war, from Americas to Asia, the coalition stuck to its guns, insisting the war on Iraq -- already on the brink after two major wars and years of devastating Western sanctions -- was essential to rid the world of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction! And now Blair turns around to tell us WMD or no WMD, the Coalition of the Willing would have invaded Iraq anyway. Ironically though, in doing so, the man who has turned the old-fashioned deceit and lying into a refined art, may be telling the truth for a change! In a now infamous interview with BBC's Fern Britton, Blair gloated: 'I would still have thought it right to remove him (Saddam). I mean obviously you would have had to use and deploy different arguments, about the nature of the threat'." Sian Ruddick (Great Britain's Socialist Worker) reminds, "It is against international law to attack a country on the basis of regime change."
Binoy Kampmark (CounterPunch) focuses on the Inquiry members themselves, "The body reeks of musty establishment. [Director of Public Prosecutions, Ken] Macdonald is quite right to note the less than taxing nature of the proceedings so far. Questioning has been 'unchallenging' and the chair, Sir John Chilcot, has done nothing to suggest that things might change in 2010." Media Lens (via Dissident Voice) has a similar conclusion, "In short, Brown's selection of the Chilcot inquiry committee was one more establishment insult to the British people and to our victims attempting to survive in the wreckage of Iraq. It was one more gesture of contempt for compassion, truth and democracy." Of what the Inquiry has seen during public testimony, Adrian Hamilton (Independent of London) offers: "Senior officials from the Foreign Office turned up before Chilcot to whine about how they were kept out of the loop of Blair's planning, with the implication that somehow it might all have been different if they had been brought in. Sir Jeremy Greenstock, our representative to the UN before the invasion and in Baghdad after, even declared that he was prepared to resign if another UN resolution went against us. Prepared to resign? Anyone who has ever worked in an organisation knows that the threat of future resignation isn't worth the paper it isn't written on." Chris Ames (at Iraq Inquiry Digest) looks at some of the press on the inquiry:
To get the headline issues out of the way first, the Daily Mail and others focus on witnesses' doubts about whether the human cost of the war was justified by the outcome, the Independent and Mirror look at Sir John Sawers' admission that Britain had some advance knowledge of problems at Abu Ghraib and the BBC covers both issues, as well as pointing out that:
"Panel member Sir Roderic remarked that [Lt Gen Sir Robert Fry] was the first witness to suggest that the UK's contribution was 'critical' to winning the war."
The BBC's Peter Biles also says that:
"With the steady accumulation of evidence over the past few weeks, there has been a noticeable and welcome change of tone at the inquiry."
Mehdi Hasan (New Statesman) offers this take on Sawers, "So, according to the head of MI6 - who also happens to be a former foreign-affairs adviser to Tony Blair - it was not 'reasonable' to assume the violence should have been foreseen and that only President Mubarak of Egypt predicted the manner in which the invasion of Iraq would exacerbate the threat of al-Qaeda-related terrorism, inside and outside Iraq. Is he lying, suffering from amnesia or just plain ignorant? It must be one of the three because I can assure Sir John that countless intelligence reports, terrorism experts, diplomats, politicians and pundits, at home and abroad, warned that invading Iraq wouldn't be the 'cakewalk' predicted by the neocons and that it would only radicalise Muslims across the globe, destabilise the country and the region and provide new opportunities for jihadists to attack western troops on a Muslim battlefield." Sawers' testimony isn't the only one being loudly questioned. From yesterday's snapshot:
In addition to Sawers possible problems noted earlier by Sparrow and Ames, the Belfast Telegraph states that another witness, also with M16 at one point (Sawers is the current head of M16) has problems: John Scarlett. They note his claim that the assertion of Iraq being able to attack England "within 45 minutes" was both "reliable and authoritative" is refuted by Brian Jones ("senior WMD analyst"): "Dr Jones, who was head of the nuclear, chemical and biological branch of the Defence Intelligence Staff in the run-up to the invasion, said that it was 'absolutely clear' the intelligence the Government relied upon was coming from untried sources. The 45-minute claim was one of the key assertions that convinced MPs to take Britian to war."
Today Michael Savage (Independent of London) reports:
The Iraq inquiry committee has come under pressure to recall Britain's former spy chief to give further public evidence after allegations that he misled them over Saddam Hussein's ability to use weapons of mass destruction.
Sir John Scarlett, who oversaw the drafting of the government's controversial 2002 dossier outlining the case for invading Iraq, had claimed that intelligence indicating that Iraq could launch missiles within 45 minutes was "reliable and authoritative". But Dr Brian Jones, the most senior WMD analyst who saw the original intelligence, told The Independent that it was vague, inconclusive and unreliable.
And those sort of opinions -- which are held by a great many -- may be why today's hearing seemed to be less about the witnesses and more about the Inquiry itself. Jim Drummond, Martin Dinham and Stephen Pickford appeared before the committee (link goes to transcript and video options -- unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from the transcript). Today Chilcot announced that the hearing would draw to a close . . . and then went on to speak and speak in a defensive manner (including the already quoted section about Blair testifying in public). On and on he spoke. "With that I will draw this session to a close" appears at the bottom of page 113. And then launches into a defensive ramble that finally ends at the bottom of page 118. "We have . . ." "We expect . . ." "We will . . ." Criticism appears to be getting to Chilcot (that's a good thing). Let's hear a bit of the defensive posturing:
Chair John Chilcot: In the hearings so far, a huge amount of valuable and illuminating evidence has been uncovered, and that's why we approach the opening phase of hearings in the way we did. We have not been trying to ambush witnesses or score points. This is a serious Inquiry and we are not hear to provide public sport or entertainment. The whole point of our approach has been to get to the facts. We have been asking fair questions and have been expecting, and getting, full and truthful answers. That is the essence of a formal public inquiry and witness[es] have responded to this approach by being commendably open and candida, highlighting a number of issues which we shall examine much more closely as the Inquiry continues. Our model of questioning and our selection of witnesses in the hearing up until 11 January is designed to help to establish the narrative. We took a conscious decision to do this through the oral hearings rather than through the publication of a mass of documentary material because we believe that this is the most helpful way to provide the necessary context. We have, therefore, not yet made any requests to government to declassify documents to allow them to be published. As we move into the next phase of evidence taking, where we will hear from ministers and the most senior civil servants and military officers, the Inquiry will increasingly wish and need to draw on government documents and records which are currently classified, in some cases highly classified, in its questioning.
Chilcot's salutation, or 'ring off,' came as the Iraq Inquiry rested for the rest of the year. They will next reconvene January 5th in the new year. When that happens, they might try pursuing a list of questions Michael Evans (Times of London) has proposed including: "Why was no action taken when intelligence arrived in March 2003 -- just before the invasion -- that Saddam's chemical weapons had been disassembled?" We may go over today's hearing in tomorrow's snapshot but the big point today was Chilcott's need to offer a lengthy defense of the inquiry he is chairing.
In other news, Andy Sullivan (Reuters) reports that yesterday in the United States, the House of Representatives signed off on a $636 billion military spending bill (395 members voted for it, 34 against it). The huge figure only covers operations through the end of the 2010 fiscal year (September 30, 2010) and doesn't include the monies US President Barack Obama will need for his Afghanistan 'surge.' Today the Center For Arms Control and Non-Proliferation breaks down the bill that $497.7 billion of that is just Dept of Defense "base" spending and not to fund the "military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan." The analysis by Christopher Hellman shows that weapons and gadgets rank third on the funding (under "Procurement" with $105.2 billion) and they include such big ticket items as F/A-22 "Raptor" Fighter, C-130J Transport Aircraft, Joint Cargo Aircraft and C-17 Trasnport. $1.6 billion is budgeted for EA-18G Jamming Aircraft. Jamming aircraft?
All that money goes to waste if the military doesn't even understand the importance of encrypting. Mike Mount and Elaine Quijano (CNN -- link has text and video) report an "unamed" US Official has told them that 'insurgents' have been able to monitor the live streaming feeds the Predator drones flying over Iraq have been sending to the US military. The story was first reported this morning by the Wall St. Journal's Sibohan Gorman, Yochi J. Dreazen and August Cole who noted, "Senior defense and intelligence officials said Iranian-backed insurgents intercepted the video feeds by taking advantage of an unprotected communications link in some of the remotely flown planes' systems. Shiite fighters in Iraq used software programs such as SkyGrabber -- available for as little as $25.95 on the Internet -- to regularly capture drone video feeds, according to a person familiar with reports on the matter." Brett Israel (Discover Magazine) blogs, "The Defense Department has responded by saying they discovered the vulnerability a year ago, and are working to encrypt all drone communications links in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. However, there are at least 600 unmanned vehicles and thousands of ground stations to upgrade, so the security improvement will not happen overnight. However, officials say they have made technical adjustments to systems in key threat areas to block the signal interception." Chris Gaylord (Christian Science Monitor) provides the walk through: "The setup requires a PC, satellite dish, satellite modem, and software such as SkyGrabber, which was developed by the Russian firm SkySoftware. Because of Iraq and Afghanistan's rough terrain, military officials cannot assume the Predators will have a clean, line-of-sight connection with the bases that send them orders. To work around the problem, the drones switch to satellite linkups. However, unlike credit card payments and cellphone calls, this military satellite data is not encrypted." Ewen MacAskill (Guardian) offers, "The US air force is responsible for drones in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the CIA for those in Pakistan. The CIA video feeds are reported to have been encrypted, while some of the air forces ones were not." Take away? Declan McCullagh (CBS News) observes that the "apparent security breach [. . .] had been known in military and intelligence circles to be possible".
Another known is that Iraqi Christians have been repeatedly targeted throughout the Iraq War. Tuesday two Christian churches were targeted with bombs in Mosul. Meelad Qaseera (Azzaman) reports today that Yonadam Kanna ("the Christian representative in the Iraqi parliament") believes that the targeted is based on "political motives rather than religious beliefs" and "Kanna said it appeared that the government and its troops were incapable of protecting the Christian minority and bringing the perpetrators of violence to justice." Catholic News Agency reports, "Archbishop Francis Chullikat, the Apostolic Nuncio to Iraq and Jordan, has demanded the immediate intervention by Iraqi leaders to 'guarantee the necessary safety of the Christian minority,' in the wake of the attacks on two churches in the city of Mosul." Asia News quotes the Archbishop of Kirkuk, Louis Sako, stating, "The situation is very tense. Just last week two Christian brothers were killed and two more were abducted. Where was the local government? And the Central government? Where are the representatives of the ruling parties?" Spero News interviews Biship Shlemon Warduni ("the Chaldean Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad")
[Question:] What is the current situation of the Christian community in Iraq?
[Bishop Shlemon Warduni:] Our situation sparks concern and pain. The context is well-known: for years, Iraq has been ravaged by internal and external wars that have robbed the people of peace and basic social services like health and education. The consequences of the last war and military occupation are tragic. The political instability and anarchy has generated misery and destruction. This is why many Christians - along with thousands of other citizens - have had to leave the country. We have lost about a third of our community. It is a tragedy of vast dimensions, which is witnessed by the world.
[Question:] Have you noticed improvements in the last year? What do you hope from the new elections?
[Bishop Shlemon Warduni:] What has occurred is that the lack of political planning has led to the proliferation of terrorism, which today has its own agenda and destabilizes the country. Legality and security are lacking, the government is weak, and the elections (not yet established with certainty) will have to address these urgent needs, otherwise they will be useless. Meanwhile, attacks on churches and Christians continue: in the last two weeks there have been explosions in three churches in Mosul, not to mention in Baghdad, where three months ago a car bomb outside a church killed two young people and wounded 30, causing great material damage. [For us], tranquility is a small break between two attacks.
Meanwhile Alsumaria reports, "Christians started preparations and shopping for this year's season wishing peace security and happiness for all Iraqis." But AINA offers a different picture for Iraqi Christians in Basra, "Christmas is likely to be a subdued affair for the dwindling Christian population of this once-cosmopolitan city. This year, the holiday falls amid the Shiite festival of Ashoura, when much of the city's population will take to the streets to commemorate the martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson -- many by ritually cutting themselves and whipping their backs with chains." In other religious minority news, AFP reports a Yazidi Murad Sardar was arrested on Monday and his family has not seen him since. His crime? Apparently selling alcohol in Babylon Province. He is the last known seller of alcohol. "Freedom brought to Iraq by the USA! This message brought to you by the Re-Elect Barack Obama Committee."
In other news of violence . . .
Reuters notes a Baghdad car bombing targeting "lawmaker Nadeem al-Jabiri" in which 1 person died and ten people were douned (but al-Jabiri was not present), a Baiji grenade attack which injured police officer Mudher Ahmed, a Baghdad sticky bombing which injured two people, a Kirkuk car bombing which injured a police officer and a Mosul bombing that left one child wounded.
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 police officer shot dead in Mosul. Reuters notes 1 "Christian lab assistant . . . shot dead . . . in Mosul," another police officer shot dead in Mosul
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 corpse discovered in Mosul.
In the US, March Forward! is a new group, one that's "an affiliate of the ANSWER Coalition," composed of veterans and active-duty service members including James Circello and Michael Prysner whom we've noted here before. The group has a "10 Point Program for Struggle:"
1) We demand the right to refuse illegal and immoral orders.
Service members should no longer be bound to carry out the plans of the Pentagon and Wall Street in violation of U.S. law, international law and people's right to self-determination. Service members deserve the right to resist, without persecution, orders that conflict with internationally recognized laws or that conflict with their own conscience.
2) We demand an immediate end to the criminal occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Service members should no longer be sent to fight, kill, die, be seriously wounded and/or psychologically scarred furthering the domination of U.S. corporations over other nations. We have nothing to gain from these wars. The occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan serve only the interests of the rich, not the service personnel who are sent over and over to repress people who have the right to determine their own destiny. The people of Iraq and Afghanistan are not our enemies. The more than 800 U.S. bases in 130 countries around the world should be shut down and the troops, fleets and air power brought home.
3) We demand an end to the existing officer corps.
The existing class stratification in the military must end. Officers -- who are overwhelmingly from more privileged sectors of society -- enjoy a much higher standard of living. They are paid significantly more, are provided much higher quality housing, and have access to services not available to enlisted personnel. Officers advance their careers on the backs of enlisted personnel, going so far as to send their troops into harm's way for the good of their resumes. The existing officer corps should be dismantled and replaced by enlisted service members who are democratically elected by their units and who are subject to recall at anytime. Officers should no longer enjoy special privileges, including hand salutes. We also demand the right for lower enlisted ranks to unionize and form committees to address grievances with the chain of command, the unit and the military.
4) We demand an end to racism, sexism and homophobia prevalent in the military.
These are intentional barriers to rank-and-file unity against the will of the Pentagon, and must be eliminated through comprehensive education and strict disciplinary action. We demand an end to the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and all other discriminatory measures against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and transgender individuals.
5) We demand adequate funding for The Department of Veterans Affairs.
Veterans should have full access to quality health care. Services should be drastically expanded to meet the real physical and mental health needs of veterans and their families. Independent medical investigations should be initiated to research the effects of potentially harmful experimental drugs and chemical, biological and nuclear agents to which service members have been exposed. Any service member who has served in a combat theater should automatically receive lifetime compensation from the VA for being forced to suffer or inflict physical and/or psychological harm in advancing the interests of U.S. corporations.
6) We demand the right to a job, housing, health care and education for all.
Service members are lured into the military with the hopes of escaping economic hardship as a civilian, and to obtain education benefits and job training. Yet thousands of service members must remain in the military, literally trapped due to the lack of opportunities in the civilian world. No service member should have to choose between military service and poverty. Housing, a job, and access to free quality education and job training should be a right for everyone.
7) We demand the immediate end to all military aid to governments in service of US imperialism.
U.S. domination is not only exercised through direct military involvement, but also through a myriad of brutal client regimes and comprador governments that are funded, supported and directed by the U.S. government. Service members should not have to serve a military that uses billions of dollars in funds and weapons to prop up governments that are guilty of committing war crimes or repressing their citizens for the interests of the Pentagon and Wall Street. Aid to such countries as Israel, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, South Korea, Uganda and Egypt should be immediately cut off. All remaining funds, military equipment and weapons should be repossessed. Reparations should be paid to the populations that the military aid was used to repress.
8) We demand the immediate dismantling of the permanent military-industrial complex.
As long as there is a system in place that allows U.S. corporations to reap massive profits from going to war, there will be war for profit. The domination of the military-industrial complex has caused the death of tens of thousands of service personnel, and millions of innocent people -- all in the name of profit. All private military corporations should be shut down or nationalized. The more than 1 trillion dollars a year that feeds the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex should be used to meet people's needs.
9) We demand that all those involved in pursuing war for profit be indicted.
To ensure that service personnel no longer have to fight for the interests of the rich, all those responsible must be held accountable. Politicians, policy makers, lobbyists, CEOs and others involved in pursuing warfare -- both military and economic -- as a means to reap profit should be indicted for war crimes. Media outlets involved in disseminating false information in support of these plans should also be held accountable.
10) We demand full reparations paid, with interest, to all victims of the U.S. military. As service members in the U.S. military, we have been told that our enemy is the poor and oppressed abroad. But they are not our enemies. To begin to undo the injustices in which we have been forced to take part, the U.S. government should pay for the rebuilding of every structure bombed, compensating families for every person killed and providing a lifetime of health care and disability benefits for every individual wounded, including resistance fighters who took up arms against the U.S. military.
Joe Wolverton II (The New American) adds, "In what is sure to be a controversial call to action or inaction, the organization March Forward, a group of patriotic retired and active-duty servicemen, has recommended that soldiers refuse orders to deploy to Afghanistan and Iraq."
Tonight on Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN):
Roy Hallums was kidnapped in 2004. He was rescued in 2005. He endured 311 days as a hostage in Iraq. He was actually buried alive when he was rescued and now we have the exclusive videotape of his rescue. We'll show you how the special forces team did it. Hallum says what might appear hyperbolic with a calm earnestness. "I hoped they wouldn't decide to just cut off my head and videotape the occasion for mass distribution to the international media." Instead, we have the videotape of his rescue. Michael Ware reports Thursday at 10 p.m. ET.
Unrelated to Iraq but US House Rep Jared Polis has a column at CNN ("No good reason to be in Afghanistan"). Staying with the topic of TV, "Can a breakthrough health care innovation in Rwanda work in the U.S.?" asks NOW on PBS this Friday (on most PBS stations -- check local listings):
In rural Rwanda, the simple and time-tested idea of medical house calls
is not only improving the health of the community, but stimulating its
economy as well. On Friday, December 18 at 8:30 pm (check local
listings), NOW travels to the village of Rwinkwavu to meet the Rwandan
doctors, nurses and villagers who are teaming up with Boston-based
Partners in Health and the Rwandan government to deliver medicine and
medical counseling door-to-door. Would such an innovation work in
In the capital of Kigali, NOW's David Brancaccio sits down with Rwandan
President Paul Kagame to talk about international aid and Kagame's
ultimate vision for a healthy, financially-independent Rwanda.
We'll close with this from independent journalist David Bacon's "In Oakland, Hunger Is Multicultural" (East Bay Express):
Everyone knows that Oakland is diverse. Probably more people from more races and nationalities live in the city than anywhere west of New York or north of Los Angeles. But before we celebrate diversity, think of its most diverse places. Some of them are surely the lines of hungry people lining up for food.
Oakland has many food pantries -- programs run primarily by churches on a shoestring. Church elders are often found at the Alameda County Community Food Bank's huge warehouse out by the airport, buying as much food as they can for as little money as possible. They worry that the bags of cans and produce they distribute will run out before everyone in line gets one.
Reverend Lee from the Cornerstone Baptist Church, a food bank stalwart, fills the small storefront off MacArthur Boulevard with white plastic bags of cans, dried goods, and bread. Then the people come. Mostly Chinese-American and African-American families get their food from the African-American activists from his church.
David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which just won the CLR James Award. Bacon can be heard on KPFA's The Morning Show (over the airwaves in the Bay Area, streaming online) each Wednesday morning (begins airing at 7:00 am PST). And I'm going to squeeze in one more thing. Last month, AK Press released The Battle of the Story of The Battle Of Seattle by David Solnit and Rebecca Solnit. We did a book discussion about it at Third. It's a strong book and an important one. A good holiday present if you're looking for ideas. With Aimee Allison, David Solnit authored the must read and community favorite Army Of None. His sister Rebecca Solnit is known for her own numerous writings as well as for her work with Courage to Resist.