Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, April 14, 2010.  Chaos and violence continue, Gates attacks WikiLinks and 'independent media' is there to provide him an assist or at least a reach around, soldiers in the unit come forward to share their stories, despite Nouri's drama Iraqis continue seeking out their neighbors, and more.
Yesterday's snapshot noted Robert Gates, US Defense Secretary, and his embarrassing attempts to lash out WikiLeaks.  We'll start there today with this from Tuesday's Pacifica Evening News (airs on KPFA and KPFK each weekday -- as well as other stations).

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?
Iraq Veterans Against the War notes Ethan McCord and Josh Stieber who served in Bravo Company 2-16 were interviewed yesterday on The Marc Steiner Show:
Marc Steiner: Ethan McCord, welcome to the program, good to have you with us.
Ethan McCord: Thank you sir.
Marc Steiner:  And you have served this country in the armed services for a long time. You went from the Navy to the Army.
Ethan McCord: Correct.
Marc Steiner: And you and I had a really interesting conversation this afternoon. You're seen in this video coming up after the American military had opened fire, both on the eight men and then on the van.
Ethan McCord: Right.
Marc Steiner:  And you were seen carrying these children away.  Your perspective on it, I thought, was pretty profound and I think -- I'd just like you tell your story as you did this afternoon.

Ethan McCord: Okay. Well we were in a firefight a few blocks away when this incident happened. We heard the gunships opening fire. Us on the ground didn't know what was going on at the time but when we were told to move now to get to this position, we went down to that position. And what we came across was actually quite horrifying in a sense but it didn't seem real. Even in real life, it didn't seem real. It seemed like something you would see out of maybe a movie or something like that. The first thing I did was run up to the van and I saw a little girl sitting on the seat and a little boy half-way on the floorboard with his head laying on the seat next to his sister and the father slumped over.  I originaly thought that the boy had passed.  And the little girl had a wound to the stomach and had glass in her hair and eyes and my immediate response was to grab this child and I grabbed the medic and we went into the back and there were houses behind where the van was and I took the girl there and we worked on her as much as possible making sure that there was no exit wounds or anything because we really didn't know what had exactly happened at that time. And, uhm, handed the girl to the medic who then ran her to the Bradley.  I in turn went back to the van and that's when I saw the boy somewhat take a breath. And I started yelling out that the boy was still alive,  the boy's alive.  I grabbed him and started running him towards the Bradley myself and I placed him in the Bradley which I got yelled at aftewards for doing that.
Marc Steiner: Talk about that, why were you yelled at by your platoon commander?
Ethan McCord: Because I -- my main focus wasn't on pulling security, going to a rooftop and pulling security. My main focus was to pull those children out.  The first thing I thought of when I saw those children were my children at home. And, uh, I can't stand to see children like that, so that was my main priority and I didn't care what anybody said at that time.
[. . .]
Marc Steiner:  [. . .] let's talk about the language and what happens in these situations and I think, Ethan, Josh -- Josh, you wrote an interesting piece kind of reflecting on that and, Ethan, you were talking today about what actually happens in this battle, that people who have not experienced this don't understand and, Josh, let me start with you.  You really kind of articulated well in your article that even though you became against killing and are now a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War that that notwithstanding you're also trying to make people understand things they just don't understand unless they've been through this.
Josh Stieber: Right, yeah. I mean one of my major points is saying that, again, this is an indication of the system as a whole and just seeing the public outcry about the video directed at individual soldiers I think is wrong. I think there should be outcry about it because obviously a lot of things that the video show are very intense things but again they were not out of the ordinary and this weekend Secretary of Defense Gates gave his stamp of approval and said pretty much that the soldiers were doing what they were supposed to.  Again, this is what the military looks like and this is what war looks like and if people don't try to understand that and try to understand the context in which all this happened from the context of that day to the context of what our military training looks like then we're missing a much needed conversation about the nature of this entire war in general. And again just focusing on a few people and to try to put it into an analogy, the saying "the nature of the beast," what is shown in this video is the nature of the beast and I feel like directing all our outcries to what the stains look like then we're not going to ask the questions in our own society of what the rest of the beast looks like and how we put people in this situation where a lot of guys thought  that they were doing good things and that they were serving their country or defending the weak through their actions and obviously ended up doing something a lot different than they expected.
Marc Steiner: Ethan, I'd like you to pick up from there.  You -- you -- we were talking. You said some things to me this afternoon that really touched me pretty deeply and you were talking about how the person you went over there -- the person who joined the army was a different person than came out of the army.
Ethan McCord: Of course, yes. Before I joined the military -- even when I was in the Navy -- I was a different person and I didn't go to Iraq, I didn't actually fight in any battles, serving my country.  I joined the Army, I switched over to the Army and from -- from the very git-go in basic training they're telling you -- everything is about killing this person -- from the cadences that we marched to to as they call muscle memory of firing.  You know it's your instinct to just fire -- don't think about it, just fire, it's muscle memory.  To what you become in Iraq . . . When I first went to Iraq, I -- I thought I was going to help the people of Iraq and maybe I was living in a fairy tale world but I thought that we were going to help these people and when we get there and, almost on a daily basis, we're getting blown up and shot at -- and this is before we even did anything there, we were just out riding around. We hadn't had any contacts or anything.  But then we started getting blown up or shot at for the mere presence of us there. You tend to get a little angry and have a little ill will towards the people who are doing this because you're like "I'm here to help you and you're doing this to me? You're trying to take my life."  And when you're going into a situation of it's my life or their's and, I don't care who you are, you're going to choose your life. And if that means turning yourself into something that you're not, then you're going to do that because you have to become mentally tough in the situation and even -- You turn into a very hateful person while you're there. But yeah, you're like -- I came out of the Army a much angrier person than I was before I went in.  And I have a lot of problems stemming from the Army that I didn't have before. .
Robert Gates is now attacking WikiLeaks.  It needs to be strongly noted that Robert Gates was Secretary of Defense when the assault took place in 2007.  It needs to be noted that he was Secretary of Defense when Reuters was requesting the video for over two years.  It needs to be noted that he had the authority to release the video and refused to do so.  When the incident became something a news agency filed regular and repeated requests, as Secretary of Defense, he should have familiarized himself with the incident.  There should be a report that exists -- one he should have requested -- other than the after-action report filed sometime around July 19, 2007.  Robert Gates knows that it's in Robert Gates best interests to attack WikiLeaks and defocus.  But it is not in the country's best interests.  As for the President of the United States?  He should have been having several talks with Gates about this since the video was released online.  The fact that the administration has refused to express regret over the loss of life is inexcusable and saying it happened under Bush is no excuse -- not when US troops are in Iraq still.
As most people should know, should damn well know if they were paying attention, soldiers in the Army are being trained before deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan on how to say they are sorry in the event of loss of life.  Why is that soldiers are being trained in this but the Secretary of Defense doesn't have to be?  Or the president for that matter?  This is not about a legal admission of guilt.  This is about expressing remorse over what you could term a "tragic inciddent."  And since the US government continues to maintain that there were no War Crimes that took place in the incident, they should have no fears about expressing remorse.
Again, soldiers are being trained on how to handle civilian and Iraq/Afghanistan troop deaths, how to express regret when the US military accidentally kills someone.  If we're expecting the women and men on the ground to do that, why don't we expect -- why don't we demand -- the same from the Secretary of Defense and the Commander in Chief?
But in the world we live in today, no demands are made on the president and hypocrites rush to see who can be the biggest fool.  Justin Rainmondo ( calls outsome of this nonsense of the faux left attacking WikiLeaks and founder Justin Assange:
First up is Mother Jones magazine, a citadel of Bay Area high liberalism and the left-wing of the Obama cult, with a long article by one David Kushner. The piece is essentially a critical profile of Assange, who is described as an egotist in the first few paragraphs, and it goes downhill from there. Most of the article is a collection of dishy quotes from various "experts" – including from the apparently quite jealous (and obviously demented) editor of, a similar site, who says Wikileaks is CIA front. Steven Aftergood, author of the Federation of American Scientists' Secrecy News blog, "says he wasn't impressed with WikiLeaks' 'conveyor-belt approach' to publishing anything it came across. 'To me, transparency is a means to an end, and that end is an invigorated political life, accountable institutions, opportunities for public engagement. For them, transparency and exposure seem to be ends in themselves,' says Aftergood. He declined to get involved."
To begin with, quite obviously Assange and the Wikileaks group have a political goal in, say, publishing the Iraq massacre video – which is to stop the war, end the atrocities, and expose the war crimes of this government to the light of day. Surely the video, and the ones to come, will continue to "invigorate" our political life – perhaps a bit more than the Aftergoods of this world would like.
Kushner contacted a few members of the Wikileaks advisory board who claim they never agreed to serve – and gets one of them, computer expert Ben Laurie, to call Assange "weird." Kushner adds his own description: "paranoid: – and yet Laurie's own paranoia comes through loud and clear when he avers:
"WikiLeaks allegedly has an advisory board, and allegedly I'm a member of it. I don't know who runs it. One of the things I've tried to avoid is knowing what's going on there, because that's probably safest for all concerned."
This is really the goal of harassing and pursuing government critics: pure intimidation. With US government agents stalking Assange as he flies to a conference in Norway, and one attempted physical attack in Nairobi, Assange is hated by governments and their shills worldwide. And Mother Jones certainly is a shill for the Obama administration, a virtual house organ of the Obama cult designed specifically for Bay Area limousine liberals who'll gladly turn a blind eye to their idol's war crimes – and cheer on the Feds as they track Assange's every move and plot to take him down.
Kushner asks "Can WikiLeaks be trusted with sensitive, and possibly life-threatening, documents when it is less than transparent itself?" Oh, what a good question: why shouldn't Wikileaks make itself "transparent" to the US government, and all the other governments whose oxen have been viciously gored by documents posted on the site? Stop drinking the bong water, Kushner, and get a clue.
Hillary supporters, you saw Mother Jones LIE non-stop to help gift Barack with the nomination.  You shouldn't be surprised that the same LIARS who never did an accurate correction (mealy-mouthed insults to the person you lied about discredit your so-called 'correction').  The same hatred they aimed at Hillary they now aim at everyone who threatens their Christ-child.  So goes it in the Cult of St. Barack.  Mother Jones needs to get their act together or take their final bow.  And they aren't getting the support they used to but let's see if we can cut off even more of their funds.
They should be ashamed of themselves -- and read Raimondo's article, they're not the only ones who should be. This is right-wing Bush love.  This isn't the way the left is supposed to behave.  But that's the Cult of St. Barack, endlessly singing "Let the circle jerk be unbroken . . ."
Earlier this week, Nouri al-Maliki was throwing public fits over the fact that Iraq's neighbors were expressing interest.  Thankfully few listen to him.  (We're not noting his "I stopped a major bombing!" spin.) Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq leader Ammar al-Hakim met 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." al-Hakim has finished his visits and left but AFP reports that Iraq's Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi is in Saudi Arabia in "talks with King Abdulla of Saudi Arabia".  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.
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.
In some of today's reported violence . . .
Reuters notes a Baghdad sportswear store bombing which claimed 1 life and injured five more, a Hawija roadside bombing targeting Sahwa members which injured a leader and three bodyguards and when police arrived another bomb went off injuring two of them, and a Baghdad sticky bombing which claimed the life of the Interior Ministry's counter-terrorism guru Brig Arkan Mohammed Ali.
Reuters notes a Mosul drive-by which claimed the lives of 2 Iraqi soldiers and one Iman shot dead by his home in Baghdad.
In other news, Keiffer Wilhelm took his own life August 4, 2009 while serving in Iraq after being targeted with bullying and hazing. Robert L. Smith (Cleveland Plain Dealer) reports the last 'action' against the four who tormented Keiffer has taken place and no one received "serious punishment" for their actions towards Keiffer. Keffier's step-mother, Shelly Wilhelm, is quoted stating, "All he did was get a slap on the wrist. We don't know what to say because we just don't understand. He was the platoon sargent. He was Kieffer's direct command. It doesn't make sense. I feel like the Army has let us down again." She's referring to Staff Sgt Bob Clements and the Mansfield News Journal reports he could have been sentenced to 25 years in prison; however, he "has been reprimanded and demoted" after being found guilty "of obstructing justice". The military pretends it wants to take suicide seriously. If it wanted to send the message that it does, it would not only have to make serious efforts to help those suffering, it would have to take suicide seriously when it happens and not rush to sweep it under the rug -- especially in such a way that appears to blame the victim. Chris Roberts (El Paso Times) adds:

Clements "just walks away," Shane Wilhelm, the private's father, said in an interview Tuesday. "I feel completely let down by the Army."
Wilhelm said he still hoped the general in the chain of command overseeing the court-martial would throw out the verdict.
Clements remains with the brigade, Caggins said. The 4-1 Armored is returning from a 12-month deployment in Iraq, where it was training Iraqi security forces.
The court-martial was held at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait. Caggins, contacted late Tuesday in Iraq, did not know when the verdict was delivered. Wilhelm said it was Sunday.
Two of the other accused soldiers were convicted on cruelty charges. The fourth offered to leave the military instead of facing a court-martial and was discharged.
Turning to the Congress, the Senate Democratic Policy Committee. has done some outstanding work with regards to toxic exposure of service members and contractors serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and outgoing Chair Byron Dorgan deserves a great deal of credit for his strong leadership on those issues (Senator Dorgan has decided not run for re-election to the Senate).  When Congress is in session, Monday through Friday, there are usually daily vidoes at the DPC video page.  The DPC issued the following:

Who is really on the side of middle-class Americans?

 Democrats:  On the Side of Middle-Class Americans

 98 percent - The percentage of all working families and individuals in America who got a tax cut in 2009 thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. [Citizens for Tax Justice, 4/13/10]

 $3,000 - The record average tax refund taxpayers are seeing this tax season thanks to the tax cuts in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. [White House, 4/12/10]

 40 million – The number of American families with incomes up to $88,000 (for a family of four) that will receive a tax credit to help pay for health care coverage in the exchange, thanks to health insurance reform. [House Majority Leader Hoyer, 4/12/10]

 Republicans:  On the Side of the Wealthy

 $120,000 – The average amount that the richest 0.3 percent of households with incomes above $1 million received in 2007 from the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts [CBPP, 5/9/08]  (To put this number in context, sending your child to a private college for 4 years costs, on average, $105,000 in tuition and fees alone. [College Board, 2010])

 $46 million – Average tax cut per filer received by the 400 wealthiest taxpayers in the entire country in 2007. [CBPP, 2/23/10]  (To put this number in context, a person earning $50,300 per year, or the median income in the U.S. , would have to work 914 years to earn as much. [US Census data for 2008])

 $18 billion – Total tax cuts for the 400 richest households in the U.S. in 2007. [CBPP, 2/23/10]  (To put this number in context, $18 billion is the economic output of the entire nation of Bolivia . [CIA World Factbook])

 2 percent - The percent of total benefits of the capital gains and dividend rate reductions in 2010 that went to the middle 20 percent of taxpayers, compared to 89 percent of the total benefits that went to the wealthiest 20 percent of taxpayers and 58 percent to the wealthiest one percent of taxpayers. [CBPP, 8/7/08]

 1 – Number of years President Bush took to turn the budget surplus he inherited from President Clinton into a budget deficit. [OMB Data]


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.