Monday, September 13, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Monday, September 13, 2010.  Chaos and violence continue, the world faces the fact that Nouri sits on billions, the stalemate continues, Amnesty International releases a report on Iraqi prisons, and more.
Starting with imprisonment, last night Amnesty International issued a press release --  "Thousands of Iraqi detainees at risk of torture after US handover" -- and a new report -- [PDF format warning] "NEW ORDER, SAME ABUSES: UNLAWFUL DETENTIONS AND TORTURE IN IRAQ.''
Torture is widely used in Iraq to obtain "confessions". In many cases these are already prepared by interrogators and detainees are forced to sign while blindfolded and without reading the contents.           
Prepared confessions are often used as the only evidence against detainees when they are brought to trial, including in cases where the charges incur the death penalty.              
Hundreds of prisoners are reported to have been sentenced to death, and some have been executed, after being convicted on the basis of "confessions" which they said were false and had been signed under torture or other duress.
The report explains that grave human rights abuses are taking place and, despite this, the US military turned over the bulk of prisoners in July of this year. Prisoners are tortured, hidden away, held without trial for years and denied access to their attorneys. (The report also notes the official unemployment rate is 50% -- you may remember that when the press was selling Barack's Aug. 31st speech, they put it under less than 40%.)  Numerous examples of abuse are cited throughout the report such as:
Nasrallah Mohammad Ibrahim, a 41-year-old father of six who worked for an electricity company in al-Siniya, a town in Salaheddin governorate, north of Baghdad, was detained from his workplace on 5 January 2008 by US soldiers who produced no arrest order or warrant issued by a judicial authority. He was initially held at a US military base in al-Siniya for about a week and then transferred to Camp Bucca, far from his home in al-Siniya, with the result that his family could not afford to visit him for about 18 months. After two years at Camp Bucca he was transferred to Camp Taji where he was still being detained without charge or trial in early July 2010. His sister told Amnesty International of the difficulties his family has been facing during his detention:          
"My brother has six children, three girls and three boys,they are not doing well in school. In fact one girl is not attending school. They need clothes but we don't have the money to buy them clothes. When we visited Nasrallah in Bucca, the journey from Salaheddin to Bucca cost us nearly US$150, add to that expenses for ccommodation and food in Basra. We only visited him three times when he was there because we couldn't afford it. Our mother is not well and Nasrallah's detention is not helping her."
Youssef 'Ali Jalil, a 25-year-old student from al-Ghazalia in Baghdad, is married with one daughter. In the early hours of 21 November 2008, according to his family, a group of more than 10 US soldiers went to his house, searched it and arrested him without producing a search or arrest warrant. He was taken to Camp Cropper, where he was held for a week, and then transferred to Camp Bucca. He remained there, most of the time, until mid-2009 when he was taken back to Camp Cropper. In September 2009, the US military handed Youssef 'Ali Jalil over to the Iraqi authorities, who detained him in Rusafa Prison before transferring him to al-'Adala Prison in al-Kadhimiya, Baghdad. His family appointed a lawyer to represent him, who has been able to visit him four times, but no members of his family have visited Youssef 'Ali Jalil since US forces transferred him to the custody of the Iraqi authorities in September 2009 for fear of harassment by Iraqi security officials and prison guards.28 Since his transfer to al-'Adala Prison, Youssef 'Ali Jalil has alleged that he has been beaten there by prison guards. In early July 2010 he was still being held without charge or trial.  
Of all the imprisoned, Walid Yunis Ahmad is thought to have been imprisoned the longest without trial or charge having been arrested February 6, 2000 and imprisoned ever since. Ten years without a trial. Thought to be? Secret prisons continue in Iraq. And this is not just the 'progress' Barack hailed, this is the regime that Joe Biden and others are attempting to keep in power. Despite repeated complaints, despite deaths in custody, Nouri has provided no public investigations, no one has ever been punished. From page 41 of the report, "The Iraqi authorities have on numerous occasions announced investigations into incidents of torture, deaths in custody and killings of civilians, especially by the Iraqi security forces. However, the outcomes of such investigations have never been made public. This has raised concerns that such investigations may not have been carried out, or that they were conducted or partly conducted but the findings were ignored. In all cases, those responsible for abuses have not been brought to justice. The failure to deal seriously and effectively with torture and other human rights violations by the Iraqi security forces has created a culture of impunity." As the head of the government since 2006, he has hand picked his ministers and they have carried out his orders. All of these abuses have taken place under his watch and the US not only does nothing about the abuses, it works overtime to try to keep Thug Nouri as prime minister. He also refuses to instruct that the Ministry of Justice be over the prisons now being run by the Defense and Interior ministries despite the law ordering those two ministries to turn their prisoners over to the Ministry of Justice. Kate Allen (Guardian) observes:
Barely noticed amid the fanfare surrounding the announcement of an end to US combat operations in Iraq, in July the US also handed the last of some 10,000 prisoners held on security grounds to the Iraqi authorities -- though the US will continue to hold about 200 detainees deemed to be "high-risk".
Remarkably, however, this mass transfer came with no formal guarantees over humane treatment or due process. Given recent instances of the discovery -- including by US forces -- of horrific abuse being meted out to inmates by Iraq guards, this is extremely regrettable.     
The torture and sexual humiliation of prisoners by US forces at Abu Ghraib made the US notorious when the scandal came to light in 2004. However, the sadistic mistreatment of prisoners supposedly in Iraqi official care has been a feature of the entire post-Saddam period, and in many ways the savagery of the abuse has rivalled that of the dictatorial Saddam years.
One case, that of Ramze Shihab Ahmed, is especially getting press attention. Andrew Wander (Al Jazeera) reports:            

On a dull December day in 2009, Rabiha al Qassab, a 63-year-old Iraqi refugee living in a quiet residential area of north London, received a telephone call that marked the beginning of a new nightmare for a family already torn apart by Iraq's political upheavals.           
Her 68-year-old husband, Ramze Shihab Ahmed, had been arrested while on a visit to Iraq, and no-one knew where he was being held or what, if anything, he had been charged with.  
Nine months later, Ramze is still languishing in legal limbo in a Baghdad prison. His story lays bare the horrific abuses and lack of legal process that characterise post-Saddam Iraq's detention system, which human rights groups say has scarcely improved since the darkest days of the dictator's rule.  
BBC News covers the case here and adds, "Amnesty said the use of torture to extract confessions in Iraq was routine -- and the confessions were frequently used as evidence in court." Jomana Karadsheh and CNN focus on numbers such as 30,0000 imprisoned without trial and the US's transfer in July of 10,000 more prisoners to Iraqi control. Rebecca Santana covers the report for AP and notes, "Amnesty International researchers detailed a litany of abuse, including suspending people by their limbs, beating them with cables and pipes, removing toenails with pliers and piercing the body with drills. Hundreds of people -- including some facing the death penalty -- have been convicted based on confessions extracted through torture, the report said. The vast majority of the detainees are Sunnis suspected of helping the insurgency; hundreds are Shiites accused of being part of the Mahdi Army, an outlawed militia run by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has fought U.S. and Iraqi security forces."  Stephen Kurczy (Christian Science Monitor) adds, "Amnesty highlights that the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), a security pact between the Iraqi and US governments, provides no safeguards for prisoners who are transferred to Iraqi custody -- 'although the US government cannot but be well aware that torture and other ill-treatment have been and remain common in prisons and detention centers controlled by the Iraqi government and its security forces'."
Turning to the continued political stalemate in Iraq. March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board notes, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's six months and six days with no government formed.  Friday came news that the US government was pushing a plan that would ignore Iraqi law including the Constitution. Today the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's editorial board weighs in:
Now U.S. officials have jumped into the fray and proposed a reasonable -- but American -- compromise to Iraq's political logjam. Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki, who has refused to acknowledge his coalition's loss in March, would remain in power, but with diminished authority. He would share power with a coalition that would include representatives from Iraqi groups other than his Shiites.     
This would be a reasonable solution to the "no government" issue, but the problem is that it's an American solution -- which will probably mean that many Iraqis will oppose it. If the American idea moves from being proposed to being imposed, as might be the case in a country that still has 50,000 U.S. troops, following a seven-year occupation, then it will truly be doomed.             
Gulf News' editorial board sounds a note of regret and resignation: "The United States' efforts to help form a new government in Iraq may be needed, after more than six months of wrangling among rival factions. However, it is unfortunate that the Iraqis need the intervention of the US administration to get an agreement. This is obviously indicative of the political immaturity of the ruling establishment." There are some who tie the increase in violence to the ongoing political stalemate. Gulf Times notes of yesterday's violence, "Eight people, including three militants, were killed in Iraq yesterday, mostly in clashes between security forces and insurgents. Iraqi forces, assisted by US warplanes, carried out a military operation targeting a group said to be Al Qaeda militants in the town of Al Hadid, some 65km northeast of Baghdad. Government forces said they came under heavy fire from surrounding areas, resulting in clashes with insurgents which lasted for more than seven hours near the town, in Diyala province." Timothy Williams (New York Times) notes the continued combat role of US troops referencing the efforts Gulf Times mentions and adding, "The United States military did not confirm its role in the fighting. An American military spokeswoman said Sunday in an e-mail that she was awaiting 'releasable information.' But Iraqi military and civilian officials said American helicopters and some ground troops had taken part after Iraqi forces requested assistance. The Iraqis had come under fire while raiding Sunni insurgent hide-outs in the agricultural area."
Turning to some of today's reported violence .  . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad sticky bombing which claimed the life of intelligence Cpt Muthenna Ahmed, a Baghdad roadside bombing wounded four Iraqi soldiers, a Falluja home bombing which claimed the life of a Falluja police officer, his mother and one other family member and, dropping back to Sunday for the rest, a Baquba sticky bombing claimed 2 lives and left two other people injured and a Diyala Province sticky bombing which claimed the life of an Iraqi army captain and left his mother and his wife injured.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 Iraqi military officer was shot dead in Baghdad and, dropping back to Sunday for the rest, 1 government employee shot dead in Baghad and Baquba clashes led claimed 9 lives (2 police officer, 4 military members and 3 suspects) and left ten injured. Reuters notes a Latifiya armed attack on a Sahwa leader which killed him as well as 3 people in his family.
"Al Qaeda in Iraq is back from the dead," announces Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times). "Once vanquished by Janabi and other Sunni Arab fighters who joined the U.S.-backed Awakening movement, the Islamic militant group is carving out new sanctuaries here in the farmlands south of Baghdad, in the deserts to the west and in the mountains to the east."
Turning now to a constant point.
June 4, 2009: The US puppet Nouri al-Maliki was put into power by the US and he sits on billions as he prepares for the US withdrawal (not coming anytime soon).
July 20, 2009: As Nouri sits on those stacks and stacks of money, the people under the puppet suffer.
August 1, 2008: "Turning to Iraq where puppet of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki sits on a ton of money and spends it when he feels like on what he wants."
We could go on and on and on and on (nod to Erykah Badu) because it's in snapshots in entries all over this site.  Poinr?  Today Aram Roston (The Nation) reports:
Last month, nearly eight years after Wolfowitz's flawed prediction, as tens of thousands of troops left Iraq, a House subcommittee stamped its approval on President Barack Obama's controversial request for $2 billion in 2011 to arm and train Iraq's military. It is unclear if the Senate will follow suit, but they have approved some funding. On top of the $2 billion, the proposed State Department budget allocates an additional $2.5 billion to step up its operations in Iraq.     
All that money is being sent to Iraq based on a simple presumption, that Iraq's government, run by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, is bankrupt and running a massive deficit. The Iraqi government, a caretaker regime now, was created according to a constitution and timetable drawn up under US occupation and is now considered both fragile and corrupt.   
But now comes word from independent US government auditors that the presumption may be false: Iraq's government is not broke at all. Instead, Iraq's rulers have been sitting on a vast pile of cash while begging for billions of dollars from the United States and the international community. A draft report by the General Accountability Office has found that the Maliki government, in spite of proclamations of poverty, hasn't been spending what its budget allotted.
I'm not speaking of Aram Roston or The Nation here (nor am I slamming either), but people knew.  People always knew.  I'm not psychic. But apparently we're going to play it out like the GAO's report is a shocker?  Is that's how it's going to go down?  Karen DeYoung (Washington Post) notes the DoD's efforts to quibble and split hairs over the findings and she also points out:
Under the U.S. CERP program, U.S. field commanders were authorized to distribute funds for development and other projects they deemed important to the war effort. From fiscal years 2004 through Sept., 2009, the United States obligated more than $3.6 billion to the program. Iraq agreed to take over the program, changing its name to I-CERP, and distribute money through its own field commanders.      
"However, as of Sept. 1, 2009," the report said, U.S. Forces in Iraq "had obligated $229 million of the $270 million in funding provided by Iraq for I-CERP, and Iraq had not provided any additional resources to support the program.
Violence might not be so high if Iraqis had any of the basic services they have to repeatedly do without.  On this week's Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera, began airing Friday night), Teymoor Nabili was joined by Faiza al-Araji (activist and writer), Patrick Clawson (Washington Institute for Near East Policy" and Tahseen al-Shaikhli (Baghdad Security Plan's civilian spokesperson). 
Teymoor Nabili: Tahseen al-Shaikhli, if I may start with you, we saw violence in Baghdad on Sunday with the involvement of US troops and it would seem to imply that the local security forces can't maintain order without US involvement.  Do you agree?
Tahseen al-Shaikhli: No, I'm not agreed with this for many reasons.  You know for us our forces are capable and able to handle the security here in Iraq, especially in Baghdad.
Teymoor Nabili: Well you say that, but so far -- You say that but what we have so far seen indicates that there is still a a tendancy -- and apparently an increasingly sophisticated one -- to attack very important areas of Baghdad and they're getting away with it.
Tahseen al-Shaikhli: Yeah, it happened.  It's not just in Baghdad. In many, many countries it happens like this. Today, there is a blast in Pakistan.  You know there is, many countries now there is encountering the same challenges we have here in Iraq. And we think our security forces now with the reliability to encounter the challenge that we believe in it.  Like, you know, until now the security forces succeeded to fail many attacks for al Qaeda and their alliances.
Teymoor Nabili: Alright. Well let's go to Faiza al-Araji in Amman.  Do you agree with that analysis? Baghdad is no more dangerous than a lot of cities around the world?
Faiza al-Araji:  Well first of all, I agree about the pulling out the [US] troops from Iraq. I'm not with the staying of the occupation forces in my homeland.  But in the same time, we have to talk about -- evaluation about how the security forces in Iraq and the army in Iraq, how are they functioning.  And to talk about facts on the ground. We will not talk about emotions.  Yes, we appreciate the hard work --
Teymoor Nabili: Well what are the facts on the ground as you see them?
Faiza al-Araji: Yeah, facts on the ground. If the Iraqi army and security, they have no right to have no air force cover, Iraqi air force cover. The Apache is used by American officers, it's not allowed for Iraqi to be the driver of the Apache. So can you control any fight on the ground without the air force? Please, I would like to hear.
Teymoor Nabili: That's important.
Faiza al-Araji: Yes, I would like to hear the answer.
Teymoor Nabili: Well come on to the exact nature of the relationship in a minute. But let me go to Patrick Clawson and ask you about the actual role here. Let's, for a start, dismiss this notion that perhaps combat operations are over.  That was really only for American consumption at the end of the day.  We know that those forces will engage when necessary.  The question is are they going to be engaging all the time because it does seem as if there is no let up in the violence in Baghdad and there is still a great gap in the security forces ability to cope with it.
Patrick Clawson: Well there is a lot of violence in Baghdad. There has been a dramatic letup from last year.  There's many fewer people who are dying in Baghdad --
Teymoor Nabili: Well let me stop you for a moment there, Patrick Clawson.  This is the line we always here from supporters of the American position. It's meaningless to say there's been a dramatic drop unless you say your time frame here.  The fact is, we're not comparing relative to last year or the year before, we're saying there's an unacceptable level of violence still in Baghdad and the security forces cannot deal with it.
Patrick Clawson: We measure progress. Progress is compared to the past. And we have to ask: Are we improving things?  The answer is: Yes. And as -- as Ms. Araji's pointed out, it is true that the Americans still provide the air cover but that has only been necessary in about every month or less often this year. 
In the US, last night was the MTV VMAs (Video Music Awards).  Lady Gaga cleaned up but she also made news for her guests.  Kara Warner (MTV) quotes her explaining at the pre-show arrival, "I'm here for a very, very important cause tonight. These are all my friends and they are with, which is an organization that was founded in 1993 under the reaction to the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policies. Their stories are very inspiring and there's so much we can do right now."  Her friends were Maj Mike Almy, Staff Sgt David Hall, Katie Miller and Sgt 1st Class Stacy Vasquez -- three of whom were discharged under Don't Ask, Don't Tell.  Katie Miller resigned from West Post in protest of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Terri Schwartz (MTV) compiles a list of the top ten VMA moments from last night while ABC News makes it's question of the day whether or not Don't Ask, Don't Tell should be repealed and notes Maj Margaret Witt, discharged in 2007 under Don't Ask Don't Tell, has her case heard today in a civilian federal court.  James Dao (New York Times) explains Witt had served for 17 years when, in 2004, the estranged husband of Witt's romantic partner wrote a letter to the Air Force outing her which led to an investigation and then her discharge.  Last week, another court case was in the news.  Ian Thompson (ACLU Blog of Rights) wrote Friday evening:
On Thursday evening, U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips ruled that the discriminatory and counterproductive policy known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) violates the constitutional rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual servicemembers. In clear and striking language in the 86-page opinion, Judge Phillips stated that DADT has a "direct and deleterious effect" on the armed forces, and issued a permanent injunction barring enforcement of the policy (a step almost certain to be fought by the government).
Friday, Marcia wondered, "When's Congress going to act. When's Barack going to show leadership?"  And as Mike pointed out Thursday night, the US Justice Dept fought to keep Don't Ask, Don't Tell in that case, and "they were acting on behalf of Barack Obama." (The Log Cabin Republicans -- a GOP LGBT organization -- were the ones filing the case to overturn Don't Ask, Don't Tell.)  So where is the leadership, Barack?  And what we warned of here is coming true and the Democratic leadership in Congress knew it when we were talking about in the snapshot: Dems are likely to lose the votes needed to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell.   Monday April 5th, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7th, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in July that he had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." Manning has been convicted in the public square despite the fact that he's been convicted in no state and has made no public statements -- despite any claims otherwise, he has made no public statements.
Bradly has not spoken publicly.  Regardless of whether he is the leaker or not, the US military is going after him.  Iraq Veterans Against the War notes:



Sunday, Sept. 19, 11:30 a.m.  

Quantico, VA, Riverfront Park.    

We have again been granted a permit for a rally, to support Bradley Manning, at the Q-Town Riverfront (Municipal) Park, site of the successful rally on Aug. 8.  Please join us, to show support for Bradley!  Updates and carpool information will be available at the Sept. 16 fundraiser at the Stewart Mott House.