Wednesday, December 30, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, Peter Moore is alive, Anbar Province's governor is in critical condition, Robert Knight says farewell to KPFA listeners (after being fired by KPFA) and more.
Peter Moore is alive. England's Foreign Secretrary David Miliband declared today, "Peter was set free by his captors this morning in Baghdad and delivered to the Iraqi authorities. He is now in the care of the British Embassy in Baghdad." December 19th Andy Bloxham (Telegraph of London) reported on the plea from Moore's family and the family of Alan McMenemy. Moore was kidnapped in Iraq along with four other British citizens with the League of Righteous claiming credit for that May 29, 2007 action in which they utilized official uniforms and official vehicles to kidnap Moore, Alec Maclachlan, Jason Crewswell, Alan McMenemy and Jason Swindelhurst from the Ministry of Finance in Baghdad. Today Deborah Haynes (Times of London) reminds, "The lead kidnapper, dressed as an Iraqi police major, shouted 'Where are the foreigners?' as he led a team of gunmen, also in uniform, into the Finance Ministry building in Baghdad." For a little background on the League of Righteous, from the June 9th 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. Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Robert H. Reid (AP) states that Jonathan B. Chism's father Danny Chism is outraged over the release and has declared, "They freed them? The American military did? Somebody needs to answer for it."
Since the release, and the League of Righteous face time with Nouri and with Nouri's spokesperson, three of the British hostages were released, or rather, their bodies were. The three were Alec Maclachlan (body handed over in September), Jason Crewswell (body handed over in June) and Jason Swindelhurst (body handed over in June). The British government announced over the summer (with no explanation why) that they considered Alan McMenemy deceased. His family has continued to hope that he is alive. The British government had announced at the same time that they believed Peter Moore was alive.
ITN is calling Peter Moore's release "a late Christmas present" for his family. Last month Leicester Mercury reported the current prime minister of England, Gordon Brown, was refusing to meet with the father of Peter Moore. Today, with public support continuing to crater for Gordon Brown, he declared:
I am hugely relieved by the wonderful news that Peter has been freed, and will be reunited with his family as quickly as possible. They have faced a terrible ordeal and I know that the whole nation will share their joy that he is coming home. I pay tribute to all those who helped in the protracted effort to secure the release. At this moment of celebration, we also remember the families of British hostages who have been killed in Iraq and elsewhere. And we pledge to continue to do everything we can to bring British hostages back to their loved ones, including the remaining hostage of the group in Iraq, Alan McMenemy. I demanded that the hostage takers return him to us.
Diane Moy (New York Daily News) quotes Peter's father Graeme stating, "We are so relieved and we just want to get him home, back now to his family and friends. I'm breaking down, I'm just so overjoyed for the lad. It's been such a long haul." The most confusing part of the press reports is the family. Graeme Moore is Peter's father. His mother re-married and now has the last name of Sweeney. Some credit Pauline Sweeney as his mother and Frank Sweeney as his father. Pauline Sweeney is not his biological mother. Avril Sweeney is Peter Moore's biological mother. The Times of London and the Telegraph of London have long covered this story and their correspondents reporting today, such as Deborah Haynes, have been on the story since it began in 2007. So before anyone e-mails to say, for example, "Emma Alberici of Australia's ABC says 'Mr Moore's father and stepmother, Pauline and Frank Sweeney . . .'" -- Graeme Moore is Peter's biological father and Avril Sweeney is Peter's biological mother. Stephen Adams (Telegraph of London) sketches this out, "Mr Moore, 36, is the son of Graeme Moore, now 60, a delivery driver from Wigston, Leicestershire, and Avril Sweeney, 54, from Blackburn, Lancs. Mr Moore, 36, is the son of Graeme Moore, now 60, a delivery driver from Wigston, Leicestershire, and Avril Sweeney, 54, from Blackburn, Lancs. His parents split when he was six months old and soon divorced. His mother remarried but that relationship also ended and she moved out when he was 12. He chose to stay and live with his stepfather, Patrick Sweeney, and later Mr Sweeney's second wife, Pauline." It is a blended family and it's surprising that so many in the press don't grasp that since Gordon Brown was insisting he didn't have to meet with Graeme Moore for a variety of reasons. Call all family members but unless you're going into the walk through (as Stephen Adams did), Graeme Moore and Avril Sweeney are his legal parents. Frank Sweeny is his step-father. All are overjoyed and all deserve to be but when the prime minister has refused to meet with Graeme Moore mere weeks ago, you better believe this is a sore issue and you better take care to get the facts right. And if you're not getting what a source of pain this is, Graeme Moore told CNN (link has text and video) he learned the "news on the television" and that he called Miliband's claims of Brown's administration keeping the family updated a lie: "They don't talk to Peter's family. They never have."
Sam Jones (Guardian) notes other skepticism about Miliband's statement (disclosure I've known David Miliband for years). Miliband declared, "The British government does not make substantive concessions to hostage takers, anywhere and any place, and there was no such substantive concession in this case." And some are zooming in on "substantive concession" and saying it's worded that way to leave leg room or "cover [for] the deal predicted to lead to the imminent release of one of the leaders of Righteous League, a hardline Islamic group." Alberici observes, "T'he kidnappers from Asaib-Al-Haq, which translated means 'the league of righteousness", a Shia splinter group, are believed to have been told by the Iraqi Government that if they handed over Mr Moore and the body of Mr McMenemy, they would be given the right to run in the Iraqi elections next year." CNN adds, "Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said government officials were not involved in the talks that led to Moore's release, but said the decision to free him 'is part of the national reconciliation program' aimed at convincing Iraq's remaining armed factions to lay down their arms." Ned Parker and Janet Stobart (Los Angeles Times) report, "The U.S. military blamed the abduction and killing of five soldiers in Karbala in January 2007 on Asab al Haq and later captured its leaders, Qais and Laith Khazali. Laith was freed in June; Qais was transferred to the Iraqis today, said a spokeswoman from the British Foreign Office." John Leland and Jack Healy (New York Times) remind, "Earlier this year, Iraq's national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, said the group might have targeted the five men because of the work Mr. Moore was doing to help combat theft and corruption in the Finance Ministry." Jim Muir (BBC News) also notes the questions being raised and offers, "Although the security situation has improved hugely over the past two years, Iraqis -- including schoolchildren -- continue to be kidnapped for ransom, a practice that was extremely widespread during the worst of the violence and lawlessness that prevailed during 2006-7. "
George Pitcher (Telegraph of London) observes, "There has been a protracted media and communications shut-down on the circumstances of these kidnaps. There may be very good intelligence reasons for that approach. But high-profile coverage over the years assisted with the release of hostages such as Alan Johnston and John McCarthy. The latest discreet strategy has yielded just one safe from five. I hope we learn more of the reasons for this approach soon. The families of those who were not as lucky as Mr Moore deserve no less." And he's correct. Silence on kidnappings is good for governments, not for individuals. (Along with governments, the New York Times regularly blacks out the kidnappings of their journalists.) The British government's FAILURES on kidnappings in Iraq go far beyond the four kidnapped with Moore and also include Margret Hassan. December 7th, the Iraq Inquiry explored the issue of kidnappings when questioning the British Ambassador to Iraq in 2004, Edward Chaplin.
Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: Part of this, perhaps particularly relevant for British opinion was the start of hostage taking. So we had in this period the Kenneth Bigley and Margaret Hassan cases. How aware were you of the danger to British nationals in Baghdad?
Edward Chaplin: Very aware. And, indeed, I think if you looked at the travel advice at the time, it would be "don't come anywhere near this place". They were terrible incidents. I mean, terrible obviously for the families, but terrible for the embassy in the sense that we were very helpless. Kidnapping was widespread at the time. This was often criminals rather than political. Of course, as we have seen elsewhere, often criminal gangs will carry out kidnappings of what they think are valuable people, valuable in the sense that they can be sold on to some political group. And I don't think we know even now exactly who was behind either kidnapping. I would have to refresh my memory. I mean, they were different in the sense that Ken Bigley, we didn't even now. He hadn't even registered with the embassy, we didn't know he was there. He was working with these two Americans for a Gulf company. The first thing we knew of his existence was when the news of the kidnap came through. Margaret Hassan was different. In fact, I had met her before when I was Ambassador in Jordan because she worked for CARE Australia, a very effective NGO, one of the few working inside Iraq before and after the invasion. So I admired the work that she was doing and the embassy kept in touch. So that was, if you like, an even greater blow. But just to explain -- I don't know if you want to go into detail about this, but I probably cannot because what happens when a kidnapping of a British citizen takes place is you have set up a really discrete team because this needs 24-hours-a-day attention. So that team was led my deputy and we had a lot of support particularly coming out from London, experience negotiators and so on. So after the initial phase, my job was really to keep it in the minds of Iraqi ministers who we thought would could help, the army and the police and so on, and do whatever else I could do to help.
Commitee Member Lawrence Freedman: What sort of response did you get from --
Edward Chaplin: Very positive and, of course, this was raised all the way to Allawi himself and it was raised by ministers, but they didn't have the capacity to help very much, I don't think. And, of course, they were dealing at any one time with lots of other kidnappings.
Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: We had no evidence oursevles of who was holding her?
Edward Chaplin: I think the assumption early on was it was a criminal gang of some sort, but we never got very far in pinning down exactly who was behind it and -- let alone having contacts that might lead to some progress.
Commitee Member Lawrence Freedman: And in the aftermath of her murder, we still seemed to have been in the dark as to what had happened and, indeed, where her body was.
Edward Chaplin: Some time later some of her clothes and possessions were found. We knew her husband as well, who stayed on in Baghdad. So we would see him from time to time. I don't know what the investigation -- continued investigation showed.
His comments were and are outrageous and indicative of how useless the British government made itself during kidnappings -- do-nothing, hope someone else does something or finds out something. David Brown (Times of London) reported that both of Margaret Hassan's sisters were present at the inquiry and hoped to hear some details about their sister. He quotes Deidre Fitzsimons explaining, "We have been waiting years for the chance to hear what happened to my sister but she was worth so little that she received just three minutes. We came to find out the truth even though we were skeptical, because we were told this would not be a cover-up. We have been betrayed. The authorities did not do one thing to help her when she was kidnapped and they are now doing nothing to find out why. As for Ken Bigley, it was almost as if he didn't matter at all [by Chaplin's testimony]. He was an innocent man who was murdered for no reason." Reuters offers a timeline for British citizens kidnapped in Iraq.
Earlier this month (December 17th) on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees, Michael Ware reported on the September 2005 rescue of US citizen Roy Hallums. From the transcript:
WARE: Three months after Roy Hallums disappeared in Baghdad in 2004, this proof of life video appeared.
ROY HALLUMS, KIDNAPPING SURVIVOR: My name is Roy Hallums, I'm an American national.
WARE: Hallums was an American contractor, building mess halls and providing food to the U.S. military, and his kidnappers were demanding $12 million for his release.
HALLUMS: You're just basically in shock. And you're moving and you're walking but it's almost like an out of body experience. You can see what's going on, but you don't believe it.
WARE: Before it was over, Hallums would be held nearly a full year by Iraqi insurgents -- 311 days, something I know a little about having been taken by Al Qaeda myself.
WARE (on camera): When I was grabbed by Al Qaeda and pulled from my car, I mean, they were just going to cut my head off. But it was like it was someone else. At that moment, it felt to me like it was happening to someone else even though I was completely or even hyper- aware of the moment.
HALLUMS: You're right. It's like it's almost third person, that I can sit there and tell the story. I can answer any question anybody has. It doesn't bother me, and what's for lunch, you know?
WARE (voice-over): This is Hallums at the end of his ordeal. He lost 40 pounds but says he never lost hope. For most of the time, his kidnappers kept him in a secret and cramped underground cell, the entrance sealed shut.
HALLUMS: You could hear them trawling this concrete over the door, and then they would shove a freezer over the top of that to hide where the door was. You're buried in there, and if they decide, well, it's just too dangerous to go back to the house and they never come back, then you're in your tomb.
WARE (on camera): Dead men tell no tales.
WARE (voice-over): Eight months after his proof of life video had appeared, U.S. special forces received a crucial tip on his whereabouts. Worried Hallums would be moved, they instantly launched a daylight rescue, four helicopters sweeping into a village south of Baghdad.
The rescue isn't the only news out of Iraq today. Fadhel al-Badrani, Khalid al-Ansary, Missy Ryan and Philippa Fletcher (Reuters) report "twin suicide bombs" in Anbar Province have claimed "at least 24" lives with over one hundred people left injured (that should really be 26 if there were two suicide bombers): "At the Ramadi hospital, doctors crowded around injured policemen lying on stretchers. One of the wounded was a tiny baby, its diaper and white sweater dotted with blood." Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports that among the injured is the province's governor, Qassim al-Fahdawi and that "[t]he bomber who targeted him was one of his bodyguards, said the Anbar Salvation Council." Anne Barker (Australia's ABC) notes that "conflicting reports" exist on the condition of al-Fahdawi and states that he was wounded in the second of the two bombings. Al Jazeera quotes police Capt Ahmed Mohammed al-Dulaimi stating, "A suicide bomber wearing an army uniform ran towards the governor. Some security people held him back, and he detonated himself." Bassim al-Anbari (AFP) offers, "The US military declined to confirm reports by Ramadi General Hospital that American troops took the provincial governor to a US-run hospital for treatment, when contacted by AFP." This afternoon Anne Barker (ABC) sketched out the attacks, "The first explosions appeared to target the governor's convoy at Ramadi, about 100 kilometres west of Baghdad. A suicide bomber detonated a bomb in a car, which was followed soon after by a second suicide attacker on foot." Mark Langford (Sky News) explains the first bombing attracted attention and "Deputy police chief Qassim al Fahdawi said he and other officials had gone to inspect the damage when a suicide bomber on foot detonated a vest full of explosives nearby." UPI reports the governor is in a Baghdad hospital. The Washington Post's Michael Hastins (at Financial Times of London) notes the death toll rose to 24, the governor "had undergone surgery" and "The attacks in Ramadi follow a string of about 40 assassination attempts in the past month in Anbar province, mostly targeting politicians, police officers, religious figures and tribal sheiks." Jamal Naji and Hannah Allam (McClatchy Newspapers) report:
The sophisticated attack in the provincial capital of Ramadi, about 70 miles west of Baghdad, was the deadliest in months for Anbar, and it raised fears that an uneasy peace that's prevailed in the province since Sunni tribes and security forces joined forces with U.S. troops to weaken al Qaida in Iraq, a mostly homegrown offshoot of the international terror network, may be unraveling.
Once most of the militants were killed or driven underground, the factions turned to internecine fighting for control of security forces and lucrative reconstruction contracts, and now those struggles appear to be escalating. The rival camps accuse one another of insurgent infiltration, corruption and cronyism, fragmenting the Sunni political bloc ahead of elections in March.
"The city is moving toward destruction because of the parties who rule the province, from the head of the Anbar provincial council to the Anbar police commander. The issue is a power struggle that's resulted in the return of terrorists to the city," said Sheikh Raed al Sabah, a prominent Ramadi tribal leader who helped to organize tribesmen into U.S.-backed Sunni militias as part of the "Awakening" movement.
The twin bombings were not the only violence reported out of Iraq today.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Khalis roadside bombing which claimed 7 lives ("including Khalis chief of police") and left twenty-five people wounded, a Tuesday Mosul bombing which injured two police officers, and 2 Baghdad roadside bombings last night which wounded two people.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports an attack on the Ministry of the Interior's director general, Mohammed Salih Ahmed, which left him, his son and their driver wounded and, dropping back to yesterday, 1 man shot dead in Mosul. Reuters notes "a judge and his wife" injured in a Kirkuk shooting and 1 person shot dead in Mosul yesterday.
The Early Show (CBS) weather anchor Dave Price is in Iraq -- not reporting, entertaining the troops. Except for McClatchy Newspapers (who keeps rotating staff), no major outlet is sending reporters back into Iraq. As was obvious on Talk of the Town (NPR -- link has text and audio option) everyone's pulling reporters out of Iraq and moving them to Afghanistan. So in other words, if Iraq really falls apart (hard to determine at this point since it's never been "together" since the start of the illegal war), it won't just be Barack who 'took the eye of the ball,' it will be the press. Grasp that. Grasp that Barack campaigned saying (just like John Kerry before him) that Bully Boy Bush focused on Iraq when he should have focused on Afghanistan. Grasp that the 2012 candidates may say Barack took his eye off Iraq to increase US presence in Afghanistan. Grasp that the move needed, the ones many voters thought they were voting for, was for both wars to have been ended. Alissa J. Rubin explains to Neal Conan that it's easier to move around Afghanistan than it was to move around Iraq -- Rubin didn't leave Iraq that long ago. So what's that really saying?
Panhandle Media's never been interested in Iraq. They bellowed and they hollered (Carly Simon's "Memorial Day") but they didn't do much else except make a buck off the illegal war. They had a million excuses for why this war couldn't be covered. Including it was just too dangerous. Somehow Free Speech Radio News managed and still manages to speak to Iraqis for reports. But dream on if you think you'll hear about Iraq on any of the bulk of Pacifica's radio programs or in any of the 'independent' magazines for the left and 'left'. There was one huge exception. KPFA's Flashpoints Radio regularly covers Iraq. Dahr Jamail and others provide segments. Yes. But Robert Knight, in his "Knight Report" at the top of so many Flashpoints broadcast, never forgot the Iraq War. He wasn't just a 'news reader' ripping off AP, either. He provided context and passion and managed to convey the horror and the need to continue to focus on Iraq. His thanks for that? As Kat noted Monday night "KPFA fires Robert Knight." In last night's "Robert Knight's KPFA farewell," Kat noted the final segment of the final Knight Report.
Robert Knight: And finally, we close today's Knight Report with the unwelcome news that your reporter is now the third target among Flashpoints production personnel of a relentless and disproportionate series of cutbacks by the current management of KPFA. Your reporter learned of his dismissal -- effective today -- by way of a FedEx letter that was delivered three days after the deed. It has been a great honor to serve with The Knight Report as the contextualizer of breaking world developments, clandestine operations and international policy on Flashpoints which remains the most important investigative news program produced and nationally distributed by -- and pursuing the very best traditions of -- the Pacifica network. Your reporter hopes to rejoin you at some future date under more favorable administrative times at KPFA. With gratitude and regret from exile and in limbo I'm Robert Knight reporting live in New York for Flashpoints.
Henry Norr (at The Daily Censored) writes about what is seen as a targeted attack on Flashpoints and we'll again note the last paragraph of the article: "To express support for Flashpoints, write to general manager Lemlem Rijio at firstname.lastname@example.org and turn out for the first meeting of the new LSB, now set for 7 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 11, 2010 (disregard dates announced earlier) at the Humanist Hall, 390 27th St. (near Telegraph), Oakland." Lastly, NOW on PBS begins airing on most PBS stations Friday (check local listings) and their upcoming broadcast explores elections, soccer and soap opera:
There are places in the world where the success of a soap opera is
measured not just in TV ratings, but in human lives. On January 1 at
8:30 pm (check local listings), NOW travels to Kenya, where ambitious
producers and actors hope one such TV show, "The Team", can help foster
peace amongst the country's 42 official tribes.
During presidential elections two years ago, tribalism-influenced
protests in Kenya left almost 1,500 dead and nearly 300,000 displaced.
Tensions continue today over issues including extreme poverty and
In "The Team", soccer players from different tribes work together to
overcome historic rivalries and form a common bond. The hope is that
commonalities portrayed in fiction can inspire harmony in the real
world. Early reaction to the show's inaugural season is promising.
"I was very surprised to see how Kenyans want change, how they want to
live in peace and the way the responded to us," Milly Mugadi, one of the
show's stars, noted during a local screening. "There were people from
different tribes talking about peace and how to reconcile with each
other... they opened up their hearts."
John Marks, whose organization Common Ground produces versions of "The
Team" in 12 different countries, is cautiously hopeful. "You don't watch
one of our television shows and drop your submachine gun," explains
Marks, who says he was inspired by the influence of "All in the Family"
on American culture. "But you can change the environment so it becomes
more and more difficult to be in violent conflict."
Can this soap opera for social change really make a difference in
stopping violence? Next on NOW.