Friday, April 19, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Nouri bombs with Turkey but Barzani's a hit, US journalists are targeted, the political crisis continues, Rob Andrews justifies war for any reason, Panetta tries to dance around Congress, and more.
Starting in the US where journalists Tom Vaden Brook and Ray Locker have been targeted. Gregory Korte (USA Today) reports that when Vanden Brook and his editor Locker began working on an article about fraud and waste in Pentagon contracting, the push-back was for fake websites and accounts to be created in their name to spread false rumors about them with the apparent hope that the two would be discredited and discouraged. Vanden Brook is quoted stating he is still on the story, "If they thought it would determ from writing about this, they're wrong." Locker echoes that sentiment stating, "This is a clear attempt at intimidation that has failed." Why would anyone want to intimidate the two? Because this is about a lot of money. Vanden Brook and Locker reported at the end of February:
As the Pentagon has sought to sell wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to often-hostile populations there, it has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on poorly tracked marketing and propaganda campaigns that military leaders like to call "information operations," the modern equivalent of psychological warfare.
From 2005 to 2009, such spending rose from $9 million to $580 million a year mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pentagon and congressional records show. Last year, spending dropped to $202 million as the Iraq War wrapped up. A USA TODAY investigation, based on dozens of interviews and a series of internal military reports, shows that Pentagon officials have little proof the programs work and they won't make public where the money goes. In Iraq alone, more than $173 million was paid to what were identified only as "miscellaneous foreign contractors."
The Pentagon said it was "unaware" of such activity and deemed it "unacceptable." A source told Korte that the Pentagon had asked the related contractors if there had been any such activity, and all had denied it, but the inquiries were "informal and did not amount to an official investigation." After USA Today made inquiries to the Pentagon about the websites, they were taken down.
Meanwhile there is the ongoing conflict between Turkey and the PKK -- the PKK is a group that fights for Kurdish sovereignty and a Kurdish homeland. The Turkish government sees the PKK as a terrorist organization. Today's Zayman reports 1 female member of the PKK was killed by Turkey forces when the Turkish forces moved and notes, "The conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives. The group is labled a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States, which has supplied Predator drones to assist Turkey." The PKK operates out of southern Turkey and nothern Iraq chiefly. AFP reports that KRG President Massoud Barzani and Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met today in Ankara and discussed many issues including the PKK. The Sunday Zaman notes, "Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the Turkish military would 'completely' halt military operations against the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) if the organization were to lay down its arms." And they note, "The terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) should lay down its weapons for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani said on Friday during an official visit to Turkey." Hurriyet Daily News sums up, "Speaking separately but in unison, Turkish PM Erdogan and Iraqi Kurdish leader Barzani implore the outlawed PKK to cease its armed fight."
On the topic of Iraq and its northern neighbor Turkey, let's drop back to April 7th:
How bad are relations between Iraq and its neighbors? AFP reports Falih al-Fayaad went toTurky this week to meet with Turkish officials on Nour's behalf. As 2011 was winding down, what was Nouri doing? Oh, that's right, he was trashing the president and the prime minister of Turkey and doing so publicly and repeatedly. And when not issuing insults about them, he was accusing them of trying to control Iraq.
That was April 7th. Today, thirteen days later? Today's Zaman reports, "Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has said Turkey is becoming an enemy state in the region in a sign of growing tensions between Turkey and Iraq. Maliki's harshest remarks so far came at a time when Turkey was hosting two senior Iraqi politicians who are at odds with his government." AFP quotes from a statement by Nouri posted to his website:
The latest statements of [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan are another return to the process of interfering in Iraqi internal affairs and it confirms that Mr. Erdogan is still living the illusion of regional hegemon. It is regrettable that his statements have a sectarian dimension which he used to deny before but which have become clear, and are rejected by all Iraqis. Insisting on continuing these internal and regional policies will damage Turkey's interests and makes it a hostile state for all.
Yesterday Today's Zaman reported that the government of Turkey had refused the Baghdad request to hand over Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi. (Turkey's taken the same position Qatar and Saudi Arabia did when Nouri made the request of them earlier this month.) It must be very humiliating for Nouri and his lackeys. When al-Hashemi traveled from the KRG to Qatar at the start of this month, they made pompous statements to the press which only revealed how truly ignorant they were. The government of ___ [fill in the blank] would hand al-Hashemi over and, on the off chance that the government didn't, they were going to have INTERPOL travel to ___ [fill in the blank] and INTERPOL would arrest al-Hashemi and bring him to Baghdad. It didn't matter to the stupid and ignorant that INTERPOL's charter specifically states it is not to be invovled in political actions so that it may remain impartial. al-Hashemi is targeted for political reasons. That always meant INTERPOL should not be involved and that, if they reviewed the request, they would turn it down. But there was Nouri and his various flunkies flaunting just what kind of stupid gets to run and ruin things in Iraq.
Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani's two-day talks in İstanbul and Ankara appear to have focused on tensions brewing between Iraq's Shiite-led government and minority Sunnis and Kurds, which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has described as "ominous."
Barzani had closed-door talks with Erdoğan in İstanbul on Thursday and met with President Abdullah Gül and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in Ankara on Friday. Speaking to reporters about his meeting with Barzani, Erdoğan said both Barzani and the cross-sectarian Iraqiya group are "seriously bothered" by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's policies.
Maybe if Nouri had stopped his verbal attacks on the Turkish government, M. Alihan Hasanoglu (Today's Zaman) would be reporting Baghdad had many projects in development with Turkey including a $36 million one. Instead, that reports on the projects Turkey's developing with the KRG. Equally true, Nouri was making catty comments about Barzani earlier this week. It would appear Barzani's getting along with everyone on his trips to other countries. The same can't be said of Nouri.
Staying with the political crisis, if the Western media has made one mistake repeatedly in the last few months, it has been the failure to understand the political crisis. Or maybe they understand it and just don't care to convey it properly? The political crisis in Iraq did not start December 19th or 21st as Nouri went after political rivals from Iraqiya (Iraqiya came in first in the 2010 elections). From Marina Ottaway and Danial Kaysi's [PDF format warning] "The State Of Iraq" (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace):
Within days of the official ceremonies marking the end of the U.S. mission in Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki moved to indict Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on terrorism charges and sought to remove Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq from his position, triggering a major political crisis that fully revealed Iraq as an unstable, undemocractic country governed by raw competition for power and barely affected by institutional arrangements. Large-scale violence immediately flared up again, with a series of terrorist attacks against mostly Shi'i targets reminiscent of the worst days of 2006.
But there is more to the crisis than an escalation of violence. The tenuous political agreement among parties and factions reached at the end of 2010 has collapsed. The government of national unity has stopped functioning, and provinces that want to become regions with autonomous power comparable to Kurdistan's are putting increasing pressure on the central government. Unless a new political agreement is reached soon, Iraq may plunge into civil war or split apart.
This month has seen Nouri even the score on the results of the 2010 elections by going after the Independent High Electoral Commission which, in 2010, refused to falsify the results in Nouri's favor. So last week, Nouri had the commission chair Farah al-Haidari and commission member Karim al-Tamimi arrested. But, don't worry, Jalal assures us Nouri's not becoming a dictator. In fairness, maybe what Jalal meant was that Nouri was already a dicatator, not headed towards becoming one?
Al Mada reports that Ayad Allawi (leader of Iraqiya) notes that the options of ending the political crisis include a true partnership in government, implementing the Erbil Agreement, moving towards early elections or Nouri can step down as prime minister.
As the crisis continues, criticism mounts. As Sheikh (Dar Addustour) observes that participants appear to have lost site of the priorities, that there is a lack of vision and all it's about now is the political process and not about Iraqis or the country. What usually happens around now is that the Kurds and Iraqiya heed the call to be 'reasonable' and 'mature.' They put aside differences and Nouri continues acting exactly the same. If anything's going ot change, this time Nouri's the one who's going to have to give.
Syria is a neighbor of Iraq. Iraq remains neutral on the issue of war on Syria or no war on Syria. They remain neutral for a number of reasons including fear of huge influx of refugees and also the fear that taking sides would further harden divisions inside Iraq, existing divisions. Yesterday the US Congress discussed Syria. Appearing before the House Armed Services Committee were Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the Chair of the Joint-Chiefs General Martin Dempsey.
US House Rep Walter Jones: Mr. Secretary, if the situation changes and you believe the use of force in Syria becomes necessary, will this administration seek authorization from Congress before taking action?
Secretary Leon Panetta: We will, uh -- We will clearly work with Congress if it, uh -- if it, comes to the issue of force. I think this administration wants to work within the War Powers Provision to make sure that we work together, not separately.
US House Rep Walter Jones: Mr. Secretary, as a former member of Congress -- I have the biggest concern and this is not pointed at this administration, it could be at any administration -- they seem to want to take the authority to decide whether or not they need to go into a country that's not been a threat. They may have evil dictators, they might have problems in those countries. But I have been very concerned. I actually went to the federal courts for [US House Rep] Dennis Kucinich and two other Republicans and two other Democrats. We went to the courts because of the decision and how it was made -- I realize you were not there at the time [Panetta was heading the CIA, Robert Gates was the Secretary of Defense] -- about Libya. I continue to believe -- and the American people seem to agree -- that we in Congress have not exercted our Constitutional responsibilities when it comes to war. And I hate that if there is a decision -- including Iran and Syria -- if a decision is made to commit American forces that the president would feel an obligation to the American people -- not to Congress necessarily, but the American people -- to explain and justify why we would take that kind of action. And, again, I'm talking about a situation where we're not being attacked, we just see things happening in other countries that we don't approve of. And I would hope -- and I think you did give me this answer, but if you would reaffirm -- that if we have to use military force and we're going to initiate that force, it's going to be our initation that causes that force, that the president, any president, would come to Congress and the American people and justify the need to attack.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta: Congressman, as-as you understand uh-uh-uh this president -- as other presidents will -- will operate pursuant to the Constitution. The Constitution makes clear that the Commander in Chief should, uh, act when the vital interests of this country are in jeopardy. Uh-and-uh I believe this president believes that if that in fact is the case he would do that in partnership with the Congress in terms of taking any action.
US House Rep Walter Jones: Well I'll make another statement and then I'll work towards a close, Mr. Chairman [Buck McKeon]. I remember my good friend [US House Rep] Randy Forbes from Viriginia asked Secretary Gates when we went in [Libyan War], it seemed like the administration, if they called the leadership of the House and Senate, it must have been one call each house, each Senate. And Mr. Forbes asked Mr. Gates, if the Libyans fired a missile in New York City would that be an act of war? And I have to say, because my friend from Virginia is very articulate and very intelligent gentleman, that he never got a straight answer. So I hope that you will prevail upon the administration not to take those kinds of actions as they did in Libya -- whether it was justified or not, I won't get into that debate. But, in my opinion, that was really a kind of snub of Congress and the responsibility of Congress -- based on the Constitution.
Secretary Leon Panetta: Congressman, what I can assure you of is that, as long as I am Secretary, we won't take any action without proper legal authority.
One of the most disgusting things about the hearing was realizing how the coin had flipped. Meaning that if Bully Bush were still in the White House, US House Rep Rob Andrews (Democrat from New Jersey) would have followed up Walter Jones' questions by attempting to hit on the main points. Instead, with the Oval Office occupied by a Democrat, Andrews felt the need was to take wiggle room, shake it out repeatedly and turn wiggle room into a summer getaway home. Our 'national interests' Andrews wanted it known, were reasons to go to war and, of course, Panetta agreed. That's a different standard then 'you are attacked.' In fact, that's even worse, this must be the Obama Doctrine, than Bully Boy Bush claiming he had the right to declare war on someone he thought might harm the US in the future -- near or distant. Barack's policy -- as discussed by Andrews and Panetta -- allows war for no threat. Just the idea that you might do something, as a country, that isn't in the US' national interests. Andrews defined national interest with "the weaker Hezbollah is, the better the United States is" and Panetta agreed and went on to add that "anything to weaken a terrorist organization is in our best interest." And these are the grounds for war? How sickening two little War Hawks all but mounting one another in public.
Republican J. Randy Forbes tried to get the conversation back to reality.
US House Rep J. Randy Forbes: When we talk about vital national interests, probably there's no greater vital interest that we have than the rule of law. So sometimes we have to just ferret that out and see what that is. As I understand what you have indicated to this Committee, Mr. Secretary -- and correct me if I'm wrong, you believe that before we would take military action against Syria that it would be a requirement to have a consensus of permission with the international community before that would happen? Is that a fair statement? And if not, would you tell me what the proper --
Secretary Leon Panetta: I think that's a -- I think that's a fair statement.
US House Rep J. Randy Forbes: If that's fair, than I'd like to come back to the question Mr. Jones asked, just so we know. I know you would never do anything that you didn't think was legally proper and you said the administration would have proper, legal authority before they would take military action. So my question is what is proper, legal authority? And I come back to -- as Mr. Jones pointed out -- in the War Powers Act, it's unlikely we would have a declaration of war. But that would be one of the things. Certainly we know if there's a national attack that would be one of them. And the second thing in the War Powers Act would be specific statutory authorization. Do you feel that it would be a requirement to have proper legal authority? That if you did not have a declaration of war or an attack on the United States, that you would have to have specific statutory authority -- in other words, the permission of Congress, before you'd take military action?
Secretary Leon Panetta: We would not take action without proper legal authority. That's --
US House Rep J. Randy Forbes: And I understand. And in all due respect, I don't want to put you in an interrogation. But we're trying to find out what exactly proper legal authoirty is because that's what we have to act under. And we don't have the president here to chat with him or have a cup of coffee with him and ask him. You're the closest we get. And so we're asking for your understanding and as Secretary of Defense what is proper legal authority? Would that require specific statutory authorization from the United States Congress if we had not had a declaration of war or an attack upon the United States?
Secretary Leon Panetta: Well, again, let me put it on this basis. Uh, this administration intends to operate pursuant to the War Power Act. And whatever the War Powers Act would require in order for us to engage, we would abide by.
US House Rep J. Randy Forbes: And, again, Mr. Secretary, thank you for putting up with me as I just try to stumble through this and understand it. But as I read the War Powers Act, it has those three requirements. Are there any other requirements in there that you're familiar with that I'm leaving out or not reading?
Secretary Leon Panetta: No.
US House Rep J. Randy Forbes:If that's the case, then again I just come back to, if there's no declaration of war, no attack upon the United States and if we're going to comply with the War Powers Act would that require specific statutory authority by Congress before we took military actions?
Secretary Leon Panetta: Again, under the Constitution, as I indicated, the commander in chief has the authority to take action that involves the vital interests of this country. But then pursuant to the War Powers Act, we would have to take steps to get Congressional approval. And that's -- that's the process that we would follow.
US House Rep J. Randy Forbes: Uhm, you'd have to take steps to get that approval but would the approval be required before you would take military action against Syria?
Secretary Leon Panetta: As I understand the Constitution and the power of the president, the president could in fact deploy forces if he to under -- if-if-if our vital interests were at stake. But then, under the War Powers Act, we would have to come here for your support and permission.
US House Rep J. Randy Forbes: So you get the support of Congress after you begin military operations.
Secretary Leon Panetta: In that -- In that particular situation, yes.
US House Rep J. Randy Forbes:Then just one last thing and make sure I'm stating this correctly, it's your position that the administration's position would be that we'd have to get a consensus of permission from the international community before we would act but we wouldn't have to get specific statutory authority from Congress before we would act.
Secretary Leon Panetta: Well I think in that situation, if international action is taken pursuant to a [UN] security council resolution or under our treaty obligations with regards to NATO that obviously we would participate with the international community. But then ultimately the Congress of the United States, pursuant to its powers of the purse, would be able to determine whether or not that action is appropriate or not.
Panetta's song and dance wasn't amusing. And the War Powers Act did not matter to the White Houe when it came to the Libyan War. (Panetta's exchange with Andrews suggested it wouldn't matter with regards to Libya.) For those who've forgotten the illegality of the Libyan War, we're dropping back to an episode of Law and Disorder Radio-- which began airing on WBAI July 11th and around the country throughout that week. Attorneys and hosts Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights) discussed a number of issues including impeachment. Excerpt.
Michael Smith: Michael, the actions that the Obama administration took against Libya is really a perversion of the law. Explain what they did in order to justify not going to Congress.
Michael Ratner: Well the use of military force by the president has to be authorized by Congress under the United States Constitution. That's very clear. And it's not just war, it's use of -- it's hostilities, it's really any military action anywhere in the world other than in self-defense. So we start from the premise that military actions, whether in Libya, killing people in Somolia or Yemen, etc., has to be authorized by Congress. In some cases the president claimed that the authorization to use military force passed in 2001 -- after 9/11 -- gave him authority. But in other cases, he's just asserting raw, naked power. He's claiming that because these don't amount to large wars that the Constitution doesn't apply and he doesn't have to go to Congress. Now then what happened because this is a common claim of presidents whether it's in Libya or Somolia, Congress after Vietnam built in a safety trigger. They said, "Lookit, you still need our consent to go to war, or to go into hostilities or bomb people, etc. But we're going to put in a safety trigger. If you do that, if you engage in hostilities and you don't come to us first like you're required to do under the Constitution, then you have sixty days to come back to us and get authority or within sixty days all troops have to be automatically withdrawn." So it's a safety figure because they knew the president would do exactly what Obama is doing, violate the Constitution. They put in a safety trigger that said you have sixty days to get authority, if you don't have authority then you then have 30 more days to get all the troops out, a total of 90 days. So in the case of Libya, of course, the 90 days have passed and the War Powers Resolution had required that all those troops be brought out. So we had a sort of double system. Is that clear, Michael?
Michael Smith: Well as a practical matter, the political will in this country is lacking to do anything. Technically what he did is a crime and he can be impeached for it and tried and gotten out of office but I don't think that's going to happen.
Michael Ratner: It's a high crime or misdemeanor. It's true violation of the Constitution, it's a violation of Congressional statute, you could impeach him. But good luck. We've never -- we've never successfully impeached anybody. I mean, we had, you know, Andrew Johnson after the Civil War was at least tried and acquitted eventually but I think that was the case. Nixon, rather than be impeached, resigned. Clinton made it through. Bush made it through. So what do you say, Michael? It looks like it's not a really good lever.