Monday, April 16, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Nouri's latest power-grab gets a little attention, Moqtada al-Sadr joins the list of people publicly rebuking Nouri, Bloomberg News warns that what everyone's watching Nouri do isn't even the half of it, and more.
In a new interview, Jane Arraf (Al Jazeera -- link has video and text) has asked Iraqi President Jalal Talabani about charges that Prime Minister and thug Nouri al-"Maliki is on the road to becoming a dictator" and Talabani denied the charge and stated, "There are some shortages -- it is not only him responsible. I am also responsible. I am responsible for looking after everything to guard the constitution. I must also speak, so we are all responsible for the shortages in the government." Well then Talabani needs to start exercising some responsibility and do so very quickly.
Yesterday Farah al-Haidari and Karim al-Tamimi were released from jail as was expected -- AFP reported Friday that they would "be jailed until Sunday, a fellow commission member told AFP." As noted in Friday's snapshot, last Tuesday the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy Martin Kobler was praising the Independent High Electoral Commission to the United Nations Security Council and discussing how important it was to the upcoming provincial elections next year and then the parliamentary elections scheduled for the year after. So news that Nouri's had two members of that commission arrested on Thursday, as reported in real time by Raheem Salman (ioL news), was startling and alarming. Karim al-Tamimi serves on the commission while Faraj al-Haidari is the head of the commission.
How outrageous were the arrests? Saturday, Al Mada reported that Moqtada al-Sadr declared that the arrests were indications that Nouri al-Maliki might be attempting to delay the elections or call them off all together. He makes it clear that the the arrest needs to be based on eveidence and not on some whim of Nouri's and that it shouldn't be done because Nouri desires to "postpone or call of the election." Xinhua reported, "The government in Iraq's northern semi-autonomous Kurdistan region said Saturday that it has called on the central government in Baghdad to release the electoral commission's head and another member arrested on corruption charges." The Oman Tribune notes that the KRG issued the following statement on Friday: "The decision of the authorities in Baghdad to issue a detention order against Faraj Al Haidari and Karim Al Tamimi amounts to a gross violation and dangerous infringement of the political process. Such a decision is targeting the independence of the electoral commission ... We call (on the authorities) to reconsider the detention order immediately and refrain from persisting in insulting the democratic operation." As Mohamad Ali Harissi (AFP) observed, "Key political factions accused the premier of moving towards a dictatorship with the arrest of Iraq's electoral commission chief, a charge the prime minister denied on Saturday." W.G. Dunlop (AFP) quoted Iraqiya MP Haidar al-Mullah stating, "When the head of the independent electoral commission is being targeted, it means it is a message from the one who is targeting him that he is above the law and above the political process. The one who is standing behind this is the head of the State of Law coalition (Maliki), because he wants to send a message that either the elections should be fraudulent, or he will use the authorities to get revenge on the commission. This arrest is an indication that the judiciary has become an obedient tool in the hands of Mr Nuri al-Maliki."
Al Rafidayn explained Nouri al-Maliki released a statement Saturday decrying those who doubted the arrests were sound. The Baghdad court that Nouri controls made no attempt to even pretend to be impartial or about justice. The Supreme Judicial Council announced yesterday that Faraj al-Haidari had used UNHCR money to purchase plots of land and that he will face a seven year prison term for those actions. AFP spoke with al-Haidari after his release and he explained the charges are related to approved one-time bonuses for five employees of amounts between $80 and $125 (US equivalent). One-time bonuses to five employees. And he tells them this case was previously dismissed by the court but the State of Law MP bringing the charges filed an appeal. From the article:
He said that Hanan al-Fatlawi, an MP from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law coalition, had pursued a large number of complaints against IHEC that eventually wound up with the Iraqi judiciary. "For the last 6 months... the judiciary was sending warrants of investigation every day to the employees," Haidari said.
State of Law is the political slate that Nouri al-Maliki heads. Tim Arango (New York Times) points out, "Mr. Maliki has sought for two years to consolidate control over the electoral commission, whose independence is viewed as essential in ensuring that Iraqi elections are free from fraud, vote rigging and interference from political parties. Mr. Maliki's critics say the effort is a part of a pattern of power grabs -- his near total takeover of the security forces, a recent attempt to exert influence over the central bank and politically motivated arrests under the pretext of thwarting coup plots. And it reinforces a narrative that Mr. Maliki is emerging as an authoritarian leader in the wake of the American military withdrawl."
More quietly, Maliki's government is pursuing worrisome measures that are potentially of greater long-term importance, as it crafts rules that will govern the new Iraq into the distant future.
These laws, regulating such things as mass communications and political parties, are necessary. Unfortunately, as detailed in a report by the Canada-based Centre for Law and Democracy, the versions drafted by Maliki's government for parliamentary approval would unreasonably hinder freedom of expression, assembly and association.
The Internet Bill provides for life imprisonment and heavy fines for offenses such as publishing information about the manufacture of "any tools or materials used in the planning or execution of terrorist acts." It sounds reasonable, but the measure could cover articles about the making of ink, paper, computers, guns, knives, or just about anything. An individual can be heavily fined or jailed for life for using a computer or information network to harm the reputation of Iraq. Similar laws elsewhere -- Turkey's infamous Article 301, for example, which made it a crime to "insult Turkishness" and a successor law that bars insulting the Turkish nation -- have inevitably led to dubious prosecutions and infringements on human rights.
And on to more violence. AFP notes that an Iraqi man apparently exploded his own Saadiyah home in the midst of an Iraqi military raid on the house -- in addition to his own life, the explosion killed 4 members of his family. In other violence, AP reports that 4 Shi'ite famers were shot dead today in Rashidiyah. ioL News notes yesterday saw a Taji home bombing which claimed the life of both parents and their five-year-old son ("a two-year-old girl survived but was wounded"), a Kirkuk car bombing claimed 1 life and left eleven people injured and a roadside bombing outside Nawafei village claimed the life of 1 man who was the son of a Sahwa leader. Margaret Griffis (Antiwar.com) notes other Sunday violence included a Wadi Hajar bombing which claimed the life of 1 police officer (three people injured), a Baghdad sticking bombing targeting a dentist claimed his life, 1 Shabak was shot dead in Mosul, 1 suspected assailant was shot dead by Mosul police, a Tuz Khormato home invasion claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier, 1 former government official was shot dead in Buhriz, a Gatoun bombing injured a woman and her daughter, a Tikrit bombing injured a police officer and "The body of the deputy major of Suleimaniya was discovered hanged in his jail cell. The family of Zana Hama Saleh insisted that he would not have committed suicide because he said he was awaiting release. No evidence of forced suicide was found. Saleh was detained on corruption charges." Alsumaria adds that a street cleaner was shot dead outside Tikrit.
Heidi Boghosian: There's -- There's so many names of individuals in this condition. Russell Maroon Shoatz also a former Black Panther who's been incarcerated I think almost 40 years but half of that has been in solitary confinement at SCI Greene in Pennsylvania. The reason they give there is that they're afraid that, at the age of seventy almost, that he will be seen as a leader, a political leader who will inspire other inmates to resist.
Natsu Taylor Saito: Yes. And what we're seeing is back in the 60s and 70s when they were targeting political activists -- when the federal government was targeting political activists -- it was clear that they were identifying people because of their ability to influence others. Like Fred Hampton, for example. Killing Fred Hampton was very significant because he was being effective in mobilizing a true rainbow coaltion -- not because he was a Black separatist or, you know, whatever.
Heidi Boghosian: Right.
Natsu Taylor Saito: But they were always pretending like that's not what it was about. And now they're coming out and being quite blatant, right? Your ideas, your ability to have what some of us would consider a positive influence on other inmates or young people who are incarcerated makes you dangerous and therefore we will impose these conditions. And that's really sort of the trend I see generally with so much of what has been happening recently is the taking of these political suppression techniques that were at least covert in the 60s and 70s and bringing them out, normalizing them, legitimizing them in their framework. You know, making them technically legal and pushing one step further each time with the PATRIOT Act, the Defense Authorization Act this time. You know, taking these types of COINTELPRO measures of spying on people and putting in informants and falsely accusing and arresting people and even assassinating people. We see that all being out in the open. And I find that particularly frightening that there seems to be acquiescence with that process.
Heidi Boghosian: We've seen it with the establishment of communications management units in which individuals such as Daniel McGowan, who was an animal rights activist, has been basically locked away, kept out of communication from others and it does seem that even in those movements that have emerged in the last, you know, 15 or 20 years, those techniques that you described are now routinely now applied to target leaders or charasmatic individuals who have a demonstrated track record that they can work to effect change.
Natsu Taylor Saito: Yes, it's like you are not allowed to be an effective communicator of the so-called wrong ideas. And even if we look at Lynne Stewart's case, right? They tagged her with terrorism offensives for facilitating a communication that everybody can see had no actual effect. But it was a communications restriction on her client that ended up getting her convicted.
Michael S. Smith: Yeah. She issued a press release and, for doing that, they put her away for ten years.
Natsu Taylor Saito: Mmm-hmm.
Michael S. Smith: And ironically, the person whom she was representing, his movement looks like it's coming into substantial power in Egypt.
Natsu Taylor Saito: That is interesting.
Michael S. Smith: I read a very good article that you wrote some years ago after the US PATRIOT Act was passed and one of the questions you posed, talking about homeland security, and you said, "Whose homeland and whose security?" That was seven years ago. Can you bring that up to date and ask that question again?
Natsu Taylor Saito: Yes. I think that really is becoming more and more clear. And it sort of ties back to some of the themes of this notion of American exceptionalism. You know, who is the American that's supposed to be so exceptional? And what is the America that is supposed to be so exceptional? I really see that reflected -- sort of frighteningly -- across the political spectrum. Like, I think in campaign rhetoric of the Republican primaries right now you see this constant reference to America being exceptional and we want to bring the country back to what it was and it's like whose country are they talking about? And who are they excluding? And it's fairly clear that they're not talking about people of color, they're not talking about poor people -- any of these other groups though sometimes they claim to be populist. But we also see it with the Obama administration authorizing of assassinations and indefinite detentions of American citizens. Well which American citizens are we talking about? And are they more secure? Are any of us more secure when this all rest on some secretive executive branch decision? And even with movements that seem to have, in many ways, wonderful political potential -- like the Occupy movement -- there is a sort of homogenizing of who it is we're talking about. And one example that will probably make your listeners hate me is in Denver there was an effort made by folks in the American Indian Movement and the community here in Denver to get the Occupy folks to acknowledge that -- there has to be acknowledgment of the fact that this land was taken from American Indians and that American Indians still have a right to self-determination -- not to just be lumped into 'we all want a share of this ill gotten pie,' right? But when that was taken apparently to the national movement, it was resoundingly rejected as being divisive. And, to me, that illustrates this notion that we get to define who's American and then then we get to propose a course of political action on their behalf. But each of these sectors has exclusionary definnitions of who's an American. And I find that really troubling.
Heidi Boghosian: Natsu, going back to your book Meeting the Enemy: American Exceptionalism and International Law, I think it's been a year since we've had you on to talk about that and we've been disappointed with President Obama's record: the invasion of Libya, other military actions, you've referenced some of our policies. But what's your take on what we're facing in the next year or so? What are the repercussions from our ill gained military power?
Michael S. Smith: Selectively applying international law.
Heidi Boghosian: Right.
Natsu: Yes. I think that that's a really major problem. And that's a lot of what I was talking about in there, this sort of selective reliance on international law. It's -- One of the misperceptions, I think, is that the United States doesn't care about international law. In fact, it utilizes international law heavily in certain arenas. For example, for preventing people in poor countries from getting access to drugs that US pharmaceutical companies have patents on and they're protected by certain intellectual property agreements. But on the other hand being willing to flaunt international law rather dramatically. And I think the invasion of Libya is a good example of that. Of going into another country that is in a certain state of political turmoil and essentially moving in to assassinate its leaders. I think the assassination of Osama bin Laden falls in that category. These are things that are being justified based on the personal characteristics of these individuals which is very dangerous. It violates long-standing international law on both state sovereignty but also the way in which political participation and true democracy is supposed to be working -- which the United States claims to be promoting. If you can go in and assassinate those indiviuals that you don't like, that completely throws out of whack international law in terms of the state relations. But also it sets up the precedent that anybody we don't like, we can just assassinate rather than giving due process of law to. I find that setting a very frightening precedent. And I think the renewal of the drone strikes in Pakistan is another good example of that. I don't think international law -- as it exists -- allows those kinds of measures. I don't think the United States would begin to argue it was legal if it was at least half of the rest of the countries of the world doing it. And it undermines the entire system in a way that really says "might makes right." And that's a dangerous position for everybody right now -- in the world -- but it's also dangerous for the United States because there's no assurance that the United States will always be the most powerful country in the world.
Stephanie Kennedy: They died on the battlefields in dusty deserts and on unforgiving mountains on foreign soil. But their final resting place is here, in the rolling meadows of Arlington Cemetery. Tucked away in a pocket of this hallowed ground is what's become known as "The Saddest Acre in America." Section 60 is in the south-east part of this vast cemetery. It's the burial ground for more than 800 American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Cemetery officials have very strict rules about adding decorations on gravestones here but, in this little corner, they've turned a blind eye. And the manicured grounds are the same as is the perfect symetry of the headstones. But what's different here is the personal touches left by the families of the fallen. Mementos of lives lived adorn many of the graves: laminated photographs of soldiers in uniform in happier times, with families and wives and fiancees, there's childrens' drawings, and even a can of tobacco on one grave, unopened beer bottles and with Easter came chocolate eggs and balloons. And here's a stuffed bear -- he's actually fallen over so I'll just prop him back up. It's actually -- It's actually a little Easter bunny -- or a big Easter bunny. There are cards and letters too. This one reads: "Beloved son, your smile lit up our world. Life is not nearly so bright without you. We love and miss you so much."
Finally, earlier this month, the US Justice Dept announced charges against a Home Depot in Arizona asserting that they had violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (see "Home Depot fires people for being deployed?"). The law firm of Boyle, Autry & Murphy have filed suit against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections over their treatment of the firm's client Iraq War veteran Bryan Kubic:
Master Sgt. Bryan N. Kubic fought for his country for 23 years, but now is forced to battle his state government. With the help of Attorney Devon M. Jacob, Kubic is seeking civil relief after being harassed, criminally charged and wrongfully terminated from his employment by individuals at the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC).
The disturbing story began in 2010, when Tammy Ferguson became the DOC's chief of security. Ferguson continually harassed military personnel - including Kubic - about current and past requests for military leave. As a result, Kubic requested a transfer to a prior position he held at the DOC Training Academy.
Upon seeing the request to transfer, Ferguson called Kubic a "coward" and denied his request. She scolded him, saying that the "U.S. military does not trump the DOC." Kubic - who was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge while serving in Iraq - continued following DOC protocol for military leave requests, and Ferguson escalated her harassment by launching a criminal investigation into Kubic's military leave use history. Knowing he was in the right, Kubic waived his Miranda rights and voluntarily submitted to an interrogation by DOC investigator Stephen Allen.
Kubic provided evidence demonstrating that he was either on military duty or at Veterans Affairs (VA) medical appointments during his times of leave. Regardless, Allen brought criminal charges against Kubic for theft by deception and receiving stolen property, and Ferguson suspended Kubic's employment.
At a preliminary hearing on the charges, investigator Allen admitted that he had no evidence to establish that Kubic was not performing military duty during the times in question. Both charges were eventually dismissed and this story should have ended. Sadly, it did not.
Ferguson continued an extrajudicial campaign aiming to terminate Kubic's employment with the DOC. Kubic battled the disciplinary charges, providing the DOC with evidence convincingly demonstrating his military service on the dates in question and his compliance with DOC military leave directives.
In spite of the evidence clearly showing Kubic's proper and legal use of military leave, Ferguson terminated Kubic's employment. Perhaps Ferguson believed she had won the final battle of her personal power struggle over the DOC employees' ability to serve in the military. Regardless of Ferguson's motives, Kubic wants to see justice prevail, so that military personnel can freely work at the DOC without suffering unlawful discrimination.
"When you serve your country, you don't expect to be treated differently than anyone else," Kubic told CBS 21 news.
Kubic has teamed with Attorney Jacob of Boyle, Autry & Murphy to bring a federal civil rights lawsuit against Ferguson, Allen and one other DOC employee responsible for the charges unfairly leveled against him. The case, Kubic v. Allen, et al., is pending in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
The decorated war veteran - who is not suing the DOC itself - hopes to see Ferguson terminated for her abhorrent behavior. Kubic, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of his military service, is also seeking financial compensation for the psychological and financial harm caused by the criminal charges and the unlawful termination of his employment.
Kubic's disturbing story demonstrates the importance of the American civil justice system: Without the power of a civil lawsuit, Ferguson would have dealt the final, damaging blow to Kubic's reputation and livelihood.
With his day in court, Bryan Kubic will have an opportunity to clear his name and ensure that justice is achieved. Kubic has suffered irreparable harm to his reputation - something that money can't fix - but he believes that when he prevails in federal court it will help to guarantee that military personnel receive the equal treatment and respect that they deserve.