Wednesday, March 31, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, attempts to countermand the will of the Iraqi people continues, press silence largely continues, Don't Ask, Don't Tell Continues, the persecution of Iraq's LGBT community continues, where's any of that "change" people were supposed to believe in?
Starting off with a question: What is the role of the press?
In the US, that can lead an esoteric discussion or emphasizing certain points such as we can debate the merits of this and that, the right not to reveal sources, the differences between reporting and opinion journalism, the increasing (and bad) tendency to label TV hosts "journalists" (they're not reporters and, no, they don't even qualify as journalists), etc. But that's in the US and it's true of many countries -- East and West -- with an existing and functioning press. What about a country being hailed as 'emerging' and as a 'democracy'?
What about Iraq?
What message has the US press sent since the last votes were cast on March 7th? First off, the press rushed to declare Nouri al-Maliki the winner. They rushed to do that on March 8th. The day after the election. With no results -- not even partial -- released. They did have a 'poll' that said Nouri was the leader . . . a poll done by Nouri. Often they forgot to include the source for the poll when citing its results. Those results weren't valid. But what message did that send to Iraqis? Remember that they've been very vocal about what happened with their own press. One example should suffice, such as when Listening Post's (Al Jazeera) Richard Gizbert observed, "As they scan their new media landscape, Iraqis are under no illusions about what they see. They know the channels covering the elections had their favorite candidates as did the newspapers." If they were looking for any sings that this was not the way a functioning press behaves, they didn't find it from American outlets. Around the time the ballot count released reached 70%, each day had Nouri's political party ahead in the count or Ayad Allawi's. At that point, though a surprise could have still been in store, the press' back and forth was more understandable. But last Friday 100% of the vote count was released and how has the press -- the US press -- behaved since?
That tally found Allawi's slate had won two more seats in the Parliament than had Nouri's. Which meant Allawi had first dibs on attempting to put together a government. The US government will do business with whomever Iraq declares prime minister. That's reality. For the US press, objectivity shouldn't be hard in this instance (though they're declaring Nouri the winner on March 8th indicates otherwise) because it's not really a US issue. The individual -- whomever he (or in a better world) she is will continue relations with the US government. So the US press should have been able to have been objective. (That may be too high a goal for those who couldn't even be informed -- as the Friday roundup guests on The Diane Rehm Show at the start of this month demonstrated, few even bothered to learn basics.)
And just by being objective, they could have sent a message. Even now, they're not able to. In what country -- functioning democracy or 'democracy' or not -- is the sitting leader allowed to cast aspersions on the vote as freely as Nouri has? In what country would the sitting leader be allowed to benefit by the targeting of members of the winning's side -- targeting them with violence and political intimidation?
This is what's going on in Iraq and there's no disputing it. The US press probably couldn't change the realities on the ground (I doubt seriously that shaming works on Nouri -- if it did, he would have slit his wrists years ago). But it could help the Iraqi people. Instead of the diffident, lackadaisical attitude displayed by the US press, there could be expressions of outrage over what's happening. That it's not taking place sends a message to the Iraqi people that this is just how it's going to be, that this is how it is?
I don't believe you can make democracy somewhere else. I believe a people can make a democracy if they want it. The War Hawks -- including a large segment of the -- "CASE CLOSED!" -- US press -- believed democracy could be exported. I would assume that all but the most thick headed now realize it can't be. But I'd also -- apparently wrongly -- assume that the US press would grasp that their actions are being watched and that behaviors are modeled. So when they want to act as if it's perfectly normal that, for example, a member of Allawi's party was assassinated Sunday or that at least one -- possibly four -- members of Allawi's party are being smeared with the charge of "Ba'athist!" in order to sideline them, the message to the Iraqi people is, "That's just how it is."
I didn't and don't support the ongoing, illegal war. But I also don't believe the press should now tell the Iraqis that that's just the way things are and no sense getting outraged, no sense expecting more. That's the message being sent: This is all you can hope for. (Possibly with a subtext of: This all you're worth.) The entire international community should be vocal about these efforts to overturn the will of the people but the US press bears a special burden (in a court of law, the term for that 'burden' should be "culpable") since it did so much to help sell the Iraq War to begin with. And we're fully aware that the selling of the Iraq War didn't stop in March 2003. Waves of Operation Happy Talk kept the illegal war -- keeps it going -- for every Damien Cave or Alissa J. Rubin that did some strong work, you had ten and twenty Dexter Filkins lying in print over and over. You see a lot of that today if you pay attention, the Dexy pose, where they all want you to know -- now -- that things aren't that bad. Why, in 2006, . . . But check the archives, in real time, they weren't telling you about it when it was happening. Today they will because it helps sell the war. "It's better! Now it's better!"
So for those crimes and many more, the US press should feel a special obligation in terms of calling out outrages in Iraq. But they don't judging the near total silence. A rare exception would be the Los Angeles Times editorial board:
Nevertheless, Maliki has been challenging the election results every which way, within the elastic boundaries of the law. He has tried but so far failed to secure a recount of what international observers determined to be a sufficiently fair and transparent vote. And just before the final results were released last week, the Supreme Court concluded, at Maliki's urging, that the right to form the next government could go to alliances and super-coalitions formed after the election, if they prove to have the most seats. Maliki promptly launched negotiations with other religious Shiite and Kurdish parties.
Now the Accountability and Justice Commission, which already had banned scores of candidates with alleged ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party from the election, says six others slipped through the cracks, won seats and should be disqualified. Removing them would alter the outcome, because several appear to be from Allawi's Shiite-Sunni bloc (and because Allawi's coalition won by only two seats). Not incidentally, the commission's head, Ali Lami, belongs to a party that is reportedly in merger talks with Maliki.
Perhaps some of this is just postelection posturing, but to us it looks like shenanigans. What's more, not only are these dubious maneuvers potentially destabilizing in such a fragile country, but they are probably unnecessary for Maliki's bloc to come out on top.
As the editorial board notes, there's a good chance State of Law would come out on top regardless. And that would be the process if it was done through horse trading, et al. But instead it's kill party members, tar them as "Ba'athists" and more. And none of that is about a fair and free election. Horse trading, et al? Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc is deciding whom to throw their support behind. An Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers reports that they've decided to put it to a vote and a referendum will be held Thursday and Friday where Sadr supporters will "choose one of five candidates" for prime minister and that's whom the Sadr bloc will then back and, in addition to the five -- "Nouri Al Maliki, Ayad Allawi, Vice president Adel Abdul Mahdi, former prime minister Ibrahim Al Jafary and Mohamed Jafar Al Sadr" -- there will be a blank space for a write-in. Besides putting the people back in charge, it may serve another purpose. Jason Ditz (Antiwar.com) reports on the referendum and notes that when Nouri signed off on the Status Of Forces Agreement, he agreed to put it to referendum, "The SOFA referendum was initially to be held in July, 2009, but Maliki managed to successfully put it off by claiming it would be "cheaper" to hold it in concert with the parliamentary election, held March 7. Needless to say the referendum never happened, and at this point it is safe to say it never will." Tim Arango (New York Times) adds that al-Sadr's office released a statment stating they were deliver "choice of prime minister in to the hands of the Iraqi public through a referendum for all Iraqi people." Arango goes on to call it one-part p.r. and one-part political gimmick. Based upon? Based upon the fact that the New York Times no longer grasps what reporting is. Among the many other posibilities -- including just thinking the people should decide and having no ulterior motives -- is that Moqtada al-Sadr has a good idea how the vote will go and wants to use the voters as cover to go with that decision.
Tony Karon (Time magazine) notes the power plays going on:
Nor will Maliki be unhappy about the efforts of others to trim Allawi's advantage even before then. The Justice and Accountability (formerly De-Baathification) commission, which operates under the guidance of Ahmed Chalabi, the one-time Pentagon favorite now running on the Iran-backed Iraqi National Alliance (INA) slate, on Tuesday announced its intention to demand that the Supreme Court disqualify as ineligible three candidates on Allawi's list, because of alleged ties to the former regime of Saddam Hussein. If the court upholds this challenge -- and it has sympathetically received the Commission's previous effort to expel Sunni candidates -- Maliki's 89 seats could then, theoretically, be deemed to have finished first.
Quil Lawrence (NPR's Morning Edition -- link has audio and text) files a report the extra-legal Justice and Accountability Commission's efforts to disqualify members of Allawi's slate including Muhammad Authman is being targeted and Lawrence reports that he's traveled to Baghdad to appeal and wonders why, since he headed Diyala Province for the last years, no one targeted him back then. Michael Jansen (Irish Times) reports on Chalabi who calls the shots on the Justice and Accountability Commission:
THE MOST controversial figure to secure election in Iraq's March 7th parliamentary poll was Ahmad Chalabi, the man who convinced the Bush administration to invade his country and topple the Baath party regime. Chalabi is both survivor and creature of contradictions. Once Washington's darling, Chalabi alienated the US by aligning himself with Iran. A secular politician, he ran on the ticket of the Shia fundamentalist Iraqi National Alliance (INA).
Born in 1944 in Baghdad into a wealthy Shia clan, Chalabi and his family left Iraq when he was 12. He was educated in Britain and the US. He took his first degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earned a doctorate in mathematics at the University of Chicago, and taught for a time at the American University of Beirut.
While in Lebanon, he married the daughter of a prominent Shia politician. In 1977, Chalabi established Petra Bank in Jordan but, a decade later, was smuggled out of the country in the boot of a car when the bank could not satisfy its creditors. The bank went bust and he was tried, convicted and sentenced in absentia to 22 years in prison for fraud.
It's amazing how many University of Chicago connections there are -- and outside the economics division. Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) reports on rumors that Iran is attempting to determine Iraq's next prime minister and that the steady stream of Iraqi politicians to Iran demonstrates this. Meanwhile Iraqi journalist Sa'ad al-Izzi prepares to leave Iraq. al-Izzi has worked for, among others, the Washington Post and the New York Times during the Iraq War. At the Times' At War Blog today, al-Izzi writes about the numerous Iraqi politicians who do not live in Iraq and notes:
Rumors widely circulated on the Internet, and widely believed here, say that 29 of Iraq's ambassadors abroad hold dual citizenship in the country where they're posted.
Of course, most politicians find it convenient to pretend they live in Iraq, and would deny strenuously that their foreign homes are anything other than second residences. But in Iraq's tribal culture, where gossip is akin to a bloodsport, it's pretty hard to hide the fact that you're often never here.
As I prepare to leave Baghdad, the city in which I was born, raised, educated, where I worked and survived several bombings -- but a place I no longer feel I belong -- I look back and feel sorry that all those politicians who came from America, Britain, France and throughout the world were not able to give Baghdad the glimmer and glory it had decades ago when it was jewel in the crown of the Arab Capitals in the Middle East.
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Reuters notes a Baaj bombing claimed 1 life.
Reuters notes a Mosul home invasion in which 1 woman was killed and a Mosul drive-by in which 1 man was shot dead.
Iraq's LGBT community continues to be persecuted. Iraqi LGBT issued the following:
For immediate use
Change.org launch petition for Iraqi LGBT
Green leader writes to Johnson
Gay Iraqis praise 'our hero'
The major American progressive organisation Change.org has launched a petition to British Home Secretary Alan Johnson to grant asylum to Iraqi LGBT leader Ali Hili.
The petition allows supporter to send a personalised message to Johnson, whose decision is effecting the work of the group in drawing attention to atrocities against gays in Iraq. It was created by the website's leading gay author Michael Jones.
A petition started by Iraqi LGBT has already drawn near 700 signatures in a few days, including many with moving comments from Iraqis who have been helped by Hili.
One was from Khaldoon Abdulrazaq who wrote:
"A message of support from inside iraq, ali you are our hero, our hope and the future you have in your vision for a better iraq will come one day, believe me. Please keep the faith, your fight is our fight, we all dream of a better world, a world with all people respect and love each other..."
Campaign organisers say that 60 letters have already been sent to Gordon Brown demanding he intervene.
On Monday the leader of the UK Green Party Caroline Lucas announced that she had written to Johnson.
"I am writing with reference to the asylum application of Iraqi LGBT leader Ali Hili, currently living in exile in London. This application has been outstanding for nearly three years and while it is outstanding, Ali cannot travel. This impacts not only on Ali himself but also limits his ability to raise the profile of how LGBT rights are oppressed on a daily basis in Iraq."
"As I am sure you are aware, the group Iraqi LGBT estimates that over 700 LGBT people have been assassinated over the past few years. Human Rights Watch, working with the BBC for a report aired last year, confirmed that torture and persecution of the LGBT community is widespread and that many LGBT people claim life was safer during Saddam Hussein's regime. US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin spoke last month of their concerns for LGBT both in Iraq and as refugees, in a letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton co-signed by 64 other Congress people."
"Ali Hili, as a prominent campaigner for LGBT equality, will not be safe if he is returned to Iraq. He has received a fatwa from inside Iraq, as well as numerous threats in London which have forced him to move. He is under the protection of the Metropolitan Police. Moreover, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has advised 'favourable consideration' for asylum claims because of the situation in Iraq. I would, therefore, urge you to ensure that Ali Hili's asylum claim is granted as a matter of urgency and his right to travel guaranteed."
Documentary film maker David Grey of Village Films has released an appeal for Ali and Iraqi LGBT on YouTube. The video is titled 'Please help save gay lives in Iraq'.
Campaigners for Hili said that they were awaiting confirmation of further invitations to travel - Hili was asked to do a speaking tour of the United States last year but had to decline.
Hili's solicitor, Barry O'Leary, wrote to the UK Border Agency (UKBA) in August 2009 that: "he desperately wishes to do this [travel] in order to further the aims of his organisation, that is, supporting lesbians and gay men in Iraq and bringing the world's attention to their plight."
Six months after his review application, the UKBA told O'Leary that:
* the assistance which Hili has given to the Foreign Office "does not count"
* the fatwa against him does not mean that Hili "falls within the classification of clear and immediate vulnerability"
* that the delay in deciding Hili's asylum case (since July 2007) "is not in itself an exceptional circumstance"
* his case is not "compelling"
O'Leary said: "I have made UKBA aware of the detriment the nearly three year delay is having on the work of Iraqi LGBT. I have also stressed that this will be a straightforward matter given Mr Hili's very high profile and the documented risks to his life. Nevertheless they decided to leave him in the queue for a decision. This can only harm LGBT individuals in Iraq."
For further information and requests for interviews and photographs contact:
email@example.com or call (UK) 07986 008420
For comment on the legal issues contact:
Wesley Gryk Solicitors
Iraqi LGBT website
Visit our website, LGBT asylum news (formally Save Medhi Kazemi)
In US, Sunday on CBS' The Morning Show, Kimberly Dozier filed a report (link has text and video) on the effects of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
Kimberly Dozier: I have a personal interest in Sgt Presley's story. I first me her, in a manner of speaking, in 2006. She helped keep me alive when our CBS News team was hit by a car bomb in Baghdad.
Sgt Lacye Presley: You kept asking, "When are we getting out of here? When are we getting out of here?"
Kimberly Dozier: She was a medic.
Sgt Lacye Presley: [I told you] "Just hold on, we're getting out."
Kimberly Dozier: Sgt Presley was honored for her work saving lives that day -- mine included.
Sgt Lacye Presley: The Army gave me a Bronze Star for my actions in that incident. And this is what they gave me for being gay.
Kimberly Dozier: This was an honorable discharge, given during her second tour in Iraq, after she reported a superior commander for suspected drug dealing and someone struck back.
Sgt Lacye Presley: I was called in to my First Sergeant's office and he told me that there was allegations that I was participating in homosexual conduct and that there were pictures -- they'd been sent to my battalion commander.
Kimberly Dozier: The pictures were of Presley and Tomson. Sgt Tomson was serving in another unit stateside handling bomb sniffing dogs. A decorated soldier in her own right.
Kimberly Dozier: You're NCO of the year. So you were the Non-Commissioned Officer of the year.
[. . .]
Kimberly Dozier: She was also discharged.
Holly Tomson: I was planning on having a career in the military because I like it, I love the army.
Ian Thompson (ACLU Blog of Rights) writes:
Fans of the CBS program Sunday Morning got to hear firsthand this week from two women whose military careers were prematurely ended because of the discriminatory and counterproductive policy known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT).
CBS News Correspondent Kimberly Dozier profiled former Army Medic Sgt. Lacye Presley and her partner Sgt. Holly Tomson. In the report, Dozier discloses that Sgt. Presley helped to keep her alive in 2006 after her CBS News team was hit by a car bomb in Iraq. Presley was awarded the Bronze Star for her exemplary actions; however, she would go on shortly thereafter to be discharged because of her sexual orientation. Someone, in an apparent act of retaliation, sent pictures of Presley and Tomson, who was serving stateside handling bomb-sniffing dogs at the time, to Presley's battalion commander. This started the discharge process for both women.
Last week, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates delivered a speech offering minor, cosmetic changes to Don't Ask, Don't Tell. This was one week after Lt Dan Choi and Capt Jim Piertrangelo chained themselves to the White House fence to protest and was, in part, an attempt to clamp down on the protest and unrest. Sunday Katie Nelson (New York Daily News) spoke with Dan Choi who explained how unimpressive Gates' 'changes' were and noted, "The reason why 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is so repugnant is because it forces people to be in the closet and lie, and that hasn't changed. The real price of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is that it institutionalizes shame." Eve Conant interviewed Dan Choi for Newsweek and then they let gym bunny take a whack at Dan. Remember Gym Bunny? If I call someone out here, I've got my reasons. They may not reveal themselves while I'm calling them out but they do reveal themselves. The hateful little Gym Bunny was noted last July:
Voices of Honor is a group we'll note sometimes and not others. As explained, we're not interested in a group trying to overturn Don't Ask, Don't Tell which can't tell meaning the efforts of some to hide gayness. You won't overturn the policy by hiding in a closet or with talking points of, "It's not about being gay." It's exactly about being gay. If people weren't gay, they wouldn't be kicked out. A member of the group made really insulting remarks (publicly) about Ellen Tauscher when she was still in Congress. He trashed her for showing up -- the only member of Congress to show up -- at one of the events to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. He trashed her, he mocked -- publicly -- and did so because she wouldn't treat the issue as if people were being discharged because they had sniffles. Gym Bunny apparently has a self-loathing issue and that's his issue but Voices of Honor was launched only weeks ago and it's already offended a huge number of gays and lesbians with efforts to act as if the gay issue is something to run from. When they're running from it, we're not covering them. And we will not now, or ever, mention Gym Bunny or quote him or do anything to promote him.
Ellen (I know Ellen, I've known her for years) went to that public event and was the only member of Congress to do so. She spoke at that event, she spoke movingly about the need to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. She didn't deserve to be trashed. I don't put up with bad manners and that was bad manners to the max. The group (this is just months ago) needed all the Congressional help it could get and they needed a name at their event to get them any coverage. Ellen's got a life. She went on her own time. And her thanks for that is to be trashed because she talked about the issue and she noted it is an issue for the lesbian and gay community? (Causing Gym Bunny to snort that it's not a gay issue. It's a gay issue, Dumb Ass. People are being kicked out because they're gay.)
Gym Bunny thinks the way to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell is to lie. To leave out that whole messy gay thing because being gay, it's just a minor side-issue, right? Never having lived his life with any dignity, it's no surprise he trashes Dan. Go work some more on your pecs -- after all someone has to take over Dollywood some day and you appear well on your way, Gym Bunny. Where's the suction cups from the first aid kit for a snake bite, oh, that's right, Gym Bunny attached them to his nipples (it makes 'em bigger!). WalkOn, WalkOn.org. A moratorium on Don't Ask, Don't Tell is the bare minimum Barack Obama, President of the United States, should be offering right now. Sunday at Third, we noted some of the supporters of a moratorium:
US House Representative Loretta Sanchez issued the following statement after Gates' announcement, "Repealing 'don't ask, don't tell' is the right thing to do. We should be recognizing our men and women in uniform for their service, not their sexual orientation. The Pentagon's decision to relax its 'don't ask, don't tell' rules is a step in the right direction, and deserves to be recognized as such. But it's not enough. No individual should have to hide who they are to serve their country, which is why Congress needs to repeal 'don't ask, don't tell' once and for all."
Sanchez is correct, it's not enough.
And who's running this country which supposedly is a democracy and not a junta, which supposedly has civilian control of the military?
March 18th, Senator Roland Burris again publicly stated that a moratorium was needed on Don't Ask, Don't Tell. March 3rd, US House Representative Susan Davis declared, "A moratorium on discharges would be an appropriate action to take while the Department decides how to implement repeal." Senators Carl Levin and Mark Udall are also on record supporting a moratorium.
And we noted that Barack was happy to attack abortion rights on behalf of 14 members of Congress for his ObamaCare with an executive order. An executive order is all that's needed for a moratorium. Honestly, an executive order is all that's needed to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell. He could issue an executive order declaring that all could serve openly. Executive Order is how then-President Harry Truman integrated the military. So for 14 members of Congress, he'll sign an executive order attacking abortion rights but he won't do a damn thing to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell or even halt discharges under it?
And on the topic of abortion rights, we will close with this from Debra Sweet (World Can't Wait):
The film Abortion, Morality and the Liberation of Women is being seen by people via YouTube and through organized showings, including at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro last month. This is exactly the kind of conversation we're trying to spark with this film:
"I brought up the three points... that should serve as a foundational basis of what we stand for: a fetus is not a baby, abortion is not murder, women are not incubators, and talked about how those points are probably completely non-controversial amongst the people in the room, but which had been compromised and diluted to near meaninglessness by the sections of the movement that are subservient to the Democratic Party.
There was some back and forth about this, leading to a bit of discussion over who we're trying to win over, and what we're saying to do so. One student suggested that more people would agree that a first trimester fetus is not viable, and therefore we could maybe get people to at least agree that abortions at this stage should stay legal. Another student challenged that idea..." Read more.