Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Does the steno pool get dental?

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon's Special Envoy to Iraq spoke to the United Nations Security Council yesterday. Don't call it testimony.

And don't call what's followed it reporting.

AP, Trend News Agency, (Margaret Griffis) and others all rush to tell you that Special Envoy Martin Kobler declared 613 Iraqis were killed in the first three months of the year. (Only Griffis is named because she's the only one who has a byline.) This is treated as 'news.' We noted that in the snapshot yesterday because we were including his remarks on violence.

We didn't go into 613 because it was so obviously wrong. And it was so obvious that he was using the 'official' Iraqi numbers. The United Nations should keep track, but they don't, of deaths. How many Iraqis have died in the first three months of the year? The independent Iraq Body Count has a different number. IBC says 295 civilians died in March, 278 in February and 458 in January. That's 1031. That's over 400 more than what Kobler offered. (418 more, check my math -- always.)

Were you to make yesterday's testimony all about that number -- as AP and Trend News Agency did, Griffis just led with it -- then you'd think you'd do something beyond stenography, you'd think you'd offer some compartive or contrast by which people could evaluate the number. At the very least, you'd think the steno pool would note "Kobler is using figures from the Iraqi government."

Apparently the boys and girls of the steno pool were too busy fetching coffee for their bosses to even include that. Or maybe they couldn't pull themselves away from Danielle Steel's Betrayal?

Presumably, we're supposed to be grateful that AP quickly dropped their big mistake on the 613? Originally they were claiming, "A senior U.N. official has told the Security Council that Syria's year-long civil strife could stoke violence in neighboring Iraq, where 613 people were killed in religion-oriented attacks over the first three months of this year."

Killed in religion-oriented attacks?


That's not what he said.

If there was news yesterday regarding his remarks on violence, it was that in over 20 minutes of non-stop talking and in 17 typed pages, he never once mentioned the targeting of Iraqi youths (EMOs and LGBTs -- and those suspected of being either). After Ban Ki-moon's remarks getting good press for the UN last month ("To those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, let me say -- you are not alone. Your struggle for an end to violence and discrimination is a shared struggle. Any attack on you is an attack on the universal values the United Nations and I have sworn to uphold.") Kobler's silence was appalling, disgusting and shameful.

You are not alone, Ban Ki-moon declared just last month to LGBTs around the world. But yesterday, his special envoy made sure that Iraqi LGBTs were alone, that they were ignored. Despite the fact that their targeting was the most high profile violence in the first three months of this year.

That, steno pool, is news.

Martin Kobler parroting the figures of the Iraqi government? Not news at all.

We covered the hearing in yesterday's snapshot and may do so again today to grab other issues. If we do, we will ignore the Iraqi Ambassador to the UN Hamid al-Bayati. He read the written statement he submitted (at least Kobler didn't do that). And I mean read. Did he ever look up even once? Three e-mails to the public account argue that Susan Rice was not in a place to say anything.

That's in reference to my remarks that she should have noted the silence on LGBTs. As US Ambassador to the UN, it was incumbent upon her to say something -- especially when the White House is issuing pride statements and making claims about caring how LGBTs are treated in foreign governments.

She could have stated something at the hearing or at the press conference she held. She stayed silent.

But, as we pointed out in the snapshot, she didn't just attend the hearing as an ambassador, she presided over the hearing. She had the gavel. She was clearly bored throughout (except when slamming down the gavel). As the person presiding over the hearing, she had it well within her power to make a comment.

She didn't do so.

Not even a single sentence. The biggest Iraq story this year was the targeting of EMO and LGBTs. It was not only covered by the outlets that usually cover Iraq, it was covered by Rolling Stone and others.

This is an election year and supposedly Barack wants your vote. So I find it very surprising that Rice refused to put the administration's words on LGBT rights into action. It's bad politics.

But setting aside election goals, it's lousy governance. Either what the White House says has meaning or it doesn't. If it does, those working for the administration need to be executing the priorities. When they don't, they leave the impression that either the words were just words or else the employee has no respect for the administration he or she works for.

The refusal of Barack's Ambassador to the UN and Ban Ki-Moon's Special Envoy to put into practice the policy goals both men have supposedly prioritized? That's news as well. Even if the steno pool couldn't inform you of that fact.

The following community sites -- plus Reporters Without Borders, The Diane Rehm Show, and Susan's On The Edge -- updated last night and this morning:

We'll close with this from the Center for Constitutional Rights:

April 9, 2012 — Pakistani lawyer Shahzad Akbar has been invited to speak at an International Drone Summit in Washington DC on April 28, but the U.S. government is failing to grant him a visa.

The Summit is organized by the peace group CODEPINK and the legal advocacy organizations Reprieve and the Center for Constitutional Rights. Akbar, co-founder of the Pakistani human rights organization Foundation for Fundamental Rights, is important to the Summit because of his work providing legal aid to victims of CIA-operated drone strikes. Akbar filed the first case in Pakistan on behalf of family members of civilian victims and has been a critical force in litigating and advocating on victims' behalf.
While Akbar has traveled to the United States in the past, he has not been granted permission to return since becoming an outspoken critic of drone attacks in Pakistan that have killed hundreds of civilians. He was previously invited to speak about drone strikes at Columbia University in New York, but he never received a response to the visa application he filed in May 2011. One year later, he is still waiting for a response, and he has been unable to get an answer from the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad as to why his application is being held up.
“Denying a visa to people like me is denying Americans their right to know what the U.S. government and its intelligence community are doing to children, women and other civilians in this part of the world,” Akbar said. “The CIA, which operates the drones in Pakistan, does not want anyone challenging their killing spree. But the American people should have the right to know.”
The CIA’s secret drone program has killed hundreds of people in Pakistan with no due process and no accountability. Akbar represents families whose innocent loved ones have been killed and maimed in these drone attacks.
“Shahzad is the voice for these poor tribal people who have had no recourse,” said CODEPINK co-director Medea Benjamin. “It’s outrageous that our government is trying to keep him from speaking at the Drone Summit.”
“The Obama administration has already launched six times as many drone strikes as the Bush administration in Pakistan alone, killing hundreds of innocent people and devastating families,” said Leili Kashani, Advocacy Program Manager at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “By refusing to grant Shahzad Akbar a visa to speak about this abhorrent reality in the United States, the Obama administration is further silencing discussion about the impact of its targeted killing program on people in Pakistan and around the world.”
The Drone Summit’s organizers vow to keep pressuring the U.S. government to grant Akbar a visa.
In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government has increasingly deployed unmanned drones in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa. While drones were initially primarily used by the U.S. military and CIA for surveillance, these remotely controlled aerial vehicles are currently routinely used to launch missiles against human targets in countries where the United States is not at war, including Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. As many as 3,000 people, including hundreds of civilians and even American citizens, have been killed in such covert missions.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.

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