Monday, January 09, 2012

Iraq snapshot

Monday, January 9, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, the prison at Guantanamo Bay hits the 10 year mark, Iraq is slammed with bombings again, the KRG judiciary makes clear that Baghad doesn't order them to do anything, more Iraqis report they are suffering, Iraqi refugees continue to be stuck in limbo, and more.
Before we get to Iraq, an anniversary.  On this week's Law and Disorder Radio -- a weekly hour long program that airs Monday mornings at 9:00 a.m. EST on WBAI and around the country throughout the week, hosted by attorneys Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights) -- topics explored include an update on Guantanamo by Michael Ratner on the tenth anniversary of the Guantanamo Bay prison, attorney Roger Wareham discusses the January 12th International People's Tribunal on War Crimes and Other Violations of International Law, California State University professor David Klein on the plan to build the Cornell and The Technion of Israel in NYC and CCR attorneyy Darius Charney on NYC's stop and frisk policies.  Excerpt from opening segment.

Michael Ratner: January 11th, here we are.  We've completed ten years after 9-11, going into the eleventh year.  The tenth anniversary of Guantanamo opening, entering its 11th year now.  On the actual annivesary, January 11th, I will be in London commemotrating the opening of Guantanamo with other lawyers but particularly with men who have been freed from Guantanamo, a group called Caged Prisoners.  Commemorating the 11th year of the practices that underlie imprisonment at Guantanamo:  the capture of detainees anywhere in the world or their kidnapping; their imprisonment indefinitely or forever under a preventive detention scheme; and their trials, if at all, by rump trials or military commissions.  Here we are, the Guantanamo Syndrome -- that series of illnesses, sickness and outrage that represent both Republican and Democratic administrations are still with us. I'm commemorating it with a group set up after Guantanamo, set up by some of the very people who were formerly impisoned in Guantanamo, a group called Caged Prisoners. And I'm in London going through three days of commemoration of not just those who remain in Guantanamo, but of those who remain in secret prisons all over the world, particularly Bagram.  And I'm with a number of the people who have been freed -- freed from Guantanamo. Some of those prisoners. for example, Moazzam Begg was freed from Guantanamo even before we won our court case in June 2004.  And I'm with him today in London and his story actually tells us a lot about what happened at Guantanamo.  And then I want to give a little history of the Center [for Constitutional Rights]'s  involvement and my own.  I met Moazzam Begg in February 2004 in the United Kingdom.  He'd been freed because of the huge amount of efforts by the British citizens -- led by the Redgraves [the late Corin Redgrave and his sister Vanessa Redgrave of the British acting family dynasty] in particular and others to get the British citizens to get the British citizens out of there.  And when I walked into the room, I remember it like it was yesterday,  here were these young men -- I mean they were young like my own children in a way -- and the idea that these three men were ever kept in Guantanamo as the 'worst of the worst' or 'terrorists' just struck me as completely impossible.  They could joke with me, they could tell the stories of what happened, they could talk about Guantanamo, they could talk about their own lives and, of course, they were kept in Guantanamo after being picked up in Pakistan and forced to give 'confessions' when they were at Guantanamo.  They figured when they were at Guantanamo that after they were being tortured in various ways that they were better off just saying, 'Yeah, we knew Osama bin Laden, etc.'  And they thought it would go better for them but of course it went worse.  And even though they had alibis of where they were at the time and why they were in Afghanistan -- and good ones, correct ones -- the government forced these 'confessions' out of them under torture and kept them there year after year.  When I met them, they talked about the torture.  And when I talk to you, our listeners, about it, you have to understand that when I met them, no one knew publicly what was going on in Guantanamo, there'd been no access to Guantanamo.  But there was the testimony of the Tipton Three.  And everybody said, 'Oh, they're lying, they're not telling the truth.'  And in the room with me that day, they went over what's called a "Rumsfeld Technique."  Those are what we now know are everything from hooding, stripping, dogs, sexual assault -- all these kind of terrible things that Rumsfeld Techniques did to people at Guantanamo as a means of coercing what turned out to be false confessions out of people.  And I sat there and I believed them.  But I had trouble believing it because, of course, I'd always looked at Guantanamo as a horrible place because it was incommunicado detention -- we couldn't get them into court to test their detentions, we couldn't get them lawyers, we couldn't visit -- and I looked at that as the worst aspect.  And while I suspected that there might be interrogation issues, I didn't realize that there would be abuse amounting or equivalent to torture.   And was I naive in that respect?  Possibly so. But of course within a couple of months after my interview with the Guantanamo Three or the Tipton Three, the Abu Ghraib photos came out on April 24th of 2004 and then, of course, it was public for everybody.  The Rumfseld Techniques came out and then the Tipton Three's testimony -- that people had said, 'Oh, we don't believe it' -- was proven to be utterly, utterly accurate to the actual use of the Rumsfeld Techniques, the dozen techniques. And so then Guantanamo became synonymous not just with incommunicado detention but with torture as well.  And today, of course, Guantanamo is still there.  And as we talk about Guantanamo, I want to give people the numbers. Guantanamo is still there.  171 men remain in Guantanamo.  46 have been approved -- whatever that means -- for indefinite detention and will be there forever as far as I know.  36 men have been referred for prosecution.  What kind of prosecution? Most likely military commissions which are just rump courts which are just rump trials for nothing.  The remainder?  Not clear. But most of the remainder have been approved for release.  So that means the remainder shouldn't be there at all.  People like the Uighurs from western China who were picked up wrongly -- admittedly wrongly  -- and have now been there for ten years and will be going on  I don't know how many years. So that total is about 89 people, most of whom have been approved for transfer.  So of those 89 almost none of them should be there.  So there's our numbers again.  46 indefinitely detained forever, 36 supposedly subject to prosecution and 89 who shouldn't be there at all -- or most of whom should not be there at all, some of whom they may not have decided yet. That's Guantanamo today.
This is an important issue, it does have connections to Iraq (including how Rumsfeld Techniques migrated from Guantanamo to Iraq).  It's one of the reasons that (offline) this will be a crazy end of the week for me (as I noted last week) and also Michael Ratner's worked like crazy to get attention on this issue for ten years now.  Ideally, we will continue to note Guantanamo every day in this week's snapshots due to the anniversary; however, the rest of the week we will save it for the end of the snapshot. And the above is an excerpt, there is more to Michael Ratner's analysis on the topic in the broadcast.  And for more on Guantanamo, all this week, World Can't Wait will be drawing attention to Guantanamo.  It generally covers Guantanamo every week regardless but due to the anniversary and various actions, there will be even more attention so refer to World Can't Wait throughout the week.
Iraq?  AFP's Prashant Rao Tweets:
prashantrao Prashant Rao
Yet another terrible day in #Baghdad. #Iraq
Another day of political crisis, another day of extreme violence.  AP notes 2 Baghdad car bombings left "at least 14 people" dead with "dozens" injured.  Kareem Raheem (Reuters) notes the death toll rose to 15 and fifty-two were injured.  AFP reports that bombings today targeting pilgrims in Iraq have resulted in one death and twenty-four people being left injured -- 1 dead and nine injured in Owairij and fiften injured in Hilla.  Jomana Karadsheh (CNN)  explains, "Hundreds of thousands of Shiites are making their way to Karbala to commemorate the Arbaeen pilgrimage this weekend. Arbaeen is the pilgrimage marking the end of a 40 day mourning period for the death of Imam Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, a seventh century imam and one of the  Shiaa Islam's holiest figures."  Al Jazeera adds, "As part of the Arbaeen ceremonies, Shia pilgrims walk to Karbala from across Iraq.  Devotees also descend on the city from around the world."  Reuters notes the Hilla bombing was yesterday and the injured were Afghanistan pilgrimas, they count 2 dead in a Baghdad roadside bombing with twelve more pilgrims injured, they also note the following Sunday night violence just making the news cycle: a Balad home bombing targeting a police officer which left him "his wife and three children" injured, a Falluja home bombing targeting a police officers home which injured two of the officers' relatives, Baghdad police shot dead a suspect, Iraqi soldiers in Mahmudiya shot dead a suspect, and 1 city government worker was shot dead in Kirkuk.
And the political crisis?  Kareem Raheem (Reuters) notes today, "The crisis threatens to unravel Iraq's fragile coalition government of Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish factions and has raised fears of renewed sectarian violence."  The editorial board of Canada's Globe & Mail observes:
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki continues to purge his opponents and consolidate his authority. He is now on the verge of abandoning last year's power-sharing agreement, which formed a government of national unity. Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi has [. . . sought refuge in] Kurdistan after authorities issued a warrant for his arrest, a decision that added to sectarian tensions. In the weeks before the U.S. military withdrawal, Mr. al-Maliki rounded up hundreds of Iraqis accused of being former Baath Party members. Security forces detain and abuse dissenting academics, activists and journalists with impunity [. . .]
Serena Chaudhry (Reuters) quotes the Economist Intelligence Unit's Ali al-Saffar stating, "There is no doubt [the arrest warrant] was choreographed to put down the marker, to eradicate any doubt over who was in charge in the wake of the U.S. troop withdrawl." Patrick Cockburn (Independent of London) offers an analysis and we'll note this paragraph:

"I think it was a bad mistake for the US not to say in 2010 that Maliki was unacceptable to them," said a Western diplomat formerly posted to Baghdad. He argued that Mr Maliki should have been rejected because he was a sectarian Shia intent on building an authoritarian state and that this state is corrupt and dysfunctional. Corruption is at a level whereby state funds are simply transferred abroad to shell companies secretly owned by officials at home. Unemployment is between 25 and 40 per cent. Inability to provide an adequate supply of electricity has been a notorious failing of the post-Saddam state, but the electricity ministry still managed to agree to pay $1.3bn to a bankrupt German company and a non-existent Canadian one. The government's budget is spent mainly on salaries and pensions, with recipients often connected to the ruling parties.

Not only did they refuse to say he was unacceptable, they demanded that he continue as prime minister. The Iraqi people voted in March 2010. Nouri's State of Law came in second to Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya. Instead of respecting the will of the voters and the Iraqi Constitution, the US government set out to circumvent both. It was as ugly and offensive as the US Supreme Court installing second place Bully Boy Bush over first place Al Gore. And it sent the message to Iraqis that (a) their votes didn't matter, (b) the Constitution didn't matter and (c) that the whole thing was a farce. This was a very big thing, the elections. Iraqiya was labeled "Ba'athists" by State Of Law, the Justice and Accountability Commission (whose term had expired) suddenly resurfaced to begin banning Iraqiya candidates from running, in the lead up to the elections, several Iraqiya candidates were shot dead, state media was claiming Nouri's State of Law would come in first. Despite all of that, Iraqis turned out and voted and, thanks to the US, were left to wonder why they even bothered?

This was an issue raised in the Iraqi protests in 2011 -- that the prime minister stayed the same, that Jalal Talabani remained President and the two Vice Presidents remained the same, so why did they even vote? They also protested the corruption, the disappearance of loved ones into the so-called judicial system, the lack of jobs and the lack of public services (reliable electricity, potable water, etc.)  Dar Addustour reports that protests took place in Sulaymaniyah Province today over public services and the claims were put forward that there are planned projects. Lots of 'planning' but Iraqis still see no results.
Worse, they saw Nouri al-Maliki -- watching the unrest in Egypt -- insist that problems would be fixed in 100 days.  Then 100 days passed and Nouri claimed that he had not promised to fix anything just to identiy the problems.  The 100 days was nothing but a stalling technique (as we noted when he announced it) a way to distract Iraqis.  The 100 days expired in June.  So, according to him, that was time spent identifying problems.   And what was done in the over 180 days since Nouri 'identified' the problems?  Not a damn thing to impact the average Iraqi in a positive manner. And this as the number of Iraqis who see themselves as sufferin/enduring increases.  Gallup has a new poll out today. It's a survey of Iraqis. Stafford Nichols explains, "The percentage of Iraqis who rate their lives poorly enough to be considered 'suffering' rose from 14% in in October 2010 to 25% in September 2011."

And no progress.  Nouri's been prime minister since 2006?  At what time is held he accountable for this?  Aswat al-Iraq quotes Iraqiya spokesperson Maysoun Damalougy stating, "No progress has been achieved in both the service and economic levels in the country."   In addition, she points out that that "the biggest part of this [political] crisis is the fact that despite the lapse of one within the current government, the cabinet has not been completed."  When Jalal Talabani named Nouri prime-minister designate, per the Constitution, he had 30 days to name a Cabinet -- that means his nominating candidates and Parliament voting on each one.  He did not do that.  Per the Constitution, he never should have been moved to prime minister.  Having failed at naming a full Cabinet, he should have been stripped of prime minister-designate and someone else should have been named (by Talabani) and that person would then have 30 days. 
Nouri's 30 days ended with the month of December . . . in 2010.  For over a year, Iraq has had no Minister of National Security, no Minister of Defense, no Minister of Interior.    That is on Nouri who refused to name people to those posts.  Critics stated that this was a power-grab on Nouri's part and that he had no intention of naming ministers to those posts.  Over a year later, they appear to have been correct.
Nouri al-Maliki returned to Baghdad from DC last month and promptly began acting as if he had run out of meds. He demanded that Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq be stripped of his post and he would order the arrest of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi soon after. Both al-Mutlaq and al-Hashemi are members of Iraqiya. Nouri insists that al-Hashemi is also a terrorist and to 'prove' it ordered 'confessions' played over state TV -- in violation of the Constitution's innocent until/unless found guilty in a court of law. By the time Nouri ordered the arrest, Tareq al-Hashemi was already visiting the KRG on official business. Since the arrest warrant was announced, he has remained in the KRG as a guest of Jalal Talabani. Bradley Klapper (AP) has an interesting analysis here that hopefully we'll have time for later in the week.   Al Mada reports Allawi says that al-Hashemi must be tried before an independent judiciary -- not Baghdad's judicial system which Nouri controls. The paper notes that Allawi met in Sulaymaniyah Saturday night with Talabani and in Erbil yesterday with Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani.  And Aswat al-Iraq notes that Talabani had arrived in Baghdad this afternoon.  Yesterday, the United Nations' Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Iraq, Martin Kobler, met with Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi and they discussed the need to resolve the political crisis via an ongoing dialogue.

Al Rafidayn notes that Baghdad made an official request to the KRG to hand over al-Hashemi. Baghdad admits that it has no power to enter the KRG and arrest al-Hashemi. Nor do they have any control over the Kurdish judiciary.

And now we drop back to the roundtable we did at Third on Christmas Day:

Betty: C.I., can the KRG continue to protect al-Hashemi and what's the status on al-Mutlaq?

C.I.: The Parliament has stated that Nouri is incorrect in his assertion that the law is on his side, they've stated the law is unclear. That's only a temporary time saver. If the law is unclear, it's left to the judiciary to resolve the issue and the Iraqi judiciary has long been seen as a rubber stamp for Nouri. So right now, Tareq al-Hashemi can remain in the KRG but what happens if the judiciary rules? I have no idea. Now the Iraqi judiciary could rule and, this could be a trump card, the KRG could respond, "Okay, well that's what it says about Baghdad, but we're the KRG and we have our own courts so we'll take the issue to our courts." That could further delay it. The KRG courts might determine the law -- they'll have to go by intent if they're using Iraqi law but I don't know why the KRG would not use their own law, I think they would and give it greater emphasis -- said Tareq al-Hashemi had to be handed over. In which case, the KRG officials might hand Tareq al-Hashmi over. But what if the KRG courts, citing KRG law, stated the KRG cannot hand him over? Then you'd have a conflict and how that gets resolved would be something the whole world would watch.

That conflict may be arriving. Dar Addustour notes the Baghdad request for al-Hashemi and the fourteen people with him and they note spokesperson for the head of the Kudristan Judicial Council held a press conference yesterday. Judge Dhatiar Hamid Suleiman's spokesperson acknowledged that the request from Baghad had been received; however, he declared that they are not the police and they also do not take orders from Nouri al-Maliki. The judge wondered why al-Hashemi wasn't arrested at the airport (Baghdad International) instead of bringing the KRG into it? Noting that al-Hashemi is Talabani's house guest, the judge wondered how you would even go about arresting him?  On al-Hashemi, Press TV runs with a rumor: Saudi Arabia's Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz has ordered that al-Hashemi be murdered and Saudi Prince Muqrin bin Abdul-Azis is the one who will have to oversee the planning of the execution -- this is being done because the Saudi royal family fears what al-Hashemi might tell.  If you're not aware, the governments of Saudia Arabia and Iran are in the same level of conflict of, say, the US and North Korea.  In other words, the rumor didn't need any verification for Press TV to run with and, in fact, the rumor might have started at Press TV.

Turning to the issue of Iraqi refugees, Press TV also notes:
According to the UNHCR, the victims number some 4.7 million, many of whom are in serious need of humanitarian care.
Of those, more than 2.7 million Iraqis are internally displaced, while more than 2 million have escaped to neighboring states.
Iraq's local authorities are, meanwhile, struggling to provide appropriate accommodation infrastructure for hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees, who have returned home and are trying to resettle.

The largest refugee crisis in the Middle East since 1948 was set off by the Iraq War.  With violence non-stop, people weren't going to wait for host countries to process any applications for immgration.  They went across the borders -- some with travel visas -- some without.  They went to Lebanon and Jordan and Syria primarily.  (Some also went to Iran and Turkey. And within Iraq, ethnic cleansing meant that many were forced out of their homes and neighborhoods.  This made it very difficult to receive rations and subsidies because these people no longer lived in their neighborhoods and the system being used to dole out those services was based upon what neighborhood you lived in. External or internal, Iraqis lost their homes at either bargain basement rates or without even that, their homes were just taken over.  The ethnic cleansing is 2006 through 2007 -- Nouri is prime minister during this, for those who've forgotten -- and armed militias go block by block through neighborhoods.  And Nouri does what?  Not a damn thing.
Trudy Rubin (Philadelphia Inquirer) has spent the last years reporting what she saw with her focus on the truth. A strong argument could be made that her columns have documented the steps that led to the current political crisis. Her focus for some time has been on the Iraqis who helped the US as translators and have now been forgotten. Her most recent column on that topic is "Shame On US: allies betrayed." Excerpt:

Last week, I spoke on the PBS NewsHour about Iraqis who worked for our civilians and military before we left the country - and who now face death threats because we betrayed them.

I've received a slew of e-mail from Iraqi interpreters who are in hiding because Shiite militias have pledged to kill the "traitors" who aided the Americans. I've also received e-mail from U.S. military officers desperately trying to get their "terps" out of the country. And I've heard from ordinary, concerned Americans.

All ask the same question: How can we get the U.S. government to issue the visas it promised to Iraqis who risked their lives to help us?

I'm ashamed to admit that the U.S. government has abandoned these people. No one seems eager to bring more Iraqis into this country in an election year.

President Obama has failed to keep his 2007 campaign pledge to rescue these Iraqis. A group of concerned senators, mostly Democrats, including Pennsylvania's Bob Casey, has made inquiries, but gotten no answers from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta or Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. Nor has a peep been heard on behalf of the "terps" from Republican senators who backed our war in Iraq.


Good for Trudy Rubin. And her voice is especially needed since no one has taken up the megaphone Kenneth Bacon had as president of Refugees International (he passed away in 2009). In addition to the stories she shares in her column, she also has a blog post entitled "More Iraq visa horror stories" dealing with stories shared by a US military officer and Refugees International. Kimi Yoshino (Los Angeles Times) writes of a visit to Disneyland with a group of Iraqi refugees who were among the small number able to get into the US:

Since my husband arrived in the U.S. in 2009 after months of red tape, I've heard him remark on numerous occasions how youthful everyone looks here -- and how relaxed. In Iraq, a life of fear and anxiety has taken a toll. Forty-year-old Iraqis look 10 years older. And there's an exhaustion, a sadness, that seems to permanently cloud their eyes.
That was part of the culture shock of Disneyland, so much joy all packed into one place.
"Once I entered inside, I felt like I was transferred into a whole different world of fantasy," my husband said. "Everybody's happy and everybody's nice -- like it's not a real world."
The uncertainty and the violence that still grips their country is what drove them to leave, even if it meant starting over.

And Andrew Lam (New American Media) focuses on the Iraqis forced out of their country due to the violence:

Each time Uncle Sam ventures abroad he leaves an unfinished story, and nowhere is it most unfinished than the story of Iraq, where despite flowery speeches regarding freedom and sovereignty by the Obama administration, despite assurances that tyranny has been "cast aside," the tragedy caused by the United States invasion, occupation and inevitable abandonment is on an epic proportion.

Never mind that sectarian violence continues unabated and much of the populace remains mired in poverty, and that there's a distinct possibility that the country is on its way to becoming a failed state if the Sunnis and Shiites cannot find a way to collectively govern.

The most unfinished story, however, is the population that the war has displaced. Whether tyranny has been cast aside is questionable, but certainly cast aside are the people of Iraq. They have been displaced both internally and internationally and are now imperiled by the sin of our omission.