Friday, January 7, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, some movement in Iraq's Parliament, some stalling as well, Robert Gates plays the fool, and more.
Since long before the start of the Iraq War, Iranian dissidents have lived in Iraq. Following the US invasion, the US made these MEK residents of Camp Ashraf -- Iranian refuees who had been in Iraq for decades -- surrender weapons and also put them under US protection. They also extracted a 'promise' from Nouri that he would not move against them. July 28th the world saw what Nouri's 'promises' were actually worth. Since that Nouri-ordered assault in which at least 11 residents died, he's continued to bully the residents. The Women's International Perspective features a post by Elham Fardipour:
My name is Elham Fardipour and I am an Iranian refugee living in Camp Ashraf, Iraq. Not only is Camp Ashraf my home, yet it is also home to 3400 Iranian dissidents, including 1000 women. Many years ago, I joined the nationwide resistance against the Mullahs and came to Camp Ashraf with the goal of bringing freedom to my country, Iran, and saving the lives of Iranian men and women living under the cruelty and suppression of the religious dictatorship ruling Iran, which posses as a serious threat to world peace through its nuclear program and state sponsoring of terrorism. From 1989 to 1993, I lived in the UK studying in the field of electronics. You might be surprised, and ask why a woman alone leaves her life in Europe and cemes to Iraq. However, while witnessing the ruthless suppression of women in Iran, fathers who selling a kidney to make ends meet, the trafficking of 9 year-old girls in Kuwaiti markets, selling eye corneas to pay house mortgage and…, a comfortable and leisured life was no longer tolerable for me.
Following the occupation of Iraq, the responsibility of Ashraf residents' protection was on the shoulders of US forces, under an agreement signed between the US government and each and every resident in Ashraf, continuing until 2009. After the transfer of protection from US forces to the Iraqi government in the beginning of 2009, this camp has been placed under an inhumane siege by Iraqi security forces under the command of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whom has very close ties to the tyrannical regime in Tehran. Camp Ashraf has been placed under an all-out blockade, and the common goal of Tehran's Mullahs and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is to make living conditions for residents intolerable, forcing them to return to Iran where all the Ashraf residents will face definite execution and torture.
Although the blockade, due to the widespread international auspices by human rights organizations and numerous MPs of democratic countries from around the globe, has not reached its final goal of suppressing the camp's residents and having them expelled from Iraq, it has actually caused mental and physical damages to Ashraf residents. It has also brought about restrictions in Ashraf residents' free access to medical services and treatment. As a result, a number of my best friends, due to the Iraqi government's prevention of their access to medical treatment, have lost their lives.
Dar Addustour reports that Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebair declared that the country's consitution does not allow for terrorist organizations and that this would apply to the MEK. As noted in Wednesday's snapshot, Spanish Judge Fernando Andreu is overseeing an international probe (or is supposed to -- who knows if this will be shut down) into the assault on Camp Ashraf. At present, he has ordered Iraq's Lt Gen Abdol Hossein al Shemmari to provide testimony March 8th. Attorney and conservative Allan Gerson (of Gerson International Law Group) writes at The Huffington Post in praise of Spain's decision: "To its credit, Spain takes seriously its law providing for universal jurisdiction of war crimes, recognizing that it can be misused for political ends. Having viewed the attack that occurred at Camp Ashraf in July 2009 as a war crime against protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Spain is ready to take action. Were the Spanish court to find that Lt Gen Shemmari had been complicit in war crimes, it could ask for an investigation and prosecution at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. This is good news for all who favor the application of international law to combat and deter gross human rights abuses." Press TV reports that a protest of the MEK took place today. Their report states that there were family members of residents of Camp Ashraf protesting and insisting that residents were being held against their will.
Staying on Iraq and Iran relations, al-Furat's big story is that WikiLeaks released documents indicates the government of Iran has been providing visiting Iraqi tribal leaders with women for "temporary marriage" "in order to strengthen its influence in Iraq" -- possibly via blackmail since these 'temporary' arrangements are frowned upon in Iraq. Meanwhile Press TV states, "Iran's relations with Iraq entered a new stage with the Iranian caretaker Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi's trip to the latter and warm official and popular reception of the official. Because the unequaled acknowledgment of the visit signals that the ties have reached a heartwarming point." Of course, for most observers, it's Moqtada al-Sadr's Wednesday return to Iraq that really puts that message across. Though it's yet to rival an entrance by Lady Godiva, al-Sadr's entrance is almost as attention getting as the courtroom entrance of Alexis (Joan Collins) on the first episode of the second season of Dynasty. Today on The Diane Rehm Show, Diane discussed al-Sadr's return with Nadia Bilbassy (MBC), Susan Glasser (Foreign Policy) and James Kitfiled (National Journal).
Diane Rehm: We have an old friend coming back to Iraq from his so-called exile in Iran. What has prompted Moqtada al-Sadr to come back to Iraq, Susan?
Susan Glasser: Well you know after months and months of political uncertainty, there's now the formation of a new government in Iraq and I think you have a moment where we're going to see actually whether the Islamic parties in Iraq take the center stage again, whether they make a full throttle sort of challenge to steer the course of the new Iraq. And I'm curious to see what happens. He was greeted as a -- almost a conquering hero in a way.
Nadia Bilbassy: Yeah
James Kitfield: You know this -- I was actually in Iraq in 2004 with a unit that was given orders to capture or kill him and that was rescinded. This guy is virulently anti-American. I think it's less an Islamic issue than a Shi'ite versus Sunni issue. He's very closely aligned with Iran. He's a Shia. He has his militia. But his militia was defeated twice by the Iraqi army so he --
Diane Rehm: Right
James Kitfield: And then he kind of went underground. And his party kind of joined the political process and they won 40 seats. He became a king-maker in this last election and he was able to throw his 40 seats in the coalition with Maliki so Maliki -- the former prime minister is going to be the future prime minister -- so he's a king-maker and that's why I think he returned. He saw that he now, he's going to have, I think, 8 of the three dozen ministries in the new government. So the time is ripe for him to sort of come back and play sort of the political champion of his party. It can't bode very -- I can assure you the Americans and the United States is very worried about his ties to Iran. That's the bad news. The good news is if he -- if he decisively decided to play politics, to try to exert influence through politics, that's probably something we can live with. It's when his militia was a Hezbollah-like armed group --
Diane Rehm: Sure.
James Kitfield: -- outside of politics that he was sort of public enemy number one to the Americans. But he's not -- he's not doing that now.
Diane Rehm: Except that you worry whether it could lead to some sectarian violence.
Nadia Bilbassy: It could. And I think the people who are worried the most are the Sunnis because don't forget that his army, Jaish al-Mahdi, has been responsible for some of the most grotesque, terrible massacres in 2006 and 2007. But you asked, Diane, why he returned? I think he returned because of the blessing of Iran. The day he returned to Najaf as a hero, he visited the grave of Iman Ali and he was surrounded by all of his supporters. And it coincided with a visit of the Iranian Foreign Minister who the Ambassador to Baghdad said that Moqtada al-Sadr is a stabilizing force in Iraq now. Also, he made peace with his old nemesis which is Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Let's not forget that Maliki ordered the security forces to unleash a campaign against his Mahdi army in Basra and almost wiped them out. So he did not forget that. But because of this realliance with Iran and I think he was given also assurance that he's not going to be on trial for a killing of another assassination of another Shi'ite leader, he was allowed to come back. Now his self-imposed exile was for religious reasons. He went to Qom, which is the most revered religious Shi'ite city in Iran to learn because he wants to be an Ayatollah. He did not reach that degree. He's coming back now not as a firebrand rebel trouble maker but as a respected politician who -- as James said, he has forty seats in Parliament, he might have influence. And I think he will give every reason for the Americans to be worried about but I think his argument will be he will influence the Iraqi government in not keeping any American bases after the withdrawal of 2011. And it also demonstrates that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is showing some kind of independence from the Americans to allow somebody so vehemently against the Americans to come back as a hero.
Susan Glasser: Well I think that's the real point that we'll all be looking at this year: At what price did Maliki purchase, in effect, this renewed scene. Remember that came after months and months of months of political stalemate. It was only broken by making what some people -- certainly here -- saw as a deal with the devil. This is the price of that deal. For now they're talking reconciliation. For now they're repositioning Sadr as a political leader and, you know, respected parliamentarian. What happens if Maliki doesn't do his bidding sufficiently? If Iran turns away? If he's too conciliatory towads the Sunnis ? Then I think is when you face the renewed violence, not immediately --
Nadia Bilbassy: Yes.
Susan Glasser (Con't): -- but over the course of this year you face that potential. And I'm glad you spotlighted this issue of the renewed American presence. Things have not worked out as the Americans anticipated they would after the "withdrawal." They expected to maintain a very robust military presence inside Iraq for the foreseeable future but, in fact, you could see that this was not going to be the case and that you may see almost no American military presence after the end of the year --
Nadia Bilbassy: Like South Korea.
Susan Glasser (Con't): -- which would be a big change. Yeah.
James Kitfiled: That is the thing to watch. There are two things to watch. Do the -- because he comes back into the government, do the Sunnis bolt? We haven't seen that yet. If they bolt from the government that's very bad news because that's the sectarian divide that almost plunged the country into civil war. Hasn't happened yet. Allawi's got also a lot of seats and ministries in this new government. So if the Sunnis stay as part of the political process that will be a good sign. If they bolt? Bad sign. Also the American base is an interesting point. And we have 50,000 troops still in Iraq. We did expect that we would negotiate a new Status Of Forces Agreement with Iraq so there would be some residual US presence there because they don't have an army that can really defend their own borders. And they're in a pretty bad neighbourhood. If all the Americans leave at the end that certainly means that our strategic relationship with Iraq will be damanged, it means -- I don't expect that to happen because we have a lot of leverage with them. Basically, their whole arsenal now is American weapons, they need our Air Force, they don't have their own air force, they don't have a navy. So basically watch what happens with the American presence. If it goes down to zero, I take the point, it will be a blow to the strategic relationship.
I would like to pick back up with Nadia next week from another section of the broadcast. But staying on al-Sadr, Aaron C. Davis (Washington Post) reports, "Lawmakers across Iraq's political and ethnic spectrums waited Thursday for word from anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, saying his first address after returning from nearly four years of self-imposed exile in Iran would likely say a lot about his intended approach to Iraq's fragile new government." The speech is supposed to be delivered Saturday. W.G. Dunlop (AFP) reports that Baghdad residents appear split on Moqtada al-Sadr with some highly supportive and others, like Khaled Abdul Rizak, against it. Rizak states, "I am against his return and I am against the government in general -- all of them, including Moqtada al-Sadr are stealing this country." Joel Wing (Musings On Iraq) offers:
What Sadr does next is the big question. He's supposed to make his first address after arriving in Najaf on January 8, to lay out his program. Some early targets for the Sadrist camp are probably finding jobs for their followers through the ministries they control, asserting themselves in parliament, and building up patronage systems to bring in new recruits. Sadr can only hope to build upon his success, as he definitely aspires to be a national leader. He could become a rival to Maliki without holding any official office. That will only happen if the Trend continues to focus upon politics and services. That's always been a problem for Sadr. In 2005 when he tried to join the new government after the U.S. handed over sovereignty, his movement split, and he ended up turning his back on politics to try to win back the street. That backfired as well as his followers became predators on their own people after they'd purged many Sunnis from various neighborhoods across central Iraq.
However, there was another thorny issue behind his absence: Sadr is still wanted by the Iraqi judiciary for his alleged involvement in my father's murder eight years ago. The arrest warrant for Sadr stands to this day as Iraqi judge Raed al-Juhi signed it in April 2004. Juhi is the investigative judge who presided over the first hearing of the Dujail massacre that eventually led to Saddam Hussein's execution in December 2006. The fact that Sadr was not arrested upon his arrival this week says a lot about Iraq's new government and its claimed dedication to integrity.
Maad Fayad (Asharq Alawsat) reports: "Khoei, the former secretary-general o fthe Imam al-Khoei Foundation in London who was assassinated in 2003 in Najaf has threatened to internationalize this case if the Iraqi judiciary fails to take lega action against Moqtada al-Sadr, whom the family consideres to be 'the prime suspect in the murder of al-Khoei.' Al-Khoei was killed in the holy city of Najaf on 10 April 2003 at the hands of the followers of Moqtada al-Sadr." Today the editorial board of the Christian Science Monitor weighs in on what Iraq 'needs':
The newly formed government in Iraq faces a to-do list as long as the Euphrates River that courses through this bomb-battered country. As tempting as it may be to tackle every need at once -- they all seem so urgent -- Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki must set priorities. He acknowledges that. But the ministers in his vast "unity government" -- there are 42 cabinet posts -- will undoubtedly have their own agendas. After parliamentary elections last March, it took nine months of negotiation to piece together a government of Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds, announced Dec. 21. Now the really hard part begins, bettering the lives of the governed. But where to start?
Where to start? How about with the fact that there's no Cabinet still. 42 post. Ten empty. Three filled posts are filled by Nouri al-Maliki (in addition to his holding his post as Prime Minister). Hey, when were those elections? Oh, yeah, March 7th.
What's today, Christian Science Monitor? Uh, January 7th. We're two months away from when Iraq held elections and it's past time for Nouri to have a full cabinet. When he skirted the Constitution last month (December 21st), the assumption was that he was hard at work filling those additional 13 posts. There's been no evidence of that in the weeks that have followed. And it's not as though he hasn't already promised the posts to people (of course, he's promised way more than 13 people the 13 posts -- that does create a problem).
Sabah reports rumors this week that the distribution of the posts is being criticized and that there is a demands that certain ministers be replaced with Tarqi al-Hashimi stating that some are forgetting the national duty to the country. The article is primarily about Parliament and the back and forth bickering there. Dar Addustour also notes the bickering in Parliament over the ministries and attributes it to the National Alliance and Iraiqiya with the National Allaince wanting it to be based on "experience" and not "in accordance with the quota system." In addition, Iraiqya has provided Nouri with a list of nominees for the Minister of Electricity -- a post which they expect Nouri to name by next week. Al Sabaah reports that Parliament has moved forward on some things, such as approving money to pay those who provide tips about terrorists. Dar Addustour adds that the Parliament also changed the British Embassy in Erbil to one for the KRG and that -- "with the principle of reciprocity -- they resolved to open an Iraq consulate in England and they passed legislation to give the Minister of Justice "the power to negotiate and sign" new agreement on civil and criminal matters including regarding extradition between Iraq and the United Arab Emirates. Leila Ahmed (Iraqhurr.org) reports that the Speaker of Parliament, Osama Nujafi, has put on hold (suspended) filling the compensatory seats until the federal courts can make a ruling.
Meanwhile al-Rafidayn reports that Nouri and Iraqiya's Ayad Allawi will meet at the home of Ibrahim al-Jaafair with other leaders to discuss the creation of the National Council -- the body that Allawi is supposed to head and that is supposed to be independent and was the deal maker that allowed Nouri to (almost) put together his Cabinet. Issues to be addressed include the Council's legal value and its powers. The meeting comes amidst rumors that Allawi has withdrawn his support for Nouri's administration.
AFP reports an attack on a police officer's Baghdad home this morning resulting in 5 members of his family being killed. The violence has not faded with the so-called formation of a Cabinet by Nouri al-Maliki. Alsumaria TV reports, "Al Qaeda in Iraq is targeting Christians in their homes after Iraqi authorities increased protection around the minority group's churches, said Lieutenant General Robert Cone, the U.S. deputy commanding general for operations in Iraq. 'Al Qaeda has shifted to try and go after the Christians where they live,' Cone told Reuters." Exactly. (See December 31st entry: "Something to remember about yesterday's attacks is the climate Iraqi Christians in Baghdad (and Mosul) were already living in. Many families had stopped sending their children to school in the weeks following the October 31st attack on Our Lady of Salvation Church, thinking that their homes could provide the safety the government could not.
Reporters Without Borders today welcomed the announcement by President of the Kurdistan Democratic Party Massoud Barzani in an interview with the pro-KDP daily Khebat that he is to withdraw a complaint made by his party against two columnists on the non partisan newspaper Awene, Marwan Wrya Qani' and Aras Fatah, over their article that appeared in June 2010, "What did the president of the autonomous region of Kurdistan say?"
The worldwide press freedom organisation, which has several times expressed its concern at a surge in legal proceedings against non-party journalists and media in Iraqi Kurdistan, repeats its support for all initiatives intended to defend freedom of the press in the region.
Tuesday's snapshot included a critique of Peter Maas' bad article in The New Yorker. We're covering it again -- actually running it again.
Tuesday Max Brantley (Arkansas Times) recommended: "Try Peter Mass' reconstruction in the New Yorker of the most famous image of the war in Iraq -- the toppling of a massive statue of Saddam Hussein after troops rolled into Baghdad." US forces assisted Iraqi exiles -- flown in that weekend -- with taking down Saddam Hussein's statue. It was staged and it was always known to be staged by press present. They narrowed the focus of the square for all photos and video to make it appear that a huge crowd was present when, in fact, it was just a few people (US service members and the exiles). Peter Maas really can't state that -- or won't. But he paints a picture of a number of reporters willing to lie to themselves (John F. Burns among them). As usual Glenn Greenwald finds the article earth shattering. I find it revisionary. Let's drop back to NPR's The Bryant Park Project April 9, 2008 (and it has text and audio):
Rachel Martin: Five years ago today, Baghdad fell to the invading forces led by the United States. For many people, the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad's Firdos Square crystallized the end of his rule, and it's an image that's been broadcast many times in the last five years, over and over. You'll probably see it again today as people remember this grim anniversary. But next time you watch it, bear this in mind.
Nearly four years ago, a Los Angeles Times writer revealed that according to a study of the invasion published by the U.S. Army, the statue toppling was not necessarily the spontaneous event that it appeared to be. David Zucchino is the national correspondent for the LA Times. He first reported that story back in 2004 and he's on the line with us now. Hey, David. Thanks for being with us.
Mr. DAVID ZUCCHINO: (Journalist, Los Angeles Times) Good morning.
MARTIN: Good morning. So David, you were in Baghdad on this day five years ago, but not in Firdos Square. When and how did you hear about that big Saddam Hussein statue falling?
Mr. ZUCCHINO: Well, actually, even though I was in Baghdad that day, I was across the river about a mile or two away and had no idea that was going on, and in fact, the Army troops I was with also had no idea, and I didn't find out about it until several weeks later when I got back to the U.S.
MARTIN: When you found out about it, what was the narrative attached to it?
Mr. ZUCCHINO: My impression was that there was a spontaneous rally by Iraqis and they jumped on the statue and basically pulled it down. I knew there was some U.S. soldiers or Marines in the area, but I was not clear on exactly what their role was, whether they were just providing security or were taking part. It was fairly nebulous.
MARTIN: So you dug up more specifics that cast light on those circumstances surrounding the toppling of the statue. Explain what you found out.
Mr. ZUCCHINO: This was part of a five-hundred-and-some page review, or report, by the Army on the entire invasion, what went wrong and what went right. It was sort of an After Action Report, and this was just sort of a one or two page sideline, almost a footnote.
They had interviewed an Army psychological operations' team leader and he described how a Marine colonel - the Marines were in charge of that area and had just come in, and this Marine colonel had been looking for a target of opportunity, and seized on that statue.
And according to this interview with the psy-ops commander, there were Iraqis milling around the statue, and in fact, had been beating it with sledgehammers and apparently thinking about trying to bring it down, but it was a huge statue and they had no way to do that. So the Marines came up with the idea of bringing in a big recovery vehicle, like a wrecker, and trying to bring it down that way.
Again, the usual TV activists are writing lengthy pieces (I'm not referring to Brantley who just wrote a paragraph) on Maas' bad article. It's ten pages. The New Yorker's long been doing photos -- and were doing it before Tina Brown turned the magazine upside down. Many websites long ago -- and I believe In These Times as well in its print edition -- showed the narrowed version of the photos versus what we'll call "widescreen" option which proved how tiny the turnout was. The New Yorker offers ten long pages with no photos. Maas offers ten long pages where he's never aware of the Psyops report. All these years later. After it was reported on in the Los Angeles Times. After it was covered by NPR and others. All this time later. Maas shows up to talk about scared little journalists like John F. Burns. Was Burnsie really scared or is this itself a Psyops that's supposed to make us feel sorry for Burnsie and think, "He's not a liar, he was just scared." He was there. He lied. Reality.
The TV activists -- they play them on Democracy Now and other programs -- are all glooming on and praising Maas' bad article. In reality, most have ignored the biggest lie about Iraq that was amplified by the media last week. The lie continues to be amplified.
As for whose idea it was to bring down the statue, Maass traces it to a lowly sergeant who, out of the blue, came up with the bright idea all by his lonesome, but there are several holes in Maass's story.
To begin with, long shots of the square show the area around the statue completely blocked off by US tanks, and yet, according to Maass's own account, "a handful of Iraqis had slipped into the square" – at precisely the moment the sergeant asked permission to take the statue down.
This is an exciting time for the anti-war movement, but also a time to not drop the ball. Support for the war in Afghanistan has been driven down to 34% thanks to peace activist education and opposition, which could be anyone who cares enough to send an informative email to his or her pro-war relative. But how low must it get before Congress stops passing budgets in support of continued military operations? The problem is that the disapproving yet relatively uninformed public is not making the link between the wars and their own representatives, and Obama, without whom the wars could not continue.
Look around you. How many people that you know or work with will roll their eyes and say "What are we even doing there? We should get out" - when asked about our military presence in Afghanistan. How many of these same people, asked about their congressmembers, will say, "he seems like a good guy." An appalling number of Democratic congressmen with purportedly liberal credentials, at least in the eyes of many in their districts, voted for the largest Pentagon budget in history, without debate, last Dec. 17, which passed 341 - 43, and of course will wind up supporting continued military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Among the Democrats voting for war were Rangel, McGovern, and Tonko. Among the few Republicans voting against were Ron Paul and Jeff Flake.
I have also spoken to peace-minded people, Quakers for heavens' sake, who still think Obama is relatively liberal, and have no idea that he has claimed authority to keep a list of Americans to be killed on sight, without a trial. That one always gets them.
The anti-war movement is a little like an electric circuit not making that last connection. It's time to take it, not to the street, but to the doors. We've taken it about as far as we can on the Internet. Fantasy football, the AOL Dancing with the Stars fan page, online poker, and that's about it for a lot of America. Many are not on the peace listserves or read HuffPo. But that doesn't mean they don't care, or wouldn't be surprised at their congressmember's vote.
And my argument is, ever since World War I, when we have come to the end of wars, we have dramatically reduced our defense spending, cut our military forces, and then ended up in another war.And what we have to understand is, a strong military is a deterrent to war, not a cause of war.
Damn liar or damn fool, he's arguing for a perpetual warfare state. And let's see the US "dramatically rdueced our defense spending." The Korean War is said to have gone from 1950 to 1953.
Military spending by the US in 1951 (first full year of Korean War) was $224.3 million, 1952 it rose to $402.1 million, 1953 it rose to $442.3 million, 1954 (first full year of no official Korean War) it 'drops' to $430.9 million. 1955 sees a 'drop' as well -- to $376.9 million. We call that a 'drop' because? The drop is still higher than the amount spent the first full year of the Korean War (1951, $224.3 million). Until 1965, it never drops below $344 million. (All higher than the first full year of the Korean War). Then, in 1965, it drops or 'drops' to $333.1 million (which is still higher than the first full year of the Korean War). Some historians count 1965 as the start of the war on Vietnam. In other words, spending didn't go down. In reality, after the start of the Korean War, military spending never returned to anything remotely 'normal.' (And it was already too high prior to the Korean War.)
The US has never dramatically reduced military spending. Has it reduced the number of people serving? Yes, and that never brought the costs back down. But they have reduced numbers when no 'active' war is taking place (post WWII, it's very difficult to call them "declared" wars which requires a declaration of Congress).
Want to save money? End the endless wars. Stop paying thugs and drug lords with US tax payer dollars. Stop using US tax dollars and US citizens to support regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan that degrade and damage their own native populations.
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