Tuesday, September 13, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, the Kurds threats move beyond publishing the Erbil Agreement, Turkey wants predator drones to attack northern Iraq with, Tim Arango's Camp Ashraf article is called out (and Tim Arango gets an apology from me), and more.
We're going to start in the US and with veterans issues, specifically what they've been promised. By way of introduction, we'll note Nicole Brodeur (Seattle Times) has an important column about how veterans and their issues are vanishing from the press while their numbers are inreasing. She notes:
Part of the problem is that veterans have fallen out of public focus, now centered on the economy. Foreclosures. Paychecks.
The New York Times used to publish a weekly list of the casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. I haven't seen it in months.
She's correct. But a veterans issue that should have been news last week wasn't. Ava and I covered it Sunday at Third. Leon Panetta, US Secretary of Defense, appeared on The Charlie Rose Show (PBS and Bloomberg) and was asked a specific question about veterans benefits and he responded. It should have been news. Here's the exchange:
Charlie Rose: So are you saying you draw the line at changing retirement benefits for members of the armed services?
Leon Panetta: You know, having been OMB director and Chairman of the Budget Committee in the Congress, uh, I have always approached, uh, these issues by saying, 'We've got to put everything on the table. We've got to look at everything.' I think that's the way to do it.
Charlie Rose: From retirement benefits to weapons systems, to weapons systems --
Leon Panetta: To weapon systems --
Charlie Rose: -- to making sure that your priority is having mine resistant vehicles, especially --
Leon Panetta: I --
Charlie Rose: -- something that service men --
Leon Panetta: I --
Charlie Rose: -- have been talking about for years.
Leon Panetta: You have to look -- you have to look -- you have to look at everything. You've got to be able to talk it through, you've got to look at those systems. You've got to decide what's important to keep, what's not, you know, important, what reforms can be made. Uh, you know, when you're facing a $400 billion reduction over 12 years, if you're going to do it right, you've got to look at every area.
As we note, he would then appear to backtrack on his comments above by making comments about promises made. He did not speak (above) briefly. He never took back what he said above. If the US Secretary of Defense goes on national televsion and declares that veterans retirement benefits are on the table, it should be news.
Moving over to today's lesson for pundits? You need to read, you need to read widely. So many of you are making one mistake after another and revealing yourself to be very limited in your reading. I can't imagine that you made it through college single-sourcing claims so I have no idea why you now think that's good enough when you're posing as experts on the world stage?
Micah Zenoko, you get credit for writing about Iraq repeatedly and not just when it's a momentary hot topic of the day. We don't even hold your opinions or the fact that you're with the Council on Foreign Relations against you. But we will hold the following against you:
Last month, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was asked if the Iraqi government would request that U.S. troops stay in country beyond the mutually-agreed upon withdrawal date of December 31, 2011. Panetta replied: "My view is that they finally did say, 'Yes.' " Soon after, Ali al-Moussawi, adviser to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, corrected Panetta's statement and affirmed that there would be no discussion of extending U.S. troop presence in Iraq beyond year's end.
Kevin Baron (Stars & Stripes) notes that the Iraqi response is that they have not agreed to trainers but US Secretary of Defense "Leon Panetta said Friday that Iraq has already said yet to extending noncombat U.S. forces there beyond 2011, and that the Pentagon is negotiating that presence [. . . that] there is unanimous consent among key Iraqi leaders to address U.S. demands. Those demands include that Iraqis begin negotiating internally what type of U.S. training force they would like, begin a process to select a defense minister, craft a new Status of Forces Agreement and increase operations against Iranian-backed militants." Reid J. Epstein (POLITICO) refers to a transcript and quotes Panetta stating, "My view is that they finally did say yes, which is that as a result of a meeting that Talabani had last week, that all of the, it was unanimous consent among the key leaders of the country to go ahead and request that we negotiate on some kind of training, what a training presence would look like, they did at least put in place a process to try and get a Minister of Defence decided and we think they're making some progress on that front."
When there was Iraqi objection to the claim, we opened with, noted it before the claim. But that story didn't end on the 19th. More importantly, that spokes person isn't Nouri's pre-approved spokesperson. Ali al-Dabbagh is and those who follow Iraq closely will remember when Nouri gave out a short list of who could and could not speak for the government earlier this year. Ali al-Dabbagh's name was on that list.
As we noted Saturday, Al Mada reports on Panetta's remarks and on Nouri's spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh denying an agreement has already been made. But while denying it, Ali al-Dabbagh also stated that when "the polical blocs met, they approved the need to train security forces and the Iraqi military" which would be Panetta's point that it was now a done deal. So despite his denial, Ali al-Dabbagh's actual remarks back up what Panetta said. Dar Addustour also offers Ali al-Dabbagh's quote and, in addition, they report that the only perplexing issue in the negotiations is how many US troops remain. As we noted in Third's "Editorial: US will be in Iraq beyond 2011, Panetta and Iraqi government explain," Ali al-Dabbagh may claim he's refuting Panetta, but his remarks are backing up everything Panetta said Friday. Both agree that a deal's been agreed to in order to extend the US presence in Iraq beyond 2011 and both agree that the number of US service members that will remain in Iraq has yet to be determined.
Panetta and al-Dabbagh both agreed that the Iraqi government was in negotiations and that the only issue to be resolved was numbers.
Last week, we again learned about the ongoing neogitations. And Zenko quickly moves to that . . . without ever seeing a contradiction in the claim "that there would be no discussion of extending U.S. troop presence in Iraq beyond year's end." It's also not clear whether Zenko's aware that "Iraq" is Nouri. The decision was made that Nouri would be the negotiator (and he quickly accepted). Nor that Nouri has since decreed an agreement would not need to be signed off by Parliament. Jason Ditz (Antiwar.com) has long covered and noted that. Al Mada most recently noted it on September 9th when they yet again explained Nouri's view that in the event of an agreement on trainers between the Iraqi government and the US, this agreement would be under the jurisdiction of the Council of Ministers [Cabinet], only the agreement on combat troops would require the House of Representatives's agreement.
Again, you're going to need more than single-sourced claims. You're going to need to do some actual reading. Whether I agree with him or not, Micah Zenko's usually done the work required. Not today. And there are, as we noted at Third Sunday, already too many pundits in need of dunce caps currently.
It's not a minor point. If Parliament has to vote, it takes much longer. The US Embassy and White House in 2008 spent over a month strong arming, bribing and persuading for the November 2008 vote. If it's just the Council, a Council Nouri wants to reduce and which he has two 'acting' ministers serving on (not approved by Parliament and subject to firing by Nouri at any moment), this can go through as quickly as Nouri's renewals of the UN mandates at the end of 2006 and 2007. (Yes, there was a reason we've repeatedly provided the remedial on those.)
The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all but essential travel to Iraq given the dangerous security situation. Civilian air and road travel within Iraq remains dangerous. This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning dated April 12, 2011, to update information and to remind U.S. citizens of ongoing security concerns for U.S. citizens in Iraq, including kidnapping and terrorist violence.
[. . .]
Some regions within Iraq have experienced fewer violent incidents than others in recent years, in particular the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR). However, violence and threats against U.S. citizens persist and no region should be considered safe from dangerous conditions. Attacks against military and civilian targets throughout Iraq continue, including in the International (or "Green") Zone (IZ). Methods of attack have included magnetic bombs placed on vehicles; roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs); mortars and rockets; human- and vehicle-borne IEDs, including Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFPs); mines placed on or concealed near roads; suicide attacks; and shootings. Numerous insurgent groups remain active throughout Iraq. Although Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) operations against these groups continue, attacks against the ISF and U.S. forces persist in many areas of the country. U.S. citizens in Iraq remain at a high risk for kidnapping.
While sectarian and terrorist violence occurs at levels lower than in previous years, it occurs often, particularly in the provinces of Baghdad, Ninewa, Salah ad Din, Anbar, and Diyala.
The security situation in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR), which includes the provinces of Sulymaniya, Erbil, and Dohuk, has been more stable relative to the rest of Iraq in recent years, but threats remain. U.S. government personnel in northern Iraq are required to be accompanied by a protective security detail when traveling outside secure facilities. Although there have been significantly fewer terrorist attacks and lower levels of insurgent violence in the IKR than in other parts of Iraq, the security situation throughout the country remains dangerous. Increasingly, many U.S. and third country business people travel throughout much of Iraq; however, they do so under restricted movement conditions and almost always with security advisors and teams.
And staying with the topic of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Mohammad Akef Jamal (Gulf News) observes, "Border areas in Iraqi Kurdistan are being shelled almost daily. Turkish and Iranian forces also carry out other land and air offensives, as though Iraq were a country without sovereignty. As a result of these military operations, many villages adjacent to the Iranian and Turkish borders have been destroyed and their inhabitants forced to flee, leaving everything behind." Despite widespread protests in Iraq against the bombings of northern Iraq by the Turkish and Iranian armies (last week saw protests against the bombings in, among other places, the KRG, Baghdad and Falluja), Reuters reports the Turkish government feels what's needed is to 'beef up' the attack via ground attacks which are already in the planning stages. Today's Zaman adds, "Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin said in response to questions from reporters as to whether Turkey is pondering a ground operation in northern Iraq that talks with the Kurdish regional administration in northern Iraq are still under way and that a cross-border ground offensive could be launched at any time just like aerial strikes." Hurriyet quotes Turkish Minister of the Interior Idris Naim Sahin stating, "An evaluation [for a cross-border operation] is still in the works. But our operations continue to battle crime and criminals on land, as well as maintaining control. A cross-border incursion may be conducted depending on talks with the neighboring countries." August 17th, the Turkish military began the latest assault on northern Iraq. They like to claim a certain number of killed terrorists (they're referring to the PKK) while the PKK disputes that number. What is known is that the real victims of the Turkish warplanes are the farmers and shepherds who have been forced to flee their homes or killed by the bombings. The Turkish government is outraged by an attack over the weekend and are trying to p.r. the attack by referring to the dead as "people" -- it was an attack on Turkish forces (a PKK atack). Having faced condemnation from around the world for the way their bombings are effecting Iraq's civilian population, Turkey's now trying to present attacks on their forces as attacks on civilians. (Yes, security forces are people. The point is that in the past the Turkish government has repeatedly identified these forces as forces -- police officers, soldiers, etc. -- but they're now trying to manage public opinion and are using "people." You will see that in multiple reports because this is a wave of p.r. that they are just commencing.) Suzan Fraser (AP) reports the Turkish government is saying the dead include 3 civilians. Turkish media will have to resolve the latest change in the story. The PKK is a Kurdish group that fights for Kurdish independence. (Iran is targeting another Kurdish rebel group, PJAK.) Over the weekend, Craig Whitlock (Washington Post) reported that the Turkish government has requested "a fleet of Predator drones" from the White House, drones they would use on northern Iraq. If such a request is honored (and done so publicly), Barack may see a backlash from the US Kurdish population. The PKK is one of many Kurdish groups which supports and fights for a Kurdish homeland. Aaron Hess (International Socialist Review) described them in 2008, "The PKK emerged in 1984 as a major force in response to Turkey's oppression of its Kurdish population. Since the late 1970s, Turkey has waged a relentless war of attrition that has killed tens of thousands of Kurds and driven millions from their homes. The Kurds are the world's largest stateless population -- whose main population concentration straddles Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria -- and have been the victims of imperialist wars and manipulation since the colonial period. While Turkey has granted limited rights to the Kurds in recent years in order to accommodate the European Union, which it seeks to join, even these are now at risk." The Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq has been a concern to Turkey because they fear that if it ever moves from semi-autonomous to fully independent -- such as if Iraq was to break up into three regions -- then that would encourage the Kurdish population in Turkey. Mohammad Akef Jamal (Gulf News) points out "Both Turkey and Iran are against the Kurdish project which proved to be successful in Iraq, where the Kurds set up their regional and federal entity inside the country. The success of the Iraqi Kurdish model has become an inspiration to the Kurds in other countries in the region. Kurds in Turkey and Iraq make up the second-largest ethnic group while they are the third-largest ethnic group in Iran."
MeanwhileDar Addustour reports that the conflict between the Kurds and Nouri's State of Law is increasing. Already upset over the oil proposal Nouri and his Cabinet have made, attempts at meeting to discuss theproposed law have been brushed aside by Nouri. This conflict has already led the Kurds to threaten publishing the Erbil Agreement. Meanwhile Alsumaria TV reports, "Kurdistan leader Massoud Barazani and head of Al Iraqiya list Iyad Allawi, discussed in Arbil the situation in Iraq and obstacles hindering the political process, Kurdistan Presidency announced. Both parties called to resolve all pending issues in favor of Iraqis' interest, the presidency added." Citing an unnamed source, Aswat al-Iraq adds that the two "discussed the differences between Arbil and Baghdad, and the impacts of the Iranian and Turkish bombardment of the border areas in Kurdistan Region." In addition, Aswat al-Iraq notes yesterday there was a meet up of KRG President Masoud Barzani, KRG Premier Barham Saleh "and other Kurdish leaders" to address "the differences between Arbil and Baghdad, and the impacts of the Iranian and Turkish bombardment of the border areas in Kurdistan Region." Regional analyst Reibin Rasould tells the outlet that members of the Kurdish Alliance in Parliament feel they are being undercut on issues such as the oil and gas law and Article 140 (hold on to Article 140, we'll be coming back to that) and that they are conveying to leaders within the KRG the problems they are facing and KRG leaders are "seriously studying the calls of the political public to pple Malki's government and support Iyad Allawi in the coming era." Rasould states this is why Allawi has been present in the KRG and meeting with various leaders over the last days. The spokesman for the Kurdish Alliance, Mu'aid al-Tayib today declared that if the Erbil Agreement "is not implemented," "the Kurds will adopt another stance."
How serious are they? Asharq al-Awsat interviews Ayad Allawi (Iraiqya leader who's been meeting with the Kurdish leaders -- Iraqiya won the March 7, 2010 elections) and their first question for him is about his recent comments that there was a need for early elections and a need for a vote of no confidence on Nouri al-Maliki, has his opinion changed? He replies that nothing has changed and unless the Erbil Agreement is followed, as KRG President Barzani is insisting, then early elections need to be held. He states that they should be transparent and follow the election laws. (They put it is either/or. Allawi rejects that in his first answer and again near the end of the interview when he explains that first you do the vote of no-confidence in the current government and then you move to early elections.) Asked if he doesn't find it strange that 8 years after the end of Saddam Hussein's regime, Iraqi decisions are still spoken of in light of what the US wants or what Iran wants, Allawi replies that it is clear the government (Nouri) was negotiating with Iran on how to form a government -- down to the smallest details. He states that when he met with Bashar al-Assad, president of Syria [presumably in 2010], al-Assad stated he would be speaking with Iranian officials and what was the response to Adel Abdul al-Mahdi being prime minister. The point is to indicate that Iran was being catered to. (I'm sure the US was as well, however, Allawi focuses on Iran.) Adel Abdul al-Mahdi was, until recently, one of Iraq's two vice presidents. He's a member of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council. Big Oil supported him in 2006 for prime minister and they also wanted him in 2010. His announcement that he was resigning as vice president earlier this year may have been setting up another run for prime minister.
Allawi states that the Erbil Agreement needs to be implemented, that the meet-up in Erbil and the agreement itself took place in a spirit to work together for Iraq and build something sincere but now "the other party" [the unnamed is Nouri] repeatedly finds excuses not to implement. Asked if the problem is the agreement, Allawi clearly states that the problem is "the other party" and that the agreement is clear. He rejects the notion of one-party rule and specifically names Nouri when rejecting it, stating that this is a private scheme of "Maliki" and not something with wide support even within Dawa (Dawa is Nouri's political party, State of Law is the slate Nouri ran with).
Let's return now to Article 140 of the Iraq Constitution. The Constitution was written and passed in 2005. And Nouri becomes prime minister (for his first term) in 2006. Article 140 revolves around the disputed and oil-rich region of Kirkuk. Will it be part of the KRG or part of the centeral government out of Baghdad? Article 140 mandates that a census and refendum be held on the issue by the end of 2007. Guess what never happened? Remember who was in charge (Nouri). As Political Stalemate I (the eight months-plus following the March 7, 2010 elections) was drawing to a close, one thing that helped him seal the deal was promising that the census would finally take place. At the end of 2010 it had two dates. It was supposed to have been held October 24, 2010 but Nouri kicked it back -- not "Iraq's government" as was falsely reported. Iraq's government was Nouri at that time, determined to hold onto the post of prime minsiter despite the fact that his term had long expired. (Again, the United Nations should have appointed a caretaker government.) But he needed support if he was going to continue as prime minister so he announced that the census would take place December 5th. After he was named prime minister-designate (unofficially November 11th, officially November 25th), he called off the December 5th census (November 31st is when he called it off). Nouri being Nouri, he most likely knew he wouldn't keep the bargain, the Erbil Agreement (November 10th). Knowing that and willing to do anything to hang on to the post of prime minister, could he have promised the KRG more than just a census and a referendum?
The Kurdish law makers appear to feel there's something he's hiding from the public that's in the Erbil Agreement. It can't be the issue of the indpedent security council that was supposed to be created (and then headed by Allawi) that was never created, can it? That was known back in November. Again, the Kurdish lawmakers are threatening to make the Erbil Agreement public. What is it in that agreement -- that most Iraqis probably feel they already know all about -- that they think will embarrass Nouri?
Nouri doesn't embarrass easily. For example, Yochi J. Dreazen (National Journal) reports today on all the (failed and forgotten) promises Nouri made about the Green Zone when the US handed control over it to Iraq, how it would have "new hotels, office towers and high-end apartment complexes" -- none of which has taken place 2 years and 9 months later -- and how it would be "open to the Iraqi public" but "Nearly three years later, ordinary Iraqis have less access to the Iraqi-controlled Green Zone than during the U.S. occupation, a troubling reminder of the vast gulf separating the Iraqi public from the rulers ostensibly elected to serve them."
In today's violence, Reuters notes a Ramadi house raid (by Iraqi soldiers) in which 1 man present was killed, a Mosul grenade attack left four people injured, a second Mosul grenade attack left two people injured, a third Mosul grenade attack left four people injured, a Baghdad sticky bombing claimed the life of 1 Sahwa and a Taji suicide bombing claimed the life of the bomber, 1 civilian, 1 Sahwa and left nine people injured.
Thursday journalists and activist Haid al-Mehdi was assassinated in the kitchen of his apartment. UNESCO issued the following yesterday:
The head of the United Nations agency tasked with defending press freedom today condemned the killing of one of the most prominent and outspoken radio journalists in Iraq.
The body of Hadi al-Mahdi, the 44-year-old host of a popular talk show on Baghdad's Radio Demozy, was found on 8 September after he was shot dead in his home in the capital, according to a statement from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Mr. al-Mahdi's show was renowned for being uninhibited for its discussions of many subjects, including corruption in Iraq, and the statement noted that, according to the non-governmental organization (NGO) Reporters without Borders, the journalist had received threats before his death.
"Hadi al-Mahdi and other fearless journalists and commentators are the very soul of democratic debate," said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova as she called for an investigation into the killing.
"They practise the fundamental human right of freedom of expression for the benefit of us all. Those who kill journalists must be brought to justice, lest fear paralyze both the media and the ordinary people who rely on professional journalists for the news and analysis that inform their political choice."
Last week also saw the British inquiry into the torture and murder of Iraqi Baha Mousa at the hands of British forces issue a finding, a whitewash. Chris Marsden covers it for WSWS and observes, "The official inquiry into the death of hotel worker Baha Mousa continues efforts to minimise and apologise for abuses by UK troops in Iraq." Steven McLaughlin (Yorkshire Post) explains, "Baha Mousa wasn't a terrorist, an insurgent, an enemy or a troublemaker of any sort. He was a young, healthy, honest and hardworking family man with his whole life ahead of him. And we took it away from him for nothing. Shame on us." Robert Fisk (Independent via Gulf Today) rejects the 'few bad apples' whitewash the inquiry provided and notes the chain of command is facing no charges. He also notes specifically the way Baha was tortured to death:
Baha Mousa's nose was broken. There was blood above the corpse's mouth. The skin had been ripped off his wrists. According to his friend, Baha had been crying and pleading for his life from beneath his hood. "They gave us the names of footballers and cursed us with them as they attacked us," he said. The Brits did the same in Northern Ireland, I remember. Catholics would often tell me they were given the names of footballers before the beatings began. A bit systematic, perhaps? "They were kick-boxing us in the chest and between the legs and in the back..." Baha's friend said. "He kept asking them to take the bag off and said he was suffocating. But they laughed at him and kicked him more."
British Forces News reported today the police Col Daoud Mousa, Baha's father, would be holding "a press conference in London." Metro reports Col Mousa today declared he wanted murder charges brought against those who tortured his son to death stating, "I also want to see those responsible for these actions brought to justice." BBC News quotes the family's attorney Phil Shriner stating:
Justice for Baha Mousa and his family obviously requires that the large number of soldiers and others in command who are responsible for Baha Mousa's death are held criminally responsible. I am instructed to refer a number of individuals, including those in positions of command, to the Director of Public Prosecutions for the prosecution of various offences of war crimes and other domestic criminal law offences. I am also instructed to refer a number of individuals, including those in positions of command, to the Director of Service Prosecutions for various service offences including those of negligent performances of duties."
Senior commanders were apparently ignorant of a ban imposed in 1972 on the use of five torture techniques, including hooding, stress positions and sleep deprivation.
While highly critical of the evidence of a number of soldiers, and of the lies told about the Iraqis' detention, Gage ruled that there was no cover-up of Baha's death.
After Baha's killing, the government claimed that hooding of prisoners had stopped, which it hadn't, and that it wasn't used for interrogations, which it was.
The report says that while the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had provided inaccurate information, neither it, the civil service, nor ministers had intended to mislead. Instead the inquiry condemns the "corporate failure" of the MoD.
This included then armed forces minister Adam Ingram's claim that he was "not aware of any incidents in which UK interrogators are alleged to have used hooding as an interrogation technique".
But Ingram had been sent a memo explaining what had happened to Baha Mousa. Ingram claimed, "It certainly would not have been within my power to remember everything that I had been informed."
The report also notes the memory loss of then Labour defence secretary Geoff Hoon. It says, "His answers suggested that he had not perhaps fully grasped the respect in which his response turned out to have been inaccurate."
The report provides evidence that soldiers were trained in what are essentially torture techniques. This, combined with a culture of racism and violence, explains why torture was so commonplace.
The US press response has generally been bitchy. Tim Arango (New York Times) picked up the baton last week to continue that tradition with a one-sided look at the group, offering a selective history and apparently an exchange by the even bitchier Lawrence Butler that was supposed to recall the great cat fights between Krystal and Alexis in the eighties:
**Now they are unwelcome in Iraq but believe they should be given protection in the United States -- even though their group, known as the People's Mujahedeen of Iran, remains on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations. "You probably have in mind Hawaii," said Ambassador Lawrence E. Butler, the American diplomat who has been negotiating with the group in recent sessions here. "I suspect you don't want to go to Guantanamo," he added.**
Arango's not an expert on many things and that includes international law. Presumably British MP Tarsem King is aware of international law and he notes, "The U.S., which recognised the residents of Ashraf as "protected persons" under the Fourth Geneva Convention in 2004, is morally and legally obligated to protect the residents. But, in the broader context, it should realise that abandoning Ashraf is tantamount to giving the Iranian regime an upper hand in Iraq."
I know Wesley Clark. That's never stopped me from calling him out if I thought it was warranted. I've also defended him when I thought he was treated unfairly. (And if you're looking for examples of either, you're more likely to find it in the TV pieces Ava and I do for Third than here.) I have held off noting Arango's article because I still can't grasp how it made it into print. This includes Butler smearing Wesley with the statement, "How much was he paid" [to speak out on the behalf of Camp Ashraf residents]? And Butler adding, "He doesn't get out of bed for less than $25,000." Arango does speak to Clark who is quoted . . . for three words. Wesley's never been an expert in bitchy. If he were fluent in it, no doubt, Arango would have quoted him at length.
I do love the yellow journalism of the New York Times. Whenever you might forget just how biased they are, they always pop to remind you. (For any who wonder, I have never received a penny on anything related to Camp Ashraf. We covered it here due to the fact that the residents were being ridiculed by the press. I had no clue about them and called up a friend at the UN and said, "Walk me through who these people are." As bad as Arango's article is, three or four years ago, it would have been considered a valentine to Camp Ashraf. Reporters felt no need to even pretend to be objective and openly ridiculed the residents, their beliefs and anything else they could get their hands on. Had that not happened, we wouldn't have started covering Camp Ashraf.)
Tim Arango can do strong and solid reporting -- even exceptional reporting. That article was beneath him. Today the paper's public editor Arthur S. Brisbane weighs in on the controversy over the article. Tim Arango never identified himself as a reporter while speaking to the residents of Camp Ashraf. I'm going to offer my take on these issue. Not identifying himself to residents? No problem. My opinion. Camp Ashraf residents state that he was identified as a member of the State Dept. Arango states he never heard it and the State Dept denies it happened -- they would deny it, wouldn't they? He went in with the State Dept, he was not identified as a reporter and he wasn't wearing a military uniform. Whether the State Dept said "He's with us" or anything similar, the impression would be that Tim Arango was with the State Dept unless he was identified as something else. I don't think that necessarily matters in terms of meeting people as he goes through Camp Ashraf and speaking to them. I do think it matters when he sits in on negotiations between the State Dept and Camp Ashraf. The residents involved in negotiations had a right to know that they were speaking in front of a reporter who was there to do a report. They were not informed of that. That was not fair.
Arango and another employee decided they'd cut out the Ashraf half of the negotiations due to the fact that they hadn't informed them, cut it out of the story. No, that is not realistic. You should have known that the minute you've written a story and go back and cut out one side, you are no longer being fair. He embedded with the US government -- and broke Iraqi guidelines in the process (journalists aren't allowed in Camp Ashraf per Nouri) -- and he ended up with a one-sided 'report' that gave all the emphasis -- even in the attacks on American citizens such as Howard Dean and Wesley Clark -- to the US government representative. There's no excuse for that article and that flares didn't go up the minute the embed process was contemplated (flares such as: How can I convey to Camp Ashraf that the meeting is going to be reported on?) and that they didn't is very disturbing. (And I do believe Tim Arango that he didn't hear the State Dept present him as one of them. I do not believe the State Dept's claim that they didn't. In a meeting like that, it would be standard practice to explain who was present. Especially during ongoing negotiations when a new face suddenly pops in.) Brisbane's conclusions can be read here and he ends with:
However, given that the resulting story detailed the pointed perspective of Mr. Butler, it was incumbent on The Times to present a much more thorough version of the MEK's perspective. It could be argued that this would have been very hard to do in a story constructed like this one -- one in which the reader is treated to numerous quotes captured during a live negotiating session.
With the American presence in Iraq possibly close to ending, it would be ideal if The Times made another attempt soon to report on Camp Ashraf, this time taking pains to detail the MEK's point of view.
And on the subject of Tim Arango and my critiques of him, I try to be very clear in them as possible. Some have taken that to mean I fret over another e-mail from him. I don't really care (no offense to him, I'm sure he's a wonderful person but I'm sure he's got more important things to do than read this website). What I do care about is being fair. By my standards, I wasn't in April when I criticized him.
As readers of Third will know, when David Corn bailed on The Nation and went to Mother Jones, Chris Hayes was suddenly elevated (promoted) to a new position. We had criticized Chris before without any problems. But this was not a planned promotion and my feelings were (and this is all over Third), he's in a new position I don't want to criticize him. (This was before he was kind enough to write up IVAW's Winter Soldier hearing at The Nation. The only person who promised they would that indeed followed up on it. I have not forgotten that and I will always praise him for writing about it and for keeping his word on that. I can provide a long list of lefty writers who were supposed to cover it at lefty publications and did not. In the MSM, all that promised they would cover it did. By contrast in the so-called independent media they promised like crazy and, of course, all failed to keep their word except for Chris Hayes.) I did not realize when I wrote the April critique of Tim Arango that he was the Baghdad chief. That only came out months later while talking to a friend at the paper. Since becoming aware of that, I try to be very specific when criticizing Tim Arango because, by my standards, he didn't get a fair shake from me. If I'd known he was also the Baghdad chief and not just another reporter working under one, I would have cut him slack that I didn't. (That's before you get into the fact that he comes from something other than hard news.) He has many strong qualities. We'll continue to call out the bad ones when they pop up. But I will say here, "Tim Arango, you have my apology for my April criticism because had I know you were wearing two hats and new to the higher position, I would have cut you a great deal more slack."