Sunday, October 24, 2010

And the war drags on . . .

BRITAIN and the United States are under growing pressure to investigate allegations that their forces had a role in the torture and killing of thousands of Iraqis.
British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, said that new details published by the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, including evidence of 15,000 more civilian deaths than initially reported, were distressing.
Asked if British troops' role should be investigated, Mr Clegg told the BBC: "Anything that suggests that basic rules of war and conflict and of engagement have been broken, or that torture has in any way been condoned, are extremely serious and need to be looked at."

The above is from Deborah Haynes' "WikiLeaks documents fuel calls for US, UK to investigate torture allegations" (Times of London via the Australian). Friday, WikiLeaks released 391,832 US military documents on the Iraq War. Despite claims by the Pentagon that there was 'nothing new' here, there was indeed much 'new.' Despite the best efforts of Geoff Morrell (Pentagon flack) to spin (especially Saturday on Good Morning America) that the revelations were deep in the past, that's not the case. The documents cover the current administration as well. Including the completion of the handover of Iraqi prisoners to Iraqi forces this summer in violation of international law since the US government knew full that Iraqi forces torture and execute prisoners. Yesterday Human Rights Watch issued the following call:

The Iraqi government should investigate credible reports that its forces engaged in torture and systematic abuse of detainees, Human Rights Watch said today. Hundreds of documents released on October 22, 2010, by Wikileaks reveal beatings, burnings, and lashings of detainees by their Iraqi captors. Iraq should prosecute those responsible for torture and other crimes, Human Rights Watch said.

The US government should also investigate whether its forces breached international law by transferring thousands of Iraqi detainees from US to Iraqi custody despite the clear risk of torture. Field reports and other documents released by Wikileaks reveal that US forces often failed to intervene to prevent torture and continued to transfer detainees to Iraqi custody despite the fact that they knew or should have known that torture was routine.

"These new disclosures show torture at the hands of Iraqi security forces is rampant and goes completely unpunished," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "It's clear that US authorities knew of systematic abuse by Iraqi troops, but they handed thousands of detainees over anyway."

The 391,831 documents released by Wikileaks, mostly authored by low-ranking US officers in the field between 2004 and 2009, refer to the deaths of at least six detainees in Iraqi custody. The reports also reveal many previously unreported instances in which US soldiers killed civilians, including at checkpoints on Iraq’s roads and during raids on people's homes.

The documents indicate that US commanders frequently failed to follow up on credible evidence that Iraqi forces killed, tortured, and mistreated their captives. According to the documents, US authorities investigated some abuse cases, but much of the time they either ignored the abuse or asked Iraqis to investigate and closed the file. In one incident on January 2, 2007, Iraqi security forces took detainees to an abandoned house and beat them, resulting in a death. The report stated, "As Coalition Forces were not involved in the alleged abuse, no further investigation is necessary."

Even when US officials reported abuse to Iraqi authorities, the Iraqis often did not act. In one report, an Iraqi police chief told US military inspectors that his officers engaged in abuse "and supported it as a method of conducting investigations." Another report said that an Iraqi police chief refused to file charges "as long as the abuse produced no marks."

The documents reveal extensive abuse of detainees by Iraqi security forces over the six-year period.

In a November 2005 document, US military personnel described Iraqi abuse at a Baghdad facility that held 95 blindfolded detainees in a single room: "Many of them bear marks of abuse to include cigarette burns, bruising consistent with beatings and open sores... according to one of the detainees questioned on site, 12 detainees have died of disease in recent weeks."

On June 16, 2007, US soldiers reported that Iraqi forces interrogated and tortured a terrorism suspect by burning him with chemicals or acid and cutting off his fingers. According to the Wikileaks file, "Victim received extensive medical care at the Mosul General Hospital resulting in amputation of his right leg below the knee[,] several toes on his left foot, as well as amputation of several fingers on both hands. Extensive scars resulted from the chemical/acid burns, which were diagnosed as 3rd degree chemical burns along with skin decay."

In a case reported on December 14, 2009, the US military received a video showing Iraqi Army officers executing a bound detainee in the northern town of Talafar: "The footage shows [Iraqi] soldiers moving the detainee into the street, pushing him to the ground, punching him, and shooting him."

In at least two cases, postmortems revealed evidence of death by torture. On December 3, 2008, a sheikh who a police chief claimed had died from "bad kidneys" in fact was found to have "evidence of some type of unknown surgical procedure on [his] abdomen. The incision was closed by 3-4 stitches. There was also evidence of bruises on the face, chest, ankle, and back of the body."

On August 27, 2009, a US medical officer found "bruises and burns as well as visible injuries to the head, arm, torso, legs and neck" on the body of another detainee. Police claimed the detainee had committed suicide while in custody.

The disclosures by Wikileaks come almost six months after Human Rights Watch interviewed 42 detainees who had been tortured over a period of months by security forces at a secret prison in the old Muthanna airport in West Baghdad. The facility held about 430 detainees who had no access to their families or lawyers. The prisoners said their torturers kicked, whipped, and beat them, tried to suffocate them, gave them electric shocks, burned them with cigarettes, and pulled out their fingernails and teeth. They said that interrogators sodomized some detainees with sticks and pistol barrels. Some young men said they were forced to perform oral sex on interrogators and guards and that interrogators forced detainees to molest one another. Iraqi authorities have still not prosecuted any officials responsible.

Between early 2009 and July 2010, US forces transferred thousands of Iraqi detainees to Iraqi custody. International law prohibits the transfer of detained individuals to the authorities of another state where they face a serious risk of torture and ill-treatment.

"US authorities have an obligation not to transfer any of the 200 or so detainees still in their custody to Iraqi forces or to anyone else who might mistreat them," said Stork. "The US should also make sure those detainees already transferred are not in a dungeon somewhere currently facing torture."

At a Pentagon news conference on November 29, 2005, Gen. Peter Pace, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, responded to a question about Pentagon guidance in situations where US commanders witness abuse by Iraqi forces, saying, "It is absolutely the responsibility of every US service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene to stop it." Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who was also on the podium, intervened and said: "But I don't think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it; it's to report it." Pace responded, "If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it."

A reporter then asked Rumsfeld if it was his sense that alleged Iraqi abuses were not widespread. Rumsfeld responded that he did not know.

"It’s obviously something that the -- General Casey and his troops are attentive to and have to be concerned about," Rumsfeld told the reporter. "It -- I'm not going to be judging it from 4,000 miles away -- how many miles away?"

Susan Sachs (Globe and Mail) quotes British Deputy Prime Minister telling the BBC, "We can bemoan how these leaks occurred, but I think the nature of the allegations made are extraordinary serious. They are distressing to read about and they are very serious. I am assuming the U.S. administration will want to provide its own answer." But the US government wants to pretend there's nothing new in these documents?

They're just there to try and make the people free,
But the way that they're doing it, it don't seem like that to me.
Just more blood-letting and misery and tears
That this poor country's known for the last twenty years,
And the war drags on.
-- words and lyrics by Mick Softly (available on Donovan's Fairytale)

Last Sunday, the number of US military people killed in the Iraq War since the start of the illegal war was 4428. Tonight? PDF format warning, DoD lists the the number of Americans killed serving in Iraq at 4429.

Turning to today's violence, Reuters notes 1 man (intelligence officer under Saddam Hussein) died in a Nimrud home invasion carried out by Iraqi forces and that a Mosul car bombing claimed 2 lives and left nineteen people wounded. CNN notes the death toll in the Mosul bombing rose to 5.

Back to WikiLeaks, Patrick Cockburn (Independent of London) looks at the documents and places the start of the 'civil war' (ethnic cleansing) as 2004: "From late in 2004 Interior Ministry troops trained by the Americans were taking part in savage raids on Sunni or suspected Baathist districts. People prominent in Saddam Hussein's regime were arrested and disappeared for few days until their tortured bodies were dumped beside the roads. Iraqi leaders whispered that the Americans were involved in the training of what were in fact death squads in official guise. It was said that US actions were modelled on counter-insurgency methods pioneered in El Salvador by US-trained Salvadoran government units. It was no secret that torture of prisoners had become the norm in Iraqi government prisons as it established its own security services from 2004. Men who were clearly the victims of torture were often put on television where they would confess to murder, torture and rape. But after a time it was noticed that many of those whom they claimed to have killed were still alive." Nouri is, of course, bothered by the release. He's worked so very hard to present as 'of the people.' Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) reports that Nouri continues to insist the release of the documents was politically motivated in an attempt to undercut him -- it's been a while since Nouri's trotted his vast paranoia across the world stage but longterm observers will remember it. Spencer notes that "part of the success he has claimed in bringing down the level of violence since he came to power has rested on his projection of a 'strongman' image. He has fought militias, including the Sadrists to whom he is now allied, and formed special security units to target suspected insurgents." Iraqiya points to the documents of proof that Nouri is a despot and Iraqiya spokesperson Maysoun al-Damluji is quoted stating, "Maliki wants to have all powers in his hands. Putting all the security powers in the hands of one person who is the general commander of the armed forces has led to these abuses and torture practices in Iraqi prisons." Iraqiya is calling for an investigation.

March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted in August, "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 seven months and seventeen days and still counting.

On today's Weekend Edition (NPR, link has text and audio), Kelly McEvers reported, "The documents also detail wrongdoing by units that claimed they were directly connected to current Prim Minister Nouri al-Maliki. During the sectarian fighting the gripped Iraq from 2006 to 2008, it was widely believed that death squads sponsored by Maliki's Shiite-dominated government carried out killings against Sunnis. In a statement Maliki's office said there's nothing wrong with maintaining special counterterrorism forces, and the documents don't prove anything." At which point, you sort of picture Nouri sticking his tongue out and saying, "Nah!" BBC News notes, "Earlier, a government spokesman admitted that "violations" had taken place but that these did not reflect official policy and were punished when discovered However, there is no record of any official having been jailed for torture after successive scandals starting in 2005."

Maher Chmayteli and Nayla Razzouk (Bloomberg News) report that Allawi is calling out the "oil and natural gas development contracts" Nouri has handed out on the grounds that Nouri's cabinet is outgoing and that, therefore, the contracts are illegal. Nouri's term expired some time ago. He's not supposed to be running anything. The US refused to allow the UN to set up a caretaker government while the election issues were resolved which is why Nouri's remained in his post. Not only is his term up, so is his cabinet. He doesn't even have a full cabinet at present and, in fact, the posts of Ministry of Oil and Ministry of Electricity -- two posts -- are being filled by one person -- without the approval of Parliament which also isn't supposed to take place. All cabinet posts are supposed to be approved by Parliament. Iraqiys presents numerous reasons for the contracts being illegal including Nouri signing off on them "with no reference to current laws such as Law 97 of 1967, which requires the consent of the Iraqi Parliament in the absence of a Federal Oil and Gas Law." Reuters adds, "Some lawmakers say the contracts all need to be approved by parliament, a view opposed by the oil ministry." But it forgets to weigh in on who's right? According to the Constitution, Parliament's approval is needed.

This, this and this will be noted tomorrow. New content from Third:

Kat's "Kat's Korner: Cher and the too far gone 70s" went up tonight. Isaiah's latest goes up after this. Pru notes Charlie Kimber's "France In Revolt Shows Our Power" (Great Britain's Socialist Worker):

The fightback in France against attacks on pensions has shown magnificent resistance.

Workers are fighting President Nicolas Sarkozy’s attempts to make them pay more for their pension and to work to 67 before they get a guaranteed full pension.

It is the main symbol of the rich trying to make workers pay for the crisis.

Mass strikes, demonstrations and student protests were in full flow as Socialist Worker went to press on Tuesday.

Petrol shortages were spreading across the country as all 12 oil refineries had joined a continuous strike. Some 2,700 of France’s 12,600 petrol stations had completely run out of supplies.

Blockades of oil depots continued at Caen, Reichstett, Dunkirk, and Saint-Pierre-des Corps.

Lorry drivers were also on strike, launching go-slow “Operation Escargot” (snail) protests on many major roads.

Almost 1,000 of France’s 4,300 secondary schools were on strike, with 600 of them blockaded. In several areas school students had barricaded roads and fought back against police attacks.

This workers and students’ revolt has the power to break the austerity offensive—if it is used to its full potential.

Tuesday’s protests were the culmination of a tumultuous few days.

A week earlier 3.5 million people joined marches and strikes. On Wednesday all-out strikes began on the rail, in oil refineries and some other sections.

On Thursday thousands of school students and some university students joined the battle.

Under pressure from the strikes and protests, Sarkozy unleashed the police last week.

He sent riot squads to clear the roads outside refineries. Police fired flash-ball rounds—a “less lethal” alternative to live ammunition—seriously injuring students in Paris, Bordeaux and Lyon.

But this did not stop the revolt. Striking workers piled up tyres in front of a refinery at Grandpuits, east of Paris, after authorities issued a legal order ordering them to reopen.

Other workers and residents formed a “human chain” to defend the refinery workers from the police. Meanwhile, school students continued the battle.

Last Saturday 310,000 demonstrated in Paris.

Isabelle, a school student told Socialist Worker, “Sarkozy’s attacks on pensions also matter for us. One day perhaps we will have a pension, if we don’t die first!

“But we are also here because we hate what he has done in attacking the Roma and by saying young people are criminals.

“Look at us here, we are united, we don’t hate people because they are from another country or another religion.

“The newspapers and some politicians say we are being used, but we can make up our own minds and can see what is happening.

“I would like all schools to stop, and the workers too.”

Yves, a rail worker, said, “I am on strike and so are many of my mates. But it is hard if you don’t feel wider support.

“Many workers are scared they will be sacked if they come out. I am proud of my union in supporting us, but we need clear calls everywhere for solidarity.

“I am fighting for my daughter as well as myself.”

Jean, a lorry driver, told Socialist Worker, “I am on strike now because we want to stop the government moving oil to break the refinery strikes.

“We need a continuous general strike of all workers to make sure we win.”

Sarkozy, urged on by all of Europe’s bosses, has said he will stand firm. More action is needed to beat him.

‘I want to see our union leaders call out everyone’

When the protests over pensions began in France in May, nobody expected them to become such a serious revolt.

Most of the union leaders knew they had to respond to such a major attack.

But, says Patrice, a health worker, “It felt like they were doing it without much heart. They expected to have a few stage-managed protests and then it would end.

“But the enthusiasm and determination of the strikers surprised everyone. And then they had to call more serious action to catch up.”

Virginia, a teacher, adds, “The protests in June and on 7 September surprised us all. Suddenly everyone was on the streets! And it came days after big protests against Sarkozy’s attacks on the Roma.”

Activists used the opening provided by the union leaders’ support for action to take the struggle to new levels.

“They gave us the chance—and we took it,” says Patrice.

Union leaders knew they had to accelerate the resistance as the pensions bill was at its final parliamentary stages.

This meant sanctioning continuous strikes in some key industries.

But making them happen, and spreading the example, was largely up to rank and file activists.

Gael, a member of the CGT union federation’s oil sector, told Socialist Worker, “We are in the front line of the strikes and are proud to be there. We know everyone is watching us.

“But oil and rail strikers, and those elsewhere, need to see the movement spreading.

“That’s what we want to see the union leaders doing, and they have been slow. I hope they will call everyone out this week.”

One of the most popular slogans on last Saturday’s demonstrations was for a general strike of more than one day. But it will take immense pressure to get it.

Bernard Thibault, CGT general secretary, has said of the call, “It’s a slogan for me that is quite abstract. It does not match the practice by which we manage to increase our strength.”

But many workers disagree. They need to organise.

To beat Sarkozy, French workers need to extend the action by maintaining and widening the continuous strikes, pushing for an all-out general strike, and uniting students and workers.

The following should be read alongside this article:

Video of French strikersFrance: a key moment as unions meet to consider next move

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