Thursday, April 22, 2010

Nouri's doing the best he can! (That's supposed to be comforting?)

An Iraqi security force under Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's direct command held hundreds of detainees from northern Iraq in an undisclosed prison in Baghdad, torturing dozens of them, until the country’s human rights minister and the United States intervened late last month, Iraqi and American officials said.
Mr. Maliki ordered the prison closed and said he had been unaware it existed, according to the officials. His move brought the release of 71 detainees and the transfer of others to established prisons, but more than 200 remain in the place, on the grounds of the Old Muthanna military airfield, in northern Baghdad. All of the detainees were apparently Sunni Muslims.
American diplomats visited the prison on Wednesday, the officials said, and pressed Mr. Maliki's government to investigate the circumstances of its creation and the treatment of detainees there, originally 431 in all.

The above is from Steven Lee Myers' "Secret Baghdad Jail Held Sunnis From the North" (New York Times) which follows up on Ned Parker's "Secret prison for Sunnis revealed in Baghdad" (Monday's Los Angeles Times print, posted at the paper's website late Sunday). Tuesday Amnesty International released a statement (and, note, you can go to the link and hear the statement as well as read the text):

Amnesty International has called on the Iraqi authorities to investigate allegations that security forces tortured hundreds of Sunni detainees at a secret prison in Baghdad.

Iraqi Human Rights Ministry inspectors said on Sunday that more than 100 of the facility's 431 prisoners were tortured using electric shocks, suffocation with plastic bags and beatings. Prisoners reportedly revealed that one man had died in January as a result of torture.

Amnesty International expressed concerns at Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's claim that he was unaware of abuses at the prison, which he has vowed to shut down.

"The existence of secret jails indicates that military units in Iraq are allowed to commit human rights abuses unchecked," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa deputy director.

"Prime Minister al-Maliki's claim that he was unaware of abuses cannot exonerate the authorities from their responsibilities and their duty to ensure the safety of detainees."

The prisoners were detained by Iraqi forces in Nineveh province in October as part of an operation targeting alleged Sunni fighters.

Iraqi Security forces reportedly obtained a warrant to transfer the men to Baghdad, where they were held in isolation in a secret detention facility at the old al-Muthanna airport, which is run by the Baghdad Brigade - a special force under the direct control of the Prime Minister's office

Their whereabouts came to light in March after concerns were raised by relatives of the missing men.

"Al-Maliki's government has repeatedly pledged to investigate incidents of torture and other serious human rights abuses by the Iraqi security forces, but no outcome of such investigations has ever been made public," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

"This has encouraged a widespread culture of impunity but this time, Iraq must investigate the torture allegations thoroughly and bring to justice those responsible for carrying out any abuses."

Iraqi officials have said that 75 prisoners have already been released from the secret jail, while 275 have been transferred to normal prisons.

In 2005, 168 detainees were found in appalling conditions at an Iraqi secret detention facility in the al-Jadiriya district of Baghdad. The findings of an investigation into the incident launched shortly afterwards were never made public and no one has been prosecuted in connection with the abuses that took place at the prison.

Steven Lee Myers quotes the ridiculous Wijdan Mikhail Salim in his article (she's pictured below) who not only offers Nouri praise for closing the prison he oversaw but huffs, "He's doing the best he can."

wijdan salim

The Human Rights Minister, since May 2006, is always good for a few laughs such as when the US State Dept released a report a year ago about sex trafficking in Iraq and she happy talked it and . . . did . . . nothing. But she does love to maake the statements. Like back in February when she was telling reporters that Iraq was going to file suit against the UK and US regarding the two countries using depleted uranium in Iraq. Whatever happened on that, huh? Despite being called upon over a year ago to address the persecution of Iraq's LGBT community -- something a Human Rights Minister really shouldn't need prompting for -- she's remained silent.

But maybe, like Nouri, she's doing the best she can?

Trudy Rubin (Philadelphia Inquirer) reports:

In the lobby of the Iraqi foreign ministry hangs a large poster with photos of 42 men and women killed when a truck bomb exploded outside their offices in August.
The ministry buildings have been fully rebuilt - unlike the finance ministry, which was blown up on the same day - by the effective foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari. But Zebari told me, "Iraq is still not out of danger, is still not a normal country."
That aptly sums up the situation here as a recount begins of the Baghdad votes in the March elections. The ballots have been challenged by the party of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who disputes a count that gave a (mostly Sunni) bloc called Iraqiya a narrow edge over his (mostly Shiite) bloc. The election produced such fragmented results, with no bloc gaining a majority, that most doubt a government will be formed before fall.
The security situation has dramatically improved since the days of civil war. As I toured Baghdad, I saw busy markets, women walking without long, black abayas - some even without headscarves - and streets full of traffic. The Iraqi police and army man checkpoints, and U.S. soldiers are nowhere to be seen.

Hassan Hafidh (Dow Jones) reports that Iraq managed to bring in $4.351 billion last month as it exported approximately "1.841 million barrels of oil a day" which may not see the same this month. Kadhim Ajrash and Nayla Razzouk (Bloomberg News) report a bombing on the pipeline carrying oil to Turkey: "Plumes of black smoke could be seen. The last time an explosion struck the pipeline in the north was two months ago, when it took four days to repair and resume pumping." Jamal al-Badrani (Reuters) reports that the police and North Oil Company both state it was a bombing attack. In addition, Reuters notes a Baghdad sticky bombing which injured "the head of security for the power grid in western Iraq" and a passenger and a Baghdad roadside bombing which injured three people.

In the US, the Senate Democratic Policy Committee continues to highlight the economy and finances in a number of videos this week. Click here to be taken to the DPC video page. And we'll note this one by Senator Bob Casey.

Mother Jones disgraces itself repeatedly and is riding a wave of negative criticism it has more than earned. Click here for Justin Raimondo's piece, here for a critique of the latest ugly issue, here for James Ridgeway agreeing with Scott Horton (Antiwar Radio) that the magazine's an embarrassment criminalizing dissent and this is from Michael Barker's "Mother Jones And The Defence Of Liberal Elites" (Swans Commentary):

Intellectual freedom is regularly debased by financial dependency, and unfortunately many progressive organizations receive the majority of their funding from capitalist elites. Mother Jones presents the perfect illustration of a left-leaning magazine that acts as a mask for the soft power of liberal elites and their not-for-profit corporations, as liberal philanthropists from the ruling elites provide over 56 percent of the magazine's total annual revenue. This, however, does not prevent the magazine itself from suggesting that it engages in "smart, fearless journalism" that is "not funded by or beholden to corporations." With regard to their professed "value system" they add:
Principally we're about good journalism, following a story no matter where it takes us. We are interested in protecting the little guy and uncovering injustice. We also believe in good storytelling and coverage that surprises. We have no interest in preaching to a choir.

Thus if one were to simplify the situation and argue that there were two dominant facets to corporate power, it is evident that Mother Jones' journalism displays their ability to attack conservative-driven injustice but defend the guys and girls of the liberal elite. So while they are not beholden to for-profit corporations and do not write to please corporate advertisers, they nevertheless still preach to a choir that sings and worships within a liberal church, built for and by capitalists. For example, if we look at Mother Jones' coverage of one of the organizational mainstays of the US government's foreign policy-making establishment, the National Endowment for Democracy, we can see ample evidence of their inability to follow a story no matter where it might take them -- especially when it takes them to liberal elites.

Writing in Mother Jones in 2003, George Packer suggested that the National Endowment for Democracy simply "gives money to democratic groups in undemocratic places" (the unspoken assumption being that the U.S. is democratic). He then continues that as a result of such benevolence the endowment "has been accused by both the left and the right of meddling in other countries' affairs." But here he parts way with critical commentators, by suggesting that "meddling on behalf of democracy is exactly what we need, and the endowment should play a much larger role in the war on terrorism."

Just over one year later Packer was defending the endowment again, this time in respect to their work in Iraq. Here Packer observed that in late 2003 President Bush gave a "fine speech" at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), "sketching a keenly idealistic vision of the future of the Middle East." Ironically, Packer seems to have taken Bush's democratic bulls**t at face value, and with no evident historical comprehension of the US government's democracy-manipulation strategies merely bemoaned the fact that "at the same time, the administration was letting grants for Iraq programs at the National Democratic Institute -- a subagency of the NED -- dwindle to close to zero." The problem for Packer is not capitalist interference per se, just that conservative grantees are being prioritized over liberals. No wonder then that Edward Herman considers Packer to be a key player in the "Liberal Struggle to Support Imperialism," and Herman begins his critique, that was published in 2005, like so:

In his edited volume The Fight Is For Democracy (Perennial, 2003), George Packer and his liberal colleagues argued that Bush went too far with his international policies that were "a prescription for empire" (Michael Tomasky). But Packer and company did not renounce empire; instead they urged the Democrats to put the "fight for democracy" abroad as the core of their foreign policy, which would involve steady interventionism abroad, but with an allegedly noble end, and hopefully would prevent the rightwing from effectively labeling the Democrats as peaceniks and incapable of defending our "national security. (1)

At the end of 2004, Mother Jones published their next "exposé" of the NED, when Joshua Kurlantzick examined their activities in Haiti. Kurlantzick described how the January rebellion against Bertrand Aristide's government -- whom he writes had apparently "alienated many Haitians with his increasing demagoguery and use of violence against the opposition" -- had been backed by the International Republican Institute (a core grantee of the NED). Obsessing about Republican interference in Haiti, Kurlantzick shares the same concerns as the US Embassy in Haiti, which he says was upset about the International Republican Institute's (IRI) actions because they "were undermining the official U.S. policy of working with all sides in Haiti." For example, Kurlantzick draws attention to several other (good?) democracy-promotion groups that are financed by the NED like the AFL-CIO's international wing, and the National Democratic Institute; noting in the latter's case that their work in Haiti has been "lauded for its grassroots efforts," which have meant it has "worked with members of Aristide's party as well as opposition parties."

Articles like Kurlantzick's serve an important function for the "democracy-promoting" community, as they deflect attention away from the anti-democratic ambitions of the NED and their cohorts, whatever their political persuasions may be (all of which are neoliberal).

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