Monday, March 26, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Michael Ratner explains that the US is -- for all intents and purposes -- conducting a secret trial currently, Barack has a new nominee for US Ambassador to Iraq, Amesty International issues a new report which finds Iraq ranking near the top -- sadly, it's not a list you want to be on, preparations for the Arab League summit continue to dominate Baghdad, and more.
"If you have to say something about the trial that's significant, the one thing you would say is that we have a secret trial going on right now in which the press and the public and lawyers for WikiLeaks and Julian Assange are not getting access." That's Michael Ratner. What's he talking about? Bradley Manning's court-martial.
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 2011, 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. At the start of February, the government announced there would be a court-martial.
Michael Smith: I want to ask you about Bradley Manning. I know you've been down in Fort Mead observing the proceedings -- the legal proceedings that the US military is using against him. Give us an update on that.
Michael Ratner: Last week, I again went to some of the hearings regarding Bradley Manning. There's been no trial scheduled yet. They're thinking of a trial in August. I think it will much more likely be in the fall. As our listeners know, Bradley has been indicted on 22 charges or charged in the military on 22 charges including aiding with the enemy. I did my usual trying to get to Fort Mead. But of course it was scheduled for 9:00 a.m. on Thursday. I had to get on a train that night, then get on a car to get to Fort Mead. And when you get to Fort Mead, of course, they practically tear your car apart looking for who knows what? Explosives or something else. You get in, they then make you wait for about an hour before you go through a trailer where you go through one of those metal detectors. You're not allowed to bring into the courtroom any cell phones, any way of communicating other than a pencil and a paper. The court room is small. There's only about 20 of us in the court room. The media is in a separate media room where they can have their computers -- nothing with the internet, but they can at least use a computer. So in any case, I went to Bradley Manning's hearing. It was Thursday and Friday. It was quite extraordinary. Michael and I have always talked about the expression "Military justice is to justice as military music is to music." Well it's even worse than that. I mean, this was ridiculous. I mean, that they are trying probably the most well known case in the country on aiding the enemy or really what amounts to -- according to the government -- a sort of espionage case, in this two-bit little court room with military prosecutors that the defense runs circles around. David Coombs is actually doing a very good job. It's amazing. I'll just relate a couple of stories. The first thing that happens is the defense counsel asks for what's called a bill of particulars. In criminal cases, that's "Please tell the defense counsel more about the charges you have against my client Bradley Manning. Give a few specifications." And the first one they asked about is: What do you mean by aiding the enemy? He says to the prosecutor -- of course, it's all done on paper but he says it in court as well. And the prosecutor then says, "Well, aiding the enemy? The enemy is al Qaeda and al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula." Well that just sounds ridiculous. Bradley Manning -- who supposedly, allegedly, uploaded various documents regarding the killing of Retuers journalists, 15,000 Iraqi civilians who were killed which the US hadn't recorded, many, many War Crimes like that -- is accused somehow of aiding al Qaeda or al Qaeda on the Peninsula. Well you think, what is it? Is it because it embarrassed the United States that we're aiding them? What is going on here? So then the defense counsel continues, "Well aiding al Qaeda and al Qaeda on the Peninsula, how did he aid them?" And then the prosecutor gave one of the shallowest, stupidest answers you want to hear: "Well he aided them by uploading the documents onto the WikiLeaks website." I mean, it's not the trial yet so the defense counsel just says, "Okay," and we move on from there. But you're sitting there in the audiences saying, "This is crazy. This 22-year-old, now 24-year-old, kid has supposedly aided al Qaeda by giving documents about War Crimes to WikiLeaks?" That's nonsensical. It'll never stand up. Most commentators think that charge in particular, which is the most serious charge -- it's life imprisonment, death penalty possibly, prosecutors said they won't ask for a death penalty but llife in prison, and I think the judge could even give the death penalty -- that charge I don't think will hold up. But the interesting part then happens next. Three weeks ago, when I was at the court, the prosecutor complains that he is not getting any of the e-mails sent by defense counsel or by the judge. And those are obviously important e-mails. The defense counsel is responding to motions and arguments, sending briefs. The court is sending scheduling orders, etc. And the prosecutor three weeks ago says, "Well I haven't gotten anything so I can't respond to those." Sounds pretty bad. Fishy. But then the prosecutor says, "We will fix it in three weeks from now." And that's when I was there last week. And the prosecutor gets up and says, "Well up until March 10, we didn't figure it out." Just a few days before the Bradley Manning hearing. "And we found it out, here's the answer: Many of the e-mails from the court and the defense counsel are going to the prosecutor but they're going to the spam section of the computer. They're being filtered out as spam." Let me just say, this is the most important single military courts-martial case they've had probably in the last 50 years, maybe 100 years. And the e-mails from the court and the defense counsel are going into the spam of the prosecutor? I mean, this is just Mickey Mouse or worse. So they said, "What we're doing now," the prosecutor says, "is, because they're going into spam, every morning at 10:00 a.m., I'm checking my spam folder to see what e-mails have come in." So I'm sitting there in the audience saying, "Why are they checking their spam filter? Why aren't they just fixing the problem?" And then, a half an hour later, the defense counsel gets up and, in speaking about many issues, he addresses why the e-mails haven't gone to the prosecutor. And he said they didn't go to the prosecutor because any e-mail with the word "WikiLeaks" in it anywhere -- subject matter, in the substance [body of the e-mail], anywhere in an e-mail from the defense counsel or the court that says "WikiLeaks" is automatically spammed by the prosecutor's filter on his computer so he doesn't see them. And you say to yourself, "Wait a second, this entire case is about Bradley Manning allegedly uploading documents to WikiLeaks. If the prosecutor, government computers, are using that as spam, this is ridiculous. This is not a trial, this is just a charade." And then you realize, taking another step back, that most likely every government computer in the United States and in the world spams anything to do with WikiLeaks because the fact that many of our listeners out there, you and I, Michael, the New York Times, and everybody in the world looks at WikiLeaks documents and the government still considers them to be stolen documents, still classified and no one in the government should ever be allowed to see them. So here they go, they're doing this entire investigation of WikiLeaks and everything is treated as spam. So that's just one of the oddities of what they're calling a trial, etc. Two other points -- and we'll be talking about this as I continue to monitor that trial for WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, the Center for Constitutional Rights represents them, both WikiLeaks and Julian Assange for purposes of monitoring the Bradley Manning case -- two other interesting things came out. One is the access to documents. Now this is supposedly a public trial, by law it's a public trial, the First Amedment requires it to be a public trial. You and I, the press, the spectators, are all allowed to go in the court room to watch the trial unless there's some section that's classified. And normally in a trial -- as you know, Michael, being a lawyer -- that when you file papers, they go into a court docket and you can get access to those papers whether they be motions or briefs or whatever you file. And, of course, that's what happens in this case, at least the first part, you file papers or the prosecution files papers, defense counsel files papers, decisions are made -- but nobody has access to those papers [in the Bradley Manning court-martial] except for the counsel. I can't get those papers as a lawyer. The press can't get those paper, No one can see the motions or anything else. So you're sitting in the court room and they're arguing about various documents which have been filed and you feel like you're going in completely blind. You don't understand half of what's going on because you can't read the papers. It's like being in Plato's cave where you only see the shadows on the wall and not the actual substance so we've been making an effort over the last few weeks, how do we get these papers? And we know that ultimately we'll get them. We'll have to have a system set up with the clerk where they give press and WikiLeaks and Julian Assange and the public access to public motions that were filed but we're probably going to have to wind up going to federal court to get them. I mean, it's horrendous. This is ridiculous.
Michael Smith: It's like state secrets.
Michael Ratner: It's like state secrets except they haven't claimed state secrets.
Nobel Peace Prize nominee Bradley Manning's next appearance in court will take place April 24-26 at Ft. Meade, MD. At the previous hearing on March 15th, Bradley's lawyer filed a motion to dismiss all charges based on the government's failure to present evidence as requested. Additionally, a broad coalition of media groups filed a complaint because documents from the court proceedings have been mostly shielded from the public's view. (Read more about the failures of the military to provide due process in this case here.)
We are calling for conscientious citizens everywhere to organize in support of Bradley Manning during his next hearing. Our demands include the following: drop all charges against Bradley Manning, and punish the war criminals, not the whistle-blowers. Join us in the Washington DC area if you can. Otherwise, host or attend a solidarity event in your community. Ideas for local events include: town square vigils, community forums, concerts, and house party fund-raisers.
Tuesday, April 24 – 11am – 2pm -Occupy the Department of Justice (Washington DC) Join the "Free Bradley Manning" contingent at Occupy the Justice Department The DoJ is a leading collaborating agency involved in the prosecution of accused WikiLeaks whistle-blower US Army PFC Bradley Manning. 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, DC – at the Department of Justice * "Free Bradley Manning and all political prisoners" * "End solitary confinement and stop torture"
Wednesday, April 25 – 8am – Stand with Bradley inside and outside the courtroom (Fort Meade MD) Join the all-day vigil for Bradley Manning at the Fort Mead Main Gate, 8am-5pm (Maryland 175& Reece Rd, Fort Meade, MD 21113). We'll be holding signs and banners throughout the day. Supporters are also encouraged to attend the courtroom proceedings for all or part of the day. We are currently investigating chartering a bus that would leave from Washington D.C.
Supporters are encouraged to attend Bradley Manning's court martial motion hearing at Fort Meade on Tuesday, April 24. This hearing is scheduled for April 24-26, beginning at 9am daily. To attend, go to the Fort Meade Visitor Control Center at the Fort Meade Main Gate (Maryland 175 & Reece Rd, Fort Meade, MD 21113). We suggest arriving when the visitor center opens at 7:30am (if you arrive late, you should still be able to get into the courtroom later in the morning).
Supporters are also encouraged to attend the courtroom proceedings for all or part of the day on Thursday, April 26.
For more information about organizing an event in your community April 24-26, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for ideas and resources.
Yes, Iraq has found a way to stand out. As the report notes, "In 2011, Amnesty International recorded executions in 20 countries compared to 23 in 2010. Last year, 676 executions were recorded, an increase from 2010 and largely attributable to a significant increase in executions in three countries -- Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia." Hoshyar Zebari must be so proud. And fitting in with the region, "Nine of 22 Member states of the League of Arab Nations carried out executions in 2011: Egypt, Iraq, Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, United Arab Emirates and Yemen." Approximately a third of the League of Arab Nations practiced execution last year and Iraq was one of them.
But that's not really fair to the Iraqi government, burying it in the group like that. The government of Iran executed at least 360 people in 2011 which allowed it to come in first with the most executions. What an honor. And nipping at its heels, first runner up, was Saudi Arabia with 82 and just behind it? Iraq with 68. Third. They came in third. What a great moment for the country. It's method of choice for the 68 executions? Hanging.
68? Iraq even beat out the United States which shamefull executed 43 people in 2011.
As you read through the report, you see Iraq stands out time and again, such as in this passage:
Amnesty International remained concerned that, in the majority of countries where people were sentenced to death or executed, the death penalty was imposed after proceedings that did not meet international fair trial standards, often based on "confessions" that were allegedly extracted through torture or other duress. This was particularly the case in Belarus, China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia. In Iran and Iraq, some of these "confessions" were then broadcast on television before the trial took place, further breaching the defendants' right to presumption of innocence.
Or there's this:
The government of Iraq rarely discloses information about executions, especially names of those executed and exact numbers. According to Amnesty International information, at least 68 people were executed in Iraq, including two foreigners and three women. Hundreds of people were sentenced to death; 735 death sentences were referred to the Iraqi Presidency for final ratification between January 2009 and September 2011, of which 81 have been ratified. Most death sentences were imposed, and executions carried out, on people convicted of belonging to or involvement in attacks by armed groups, including murder, kidnapping, rape or other violent crimes.
On 16 November, 11 people, including one woman, convicted of terrorism-related offences, were reported to have been executed in al-Kadhimiya Prison in Baghdad. Among the executed men were an Egyptian and a Tunisian national, Yosri Trigui, who was arrested in 2006 by US forces for his alleged involvement in terrorism-related acts. He was sentenced to death by the Central Criminal Court of Iraq (CCCI) for his alleged involvement in a bomb attack in Samarra the same year, in a trial that did not appear to meet international standards. The intervention of Tunisian Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi had initially led to a short postponement of the execution.
Trial proceedings before the CCCI were very brief, often lasting only a few minutes before verdicts are handed down. Defendants in criminal cases often complained that "confessions" are extracted under torture and other ill-treatment during pre-trial interrogation. They were often held incommunicado in police stations or in detention without access to their legal representatives or relatives, not brought before an investigative judge within a reasonable time and not told of the reason for their arrest. The "confessions" extracted from them are often accepted by the courts without taking any or adequate steps to investigate defendants' allegations of torture. The "confessions" are also frequently broadcast on the Iraqi government-controlled satellite TV Al Iraqiya, which undermines the presumption of innocence.
For an overview of the report (HTML format) click here.
The new report is yet another reality that could detract from Nouri al-Maliki's attempts to portray a new Iraq via the Arab League Summit. Another bit of reality? The latest charge against his government, of torturing someone to death. Iraq's political crisis finally got the world's attention when Nouri charged Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi with terrorism -- it's not every day that a vice president gets charged with anything. More recently, Amir Sarbut Zaidan al-Batawi has died in the midst of months of being held by Nouri's security forces. He was al-Hashemi's bodyguard and al-Hashemi states he was tortured to death. Human Rights Watch has called for an investigation into the death. AFP reports he gave a speech today: "I ask all human rights related organisations in Iraq to take urgent actions by sending (a) neutral and specialised committee to examine the body medically and to identify the cause of death," Hashemi said in a televised speech delivered in English. "I also ask security and judicial authorities in Iraq to provide an explanation for what happened." He said his lawyers had not been allowed to witness investigation hearings, and when they were given access to minutes of the hearing, judges barred them from taking notes or making copies. "I beseech (the) international community to take rapid action to rectify (the) disastrous situation and status related to human rights, as the situation in Iraq has become intolerable," Hashemi said.
The Associated Press observes, "Al-Hashemi's timed his speech for the arrival in Baghdad of dignitaries, journalists and political observers for the annual Arab League summit in the Iraqi capital this week. Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby flew into Baghdad on Sunday and was meeting Iraq's leaders." And the questionable death seems all the more questionable as a major human rights organization notes Iraqi 'justice' and forced "confessions."
Nouri's gone on a spending spree in an attempt to make the summit a success. Over the weekend, AFP noted that Iraq has now spent (in US dollars) $450 million on the summit. Al Mada observes that Baghdad hosted the summit in 1978 and in 1990 but that didn't prepare for today where already the streets are full of security forces and the people are barely present, giving it the appearance of a ghost town. Al Rafidayn explained the summit means the Iraqi theatre will be closed, TV shows wills top filming, that the Iraq stock market will shut down (Sunday through Wednesday), that cultural meeting places in Baghdad will be vacant, that the Iraqi Federation of Football has had to postpone games, that printing press will be closed -- making newspapers near impossible and that the media will have a very hard time covering the summit and that the Iraqi people will have an even harder time finding Iraqi coverage of the summit. Today Al Mada reports the Prepatory Committee selected whom they wanted to credential for the conference and many Iraqi journalists are upset by the process which has excluded so many of them. Over the weekend, Lara Jakes (AP) observed, "As it prepares for the estimated $400 million pageant, downtown Baghdad looks little like the battle-ravaged capital it has been for years. Freshly planted flowers adorn squares and parks across the capital. Roads have been repaved, trash swept up, buildings repaired and painted, and brightly colored lights drape trees and streets." Today Jack Healy (New York Times) adds that "just beyond the cement walls and freshly planted petunias of the International Zone lies a ragged country with a bleaker view. Out in the real Iraq, suicide bombings still rip through the streets. Sectarian divisions have paralyzed its politics and weakened its stature with powerful neighbors like Saudi Arabia and Iran, who use money and militias to aggressively pursue their own agendas inside Iraq. Despite its aspirations to wield influence as a new Arab democracy, Iraq may well remain more of a stage than an actor." Qassim Khidhir (Kurdish Globe) reveals, "On the road from Baghdad International Airport to the city of Baghdad, Turkish laborers work feverishly to pave the road, build roadside parks and plant palm trees. They have until March 29, when Baghdad hosts the Arab League Summit."
Already noted last week was that the security measures in Baghdad was making travel throughout the city cumbersome and lengthy and that this had led to an increase on produce and goods sold in the local markets. The prices only continued to increase as the goods continued selling despite the high prices. Dar Addustour noted that the goods sold better than usual due to people attempting to stock up ahead of the summit when mobility will be even more limited. Alsumaria TV explains many shops have had to close down and shop owners fear a recession as a result of the summit.
All of which may explain Al Mada encountering a lack of enthusiasm (at best) and hostility (at worst) from Iraqis when they try to gauge reaction to the planned summit. The people feel it is a show for the leaders and may allow certain countries to get certain things but that it will mean little for Iraq and that it means even less to their own lives. As Sheikh (Dar Addustour) notes the summit measures cost the citizens and that this is as easy way of providing security -- stopping all movement in society -- not a way to provide longterm security. Alsumaria TV reports that the Security and Defense Commission of Parliament has stated that approximately 100 combat airplanes and helicopters are being used to protect Baghdad. Not stated in the article but there is a good chance that the air coverage includes assistance from the US -- including US personnel.
While the US military will probably be taking part, Al Mada notes that KRG President Massoud Barzani will apparently not be attending the summit and that his statements (Tuesday he gave a speech in which he decried the authorative drift in Iraq and the consoldiation of power by Nouri) resulted in Talabani pressing to set a date for the national conference. Meanwhile Trend News Agency reports, "Turkish officials said on Monday that Nechirvan Barzani -- Massoud Barzani's nephew and a senior official in the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) -- will make his first diplomatic visit to Ankara after being elected prime minister of the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government for the second time, Today's Zaman reported. Nechirvan Barzani took up the position for the second time on Feb. 17, after Berham Salih resigned earlier in the month."
On the summit, the Washington Post's Liz Sly Tweeted:
Irritated mob of journos storm #Iraq FM badging office demanding credentials for #ALIraq summit. Major cluster. #LifeInIraq
Al Sabaah notes Jalal Talabani has declared that the national conference to resolve the political crisis will be held April 5th. In the elections, Iraqiya won more votes than Nouri's State of Law. Al Mada reports that Ayad Allawi-led Iraqiya has stated that they may change their alliances after the summit.
Still on Iraq, today the White House issued the following:
The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
March 26, 2012
President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate the following individuals to key Administration posts:
Brett H. McGurk – Ambassador to the Republic of Iraq, Department of State
Michele J. Sison – Ambassador to the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the Republic of Maldives, Department of State
President Obama said, "Our nation will be greatly served by the talent and expertise these individuals bring to their new roles. I am grateful they have agreed to serve in this Administration, and I look forward to working with them in the months and years ahead."
President Obama announced his intent to nominate the following individuals to key Administration posts:
Brett H. McGurk, Nominee for Ambassador to the Republic of Iraq, Department of State Brett H. McGurk is currently senior advisor to the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq. Previously, he served as a senior advisor to Ambassadors Ryan Crocker and Christopher Hill in Baghdad. From 2005 to 2009, Mr. McGurk served on the National Security Council, initially as Director for Iraq and later as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Iraq and Afghanistan. Prior to 2005, he was a legal advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. He also worked as an International Affairs Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a Fellow at Harvard University's Institute of Politics. From 2001 to 2002, he served as a law clerk for Chief Justice William Rehnquist of the Supreme Court of the United States. Previously, Mr. McGurk was a law clerk for Judge Dennis Jacobs of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and for Judge Gerard Lynch of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. He received a B.A. from the University of Connecticut and a J.D. from Columbia University.
Ambassador Michele J. Sison, Nominee for Ambassador to the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the Republic of Maldives, Department of State Ambassador Michele J. Sison, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister-Counselor, is currently the Assistant Chief of Mission for Law Enforcement and Rule of Law Assistance in Baghdad, Iraq. From 2008 to 2010, she was Ambassador to the Republic of Lebanon. She was Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates from 2004 to 2008 and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of South Asian Affairs from 2002 to 2004. Ambassador Sison's prior assignments include: Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan; Consul General in Chennai, India; Consul General in Douala, Cameroon; and Director of Career Development and Assignments in the Department of State's Bureau of Human Resources. Additional overseas assignments include roles at the U.S. Embassies in Côte d'Ivoire, Benin, Togo, and Haiti. Ambassador Sison received a B.A. from Wellesley College.
From the Congress to diplomacy, Laura Rozen (Yahoo's The Envoy) reports that Brett McGurk is being whispered to be the new nominee for US Ambassador to Iraq. For those keeping track, McGurk would become the fourth US Ambassador to Iraq since Barack was sworn in. US Ambassador Ryan Crocker was already in the spot in 2009 but agreed to stay on while they scrambled to find a replacement -- that they had to scramble demonstrates how little Iraq ever really mattered. They manic depressive Christopher Hill was next. Third was the present US Ambassador James Jeffrey. For those wondering, no that is not normal. Some would even make the case that it's unacceptable and that the post needs stability not constant fluxuation.
Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and her office notes an event tomorrow:
FOR PLANNING PURPOSES
Monday, March 26, 2012
CONTACT: Matt McAlvanah (Murray) -- (202) 224-2834
Jesse Broder Van Dyke (Akaka) -- (202) 224-7045
Julie Hasquet (Begich) -- (907) 258-9304
TOMORROW: CHAIRMAN MURRAY, SENS. AKAKA, BEGICH; VETERANS FROM ACROSS THE COUNTRY TO INTRODUCE GI BENEFIT WATCHDOG BILL
Bill will provide servicemembers and veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill and other VA education programs with an ONLINE GUIDE to help them judge a school's performance with other veterans, among other resources
New tools will help root out poor performing schools and questionable practices to help protect taxpayer money and give our veterans the best opportunities for success in school and in the job market
(Washington, D.C.) -- On Tuesday, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, will join with Iraq and Afghanistan veterans from across the country to introduce legislation that will give servicemembers and veterans using the GI Bill and other VA education benefits access to information that would help make informed decisions about the schools they attend sot hey get the most out of the benefit. This bill would also require that VA and DoD develop a joint policy to curb aggressive recruiting and misleading marketing aimed at servicemembers and veterans using the GI Bill.
WHO: U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA)
U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI)
U.S. Senator Mark Begich (D-AK)
Paul Rieckhoff, Executive Director, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America
IAVA Veterans from across the country
WHAT: Press Conference on GI Bill Consumer Awareness Act of 2012