Monday, February 06, 2012

Iraq snapshot

Monday, February 6, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, a judicial effort is underway to strip an Iraqiya member of immunity, the Iraqi military is said to be 'infiltrated,'  the National Lawyers Guild calls for all charges to be dropped against Bradley Manning, Roberta Flack releases her first new album in almost nine years, and more.
In the US, an album was released today as a download.  That's news for many reasons including that albums are released on Tuesday in the US.  So what album's so special that it alters the street date?  Let It Be Roberta: Roberta Flack Sings The Beatles.  Amazon currently is preselling the new collection on sale for $9.99 on disc but you can download it right now from Amazon, all 14 tracks (one is a live track from 1972, all the others are studio tracks recorded for this album), and if you do it right now, you're getting an amazing bargain because it's only $3.99. Roberta Flack's not just someone I've called a friend for years, she's also a living legend, one of the all time music greats, a four-time Grammy winner known for such classics as "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," "Killing Me Softly With His Song," "Oasis," "Set The Night To Music" (with Maxi Priest), "Where Is The Love?" (with the late Donny Hathaway, we'll link to his daughter Lalah Hathaway), "The Closer I Get To You" (with Donny)," "Feel Like Making Love," "Tonight, I Celebrate My Love" (with Peabo Bryson), the Ashford & Simpson classic "Uh-Uh-Ooh-Ooh Look Out (Here It Comes)," "Making Love" and Janis Ian's"Jesse."  Kat will have a review up here tomorrow of the album.  The songs she covers are "In My Life," "Hey Jude," "We Can Work It Out" (the first single for the album), "Let It Be," "Oh Darling," "I Should Have Known Better," "The Long & Winding Road," "Come Together," "Isn't It A Pity," "If I Fell," "And I Love Him," "Here, There And Everywhere" (this is the live track, from her 1972 Carnegie Hall concert), "I'm Looking Through You" and "Yesterday."  John Lennon collectors take note, the album booklet includes a little seen photo of Yoko Ono, John and Roberta.  It's a great album, it's been almost 9 years since Roberta put out her last album and, again, right now, it's $3.99 to download the entire album, all 14 tracks, at Amazon.  That's a sale price, not a regular price.  The sale won't last forever.
Moving over to Iraq, Aswat al-Iraq quotes Iraq's Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi stating today, "The Constitution must be adjusted in such a way that it shares in transforming Iraq into a State of Modern Civilian Institutions, enablingthe citizen to enjoy his national fortunes, and to activiate a balance between the Constitution and the nation to evaluate civilian institutions rather than looking for loopholes that marginalize partners."  The news outlet reports he was responding to "certain paties that he did not name [who were] . . . exerting pressure on the Iraqi Judiciary."   Al Rafidayn reports that the Supreme Judicial Council has notified the Parliament that they want the immunity (that all members of Parliament are granted) lifted from MP Haidar al-Mullah because he noted that the judiciary was politicized. One of the judges over Iraq's 160 courts is stating that this statement was a personal "assault" and is demanding that the immunity be lifted. (If this lifting of immunity took place, not noted in the story, it would the first time such a thing happened. It would set a very dangerous precedent.) al-Mullah, no surprise, is a member of Iraqiya. Nouri's targeting them and now the court he controls is as well. al-Mullah states the judge in question is Judge Sayad al-Lami. The article notes other members of Iraqiya may be targeted -- two who share stories of requests from months ago that were apparently not followed up on.  Barbara Surk (AP) notes that Haidar al-Mullah is a Shi'ite member of Iraqiya and that he told the AP, "We will not be silenced. I have the right to express my opinion and criticize inappropriate acts."

Iraqiya came in first in the March 2010 elections. That should have been the end of Nouri al-Maliki as prime minister (his State of Law came in second). But the White House wouldn't hear of it. With their backing, he began an eight-month long stalemate where nothing could move forward. And like the spoiled child he is, he got humored. In November 2010, various parties met in Erbil and signed off on the US brokered Erbil Agreement which would allow Nouri to remain prime minister in exchange for other agreements -- such as Ayad Allawi (leader of Iraqiya) leading an independent national security counsel and the referendum on Kirkuk finally taking place (the Constitution required that it take place at the end of 2007, Nouri refused to obey the Constitution in his first term). Nouri got the post he wanted and then trashed the Erbil Agreement. Since this summer, the Kurds have been calling for a return to the Erbil Agreement. Iraqiya joined them in that call. In October, Nouri insisted a "coup" had been discovered -- by Libya, no less -- and ordered the arrests of over 800 Sunnis -- including elderly college professors -- and this was the beginning of his targeting of Sunnis and Iraqiya (a mixed coaltion which recognizes Sunni, Shi'ites, Turkmen, et al -- all Iraqis). In December, after several photo ops with US President Barack Obama -- who couldn't stop slobbering over Nouri and the 'democracy' he was leading in Iraq -- Nouri returned to Iraq and immediately had tanks surround various Iraqiya officials homes in Baghdad. He declared that Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq should be stripped of his post (and immunity) for remarks al-Multaq made comparing Nouri to Saddam Hussein and began insisting that Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi was a terrorist. After making this assertion for several days (Saturday and Sunday) and having al-Hashemi and al-Mutlaq (and their bodyguards) pulled off a flight to the KRG (they were then allowed to fly out there for their meetings), Monday (December 19th) arrived and Nouri issued an arrest warrant for Tareq al-Hashemi.

Al Mada notes al-Hashemi has filed another request for his case to be transferred to Kirkuk. Rudaw interviews al-Hashemi. Excerpt:

Rudaw: Are you sure you can prove your innocence in a court of law?

Tariq al-Hashimi: I can defend myself and my bodyguards. According to what I have heard, one of my bodyguards, Major Ahmed Shawqi, had bought a car and sold it later. The car was later used in a suicide car bomb in Madayin area. I didn't know about it at that time but knew that he was a car dealer before he started working with me. That's all I have heard and frankly I wouldn't expect him to be involved in any illegal acts. Regarding myself, I can defend myself anytime in a fair trial. I hope my guards are also provided that opportunity, and justice according to the law. I am optimistic that whenever there is proper justice, then I will go before a court and defend myself. Because there is a lawsuit, I am not evading responsibility. All I have asked for is a fair trial. That kind of trial cannot be provided under the current circumstances in Baghdad. Therefore, I have asked the trial to be transferred to another place, based on Article 55 of Iraq's Penal Code. This is a normal procedure and has to do with protecting my life and will also provide the chance for the facts to be discovered. I have been deprived of this legal right and they won't allow for the trial to be transferred to Kirkuk.

Rudaw: Do you feel that your presence in the Kurdistan Region has put the Kurdish authorities in a tough position?

Tariq al-Hashimi: I am now a guest of the leadership and all citizens of this (Kurdistan) Region. If they feel Tariq al-Hashimi's presence has embarrassed them, then God's land is immense and I have not really forced them (to have me here). I came here based on a demand from President Jalal Talabani. I am still holding the vice-president's post and have not resigned. I have not been also removed from my position by Parliament. So, I am still a government employee. The president has asked me to stay in Kurdistan and Mr. Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Region, has said 'Tariq al-Hashimi is our guest.' I have been staying in Kurdistan based on this. Whenever the people of this region no longer want to host me, then God's land is vast. I really do not want my presence here to cause the smallest embarrassment to the leadership and people of Kurdistan.

Abdul Aziz al-Talabani is a member of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's clan or tribe.  Al Rafidayn reports that he states the clan met in Sulaymaniyah Friday to discuss Tareq al-Hashemi and they are demanding that the KRG turn al-Hashemi over to Baghdad.
From al-Hashemi to al-Mutlaq, Aswat al-Iraq reports, "Deputy Premier Saleh al-Mutlaq discussed with a delegation from Ahrar Bloc the recent political situation in Iraq and the importance of unifying ranks to contain the present crisis, according to a statement issued by his office. The statement, as was received by Aswat al-Iraq, said that Mutlaq valued the initiatives made by Ahrar Bloc and the Sadrist Trend to minimize the gaps among political blocs in order to achieve political stability." Al Rafidayn notes the rumors that al-Mutlaq is expected to put a formal apology to Nouri in writing and that Sadrist MP Odai Awad explains that they've been working on this for some time but only now have they had significant results.

Ali Hussein (Al Mada) contributes a column that notes some close to Nouri desire for Iraqiya to be hit by an earthquake, the real question for Iraqis is whether or not it is in the country's interest to allow some politicians to carry out their plans to rid the country of their political opponents.  Dar Addustour reports that it is hoped today's meeting at Jalal Talabani's Baghdad headquarters of the national conference prepratory committee will result in some concrete steps to resolve the political crisis.  However, not only has this been the hope forever but resolution really wasn't in the air today.  Earlier, Aswat al-Iraq was reporting that Parliament would discuss the 2012 federal budget.  However, Ayad al-Tamemi (Al Mada) reports that there was a lack of a quorum so they recessed without doing so.
While the political crisis continues, the security situation continues to falter. Al Mada notes that the adviser to the minister on reconciliation noted Saturday that Nouri's government will 'close' the "Awakenings" (Sahwa, Sons Of Iraq) this year. Al Mad had previously reported on the talk of this taking place, this is a report on the official announcement having been made. As Sahwa gets phased out, Ali al-Saadi (Dar Addustour) reports "military expert" Abbas al-Awad has declared that Iraq's military has been invaded and sweeping changes and a review of all the appointments that have been made must take place to purge it of "terrorist elements." The ease with which car bombs have made it through checkpoints is something the analyst finds especially disturbing.  And in more bad news for Iraqi forces, Al Mada notes that the Ahmed al-Khafaji, the Ministry of Interior's Undescretary for Federal Security Affairs, declared today that in July the Iraqi army will leave the cities and provinces and move to the borders and the Interoir Ministy will be over security for Iraqi cities and towns.  Why is that bad news?  As National Alliance MP Uday Awad reminds, "It is worth noting that the heads of the security ministries remain vacant despite a year having passed since the current government was formed."

Turning to some of today's reported violence, Reuters notes a Balad Ruz mortar attack which claimed 1 life and left thirteen people injured (the target was a crumbling building in which homeless Kurds were living), an Abu Saida roadside bombing which injured one person, a Mahmudiya roadside bombing injured three people and, late last night, a Jalawla sticky bombing left one police officer injured.  KUNA adds a Mosul bombing left four Iraqi soldiers injured.
Iraq is setting records for executions -- over 50 this year so far. Al Mada reported on Thursday that the Iraqi Embassy in Riaydh (Saudi Arabia) was explaining that although they were carrying out death sentences, they did not have any Saudi prisoners who were of or worked for the royal family of Saudi Arabia. Yet Saturday, Al Mada reports, the same Iraqi Embassy announced they were delaying the execution of Saudis and, oops, they needed to review the list of names because there may have been an error and the list of names is compiled from multiple lists from multiple locations in Iraq so the Ministry of Justice is going to review the list to determine which names are on it and which aren't. Accuracy on a list of people to be executed is, apparently, only important if another country objects to your lists. Al Rafidayn reports the Iraqi Central Criminal Court handed down a death sentence today on a man who allegedly kidnapped two French citizens (brothers) and someone with the Iranian consul. Allegedly? The man gave a 'confession' (including that he had killed one of the brothers). Iraq''s 'confessions' tend to result from prolonged torture. This is made more even more likely when we're discussing crimes from 2004.  Aswat al-Iraq notes that Bernard Valiro, spokesperson for France's Foreign Ministry, declared today that France opposes capital punishment and as to Iraq's "execution of 34 persons on 19 January last, and 17 on 1st of February, 2012, France denounces the increase resort to execution verdicts."

In England, a 104-year-old Iraqi male made the news over the weekend.  The Daily Mail reports, "Taufeek Khanjar is thought to have become the oldest person to be declared a British citizen when he took part in a citizenship ceremony in Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey." Saturday Al Mada reported on Warina Zaya Bashou, an elderly Iraqi woman, a 111-year-old, born in Ramadi and who lived with her children and grandchildren in al-Anbar (she immigrated to the US in 2003).  She remembers the Ottoman Empire and the British occupation and all the governments that followed.  She rated the monarchy highly.  The US Citizenship and Immigration Services say the woman (who became a naturalized citizen last month in Detroit) was born in 1900 but the woman maintains she was born July 10, 1885 (which would make her 127) and seems highly likely considering what she lived through.  Iraqi women in Iraq today are living through a great deal in the land of orphans and widows.  Dar Addustour reports that Parliament's Committee on Women in Childrean has referred to the Minister of State and Parliamentary affairs a proposed law which would provide interest free loans for Iraq's widows and divorced women.   Lat Friday's snapshot included:
Reuters notes Halima Dakhil who pays $210 for rent for her and her children. And that Iraqi widows receive $85 a month from the government and $13 a month for each child.  This is ridiculous and shameful as Nouri spends billons on toys for warfare.  Gender-traitor Ibtihal al-Zaidi shows up in the story to insist, "I agree it is little.  But there is a real plan to increase these benefits."  Let's hope all the widows and children living in poverty can afford to wait for al-Zaidi to get around to addressing the "real plan."
Who is this woman who goes along making excuses?  Now in his second term as prime minister, Nouri appointed his stooge, Ibtihal al-Zaidi, to be Minister of the State for Women's Affairs. . She's gotten herself in trouble in the last weeks in Iraq. She's declared that she doesn't believe in equality, that Iraqi women need their husband's permission before doing anything (presumably their son's or father's permission if they're widowed, divorced or unmarried) and has come up with a little dress code for Iraqi women employed by the government. Al Mada reports today that MP Safia al-Suhail is calling the gender traitor out and asking that al-Zaidi appear before Parliament to explain this dress code (which bans certain skirts, t-shirts and sneakers among other items -- but only for women) and al-Suhail points out that al-Zaidi's remarks are troubling and run contrary to the oath the Minister of Women's Affairs took when assuming her office.
Sunday Al Mada reported that MP Safiya al-Suhail stated that the statements had been confusing and what they were calling for was a meet-up between al-Zaidi and the women in Parliament.  al-Suhail also again noted that al-Zaidi's statement of not believing in equality runs counter to Article 14 of the Constitution.   Article 14 reads: "Iraqis are equal before the law without discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, origin, color, religion, sect, belief or opinion, or economic or social status."
Turning to the US, Bradley Manning is in the news as the US military announced Friday night that they were moving to a court-martial. The Bradley Manning Support Network's Jeff Paterson responded, "This administration owes all Americans an honest explanation for their extraordinary retaliation against Bradley Manning."

This move to a court-martial is not a surprise. Last month, Josh Gerstein (POLITICO) reported, "Another military officer has formally recommended that Army Pfc. Bradley Manning face a full-scale court martial for allegedly leaking thousands of military reports and diplomatic cables to the online transparency site WikiLeaks." In addition, Article 32 hearings are almost always rubber stamps. Monday April 5th, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7, 2010, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August 2010 that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." In March, David S. Cloud (Los Angeles Times) reported that the military has added 22 additional counts to the charges including one that could be seen as "aiding the enemy" which could result in the death penalty if convicted. The Article 32 hearing took place in December.

AP has a video report on the move to court-martial here. Luis Martinez (ABC News) explains, "Manning faces 22 charges, including aiding the enemy, wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet knowing that it is accessible to the enemy, theft of public property or records, and transmitting defense information. Aiding the enemy is a capital offense that could bring the death penalty, but Army prosecutors have said they will instead pursue life in prison if the 24-year old Manning is convicted. Manning could also face a reduction in rank to the lowest enlisted pay grade, total forfeiture of all pay and allowances and a dishonorable discharge." Matthew Hay Brown (Baltimore Sun) notes, "There was no word on whether the as-yet-unscheduled court-martial would also be held at Fort Meade, one of three installations within the military district equipped to host such a proceeding."

The Associated Press offers this summary of the scattershot defense offered by Bradley's attorneys, "Manning's lawyers countered that others had access to Manning's workplace computers. They say he was in emotional turmoil, partly because he was a gay soldier at a time when homosexuals were barred from serving openly in the U.S. armed forces. The defense also claims Manning's apparent disregard for security rules during stateside training and his increasingly violent outbursts after deployment were red flags that should have prevented him from having access to classified material. Manning's lawyers also contend that the material WikiLeaks published did little or no harm to national security." Scattershot? That defense remains incoherent until it is has a larger statement attached to it such as "And he's innocent" or "and that's why he did what he did."

The Bradley Manning Support Network has a number of events planned including:
Olympia, Washington Tuesday, February 7 -- Noon The Evergreen State College, Lecture Hall 3 Sponsored by SDS and the "Re-Interpreting Liberation" program Bradley Manning, a 24-year-old Army intelligence analyst, faces life in prison for allegedly sharing the "Collateral Murder"video of a US helicopter attack that killed 11 civilians and wounded two children in Baghdad,…
This evening the National Lawyers Guild issued a call for all charges against Bradley to be dropped:
Nathan Tempey,
Communications Coordinator,
212-679-5100, ext. 15

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) calls for the dismissal of all charges against Bradley Manning. The Army announced on Friday that Manning will face a general court martial for allegedly leaking classified information about U.S. policy and practices relating to, among other things, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
NLG President David Gespass, said, "Manning's prosecution is calculated to distract us from the real problem, that the U.S. government is once again hiding from the public proof of crimes committed in our name."
Manning is a U.S. Army soldier accused of transferring classified data to his personal computer and sending it to the whistleblowing website Wikileaks. He faces 22 charges including "aiding the enemy," a capital offense.
Kathleen Gilberd, executive director of the NLG's Military Law Task Force (MLTF) said, "Manning is being prosecuted for patriotic acts akin to the release of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. His prosecution highlights both the way that military proceedings subvert fundamental due process rights and the dangers of government secrecy to a free society."
The potential for prosecutorial abuse stems from the power that commanding officers have as the convening authorities over court martial hearings. The convening authority selects the officer who first investigates a case, recommends charges against the accused, and then selects the "members" of the court martial, who form the jury. Particularly in a high profile case such as this, where the government has already indicated its determination to convict and punish Manning, the ability of the convening authority to control the process and the outcome is overwhelming.
"The court martial system is fraught from beginning to end with the danger of command influence," noted MLTF Chair James Branum. "It has permeated this case from the beginning and emanated from the Commander-in-Chief on down, making due process impossible. In this situation, dismissal of all charges is the only just option."
The Military Law Task Force grew out of the National Lawyers Guild's Military Law Offices, which provided counsel for GIs in Asia during the Vietnam War. The MLTF includes attorneys, legal workers, law students and "barracks lawyers" interested in draft, military and veterans issues. It is an active committee of the National Lawyers Guild and has been providing representation and advice to service members for decades.
The National Lawyers Guild was founded in 1937 and is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has chapters in every state.
Staying with legal, 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 Mumia Abu-Jamal being in General Population and we'll excerpt that.
Michael Ratner: Heidi, we know over the last few weeks we've been covering what's happening with Mumia.  We know that he got taken off death row, that he got his death sentence removed, that he's now serving a life sentence, then got moved into a medium security prison but got put into very bad conditions, into solitare in that prison and we've been asking people to write about that, to protest about it and now we have an update and I think it's a good one but I want to hear from you, Heidi.
Heidi Boghosian: I think this is an example, Michael, in which pressure from the public -- and there was enormous pressure on the Dept of Corrections in Pennsylvania -- to move Mumia out of the hole, solitary confinement, administrative custody, where he was for 50 days after leaving death row at SCI Greene, and if finally worked.
Michael Ratner: Now the hole is 24 hours --
Heidi Boghosian: 23 hours --
Michael Ratner: 23 hours of walls.
Heidi Boghosian: It's been likened to spending time alone in a small bathroom.
Michael Ratner: Oh my gosh.
Heidi Boghosian: Over 5,000 signatures on a petition were gathered, in a matter of days, calling for the DoC to move him into General Population.  As of this airing, last week, he finally was moved into General Population.
Michael Ratner: That's really wonderful news and a very heroic struggle.  I mean, we still have to get him out.  But this has been remarkable to finally have that achieved is amazing.  When's your next visit, Heidi?
Heidi Boghosian: As we tape this, the next day to see him in General Population for the first time.  So I look forward to reporting on that visit.
Michael Ratner: Oh, that's very exiciting.
Heidi Boghosian: It will be a contact visit.
Michael Ratner: A contact visit.  Unbelievable.  That's really great.
Heidi Boghosian: Yes.
Michael: Well that's really incredible and we'll report on it next week.  Thank you, Heidi.
Heidi is one of Mumia's attorneys and has been for years.  For those that don't know what a contact visit is, you and the prisoner sit in the same area with no divider.  Usually, it's one open area where all the prisoners who can have contact visits are gathered and visiting with their friends, family and attorneys.  On the Law & Disorder that began airing January 23rd, Heidi explained what the visits with Mumia had been like:
Michael Ratner: Let me ask, and I want you to go on, when you visit him, he comes into the room or where ever you visit him in shackles?

Heidi Boghosian: Yes. And it's noteworthy that years ago at SCI Greene, he also was in shackles until [Bishop] Desmond Tutu visited him a few years ago and complained that this was inhumane treatment because essentially he's behind thick plexi-glass in a small 4 by 6 roughly foot holding unit and there are little perforated holes on the side so you can hear each other. But, so now he's back in the shackles. His phone call privileges have been --

Michael Ratner: Wait a second. You talk to him through a wall?

Heidi Boghosian: Yes, you're sitting on one side of a thick plexi-glass partition. So you're in the same room but it's divided in half by plexi-glass.
So they won't have pleix-glass between them in a contact visit.  In a perfect world, we'd have time to note the Guantanamo update this week.  I'd like to.  I have a feeling we won't have time this week and that I'll have to grab a different segment from the updates.