John Hamilton: US Defense Secretary Robert Gates criticized the internet group WikiLeaks today over its release of a video showing a 2007 US helicopter attack that killed a dozen people in Baghdad including civilians and two news employees of the Reuters news agency. Gates said the group -- which says it promotes leaks to fight government and corporate corruption -- released the video without providing any context explaining the situation. Speaking with reporters on route to South America, Gates said, "These people can put out anything they want and they're never held accountable for it, there's no before and there's no after." The stark helicopter gunsight video of the July 12, 2007 attack has been widely viewed around the world on the internet since its release by WikiLeaks on April 5th.
Male voice [from the clip]: Line 'em all up.
Second male voice [from the clip]: Come on fire.
[sound of gunfire]
John Hamilton: Many international law and human rights experts say the Apache helicopter crew in the footage may have acted illegally. The video includes an audio track of a helicopter crew conversation many have been shocked by the images and some of the fliers' comments like this response to injuries to two Iraqi children.
Male voice: Well it's their fault for bringing their kids to a battle.
Male voice 2: That's right.
John Hamilton: The US military said an investigation shortly after the incident found US forces were unaware of the presence of news staff and thought they were engaging armed insurgents, mistaking a camera for a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. Among the dead civilians in the attack were Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and his assistant and driver Saeed Chmagh . WikiLeaks disputed Gates' contention that the video failed to provide context. In an e-mail, the group accused the US military of making numerous false or misleading statements including the contention that there was an active firefight between US forces and those killed. Meanwhile the Telegraph newspaper of London is reporting that WikiLeaks is preparing to make public another US military video, this time showing airstrikes that resulted in the deaths of Afghan civilians. The Telegraph reports the video shows previously classified footage showing a bomb attack on a village in Farah Province. The Afghan government initially said the May 4, 2009 airstrike killed 147 civilians and independent Afghan inquiry later revised that figure to 86 dea. The US military later estimated only 26 civilians were killed in that attack. A NATO spokesperson confirmed to the Telegraph that WikieLeaks plans to release the footage but a spokesperson for WikiLeaks declined to comment.
Gates really needs to stop blaming WikiLeaks and start expressing some form of remorse in public. Barack, Biden, Clinton, et al can say, "That happened in 2007." That doesn't mean that they shouldn't express remorse or sadness for the dead. But they were not a part of the Bush administration. Robert Gates, in 2007, was the Secretary of Defense. He needs to stop lashing out and start expressing some sense of regret for the deaths. He should also avoid statements like, "These people can put out anything they want and they're never held accountable for it, there's no before and there's no after." When civilians have been killed -- again -- by the US military and you've been the Secretary of Defense for four years, do you really want to be saying that others -- OTHERS -- can get away with "anything they want and they're never held accountable for it"? Really?
Alsumaria TV reports, "Head of Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) Sayyed Ammar Al Hakim returned to Iraq from Saudi Arabia where he met with Saudi King Abdullah Ben Abdul Aziz." This following Nouri al-Maliki's most recent 'cautionary' tantrum. Yesterday's snaphshot noted Monday's Pacifica Evening News:
John Hamilton: Iraq's prime minister accused neighboring states today of meddling in his country's internal affairs in efforts to influence government building after March 7th elections produced no clear winner. Nouri al-Maliki told a government committee meeting he was upset to hear representatives of neighboring states talking on television as if they were Iraq's "guardians." "Our message is clear, do not interfere in our affairs," al-Maliki said. He didn't specify which of Iraq's six neighbors he was referring to. The March election left al-Maliki's State of Law Commision trailing former prime minister Ayad Allawi's Iraqyia by two seats. Neither side won enough to govern alone and has been scrambling to cobble together a coalition. Both coalitions, as well as other parties, have been rallying neighboring countries for support. al-Maliki has led a government dominated by devout Shi'ites for the past four years while Allawi, a secular Shi'ite, drew most of his support from the country's Sunni minority on a campaign pledge that he was looking to transcend ethnic and sectarian divides. Both coalitons as well as other political parties have been holding talks with neighbors in the wake of balloting. Tehran's ambassador in Baghdad said Saturday that all political blocs, including Sunnis, should play a role in the new Iraqi government. The statement was unusual for a representative of Iran which traditionally backs fellow Shi'ites in Iraq. al-Maliki has tried to dispel fears that Sunnis would be neglected by a Shi'ite led government. He spoke today at a meeting of the Committee for National Reconciliation with former Sunni fighters known as Sons Of Iraq who sided with American forces against al Qaeda. al-Maliki's charges of foreign interference come a day after his political party called for a recount of election results in five of Iraq's provinces, saying that thousands of votes were tainted by fraud.
Not only did al-Hakim meet up with Saudi leaders, AFP notes, "Hakim's visit follows similar trips to Riyadh to meet the king by President Jalal Talabani last week and representatives of the Sadrist movement loyal to radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in late March. In addition, leaders of Iraq's Kurdish minority have also met the king in the past week." In an editorial, Gulf News advocates for more visits and stronger diplomatic ties:
Saudi Arabia had boycotted the Iraqi government for the past five years. It is believed that Riyadh blames the Nouri Al Maliki government for the sectarian strife that engulfed Iraq in the past five years, as well as the marginalisation of Sunnis.
Now, the Saudis seem to see an opportunity to re-engage Iraq. This is because of the results of Iraq's national election, in which Al Maliki came in second to the Iraqiya bloc led by Eyad Allawi, who is widely perceived as pro-Saudi and who advocates closer ties with the Arab world.
And this is not really a bad thing. The close involvement of Saudi Arabia, as well as other Arab countries for that matter, would bring Iraq back into the Arab fold, secure better security co-operation with neighbouring states to prevent terrorists from infiltrating, and encourage Arab business people to invest in the rebuilding of the war-ravaged country.
Middle East Online's analysis includes this:
"There is a feverish racing towards Saudi and Iran," said Hamid Fadhil, a professor of political sciences at Baghdad University.
The approval of Tehran and Riyadh remains vital, he said.
"There will be no Iraqi prime minister without fingerprints from Iran or Saudi on him," Fadhil added. "The Saudi view differs from the Iranian view and Iraqi politicians are now concerned about how they reconcile their demands."
Alsumaria TV notes that the Kurdistan Alliance has announced it will be in "Baghdad next week for official talks with political parties on the formation of a new government." The Kurdish Herald interviews Dr. Najmaldin Karim who was elected to the Parliament in the March 7th elections. Excerpt:
Kurdish Herald: Many people expected that you would announce some sort of candidacy for the Kurdistani elections last year. What influenced your decision to leave your home in the U.S. to run as a candidate in the Iraqi elections, and particularly, to run to represent Kirkuk?
Najmaldin Karim: In the United States for many years, the Kurdistan issue – in all parts of Kurdistan – has been the focus of our activities. However, in the past few years, the challenges in Iraqi Kurdistan have become more pressing for all of us; particularly, the situation in Kirkuk.
As you know, the Anfal campaign and ethnic cleansing really all started in Kirkuk and the aim was to create demographic changes so that Kurds would no longer be able to claim Kirkuk and have it join the Kurdistan Region. The [current Iraqi] constitution was drafted and voted upon and Article 140 specifically laid out a roadmap for the return of all territories that have been cut off from Kurdistan. However, by the way of the actions of the government in Baghdad, and also lack of enthusiasm and push from the Kurdish side and our own deficiencies, the article has not been implemented. [Article 140] has 3 stages: Normalization, Census and the Referendum. We have not even started the first stage.
I felt that returning [to Iraq] would allow me to work to bring all the different communities in Kirkuk together, work toward having Article 140 implemented, and also address the many needs in Kirkuk with regards to services provided to the city. The best way to accomplish these goals and serve the people of Kirkuk and all its communities is to be there on the ground and work through the parliament and through any other position that allows me to address the needs of the people of Kirkuk and the other territories for that matter.
Kurdish Herald: What are some of the immediate plans of the Kurdistani Alliance for the disputed areas, and particularly the issue of Kirkuk, that will be done differently from that which has been done in the last 4 years?
Najmaldin Karim: I think, firstly, we need to organize ourselves as Kurds to speak as one voice and we need to have a strategy. I believe that there was a lack of strategy in the past with regards to the pressing issues. We have basically reacted to events rather than having a roadmap on how to reach our goals. Our strategy begins with our position and with who we will make an alliance with to form the new government in Iraq. Also, I believe that Article 140 and other disagreements that remain between governments in Baghdad and in Kurdistan should be the key matters in our discussions about the possible alliances with different groups that are trying to form the government in Baghdad.
In other post-election news, it was a nail biter (that's saracasm) but State of Law has endorsed for prime minister: Nouri al-Maliki. Meanwhile Tim Arango (New York Times) examines Iraq's security and security forces:
Nerves were set on edge here right after the March 7 elections when Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki raised the specter of violence and invoked his role as commander in chief in calling for a manual recount. Many opponents were already worried that he would use the security forces for his own ends, something he has denied doing.
But Ayad Allawi, the former interim prime minister, whose Iraqiya coalition won the most seats, said that if he led the next government, he would overhaul the army and the police, contending they were still “riddled” with terrorists, despite continuing efforts to rid them of sectarianism.
"After eight years since the downfall of Saddam Hussein, the people say, 'We want to be safe,'" Mr. Allawi said in an interview. "The law enforcement agencies are not available to make them safe."
At least two winning candidates from Mr. Allawi's coalition have gone into hiding after learning they were targets for arrest, including one who has had a long relationship with the Iraqi government and the United States military in trying to reconcile divisions between Shiites and Sunnis.
Turning to travel advisories, this is from Sherwood Ross' "Tourists Urged to Skip Morocco" (Veterans Today):
Moroccan tourist officials may well boast of their luxury hotels designed to lure European and North American tourists but the regime of King Mohammed VI has much less to say about the hell-on-earth that is his prison system and of the torture of those inside.
As the letters from United Nations officials urging his government to stop arresting and torturing innocent men fail to induce any change, maybe this appeal to travelers to seek other destinations will have some impact. Apart from your own personal safety if you run afoul (shudder!) of the Moroccan authorities, here are some reasons for avoiding this popular tourist destination.
To begin with, Morocco has shown its disrespect for international law by illegally occupying the western Sahara and also by forging a pact with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to receive kidnapped terror suspects upon whom Morocco’s secret police inflict grotesque tortures. If Rabat will accept a prisoner kidnapped from another country without a prior legal hearing, how safe are you going to be?
James Wilson, 67, a Des Plaines, Ill., commercial airlines pilot, found out when the plane in which he was a passenger made an emergency landing in Morocco in May, 2008, and he spent 13 months in prison, from which, his family said, he emerged “in bad shape.” According to the Arlington Heights, Ill., Herald, a family member complained they “felt neglected by the American government, wondering why it would allow one of its citizens to fester in a foreign prison for a crime (drug trafficking) he did not commit.” (Could it be because the U.S. government itself is helping fill Morocco’s prisons with innocent men?)
In the US, Senator Byron Dorgan is the chair of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee. which has done some outstanding work with regards to toxic exposure of service members and contractors serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Dorgan will not be running for re-election to the Senate and it is a big loss. Click here to be taken to the DPC video page. And we'll include Senator Dorgan speaking of unemployment insurance.
Finally, David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which 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). He has an essay (text and photos) entitled "The People of the Central Valley" (21stcenturymanifesto):
Dozens of dairies in California’s Central Valley, in Tulare and Kern Counties, produce milk in industrial conditions. Wages are low and workers complain of injuries caused by pressure to work fast, and mistreatment. Most workers are immigrants from Mexico. Some dairies have unions, organized by Local 5 of the United Food and Commercial Workers. Many have had complaints against them filed by California Rural Legal Assistance.
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