Thursday, March 25, 2010

The spending, the counting

If military power is the church at which we worship and the Pentagon is our American Vatican, then it is desperately in need of the equivalent of Vatican II which, in the early 1960s, opened the Catholic Church to greater participation by the laity, a vitally important change in ethos. Instead of continuing to pray at the altar of their particular services, we need our Pentagon "priests" to turn to the laity - us - and seek our input and sanction. Instead of preaching in unintelligible Pentagonese, with its indecipherable acronyms, secret doctrines and spidery codenames, it's long past time for them to talk to us in a language that reasonably informed adults can understand.
Think about this: last year, our country held innumerable public hearings on health-care reform. Congress continues to fight about it. It's constant news. There's a debate alive in the land. All this for a program that, in 10 years, will cost the American people as much as defense and homeland security cost in a single year.
Yet runaway defense budgets get passed each year without a single "town hall" meeting, next to no media coverage, and virtually no debate in congress. Indeed, you'd think each Pentagon budget was an ex-cathedra pronouncement, given the way congress genuflects before them and Americans accept them without so much as a peep of protest.

The above is from William J. Astore's "The Pentagon church and the people" (Asia Times). And yesterday, the US saw the perfect example of that during a joint subcommittee hearing of the House Armed Services Air and Land Forces Subcommittee and Seapower and Expeditionary Forces Subcomittee to discuss various combat aviation programs and the costs. It was noted that the costs continue to soar and that Congress is not kept informed:

US House Rep Roscoe Bartlett: Are there regulations, written or unwritten, in the building that precludes including us as a partner in those discussions?

Ashton Carter: Uh -- I have to get back to you on the technicality of that. Certainly uh-yuh as a general matter, no, we try promptly to keep this Committee informed of important developments in programs that are in -- are in your purview. As I said when I uh earlier, because of the particular timing of the jet estimate and the Department's deliberations which were in the December-January period, leading up to the release of the president's budget -- It wasn't until the president's budget was released that the uh-uh jet estimate was -- which was included in that budget -- was uh-uh available. We did however -- It's my understanding that the jet estimate, even back in 2008, was made availabe uh to the Committee.

US House Rep Roscoe Bartlett: Thank you. Your statement goes on to say that program management contractors and the department need to surface candidly and openly issues with this program as they arise so that Congress is aware of them and they can be addressed." In the spirit of that statement, it would have been nice, I think, if we'd been part of that two month discussion between November and January. Would you agree?

Ashton Carter: I promise that going forward, we-we will be as open as we possibly can and candid about the -- the uh -- what's going on in this program.

In Iraq, the vote tally, 100%, from Parliamentary elections is supposed to be released tomorrow. It may or may not be. Based on what is known, what is thought to be known and guesses, a number of outlets are stating that the Sadr bloc did well and will now join the Kurds as "kingmakers." Oliva Ward (Toronto Star) reports:

Moqtada al-Sadr, a rabble-rousing Shiite cleric living in exile in Iran – and dodging murder charges by Iraqis and Americans – is once again on the ascendancy, after his party was set to capture 40 seats in the 325-seat parliament. That would be a gain of 11 seats since the last poll in 2006
Sadr's party could be a tiebreaker between the religiously oriented Shiite coalition of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the secular Shiite-led bloc of former premier Iyad Allawi.
Al-Maliki's officials reached out to Sadr's Iraqi National Alliance coalition earlier this week after years of bitter enmity. His Sadr Trend faction, a major part of the coalition, backed al-Maliki as prime minister in 2006. However, Washington pressured the Iraqi leader to quell an explosion of violence by Sadr's feared Mahdi Army, breaking the power of the militia.

With news on the other thought-to-be "kingmakers," Qassim Khidhir Hamad (Niqash) reports:

In just ten days, Eyad Allawi, head of the Iraqiya alliance, twice visited the Kurdistan Region and met the region’s president, Massoud Barzani and Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, also a Kurd.
Kurdish officials described the meetings as ‘consultative’. they say no decision has yet been made over which side to ally with in the formation of the new government.
"Kurds have two conditions for its post-election coalition partner. First, the partner should have faith in article 140 of the constitution relating to the disputed areas and second, Kurds should be the main partner in the next government."
Since 2003, Kurds have had bitter experience with government partners, especially the two men vying for the job of Prime Minister, Maliki and Allawi.

Again, results are expected Friday and that may or may not happen. Iraq's LGBT community remains under attack and we'll again note a new petition.

The UK government through its Border Agency has decided not to give priority to the asylum application of Iraqi LGBT leader Ali Hili, in exile in London. The application has been outstanding for nearly three years and while it is outstanding, Ali cannot travel.

This decision directly impacts not just on Ali but on harshly persecuted Iraqi lesbians and gays through the reduced ability of their sole visible leader to raise their profile internationally.

Can you help?

As you may be aware, numerous human rights organisations and journalists have documented the pogrom against lesbians and gays in Iraq. Iraqi LGBT estimates that over 700 LGBT have been assassinated over the past few years. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has advised 'favourable consideration' for asylum claims because of the situation.

As the public leader of the only group representing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people both inside Iraq and in the diaspora, Hili 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.

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 Congresspeople.

Hili has received many requests to speak about the situation in Iraq internationally, including from US-based groups such as the Gay Liberation Network and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Campaign, which he has been unable to pursue.

His 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 later, the UKBA told O'Leary that:
  • the assistance given by Hilli to the Foreign Office "does not count"
  • the fatwa does not mean that Hilli "falls within the classification of clear and immediate vulnerability"
  • that the delay in deciding Hilli's asylum case (since July 2007) "is not in itself an exceptional circumstance"
  • his case is not "compelling"
Peter Tatchell says of Ali:
"It was Ali Hili of Iraqi LGBT who first alerted the world to the organised killing of LGBT people in Iraq - way back in 2005. For a long time, he was a lone voice."

"Mr Hili was also the person who set up the 'underground railroad' and safe houses inside Iraq, to give refuge to LGBT people on the run from Islamist death squads and to provide escape routes to neighbouring countries - which saved the lives of many Iraqi LGBTs.

Ali must travel!

The UK Foreign Office Human Rights Report for 2009 specifically names Iraqi LGBT over other NGOs as a key source of information. Hili has met with them numerous times. The report quotes Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell condemning persecution of LGBT in Iraq.

Foreign Office Minister Chris Bryant wrote in his blog on Feb. 24: "I know some people dismiss LGBT rights as something of a sideshow in international relations, but I am proud to say that the FCO has argued for a decade that human rights are a seamless garment."

Yet the same government through the Home Office is effectively aiding that persecution through the failure of government recognition to Iraqi LGBT's leader.
We want the UK government to expedite Ali Hili's asylum claim so he is properly able to tell the world about what is happening to LGBT in Iraq.

How you can help

Write to the UK Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, to ask that he intervene in Ali's case that his asylum application be prioritised. Please mention Ali's Home Office reference which is S1180507/7. (Get a standard letter - please personalise and remember to sign it)
Rt Hon Alan Johnson MP, Home Secretary, 2 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF
Telephone: 020 7035 4848
Write to UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, to ask that they ask Johnson to intervene in Ali's case. Please mention Ali's Home Office reference which is S1180507/7. (Get a standard letter - please personalise and remember to sign it)
The Prime Minister, 10 Downing Street, London, SW1A 2AA
Email the Prime Minister's Office
Write to your MP to ask that they ask Johnson to intervene in Ali's case.

If you are outside the UK, ask politicians, prominent persons and organisations to invite Ali to your country and make Brown and Johnson aware of this request.

Ask those politicians, prominent persons and organisations to issue their own public statement in support of Hili's asylum prioritisation from the UK government.

Write to newspapers, write blog posts in support of Ali, tell people about Ali.

Please copy any letters to the campaign in support of Ali Hili to

Join the Facebook page

Visit our website, LGBT asylum news (formally Save Medhi Kazemi)

Matthis Chiroux was among those demonstrating in DC Saturday and we'll close with the opening of his "The Nightmare Will End When We Wake Up!" (World Can't Wait):

Another year another peace rally. The wars rage on, and the struggle continues. Like at all the others, I felt inwardly horrified. A billion wailing voices echoed in my mind.

On we go with this tragedy of intention and this comedy of errors while the bodies pile higher. I long to take the needle off this skipping record and rest it on my broken heart. There alone can truth be sourced. A mind is too easily corrupted.

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